Hesus. Esus

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Important god of ancient Gaul, known both from Latin commentaries and from archaeological evidence; often mentioned in the company of the Gaulish gods Taranis and Teutates. Although the testimony of Lucan (1st cent. ad) has been challenged as biased against the Gauls and contrived to pander to metropolitan prejudices, it cannot be ignored. He portrays an ‘uncouth Esus of the barbarous altars’. Human sacrifices are suspended from trees and ritually wounded; unnamed priests read omens from which way the blood ran from wounds. Ancient scholiasts linked Esus to both Mercury and Mars, the latter implying he might be a patron of war. Depictions of Esus as a woodcutter have prompted much imaginative speculation, but the earlier suggestion of a link between Esus and Cúchulainn now seems ill-founded. One temple features three symbolic representations of egrets; he is also associated with the crane.

Although Esus' cult was thought confined to Gaul, the discovery of Lindow Man, the body of an ancient human sacrifice found in Cheshire in 1984, implied to some commentators the propitiation of Esus in Britain. Although Esus was worshipped in many parts of Gaul, he appears to have been the eponymous god of the Esuvii of north-west Gaul, on the English Channel, coextensive with the modern French Department of Calvados. In popular etymology his name is commemorated in the Breton town of Essé.

See Waldemar Deonna, ‘Les Victimes d'Esus’, Ogam, 10 (1958), 3–29;Paul-Marie Duval, ‘Teutatés, Esus, Taranis’, Études Celtiques, 8 (1958), 41–58;Anne Ross, ‘Esus et les trois “grues”’, Études Celtiques, 9 (1960/1), 405–38.

Subjects: Religion.

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