Celtic Festival of Dies Equeunu and the Alci

Alci Alexandra Rena
The Alci sketch by Alexandra Rena

This continues my modern Reconstruction-derived practice of interpreting Roman holy days in a Gaulish, Iberian, trans-Alpine Celtic manner. Erudinus is the only ancient Celtic deity for whom we have a Celtic festival date, so for the rest, I’m trying what some ancient Celtic language speaking tribes may have done: match a native deity with a Roman one.

Researchers now tend to believe that the conquered Celtic peoples often chose what parts of Roman religion to take, even choosing the Roman God for the correspondence, which is perhaps why many Celtic Gods are linked to Mars in one inscription and Mercury in another. The official Roman pantheon really doesn’t match the tribal deities of the different Celtic peoples. To the Gauls, Mercury, who was not very popular among most Romans,  was considered far more important than Jupiter. Mercury had the strength of communication, wealth and safe travels. Mars was the protector. Together They met the requirements for a good chieftain. As the Gauls rejected attempts by nobles to unify different tribes and form a permanent empire, a “top God” like Jupiter was not traditional.

Relevant parts of Roman religion was adopted and sometimes a self-conscious nostalgia for their own almost forgotten ways was revitalized. The latter seems to be especially true for the Britons, based on Folly Lane. (What’s that? You don’t know what is at Folly Lane and what it says about how Britons were adapting and reacting to Roman religion? Maybe you should buy a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters and find out! Shameless plug for a great cause!)

On February 27 the Romans held a festival celebrating the birth of the Greek Castor and Pollox, the horse riding sons of Zeus, also known as “dioskouri”. They have a beautiful myth of self sacrifice which is related to the meaning of the astrological sign Gemini, according to East. “Castor was born mortal. Pollux was born immortal. When Castor was slain in battle, Pollux was inconsolable in his grief. He begged Zeus to relieve him of the bonds of immortality and allow him to die along side his brother. Zeus refused. And yet, in his wisdom, Zeus solved Pollux’s pain by granting Castor immortality as well.” Also, according to Brady, “Castor was connected to the morning star and was the horseman; Pollux, the boxer, was connected to the evening star and was associated with darkness.”

Castor and Pollox were very popular with the Gauls. The proto-Indo-European twin “Sons of God” survived not only in Greece and Rome, but in many cultures. They often are associated with a solar or mare (or both) Goddess who may be Their mother, wife, or both. The mother of Castor and Pollox is a mare in some myths and are the companions of the Sun. The Aśvins (“Horsemen”) are Vedic heroes, physicians and perhaps the evening and morning star (Venus) always found with the Sun, whose daughter Sūryā is Their wife. The Lithuanian Dieva Deli (“Sons of God”) travel the sky as horses with Their sister Saules Dukterys (“Daughter of the Sun”) whom They court romantically. The legendary brothers who led the Angles, Jutes and Saxons’ invasion of Britain, Hengist (“stallion”) and Horsa (“horseman”), may also have Their roots here.

It’s very odd that the famous horse riding Celts don’t have any horse twin hero Gods. Of course, the ancient mare Goddess Macha gives birth to twins after being forced to race the King of Ulster’s horses. (A race She won.) The greatest Irish hero Cu Chulainn in His earliest tales was born with a colt. The Mabinogi states that mare Goddess Rhiannon‘s son Pryderi was found as a newborn with a mare who just gave birth to a colt. Although these medieval hints suggest that there were ancient Celtic twin horse hero Gods, until recently Their names were unknown.

Then, an inscription was recovered in Pola de Gordón, León, to Dies Equeunu (pronounced: Dee-ess eh-QUEE-hu-nu), “the sons riding on the horse”. That’s about the clearest title for these deities as you can get! Notice that They ride one horse. More details are found in Iberia and Gaul, but with Their other title, the Alci.

Here’s what Tacitus wrote in Germania: “Among the Nahanarvali is shown a grove, the seat of a prehistoric ritual: a priest presides in female dress; but according to the Roman interpretation the gods recorded in this fashion are Castor and Pollux: that at least is the spirit of the godhead here recognised, whose name is the Alci (nomen Alcis). …they worship these dęities as brothers and as youths.”

There are Gaulish personal names like Alcovindos, meaning “white like the Alci” and place names like Alcobendas near Madrid, meaning “hills of the Alci.” Obviously, the “the sons riding on the horse” have something to do with being white. Guides to the Celtic realm of the dead ride white horses, like the Mabinogi‘s Arawn, Gwyn ap Nudd, and the Gaelic Donn. Gwyn and Fionn mean “white,” so we can pretty safely guess that Their horse is white. If They are associated with the Sun or Venus, white could possibly be connected to radiance. However, we don’t have any evidence linking Them to either.

“Hey! The Alci are German Gods, Heather! Now I doubt your entire blog and book!” No! Wait! Please, there’s fancy linguistic proof! Also, when the Germanic tribes migrated into a Roman Celtic world, the Germanic languages absorbed many Celtic words. And remember that Celtic people over a wide area were naming their children and places after the Alci.

The fancy linguistic proof: Take the Indo-European word Palkio, meaning “divine twins” and do the usual Celtic drop of the first letter “p”.  We get the Celtic “divine twins” – Alkio. Then, the logic goes, the Alci is a Celtic name for the divine twins. This is why we can learn so much about a deity by Their name, which often is a title.

We know that the Romans often were wrong about what tribes were of which culture. Despite their map showing that the Germanic tribes lived north of the Rhine and Gauls lived south of the important trade river, it was never that simple. The Belgae region seems to be Celto-Germanic, a merging of established Gaulish peoples and recent Germanic emigrants. According to Tacitus, in the 1st century CE the People of Ingvi-Frey, the Ingvaeones, had settled the area around and including Denmark. Also, early records of Germanic tribes mention leaders who had Celtic names. A few scholars think that there may have been a Celtic elite who ruled over some of the North Sea tribes. Before Denmark’s coastline drastically changed a few centuries before the German migrations, these Celtic tribes may have made southern Sweden a satellite state. If Celts were worshiping the Alci in Denmark then, the Germanic people may have learned about the Alci then, if Germanic tribes ever did.

Also, we now have a lot of linguistic and physical evidence that during the Bronze Age people in southern Sweden and coastal northern Spain were trading goods and culture. The Scandinavian petroglyphs and Iberian stele of that time depict almost startling exact images of wagons and warriors. Scandinavian amber has been recovered in Greece, increasing the range of the Bronze Age trading region. The Phoenicians built the first city in Iberia in the 9th century BCE on Spain’s Atlantic coast, being the first people to trade in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic coast. The proto-Celtic Atlantic Seacoast Culture spread from the Straits of Gibraltar to Scotland, but some evidence may show trade with Sweden. This could be another way the Celtic word arrived in a  Germanic language – again, if the Alci ever were worshiped by Germanic tribes.

Prayer to Dies Equeunu for Fast Rescue Heather Awen 

O Dies Equeunu,
Please hear my prayer!
I am in trouble,
I need fast help,
I need the Divine Twins!
Please, quickly ride into this situation,
Stop the crisis,
Save my life, save our lives,
Save us!
Time is of the utmost importance,
Lives are at risk!
Dies Equeunu, you are Gods of heroes
And I need you here now!

 

Bibliography

Brady, Bernadette, Brady’s Book of fixed Stars. Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1998)

Cultraro, Massimo, Evidence of Amber in Bronze Age Sicliy: Local Sources and the Balkan-Mycenaean Connection. Eds. Galanaki, Tomas, Galanakis, Laffineur. Aegaeum 27, Between the Aegean and Baltic Coasts Prehistory Across Borders

Cunliffe, Barry, On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from Prehistory to AD 1500. Oxford University Press (2017)

Danka, Ignacy Ryszard & Witczak, Krzysztof Tomasz, DEIS EQLTL\LBO The Divinę Twins in Asturia, Dimensions and Categories of Celticity: Studies in Language, Piotr Stalmaszczyk & Maxim Fomin (eds) (2009)

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

East, Sonrisa, Where Alpha Meets Omega: Mythology of the Constellations, Space Exploration & Astrology. (2019)

Fortson, Benjamin W., Indo-european Language and Culture: an introduction— 2nd ed., Wiley-Blackwell (2010)

Gibson, Catriona and John Koch, Beakers into Bronze: Tracing connections between Iberia and the British Isles 2800-800 BC, CELTIC FROM THE WEST 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe, John T. Koch and Barry Cunliffe (eds), Oxbow Books (2013)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul, Divinidades indigenas em analise, J. d’Encarnacao (ed), (2008)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Koch, John T, Celtic origins reconsidered in the light of the ‘archaeogenetics revolution’ (2018)

Koch, John T, Rock art and Celto-Germanic vocabulary: Shared iconography and words as reflections of Bronze Age contact, Adoranten (2018)

Jones, Mary (ed), Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia, http://www.maryjones.us/jce/jce_index.html

Ling, Johan & Koch, John, A sea beyond Europe to the north and west. Giving the past a future: Essays in Archaeology and Rock Art Studies in honour of Dr. Phil Gerhard Milstreu, Dodd & Meijer (eds), 2018

Manco, Jean, Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Ventures to the Vikings, 2nd ed. Thames & Hudson (2015)

Mierzwick, Tony, Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today. Llewellyn (2018)

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Noyer, Rolf, PIE Dieties and the Sacred, Proto-Indo-European Language and Society

Price MacLeod, Sharon, Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Beliefs with Newly Translated Prayers, Poems and Songs. McFarland Press (2012)

Sacred Texts Celtic, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/index.htm

Serith, Ceisiwr, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. ADF Druidry (2007)

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000)

Swami Achuthanada, The Reign of the Vedic Gods. Relianz Communications Pty Ltd (2018)

Tacitus, Germania

Waddell, John, Equine Cults and Celtic Goddesses, EMANIA Bulletin of the Navan Research Group (2018)

Celtic Festival of Tongoenabiagus & Nabia: Exploring Celtic Iberian Castro Culture & Its Irish & British Shared History

Fonte_do_Ídolo_Braga_kindlephoto-314812406
Fountain of the Idol

As I’ve stated in each post of the series, we know that the Celtic tribes had more power than once thought over how they interpreted the religion of the Romans who conquered them. If they often chose the Roman deity names to match their own deities, altered how Roman style temples were built and had their own ideas about Roman deities, perhaps they used the Roman calender to synchronize festivals for their deities. Even if they didn’t, it is a way for the modern Celtic polytheist to organize festivals today.

On February 21, the 3 day Roman festival the Parentalia ended as the Feralia began. In the original Roman calender, March was the first month, in honor of Mars, God of war, and February was dedicated to purification from the previous year. The Feralia was the final festival to honor the ancestors. Offerings, usually food, were taken to the tombs. The Feralia also honored Jupiter Feretrius. When people sign marriage and other contracts, Jupiter Feretrius is witness. In the Roman Empire, people made an oath that if that if they lied, Jupiter Feretrius should strike them down.

It’s the oath aspect of the festival that concerns this post. Lugus may derive from the word “oath” as in “I swear to curse you if you are my enemy, that’s my oath.” Lugh and Llew both use Magick to deal with enemies, so it’s a strong possibility. It may tell us something about the way Celtic language speakers understood the word “oath.” He may be a God of destiny, with these oaths. (The ancient Celto-Germanic crow Goddess Badb of Irish myth also uses the Crane Stance on Her prophetic curses.)

The 1st century shrine in Braga, Fonte do Ídolo (Fountain of the Idol), isn’t just dedicated to the popular deity Nabia (Pronounced: “NAH-bee-ah”). The God Tongoenabiagus is also named. (Pronounced: “tong-goy-na-BEE-ah-gus” – for me, it’s easier to learn if I break the name into two parts, practice them separately and then altogether.) The Celtic root word for His name is related to making oaths (“I swear”). Considering what we know about Lugus, Jupiter and ancient oath God UllR, it would seem that Tongoenabiagus smites those who break their promises.

There’s quite a lot of talk in Heathenry about the importance of keeping your word which applies to Celtic tribes as well. The entire structure of society was based on oaths. Warriors pledged to follow a chieftain, king or new young cattle raider. Heterosexual couples married, maintaining the patriarchal family. Lesser chieftains and kings pledged themselves to greater ones. Tribes formed loose federations, especially in wartime. Merchants were expected to give and get a fair price for their goods. And humans made oaths to deities and fully expected to have a cursed life if they broke them. Trade was just as important for the 1st century BCE Celt as it was for an 8th century Viking. The Gauls relied on their role of merchants so strongly that they adopted the Roman God of commerce and travel, Mercury, and worshiped Him more than the Romans did. Obviously the Celtic people in pre-Christian Iberia would have needed a deity to witness the promises of their contracts to make sure that the oath would be enforced by a greater power.

In the farthest southwest point of Portugal during the 6th century BCE, a Celtic language inscription written in the Phoenician alphabet praises Lug. His popularity in coastal Iberia (Celtici in the south, Gallaecia and Asturias in the north) and the eastern part of the Meseta and south of the Pyrenees Mountains (Celtiberia) appears to have been active and consistent even after Lugus was forgotten in Gaul. Iberia may even be the original home of Lug.

However, Gallaecia probably relied on a local oath-enforcer, the God Tongoenabiagus. The oath Gods tend to be very high ranking, often the leader of the pantheon. With this in mind, perhaps it makes sense that Tongoenabiagus, who is only mentioned once in the evidence left for archeologists, was included with Nabia, whose followers left behind evidence of many inscriptions and sanctuaries, at Braga in northwestern Portugal.

The gender of Nabia, like a few other Iberian deities, is somewhat confusing. Although linked with Jupiter by the Romans, Nabia was also associated several Goddesses, such as Victoria (Victory, a war Goddess), Juno (Jupiter’s wife and equal, the Queen Goddess), Diana (Goddess of wild forests, hunting and midwives) and others associated with fertility and health. These many Roman Goddesses provide us with a good example of how most Celtic Goddesses were understood by most Celtic language speaking people: capable of any “function.”

It is possible that Nabia was the head of the pantheon for the ferocious Bracari tribe who at one time controlled much of Gallaecia and Asturias. The Romans recorded that the Bracari were one of the fiercest Celtic tribes whose fearless female warriors would rather die than live as slaves. Like many Iberian people, the Bracari relied on selling metal ore and goods. When the Romans attacked, the Bracari’s warriors hid in their iron mine and ambushed Roman troops.

The first encounter between Celts in Iberia and Romans was probably as mercenaries in the Punic War. Phoenicians built the first Atlantic trade port in southern Spain in the 9th century BCE and were involved in the Atlantic Seacoast Culture, so the Celtic association with Carthaginian merchants was very old. We are given an interesting look at these warriors who seem to have been trained in Druid divination.

“Rich Gallaecia sent its youths, wise in the knowledge of divination by the entrails of beasts, by feathers and flames— who, now crying out the barbarian song of their native tongue, now alternately stamping the ground in their rhythmic dances until the ground rang, and accompanying the playing with sonorous caetrae.” (A caetra was a small type of shield used in the region).
– Silius Italicus, Punica

Where there’s trade, there’s transportation of goods. Nabia is the Goddess of fresh water and many important rivers, including the Nabão River in Tomar, the Rivers Navia (which flowed into the southern Bay of Biscay) and Avia, and the Neiva River by the ancient Roman capital of Gallaecia Bracara Augusta, which today is called Braga. She had several sanctuaries, including one with thermal hot springs, which connects Her to health. The Gallaecians understood the healing power of saunas, “taking baths in vapours that rise from heated stones.” (Strabo, III.3.3) The door frames for the inner rooms of saunas were highly decorated, suggesting a ceremonial function, and called pedras formosas (“beauty stones”).

Rivers were an important part of the European transportation system, which makes Nabia important for trade. Her good favor was needed for safe travels to and from the Atlantic coast, where boats could take the Iberian metals north to Gaul and Britain or be exchanged with Carthaginian merchants for wine, glass and pottery. In the Roman Empire, some Gaulish tribes earned their wealth by controlling a river and demanding tribute from those who would travel it. There’s no reason to think that some Celtic tribes in Iberia did not do the same.

With so many people coming together to trade, perhaps Tongoenabiagus was needed to keep merchants honest. The Fountain of the Idol was in a shrine dedicated to just Him and Nabia in the important Roman capital of Gallaecia Bracara Augusta, a center for luxury goods. Celtic cultures often paired a hero chieftain God with a sovereignty Goddess, both of whom had a variety of roles in human society ranging from granter of fertility to psychopomp for the dead. The pairing was not always the same couple and They did not necessarily have to be lovers. Rosmerta is traditionally paired with Mercury, but Her age indicates that She probably was understood to be His mother.

Although historically Gallaecia is as Celtic as Gaul or Ireland, it’s mostly ignored in every pop culture Celtic Paganism book and academic book on different Celtic Reconstructionist reading lists. This is true for all of Iberia. But Galicia has the most information on its native pantheon compared to the rest of Iberia and even the well-known Belgae tribes north of Gaul bordering Germania.

So why don’t we know about Nabia when She’s far more documented than a currently popular Goddess like Nemetona or Don? One reason is that the research has been happening recently and still yields surprises. Also, the Celtic Iberian deities have very few remaining statues (if any). Even without the details of a specific myth, the root word of a deity’s name/ title and Their depiction can tell us a lot about a deity, and we often don’t have either for Iberian deities. (Iberia was home to many different Celtic languages, some of which are only now seriously being studied.) The hundreds of inscriptions are being reexamined and we’re learning important details. The “dying and resurrection” grain God Erudinus also of northwestern Iberia had a festival on June 23 and 24. This is the ONLY date from actual polytheist Celts for an ancient Celtic deity and proves that the Summer Solstice was important to at least some Celtic people. (I believe that medieval Gaelic monks didn’t mention any solar Pagan holidays because they had been replaced by Easter, St John the Baptist Day, St. Martin’s Feast Day and Christmas.)

Another reason I think contributes to the obscurity of Celtic Iberia is simply ethnicity of Celtic Pagans today, which is an almost taboo subject. The truth is that most Celtic polytheists I have met are looking for their pre-Christian ancestral religion. British Pagans often ignore the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Danish Heathens and focus on the land in a neo-Celtic modern Druid cosmology. Brythonic polytheists mostly focus on the medieval Welsh text the Mabinogi and the inscriptions and temples to the deities of the occupying Gaulish soldiers in the Roman military. (Actual ancient Brythonic deities known today are few because native temples don’t have Latin inscriptions.)

Hughes* in his book The Book of Celtic Magic even invents a nationalist “Celtica” to describe the spirit, myth and traditions of the 6 nations that at least until recently had speakers of Celtic languages, which is odd because the ancients never referred to the inhabitants of Britain or Ireland as Celtic. The concept of a pan-Celtic cultural connection between these nations is very recent and ancient Celticia is a region mostly in modern-day France. The huge Keltoi culture across Europe into Turkey is ignored in his “Celtica” and implies that you must live in the U.K. and Ireland. If you are not there, you can’t feel “Celtica” which evidently exists only in those lands. Modern Saxon Pagans and German Celtoi  Reconstructionists are dismissed by writing like this, much less American Celtic Reconstructionists, which is sad. It is that type of attitude we’re trying to keep out of prison gangs using Paganism as a front – ethnic/national exclusion and cultural misappropriation.

Meanwhile, looking online, Scotland seems to have more Gaelic polytheists than Ireland, where Wicca is the most common Pagan religion. This could be because that much of Celtic mythology is common Irish knowledge woven into place and Catholicism, so it doesn’t feel like an occult (secret) religion. The Farrars, incredibly important English teachers of Wicca, have been based in Ireland for decades. Gaelic is a soon forgotten, difficult subject in school. Also, even in cosmopolitan Dublin and progressive Galway, bookstores have very limited Pagan sections compared to New Age and Buddhism. I hope the books by Lora O’Brien help Gaelic Pagans actually in Ireland, as they are very place-based.

The fascination with Gaelic polytheism mostly comes from the descendants of Irish immigrants. During the Irish Potato Famine the United States received a lot of Irish immigrants. Irish ancestry is the most common ancestry for Caucasian Americans, tied with German heritage. Australia and Canada also have many citizens whose ancestors came from Ireland and Scotland and so they turn to those deities. Even many Gaulish polytheists know from where in France or Germany their ancestors immigrated. As much as we say that ethnicity doesn’t matter in Celtic Pagan Reconstructionism – and it honestly doesn’t matter; anyone can worship Celtic deities in Celtic ways as it was a culture, not carried in DNA – it seems that most people are drawn to deities they think some of their ancestors worshiped. In fact, the only time I have heard someone say that they were Celtiberian was a Latino warrior in a primarily Gaelic ADF Grove.

Bilingual books about the Celtic tribes and their religion in Iberia probably would be popular with many Hispanic Pagans who seek an ancestral connection with ancient European polytheism, based on the pattern we find with other modern Celtic polytheists. I know that a lot of Latinos discover Paganism in prison, often through their devotion to Saint Muerte, but don’t feel like Wiccans or called to the Orisha, and of course are not allowed to be Odinist Heathens. From letters by Latino Pagans who received free copies of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, I’m told that the ancestral connection with Celtic Paganism gives them a home once they know about it.

Yet Iberia should matter to all Celtic Pagans. Iberia had more Celtic settlements than anywhere else in Western Europe (yes, including France!) and deep cultural and linguistic ties to Ireland, Britain and coastal Gaul since the Neolithic Atlantic Seacoast Culture and the Bronze Age. So the culture of northwestern Iberia shares quite a lot with the most popular form of Celtic polytheism: Gaelic. It is even in important Gaelic mythology, as we’ll soon remember.

800px-Casa_reconstruida_do_castro_de_Santa_Tegra
Rebuilt hut in the oppidum of Santa Tegra, A Guarda, Galicia.

Nabia and Tongoenabiagus came from the Castro Culture, which was very similar to the Celtic tribes of Ireland and Britain. These tribes of the valleys and mountains near the Atlantic ocean were seasonally transhumant cattle-raising pastoralists protected by a warrior elite. That’s how we also describe the ancient Irish: seasonally transhumant cattle-raising pastoralists protected by a warrior elite. Like the Celtic peoples of Britain and Ireland, homes were round huts, unlike the Gauls. The Celtic people of northwest Iberia originally built small hill-forts (called “castros”) that were unoccupied and show no signs of warfare, just like in Britain. A few rounded huts with prominent hearths were available for some type of communal activity.

Two popular theories about the early hill-forts are: one, that they were tribal religious centers or, two, where the tribe’s pastoral animals were seasonally counted so the chieftain could take his share. The chieftain was responsible for sacrifices on behalf of the tribe. As archeology of Iron Age Britain shows that large amounts of animal sacrifices occurred in spring and autumn, coinciding with medieval Gaelic Beltain and Samhain, both ideas could easily be combined into tribal seasonal ceremonies based on the birth and death of cattle.

Casa_cividade_terroso
Family Setting of Cividade de Terroso

Just like in Britain, much bigger hill-forts were later constructed by fertile farmland, for defense and prestige. Some places built oppida (urban trading posts enclosed within intimidating walls), filled with round granaries, square workshops, communitarian halls, shared forges and of course saunas. Some even had fountains, drains and reservoirs, important for a Goddess of water like Nabia. At the same time, the round family hut became a fenced-in cluster of huts with a courtyard in the center, similar to those in coastal Wales when being raided by Irish pirates. Strabo described leather boats on northern Iberian rivers, lakes and coasts which probably were like Irish currachs and Welsh coracles. Bronze Age trade with Britain had long connected the two proto-Celtic lands, but this mostly ended in the early Iron Age. Iberia had iron and didn’t need to trade with Britain any longer. Yet their shared culture obviously continued.

The Celtic style of dress in Iberia was generally like that of other Celts, who all shared a love for fancy designs woven into fabric. Married women wore the same style head wraps as married Gaulish and Germanic women. A large scarf covered the braided hair, with the long ends of the fabric twisted and then wrapped around the head like a brim. (Statues of the Matres show these head wraps.) Every region had variations of the style; Iberians sometimes added a veil to cover the neck. Men wore arm bands and other accessories typical in metal rich Gaul, while women’s jewellery was somewhat influenced by the Mediterranean, especially earrings. Both men and women with power had their own versions of the gold torc neck band. The ends often had empty, large terminals which held little stones, making them rattles. As we know that rattles were sewn on garments in other Celtic regions, the find of torc rattles adds to our awareness that trance-inducing sound was valued by Celts in general.

The Castro Culture not only mined copper, gold, iron, tin and lead; they forged many tools. They were relatively self reliant communities. Breads were made from their own harvests of wheat and millet as well as roasted and ground acorns. Beer and bread came from oats and barley. Like the Britons they grew peas and cabbage and foraged for nutrient rich nettle and watercress. Clothing was made from linen and wool. Cattle provided milk and butter as well as meat along with pigs, sheep and goats. Hunts for wild boar and deer were popular, as in the medieval Welsh Mabinogi and depicted on carved and painted Pictish stones. The deities Epona and Lug were very popular, along with many local deities.

In Gaelic myth, Lugh‘s beloved foster mother is the Fir Bolg noble Tailtiu (pronounced: “TAL-dyoo”) who in one version is said to be a Princess of Galicia. It’s in Her honor that the early harvest festival Lughnasadh is celebrated. Marriage and fostering children were important political tools for gaining allies and ending wars. With Lug so popular in Iberia, could Lugh and Tailtiu be an old remembrance of an Iberian myth of the Celtic hero chieftain God and the sovereignty Goddess who makes the land fertile? Or of marriages used to form bonds between kingdoms that once included the Gallaecia and the insular Celts?

In Lebor Gabála Érenn (our main source for Irish mythology), the last invaders of Ireland are the sons of Mil, the ancestors of the Gaelic-speaking humans. They sailed to Ireland from Galicia, which makes northeastern Iberia home for the Gaels. Of course, this is tangled up with Biblical myth, like the whole Lebor Gabála Érenn and our sources for the ogham alphabet, along with Irish monks’ social commentary on the lack of protection from the Vikings. (Bres is usually a good member of the Tuatha De Danann. The myth about His greed and corrupt leadership seems to be an Irish monk’s creative writing about the current situation in 10th century Ireland. There’s many layers to the myths.)

If you once could not find a reason to learn about the Celts in Iberia, I hope that you now understand how important Iberia is for studying any Celtic language-speaking people’s religion. There’s even a strong Bronze Age connection with Sweden.

800px-Muros_de_San_Cibrao_de_Las
Walls of the oppidum of Lanobri or Lansbri, San Cibrao de Lás, Galicia.

The following prayer is from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners. It is available from Gullveig Press to American incarcerated Pagans and those engaged in prison ministry at no profit to us ($12 for the huge book and shipping and taxes). For other people, if you buy it directly from us, it is less expensive than ordering it from Amazon and we get more profits which go straight to sending copies of the book to people in prison. ($25 covers everything – and it’s at least twice as long as most books!)

1% of Americans are in prison, more than any nation, and approximately 10% of prisoners are Pagan with few if any resources beyond white supremacist groups. This is 1 in 1,000 Americans, so there’s more Pagans in prison than outside of prison. Please donate your used paperbacks to your nearest books-to-prisoners organization. (Find it here.)

Prayer to Tongoenabiagus to Keep Your Word by Heather Awen

A person is only as good as their word,
And mine was often worthless,
Lying to family,
Betraying the trust of others.
I spread fear and doubt,
Made others suffer from my cowardice and greed.
O Tongoenabiagus,
Those broken vows
Those deceitful words
How I wish I could undo
The damage that came from every one.
Please don’t give up on me, Tongoenabiagus.
You see through all my broken promises,
Every con and every scam,
The hurt lovers and people poorer for knowing me,
And still believe I can change my ways.
I can change; I will! I have the courage to admit my mistakes to you, and
Unburdened, I have the courage to become a better person.
I admit them, you know what I have done.
Time to move into responsibility for the words I speak today.
Instead of being crushed by past shame I steady myself, making my vows something on which others can depend.
Truth – I know my limits and I know my strengths.
What I promise matches the reality of who I am and my situation.
I build my honor day by day, and although this is something only I can do,
Tongoenabiagus, I pray for help from you.
Thank you, strong one.

 

* Hughes is a Druid in his own order, not a Reconstructionist or focused on the living Celtic language cultures, so it’s his UPG without him stating this, a quality of the more dangerous types of Pagan books, especially for prisoners with extremely limited access to information. I like sharing UPG, but let’s be sure to call it that. It’s the main flaw in Raven Kaldera’s book for prisoners. Who said Frodi is Frey’s grandfather? Oh, him. Kaldera states as facts his own opinions, which confused many seeking a non-racist, non-homophobic Heathen resource

600px-Trisquel_de_Castromao
Triskelion from the Iron Age hill-fort of Castromao, Celanova, Galicia. Now in the Museo aqueolóxico provincial de Ourense.

Bibliography

Alfayé, Silvia, Contexts of Cult in Hispania Celtica, Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology, Barrowclough, D.A., & Malone, C. (eds), Oxbow, Oxford (2007)

Arenas, Jesús Alberto, Celtic divine names in the Iberian Peninsula: towards a territorial analysis, Celtic Religion Across Time and Space, Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (2010)

Ayán Vila, Xurxo M. A Round Iron Age: The Circular House in the Hillforts of the Northwestern Iberian Peninsula, e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies: Vol. 6 , Article 19. (2008)

Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013)

Cunliffe, Barry, On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from Prehistory to AD 1500. Oxford University Press (2017)

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

de Milio Carrín, Cristobo, The Widower And The Goddess Or The Closed Door: On the connection between northern and southern Celts (March 2011)

Gibson, Catriona and John Koch, Beakers into Bronze: Tracing connections between Iberia and the British Isles 2800-800 BC, CELTIC FROM THE WEST 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe, John T. Koch and Barry Cunliffe (eds), Oxbow Books (2013)

Giesler, Friedrich, Topos and Reality: Celtic and Germanic Women’s Clothing as mirrored in Roman Art (2017)

Gregory, Lady Augusta, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. J Murray (1904)

Hughes, Kristoffer, The Book of Celtic Magic: Transformative Teachings from the Cauldron of Awen. Llewellyn Publications (2014)

Koch, John T, Celtic origins reconsidered in the light of the ‘archaeogenetics revolution’ (2018)

Koch, John T, Rock art and Celto-Germanic vocabulary: Shared iconography and words as reflections of Bronze Age contact, Adoranten (2018)

McCaffrey, Carmel & Eaton, Leo, In Search of Ancient Ireland. New Amsterdam Books (2002)

Mosenkis, Iurii, Possible Sea Peoples activity in the Lebor Gabála Érenn

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

O’Brien, Lora, A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality (Sli Aon Dhraoi). Wolfpack Publishers (2012)

Pedreño, Juan Carlos Olivares, Celtic Gods of the Iberian Peninsula, Guimarães, Portugal: E-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies (2005)

Prosper, Blanca Maria, Celtic and non-Celtic Divinities from Hispania, The Journal of Indo-European Studies, Vol. 43, #1&2 (2015)

Prosper, Blanca-Maria, Universidad de Salamanca, Linguistic Observations of Two Divinities of the Celtic Cantabri

Quintela, Marco V. Garcia, Celtic Elements in Northwestern Spain in Pre-Roman times, e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies: Vol. 6 , Article 10. (2005)

Simón, Francisco Marco, Religion and Religious Practices of the Ancient Celts of the Iberian Peninsula, e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies: Vol. 6, Article 6. (2005)

Tenreiro, Marcial, For a Juridical Ethnoarchaeology of the Bull (and Horse): Sacrifice, Circunvalation & Ordeal in Celtic Iberia, Acts of the 1º International Congress The Horse and The Bull in Prehistory and History (2016)

Wolf, Casey June, The Mythical Pairing of Brig and Bres – Its Origins and Meaning in Cath Maige Tuired, 34 SFU (Surrey) HUM 332 Celtic Mythology with Antone Minard (2015)

Online Index to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of Invasions) based on R.A.S. Macalister’s translations and notes, https://celt.ucc.ie//indexLG.html

 

Gullveig Press does not endorse whatever stuff WordPress is advertising. Odds are you don’t need it and it destroys your ecosystem, countless human workers and the planet in general, so you could use your money more wisely. Maybe buy a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters for a prisoner with no income?

Brid, Brigantia, Brigid Festivals

Heather Awen copyright, St Brigid well
St Brigid’s Well, Co. Clare, copyright Heather Awen photo.

Last year I covered the Goddess of Britain’s most powerful tribe, Brigantia, and how the Goddess Brig became the Saint Brigid. Also, I shared the story of an incarcerated transwoman’s decision to recover from PTSD due to rape, based on her experience with this simple rite/prayer to Brigantia.

I’m adding some Imblog information and ritual invocations from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:Celtic Paganism for Prisoners in the hope that you will be inspired to donate $12 so an incarcerated Pagan receives a free copy. Please email us if you would like to spread the knowledge of our deities to the forgotten 1%.

“Imbloc (or Imblog or Oimlec) is covered in the Imbloc Ritual to Brigid. It is Imbloc in Scottish Gaelic, too. Pronounce it “imbolk.” In Welsh it is called Gwyl Ffraed, for Brigid. As it is the end of winter in Ireland (the wet winds are fierce then) and even colder in Scotland, it is a household hearth ritual, not intertribal. The seasonal celebration is gratitude for the longer days and the milk from sheep giving birth.”

Artist and all round good guy Armi Dee worked intently on providing the first visual instruction I’ve ever understood on how to make a Brigid’s Cross. I, Heather Awen, wrote the incantation to charge it in ritual.

“Brigid of the fiery arrow

And the cows who always provide milk,

You who hung your wet cloak on a sunbeam,

And guarded many a family and its animals,

To you I pray.

Your equal armed cross I made

Symbol of the Sun herself

To bring your divine blessings

Into mortal lives.

Hearth Goddess, protect our homes,

Protect our wealth,

Protect our health.

May your blessings of sacred safety

Ever shine into my life through your cross.

May your blessings of sacred safety

Ever shine in our lives through your cross.

Thank you, Exalted Brigid!”

Imbolc Invocation for Making Offerings to Brigid by Heather Awen

“O Goddess,

Mistress of the Flames of Healing, Making, Creating,

Triple daughter of The Dagda

First to keen

And wife of the treacherous Bres

I call to you.

Brigid who is foster mother of the World

Who hears and answers countless prayers

Please join me here

On this, your sacred day.

Let my love for you reach you

Let my love for you reach you

Please may my love for you reach you,

Bright beacon of hope, home and health.

O Brigid, know how much I value you,

Wondrous one who nourishes the World.

Dear compassionate Brigid

Whose fire lights up my spirit

Please accept this offering!”

 

Have a happy Imbolc, Oilmec, Candlemas, St Brid’s Day or whatever you celebrate!

 

 

 

Pagan Holy Days February

Onje Keon Pierce "Oya"
Oya depicted by Onje Keon Pierce

It’s that time again, and February has a lot of festivals, so copy this list and mail it to your pen pal in prison! What? You don’t have a Pagan pen pal in prison who needs someone on the outside with whom to share information, friendship and humor? Why not? It’s so easy and does so much! The right fit may take a few pen pals, but with my guidance, you’ll be safe and prepared! Just start here and then use the category search for blog posts on Resources and Be an Ally to learn more. I get letters asking me about getting a Pagan volunteer in their prison like Buddhists do, and I have to say “I’m sorry; Pagans suck.” I literally write that. (I explain why, just like I do later in this post. Oddly, the most involved and generous Pagans are economically poor ones with disabilities and/or chronic diseases who have experienced loss and being a second class citizen.)

But you don’t have to go to a prison and do all that training – Any book, blog posts or photocopied articles will be shared with ALL the Pagans. You’re going to need to send $5 for them to buy stamps and paper especially if they’re in state prison, but I covered a better way here. (I’ve learned one important thing about prison: If you are going to do crime, make sure it is a federal offense. “Club Fed” offers more than other prisons. Meaning: Federal prison offers crumbs; state prisons offer nothing and private prisons don’t follow the U.S. Constitution! Yikes!)

Remember that your pen pal needs the Guide to the Athens, Julian and other calendars, plus the new moon (not dark moon) and full moon dates found here and here, where the Yoruban, Anglo-Saxon and Athens weekly and monthly calender are.

If you don’t have a penpal but want to help, we’ll happily send free copies of Steel Bars Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners to prisoners and books to prisoners organizations if you donate the money! Pagan books are in the Top Five Requested Books and hardest to fill. I know us Pagans; half of us border on hoarders and we joke about it. But you know those books you bought that aren’t resources you need or have no new information about a tradition you follow or are from a tradition you found on the search to your actual Pagan religion? There’s a books to prisoners organizations within 200 miles of most people and they’d love those books! Check out your closest one! Call your friends, post on social media that you are doing a Pagan-y book drive, and have folks donate to you. Then you put the books in a box or two and drop them off or mail media rate. Dictionaries and blank journals are also need! Heck, ANY soft cover book almost is needed! Literacy rates are low in prison and the average book is read by seven people! Prison, as one man told me, “is college, if you treat the time that way. You just have to keep getting books, because there’s no classes or training in state prison.”

I think that those of us on the outside are outnumbered by incarcerated Pagans. If you do the math (1 in 100 Americans are in prison – more of the population than any other nation in the world – and 8-12% of them claim a Pagan religion), there’s 1 incarcerated Pagan for every 1,000 Americans! That’s one reason why I think we suck at prison outreach (we’re outnumbered) – The other being that most books, especially Wiccan or Ceremonial Magick, never mention giving to the deities or the world, just taking, and polytheists like Christians would rather donate money more than time to their deities or own “faith community”, so “community service ministry” never reaches the minds of most solitary Pagans, which most of us are. The last reason – the depressing one – is the pettiness of cliques and organizations who won’t work together. Even though tons of Pagans in theory want to do something for people who have nothing in their religion, they put human B.S. first. (That’s why it’s so easy to do it your way – who can say you’re wrong? It’s not the Internet – you’ll be respected and treated well and your opinions valued!) And, yeah, I explain all this after “Pagans suck.” Look, in all the Pagan books you’ve read, how many ever suggested service offerings or ministry to those who can’t pay? Almost none. And I ask these prisoners if they were doing anything positive for strangers when outside? Well, hey, then you know what people on the outside are like, dude.)

If you are scared that you don’t know enough about Paganism to be a resource or guide style pen pal, don’t worry. You have blogs you can copy and paste in narrow margins using the font that takes the least space to make cheap “newsletters.” You can send 4¢ photos of deities, altars and shrines found online. Prison is very visually boring and people study photos together. Art pix are also really popular.

You have access to so much! And you might change someone’s life by caring. A lot of people want someone to care about and my severe illnesses bring that out in the pen pals that want to be allies and get over self pity – i.e. the types of people I value.

On with February!

The Anglo-Saxon month that roughly corresponds with February was called “Sun month” although another source has it called “kale month.” Kale is a very nutritious green which grows successfully in cold climates. “Sun month” obviously refers to the lengthening of the days.

February is named for God Februus of purification. In the earliest Roman calendar, the new year began on March 1, so February originally was for cleansing away the impurities of the last year.

On February 1 the sacred grove of Helernus, Roman God of vegetables, was filled with devotees. As Priests made sacrifices, the public prayed for a good vegetable crop.

Juno Sospita, Goddess of Protection and Fertility, wore goat skin with the head and horns as a helmet. Accompanied by a crow or raven (scavenger birds of the battlefield) or snake, Juno Sospita held a spear and sword. In Her home town Lanuvium on February 1 virgins were blindfolded and led out of town to Juno’s grove. The girls brought barley cakes to feed Juno’s sacred snake. When the snake ate, the town knew that the land and humans would be fertile.

Imbloc is the Gaelic day honoring hearth Goddess Brig. Being cold in Ireland and Scotland, it was a household ritual, focusing on gratitude for longer days and milk from ewes (female sheep) giving birth.

In medieval England ewes still gave birth in early February, celebrated as Ewemeole. Food reserves were low and harvests weren’t for many months, so the milk was vital for survival.

9 days after the full moon of the lunar month in January-February, the Diasi, the largest festival of sky father Zeus, was held in Athens. Pastries shaped like pigs and sheep were offered by the entire population.

Around this time, those people preparing for initiation in the Eleusinian Mysteries spent at least 3 days doing the Mysteries at Agrai, or the Lesser Mysteries.

February 5 is the Roman Februalia, honoring Februus. The home was thoroughly cleaned, then a Priest or member of the household banished anything that might bring harm. Salt and grain were sprinkled around the home. As the mixture was swept outside with a pine bough, the bad spirits were also swept away.

From February 5 to 17 Romans honored Fornax, Goddess of the Ovens, with the Fornacalia. The communal feast was simple, with Her wine offering given from ceramic jugs, not expensive metals. Fornax protected the home from oven fires and the bread from burning. In the past families shared a communal oven, which is the root of the Fornacalia celebration.

The old Swedish month Goe was in our February and March. For one week in Goe, Sweden had its annual Thing of All Swedes (like a parliamentary meeting but all free men were allowed to attend). Along with political and legal affairs, the Thing hosted a great market called The Disting and a Disirblot to honor female ancestors and other powerful women/Goddesses. Offerings for peace were made at the Great Temple in Uppsala.

The 9th is sacred to the Orisha Oya.

February 13 (or the full moon) is the Roman Festival for Faunus, rural God of the wild woodlands. His name means “Kindly One” and He looked after the lonely shepherd. Hunters and farmers also honored Him.

On February 13 the city of Rome was purified by the Amburbium. Chanting and making sacrifices, a procession of solemn worshipers circled the city’s boundaries.

The 6th day of the February-March month of Athens is dedicated to Artemis Elaphebolios (“Shooter of the Deer”).

2 days later Asklepios, the demi-God of healing, was honored in Athens. The Dionysia also began and continued for 6 days. Singing boys and a wooden statue of Dionysus, God of vines, were part of a procession, celebrating His liberation from winter. People went to the theatres for 3 days, enjoying comedies and tragedies.

February 17 was the Quirinalia, a Roman festival celebrating the ancient Sabine (an Italian people) God Quirinus. The Sabines had a fortified settlement near Rome, the Quirinal, named after Quirinus. The settlement was absorbed by Rome and Quirinus joined Jupiter and Mars as Gods of the Roman state. Depicted as a bearded man in the clothes of a Priest and soldier, His wife is Hora and His plant is myrtle.

Parentalia, Rome’s private rites to appease the dead, was held from February 13 to 21. Temples were closed, marriage was not allowed and no altar fires burned. A Vestal Virgin started the Parentalia by pouring a libation to the dead. Families gathered at the family tomb to perform private rituals of offerings. Ovid guides us: “The Dark Shades seek little, they prefer devotion over a costly gift.”
The Feralia was the public end of the Parentalia, held February 21. The dead (“manes”) wandered around the cemetery, enjoying offerings left for them. Temples were still closed so people gave the manes all their attention.

The Feralia also honored God Jupiter Feretrius, the aspect of Jupiter that made certain oaths were kept. He witnessed the signing of contracts and marriages, with those involved asking that He strike them down should they break their vows.
A women’s ritual in honor of Tacita, the Roman Goddess of Silence, was lead by an older woman. The main part involved sewing the mouth of a small, dead fish closed, as the woman said, “We have bound tight hostile tongues and unfriendly mouths.”

After honoring the ancestors, the Cara Cognatio (Roman Festival of Caring Kin) honored the living family and household deities on February 22. Household deities received offerings and the family members made peace and prayed for harmonious relationships.

February 23 is the Roman Festival of Terminus, God of land boundaries.

On the 27th Rome held horse-racing festivals for was God Mars called the Equirria.

Epona, Macha, Rhiannon & the Horse, Head & Hero Cult

epona_watermark_ AlexandraRena
Epona by Alexandra Rena

For Epona’s Day, I’m sharing quite a bit from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters. If you would like information about the widely popular Dies Equeunu/ the Alci, Celtic funeral practices, to read the beautiful Epona ritual by Viducus Brigantici filius and learn more about the Folly Lane complex, check out the book. It’s less expensive here and all the profits go to sending copies to prisoners! Thank you!

Heads, Horses and Heroes: the Ancestor Cult

The Celtic Bronze and Iron Age religions focused a lot on death and rebirth. A stag cult with antlers probably symbolized the natural, never-ending cycle of life of everything. Roman records say that Gaulish Druids taught that after death comes rebirth in the Ancestor Paradise and then perhaps human reincarnation, continuing until everything is destroyed in fire and water. There is also a cult of important tribal ancestors.

In Southern Gaul life-sized statues of men in geometric-design armor sitting cross-legged on the ground began being made in the 7th century BCE. Over the next few centuries they became more realistic looking. They often sat in a row. Similar statues of at least four women were also recovered. Many scholars believe these statues depicted actual heroes or politically important ancestors.

As the Southern Gauls built oppida (walled urban centers usually on high land), they often included Greek columns, the ancestor-hero statues, along with images of horses and human heads. Space to display human skulls was included. Sometimes this shrine stood at the gates; at other places it was in the public center. The human head was a large part of the native Celtic religion.

Art of horses with pillars of male human heads were part of Celtic religion since the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age transition. Horses may have been guides home to the Ancestor Realm. Epona had a funerary aspect and it is the horse of Gwyn ap Nudd that is anxious to get the fallen heroes on the battlefield.

These seated warrior statues (often old and moved from another place), horse art, pillar and skull shrines were a central part of these Gaulish communities. The nobles kept the embalmed heads or skulls of their own deceased ancestors there. By displaying their own ancestors’ heads with the real or mythical ancestor of the community, they showed that they were the rightful heirs.

This cult was abandoned in the late Iron Age. Gaulish tribes migrated east and dynasties fought. The ancestor-hero statues were all destroyed, probably by rival Gauls. Later, the Roman Empire would not tolerate cults of tribal ancestors, because they kept Gaulish people from viewing themselves politically as Roman citizens. Some oppida probably were named after ancestor heroes which we assume are deities.

Continuing the Hero and Horse Cult Today

The ancestor cult involving horses was a pre-Roman Celtic religion for a long time. We can replicate the horse and head shrine, including images of our own dead heroes, those people who influenced us or had virtues or skills we desire and respect. At the horse and head shrine we can make offerings and pray for guidance from our heroines and heroes; serve others as a spirit worker communicating with ancestors; meditate on the mysteries of death and rebirth; or worship deities associated with those mysteries like Epona, Ataegina, Erecura, Gwyn ap Nudd, Arawn, Cernunnos, Sucellos, Nantosuelta, etc.

To bond a Celtic Pagan Circle, members can bring a human head or skull object that represents their own ancestors. Heads might show range of styles: Day of the Dead skulls, old ceramic doll heads, abstract skulls carved into wood, papier-mache heads, rocks that appear to have faces, etc. A tall, narrow shelving unit for the heads can serve as the pillar. Paintings, drawings, photographs or statues of horses, the guides, go around the pillar. Perhaps decorate with organic colorful striped or plaid fabrics, made from linen or wool if possible. (Even at Hallstatt the Celts were excellent weavers, the northwestern Iberian Celts invented new patterns used today, and Celtic cloaks from Britain became expensive luxury items in the Roman Empire.)

During a group ancestors ritual it’s important to make offerings like metal, ceramic or glass jewelry and art, handwoven fabric, daggers, small cauldrons of honeyed ale or grass fed butter (Kerry Gold butter is often with the fancy cheese in American grocery stores), and poetry, songs or stories about them. In Gaul offerings to the dead were often wrapped in expensive fabrics. The designs on metal are thought to originate from fabric. If you can knit with organic yarn (there’s cotton for vegans) or string glass beads into wildly colorful necklaces, you have perfect offerings!

In southwest Britain a point was made to destroy all the items used in a heroic ancestor feast, as seen in the Folly’s Lane complex. Enjoy a feast on wooden, ceramic or recycled paper plates and be certain the break, bend or tear all the dishes and utensils before burying them. You can find some beautiful inexpensive plates and bowls at second-hand shops. Do not use plastic, as it adds endocrine disruptors to the water supply.

Whenever the group meets, the shrine should be presented with offerings with feasts held when the year changes in November and May (and the night of June 23rd or daytime June 24th if you follow a Welsh tradition). New members can add their ancestor skull then. Leaving members should take theirs, unless they contributed a lot and still want to be remembered. (If the person or group cannot decide, use divination.)

Sometimes communities form around the values or skills of a common hero, dead or mythical. Marxists have Marx while Buddhists have the Buddha. The ancestor-hero joins people together. Humans are wired by evolution to want to belong. Cooperation, communication and collaboration has allowed us to survive and it’s a genetic desire to “fit in” and have a group home. Even if people do not share recent common ancestors, they can find a home with symbolic ancestors who represent the community’s virtues.

I once had a large mobile of Social Justice ancestors including Dorothy Day, Joe Strummer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Oscar Wilde, Bob Marley, Paula Allen Gunn, Dr Rev Martin Luther King Jr, Joe Hill, and a long list of farmers in Asia, radicals in England like the Diggers, lots of people from Central America and Haiti, early feminists, indigenous leaders, deep ecologists and slaves who led rebellions or were maroons, among others. It was the focus of a Samhain ritual I led in Sojourner Truth Park on the Hudson River. We called on hundreds of ancestors for support, guidance, wisdom and courage.

Although our culture has a genre of storytelling called “magical realism,” it is unknown in indigenous cultures. Magical realism is simply reality in traditional stories. The Celtic peoples accepted shapeshifting and monsters in their ancestor-hero stories. The Gauls were great followers of the Greek hero demi-God Hercules and the Gaelic tradition continued with Cu Chulainn and Fionn mac Cumail. Characters from books and movies are possible ancestor-heroes just as much as “real” dead people.

For many of us, especially women, environmentalists, people with disabilities and polytheists, that’s good news, because there are not very many well-known, dead people who probably share our vision for the future. We’re being the ancestors who are needed now. How many female polytheist, animist, ecologically minded, creative, disabled, NeuroDiverse, courageous, honest, generous, intersectional feminist Solutionaries have passed over who left impressive legacies for me to honor? Not a lot, but there are many people who shaped the world so someone like me may proudly exist. I can honor them as well as the characters in the comic books, mythology and sci fi/fantasy novels I devoured as a child who also helped me form my values.

Album_Caranda_par_Moreau_37434
Epona from the Album Caranda per Moreau

A Few Important Celtic Horse Goddesses

Epona “Divine Mare” Pronounced: EP-oh-nah

Epona is the protector of horses, ponies, mules and donkeys. She probably began as a native Celtic Goddess, but she also became a Goddess of the Roman cavalry whose worship spread among Gaulish, Germanic, and Illyrian horsemen. The earliest statues of Epona are found in Italy, Romania, England and Bulgaria. Later She appears in Gaul, especially northern, central and eastern Gaul. Epona is the protector of the Roman Imperial Horse Guard. Associated with many Roman deities, She is also linked to the Germanic Goddesses of the parade ground, the Campestres. Many works of art and inscriptions to Her are from outlying posts of the Roman Empire, especially at the well defended borders of Western Europe.

In Gaul, statues of Epona usually depict Her riding sidesaddle or walking with a horse usually to the right (sun wise), holding offerings of baskets of fruit or a cornucopia. Imperial statues show her seated facing forward between two horses who look at Her or eat apples or wheat. The Romans mass produced cult items. Statues of Epona were made from molds out of bronze, or the less expensive pipe clay. They were often kept in stables and barns and decorated with fresh roses. Epona was also very popular with the farming and mining Celtiberians in the mountains of northeastern Spain. To the Gauls, She appears to be associated with abundance (owning horses was a sign of wealth), while in Rome Her cult was strong with the cavalry and their family members who honored Her as their patron. Some images suggest She led the dead to the Afterlife. A rustic Italian calendar marks December 18 as Epona’s Day, but if anywhere else used that festival date is unknown.

Rhiannon “Great Queen” Pronounced: Hree-ANN-on

In the Mabinogi, Rhiannon is associated with sovereignty, horses, birds and being the wronged wife. Unlike the traditional women of Welsh medieval society, Rhiannon boldly chooses and courts Pwyll, King of Dyfed (pronounced Duv-ed) herself.

Pwyll (pronounced Pooy-ll) is now also called the King of Annwn, perhaps hinting at an earlier belief in His divinity. He purposely sits on an Otherworldly mound named Gorsedd Arberth where a noble will either be attacked or have a vision. Pwyll sees Rhiannon riding side saddle on a pale horse. She is so beautiful dressed in gold (perhaps a solar symbol) that even with a veil over Her face, He’s determined to meet Her. None of His men can catch Her, so Pwyll rides out himself. Her horse walks slowly and yet he can’t reach Her. Finally He calls for Her to stop. Boldly showing Her face (scandalous behavior when the Mabinogi  was written), She makes the witty reply it would have been better for him and his horse if he’d just asked in the first place.

This is an important lesson about the Sovereignty Goddess. You cannot catch Her; you must ask Her to stop. She follows Her will. The Gaelic Aine is a good example.

Rhiannon explains that Her father has promised Her to another man named Gwawl but She wants to marry Pwyll. Pwyll doesn’t handle the fiancé situation very wisely, much to Her frustration. However, due to Her plan, they are married.

When Her child is born on May 1st (Calan Mai), He is mysteriously stolen and She is falsely accused of killing Her baby. As punishment, She is forced to carry people up and down the hill to the palace like a horse while telling them Her sad tale. (This is the popular French court theme “The Wronged Wife” which is added to Branwen’s legend as well.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Dyfed, a man who lost a foal every May 1st to a monster, waited in his barn to stop the theft. Much to his surprise, a male infant mysteriously appeared as he protected the newborn foal. (This is probably from the famous Celtic version of the Indo-European young horse brother Gods, the Alci and Dies Equeunu. The earliest myths about Irish hero demi-God Cu Chulainn have Him born with a colt, too.)

This man (whose name is related to “thunder” and Taranus) and his wife raise this remarkable child as their own while Rhiannon continues her punishment. After seven years watching the boy excel at an astounding rate, the kind foster-family bring Her son to the King, recognizing they must be related. She named Her son Pryderi (pronounced Prud-ERRY), meaning “anxiety” or “care” when she announced that her “pryderi” has been returned to Her.

Eventually Pwyll dies in battle and Rhiannon is widowed. She is courted by Manawydan, the rightful King of Britain who is wise and respected. While She had to be sharp tongued with Pwyll, Manawydan enjoys Her keen wit. Their marriage goes well until Rhiannon and Her son are captured and imprisoned by allies of the rejected suitor of her youth. Manawydan smartly negotiates their release and the tale ends happily.

Her name may come from Rigantona, a Celtic Goddess whose name is either “Great Queen” or “Divine Queen.”

The Mabinogi used many popular medieval folk tale themes that were popular with French and other nobles. Celtic deity names, often very similar to those in the Irish Mythological Cycle, are found throughout the Mabinogi but the context may be wrong. However, Rhiannon breaks many rules for women in that time period, especially by choosing Her own husband, speaking directly and showing Her face, which link Her to Gaelic horse Goddesses Macha, the Morrigan and Aine.

Macha Pronunciation: MAH-kuh

“The remarkable, spirited one unbound, Loosened the hair on top of her head. Without a fierce shout driving her, She came to the racing, to the games… Though swift the horses of the chief, Among the tribes strongly apportioned, The woman was swifter, without effort; The horses of the king were too slow.” – From The Metrical Dindshenchas (place lore)

Probably the oldest of the Horse Goddesses, Macha is an important Goddess of Sovereignty, especially of Ulster. Her many roles show her ageless power. There are four mythological women or Goddesses named Macha in Irish literature. Emain Macha (pronounced EH-vin MA-cha), a real place where the ruler of Ulster lived, is named for Her. Horses and crows and ravens are Her symbols, much like Her sisters the Morrigan and Badb. The three Goddesses worked magic together against the Fir Bolg. The severed heads of the Fir Bolg were called Macha’s acorn crop. Macha was Nuada’s wife when two were killed in the Second Battle of Moytura by Balor‘s deathly eye. Macha doesn’t stay dead and Nuada isn’t dead either. When composing these tales the Christian monks made everyone a mortal. 

Macha first appears as the wife of Nemed (“sacred one” or “sanctuary”). Macha and Nemed both derive from pre-Bronze Age Celto-Germanic root words, hers for horse, his to sacred groves. Nemed cleared a plain where Macha died that He named after Her. Some say she died of prophetic heartbreak, seeing how the land would be destroyed by the battles told in Tain Bo Cualigne (“The Brown Bull of Cooley”). There were Lughnasa-style festivals held at Emain Macha, the royal center of Ulster. Macha doesn’t stay dead.

Next is the story for which She’s most famous. It sets up Ulster for its lack of warriors in Tain Bo Cualigne (“The Brown Bull of Cooley”). Macha now is an Otherworldly beautiful young woman who silently enters the home of Crunnchu, a wealthy farming widower, and begins caring for the house. She cleans it in a clockwise (deiseil pronounced JEH-shel) direction before going to his bed. Crunnchu watches his land flourish as Macha grows bigger with child. Macha is a fertility and prosperity Goddess. Her husband goes to the assembly, but Macha warns him not to mention her name. Watching the King’s horses race, Crunnchu accidentally says his wife can run faster. The King wants to see this and demands that Macha come to his court. To make sure She’ll arrive, the King puts Crunnchu in prison.

Macha now is nine months pregnant. She asks to give birth first, telling the King and all assembled “A mother bore each one of you.” No one showed compassion and they threatened to kill Her husband. Macha loosened her hair and ran the race, reaching the pole before the King’s horses. Macha then gave birth to twins. (They are considered to be the Gaelic version of Dies Equeunu/ the Alci.)

With Her dying breath Macha cursed the cruel men of Ulster to be as vulnerable and weak as women in childbirth during the five days and four nights whenever they would need their strength the most. For nine generations her curse would last, causing Cu Chulainn to fight alone in Tain Bo Cualigne (“The Brown Bull of Cooley”). Her role as Sovereignty Goddess is clear – when treated well things flourish, when abused the people are cursed. Macha still refuses to stay dead.

Last Macha is Macha Mongruad or “Macha of the Red Mane.” Now She is a warrior queen who is challenged by the five sons of Dithorba. Their father wants to be King and claims that Macha is unfit because She is a woman. While the five brothers eat, She appears looking like a hag and a leper, which Gaelic Sovereignty Goddesses often do to test men. Still they desire her. She lures them one at a time into the woods and has sex with each. Macha forces them to build the rath (a circular earthen enclosure) that today is still named Emain Macha. Emain Macha means the twins of Macha. Her tomb is in Armagh (Ard Macha) on the top of a tall hill. But she’s still not dead.

August 1st Ritual for Macha

Lughnasa-type festivities occurred at Emain Macha in late July and early August. If you feel a connection to Macha or Ulster, make Her the focus of your first fruits ritual.

 

Bibliography

Cunliffe, Barry, On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from Prehistory to AD 1500. Oxford University Press (2017)

Daimler, Morgan, Pagan Portals: Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism. Moon Books (2015)

Danka, Ignacy Ryszard & Witczak, Krzysztof Tomasz, DEIS EQLTL\LBO The Divinę Twins in Asturia, Dimensions and Categories of Celticity: Studies in Language, Piotr Stalmaszczyk & Maxim Fomin (eds) (2009)

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, From tomb to temple: on the role of hero cults in local religions in Gaul and Britain in the Iron Age and the Roman period, Celtic Religion Across Time and Space, Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (2010)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Koch, John T, Rock art and Celto-Germanic vocabulary: Shared iconography and words as reflections of Bronze Age contact, Adoranten (2018)

Jones, Mary (ed), Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia, http://www.maryjones.us/jce/jce_index.html

Sacred Texts Celtic, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/index.htm

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000)

Waddell, John, Equine Cults and Celtic Goddesses, EMANIA Bulletin of the Navan Research Group (2018)

Viducus Brigantici filius, Deo Mercurio, http://www.deomercurio.be/en/

Celtic Festival of Nechtan, Nodens, Nuada, Nudd & Llud

371px-Neptune_et_Amphitrite
Neptune

On December 1st (or the new moon) the Romans made offering to Neptune. I don’t have any more information than that, but it’s interesting that a God not very popular in Rome has two annual Festivals. Sailors preferred the Greek sea God Poseidon to Neptune.

Neptune, Gaelic Nechtan, Brythonic Nodens, Brythonic Nudd and Llud, and Gaelic Nuada all have linguistic roots in the proto-Indo-European God Xákwōm Népōt also known as Neptonos. Xákwōm Népōt seems to have guarded a well of fiery water, something associated with magic, wisdom, poetry and prophecy in medieval Irish writing. His name translates to “Uncle/ Close Relative in Water” but probably means “God Dwelling in Water,” the source of fiery water rising from the Underworld in wells and springs. Xákwōm Népōt is associated with the deities’ drink of immortality, *Nekter “death overcoming.” We find drinks that provide immortality, wisdom and kingship throughout Indo-European cultures. In Ireland it’s the Ale of the smith God Goibniu and the pork from Manannan Mac Lir, but mead or honeyed ale probably was the drink given to the Irish king during his inauguration.

If you would like to organize your worship of Celtic deities who have no known Festivals, you may want to use the Roman Imperial calendar. Aside from Ireland, the Romans conquered the vast world of the Celtic tribes and kingdoms. (Newgrange did have Roman tourists.) Sometimes Romans associated a native Celtic deity with a very popular Roman deity. However, Celtic people also choose the deity for themselves, leading to many Celtic Gods associated with Mars in one region and Mercury in another. The Celtic understanding of what a deity is never really matched that of the Romans, so the fit was often strained at first. However, over a few generations, new Celtic cults developed. When deities share a common origin like Xákwōm Népōt it’s easier to work with Their core importance. In this case, we find both, overlapping in different Celtic deities.

The Deities

Nechtan Pronounced: NEK-tan

Nechtan is the Gaelic keeper of the Well of Wisdom. Around the well grow nine hazel trees which are in bloom and provide fruit at the same time. Drinking the water, eating a hazelnut from the well, or eating a salmon that has eaten the hazelnuts gives someone the knowledge of everything. Living in the Otherworldly Síd Nechtain, only Nechtan and his three young female cup-bearers could visit the well safely. (Cup-bearers were important for the safety of royalty, as they protected the cups from being poisoned.) Nechtan is often cited as the husband of Boann.

Many have searched for the well, which appears with different names such as Connla’s Well, Well of Coelrind, Well of Nechtan, and the Well of Segais in different tales. The famous Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats visited the well in a trance and wrote it was filled with “waters of emotion and passion, in which all purified souls are entangled.”

Invocation to Nechtan by Heather Awen

He of the shining waters that spring from the earth,
He who is the fountain that arises filled with imbas,
He from where all rivers begin,
Nechtan, Nechtan, Nechtan, God of the holy well,
May you sense my call.
So crucial are you to the Celtic soul,
You fill the prophet’s head.
Hazelnuts fall, ancient salmon return to spawn,
For you are the source of it all.

Boann “white cow” Pronounced: BO-an

“Boann from the bosom of our great riverbank, Mother of very fine Aengus, The son she bore the Dagda, A clear honor in spite of the man of the Sid.” -From Dindshenchas (place lore)

Boann is a member of the Tuatha De Danann (pronounced TOO-ah-hah djay DAH-nahn). She is the daughter of Delbaeth, the son of Elada. The white cow is the ultimate Indo-European symbol of abundance and wealth. Cow Goddesses are usually mother Goddesses of fertility who are devoted to the tribe’s abundance. White animals have no camouflage and rarely live to adulthood. Because they are so rare, they are sacred in many cultures.

Some say Boann is the wife of Elcmar who lives in the sid (mound) of Newgrange; others swear that her husband is Nechtan, keeper of the Well of Wisdom. Even while knowing she was a devoted wife, the Dagda desired Boann. The Morrigan was wonderful at protecting their land, but the Dagda sensed Boann could make it flourish with life. Although it was against her faithful nature, Boann made love with the Dagda. To keep Boann safe, the Dagda tricked Elcmar into leaving for one day, but kept the sun in the sky for nine months. That was enough time for Boann to carry and give birth to Aengus Mac Oc “conceived and born on the same day.”

Boann later went to the Well of Wisdom, Tobar Segais, some say to purify herself and others say to prove herself innocent of having the affair. Those who approach the well must move in the correct ritual manner (clockwise/sunwise) and have no moral flaws. But Boann, who cheated on her husband, walked around the well counterclockwise. Did she do it on purpose, filled with shame, or did she truly forget how to approach the well? Whatever her reasons, as she circled the spring its fiery waters rose. They rose and rushed after Boann! She ran towards the ocean and the waters followed, ripping away one of her eyes, one of her arms and one of her legs. What was left was the newly created River Boyne, feeding the rich farmland near the High King’s court of Tara. She flowed past Newgrange, the huge astronomical observatory and cheiftain tomb from Ireland’s first days of agriculture.

Some say that by losing her eye, arm and leg to the Well of Wisdom Boann gained Second Sight, being half in the Otherworld.

The Boyne River has been an incredibly important river in Ireland since the Neolithic period and is the embodiment of Boann, the cow Goddess of fertility who gave birth to the God of youth. Boann’s painful transformation turned her into another source of life with knowledge of the Otherworld. Bealach na Bó Finne (“the White Cow’s Way”) is the Milky Way. Some say the milk comes from Boann herself.

Noden_bronze_plate
Fragment of a bronze plate from the Sanctuary of Nodens

Nodens Pronounced: NO-dense

An ancient Brythonic God of the sea, hunting and healing, Nodens (or Nodons) is the earliest form of the name of the Mabinogi Gods Nudd and Llud. His name may be related to the word “catcher” like a hunter or fisher, and some believe that his job included hunting and catching disease. Nodens is also connected with the Old Irish Nuada, an important figure from the Irish Mythological Cycle.

In ancient Britain, under Roman rule, a temple complex dedicated to Nodens was built at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire. The dormitories for the ill overlooked the Severn River and its tidal wave. (This river’s wave is so strong that today people surf on it. The Goddess Sabrina may be the Severn.) Pilgrims traveled to the temple for healing, especially to have a dream where Nodens would tell them how to get better. The beautiful temple had a mosaic floor with images of fish, dolphins, and sea monsters, and was decorated with bronze reliefs depicting a sea deity, fishermen and tritons, nine statues of dogs, some similar to Irish Wolfhounds and one with a human face. (Dogs are associated with healing because they heal their own wounds by licking them. They are also associated with hunting.) Among the offerings were over 8,000 coins. Coins were possibly considered payment for killing animals when hunting.

The Celtic people often viewed water as a deity or a gateway to the deities and ancestors. The Greek deities often spoke to mortals in dreams, and the Romans put healing sanctuaries by fresh water, so this type of sanctuary may not have been a native Celtic concept. This complex grew very popular in later Roman rule, but we do not know what it meant to pre-Roman Britons.

In later Arthurian literature, Nodens may be the inspiration for the Fisher King.

Nudd “mist” Pronounced: Neeth and Llud Pronounced: Lleeth

Nudd and Llud known to us from  from the Mabinogi are later developments of Nodens. Nudd is most famous for being the father of ruler of Annwn, Gwyn ap Nudd. Llud is father of Gwyn’s lady love Creiddylad (pronounced kray-DU-ladd), the most beautiful maiden in Britain. Gwyn’s rival is Gwythyr (pronounced GWEE-thr). Lludd is considered by many scholars to be the same as Nudd, making Creiddylad Gwyn’s sister. Perhaps before the Christian influence on these folk tales Gwyn and Creiddylad were a typical brother -sister and husband -wife (or lovers) duo, like Osiris and Isis, Zeus and Hera and FreyR and Freyja.

Nuada Pronounced: NOO-adh-a, also: NOO-uh-thuh (ancient), NOO-uh (modern)

“No-one escaped from the sword of Nuada after he had been wounded by it, and when it was drawn from its warlike scabbard, no-one could resist against him who had it in his hand.” – “The Four Jewels of the Tuatha Dé Danann” The Yellow Book of Lecan

In Lebor Gabála Érenn (pronounced LEV-ar GA-vah-la ER-inn, in English “The Book of the Taking of Ireland”) Nuada was an early King of the Tuatha De Danann (pronounced TOO-ah-hah djay DAH-nahn). With a broad chest and blonde hair, he owned one of the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann, a magical sword that always gave victory to the warrior using it. A prophet and warrior, he was King when the Tuatha De Danann landed in Ireland. He’s the son of Echtach. Nuada has at least two children, a daughter Echtga of the mountain Slieve Aughty and a son Tadg Mor, from the Hill of Allen. He may be the grandfather of the Irish and Scottish hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill.

In the First Battle of Moytura (pronounced Moy Tura) his arm was cut off by a Fir Bolg warrior. The Fir Bolg King Eochaid predicted this would happen, describing the Tuatha De Danann as a flock of black birds. The Tuatha De Danann still won the battle and the Fir Bolg disappeared to the western isles off Connaught. (The western isles are often Otherworldly.) Dian Cecht and Credne made Nuada a silver arm and he became known as Nuada Airgetlamh (pronounced AR-gad-LAHV), Nuada of the Silver Hand. However, a king could not have any spiritual, emotional, mental or physical blemishes so Nuada had to step down. Bres took his place. When Bres was removed as king, Nuada became king again. Then he was killed by Balor, Lugh‘s Fomorian grandfather. As death doesn’t seem to apply to the deities, Nuada managed to rule for 20 more years.

Nuada’s name is linguistically connected to the Roman British God Nodens who had a healing spa. Another of Nuada’s names is Nuada Necht, suggesting a connection to the Gaelic God Nechtan, the God of the Well of Wisdom. This would make Nuada also a healer and a keeper of Wisdom. At first glance he may seem like only a warrior king but like the typical Celtic God there are many other layers to him. His marriage to the important Sovereignty Goddess Macha shows he is worthy of ruling.

Prayer to Nuada for Accepting Loss by Heather Awen

Once like you, old king of Danu’s children, I held power,
More than I do today.
Once like you, silver-armed Nuada, I had freedom,
More than I do today.
I pray to you, first king from the north, ancient leader of the Gods,
To have acceptance of my current situation,
Not to let it take my identity, but to merely accept this as merely one turn by the wheel of fate.
(Do we hear the Morrigan’s caw, and does that make you smile? Knowing
That the Goddess of destiny reminds us that her story for us is never over?)
Did you lose the power of kingship and control over the Tuatha De Danann? Yes, and yet
Did you lose your skill as a chieftain, your wisdom as a sorcerer?
Never!
Did you lose your arm, the one that led you and your family through many a battle? Yes, and yet
Did you lose your power as a warrior, your ability to provide and heal?
Again, we know the answer true!
Never!
What makes you, you, fair Nuada, is not a title, a position of power,
To be given and taken away, or
A body at the peak of perfection. No, that which makes you
You is your knowledge that the self is a glamour spell across the mind,
Filled with labels, beliefs and judgments that are
Not real, that change and shift
With new perceptions, such as how
A metal arm may be great in its own way
And a defeat may be a step towards a more important win in the long-term.
To hold lightly the sense of self and control,
You teach,
For we are more than external circumstances,
Greater than the stubborn illusions about identity to which our frightened minds may cling.
Instead you teach that there is life after what feels like death,
That change is inevitable,
And the wheel of fate will turn again,
And it’s best to stay at the calm center of the wheel
Than its spinning edges where the world is a blur of ups and downs.
Bring me to that calm center, Nuada of the silver arm,
Lead me to the wise acceptance that change is perspective
At least as much as situation
So I may know the greater pattern
And keep my balance no matter how the wheel may turn.

A Possible Ritual

Some readers have stated that they like actual ritual instructions. Xákwōm Népōt and the deities who continue spreading His Otherworldly fiery water have very specific rules about purity. This is physical and ethical, so if you have broken any vows, the root of relationships, late November is the time to make amends. Many tribal people have holy times for healing grudges and gossip in the community. Perhaps late November could be ours.

You could fast in a common way for Romans in the 1st century CE by not eating meat except for fish, abstaining from sex the night before and not drinking alcoholic beverages. (The diluted wine actually purified their drinking water and had a low alcohol content. We have better water purification – I hope.)

For your ritual, if you actually have a well or know where a spring emerges, make that your focus. Otherwise an altar with images and symbols of the deity is where you can make your offerings. A beeswax candle (which naturally purifies the air and smells a bit like honey) could be lit. You may want a container that won’t rust or leak as your sacred well of purified water. With the two primordial elements of the Celts and the fiery water represented, an image or symbol of the deity (or deities) being honored can also be added. If you and no one in your building doesn’t have asthma, burning herbs and resins on a charcoal made for incense could be added, using ones for purification. If you will be using an invocation or other poetry in the ritual, you might want to stash it someplace close and dry.

Clean the ritual space with nontoxic products. Baking soda gently scrubs everything from dishes, ovens to porcelain sinks. White distilled vinegar cleans glass and removes grease for shine. Both remove odors. Olive oil, fresh lemon juice and a little water cleans and protects wood furniture. Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap cleans everything: add a bit to a bucket of warm water and some white distilled vinegar for mopping most floors. Add infusions of herbs that purify.

Clean yourself only with things you can safely eat. Honey washes off easily, is antimicrobial, and helps both acne and dry skin. Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap diluted works great for hair and body. Baking soda is a safe exfoilant and a very tiny amount diluted in 8 ounces of water rubbed into the roots of the hair and rinsed away removes excess oil. Epson salts in a bath actually helps you detox through your skin and eases sore muscles. Hair rinse of apple cider vinegar makes it shiny. For dry skin and hair there’s everything from the light jojoba oil to rich shea butter, with olive or coconut oil in the mid-range. (Coconut oil on damp frizzy hair dries into ringlets.) There’s lots of recipes for nontoxic cleaning and body care, to which you can add herbal infusions, oils and salves.

Before you begin check that you have your offerings, matches, and any written praise poetry or invocations needed for the rite. (Hester Butler-Ehle has written fantastic ones!) Center, ground and shield. Keep your exhales long and do not hold your breath after the inhale. Droning instruments or rattles and bells (perhaps sewn on your clean clothing) may put you in a light trance state as you begin. Approach your altar or well respectfully, in a beeswax candlelit procession if possible. Circle it three times sunwise (clockwise). Offering ideas include but are not limited to: coins, ceramic, metal, glass and wooden images of fish, hounds and tridents, plus jewelry of the same materials. (Make sure that the ceramic glaze is safe – if it’s for holding food, you’re good. Also older metal pewter sometimes contains lead, which is really poisonous. With a deity based on purity, it’s even more important to not poison the soil or water.)

 

Bibliography

Butler-Ehle, Hester, Fieldstones: New Shoots from Stony Soil. Fieldstone Hearth

Daimler, Morgan, Pagan Portals: Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism. Moon Books (2015)

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

Gibbons, Miael and Myles Gibbons, The Brú: A Hiberno-Roman Cult Site at Newgrange? emania 23 (2016)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul, Divinidades indigenas em analise, J. d’Encarnacao (ed), (2008)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Hugh, Cristof and Mokina Kondziella, Textile symbolism in Early Iron Age burials, Connecting Elites and Regions: Perspectives on contacts, relations, and differentiation during the Early Iron Age Hallstatt C period in Northeast and Central Europe, Robert Schumann and Sasja van du Vaar-Verschoof (eds), University Hamberg (2017)

Jones, Mary (ed), Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia, http://www.maryjones.us/jce/jce_index.html

Khilhaug, Maria, The Maiden with the Mead, Masters thesis, University of Oslo (spring 2004)

L. Vitellius Triarius, Meditations on the Roman Deities: A Guide for the Modern Practitioner. CreateSpace (2013)

Laurie, Erynn Rowan, The Well of Five Streams: Essays on Celtic Paganism. A Megalithica Books Publication, An imprint of Immanion Press (2015)

Laurie, Erynn Rowan, The Preserving Shrine, http://www.seanet.com/~inisglas/

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Noyer, Rolf, PIE Dieties and the Sacred, Proto-Indo-European Language and Society

Serith, Ceisiwr, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. ADF Druidry (2007)

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000)

Willoughby, Harold R., A Study of Mystery Initiations in the Graeco-Roman World (1929)

Online Index to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of Invasions) based on R.A.S. Macalister’s translations and notes, https://celt.ucc.ie//indexLG.html

 

September Pagan Holy Days Resource

Onje Keon Pierce Gullveig Press logo
Gullveig Press logo design by Onje Keon Pierce

Gullveig Press sends an 18 page detailed polytheist calendar with dates of new (NOT dark) and full moons, Mercury Retrograde and lots of information about other Pagan cultures’ division of the year, month and week to incarcerated prisons for $2.25. But if you are pen pals with a Pagan in prison, you can copy each month’s calendar from this blog, print and mail! It’s usually posted on the 23rd so you have a week for sending by snail mail.

Make sure that you included the Introduction to the Calendar so they can understand the Athens calendar, the Julian calendar and have the dates for the new and full moon.

Thank you for doing this work for your pen pal! Gullveig Press is pretty swamped with projects – we just found an inmate with perfect spelling and grammar who has never used a computer to be our copy editor! While he’s in training and snail mail carries our work back and forth, it’s great that other individuals and groups are helping those in prison who can neither find nor afford decent Pagan resources. You rock!

The Anglo-Saxon name for September translates into “holy month,” possibly due to the many harvests.
The full moon started the very popular Greek Great Mysteries of Eleusis, a secretive initiation of rebirth that guaranteed a good Afterlife. It was based on Greek grain Goddess Demeter’s search for Her daughter Persephone.
On the 7th the Orisha Yemaya is celebrated for easing of sorrow, fertility, nurturing and protection of the home.
During September 6th to the 19th, Jupiter Optimus Maximus was celebrated with the Ludi Romani, the famous games of Rome. On the 13th (or full moon) a sacrifice was made to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, whose statues were dressed for the occasion. Tables of food were set before Them. The event was attended by every Senator.
A couple days before the dark moon, one neighborhood of Athens made sacrifices to Gaia, Greek Earth Mother, Hermes, and the nymphs (female nature spirits who are the daughters of Gaia or Zeus).
The 8th is sacred to Orisha Oshun as Our Lady of Charity.
Around the 6th day of the September-October lunar month, Athens may have offered some of the last year’s grain to Demeter before ploughing and sowing again.
Also around this time was a race held for Dionysos, Greek God of grapes and wine.
The 15th is sacred to Haitian lwa of romance and beauty Erzuli Freda.
On the 1st quarter moon of the September-October lunar cycle in Eleusis, Apollon was given sheep, male goat meat and other foods. A new eiresione (a sacred fertility symbol) was made and kept by the front door. An eiresione is an olive branch wound with wool yarn with hanging models of figs, cakes and jars of honey.
The next day Athens made offerings to the legendary Amazons.
After the September rye harvest, Lithuanian women would braid some grain tufts and lay the braid over an offering of bread and salt, saying, “Davei manei, Žemele, duodame ir tau.” (You gave for us, Mother Earth, we are giving for you, too.)

During the days before the full moon in the September-October lunar cycle, Greeks honored Demeter at the Thesmophoria, one of the rare times women could leave home without a male escort. Piglets, pine boughs and bread shaped like snakes and phalluses were offered on the first day. The next day women fasted, then feasted on the third and last day, drinking pomegranate juice. Goddess of a beautiful birth, Kalligeneia, was also worshiped.
Thesmophoria was celebrated throughout the Mediterranean for a long time. In Sicily its Priestesses were older, respectable women from noble families. A month before the rite they offered pigs to Ceres. On the first day of Thesmophoria a procession of women walked to the ritual huts where they stayed during the ritual. A Priestess had gathered the rotting remains of the pigs, which were put on the altar. The women mourned for Persephone. Reenacting Ceres searching for Persephone, the next night they wandered with torches, calling out at crossroads. On the last day they danced and sang and had feast which included phallic-shaped cakes, but forbid pomegranates.
On September 25th the Orisha Obatala of wisdom and purity is often honored in Lucumi.
According to Roman records, a Germanic tribe held a ritual on September 29 dedicated to a Goddess named Zisa in gratitude for victory. Popular theory thinks Zisa is wife of Tyr, who then was the sky father of the Germanic deities.
On the 29th the lwa Damballa Wedo is honored by those involved with Spiritualist Voodoo.
From September 29 to November 10, Latvian dead called Veļi were invited home for a feast. A male elder called the names of all the ancestors who had lived in the house that the living remembered. The spirits were scolded for not having helped the household enough and asked to do better this coming year. Together, the living and dead shared a meal. The dead were then rushed out, the house cleaned and, to protect the living, dirt was thrown in water.

If we’ve missed a traditional Pagan festival please let us know! Include information about the festival and the source of the information.

Festival of the Celtic Vulcan & Venus (Ucuetis & Bergusia, Gobannus, Goibnui & Gofannon)

288px-Statuette_Vulcanus_MBA_Lyon_A1981 © Marie-Lan Nguyen
Statuette of Vulcanus © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

The Celts created their own relationships with Roman deities, obviously viewing Them through cultural lens. Today it’s become more common to discuss the “native” Mars or “native” Jupiter of a Celtic region. Celtic polytheism did not appear to be as concerned  with the names of deities as much as the cultural context of Them. Who the Romans thought a “native” Mars or Jupiter was not relevant. This was explored in the post about the native Diana and Abnoba.

In some places we’ve lost the names of the Celtic deities, although archeological and historical evidence clearly points to a Celtic interpretation of the Roman deities. Sometimes the name of the Celtic deity became an epitaph for a Roman deity, but in other cases a Roman deity was embraced without a Celtic title. 

Two deities embraced by the Gauls and worshipped in Britain* are the Goddess of gardens Venus and the smith God Vulcan. The two were never considered a couple in Roman mythology or ritual, but in Celtic mythology and ritual it appears that They were. First a little information about these Roman deities, especially before discussing Their association with the Greek Aphrodite and Haephestus.

On August 23 is the Roman Festival Vulcanalia, the anniversary of the eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. Vulcan is the Roman God of destructive fire, lightning bolts (which He made for Jupiter) and craftsmanship. Under the volcano Mount Etna Vulcan forges weapons for Gods and heroes. Vulcan was in some ways connected to the Greek God Haephestus, the cuckold husband of Aphrodite. However, Vulcan and Venus were never a couple to Romans. Instead, Vulcan was sometimes married to Maia.

The season of drought** brought risks of fires. Even the temples of Vulcan were normally built outside of cities for protection from His wild fire. On August 23rd people gathered on the banks of the River Tiber and sacrificed living fish to bonfires. The ritual was probably meant to appease Vulcan and prevent dangerous fires.

In the north of England* when the Roman military, especially Gauls and Germans, defended Roman Britain, many inscriptions to Vulcan were carved.

The “Good Goddess” usually worshipped by women, Bona Dea, had a festival which shared the date of the Vulcanalia with Vulcan.

Venus became popular in Gaul much like the Roman God Mercury. Although She later gained attributes of the Greek Aphrodite, Venus was originally a goddess of fruit trees and market gardens. A fertility Goddess, as Venus Genetrix She became the mother of the Roman people through Her son Aeneas. Julius Ceasar, who conveniently claimed to be a direct descendant of Aeneas, started the cult of Venus Genetrix with a temple built in 46 BCE. As Venus Libitina, She is associated with death. A temple on Mt. Eryx celebrated Venus as the Goddess of love and beauty. In Britain six engraved gems to Venus Victrix (“Victorious”) wearing a helmet and holding a shield have been found, along with four other gems to Venus.

An incredibly multifaceted Goddess, the Gauls probably understood Venus as a powerful Goddess of the life force, as described by Roman poet Lucretius: “Throughout seas and mountains and sweeping torrents, and the leafy dwellings of birds and lush green plains, the Goddess Venus strikes soft love into the breasts of all creatures. She cause them to be lustful, and reproduce” (De Rerum Natura 1.1–15 LCL).

The Celtic peoples were used to Goddesses who were life-nurturing, deciders of death on the battlefield, mothers of dynasties, and guides to the Realm of the Dead. It’s possible that the complex Venus may have been the Roman Goddess Who made the most sense to the Gauls. Titles of deities often changed; as with Greek and Roman polytheism, many Celtic Gods appear to have  had several descriptive names. To replace a local Goddess with the name Venus wasn’t difficult, but the local Celtic Venus would be different from the Goddess Romans knew.

The Galicians in Iberia, according to Saint Martin, the Bishop of Braga, still celebrated the Vulcanalia in the mid-6th century and couples still married on Friday, the day of Venus.

As seen with Mercury and Rosmerta and  Nemetona and Mars, it probably did not make sense to Celtic peoples that deities would not be in couples. Venus and Vulcan appear to be a couple in the Gaulish religion. They were often depicted together.

Gaulish Vulcan was especially popular in Eastern Gaul, from Metz to Worms. Usually depicted in the traditional Graeco-Roman style, a 1st century CE relief of the smith God with Venus provides a very different image. Vulcan is young and without a beard. A stag stands behind Him. His right hand holds a torch as if it is a scepter.

Elsewhere in Gaul a two sided relief allows us to view the Celtic Venus and Vulcan. On one side Venus stands naked, her left hand holding Her hair while Her right hand gently touches a winged Cupid. On the other side Vulcan holds His hammer and tongs, a stag again behind Him. There’s no Roman mythology to account for the stag. This is an interpretation of Vulcan that is Gaulish. The stag may represent the annual vegetative cycle of death and rebirth, as its antlers are shed and grow back. Or it could refer to the Celtic nobles’ recreation of hunting.  There’s even a chance it’s a magickal stag like in the first book of the Mabinogi.

As in most Pagan cultures, the Celtic peoples revered the apparent magic of the blacksmith. In Alesia, Burgundy, the Gaulish God Ucuetis and Goddess Bergusia were honored by craftsmen who worked with metals, while the Gaulish Gobannus was probably a God of smiths near Bern. The Gaelic smith God Goibnui serves the Ale of Immortality to the Tuatha De Danann and owns the cow whose milk is now the Milky Way. Smiths were associated with Druids in Ireland when Druid simply meant sorcerer, someone who works with mysterious forces and should be feared.

Currently the general consensus is that Venus and Vulcan were understood by the Gauls to be providers and protectors of the land’s fertility. In typical Celtic fashion, They have many aspects to Their power and need to be in a heterosexual couple to access them.

Although Ucuetis and Bergusia were not associated with Vulcan or Venus, the Vulcanalia may be the best time to honor Them. At Alise-Sainte-Reine is the inscription, “Martialis, son of Dannotalos dedicates this keliknon (small temple?) to Ucuetis – together with the smiths, who (worship) Ucuetis in Alesia.” An image of a Romano-Celtic God with a hammer and Goddess with symbols of abundance was discovered there, so perhaps Ucuetis and Bergusia are not so different from the Gaulish Vulcan and Venus. They certainly deserve the worship They once received!

Celebration Possibilities

Today’s Celtic Pagans could put statuettes of Venus and Vulcan in their gardens or with houseplants. Gauls especially loved Venus and bought pre -made little terra cotta statuettes of Her. Give prayers and offerings to form a relationship with these deities of great, wild powers that include everything from sexual passion to fires raging out of control. Pay attention to how the seasons change your potential food intake.

If you live where there’s a threat of wildfires, offerings to Vulcan should be made. You may also want to do this if you live near an active volcano. Real fish or Goldfish crackers burned in a fire pit or outdoor grill would be appropriate offerings. If you know the indigenous name of the mountain, use that after you’ve studied the indigenous cultures of where you are. You don’t want to offend any deities or spirits. To prevent cultural misappropriation, follow your usual ritual format, but include the name of the local volcano. (If there’s any traditional taboos, likes and dislikes of the indigenous deity, definitely follow those!)

This is a festival that could be for the wealth of craftspeople. Bergusia seems to be associated with prosperity and Ucuetis with smiths. Any artists and makers could keep a shrine to the divine couple to guide, protect and bless their workspace, and to ensure fair payment.

As we have no dates for a Festival of GofannonGoibnui or Gobannus, if you want a date for worshipping Celtic smith Gods, August 23rd may work for you.

03_Alesia_site_archeologique_monument_Ucuetis
Archeological site of Alesia, in Alise-Sainte-Reine, Burgundy, France: monument to Ucuetis. Photo by Myrabella/ Wikimedia Commons.

 

*Many of the deities, including Celtic deities, that we know were worshipped in Britain were not native, but instead were brought by the Roman military which included a lot of Gauls. These Gaulish deities, especially at Hadrian’s Wall where most names are found, were honored by the soldiers policing or actively opposing the native Britons. We don’t have many names of the Brythonic deities worshipped by the native Britons in the Iron Age.

** Unless you live in certain parts of the USA, the four Gaelic Pagan festivals don’t match what is happening with the land where you worship. Festivals from Rome (or imported from the Eastern Mediterranean (like Greek city-states), Persia (Iran), the Levant and modern Turkey) allow Celtic polytheists a way to connect to the drought in the majority of states. Athens has a seasonal cycle close to SoCal, for example. The Celtic Galatians ruled part of Turkey, others settled in the Hungarian Plain and an incredible amount lived for many centuries in the temperate forests of inland or on the Atlantic Iberia. The land is the focus of most rites, so seek ones that make sense for where you are.

 

Steel Bars, Sacred Water is available directly from Gullveig Press at a lower price than at Amazon. All proceeds go to sending free copies to incarcerated Pagans. We have special bulk order and prison clergy/ volunteer prices and Australian discounts, as Amazon Australia does not carry the book. We will happily buy a prisoner a copy if you donate $12 U.S.! And remember to donate used paperbacks on almost any topic to your nearest books-to-prisoners organization. Many prisoners are functionally illiterate, so your donation will improve on average seven prisoners ability to read per book!

 

Selected Bibliography

Bernstein, Francis, Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome. Harper Collins e-books (2000)

Butler-Ehle, Hester, Fieldstones: New Shoots from Stony Soil. Fieldstone Hearth (2013)

Cunliffe, Barry, On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from Prehistory to AD 1500. Oxford University Press (2017)

Cunliffe, Barry, The Ancient Celts. Oxford University Press (1997)

Haussler, Ralph, The civitas Vangionum: A New Sacred Landscape at the Fringes of the Roman Empire?

Haussler, Ralph, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul, Divinidades indigenas em analise, J. d’Encarnacao (ed), (2008)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Jones, Prudence and Pennick, Nigel, A History of Pagan Europe. Routledge (1995)

L. Vitellius Triarius, Meditations on the Roman Deities: A Guide for the Modern Practitioner. CreateSpace (2013)

Macculloch, J.A., The Religion of the Ancient Celts, Edinburgh: T. & T. CLARK (1911)

MacKillop, James, A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press (2004).

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Rankin, David & d’Este, Sorita, The Isles of Many Gods: An A-Z of the Pagan Gods & Goddesses worshipped in Ancient Britain during the first Millennium CE through the Middle Ages. Avalonia (2007)

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

Viducus Brigantici filius, Deo Mercurio, http://www.deomercurio.be/en/

Did the Celtic Britons Have Tattoos?

Every so often I find information that I think will interest a number of Pagans. I have not shared it due to having nothing to add, but I believe that sharing the quotes could enhance discussions about many topics. I plan to do it more often so people without as much time (and NeuroDiverse hyperfocus) as me may read some academic sources for themselves.

Some Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans have attempted woad tattoos that didn’t work. It is generally believed that the Britons used woad to paint blue designs on skin instead. So, did they ever have tattoos?

Dzino writes:

“In a recent comparable study of tattooing in pre-Roman and early Roman Britain, it is well-argued that tattooing there was visibly displayed and short-lived, taking place only during the period of Roman conquest as a part of changing communal and private identities, resistance and acculturation.”

This time period matches with the other short-lived, unusual practices by the Britons, detailed in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters.

 

Bibliography

Dzino, Danijel, “The people who are Illyrians and Celts”: Strabo and the identities of the ‘barbarians’ from Illyricum, Arheološki vestnik 59 (2008)

 

Celtic Festival of Andraste, Andate, Andarta & Brigantia (Brythonic)

BrigitteCelt
Brigantia, Museum of Brittany

This is part of an ongoing series of posts about Celtic deities Who have been associated with Roman deities. It used to be thought that the Romans forced their choice of Roman deity on the Celtic speaking tribes. Today it’s considered more likely that the Celtic natives often chose which native deity best matched their understanding of Roman ones, as many Celtic deities are associated with more than one Roman deity. The Roman pantheon, so neatly organized by function in the 1st century CE, just doesn’t match the Sovereignty Goddess and tribal chieftain God most common in Celtic cultures.

Perhaps if the Celtic peoples choose which Roman deities were similar to their native ones, they also used the Roman calendar for religious purposes. At the very least, the Empire’s calendar gives the Celtic polytheist (especially those who honor Gaulish and to a lesser extent Brythonic and Iberian Celticdeities) a year of organized festival days. It also allows me to get the word out about amazing, once-famous deities like Telesphorus, Neto, Erecura, Lenus, Sulis, the Matres, Lug, Sirona, Taranus, Abnoba and many others. Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners has a strong focus on ALL the Celtic speaking peoples’ and their deities, histories and known ritual activities. Knowing that people in prison can barely afford shampoo and paper, I wanted this giant book to cover everything known about Celtic Paganism so they wouldn’t have a reading list that they couldn’t afford. (And it is gigantic. I feared that it would be refused by prisons on the grounds that it was a blunt object. Not only is it 8×11″ and over 550 pages, we used every bit of white space for articles and art and eliminated the waste of blank pages where we could.)

Friends have said that it shouldn’t have been so obviously marketed to the 1 in 1000 Americans who are incarcerated Pagans because it is the only book about Gaulish, Brythonic and the new wealth of Celtic deities in Iberia (the possible home of the Celtic languages and known home to more Celtic settlements than the rest of the Western European Celtic world). After all, it’s the book which they’ve been “waiting all their lives” to read. (No pressure there!) Many, disappointed that there were no books on Celtic polytheism aside from Gaelic (and the Gaels are definitely covered in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters), ended up Heathens because of the large amount of Heathenry 101 books. (Also there’s a very old, pre-Celtic even, linguistic, cultural and religious connection between the two linguistic groups that continued into the Viking Age.) Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan “homework” is nowhere near as simple as that for Heathenry (the Eddas). The sources for accurate Celtic information are usually found in peer-reviewed journals published almost daily. Important bits are hidden in linguistics, archeology, biased Roman and Greek history, writing by Irish monks determined to make the ogham Biblical and other disparate sources. If you wondered how the Celtic speaking peoples depicted their deities before the Roman influence, what the deal is with all these boars, and why is this mysterious “Old North” of the Britons, Gaels, Angles and Picts that no one explains so important, this is your book. If you wanted rituals based on historical evidence that you can just start practicing, Gullveig Press has you covered.

Why? Because this is the book I wished someone had written instead of just websites complaining about the books with completely inaccurate information. Please, if you research and practice polytheism, consider having both print versions of your writing available for sale to those without Internet access (preferably at a discount for prisoners) and an e-book or pdf for those with ink intolerance, like me. (Our books are available for those with MCS ink intolerance.) I want to read them! (Anything anywhere on Kemetic Reconstruction? Non-fascist, academically researched Baltic Reconstructed Paganism? A respectful collection of Sumerian mythology, the basis for many myths in the Christian Bible’s Old Testament? Reading online really hurts my eyes but I can copy website information, especially if it’s well organized. Contact me!)

No profit is made by Gullveig Press – all money from sales to awesome, intelligent (and might I add quite attractive?) people like you covers the printer’s cost and postage to send free copies directly to inmates or books-to -prisoners organizations. Amazon takes a big chunk of those profits, so please consider buying your jam-packed, incredibly heavy copy directly from here. It’s even less expensive!

Enough plugging of the book and our love for these deities and consistent work supporting Pagans in prison! On with the post!

Victoria

On July 17th the Romans made sacrifice to the Goddess of Victory, Victoria. The native British Goddess Brigantia was associated with Victoria sometimes. However, She’s been covered in this post. (Still, feel free to honor Her today. As the Goddess of the most powerful tribe in Britain, She is used to all the lovin’ you can give! How She probably was brought to Leincester by tribes already exposed to Christianity in Briton and became, partially for political reasons, Ireland’s first home grown Saint, Brigid, read here.)

Andraste and Andate

This leaves us with the formidable Goddess Andraste (“indestructible”?) Who may be the same Goddess as Andate, a name meaning “victory.” Andate may be associated (at least linguistically) with the Gaulish Goddess Andarta Whose name means “well-fixed, staying firm” and was worshipped in Southern France and Bern, Switzerland. 

boudicca-engraved-vintage-illustration-queen-boudicea-victorian-book-dated-no-longer-copyright-41960046_kindlephoto-1647170015
Boudicca on her chariot

Boudicca/ Boudica

The information we have about Andraste and Andate

comes from Roman writing about the rebellion of Britons led by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni. Although the Roman historian Tacitus spelled her name as Boudicca, it may have been Boudica, which means “victory.” Among many other things, Tacitus wrote about events in Britain. His father-in-law served the Roman military during Boudicca’s rebellion, so Tacitus probably recorded much of the older man’s memories of battle.

Historian Cassius Dio is our other source of information and he, too, obviously was biased against the Britons. After all, the Romans were at war with the Britons at this time (60 or 61 CE) and like all writers of war, he had to demonize the enemy as “the Other” and probably made up the detailed torture described. (Tacitus never mentioned it.) However, the rebellion was incredibly violent and both sides used torture. Boudicca’s forces did burn down three important Roman cities and massacred around 70,000 Romans and pro-Roman Britons. Red charred debris can still be found 2,000 years later in London, at that time the Roman merchant center Londinium.

It’s speculated that the Southeastern British tribes’ rebellion was meant to be coordinated with that of one led by the Druids from their island of Mona (modern Anglesey) on the other side of Britain. The Roman military was actually slaughtering the Druids when Boudicca led her forces to war. Another tribe who joined in the rebellion was the Trinovantes, whose capitol was taken by the Romans and turned into Camulodunum (modern Colchester). Roman historian Tacitus wrote in The Annals: 

“(T)hese new (Roman) settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove (the Trinovantes) out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves ….”

Cassius Dio wrote of the rebellion more than a century after it happened. He has Boudicca speak of history she would not have known for the benefit of his Roman readers. Obviously no one had no electronic recording devices so what she actually said is unknown.

For the Celtic Polytheist

What is particularly interesting for the Celtic polytheist is that: Queen Boudicca speaks directly to Andraste possibly because nobles also had a Priestly function or because Britons prayed to their deities without the Priest middlemen (as noted with Sulis); Boudicca uses a popular form of divination in the ancient world that continued in Scotland until a couple hundred years ago: looking at the movement of animals; female Britons were not only fierce warriors (which we’ve read about the Gauls and some Celtic tribes in Iberia) but were also military commanders; and the Britons held feasts and made sacrifices for deities like in other Celtic cultures.

This is even more helpful for the Brythonic polytheist. During the time when Britain was part of the Roman Empire, Gaulish and other Celtic soldiers in the Imperial military brought their native deities. Most Celtic deities whose names have been recovered in Britain were from the temples and inscriptions made by these foreigners. The groves of native deities do not have stone inscriptions, so Their names are lost to us. Although there was trade between the Britons and Gauls, most of the known deities worshipped in both Britain and Gaul probably were originally Gaulish. In Andate and Andraste we have definite names of native Brythonic Goddesses. Based on the evidence at the sanctuary of Sulis and records by Tacitus and Cassius Dio, we know that prayer was part of ancient religious practice. To honor Andate a feast and the making of offerings in a grove is suggested.

Sometimes I wonder about worshiping a deity of victory Who failed to deliver, and then I remember our deities are not all-knowing, all-powerful or all-loving. They have greater knowledge and power than I do and a divine ability to love which transcends “reason.” Andate and Andraste did provide victory to these people most of the time or They would not have been worshipped. We face so many battles against diseases, lookism, racism, misogyny, transphobia, heterosexualism, ableism, faithism, ageism, depression, anxiety, poverty, trauma, hubris, self doubt, violence in the home and streets, echoes from shame-based religions, pollution, self-harming relationship patterns, isolation, the 6th huge planetary extinction, nuclear weapons, fracking, family discord and so much else – surely Andate and Andraste have much to offer if we only return to Their worship.

No deity has ever given human followers everything they wanted or needed. Ever. The forces in motion (Wyrd) may prevent Them from helping, we do not at this time know what we really need, some plan is already in place, astrological transits fight our will, the laws of nature won’t allow our wishes to come true, our prayers interfere with the best course for certain others, possibly we broke an oath to a deity, or some other reason we may not  currently understand means we all have to “lose” sometimes. But the deities provide much including comfort, so we honor Them and celebrate the miracles happening every day.

Thank you, Andate and Andraste!

Some Source Material

It’s important to read some source material so you at least understand what modern polytheist writers have to work with. You can also check that the writer knows what they are writing about. It is possible to understand some information in different ways because we all have our own interests and beliefs. Below is part of Thayer’s translation of Cassius Dio:

“(T)he person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Buduica, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women. This woman assembled her army, to the number of some 120,000, and then ascended a tribunal which had been constructed of earth in the Roman fashion. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh: a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire. She now grasped a spear to aid her in terrifying all beholders and spoke as follows:

” “You have learned by actual experience how different freedom is from slavery. Hence, although some among you may previously, through ignorance of which was better, have been deceived by the alluring promises of the Romans, yet now that you have tried both, you have learned how great a mistake you made in preferring an imported despotism to your ancestral mode of life, and you have come to realize how much better is poverty with no master than wealth with slavery…. Why is it that, though none of us has any money (how, indeed, could we, or where would we get it?), we are stripped and despoiled like a murderer’s victims?…

” “However, even at this late day, though we have not done so before, let us, my countrymen and friends and kinsmen, — for I consider you all kinsmen, seeing that you inhabit a single island and are called by one common name, — let us, I say, do our duty while we still remember what freedom is, that we may leave to our children not only its appellation but also its reality. For, if we utterly forget the happy state in which we were born and bred, what, pray, will they do, reared in bondage?”

“When she had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Buduica, raising her hand toward heaven, said: “I thank thee, Andraste, and call upon thee as woman speaking to woman; for I rule over no burden-bearing Egyptians as did Nitocris, nor over trafficking Assyrians as did Semiramis (for we have by now gained thus much learning from the Romans!), much less over the Romans themselves as did Messalina once and afterwards Agrippina and now Nero (who, though in name a man, is in fact a woman, as is proved by his singing, lyre-playing and beautification of his person); nay, those over whom I rule are Britons, men that know not how to till the soil or ply a trade, but are thoroughly versed in the art of war and hold all things in common, even children and wives, so that the latter possess the same valour as the men. As the queen, then, of such men and of such women, I supplicate and pray thee for victory, preservation of life, and liberty against men insolent, unjust, insatiable, impious, — if, indeed, we ought to term those people men who bathe in warm water, eat artificial dainties, drink unmixed wine, anoint themselves with myrrh, sleep on soft couches with boys for bedfellows, — boys past their prime at that, — and are slaves to a lyre-player and a poor one too. Therefore may this Mistress Domitia-Nero reign no longer over me or over you men; let the wench sing and lord it over Romans, for they surely deserve to be the slaves of such a woman after having submitted to her so long. But for us, Mistress, be thou alone ever our leader.”

“Those who were taken captive by the Britons were subjected to every known form of outrage. The worst and most bestial atrocity committed by their captors was the following. They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body. All this they did to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour, not only in all their other sacred places, but particularly in the grove of Andate. This was their name for Victory, and they regarded her with most exceptional reverence.”

 

Bibliography

Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

MacKillop, James, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press (1998)

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Prósper, Blanca María, “The Venetic Inscription from Monte Manicola and Three termini publici from Padua: A Reappraisal”, Journal of Indo-European Studies 46, Number 1 & 2, Spring/Summer (2018)

Tacitus, The Annals, 14.31

Thayer, Bill translation, Cassius Dio, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/62*.html (retrieved July 16, 2019)

Turkilsen, Debbie, An In-depth Analysis of the Lives of Boudica of the Iceni and Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes