The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 23

136 In art they are usually represented as three in number, holding fruit, flowers, a cornucopia, or an infant. They were thus goddesses of fertility, and probably derived from a cult of a great Mother-goddess, the Earth personified. She may have survived as a goddess Berecynthia; worshipped at Autun, where her image was borne through the fields to promote fertility, or as the goddesses equated with Demeter and Kore, worshipped by women on an island near Britain.137 Such cults of a Mother-goddess lie behind many religions, but gradually her place was taken by an Earth-god, the Celtic Dispater or Dagda, whose consort the goddess became. She may therefore be the goddess with the cornucopia on monuments of the horned god, or Aeracura, consort of Dispater, or a goddess on a monument at Epinal holding a basket of fruit and a cornucopia, and accompanied by a ram's-headed serpent.138 These symbols show that this goddess was akin to the Matres. But she sometimes preserved her individuality, as in the case of Berecynthia and the Matres, though it is not quite clear why she should have been thus triply multiplied. A similar phenomenon is found in the close connection of Demeter and Persephone, while the Celts regarded three as a sacred number. The primitive division of the year into three seasons—spring, summer, and winter—may have had its effect in triplicating a goddess of fertility with which the course of the seasons was connected.139 In other mythologies groups of three goddesses are found, the {45} Hathors in Egypt, the Moirai, Gorgons, and Graiæ of Greece, the Roman Fates, and the Norse Nornæ, and it is noticeable that the Matres were sometimes equated with the Parcæ and Fates.140

In the Matres, primarily goddesses of fertility and plenty, we have one of the most popular and also primitive aspects of Celtic religion. They originated in an age when women cultivated the ground, and the Earth was a goddess whose cult was performed by priestesses. But in course of time new functions were bestowed on the Matres. Possibly river-goddesses and others are merely mothers whose functions have become specialised. The Matres are found as guardians of individuals, families, houses, of towns, a province, or a whole nation, as their epithets in inscriptions show. The Matres Domesticæ are household goddesses; the Matres Treveræ, or Gallaicæ, or Vediantæ, are the mothers of Trèves, of the Gallaecæ, of the Vediantii; the Matres Nemetiales are guardians of groves. Besides presiding over the fields as Matres Campestræ they brought prosperity to towns and people.141 They guarded women, especially in childbirth, as ex votos prove, and in this aspect they are akin to the Junones worshipped also in Gaul and Britain. The name thus became generic for most goddesses, but all alike were the lineal descendants of the primitive Earth-mother.142

Popular superstition has preserved the memory of these goddesses in the three bonnes dames, dames blanches, and White Women, met by wayfarers in forests, or in the three fairies or wise women of folk-tales, who appear at the birth of {46} children. But sometimes they have become hateful hags. The Matres and other goddesses probably survived in the beneficent fairies of rocks and streams, in the fairy Abonde who brought riches to houses, or Esterelle of Provence who made women fruitful, or Aril who watched over meadows, or in beings like Melusine, Viviane, and others.143 In Gallo-Roman Britain the cult of the Matres is found, but how far it was indigenous there is uncertain. A Welsh name for fairies, Y Mamau, "the Mothers," and the phrase, "the blessing of the Mothers" used of a fairy benediction, may be a reminiscence of such goddesses.144 The presence of similar goddesses in Ireland will be considered later. Images of the Matres bearing a child have sometimes been taken for those of the Virgin, when found accidentally, and as they are of wood blackened with age, they are known as Vierges Noires, and occupy an honoured place in Christian sanctuaries. Many churches of Nôtre Dame have been built on sites where an image of the Virgin is said to have been miraculously found—the image probably being that of a pagan Mother. Similarly, an altar to the Matres at Vaison is now dedicated to the Virgin as the "good Mother."

In inscriptions from Eastern and Cisalpine Gaul, and from the Rhine and Danube region, the Matronæ are mentioned, and this name is probably indicative of goddesses like the Matres. It is akin to that of many rivers, e.g. the Marne or Meyrone, and shows that the Mothers were associated with rivers. The Mother river fertilised a large district, and {47} exhibited the characteristic of the whole group of goddesses.

Akin also to the Matres are the Suleviæ, guardian goddesses called Matres in a few inscriptions; the Comedovæ, whose name perhaps denotes guardianship or power; the Dominæ, who watched over the home, perhaps the Dames of mediæval folk-lore; and the Virgines, perhaps an appellative of the Matres, and significant when we find that virgin priestesses existed in Gaul and Ireland. The Proxumæ were worshipped in Southern Gaul, and the Quadriviæ, goddesses of cross-roads, at Cherbourg.149

Some Roman gods are found on inscriptions without being equated with native deities. They may have been accepted by the Gauls as new gods, or they had perhaps completely ousted similar native gods. Others, not mentioned by Cæsar, are equated with native deities, Juno with Clivana, Saturn with Arvalus, and to a native Vulcan the Celts vowed spoils of war. Again, many native gods are not equated with Roman deities on inscriptions. Apart from the divinities of Pyrenæan inscriptions, who may not be Celtic, the names of over 400 native deities, whether equated with Roman gods or not, are known. Some of these names are mere epithets, and most of the gods are of a local character, known here by one name, there by another. Only in a very few cases can it be asserted that a god was worshipped over the whole Celtic area by one name, though some gods in Gaul, Britain, and Ireland with different names have certainly similar functions.151

The pantheon of the continental Celts was a varied one. Traces of the primitive agricultural rites, and of the priority of goddesses to gods, are found, and the vaguer aspects of {48} primitive nature worship are seen behind the cult of divinities of sky, sun, thunder, forests, rivers, or in deities of animal origin. We come next to evidence of a higher stage, in divinities of culture, healing, the chase, war, and the underworld. We see divinities of Celtic groups—gods of individuals, the family, the tribe. Sometimes war-gods assumed great prominence, in time of war, or among the aristocracy, but with the development of commerce, gods associated with trade and the arts of peace came to the front.152 At the same time the popular cults of agricultural districts must have remained as of old. With the adoption of Roman civilisation, enlightened Celts separated themselves from the lower aspects of their religion, but this would have occurred with growing civilisation had no Roman ever entered Gaul. In rural districts the more savage aspects of the cult would still have remained, but that these were entirely due to an aboriginal population is erroneous. The Celts must have brought such cults with them or adopted cults similar to their own wherever they came. The persistence of these cults is seen in the fact that though Christianity modified them, it could not root them out, and in out-of-the-way corners, survivals of the old ritual may still be found, for everywhere the old religion of the soil dies hard.

Footnote 53:(return)

Cæsar, de Bell. Gall. vi. 17, 18.

Footnote 54:(return)

Bloch (Lavisse), Hist, de France, i. 2, 419; Reinaoh, BF 13, 23.

Footnote 55:(return)

Trans. Gaelic Soc. of Inverness, xxvi. p. 411 f.

Footnote 56:(return)

Vallentin, Les Dieux de la cité des Allobroges, 15; Pliny, HN xxxiv. 7.

Footnote 57:(return)

These names are Alaunius, Arcecius, Artaius, Arvernorix, Arvernus, Adsmerius, Canetonensis, Clavariatis, Cissonius, Cimbrianus, Dumiatis, Magniacus, Moecus, Toeirenus, Vassocaletus, Vellaunus, Visuoius, Biausius, Cimiacinus, Naissatis. See Holder, s.v.

Footnote 58:(return)

Rh[^y]s, HL 6.

Footnote 59:(return)

Hübner, vii. 271; CIL iii. 5773.

Footnote 60:(return)

Lucian, Heracles, 1 f. Some Gaulish coins figure a head to which are bound smaller heads. In one case the cords issue from the mouth (Blanchet, i. 308, 316-317). These may represent Lucian's Ogmíos, but other interpretations have been put upon them. See Robert, RC vii. 388; Jullian, 84.

Footnote 61:(return)

The epithets and names are Anextiomarus, Belenos, Bormo, Borvo, or Bormanus, Cobledulitavus, Cosmis (?), Grannos, Livicus, Maponos, Mogo or Mogounos, Sianus, Toutiorix, Viudonnus, Virotutis. See Holder, s.v.

Footnote 62:(return)

Pommerol, Ball. de Soc. d'ant. de Paris, ii. fasc. 4.

Footnote 63:(return)

See Holder, s.v. Many place-names are derived from Borvo, e.g. Bourbon l'Archambaut, which gave its name to the Bourbon dynasty, thus connected with an old Celtic god.

Footnote 64:(return)

See p. 102, infra.

Footnote 65:(return)

Jul. Cap. Maxim. 22; Herodian, viii. 3; Tert. Apol. xxiv. 70; Auson. Prof. xi. 24.

Footnote 66:(return)

Stokes derives belinuntia from beljo-, a tree or leaf, Irish bile, US 174.

Footnote 67:(return)

Holder, s.v.; Stokes, US 197; Rh[^y]s, HL 23; see p. 180, infra.

Footnote 68:(return)

Diod. Sic. ii. 47.

Footnote 69:(return)

Apoll. Rhod. iv. 609.

Footnote 70:(return)

Albiorix, Alator, Arixo, Beladonnis, Barrex, Belatucadros, Bolvinnus, Braciaca, Britovis, Buxenus, Cabetius, Camulus, Cariocecius, Caturix, Cemenelus, Cicollius, Carrus, Cocosus, Cociduis, Condatis, Cnabetius, Corotiacus, Dinomogetimarus, Divanno, Dunatis, Glarinus, Halamardus, Harmogius, Ieusdriuus, Lacavus, Latabius, Leucetius, Leucimalacus, Lenus, Mullo, Medocius, Mogetius, Nabelcus, Neton, Ocelos, Ollondios, Rudianus, Rigisamus, Randosatis, Riga, Segomo, Sinatis, Smertatius, Toutates, Tritullus, Vesucius, Vincius, Vitucadros, Vorocius. See Holder, s.v.

Footnote 71:(return)

D'Arbois, ii. 215; Rh[^y]s, HL 37.

Footnote 72:(return)

So Rh[^y]s, HL 42.

Footnote 73:(return)

Hübner, 61.

Footnote 74:(return)

Holder, s.v.; Lucan, i. 444 f. The opinions of writers who take this view are collected by Reinach, RC xviii. 137.

Footnote 75:(return)

Holder, s.v. The Gaulish name Camulogenus, "born of Cumel," represents the same idea as in Fionn's surname, MacCumall.

Footnote 76:(return)

Athen. iv. 36; Dioscorides, ii. 110; Joyce, SH ii. 116, 120; IT i. 437, 697.

Footnote 77:(return)

Pliny, HN xviii. 7.

Footnote 78:(return)

Gaidoz, Le Dieu Gaulois de Soleil; Reinach, CS 98, BF 35; Blanchet, i. 27.

Footnote 79:(return)

Lucan, Phar. i. 444. Another form, Tanaros, may be simply the German Donar.

Footnote 80:(return)

Loth, i. 270.

Footnote 81:(return)

Gaidoz, RC vi. 457; Reinach, OS 65, 138; Blanchet, i. 160. The hammer is also associated with another Celtic Dispater, equated with Sylvanus, who was certainly not a thunder-god.

Footnote 82:(return)

Reinach, BF 137 f.; Courcelle-Seneuil, 115 f.

Footnote 83:(return)

Barthelemy, RC i. l f.

Footnote 84:(return)

See Flouest, Rev. Arch. v. 17.

Footnote 85:(return)

Reinach, RC xvii. 45.

Footnote 86:(return)

D'Arbois, ii. 126. He explains Nantosvelta as meaning "She who is brilliant in war." The goddess, however, has none of the attributes of a war-goddess. M. D'Arbois also saw in a bas-relief of the hammer-god, a female figure, and a child, the Gaulish equivalents of Balor, Ethne, and Lug (RC xv. 236). M. Reinach regards Sucellos, Nantosvelta, and a bird which is figured with them, as the same trio, because pseudo-Plutarch (de Fluv. vi. 4) says that lougos means "crow" in Celtic. This is more than doubtful. In any case Ethne has no warlike traits in Irish story, and as Lug and Balor were deadly enemies, it remains to be explained why they appear tranquilly side by side. See RC xxvi. 129. Perhaps Nantosvelta, like other Celtic goddesses, was a river nymph. Nanto Gaulish is "valley," and nant in old Breton is "gorge" or "brook." Her name might mean "shining river." See Stokes, US 193, 324.

Footnote 87:(return)

RC xviii. 254. Cernunnos may be the Juppiter Cernenos of an inscription from Pesth, Holder, s.v.

Footnote 88:(return)

Reinach, BF 186, fig. 177.

Footnote 89:(return)

Rev. Arch. xix. 322, pl. 9.

Footnote 90:(return)

Bertrand, Rev. Arch. xv. 339, xvi. pl. 12.

Footnote 91:(return)

Ibid. xv. pl. 9, 10.

Footnote 92:(return)

Ibid. xvi. 9.

Footnote 93:(return)

Ibid. pl. 12 bis.

Footnote 94:(return)

Bertrand, Rev. Arch. xvi. 8.

Footnote 95:(return)

Ibid. xvi. 10 f.

Footnote 96:(return)

Ibid. xv., xvi.; Reinach, BF 17, 191.

Footnote 97:(return)

Bull. Epig. i. 116; Strabo, iv. 3; Diod. Sic. v. 28.

Footnote 98:(return)

Diod. Sic. v. 30; Reinach, BF 193.

Footnote 99:(return)

See p. 212, infra.

Footnote 100:(return)

See p. 166, infra.

Footnote 101:(return)

See, e.g., Mowat, Bull. Epig. i. 29; de Witte, Rev. Arch. ii. 387, xvi. 7; Bertrand, ibid. xvi. 3.

Footnote 102:(return)

See pp. 102, 242, infra; Joyce, SH ii. 554; Curtin, 182; RC xxii. 123, xxiv. 18.

Footnote 103:(return)

Dom Martin, ii. 185; Reinach, BF 192, 199.

Footnote 104:(return)

See, however, p. 136, infra; and for another interpretation of this god as equivalent of the Irish Lug slaying Balor, see D'Arbois, ii. 287.

Footnote 105:(return)

See p. 229, infra.

Footnote 106:(return)

Reinach, BF 162, 184; Mowat, Bull. Epig. i. 62, Rev. Epig. 1887, 319, 1891, 84.

Footnote 107:(return)

Reinach, BF 141, 153, 175, 176, 181; see p. 218, infra. Flouest, Rev. Arch. 1885, i. 21, thinks that the identification was with an earlier chthonian Silvanus. Cf. Jullian, 17, note 3, who observes that the Gallo-Roman assimilations were made "sur le doinaine archaisant des faits populaires et rustiques de l'Italie." For the inscriptions, see Holder, s.v.

Footnote 108:(return)

Stokes, US 302; MacBain, 274; RC xxvi. 282.

Footnote 109:(return)

Gaidoz, Rev. Arch. ii. 1898; Mowat, Bull. Epig. i. 119; Courcelle-Seneuil, 80 f.; Pauly-Wissowa, Real. Lex. i. 667; Daremberg-Saglio, Dict. ii., s.v. "Dispater."

Footnote 110:(return)

Lucan, i. 444; RC xviii. 254, 258.

Footnote 111:(return)

See p. 127, infra.

Footnote 112:(return)

For a supposed connection between this bas-relief and the myth of Geryon, see Reinach, BF 120; RC xviii. 258 f.

Footnote 113:(return)

Coins of the Ancient Britons, 386; Holder, i. 1475, 1478.

Footnote 114:(return)

For these theories see Dom Martin, ii. 2; Bertrand, 335 f.

Footnote 115:(return)

Cf. Reinach, RC xviii. 149.

Footnote 116:(return)

Orelli, 2107, 2072; Monnier, 532; Tacitus, xxi. 38.

Footnote 117:(return)

Holder, i. 824; Reinach, Rev. Arch. xx. 262; D'Arbois,