As most of you might have figured by now, I love religious history and mythology. In my spare time I love to read myths and legends from all over the world and see how their Gods, Goddesses and other creatures were seen and maybe even worshipped. A few years ago that curiousity got me thinking: what about my own cultural heritage? What about the Dutch Gods and Goddesses of Old? I’ve been researching on and off ever since and have been surprised with what I’ve found. So far I’ve uncovered 29 Gods and Goddesses specific to the Dutch region, not including the Germanic Gods. In this series I want to share some of my findings with you, and introduce you into the marvelous world of Dutch mythology!
What we know.
In 1976 in Burchten, a region in the provence of Limburg, amateur archeologists found the foundations of a Roman building. During excavation archeologists found a bronze and enamel rooster, with the name of the Goddess Arcanua stamped on it. Later, in 1982, other archeologists found a small bronze leaf in the same area. The name Arkanua was stamped into it, leading historians to believe that what they had thought was a Roman villa, was actually a temple dedicated to the Goddess Arcanua or Arkanua. The name Arcanua means ´the mysterious one´ or ´the mystical one´ in Latin. It is believed that She was a local Goddess who was was revered in the region before the invasion of the Romans.
The bronze and enamel rooster is the biggest source of information we have on this Goddess. In the area surrounding the temple, more roosters like this one have been found, but this is the only one with and inscription. It reads: DEAE ARCANVE VLPIVS/ VERINVS VETERANVS LEG VI V•S•M•L, meaning ‘To the Goddess Arcanua Ulpius Verinus, veteran of the sixth legion, has redeemed his vow, willingly and with reason. The mention of the legion and the name Ulpius Verinus makes it very likely that this little rooster is older than originally thought, probably dating from somewhere between 123- and 142 A.D. Which makes it the oldest mention of the term DAEA we have to date.
The statue is made of bronze, with enamel eyes, beak and wings. The back of the rooster is hollow, which leads historians to believe that it was used to burn candles or perhaps oil in it’s cavity. This statue differs from others found in the Netherlands, which are usually sandstone altarstones depicting humanoid figures, sometimes accompanied by animals. This could mean that the rooster was an important attribute to the Goddess, or it could mean that the statue itself is not from the Netherlands, but could be from Brittania, where more of these roosters were found.
The leaf gives us little more information about who this Goddess was. It reads: D/ ARKANV/ AE/ M•I•AM/ L•M, which we can compement to D(AEA) ARKANVAE M(ARCUS) I(ULIUS) AM(—) L(IBENS) M(ERITO), which means ‘to the Goddess Arcanua Marcus Iulius Am— has devoted this, willingly and with reason’. Nothing is known for sure about Marcus, or why he would devote anything to this Goddess.
What I think.
We don’t know anything else about this Goddess, what she stood for, what her attributes are, it’s all guesswork. So this is what I think this Goddess was. The rooster is a symbol of the dawn, of the rising sun. Combining this with the idea that the rooster was used to burn candles or oil, it could mean that Arcanua was a Goddess of light. A Goddess of the morning and the rising sun, the light after the darkness.
The meaning of her name, ‘the mysterious one’, could point to Her being a Goddess of the Underworld, many Goddesses of mystery are also Goddesses connected to the Underworld. The keepers of the hidden, that which is behind the veil. Many of these Goddesses, like Hecate, are also seen as Goddesses of magic. Arcanua has the word ‘arcane’ almost screaming at you when you see it. Furthermore, roosters are seen by the Celts and Germanics as messengers to the Underworld. A rooster would cry out if there was danger to the soul of a fallen. Combine that with the fact that the rooster was devoted by a veteran, and Arcanua might have been a Goddess who brought the souls of slain warriors to the Underworld.
Rituals: endings and new beginnings, greeting the sun, unveiling mysteries
Colours: golds and bronzes, set off with bright yellow, red or blue
Symbols: roosters, candles, a golden veil, (autumn) leaves, the sun
Stones: amber, citrine, goldstone
Metals: gold, bronze
Book – Antwoord op de vraag, door het Zeeuwse Genootschap de Wetenschappen – Jona Willem te Water
Book – Over de beoefening der Nederlandse mythologie, naar aanleiding der jongste tot dat onderwerp betrekkelijke geschriften – Johan van der Wal
Book – Verhandelingen over het Westland – Derk Buddingh
Book – Nederlandsche volksoverleveringen en Godenleer – L. Ph. C. van den Bergh
Article (PDF) – Born-Burchten – W.J.H. Willems
Website – rgsm.de (in Dutch)
Website – the Limburs Museum (in Dutch)
So that’s it for the first installment of a new series I want to do on Dutch mythology. I’d love to know what you thought of this one so far, or if you have a request on which Deity I should do next. ‘Til next time!
6 thoughts on “Dutch Myths: Arcanua”
Thank you for the informative piece! Like you, I had never heard of this goddess before even though, like you, I am researching the Dutch spiritual heritage as well. As you might guess, I live in the Netherlands and I think far too little is known about our history.
Reading your post, I had a little inkling: one of the goddesses of Celtic origin but located here, is Anna. Her name is also written as Ana. Furthermore, the Irish counterpart was called Dana or Danu (as in Tuatha de Dánann, ‘children of Danu’). Maybe Arcanua can be split into ‘arc’ and ‘anua’, with the latter being the actual name of the goddess. The Romans have a reputation of adding bits to the names of local deities. For example, in Twente the goddess Tanfana was revered. The theory is that Tanfana actually means ‘temple of Tan’, as ‘fana’ (or ‘fanum’) simply means ‘shrine’ or ‘temple’. Arcanua may therefore be a title for Anna, like ‘the old goddess Anna’. It is thought that Anna indeed is one of the eldest goddesses from this region.
Anyway, I am really looking forward to reading more of your posts about the other deities, especially goddesses!
Thank you for your lovely comment. It’s always nice to meet a fellow Dutchie who is into our mythological heritage 🙂
You have a point about Ana. I have to honest here, I have yet to find any information on her outside of the book Godinnen van eigen bodem, but I will look into it a bit more. If it would indeed be another name for the Goddess Ana, her name would be Arc Ana, the ark of Ana. Perhaps arc would then represent the womb of what is, in essence a Mothergoddess. Merriam-webster gives the definition of ark as “something that offers protection and safety”, like a womb. Or it could mean a temple or another safe and sacred space dedicated to Ana. Who knows, you might be onto something here. The speculation, oh my!
Hi, I want to thank you for posting this. Yours is the only link I’ve found specifically to just Dutch gods. Great research. I have a question about the rooster. The stones on it seem to align red and yellow stripes on the front. I can’t count all of them since I only have access to one side. Could you please tell me if there are 4 red stripes running sideways on the rooster with 3 yellow ones running in between the red ones?
To me “the mysterious one” could be someone not from the area. Someone that arrived from another area to the Dutch area, especially since the rooster statue was not from that area.
Please let me know, I am very interested in knowing if I am correct about the number of red and yellow stripes.
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Hi, Humberto. First of all thank you for you comment! I did some searching and digging and I counted 5 red stripes with 4 yellow ones in between. On the picture that I used we see that the first red stripe starts high at the rooster’s throat. I found a picture of the other side here: https://www.dedomijnen.nl/collecties/permanente-tentoonstelling/tot-1800/
If we count the highest red tile near his throat as the first, we count 5 red and 4 yellow stripes.
Nice blogg post