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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Dobunni

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
A Visit to St. Cornely's

...if you'll please just step this way, we come to one of the highlights of our tour of St. Cornely's: a Roman Era bas-relief depicting St. Cornely himself, dating to roughly A.D. 425. Though worn, note the quality of the sculpture.

Horns? Rather surprising things to find on the head of a saint, no? Although of course, Moses frequently wears them as well in medieval art, as you know. Well, no, those aren't actually horns per se...the name Cornely derives from the Latin clan name, Cornelius. While the name's ultimate origin is unclear, it's thought to derive from Latin cornu, “horn.” So the horns are, in effect, a visual pun identifying the saint, alluding to his name.

Ah, yes indeed, the saint's nudity: visitors always comment. Surprising, is it not? Although not, of course, unparalleled in Christian art. This alludes to the manner of his death: stripped naked and thrown into the arena to be trampled by wild bulls.

But, of course, he's not entirely naked, is he? Does anyone know the name of the kind of neck-ring that he's wearing? Yes, that's right, a torc: a type of jewelry associated with ancient Celtic nobility. This particular torc is one of the mysteries of St. Cornely's. The reason for its inclusion here is unclear: there's no mention of it in the legend of St. Cornely. Perhaps this sculpture was commissioned by a noble Celtic family: this part of England was once, as you know, the territory of a Celtic tribe called the Dobunni. Perhaps the torc is by way of making a claim of local ancestry for the saint, though of course such a claim would be highly unlikely, historically speaking. As it is, we simply don't know.

Note the bull here to Cornely's right—not looking particularly wild, I must say—with the saint's hand raised in blessing over its head. This alludes to the manner of the saint's death which, according to the rather gruesome logic of canonization, makes St. Cornely the patron saint of cattle and cattle-herding. In fact, the Dobunni were known far and wide for their fine herds, so the choice of this particular saint as patron for this particular parish makes a great deal of sense.

As it happens, Cornely is rather unusual among saints in having two feast days each year, both of which, interestingly, correspond with major events in the cattle-herder's year. The annual Blessing of the Herds falls in late April, just before the cattle would have been driven to the summer pastures, and the other in early November, just after All Saints' Day, at the time of the annual slaughter. Intriguing, no?

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    In fact, there actually is a Roman Era bas-relief of a Horned God in a little parish church up north somewhere (Yorkshire?). (Good
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    No, but you've read my rune: he's the fiction that tells the truth.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    So, the local version of the horned god continued onward wearing St. Cornely as a mask. Is this St. Cornely found in Lives of the

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Witches of Now

Witch?

It's a tribal name—theedish, we would say. (In Witch, a thede is a tribe.)

Some 50 generations gone, a people called the Hwicce lived along the River Severn in what is now south-west England. (1400 years later, we still name our daughters Sabrina in Her honor.)

The Hwicce of then, you see, are the Witches of now.

It's not all lineal descent, of course. There are ways and ways of belonging, and bloodlines only one.

(You can adopt in, you can marry in. You can initiate in, acculturate in. Peoples have always been porous around the edges.)

We have our own tribal religion, though it's not witchcraft per se. (Witchcraft is our magic.) Not all Witches practice, of course, but if you're a Witch, it's your religion (and your magic), to hold to or not, as you yourself see fit.

Is it historical, you ask: Old Hwicce to New Witch?

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Check out maverick archaeologist Stephen J. Yeates' The Tribe of Witches: The Religion of the Dobunni and the Hwicce (2008) and A
  • Julie Lovejoy
    Julie Lovejoy says #
    Steven, this is some fascinating information about Hwicce. Would you share sources, please? Many thanks, Julie
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Yeates, of course, is writing from an outsider's perspective. For more from the Inside, web-search my name, "Paganistan," and "Hwi
Tribe of Witches, or: Which Witch is Whitch?

I wish I could remember which book I first read it in.

(A friend later confirmed for me that he, too, had read the same book, and mentioned some details that I had forgotten, so I know that I'm not making this up. Alas, he couldn't remember what book it was either.)

(I'm pretty sure it was one of the Second Generation of Craft books, and that it was by one of the Mothers of the Modern Craft: probably Doreen Valiente or Pat Crowther. Anyone?)

So: supposedly, there's this group (read: coven) out there that claims descent from the Hwicce, the original Anglo-Saxon Tribe of Witches. They claim to be practicing the old tribal religion. When you're initiated into this group, you become a member of the tribe, and a participant in the ongoing life of the tribe.

Now, I have to say: If true, this is one of the most compelling stories that I've come across so far in the modern pagan narrative. Everybody wants a tribe to belong to, pagans as much as anybody.

In 2008 maverick British archaeologist Stephen J. Yeates published his Tribe of Witches: The Religion of the Dobunni and Hwicce, which makes a similar claim: that modern witchcraft descends from the old tribal ways of the Hwicce: Goddess, Horned God, and all.

Personally, I'm not convinced of the historicity of this claim. It looks to me as if Yeates started, not with the Hwicce, but with modern Wicca, and worked backward. The Wikipedia article on the Hwicce even cites me on this.

Linguists mostly agree that witch and Hwicce come from different roots. Exactly what the tribe's name originally meant is unclear. What we can say is that hwicce is also a common noun in Anglo-Saxon meaning “chest, barrel.” (This seems an unlikely source for an ethnonym, but who knows?) In fact, this word survived into Middle and Early Modern English as whitch. Draw your own conclusions.

The Anglo-Saxon Hwicce inhabited the basin of the Severn River. (The Severn is still counted as the Sacred River of the Witches, and we still name our daughters Sabrina in her honor.) As it happens, we can make both an archaeological and a genetic case for continuity of both population and culture between them and the Keltic Dobunni, who lived in the same area. According to novelist Parke Godwin, Artos the Bear—him that the cowans call King Arthur—was himself a Dobunni lad. J. R. R. Tolkien, in a letter to one of his sons, claimed Hwiccan ancestry (from Wychwood, no less: the "forest of the Hwicce"). Some of my own family hail from that part of the world, for what it's worth.

So the historical Tribe of Witches (or Whitches) was a mixed people, Keltic and Anglian, just as the modern Wheel of the Year (for example) is a mixture of Keltic and Germanic. Well.

Now, tribes are interesting things. You can be born into a tribe, but that's not the only way to belong. You can marry in, you can adopt in, you can initiate in, or you can enculturate in.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I finally got a copy of "The Tribe of Witches: The Religion of the Dobunni and Hwicce" by Stephen J. Yeates. It was interesting.
Why Does the God of the Witches Wear Antlers?

 “...for witchcraft is as the sin of rebellion....”

 

Why does the god of the witches wear antlers?

Well, there are reasons, and reasons. Here's one.

In the a-borning days of the Younger Witchery, soon after Billy the bastard came with his accursed Franks, he made it known that all deer in the realm belonged to the nobles, the Nor-men, and only to them, and that it was now forbidden for anyone else to hunt them. (For this reason, for deer meat, we say, to this day, venison: a Norman word.)

For a yeoman to “poach” a deer, then, meant blinding, or the loss of a hand. You need good eyes to hunt, and two hands to draw a bow.

Let no one think that this stopped us. Since the dawning of days, the Horned gave us deer, which run free and cannot be tamed, to be our food forever.

Like the deer, we People of the Deer run free, and cannot be tamed.

In the old days, the god of the witches, our champion, wore horns of many kinds—bull, goat, ram—and sometimes he still does.

But mostly in our day he wears the antlers of a buck.

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Stallion of Three Tails: A Fantasia on Historical Themes

 You are a Stallion, lord, greatly to be praised:

worthy of sacrifice, lord of life and death.

(Ceisiwr Serith)

 

Among the more interesting titles of the God of the Witches is “Stallion of Three Tails.”

The three-tailed stallion features prominently on the coinage of the Dobunni, the Keltic people ancestral to the Anglo-Saxon Hwicce, Stephen P. Yeates' “Tribe of Witches.” Yeates suggests that this figure—in effect, the symbol of the Dobunnic people—represents the tribe's patronal god.

The god of Witches is well-known for his association with horned animals, but as Lord of Beasts he not infrequently takes the form of other animals as well. The stallion is a well-known symbol of virility and ferocity: equine society centers on the herd-stallion with his “harem” of mares, and woe to the younger stallion who encroaches on the territory of the King of the Herd.

In fact, the stallion is associated with kingship across the Indo-European world, and the sacrifice of a stallion marked the king-making among many Indo-European-speaking peoples, including many Keltic peoples. As the stallion is father to his herd, so the king is—metaphorically, one presumes—father to his people.

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To Those Who Would Ask, “But is It Historical?”

 Well now, there's history

and history. And if it were

indeed that we were once

one people, of this-and-so

a time, and this-and-so

a place: now, would that not

be a fine and shining fire

to warm your heart at,

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A Silver Stater of the Dobunni, Circa 30 BCE

 Heads: the diademed Silver Lady,

Mother, looks to the left.

Tails: tails flying, Sire,

the Stallion of Three Tails

gallops to the right.

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