The Font of Voltumna
by Eric Whollem
oxides, earth pigments in acrylic emulsion and copper carbonate
on white clay
Collection of the artist.
Photo copyright by the artist.
Voltumna, the Seahorse God of the Etruscans
Tuscany, just north of Rome, was the site of an ancient
culture that had a language different from most others in
Europe. The art bears affinities to Greek and Egyptian
art, probably through diffusion of artisans throughout the
Mediterranean world. This was the world of the Etrus-
very imaginative and unique. Their mural art utilized
earth paints in a style reminiscent of Egypt and Crete.
THE SEAHORSE GOD
Voltumna was the chief divinity of the Etruscans. This
was the Seahorse. This may seem odd at first. The
seahorse, insofar as it is a being that includes the horse,
the serpent, and the fins of a fish, is a type of of Chimaera,
or composite entity.
The Chimaera appeared in the art of the Etruscans in
the earliest stages of their culture. Before that it was
a Greek idea that stemmed originally from the Hittites.
The Chimaera is generally regarded as an embodiment
of untamed natural powers, but the seahorse was a more
benign symbol, as far as it was interpreted by the
Etruscans. The seahorse was the embodiment of the
highest concept of god to the mind of the Etruscan.
SEAHORSES AND WATERHORSES IN FOLKLORE
The Greek god, Poseidon, a sea god, had among his
chief powers the power to transform into a horse.
The race of Centaurs of Greece, originally were con-
ceived as having the tail fins of a fish. They were thus
seahorses as well.
In the Sheltand Islands there is folklore concerning a
race of diminutive horses that wash up in the tides. These
were called the Shoopiltee or the Tangie.
The designation, Kelpie, is used to describe the magical
waterhorse of Scots and Irish lore. The term is Nokken in
Noreway. In Iceland the Ninnur.
I base my observations on Voltumna on the novel,
The Etruscan. by the Finnish author, Mika Waltari who
relates that the Etruscan seahorse god was considered
a universal spirit by virtue of it's inclusion of mutliple
animal aspects as mentioned above.
Waltari's novel gives a spectacular description of the
mystic visualizations in the initiations in the temple of
the seahorse. A great vision of Voltumna is evoked.
The novel describes the journey of a priest of the
Etruscans through the ancient world of the Mediter-
ranian. A boy destined to be a priest is cast to sea
in a boat. He wears an amulet of a seahorse. He
is led back to his Etruscan homeland by destiny,
after having been captured by Greek pirates and
then having gone through a multitude of adventures
in Sicily, then the Italian mainland where he encoun-
ters the Cumean Sibyl.
THE ROMAN SHRINE OF VOLTUMNA
The Tuscan colony in ancient Rome had a shrine to
Voltumna not far from the sacred precincts of the temple
of Castor and Pollux.
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DAUGHTER OF THE MOUNTAIN
by Eric Whollem
Anthropology, mythology, Etruscans, seahorse, Voltumna.