Ancient Celtic Women
“A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Celt if he called his wife to his assistance!” ~ Amicus Marcelling
The women in Ancient Celtic society enjoyed rights that women in Greek and Roman societies did not have. A woman could own property, get a divorce, be a priest, a judge, a doctor, a poet, fight in battle and even own her own fighting school.
As Moyra Caldicott says in ‘Women in Celtic Myth’ . . .”one of the things I find so refreshing in the Celtic myths is that the women are honoured as much for their minds as for their bodies. The dumb blond would not stand much of a chance in ancient Celtic society.”
There was a specific class of warrior in Celtic society called a BAN-GAISGEDAIG. “BAN” meaning woman and “GAS” young warrior. These women would teach boys the arts of fighting and love. Some of the more famous warrior women were on Celtic Coins.
Here are a few prominent Celtic Women.
These are certainly not all the Celtic Goddesses. These are just a few that I found interesting.
I have no doubt that the shape shifting witch in Dragon Age was based off this Goddess. And yes, her name is usually mentioned with a “The.” Her mythic body is that of a bird or a woman. In the form of a falcon she will lead a hunter to his goal. Her cosmic body is that of a cloud with pathways leading from it. People are pulled down these passage ways by their desires and sins. She is also a teacher who gives one wisdom, by making them suffer through pain. You must sit in her black cauldron before you gain the wisdom you seek. Such are the trials of life. The best lessons are sometimes the hardest to learn. I would not want to end up on her bad side.
You’ll notice that on her left there is a spear and on the right there are leaves (I’m assuming to be made into some healing balm). The Celts had no problem with someone being a Goddess of healing and destruction. She was a Goddess who presided over warfare and also used miracles to heal people. Death and life were two intertwining forces that existed together for the Celts, you cannot have one without the other. Brigid was such a loved Goddess by the Celtic people that the Christian Church could not get rid of her. Eventually they just adopted her as a saint and called it a day.
She was a Goddess adopted by the Romans from the Gauls, who were an Indo European Celtic culture. The Romans were usually tolerant of another culture’s Gods, provided that said culture was willing to worship Roman Gods in addition to their own. The Roman empire itself had much syncretism, since they absorbed the beliefs of the people they conquered into their own repertoire. However, while the Romans worshiped Goddesses, they were not tolerant of the power that Celtic women had in their own societies. Eventually when the Romans took over Celtic territories, they subverted the prominent role that many women once had.
Boudicca was the Celtic Queen of the Iceni tribe. Since she was a woman, the Romans (living in a very male dominant society) did not take her very seriously. The Romans originally had friendly relations with her husband, the king of the Iceni tribe. Yet when he died, half of his land was given to the Romans as a token of goodwill and the other half was passed to his wife to rule over. The Romans decided that it was ludicrous that a mere woman could rule over anything and decided that it would be a cake walk to march in and take over her half of the land.
When the Romans succeeded in their conquest, they flogged the queen herself in public, raped her daughters and stole her land. The Romans underestimated the respect women had in Celtic culture – let alone the power of a queen. The Iceni people were furious at the humiliation of their leader. In vengeance Boudicca gathered an army of 100,000 against the Romans. She ended up burning 3 Roman towns to the ground and killed 70,000 people. What’s that phrase? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Her rebellion was eventually squashed by a Roman General. Yet for a Celtic leader living under Roman occupation, I think she still managed to kick copious amounts of butt. Not to mention that she at least had the courage to try.
Cartimandua was also a respected queen with much power among her people. But that is where the similarities to Boudicca end. While Boudicca was a rebel, Cartimandua was a loyalist to Roman interests.
She was the ruler of the Brigantes people in the 1st century from (43-69 AD) in what is now Northern England. She came to power during the time when much of Britain was under Roman rule. She formed a tribal conglomeration that was largely friendly to Roman interests. After concluding a treaty with the Roman emperor Claudius, she was faced with a series of Anti-Roman revolts by not only her subjects – but also from her ex husband Venutius. Talk about difficult exes! From 52-57 he tried to overthrow her twice by rousing anti-roman sentiment. Both times she managed to get enough Roman support to hold him at bay. Yet the third time was the charm when he managed to overthrow her in 69, taking advantage of Roman instability in the year of the “four emperors.”
THE BANDROAI (FEMALE DRUIDS)
Who were the druids? The druids were the religious leaders of the Celtic People in ancient times. They were a member of a type of priestly class. Julius Caesar wrote that the druids were responsible for organizing worship and sacrifices, divination, the judicial process and that they were exempt from military service. They were the philosophers, scientists, theologians and holders of sacred knowledge in their culture. Extensive training was required to become a druid and the training period took 19 years!
There is a misconception that druids were only male. Most of the Romans and Greeks who wrote about Celtic society may not have taken note of women in power, since the Romans and Greeks had a Patriarchal culture. This misconception continued into the 17th and 18th century when the Druid Reformation took place. The founders of this movement had a Romantic view of the druids and not very much historical evidence to work with. The Druid orders that were founded during these years were for men and men only.
Yet in the Celtic myth itself, there are mentions of females being involved in druidry, as well as other magical and religious functions.
The information below details female druids in myth and was taken from “The Female Druid” on Druidcircle.org:
- In the story of Fingin Mac Luchta of Munster, Fingin visits a Druidess every Samhain who would fortell the events of the coming year.
- The Second Battle of Moytura mentions two Druidesses who promise to enchant the rocks and trees “so they become a host and rout” their enemies.
- Prior to the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley, Mebd the Queen of Connacht, consults a Druidess named Fidelma who predicts the outcome of the coming battle with the Ulstermen. “How seest thou our host?” asked Medb. “I see the host all becrimsoned…” replied Fidelma.
- Dio Cassius mentions a Druidess named Ganna who went on an embassy to Rome and was received by Domitian, youngerson of the Emperor Vespasian.
- Pomponius Mela in De Chorographica speaks concerning nine virgin “priestesses” who lived on the island of Sena, in Brittany, who “knew the future.”
- The Historia Agusta which was written in about 400 A.D. by Aelius Lampridius mentions a Druidess foretelling the defeat of Alexander Severus. “Go forth but hope not for victory, nor put your trust in your warriors.”
- Then of course, there are the keepers of the eternal flame at Kildare, which was for a long time a pagan temple dedicated to the Goddess Brighid. The flame was tended by Druidesses and later by Christian nuns, in honor of Saint Bride.
In the modern practice of druidry today, there are a good number of women involved and while I don’t have a scientific figure, I would say that the druid community has a good representation of both men and women in their ranks.
For more information on Female Druids, read the following article “Female Druids” at the Magical Buffet.
Still Curious About Ancient Celtic Women?