Tuesday, 17 February 2015


Yesterday, the 15th february marked the Roman festival of Lupercalia.

"The young men who were Luperci underwent a part of the ritual earlier in which the blood from the sacrificed goat and dog were mixed together, dabbed on their foreheads with a knife, and then wiped off subsequently with wool dipped in milk, signifying their transition from a lawless, wild state into a settled and civilized mode of life."

" The founders of Rome, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were raised by the Lupa (“she-wolf”) in the cave where this ritual took place, and in their lives after this, they were lawless hunter/raider warriors until their eventual foundation of the city."

These two passages taken from and article quoting P Sufenas Virius Lupus

After reading these and getting home from work, I dug out Dumezil's 'Mitra-Varuna' seeing as I can remember reading about the Luperci in that in relationship to two different yet complementary forms of sovereignty.

This counterpoint between the wild and outsider life and the civilised and societal life match up nicely with the Indo-European *koryos; the outsider youth contingents who have been posited are the forerunner to the Wild Hunt myths from across Europe. These *koryos have been found in a number of Indo-European derived cultures from India to Ireland and they also exist in mythic material from the same swathe of the Indo-European world.

The most relevant *koryos derived group is the Fianna of Fionn mac Cumhaill who nicely equates with our own Gwyn ap Nudd.

Now, what has also turned up I have found id that there is archaeological evidence of dog sacrifice and butchery from the Eurasia steppe which have been suggested were used as part of initiatory rites into a *koryos like group

“How are we to interpret this unique site?
Vedic texts refers to a group of sorcerers called ‘dog-priests’, Vrâtyas. They conducted a 12-day sacrificial ceremony at midwinter to heal nature and restore its vitality. In these texts the sacrificed victim was a cow. The winter-season ceremony at Krasnosamarskoe seems to have included both dogs and cattle. Several comparative mythologists  have suggested that this mid-winter sacrificial ceremony by dog- priests might be an ancient Indo-European one, reflected not just in Vedic myths, but also in the Roman Lupercalia, with its midwinter sacrifice of dogs; and the Scandinavian Twelve Nights of Christmas, originally a pagan festival during which the god Odin roars as a hunter through the forests with his dogs.”

Also mentioned is the process by which a boy is inducted into the world of the Indian equivalent of the *koryos; the Vratyas

“He studied with a teacher for 8 years, memorizing and reciting poetry among other tasks. As a mid-teenager he experienced a winter solstice ritual called the Ekastaka in which he ritually died to become a member of a roving warrior group, called the Vratyas. The midwinter ritual conveyed him to the world of his dead ancestors. He left the community of humans for four years to follow Rudra, the god of wildness and danger. Like Sigmund, he lived in the wild, painted his body black, and wore a black cape and a dog skin.”

There is a clear constellation here of the *koryos, the outsider group in society, dogs and dog sacrifice,  the Wild Hunt and also I think fertility.

The reason I am putting fertility into this comes partially from the Lupercalia rituals and also from the andedion (really nice article here ,also found on the Brython site. These are the spirits which appear to be the ‘demons of hell’ Gwyn rules over and contains, but who seem closely linked to chthonic spirits of fertility. Now, I am wondering if as the role of the *koryos diminished it became more of a mythic construct and the Koryonnos (god of the *koryos) and his Wild Hunt fulfilled the role of the original *koryos; an essential yet feared aspect to existence but essential in taking the 12 days around midwinter to chase off malign spirits and it some manner restore fertility to the land.

Will Parker's website with a very nice article on the andedion which inspired Lorna's linked articles can be found here.

1 comment:

Lorna Smithers said...

Interesting... I'm currently researching Gwyn's presence at the Battle of Arfderydd where he states his presence at the death of Gwenddolau where Myrddin goes mad. A factor in this is his vision of a host in the sky... during his period of madness, Myrddin is accompanied by 'gwyllon' wild spirits who Nikolai Tolstoy says may be spirits of the dead or of the Otherworld. Sooo like the spirits of Annwn. Myrddin Wyllt (wild or mad) sounds much like one of the Koryos. Wolves are also mentioned in the poems. One remembers that Gwyn drove Cyldydr 'Wyllt'. Perhaps it was a vision of Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn / Gwyllon (they sound very similar, don't they?) that drove Myrddin mad but also granted him the gift of prophecy, the voice of the Awen... Here we find the themes of civility and wildness, sanity and madness. And Gwyn playing a role in transitions between the two.