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

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Epona by Alexandra Rena

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

Heads, Horses and Heroes: the Ancestor Cult

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing the Hero and Horse Cult Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epona from the Album Caranda per Moreau

A Few Important Celtic Horse Goddesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macha Pronunciation: MAH-kuh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 1st Ritual for Macha

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaulish Festival Calendar: Telesphorus, the Most Famous Celtic Deity You’ve Never Heard Of

— During the first few weeks of January, Telesphorus is the focus of the Celtic Pagan who worships deities who were honored in lands conquered by Rome.

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Modern American Medicine Wheel and Nightmare Catcher by Heather Awen (not intended as cultural misappropriation, but was inspired by my frustration with white people selling parts of Native American religion and culture)

In the spirit of “indigenous interpretation” in which peoples conquered by the Roman Empire reinterpreted their native religion to fit the Roman world, I have found many dates work for honoring the Gaulish and Brythonic deities. We start the year with the Festival of the the Roman deities Aesculapius, his mother, Coronis, and His daughter Salus (similar to the Greek Hygieia), as the time for honoring the important and ancient Gaulish God Telesphorus and the Gaulish Goddess Sirona.

The Roman festival was held during the first weeks of January, but worship of these Gods began with the ancient Greeks. Asklepios is the Greek name of Aesculapius, the son of Apollo. The staff with a snake wrapped around it that is still used as a symbol for medical professionals was originally that of Asklepios. He was part of the quest for the Golden Fleece and a student of Chiron. According to the Romans in 291 B.C.E., the healing God moved to Rome in the following manner:

“The Romans on account of a pestilence, at the instructions of the Sibylline books, sent ten envoys under the leadership of Quintus Ogulnius to bring Aesculapius from Epidaurus. When they had arrived there and were marveling at the huge statue of the god, a serpent glided from the temple, an object of veneration rather than horror, and to the astonishment of all made its way through the midst of the city to the Roman ship, and curled itself up in the tent of Ogulnius… And when the ship was sailing up the Tiber, the serpent leaped on the nearby island, where a temple was established to him. The pestilence subsided with astonishing speed.” (Anon, On famous Men 12, 1–3 L&R)

The worship of Aesculapius made its way to Britain where six inscriptions have been recovered. They are evenly distributed in the northern and southern regions, with two written in Greek. Even in the 11th century medical manuscript Medicina de Quadrupedibus an image of Aesculapius survived.

If we follow the Roman calendar, Sirona should be properly honored on March 30, the festival of Salus (meaning “salvation”), but as Sirona and Salus both have the imagery of the Greek Goddess Hygieia, Sirona definitely could be worshipped today by Her devotees. I personally can never get enough of Sirona!

However, our main focus is on the once hugely popular Telesphorus. From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Telesphorus is a very old Celtic God brought to Anatolia (Turkey) by the Galatians in the 3rd-century BCE. Statues of him as a dwarf in a cloak with a pointy hood have been found along the Danube River and in Anatolia. Pointy hood hats were typical male Gaulish clothing. Telesphorus was associated with the Greek God of medicine, Asclepius, and became the brother of the health Goddess Hygieia. Telesphorus is the God of recovery from a disease. He was brought back West with the Roman Empire in the 2nd-century CE.”

Telesphorus means “the Accomplisher” as He will not stop until the healing has been accomplished. We have so little information about the deities worshipped in Galatia, this knowledge is a real find. If Hygieia was His Greek sister, it wouldn’t be illogical to consider Sirona His sister as well, although the two were never associated in the Gallo-Roman world as far as I’m aware. Little metal statuettes of a gnome with a pointy cap have been found in the Gallo-Roman era. They actually are made in two pieces: the Telesphorus-looking man is lifted to reveal an erect penis with legs. Are these later Roman images of the Accomplisher?

The southern Gauls had chosen to adopt parts of Greek culture including the deities Apollo and Hermes. I’ve often wondered if the worship of Hermes is why the Gauls so readily took to the worship of Mercury, a Roman God even the Romans did not worship with such passion. Was Hermes already firmly established in some Gaulish communities as the God of magic, that the Gaulish Mercury – more as Hermes – was naturally understood as another title for Lug? Then Mercury became more… Mercury over time? Apollo was later adopted by the Romans during a plague, when Telesphorus was already adopted by the Greeks.

Telesphorus is a wonderful reminder that trade of goods, ideas and deities was never a one-way exchange. An ancient healing God of the Gauls, He went with them on their eastern migration. He was almost definitely worshipped in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The healing powers of Telesphorus must have been so consistent, He was constantly called upon by the ill and injured as well as their healers. His fame brought Him to ancient Greece, where He was fit into the primary family of the deities of healing. While still being worshipped by the Galatians and eastern Gauls, the Romans took up His cult and carried it back west. It went even further than in the past, arriving on the isle of the Britons, where the multicultural Roman soldiers in the north and the more cosmopolitan Britons in the south joined in honoring Telesphorus.

If Telesphorus is one of the longest-worshipped Celtic deities and one whose devotees were quite possibly the most wide spread, from across most of Europe and into Asia, why haven’t you heard of Him? People seem to like myths – even if they were written in confusing fragments by Christians with regional political agendas after the formal Pagan religions were gone. Some people seem to think that there’s an actual ancient book called the Irish Mythological Cycle that contains all the full stories of the Tuatha De Danann. Then from that, we find all the information about the Gaelic deities. In reality it’s much messier, with lots of the Bible, bits of Roman era history, and modern commentary about Ireland’s provinces and the Viking invasion revised and woven into the stories so they’d have meaning that the people then understood. Different myths or different versions of the same stories are found in different manuscripts. Meanwhile, folk tales and fairy lore are included with a cautious optimism, often forgetting that many people writing about the Celtic peoples in the Victorian age were occultists or educated in Classical mythology. Clearly many knew what they wanted to find and made their conversations with rural Christian communities fit their theories. There’s nothing wrong with using these sources as long as you understand the motives and perspectives of the authors. Most Pagan books give you a version of a deity someone modern created without looking at the source material, based on their religious needs, and tend to be the least reliable.

Humans are storytellers. We create narratives about ourselves, about those around us, about current events, about the past and even the future with our hopes and anxieties, filtered through a cultural and personal lens. We naturally want narratives about our deities. Yet one reason why I feel drawn to the less known Celtic deities is because there’s no one else’s filter between me and the God. Telesphorus tells me who He is by telling me what he does: Accomplishes the healing that is needed. Centuries of worship in three cultures (or four, if you don’t include the Britons as Celts because they were never called Celts unlike those tribes in Iberia and Gaul) tells me that He’s good at what he does. His inclusion into the Greek family of divine healers tells me that He works well with other deities. We have a team player who no matter where or when healing must be accomplished, He will do it.

From that, I begin a relationship by making offerings and having conversations that are mostly one sided as I discuss my unhealthy past with medical “professionals” mainstream and alternative who took my money and took me for a hell ride, the effects of multiple misdiagnoses on my sense of identity, gratitude for how it’s made me firsthand aware of other people’s medical and emotional needs in a wide range of disorders, plus I mention my own health concerns, goals and requirements.

Sometimes I meditate on images of Him in copyrighted photos from museums. I imagine the people who came to Him in so many places, their clothes, their concerns, their body language pleading for help. I ask Him to guide my doctor. I visualize Him giving me a physical mostly thinking of the Greek humors, astrology and ideas of diet, fresh air and exercise, but also so much more than any one modality can provide – kind of like my doctor who is a MD and DO, training with a Naturopathic doctor especially in homeopathic remedies and herbs, and work history in pharmacies and health food stores. Telesphorus and I work together if the meditation leads to mystical union, a blissful non-me state of nothing and everything, which I owe to years as a girl with a lot of Hindu and Sikh yoga and meditation for my religious training.

The Ceremony

During the first few weeks of January, Telesphorus is the focus of the Celtic Pagan who worships deities who were honored in lands conquered by Rome. Of course He can be honored by other Pagans, including Gaelic polytheists, and those who worship the deities of Greece and Rome. Telesphorus is, like I said, a team player so regardless of what other deities you worship, He’ll join in like a visiting physician, respectful of His colleagues. After all, They all are concerned about their devotee/patient’s recovery, not inter-pantheon bickering. (That seems to be the angry work of xenophobic humans who want to control those they worship.)

Offerings are for you to determine. Grains, fruits, statuettes, wine and more were common offerings in Roman Empire, as was the building of shrines. Celts (and Britons, if we’re going to separate them like some scholars now do) seemed to prefer broken (ritually killed so they are sacred ie sacrificed) art, jewelry and weapons, along with pottery filled with food and drink (wine, ale) wrapped in beautifully woven fabrics. All cultures sacrificed animals, but they butchered all their own meat and were well trained in it. Very few of us have to daily kill our own animals daily so we do not have the skills to do it properly and a poorly performed sacrifice is a very bad omen worldwide. The Celts did not offer wild, hunted animals, but instead sacrificed the domestic ones of their farms. I actually have offered organic animal crackers and found that they were just as appreciated as the boar jerky my mother found. It’s suspected that dairy products were offerings as well, as cheese has been found in bogs where sacrifices were common (although maybe just as a way to preserve it for later), and insular Celtic folklore says to leave out cream for the Good People.

Roman and Celtic festivals had music and feasts, along with Priests reciting prose or poetry perfectly (in Rome if the Priest made a mistake, he had to start over; we don’t know how the Gauls did it) and performing divination to understand the messages from the deities. The rural Roman rites often had peasants dancing and in the city Priests often danced. The Celts typically walked or danced (we don’t know how they moved) in a clockwise circle to start ceremonies, possibly for long times around a pole statue of the deity. Both cultures met in sacred groves and at rivers and lakes.

I’m currently battling a medication-resistant form of thrush while my hyperreactive immune disorder Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is triggered by work on an apartment in my building and the neighborhood wood smoke that doesn’t let up due to the school break. My mother who also has MCAS is battling the insomnia, fatigue, and brain fog with me, as our toxic loads grow daily. Telesphorus will be greatly welcomed into our home!

May you be well!

 

* If you are interested in scholarly research about Pagan Roman culture and religion (which I find helpful for imaging the world of the Gauls and Iberian Celts), check out the Nova Roma website. It’s where I got my Roman calendar. Their information is also available in books, which I quite like.

Domnu: Cornwall’s Underworld Goddess of Mining? (or, Annwn, Celtiberians and Erecura led me astray)

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Minack Theatre near Porthcurno, Cornwall, England

Domnu. Perhaps the most important Goddess in Cornwall yet rarely mentioned. According to famous Celtic scholar John Koch, She is the Goddess of the Dumnonii tribe. In Steel Bars, Sacred Waters (SBSW), I stated: “Dumnonii means “People of the deity of the deep or earth,” with Domnu sometimes considered a Goddess of deep waters or soil – the Celtic Otherworld.” A little common sense has caused me to reevaluate that.

As I wrote in SBSW, “A recent theory suggests that Celtic origins start with the Atlantic Bronze Age. This is around the same time as the Hallstatt culture, but is along the Atlantic coast of Europe. From Portugal to Scotland, we know the coast was linked by seafaring trade and a shared culture. This culture was connected for 6,000 years. They built the same type of stone tombs and decorated them with similar symbols. Cornwall had tin, the metal necessary to combine with copper to make bronze. (Cornwall is the very southern end of Britain.) Bronze was stronger than copper and in demand. Bronze moved from one coastal community to another from 1300 to 700 BCE. The Phoenicians brought the Atlantic bronze to the Western Mediterranean. The Greeks became connected to the trade at the city Massilia (modern Marseille).”

Cornwall had the tin. All that bronze, and Cornwall had the tin. This is the most important information that we have on the insular Celts from the Greeks. It’s also important information about human history. Without tin, we’d have no Bronze Age.

Celtic Pagans are aware of the great wealth of the Hallstatt culture, which had deep salt mines. Recently I watched a BBC documentary on the Celts that went into these mines. Archaeologists have studied the remains of the famous site for so long, I doubted that I’d learn anything new. Actually, I did – The sort of social history I appreciate that allows me to imagine a culture better. The bone development of the people of Hallstatt revealed men with weak legs and great upper body strength. As miners, the men did not walk long distances, but they did use their arm and torso muscles for hours every day of their lives. Meanwhile the women had an imbalance in their shoulder alignment. All those heavy bags of salt the women carried from the mines caused an imbalance in their bodies’ development, because they apparently never changed sides when carrying the large sacks.

(Whenever people romanticize the Bronze and Iron Age (or any culture, honestly) I wish they’d keep in mind the reality of the culture. “The Golden Age” so many, including myself at times, yearn for is actually the world we need to be creating today. Every religion and political movement has its own “Golden Era” for inspiration, and instead of false nostalgia for things that never were, I would love to see people working on creating those values in themselves and in their relationship with the world. I’d like to be part of ushering in a Golden Age of ecological health, true equality, and the healing of deep wounds that have held my species back.)

Anyway, I’d worked on a bead shrine for Domnu, using some Underworld ancestral and ocean imagery. “Deep” I thought may have been about the importance of the ocean. Cornwall, at least on a map, looks like it is never far from the sea. Also, it was a major Bronze Age port. Its tin was in very high demand, for while copper was relatively easy to find, the other ingredient in bronze was not. The entire economy for many people – not just the Dumnonii, but merchants and artisans along the entire Atlantic coast and along the Mediterranean Sea – depended upon the tin of Cornwall. It and other goods were traded from port to port, perhaps uniting the Atlantic coast in a proto-Celtic language of economics. (I highly recommend reading famous Celtic scholar and Eurasian archeologist Sir Barry Cunliffe’s book “On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from prehistory to AD 1500″ for much, much more!)

Where was this “deep” place Domnu resided? I now believe it was the mines. The deities are responsible for the gifts we humans receive. They push us to evolve. Today we know much more about the dangers of mining especially when it’s mountain top removal or fracking, and I firmly know that the deities don’t want us to continue actions that are destroying our own lives and those of 96% of other species. But at that time, the deities were allowing us to explore. Today we have far better, safer technology available then ever before in history like Living  Machine systems , ecological sewage treatment designed to mimic the cleansing functions of wetlands, and the reclaimed ancient science of permaculture. All we need is for them to be funded so we can move into a saner future.

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Living Machine systems, actually purifying sewage

In Her own time Domnu was the most prominent deity in Cornwall. The entire tribe was named after She who brought them wealth and prestige. She was the mother of the people, a Queen bestowing tin upon Her faithful followers.

It’s rather obvious, but it took seeing inside a tunnel at Hallstatt to help me understand. Too often we hear Earth Goddess and think of a deity who coaxes the fields to give a generous harvest. Earth to us usually means soil. The Ancients didn’t have a name for a deity of this entire planet. If they did it would probably be an ocean deity, not soil, considering that Earth is a blue planet mostly covered in salt water. Or perhaps something completely synergy related, aware of the plurality of forces at work. Oh, wait, that’s polytheism. 🙂

Studying Celtic cultures other than Gaelic (which focuses more on an Other Life filled with islands), “deep” tends to automatically connect with the Welsh Annwn, which the Gauls also knew. From SBSW: “In medieval times the word Annwn meant “very deep” in Welsh. It probably comes from a much older Gallo-Brythonic word *ande-dubnos that literally means Underworld.” To read Koch say Domnu was “a deity of the deep or earth” while submerged in studying the Celtic Underworld, I suppose it was only natural to think “deep = Underworld.”

In SBSW I discuss a group of Underworld Goddess from Spain, the Duillis. “Duillis means “Goddesses of the Underworld. These Goddesses are Celtiberian, worshipped in temperate northeastern Spain, near the Pyrenees Mountains that separate Spain from France. The title comes from a Celtic root word meaning “dark” from an older term “burning dark, dark flames.” It is also connected to the Latin word for “tranquility” and the Old Norse word for “resting place.” These Goddesses probably take care of the peaceful Underworld home of the Ancestors.”

(I would LOVE to see artists depict the Duillis! “Burning dark, dark flames”??? Combined with a tranquil Underworld resting place? Are the flames connected to the pyre, where most dead Celts went after birds had picked the flesh off their bones? Are these Goddesses anything like the Matres? Why do I envision the nine maidens blowing on the flames under the Cauldron of Annwn, like a medieval memory of the Goddesses of the Underworld?)

Plus we have Erecura, so popular in Southern Germany and Slovenia, but also found in Switzerland, Italy, Britain and France. Along both the Danube and the Rhine we find this Goddess, who was associated with the Roman Proserpina. Erecura often appears in statues with the Underworld God Dis Pater, especially in cemeteries. “On a monument from Salzbach, Dispater is accompanied by a goddess called Aeracura, holding a basket of fruit, and on another monument from Ober-Seebach, the companion of Dispater holds a cornucopia. In the latter instance Dispater holds a hammer and cup, and the goddess may be Aeracura. She may thus represent the old Earth-goddess,” according to J.A. MacCulloch in “The Religion of the Celts.”

Julius Caesar commented that the Gaulish people believe that they came from the God of the dead. Caesar referred to this God with the Latin name Dis Pater, pater being related to paternal. There have been many guesses as to who the Celtic Dis Pater might be, but the most popular are Cernunnos and Sucellus. It’s entirely possible that both (and other tribal deities whose names we don’t remember) were/are Dis Pater. It’s a basic Proto-Indo-European myth: the first person of the tribe to die becomes the Lord of the Realm of the Dead. When a member of the tribe died, they returned to the Ancestors, watched over by the first. The Irish Donn is a good example.

With all that Celtic Underworld information clouding my mind, the obvious “deep earth = tin mines” was lost. I’d like to apologize to Domnu for overlooking the specifics of Her bioregion and role in history. Of course, She may easily also be an ancestral Goddess in the Underworld. Celtic cultures rarely limited their deities into mere functions. I’ve begun to meditate with Domnu and feel that the importance of the safe ocean voyage was part of Her blessings, but really, what couldn’t a member of the “People of Domnu” pray to Her for?

I’m curious if others have relationships with Domnu. In a world where fracking is the Oil Junkie’s desperate Spoon Wash, causing earthquakes and flames to fly out of faucets, does She have solutions? Is She a Goddess who helps humans with responsible technology? International trade? The Mother of Cornwall still? Is She found in caves? Do miners pray to Her for safety? Does She rule over the metals tin and bronze?

If you are Her devotee, please contact me through the Gullveig Press order form and share your experiences. Debating is a high school class focused on “winning”, not being right or finding the best, long term community solution. Debating means there will be no listening. It’s politicians yelling sound bites and attorneys manipulating the emotions of juries. Discussion is for humans who respect what the other has to say. Your practices matter. I’d like to read about them. I’d like a polytheism where the more educated in certain areas are kind to those seeking reputable information, innocent questions are not taken as threats, gossip is not treated as fact, and personal experiences and belief are not fodder for arguments. adrienne brown in “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” constantly reminds us that in any group of people there is an important conversation that no one else could have, if we’re willing to have it. All religions have sects who demonize each other. Let’s move into something better.

 

Permaculture-Tree-DarkGrey

Hail, Freya! She DID honor Her vow! I’m Lyme-free! Cured!

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Freya by Alexandra Rena

A few years back I learned that the reason I was so sick wasn’t just a Christian church carbon monoxide poisoning my family because the Vestry never checked the furnace in the home where my mother was a Priest. (The building inspector’s report was a toxic nightmare including arsenic.) That caused the severe MCS, but I was already sick with “fibromyalgia”* which was actually Lyme disease and babesiosis (malaria like parasites eating my red blood cells).

(Lyme causes MCS, too, BTW. It’s all probably from Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, something you are born with and have hassles like allergies and GERD, but then get Lyme disease or a different physical or emotional trauma and WHOOSH gasoline on the fire. Yeah, I have MCAS, which according to top researcher Dr Lawrence Afrin is probably responsible for the rise in all the new or once rare poorly understood diagnoses that tend to come in clusters such as: fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, migraines, generalized anxiety disorder, reactive hypoglycemia, asthma, allergies, Celiac disease, autism spectrum “disorders,” Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, GERD, type 2 diabetes, auto-immune disorders especially RA and MS, medication sensitivities, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, fertility issues, and more – the stuff that tends to pile on to people and make doctors hope you won’t come back. Treat the MCAS, things improve. There’s a zillion peer-reviewed medical journal papers on MCAS, and since everyone has completely different triggers (like cold temperature, bee sting or fragrance) that can cause any response including death, doctors are nicer about accommodations because technically anything I inhale, touch or ingest could kill me. You don’t mess with the little understood mast cells – which cross the brain blood barrier.)

Yep, it’s been a time of breakthroughs!

In my Hell of sickness, wondering how they’d treat the tickbourne diseases when my body is weird with medication and especially herbs, I made a pact with Freya.

She already was guiding me hardcore and kicking my ass when I didn’t listen. For me, She’s always right. So I said “Take everything over (as if She hadn’t) and make me better. Let me live. No more palliative care, no more insane fevers and terror, no more death!”

She said, “I want a book. It’s about your ancestors’ deities and make sure you include how they’re related to my Vanir family. Honor us.”

I thought “Oh, maybe 50 pages of bad poetry devotional. I don’t even understand poetry, but OK.” And, wrapped in organic linen, She received presents, including organic leeks, a found crow’s wing, amber, jewellery and grains, buried by my awesome mother, because I have been too sensitive to car fumes and smoke to go outside for a few years. (This is why I get along with folks in solitary confinement probably.) She also did it because unlike terrified narcissist Christians who actually need everyone else to validate their faith by joining it, she doesn’t think Christianity, especially Christendom, has any monopoly on Truth.

Then I was asked to write information about the Mabinogi and Gaulish deities for a book people were doing for people in prison. I think, process and write information really fast (tested faster than the machine for reading speed could go when age 7, fastest reporter at the Toronto Star, and a nifty Aspie photographic memory), so I kept going, doing various exercises, an Ogham guide –

And everyone else dropped out of the project – oddly because of severe MCAS -issues. (Not known then, but now it’s obvious.)

The book, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, became over 900 pages because I know that in prison you can’t use the Internet or buy more books. So anything from the 3 days for talking to spirits in Wales to the newfound importance of Iberia was recorded.

Then THOSE papers came out. The linguistic ones that find a sudden change in Proto-Indo-European language about 4,000 years ago probably in modern day Czech Republic. Words, especially about religion, that would centuries later turn up in proto-Celtic, proto-Germanic and often proto-Finnish, burst into use. Many refer to Lug/Wotan. The German Nerthus who becomes Njord, and Macha, Badb and other Gaelic deities come into existence. Before there even is a Gaelic language.

The word prija (the root of Freya’s name) changed from “beloved” to “free one” ie a noble. As Frey and Freya are titles Lord and Lady, this is a very ancient link. The root word that became seidR, Freya’s magic, was already alive, shared with the Celts. It comes from “string” – hence the importance of knot magic in both cultures. (Viducus experienced someone possessed by Matronae telling people to pray to Her while tying and untying knots. We ARE getting our religion back!) The sacred groves with horses, the crow Goddess with the Battle husband, angelica and holly become important plants, and words that combine into variations of shamanism, prophecy and poetry – plus new words for wagons, roads and other Vanir-type things appear. (All this is covered more in depth in the book.)

Instead of making the book smaller, we made the dimensions bigger – 8.5″ by 11″ – and left no blank space. Art and writing from amazing people was donated.

I had to learn how to publish, make contracts (thank you, Erynn Rowan Laurie), figure out the financial logistics of an always -in-the- red project and how to not have it affect my $800 a month SSI and food stamps (thank you, accountant and attorney, neither of whom charged me), WHILE drenched in sweat, semi-conscious, crying in pain. Oh, yeah, and getting emails from Pagans who all hated each other more than they cared about their deities and people in prison. (I am trying to erase the gossip from that photographic memory.) And my partner in this, the amazing artist and designer, Armi Dee, was diagnosed with cancer.

Out of nowhere, Alexandra Rena (remember her name, because she’s going to be a Big Deal artist whose Oracle deck you’ll be buying) took over the CreateSpace part. I didn’t even know her. She just wanted a book about these Gaulish and British Celtic deities for so long, she made it happen. Because, honestly, there’s been nothing for the not-Gaelic Celtic Pagan published. It’s the book I wished I had years ago.

The time while Ms Rena was finishing up with CreateSpace (the 100+ images made it a hassle), I did a 10 day Lyme antibiotic treatment and Mepron for the babesiosis. People bitch about Mepron. I didn’t feel as bad as babesiosis made me at times. Babesiosis puts people in wheelchairs and I couldn’t find one nontoxic enough, even though walking was no longer safe. Compared to that, Mepron was nothing.

Because MCAS is a hyper -reaction of the mast cells, antibiotics and anti -parasite medication are dangerous for long periods of time. I did the treatment for people with low immune functioning, specifically chemotherapy patients and those with HIV, to blast the bacteria and parasites. Then I stopped before my own immune system jumped in for no good reason, which would cause all the MCAS inflammation which people often mistake for still having Lyme.

(Now there’s finally an affordable, good test for Lyme and co-infections, by Mercy Labs, usually covered by insurance, but sometimes just $20 if you are undercovered or have no insurance. Better than iGenex’s $800 test which has a much longer results turn around. Don’t assume your Lyme came back based on symptoms – get the test! Too many antibiotic, antifungal, and antiparasite treatments with MCAS might be why after lengthy Lyme treatment people develop RA!)

The book came out as I finished treatment.

You have to wait 3 months before testing for Lyme disease after treatment. I stopped having mood swings from Hell, cognitive impairment, waking nightmares, seizures – and was bored and in pain because I just wanted to keep DOING stuff. I had energy, but a body ill prepared for that.

My results are back.

There’s nothing living in my body that shouldn’t be. No Candida overgrowth, no Lyme bacteria, and no babesiosis parasites.

Hail, Freya! I dedicated the book to Her. “Willingly and deservedly” keeping my vow. I didn’t know if She had done Her part, but I believed. And She did.

I’m testing MCAS medication and getting ready for reconditioning. Years lying in bed has messed up my myofacia in a major way, and I’m weak with terrible cardiovascular strength.

But I got my health back on track and learned all about the underlying problem, and found myself. I was able to put all my weird life experience, skills, and special interests into something that helps humans and deities and the land. I’ve made some really wonderful, close, real friends, in and out of prison, and celebrated the changes in their lives. I’m doing what a job, even with honors degrees in Community Organizing and constant “woke” training for actually doing things off of Facebook, wouldn’t let me because  that paying job doesn’t exist. I’m a person with severe disabilities and I have compassionate community. I’m creating art again and engaged in much deeper conversations about Paganism with people in prison than I ever found on the outside, while discussing other parts of my “Celtic Vanatrur” ideas with someone on the outside without an ax to grind. I’m even getting to discuss Witchcraft, Wicca and Druidry all with the same person!

I’m also providing the most desired resources my friends in prison want: psychological. The mindfulness meditation, radical acceptance, CBT and value-based living in the book wet their appetites. I’ve collected ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) information and CMT (compassionate mind therapy) information and watched them change their lives. The past makes sense; the present is tolerable and better decisions are made; the future finally feels hopeful. I spend about $40 a month of my own money sending people psychological health resources. And then I am accountable for doing my values, my defusion practices, and treating myself with compassion. I even have an African Diaspora Religion book club! Think it’s easy to find this stuff if you are unable to leave your room? It’s not.  Shoot, I couldn’t find it when I lived in big cities – everyone flaked.

Also penpals in prison value honesty because they never get to be honest in prison – it’s never safe to be real. They value human contact and ask questions about their concerns instead of attacking unlike people online, who will just freak and not discuss. People in prison don’t run from reality. And they want it to be a better place. Those are two things that are hard to find on the outside!

I’m a much stronger person now than I ever was before – Before people called me strong because I survived horrible things for long periods of time. Now I’m strong because I have so much more confidence in all aspects of myself, including my body. I learned what to leave and what to accept as mine.

Thank you FREYA!

 

* Fibromyalgia definitely exists. A good DO (MD with extra training in the body’s muscles, myofaciamyofacial, bones, etc) can feel it. People who have fibro and get flares occasionally like from lack of sleep don’t test positive for MCAS. They also don’t  have other MCAS related issues. People with chronic fibromyalgia that needs narcotic  pain relief – they test positive for MCAS.

Oh, yeah, there’s blood tests for MCAS.

Prayer to Brigantia for Ruling Yourself (for PTSD recovery)

This is the prayer that began the PTSD recovery process for a transwoman raped in prison. Learn more here.

Prayer to Brigantia for Ruling Yourself (for PTSD recovery)
by Heather Awen

Brigantia, heavenly Goddess most exalted,
Please grant me memory of this primal truth:
Everything between here and here* is under my own sovereign rule.

I am territory in my own possession
Where the past is merely a phantom procession,
One no longer my obsession.
My mind is my own, and my thoughts are free.
Nothing done to my body makes it less holy.

Whatever torments my spirit had, have now released me.

I’m responsible for my behavior.
That’s a truth I shall not belabor.

Who I am is within my own control,
I am owned by none within my soul, and
My psyche is mine, still and always, pure and whole.

Hail, Brigantia, heavenly Goddess most exalted!

* Put one hand under your butt if sitting on the floor, feet if sitting in a chair or squatting, or knees if kneeling. Put the other above your head. If you have only one hand, swoop it around your body. If you have no hands, move your eyes from the top to the bottom. Always adapt all ritual actions to any physical impairments or differences. No gets left out!

 

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Reviews from Prisoners

Most people don’t realize that some prisoners decide to make prison “University” and study everything they can. Some have been studying used books donated to books to prisoners organizations, buying what they can afford, and trading books for 20 years.

So when I got a letter from a prisoner saying “This is the first book I’ve read in years that had any new information about Paganism,” it made me very happy! Because it does. I promise that there’s information about Celtic (and Germanic) ancient polytheism in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters found nowhere else in popular culture books, stuff you’d only find if you obsessed over the most recent academic papers.

I’ve had Pagans on the outside ask me to teach because “Where do we go when we’re not beginners? Where are the books for intermediate Pagans, who’ve been doing this for 10 years?” Honestly, we tend to specialize by then and the books we need aren’t profitable. Not enough potential sales. That’s why endless 101 crap gets churned out. You have to look to self published books and tiny self publishing companies to find more in-depth information. After 10 years, you usually know what “clicks” for you and want to go deeper. If you want historically accurate information with which to work, not someone’s reinterpretation of what is basic, your choices are incredibly limited.

I knew Steel Bars, Sacred Waters would have to fill a huge void – actual rituals, accurate information about Celtic deities especially the dozens no one today knows that deserve our worship, and a much more nuanced understanding of the effects of the Roman Empire, historical context of the source material including the Irish Mythological Cycle, ogham, and Mabinogi, which few read and even fewer understand the cultural basis of the authors.

Does that make it too “high level reading” for a new Pagan? NO! If you are starting out, why not start with accurate information that continually reminds you that scholars will change their opinions and the information is limited? That tells you what we know – which is far more than people including many Druids say – and how we know it, why opinions have changed, to expect them to continue to change and grow, and you will meet Pagans with very different views because they have developed their own relationships with the information. And so should you. Just don’t be a jerk about it, because your truth could be disproven at any time.

“There’s so much covered in here in such depth, it’s like 12 books in one,” another letter said. And that’s true as well. I got really sick of books vaguely dancing around topics in 230 pages, teaching me what could have been a 25 page essay. So I didn’t write like that. People in prison don’t have money. Stamps are barely in their reach – state prison tends to be worse than federal prison. I write prisoners with disabilities and they have lye soap and toilet paper. They have to find ways to get a stamp from someone and paper to write me back. I order free resources for them because they don’t have the stamps and paper to do it themselves.

Which meant, if it is an important part of Celtic polytheism and animism, it’s in the book. Theory and practice. It is 12 books in one, and they’re all as good as any 200 page book about one of the topics.

How could we do that? We didn’t allow ANY blank space. An essay ends and important artefacts are shown. Another essay starts in the middle of the page. Shrine images of deities are put together, both ancient statues and modern art. Topics build in logical order, and yet as an Ivy League professor with a PhD in medieval art said, “This is a beautiful reference book, where one can look up whatever they need as they need it.”

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Contributors to Steel Bars, Sacred Waters

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A Celtic Tree of Life by Gerald Gibbons

These wonderful people contributed the writing and art that made this book so fantastic. Visit their other writing and art at their websites!

Writers

Artists

 

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Heather Awen (in malaria recovery) with Steel Bars, Sacred Waters.

Excerpts from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters

GallischeHoeve
Replica of Belgae house

by Heather Awen:

“Proto-Celtic *soito meaning “sorcery” is a Celto-Germanic word. Its proto-German equivalent *seida became Old Norse seidR. Both words stem from a proto-Indo-European word meaning “string, rope” and in other Indo-European languages it keeps that meaning. Only in the Celtic and Germanic languages did it become sorcery, so we can guess that binding things with string or tying knots is a magical tradition that could go back 4,000 years.”

“The ritual uses another Scottish greeting for the new moon in the core practice. When reading or saying it, imagine everyone you love having this same moon shining on them. The Queen of the Night provides light for the poor, so visualize it guiding, blessing and protecting everyone who is suffering. Include yourself as an act of self compassion. You could include a white candle and/or white or silver new crescent moon.

Glory to thee forever
Thou bright moon, this night;
Thyself art ever
The glorious lamp of the poor.
Queen of the night.” ”

“King Gwenddolau ap Ceidio in Cumbria was a Pagan whose Druid was Myrddin. (Read the entry on Myrddin.) In the summer of 573 they would have marched by the Pagan shrines at an abandoned Roman fort, heading to the battle of Arderydd. Their enemy was the Christian King Peredur ap Elifer who ruled Ebrauc (and possibly Deifr (“Land of Rivers”) which would become the Anglian kingdom Deira). During the battle 300 men died, including Gwenddolau. Myrddin was driven mad. Not only had he killed his sister’s son, his sister was married to the powerful Rhydderch of Alt Clut. Myrddin disappeared into the woods.

“To the south was the kingdom of Rheged with the old Roman city Carlisle. The lands of the Novantae, the Anavionenses and the Carvetii formed the three major regions of Rheged. In the late 6th century Rheged was still trading for Mediterranean luxury goods and its king was the most powerful of the Men of the Old North. Called the Lord of Luguvalium, King Urien’s name comes from urbgen “born in the city.” Urien was one of Y Bedydd, the Baptized. The mother of his heroic son Owain is the Goddess Modron. (Read the entry about Modron.)”

“Every thought, every movement, every event – they’re all vibration, all part of The Song. Remember how everything is interconnected. This is a symphony with billions and billions of musicians from faraway galaxies to the mitochondria in your body’s cells. The sun’s song is reflected by the moon. The moon’s song gave the Earth a slower day, more stable weather and tides that move the oceans. From the ocean, water rises into clouds and rain falls on the land. The trees grow and hold on to the fertile topsoil. The trees communicate underground through the “Wood Wide Web,” their roots sending chemical messages to other trees and plants.

“Animals breathe in the oxygen a green plant releases. We return the gift to them, exhaling the carbon dioxide they need. Sometimes I look at a plant and exhale thinking “red.” Red, the color of my blood. It is a gift of love, acknowledging we need each other. I inhale with the thought “green,” feasting on the results of chlorophyll. Back and forth we exchange The Song of life. You can do this through a window or holding the image of any nearby plants outside. If you cannot see grass or shrubbery outside or find visualization difficult, hold the intention of plants in your mind.”

Belinos, Belenos “bright, dazzling”
Pronounced: “beh-LEY-noss” “BEY-leh-noss”

“Belinos was a widely popular God in Gaul, northern Italy, the Alps, and Slovakia. Belinos was possibly worshiped by more Celtic peoples than any other deity. Sometimes he is shown with a female figure thought to be the Goddess Belisama. In Slovakia there was still a cult to a God named Belin in the 19th century. An ancient stone carving depicted two human forms with lines radiating from their heads. The Slavic people called it Belin, “the rock,” or “triple faced,” showing that some version of the much-loved Celtic deity, probably merged with other influences, survived that long.

“Belinos was especially popular in northeastern Gaul, Austria, and farther east. Worship of him has not been found in Britian, but “the King of the Britons” was Cynobellini, a name that contains beli and appears on coins. Belinos’ name is also found in some place and personal names, like the second half of Llewellyn (probably “Lugus-Belinos”). Belinos appears to be a solar God, but Celtic Gods are usually wise, generous, brave defenders and healers, skilled in every art, and all-round perfect chieftains. They are whatever is needed to help their tribe/worshipers: warriors are poets; kings are shoe-makers.

“It’s currently believed that Belinos became confused by scholars with a Celtic name for the Greek/Roman God Apollo, Belenos. We only know Belenos from the northestern Italian city of Aquileia. Belinos was also worshipped there, but like everywhere in the Celtic world, Belinos was never named with Apollo in any inscription or shrine. In modern times scholars began “correcting” Belinos to the wrong name Belenos. Reviews of the original evidence very recently found the mistake. We can expect more accurate information about deities as Celtic studies continue. If someone has a strong relationship with Belenos, they may be worshiping Apollo by his Celtic name. Apollo’s cult began in southern Gaul during the 5th century BCE, making him a regional Celtic deity.”

“The Tuatha De Danann meet the Fir Bolg, Fir Gálioin and Fir Domnann, which may actually be historical tribes coming from Gaul or Britain: the Belgae, the Laigin and Dumnonii. (Dumnonii means “People of the deity of the deep or earth,” with Domnu sometimes considered a Goddess of deep waters or soil – the Celtic Otherworld.)”

“The ancestor cult involving horses was a pre-Roman Celtic religion for a long time…. To bond a Celtic Pagan group, members can bring a human head or skull object that represents their own ancestors. Heads might show range of styles: Day of the Dead skulls, old ceramic doll heads, abstracted skulls carved into wood, papier-mache heads, rocks that appear to have faces, etc. A tall, narrow shelving unit for the heads can serve as the pillar. Paintings, drawings, photographs, or statues of horses, the guides, go around the pillar. Perhaps decorate with colorful striped or plaid fabrics, organic if possible. (Even at Hallstatt the Celts were excellent weavers, and Celtic cloaks later became expensive luxury items in the Roman Empire.) During the ritual offerings to the group’s ancestors need to be made, like metal, ceramic or glass jewelry and art, handwoven fabric, daggers, small cauldrons of honeyed ale or butter, and poetry, songs or stories about them. Enjoy a feast on wooden, ceramic or recycled paper plates and be certain to break, bend or tear all the dishes and utensils before burying them.”

“This new proto-Fennic word became the root of Celtic words for pigs and boars, including the Gaulish swine God Moccus. The Celtic cult animal the boar probably came with the word. In the Mabinogi’s oldest tale, Culhwch and Olwen, the name Culhwch directly comes from that word for pig, while his father’s name, Cilydd, directly descends from a Balto-Fennic word for boar. The boar and pig appear in medieval mythology and much earlier Celtic art. Boar were the second most popular animal on battle horns and helmets, with birds being first. A Celtic man buried in the Balkans wearing a robe with boar tusks hanging as the fringe is thought to have been a priest.”

“Imagine Tailtiu, a tall and muscular woman with a bronze tan and sun-streaked hair. She is large and sturdy, like a giant, with shapely hips and breasts. Meditate on her love and power shining to you. If you grew up in farmland, remember what you can of the crops growing taller. If you or someone else you grew up with had a garden try to recall seeing the different vines and leaves. Think of all of the good meals you have ever had and thank her. Feel her immense wealth. All that you’ve eaten came from her. The crops grown to feed the animals came from her fields. Recognize how sacred she is. Even if your feast is not what you would choose, she is still here, and there are other meals to come. Thank her many times for without her you never would have grown or even had a body. You may have come from the womb of one mother, but Tailtiu is the foster-mother who gives you every meal.”

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Stag by Alexandra Rena

“Obviously the Celtic Pagans never felt that the two were at odds. There was no choice between deities and community, because the deities (and ancestors and land spirits) are part of Pagan community. The deities are devoted to the community and they know better than us alone how to take care of it. Whatever humans need for a healthy, happy, safe life, the deities want us to have. Health care. Freedom of religion. Protection from violence. Arts. Education. Clean air. Friendship. Biodiversity. If you are devoted to the deities, you are devoted to what humans need. And because humans need the environment, humans are nature, and many deities are rivers, mountains and protectors of forests, choosing between devoting your life to the deities or the environment is not even possible. Of course if you care about the deities you care about the environment.”

“You’re trying to describe Queen Maeve. Find words that start with the same sound that are related to Maeve. Queen, Connaught, killed, course, came, considering, etc. You may end up with something like:

Maeve, the Queen of Connaught came forth, considering the best course of action.
A conflict with Ulster would cause much killing.
Could she control her men?
Yes, with cunning, courage and comeliness, she could,
Yes, clever Maeve could.

“You can make offerings for the deities with papier-mâché or beaded jewelry. The Celtic people made beautiful, multicolored glass beads, often with dot or eye designs on them. They usually broke their offerings, including the dishes used at feasts, so they’d be sacred. The words sacrifice and sacred are related. In Indo-European languages there’s often a difference between holy and sacred. Something sacred is just for the deities and other honored spirits. It’s not for mortal use, so it’s killed, set aside or broken so mortals cannot enjoy it…. If you make something for a deity, you do not have to break it. You can just put it on the shrine, so it is theirs. Make sure you do not use it. You already gave it away…. And do not worry about not being able to make swords and fancy glass beads. Celtic people made sacrifices of everyday items like cooking pots and hair pins, not just swords and jewelry. They just never used the sacrifice again because it is sacred, belonging to the deities.”

“Worshipping the Irish deities we know about from Christian monks, deities spread across the island, is certainly not Folkish. Why would a tribe in Munster worship Boann? Would they know of Macha or the Morrigan or Lugh? … A Gaelic polytheist worshipping the modern pantheon of Tuatha De Danann would seem Universalist to a Gaelic Pagan 2,300 years ago.”

“If you have history of trauma (and just being in prison could cause that), it can help to try a different breath. When we hold our breath in, this can stimulate a fear response. I would suggest anyone with PTSD or severe anxiety to not hold after they inhale. Instead you would have a cycle like this: “Inhale slowly for the count of four, exhale slowly for the count of six, hold for the count of four and repeat.”…. Being able to physiologically control your fight, flight or freeze system is powerful magic that most people would benefit from learning. You’re stopping a flood of hormones so you can stay present and keep your wits about you.”

“Truth, knowledge and nature still illuminate the darkness. However, we’re in a different time and society. The truths that people struggle with today are different. The knowledge we need is different. The planet of which we are a part is different. All three of those new problems are of course connected. Celtic Paganism, including Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, is not about pretending we’re in another time and place. We’re not dressing up playing make believe about a fictional better past. That’s not how the ancient Celtic Pagans thought or lived. They were always changing, adapting to meet the here and now. Learning new truths about nature was the Druid’s goal. We are traditional. We’re just not stagnant.”

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Book open, showing art by Guy Gondron and Alexandra Rena. Quarters are to show the book’s large size.

Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners

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Cover Art by Carl Fairweather, Design by Armi Dee

(This is the Home page because we obviously want you to buy the book. However, below is our blog with all sorts of posts like how the book helped a transwoman who survived rape in prison start her PTSD recovery process, little known Germanic deities, further information on Celtic deities and religious practices, the possible Celtic Festivals of Sulis, Telesphorus, Brigantia, Aine, Neto, Ataegina & Erecura, Mercury/LugAndraste, free resources for prisoners, support and guidance for penpals of prisoners, African Diaspora Religions, Indo-European religious practices, quotes from academic peer-reviewed journals and much more. The Menu has information about supporting incarcerated Pagans- especially donating books on (almost) any topic, Resources for Pagans in Prison, information about Gullveig Press, tips on writing incarcerated Pagans, and Contact. Please explore!)

The first release from Gullveig Press is now available! We’re proud to announce that the Celtic Paganism “all-in-one” book Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners has already become a well-loved treasure trove for Pagans on the outside and in prison alike. At 556 pages and 8.5″ x 11″ (21.59 x 27.94 cm) in size, you’ll be reading and rereading these essays, performing these rituals, and admiring the art for quite a long time. (Want to read some of the book just to make sure? Visit here for excerpts and check out our awesome contributors!)

Price for people in prison, Pagan Prison Ministries*, and prisoner rights organizations*: US $7.52 plus shipping and taxes. US $12 in continental USA. Australia US $17.50. BULK RATE: 5 copies for only $46.50 in continental USA! 

Buy a copy for an incarcerated Pagan and receive a free pdf of the book! $12!

Price for people neither in prison nor involved in Pagan Prison Ministries or Activism: $24.00 (and whatever shipping fees and taxes apply; $4 in the continental United States). To order, contact us. ALL PROFITS GO TOWARDS PROVIDING COPIES TO PAGANS IN PRISON. Note: This is a lower price than on Amazon because Amazon takes a large cut. Australia: U.S.$ 30.00 including shipping and taxes. (The shipping and taxes are really high, so we give a discount.)

If you are buying a copy for someone in prison, a Prison Ministry, or to donate to a “free books to prisoners” organization, please contact us. Let us know the address of where you want the book shipped so we can calculate shipping costs and taxes. We will respond by email with the price including shipping and our PayPal account information. Copies for incarcerated persons or established “free books to prisoners” organization will be mailed directly to them once we receive payment. (Either choose a program here or we can choose for you.)

If you would like to share information about ordering Steel Bars, Sacred Waters with people in prison, thank you! Please let them know that they can send a MoneyGram to Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819. Continental USA price plus shipping and taxes: $12. Remind them to include their full name, prison ID number, and address.

*For Prison Ministries (and other organizations helping prison in prison), we also need your mailing address for calculating shipping, along with the following information: who you are; what your organization is; what you do involving prisons; what prisons you serve; why you want a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters; and a link to your website, so we can verify that you actually are working with Pagans in prison.

Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners

Authored by Heather Awen, Rev Donna DonovanViducus Brigantici filiusErynn Rowan Laurie, Hester Butler-Ehle, Eddie MarssonEmma Restall Orr, Armi Dee

An “all-in-one” pan-Celtic polytheist resource of cosmology, deities, virtues, history, rituals, meditations, magic and the future of Celtic Paganism, rooted in scholarly research.

One of only three full-size books for incarcerated Pagans, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters also fulfills the need for a historically accurate guide to ancient Celtic religions that many have sought.

Highlights include:

  • rituals for 11 traditional holy times and seasonal changes based on Gaelic, Gaulish, Welsh and Manx practices;
  • information about (and invocations for and prayers to) 160 Celtic deities;
  • the Other Life/Otherworld;
  • daily practices for the Celtic Pagan;
  • Celtic virtues and how they can be lived today;
  • exploration of different Celtic cultures through time and space;
  • Iberian Celtic deities never before included in a Pagan book;
  • neglected Gaulish deities;
  • how Celtic tribes adapted Roman religion to existing cults and created new ones;
  • the cultural intermixing between Celts and Greeks, Celts and Germans, Celts and Norse Heathens;
  • the “horse, head and hero” cult;
  • modern and traditional meditations;
  • documented Celtic magic;
  • known teachings of the Druids;
  • ogham divination guide;
  • Celtic mythology in context, with explanations of how political factors from the times they were written affected the versions we have today;
  • proto-Celto-Germanic-Finnish words used by some Indo-Europeans 4,000 years ago and the Gaelic, Germanic and Norse deities, rituals and magic that continued from them;
  • common practices among Celtic peoples worldwide;
  • sacrifice and hospitality;
  • maps of the Celtic world, with cities, tribes, temples, rivers and other places of interest mentioned in the essays on history and deities;
  • The Oran Mor (Song of the World);
  • moon rituals;
  • working with ancestors;
  • animism and land spirits, especially in lands new to Celtic Paganism;
  • the connection between Lugus and Woden;
  • Celts in a multicultural society of many polytheist cults;
  • land, sea and sky cosmology;
  • 5 directions of Ireland cosmology;
  • Gaelic and Welsh mantras;
  • the file (poet-prophet);
  • Celtic heroes and heroines;
  • the Fianna (hunter-warrior band);
  • saining (Scottish purification);
  • devotional polytheism, the community and the environment;
  • root meaning of Norse seidR and its ancient link to Celtic magical religious practices;
  • the king-making ritual;
  • the British Old North, a unique mixture of Britons, Angles, Gaels and Picts, home to “Merlin”, ancient poetry, and Hiberno-Saxon art;
  • pathworking (guided meditations) to different deities;
  • cloud scrying and other forms of divination;
  • the Neolithic roots of the swine cult;
  • instructions for making a St Brigid’s Cross;
  • why Anglo-Saxon and Brythonic magic is so similar;
  • making and working with prayer beads;
  • the role of ritual music and improvising ancient Celtic instruments;
  • Celtic funeral practices;
  • the importance of ecological issues in modern Celtic Paganism;
  • journaling questions about essays;
  • pronunciation of deities’ names and important terms;
  • shrines;
  • the political, legal structure of kingdoms;
  • Fairies;
  • Celtic openness about homosexuality;
  • Celtic astronomy;
  • explanations for why Celtic Paganism cannot be Folkish, racist, homophobic or limited to Ireland and the British Isles;
  • visions of Celtic Paganism’s future;
  • Celtic Paganism and the 12 step program and CBT, DBT and ACT therapies;
  • forming and maintaining a diverse Pagan group;
  • drawing and creative writing exercises;
  • recipes for “make do” crafts including papier mache, print making, and the 6th century paint glair used in medieval manuscripts;
  • around 100 drawings or photographs of archeological finds, depictions of Celtic deities both ancient and modern and Celtic culture;
  • crossword puzzles;
  • resources for incarcerated Pagans;
  • and much more.

Although written for Pagans in prison who are possibly alone with only paper, pencil and tap water, “outside” Pagans are provided with the background information to expand their own practices. A valuable tool for Pagan Prison Ministries, volunteers and penpals, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was partially shaped by communication with Pagans in prison. Their needs were generally no different than those of frustrated Pagans on the outside seeking an accurate education about the Celts. The main difference was lack of access to books, services and especially the Internet, where so much research is scattered. Both communities needed that research organized, including the recent Iberian, Balkan, Gallo-Roman and Celto-Germanic discoveries. The result is a book that explores the ancient Celtic peoples and their religions from Ireland to Turkey, Portugal to Ukraine, and their role in over 1,000 years of European history. The Celts influenced the cultures with whom they interacted and were changed by those near them – including other Celts.

All profits go to supplying Pagans in prison with copies of the book. The U.S. incarcerates 1% of its population, more than any other nation. Most convictions are connected to addiction. The American prison population is 8-12% Pagan. This means that 1 in 1000 Americans are incarcerated Pagans! Providing low cost, high quality information to Pagans in prison is the goal of Gullveig Press.

Please note: The content by Laurie, Restall Orr and Butler-Ehle have been published elsewhere or are available online.

Steel Bars Sacred Waters
Book with 4 quarters to show large size

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