The ravendeities

In Irish mythology, ravens were associated above all with the fearsome triple goddesses of war and destruction, the Morrigna (singular Morrigan) and the Badbh.49 These Insular ravens represented the bloodshed of the battlefield and the pitiless destruction of man by man. That ravens were linked with warfare in Iron Age Europe is indicated by the presence of such objects as the helmet from Romania, with its movable raven crest (figure 4.17) (see chapters 4, 6).

In Romano-Celtic iconography, ravens were presented not as birds of destruction but as peaceful attributes of beneficent divinities. This may have been due partly to their supposed oracular powers, for which they were apparently used by Irish Druids in divination.50 The Graeco-Roman Apollo was associated both with prophecy and with healing, and the occurrence of raven images at some of these Celtic therapeutic sanctuaries may derive from a similar association. The god who presided over the Burgundian healing spring shrine at Mavilly was depicted in company with a large raven51 and a sick pilgrim who apparently suffered from an eye affliction. It is even possible that the raven's bright eyes represented clear vision. Many of the goddesses are portrayed with ravens as attributes: Nantosuelta is one of the few for whom we have a name. She appears on images at Sarrebourg near Metz and at Speier

in Germany, accompanied by a raven. Nantosuelta's name means 'Winding Stream', but this gives little clue as to her identity or function. She is normally depicted with her consort Sucellus, The Good Striker, a god whose main attribute was a long-shafted hammer or mallet. The couple seem to have been venerated as bringers of prosperity and domestic well-being: Nantosuelta's other motifs include a house symbol and a hive; Sucellus often carries a small pot or goblet, perhaps filled with wine. The goddess may have been perceived as a kind of mother-goddess, and it is interesting that in Luxembourg a distinctive type of goddess was worshipped, a deity whose image consisted of a lady seated within a house-shaped shrine and accompanied by a raven. Here again then, the house and bird symbols are associated. It is well established that the Celtic mother-goddesses had an association with death and the Otherworld as well as with fertility and florescence. This is why small images of the Mothers are sometimes found in graves and at the bottom of wells.54 So it may be that where ravens are associated with goddesses, they represent the underworld aspect of their cult: it is interesting that one representation of Epona55 depicts her with a dog and a raven; the connection between the horse-goddess and the Otherworld has already been examined.

Other deities appear with dogs and ravens. A sculpture found at Moux in Burgundy56 depicts a peaceful, bearded god dressed in Gaulish breeches and a cloak fastened at the shoulder (figure 7.10). He carries a billhook and three fruits in the crook of one arm and rests his other hand on a knotted club or stick; by his side sits a dog with pricked-up ears. On each of the god's shoulders perches a raven, its long sharp beak pointing towards his head. The inanimate attributes of the god proclaim him as a lord of nature, a pruner of foliage and a gatherer of fruit. His dog may simply be a companion, a guardian in the wild countryside, but the ravens present a symbolism which may reflect the underworld and thus the dog, in this context, may also be a chthonic motif.

Sequana and the water-birds

In 1963, investigations at a waterlogged site north-west of Dijon brought to light an important healing sanctuary, Fontes Sequanae, a spring shrine at the source of the river Seine. The site was particularly rich in votive objects, not only of metal and stone but also of wood, the oak heartwood of the Chatillon plateau. Dedications made by grateful or hopeful pilgrims show that the deity venerated here was called Sequana, goddess of the Seine; her bronze cult-image, recovered from the mud, depicts a serene deity wearing long robes and a diadem, her hands outstretched to welcome her suppliants (figure 8.10). The interesting point here is that she stands in a boat in the form of a duck, the prow fashioned as its beaked

head and its tail forming the stern. The duck is present here as a simple water symbol, indicative of Sequana's aquatic identity and of the healing powers of the spring-water. Of the many representations of pilgrims in stone or wood, some are shown bearing gifts to Sequana (figure 8.4), gifts that sometimes took the form of birds.

Figure 8.10 Bronze figurine of Sequana in her duck-prowed boat, first century AD, Fontes Sequanae, near Dijon. Paul Jenkins.

Other representations of ducks are recorded from free Celtic and Romano-Celtic Europe but most of these occur as isolated figurines, there being no clue to their religious identity. An exception is the combined iconography of the water-bird and the sun, which was a tradition whose origins lay in the later European Bronze Age. In this period, solar symbols ride in boats with water-bird head terminals, on sheet bronze vessels and on jewellery, and sun-wheels and ducks appear together on armour. The association of the solar and water-bird symbols continued into the Celtic Iron Age, with duck-boats carrying suns on bronze pendants, and torcs decorated with wheels flanked by duck-like birds (figure 6.15).59 In this context, the water-bird appears to be an attribute of a celestial deity. We know that, in the Celtic period, the sun- and sky-gods were complicated beings who were linked not only with the heavens but also with water and the underworld. Perhaps the water-bird was perceived as a suitable solar emblem because it was able both to fly and to swim, thus bringing together the elements of sky and water, both of which belonged to the celestial powers. To the pagan Celts, the sun and water were both related to healing, and this perception of the water-bird as a link between the two elements may have resulted in the making of the image of Sequana, the curative goddess of Fontes Sequanae, riding in a duck-adorned boat.

0 0

Post a comment