Bessus Cauaron

Hero cultus has been described as being an important aspect of establishing local/group identity, therefore in order to further regionalize our practice it must be an option for our respective religions. This concept is found in Greek and Roman religious concepts but seldom extrapolated on in Celtic and Germanic religious studies where mainly the gods are concerned.

The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World defines a ‘hero’ as ‘a figure less powerful than a god, to whom cult was paid. He was normally conceived as a mortal who had died, and the typical site of such a cult was a tomb. But various kinds of minor supernatural figure came to be assimilated to the class and, as in the case of Heracles, the distinction between a hero and a god could be uncertain’.

‘Even historical individuals who displayed outstanding powers- warriors, athletes, founders of colonies-could become heroes. Above all, perhaps, it was the restricted and local scope of the heroes that made them popular. The hero retrained the limited and partisan interests of his mortal life. He would help those who lived in the vicinity of his tomb or belonged to the tribe of which he himself was the founder. Gods had to be shared with the world, but a village or a kinship group could have exclusive rights in a hero. (Heracles with his Panhellenic scope was a rare exception.) Thus hero-cults were the best focus for particular loyalties; and heroes were in general the great local helpers, particularly in battle, their natural sphere’.

As we see here, this definition cultivates the idea of certain heroes being closed off for worship in some regards, and yet it also fairly open. If one claimed kinship with the group the hero belonged to, it would be within that person’s scope to adopt them into the praxis. If they do not belong to that group, but dwell in the vicinity of the heroes tomb/cultic site, they are allowed their praxis as well.

What the Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World does not mention is that ‘heroes’ can sometimes less than kindly disposed. At times they were instituted as a way of propitiation, such as the Children of Caphyae who died unjustly. It’s this rectification that can institute a hero cultus to ‘transform’ a former enemy, ghost, etc. into a defender or protector.

The types of heroic cults in Greek Religion vary. James Whitley gives us four types of Hero Cults;

  •   Oikist cults (Founder cults)
  •   Named hero cults, such Oedipus at Athens
  •   Cults to local heroes
  •   Oracular heroes (heroes that were deemed to be treated as such by an oracle)

For the Bolgoi (as well as general Galatis), the paper From Tomb to Temple: On the Role of Hero Cults in Local Religions in Gaul and Britain demonstrates a major precedence of Celtic hero cult.

We don’t have the names for the heroes of these cults, (unless we take Haussler at his word that some theonyms may actually have been apotheosized heroes) but we do have names (and sometimes short stories) of famous ‘Keltoi’ from classical authors. Often, these names come with tribal, local and regional affiliation. Therefore, for the aspiring regional Galatis, hero cultus would be a must have in their religion/culture.

Traits of hero cults

  • Generally local
  • Based on body/corpse of hero in the Earth (or body part). The body was considered a talisman of beneficial qualities to the community. **For the Bogloi, this would be the *Lîcon of the Cauaros/as, *Colannis for the general Galatis**.
  • Sometimes would be marked in secret to prevent outsiders/the uninitiated from taking the remains or offering to heroes.
  • Animal sacrifice resulted in choice cut of meat going to the hero. (The rest is consumed by the practitioner)
  • Libations included water, wine, oil, milk, emulsified honey or blood of sacrifice (poured into the mouth of corpse via a tube, or into the ground)
  • Offerings/Sacrifices are directed into a depression/pit
  • Heroes were dead where the corpse was located, but immortal in a sort of paradise thatcontrasted the normal transitional afterlife (Elysium vs Hades)
  • Heroes could come back to life both in their paradise but also in the present time of their followers. The sacred space could become identically (notionally) to the paradise abode.
  • Vegetarian type meals could be shared between heroes and devotee, especially in private sacrifices

We can see here that this particular type of cultus is centered on the corpse or body (or even body part). This presents an issue; how can we have hero cultus if the Bolgos/Bolgas does not possess access to any of the *Lîcon of a cauaros? And how many *Lîcon can there be of a certain Cauaros/as?

An image (delua) may work in place of an actual *Lîcon/*Colannis, but they may have to be buried in a specific spot for cultic practices (a sort of votive body for the purposes of ritual).

We may rationalize that while Hero cult may be centered on locality in antiquity, we who are attempting to become more like the people who had these regional cultural religious expressions are interconnected today in ways that were previously considered impossible.

The vested interests of the Bolgoi and their cauaroi may be enough to tie them together in practice, despite the *Lîcon being far removed from the Bolgos/Bolgas’ locale. Another solution is to acquire an object or piece of the locale from which the cauaros/as’ *Lîcon dwells to give a connective tissue to the votive *Lîcon.

*An idea that comes directly from fellow Galatis Artogenos Windoguđđus, where perhaps the votive body needs to be gifted to the new practitioner of the cult from a previous member, creating a communal lineage and solidifying the ‘regional’ identity. This would/could be done if the practitioners are not in proximity to one another and cannot participate in cult where one votive body is located.

*From Segomaros Widugeni: “Another way to get a focal image, when it is impossible to obtain one from the Old Country, so to speak, might be to invoke the hero into a statue or something similar. The statue thus becomes alive, and the hero’s body in a fairly literal sense. At that point, the hero may give instructions on how they want to be treated. This can also be done with deities, of course.It was a common practice among Neoplatonists, who probably got it from standard Greco Roman practice. It is also common in Siberian Shamanism.”

**Intricate nuances of the varied hero cults will be private and should remain so.**

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Resources used

1. The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World (edited by) John Boardman, Jasper Griffin and Oswyn Murray

2. From tomb to temple: on the role of hero cults in local religions in Gaul and Britain in the Iron Age and the Roman period by Ralph Haeussler

3. The Sacrificial Rituals of Greek Hero-Cults in the Archaic to Early Hellenistic Period by Gunnel Ekroth

4. Relevant facts about ancient Greek hero cults

5. The Monuments That Stood before Marathon: Tomb Cult and Hero Cult in Archaic Attica by James Whitley