Lepontic grammatomancy in verse

I mentioned in a post last year that I had been thinking about using the letters of the alphabet of Lugano—the oldest alphabet known to have been used for a Celtic language*—for divinatory purposes. That post on Lepontic grammatomancy† is actually one of the most visited on this blog, which makes me think that some people found the idea intriguing (or else they found it infuriating and are too nice to say so!).

Two things have happened since my post last year to advance my use of Lepontic grammatomancy as a practical undertaking. One of those things happened today: I got a set of nice blank wooden tiles (a bit like Scrabble tiles only smaller), and inscribed each one with a letter of the alphabet of Lugano and the corresponding word. I’m inordinately pleased with how these turned out:

Tiles for Lepontic grammatomancy

Tiles for Lepontic grammatomancy

I have dedicated these tiles to Apollo Virotutis, the god I call on for help in divination. They replace a set of letters I had written on stones I had picked up at Blue Mound, Wisconsin—the big disadvantage of the latter being that no two were alike in either size or shape.

The other development actually happened last summer: I drafted a poem with two lines for each letter. In my earlier post, I had alluded to the possibility of supplementing rune lore with Greek grammatomancy as a guide to the significance of the Lepontic letters for divination. As it happens, this works out very well, with only a handful of exceptions. The verses basically split the difference between the Greek letter oracles of Anatolia on the one hand, and the Anglo-Saxon rune poem (with occasional input from the Icelandic and Norwegian poems) on the other. As a result, the meaning of each Lepontic letter is basically defined as a synthesis of the analogous Greek letter with its corresponding rune. At times I’ve interpreted this synthesis with reference to ancient Celtic conventions and social structures. I’ve arrived at something that—while it cannot claim antiquity itself—might have evoked the reaction “Oh, sure, I guess that makes sense” among people using the alphabet of Lugano twenty-four centuries ago. (May they look favourably on this endeavour.)

My original plan was actually to write verses in Gaulish; however, practical considerations led me to conclude that any potential users of this system—including myself—would be better served by having the verses in a modern language. Using a modern language also helps remind people that the system is not, and does not claim to be, thousands of years old. For each letter, therefore, I’ve therefore written a pair of English lines in blank verse.

To display the letters and their names in the alphabet of Lugano, I’m reproducing the poem as the two image files below. This poem could not have taken shape without the extremely valuable feedback of my esteemed co-religionist Disirdottir, whom I thank most heartily for her help. At the same time, all errors (including errors of judgement and infelicities of expression) are entirely my own. Please leave your reactions in the comments section! If anything looks glaringly amiss, I’ll cheerfully revise it.

Verses alpha to nu
Verses pi to o
* The language in question is Lepontic, which is an older sister of Gaulish, so to speak. Lepontic inscriptions are all found in a small region around Canton Ticino in Switzerland and Lombardy in Italy. It’s a beautiful region in the foothills of the Alps.
† That is, using Lepontic lettering for divination.

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 Lepontic grammatomancy in verse

  1. This is very interesting indeed!

    I can’t recall if I mentioned this, but I thought of doing something similar with the Celtiberian syllabry, and may yet do that at some stage…

    Meanwhile, the Ephesia Grammata is my go-to system. 😉

    • DeoMercurio says:

      Oh neat! No, I never knew that about the Celtiberian syllabary. I’ve never actually learned that script — actually two, if I’m not mistaken (east and west varieties)?

      The Ephesia Grammata are an excellent go-to system, no question! 🙂

      • There might even be three…but yes, there’s at least two.

        If I start doing major cultus to Endovellicus, I’ll have to revive that particular possibility…

      • DeoMercurio says:

        Endovellicus is a deity I really ought to know more about… I also wonder if anybody (Basques for example?) have taken to worshipping classical proto-Basque deities like Mars Leherennus, for whom there is a surprisingly ample documentation in and near Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges…

      • I have not done as much as I should for him…he showed up a few years ago. I should probably re-assume my pursuits with him…

        It would be intriguing to know what Basque folks are doing with some of these things as well!

  2. I can’t stress enough how Interesting this is! 😀 It’s very much like the meanings of each of the Elder Futhark runes, each with their own little verse.
    I’ve devised my own little system, based on numerology and archaeological evidence, but I still haven’t tried it out, because I’m not really confident on my skills at the moment (in no small part due to my natural aversion to numbers).

    May I ask if you have any particular reason for choosing Apollo as your guide of sorts? I know that in Hellenic religion, Apollo had an oracular cult. In Gallic religion, Belenos seems to have clearly shared that trait, although his name and some finds – like a vessel thought to have been used to hold [hallucinogenic] herbs – point that he was a God which ruled over herbal knowledge and substances that caused altered states of consciousness. The epithet Virotutis / U̯īrotūtis means ‘Truth’ or ‘Truthful’, so I can see why it is a good choice.
    The thing is, I see Lugus as also being a choice when it comes to other methods of divination, especially those which are more “enigmatic” like this one you’ve devised. O.o HIs ability to pretty much go everywhere, and how he’s portrayed with boars and crows, in Gallic and Gallo-Roman art, has lead me to this possibility.

    • DeoMercurio says:

      Oh, thank you! 😀 Yes, definitely Elder Futhark — plus Greek verses. What got me started on this whole idea was reading that the runes were probably based on an Old Italic script (Etruscan, Venetic, something like that) rather than Latin. And then I was like, “Wait a minute! The alphabet of Lugano is an Old Italic script…”

      *Interesting* you should mention Lugus! I was feeling a very strong something from the Gallic Mercury (whom many people identify with Lugus) while I was working on this. Now, the Gallic Mercury is my patron deity, so I feel a nudge from him very often and didn’t think much of it … but of course Óðinn revealed the runes (and Óðinn = Mercury by interpretatio germanica), and Mercury is deeply involved not only with writing systems and (as you say) enigmatic utterances, but also with the oracular system of divination by tali a.k.a. astragaloi. You probably know about this system where you throw knuckle bones (the ones I have are from a white-tailed deer, but I think they were normally sheep bones), each throw is assigned a number, and each number is a particular oracular response to the implicit question, “Shall I undertake this venture?” The system’s known from a number of inscriptions in south(west)ern Anatolia, and one such inscription calls itself (if I remember rightly) a “mercurium”… There is a distinctly mercurial something going on with grammatomancy as well as astragalomancy, I think.

      But yes, I’ve been working with Apollo Virotutis for divination because of his oracular plus “truth” aspects. I didn’t know about the hallucinogenic herbs associated with Belenos! Would this have been vervain (verbena), I wonder? You wouldn’t happen to remember which site, would you?

      Thanks so much for your feedback! 🙂

      • There’s an article from ZCP on henbane by Peter Schrjiver that talks about the connection between Belenus and that herb…

      • DeoMercurio says:

        Oho! The heavy stuff. 😉

      • The journal, or the herb? 😉

      • DeoMercurio says:

        Both, now you mention it! Touché. 🙂

      • Yeah, the Elder Futhark is best justified as being a loan from an Italic or Etruscan-ish people. But who? We have no evidence of the Etruscans having reached northern Europe, and the Germanic tribes only encountered the Romans after the Gallic “belt” that separated Scandinavia from inner Europe was gradually broken.

        I sort of knew about astragaloi. 😛 The system I’ve been devising/reconstructing appears to have been based on it, but only know that you mentioned it, did I realise that the Gallic system may have been similar to the one used in Hellas and Anatolia. I’m going to further investigate this, since I have a feeling that it might help me to finally finish this whole divination matter. Also: I’m quite fond of Lugus myself, and I recognise that he’s had a considerable influence over my life since I first called to him; I wouldn’t be surprised if he had subtly nudged me to read this post.

        Based on his name’s etymology – which literally means ‘henbane’ (Delamarre 2003: 71) – it’s thought to have been that same herb. Curiously, this herb is called Herba Apollinaris in Latin, which obviously means ‘Apollō’s Herb’ and it was often used to brew potions with psychoactive properties. Should we consider this a loan from Hellas or convergent evolution?
        That stone vessel was found at Saint-Chamas; sadly, I’ve never found a picture of it, but there’s this nice transcription here: http://www.arbre-celtique.com/encyclopedie/vasque-de-saint-chamas-7033.htm

  3. I am thrilled to see this. I can’t remember if we talked about it when we met at Many Gods West, but a Gaulish runic-style system based on the Lugano alphabet is a project I’ve been ruminating on developing myself for some years. I hadn’t had the time and bandwidth free to start it, and here you’ve done all this work already! I will definitely be making a set for myself and start playing with your system. Would love to stay in touch as I imagine the system will continue to develop as you and others get to putting it in practice.

    • DeoMercurio says:

      I’m so glad! 🙂 Yes, I would love to hear your feedback. I’m sure some of the verses and/or meanings can benefit from being revisited and revised (I’ve already done this to some extent since I first drafted the verses). It may be a good thing I did the spadework when I did, because it looks like the Austrian wiki that was such a great resource for Old Italic inscriptions isn’t working now…? Two flaws I know about: (1) No letter gives a straight-out, unambiguous “no”; (2) I decided ð should be ðira basically by fiat, without a whole lot of historical backing. (But Ðirona!) Anyway, I’d love it if you’d like to try working with this and let me know how things go. 🙂 What I usually do is draw three lots: the first is the basic answer, then the second qualifies it with respect to the third. Thus far this simple procedure has been intelligible for the modest uses I’ve put it to. A more experienced and/or ambitious diviner would no doubt go farther with it.

      • Hey there – I don’t have a direct contact email address for you, but I wanted to circle back to this conversation. I’ve taken the work you did here and kind of built-on and expanded it a bit through a process of spirit-led divination and concept mapping. I wonder if you would be interested in seeing it? If you are interested, you could contact me at morpheus@bansheearts.com. It’s still a work-in-progress but I think could benefit from drive-testing with other diviners. And thanks again for sharing this work. It’s definitely unfolding in interesting ways for me.
        best –

  4. Garth Djesi Tardy says:

    Why are the images reversed?

    • DeoMercurio says:

      The alphabet can be read either left-to-right or right-to-left. Right-to-left was slightly more common, especially in the earlier inscriptions.

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