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Medieval English rural goddesses

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wendy
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Post by wendy » Thu May 12th, 2011, 2:34 pm

Alisha - where in England is the novel set? Carla is correct that many places had specific regional deities. In the Lancashire area there was a strong Druid influence because of their connection to Pendle Hill.
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annis
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Post by annis » Fri May 13th, 2011, 5:07 am

One of my favourite novels is James Long's haunting book, Silence and Shadows. A couple of people involved in an archaeological dig near a small English village feel a connection with each other, strengthened by a link to a long-dead Saxon queen. Part of the story involves a traditional village event which clearly has origins in a pagan fertility/harvest celebration, and which stirs up moral indignation from a fervent Christian vicar who wants it banned.

It's my understanding that certainly through to the beginning of the 20th century harvest festivals in Britain had elements that were obviously pagan in origin, though given a Christian veneer over time. The corn dolly, for example, the last sheaf of the harvest, which was plaited and stored away to be planted at the start of the next season's sowing, represents the "corn spirit" or even the "lady" of the harvest.

Some of the old goddesses became demonized by Christianity, like my forum namesake, "Black" Annis. Originally believed to have been the Celtic mother-goddess Anu, she morphed into a terrifying supernatural being who is part of the folklore of northern Britain and Scotland. As a placatory move she was often called "Gentle Annie", and some of the colonial coachmen with a nice sense of irony who settled in C19th New Zealand named some of our most horrendous, dangerously winding stretches of roads in her honour. This often puzzles people who don't know the background - why would such awful roads be called "Gentle Annie"? Incidentally Anu was the tutelary goddess of many sacred wells, and is thought to be the reason why so many British wells are named St Anne's.
Last edited by annis on Wed May 18th, 2011, 4:31 am, edited 6 times in total.

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Alisha Marie Klapheke
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Post by Alisha Marie Klapheke » Mon May 16th, 2011, 2:22 am

Thanks again for the wonderful information! This is great!

Wendy, my WIP is set in a fictional town in the South East, say, Buckinghamshire area...

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wendy
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Post by wendy » Wed May 18th, 2011, 12:56 am

[quote=""Alisha Marie Klapheke""]Thanks again for the wonderful information! This is great!

Wendy, my WIP is set in a fictional town in the South East, say, Buckinghamshire area...[/quote]

Sorry - don't have any information about old southern customs.
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Post by lauragill » Tue July 12th, 2011, 5:58 am

[quote=""Alisha Marie Klapheke""]Is that title ridiculous? Yes, perhaps. I just wanted to know...what goddesses were still revered (if only in certain ongoing yearly events) in rural medieval england? I would like a Harvest Queen...maybe Nerthus? Would they call her that at all in the 13th c? I know everyone is Christianized--I wanted simply to mention the older beliefs alongside the Christian ones. Can anyone help me out?[/quote]

My area of expertise is the Bronze Age Aegean, but in college I specialized in medieval English literature.

Buckinghamshire in Anglo-Saxon times was part of Mercia, and before that was quite thoroughly Romanized. It's unlikely any Celtic influences would have survived the extreme measures the Romans took to stamp out the Druidic religion. I can't be sure without double-checking, but the area might also have been part of the Danelaw, and had Viking influences. So your harvest goddess would have had an Anglo-Saxon or Viking name: Freya or Eostre/Ostara.

Keep in mind that rural people relying on oral tradition may have forgotten the names of their original Germanic deities over the course of 200+ years, or worshipped them in a corrupted form as saints. Check maps and other guides to see what churches are located in the area you want to write about. Also, check any available entries from the Domesday Book to see what information you can get about the people around the time of the Conquest. Were they mostly Saxon? Did they have a bit of Dane in them? From there, you can build up your people's 13th century beliefs. Find out about the local saints, too. They would have been extremely important.
Last edited by lauragill on Tue July 12th, 2011, 6:24 am, edited 3 times in total.
Reason: more information on the topic.

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Alisha Marie Klapheke
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Post by Alisha Marie Klapheke » Wed July 13th, 2011, 3:40 am

LauraGill, thanks for your help! I went with Freya/Frigg. This is not a central part of my ms, merely a character from the north (whose grandmother was welsh--it's a long story) telling a character from the south about an experience she had. I had her mention Freya/Frigg to aid her friend's understanding.

I love your detailed instructions on how to glean information. After making this post a while back, I actually did most of that. Churches, Domesday, names...it is so interesting to me. I just love this stuff. Thanks again.

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Post by Madeleine » Wed July 13th, 2011, 3:23 pm

What fascinating info, I never knew that about Black Annis and the roads named after her; I suppose it's a Northern "thing"!

BTW, the guy who wrote Silence and Shadows also wrote Ferney - I went through a phase of buying his books after I read that, will have to see if I have this one too.

Good luck with the WIP, Alisha. How's it going?
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Alisha Marie Klapheke
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Post by Alisha Marie Klapheke » Wed July 13th, 2011, 10:34 pm

The WIP is going well, thanks for asking, Madeleine. I have it with another beta now and she is another successful author(I already had one wonderful author read it and help me tremendously) so I look forward to learning from her comments.

I've been trying to step back from the work for just a bit so that I may come back fresh. I've been working on just the basic craft of writing lately with some other writerly friends. It's been great. I feel like I've come a long way. Hope all is well in London--I'm planning a trip there next summer!

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