By Sharynne MacLeod NicMhacha
(Sharon Paice MacLeod)
We have often seen the Victorian image of the white robed druid carrying a golden sickle while gathering mistletoe from an oak tree. Sometimes there are depictions of female druids as well, although the role of women in Celtic pagan religion seems to be less obvious. What roles did women historically fulfill in Celtic religion? While the evidence we have is sparse, there is actually more than we might think to help us decipher women’s roles in Celtic society, and in particular, their sacred spiritual roles.
First of all, how do we know any of ‘what we know’ about Celtic women in religion? Greek and Roman writers were quick to mention the strength, character and relative independence of Gaulish women, especially compared with women in their own cultures. Later, the early medieval Irish law tracts (which are believed to have preserved some fairly old information about Irish society), provide quite a bit of interesting information about the legal status of women (keeping in mind that these may be laws ‘as recorded,’ and not necessarily reflective of women’s status in all cases). Overall, from what we can see, women in Celtic cultures seem to have had more rights than women in some other ancient cultures, although they did not have equal status. However, a lack of complete equality (which is still a factor in our own society), does not necessarily equate with subservience or victimhood, and there must certainly have been empowered women who ‘broke the mold’ despite the official rules.
We know there were historical female rulers and leaders. A Celtic woman named Onomaris from Galatia bravely led her starving people across the Danube several centuries BCE, conquering foes and obstacles and establishing a new homeland. We also know of at least two historical female rulers in Britain during the Roman occupation: the treacherous Cartimandua and the fierce Boadicea.
Although not historical in nature, female leaders and warriors are mentioned in Celtic legends. The female warrior Scáthach was said to run a school where she taught martial arts to men. Queen Medb (later anglicized as Maeve) was a legendary Irish queen, who in....
Continued in Issue #43 of Keltria Journal.
Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #43 -- The Heroes Issue. Is available in its entirety from MagCloud.
Books & Papers
by Sharon Paice MacLeod
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