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.
The title of this post might seem a bit catchall, but it was inspired by the goddess Alauna and Boudina, who appear together on a couple of altars in Romanized Germany, while the similarly-named Alounae seem to be mother-goddesses from modern Austria.
As with Dea Vecana and Meduna, another pair of Germanic goddesses, one is warlike, while the other is more peaceful. The name Boudina comes from the Celtic root boudi-, victory, while Alauna means either nourisher or wanderer.
I was seriously tempted to call this piece “Cernunnos: God of Bling”. This may seem a wildly inappropriate way to describe a god revered by neo-Pagans and possibly the divine ancestor of the Gauls, but when so many images of him feature one or more torcs, which are simply enormous gold necklaces, how can you resist?
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.
The Celtic peoples had many gods of war, if the number linked to Mars is anything to go by. They also had a lot of war-goddesses, whom we would expect to be associated with Minerva, Bellona or Victoria.
Surprisingly, goddesses paired with Victoria are pretty rare (I will look at Minerva in another post), although there are a few. There are also some native goddesses named “Victory”, all from modern France.
Mercury, the travelling god, with his hat and staff and cloak, is easily compared to Odin, the god with the wide-brimmed hat, blue cloak, and staff or spear. Both seem to be able to travel through all the worlds, both are connected to the dead, and both are tricky to deal with. Both rely on their cleverness to get them out of sticky situations.
Julius Caesar wrote that the Gauls believed they were descended from Dis Pater. In his writings, he did not give the local names for his deities, substituting ones his readers would recognize. (This was the interpretatio romana, giving foreign deities Roman names and attributes.)