The Body from the Bog Comes Out

2,000 year old bog mummy in England was a homosexual Druid who most likely offered himself as a human sacrifice against invading Romans to keep them (successfully) out of Ireland


In 1984, a peat cutter in Lindow Moss, on the Mersey River of western England, found the well-preserved body of a 2,000 year old man, believed by some scholars to be the sacrificed body of a Celtic Druid from Ireland who had probably come to England to be ritually prepared and sacrificed on May Day, 60 CE to keep the advancing Roman army away from Ireland. Indeed, the Roman legions stopped just five miles short of Lindow Moss, and never invaded Ireland. And I strongly believe this Druid was also a homosexual.

Where the body was found was once the western edge of the "Druidic corridor" which extended across England (Wales, Mercia, East Anglia). This corridor was heavily populated with temples, sacred sites (especially oak-groves and springs), and much of the Druidic wealth, mainly gold ritual items, heavily coveted by impoverished Rome.

The body of this man found in the Druidic corridor is remarkably intact due to the anaerobic nature of the tannin-laced bog water, which preserves organic material and tans human flesh to a soft leather. A careful examination of the bog mummy revealed that the man had suffered a quadripartite execution: completely naked except for a fox fur armband on his left arm, he had knelt quietly at the side of the bog, a garrotte around his neck. Simultaneously he was (1) bludgeoned in the head, (2) his throat was slit, (3) a thrice-knotted garrotte was twisted around his neck to strangle him, and then (4) he was carefully laid in the bog to drown. It must have been quite the dramatic death!

[The head of Lindow Man after his discovery]

Even more careful examinations revealed several startling things about the naturally mummified corpse usually referred to as Lindow Man. His hair and beard, long and luxurious just prior to his sacrifice, had been roughly cut off by scissors (an instrument which Romans introduced to Britain in the 50s). The contents of his stomach revealed that he had fasted for three days, then eaten a single piece of oddly charred bread made of many cereals and weeds but mainly barley and wheat. Lindow Man had also drunk water containing mistletoe pollen (and possibly mistletoe berries). Also, every scholar who has examined his body has been very surprised by his beautifully manicured fingernails that are still in perfect condition.

Lindow Man's health was excellent, his physical condition was excellent, his nutrition had been excellent his whole life, he had grown tall and strong - but there was not a single scar or blemish of any kind found on his body, not even a broken bone (except a rib was broken when he was killed). Even his teeth and gums were in excellent condition; he had never had any cavities. A strong and healthy man in a warrior society and yet there wasn't a scratch on him! Obviously he was not a warrior, despite markers of masculinity; nor do his remains reveal the repetitive stresses of a farmer's hard life. No callouses on his fingertips indicate he was not a bard (who played stringed lyres while they sang their odes and praises). The only other role this man could have had then would have been a well-cared-for priest who also did not participate in warfare (although many Druid priests and priestesses did). The unblemished body of Lindow Man indicates to me that he was almost certainly a homosexual (and probably what we might now call a "bottom" - a man who is anally penetrated).

[The reconstructed head of Lindow Man]

Tacitus, a Roman historian who lived in England and was a contemporary of Lindow Man, reports in his ethnographic treatise, Germania (12.1), that as part of the 1st century Celto-Germanic criminal punishment system, traitors and deserters were hung from trees [proditores et transfugas arboribus suspendunt] and "they submerge the cowards and the unwarring and the bodily infamous men into muddy swamps, wicker-work thrown over them" [ignavos et inbelles et corpore infames caeno ac palude, iniecta insuper crate, mergunt]. Just as Tacitus indicated here with his crate or wicker-work, Lindow Man had been carefully staked down into the mirey bog with a framework of sticks.

Many scholars now agree that Tacitus misinterpreted this common practice of sacrificial bog burial due to his own Roman bias, mistakenly thinking that the cowards, pacifists, and homosexuals who were ritually sacrificed in the bogs, were actually being executed as criminals. All other material objects recovered from the bogs are clearly of a ceremonial and ritualistic nature, including massive gold cauldrons which were created, embossed with beautiful and intricate designs, never or hardly used but immediately dismantled, and carefully sacrificed by being buried in the bogs - that liminal space between the terra firma and chaotic open water. The ancients obviously knew by simple observation, as we do, that the swamps preserved even organic material intact for many centuries. Thus the bogs were a "magical" and mysterious place where offerings would have been placed to ensure their continued power for generations to come. Placing "disgraced" items in the bog makes no sense.

In a very curious and obscure Latin text from the early 1100s, Christo-pagan scholar Hildebert of Lavardin (France) wrote a "song" called De Hermaphrodito (or De ermafrodito,On the Hermaphrodite), which details the prophetic, tripartite death of an arms-bearing hermaphrodite.

Dum mea me mater gravida gestaret in alvo,
quid pareret fertur consuluisse deos.
Phebus ait 'puer est'; Mars, 'femina', Iunoque, 'neutrum';
iam quod sum natus, hermafroditus eram.
querenti letu, dea sic ait 'occidet armis';
Mars 'cruce', Phebus 'aqua'. sors rata queque fuit.
arbor obumbrat aquas: ascendo: labitur ensis,
Quem tuleram casu, labor et ipse super.
Pes hesit ramis, caput incidit amne, tulique
Vir, mulier, neutrum, flumina, tela, crucem.

Now as my pregnant mother carried me in the belly
She is held to have consulted the gods on how he* will appear.
Phoebus affirmed: it is a boy; Mars, it is a woman, and Juno, it is neither;
When I was born, I was a hermaphrodite.
With her [i.e. the mother] seeking out my death, the goddess affirmed thus: He will fall upon arms,
Mars: He will fall from a gallows-tree, Phoebus: He will fall in water. The cast of a lot calculating that each one came to be.
A tree over-shadows waters, I climb up, sword slips,
Falling upon that which I took up, and I myself begin to sink upon it.
Foot caught by branches, head falls in a river; and behold:
Man, woman, neither; floods, spears, a gallows-tree.

*While the hermaphrodite might technically be "neuter", I use a masculine pronoun here because the author used masculine forms, such as "natus" and "hermaphroditus".

In this fascinating song, we find several elements which speak directly to this investigation. Here we find a person of ambiguous sex who is predestined by divine sortilege and prophecy to suffer a tripartite death by stabbing, hanging, and drowning. (Oddly, the Lindow man, who was stabbed, strangled, and drowned, was additionally bludgeoned.) The tripartite death is a prevalent phenomenon across Indo-European cultures, reflecting the Dumezilian "three functions" of warrior, priest, and farmer. Many other bog bodies recovered both in the United Kingdom and on the European contintent have suffered similar tripartite deaths. (It is also of great import that the Germanic runic alphabet of 24 letters was divided into three aettir or genders, of 8 letters each: Frey/Frejr, an ambiguously masculine god of fertility, governs the first gender, or set of 8 runic letters; Hel/Hella, a chthonic goddess, governs the second; and Teiwaz/Tiu, a warrior god of social order, governs the third gender. These gods correlate easily with Phoebus Apollo, Juno, and Mars of Hildebert's song.)

I would now like to address Tacitus' phrase "corpore infames". As the quote from Diodorus indicates, the Greco-Roman world was long aware of the prevalence of homosexuality amongst the ancient Celts. However, homosexuality was quite tolerated in Rome, if not "prevalent", so why the rather negative wording of the "bodily infamous"? It must be remembered that in both ancient Greece and Rome, male homosex was acceptable among most levels of society as long as the practicant was a what we now call a top. Bottoms were generally viewed as emasculated, gender traitors, and weak. I believe that Tacitus was thus referring to anally-penetrated men as being suitable for the honor of sacrifice to the gods, because of their liminal status, their inbetween-ness. (In Latin, the word limen is the threshold of a doorway, where you are neither fully inside the building nor fully outside it.)

Tacitus elsewhere wrote (Germania 31.1) that amongst the Celts living near the border of ancient Germania these people refused to cut their hair and shave their beards until they had slain an enemy in battle, an act of initiation into the fraternity of warriors. Tacitus further reports that only "cowards and the unwarlike remain in shaggy squalor", strongly echoing his list of those who were buried in "muddy swamps". I postulate that since Lindow Man's long hair and beard had been cut at the time of his death, his self-sacrifice was acknowledged by his community as an initiatory act as the ultimate spiritual "warrior". Perhaps this liminal being, sacrificed in a liminal place, was a way for this community to control mediation between their world and that of their gods for generations to come, as they faced impending doom.

Next month, I'll continue with an investigation into the homosexuality of Lindow Man, the significance of the fox fur armband, and the historical context of the Roman invasion of England, which most likely lead to the sacrifice of this man.


Pt. II

In last month's column, I introduced the topic of the Lindow Man, a bog mummy found in England whose body dates to around 75 CE. He had suffered a quadruple execution of garroting, bludgeoning, slit throat, and drowning in the bog, naked except for an armband of arctic fox fur on his left arm.

Celtic historian Ann Ross goes to great lengths to interpret the fox arm band as meaning "My name is Fox" or Lovernios, an attested ancient Celtic name meaning fox.

However, last year (2000) at a conference on Indo-European cultures at UC Berkeley, Dr. Leslie Ellen Jones of UCLA gave a different interpretation of this armband. To her, the fox armband of Lindow Man "signifies not 'My name is Fox', but 'I am a sacrifice", and in particular, a communal scapegoat. As Jones points out (and I fully agree), naming a sacrificial victim is irrelevant since the victim needs to represent the social whole, needs to be an Everyman. Her research indicates that "the fox is regarded in many societies, including the Celtic, as an outlaw animal. The fox lives on the periphery of human society, neither domesticated nor fully wild. On one hand it is despised by farmers for its depredations on their livestock...while on the other hand it is grudgingly admired for its wiliness (hence its role as a Trickster figure, such as Reynard the Fox)". This peripheral and outlaw existence of the fox in the Celtic imagination fits nicely with the probability of Lindow Man's cultic-based homosexuality. [For Dr. Jones' complete text, see]

So while I believe that Dr. Jones is on the right track, she still falls short of the full significance of the fox arm band. In my mind, the fox arm band in fact signifies "I am a homosexual sacrifice". Even from our earliest evidence of European cultures, the fox seems to have also been identified with homosexual men, as communal "outlaws", as liminal/peripheral beings, and as wily tricksters. In the first article I wrote for this column, I examined the burial tableau of two young males lovers from 22,000 BCE; the "top" had been buried wearing a necklace of wolf teeth and the "bottom" wearing one of fox teeth. And some 400 years after the death of the Lindow Man, a tribe of Germanic, homosexual pirates and mercenaries called the Heruli began carving runic inscriptions as they marauded Europe and the Near East. The early sixth-century phallus-shaped bone "amulet" or "wand" of Lindholm, Sweden records in ancient Germanic runes ek erilaz sa wilagaz hateka - "I am Heruli, the Wily I am called", probably an allusion to the fox and its legendary wiliness. The Greek historian Prokopios of Caesaria also noted that in the 500s, the last known Heruli king was named Rudoulphus or Rud-Ulf - literally "Red-Wolf" (although "Honor-Wolf" is another possible meaning) - perhaps a metaphorical, compound name (called a kenning) for the red arctic fox. Thus in a European homosexual tradition, we have two male names possibly linked to the fox.

Why was Lindow Man such a special sacrifice? Was he a homosexual Druid priest whose role as a liminal being was seen as a way to mitigate and mediate with the gods for the protection of Ireland, the center of the Druidic priesthood? What was happening at the time of his death that would induce the quadruple execution of such a handsome, muscular, physically unblemished non-warrior?

Three major disasters occured in England in 60 CE, which have lead scholars to believe that Lindow Man must have been sacrificed to Celtic gods that year. A Roman invasion, the destruction of the Celtic priesthood in England, and a subsequent famine brought on by the chaos of war when farmers were unable to plant in early spring, nearly annihilated the Celts in England and threatened those in Ireland.

Roman legions first invaded south-east England in 43 CE but from there made little progress. In 58 the Roman Emperor Nero decided his impoverished royal coffers needed more Celtic gold in them, so he ordered an assault on England, with the intent of destroying Druidism and eventually reaching Ireland. In the winter of 59, the king of the Celtic tribe called the Iceni left half his estate to Nero upon his death to placate Romans. But this was not enough. In the early spring of 60 CE Romans confiscated the Celtic king's entire estate, had his daughters raped in front of their mother, Queen Boudicca (possibly meaning Bull-Justice). Boudicca was not only a Queen but a Druid priestess and a fierce warrior. [Lesbian poet and cultural anthropologist Judy Grahn, postulates that the word "bulldyke" came from the name of Queen Boudicca.] Vowing vengeance for the rape of her daughters, she fearlessly rallied her tribe and neighboring tribes and in a series of brilliant military maneuvers and ambushes, destroyed the entire Ninth Roman legion after sacking Colchester.

The Queen then sent her warriors to sack London, a new Roman town at that time, but the main body of Roman soldiers were not tricked by her ruse to draw them from the Druidic corridor that extended across England, for they headed north and west, toward sacred Druid sites. This apparently angered the Celtic warriors enough that they lost their organization under Boudicca, and raced chaotically toward the Druidic corridor to try to prevent the Roman seizure of their holy sites. The Romans under Suetonius had counted on this disorganized attack and took full advantage of it. Celtic warriors, the Druids, and their holy sites all fell under the extremely well-organized and discipliend sword of Pax Romana.

Celtic historian Anne Ross thus theorizes that Lindow bog mummy had been a Druid prince from Ireland, who, upon hearing of this great destruction, came over from Dublin, landed in Wales and went as close as possible to where the Romans were fighting and had himself sacrificed in order to halt the almost inevitable Roman advance to Ireland. And, according to Ross, this occurred most likely on the night of April 31 to May 1, 60 CE.

I fully agree with Ross on the probable year of Lindow Man's execution - but how did she arrive at the exact day? It comes down to the presence of a small piece of scorched bread found inside the stomach of Lindow Man. In the ancient Celtic religion, the new year was celebrated on May 1, known to them as Belotapnia, or Beltane (literally "bright fires"). We know from Celtic lore and current tradition that on May Eve, ancient Celts used to gather on local hilltops to construct two or three huge bonfires. Then a select group of individuals were given a specially-made loaf called bannock bread. A small portion of the loaf had been ritually scorched and whoever received the piece of scorched bannock was thus chosen by the gods to be the annual fertility sacrifice. Usually this sacrifice was only acted out in a folk drama with an elaborate sword dance and a fake beheading. But in special circumstances, the Celts did actually sacrifice the eater of the scorched bannock, as apparently with the case of Lindow Man. After the sacrifice (whether real or symbolic), all the folk and all their livestock ritually passed between the bonfires to cleanse and purify them for the coming year. Thus the presence of a piece of scorched bannock bread in the gut of Lindow Man not only indicates the day of his sacrifice but also seems to indicate a gathered quorum of like individuals. I can well imagine a small group of bi-, trans-, and/or homosexual Druids from Ireland gathered on the marsh of Lindow, England, breaking bread together to decide which of them would become the sacrificial scapegoat to purify the people of their infractions and placate the gods so that they might prevent a Roman invasion of Ireland. And in fact, the Romans never did reach Ireland - never went further than the location of the body of Lindow Man, thus preserving the main center of the Druidic priesthood and their wealth. It would take several more centuries before another Roman invasion finished what the legions could not: the invasion of Ireland by the Roman Catholic church.

I tend to agree with much of Anne Ross' premise about Lindow Man. However, she quite tellingly avoids all possibility that this Druid prince was Queer. Ross does mention, as do almost all authorities on the bog bodies, that Tacitus also recorded that the Germans and Celts had the unique practice of executing homosexuals. However, Ross brutally mistranslates Tacitus, who, she writes, "notes that for certain crimes, including adultery and sodomy, the malefactors were punished by being pinioned in lakes or marshes with sticks and stones". As I have noted, only cowards, pacifists and the bodily infamous (most likely referring to Tacitus' Roman understanding of men being penetrated in anal sex) were buried in the bogs of northern Europe. Tacitus does not here mention adulterers, lakes, malefactors, or stones in his passage. Unfortunately, Ross has added these elements to her (mis)translation of Tacitus. Over 1000 naturally mummified bodies of men, women, and children have been found in the past 200 years. Yet no scholar to my knowledge has made much of an attempt to link these obviously ritually sacrificed bodies to trans- or homosex and its role in Celto-Germanic cultic practice.


For the best "first-hand" source on the Celtic and Germanic tribes of this time period, see Tacitus' fascinating and often lyrical Germania. Anne Ross and Don Robins give a very readible but rather fanciful and romantic interpretation of Lindow Man in The Life and Death of a Druid Prince: The Story of Lindow Man, an Archaeological Sensation. Denser but far more trust-worthy is the volume Lindow Man: The Body in the Bog, edited by I. M. Stead et al. for the British Museum.