Sulis is probably one of the more famous Celtic goddesses, even though she only has one cult site, at a thermal spring in south-west England.1 The site, known to the Romans as Aquae Sulis, was not only a spa, but had a temple to Sulis Minerva2, her Romano-Celtic form.
I was originally going to call this piece Poseidon’s Scary Girlfriends, with Demeter the Furious and an unnamed Harpy joining Medusa. But when I began researching Medusa I found so many layers of interpretation that it seemed worth going back to the original sources and seeing what went into the myth.
In fact, it seems like there are almost two different myths, one involving a headless demon that terrified all who saw it, and another about the mortal Medusa, who either was a snaky-headed monster or became one.
Odin and Brigit may not seem like the most similar deities, but they actually do have more in common than you might think. Both are patrons of poets, both give up an eye voluntarily, and both these losses are connected with water.
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.)
Helios, the Greek sun-god, doesn’t get much press. Compared to the oracle-god and plague-sender Apollo, he gets hardly any. I remember once watching Jeopardy with friends and being unable to convince anyone that Helios was the sun-god, not Apollo. (I was a bit disappointed in Alex Trebeck.)
The problem that Helios faces is that he is the sun; his name means “sun” and his role in Greek myth is to rise, shine and set every day. Unlike Apollo, he is too predictable to need buying-off. In the Odyssey, when his cattle are stolen Helios has to convince Zeus to raise a storm to punish the thieves. Apollo would’ve shot ’em full of arrows.