The worship thereof is one of the oldest and longest lasting practices we know of, and the most persistent. In fact, forms of it still linger in almost every society. The dead are often treated with a sense of reverence. And many cultures carry on revering folks long after their deaths. Though less can be said with certainty, the Gauls were no exception.
It is known that they had burial mounds, though less often than the Gauls’ own ancestors. Burials did indeed occur, however. Finding these burials is one of the most common ways of finding information about the Gauls, and many other peoples that didn’t leave much documentation of themselves. Ubiquitous for their part of Europe is the cult of the head. It has been confirmed that the Gauls embalmed heads. This is often considered to have been done to their enemies.
However, it’s nearly impossible to prove whether or not that is the case. Jean Louis Brunaux in ‘the Celtic Gauls: Gods, Rites, and Sanctuaries’ (p.88), had this to say:
“Another presumption in favour of ancestor cult comes from an ethnographic parallel very close in both time and space, from the peoples of the Altai in the Scythian sphere as far as Mongolia. Among all these peoples the removal of enemies’ heads was a widespread custom: the account of Diodorus Siculus gives of the Gauls, is related by Herodotus about the Scyths, and by Abul Ghazi about the Tartars and Mongols. Now, all these populations practised the cult of the head of their ancestors alongside it. To preserve these prestigious bones was to appropriate the soul of the one whose power they desired to possess, whether this was a relative or an enemy.”
While the Roman accounts do provide an insight into the cult of the head. It appears — and taking their political biases into account — that they got to about half of the potential truth. So of the poorly attested accounts of Gaulish ancestor cult, we have at least that much. This begs the question to those of us in Bessus Nouiogalation: What do we do with it?
Let’s take this — generally unpalatable to the modern taste and legal system — approach and do something with it. Obviously, it’s not recommended, or legal in most places, to preserve the head of your dearly departed Senatîr, “Pop Pop, Abuelo, etc.” (grandfather). Okay, got it. But we can still make use of the motif. Fortunately, replica resin skulls (ironic as resin was used for embalming the heads at times) are often easily available. So when honouring our ancestors, we can still carry on the Gaulish motif of the head.
Other ways to honour our ancestors would be visiting their graves. Much as folks still do, where they still leave offerings to their ancestors to this day. This is a practice that has survived for thousands of years. On the Aidû “sacred fire, altar” pictures of your dearly departed are another way to do this. And there are many others. Be creative!
Now comes the common question of ancestry and if one’s ancestry “matters” in regard to custom. On this, BNG has two things to say about this:
All who wish are welcome to practice BNG, and/or any Gaulish custom regardless of their ancestry.
Anyone in any Gaulish custom can count the Gauls as among their ancestors as we are inspired by them. Blood or not, doesn’t matter. And historically this is confirmed, as well as morally understood today by all Galatîs.
Another thing to remember about Ancestors is that this includes adopted ancestors. If one is adopted, then the ancestors of those who adopted you are your ancestors as well. As well as those who have gone who had a significant impact on your life in pretty much any way. Anyone, related or not who helped shape you into to the person you are, or family, group you are in, that has passed on can be considered an ancestor.
The last thing, is the ancestor of the Gauls themselves. Different Galatis have different answers to this question. In BNG, it is Ogmios. Based on interpretations not only by Brunaux, but also Ralph Hauseler in this treatise (free PDF from academia.edu if you click there) called ‘From Tomb to Temple: the Role of Hero Cults in Local Religion in Gaul and Britain During the Iron Age and Roman Period’ has this to say about Ogmios:
“Indigenous deities like Ogmios appear to be heroes par excellence, comparable to Herakles whose heroic deeds were already known in pre-Roman Gaul. In this view, it should not surprise us that Parthenios of Nikaia considered Hercules to be the ancestor of all Gauls, and that Ogmios could be seen as the god from whom all life originates.”
So here, Bessus Nouiogalation incorporates both an Gaulish inspired cult of the head, and an ancestor that we and any other Galatis who chooses can share with the ancient Gauls. Burriâ is the word here we give, it means both pride and infatuation. When we look at the Gauls and the modern Galatis customs that develop, it is both pride and love we feel.
In parting, we offer this uediâ, or invocation to the Rogenesiâ “ancestors”:
We/I invoke the Ancestors
Senomaterês ac Senoaterês
Old mothers and old fathers
Rodissatesuîs biuotus nîs ac uilietesuîs nîs
You gave us life and you watch (over) us
Rodîmosnis/Rodîumî adbertâ ac braton tê
(We/I give offering and thanks to you)
Invocations to Ogmios and many other Dêuoi (Gods) can be found here. Ancestors matter because without them, you wouldn’t exist. But remember, your ancestors go back for time immemorial. So, even when one may have issues with some, others are likely still worthy of offering. And failing that, there’s always Ogmios. The mighty hero whose greatest strength is His words, always someone one can turn to.