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?
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.
When you consider what Hercules did for Gaul, it’s no wonder that they loved him. He founded the city of Alesia, and introduced the rule of law. “And for the entire period from the days of Heracles this city remained free and was never sacked until our own time…”1 (Diodorus Siculus 4.19.1)
Other myths said that Hercules was the father of Celtos, Galatos and Iberus, the ancestors of the Celts, Galatians and Iberians. This would make him the ancestor of the French, Spanish and Anatolian Celts, who would thus become many-times-grand-children of Jupiter.
To honour their fore-father, they offered statuettes of him at shrines (especially the god Borvo’s), and many Gaulish gods, including Ogmios and Smertrios, were paired with him as part of interpretatio celtica. (MacKillop: 248)
Nemetona, Goddess of the Sacred Grove, had her cult in those dense Germanic forests that the Romans feared so much. Especially after the disaster in 9 CE, when three Roman legions and their auxillaries were ambushed and cut down in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, they preferred open spaces to the forests in which the druids and others worshipped.