A canine god?

There is one ancient Iberian god called Quangeio, an obscure deity of uncertain function, since very little is known about Him. In this, He is not an isolated case, given that pre-Christian Iberians left no detailed account of their myths and customs, with only a handful of Classical authors providing us with a few lines of text, though not from first-hand observation. So for the most part, the only surviving traces are Roman-period altars on which theonyms were written, occasionally with some extra information and depictions, which together with the context of the pieces and identity of the worshipers may give us an idea of the nature and popularity of those deities. Even then, though, when compared to what we know about other Iberian gods, the information on Quangeio is scarce, leaving modern polytheists with little more than hypothesis they may or may not choose to follow in their religious practices.

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).

Sites where altars to Quangeio were found.

Sites where altars to Quangeio were found.

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:

Equivalence of the inner Beiras and Extremadura's pantheon, by Olivares Pedreño (2002: 219.2)

Equivalence of the regional pantheon of the inner Beiras and Extremadura, by Olivares Pedreño (2002: 219.2)

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!

Works cited
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.


3 thoughts on “A canine god?

  1. Pingback: A Thrill of Polytheistic Discovery and the Dissatisfaction of its Spread | Of Axe and Plough

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