Forgotten Ancient French Goddesses
Forgotten Gaulish Deities
In mythology, we often read about the Greek and Roman deities. We've often heard about Aphrodite, Venus, Apollo, Aries, and Poseidon. Sometimes, we're lucky to hear about the Egyptian and Celtic gods and goddesses like Bastet, Isis, Osiris, Brigid, Rhiannon, and others. But it's not often we hear of the Gaulish pantheon. The Gauls were a large tribe of Celts who lived in the region that is now France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and some of Northern Italy and Germany. Like the other Celtic tribes, the Gauls had their own beliefs and traditions, as well as gods and goddesses. Their deities were associated with nature—some may have once been land guardian spirits (also known as genius loci).
In this article, we will revive the ancient French goddesses of the Gauls who have long been obscured and forgotten in time.
Artio: The Bear Goddess
We don't know a lot about Artio, the Bear Goddess of the ancient Gauls, but what we do know points to the simple fact that she was intimately connected to bears. The few pieces of evidence we have of her cult's existence have been found in Switzerland and southern Germany. She could have been worshiped as far south as France and Northern Spain.
A bronze statue depicting Artio feeding a giant bear was found in Bern, Switzerland. Scholars say she is feeding the bear because she has a bowl of fruit in her lap. But could it actually be the other way around? It seems to me the goddess is almost being confronted by the bear and she is not backing down. There was once a great tale about this encounter, I am sure; however, over time the lore of Artio has been lost. The inscription on the Bern statue translates to mean "for the goddess Artio". As with Artemis' name, we can clearly see the link to the bear in Artio's name. Art translating to mean bear in Gaulish. More evidence of her cult has been discovered in southern germany in various places.
Bormana and Damona
Bormana is thought to have been a goddess worshiped alongside the god of healing Bormo (also known as Bormanas and Borvo). His name is translated to mean "boiling" in reference to the healing springs which are his domain. Since we don't know much about Bormana, we can therefore assume that she might have also been a goddess of healing springs. Bormana was once a spirit of the water that was eventually deified, as in many of the Celtic gods and goddesses. Bormana was worshiped mainly in Southern Gaul, which would be Southern France today. However, because the god Bormanas was venerated in the present-day city of Bourbonne les Bains in Eastern France, we can assume Bormana's cult might have been more wide-spread than once thought.
Damona is another obscure ancient French goddess worshiped in Eastern Gaul whose name most likely means ox or sheep. Because of her name, she was most likely a goddess who protected animals and probably ruled over fertility and abundance.
Dea Matrona: The Divine Mother Goddess
Dea Matrona, also Dea Matres, was a widespread venerated mother goddess of the Gauls whose worship spread to the Teutons and Romans. She was a triple goddess often depicted as three women holding baskets of fruit, flowers, and other earthly representations. Her name has been found throughout the Celtic kingdom, as far west as Britain. Her triple aspect reminds us of the sacredness of the number 3 to the Celts, and it is theorized in modern times to be a representation of the moon phases and the phases of a woman's life (maiden, mother, crone), respectively.
Where the Dea Matrona were honored in statue and shrine, they are shown as being guardians of children, animals, the earth, and the home. She is an earth goddess and her name and image were placed in fields to assure abundance. Dea Matrona has close links with the Welsh Goddess known as Modron, who is the mother of the god Mabon. The Three Mothers are also linked to other triple goddesses appearing in other cultures and regions, such as: the Norse Norns, the Roman Fates, and the Greek Moirai.
Icovellauna: Goddess of the Springs
The ancient Gauls were fans of healing springs and believed healing spirits presided over the waters. These healing spirits became deified gods and goddesses, one of them came to be known as the goddess Icovellauna. Two temples in particular were built over springs and honored the presence of Icovellauna—the Le Sablon temple in Metz and the Altbachtal temple complex in Trier. Her name was theorized to mean "good fountain", though some scholars suggest this is "reaching" and her name is closer in meaning to "woodpecker". Seeing that she was a spring goddess, it's easier to believe the first translation.
Icovellauna was closely linked to Apollo and Mercury at the two aforementioned springs. Because of her presidency over healing springs, it can be assumed she was a goddess of healing and was once a water nymph before being deified.
God may be in the details, but the Goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there's no turning back.— Gloria Steinem
Melusine: The Serpentine Lady
We see a pattern emerging among the Gaulish people in regard to their fascination with sacred wells and springs. Melusine is a figure in French folklore whose name most likely originated in that of a goddess. And, you can guess, she is associated with wells and rivers in France. Legend says Melusine was the daughter of a fairy and king, who exacted revenge upon her father who had once defied her mother's warnings against spying on her in serpentine form. The legend also says that Melusine lived on the Isle of Avalon along with her sisters until she married a mortal man who also defied her warnings and referred to her as a "serpent" at court. When Melusine heard this, she transformed into a dragon and flew off. The concept of these women being able to shapeshift demonstrates the likelihood that they were originally guardian spirits of place (genius loci) and/or of the fairy realm.
The well and spring connection comes from Melusine's mother. Her mother was originally found near a well, and so was thought to be the well's guardian spirit. The name Melusine features in folklore all over Europe, but might be most well-known in France.
Sequana and Sirona: Goddesses of the Healing Waters
Sequana is an ancient Gaulish goddess who was venerated at the Seine River and also at the Springs of the Seine in a valley north of Dijon. She was also the matron goddess of the Sequani tribe, one of the tribes of the Celtic Gauls who lived in France and Switzerland, respectively. At Sequana's springs, many artifacts have been discovered that were offerings made to her in return for healing. It was customary to bring metal sculptures of whatever body part was in need of healing—limbs, eyes, etc. These were offered in return for healing, as well as other offerings like fruit.
Sirona is another goddess associated with healing waters, and she was depicted with a snake and eggs (both have healing qualities). She was venerated in France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In inscriptions found throughout the region, Sirona is linked with Apollo. The Triveri tribe was most fond of Sirona.
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© 2018 Nicole Canfield