Thursday, May 8, 2008

Genii Cucullati

Genii cucullati or the three hooded spirits, a tripylch, a threesome, a triadic notion, found mostly here in the West country, and thought to be part of the symbolic imagery of the 'sacred beings' of the Dobunni tribe.
On the continent they occur in the singular form, and are often found depicted with another god. They are very ambigious, mostly thought to be male, but some seem to be female, they carry occasionally what looks like eggs, a fertility sign.
A cucullati is a hood fastened to a cloak, this is what makes them so mysterious, they have been named in the epigraphy in Carintha (Austria) as Genio cullato 'to the hooded genius'.
Their centre seems to lie round Cirencester, where several representations have been found, but also at Lower Slaughter, Glos, where two more representations were found in the excavated debris of wells there. Here in one depiction the cucullati are seen with a worshipper, whereas in the other example they are featured with the symbols of a rosette and two ravens. Here at Lower Slaughter the wells may be seen as a curative water shrine. Two depictions have been found at Bath, one with the gods Mercury and Rosmerta. Here the two gods are pictured but underneath the feet of Mercury are the three little figures, and it can seen that the gods are dominating the three lower beings; a dog accompanies the other god. Also at Bathampton a schematized plaque with three similar figures were also found, perhaps the nearest thing to what we might call 'celtic''.
In an illiterate society the use of carvings and statues were there to tell stories, through the use of symbolic imagery, one stone representation, - much like the later christian paintings of the medieval period, - would carry in its imagery a whole host of meaning. In the Iron age, overlaid as it was by the Roman influence, the stories are sometimes difficult to read, the Celtic gods have metamorphised into their roman equivalents, the myths often having a parallel meaning. For instance, the Roman three fates, and three dogs (Cerebus) could get woven into a purely Celtic story, but the symbolism could often be the same.
The dog for instance is often depicted as a benevolent creature sitting by the side of the god/goddess, but the dog also represented death, his 'kindly' presence would lead you to the spirit world, another role of course of the dog is in his healing ability, so the presence of dogs at healing water shrines would be common.
Another image to be found in the pantheon of gods is the 'mother', the female representation could be found sitting or standing, often holding a cornucopia, sometimes sitting with a baby or dog on her lap. Again round the Dobunnic area, she is often a part of a triad of mothers, sometimes representing the three ages, but as often as not they are all of the same age.
So these three hooded spirits are part of the storytelling myth of the gods, their role we can only guess at, but intriguingly they are very much part of the homespun rituals of this area.
And here we have clue to the role of the gods around this time, it is almost as if they are 'household' gods, they must bring to the household, to the people of the tribe, good things, they must heal, provide good crops be beneficial in their gifts. This is not our christian god, demanding our obedience to the 'one and only', who threatened with damnation and hell, no these gods had a somewhat kinder face. They could be artisan gods, such as Sucellus with his hammer, gift bearers bringing the fruits of the wine harvest to the table.
Miranda Green says that when we look at these three cloaked figures, that the pilgrims of the time would have also worn the same garments, and that this 'homely' aspect of wearing cloaks had to do with the rustic nature of the communities.

ref; Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. - Miranda Green. Link to three cucullati schematized figures 'walking'

Mercury and Rosmerta with cucullati
As mentioned earlier in this plaque the gods, one of which is Rosmerta, a Celtic god, dominate the three figures, perhaps they are seen as pilgrims, their lowly status is emphasised by being under the foot of the god. The photo on top of this blog shows the simple plaque that was found at Bathampton, and in many ways it can be compared to the schematized plaque 'walking' cucullati at Cirencester, as seen in the link. One other point about the Bathampton plaque, it is seen as representative of the cucullati, but there seems to be no hood, the three have their hands crossed at the breast, perhaps they are meant to represent mother gods........
Note; Ann Ross in Pagan Celtic Britain gives a fuller explanation of the Lower Slaughter wells, when the wells were excavated 8 romano-British altars were found. One of the reliefs seem to show a male divine warrior standing besides the three hooded deities, here they have been allied with war, and not with fertility and healing. The warrior though not armed wears the short kilted skirt associated with such warrior figures, and above the figures two ravens and a rosette - ravens are associated with war in Celtic mythology. The second relief shows the hooded ones alone and Ross goes on to say that because of the close association of the two reliefs, healing must be the linking motif here.

1 comment:

  1. I had an extremely vivid nightmare about one of these in beastly form. I researched them and found that they are mostly fertility Gods in England/Ireland, but in Austrian culture, they often represent death and fear. My dream had three symbols of death in it: melting snow, the creature, which told me something important that i could not remember when i awoke, and a dog. I was wondering if you knew anything about the Austrian Genii Cuculatti and their animal forms. The most I could gather is that they are a cross between a bear and a wolverine, but they look like a wolf. They are either black or grey. They are extremely fast, do not leave tracks, and talk in growls. from a book I got the following description: A cross of a wolverine and a bear, looking like a wolf, but more bear than wolf and more wolverine than bear. This perfectly described the creature in my dream, as it was there on second, then gone the next. It spoke to me in growls and even though it looked nothing like a wolverine, my first thought was "wolverine". If you have any information on their other cultures/forms i would love to hear about it. thanks!