What is Gaulish Polytheism?
Gaulish Polytheism is the worship of Gaulish deities within a framework that is either based in Reconstructionist methodology to varying degrees, in some other way inspired by Gaulish culture, or both. Either as it was historically, or its contemporary revival. Thus what separates the Gaulish Polytheist from someone who simply worships a or some Gaulish deities is that historic Gaulish culture, or contemporary Gaulish revival informs their practices.
This of course is a collection of Polytheistic (belief in many distinct deities) traditions. It is also Animistic, meaning everything is believed to have some kind of spirit; people, places, animals, plants, stones, bodies of water, even objects. There are many forms and variations within. Meaning that there is not a singular way to practice. Though there are various traditions, there is no “one way”. Some are more structured than others, but this does not assign greater validity to them.
Some names for Gaulish Polytheism are as follows:
– Senobessus, coined by Segomâros Widugeni. Translated as “Ancient Custom”.
– Galatîbessus, meaning “Galatîs Custom”. Galatîs is the plural of Galatis which means “a Gaul”.
– Gaulish Paganism
Who can practice Gaulish Polytheism?
Gaulish Polytheism is open to anyone who seeks to practice it. If one decides to fit the description above, they are Gaulish Polytheists or can be if they choose to do so. A Gaulish Polytheist is judged by axtâs (deeds, actions).
What are some fundamentals of Gaulish Polytheism?
One of the most important fundamentals that relates to interactions with Dêuoi (Gods and Spirits), or Senoatîs (Ancestors) is the Gifting Circle or Cantos Râti. In popular discourse, the “gifting cycle”. This means giving offerings in ritual to a recipient, that they may also give.
However, this is not merely transactional. This is done in a way that is meant to bring the one who offers and the one who receives closer together.
We see it in our everyday lives as well. Be it in tangible (literal gifts), or intangible (acts), doing these things properly can bring about strong bonds. It must of course be done judiciously, as over-gifting can create an unwanted burden on the recipient. As can gifting less than what one reasonably can, which also can have negative consequences with one party feeling “cheated”. Again, it is not merely transactional, as in our own lives we do not expect a measured return for literally everything we do.
Another major component of Gaulish Polytheism is to live life in accordance with Assus (order, according to ritual, with connotations of sacred or universal law). What this means is to live in a way that is beneficial to the world, our communities, and ourselves.
Certain virtues help us to do this such as:
– Mêdon (honor)
– Raton (generosity, though this also means “grace” amongst many other things)
– Oigetocâriâ (hospitality)
– Uîron (Truth)
– Uariâ (Duty)
– Trougocaradon (compassion, mercy)
There are more. These cover a few important ones. What it does not mean is following along with the “status quo” or being unquestioning. If the “status quo” is oppressive or unjust, it is not in line with Assus. Therefore not in line with order. It is important to mention this as we often see people, and entire systems pervert morals to suit the powerful and not order. There is no order without Uîroioniâ (Justice).
The third would be of course learning of Gaulish history, customs, and culture. With a focus on learning what is right to bring forward and make applicable to our own time, and what is best left in the Iron Age. Through this we can aspire to a vibrant and positive set of customs that are helpful to us in the modern day, as opposed to reactionary or romanticist thinking. As tradition is not unmoving or unchanging. This can be seen in many cultures today that remember their cultural roots while also partaking in contemporary societies.
Some examples are things like revival of material culture, using forms of Gaulish language, and working on newer projects such as myths and constructing practices for different aspects of life.
Who were the Gauls?
The Gauls were a people who are defined as such by both their Gaulish language (in the Celtic family of languages) and material culture. They were bearers of the LaTenê culture of the Iron Age in Western and Central Europe. Never a people with a singular leadership they consisted of dozens of tribes. Though a Gaulish identity had begun to develop, due to a greater connection by trade and infrastructure particularly with the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, they were never fully unified.
Their lands spanned much of Western and Central Europe. From Northeastern Spain to Turkey, and from Southern Britain (though later), down to Northern Italy. Notably what is now France, Southern and Western Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. Independent from around the 5th Century BCE, until their defeat and conquest by the Romans in 52 BCE.
They had vast and various customs with complex practices and many Gods.
They were very skilled in metalworks and crafts. Inventors of chainmail, barrels, and one of the few to use soap which was made from animal fats. They were known for sacking Rome around 390 BCE, which wouldn’t be done by anyone again for around 800 years. Fierce in battle, but also innovative and eager to learn from the world around them, developing philosophy and adapting technology from neighboring peoples.
With varying tribes came varying social structures. Often a king (Rix) was the executive, with a group of elders that advised the king. The Aedui had a Vergobret (“v” as a “w” sound), who was elected and checked by elders. Sacral kingship was on the decline and kings were not able to pass down power in the way Medieval kings were. Kings were chosen based on having a loyal following, and their powers we’re not absolute. Civic affairs could have been cared for by elders.
As to tribes, there was often a larger tribe with “satellite” tribes under their influence and who paid tribute to the larger one. Though (sadly) patriarchal in many ways, women had more rights than their Classical counterparts. The rulers also had to gain favor with the rules, and so had to hold large banquets and feasts to curry favor.
Then there are the Druids, the enigmatic class of people who were experts in religion, philosophy, and sciences. They were exempt from military service and taxation. Often spoken of, but not always accurately. There were also Vates (“v” makes a “w”), who were seers, experts in divination, as well as in sacrifice. Bards were also an integral part of Gaulish society. They told tales, often in song or poems, that were about the Gods and of the people. They were the keepers of mythology and folklore.
Most people, the common folk were farmers (Gauls were mostly agricultural peoples), traders, and crafters. There were also people who knew and did magic. As well as other things like herbalists (they were known for this), and most other trades that one finds in Iron Age societies.
What can you tell me about the Gaulish Gods?
They are, like all other Gods distinct beings. They are not archetypes, different versions of others, or faces of any singular deity. Each deity is distinct. Though They may have some things in common with deities from other cultures, They are not exchangeable, replaceable, or simply functions. Though there are things each are known for, there is infinitely more to Them. Each deity has mysteries. Much as we are not simply our jobs or a few factoids.
There are over 300 deities attested in what was Gaul and Gaulish speaking places. Needless to say, no one literally worships all of them, and many were specifically worshipped by only one Toutâ (nation, people, tribe). Which would be quite an exhaustive list. For the sake of brevity, some of the more widespread deities are listed below with a little about each, though it must be stressed that there are many more deities, and much more to each deity listed:
– Taranis. Associated with thunder (His name means that), lightning, the sky, rain, truth, strength, order, protection, worshipped often by common folk. He is known for wielding a club/thunderbolt, and a wheel which is thought to represent the sky, truth, and cosmic order.
– Eponâ. Associated with horses, the land, sovereignty, fertility, harvests, domesticity, and war (particularly cavalry). As well as travel between realms. She is often depicted with horses, and also a key, and fruits of harvest.
– Brigantiâ. Associated with war, high places, protection, and possibly the strategic aspects of battle. Some also associate Her with hearths due to the linguistic association with Irish Brighid. She is depicted with spears, swords, a gorgon’s head, and the globe of victory.
– Carnonos. Associated with trade, wealth, bidirectionality, liminality, and possibly large rivers. He is depicted antlered, and with a torc, sometimes with animals and a ram horned serpent.
– Nantosueltâ. A Goddess of valleys and domesticity with Underworld associations as She is depicted with a raven. She’s also shown with a house on a pole and a beehive.
– Sucellos. He is known for His large mallet and depicted holding a cup along with it. He is associated with the Underworld, as He is shown with dogs, and also with agriculture. Especially that of growing wine.
– Sironâ. She is shown with a star diadem, snakes and eggs. She is associated with wells and healing. Presumably with the night, dawn, or dusk due to Her name meaning (astral, or divine star).
– Lugus. Associated with commerce, wealth, oaths and warfare. He is also depicted with three faces, which could signify an association with travel. It is also thought that He is a God of skills and trades.
– Rosmertâ. Her name means “Great Provider”, depicted alongside a Gaulish Mercury (Lugus?). She holds a purse and cornucopia. And so She is a Goddess of fertility and wealth.
– Ogmios. He is spoken more of in accounts than inscriptions. One Roman account speaking of Him holding chains on His tongue, soft and golden to the ears of His followers. They go with Him willingly. He is shown with a club, bow, and skins like Hercules. An example of how a God of another people is taken into Gaulish religion and made theirs. Depicted in advanced age and with what the Gauls found to be the greatest strength – eloquence.
– Artiu. In an inscription, Artio but as this is with Latin influence, Artiu would be Her name in Gaulish. She is depicted with bears, and Her name is related to the Gaulish word for them (Artos). As such, She is a Goddess of the seasonal cycles.
– Belenos. A widely worshipped God who is associated with light, healing, and springs. He also governs war, and was said to have defended a city (Aquileia, in Italy) during a seige. He is also associated with horses, and the solar wheel. Not necessarily a Sun God, but a God with a solar connection.
– Cathuboduâ. The “h” is silent in Gaulish, and Her name means “Battle Crow”. This means She is likely a chooser of the slain and She is a Goddess of War. Presumably She also carries the fallen to the next life.
– Aisus. Also known as Esus. He is shown on a relief tending or pruning a tree with either an axe or billhook. Near Tarvos Trigaranos, (the “v” a “w” sound, and the name “Bull with Three Cranes”). Meaning He could be tending a Grove and preparing it for sacrifice. He is also invoked in a spell for removal of a throat sickness. Suggesting a connection with magic.
– Suleuiâ. Her name means “Good Guide”. She is also worshipped in triplicates. Invoked as a guide and guardian of places and people. Including homes and families.
There are many more deities not listed here. This is to give but a taste of the kinds of deities worshipped by the Gauls.
How is ritual done?
Rituals vary greatly, but the basis of a simple ritual follows a formula like this:
– Purification (Glanosagion), cleaning the self before ritual.
– Marking out of sacred space.
– Lighting of candles or a fire.
– An invocation of the recipient.
– An offering to the recipient.
– A closing of the ritual.
– Disposal of offering.
Rituals can be far more complex, involving offering to the fire, to a deity to bear the offering to the recipient, and are often repetitive. Meditations and prayers are other ways to connect with deities and spirits.
What about the Coligny Calendar?
The Coligny Calendar, found in Coligny, Ain, France in 1897, is indeed a great treasure. Much debate is spent on when the calendar starts its months and years. It’s one of the few things we have found that the Gauls left behind. When the months fall is somewhat constant. There are twelve months that appear every year, and out of every five years, the first and third year have a thirteenth, intercalary month.
The normal twelve months are as follows:
(Some start the year at with Samonios in November-December.)
The intercalary months are:
Quimonios (before Samonios in the first year of a five year cycle)
Rantaranos (before Giamonios in the third year of a five year cycle)
The months are divided in halves, the first half is 15 days, the second either 15 or 14. This is because months alternate between 30 and 29 days. The months start in the first quarter moon, centering the full and new moons in each half. (Some say it starts at the new moon.) They years repeat in a cycle every five years. Again, much debate surrounds the calendar, a workable synopsis is all that can reasonably be provided in such an introduction.
What about holidays?
Holidays are very important in looser, variant customs like Gaulish Polytheism. In the sense that they have the potential to bring folks of many disparate customs together. Much as we see in other customs. Though, with many other things in Gaulish Polytheism, there isn’t a universal set of holidays people observe. To cover them all would be exhaustive. Here is a sampling of a full set of holidays that uses the Coligny Calendar to determine the dates. The names of all but one are not named on the calendar.
Holidays are assumed by clusters of days, lasting about a week, and single days. On the calendar, these days are marked with the term “IVOS”, thought to mean “feast, festival”. So, again, names of the holidays are recent as we don’t know what they were originally called. Save for one: Trinoxtion Samoni.
Here’s a list of holidays based on the “IVOS” clusters on the Coligny Calendar. However, one does not need to know the Coligny Calendar to celebrate the holidays. To provide a context so that one will always know when the holidays are, solstices, equinoxes, and lunar phases will be used as references. The holidays are as follows:
Centusaminos (“Start of Summer”). It occurs two first quarter moons before the summer solstice.
Samolitus (“Summer Feast”). The first quarter closest to the summer solstice.
Trinoxtion Samoni (“Three Nights of Summer”). Two nights after the third quarter moon before the summer solstice.
Centumetias (“First Harvest”). This occurs two first quarter moons after the summer solstice.
Catus Alessiâs (“Battle of Alessia”). This is not on the Coligny Calendar, but has been dated to 17 Ogronios. Two nights after the third quarter moon closest to the autumn equinox.
Centugiamos (“Start of Winter”). This happens two first quarter moons before the winter solstice.
Giamolitus (“Winter Feast”). This falls near the full moon closest to the winter solstice.
Biuiacolanos (“Quickening”). This holiday shows up two first quarter moons after the winter solstice.
Uisonnalitus (“Spring Feast”). It happens on the new moon closest to the vernal equinox.
The ways to observe these holidays are many. All but Catus Alessiâs are related to the seasons through the year. Trinoxtion Samoni differs in that it is (possibly) involved in driving away the spirits of winter. All of the rest involve the activities of the natural and human world in relation to the given time of year.
These are the basics of Gaulish Polytheism. There are many diverse customs and traditions within. From this basic foundation, or with alterations, the practice of Gaulish Polytheism is possible and a fulfilling custom can be made.