Celtic Goddesses & Women of Prophecy: Velonsae, Fedelm, Veleda & the Gaulish Sorceresses, the Uidlua

Yarn magic, sorcery and prophecy are all words rooted in an ancient Celto-Germanic Indo-European linguistic change. This change is believed to have happened in the early Bronze Age before there even was a proto-Celtic language. (For more information especially about the archeological evidence connecting the proto-Celtic people in Spain and the proto-Germanic people in Scandinavia, please click here.) In this change, the proto-Indo-European word for “yarn, string” became the Celtic root for sorcery, while for the Germanic peoples it eventually became the word seidR.

We know that the Germanic tribes believed some women had psychic prophetic powers. Thiota of the Alemannic-Frankish people, the Semnones’ seeress Ganna, and Waluburg who went with German soldiers to Egypt are documented by the Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. In the 5th century the Christian Goths blamed the Huns on the Haliarunnos, their Pagan wise women who consulted the dead. This is similar to the work of a volva in the Icelandic sagas when she performed seidR, holding her staff. Ganna and Waluburg come from Germanic words for “wand” and may have been titles like volva.

The Romans recorded that Veleda was a Bructerian priestess who prophesied during a Germanic and Gaulish rebellion against Roman rule. Veleda was assumed by many to speak a Germanic language, but further investigation points to a Celtic name. Until the Romans decided that everyone living northwest of the Rhine was Germanic speaking and everyone to the southwest of the Rhine was Gaulish and then attempted to reinforce that, in reality tribes could have spoken either, both or even possibly a unique combination of the languages. The Belgae region (roughly in the area of and around modern Belgium) was most likely Celto-Germanic Iron Age mix, with the Celtic name Belgae meaning “swelling with battle rage.” In dress, lifestyle and housing there was little difference between the two. A German tribe is known to have helped a Gaulish ally in their battles against another Gaulish tribe, and it probably wasn’t that unusual for temporary alliances to have been made. We find this in the rebellion against the Roman Empire, guided by Veleda. Although the rebellion failed, Veleda is supposed to have impressed the Romans so much that she was brought to Rome. (Veleda is pronounced more like Weleda.)

The Romans assumed Veleda was a personal name, but it is linguistically connected with the Old Irish title velet or fili, “bard, poet,” the Welsh gweled, “seer,” and the Gaulish uidlua, “sorceress.” Modern Gaulish Reconstuctionist Segomâros Widugeni uses the term welitâ, a “female mystic associated with seership and the sovereignty complex” who “Carried the Weaver’s Beam as a badge of office.” Gifts from the bride to the groom of expertly woven fabrics were an important part of the Hallstatt and later Gaulish marriage ceremonies. The Celtic king-making ceremony is believed to have involved a symbolic marriage to a high ranking woman who offered him ale or mead. The woman represented the sovereignty of the land and was most likely a file or welitâ, depending on where in the vast Celtic-speaking world the ceremony took place.

This nicely brings us to the seeress in the great Irish saga Tain Bo Cuailnge, Fedelm Noíchrothach (“nine times beautiful”). Because her name appears between other Goddesses’ names such as Macha, some believe that Fedelm was originally considered a Goddess. Fedelm makes Her appearance when Queen Medb (a Gaelic sovereignty Goddess of intoxication) is about to leave with Her army. She arrives wearing red in a chariot drawn by two black horses, described as a beautiful young woman with three braids, two coiled on her head and another hanging to her calves. Each eye has three pupils. She holds a gold weaver’s beam, an object commonly associated with fate in Indo-European mythology. Some scholars believe her name is linguisticly linked to Veleda.

Another Goddess linked to Veleda is the Celtiberian Velonsae whose name refers to a strong will, command, and prophecy. Three Germanic Suebic military leaders are known to have had Celtic names associated with the same Celtic word for “command” found in Velonsae. Again we are reminded of the interconnected history of the Celtic and Germanic speaking peoples. Velonsae also has linguistic connections to the Old Irish word file (poet-seer), which connect Her to Fedelm. Velonsae is one of the few Celtic Goddesses known to be directly involved with fate and prophecy, and I am surprised that She is not worshiped more widely, especially by those involved with divination and the psychic arts.

The Uidlua are less well known. They were a a group of Gaulish women who had the help of a sorceress named Severa Tertionicna in a legal dispute. We know this from a curse tablet where the plaintiff asks a Goddess to reverse Severa’s magic so he can finally in court win against the Uidlua. Severa Tertionicna used yarn in her spell, another connection to the weaving. The names of the Uidlua are listed, but as the daughters of mothers, not fathers, which is very unusual for Gauls. Their “mothers” may have really been their sorceress teachers, because three Uidlua had the same “mother.”

While we find triads of Celtic Goddesses like the Matres, the Morrigan and Brig, there’s no explicitly stated three Celtic destiny Goddesses like the Norse Norns and Roman Fates in what we know of Celtic deities. (The Morrigan, Macha and Badb are involved in battle prophecy and magic to influence the outcome, which seems to be a version of the triple destiny Goddesses, especially with Badb‘s similarity to Lugh, the oath God who possibly declared the futures of people.) Still, we find likely fate Goddesses in Fedelm, Velonsae, Rosmerta and a Gaelic Christian mention of the 7* sisters of fate. History records other Celtic female seers and yarn sorceresses, like the Scottish and Manx “witches” who sold sailors strings with knots which, when untied, would release the wind. The highest level of the file, the ollamh, was trained in magical arts, a highly prestigious rank achieved by Ullach, daughter of Muinechan, who died in 934. She was called Banfile Eireann, “The Woman Poet of Ireland”. Add the Gaulish island of Sena where female oracles who, when possessed by the deity, foretold a person’s future, and we find a long history of prophetesses and yarn sorceresses in Celtic lands.

*(While 3 was the most significant number in Indo-European culture, 7 was the sacred number for the Near East due to the seven “planets” who correspond with the Sumerian deities. The importance of 7 became part of the Old Testament and Christianity.)

 

Bibliography

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

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

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

Jones, Prudence and Pennick, Nigel, The History of Pagan Europe.

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

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

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

Widugeni, Segomâros, Ancient Fire: An Introduction to Gaulish Celtic Polytheism. ADF Publishing (2018) Where was this book 20 years ago? Hey, for the total beginner, it’s here now!

Völundr/Weland, Saami & Germanic cultural mix

When I get letters from someone in a racist Odinist prison gang who actually wants to learn the religion, I send a collection of writing, much of it focusing on how much the Germanic peoples borrowed from and married into other cultures. This is from one of my favorites, a book I highly recommend to any Heathens or Norse Pagans interested in shamanism. My family has the Saami flag in the porch window, in solidarity with their indigenous rights. Since no one knows what it is, when they ask, they receive a little speech about the Saami, which in Vermont people usually find interesting.

Anyway! If you are teaching incarcerated Heathens, please include information like this, to show that xenophobia and racism are not traditional Germanic Pagan ways. I did a little editing to make this easier for a prisoner to understand. The average reading level is 6th grade, which is why it’s so important that we donate books and money to books-to-prisoners organizations, a list of which is found here.

Lapps and Labyrinths: Saami Prehistory, Colonization and Cultural Resilience by Noel D. Broadbent. Smithsonian Institution.

The Norse Sagas and other accounts tell us not only about Scandinavian exploits, but also about the indigenous reindeer people of the north they called Lapps. These people, whose self-designation is Saami, were experts in northern travel technologies, including skis, sleds and sewn and riveted boats of the types that brought the Swedish Vikings down Russian rivers to Constantinople, and that were still used by coastal fishermen in Norway and sealers on the Gulf of Bothnia in the twentieth century.

There are as many as 500 Archaic Scandinavian words in all Saami languages. The first Nordic loan words relating to husbandry, herding and farming were undoubtedly acquired much farther south than previously believed, perhaps as far south as Svealand in Sweden, where there were fur markets such as the famous, still-operating disting market in Uppsala. Saami words were also borrowed by Germanic speakers and these relate to transportation, trade and hunting. The Saami terms relating to boats and boat building, which was a special Saami skill set, as well as words relating to sealing and the Saami use of dogs for finding ringed seal dens in the ice. The Nordic community, as attested by the Norse sagas, was also highly respectful and even fearful of Saami healing and witchcraft and they borrowed the Saami word noaidi, which means “shaman” or “healer.”

Although the Saami and the Norse were almost certainly actively involved with each other in the exploitation of these alpine resources, there is much evidence of interdependencies, not least in hunting, but also in religion. Worldviews also met and merged as the shamanistic beliefs of the circumpolar world became deeply entrenched in the Nordic psyche, finding form in the religion of the Vikings. Many Saami offer rites and ritual practices, for instance, mirror Germanic Iron Age practices, and vice versa.

There are also examples where the meeting of these two peoples resulted in the stuff of folklore. The Nordic fascination with dwarves, trolls and giants may have grown out of early contacts between the Saami and the Norse.

The ritual bear burial at Grundskatan, iron slag placed in hearths in dwellings, and circular sacrificial features of Saami type are longue durée expressions of Saami identity. Saami religion was syncretistic and incorporated Germanic/Norse grave forms, including cremations.

Fire was the most transformative form of technology available in prehistory. Metallurgy is thus more than a technology, it is magic. During the period A.D. 400–600, large amounts of iron were produced in the Swedish forests of Dalarna and Jämtland, presumably for trade. This is also where the forest or hunting graves are found and these are Saami in origin. Most of the slag has been found on the shores of lakes and rivers and coincide with the distributions of Stone Age settlements. Iron slag has been documented in North Norway, for example in a probable shaman’s hut at Vapsgieddi. Slag was deliberately put in hearths because of its magical, especially transformative, properties. Metamorphosis was an empirical reality and the hearth was a sacred place.

The master smith Völundr/Weland is described in the Older Edda from ca. 1000, which is one of the oldest of the Icelandic texts. He was originally a dwarf or from a family of dwarves or elves, but he was completely human and with human emotions. His tale is prefaced by a brief description of his background: “The Finn King had three sons, Slagfinn, Egil and Völundr, who traveled on skis and hunted reindeer …” (Bæksted 1970:228). The tale then goes on about how Völundr, having made a magic sword and 700 rings of red gold that he tied to his forge, was robbed by King Nidud and his soldiers, who wore chain mail. Meanwhile, Völundr, on returning home from bear hunting, was captured and tied up. He had his leg tendons cut, but took to the sky using wings he had forged (Bæksted 1970:229). Most intriguing about this story are the references to the “Finn King,” skis, reindeer, dwarves and even a bear. Völundr’s forge was on an island.

The Völundr allusions point northward, and there are valid reasons for taking them seriously. There is now credible archaeological evidence for Finn Kings. The shamanistic context in Norse religion is also expressed through the Seidr rituals, which involves female divination, as seen among the Saami. The ritualistic value of iron to the Germanic practice of offering weapons and animals in bogs and watery cult places, we also know the Saami practiced. There is likewise a strong gender component to metallurgy in which the forge is seen as a womb and symbolizes fertility. Sacred sites were used for both “bloody sacrifices” and metal offerings. The objects consist of brooches, pendants, clasps and buckles of pewter, bronze and silver, silver coins and iron arrowheads. Coins and ornaments are usually perforated. They were Saami expressions of alignment with the Norse gods and Norse society, not attempts to downplay their own social hierarchies.

While bears were the largest and most dangerous predators in the Nordic region and were revered as such, their spiritual significance among circumpolar peoples like the Saami related in greater measure to their humanlike attributes, including body proportions, particularly when skinned, their upright and sitting stances, footprints, omnivorous diets, feces, cleverness and even emotional behavior, including crying and masturbation. Added to these qualities is the bear’s ability to hibernate, to survive without eating, and then seemingly rise from the dead in the spring. The bear was a sacred animal in all Saami areas and bear hunting was a sacred undertaking. Bear bones and a complete skull with teeth were found in the southeast corner of an Early Iron Age terrace house and not far from some graves. This is a “typical bear grave of Southern Lappish type”.

This parallels the Grundskatan find and shows that the Saami were directly involved in spiritual interactions with Germanic farmers in Hälsingland. The bear also figured in Germanic Iron Age funerary contexts in middle Sweden, Gotland, Öland, southwest Norway and the Åland Islands, where the dead were sometimes buried lying on or wrapped in bear skins, of which only phalanges remain. Interestingly enough, a Norse cult site, including bear skulls/bones, was found on Frösön in Jämtland showing the proximity of these parallel worlds in northern Sweden.

Celtic Festival of Dies Equeunu and the Alci

Alci Alexandra Rena
The Alci sketch by Alexandra Rena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer to Dies Equeunu for Fast Rescue Heather Awen 

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tacitus, Germania

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

Cantibedonensis: Celtic Iberian Protector of Mountains and Stony Areas

 

Cantibedonensis is a Celtic epithet for Iberian deities when They focus on protecting mountains and stony areas. As several Iberian deities, including ones who are not Celtic, have this epithet, I think you could try it with other deities than the couple examples I mention. *kento– is the Celtic root word for “round, circle” that evolved into the root word for “stone.” It is used for “marble” as well, and probably connected the deities with stone quarries.

I grew up for a while with a small abandoned slate quarry on my family’s land. I studied tadpoles there. My mother hauled loose slate in a wheel barrel for building materials for our home and the beautiful gardens she’d later create. I’m from Vermont, a state known for its stone mines, rocky soil and boulders left behind by glacier stuttering. I like the solid feel below me. I love the amazing array of colors from stones glistening in shallow rivers and the amazing shapes of rocks that emerge from the soil.

A Celtic example is Erbine Iaidi[tanae?] Cantibodone in Idanha, Castello Branco. Caria Cantibidone[—] in Arroncks, Portugal is probably a Lusitanian deity with a Celtic epitaph: “deity of the mountain mine.” I don’t know the gender of Caria, but I would guess female.

Celtic deities in Iberia often seem to have been either known as Gods in some places and Goddesses in others, or perhaps divine heterosexual couples sharing a root word. There’s an idea I have not read anyone put forth, which is that at least some deities go beyond gender. They are the essence, the spirit, the personhood of something that we cannot totally understand. However, Indo-European language started with nouns being active or inactive, like water in a river compared to water in a pot. Eventually, probably due to the fact that young men left with the cattle for summer fields and women stayed home involved in agriculture, weaving, teaching, and continuing/ developing culture, the active nouns became male/moving, while inactive ones became female/home. Today you see this in many Indo-European languages, like French where “the” becomes either “le” and “la”.

This is a continuation of my “hey, let’s explain the key points for Pagans in the paper The Hispano-Celtic Divinity ILVRBEDA, Gold Mining in Western Hispania and the Syntactic Context of Celtiberian arkatobezom ‘Silver Mine’ by Blanca-Maria Prosper” project started with the recent post on the Goddess Ilurbeda.

 

Bibliography

Prosper, Blanca-Maria, The Hispano-Celtic Divinity ILVRBEDA, Gold Mining in Western Hispania and the Syntactic Context of Celtiberian arkatobezom ‘Silver Mine’, DIE SPRACHE 49,1 (2010/2011)

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

Ilurbeda: Celtic Iberian Goddess of the gold mine

Armi Dee
2 Salmon by Armi Dee

In this post I attempt to present the information relevant for Pagans in the paper The Hispano-Celtic Divinity ILVRBEDA, Gold Mining in Western Hispania and the Syntactic Context of Celtiberian arkatobezom ‘Silver Mine’ by Blanca-Maria Prosper (the incredibly prolific – and my favorite – scholar on Celtic Iberian deities). Prosper is at the forefront of Hispanic Celtic linguistics and is known for revisiting the original stone and metal inscriptions others take for granted. Her work, for example, has changed what we know about the Apollo epitaph Belenus which is only found in one city, and was wrongly identified with a completely different God by scholars who did not go to the original inscriptions and altars. This news sadly does not seem to have reached most Pagans, who are studying out dated academic or pop culture books. If we want to truly know our deities, we should at least use Their correct names and other accurate information available to us. I hope to continue to make much this new knowledge available here.

That’s a reason for this blog. The most common complaint of Celtic polytheists is that they can’t find reliable information about Gaulish deities (including the ones brought to Britain) and none of those from Iberia. Steel Bars, Sacred Waters covers about 160 deities and more are still being recovered. Especially for Iberian Celtic studies or the Celto-Germanic connection, this is a very exciting time! It’s interesting to me that recently Gullveig Press has been fulfilling requests mostly from Hispanic incarcerated Pagans for the book lately. It’s their European polytheist ancestors’ deities and religion, which most white supremacist groups forget. I don’t believe ethnicity has anything to do with which deities you are meant to worship, but it’s true that many Pagans are seeking their ancestral pre-Christian indigenous religion. I once had online discussions with a young Portuguese man who hated Portugal because he never learned it had tribal peoples like the Britons or the Norse. His internalized … not racism, but something similar, was very sad. The first inscription to Lugus – Lugh is written in a 6th century Celtic language using Phoenician letters at the farthest southwest corner of Portugal, beyond the Straight of Gibraltar.

The Iberian peninsula was a rich source of metals in the Bronze Age, the Celtic Iron Age and for the Roman Empire. With mining being so important to these peoples (and, indeed, other Celtic peoples and just any culture economically dependent upon mining), it would make sense that there would be deities of these mines. Whether the salt mines in Hallstatt or the tin of Cornwall, Celtic peoples would have been both grateful for the wealth and terrified of dying in the tunnels. Skeletons from Hallstatt show that men had great upper body strength but comparatively weak legs from their work in the mines. The women tended to have lopsided shoulder strength from hauling bags of ore. I had to think through the Goddess Domnu of Cornwall “Goddess of the deep” until the practical needs of the Celtic Cornish miners hit me. Humans are logical. They pray to the deities who are most connected to their identity, which often is their tribal ways, the fertility/protection of the land, their vocation or, as with pregnancy and childbirth, a specific function. Deities of mining, another way the Bronze and Iron Age peoples unknowingly destroyed their ecosystems (the main being clear cutting for farm land), would have to be necessary.

Iberia had a large amount of votive altars dedicated to the Goddess Ilurbeda. Her cult seems to have started in the northern Vetton region, especially the mines in Salamanca. A previous theory was that Her name meant “city of Beda” but there is no known city called Ilurbeda. Also Her altars are found along the Western facade and in a bigger region of central Iberia, particularly between the Ebro and Tejo Valleys. In the west, She’s named with a diversity of local Celtic and Lustianian deities. The rest are often in Celtiberian. There actually are not very many altars or deity names recovered in the Celtiberian region aside from Lugus and Epona. The reason why is not known, but Ilurbeda must have been very important. Strangely, Ilurbeda is (so far) unknown in the neighboring land of the Astures where thousands worked in mines that are now tourist attractions.

The root word *bedo is Celtic for “quarry, mine.” Two Portuguese inscriptions to Ilurbeda were recently found in a gold quarry in Coinbra. Ilurbeda IS Herself the mine, specifically the gold mine. She’s who you sacrificed to when asking Her to share Her riches. She is who you sacrificed to when asking to survive working in the mine. Most likely, there were great community rituals in Ilurbeda’s honor. When the Romans conquered Iberia, they organized the northwestern mines so all free people had to work some time in the mines to help pay the community taxes.

Finding a Celtic word for gold was difficult, as the Gauls adopted the Latin aurum. We have *arganto– for silver; *kanto– for stone and marble; *cassi– for bronze and copper; *isarno– for iron; and a root word for lead. The word “silver” is actually a loan word probably from a Semetic language. The Celtiberians used the word “silaber” for “coins.” They did not mint their own coins and silaber did not refer to silver ore. It was money. *arganto is known as the root word for silver, with three examples being Welsh arian(t), Breton argant, and the name of the Caledonian chieftain Argenticox (“silver limbed”).

A Celtic word for gold, however, was previously unknown. Prosper looks to the Indo-European and Indo-Iranian root word *geluos meaning “yellow” which became the root for gold in many languages, including English. Once Prosper did all the fancy linguistic changes of the Celtic languages, the root word for gold is *iluro-.

Ilurbeda had at least two other functions that helped humans besides being the source of gold. She protected the ore as it moved through the dangerous mountain paths to the east. An altar in Avila connects Her with the protective Roman Lares Viales. Two portable altars of Ilurbeda, good for wagons, were recovered west of the Vetton area. A Celtiberian bronze tablet from the 2nd century CE reads: “For the transportation of the ore along the way of…, leading to Cortonum, let the silver mine be cleared, both in the open air and in covered area. The magistrate has decreed in Cortonum.” This reminds us of the actual daily work and risks involved with this industry which made Iberia (and Gaul) so attractive to the Romans.

Ilurbeda also appears to have had a role in guiding immigrants to find work in the mines. They came not from the south, but from Callaeci from the northwest and from Uxamenses and Clunienses from the east in Celtiberia. Dedications were made to the Goddess. Some of the altars for Ilurbeda in Lusitania seem to be from immigrants looking for jobs. Perhaps some were from the staff, not the actual miners, “asking her to open up and give away her rich secrets,” as Prosper eloquently puts it. The places in Lusitania with these altars coincide with where the gold mines were.

Ilurbeda Today

Today, when we know the human rights violations and ecological damage caused by the mining industry, we may wonder what role Ilurbeda plays. Obviously if you live in any of the regions of Spain or Portugal where She was worshiped or there were gold mines, you can form a deep relationship with Her as place. Perhaps anyone who lives where there were gold mines, like parts of California, may make Ilurbeda offerings and begin prayers, divination and meditations to build a relationship.

Mining for metals not only exploits workers and leaves a huge hole in the bioregion where indigenous flora, fauna and fungi existed in harmonious relationships which now are open for invasive species, it normally leaves deadly toxins in the soil and water. The death toll continues after the mining is done. Also Her mines are mostly empty. A good symbolic sacrifice to Her may be to bury something gold you already own. Show that you are ready to give back.

There’s a great debt we owe these deities. If anything, we should thank Her for Her generosity and explain that we, on behalf of our species, understand the deaths that occurred of many forms of life. We know that Her wealth was not ours to rip away. Our species had temporary insanity which has continued as the norm. We want to be part of the restoration and regeneration of the land, sea and sky upon which we completely depend. As “the rocks dancing” we know there’s no separation between our species and anything else that exists – including our deities. Will She provide guidance? She was there to help humans during one stage of our recent development. There’s no known reason why She would no longer desire a relationship with us.

I’m lucky in that I have always been allergic to all metal. My skin blisters, so I don’t have metal jewellery aside from a few gifts that are kept on my shrines. Like our relationship with crystals, something that was rare but today is a huge collector’s hobby among “spiritual” folks, we need to revisit how what we buy and how “Magick tools” we use affect those beyond us. The only paper I can tolerate has vegetable ink lines, 100% recycled paper and covers made powered by a water mill and recycled metal spiral bindings. I reuse the metal spiral bindings in art, twisting them into large willow trees with long roots. The company is ecojot in Canada and the Jumbo Journal is the perfect size and the sketch pads are great. Although it really is much more important that corporations recycle as they are responsible for the majority of waste, recycling at home and work can be a conscious spell, to build the “hundredth monkey” effect that tips the scales. Your recycling bin could be part of your altar to Ilurbeda.

Ilurbeda could be a protective deity for those who work in transportation. Mail carriers, bus drivers, artisans traveling from festival to festival, crafts fairs to crafts fairs, Ilurbeda watches over those who transport – or She might if you form a relationship with Her. Bicycles, buses, cars and trucks are made of metal. If we don’t ask Her if She wants to bless ways of saving gas like carpools, bicycles and buses, we won’t know how She feels about this. Obviously restoring, upcycling and taking care of our metal possessions is very important. As a child my father hammered used nails straight for his laborer grandfather from Ireland. The cast iron skillet was treated like the most precious object in existence. The family car usually was fixed/ built by my father, sometimes with holes in the floor, but everyone’s trash seemed to be his treasure. I’m very grateful for what the Depression and Dust Bowl taught my family and taught me.

Many people move from home in search of work. Ilorbeda heard those prayers for centuries and I imagine that She’d understand those prayers today. She may be the Goddess of immigration! She may be the bringer of wealth! Unless you honor Her you won’t know.

A lot of people are stuck in dangerous mining jobs. Limited opportunities and the need for food, shelter and clothing means that some places’ entire community is dependant on the mines. I think of the Welsh miners’ strike which lead to the British general strike of the 1970s and hope a deity like Ilurbeda was behind it. Someone has to protect the people who have no other options but to risk their lives in the mines that our society requires.

Does Ilurbeda take care of the working poor, the immigrants in the dangerous jobs no one else will do? I would say yes. Did she help keep my Uncle safe as he drove a delivery truck on the sidewalks of Manhattan, trying to get around double parked cars, treacherous terrain inbetween the towering skyscrapers? I think I’ll make an offering just in case She did.
Bibliography

Prosper, Blanca-Maria, The Hispano-Celtic Divinity ILVRBEDA, Gold Mining in Western Hispania and the Syntactic Context of Celtiberian arkatobezom ‘Silver Mine’, DIE SPRACHE 49,1 (2010/2011)

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

371px-Neptune_et_Amphitrite
Neptune

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

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

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

The Deities

Nechtan Pronounced: NEK-tan

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

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

Invocation to Nechtan by Heather Awen

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

Boann “white cow” Pronounced: BO-an

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noden_bronze_plate
Fragment of a bronze plate from the Sanctuary of Nodens

Nodens Pronounced: NO-dense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer to Nuada for Accepting Loss by Heather Awen

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

A Possible Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

UllR & Ullin: Glorious Couple of Norway & Sweden

Ullensaker_komm.svg
Cost of Arms of Ullensaker

I read somewhere the theory that Saint Hulbert, honored on November 22, is actually the very ancient Germanic God UllR. If it’s true, I don’t know, but it gives me an entrance to discuss such an important God – and Goddess! Yes, UllR has a much neglected sister and/or wife named Ullin, probably with a relationship like those of Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn or FreyR and Freya.

His Name – Already known in 200 CE

His name seems to comes from wolþu- which means “glory”. Wuldor is used in parts of kennings for the Christian God in Old English, but there’s no evidence that Wuldor was ever a Saxon God. However, it’s helpful to remember that most deities’ names are titles. If UllR does descend from the title “glorious one” or something similar, He’s mentioned in one of the oldest recovered Elder Futhark inscriptions. A chape from a scabbard found in the Thorsberg moor, Denmark from around 200 CE has an inscription that reads:
owlþuþewaz / niwajmariz
owlþu means something about “glory” while -þewaz means “servant, slave”. It’s thought to be a name or job title “servant of the glorious one” with niwajmariz meaning “well-honored”. Many scholars think it refers to a Priest of UllR. That someone is called a deity’s slave may give us insight into how the Iron Age Germanic tribes understood Priesthood. Was “well-honored slave of UllR” owned by UllR, called to a vocation of service without free will? Does this have anything to do with UllR’s early role as the Norse God of oaths? These are just ideas to spark questions about how differently people thought in communal polytheist cultures and highlight the importance of UllR even then.

UllR’s Only Myths: Ceremony and Kingship

The two of oldest poems in the Poetic Edda, Atlakviða and Grímnismál, are our only real literary references to UllR. He lives in a yew grove, a tree used for making bows. “Yew” (ýr) was sometimes used to mean “bow”. Later I’ll focus on how He is referred to as the archer God and why that wouldn’t have much relevance for Icelandic settlers.

UllR is the God named for a ceremony:  “Ullr’s and all the gods’ favour shall have, whoever first shall look to the fire; for open will the dwelling be, to the Æsir’s sons, when the kettles are lifted off.”

To me, this seems pretty straight forward. We know that fire was a common way to give offerings to the deities for all Indo-European language speaking people. The Norse made such offerings; Freya‘s devotee had an altar of blood made smooth as glass by fire. Funeral pyres took people to Valhalla or Hel, as is the case with the God Balder. The hearth fire is the most important of all fires. Fire is the way to reach the deities, the gateway to Their worlds. The first to look at the hearth fire when nothing is blocking it has the honor of seeing past the gate at the same time that the Gods will look upon the home. The Gods will bless that person.

We know that the Gods and mortals connect at the fire in any dwelling. The fire is holy. When we look at the fire, we must always remember that. The first to do so by looking at the fire receives the blessings of the Gods. If there’s more to it, like the Gods travel into the building through the fire, the Gods communicate with the first person by signs in the flames, etc we don’t know. (I say Gods because it’s the Æsir’s sons. The poet excludes the Goddesses rather explicitly.)

But why is UllR the only God named? Was He the Father God for some Scandinavians? We know that such a decentralized religion without bards for the regular people, the myths and practices were different from region to region, tribe to tribe, kingdom to kingdom. There’s no reason to assume that Odin was the top of the pantheon for all Norse Heathens. Tyr was the top God in the beginning, which means that there were originally very different Germanic myths about the formation of the worlds and anything else starring Odin. I’d like that reality to sink into the reader’s understanding of the ancient, thriving, wide spread Heathen cosmologies, practices and mythology. The myths we know weren’t the myths for all Germanic-speaking polytheists.

Evidently the farther back we go, the more important UllR as King becomes. Read the relevant 12th century story in Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum. The deities survive as Magickal beings, somewhat like how medieval Irish monks turned the Gaelic Gods and heroes into the Fae. UllR as the Latinized Ollerus is a wizard who marked a bone with spells. The magic bone can cross the seas as fast as a rowed ship, allowing UllR to travel over waters blocking His way. (I’m guessing that this is where some modern Heathens got the idea that UllR invented ice skates using bones on His feet. There’s nothing in the source material to suggest that the seas He crosses are frozen and He clearly has one bone, however.)

UllR here is associated with Magickal travel over water, which would be an odd thing for Saxo to just make up. FreyR has a Magickal ship, Njord is the God of sea-faring voyages (not the actual ocean, as I’ve heard too many educated Heathens say) and Freya as Mardoll is associated with the Sea. This connection with the Vanir repeats itself in many aspects of what we know about UllR.

Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum suggests that there was a bioregional or historical struggle between UllR and Odin for top God. Odin is exiled and Ollerus is chosen to replace Him. This Ollerus does under the name Odin until the actual God Odin is allowed to return after ten years. I know some Heathens don’t use Saxo Grammaticus as a primary source because he was a Christian, but so was Snorri Sturluson. If we can’t use source material that doesn’t call the deities actual deities, then all the Gaelic deities but The Dagda and The Morrigan never existed. At some time in some place in continental Scandinavia, UllR appears to have been the Alfather.

God of Oaths

The archeological evidence suggests that UllR was very powerful anywhere the Vanir were popular. In Norway, UllR is found in place names near Njord. In Sweden, it’s FreyR. In fact Lilla Ullevi (“little shrine of Ullr”) in Sweden is near Uppsala. Its arrangement of rocks in two rooms with four large post holes is from the Vendel Period. 65 oath “amulet rings” were recovered, clearly showing that UllR is a God of the oath. Oath Gods tend to keep the laws of society running smoothly. The Iberian Celtic God Tongoenabiagus and pan-Celtic Lug probably served a similar role, as Their names are related to oaths.

Norse God of the oath? Isn’t that Thor’s role? Not according to the final mention in the Poetic Eddas. The “oft-sworn oaths” between two men were taken “by Ullr’s ring”. UllR apparently fulfilled roles later/also held by Odin and Thor. With Heathenry having no Bible or formal Priesthood among the remote homesteads of the north, people had living traditions. Norse mythology is a literary construct, not a religious text. Snorri didn’t even include any myths about UllR and left out some key religious myths such as Odin sacrificing Himself to grab the magic of the runes.

For a God barely mentioned in the 13th century Icelandic writing of Snorri Sturluson, UllR certainly was widely and actively worshipped in Heathen Norway and Sweden. Yet Snorri may explain why Thor replaced UllR as the deity of making sure that people held to their oaths. UllR is called the son of Sif (whose name intriguingly seems to mean “relative by marriage”, as if She married into the Aesir family of deities). Sif has married Thor, who is UllR’s step-father.

It’s easy to imagine the thunder God marrying an important Goddess of a conquered or neighboring tribe. Thor was more popular than Odin for most “common people”. The Southern Saami even worshiped Thor as Grandfather with a wife associated with rowan berries. The Saami and the Germanic people traded language, religious practices and technology in Eastern Sweden. The amazing ships of the Norse came from Saami designs, and Swedish families had bear skeletons under their homes. The polar shamanic cult of the bear, especially important to the Saami, reached some ancient Swedes. For more details, read this.)

(It’s important to see this as yet another example of how the Germanic tribes were not xenophobic “nationalists” who never lived with “outsiders.” All fascist Heathens stating such nonsense need to study actual history. 25% of women in Heathen Iceland were Irish or Scottish, Christian and spoke Gaelic. So much for “not mixing cultures.” The Rus influence disappeared so quickly that the funeral record we have of a Rus is thought to contain Slavic elements. What about those Germanic mercenaries in the Roman military who married and settled down with a Briton?)

God of Archery

Snorri gives a brief description of UllR: beautiful, all the qualities of a warrior, called upon in duels, but most importantly, UllR is the best archer and “ski-runner” of all the deities. That’s been UllR, the ancient glorious God of the Germanic tribes, to most Heathens today. I find that very sad, because He and His sister – lover Ullin are great deities ignored because most people want myths. Again, the myths are literary creations. It was not as if Snorri was Mohammed recording the words of an angel from a God. It’s believed that the myths of UllR are so old, Snorri didn’t even know them. If you are seeking to reconstruct pre-Conversation era Heathenry, odds are in your favor that somewhere UllR and Ullin were very high ranking.

Neither UllR or Ullin are connected to any known place names in Denmark or Iceland. Icelanders clear cut Iceland so quickly all wood, including yew, had to be imported. Iceland never needed a military because the island was so remote. There was no need for warrior archers, specialists greatly valued in the military. For these farmers Thor and Frey were the most important, with Njord also vitally important because so much had to be imported. The oath God UllR never really made it to Iceland and part of His role went to His step-father Thor.

Where Were UllR and Ullin Worshiped?

What types of places were named after UllR and Ullin? As stated before, places near other places named for the Vanir Gods. Several Norwegian farms or clusters of farms are named for UllR, and one or two fjords. In Sweden Ullevi (“Ullr‘s sanctuary”) is found in Västergötland and Västmanland, while place names of His fields, mountains, towns, bays, lakes, groves and especially Ullstämma (“Ulls meeting”) also exist.

Christian policy has been to build churches where the religion was politically forced on Pagans worldwide, so we should expect to see this pattern with UllR. Instead, we get a twist. Ullin appears to have been the biggest threat to the new faith. Four early Christian churches were built on sites named for Ullin, places with the names Ullinshof (“Ullin‘s temple”), Ullinsvin (“Ullin‘s meadow”) and Ullinsakr (“Ullin‘s field”); one early church was built on Ullensvang (“Ullr‘s field”).  In Norway They seem to have an agricultural connection.

Vanir?

For the following reasons I consider UllR and Ullin to belong to whatever is meant by the Vanir deities: Their names and relationship seem to be similar to that of the royal FreyR (“Lord”) and Freya (“Lady”) as the Glorious God and the Glorious Goddess. Their names only appear in places where Njord or FreyR were popular, the two “for sure” Vanir Gods. UllR has a Magick boat, and only the Vanir have any direct connection to over seas travel. Sif, the mother of UllR (and we can probably safely presume of Ullin as well), is not originally from the Aesir. She married into the Aesir, which means Her children are from another “tribe” (or other Norse tribes’) of deities. Vanir could refer to deities who had their own strong regional cults and had to be forced into the literary mythology of 12 Gods ruled by one (Odin). That’s too similar to the Classical Greek mythology Snorri and other cosmopolitan medieval scholars would have known for me to take very seriously.

For example, Heimdall may be referred to as both Vanir and Aesir because He had an ancient following of His own. In the myth where He’s called Rig (a royal title) He creates the three castes of humans. (The 1/4 to 1/3 of Norwegians who were horribly treated slaves aren’t mentioned in mythology or by “authentic” Viking reenactment festivals.)

It’s easy to piece together more about who UllR and Ullin are when you study the known information. Whatever your personal hunch or opinion of UllR, we must admit that He is a very important God with a long history of Heathen worship. As He is the God of skiing it makes sense to honor Him as the winter months have begun.

A note on pronunciation: Ullur is the Icelandic spelling, so “UL-ur” makes sense. UllR, like FreyR, should just be Ull with a bit of a “z” at the end which is not in English. Since we call FreyR “fray” it makes sense to call UllR “Ul”. Modern North German languages write and say Ull. Latinized, He was the medieval Norse Ollerus, like how Njord is Nerthus or Joshua is Jesus.

 

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

Broadbent, Noel, Lapps and Labyrinths: Saami prehistory, colonization and cultural resilience. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press (2010)

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

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

Greer, John Michael, A World of Many Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism. ADF Publishing (2005)

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)

Perabo, Lyonel D., Article review of Brink, Stephan; “How Uniform was the Old Norse Religion?”

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

Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Books I-IX, translated to English by Oliver Elton (1905)

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)

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

Van Cleef, Jabez L., God Wears Many Skins: Myth and Folklore of The Sami People. Spirit Song Text Publications (2008)

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

Wikipedia Ullr

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

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)

Samhain’s More Accurate Meaning?

Here’s a look at a new meaning of Samhain, from the short but clear guide to Celtic beliefs about death and rebirth and crow/raven Goddesses, snagged from an essay by Brendan Mac Gonagle. Look for the full essay, with art depicting the Celtic myth of rebirth, and get a great insight into Celtic mythology, funeral practices, and many Goddesses.

Check out Brendan Mac Gonagle at Academia.edu and the fabulous balkancelts: Journal of Celtic Studies in Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor, https://balkancelts.wordpress.com.

Happy New Year!

SAMONOS / SAMHAIN / HALLOWEEN – ON THE CELTIC FESTIVAL OF THE (NOT QUITE) DEAD 

(21/10/2017) by Brendan Mac Gonagle

This concept of death and rebirth is also reflected in the etymology of the Celtic Samhain “the Festival of the Dead”. The traditional interpretation, first put forward in Medieval glossaries, and still held by many, is that it means “summer’s end”, being a combination of Samh “summer” and Fuin = “ending, concealment”. This is obviously a later folk etymology, since we know that the earliest form of the word (Samon-) had a different meaning. In fact the original Celtic meaning of “Samhain‟ comes from the Proto-Celtic *samoni– = assembly….

The original meaning of *samoni– therefore would be “assembly of the living and the dead”….

Encapsulating the Celtic concept of reincarnation, Samhain therefore marks the beginning of darkness, and thus the beginning of life, a time for “The Gathering” of all beings; as darkness comes before light, so life appears in the darkness of the womb, all things having their beginning in the fertile chaos that is hidden from the rational mind. Thus, the year begins with its dark half, holding the bright half in gestation as the seeds lie in apparent death underground, although the forces of growth are already at work. The moment of death – the passing into the concealing darkness – is itself the first step in the renewal of life.

“If what ye sing be true, the shades of men

Seek not the dismal homes of Erebus

Or death’s pale kingdoms; but the breath of life

Still rules these bodies in another age –

Life on this hand and that, and death between.”

– Roman poet Lucanus, 1st century CE, (Pharsalia Book 1:453-456)

 

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!

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)