Welcoming the Spring: Storms, Floods, and the Passing of Winter

In the Upper Midwest, many people by the time February rolls around are biting at the bit for spring to show up.  When March rolls around and the weather starts to warm up, we are happy to see that the snow is melting and the days are starting to get warmer.  However, many of us don’t feel that the spring time has arrived until the first storms of the season come through.  The electricity in the air and the washing away of the rest of the snow adds to this.  Here in the Midwest, spring is also marked with the rising of the Mississippi River.

Floods and Storms

The spring floods are always a concern among local people who live along the river.  In 2019, the flooding was responsible for 12 deaths and around $20 billion in economic losses in agriculture as well as other industries.  On average, the flooding last 2-3 weeks with the record sitting around 25-45 days, that was until 2019 where waters were above the flood plane for 85-105 days. [1]  The earliest recorded flooding was in 1543 with explorers who were scouting the region and many Native American Tribes, who have been cultivating the land along the river for thousands of years, would set up their agriculture in accordance with the spring floods and place their settlements out of the flood zone. [2]  These floods always comes after the start of the spring storms.  The storms speed up the melting of the snow and the water naturally drains to the local waterways.  Local farmers have inherited much folklore regarding local weather.  In the US, the Farmers Almanac is a great source for coming to better understand local folklore regarding the changing of the year and weather.  Some of local folklore examples regarding spring storms include: [3]

Thunder in March betokeneth a fruitful year

When April blows her horn [thunders],
It’s good for both hay and corn

Thunder in spring,
Cold will bring.

Summer storms in June and July are also common, but that is a topic for another article.

A common theme among ancient Pagan culture involves telling stories that explain what people run into with their lives.  This includes weather and seasonal changes.  As a Pagan of the Upper Midwest, it is important to connect the local natural cycles with the ritual year.  When we look at the patterns of how the local weather is and how the environment reacts to this, what we have is that:

The weather starts to warm up, the spring storms comes, and with the coming of the rain the waters that have been trapped in the snow and the winter has finally been released to bring fertility to the land.  The waters of the Mississippi have finally been released and they are able to flow again.

The key players in this story involves the storms, the snows of winter, the river, and the land.  As a Gaulish Polytheist, I would be approaching this from an Indo-European approach.  In addition, there is quite a bit of local folklore that is already in place regarding these things, so I will be also looking to accommodate the local lore when appropriate.

The Storms of Spring

When looking at Indo-European cosmology, storms are marked with a warrior thunder god who defeats the monsters of chaos and is associated with the sacred order.   With Gaulish Polytheism, there are a few gods that seem to have connections to lightning, but none identified more strongly then the god Taranis.  Much of the imagery we have regarding him comes from the Gallo-Roman period and was easily identified with the Roman God Jupiter.  His imagery shows him dressed in armor, riding a horse (thunder of the hooves riding), and holding a wheel and lighting bolts.  He is identified by ancient writings as being one of the chief gods among the Gaulish people. [4]

Myself and others in the area have identified Taranis (or an aspect of him) with the local Sky god for several years now.  I made the connection to him in 2004-2005 while working with the bluffs in the Coulee Region.  It was obvious to me at the time that his time of the year was in June and July (later verified by Gallo-Roman research), but his presence was always first felt in the spring and the spring storms like a rider coming into the area.  When looking at this relationship, we first feel hints of spring in February (despite that it still feels like winter) and it doesn’t really start to come up until March.  The spring storms though really mark the end of winter and are soon followed by the spring floods.

The Snows of Winter

Indo-European culture has many stories regarding winter, which is in most cases personified as a female goddess or winter queen.  There are a few examples of male figures associated with winter, but it is usually some aspect that is connected to the winter season.  Examples include Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) in Slavic and Russian traditions [5] and the Greek god Boreas, represents the spirit of winter cold and the winds that blow down from the north. [6]  With the lack of legends with the Gaulish Celts, we cannot pull from the lore directly in order to make a connection here, however Indo-European cross analysis along with local folklore can give us some clues.

The idea of the winter female goddess or winter queen is certainly a common point to look at.  Among the Irish and Scottish, we have the figure of Cailleach who is identified as the spirit of the winter season and is the mother of all the gods in Scottish folklore.  She is positioned in juxtaposition to Brìghde, who is seen as the goddess of the spring and summer and many believe them to be two faces of the same goddess [7].  When looking at the European continent, specifically in the Alpine region, there is folklore of a winter witch named Frau Perchta (meaning ‘bright’ or ‘shining’).  According to folklore, she can either look like a young beautiful woman or and elderly hag with a large foot (in some cases, a large duck foot).  She is associated with spinning and the enforcement of social taboos.  Many local people feel that the spinning associates her with controlling the fate of the world and that she is connected to an older winter goddess of the mountains. [8]  (Within the Gaulish Polytheism Community, Nemeton Eluêtion has a wonderful break down of Frau Perchta and her role as a goddess of the Alps here).  Here in the Upper Midwest, local folklore is a mix of native stories and the stories that people brought with them from Europe.  When looking at local native tribes, we see that the Ojibwe stories also have similar themes to what we find in Europe.  According to Ojibwe legends, a spirit named Peboan would walk the land and his presence would bring the cold and the ice with him until the coming of another spirit, Seegwin, would drive him away and bring the spring and the summer time. [9]

As a Gaulish Polytheist and in the spirit of both Scottish and Alpine folklore, keeping the theme of a Winter Hag that has shapeshifting abilities makes the most sense.  She can either be pleasant or stern, depending on what manifestation we see. In addition, with the connection to spinning fate, we have a few options available.  The Cailleach is seen as an ancestor goddess and is believed to have been the creator of the world.  Some of the Gaulish traditions also connect the role of fate with the Dêwâs Matres, divine ancestors of the tribes, and the idea of fate being connected to the role of ancestors of the people is a common theme among the Indo-European people. [10]  So what we are looking at is a ancestral spirit of the land, who is connected with fate and deep ancestral magic (perhaps set it in motion?) and the enforcement of community taboos.  Given the connection to winter and the most northern regions of the world, having her return to her home in the north with the coming of the spring time also makes sense in this case.

For simplicity sake, I would call her the Grandmother Winter in English (or Winter Hag).  In Gaulish, the name Grandmother Winter is Senomâtîr Giamos.  When looking more at Frau Perchta in the Alpine region, bright/shining maiden (like the glitter of snow), Bânoenigenâ would also be appropriate, depending on how she shows herself. [11]

The River

The river in this case is the Mississippi.  There is tons of folklore regarding the river and most people in the Midwest refer to the Mississippi as “Old Man River” or “Old Man Mississippi”.  The name Mississippi originates with the Anishinabe (Ojibwe) people, who called it Messipi (means ‘Big River’ or ‘Father of Rivers).  In addition, the Dakota people called the river Hahawakpa (River of the Falls). [12]  Many Pagans in the US also have relationships with the river, given it’s predominance in the Midwest.  A good example of what this looks like includes a Gaulish Polytheist named Selgowiros Caranticnos, who refers to Old Man Mississippi as Rênoatîr Leitodubrii (check out his article here).

When we look at how Indo-European polytheist related with their local river ways, we see some interesting themes come up.  Rivers were places of offerings and waterways were seen as places of transport to the Otherworld, specifically in relation to the passing of the dead.  The honoring of river spirits and gods was a common practice in both Roman Gaul and Britain.  These river spirits and gods used both male and female descriptors (mostly female), but examples of male river gods include the god Condatis, who had four inscriptions dedicated to him in County Durham, England and references made to him as far as Gaul.  His name means “waters meet” and he seems to have been associated with protection and healing.  The idea of healing, life, death, abundance, and the giving of the wealth of the Earth as well as protection seem to be a common theme among river gods and spirits. [13]

When looking at the Mississippi River, we do see some of these characteristics.  The Mississippi River is a source of life, economic trade, and abundance in the Midwest.  It can also be a source of death (people drowning in the floods) and for some it can be both a source of great wealth and a reminder of racial oppression.  It is connected to one of the largest water sheds on the continent, and is the largest river in North America.  With the river’s name meaning “great or big waters”, some options for naming the river god in Gaulish includes Mâroabonâ (Great River), Abonâtîr (Father of Rivers), or with the amount of water birds like cranes on the river, Garanosâtîr (Crane Father). [14]

From a story stand point, given that the spring storms release the waters that flood the land and bring fertility to the land would indicate that the storm god, in this case Taranis, either releases the river god (possibly from the Otherworld, Andumnos) or at least clears the way for the River God to return to the world.

The Land

The last character in this is the land herself.  When looking at the state of Wisconsin, there are 5 geographic regions: the Lake Superior Lowlands, the Northern Highlands, the Central Plain, the Eastern Lowlands, and the Western Uplands.  In regards to the Mississippi River and the region that live, we are looking at the Western Uplands. [15]   The Western Uplands is the part of Wisconsin that was not touched during the last Ice Age and most represents how the Upper Midwest looked like before the coming of the glaciers.  The land is filed with rock crops, bluffs, and various other features.  Oak, hickory, maple, and birch trees are common and given the layout of the local landscape, most communities and cities are smaller. [16]  When looking at the relationship between the local land and the river, the river slowly creeps along, winding through the land, laying deposits of water where they flow and  adding the abundance of life in it’s wake.  The land is ancient and solid in it’s foundations, providing the gifts of the bounty of the land.

In this particular case, we are not looking at the Earth Mother herself (known as Danu to some, Litauiâ to others), but a local providential goddess associated with the abundance of the land and the protection of the people. [17]  When looking at other goddesses of abundance in the Gaulish regions, what we usually see is a goddess sitting on a throne or seat, holding a cornucopia and surrounded with other images of food, wealth, and animals.  Any of these images would do to represent the local land goddess.  As for names, many writers of the Coulee Region, especially poets, have written about there love of the region.  Possible names given to the land include Benâcemenûxelâ (Lady of the Bluffs), Leitâtanomâtîr (Mother of the gray tree/Cottonwood), or Benârincâ (Lady of Grain). [18]

Additional Characters

All stories have their supporting cast.  Here are some of the additional characters in the story we are telling:

  • Eponâ: Goddess honored in Gaul, especially in the Roman period.
  • Brigandu: Goddess honored on the northern and western regions of Gaul as well as the British Isles.
  • Dusios (demon/devil): This is a name used generally for monstrous beast that were beveled to wonder the wilds of Europe.  These beast men usually were hairy and had horns, who stole children and assaulted them.
  • Dexosgaiton (South/favorable Wind): This is the name for the horse that Taranis rides in on because the storms of summer always comes in on the south wind in the Upper Midwest.
The Telling of a Story……..

So with what we have after looking at the different characters of the story, as well as how they relate with each other, let me tell you a story…………..

As in the ancient times, Senomâtîr Giamos walked the land.  With every step, her presence has kept the abundance of the land subdued under the cold of winter snow.  The people of the land, who have been huddled inside, hiding from the beast and the cold cry out.  They light their fires, calling to the gods and their ancestors for the ending of their hardship.  On the smoke of their fires, the fire bringer Brigandu lifts their prayers to the heavens where they are heard by the thunder god, Taranis.  Taranis, hearing their prayers, consults the Horse Maiden Eponâ and Brigandu, who have been among the people during this dark time.  Eponâ tells Taranis how she has ridden across the land driving the Dusios away from the settlements of man.  Brigandu, who gave the gifts of homesteading and civilization to the tribes of man, tells Taranis how their homes have grown colder in the long winter, their food stores running low.  Taranis grabs the reigns of his horse, Dexosgaiton, and with the power of the storms, rides forth from his blessed halls.

The Thunderer rides across the land with the power of the spring storms on the hooves of Dexosgaiton.  The Dusios are driven under hoof as lightning cracks across the land.  Senomâtîr Giamos, honoring the ancient contract, understands that her time on the land ends and it is now time for the Goddess of the Land, Benârincâ, to awaken from her slumber.  The Winter Hag with her spindle staff turns towards her home in the north, while the Dusios are driven back to their caves.  Under the hooves of Dexosgaiton, the earth warms and the goddess Benârincâ awakens.  Seeing the last of the snow recede and feeling the warming of the summer breeze that rode in with Taranis, she calls to Abonâtîr, the River God, who had been banished to the dark realms of Andumnos by the winter hag, Senomâtîr Giamos.

Abonâtîr, wandering in the darkness of Andumnos, hears the calling of Benârincâ and knows that his banishment has ended.  Through her calling, he finds his way out of the dark realms and back to the light.  When Abonâtîr arrives to the land, the waters that have been trapped in the earth are released with him.  The rivers swell and the death of winter is finally washed away back to Andumnos.  From the flooding waters, new growth springs forth from the land and the abundance of the Earth returns to the people.

 

Resources:
  1. Mississippi River Floods of 2019: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_River_floods_of_2019
  2. Mississippi River: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_River#Native_Americans
  3. 2020 Farmers Almanac: https://www.almanac.com/news/everything-almanac-news/nature%E2%80%99s-fireworks
  4. Widugeni, Segomâros. “TaranisNemeton Segomâros: Gaulish Polytheism in the woods of Florida:  http://polytheist.com/segomaros/2015/06/29/taranis/
  5. Sokolskaya, Eugenia. “Grandfather Frost: More than Just Santa Claus” Russian Life:https://russianlife.com/stories/online/grandfather-frost-more-than-just-santa-claus
  6. THEOI. “Boreas” THEOI: Greek Mythology. https://www.theoi.com/Titan/AnemosBoreas.html
  7. Loughlin, Annie. “Brìde and the Cailleach” Tairis: A Gaelic Polytheist Website: http://www.tairis.co.uk/an-tri-naomh/bride-and-the-cailleach/
  8. Chainey, Dee. “Snow Queens and Winter Witches from Around the World” Folklore Thursday: https://folklorethursday.com/christmas/top-10-snow-queens-and-winter-hags-from-around-the-world-2/
  9. McLeod, Jaime. “Winter Spirit: A Weather Folklore” Farmer’s Almanac: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/weather-ology-winter-spirit-16509
  10. Widugeni, Segomâros. “Dêwâs Matres” Nemeton Segomâros: Gaulish Polytheism in the woods of Florida:  http://polytheist.com/segomaros/2016/02/22/dewas-matres/
  11. Toutâ Galation “Gaulish Dictionairy” Toutâ Galation, Tumblr: https://touta-galation-official.tumblr.com/dictionairy

  12. National Park Services: River Facts: https://www.nps.gov/miss/learn/education/upload/brjfact.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1jpJ03JVLhZ-oOXriqJPw-pLJwU8urpOVG_wZIcNiYqkVAV3F2DAVMhD8
  13. Green, Miranda.  The Gods of the Celts Sutton. Sutton Publishing Ltd. 1986
  14. Toutâ Galation “Gaulish Dictionairy” Toutâ Galation, Tumblr: https://touta-galation-official.tumblr.com/dictionairy
  15. The Geographical Provinces of Wisconsin: https://www.wisconline.com/wisconsin/geoprovinces/index.html
  16. The Western Uplands of Wisconsin: https://www.wisconline.com/wisconsin/geoprovinces/westernupland.html
  17. Anatiaxtâ (Animism): Bessus Nouiogalation: Custom of the New Galatîs: https://nouiogalatis.org/2020/02/17/anatiaxta-animism/
  18. Toutâ Galation “Gaulish Dictionairy” Toutâ Galation, Tumblr: https://touta-galation-official.tumblr.com/dictionairy

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