What’s in a name

I thought I’d lay out the reasoning behind the name of the website where I collect my thoughts, analysis, and findings on Gaulish polytheism, viz. www.deomercurio.be, which also gives its name to this blog. On the surface, you might be like, well, whatever, it’s just something about the god Mercury. And, on the surface, you’d be right. There is considerably more to the tale than that, however.

Mercury is the god honoured above all others in Gaul. Cæsar tells us so directly in book VI of the Gallic Wars (in a section that in fact recapitulates the work of the excellent Posidonius). The epigraphic record tells the same story. No deity is commemorated so often on inscriptions from Gaul; it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that, as soon as the Gauls learned the Latin alphabet, they would carve dedicatory inscriptions in Mercury’s honour. Statuettes depicting Mercury can be found in the humblest abodes (not just in those of merchants!), and some of Gaul’s most grandiose temples were dedicated to Mercury—not least the richly endowed temple on the summit of that sublime volcano overlooking Clermont-Ferrand, the Puy de Dôme. This is one reason why I thought that—quite apart from my own lifelong devotion to Mercury—it would be appropriate to name after him a site that aims to embrace the Gaulish religious experience at large.*

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Why, though, use the Latin name for a Gaulish god? Isn’t it rather sick to be endlessly reproducing the cultural subjugation of the wonderful Celts who fought Rome unto their dying breath? The answer here must be that the intersection between Gauls and Romans was extremely broad. For every Celt who died fighting against Rome was another who died fighting for her. At first, tribes and even families often split their loyalties. And out of that dynamic and creative tension grew a new civilization—the Gallo-Roman civilization—that owed much to both, and resolutely affirmed itself Gallic and Roman at one and the same time. We chose to be part of that complex interplay of influences, as surely as Scotland will choose independence or union later this year. And I honour and respect my ancestors for that choice. To return to Mercury, what other name can we give him? That his “true” identity was Lugus is, at best, a dubious hypothesis (I give my reasons for saying so here). There may be grounds (albeit contestable ones) to consider giving him the name Esus, or even Ogmios. With far less audacity can we bestow him such venerable names as VISVCIVS, CISSONIVS, GEBRINIVS, DVMIAS, ARVERNORIX and VOSEGVS, among a great many others. The fact remains, however, that when my Gaulish ancestors invoked Mercury, most often they called him simply that. I therefore refuse to be provoked into putting his name in scare quotes, or claiming that the Gaulish Mercury was merely the disguise for another well-known deity. The great god of Gaul bears the caduceus in one hand, a money-bag in the other; he wears a winged helmet, is surrounded by the rooster, the ram and the turtle, and goes by the name of Mercury. (Except, of course, when he takes on other forms and names, as he is of course authorized and wont to do.)

I use Latin formulæ regularly in my religious discourse, but this is not to say that I aim to slavishly follow models specifically from Rome. The mere phrase “Deo Mercurio” (to the God Mercury), which prefaces the god’s name with a proclamation of his nature, is typical of Gaul (and indeed especially typical of 2nd-century CE Gaul, if scholars like Marie-Thérèse Raepsaet-Charlier are to be believed). Though I express this notion in Latin, I choose to do so in the manner of the Romano-Celtic provinces—and while I do try to use Gaulish words and phrases where appropriate, the fact is that we know much more about the Latin idiom as the Gauls used it than about their own old Celtic language.

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A final point remains to be mentioned—the top-level domain .be . This belongs to Belgium, a delightful little country that I cannot help but love. The Treveri, who are the Gallic nation I identify most closely with, formed part of Gallia Belgica; today, the charming little Treveran town of Arlon (Orolaunum) lies  within the borders of modern Belgium. Indeed, the photo I use as my avatar is of a traveller on an unfinished grave monument from Arlon. The land of the Treveri actually crosses over the boundaries of Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and France, so I would have been reasonably content with a domain with any of those four countries. However, it happens that .be names are relatively cheap, I know two languages I could use to communicate to my hosting service with, and you don’t have to live in Belgium to get a .be domain (which unfortunately I never have). In sum, I was very well pleased to get a site with a Belgian top-level domain. It may be that Belgium (if not Luxembourg?) best accords with the spirit of Mercury in any case: sophisticated, polyglot, productive, and embracing astonishing diversity within itself.

And thus, deomercurio.be.

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* No, I certainly haven’t gotten there yet! Undoubtedly I never will. But it’s an aspiration.

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About DeoMercurio

I’m a Gaulish polytheist, now back living in lands ceded by the Council of Three Fires after several years’ sojourn in Anatolia and in the land of the Senecas, with frequent travels to Gaul along the way. My grandfather’s family came from the area around Trier, and I identify closely with the Treveri in my religious practice.
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