by Rev. Skip Ellison
In the descriptions of the Gaulish gods from the Classical writers, we usually find Taranis associated with Esus and Teutates. Two of the most cited descriptions come from the Roman poet, Lucan. In his work Pharsalia, he gives us the names of the three main Gaulish Gods and then in his work De Bello Civili he tells us,
"Cruel Teutates propitiated by bloody sacrifice, and uncouth
Esus of the barbarous altars, and Taranis whose altar is no
more benign than that of Sycthian Diana."
In a later ninth century CE work, a commentator on his work tells us the most appropriate sacrifices for each of these three Gods. He tells us that,
" Taranis, the thunder God, was appeased by fire; the
victims of Esus ( the "Lord') were stabbed and hung
from a tree until they bled to death; and those assigned
Teutates were drowned."
It is this association with fire that has led many to believe that Taranis was the God whose victims were sacrificed in the large 'Wicker Man' as described by Caesar and Strabo.
Along with his role as the thunder God, Taranis is also seen as a fertility God due to his bringing the life giving rain, the aspect we call upon in our Summer Solstice ritual. The ability of Taranis to control the thunder and storms was very important to the early Celts and may be one of the reasons why his name was known throughout such a wide area. There have been seven altars found bearing inscriptions to him in Britain, France, Germany, and the former Yugoslavia.
His figures are usually shown holding a thunderbolt and resting his hand on a wheel. There is some disagreement among scholars about the wheel being one of his symbols, Miranda Green believes that the wheel was the symbol of the Sun God and not of Taranis, while others such as Proinsias Mac Cana and James MacKillop believe that it was his symbol as well. The picture above is of a bronze figure located in the Musee des Antiquities Nationales, located in St. Germain-en-Laye, France. It carries the traditional thunderbolt as well as a Celtic spiral. It is thought to be a figure of the Gallo-Roman Jupiter, who was equated with Gaulish Taranis. Miranda Green in her book The World of the Druids, calls this same figure the Celtic Sun God, but doesn't give a name for him.
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