In his book Egyptian Myth and Legend the great Scottish folklorist Donald Mackenzie mentioned that one of the stories of the Scottish Cailleach, or Hag, has her as the ‘chief of eight old women or witches.’ He goes on, “This group of nine suggests Ptah and his eight earth gnomes, the nine mothers of Heimdall, the Norse God, and the Ennead of Heliopolis.” Here he is clearly thinking about Egyptian mythology but his reference to Scotland and Norway is merely scraping the surface of a theme in myth and legend that is effectively world-wide.
My interest in what is best described as the Nine Maidens comes from the fact that a story of them survives close to where I was raised, on the north side of Dundee in Scotland. In this local tale the nine are sisters who were the victims of a dragon-like creature who was later killed by the betrothed of the eldest sister and the site is marked by a Pictish Symbol Stone, Martin’s Stone. The Picts, often cited as a mysterious, painted people, seem in reality to be the indigenous peoples of Scotland1. They left no literary records of their own and much of what we think we know of them relies on Roman sources. What has survived in Scotland from the time of the Picts - in previously accepted thinking the 3rd to 10th centuries of the Christian era - and been the cause of much discussion, and fantasy, is a vast corpus of carved standing stones with intriguing symbols, a considerable number of which are clearly pre-Christian. Some of the later Christian stones continued to use some of these earlier symbols. Just as Christianity spread by utilising previously sacred locations in many places so it seems that the early missionaries in Scotland co-opted an already established tradition of carving sacred stones to help spread their new message. Continue reading "The Goddess and the Nine Maidens"
November. A new year has just begun. The harvest is happily stored. Mother Earth will give no more. The dancing colours of summer are gone. Frost has nipped off the head of all living things. Finally winter! Everything sleeps – from the tiny insect to the big bear. Skeletons of trees stretch out their branches, black and bare. Gray are the heavy clouds, white the frozen ground. Silence. Death … then suddenly – a blood-curdling shriekcuts through the air. Immediately the wind throws back an howling answer. A moment later earth and sky raise a roar together. A tumult of dry leaves and frozen plastic bags whirl round in the storm. People who lose their footing are swept aside. Snowflakes whip in the faces like nails of glass. Now She rules: "the Kælling"2! Now is Her time – Her playtime. On the backs of foaming wolves and ragged boars She rides forward 3. She is the Bone-Mother, the age-old Wise One. Wild and playful. Who would she need to make up to? Was She not the first on Earth, dancing here long before any living creature took its first steps? She is surely older than time. Oh, doesn't She remember the day She wrestled down this conceited warrior god, the high Thor himself, god of the newcomers, the Aesir4! Isn't She Herself the very Grandmother Hel? Elle they call Her. For sure She is the great-great-grandmother of everything. She need not bow to anybody. Ha-haaaa! Her mouth full of yellow teeth laughs. Ugly as sin She is, if you see only her outside. Tough, wrinkled skin covers Her old bones. No rosy cheeks. That was long ago! Her gnarled fingers crook into the fur of the beast. You will see Her flying, yelling, through the air – in stories from Germany – with a deafening noise and fury, with shrieking instruments and howling beasts5.
At the Winter Solstice or Yule the wheel of Britannia turns toward the north. At this time we honour Danu, ancestral goddess of the Tuatha De Danann. As a group the Tuatha De Danann looked over all human activity as original ancestral beings who came to these lands from far in the north.
Danu is the mother goddess of the Tuatha De Danann and in Ireland is considered to be the mother of all the Irish gods; however she is recognised throughout the British Isles. Here in Wales we honour Welsh mother goddess Dôn who has over time been masculinised into Don. Dôn is the Welsh equivalent of Danu, and they are really one and the same goddess. She is our ancestral mother, who came from beyond the north winds, from the ancestral lands that is the home of the beings of fire and ice from whom we are all descended.