A Lady of Flowing Waters

Ara - NabiaOn a stone altar from northern Portugal known as the ara de Marecos, dated from a period when the Romanization of the region was obviously well underway, an inscription alludes to local religious practices. The text, which is not entirely clear, mentions Nabia Corona, Nabia, Jupiter, Lida and a deity whose name cannot be read (only the ending –urgo is visible). It also adds which animals were given to whom and that a sacrifice was performed on the fifth day before the Ides of April, which is April 9th. This is a very rare piece of information in the realm of pre-Christian religions in western Iberia, where primary references to ceremonies and festivities are almost non-existent.

The theonym Nabia or Navia features in other inscriptions from Galicia, northern Portugal, the Spanish region of Estremadura and the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco. She appears to have been the most widely worshipped goddess in northwest Iberia and testimonies of Her cult appear in various sites, from mountain tops to valleys and fountains, in both urban and non-urban settings. Occasionally, She’s given epithets that either connect Her to another deity – as in Nabia Corona, probably linking Her to the Iberian god Coronus (though this has been disputed) – or seem to reflect a local if not tutelary aspect, like Nabia Sesmaca, maybe linked to a nearby castellum Sesm[…], or Nabia Elaesurraeca from the municipality of Sarreaus, both cases in the Galician province of Ourense.

The exact etymology of the name Nabia/Navia has been the subject of debate. It may derive from IE *nau and convey the notion of flowing, an idea reinforced by the names of Iberian rivers, like the Navia, Navea, Naviego and Nabón in northern Spain, as well as the Nabão in Portugal. A connection with the Spanish word nava or ‘valley’ has also been suggested and indeed there may be truth in both possibilities, as valleys can easily be the origin or dominion of rivers and hence allow for a link with water. In the past, it seems She was identified with Diana, since the aforementioned inscription from Marecos is usually interpreted as O(ptimae) V(irgini) CO(ornigerae uel conservatrici) ET NIM(phae) DANIGO/M NABIAE CORONAE or ‘excellent protective virgin and nymph of the Danigo, Nabia Corona’. A connection with sovereignty at some level has also been suggested, based on Her apparent role as a tutelary goddess of several communities, as well as the location of altars to Her on mountain tops and a possible link with Jupiter based on the inscription from Marecos.

Taking all of this into account and coupling it with what little I can gather from pre-Christian religious traditions in my native area (see here), I’ve come to the decision of experimenting with local Powers by focusing on a Nabia Alcobacensis. I stress the experimental nature of this: I may be wrong about the preferred gender and number of local deities of my home town, a doubt aggravated by the fact that I’m not a spirit worker of any sort. Yet a mixture of intuition and rationality tells me that a local form of Nabia is not without substance. This is, after all, a water-rich valley with a nearby mountainous range and what appears to be a very long tradition of lunar cults. A tutelary aspect of Nabia may therefore feel right at home, but time and divination will be the judge of it.

For both practical and symbolic reasons, in choosing a festive date, I kept the ninth day from the Marecos inscription, but move it up one month. Thus I’ll be honouring Nabia of my homeland on March 9th, the time of the first signs of spring, when the rivers are full and the temperatures rising. As for the ritual framework, I’m not sure yet. I’ll probably start by using a basic Roman structure and then go from there to the tune of omens and divination.

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One thought on “A Lady of Flowing Waters

  1. If you have any questions about her and her cult, I can direct you to someone who focuses their practice on the Celtic Iberian Gods and really knows his stuff, historically, linguistically and in a religious (hence, personal) way. 🙂

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