• Hans Faber

Celtic-Frisian heritage: There's no dealing with the Wheel of Fortune


August 2016, in the Dutch late-night talk show Pauw, former television presenter of the game show Wheel of Fortune, Hans van der Togt, told about his hard and miserable life in province Friesland. In this blog post we will explain plain and simple it was Hans’ pagan doom or destiny to end up in Frisia, despite the fact he was born in the deep south of the Netherlands.


Hans van der Togt, born in 1947, presented the game show Rad van Fortuin ‘Wheel of Fortune’ in the ’90s. The show was immensely popular. Not only because of Hans’ beautiful female assistant Leontien Ruiters but also because of Hans’ genuine show-master talents. Really. Then he retired.


After years of silence, August 23, 2016 he suddenly resurfaced on national television. In the popular talk show Pauw he told the public about his life in the tiny village of Achlum in province Friesland. A few days earlier he had given an interview in a Dutch newspaper about his lonesome life at the empty grasslands, the last three years. He said he had left the big city of Amsterdam impulsively, and bought a romantic house for the proverbial “no money” in Friesland. The first year he was euphoric. Then the ancient, harsh marshlands of Frisia hit him full in the face. The long winters, the loneliness, the endless green. The rainy grey days. He started missing the city, missing Amsterdam. But, he had sold everything.


Divine wheels


Let’s jump back 2,000 years. Archaeological research in the terp (i.e. artificial settlement mound) region in northern Netherlands revealed well preserved findings of wooden wheels buried under houses or homesteads, or in former wells from the period between the fifth century BC and the first century AD. Both disc wheels as spoked wheels have been found, and these are all made of oak or taxus wood. Research gives ritual disposition as a possible explanation. From the same era, wheels have also been found in the peatlands of province Drenthe in the Netherlands. Historians suggest these wheels were offerings for a good harvest, or it were wheels of carriages left behind in the peatlands as unapproachable attributes in a sacrale landscape (Van Eijnatten 2006).


Besides these archaeological findings, the Germanic god Thor of thunder, also known as Thunor or Donar, had much in common with its Celtic thunder-colleague Taranis. Taranis was associated with a wheel, probably symbolizing the sun. The Celts symbolically offered wheels, gave symbolic wheels as grave good, and wore miniature wheels as amulets (Van der Tuuk 2017). Therefore, attach no value to the two centuries old experiments of Benjamin Franklin, supposedly explaining lightning is merely a phenomenon of physics. But this aside.


The period during which the wheels mentioned above were buried in terps in Frisia was roughly between 500 BC and AD 100, and the wheel symbols and rituals might have been copied or inherited from the Celts. The Celts still present in the wider region of Frisia during this era. Just as Thor was in a way the successor of Tharanis.


In 1891 in Gundestrup in Denmark, a richly decorated cauldron was found, dated the beginning of the first millennium AD. It is probably crafted in Thrace, current south-east Bulgaria. One image shows (half) a wheel being given to somekind of god.

Based on historical language research on vowel systems, the relation of Frisia with the Celts might even go deeper than copying or inheriting religious stuff. Namely, the Frisians living north of the Roman limes ‘borders’ were, in fact, Celts. Of course, it might only have been limited to Celtic language influence and that the Frisians spoke a mixture of a Celtic and Germanic languages. Or, the Frisians were bilingual. According to British research everyday bilingualism -or even multilingualism- was widespread in that time, in this case under the Brits. This was the case already during the Roman Period and, again, after the Anglo-Saxons had settled during fifth century (Oosthuizen 2017). Concerning the classification of the Frisians (Frisii or Fresones) as being Germanic, take into account it were the Romans who attributed this term without a grounded theory (Van de Bunt 2020). Above, those Romans, at first, interchangeably used the terms Celts and Germanics for the tribes north of the River Rhine (Looijenga 2017).


Besides the fact the vowel systems of the pre-Old Frisian language is similar to the vowel system of the Celtic speech that used be spoken in the Netherlands, also the names of the two Frisian kings might give the Celtic heritage or influence away. They were king Verritus and king Malorix who went to Rome in the year AD 58 to plead in person to emperor Nero himself. Their plea concerned to use the land north of the limes, possibly the land surrounding the River IJssel (Van de Bunt 2020). Both king names are Celtic. Verritus means ‘strong runner’ and Malorix means ‘praise king’ in Celtic speech. By the way, the journey of the two Frisian kings has been documented by the Romans. In our blog post The Killing Fields, that of the Celts we wrote more about the Frisii and their possible (partial) Celtic origin.


Conclusion: wheels are divine

Therefore, if after 2,500 years you think you can get away with hosting the profane game show Wheel of Fortune for years and years on end, and sacrilege divine wheels without feeling the consequences of the ancient Celtic gods, do think again. It is not sustainable, as they say in the second millennium. Like Hans van der Togt experienced, Tharanis and Thor will execute great vengeance upon thee.


Let this be a warning for other show masters presenting the game show Wheel of Fortune, like e.g. the Dutch singer and current show master of this game Dre Hazes or the British show master Nicky Cambell or the German show master Jan Hahn. But the names of the show masters worldwide are infinite. And, Hans, be real and look at the original shape of your new home town Achlum:

Achlum
medieval plan of Achlum

Lastly, we would suggest Hans to read our blog posts Grassland conversations and What’s hip and happening at the grasslands to help him survive in Achlum. Frisia. Indeed, it is an acquired taste.



Note 1 – It is also for this very reason why walking the Frisia Coast Trail is the most safe means of movement as it involves no wheels. If for some reason you are required to make use of a car, bicycle or train, show no disrespect to the wheels.


Note 2 – If interested in more pagan and superstitious practices of the Frisians in the Iron Age and Roman Period, check out our blog post Groove is in the Hearth.



Further reading

Beers, J., Runes in Frisia. On the Frisian origin of runic finds (2012)

Bunt, van de A., Wee de overwonnenen. Germanen, Kelten en Romeinen in de Lage Landen (2020)

Dijkstra, M.F.P., Rondom de mondingen van Rijn & Maas. Landschap en bewoning tussen de 3de en 9de eeuw in Zuid-Holland, in het bijzonder de Oude Rijnstreek (2011)

Eijnatten, van J. & Lieburg, van F., Nederlandse religiegeschiedenis (2006)

Laan, van der, J., De bijzondere houten voorwerpen uit de opgravingen in Ezinge (2016)

Looijenga, A., Popkema, A. & Slofstra, B., Een meelijwekkend volk. Vreemden over Friezen van de oudheid to de kerstening (2017)

Oosthuizen, S., The Anglo-Saxon Fenland (2017)

Possel, P., Lockdown? Hier is het áltijd stil en leeg (2021)

Raatgever, S., Ik heb niemand om tegen te praten (2016)

Renswoude, van, O., Hoe Keltisch waren de Friezen? blog Taaldacht (november 2017)

Schrijver, P., Frisian between the Roman and the Early-Medieval Periods. Language contact, Celts and Romans (2017)

Tuuk, van der, L., Thor en zijn buitenlandse collega’s. Blog site: Het Vikinglanghuis (2017)

Versloot, A.P., The Runic Frisian vowel system. The earliest history of Frisian and Proto-Insular North Frisian (2014)