An Iberian Jupiter

One of the tragedies of ancient Iberian History is how little has survived of its oldest religious traditions. There is nothing in the likes of Greek, Norse or Celtic mythology, no extensive written account of Iberian myths or of religious practices. There are only brief references in outside sources – like Strabo – and archaeological traces, namely in the form of altars where theonyms and epithets have been inscribed. So essentially, we have the names of deities, rarely any iconography and no narratives. It’s a lost tradition.

Yet don’t blame Christianity for it, or at least not for the most part. The erasure and assimilation of the Iberian Peninsula’s older religious traditions was first and foremost a result of the Roman conquest of the territory. The pre-Christian Roman conquest. Because as the new rulers settled in, so did their ways and customs, from language to laws to, yes, religion. There’s a reason why almost every one of those altars that preserve the names and titles of older Iberian deities bear not inscriptions in a Celtic or an ancient native language, but in Latin and are shaped like traditional Roman altars. One word sums up the process in its various forms: Romanization! A reminder that not every cultural-religious erasure is the work of proselyte monotheism.

This is important, because before moving into the core of this post, I want to make two things crystal clear. The first is the extent of what was lost and hence how much needs to be created from scratch if one’s to give older Iberian deities a religious place in the modern world. For with generally nothing to go by other than names and titles, a simple reconstruction just isn’t an option. You have to create! And yet – and this is the second point I want to make clear – I bear no grudge towards ancient Rome for it. Honestly, it feels ridiculous just saying it, because of course I don’t! What would be the point of harbouring ill-feelings towards a long-gone civilization whose actions took place over two millennia ago? It’s no-brainer, but… don’t underestimate the ability of some polytheists to hold deep historical grudges. And additionally, I practise my polytheism as an extension of my native culture, and since Portuguese is a product of the Romanization of the Iberian Peninsula, it would be non-sensical for me to reject my country’s Latinity in favour of some anachronic re-enactment of a lost tribe or civilization that has long been subsumed into later, multiple layers of identity.

So having said that, what follows is focused on the pre-Roman Iberian god Reue, on whom I wrote a post a few years ago, when I refurnished this blog, summing up the surviving data, what scholars make of it and my own work hypothesis. I’ve had a few more ideas since then and have come to construct a more elaborate view of Reue, which is now a full part of my religious practices and the object of a growing attention of mine.

Celestial shepherd
A few known or proposed things about Reue serve as the starting point: archaeological findings suggest a link to mountainous areas and theological closeness to Jupiter, though the Iberian theonym is never employed as an epithet of the Roman one. Rather, Larauco (of the Larouco mountain in northernmost Portugal) is used as a title of Reue or as a stand-alone with the words deo Maximo (highest god), which also serve to describe Jupiter. So we’re dealing with a jovian god, but one who, by virtue of his name and according to several scholars, also has a watery connection, which is not incompatible with known roles of Jupiter or Jupiter-like deities throughout the old Roman world.

Another contextual point is the rural nature of ancient western Iberia, as there were virtually no civitates, just oppida or fortified hilltops. Granted, by some modern standards, even a lot of Roman cities would be villages, but in the ancient Latin world there was a legal and structural distinction to be made and which I took into account.

From this arose a concept: the Shepherd of Clouds! Part of the inspiration came from one of Zeus’ epithets in the Iliad – Gatherer of Clouds – and it holistically encapsulates what little is known of Reue – the Jovian nature, connection to water and rural context – while also serving as a fertile catalyst for a cascade of new ideas about him.

Think about it: clouds are his flock, which not only makes him a celestial god, but one who’s particularly connected to rain and thus water. In his beneficial role, he helps sustain rivers and springs, mountainous and others, but if you get torrential rain and sudden flooding, that can be envisioned as his flock running amuck. The sound of a rushing wall of water is not unlike that of a stampede. Also, if you hear thunder, that too can be translated as Reue’s cattle on the move, but because clouds advance with the wind, it too falls under the god’s influence. Think of the soft breeze as air coming out of Reue’s shepherd flute or of strong gusts as his dogs. Also, because water is fundamental for life and prosperity, he appears as a fertility god as well, a side of his reinforced by the connection to cattle. And if mountain tops are covered in clouds, yet no rain falls on lower lands and there’s even a partly blue sky in the surrounding area, take it as Reue’s flock grazing on the summit, with the god sitting among his cattle and walking on the mountainous ground.

Thus a simple rural concept, which may not have seem much at first, breathes new, rich life into an old god who initially appeared so distant, so abstract, by virtue of there being so little about him in the historical record.

Trees and animals
Of course, if he’s a Jupiter-like deity, then Reue’s tree will naturally be the oak. But because he’s a west-Iberian god, one can get specific and link him not with the more famous Quercus robur, but with the Quercus faginea or Portuguese oak. Alternatively, there’s also the Quercus suber or cork oak, which is Portugal’s national tree.

And as for animals, the white bull or ox is an obvious choice, but so is the sheep and ram, plus the dog, which are all part of the shepherd’s realm. Birds are still an unclear point to me, though naturally there’s the eagle, both the Aquila chrysaetos and the Buteo buteo, and I’m also considering the black kite (Milvus migrans) and even the black stork (Ciconia nigra).

Now, there’s some divergence here from traditional animal associations of Jupiter, but that’s okay. For one, I expect the rural emphasis of Reue to result in differences and, secondly, I don’t see them as the same deity, so again, distinctions are to be expected.

King and court
Which leads to the next point, for if Reue and Jupiter are to be understood as different gods, albeit similar in several ways, how does one integrate them pantheon-like? And the answer is hierarchically and functionally. That is to say, picture Jupiter as a celestial king with an entourage or heavenly court, of which other, similar gods are members to a varying degree. This is not unlike how Greeks and Romans saw the relationship between various deities, and so one only has to insert Reue into the fold as a sort of princely figure with a more rural, even rustic identity in the celestial realm. Hence the similarities and even overlap with Jupiter, but also the distinctions, with the end-result of fully integrating into a modern Roman polytheism of a present-day Latin country and culture a native pre-Roman god from that country’s territory.

The lady by the spring
There’s also the native goddess Nabia, with whom one can make a connection with Reue both on the basis of realms of influence and the view of him as a shepherd. She’s not without a Jovian link herself, since she’s mentioned together with Jupiter in one altar found in northern Portugal. But because she’s often associated with springs and rivers, the stage sort of sets itself up for a meeting with Reue: they both exert influence on the sources and availability of water, even complementing each other; and following on the idea of him as a shepherd, picture the bucolic scene where a keeper of flocks meets a fair lady by the well or spring and they become enamored, thus forging a link between the two.

This is not without historical basis and I don’t mean Nabia’s Jovian association. In one inscription from Cabeço das Fráguas, in the Portuguese northern interior, a sacrifice of livestock is listed, together with the gods to whom it was given, and among them is Reve Tre…. One possibility being that the final letters are part of an epithet that linked Reue with the native goddess Trebaruna, who’s also mentioned in the inscription and, judging from the theonym, may have been a deity of the village well or spring. If the two were paired, it would make sense, but given that their names don’t appear together anywhere else in the archaeological record, it could have been a geographically limited pairing. In any case, the hypothesis supplies something of a precedent for a link between Reue and Nabia.

Like a letter and a sound
Before I finish, and just so we’re clear, I don’t actually believe that clouds are flocks, thunder is the sound of moving cattle and a god is walking it around somewhere in the sky. The notion of Shepherd of Clouds is a means to understand and codify.

If you want a very simple analogy, I don’t believe the sound /a/ actually looks like the letter a, yet I’m content with the traditional Latin grapheme and engage with the sound through it. It’s a way to grasp, depict and make use of something that we can hear, but not see or touch. And the fact that the letter is a human-made representation of a phoneme doesn’t make it false – its everyday usefulness and shared understanding makes it true.

Something similar applies to Reue: I believe him to be a real entity with agency, able to exert influence on certain phenomena and activities, and his depiction as a Shepherd of Clouds is a way of engaging with him. Of making sense and thus interact. Just as grapheme is a way of reaching out to a phoneme, of giving it form it and using it, without it meaning that the former actually is the latter or truly looks like it.

So salve to Reue,
the Rustic Jupiter, Iberian Jove,
the Shepherd of Clouds and Thundering Flocks,
He of Breezes and Gusts,
of the Flute and Hounds,
Nabia’s Divine Friend!

One thought on “An Iberian Jupiter

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