The First Smith
One of the better known Gods in Gaul, Gobannos was worshipped by dozens of tribes with an inscription found in Bern, Switzerland. In this article, we will cover and go in depth on Gobannos and His most notable skill as the God of Smithing. As usual we will dig into the etymology of His name, look at the Bern Zinc Tablet inscription, compare Gobannos to other Smithing Patrons, add some personal UPG and divination readings, and even touch on the art of smithing and metal crafting and its importance to the ancient world.
Gobannos, the Gaulish God of smithing, is a much more well known deity within the Continental Celtic world. His name roughly means “the smith” and derives from the word “goban”, the Proto-Celtic stem word for smith. Admittedly, not the most exciting or unexpected information but, interestingly, goban is a root word for smith across Europe.
Goban can be compared to various words for smith: gobae and gobann (old Irish), gabha (modern Irish), gof and gofein (middle/mofern Welsh and Cornish), gobebdi (Gallic meaning “with the smiths”), faber (Latin), and Lithuanian gabija “sacred home fire” and gabus “gifted, clever”.
Abergavenny, in what is now south east Wales, was the site of a Roman fort and settlement called Gobannium. It was not uncommon for Gaulish Gods to become adopted into Roman religion. The Gallo-Roman version was probably Gobannus or Cobannus, based on an inscription found in the 1970s.
An artifact found in Bern, Switzerland bears an interesting inscription, the name Gobannos. The artifact was a tablet found in the 1980s in a forest near the Aare River. Initially, the tablet’s authenticity was called into question because zinc wasn’t used during the Iron Age. However, the tablet is made of an alloy that also contains lear and iron as well as traces of copper, tin, and cadmium.
The Bern Zinc Tablet
Discovered in 1984 in Thormenboden Forest in Bern Switzerland, the inscribed tablet was analyzed after the workman who discovered it passed away. Sadly, its archeological context cannot be precisely determined. Archeologist Rudolf Fellmann claims that the context is Gallo-Roman, but the inscription itself is seemingly Gaulish.
ΓΟΒΑΝΟ or Gobano, shows that the inscription is dedicated to Gobannos. The tablet is made of aggregated zinc which is different from modern zinc. Modern zinc didn’t show up until the 16th century, which points to the tablet being part of a forge which ties together with the inscription.
Another interesting fact is that some of the lettering on the tablet is Greek. The tablet itself dates to Romanized Gaul, but the Greek lettering signifies Roman influence wasn’t overwhelming to the Helvetii culture yet. Consensus among those who’ve studied the tablet is that Gaulish was still the dominant language at the time of the tablet’s creation. The final Ρ of ΝΑΝΤΑΡΩΡ: it was at first written as a Latin R, the additional stroke having been removed again as a scribal error. Mixing of Greek and Latin letters is also attested from a number of Gallo-Roman coins.
The word Brenodor could indicate a placename. Brenno-duro “town of Brennus” coming from the Gaulish Duron “town” which derives from the PIE dhur “door”. There’s no known location of a town or village or settlement known as Brennus which raises alot of questions as to its meaning.
Brennus could have been a small village that the smith was born in. The Pre-Romanized Helvetii had a custom of burning down their villages prior to migration which explains why there are no sites of Pre-Roman villages to be found. Maybe Brennus was the name of the settlement that became Bern, Switzerland. Bern is one of the few places that I’m aware of at this time, that dates back to a Romanized Switzerland but does not have a Latin/Celtic name like Aventicum for Avanches.
Nantaror may refer to the Aare valley (containing as first element nanto– “deep valley with a stream/river”), and Dobnoredo seems to be an epitheton of Gobano, maybe composed of dubno– “world” (Old Irish dumhan (Modern Irish domhan, c.f. Dumnorix, Donald (Gaelic Domhnall) and rēdo- “travel” (Old Irish riad), or rēdā “chariot” i.e. “world-traveler” or “world charioteer”, so that the inscription roughly means “to Gobannus, the world-traveller, dedicated by the people of Brennoduron in the Arura valley”
Gobannos the Demigod
These four words indicate that Gobannos walked the earth as either a mere mortal or as a demigod. The story of the demigod is not uncommon in myth and legend, as they are usually a bridge between humans and the divine. Demigods are typically seen as heroes, defeating monsters that normal people cannot. Heracles (Hercules) is probably the most famous of the heroic Demi-Gods.
But demigods are also known for assisting mankind with cultural progression and invention. Figures like Maui, from Polynesian legend, would use his strength and skills to bend nature itself to aid humans; fishing islands from the sea, lifting the sky, and even binding the sun to lengthen the days. Väinämöinen, from the Finnish Kalevala, used his magical singing to aid in his adventures, usually to the benefit of the people of Kaleva, which includes helping create the Sampo, a device or artifact that gave the owner unlimited wealth and prosperity.
The Greeks, famously, had many demigods in their mythology. Not all were the heroic type like Perseus, Theseus, Heracles, Achilles, etc. Lesser known demigods became teachers, poets, artists, kings and queens. Rome was no different as their foundation stories included demigods as do various myths and sagas of the Norse world.
Of course, they appear all across the Celtic landscape as well. Since demigods standout as being of two worlds, the mundane and the divine, they are almost always assisting and protecting humanity and are rewarded with full Godhood. Again, Heracles is the most famous story of a demigod becoming worthy of devotion after dead. Hero veneration is a very common practice across the world.
Doctors have been venerated and revered as Gods of healing and medicine, warriors have been honored as Gods of war and protection. It is believed that many of the Gods and Goddesses of the various tribes of Gaul were once mortal men and women. Gods like Taranis, Cernunnos, Sucellos, Rosmertâ, Lugus, Eponâ are found in many tribes and can be considered “universal” while each tribe has local or regional deites that are only found within individual tribes. Arduinna, Nodens, Artio are such examples.
These lesser known tribal deities could have been men and women who were noble and famous in deed enough to become exonerated as deities after death. This isn’t to devalue their status as Dêwoi and Dêwâs (Gods and Goddesses), as stated before, numerous cultures practiced veneration. A quick example is Guan Yu who was a historical figure but was venerated as a God roughly 200 years after his death. Hero veneration is something we will discuss another day.
The World Traveler
The Bern Zinc Tablet has described Gobannos as “The World Traveler” and this title tells alot about Gobannos and even could be part of a myth. Like Heracles and other demigods and heroes, Gobannos must have performed great feats to earn fame and Godhood. Seeing how the root of His name means “The Smith” from Ireland to Lithuania, we can assume that Gobannos traveled and taught the art of smithing wherever He went.
Question is, who taught Gobannos smithing and who tasked Him with giving this knowledge to the people of northern Europe? There are two possible answers. One is a Goddess who has been mentioned a number of times in these articles, Brigantiâ. Not only is She a Goddess of Mountians and Fire but She’s also associated with smithing and wisdom. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Brigantiâ shared the secret of smithing to Gobannos to share with mankind.
Another option could be Sucellos. One of the three most well known “universal” Gods next to Taranis and Cernunnos (Carnonos). Caesar refered to Dis Pater as the central God of the Gaulish people and that the Gauls were descended from Him, but while there is no pre-Roman inscription of Dis Pater, it’s possible that Sucellos is Dis Pater but that is not agreed upon by scholars.
Sucellos was a Helvetian God so a article on Him is on the works, but for now we can say that Sucellos is a Jupiter like figure but is the ruler of Dumnos or Atumnos, the Gaulish Underworld/Otherworld like Pluto or Hades. Sucellos isn’t a gloomy figure at all, however, rather He was seen quite highly as a God of sovereignty and prosperity and, to some, related to the harvest and wealth.
Most notably, Sucellos is known as “The Good Striker” and is depicted with a large mallet or hammer. If Sucellos is the origin of man, then it’s not hard to think that Gobannos is a descendant or even a son of Sucellos but is conjecture. However, the hammer relation between them can’t be ignored. Modern devotees of Sucellos see Him as one who forges life with His hammer.
To really solidify this connection, one must look at the smithing itself. In ancient days, smithing was seen as a magical practice. The smith was a person with the ability to form and shape metal to their will, was magic to the ancient world and in modern days as well as blacksmithing has become popular. The art of smithing is creation through destruction. Taking raw metal and destroying it to forging it into something new.
Sucellos can also be a smith in a way. Taking the spirits of the dead and forging new life. As either a father or a patron, Sucellos could very well be associated with Gobannos. All of this falls under a modern practice known as Hammer Cultus. For more information on Hammer Cultus, Branos Carnutodruidon, has a site, Carnutiannemeton.com that goes over the devotion of the hammer Gods.
Hammer of the Gods
Speaking of hammer Gods, we need to look at the smithing Gods of the ancient world to compare and help draw a better understanding of Gobannos. Firstly, we must look at Gaul’s neighbors to the south, Rome and Greece. Classical mythology has alot on Vulcan of Rome and Hephestus of Greece. Both are the son of their respective sky God, Jupiter (Rome) and Zeus (Greece), both are considered to be the ugliest and disfigired of their pantheons, some stories attest to them having a limp, while being coupled with the Goddess of love ane beauty, Venus (Rome) and Aphrodite (Greece).
More importantly, both are known to be the creator of various magical items and weapons, particularly the bolts of lightning used by Jupiter/Zeus. Greek myth specifically mentions the cyclopi race as the primordial smiths who forged the legendary weapons of the Olympians but Hephestus has certainly made use of His skill in other myths.
Vulcan is unique as He’s associated with fire, as is Hephestus, but volcanos as well. It’s hard to say that Gobannos shares this association as there aren’t really any volcanos in Gaul. What is interesting, though, is that Gobannos was adopted into the Roman religion.
Gobannos, in this case Cobannos, was seen differently by Rome. Rather than bearded with long hair and seen as more as a Hephestus/Vulcan figure, the Gallo-Roman Cobannos was depicted more youthful, beardless, and more associated with Mars the God of war.
Mars Cobannos is seen like He’s dancing but the statue is missing a spear and shield. Found in northern France, the statue is very much Gallo-Roman as it shows the importance of war and victory of Rome but the also the importance of smithing of Gaul. Wars cannot be won without reliable weapons and armor, after all. This youthful and beautiful Mars-like God is definitely a standout from other figures we will cover.
Before moving on, it should be noted that Vulcan, in similar fashion to Gobannos, has etymological roots to other deities in other cultures such as Etruscan and Cretan Minoan which can be traced to a PIE root. It’s interesting how Vulcan’s name has traveled to parts of the Mediterranean while Gobannos went north.
Staying in the Celtic world, we should look at Gods who bear much similarity to Gobannos besides etymology. Particularly, Goibniu and Gofannon of Ireland and Wales. Goibniu was the smith and craftsman of the Tuatha De Dannan, who’s ability was only second to Lugh, as well as one of the Trí Dée Dána (three gods of art).
Also associated with hospitality, Goibniu is said to be the brother of Dian Cétch and Nuada, the leading figures of the Tuatha De Dannan during the Second Battle of Moytura. Goibniu represents how important smithing was to the ancient Irish. In the Ulster Cycle, the famed smith Culann played a major role in the upbringing of Cú Chulainn.
Gofannon is no less noteworthy as the Welsh smithing God. He’s the son of Dôn, mother of various Welsh deities, and also takes on the role of a divine hero who brewed an ale of immortality, in addition to being an architect and builder. As previously mentioned, a settlement in Wales was named after Gofannon. Not all these Celtic Gods were male, though.
Across the Celtic world there are Goddesses associated with smithing. Brigit, Brigid, or Bríg of the insular regions is known as a smithing Goddess. The Irish Brigid is said to be the consort of Bres who’s been commonly seen as “Bres the Beautiful” although the etymology of His name may not support that. Regaurdless, He’s described as beautiful and this parallels the Greco-Roman tradition of the pairing of the smithing deity paired with a deity of love/beauty.
On the continent, there’s Brigantiâ, a Goddess who’s been mentioned frequently in my articles, who is also a smithing Goddess as well as a Goddess of fire. These Goddesses are a nice reprieve from what is seemingly a male dominated skill set.
These insular Celtic smiths, as well as the Greco-Roman ones, show us how important smithing and metal work was to the ancient world, disformaties and ugliness aside in the case of Vulcan and Hephestus. They represent dedication and mastery of a vital skill set that humanity needed desperately.
This desperation can be seen in the story of Völund. Also known as Waylund the Smith in Germanic traditions, Völund is seen as the greatest smith in Norse myths but is never attested as a deity in the original texts. Völund, in some versions, is said to be an Elf which is unique as Dwarves are the staple of mythical smiths in the Eddas and Sagas. If so, Völund would have strong ties to Freyr the Norse God of fertility, agriculture, and the mightiest of the Vanir Gods.
The story of Völund is rather dark and tragic. He’s kidnapped by a greedy King, crippled by order of the Queen, then imprisoned on a remote island in a lake and forced to make all sorts of wondrous crafts and weapons for the King. After years of plotting and planning, Völund would escape and get His revenge on the King. Völund invented a device that helps Him overcome His injuries and even gives Him the ability to leap/fly. Solidifying His level of skill as a smith and craftsman.
Darker elements aside, (here are details I chose to not go into for they aren’t relevant to the point here and they are very graphic) the story of Völund can be seen as symbolic. As skilled as Völund is, He is trapped as a prisoner until He invents and innovates and discovers new ideas to escape.
Historically speaking, the art of smithing is essentially what ushered humanity from one age to another. The development of metal work was key to the advancement of civilization and this fact was not lost to our ancestors and it showed in how they revered smithing Gods. The Gauls may even had a holiday on the Coligny Calender that was dedicated to Gobannos. They may not have been the pinnacles of their pantheons (Völund included as He is commonly venerated as a smithing deity my modern pagans) but they were held in high regard within their stories and myths.
Looking at these Gods we can see how the ancients would have looked to Gobannos in Gaul. Celtic, Greco-Roman, and Germanic cultures saw their smithing deities as stoic, strong (both physically and mentally), dedicated to their craft and not to ambition, and even magical in what they could do. Most importantly, the Hammer Gods, have the most human qualities.
In my experience, the smithing deities are very relatable wether one is a smith or not. Their discipline and dedication to their craft, either jewelry and trinkets or weapons and legendary items, can be seen in those who craft and smith today. Putting ones energy, time, and focus into a project, the act of creation through destruction, is arguably a magical act. A ritual that brings us closer to the Gods in a way.
Gobannos is an amazing figure. Either a divine being who bestowed the craft to humanity or a mortal man who descovered a skill that would elevate mankind and shared this skill, earning Him a place among the divine. The Bern Zinc Tablet tells us that Gobannos was the World Traveller. He taught His skills and secrets to help advance civilazations into a new age.
I feel that one doesn’t have to be a blacksmith to honor Gobannos. Gobannos represents the dedication of skill to create. If it’s metal, wood, or whatever, you are creating through the act of destroying. Doesn’t matter if it’s a tool or art. The fire of inspiration and creativity burns just as hot as any forge. Gobannos is an ancestor of the human race (at least to me he is) and to see His descendants continue to create wonderful things, using that spark to make jewelry, weapons, armor, tools, and all kinds of works of art, honors Gobannos.
Before I go into the divination reading I did for Gobannos, I would like to add that as a crafter and from working in fabrication, Gobannos is a deity I feel close to. Especially when I feel that rush of creative energy when working on a project or the immense confidence when making parts for my job.
The reading I got from the divination session confirms alot of what we have covered. Gobannos is an ancestral figure which leads me to believe that as a mortal, demigod, or as a Dêwoi, Gobannos is a father to mankind either through blood or through the passing down of His skills. I see Him as similar to Ogmios, who is said to be the first Gaul. One major difference is that Ogmios is more of a heroic warrior while Gobannos seems more passive and stayed in the village forging weapons for Ogmios.
Not to say that Gobannos isn’t a fighter. The other Celtic smiths were known to be warriors themselves from Cobannos to Brigantiâ to Gofannon. The reading also said that Gobannos was a traveller which is stated in the Zinc Tablet. As mentioned several times, Gobannos represents dedication and mastery of skill but also teaching and passing down that skill to the next generation.
An interesting thing I found was that Gobannos represents the masculine aspect of creation. Creation through destruction is a recurring cyclical and tranformative theme when looking not only at Gobannos but smithing itself. The energy it takes to withstand the heat and to beat raw material into something beautiful. Putting life and energy into one’s work is probably the closest thing anyone can get to creating a living being.
The pride and confidence one gains from meeting the challenges of trying something new and innovated with a art project or craft or metal work can be attributed to Gobannos. He is the Master Smith and He did not beome this by limiting Himself. Anyone who creates should try new innovative ideas to advance their work as Gobannos must have and that feeling when that goal is achieved is very much real.
Lastly, Gobannos is attributed to home, hearth, and for the tribe. All His work and travels was ultimately meant to aid and protect the home and to aid the people. Gobannos and all the smiths who came after, helped progress the human race into the future.
- Rudolf Fellmann: Die Zinktafel von Bern-Thormebodenwald und ihre Inschrift
- Rehren Th. (1996) A Roman zinc tablet from Bern, Switzerland: Reconstruction of the Manufacture
- Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by James MacKallop