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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 81

Treasures were flung into a sacred lake near Toulouse to cause a pestilence to cease. Caepion, who afterwards fished up this treasure, fell soon after in battle—a punishment for cupidity, and aurum Tolosanum now became an expression for goods dishonestly acquired. A yearly festival, lasting three days, took place at Lake Gévaudan. Garments, food, and wax were thrown into the waters, and animals were sacrificed. On the fourth day, it is said, there never failed to spring up a tempest of rain, thunder, and lightning—a strange reward for this worship of the lake.600 S. Columba routed the spirits of a Scottish fountain which was worshipped as a god, and {182} the well now became sacred, perhaps to the saint himself, who washed in it and blessed it so that it cured diseases.601

On inscriptions a river name is prefixed by some divine epithet—dea, augusta, and the worshipper records his gratitude for benefits received from the divinity or the river itself. Bormanus, Bormo or Borvo, Danuvius (the Danube), and Luxovius are found on inscriptions as names of river or fountain gods, but goddesses are more numerous—Acionna, Aventia, Bormana, Brixia, Carpundia, Clutoida, Divona, Sirona, Ura—well-nymphs; and Icauna (the Yonne), Matrona, and Sequana (the Seine)—river-goddesses. No inscription to the goddess of a lake has yet been found. Some personal names like Dubrogenos (son of the Dubron), Enigenus (son of the Aenus), and the belief of Virdumarus that one of his ancestors was the Rhine, point to the idea that river-divinities might have amours with mortals and beget progeny called by their names. In Ireland, Conchobar was so named from the river whence his mother Nessa drew water, perhaps because he was a child of the river-god.604

The name of the water-divinity was sometimes given to the place of his or her cult, or to the towns which sprang up on the banks of rivers—the divinity thus becoming a tutelary god. Many towns (e.g. Divonne or Dyonne, etc.) have names derived from a common Celtic river name Deuona, "divine." This name in various forms is found all over the Celtic area, and there is little doubt that the Celts, in their onward progress, named river after river by the name of the same {183} divinity, believing that each new river was a part of his or her kingdom. The name was probably first an appellative, then a personal name, the divine river becoming a divinity. Deus Nemausus occurs on votive tablets at Nimes, the name Nemausus being that of the clear and abundant spring there whence flowed the river of the same name. A similar name occurs in other regions—Nemesa, a tributary of the Moselle; Nemh, the source of the Tara and the former name of the Blackwater; and Nimis, a Spanish river mentioned by Appian. Another group includes the Matrona (Marne), the Moder, the Madder, the Maronne and Maronna, and others, probably derived from a word signifying "mother." The mother-river was that which watered a whole region, just as in the Hindu sacred books the waters are mothers, sources of fertility. The Celtic mother-rivers were probably goddesses, akin to the Matres, givers of plenty and fertility. In Gaul, Sirona, a river-goddess, is represented like the Matres. She was associated with Grannos, perhaps as his mother, and Professor Rh[^y]s equates the pair with the Welsh Modron and Mabon; Modron is probably connected with Matrona. In any case the Celts regarded rivers as bestowers of life, health, and plenty, and offered them rich gifts and sacrifices.608

Gods like Grannos, Borvo, and others, equated with Apollo, presided over healing springs, and they are usually associated with goddesses, as their husbands or sons. But as the goddesses are more numerous, and as most Celtic river names are feminine, female divinities of rivers and springs doubtless had the earlier and foremost place, especially as {184} their cult was connected with fertility. The gods, fewer in number, were all equated with Apollo, but the goddesses were not merged by the Romans into the personality of one goddess, since they themselves had their groups of river-goddesses, Nymphs and Naiads. Before the Roman conquest the cult of water-divinities, friends of mankind, must have formed a large part of the popular religion of Gaul, and their names may be counted by hundreds. Thermal springs had also their genii, and they were appropriated by the Romans, so that the local gods now shared their healing powers with Apollo, Æsculapius, and the Nymphs. Thus every spring, every woodland brook, every river in glen or valley, the roaring cataract, and the lake were haunted by divine beings, mainly thought of as beautiful females with whom the Matres were undoubtedly associated. There they revealed themselves to their worshippers, and when paganism had passed away, they remained as


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