Terracotta relief of the Matres (the Vertault relief), three Celtic goddesses, from the Gallo-Roman settlement of Vertillum (Vertault) in Gaul (region of Burgundy, East France). / Museum of Celtic Civilization, Bibracte, France
By Dr. Noémie Beck / 12.04.2009
Professor of Irish Studies
The Mother Goddess is an entity, whose cult is universal and very ancient, the first female figurations, known from sculptures, reliefs*, rock paintings and engravings, going back to the Palaeolithic period. The figurine, sculpted in reindeer wood, dated c. 32,000 BC, discovered in La Ferrassie, near Les Eyzies (Dordogne, France), which represents a small round abdomen, with no breasts, head, arms and legs, might be one of the oldest female figures.77 The specialists have seen in this statuette a pregnant woman, but the interpretation remains yet very hypothetical.
From that time onwards, female figures seem to have been represented with hypertrophied breast, abdomen and bottom, and atrophied head and limbs, which probably symbolizes the female functions of fertility and fecundity. It is difficult to say if at this time these female depictions were already understood as representations of ‘mother goddesses’, insomuch as we do not know if any kind of ‘religion’ existed in those remote times and if there was anything close to a divine representation of Nature.78 These representations might indeed have been simple depictions glorifying the female functions. And yet, when looking at the Lespugue Venus, which is one of the most famous examples of this type, it is difficult not to see in her a Goddess, embodying the various concepts of fertilizing and bountiful Nature. We have thus chosen to see in those prehistoric statues representations of ‘goddesses’, keeping in mind that theories about their functions and attributes remain very hypothetical and obscure. The Lespugue Venus, dated c. 23,000-21,000 BC, was discovered in 1922 in the Grotte des Rideaux, in Lespugue (Haute-Garonne).79 It is artistically similar to the Venus from Monpazier (Dordogne), dated c. 23,000-21,000 BC.80
Furthermore, some ‘goddesses’ seem to have been intentionally depicted pregnant, for the emphasis is placed on their round and prominent abdomen and their hypertrophied vulva. Such a type can be seen in the engraving from the cave of La Marche, in Lussac-les-Châteaux (Vienne), dated c. 13,000-12,000 BC,81 or in the bas-relief*, dated c. 25,000-20,000 BC, sculpted on a limestone block coming from the 115 metre-long rock shelter of Laussel, showing a ‘Venus holding a horn’.82 Moreover, some graphic symbols, in the shape of chevrons, triangles and semi-circles, having a line or a point in their centre, could be interpreted as symbolic representations of the vulva of the goddess – the line or point possibly indicating the orifice.83
The megalithic culture of the Neolithic period gave birth to statue-menhirs* or drawings of female idols, generally represented with two small circles in relief, standing for the bosom, and a sort of U-shape necklace. Such figurations were particularly found in Britain and in France, notably in the funerary dolmens of Tarn and Gard and in the menhirs* of Aveyron, Tarn and Hérault (fig. 1).84 Two famous examples are the statue-menhir* in granite from Câtel, Guernesey (GB), dated 3,000-2,500 BC,85 and the charcoal drawing painted on the left wall of the antechamber of the hypogeum n°23 of the Razet cemetery, in Coizard (Marne), dated c. 3,000-2,500 BC.86 At this time, it seems that the goddess was sometimes reduced to simple representations of breasts in relief, which can appear on the walls of the gallery tombs, such as in Tressé (Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany, c. 3,000-2,500 BC).87 As for the megalithic tombs, they have sometimes been construed as the symbolic representation of the body of the goddess.88 The entrance would stand for the goddess’s vulva, while the main funerary chamber would symbolize her womb. Marija Gimbutas for instance compares the dolmens with a corridor from Ile-Longue, Larmor-Baden, (Bretagne), and the court cairns from Ballyglass, Co. Mayo, and from Deer Park (Maghezaghannesh) and Creevykeel, Co. Sligo (Ireland), to the body of the Mother Goddess in a standing or sitting position (4th millennium BC).89 The earth is then understood as the maternal womb, where important people were buried for them to be reborn in the otherworld. While this interpretation is interesting, it remains conjectural.
Fig. 1: Statue-menhir* unearthed in Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance (Aveyron), representing a goddess with two circles in relief standing for her breasts and a U-shape necklace. RG 1631.
The concept of the ‘Mother Goddess’, embodying the earth and all its products, i.e. forests, plants, animals, rivers and foodstuff, is clearly noticeable in all the ancient mythologies of Indo-European and other origin. Known as Ishtar or Nammou (‘the August Dame’) in Assyrian-Babylonian mythology,90 Indo-European examples are also numerous, such as Gaia, Rhea or Demeter (‘Mother Earth’) in Greek mythology,91 Juno (‘the Young One’) in Roman mythology92 or Freya (‘the Sovereign’) in Norse mythology.93 This kind of Goddess or Terra Mater (‘Earth Mother’) universally represents the grand creative principle, i.e. the land which feeds everything and everybody.94 The Latin word māter is besides reminiscent of the various primary functions of the goddess, since it signifies ‘the source, the origin, the cause’, as well as the ‘mother of men and animals’ and the ‘nurse’. The titles Magna Mater (‘Powerful Mother’) or Mater Deum (‘Mother of the Gods’) are for instance given to the Phrygian goddess Cybele, who became one of the most powerful Greek and Roman female deities of fertility.95 She represents the Earth in its primitive state and reigns over the reproduction of animals, plants, gods and human beings. As for the ancient Roman grain-goddess Ceres, who, like Demeter, makes the wheat sprout and grow, she is given the significant designation of mater frugum, i.e. ‘the mother who provides the produce of the earth, such as the cereals, fruit or vegetables’.96
As we will see throughout this chapter and the following one, the ancient concept of a Mother Goddess being at the origin of everything, dispensing terrestrial life and feeding her people, held an important place in the religious conceptions of the Celts. Whereas some names and stories of Land and Mother Goddesses have survived in Irish medieval literature – giving us a certain idea of the primary roles and attributes of those goddesses – the British and Gaulish data are sparse and obscure, for almost nothing remains of the ancient beliefs of the Celts in those countries, on account of their oral lore and of the Roman invasion.
As there is no written literature describing the early British and Gaulish Celtic religions, the only information we possess comes from inscriptions honouring the deities. These inscriptions are precious to the scholar, for it is exclusively through them that the names of the goddesses venerated in Celtic times are known. However, it is important to keep in mind that the dedications date from Gallo-Roman times. The question which must be considered, then, is whether we are dealing with deities of Celtic, Gallo-Roman or Roman origin. Moreover, it is important to separate the goddesses who are definitely Celtic from those who seem to have a Germanic provenance and nature, especially in the areas where the two peoples had considerable contacts, most notably along the Rhine. Only the study of the origin of the goddess names can unravel these thorny questions, since the iconography, which seldom accompanied the epigraphy*, is generally of Classical character. The etymology* of the goddess names is all the more essential in our analysis as it allows us to determine the possible functions of an undetermined goddess. Even though the figurations are mainly of Greco-Roman type, they are to be taken into account, for with the dedications they illustrate the role of the goddesses and sometimes fortunately offer an attribute of indigenous character.
Before going into detail concerning the various Celtic goddesses embodying the land and purveying fertility, we will look into the controversial subject of the Matres and Matronae, literally ‘Mothers’, whose cult was widespread and of great importance in Gallo-Roman times, for more than 700 epigraphic and iconographical devices, honouring or representing them, have been discovered in Britain, northern Spain, Gaul, Germany and Cisalpine Gaul (North Italy).97 Are these ‘Mothers’ to be looked on as part of ancient Celtic belief systems or as the result of the importation of the Roman pantheon? In other words, did the cult of the ‘Mothers’ spring up in Gallo-Roman times, through contact with Roman religion, or was it originally Celtic?
Etymology of Their Generic Name
Numerous inscriptions from the Rhineland,98 Gaul, Britain and Cisalpine Gaul, dating mainly from Gallo-Roman times, are dedicated to divine female figures called Matres and Matronae,99 who were honoured in groups, as their designation in the plural form shows. This designation is sometimes said to be Latin,100 for it can be related to the Latin feminine word māter (‘mother’), plural matris; mātrōna being an extended form of this term, meaning ‘woman, spouse, wife of a Roman citizen’, that is the housewife who was in charge of the household and the children.101 Others point out that these terms are a mix of the Gaulish and Latin languages.102 They are thus to be understood as ‘Celtic Latinized forms’, which would enhance the Gallo-Roman character of those female deities. While their name can be connected to Latin, it can also be related to Gaulish mātīr (‘mother’); the existence and inflections of which have been revealed in various early Gallo-Greek and Gallo-Latin inscriptions, i.e. inscriptions in Gaulish language with Greek or Latin lettering. Gaulish mātīr (‘mother’), cognate with Old Irish máthair (‘mother’), gen. máthar, derives from Indo-European *mātēr (‘mother’), like Latin māter and Greek mētēr.103 According to Eric Hamp and Olmsted, Mātr-ǒna is the derived form, but it is clear that the term Matrona is Latin.104
Matir and materem (‘mother’): Plomb du Larzac
The Celtic word for ‘mother’ is attested in the nominative singular form mātīr in a Gallo-Latin inscription from Larzac, engraved on a lead plaque, composed of two fragments, inscribed on each side.105 The ‘Plomb du Larzac’ was found in 1983 on the opening of a funerary urn, on the Gallo-Roman necropolis of Hospitalet-du-Larzac, known as La Vayssière (Aveyron). This text, dating from the end of the 1st c. AD, is the longest text in the Gaulish language which has been discovered so far – about sixty lines and one hundred and seventy words or fragments of words. In La langue gauloise, Lambert offers a translation of some parts of the text, which contains various magical formulas and a list of names of women, one of whom, Severa Tertionicna, may be a sorceress. The text also gives the lineage between mothers and daughters, which is quite unusual, for it is generally the name of the father which is specified. The word mātīr thus appears on face 1a, lines 11-12 and 14: poti[ta m]atir paullias, ‘Potita mother of Paullias’, adiega matir aiias, ‘Adiega mother of Aiias’, and on face 1b, lines 5-6: ulatucia mat[ir] banonias, ‘Vlatucia mother of Banona’ (fig. 2).
Fig. 2: Face 1a (left) and face 1b (right) of the ‘Plomb du Larzac’. Lambert, 1995, pp. 160-161.
The word ‘mother’ may also appear in the accusative singular form materem, with a possible Latinized inflexion –em (cf. the Latin inflexion of mātrem), on face 1b, lines 4-5 of the Plomb du Larzac: auciticni(m) materem potiti, which Lambert translates as ‘Aucitiona, mother of Potitos’.106 Here the filiation would be between a mother and her son, for Potitos is a masculine proper name.107 Despite its possible evolution from Latin mātrem, Delamarre asserts that the form materem is in accordance with the archaic Indo-European type, cf. Sanskrit mātáram, Greek mētéra, and Lithuanian móterį (*mātérm)108
Matrebo (‘to the Mother Goddesses’): Nîmes and Glanum
Moreover, the dative plural form matrebo, ‘to the mothers’ is known from two Gallo-Greek inscriptions from Nîmes (Gard) and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (Glanum, Bouches-du-Rhône). These two inscriptions are of great interest, for they honour the divine mothers of those respective cities. The dedication from Nîmes is engraved on a pedestal, which used to be surmounted by a statue: [-]αρταρ[ος ι]λλανουιακος δεδε / ματρεβο ναμαυσικαβο βρατουδε[…], ‘(?)artaros son of Illianus offered (this) to the Mothers of Nîmes, in gratitude (?), on accomplishment of a vow’ (fig. 3).109It was found in 1740 on the site of the temple dedicated to the god Nemausus, known as ‘Temple of the Fountain’. Michel Lejeune asserts that the dating of this inscription cannot be earlier than the middle of the 2nd c. AD, because of the shape of some of the letters.110 Lambert, however, indicates that the Gallo-Greek inscriptions from Narbonese Gaul generally date from the end of the 3rd c. BC to the 1st c. BC.111 It is significant that the father of the dedicator bears a Celtic name: Illianus, the meaning of which is unknown.112 We thus have here a dedicator of Celtic stock, paying homage to divine mothers in the Gaulish language, which is of great significance.
Similarly, the votive altar from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, found in 1954 near the Fanum* of Hercules, offers an inscription bearing the form matrebo ‘to the Mothers’: ματρεβο / γλανεικαβο / βρατουδε- / καντεν, ‘To the Mothers of Glanum, in gratitude (?), on accomplishment of a vow’.113 Henry Rolland suggests that the few epigraphic particularities of this inscription allow us to date the votive stone from the first half of the 1st c. BC, which is previous to the usage of Latin script, appearing in the second half of the 1st c. BC in Glanum.114
Fig. 3: Gallo-Greek inscription from Nîmes dedicated to the ‘Mothers’. Lambert, 1995, p. 86.
It is also interesting to note that a Gallo-Latin inscription from Plumergat (Morbihan), engraved on a boundary stone, bears a very similar word with the exact same inflexion: atrebo, meaning ‘To the Fathers’. This is the dative plural form of the Gaulish word atir, cognate with Old Irish athir, Modern Irish athair, ‘father’.115 The vocative singular form of this word, ater, appears on lines 6-7 of a Gallo-Latin tile discovered in 1997 in Châteaubleau (Seine-et-Marne): ater ixsi, ‘my father belonging to me’.116 The inscription from Plumergat is the following: vrabos iiioovt atrebo aganntobo durneogiapo, which Lambert translates ‘Vrabos (offered?) to the Fathers who mark the boundary of (?)…’, while Gildas Bernier glosses ‘Vrabos erected (this) to the Fathers of the Boundary (or Country) for Giapos, son of Durnos’.117 The scholars do not agree on the meaning of the epithet agannt- describing the Fathers. Lambert and Bernier see an active participle based on *agos, ‘boundary stone’ – these Fathers would thus be deities personifying boundaries of frontiers or properties.118 As for Sterckx, he attempts to translate their epithet as the Fathers ‘who reinforce, who assure the cohesion (of the clan)’ without explaining his theory.119 As far as Lejeune is concerned, he uses the two similar inscriptions from Glanum and Nîmes to demonstrate that this epithet is a toponym* designating the village of Plumergat (territory of the Veneti): ‘To the Fathers of Aganntos’.120
Matron (‘belonging to the Mother Goddesses’): Istres
Finally, the genitive plural form matron, signifying ‘of the Mothers’, ‘belonging to the Mothers’, appears on a Gallo-Greek rupestral* inscription from the oppidum* of Castellan, a rocky hill overhanging the pond of the Olivier, near Istres (Bouches-du-Rhône). The site was inhabited from the 8th c. BC to the Early Middle Ages.121 The inscription is deeply engraved on a rock face, 2.4m from the ground, on the east side of the hill: ματρον (fig. 4).122 This rupestral* inscription, probably dating from the 2nd or 1st c. BC, is quite impressive, since its letters are about 20cm high.
In the middle of the 20th c., Fernand Benoit went in search of votive material evidencing a place of open-air devotion to the Mothers, and carried out excavations at the bottom of this rock face, but to no avail.123 According to Lejeune, the possibility of finding religious buildings dedicated to those deities in the area is hopeless, for the devotion must have been rendered directly to the natural element embodied and protected by the Mothers: the rock.124 Indeed, the inscription, in the genitive form ‘of the Mothers’, clearly indicates that the hill of Castellan was the property of the Mothers. Moreover, the fact that the inscription was directly made on the rock face must signify that the Mothers in some way personified the hill itself. Their function must have been the protection of what was in their possession, that is the hill, and by extension, of the people living on that mount.
Fig. 4: Picture and facsimile of the rupestral* inscription Matron (‘belonging to the Mothers’), from the oppidum* of Castellan, Istres (Bouches-du-Rhône). Lejeune, 1988, pp. 100-101 (fig. 12, 13).
These Gallo-Greek inscriptions from Nîmes, Glanum and Istres are of great interest because they reveal the worship of divine Mothers and are in the Gaulish language, which means they were written by Gaulish people, and date from between the 3rd c. BC and the 1st c. AD – the ones from Narbonese Gaul being the most ancient ones.125With the Plomb du Larzac, they also provide evidence of the existence of the word ‘mother’ in the Gaulish language, revealing its form and some of its declensions:126
|nom. sing.||mātīr, ‘mother’ (Larzac)|
|acc. sing.||materem (?), ‘mother’ (Larzac)|
|gen. plur.||ματρον (matron), ‘belonging to the mothers’ (Istres)|
|dat. plur.|| ματρεβο (matrebo), ‘to the mothers’ (Glanum, Nîmes)
ατρεβο (atrebo), ‘To the fathers’ (Plumergat)
The most significant example is the rupestral* inscription from Istres, in the Gaulish language, which dates from the 2nd or 1st c. BC, and testifies to some sort of cult anterior to the Gallo-Roman period. Here the Mothers are directly invoked in Nature, by means of the natural element which they personify. While the forms Matres and Matronae seem to be more Latin than Celtic, it is clear that a cult to the Mother Goddesses predated Gallo-Roman times, as the inscription from Istres strongly indicates. To determine their origin, nature and possible functions, it is first necessary to study the surviving epigraphical evidence from Britain and the Continent. Differences and similarities between the forms Matres and Matronae will be studied and geographical areas of use will be noted. These generic names are generally associated with epithets, the origin of which is often problematic, for some appear to be Celtic and others Germanic. Moreover, their significance is often ambiguous and can refer to different geographical, ethnonymic or descriptive entities. Even though classifying them into categories remains difficult, a broad outline will be established.
The Epigraphic Evidence
The forms Matres – Matronae
The inscriptions to the Matres and Matronae fall into two main groups. On the one hand, about 150 inscriptions are dedicated to the ‘Mothers’ without specific epithets, around sixty of which mention the forms Matres or Matrae and eighty of which refer to the term Matronae, prevalent in Cisalpine Gaul (51) and Germany (25).127 Here are two instances coming from the Meseta region, in Northern Spain: Arria Nothis Matribus pro secundo v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To the Matres, Arria Nothis for the second time paid her vow willingly and deservedly’, and Matrib(us) T(itus) Racilius Valerianus ex vot(o), ‘To the Matres Titus Racilius Valerianus offered this’.128 On the other hand, another hundred or so inscriptions associate their name with peculiar attributive bynames*. Indeed, about forty different epithets are known for the Matres and Matrae,129 such as, among others, the Matres Nemetiales in Grenoble (Isère),130 the Matres Britannae in Winchester (GB),131 the Matres Masanae in Cologne (Germany),132 the Matres Arsacae in Xanten (Germany),133 the Matres Brittiae in Fürstenberg and Xanten (Germany),134 or the Matres Remae in Gereonsweiler (Germany).135 As for the Matronae, around sixty different epithets have been recorded,136 such as the Matronae Ambiamarcae in Floisdorf (Germany),137 the Matronae Valabneiae in Cologne,138 the Matronae Caimine[h]ae in Euskirchen139 or the Matronae Tummaestiae in Sinzenich.140
In Gaul, the terms Matres and Matrae are particularly represented in Narbonese Gaul (around 37 inscriptions), particularly in the territories of the Allobroges (10) and of the Vocontii (10), and in the north-east of Gaul, notably in the territories of the Lingones, the Aedui, the Senones and the Mediomatrici.141 Their cult is also evidenced in the territories of the Helveti and of the Sequani, even though the inscriptions are far less numerous.142 The term Matres is found in Britain, notably in the north, along Antonine’s and Hadrian’s Wall, in the east, in Chester (Cheshire), in the south-east and south, in Cirencester (Gloucestershire), Bath (Somerset) and London. It is also mentioned in various inscriptions from Germany, particularly along the Rhine, in Northern Spain, especially in the north of Meseta, and in Rome (Italy) (fig. 5).143 If the form Matres is used outside Gaul, the form Matrae seems to be confined to Gaul. As a general rule, it seems that the term Matres/Matrae is generally associated with epithets of Celtic origin. Nonetheless, it happens to be sometimes combined with a Germanic epithet, such as for the Matres Annaneptae in Xanten,144 the Matres Kannanef(ates)in Cologne,145 the Matres Suebae in Cologne and Deutz,146 theMatres Vapthiae, whose inscription was found in the Rhine,147 and the Matres Frisavae in Wissen (see below).148
Fig. 5: Map of the votive inscriptions dedicated to the Matres. Rüger, 1987, p. 7, fig. 3.
As for the termMatronae, it could be viewed as the Germanic ‘counterpart’ or ‘equivalent’ of the Celtic Matres, insomuch as it ismainly confined to the Rhineland, i.e. in the regions of Jülicher, Zülpicher and the Voreifel – the area between Neuss, Bonn and Aachen -, which corresponds to the territory of the Ubii tribe.149While the Matronae are generally honoured with attributive bynames* in the Rhineland, they are venerated without specific epithets in various dedications from Cisalpine Gaul, especially in the area from Verona to the Maritime Alps and the Ligurian Riviera (fig. 6).150 As we will see, the term Matronae is generally associated with divine bynames* of Germanic origin in the Rhineland, but there are some examples of it coupled with Celtic epithets, for instance the Matronae Lubicaein Cologne151 or the Matronae Dervonnae in Milano and Brescia (Italy).152 Finally, the dedicators honouring the Matronae are sometimes of Germanic origin, such as Chamarus and Allo from Zülpich-Enzen: Matronis M(arcus) Chamari f(ilius) et Allo, ‘To the Mother Goddesses, Marcus, son of Chamarus, and Allo’.153
Fig. 6: Map showing the distribution of the dedications to the Matronae with and without epithets. ). A. Matronae with epithets. B. Matronae without epithets. Derks, 1998, p. 129, fig. 3.19 (after Rüger, 1987, fig. 1 and fig. 2).
Equivalence in meaning?
It is noteworthy that the same epithet can be associated with both the terms Matres and Matronae in the inscriptions, which clearly proves that these two forms are interchangeable and equivalent in meaning.154 An example is that of the Senonae, who are called Matres in an obscure dedication from Metz (Moselle) and Matronae in Boeckingen (Germany): Seno(nibus) Matro(nis) coh(ors) I Helvet(iorum) […] vslm, ‘To the Matronae Senonae, Cohort I of Helvetia […] paid the vow willingly and deservedly’.155 Their name, based on Gaulish senos, ‘old’, ‘ancient’, cognate with Old Irish sen, Welsh, Cornish and Breton hen, ‘old’ (< IE156 *senos), is undeniably Celtic. The Matres / Matronae Senonae (‘the Old Mothers’) may have been deities of age or protective ancestors and are etymologically linked to the sept* of the Senones (‘The Old Ones’), who gave their name to the city of Sens (Yonne, France).157 The Octocannae are also named Matronae on seven dedications from the sanctuary of Krefeld-Lank (Gripswald) and Gellep (Germany), and Matres in a dedication from Gellep.158 While the linguists do not concur on the meaning of their name, they agree that they are Celtic goddesses; the first part of their name being not necessarily Latin octo, ‘eight’. According to Delamarre, who breaks down their name as *Ougtu-candā, with octo-, oxtu-, ‘cold’, cognate with Old Irish uacht, and cand(i) > cann-, similar to Welsh and Breton can(n), ‘white’ or ‘shinning’, their epithet could mean something like ‘White Cold’ or ‘Shining with Frost’.159 They would therefore have been Winter Mother Goddesses, bearing some resemblance to the Norse Hrímpursar (‘Rime Thurses’ or ‘Frost-Giants’).160 Karl Schmidt and Wolfgang Spickermann relate their name to the root *puktókā > *(p)októka – see Middle Irish ochtach, meaning ‘Fir’ or ‘Spruce’.161 The Matronae / Matres Octocannae might thus have been ‘Tree Mothers’.
This alternation between the forms Matres and Matronae is also found for Mother Goddesses possessing Germanic epithets (see below). The Andrustehiae are called Matronae on four inscriptions from Cologne, Bonn and Godesberg, and Matres on another dedication from Cologne.162 Similarly, theAumenahenae are called Matres and Matronae on two different dedications from Cologne.163 The Vacallinehae, who are generally called Matronae – twenty-nine inscriptions from Germany out of forty-nine mention this form -, are also associated with the term Matres in a dedication from Endenich (Germany).164 Finally, the Aufaniae, who are honoured in seventy-two dedications, are named Matronae in forty-five inscriptions from Germany, France (Lyons) and the Netherlands, and Matres on three inscriptions from Zülpich, Nettersheim (Germany) and Carmona (Spain).165 One of the inscriptions is particularly interesting, for it says Matribus sive Matronis Aufanabus, ‘Matres or Matronae Aufaniabus’, which clearly shows that there was no sharp difference in meaning between the two terms.166
Some Celtic dedicators
With regards to the dedicators honouring the Mothers in Gaul, many of these have Latin names, but it is noteworthy that some have typical Celtic names. This can be considered evidence that people of Celtic stock still payed homage to their deities in Gallo-Roman times. In four different inscriptions, individuals called Casuna, Mastonia, Sappiena and Oxia,167 respectively pay their vow to the ‘Mothers’, in Brienne, near Brignon (Gard), in Lyons (Rhône) and in Besançon (Doubs): Casuna v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito) Mat(ribus), ‘Casuna paid her vow willingly and deservedly, to the Mothers’;168 Matris aug(ustis) Mastonia Bella v.s.l.m., ‘To the August Mothers, Mastonia Bella paid her vow willingly and deservedly’;169 Sappiena Lychnis matris v.s.l.m., ‘To the Mothers Sappiena Lychnis paid her vow willingly and deservedly’ ;170 Matrabus sacrum, Oxia Messori filia v.s.l.m., ‘Sacred to the Mothers, Oxia daughter of Messorus paid her vow willingly and deservedly’.171
Similarly, in the inscriptions from Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) and Sahune (Drôme), the names of the dedicators’ fathers, Vassedo and Solimutus, are Gaulish: Matribus Adcultus, Vassedonis f(ilius) v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To the Mothers, Adcultus, son of Vassedo, paid his vow willingly and deservedly’ and Ingenua Solimuti (filia) Matris v.s.l.m., ‘Ingenua, daughter of Solimutus, paid her vow willingly and deservedly to the Mothers’.172 It is interesting to note that women’s names stand out in the dedications to the Mothers, for it illustrates their close connection to these deities. The Mothers must have helped and protected the dedicators in their everyday lives.
Celtic epithets: general approach
The Mother Goddesses are thus known with a variety of epithets. As we are going to see, it must be borne in mind that many of them are not Celtic but Germanic, while others are undeniably Latin, such as Parcae, Fatae, Junones, Domesticae or Campestres. This is the reason why Christoph Rüger’s analysis of the Mothers, in his article entitled ‘Beobachtungen zu den epigraphischen Belegen der Muttergottheiten in den lateinischen Provinzen des Imperium Romanum’ [‘Notes on the Inscriptions dedicated to the Mother Goddesses in the Latin Provinces of the Roman Empire’], published in Matronen und verwandte Gottheiten [‘Matronae and related Goddesses’] in 1987, is beyond the scope of this study.173 Indeed, he does not distinguish the Latin and Germanic names from the Celtic epithets. Moreover, his list seems to be drawn principally according to the Latin divine epithets rather than the Celtic and Germanic ones. All attributive byname groups taken into account, he classifies the cult of the Mothers into eight categories: geographic deities, for instance the Ambioreneses, Montes and Campestres ; roadway deities, for instance the Triviae and Quadruviae; spring deities, for instance the Nymphae, Fontes and Suleviae; animal deities, for instance the Cervae and Gantunae; ancestral deities, for instance Proxsumae and Veteres;174 tutelary deities, for instance, Dominae and Virgines; functional deities, for instance Nutrices, Parcae and Medicinae ; and deities whose names are the plural form of a single deity, such as Cereres, Junones and Dianae.175
Classifying deities according to the meaning of their epithets, as did Rüger, is problematic, for the ambiguity of etymological evidence means that a byname can have various etymologies and refer to diverse attributions. Those different possible significations cultivate ambiguity. It also appeals to the supernatural and to the mystic, mysterious and complex nature of deities, who are multi-faceted, for they have the ability to possess various kinds of functions and attributes within a single personality. Furthermore, it is clear that a certain amount of attributive bynames* still remain obscure or hypothetical to the scholar. It is nonetheless possible to establish a broad outline, keeping in mind that an epithet can fall into several categories.
Despite these difficulties of classification, it is clear that some of the goddess bynames are geographic or toponymic*. This means that they refer to a place which they personify and protect. The Matres Glanicae for instance are clearly ‘the Mothers of Glanum’ and the Matres Nemausicae, ‘The Mothers of Nîmes’ (see above). In addition, epithets can be ethnonymic*, referring to names of tribes. This means that either the sept* took its name from the goddess they believed in, or they gave their ethnic name to the goddess they held in high respect and esteem. In any case, the goddess is eponymous of the tribe she represents, nourishes and protects. Such is the case of the Matres Treverae, venerated in Birten (Germany), who are ‘the Mothers of the Treveri’,176 and the Matronae Vediantiae, honoured in Cimiez (Nice, Alpes-Maritimes), who are ‘the Mothers of the Vediantii’. 177
Others seem to refer to natural elements, such as the Matronae Dervonnae (‘Mothers of the Oak’) in Milano and Brescia (Italy),178 or the Matres Eburnicae (‘Mothers of the Yew’) in Yvours-sur-le-Rhône (Rhône).179 Finally, some bynames* tend to be descriptive of what the goddesses incarnate or the functions and attributes they fulfill. For instance, the Matres Mogontiones, venerated in Agonès (Hérault), must have embodied ‘Youth’, on account of the meaning of their appelation.180 As for the Matronae Lubicae, honouredin Cologne, they might have personified ‘Love’ as well as ‘Affection’ given to the people, for their name is possibly derived from the root *lub-, *lob- ‘to like’, ‘to love’. The verbal forms lubi, lubiias and lubitias, ‘love’, ‘that you love’ and ‘loved’ are attested on various inscriptions from Gaul (< IE *leubh-, ‘to love’, ‘to desire’), and Lubos and Lubus are common male proper names in Celti-Iberia.181 Schmidt and Delamarre propose to gloss their name as ‘The Loving, Affectionate Mothers’ or ‘The Endearing Mothers’.182 Similarly, the Rocloisiabo, ‘the Listening Goddesses’, honoured in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, have the ability of listening to the prayers of their pilgrims.183
The Matres Eburnicae is a good example of the issue of categorization. Their epithet relates to a natural element – the yew tree – and might have come from an ethnonym*, for it refers to the tribe of the Eburones, but this hypothesis implies a linguistic transformation Eburonikā > Eburnikā (see Chapters 2 and 3). Moreover, they might have been the personification of some intoxicating cults attached to yew, as will be shown in Chapter 5.
The “Mothers” in Britain
In Britain, the dedications to the Matres amount to approximately fifty inscriptions, all but a few from military sites, notably along Antonine’s and Hadrian’s Wall, and dedicated by soldiers. One of the few exceptions is the inscription to the Matres Ollototae, which is from the non-military site of Heronbridge, Cheshire.184 This suggests that the cult of the Matres and Matronae was brought to Britain by auxiliary troops from the Continent, such as by the Germanic legionaries of the Roman army.185 However, it does not mean that the Celtic peoples from Britain did not have any cultural notions of the Mother Goddesses, only that some particularities in the worship must have come with the army.
The cult of the Mothers in Britain is clearly Romanized, for they all bear Roman epithets, such as Transmarinae, Campestres, Domesticae or Fatae,186 apart from the Matres Ollototae and the Matres Suleviae. The Matres Ollototae are undeniably Celtic, for their name is composed of Celtic ollo-, ‘all’ and teuta, touta, ‘tribe’.187 They are thus ‘The Mothers of All the Peoples’. They are mentioned in an inscription from Heronbridge (Claverton, Cheshire): Deabus Matribus Ollototis Iul(ius) Secundus et Aelia Augustina, ‘To the Mother Goddesses Ollototae, Julius Secundus and Aelia Augustina (set this up)’,188 and in three inscriptions from Binchester (Durham): Deab(us) Matrib(us) O[l]lot(otis) T[i]b(erius) Cl(audius) Quintianus b(ene)f(iciarius) co(n)s(ularis) v.s.l.m., ‘To the Mother Goddesses Ollototae Tiberius Claudius Quintianus beneficiaries of the governor, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow’ ; [M]atrib(us) O[lloto(tis)] CARTO VAL MARTI Vetto(num) GENIO LOCI LIT . IXT, ‘To the Mother Goddesses Ollototae … Cavalry Regiment of Vettonians….’ ; I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(axiom) et Matribus Ollototis sive Transmarinis, ‘To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, and to the Ollototae or Overseas Mother Goddesses’ (fig. 7).189
Fig. 7: Three dedications to the Matres Ollototae (‘Mother Goddesses of All the Peoples’). RIB 1031, discovered in 1600 and now lost, and RIB 1032, probably seen in 1599 and now lost, were discovered at Binchester (Durham). RIB 574 was found at Heronbridge (Cheshire). In the Grosvenor Museum.
As for the Matres Suleviae, they were venerated in Colchester (Essex): Matribus Sulevis Similis Atti f(ilius) ci(vis) Cant(ius) v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens), ‘To the Mother Goddesses Suleviae, Similis, son of Attus, a tribesman of the Cantii, willingly fulfilled his vow’, and in Bath: Sulevis Sulinus scul(p)tor Bruceti f(ilius) sacrum f(ecit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To the Suleviae Sulinus, a sculptor, son of Brucetus, gladly and deservedly made this offering’ (fig. 8).190The Matres Suleviae are known from ten other inscriptions discovered in Rome.191 They are also mentioned without the term Matres in thirty-nine dedications from Britain, such as at Cirencester (Gloucester), Bath (Somerset) and by conjecture at Binchester Roman Fort (Durham), and from the Continent (Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Romania, France and the Netherlands).192 Contrary to what Olmsted and Green maintain, their epithet is not the plural form of the goddess name Sulis, who is honoured in thirty-nine dedications discovered at the curative hot spring of Bath, called Aquae Sulis.193 This erroneous etymological association has led to various inaccurate interpretations. For instance, Joan Alcock, who relates the Suleviae to Sulis, points out the possible healing abilities of these mother goddesses.194 While Sulis was certainly a healing goddess, for she was venerated at the thermal spring at Bath and associated with Minerva, the goddess of medicine, there is no evidence that the Suleviae performed such a function.195
According to Delamarre, the theonym Sulis is based on Celtic suli, ‘(good) sight’, which is cognate with Old Irish súil, ‘eye’.196 It is noteworthy in this context that an oculist stamp* was found on the site, which might tend to prove that the spring of Bath, around which was erected a temple to Sulis-Minerva and a complex of baths, had curative virtues for the eyes.197 Other scholars derive Celtic sūli from the IE root *sāuel-, suel-, ‘sun’, supporting the view that, in ancient times, the sun was the metaphor of the omniscient eye; a theory which is categorically rejected by Lambert.198 As regards the name of the Suleviae, Léon Fleuriot identifies a prefix su-, ‘good’ and a radical leu-, ‘to steer’, cognate with Old Irish lúi and Welsh llyw, ‘rudder’, and Middle Breton leuyaff, ‘to steer’, and proposes to gloss their name as ‘Those who steer or lead well’; an etymology* which is accepted by Lambert and Delamarre as the most probable one.199
Fig. 8: Left: Altar from Colchester (Essex) dedicated to the Matres Suleviae by a dedicator Celtic Attus. In Colchester Museum. RIB 192. Right: Altar from Aquae Sulis (Bath) to the Suleviae by a Celtic dedicator Sulinus. It is now in the Roman Baths Museum. RIB 151.
In addition to the fact that very few Mothers bear Celtic bynames*, other indications in the epigraphy lend weight to the hypothesis that the cult of the Mothers was imported from the Continent into Britain. The various dedications to the Matres Transmarinae, literally ‘the Overseas Mothers’, known from Lowther, Plumpton Wall (Cumbria), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Tyne and Wear) and Risingham (Northunmberland), illustrate that the worship of the Mothers transcended the seas.200 The Matres Ollototae (‘Mothers Of All the Peoples’) probably refer to the Mother Goddesses venerated on the Continent, for they are compared to the Transmarinae in an inscription from the Roman Fort Binchester (Durham): 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’ (fig. 9).201 Moreover, other dedications pay homage to Mothers of foreign countries, such as the ones from York, dedicated to the ‘African, Italian and Gaulish Mothers’, from Winchester to the ‘Italian, German, Gaulish and British Mothers’ and from the vinicity of Hadrian’s Wall to the ‘German Mothers’.202
Finally, it can be noticed that the names of the dedicators are all Latin and those of soldiers,203 apart from a few, such as the dedicator from Doncaster (Yorkshire), who has names of Celtic origin: Matribus M(arcus) Nantonius Orbiotal(us) v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To the Mothers, M(arcus) Nantonius Orbiotalus paid his vow willingly and deservedly’ (fig. 9).204 If his first name Marcus is Latin, his two other names, Nantonius (‘Valley’) and Orbiotalus (‘Forehead-of-Heir’), are Celtic.205 Similarly, in the inscription to the Suleviae from Colchester, the dedicator’s father has a Celtic name Attus.206In the inscription from Bath, the dedicator and his father also bear Celtic names: Sulinus, clearly derived from the goddess name, and Brucetus, the meaning of which is unknown.207 This Sulinus, son of Brucetus, is besides the one who offered a dedication to the Suleviae in Cirencester, which is about fifty kms from Bath.
Fig. 9: Left: Inscription to the Matres from Doncaster (Yorkshire). RIB 618. Right: Dedication to the Matres Ollototae sive Transmarinae from Binchester (Durham). RIB 1030.
Therefore, the cult of the Matres in Britain seems to be mostly Romanized and imported. Apart from Ollototae and Suleviae, the Matres’ epithets are all Roman and the dedications come from military sites. Moreover, the dedicators are prominently Roman citizens, holding honorary functions or titles, such as Tiberius Claudius Quintianus, who honoured the Ollototae in Binchester, and soldiers in the Roman army. It would appear, however, that pre-Roman worship did survive, for epigraphic evidence has been discovered of people of Celtic stock paying homage to Mother Goddesses bearing Celtic bynames*.
Germanic and Celto-Germanic Mother Goddesses?
As the Germanic peoples also practiced the cult of the Mothers, it is difficult to determinate, notably when a dedication comes from the Rhineland, whether the Goddesses are of Celtic or Germanic origin. It is all the more problematic since the Germanic and Celtic septs* might have had some cults in common and some divinities of mixed character.
A list of Goddesses bearing Germanic epithets
According to the etymology* of the epithets, some Mothers are definitely Celtic, while others are undeniably Germanic. Siegfried Gutenbrunner and Günter Neumann, who have listed and studied the various etymologies of the Germanic bynames* of Mother Goddesses, point out that the divine names ending in –henae, –ehae, –nehae, –eihae, –ahae, –ehiae, –anehae, –inehae, –ahenae are undoubtedly Germanic.208 Kern, Anwyl and Spickermann note that the intervocalic ‘h’ is typical of the Mother Goddess names found in Germanic areas.209 Thus, the Matres Almahae, honoured in Plan-d’Aups-Sainte-Baume (Var), must be Germanic, although they are venerated in France and associated with the Celtic term Matres.210 It must be also the case of the Aldemehensae venerated in Rognes (Bouches du Rhône).211 The existence of inscriptions dedicated to goddesses bearing a Germanic name in Gaul or in Britain can be explained by shifts in population or by the settling of Germanic contingents of the Roman army in those areas.
Below is a list of the various divine names which are regarded as Germanic. This exhaustive list is worth mentioning, for too many goddesses are often claimed to be Celtic – such as in Jüfer’s Répertoire des dieux gaulois – whereas they are definitely not: the Matronae Afliae or Aflims, venerated in Cologne and Wesseling,212 the Matronae Ahinehiaein Blankenheim,213the Ahreccanae in Cologne214 (who are probably the same as the Ahueccanae in Gleuel),215 the Matronae or Nymphae Alaferhuiae in Dormagen, Bonn, Patteren and Altdorf,216 the Matronae Albiahenaein Ober-Elvenich,217 the Matronae Alhiahenaein Neidenstein,218 the Matronae Almaviahenae in Thorr,219 the Matronae Alusneihaein Derichsweiler and Inden-Pier,220 the Matronae Amartninehaein Bonn,221 the Amfratninehae in Bonn,222 the Matronae Amnesahenaein Thorr,223 the Matres Annaneptae in Xanten,224 the Matres or Matronae Andrustehiae in Cologne, Bonn and Godesberg,225 the Matronae Anesaminehae in Zülpich,226 the Aserecinehae in Odendorf-Rheinbach and Odenhausen,227 the Atufrafinehae in Berkum,228 the Matronae Audrinehaein Hermülheim,229 the Matronae or Matres Aufaniaein Germany: Bonn (39), Cologne (8), Nettersheim (13), Commern (1), Iülich (1), Mainz (1), Zülpich (3), Pommern (1), Bürgel (1), Xanten (1), in the Netherlands: Nimwegen (1), in France: Lyons (1) and in Spain: Carmona (1),230 the Matres Aumenahenaein Cologne,231 the Austriahenae / Austriatium in Morken-Harff and Bonn,232 the Matronae Authrinehaein Hermülheim,233 the Aviaitinehae in Bürgel,234 the Matronae Axsinginehaein Cologne,235 the Cantrusteihae in Rheydt, Tetz and Hoeilaart,236 the Matronae Channinae or Chu(c)henehae in Merzenich and Zülpich,237 the Matronae Etrahenaein Roedingen, Pesch, Bettenhofen,238 the Matronae Fachineaein Zingsheim and Euskirchen,239 the Matronae Fernovinehae in Meckenheim and Cologne,240 the Matres Frisavaein Wissen,241 the Ghandrumanehae in Billig,242 the Matronae Hamaheviae in Altdorf,243 the Matronae Hiherapaein Enzen,244 the Matronae […]illoruhanehae in Euskirchen,245 the Matronae Iulineihiaein Müntz,246 the Matres Kannanef(ates) in Cologne,247 the Matronae Lanehiaein Lechenich,248 the Matronae Mahalinae or Mahlinehae in Deutz, Cologne and Benzelrath,249 the Matres Marsacae in Xanten (?),250 the Matronae Nait[i]enae in Thorr (?),251 the Matronae Ratheih(i)aein Euskirchen,252 the Matronae Renahenaein Bonn,253 the Matronae Romanehae / Rumanehae in Lovenessen, Bonn, Jülich, Uellekoven, Rommers-Kirchen, Weilerswist,254 the Matronae Saitchamiae or Saithamiaein Hoven,255 the Matres Suebae […]euthungae or Sidinae in Cologne and Deutz,256 the Matronae Teniavehaein Blankenheim,257 the Matronae Textumeihae (Ambiamarcae) in Floisdorf, Soller and Boich,258 the Matronae Tummaestiae in Sinzenich,259 the Matronae Turstuahenae in Düren and Vettweis,260 the Matronae Udravarinehaein Cologne and the Udrovarineae in Vellekoven and Thorr,261 the Matronae Ulauhinehaein Zülpich,262 the Matres or Matronae Vacallinehae (Leudinae) in Antweiler (3), Pesch (38), Aachen (1), Lessenich (3), Endenich (1), Iversheim (2), Iülich (1) and Saltzvey (1),263 the Matronae Vallamaeneihiae in Cologne,264 the Vanamianehae in Thorr,265 the Matronae Vanginehae in Erfstadt Friesheim,266 the Matronae Vataranehae, Veteraneahe or Veterahenaein Embken (9), Nideggen-Abenden (9), Rommerskirchen (1) and Wollersheim (3),267 the Matres Vapthiaefound in the Rhine,268 the Matronae Vatviae Berhliahenae Nersihenae in Hasselsweiler, Gusten, Lipp, Roedingen, Iülich and Morken-Harff,269 the Matronae Vesuniahenaein Vettweis and Zülpich,270 the Matronae Vocallinehaein Pesch271 and the Xulsigae in Trier.272
It is also important to point out that some single goddesses can be seen to be not Celtic, on account of the composition of their name. Such is the case of the goddess Travalalhea honoured in Cologne,273 Vagdavercusta venerated in Brescia (Italy), Adony (Hungary), Cologne, Rindern, Monterberg (Germany) and Hemmen (Netherlands),274 Vidasolithana in Topusko (Croatia)275 and Viradecdis / Viradechtis / Virathethis / Virodachtis in Vechten (Netherlands), Birrens (GB), Strée-lez-Huy (Belgium) and Mainz (Germany).276
Some indications on the meaning of the Germanic epithets
The study of those Germanic goddesses is beyond the scope of this study, which is why we will not analyse and comment on the significance of their names but merely give here an overall view of the matter. Neumann, who bases his work on Jan De Vries’s, Julius Pokorny’s, Kern’s and Gutenbrunner’s previous studies, proposes a comprehensive analysis of the etymologies of those Germanic goddess names.277 The epigraphic references to the goddesses are given in the above list.
First of all, it appears that some Germanic divine titles refer to the landscape or to the functions fulfilled by the Mother-Goddesses. The Matronae Chuchenehae / Cuchenehae might for instance personify the ‘Hill’, their name being derived from Germanic *hauha, ‘high’.278 The famous Matronae or Matres Aufaniae should be understood as *au-fanja- (> *au-fani-), i.e. ‘Isolated Boogy Land’ or ‘Remote Swamp’, with Germanic *fanja ‘swamp’, ‘marsh’, corresponding to Gothic fani, ‘mud’.279 As for the Vanginehae, their name may come from the root *wanga-, ‘countryside’, ‘field’, ‘meadow’ and thus be in close relation with the landscape.280
Moreover, some epithets are hydronyms*, such as that of the Matres Aumenahenae, which corresponds to the river Oumena, today Aumenau, flowing by the city of Aumenau (Hesse, Germany).281 The Matronae Cuchenehae also bear a close relation to the river Kocher, in Old High German Cochana, situated in the north-eastern part of Baden-Württernberg (Germany).282 As for the Matronae Etrahenae, their name might be derived from Germanic *aitrah, ‘water which becomes swollen’, that is ‘river in spate’,283 and the Vataranehae, Veteranehae, Veterahenae from the Germanic *watar, ‘water’.284
Other divine bynames* are ethnonyms*. An example is that of the Matronae Hamavehae, who are etymologically linked to the Chamavi, a Germanic people settled along the North bank of the Lower Rhine – this region, which is nowadays Hamaland, was called after them.285 Similarly, the Matres Kannanefates are the Mothers of the Germanic tribe of the Cananefates, Canninefates, Caninefates, or Canenefatae, who inhabited the western part of the Batavian Island – now the western part of the Netherlands.286 The Matronae Vanginehae and the Matres Vagionae, who are honoured in Neidernberg,287 are etymologically related to the Vangiones, who inhabited today northern Alsace (France), while the Matres Suebae are eponymous of the sept* of the Suebi, settled along the Rhine and later in the region of today’s Alsace.288 The Matres Frisavae are eponymous of the sept* of the Frisii or Frisiavi, living in some parts of the coast of the Nertherlands and Germany,289 and theMatres / Matronae Cantrusteihae (Andrustehiae) are related to the Condrusi, who were probably located in the region named after them, Condroz, situated between Liège and Namur (Belgium).290
Finally, some epithets are toponymic*, because they refer to place-names, such as the Matronae Albiahenae, who could be understood as ‘the Mothers of Albiniacum’, now Elvenich,291 the Matronae Iulineihiae, ‘the Mothers of Iuliacum’, now Jülich,292 the Matronae Lanehiae, ‘the Mothers of Lechenich’,293 the Matronae (Vatiae) Nersihenae, ‘the Mothers of Nersiceniacum’, now Neersen,294 and the Matronae Mahlinehae, ‘the Mothers of Mecheln’ (Antwerp, Belgium).295
Therefore, one can notice that the Germanic Mother Goddesses have epithets, which, exactly like the Celtic Mother Goddesses, are descriptive of their functions or refer to the landscape, rivers (hydronyms*), peoples (ethnonyms*) and places (toponyms*), which they embody, protect and rule.
It is sometimes difficult to determine the origin and character of some goddesses, who could be either Celtic or Germanic. In certain cases, the attributive bynames* indeed confront us with a problem, for they seem to combine Celtic and Germanic words or derivations.296 This is what Schmidt and Spickermann call ‘hybrids’, that is words with mixed etymologies, or ‘keltisch-germanische Mischkomposita’, that is Celtic-Germanic compound words.297 In Lower Germany, for instance, Spickermann counts twenty-two purely Celtic epithets, eighteen ‘Mischkomposita’ plus fourteen unclear ‘hybrids’.298 Are these Mother Goddesses to be regarded as Celtic, Germanic deities or Celto-Germanic on account of their seemingly ambivalent character, mirrored in the mixed etymology* of their names?
Celtic root + Germanic adjectival suffix –henae
The name of the Matronae Berguiahenae, for instance, which appears on various inscriptions from Gereonsweiler, Bonn and Tetz (Germany),299 seems at first sight to be Germanic because of the Germanized suffix –henae. And yet, one can notice that their name can be related to the Celtic word bergo-, signifying ‘hill’, derived from IE *bherĝh, ‘high’.300They are thus etymologically linked to Celtic Bergonia (‘Mount’), honoured in Viens (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), and Bergusia (‘Mount’) in Mont-Auxois (Côte d’Or).301 According to Patrizia De Bernardo Stempel, their name, possibly ‘Those who belong to the Height’, is therefore a Celtic theonym* with a Germanic variant.302Nonetheless, it should not be forgotten that the IE root *bherĝh gave the word ‘hill’ or ‘mountain’ in Germanic too: *bergaz, in Modern German Berg, ‘mountain’.303 From this, it follows that the Matronae Berguiahenaeare probably more Germanic than Celtic, all the more so as their name ends in –henae.
The epithet of the Matronae Albiahenae, honoured in Ober-Elvenich,304 is also a ‘Mischkomposita’, for Albia-henae is composed of a Germanized suffix –henae and of a Celtic word alb-, albio-, albo- signifying ‘world (from the above)’, ‘bright world’, ‘celestial’, derived from IE *albho-, ‘white’ and cognate with Welsh elfydd, ‘world’.305 This word is the opposite of dubno– > dumno-, ‘deep, from below, dark’, ‘World from down below’, that is ‘the Underworld, the Otherworld’, present in the Welsh compound Annwfn, ‘Other World’.306In Gaul, three deities have similar names: Albius (‘Of this World’) in Aignay-le-Duc (Côte d’Or),307 Albiorix (‘King of this World’) in Mont-Genèvre (Hautes-Alpes), Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) and Montsalier (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence)308, and Albiorica (‘Queen of the World’) in Saint-Saturnin d’Apt (Vaucluse).309De Bernardo Stempel glosses the Albiahenae as ‘Those who belong to the Earthly World’.310 As far as Neumann is concerned, he thinks that their epithet is a Germanic hydronym* reflected in the name of the river Elbe, which rises in the northern Czech Republic and flows to the North Sea (Central Europe).311We also saw that their epithet may be a toponym* referring to the town of Albiniacum (Elvenich, Germany).
The same problem is again encountered in the name of the Matres Mediotautehae, venerated in Cologne (Germany): Matribus Mediotautehi[s] Iul(ius) Primus vet(e)ranus leg(ionis) I M(inerviae) P(iae) F(idelis) vslm. 312 Olmsted suggests these are Germanic deities, because of the inflexion –ehae.313 However, the first element medio-, ‘central, middle’ is known in Celtic.314 In addition, it is possible to recognize in the second element the Celtic word touta, teuta meaning ‘tribe’ or ‘people’, cognate with Old Irish tuath, Middle Welsh tut, ‘tribe’, ‘people’, Welsh tûd, ‘country’, Breton tud, ‘the people’, all coming from IE *teutā, ‘tribe’, ‘people’.315 This word is found again in the names of the Gaulish gods Toutatis / Teutates (Mars),316 Toutenus (Mercurius),317 Teutanus (IOM),318 who are ‘The One (God) of the Tribe’ and in Toutiorix (Apollo), ‘The King of the Tribe’.319 In addition, the Matres Ollototae, studied above, honoured in Binchester and Heronbridge (Britain), are ‘The Mothers of All the Peoples’. One can also notice that the Irish gods are called the Tuatha Dé Danann, that is ‘the Tribe of the Goddess Danu’.320 The form tautehae is equivalent to Celtic *toutiko-. Indeed, Neumann specifies that the diphthong /au/ is Germanic and is equivalent to Celtic /ou/.321 As for Olmsted, he advocates that, if the –h– in the inflexion –ehae has the value of –x-, it would indicate that the name was originally Celtic, with an ending in –ica, -eca (*Mediotoutica), and actually underwent a Germanic influence later on.322 The name of the semi-Celtic, semi-Germanic Matres Mediotautehae can be glossed as ‘The Mothers of the Middle Tribe or ‘of the Central Country’.323
Similarly, the Matronae Gesahenae,honoured in Roedingen, Bettenhofen, Deutz and Cologne (Germany), seem to be at first sight Germanic.324 Neuman proposes to link their name to the Germanic verb geisa, meaning ‘to rage’, ‘to storm’, ‘to charge at’, ‘to attack’, ‘to assault’.325 Yet, Schmidt and Delamarre list them among the Celtic goddesses, relating the first part of their name gesa– to Celtic gaiso-, gaeso– > geso-, meaning ‘spear’, ‘javelin’, cognate with Old Irish gae, genitive ga, ‘spear’, fo-gha, ‘dart’, ‘javelin’, Welsh gwayw, Old Breton guugoiuou, ‘spear’, ‘javelin’.326 The Matronae Gesahenae are etymologically linked to the Matronae Gesationum, venerated in an inscription from Iülich (Germany),327 and to the Gaulish tribe of the Gaesati (‘Armed with Spears’ or ‘Lancers’), who were settled along the Rhône.328
From all of this, it follows that the origin of some mother-goddesses’ divine epithets confronts us with a problem. Indeed, it is possible to link the first element of those bynames* to the Celtic language, while the adjectival suffix –henae is clearly Germanic. On the one hand, such epithets could be understood as Celtic theonyms including a Germanic element or variant. This would mean that the original Celtic name underwent a transformation or a change when confronted with Germanic peoples and it would imply that those goddess names are Celtic in origin.329 On the other hand, it might be that some Celtic names are borrowed from Germanic. For instance, regarding the Matronae Gesahenae, Oswald Szemerény suggests that the Celtic word *gaisos may have been borrowed from Germanic, on account of its vowel pattern.330 This would indicate that those goddesses were probably more Germanic in origin than Celtic.
Goddess names in gab-
Divine names comprising the root gab-, such as Gabiae, Gabinae, Garmangabis, Alagabiae and Ollogabiae, are the most striking examples of the difficulty in determining the origin of some Mother Goddesses. The theme gab– exists both in Celtic and Germanic languages, but with a significant difference in meaning. In Germanic indeed gab-, which is identical with Old Norse gefa and German geben, ‘to give’, means ‘to give’, ‘to offer’, while in Celtic gab– is related to Old Irish gaibim, ‘I take’, gaibid, ‘he takes’, and Welsh gafael, ‘to hold’ and thus signifies ‘to take’.331
Therefore, one can wonder whether the Junones or Matronae Gabiae, venerated in Müddersheim, Rövenich, Cologne, Kirchheim, Rohr, Xanten and Iülich (Germany),332 the Gabinae honoured in Bornheim (Germany),333 the Matronae Alagabiae in Buergel (Germany),334 the Ollogabiae in Castell and Mainz (Germany)335 and the goddess Garmangabis, mentioned in an inscription from Lanchester (GB),336 are Celtic or Germanic goddesses.337 According to the origin of their name, the Gabiae and Gabinae could thus be understood as either meaning ‘Those who Give’, ‘Givers’ or ‘Those who Take/Seize’. Considering the Gabiae and Gabinae are Germanic, Kern observes that they are “ladies, dispensers of gifts and munificence”, since their name can be related to Gothic gabei, ‘munificence’, ‘wealth’, gabigs, ‘rich’ and Old Norse göfugr, ‘generous’.338 Kern, referring to Old Norse gifta, which combines the notions of giving and marriage, argues that they could be protectresses of marriage.
As for the themes ala– and ollo-, comprised in the bynames* Alagabiae and Ollogabiae, it seems that ollo-, ‘all’ is Celtic, while ala-, ‘all’ is Germanic.339 Ollogabiae would be thus a Celtic divine name signifying ‘Those who take and keep everything’, ‘All-Seizing’,340 while Alagabiae would be its Germanic counterpart, but with the opposite meaning of ‘Those who give everything’, ‘All Givers’.341As for Régis Boyer, he suggests to relate the Germanic prefix ala– to the root *alu, found in some runic* inscriptions, denoting good luck and tutelary chance.342 According to him, the Alagabiae would therefore be ‘The Good Luck Givers’ or ‘Those who bring good luck’. These Celtic and Germanic prefixes are found in two other goddess names, such as the Matres Ollototae and the Matres Alatervae, honoured in Cramond (Scotland): Matrib(us) Alatervis et Matrib(us) Campestribus coh(ortis) I[I] Tungr(orum), ‘To the Matres Alatervae and to the Matres Campestres of the Cohort II of Tungrorum’ (fig. 27).343 The Alatervae are highly likely to be Germanic, because of the prefix ala-, ‘all’ composing their name. Kern besides points out that the dedicators are Germanic people in the Tungrian cohort* of the Roman army. As regards the etymology* of their name, he proposes the connection to Germanic teru, ‘tree’, cognate with Middle Norse tere and Gothic triu, ‘tree’; a theme which also exists in Celtic (*deru).344 The Matres Alatervae might therefore be the ‘Mother Goddesses of All sorts of Forests’. As far as Delamarre is concerned, he supposes that their name is the same as the Alateivae (possibly *Alante- (Celtic?) or *Ala-dēviā), venerated in Xanten (Germany): Alateiviae ex iussu divos medicu[s].345 Kern relates this title to Anglo-Saxon alatave, calteav, ‘safe’, ‘healthy’, ‘in good health’.346 On account of this etymology* and the dedicator, who is a doctor, he translates their name as ‘Health’ and compares them to the Greek goddess of Health, Cleanliness and Sanitation: Hygieia or Hygeia.347
In the case of the mother-goddesses in ‘gab-’, it is thus difficult to determine their provenance with certainty, for their name can be related to the two languages. The fact that goddess names are identifiable with Celtic as well as Germanic is actually not surprising. The Germanic and Celtic languages are both derived from Indo-European, which means that they have similar roots or words. L. Fleuriot would suggest that Celtic peoples reinterpreted the Germanic radical gab-, which originally signified ‘to give’ rather than ‘to take’.348 A few other examples are worth mentioning here. The Matronae Arvagastae, for instance, venerated in Modersheim, are said to be Germanic (maybe *arvo-gost-), and yet, it is noticeable that the root gassu-, gast-, the meaning of which is unknown, is also found in the Celtic language.349 Similarly, in the name of the Germanic Matronae Gavadiae, honoured in Bettenhofen, München-Gladbach, Roedingen, Iülich, and Thorr (Germany), a Celtic root gavo-, the meaning of which is unknown, is detectable.350 The epithet of the Germanic Malvisae, venerated in Cologne and Nieukerk, might also be related to Celtic malu-, malo-, mallo-, possibly meaning ‘high’, ‘important’, ‘superior’.351
In addition to the occasional similarity in languages, it is clear that the cult of some deities must have been shared by the Germanic and Celtic peoples, who lived side by side along the Rhine, had many contacts and probably exchanged and borrowed many religious ideas and customs from one another. The contiguity between the two peoples must have resulted in goddesses of mixed or hybrid character, reflected in their very names. The most significant examples supporting that idea are very certainly the Matronae Albiahenae, the Matres Mediotautehae and the Matronae Gesahenae. The first elements of their epithets are indeed Celtic, while the endings –henae, –hae are Germanic. We can therefore refer to those ‘hybrid’ Mother Goddesses as ‘Celto-Germanic’.
In addition to being honoured greatly in the epigraphy, the Mother Goddesses are also widely evidenced in the imagery from the Continent and Britain.352 If the mother-goddess can be represented as a single figure, she is often duplicated, tripled, quadrupled or even quintupled. The triads of mothers are in fact the most widespread representations. It seems that the Mothers started being depicted as such from the end of the 1st c. AD.353
They are conventionally represented in a sitting posture, most of the time in an aediculum* – occasionally with a footstool under their feet – and wearing long garments and diadems on their hair, which is the expression of their magnificence, majesty and sovereignty. Besides, the Roman title Augustae is sometimes given to them in the dedications, such as in Vienne: Matris Augustis, C. Titius Sedulus ex voto, ‘To the August Mothers, C. Titius Sedulus offered (this)’.354 This title enhances their power and majesty and gives an official dimension to them.
The Mothers traditionally bear the universal attributes of the Greco-Roman Terra Mater, such as horns of plenty, eggs, loaves of bread, baskets of fruit, cereal head dresses or cakes, small animals, all representing the abundance of the products of the Earth which they literally embody. These attributes emphasize their life-giving propensities. A statue discovered in Alésia (Côte d’Or) depicts for instance a single seated goddess, with a long tunic and a tiara, holding a large basket containing a dozen pieces of fruit of various sizes in her lap (fig. 10).355 Another instance is the plaque from Cirencester (Gloucestershire, GB), representing three seated mothers, wearing coats and tunics. The one on the left holds a tray of cakes and loaves in her lap, while the two others on the right hold trays of fruit (fig. 10).356 As for the Germanic Mother Goddesses, they can be distinguished by the characteristic round hat they generally wear, such as on the relief* of the Matronae Aufaniae discovered in Bonn (Germany) and the pipe-clay figurine from Bonn representing three small Mothers holding fruit on their knee (fig. 11).357
It is clear that all these attributes of human and earthly fertility are quite common and imitate the religious Greco-Roman images. Thus, the figurative representation of those Mother Goddesses is not Celtic in character. Nonetheless, Simone Deyts argues that, if the attributes are borrowed from Classical representations, the statues are of indigenous character, for they were made in Gaul by local artisans and sculpted in regional material, such as limestone, terracotta or bronze.358
Epigraphy accompanies the imagery but rarely, and these testimonies are thus of great importance. The bas-relief* from Lyons, for instance, shows three small goddesses sitting and holding cornucopiae* and baskets of fruit in their laps, under which is engraved the following inscription: Matr(is) Aug(ustis) Phlegon med(icus), ‘To the Mother Goddesses, Phlegon doctor (offered this)’ (fig. 12).359 Similarly, another damaged altar, discovered in Fourvière (the hill overlooking Lyons) in 1895, depicts three Mothers sitting, wearing long tunics and coats, and each holding baskets of fruit on her knee (fig. 13).360 Along with this altar was found a tablet in white limestone bearing the inscription: Matr[is Aug(ustis)] P. Mattius Qua[rtus], L. Mattius Satto, C. Mattius Vitalis, ex voto, ‘To the August Mothers, P. Mattius Quartus, L. Mattius Satto (and) C. Mattius Vitalis offered (this monument)’.361
Fig. 10: Left: Single Mother Goddess from Alésia (Côte d’Or). In the Musée Alésia. Deyts, 1998, n° 28, p. 67. Right: Plaque from Cirencester, Gloucestershire (GB), representing triple seated mothers of Classical type. In Corinium Museum, Cirencester.LIMC, Suppl., vol. 8, 2, p. 554, n°16.
Fig. 11: Left: Altar combining a representation and a dedication to the Matronae Aufaniae from Bonn (Germany). Right: Pipe-clay group of three Mother Goddesses from Bonn wearing the typical round hat of Germanic goddesses. In Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn. LIMC, Suppl., vol. 8, 2, p. 553, n°1 and 4.
Fig. 13: Mutilated altar representing Mother Goddesses with baskets of fruit, discovered in Fourvière (Lyons, Rhône). In the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyons. RG 7068.
The Nursing Mothers or Nutrices
The generosity of their curves – a round abdomen and ample breasts sometimes bared – and their association with a consort or wrapped infants represent fecundity, procreation and the renewal of the human race. In the representations of divine couples, which are numerous in Autun (Saône-et-Loire), Entrains (Nièvre) and Alésia (Côte d’Or) – where around seventeen reliefs* were discovered – the goddess symbolises the concept of the ‘wife-goddess’, who marries the god to procreate.362 The deities are generally seated side by side on a throne and hold various attributes of fertility. They are sometimes turned towards each other and have affectionate gestures for one another, such as on the relief* from Alésia (fig. 14).
Fig. 14: Relief* of a divine couple discovered in Alésia (Cote d’Or). The goddess holds a cornucopia* in her left hand and represents the concept of the ‘Wife-Goddess’. In the Palais du Roure d’Avignon. Deyts, 1992, p. 69.
The theme of the Mother Goddesses nursing children is widespread in the iconography of the Matres. A high-relief* found in Vertault (Côte d’Or) shows a triad* of nursing goddesses with one breast bared, who are about to get a baby washed. 363 The first goddess holds a wrapped infant in her hands, the second one a baby’s flannel blanket and the third one a washbowl and a sponge (fig. 15). Similarly, a votive relief* discovered in Cirencester (Gloucestershire, GB) has the central goddess holding a baby in her arms, while the two other ones may have baskets of fruit or swaddling clothes for the baby on their knee (fig. 15).364 This representation is interesting, for it seems to have some indigenous peculiarities, which might differentiate it from the figurations of marked Classical character. The Mother Goddesses indeed wear their hair loose and do not wear a diadem. Other examples of such a role are the five small statuettes in white terracotta found in 1991 in a well in Auxerre (Yonne) representing seated Matres, wearing a diadem and long garments, feeding one or two infants at their breast (fig. 16).365 Similar pipe-clay figurines have been found in Britain,366 in Gaul, such as in Alésia,367 Dijon (Côte d’Or),368 and Autun (Saône-et-Loire),369 and in Germany, such as in Trier, notably in the temple dedicated to the goddess Aveta370 and in the precinct near Dhronecken.371 Those figurines are generally found in temples, houses and more particularly in sepulchral contexts.372 They may have been sorts of amulets, which women could easily carry with them because of their small size, protecting them and their children in their everyday life or during pregnancy, as well as in the afterlife when deposited in tombs. Those terra-cotta figurines were made in large numbers from the 1st c. AD to the 3rd c. AD in workshops situated for instance in Toulon-sur-Allier, Bourbon-Lancy or Autun and were easily distributed throughout Gaul and even further on account of their compact size.373
Fig. 15: Left: Trio of nursing goddesses from Vertault (Côte d’Or). Museum of Châtillon-sur-Seine. Deyts, 1998, n°29, p. 67. Right: Nursing Mother Goddesses from Cirencester (Gloucestershire, GB). In Corinium Museum, Cirencester. Green, 2004, fig. n°7.
Fig. 16: Five statuettes in white terracotta of nursing Matres discovered in a well in Auxerre (Yonne). Deyts, 1998, n° 30, p. 68.
Those Gaulish and British Nursing Mother Goddesses clearly echo the cult of the Nutrices, which was significant in and around Poetovio (Slovenia) where two sanctuaries and numerous depictions, very often combined with inscriptions, were discovered. Their name is the plural of Latin nutrix, designating ‘a woman’s breast’ or ‘a wet nurse’ – cf. the verb nutricare, ‘to suckle, to nurse, to nourish, to promote the growth of (plants and animals)’.374 In Poetovio, the Nutrices are always venerated in the plural form and are often portrayed as three women, but only one of them holds and breast-feeds the baby, while the two others may be servants.375Some of the depictions are combined with inscriptions naming them, such as the one from Zgornji Breg, dating from the 2nd c. AD, which shows three women, similarly dressed, under which is engraved the following inscription: Nutricibus Aug(ustis) sacrum Aurelius Siro pro salute Aureli Primiani v.s.l.m, ‘Sacred to Augustus and to the Nutrices, Aurelius Sirus for the safety of Aurelius Primianus paid his vow willingly and deservedly’. 376 The woman in the middle is seated and feeds a baby at her left breast, while the two other ones, standing on each side, hold a patera*, a towel, a dish and an urceus* (fig. 17). It is interesting to note that the Nutrices are worshipped only at Poetovio and that a significant number of dedicators have Celtic names, such as Malia, Donnia (‘Noble’), Siro (‘Star’) and Vintumila.377 Šašel Kos maintains that these nursing goddesses were brought there by “a Celtic group which had settled the region along with other Celtic tribes when they occupied the later Regnum Noricum*”.378
There is, besides, an inscription found near Utrecht honouring the Matres Noricae, ‘The Mother Goddesses of Noricum’: Matribus Noricis Anneus Maximus mil(es) leg(ionis) I M(inerviae) v.s.l.m., which might have been offered by a soldier coming from Noricum*.379 This could be further proof of the existence of the Matres-Nutrices cult in Poetovio.380 Therefore, the Slovenian Nutrices are very similar to the British and Gaulish Nursing Mothers. They should be related to the RomanDea Nutrix (‘Wetnurse Goddess’), who was venerated alone or together with Saturnus/Frugifer or Tanit Caelestis in North Africa during the Roman period. There are examples of inscriptions dedicated to her in Lambaesis, near modern Tazoult and Azîz ben Tellis (Algeria): Nutrici Deae Aug(ustae) Sacr(um) ; Nutrici Aug(ustae) templum C. Hostilius Felix sacerdos Saturni s p. f. id. d. 381 Dea Nutrix is generally portrayed in the reliefs* breast-feeding babies or accepting children presented to her so as to gain her protection.
Fig. 17: Representation of Nutrices from Zgornji Breg (Poetovio, Slovenia). LIMC, vol. 6.2, p. 620, n°4.
This nursing function is echoed in the very name of the Matres Mopates, venerated in Nimwegen (the Netherlands): Matribus Mopatibus suis M(arcus) Liberius Victor cives Nervius neg(otiator) frum(entarius) vslm.382Their epithet (*map-at-eis) is undeniably Celtic, for it is derived from Gaulish mapat-, ‘child’.383 It can be glossed as ‘The Mothers with a Child’.384 They are etymologically linked to the god Maponos (‘The Young Son’), whose name comes from Gaulish mapo-, ‘son’, ‘young boy’.385 He is venerated in various inscriptions from the north and north-west of Britain, such as in Chesterholm (2), Hadrian’s Wall (1), Corbridge (3) (Northumbria) and Ribchester (1) (Lancashire) and from Gaul, in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône), and in a Gallo-Latin inscription from Chamalières (Puy-de-Dôme).386
The Gallo-British god Maponos is an etymological forerunner of the Welsh divine hero Mabon, literally meaning ‘Youth’ or ‘Young God’ in Middle Welsh.387 The 11th-century Arthurian legend Culhwch ac Olwen recounts that Mabon son of Modron is kidnapped when he is three nights old. Culhwch goes in search of him, but it is Arthur who eventually saves him from prison in Gloucester.388 The name of Mabon’s mother, Modron, signifies ‘Mother’ and is philologically a development of the name of the Goddess of the River Marne in Gaul, Matrona (‘Mother’).389 This of course leads scholars to think that Maponos (‘Son’) was the son of Matrona (‘Mother’), like Mabon (‘Youth’) is the son of Modron (‘Mother’). A Mother–Son pattern therefore stands out from both Welsh literature and Gallo-British epigraphy. Significantly, this archetype is found again in Irish mythology. The god Oengus (‘True Vigour’), the son of the river-goddess Bóinn and the Dagda, who resides at Brugh na Bóinne (Newgrange) in County Meath, is indeed nicknamed Mac ind Óc. This form is ungrammatical and seems to have been interpreted as ‘the Son of the Youth’. It has been reasonably suggested that the true original form was different,*Maccan Óc or In Mac Óc, that is the ‘Young Boy or Son’. He is thus clearly identical to Gallo-British Maponos and Welsh Mabon.390
In this role of Nursing Mothers, the Matres appear very clearly as dispensers of fecundity and protectresses of childbirth and childhood. This is actually a universal principle found in many other ancient religions. For instance, the main role of the Egyptian Isis, the wife of Osiris, is to breast-feed Harpocrate – the name of Horus as a child.391 As for the Roman Juno, the wife of Jupiter, she is famous for presiding over childbirth and protecting women.392 She is besides nicknamed Lucina, that is ‘she who brings to the light’, when specifically fulfilling this function.
Triplism: a mark of Celtic tradition?
As we have seen, ‘three’ is a recurrent figure in the iconography of the Mother Goddesses. Could triplism393 be a mark of Celtic tradition, as some scholars maintain? Joseph Vendryes indeed stipulates that “triplism is a Celtic conception, according to which a person is divided into three persons, each representing one of the aspects of the total activity.”394 In Irish mythology, for example, trebling is characteristic of the divinities, who are often represented threefold or as trios. For instance, the gods who forge the weapons for the Tuatha Dé Danann in Cath Maige Tuired [‘the Second Battle of Moytirra’] are three in number. Goibniu, the smith (Old Irish goba), Luchta, the carpenter (Irish sόer), and Credne, the worker in bronze (Irish cerd), are known as na trí Dée Dána (‘the Three Gods of Craftsmanship’) in literature.395
As regards the gods, the concept of triplism is also widely found in iconography from Gaul, Britain and Ireland.396 There are indeed many representations of three-headed or three-faced gods in Gaul, such as the god from Reims, who is often equated with Mercury,397 the bearded god with prominent eyes from Langres,398 the Bronze god from near Autun,399 and those portrayed on the pots from Bavay (Nord), Jupille (Belgium) and Troisdorf (Germany).400 In Britain, reliefs* showing a three-faced stone head were discovered at the temple at Viroconium, now Wroxeter (Shrophire).401 In Ireland, in Corleck (Co. Cavan) was unearthed the famous bald round-faced tricephalos, which is a head with three identical faces, probably dating from the 1st c. AD.402
Significantly in the Irish texts, several triads of goddesses could echo the triadic groups of the Gallo-British Matres or Matronae. The Lebor Gabála Érenn [‘The Book of Invasions’] mentions that the isle of Ireland is personified by three goddesses: Ériu, Banba and Fótla.403 Similarly, the goddesses of war form a trio composed of the Mórrígain (‘Great Queen’), Badb (‘Crow’) and Macha (‘Field’), who is sometimes replaced by Nemain (‘Panic’).404 In an old glossary, Badb, Macha and the Mórrígain are said to be the three Mórrígain. This implies that the primary divine character of the trio was the Mórrígain and that she is herself envisaged as a tripled deity. This text is of great importance, for it is the only mention of the Mórrígain in triple form:
‘Badhbh, Macha ocus Mórrígain na téora Mórrígnae.
Badb, Macha and Mórrígain are the three Mórrígna.405 ’
Similarly,Macha, whose name is derived from mag, ‘field’ (Magesiā > Macha), is viewed as being three in number. There are several versions in literature of the three Machas: Macha, the wife of Nemed, the Ulster Queen Macha Mong Ruadh (‘Red-haired’), daughter of Aed Rúad and wife of Cimbáeth, and Macha, the wife of Crunniuc mac Agnomain, who brings ‘debility’ to the Ulstermen.406 While the goddesses of war seem to be separate figures on account of their different roles, the three Machas might be emanations of a single deity.407 According to Georges Dumézil, whose ideas are repeated by De Vries, the three Machas are distinct figures possessing a specific role and character.408 He argues that they are the representation of the ‘functional tripartition’, reflected in most of the Celtic female triads. Indeed, the first legend presents her as a Seer (sacerdotal function), the second one as a Warrioress (war function) and the third one as a Mother-Farmer (agrarian and fertile function).409 Likewise, the daughter of the Dagda, Brigit, is a threefold goddess, for she is said in Sanas Cormaic [‘Cormac’s Glossary’], dated c. 900, to have two sisters bearing her name.410 The first Brigit possesses filidhecht, that is ‘poetry, divination and prophecy’, while the other two preside respectively over curing and smithcraft. It seems that the three Brigits are the triplication of the very same figure; triplication emphasizing and sublimating her various abilities and powers.
In Gaul, the idea of a goddess envisaged in triple form might be echoed in the name of the goddess Trittia meaning ‘Third’, related to Gaulish tritos, ‘third’.411 The goddess Trittia is mentioned in three inscriptions discovered in the Var – in Fréjus: Trittiae L(ucius) Iul(ius) Certi f(ilius) Martinus v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To Trittia, Lucius Iulius Certi, son of Matinus, paid his vow willingly and deservedly’ ;412 in Pierrefeu: Trittiae M(arcus) Vibius Longus v.s.l.m., ‘To Trittia, Marcus Vibius Longus paid his vow willingly and deservedly’ ;413 and possibly in Carnoules, but the dedication is very damaged: Tritt]i(a)e Iu[lius?] Tenci[-] v.s.l.m. 414 Olmsted and Anwyl suggest that Trittia is the eponymous goddess of the city of Trets, situated near Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône), which Albert Grenier and Jules Toutain refute, pointing out that the inscriptions were not found precisely in the area of this town. They add that the ancient name of Trets, which is Tritis or Tretis – sometimes Trecis, then Treds – , was never written with two ‘t’s.415 The fact that the inscriptions were not very far from Trets may, however, be relevant, and the duplicated ‘t’ in Trittia may be an effect of the personification of the place. The conundrum can perhaps be best solved by considering that the town was called after the goddess Trittia, whose name in the sense of ‘third’ would more properly be written Tritia. Significantly, an inscription discovered in Duratón, Segovia, Castilla y León, in Celt-Iberia, alludes to the trinity concept of the Matres and to their potency, as their epithet Termegiste (‘the Three Almighty’) indicates: Matribus termegiste v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To the Three Almighty Mothers (the dedicator) paid his vow willingly and deservedly’.416
If the female triadic groups are widely represented in the iconography with the Matres, there are yet very few three-headed or three-faced goddesses. One of the few surviving examples is the small statue of a goddess in bronze discovered in 1890 in Cébazat, near Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme), whose head is triplicated (fig. 18).417 According to Jean-Léopold Courcelle-Seneuil, the goddess wears a diadem decorated with a plant, possibly artemisia, which was devoted to Diana.418 It is worth noting that the idea of triple-headed female supernatural beings is encountered in an 11th-century legend belonging to the lore of the hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill. In this story, entitled Finn and the Phantoms, the hero, along with his companions Caoilte and Oisín, rode to a hillock called Bairneach south of Killarney on his new black horse, won in a horse-race at Clochar (Co. Limerick).419 In the evening, they decided to stop in a mansion to have some sleep, but they rapidly realized that the place was gloomy and inhabited by weird frightening creatures, such as a grey churl, a headless man with a single eye on his chest and a hag with tri cind for a caelmuneol, i.e. ‘three heads on her scrawny neck’.420 A terrible fight broke out between the macabre supernatural beings and the three warriors which lasted until dawn, when the three creatures suddenly disappeared. The 13th-century legend Bruidhean Chéise Corainn [‘The Mansion of Keshcorran’ (Co. Sligo)] also tells of a visit of Finn mac Cumhail to the otherworld. He encountered three otherworld ugly sisters, who played sinister tricks on him and his comrade Conán Maol to punish them for hunting and sleeping on the hill of Keshcorran which belonged to their father.421 Interestingly, the concept of a threefold goddess also survived in the Welsh 12th-century Trioedd Ynys Prydein [‘Triads of the Isle of Britain’], Triad 56, which mentions that there were three Queens Gwenhwyfar at the court of Arthur:422
‘Teir Prif Riein Arthur:
Gvenhvyuar verch Gvryt Gvent,
A Gvenhvyuar verch Vthyr ap Greidiavl,
A Gvenhvyuar verch Ocuran Gavr.
Three Great Queens of Arthur’s Court:
Gwennhwyfar daughter of (Cywyrd) Gwent,
and Gwenhwyfar daughter of (Gwythyr) son of Greidiawl,
and Gwenhwyfar daughter of (G)ogfran the Giant.’
According to Rachel Bromwich, Triad 56 is the only Welsh source which alludes to three Queens Gwenhwyfar; all the other texts mentioning only one Gwenhwyfar, daughter of (G)ogfran the Giant.423 In her view, the threeGwenhwyfars are a reminiscence of Welsh and Irish traditions, which offer many examples of triple goddesses.
Fig. 18: Three-headed goddess in bronze from Cébazat (Puy-de-Dôme). Courcelle-Seneuil, 1910, pl. X.
As the iconography and literature show, triadic groups of female figures were widespread and common to Irish, British and Gaulish peoples. Threeness undeniably had a strong magico-religious dimension for the Celts, who, in triplicating their deities, dignified them and emphasized their potency and magnificence.424 Those divine trios are generally understood as the emanation and multiplication of a single deity, rather than as three distinct beings.425 They are thus seen as ‘three-in-one figures’. However, one cannot say that divine triplism is peculiar to the Celts only, for the concept of triadism is shared by many other ancient religions of Indo-European origin.
In Hinduism, for example, the trimūrti, meaning ‘trimorphic’ or ‘three forms’, is the triple aspect of the supreme being, symbolized by a triad* of primordial gods, that is Brahmā, the creator of the world, Visnu, the preserver of nature, and Shiva, who destroys the world at the end of each age.426 In Slavic mythology too, the primary god is called Triglav, literally ‘Three-Headed’.427 He represents the unity of three gods, called Svarog, Perùn and Dažbog – later Veles or Svetovid. He also reigns over three realms. His first head indeed presides over the Sky, his second head over the Earth and the third one over the Under-World, symbolizing thus the three powers of the universe: expansion, retention and balance. A three-sided god governing the same three worlds is also found in the religion of the Toba-Bataks of Sumatra in Indonesia,428 while in the religion of ancient Iran, triads of gods are also found, such as Mithra, Ahura Mazdâh and Anâhita, or Zervân, Ohrmizd and Mihr.429
Three-fold goddesses are also widely represented in Classical mythology. As we will see, the goddesses of Fate, the Roman Fatae and Greek Moirai are generally represented three in number. Similarly, the Nymphs, who are the embodiment of Nature, appear as a trio of goddesses. Such is also the case of the Greek Graces, who are generally depicted as three women symbolizing beauty, gentleness and friendship, sometimes bearing the names of Aglaia, Charis and Pasithea.430 The Greek goddess of the dead, Hecate (‘she who has power far off’), is also represented as a three-faced or three-bodied figure in the iconography.431 She is, besides, usually called ‘the Triple Hecate’. Moreover, the terrifying snake-haired and fanged Gorgons are three sisters, called Medusa (‘Ruler’), Stheno (‘Strength’) and Euryale (‘Wide-Leaping’), who turn into stone whoever meets their eyes.432 They are related to the three grey-hairedGraiae (‘Old Women’), named Enyo (‘Furious’), Pemphredo (‘Waspish’) and Deino (‘Dreadful’), who live in Atlas’ cave and possess a single eye and a single tooth which they lend to each other.433 Even though the Muses are generally said to be nine in number, they were originally envisaged as a trio of goddesses, presiding over music, dance, fine arts and above all poetry.434 On Mount Helicon, in the region of Thespiai, in Boeotia (Greece), the Muses Melete (‘Practice’), Mneme (‘Memory’) and Aoede (‘Song’) inhabit two springs, the Aganippe and the Hippocrene, while in Sicyone (Peloponnese) and in Delphi they personify the three strings of the ancient lyre, as their respective names Nete (‘Bottom’), Mese (‘Middle’) and Hypate (‘Top’) show.435
From all of this, it follows that triplism is a typical characteristic of Celtic deities but is not specifically a mark of Celticity, threefold dieties being found in many other ancient mythologies. Divine triplism actually goes back to Indo-European times, but it is significant that it survived so strongly in Welsh and Irish literatures and in Gallo-British iconography.
Mother-Goddesses with Roman epithets
It has been observed that the epithets of the Matres and Matronae were mainly of Celtic and Germanic origin. Nonetheless, their generic name is sometimes associated with Roman epithets or goddess names in the inscriptions. This phenomenon reflects the process of interpretatio Romana, which consisted in attributing Roman epithets or divine names to gods who did not belong to the Roman pantheon and juxtaposing their names in the dedications. The Matres and Matronae are associated with six different Roman goddess names or epithets in the inscriptions from Gaul and Britain: the Junones, who were protectresses of childbirth and women; the Parcae or Fatae, who symbolized destiny; the Nymphs, who were personifications of natural elements, and were more particularly linked to healing springs in Gaul; the Proxsumae, who were protective goddesses probably possessing similar functions to the Domesticae, an epithet pertaining to the protection of the household; and the Campestres, who were related to the battlefield and the protection of the cavalry. The Celtic (Matres) Suleviae, honoured in twenty different inscriptions from the Continent and Britain, are a good example of this epigraphic interpretatio Romana. They indeed bear the epithet Domesticae in a dedication from Cologne (Germany),436 the epithet Junones in Marquis, near Calais (Pas-de-Calais, France),437 and are associated with the Campestres in Rome (Italy).438 As will be demonstrated, the link between the Matres/Matronae and these Roman goddesses could be demonstrated because they had various attributes in common, such as fertility, motherhood, fate and protection in every aspect of life.
The ‘Mothers’ are sometimes associated with the Roman Junones, who are the guardians of women, as the Genius is the protector of men.439 The Junones (‘the Young Ones’), plural form of the goddess name Juno (‘the Young One’), represent the destiny of women from childbirth to death and ensure fertility.440 The Junones are honoured on their own for instance in Bordeaux (Gironde),441 Agen (Lot-et-Garonne),442 Nîmes (Gard),443 Aigues-Mortes (Gard),444 Néris-les-Bains (Allier),445 Rollainville (Vosges)446 and in Trier, Pützdorf, Zülpich, Wesseling and Xanten (Germany).447 The dedications to the Junones are also numerous in Cisalpine Gaul, with a significant concentration in the East of the province, between Aquilea and Lake Maggiore and more importantly in Verona and Brescia.448 According to Anwyl, the Junones must have had a role of healers when associated with places famous for their curative waters, such as Néris-les-Bains.449 This is probable since one of the functions of Juno was notably the protection of the health of women.450
Protecting women and embodying fertility were also functions of the Matres, which would explain why they were compared and assimilated to the Junones in four inscriptions from Cisalpine Gaul, in Arcisate (Lombardy): Matronis Iunonibus Valerius Baronis F. v.s.l.m., Como (Lombardy): Iunonib(us) Mátrón(ae) ex visu c. vir max, Verona: Iunoni[…] Matron[…],451 and from Cispadane Gaul, in Pitinum Pisaurense: Matronis Iunonibus […] Sacrum […].452 Similarly, the Matres Suleviae are named Junones in an inscription from Marquis (Pas-de-Calais).453 Another example is that of the Gabiae, who are called Matronae in Miel (Germany): Matronis Gabiabus Nelev[—-] Cai fi[lius] vslm,454 and Junones in Cologne and Xanten: Iunoniibus Gabiabus Masius votum retulit ; Iunonibus sive Gabiabus m(onumentum).455 These various instances show that the term Junones was believed to be identical to the term Matronae. It may even have completely replaced it in some areas after the Roman invasion, such as in large parts of Cisalpine Gaul.456
The ‘Mothers’ are also equated with the Roman Parcae, Fatae or Fatae. Two dedications from Britain exemplify this connection. The first one was found on the shore at Skinburness, near Silloth (Cumbria): Matribu[s] Par(cis) […], ‘To the Mothers the Fatae’,457 and the other in Carlisle (Cumbria): Matrib(us) Parc(is) pro salut(e) Sanctiae Geminae, ‘To the Mother Goddesses, the Fatae, for the welfare of Sanctia Gemina’ (fig. 19).458 Another noteworthy example is that of the Matronae Dervonnae ‘Mother Goddesses of the Oak’, venerated in Milan (Italy): Matronis Dervonnis C(aius) Rufinus Apronius vslm, ‘To the Matronae Dervonnae, C(aius) Rufinus Apronius paid his vow willingly and deservedly’,459 who are given the title of Fatae in an inscription from Brescia (Italy): Fatis Dervonibus vslm M(arcus) Rufinius Severus, ‘To the Fatae Dervonnae Marcus Rufinus Severus paid his vow willingly and deservedly’.460 This example shows that the terms Matronae and Fatae are connected with one another and that the ‘Mothers’ were believed to share some of the functions of the Roman female deities.
Fig. 19: Base of buff sandstone dedicated to the Matres Parcae from Carlisle (Cumbria). In Carlisle Museum. Haverfield, 1982, p. 327.
The Parcae are the late triple representation of the Roman goddess Parca, who originally presided over childbirth and destinies.461Her name may come from the Latin verb pario, ‘to give birth’ or ‘to produce’ (for the earth).462 The Fatae, from Latin fātum (‘oracle, prediction’; ‘fate’, ‘destiny’ ; ‘life-time’, inducing death; ‘fatality’, ‘unfortune’), or Parcae (‘Those who bring forth the child’) are the Roman counterparts of the Greek Moirai (Μοĩραι), whose name, generally translated as ‘Cutters-off’ or ‘Allotters’, can be related to Greek moira designating the ‘part’, the ‘share’, the ‘portion’ and to Greek móros referring to ‘lot’ or ‘fate’, with the idea of dispensing good as well as bad.463 They are generally represented as three female deities, called the Tria Fata (‘the Three Destinies’), for they supervise and embody the destiny of humankind from birth to death.464 While Nona (‘Ninth’), the equivalent of Greek Klotho (‘Spinner’), spins the web of life with her distaff and presides over childbirth, Decima (‘Tenth’), who is similar to Greek Lakhesis (‘the Drawing of Lots’), protects marriage and holds the thread of life i.e. dispenses fate. The third one, Morta (‘Death’), the equivalent of the Greek Atropos (‘Inevitable’ or ‘Unchangeable One’), cuts the thread of life and symbolizes death.465
The Parcae or Fatae are honoured on their own in many inscriptions from Britain, such as in Carlisle (Cumbria): Parcis Probo Donatalis pater v.s.l.m., ‘To the Fatae for Probus his father Donatalis gladly and deservedly fulfilled his vow’ (fig. 20);466 from Germany, such as in Wies-Oppenheim,467 Cologne468 and Cleves;469 and from Gaul, where they are principally represented in the Narbonese region, such as in Nîmes (Gard),470 Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône),471 Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse),472 Orange (Vaucluse),473 Apt (Vaucluse),474 and Rians (Var).475
Fig. 20: Altar from Carlisle dedicated to the Parcae (Cumbria, GB). Haverfield, 1982, p. 336, n°3.
This concept of fate-women is also found in Norse mythology, in the mythical characters of the Nornes (Nornir), which generally appear three in number, especially in later medieval texts. A poem from around 1,000 AD, entitled the Vǫluspá (19-20) or ‘The Sybil’s Prophecy’, which is comprised in the Edda, has them standing by the fountain of Urðr and watering the ash tree Yggdrasil to prevent it from withering.476 The poem is the following:
‘Ask veit ek standa, / heitir Yggdrasill, / hár baðmr, ausinn / hvíta auri; / þaðan koma dǫggvar / þærs í dala falla; / stendr æ yfir, grænn / Urðar brunni.
Þaðan koma meyiar, / margs vitandi, / þriár, ór þeim sæ / er und þolli stendr; / Urð héto eina, / aðra Verðandi, / -skáro á skíði- / Skuld ina þriðio. / Þær lǫg lǫgðo, / þær líf kuro / alda bǫrnum, / ørlǫg seggia.477
I know an ash that stands / called Yggdrasill, / a tall tree, watered / with white silt; / from there comes the dew / which falls in the valleys; / it stands eternally, green / over the well of Urðr.
From there come maidens, / very knowledgeable, / three, from that lake / which stands under the tree; / one they called Urðr, / another Verðandi, / -they carved on slips of wood- / Skuld the third one. / They laid down laws, / they chose life / for the children of men, / the fate of men.478 ’
It seems that, originally, there was only one goddess embodying Fate: Urðr. In Old Norse, the noun urð means ‘fate’ when it is feminine and ‘death’ when it is masculine.479 It is cognate with Old German wurd and Old English wyrd, ‘destiny’. Under the Greco-Roman or Celtic influence, Urðr was later tripled and given two sisters bearing the names of Verðandi (‘happening, becoming, taking place now’), the present participle form of the Old Norse verb verða, ‘to become’, and Skuld (‘debt’ or ‘something owed’).480 On account of an etymological misinterpretation, medieval scholars translated their three names as ‘Past’ for Urðr, ‘Present’ for Verðandi and ‘Future’ for Skuld, certainly to justify and illustrate their functions as embodiment of Fate.481
It is generally accepted by scholars that the Old Norse texts describe the Nornir as spinners, holding and weaving the thread of human life in their hands, but Karen Bek-Pedersen has demonstrated in her thesis entitled Nornir in Old Norse Mythology that spinning-Nornir are actually never mentioned or alluded to in the original sources.482 This idea, which is generally taken for granted, must have arisen from the well-known characters of the Roman Parcae or Greek Moirai, who are clearly described as weavers of fate in the Classical texts.483 As this poem tells, the main function of the Nornir is to preside over the destiny of humankind and to apply the law of nature and fate to them: “They laid down laws, they chose life for the children of men, the fate of men”.484
In addition to being associated with the Parcae in the epigraphy, the Matres are also sometimes represented in the iconography as three women possessing some of their attributes, which are generally the spindle, the distaff and the scroll. Such is the case on the relief* found in Trier, which has three goddesses, holding a spindle, a cloth and a distaff (from right to left).485 The relief* from Metz is more dubious, for only a clumsy drawing of it remains.486 Nonetheless, it is worth noting that, of the three goddesses situated above a tree-faced head, the one on the left lifts a distaff in her left hand and holds a spindle in her right hand. Similarly, a relief* from Dannstadt represents a group of several goddesses: Victory, Maia, a goddess with a torch (Juno), and two draped goddesses, one of whom holds a bowl in her right hand and the other one a spindle in her left hand.487As for the relief* from Spire, it shows a goddess holding a ball of wool in her lap, which recalls the spinning of the Fatae.488 Finally, two bas-reliefs* discovered in Nuits-Saint-Georges (les Bolards), show a trio of goddesses, holding a baby, a patera*, as well as the beam of a pair of scales and a scroll or volumen.489These attributes, which are undoubtedly borrowed from the myth of the Roman Parcae, represent the power of the mothers over life and destiny. They are perceived as weavers of fate and prophetesses.
From the Roman invasion, particularly in the south and south-east of Gaul, the cult of the ‘Mothers’ seems to have often been replaced by the Greco-Roman Nymphs, whose name in Greek nýmphai and in Latin nymphae means ‘young woman’, ‘bride’.490 In Classical mythology, the Nymphs are youthful and beautiful female Nature deities who inhabit the sea, rivers, springs, trees, mountains, and generally appear in groups.491 The association between the ‘Mothers’ and the Nymphs was made especially in the context of healing waters and sanctuaries, for the Nymphs are usually remembered as female water-spirits and represented in the Greco-Roman iconography as half-naked or naked women, generally appearing three in number.492 An altar from the springs of Allègre-les-Fumades or Fonts-Belles (Gard) combines an inscription Nymphis Casunia Quintina v.[s . l.] m., ‘To the Nymphs, Casunia Quintina paid her vow willingly and deservedly’, with a depiction of three Nymphs, who stand half-naked, holding a shell in front of them. Their hair is loose and they wear bracelets around their arms, above the elbow (fig. 21).493 On the same site was discovered another altar having a goddess, lying on an urn, surmounted by three busts of Nymphs (fig. 21). The figuration goes with the following inscription: Nymp(his) Quintina Maximi f(ilia) v.s.l.m., ‘To the Nymphs, Quintina daughter of Maximus paid her vow willingly and deservedly’.494
Fig. 21: Bas-reliefs* from the spring of Les Fumades, Allègre (Gard), representing a trio of goddesses, called Nymphs. Left: RG 507 and CIL XII, 2845. Right: RG 506 ; CIL XII 2849.
Only one dedication associates the terms Matres and Nymphs. It is engraved on a votive altar and was discovered in a place known as ‘Val des Nymphes’, situated east of the village of La Garde-Adhémar (Drôme), in the territory of the Tricastini: Matris Nymphis […o…]ernus Ply[ca]rpus v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To the Mothers Nymphs, […o…]ernus Polycarpus paid his vow willingly and deservedly’.495 The altar can be seen at the entrance of the church of Saint-Michel de la Garde-Adhémar (fig. 22).
Fig. 22: Altar dedicated to the Matres Nymphae from the ‘Val des Nymphes’ (Drôme). (Source: church of Saint-Michel de la Garde-Adhémar).
The Nymphs are venerated on their own in numerous inscriptions from the Continent and Britain. In Britain, they are for instance venerated at the foot of Croy Hill (Dunbarton), at Greta Bridge fort (Rokeby, Yorkshire), in Chester (Cheshire), in Risingham (Northumbria) and in Carvoran (Northumbria): Deabus Nymphis Vetti[a] Mansueta e[t] Claudia Turi[a]nilla fil(ia) v(otum) s(oluerunt) l(ibentes) [m(erito)], ‘To the Goddesses Nymphs Vettia Mansueta and Claudia Turianilla, her daughter, willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow’.496 In Gaul, they are more specifically honoured in Narbonese Gaul, where more than thirty dedications to the Nymphs have been discovered,497 notably in St-Saturnin d’Apt (Vaucluse),498 Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse),499 Carpentras (Vaucluse),500Allègre-les-Fumades (Gard),501 Uzès (Gard),502 Nîmes (Gard),503 Montpellier (Hérault),504 Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône).505 This can be explained by the fact that there are many curative springs in the area. They are also worshipped in other areas from Gaul and Germany, such as in Auch (Gers),506 Lyons (Rhône),507 Langres (Haute-Marne),508 Tongres (Belgium),509 Miltenberg (Germany),510 Zingsheim (Germany),511 Dormagen (Germany),512 etc.513
The Nymphs are generally anonymous, but a few inscriptions from Britain and Gaul impart them divine titles, some of which are definitely Celtic, while others are not. The Nymphs are for instance called ‘Percernes’ in a single dedication from Vaison-la-Romaine: Nymphis Aug(ustis) Percernibus T(itus) Gingtius Dionysius ex voto, ‘To the August Nymphs Percernes Titus Gingtius Dionysius offered this’.514 Their name might be derived from Indo-European *perkw-, ‘oak’, which became *kw-erkw-, in Common Celtic.515 Lambert yet specifies that Percernibus is likely to be Ligurian rather than Celtic.516 As for the goddess Brigantia, who undeniably bears a Celtic name,517 she is surprisingly called deae Nymphae (dative sing.) on an altar discovered near Hadrian’s Wall (GB), although she is generally associated with war deities, such as Victoria or Caelestis.518 The inscription is the following (fig. 23):
‘Deae Nymphae Brig(antiae) quod [uo]uerat pro sal[ute et incolumitate] dom(ini) nostr(i) Inuic(ti) imp(eratoris) M(arci) Aurel(i) Seueri Antonini Pii Felic[i]s Aug(usti) totiusque domus diuinae eius M(arcus) Cocceius Nigrinus [pr]oc(urator) Aug(usti) n(ostri) deuo[tissim]us num[ini maies]tatique eius u(otum) s(oluit) l(ibens) m(erito)
This offering to the goddess-nymph Brigantia, which he had vowed for the welfare and safety of our Lord the Invicible Emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus and of his whole Divine House, Marcus Cocceius Nigrinus, procurator of our Emperor and most devoted to his deity and majesty, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled.519 ’
Fig. 23: Altar dedicated to the goddess-nymph Brigantia from Hadrian’s Wall (GB). RIB 2066.
The goddess Coventina, known by fourteen inscriptions at the holy well of Carrawburgh, (South Northumbria, GB), is also called Nymphae (dative sing.)in two dedications.520The origin of her name is not yet determined with certainty. She might be a Celtic goddess or not. Another famous example illustrating this association between the Mothers and the Nymphae is that of the Nymphs Griselicae, who presided over the healing spring at Gréoux-les-Bains (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence), but the Celticity of their name is however unlikely. One can admit at least the Celticity of the suffix ika- in Griselica. As a consequence, even though the place-name (or god name) Grisel- is not Celtic, the derived form Griselica may have been invented by the Celts. The inscription is the following: [Annia M(arci) —] fil(ia) Faustina T(iti) Vitrasi(i) Poll[i]onis co(n)s(ulis). II. Praet(oris) [q]uaest(oris) Imp(eratoris) pontif(icis), [proc]o(n)s(ulis) Asiae uxor Nymphis Griselicis, ‘Annia Faustina, daughter of Marcus, […] wife of Titus Vitrasius Pollion, consul for the second time, praetor, quaestor of the Emperor, pontiff, proconsul of Asia, to the Nymphs Griselicae’ (fig. 24).521
Fig. 24: Altar dedicated to the Nymphae Griselicae from Gréoux-les-Bains (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence). CAG, 04, Les Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, 1997, p. 222, fig. 181.
The Nymphs are also called ‘Volpiniae’ in an inscription from Tönnistein (Germany), a term which does not seem to be of Celtic origin: […?] et Nimpis Volpinis Cassius Gracil[i]s Veteranu[s] v.s.l.m., ‘[…] and to the Nymphs Volpiniae, Cassius Gracillis Veteranus paid his vow willingly and deservedly’.522 Finally, in a very damaged inscription from Gonsenheim (Germany), the Nymphs are termed ‘Laurentes’: [Ny]mphis Lauren[tibus], ‘To the Nymphs Laurentes’.523 Olmsted suggests that the Nymphs Laurentes are the protective Celtic goddesses of a local spring near Gonsenheim and that their name must refer to a toponym*,524but in this he is mistaken, for a reference to the Nymphs Laurentes is found in Virgil’s Aeneid.525 They are indeed invoked in a prayer by Aeneas when he sails to Pallenteum (Mount Palatine, in Rome):
‘Nymphae, Laurentes Nymphae, genus amnibus unde est, tuque, o Thybri tuo genitor cum flumine sancto,
accipite Aenean et tandem arcete periclis.526
Nymphs, Laurentine Nymphs, who give birth to rivers come, and you, O father Thybris with your hallowed stream, receive Aeneas and guard him at last from danger.527 ’
Their epithet actually refers to the territory of the people of the Laurentines, which was situated south of ancient Ostia, in Latium, at the mouth of the Tiber, in Central Italy. They must have been the water spirit inhabiting the rivers of that particular area and are therefore Latin.
The Proxsumae and the Domesticae
In the south of Gaul, thirty-nine inscriptions are dedicated to goddesses called Prox(s)umae, whose origin and essence remain somewhat obscure and mysterious, for they do not seem to be known in Classical religion, although their name is undeniably Latin. It is related to the Latin proximus, proxumus, which means ‘the ones who are the closest, the nearest, the most intimate (to somebody)’, hence the translation of their name by Paul-Marie Duval as ‘The Very Close Ones’, by André Buisson as ‘The Closest Ones’ and by Anwyl as ‘Kinswomen’.528
Their cult seems to have been strictly limited geographically to the lower Rhône valley, on the right and left banks of the Rhône, which is quite unusual (fig. 25). The inscriptions to them were discovered in Clansayes, near Montélimar (Drôme: 1), Barry (Vaucluse: 1), Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse: 6), Orange (Vaucluse: 2), Mazan near Carpentras (Vaucluse: 2), Apt (Vaucluse: 1), Avignon (Vaucluse: 1), Baron (or Uzès?, Gard: 1), Nîmes (Gard: 21), Beaucaire (Gard: 1), Le Paradou (Bouches-du-Rhône: 1) and in Camargue, near Auricet (Bouches-du-Rhône: 1).529
Fig. 25: Map showing the distribution of the inscriptions and reliefs* representing the cult of the Proxsumae. Buisson, 1997, p. 275, fig. 3.
Unlike the Junones, the Fatae, the Campestres or the Nymphs, the Prox(s)umes are never associated with the term Matres, Matrae, Matronae or with a Celtic divine title in the dedications. They are always venerated alone and interestingly twenty-one out of the thirty-nine dedications are offered by women, such as in this inscription from Nîmes: Laliae Primulae Proxsumis suis v.s.[l.m.],‘To her Proxsumae, Lalia Primula willingly and deservedly fulfilled her vow’.530 This shows that women had a very strong bond with those female deities, who were certainly protectresses of women in their everyday and family life. It is also noticeable in the inscriptions that the dedicators generally mark their close attachment to the Proxsumae by the use of the possessive adjective suus, dat. suis, ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘which belongs to him or her’. This has led scholars to think that the Proxsumae were probably spirits of the grandparents or protective genii guarding the individual, the family and the household, having thus a pronounced domestic and private dimension.531 At the end of the 19th c., specialists thought they were ‘topical or local’ deities, specifically related to the tribe of the Volcae Arecomici, but 20th-21st-century archaeological discoveries have proved that the cult was extended to the Rhône valley and to other peoples, such as the Libicii (?), the Cavari, the Nearchi (?), the Tricastini, the Albici, the Memini, the Vocontii and the Volcae.532 The fact that dedications were often discovered in the context of ancient habitats may evidence the domestic character of the Proxsumae.533 Moreover, Buisson points out that many of the votive altars are of very small size (around 20-cm high and 15-cm wide), which made them very easy to carry.534 It emphasizes the personal aspect and the intimate link with those deities. Interestingly, the possessive adjective is also used in relation to the Matres, suis Matribus, ‘to his/her own Mothers’, which establishes a link between them and the Proxsumae.535 Instances are found in inscriptions from Andernach: Matribus suis Similius Miles ex casse germanicap(ia) f(idelis) D(omitiana) pler(omate) Cresimi vsllm,536 from Berkum (Germany): Matribus suis Candidus et Paterna vslm,537 from Hadrian’s Wall (Drumburgh to Bowness-on-Solway, Cumbria): Matribus suis milite[s…], ‘To their own Mother Goddesses the soldiers […]’538 and from York (North Yorkshire): [M]atribus suis Marcus Rustius v(otum) s(olvit) l(aetus) Massa l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To his own Mother Goddesses Marcus Rustius Massa gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow’.539
Four of the dedications come with images of Classical type. The altar discovered in Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) has the depiction of a single goddess standing on a pedestal, wearing a classical tunic and short hair, and holding fruit, a cup or a patera* in her two hands. The inscription above reads: Proxsumis, Potita, C(…) Codonis f(ilia), v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To the Proxsumae, Potita, daughter of C(aius) Codonius, paid her vow willingly and deservedly’.540 The Proxsumae are also represented as a group of two goddesses on the altar from Clansayes (Drôme), which shows a very damaged and rough engraving of two busts of goddesses and bears the following dedication: Proxsum[is] suis Baebia Eroe [s(olvit)] m(erito), ‘To her Proxsumae, Baebia Eroe paid her vow deservedly’.541 Finally, three busts of goddesses appear on the monument found in Barry, near Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux (Vaucluse),542 bearing the inscription Beratia E. P[…]I I [P]roxsumas Sibi et Suis, ‘Beratia (prays or implores) the Proxsumae for herself and her relatives’, and on the altar discovered in Nîmes (Gard), bearing the dedication Prox(umis) Bituka v.s.l.m., ‘To the Proxsumae, Bituka paid her vow willingly and deservedly’.543 On these two monuments, the Proxsumae are represented as a trio of goddesses, which relate them to the various iconographical figurations of the Matres and Matronae, who are generally represented as three in number (fig. 26).
Fig. 26: Relief* of three Proxsumae from Barry (Vaucluse) with an inscription naming them. Buisson, 1997, p. 270, fig. 1-2.
Moreover, although the Proxsumae have a Latin name, it seems that they were originally Celtic deities, for a surprising great number of the dedicators and their fathers have typical Celtic names, such as Sennius,544 Attia,545 Vrassia,546 Bituka,547 Aviulla and her father Atilius,548 and Codonius.549As regards the names Lucceius,550 Verus,551 Seneca,552 Potita, the feminine version of Potitus,553 Laliae, possibly the feminine version of Lalus,554 and Baebia, the feminine version of Baevius,555 their Celticity is doubtful. Therefore, the Proxsumae, being three in number, protecting women and being invoked by people of Celtic stock have many similarities to the Matres, whom they may have replaced in this particular area of Gaul (the Rhône Valley). On account of their geographical distribution, the Gallo-Roman cult of the Proxsumae is certainly of indigenous origin and, even though their Gaulish name never appears in the inscriptions, it can be assumed that that their name was translated from a Gaulish theonym, which Lambert reconstitutes as *nessama– (*neθθama-).556
The Proxsumae are thus very similar to the Domesticae, who are, as their Latin title indicates ‘The Ones of the Household’ or ‘Relative to the Family’.557 They are for instance honoured in inscriptions from Bonn: Iulia Teratia Domisticis v.s.l.m.,558 and Niederbronn (Germany) Dom[…].559 The Domesticae are an epithet of the Matres in various dedications from Britain, such as in Stanwix (Cumbria): Matribu[s D]omesticis [s]uis Asin[ius] S[e]nili[s] vsl[m], ‘To his own Mother Goddesses of the household Asinius Senilis willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow’,560 in Burgh-by-Sands, near Hadrian’s Wall (Cumbria): Matri(bus) Dom(esticis) uex(illation) [l]eg(ionis) VI [V(ictricis)] P(iae) F(idelis), ‘To the Mother Goddesses of the Household a detachment of the Sixth Legion Victrix Pia Fidelis (set this up)’ (fig. 27),561 in York (Yorkshire): G(aius) Iuliu(s) Crescens Matribus Domesticis vslm, ‘Gaius Julius Crescens to the Mother Goddesses of the household willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow’,562 and in Catterick (North Yorkshire): Matribus Domesti(cis) Iul(ius) Victor pro se et suis vsllm.563 Three other examples, dating from the end of the 2nd c. AD to the beginning of the 3rd c. AD, are found in Bonn (Germany): Iul(ius) Qu[…] Ma(tribus) Do[mesticis] ; Matribu[s] Domest[i]ci[s] ; [Matribus Do]mesticis […]uibus […]cdonib […]flaus [apol]lodo[rus et] M. avr si.564 The Germanic Mother Goddesses Aufaniae are also called Domesticae in two dedications from Bonn (Germany): Matr[onis] Aufan[iabus] Dom[…] ; Matribus sive Matronis Aufanabus Domesticis M. Clodius Marcellinus Mles Leg I M v.s.l. 565 As shown by the frequent epithet Domesticae, it is clear that the Matres must have had a role of protectresses of the household and must have been worshipped in familial and personal contexts.
Fig. 27: Altar dedicated to the Matres Domesticae from Burgh-by-Sands, near Hadrian’s Wall (Cumbria, GB). Haverfield, 1982, p. 335.
Finally, the Matres took on a military aspect when equated with the Campestres, whose Latin name means ‘of the plain’. Associated with the campus, ‘parade-ground’, ‘battlefield’ or ‘encampment’, the Campestres were the Roman female genii of the army, military camps and the battlefield.566 They were held in veneration by mounted units and were thus, as Sylvia Barnard specifies, mothers who afforded protection for the cavalry on the battlefield.567 They were also believed to bring prosperity to towns and people.568 They had therefore a significant military aspect and were not simply ‘Mothers of the Countryside’, as Olmsted suggests.569
The Campestres are honoured on their own in various military inscriptions from Bökingen, Benningen (Germany), Rome (Italy), Gloster Hill near Warkworth (Northumbria), Newstead (Roxburghshire), Auchindary (Dunbarton)570 (GB) and the following at Castlehill (Antonine Wall): Campestribus et Britanni(ae) Q(uintus) Pisentius Iustus pr(a)ef(ectus) coh(ortis) IV Gal(lorum) v(otum) s(olvit) l(aetus) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To the Goddesses of the Battlefield and Britannia, Quintus Pisentius Iustus, prefect* of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow’.571 The inscriptions show that the worship of the Campestres was confined to soldiers and Roman people.572 In Germany and Britain, the dedicators are indeed mostly soldiers of the Roman army, while in Rome they are generally Equites singulares, that is the Imperial Guard, composed of horsemen, who were recruited along the Rhine and the Danube.573 This of course enhances their military and classical character.574 Eric Birley, who studies and compares the various inscriptions to the Campestres in Rome and Britain, specifies that Marcus Cocceius Firmus, the dedicator of the dedication from Auchendavy, near Antonine Wall, had once served with the Equites singulares.575
In Britain, there are two dedications associating the Matres with the Roman Campestres. The first one was discovered in 1789 at Benwell (Northumbria): Matr(ibus) Tribus Campes[t]r[i]b(us) et Genio alae pri(mae) Hispanorum Asturum [Severianae Alexandrianae?] Gordianae T(erentius?) Agrippa prae(fectus) templum a so(lo) restituit, ‘To the Three Mother-Goddesses of the Battlefield and to the Genius of the First Cavalry Regiment of Asturian Spaniards styled […] Gordian’s Own, Terentius Agrippia, prefect*, restored this temple from round-level’ (fig. 28).576In the second inscription, excavated at Nether Cramond (Scotland) in 1697, the Matres Campestres are honoured along with the Matres Alatervae : Matrib(us) Alatervis et matrib(us) Campestrib(us) coh(ors) I Tungr(orum) ins(tante) VERSCARUM [c(enturione)] leg(ionis) XX V(aleriae) V(ictricis), ‘To the Mother-Goddesses Alatervae and the Mother-Goddesses of the Battlefield the First Cohort of the Tungrians (set this up) under the direction of […] the centurion of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix’ (fig. 28).577
Fig. 28: Left: Altar from Benwell (Northumbria) to the Matres Campestres. Haverfield, 1982, p. 331. Right: Altar from Cramond (Scotland) to the Matres Alatervae and Campestres. RIB 2135.
Through the interpretatio Romana, the names of the Matres and Matronae, like the other goddess names of the Celtic pantheon, were associated with Roman epithets or with the names of Roman goddesses, who had similar characteristics and functions to theirs. Like the indigenous Mother-Goddesses, the Junones, Parcae/Fatae, Nymphs, Proxsumae, Domesticaeand Campestres were indeed represented as multiple or collective female deities, as their names in the plural form indicate. Moreover, the depictions generally represent them as trios of goddesses, such as the Nymphs and the Proxsumae, for whom some iconographical devices have been discovered in Gaul. This of course establishes a connection to the Matres/Matronae, who are mainly portrayed as three in number on the numerous reliefs* found in Britain, Gaul and Germany. Finally, they were similar in their functions of fertility, fecundity and motherhood. Finally, all these Romanized goddesses protected the household, the family and women all through their life, as well as in the afterlife, which is why the Matres/Matronae were easily associated with these Roman epithets after the Roman invasion. It is clear that, in certain areas, such as in the south of Gaul, the names and cult of the Nymphs, Fatae and Junones completely replaced those of the indigenous Mother-Goddesses in Gallo-Roman times. Therefore, an important concentration of dedications to Roman female deities in a certain location could indicate an ancient cult of the Celtic Mothers. Such is very certainly the case of the Proxsumae, whose thirty-nine dedications are confined to the Rhône valley, and who were worshipped by a significant number of dedicators of Celtic origin.
From all of this, it follows that the origin and character of the Matres and Matronae (‘Mother Goddesses’), whose cult was so widespread in Gallo-Roman times as the epigraphy and the iconography show, is a complex issue. Some information has been gathered and analyzed throughout this chapter and several arguments can be put forward regarding this question.
The form of their name seems to be more Latin than Celtic. Yet the word matir existed in Gaulish as the Plomb du Larzac evidence, for instance, proves. We can thus speak of ‘Latinized Celtic’ terms. It is also of great interest to note that three inscriptions in Gallo-Greek language mention a worship to ‘Divine Mother Goddesses’. This is significant, for they are in Gaulish, which is very rare and means they were dedicated by Gaulish devotees. Moreover, they date from the 2nd or 1st c. BC, which is the very beginning of the Roman occupation of the Narbonese region. Therefore, the Celtic people at this time were not yet much influenced by the Roman religion. As for the inscription from Istres, its interest lies in the fact that the dedication to the Mothers was directly engraved on the natural element that they embodied and protected: the rock of the hill of Castellan. We have thus here significant testimonies of earlier and indigenous cults honouring the Mother Goddesses.
Even though Matres and Matronae are Latinized forms, it is clear that most of their epithets are of Germanic or Celtic origin. As a general rule, the term Matronae is associated with Germanic bynames* – this, however, does not indicate that the Matronae were Germanic goddesses- , while Matres and Matrae are combined with Celtic bynames*. Matronae and Matres are equivalent in meaning, but it is at the same time possible to identify very specific and different areas of use. While the Matres are mainly honoured in Britain, in Gaul, especially in the south-east, in North Spain and sometimes in Germany, the Matronae are generally venerated with epithets in the Rhineland and without bynames* in Cisalpine Gaul. At first sight, it seems that an important part of the devotion to the Mother Goddesses is confined to military sites, such as along Hadrian’s or Antonine’s Wall in Britain or along the Rhine in Germany. However, it must be kept in mind that the places of dedications were areas which the Celts had occupied by immigration or conquest. Many of the dedicators also bear Roman names and/or belong to the Roman army. And yet, some of them have typical Celtic names, which is of great importance, for it evidences and reflects the attachment of people of Celtic stock to their ancient deities.
The iconography of the Matres and Matronae is very Classical in type and generally speaking does not have any hint of Celtic peculiarities, except sometimes in the haircut, when the goddesses wear their hair loose without diadems, or in the style of manufacture. The Mothers are indeed represented with the Greco-Roman attributes of fertility, such as cornucopiae*, fruit or paterae*. Neither is the portrayal of the Mother Goddesses in groups of three particularly Celtic, for there are many instances in Greco-Roman mythology of triple goddesses. Divine triplism actually goes back Indo-European times.578 Triadism is nonetheless typical and much stressed in the case of Celtic deities, as evidenced in the Gallo-British images and in Irish and Welsh medieval lores e.g. the three Machas, Brigits, the three goddesses of war, etc.
The fact that in Gallo-Roman times the Matres and Matronae were associated in the inscriptions with Roman goddesses or epithets, such as the Junones, Fatae, Domesticae or Campestres, prove that the Romans needed to identify those goddesses with their own. This epigraphic interpretatio Romana obviously means that the Matres and Matronae were originally not part of the Roman pantheon, but belonged to the Celtic beliefs – otherwise why would the Romans have felt it necessary to parallel them to Roman deities? It is true that the concept of maternity is particularly well illustrated in Greco-Roman mythologies, such as in the character of Juno, and that some goddesses are triplicate, such as the Fatae or the Nymphae, and yet, one can notice that, strictly speaking, there are no triple deities who literally bear the plural basic name of ‘Mothers’. This revered personage is, however, venerated in the singular form and has different attributes and functions. Moreover, if the Junones, Fatae, Nymphae, Campestres, Domesticae have the general beneficial traits of Mother Goddesses, they yet embody particular aspects of nature, destiny or death and possess specific functions, such as war or the protection of women, children and the household. These goddesses are actually ‘derivations’ of the Mother Goddesses, who definitely have a wider agrarian character.
We can gather from all of this that the Matres and Matronae, even though they underwent an important Romanization in Gallo-Roman times, were Celtic or Germanic in origin and their cult probably goes back to Indo-European times. It is nevertheless difficult to determine where the cradle of their cult was: Gaul, Cisalpine Gaul or Germany? Cecil Benett Pascal, who studies the cults of Cisalpine Gaul, tends to believe that the cult of the Mothers originated in Cisalpine Gaul, arguing that the dedicators from this province are from the “local civilian population”, whereas in Germania Inferior they are mostly soldiers.579 And a large number of those soldiers and officers, who undeniably played a significant part in the expansion of the cult of the Mothers, were from Cisalpine Gaul.580 Pascal adds that one of the earliest dated inscriptions to the Mothers (37-41 AD) was found near Lake Maggiore.581
Finally, the Matronae are associated with bynames* in Germany, while in Cisalpine Gaul they are venerated without epithets. This might be the reflection of some earlier stage of worship. Cisalpine Gaul may thus have been the cradle of the cult of the Mothers, but there is no proof that it was imported into the Rhineland.582 Others propose that the cult of the Mothers sprang from the Rhineland, for a certain number of dedicators in Cisalpine Gaul are Equites singulares, from the imperial guard, the members of which were mainly recruited along the Rhine and the Danube.583 Consequently, these are people from Celtic and Germanic areas, who brought the cult of their Mothers with them and, being far from their home, they were anxious to pay homage to their ancestral deities. As for Karl Simrock, he suggests that the Mothers are Germanic in origin, because they were identified with the Norns.584 The worship may equally well have been originally Celtic and then imported to the right bank of the Rhine.585 In other words, the Germanic tribes may have adopted the religion of the Gaulish people and taken up a similar name to designate their own Mother Goddesses.
Some scholars have tried to sketch earlier stages of the cult of the Mother Goddesses, but their theories remain very hypothetical. They would think of a pre-anthropomorphous animistic stage in the cult of the Matres. Rüger suggests that the genuine form of the Mother Goddesses would have been a goat,586 while Heinz Günter Horn and Spickermann propose that it might have been a tree on account of the frequent drawings of trees on the sides of the altars dedicated to the Matronae.587As Ton Derks argues, however, the fact that Mother Goddesses bear a close relation to trees does not mean that they were previously represented as such.588 He assumes “the existence of an (anthropomorphic*) ancestor cult before the beginning of Romanization”, which is very certainly the case, for anthropomorphic* statues of so-called goddesses are known from Prehistoric times.589
According to Alfred Maury, the worship and tradition of the Mother Goddesses endured in folk beliefs after Christianization and survived in the form of supernatural beings, i.e. the fairies, who are sometimes called Bonnes Dames (‘Good Ladies’), Dames Blanches (‘White Women’), Bé Find (‘White Women’), Bean Sí (the anglicized form of which is Banshee, ‘Woman-Fairy’), or Fata (‘Fate’), known from many medieval tales and folklore.590 It is besides noteworthy that the name designating the Welsh fairies, especially in Glamorganshire, is Y Mamau (‘The Mothers’) – the general appellation being y tylwyth teg (‘the fair folk’).591 The phrase bendith y mamau, literally ‘the mothers’ blessings’, is used to avoid fairy kidnapping, tricks and mischiefs. In Wales, the highest point in the Clwydian Mountains (Denbighshire) is named Y Foel Famau (‘the Hill of the Mothers’), where the otherworld community lives.592The Fairies are even sometimes called ‘goddesses’ in legends593 and have inherited some characteristics of ancient goddesses: they are associated with natural elements, such as forests, fountains, hills and have magic, shape-shifting or invisibility powers, which are reminiscent of those of the ancient deities.594 In Ireland, the fairy folk are called sí, earlier sídh, ‘mount’, and live in hills or tumuli*.595The sídh in early literature was used to designate the otherworld, that is the place where the ancient Tuatha Dé Danann (‘the Tribe of the Goddess Dana’) were believed to dwell.596
Another interesting point concerns the name Fata, which is sometimes used for the fairies, particularly when they are described as three fairies who foretell the future at the birth of a child and offer him presents. This name is the same as the Roman goddesses Fatae. According to MacCulloch, Fata comes from Latin fatum (‘fate’), Middle Latin fatare (‘to enchant’), which gave faer (‘to enchant’) in Old French and a participle participle faé (‘enchanted’) – see the common appellation les dames faés (‘the enchanted ladies’) in romances.597 Old French faerie, later féerie (‘enchantment’ or ‘illusion’), gave Old English faery, Modern fairy, plural fairies. The Fairies are thus to be regarded as the heirs of the Fatae, all the more so as they are associated with birth and fate. In Brittany, the tradition at a birth was to spread a table for them, which echoes the custom of placing a couch for Juno Lucina in Roman times.598 For all these reasons, the tradition of the Fairies might therefore contain distinct echoes of the cult of the Mother Goddesses in general.