Reitiā

This article will be the first in a series hoping to expand the scope of this series beyond the boundaries of Noricum by exploring aspects of neighboring Alpine traditions, be they Celtic or pre-Celtic, and bringing them into a Celtic framework.

Reitiā is widely attested among the Adriatic Veneti, who were neighbors to the south of the Norican Celts. It is now widely believed that the Adriatic Veneti were partially-Celticised Italic peoples. As such, their deities and traditions show aspects of both cultures, and many features of this deity are controversial and still up for debate within academia.

Etymology:

More or less, two strains of thought exist pertaining to the etymology of Reitiā. Both have their merits, and only circumstantial evidence divides the two.[1] The first is an old idea that found modern support as recent as 2018 from Prósper. This idea supposes that Reitia is, ultimately from IE *h3r̥ǵ-tó > PIt. *rekto- (cf. Latin rectus), and that Reitiā is an example of a sound change in Venetic.[2] This etymology would imply a meaning of “She who straightens”. The second proposal is that of Raphael Jimenez Zamudio. Zamudio rejects the idea of this sound change in Venetic and proposes a formation of *(u̯)rei̯-ti̯ā, meaning “She who writes”.[3] If both of these forms are from Venetic, Celticised (or Celtic-derived cognate) variants would likely look like either *Rextiā, if it developed from the stem that Prósper proposes, or simply *Reitiā, if it developed from Zamudio’s stem or if it was borrowed as a loanword.

Function:

The exact nature of Reitiā’s cult is not entirely clear, although it is almost certain that She was polyvalent. According to Šašel Kos, “She presided over the rites connected with the transition from adolescence to adult, and over marriage rituals; she was the protectress of animals, a healer, perhaps also connected with fertility and childbirth, and a goddess who pronounced oracles.”[4] Along with this polyvalent interpretation, there is also an interpretation of Reitiā as the patroness of writing, based on the possible interpreatation of Her name as well as the presence of votive writing tablets, inscribed with writing exercises, at Her cult sites.[5] This connection is at least generous in the confirmation of the plausibility of both interpretations of Her name (in the sense of “she who straightens (the writing)” or “She who guides (the pen)”). There is some evidence that the exercises themselves were thought of as the offerings, as opposed to the bronze tablets they were inscribed on.[6] It has also been proposed that the act of writing was considered sacred and was done at the cult sites.[7] It is possible that the dedications were made either as a marker of aspiration to learn, a milestone in education, or the achievement of literacy.[8]

In Practice:

Within Bessus Alpon (an expanded practice focusing on the Alpine regions in general), Reitiā is understood as a polyvalent goddess with many aspects of a Mother goddess, as discussed above, as well as a goddess of writing, education, and literacy. This connection with writing may also give Reitiā some purview over the inscription of spells, charms, and magic, as well.

Interpretatio:

Hera/Juno, Artemis/Diana,[9] and Minerva.[10]

Iconography:

As can be expected, she is mostly associated with the writing tools dedicated to Her, but is also associated with and inverted anchor symbol apparently found in an votive inscription to Her. She is sometimes also thought to be depicted holding a broken key, staff, or stylus.

Sources

  1. THE VENETIC AGENT NOUNS IN -TŌR- REVISITED by Blanca Maria Prósper, 2018, p. 456

  2. THE VENETIC AGENT NOUNS IN -TŌR- REVISITED by Blanca Maria Prósper, 2018, p. 455

  3. Reitia, ¿una divinidad véneta de la escritura? by Rafael JIMENEZ ZAMUDIO, 1987, pp. 357 - 365

  4. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 60

  5. Integration, Identity, and Language Shift: Strengths and Weaknesses of the ‘Linguistic’ Evidence by David Langslow, 2012, p. 295

  6. Education and literacy in ancient Italy: Evidence from the dedications to the goddess Reitia by KATHERINE MCDONALD, 2019, pp. 2-3

  7. Landscapes of the Prehistoric Veneto, Italy. A Plurality of Local Identities Reflected in Cult and Landscape Perception, 2007, p. 51

  8. Education and literacy in ancient Italy: Evidence from the dedications to the goddess Reitia by KATHERINE MCDONALD, 2019, pp. 22-23

  9. EX ANTIQUO PRAETER SONUM LINGUAE… by Sindy Kluge, 2018, p. 209

  10. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 60