Sunday, May 4, 2008

Shrines, rivers and gods continued..

Exploring the celtic world of gods is like chasing ghosts, their existence is only recorded by icongraphy at a somewhat later stage. Trying to find the gods of the shrines round my particular part of the West country is almost impossible. Yet if we take a theme, whether sun,moon, or animal, they will appear. So for a moment let us chase the dog motif, and how animals are seen as sacred. Cows, bulls, boars, birds and horses all figure strongly in the artwork of the Celts; these creatures have attributes and roles in the sacred world of nature, they can represent death, fertility, rebirth or war.
Nehalennia The first goddess and dog is a continental one, she seems to have protected travellers who crossed the North sea, and her shrine (now under water) was to be found at Zeeland (Holland,) linking the river Rhine to Britain. Over 121 altars were found with depictions of her, the dog that sits at her feet is large and is seen as a benevolent creature guarding his mistress. The dog in celtic mythology has two functions, and can often be found at healing shrines, dog saliva is seen as antiseptic and the licking that dogs do would probably been seen as healing. The dog also represents death, he can lead you or at least your spirit to the underworld, this of course in celtic mythology is'nt a final end, but a new beginning in a world filled with all the pleasures of life. The dog can also be sacrificed, as seen at Caerwent where several dog skulls have been found in the wells there. At the Lydney temple, high above the Severn, a temple somewhat similar to Nehalennia's temple, in that it is dedicated to mythological sea creatures the god Noden was worshipped and offerings of little bronze figurines of dogs were found.
The Pagan Hill temple overlooking Chew Valley, though a slightly later roman temple had parts of a dog stature, he is a somewhat homely creature, a slightly plump mongrel shorthaired and sitting down, his head is missing. Now whether he was part of a larger stature perhaps of the resident god is not known. Apollo is often seen as accompanied by a dog, and at the Apollo Nettleton Shrub temple, there is Cunomaglos (the Hound Lord), so this pairing of gods and dogs is seen as perfectly natural. Of course the roman goddess Diana with a faithful hound sitting at her feet can also be found at Nettleton Shrub, and also at Aqua Sulis, the craftmanship in these two statues reflecting a high standard of workmanship.
Again what we find is that the Roman influence and its gods dominate the Celtic pantheon, but that the indigenous god of 'place' is recognised. There is, for want of a better word, a metamorphise of beliefs at these Roman temple sites, translated into the celtic mythology, the cult of water shrines and its healing process is blended with the wider cosmology of the natural world, in which the animals also take their part......

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Caesar's word on the Druids?
"are anxious to have it believed that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another

Chedworth notes;

"Buried pagan altar, whether used in reconstruction or discarded, recalls the fact that there was a moment when christianity of water tanks took place at Chedworth. One of the fragments of a stone well head inscribed with christian monogram was found, embodied in the lowest of the stone steps leading into the baths of the west wing.
This, uderlined by two other monograms on the same series of dressed stones, indicate that christianity had reached the villa before the final phase of construction, if not earlier."
Taken from Richmond -Trans. Bristol & Glos. Arch.Soc. Vol 78 1959

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