New

Bull Panel, Gundestrup Cauldron

Bull Panel, Gundestrup Cauldron


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.


The Atlantic Religion

The 'warrior' panel from the interior of the cauldron. Photo: Malene Thyssen

This interior panel from the famous Gundestrup cauldron appears to show a line of seven mail-clad, shield and spear-wielding Celtic warriors advancing in a line from right to left towards a giant warrior who appears to be holding the body of another small warrior over a vessel of some sort. A dog or wolf appears to jump up at his feet. Proceeding from the giant along the upper row, are a line of four finely-arrayed horsemen with elite crested helmets, passing from left to right. Preceding them is a snake. The footsoldiers of the bottom row are followed by three carnyx (boar-headed celtic war-horn) players, whose horns reach up to face the cavalry riding back towards them, and the snake 'flies' above the horn chanters. Separating the rows of footmen and cavlry is a branch from which sprouts foliage or flowers. The metalwork around this is textured, suggesting an aura, a river or a footpath. The 'spears' of the footmen seem to connect with the trunk of the branch.

Symbolism interpreted:

The silver Gundestrup cauldron was probably a ritual deposit in water, pledged to the gods, as it was discovered in pieces in a Danish bog in 1891. Such deposits were an archaeological feature of Europe's 'Atlantic Bronze Age' which were influential upon the Celtic Iron Age cultures of north and central Europe. The organised style of the warriors, their mail suits and war trumpets seem date the cauldron between the 3rdC BCE and the 1stC CE during which time there were broad military and cultural interactions between Celtic tribes of Gaul and those of south and central Europe, explaining the artistic styles (and that of the armour) depicted on the cauldron: In fact, some design elements on the cauldron are so similar to those on objects found in the 'Letnica Hoard' (Bulgaria) to suggest a Gallo-Thracian origin for at least some of the panels. The cauldron shows aspects of both military and spiritual ideas of the afterlife which commentators typically associate with Celtic Iron Age culture.

Our 'warrior' panel shows some key features of a warfare-oriented view of reincarnation:

The footsoldiers:

These are 'ordinary' footsoldiers kitted uniformly for war with shields, spears and chainmail vests. There are seven armed men and three carnyx players. The last of the armed men carries no shield, and may be a youth, as he stands below the topmost 'sprout' of the tree-like design above their heads. They are clearly marching into battle, towards the dog/wolf and the giant figure with his cauldron, who appears to be placing one in or pulling one out of the cauldron. The soldiers are marching in the direction of the roots of the aforementioned tree design. Interestingly, it can be seen that their chainmail hauberks finish at the knee, below which they appear to wear hose and rawhide sandals on their feet, similar to those still in use in Ireland and the Isle of Man into the 19thC.

The giant warrior and his 'cauldron':

The giant warrior's cauldron or vessel appears to be a metaphor for some kind of rebirth promised to the valiant footsoldiers, as proceeding from it in the opposite direction to them are a line of mounted knights with fabulous helmets. The womb-like metaphor for the cauldron as a symbol for rebirth is found in the 'Second Branch' of the medieval Welsh epic tales known as Mabinogion in which the giant, Brân, owns a cauldron which revives the dead. In the case of the Gundestrup cauldron, two things appear to be emerging from this giant's cauldron – glorified warriors and a tree. This has echoes of the Yggdrasil tree mentioned in the 12thC Icelandic accounts of Scandinavian pagan legends: at the base of Yggdrasil were a number of wells from which the lives and fates of men flowed. At the base of the tree, gnawing animals and serpents were found: aspects of the ancient empirical idea of regeneration through putrefaction: these are also represented on the Gundestrup cauldron by the snake and the dog. The message of the panel is that the masculine god of the Otherworld (here portrayed also as a warrior, therefore a 'colleague) promises regeneration to those who glorify themselves in battle, and the new existence may have greater glory, represented by:

The four knights:

Proceeding from the apparent god and his cauldron are four mounted men (knights), remarkable for their elaborate crested helmets. The horses and more beautiful helmets mark them out as part of the warrior elite, and the implication of their appearance in the panel is that valiant footsoldiers might become so great – either through death or attainment. It is notable that there are only four knights, compared to the eight warriors going towards the cauldron (including the man held by the 'god'). Assuming that all of the soldiers on the lower row were looking forward to death in battle, then the panel suggests only four of these seem to have achieved a more glorious reincarnation! This again links to the Norse accounts of beliefs about death of warriors in battle which suggest that only half of the slain went with Odinn to Valhöll.Another interesting concordance.

So what of the other four warriors – what might the panel say about these? We are left with two interesting possibilities:

The first is represented by the animals in the image: first of these are the cavalrymen's horses, which would bring the number of sentient beings up to eight in the top row. The other is the ravenous dog or wolf, who like the crows and carrion birds depicted elsewhere on the cauldron would be features of any battlefield. The folklore of hosts of the restless dead remaining in Atlantic Europe after the Iron Age seems to have relevance here: the Sluagh Sidhe of the Gaelic world, and the 'Wild Hunt' of the Germanic world in particular. It may be that the souls of the unglorified were believed to have been incarnated in the form of the animals who haunt battlefields and the margins of human habitation: the corvidae (crows), vultures, wolves, dogs and foxes. By consuming the flesh of the glorious and providing good deeds in the form of omens and warnings, they might find themselves given a better incarnation in the next life, as well as speeding the recovery of the battlefield etc.

The second possibility of reincarnation is represented by the tree – the ancient metaphor for human generations: 'root, branch and seed'. The panel's design with the tree apparently growing from it suggests the dead are fertilising the regrowth of future generations, perhaps implying the reincarnation of less worthy footsoldiers as humans, ready for another 'go' at attaining greater glory. My feeling, based on the residual folklore and traditions of Europe, is that the truth probably lies somewhere between these two suggestions. The transmigration of souls (described by Roman authors as a central tenet of Gallic/Celtic faith) might lead to a number of outcomes, based variously upon the achievements of individuals in this life: a glorious afterlife, reincarnation as a human, or even a cavalryman's horse, or as a restless ravening creature who plays an important role in the regeneration processes of nature, and who might offer auguries to the living. The calls of ravens and crows, the flight-patterns of birds and the calls and shouts of canines and horses, were all recorded as potential sources of augury in ancient Europe until at least the middle ages.

The snake and the Carnyxes:

The snake has been a symbol of reincarnation for a very long time, based upon their continuous unblinking stare, their shedding their skins, their love of chthonic lairs from which they emerge into daylight, and from their ancient philosophical (morphological) classification along with worms, larvae and maggots as part of natural putrefaction and regenerative processes of nature. The snake is also notable for the visceral, terrifying/transfixing ability it has over its prey, bringing us here to discuss the Carnyx, above which the snake is positioned in the panel. The was the war-trumpet par-excellence of the Celts, whose terrifying cacophonic honking seemed designed to evoke the enraged squeals and bellows of an attacking boar, stag or bull, augmenting the terrifying transfixing effect of soldiers' war-cries upon an enemy. The horn was apparently a potent weapon in itself, designed – like the gaze of the snake – to sap the morale of the enemy.

This panel appears to show imagery promising soldiers reincarnation in battle. Their deaths are being 'inverted' into a renewed, more glorious life, and the cauldron and tree act as a central metaphor of regrowth from the well of life, with the dog and snake representing the earthly and allegorical forms of this natural process.


The Dangerous Journey into the Gundestrup Cauldron

There was a time when, from Delphi temple to Altai tombs, cauldrons were not unusual to see. The Guldestrup cauldron is a unique witness of this last world.

The Gundestrup cauldron itself does not tell us to be more than a large sacrifice bowl, whose main practical use was probably to gather the blood from a bull’s slaying, as we can see from the circular panel bottom on the left, which clearly designates a bull immolation. Anyway the decorations on the cauldron side panels suggest scenes of immersion in a regenerating substance, whose remembrance alone bestowed upon celebrants a powerful allure. In fact it was probably used in religious ceremonies connected to ruling functions.

You can see a Gallery on the last page.

In the egyptian “Book of Caverns” we read that cauldrons were used as a means of annihilation. In ancient chemistry they were used as vessels for extraction. And in mythology they were symbolically considered as a system or means of connection between earth and sky. The whole of a magic cauldron use can be summarized by these sentences, to be then reduced to one: a metaphor for giving death and rebirth. In poor words for immortality.

The Gundestrup cauldron is a magnificent silver bowl, 42 cm. high and 69 cm. diameter, composed of thirteen finely embossed panels: five inner rectangular, seven outer square and a circular one as bottom (picture above on the left). Although it was discovered in a peat bog in the danish Jutland, it has been thought to be manufactured by cimmerian people between the second and first century b.c. Cimmerians used to settle mainly in the region of low Danube, but they were known to be spread from Himmerland, where the cauldron was found, to Pontic-Caspian steppes where sometimes they clashed with scythian people. Similar ritual cauldrons were altogether discovered into scythian and pazyryk burials, called Kurgan, scattered in a huge area comprising Southern Russia, Ukraine, southern Siberia, Central Asia and Mongolia.

In my post on the Spirits of cauldron I mentioned the chinese Alchemy beliefs on the Spirits emerging from these large bowls. While in the far western island of Ireland, inhabited by celtic people, the magic cauldron concept was attributed to the three main underworld gods: Cernunnos, Karidven and Dagda. Both Karidven and Dagda magic pots were alleged to grant immortality, together with a huge prosperity. As a matter of fact behind the cauldron iconography once again pops up the Grail myth or immortality bowl.

The Gundestrup outer panels seem to represent sacrifices decorated with extravagant winged quadrupeds, gryphons and persons riding big fishes that may contribute to give an alchemical ambiance. The first two symbols mostly stand for our Mercurius Philosophorum. While the fish is something to be caught in a sea by a net, our Mercurius, so a fish may symbolize the individual or cosmic Soul/Sulphur. A person riding a fish may suggest that he/she controls his/her Soul. But, back at that time, it quite surely indicate the holder of that particular Soul. That’s to say we are before a human Soul.

The inner panels develop myths of birthing gods. The attribution of divinities is here uncertain. Perhaps the same god Cernunnos, with his deers, is depicted, together with Taranis with his wheel, and Teutates, here on left and right, who seems to be soaking a file of warriors inside a cauldron of longevity ( unless he means to wash them).

Although all decorations have been giving an idea of death and resurrection, the cauldron we are examining lacks all the very few requirements a serious immortality bowl should have ( at least the very few we know), first of all its territoriality.

Paracelsus, in his Coelum Philosophorum, itemizes the instruments required in Alchemy: ” There is need of nothing else but a foundry, bellows, tongs, hammers, cauldrons, jars, and cupels made from beechen ashes. Afterwards, lay on Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Venus, Mercury, and Luna. Let them operate finally up to Saturn.” Countless are the hermetic pictures in which cauldrons do play a leading role. In Aurora Consurgens Rhenovacensis we can find these two interesting examples of humans put to cauldron. In the watercolor on the left we are before a king inside a pot, or metallic gold being put to digest in Mercurius Philosophorum, the one on the right represents the same Universal Dissolvent while extracting the Soul/Sulphur from our alchemical metallic couple (1).

So we have learned that a head might be an allegory for a metallic Soul, that’s to say a Spirit of Life/Mercurius more digested. But very often we can see flying detached heads in religious pieces of art, and very hardly they are intended as mere metallic specimens. Religions are usually not so concerned about our metallic brothers and sisters resurrections, as we alchemists do. So are religions unrealistic or alchemists too limited? Should we search religions and myths to expand and give a supreme goal to our alchemical processes? Paracelsus states that all our planets, or phases, should start from Saturn, or putrefaction, to get up to Saturn. Which is another putrefaction. We know, from our Opus Magnum scheme, that deadly phases alternate with regenerating ones. And we also know the dismembered Osiris being black. And Osiris cannot stand only for our usual, and orthodox, metallic Soul within the Rebis. But if we want to go any further we have to ask for help to religions and myth all over the ancient world.

In scandinavian and celtic mythologies Thor was not the only one to be provided with gigantic cauldrons. The goddesses of death and rebirth, fertility and suffering, guarded the dead and sent them back to life, through the great cauldron. In Norway this cauldron is defined as the “seething cauldron”, because from it the drizzle formed from fire and ice coalesces and thus life can be formulated. One of these goddesses was Karidven mostly represented on a throne, from where she managed Death and Life. On her left hand she held the regenerating vessel which permitted the eternal sublimation of beings. She really was the divine door which the Soul looking for immortality must necessarily go through.

Mircea Eliade, deep connoisseur of celtic tradition, wrote on the topic: “ According to celtic people the cauldron is comparable to the horn, or vessel, of abundance, or cornucopia.

So there was an abundance cauldron, dispensing an unlimited nourishment, symbol for unbounded knowledge and from which nobody can get away without having being satiated. And a resurrection cauldron, wherein dead were thrown in order to be regenerated the day after That’s to say the cauldron conferred immortality, turning the owner into an hero or a god.

The celtic mythologies are well provided with dismembering and following regenerations. The ancient British God of the Sea was said to have a magic cauldron in which he placed the bodies of men who had been slain in battle and brought them back to life again. The Son of a King who followed the old law was slain by a Giant. Sir Gawain killed the Giant and brought back the boy’s corpse, whereupon to his amazement the father took the corpse, cut it up, boiled it in a cauldron and then distributed the pieces among his chief men.

Those very ancient, and barbarian, myths were replaced by romans with the bull’s sacrifice. In fact before a battle, until the campaign in Tracia at least, a priest leading a bull, to be then sacrificed, walked it along the battle perimeter. But it is fair to say that romans took over those regenerating rituals just to ask for fortune in battles, while they remained literally scared of those celtic regenerating legends, and perhaps rites. Of course who is looking for terrestrial power cannot but be scared of immortals escaping his ruling (2).

Similitudes have been noticed between celtic and greek myths. We certainly do know very little about ancient migrations, but it seems as though there had been a common mythological layer before the third millennium b.c. In fact we find very interesting cauldron specimens in ancient Greece and often we find connection between the tripod cauldron and the bull. Still Vergilius in his Aeneid III:90: The Trojans call on king Anius, priest of Apollo and king of Delos. Aeneas prays for guidance there is an earth tremor, and “mugire adytis cortina reclusis“, the shrine seemed to open and there was a bellowing sound from the cauldron. In homeric works the cauldron, cortina, could sometimes “moo” and breathes steam. As we will see in coming posts, the bull is an animal symbol for earth and sky connection.

In homeric times there still were some remembrance of resurrection cauldrons in funeral rites, with the heating of water in a cauldron, the washing of the body, and anointing it with oil. All this seems based on a procedure for the resurrection of the soul of the dead hero. See Iliad XVIII:343 ff., for the funeral of Patroclus.

A magic cauldron bound to give countless virtues to who daring to undergo the frightening initiation often stood in many greek legends. In Jason myth an old man recovers his youth by soaking into a cauldron. Medea, in the play of that name by Euripides, cut up an old ram and boiled it in a cauldron, then magically restored it to life rejuvenated as a young lamb. She promised Pelias that she could rejuvenate him in the same way. He consented, and she asked his daughters to cut him up. She omitted the spells, and Pelias died. Thetis plunged her children into a boiling cauldron to test their immortality. None survived.


The Bull of Battle and the Great Horned Bull

In the opening line of The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyddno addresses Gwyn as tarv trin* ‘bull of battle.’ This has always struck me as a sacred title suitable for Gwyn (‘White’ ‘Blessed’) as a divine warrior-huntsman and psychopomp on an intuitive level. Tracing its origin has led to fascinating discoveries.

Gwyn is not the only one awarded this title. In The Gododdin, a poem from The Book of Aneirin which praises the exploits of the warriors who died in the catastrophic battle of Catraeth, Eithinyn is called tarw trin twice. Caradog and ‘a man of Gwynedd’ are referred to as tarw byddin ‘bull of an army’.

In The Triads we find Tri Tharw Unben ‘Three Bull-Chieftains’ and Tri Tharw Caduc ‘Three Bull-Protectors’. Amongst them are several famous warriors of the Old North: Cynfawr ap Cynwyd Cynwydion, Gwenddolau ap Ceidio, Urien ap Cynfarch, Gwallog ap Lleenog and Afaon, son of Urien’s bard, Taliesin.

More strangely we find Tri Tharw Ellyll ‘Three Bull-Spectres’. Ellyll means ‘spirit, phantom, ghost,’ ‘goblin, elf’ or ‘wraith’ whilst gwyd ellyll refers to ‘furious activity in battle’ and is related to gwyllt ‘wild’ ‘mad’. ‘Bull-Spectres’ may be bull-epitheted warriors who went mad through battle-trauma or their ghosts.

These bull-epithets are more than poetic metaphors. Anne Ross says their underlying significance is ‘an especially apposite title for eminent warriors in a society which at one stage likened its tribal god, leader in war and protector of his people, to a great horned bull, possessing all the most impressive and desirable qualities of the animal.’

Gwyddno addresses Gwyn as ‘awesome / Leader of many’ and enters his protection. Gwyn’s rulership of Annwn and recitation of the names of prominent warriors whose deaths he attended demonstrate his role as a psychopomp and tribal or ancestral deity.

If Gwyn is the ‘tribal god’ of the men whose souls he gathers and other bull-epitheted warriors, who is the ‘great horned bull’ to whom he is likened?

Cattle played a central role in Celtic society and bulls were highly valued for their virility and strength. Therefore it is surprising we do not have an equivalent of Deiotarus ‘Divine Bull’ or Donnotaurus ‘Lordly Bull’ in Britain.

However in Paris we find a sculpture named Tarvos Trigaranus (‘The Bull with Three Cranes’). He is depicted on ‘The Pillar of the Boatmen’ (1AD) thick-set, heavy-chested, with two cranes back-to-back on his back and a third crane on his head. He stands in front of a willow. On an adjacent panel Esus (‘Lord’) is pictured cutting a willow-branch.

Tarvos Trigaranus, Wikipedia Commons

On a similar monument from Triers on a single stone a man cuts down a tree with a bull’s head and three cranes or egrets in it. At Maiden Castle in Dorset a bronze bull with three horns carrying three female figures was found at a 4AD shrine and may have a basis in legends of shapeshifters who took the form of cranes.

This intrigues me because with Gwyn as a bull of battle we find Gwyddno Garanhir (‘Crane-Legs’). In a personal vision, after their conversation, Gwyddno took the form of a crane and flew to Annwn with his wife and mother who were also cranes. I saw a bull and three cranes before knowing anything about Tarvos Trigaranus.

Miranda Green suggests a naturalistic explanation for the Bull with Three Cranes: ‘egrets and cattle are symbiotically linked in that the birds feed on tics and other pests which infest the hides of the cattle.’ The cattle egret is variously named ‘cow crane’, ‘cow bird’, ‘cow heron’, ‘father of ticks’ and performs this role. Could an egret picking tics from a bull’s back be the source?

Cattle egrets are native to Africa, Spain and Portugal and only spread to northern France in 1981 and Britain in 2007 so it appears this is not the case. Cranes migrate from Sweden through Germany and France to Spain and Mexico but their stops are only temporary and wouldn’t explain a long-term link with local cattle.

Although cattle egrets have only just arrived in Britain, lasting relationships exist between longhorned cattle and wetland birds. English Longhorns originate from Craven and were popular before Holstein Friesians were imported in the 19th C. They are currently being revived as ‘wetland lawnmowers’ at nature reserves because their grazing of long grasses leaves tufts for wildfowl to feed on and hollows left by their hooves are used by nesting lapwings and redshanks.

Longhorned Cow, Brockholes Nature Reserve

It seems possible such relations date back two thousand years to when aurochs existed alongside wetland birds. Paris’s ancient name was Lutetia (‘marsh’). The image of the ‘great horned bull’ Tarvos Trigaranus was no doubt born from Lutetia’s landscape and inhabitants.

Auroch bulls could stand two metres high at the shoulder and weigh 1000kg. In his Gallic Wars (48-49BC), Julius Caesar describes an aurochs as ‘a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull.’ These mighty beasts were prized prey for hunters and sadly hunted to extinction in Britain in the Iron Age.

The hunting and killing of an aurochs-like bull is depicted in the bottom of the Gundestrup Cauldron. A hunter or huntress aided by three hounds prepares its slaughter with a blade. Cleverly this death-scene is also one of regeneration. The dead bull lies in a near foetal position surrounded by foliage. On a separate panel three bulls are killed by three hunters accompanied by hounds above and beneath.

‘The Bull Fight’ National Museum of Denmaek

A sculpture of a sacrificial bull in the same position is found in Paris. On two altars from Alpraham near Chester we find the same bull sculpture and a hound with a close resemblance to one of the three in the bottom of the Gundestrup Cauldron.

We possess several written records of bull sacrifices. Pliny’s Natural History (1AD) refers to a complex Druidic healing ceremony in Gaul where a white-robed Druid climbs a tree and cuts mistletoe with a golden sickle on the sixth day of the moon. Afterward two white bulls ‘whose horns are bound for the first time’ are sacrificed with prayers to an unnamed god. This is followed by ritual feasting.

In Tara the way of selecting a new king was through a tarbhfhess (‘bull feast’). A bull was slaughtered then a medium ate its meat and drank its broth. Four Druids chanted a truth-spell whilst he slept and received a vision of the king. A trace of similar rites in Britain is found in Rhonabwy’s Dream where Rhonabwy experiences a prophetic vision sleeping on an ox-hide.

Stories of bull sacrifices are supported by archaeological evidence. At the war sanctuary of Gournay-sur-Aronde, cattle (including bulls) were led to a pit, killed by a single blow to the nape of the neck then left to decompose their blood and rotting flesh feeding the earth and underworld deities. Broken weapons were piled in pits surrounding the dead animal.

Afterward the cattle bones were separated. The heads were removed and stored whilst the neck, shoulder and spine were deposited in ditches either side of the entrance with the weapons. About 3,000 bones and 2,000 bent and broken weapons were found. This provides clear evidence of associations between bulls, battle and the underworld gods.

In Britain a complete bull was found interred in a subterranean Cambridge shrine which may have been a sacrifice to the chthonic deities. A West Yorkshire chariot burial surrounded by bones from 300 cattle is suggestive of ritual feasting taking place over hundreds of years. At Maiden Castle human burials were discovered with joints of beef.

This accumulation of evidence shows the importance of the bull as a sacrificial animal whose flesh was deemed incredibly sacred as food for humans and the gods. The sacrifice of a bull would have been a considerable cost for a community. From it powerful magic stemmed for healing, prophecy and war.

IV. Magical Bulls and the Underworld

A pair of magical bulls: Finnbennach (‘White-horned of Connacht’) and Donn Cúailnge (‘Brown Bull of Cooley’) appear in the Táin Bó Cúailnge (‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’) and fight to their deaths at the end. These bulls were originally divine herdsmen and also took the forms of ‘ravens, stags, champions, water-beasts, demons and water-worms.’

Their capacity to shift shape suggests they were theriomorphic bull deities and progenitors and protectors of their herd (which may be extended metaphorically to people). Donn Cúailnge bears resemblances to Donnotaurus ‘Lordly Bull’ whereas Finnbennach may be connected to the special white cattle sacrificed by the Gaulish Druids.

In Culhwch and Olwen, the impossible tasks fulfilled by Arthur and his men for Culhwch include the capture and yoking together of three pairs of legendary oxen: ‘two oxen of Gwylwlydd Winau’, ‘the Melyn Gwanwyn (‘The one of the yellow of spring’) and the Ych Brych (‘Brindled Ox’)’ and ‘Two horned oxen… Nyniaw and Peibiaw.’

Nyniaw and Peibiaw are the sons of Erb, King of Archenfield, ‘whom God transformed into oxen for their sins.’ I suspect this is a Christian overlay for divine herdsmen who defied the boundaries of man and ox like Finnbennach and Donn Cúailnge.

In Culhwch and Olwen it is not explained how the Brindled Ox is captured or where from. This may be derived from his appearance in The Spoils of Annwn at Caer Fanddwy (‘Fortress of God’s Peak’). Along with seven other Caers, Caer Fanddwy is located in Annwn. The Brindled Ox is described: ‘thick his headband / Seven score links / on his collar’.

The headband gives him a human-like apparel and puts me in mind of Anne Ross’s description of bronze heads on Bronze and Iron Age bucket mounts. One has a ‘hair-line defined by means of a narrow, notched band.’ Human heads with bull’s horns and birds emerging from bull’s heads appear together and are suggestive of shapeshifting bull deities. Such ancient iconography may lie behind the Brindled Ox.

In The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyn speaks of his sorrow at witnessing battle at Caer Fanddwy: ‘a host / Shields shattered, spears broken, / Violence inflicted by the honoured and fair.’ It seems likely Gwyn refers to the struggle between Arthur and the people of Annwn for the Brindled Ox and this is how he was captured. Of Arthur’s side ‘except seven / none rose up.’

I believe it is no coincidence Gwyn, a bull of battle and ruler of Annwn, is present at the capture of the Brindled Ox. The Chief of Annwn is a central figure in The Spoils of Annwn and Gwyn is a potential candidate for this title. The Chief of Annwn possesses a magical cauldron. This could well be connected with a bull sacrifice and feast.

The notion cattle come from the underworld is deeply ingrained in the lore of Ireland and Wales. In Cruachan, King Conn steals cattle from the Sidhe then covers his land with magical snow. To melt the snow, the Sidhe kill three hundred white cows with red ears and spread their livers across the plains. For this reason, Magh Ai is called ‘The Plain of Livers’.

Here we find white cows with red ears belonging to the Sidhe (‘fairies’) which presumably come from the Sidhe (‘mounds’). A shining white coat and red ears are traditional significators of otherworldly origins.

Several Welsh stories refer to Gwartheg y Llyn (‘Kine of the Lake’) watched over by divine herdswomen called Gwragedd Annwn (‘Wives of the Underworld’). Wirt Sikes says their favourite haunts are ‘lakes and rivers… especially the wild and lonely lakes upon the mountain heights’ which ‘serve as avenues of communication between this world and the lower one of Annwn, the shadowy domain presided over by Gwyn ap Nudd.’

‘Cairn adjacent to Llyn Barfog’, geograph.co.uk, by Andy, Wikipedia Commons

Gwragedd Annwn were rumoured to appear at dusk close to Llyn Barfog, in the hills behind Aberdovey, clad in green with hounds and ‘beautiful milk white kine’. When one of these cows strayed, falling in love with cattle from a thisworldly herd, a farmer managed to catch her. She produced calves, milk, butter and cheese like none seen in Wales.

Unfortunately the farmer decided to fatten her up to eat. Once she was fatter than the fattest cow he’d ever seen he called for the butcher. As the butcher raised his ‘red right arm’ and ‘struck fair and hard between the eyes’ with his bludgeon the blow went straight through the cow’s ‘goblin head’ raising a deafening shriek and knocking over nine men. A green Graig appeared on a crag above the lake crying:

‘Dere di felen Emion,
Cyrn Cyfeiliorn-braith y Llyn,
A’r foci Dodin,
Codwch, dewch adre.

Come yellow Anvil, stray horns,
Speckled one of the lake,
And of the hornless Dodlin,
Arise, come home.’

The milk white cow returned with all her progeny, leaving only one cow who turned from white to black. This legend explains the origin of Welsh black cattle.

Historical records exist of payments of ‘real’ white cows with red ears. An Irish law tract states the penalty for satirising King Cernodon of Ulster included ‘seven white cows with red ears’.

In Wales The Laws of Hywel Dda (10th C) determined fines by numbers of colour-pointed cattle. The honour price for an insult to the King of Aberffraw was � cows for each cantref (‘hundred town’) in his dominion a white bull with red ears for every hundred cows.’

The Lord of Dinefwr’s honour price was ‘as many white cattle with red ears that will extend, the head of the one to the tail of the other from Argoel to the palace of Dinefwr, with a bull of the same colour for every score.’ The Welsh sent 400 white colour-pointed cows and a bull to King John (who reigned 1199 – 1216AD) in a failed attempt at appeasement.

A fascinating fact that emerged from my research is that white cattle with red ears really existed and are still with us in Britain today. On Dinefwr Park in Carmarthenshire, Cadzow in Lanarkshire and Chartley in Staffordshire herds of White Park cattle are thriving. They are white and ‘have a pigmented skin with red or black ears, eyelids, muzzle, feat and teats. Sometimes there are freckles on the face, neck or shoulders. Sometimes the tail switch is white.’

White Park cow with calf on Hambledon Hill 1, Marilyn Peddle, flickr.com, Wikipedia Commons

White Parks could be the source of the laws and earlier stories about white bulls and fairy kine. They even carry a recessive gene resulting in black calves which could explain the remaining black cow in the story from Llyn Barfog. Although scholars have speculated they were brought by the Romans, genetic research has proved this is not true. These Ancient British cattle could come from the underworld.

VII. The Bull and the Portal

In September 2012, Gwyn appeared to me as a bull of battle: a white warrior in a bull-horned helmet stepping with spear and shield straight out of 6th C Wales into 21st C Preston to gift me the imperative of ‘enchanting the shadowlands.’ Now my book is complete I’m being led through the portal opened on that day to explore the connections between the modern world and ‘Heroic Age’.

The image of Gwyn in the numinous prophetic aegis of tarv trin emerged from a Brythonic society not only at war with the Anglo-Saxons but plagued by bloody internecine warfare between its rulers. Gwyn served as a psychopomp to the Men of the North and the death of an era.

1500 years on thankfully wars between rival kingdoms in Britain are at an end. However we still face battle and conflict in relation to environmental and political issues.

Gwyn appears again in the Old North calling me to enter Annwn, learn to shift shape like his herdsmen and women. To seek the friendship of a great horned bull with horns of willow filled with singing birds, an island of dancing cranes, stampedes of wild white red-eared cattle careering from lakes stopping traffic on country lanes. To return with horns and hair full of birds and twigs to speak visions of hope for a new world alongside the marsh and the gods of the deep.

*The change in spelling from tarv to tarw results from the transition between Old and Middle Welsh. Tarv would have been pronounced ‘tarb’ whilst tarw is ‘tar-oo’. The shift from tarw to tharw is caused by the spirant mutation. Many thanks to Heron for this information and help with understanding Jarman’s translations in The Gododdin.


Bull Panel, Gundestrup Cauldron - History

"Say all these things with fire and spirit, until completing the first utterance then, similarly, begin the second, until you complete the seven immortal gods of the world. When you have said these things, you will hear thundering and shaking in the surrounding realm and you will likewise feel yourself being agitated. Then say again: "Silence!" (the prayer) Then open your eyes and you will see the doors open and the world of the gods which is within the doors, so that from the pleasure and joy of the sight your spirit runs ahead and ascends." [ 1 ]

The Sacred Valley of the Walbrook
The legendary history of Geoffrey of Monmouth [ 2 ] claims that Brutus, a descendant of the Trojan Aeneas, founded London, his New Troy (Trinovantum), when he came to the shore of the Thames. After leaving Greece, Brutus came to the island of Loegecia where he experienced a vision at the Temple of Diana, the goddess of the woods, where a statue gave answers to those who consulted her. He was foretold to travel to an island in the west and build a second Troy. [ 3 ] If Brutus brought a religion with him it seems likely that it would have been a cult from the east.

According to Geoffrey, when Lud, brother of Cassibellaun, king of the Britons who made war against Julius Caesar, (Geoffrey's version of the historical British chieftain Cassivellaunus) obtained the government of the kingdom, he surrounded the city with walls and towers, and having abolished the name Troy, renamed it KaerLud, the city of Lud. He commanded the citizens to build houses and all kinds of structures within it so that no foreign country could show more beautiful palaces. [ 4 ] However, we know that the London Wall was built by the Romans during the Severan period, toward the end of the 2nd and early 3rd centuries, around the 'square mile' of the City of London. If Geoffrey's early temple to an eastern goddess of the woods exists at all, it must be within the Walls of the first city.

Running through the centre of the early Roman settlement of Londinium was the Walbrook river, probably named as such as it ran through the Wall, at the site of All-Hallows-on-the-Wall Church, Broad Street, which possibly started as a water shrine on the Wall. Feeding into the Thames at Dowgate, the Walbrook provided a source of clean water for the first inhabitants of the settlement, although now no longer visible the watercourse continues to exist beneath the city. Excavations in the 19th century by General Pitt Rivers uncovered 'many dozen skulls' reported from the bed of the Walbrook between Finsbury Circus and the south side of the London Wall.

Walbrook skulls

These skulls have been interpreted as evidence of of Geoffrey's account of a mass beheading on the banks of the Walbrook. Geoffrey has Asclepiodotus, Duke of Cornwall, march against the usurper Allectus at London. According to Geoffrey, after Allectus had been killed, Asclepiodotus besieged Gallus and the rest of the Romans in the city. Asclepiodotus is supported by Dimetians, Venedotians, Deirans, Albanians and all others of the British race who breached the walls and made a violent assault on the city. Witnessing the onslaught Gallus and his troops surrendered to Asclepiodotus, but a body of Venedotians rushed them and beheaded them upon a brook in the city, from which the name of the British commander was afterwards called, Nautgallim in the British tongue and in the Saxon Gallembourne. [ 5 ] Geoffrey seems to have invented Gallus simply to provide the translation for the Walbrook (Gallobroc).

Perhaps there is the faintest glimmer of a true account within Geoffrey's story as the Celts were renown head hunters with classical historians recording the Celt's habit of displaying the heads of their enemies on walls or hanging them from their horse's necks on the battlefield. Is this evidence of a Celtic attack on the city as Geoffrey writes it? Perhaps, understandably some historians have interpreted the Walbrook skulls as evidence of the Boudiccan rebellion of 60 AD. [ 6 ] Tacitus tells us that 70,000 perished in the three cities of Camulodunum (Colchester), Verulamium (St Albans) and Londinium during the Boudiccan revolt. [ 7 ] Of these, as many as 30,000 were from an estimated population of 45,000 in London. The Walbrook skulls may have been so plentiful that they were manifest in the 12th century when Geoffrey wrote. Since the 19th century over one hundred skulls have been found in the upper Walbrook valley.

There was so much material deposited in the Walbrook, including metalwork, broken or bent miniature weapons, mutilated figures of deities, that it was at one time thought to have been a municipal rubbish dump. Excavations along the Walbrook in London during the 1920s produced several wooden and lead tablets, but these older discoveries have been largely ignored by scholars. However, ritual deposition is now recognised as the source of this material and a lead curse tablet from the Walbrook stream has been identified at Princes Street, which had been fixed by a single nail bearing the same inscription scratched on both sides cursing two men.

Excavations in the Walbrook Valley in 1989 by the Museum of London at a tributary channel of the Walbrook was filled with waterlain deposits and a number of human skulls. Cut into the channel deposits were a number of pits found to contain scrap leather from Roman sandal manufacture. These pits, and contemporary drainage channels, also contained human skulls.

Today it is thought more likely that the Walbrook skulls reflect votive practices over a long period. Carbon dating of the skulls returned a date range from The Bronze Age and the Late Iron Age to the Roman period. Further, the skulls were mainly from young males, 25 -35 years at the time of death. Study of the skulls indicates that they had been deliberately deposited without their lower jaws and that the discolouration of the bone suggested that they had been exposed for some time after death, perhaps as curated relics. [ 8 ]

The practice of skull deposition appears to have its basis in a pre-Roman cult of the head that continued into the Roman period. The deposition of human skulls in watery contexts is an ancient custom that can be traced back to the late Bronze Age. The cult of the head is attested in Celtic written sources, such as the head of Bran from the Mabinogion .

We find the largest accumulation of deposits along the stretch of the Walbrook between Cannon Street and the Bank of England, considered with the presence of shrines along on the banks of the stream here. A votive tin plaque of three Celtic mother-goddesses and a mother-goddess figurine found in the Walbrook valley indicates this was an area of deep religious significance to the Romano-British inhabitants of Londinium. Further, at Budge Row, running east-west and once part of the Roman road of Watling Street, a marble plinth was found with an inscription stating that the district restored the shrine to a mother-goddess that stood nearby on the bank of the Walbrook. This was clearly a religious quarter.

Roman facepot (Potteries Museum)

The remains of over 100 ceramic face pots, one of the largest groups in the country, have been found in the Upper Walbrook valley reflecting the concentration human skulls in this area. Most of the complete face pots from London, mainly manufactured in the Verulamium (St Albans) area, have been found in the Walbrook valley and from local shrines as ritual deposits. It would appear they have nothing to do with food storage, but are connected to funerary activity as some have been found in cemeteries and with cremation burials. Some face pots from Italy have been interpreted as bearing the face of Charon, guide to the shades. Originating in the Rhineland these distinctive vessels can be found in most cultures all over the Roman empire, following in the footsteps of the army. However, their usage seems to have continued amongst the civilian population even after the military had left the area. The face pots appear to have been introduced to Britain by the Roman army who based in Londinium at the fort at Cripplegate, on the west bank of the Walbrook.

The Temple of Mithras
The Romans were a superstitious people and very conscious of indigenous religions. They brought much of their religion with them to Britain but debate goes on as to the depth they replaced the Celtic religious practices. Some scholars see a total replacements while others see continuation of Celtic beliefs and practices. However, the Romans were certainly responsible for bringing the Eastern Mystery Cults to London, yet only one temple of a mystery cult has been positively identified in London.

A Mithraeum had long been suspected in Londinium when a Tauroctony, a marble relief of Mithras sacrificing a bull, was found in Walbrook in 1889. Excavations by W F Grimes in 1954 on the east bank of the Walbrook, revealed a basilican temple, built c.240 AD, architecturally very similar to an early christian church with central nave and side aisles, divided from the nave on each side by a row of seven columns with was a raised sanctuary within a rounded apse at the western end. The 1954 excavations also revealed a group of fine marble sculptures of pagan deities confirming it was anything but a Christian church. The high quality sculptures of Mithras, wearing his Phrygian cap, Minerva, Serapis and Mercury were all made from Carrara marble, carved in Italy and shipped to Britannia by civilian merchants. The sculptures had all been carefully buried within the floor of the temple that was in use in the early 4th century.

Walbrook Tauroctony
The Tauroctony found in Walbrook in 1889, is thought to have been carefully buried at the same time as the sculptures probably due to the threat of the advancing tide of Christianity in the later 4th century. An axe cut on the side of the neck of the Mithras sculpture and damage to the principal sculptures in London and the damage to the tauroctony at the Carrawburgh Mithraeum on Hadrian's Wall is suggestive of a violent end to this eastern mystery cult in Britain. [ 9 ] The Walbrook temple appears to have continued in use, although there is no evidence that it converted to a Christian church. Indeed, a marble sculpture of Bacchus, the wine god, combined with a satyr, a maenad, a panther and a serpent, lying on the temple's latest floor suggest its continued use as a pagan temple.

Roman Mithraism, a mystery religion that involved the subterranean worship of the ancient Persian god Mithras, the Indo-European god of heavenly light, through seven stages of initiation, was practised widely in the Roman Empire, from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, being particularly popular amongst the Roman military, officials and merchants. It seems likely the London Mithraeum had a strong military contingent drawn from the nearby fort at Cripplegate.

Chillingly similar and Christianity's strongest rival in the Roman world: the sacrifice of the great bull, the scene depicted on the Tauroctony, with the shedding of the eternal blood hinting at a belief system not so far removed from the Christian concept of Judgement, Salvation and Pedition. Little of the liturgy has survived but at the Santa Prisca Mithraeum some painted texts have survived on the walls making reference to the 'eternal blood' and 'the blood which grants eternity.' [ 10 ]

Mithras, Walbrook

Perhaps the most enigmatic find at the Walbrook Mithraeum was a silver box found stashed in a secret hiding place within the temple. The scenes depicted on the outside of the box have been interpreted as depicting the dramatic ceremonies that were performed symbolising life and death, associated in some way in these initiation ceremonies with the initiate passing through death to resurrection in a new life must undergo a temporary burial. A coffin-like pit was found at the Carrawburgh Mithraeum thought to be for this purpose. The concept is suggested on the lid of the silver box, where a man emerges from a coffin-like chest. The sculptures of both Serapis, Egyptian God of the Underworld, and the Roman god Mercury, guide to the souls of the dead, are associated with life after death and lend further support to this view. Within the box was a strainer or infuser, thought to have been used to strain the sacramental wine. The Walbrook strainer may have been used in this way but is unusually deep and may have been used to infuse a concoction of herbs, perhaps of a hallucinogenic trait. [ 11 ]

These temples were designed to imitate the cave in which the god Mithras slayed a mythical bull, being invariably low buildings often subterranean in part at least, with little natural light but sometimes with an aperture to admit the rays of the sun at an important sequence in the solar calendar a ceiling in the vault of the mithraeum at Caesarea Maritima, on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, has an aperture that admits light onto an off-centred scuttle which throws sunlight onto the altar at midday at the summer solstice. [ 12 ]

Following the 1954 excavation, the Walbrook Mithareum was uprooted and moved down the road to Temple Court where the temple outline was recreated in Roman building materials in Queen Victoria Street. The Mithraeum is now due to be moved back to its original location with remains of the temple now been dismantled and in controlled storage ready to be showcased inside a new building. Ironically, it cannot be relocated in exactly in its original position because some of the foundations of the original Roman temple are still there, consequently the reconstruction will be moved to the original Roman level of the temple on the correct N-S position but shifted a few metres to the west to avoid the original foundations.

Isis at Southwark
Mithraism was not the only eastern mystery religion to be imported to Britain by the Romans. The discovery of a 1st century flagon found in Tooley Street, Southwark, bearing graffito LONDINI AD FANVM ISIDIS or " From London at the temple of Isis " indicating that a temple to the great Egyptian goddess Isis may have once stood on the south bank of the Thames opposite the Londinium settlement.

Numerous finds of small artefacts hinted at the presence of the worship of Isis in Roman London but it was not until the mid-1970's when two altars, bearing 3rd century inscriptions celebrating the restoration of the temple of Isis, were found amongst the building material of the riverside wall at Blackfriars that its existence was finally confirmed.

In 1996 excavations at a cemetery site parallel to the Watling Street Roman road in Great Dover Street in the Borough of Southwark revealed three lamps in an unusual cremation burial which depicted the jackal headed Anubis, the Egyptian god of the underworld, closely associated with Isis. Maybe not Brutus's temple but evidence that the worship of eastern deities had spread from Asia and Egypt to the far western Empire.

Since the 19th century a mausoleum associated with a large Roman building is known to have existed on part of the site of Southwark Cathedral but it wasn't until excavations carried out in the crypt in 1977 revealed traces of 1st century buildings and a square timber-lined well of probable late Roman date. The well contained an important group of Roman funerary sculptures, perhaps the furnishings from the mausoleum. The sculpture had been broken in half and dumped into the well with a large quantity of building rubble that showed signs of burning and damage, perhaps signifying a violent end for pagan worship at this temple.

The major sculpture is a free-standing limestone group of an eastern deity, usually identified as either Attis (Atys) or Mithras, flanked by a seated hound and a small hoofed beast, probably a stag. The god has a bow in his left hand, and a quiver on his back, and wears the Phrygian cap characteristic of both deities. Attis was a Phrygian vegetation god and consort of Cybele, the Mother goddess.

Hunter god, Southwark
Cunomaglos
Alternatively, this deity may simply be a representation of a hunter god. Permitting this identification then the sculpture of the deity found in the well at Southwark Cathedral is a good parallel for the Romano-British deity known as Apollo Cunomaglos, attested by an altarstone at Nettleton Shrub, Wiltshire. 'Cunomaglos,' meaning 'hound lord' portraying associations with hunting, a native deity who the Romans equated with Apollo, one of the most important deities in ancient Greek and Roman religion. The son of Zeus and Leto, Apollo was the twin brother of the hunter goddess Artemis. To the Romans she was known as Diana, the goddess of the hunt.

In addition to the hunter god found at Southwark, figures wearing Phrygian caps and carrying hunting equipment have been found at Goldsmiths’ Hall, near Ludgate Hill, and in the east of the city at Bevis Marks, near Aldgate, on the line of the Roman Wall evidence of a Hunter god cult in Roman London?



Copyright © 2012 Edward Watson
http://clasmerdin.blogspot.co.uk/



Notes & References
1. The Mithras Liturgy from the Paris Codex, Edited and Translated by Marvin W. Meyer.
2. "Historia Regum Britanniae" (History of the Kings of Britain) , Book I, Chp 17.
3. Ibid. Book I, Chp 10.
4. Ibid. Book III, Chp 20.
5. Ibid. Book 5, Chp 4.
6. John Morris, Londinium: London in the Roman Empire, BCA, 1982, following Mortimer Wheeler.
7. Tacitus, The Annals, Book XIV, 109 AD.
8. R.Bradley and K.Gordon, Human skulls from the River Thames, their dating and significance, Antiquity, 1988.
9. Martin Henig, Religion in Roman Britain, Batsford 1995.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Roger B Beck, Beck on Mithraism, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004.

The Museum of London website is an invaluable resource for Roman London.

Mystery of 39 skulls found at London Wall is solved after 25 years
Skulls discovered within the boundaries of ancient London a quarter of a century ago are now believed to be those of gladiators, brutally killed for the amusement of Roman audiences.

The haul of 39 skulls, discovered beneath the site of the Guildhall in the City of London, were discovered in 1988 and were believed to have originated from human remains washed out of burial sites by the Walbrook, one of the area’s lost rivers. But now after 25 years in storage, the remains have been re-examined by an historian from the Museum of London, who believes they are the first evidence of gladiators in London.

Decapitated heads were 'gladiators ' - Mail Online 15 January 2014
Gladiator Heads? Mystery of Trove of British Skulls Solved - Live Science 07 February 2014 (from Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 43)


**UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2014**

60 years since the discovery of the Roman Temple of Mithras
In the summer of 1954, archaeologist WF Grimes and his team excavated the site in the City of London ahead of the construction on Bucklersbury House, Legenland. The archaeologists had no evidence for the function of the building until on the last day of the planned excavation, the 18th September, the head of the god Mithras was found by a workman.

In 1962 the Temple of Mithras was relocated approximately 100 metres from its original location.
The reconstruction was carefully dismantled again in 2011 ahead of construction of the current site owners, Bloomberg, new European headquarters. The Mathraeum will be reinstated back, where it originally sat, at the correct Roman ground level seven metres below current ground level, following Grimes’s original record drawings, in 2017.


Flow of raw material

The workflow of the manufacturing process consisted of a few steps that required a great amount of skill. Batches of silver were melted in crucibles with the addition of copper for a subtler alloy. The melted silver was cast into flat ingots and hammered into intermediate plates. [1] For the relief work, the sheet-silver was annealed to allow shapes to be beaten into high repoussé these rough shapes were then filled with pitch from the back to make them firm enough for further detailing with punches and tracers. The pitch was melted out, areas of pattern were gilded, and the eyes of the larger figures were inlaid with glass. The plates were probably worked in a flat form and later bent into curves to solder them together. [3]

It is generally agreed that the Gundestrup cauldron was the work of multiple silversmiths. Using scanning electron microscopy, Benner Larson has identified 15 different punches used on the plates, falling into three distinct tool sets. No individual plate has marks from more than one of these groups, and this fits with previous attempts at stylistic attribution, which identify at least three different silversmiths. [1] [2] [3] [4] Multiple artisans would also explain the highly variable purity and thickness of the silver. [1] [2]


Panel of the Gundestrup cauldron

Your Easy-access (EZA) account allows those in your organization to download content for the following uses:

  • Tests
  • Samples
  • Composites
  • Layouts
  • Rough cuts
  • Preliminary edits

It overrides the standard online composite license for still images and video on the Getty Images website. The EZA account is not a license. In order to finalize your project with the material you downloaded from your EZA account, you need to secure a license. Without a license, no further use can be made, such as:

  • focus group presentations
  • external presentations
  • final materials distributed inside your organization
  • any materials distributed outside your organization
  • any materials distributed to the public (such as advertising, marketing)

Because collections are continually updated, Getty Images cannot guarantee that any particular item will be available until time of licensing. Please carefully review any restrictions accompanying the Licensed Material on the Getty Images website, and contact your Getty Images representative if you have a question about them. Your EZA account will remain in place for a year. Your Getty Images representative will discuss a renewal with you.

By clicking the Download button, you accept the responsibility for using unreleased content (including obtaining any clearances required for your use) and agree to abide by any restrictions.


The Bull of Battle and the Great Horned Bull

Auroch Skull, Harris Museum, Preston

I. Bull of Battle: Tracing an Epithet

In the opening line of The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyddno addresses Gwyn as tarv trin* ‘bull of battle.’ This has always struck me as a sacred title suitable for Gwyn (‘White’ ‘Blessed’) as a divine warrior-huntsman and psychopomp on an intuitive level. Tracing its origin has led to fascinating discoveries.

Gwyn is not the only one awarded this title. In The Gododdin, a poem from The Book of Aneirin which praises the exploits of the warriors who died in the catastrophic battle of Catraeth, Eithinyn is called tarw trin twice. Caradog and ‘a man of Gwynedd’ are referred to as tarw byddin ‘bull of an army’.

In The Triads we find Tri Tharw Unben ‘Three Bull-Chieftains’ and Tri Tharw Caduc ‘Three Bull-Protectors’. Amongst them are several famous warriors of the Old North: Cynfawr ap Cynwyd Cynwydion, Gwenddolau ap Ceidio, Urien ap Cynfarch, Gwallog ap Lleenog and Afaon, son of Urien’s bard, Taliesin.

More strangely we find Tri Tharw Ellyll ‘Three Bull-Spectres’. Ellyll means ‘spirit, phantom, ghost,’ ‘goblin, elf’ or ‘wraith’ whilst gwyd ellyll refers to ‘furious activity in battle’ and is related to gwyllt ‘wild’ ‘mad’. ‘Bull-Spectres’ may be bull-epitheted warriors who went mad through battle-trauma or their ghosts.

These bull-epithets are more than poetic metaphors. Anne Ross says their underlying significance is ‘an especially apposite title for eminent warriors in a society which at one stage likened its tribal god, leader in war and protector of his people, to a great horned bull, possessing all the most impressive and desirable qualities of the animal.’

Gwyddno addresses Gwyn as ‘awesome / Leader of many’ and enters his protection. Gwyn’s rulership of Annwn and recitation of the names of prominent warriors whose deaths he attended demonstrate his role as a psychopomp and tribal or ancestral deity.

If Gwyn is the ‘tribal god’ of the men whose souls he gathers and other bull-epitheted warriors, who is the ‘great horned bull’ to whom he is likened?

Cattle played a central role in Celtic society and bulls were highly valued for their virility and strength. Therefore it is surprising we do not have an equivalent of Deiotarus ‘Divine Bull’ or Donnotaurus ‘Lordly Bull’ in Britain.

However in Paris we find a sculpture named Tarvos Trigaranus (‘The Bull with Three Cranes’). He is depicted on ‘The Pillar of the Boatmen’ (1AD) thick-set, heavy-chested, with two cranes back-to-back on his back and a third crane on his head. He stands in front of a willow. On an adjacent panel Esus (‘Lord’) is pictured cutting a willow-branch.

Tarvos Trigaranus, Wikipedia Commons

On a similar monument from Triers on a single stone a man cuts down a tree with a bull’s head and three cranes or egrets in it. At Maiden Castle in Dorset a bronze bull with three horns carrying three female figures was found at a 4AD shrine and may have a basis in legends of shapeshifters who took the form of cranes.

This intrigues me because with Gwyn as a bull of battle we find Gwyddno Garanhir (‘Crane-Legs’). In a personal vision, after their conversation, Gwyddno took the form of a crane and flew to Annwn with his wife and mother who were also cranes. I saw a bull and three cranes before knowing anything about Tarvos Trigaranus.

Miranda Green suggests a naturalistic explanation for the Bull with Three Cranes: ‘egrets and cattle are symbiotically linked in that the birds feed on tics and other pests which infest the hides of the cattle.’ The cattle egret is variously named ‘cow crane’, ‘cow bird’, ‘cow heron’, ‘father of ticks’ and performs this role. Could an egret picking tics from a bull’s back be the source?

Cattle egrets are native to Africa, Spain and Portugal and only spread to northern France in 1981 and Britain in 2007 so it appears this is not the case. Cranes migrate from Sweden through Germany and France to Spain and Mexico but their stops are only temporary and wouldn’t explain a long-term link with local cattle.

Although cattle egrets have only just arrived in Britain, lasting relationships exist between longhorned cattle and wetland birds. English Longhorns originate from Craven and were popular before Holstein Friesians were imported in the 19th C. They are currently being revived as ‘wetland lawnmowers’ at nature reserves because their grazing of long grasses leaves tufts for wildfowl to feed on and hollows left by their hooves are used by nesting lapwings and redshanks.

Longhorned Cow, Brockholes Nature Reserve

It seems possible such relations date back two thousand years to when aurochs existed alongside wetland birds. Paris’s ancient name was Lutetia (‘marsh’). The image of the ‘great horned bull’ Tarvos Trigaranus was no doubt born from Lutetia’s landscape and inhabitants.

Auroch bulls could stand two metres high at the shoulder and weigh 1000kg. In his Gallic Wars (48-49BC), Julius Caesar describes an aurochs as ‘a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull.’ These mighty beasts were prized prey for hunters and sadly hunted to extinction in Britain in the Iron Age.

The hunting and killing of an aurochs-like bull is depicted in the bottom of the Gundestrup Cauldron. A hunter or huntress aided by three hounds prepares its slaughter with a blade. Cleverly this death-scene is also one of regeneration. The dead bull lies in a near foetal position surrounded by foliage. On a separate panel three bulls are killed by three hunters accompanied by hounds above and beneath.

‘The Bull Fight’ National Museum of Denmaek

A sculpture of a sacrificial bull in the same position is found in Paris. On two altars from Alpraham near Chester we find the same bull sculpture and a hound with a close resemblance to one of the three in the bottom of the Gundestrup Cauldron.

We possess several written records of bull sacrifices. Pliny’s Natural History (1AD) refers to a complex Druidic healing ceremony in Gaul where a white-robed Druid climbs a tree and cuts mistletoe with a golden sickle on the sixth day of the moon. Afterward two white bulls ‘whose horns are bound for the first time’ are sacrificed with prayers to an unnamed god. This is followed by ritual feasting.

In Tara the way of selecting a new king was through a tarbhfhess (‘bull feast’). A bull was slaughtered then a medium ate its meat and drank its broth. Four Druids chanted a truth-spell whilst he slept and received a vision of the king. A trace of similar rites in Britain is found in Rhonabwy’s Dream where Rhonabwy experiences a prophetic vision sleeping on an ox-hide.

Stories of bull sacrifices are supported by archaeological evidence. At the war sanctuary of Gournay-sur-Aronde, cattle (including bulls) were led to a pit, killed by a single blow to the nape of the neck then left to decompose their blood and rotting flesh feeding the earth and underworld deities. Broken weapons were piled in pits surrounding the dead animal.

Afterward the cattle bones were separated. The heads were removed and stored whilst the neck, shoulder and spine were deposited in ditches either side of the entrance with the weapons. About 3,000 bones and 2,000 bent and broken weapons were found. This provides clear evidence of associations between bulls, battle and the underworld gods.

In Britain a complete bull was found interred in a subterranean Cambridge shrine which may have been a sacrifice to the chthonic deities. A West Yorkshire chariot burial surrounded by bones from 300 cattle is suggestive of ritual feasting taking place over hundreds of years. At Maiden Castle human burials were discovered with joints of beef.

This accumulation of evidence shows the importance of the bull as a sacrificial animal whose flesh was deemed incredibly sacred as food for humans and the gods. The sacrifice of a bull would have been a considerable cost for a community. From it powerful magic stemmed for healing, prophecy and war.

IV. Magical Bulls and the Underworld

A pair of magical bulls: Finnbennach (‘White-horned of Connacht’) and Donn Cúailnge (‘Brown Bull of Cooley’) appear in the Táin Bó Cúailnge (‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’) and fight to their deaths at the end. These bulls were originally divine herdsmen and also took the forms of ‘ravens, stags, champions, water-beasts, demons and water-worms.’

Their capacity to shift shape suggests they were theriomorphic bull deities and progenitors and protectors of their herd (which may be extended metaphorically to people). Donn Cúailnge bears resemblances to Donnotaurus ‘Lordly Bull’ whereas Finnbennach may be connected to the special white cattle sacrificed by the Gaulish Druids.

In Culhwch and Olwen, the impossible tasks fulfilled by Arthur and his men for Culhwch include the capture and yoking together of three pairs of legendary oxen: ‘two oxen of Gwylwlydd Winau’, ‘the Melyn Gwanwyn (‘The one of the yellow of spring’) and the Ych Brych (‘Brindled Ox’)’ and ‘Two horned oxen… Nyniaw and Peibiaw.’

Nyniaw and Peibiaw are the sons of Erb, King of Archenfield, ‘whom God transformed into oxen for their sins.’ I suspect this is a Christian overlay for divine herdsmen who defied the boundaries of man and ox like Finnbennach and Donn Cúailnge.

In Culhwch and Olwen it is not explained how the Brindled Ox is captured or where from. This may be derived from his appearance in The Spoils of Annwn at Caer Fanddwy (‘Fortress of God’s Peak’). Along with seven other Caers, Caer Fanddwy is located in Annwn. The Brindled Ox is described: ‘thick his headband / Seven score links / on his collar’.

The headband gives him a human-like apparel and puts me in mind of Anne Ross’s description of bronze heads on Bronze and Iron Age bucket mounts. One has a ‘hair-line defined by means of a narrow, notched band.’ Human heads with bull’s horns and birds emerging from bull’s heads appear together and are suggestive of shapeshifting bull deities. Such ancient iconography may lie behind the Brindled Ox.

In The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyn speaks of his sorrow at witnessing battle at Caer Fanddwy: ‘a host / Shields shattered, spears broken, / Violence inflicted by the honoured and fair.’ It seems likely Gwyn refers to the struggle between Arthur and the people of Annwn for the Brindled Ox and this is how he was captured. Of Arthur’s side ‘except seven / none rose up.’

I believe it is no coincidence Gwyn, a bull of battle and ruler of Annwn, is present at the capture of the Brindled Ox. The Chief of Annwn is a central figure in The Spoils of Annwn and Gwyn is a potential candidate for this title. The Chief of Annwn possesses a magical cauldron. This could well be connected with a bull sacrifice and feast.

The notion cattle come from the underworld is deeply ingrained in the lore of Ireland and Wales. In Cruachan, King Conn steals cattle from the Sidhe then covers his land with magical snow. To melt the snow, the Sidhe kill three hundred white cows with red ears and spread their livers across the plains. For this reason, Magh Ai is called ‘The Plain of Livers’.

Here we find white cows with red ears belonging to the Sidhe (‘fairies’) which presumably come from the Sidhe (‘mounds’). A shining white coat and red ears are traditional significators of otherworldly origins.

Several Welsh stories refer to Gwartheg y Llyn (‘Kine of the Lake’) watched over by divine herdswomen called Gwragedd Annwn (‘Wives of the Underworld’). Wirt Sikes says their favourite haunts are ‘lakes and rivers… especially the wild and lonely lakes upon the mountain heights’ which ‘serve as avenues of communication between this world and the lower one of Annwn, the shadowy domain presided over by Gwyn ap Nudd.’

‘Cairn adjacent to Llyn Barfog’, geograph.co.uk, by Andy, Wikipedia Commons

Gwragedd Annwn were rumoured to appear at dusk close to Llyn Barfog, in the hills behind Aberdovey, clad in green with hounds and ‘beautiful milk white kine’. When one of these cows strayed, falling in love with cattle from a thisworldly herd, a farmer managed to catch her. She produced calves, milk, butter and cheese like none seen in Wales.

Unfortunately the farmer decided to fatten her up to eat. Once she was fatter than the fattest cow he’d ever seen he called for the butcher. As the butcher raised his ‘red right arm’ and ‘struck fair and hard between the eyes’ with his bludgeon the blow went straight through the cow’s ‘goblin head’ raising a deafening shriek and knocking over nine men. A green Graig appeared on a crag above the lake crying:

‘Dere di felen Emion,
Cyrn Cyfeiliorn-braith y Llyn,
A’r foci Dodin,
Codwch, dewch adre.

Come yellow Anvil, stray horns,
Speckled one of the lake,
And of the hornless Dodlin,
Arise, come home.’

The milk white cow returned with all her progeny, leaving only one cow who turned from white to black. This legend explains the origin of Welsh black cattle.

Historical records exist of payments of ‘real’ white cows with red ears. An Irish law tract states the penalty for satirising King Cernodon of Ulster included ‘seven white cows with red ears’.

In Wales The Laws of Hywel Dda (10th C) determined fines by numbers of colour-pointed cattle. The honour price for an insult to the King of Aberffraw was � cows for each cantref (‘hundred town’) in his dominion a white bull with red ears for every hundred cows.’

The Lord of Dinefwr’s honour price was ‘as many white cattle with red ears that will extend, the head of the one to the tail of the other from Argoel to the palace of Dinefwr, with a bull of the same colour for every score.’ The Welsh sent 400 white colour-pointed cows and a bull to King John (who reigned 1199 – 1216AD) in a failed attempt at appeasement.

A fascinating fact that emerged from my research is that white cattle with red ears really existed and are still with us in Britain today. On Dinefwr Park in Carmarthenshire, Cadzow in Lanarkshire and Chartley in Staffordshire herds of White Park cattle are thriving. They are white and ‘have a pigmented skin with red or black ears, eyelids, muzzle, feat and teats. Sometimes there are freckles on the face, neck or shoulders. Sometimes the tail switch is white.’

White Park cow with calf on Hambledon Hill 1, Marilyn Peddle, flickr.com, Wikipedia Commons

White Parks could be the source of the laws and earlier stories about white bulls and fairy kine. They even carry a recessive gene resulting in black calves which could explain the remaining black cow in the story from Llyn Barfog. Although scholars have speculated they were brought by the Romans, genetic research has proved this is not true. These Ancient British cattle could come from the underworld.

VII. The Bull and the Portal

In September 2012, Gwyn appeared to me as a bull of battle: a white warrior in a bull-horned helmet stepping with spear and shield straight out of 6th C Wales into 21st C Preston to gift me the imperative of ‘enchanting the shadowlands.’ Now my book is complete I’m being led through the portal opened on that day to explore the connections between the modern world and ‘Heroic Age’.

The image of Gwyn in the numinous prophetic aegis of tarv trin emerged from a Brythonic society not only at war with the Anglo-Saxons but plagued by bloody internecine warfare between its rulers. Gwyn served as a psychopomp to the Men of the North and the death of an era.

1500 years on thankfully wars between rival kingdoms in Britain are at an end. However we still face battle and conflict in relation to environmental and political issues.

Gwyn appears again in the Old North calling me to enter Annwn, learn to shift shape like his herdsmen and women. To seek the friendship of a great horned bull with horns of willow filled with singing birds, an island of dancing cranes, stampedes of wild white red-eared cattle careering from lakes stopping traffic on country lanes. To return with horns and hair full of birds and twigs to speak visions of hope for a new world alongside the marsh and the gods of the deep.

*The change in spelling from tarv to tarw results from the transition between Old and Middle Welsh. Tarv would have been pronounced ‘tarb’ whilst tarw is ‘tar-oo’. The shift from tarw to tharw is caused by the spirant mutation. Many thanks to Heron for this information and help with understanding Jarman’s translations in The Gododdin.


Interpretation and parallels

Bronze 4th-century BC buffer-type Celtic torc from France

Carnyx head from the recently discovered Tintignac group

Celtic helmet from Satu Mare, Romania with raven crest, around 4th century BC

Thracian plaque with the Thracian horseman

Thracian disc found in the Netherlands

Achaemenid seal impression with Master of Animals motif the Persian king subduing two Mesopotamian lamassu

Griffin on an Ancient Greek vase

For many years, some scholars have interpreted the cauldron's images in terms of the Celtic pantheon, and Celtic mythology as it is presented in much later literature in Celtic languages from the British Isles. Others regard the latter interpretations with great suspicion. ⎢] Much less controversially, there are clear parallels between details of the figures and Iron Age Celtic artefacts excavated by archaeology. ⎣]

Other details of the iconography clearly derive from the art of the ancient Near East, and there are intriguing parallels with ancient India and later Hindu deities and their stories. Scholars are mostly content to regard the former as motifs borrowed purely for their visual appeal, without carrying over anything much of their original meaning, but despite the distance some have attempted to relate the latter to wider traditions remaining from Proto-Indo-European religion.

Celtic archaeology

Among the most specific details that are clearly Celtic are the group of carnyx players. The carnyx war horn was known from Roman descriptions of the Celts in battle and Trajan's Column, and a few pieces are known from archaeology, their number greatly increased by finds at Tintignac in France in 2004. Diodorus Siculus wrote around 60–30 BC (Histories, 5.30):

"Their trumpets again are of a peculiar barbarian kind they blow into them and produce a harsh sound which suits the tumult of war"

Another detail that is easily matched to archaeology is the torc worn by several figures, clearly of the "buffer" type, a fairly common Celtic artefact found in Western Europe, most often France, from the period the cauldron is thought to have been made. ⎤]

Other details with more tentative Celtic links are the long swords carried by some figures, and the horned and antlered helmets or head-dresses and the boar crest worn on their helmet by some warriors. These can be related to Celtic artefacts such as a helmet with a raptor crest from Romania, the Waterloo Helmet, Torrs Pony-cap and Horns and various animal figures including boars, of uncertain function. The shield bosses, spurs and horse harness also relate to Celtic examples. ⎥]

The antlered figure in plate A has been commonly identified as Cernunnos, who is named (the only source for the name) on the 1st-century Gallo-Roman Pillar of the Boatmen, where he is shown as an antlered figure with torcs hanging from his antlers. ⎦] Possibly the lost portion below his bust showed him seated cross-legged as the figure on the cauldron is. Otherwise there is evidence of a horned god from several cultures.

The figure holding the broken wheel in plate C is more tentatively thought to be Taranis, the solar or thunder "wheel-god" named by Lucian and represented in a number of Iron Age images there are also many wheels that seem to have been amulets. ⎧]

Near East and Asia

The many animals depicted on the cauldron include elephants, a dolphin, leopard-like felines, and various fantastic animals, as well as animals that are widespread across Eurasia, such as snakes, cattle, deer, boars and birds. Celtic art often includes animals, but not often in fantastic forms with wings and aspects of different animals combined. ⎨] There are exceptions to this, some when motifs are clearly borrowed, as the boy riding a dolphin is borrowed from Greek art, and others that are more native, like the ram-headed horned snake who appears three times on the cauldron. ⎩] The art of Thrace often shows animals, most often powerful and fierce ones, many of which are also very common in the ancient Near East, or the Scythian art of the Eurasian steppe, whose mobile owners provided a route for the very rapid transmission of motifs and objects between the civilizations of Asia and Europe.

In particular, the two figures standing in profile flanking the large head on exterior plate F, each with a bird with outstretched wings just above their head clearly resemble a common motif in ancient Assyrian and Persian art, down to the long garments they wear. Here the figure is usually the ruler, and the wings belong to a symbolic representation of a deity protecting him. Other plates show griffins borrowed from Ancient Greek art of that of the Near East. On several of the exterior plates the large heads, probably of deities, in the centre of the exterior panels, have small arms and hands, either each grasping an animal or human in a version of the common Master of Animals motif, or held up empty at the side of the head in a way suggesting inspiration from this motif.

Celtic mythology

Apart from Cernunnos and Taranis, discussed above, there is no consensus regarding the other figures, and many scholars reject attempts to tie them in to figures known from much later and geographically distant sources. Some Celticists have explained the elephants depicted on plate B as a reference to Hannibal's crossing of the Alps. Γ]

Because of the double-headed wolfish monster attacking the two small figures of fallen men on plate b, parallels can be drawn to the Welsh character Manawydan or the Irish Manannán, a god of the sea and the Otherworld. Another possibility is the Gaulish version of Apollo, who was not only a warrior, but one associated with springs and healing besides. Δ]

Olmsted relates the scenes of the cauldron to those of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, where the antlered figure is Cú Chulainn, the bull of the base plate is Donn Cuailnge, and the female and two males of plate e are Medb, Ailill, and Fergus mac Róich. Olmsted also toys with the idea that the female figure flanked by two birds on plate f could be Medb with her pets or Morrígan, the Irish war goddess who often changes into a carrion bird. Δ]

Both Olmsted and Taylor agree that the female of plate f might be Rhiannon of the Mabinogion. Rhiannon is famous for her birds, whose songs could "awaken the dead and lull the living to sleep". In this role, Rhiannon could be considered the Goddess of the Otherworld. Γ] Δ]

Taylor presents a more pancultural view of the cauldron's images he concludes that the deities and scenes portrayed on the cauldron are not specific to one culture, but many. He compares Rhiannon, whom he thinks is the figure of plate f, with Hariti, an ogress of Bactrian mythology. In addition, he points to the similarity between the female figure of plate B and the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, whose depictions are often accompanied by elephants. Wheel gods are also cross-cultural with deities like Taranis and Vishnu, a god from Hinduism. Γ]


The ‘warrior’ panel of the Gundestrup cauldron

The 'warrior' panel from the interior of the cauldron. Photo: Malene Thyssen

This interior panel from the famous Gundestrup cauldron appears to show a line of seven mail-clad, shield and spear-wielding Celtic warriors advancing in a line from right to left towards a giant warrior who appears to be holding the body of another small warrior over a vessel of some sort. A dog or wolf appears to jump up at his feet. Proceeding from the giant along the upper row, are a line of four finely-arrayed horsemen with elite crested helmets, passing from left to right. Preceding them is a snake. The footsoldiers of the bottom row are followed by three carnyx (boar-headed celtic war-horn) players, whose horns reach up to face the cavalry riding back towards them, and the snake 'flies' above the horn chanters. Separating the rows of footmen and cavlry is a branch from which sprouts foliage or flowers. The metalwork around this is textured, suggesting an aura, a river or a footpath. The 'spears' of the footmen seem to connect with the trunk of the branch.

Symbolism interpreted:

The silver Gundestrup cauldron was probably a ritual deposit in water, pledged to the gods, as it was discovered in pieces in a Danish bog in 1891. Such deposits were an archaeological feature of Europe's 'Atlantic Bronze Age' which were influential upon the Celtic Iron Age cultures of north and central Europe. The organised style of the warriors, their mail suits and war trumpets seem date the cauldron between the 3rdC BCE and the 1stC CE during which time there were broad military and cultural interactions between Celtic tribes of Gaul and those of south and central Europe, explaining the artistic styles (and that of the armour) depicted on the cauldron: In fact, some design elements on the cauldron are so similar to those on objects found in the 'Letnica Hoard' (Bulgaria) to suggest a Gallo-Thracian origin for at least some of the panels. The cauldron shows aspects of both military and spiritual ideas of the afterlife which commentators typically associate with Celtic Iron Age culture.

Our 'warrior' panel shows some key features of a warfare-oriented view of reincarnation:

The footsoldiers:

These are 'ordinary' footsoldiers kitted uniformly for war with shields, spears and chainmail vests. There are seven armed men and three carnyx players. The last of the armed men carries no shield, and may be a youth, as he stands below the topmost 'sprout' of the tree-like design above their heads. They are clearly marching into battle, towards the dog/wolf and the giant figure with his cauldron, who appears to be placing one in or pulling one out of the cauldron. The soldiers are marching in the direction of the roots of the aforementioned tree design. Interestingly, it can be seen that their chainmail hauberks finish at the knee, below which they appear to wear hose and rawhide sandals on their feet, similar to those still in use in Ireland and the Isle of Man into the 19thC.

The giant warrior and his 'cauldron':

The giant warrior's cauldron or vessel appears to be a metaphor for some kind of rebirth promised to the valiant footsoldiers, as proceeding from it in the opposite direction to them are a line of mounted knights with fabulous helmets. The womb-like metaphor for the cauldron as a symbol for rebirth is found in the 'Second Branch' of the medieval Welsh epic tales known as Mabinogion in which the giant, Brân, owns a cauldron which revives the dead. In the case of the Gundestrup cauldron, two things appear to be emerging from this giant's cauldron – glorified warriors and a tree. This has echoes of the Yggdrasil tree mentioned in the 12thC Icelandic accounts of Scandinavian pagan legends: at the base of Yggdrasil were a number of wells from which the lives and fates of men flowed. At the base of the tree, gnawing animals and serpents were found: aspects of the ancient empirical idea of regeneration through putrefaction: these are also represented on the Gundestrup cauldron by the snake and the dog. The message of the panel is that the masculine god of the Otherworld (here portrayed also as a warrior, therefore a 'colleague) promises regeneration to those who glorify themselves in battle, and the new existence may have greater glory, represented by:

The four knights:

Proceeding from the apparent god and his cauldron are four mounted men (knights), remarkable for their elaborate crested helmets. The horses and more beautiful helmets mark them out as part of the warrior elite, and the implication of their appearance in the panel is that valiant footsoldiers might become so great – either through death or attainment. It is notable that there are only four knights, compared to the eight warriors going towards the cauldron (including the man held by the 'god'). Assuming that all of the soldiers on the lower row were looking forward to death in battle, then the panel suggests only four of these seem to have achieved a more glorious reincarnation! This again links to the Norse accounts of beliefs about death of warriors in battle which suggest that only half of the slain went with Odinn to Valhöll.Another interesting concordance.

So what of the other four warriors – what might the panel say about these? We are left with two interesting possibilities:

The first is represented by the animals in the image: first of these are the cavalrymen's horses, which would bring the number of sentient beings up to eight in the top row. The other is the ravenous dog or wolf, who like the crows and carrion birds depicted elsewhere on the cauldron would be features of any battlefield. The folklore of hosts of the restless dead remaining in Atlantic Europe after the Iron Age seems to have relevance here: the Sluagh Sidhe of the Gaelic world, and the 'Wild Hunt' of the Germanic world in particular. It may be that the souls of the unglorified were believed to have been incarnated in the form of the animals who haunt battlefields and the margins of human habitation: the corvidae (crows), vultures, wolves, dogs and foxes. By consuming the flesh of the glorious and providing good deeds in the form of omens and warnings, they might find themselves given a better incarnation in the next life, as well as speeding the recovery of the battlefield etc.

The second possibility of reincarnation is represented by the tree – the ancient metaphor for human generations: 'root, branch and seed'. The panel's design with the tree apparently growing from it suggests the dead are fertilising the regrowth of future generations, perhaps implying the reincarnation of less worthy footsoldiers as humans, ready for another 'go' at attaining greater glory. My feeling, based on the residual folklore and traditions of Europe, is that the truth probably lies somewhere between these two suggestions. The transmigration of souls (described by Roman authors as a central tenet of Gallic/Celtic faith) might lead to a number of outcomes, based variously upon the achievements of individuals in this life: a glorious afterlife, reincarnation as a human, or even a cavalryman's horse, or as a restless ravening creature who plays an important role in the regeneration processes of nature, and who might offer auguries to the living. The calls of ravens and crows, the flight-patterns of birds and the calls and shouts of canines and horses, were all recorded as potential sources of augury in ancient Europe until at least the middle ages.

The snake and the Carnyxes:

The snake has been a symbol of reincarnation for a very long time, based upon their continuous unblinking stare, their shedding their skins, their love of chthonic lairs from which they emerge into daylight, and from their ancient philosophical (morphological) classification along with worms, larvae and maggots as part of natural putrefaction and regenerative processes of nature. The snake is also notable for the visceral, terrifying/transfixing ability it has over its prey, bringing us here to discuss the Carnyx, above which the snake is positioned in the panel. The was the war-trumpet par-excellence of the Celts, whose terrifying cacophonic honking seemed designed to evoke the enraged squeals and bellows of an attacking boar, stag or bull, augmenting the terrifying transfixing effect of soldiers' war-cries upon an enemy. The horn was apparently a potent weapon in itself, designed – like the gaze of the snake – to sap the morale of the enemy.

This panel appears to show imagery promising soldiers reincarnation in battle. Their deaths are being 'inverted' into a renewed, more glorious life, and the cauldron and tree act as a central metaphor of regrowth from the well of life, with the dog and snake representing the earthly and allegorical forms of this natural process.


Watch the video: Cernunnos: Looking Every Which Way (October 2022).

Video, Sitemap-Video, Sitemap-Videos