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.

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/

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Celtic Festival of Herakles, Ogmios, Ogma

This is part of the Celtic polytheist calendar I’ve been developing throughout this blog. (Click on the Subject “Festival” and you’ll find them all.) Basically, since we know that the Celtic speaking tribes had quite a lot of say in which Roman deities were associated with which native deities (based on their limited understanding of Roman religion) and changed Roman practices to fit the Celtic cosmology, I thought “Maybe some Celts used the Roman Festival calendar for their own purposes.” There were a lot of changes over a few generations, including a nostalgic, self-conscious effort to be “more traditional” especially in Britain. Celtic religion has never been static. Celts constantly, of their own volition, changed cultural elements since we know of their emergence into history.

The southern Gauls adopted some Greek architectural elements. They chose to include foreign deities to their pantheon like Apollon (Roman Apollo) and Hermes from the Greeks. Later the Romans recorded that the Celtic people were big followers of the Roman demi-God Hercules. It stands to reason that they may have already known Hercules from the Greeks, in His original spelling Herakles.

And some time in August, Athens had a festival for Herakles that involved feats of strength.

Aside from the possible inclusion of Hercules to your Celtic polytheist practice, this may be a good time for honoring Ogmios and Ogma. The Greeks and Romans understood that the deities were pleased with human excellence and so they involved the best of athletic and dramatic skills in festivals. Your Ogmios or Ogma festival could involve dedicating physical exercise (like your work out, dance class or hike) to the God. You also can’t go wrong with offerings of wine (Ogmios) or ale (Ogma), pork or animal crackers, fresh water, grains, organic grass-fed dairy, glass beads, metal symbols like a chain (Ogmios) or small sword, beeswax candle, singing, reciting of poetry, praise, prayer or depicting Him yourself. You may want to have Ogma bless your Ogham set.

Ogmios

Gaulish Ogmios was portrayed as an old bald man with dark skin, armed with a bow and club, leading smiling people whose ears were chained to his tongue. The Gauls thought of Ogmios as being like their favorite Greek/Roman hero Hercules, and from this we know He was a strong and clever warrior. But for the Gauls, His strength was not just brute force; His powerful words led people to follow him cheerfully.

In one cemetery Ogmios was depicted as a companion of Erecura who usually appeared in statues with the Underworld God Dis Pater. Herakles was (among many other things) a psychopomp, so perhaps Ogmios plays a role in the Underworld. He is petitioned for help on two curse tablets, so He’s used to people in need turning to Him.

From Lucian of Samosata’s Prolalia Herakles, we get this quote from a Gaul: “We Celts do not agree with you Greeks in thinking that Hermes is Eloquence; we identify Heracles with it, because he is far more powerful than Hermes…In general, we consider that the real Heracles was a wise man who achieved everything by eloquence and applied persuasion as his principal force. His arrows represent words, I suppose, keen, sure, and swift, which make their wounds in souls. In fact, you yourselves admit that words are winged.”

To most Celtic polytheists, He is a God of eloquence and persuasion. This fits with the Celtic belief that a chieftain or deity had to be both a warrior and a poet. A warrior could prevent a battle with his words or rally the troops with an inspirational speech. Words have magical power, and charms were spoken or sung to add the necessary energies of healing, protection, and cursing. Poets were also prophets who could predict the future and devise ways to work with it. Ogmios shows us the reverence the Celtic tribes had for the power of speech.

If you are at a loss for words, I include my Invocation to Ogmios from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Invocation to Ogmios by Heather Awen
Hail, Ogmios!
God who gifts humans with language, powerful as any weapon,
God in the leopard’s skin, dark of complexion,
Your followers of old smiled upon hearing your words.
Speaker to oracles, God giving joyful news,
A hero who faces all challenges, a bard able to amuse,
Even followers today smile as your great power continues.

Ogma

Even though they look similar, the names Ogmios and Ogma are not great linguistic matches. However, They do seem to have a connection. Ogma is one of the greatest warriors of The Tuatha De Danann (pronounced TOO-ah-hah djay DAH-nahn). Known also as “Strong-Man,” “Sun-Faced” and “Sun-Poet,” he is eloquent like all good leaders of warriors. In Lebor Gabála Érenn he is described as so eager for battle that other warriors had to hold him back until it was time to fight. Ogma is the brother of the Dagda and Nuada.

Ogma invented the Ogham alphabet and many people studying the Ogham pray to him for guidance. In the mythological stories, the Ogham was a magic used by Druids (sorcerers) and a way for warriors to communicate about dangers. The knife that cut the wood is like a sword in battle.

Cú Chulainn is the greatest hero warrior in Gaelic mythology, just as Hercules is the greatest in Graeco-Roman myths. According to Bernhardt-House the connection between Ogmios and Hercules is found with Ogma and Cú Chulainn:

“The way this first ogam-cutting is described in the Book of Leinster’s version of the Táin is noteworthy: ‘Cú Chulainn went into the wood and cut a prime oak sapling, whole and entire, with one stroke and, standing on one leg and using but one hand and one eye, he twisted it into a ring and put an ogam inscription on the peg of the ring and put the ring around the narrow part of the standing-stone at Ard Cuillenn.’”

(Yes, he’s in the prophecy and Magick position also used by Babd and Lugh, the Crane Position.)

Celtic Pagans differ in how they relate to Ogma; some link him with speaking well, while others focus on his great skill as a warrior. Ogma is both and more. (Celtic deities are rarely as simple as “God of (this part of life).” They are usually talented in many ways, just like any Celtic chieftain would have been expected to be.)

Ogma found Orna, the sword of the powerful Fomorian king Tethra. After Ogma cleaned it, Orna told Ogma all the acts it had ever done in battle, another connection between battle and speech. (Animists often believe powerful tools have their own spirits and are living like everything else. This why many are named, like the harp the Dagda owns.)

With the help of the Ogham, Ogma could cause stones and sticks to speak. Things that normally cannot speak receive the ability to talk. If you are working on the psychic skills to learn the history of an object or place, perhaps Ogma would be a good teacher.

Invocation to Ogma by Heather Awen

Strong warrior, leader in the field,
Father of the Ogham alphabet
Valued by soldiers and Druids.
Ogma, powerful force for good,
Clever with signs and strategies,
Always ready to halt the source of injustice,
I call to you, and hope that you hear my words of praise.

Want to read about 159 other Celtic deities and heroes? Steel Bars, Sacred Water is available from us at a lower price than Amazon! Plus we receive more profits for buying copies for incarcerated Pagans!

 

Next Post: A historic overview of the Ogham!

Bibliography

Bernhardt-House, Phillip A., Warriors, Words, and Wood: Oral and Literary Wisdom in the Exploits of Irish Mythological Warriors, Studia Celtica Fennica VI (2009)

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

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

Ellison, Robert Lee (Skip), Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids. ADF Publishing (2007)

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

Guide to Gaelic Polytheism, http://www.GaelicPolytheism.info (accessed 2017)

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

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

Laurie, Erynn Rowan, Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom. A Megalithica Books Publication, An imprint of Immanion Press (2009)

MacCulloch, J. A., The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Public Domain (1911)

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

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

Rolleston, Thomas William, Myths & Legends of The Celtic Race. Public Domain (1911)

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)

Celtic Festival Calender: Abnoba & the Celtic Artemis/Diana

abnoba
Abnoba by Alexandra Rena

Celtic and Roman Deity Differences in the Roman Empire

This is part of my series where Festivals for Roman deities are linked with the Celtic deities associated with those Roman deities. For example, a Roman Festival for Minerva is a Brythonic Festival of Sulis, or the 2 week Festival of Aesculapius includes possibly the most popular, longest-worshipped Gaulish deity Telesphorus. Once the Celtic tribes and cities were conquered by Rome and made part of the Empire, the Celtic leaders and merchants would have learned the Roman year, which was filled with religious festivals. Even if Celtic people at that time ignored the festivals (highly unlikely for the cities of Gaul and Iberia, Celtic men in the Roman military and Celtic slaves) it gives modern Celtic polytheists a calendar for honoring many deities. We’re rarely lucky enough to know the date of a Celtic deity’s festival from an ancient Celtic culture – Erudinus may be our only one.

Many people believe that the Romans forced the names of their deities onto the Celtic deities, but scholars have shown that the Celtic people made the association between the deities on their own. This would explain why so many Celtic Gods are associated with Mars in one place and with Mercury in another. Even where Celtic people eventually forgot the Celtic titles of their deities, worship often continued under a Roman name. This is explored more in depth in the upcoming post on the “native” Vulcan and “native” Venus.

Celtic deities don’t have a lot of specialization, aside from smiths and healers. They provide everything a member of the tribe could need. There’s no ancient Gaulish, Gaelic, Celtiberian, Brythonic or other type of Celtic pantheon. Tribes were affected by place and shared history, which is reflected in the hundreds of Celtic deities whose names we know. There’s no God of only war, Goddess of only love, etc. Usually Celtic deities are in a couple: the tribal chieftain good at everything and the river/land Goddess of the bioregion. The Roman artisans mixed Celtic, Greek and Roman symbols together, providing us with an understanding of how the Celtic person who paid for the sculpture described the deity.

Usually the Goddess in the couple might have crows and ravens symbolizing scavengers who eat the dead on the battlefield or the funeral platform, or a horse associated with leading the dead to the Realm of the Ancestors. The God often holds a spear and shield, a hammer or club. He is sometimes accompanied by a hunting hound, although a few Goddesses are depicted with dogs. (The lap dog who sometimes sits on the lap of one of the Matres is possibly a way women warmed an abdomen with painful menstrual cramps.) Goddesses might be depicted with a cornucopia of fruits and grains of abundance and also have the crow of death in war; as the land, She’s Who provides and Who the people fight for keeping. This makes it difficult to say “Oh, She’s the Goddess of health (or the hearth or the harvest).”

At first neither the Romans nor the Celts probably knew very much (if anything) about the other culture’s deity. It would have taken a few generations before the cults became uniquely, regionally syncretic. Hymns and myths about the Roman deities would be taught by the poets and in theaters and Roman naturalist statues of their deities taught Roman and Greek symbolism. When depicted by a Roman sculptor, Celtic Gods often wore a cape and held a spear in one hand, shield in the other, much like a Celtic chieftain.

(When a large mitigating Gaulish warband attacked the Oracle of Delphi it was recorded that the men laughed at the statues of the Gods, unable to image deities in human form. As it was a brutal journey there and about to become much worst, and because we don’t know what Greek person present would have understood why the Gauls were laughing, and because the only the Greeks left a written record of this attack, this may be inaccurate. Archeology has recovered ancient Celtic statues of deities in northern Gaul and Scotland. The Celtic deity statue was made from a large pole and had a roughly cut faces and large genitalia. Their eyes were glass and some wore torcs. In northern Gaul the wood statues seem to have stood in the center of a square or rectangular open sacred space outside. The ground was packed by people walking or dancing around the pole.)

Celtic sacred groves by rivers were considered healing sites to the Romans, who built their healing spas by fresh water. Were deities with Roman healing temples like Nodens (the earliest form of the name of the Mabinogi Gods Nudd and Llud and the Old Irish God Nuada) originally healing deities or did They gain that function from the Romans? The huge healing sanctuary at Trier dedicated to Lenus Mars (a Belgae tribe’s primary God) was by a river probably because rivers and valleys (the same word in Gaulish) tended to be an important Goddess. Lenus Mars defended His people in that land, including from plagues, but the Romans added the dorms for sick pilgrims. Even though Lenus was associated with Mars, His battles were now focused on disease. This should remind us that how the Celts understood Roman deities like Mars was not the same as how the Romans understood their deities. (This is somewhat similar to a Dahomey native in Haiti worshipping python lwa Damballa with symbols of St. Patrick. That St. Patrick is nothing like what the Catholic church would recognise.)

“(T)he locals selected particular elements from in-coming cultures, endow these with religious meanings different from those they possessed in Graeco-Roman culture and then creatively merge these with indigenous traditions to create totally new forms….”
– Ralph Haussler, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul

It took a few generations to build the Romano-Celtic cults and I imagine that when they did, many Celtic people made offerings to their own deities during the festival of the related Roman deity. Even if they didn’t, for people who are resurrecting the worship of Gaulish, Iberian Celtic and/or Brythonic deities and seeking a calendar for rituals, this provides a lot of structure to adapt as desired. The Celts, typical for polytheists, brought in worship of “foreign” deities, like the Roman Mercury and Hercules. A Celtic Pagan need not worry about honoring only deities of one culture, as the Celtic tribes seem to have had varied pantheons based on the bioregion and tribal history. Many Southern Gauls adopted Apollon and Hermes from the Greeks in the 5th century BCE, so the lunar calendar from Athens may also have appropriate days for worship.

A Gaelic Reconstructionist worshipping Brig and Aine would seem very strange to ancient Gaelic tribes, when Brig was the Goddess of Leinster and Aine was the Goddess for Munster. No matter how we try, we won’t be able to recreate the pantheons ancient Celts knew; so many deities are lost to us in spite of knowing over 200 names. Also, those in Belgae had strong relationships with the North Sea Germanic tribes (the People of Ingvi-Frey), while those in Gaul adopted Venus, Goddess of gardens. How this would have continued if Christianity never appeared is impossible to guess except that some deities of new trade partners would have been become part of a Celtic people’s lives. Inclusive polytheism would have continued, especially as people traveled, married and had new bioregions to survive. Different cults would have formed around labor guild unions, river valleys, heroes and heroines, and a diverse understandings of past cults melded into rituals for modern needs. (Kinda like today’s well researched reconstruction -based polytheism!)

The Nemoralia and “Native” Diana

On August 13 (originally the full moon) Romans celebrated the Nemoralia. “‘Twas the season when the vault of heaven bends its most scorching heat upon the earth … and now the day had come when the torch smoke rises from Trivia’s [Diana’s] grove … and the [torch] lights twinkle on her lake” (Statius Silvae 3.1.55-57 LCL). This ritual for Diana was also known as the Festival of Torches, held at at Lake Nemi. Diana was know by many titles including Mistress of the Beasts, Grand Midwife, Goddess of the Moon, Lady of the Wilds, Guardian of the Oak, Friend of the Nymph, and the Protector of Maidens, many of which come from Her merging with attributes of the Greek Artemis.

On Diana‘s Festival, slaves and women were allowed to attend the ritual instead of working. All who participated washed their and decorated it with flowers. Diana’s sacred hunting hounds were also given garlands of flowers. All hunting was forbidden. The people walked in a religious procession to Her grove and lake (which most Celtic peoples would have understood from their own rituals). Diana received offerings of clay stags, ripe fruits and statuettes of mother and child. Her worshippers wrote their prayers on tablets or ribbons which were tied to trees. Later the popular festival was held on August 15, which possibly is why August 15 became the Christian Feast of the Assumption, the main holiday honoring Mary.

In his recent paper A Landscape of Resistance?, Ralph Haussler discusses the possibility of a Celtic interpretation of Diana in northern Italy: 

“The goddess Diana is often associated with a villa context, as goddess of hunting. But we should not forget that Artemis/Diana has more profound meanings which we might need to consider when trying to understand her distribution pattern in the Transpadana and Liguria: besides a cluster in Novarese and Lombardy, we also find her between Turin and Ben. Can she have been an interpretatio of an indigenous deity? In this respect, there is a dedication from Casalino (Novara) where Diana is associated with the Matronae. But we also find a sanctuary for Diana at Savigliano (Cuneo). It was organised by priestesses of the local pagus, magistrae pagi, suggesting that this was an extra-urban sanctuary, a civic cult of the local ciuitas.  Unlike many of our previous example, this sanctuary is not in a more marginal, hilly location, but it is situated in the plain, at the centre of a heavily centuriated area. Does this mean that
we are dealing with a Greco-Roman style Diana? Perhaps not since Diana seems to be a local phenomenon: nearby at Fossano, for example, we find a dedication to the ‘august’ Diana, but with the interesting formula sub asci, – a Celtic formula that is well attested in Transalpine Gaul and might therefore support the goddess’s more ‘native’ perception. And just north at Chieri / Carreum-Potentia, we find Diana again in a votive dedication Fonti Dianae Victoriae (‘to Fons, Diana, Victoria’ or ‘to the sacred spring of Diana and Victoria’?)….”

Another “native” Celtic Diana/Artemis Goddess was worshipped in Galatia, both in Camma where Her Priestess resided and further west. In Camma Her ritual focused on the hunt. Money was paid for every animal killed in the hunt, which was used for the Goddess’s Feast. The money also paid for Her sacrifice in gratitude for Her generosity. The ritual was similar to the Nemoralia in that dogs wore crowns made of flowers. Again we learn of a Celtic Goddess whose name was forgotten but who kept Her own identity.

Abnoba: Goddess of Mountain, the Danube and the Black Forest

Abnoba is a wonderful example of a Celtic Goddess of place. She is the mountain where the Danube River begins with the the Breg river, the Abnobaei montes are in the Baar foothills of the Swabian Alb near Furtwangen im Schwarzwald. Her name appears to have a connection with water, which would very likely be the Danube. The Danube was an incredibly important Celtic source of transportation, trade, food and life itself. Many deities are thought to be named for the Danube, including the Gaelic Danu. Abnoba was primarily worshipped in the Black Forest region.

As the source of the Danube, Abnoba had to be very important. In some ways She could have been viewed as the source of life. She may have served as the typical Celtic Sovereignty Goddess, with Her domain once associated with a tribe we don’t know. To the people in the area Abnoba must have had some maternal, royal and protective qualities much like Goddesses of other rivers. Her association (to the Romans) with Diana was probably because of Abnoba‘s importance in the Black Forest and Diana‘s home in the woodlands.

While many Romans honored Diana while far from home on August 13th, the Gauls in the Imperial military probably joined in the rite, while focusing on Abnoba. The Roman soldiers probably focused on Diana‘s powers over the hunt or the health of pregnant wives in Rome. The Celts don’t seem to have any deities related to the moon, so that aspect of Diana was probably not important to them. The roles of Guardian of the Oak, Mistress of the Beasts and Lady of the Wilds seem to fit Abnoba the best, while She would have been still much more. The forest, the river and the mountains – all of these and their benefits to humans are the gifts that are Abnoba.

Why Worship Deities of Distant Bioregions

For those of us not living in the Black Forest, how can we honor Abnoba? Maybe more important to others is why would we? Celtic religion is very place-based. However, so is Greek religion and Pagans outside of Athens worship Athena. The Orishas from different parts of Yorubaland have become a neo-Yoruban pantheon where the river Orishas Oba, Oshun, Oya and Yemaya have changed to meet the needs of their worshipers. We worship the deities Who care for us and there is no reason why Abnoba would not care for you any less than Athena or Ogun care for other people an ocean away from Their original home.

There are many ways Abnoba cares for us. Abnoba is present in the pure spring water of mountaintops, something incredibly valuable if we look at how much money people pay for it. Of course, clean water is worth much more important than a dollar amount, but people sometimes forget how much they are interacting with the deities. When you buy mountain spring water, you’re paying for the goodness that is Abnoba. (It would be much better for the all life if no one used plastic and instead properly filtered their own water and carried it in a metal bottle, or better yet water sanitation was done with Living Machines and tap water was clean and safe.) I don’t walk 5 miles to get safe drinking water and carry it back another 5 miles; do you? But we would, like many people affected by Climate Chaos, if we had to because water is that valuable.

For hunters, Abnoba could be an important Goddess of the hunt. Anyone against mountaintop removal mining could pray to Abnoba as She probably is offended by the dangerous harm caused by greed and fossil fuel addiction. People living deep in a forested area fed by a powerful river and those who live in high elevations where large rivers begin may develop a natural relationship with Abnoba just because they live where She’s used to being called. (Bear Mountain in California comes to mind.)

Isis had a temple in Britain where Her sacred Nile is nowhere to be found. Obviously deities are carried by their worshipers wherever they go. We don’t know the different myths about Abnoba which definitely would have changed over the generations, but She must have qualities that transcend place. Her devotees may make a pilgrimage to Her place of origin, and I hope that people do learn about the bioregional and cultural homes of the deities they worship. It’s the greatest way to understand the deity who has no mythology (along with linguistics and archeology).

But you may have a connection to Abnoba simply because She chose you.

Ritual Suggestions

Your Festival of Abnoba should feature clean drinking water. I would wash my hair in a way that won’t posion the water. A very small amount of baking soda massaged in the roots for the oil, rinsed clean, and an apple cider vinegar after rinse for the acidic shrine really works. A castile soap like Dr Bronners and a lemon juice rinse for blonde squeaky clean hair or a rosemary infusion for a healthy scalp and lush darker hair also works wonders. Shampoo is basically dish detergent. Real soap does not make bubbles of lather. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put in the water supply or on your skin, especially when honoring nature deities. It’s hypocritical. Deities are impressed by what we do. To moisturize hair, leave in light-weight jojoba oil on the ends or use coconut oil to turn frizzy into ringlets.

Dogs should definitely be honored, as the Celts valued their hunting hounds greatly. If you have any canine companions whom you want to include, get them a treat. (If you have many dogs or Pagan friends with dogs, you might schedule a quick rite at a dog park.)

As for flowers: the flower industry uses a few dozen times more pesticides than the agricultural sector! I wouldn’t let that near my altars (or my planet if I had that power). Try the farmers market, your or a friend’s flower garden or a wild field, careful to not take more than 10% of any species or kill any endangered species.

For those who are able, a hike or ski lift to the top of a mountain might be the best place to make an offering to Abnoba. (In Vermont ski lifts often run in summer.) Woodlands are also good places. (Remember to stay covered and check for ticks! Lyme disease and other tickbourne diseases are horrible! I speak from horrible experience!)

If inside, build an Abnoba altar with something to represent a mountain (photograph, pile of peddles, etc) and a bowl or cup of fresh, purified water. (Rain water might be fine, but check about the water quality of any local streams or rivers – if it’s bad, a very Celtic service offering would be to volunteer in river clean up work).

Have a bowl for your libations that you can pour outside later and a plate, tray, bowl or basket with your offerings. Ritually broken metal or glass bead jewelry (good sacrifices for Celtic Goddesses in general) and organic fruit are fine offerings. Carved wooden or ceramic stags add another Celtic layer to the offering, as Celtic people probably would not know the myth about Actaeon and may have thought about the deer Her forest gave the hungry. (Please don’t use the plastic-y “oven bake” modeling “clay” as it’s really toxic.) As deities change, maybe Abnoba likes Black Forest cake for all I know!

The traditional “circle the holy” procession three times sunwise is a good start for most Celtic rites. You may want to use traditional Celtic percussion of rattles and little bells (probably sewn onto clothing). Try chanting Abnoba to become more receptive to Her.

Next praise Her, say what you know about Her, and thank Her for the gifts She’s always provided human beings. Water is fundamental for life. We know that intellectually but don’t always act like it. We are made of water. Transportation along rivers meant information, trade goods, contact with new people. Trees hold the top soil of fertile soil, are the “lungs of the Earth” (with bluegreen algae), prevent heat waves, talk to other trees through their roots in the “wood wide web”, feed their children saplings through their roots and are home to an incredible amount of life, even when dead.

Tell Abnoba the offerings are for Her. Write your wishes in pencil on a strip of organic linen (or cotton) and thank Her again, knowing that She’ll be working on them if they fit Her needs, too, and will be best for you. Put the cloth with your offerings.

Circle your altar again clockwise, and gather the offerings, libations and cloth for a trip outside. You may want to go to a nearby river for this. Otherwise bury the jewellery and pour the libation into the soil. Then loosely tie your wishes to an oak or the tree that feels right to you.

Of course a financial offering to a dog rescue organization or shelter is highly appropriate! Adopting a dog if your housing, schedule and finances will allow you to be a good caretaker could be another modern offering. Planting native trees that you will protect or donating to an organization working successfully to end deforestation is a logical sacrifice for Abnoba and Diana, too.

 

Selected Bibliography

Bernstein, Francis, Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome. Harper Collins e-books (2007)

Butler-Ehle, Hester, Fieldstones New Shoots from Stony Soil, 2nd Edition by Hester Butler-Ehle

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

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

Ellis, A. B., The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa. 1894.

Filan, Kenaz, The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa. Destiny Books (2

Haussler, Ralph, A Landscape of Resistance? Cults and Sacred Landscapes in Western Cisalpine Gaul, STUDI E RICERCHE SULLA GALLIA CISALPINA
26, Roma tra il Po e le Alpi: dalla romanizzazione alla romanità ATTI DEL CONVEGNO, Venezia 13-15 maggio 2014, Giovannella Cresci Marrone

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)

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

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

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)

Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain. Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago (1967)

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

Sweet, James H., Domingos Álvares: African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. The University of North Carolina Press (2011)

Sweet, James H., Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. The University of North Carolina Press (2003)

 

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Celtic Festival Calender: Sirona

Sirona by Heather Awen
Sirona by Heather Awen

This is part of a series to match Celtic deities with dates on the Roman calender. After being conquered by the Roman Empire both Romans and Celts found ways to interpret the other’s religion. I would be surprised if there were no Celts who used the Roman calender this way, but even if I’m the first, it’s a convenient way to organize rituals for many important deities.

On August 5th, or almost a week after the new moon in August, Romans honored the Goddess Salus of health, safety and well being. She was given a public sacrifice on Her hill top. Originally Salus seems to have been an agricultural deity – after all, without a good harvest there is poor health and instability. Some of Her imagery comes from the Greek Goddess of health Hygieia, especially the snake She feeds. Sometimes She also holds sheaves of wheat.

Similar imagery was used to depict the popular Gaulish Goddess Sirona. Like Salus, She has a snake, to whom She sometimes feeds eggs, and may hold sheaves of wheat, or a cornucopia, or fruit. All are associated with abundance. It’s important to remember that the Celts at first were hiring Roman artisans to make their statues, so the Celtic deities were envisioned with Roman symbolism. Celtic art was not normally so naturalistic. Earlier statues of deities appear to have been wooden poles with rough carvings of genitalia and faces with glass eyes, probably wearing torcs.

Sirona is rather well known by modern Pagans as a healing Goddess. Her name is pronounced “(t)see-ROE-nah” or “thee-ROE-nah” and sometimes spelled Dirona. It comes from the word stir/dir, meaning “star.” She’s an indigenous Gaulish night time Goddess who had temple spas at hot and mineral springs. She was worshiped both on Her own and with the Gaulish healing God Grannus or the Greek healing God Apollo. Apollo, also the God of the Sun and youth, was actually adopted by the southern Gauls a couple centuries before the Roman conquest, so although the Romans also adopted the foreign cult of Apollo, everyone probably agreed that they belonged together. Sirona’s shrines were widespread in the Gaulish world.

Sirona can also be celebrated with Telesphorus in January and with Apollo or Grannus in July. (Or any day!)

Selected Bibliography

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

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

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 Celtic deities) 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, and, coming up, 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

Celtic Festival Calender: Belenos, Endovelicus, Neto, Grannus, Maponos & Apollo

800px-Lauingen_Apollo-Grannus-Tempel
Partially Reconstructed Apollo-Grannus-Temple in Lauingen, by Dr Eugen Lehle

​This is part of an ongoing series where Celtic deities are matched with Festivals in the Roman calendar. I don’t know if these Celtic deities were worshipped on these days back then, but it helps modern polytheists organize a ritual calendar. The Celts were not passive in how their religion changed after being conquered by the Romans, and the Empire didn’t force much on the Celts after killing the politically powerful Druids. Where a Celtic deity is said to be like a Roman one, or their name becomes a new epitaph, or Celtic names are followed by Roman ones, we usually don’t know who made that choice or why. Over a few generations, how anyone understood the relationship between the deities probably was different from shrine to shrine, and maybe even from devotee to devotee. Polytheism is more concerned with right religious action than right beliefs, so different cultures could worship together and have very different ideas about why.

Apollo is a Greek God: the bisexual healer, the beautiful eternal youth, the radiant sun, the twin of Artemis. The Romans merged Artemis with their important Goddess Diana, but the cult of Apollo stayed in His name. Centuries before this, southern Gauls adopted two Greek Gods, Apollo and Hermes. During the Celtic migrations traveling East, we have a well known story of a group of Gaulish warriors fighting their way to Delphi, at that time under Apollo’s protection, and stealing all they could. The chaotic weather of the area and other problems caused the Gauls to panic, drop the shrine goods, and die in a messy battle. Perhaps the power of Apollo was told to other Gauls who heard the news. When the Romans brought Apollo to other Celtic tribes, often with southern Gaulish soldiers, the cult of Apollo grew even greater. Here, I explore Celtic deities who were identified with Apollo for Ludi Apollinares (Sacred Games of Apollo), a 7 day festival with the main sacrifice on July 13th.

The Roman games of Apollo began during the wars with Hannibal in the late third century BCE. By 44 BCE the Festival lasted for seven days: two for horse races and five for theatre productions. In every home, decorated with garlands of flowers, the most important woman led everyone in prayers. The front door was left open and tables graced each entrance during the time of feasting. Was this so Apollo would enter? Or to share with neighbors? We don’t know, only that it was a popular festival. 

Belenos

The first deity associated with Apollo for this essay will be Belenos, if only so mistakes can be corrected. We only know of Belenos from the northeastern Italian city of  Aquileia, where His name was a Celtic epithet for Apollo: Apollo Belenos.

Unfortunately, a popular Gaulish deity with a similar name, Belinos (pronounced “beh-LEY-noss”) meaning “bright, dazzling” who was never identified with Apollo in any inscription or shrine, was confused by older scholars with Belenos. They actually began replacing Belinos with Belenos, assuming all translations (the originals of which they never saw) were wrong.

Now scholars have reviewed the original source material and found that inscriptions and shrines across Europe said “Belinos” not “Belenos.” These are different deities. Only one was associated with Apollo and only in one city. The information is so new that it’s not even mentioned at Wikipedia.

This is a great example of why it’s so important to read current research. There’s thousands of academically sound papers for free at Academia.edu – Just check that a peer-reviewed publication chose their work, that they are a respected name in the field, or the writing has strong sources and doesn’t go into neo-Pagan fantasy. I’ve seen Celtic and Germanic polytheism websites citing books so outdated that their information about the deities is way off. With Academia.edu this is a Golden Age for people interested in Celtic studies.

So much new research over the last decade has completely changed everything we thought we knew. The Bronze Age Celto-Germanic words invented before there was a proto-Celtic or proto-Germanic language announced in 2010 as possibly originating in the current Czech Republic now have physical evidence (rock art and stele show the same sun boats and warrior poses for example) of being created in a connected trade culture between Iberia and Scandinavia – amber traded for copper. The basics of both religions is found in these words. Nerthus, Macha, Badb and other deities ‘ names originate here. Groves with horses, magic performed with string (origin of seidR), prophetic poets, angelica, one-eye, spear and other Woden and Lug related terms plus much more is revealed. (Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has more in depth information.)

Information about Celtic deities and tribes in Iberia is published at an astonishing rate. Ways statues of deities were used is among the completely new knowledge. In the Celtic Iron Age Iberia had more Celtic settlements than anywhere else. The Celtic language may have started in Iberia, where so many versions were spoken. The Phoenician traders had a port in Spain starting in the 9th century BCE. Lug (Lugh, Llew) is honored in a Celtic language in Phoenician script in 6th century BCE east of the Straits of Gibraltar. An entire Bronze Age Atlantic seaboard proto-Celtic culture spanned (due to trade) from Iberia, the French coast, the Low Countries coasts, Ireland, Britain including the Scottish Highlands. All built the same style tombs, used versions of the same proto-Celtic language and similar art designs and symbolism. Hallstatt as the origin of Celtic cultures is falling fast out of favor. 

This will shake up some Pagans, who have created a mythology of the sun God Belenos whom a scholar once assumed Beltain celebrates. But those Pagans could have a genuine personal connection to Apollo or an Aquileia version of Celtic polytheism. Both are traditional to Celts at different places and times. 

Belinos was a widely popular God in Gaul, Austria, northern Italy, the Alps, and Slovakia. He was even worshiped in Aquileia – nowhere near Apollo Belenos, more proof they are two different Gods. Perhaps He was the most worshipped Celtic God, sometimes paired with a Goddess who may be Belisama. Worship of Him has not been found in Britian, but “the King of the Britons” was Cynobellini, a name that contains beli and appears on coins. Belinos‘ name is also found in some place and personal names, like the  second half of Llewellyn (probably “Lugus-Belinos”). Belinos has possible sun connections, but none to Apollo, so this would not be His festival. However, it definitely could be the Festival of Belenos

Endovelicus

Endovelicus (pronounced  “en-doh-VELL-ih-cuss” – try it; it actually floats off the tongue) is a solar God of healing. I don’t know if He was ever directly connected to Apollo, but the Romans took such a strong interest in Him, I am going to guess that some did. 

Endovelicus was first worshiped by Celts in Portugal and southern Spain, probably as the chieftain God of their pantheon. Endovelicus was the guardian of any town with a temple for Him. The main magical animal of the Celts, swine, were His main sacrifice.

(The importance of boars and pigs is now believed to be from a cult the proto-Celts learned from the native Neolithic culture along the southern coast of the North Sea. These non-Indo-Europeans later moved east into the southern Baltic shore, where the Pagan Estonians embraced the cult of the Great Sow Mother, which was recorded by the Romans. Unfortunately until recently it was believed that the Sow Mother was Germanic and possibly connected Nerthus with FreyR and Freya. Estonian is part of the Finnish language group, not Germanic or Baltic, but one connected to the Bronze Age Celto-Germanic words.)

The Roman Empire was quite taken with Endovelicus. Temples dedicated to Him were very popular. At His sanctuaries a ritual was held and then people in search of healing slept. His spirit or in Roman terms His numen was considered to be present in His sanctuaries, and Endovelicus would give the sleeping pilgrims helpful dreams. Sometimes people came to receive prophetic visions at a temple that filled with hot steam from a hot spring. (Some Iberian Celts had saunas, so they understood the healing and probably the spiritual purification power of sweat and heat.) In the 5th century CE, Christianity worked hard to destroy His large following of devotees. 

One way that scholars know Endovelicus is a solar God is because of how He was depicted. Artists gave Him several faces, including an “infernal” one, because the solar God travels underground at night. In the morning He returns to us with renewed healing powers. If you’ve studied Kemetic mythology some, you’ll notice a similarity.

He was an incredibly popular deity whose worship has returned. This way, there’s a date for making offerings and prayers. 

Grannus

Grannus possibly “the Warming One” is the first Gaulish God most people would identify with Apollo. Pronounced “GRAN-nuss”, He is a God of healing thermal or mineral springs. Grannus had many sanctuaries. The most famous, Aquae Granni, was in what today is Aachen, Germany. Its hot springs were in a marshy valley. Even during the Hallstatt culture, it became a healing center. His name may be connected to the sun’s heat or possibly a man’s beard. It seems that beards were common on mature Celtic deities. (The clean shaven Roman God Mercury often is depicted with a beard and Celtic epitaph.) At one spa he was called “The one with a piercing  or far-reaching look.” 

Already ancient, Grannus had a 10-day celebration in the 1st-century CE. A  Latin inscription on a fountain in Limoges mentions it. (If we knew when it was or how it was done, there’d be a post about that!) But this shows how long His popularity lasted. 

The Goddess Sirona is commonly His partner, who has Her own “Heather’s invented” Festival date, based on that of Salus. Grannus is also invoked with many different cultures’ deities. The list includes Diana, the Nymphs, Hygieia, the Mother of the Gods, Sol, Serapis, Isis, Core, and Mars Sagatus. Frankly, I’m surprised that modern Pagan artists don’t depict Him very often. He was a major deity for so long and flexible enough to work with a multitude of deities. Instead, Sirona gets all the art (although it’s basically the Greek Goddess Hygieia). I understand that drawing women with snakes is sexier, more taboo. But with Grannus, we have great imagery: beard, piercing look, hot springs, sun. I’d love to see people working with that.

According to “The Religion of the Celts” by J.A. MacCulloch, “The god is still remembered in a  chant sung round bonfires in Auvergne. A sheaf of corn is set on fire, and called “Granno mio,”  while the people sing, “Granno, my friend; Granno, my father; Granno, my mother.” 

Maponos

Maponos, “the Divine Youth”, is a Gaulish God who became important in the Roman military zone of Northern Britain. At the Clochmabon Stone, offerings were even made by Roman military chiefs. There Maponos was linked to hunting, depicted with a hunter Goddess or a dog companion. He was often associated  with Apollo, including one inscription about Apollo the Harper. In Gaul he had a healing spring sanctuary.  

He and Mabon of the Mabinogi are often thought to be the same God. Maponos once was as a way of saying “Apollo, young son of Jupiter” while Mabon is once called “the son of lightning.” (Jupiter throws lightning bolts.) Maponos may also connected to the Gaelic Aengus. He generally seems to be a young, typical Celtic God good at everything: battle, healing, hunting and the arts.

Neto

Another Celtic God from Iberia, Neto was said to be a combination of the Roman Gods Mars and Apollo. There’s more information about Neto in the post about Celtic deities to be celebrated on March 1st. He can be honored on both days – the Celtic Iberian deities have been left out of Celtic Paganism books for far too long. One might think that only the Gaels had anything known about Celtic religion, when really we have so much more – a continent more – to embrace. 

For all of you who want to learn about a lot of Gaelic deities (understanding how fractured the Mythological Cycle is) and study the Celtic deities, religions, culture and history from the medieval Mabinogi to ancient Ukraine, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was written to do just that. Knowing prisoners could never afford any other books on Celtic Paganism, we crammed in everything possible, making it truly “all in one” (and rather big and heavy). You can buy it here for less than Amazon, and all profits will go towards buying copies for incarcerated Pagans.

Heather Awen Grannus
Grannus prayer bead shrine, by Heather Awen

 

Selected 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)  

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

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)

Cultraro, Massimo, EVIDENCE OF AMBER IN BRONZE AGE SICILY: LOCAL SOURCES AND THE BALKAN-MYCENAEAN CONNECTION, BETWEEN THE AEGEAN AND BALTIC SEAS PREHISTORY ACROSS BORDERS: Proceedings of the International Conference Bronze and Early Iron Age Interconnections and Contemporary Developments between the Aegean and the Regions of the Balkan Peninsula, Central and Northern Europe, University of Zagreb, 11-14 April 2005, Edited by Ioanna GALANAKI, Helena TOMAS, Yannis GALANAKIS and Robert LAFFINEUR (2007)

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) 

Ford, Patrick K., editor and translator, The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales. University  of California Press (1983) 

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)

Hyllested, Adam, Again on Pigs in Ancient Europe: the Fennic connection, Etymology and the European Lexicon, Proceedings of the 14th Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, Copenhagen, Hansen, Whitehead, Olander and Olsen (eds), (2016) 

Koch, John, (ed), Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland  and Wales. Celtic Studies (2000)

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

MacCulloch, J. A., The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Public Domain (1911) 

McKenna, Stephen, Paganism and Pagan Survivals in Spain up to the Fall of the Visigothic Kingdom, The Library of Iberian Resources Online, http://libro.uca.edu/mckenna/pagan1.html 

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

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, The irreducible Celts used to swear by Belenos. Or did They?, DOI (2017) 

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

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

Celtic Festival Calender: Brigantia, Matres Brigiacae, Bricta/Brixta, Brigindona, Brig & Rome’s Victoria & Bellona

BrigitteCelt
Brigantia, Museum of Brittany

This is part of a series where festivals for Roman deities are matched with the Celtic deities who were associated with the Roman deities. For example, March 1st is the Festival of Mars, and many Celtic Gods were connected with the Protector of Rome. As tribal protectors Themselves, they could have been identified as Mars by the Romans or the Celts.

The Romans weren’t very involved in Celtic religion. After slaughtering the politically powerful Druids (some of whom may have become teachers and philosophers in Rome), the Romans let local cults continue. Southern Gauls already adopted the Greek Gods Apollo and Hermes, and later Gaulish merchants readily brought the cult of Mercury to their towns.

For the sake of convenience, the Romans described other people’s deities as being like their own. In a multicultural society, it made it easier for Romans. However, it appears that Celtic people often had the power to decide which Roman deity was the best fit. As different Celts had different understandings of Roman deities and Celtic deities didn’t fit neatly into x = y, a Celtic God could be called Mars in one region and Mercury in another.

As the Celtic polytheists worked with the new Roman ways, I suspect some used the Roman calendar for their Festivals, especially September 1st, when Jupiter (who was identified as Taranus) was honored as the God of lightning and Juno was celebrated in Her Queen aspect. That’s the same Juno aspect southern Gauls had on their Jupiter columns, with the wheel of Taranus, eagle of Jupiter, lightning of both and a Sovereignty Goddess.

June 3rd is the Festival of the Sabine war Goddess adopted by the Romans named Bellona. Bellona was considered an aspect of the important Roman Goddess Victoria, Whose Festival date, if She had one, is lost. Wikipedia sums Victoria up nicely: “Victoria was a symbol of victory over death and determined who would be successful during war.”

Brigantia was the Goddess of the most powerful tribe (or federation of tribes) in Britain, the Brigantes. There are 7 inscriptions to Brigantia in Britain. Twice She was associated with Victoria in Yorkshire. An inscription calls her “divine nymph” and at Hadrian’s Wall She is described as “heavenly.” A couple of statues of Brigantia, including one in Brittany, have symbols that belong to the Roman Goddess Minerva. Due to Her association with Minvera, you could also honor Brigantia during the Greater Quinquatrus held between March 19 and 23. I had so much information on Sulis for that Festival, I stayed focused on Her.

Bellona was associated with the consort of Mars, and like Mars Her temple was on the outskirts of Rome. There is a theory that Mars is a border God, called on by soldiers defending Rome and farmers as they ritually circle their land. The idea that Mars was an agricultural God is based on a hymn sung to Mars by farmers in an annual ceremony protecting the edge of their lands, and an archaic rite by His Priests that no one understood.

I prefer the border God idea over the agricultural God theory. It fits with other old Indo-European ideas, especially Vedic, and is logical. The God of Rome guards Rome, from its farmers to its military. Mars stops danger before it can arrive. Temples at the edge of a border allow deities who “go wild” to have access to the wilderness. You don’t want war IN your town; you want to be protected before it gets to the town. Next to Bellona’s temple was the columna bellica, the edge of Rome. The temple and the land on which it stood was considered foreign soil. To declare war on a distant land, a Priest (in a rather Odin-like move) threw a javelin towards the enemy’s kingdom. Generals made offerings to Victoria after winning wars.

What happened on Her Festival was probably sacrifices, prayers, and feasts. At a different festival, the Priests of Bellona cut their arms and legs to offer their blood. Nothing like that is mentioned for today. Bellona had temples in France, Germany, Britain, and North Africa.

Brigantia means “the Most High Goddess” and is pronounced “brig-AN-tee-ah”. There are Goddesses with variations of Her name, all of Whom I would probably consider different Goddesses, like the Welsh Braint, the Matres Brigiacae in Peñalbo de Castro, Brigindona, and Bricta/Brixta, to name a few. All could be honored June 3rd even though they were never associated with a Roman deity, much less Victoria specifically.

The root word brigant- means “elevated, high.” The British Brigantes may have been named for being nobility or for living in the mountains. They were the largest tribe (or possibly a federation of tribes) in Britain when the Romans arrived. They controlled northern England, a territory known as Brigantia (today Yorkshire). Their wealth was based on cattle and sheep, and Brigantia may have been associated with that economy. Allies of Rome, they created an important buffer against the tribes in modern Scotland.

Many British nobles welcomed the Romans, thinking that they were gaining powerful allies. Enraged princes who didn’t become kings sought the help of Rome. At the time it seemed like a smart move.

Cartimandua (“sleek pony”) was the Brigantes’ queen when Rome arrived, and two lavish burials of women with chariots suggest that the Brigantes were used to powerful women. Her husband Venutius, king of the Brigantes, was a top military strategist and also loyal to Rome. In 51 CE Cartimandua captured a probable rival named Caratacus, a popular rebel leader against Rome. In exchange for Caratacus, Rome made Cartimandua very wealthy. Her people’s hillfort grew from 17 to 600 acres in 20 years.

Meanwhile, the royal couple went to war against each other in 51 AD and declared a truce 6 years later, after Cartimandua captured Venutius’ family and Rome sent troops to help her. They divorced over a decade later when she took Venutius’ armor-bearer Vellocatus as her lover. In 69 CE the Brigantes rebelled against her and she was taken to an unknown, safe place by Roman soldiers. Venutius ruled the Brigantian kingdom until 74 CE when Roman forces finally defeated him, wanting total control of Britain.

Although loyal and very helpful to Rome Cartimandua was portrayed harshly by the Romans, perhaps because she was everything a Roman woman should not be. Cartimandua obviously was a bold and savvy politician and enjoyed her sexual freedom. She and Boudicca are often used by Pagans and scholars alike as examples of the power held by the Celtic Queens of the Britons, something we don’t read about other Celts.

Ptolemy wrote that there was also a tribe named Brigantes in eastern Ireland, and there may be something to that. The Goddess Brig seems to have been brought to eastern Ireland by a tribe allied with the Brigantes and turned into a Saint. Political shifts that the old Pagan ways didn’t support had occurred and to hold onto their power, the new elites found having a Saint in the new religion was a good way to solidify authority. To combat powerful Ulster with its Saint Patrick, Leinster and sometimes eastern Munster had St Brigit. There was almost definitely a Christian community in Leincester before St Patrick ever arrived; Irish raiders who’d settled in modern Wales long enough to learn the new religion of Rome had returned home. There’s more about this in the post on February 2nd.

The root of Brigantia’s name appears in the names of towns in Portugal, Spain, France, Hungary, England, and Austria, and Strabo wrote that in the Alps lived a Celtic tribe named the Brigantii. The ancient name of Bragança in Trás-os-Montes, Portugal, was Brigantia. Its inhabitants today are still called brigantinos. Two cities in present-day Galicia, A Coruña and Betanzos, were named Brigantia and Brigantium. A prominent Bronze Age meeting-place for British tribes was on the shores of a river in a place called Brentford.

Brentford is connected to “prestige” in modern Welsh, coming from the same root as the Welsh word for King, brenin. Scottish Gaelic brigh and Manx bree translate to “power” while Irish Gaelic bri translates as “energy” and in Welsh, Cornish and Manx bre means “hill.” It’s easy to understand why so many places and Goddesses’ names derive from bri- and bree-.

The most famous Goddess linked to Brigantia is the Gaelic Goddess Brig, and Her incarceration as Saint Brigit/Brid. Brigit’s sacred fire was (and again is) in County Kildare, which is now part of the eastern province Leinster. An old Irish poem calls Brigit the sovereign lady who rules over the Kings of Leinster. The poem, when needing Her protection, calls for Brig, the name of the Goddess in the Mythological Cycle. Brig is sometimes confused with other powerful Goddess of the Tuatha De Danann in the different versions we have of Gaelic mythology.

In the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), the Gaels descend from Noah (himself a descendant of Adam) of the Bible. Like the Israelites, they suffer many ordeals, until conquering Spain. Breogán founds the city Brigantia (perhaps A Coruña) and builds a tall tower, from which his son sees Ireland. Many of the Gaels stay in Iberia, but some sail to Ireland and successfully fight off the Tuatha De Danann. As the Lebor Gabála Érenn is our main source for the Mythological Cycle and has different variations, Irish mythology is rather messy. But Breogán’s name and the city he supposedly built again return to bri- and bre-.

Ireland and Iberia were part of an ancient shared culture before and during the Bronze Age, trading metals and other goods along the Atlantic coast, including all of Britain to the farthest Scottish islands, Brittany, France, and possibly Holland and Belgium. Sweden was at one time briefly connected. The Phoenicians became involved by the 9th century BCE. During the 10th century BCE at the latest they’d set up a large port town in Iberia. In the most southwest corner of Portugal a stone tablet was discovered, engraved in a Celtic language using the Phoenician alphabet. It thanks the pan-Celtic God Lug, and dates from 6th century BCE. Our understanding of how the Celtic languages and culture developed is moving quickly away from Hallstatt and looking towards the Atlantic coast.

In the 6th century BCE there was a large power shift in the Mediterranean. The Greeks began competing for the Atlantic coast, as Phoenician ports slowly disappeared, city by city, for several reasons. The Atlantic coast of Portugal and southwest Spain appear to have become part the trade routes of the Mediterranean, while Britain, Ireland, Brittany, and some of the French coast traded amongst themselves. Iberia spoke many different Celtic languages, brought in at separate times. Some near Galicia lived very similar lives as the Pagan Irish, moving twice a year with cattle and building hillforts. The Lebor Gabála Érenn may retain a memory about when those in Spain spoke the same language as the Irish, explaining it in a way that fits with Judeo-Christian mythology.

Selected 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)

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)

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

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)

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

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

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

Lang, Sean, British History for Dummies, 3rd ed. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (2011)

Meyer, Kuno trans., Hail Brigit: An Old-Irish Poem on the Hill of Alenn. Dublin: Hodges, Figgs, and Co. (1912)

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

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

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

Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain. Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago (1967)

Smyth, Alfred P., Celtic Leinster. Mount Salus Press Ltd. (1982)

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

Woodard, Roger D., Indo-European sacred space: Vedic and Roman cult. University of Illinois Press (2006)

Today Only! Donate for LGBTQ (and Pagan) Prisoners!

Thank you for your support today!!

Black&Pink is part of Omaha Gives. Today only, the money you donate, even $10, to Black&Pink could receive bonus funding. “Black and Pink’s mission is to abolish the criminal punishment system and to liberate LGBTQIA2S+ people/people living with HIV who are affected by that system, through advocacy, support, and organizing.”

In no way do I mean to downplay the importance of the hardships of the queer community in prison, such as transgender people having by far the highest rates of rape. In fact a recent study by B&P states that queer persons in prison experience rape 6x more than other prisonersSteel Bars, Sacred Waters made clear that the ancient, highly skilled, ferocious Gauls who controlled most of non-Mediterranean Europe considered homosexuality and bisexuality to be absolutely normal. The Irish Brehon Laws mention homosexuality as a reason for divorce, but has no condemnation of gay people or laws against them, even in its Christian version. 

But aside from all the good B&P does for thousands of queer prisoners, the organization also offers one of the only free penpal services for people who are incarcerated. Many straight or “heteroromantic, bisexual” prisoners who are not racist homophobes receive B&P’s free newsletter and learn about the struggles of the LGBTQ community on the outside and inside prison.

Black&Pink is one of the best places to find a Pagan penpal for that reason. On their potential penpal list, if you go to the little drop down menu and choose Wiccan or Pagan to narrow your penpal search, you’ll find the more open minded Pagan prisoners and avoid a white supremacist gang banger who firmly believes that Hitler was Heathen – even though Hitler put all occultists in Concentration Camps, made several strong anti-Heathenry statements and thought that Islam was a much better suited religion for Germans than any other. Yep, you’ll even find Norse Heathens at Black&Pink. 

You don’t have to be an anti-capitalist or for total prison abolition and punitive justice abolition to become a penpal through Black&Pink. You certainly don’t have to be queer – I’m a pretty vanilla monogamous straight woman. (Being a person with disabilities does make my sex life very non-heteronormative, however.) Most prisoners just want someone to acknowledge that they still exist to the outside world. If they exist out here, they have a much greater chance of hope for their futures. This reflects in behavior and can help them get parole sooner and stay out of prison. When on the outside, they’ll be at Pagan festivals, Pagan Pride Day, Pagan shops and other events where you will meet them, so why not start getting to know them now?

So now you have lots of reasons to donate! The link is at Omaha Gives

“What is Omaha Gives? 
A giant, 24-hour giving drive that happens once a year in Omaha, NE (where our national offices moved to in 2018). All day long donations are able to be made to various nonprofits, including Black and Pink, with opportunities for bonus funding drawings! No matter where you are in the world, YOU can give today. You do not have to live in Omaha.

“Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We are outraged by the specific violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, and respond through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing.

“Our organizing efforts are guided by a larger goal of collective liberation. We hold strong to a feminist, anti-racist, queer liberationist, anti-capitalist, radical analysis of social, ecological, and economic struggles. We understand the prison industrial complex to be part of a larger system that utilizes systems of oppression to divide people and exploit our individual and collective power. Through movement building and sustained direct action against these systems of violence we will create the world we dream of.

“We also celebrate in the beauty of what exists now including our love for each other, the strength of our planet, incredible human resiliency, and all of the power we have to continue existing. While dreaming and struggling for a better world we embody a deep commitment to living in the present.

“We root our work in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. To best maintain an accountable relationship to incarcerated people, half of those in the leadership circle are currently incarcerated. We also prioritize the voices of formerly incarcerated people as our “free-world” members of the leadership circle. We know that those most impacted by the violence of the prison industrial complex are best equipped with the knowledge of how to tear it down.

“As of today Black & Pink’s “free-world” membership is primarily Boston-based. We commit to supporting one another, sharing the work of our organizing efforts, and nurturing the growth of our family both inside and outside the walls. We intend to expand our national and international membership, creating chapters in other cities, towns, schools, neighborhoods, etc.”

(If you are wondering why liberal or conservative groups don’t offer anything to prisoners, ask them. It’s not my fault that only socialist and anarchist types are willing to do immerse unpaid work for the least fortunate.)

Gullveig Press in no way endorses any advertising by WordPress. Spend the money to make a difference and donate to Black&Pink!

 

Celtic Festival Calender: Mercuralia & Lugus

356px-Tricephale_Carnavalet
Lugus

As Celtic people conquered by the Romans adapted their religion to that of the Empire’s, I have begun  using the Roman calender as a guide for when to honor Celtic deities. There’s no real way to make direct correlation between the two pantheons; Celtic Gods tend to be tribal hero kings (and possibly first ancestors) who are great at everything, and Celtic Goddesses often hold power over the fertility and death of the tribe’s land, water, livestock and human members, especially the king. However, to unify the Empire, other peoples’ deities were called by Roman names much like the Greeks once did. It’s now thought that the Celts had more power in deciding what Roman deity to choose than formerly believed. The Celts transformed aspects of Roman religion to fit their own cosmology and over the course of a few generations new versions of Celtic religion appeared.

Whether or not any Celtic people worshiped their tribal deities on dates of Roman Festivals then, Celtic polytheism is still adapting. Most Celts would have known the deities of their tribe and (if in one) their larger federation. These were personal, connected to place and ancestry, and a large part of one’s identity. Today we don’t know a lot about the majority of Celtic deities (although we have over 400 names), but most modern Celtic polytheists have their own pantheons of a larger geographical region and period of time. Even a Gaelic polytheist worshiping the Tuatha De Danann is doing something quite modern, as tribes worshiped the deities of their territory of Ireland. It was one way tribes in power stayed in power, until big changes in the ruling tribes led to adopting Saints to justify their new power.

The Roman calendar is an easy way to plan rituals for those Gaulish, Iberian and Brythonic deities who were matched with a Roman deity. I began this with the most popular Celtic God most people have never heard of, Telesphorus; then Lenus, Neto, Rudianos, Cocidius, and Nemetona March 1st; and last month Ataegina and Erecura. The only Celtic deity known to have His own Celtic Festival is Erudinus of northern Spain, but I have found matches for Ogma and Ogmios, the smith deities and the “native” VenusSirona, Sulis, Andraste, Brigantia, GrannusAbnoba and the Celtic understanding of Diana.

On May 15, or the full moon of May, Roman merchants honored the God Mercury with the Mercuralia festival. An interesting thing about Mercury is that the Gauls worshiped Him even more ardently than the Romans. He was easily one of the most popular, if not the most popular, deities in Gaul. He was sometimes associated with a Celtic God, but in general the Gauls embraced Him as Himself.

There are records of Gaulish merchants hiring Roman artisans to make large statues of Mercury. It may be that these merchants brought the cult to their own communities. How Mercury was understood and worshiped at this time would have probably been a very Gaulish way. Some knowledge of the God didn’t mean that the merchant had a great wealth of information about Roman religious practices or mythology. Mercury was most likely growing into a Gallic deity while around them the world of the Gauls grew more Roman. Gaul was thriving with import-export business, and tribes who controlled major rivers were in a powerful position. Trade with Britain was not new, as goods crossed the Channel to and from southeast England to the Rhine River. The Romans built cities like London and their famous roads which made markets and transportation to other parts of Britain (including troops stationed at Hadrian’s Wall) much easier. One reason why Julius Caesar was so eager to conquer Gaul was to get their precious metal mines. Celtic fabric quickly became popular in Rome.

Mercury as the God of not only commerce but also transportation, was the backbone of the strength of Gaul. Yet, to the Romans, He was generally viewed as primarily the messenger of the deities.

Most scholars associate Mercury with Lug/ Lugus, who was widely worshiped by many Celtic peoples: the Celtiberians, the Luggones of Spain, the Gauls, the Gaels, and the Britons. Lug and Odin seem to have an ancient connection, going back perhaps 4,000 years to a group of Indo-European people possibly in or near the Czech Republic who would later become the Germans and the Celts. Currently, archeological evidence of Bronze Age Scandinavia and Celtic Iberia and the Celto-Germanic language is being studied by scholars such as John T Koch to prove the ancient shared roots.

Linguistically the two Gods have quite a lot in common at this point from the spear to having or closing one eye. Also Lug’s mythology from Ireland and Wales (as Lugh and Lleu) has strong connections with myths about Odin. (Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has more in depth information.)

Starting with Lugus (pronounced “LOO-guss”), His companion Rosmerta and another Celtic deity associated with Mercury named Cissonius (pronounced: kiss-SOH-nee-us) the carriage driver are described. As we don’t have much information about the Mercuralia, use your imagination while working with knowledge of Celtic ritual.

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Lugus was worshiped by the Gauls but rarely by that name. When first describing the deities of the Gauls, Julius Caesar wrote in De Bello Gallico that the Roman God Mercury was their most important God. (When the Romans wrote about other peoples’ deities they used the names of the Roman ones that best matched the local deities. It helped hold a multicultural society together.) Important Lugus became so strongly associated with the Roman God Mercury that Mercury actually did become the most popular deity for the Roman Gaulish people! Mercury rules over trade, travel, communication and commerce, plus he invented the arts. The Southern Gauls actually had accepted Hermes, the earlier Greek version of Mercury, into their culture centuries before Caesar visited, so in a way Mercury was not really a new God to those Gauls.

“Some Gaulish Mercury statues showed him with three faces (which happens with other Gaulish Gods, signifying great strength) and three phalluses. Sometimes he is portrayed bearded and older than the Roman Mercury. Armed with a spear, he was often with the Celtic Goddess Rosmerta. His symbols are a herald’s staff and a money-bag; his animal familiars are goats, sheep and roosters, all of which became new popular animal sacrifices. He sometimes appears with the horned serpent, normally associated with Cernunnos.

“His name is found in Western European city names: Lugdunum (“fort of Lugus”), which was the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis (today Lyon, France); Carlisle, England, which was once Luguvalium; Loudoun in Scotland; Leiden in the Netherlands; Dinlleu in Wales; Lothian in Scotland; and Lugones in Spain. That was once in the territory of the Luggones, one of the 21 tribes of Asturians. There are many personal names linked to Lugus. One is Llewellyn. His own name, however, is rarely written down, even with Mercury. Some scholars believe that the many places with “his name” were really just “brilliant.” His name also may be connected to “oath,” such as putting an oath of destiny on someone. (“I swear you will….”)

“Lugus was also popular with the Celtiberians, especially in the mountains. Three inscriptions of a plural version of his name, the Lugoves, were found in Spain. One inscription, “L. L. Urcico dedicated this, sacred to the Lugoves, to the guild of shoemakers,” interests many scholars because the Brythonic God Lleu in the Mabinogi was a shoemaker. Lleu and the Gaelic Lugh, who has all the skills, are believed to be connected with Lugus.

“The Gaulish Mercury had mountain tops dedicated to him. They were called Mercurii Montes and included Montmartre, the Puy de Dôme, and the Mont de Sène.”

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Rosmerta (“the Great Provider”) is the Celtic companion of the Roman God Mercury. Celtic religion required the pairing of a God with a Goddess, but they did not have to be married. Rosmerta, being older, may have been considered Mercury’s mother. She is a mature Goddess who was worshiped in all the Celtic lands in the Roman Empire, being most popular in northern and eastern Gaul. She shared Mercury’s symbols – a winged staff with snakes, a purse, a winged diadem (instead of his winged hat), a rooster or ram – but she also held cornucopias and offering dishes. Her dress is modest and her face serious. She may have a connection to prophecy, but her worshipers knew her best as the provider of material well-being.”

(Viducus Brigantici filius has a beautiful monthly ritual honoring Rosmerta in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters.)

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Cissonius is a Gaulish God of trade and protecting travelers. Cissonius was the second most common name for the Gaulish Mercury. In Switzerland, southern Germany and France 17 inscriptions of his name have been found. Cissonius had two different forms. One was typical of Mercury: the young man with the winged helmet and staff. The other was as a man with a beard wearing a helmet who rode a ram while carrying a cup of wine.”

Senobessus Bolgon offers more on the role of Cissonius in Gaulish Reconstructionist Paganism, as well as another deity commonly associated with Mercury, Visucius.

I personally wonder about the influence of Hermes on the Gaulish understanding of Mercury. Early writing about the Celts said they were master magi, nearly obsessed with magic, and Hermes has a strong history as a God of magic. Sorcerer (and master of everything else worth doing) Lugh performs the one eye Crane Position. Lleu is the maternal nephew (or son) of the greatest sorcerer of Wales Gwydion, Himself the maternal nephew of Math, King of Gwynedd and another fabulous magician.

Selected Bibliography

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

Ewing, John Thor, The Birth of Lugh – Óðinn and Loki among the Celts, Sinsear 8, University College Dublin (1995)

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)

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

Rhys, John, Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx. Oxford University Press (1901)

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

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

Celtic Festival Calendar: Ataegina & Erecura

Wolfgang Sauber, Isis-Persephone
Isis-Persephone at Archaeological Museum in Herakleion. Photograph by Wolfgang Sauber.

The idea that Romans consciously changed Celtic religion is losing popularity. (Aside from the slaughter of the powerful political Druid elite, of course.) Instead it’s being replaced with the more flexible premise that conquered indigenous peoples often chose how their religions fit into Rome’s:

“(T)he locals selected particular elements from in-coming cultures, endow these with religious meanings different from those they possessed in Graeco-Roman culture and then creatively merge these with indigenous traditions to create totally new forms….”
– Ralph Haussler, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul

My guess is that the Roman religious calender was used by Celts for festivals and rites about their own related deities. Even if they didn’t, doing so makes it easier for me to organize worship as I honor a very large pantheon. When a Celtic deity worshipped by Celts living in the Roman Empire neatly fits into the Roman religious calender, I include them. The incredibly popular Telesphorus was my first attempt, followed by Lenus, Neto, Nemotona, Rudianos, Cocidius, Sulis Minvera, and the Matres and Modron. Mercury/ Lug,  Taranus, and others are ready for their Festivals.

The Roman calender​ marks April 12-19 as the Cerialia, although it probably was originally held on the full moon of April (the 19th this year). During the Cerialia people celebrated the reunion of the grain Goddess Ceres and Her daughter Proserpina. (Persephone is Her Greek name.) Ceres comes from the word meaning “to grow” and during April the crops would have begun to fill the fields.

“Ceres delights in peace; and you farmer, pray for perpetual peace and a peaceful leader. You may give the goddess Ceres some spelt, and the compliment of spurting salt and grains of incense on old hearths; and if there is no incense kindle resin torches. Good Ceres is content with little, if that little be but pure.” (Ovid Fasti 4.395–415 LCL)

No one wore dark colors in April. Spring’s return was celebrated with offerings of milk, honey and wine given to Ceres. In ceremony, women in white carried lit torches, searching, like Ceres, for Proserpina. This was a festival of the common people, especially in the countryside, whose livelihoods depended on good harvests.

Two Celtic Goddesses stand out to me at this time. Both were associated with the Roman Proserpina: the Gaulish Erecura and the Iberian Ataegina. As Erecura is mentioned in the Steel Bars, Sacred Waters‘ three day rite of Trinoxtion Samoni written by Viducus Brigantici filius, bringing Her back in spring seems natural. As Aetagina‘s name means “rebirth” worshipping Her in spring also feels natural. I have strong, deep loving feelings for them both.

Below is information about these Goddesses, including my personal experiences with Them, and then ritual ideas. My own relationships with Them isn’t to tell you what you should feel. It’s not even UPG (unverified personal gnosis); it’s my experience. That makes it verified for me by me only. It’s not part of the religion, just my religion. I think it’s important that we acknowledge the mystical, private communion with forces greater than us. As wonderful as the Enlightenment was in many ways, it did swing the pendulum too far away from the embodied union with the ensouled planet and all Her spirits. Because of this, too many people are afraid to “admit” to having a moving religious experience in ANY religion.

Polytheism isn’t big on orthodoxy – what you believe and feel is accurate for you. It’ll possibly change, too. Polytheism is big on orthopraxy, however, which means researching the ways to do things correctly (and then doing them). It’s what makes a Celtic ceremony different from a Hopi ceremony. Celtic Paganism is performed in ways that are common to Celtic culture. Now, that’s a huge time and space, but some things are “pan-Celtic” and others are specific to a region during a certain period – and Indo-European cultures overlap a lot, especially when they’re neighbors. Luckily, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters provides that ritual and cultural information with which you can explore. Far more is known about Celtic polytheism than even most Pagans believe.

Erecura

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, written by me: “Erecura, Aerecura, Herecura, Pronounced: “Air-eh-cur-ah”

“(Eracura’s) images are mainly located around the Danube River in Southern Germany and Slovenia, but are also found in Switzerland, Italy, Britain and France. Her name is inscribed many times along the Rhine River. Erecura often appears in statues with the Underworld God Dis Pater. (Once she was depicted as a companion of Ogmios.) She’s also mentioned in several magical texts from Austria.

“Monuments dedicated to her have been found in ancient cemeteries. Although connected to the Underworld, Erecura also holds baskets of apples and the cornucopia. Considered an earth Goddess of fertility, in two statues she sits wearing a full robe bearing trays of fruit. “On a monument from Salzbach, Dispater is accompanied by a goddess called Aeracura, holding a basket of fruit, and on another monument from Ober-Seebach, the companion of Dispater holds a cornucopia. In the latter instance Dispater holds a hammer and cup, and the goddess may be Aeracura. She may thus represent the old Earth-goddess,” according to J.A. MacCulloch in “The Religion of the Celts.”

“There may be a connection between Dis Pater and Erecura and the couple Sucellus and Nantosuelta.”

I envision Erecura as a short (for our times, not Her’s) woman around age 30 (when that was at least half your life lived), with long dark curly hair in a burgundy dress with gold on her shoes. Purple and gold or bronze come through very strongly. Her face is rounded with a small mouth and chin.

My one meaningful experience of Her was when praying for polytheists, especially Celtic, to be kinder and get along. The war between two popular angry bloggers was disrupting other discussions we all could have been having. Debate (clear win/ lose) mattered more than dialogue. I was deep in trance and felt deep in soil, far below in the roots. My question to Erecura was to understand this need for cliques and separation. The Celtic polytheism scene isn’t that big – there’s about six groups, not including those within ADF – and bad blood flows between many of them.

She said, “Yours is a very young religion and everyone is terrified that their research may be swept away by others who are not able to research and rely on poor publishers.” I cringed, remembering the time I read that Olwen was a sun Goddess, and seeing books on Celtic shamanism. Anything with “Celtic” thrown in front of it sold, from Robert Grave’s modern ogham calendar to Celtic Wicca.

“All of you care so much, so passionately about your deities, you guard any actual facts with your lives and are vigilant in tearing down scholars who have been disproven.” I know that a lot of books on which some Celtic polytheists base their research are partly obsolete now. That includes much of my own early reading list. There’s so much new information as physical material is reviewed with fresh eyes, linguistics brings us more information about our deities, and outdated assumptions about Roman control over religion are tossed away, in favor for ones that fit what we know today.

Erecura said, “You’re all determined to make sure that the core truths and spectacular details you discover are staked like young plants. You’re all trying to keep the weeds of greed from selling lies, standing in watch, ready to tear down anything that will block the light of the unromantic and unrealistic realities so many crave instead of the truth. It’s good. Things are growing. The garden finally has some reasonable entryways for those young to the religions/ cultures. Of course it has to be different in different places, because it always was just the oldest religion: place and people. Change the place and how people connect with it and each other, and it changes. Just like it always did, does, will.”

I don’t feel Erecura very strongly as a spring Goddess, but more as an agricultural earth Goddess: “the tomb, the womb” cliche of eternal renewal. She’s the criss-cross between the world of Ancestors dead and here, world of Ancestors living, to the point where they blur. Which “side” is dead, who is alive? She’s so deeply rooted, Erecura is in each realm, and they blend and merge in the sheer ancient powers She holds. If we honor Her at the season of death, She needs Her place in the growing spring.

Ataegina

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, written by me: “Ataegina, Ataecina, Pronounced: “ah-TIE-gee-nah”

“A popular Goddess whose name probably means “reborn,” she is associated with the Roman Goddess Proserpina (Greek Persephone). She seems to be a Goddess of springtime. Ataegina had sanctuaries in Spain and Portugal. The goat was her sacred animal and could be on your shrine to honor her.

Invocation to Ataegina by Heather Awen

Hail, Ataegina!
During winter we weep for missing you;
In the spring we rejoice.
With you returns the flowers, the nectar and honey,
The sweetness of life.
Come autumn you retreat below,
Like the falling leaves and roots growing plump.
In the Underworld you give the dead your blessings;
Above, it is us you bless.
Beautiful young Goddess,
You hold the family, those living and
Those passed over,
Together in your giant heart.

Prayer to Ataegina for Rebirth by Heather Awen

Beautiful Ataegina, the one who releases spring, the one who spring releases,
Greetings Goddess as I inhale
Something new in my lungs
Something new in my blood.
I know there is more to you than flowers
And under that maiden’s face
I know there’s the skull of death,
Which makes me move to you even closer.
For what I need, you see, dear Goddess,
Is a new identity, a new self in my life,
Because this one keeps leading me to dead ends,
Leading me to death.
If I am meant to let my old self die, let it be so I can better live this life.
So please, take my life and reanimate it,
Take my spirit and give it new spark,
Let me step out of this tainted persona, and
Into one authentic and close to your heart.”

I LOVE Ataegina. I can’t tell you anything about Her other than She is Life giving us a second, third, 53rd chance. I think She wears white linen, embroidered edges, dark cloak, and has straight or wavy light brown hair. She’s innocent, fun laughter; she’s the small forest flowers that fall from her nimble young body like a blurry aura trail of new growth dropping behind Her. Yet, always the haunt of a skeleton is in Her arsenal of jokes and surprises. Like how one day Her giggling, playful face finally turns to greet you in the sun-dappled wooded bliss you found following Her, and then your heart stops. You’re dead and it’s abrupt but not frightening. The last sight seen with living eyes was Her smile.

I’m quite willing to give myself over to Her hands and there’s not many deities with whom I feel that unconditionally comfortable and safe. She’s pure love whether She’s ruling the Realm of the Dead, or skipping through barren land tossing seeds that hit the ground already in green growth. I feel that Ataegina might have played a deep transformative role in Her devotees’ lives. Because She always makes me light hearted or at peace when my body grabs a new diagnosis or throws out a new scary symptom, I would say that She probably had healing sanctuaries.The Romans really liked turning any temple on a river into a healing dream incubation spa, so maybe that became a later regional part of Her cultus. However, I see Her healing as the abundance of real food shared among a community. As Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/ Chemical Intolerance requires truly fresh air, really clean water and very pure food and wholesome fabric, I think She’s understanding of anyone who feels like they’re dying from toxins and sensory overload, like chronic fatigue syndrome or after chemotherapy.

The Ritual

Reading the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone and their ancient Mystery Tradition for a happy Afterlife should be required, because it’s quite possible that the Celts themselves chose Proserpina as the Roman Goddess most like Ataegina and Erecura. Odds are that eastern Gauls participated in the Greek Mystery Tradition. Some Celts in the Roman Empire almost certainly must have. It would be odd if they hadn’t.

Southern Gauls chose to add Apollo and Hermes to their pantheon. I often wonder if having already known Hermes, the Gauls gave Mercury more importance than the Romans because they understood Mercury to be the powerful magician’s God Hermes. In Eastern Europe the curving and winding La Tene abstract art style developed unique animal designs based on Greek influences. It was not like Greeks and Gauls never hung out or lived in the same places.

As for Portugal and Spain, skillful Phoenician sailors navigated the Atlantic coast and Mediterranean, transporting precious Celtic metals to the Greeks. Ideas, slaves, merchants and explorers joined those travelers on the Sea.

Erecura and Ataegina are great Goddesses for interfaith Pagan ritual. Hellenistic, Roman and Celtic polytheists can all worship together quite easily. (They did it before!) Because orthodoxy is not very important, you need not be alone even if you only know duotheist Wiccans. In the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, these are perfect Celtic Goddesses for a spring equinox ritual. Perhaps you can also have a solitary rite focusing more on the Celtic polytheist aspects.

Spelt grain is easy to find at health food stores. Ovid wrote pure offerings were desired even if small, so organic would be best even if it’s very little. Homemade incense with salt (if no one has asthma, etc), milk, wine and honey – we know these are traditional Roman offerings for the rite. Flowers and early spring fruit (like strawberries) I personally believe would be appreciated but only if in season. It never has made sense to me to pretend that there’s flowers and seeds outside at a spring equinox ritual and then leave the building to find 2 feet of snow. (Please never buy flowers unless from a source you know, as the pesticides sprayed on them are at extremely high levels. Pesticides used on nonedibles like flowers and cotton for fabric are responsible for more dangerous endocrine disruptors than food cultivation because so many more toxic chemicals are allowed to be used.)

I quite enjoy ritual theater, something missing from much of today’s ceremonies. If you have a chance to reenact the return of the spring Goddess from the Underworld (even if the person “being Her” is not possessed or able to aspect), giving your offerings to someone in Her mask and garb can be very powerful. Watching a group of women in white dramatically search for Her with sounds, lights, and props can become engrossing. The Romans had theaters at many sanctuaries and many Celts would not be unfamiliar with plays about mythology.

(Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has a lot of information about the drinks, foods, ways of sitting at a feast, instruments, clothing, decor, language, fabrics, shrines and more used in traditional Celtic rituals in different places and times. If starting with the circular procession, I would enter from the southwest to face a shrine in the northeast, especially if you are basing your tradition on Brythonic culture or a culture near Britain. You could dance around a wooden pole carved into a female shape with glass eyes wearing a torc if you want a more northern Gaulish experience. The book provides more.)

If you are alone, you can still use any ritual structure in the book and make your offerings. If you want to visualize being at the ancient ceremonies described, go for it! Depending on the weather you may want to practice mindfulness meditation outside with the changes in the season.

I’ve often thought it was a good time for healing rituals involving rape, as Persephone was kidnapped and raped by Hades. She returns not as Kore the child girl, but as Queen of the Underworld with Her compassion for the dead. Rape recovery often involves “dead” parts of us returning to life, many terrified or enraged, and we need that compassion of the Queen of the Underworld. And as Persephone reemerges to Her old life, She’s changed but has great power and wisdom. Our lives may stop during recovery from trauma, but we will rejoin the world, just in a healthier, more whole way.

Your only ritual obstacle might be (if like me) you also have a strong relationship with the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Eostre, also honored on the full moon of April after the spring equinox!

 

Selected 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)

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

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

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)

MacCulloch, J. A., The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Public Domain (1911)

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

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)

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

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