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The enormity of what is asked

I have been working on material for the class I’ll be teaching about Maponos and Mabon soon. I’ve been reading papers that are either new, or that I hadn’t had time to read before, and thinking about the site of the spring at Chamalières where the famous tablet inscribed to Maponos was found. Of course, I’m looking for images that will help the students to visualise what must have been happening at Chamalières as the last decades BCE moved into the first century CE. Images like the one of the archaeological dig that uncovered all this, back in the early 1970s seem messy and overwhelming. It made me realise that I have not really taken the enormity of this site in, myself. 
The photo, below, is of the excavation of the site in the 1970s. That strange texture toward the centre of the photo, made up of many lines, like some kind of log jam – those are ex-votos. Carvings of human legs, mostly, and some arms, some horses’ legs, some of whole men and women. Over three thousand of them.
Our ideas of deity vary – some things we can’t shake off from cultural Christianity whether we were really raised as Christians or not, plus our own ideas about what a deity is, or what we think deity meant to our pre-Christian ancestors. It’s very personal. But the enormity of this site, the weight of requests for healing and probably offerings of thanks for healing – today, I just felt the weight of it.

If I came closer to understanding Maponos today, it was only that I came closer to understanding the enormity of what was being asked of Him. Like most modern polytheists, I shy away from thinking of deities as all-powerful or all-knowing. If you want their help you have to get their attention, offer something in return, and accept that they probably have more agency in the world than you do, but how much more is never clear.

From what the archaeologists can know, this site was only in use for a hundred years – probably less. Yet the limbs piled up into a solid mass, accompanied by offerings of gold staters and hazel nuts and fibulae. Maponos waited with open arms to receive all that pain, all those hopes.

I’ve had a few visions of Maponos over the years. One, quite unexpected, where he appeared as a tall, self-assured, young man in a cave with flowing water. I sat with my arm outstretched as He poured water over it from a dipper. I had an overwhelming sense of kindness and compassion, but also of the sort of detachment one often finds in people in the medical profession. Detachment which allows them to do their work, keep their sanity, be efficient. Something else, too. A sense from Him that I shouldn’t be surprised by His willingness to heal. A sort of “It’s what I do” matter-of-factness.
Of course there’s more to Maponos than His healing aspect. We lack any mythology for Maponos. We have to do our best to understand Him through His associations with Apollo and Mabon ap Modron, and maybe even Aengus Óg son of Boand and the Dagda. Their attributes include healing, being imprisoned, music and poetry, hunting, association with the sun, maybe a warrior aspect … Recently, I sensed Maponos reminding me that I need to see deities, Himself included, in all their aspects, not just pick one. 

​If you want to learn more about Maponos and Mabon there are opportunities coming up soon. I’ll be teaching a class about him starting on Saturday, 18th September. You can join just the first week of the class, as a stand-alone talk, or sign up for the full six weeks. There’s more information at this link
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