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Celtic God of the Willow
Though there is no direct evidence for the worship of Esos - the ‘Good
Master’ - in Britain, and little elsewhere, he is mentioned by the Roman
poet, Lucan, as a powerful Celtic god encountered by Caesar’s troops in
Southern Gaul. Equated with Mars, he was apparently savage, cruel and
"Horrid Esus with his wild altars" demanded human sacrifices. Later
commentators indicate that the male victims were stabbed, hung in trees and
allowed to bleed to death. The implication is that Esos was widely reverred,
but archaeological evidence is scant.
He is best attested on a large decorated pillar bearing his name, but
dedicated to Jupiter. It was discovered below the Notre Dame in Paris in
1711 and depicts a muscular man chopping away at a willow tree. A juxtaposed
scene shows a bull with three cranes or egrets on its back, named
Tarvostrigaranus - the 'Bull with Three Cranes'. Similar iconography
appears on a stone from Trier.
The symbolism is almost impossible to interpret and may relate to some
long lost mythology. The Willow and the Cranes are associated with the water's
edge, so perhaps Esos was a marshland god. The tree is presumably that in
which his victims were sacrificed, by why he prunes it is uncertain. Possibly
it shows the destruction and rebirth of the Tree of Life in Winter and Spring.
The birds may represent spirits during the former process. They are natural
and matually beneficial companions for the Bull, which enhances the fertility
symbolism of the tree. Magical groups of three birds appear in Welsh mythology
and, to the Irish, cranes may reprsent women. In this context, the Tarvostrigaranus
may just possibly be represnted by a small bronze triple-horned bull figurine found
at the Roman Temple within the hillfort of Maiden's Castle (Dorset). It shows
three female humoid figures perched on its back.