The Roman Empire was never shy about adopting deities from other lands. Isis, Mithra, Cybele all became wildly popular, perhaps because their cults were different from the staid Roman deities. All three of these cults came to Rome, but others had the Romans come to them.
I know I tend to write about goddesses more than gods, but the slightly mysterious god Condatis has a special place in my heart, because I used to live in Durham. He seems to be a local god, with three altars dedicated to him dotted around the county. A further one was recently unearthed in Cramond, Scotland.
The goddess Litavis or Litavi presents us with a dilemma. If we follow the etymology, her name connects to the Hindu earth-goddess Prithivi, and means something like ‘the Vast One, the Broad One’. On the other hand, the Romans may have equated her to Bellona, the fierce companion of Mars.
On the Capitoline hill in Rome three deities had their temple, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. This cult was important enough that every city in Italy and later the Empire had its temple called the Capitola. If you’re thinking that this seems a heavily feminine group of deities to represent the warlike and male-dominated Romans, then you may also wonder how they came to replace the original trio of gods: Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus.
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.
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.
Two weeks ago I wrote about the goddess Eostre, who gave her name to the Easter festival. In Anglo-Saxon times, Eostre’s festival was in April, while March belonged to another goddess, Hretha.
If we know very little about Eostre, we know even less about Hretha. The only source we have for either of them is the Venerable Bede‘s book on the calendar, where he lists the names of the Anglo-Saxon months in England, with brief explanations of each name. I think you’ll agree his descriptions are terse:
Some Norse gods are famous – Odin, Loki and Thor, for example. Others, like Forseti or Magni, are only known to the cognoscenti. Tyr isn’t quite as obscure as those two, but he can’t compete with the big three. It seems strange that a god whose name means “god” should be so little-known. Did he fade away, or is there another explanation?