Souvenir shops in the Belgian Ardennes are filled with statues, mugs, trinkets and clocks depicting fairies, elves, gnomes and other folkloric creatures that were once believed to live in the forest.
If you have a drink on a terrace it won’t take you long to notice that most Belgian beers have a story behind them that can be traced back to magical times. Orval is one of Belgium’s best known beers and has a salmon with a ring in its mouth as its logo. Legend says that when the widowed Matilda of Tuscany visited the abbey she lost her wedding ring in the spring. She was heartbroken and cried until a salmon appeared holding that very same ring, returning it to its owner.
La Chouffe has a white-bearded gnome wearing a red hat depicted on their bottles because it’s said that the gnomes of the Valley of the Fairies discovered the recipe in an old book of spells.
I could probably write all day about Belgian beers and their folkloric origins but I’m going to close off with this last one. Arduinna. A goddess who is depicted as a black-haired Celtic woman wearing a red dress.
The woman in this painting by Guillaume Seignac isn’t Arduinna but the Roman goddess Diana. Arduinna is often compared with her. Our Belgian goddess of the forest was believed to be huntress who rides a wild boar.
This idea might come from the fact that there are lots of wild boars to be found in the region. Even today you can still hear them grunt while taking a walk. Not much information can be found about Arduinna. We do know that she was very popular among the Celts. She was mainly worshipped in the Belgian Ardennes but also had many followers in what is now Luxembourg and parts of France. No Celtic feast was complete without a song to honour her name and glasses were often raised to her health.
Obviously, not everyone appreciated her popularity. In 585 St. Walfroy le Stylite preached to the locals and made it very clear that worshipping this goddess was an insult to the Christian god.
After what must have been a heated argument Walfroy succeeded. On a hill near Margut (present day France) the statue of the forest goddess was pulled down and smashed into pieces with hammers.
Walfroy’s mission was to make everyone forget that the pagan gods had ever even existed. He had probably hoped that this act would obliterate any memory of the boar-riding goddess. He was wrong about that last part. Not many people may have heard her story but centuries later Arduinna got her own beer and an asteroid discovered in 1894 was named after her.
Did Arduinna remind you of any other little-known forest goddesses or gods? I would love to hear from you in the comments!
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Note: All pictures are my own work and were taken in the Belgian Ardennes (except for Guillaume Seignac’s painting of course).