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.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Modraniht, id est matrum nocturum

“the Modraniht, that is, in the night of the mothers[=matrons?]”

I came across this celebration when I was researching the pagan roots of my German ancestors. 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 fifth century CE, and Modraniht fell out of favor as Christianity gained foothold.

The Night of the Mothers was the time to honor the familial and tribal “soul” mothers who watched over them. It was intended to honor those who had crossed over, not for those still living. On Mothers Night we honor the sacrifice of life so that the ancestral matrons might become a source of wisdom and strength for those still living.
I 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 what I know of their stories. I do 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.
What was special to them? Before dusk falls on Modraniht, I sit and hand-sew, darning old clothes. With each stitch, I pray. Tonight I stitch runes of rebirth, recovery, and courage into cloth. Each stitch is a small prayer of hope, a way of pushing forward despite the adversity.
This night is the night for daughters and sons to honor the line of birthings that occurred throughout history, that opened the way for their births. That made their presence in the world. It does not matter what current feelings might be complicated around maternal relationships.
You are because they were. Do not rewrite the past. Honor the journey.

A year ago I prayed to my mothers from a hospital bed on the rehabilitation floor. I thanked the spirit women who stood by my bedside on the Burn ICU. I thanked the faces I recognized from photos and the ones I may never identify.
            Again, I pray for them. I thank the ICU nurses who mothered me back to health and back to myself. I thank and pray for everyone who had hands in easing my recovery, brightening my heart, or tended to my body needs in any way. And this year I thank the courses my brain stories took that enabled me to step out of the fire without succumbing to madness.
            In light of that new prayer, I light a candle for the mythological goddess Frigga, who sheltered me in the darkest moments by wrapping what was left of my bones in a cool cloth and tucked me away from the glare of the blinding sunlight. In the next moment, in my ICU bed, I knew a moment of relief.

I am Sarah,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Patricia,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Eliza,
daughter of Mary of Ireland,
daughter of mother unknown…

Daughters of daughters back to the first mother,
I pray to you in stitches.

The needle between my fingers devolves into metals of various kinds, into bits of bone, until my hands roughen, becoming one with the first hands of my line to stitch skins together. Whoever is unknown to me, whatever countless number of generations of mothers led to my birth, we are joined in this familiar act.

I pray for health for my loved ones.
I pray for my continued healing and recovery.
I pray for happiness for all who walk the earth.
I pray for moments of joy for all who are grieving.
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... though my line ends with me.
May my life touch others while I am living it.

Grandma Donna MacDonald (m.Riddle)

Grandma Ruth Emma Ruston (m.Eaton)
1xGG Minnie Estelle Wicker (m.Ruston)

1xGG Hattie Eva Smith (m.Eaton0

2xGG Ruth Ireland (m.Ruston), Grandma Ruth Emma Ruston, 2xGG Emma Angeline Whitcher (m.Wicker)

2xGG Hattie Eva Dutcher (m.Smith)
2xGG Theresa Cordelia Tenney (m.Eaton)

2xGG Frances Gillette (m.Riddle) back, far left, & 3xGG Jane Berry (m.Gillette) front, right

3xGG Eliza Marsh Bird (m.Dutcher)

3xGG Sophia Sears (m.Smith)

4xGG Mary Ann Boots (m.Gillette)

4xGG Elizabeth Ann Hill (m.Berry)

[Adapted from an article originally published December 21, 2011.]

1 comment:

  1. for the mothers of my mothers..... thank you reminding us of the strength of our lineage.....


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