This paper was originally written in August 2016, and will be updated.
Statement of Purpose: Introduction
Gaulish Polytheism is a fickle thing to get started in. It’s difficult to initially discover and information on this reborn religion is thinly spread and can only be found if you know where to look. Much like other recently reborn polytheistic religions, Gaulish Polytheism is decentralized (which is good), however there is nothing that currently exists that places the most popular versions of Gaulish Polytheism in contrast to each other. This paper exists a juxtaposition on the variances in the practices of a few notable Gaulish Polytheists, including myself, as well an overall repertoire of knowledge on Gaulish Polytheism
Celtic vs. Gaulish
(From ‘Belenos 101”)
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 (for example) 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.
Origins of Modern Gaulish Polytheism
Gaulish Polytheism, or the short form “Gaulpol” as it is referred to on tumblr began as early form Druidism in the 1930s by French and Breton druides. Modern Druidism has long become a separate entity from Gaulish Polytheism, organizations like ADF encompassing multiple polytheisms in addition to Gaulish Polytheism.
Gaulish Polytheists of note:
Arrin/Dewognatos: Inactive/Soon to be Returning Gaulish Polytheist blogger, with heavy reconstructionist leanings. My first teacher on Gaulish Polytheism, through his pure recon approach is very difficult with the sparse source material on Gaulish Polytheism.
Segomaros Widugeni: An active blogger on thepolytheist.com, and a true old timer in Gaulish Polytheism. His Gaulish Polytheism is influenced by Wicca and Irish Polytheism. My current teacher.
Cunobelinus Betullicnos: (That’s me!) Gaulish Reconstructionist Revivalist (GRR). Supporter of the Modern Gaulish identity.
Ceisiwr Serith: A wealth of knowledge on all things Proto Indo-European. Published author and youtuber.
Modern Gaulish & The Modern Gaulish Identity
Finding ‘Gaulish Polytheist’ a bit of a mouthful, I’ve started simply referring Gaulish Polytheists as ‘Gauls’ or ‘Modern Gauls’ when contrasting the modern counterparts against their ancient ones. Modern Gauls can come from any background, and won’t contradict any faith practiced alongside it, as long a measure of separation and respect is implemented.
Ethnicity in polytheism has always been a large problem, especially in Germanic and Norse polytheism. These communities have to deal with racists and the so-called ‘folkish’ heathens. In Gaulish Polytheism, we should never have that kind of problem. The ancients didn’t see themselves as an ethnicity at all. In actuality they were unified by bonds of common language, culture and religion.
Here is a link to a post on my blog where I’ve gone into detail about it, as well as a link within of Segomaros’ original post breaching the topic.
Some Gaulish Vocabulary
Here are some neat Gaulish vocabulary words to get you started with that you can use alongside your practice! These words are Recon-friendly, meaning they are taken directly from source texts.
- Dewoi = The Gods
- Antumnos = The Underworld, where spirits & the ancestors reside.
- Anderoi = The ancestors, are more often seen as a benevolent force that are happy to help. Sleeping over the grave/tomb of the ancestors would bring helpful dreams.
- Galatis = Unmarried men in warbands who would go say hello to the neighbors (See the Sacking of Rome). I’ve used this in the modern context as an alternate name for Modern Gauls.
Some Core Ideas
- The Gaulish worldview is similar to those of the other Celtic faith traditions. There is very much the sense of an Otherworld/Underworld.
- Reincarnation seems to be the post-life event of choice among the Gauls. But very specific in reincarnating as a human.
- The Gauls shared a common ancestry with whom Caesar called father Dis, who has been theorized to either be Cernunnos or Sucellos. Or perhaps father Dis is a different god depend on the region of Gaul.
There are over 300 Gaulish gods! That’s alot! Some popular gods you’ve might have heard of are Taranis, Lugus, Esus, Epona and of course the ever loved Cernunnos.
There isn’t a single master list for all the gods, and just about every list is flawed somehow. They are still useful to jumpstart research into compatible deities.
Myths & Legends
It has to be said, there is no surviving mythos in Gaulish Polytheism. But there is hope. There are shreds to be found and theories being formed. Of what can be said for certain, Taranis plays a large part in the creation myth. This section will updated as soon as an external source on this scraps is made, either by me or someone else with links provided. Do not despair, Galatis!
Ritual & Prayer
A very popular question that comes from newer practitioners is on how to honor the Dewoi. This can be done in several ways. The ancients were fond of placing convicts or sometimes even innocents within gigantic wickerman structures and burning them alive for the glory of The Mighty Thunder. While it is currently difficult to find a suitable quantity of wicker there are alternate ways of showing your appreciation to the vastness of the gods.
Segomaros has written his article on the basic ritual, interestingly it utilizes the aid of Cernunnos as the Opener of the Way which seems very appropriate for Cernunnos. When I modified this ritual for my own use, Brigantia is replaced by Belenos as I personally feel He is fits as a more appropriate Sacred Fire. Ceisiwr Serith provided the original baseline to both these rituals with his Nemos Ognios Basic Ritual, which is an Proto Indo European ritual.
A complicated ritual should never be a necessity, each of the Dewoi have their own preferences in how they wish to be honored. The simpler, the better. Something like a devotional poem or setting aside time in your day to stop and listen can be a thousand times better than a frivolous ritual. Discretion is strongly advised, personal decision is key. If additional guidance is required, just ask.
“The more interesting thing to learn is how factions play in all levels of Gaulish society. At the international/inter-tribal level, through the tribes themselves, the clans within the tribes and even within family units the faction system pull politics by both ends. Prior to Caesar’s arrival, the powerhouses in Gaul were the Aedui and the Sequani whose constant wars maintained a balance of power in Gaul.
Smaller/Weaker tribes would become satellites or dependencies of one of the two powerhouses and could easily be swayed to the other side through military might or bribes. This gave the powerhouses incentive to be strong militarily and financially. This kind of system continued down like I said all the way to the family level. This creates a system where the weak cannot be easily oppressed by the strong because they could easily go work for the other guys and I think that’s really neat.” -Cunobelinus Betullicnos on Gaulish Faction Society in Caesar’s Gallic Wars
From the Gaulish perspective, having a divide within our religious structure is not a bad thing. In fact, it makes something more Gaulish. An encouragement must be made to those individual Gaulish Polytheists to take the baseline reconstructed knowledge of the ancestors and apply it in their own way. Let Modern Gaulish polytheism be diverse in it’s own way and in such a way it will never devour our unity, for Gauls united can defy the Universe.
Altars & Shrines
Shrines aren’t necessary, but an altar can be extremely helpful. From a modern standpoint, all that’s really required of is something that can symbolically carry prayers and offerings to the gods. An ashtray/incense stand to facilitate burning, or even something as simple as a symbol to Cernunnos in order to invoke Him in order to Open the Way.
A Gaulish shrine can be to a certain god, to group of gods who are related in some way or as a shrine to the ancestors. These can be decorated in any way, if inspiration or ideas are needed just ask.
From the ancient standpoint, the ancestors held ritual in the Nementon, the sanctuary. These were usually built along tribal boundaries as neutral & sacred spaces. Segomaros deconstructed the Nementon on his blog. Banshee Arts must also be included for their poetic description of the Nementon.
Polytheists often wear symbolic jewelry or decorate their shrines and altars with appropriate representations of their faith. A Norse Polytheist might have a Mjölnir necklace or a Kemetic would have an Ankh. It’s a matter of personal discretion and personal funds of the practitioner in question, but here is a few ideas and suggestions as well as a means to save those from the ‘authentic etsy necklaces’.
- The Wheel of Taranis.
Taranis is one of, if not the most important god of Gaul.
His wheel symbolizes the sun and the turning of the cosmos. The Wheel of Taranis has been used as offerings that were thrown into rivers and was also worn as an amulet.
Image Source: Musée d’Archéologie Nationale
Torcs are pretty great pieces of neckwear. They symbolize wealth and some gods like Cernunnos are depicted wearing them. Modern torcs can be very detailed with animal heads carved on to the end.
The Triskelion is widely used and is very familiar to any Celtic Reconstructionist. It’s a simple and powerful symbol. Less recognizable as a purely Gaulish symbol.
- Hammer of Sucellus
The Hammer of Sucellus is a relatively newer idea that has been passed around. A tiny long handled smith’s hammer that can be worn around the neck that possibly symbolizes prosperity and domesticity. Arrin argues that the hammer could also easily belong to Gobannos.
The ancient Gauls often looked to animals in their art and divine inspiration. Boars are sacred animals among all the Gauls while other animals were sacred to specific deities. Notable examples include swans being sacred to Sequana, Horses to Epona and ravens/crows being sacred to Lugus and Cathubodua. A Modern Gaul can never go wrong with animal icons.
The Coligny Calendar is essentially the Gaulish calendar. With it, there is a greater understanding how the ancient Gauls viewed time and it’s passage. For example, the ancients started the new day when the sun set. Time is also cyclical, similar to the Mayan’s Long Count calendar in that regard.
Holidays in Gaul, or ‘Gaulidays’ as tumblr user & pun lover enderkopper has coined them as, are split in several ways. There are realistically well over a dozen holidays. Many of them are reconstructed differently by different Gaulish Polytheists. These following holidays can be ordered in importance, as not to crush the modern practitioner. Incorporating all of them into your practice at once is not really advised. Try with a small number and stick with any amount that works well with you especially if the holiday has to do with a god you already worship. There are even lesser holidays unlisted that can be pursued in the sources.
In the southern hemisphere these dates are flipped, as well as there is an argument for reinterpreting the dates of several of these festivals based on the changing of seasons within your personal microclimate.
The bolded names imply the holiday I personally believe to be of greater significance. It should also be noted (again) that Gaulish days begin the evening before.
(Also Samonia, ‘Gaulish Samhain’)
The Three Nights of Samonii is the festival of the dead. It’s a time to honor the ancestors and chronic deities. It is also holds the strongest argument as the Gaulish new year. Celebrated from (the evening before) November 1st to (the evening before) November 3rd.
The festival of Epona. Pretty self-explanatory. The Roman date is observed December 18th.
(Also Winter Solstice, Îwos Dumanni, Medigiamos)
The festival of Darkest Depths. Celebrated on the darkest night of the year, December 21st. If there is a single Gaulish day for drinking and partying loudly, this would be it.
(Also Îwos Brigantiâs, Ociomu)
The Festival of Brigantia marks the return of light to the world. A good time for spring cleaning and to work with the land and household spirits. Generally celebrated the 1st of February or the first day of true warmth in the spring.
(Also Îwos Giamoni)
I’d of course hold some bias towards The Fires of Bel, Belenos being my patron. This festival is also dedicated to Taranis and Rosmerta. Takes place on the first of May. It’s a time of celebration of lifeo spend time with your Gaulish family and to be with the living land. A great day for a picnic, weather permitting.
The Height of Summer or as it’s literally translated to ‘Midsummer’ marks the peak of light and life of the year. Taranis and Belenos are the dedicants of this festival. Takes place on the solstice, June 21st.
(Also Îwos Lugous, Litu Lugus)
The festival of Lugus is of course dedicated to the Many Talented One, but also to Ogmios, and Rosmerta and any other deity you wish. It is celebrated on August 1st In ancient Gaul this was almost the equivalent to Quebec’s Moving Day. It was the day of legal functions in Gaul, of contracts being forged and renewed. If you’ve considered dedicating yourself to a certain dewoi, this would be a good day to do that. I often use this to also renew my oaths to certain Dewoi.
Cathu Alesia marks the day the hero Vercingtorix surrendered to the armies of Julius Caesar and marked the end of organized Gaulish resistance. It is observed on October 3rd.
Sources on holidays:
This isn’t necessarily the best or the largest list of resources out there, but these are ones that I personally enjoyed / Self-promoting my other paper(s).
Cernunnos: Origin and Transformation of a Celtic Divinity – Phyllis Fray Bober