I highly recommend that everyone read this article by River Devora on “The Revolutionary Art of Hearth-Keeping.“
I highly recommend that everyone read this article by River Devora on “The Revolutionary Art of Hearth-Keeping.“
Julius Caesar wrote in Gallic War that the Germanic tribes allied under Ariovistus followed the divinations of their matrons when deciding whether or not to fight: “among the Germans it was the custom for their matrons to pronounce from lots and divination, whether it were expedient that the battle should be engaged in or not” (Gallic War 1.50).
Tacitus, writing centuries later, described the role of Germanic women in inciting bravery and the importance of prophetesses:
They also carry with them into battle certain figures and images taken from their sacred groves. And what most stimulates their courage is, that their squadrons or battalions, instead of being formed by chance or by a fortuitous gathering, are composed of families and clans. Close by them, too, are those dearest to them, so that they hear the shrieks of women, the cries of infants. They are to every man the most sacred witnesses of his bravery—they are his most generous applauders. The soldier brings his wounds to mother and wife, who shrink not from counting or even demanding them and who administer both food and encouragement to the combatants.
Tradition says that armies already wavering and giving way have been rallied by women who, with earnest entreaties and bosoms laid bare, have vividly represented the horrors of captivity, which the Germans fear with such extreme dread on behalf of their women […] They even believe that the sex has a certain sanctity and prescience, and they do not despise their counsels, or make light of their answers. In Vespasian’s days we saw Veleda, long regarded by many as a divinity. In former times, too, they venerated Aurinia, and many other women, but not with servile flatteries, or with sham deification. (Tacitus Germania 7-8)
Providing a concrete example for his generalization in Germania, Tacitus reports in Histories that the Batavian warlord Julius Civilis, who led a revolt against the Romans in 69 CE, fought a victorious battle with “his own mother and sisters, and the wives and children of all his men” encouraging him from behind:
Civilis, surrounding himself with the standards of the captured cohorts, to keep their recent honours before the eyes of his own men, and to terrify the enemy by the remembrance of defeat, now directed his own mother and sisters, and the wives and children of all his men, to stand in the rear, where they might encourage to victory, or shame defeat. The war-song of the men, and the shrill cries of the women, rose from the whole line. (Tacitus Histories 4.18)
These types of practices were found not only among the Germanic peoples, but also among the Britons. In Boudica’s revolt of 60 CE, the Britons brought their wives to the battlefield “to witness the victory:”
The army of the Britons, with its masses of infantry and cavalry, was confidently exulting, a vaster host than ever had assembled, and so fierce in spirit that they actually brought with them, to witness the victory, their wives riding in waggons, which they had placed on the extreme border of the plain. (Tacitus Annals 14.34)
Furthermore, Boudica launched her revolt in 60 CE, while the Romans were busy fighting Druids and torch-wielding women on the Isle of Mona (Anglesey):
On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed to wounds. (Tacitus Annals 14.30)
The aforementioned Veleda prophesied the revolt of Julius Civilis, and after his initial victory, Civilis sent her a captured Roman officer as a gift:
Munius Lupercus, legate of one of the legions, was sent along with other gifts to Veleda, a maiden of the tribe of the Bructeri, who possessed extensive dominion; for by ancient usage the Germans attributed to many of their women prophetic powers and, as the superstition grew in strength, even actual divinity. The authority of Veleda was then at its height, because she had foretold the success of the Germans and the destruction of the legions. (Tacitus Histories 4.61)
Veleda is said to have “dwelt in a lofty tower, and one of her relatives chosen for the purpose conveyed, like the messenger of a divinity, the questions and the answers” (ibid 4.65). On another occasion, Germanic rebels gave her a captured praetorian trireme as a present (ibid. 5.22).
Michael Enright, in Lady with a Mead Cup, lists other prophetesses allied with warlords or warbands:
Cassius Dio mentions another warlord/prophetess pair when he says that Ganna, successor to Veleda, accompanied Masyos, king of the Semnones, to Rome […] and Suetonius says that Vitellius kept a woman of the Chatti whom he trusted as an oracle. Another piece of evidence for such pairing has been found in, of all places the island of Elephantine near the southern border of Egypt. Written on an ostrakon in second century Greek occurs the name of Baloubourg (recte Waluburg), a sibyl of the Semnones, who is unlikely to have landed in those climes unless she accompanied a band of auxiliary troops of her people. (64)
Enright’s theory that warlord-prophetesses is an ancient pairing in Germanic (and Gaulish) cultures may provide an additional layer of explanation to Spartacus’s ability to lead a combined army of Thracians, Gauls, and Germans in his revolt of 71 BCE:
It is said that when he was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue. This woman shared in his escape and was then living with him. (Plutarch Life of Crassus 8.3)
This is a fragment of an altar to the Matronae Veteranehae, the Matrons of Veterans. It comes from the area around Embken and Wollersheim, which are neighborhoods of modern-day Nideggen, Germany. Various inscriptions have been found in the area, probably all from the same sanctuary. It dates from 150-200 C.E.
This partial inscription reads:
Which probably is short for: Mat[ronis] / Veter[anehis] / L[ucius] Sev[erinus] / Tac[itus?] –/—-, “To the Matronae Veteranehae, Lucius Severinus Tacitus–/—-”
The end of the inscription may have been a formula such as VSLM (votum solvit libens merito, “fulfilled his vow willingly and deservedly” or DD (donum dedit, “gave this gift”).
In The Cult of the Matronae in the Roman Rhineland, Alex Garman writes:
“Veteranehae” derives from the Latin veterani which means retired soldiers. The name and the location of the site suggest that some of the surrounding farms were owned or managed by retired Roman soldiers. The inscriptions […] do not record any ranks or positions held. (55)
The Matres Ollototae are attested to from inscriptions from Roman Britain. The epithet comes from Brythonic ollo-, ‘all’ and teuta, touta, ‘tribe,’ or in other words “Mothers of All the Tribes.” Unlike most of the inscriptions to the Matres in Britian, at least one inscription was found at a non-military site (Heronbridge, Cheshire).
Another inscription, made by one Pomponius Donatus at Roman Fort Binchester in Durham County, links the epithet Ollotate to the epithet Transmarinae with the word sive, meaning “or.”
I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo) et Matribus Ollototis sive Tramarinis Pomponius Donatus, b(ene)f(iciarius) co(n)s(ularis) pro salute sua et suorum v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To Iupiter, Best and Greatest, and to the Mother Goddesses of All the Peoples, or Overseas, Pomponius Donatus, beneficiaries of the governor, for the welfare of himself and his household willingly fulfilled his vow’
The epithet Transmarinae is also found at Lowther, Plumpton Wall (Cumbria), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Tyne and Wear) and Risingham (Northunmberland). Transmarinus/a/um can mean either “beyond the sea” or “coming from beyond the sea.” But if They can hear prayers from across the sea, then They have in fact crossed the sea Themselves, making a combination of both meanings likely in my eyes. Perhaps, like the Chinese goddess Mazu (“Mother Ancestor”), who is a protectress of sailors and fishermen who has not one but two temples in San Francisco Chinatown, They may also have been seen as facilitating safe passage across the sea.
At York, an inscription was dedicated to the “African, Italian and Gaulish Mothers,” and at Winchester, one was dedicated to the “Italian, German, Gaulish and British Mothers.” These are clearly in the same vein as the inscriptions to the Matres Ollototae and the Matres Transmarinae.
Last month was the Anglo-Saxon Hredmonath, Hreda’s month according to Bede’s De Temporum Ratione. Now, we are in Eosturmonath, Eostre’s month. River Devora has recently written about Hreda and Eostre at Polytheist.com, including about Hreda’s possible associations with the Gothic tribes.
If Hreda has potential etymological links to the Goths, what of Eostre? In Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of the Matrons, Philip Shaw argues that she may have been a goddess closely linked to the Anglo-Saxons of Eastry, Kent.
Of Eosturmonath and Eostre, Bede writes:
Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretetur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cuius nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant; consueto antiquae observationis vocabulo gaudia novae solemnitatis vocantes.
Eosturmonath, which now is translated Paschal month, had its name from a goddess of theirs called Eostre, and they celebrated festivals for her in that month, by whose name they now call Paschal season; calling the joys of the new festival by the customary name of the ancient observance.
Though Eostre’s name is related to the modern English word “east,” Shaw casts significant doubts on Jacob Grimm’s popular 1882 hypothesis of a pan-Germanic dawn goddess *Ostara/Eástre, citing “lack of evidence for uses of ‘east’ and its relatives and derivates as words for ‘dawn’ or ‘Spring’ in the Germanic languages” (61).
Instead, Shaw theorizes a close relationship between the goddess Eostre and the place-name Eastry in Kent. He focuses on the hypothetical Old English word *ēastor and the presence of the vowel /o/ in the second syllable, something shared by both Eostre’s name and the place-name Eastry, but not by place-names derived from the adjective ēastra (59-60).
Early forms of “Eastry” demonstrating /o/ as the original vowel of the second syllable include Eastrgena (788 CE); Eastrege, Eostorege, Eosterege, Eosterge (811); Eastorege (805-832) and Eastræge (825-832). Eastry’s antiquity as a place-name is reinforced by the *gē element, meaning “district,” which became obsolete early on in Old English (67).
Eastry appears to have been the name of one of the four regions forming the original center of the Kentish kingdom. Sturry and Lyminge are also Eastern Kentish place-names with the *gē element, and early Anglo-Saxon burials have been found at all three sites. Eastry was a royal estate, and the site of an early Anglo-Saxon church, and it has been theorized that Eastry, Sturry and Lyminge were all early royal capitals of the kingdom of Kent.
Sturry and Lyminge have been linked to the terms Burhwaraweald and Limenwaraweald, place-names implying the group-names *Burhwara (“inhabitants of the burh [Canterbury]”) and *Limenwara (“inhabitants of the area of the river Lympne”). By analogy, Shaw suggests that the inhabitants of Eastry may have been known as the *Ēastorwara (“inhabitants of the eastern area”). Though there is no clear evidence of even such a group’s existence, Shaw theorizes based upon parallels with tribal Matronae epithets that Eostre may have been linked to this hypothetical sub-tribal grouping (67).
Shaw notes that “Bede’s <eo> spelling of Eostre is likely to reflect his use of a written source from outside his own locality — but it does not allow us to pin down the origins of this source with any precision” (65). Nonetheless, there is evidence that Bede received sources for the Historia Ecclesiastica from Kent, making it possible that he had relied upon similar sources in the earlier De Temporum Ratione.
There is some doubt raised for Bede’s use of Kentish source by the appearance of the month-name rugern in the laws of Wihtræd of Kent (690-725 CE), which is not found in Bede, but Shaw considers it “quite possible that rugern represents a western Kentish usage, whereas Eostre, if Bede received his month-list form Canterbury, would be an eastern Kentish form” (66). Eastry, of course, is also in eastern Kent, as shown by the map above.
Because of the prominence of Grimm’s theory that Eostre was a dawn goddess and Helm’s theory that she was Spring goddess as well as the popularity of “function models” of polytheism in general, Shaw advocates for wariness around function models and argues that in the case of Eostre, “the etymological connections of her name suggest that her worshipers saw her geographical and social relationship with them as more central than any functions she may have had” (71). Such an approach also downplays the need to find pan-Germanic parallels by focusing on the importance of local and tribal deities…which ironically was something shared by different Germanic-speaking groups (and many non-Germanic-speaking peoples as well).
My latest article for The Wild Hunt, a report back on Pantheacon 2016, is now up. It covers presentations by indigenous people at the conference, hospitality and the guest-host relationship, oracles received during a devotional ritual held in honor of the Matronae, and thoughts about warfare and the slogan “accomplices not allies.”
From Alex Garman’s The Cult of the Matronae in the Roman Rhineland:
Of the hundreds of Matronae inscriptions, over half of them have Germanic epithets. The following list contains the names and meanings of some of the epithets that are believed to be Germanic and whose translations are generally agreed upon by scholars:
Afliae: Powerful ones
Ahinehiae: River deities
Alagabiae: All giving
Alhiahenae: Elk deities or temple
Alusneihae: goddesses of ecstasy
Amfratninae/Amratninae: personal fortune
Annanept(i)ae: friendly sisters
Audrinehae/Authrinehae/Autriahenae: friendly powers of destiny
Aufaniae: goddesses of swampy place
Austriahenae: goddesses of the sheep [Shaw gives “eastern matrons” or “matrons belonging to an eastern group of people” instead]
Berguiahenae: goddesses of trees
Chuchenehae: goddesses of the hill
Etrahenae: goddesses of a region
Fachinehae/Fahineihae: Gladsome ones
Fernovinehae: goddesses of the stream
Gabiae: Giving ones
Gavadiae: Ones who watch over vows
Gavasiae: goddesses of midwives
Gesahenae: goddesses of a region
Gratichihenae: goddesses of grazing
Haitinae: goddesses of the heat
Hamavehae: goddesses of the Chamavi
Lanehiae: goddesses of the region
Leudinae: goddesses of healing
Mahalinehae: goddesses of the court
Ratheih(i)ae: wheel goddesses
Renahenae: goddesses of the Rhine river
Suebae: Goddesses of the Suebi
Teniavehae: Goddesses of a region
Textumeihae: Bringers of Joy
Treverae: Goddesses of the Treveri
Tummaestiae: helpers of the house
Turstuahenae: the mightiest
Vacallinehae: goddesses of the river Waal
Vanginehae: goddesses of the meadow
Vatvae: goddesses of prophecy
Alex G. Garman. The Cult of the Matronae in the Roman Rhineland: An Historical Evaluation of the Historical Evidence. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008. 72-73.
Philip A. Shaw. Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2001. 63.