Friday, November 04, 2005

Genius Cucullatus Exhibition

by Carlie Sigel, curator

"Throughout the past two centuries, excavations in Romano-Celtic settlements on both Britain and the European Continent have turned up a number of representations of a hooded deity interpreted to be cult objects of the genius cucullatus. Providing a case for the origin and identity for the cult has been a challenge for archaeologists because, as with many topics in the study of Celtic culture, the only information available is encoded in the relief carvings and votive objects depicting the deities. Often, these objects have been long disassociated with their original context and have suffered heavy weathering. This essay intends to give an overview of the topics that have concerned scholars of the genius cucullatus including the general attributes of the deity, its origin, the regional variation in the representations, and a list of genii cucullati found thus far.

Hoods, eggs, and parchment scrolls
The genius cucullatus takes on a general form that is modified and embellished according to localized interpretations of the deity's power. To draw up a list of features each figure displays would be short; they wear thick hooded cloaks and are found in pontentially sacred contexts. The cloaks vary in length, number of folds, extent of body coverage, and hood shape. Although no pattern has been determined among the different cloak styles, other differences between the figures are partly linked to the regions in which they were found. Most scholars agree that the genii cucullati of Britain predominantly appear in triads, are small of stature, and often carry eggs, or other fertility attributes (Heichelheim 192-3). In contrast, the cucullati of the European continent appear singularly, as giants and dwarves, and occasionally imply phallus worship(193). In both regions the deities are often found clutching parchments or scrolls, which may signify wisdom (Jenkins 88) or the secrets of healing lore (Toynbee, 1957 158)."

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