Hoary Youth (Eternal Hero)
Generally considered to be composed of the PGmc roots *Maguz meaning “Boy, Young man” and *Senaz (Or possibly Proto-Celtic *Senos) meaning “Old”. A possible interpretation of this name is that Magusanus is a hoary youth or a cosmic, eternal young man/hero. It is unknown whether the name is Celtic or Germanic in its origin and it could quite possibly be an instance of the Celto-Germanic synthesis present in the Rhinelands. Other names in use among the Batavians suggests a Germanic bent, such as Chariovalda which has been considered an ancient form of the name Harold meaning Army-Wielder. Consider OFrk: *Heri (Army, crowd) and *Wald (Power). Additionally, the Romans considered the Batavians sufficiently different from their Celtic neighbors to consider them Germans.
Magusanus is attested in numerous dedicatory inscriptions present in the lower Rhine as well as the temple complex at Empel where much evidence regarding the cult of Magusanus has been documented. The nature of the artifacts found at the sites at Elst and Kessil/lith indicates these cult centers are quite possibly cult sites of Magusanus as well. Additionally, statuettes/carvings have been discovered that are known to be Magusanus that shows his connection to Hercules and matches classical depictions of the latter. The first Gallic Emperor Postumus (Presumably a Batavian) had Magusanus on his coinage. Below is a map that plots the locations of attestations of Magusanus. (Taken from Ethnic Identity and Imperial Power: The Batavians in the Early Roman Empire by Nico Roymans)
Attestation is not limited to the Rhinelands however. In the service of Rome, the Batavians provided at least 8 Auxilia units whose service included the campaigns in Britain. A dedicatory inscription has been found there as well.
Inscription in Britain from Roman Auxiliaries:
Herculi | Magusan(o) | sacrum | Val(erius) Nigri|nus dupli(carius) | alae Tun|grorum
“Sacred to Hercules Magusanus: Valerius Nigrinus, duplicarius of the Cavalry Regiment of Tungrians, (set this up)”
Theories of Cult Praxis:
Archeological evidence from the Empel temple complex suggests that typical offerings towards Magusanus were young cattle, as well as the ritual deposition of weaponry. Similar deposits found at the Kessel/lith and Elst sites suggests those sites were cult site of Magusanus as well. This indicates a martial as well as pastoral deity whose tradition involved ritual feasting. Curiously, evidence of the Roman fertility ritual Souvetaurilia (Typically associated with Mars) was discovered in one of the more ambiguous locations, suggesting a potential connection to fertility with Magusanus’ cult. Nico Roymans argues that the Batavians system of prestige and power revolved around cattle possession and that the cult of Magusanus was fundamentally connected to the raiding and sacrifice of them. This pastoral nature is supported with the Roman connection of Magusanus to Hercules as well as the wealth of Cattle remains found at the cult sites. For a society whose livelihood was dependent on Cattle farming, a fertility aspect to Magusanus’ cult is quite possible.
Furthermore Magusanus bears many similarities with classic depictions of Germanic/ Indo-European thunder deities. Soil analysis from the temple at Empel leads us to believe that the temple complex had been erected on the site of an Oak grove, a unique feature in a land dominated by willow trees. The association of the Oak and Thunder deity is present in many cultures of the IE spectrum and I will not discuss this at length but for further reading please check out “The Oak and the Thunder-God” by H. Munro Chadwick. To summarize, however, due to not conflating Magusanus with Jupiter the Thunder aspects of Magusanus may not have been as prevalent among the Batavians (Being Proto-Franks), but it’s possible that Magusanus did possess them, and is worth exploring by the modern Frank as an avenue for understanding the deity. Alternatively those aspects could very well have been prevalent before the bonding of the Batavi to the Romans who intentionally chose to downplay those aspects and undermined those practices in order to take advantage of the popularity of Hercules cults on the Roman frontier and culturing the subservience of the tribe (For more info on the tribal polity and its transformation under roman suzerainty please read “Ethnic Identity and Imperial Power: The Batavians in the Early Roman Empire” by Nico Roymans)
One more potential element of Magusanus’ role is as protector of the Iuventas (Youths). In a society which provided a substantial portion of its population to the Roman military (And whose service was held in high regard as excellent soldiers), Iuventas groups clearly provided a much more martial focus than the “civilized” gymnasiums to the south. Germanic peoples are stated to have strongly encouraged initiatory ritual, especially combat related, and the Batavian iuventas colleges quite probably encouraged these practices under the protection of Magusanus. In the capacity as the guardian of bands of young men, approaching military service age, his worship could have included the ritual feasting of cattle that the young men had obtained via raiding and combat preparation. Evidence of this relationship exists on a dedicatory stone that beseechs Magusanus as well as a mysterious goddess, Haeva, for the children. Haeva has not been readily defined, but 2 theories for her naming exists: One, being the etymological similarity to Hercules’ consort Heba who was the goddess of the youths, and two, as a genuine Germanic goddess who name etymologically stems from *Hiwan (Marry) and equates her as a goddess of the family.
A possible interpretation of this data is that Magusanus is a Heroic Youth deity whom typically oversees the pastoral sphere (Particularly cattle raising) as well as the sphere of military service. Generally, offerings to him would be the sacrifice of cattle (Or other forms of “Wealth/prestige due to cattle raising not being a common occupation in modern times, but cattle is the most authentic display of such wealth) and subsequent ritual feasting, as well as the deposition of weapons or other military goods, particularly at the completion of service. By extension one could consider Magusanus concerned with athleticism and physical feats, due to conflation with Hercules as well as his relation to Iuventas and his assistance could be sought in such manners. Surely his mythos contains many tales of his escapades and adventures in taming the wilds of the outer if any of it is parallel in those of Hercules.
His relationship to Heba requires further analysis and attempts to explore that connection on a personal level are something worth looking into for the modern Frank. Additionally its quite possible that he was in some way connected to the cult of a thunder deity, at least prior to Romanization, due to evidence regarding his cult locations being Oak groves, as well as his connection to a blunt-weapon wielding hero and having a pastoral/heroic nature, all traits shared by numerous thunder deities among the Indo-Europeans, including Thor.
Based on attested imagery its quite possible that the traditional “Donarkeule” artifacts discovered in Germany could well have been an amulet of the club-wielding Magusanus and are potentially linked to a fertility role as well, as the bearer of the material wealth in the form of cattle and role as tribal protector, which could include a role in the safeguarding of reproduction.
Magusanus is a multi-faceted and rather flexible deity whose purpose is clearly quite nuanced. He protected his people, both on and off the battle field, and this protection was actively honored by those who held to his cult. The modern Frank, especially those in military service, as well as farmers/ranchers would do well to seek his favor and begin a gift cycle, as well as those involved in athletics and team sports.
List of Sources:
Ethnic Identity and Imperial Power: The Batavians in the Early Roman Empire by Nico Roymans
The Economic and Non-Economic Animal: Roman Depositions and Offerings by Roel C G M Lauwerier
The Oak and the Thunder God by H. Munro Chadwick
Gods, Temples, and Ritual Practices: The Transformation of Religious Ideas by Ton Derks