Sulis Minerva or Sul Minerva is a Celtic goddess with a temple having been dedicated to her at Bath. She is analogous to the Roman goddess Minerva and the Greek goddess Athena. Sulis Minerva is the goddess of wells, water and sacred springs. In the Roman pantheon, Minerva is a virgin goddess of trade, defense, poetry, commerce, medicine, weaving, crafts and magic. In her guise as Athena, the masterful weaver, she is the goddess who rules over skill, arts, crafts, warfare and wisdom.
Depictions and epithets
Charles Isaac Elton writes in the “Origins of English History,” the Gaulish Minerva was the goddess who taught humankind the arts, labors, spinning, weaving, smith craft and to sow and till the soil. According to H. M. Searth, who writes “On the Roman Remains at Bath” appearing in the “Journal of the British Archaeological Association,” the Sul and Sul-Minerva are the same deity: A single, androgynous deity ruling over the waters, with the Sul-Minerva serving as the feminine aspect and Apollo serving as the masculine.
In “Britannia after the Romans,” Algernon Herbert explains that devotees of Sulis Minerva were called “Sulines.” He also writes that the word “Sulis” is the feminine version of “sul,” which is the British word for the word “sol” or “sun.” She is also referred to as Suli Minerva, an epithet meaning “great.” Additional epithets include Sulivia and Sulina.
Images of Minerva depict her wearing a coat of mail, a helmet and carrying a shield. Sometimes she is portrayed carrying a spear and wearing a long drapery or cloak. Other times she is depicted with the owl of Minerva or the owl of Athena: A symbol associated with wisdom.
Sulis Minerva’s temple at Bath
Sir James Henry Ramsay writes in “The Scholar’s History of England,” that the springs at Bath were dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva, also known as Sul Minerva, and that there was a temple in the same location along with a college of priests dedicated to keeping the perpetual fire burning on her altar. In the “Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology,” the perpetual fire in her temple is described as being the reason why this goddess is called “Belisama,” meaning “most brilliant,” who is Belenus' consort and a goddess of crafts, light, lakes and rivers. The same source explains that the Minerva is merged with the Sulis, the British healing goddess. She is analogous to Brigit, the fire goddess and the British goddess Brigantia.
According to Searth, the deity was often worshipped outdoors, on hilltops, and sulines would gather at locations near Bath, including “Sols-bury and Salsbury crags, near Edinburgh,” on May 1 or Beltane in order to honor the rising sun. Sulis Minerva rules over “mineral waters,” and she had at least two temples dedicated to her in or near Bath; There were also at least two temples dedicated to Apollo. In “The Canadian Journal of Industry, Science and Art,” Rev. John McCaul writes in “Notes on Latin Inscriptions Found in Britain,” that many altars were erected in Bath to the goddess presiding over the waters as “a thank-offering for health restored or as a propitiation during sickness for recovery.”
Festivals and days of celebration
Since Sulis Minerva is akin to Brigit, Feb 1-2 is an ideal for honoring the Celtic goddess. In Roman traditions, the Quinquatria meaning, “Festival of Minerva,” was held on March 19 every year. According “A Classical Dictionary,” the day was a five-day celebration; The first included sacrifices to the goddess and the remaining four days included gladiator fights. In a “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology,” Sir William Smith writes that because Minerva is a virginal, maiden goddess, sacrifices to her “consisted of calves that had not borne the yolk or felt the sting.” Smith also explains that at her festivals, Minerva was invoked by anyone who wanted to be distinguished in any craft or art, including weaving, spinning, dyeing, medicine, teaching, poetry or painting. Another festival honoring Minerva occurs in June called the Quinquatrus Minores. The Quinquatria was five days in length because the number five is sacred to this goddess. Since the ancient Celts revered Sulis Minerva by viewing the rising sun on Beltane, the fire-festival is another excellent time to honor the deity.
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