In a world where the average woman was not expected to live beyond her 20’s, and death in childbirth was common, it is little wonder that one of the most widespread cults in the Celtic (and Romano-Celtic) world was that of the Nutrices – the protectors of maternity and motherhood.
Aeracura seems to have been a a goddess of the underworld and of prosperity, whose cult centered on southern Germany and the north-west of the Balkans. The Roman god Dis Pater sometimes accomapanies her, in inscriptions, a statue, and magic spells. She shares her fruitful attributes with the Mothers, and may be a patron of miners.
Ritona is not a well-known goddess, considering that she is attested by six different inscriptions1 from four different parts of modern France and Germany. This means that three different tribes acknowledged her as a power. According to Deo Mercurio “she must rank as one of the most major ‘minor’ deities from northeastern Gaul.”
Two weeks ago I wrote about the goddess Eostre, who gave her name to the Easter festival. In Anglo-Saxon times, Eostre’s festival was in April, while March belonged to another goddess, Hretha.
If we know very little about Eostre, we know even less about Hretha. The only source we have for either of them is the Venerable Bede‘s book on the calendar, where he lists the names of the Anglo-Saxon months in England, with brief explanations of each name. I think you’ll agree his descriptions are terse:
Last week I reblogged an article about how Eostre, the Easter goddess, was not the same as the Middle Eastern goddess Ishtar. No doubt some of you were wondering who exactly Eostre was, and how she was connected to Easter (apart from their names sounding similar).
When I was researching the story of how the giant Thiazi took the apples of immortality for the giants, one thing that kept jumping out at me was how often the goddess who kept the apples, Idunn, was treated as if she were property as well.
Gefjun will be forever be famous as the goddess who gave Zealand to Denmark. The Danes immortalized her feat with a fountain in Copenhagen harbour, showing her and her oxen ploughing out the land.
She has many similiarities to Odin, as a goddess who travels between worlds, tricks mortals, and straddles moral and sexual boundaries. Far from being an earth and ploughing goddess, Gefjun is a magical and complex figure.
The Roman idea of a genius, the divine nature inherent in a person or place, can be traced back either to the word gens, tribe, or to the Latin word “begetter”, indicating a fertility spirit.
Women seem to have had their own form of genius, called a juno. (This is a contested idea: the Wikipedia article on Juno denies it completely, while the Brittanica site and the Dictionary of Roman Religion are for it.) However, enough scholars seem to accept the idea that I’m willing to see it as valid. I’m sure even in a society as patriarchal as ancient Rome women took pride in their children and their lineage, and those feelings found their own religious expression.
We are used to the idea that the Celts took up Roman gods and equated them with their own. (Or that the invading Romans renamed them.) However, the process could just as easily go the other way.
The best-known instance of this is the Gaulish horse-goddess Epona, who became very popular first with the cavalry units of the Roman army, then with the Roman populace, who took her into their homes and stables. She was the only Celtic deity with a holiday in the Roman calendar: December 18th. The Romans don’t seem to have had an indigenous horse-deity (except perhaps Neptune, who had other things to attend to), but the Celts were horse-mad.
I have a tic; so many goddesses have been thrown into the “mother” category willy-nilly that I resist any description of a goddess as “mother”. (Also, I have noticed that people who lump goddesses together as “mothers” very often don’t consider the complexity of the title – Lotte Motz’ book The Faces of the Goddess discusses the many meanings of Mother.)
When a goddess’ name means Mother, however, you cannot deny it. It is derived from Mātr-on-ā, “Great Mother”, just like Sirona‘s and Damona‘s names mean the Great Star and the Great Cow. Inscriptions call her Dea Matrona, just to add insult to injury. There’s no way around this – she’s the Mother Goddess.