Celtic Corner
Original designs inspired by the art of the Celts
by Alastair Luke


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Proclaimed to be a goddess of seafarers, Nehalennia's shrines could be found close to the North Sea, on a trade route. From all over Europe her devotee's, mostly traders and seamen, would make an offering asking for safe passage, success in business and for personal and family welfare. This is indicated by the inscriptions or dedications found on her various shrines as well as her accompanying iconography. I have shown her here with her most common imagery, a steering oar, a fruit basket and a dog. Her name itself means 'leader' or 'steerswoman', and all those who wished to make the dangerous journey across the North Sea sought her protection and guidance.

As well as the Earthly seas, Nehalennia also presided over the sea to the afterlife. Here again she watches over us during our journey, this time from life to death. In the times of this youthful goddess, the trip across a large body of water must have been fraught with unforeseen dangers and superstitions. The prospect of leaving behind the safety of land for the perilous dark waters of the open sea would have been enough to instill fear into the hearts of the best of us.

'Many of us have taken an inward journey across the uncharted waters of our souls.'

When we decide to really look at our selves, we might see an endless and unexplored ocean and think, 'how could this have been here all this time, and I didn't notice it'. Eager or afraid, there is only one thing to do and it is not until we lose sight of our safe harbour of everyday life, that we begin to realize what it is we are up against. Fear and truth. It is here, when most of us want to turn back, that Nehalennia, or her equivalent, steps in, and in her beautiful and calming voice urges us onwards. Ours is not a simple task, but her presence gives us strength and courage. She is our guide and companion on this journey as well, and she is there for everyone.

The outer border is an inscription in Latin which reads, 'PROTÉGÉ NOS IN VIAS NOSTRAS NEHALENNIA'. This translates into, 'NEHALENNIA, PROTECT US ON OUR JOURNEY'. The words around Nehalennia's head are in Gaeilge, and they read as 'COSANTÓIR D' AISTEARÍ FARRAIGE'. (Pronounced, 'kussin tor dashtary fariga'.) In English this roughly translates into, 'GUARDIAN OF THOSE WHO TRAVEL BY SEA'. Or, 'PROTECTOR OF VOYAGERS'.

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