Spotlight on Tradition
Segomâros Widugeni is a leader in Gaulish Polytheism and has been for almost two decades. He hold two Master’s Degrees, one in 20th Century German History and another in Library Science, and speaks two Celtic languages. He lives with his wife in the woods of rural Central Florida. His new book, Ancient Fires: an Introduction to Gaulish Polytheism, will be released soon.
In the evening, as twilight descends over the forest, I repair to my shrine room. There, I light a sacred candle in front of sacred images, speak words in an ancient language, and call on deities: Cernunnos, Epona, Taranis, Lugus, Rosmerta, and others.
Like many others, I am practicing Gaulish Polytheism.
Gaulish Polytheism is a relatively new, small, and lesser-known tradition than many others, but it is rapidly growing and making a name for itself. Its membership spans all age groups, but skews young. It attracts talented, fresh faces from the wider Pagan community. The online forums and Facebook groups tend to be active places, filled with productive and worthwhile discussions, and they are singularly lacking in drama and conflict.
The community atmosphere tends to be mutually supportive, perhaps because Gaulish Polytheism is too small to attract attention. For example, the problem of racist infiltration, while it does exist, is relatively minimal. In an online setting, moderators can still handle infiltration, among other other issues, with common sense and judicious use of the ban-hammer.
Another reason for the level of acceptance may be that Gaulish Polytheists come from very diverse backgrounds. There are adherents from a number of countries around the world, including significant representation from France, the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Australia, and the Czech Republic, among others.
What is this tradition?
Gaulish Polytheism seeks to revive the worship of the gods of the ancient Gauls, using the best and most current scholarly research. The ancient Gauls, for this purpose, were the ancient Celtic-speaking tribes who inhabited France, Belgium, Switzerland, south Germany, a strip of northern Spain, northern Italy, Austria, and the Czech Republic, as well as several other regions. The Gauls’ language and culture were related to those of the ancestors of the modern Celtic peoples, and also to the Celtiberians and Lusitani of the Iberian peninsula.
Worship of the Dêwoi, the gods of ancient Gaul, is central. There are at least three hundred mentioned in ancient inscriptions, most of them tribal, local, or both. A surprising number have at least one worshiper in modern times, but certain among them have widespread popularity. These include:
- Epona – goddess of horses, the Earth, cavalry, and often sovereignty.
- Taranis – god of the sky, thunder, and storms.
- Rosmerta – goddess of prosperity; possibly also a seeress and giver of the mead of sovereignty. Consort of Mercury/Lugus.
- Lugus – Inventor of all the arts. Known as the god with the spear and god of the war band, he possibly slays an evil ruler and wins the harvest, much like the Irish Lugh. Consort of Rosmertâ.
- Cathbodua – called the battle crow. She is goddess of war and goddess of ravens. The name is directly cognate with the name of the Irish goddess Badb Catha.
- Camulus – god of war. He is also called Caturix, among other names.
- Nantosuelta – a goddess of prosperity, the household, beekeeping, and possibly the underworld. She may also be a deity of wine and mead making, or possibly all of the above. Consort of Sucellus.
- Sucellus – god of prosperity, fertility, and wine. He may be a god of the underworld and an ancestor figure, but perhaps not; one German scholar sees his iconography exclusively in terms of wine and wine making. Consort of Nentosuelta.
- Brigantia – called the high one, she is a goddess of high places and possibly the goddess of the hearth and of fire. Her name is directly cognate to the Irish Brigid.
- Cernunnos – called the horned one. According to Ceisiwr Serith’s excellent article on the subject, a god of bi-directionality, liminality, mediation, and exchange. From this, he can be seen as a spiritual initiator and guide, as well as a deity of commerce, merchants, and travelers.
- Sirona – goddess of serpents, eggs, wells, the night sky, stars, and healing. She is possibly associated with cattle and the moon. Consort of Grannus.
- Grannus – god of light, hot springs, and healing. Consort of Sirona.
- Sulis – goddess of the sun and of healing.
- Ogmios – god of strength and eloquence. He is also an underworld deity, who was called upon in several cursing tablets. His name is cognate to the Irish Ogma.
- Nodens – god of the sea and of healing. His name is cognate to the Irish Nuada.
The Gaulish worldview can be reconstructed to some degree through the use of linguistics. It includes ideas like Uîros, which can be spelled in various ways and with several grammatical genders, which means truth as a cosmic principle, as well as others.
The Gaulish language is important. Some followers, including myself, perform rituals entirely in Gaulish. Others use ancient languages like Latin or modern tongues like English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, or German. Whatever language we use for ritual, though, most of us make use of a variety of Gaulish concepts and words in ritual and in our religion more generally.
Most rituals share a basic structure, generally including the use of a sacred fire, a prayer or invocation to the deity concerned, and the pouring out of offerings. In addition, most of us share a model of ritual as essentially votive, that is, involving the making of vows and offerings, and reciprocal, which is to say involving a cycle of mutual gift giving between deity and worshiper.The Coligny calendar, the ancient Gaulish calendar, is also commonly used in practice. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to interpret, and some of our most contentious debates concern its use. Even here, though, it must be said that temperatures don’t get too high.
Gaulish Polytheists do have particular holidays, but they are also in flux. At this point there are several possible systems in use, but all of these tend to favor compromises among Roman, Germanic, and modern Celtic sacred days.
Sources and Lore
In building traditions and practice, Gaulish Polytheists tend to use a number of available sources. Academic research in the fields of Celtic Studies and Celtic linguistics, for example, can make available a remarkable amount of information about ancient Gaulish worldviews, deities, and practices. The corpus of Gaulish-language inscriptions from ancient times are essential sources. While at times cryptic and hard to translate, they provide a direct window into the ancient Gaulish mind, giving us direct access to words and ideas that would not otherwise have been available. This is especially true for the magical inscriptions, which are relatively well represented.
The much larger corpus of Latin-language inscriptions to Gaul are equally important. These provide us with much of what we know about Gaulish deities, and often provide the basis for deeper linguistic and archaeological research. Archaeology itself can shed light on the ancient Gaulish religion from the point of view of how it was actually carried out in the material world, including how holy places were designed and how worshipers lived. The context of a people’s material culture and economy is vitally important to understanding their religion in real-world terms.
Beyond these primary sources, historical documents from related cultures and periods can provide valuable context for understanding the Gaulish period. Irish and Welsh manuscripts from the medieval period, for example, can often offer insight on topics that would otherwise be obscure, even though they represent a different, later, but related tradition.
Greco-Roman accounts of the ancient Gauls, unfortunately, are written from a hostile, often uncomprehending point of view. However, they do provide eyewitness descriptions coming from observers often with years of experience in dealing with living Gauls of their day. Despite their hostility, these accounts also contain invaluable information.
Certain other medieval manuscripts provide limited insight into Gaulish practices, such as the church fathers’ description of the spirits called Dusii, or the Frankish capitularia, which specify Pagan practices forbidden to Christians of the time. However there are grave questions about the extent to which these practices were contemporary to the capitularia, and how much they represent literary traditions of Christian writers opposing Paganism. Moreover, even if genuinely contemporary, the traditions represented in the capitularia are from a very late date and include a mixture of Greco-Roman, Germanic, and wholly new beliefs and practices alongside surviving Gaulish practices. They must therefore be used with great caution.
Similarly, the religions and practices of related, contemporary peoples to the Gauls, such as the Greeks, Romans, and Germans, might offer some information about the Gauls, but this data must be used with the usual cautions, as they are not the practices of the Gauls themselves, but of neighboring peoples.
The folklore of the modern Celtic peoples and of the modern descendants of the Gauls can offer tidbits of information. Care must be taken to keep in mind that the modern Celts are not ancient Gauls, but rather a related people from more than a thousand years later. Likewise, though descended from the Gauls, the modern French, Belgians, Swiss, and so on do not speak any form of a Gaulish language, and are also living a thousand years after Gaulish ceased to spoken and Gaulish religion ceased to be practiced. Ancient survivals are rare.
Finally, Gaulish polytheists can and do interact with the gods themselves at the present time. This gives rise to the concept of unverified personal gnosis, or UPG. UPG must be treated with the greatest caution of all. It must be checked carefully against the lore as we have it, and disregarded if it disagrees too sharply. If a particular piece of UPG is experienced independently by several people, it may become shared personal gnosis, which is generally regarded as more reliable.
As already mentioned, Gaulish Polytheism has given rise to a flourishing online community, with numerous blogs, Facebook groups, and webpages to its credit. A survey of these can show some of the ways that Gaulish Polytheism inspires its modern followers. Gaulish Polytheists today are writing poetry and rituals, making images of deities by wood burning and carving, and already developing sub-traditions based on the cultures of particular Gaulish divisions or modern local customs. As this movement continues to grow, many exciting new facets of this tradition and its practices will begin to appear.
- Senobessus Bolgon, the blog of Selgowiros Caranticnos, who is developing a form of Gaulish Polytheism based on the customs of the Belgae, a confederation of tribes in northeastern Gaul.
- Tegoslougos Nemotarvos, the blog of Leitonellos Tarvogenos, whose writings reflect the Gaulish Polytheism of his own household in Ohio.
- The Tumblr of Cunobelinus Betullicnos, a Canadian Gaulish Polytheist hasn’t been updated in a while but is still a good place for the Tumblr inclined to get their Gaulish Polytheism fix.
- Bellodunon, the web home of Bellouesus Isarnos, a well-known Brazilian Druid, who has been practicing some form of Gaulish spirituality for decades, and whose knowledge of Gaulish lore is second to none. The site is mostly in Portuguese, with some in English.
- Deo Mercurio, the website of scholar Owen Cook, who is developing a form of Gallo-Roman Polytheism based on the traditions of the Treveri people, who occupied the regions adjacent to the modern city of Trier.
- Nemeton Nigromanticos, the blog of Jess, a Gaulish Polytheist and American necromancer.
- The Scribd of Portuguese scholar Condēųįos Andīliχtos, on his form of Gaulish Polytheism. In Portuguese, with some English.
- Chronarchy.com, the webpage of the Rev. Michael J. Dangler, an ADF Druid, Gaulish Polytheist, and many other things besides. Be sure to check out his webstore, The Magical Druid.
- On Facebook, we have the Gaulish Polytheism group, the primary discussion forum for Gaulish Polytheism online, and the Toutâ Galation group, which is also fairly active. Toutâ Galation is also found on Tumblr.
- Fnally, the author’s blog, Nemeton Segomâros, provides an detailed summary of Gaulish Polytheism as he practices it.