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)
This week’s post could easily have been called “fearsome deities“: Odin, whose name means “fury”, and the Morrigan, who steps out of the fairy realm to stir up war and slaughter. It’s not hard to see what they have in common.
Back in 1977 Patrick Ford published a paper called “Celtic Women: the Opposing Sex”. It could have been tailor-made for the Morrigan, a fearsome goddess who spends most of the Tain trying to destroy the hero Cúchulainn. By contrast, Brigid seems to be the “good girl” of Irish myth.
Horus is one of the oldest Egyptian gods, possibly reaching back to predynastic times. His conflict with Set, the desert-god, was one of the basic myths of Egyptian religion, long before Horus joined to the Isis-Osiris family.
In Irish finn means “fair, bright, white, lustrous, light-hued” (MacKillop: 226), and the Welsh gwyn is similar in meaning, with overtones of sacredness. Similarly, the Gaulish god, Vindonnus, gets his name from a root meaning either “clear light” (Green: 32) or “white, blessed” (Deo Mercurio). Coming at it from another direction, Daithai O hOgain has linked Finn/Vind with the Germanic find and Latin vid, words connected to sight and discovery (208).
From this it has been a short step to assuming a god, *Vindos, lying behind these various figures. However, like the “theoretical goddess” Rigantona, the names is a linguistic construct, and we have no evidence of a cult of Vindos.
The Norse goddess Freyja and the valkyries, choosers of the slain, seem to have a lot in common. Both can take bird-form, are associated with war, magic and death, and take mortal protegés and lovers. Add that to the fact that she and Odin took half of all slain warriors each, and many have concluded that Freyja was the leader of the valkyries, the valkyrie goddess if you will.
Freyja’s home, Folkvangr, is one of the four owned by a goddess. She and Frigg were the preeminent goddesses of the Norse, so it isn’t surprising that each has a home of their own. (Since they share the god Odin as husband/lover, it may be just as well.)
One of the great puzzles of Norse mythology is the problem of Nerthus and Njord. The Germanic goddess Nerthus, whose cult is described by the Roman historian Tacitus, in the first century AD, is not attested in any other source, but her name is linguistically the same as that of the Scandinavian sea-god Njord, who appears in sources roughly 1 000 years later.
Since Snorri tells us in the Ynglinga saga that Njord had a sister who was his wife, the mystery seemed solved: Nerthus was his sister, just as Freyja was Freyr’s.
These Greek, Nordic and Celtic gods may not seem to have much in common at first glance, but they resemble each other in several ways, all of which illuminate aspects of their characters. All three are intellectual, associated with the arts, and have magical or oracular powers in addition to an unforgiving nature.
(Note: this is a slightly rewritten excerpt from my second book Sun, Moon and Stars. I hope that isn’t out of line, but I still like the piece as it is.)
In the same year so bright a light illumined a wide spread of lands in the middle of the night that you would have thought that it was high noon. On a number of occasions fiery globes were also seen traversing the sky at night-time, so that they seemed to light up the whole earth. (The History of the Franks IX.4)
The Northern Lights are a more personal topic than many in this blog. I grew up in Labrador, which is in the sub-Arctic of Canada, and we did get some good displays. (For the best, you go further north, above the tree line.) Apart from the great colour show you can get, the thing I most remember about them is the hush – people would stop and look, and no one made any noise, just watched the pink and green bands undulate across the sky. It wasn’t hard to see why the Innu and Inuit were in awe of them. Continue reading →