Goddess of the Swiss Alps
Alpes’ name is all that can be found of the mountain Goddess. She’s mentioned on various inscriptions as “Alpine” (All-peen-eh) by the Gallo-Roman people living in Switzerland and other Alpine areas. While not much is known, Alpes can be reconstructed via research into etymology, comparisons to other deities and Alpine cultures, divination, and simple Animism. Alpes may be one of the most obscure deities in ancient Switzerland but She will be honored nonetheless. Every tribe from the Helvetii to the Lepontii, from the Rhaetian tribes to the Brixenetes in Austria, made their homes within the Alps. The mountains offered them protection, wealth from gold deposits, and fertile farm lands so it wouldn’t be right to not try to bring Alpes back from obscurity and place Her within the Alpine pantheon of Gods.
Etymology and Alpan
Swiss linguists Linus Brunner and Alfred Toth (1987) have theorized that the very earliest Alpine pastoralists came from the eastern Mediterranean and spoke Akkadian, an ancient Semitic language. The name Alp(pl Alpen) is said to be derived from Akkadian aleph, the bull. In the same language the word apuhas the meaning of shepherdess. With this information in mind we next need to look at other deities and draw common traits and similarities to hopefully reconstruct Alpes.
Alpan or Alpanu, of Estruscan tradition, is seen as a Goddess of Life and Death and associated with Spring which is similar to Persephone in Greek Mythology. Her presence on Earth gives life through Spring but when She descends into the Underworld, the world goes into Winter. This connection indicates that Alpes is likely an Earth Goddess responsible with the cycle of the seasons. Rather than the result of dual Deities (ie Persephone and Demeter) is the action of a singular Deity much like Alpan and other deities that we will cover. Alpan is compared to Inanna a Semitic Goddess who also had underworld connections as well as life and spring. If the theory is correct that early Alpine and Mediterranean people were of Semitic origin then Inanna and Alpan could have a strong connection to Alpes. Although it’s uncertain, there may be a connection to the Middle High German word “albe” which means “high mountain”. It’s speculatory but “albe” could be a link to the word “Albion” and “Albios” which is the Gaulish upper world. This does make sense as mountains were likely seen as the closest place one could get to Albios.
Roots of the Mountian
Brigantiâ is mainly known as the Goddess of Fire and Protector of the Hearth and Home, but Her association with high lofty places can be translated as mountains. This points out the sacred nature of mountains which is seen across the world. Such places like Mt Fuji and Mt Olympus are seen as sacred and even the homes of the divine. In Insular Celtic lore, hills and mountains are hollow and home to the Fae and the Gods (Tuatha De Dannan). While Brigantiâ is the Goddess of mountains, or possibly sacred spots and sites on mountains, the mountains themselves are depicted as Gods.
The Atlas Range is suppose to be the shoulders of the Titan Atlas for example. Many Gods and Goddesses are associated with the land, fertility, and agriculture but are usually the descendants of more ancient Earth beings like Gaia, Ymir, or The Cailleach. These figures are known as ancestral Gods. With this, Alpes is the ancestral Goddess of the Helvetian “Pantheon”. Possibly a mother of the tribal Gods or of the Helvetii themselves or possibly even both.
Perchta/Berchta is a Alpine Goddess from the region of Austria and Bavaria. A mountain Goddess as well, She’s associated with the Berkana Rune, Her name may mean “the bright one” (Old High German beraht, bereht, from Proto-Germanic *brehtaz). Eugen Mogk provides an alternative etymology, attributing the origin of the name Perchta to the Old High German verb pergan, meaning “hidden” or “covered”. This split in the name and their roots points to Berchta and Perchta being seperate beings, however, after the rise and spread of Christianity in the Alpine region Perchta was transformed from a mountain Goddess to a folkloric witch who haunts the Alps during Yuletide. Perchta became Frau Perchta who punished bad children by gutting them and filling their bodies with straw.
While a gruesome figure, Frau Perchta had benevolent features as well, healing and protecting the good children. Life in the mountains of northern Europe was harsh and various Yule spirits came to embody the cruelty of a bad winter in the Alps (and further north as well). Frau Perchta is said to lead a host of Yule spirits and monsters known as “The Perchten”. This event bears many similarities with The Wild Hunt and Samhain. When spirits and monsters can roam our world. The duality of Frau Perchta can be compared to The Cailleach and, in some aspects, Demeter. During Spring and Summer they are kind and benevolent but when Winter comes, they are cruel and harsh.
Grandmother of the Seasons
In the case of The Cailleach, She takes on a different persona when the seasons change. Some legends say She becomes a different Goddess altogether. A young maiden during the light half of the year but ages into a bitter hag in the dark half who is then reborn into the maiden again in a never ending cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The concept of a divine figure becoming a completely different being can be seen in cultures like Egypt and India. With this, it’s not hard to believe that Alpes could play both a light and dark role. During the Summer, Alpes is in Her Berchta (Light) phase where She is positive aspect of Berkana. Fertile, healing, protective, and loving.
However, come Winter Alpes enters Her Perchta (Dark) phase and Berkana is inverted. Alpes is harsh, icy, cruel, and punishing. With the Winter Solstice, the door to Dumnos opens and dark spirits are free to roam and haunt the dark nights in the Alps. But this is not to say Alpes is “evil”. These extremes represent living in mountainous areas. Only the wise and clever can survive that life. Those who take the Summer blessings and use it to prepare for the coming Winter will prevail while the fool perishes. Lastly on this point, Alpes can most likely be categorized as a chthonic Goddess from the previously stated theory that mountains were seen as sacred and Home to the Gods. Caves further this point and in some cultures, certain caves and tunnels were considered entrances to the Underworld/Otherworld/Spirit World. Adding the Perchta element could mean that there is a gateway to Dumnos in the Alps that opens during the Winter Solstice. The Persephone (Nantosueltâ can also fit into the Persephone role too) connection can further this with the fact that She is the Queen of the Underworld but is still a Goddess of Springtime. Being both a Deity of Life and Death, Samos and Giamos, Berchta and Perchta.
The connection to The Cailleach or Paliâcâ (Gallo-Brythonic) further solidifies the idea that Alpes has the dual function of being seen as benevolent in Sumner and malevolent in Winter. The Cailleach is strongly associated with both Winter and mountains in the Insular Celtic region and is also seen as an Ancestral Goddess. Placing Her as an older more ancient figure along the lines of Danu, Gaia, Ymir etc. Lore about The Cailleach varies from place to place. Some say She’s a witch/hag who is the cause of the creation of mountains and causes hardships of Winter. Others say that She is the darker half of the Maiden Goddess Brighde. Either as a rival pairing or as an aspect of the same Goddess. Either way, this supports the Perchta/Berchta theory on the Germanic side of Alpes
Earlier it was stated that Alpes could be more of a Cthotic figure. That during Winter, She opens a door to Dumnos and let’s loose a horde of spirits. However, the lighter side of Alpes, the healing, protective, nurturing side begs to differ. Mountains are seen as homes of the Gods. Either on top of or deep inside, mountains are sacred and a natural site (both physically and spiritually) to be closer to the divine. This could make Alpes more of a liminal deity. A Goddess who rides the line between the worlds. Probably not a psychopomp like Cernunnos/Carnunos but a physical representation of Albios and Dumnos/Antumnos. The mountain top is closest to Albios and the base is closer to Dumnos. She belongs to both but is rooted in Bitus (Earth/Our Realm).
In most traditions, if not all, the various pantheons of Gods and Goddesses are the children of a powerful Earth deity, as stated earlier. A being that usually one of eldest deities in existence. Gaia in Greek myth, is one of the original primordial entities and is the mother of Titans and grandmother to the Olympians. Cybele or Kybele is an Anatolian Mother Goddess and the only Goddess worshipped by the Phrygains. The Greeks equated her to Gaia, Rhea, and Demeter. Rome called Her Magna Mater (Great Mother) and was seen as a mountain Goddess, particularly in Greece. Cybele Mystery Cults were adopted and spread into Greece and Rome. Worshipping Cybele as “Mountain Mother” and “Mother of the Gods”.
Ymir from Norse Mythology is the first Gaint and all giants and the Gods are descended from him. His body is used to create Earth. But the Goddess that I see a strong parallel to is Danu/Dan from Insular Celtic tradition. In Ireland there are a pair of hills known as the “Breasts of Danu” and Ireland is strong in the belief that the Gods live in the hallow hills. The Gods of Ireland are known as the Tuatha De Dannan which roughly means “The Tribe of Danu”. These countless similarities are clear evidence that Alpes is most likely the primordial Mother Goddess of the Helvetii Pantheon and possibly other Alpine people. It needs to be pointed out what the Alps represented to everyday life of the Transalpine tirbes to discover more about Her. From ancient times to today, the Alps are prime land for sheep and cattle. This falls in line with Alpes being a nurturing provider during spring and summer when shepherds and farmers would let their herds graze.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Alpes could be a Goddess of Shepherds. This could also translate to hunting, especially in the more ancient times when hunting was more prominent than husbandry. The Alps historically have provided Switzerland with a near perfect natural protective barrier from the threat of invaders. The Earth itself offered an indestructible shield for the Helvetii when their migration into Gaul failed. While the influence and reach of Rome was inevitable, the Alps shielded modern day Switzerland from the forces and armies of Napolean and Hitler. Without a doubt Alpes is a Goddess of borders very much like Heimdall and Camalos. Llike previously observed, mountains were sacred to the ancients across many cultures and this is proven by the numerous pre and post Christian shrines and alters that are found across the Alps. The Carnutes Tribe of Gaul have a Goddess known as Nemetomâ who is the Goddess of Sacred Groves, along with Brigantiâ of the Brigantes people, Alpes could facilitate these roles in the Helvetian/Transalpine Pantheon.
As far as reconstruction goes, divination is a helpful method to understanding the Gods that don’t have much in the way of historical information. UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) doesn’t have the weight that scholarly evidence does but it is still key to reconstructing these Gods and Goddesses. My personal method of divination is a combination of Wildwood Tarot (WWT), Elder Futhark Runes (EF), and Lepontic Rûnâs (LP) within a five card spread for identifying deities. The following is my results for Alpes:
Who is Alpes?
WWT: The Ancestor
EF Rune: Berkana
LP Rûnâ: Sawelis
Meaning: Alpes is an ancestral figure. One of the oldest/original of Her tribe. She is linear, a deity who stands between worlds, representing the blessings of Summer (Albios) and the hardships of Winter (Antumnos). Alpes stands at the gateway as a psychopomp. Associations to purity/purification, magic, spring/rebirth, healing, and the feminine aspect.
1st Aspect of Alpes
WWT: Ace of Bows: The Spark of Life
EF Rune: Perthro
LP Rûnâ: Nertos (inverted)
Meaning: Creation/life and the balance and relationship between man and nature. Birth, sexuality, fertility, and the feminine principal. Mysteries, secrets, fate. Necessary hardship and strife to strengthen and humble mankind.
2nd Aspect of Alpes
WWT: The Blasted Oak
EF Rune: Gebo
LP Rûnâ: Druith
Meaning: Destructive force of nature. Dissolving of arrogance and materialism in order to find strength and understanding of what’s really important. Causing harm to restore balance. Where there is life there is death and where there is death there is life. Luck and partnership, union and balance between our world and the world of Gods and spirits. Wisdom and unknown secrets.
What does Alpes Reign Over?
WWT: The Seer
EF Rune: Hagalaz
LP Rûnâ: Îagis
Meaning: Feminine intuition, balance between magic and the mundane. Sacred knowledge and divine wisdom. The changing of the seasons and mistress of winter. Death and rebirth, loss and gain. Reflection and accepting the inevitable (good and bad). Fate and restoration through toil and hardship.
What Represents Alpes?
WWT: Seven of Arrows: Insecurity
EF Rune: Raido
LP Rûnâ: Mî (inverted)
Meaning: Dealing with fears and weaknesses of character in order to become wiser and survive the winter. Transition and transformation (seasons, conscious and unconscious). Learning from toil and hard times. Life lessons that make us better.
With everything that’s been covered, Alpes is an important figure to the Helvetii and the Alpine peoples. While it’s all speculation, it’s probable, and safe to say, that Alpes is the ancestral and primordial Goddess of the earth and mother to the Dêwoi. Her consort is unknown but if Alpes is a mountain/earth Goddess then a logical pairing would be Peninos/Poeninus who’s a mountain/sky God of the Sudeni and Veragri tribes. There’s no way of knowing if both were ever worshipped by the same tribe but when establishing a modernized reconstructed Alpine pantheon, they make a great pairing. Alpes is a Goddess with a duel nature and duel personality. During Summer She is Alpes Alaunâ or Alpuanâ (All-pess All-oww-nah, All-pwah-nah) which means Alpes the Shining One who could be represented by the hare and/or sheep, both can be representative of spring and fertility. In Winter She is Alpes Clitâ or Paliâcâ (All-pess Klee-tah, Pahl-ee-ah-kah), meaning Alpes the Hidden or Veiled One and can be symbolized by the lynx or perhaps lioness from Her similarities with Cybele who is seen with lions. Eurasian Lions are extinct but the lynx matches well since they are linked with mysteries and otherworldly connections.
Her duality gives Alpes a liminal stance in many aspects. In Summer, Alpuanâ is Goddess of life, fertility, shepards, and agriculture. While in Winter, Paliâcâ is Goddess of death, ice, hunters, and survival (being smart with resources). Both personas give Alpes aspects of protection (borders and boundaries), sacred sites and nemetons, magic and ritual, and the gateway to Antumnos which is closed in summer and open in winter. During that time, all sorts of moniiatîs (mon-eey-ahh-tee-s), or mountain spirits, roam free until they are pushed back when summer comes. Two Gaulish holidays can be held to honor Alpes: Giamolitus (gee-ah-moll-ee-tuss) is the winter feast much like Yule and other winter holidays. A ritual could be held to give offerings to Paliâcâ to spare the home during winter. The other is Samolitus (sam-oh-lee-tuss) which is the summer feast. Usually meant to honor Taranis in modern Gaulish communities, Samolitus could be a way to celebrate Alpuanâ giving life to the earth. Alpes is the epitome of the feminine principal, having influence and dominion over all aspects of femininity. When looking at the Alpine people from the Helvetii to the Rhaetians and those mountain dwelling people outside of the borders what what we know today as Switzerland, Alpes’s name can be attributed to these people as the Alpêtis (All-pay-tiss) which is roughly “people of the Alps”. While Alpes will always be an obscure figure and we will never truly know exactly how the ancients saw Her, this reconstruction will honor the Goddess of the Swiss Alps.