Lugus was a deity of the Celtic pantheon. His name is rarely directly attested in inscriptions, but his importance can be inferred from place names and ethnonyms, and his nature and attributes are deduced from the distinctive iconography of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to Mercury, who is widely believed to have been identified with Lugus, and from the quasi-mythological narratives involving his later cognates, Welsh Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Lleu of the Skillful Hand) and Irish Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh of the Long Arm).
The iconography of Gaulish Mercury includes birds, particularly ravens and the cock, now the emblem of France; horses; the tree of life; dogs or wolves; a pair of snakes (c.f. Hermes‘s Caduceus and Abraxas); mistletoe; shoes (one of the dedications to the Lugoves was made by a shoemakers’ guild; Lugus’s Welsh counterpart Lleu (or Llew) Llaw Gyffes is described in the Welsh Triads as one of the “three golden shoemakers of the island of Britain”); and bags of money. He is often armed with a spear. He is frequently accompanied by his consort Rosmerta (“great provider”), who bears the ritual drink with which kingship was conferred (in Roman mythology). Unlike the Roman Mercury, who is always a youth, Gaulish Mercury is occasionally also represented as an old man.
Triplism. Altar depicting a tricephalic god identified as Lugus, discovered in Reims
. Gaulish Mercury is associated with triplism: sometimes he has three faces, sometimes three phalluses, which may explain the plural dedications. This also compares with Irish myth. In some versions of the story Lug was born as one of triplets, and his father, Cian (“Distance”), is often mentioned in the same breath as his brothers Cú (“Hound”) and Cethen (meaning unknown), who nonetheless have no stories of their own. Several characters called Lugaid, a popular medieval Irish name thought to derive from Lug, also exhibit triplism: for example, Lugaid Riab nDerg (“of the Red Stripes”) and Lugaid mac Trí Con (“Son of Three Hounds”) both have three fathers.
Rübekeil suggests that Lugus was a triune god, comprising Esus, Toutatis and Taranis, the three chief deities mentioned by Lucan (who, at the same time, makes no mention of Lugus), and that pre-Proto-Germanic tribes in contact with the Celts (possibly the Chatti) moulded aspects of Lugus into the Germanic god Wōdanaz i.e. that Gaulish Mercury gave rise to Germanic Mercury.
In Ireland, Lugh was the victorious youth who defeats the monstrous Balor “of the venomous eye”. He was the godly paradigm of priestly kingship, and another of his appellations, lámhfhada “of the long arm”, carries on an ancient Proto-Indo-European image of a noble sovereign expanding his power far and wide. His festival, called Lughnasadh (“Festival of Lugh”) in Ireland, was commemorated on 1 August. When the Emperor Augustus inaugurated Lugdunum (“fort of Lugus”, now Lyon) as the capital of Roman Gaul in 18 BC, he did so with a ceremony on 1 August (this may be purely coincidental, however). At least two of the ancient Lughnasadh locations, Carmun and Tailtiu, were supposed to enclose the graves of goddesses linked with terrestrial fertility.
Lugus has also been suggested as the origin not only of Lugh and Lleu Llaw Gyffes, but also the Arthurian characters Lancelot and Lot (most famously championed by the Arthurian scholar Roger Sherman Loomis), though more recent Arthurian scholarship has downplayed any such link between Lugus and Lancelot.
Brigantia was a goddess in Celtic (Gallo-Roman and Romano-British) religion of Late Antiquity. Through interpretatio Romana, she was identified with the goddess Victoria. The tales connected to the characters of Brigid and Saint Brigid in Irish mythology and legend have been argued to be connected to Brigantia, although the figures themselves remain distinct.
Inscriptions. Altar to Jupiter Dolichenus and Caelestis Brigantia from Corbridge, on a 1910 postcard
Seven inscriptions to Brigantia are known, all from Britain. At Birrens (the Roman Blatobulgium), Dumfries and Galloway, in Scotland, is an inscription:
Brigantia is assimilated to Victoria in two inscriptions, one from Castleford in Yorkshire and one from Greetland near Halifax, also in Yorkshire. The later may be dated to 208 CE by mention of the consuls:
- D(eae) Vict(oriae) Brig(antiae) / et num(inibus) Aauugg(ustorum) / T(itus) Aur(elius) Aurelian/us d(onum) d(edit) pro se / et suis s(e) mag(istro) s(acrorum) // Antonin[o] / III et Geta [II] / co(n)ss(ulibus)
At Corbridge on Hadrians Wall – in antiquity, Coria – Brigantia has the divine epithet Caelestis (“Heavenly, Celestial”) and is paired with Jupiter Dolichenus:
- Iovi aeterno / Dolicheno / et caelesti / Brigantiae / et Saluti / C(aius) Iulius Ap/ol(l)inaris / |(centurio) leg(ionis) VI iuss(u) dei
There is an inscription at Irthington near Brampton in Cumbria DEAE NYMPHAE BRIGANTIAE—”to the divine nymph Brigantia”.
Garret Olmstead noted numismatic legends in Iberian script, BRIGANT_N (or PRIKANT_N, as Iberic script does not distinguish voiced and unvoiced consonants) inscribed on a Celtiberian coin, suggesting a cognate Celtiberian goddess.
Iconography. At Birrens (the Roman Blatobulgium), archaeologists have found a Roman-era stone bas-relief of a female figure; she is crowned like a tutelary deity, has a Gorgon’s head on her breast, and holds a spear and a globe of victory like the Roman goddesses Victoria and Minerva. The inscription mentioned above assures the identification of the statue as Brigantia rather than Minerva. A statue found in Brittany also seems to depict Brigantia with the attributes of Minerva.
Toponomy. There are several placenames deriving from ‘Brigantium’, the neuter form of the same adjective of which the feminine became the name of the goddess. Association of these with the goddess is however dubious, since the placenames are easily explained as referring to a “high fort” or “high place” in the literal sense.
Lisa Bitel noted a wide spread through toponymy:
The town of Bregenz, at the eastern end of Lake Constance in Austria, retains the older name of Brigantion, a tribal capital of a people called the Brigantii, possibly after a goddess Brigant. The rivers Brent in England, Braint in Wales, and Brigid in Ireland are all related linguistically and maybe religiously to the root Brig/Brigant … Ptolemy, a second-century geographer, did mention a tribe calling itself the Brigantes in Leinster. But nothing remains of the Irish Brigantes except this single tribal name on a Greek’s map, the river Brigid, and much later literary references to saints and supernatural figures named Brigit.
Other towns which may also preserve this theonym include Brigetio in Hungary and also Briançonnet and Briançon, both in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France. In antiquity, Briançon was called Brigantio and was the first town on the Via Domitia. It is attested by an inscriptions mentioning munic(ipii) Brigantien(sium) (the town of Brigantio) and Bri/gantione geniti (the Briganti people). At Briançonnet, two third-century inscriptions mention ord(o) Brig(antorum). There, oak trees were particularly venerated.
The ancient name of Bragança in Trás-os-Montes, Portugal, was Brigantia. The inhabitants today are still called brigantinos. Braga is another town in Portugal. It is the capital of the district of the same name in the province of Minho. A short distance up the coast, the cities of A Coruña and Betanzos in present-day Galicia (which together with the area of present-day Portugal north of the Douro river formed the Roman and later medieval kingdom of Gallaecia or Callaecia) were respectively named Brigantia and Brigantium. According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Takings of Ireland), Breogán founded the city called Brigantia and built a tower there from the top of which his son Íth glimpses Ireland and then sets sail across the Celtic Sea to invade and settle it.
Imagery. The two sculptures where Esus appears are the Pillar of the Boatmen from among the Parisii, on which Esus is identified by name, and a pillar from Trier among the Treveri with similar iconography. In both of these, Esus is portrayed cutting branches from trees with his axe. Esus is accompanied, on different panels of the Pillar of the Boatmen, by Tarvos Trigaranus (the ‘bull with three cranes’), Jupiter, Vulcan, and other gods.
Sources. A well-known section in Lucan‘s Bellum civile (61–65 CE) refers to gory sacrifices offered to a triad of Celtic deities: Teutates, Hesus (an aspirated form of Esus), and Taranis. Variant spellings, or readings, of the name Esus in the manuscripts of Lucan include Hesus, Aesus, and Haesus. Among a pair of later commentators on Lucan’s work, one identifies Teutates with Mercury and Esus with Mars. According to the Berne Commentary on Lucan, human victims were sacrificed to Esus by being tied to a tree and flogged to death.
The Gallic medical writer Marcellus of Bordeaux may offer another textual reference to Esus in his De medicamentis, a compendium of pharmacological preparations written in Latin in the early 5th century and the sole source for several Celtic words. The work contains a magico-medical charm decipherable as Gaulish which appears to invoke the aid of Esus (spelled Aisus) in curing throat trouble.
The personal name “Esunertus” (“strength of Esus”) occurs in a number of Gallo-Roman inscriptions, including one votive inscription dedicated to Mercury, while other theophoric given names such as Esugenus are also attested. It is possible that the Esuvii of Gaul, in the area of present-day Normandy, took their name from this deity.
T. F. O’Rahilly derives the name Esus, as well as Aoibheall, Éibhleann, Aoife, and other names, from the Indo-European root *eis-, which he glosses as “well-being, energy, passion”.
Interpretations. John Arnott MacCulloch summarized the state of scholarly interpretations of Esus in 1911 as follows:
M. Reinach applies one formula to the subjects of these altars—”The Divine Woodman hews the Tree of the Bull with Three Cranes.” The whole represents some myth unknown to us, but M. D’Arbois finds in it some allusion to events in the Cúchulainn saga. In the imagery, the bull and tree are perhaps both divine, and if the animal, like the images of the divine bull, is three-horned, then the three cranes (garanus, “crane”) may be a rebus for three-horned (trikeras), or more probably three-headed (trikarenos). In this case, woodman, tree, and bull might all be representatives of a god of vegetation. In early ritual, human, animal, or arboreal representatives of the god were periodically destroyed to ensure fertility, but when the god became separated from these representatives, the destruction or slaying was regarded as a sacrifice to the god, and myths arose telling how he had once slain the animal. In this case, tree and bull, really identical, would be mythically regarded as destroyed by the god whom they had once represented. If Esus was a god of vegetation, once represented by a tree, this would explain why, as the scholiast on Lucan relates, human sacrifices to Esus were suspended from a tree. Esus was worshipped at Paris and at Trèves; a coin with the name Æsus was found in England; and personal names like Esugenos, “son of Esus,” and Esunertus, “he who has the strength of Esus,” occur in England, France, and Switzerland. Thus the cult of this god may have been comparatively widespread. But there is no evidence that he was a Celtic Jehovah or a member, with Teutates and Taranis, of a pan-Celtic triad, or that this triad, introduced by Gauls, was not accepted by the Druids. Had such a great triad existed, some instance of the occurrence of the three names on one inscription would certainly have been found. Lucan does not refer to the gods as a triad, nor as gods of all the Celts, or even of one tribe. He lays stress merely on the fact that they were worshipped with human sacrifice, and they were apparently more or less well-known local gods.
James McKillop cautions that Arbois de Jublainville’s identification of Esus with Cú Chulainn “now seems ill-founded”.
Jan de Vries finds grounds of comparison between Esus and Odin, both being patrons of sailors sometimes associated with Mercury to whom human victims were said to be sacrificed by hanging.
Miranda Green suggests that the willow-tree that Esus hews may symbolize “the Tree of Life […] with its associations of destruction and death in winter and rebirth in the spring”. She further suggests that the cranes might represent “the flight of the soul (perhaps the soul of the tree)”.
Neo-Duridism. The 18th century Druidic revivalist Iolo Morganwg identified Esus with Jesus on the strength of the similarity of their names. He also linked them both with Hu Gadarn, writing:
Both Hu and HUON were no doubt originally identical with the HEUS of Lactantius, and the HESUS of Lucan, described as gods of the Gauls. The similarity of the last name to IESU [Welsh: Jesus] is obvious and striking.
This identification is still made in certain Neo-Druidic circles. Modern scholars consider the resemblance between the names Esus and Jesus to be coincidental.
Matres, Cernunnos, the sky-god Taranis, and Epona.