Dacian Celtic religion?

“…the Getae are the bravest of the Thracians and the most just. They believe they are immortal in the following sense: they think they do not die and that the one who dies joins Zalmoxis, a divine being; some call this same divine being Gebeleizis. Every four years, they send a messenger to Zalmoxis, who is chosen by chance. They ask him to tell Zalmoxis what they want on that occasion. The mission is performed in the following way: men standing there for that purpose hold three spears; other people take the one who is sent to Zalmoxis by his hands and feet and fling him in the air on the spears. If he dies pierced, they think that the divinity is going to help them; if he does not die, it is he who is accused and they declare that he is a bad person…” Herodotus (Greek, 5thC BCE) – Histories (Book 4) – trans. George Rawlinson (1910)

This curious comment on the Getae (one of a number of proposed ancestors of the Goths, who were from the Danube region, and were also known as 'Dacians') has a fascinating parallel with the later accounts of the Gauls of western Europe, who Julius Caesar claimed also believed in reincarnation and the immortality of souls, and also 'sent' people (it is presumed willingly) on special missions to the otherworld, based upon classical accounts and suggested by current archaeological theories of north European 'bog bodies'.

The name 'Zalmoxis' (sometimes written 'Salmosis') seems in this context to evoke the Indic word 'Moksha', which means 'emancipation', 'liberation' or 'release', in the context of ancient Hindu/Jain concepts of reincarnation. This in fact fits with the similarities shared between these doctrines and what we know of the ancient European Celtic doctrines!

The synonym 'Gebeleizis' is yet more interesting: scholars of Celtic and Indo-European languages might recognise that it possibly contains the word for 'horse'… 'Gebel' or 'Gabal'. Other theories suggest a possible link of the name to 'Cybele', the Anatolian 'Phrygian' goddess, known to her indigenous worshippers as 'Matar Kubileya'. This name itself might mean either 'Mother Cybele' or just possibly even ' Mother of Gebele(izis)'? The regions are so well-linked geographically and culturally that this must be considered, especially as there were Gauls settled in Galatia, further west. Another possible link is to Gaulish Belenos: Ge-Belei-Zi(o)s. The Welsh 'Harleian Genealogies' seem to refer to Belenos as 'Beli Mawr' , which fits with 'Belei'. Zios means 'god' in Proto-Indo-European. 'Ge' might be a reference to the primal Greek earth-goddess, although a compound god-goddess name like this would be unusual…

“… We have conquered even these Getai, the most warlike of all people that have ever existed, not only because of the strength in their bodies, but, also due to the teachings of Zalmoxis who is among their most hailed. He has told them that in their hearts they do not die, but change their location and, due to this, they go to their deaths happier than on any other journey… ” (Lactantius – a Christian author of the 3rdC CE – quoting a supposed speech of Trajan.)

These 'Getae' (from what is now modern Romania) were surely quite similar in their religious outlook and valour to the Gauls Caesar spoke of conquering some three centuries later. If Lactantius was reporting Trajan's words accurately, they held their reputation longer than the Gauls, as they were conquered by his armies during the early 2nd C CE, after which they largely followed similar models of Romanisation as their western cousins – their homelands eventually becoming known as 'Romania'…


One thought on “Dacian Celtic religion?

  1. The Getae (“Goths” according to some medieval historians) or “Dacae” (Dacians) are actually Sarmatian by origin – hence their Sarmatian “dragon banners”. They were Scythian tribes, partly Thracianized in the Balkans, who, as a result of an internecine conflict around the middle of 2nd millennium B.C.A., split from their Indo-Aryan relatives in Central Asia – Massagetae (“Great Getae”) beyond the Oxus River and/or Dahae in Bactria, known also from the Chinese chronicles as Yuezhi (Old Chinese: *(n)Gu-tie – “Getae”) and Da Xia (“Bactrians”). Herodotus (IV; 11) wrote about this migration of the Scythinas, but he didn’t make the connection with the Getae, since he thought them to be Thracian.
    “Zalmoxis” is indeed an Indo-Aryan name – Jālamokśi, which means “Liberated from the Net”, that is from the “Indra’s Net” (Skt. Indrajāla – hence “Darzalas”, as they called the demiurge), which is synonymous with Māyā (the illusion of reality). The epithet “Gebeleizis” from other hand means “Cave Dweller” (Skt. Gehabilaji or Gehabailaji), referring to his cave, where he lived for three years, coming out in the fourth one (Herodotus, IV; 95), which represents the cycle of cultivating of the “immortal embryo” in the internal alchemy, symbolized in the calendar by the five days, added to every fourth year of 13 months. This is not a religion, but a spiritual way of liberation from the material world of the “Great God” Darzalas or the demiurge, whose cult the Dacae (Skt. Dakśā – “intelligent or able ones”) rejected and despised, thus being essentially opposed to the Druidic religion of Orpheus and the Judaeo-Christianity. Zalmoxianism was about achieving the “immortality”, i.e. the eternal state of the spirit, completely liberated from matter, space and time, life and rebirth, which was called metaphorically “bird” or “walker in the emptiness” (Skt. khaga) (cf. Plato’s myth in “Phaedrus” about the souls, becoming “birds”, while following their divine guides, and thus transcending the material world “beyond the sphere of the stars”). Hence this school was named “the Way of the Birds” (Skt. Khagāyana), which gave the name of the sacred mountain and river “Kogaionon”, where Zalmoxis have lived according to Strabo (VII; 3.5). Zalmoxis taught the mystical “Language of the Birds”, expressed through the sacred dance and song, which were also called “zalmoxis”, according to the information of Hesychius (“Salmoxis: Kronos, dance and song”). Those were spiritual practices, guided by immortal spirits (Skt. “khagā” or Gk. “daimones”) – the daemons, serving as mediators to the god Kronos, who sleeps in a cave of golden rock on an island in North Atlantic, as wrote Plutarch (De Faciae, 26) – and Zalmoxis was traditionally identified by the ancient authors with Kronos or also with Heracles (as the ancestor of the Scythians, coming with Geryon’s cattle from the island Erytheia in the Atlantic Sea – Herodotus, IV; 8-10).
    It is possible thus, that Socrates has been initiated in this tradition by a Thracian healer, as it is alluded in Plato’s dialogue “Charmides” (he was given an incantation, i.e. a mantra to use together with herbs for “healing the soul” together with the body) and hence most likely came the mystic relation with his famous personal “daimon” (daemon), talking about which cost him his life by the false accusation of introducing a “foreign cults” (Zalmoxianism?) amongst the Athenian youth (false, because Zalmoxianism is not a dogmatic cult, but a spiritual method, which not requires to be a “Zalmoxian” in order to practice it, so it wouldn’t be correct to define Socrates as such – he was just initiated, not believer or follower of some religion). Plato in his turn maybe was also initiated by Socrates himself, but he was prudent enough to keep his mouth shut about those things, so they remain a mystery, only alluded vaguely in some of his Epistles (the “unwritten doctrines”). Still, his inspiration, which was coming from the same source, made his quasi-Pythagorean school similar to the teachings of Zalmoxis and so this fact contributed to the legend, that Zalmoxis allegedly had learned from Pythagoras.

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