Synopsis of Kim McCone’s and J. de Vries’ Theory on the Gundestrup Cauldron

The short of it is that Prof. McCone theorizes that the Gundestrop Cauldron is associated with fiana like warriors of Gaul.  All based on the images on three of the inner panels of the cauldron.  I will paraphrase his work from his article “The Celtic and Indo-European origins of the fian” found in The Gaelic Finn Tradition published by Four Courts Press.

Panel 1 – This is the well known ‘Cernunos’ panel, the main figure with Gaulish parallels (see “Keltische Religion (1961 Pp106-7))  with horns on his head and the “hatching” of the clothing worn is indicative of fur.  A deer stands on the left and a wolf on the right, with the horns associating him with the deer and the fur possibly associating him with the wolf.  The implication being that he has attributes of both animals.  Above and below the figure are a goat and lion, which would have the same cultural attributes as the deer and wolf near Eastern or Balkan context.  Keep in mind that the cauldron most likely comes from Thrace, which was a mix of Eastern and Gaulish peoples.

Prof. McCone believes that the figure depicted is a patron of the *koryos the outcast warrior bands of Indo-European cultures such as the Fiana in Ireland.

Panel 2 – The second panel has hunters accompanied by hounds or wolves attacking large oxen.  Above each stands a spotted cat like figure that could be a leopard. The prey our doubtless to be aurochs with the leopard being another Balkan addition.  If the dog figures are hounds then they would be helping with the hunt, if wolves they could represent the ‘mascot’ of the hunters, who garments resemble that which is worn by the “Cernunos’ figure on the first panel.  The two outer men are wearing only britches and cap with the more seasoned leader wearing a garment covering his upper body.  With the stylized leaves, also found on the first panel, this could be a *koyros hunting party in the woods.

Panel 3 –  The third panel depicts a ritual, where a group of foot soldiers move towards a cauldron are dunked into the cauldron and come out as horseback warriors.  An initiation or cleansing from one status to another.  The bottom six soldiers are armed with spear and shield and are again wearing clothing as depicted on the ‘Cernunos’ panel.  At the front of the line of soldiers is a wolf facing the oncoming soldiers, with musicians at the end of the line.  The wolf is presumably the mascot and the young men are the ‘young wolves’ preparing for initiation back with the musicians also being ‘young wolves’ not yet ready for the transition but acting as assistants to the ritual.

I will quote McCone’s summary:

Whatever about some of the details, the crucial point here is that the three scenes from the Gundestrup Cauldron, just discussed, present clear evidence for a sequentially regulated Gallo-Thracian opposition between, on the one hand, spear and shield, and, on the other, a class of mounted warriors, progress from the former to the latter set being marked by a baptismal rite of passage. 

For my own part.  I have to wonder if the cauldron was actually used for such rituals.  Now that would be an amazing thing.

Further reading:

de Vries, J. Keltische Religion (1961), pp 104-07

Kim. “The Celtic and Indo-European Origins of the Fian.” The Gaelic Finn Tradition. Ed. Sharon J.
Arbuthnot and Geraldine Parsons. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012. 14-73.

Offerings, Blessings and Omens – Why I do things as I do.

In the previous post I have brief explanation of each part of the ritual.  There are four sections of particular interest that I wanted to expand upon and explain how I, being a practitioner of gentlidecht, would handle them in group rituals.

Offerings during invitations – When inviting the gods and ungods we make physical offerings of various items.  These offerings should be consistent with the nature of the beings and over the years I have taken great care to consider what is provided to them.

  • Irish Gods – This can vary, some give mead, some give physical items.  It depends on what part of the ritual.  During the invitation I tend to use some form of alcohol or a meal that the group will share.
  • Local land goddesses and nature spirits – These are the two groups of beings I am most particular of when making offerings.  Being native to North America they have been receiving offerings from the local tribes for centuries before we arrived and while they may accept what we give them the BEST gifts are those they expect.  Untreated tobacco, maize, corn flour are three items I use.  One thing for sure, I NEVER give them alcohol.
  • House spirits – These beings are only included in my private rituals indoors. They are more likely to have come with us from other places, even followed families for generations. I like to make them small offerings of sweets.
  • Ancestors – I offer them items from a meal that I am eating or that will be shared with the group.  Barring that, I give them good bread and something to drink.

 Praise and Offerings –  I differentiate between the offerings of a physical nature given to the gods and ungods during invitations and those offerings given as praise to them.  Praise offerings can been verbal, silent, physical objects, dance, poems…I have seen many types of praise offerings.

However, during public rituals allowing people to make offerings in whatever fashion they choose can prolong the ritual beyond a reasonable time and can become a bit of showmanship which I do not think is appropriate – after all the offering is not about the giver and having witnessed what I thought was one-up-man-ship when it comes to offerings I think it appropriate to define or even limit how offerings will be given.

For this reason I prefer the rituals of the Asatru known as the blot.  As praise offerings a horn is passed around to the congregation, the holder of the horn makes a silent or verbal offering to whomever they choose and then passes the horn to the next person (drinking is optional.)  This continues until all have give up a praise offering (some kindreds pass the horn three times.)  This allows for every attendee to give praise in a manner that is consistent with everyone else and prevents showmanship.

A gift for a gift – This is the point at which the congregants ask the gods for a blessing in return for the offerings.  This blessing is not placed on the congregation but on a consumable product that is then taken in by the congregation.  In Greeks rituals I have attended they have used bread but in most ADF rituals I have attended they use water or some other form of liquid.

In my rituals I have started using apples as the medium in which we receive the blessings.  Apples are mentioned in the lore as fruit associated with the Otherworld.  They are also fairly abundant year round due to modern agriculture but what I feel is just as important as its connection to the Otherworld, is that no one is allergic to it and it can be broken apart so that it can be shared without concern for communicable disease without a logistical solution.

The Omen – In ADF the most common thing seems to be a set of questions to learn the direction the group should go.  In some instances I have seen them include a question regarding the offerings.  In CR group I have only ever seen them ask if the offerings were acceptable and other types of divination were done OUTSIDE of the public ritual, see Imbas Forasnai.  

Maybe is it my being a gent that influences me but I agree with the reconstructionists, that the omen in these public rituals should be about determining if the offerings have been accepted, and if not, making more offerings or determining why the offerings were not enough and moving forward.

So there you have it.  Brief explanation of how I would run each section and why.  If there is anything readers would like me to write about, feel free to comment or contact me.

A ritual structure explanation

I have adapted the Core Order of Ritual for ADF for my use and want to share and explain each section of the ritual itself.

Gathering – The call to come together for worship is made by some sort of musical signal, a horn, a gong or bells, are perfect.  Once the signal is given participants should process to the ritual fire/well either in silence or with some sort of group unity song, poem, statement or chant or chant. 

Centering Meditation – A ritual meditation to help the group get into the mindset of meeting the gods and ungods and to aid in creating a group mind set to the purpose of worship.

Honoring the Local Land Goddesses – ADF requires that each ritual begin with honoring the ‘Earth Mother’.  As reconstructionists we do not deify the planet but we do deify the land and rivers.  The spirit of this section is to honor the life giver and we meet this requirement by honoring the local rivers as the goddesses of the land; the givers of life to our region.

Establishing the Grove – Even when using a space that is well worn with sacrifices we re-sanctify the area by building a sacred grove.  A hearth fire, a well and a bile are established and blessed.

Parting the Mists – While the gods are imminent and the spirits are local, the ancestors are in the Otherworld, so the mists that separate our world from the world of our ancestors must be parted to allow them to come through.  

Inviting the Gods and Ungods – We do not invoke, or summon our gods, the spirits or the ancestors to witness or accept a sacrifice.  We invite them as guests to our grove, attendance is up to them.

Praise and Offerings – We offer praise and make offerings to the three groups of beings that are important to our religion.  The gods, the nature spirits and the ancestors.  This section may change each ritual to offer praises to specific beings as well, such as to our grove Patron at Midsummer or the Land Goddesses at Fall Equinox.  You will notice that our form of praise is to give toasts to the gods and ungods, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available.

The Omen – When giving offerings it is wise to ask if they are acceptable.  The omen is the time to ask and if not accepted an opportunity to make further offerings or ask what else can be done.

Receiving the Blessings of the Gods and Ungods – We have given gifts to the gods and ungods, and now we ask for a gift in return.  We ask for good set aside for the occasion to be blessed so that the people may receive the blessings by eating the food.

Thanks the gods and ungods and closing the mists – One should always thank guests for stopping by and close the door once they are gone.

Taking down the Sacred Grove – While the sacredness is never dispelled by our words, the physical representations should be removed or snuffed.