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Interview - The Time-Travelling Comic Book Adventures of the Pagan Goddess Brigantia with writer Chris Mole

Reading comics is a great way to learn about History.

Don't believe me? Well, despite your lack of trust hurting my feelings like a slap to the mush (do feelings even have mushes? Answers on the back of a tweet), here is the proof. With bullet points and everything:

  • Asterix and Obelix is an iconic entry point to history. Heck, without René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's finest I might never have discovered my love for history!

  • DC's Wonder Woman and Marvel's Hercules both offer an excellent introduction to the heroes and gods of Greek myths.

  • The brilliant Corpse Talk series by Adam and Lisa Murphy provides a hilariously fun opportunity to meet legendary historical characters.

  • 300 by Frank Miller (don't read it, you are probably too young) gave a fantastic and fantastical account of the Battle Of Thermopylae.

  • Northlanders is a thrilling blood-soaked adventure that has lots of fascinating information about the Vikings for readers to uncover (again, don't read it if you aren't over 18. Or if you are not a fan of seeing limbs getting chopped off with wanton abandon).

See, there are loads! Now, feel free to add to that list the wonderful Graphic Novel, 'Brigantia'. Written by Chris Mole and illustrated by Melissa Trender and Harriet Moulton, Brigantia is a family friendly comic that tells the terrific tale of an ancient Pagan Goddess being time-travelled to modern Britain. Lobbed into London and cut off from the tribe that worshipped her, Brigantia must enlist the aid of new followers to defeat her nefarious brother Veteris, who has spent centuries feasting on the fear of Britain's people and gathering his strength.

As well as being a hugely enjoyable romp in its own right, Brigantia provides the reader with an excellent opportunity to learn more about pre-roman Britain's myths and legends. Author Chris Mole certainly knows his historical stuff, owning an impressive two degrees in history - a BA and an MA specialising in medieval history. Teacher's looking to engage their pupils at the start of their Iron Age topic should definitely pick up a copy!

We were lucky enough to meet Chris at the recent Coco Comic-con in Lancaster, and decided to interview him to find out more about the goddess Brigantia, the Brigante tribe, Pagan Britain, and plenty more besides!

Hi Chris, could you tell our readers a little bit about your fantastic comic book series ‘Brigantia’?

Hello, and of course! Brigantia is a story about a goddess from pre-Roman (late Iron Age) Britain who is thrust through time into the modern day by the treachery of her brother, the god Veteris. Initially, she tries to find a way back to her own time and the tribe that she feels she's abandoned, but eventually she comes to realise that she'd be better off staying in our time and helping the people of today's Britain regain their hope and make the country a brighter, happier place.

The Brigantes ask their goddess for help in Brigantia Vol.1

Where did the inspiration for your story come from?

I've been interested in British folklore and mythology since I went to university to study History and gained access to a library full of books on the subject! That interest combined with my love of mythological superheroes like Wonder Woman. I decided to try and write a story about a British equivalent of Wonder Woman, but base her on a real divine figure who's still worshipped by pagans today. I was also influenced by the incredible comic book series The Sandman (by Neil Gaiman), which presents a world where divine figures like Dream and Death walk amongst us. Sandman feels like a very realistic story (despite all the magic and fantasy elements) and I wanted to try and do something similar, with Brigantia inhabiting places that are very familiar to me!


So, just who was the mythological Brigantia?

This is a big question, because… we're not entirely sure! Due to regular waves of immigration and invasion, there isn't really a unified “British” mythology - before the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, Britain had a tribal culture made up of numerous different Celtic tribes (like the famous Iceni and their queen, Boudicca, and the Brigantes whose territory covered much of northern Britain) who had migrated across the channel from Europe and settled here.

Unfortunately, there are no written or documented records of what these tribes believed, so most of what we know comes from archaeological finds, accounts by the Greeks and Romans (who were often quite hostile about Celtic paganism) and literature from the early Christian period (which was equally hostile!)

Brigantia shows her power in the modern world.

We know that ancient Celtic religion was polytheistic (meaning they worshipped numerous gods) - anyone who's read the Asterix books will be familiar with Toutatis and Belenos, both Gaulish gods who are sometimes considered part of a Celtic tradition. There are distinct forms of Celtic mythology in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and we can make connections with some of these (for example, the Irish goddess Brigid's name shares the same root as Brigantia and some scholars have linked the two goddesses together). And we know that a goddess called Brigantia existed, because of later-dated inscriptions and carvings which have been discovered. It seems fairly likely to me that Brigantia was the “tutelary” deity of the Brigantes tribe, meaning that they took their name from the goddess they worshipped.

Celtic religion also placed great importance on the number three, so reconstructionists (people who have attempted to rebuild a working Celtic religion from the evidence available) have suggested that Brigantia was part of a triple or “tripartite” goddess, meaning a goddess with three distinct aspects. There's no definite archaeological evidence for this, but it's the interpretation we’ve gone with in the comic!


Fascinating! Are there any other gods from other pantheons that are similar to Brigantia?

A statue of Brigantia from 119-161 AD.
A statue of Brigantia from 119-161 AD.

Visually, there are a couple - like Minerva from the Roman pantheon and Athena from the Greek. Interestingly, our evidence for Brigantia is largely a result of the Roman invasion of Britain. When the Romans invaded another country, instead of imposing their own gods on the people they'd conquered, they would do something called “syncretising” - which means that they would associate local gods and goddesses with their most likely Roman equivalent and essentially absorb the local belief into worship of that deity. The most famous depiction of Brigantia is a carved statue dated from 119-161 AD with an inscription that reads “Sacred to Brigantia: Amandus, the engineer, by command fulfilled the order.” In the statue, Brigantia is carrying a globe, with a helmet and a spear and looks very similar to statues of Minerva! So while her worshippers might have had their own beliefs on what she looked like, the Romans thought she looked like Minerva and that's how she's often depicted today.


What was her role as Goddess?

Brigantia is often seen as a goddess of war, victory and wisdom, but it's debatable whether this is true or not - because her name has only survived via Roman inscriptions and syncretisation, we can't say for sure what she represented to her people. She may have had similar characteristics to Roman goddesses like Minerva and Victoria, which is why the Romans linked them together - or she might have represented completely different ideals! In the comic, we've suggested that Brigantia is a goddess of war and battle, with her sister Brigid a goddess of healing and her other sister Bride a goddess of blacksmiths and artisans. This covers a few of the things that would have concerned a Celtic tribe - winning in battle, staying in good health and having nice jewellery to wear and weapons to use!

Every hero needs an origin story!

The same is true of what is important to people today, other than the weapons I guess. Talking of people, who were Brigantia's people, the Brigantes? Where did they live?

The Brigantes were a Celtic tribe who lived in northern Britain. We don't know exactly when they started because there are no written records of them before the Roman invasion, but as the largest tribe in Britain they became a real thorn in the Romans’ side. Their territory was spread out over what is today Yorkshire and Lancashire and went as far north as Durham, with major settlements in North and West Yorkshire and in Wincobank, Sheffield (not far from where I live!)

The Brigantes would have lived in various settlements scattered across their territory, many of them hill forts (fortified positions located, oddly enough, on top of hills or other high places). The settlements contained numerous roundhouses, one-room dwellings made of wood and mud with thatched roofs. They would have raised livestock like sheep and pigs and grown crops to feed themselves.


What happened to the Brigantes?

Most of what we know about the Brigantes comes from Roman historians like Tacitus, and this has meant some quite dramatic and lurid stories! The most well known one is about a Brigantian queen called Cartimandua who reigned from 43 AD to 69 AD and was loyal to Rome.

A print of Cartimandua from the 18th century. By Francesco Bartolozzi.

Cartimandua is a very interesting historical figure - she was one of only two recorded female leaders in this time period, the other one being Boudicca, and she was the only leader referred to by Tacitus as a “queen” - Boudicca was never given that respect. This is probably because she co-operated with and supported Rome rather than fighting against them, but it shows that she was willing to engage in politics to protect her position and presumably her tribe.

When a British resistance leader called Caratacus sought sanctuary with the Brigantes, Cartimandua turned him over to the Romans. She then divorced her husband Venutius and married one of his soldiers, Vellocatus, which ultimately resulted in her downfall when Venutius staged his own rebellion and the Romans helped Cartimandua to flee.

This left the kingdom of the Brigantes under the control of a rebellious force who were hostile to Rome, and meant the Romans spent another 10 or so years fighting battles with the Brigantes in an attempt to calm things down. They were finally conquered during the reign of the emperor Antoninus Pius in around 155 AD and disappeared from history at that point.

The version of events that I've made up for the comic is that the goddess Brigantia's sudden disappearance leads to the decline of the Brigantes and their ultimate defeat by the Romans - without their proud warrior goddess to inspire and support them, they couldn't stand against the might of Rome. But that's just my take, since there's no way to prove it!

A particularly sneaky sneak at Volume 2 - thanks Chris!

We very much approve of your take! Where next for Brigantia? Can we look forward to a volume 2?

You can! Volume 2 (which collects the second half of the story) should be out in November this year - all the pages have been drawn so it's almost ready to go. In Volume 2, Brigantia spends a lot of her time in the Celtic Otherworld (which is her pantheon's version of heaven, like Asgard, the home of the gods in Norse mythology) which is under threat from Veteris and an ancient force - the Fomorians, or ‘Sea Giants’, who are a supernatural race primarily found in Irish mythology and defined by their war with the Irish pantheon of gods and heroes called the Tuatha Dé Danann. Expect an exciting and action-packed conclusion to the story!

Awesome! Looking forward to it Chris!

A huge thank you to Chris for answering our questions with such panache!

To order your copy of Brigantia, head on over to Chris' website by clicking here.

Why not say hello to Chris over on Twitter by giving these words a tap.

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