This series of articles is adapted from reflexions I have shared on other platforms and collated here together for the first time.
I have long been wanting to write specifically about my faith, while being exceptionally timid at the idea of doing so. More so even than the extent of my magical pacts and other witchcraft compacts, the topic of my religious and devotional life is something I have kept quiet and private. In the spirit of honoring one of my spiritual resolutions for this year, which is to be more open and forward in the world about my religious beliefs, I wish to speak publicly about the gods who made me, and the trajectory that was mine. As my theurgy and practices shaped themselves more consistently over time, so too my beliefs refined, and with them my own piety.
Read A Primer on Gallo-Irish Polytheism – Part I : Coming into relationship
Read A Primer on Gallo-Irish Polytheism – Part II : Inside the Nemeton
Home Cultus : the Snake that coils within, without
“It was in a mist the Tuatha de Danaan […] came through the sea and the high air to Ireland.
It was from the north they came; and in the place they came from they had four cities, where they fought their battle for learning […] And they brought from those four cities their four treasures: a Stone of Virtue from Falias, that was called the Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny; and from Gorias they brought a Sword; and from Finias a Spear of Victory; and from Murias the fourth treasure, the Cauldron that no company ever went away from unsatisfied.
It was Nuada was king of the Tuatha de Danaan at that time, but Manannan, son of Lir, was greater again. And of the others that were chief among them were Ogma, brother to the king, that taught them writing, and Diancecht, that understood healing, and Neit, a god of battle, and Credenus the Craftsman, and Goibniu the Smith. And the greatest among their women were Badb, a battle goddess; and Macha, whose mast-feeding was the heads of men killed in battle; and the Morrigu, the Crow of Battle; and Eire and Podia and Banba, daughters of the Dagda, that all three gave their names to Ireland afterwards; and Eadon, the nurse of poets; and Brigit, that was a woman of poetry, and poets worshipped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith’s work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night. And’ the one side of her face was ugly, but the other side was very comely. And the meaning of her name was Breo-saighit, a fiery arrow. And among the other women there were many shadow-forms and great queens […].
And the three things they put above all others were the plough and the sun and the hazel-tree, so that it was said in the time to come that Ireland was divided between those three, Coil the hazel, and Cecht the plough, and Grian the sun.
And they had a well below the sea where the nine hazels of wisdom were growing; that is, the hazels of inspiration and of the knowledge of poetry. And their leaves and their blossoms would break out in the same hour, and would fall on the well in a shower that raised a purple wave. And then the five salmon that were waiting there would eat the nuts, and their colour would come out in the red spots of their skin, and any person that would eat one of those salmon would know all wisdom and all poetry. And there were seven streams of wisdom that sprang from that well and turned back to it again; and the people of many arts have all drank from that well.
It was on the first day of Beltaine, that is called now May Day, the Tuatha de Danaan came, and it was to the north-west of Connacht they landed. But the Firbolgs, the Men of the Bag, that were in Ireland before them, and that had come from the South, saw nothing but a mist, and it lying on the hills.“
– Lady Gregory, Gods & Fighting Men (1904)
And now we ought to speak of the gods Themselves…
Where is Home ?
I wasn’t born into my faith. I wasn’t born into any particular kind of faith, but was raised in a predominantly Catholic country. I was baptized mainly to soothe my grandmother, as the ceremony itself held no particular importance for my parents. Truthfully, I don’t feel like I discovered anything : my faith and my magic are intertwined in many ways and the more time passes the more irrelevant it becomes to distinguish. I was identified by my Gaelic mentor (who also acts in a priestly capacity) as someone who could learn what she had to teach, and the rest followed organically. It was, at first, very difficult for me to wrap my head around being known by gods I knew nothing about. The Gaulish side of things is new (by my standards) – 2019/2020 at most, though I officially gained my name in 2021 upon completing informal initiation in what was once the sole Gaulish Polytheist tradition there was out there.
I have said that I am drawn to my gods by way of magic, kept close because of love and faith. I have said that I like how present They are, how rich the oral lore surrounding Them, yet how elusive and mysterious They remain. I like how tight and consistent the system behind Pan-Celtic polytheism is, and the folk and ritual magic thereof – for those who know where to look. You could say I am a Gallo-Irish polytheist, if such a thing actually existed (it does not, and is not, a historically attested syncretism).
My practice certainly is a mix of both ritualistic and casual observance. I have a (rather elaborated) devotional routine spread between daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly duties according to the stations of the moon and sun along with other significant astrological, celestial and stellar transits; which I have developed over multiple years and refined as my practices unfold. It may look quite ritualistic from the outside (repeated patterns, festivals, prayers and celebrations building meaning over time) but, in essence, I would say that most of my practice is kept very low-key and casual, obeying the rythms and tides of the land, yes, but more importantly the rythms and tides of my own life. And my life is busy ! So temple work needs to fit around other obligations.
Gaelic polytheism happened naturally. My Irish mentor, who taught me much of my craft by recognizing signs I had been marked by the gods she knew and subsequently initiated me into her particular strand or lineage of Irish fairy-seership as one would do a family member; welcomed me into her faith and belief system, calling me “home”, as she called it – and at the time I felt both immensely grateful for this newly found shelter, my acceptance in her temple and in the Tribe, while being deeply ashamed of my ignorance. These conflicting feelings have not yet passed, though I am not sure they are ever meant to. Even now, after having witnessed what I have, performed what I did, conversed with gods and spirits like I did, and obtained multiple validations, omens, and confirmations both from myself and others, befitting my standards and that of others… I sometimes still struggle with a kind of imposter syndrome when it comes to my faith. My mentor never said “Irishness”, as she dubbed it, was a defining factor to seek entry into authentic Gaelic polytheism nor, as a matter of fact, fairy doctoring (being in fact a staunch advocate of the opposite), but I am conscious of my lacunes even today, and feel like this did prompt my reaching out back to the land I came from. (My friend Sfinga saw this as having one eye of water, weeping for distant lands and spirits with a starry gaze, and one eye of air, looking at the heights, and scrutinizing probabilities and reasons with anxious probing). My mentor, aware of my agnostic upbringing, felt that respect and piety towards the spirits, a willingness to learn, and proper marks and permissions from the Otherworld indicating leisure to do so, far outperformed geopolitical concerns, self-sabotage tendencies, or skeptical enquiry. She explained, matter-of-factly, that I had the power and were meant to cultivate it. And while I acknowledge my extraordinary privilege, I still feel prompted to question myself as a primarily animist practitioner : why seek gods outside one’s own land ? How to reconcile geographical distance and devotional intimacy ?
Gaulish polytheism, then, happened as I was trying to answer these questions, while I was attempting to track back the gods I had chosen, and the gods who had chosen me, into my own native land of France, Gallia or Gaul – mapping out unseen roots and red ancestral threads as an adjunct to my silver, Gaelic ones, reconciling adoptive and birth lineages.
At its most basic, my Gallo-Irish polytheism is born of this duality I carry within my own self : as a tradition it is the faith and belief into Gaelic and Gaulish gods, dé or Dêwoi, and in the un-gods, an-dé – making Gallo-Irish polytheism, consequently, the living, breathing practices and beliefs that seek to honour Them.
Gallo-Irish polytheism is a religious practice : its worldview places the Dêwoi at the center of its devotional preoccupations. But Gallo-Irish polytheism is also a way of life, where honoring these gods and spirits becomes the foundation and anchor of one’s individual path and trajectory. These practices are informed by sources and perspectives which, despite their respective nuances and complexities, share a common worldview and cosmology as well as common ethics, holidays, and rituals. Questions about the nature of an Irish, French, Gaelic or Gaulish identity have their place, of course, but not based on a blood quantum. Rather, the identity is defined by a shared understanding of theological principles, intended to provide:
- A framework of worship – mainly, cosmic principles, i.e, the duality between Samos / Giamos, and its ties to celestial and chtonic powers; the Three Worlds, exemplified in Land / Earth / Middle World, Sea / Depths / Lower World, and Sky / Heavens / Upper World; and the demiurgic Fire-in-Water principle;
- Ethics and morals (virtues, piety, and cult of such qualities in daily endeavours).
Where to learn about Gallo-Irish polytheism, or Pan-Celtic polytheism ? Where to learn of the Gods Themselves, Their myths, stories, powers and attributes ? Good sources of knowledge include archeological evidences first and foremost, to inform and quantify objective knowledge (inscriptions, records, remains, ruins…). To this we can add vernacular texts and scholarly research, to supplement and help think critically. One can approach Gaelic or Gaulish Reconstructionists and Revivalists – these communities are aware of each other, and many members belong to both. This gives inspiration, scaffolding, togetherness.
After that, then – we are on our own.
Gallo-Irish polytheism is a personal tradition or strand that seeks to build a devotional relationship with the gods of the Gaelic and Gaulish tribes. I would define these gods as old, ancient, tribal. Yet They are also family, kin, ancestors. They are home. They are hidden in the landscape. They are fae. I worship Them by stories, festivals and visions, because this is how I was taught. I also worship through prayers and rituals, because this is what I know.
For yes, I am a witch and yes, I do pray. Here is the difference between wishing and asking – in prayer it is magic I perform still, and the old priests knew as much. Prayers look like a private conversation, in which I feel safe enough to open my heart and pour it out. In magical utterances, breathing sacred words and names, my speech take on a performative nature, charged with pneuma and toradh to will things in and out of existence through hurried whispers, when the clouds part enough for me to catch a glimpse of the sun.
Sometimes, devotion also looks like a breakdown at the altar. When I can’t quite find my words, I borrow others – mainly poetry, or runes, such as verses from the Carmina Gadelica.
I can be found swearing by or simply mentioning the “lords above and below”, the “gods and ungods”.
« Gods and ungods » is an English translation of the Irish Gaelige dé ocus andé, dé agus andé or dée agus andée. It thus is a locution that is relevant only primarily within a Gaelic polytheist or, in my case, pan-Celtic context. We find mention of it in particular in the « Healing of the Morrigan » chapter in the Táin Bó Cúailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley), where the hero Cú Chulainn unknowingly blesses the Goddess, disguised as a cow-keeping crone, effectively tricking him into healing Her from the wounds he himself inflected her : « Bendacht dee agus andee fort, a ingen », says he, meaning « Blessings of the gods and un-gods [or non-gods] be upon you, woman. ».
The un-Gods or non-Gods are, broadly speaking, all the retinue of spirits who do not directly qualify as gods – those invisible we share the world with, sometimes understood as attendants of the Gods (husbandry, maidservants or entourage) – a point of view I personally have my reservations about. We can argue specifics and semantics, of course, but to spell it out without metaphor, this would loosely correspond to the Othercrowd, the Gentry, the land spirits and other genius loci, the dead, and among them the Ancestors of Blood, Craft and Land, Mighty and Beloved (including heroes). This is indeed what I mean when I employ the term, however it is definitely worth remembering that, in a broader Gallo-Irish context, the distinction between gods and ungods is certainly not a clear-cut, definitive one : Gods can be Fae, Fae can be Ancestors, and Ancestors can be Gods. It goes to show that spirits will often resist the neat taxonomy and typology we try to assign them – something in the human mind being fundamentally at odds with the categorization of Their mercuriality: the more we may seek to control the context, and the more it may prove impossible. This complicates matters further, and at the same time – it makes everything so simple.
The Gaulish word Dêwos (masc.) / Dêwâs (fem.) (plural form Dewoi), refers to the Gods and Goddesses as we understand Them, but also bears another significance which carries further implication : indeed, a direct translation of the term would be the “Shining Ones” or “Celestial Ones” – from the Proto-Indo-European Deiwos. This second meaning leaves us with little doubt about our Ancestors’ understanding of divinity, and is implying a connection to light understood as a higher principle for higher beings – rather than a strictly geographical / topographical essence. This is furthermore supported by the existence of Underworld / Lower World divinities, referring also to these particular beings of a more chtonic nature.
But in Gallo-Irish polytheism, Dêwos / Dêwas refers to other classes of spirits, too, with no clear-cut nor definite distinction whatsoever between these “lesser” beings, and the gods Themselves. Some posit that there is, nonetheless, a hierarchy – I am not particularly swayed one way or another. Either way, this linguistical indistinction, seems to firmly indicate a notion of fealty and kinship between the spirits, and between human beings and the otherworld (understood as tribe, the Touta or Tuath) – that is fiercely unlike the common definition of the word “god”. There is a closeness here, that is in total contrast with the remote understanding of divinity in the modern world, more transcendent, as seen from a distance. Moreover, unlike the contemporary notion of what a divine being ought to be (and particularly in the monotheistic world), Dêwoi are not perfect beings : They can be wrong, make mistakes, and show bad temper and decisions.
While vastly more powerful and better than human beings, the Dêwoi are nevertheless of a similar nature to us : we are sharing a common, inner essence. Because there is no clear demarcation between Gods and lesser spirits in the evidence retrieved in Celtic lands, the term Dêwoi can be applied to a vast range of supernatural beings – among these the local land / earth / nature spirits, with a scale that can be as tall as a mountain and as humble as a tree or rock… but not only.
For there is also, and perhaps more importantly even, a category of spirits called the fae, elves or fées, beings I am personnally more closely pacted to – and what we know about Them makes it so that They would be the closest to what translates as « Those Below » – Anderoi, or fairy beings. It refers to an extremely ambiguous category of spirits – inhabiting, as Their name suggests, the Underworld / Otherworld, and populating ours, in the invisible lining of the visible. This includes such beings as dusioi, morâs, or bâdities – complex Underworld beings not unlike the ones of Irish myths. The comparison here is especially apt as the Tuath Dé, the supernatural race of mythical beings commonly thought of as the Irish gods, are said to have migrated “underground”, now dwelling in “burial mounds” – thus effectively blurring once again the distinction between gods, land spirits, the dead, and the fae (in Irish, sí / sid / sidhe).
Thanks to folk wisdom and archeological evidences, such as the Chamalières inscription (on a curse-tablet or defixio), we know these spirits could be petitioned by magical practitioners and common folks alike, particularly in healing and baneful workings, and that They needed to be propitiated or appeased with particular offerings. We also know that They could be led by a chief figure (generally a more broadly known deity or “noble / royal” under whose authority They rallied). The fees, Sí, or Anderoi are neither good nor bad : the question of Their morality is a touchy one and, to some, an uncomfortable area, but They certainly are of a mercurial nature and thus caution is required when dealing with Them. Awesome, mischievous, complex and at times threatening, They are deeply noble yet violent, true yet conceited, and can be hostile towards mankind, known to destruct and blight agricultural efforts, health or livelihood if slighted. Their etiquette is a complex one, and They do not take kindly to the trespassing and harming of what is Theirs, or of the land and its inhabitants.
My Gaulish name, draws from Their associated lore.
My “English name”, or rather my public / craft / occult name, was given to me by Their tree.
The Shining Ones: Patrons & Matrons
« Their Ocean-god was Manannán Mac Lir,
Whose angry lips, in Their white foam, full often would inter
Whole fleets of ships.
Crom was their Day-god, and their Thunderer
Made morning, and eclipse.
Bride was their Queen of Song, and unto Her
They prayed, with fire-torched lips. »
— Thomas D’Arcy McGee, « The Celts »
One stormy night in January some years ago, I was lying in my bed and thinking about becoming a witch, heart pounding. As I was listening to the wild wind howling at my windows, at the Wild Hunt riding in the land, suddenly I felt an urge, a call, an impulse to just go outside (I was all naked, mind). I could see myself opening the door, and going out into this tempest we had. Then I was pulled, and there, I flied.
The wind was messing with my hair and whipped my tender skin in the frost, strong and powerful. The grass was cold and wet under my feet, the ground icy and black. I walked, in the middle of the field in front of my house, who grew and grew until all marks of civilization disappeared, and until all was left was me, the wind, the grass, the ground. Out in the distance then appeared a silhouette, and I marched in its direction. There, in the field, in the open land, I met a tall, black figure. He had a horned-skull head, and was sat towering on a throne. I recognized Him, and stayed calm.
With a deep, solemn voice, He spoke, His words only to ask : “What were you expecting ?”
And before I knew it, I replied :
He – the Man in Black, the Witch Father, the Folk Devil – He – the Horned One, the Fairy King, the Lord of the Wild Hunt – He stood, and opened His arms wide (I remember that He had very long fingers), as if for an embrace. He clasped them around my naked body, and
I woke up.
Later on pushed by my teacher, on the evening of the eclipse, I went to the threshold near the river when the sun was about to set.
I brought some mulled wine I had made, and a honey bread I had baked during the day. I found the perfect spot under a naked, crooked hawthorn tree, all eaten by a climbing, tangled ivy. Nervous, of course I was – but determined: I called for the Witch Father as a feral child, and performed the Red Meal. I drank the blood, I ate the bone, and shared them with the land spirits. I saw a shadow silhouette, on the opposite river bank, swiftly passing by. I abjured my baptism, done to me in my infancy, renounced any preceding allegiances, sacrificed the links that still tied me to my grandmother’s faith. I anointed my forehead with the wine and bread mixture, with the blood and bone of the land. I poured some of the Housel produce onto the ground, and into the river my witness.
Then, in exchange for a lock of my hair and a drop of my blood, I was gifted four hawthorn thorns – not any one more : I knew it when the wind blew my black candle as I was reaching for the fifth. I tried anyway, and was told to give it back. Canada geese shrieked above my head.
The ritual was complete when the wild moon rose on the horizon, bleeding and mad. I slept soundly, with the hawthorn thorns under my pillow.
Broadly speaking, spirits (gods in particular) have a way of listening and prove me wrong, but it has been made pretty clear to me that I had burnt the bridges with everything « Abrahamic » in renouncing my baptism this evening – saints, angels, demons, God. In fact it was a (semi) undisclosed clause in the contract.
I found out the hard way this door was closed, in that my spirits made it relentlessly known they have a fierce dislike of everything Christian. They, in fact, did not hesitate to withdraw power the second I showed curiosity for something outside our court. Funnily enough, bigot me thought the Abrahamic spirits would be the ones showing reluctance to engage, but the cry of outrage very loudly came from the other side. My fire is meant to be kept bizarrely pure (« unblemished »), which clashes with the occult standards of today, and in that regard I believe my experiences are in contrast with a lot of other (serious) practitioners’. When I see dual faith being navigated easily, I turn a little envious.
But for me, there can be only one faith – I’m not to go broad, but deep.
All those considerations aside it can become a contrived gymnastic of contorsion. It makes astrological and planetary magic complicated, and syncretism nearly impossible, even in the case of historically attested practices (Brighid / St Brigid being an obvious one).
Cernunnos the Saturnian, the Underworld god standing at the crossroads between the worlds above and below, looking both ways, I have personally experienced as a Dis Pater figure, an Opener of Ways as spiritual Great Initiator, He Who Makes Introductions. The surviving iconography seems to indicate that He may have fulfilled a role as mediator and psychopomp, and was connected to wilderness rather than civilization : His antlered head, the torc He holds and wears, and the snake / serpent He seems to be taming, all indicate His high status, His powers connected to hidden knowledge, and His essential in-betweenness. He is a liminal god reconciling or mitigating opposites – yet, He was not there first.
Brighid, the Exalted One, Brighid the Fiery Arrow, primordial Fire-goddess (likely a dawn goddess to begin with) and fire’s three incarnations – Inspiration, Smithcraft, and Healing; Brighid, then, is the soul of Heaven in this world, the Queen of Songs and the daughter of the Thunderer: She is where my primordial allegiance lie. Contrary to popular beliefs Brighid is not just another hearth goddess, and the tending of Her eternal flame is as much about the fire that comforts and protects as it is about the forge fire which creates and destroys in the Smithy. She is thus not solely a domestic / household goddess, but also retains warrior characteristics – being variously syncretized in the Gallo-Roman world with other goddesses such as Sulis or Minerva, and depicted, at times, with a helmet, a spear, and/or a shield. A potentially pan-Celtic, multi-faceted goddess cognate with the Gaulish Brigantia, She retains Her fire aspects dividing it between Fire in the Head (making Her a goddess of inspiration and poetry), Fire in the Heart (Her patronage over healing), and Fire in the Hands (as a Forgemater and goddess of smithing and metalwork). Spiritual « fire » is linked to the sun, heat, energy, healing, warmth, purity, and protection. The root « Brig » is also associated with high places (physical and metaphorical), solidifying an association with mountains and hills. Depending on the interpretation, She could be daughter of Taranis (Gaulish), or the Dagda (Irish). Her mother is more of an enigma – though my own take would favor a double lineage through both the Mórrigan and Boann / Boand.
I do not believe I chose Brighid, rather that She chose me. I know how pretentious this sounds – I am sparing you now my years of pride, of ego, of thinking I was too good to worship, too smart to kneel, all that which in my daftness I was not able to see : too ignorant to love. For She cracked me open with love, and I was vastly unprepared for it. She took the proverbial axe and broke the frozen sea in me and there poured molting gold from Her furnace, the light of Her forge blazing. As She worked me on the Anvil, as i smiled up at the hammer – She brought me home.
It is Her mark my mentor (and later, others) would see in me, Her white-palmed hand guiding me. Everything I do, I do with Her in mind. She is the head of my home cultus, the pivotal, central figure of my pantheon, the Queen of my craft, it is to Her to whom my soul is sworn to.
She has boldly lit and carefully cultivated the Fire in me, refusing to let it choke amidst the darkness, safely delivering this undying flame to the morning after the dark nights of the soul. I am most particularly connected to Her Healer aspect, and my lineage of fairy doctoring traces its power back to Her.
‘The Genealogy of Brighid´, also called ´The Descent of Brighid´, is a prayer that is very dear to my heart. Brighid was easy to love, easy to recognize, easy to feel at home with. Every time I chant the prayer, I feel the words vibrating and raising power around me and in me, weaving a great mantle of song and poetry then cast about my shoulders like a cloak by the time the invocation / loricae / circling ends. It is also the first prayer I ever wrote down and learned, many years ago, when I was too young and proud to see yet the meaningfulness of it. I consulted and compulsed multiple interpretations, and from all these sources came back with my own version, combined version that I still use to this day – one only my black book knows.
She is my Matron goddess.
My Foster-Father, however, is the Lord of the Waves, Son of the Sea, another King of the Otherworld – the Irish Sea-God, Manannán Mac Lir. Manannán wooed me, as much as a god is able to woo a mortal, as a Sea-Goat rising from the foam, gifting me the proverbial Silver Branch clasped in its jaws, the fruits swollen like conch shells. Of what He showed me, I cannot speak to non-initiates. Manannán is, of course, primarily known as an ocean god, and it is true and proper to know Him as such. But to fully understand and integrate the extent and implication of His power, one would also have to take into consideration what « the sea » meant to our pre-Christian ancestors – a realm in its own right, part of a complex and intricate tripartite cosmology that includes Land, Sea and Sky. This means that Manannán not only holds dominion over the sea as a physical domain (water, sand, rocks, cliffs, chalk, depths, waves, foam, salt, aquatic creatures, and the weather all fall under His rulership) – and thus also all the very practical sea / water-related activities such as fishing, swimming, or boating; but that He is also – and perhaps especially – a powerful Under / Otherworld sovereign (of the Sea as mythopoetical realm), a psychopomp-king standing at the gates of Death, and a liminal trickster ruling over spirits, hidden treasures, sunken gold, mists and invisibility, the Sight, foreign lands, navigation and travel. He beckons His chosen few, granting them safe passage between worlds. All in all, He is both a very Jupiterian and a very Neptunian lord of Piscean realms. Some UPG of mine is that He is also connected to the stars (used for navigation) and, perhaps more counter-intuitively, queerness – the latter being one of the reasons He may have loved me, for I have a subtle history with gender blurring. He brought with His patronage an offer, and I took it – our pact sealed in cold saltwater.
I can’t help but marvel at the duality of water and fire in my Patrons, of tide and flame, reflecting the very same Fire-in-Water cosmological principle I feel so strongly about as a principle of higher inspiration and creation close to imbas forosnai. But my personal pantheon is also centered around another handful of deities I work most particularly closely with, or for – and around others who I think about more as an extended tribe in gathering. Some have approached me, others I have approached myself, and others again I simply nod to at the family’s dinner table:
Đirona: Đirona is the « Divine Star », depicted crowned with a star diadem, holding a bowl containing eggs, a serpent or snake wrapped around Her arm. She is associated with the moon and healing springs, being a goddess of the night sky, wells, serpents, and probably (due to Her connexion to the moon), time, tides, and the calendar.
Lugh / Lugus: The name seems to have had different meaning attached to it, most being connected to a principle of light and brightness, but also to oaths and destinies (fate being that which your soul is sworn / oathed to), associating Lugh / Lugus with a higher principle of Oath made manifest. The spear, raven, horse, lynx, wolf and wren, as well as high places, tricephaly, the dog or hound, and the spear, are all important characteristics of the god’s iconography, with abilities making Him the Master of All the Arts, and a God of many skills, good in everything. Authors and scholars identify many characteristics, which ought not surprise us for such a versatile deity : a figure of the « Stranger King » born of mixed parentage, Lugh / Lugus is said to have slayed a giant-demon to win freedom for His people, thus also symbolically gaining control of the harvest by taming the wild, unruly nature spirits – His spear is often associated with the lightning bolts visible in the autumn sky, cutting through the hot weather to allow for the crops to be reaped. This could make Lugh / Lugus a figure linked with seasonal changes and fertility; but also with the Underworld (something reflected in His mixed parentage and His physical characteristics, such as a form of one-eyedness and one-leggedness connected to the Fomoires and a particular craft of cursing called corrguinecht). Thought of as both a warrior leading a warband of young eager men to victory, and a prophet connected to prophecy, oracles, and divination, Lugh / Lugus is a complex deity with many symbols suggesting shape-shifting capacities and disguised appearances, certainly in par with His aptitudes as a god being gifted with many skills – a Jack of all trades, this time master of all.
Epona: The « Great Mare » is a horse goddess / goddess of horses, donkeys, and mules whose influence extended to the point of being venerated in Rome. Her people loved Her dearly, as the horse held tremendous importance in Gaulish culture both from a warfare perspective, and from a mythopoetical one, the horse acting as a psychopomp and a symbol of the sovereignty of the land. Eponâ is seen as a horse Herself, or depicted sidesaddle, or in a cart, occasionally with a white cloak/gown, a key, a foal, or a dog. She may have ties with the Welsh Mari Lwyd, Rhiannon, and with the Irish Macha. Eponâ also has a darker, more dangerous side to Her in Her chtonic understanding of guider of souls, potentially possessing associations with untamed sexuality, which could place Her as an appropriate leader of the Wild Hunt – in which case She becomes a “Bone-Mother”.
Artio: The Bear-Goddess of the Gauls, Ursa Major and spirit of the high mountains, warrior and mother.
Crom Cruach / Crom Dubh: We will come to speak of Him, eventually. The time is not yet right.
Donn: As the First Ancestor of Man, Donn is a peculiar deity said to preside a banquet in the Otherworld where all of His children feast upon arrival from this world to the Other.
Nuada: The Silver-Armed King is a disabled god for Whom I have a peculiar fondness, for His humility as a leader and His nobility as a ruler, stepping down first when compromised and second when presented with better than Himself.
Maponus: As a youthful god of beautiful appearance, Maponus is somewhat mysterious, and it helps to draw parallels with similar figure such as Angus Mac Òc (Irish) or Mabon (Welsh) to have a better idea of His areas of influence. Connected to hunting and healing springs, He seems to have also been invoked in magic, and to personify the cycles of the seasons, being a Dying and Reborn god. As an Underworld God (likely born from Epona and having been raised here) it is also suspected that He serves as an intermediary between humans and the Anderoi in particular. This specifically intrigues me as I have come to think of the Anderoi as very close to the Irish fae – chtonic, Underworld beings -, which would effectively make Maponos a « fairy king » of sorts. (This is a completely personal theory that I wish to explore more on my own, and is not, as of yet and as far as I am aware, supported by many scholarly works that I have seen – rather, it seems to emerge from folk beliefs).
Ogma / Ogmios: The god of eloquence, presiding over intellectual pursuits, verbal utterances, words, scriptures, and languages. He has been represented with symbols very close to Heracles / Hercules, with His lion skin and club suggesting physical prowess. He is, however, also depicted as an old man, drawing behind him a band of men attached to Him by thin, gold chains linking their ears with His tongue – potentially suggesting ancestral ties connected to the importance of memory and silence. This is an image that struck me, as someone coming from a lineage of folk magicians where secrecy is of primordial importance, and where secret knowledge should not be committed to writing, only communicated through oral means. Words and speech having the power to make or break, create or destroy, effectively considered as mighty performative tools, it should not be surprising to consider that they could be weaponized, and as such Ogma / Ogmios also has a darker aspect, being invoked in numerous curses.
Taranis: A Thunder God, Taranis is the Upper World God par excellence, fundamentally connected to Samos and Albios. Sometimes described as the ‘Celtic Jupiter’, His symbols are the lightning bolt and the wheel, connecting Him to order, cosmic law, and truth. Presiding over fiery powers, He is also a dragon-slayer god – the dragon or serpent / snake representing the menace of the wild and untamed, face to civilization. This myth is of a primordial importance, as it suggests a profound understanding of Gaulish cosmology where the victory of order over chaos, Truth over falsehood, the Upper World over the Underworld, Samos over Giamos, reveal something pertaining to the Gaulish soul.
The Dagda: The Sky-Father whose prodigious sexual appetite fathered many children, amongst whom many of the Tuath Dé.
The Mórrigan (and in particular Her aspect of Badb-Catha / Cathubodua): The ‘Battle Crow’ seems to have been a direct equivalent of the Irish Badb Catha, making Her the most direct evidence of potential contact between the Gauls and Ireland. No depiction of Her is known, but from the name we can infer that She was quite likely associated with ravens and crows, and with the arts of war and battle. She delights in conflict and death, and might well be a profoundly violent deity, delivering prophecies about battles, and being intimately connected with warriors and heroes, inciting them, helping to train them, inspire them, and bringing about their deaths in a suitable fashion. She is the divine personification of war in all its horrors and glories, of sexuality, augury and magic, and Her essential nature should be respected.
The Matres / Matronae: The ‘Mothers’ of the Tribe who are the fate givers, fate holders, and fate takers of gods and men, keeping all in balance. Connected to fibrecrafts and spinning imagery, and to storytelling.
As must become apparent, most Gallo-Irish gods are one with name-places, but, unlike in other pantheons, typically aren’t « gods of », in the sense that They do not hold complete and undisputed dominion over some aspect of life, natural phenomena, virtue, or quality. The major reason why these gods are so difficult to understand and wrap one’s head around is that Their divinity is first and foremost based on exceptional skill, power and knowledge, rather than on a typical indistinction between Their nature and some kind of external essence, such as personifications of lightning, fire, rain, war, etc. Thus we find many gods able to move and shake the landscape, many gods involved with fate and magic, many gods capable of augury and prophecy, many gods tied to healing. That is Their beauty, and what makes Them special in my eyes.
The gods are Those to Whom libations are poured, the Givers of Goods, the Undying. They are Those worthy of worship.
My practice slowly shifts from thaumaturgy to theurgy – and, as the Snake that coils within, without – where this shall lead me, only They know.