Just in time …

… for ‘Rosmertalia’! (I’ll explain, I promise!) In the meantime, please observe and marvel:

Rosmerta by Grace Palmer

Rosmerta by Grace Palmer

The above image is from a prayer-card of the goddess Rosmerta by the excellent Grace Palmer, now available for pre-order from the website of the equally excellent Galina Krasskova. Permit me to point out some of the significant symbolism of this image. As in other depictions of Rosmerta going back to ancient times, the goddess bears a caduceus and holds out a patera in a gesture of giving. She is also shown with a cornucopia, which together with the caduceus identifies her as a goddess of peace and plenty.

Her outfit—a long ungirt tunic and a shawl—is consistent with Gallo-Roman fashions of the late first or second centuries CE. (The way the shawl is wrapped here is based on a grave monument from the land of the Treveri, roughly Luxembourg and adjacent parts of Germany, Belgium, and France. We do know that Gaulish women wrapped this in a variety of ways, depending on the fashion.) The largest concentration of inscriptions that mention Rosmerta is in this part of Gaul and the adjacent territories. The landscape shown in the background might also evoke this area (in fact, it reminds me a bit of the Tëtelbierg in present-day Luxembourg).

No less significant are her age and general demeanour. Few surviving monuments evoke these clearly, and those that do typically imply a woman of middle age who looks stern and vaguely pissed off. In my opinion, such portrayals are misleading (and some indeed may be discounted as unfinished, while others have certainly suffered from the passage of years). Rosmerta, as I see her, is wizened, witty, big-hearted, and benevolent. The clearest way to evoke these traits is to portray a grandmotherly figure; in fact, Grace Palmer’s portrayal closely resembles one of Rosmerta in the museum at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. And while we’re on the subject, how many grandmotherly goddesses does one actually know? Wicca engrained in us the habit of portraying goddesses as necessarily sex symbols (however much the maiden may eventually turn into the crone). But grandmothers are fantastic. There was recently, I believe at PantheaCon 2015, a presentation whose premise was precisely that grandmothers are our first goddesses. Older, plumper female figures amply deserve a place in our religious imagery.

Be that as it may, you might be thinking, ‘Okay, but don’t we want a Rosmerta who can plausibly be married to Mercury?’ This is a fair point, but I don’t think it’s a decisive one. I’ve been back and forth in my mind for years over the sleeping arrangements, as it were, between Mercury and Rosmerta, and my conclusion is that the cultus of neither requires us to declare definitively one way or the other. The prayer on the reverse of the card describes Rosmerta as Mercury’s “partner”, and the ambiguity in that word is deliberate. Modern scholars, to be sure, have been happy to assume that the two must be wedded, but there is no evidence that I’ve ever seen that would exclude the alternative hypothesis that the Gauls thought of Rosmerta as Mercury’s mother (or conceivably even as his sister). On the contrary, Rosmerta and Maia (the mother of Mercury in classical mythology) were portrayed identically in Gaul; inscriptions tend to use ‘Rosmerta’ in areas wherever ‘Maia’ is not found, and vice versa, implying that the two might have been seen as the same, only with different local names. (À la “What his right name is, I’ve never ’eard, but round ’ere folks call him Strider.”)

We know that Rosmerta was not the only goddess in Gaul that Mercury was involved with (again, the ambiguity in my phrase is deliberate)—Visucia being another such who’s known by name. One comparatively racy portrayal (the only one from Gaul that I’ve come across) at Saint-Germain-en-Laye depicts a mostly naked goddess caressing a bearded Mercury—but the statue is anepigraphic. The goddess might be Rosmerta, but there is neither inscription nor iconography to identify her as such, and the more careful scholars have tended to identify her as a nymph rather than as Rosmerta. Conceivably, there might even have been some myth in which Rosmerta reappears across multiple generations (I’m thinking of Étaín as a comparison), first as mother and then as wife, but there’s just no ancient evidence for this. I think it’s safest to leave open the possibility of Rosmerta-as-mother without excluding that of Rosmerta-as-wife. The thing that really matters is that Mercury and Rosmerta work closely with each other, and the strengths of each complement the other’s.

I mentioned above that this prayer-card is just in time for ‘Rosmertalia’, which, of course, is a holiday that does not exist on any calendar known from antiquity. To be sure, I honour Rosmerta a week before the kalends of each month, but this is just my own initiative, privately undertaken for my own reasons. There is, however, some reason for holding July 1 as sacred to Rosmerta. The Equites Singulares Augusti, a cavalry corps whose religious practices are frankly awesome (they helped introduce the cult of Epona to the world, and were also early adopters of that of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus), were recruited from Gaul to a major extent (though also from the Danubian provinces, the Spains, etc.). Their religious monuments in Rome generally invoke Felicitas directly after Mercury (and directly before Salus and the Fates)—Felicitas being a goddess of prosperity and good fortune, depicted with a caduceus and a cornucopia. Nothing would have been more natural than for Gauls transported to Rome to ‘translate’ the name of their goddess Rosmerta to Felicitas. Now, it so happens that the altar of Felicitas in the Capitol was dedicated (and thus commemorated) on July 1.

Too indirect? Well, how about a monument from the heart of Belgic Gaul? At Suromagus (Wasserbillig), in the territory of my belovèd Treveri, an inscription tells of a temple dedicated (in honour of the divine house) to the god Mercury and Rosmerta (CIL XIII 4208). The year is 232 (the consulship of Lupus and Maximus), and the date … Well, it’s not 100% clear, but it’s read as […] / Iulias, with room for three missing letters. Three missing letters excludes the possibility of any numbers (or prid.) preceding Kal. or Non. (or Id., unless conceivably it’s V Id.); it probably cuts out the Ides, which would likely be either too short if abbreviated or too long if expanded. So the date on this inscription was either Kal. Iulias (July 1) or Non. Iulias (July 7). Take your pick. Heck, burn incense to Rosmerta on both days. I’ll certainly be observing the kalends as a day in her honour. (It’s also Canada Day, and I suspect Rosmerta would find that rather a felicitous coincidence than otherwise!)

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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17 Responses to Just in time …

  1. ganglerisgrove says:

    Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    A really good and informative post about the Gaulish Goddess Rosmerta…

  2. Perhaps interestingly (or not?!?), as you were discussing the “non-sexy” portrayal of Rosmerta here, I was thinking of another Grace Palmer-created image: namely Disciplina, which was created with a description I provided. It was very necessary to show her not as unattractive, but just not necessarily sexy, nor young. Coincidentally, the date I have honored her in particular as her annual festival is July 1st!

    Victoria Slind-Flor–who is awesome!–has offered that workshop at PantheaCon several times in the last few years…though I have yet to get to it (it generally conflicts with something else), I hope to if it is offered again.

    • DeoMercurio says:

      And I love that image of Disciplina, as well! Heavens know I could use more of Disciplina’s help. 🙂 Wow, I had no idea about the July 1 connection! (Those disciplined and prosperous Canadians…!) I’ll keep my eyes peeled for Victoria Slind-Flor in future; it’s a very interesting premise.

  3. disirdottir says:

    I admit, my first thought upon seeing it was to wonder what your opinion of the card art would be!

    (FWIW, I was initially surprised by the maturity of the figure depicted, but it seems plausible enough on reflection. I don’t have a connection with Her, so I don’t really feel like I get a vote!)

    • DeoMercurio says:

      Yup — but you know, there just aren’t any ancient depictions of Rosmerta as young and sexy (that I’ve ever seen). She’s generally a good deal thinner, and I tend to think of her wrinkles as laugh lines rather than signs of old age. But I think the artist went a little bold here, and it works.

  4. Oh, and BTW: the Lupus who was consul that year is yet another individual called (as part of their name) “Virius Lupus.” I now know of at least three: the Governor of Britannia in 197 (appointed by Severus, and who served as a general under him before that); this consul from 232; and then the first high priest of Sol Invictus under the Emperor Aurelian in the 270s.

    • I’m going to do something a day late for her…better late than never? I hope so…

      • DeoMercurio says:

        The more recognition Rosmerta gets, the happier I’ll be. 🙂 That is really a beautiful prayer to her that you wrote, by the way. Alternatively, you’re several days early for the Nones! (which come late this month).

        I did notice that the Lupus in question was a Virius Lupus, now that you mention it! Any relation…?

      • I am guessing–though I don’t know it for sure–that all of the Virii Lupi are related to each other; they’re not exactly common names on their own, and because they always occur in that order from the late 2nd c. onwards, and often with other names after them, I think someone was wanting to honor their famous ancestor (possibly the main one I’m named after, i.e. the Severan governor of Britannia).

  5. Pingback: Rosmertalia 2015 | Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

  6. Jess says:

    Reblogged this on Bloody Bones Blog and commented:
    For those interested in the Gaulish faith, this is an interesting read regarding the celebration of Rosmerta on July 1.

  7. Merri-Todd says:

    I used to have a devotion to Rosmerta when I practiced as a druid, along with some of the other Gaulish/Romano-British deities. I had been feeling a longing for her when this lovely image appeared on my radar, and now I find your blog, and PSVL is giving her cultus, too! I am definitely rekindling my devotion to the goddess. Interestingly, I had a UPG that she was the mother, not the consort, of Lugus, whom I syncretized wtih Mercury. I am delighted to see that I am not alone in that.

    • DeoMercurio says:

      That’s wonderful! She’s definitely a goddess who deserves to be more widely known. (Doesn’t help that JK Rowling’s Madam Rosmerta tends to crowd her out of mainstream awareness!) Fascinating regarding your maternal UPG: here’s some further evidence in support of my hunch! Glad you like the image and the post. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Report-back from Olympia! (part I of III) | Deo Mercurio

  9. There is a large fanum temple dedicated to Rosmerta and Mercury in the Hunsrück forest between Waldesch and Koblenz (Roman: Castellum apud Confluentes). It’s located near the Federal Road towards Waldesch, next to a hiking trail through the woods. A very nice place and remote enough to be used for ritual actions and offerings!

    With best regards from Eastern Gaul 🙂

    • DeoMercurio says:

      Oh, that’s amazing! I love those places that have been reconstructed in situ, so you can really get some sense of the ancient worshipper’s experience. I’ll definitely be visiting that fanum next time I’m in the vicinity. Have you been to the fanum of Mercury at Tawern, just upriver from Trier? Also rather remote, up in the wooded hills, and perfect for private devotions.

      Thanks so much for sharing this! 🙂

  10. The Mercury-Rosmerta temple near Waldesch isn’t entirely reconstructed (like the temples at Tawern, Martberg, or on the Calmunt mountain), but its fundaments have been bricked up and give you a quite good impression of the temple’s size.

    I took some photos for our article about this ancient sites:

    Of course we have been to the temple at Tawern (several times) 🙂 We visit is as often as possible whenever we drive to Trier or Luxembourg. It’s a great place and I especially like that they put the reconstructed and painted statue of Mercury into the cella, which gives a pretty good impression of how statues looked like in the antique world (in contrast to the imagery from the Renaissance that all statues looked marbe-white). The altar in front of the cella is perfect for private devotions and very authentic.

    There is also a reconstructed temple complex on the Martberg (“Mars hill”) near Pommern at the Moselle, dedicated to Lenus-Mars. The hill was a former Celtic oppidum and became one of the most important pilgrimage sites and healing sanctuaries during gallo-roman times. The temple has been reconstructed (you can see a photo in the header of our blog) and you can also enter the cella (for an entrance fee, you can get the key at the nearby shop and cafeteria), which has been painted with typical Roman wall-paintings. No authentic Lenus-Mars statue there (but a rather modern one, made of wood), but nevertheless well worth a visit!


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