There are two known gods of smithing in Gaul: Gobannos and Ucuetis. Now, it’s very possible that the two are the same god with different epithets… Gobannos literally means “smith” (though it can be derived further into other proto-Celtic roots), and Ucuetis may mean “great breath”—a reference to bellows—and was worshiped by the smiths of Alesia. Gobannos is also known as Cobannos, of the rich Cobannos Hoard now displayed at the Getty Villa in California, thanks to the rule where C and G became at one time interchangeable in Gaulish. Now please stay with me as I propose a third potential god of smithing: Sucellos. This is not a theory that I’ve seen widely upheld, but I think it likely for reasons put forth below.
Sucellos was a god of Eastern Gaul and the Rhineland. Images of him from the Roman period show a mature man dressed in a tunic, with a pot (olla) in one hand and a large hammer in the other. He sometimes has a barrel at his feet, and occasionally a dog accompanies him. The goddess Nantosuelta occasionally appears beside him. His name means “The Good Striker”.
Celebrity feuds are the meat and drink of modern gossip columns. But what do you do when it’s two gods duking it out? The Greeks had plenty of god feuds, as you might expect, including Poseidon vs. Zeus, and Hera vs. Hercules. And the Norse had a god feud of their own, involving their two most important gods: Odin and Thor.
We’re always taught that Odin was head of the Norse gods, and father of most of them. But when the Christians in Scandinavia began to press the pagans to give up their religion, the sign of resistance was Thor’s hammer, not Odin’s spear or valknut.
This may come as a surprise to us, who mostly think of Thor as big and strong and a bit dim, out of his depth when it comes to anything more complicated than smashing giants. But Thor was a very popular deity in the Viking Age, as place-names and personal names show, perhaps because of his closeness to the humans he defended.
These three gods have a lot in common: they’re all brawny types whose worshippers were mainly working people, farmers, labourers, miners and even slaves. But what intrigued me about them was that their followers all wore their symbol – the hammer or club each god wielded.