Sunday, 21 December 2008

Modraniht [Night of the Mothers]

Modraniht is Old English for `Mothers-night`, an ancient Anglo-Saxon feast referred to by the Venerable Bede in De temporum ratione 13. He wrote that the still heathen Anglo-Saxons hold a sacrifice in the New Year in the modraniht id est matrum nocturum["the Modraniht, that is, in the night of the mothers[=matrons?]"]

This feast corresponds to other Germanic Yule-tide festivals. It was once speculated that this may have been a Celtic festival but this is largely refuted these days. Modraniht may be associated with the cult of the mothers or the matrons largely found amongst the West Germanic tribes and the disablot celebrated by the North Germanic tribes in Scandinavia.

The Matrons or matronae are Mother-goddesses to whom votive stones and altars were set up between the 1st and 5th centuries CE. There are approximately 1100 inscriptions and half give Germanic matron names. The matron cult was also to found amongst the Celtic tribes.

Almost exclusively these matrons were presented in groups of three. These females were worshipped as matrons or Mother-goddesses. Their functions involved fertility, childbirth, the protection of the family and occasionally to act as war-goddesses. These correspond to the disir in the North Germanic areas.

The disir were female fertility deities. The word stems from the Old Swedish dis.
This is possibly related to the Old Saxon Idisi mentioned in the First Merseburg Charm.
The disablot is recorded twice in two Icelandic sagas from the middle of the 13th century CE.
In Viga-Glums saga 6 the disablot is celebrated at a Norwegian farm at the beginning of winter in mid-October. Egilssaga 44 also mentions a disablot at an autumnal festival in Norway.
Snorri Sturluson writing in the Ynglinga saga 33 identifies a similar feast at Uppsala in Sweden.
Literary sources indicate that the cult of the disir was more common in Sweden than in West Nordic regions.

First Merseburg Charm

Once the Idisi set forth, to this place and that;
Some fastened fetters; some hindered the horde,
Some loosed the bonds from the brave
Leap forth from the fetters! Escape from the foes!

1 comment:

K. A. Laity said...

By the by, it seems to be chapter 15 not 13, De mensibus Anglorum at least in the edition I'm consulting. Nice write up -- always good to see the charms getting an airing in the blogosphere. Great stuff!