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THE HUMANISED GODS OF CELTIC RELIGION

One of the most striking facts connected with the Celtic religion is the large number of names of deities which it includes.  These names are known to us almost entirely from inscriptions, for the most part votive tablets, in acknowledgment of some benefit, usually that of health, conferred by the god on man.  In Britain these votive tablets are chiefly found in the neighbourhood of the Roman walls and camps, but we cannot be always certain that the deities mentioned are indigenous.  In Gaul, however, we are on surer ground in associating certain deities with certain districts, inasmuch as the evidence of place-names is often a guide.  These inscriptions are very unevenly distributed over Gaulish territory, the Western and the North-Western districts being very sparsely represented.

In the present brief sketch it is impossible to enter into a full discussion of the relations of the names found on inscriptions to particular localities, and the light thus thrown on Celtic religion; but it may be here stated that investigation tends to confirm the local character of most of the deities which the inscriptions name.  Out of these deities, some, it is true, in the process of evolution, gained a wider field of worshippers, while others, like Lugus, may even have been at one time more widely worshipped than they came to be in later times.  Occasionally a name like Lugus (Irish Lug), Segomo (Irish, in the genitive, Segamonas), Camŭlos, whence Camulodūnum (Colchester), Belĕnos (Welsh Belyn), Mapŏnos (Welsh Mabon), Litavis (Welsh Llydaw), by its existence in Britain as well as in Gaul, suggests that it was either one of the ancient deities of the Aryan Celts, or one whose worship came to extend over a larger area than its fellows.  Apart from a few exceptional considerations of this kind, however, the local character of the deities is most marked.

A very considerable number are the deities of springs and rivers.  In Noricum, for example, we have Adsallūta, a goddess associated with Savus (the river Save).  In Britain ‘the goddess’ Dēva (the Dee), and Belisăma (either the Ribble or the Mersey), a name meaning ‘the most warlike goddess,’ are of this type.  We have again Axŏna the goddess of the river Aisne, Sequăna, the goddess of the Seine, Ritŏna of the river Rieu, numerous nymphs and many other deities of fountains. 
Doubtless many other names of local deities are of this kind.  Aerial phenomena appear to have left very few clear traces on the names of Celtic deities.  Vintios, a god identified with Mars, was probably a god of the wind, Taranǔcus, a god of thunder, Leucetios, a god of lightning, Sulis (of Bath) a sun-goddess, but beyond these there are few, if any, reflections of the phenomena of the heavens.  Of the gods named on inscriptions nearly all are identified with Mercury, Mars, or Apollo.  The gods who came to be regarded as culture-deities appear from their names to be of various origins: some are humanised totems, others are in origin deities of vegetation or local natural phenomena.  As already indicated, it is clear that the growth of commercial and civilised life in certain districts had brought into prominence deities identified with Mercury and Minerva as the patrons of civilisation.  Military men, especially in Britain, appear to have favoured deities like Belātucadros (the brilliant in war), identified with Mars.

About fourteen inscriptions mentioning him have been found in the North of England and the South of Scotland.  The goddess Brigantia (the patron-deity of the Brigantes), too, is mentioned on four inscriptions: Cocidius, identified with Mars, is mentioned on thirteen: while another popular god appears to have been Silvanus.  Among the most noticeable names of the Celtic gods identified with Mercury are Adsmerius or Atesmerius, Dumiatis (the god of the Puy de Dôme), Iovantucarus (the lover of youth), Teutates (the god of the people), Caletos (the hard), and Moccus (the boar).  Several deities are identified with Mars, and of these some of the most noticeable names are Albiorix (world-king), Caturix (battle-king), Dunatis (the god of the fort), Belatucadrus (the brilliant in war), Leucetius (the god of lightning), Mullo (the mule), Ollovidius (the all-knowing) Vintius (the wind-god), and Vitucadrus (the brilliant in energy). 
The large number of names identified with Mars reflects the prominent place at one time given to war in the ideas that affected the growth of the religion of the Celtic tribes.  Of the gods identified with Hercules, the most interesting name is Ogmios (the god of the furrow) given by Lucian, but not found on any inscription.  The following gods too, among others, are identified with Jupiter: Arămo , Ambisagrus (the persistent), Bussumārus (the large-lipped), Taranucus (the thunderer), Uxellĭmus (the highest).  It would seem from this that in historic times at any rate Jupiter did not play a large part in Celtic religious ideas.

There remains another striking feature of Celtic religion which has not yet been mentioned, namely the identification of several deities with Apollo.  These deities are essentially the presiding deities of certain healing-springs and health-resorts, and the growth of their worship into popularity is a further striking index to the development of religion side by side with certain aspects of civilisation.  One of the names of a Celtic Apollo is Borvo (whence Bourbon), the deity of certain hot springs. 
This name is Indo-European, and was given to the local fountain-god by the Celtic-speaking invaders of Gaul: it simply means ‘the Boiler.’  Other forms of the name are also found, as Bormo and Bormānus.  At Aquæ Granni (Aix-la-Chapelle) and elsewhere the name identified with Apollo is Grannos.  We find also Mogons, and Mogounus, the patron deity of Moguntiacum (Mainz), and, once or twice, Mapŏnos (the great youth).  The essential feature of the Apollo worship was its association in Gallo-Roman civilisation with the idea of healing, an idea which, through the revival of the worship of Æsculapius, affected religious views very strongly in other quarters of the empire.  It was in this conception of the gods as the guides of civilisation and the restorers of health, that Celtic religion, in some districts at any rate, shows itself emerging into a measure of light after a long and toilsome progress from the darkness of prehistoric ideas.  What Cæsar says of the practice of the Gauls of beginning the year with the night rather than with the day, and their ancient belief that they were sprung from Dis, the god of the lower world, is thus typified in their religious history.

In dealing with the deities of the Celtic world we must not, however, forget the goddesses, though their history presents several problems of great difficulty.  Of these goddesses some are known to us by groups—Proximæ (the kinswomen), Dervonnæ (the oak-spirits), Niskai (the water-sprites), Mairæ, Matronæ, Matres or Matræ (the mothers), Quadriviæ (the goddesses of cross roads).  The Matres, Matræ, and Matronæ are often qualified by some local name.  Deities of this type appear to have been popular in Britain, in the neighbourhood of Cologne and in Provence.  In some cases it is uncertain whether some of these grouped goddesses are Celtic or Teutonic.  It is an interesting parallel to the existence of these grouped goddesses, when we find that in some parts of Wales ‘Y Mamau’ (the mothers) is the name for the fairies. 
These grouped goddesses take us back to one of the most interesting stages in the early Celtic religion, when the earth-spirits or the corn-spirits had not yet been completely individualised.  Of the individualised goddesses many are strictly local, being the names of springs or rivers.  Others, again, appear to have emerged into greater individual prominence, and of these we find several associated on inscriptions, sometimes with a god of Celtic name, but sometimes with his Latin counterpart.  It is by no means certain that the names so linked together were thus associated in early times, and the fashion may have been a later one, which, like other fashions, spread after it had once begun. 

The relationship in some cases may have been regarded as that of mother and son, in others that of brother and sister, in others that of husband and wife, the data are not adequate for the final decision of the question.  Of these associated pairs the following may be noted, Mercurius and Rosmerta, Mercurius and Đirona, Grannus (Apollo) and Sirona, Sucellus and Nantosvelta, Borvo and Damŏna, Cicolluis (Mars) and Litavis, Bormanus and Bormana, Savus and Adsalluta, Mars and Nemetŏna.  One of these names, Sirŏna, probably meant the long-lived one, and was applied to the earth-mother.  In Welsh one or two names have survived which, by their structure, appear to have been ancient names of goddesses; these are Rhiannon (Rigantŏnā, the great queen), and Modron (Matrŏna, the great mother).  The other British deities will be more fully treated by another writer in this series in a work on the ancient mythology of the British Isles.  It is enough to say that research tends more and more to confirm the view that the key to the history of the Celtic deities is the realisation of the local character of the vast majority of them.