Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shrines, rivers and gods continued..

Celtic naming of rivers stems from the fact that as the Romans conquered or colonised, whichever you prefer, they kept the indigenous names of the rivers. Rivers like mountains are always there, they have their own identity and perhaps even the romans were afraid of the river gods to change such names. The river Thames in London had many valuable votive 'offerings' thrown into it, some might argue by chance these things had fallen in, such as the famous Battersea shield, but there are numerous finds from the earlier bronze age to suggest that the river itself had a special meaning.

British Museum Catalogue 1906

Miranda Green occasionally takes issue with Anne Ross, but her own writings on the celtic gods follow through quite closely. One goddess Nantosuelto in Gaul is twinned with Sucellus, but her name means 'winding river' although she also appears with a raven and that can mean death and the underworld.
Arnemetia was a romano-british

goddess her shrine was at Aquae Arnemetiae ("waters of Arnemetia"), in Derbyshire. Arnemetia's name contains the same Celtic root as nemeton, meaning "sacred grove", so her name is interpreted as "she who dwells over against the sacred grove". (taken from Miranda Green).

Nemetona is also a goddess, worshipped in Treve, but also mentioned at Aquae Sulis with her consort where a native of Treves erected an altar to Mars Loucetius and Nemetona.

MacCana the Irish historian, says of the Celts "Ancient Irish had little sense of a clear and palpable line of demarcation between the supernatural and the secular....flexible combination of a routine pragmatism and unquestioning belief in the power of ritual and mythic precedent"
Which just about says it all for any religious faith, it is after all better to believe than not believe, even if there is no truth in what you believe.....
One of the problems when encountering all these many gods, is to my mind that they don't necessarily match up, Irish literature gives us tales of Irish mythology, as does Welsh through the Mabigonen, and perhaps the Gallic Celtic tradition is different again, we have gods with different names, often masquerading under the Roman gods. Yet what we see in England, is Roman depiction of the gods, the odd stray Celtic name may still be found but the archaeological evidence for native shrines is so thin on the ground in this part of the West country as to be non-existent, what we do have in the record seems to be stray finds of the imported gods/beliefs of the foot soldiers that made up the legions.
MacCana goes on to say that the underlying unity of Celtic myth and religion does not exist because it was not written down, thereby of course giving it a fluidity of movement in interpretation. All we have to go by is various roman writings describing the Celts through the lense of a different social and political order. That the romans were impressed by these people is evident in the friezes and statuary that depict Gaulish celts dying naked in battle, trampled underfoot by horses, commiting suicide when the battle was lost - their bravery, courage and belief in an afterlife are captured in stone for posterity.

Again, we find that the early medieval literature that records the mythology tradition of Irelnad and Wales is transmitted through the veil of christianity by scribing monks, which began in in the 7th/8th century, all of which was further copied in the late 11th/12th century in expanded texts. By then writers such as Geoffrey of Monmouth had woven stories and fables from these writings, further influenced by the French storytellers, until everything becomes woven into a magic fairytale of many threads.

Some basic celtic motifs such as the Triads, the importance of three, comes out in the virgin, mother and hag, and we can trace their path through the cucullati the three hooded figures, found in iconagraphy in Britain, especially round the West country, either men or women. Theeir faces and sex are hidden in the folds of their hoods, yet some carry the symbols of fertility, therefore are seen as women.

Sacred landscape; The 'naming of the land', its hills,mountains, rivers, confluences and springs. Its sacred geography worked out in the great cosmography of the spiritual world.The overworld of the sky, the 'middle earth' and the the underworld all fitted into the fabric of place. The gods were ephremal, they could be given names, locations and attributes, they could also be carried from one sanctuary or shrine to the next - nothing is static all is fluid.

When Caesar names the Celtic gods he gives them Roman names, so he says..'of the gods they worship Mercury most of all, he has the greatest number of images'. It is in the imagination of course that these gods exist, whether by a roman foot soldier, celtic warrior or a new pagan of today. Mercury therefore translates into the god Lugus; Irish Lugh; Welsh Lleu, he was the 'inventor of all the arts'. The young god who overcomes the wicked underworld figures, and his feast lughnasadh was celebrated throughout the celtic land. According to MacCana, Mercury in one Irish tale is seen as the king of the otherworld, paired with a woman identified as the sovereignity of Ireland; a pairing similar to the Gaulish Mercury's association with the goddess Rosmerta (or Maia) she is also found at Aqua Sulis. Though this soverign pairing of the land through the goddess with the king seems only to be found in Ireland, the Tara ceremonies testify to this.

Rosmerta, Nantosuelto, Damona, Sirona, and Nemetona on the continent are goddesses paired with male deities, the goddess, as mother a representation of the earth. The Irish goddesses Eriu, Fodla and Banbha are personifications identified with individual provinces, going back to the sacred landscape represented by human identity. Of course the goddess in Irish tradition is also terribly destructive, she teaches the art of war; the terrible trio the 'Morrigans', who are to be found on the battlefields inciting the fighters, working their terrible magic.

MacCana equates the goddess Brigit with Minerva, latinised as Brigantia 'Exalted one'. If this is true what does it make of our Bath goddess Sulis matched with Minerva?


This marvellous Celtic sandstone stature was found recently at Glauberg, Germany just outside a warrior barrow, the two 'earlike' projections on his head are thought to be representations of mistletoe leaves, he is probably one of four statues worshiped at this site.

He was a lucky find when I was reading the excavations of the Roquerpertuse shrine, translated beautifully by Babelfish, a similar but double headed head was found there. Again two warrior statues, and a lintel with four horse heads carved upon it. But of course the crowning glory of the site was the archway with cavities on each side for the display of skulls, presumably their enemies defeated in battle. The two warrior statures here are probably earlier than Glauberg, as they are seated in a cross-legged style, and are dated to 500 bc approximately.

Roquerpertuse has bird significance as well, Miranda Green records a great free standing bird, probably a goose there. Geese are of course fierce creatures when approached and would have been seen as a warlike bird. She also mentions a bird of prey displayed on the shrine holding two skulls.

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