Forgotten Ancient French Gods
Forgotten Gaulish Deities
In mythology, we often read about the Greek and Roman deities. We've often heard about Aphrodite, Venus, Apollo, Aries, and Poseidon. Sometimes we're lucky to hear about the Egyptian and Celtic gods and goddesses like Bastet, Isis, Osiris, Brigid, Rhiannon, and others. But it's not often we hear of the Gaulish pantheon. The Gauls were a large tribe of Celts who lived in the region that is now France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and some of Northern Italy and Germany. Like the other Celtic tribes, the Gauls had their own beliefs and traditions, as well as gods and goddesses. Their deities were associated with natur—some may have once been land guardian spirits (also known as genius loci).
In this article, we will revive the ancient French gods of the Gauls who have long been obscured and forgotten in time.
Bormanus: The God of Healing
Bormanus, also known as Borvo and Bormo, is a healing god of the ancient Gauls. His consort was the goddess Bormana and sometimes Damona. Depending on the region, his consort would be one or the other goddess. Bormanus was associated with healing because of his domain over bubbling springs and purifying waters. His worship was mostly centered in modern day France in Bourbonne-les-Bains. The Romans referred to the thermal springs in Bourbonne-les-Bains as Aqua Borvonis (therein lies Bormanus' alias Borvo).
The Gauls adopted the Romans' obsession with bathing and ritual hygiene practices; therefore, many of the Gauls' gods and goddesses would come to be associated with the thermal springs in France. It is likely these French gods and goddesses once presided over rivers or other waterways before being moved to a thermal spring and/or bathing temple. Thermal springs were thought to have purifying and healing powers, and so any god presiding over a thermal spring was automatically attributed with healing qualities.
Esus: The "Barbarous" God
Esus was one aspect of a triple-godhead in Ancient Gaul (what is now modern day France). His name translates to mean "lord" and "master". He was linked to the Roman god Mars. Shall we point out the obvious similarity in names to the Christians' God "Jesus"? Another interesting point to note is the way in which people were sacrificed to the god Esus—they were hung from trees. Esus was a powerful and fearsome god and is mentioned by the Roman poet Lucan in 1AD as being "barbarous". This is due to the god's direct association with war. Were people really sacrificed to appease the Celtic gods as the Romans stated? Or was this just history written by the victors on the other side who also did similar sickening rituals?
Esus has been compared to Odin because of the sacred tree link and his all-powerful quality. The other two gods in the triple godhead with Esus are Taranis and Toutatis. Esus was mostly a mainland Celtic god; however, mention of him has been discovered in Britain so his cult must have spread across the waters at some point.
Maponos: God of Youth
Maponos was worshiped in Ancient Gaul and also in Britain under the name Mabon. Maponos was the god of "eternal youth", the beloved son of the Mother Earth Goddess. Some claim his mother was Dea Matrona (an Ancient French Mother Goddess widely venerated through Celtic Europe). The Romans equated Maponos with Apollo. Maponos is mentioned in the Welsh prose called The Mabinogion, in which his birth and capture are detailed. After only three nights in his mother's arms, he is stolen away from her. The memory of Maponos (Mabon) is still honored by modern day pagans on the Autumn Equinox which many call Mabon. Mabon's mother's name was Modron, and so this is how scholars connect Modron with the Gaulish goddess Dea Matrona.
Sucellus: God of Wine
Originally a Celtic Gaulish god of wine and farming, Sucellus became a semi-popular god with the Romans too. The Celtic Aediu tribe residing in central France were particularly fond of Sucellus, and a statue of him was found in a household shrine in this region dating to about 1 AD. In the statues found depicting Sucellus, he holds what is thought to be either a hammer or a beer-barrel suspended on a pole and a ceramic jar called an olla. An olla held preserved foods, which leads us to believe he was a god of agriculture and wine. Another famous statue of him was found in Vienne, France. Being that the French love their wine and champagne, it's no wonder this love dated back to ancient times and was presided over by a god like Sucellus.
Taranis: Celtic God of Thunder
Taranis is one of the three gods that made up the triple-godhead in Celtic Gaul alongside Toutatis and Esus. Taranis is the Celtic God of Thunder worshiped primarily in Gaul with some cults forming in the British Isles and a few regions in Germany and Iberian Peninsula (Spain/Portugal). Taranis' name translates literally to mean "to thunder" or "thunder". Thunder gods were popular deities in the ancient world, and Taranis can be seen as another version of the Norse thunder god Thor (who is still popular in modern times thanks to Marvel comics). Thunder gods, including Taranis, were typically shown holding a hammer or thunderbolt and/or a wheel. The wheel is thought to have represented a sun-god or sky-god cult popular in bronze age Europe, a motif that is featured in Germanic, Norse, and Greek mythology.
Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.— Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Toutatis: The Tribal Guardian God
The last of the three triple-godhead gods is Toutatis, also seen in Lucan's poetry as Teutates. His name is speculated to mean "tribal" in some form, and therefore he is thought to have been a tribal protector or guardian for the ancient Gauls. Lucan's poetry states the triple-godhead was popular and also required human sacrifice. Again, we will never know for sure if this was true or just something the Greeks rumored about the Celts because of rivalry/enmity purposes.
Toutatis' worship might have spread as far west as the British Isles, as there have been artifacts found with Toutatis' name inscribed. The "Tot" rings are one example.
An asteroid was named in Toutatis' honor in 1989, and Asterix comics made his name somewhat famous in the saying "By Toutatis!"
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© 2018 Nicole Canfield