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In the Gaulish language, Dusios[1] was a divine being[2] among the continental Celts[3] who was identified with the god Pan of ancient Greek religion and with the gods Faunus, Inuus, Silvanus, and Incubus of ancient Roman religion. Like these deities, he[4] might be seen as multiple in nature,[5] and referred to in the plural (dusioi), most commonly in Latin as dusii. Although the Celtic Dusios is not described in late-antique sources independently of Greek and Roman deities, the common functionality of the others lay in their ability to impregnate animals and women, often by surprise or force. Dusii continue to play a role in the magico-religious belief systems of Gaul and Francia as a type of incubus in early-medieval paganism and Christianity.

In Augustine and Isidore[edit]

St. Augustine in a 6th-century portrait

References to the dusii appear in the writings of the Church Fathers, where they are treated as demons.[6] Early Christian writers still regarded the traditional religions of antiquity as potent competing belief systems. Rather than denying the existence of rival gods, they often sought to demonstrate their inferior nature through theological argument, ridicule, or demonization.[7] Saint Augustine mentions the dusii in a passage criticizing the belief that early in the history of humanity angels could have bodily intercourse with mortal women, begetting the race of giants or heroes. Augustine redefines traditional beliefs within a Christian framework, and in this passage makes no firm distinction between the essential nature of angels and demons:[8]

One often hears talk, the reliability of which must not be doubted, since it is confirmed by a number of people who know from their own or others' experience, that Silvani and Pans, commonly called incubi, have often appeared to women as wicked men, trying to sleep with them and succeeding. These same demons, whom the Gauls name Dusii, are relentlessly committed to this defilement, attempting and achieving so many things of such a kind that to deny it would seem brazen. Based on this, I dare not risk a definitive statement as to whether there might be some spirits, aerial in substance (for this substance, when it is set in motion by a fan, is perceived as sensation within the body and as touch), who take bodily form and even experience this sexual desire, so that, by any means they can, they mingle with women sensually. But that the holy angels of God in no way fell in like manner during that era — that I would believe.[9]

Isidore of Seville echoes Augustine closely, but expands the identifications with other divine figures:

The 'hairy ones' (pilosi)[10] are called in Greek Pans, in Latin Incubi, or Inui from their entry (ineundo) with animals everywhere.[11] Hence also Incubi are so called because wrongful sex[12] is incumbent on them.[13] For often the wicked ones come into the presence of women also, and succeed in sleeping with them. The Gauls call these demons Dusii, because they seduce[14] relentlessly.[15]

Isidore seems to be trying to derive dusius from the adverb adsidue, "persistently, diligently, constantly." The word may be related to Scandinavian Tusse, "fairy."[16] More likely, it is related to a semantic field of Indo-European words, some meaning "phantom, vapor," as for example Lithuanian dvãse, "spirit, phantom,"[17] and dùsas, "vapor"; and others meaning "fury" (Old Irish dás-, "to be in a fury"), particularly in a divine sense, as Greek thuia, "bacchante," and Latin furiae (the Furies). It is also possible, but less likely, that the word is a nominalization of the Gaulish prefix dus-, "bad" (cf. Greek dys-).[18] Whitley Stokes connected the dusii to Slavic dusi ("spirits"), dusa ("soul"), dusmus ("devil").[19] The Breton word duz, a type of fairy, goblin, or changeling, is derived by many scholars from dusios.[20] Duz sometimes has been proffered as the origin of deuce as a name for "devil" in the expression "What the Deuce!"[21]

Agricultural associations[edit]

Figs, interior exposed
The Dusios was identified with Pan (pictured), Faunus, Silvanus, and Inuus as a rampantly fertilizing god

The lexicographer Papias, writing in the 1040s, says that the Dusii are those whom the Romans call Fauni ficarii.[22] The adjective ficarius comes from ficus, "fig," and is applied to Faunus frequently enough to suggest a divine epithet. "Figgy" may refer to the god's fructifying power,[23] or may be a lewd reference to the fauns' well-known habits of random penetration[24] (see also Inuus), as "fig" was Greek slang for "anus" and Latin slang for both "sore anus"[25] and later "vagina".[26] A fertility ritual involving twigs and sap from the male fig tree was carried out by Roman matrons for Juno Caprotina, later identified with the goatskin-wearing Juno Sospita.[27]

Pliny notes that the wild fig (called caprificus, "goat-fig, caprifig," because it was food for goats) spawns "flies" or fig wasps called ficarii (ficarios culices caprificus generat).[28] The adjective ficarius characterizes the "figgy fauns" and their counterparts the dusii by their swarming, serial acts of fertilization.[29]

In the 8th-century Life of St. Richarius, dusii hemaones or dusii manes[30] also occur in a horticultural setting. Richarius, born ca. 560 in Amiens, Picardy, was converted to Christianity by Welsh missionaries. His vita records a belief among his fellow Picards in northwest Gaul that the dusi, called maones in some recensions, steal crops and damage orchards.[31] These agriculturally dangerous beings appear in other medieval authors as Mavones, maones, manes and "Magonians," the latter being airborne crop-raiders from a mythical land located in the clouds.[32]

It is less than evident how dusii could be a surviving form of the Roman Manes, infernal gods who were shades of the dead, or be thought of as aerial pirates. Isidore offers a clue when he says the manes are gods of the dead, but their power is located between the moon and the earth, the same cloud region through which the Magonians traveled.[33] This airborne existence recalls Augustine's characterization of the Dusii as "aerial in substance," and points toward the Arthurian "histories" involving incubi daemones, "creatures who mingle the angelic and the demonic, inhabiting the uncertain space between sun and moon." Medieval romance narratives suggest that women fantasize about these sexual encounters, though a visitation is likely to be represented by male authors as frightening, violent, and diabolic.[34]

Surviving tradition[edit]

Dusii are among the supernatural influences and magical practices that threaten marriages, as noted by Hincmar in his 9th-century treatise De divortio Lotharii ("On Lothar's divorce"): "Certain women have even been found to have submitted to sleeping with Dusii in the form of men who were burning with love."[35] In the same passage, Hincmar warns of sorceresses (sorciariae), witches (strigae), female vampires (lamiae), and magic in the form of "objects bewitched by spells, compounded from the bones of the dead, ashes and dead embers, hair taken from the head and pubic area of men and women, multicoloured little threads, various herbs, snails' shell and snake bits."[36]

19th-century Prussian coat of arms depicting woodland "wild men"

The form Dusiolus, a diminutive, appears in a sermon with the beings aquatiquus (from aqua, "water") and Geniscus, possibly a form of the Roman Genius or the Gallic Genius Cucullatus whose hooded form suggested or represented a phallus.[37] According to "country people" (rustici homines), these and witches (striae) threaten infants and cattle.[38]

Gervase of Tilbury (ca. 1150–1228) deals with dusii in his chapter on lamiae and "nocturnal larvae". Although he draws directly on Augustine, calling the dusii incubi and comparing them to Silvanuses and Pans, he regards them as sexually threatening to both men and women.[39]

The dusios merges later with the concept of the wild man; as late as the 13th century, Thomas Cantipratensis claimed dusii were still an active part of cult practice and belief. In his allegory on bees,[40] Thomas declares that "we see the many works of the demon Dusii, and it is for these that the folk used to consecrate the cultivated groves of antiquity. The folk in Prussia still reckon that the forests are consecrated to them; they don't dare cut them down, and never set foot in them, except for when they wish to make sacrifice in them to their own gods."[41] In the 17th century, Johannes Praetorius rather wildly conjectured that dusios ought to be drusios, connected to the god Silvanus and the woodlands and to the word "druid."[42] The 19th-century Irish folklorist Thomas Crofton Croker thought the dusii were a form of woodland or domestic spirits, and deals with them in a chapter on elves.[43]


  1. ^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), p. 158. The Latinized form would be dusius, most often in the plural dusii.
  2. ^ Perhaps a deus. As late as the 13th century, Thomas Cantipratensis asserted that some people still regard groves as consecrated to dusii and entered them to sacrifice to "their own gods" (suis diis, dative plural of deus); see discussion under Surviving tradition below. The 19th-century Celiticist Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville regarded the dusii as divinities who might be compared to aquatic deities of the Homeric tradition in Greece as lovers who begat children with mortal women; see "Esus, Tarvos trigaranus," Revue Celtique 19 (1898), pp. 228, 234–235, 251 online. With reference to a highly speculative etymological connection between dusios and the English word "dizzy," Arbois de Jubainville saw the effects of these spirits as comparable to those of the Greek nymphs or Italic lymphae. J.A. MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts (Forgotten Books edition 2007, originally pub. 1911), p. 232 online thought that the dusii "do not appear to represent the higher gods reduced to the form of demons by Christianity, but rather a species of lesser divinities, once the object of popular devotion."
  3. ^ Galli as designated by Augustine and Isidore (see following). In antiquity, Galli refers both to inhabitants of the geographical region Gallia as it was delineated by the Greeks and Romans, and to peoples who spoke a form of Celtic (that is, who spoke gallice, "in Gaulish") or who were perceived by the Greeks and Romans as ethnically "Celtic." See J.H.C. Williams, Beyond the Rubicon: Romans and Gauls in Republican Italy (Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 1–17 et passim.
  4. ^ Both ancient Greek and Latin categorize nouns within three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Although grammatical gender is distinguished from biological gender, Latin places humans (homines), animals (animalia), and anthropomorphic beings perceived as having sexual characteristics in their gender-specific category. Some "monsters" are neuter (the sea monster ketos in Greek, for instance). The dusii are masculine in both grammatical gender and in their sexual behavior in all the sources in which they appear, with the possible exception of Gervase of Tilbury, who seems to think they can also be female; see below. The Greco-Roman deities to whom they are compared are aggressively masculine, often depicted as ithyphallic.
  5. ^ The multiplicity of the group of deities to which the dusii belong — Pan/panes, Faunus/fauni, Inuus/inui, Silvanus/silvani, Incubus/incubi — is related to the question of monotheistic tendencies in ancient religion: "Lower gods were executors or manifestations of the divine will rather than independent principles of reality. Whether they are called gods, demons, angels, or numina, these immortal beings are emanations of the One": Michele Renee Salzman, "Religious koine in Private Cult and Ritual: Shared Religious Traditions in Roman Religion in the First Half of the Fourth Century CE," in A Companion to Roman Religion (Blackwell, 2007), p. 113. The name of Pan was sometimes etymologized as meaning "All"; although scientific linguistics has shown this derivation to be incorrect, it appears in the Homeric Hymn to Pan (6th century BC) and influenced theological interpretations in antiquity, including the speculations of Plato: see H.J. Rose and Robin Hard, The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology (Routledge, 2004), p. 215 online, and David Sedley, Plato's Cratylus (Cambridge University Press) pp. 96–97 online, where Pan as "all" is connected to the logos: "This is the climax of the divine etymologies." The "all-ness" of Pan accounted for his multiple manifestations, reflected by nominal plurals. On the distinction between modern scientific and ancient theological etymology, see Davide Del Bello, Forgotten Paths: Etymology and the Allegorical Mindset (Catholic University of America Press, 2007).
  6. ^ For further discussion, see Christianity and Paganism.
  7. ^ For an extended discussion, see Carlos A. Contreras, "Christian Views of Paganism," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.23.1 (1980) 974–1022, noting, for instance, the Church Fathers' habit of "applying Christian conceptions to pagan ideas in order to condemn them" (p. 1010 online). "Our knowledge of such things comes from Christian writers who are openly concerned to discredit all aspects of pagan idolatry," states Peter Stewart, Statues in Roman Society: Representation and Response (Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 266, note 24 online.
  8. ^ Corinne J. Saunders, "'Symtyme the fende': Questions of Rape in Sir Gowther," in Studies in English Language and Literature. 'Doubt Wisely': Papers in Honour of E.G. Stanley (Routledge, 1996), p. 296 online.
  9. ^ Augustine of Hippo, De civitate Dei 15.23: Et quoniam creberrima fama est multique se expertos uel ab eis, qui experti essent, de quorum fide dubitandum non esset, audisse confirmant, Siluanos et Panes, quos uulgo incubos uocant, inprobos saepe extitisse mulieribus et earum appetisse ac peregisse concubitum; et quosdam daemones, quos Dusios Galli nuncupant, adsidue hanc inmunditiam et temptare et efficere, plures talesque adseuerant, ut hoc negare inpudentiae uideatur: non hinc aliquid audeo definire, utrum aliqui spiritus elemento aerio corporati (nam hoc elementum etiam cum agitatur flabello sensu corporis tactuque sentitur) possint hanc etiam pati libidinem, ut, quo modo possunt, sentientibus feminis misceantur. Dei tamen angelos sanctos nullo modo illo tempore sic labi potuisse crediderim; for an alternative English translation by Marcus Dods, from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, vol. 2 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), revised and edited by Kevin Knight, see New Advent.
  10. ^ For a discussion of "hairy demons", in early sources sometimes translated as satyrs, see Unclean spirit.
  11. ^ "Everywhere" = Latin passim; as with the theological interpretation of Pan's name as "All," the ubiquity of this type of divinity is emphasized.
  12. ^ Latin stuprandum, gerund from stupro, stuprare, refers to illicit sexual activity, including adultery and other sex outside marriage, participation in which renders the woman impure; consent is not at issue. The word is not a synonym for "rape," but does not exclude forced sex; Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982, 1985 reprinting), entries on stuprum (noun) and stupro (verb), p. 1832. See also discussion by Elaine Fantham, "Stuprum: Public Attitudes and Penalties for Sexual Offences in Republican Rome," in Roman Readings: Roman Response to Greek Literature from Plautus to Statius and Quintilian (Walter de Gruyter, 2011); and Victoria Emma Pagán, Conspiracy Narratives in Roman History (University of Texas Press, 2004), p. 58 online, where the penetration of the male as an act of stuprum is an emphasis.
  13. ^ A literal translation fails to capture the etymological echoes of incubi and incumbendo: "Hence also the Incubi are named from 'lying on,' that is, from having wrongful sex."
  14. ^ Again Isidore's etymological echoes between Dusios and adsidue are lost in a literal translation; "because they relentlessly achieve this defilement."
  15. ^ Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 8.11.103: Pilosi, qui Graece Panitae, Latine Incubi appellantur, sive Inui ab ineundo passim cum animalibus. Unde et Incubi dicuntur ab incumbendo, hoc est stuprando. Saepe enim inprobi existunt etiam mulieribus, et earum peragunt concubitum: quos daemones Galli Dusios vocant, quia adsidue hanc peragunt immunditiam; Katherine Nell MacFarlane, "Isidore of Seville on the Pagan Gods (Origines VIII. 11)," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 70 (1980), pp. 36–37.
  16. ^ MacFarlane, "Isidore of Seville on the Pagan Gods," p. 37.
  17. ^ Ken Dowden, European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (Routledge, 2000), p. 306, note 57, finds the Lithuanian only "coincidentally similar," contra Delamarre following.
  18. ^ Delamarre, entry on dusios, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, p. 158.
  19. ^ Whitley Stokes, Transactions of the Philological Society (1867), p. 261, as cited by A. Smythe Palmer, Folk-Etymology, A Dictionary (London, 1882), p. 623. Additional etymological conjecture not necessarily premised on modern scientific linguistics include George Henderson, Survivals in Belief among the Celts (1911), p. 46; Charles Godfrey Leland, Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition pp. 126–129, with amusing anecdotes.
  20. ^ Dowden, European Paganism, p. 306, note 57; Édouard Le Héricher, Glossaire etymologique Anglo-Normand (Paris, 1884), p. 43 online.
  21. ^ Palmer, Folk-Etymology, p. 623; Henderson, Survivals in Belief, p. 73.
  22. ^ Papias, Elementarium: Dusios nominant quos romani Faunos ficarios vocant, as quoted by Du Cange in his 1678 Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis (Niort: Favre, 1883–1887), vol. 3, online.
  23. ^ Katherine Nell MacFarlane, "Isidore of Seville on the Pagan Gods," p. 36, citing W.F. Otto's entry on Faunus in PW.
  24. ^ Egidio Forcellini, Totius latinitatis lexicon (1831), vol. 2, p. 287.
  25. ^ Ficus was a medical term for hemorrhoids or anal sores, but the imperial-era poet Martial makes jokes that depend on understanding the sore anus as resulting from too much penetration (for example, 12.96ff.); see Adams, Sexual Vocabulary following.
  26. ^ J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982). p. 113.
  27. ^ Sarolta A. Takács, Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion (University of Texas Press, 2008), pp. 51–53.
  28. ^ Pliny, Natural History 11.41.
  29. ^ MacFarlane, "Isidore of Seville on the Pagan Gods," p. 36. For the dual meanings of ficarius, see also Forcellini's Lexicon online and Du Cange's Glossarium online. The fauni ficarii are adduced in the entry on the adjective unfæle, "evil, bad," in An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Based on the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, edited by T. Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1882), p. 1103 online, citing Thomas Wright's privately published Vocabularies (1857), p. 17, gloss 20 (unfæle men, wudewásan, unfæle wihtu) and p. 60, glosses 23–24. In listing ficarii or inuii (for inui, plural of Inuus) with the Anglo-Saxon gloss wudewasan (woodwose), following (due to a probable transposition error with the previous Satyri or fauni, glossed as unfæle men), Wright notes that the entry "furnishes us with a very curious and instructive example of the long preservation of words connected with popular superstitions": "Supplement to Alfric's Vocabulary of the Tenth or Eleventh Century," p. 188 online. Among the interests evidenced in this particular vocabulary are "a few words connected with the ancient religious belief" (p. 168). Discursive treatment of this group of beings, including the dusii, with remarks on the meaning of "fig," in Richard Payne Knight's "On the Worship of the Generative Powers During the Middle Ages of Western Europe" in Two Essays on the Worship of Priapus (London, 1865), pp. 149–153 online, a work that should be consulted with an awareness of the biases and preoccupations of its own era.
  30. ^ In other recensions, the dusi(i) appear as maones, which may be equivalent to manes.
  31. ^ Vita Richarii I, 2, MGH SRM 7, 445, as cited by Bernadotte Filotas, Pagan Survivals, Superstitions and Popular Cultures in Early Medieval Pastoral Literature (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2005), p. 80.
  32. ^ Filotas, Pagan Survivals, pp. 80–81.
  33. ^ Pagan Survivals pp. 80–81, noting that "unknown peculiarities of Iberoceltic or Visigothic belief brought into Gaul by Spaniards fleeing the Moorish onslaught may lie behind such tales," and pp. 220, 272–273.
  34. ^ Corinne J. Saunders, "'Symtyme the fende': Questions of Rape in Sir Gowther," in Studies in English Language and Literature. 'Doubt Wisely': Papers in Honour of E.G. Stanley (Routledge, 1996), pp. 295–296 online et passim. Legendary heroes were sometimes thought to have been begotten by such encounters; Henderson, Survivals in Belief, p. 73.
  35. ^ Quaedam etiam faeminae a Dusis in specie virorum, quorum amore ardebant, concubitum pertulisse inventae sunt: De divortio, XV Interrogatio, MGH Concilia 4 Supplementum, 205, as cited by Filotas, Pagan Survivals, p. 305.
  36. ^ Filotas, Pagan Survivals, p. 305.
  37. ^ Although characteristic of Gaul, these figures also appear elsewhere in the Roman Empire. See, for instance, the bronze lamp in the form of a phallic cucullatus described by Clairève Grandjouan, "Terracottas and Plastic Lamps of the Roman Period," in The Athenian Agora 6 (1961), p. 72, and two examples described as "negroid" pp. 80–81. See also Telesphoros.
  38. ^ Filotas, Pagan Survivals, pp. 78–79; Sunt aliqui rustici homines, qui credunt aliquas mulieres, quod vulgum dicitur strias esse debeant, et ad infantes vel pecora nocere possint, vel Dusiolus, vel aquatiquus, vel geniscus esse debeat, cited by Du Cange as Homel. ex Cod. reg. 5600. fol. 101. See also Mythology in the Low Countries.
  39. ^ Gervase of Tilbury, Otia Imperialia, tertia decisio LXXXVI, p. 41 in the edition of Liebrecht online.
  40. ^ On the dusii as fig wasps, see above.
  41. ^ Dusiorum daemonum opera multa percepimus, et hi sunt quibus gentiles lucos plantatos antiquitus consecrabant. his adhuc Prussiae gentiles silvas aestimant consecratas et eas incidere non audentes, numquam ingrediuntur easdem, nisi cum in eis diis suis voluerint immolare; cited by Du Cange as Thomas Cantipratensis, Bonum universale de apibus lib. 2 cap. 57 n. 17. Passage quoted and discussed by J.W. Wolf, "Lichtelben," Beiträge zur deutschen mythologie (Göttingen, 1852), p. 279. See also Dowden, European Paganism, p. 109.
  42. ^ Johannes Praetorius, Blockes-Berges Verrichtung (1668),[1] as cited by Leland, Etruscan Roman Remains, pp. 128–129.
  43. ^ Thomas Crofton Croker, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (London, 1828), p. 127.