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Bruniāxildis

Post-reconstructionist worshipper of pagan gods. Proud member of Mantalon Bolgon. Bologobo eđđi nepos rix!

Vercana & Meduna

We don't know anything about these goddesses, apart from the fact they existed. But they did exist, and I try to adhere to the worldview of the Tungri who've never met a deity they didn't like. So this is a blog entry on the virtues of intoxication and rage; enjoy!

The Mantalon Bolgon calendar contains a celebration of Vercana, based on CIL XIII 4511, which says ara in HDD et deae Vercanu dedicata est in civitate Mediomatricorum.

This altar is dedicated in this house of the gods and to the goddess Vercana in the civitas of the Mediomatrici.

The goddess exists; in the lands of the Treveri she was worshipped alongside Meduna, who is only found in inscription CIL XIII, 7667, deae Vercanae et Medunae L. T. Acceptus VSLM.

Lucius T. Acceptus fulfilled his vow gladly and willingly to the goddesses Vercana and Meduna.

Pure reconstruction often doesn't take us incredibly far in continental Celtic or Germanic religions. I'm not the first one to notice this; Sheena McGrath has been down this path before me and done a great job of charting the thicket of possible meanings of the names of both deities.

Analogous with the associations of Lenus Mars as a deity with a wide remit (water, healing, warmth, civilization, war), Vercana could be a water goddess as argued by Olmsted, *uer-k in Indo-European meaning 'to wind' or 'to twist', which suggests a meander. Delamarre and others contend that the root should be Indo-European *uerg, 'to do, to act, to hasten, to press' which instead suggests decisive, even rash action and evokes bloodlust and Celtic battle-rage.

Meduna could be a water-goddess as well, but is most likely to be a goddess of honey and mead and thus of drunkenness and altered states, according to Beck. It's important not to limit this to merely drunkenness because of the many spiritual properties attributed to mead, though. Even 'intoxication' doesn't quite cover the load in English. If Vercana can be compared to the Morrigan, Meduna correlates to Medb.

They form a natural pair, though. Even if we discount the Treverian affinity for water a little, we end up with Vercana as a goddess of rage and Meduna as a goddess of intoxication. Both are trance-like, altered states of consciousness where we become more permeable to the numinous.

It's hard to spin both of these aspects as positives in this day and age, but there's a lot to be said for them. I know that I am quicker to oppose something than to support it; I'm a very critical person and if I made you a sketch yesterday that today seems wrong to me, I'll erase it even quicker than I drew it. Antagonism can sharpen someone else's points in a discussion, protest and resistance are watchwords in our political era. I don't hate everything indiscriminately, and I know there's work to be done to build a more just society. But fury at injustice is admirable, and while I think it's more useful in complex situations if you can harness it and have it build up before you unleash it, it's an intrinsic aspect of experience. Even dogs have a concept of scorn and of justice.

Am I quite doing justice to these deities, though? I'd like to lift two quotes, by Bruneaux and Poux, from Beck's excellent Goddesses of Intoxication here:

'For a Gallic warrior, fighting was not a human undertaking, until the Roman conquest of Gaul. War was a huge ordeal in which the warrior was only the hand of the deity. The strength of weapons and the subtleties of strategy were secondary preoccupations. It was only the means of placing oneself in the service of the divine force which counted.'

'The war character of Gallic intoxication has been clearly testified by written sources and archaeological data. […] The role of alcohol in the war sphere is well-known and acknowledged: stimulating moral courage and physical strength, it [alcohol] puts combatants in a state of self-transcendence, of surpassing of oneself and of sacred exaltation, which has always had its source in trance, drug and alcohol, throughout time and space.'

I don't have any experience of oracular incubation, I haven't bitten any of my shields in twain. I really should if I want to viscerally understand these goddesses.

If you'd like to give cult to Vercana, a good time to do it would be on 11. May, after nightfall, or during the day on the 12th.

Making Stock of Polytheism

Spiritual fallow periods are things that happen to everyone with a certain disposition, no matter your faith or inclination. In Christianity, I've heard the term 'winter Christian' bandied about, but I know I'm a winter pagan. It's not that I doubt the existence of the gods or spirits, but I start questioning their benevolence and attentiveness the way you can lose trust in people or institutions. Worse is my typical solution, where I start being ever more rigorous and punctual with my offerings. I find myself putting meaning not in the act of worship but in the sequence of actions that quickly start feeling rote and purposeless. When the sense of worship and awe goes out of cult, all its benefits and side-benefits evaporate.

Thinking back, though, the fallow period is always preceded by a period of stress or depression in my life, where I just can't carry the load or I'm managing a crisis. I don't pray, I'm not grateful, I don't examine my actions anymore in the rush to get them done. The daily or weekly offering is the last thing to go, and all the effort I've put into trying to readjust the moment of offering is actually wasted. The thing that impoverishes my praxis is not the big moment of giving cult but the loss of all the little prayers and rites, all the tiny things that seem superfluous.

Stress leads me to demote the gods' presence to the official moment of giving cult. They're being treated as if they're only conditionally relevant, as if they're another checkbox on my to-do list. I'll write "gave cult" in my daily logs and then I'm done. Spirituality is not just another ingredient in the dish that is my life, though. It should pervade everything I do, everything I think about. It's all the tiny moments that make up a life, and worship is the stock that makes the soup's flavour richer, fuller, deeper; it brings it together and transforms it from ingredients in water into a full dish.

If your faith seems poor, bookend everything you do with moments of prayer, wear jewelry, make art and put it up on the wall. Faith's a way of life.

Developing a framing persona for reconstruction

There's been talk recently about how having a framing device, a narrative persona you can use as a coat rack to develop your own polytheist reconstruction with a strong sense of time and place. I happen to have done this in the past without knowing it was a common practice, so here's how I worked out my own. Maybe it'll help someone.

I got introduced to heathenry by Norse heathens, but I didn't want to be Norse-oriented. I reflexively want to be useful, and to me that means not doubling up on effort. I ended up wanting to worship a deity that wasn't getting any love.

There was plenty of choice, but I picked Viradectis because she was the closest 'obscure' Goddess to where I grew up, and because I knew her worshipper total sat at zero. She does have a few inscriptions on votive stones, but nothing that really gives a strong indicator of her personality.

That put me in the Tungri tribe, and I wanted to be able to fall back on Tacitus' Germania, so I picked 100 CE, around when it was written. However, I didn't want to limit myself entirely to that neck of the woods, so I went looking for a way to explore the faiths of neighboring places, and this is where I figured out the idea of constructing a persona.

I didn't want to commit to things if they weren't not needed, to avoid the feeling that I was roleplaying. In order to be able to roam, though, I understood that my persona should either be military or trade-based.

I ended up liking several deities of the neighboring Treveri, as well as Nehalennia, so I eventually opted for 'trader' since I wanted to able able to move outside of the warrior archetype. Of course, I could have gone with the warrior - the Treveri were soldiers too, and a lot of their deities have martial aspects. The deity I felt most attracted to was Lenus Mars, however, and I decided to use the trader frame to stop it from becoming too warlike.

Doing this research lead me to learn more about the Tungri themselves, and made me decide to place my frame-self into the Condrusi pagus, since Viradectis-worship was localized there and I still wanted to use it as a main anchor-point.

And the last thing I decided was gender - I'd been trying to take a gender-neutral optic before but I ended up seriously wanting to embrace a feminine point of view. I used to feel more ambivalent about embracing the persona, but I started wondering about how virtually all the deities I gave cult to were coded male. I still give cult to, say, Lenus Mars, but I involve Ancamna as well, and my focus is more on divine couples.

Strictly speaking, the framing self doesn't make sense: the Condrusi were Celts not Germanic, and there's no real attestation of 'woman traders' of the kind I envisioned. But I felt out every step of the way and ended up with something internally coherent and suited to my needs. These days, I've gone a little beyond the frame but it served me very well, and when I want to recenter my beliefs, it helps to meditate on it.

A Tunger, not an Eburone

Look, the Eburones were big damn heroes. Everyone knows the story: Ambiorix lured the Romans out of their winter encampments into a hollow road, where they were ambushed by their native guides and slaughtered nearly to a man, sending a clear signal to Iulius Caesar that no, you will not take these lands without a fight. It was a brilliant feat of tactics.

Nobody, however, talks about the genocide, starting in 53 BCE. The Caesar pronounced a damnatio memoriae, every village in the Eburone territory was said to be put to the torch, their livestock and grain confiscated. And when we next hear about the area, Tacitus just mentions the Tungri. The Eburones are gone from history.

Or are they? I grew up in the area once thought of as the civitas Tungrorum, and everywhere you look, Ambiorix is lionized. He and the Eburones have been rehabilitated as culture heroes. There's a statue of him in the marketplace in Tongeren, the ancient capital not of the Eburones but the Tungri. And many, many family names got modified to be 'more Celtic' and end in -i(ck)x. Nobody mentions that their actions, however heroic, caused the end of their tribe.

The Tungri don't have clear origins, and the best we can guess, they're actually a composite people made up of a mixture of Germanic and Celtic tribes in an area massively unsettled by a campaign of destruction. Yet a few generations later, here they are, seemingly thriving under Roman rule.

The Tungri did the enormous job of recultivating, recivilizing, revitalizing the land, uniting the people, forming a government in what was nearly a post-apocalyptic reality for them. But they didn't give up, or give in, and they made life livable for themselves again.

The Eburones ended up dying for what they believed in, but the Tungri ended up living for it, every day. And that makes them big damn heroes in my book.

Purity gods

Lenus Mars, the primary deity of the Treveri, is a deity of health and wellness. Lenus was the protector of the Treveri themselves, and ended up with a healing portfolio due to His association with hot springs that were said to have healing properties. He's characterized as defending against wounds and injury in addition to defending the civitas.

Venus Cloacina, on the other hand, is Etruscan but comes to us by way of the Romans, and started off as the spirit of a waterway that eventually turned into Rome's main sewer. She accrued more responsibilities over time, eventually ending up as a goddess of cleanliness, filth and sex within marriage.

Deities of health are complex, but Lenus Mars and Venus Cloacina aren't as dissimilar as they appear. In fact, the ways in which they are different complement each other fairly well, and I'd like to present them both as candidates for being given cult.

They both deal with purification, cleanliness and good health as well as disease. Both are sort of distasteful in the sense that they deal with things that trigger our disgust reflex, pus and blood for one and urine and excrement for the other. All these are elements that are profaned and made dirty by the fact that they've left our bodies; as such, both deities also deal with the concept of purity.

Both are both agent and means but in differing proportions. Cloacina allows the filth to be vanquished, makes it vanquishable. Lenus, on the other hand, actively does the vanquishing, at least partially through ablution. Even though both are about health, only Lenus is about the physical healing process itself. He limits His healing to the boundaries of the flesh, to physical wounds and infirmities. Cloacina, on the other hand, is about prevention of disease and dirt. As such, She's also the deity of cleaning your environment, of hygiene. If Lenus is the disinfectant, Cloacina is the sterile gauze.

Another big difference is the moral dimension that attaches to Cloacina. Being injured or diseased doesn't carry any stigma for Lenus, but Cloacina's role of being the patron of "sex within the marriage" suggests that Romans had a concept of fluid bonding, that bodily fluids being exchanged could bring impurity with them. You could easily make a case that She should be petitioned to 'cure' not only infidelity but also its effects.

If health and wellness are important to you, if cleanliness is important to you, adopting one or both of these deities into your hearth cult could make a big difference.