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Nodens, also known as Nudens and Nodons, is the Celtic god most commonly associated with healing, sea, hunting, and wealth. In medieval Welsh legends, the god’s name changed over time, from Nodens to Nudd, and later it became Llud.
The god’s name has Germanic roots, meaning to catch or a mist, linking him to fishing, hunting, and water. Nodens had many epithets, including The Lord of Waters, He Who Bestows Wealth, The Great King, Cloud Maker as well as The God of the Abyss, where abyss refers to either the sea or the Underworld.
Nodens’ Mythology and Similarities with Other Deities
Not much is known about the god Nodens. His myth is mostly put together from various archaeological inscriptions and artifacts. In Welsh mythology, he’s widely known as Nudd or Llud. Some equate him to the Irish god of the sea, warfare, and healing, called Nuada. There are also striking similarities between Nodens and the Roman gods Mercury, Mars, Sylvanus, and Neptune.
Nodens in Welsh Mythology
The Welsh Celts in Britain associated Nodens or Nudd with healing and the seas. He was the son of Beli Mawr, or Beli the Great, who was the Celtic god associated with the sun, and the brother of Gofannon, the Divine Smith.
According to the Welsh legend, Gofannon was the great smith, forging powerful weapons for the gods. He’s also known for forging a prosthetic hand out of silver for his wounded brother Nodens. For this reason, Nodens was closely connected to amputees, and his worshipers would make representations of small body parts out of bronze and give them as offerings.
In Welsh folklore, Nodens was also known as the king Llud or Llud of the Silver Hand. He appears as a legendary figure in the 12th and 13th century literature, known as the King of Britain, whose kingdom suffered the three great plagues.
- Firstly, the kingdom was struck with plague in the form of otherwordly dwarfs, called the Cornanians.
- After that, the second plague arrived in the form of the two hostile dragons, one white and the other red.
- And the third plague was in the form of a giant who was relentlessly raiding the kingdom’s food supply.
The legendary king called upon his wiser brother and asked for help. Together they put an end to these misfortunes and restored the kingdom’s prosperity.
Nodens and Nuada
Many identified Nodens with the Irish deity Nuada because of their mythological parallels. Nuada, also known as Nuada Airgetlám, meaning Nuada of the Silver Arm or Hand, was the original king of Tuatha Dé Danann before they came to Ireland.
Once they reached the Emerald Isle, they encountered the infamous Fir Bolg, who challenged them to battle after trying to claim half of their land. The battle was known as The First Battle of Mag Tuired, which Tuatha Dé Danann won, but not before Nuada had lost his hand. Since Tuatha Dé Danann’s rulers had to be physically intact and perfect, Nuada was no longer allowed to be their king and was replaced by Bres.
However, Nuada’s brother, by the name of Dian Cecht, together with the divine physician, made a beautiful prosthetic arm for Nuada out of silver. Over time, his arm became his own blood and flesh, and Nuada dethroned Bres, who, after his seven years of ruling, proved to be unfit to continue being the king because of his tyranny.
Nuada ruled for another twenty years, after which he died in another battle in combat against Balor, known as the Evil Eye.
Nodens and Roman Deities
Many ancient plaques and statues found throughout Britain are evidence of the close link of Nodens with a number of Roman deities.
In Lydney Park, in Britain, ancient plaques and curse tablets were found bearing inscriptions dedicated to the Roman deity, Deo Marti Nodonti, meaning To the God Mars Nodons, linking Nodens to the Roman god of war, Mars.
Hadrian’s Wall, a Roman fortification in ancient Britannia, bears an inscription dedicated to the Roman god Neptune, who’s also associated with Nodens. Both deities are closely connected to the seas and freshwaters.
Nodens is also identified with the roman deity Sylvanus, who’s commonly associated with forests and hunting as well.
Depiction and Symbols of Nodens
There are different remnants found in temples dedicated to Nodens, that date back to the 4th century. These recovered bronze artifacts that were probably used as vessels or head-pieces depict a sea deity with a crown of sun rays driving a chariot, pulled by four horses and attended by two tritons, sea-gods with a human upper body and a tail of a fish, and two winged guardian spirits.
Nodens was often associated with different animals, emphasizing his healing attributes. He was usually accompanied by dogs as well as fish, such as salmon and trout.
In Celtic tradition, dogs were regarded as very powerful and highly spiritual animals that could travel between the realms of the dead and the living unharmed, and guide souls to their final resting place. The dogs were regarded as symbols of healing, as they could heal their wounds and injuries by licking them. Trout and salmon were also considered to have healing powers. Celts believed that the mere sight of these fish could cure the sick.
Nodens’ Places of Worship
Nodens was widely worshiped throughout ancient Britain as well as Gaul, which is partly today’s western Germany. The most prominent temple complex dedicated to Nodens is found in Lydney Park near the town of Gloucestershire, in England.
The complex is located at a unique site, overlooking the Severn River. It’s believed that due to its position and overlay, the temple was a healing shrine, where sick pilgrims would come to rest and heal.
The excavated complex remains show that the temple was a Romano-Celtic building. The discovered inscriptions, in the form of various bronze plates and reliefs, prove that the temple was built in Nodens’ honor as well as other deities associated with healing.
The remains show evidence that the temple was separated into three distinct chambers, indicating the possible worship of a deity triad, most notably Nodens, Mars, and Neptune, with each chamber dedicated to one of them. The main chamber’s floor used to be covered in mosaic.
The surviving parts of it show imagery of a sea-god, fish, and dolphins, suggesting Nodens’ connection to the sea. There were other numerous small findings recovered, including several dog statues, a plaque depicting a woman, a bronze arm, and several hundred bronze pins and bracelets. All of these seem to indicate Nodens and Mars’ association with healing and childbirth. The bronze arm, however, is thought to be the remains of the worshipers’ offerings.
To Wrap Up
Due to the obvious connection to other deities, the mythology surrounding Nodens has been, to some extent, distorted. However, we can conclude that the Germanic and English tribes were somewhat related and mixed up before the arrival of Romans. Much like Lydney’s temple complex, evidence shows that the Romans didn’t suppress local tribes’ religions and gods, but rather integrated them with their own pantheon.