Pagan Holy Days February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On with February!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 9th is sacred to the Orisha Oya.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only Ancient Image of Idunna Found -at Balder’s Funeral! 6th century Germanic Paganism

I posted recently about a lot of the important information an article by Speidel on Burgundian 6th century belt buckles gives us about Germanic mythology and how these deities look. That particular belt buckle from Saint-Maur depicts Balder’s fight on the way to Hel, a forgotten scene from Baldrs Draumar. This post’s buckle from Saint-Quentin is our only ancient portrayal of Idun, and She’s at Balder’s funeral. The Eddas don’t mention Idun attending Balder‘s funeral, so there’s obviously an older, lost piece of the myth that was vital to the story. The belt buckle from Saint-Maur (and other art of the time) gives us fantastic details on how Balder, Loki, Hel and the World Tree were depicted consistently by Germanic tribes from Italy to Denmark in the 6th century, which I hope Heathen storytellers and artists are as excited about as I am! I so want to see modern versions of Loki the birdman and Hela with Her torch!

Idunna and four Gods are depicted on a 6th century buckle found in a limestone sarcophagus from Saint-Quentin, which was beneath the Merovingian collegiate church of Saint-Quentin in northern France. Four winged “angels” hold a wreath formed by a twin-headed snake around a large seated man with a beard and wings. The man was thought to be the Christ – except the Christ never is depicted with a huge erection. This is common for Balder on some other Burgundian belt buckles. No scholar ever tried to explain the penis on the Saint-Quentin belt buckle because if you expect the Christ, there is no explanation. The Burgundians were converted to Christianity by now, but it appears that some wealthy people kept Pagan images. The Frankish belt buckle in the Cottel collection (National Museum of Antiquities in Saint Germain) depicts Balder also seated on a throne, as does a Frankish buckle kept in Köln, but with the addition of the erect penis and weapons.

Fabric hangs beside and between the 4 “angels ‘” legs, their Germanic noble “Prachtmantel“ falling down over their back. The “angels” are actually deities, most of whom we can find in other art. Late German migration era deities were sometimes portrayed with wings. This is especially true with some Eastern European Heathen Germanic belt buckles whose Germanic makers were possibly influenced by the Asian steppes culture that temporarily ruled them. These steppes people are believed to have had shamans who shape-changed into birds of prey for Otherworldly astral travel and possibly brought this concept to Heathen religion. Often on Burgundian Christian buckles the names of the mythical beings depicted are written with the figure. With the Saint-Quentin belt buckle scholars could not easily understand the “words” on the “angels” because none of them thought to consider that the letters were runes. A note was made in 1956 that someone should look into this. Today, looking at the art with a Heathen’s eye, the letters as runes make sense.

In the upper left is the most important God, Tiw, who offers Balder His decorated spear. 3 Tyr runes are across His chest. Tiw has short hair, a beard and an ax. In the lower left corner is Woden, with His typical braid in a knot and perhaps an early Walknuten on His chest of the runes “WWW.” He hands over a large ring, almost definitely Draupnir, which we see Woden with on 5th century bracteates.

The upper right portrays Frey, probably with the rune F on His chest. He has no pupils causing His eyes to look fierce. As on the Rällinge statuette and the Gotlandic Sanda picture stone 166, Frey has a pointed chin beard. In what must be a pre-Gerda myth, Frey gives Balder His slightly curved narrow sword, as seen also on the Saint-Maur buckle and on the Sanda picture stone.

Most spectacular is Idun in the lower right corner. She is shorter than the Gods, unlike Hela who is always tallest. Idun‘s face is wide and Her hair is elaborately styled. She wears a neck band and spreads Her legs, naked thighs exposed. This is as sexy as it gets in the 6th century! This is screaming “fertility Goddess!” Obviously Idun‘s sexuality is tied to the immortality of the deities. Her left hand offers Balder an apple. On one of Her thighs may be the runes ID. Idun‘s sexuality may have been toned down by the Christian Snorri. We know that Her apples don’t actually keep the deities immortal; She does, and that’s why a giant has Loki kidnap Her. (As apple trees were brought north by the Romans, the golden apples of Idunna really do seem to be adopted by Germanic mythology from the Greeks via the Romans.)

Peaceful twin snakes circle the deities on the Lyngby medallion and on the Saint-Quentin buckle, as they do here. There’s a knotwork border with four winged serpents beyond it, thought to be outer edges of Hela‘s realm. The scene has been interpreted as Balder’s funeral, safely in Hel, receiving gifts from the Gods. The gifts don’t appear to just be symbolic of the deities depicted. They are found in myth together, just not this myth.

In the Eddic Skírnismál, Skirnir tries to win the Jotun Goddess Gerda‘s hand in marriage for Frey, offering Her Idun‘s apples, Frey‘s sword and Odin‘s Draupnir. Skirnir recalls Balder‘s funeral when he offers Gerda Draupnir. He also uses a stave carved with runes about infertility or sexual desperation to threaten Gerda, whose name means “enclosed field” where fertility is most desired.

Balder probably needed these gifts from the deities to survive into the next world. During Ragnarok, Balder stays safe, waiting with Nanna (even known in the 6th century) at a banquet in Hel, until the reborn world needs His leadership. Perhaps Balder kept the powers of the deities safe: the spear of the rightful ruler, the Magick sword, the endless prosperity of Draupnir and the apples of immortality. Belt buckles, including the Christian ones, often had a prayer or charm engraved on them to protect the wearer from death. Perhaps belt buckles depicting Balder‘s funeral and His trip to meet the waiting Goddess Hela reassured Burgundian warriors about their ultimate fate, to die and be reborn as Balder‘s companion in the Realm of Ancestors.

The buckles being called Burgundian were mostly cast after the Merovingian Franks took control of Burgundy. But they have the usual themes, images and rectangular design of the Burgundians who settled around Lake Geneva and north of the Jura Mountains.

To read the actual paper, there’s a link on the first post about it. I’m just summing up most of it because it is so invaluable for all those who honor the Germanic deities.

 

Bibliography

Bálint, Csaba, Traces of Germanic mythology from the 6th-7th century Carpathian Basin based on archaeological finds. University of Copenhagen (2014)

Ellis, Hilda Roderick, M.A., PhD., THE ROAD TO HEL A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature. Idunnas Press (2011)

Ellis Davidson, H. R., The Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin

The Poetic Edda, Translated with an Introduction and Explanatory Notes by Lee M. Hollander, 2nd Edition Revised, University of Texas (1962)

Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda, Jesse L Byock trans. Penguin Classics (2005)

Speidel, Michael P., Burgundian Gods on Sixth-Century Belt Buckles. (2010)

Balder, Loki & Hela in the 6th Century: New Depictions of an Old Myth

I came across an article on Burgundian 6th century belt buckles by Speidel that appear to depict a scene from Balder‘s travel to Hel which was lost by the time of the Eddas. It seems to be a missing part of Baldrs Draumar. Loki‘s role as Balder’s adversary continues beyond death. They may depict a previously unknown gift to humanity of Balder’s. Our understanding of Hela is greatly improved as well.

The Image on the Saint-Maur Buckle

On the left, a tall woman leans out from a door, stepping to the right. In her right hand is a bent object, probably a torch. She is very tall and wears a dress with a long coat, similar to those worn by Scandinavian women at the time. Her hair is long and loose. Her raised eyebrows and open mouth show her anxiety and anger as she looks to the figure in the middle.

The middle figure is a short bird-man. His body is bell shaped and striped; his head is human. He wears a tight cap over messy hair and although he has eyes and his right eyebrow is angled in anger, he has no mouth. Two wings emerge from behind him, and his left arm can be seen.

Between the arm and bird tail is a twig with berries and four or five leaves on each side. His left wing shows ruffled feathers as if the tall woman is bothering him. He faces us, feet turned out, but leans away from the woman and toward the lion on his right.

The giant lion rears up on his back legs and roars at the man on his right. This man stands firmly facing us, feet turned outward. His head is turned partly to the right where another smaller lion attacks. The smaller lion is in position to tear open the man’s chest with one paw and his penis with another. The man stabs the larger lion on the left in the mouth with a curved sword. His bare left hand is shoved into the smaller lion’s mouth, while his thumb points to his own mouth.

The man’s chin sticks out. He’s bearded with sharp eyes. His hair has six curls that loop on the left into a hair knot. Rising from his head are nine rays. Around his neck is a narrow double necklace. His kirtle and undershirt are raised. And the man does something not found in Christian art but is known in Germanic magick: his pants are down enough to show his penis.

There is a Christian inscription around the buckle, but it covers something else. It’s hard to know what is underneath. In some places it’s letters while the rest may be knotwork. Unlike most buckles of the time, the inscription does not describe the image.

The Myth?

Who are these Heathen deities? Comparison with contemporary Heathen jewellery from Denmark and the Visigoths gives us the answers. The Kongsvad bracteates depict the same bird-man with a horizontally striped, bird-shaped trunk and a twig of mistletoe. Always portrayed as shorter than the other deities, He is Loki. The fifth and sixth centuries’ three-god bracteates from Gudme show Loki with bird wings and tail, a human arm and His symbolic mistletoe. Loki’s lack of a mouth may refer to when His lips were sewn closed by the dwarf Brokk.

We know this is Loki. He has His symbols. In the sixth century, this is how He was depicted and Germanic tribes from Spain to Denmark. Everyone understood what the symbols meant. Loki, the main agent of change in Norse mythology, is a bird-man. Normally He is depicted in scenes from myth with other deities, but a belt buckle from Lavigny in Switzerland depicts Loki alone and menacing, with bird claws for feet. We know exactly how Loki looked to the pre-Viking Heathens. (I think it would be wonderful for today’s Heathens to depict Him (and the other deities) in Their traditional ways.)

In the Eddas, the falcon cape He borrows or takes from Freya. Perhaps the cape was His originally. However, because Frigga has a hawk cape, I tend to believe that the bird of prey is a well established aspect of these Germanic Goddesses. Both names Freya and Frigga originally came from the same proto-Indo-European root found in the Sanskrit Priya “beloved.” In the early migration into Central Europe, the people who would later develop the Celtic and Germanic languages changed the meaning to “free” which probably reflected Their noble status as the leader Goddesses.

A Visigothic belt buckle from the same time depicts Balder on His way to Hel, with the same bird-man Loki between Him and Hela. The small Loki stands on a wild beast. The world tree with a throne, a wolf and an eagle stands between Loki and Hela.

As seen on the Cottel buckle and other metal work, a common way to identify Balder is with the rays rising straight up from His head. Balder typically wears a double necklace. The Himlingøje silver cups, the Grésin tile, and several bracteates all depict Him with curls. We now know that Balder has curly hair and wears a double necklace.

Balder also shows His penis to menacing beasts on the Visigothic Herrera buckle. The lions are replaced with a wolf and snake here and on the Cottel buckle. (Perhaps they are Loki’s other “monster” children?) They fit into the Germanic mythology and cultural fears better than the lions. The Völuspá mentions a warg-wolf and the Nidhögg dragon as dangers to those on the journey to Hel:

“There Nidhögg sucked
corpses of the dead;
the wolf slit men.”

In the magickal fight with the two animals Balder not only exposes his penis on the Saint-Maur buckle and Herrera buckle, but also on the Pramay disc and the Grésin tile. It is large and wards Him. It is interesting that on a journey to the World of the Dead, His life-giving penis is His magickal weapon.

While Balder‘s death is certainly an important myth in the Eddas, we learn very little about Balder Himself. He is a relatively passive figure in such an important myth. Balder’s protective fertility gives us a chance to gain a more complete understanding of who this key Germanic God is. Although some people interpret Him as the Sun, that has never “worked” for me. After all, we have Sunna.

Much of Norse mythology is about the creation of our cosmos from the gap between the raw materials of ice and fire (usually water and fire in Indo-European cultures) and the beloved Indo-European cow. Typical for Indo-European myth, the first ritual sacrifice is of the first being (the Jotun Ymir) whose body is divided into the world. The world tree appears with the three important wells at its roots, the Norns exist and water the tree with Wyrd, and deities turn drift wood into humans. While Thor and Loki go on adventures, Odin constantly prepares for the battle between the Jotun and the Aesir that will usher in the end of our cosmos with another time of fire and ice.

We are promised that the cycle will begin again. The world tree remains, with a female and male human hidden in its trunk. Asgard is renewed. Odin‘s favorite son Balder (who was safely hidden in Hel, the realm of the dead), takes His father’s place, joined by the other children of the Aesir and perhaps the Goddesses and Vanir such as Njord.

Balder certainly is a God of tomorrow’s rebirth, but not that of the Sun. Balder shines, but so does Heide, Heimdall, Sif‘s hair, Gerda, etc. The proto-Indo-European meaning of deity is “shining ones” probably referring to the Sun, moon and stars. Shining is what deities usually do.

Balder seems more related to Hindu concepts of Ages, the cycle of generating (Brahma), operating (Vishnu) and destruction (Shiva). These three Gods have lifespans of Their own, and reincarnate as Themselves after death. The world and the Universe always live again. Greek and Irish mythology wonderfully explain past ages and their monsters or deities, but don’t tell us about what will come next. Gaulish Druids, according to Roman sources, taught that the soul was immortal until it and this world are destroyed by water and fire. Water and fire are the main Indo-European ways to purify from disruptive forces. Combined, they are the Indo-European source of wisdom, spiritual connection, creative inspiration, healing, Sovereignty, etc.

The Norse give us information about the way our cosmos started and will (or may have, according to some Pagans) end and be reborn. The myth Balder’s Dream explains how the trouble-making Loki tricks Balder into being killed. Then Loki ruins Balder’s chance to leave Hel. Although the deities grieve, this keeps Balder safe until the next cosmos is born. If Balder lived only to die when the Jotun and Aesir kill each other, there would be no God to be chieftain of the Aesir in the next cosmos. Loki makes sure that the prophecies which Odin learned from the dead volva will come true. Loki often does Odin‘s dirty work, like stealing Freya‘s necklace for Odin. As the two are blood brothers, perhaps this is Loki’s role. Yet Loki seems to have gone even further originally.

Depicted in these belt buckles, Balder travels Helveg the path to Hel, the same road Balder’s half-brother Hermóðr took to find Him. We learn that Balder has to fight two monstrous creatures that Loki put in His way. Here Balder is an active figure in His journey to become ruler of the next cosmos. But He may also serve as a trailblazer on Helveg, a type of psychopomp. Even though Balder does not guide the dead, He does fight the monsters we’ll have to face.

The buckle may be showing the dangers almost all of us will face when traveling to Hel. Odin encountered a traditional Indo-European dog guarding the road to Hel. Although the lions could have been adapted from the Christian legend of Daniel and the lions, two hounds are common in Indo-Iranian myth. In the Avesta the bridge the dead must cross is guarded by two dogs, while according to the Vedas Yama has His own two hounds that seize the dead. The people who became Germanic speaking tribes may have believed that two hounds guarded the road to Hel. Perhaps these buckles served as reassuring reminders of how Balder successfully completed the journey we will take, and when that time comes Hela will welcome us to Her realm.

Hela is always depicted on on bracteates as a very tall, grim woman, attired in a long dress, standing in or by her hall. Holding up an object thought to be a torch, She greets the newly dead. Burgundian and Frankish buckles and fibulas show Her hair as pointing down the center of Her forehead. A similar image is on the Mauland medallion. Hela uses Her torch to scare off Loki and His lions as She welcomes Balder. Hela will light our way and help us overcome the snake and wolf, the two lions or hounds, that may attempt to make us draugar. (The draugar will be discussed further.)

The belt buckle also depicts a cuirass, which is also found on the the bracteate IK 3. On the bracteate Hela receives the trophy of a cuirass on a pole from Balder’s wife Nanna, so we know that Nanna was in the myth even then. The funeral gift of fabric may be Frigga preparing Nanna to take Frigga’s role as spinner of destiny with the ability to know everything which will happen.

Hela obviously understands Her special role as guardian of Odin‘s favorite son. Loki‘s interference worries Hela enough to move against Her father and cause Him some frustration. The Eddas never describe the relationship between these two family members who play such important roles in Norse mythology. Here perhaps we see that Hela, like the other deities, is angered by Her father when He disrupts the right order and jeopardizes the cosmos. And He does this in HER realm.

There’s a clear separation between the living and the dead which people worldwide maintain with funerals involving psychopomp deities. (I believe that much of the separation comes from the practical awareness that dead bodies rot and attract disease spread by flies. Death must not pollute the drinking water either. The Greek concept of miasma may have possibly originated at least in part due to the physical pollution caused by dead bodies.) The Saxons hung blackberry or raspberry branches in windows and on doors to prevent the return of the recently deceased. Until the dead reach where they are meant to be, most societies have traditions to protect the living from following the dead, and to keep the dead from returning.

Funeral rites keep the protective order of purity in place. But if Balder, the most pure of the Gods, cannot reach Hel, where will He go? He cannot return to the living and Loki strives to keep him from His rightful place in Hel. But Hela knows Her role in preserving Balder. She is so concerned that She watches from the gate in Hel’s fence, waving Her torch at Loki and upsetting His feathers. If something goes wrong when we travel along Helveg, we can count on Hela to maintain the proper order.

There’s a long history of Germanic, even proto-Germanic, peoples fearing the return of the dead. “Usually in the sagas the attempts of the living are concentrated on keeping the dead within the grave….” wrote Hilda Roderick Ellis, explaining that “Draugr is the word used for the animated corpse that comes forth from its grave-mound, or shows restlessness on the road to burial.” The Celto-Germanic words developed by Indo-European tribes probably in Central Europe 4,000 years ago include the root of draugar, showing just how ancient this fear is.

Dwarves are considered by many scholars to have a connection with the dangerous dead. Originally made from maggots, dwarves live underground and often having names meaning “Black,” “Deceased,” “Torpid,” “Death,” “Corpse,” “Cold,” and “Buried beneath the Cairn.” Thor keeps the dwarf Alvíss “The One Who Knows All” engaged in conversation until the sun rises and the dwarf turns to stone. (I think it is important to remember that Thor defeated Alvíss with His wits, because too often is He treated like a stupid thug.)

The Belt Buckles

The Visigoths in Spain wore belt buckles depicting the same deities as Scandinavians. Although the 6th century Burgundians belt buckles usually are about Christian themes, two well known ones, the buckles from Saint-Maur and Saint-Quentin, provide us with ancient images of Heathen deities. The buckle from Saint-Maur is 10 x 5 cm.

 

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

 

Bibliography

Albertsson, Alaric, Travels Through Middle Earth: the Path of a Saxon Pagan. Llewellyn Publications (2009)

Ellis, Hilda Roderick, M.A., PhD., THE ROAD TO HEL A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature, Idunnas Press (2011)

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

Lecouteux, Claude, Encyclopedia of Norse and German folklore, mythology, and magic, Jon Graham trans. Michael Moynihan editor. Inner Traditions (2016)

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

THE POETIC EDDA Translated with an Introduction and Explanatory Notes by Lee M. Hollander, 2nd Edition Revised, University of Texas (1962)

Sturluson, Snorri, The Prose Edda, Jesse L Byock trans. Penguin Classics (2005)

Speidel, Michael P., Burgundian Gods on Sixth-Century Belt Buckles. (2010)

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

The Bronze Age Celto-Germanic Linguistic & Archeological Link: Spain and Scandinavia?

Lots of research is being done on the Celto-Germanic words that appear to have developed between Norse sailors trading amber with Celtic coastal Iberian sailors who had copper during the Bronze Age. Iberian Celts with their many Celtic languages may have been influential in the creation of the Celtic languages.

These words are thought to have originated about 4,000 years ago around the Czech Republic. They link directly to Nerthus, Macha, Nemed, Babd and the new interpretation of the root of Freya‘s and Frey‘s names, “free people, friends” (as opposed to slaves). Priya no longer meant beloved. There’s evidence of the Celto-Germanic shared culture along the northern Atlantic coast.

A pre-Celtic culture spread along the Atlantic coast from the Pillars of Hercules (Straight of Gibraltar) to Scotland, with similar tomb design and decorations. There’s a 6th century BCE inscription to Lug (Lugus) written in Phoenician script from the southwest coast of Portugal. Iberian Celts lived in a cattle-based hillfort culture very similar to Ireland’s in some places, and large walled cities like the Gauls in others. Some evidence shows that there were more Celtic settlements in Iberia than France. Deities Lugus and Epona were very popular.

And it’s where the newest discoveries are being made, totally changing our ideas about the history of the wide diversity of Celtic peoples. If you aren’t paying attention to Iberia, you’re missing out on the “new Celtic history.”

 

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

September Pagan Holy Days Resource

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Eostre: Anglo-Saxon Dawn Goddess of April Ritual

Eostre Shrine of Heather Awen 2019
2019 Eostre Shrine, all materials explained in essay. Heather Awen

 

 

Prologue

I have a deep relationship with Eostre from when I lived nowhere near wood stove smoke and could spend from 3 or 4am until 6 or 7am outside. The carbon monoxide poisoning every day was lessened by the low temperature at which I set the thermostat during the night, so at 3 or 4 am I was brighter eyed (but with no bushy tail), and the Babesia blood parasites and Lyme disease gave me some relief when I first woke up.

Sitting outside every dawn in all weather (under a tiny porch roof in cold rains) I because very familiar with Eostre. Animals are so active then that it was often thrilling: the possum who walked over my foot; the fawn so close I could have touched it; locking eyes with a red fox for what felt like an out of body (or fully IN body) experience; and my regular companion, a very trusting skunk who seemed to think the same of me. I heard returning birds sing, seeking mates, and watched their young learn to fly.

And every day, no matter what, Eostre decorated the sky any way She chose. Like sand paintings, Her art of indigo, purple, pinks, oranges, greenish blues or shades of grey disappeared into Sunna’s bright white-yellow. It inspired me as an artist: it doesn’t matter who sees it or how the final piece looks, it’s the process and commitment to daily creating that matters.

I don’t know how my ancestors thought of Eostre. Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Swedes, Frisians and other Germanic peoples settled Britain aside from Wales (Welsh is Old English for “strangers”) and Gaelic Dal Riada. They most certainly had their own pantheons and religious customs. Many deity names may have been similar, but coming from different ecosystems and separated by time, local variations would have existed. Who brought Eostre to their new island home?

(To learn about the Anglo-Saxon cosmology, I recommend the free pdf versions of Bob Trubshaw’s books, available at Heart of Albion Productions, https://hoap.co.uk/catalogue.htm#aswv)

It frustrates me when I see Norse Heathens try to force continental deities into their pantheon. How many times have I read that the Belgic Goddess Nehalennia of the Morini tribe (from the Celtic word for sea) whose temples have been uncovered under the beach sands in modern Zeeland, Holland, is Idun? Why the dwarf Goddess Who is the power of immortality found in the apples that keep the deities young and immortal? Merely because Nehalennia in many of the 160+ stone images of Her holds apples – like dozens of other Goddesses in Roman-made or Roman-influenced art. Different tribes had different deities and mythology based on their history and bioregion. Nehalennia exists where She is needed.

My father’s side has many recorded newcomers to England: Offa/Uffi the Gentle, King of the Angles whose grandfather Wihtlaeg is a grandson of Woden; the Iclingas dynasty of Mercia in the 7th and 8th centuries; Queen Osyth, sister of Mercia’s King Penda (famous as the last great Heathen king in Britain), who married King Nechtan of Alba (Dal Riada); Princess Elfrida of England born in Wessex 877; Athelred Mucil, Ealdorman of the Gaini in Mercia; Oslac Wihtgarsson, royal cupbearer of Wessex; and King Wihtgar of the Isle of Wight who married into the Irish royal family of Ossory. What might Eostre mean to them? The converted ones, what customs did they continue during Christian Holy Week without knowing why?

Eostre

The Anglo-Saxon Goddess for whom the month of April is named, Eostre, has Her linguistic roots in the word East. The most holy direction for Indo-European people, this is where the stars, moon, and, most importantly for life to continue, the Sun rises. All things in the Northern Heavens turn from the East to the South and around to the West. The farthest North is an area of constant darkness and mystery. The Order of the World, the Xartus, is for the Shining Ones (the meaning of the proto-Indo-European word from which we get “deities”) to come to us from the East. (Planets in retrograde are the common exception.)

Usas is the Vedic Goddess of the Dawn, a cousin perhaps to Eostre. The Rig Veda offers many hymns to Usas. It is important that you do not confuse Vedic religion with Hinduism. I have noticed that some Pagans, hoping to better understand their own pantheons, look to Hinduism. Hinduism replaced the Priesthood religion of the Vedic deities. Priests seem to have become corrupt and the Vedic deities were demonized, demoted or otherwise greatly changed in Hinduism. Once you move away from the Vedas, you’ve moved into Hinduism. The farther you move to modern times, the more any proto-Indo-European similarities have vanished.

We have no ancient prayers to Eostre, just a name and a month. As her name is the basis for Easter the only movable holy time in the Christian faith, and the Anglo-Saxon calendar is a solar-lunar combination, we can figure out Eostre’s time of celebration. The first Sunday after full moon after the spring equinox is Easter, so Eostre’s festival was probably the first full moon after the spring equinox.

There is an association with youth and renewal in some German Easter folk practices, like wearing white and bathing the face with dew early on Easter morning. The Indo-European East/Dawn Goddess is always young and it makes sense that She is renewal. Oftentimes we read about deities and other MoreWorldly persons using dew gathered from healing plants to treat the ill; some believe this may be an early form of homeopathy. According to certain old documents, some herbs are meant to be collected when coated in the mysterious dew, a water out of nowhere. (The Manx Sea God Manannan Mac Lir’s chief physician Libra Primliaig gathers healing herbs while they still are covered with dew. Learn more in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners.)

It may be that the white birch tree is a symbol of the proto-Indo-European dawn Goddess. Perhaps it is because She shines like the white birch, or it may be because birch are “pioneer trees.” In forest succession, after a prairie has brushes, birch trees are usually the first tree to populate the area. Although they live about only 70 years, their deaths are important: the birch restores much needed nutrients to the land so the next wave of trees can grow into a forest. I keep birth twigs and fallen bark on my Eostre shrine.

Many associate Eostre will eggs. Chicken living in natural light lay more eggs when there’s more sunlight. As She ushers in the lengthening days, people would be grateful for the eggs. (Remember how far north England is to understand why now would be the time of returning light.) Because of the recently created Easter Bunny, She is also associated with rabbits. However, the Easter Hare is from no earlier than 17th century Germany. Hares are often considered magical animals, perhaps because they are commonly seen in the grey markings on the surface of the full moon.

Still, the rabbit with its prolific breeding seems to fit the season of general fertility, and so it stays. Deities evolve, their symbols, offerings, and reason why mortals pray to Them change. They’re never static. A look at the long-recorded Kemetic, Greek, Roman or Hindu mythologies will show how the deities will always adapt with us. A study of the many changes in the Yorubaland Orishas as They were once worshipped in West Africa led by Priestesses and Priests, then worshipped by slaves informally and secretly in the Americas often associated with Catholic and Freemason societies, and now in formal neo-Yoruba religions with Priests and Priestesses often from the Iberian peninsula illustrates the way deities adapt to our circumstances.

I like to take lines from the hymns to Usas from the Rig Veda as my basis for my Eostre Hymn. Then I adapt the words to fit the spring as well. By then I’ve gotten that “holy feeling” and tap deeper into what my community and culture needs. They’re interwoven as more specific prayers, along with my praise and understanding of Eostre. I’ve included this year’s Eostre Hymn and some of the ancient Hymns to Usas. After Agni, the Vedic fire God whose flames consume the sacrifices to the deities, the next deity hailed by the Vedic Priests was Usas. She is generally considered benevolent, but there a mention of how each day basically brings us closer to death. Yet there’s also a mention of the ancestors long gone who saw the dawn as well. The cycle continues.

My ritual:

Food offering: organic local beef, organic local sheep milk yogurt, organic local goat cheese, loaf of heavy multigrain bread, organic cabbage, organic hard candies, a few organic animal crackers to represent animal sacrifice, fresh purified water

(Beef was a food for the wealthy in Anglo-Saxon society and loaves of bread were common, often with stew. The Romans brought wheat and cabbage to Britain centuries earlier. But it was the sheep’s milk yogurt that Eostre seemed to call for the most. I didn’t even know anyone made that, but when I mentioned it to my mother she said that she actually just found some. Fermented foods were very common in all cultures because they basically are the natural way to have probiotics. Sauerkraut, for example, helps digest heavy sausages. Fermented drinks made with diary were popular across all of Northern Europe until recently. Yogurt, if it’s real, will have cultures growing in it that balance the important intestinal bacteria. The most common non-meat sacrifice in the Vedic religion was clarified butter, ghee. As the proto-Indo-European people were pastoralists to whom cattle are wealth and that mindset continued into even the runes, a variety of dairy products are usually good offerings.)

Other biodegradable offerings: 3 amber beads (from 1970s necklace made with amber from Latvia, bought second hand from Latvian Etsy shop), 1 turquoise bead (from a friend; I do NOT endorse mining companies!), and a few glass or ceramic beads (recycled, made Fair Trade in India, or someone ‘s destash ie second hand)

Everything will be offered to the land. (Do not leave meat or dairy offerings in populated areas because they will attract animals most people consider pests that can be very disruptive. Someone will probably kill them.)

Heather Awen, out of the window
Out my window, rain and rising rivers

The snow has *just* melted here in northern Vermont. It rains, another river flood warning in effect. A couple weeks ago we saw robins. Mud season has been in full effect for a while and will continue.

Around 5:20am I start gathering Her food, singing Her name in what feels like an endless loop. I am not thinking anything. It feels good to be lost in movement and music. Myofascial Pain Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, herniated back discs and leg muscle – I don’t normally stand much.

The food and bead offerings are arranged with my Eostre shrine items: three eggs, a decade old, decorated by a neighbor and her children; the top of a ceramic bunny I’ve had since I was an infant, finally too broken to repair; found birch sticks and bark; feathers of pheasant from an amazing and beautiful autistic Roma poetess born in April; and the glass bead shrine I made Eostre. Starting with an original one of a kind rabbit pendant someone made and gave me, it has the colors from darkest night to sunrise, with a yellow songbird. By moving through them, I can remember the power of Eostre. (I make and sell customized bead shrines that are sturdy enough to take on your travels and hold in bed while sick. Prices are determined by the cost of materials; one with a donated earing as the pendant is going to cost much less than one with a $25 Taranus Wheel.)

Eostre Shrine close up, Heather Awen
Eostre Shrine close up, Heather Awen

Once everything is organized, I face east and say my Eostre Hymn. I can feel a friend of mine faraway standing next to me. I don’t know what he’s doing exactly but it adds a little necessary oomph with hand movements and heart energy.

Eostre Hymn

Arise and greet mighty Eostre, Goddess of Renewals, Maiden of Light and Life and Herald of Sunna’s Season!

The Fair, the Bright has come with her white offspring; now the dark winter returns to her dwelling. Akin, immortal, following each other, changing their colours both the heavens move onward.

Following the Wyrd laid before Them, alternately they travel. Fair-formed, of different hues and yet one-minded, Night and Dawn, Winter and Spring clash not, neither do they travel.

Eostre, harnessing her wagon with purple oxen, injuring none, returns with perpetual riches. Opening paths to happiness, the Goddess shines, praised by all, giver of every blessing.

With changing tints she gleams in double splendour while from the eastward she displays her body. She travels perfectly the path of Order, nor fails to reach, as one who knows, the quarters.

In the sky’s borders she has shone in splendour; now to our great joy the Goddess throwns off the veil of darkness. Awakening the world with purple horses, on her well-harnessed chariot Dawn approaches.

Bringing all life-sustaining blessings with her, showing herself she sends forth brilliant lustre. Breasts bare, Eostre fills our world with returning Life-giving light, and flowers are soon to follow.

It is Eostre who opens the portal to the birds, migrations ending, eggs laying, songs glorious as if to welcome the Mother of Sexuality, Fertility and Mortality. It is Eostre who opens the portal for Sunna to bring us warmth and well being.

Although we share only limited springs with you, Eostre, please think kindly of us. We offer food and gifts to the daughter of the Heavens; May You be pleased with our generosity, although Yours is so much greater.

From times prehistoric You have kept the cycles of the Sun moving in harmonic perfection. Today we remember all you offer, all you are, and where we fit in your turning seasons. Let us feel the change You bring and be healed, be whole, be wholesome.

May your light and fair blessings reach our collective and individual dungeons of despair, isolation, oppression and ignorance. Grant us all the creativity and will power to follow your path of freedom; let us be uplifted by your eternal chances to match the design of the Deities.

Please look down to us with eyes full of love and extend your glory deep into our bodies, strong, healthy, holy, blessed. Usher in the time of gentle rains, bright sun, and great growth. Bless our farmers and our eagerness for an honorable life.

May Eostre whose auspicious rays are seen resplendent round about, Grant us great riches, fair in form, of all good things, wealth which light labour may attain.

Life continues, cycles continue, each morning, each spring another chance to understand, to create, to design, to live in abundant joy with the Order of the Deities.

May They beckon to us the way of Xartus; May we gracefully embrace this holy union.

Thank you. I give to Eostre, I give to the goodness in myself, and I give to the love that still and always will exist within my species. Thank you, O Heavenly Mother.

At the end I pull a rune. I naturally use the Anglo-Saxon runes with the Northumbrian ones included. (I have removed the Cweard rune because no one knows what the word even means.)

I have to think about why I’m taking an omen. Am I asking if She’s pleased? The runes aren’t great for yes/no answers. She’s satisfied. I feel it. We’re good. So what’s the message from Eostre for which I need an omen? As it’s a seasonal festival, I ask for an omen about how the spring will be for me.

Rune of Spring, 2019, Heather Awen
Rune of Spring, 2019, Heather Awen

The answer is Wynn. Joy of having enough. Joy of a home, good health, prosperity and happiness. Troubles will be few. Gratitude will be important for my mental well being. Wish comes from the related “wunsch” and for the Goths “wunjo” (the rune’s Scandinavian name) meant “bliss.” The different meanings and the lines of the Rune Poem remind me of the power of oxytocin, the comfort, bonding hormone released during breast feeding, orgasms and grooming/ wanted, non-sexual touch. There’s a needed willingness to feel content in Wynn because my culture values struggling over satisfaction. Blame it on the intense mixture of Calvinist Christianity with capitalism, but happiness is scorned as laziness, and ghosts of Scottish Presbyterian and Dutch Reformist self-loathing is woven deeply in my recent family Wyrd.

I embrace joy.

 

Ancient Hymns to Usas

Here are some hymns to Usas directly copied from the e-book version The Complete Rig Veda (English), translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith, published by Classic Century Works. All… oddities are in the original.

HYMN XLVIII. Dawn.
1 DAWN on us with prosperity, O Usas, Daughter of the Sky, Dawn with great glory, Goddess, Lady of the Light, dawn thou with riches, Bounteous One.
2 They, bringing steeds and kine, boon-givers of all wealth, have oft sped forth to lighten us. O Usas, waken up for me the sounds of joy: send us the riches of the great.
3 Usas hath dawned, and now shall dawn, the Goddess, driver forth of cars Which, as she cometh nigh, have fixed their thought on her, like glory-seekers on the flood.
4 Here Kanva, chief of Kanva’s race, sings forth aloud the glories of the heroes’ names,— The. princes who, O Usas, as thou comest near, direct their thoughts to liberal gifts.
5 Like a good matron Usas comes carefully tending everything: Rousing all life she stirs all creatures that have feet, and makes the birds of air fly up.
6 She sends the busy forth, each man to his pursuit: delay she knows not as she springs. O rich in opulence, after thy dawning birds that have flown forth no longer rest.
7 This Dawn hath yoked her steeds afar, beyond the rising of the Sun: Borne on a hundred chariots she, auspicious Dawn, advances on her way to Men.
8 To meet her glance all living creatures bend them down: Excellent One, she makes the light. Usas, the Daughter of the Sky, the opulent, shines foes and enmities away.
9 Shine on us with thy radiant light, O Usas, Daughter of the Sky, Bringing to us great store of high felicity, and beaming on our solemn rites.
10 For in thee is each living creature’s breath and life, when, Excellent! thou dawnest forth. Borne on thy lofty car, O Lady of the Light, hear, thou of wondrous wealth, our call.
11 O Usas, win thyself the strength which among men is wonderful. Bring thou thereby the pious unto holy rites, those who as priests sing praise to thee.
12 Bring from the firmament, O Usas, all the Gods, that they may drink our Soma juice, And, being what thou art, vouchsafe us kine and steeds, strength meet for praise and hero might.
13 May Usas whose auspicious rays are seen resplendent round about, Grant us great riches, fair in form, of all good things, wealth which light labour may attain.
14 Mighty One, whom the rsis of old time invoked for their protection and their help, O Usas, graciously answer our songs of praise with bounty and with brilliant light.
15 Usas, as thou with light to day hast opened the twin doors of heaven, So grant thou us a dwelling wide and free from foes. O Goddess, give us food with kine.
16 Bring us to wealth abundant, sent in every shape, to plentiful refreshing food, To all-subduing splendour, Usas, Mighty One, to strength, thou rich in spoil and wealth.

HYMN XLIX. Dawn.
1 E’EN from above the sky’s bright realm come, Usas, by auspicious ways: Let red steeds bear thee to the house of him who pours the Soma, juice.
2 The chariot which thou mountest, fair of shape, O Usas light to move,— Therewith, O Daughter of the Sky, aid men of noble fame today.
3 Bright Usas, when thy times return, all quadrupeds and bipeds stir, And round about flock winged birds from all the boundaries of heaven.
4 Thou dawning with thy beams of light illumest all the radiant realm. Thee, as thou art, the Kanvas, fain for wealth, have called with sacred songs.

HYMN CXIII. Dawn.
1 This light is come, amid all lights the fairest; born is the brilliant, far-extending brightness. Night, sent away for Savitar’s uprising, hath yielded up a birth-place for the Morning.
2 The Fair, the Bright is come with her white offspring; to her the Dark One hath resigned her dwelling. Akin, immortal, following each other, changing their colours both the heavens move onward.
3 Common, unending is the Sisters’ pathway; taught by the Gods, alternately they travel. Fair-formed, of different hues and yet one-minded, Night and Dawn clash not, neither do they travel.
4 Bright leader of glad sounds, our eyes behold her; splendid in hue she hath unclosed the portals. She, stirring up the world, hath shown us riches: Dawn hath awakened every living creature.
5 Rich Dawn, she sets afoot the coiled-up sleeper, one for enjoyment, one for wealth or worship, Those who saw little for extended vision. All living creatures hath the Dawn awakened.
6 One to high sway, one to exalted glory, one to pursue his gain, and one his labour: All to regard their different vocations, all moving creatures hath the Dawn awakened.
7 We see her there, the Child of Heaven apparent, the young Maid, flushing in her shining raiment. Thou sovran Lady of all earthly treasure, flush on us here, auspicious Dawn, this morning.
8 She first of endless morns to come hereafter, follows the path of morns that have departed. Dawn, at her rising, urges forth the living him who is dead she wakes not from his slumber.
9 As thou, Dawn, hast caused Agni to be kindled, and with the Sun’s eye hast revealed creation. And hast awakened men to offer worship, thou hast performed, for Gods, a noble service.
10 How long a time, and they shall be together,—Dawns that have shone and Dawns to shine hereafter? She yearns for former Dawns with eager longing, and goes forth gladly shining with the others.
11 Gone are the men who in the days before us looked on the rising of the earlier Morning. We, we the living, now behold her brightness and they come nigh who shall hereafter see her.
12 Foe-chaser, born of Law, the Law’s protectress, joy-giver, waker of all pleasant voices, Auspicious, bringing food for Gods’ enjoyment, shine on us here, most bright, O Dawn, this morning.
13 From days eternal hath Dawn shone, the Goddess, and shows this light to-day, endowed with riches. So will she shine on days to come immortal she moves on in her own strength, undecaying.
14 In the sky’s borders hath she shone in splendour: the Goddess hath thrown off the veil of darkness. Awakening the world with purple horses, on her well-harnessed chariot Dawn approaches.
15 Bringing all life-sustaining blessings with her, showing herself she sends forth brilliant lustre. Last of the countless mornings that have vanished, first of bright morns to come hath Dawn arisen.
16 Arise! the breath, the life, again hath reached us: darkness hath passed away and light approacheth. She for the Sun hath left a path to travel we have arrived where men prolong existence.
17 Singing the praises of refulgent Mornings with his hymn’s web the priest, the poet rises. Shine then to-day, rich Maid, on him who lauds thee, shine down on us the gift of life and offspring.
18 Dawns giving sons all heroes, kine and horses, shining upon the man who brings oblations,— These let the Soma-presser gain when ending his glad songs louder than the voice of Vāyu.
19 Mother of Gods, Aditi’s form of glory, ensign of sacrifice, shine forth exalted. Rise up, bestowing praise on our devotion all-bounteous, make us chief among the people.
20 Whatever splendid wealth the Dawns bring with them to bless the man who offers praise and worship, Even that may Mitra, Varuna vouchsafe us, and Aditi and Sindhu, Earth and Heaven.

HYMN LXI. Usas.
1 O Usas, strong with strength, endowed witli knowledge, accept the singer’s praise, O wealthy Lady. Thou, Goddess, ancient, young, and full of wisdom, movest, all-bounteous! as the Law ordaineth.
2 Shine forth, O Morning, thou auspicious Goddess, on thy bright car awaking pleasant voices. Let docile horses of far-reaching splendour convey thee hitherward, the goldencoloured.
3 Thou, Morning, turning thee to every creature, standest on high as ensign of the Immortal, To one same goal ever and ever wending now, like a wheel, O newly-born, roll hi ther.
4 Letting her reins drop downward, Morning cometh, the wealthy Dame, the Lady of the dwelling; Bringing forth light, the Wonderful, the Blessed hath spread her from the bounds of earth and heaven.
5 Hither invoke the radiant Goddess Morning, and bring with reverence your hymn to praise her. She, dropping sweets, hath set in heaven her brightness, and, fair to look on, hath beamed forth her splendour.
6 From heaven, with hymns, the Holy One was wakened: brightly to both worlds came the wealthy Lady. To Morning, Agni, when she comes refulgent, thou goest forth soliciting fair riches.
7 On Law’s firm base the speeder of the Mornings, the Bull, hath entered mighty earth and heaven. Great is the power of Varuna and Mitra, which, bright, hath spread in every place its splendour.

HYMN LXXX. Dawn.
1 THE singers welcome with their hymns and praises the Goddess Dawn who bringeth in the sunlight, Sublime, by Law true to eternal Order, bright on her path, red-tinted, far-refulgent.
2 She comes in front, fair, rousing up the people, making the pathways easy to be travelled. High, on her lofty chariot, all-impelling, Dawn gives her splendour at the days’ beginning.
3 She, harnessing her car with purple oxen. injuring none, hath brought perpetual riches. Opening paths to happiness, the Goddess shines, praised by all, giver of every blessing.
4 With changing tints she gleams in double splendour while from the eastward she displays her body. She travels perfectly the path of Order, nor fails to reach, as one who knows, the quarters.
5 As conscious that her limbs are bright with bathing, she stands, as ’twere, erect that we may see her. Driving away malignity and darkness, Dawn, Child of Heaven, hath come to us with lustre.
6 The Daughter of the Sky, like some chaste woman, bends, opposite to men, her forehead downward. The Maid, disclosing boons to him who worships, hath brought again the daylight as aforetime.

HYMN LXIV. Dawn.
1. THE radiant Dawns have risen up for glory, in their white splendour like the waves of waters. She maketh paths all easy, fair to travel, and, rich, hath shown herself benign and friendly.
2 We see that thou art good: far shines thy lustre; thy beams, thy splendours have flown up to heaven. Decking thyself, thou makest bare thy bosom, shining in majesty, thou Goddess Morning.
3 Red are the kine and luminous that bear her the Blessed One who spreadeth through the distance. The foes she chaseth like a valiant archer, like a swift warrior she repelleth darkness.
4 Thy ways are easy on the hills: thou passest Invincible! Se1f-luminous! through waters. So lofty Goddess with thine ample pathway, Daughter of Heaven, bring wealth to give us comfort.
5 Dawn, bring me wealth: untroubled, with thine oxen thou bearest riches at thy will and pleasure; Thou who, a Goddess, Child of Heaven, hast shown thee lovely through bounty when we called thee early.
6 As the birds fly forth from their resting places, so men with store of food rise at thy dawning. Yea, to the liberal mortal who rernaineth at home, O Goddess Dawn, much good thou bringest.
Bibliography

Albertsson, Alaric, Travels Through Middle Earth: the Path of a Saxon Pagan. Llewellyn Publications (2009)

Albertsson, Alaric, Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer. Llewellyn Publications (2011)

Bloomfield, Maurice, The Religion of the Veda. (1907)

Hondius-Crone, Ada, The Temple of Nehalennia at Domburg, J.M. Meulenhoff, Amsterdam (1955), summarized by Maria Kvilhaug (Unknown where published)

Noyer, Rolf, PIE Dieties and the Sacred Proto-Indo-European Language and Society. (Unknown where published)

Paxson, Diana L., Taking Up the Runes: A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic. Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC (2005)

Reaves, William P., The Aesir and the Elves (Unknown where published, 2002)

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

Trubshaw, Bob, Continuity of Worldviews in Anglo-Saxon England. (Heart of Albion Productions) FREE DOWNLOAD https://hoap.co.uk/catalogue.htm#aswv

Trubshaw, Bob, Souls, Spirits and Deities: Continuity from paganism in early Christianity. (Heart of Albion Productions) FREE DOWNLOAD https://hoap.co.uk/catalogue.htm#aswv

Vavrovský, Stanislav, Aspects of Indo-European Religion: The Supernatural World of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. (Unknown where published)

Wodening, Swain, A Handbook on Germanic Heathenry and Theodish Belief, self published (2007)

Zimmer, Stefan, The Culture of the Speakers of Proto-IndoEuropean, Bereitgestellt von | De Gruyter / TCS Angemeldet Heruntergeladen am | 04.12.17 13:28

Zimmer, Stefan, Three Indo-European Moral Values, Studien zur historisch-vergleichenden Sprachwissenschaft Herausgegeben von Harald Bichlmeier und Velizar Sadovski (2017)

Celtic Festival Calender: Neto, Lenus, Cocidius, Rudianos and Nemetona

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Sketch of statue of Lenus Mars by Heather Awen

As the Celts conquered by the Romans adapted their religion to that of the Empire’s, I imagine that Celtic deities associated with Roman ones would be celebrated on the days of their Roman counterparts. I’ve already discussed Telesphorus and the Matres, and more will explored in upcoming posts already scheduled. Even if no Celts did this (which is hard to believe) at least it gives those who worship the ancient deities of the Celtic tribes ritual dates with which to work.

March originally was the first month of the Roman year, in honor of the God of war Mars, the protector of Rome. His Priests were the Salii or “leapers,” twenty four young patrician men whose parents were living. The Salii led processions throughout Rome, wearing archaic military armor, carrying a copy of a shield that was said to have fallen from the sky. On March 1st (probably the new moon originally) the Salii would beat their shields and sing hymns to Mars Gradivus about fertility, while performing a leaping dance. The dance was probably meant to scare off evil spirits during this liminal time of beginnings. Some believe that the dance was to show the crops how high to grow.

Mars was associated with several Celtic deities, including ones associated with Mercury in other places. This is common, because many Celtic people chose which Roman God fit with their own, as opposed to the Romans deciding. Roman deities usually had a special “function” or aspect of life they ruled, while Celtic deities were more about the welfare of the tribe and served in whatever way was needed. Making a direct correlation between the two pantheons is rarely easy, but within a few generations, both Celts and Romans probably began to understand these Romano-Celtic deities in a new way.

The protector of the tribe fit well into Celtic thinking about the deities. Lenus of the Belgic tribe Treveri became Lenus Mars and a very large and important temple complex was built in Trier. Being on a river, it was considered a healing sanctuary where pilgrims could sleep and pray for a message from the God. Many other deities were also worshiped there, and theater taught the myths and values of Rome. (See this post to learn more about the Treveri, Lenus and photographs of Trier including a Roman bridge and bath.)

Another God associated with Mars is described in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners:

Rudianos is a Gaulish warrior God who became associated with Mars. His name means the color red, which is typically connected to battle. A stone from the 6th century BCE at Saint-Michelde-Valbonne, a place where Rudianos was later worshipped, depicts a warrior God on horseback. The Celtic cult of the head is shown by the God’s giant head and the five severed heads being trampled under his horse. Rudianos also has inscriptions at Saint-Andéol-en-Quint and Rochefort Samson (Drôme).”

For British Celtic Pagans, Cocidius (koh-KEED-ee-us) was worshiped in England. However, it’s important to remember that these temples were for the deities that Gauls in the Roman military honored and probably not native to the Britons. (Native shrines left no writing.) Steel Bars, Sacred Waters tells us more:

“A God of soldiers, Cocidius was popular at the dangerous Roman frontier in northern England, Hadrian’s Wall. His major center of worship was Fanum Cocidii (the Temple of Cocidius) located near the Solway Estuary. He was associated with Roman war God Mars.

“23 stone altars and 2 silver plaques have been discovered dedicated to Cocidius. Most are military altars. The plaques show him with a spear and shield and wearing a short cape. A carving depicts him with arms opened wide, a sword in the right hand, and a shield in the left, with his feet stable on the ground. Some believe his statues were painted red. He is called sanctus (holy) six times. One inscription is to Cocidius Vernostonus (”Cocidius of the alder tree”). Many images are of him hunting the traditional Celtic animals of boars, hares and stags found in later legends.”

The alder tree, which makes a red color, is later associated with the Brythonic crow king God Bran the Blessed who we know mostly from the Mabinogi. Roman artisans usually depicted Celtic Gods with a spear and shield, based on their knowledge of what Celtic warriors and kings wore, and their simplistic view of Celtic deities.

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Invocation to Cocidius by Heather Awen

“Friend of soldiers, red of alder,
Hunting the boar and defending the land,
Cocidius, welcome to you,
Crimson warrior!
Holder of spear, your temple
Where salt water meets fresh,
Cocidius, companion in battle,
I call to you, to you, holy God, I call.”

Prayer to Cocidius for Safety by Heather Awen

“Red warrior, friend of those in battle,
Cocidius, I speak to you,
Guardian to guardian.
In this fight, please keep my back,
Please make sure I get out of here alive and unscathed.
Whatever battles rage around or within me,
Guard me with your wisdom and loyalty.
Fight the fights I cannot
For my freedom, for my safety, for my humanity.
Wisely lead me through every battle I cannot prevent,
Guide my movements, my decisions,
And keep me out of trouble.
Thank you, defender, for with you on my side
I promise to not start the trouble, *
Only to leave it.
*You actually have to keep your vow.”

I have a great fondness for the Iberian Celtic deities, perhaps because modern scholars are revealing the huge importance of the Atlantic coast in the creation of the Celtic languages. New evidence suggests that Iberia actually had more Celtic settlements than France or the insular Celts living in Britain and Ireland. To see 6th century BCE Celtic language written in Phoenician script found in the most southwest region of Portugal visually fills in once missing gaps of history.

The deities of these Iberian Celtic tribes are discussed in recent academic journals but rarely mentioned in pop culture Celtic Paganism books. In writing Steel Bars, Sacred Waters I worked hard to make these once well known deities well known again. They deserve the same devotion as other deities.

Associated with Mars is Neto, pronounced “NET-oh” and “NAY-toe.” From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

“In his Saturnalia writing Macrobius says Neto is like Mars and Apollo, the Roman God of war and the Greek/Roman God of the Sun. His name, like that of so many Celtic Gods, may be connected to passion. He is generally accepted to be a warrior God. However, Celtic war Gods tend to be defenders of tribes, which includes defending them from illness. Apollo is also a God of healing, which makes the connection to protecting the tribe’s health as much as their homes and livestock even stronger. Neto, like so many Celtic Gods of passion, is probably an all-round guardian.

Invocation to Neto by Heather Awen

“Hail, Neto! A warrior of blood and light,
You fight with passion, champion of most terrifying tribes.
Leading the way, you guard against every possible attack
On livelihood and lives, on cattle and castros*.
The heat of the sun boils every edge of you,
Purifying your troops of all hidden treachery,
For you are the honorable warrior,
Guided by great desire to protect what is innocent and must not be corrupted.
I honor you, Neto, guardian who keeps the people free,
I honor you.
* A castro is an Iberian hill-fort.”

Research suggests that the Celts in general believed that for a God to have power, He must be paired with a Goddess. One example is Mercury and Rosmerta (discussed in a few months on the Merculia). Another is how Jupiter is almost always seated by Juno Regina, Juno in her aspect as Queen, on Gaulish Jupiter columns. (This will be discussed more in the August post about the September 1st Festival of Taranus.) And another is Mars and Nemetona, “Goddess of the Sacred Grove” pronounced “nem-eh-TONE-ah.”

Nemetona was paired with the Roman God Mars by the Gauls. This is one way Gallo-Roman religion differed from Roman religion: Gods needed to be in couples with Goddesses. She was also worshiped at Bath in Britain. There an image depicts her seated holding a scepter by a ram and three little hooded figures. Those hooded figures are called genii, and considered to be land spirits.

“It is difficult to know exactly how wide her worship spread. Many place names in Gaul may be connected directly to the Goddess – or to the groves where Druids led some rituals and taught, called nemetons. (The leaders of the Galatians in Turkey gathered at Drunemeton.) This word is perhaps 4,000 years old. Nemetona may have been considered the Goddess of all sacred groves, or just the ones near Bath. Two tribes are recorded whose names come from nemeton – the Nemetati, a Celtic tribe in Iberia, and the Germanic tribe of Nemetes living by the River Rhine, not far from where Mars and Nemetona were most popular. The northern and Atlantic regions of Iberia where Celtic tribes settled were not warm Mediterranean climates, but temperate regions with forests. In continental Europe the sacred grove was normally oak trees.

“Some modern Druids visualize a sacred grove or nemeton within themselves. After grounding and centering they will journey in their minds to their own private nemeton. There they can focus on the sacred center within and retreat from the busy world.”

In a paper by Hyllested, exciting new linguistic evidence shows a change in Indo-European language probably in the Czech Republic about 4,000 years that directly impacted the religion of both the Celts and Germans – before their own languages existed! The name of Macha‘s husband Nemed (and Macha Herself) is believed to come from this time. Nemed is God of the nemeton, the sacred grove with the sacred mare (Macha) which are crucial aspects of both early Germanic and Celtic ritual. That a German tribe in Belgae and Celtic tribe in Iberia also come from nemeton adds to the idea that nematon is a Celto-Germanic word. Hyllested doesn’t mention Nemetona, but that Her name is directly from nemeton, a Celto-Germanic word, would suggest She is an ancient Goddess.

To learn more about the other ancient words that directly impact Celtic and Germanic religion, buy Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, offered for a less expensive price here than on Amazon, and support sending copies to prisons!

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)

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

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)

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

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

Nicholson, Francine, Religious Ritual among the Celts, Land, Sea and Sky, http://homepage.eircom.net/~shae/chapter13.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)

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)

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

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

Celtic Festival Calender: Matres, Matronae, Modron – the Swedish Disirblot & Roman Parentalia

Throughout the year you’ll find blog posts that connect Celtic deities to festivals in other cultures when there is a historical reason to do so. Most of them are based on the Roman deities’ festivals that correspond to the Celtic deities associated with them, like Minvera and Sulis, or Mercury and Lug. This one is a bit different. My hope is that it will encourage people who want to be Gaulish, British and Iberian Celtic polytheists to do SOMETHING to honor those deities. A simple offering, chanting Their name, visualizing Their culture, reciting invocations by  Hester Butler-Ehle and me from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters – whatever works to make the first move. We may not have mythology for These deities, but we know quite a bit about their temperaments and importance. The rest will come if we ask for it. Deity names are in bold so you can scan for ones who interest you.

The old calendar of the Norse doesn’t line up with our current calendar. This is a problem with finding proper dates for any ancient festivals. Either they used the Julian Roman calender or had a lunar-solar calendar, and solved the problem of extra days in their own ways, like the way we add a day every 4th year or “Leap Year.” Even though the Swedish Disirblot was in the month similar to March, it appears that the Sacrifice for the Divine Mothers was held in February.

Some scholars believe that the Disir come directly from the Matres, meaning “Mothers” and pronounced “MAH-tress,” and the Matronae, pronounced “mah-TROH-nee” meaning “matrons.” They were worshiped in northwest Europe from the 1st to 5th century CE, with over 1,100 inscriptions and depictions of them. There’s quite a lot of information about the Matres in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners (available here for less than Amazon), so I won’t explain who They are beyond this:

Like many deities in the Roman Era of Celtic polytheism (and probably before, but we have no written inscriptions from then), the Matres were honored by both German and Celtic people. The two cultures were not very different, especially in the Belgae region of modern Holland and Belgium, which appears to have been a Celto-Germanic transitional region. Many Germans served in the Roman military with Gauls, often stationed in Britain together, creating more religious bonds.

The first difference between most Indo-European religions and those of the Celtic, German and Finnish/Estonian linguistic groups had already formed about 4,000 years ago, before there even was a proto-Celtic language. Some basic cosmological elements and many ritual practices were firmly established in those similar cultures. And almost all Indo-European cultures have triple Goddesses of destiny, either as mothers/ helpful guides or hags cursing men heading to battle.

The Matres were worshiped as the Mothers of a place, tribe or function. About half of Their many inscriptions and shrines are German. The Mothers usually have scarves wrapped around their heads with the long ends twisted to make a wide brim, sometimes with a veil covering the neck. Iron Age Germanic and Celtic women wore these same head dresses, with slight regional differences. Sometimes one has Her hair down, showing that She is not married. The Matres are the most popular deities on record. For the Celts, They survive in the Welsh Mabinogi as Modron. For the Germanic tribes who returned north, they became the Disir.

(There are examples of Germanic Matres in this post.)

Iceland has its own Disirblot, but it is in autumn, and the Anglo-Saxons have Mothers Night December 24. Ancient Europeans tended to celebrate the solstice (“stand still”) when the sun stopped standing still and began its movement in the other direction. Christmas and St John’s Eve (Midsummer) took the place of any native Celtic solstice festivals. We only know the name of Mothers Night, not anything about what it meant or what people did. The Saxons, perhaps the last Pagan Germanic tribe in German Europe, would have known the Matres. The Angles probably did as well, with modern Denmark bordering the Belgae territory, and some of the North Sea Germanic tribes involved in Celtic politics and possibly shared rituals. After all, the Alci, long assumed to be Germanic deities on the North Sea, are linguistically Celtic and are found in Celtic Iberia as well.

If we remove the history of the incredibly popular Matres, it would seem as though the Disir come out of nowhere. In general, modern Heathens and Northern Tradition Pagans believe them to be the female ancestors. Many “soul parts” or qualities are passed down by ancestors in Germanic cosmology, including luck, so the Disir have many roles. In some ways they are similar to the personal Norns we are said to have. Some Pagans include Goddesses in the Disir, and if you are spiritually part of a culture that believes it descends from their deities like the Norse or Japanese (and possibly some Celtic tribes), especially the ruling class, honoring Goddesses as your mothers makes sense. Freya is called Vanadis, “ancestor/mother of the Vanir” or perhaps “matriarch of the Vanir” better describes Her role. The Yngling dynasty, some of my ancestors, descend from Ingvi-Frey. Iron Age Germans understood that they all descended from the three sons of (very proto-Indo-European named) Mannus, Ing (Ingvi-Frey), Herman (Odin) and one whose name and myths are lost to us. (Mannus we can learn all about in the pieced together PIE myth of the first ancestor and first Priest.) Rig (Heimdall setting the people into the class system and bringing the runes to the ruling class) is considered another father of the people.

The Matres are Mothers and They are Goddesses, so again, there’s really no difference between female ancestors (or at least some of the most powerful who chose to stick around, looking after their kin) and deities. Who you choose to honor as your female ancestors is a personal choice. If you have given yourself to a Goddess to serve, She may be a Mother, depending on your relationship. Some Goddesses I will naturally call “Mother” or “Mom” usually before Their names, as is common in some types of Africa Diaspora Religion.

You might wonder why a patriarchal society doesn’t have any records of a holy tide for the male ancestors. The most common theory seems to be that like troll, alf (elf) is a very versatile word. Snorri has them organized in 3 Heavens like the Christianity of His time did with angels. Mythology just tells us that, like Vanaheim, the world of elves was not created by Odin and His 2 brothers/ aspects of Himself. The elves are ruled by the Vanir God Frey who received their world as a gift to celebrate when he got teeth, which would have been before He met the Aesir.

Frey in His mortal form ruled over a time of peace and prosperity and was buried in a mound. People kept paying their tribute/ taxes to the mound. The Alfar as Anglo-Saxon elves are associated with the land; important men were buried in mounds on family land so their descendants could claim it; Frey rules the Alfar; Frey as the best king was buried and offerings were still paid in tribute to his grave mound – and so the Alfar can mean the male ancestors as well as the species of Otherworldly beings brought to the Tree of the Worlds by the Vanir. While the male ancestors stay and defend the family land which is their gift to their descendants, the Disir are able to travel with their descendants.

Of course, 1/4 to 1/3 of Norwegians during the Vikings Age were slaves and did not inherit anything from their fathers, so perhaps that added to the importance of the Mothers. Also, many Swedish people were traveling east along the Baltic, even down the Volga river into Russia, named for their red hair, and to the Byzantine Empire where they became Christian mercenaries. These people would rarely or never see their family land again and so the Disir would be especially important.

Originally it seems that the Swedish festival was a couple weeks long. People would have traveled to it, including merchants, and along with animal sacrifices to the Disir, there would have been much socializing. These festivals were a rare opportunity to meet potential spouses outside of your tiny village. Today there is still a Disir market held for a few days.

It’s a good time to honor the Matres if you don’t follow this Norse custom. The Vikings who settled Dublin became Gaels very quickly, while the ones who settled the Scottish Islands changed the Gaels into the Norse. Scotland is an exciting mixture of both cultures. Many Norse words, especially about sailing, joined the Scots Gaelic language. Fairy mythology changed – instead of the Fairy Kingdoms of Ireland, Scotland had Elf Queens. A group of Scottish Fairies battled the Helka Faeries over the ocean, to help sailors.

Helka is the main active volcano in Iceland. In the early medieval era, Helka blew so much lava over the land and smoke into the sky, people across Europe considered it the gateway to Hell, which is how it got its name. There are Heathen Era images of Thor with the water serpent, an ancient proto-Indo-European myth, but the fires consuming the world, years of dark winter, and brother turning against brother – that’s Helka the volcano, who had (and still has) a history of destruction by fire and skies dark, causing the starving and homeless to fight for resources. The sudden change in Loki‘s role as ultimately helpful trickster and doer of Odin‘s dirty work (stealing Freya‘s necklace, for example) to bringer of death and destruction in Ragnarok may be explained by the addition of the devastating volcanic eruptions to Icelandic life. Ragnarok may be a modern myth. Certainly there were no volcanoes in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germania or the other lands Germanic language speakers settled (often marrying into families of the place and losing their Norse culture, so they weren’t ever ethnicity obsessed xenophobes).

Centuries earlier, the Romans were holding rituals for their own ancestors in February. It’s not connected to the timing of the Swedish Disirblot, but Celts and Germans living in the Roman Empire may have also honored their ancestors, perhaps the Matres. February 13 to 21st was the Parentalia, a private rite to appease the dead. Temples were closed, marriage was not allowed, and no altar fires burned. A Vestal Virgin started the Parentalia by pouring a libation to the dead. Families gathered at the family tomb to perform private rituals and make offerings.

“The tomb is honored. Placate the souls of your ancestors and bear small gifts to the tombs. The Dark Shades seek little, they prefer devotion over a costly gift, the spirits who live below are not greedy.” (Ovid Fasti 2.537)

While the Parentalia was private, the Feralia on February 21 was public. Temples were still closed so people could focus on the dead. Ovid instructed, “And the grave must be honoured. Appease your fathers’ Spirits, and bring little gifts to the tombs you built. Let the altars be free of incense, the hearths without fire. Now ghostly spirits and the entombed dead wander, Now the shadow feeds on the nourishment that’s offered.”

Then on the 22nd the Cara Cognatio, or the Festival to Caring Kin, honored the living family and household deities. It was like a potluck dinner, where the family restored the peace between its members.

“Our ancestors established a ceremonial feast and called it the Caristia, to which nobody but relatives and in-laws is invited, so that, if any quarrel had arisen among the kinsfolk, it might be resolved at the sacred rites of the meal, and harmony was established among those in the company fostering harmony.” (Valerius Maximus 2.1.8).

The household deities received offerings of grain, honey, cakes, wine, grapes, incense and flowers. Together the family prayed for peace among them, while praising the deities.

As the Matres were part of Roman Celtic and Roman Germanic culture, perhaps the Matres were honored during February.

Whatever your tradition, the collective energy of Disirblot and the Parentalia built up over centuries makes this a great time to honor your female ancestors and Goddesses or other spirits who are your mother(s) as well. As the Matres (and Modron) have no known date for their worship, perhaps now could be that time.

Selected Bibliography

Albertsson, Alaric, Travels Through Middle Earth: the Path of a Saxon Pagan. Llewellyn Publications (2009)

Bane, Teresa, Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology. McFarland & Company, Inc (2013)

Beck, Noémie, Goddesses in Celtic Religion: Cult and Mythology: A Comparative Study of Ancient Ireland, Britain and Gaul, University Lyons, http://theses.univlyon2.fr/documents/lyon2/2009/beck_n#p=0&q=RDG&a=title

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)

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

Davidson, H R Ellis, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Pelican Books (1964)

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

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

Grömer, Karina, “Textile Materials and Techniques in Central Europe in the 2nd and 1st Millennia BC” Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings (2014).

Hall, Alaric, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity. Boydell Press (2007)

Henderson, George, The Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland. AlbaCraft Publishers (1910, 2013)

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

Lafayllve, Patricia, A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru. Llewellyn Publications (2013)

Lecouteux, Claude, Encyclopedia of Norse and German folklore, mythology, and magic, Jon Graham trans. Michael Moynihan editor. Inner Traditions (2016)

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

McNeil, F. Marion, The Silver Bough vol. 1: Scottish Folk-Lore and Folk-Belief. Scottish Arts Council (1957-1968)

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

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

Pennick, Nigel, Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition: Customs, Rites, and Ceremonies. Destiny Books (2015)

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)

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

Short, William R., Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas. McFarland & Company (2010)

Simek, Rudolf, Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Woodbridge, D.S. Brewe (2007)

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

Sturluson, Snorri, The Prose Edda, Jesse L Byock trans. Penguin Classics (2005)

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

The Viking Anthology: Norse Myths, Icelandic Sagas and Viking Chronicles. Bybliotech (2014)

Wodening, Swain, A Handbook on Germanic Heathenry and Theodish Belief, self published (2007)

Woolf, Alex, Amlaib Curaran and the Gael, Medieval Dublun III, Sean Duffy, ed. (2001)

Offerings at Trier: Belgae and Beads (& Gaulish and Norse/Germanic Deities) PHOTOS

Nemetona by Alexandra Rena

My far-too-talented friend, artist Alexandra Rena (check out her commissioned image of Freya!), recently visited friends and family in Scandinavia and Germany, which allowed me to send her a parcel of offerings to be made in my name! She was hitting a lot of important “hot spots” for a Celtic and Germanic polytheist, so I created packets of glass and metal beads for my ancestors and deities of each place she went. In traditional fashion, she tossed them into rivers or the North or Baltic Seas. 

The western German city Trier  (located near Luxembourg) is an important site for Gaulish (and Roman) Pagans. The city was named for the Belgic tribe the Treveri, which probably means “the ferrymen.” The Treveri settled along the important trade river the Moselle and had a Goddess of the ford, RitonaThe lands of the Treveri were large, especially because at least two neighboring tribes were their clients. The Romans recorded they were originally from Germania but moved south. (Later possible meanings of that will be discussed.) For a tribe outside of the Roman Empire, they had quite a lot of Roman luxury goods. They joined Gaulish tribes in rebellions against the Roman Empire, but by the 4th century C.E. Trier was one of the most important of the Roman Empire’s cities. The temple complex that will be described is from the Roman Era. 

The Belgae are “the people swollen (with battle rage)” and somewhat of a mystery to historians. They’re neither quite Gaulish nor German. Julius Caesar wrote that out of the Gauls, Aquitanians, and Belgic people, the Belgae were: 

 “the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war”. 

Strabo disagreed, writing that the Gauls and Belgae had basically the same government, language and culture. Some scholars believe that “German origin” was not about German culture or language, but as a way of stating that the tribe hadn’t become familiar with Roman luxury goods. German simply meant that they continued to live as the Gauls had before contact with Rome, as the cultures were very alike. (Later a different Roman would write about the eastern Germans, stating that they were like the Celts before Romanization.) 

The Romans created the Rhine River as the official German/Gaulish border after decades of both tribes freely crossing the Rhine, so place does not help us decide what language was spoken. One theory is that they had their own Indo-European language, which quickly became crowded out by Gaulish and German. At least the Belgae leaders spoke Gaulish, as recorded place and personal names are Gaulish. In some places, tribal members must have also spoken a Germanic language, because occasionally Germanic tribes supplied soldiers to Gaulish allies battling other Gaulish tribes. There’s evidence of a Belgic tribe keeping a British tribe as a client state, becoming an actual Belgae settlement in southeast Britain. (Somehow the word for a territory of tribes became the name of one tribe called the Belgae on maps of Britain.) Some of these Belgae may have settled Ireland, remembered in different legends and myth such as the Fir Bolg according to one theory. 

Caesar also recorded:

“When Caesar inquired of them what states were in arms, how powerful they were, and what they could do, in war, he received the following information: that the greater part of the Belgae were sprung, from the Germans, and that having crossed the Rhine at an early period, they had settled there, on account of the fertility of the country, and had driven out the Gauls who inhabited those regions; and that they were the only people who, in the memory of our fathers [i.e. as far as we can remember], when all Gaul was overrun, had prevented the Teutones and the Cimbri from entering their territories; the effect of which was, that, from the recollection of those events, they assumed to themselves great authority and haughtiness in military matters.”

This is interesting for many reasons. One that stands out to me is that at least one of the leaders of the Cimbri had a Gaulish name, Boiorix, connected to the huge and powerful Gaulish Boii tribe. This can be seen with other early German tribes, implying that some German tribes may have had a Celtic elite briefly ruling them, even on the North Sea. 

One Belgae tribe, dubbed the most ferocious warriors by Julius Caesar, never drank alcohol because true courage requires sobriety. I like to note this because many believe that these peoples, including Pagans reenacting them, were drunken louts. This knowledge could be worked into any Celtic or Germanic Pagan’s alcohol and drug recovery. It’s true that alcohol is “liquid courage” and as Jonathan Richmond sang about stoners in the early 70s proto-punk band the Modern Lovers “If these guys are so great, why can’t they take this world and take it straight?”

So with the Belgae, we had a Gallic-Germanic territory, which possibly was a mixture of the two cultures (who weren’t that different to begin with). The Alci, mistakenly recorded by the Romans as Germanic North Sea horse deities, are actually a Celtic title for the twin horse boys who are found in Celtiberia as well. Along the North Sea lived one of the three original Germanic people, the Ingvaeones, the People of Ingwaz (Frey). According to Tacitus, the Roman writer from whom we know the most about German tribes:

“In ancient lays, their only type of historical tradition, they celebrate Tuisto, a god brought forth from the earth. They attribute to him a son, Mannus, the source and founder of their people, and to Mannus three sons, from whose names those nearest the Ocean are called Ingvaeones, those in the middle Herminones, and the rest Istvaeones.” 

The Herminones are thought to be the People of Odin, as in Norse Irmin is a common by-name for Odin. This would fit with the Prose Edda hinting that Odin came from Germany, and moved north to where the Ingvaeones would have lived before His cultus arrived in Sweden. The third son of Mannus is unknown, but he’d have been the tribal God of the Istvaeones. This gives us a good understanding of where the Vanir deities and the Aesir deities may have first appeared. The battle for Sweden may have been between these two linguistic groups of Germans with their different deities. 

Eventually the People of Ingwaz (Frey) would become Angles and Jutes (among several others), so some Belgic deity devotees speak reconstructed Gaulish with an Old English accent. The Ingvaeones lived in modern Denmark, Holland, Frisia and Belgium. Agriculture in Denmark was rough going, because of the clay content in the soil. Until the iron plough, it was almost impossible to sow seeds. This may be the root of the important visits by the agricultural Goddess Nerthus, from whom all iron and weapons must be hid. Only iron could open Her. Nerthus comes from the ancient Celto-Germanic word for “power/ force” going back 4,000 years to around the Czech Republic. There was no Celtic or Germanic language yet, just a group of Indo-Europeans who suddenly changed the meanings of several words (such as string meaning sorcery and eventually seidR) and adopting words from Neolithic Old Europeans. These words contained the basics of Celtic and Germanic Pagan religion until Christianity replaced them: sacred grove, sovereign horse Goddess (Macha), battle crow Goddess (Badb), their little mentioned husbands, prophecy, poetic trance, werewolves, the waking dead, holly, angelica, and the roots of Lug/Odin. The meaning of priya, the root of Freya, changed to free person, such as Lady. (My personal guess is that Priya became Freya in the Istvaeones and Frigga in the Herminones.)

Because the soil of Denmark was difficult to plough without iron, it is very possible that some Germanic tribes did move south seeking better farmlands. 

If you are interest in the Belgae, check out the book Steel Bars, Sacred Waters and the in-progress website Senobessus Bolgon with its beautiful artwork.

Roman Imperial Bath, Trier, photo by Alexandra Rena

Trier became home to a large Gallo-Roman temple to the God of the Treveri, Lenus Mars. His shrine room was painted bright red, and a statue of Him with a Corinthian helmet holding shield and spear was the focus. Many other deities were also worshipped there. The temple complex boasted a theatre and sanctuary for pilgrims seeking healing.

The association with Mars was probably made by a Roman, although the Romans did seem to often allow natives to choose from the main Roman pantheon which deity best described their own God. For this reason, in some places the same Celtic Gods were associated with Mars, and in others with Mercury, showing that the correlation was not very direct or accurate. What a tribe knew about Roman mythology would depend on whom they met. What a Roman would have understood about a Celtic deity would have been limited as well. Roman artisans were hired to make naturalistic sculptures of the deities (not a Celtic tradition, who in both Britain and Gaul carved crude faces and genitalia in posts). Almost every Celtic God was portrayed with a shield and spear because that’s what Celtic leaders looked like; it tells us nothing of the function of the deity. The Celts held water as generally powerful and sacred, as an ancient tradition of offerings in rivers, bogs and lakes shows. Meanwhile, the Romans tended to associate rivers with healing centers. This means we can’t label Lenus simply as a war God or a healing deity.

If the warrior image and healing sanctuary are Roman standards, who was Lenus to the Treveri tribe? Probably a God who was their personal defender against other tribes, plagues, and any other disasters. He may have been seen as the father of the elite rulers like some other Celtic tribes seemed to do. He was almost certainly viewed as the tribe’s personal God who could do whatever was needed. The creator of Senobessus Bolgon believes that the Goddess Ancamcara was His spouse. Celtic people found it important for Gods to be paired with Goddesses, probably due to the proto-Indo-European belief that Goddesses are the actual soil and rivers of a place. A God without a Goddess was like a King without a land. The importance of Juno Regina, the Queen of the Roman pantheon, sitting next to Jupiter on the Jupiter columns associated with Taranus was probably to validate the God’s rule to the Southern Gauls. Romans had no problem worshipping Jupiter on His own.

From my first encounter with Lenus, I’ve been hoping that He’d return to His former glory. One might say I’m a fan. There are so many important Celtic deities that were very popular in ancient times whom I want to find their modern devotees. It’s one reason Steel Bars, Sacred Waters provides accurate information about over 160 deities, and this website provides information about Germanic deities worshipped during the same time.  The Viking Age is the crumbling end of the Heathen era – I am far more interested in when Heathenry was at its greatest peak, tribes intact and living in traditional family ways. That the website Senobessus Bolgon was created when Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was published seems like a wonderful sign that people are being called to the frequently ignored continental Celtic deities!

Roman bridge, Trier, photo by Alexandra Rena

From a Roman bridge in Trier, Alexandra gave my offerings to the River Mosel. I’d picked them carefully and said prayers over them. Glass beads seemed most appropriate. If you have ever seen photographs of glass Gaulish jewellery, you might be a bit shocked by the lack of color coordination. It’s as though any color possible is added to a necklace. The Romans wrote about how garish Gaulish dress was, especially for the wealthy. The Celts did love color! It’s important to remember when looking at anything created before chemical dyes to understand how awe-inspiring mosaics, tapestries and gems or colored glass looked to ancient eyes. They would be like neon in a world of muted browns, greens and greys.

The Gauls and Celts in Iberia were famous for their fabrics. Gold was woven into the most expensive. They invented different weaving patterns used today. Geometric shapes from fabric, especially trim, possibly were the inspiration for the designs on metal accessories and pottery. A pot from Halstatt depicts women weaving in a very geometric design where the women are triangles made of small circles, the pattern of their dresses. The design was pushed into the clay with tools that created different size circles. Grave goods for the elite were wrapped in fabric of different colors creating patterns of diamonds, checks, stripes and plaid. Bright plaid and stripes, if one could afford it, were worn together. Images of Gaulish weddings seem to show the importance of the bride giving beautiful fabric to the groom. Celtic cloaks became an important trade good in the Roman Empire. Linen, the most common fabric, is not naturally white. It’s a beautiful light grey-green color, made darker if there is more rain. This, along with white (or sometimes black) wool (which is easier to dye than linen), was the color of most people’s clothing.

So a brightly colored bead, perhaps with a few bumps of another color dripped on it to make dots or eye patterns, stood out. Training our eyes to see the way the ancients did can help us appreciate the wonders of their world. If you get the opportunity to make glass beads I highly recommend you do it! Spinning the metal stick dipped in crushed glass in the flame of the blow torch, adding colors and creating shape, is a pretty spectacular activity.

The deities who received handmade Fair Trade or recycled glass beads in Trier were:

Nemetona’s name is based on a word changed by a group of Indo-Europeans about 4,000 years ago around the Czech Republic. Later, when discussing Nerthus, this will be expanded upon. At least one Celtic and one Germanic tribe took their names from this word, nemeton, meaning “sacred grove.” If Nemetona was worshipped in northwest Gaul is unclear, because nemeton is such a common word, but it seems likely that She was. In Southern Britain we know She was, paired with the Roman God of war Mars. This makes sense, as Mars (like many war Gods) didn’t live in the city of Rome even though He was their patron deity. Because war destroys civilian life, Mars and His temple stayed along the border. He protected the boundaries of farms as well, causing some to assume He’s an agricultural deity, when He consistently appears as a warrior at the edges of society. War deities often need to have some of the same wildness that they battle. Pairing Mars with a Goddess of wild groves separated from towns allowed Him to retain His wild nature. This Roman view of Mars does not fit well with Lenus whose temple was in the center of Treveri territory, showing how poorly Roman interpretation sometimes fit with the Celts, whose Gods usually were good at everything. 

Another big site for offerings was the head of the Danube River in Baden-Wurtemberg. On the shore in the photo below Alexandra made my offerings to Erecura, Telesphorus, Taranus, Abnoba, Epona and the Germanic Goddesses the Campestres (of the parade ground), Cernunnos, and Dis Pater.

The confluence of Breg & Brigach, creating the Danube River, photo by Alexandra Rena

In Munich, more of my ancestors received offerings, along with our Celtic/German God of the Batavians Magusanus. Germanic Goddess Hariasa received Her offerings in Cologne.

Copenhagen, founded by my ancestor Sweyn Forkbeard, received offerings to my ancestors, the Goddess Gefjion “the giving one” who has a statue in Her honor, plus my ancestors of the People of Ingvi who became the Angles, Jutes, Frisians and more, and Nerthus. I suspect that as Germanic tribes known to aid certain Gaulish tribes worshipped Nerthus, She had a following in the Belgae region and it influenced the Celts who had Belgae contact. God of commerce and transporting goods, Njord, received His offerings here as well, in the city named the merchants’ harbor. Alexandra made the offering at Mons Klint, with an auspicious rainbow!

Ingvi-Frey received a tusk of a young boar I’d bought from a Latvian who’d brought and sold Soviet Era collections. I received Latvian amber beads from him as well, which were included. (All offerings were well washed in biodegradable soap and baking soda and the tusk was from the 1970s, so I wouldn’t inadvertently pass some invasive species to Denmark. This is why no seeds, grains, dried herbs etc were included.) In the Prose Edda Snorri calls Njord and Frey diar which is a Gaelic word for God. It’s about Their role of making the sacrifices as Priests (along with Freya), something I find very curious. Who were the Gods sacrificing to? I suspect Snorri misunderstood something about the worship or roles of the Vanir.

Møns Klint, south of Copenhagen, photo by Alexandra Rena

In the bird sanctuary Moelle with its Stone Age circles and grave mounds on the Swedish coast, more offerings were made to my ancestors and deities! Of course, Freya received amber and glass beads. I had some beads made from the bones of a wooly mammoth for the really ancient ancestors from before the Indo-European people’s culture arrived. Possible Vanir deities received gifts, like Freya’s daughter Hnoss (Freya as a mother is rarely acknowledged), the ancient Swedish God UllR and his probable sister-lover twin Ullinn whose name lives on in Swedish places even if Snorri never heard of Her, their mother Sif “relative by marriage” (to the Aesir?), and Heimdall who lights up the world like an Indo-European Sky Father God, recovered Freya‘s necklace when Odin made Loki steal it, and may be connected to Freya via her name Mardoll

An interesting note on Heimdall: Although I sometimes feel Him to be the son of the nine waves, the dangerous daughters of Jotuns Aegir and Ran, the lists we have of His mothers’ names are not of those Goddesses. Like most Norse deities, I suspect Heimdall was the ruling God for a federation of tribes before the literary creation of the Eddas. As there was no formal, unified Norse Priesthood – or unified Norse anything  – various regions would have had their own mythology. It never actually says Heimdall is the son of the waves anywhere, but that He has nine mothers is consistent. His mothers’ names like Ulfrun and Ird link Him to wolves, Jarnsaxa and Atla link him to battle, while Thor killed two others. As all the names of His mothers are found elsewhere and sometimes seem to be generic names for Jotun women, I suspect that we’ve lost their real names. However, that Heimdall comes from a cosmology where nine ancient Jotun women birthed Him to have the power of earth, power of the cold sea, and the power of the boar (a Vanir sign?), nine mothers giving Him great power, is established. This fits with His role as the creator of the class system as Rig, a Celtic word for King. Rig actually becomes the name of the son of the highest class, who learns the runes from the God, which I understand to mean that the ruling class claimed descent from this deity. This is hardly unusual, as Frey is father of my ancestors, the Yngling dynasty. Odin probably was not part of these people’s origin myth, since Rig taught them the runes. As the deities are much more than our concepts of Them, I doubt Heimdall cares what mothers we name, as long as They are nine deadly, powerful Jotun women. He’s sometimes identified as the actual World Tree itself, and having nine mothers – one for each world – may have helped encourage that interpretation. Like UllR, Heimdall appears to be older than the Eddas’ cosmology, and so we need to remember the importance of regional, tribal religion. Perhaps when His worship reached people who knew of Aegir, His mothers were understood as Aegir‘s daughters. As Rig was already on a beach, I would hazard a guess that He led the pantheon of a tribe descended from the North Sea Ingvaeones. 

 

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

 

Moelle, photo by Alexandra Rena

 

 

 

 

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