Historically, Elen of the Hosts was a real woman who lived in the 4th century, but in British legend and Welsh and Celtic mythology, may go back even further. She appears to have been a woman of many roles that have grown and evolved over the centuries to the present day.
The Celtic god Maponos had followers on both sides of the Channel: he was also one of the most commonly invoked gods along Hadrian’s Wall. He was no war-god, however, but a youthful deity, a musician and hunter. In the Roman era he was often called Apollo Maponos, linking him to another god of youth and youths.
The god who is willing to play a high price for justice, for the protection of his tribe, is found in many Indo-European religions. In the Irish pantheon we find Nuadhu, often known as Nuadhu Airgetlam (Silver Hand or Arm)…
The god Toutatis occupies a interesting place in the Gallic pantheon. His name, which means “of the tribe,” could equall well be a title, perhaps hiding another name. Against this, however, we have many artifacts, espeically rings, with his name on them, suggesting it was the commonly-used name for this god.
He is best-known from the Roman writer Lucan, who counts Taranis, Esus and Toutatis as notable for their desire for blood. (And presumably because they were major Gaulish gods.) Although it’s tempting to see them as a Gaulish answer to the Roman Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus, there’s no evidence to back this.
Most of us have heard the romantic story of how a new Celtic goddess, Senuna, was discovered after nearly 2000 years by amateurs with metal detectors. Twenty-six pieces of gold and silver had been deposited in a pool at Ashwell, UK, presumably from a nearby shrine, where they had been been offered to the goddess.
Searching out Minervas always feels like seeing through a scrim; when you look at the Roman goddess, you see her through the Greek and Etruscan influences that went into her making. Looking at the Celtic goddesses who were compared to Minerva, named for her, or depicted in her image, you see through yet another veil, trying to discern the Celtic form under the Roman covering.
Sulis is probably one of the more famous Celtic goddesses, even though she only has one cult site, at a thermal spring in south-west England.1 The site, known to the Romans as Aquae Sulis, was not only a spa, but had a temple to Sulis Minerva2, her Romano-Celtic form.
The Brigantian federation stretched over most of northern England, and their queen, Cartimandua, is one of the few female rulers known to history. But the fame of their goddess, Brigantia, comes from a Roman statue.
I have been following the goddess Brigantia for some time now. I remember in 2009 a new inscription dedicated to Brigantia surfaced. (It had been previously mistranslated, but the new R.I.B. changed that.) It had been read as a dedication to the Terra Batavorum, but now it is read as Tutela Brigantia Augusta (Guardian Brigantia Augusta).
Now, however, we have a new image of the goddess, found in South Shields (near Newcastle). She still has traces of pink paint on her face, and red on her lips. So far all that has been found is her head, which is thought to date back to the second century CE (like the other dateable evidence for her cult).
Head of Brigantia statuette. Photo from the Daily Mail.
Brigantia as guardian is apparent in both image and inscription, as the little head wears the mural crown, which indicated that a goddess was the protector of a city or territory. The famous image of Brigantia from Scotland also has a mural crown worn outside a Minerva-like helmet.
The new image of Brigantia was found at the old Roman fort of Arbeia, not too far from another altar discovered long ago. It will be exciting if they find the rest of the little image of Brigantia, but as this find and the dramatic find of Senua earlier show, the book on Roman Britain is still being written.