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Review: Pagan Portals: Artio and Artaois



Title: Pagan Portals: Artio and Artaois: A Journey Towards the Celtic Bear Gods

Publisher: Moon Books

Author: Andrew Anderson

Pages: 120pp

Price: $10.95 / $5.99


Artio and Artaois. Once honored by a variety of names and epithets across the northern Celtic lands, they are now little-known. Even in places named for them — such as Bern, Switzerland — they go unrecognized. In this fascinating exploration of their history, iconography, and mythology, Anderson delves into astronomy and archaeology, children’s literature and modern cinema; examines the Bear subculture of the gay community; visits museums and nature preserves; and joins modern devotees as they celebrate bear-inspired wheel of the year festivals.


Bears have played a vital role in mythology and spirituality around the world for thousands of years. Unfortunately, very little survives of this devotion in Europe. As a devotee first of Artio, and than Artaois, Anderson assumes the responsibility of discovering everything that he can about them, and presenting it in an accessible way to a larger audience. This is a noble and notable undertaking, and one that Anderson does with full awareness of its difficulty. Anderson takes great care to make clear what is known about them for certain from the archaeological record, what is likely based on an educated interpretation of the evidence, and what is inspired creation by modern devotees. He also delves (carefully) into a cross-cultural comparison, discussing Artio and Artaois in relation to other Deities and heroes such as Mercury, Mars, Artemis, Gwynn ap Nudd, Ertha, the Bear Mother and the Bear Son, Beowulf, and — most curiously — King Arthur and Merlin. He even delves into myths centered around Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. I found these comparisons insightful, even as Anderson cautioned readers not to indiscriminately apply interpretations across cultures separated by vast distances of time and space (e.g. what is true of Artemis at Brauron may not be true of the Bear Goddess honored in neolithic Scotland).


I was particularly struck by the work and passion of the artists, conservationists, mythologists, and devotees whom Anderson met and interviewed over the course of writing the book: Louisa Potter, who founded the Temple of Ursa; Beth Wildwood, whose beautiful Solstice Bears mark the change of the seasons; Hannah Willow, whose painting “And He Was Made of Stars” was inspired by the British landscape and animal lore; and Corwen Broch and Kate Fletcher, whose Bear Feast invites participants to explore their own mortality and their connection to the cycle of life and death.


Pagan Portals: Artio and Artaois is a heart-felt offering to Deities who have been too-long forgotten. Anderson’s book is a terrific introduction to their history and areas of interest, with suggestions on how to build a modern cultus. Recommended to anyone with an interest in Bear Deities, Celtic spirituality and mythology, or in exploring a new area of the growing Pagan/polytheist community.



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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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