This paper was originally written in April 2016 and will be updated.
Statement of Purpose: Introduction
Few Celtic Polytheists outside the Gaulish branch, and even less in the wider pagan community recognize the name Belenos, unless falsely connected to the Fire Festival of Beltane. He is known also as Belenus and Belinus, as well as several more . Bel is also an appropriate shorter nickname, but it’s best to only be used in casual mentions. Belenos does have few aspects of pop-culture named after Him, such as a Celtic Pagan Black Metal band in France, (which I have not had the pleasure of listening to).
Belenos is perhaps fortunate enough to not be as popular as Cernunnos whose fact and reality is being constantly debated by faiths other than Gaulish Polytheism (those faiths that He’s somehow found Himself indoctrinated within, such as Wicca). This paper will be split into two main sections. The first will contain historical and archaeological fact with as many sources as possible for further reading, the second will consist of UPG and SPG (don’t worry if you don’t understand those words, it will be all explained), which I will try to list as many fellow Gaulish Polytheists who share ideas and specifics with links to their pages if you are further intrigued. Further down, there are other miscellaneous things such as worship, associations and altar suggestions.
Celtic vs. Gaulish
I feel the need to make the distinction clear between classic misconceptions of Celtia. Modernly, ‘Celtic’ seems to solely incorporate Ireland and Scotland, migrants from those lands, and as well as their culture. However in the historical sense, the Celts are far more diverse, the peoples who resided in all parts of the British isles are included, the Gaels, the Welsh, the Britons, etcetera. Belenos is a Gaulish deity, and the Celtic Gauls, only a part of the continental Celts, lived in the immense territory that contained Belgium, parts of Germany and parts of Spain as well. The Gauls spread very far from historical Gaul itself, having settled in many parts of Europe, including parts of modern Turkey as well.
What the Bel?!
Belenos was the most wide-spread of the Gaulish gods, found in Iberia, present-day Belgium and northern Italy, Austria, and of course all over Gaul itself. He even landed himself the spot as the national god of Norticum, an independent kingdom in modern northern Italy that later became a Roman Province. In fact, during the siege of Norticum’s capital of Aquileia by the Romans, soldiers reported seeing Belenos defending the city from the air.
Helmut Birkhan, Kelten. Versuch einer Gesamtdarstellung ihrer Kultur, p. 583.
Further Introductory Reading on Belenos
The Solar Myth:
From the Wikipedia article ‘Belenus’ cited the 12th of December 2015:
Belenus (also Belenos, Belinus, Bel, Beli Mawr) is a Sun God from Celtic Mythology and, in the third century, the patron deity of the Italian city of Aquileia. Called the “Fair Shining One,” (or The Shining God) he was one of the most ancient and most widely worshiped Celtic deities and is associated with the ancient fire festival and modern Sabbat Beltane. He was associated with the horse (as shown by the clay horse figurine offerings at Belenos’ Sainte-Sabine shrine in Burgundy) and also the Wheel. Perhaps like Apollo – with whom he became identified in the Augustan History – Belenos was thought to ride the Sun across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot.
Let me start off by firstly stating that my personal belief Beli Mawr is uniquely a Welsh deity as I do consider myself a hard polytheist, but whatever your own belief is, it’s fine. Moving on, Belenos is assumed to be a sun god by modern scholars due the translation of His name, and His association with Apollo.
“Despite associations of his name with fire or the sun, Belenus was not a sun god; in fact, there is no Celtic evidence for the worship of the sun as such, even though it was often used in religious imagery.” –Encyclopedia Britannica.
There is also the misconceived connection between Belenos and the Fire Festival of Beltane. Beltane appears in every Celtic nation, and Belenos is uniquely Gaulish so the idea that the other Celtic nations would hold an entire festival devoted to a god they don’t even know is preposterous, leading to the conclusion that Beltane is unfortunately not devoted to Belenos. Allec Guire ‘nicstoirm’ suggested otherwise:
“There’s the idea that the holiday spread from Gaul to places like Gael, but lost the deity along the way. Sorta like how Christmas is a Christian holiday, but a lot of American families who celebrate aren’t worshiping Christ anymore.”
The reality is up to you then, Reader.
Ramblings of The Belhound: The Gnosis
This next section is about the extension of existing information on Belenos, mashed with personal experiences. Other Gaulish Polytheists will be referenced when appropriate. A brief explanation of previously mentioned acronyms:
- UPG – Unverified Personal Gnosis (This is when I refer to something that a personal belief)
- SPG Shared Personal Gnosis (this is when I refer to something that is a shared personal belief)
Belenos: The God of Life
Looking back at the Solar Myth, many Gaulish Polytheists, despite being presented with many online sources suggesting it, all share the belief is that Belenos isn’t much of a sun god.
Adaryn “AskGaul” stated:
“I think that he’s less of of a sun god than commonly portrayed, as the Gaulish deities tend to be less about the things and were not quite a clear-cut as some of the other Pantheon’s depicted their deities to be.”
In the Gaulish worldview, gods are actually more about their personalities and skills, and their elemental domains, if any, come secondary. But where does life come into all of this? A couple months ago I stumbled upon Alix “enfant-argile”‘s post on tumblr raising the question of Belenos as a life deity:
“I see Belenos as very much ALIVE and associated with LIFE PROCESSES, and at the same time kind of distant and diffuse because He’s almost everywhere at once and while I feel like there’s a distinct personality there, it’s not necessarily one that is especially focused on humans and human things more than any other things that are alive.”
So if Belenos is a god of life, then what is life exactly from a spiritual sense? Life is the flow of energy that erupts from a land, from all the living beings in it, and all the movements of day to day life. Movement is life, the more movement you can find in a land, the more Belenos is present. During the colder months of the year, it could be thus said that as the movements of life decrease, when birds retreat south and mammals hibernate, so does the presence of Belenos hibernate, in a way as well? Perhaps. Belenos’ historic symbolism to the wheel could possibly also communicate an ideas of Him being associated to movement, and perhap life.
Belenos: God of Healing
The primary domain of Belenos, undiluted by Roman sources is in fact ‘a god of healing springs’. He’s connected with several healing springs across France and Europe.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Belenos won’t be able to make your broken leg heal faster. He won’t be to help you deal with any sort of recurring physical health issues either, unfortunately
Returning to His aspect in healing springs, imagine the calm and serenity you’ll receive by chilling by a trickling brook or a raging river. Belenos is that calm and serenity. Simply put, the healing connotations He’s been attributed are in fact, been far too literal. Belenos is perhaps a god of mental health. Any additional insight is welcome.
Belenos & Belisama: The Divine OTP and Gender Fender
Many depictions of Belenos also portray a female deity, who is most probably Belisama. Belisama is very similar to Belenos in personality and skills, through She is hardly a fem-Belenos. The interaction between Belenos and Belisama is wholly unique, and is best described as a gestalt being, an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.
Basically, Belenos and Belisama: they are the same, yet they are not the same and together they are The Shining One. Hawke ‘CeruleanCervines” and myself share this view, originally referring to the gestalt being as a ‘Fusion Gem’ (‘Fusion Gems’ are the product of two or more ‘Gems’ from the children’s cartoon Steven Universe creating an entirely separate entity).
Belisama, (and I suppose the inverse of the situation for Belenos, through Maponus might be a better example) can create some wonky gender related feelings. Not to enforce gender binaries, of course. Belisama has the ability to create and enforce an alternate reality that is vivid and real. She can take a hard-ingrained notion of cisgenderism and make you believe you’ve been a girl your whole life. To each their own experience, through. Owen, ‘Monsterlets’ describes his first interaction with the goddess as “I Feel A Disturbance In The Gender.”
Belenos & Houndship:
I call myself ‘houndofbel’, but I invite you to call yourself a Belhound too. I’d like to introduce myself and where I’m coming from, so you might better understand what you’ve read up until now. I grew up a Roman Catholic, and I took many roles in my old church. I finished the Faith First program enthusiastically in my early teens, going on to teach Sunday School, teaching at the summer bible camp for several years following that, and then was an altar boy for just as many. It was a rare occasion for me to miss church, and then I suddenly just stopped going entirely.
The next few years of religious deliberation caused me to delve into Wicca for a bit over a year, and then I became the Gaulish Polytheist I have been for quite a few years now, choosing Belenos after having a solar-fascination since I was twelve. (Or did he choose me?)
So what does it mean to be a Belhound? I won’t claim to have invented the title of belhound, as the ancient Briton king Cunobelinus’ name directly translates to ‘Belhound.’ Belhound, as you could guess is my special word for a devotee of Belenos. The idea around a belhound is to do good things to help circulate the movement of life in your land. Do stuff for your community, your household. Pass the warm fuzzy feeling Belenos gives on to as many people as possible, to improve Life for as many as possible. Through Belenos is not beneath a little humorous trickery. I’ve had an experience when I see a friend I had a particularly bad falling out with and have the decision to go talk and potentially make-up with them. Instead I walked the other way and tripped over a low-lying chain-linked fence. Or another example, when I told Him I’d be productive for sure the following day, sleep well past noon, and be awakened by the Alice in Wonderland poster above my bed falling off the wall and assaulting my face. Through of course, it must absolutely be mentioned that you must never burn yourself out when spreading the fires of life. Your fire is the most important fire.
That’s it all. That’s the rambles. Below you’ll find assorted lists of things I associate with Belenos, sources, and other tidbits of information. I hope this has been a learning experience.
Belenos is associated with the following locations:
- Lakes, rivers, and ponds
- Warm spots under the sun
Spiritual things Belenos is associated with include:
You may want to petition Belenos if:
- You’re feeling emotionally stuck
- You want to try something new
- Simply being an Introvert in the Outside World
Offerings to Belenos:
An Altar To Belenos Might Have (Unlimited in size and Outdoors Might Work):
- Living Plants
- Living Creatures (A terrarium or an aquarium could be incorporated)
- A Pool of Water