If we were to stand at the water’s edge 2000 years ago, our prayers would be addressed to Nodens, not Nudd or Lludd. We may have cast offerings of gold or tablets of lead in exchange for blessings given or asking for a foe to be struck down. We may have gone to one of his sanctuaries – whether the place was of stone and mortar at the edge of the river Severn, or perhaps at a muddy shore by the river near where we lived. Either way, it is at the water’s edge that we would stand. What we can say for sure is that whatever his qualities, his areas of influence or the relationship the people had with him, it in some way paralleled the relationship with a Roman God. Most of the existing inscriptions to Nodens equate him with Mars.
A handful of others from Britain and the continent equate him with Neptune (from Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall we have an inscription to “No/Neptuno”), Mercury (two inscriptions from Lydney have a tentative connection) and Silvanus.
It is the Mars and Neptune connections that will concern us most, though his association with Mercury and Silvanus are something I want to touch on later too
Firstly Neptune; the location of the Lydney Temple above a river and the predominance of aquatic decoration only serve to reinforce the place of Nodens as a Lord of Waters. My own experience has lead me believe that he is more closely linked to fresh water; springs, streams and rivers and less the oceans. Estuaries as the place where the one meets the other are somewhere I also feel his influence.
As for Mars, this puts us in mind more of the warrior as protector rather than aggressor, the warrior-king who fights to serve and protect his people rather than marauding aggressor looking for a fight. Nuada fights to defend against the Formorians, Lludd looks to defend his kingdom (with help from his more magically minded brother). Mars also had associations with healing, something we see reflected in the Lydney temple whether it is in regards to offerings and petitions left there or the association with dogs (linked not only to death and the transition to death, but also to healing) at the temple complex. We also know that the Lydney temple was probably something of an oracular site; where pilgrims would come to dream and have their interpretations read by the temple attendants. Lastly, Mars was originally a more agricultural inclined god; being the one who guarded and created the right conditions for good growth of the crops. These links to the people-working the land roles are also echoed in Nodens connection to Silvanus.
What has started to stand out to me is how Nodens, and his ‘descendant’ Nudd, bears a lot of similar but subtly different characters that put me in mind of Gwyn. The oracular dream sanctuary finds echoes in the 14thC ‘evocation’ to Gwyn when soothsayers wanted to enter woodlands, the association with dogs and hounds echoes the hound and wolf connections to Gwyn. Mercury was a psychopomp, Silvanus a god of the borders between the cultivated and the wild, for Nodens to be linked with these Roman gods, there must have been something of him that that the Romans saw reflected in their own. And yet these aspects are what we tend to now associate and link to Gwyn, the ‘son’ of Nodens.
I wonder if perhaps the father-son relationship came later and they were in fact something akin to regional variations of the same god. In time, they didn’t become conflated but their roles divided between them and some form of link – in this case familial – was held on to.