An Iberian Mercury

When you have a particular focus on a particular deity, when you’re a devotee of a god, there’s this drive to read, learn about and get to know His “cousins”, i.e. similar gods from other cultures. If it’s Dionysos, you turn a curious eye to other Powers of beverage and ecstatic fury; if it’s Apollo, you take a look at similar enlightened deities. Sometimes, they even share a common origin, namely if they’re of Indo-European stock. And in some cases, you add them to your religious practices or syncretise them with gods you already worship.

A similar thing happened to me when I started researching and reading about Hermes-like deities and tricksters. Having been a heathen and due to the fact that I do research on Viking Studies, I already knew about Loki, though I gained a renewed understanding of Odin’s table companion since I joined Mercury’s ranks. Bor’s son too is not a total stranger and there’s been an increasing awareness of His ways. Manannán mac Lir is an enticing god, not least because He has similarities with Njord, and that naturally draws the attention of someone who’s also close to Freyr. Lugh is another Celtic deity I’ve been curious about, on His own merit, but also due to His equation with Mercury. There’s Inari, the Japanese fox god or goddess, a gender duplicity that probably owes more to historical incidents than anything else, but is nonetheless fitting for a trickster. Susanoo too is a prankster and I may pour Him libations of sake whenever I happen to get my hands on a bottle of it. And since we’re talking about Asian deities, the bodhisattva Manjushri is sometimes said to be a trickster, as if there weren’t enough hermetic traits in Him – the blade, the wisdom, the mantic dice. Which adds to His appeal for someone like me, who’s fond of the Buddhist school of Madhyamaka. There’s Anubis, whom I added to my regular pantheon a few years ago, and Thoth, who’s been on the periphery of my religious life for some time now. The sacrilegious destruction of statues and shrines carried out recently by Daesh in the Middle East turned my attention to the Syrian and Mesopotamian pantheons, namely Nabu and Enki. The Slavic Veles is a wildly interesting god and then, of course, there are animals – the raven, the fox, the raccoon (childhood favourite!), even the squirrel.

For the most part, however, this was just curiosity, a research topic that allows for a cross-cultural perspective and hence deeper understanding of the individual trickster I’m devoted to. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to worship all of them in some way, it’s just that’s easier said than done. You need time, resources and mental space to properly honour gods on a regular basis and there is such a thing as dispersal, especially if you include in your domestic pantheon several great Powers from different backgrounds, like Loki and Lugh. Occasional offerings are certainly possible, but regular and dully scheduled honours with full formal ceremonies is a different matter.

At some point, however, it dawned on me that I was looking into “hermetic cousins” from nearly everywhere expect my own native land. There’s an obvious reason for that: we know very little about Iberian deities. There are no surviving myths, almost no accounts of their cults, which makes Latin inscriptions virtually the only source of information on Them. What little is known about the Iberian pantheon(s) is squeezed out of surviving names, epitephs, the details of the sites where altars were found, comparative analysis with other pantheons and, in a few rare cases, depictions of animals, plants and the god/desses Themselves. So following my quest for the gods of my homeland, I considered extending that search into something that worked both as a revival of regional cults and, at the same time, a contribution to the world of the Fleet-Footed. To put it differently, just as I’ve come to realize that a Latinized cult of the Vanir is a path within the wider hermetic realm, because it involves a form of “liminaling” and translation, I thought of adding another path, that of Iberian Mercuries, thus reviving both a regional form of Roman polytheism and enriching my increasingly Mercury-focused practice.

Enter Arentius and Arentia. As is generally the case with Iberian deities, information on Them is scarce. Which means there are divergent theories on their natures: They’ve been seen as war deities, river gods and even domestic Powers specific to a small group of people. There are in total nine known altars to Them, four our which dedicated to both Arentius and Arentia, other four to just the former and one solely to the latter. They all come from the Spanish Extremadura and Portuguese Beiras, in the western interior of the Iberian Peninsula. Incidentally, that’s also a region where several other deities are well attested, which allowed Juan Pedreño to propose a new theory on the identity of Arentius and Arentia. Assuming that the gods and goddesses known from the area constitute a regional pantheon, he concludes they could not have been war or water deities, because those roles were already taken. Instead, Arentius and Arentia may have played a role similar to that of Lugus and Rosmerta, something equally suggested by an analysis of divine couples in the Gallo-Roman world. It is Apollo and Mercury who are most commonly coupled with a native goddess or identified with a pair of deities whose names are almost identical. Think of Bormanus and Bormana, for instance, or Visucius and Visucia. In other words, Arentius may have been an Iberian god identifiable with Mercury and Arentia a regional goddess who supplemented the prosperity He’s associated with. It’s only a theory, yes, but a good one nonetheless. If you’re interested, you can read more in this article where Pedreño discusses his ideas in some detail and in English.

Taking that into account, I’ve decided to give Arentius and Arentia a try. To present Them with offerings on an experimental basis and in Roman rite, since their cults were at least partly Latinized in the old days. There’s an historical precedent and an element of tradition there, so that solves the question of how to do it. ‘When’ is a different matter, but given the possibility of a connection with Lugh, something around August 1st seems appropriate for a first contact. However, since a southern climate can result in a later harvest and I already have a feast on August 4th, I decided to go for September 1st. Part of making things work when you worship dozens of gods is having a balanced calendar without too many festivities crammed together. Though this is just an experimental stage and whether it will lead to the inclusion of Arentius and Arentia in my domestic pantheon and regular religious practices is yet to be seen. It depends on how it goes, on how They react – if at all!

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