It may seem strange that in Roman times the British god Nodens, famous for his healing shrine, was associated with Mars, a god more likely to do damage than to cure it. However, other Celtic “Mars” gods such as Lenus and Ocelus were healers, and not just to soldiers or men, but women and children.
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.
This post exists because of a mistake. When I was researching my post on Sulis, I came across references to a goddess Adsullata, who seemed similar. She was from Central Europe, and I was a bit excited at the thought that maybe Sulis wasn’t alone after all.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Adsullata was Adsalluta. She and her partner, Savus, are unusual in that they are a divine couple who retained their native names, with no Roman overlay. (The Epigraph Databank has eight entries for Adsalluta, seven for Savus, but none for Adsullata.)
In my post on a possible birch goddess, I mentioned Dea Vercana. Since this goddess and her companion, Meduna, are so neglected, it seems mean not to pass on what I’ve learned about her.
Unfortunately, that’s not much. While it seems likely that she had a cult, even if only locally, all we know about her comes from the fountain bowl and altar inscribed with her name. The altar also mentions Meduna, who is as little-known as her companion.
Sometimes studying mythology leads you into areas of human frailty and vulnerability that bring you very close to the past. Any study of healing deities stirs the emotions, partly because we all know the fear that sickness brings, and because so many of the things they suffered from are unknown to us (at least in the prosperous world).*
The many offerings of ex-votos, often body parts, found at healing shrines testify to the various illnesses of ancient times. These were not always rich offerings, either. At the shrine of Apollo Vindonnus archaeologists found many votives carved from oak wood or stone. Many were of body parts, but others were of hands holding offerings. (You wonder if they somehow stood for the offering itself, or promised one in return for a cure.)
Imagine living in a world in which clean drinking water could not be taken for granted. Even now, in many parts of the world, people have to walk miles to get it, and in the Western World we aren’t immune from boil orders and other disruptions.
So it isn’t surprising that many peoples had a deity of fresh, drinkable water. The Romans had the god Fons, among others, from whom we get the word fountain, and the Celts in what is now Bordeaux showed their sense of priorites by worshipping a goddess of clear, drinkable water. Her name was Divona, the Divine One.
Like Belisama, Solimara and Sulis, Sirona’s cult centers on healing water, whether hot springs, baths or wells. Her name, however, means something like “Great Star”, which would make her a star-goddess, rather than a solar one. She is linked to several gods, including the Roman sun-god Apollo, as well as the gods Grannus and Atesmertius.
Bricta is a complex goddess, whose name comes either from the same root as Brigit: “Highest”, or else from a Gaulish word for a spell or curse. Her cult centers on Luxeuil in France, which is rich in thermal and other springs. Several dedications to her, as well as many offerings, were found at the site of the Gallo-Roman thermal baths.
The Celtic goddess Belisama comes from the south of France, where two inscriptions, from different areas, suggest that her cult was fairly widespread. One of them is to the goddess herself, while the other calls her Minerva Belisama. The first is signficant, since it shows that her cult was from pre-Roman times.