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!
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 Gofannon, Goibnui or Gobannus, if you want a date for worshipping Celtic smith Gods, August 23rd may work for you.
*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.
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