A Celtic Deity, also known as Belen, Belenus, Belinus, Bellinus, Bélénos, Belennos, Belenos, Bel, Bilé: The Shining God
Belenos is unusual in Celtic belief, as this deity (under the various version of his name) is known throughout the Celtic world. He is also remembered in place names and personal names throughout the Celtic lands. His symbols are the horse an wheel and his name means ‘The Shining God’. He is one of the Celtic high gods, and is probably a solar deity.
Possibly one of the most widespread of all the Celtic deities he is known from Italy (Cis-Alpine Gaul), Gaul, Britain and Ireland.
In Britain the personal name Bellinus occurs at Binchester (Vinovia), County Durham a name derived from the god-form Belenus, the native Brythonic form of which would be Belenus. Traces of this name having been found at Maryport. To the continental Brython the Cult of Belenus possessed a particular status in that it is mentioned in a number of Classical Literary sources. Ausonius was a poet from Bordeaux, writing in the later 4th century AD and alludes to sanctuaries to Belenus in Aquitania. Tertullian talks of the cult of Belenus in the Norican Alps (Apologeticus 24,7); and Herodian mentions Belenus’ worship at Aquileia in North Italy (History of the Empire after Marcus,8,3.6). In Ireland Beli is known as Bilé and is referred to as ‘The Father of Gods and Men’.
The Celtic fire festival on the first of May, known as Beltane, (the fires of Bel) is probably derived from the name of this deity. Beltane fires were lit to encourage the sun’s warmth. These fires also had restorative properties and cattle were herded between them before being loosed on the new spring pastures. From this it is likely that Beli was a fire deity, a patron of flame and the sun’s restorative powers (which explains his classical association with Apollo). Originally he may have been a pastoral deity and in Cymric myth is associated with cattle, sheep and cropt. Though this may be because Beltane was the time that herds were moved to the high pastures.
His symbols were the horse (as shown, for example, by the clay horse figurine offerings at Belenos’ Sainte-Sabine shrine in Burgundy), and also the Wheel (as illustrated on the famous Gundestrup Cauldron).
The Irish Bilé is a god of death and husband to Dana. In the tale of Lludd and Llefelys, the folk memory of Beli represents him as Belen o Lŷn, son of Manogan and father to Lludd and Llefelys. Both Beli and Lludd lend their names to sites in London; Billingsgate and Ludgate, respecitvely. Beli’s name is also found in the name of one of the most notable Brythonic chieftains before the Roman invasion, Cunobelinos (or, in Brythonic, Cunobel), the hound of Bel.
In Gaulish mythology Belenus’ consort was the goddess Belisama.
It is unlikely, as some have suggested, that the Cymric deity Beli Mawr is etymologically related to Belenos, as though the migration of Brython to old and middle Cymric this is far more likely to yield the name Belen or Belyn. Indeed, this is the name which we see in the Cymric form (Cynfelen) of the Catuvellauni leader during the Claudian invasion of Britain, Cunobelinos (the hound of Belinos). Inded, the tribe name Catuvellauni itself means ‘The Host of Belinos’ and their most well-known leader Cassivellaunos’ name means ‘The Devotee of Belenos’. There is also the figure of ‘Belen o Leyn’ who figures in triad 62 0f the Trioedd Ynys Prydain and is preserved today in the place-name Tyddyn Belyn near Tudweilog on the Llŷn Peninsula ELlSG. Rather, Beli Mawr is more likely derived from the name of the Gaulish deity Bolgios.
Belenos’ name is derived from the reconstructed proto-Celtic elements *belo- (bright/shining), the deicific particle -n- and the masculine ending -os. Thus Belenos is ‘The Shining God’.