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.
Sucellos was a god of Eastern Gaul and the Rhineland. Images of him from the Roman period show a mature man dressed in a tunic, with a pot (olla) in one hand and a large hammer in the other. He sometimes has a barrel at his feet, and occasionally a dog accompanies him. The goddess Nantosuelta occasionally appears beside him. His name means “The Good Striker”.
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.
These three gods have a lot in common: they’re all brawny types whose worshippers were mainly working people, farmers, labourers, miners and even slaves. But what intrigued me about them was that their followers all wore their symbol – the hammer or club each god wielded.
These goddesses are easier to read, because they appear under their own names, while Diana may or may not be hiding a native goddess. (The god Silvanus presents the same problem.) Ironically, the only real evidence we have for Diana being assimilated into a native cult is from the continent, in the form of Diana Mattiaca and Abnoba.
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.)
Nantosuelta was a Gaulish goddess, although traces of her worship have turned up in Germany, Luxembourg and Britain. She can be identified by the little house that she often carries, which looks like a birdhouse on the end of a long pole.
No other deity carries it, so we always know it’s her when we see it. No one really knows what it is supposed to represent – perhaps she was a goddess of home and hearth?