We’ve all wondered what god Julius Caesar meant when he said that Mercury was the most important of all Gaulish gods. He was right in one sense, and wrong in another – there are many Gaulish Mercuries, and they have many different functions.
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.
Ogmios is a vaguer deity than the Irish god Ogma. Most of what we know about him comes from the Roman writer Lucan, who called him Hercules and described him as a master of persuasion and rhetoric. One inscription seems to record a dedication to him in fulfillment of a vow, and two curse tablets invoke him.
The Irish god Ogma combines aspects of Mercury and Hercules – he is the inventor of the ogham writing system and an orator and poet, but he is also the champion of the deities, their official warrior.
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.
Gaulish Alesia, the home of Ucuetis and Bergusia, was nearly lost to history entirely. After Julius Caesar’s military successes in Gaul, the Celtic tribes formed an alliance to push the Romans back, led by the Arverni chieftain Vercingetorix. At first the Gauls scored several victories against the Romans, but at Alesia the Roman army settled down to a seige which only ended when Vercingetorix surrendered.
After that Alesia became a Roman oppidum, and seems to have prospered, becoming famous for its metalworking. In the 5th century, after the Western Empire collapsed, the Gauls abandoned the town. Alesia’s location became a mystery, solved only in 1838 when an inscription, IN ALISIIA, was uncovered. Napoleon III ordered archaeologists to excavate around Mt. Auxois, confirming that Alise-sur-Reine, near Dijon, was Alesia.
The Irish Badb was one a number of terrifying goddesses of war. She could work battle magic to terrify the enemy, or just kill them with her terrifying shrieks. Badb could be one or many, and sometimes teamed up her sisters the Morrigan and Macha to wreak destruction.
The name badb comes from a Celtic root meaning “fury” or “violence”, from the Celto-Germanic *bodou, battle. The carrion crows that appeared at battlefields led to the other meaning, crow, and the idea of a crow goddess, so that Badb Catha meant “Battle Crow”. (Heijda: 12)
In the Irish myths a mysterious phrase crops up: the gods and the non-gods (or un-gods). We all know what a god is, but what is an non-god?