In four instances, I moved annual feasts so as to overlap them with either the Nones or Ides of a given month. Since I ritually burn offerings on those occasions anyway, I reasoned that instead of duplicating ceremonies and ritual fires, it would be best to simply change the date of some celebrations by a few days. Thus, rather than marking Vestalia on June 9th, I pushed it to the Ides on June 13th and made a similar change to Apollo’s yearly sacrifice, moving it from July 13th to the 15th, Hercules’ from August 4th to the 5th and my commemoration of emperor Julian the Faithful from November 3rd to the 5th. In the first two cases, there’s actually a symbolic gain, since the Ides are the middle and hence a sort of focus or pinnacle of a month. So it is not without meaning that Vesta, goddess of the fireplace, should be celebrated on the focal point of June and Apollo on the summit of the seventh month. Emperor Julian’s day is a bit of an approximation, since he was made Caesar on 3 November 355 and became the sole Augustus on 6 November 361, so the Nones are somewhere in the middle.
However, whereas in all of these cases the ritual used is always Roman, and hence annual and monthly offerings may be burned during the same ceremony in a structured manner, the same cannot be said of instances where different rites are employed. That’s the case of the Dominalia and Tonitralia, dedicated to Freya and Thor and which up until now I’ve been marking on May 1st and November 13th, respectively. Since They’re Norse deities, I use the ritus aprinus, which means that I have to light up two ritual fires in the same day for consecutive ceremonies. Sometimes that may be possible, but others there may be time constrains. As such, in those two cases, I decided to separate yearly and monthly sacrifices, thus moving the Dominalia to May 25th and the Tonitralia to November 9th. These dates are still somewhat experimental, as they may be changed in the event of signs that manifest divine disapproval.
I also moved the date of the Arentalia, dedicated to the Iberian gods Arentius and Arentia. I honour Them in Roman rite, so the issue there is not one of ritual duplication, but rather of some dispersal. See, the Calends call for offerings to Janus, Juno and the Family Lares, which are then disposed of in a structured manner, ideally in a ritual fire. To do that in an annual ceremony honouring Arentius and Arentia may be somewhat counterproductive when you’re trying to connect with Them, so assuming that less recipients allows for a greater focus, I moved the Arentalia to September 5th. Here too there’s an element of added symbolism, for I assign the Nones to my Family Lares alone and since I see Them as my ancestors and my family has been in the Iberian Peninsula for at least 400 years, it is not without a happy meaning that the Nones of September are the date of my annual commemoration of an Iberian divine pair.
Njord’s festivity was also moved, though not by a need to manage raw materials. His celebration is normally done without a ritual fire, consisting of a sand boat on a beach on which offerings are placed and consecrated with sea water. For the past few years, I’ve been doing that on July 3rd, but I’m presently considering a new feast to Mercury on the 4th (more on that in a later post), so in order to avoid two events in consecutive days, I moved the Niordalia to July 9th, which is in line with the numerical symbolism of Norse mythology. I’m less concerned with proximity in the case of Anubis’ annual commemoration, which I’ve been marking on February 7th, but decided to move to the 11th. It’s closer to Parentalia, which is appropriate, and since my offerings to Him are not burned and can be done at home, it’s less time and wood-consuming.
Finally, I added two new annual celebrations. One is Laralia, which is dedicated to the Lares Alcobacenses or the gods of my homeland. Since they’re partially identical to my ancestors, I figured that a good time to honour Them would be after Caristia, which is a family feast. It does mean that I’ll have to perform ceremonies on consecutive days, something I try to avoid, but I’m willing to go the extra mile in this case, since there’s an additional symbolism on February 23rd: it’s in line with Silvanus’ annual celebration on October 23rd, which is important, given that I’ve come to place Him as a leading deity among the Lares Alcobacenses.
And last, but certainly not least, I picked August 24th for Quangeio’s yearly festival. The reasons are multiple: it’s practical, since it’s an empty part of my religious calendar; it’s symbolic, given that it’s during or shortly after the dog days (their exact date varies); it’s mercurial, since it’s a multiple of four and I feel tempted to explore the idea of Quangeio as an Iberian companion of Mercury, much like Rosmerta in Gaul or something along similar lines of Hanuman and Rama; and there’s a bit of a hunch to it, too.
Some things don’t change
There are still instances where different sacrifices take place in consecutive days, but there’s no avoiding them without a symbolic loss. For instance, Vialia and Mercury’s birthday are just before the Nones of January and April, respectively, but if they were to take place on the 5th instead of the 4th day of those months, they’d lose their numerical significance. Ulleralia is another example, being just before the Ides of December, but it’s dedicated to the Norse god Ullr, who’s linked to winter and, in a way, circles (the ring, the shield, even the stretched bow). And the 12th day of the 12th month is a sort of chronological full circle on a wintery eve, which makes it an appropriate date. Then there’s Apotropalia and Agonalia, which are separated by just one day, but I hesitate about moving the latter to the Ides of January, given that I find it somewhat significant that there’s an equal amount of days between two sacrifices to Janus at the start of the year and during the Parentalia, which lasts from the 13th to the 21st of February. This is not to say that Janus has an infernal aspect, but there may be something to the number that’s connected to beginnings or transitions.
What we know
There are up to eleven known altars dedicated to Quangeio, with a clear concentration in the Portuguese inner Beiras, which seem to have been the heartland of His cult, and two pieces in distant locations to the north and south. Not every scholar accepts all of them, as there are doubts on the precise wording of a few of the inscriptions and hence the deity being addressed – a task made difficult by the wide use of abbreviations, damaged state of some of the altars and the natural decay of the materials. Also in the mind of some academics is the exceptional and far-off location of the altar found up north in Galicia, leading some to question its validity. But people move and gods move with them, so it’s not impossible that a traveller may have established a bond with Quangeio and later erected an altar to Him in a distant land. In that sense, it is perhaps significant that whereas several of the known pieces were dedicated by people whose names can be classified as native, the one from Galicia was commissioned by someone with a typical Roman tria nomina. It is also worth noting that while the altars from the Beiras mention no epithet, those from the region south of the river Tagus are dedicated to Quangeio Tango and Turicaeco, which could hint at an expansion of the cult that was made native outside its heartland by means of tribal or communal epithets (Freitas Ferreira 2012: 69).
As for the etymology of the theonym, it has never been properly addressed by scholars. The closest thing to it is an informal analysis made by Francisco Villar at the request of José d’Encarnação, which the latter made public in 2002. In it, the Spanish academic follows the hypothesis put forward by Blanca Maria Prosper and derives the name from the Indo-European *kuanikio, which is an adjective form of the word for “dog”. Quangeio would therefore mean something like “canine (god)”, in reference either to the animal or the constellation (Encarnação 2002: 15.1).
There’s also some information to be drawn from the context of the findings, which mostly come from an area where the gods Reve, Bandua and Arentius were also worshipped. Assuming that They comprised a coherent pantheon of a particular group of communities, this may allow for a comparative analysis and hence identification of Quangeio’s function by establishing those of better-known deities. More on that bellow. Finally, the interpretatio romana is not an available tool in this case, lamentably, since none of the known altars identifies Quangeio with a Roman god. The closest we’ve got in that regard is the fact that some of the pieces were found just a few kilometres from others dedicated to Jupiter Repulsor and Conservator (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 228.1)
What to make of it
It’s hard to draw anything definitive from the information above. Quangeio seems to have been a Lusitanian god, perhaps even a main deity, bordering and possibly expanding into the Vettonian area, as suggested by the altar found in central Spain. And this is pretty much the only safe thing we can say, at least until the aforementioned etymology is confirmed by other scholars or new sources of information arise. Anything else is speculation or no more than educated guesses.
The only interpretational model I’ve come across is that of Olivares Pedreño, which took a handful of gods from the inner Beiras and Spanish Extremadura and awarded Them different functions based on what little information there is. The thesis assumes that different deities who seem to have been popular in the same region would not have similar roles, which is a reasonable assumption, even if not infallible given the fragmented state of our knowledge. And when applying that model to what may have been a regional pantheon that included Reve, Arentius, Bandua and Quangeio, the result is as follows:
It’s an interesting proposal, one made even more enticing by a comparison between Quangeio and Sucellus, which was also expounded by Olivares Pedreño (2002: 219-28). After all and at least judging by the iconography, the better-known Gallo-Roman god has links to prosperity, the underworld and sovereignty (Green 2011: 125), which provides a model for Quangeio as a deity that’s hypothetically linked to dogs (who also accompany Sucellus), the underworld and Jupiter. A simpler interpretation was put forward by Jorge de Alarcão, who based on the canine etymology proposed a divine function similar to that of Hermes as a travelling companion (2009: 105). Which is also not impossible, though to be clear, there’s no concrete evidence and even Pedreño ends up admitting that we know so little about Quangeio that any conclusion is anything but a certainty (2002: 228.1).
A working hypothesis
At this point, I have my own idea brewing, one that tries to bring together all of the available information into a working possibility and even though, as with anything on which very little is known, its starting point is an assumption.
Assuming the etymology mentioned above is correct and Quangeio does means something like “canine (god)”, we’re left with simultaneously a world of possibilities and none in particular. Dogs have a long history in human cultures and have accumulated a myriad of uses and meanings: they’re hunters, keepers, scavengers, guides, healers and companions and have thus come to signify war, prosperity, health, safety, loyalty, friendship, death and the underworld or the road towards it. If Quangeio is a canine god, which of these functions and meanings apply to Him? There’s nothing that allows us to choose and even the equation with Dis Pater fails to narrow things down once you make a comparison with Sucellus. So instead of picking one or two randomly, I suggest a different approach: why choose?
There are better-known gods whose complex nature can be summed up in an animal that holds multiple meanings. A good example is Freyr, who’s best represented by the boar, a creature that signifies sexuality and reproduction, prosperity and abundance, but also the warrior virtues of an animal that can be deadly when attacking. It’s something that’s equally true to His sister, who’s simultaneously a goddess of lust, wealth and war. But the most pertinent example here is Epona, a deity whose very name is rooted in a word for “horse” and who is or at least has become a goddess of pretty much anything that’s horse-related. Travelling, cavalry and hence war, messaging, sports, farming, transportation of goods and thus prosperity, sovereignty and so forth. If it’s a role played by Her animal or if horses help producing the outcome, then She has a say in it. Which is why I’ve come to wonder if Quangeio is to dogs what Epona is to horses, thus linking Him with the full scope of canine meaning, from prosperity to stewardship, journeys to hunting, medicine to death and the underworld.
I stress that this is not an historical certainty, but a working hypothesis built on historical data and aimed at a modern cult. Maybe it’s wrong, maybe it’s right; perhaps future information will disprove it or it may strengthened it. It may well be that Quangeio was a canine god in a narrow sense, but even then, a widening of His role would not be an unheard of thing in the world of polytheistic religions. Gods evolve, their cults grow and shrink, as do their roles accordingly. Take the Hindu goddess Saraswati, for instance, who started as a river deity and then grew into one of anything that flows, including the figurative flow of music, knowledge and writing. So if an all-encompassing canine is a new development for a god that used to have a more narrow sense, so be it.
Basics of a modern cult
Again, keeping in mind that this is based on assumptions, how to approach Quangeio? As a dog-lover, of course! We don’t know how He was worshipped, but it’s safe to assume that He would have received offerings in at least a partly Roman fashion. Something along the lines of Gallo-Roman ritual would not be out of place, too. As for a festive date, I reckon any time during July or August, the so-called dog days, is an appropriate choice and there’s a long tradition of canine worship during that period: think of the Nemoralia on August 13th or even of the Catholic Saint Christopher and Saint Roch, whose feasts are on July 25th and August 16th, respectively. Pamper your dogs during the day you end up choosing, leave food out for stray ones or donate to a dog shelter. Or all of the above!
Add epitephs for greater precision: Repulsor or Conservator for protection, Medicus for health (yours or your dog’s), Viator for journeys (there’s a mercurial link right there!) or Psychopompus for guiding the souls (another mercurial connection). You can also add local epithets and try to discern signs of divine approval or disapproval. A dog paw would be a good symbol for Quangeio or a dog head with a star above, representing Sirius, a sign of both the constellation that could be linked to His name and of the time of His modern festival. And there’s also an additional layer of meaning to it, since the area that yielded a greater number of known altars – and thus may have been the heartland of His cult – is around the Star Mountain or, in Portuguese, Serra da Estrela, which is also the name of a dog breed.
And don’t be afraid to try and fail. Try again! It isn’t easy to reconnect with an old god, even more so one who is little known and His exact nature uncertain, but I myself am not writing this as an experienced worshipper of Quangeio. He’s a very recent discovery for me and indeed much of what I wrote here came to mind as I was producing the initial version of this post. I don’t yet know which date I’ll choose to honour Him annually nor how it will turn out, but I will try. No way a dog lover like myself would ignore a possible canine god from my native country!
ALARCÃO, Jorge. 2009. “A religião dos Lusitanos e Calaicos” in Conimbriga XLVIII. Coimbra: Universidade de Coimbra, pp. 81-121.
ENCARNAÇÃO, José d’. 2002. “Das religiões e divindades indígenas na Lusitânia” in Religiões da Lusitânia, coord. José Cardim Ribeiro, Lisboa: Loquuntur Saxa, Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, pp. 11-16.
FREITAS FERREIRA, Daniela Filipa de. 2012. Memória coletiva e formas representativas do (espaço) religioso. Masters dissertation, Departamento de Ciências e Técnicas do Património. Porto: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto.
GREEN, Miranda. 2011. The Gods of the Celts. Stroud: Sutton Publishing.
OLIVARES PEDREÑO, Juan Carlos. 2002. Los Dioses de la Hispania Céltica. Madrid: Real Academia de Historia; Universidad de Alicante.
Mind you, it’s not a closed text. In time, if needed, I may add new sections and I’m open to suggestions and corrections, especially with regard to the orthopraxy. Feel free to put forward ideas for consideration. It may not be a unanimous view of the topic – nor is it meant to, because very few things in life are unanimous – but it’s supposed to be more than just my personal view of Roman polytheism.
There’s certainly no obvious reference to it in the surviving lore, where She’s presented as a goddess of love and sex, wealth and beauty, seiðr and war. Her connection to the boar, both in stanza 7 of Hyndluljóð and in the name Sýr or Sow, which is listed in Snorri’s Edda (Gylfaginning 35 and Skáldskaparmál 75), points to that triple nature: swines are symbols of fertility, prosperity and, in the case of the boar, of military valour. Which also gives substance to the occasional allusions to Freyr’s warrior side, though that tends to be ignored due to an anachronistic use of the three functions theory, a simplistic equation of friðr with “peace” and a focus on more obvious deities of conflict. Anyway, while there’s no reference to Freya as a goddess of roads and travellers, there are a few hints in the lore that may suggest or, at the very least, give some traditional basis for a modern development of that aspect of Hers.
The clearest clue is Her connection to Odin, whose role as a wanderer is well established. It is said that they share the fallen ones on the battlefield (Grímnismál 14), that She taugh seiðr to the Aesir (Ynglinga saga 4) – thus presumably explaining Odin’s expertise and Loki’s accusation of unmanliness in Lokasenna 24 – and Her husband is said to be an obscure god named Óðr (Gylfaginning 35 and Skáldskaparmál 20), which is the root of the name Odin or Óðinn in Old Norse. And like the One-Eyed Himself, Freya too is said to have wandered through the world, though not in search of knowledge, but Her loved one (Gylfaginning 35). Also, Her falcon cloak is one of the tools used by Loki to travel to Jötunheim, in what is no doubt an allusion to spirit journeys, but journeys nonetheless. It should be pointed out that elsewhere in ancient Europe, gods of roads and travellers were also connecters of worlds, like the psychopompic Hermes or the oracular Apollo. And then there’s Mardöll, one of Freya’s several names listed in Gylfaginning 35 and whose meaning is disputed, though one interpretation is something like “sea light” (marr and dallr), which could be anything from a lighthouse to a star. There are actually modern polytheists who see in Mardöll a goddess who aids or rescues sailors, which is hardly surprising if you consider who Freya’s father is.
Now, again, none of this is an obvious reference to a side of Hers as a goddess of travellers, be it on land or sea. But religion is not static – unless it’s a dead one – so at the very least, there’s enough material to place the possibility and explore it in modern polytheism. On that note, I honestly don’t know if others, heathens or devotees of Freya, have thought about it, but if not, consider this a heads-up. Granted, I may be looking at it from the perspective of a Roman polytheist, which probably explains why I thought of Hermes and Apollo a few lines above. But that too is nothing new in the world of ancient religions, since there was plenty of cultural exchange and reinterpretation between the Latin and Germanic worlds along the Rhine a few thousand years ago. No reason why it shouldn’t be so today and new aspects of the gods shouldn’t be explored.
And no, I’m not thinking about pairing Freya with Mercury as queen and king of byways, if nothing else because I’m already exploring a similar possibility with Ilurbeda. Of course, there is something mercurial to all of this, in that if I’m putting something new on the table, it’s perhaps no surprise that a Mercury devotee noticed Freya’s potential for a goddess of roads and travellers. So at the very least, I may take it up as a task of sorts and yet another case of “liminaling”.
There’s another classical parallel that can be made here: in southern Europe, deities of magic can also preside over travellers and roads. Hermes/Mercury again is a clear example, but so is Hecate. And similarly to both of them, Freya too is a psychopomp, even if specifically tied to the battlefield.
A few weeks ago, Fareed Zakaria interviewed Jonathan Weiler, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina. He asked him about the root of the support for Donald Trump in the current US political cycle, which Jonathan Weiler placed not on social-economic hardships, as is so often argued, but on differences in the personality of the voters. Simply put, some people are drawn to authoritarian figures because, and I quote, “they believe very strongly in a need for social order as traditionally defined and (…) feel very fearful and resentful towards groups and social norms that challenge that traditional order”. This is an issue related to upbringing and, because of those personal traits, some people prefer “leaders who speak in clear, simple, direct terms about imposing order in the world around them”. They have “a strong need for order”, “want to ensure that people who are not like them are sort of put in their place and want clear, simple solutions for complicated problems”. You can watch the video here, which includes a brief look at survey results on parenting and personality types.
While the interview was about the whys of Trump supporters, its content can be applied to other groups of people, such as polytheists who are on either end of the ideological spectrum. Because often, they’re the ones who are uncomfortable with diversity, mixture, nuance and social modernity. They tend to see difference, change and grey areas as chaos and anarchy, an unnecessary complication of what should be straightforward, preferring instead well defined groups and categories where people can be organized in a simple manner, with everyone and everything in their proper place. On one end of the spectrum are the radical leftists who are unable to separate religion from politics, even if just thematically, and see anyone who is not as “progressive” as no more than fascists or minions of the new right. For them, there’s little or no room for nuance, middle ground or large differences of opinion, but only a simplistic view of us versus them, a zero-sum game where a brave new order stands against a capitalist chaos that can be found across the dividing line. They long for uniformity, a time and place where everyone can think and do as they do, because that’s how it should be. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the more folkish polytheists, who have a deep suspicion or outright disdain, if not disgust, for ethnic or cultural mixture and also for the modern values of equality and inclusion. They long for traditional order, sometimes (or often?) to the point of wanting to go back in time, to an ancient society where people weren’t pacifist sissies, equal rights campaigners, sluts or perverts and everyone knew their proper place. For them, anything that resembles ideological, sexual or racial ambiguity is an invitation to chaos. I’ve come across both types of people, one of them quite recently in an online discussion on orthodoxy, the lack of which a certain person equated with anarchy.
Here’s the thing, though: because its basic definition implies the religious regard for many gods, polytheism is inherently diverse. There are differences within the category – since that’s what polytheism is, a category and not a single religion – but if you let divine plurality run its course, instead of trying to curb it through politics, monism or henotheism, you’ll find that it will naturally generate an outrageously diverse theological dynamic. And it can be summed up thus: different gods have different agendas and hence equally different goals and sets of values. You think sexual promiscuity is wrong? Vesta, Minerva and Hera may no doubt agree with you, but the same can’t be said of Aphrodite, Pan or Apollo. There’s value in war and physical violence? Ares or Odin are likely to wholeheartedly agree, but don’t be so sure with Pax, Concordia or even Freyr, who has a bellic side, but not as a primary function. Ma’at, Heimdall or Terminus might say that you should always be honest and stay within accepted boundaries, but you’ll hear a different story coming from Hermes or Loki. This is how it goes in a polytheistic system. There are many voices, many worldviews, many directions, precisely because there are many gods. The only common thread you can take from all of it is the need for co-existence, for some form of unity in diversity, not uniformity. This is not so in monotheism, where there’s only one divine player in the game and hence what he says is law. There are no opposite voices, no counter-opinions, no competition, just a let it be written above and a let it be done bellow. Which is fundamentally different from the ocean of plurality that can be found in polytheistic religions. As I said before, diversity has theological consequences.
Perhaps it’s not by chance that Odinism and Odinist are popular labels among folkish bigots in Heathenry. It is, after all, a choice of terms that expresses a focus in a supreme god, almost like a heathen Jehovah, and hence a figure of authority in a “confusingly” diverse pantheon. In other words, it simplifies the complexity and hence perceived chaos of divine plurality, as if a more general name that better reflects a polytheistic religion would imply the existence of multiple sources of authority and hence anarchy. And thus it matches the taste for traditional order that Odinists often have with regard to other areas of life, like race and gender.
These polytheists are our equivalent of the Trump supporters. They may not vote for the man nor have the exact same ideas as he does, but their thought process and motivations are very much the same. It’s a similar dynamic, an equal fondness or desire for simple, straightforward order where differences can create a mess and should therefore be quickly sanitized. To be clear, I’m not saying that there are no limits: words carry meaning and they should be used accordingly, so for instance, if you don’t believe in gods or in more than one god, then you really shouldn’t be calling yourself a polytheist. Clarify your ideas first and then pick the corresponding label, not the other way around. But there are different types of limits or rather a spectrum, where on one end you have a narrowness that allows only for what’s fully identical and on the other you have wide limits that permit unity in a large diversity. A good example is the issue around orthodoxy and orthopraxy, for whereas some like me accept as fellow Roman polytheists people whose exact practices, beliefs and choice of philosophy are different from mine, so long as they retain a basic orthopraxy, others desire an orthodoxy that narrows down that diversity and sends people off in different directions depending on what they believe in. Because while I’m perfectly comfortable with seeing coreligionists in people who don’t share all of my beliefs, but just a basic set of practices and mutual respect, others see in that a form of chaos.
So listen up, radical/folkish kids: you should probably reconsider whether polytheism is really your thing. There’s nothing wrong in being different, mind you, and you know it, since many of you regularly tell others that they should be elsewhere. It’s just while you do it because people don’t fit a very particular square, I’m okay with sharing my religious label and space with people who fit in different shapes and colours within a basic framework. But that framework has limits, even if wide ones, and they include the very diversity that’s inherent to polytheism. Simply put, if you’re uncomfortable with plurality, if you think a lack of orthodoxy amounts to chaos and anarchy and if you’re unease about different gods having different agendas and values, then perhaps you’re better off in monotheism, where only one voice gets to call the shots and that can make things a lot simpler, orderly and authoritarian, thus better reflecting your preferences. And if your answer is that you have a right to practice the religion of your ancestors, then go deeper on why you’re a polytheist: does it have anything to do with a love for diversity or is it born out of a disgust for ethnic and cultural mixture, leading you to prefer a native religion that feels less prone to what you perceive as chaos? Because if it’s the latter, then 1) you probably have the wrong motivation, as wrong as the leftist radicals who are unable to distinguish their religion from their politics, and 2) you may be in for a surprise when you realize that native isn’t an exclusivist category nor the same as closed, pure and uniform. Like I said, not everyone is the same and some things aren’t made for everyone. And if you prefer uniformity or simplistic order, you may be better off in a less diverse system.