Digression 4 – Crow’s Bluff Reflections

Driving west over the Whitehair Bridge, across the Saint John’s River, there is an abrupt transition from restaurants and marinas to deep forest. The trees are suddenly dense, the ground marshy, dotted with pools of water. Down there, a few feet north of the bridge, on the west bank, where the forest is deepest, there was once a town called Crow’s Bluff. It lasted from the 1870s to the 1930s. They finally took out the post office in 1932, and the last family moved away following floods in 1938. It was doomed almost as soon as it was founded, as the new railroads cut into the riverboat trade on which its economy depended. Now, where there were once houses, a hotel, and a service station, at the least, are now not even foundations. The forest has taken it all back. But the spirits aren’t all gone. They persist, giving a faint sense of uneasiness to even the least sensitive. The current owners of the land block all access to the old town site, for reasons unknown. Perhaps it’s to escape liability for injured hikers, perhaps to hide illegal activity of some sort, or perhaps they know something of the spirits that are there. There are a lot of ghosts along the Saint John’s.

This river has seen a lot of history. Three genocides, three conquests, at least four wars, slavery and Jim Crow, the coming and disappearance of languages and cultures, settlements and farms, hopes and dreams. It was first named Rio de San Juan by the Spanish who conquered Florida in the 1500s. In the process, the diseases they brought wiped out 90% of the population, hundreds of thousands of human beings. Before the Spanish renamed it, the Timucua, about forty miles downstream from the bridge, called the river Welaka, “Chain of Lakes”.

The Timucua were not the first in this part of the river, though. That distinction belongs to the Mayaca, a fishing people whose language is lost except for a place name or two and the name of the tribe itself. Their main settlement was at Mayaca town, now Astor, twenty miles downstream, halfway to Timucua country. The Mayaca had a village on the site of what is now Hontoon Island State Park, upstream, a couple miles south of the bridge. They were apparently divided into animal clans, who lived in their own parts of the village, because great wooden statues of an owl and an otter have been dredged from the river-bottom. When the Spanish first got here, they were a numerous people, powerful in their section of the river. By the time the Spanish got around the sending them missionaries, fifty years or so later, their numbers had been greatly reduced by plague.

In the early 1700s, Muskogee and Hitchiti Creeks, in the employ of the English settlers of South Carolina, began raiding the Florida Indians for slaves. The people kidnapped were taken to Charleston and sold to plantation owners in the Caribbean. Those Caribbean plantations were essentially death camps for Indians. Overwork and disease killed almost all the Timucuas and Mayacas sent there. In the mid 1700s, the last remaining Mayacas moved south to the shores of Lake Okeechobee, where they fought for survival with the local peoples. A few Timucuas apparently settled Hontoon Island for a while, but they didn’t last long. By 1763, when the Spanish turned Florida over to the English, there were fewer than 100 Timucuas left, out of an original population of 250,000 to half a million. They had all moved to Saint Augustine, where Spanish guns could protect them from the slave raids. When the Spanish left, they took these last survivors with them to Cuba. A few Cuban families are said to claim Timucua ancestors to this very day, but I am not aware of any Mayacas left.

During the period of English rule in Florida, the Creeks moved south into the now empty province of Florida and settled along the Saint John’s. English-speaking Scots-Irish settlers also did, at about the same time. So, too, did displaced Yamasees from South Carolina, and Yuchis from what would later be called Tennessee, and runaway African-American slaves from Georgia and South Carolina. All settled along the river, bringing their cultures and histories with them, leaving their spirits behind, shaping the land. The Creeks, Yamasees, Yuchis, and African-Americans gradually combined into a single people, the Seminole, who still speak three languages – English, Muskogee Creek, and Mikasuki, a descendent of Hitchiti.

The American Revolution at first had hardly any effect, here. Neither did the return of the Spanish administration as a result of the Treaty of Paris, in 1783. The population remained the same mix of Seminoles and whites as before, living in the same uneasy tension as ever. The American conquest in 1819 brought changes, though. American rule brought more white settlers, who came into conflict with the Seminoles over land, grazing, springs, and hunting rights. The first Seminole War was fought mainly in north Florida, and affected the middle Saint John’s valley mostly by causing an influx of Seminoles after the war, to land promised them to replace land stolen. The Third Seminole War was fought in south Florida down in the Everglades. But the Second Seminole War, fought in the 1840s, took place right here, on either side of the Saint John’s. It was an affair of small unit engagements, grinding guerrilla war, massacres and atrocities by both sides. It went on for years. In the end, the whites won. The land was “ethnically cleansed”, most of the Seminoles deported to Oklahoma, where the bulk of the Seminole people still reside. A few escaped south to the Everglades, where they fought for generations until they finally won recognition and rights. They are also still there, as the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Only a little more than a decade elapsed between the end of the Second Seminole War and the start of the American Civil War. During that time, slavery put down roots in north Florida, and, to a limited extent, also in the central Saint John’s Valley. There was a sugar mill up near DeLeon Springs with slaves, Volusia Plantation, across the river from what is now Astor, and a couple plantations near Ocala, about an hour from here by car. The sugar mill was burned by Union troops during the Civil War, when Union raiders moved up and down the Saint John’s, chased by Confederate defensive boats.

With the end of the Civil War came another influx of white settlers, this time many of them from up north or from Europe. Towns like Crow’s Bluff, Saint Francis, and Oldtown were settled, persisted awhile, and then faded. This land is dotted with ghost towns, more than in most parts of the country. A few settlements, Astor, twenty miles north of here, or Paisley, eight or nine miles west of the river, last to this day. African-Americans also came, drawn by the turpentine industry, but laboring under the restrictions of full-on Jim Crow segregation.

The Great Depression hit the area hard. Many towns died, and those who remained survived by subsistence agriculture and moonshining. Prosperity didn’t come until the years after the Second World War, and then it was modest. Still, roads were paved, the Whitehair Bridge built, businesses established, Jim Crow replaced by subtler forms of discrimination, tar paper shacks replaced by trailer homes, libraries and schools and community centers established. People of many kinds moved in, and the population, always diverse, became more so. For an area that had never had it very good, it was progress, of a sort.

And all this has left its mark on the land. The spirits of all these peoples persist and linger on. This land, like any other, is the product of all of its history, the hopes and the horrors, the heroes and the villains, and those who were both. The layers pile up, and pile up, and new history grows from them. But older than all of them, older than even the Mayacas, older than human settlement in these lands, there is the river, flowing endlessly northward to the sea.

The Music Belongs

Once, long ago, in the Black Land, lived a man named Ptahhotep. Ptahhotep had three fine sons, one of whom he hoped would succeed him in his position of Overseer of the Singers of the God in the temple of Ptah in Mennefer, city of the White Wall. Ptahhotep’s family had served the great god as overseers for tens of generations. There had never been a time when Ptah’s temple music had not been part of family life.

From an early age, Ptahhotep taught his sons to respect the instruments of his trade, and especially the drums used to announce the god’s presence on feast days. As Ptahhotep watched his sons grow, he began to despair that any would be inclined to the family legacy. In the hope that he might inspire them to continue the tradition, Ptahhotep decided that upon his death, he would leave each son a drum from the temple storehouse.

In time, Ptahhotep’s ka went to the horizon with the blessed spirits of his ancestors. And just as it had been provided for, on the day of Ptahhotep’s funeral, priests from Ptah’s temple presented each of Ptahhotep’s sons — Ankhmaat, Shai, and Nebnefer — with a sacred drum. The priests solemnly explained the drums’ purpose and their father’s final wish, then left the house and headed back to the temple.

Nebnefer, the youngest son, scooped up his drum and headed for the roof, so he could examine it more closely in the sunlight. After turning the drum over and over and looking at it from all angles, he was disappointed. The drum was old: worn in places by loving hands, painted but flaking, and its sound, while rich, spoke of years of use. Nebnefer immediately decided this silly old drum wasn’t going to be good enough, if he was going to play it. So he descended the house stairs and made for Ptahhotep’s workshop, where he picked up paints, pieces of wood and leather, and set to work.

After a few hours, Nebnefer proudly appraised his gift. In truth, it was difficult to tell that it was the same drum the priests had given him. It was shiny. All the parts of the drum one played were new, and Nebnefer had even replaced the lacings on the outside for carrying. Who needed beadwork, anyway, when there were colorful cords, like those he’d seen Nubians use on drums in the marketplace? Excited, Nebnefer centered his drum on his lap and began to pound.

Not much sound came out. For some reason, the drum seemed to have lost most of its voice. Nebnefer tightened the skin and made some modifications to the cords, but he couldn’t seem to achieve the same rich sound the drum had made as he’d carried it away from the funeral priests. Nebnefer was just about to throw his drum away and start constructing a completely new one when he heard interesting music coming from outside.

Shai, the middle son of Ptahhotep’s family, marched into the workshop with a proud grin, banging happily on his own drum. He glanced over at Nebnefer sitting quietly in the window and stopped. “What’s wrong, Neb?” Shai asked, raising an eyebrow as he took in the garish shell of the drum sitting silent in his brother’s lap.

Nebnefer shook his head, determined not to be outdone by his sibling once again. “Nothing at all, actually. I was deciding what else I should do to my drum. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Shai smirked. “What did you do? That doesn’t even look like a drum anymore.”

Nebnefer refused to be baited. “Sure it does! I painted it and replaced the old parts with new things from Father’s workshop,” he began. “It’s better now. It’s got Nubian lacing, and I painted it the colors Mother’s pots are, the ones from Keftiu — that blue is really popular. See?” Nebnefer tapped the drum head, and a sound unlike anything Shai had ever heard came out. “It even sounds like new. Isn’t it great?”

“Shame on you,” Shai admonished. “Father left us a wonderful gift and you took it apart and messed it up—”

“Father left me a piece of junk. It’s my responsibility to the god to make sure whatever He gets is the freshest and newest,” Nebnefer said. “If I were the god, I wouldn’t want to listen to the same old drum the same way for thousands of years! I’d be bored.”

“How do you know what the god wants and doesn’t want?” Shai shot back. “How do you know He’d be bored?”

“How do you?” snapped Nebnefer. “Is your drum that much better?”

“Of course it is,” Shai said proudly. “I asked the priests about our drums’ history. These drums have been in our family —our family alone — since they were made, by one of our ancestors,” Shai declared, running a protective hand across the top of the drum he held. “This drum is mine. It’s mine because my family made it, and I’m not going to let anyone else touch it as long as I live, unless they’re worthy.”

Nebnefer looked at Shai’s drum in a new light. “Can I play it?” he asked, reaching out.

“No,” Shai replied, pulling his drum away from Nebnefer’s inquisitive fingers. “I’m tired of being second in everything, so I’ve decided only second sons can play my drum,” Shai explained. “I’ll wait until my second son is born so I can teach him, and he’ll teach his second son, and….”

“That’s stupid,” Nebnefer interrupted. “What if you don’t have a first son, let alone a second son? What if it takes a long time, or you die first?”

“It is not stupid,” Shai argued. “I will make sure I have at least two sons. And my second son will keep my drum safe. Second sons are the only ones who should play drums, anyway. Your mess of a drum proves that.”

The discussion between the brothers degenerated into a vicious argument. They were nearly to blows over whose drum was superior, when suddenly, both stopped. Outside, carried on the balmy summer wind, came a soft and lovely music, being played on a single drum.

“What is that?” Nebnefer cried.

“Where is that music coming from?” Shai echoed. At once, both Shai and Nebnefer rushed out from the workshop door in search of the beautiful sound.

A little further down the path from the workshop, under one of the many trees in the family courtyard’s garden, their older brother Ankhmaat sat, with the third temple drum set lightly between his knees. A crowd had gathered: priests, family members, neighbors, and even strangers. Some knew how to play drums, others knew little or nothing of music at all, and still others had never even heard a drum, but had been walking by the house and felt compelled to stop and listen.

Shai and Nebnefer took a seat and watched as Ankhmaat shared his drum with everyone in the courtyard, passing it around until everyone had played a rhythm or two. While every pair of hands touching Ankhmaat’s drum created slightly different music, there was no doubt that the instrument they all held was a true instrument of the god: one of Ptah’s sacred drums, from Ptahhotep’s family tradition.

At dusk, the group broke up and left the three brothers to sit alone in a circle, their drums at their feet. Nebnefer and Shai could not take their eyes off their older brother’s drum, wondering what magic he had conjured that all of the village seemed caught up in it. Finally, Nebnefer spoke up, rubbing the side of Ankhmaat’s drum thoughtfully.

“How is it, brother, that your drum sounds more wonderful than mine, and you have drawn more of a crowd than Shai?” he asked. “Well, I know why Shai didn’t draw a crowd,” he added as an afterthought. “He has this silly idea that only second sons are allowed to play drums—”

“How about you, and your plan to change the drum into something else so it will be better?” said Shai, starting the argument afresh. “How can a drum be made to be anything more than a drum? As if it will even make music, now that you took all the pieces apart and—”

Ankhmaat began to laugh aloud.

“What’s so funny?” Shai snarled.

“Tell us,” Nebnefer agreed, glaring at Shai.

“You’ve both forgotten,” Ankhmaat began, tapping the drum at his feet, “that this is not just a musical instrument. It belongs to the god and is holy. And maybe even more important than its sacredness, it is more than a drum.”

At Shai and Nebnefer’s bewildered looks, Ankhmaat continued. “The music this drum makes is the legacy of our family and the history of our people. And more than just our family, or me, or either of you, it is a symbol of the god and the country our god calls home. It’s more than just an object. It is a being. You have to treat your drum with respect. Locking your drum up in a storehouse, until someone worthy enough comes to play it, silences its voice.” He glanced meaningfully at Shai and then looked to Nebnefer.

“But so will too new paint and flashy ornaments, if you replace too many of the original pieces of its body. A drum is what it is because it was made that way. But it remains that way only as long as you let it.”

Shai looked down at his drum. “So, I should share my drum with everyone?” he said.

Ankhmaat nodded. “The drum’s music doesn’t belong to either of us,” Ankhmaat reminded him. “It belongs to the gods, and to all Their children, no matter who they are.”

Nebnefer could not be consoled. “I thought I had a good drum by making it mine, but even with these new pieces, it cannot compare with yours, Ankhmaat,” he sobbed. “This is a nice drum, but it’s not the drum my father left me. What will I do?”

Ankhmaat smiled. “We can build another, like this one,” he offered, holding out his drum. “Come, Nebnefer, I will help. Shai, I will help you find people to play your music with. And the three of us shall make a family of drums to keep the gods’ music alive.”

The Nature of the Gods (III): The First Intelligible Triad (2)

Having discussed in the previous part of this essay those aspects of the God which are entirely prior to Being, we now join the God in proceeding to be. The division between that which is beyond being (the epekeina tês ousias that is the locus of the Good in Plato’s Republic) and Being Itself lies within each God, in the form of the division between the God’s existence (hyparxis) and Her activity (energeia). In the terms Plato uses in the Philebus, this activity is the Mixture of Limit and the Unlimited resulting from the operation of Causality. That is, it is Being (or any being) as the intersection of discrete and continuous natures and the expression of an agency. With the transition to the third moment of the first intelligible triad, the center of gravity, so to speak, has shifted within the henadic individual, and it is no longer the dyad of Existence and Power(s), One-All and All-One that matters, but rather the opposition between agency and action, will and structure, subjectivity and objectivity. In henological terms, this opposition is characterized as between the Unitary (heniaios), that which unifies or imparts integrity, and the Unified (hênômenon), that which experiences unity as an affection or pathos.

Accordingly, Proclus states in his Elements of Theology (prop. 6) that:

“Every manifold is composed either of things unified (hênômena) or of henads.”

There is always already multiplicity, and multiplicities of multiples, but there are two primary kinds of multiplicity: the henadic kind, exhibited by the Gods, and the kind exhibited by beings in general. The divine multiplicity is unitary (prop. 113, “The entire divine manifold [arithmos] is unitary”), because it is made up of the primary units, which are themselves primary because of the kind of manifold that they alone can form, namely one in which all are in each, rather than all in one. Unified multiplicity, by contrast, is made up of units which are unified, each unit having its unity by virtue of some characteristic, a unit just as some kind of thing; and a manifold of things grouped according to kind is also itself made one through this ‘as’ structure, and hence is also itself ‘unified’. I have referred to these two kinds of manifold as polycentric and monocentric respectively.

But where could Unified multiplicity come from, if not from Unitary multiplicity, lest there be an infinite regress or logical circle of things unified? And hence, from purely formal considerations, Being come from the Gods? And where could this difference arise, if not first within each henad, each God Herself? Hence there is the Unitary and the Unified in each God. In this fashion, we distinguish between the God’s existence and her action, and do not confuse Gods with roles or functions. We recognize the God’s freedom, and do not see Her as merely a part in a cosmic machine fulfilling an alien destiny. We recognize Her agency, and do not reduce Her to Her manifestations or appearances, to what She has been, for Hers is to be. We recognize Her, in short, as subject and not solely as object.

However, we also recognize the converse of these, what She makes, which, since She is ultimate, is what She has made of Herself. In this fashion, the opposition between the Unitary and the Unified in each God is based upon the prior opposition between what Damascius calls Their ‘One-All’ and ‘All-One’ aspects, that is, the way in which each member of the polycentric or unitary manifold on the one hand has all the others in Her, while on the other hand is in all the others. But now there is one thing, a Unified to which the Gods lend themselves, which is the activity of each and the passivity of all. As the Gods are present to one another Their active and passive relations toward one another become concrete in their own right. This is what Being is: the totality of relations among the Gods, and by extension of all other things as well. And it should be emphasized that had we no conception of Gods, we would say the same thing concerning the ultimate units of whatever formal system, to which henology, as the science of ultimates, would apply.

Within the Unified, upon the plane of Being (for a treatment of which from a different perspective, see a prior column), therefore, the Gods step out of the radical equality They possess simply as Gods, and assume differentiated and hierarchical positions amongst themselves in pursuit of Their common work, the cosmos. They array Themselves as parents and children, as sovereigns and subjects, as partners and antagonists, as strangers and kin, all of these dispositions being purely relative to a common plane of action.1 Upon this plane, accordingly, there is high and low, center and periphery, doer and done-to. But “All that is unified is other than the One Itself” (Proclus, Elements of Theology, prop. 4). There is no approach to Unity through being more Unified, nor distance from it in being less. The ladder of Being, the scala naturae, is not absolute, but a matter purely of integration relative to diverse purposes.

This hierarchical disposition of things is the illusion essential to Being, the same that produces the mirage of a ‘One Itself’, when indeed the One neither is, nor is one:

“Every God is more universal who is nearer to the One, more specific as more distant,” (ET prop. 126).

This differential universality is a function of more or less numerous effects, which we may in turn regard as a greater intensity of power (ibid., p. 112.16-19), but nevertheless “each is a henad” (ibid., 18). Nothing—no one—can be ‘more’ or ‘less’ a henad. Rather, the scalar language should alert us to the ground of such hierarchies in the second moment of the first intelligible triad, the Infinite or All-One, the henad as continuum, which is power and the ground of every more-and-less, while the absolute, existential nature of a henad has its ground in the triad’s first moment, Limit or the One-All, the henad as fact, one who is here.

A Philosophy of Movement

Today is the fourth day of the fourth month of the year, a combination that doesn’t go unnoticed for this particular mercurial devotee. It’s also my fourth piece on this site, so in light of that and as a tribute to the son of Maia, I’ve decided to write an article not about a fundamental topic that needs to be addressed or some obscure aspect of polytheism, but rather something more personal. It’s an expression of my devotion to Mercury, a written offering of sorts that may or may not (but hopefully will) feed into a collective sense of belief that’s part of the building blocks of a religious community. Even when belief is diverse and non-regulated. First, though, some clarifications are in order.

For some years now, I’ve been marking the first four days of April as the Ludi Mercuriales. It’s not an historical festival, even if in his Remus: a Roman myth, Timothy Wiseman does raise the possibility of a celebration under that name in ancient Rome, based on a reference to a collegium Mercurialium (1995: 213, n. 54). It’s a hypothesis and nothing more, but of little consequence in this case, because at the end of the day you don’t have to limit yourself to historical celebrations. At least not if you’re into reviving an ancient religion in the modern world as opposed to merely re-enacting it. If you have a living practice and not a fossilized one, you will freely celebrate dates that were unknown in the ancient world and even create new festivals to mark moments you find meaningful. Which is precisely the case of the first four days of the fourth month: not only does it relate to Mercury’s association with the number four, it also links to His role as a trickster by way of April Fools; even astrologically, if you’re into it (not my case, but I still find it curious), it falls on Aries or Ram, which happens to be one of the god’s animals. And that pretty much explains why I mark the fourth day of the fourth month as Mercury’s birthday.

Now, is He the same as Hermes? The answer is highly subjective, but if asked, I’d say yes and no. He lacked a flamen, which suggests He wasn’t part of the earliest Roman pantheon, and His temple was located outside the pomerium, which also hints at a foreign god. His origin may instead lie in Magna Graecia, which had trade relations with Rome, thus explaining the root of His name in the Latin merx (merchandise). In other words, He is Hermes imported by traders (perhaps grain merchants) and named after their own craft. Therefore, historically speaking, They are the same being. But an old god in a new context is, in a sense, also a new deity, because the host culture will reinterpret Him to a greater or lesser degree according to its parameters and needs, emphasizing certain features in detriment of others and perhaps even awarding new functions. Which results not in two separate entities – at least not necessarily – but different views of one. To use Tess Dawson’s analogy in her latest piece on this site, it’s the same tree seen by a squirrel and a human, which relate to it differently and thus name it in an accordingly different fashion. In other words, Mercury is Hermes’ Roman identity, complete with its own protocol and expectations, much like a man who works in Europe and Japan will act and present himself in a given way depending on the cultural circumstances. In a sense, a different god, though in reality the same.

I should also point out that what follows are not Mercury’s words or things He taught me in a conversation, because I don’t have that sort of interaction with Him. I get hints, subtle clues and signs, mostly in the form of coincidences or lucky finds, and occasionally a few dreams. But nothing along the lines of sitting down and hearing a sermon. What follows are ideas I revisited, wrote down or meditated on while being a devotee of His – things I’ve come to associate with Mercury while walking His path. Others might have different ideas and that’s okay, because I don’t expect the same god to be seen in an identical fashion by different people. So having clarified matters…

All roads are connected

Once, in my early days as a worshiper of Mercury, I asked myself what would be the best place to leave offerings to the Lares Viales. It’s not like I could pour a bit of wheat and wine on every single local pathway, but shortly after the obvious answer dawned on me: anywhere that’s a road, because they’re all connected. That is their purpose, isn’t it? They’re meant to link, communicate and transport, to move people and goods from one place to another, even if a distant one. And if that’s the case, why should it be any different with offerings to the gods of pathways? Just pour wheat or wine on one road and it will touch all who can be reached by it, because movement and connectedness are the realm of the Lares Viales.

So too is that of Mercury, the first among them. He is, after all, a god of messengers, communication and transportation, none of which would work without the ability to move and connect dots – geographically speaking, though there’s also a figurative sense to this, because He is equally a trickster. To be fooled is to miss the point, to be smart is to see it; the latter connects the dots, the former does not. On that note, Mercury isn’t just a god who facilitates movement and communication: He’s also One who blocks it! The lack of wits and cunning is the intellectual equivalent of a flat tire and you’re not going anywhere like that or at least not as fast as you could. And both outcomes can have His finger on.

Sometimes, even roads that at first glance seem to be entirely different or disconnected are actually entwined, if not altogether inside one another. That’s what I realized after joining Mercury’s fold. My previous primary devotion was Freyr, who is still one of the gods I cherish the most. I keep His old shrine, daily prayers to Him, a monthly offering, another on New Year and two annual celebrations, not to mention unscheduled libations, but I hesitated when making the shift, because it felt like a betrayal. Curiously enough, it all happened after spending four months in Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, a region where the Lares Viales were once highly popular. Funny how things seem to fall into place when you look back and take a wide view. Anyway, I ended up making the change, which meant going deeper into Roman polytheism, so in an effort to keep the old devotion alive while embracing the new one, I invested strongly in a modern Latin cult of Freyr and His family. And that turned out to be not just a rewarding (and still ongoing) experience, but also a very mercurial one, because being a messenger, a psychopomp and a trickster, Mercury is by nature a liminal god. He’s at home in the grey area that exists between one world and another, the inside and outside of a house, the moral and immoral, the male and female, and moves freely to-and-fro, adapting Himself to both sides. So when I had one devotional foot in Heathenry and another in Roman polytheism, I was between cultural worlds. When I Romanized the former, I was translating, bridging and bringing one set of gods from one context into another. By walking Freyr’s Latinized trail, I was “liminaling”, treading a path that’s not only connected, but is an actual part of the wider mercurial way. And on the very same night I realized this and wrote about it, I found a coin on a crossroads I don’t usually pass by on my late walks, but to which one of my dogs led me that time.

Of course, the notions of communication and movement lend themselves to many meanings, literal and figurative, one of which is manifested by this text. You have to write eloquently if you want to be convincing or at the very least communicate your ideas clearly. So cheers to He of Many Crafts, Giver of Good Things and Lord of the Golden Wand if you happen to enjoy these lines! He’s also a god of memory, if nothing else because sometimes you have to memorize whatever it is you need to tell others, and equally of god of learning. While being smart isn’t the same as being knowledgeable, the two form a brutal force when they go hand and hand. And what good is learning if you don’t pass on its fruits and every generation has to start from scratch because it learned nothing from those who came before it? Knowledge that moves through time, between people and places, is an enriching thing; knowledge that doesn’t, that stays hidden and untransmitted, is an impoverishing loss. No wonder one gets the impression that Mercury is a big fan of the internet.

Speaking of time and memory, here’s another way of connecting dots: History! You know that if you ever had the experience of sitting in front of a table full of editions of medieval documents, chronologies, dictionaries, academic studies and perhaps one or two maps in an effort to find references to particular moments, judge the value of the written information or follow a chain of events in both its linear development and the many repercussions. That was much of my daily routine during a lot of my time in Santiago de Compostela and that’s what you do when you’re an historian: you map the roads of time, the lines that link disputes, discoveries, debates, decisions, diseases and disasters, all connected in one complex web where no event takes place in isolation. There are always multiple causes and consequences that in turn are new causes, because it’s all connected dots. Cut a thread or two and there are things that would not have passed or maybe passed differently.

This, by the way, is also the case with you. Yes, you! The individual reading this. Think you’re a self-contained being with an inherent identity? Think again! You’re only who you are because you’re the product of many causes, a crossroads made unique because particular paths have met. Where you were born, who are your parents, how you were raised, your gender, your sexual orientation, the type of body you have – all of this and more makes you who you are. You, your individuality or identity are not an isolated dot or an inherent feature, but a mutable product. In as much as if you were to change the causes or paths that form the crossroads that is you, you’d be a different person. Would you be reading this had you been born in a country where there’s no religious freedom? Would you worship the same gods and have the same beliefs? Would you experience and see the world as you do had you been born a man instead of a woman? Or gay instead of straight, black instead of white, fat instead of slim? Or vice-versa? And how about those around you? How did they shape you, how did you shape them? And how would all have been shaped differently had you not met, not been close, not bumped into and maybe helped each other at some point? Nothing exists in isolation, everything exists connected. All roads are connected. And the change that makes you isn’t just a hypothetical, but a constant fact of life. It’s not like you’ll go on having a stable identity once you’ve been formed by many causes. How many people say they wouldn’t stand their younger selves? How many elderly admit they were pricks during their adult life?

Life is change

Change affects everything that exists, no matter how immutable things may seem. The sun rises everyday in the east and sets in the west, the stars are always up there, either fixed or on predictable paths, seasons follow in the same order every year, tides come and go like clockwork. You may think or say it has always been like this, but it hasn’t and it won’t.

The sun is actually a middle-aged star. If it were a person, it would be in its forties, still strong and healthy, but not as much as it used to. It’s an ageing sun, like many others you see in the night sky, parts of which may already be different. It was born and it will one day die, one catastrophically sunny day. So too will the Earth, which by then will have different continents and oceans and spin at a slower speed, if at all. Because a day hasn’t always had twenty-four hours and no, I’m not talking about cultural conventions. The moon, which is slowly drifting away, does more than just create the tides and regulate the planet’s tilt: it’s also slowing down its rotation. Which is why back in the time of the dinosaurs, had we been around to measure things as we do now, a day would be roughly twenty-two hours long. Even galaxies are subject to change and death, since they clash and cannibalize on each other. The Milky Way has done that and is on a collision course with Andromeda, which won’t end up well. The truth is that millions or billions of years isn’t forever: it’s just a longer life-span, still with a beginning, an inevitable end and plenty of change in-between. A centimetre per year, the rate at which some of the planet’s tectonic plates move, isn’t the same as immobility – it’s just a much slower rhythm of change. Mount Everest, which used to be ocean floor, grows at an average pace of just around four millimetres annually, but it moves nonetheless. Just because we don’t notice it or things seem to be in the same place every day doesn’t mean they really are. Immutability is by and large an illusion – even if a useful one.

Life is change, life is movement. It’s constant fluidity, no matter how slow. Actually, a lot of it is slow, because life needs time to prosper and hence cannot survive on permanently rapid change. But it happens all the same and you see it in yourself: your body ages, your ideas evolve, your personality mutates. You’re not the same person you were a decade or two ago, because you’ve been through things that shaped you into something that wasn’t you ten or twenty years ago. Maybe you’re more mature, maybe you’re less. Maybe you see the world in darker or lighter tones than you did. Maybe life has made you happier or more resentful, optimist or pessimist, indifferent or active, generous or stingy. Change doesn’t just affect people who suffer traumatic events, but touches everyone, even the Gods! Their mood, strategies, perspective on things, influence in the world, the way They relate to us and hence Their behaviour – all of that changes, even if not as fast as humans do. So forget the illusion that you have a self-contained and eternal identity, because you don’t. You’re movement, not stagnation! You are an ever-shifting product of ever-shifting causes. You’re recognizable as being the same throughout several decades because, well, it’s practical and needed for social life, but also because there are certain constants about you that change less or at a slower pace, allowing for sustained recognition to be maintained throughout the years. Much like a mountain is seen as being in the same place and having the same size, even though it is changing. Your body and memories are two such constants. But go away and come back after a few decades and your own friends and family may not recognize you because they haven’t kept up with the changes to your physical appearance. Or if you lose your memory, it will be a bit like a clean slate, even if you have the same body. You’re not immutable. And if that’s the case now, imagine what will it be like when death comes for you.

Embrace life by embracing movement. Learn to work with change, not against it. Be adaptable, not static. And no, this doesn’t mean you should simply forget about the past, move on or give up fighting for things you believe in. But do so with the full awareness that things change and that trying to simply turn back the clock has never worked out well. So while you may want to rebuild, restore or revive something, know that it will never be entirely what it was in the past, even when you seek to right a wrong or bring back the old, because life is movement. You can’t change what happened, only built on it, and in doing so you’ll create a today that will always be in some way different from yesterday. That’s why even tradition isn’t permanent. It may mutate slowly and carefully in order to remain traditional instead of turning into something altogether new, yet if it stops completely, it dies, because it fails to adapt, to embrace change. Get on board the always moving train that is life! Like Heraclitus, embrace the flowing waters, sailing down the ever-changing river of being, but with a caveat.

The journey matters, more so than the destination

Humans are creature of desire. It is one of our fundamental traits that we always strive for something, even if that something is to want nothing. When we don’t, when we have no goals, we grow bored, feel useless and linger. We need quests, destinations, a purpose to strive for, a maze whose centre we must reach. This, too, is part of the movement of life: we’re always going somewhere, because we always need to.

However, as important as a destination is, it must never be the sole thing on your mind. It must be coupled with an enjoyment of the journey, a sowing of the harvest it brings not just at the end, but throughout. Especially throughout! You must live the present moment even as you strive towards a future or else run the risk of losing one, if not both. Imagine someone who spends his days preparing for a death in peace, with a clean conscience and without fear of what follows. If that person fails to enjoy every day, because he’s always thinking of a distant tomorrow, there’s a good chance that when his last hour finally comes, he’ll look back and realize he missed out on what life had to offer since he never took the time to pay attention, let alone enjoy it. And in doing so, he may well find himself crying and regretting, thus causing the goal of a peaceful death to go down the drain.

Don’t be the traveller who spends the entire journey thinking about the next destination without ever looking out the window. Don’t be the pilgrim who’s so eager to reach the shrine on the other side of the mountains that he neglects the sounds, the smells, the view, the warmth, the cold, the colours, the breeze, the animals, the trees, the snacks, the companionship. So much so that when he finally gets there, the only thing on his mind is “that’s it?” and “now what?”. There’s no joy in that, no value, because it mistakes the finishing line for the journey and thus misses out on everything it has to offer. And everything you could learn from it.

Life is constant movement, which means every end is a new beginning. Every time you achieve something, you need a new goal; every time you get somewhere, you’ll have to go someplace else; every time it’s over, it’s just getting started. If you think things will always be in a given way once you achieve something, and therefore all you want is to get there so you can enjoy and be happy, you might want to reconsider. Change is always creeping in and it will leave no stone unturned, no matter how long it takes, so whatever happiness or success you have or strive for, it won’t last forever. There will always be something else to achieve, someplace else to go next, some new challenge to overcome. This is the never ending journey that is life, where no final goal is really final and every end is a new beginning. So if the destination is all you care about, if there’s nothing else on your mind, you’ll end up with a collection of empty shells, of goals you achieved, but which were never filled with the experiences of travelling towards them, leaving you unsatisfied at the end. Because there’s always something afterwards and you failed to take the time to enjoy what was in-between the never-ending succession of goals. You missed out on life, even though you ticked all the boxes in your to-do list.
The point of travelling is to travel. It’s the journey that matters, that makes you grow, makes you wealthier. The finishing line will come on its own if you keep on walking. If you act as if you want to reach the latter instantly, you’ll get nothing out of the former and end up poor at the end. You may get where you wanted to go, but without having been filled and transformed by the travelling experience. Take note, people: “Beam me up, Scotty” is not a good life motto! Instead, you must take time and savour every moment, capture its beauty, its value, its vibrancy, and let the finishing line be an enriching sum of every step, not something you reach as if jumping into it directly.

Never forget to laugh!

And do everything with a smile, even in the darkest hour. Or at least try to, since it’s not always easy and sometimes it’s hard to find a reason to laugh. Maybe the wound is too deep, the pain too strong, the injury too serious, the problems too big. But laughter isn’t a mere accessory with which you decorate life when things are well. It’s not a sort of trendy t-shirt that looks great when you’re out for a walk on a sunny day, but less so if you’re going to a funeral. It is so much more than that!

Laugher is a quieter of storms, a subduer of fears and opener of ways. It is one of the sharpest blades in the arsenal of the trickster, who wields it to collapse pedestals, break chains and cut through the veils of utter seriousness to let in the light of perspective. Or maybe these words are too elaborate and instead I should simply point out that a boggart isn’t just a magical creature in Harry Potter’s books, but a very good metaphor for the power of laughter over fear. Because when confronted with a shape-shifter who takes on the form of what scares you the most, the young wizards are told that the best way to counter it is by turning the boggart into whatever makes you laugh the most. Not because what terrorizes you isn’t serious, but because it shouldn’t be so to the point of taking away your ability to think and react properly. Not lashing out blindly or with brute force, since that too is no more than a product of fear, but reacting with clear focus and perspective. Laughter does that, because when what scares you the most is turned into an object of ridicule, of witty and incisive jokes, it loses the mantle of absolute seriousness with which it seeks to make itself unquestionable. And when that happens, a blow is given to fear’s full control, to its monopoly over speech and mind, because it is faced with a foe that does not recognize its total authority: comedy!

This is subversive, but so is the trickster. He is not the one who moves freely between borders, crossing the line that separates one world from another, the moral from the immoral, the male from the female? He’s a transgressor, a fluid entity, and fluidity is the antidote to whatever presents itself as immovable. Dogma is one such thing and it cannot stand laughter, because it implies the existence of flaws and hence doubts and questions, which are the death of unwavering solidity. It means that something escapes dogmatic control. Terrorism too has an enemy in laughter, for the purpose of terror is to terrify, to paralyze you into submission or drive you into reckless and self-defeating reactions, a goal that cannot be achieved if the seriousness that terrorism seeks to project isn’t serious enough to quell your ability to look at things differently. Because terror thrives on one’s inability to think straight, but laughter, by making it less than completely scary, offers the potential for perspective and clear thinking.

This is equally true for that which haunts us in life, our everyday fears of failure, poverty, disease, rejection, pain and death. It is only natural that we dread those things, none of which we are immune to, because life is change. No matter how healthy you are now, that won’t always be the case. No matter how handsome you look, it won’t last forever. No matter how rich or successful you are, you won’t always be able to bribe away death. She’ll always beat you at chess, no matter how long it takes and sometimes in a way that’s so unexpected, it actually looks like cheating. And if your happiness depends on those things, on being healthy, attractive or wealthy, then buckle up, because you’re in for a rough ride. Time takes it all away, makes present glories past memories, and if you have no other reason to smile, nothing else apart from health, beauty and money, then there’s a strong possibility that you’ll have a very miserable end.

The solution is to first and foremost embrace change. Accept it and enjoy the ride in all its present moments and without being overly focused on the destination. And then add to that the ability to smile and laugh no matter how dark things are. Strive to be ever happy in an ever changing life. It’s not easy, I know it’s far from being easy and at times you will fail, yet neither is it entirely impossible. In all likelihood, it will require work, rethinking habits and change the way your mind words, but it can be rewarding and provide you with a basic joy that is not dependent on a desire to hold on to things that won’t last. Seek out the smallest speck of light amidst the dark and you may come to a point where you’re not happy because you’re successful, but successful because you’re happy. So laugh, exorcize your fears and win a smile every day. I meant it! Nothing is so serious that it can’t be laughed at. Not even death, not even the Gods.

What comes after this life ends? Having been alive all the time since I was born, I’m unsure about it, but this much I know: you won’t be the same after it! Forget about the idea that you’ll be a mirrored, ghostly image of your current self. If your identity mutates so much now, you’ll change no less once you find yourself without a body. Or in a different one, if you believe in reincarnation. Whatever survives, it won’t be you as you know it, because life is change, life is movement. And so is death. The travelling psychopomp know it.

The Basic Ritual Outline

This is an outline for a possible reconstructed Gaulish ritual system, adapted to modern circumstances. The basic sources for this are Indo-European ritual, as reconstructed by Ceisiwr Serith and others, Greco-Roman sacrificial custom, modern Druid ritual, and the rituals of related cultures like the Germanic and Baltic peoples. In addition, it is influenced by what can be learned from the archaeological record. It is designed for one-person or small-group indoor rituals, and so is missing the procession, which formed a part of much Iron Age ritual practice.

A word should be said about what is acceptable to offer to the Gods. In ancient times, animals were the main offerings. They were consumed in the feast after the ritual, if the rite was to Dêwoi Ueronadoi, and buried whole without a feast, if the rite was to Dêwoi Andernadoi. For offerings to Dêuoi Ueronadoi, the animals of choice were pigs and sheep. For Dêuoi Andernadoi, the preferred offerings were cattle, often old cattle that were near the end of their natural lifespan.

In modern times, animal sacrifice is likely to be rare or nonexistent, so substitutes must be used. Animals made of bread may be used. In this case, they should represent an appropriate type of animal. Alcohol is always a good offering to the Gaulish deities, and may be of several types. Mead should not, however, be offered to Rosmertâ or Eponâ, as these Goddesses give mead. Wine is always acceptable, as it was a high-prestige drink in ancient Gaul. The exception to this may be Sucellus and Nantosueltâ, who are deities of wine. Juice or soft drinks are never acceptable, and might be seen as trying to cheat the Gods. Whole milk is a good offering, though not as good as alcohol. Skim or reduced fat milk is not acceptable, for the same reason as juice. Prepared foods, a feast or meal, is acceptable, for Dêwoi Ueronadoi only, provided the above rules are adhered to.

I. Urextus Noibodubri/Making of Holy Water: This is designed to bless water for use in purifying people before ritual. It is a modern innovation. In ancient times water from a holy well would have been used, or morning dew, or water taken at dawn from a stream over which the living and the dead have passed.

Hold cup of water or point at it. Say:

Esîtu matir Dêwon, Woberos albiwâs
Esîtu berus alwissous, al runodelgetâ
Esîtu Alboudidêwâ, Dêwâ Ulani
Esîtu Dêwâ Talamonos, berus alwlatês
Cenâ tu wastî emmos, canti tu emmos lânos.

You are the Mother of the Gods, the Source of All Life
You are the source of all wisdom, the keeper of all secrets
You are the Goddess of All Victories, the Goddess of Prosperity,
You are the Lady of the Land, the source of all sovereignty
Without you, we are empty, with you we are full

II. Glanosagon/Purification: This is the actual purification of the participants. Other Indo-European cultures have used hand washing, or other similar rites.

Sprinkle water onto all participants. Say:

Glanosagûmi suos, entrâseteyos in anton noibon, enceseteyos are Dêwobi.

I purify you all, that you may enter the holy place, that you may come before the Gods.

III. Kentus/ The Beginning:
A. Tauselos/ Quiet: This establishes a holy silence for ritual to begin. The holy space is separated out from the mundane realm, and belongs to some extent to the realm of the Gods. Therefore, things said in ritual can echo through the worlds, and have a greater impact than words spoken in other settings.


Tauelete, tauselete, tausete
Tauselos noibos bieto.

Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet,
Let there be a holy quiet.

B. Urextos noibotenetos/Making of Sacred Fire: The Sacred Fire represents Brigantiâ, the daughter of Taranis, and the Goddess of high places, and of the hearth. It is the holiest part of the sacred space, and forms a route of communication with the divine realm. Its light protects the sacred space, and it serves as a symbol of the presence of the divine spirit and the sacred center of all things. For indoor rituals, we use a candle, but for outdoor rituals, a fire is more appropriate.

Light the fire candle. Say:

Esîtu medyos alpetânon, aidus cintus in tanî cintî
Esîtu louxs sonni, randityo dîyon es noxtiê
Esîtu aidus papas aidletâs, papon aidun âwotor es te
Esîtu duxtir Taranês, Anatiâ Albiyin in Bitê
Te âwûmi, aide, in cinge Brigindonâs

You are the center of all things, the first fire at the beginning of time
You are the light of the sun, which marks out day from night
You are the fire of every hearth, all fires are lit from you
You are the Daughter of Taranis, the Soul of Heaven in This World
I make you, fire, in the way of Brigindonâ

C. Urextus Cagi / Making the Rampart: This is a modern innovation, and can be omitted when the ritual is being held in an existing holy place, or a dedicated ritual space used for no other purpose. However, these days, very few of us have access to such spaces. Personal rituals are often held in living rooms or bedrooms, or other places with multiple uses. Public rituals are held in multi-use facilities, or the back rooms of New Age shops, which are often used by readers and the public. This part of the ritual, then, purifies those sorts of spaces, and makes them suitable for ritual use.

Light small candle (or take a splint from the fire), take it about the holy place, saying

-Glanâmi soanton noibon
-Loukê noibê

-I purify this holy place
-By holy light-

IV. Areadbertâ/Pre-Offering:

A. Adbertâ Tenetê/Fire Offering: This part of the offering honors and strengthens the Sacred Fire, to help protect the sacred space. It is one of the most traditional and common elements of our ritual system. Here we light incense from a candle. If there is an actual, outdoor, sacred fire, it is better to put powdered incense directly into the fire. Butter or oil can also be used.

Light incense with fire candle. Place in holder, saying:

Demmos sotun tei, tenete
Demmos sotun tei, Duxtir Taranês
Demmos sotun tei, Brigindonâ
Esîyo nertos,
Eti anegesyo soanton uritt aldrukon.

We give you this incense to you, fire,
We give this incense to you, Daughter of Taranis,
We give this incense to you, Brigindonâ,
That you are strong,
And that you protect this place against all evil.

B. Adbertâ Carnonû/Offering to Cernunnos: This is a small offering to Cernunnos, so he will open the way to the other deities and divine realms. This makes certain that prayers go where they are supposed to, and that clear communication is maintained. Cernunnos is called on in every ritual as gatekeeper and Opener of the Way.

Pour out a small amount of wine or whatever else you are offering into the offering bowl. Say:

Gediyins gwuyûmi
Eti woxtlus wegyûmi
Carnonon wediûmi
Tigernon Caiti
Dîclâwetos Cingi
Dêwos Arelayetyo Marwon
Eti detyo ulânon
Yo dîclâwetis Cingon Dêwobo,
anson gediyins Dêwobo beretyo.

Prayers I pour out
And words I weave
Carnonos I invoke
The Lord of the Wood
The Opener of the Way
The God Who Guides the Dead
And gives prosperity
That he open the way to the Gods
bear our prayers to the Gods.

V. Adbertâ/Offering: This is the main offering of the ritual. It is the heart of the ritual, in which gifts are given to the Gods. We use our offering to Sironâ as an example.

Open bottle of wine and pour out. Say:

Gediyins gwuyûmi
Eti woxtlus wegyûmi
Sironin wediûmi
Dêwin Lugrâs
Dêwin Admesserâs
Ariyin Natrigon
Ariyon Andounnânon
Yâ detsi slaniyin amê
Eti wirobo anextlon bouboc.

Prayers I pour out
And words I weave
Sironâ I invoke
The Goddess of the Moon
The Goddess of Time
Lady of Serpents
Lady of Wells
That she give health/safety to us
And protection to people and cattle.

VI. Natus/Chant: This is where the work of the ritual is performed. In seasonal rituals, seasonal chants or re-enactments may be used here. Or, divination may be done, or any sort of prayers made. Here, we include a healing spell, from a healing ritual I did some time ago.


Âwûmi umê
Brixtom are waiton
Brixtom are cîcin
Brixtom are cnamûs
Brixtom are anatlin

Âwûmi umê
Brixtom uritt kwurmin
Brixtom uritt anxton
Brixtom uritt aglon
Brixtom uritt trougon

Slanos wer suos bieto
Dîwedos wer sueson anxton bieto
Dîwedos wer sueson kwurmin bieto
Ma trougos wer suos sindiu bietutu
Slanos we suos baragiê bieto

In anuani Dêwin Lugrâs
In anuani Dêwin Admessarâs
In anuani Ariyin Natrigon
In anuani Ariyin Andounnânon
In anuani Sironâs

Duci Bieto

I make for you
Spell for blood
Spell for flesh
Spell for bones
Spell for breath

I make for you
Spell against worm
Spell against pain
Spell against wound
Spell against suffering
Health be on you
An end upon your pain
An end upon your worm
If there is pain on you today
Health be on tomorrow

In the name of the Goddess of the Moon
In the name of the Goddess of Time
In the name of the Goddess of Serpents
In the name of the Goddess of Wells
In the name of Sironâ

So mote it be.

VII. Clawiyâ/Closing:

A. Braton Sironî/Thanks to Sironâ: Here, we give thanks to the main deity called on for the rite, in this case Sironâ. Other deity names may be substituted without any other alteration.


Braton tei, Sirona,
Are slanon
Are boudion
Are anextlon
Molammos te!

Thanks to you, Sironâ
For health
For prosperity
For protection
We praise you!

B. Braton Carnonû/Thanks to Carnonos: Here, we give thanks to Cernunnos for opening the way to the deities, and ask him to allow space to return to its normal configuration.


Braton tei, Carnone
Are diclawiyin cingi
Are beriyin anson gediyins
Nu wediemmos te , yo clawes cingon
Eti molammos te!

Thanks to you, Carnonos
For opening the way
For bearing our prayers
No we pray you, that you close the way
And we praise you!

C. Clitâ Noibotenetos/Covering the Sacred Fire: Here, we respectfully put out the Sacred Fire, using the term “covering”, which was used for banking a fire to that would not go out overnight. If using a real fire, it should be carefully banked or covered with ash, with the top smoothed.

Say, to the candle flame:

Esîtu medyos alpetânon, aidus cintus in tanî cintî
Esîtu louxs sonni, randityo dîyon es noxtiê
Esîtu aidus papas aidletâs, papon aidun âwotor es te
Esîtu duxtir Taranês, Anatiâ Albiyin in Bitê
Te celûmi, aide, in cinge Brigindonâ

You are the Center of Creation, the first fire, at the beginning of time
You are the light of the sun, which marks out day from night
You are the fire of every hearth, all fires are lit from you
You are the Daughter of Taranis, the Soul of Heaven in This World
I cover you, fire, in the way of Brigindonâ

Now, put out the candle flame. A fire may be put out here, or allowed to burn through the feast and then put out. Say:

Adbertin uregetar, uregetar Litun. Con nertê, anextlêc Dêwon au nemeton exsagomos.

The offering is done, done is the rite. With strength, and the protection of the Gods, let us go from the nemeton.

VIII. Ulidos/Feast: Following the ritual, it is customary to feast, when calling on Dêwoi Ueronadoi. This can be as simple as sharing a glass of wine or milk, or as elaborate as you wish. Note that the feast is omitted when calling on Dêwoi Andernadoi.

Hreda and Eostre, The Goddesses That Bless This Time of Year

Blessed Hredmonath to all! Hredmonath was the pagan Anglo-Saxon name for the month of March according to the Venerable Bede in his *De Temporum Ratione*. According to Bede, the Anglo-Saxons sacrificed to their goddess Hreda during this time. Interestingly, the Christian holiday Easter ends up falling during the month of Hredmonath, when to the ancient Anglo-Saxons, it was the month of April (Eosturmonath) that was named for their goddess Eostre.

The only recorded information we have about either goddess is from Bede, and all he tells us is that March was Hreda’s month, April was Eostre’s. Other than Eostre’s name being preserved in the name of the Christian holiday, there is virtually no other recorded information about either goddess. We don’t have any surviving information about stories or myths, attributes, associations, relationships, functions, nor anything else really.

We know Eostre’s name cognates to the English word East (Shaw, 55). Because of this, Grimm postulated that she was a goddess associated with the dawn and the rising sun, and theorized an equivalent Germanic goddess whom he named Ostara (Grimm, 1882: 290). Theories abound trying to connect Eostre to the Matronae Austriahenae (over 150 inscriptions have been found near Morken-Harff, Germany), but from a scholarly perspective it is unclear whether or not there is a connection (Shaw, 52)

As for Hreda, we know even less. Her name does not neatly cognate to anything else, though there are a number of words that may be related. Possible related words include words meaning quick (hreð), goatskin or possibly a goatskin garment/mantle (hreða), to rejoice (hrêðan), fierce (hrêðe), and glory or victory (hrêð) (Shaw, 74). There are also related words such as scildhrêoða and bordhrêoða, both referring to the ornamentation or covering of a shield (with the hrêoða element implying a covering or an ornamentation) (Shaw, 76). Most compelling however is the name Hreðgotan, a name applied to the Goths and found in two Old English poems (Shaw, 87). The interesting and compelling bit here is the possibility that Hreda was such a significant goddess of the Gothic tribes that they were referred to as Hreda’s Goths. It is worth noting as well that the name Goth comes from the same root word as Godhi (an Old Norse term for a priest and chieftan) and God (Lehmann, 164).

The Goths were most likely a whole culture that thrived from about the middle of the first millennium BC, and possibly originated in southern Sweden (Wolfram, 16-35). According to Isidore of Seville, they were of the same race as the Getae, Thracian tribes originating from the regions found on either side of the Danube River in what is today Northern Bulgaria and Southern Romania. In their heyday, the Goths controlled a vast swath of Europe from the Danube to the Ural mountains, and from the Black to the Baltic Sea.

So where does that leave us? My personal work with these goddesses is entirely based on direct contact with them. For me, I understand Hreda as a goddess of hearth and home. I understand her as governing that felt sense of being in your own home. This concept of the idealized home is very powerful – this is the home that a soldier will go to battle to defend, and will die in defense of their home. Home is where we return to refresh and renew, where we are nourished and healed. Home, for many people (and more so for folks from older times), is where we were more likely to be born and where we may die. Home is where we sleep, where we are supported and loved. For me, Hreda holds all of this. For me, she also stands at the threshold of that idealized home and can help us to transition into whatever we need to be when we are out in the world, and transition back when we return home – she can help us put on our armor to deal with the rest of the world, and help us take it back off when we don’t need it any more.

Eostre, for me, is the early rush of spring, the renewal and rebirth that rapidly expands outward as the weather warms up. She holds the ecstatic energy of seeds bursting open, of animals giving birth, of ice melting and warmth returning. If Hreda holds the potential and the quiet renewal of home, Eostre holds the spark of a new season, the curiosity and wanderlust that awakens as more mild weather arrives. Eostre sends us back out of our homes to explore our worlds, the rising sun, the returning sun and the lengthening days that shines light on all manner of things. Eostre is the enthusiasm that sends us out exploring; Hreda is the comfort that we return to once we’ve done that exploration.

So for this Hredmonath, may we remember she whose name was nearly forgotten. Hail and blessings to Hreda, mother of the Goths, she who brings glory and speed. Hail lady of transitions, who holds the hope of spring in the end of winter. Hail to the bringer of victory, who holds the memory of home even when we are far away. Every bear has its den, every bird its nest. May she bless you with the warmth and safety of your own hearth, even if that hearth lives only as a dream inside your heart. May you have food on your table, loving caresses in your bed, and a warm safe place to hang your hat. Hail Hreda!

And as we transition from Hredmonath to Eosturmonath, with the celebration of that Christian holiday who derives its name from this much older Goddess, blessings and hail to Eostre, sister of Hreda. May the return of sun and mild weather awaken curiosity and hunger for experience. Lady, awaken the seeds so they may rise up! Awaken the animals whose kits and cubs and lambs may continue the legacy of their species! Shake us loose from our stuck places, thaw the ice that has kept us stationary and still. All hail the rising sun, the coming of spring. Hail Eostre! Hail the sisters, who send us out into the world to explore and learn, and receive us back home with open arms when we return victorious!


Bede, De Temporum Ratione. Wallis, Faith (Trans.). Liverpool University Press, 2004.

Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition with Notes and Appendix Vol I & II. London: George Bell and Sons, 1882.

Isidore (Bishop of Seville). History of the Kings of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi. E.J. Brill.

Lehmann, Winifred P.; Helen-Jo J. Hewitt. A Gothic Etymological Dictionary. E.J. Brill, 1986.

Shaw, Philip. Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons. Bristol Classical Press, 2011.

Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. University of California Press, 1990.