The world of the Wayfarers

Of the many gods worshipped as Lares in the ancient Roman world – and there were many of Them, some of a strictly local nature – there were the Lares Viales, which I’m sure you’ve heard about before if you’ve been following this blog for some time now. They’re closely related and sometimes undistinguishable from the Lares Compitales, for the obvious reason that while the former preside over the viae or roads, the latter rule the compitia or crossroads. Hence in his De Lingua Latina – book 6, chapter 25 – Varro says the Compitalia is a celebration in honour of the Lares Viales. This, by the way, is one of the few written references to Them in Roman sources, the other being Plautus’ Mercator, line 865, though in that instance there appears to be no confusion with other Lares. But whereas the Compitales where the object of a public cult, both before and after the Augustan reform of 7 BCE, and thus were given multiple shrines in Rome (Beard et al. 2010: 184), no such attention appears to have been awarded to the Lares Viales, which probably explains why there’s only one known altar to Them in Rome (CIL VI 36812). Of course, this doesn’t mean that They had few worshippers – at least not necessarily – but simply that the structures and shrines dedicated to the Lares Viales may have been of a more common and hence less perennial nature. Think of plain cairns, for instance, which are a natural expression of a wayfaring cult with no official status or wealthy patrons. A similar scarcity of pieces is true for the rest of the old Roman world, with one notable exception.

Physical traces
In total, there are thirty six known altars dedicated to the Lares Viales. Apart from the aforementioned example from Rome, there’s a second piece from Italy (CIL XI 3079), one from Dacia (CIL III 1422), another from Morocco (CIL VIII 9755) and one from Gaul (CIL XII 4320). There’s also three from the eastern half of the Iberian Peninsula (AE 1903 185; CIL II 2987) and then a whopping twenty eight altars in the northwest corner of the region, mostly in modern-day Galicia (Franco Maside 2002: 218-9).

Places where altars to the Lares Viales were found.

Places where altars to the Lares Viales were found.

The exact reason for this disproportion is unclear, but it may be connected to the late Romanization of northern Iberia, for while the south was conquered by Rome by the start of the second century BCE, it was only two hundred years later that the Asturias and surrounding regions were subdued. And unsurprisingly, such a chronological discrepancy carries cultural consequences, in that the south was already well within the Roman world by the time the north was entering it. William van Andringa noted as much, pointing out that religious practices reflected more closely those of Rome in long-conquered provinces like Baetica (southern Spain): in Tucci, Hercules, Jupiter Optimus Maximus and Pietas Augusta were popular, as were Diana, Venus, Libertas Augusta, Mars Augustus and the Lares Augustorum in Singili Barba. But in Lugo, Galicia, during the Roman period, a myriad of native Iberian gods were worshipped alongside Jupiter (van Andringa 2011: 86). No surprise then that Portela Filgueiras suggested that, in northwest Iberia, the Lares Viales and the king of the gods fulfilled the same role as the imperial cult elsewhere, i.e. were a religious expression of loyalty towards the Roman State (1984: 157). On that note and despite the fact that her work is three decades old and may therefore be somewhat outdated, it is nonetheless worth mentioning that Portela Filgueiras found no archaeological traces of the Lares Augusti being worshipped in Galicia and only two for the Lares Romani (or four, if you consider the borders of Roman Galicia, which included northern Portugal). And that’s despite the fact that over two dozen pieces dedicated to those two divine groups have been found elsewhere in the Iberian Peninsula (Portela Filgueiras 1989: 161).

If they fulfilled the role of the imperial cult, then the popularity of the Lares Viales in ancient Galicia was an early or at best intermediate stage in a process of cultural assimilation. Had it started earlier or lasted longer, beyond Christianization, and perhaps the Lares Augusti would have become more popular in the region and maybe even displace the Lares Viales. But to thus conclude that Their popularity was just a product of a political scheme is to barely scratch the surface, for syncretism or assimilation of religious practices can only work if there’s a commonality, something that’s shared by both the new and old and allows for a transition. Which is why some have suggested that the Lares Viales of ancient Galicia were essentially a Roman mask to much older cults (Santos Yanguas 2014: 254). In other words, there must have been pre-existing entities who were already popular in the region and whose worshippers found a suitable Latin expression to their devotion in the Lares Viales. Had it been merely a case of a religious phenomenon produced by the movements of Roman troops along north-Iberian roads, then one would expect to find a similar result elsewhere in Europe. Yet that’s not the case. The popularity of the Lares Viales in Galicia is exceptional, so it stands to reason that there must have been exceptionally popular wayfaring gods of some sort during the region’s pre-Roman period, which, combined with the late Romanization, produced the cluster of altars visible in the map above. Who were those deities is a question to which there is no answer, since also unlike what happens elsewhere in the Iberian Peninsula and indeed in the Roman world, They were not syncretised by means of epithets. There’s nothing along the lines of Mars Nodens, Apollo Belenus or Silvanus Sinquas – there’s just Lares Viales.

A continuum
Perhaps even more enticing is the awareness that Galicia remains a land religiously defined by wayfaring. It is marked by scores of travellers on traditional courses signalled by shells and cairns, though their destination is not a polytheistic shrine, but rather a Catholic one in Santiago de Compostela. Now before anyone jumps to the conclusions, the Galician cult of Saint James is not a Christianized version of an older, pre-Christian cult. There are elements of it, yes, the cairns being a clear example, but you’ll find that pretty much anywhere in Europe where there are hiking trails or pilgrimage routes. The fact that the 5th century bishop Martin of Dume (Braga, Portugal), in chapter 16 of his De Correctione Rusticorum, mentions the lighting of candles at crossroads is hardly evidence of a persistent worship of the Lares Viales in ancient Galicia. And that’s because in those same lines he also mentions the worshipping of trees and boulders, performing auguries, celebrating the Volcanalia and Calends, stepping in with your right foot, throwing bread and wine into fountains and invoking Minerva when weaving. Which begs the question of how far the text reflects a local reality that was observed first-hand or merely employs a standardized list of pagan practices in use by any Christian missionary at the time.

Roadside sign pointing the way to Santiago de Compostela, complete with a cairn. Source

Roadside sign pointing the way to Santiago de Compostela, complete with a cairn. Source

The truth is that the history of the Galician shrine of Saint James is complex and does not fit into the simplistic model of a pre-Christian cult with a Christian guise – though that is no doubt a popular belief among modern pagans and polytheists, especially those affected by the way too common form of paranoia known as siege mentality. For starters, because organized Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula goes back to c. 180, but the presumed discovery of the body of Saint James took place in c. 813. It’s a gap of over six centuries and between those two dates there was the officialization of Christianity, the outlawing of pagan religions, Germanic invasions and settlement, renewed missionary activity by Martin of Dume and others, schisms and internal struggles between Christian sects (Arianism, Priscilianism, Donatism, etc.), the Muslim conquest of almost all of the Iberian Peninsula and finally the start of the Reconquista in c. 720. By the time the body of the apostle is said to have been discovered, religious strife in Iberia was not between Christians and traditional polytheists, but between different movements of the former and Islam. It is revealing that the presumed tomb of Saint James, who was killed in Palestine and not in Galicia (Acts of the Apostles, 12:2), may in fact have been that of Priscillian, a Galician bishop who was decapitated for heresy in 385 and had a strong following in the region. That a remnant or memory of a cult to his remains may have been picked up by the Catholic Church in the first century of war against the Muslim south, thus in time providing the northern Christian kingdoms with a reinforced religious banner, goes to show how detached the Galician shrine of Saint James is from any hypothetical pre-Christian version. Even more so if one considers that the Asturian chronicles of the late ninth and early tenth centuries – the Albeldense and both versions of the Alfonso III – say nothing about the “miraculous discovery” in Santiago de Compostela, thus placing the popularity of the Catholic cult at an even later date.

Still, there is a coincidence, an accidental continuum, if you will: the land where the Lares Viales appear to have been more popular is still a country of travellers, defined for centuries by wayfaring. That’s actually the reason why this blog’s header image is a photo of a golden scallop on cobblestones: shells have become a symbol of the way of Saint James – the exact motive is unknown – and you’ll see them being used by just about any pilgrim, decorating Galician churches and signs along roads and hiking trails and find dozens of them in golden metal on the medieval streets of Santiago de Compostela, marking old pilgrimage routes.

Old ways made new
In using the scallop, I’m drinking from the continuum and using it to express my west-Iberian roots, mercurial devotion and worship of the Lares Viales, employing what has essentially become a recognizable symbol of travellers and movement in the land where the gods of the roads were popular. I’m not integrating Saint James into my practices or pantheon, just as the shrine at Santiago de Compostela didn’t replace a pre-Christian cult site, but I am picking up elements, similarly to Catholic pilgrims and non-religious hikers who have taken up the older practice of erecting cairns. It’s a continuous use and reuse of gestures and symbols in an ever-present Galician background of wayfaring that stretches back over two millennia. And incidentally, when I was midway through writing this post and left the computer to join a few friends at a party, I found two clamshells down the street and saw two roosters walking by a busy road in a nearby village. Which is interesting at the very least.

Perhaps it’s time I add the pieces and start something cohesive and concrete. I’m already a devotee of Mercury and honour the Lares Viales alongside Him on January 4th, the first days of April and am considering two additional annual celebrations (thus reaching a total of four). The gods of roads are also in my daily prayers and, every time I pour wheat on a wayside or cairn to Mercury, I pour an extra for Them. There are Iberian gods full of mercurial potential, like Ilurbeda, for whom there are archaeological links to the Lares Viales, or Quangeio, hypothetically a god’s companion just as dogs are humans’. A basic philosophy has been worked out and there’s plenty of symbols to choose from, be it scallops, wheels, travellers’ staffs, winged boots or hats, cairns or canines. There’s even fertile ground for an initiatory element with the goal of becoming a Lar Viale upon death and thus join Mercury’s divine entourage of travelling gods.

Perhaps I should take the clamshells and roosters as a hint, add the pieces I already have and lay the foundations of something new, something that may become a tradition if it survives the test of time. An Iberian branch of Roman polytheism, complete with its own coherent set of ideas and practices and focusing on the Lares Viales and Mercury as foremost among Them. Of course, it would have to be done in full awareness that human existence is brief, no more than a few decades long, so if such a religious construct is to become a tradition, grow and be successful, I will not see it in my lifetime. But I can still sow the fields, I can lay the first stone. Every journey starts with a single step, even if you do not reach the intended destination and others have to continue for you. You do your part, no matter how small, and then let others do theirs.

Perhaps it’s time for a Way of the Wayfarers to be born.

Cairns on the road to Finisterra - Galicia's Land's End. My own photo from 2010.

Cairns on the road to Finisterra – Galicia’s Land’s End. My own photo from 2010.

Works cited
BEARD, Mary; NORTH, John; PRICE, Simon. 2010. Religions of Rome, volume I: a History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
FRANCO MASIDE, Rosa María. 2002. “Lares Viales na provincia de A Coruña. In Gallaecia n. 21, Santiago de Compostela: Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, pp. 215-222.
PORTELA FILGUEIRAS, Maria Isabel. 1984. “Los dioses Lares en la Hispania romana”. In Lucentum, n. 3, Alicante: Universidad de Alicante, pp. 153-180.
SANTOS YANGUAS, Narciso. 2014. “El culto a los Lares Viales en Asturias”. In Ilu: Revista de Ciencias de las Religiones, n. 25. Madrid: Universidad Complutense de Madrid, pp. 251-263.
VAN ANDRINGA, William. 2011. “Religions and the integration of cities in the Empire in the second century AD: the creation of a common religious language”. In A Companion to Roman Religion, ed. Jörg Rüpke. Blackwell: Oxford, pp. 83-95.

Iberian top-menu section

I added a new page to the top menu, this time for the sole purpose of gathering the links to my posts on pre-Christian Iberian gods. Since information in English can be hard to come by – as several people have pointed out to me – and I’ve published a handful of texts here, I thought it best to make them more readily available by listing them in an immediately accessible fashion and with a few caveats for good measure. In time, as I write more posts on the same or other pre-Christian Iberian gods, I’ll add the links to the page.

Adjusting my fasti

The inevitable entry of Quangeio into my religious life and the question of when to commemorate Him annually took me back to my festive calendar. There’s a balance I try to keep in it, avoiding celebrations in consecutive or close days as much as possible so as to make my practice easier to manage and harmonize with modern life. I’m not a priest, let alone a full-time paid priest, meaning my daily routine is made up of things other than religion and I have to make room for all of them. Plus, ideally, Roman ritual often calls for a fire, which in turn requires firewood. While in the past this would have been unproblematic, since it was an essential part of any household, today’s housing has turned firewood into an extra, something that has to be collected for very specific purposes, with the added difficulty that forested areas may not be next door in modern cities. An urban park is often the closest thing, but the amount and quality of the twigs it can yield may be limited. And while at the moment I live in a small city and have a large pine forest a short distance away, that may not be the case in years to come. So taking all of this into consideration, I decided to make several adjustments to my religious calendar so as to make things more practical with regard to both time and resources. In total, there were eleven changes, which resulted in the following festive calendar:


Moving festivals
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.

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.

Beginners’ guide finished!

So after a few weeks writing it, my beginners’ guide to Roman polytheism is finally done and published on the menu above (you can just click here). It’s not as simple and straightforward as I initially hoped for, but there’s no way of presenting the basics of Roman polytheism without pointing out the traps of both fossilization and modern notions of religion. And as a result, it came out a somewhat extensive text, though it is subdivided into several sections and the one on the things you do need nonetheless remains the more direct in terms of providing short lists.

Guia - foto

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.

A travelling Freya?

Last Sunday, May 1st, was the Dominalia, my annual feast to Freya. After ritually burning the usual offerings to Janus, Juno and my Lares, as is customary on the Calends, I prepared a new fire for the ritus aprinus. Practice makes perfect, so it went better then my first attempts, and I offered the Vanadís small portions of homemade caramel, barley, cinnamon and cherry liquor, plus libations of wine to Her and Her family. I also asked Her to bless a small bowl of flowers mixed with barley, which I took with me in the afternoon and casted on a farm field and a seaside hill top on my way to the beach. And then at some point, my mind produced a question I had not yet considered: is Freya a Lady of Roads or Travellers?

Freya 08

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.

Maybe you should reconsider

Not everyone is the same and some things aren’t made for everyone. This should be a no-brainer, but it normally proves to be too complicated for people who insist on one of several things: 1) that they have a solution that fits all, no matter what; 2) that everything would be fine if everyone was like them or fell in line; and 3) that they want to be something, even if it’s not really their thing. Christian fundamentalists are a good example of the first type of people and those who insist on being polytheists even though they don’t believe in gods are a case of the third group. As for the second type… bear with me as I attempt to put some thoughts together.

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.