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Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Modraniht, id est matrum nocturum

“the Modraniht, that is, in the night of the mothers[=matrons?]”
Early Germanic peoples celebrated the night before Winter Solstice as Mothers Night. The Venerable Bede, a Christian monk from the 8th century wrote about it in his description of the pagan calendar. In Old English they called it Modraniht. More than 1100 votive stones and altars have been found through the centuries, dedicated to the mothers, or matrons, and half of these altar stones were inscribed and dedicated with Germanic names.
The main areas of worship have been uncovered in ancient Germania, northern Italy and eastern Gaul. There are a few larger cult centers with temples found along the Rhine. Many of these altars were found near rivers, wells or springs. The dedicated altars and votives reached as far as present day Scotland, southern Spain, Frisia and Rome. There is reference to the Germanic Mother Cults in the writings of Bede in 725 AD: “And the very night that is sacrosanct to us, these people call modranect, that is, the mothers’ night, a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies which they performed while watching this night through.”
Altars and votive stones, as well as temples, were often carved with images showing three women of matron age and appearance, often holding baskets of fruit and a baby. Based on the inscriptions found, it is thought that these altars were dedicated as offerings of thanks for abundance, gifts and blessings that soldiers and sailors had already received. They believed the Mothers had responded to their prayers and this was their way of acknowledging them, burning incense and leaving sacrificial offerings of food.
Many of these goddesses or spirits were named for the family that was dedicating them, as well as being named for the river or spring that watched over the local town or village, such as the Albiahenae matrons of the town of Elvenich or the Renahenae of the Rhine. Of the 1100 votive stones found, over 360 different ones name the same sets of matrons, the Aufaniae, the Suleviae and the Vacallinehae. Based on the age of the stone inscriptions, it appears that the cult of the Matrons began to die out in continental Germany around the 5th century CE, and Modraniht was not as widely celebrated as Christianity took hold.
What can we take away from what history tells us? The Night of the Mothers was the time to honor the familial and tribal “soul” mothers who watched over them. It was intended for those mothers who had crossed over, not for those still living. On Mothers Night we honor the sacrifice of life so that the ancestral mothers might become a source of wisdom and strength for those still living.
I like to begin my celebration by creating a small rock cairn on a temporary altar. I honor first those of my mothers who have crossed over, inscribing their names on stone in chalk. I light a candle for each of them. I remember them and tell their stories. I also choose to honor the strength of the mothers still living, that they may become part of that ancestral current when it is their turn to pass through the veil.
I drink a cup of tea and invite them to share my cup. I crochet, something my Great-Grandmother taught me on the front porch over the summer when I was younger, gifting me her hooks when she could no longer use them. One way to honor the mothers is to honor their work and pass on the skills that have been taught to you by your mothers, and their mothers, that they live on through you, and the crafting of your hands. I sit and hand-sew, darning old clothes, and as I stitch I pray.

I am Sarah, daughter of Margaret, daughter of Patricia, daughter of Margaret, daughter of Eliza, daughter of Mary of Ireland.

I pray for health for my loved ones.
I pray for healing for my friend, a mother, battling through breast cancer.
I pray for healing for a friend whose mother died a year ago today.
I pray for healing for a friend who lost her mother recently, a mother whose birthday is today.
I pray for healing for a friend whose mother recently discovered her cancer has returned.
I pray for strength for my niece, a new mother this year.
I pray that the echo of the wisdom of the mothers who have come before is remembered.
I pray for the earth, for our Great Mother, whose bones and minerals and animal DNA gave us life.
I pray for all mothers who came before me, all who walk with me and all who will come after.

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