Rigantona – the Theoretical Goddess

This post is a bit of a swizz – the name Rigantona is actually a hypothesis, a reconstruction by linguists of the origins of the name Rhiannon. There are no images, inscriptions or literary references to Rigantona.

There are, however, a few inscriptions to a goddess Rigana (whose name would be cognate to Latin Regina). Sometimes these goddesses are associated with Juno or Minerva (Jufer & Lughinbuhl: 13), other times they appear on their own.

Apart from Rigana, there are Rigina (Germania Superior), Regiava (Narbonne), Regina (Germania Superior), Camloriga (Belgica). A dedication from Worringen, Germany, says: “In honour of the Divine House and of the goddess Rigani, the inhabitants […]”

Another from Lanchester, in the north-east of England, says: “To the Queen-Goddess, Misio willingly fulfilled his vow”, and another from a few kilometers away, in Lemington, simply says DEA RIIGINA. This last, however, was a relief, with an image included, inside a round-headed panel:

containing a goddess with elaborate halo coiffure and a robe reaching to the knee. In her left hand she holds a pointed staff resting on a stand, in her right hand a short staff resembling a cordoned column. (Anon.: 114)

The inscription is below the panel. Green thinks that the left-handed nature of the image may be significant, given that the Roman legion could not use left-handed fighters. She suggests it was meant as deliberate contravention of romanitas. She also says that the “pointed staff” is a spear, which suggests a more militant form of the goddess. (Green: 104) The “cordoned column” strongly resembles an old-fashioned butter-churn, like Rosmerta‘s. There is a reproduction of the rather crude image here.

Other Queen-Goddesses

Jufer and Lughinbuhl (14) further suggest that the many images of women on thrones, without any maternal imagery, may well be Rigana, and there may be other queen-goddesses in Mogontia (“The Great”, although Olmstead (362) has “The Youthful”.) and Anextlomara (“Great Protector”).

Coin showing Juno Regina, with scepter and patera.

Ross (456) mentions an image of a seated woman who may well be one of these queenly goddesses. It comes from Corbridge, England, which leads her to connect it to Brigantia. It shows two goddesses, one seated and one standing. The seated one holds a scepter, and a round object in her lap. The other holds a rudder and a cornucupia, so she must be Fortuna. This, coupled with the cockerel standing on an altar, leads me to think of Rosmerta. (More on Rosmerta and Rigana below.)

The site Deo Mercurio suggests that Juno Regina, who often appears with the patera and scepter (like Rosmerta), may well have been hiding a local goddess:

…one may wonder whether Juno, to whom the title of Regina ‘queen’ is nearly always accorded, might not perpetuate in a Gallo-Roman context the cult of the Celtic goddess Rigana, who may be attested in a Gaulish-language dedication rigani rosmertiac, ‘to the Queen and to Rosmerta’.

It hard to tell if the many inscriptions and other mentions of Regina are intended for a local deity or Juno, or some combination of the two.

Epona with Two Horses.

Epona with Two Horses.

The reconstructed form Rigantona is another royal name, meaning something like “Great Queen”. This name would be proto-Celtic, back-formed from Rhiannon, the horse-woman in the Mabinogian.

It is signficant that the continental goddess Epona, so often shown on a horse, was also called Rigana. All the inscripitions to Rigana may well be titles in disguise, much as Freyja (“Lady”), and the Celtic name Teutatues, which means something like “God of the Tribe” were.

As well as Rigana, a couple of inscriptions to similarly named male deities such as Mars Rigasmus, “Mars the Most Kingly”, and Rigonemetis, “King of the Sacred Grove” (Green 1995: 142). Another, Mars Rigae, appears in an inscription from Malton, in northern England. (Given the number of native warrior-gods appearing in that area, it seems likely that Rigae was also a local assimilated to Mars. Or, it may indicate Mars’ importance.)

Rhiannon and Sovereignty

Ford (xv) thinks that just as Rhiannon grew out of the earlier *Rigantona, so her antagonist Teyrnon would have come from a form *Tigernonos, the Great King. This would suggest that the horse-goddess had a royal connection, and certainly in Irish lore this is true, with many kings having horsy names, sometimes indicating sexual potency as well.

The Brigantian queen Cartimandua may have well embodied this idea, since her name means “Swift Pony”. Rhiannon seems to occupy a high position in her otherworld, and she marries an earthly king, which has led many to see her as a sovereignty goddess. (Other horse-goddesses with sovereignty aspects include the Irish Macha and Áine.)

Apart from Rhiannon, the Irish goddess Morrígan is often linked to Rigana or Rigantona. There has been controversy over the meaning of her name, which you will commonly see glossed “Great Queen”, but which has also been read as “Queen of Phantoms” (Ross: 313) and “Terrible Queen” (Rankine and D’Este: 33).

There are others, but everyone agrees about the “queen” part, from the Irish rígan, queen. Mór is less certain, but it probably means either great or terrible, although it can also mean sea. (Another Irish goddess, Mór Muman, was the Great Nurturer.) The Morrígan was a terrifying battle goddess, but also a very complex entity.

Interlaced birds.

Interlaced birds.

Rhiannon and the Mórrígan have more in common than you would think. Both can move between the worlds, both are associated with birds (the Mórrígan is linked to carrion birds mainly), and both have a sovereignty aspect.The Mórrígan has much in common with the hags-turned-brides of Irish myth, and see the Táin, where she changes the other way round to entice Cu Cúchulainn.

Since the warrior Macha is one of a trinity with the Mórrígan, there is a horse apect, although a tenous one. Paice MacLeod (378) points out that the Mórrígan is associated with many landscape features, making her a goddess of the land, and her conversation with Cu Cúchulainn shows her as a battle/victory/sovereignty goddess (379).

Epona, too, is sometimes pictured with birds. She was sometimes known as Epona Regina, and also Epona Augusta, since she had been incorporated into the imperial cult. She is also sometimes known as Sancta Regina, Holy Queen, which sounds very Catholic. Epona was sometimes shown carrying a key, which opened the door to the underworld, connecting her to the Mórrígan, with her otherwordly and death aspects.

We seem to have come a long way from a theoretical goddess-name and another that is attested from a handful of inscriptions. If the name itself is a title, then behind the title we have such popular and well-attested goddesses as Epona and Rosmerta, and possibly the Mórrígan and Rhiannon.


References:

Aldhouse-Green, Miranda Jane 2006: Boudica Britannia: Rebel, War-leader and Queen, Pearson Longman.
Anonymous, “Roman Britain in 1948: I. Sites Explored: II. Inscriptions.”, in Journal of Roman Studies, 39: 1 & 2 (1949): 96-115.
Ford, Patrick K. (trans.) 1977: The Mabinogion, Penguin.
Green, Miranda 1995: Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, Thames and Hudson.
Jufer, Nicole and Thierry Lughinbuhl 2001: Les dieux gaulois: répertoire des noms de divinités celtiques connus par l’épigraphie, les textes antiques et la toponymie, Editions Errance, University of Virginia.
Olmstead, Garrett 1994: The gods of the Celts and the Indo-Europeans, (Innsbrucker Beitrage zur Kulturwissenschaft) Verlag des Instituts fur Sprachwissenschaft der Universitat Innsbruck.
Paice MacLeod, Sharon 1998/9: “Mater Deorum Hibernensium: Identity and Cross-Correlation in Early Irish Mythology”, in Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium: 18/19 (1998/1999): 340-384.
Rankine, David and Sorita D’Este 2005: The Guises of the Morrigan: Irish Goddess of Sex and Battle: Her Myths, Powers and Mysteries, Avalonia Press.
Ross, Anne 1992: Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition, Constable and Sons.

If you like the image at the top, click here.

8 thoughts on “Rigantona – the Theoretical Goddess

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