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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, but 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 mutually 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 represent women. In this context, the Tarvostrigaranus may just possibly be represented 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 humanoid figures perched on its back.


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