Tuesday, January 18, 2005

ARTIFACT OF THE DAY: Roman god Mercury with Celtic consort Rosmerta and 3 hooded deities. I know this is a rotten picture, but it's truly fascinating for its mix of ideas and cultures.

This sculpture (currently in the Musuem of the Roman Baths, in Bath, England) is badly worn, details of expression long gone. Rosmerta was known for her healing power; here she sits on a throne equally with Mercury, and carries a healing wand. In Britain, with Mercury, she is part of a divine couple (fused female and male divinity, rather different from the Christian hierarchy). She also sometimes appears with a cornucopia, a scroll, or a bucket (as here), or close to sacred waters.

Equally interesting are those three hooded figures at the bottom of the picture, called genii cucullati and shown with a mysterious animal. Some trace these three women (how can we tell they're women as this sculpture is so worn, but apparently, those short, heavy cloaks are icons themselves) back to the three aspects of mother goddess, worshipped widely during pagan times during the Winter Solstice (now Christmas), symbolizing abundance -- or perhaps abundance in womanly-ways -- wealth, wisdom, fertility, and healing as well. The animal lends a somewhat sinister air to modern eyes -- perhaps a familiar (too large?) or a lion/dog (symbol of the wild)? One essay links Roman, Celtic and Germanic traditions in the "Bethen", a female trio later transformed to saints under Christianity -- all marytred, all beheaded, all protectors of girls and women in some aspect of birth, fertility and death. All in all, a long way from home, yet the artifacts remain.

Additional sources: http://www.druidry.org/obod/deities/bavarian_triple_goddess.html
and http://www.unc.edu/~css/start.html and http://enchantedtempleofisis.com/roman.htm)

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