Blogging Our Troth, part 8: The Forgotten Gods and Goddesses

This week's selection from the forthcoming third edition of Our Troth seems timely. June 5 is the feast day in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Boniface, who was noted for his missionary efforts in present-day Germany, until he was martyred in 754. Among other deeds, he is said to have felled the "Oak of Jupiter" (presumably sacred to Thor, or Donar) that once stood at Gaesmere (probably near Fritzlar in modern Hesse) and built a chapel from its wood. He is said to have destroyed other idols and holy sites.

At Trothmoot 2018, our Steersman, Rob Schreiwer, led an Observance of the Desecrated Shrines on June 5, in memory of all the deities whose holy places were destroyed by Boniface and those like him, or whose names were simply lost or forgotten. For most of these, all we have is a name, and sometimes even that is incomplete or uncertain. Perhaps we will someday know them better; perhaps not. But at the very least, we can remember their names, as part of our heritage from the past, and in defiance of those who tried to wipe them out completely. This June 5, you might consider speaking or meditating on some or all of these names. . . 

As always, please leave a comment if you have any questions, suggestions, comments, or feedback of any kind. The book is Our Troth—not Just My Troth—and I want it to meet the needs and interests of the wider community. Thank you all!

The Forgotten Gods and Goddesses

Besides Nehalennia and the Matronae, we know of other holy powers that were honored with altars and inscriptions in the Roman era, or mentioned in later manuscripts. In most cases, we know nothing more than their names and presumed places of worship. Some of these names might be titles of deities that are already better known by other names. Some might be more like what we think of as land-spirits than deities as such (although some Roman inscriptions specifically use the word Dea, “Goddess”). Names that appear in medieval manuscripts might not refer to pre-Christian deities at all; they might have been invented as attempts to explain the origins of obscure place names. Other names might not be Germanic—although there was enough cultural interchange across the Rhine and elsewhere to make it problematic to define which deities were “Germanic” and which were not. There must have once been many other deities and holy powers honored by our forebears whose names have been completely lost.

Whether and how these beings can be validly honored today must be left up to individuals to decide. Perhaps the best we can do today is simply to remember their names, until and unless more knowledge of them should come to light, or until Heathen communities begin to develop “communal gnosis” on how to honor them. Urglaawe has recently begun holding an Observance of the Desecrated Shrines on June 5 (the feast day of St. Boniface, noted for destroying German pagan shrines), in remembrance of all the holy powers with whom we have lost the connection. It might be good to remember these names on that day.

 

Ahuardua or Ahvardva is known from a fragmentary inscription found at Vindolanda, a fort along Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, dating from the mid-2ndcentury. The reconstructed inscription reads Ahvardvae deae cohors I Tungrorum ex voto posuit, “the First Tungrian cohort raised [this stone] in fulfillment of a vow to the goddess Ahuardua.” The Tungri came from present-day Belgium—the modern town of Tongres preserves their tribal name—and may have been of mixed Germanic and Celtic background. Her name appears to represent a Germanized pronunciation of a Celtic name meaning something like “high goddess of water.” The inscription was only discovered in 2012, hinting that there are still future discoveries to be made! (Birley et al., “A Dedication”)

The Ahueccaniae are a pair of female beings known from one votive stone from near Gleuel, near Cologne. They are named Aueha and Hellivesa. Their name, and the name of Aueha, probably derive from the Proto-Germanic *ahwō, “water” (Gothic ahwa, Old High Germanic aha). The second root in their name may mean “to conjure, to prophesy” (Old English wiccian, Midle High German wicken), so the whole name may mean something like “prophesying water spirits.” The name Hellivesa might be related to the nearby river Elle. (Simek, Dictionary, pp. 5, 23, 138)

Alateivia is known from one altar found near Xanten, raised by “Divos the physician”; we might speculate that she had something to do with healing. Her name may mean “the fully divine one.” (Simek, Dictionary, p. 6)

Baduhenna was once worshipped in a sacred grove in Frisia named for her, where 900 Romans were killed by the Frisians in 28 CE, according to Tacitus (Annals IV.73). Her name seems to mean “goddess of battle” (cf. Old English beado, Old High German badu). It is possible that she is the same as Baudihillia, one of the Alaisiagae mentioned on a stone from Hadrian’s Wall (see “Tyr”).

Burorina is known from one altar from Domburg, from the same temple as the many altars to Nehalennia, and now in the Zeeuws Museum in Middelburg. She could be an aspect of Nehalennia, or perhaps a separate goddess. Her name may mean “the one who gives birth,” and she may have assisted women in childbirth. (Wagenvoort, “Nehalennia and the Souls of the Dead,” p. 288)

Garmangabis is known from one altar from Lanchester, near Durham in England, raised by Suebian troops in Roman service between 238 and 244 CE. The gabis part of her name means “giving”, and might link her with the Gabiae among the Matrones, or possibly Gefjon. Her whole name may mean either “richly giving” or “the Germanic giver.” (Simek, Dictionary, p. 100)

Haeva is known from only one stone, now lost, from Over-Betuwe in Gelderland. The inscription links her with a more widely known god, Hercules Magusanus, who was worshipped by the tribe of the Batavi and might be a Romanized version of Thor. The stone was given by a couple “for their children,” and her name might derive from a Proto-Germanic root meaning “to marry.” It seems plausible that she was a protector of families. (Simek, Dictionary, p. 128) 

Halamarđus is a name or title of a god identified with the Roman Mars. A votive stone to Mars Halamarđus was raised by the centurion and men of the XX Legio Valeria Victrix, during the reign of the emperor Claudius, near what is now the town of Horn in Limburg. His name probably means “slayer of men.” (von Griebenberger, “Germanische Götternamen,” pp. 388-389)

Hariasa is known from a stone from Cologne now lost. Her name means “battle goddess,” like Vihansa (see below). (Simek, Dictionary, p. 131) 

Helith was mentioned by the 13thcentury English chronicler Walter of Coventry, who recorded a tradition that the god Helith or Gelith had once been worshipped in Dorset, until St. Augustine of Canterbury (d. 605 CE) founded the abbey of Cernel on the site of the god's sanctuary. (Memoriale Fratris Walteri de Conventria,vol. 1, p. 60) His name may be equivalent or related to Old English hælend, “healer; savior,” and it’s been speculated that he was a god of healing.

Hludana is known from five inscriptions from the Roman-era Rhineland. One inscription to her, now in the Fries Museum, mentions a pledge paid to her by the holders of fishing rights, so she may have something to do with the sea or fishing. Her name is comparable to Hlóðyn,one of several Norse names for Jörð the Earth goddess. She may also be related to Huld or Holda; all these names may derive from a root meaning “to conceal” (cf. Old English helan; Simek, Dictionary, pp. 153-154). Alternately, her name may be derived from Proto-Germanic *hlūdaz, originally meaning “famous; heard-of.”

Hurstrga (possibly originally Hurstaerga) is known from one Roman-era altar from the Betuwe region of the Netherlands. (Simek, Dictionary, p. 166)

Idban Gabia is known from one fragmentary votive stone found near Jülich. Gabia means “giver,” and she may be similar to the Matronae known as Gabiae, and/or to Garmangabis mentioned above. (Ihn, “Der Mütter- oder Matronenkultus,” pp. 27-28; Simek, Dictionary, p. 170) 

Jecha is mentioned in late medieval sources as one of the pagan gods whose sanctuary was destroyed by St. Boniface. The site was later occupied by a castle, the Jechaburg, now a district of the city of Sondershausen in Thuringia. The name does not appear in the early biographies of Boniface: it first appears in writing in Johannes Letzer’s Historia Sancti Bonifacii in 1602. It could be a false etymology, an attempt to explain the etymology of the place name. (Hope, Sequel to the Conversion, p. 93)

Lohra or Lar is another deity mentioned in late medieval sources as one whose image was destroyed by St. Boniface. (Hope, Sequel to the Conversion, p. 93)

Requalivahanus is a male god known from one inscription from a Roman villa at Blatzheim an der Neffel, Germany, on the road between Cologne and Maastricht. His name could be related to Proto-Germanic *rehwaz, “darkness” (related to Norse rökkr). (Simek, Dictionary, p. 263)

Reto is another one of the pagan gods whose sanctuary on the Retberg near Gottingen was allegedly destroyed by St. Boniface, according to late medieval sources. (Hope, Sequel to the Conversion, p. 93)

Sandraudiga is known from one Roman-era votive stone found at Zundert in Nord-Brabant, the Netherlands. Her name probably means “true abundance.” (von Grienberger, “Germanischer Götternamen”, pp. 389-391) 

Stuffo is another one of the pagan gods whose sanctuary was allegedly destroyed by St. Boniface. His idol was said to stand on what was once called the Stuffenberg, now the Hülfensburg, a mountain between Heiligenstadt and Eschwege, neir Geismar in Thuringia. Stuffo’s sanctuary was said to be popular for its oracles. (Hope, Sequel to the Conversion, p. 92) This story does not appear in the early biographies of Boniface, and could have been invented to explain the origin of the name Stuffenberg.

Tamfana is mentioned by Tacitus (Annals I.50-51): in 4 CE, the Romans massacred a tribe known as the Marsi while the tribe was celebrating a festival at a temple to Tamfana. This happened in the autumn, so Tamfana may have been a goddess of the harvest or of the turning year. The meaning of her name is unclear: may contain the root for “banner; flag” (Proto-Germanic *fanō).

Vagdavercustis is known from an altar found in Cologne, dedicated by a prefect of the Praetorian Guard. She is also mentioned on an inscription on a bronze dish found in the Linge River, in Geldern in the Netherlands; this had been given by the decurio (commander) of the cavalry detachment (ala) of the Vocontii. The Vocontii were Celts from Gaul, but the name of Vagdavercustis seems to be Germanic, meaning “worker of mercy” (compare Old Norse vægð and Old High German *wagida, “mercy”); or possibly “worker of the life force.” (von Grienberger, “Germanischer Götternamen”, pp. 393-396) 

The Veteres are known from about sixty portable altars found along Hadrian’s Wall, including eleven or twelve at the fort of Vindolanda. The name means “old ones” in Latin, but the name is often spelled with initial Hv- or Vh- Hveteres, HveteriHvitri, Vhetri, and so on). These spelling variants suggest that the name began with a sound that Latin did not have, for which there was no standard Latin spelling. While some may have understood the Veteres to be “the old ones”, their name may be Germanic for “the white ones” (i.e. bright ones, shining ones); compare Proto-Germanic *hwītaz. (Shaw, Pagan Goddesses, pp. 15-16; Birley, Vindolanda)

Viel or Biel is yet another deity mentioned in late medieval sources as one whose sanctuary was destroyed by St. Boniface. The alleged sanctuary was at Vielshohe, now Katlenburg-Lindau in North Saxony. (Hope, Sequel to the Conversion, p. 93)

Vihansa is known from a bronze plaque made by a centurion in the Legio III near Tongren, Belgium. Her name seems to mean “battle goddess,” from Proto-Germanic *wīhan “to fight” + *ansa “Æsir god”; it could also derive from the homophonic root *wīhan “to dedicate, to consecrate.” (Simek, Dictionary, p. 361) 

Viradecdis (spelled Voradestis, Viratehtis, Virodacthis) is known from a Roman altar discovered at Birrens in Scotland, raised by Roman soldiers from Condrustis (now the Condroz region of Belgium), in the Second Cohort of Tungri. A second altar to Viradectis was found in 1869, raised by the citizens and sailors at the Roman fort of Fectio, now Vechten in the Netherlands; a third turned up in 1967 in the church at Strée-lez-Huy, Belgium; and two more have been found on the lower Rhine at Mainz and Trebur. The altar from Birrens bears an emblem that looks like a crescent on top of a triangle; it is possible that this could be a symbol of the goddess. Although Tacitus called the Tungri Germanic, it is not clear whether they spoke a Germanic or a Celtic language, and Viradecdis’s name may be Celtic (compare Irish ferdaht, “masculinity”). (Simek, Dictionary, p. 264)

 

Birley, Anthony R., Andrew Birley, and Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 186 (2013), pp. 287-300.

 

Birley, Robin. Vindolanda: Everyday Life on Rome’s Northern Frontier.Stroud: Amberley, 2009.

 

Grienberger, Theodor von. “Germanischer Götternamen auf Rheinischer Inschriften.” Zeitschrift für Deutsches Altertum und Deutsche Literatur.Vol. 35 (1891), pp. 388-401.

 

“Hope, Mrs.” [Anne Fulton.] Sequel to the Conversion of the Teutonic Race: S. Boniface and the Conversion of Germany.London: R. Washbourne, 1872.

 

Ihn, M. “Der Mütter- oder Matronenkultus und seine Denkmäler.” Jahrbücher des Vereins von Alterthumsfreunden im Rheinlande, vol. 83 (1887), pp. 1-200.

 

Shaw, Philip A. Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matronae.London: Bristol Classical Press, 2011.

 

Simek, Rudolf (Angela Hall, transl.) Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1993.

 

Tacitus (John Jackson, transl.) The Annals.Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962.

 

Wagenvoort, H. “Nehalennia and the Souls of the Dead.” Mnemosyne, vol. 24, no. 3 (1971), pp. 273-292.

 

Walter of Coventry (William Stubbs, ed.). Memoriale Fratris Walteri de Conventria: The Historical Collections of Walter of Coventry.Vol. 1. London: Longman & Co., and Trübner & Co., 1872.

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