EXCERPT – Druidess, Priestess, Poet & Seer: Women’s Historical Roles in Celtic Religion

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.

Rozentals Nave

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.


Cover of Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #42

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #43

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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All Life is Sacred

Photo of Tony Taylor with deer staff

Tony Taylor

From the President

I recently received a question regarding Keltrian beliefs, in particular our stated belief: “We believe that all life is sacred and should neither be harmed nor taken without deliberation or regard.” The questioner wondered if members practice vegetarianism/veganism.

We often receive this question, so this is an opportunity to remind everyone that interpretation of this belief is really up to you.  It identifies the basis for your individual practice and it isn’t something that the Henge dictates as dogma.

Certainly, there are members who choose the vegetarian or vegan path. It is their own decision, which may be strengthened by their interpretation of this belief.  We, as the Henge, respect that interpretation and do our best to include a vegetarian option at gatherings sponsored by the Henge. However, the vast majority of Keltrian Druids are omnivore.

To me, the spirit of this belief reminds us that shooting an animal to eat may be a necessity to provide meat for a family. However, it must be taken with regard for the animal. On the other hand, shooting rabbits for “fun” from the back of a pickup is not honorable.  Likewise, I won’t squash a bug just because it was in the house; rather I  capture it, move it to the outside, and release it.  If there is a chance that I will be stung and go into anaphylactic shock, I may reconsider that plan. The point is that my actions are based upon regard.

The story of a remarkable young lady comes to mind. She was fourteen years old at the time.

We cherish children, however, kids can often get antsy and disrupt the concentration of the adults. This was not the case with this particular youngster. Not only did she contribute to the lesson discussions, she volunteered for ritual parts and did a better job than most of the adults.

Her family depended upon the fall deer kill to stock the freezer with meat for the winter. Her grandfather had already bagged his deer, so he took our little friend hunting to see what luck she would have. The night before the big hunt she called to ask me which goddess she should pray to for a successful hunt. I gave her a suggestion for which she thanked me and we hung up leaving me surprised and pleased that she thought of that detail.

The next evening she called again barely able to contain her excitement. She had indeed shot a doe. She went on to say that when she and her grandfather field dressed the deer, she insisted that the heart be buried where it fell. Grandfather grumbled because that was his favorite part, but he did as she asked. She offered a prayer of thanks to the deer’s spirit and the Goddess who guided her hand. She did this on her own with no adult prompting.

It’s our custom in the Grove to draw names for the Yule gift exchange. To my surprise and pleasure, she had my name and created a beautiful staff with one of the deer’s hooves on the top. Not only was the meat going to feed the family, but no part of that creature of nature went to waste.

This belief is really all about paying attention to what you are doing and not taking a life without thinking about it.

Walk with wisdom,
/|\ Tony