Goddesses of Hunting and the Wild

Besides Flidais, there are many Celtic goddesses of the hunt and the wild. I have listed several continentsl ones below, as well as the evidence for the cult of Diana in Britain.

The individula goddesses are easier to read, because they appear under their own names, while the name Diana may or may not be hiding a native goddess. (The god Silvanus presents the same problem.) We know of at least two of these hybrids: Diana Mattica and Abnoba.

Artio, Ardunnia, and others

ArtioAnyone who’s read books on Celtic myth has probably seen the statuette of Artio, the bear-goddess. It shows a seated woman, leaning back slightly, as if to escape the breath of the snuffling bear facing her. Behind the bear is a tree, a reference to the forest. Her pose, and the patera and fruit in her lap, link her to the Matres.

The sculpture comes from Bern, in Switzerland, and has an inscription on the base: Deae Artioni / Licinia Sabinilla, “To the Goddess Artio from Licinia Sabinilla”. (CIL 13, 05160) There are four other inscriptions to Artio, from the western half of Germany.

Her name comes from the same root as Arthur, – artio, bear, which derives from an Indo-European root word. The bear makes me think of Artemis, whose name was sometimes traced back to the word árktos, bear. She and Roman Diana had the bear as their especial animal, and Artemis’ cult may have come from ancient bear-worship in Attica.

Another goddess, from France, was Andarta, which Beck translates as “Great Bear”. (Ande– “big, great”, and artio, “bear”.) She has eight inscriptions, five of which call her “Augusta”, indicating that she was an important goddess.

Andarta’s name recalls Andraste (“Victorious”), the goddess Boudicca called on when she went to war with the Romans, so she may well have been a war-goddess. (Although Beck insists the two names are of different derivation.) She was worshipped in the south of France by the Vocontii as well as at Bern, home of Artio.

A grave in the Ardennes had a necklace of bear teeth, and there are a few other finds of skins, teeth etc., but if the Iron Age peoples hunted bears, there is very little trace of it.

There is an inscription from Weisbaden to Diana Mattiaca, meaning either “Diana the Favourable” or “Diana the Bear-Goddess”. Beck thinks that the mat– name, meaning “good’ may have been a euphemistic name, to avoid naming the sacred/taboo bear. (There is also an inscription to a god, Matunus, (R.I.B. 1265) from Northumberland.)

arduinnaArduinna, a forest goddess, governed the Ardennes region, which spans Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. The image above shows her dressed in a short tunic, holding a knife or short spear, like Diana, although the boar is original to Arduinna (if a little reminiscent of Freyja).

Green (166) says boar-hunting was an aristocratic sport, and possibly a rite of passage for young men, conferring sexual maturity on the young hunters.

Abnoba, from Celtic Germany, was linked to Diana; of nine inscriptions with her name, two call her Diana Abnoba. (One from the Roman baths at Badenweiler and another from Mühlenbach.)

Abnoba may have been a forest and water goddess, whose name may be related to words for “damp” or “water, river”. (Connecting her to the Irish goddess Flidais, whose name may mean “wetness”.) Tacitus mentions a mountain called Abnoba, at the source of the Danube; could there be a connection between it and the goddess?

British Diana(s)

Artemis, British Museum. From Pinterest.

Artemis, British Museum. From Pinterest.

Roman Britain has 11 inscriptions to the goddess Diana. Two come from Caerleon, although only one mentions the goddess by name. Both were found in a meadow along with a broken statue of Diana, so they probably came from her temple. One, in fact, commemorates the restoration of the temple. (R.I.B. 316) The other is part of an altar.

Two feature Apollo and Diana: an altar from Auchendavy, (R.I.B. 2174), now in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, dedicated to Apollo and Diana, and another altar, from Corbridge (R.I.B. 1121), dedicated to Apollo Maponus, with carvings of him on one side, and Diana on another.

Another altar, from Bath (R.I.B. 138), was dedicated by a freedman. Similar dedications have been found in Corbridge, Risingham, and Newstead. The Newstead altar is dedicated to Diana Regina, and Deo Mercurio notes that Diana was often called Augusta in inscriptions from Celtic lands. Together these suggest a connection between her and the goddess Rigana.

Beside this, we have some statues of Diana, classical in style, and another altar with a relief of Diana the huntress, accompanied by a hound, from London. (R.I.B 2343)

Many of these were probably put up by Romans, although the Maponus altar is interesting as it combines native and Roman deities. Ross (276) speculates that the other female figure on the altar is Modron, the mother-goddess. Her son Mabon was also a hunter, and he is probably a form of Maponus. That Diana, and the goddess in the relief from Housteads, may represent a native goddess of the hunt assimilated to the Roman goddess.

Green, Miranda 1995: Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers, British Museum Press.
MacKillop, James 2004: An Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, OUP.
Ross, Anne 1992: Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition, Constable (reprint).

The image at the top is Forest Wallpaper by SvenMuller, at deviantart.

4 thoughts on “Goddesses of Hunting and the Wild

  1. Pingback: Flidais: Is She a Goddess? | We Are Star Stuff

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