Sulis is the presiding goddess of the natural hot springs of Bath, England. The springs and town were formerly known as Aquae Sulis: “the waters of Sulis.” Her name is related to a Celtic wordfor “sun” and in fact the waters are naturally very hot as if powered by the sun. Sulis’ waters are therapeutic. She is a goddess of healing as well as a spirit of justice and vengeance. Devotees invoked Sulis to punish those who had done them wrong, especially thieves.
Sulis was resident at Bath long before the arrival of the Romans. Pigs are credited with discovering her healing waters. People found them lolling in the warm mud. Celts preferred to worship in natural settings and Sulis’ first shrine was rustic. The Romans loved thermal baths. When they arrived in Britain, they embraced Sulis and her waters wholeheartedly. The Romans identified her with Minerva and, maybe as early as 65 CE, replaced her small shrine with a massive one featuring a Mediterranean-style temple. The natural springs were converted into an enormous enclosed pool.
Sulis’ new shrine was patronized by an international clientele. It became an ancient pilgrimage and tourist destination. Over sixteen thou sand coins have been found on-site, testifying to the varied origins of devotees including Celts, Greeks, Romans, and Romanized Britons.
Coins and other offerings were given to Sulis by throwing them into her reservoir, akin to the modern tradition of dropping coins in a wishing well. In addition to offerings, curse tablets were also commonly deposited in her waters. Curse tablets (Latin: Defixiones, from a verb meaning “to fix” as in the ominous threat, “I’m going to fix you!”) are small sheets of lead or other soft, inexpensive metal inscribed with a message detailing the petitioner’s desires and addressed to the spirit expected to fulfill them. The inscribed metal sheet was rolled up like a little scroll and thrown into watery depths from which they could not be retrieved. (Hence the spell could not be broken; the petition could not be revoked.) Sulis apparently provided justice for those who perceived themselves wronged or disenfranchised.
Other offerings included ex-votos. Amulets were created at the shrine and provided to the faithful. Molds for making amulets, including some resembling solar wheels, were found in her sanctuary.
Sulis’ sacred spring at Bath is not merely a source of hot water and healing but also a sacred portal where humans and spirits may communicate, hence its associations with curse tablets.
She was offered ex-votos in the shape of parts of the body, especially breasts. It’s believed that these amulets were worn during pregnancy, birth, and lactation and then donated to Sulis once the process had been successfully concluded. Offerings discovered at Bath also include lots of coins plus a pair of loaded dice.
Coventina; Minerva; Sequana; Sirona
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.