My column for The Wild Hunt this month is a book review of Benebell Wen’s The Tao of Craft, which is about designing and using Chinese 符 (fú) sigils. My review largely focuses on Wen’s nuanced approach to cultural context (and thus the question of appropriation, which she deals with well), working with spirits, and magic as a craft.
The Iceni were a Brythonic tribe living in what is now Norfolk. They voluntarily allied with the Romans when Claudius invaded in 43 CE, but revolted in 47 against the pro-praetor’s attempt to disarm them.¹ A colony of veterans was stationed at Camolodunum to dissuade further revolts. The coins of the Iceni included depictions of horses and wheels and flowers.
Though defeated in 47, the Iceni remained nominally independent under King Prasutagus. When Prasutagus died in 60, he named both the Roman Emperor Nero and his two daughters as his heirs. His wife, Boudica, was whipped, and his daughters were raped.² According to Tacitus, it was the veterans settled at Camolodunum who were particularly responsible for committing outrages against the Iceni:
For these new settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves, and the lawlessness of the veterans was encouraged by the soldiers, who lived a similar life and hoped for similar license.
Furthermore, Roman moneylenders, including Seneca the Younger, demanded repayment of loans from the Iceni.³ Meanwhile, the Roman governor was busy campaigning against rebel Druids on the island of Mona (modern Anglesey).4 Queen Boudica led the Iceni and many other British tribes in revolt against the Romans.
Cassius Dio, writing well over a hundred years later, describes Boudica as being exceptionally tall, having a fierce glare, harsh voice, red-brown hair to her hips, a large golden necklace around her neck, a multi-colored tunic covered by a heavy cloak fastened by a broach, armed with a spear and riding a chariot.5
He attributes a speech to her wherein she declares, “let us show them [the Romans] that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves.” According to his account, she then released a hare from her cloak as a form of divination similar to Etruscan augury, it ran in an auspicious direction, and she then prayed to the goddess Andraste “for victory, preservation of life, and liberty.” He also names “Andate” as the Iceni equivalent of the Roman Victoria, and alleges human sacrifice in Her sacred grove.6
At Camolodunum, Boudica’s first target, the statue of Victoria fell down and turned Her back towards the enemy as if fleeing. “Women excited to frenzy prophesied impending desturction,” the ocean was seen to be blood-red, a submerged town was seen in the Thames, the theater was filled with the wailing of spirits and the Senate was haunted by a disembodied voice laughing and speaking in a foreign language.7 Archaeological evidence suggests that when Boudica’s rebels sacked Camolodunum, whatever buildings they could not burn, they methodically leveled to the ground.8 Boudica next defeated the Ninth Legion, then proceeded to attack Londinium and Verulamium.9 Archaeologists have found layers of charred rubble in London dating to Boudica’s revolt.10
The Roman governor withdrew from Mona, gathered 10,000 troops, and fought a pitched battle against the British rebels, who brought their families in wagons to the edge of the battlefield.11 When the battle turned against the Britons, the wagons impeded their retreat, and they were slaughtered: Tacitus claims that 80,000 Britons were killed on that day.12 Boudica died, either through committing suicide with poison13 or because of illness.14 In the entire uprising, Tacitus claims that 70,000 Romans and allied Britons were killed,15 while Cassius Dio claims 80,000.16
- Tacitus, Annals 12.31.
- Ibid. 14.31.
- Cassius Dio, Roman History 62.2.
- Tacitus 14.30.
- Cassius Dio 62.2.
- Ibid. 62.5-6.
- Tacitus 14.32, many of the omens also repeated in Cassius Dio 62.1
- Jason Burke, “Dig uncovers Boudicca’s brutal streak.”
- Tacitus 14.32-3.
- Museum of London.
- Tacitus 14.34.
- Ibid. 14.37.
- Cassius Dio 62.12.
- Tacitus 14.33.
- Cassius Dio 62.1.
The Matres Ollototae are attested to from inscriptions from Roman Britain. The epithet comes from Brythonic ollo-, ‘all’ and teuta, touta, ‘tribe,’ or in other words “Mothers of All the Tribes.” Unlike most of the inscriptions to the Matres in Britian, at least one inscription was found at a non-military site (Heronbridge, Cheshire).
Another inscription, made by one Pomponius Donatus at Roman Fort Binchester in Durham County, links the epithet Ollotate to the epithet Transmarinae with the word sive, meaning “or.”
I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo) et Matribus Ollototis sive Tramarinis Pomponius Donatus, b(ene)f(iciarius) co(n)s(ularis) pro salute sua et suorum v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To Iupiter, Best and Greatest, and to the Mother Goddesses of All the Peoples, or Overseas, Pomponius Donatus, beneficiaries of the governor, for the welfare of himself and his household willingly fulfilled his vow’
The epithet Transmarinae is also found at Lowther, Plumpton Wall (Cumbria), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Tyne and Wear) and Risingham (Northunmberland). Transmarinus/a/um can mean either “beyond the sea” or “coming from beyond the sea.” But if They can hear prayers from across the sea, then They have in fact crossed the sea Themselves, making a combination of both meanings likely in my eyes. Perhaps, like the Chinese goddess Mazu (“Mother Ancestor”), who is a protectress of sailors and fishermen who has not one but two temples in San Francisco Chinatown, They may also have been seen as facilitating safe passage across the sea.
At York, an inscription was dedicated to the “African, Italian and Gaulish Mothers,” and at Winchester, one was dedicated to the “Italian, German, Gaulish and British Mothers.” These are clearly in the same vein as the inscriptions to the Matres Ollototae and the Matres Transmarinae.
Help us put on a Pan-Polytheist Hospitality Suite at Pantheacon! Strong Roots and Wide Branches, a Polytheist learning community, is hosting a hospitality suite at PantheaCon 2017. Our suite will provide dedicated shrine spaces to Ancestors and Gods from a variety of traditions. We will also provide Polytheist-focused classes, rituals, workshops, and spiritual triage services. We are dedicated to providing inclusive, safe and welcoming space for con attendees.
Donate here. Blessings and thanks.
My The Wild Hunt article “The Tiger’s Leap” starts with Walter Benjamin’s theories about the constant “emergency situation,” especially as experienced by Black and Brown people in the United States. It further explores his ideas about the “moment of danger,” “exploding the continuum of history” and relating to the past through “the tiger’s leap into that which has gone before […] into the open sky of history.” It then looks at calls to “make it impossible for this system to govern on stolen land” and the anti-DAPL struggle in particular.
I received this text in an email, and would like to share it with anyone reading this blog.
An emergency call from so-called North Dakota to all witches, pagans, and co-conspirators of earth centered spiritual faith to join us in resistance
This is a call. Not to be heard, but felt. A call to be moved. A call to action.
Many of you now know of the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux and innumerable other indigenous nations against the Black Snake called Dakota Access Pipeline. The prayer and action camp at Standing Rock has been sustaining a vibrant community in resistance to the pipeline since the spring, slowing down construction and withstanding militarized police harassment on a near daily basis. The 20 mile injunction placed on construction by the federal government has been lifted, and construction is now within just 6 miles of the Mni Sose River and the encampment. The battle has entered its most decisive moment.
Our indigenous relatives from across Turtle Island have come here to continue a struggle that has been kept alive for over half a millennium. They have come here as the original and sovereign land tenders, earth defenders, and water protectors of this place. As the original walkers of the path of right relationship. They have come here to take back power and to show leadership in the fight against exploitation and commodification, against the culture of colonization and inquisition, and for a healthy and bountiful world.
We are humbled and inspired by their initiatives, and unconditionally support them. Now is the time for us as allies in this anti-colonial struggle, to call upon our fellow comrades to join us on the battlefield.
To all who pray to our Earth and the water that cleanses her and brings forth life. To all who cast a circle and call in the elements, spirits, gods and goddesses, and deities; who ask for guidance from the spirit world. To those who listen to the ancestors as our descendants lay and wait. To those who align themselves with the cycles of the moon, the seasons, and the tides. For whom the cycle of life and death does not instill fear and aggression, but strength and comfort. To all who know how to listen.
It is time now witches, to deepen our work not only of casting spells and hexes, but of breaking them. We call forth the de-spelling of individualism, empire, spectacle, domestication, and whiteness.
It is time now witches to join us. Join us in spirit and join us in humility on this land. Bring your magick. Bring your prayers. Bring your bodies to the frontlines to protect all of creation. Come ready to take decisive action to kill this Black Snake. Come ready to follow in the path of indigenous warriors. We call you to join a frontline battle in a spiritual war that has been raging for centuries. A war against a dead civilization for all life on earth.
If you cannot come in body, take action from afar; the form of life of our enemies pervades all around us. If you cannot come, pray, cast, gather the coven, go to the wild, hold ritual, plan attacks. Ground yourself and continue to do the work. Continue to be moved.
We toss you a bundle of thread sweet witches, from the beautiful homelands of the Oceti Sakowin in each direction. It is the thread of centuries of resistance. Weave with it.
-A Clandestine Coven at Standing Rock
My latest article at The Wild Hunt, “Antifascism and the Dionysian Spirit,” commemorates the Iron Column of liberated prisoners and other “uncontrollables” which fought in the 1936 Spanish Civil War and Revolution despite the betrayal of their supposed comrades, critiques the statist “antifascism” prevalent within Heathenry and Polytheism, and explores the history of pro-Dionysian revolt in antiquity.