In Celtic mythology, Sulis is the local goddess of the thermal springs that still feed the spa baths at Bath, which the Romans called Aquae Sulis ("the waters of Sulis").


Bath's genius loci

Her name appears on inscriptions at Bath, but nowhere else. This should not be disappointing. Celtic deities often preserved their archaic localization. They remained to the end associated with a specific place, often a cleft in the earth, a spring, pool or well. The Greeks referred to the similarly local pre-Hellenic deities in the local epithets that they assigned, associated with the cult of their Olympian pantheon at certain places (Zeus Molossos only at Dodona, for example). The Romans tended to lose sight of these specific locations, except in a few Etruscan cult inheritances and ideas like the genius loci, the guardian spirit of a place.

Why does both this goddess and Brigantis exhibit syncretism with Minerva?

At Bath, the Roman temple is dedicated to Sulis Minerva, as the primary deity of the temple spa. Through the Roman Minerva syncresis, later mythographers have inferred that Sulis was also a goddess of wisdom and decisions. Sulis was a goddess of the hot springs, which arrived so vividly fresh from the UnderworldAnnwn, therefore she guarded a liminal connection between this sunlit world and the Otherworld, where there was knowledge that could be effective in prophesy. Suil in Old Irish is 'eye' or "gap". Did her name "Sulis" suggest, in Gallo-Brittonic, the connotation of the 'orifice or gap' through which the healing waters ran? At Delphi the omphalos or navel was an opening into the other world.

Etymology of the name

Suil in Old Irish is 'eye' or "gap". Did her name "Sulis" suggest, in Gallo-Brittonic, the connotation of the 'orifice or gap' through which the healing waters ran? At Delphi the omphalos or navel was an opening into the other world. However, the reconstructed lexis of the Proto-Celtic language as collated by the University of Wales [1] ( suggests that the name is likely to be ultimately derived from the Proto-Celtic *Su-lījīs . This Proto-Celtic word connotes the semantics of ‘Good, Flooding One,’ *līj- being found in *Lījros (‘tidal flood, sea,’ cf Lir and Llyr) and in *Līj-enissā (‘tidal island;’ cf. Lyonesse)This apparent semantic connotation has led Dr. John Koch at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies to suggest that this mythic personality may well personify “beneficial water-flow,” of which the thermal springs at Bath and perhaps other sites may well have been deemed a manifestation. This theory, if it is correct, would account for the associations with potentially therapeutic thermal springs.

Continuity in Celtic mythology

The mythology later connected with the origins of the Aquae Sulis are Roman rather than Celtic, though Celtic writers enjoyed repeating them: Her eternal fire was kindled in Troy and brought to Britain by Aeneas from the sacked city; a theme of healing recurs in the legend of the founder of Bath, the mythic King Bladud, disfigured by leprosy or scrofula, who bathed in the hot mud with which pigs soothed their own skin. He founded Sulis' shrine over the spot.

Incorporation into Neo-paganism

Neo-Celtic mythology can build a great deal on such slender evidence. Moyra Caldecott has written a historical romance, The Waters of Sul (first published as Aquae Sulis).

Was Sulis revered further afield?

There are dedications to “Minerva” in Britain and in Celtic Europe. In the town of Bath in England she was equated with a female deity called Sulis, the cult of whom had its focus on the natural thermal wellsprings to be found there. The plural form of the name, Suleviae, discovered at Bath and at other sites, relates her to a good many widely-revered divine mothers, who frequently appear with two or three primary aspects to their character.

Fairgrove's views

Rowan Fairgrove's e-essay, "What we don't know about the ancient Celts" describes the recovered dedications and curses scratched onto potsherds, which give a better idea of what her Romano-Briton devotés wanted from Sulis Minerva.

"She had the power to grant healing, of course, but also to witness oaths, catch thieves, find lost objects and generally right wrongs. Some examples include, "I have given to Minerva the Goddess Sulis the thief who has stolen my hooded cloak whether slave or free, whether man or woman. He is not to redeem this gift unless with his blood." and "May he who carried off Vilbia from me become as liquid as water. May she who obscenely devoured her become dumb whether Velvinna, Exsupeus Vbrianus, Severinus Augustalis, Comitianus, Catusminianus, Germanilla or Jovina." and "Docimedis has lost two gloves. He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and his eyes in the temple where she appoints."

Was Vilbia an edible pet? The Romans did introduce rabbits to England.

Fairgrove also mentions a trio of goddesses who were not so site-specific as Sulis, the Suleviae, whose names appear in inscriptions found at Cirencester, Colchester and in several locations in Gaul. Collected Latin inscriptions (CIL) show that these include dedications to the Sulevian Mothers (Matribus Suleviae), the Sulevian Goddess (Deae Sulevae), the Sulevian Goddesses (Sulevis deabus) and to the Sulevian sisters (Sulevis Sororibus).

Are these "Suleviae" the "tripled Sulis," as other other triple Celtic deities were tripled, even Roman Mars appearing as triplets? Fairgrove adds, "One of the inscriptions at Bath, on a statue base says 'To the Suleviae, Sulinus, a sculptor, son of Brucetus, gladly and deservedly made this offering' so we know they, as well as the singular Sulis Minerva, were known at this site also."

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