This writing will be an attempt at constructing a Belgic metaphysical concept, defining an immanent force which flows through everything, using brief understandings of Indo-European concepts both ancient and contemporary.
Pre-Christian Celtic and Germanic speaking people were not only polytheistic but also animistic. Animism is generally defined as the religious belief of attributing life and soul/spirit to natural phenomena. This can also be linked into the concept of Vitalism or the belief that living organisms contain a non-physical element or are governed by different principles that are inanimate things’, often linked with ‘elan vital’, a spark of life or energy. To summarize quickly, all material, organic or inorganic, has a soul or spirit that can be felt as or through a permeable ‘energy’. The definition of energy we would use is ‘the measurement of work capability’, which does not necessarily negate the idea of a ‘spiritual’ energy.
If this is indeed the case, it is possible that the Celtic and Germanic speaking people had a concept alongside Greek Pneuma or Psyche or Hindu Prana. As it is often, there is a lack of writing and information on said hypothetical concept in regards to Celtic and Germanic people during the time we wish to draw from. Therefore, as stated above, we will construct a concept that is similar in nature to the previously stated terms, and the Germanic word Mægen as it is used today.
(*NOTE* There are many similar concepts such as Orenda, Mana, and Qi. To save time, we will not explore those as one of the sources listed, Lārhūs Fyrnsida, already has quite adequately for their concept of Mægen, which is what will be looked at for a contemporary Germanic view. )
Pneuma is used as word for spirit or soul in a religious context, but carries the meaning of ‘breath’. In Stoic Philosophy, it is a mixture of air and fire or motion and warmth which organizes the cosmos and individual. It should be noted that pneuma is thought to be immanent in the universe.
Prana also has the meaning of ‘breath’ and is seen as a force of vitality. It is considered not just one’s breath, but also a non-material element in conjunction with one’s own breath. It is linked in Indian medicine, yoga and martial arts. It is also immanent in the universe.
One speculative concept for the Germanic speaking people has been expanded upon as Mægen or Main, which is translated as ‘might, strength, force, power, vigor, efficacy, virtue, faculty, ability’. If we look at the scientific definition of energy, then the term could be applied easily without much disagreement. Yet looking at the previous examples, it has no outright connotation to breath linguistically.
Eric Wodening fleshes out mægen by writing ‘At the very least we know all living things possess it, from bugs to men to gods (the asmegin, which Þunor has in abundance). Mægen could be transferred from person to person; hence we see kings lending their men spēd (another word for mægen) before they went on any important venture. A man could also lose mægen through various circumstances. Finally, mægen could be manipulated through the various metaphysical arts, such as galdor and seiðr.’
Sarenth Odinson expands on the concept of ‘önd’, which however does have the meaning of breath, creating a link with mægen; ‘Maegen is analogous to one’s personal luck or power. Where önd is the breath and analogous to chi or one’s personal energies, maegen is the strength by which those energies are felt, how they are wielded, and so on. We all start with önd, and some work with their önd quite well in context of building it, such as by learning breath control, inner control, meditation, and similar arts. Maegen is worked with and built by keeping your word, by exercising your Will in ways that build you up.’
The Lārhūs Fyrnsida also defines mægen as ‘the exerting force underlying all action within Fyrnsidu. Offerings are made to the Gods, the Gods return blessings in the form of mægen, the mægen produces fortuitous outcome and we repeat this process for further blessings’.
From the Celtic perspective however, it becomes a little more difficult. There are many words to fit these definitions but no outlined or attested words to describe the more complex nuances of prana, pneuma or even mægen (as it’s used today).
From personal conversation with Sharon Paice MacLeod: The Middle Welsh word ‘Awen’ and it’s Old Irish cognate ‘Aí’ both derive from the root *auí, which means inspiration but does include a related semantic range of ‘breath, wind’. Old Irish ‘Luth’ however means the act of moving; power of movement, motion; in wider sense of vigor, power, energy; less often as joy, rejoicing’.
From personal conversation with Segomâros Widugeni: ‘There are several words denoting victory, strength, and spiritual power in various combination. Nertos, gâlâ, boudios from which we get bua, brîgâ meaning high place, social status, and power, from which brí is derived, and segos denoting force, victory, and spiritual power’.
Any of these words could be used as a gloss for the metaphysical extrapolation we are attempting here. If we are building a Belgic religion however, it might be appropriate to take the term Segos for the over-arching term, as it could be likely that the Germanic ‘Sig/Sieg’ could be a descendant of Celtic ‘Seg’.
This also fits easier when we look at Delamarre’s entry for Sego;
victory, conquest, strength, might, force, power, authority, constraint, command, vigor, energy, efficiency, fortitude, resolution, skill, cleverness, proficiency.
If we consider all of this, we can say that Celtic speaking peoples may have had a concept of vitalism tied into animism indeed, via comparative studies of Greek and Hindu sources. The extrapolated and expanded/contemporary definition of Mægen gives us inspiration to create a similar concept given the precedence of proximity between the two linguistic groups in the Belgic regions.
Segos: The permeating force that flows through all things, which can produce beneficial phenomena such as victory and good luck. It can be accumulated in sacred beings (most especially the gods), objects, and places by virtuous deeds and participation in the gifting cycle. It is tied to one’s anatlâ (breath) and/or anatiâ (soul), in the sense that if anatlâ/anatiâ is the ‘capability of work’, Segos is the strength/force in which one can use that capability. It can be manipulated by or be used to perform Brixtâ (magic).
1. Vitalism by William Bechtel and Robert C. Richardson Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
2. A Greek-English Lexicon by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott
3. Stoicism by John Sellars in University of California Press (2006) p. 98-104.
5. Prana by Hillary Rodrigues (http://www.mahavidya.ca/2008/04/15/prana/)
6. The Hindu Temple, Volume 1 by Stella Kramrisch p. 51
7. Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary ‘MÆGEN’
8. We Are Our Deeds: The Elder Heathenry, Its Ethic and Thew by Eric Wodening p. 28-31
9. Oaths, Maegen, and Hamingja by Sarenth Odinsson
10. Mægen by Lārhūs Fyrnsida
11. Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (2nd ed.) by Xavier Delamarre (2003) p. 268-269