Gods and Spirits of the Land and Waters

 

forksmaine

Dead and Kennebec Rivers, The Forks

 

My first experience with a God was with the River God of the Kennebec River in Maine. When I met the Kennebec, She was wild and untamed in spite of being dammed for over a hundred years. (Note 1) (Note 2). My family lived at the meeting of this river with the Dead River at The Forks. Although the Dead River is considered a branch of the Kennebec, it has a different nature. According to my late grandfather (former Maine Guide), this river was called “Dead” since it took so many lives of people trying to travel the river. While the Dead was quiet and menacing. I could sense that the Kennebec did not tolerate humans very much either.

Since then, I have met the acquaintances of other River Gods. The ancient God of the Potomac of Washington D.C. is so primordial that He is beyond language. The New River of West Virginia, although more primeval, is amused by humans and their activities.

Echoing my experiences, Regis Boyer wrote in his forward of “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” by Claude Lecouteux. (Note 3), “We evolve within an inhabited ‘natural’ world, one in which the gods themselves, or the deified dead, are the cornerstone of reality. As a result it is a world that cannot conform to appearances.” (Note 4) Boyer further observed that the “Spirits of the Land” (Genii Loci) have been devalued, starting with Christianity. Even in modern times, the devaluing continues, but the Sacred still manifests Itself.

In examining ancient and medieval customs, Claude Lecouteux concluded that people once understood that they cohabited with the Spirits (Gods). Because of this, ancient peoples performed rituals, listened to oracles and made sacrifices. The folk customs of the medieval peoples such as the “rite of crossing a river” continued to fulfill this contract with the Spirits (and various Gods). Lecouteux continued, “they left us one essential law: mankind should live in harmony with the surrounding nature…. In order to prosper then, we must continue to honor the genii loci.” (Note 5).

Lecouteux interprets the ancients as asserting that the world is neither human nor spirit centered, but is full of spirits. Some are Gods, some are land or water spirits, but none are human. A wise person understands that they would have to co-exist with all of these Spirits, since they will encounter Them at times.

Recognizing the power of the Gods, Christianity sought to tame Them. The Church renamed various Gods as Saints, and built churches by sacred fountains and in groves. Those Spirits (and Gods) they could not tame, the Church called demons, who had been expelled from heaven. Meanwhile, lay people often saw these Spirits as dragons, fairies, or simply “The Little People.” No matter how much the Church (and later Science) sought to de-sanctify Them, the Gods still remained powerful.

The Gods of Water have many sacred places throughout Europe, which are still recognized. The Severn of the U.K. is named for an old British Goddess. The Rivers Boyne and Shannon in Ireland are named for the Gods Boann and Sinann respectively. The healing springs at Bath, England is the sacred place of Sulis, the Celtic Goddess of Healing. The Romans revered the Tiber River as Tiberinus. Each of these Gods received offerings from local peoples.

I, as a Roman Polytheist, do not see rivers, springs, mountains, and forests as aspects of “nature.” For me, They are not part of one divine entity such as “Mother Earth.” Each has their own power. Some heal, some kill, but all need to be respected. Bodies of water have yielded offerings of silver made by people, who understood the power of these Spirits. One does not enter a forest without permission nor drink from a spring. The Land and Water Spirits remain vigilant, ready to assert Themselves even in modern times.

Tourists like to white-water raft on the Kennebec and Dead Rivers. However, these rivers will claim lives as their due. The loggers who once drove logs down the rivers to the mills understood this. They knew these rivers took what was rightfully theirs.

Notes:
Note 1. Gods and Spirits of the Land and Waters include Those of cities, forests, mountains, and streams.
Note 2. The dam was removed in 1997. Since then, She has reasserted Herself as a powerful, wild river.
Note 3. Lecouteux, Claude, “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” translated by Jon Graham. Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015. Lecouteux, who is French, specializes in the study of medieval folklore and magic. He taught at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
Note 4. Page x, Claude Lecouteux
Note 5. Page 182, Claude Lecouteux

Picture of “The Forks Plantation” from Maine Encyclopedia.

God of the Month: Summanus

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On June 20, the shortest night of the year, black cakes are offered to Summanus, God of Nightly Thunder. As Jupiter rules the day, Summanus rules the night. He is the Protective God of the Night. Summanus may not be as well-known as the other Gods, but He is as important.

Summanus speaks to me at night in summer thunderstorms. Since my bed is next to the window, nighttime lightening wakes me up. Then I look out my window in awe at the display of lightening in the sky. For me, I make offerings to Summanus from May 1 to October 31. Then I switch to Jupiter from November 1 to April 30. This practice is personal to me, and is not traditional.

Salve Summanus!
God of the Night
You light up the dark
With your lightening.
You rumble to the stars
With your thunder.

We thank You
For protecting us
When we sleep.
Salve Summanus!

When A God Says No

In monotheism, when God says no, it has particular meanings. Usually, God’s refusal is explained that it is a part of His Divine Plan. The believer is to trust in God’s Love and Judgment since God knows what is best for all. Therefore instead of focusing on God’s contravening the request, a believer should pray to know God’s Will for them.

In polytheism, no God has a divine plan either for any human or for the universe. Greek and Norse polytheists believe that The Fates who live outside of time decide people’s destinies. A person’s fate could be determined by their family’s luck, the deeds of their Ancestors, their own deeds, and those of whom they associate with. For Babylonian polytheists, Enlil, the Great Mountain, holds the Tablet of Destines which links the heavens with the underworld. However, this Tablet is not a divine plan for the universe. Slavic polytheists see Mokosh responsible for weaving people’s fate. As the Mother of Good Fortune, Mokosh is also the Spinner of Fate. Meanwhile, the Romans could appeal to Fortuna, who turns the wheel, for better luck.

In polytheism, a God may attach Themselves to a family to guide its future. A God may sire individuals within the family such as Venus with Caesar’s family. Therefore, these Gods may have input in that family’s affairs.

In my case, Woden (Anglo-Saxon Odin), Frigga, and Freya are my Family’s Gods, with Woden directly involved with my son. He has many characteristics of a Woden-blessed person – a thirst for knowledge, beserker rages, and shamanic abilities. So I usually consult Them for guidance in parenting my son. Since he is struggling to find regular work, I asked these three Gods for help. They all said, “No. They were not an employment agency.”

Following their refusal, I decided to make offerings to the “Unknown Gods of Work” and Fortuna for help. The beauty of polytheism is that when one God refuses, another may accept. So asking another God is fine, but as in all relations with the Gods, offerings must be made and Gods have their own agency.

Hercules, the Roman God/Hero answered me. He was the last God that I wanted to have any relations with. Hercules is too male and too anti-woman for my comfort. However, I decided to accept his offer, after finding out more about Him. I realized that Hercules understood my son, since this God/Hero is given to bouts of depression and insanity. To become whole again, He labored at difficult tasks to restore his sanity.

Roman mythology about Hercules differs from the Greek Heracules. For Romans, He is the Protector of Rome and One of the Original Founders, Patron of Quarrymen, and Friend of the Muses. What I learned from Hercules is how to be a mother to a man. (I now have a home cultus for the God/Hero.)

In polytheism, when one God says no, it can have many meanings. The God could be warning the person of spiritual impurity. The God desires not to be involved with a human. The God simply does not want to answer that particular request. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask another God. Bear in mind that no God is a cosmic bellhop. Each human enters into a contract with each God to do rituals correctly, make sacrifices, and heed divinations. Mine with Hercules is to make particular offerings in series of twelve on twelve consecutive days on his various holidays.

Greylag Goose: Follow Your Own Star

goosegreylagOne of Juno Moneta’s animals is the graylag goose, who live at her temple.

The largest of the Grey Geese, Greylag Goose is the last to migrate south. Some suggest that this Goose’s name came from Her being the last to leave. Besides being known as “graylag”, this big powerful Goose is also called “wild goose”.

Whatever her name, Greylag Goose is the wild ancestor of the Domestic Goose. Always alert, Greylag Goose is difficult to approach. Among Christians, Greylag Goose is the devout person who keeps a vigilant watch over their soul. Since Domestic Goose inherited her wariness, He makes excellent “watch goose”.

In 390 BCE, Greylag Goose saved the City of Rome. When the Gauls attempted to attack the Capitol area, Greylag Goose warned everyone with her noisy honking. Alerted by Her, the Romans were able to repel the invaders. Since it was in Juno’s temple where Greylag Goose warned the Romans, She became Juno’s sacred animal.

However Greylag Goose often comes into conflict with farmers. Because She prefers the youngest and most succulent of plants, they lose many crops to Her. Her heavy bill with its serrated edges easily snips the growing grasses. Many farmers consider Greylag Goose a pest.

Honored by some, Greylag Goose is detested by others. She is both a guardian for people and a destroyer of their food. Many things to many people, Greylag Goose listens to her inner voice. Domesticated many millennia ago, She remains the only wild Goose that still breeds in Britain. Greylag Goose ignores popular opinion to follow her own star. However, make sure that you do the right thing when asked.

God of the Month: Vesta

Vesta, the Roman Goddess of the Hearth Fire, is usually represented by the flame, which is the eternal fire. Originally her cultus was based in the home, with the family making daily sacrifices at their lararium (altar). Later, King Numa Pompilius (715-673 BCE) set up a place for state worship for this Goddess.

King Numa placed Her House (Aedes, which is not a temple) on Palatine Hill. Resembling the circular thatched homes of the early Romans, this sacred place housed the holy relics of Rome. The six Vestal Virgins, who attended the sacred flame, guarded these items. (One was the Palladium, a statue made by Minerva, Herself, which protected Rome.)

The Goddess Vesta is more than the hearth fire. Her flame at the lararium acts as the axis mundi between the worlds. As the central axis, her flame receives the bodies of the dead, thereby connecting this world with the Di Inferi, the Gods of the Underworld. The fire becomes a bond between the living and the dead. Her flame also reaches up to the heavens, enabling Di Consentes, the Celestial Gods to traverse it to the world of the humans. The keeping of Vesta’s flame maintains the sacred contract between the people and the Gods.

Starting June 7, the inner sanctum (penus) is open to women. For the Vestalia, the Vestal Virgins and the women cleaned and purified both the relics and the area. Later the Vestal Virgins carried the debris to the Tiber River. (Legend has it that the accumulation of debris formed a new island. The temple of Aesculapius, the God of Healing, was located on this island.)

Modern Roman Polytheists celebrate the Vestalia (June 7-15) in various ways. Some will clean their houses, others their stoves. One theory is that the stove and oven is the modern hearth. (I would add the microwave.) I do daily prayers to Vesta at my lararium, and clean my oven on the Vestalia.

“Vesta, watch over him who tends the Holy Fire. Live well, fires, o undying flames, live long, I pray.” Ovid, Fasti 3.426-28

God of the Month: Juno Moneta

In 389 BCE, the sacred geese from Juno’s temple warned the Romans of an impending attack by the Gauls. Following another war with the Gauls, a temple to Juno, Who Warns (Moneta) was dedicated on June 1, 344 BCE. Juno Moneta has saved Rome from many invasions. Today, She warns people of other impending disasters such as earthquakes.

Salve Juno Moneta!
Who warns
Who advises

Your Sacred Geese
Once saved Rome
May we hear Them
May we heed Them
Before disaster overtakes us.

Thank You
For Your Warnings
Salve Juno Moneta!

Gods of the Month: June

June (Junius) is dedicated to Juno, the Patroness of Women. It is unclear why Juno is honored by Romans at this time, since only Juno Moneta has a festival day in June. However, marriages in the last two weeks of June were considered especially blessed by this Goddess of Marriage.

VESTA

The main focus of June is the Vestalia from June 7 to 15. The Inner Sanctum of the Temple of Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth, was opened to women. The temple was cleaned, purified, and rededicated. (The rubbish was then into the Tiber River.) In the Roman religion, Vesta is the Perpetual Fire, Who keeps the Pact between the People and the Gods.

HERCULES

I have personal cultus to Hercules, who is considered to be one of the early founders of Rome. Some of the Greek mythology of Heracules was grafted onto Hercules, the Roman God Hero. However, Romans had their own particular myths about Him. For example, the focus of Hercules’ worship, the Ara Maxima (the Greatest Altar) is where He killed Cacus, the monster who terrorized the early Romans.

Two temples of Hercules have dedications this month. Hercules Magno Custodi (the Great Custodian) has one on June 4, and Hercules Musarum (of the Muses) on June 29. The first was vowed on the orders of the Sibylline Books in light of Hannibal’s victories against Rome. The second was where poets and others would come to pay their respects to Hercules and the Muses.

SUMMANUS

Another God, I have a cultus for is Summanus, the God of the Nocturnal Heavens. He ruled the night as Jupiter ruled the day. His festival day is June 20, when people offered round breads imprinted with wheels to Him.