Gods, Goddesses and Religious Ceremonies
Major Deities - the Seven Ageless Ones:
Máthair - The Earth Mother (f). Consort of Cernunnos (see below). While Cernunnos created the earth, oceans, sky and underworld, Máthair created all life that exists, except for humans (see Púca, below). She is the guardian of the natural world and, as such, can show little regard for humans (who frequently destroy and kill her creatures).
Her representative on earth is the Lady. The Lady defends all living things and sees that the natural order is respected. She is chosen from birth for this duty. Before humans were created, Máthair used to perform this role herself; however, she grew shy of the ever-increasing human population and instead blessed a chosen individual with a degree of her powers.
When searching for her successor, the incumbent Lady will immerse herself in holy waters until she is given a sign of where to find the child. She will then go and claim her. The Lady takes the role of the girl’s mother, bringing her up and preparing her for her life’s duties.
Cernunnos - The Father God, or the Horned God (m). God of male virility, hunting, animals and forests. Consort of Máthair. Ruler of light and dark, life and death, as signified by his two-fold aspects.
In the spring and summer months, he takes the shape of a stag; this is his ‘light’ aspect. His antlers are entwined with oak leaves, and he is therefore known as the Oak King. In this aspect, he marries Máthair every summer and then dies at the beginning of autumn.
During autumn and winter, Cernunnos remains in his stag-form, but as a ghostly apparition – the ‘dark’ side. He enchants and leads great herds of other deer, even to their death at the hands of hunters. Thus, in this form, he continues the cycle of death and rebirth.
Púca - The Trickster God (m/f). A shape-changer, hence the m/f classification (although generally labelled as male by humans). Bringer of both good and bad luck, he cannot be trusted to answer prayers as the requestor intended (indeed, he takes great delight in twisting a simple request). When he is at his most innocent, he takes the form of a small child.
After being teased by the god Ambisagrus (see below) for being too lazy to create anything, Púca created humans in revenge. Humans were given the same shape and image as the gods, and indeed the very first humans were miniature gods; however, the ‘true’ gods were so outraged, they took away the humans’ immortality as punishment. After this, Púca was treated with a lot more respect as he had shown he could create something almost as powerful as the gods themselves.
Aine - Goddess of Love and Erotica (f). Associated with midsummer, the sun, wealth and all things bountiful. Sometimes represented by a red mare. As the goddess of love, she can be very vengeful, and it is not a safe thing to offend her. She has command over crops and animals, and is the mother of Amaethon (see below).
Morríghan - Supreme Warrior Goddess of War, Death and Fate (f) ‘The Great Queen’. Can take the shape of a crow or raven. Attributed to her are the powerful aspects of female energy. Goddess of sensuality, magic, prophecy, revenge and battle.
Ambisagrus - God of Weather and Seasons (m). His temper determines the weather. Brother to Ambisagria (see below) and in constant opposition to Púca.
As deities of weather and of the sky, Ambisagrus and his sister created the very first rainbow, Lauma, a female demi-goddess. The two ends of Lauma did not touch the earth, however, as rainbows do now. Dazzled by this beauty, Púca tried to steal the rainbow for himself, attempting many different guises to do so. Eventually, he took his most innocent form – that of a small boy – and Lauma herself was so moved, she came down to earth.
This seduction of his daughter, Lauma, explains why Ambisagrus and Púca fight so much. When Ambisagrus grieves, his tears become rain and his shouts thunder. Then, Lauma will appear, and her father is soothed.
Ankou - God of Death (m). Initially the consort of Morríghan (see above), he grew weary of her vengeful personality and endless bloodlust. It was then that Olwen (see below) captured his dark heart, and he began to show compassion to the creatures brought for his judgement.
However, he and Olwen can never truly be consorts. Ankou’s domain is the underworld, and the world would be drained of all innocent pleasures if Olwen were to join him down there. Hence, Ankou’s constant alternation between joy and sadness; this explains how death can be both cruel and kind.
Lesser Gods - the Children of Light:
Llew - God of the Sun (m). Consort of Arianda (see below), the sun and the moon did originally reside side-by-side. Tired of always being outshone, Arianda seduced their own son, Aušric (a demi-god; the morning star, or dawn). Llew reacted to this betrayal by cutting her in half with his sword.
However, Arianda does not learn, and both the adultery and punishment are repeated every month. The sun and moon now shine separately.
Dylan - God of the Sea (m). Brother of Llew. Along with Olwen (see below), Dylan is one of the more gregarious and light-hearted gods. When waves are at their highest, it is Dylan trying to reach up and splash Llew.
Ambisagria - Goddess of the Sky (f). Sister to Ambisagrus and, like him, in constant opposition to Púca. She rides in a chariot called the Silver Wheel of Stars, and her blue cloak stretches out far behind as she passes. Sometimes, Púca will step on her cloak for fun, tearing it from her shoulders and leaving Ambisagria naked. When this happens, Llew will shine even brighter, making it difficult for humans to look up at the sky, and thus shield her modesty.
Arianda - Goddess of the Moon (f) and consort of Llew. Associated with fertility, magic and healing. Women wishing to fall pregnant make offerings to Arianda. She is a close friend to Ambisagria and will sometimes accompany her in her chariot.
Amaethon - Goddess of Agriculture (f). Daughter of Aine (see above), she is somewhat impetuous in temper. She angered Ankou, the god of death, by stealing his nine white horses, which she intended on placing in the skies so farmers would have brighter days and therefore longer to gather in the harvest. Only after Olwen begged on Amaethon’s behalf was Ankou placated, and he agreed Amaethon could keep the horses for a quarter of the year – autumn.
Govannan - God of Smiths and Crafts (m). Clever, witty and charming, Govannan was once the most handsome of the gods and enjoyed numerous romantic liaisons with mortal women, as well as an on-off relationship with Amaethon.
One time he was enjoying the company of a mortal woman, when her husband unexpectedly returned. Not knowing who the interloper was, the man picked up an axe and threw it at Govannan. It caught him in one eye, and he was permanently disfigured.
After this incident, he has led a solitary life, crafting ever more strange and exquisite artwork.
Olwen - Goddess of minstrels, music, song and poetry; flowers and springtime; virtuous love and spiritual rebirth (f). She is the youngest of the gods and beloved by Ankou.
Beneath the weeping willow,
Shaded by fronds of green,
The maiden who conquered death sleeps,
Hiding her smile as she dreams. – Ode to Olwen
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Each of these gods and goddesses are worshipped in temples scattered all over Caerlean. The location and geography of a place has an obvious impact on which deity is worshipped; e.g. temples to Dylan, the Sea God, can be found all around the coastline, whereas Amaethon, Goddess of Agriculture, prevails most strongly in the counties of Nočovȉk and Sučovȉk, the breadbaskets of the nation.
A temple is seen as a place where humans express their devotion via nature. They are traditionally built within rings of trees, the ground usually left open to grass or bracken (or beach in Dylan’s case). A small number of followers called the Arthraigh (or ‘of the rock’) tend to the day-to-day running of the temples, with travellers and pilgrims expected to participate in the cooking, gardening, animal husbandry and general maintenance for the duration of their stay, as well as prayer and meditation.
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The coronation ceremony that was created during the reign of Aewulf the Peaceful (r. 157-173) demonstrates just how central the deities are to Caerlean life, and how much importance is placed on their approval before a king can be crowned. The order of ceremony is thus:
First, the king-to-be will attempt to enter the great temple of Máthair which stands atop the Zelénei, or ‘Green Hill’, in the centre of Porthynys. Before he can do so, he has to bend the knee to the incumbent Lady (see above description of Máthair for information concerning the Lady’s role in Caerlean). Only once he has received her blessing can the ceremony continue.
The king is then presented with an object blessed by the Lady. This can be anything, from a weapon, a piece of metalwork or woodwork such as a chalice, a piece of clothing or jewellery or even something from the natural world, such as a sapling or stone. This sacred item is known as the ‘hallow’, and although they have tended to become more sophisticated and valuable over the centuries, their purpose remains the same – to represent the most precious gift that can be bestowed, the gift of a kingdom.
The king has to defend the hallow against all comers for one day and one night, within the central chamber of the temple of Máthair. This is not just mere symbolism – if a challenger defeats the king and takes the hallow, then the entire coronation and succession is thrown into doubt. However, the victor does not necessarily assume the throne; only those in the line of succession can make a claim. Sometimes, rivals for the throne will send their champions to fight for the hallow and make their claim this way.
Once the day and night have passed, and the hallow has been successfully defended, the king is deemed fit to rule. Then, he is robed in a cloth of gold and escorted outside to make his vows to the gods, known as the Ceremony of the Oaths. Each of the fourteen gods and goddesses are invoked, and each requires a specific oath, sworn beneath the open sky. They are as follows:
• Máthair, the Mother Goddess or Earth Mother. An oath to defend the natural world and all its creatures.
• Cernunnos, the Father God. An oath to provide for and defend ones’ family. To produce an heir in order for the natural cycle of life, death and new life to continue.
• Púca, the Trickster God. Less of an oath, more of a prayer. A promise to respect the shape-shifter god, in exchange for good fortune. Púca is notoriously unreliable, but it was felt that excluding him from the Ceremony would only anger him.
• Aine, the Goddess of Love. An oath to revere all forms of love, and to defend those who are being forced to marry against their wishes.
• Morríghan, Warrior Goddess of War, Fate and Death. Morríghan is also known as the Triple Goddess – the Maiden, Mother and Crone. Therefore, her oath is to respect women, as well as the rules of battle.
• Ambisagrus, God of Weather. A vow for the battlefields that the king would fall as hard as hailstones upon his enemies, drown them in a rain of blood and drive them from the land as ruthlessly as the strongest wind.
• Ankou, God of Death. A promise that, when the king’s death draws near, to welcome Ankou, not attempting to cheat or curse him.
• Llew, God of the Sun. A promise that the king would, whenever possible, lead his soldiers into battle and fight amongst them as if they were his kin.
• Dylan, God of the Sea. A promise to show mercy to those who repent and not abuse one’s power.
• Ambisagria, Goddess of the Sky. An oath to respect one’s family and remain loyal to their spouse.
• Arianda, Goddess of the Moon and Fertility. A vow to defend the young and weak, in particular children.
• Amaethon, Goddess of Agriculture. An oath to respect the land, not taking more than is necessary in order for the country as a whole to thrive.
• Govannan, God of Smiths. A vow to appreciate beauty in design, whether natural or manmade, and to continually aim for such splendour in all manner of crafts.
• Olwen, Goddess of Music and Springtime. A promise to listen to all, even enemies; to be ready to admit one is wrong, and to not take excessive pride in victory.
Once the vows have been recited, the king sits on the Stone of Session – a naturally-hewn slab of kingstone – where he is crowned by the Lady. The lords of the land then approach, one-by-one, to kneel before him and swear fealty as his liegemen.
The newly-crowned king is rowed by his liegemen down a short stretch of the River Itchen, back to Porthynys Castle. Traditionally, his subjects will stand on the riverside, cheering the procession, before the ceremony is concluded with a feast.