Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Travel weary Celtic gods and goddesses

Wednesday Wishes to you! (it's late GMT time but still Wednesday)

My summer surprise today is a whole gamut of questions for you to help me with.

How well travelled were the ancient Celtic gods and goddesses?

This is very much a possibly and probably post!

In my current writing set in A.D. 84, I have a number of *Celtic characters who are working towards a common goal even though their origins are from different areas of what we currently geographically term Great Britain. This means I have to work hard to discover which gods and goddesses might be appropriate for them to pray to since it seems that, in the Celtic culture, belief in their deities was likely to have been strong. Since I strive for historical accuracy whenever possible it means a bit more research to see if I can find any references I can happily use for my protagonists in Books 4 of my Celtic Fervour series.  

My Enya via

My main female character in Book 4 is Enya, a young warrior who was born at the hillfort of Garrigill in northern Brigantia (present day northern Yorkshire). Enya’s young life has been peppered with strife brought about initially by the invasion of the Roman armies of Quintus Petillius Cerialis, Roman Governor of Britannia in A.D. 71. In Book 2 of my series, when Enya is around the age of nine, she’s towed along when her family flee from Brigantia and head to her Aunt Nara’s homeland, Selgovae territory (southern Scotland), which lies north of Brigantia. In Book 3 she’s again on the move as her family move further north to the lands of the Taexali and the Caledons (north-east Scotland) to challenge the domination of General Agricola’s armies. By A.D. 84 (Book 3) she’s one of the young warriors involved in the confrontation that takes place between the armies of General Gnaeus Julius Agricola at Beinn na Ciche. (My version and location for the potential Mons Graupius battle)

Book 4 begins in late AD 84 in Caledon territory (north-east Scotland) and I have to surmise from scant historical evidence that although the peoples of northern Britannia were diverse tribal groups they most likely shared a common language—some form of Common Brythonic—and probably many of their religious beliefs were broadly similar. However, some historic references and archaeological finds seem to point to localised differences in the worship of deities. (e.g. My FutureLearn studies on Hadrian’s Wall makes mention of deities only ever mentioned in this geographical area on ‘tombstone’/monument evidence, though admittedly these remains post date my A.D. 84 period)

What language/s the tribes of north-east Scotland spoke in A.D. 84 isn’t known but from etymology studies it’s thought that some three hundred years later the Picts of the area were likely to have used a P-Celtic Brythonic based language. This form of Celtic is believed to have derived from the original Common Brythonic language which came with people who probably migrated from Europe. The Pictish language is grouped as a Brythonic language along with Welsh, Cornish and Breton and the extinct Cumbric language. For me that link with the language of Cumbria is an interesting one because my fictitious hillfort of Garrigill, Enya’s birthplace, is not so far from Cumbria.  

Back to my search for which gods and goddesses I might use and it seems feasible that I could use some of the god names of Welsh derivation and of Cornish, Breton and Cumbric. Searching for gods and goddesses of Celtic Scotland draws many blanks and few hits but there are more for the Welsh tradition. I have yet to investigate any Breton and Cumbric ones. I have to decide if it’s reasonable to assume that the god names may not have changed all that much from the earliest known Welsh use and before any Latin influences brought by the Ancient Roman usurpers changed some things. Hmmm…

It’s very tempting to use some of the gods and goddesses that are handed down via the Irish, Scottish and Manx traditions but they are grouped as the Q-Celtic Goidelic form of the Common Brythonic language. Here lies one of my big questions—if the language evolved differently in those areas from the Common Brythonic was that only after the Roman invasions?  Were the god and goddess names across Britain and Ireland the same pre- Roman influence and only changed some time after?

I’d love an expert to tell me the answers.

Till I find out otherwise, I’m using a mix of those thought to be the most common gods/goddesses across Europe and some nicely sounding local ones.

The older generations of my Garrigill clan in Books 1-3 have specific favoured gods and goddesses but Enya has not got to a point yet where she has her own favourites. I’ve no doubt that there would have been some powerful influences from parents back then and I’m making the assumption that adoption of personal deities was probably done before the onset of adulthood. (I’m not sure that any particular reference exists which states that everyone had to have chosen their gods etc by puberty-though again,  if anyone knows, please share!). At the beginning of Book 4 Enya’s feeling a bit let down by all of the deities and her faith in any of them is fragile. Will the events of Book 4 make that insecure faith totally crumble… or not? 

Nith- via
Another of my main characters is Nith. He’s a Selgovae and a distant relative of Enya’s aunt. Nith has not lost faith but has chosen to rely on his own guidance rather than the gods who let down his brother and allowed Esk to perish during the confrontation with the Legions of General Agricola at Beinn na Ciche (Book 3). Does Nith turn more to his gods as the book progresses? I definitely think so because he has a couple of agendas to solve…

Then there’s my young Taexali warrior named Feargus who journeys along with Enya and Nith. Are Feargus’ local gods and goddesses the same names as Enya’s or Nith’s? I don’t think so though some of his local deities will have similar functions to some of theirs. My thinking is that a good geographical distance separates the birth places of all three of the above. Feargus’ Taexali territory lies around 200 miles from where Nith was brought up and probably 300+ miles from Garrigill, Enya’s birthplace. Feargus has some well chosen names for his local goddesses which he definitely adheres to with a deep conviction.

(Note to self: I must get a working image for Feargus)

Wikimedia Commons
Another main character who needs his own pantheon of gods to pray to is General Gnaeus Julius Agricola, Governor of Britannia in AD 84 and Commander of all Britannic Legions, including those of the Classis Britannica. His Roman gods and goddesses might have some similarities to some of those of my Celtic clan members worship but my Agricola needs plenty of Roman deities to entreat to aid his decision making. Finding names for Agricola’s gods/ goddesses is proving easier than those of my Celts. Though having said that Agricola was born and raised in a region of Gaul called Gallia Narbonensis ( Frejus, France) and may well have been aware of some of the local Celtic gods and goddesses since his forebears were Romanised Gauls of local origin.   

Which gods might I be using for Agricola?  And which for my other main Celtic characters? That’ll be my next instalment. Watch this space…

*I use the term Celtic fairly broadly because I have no better name for the late Iron Age peoples who inhabited the island the Romans named Britannia by A.D. 71.


1 comment:

  1. That's great to know, Devyagini Acharya- thanks for popping in.


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