Goddess of the Week - Nehalennia

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Goddess of the Week - Nehalennia

Post by Kitsune » Mon Sep 17, 2007 9:35 am

Nehalennia was an ancient goddess, venerated in the Roman age at the mouth of the river Scheldt.

Nehalennia is known from more than 160 votive altars, which were almost all discovered in the Dutch province of Zeeland. (Two altars were discovered in Cologne, the capital of Germania Inferior.) All of them can be dated to the second and early third centuries CE. Most pieces show a young female figure, sitting on a throne in an apse between two columns, holding a basket of apples on her lap. Nearly always, there is a wolf dog at her side. In some cases, the fruit basket is replaced by something that looks like loaves of bread; in other cases, we can see the woman standing next to a ship or a prow.

Several inscriptions inform us that the votive altar was placed to show gratitude for a safe passage across the North Sea, and we may assume that other altars were dedicated for the same reason. (Of course, this does not mean that all pieces were erected after a safe passage.) An example of a typical inscription:

To the goddess Nehalennia,
on account of goods duly kept safe,
Marcus Secundinius Silvanus,
trader in pottery with Britain,
fulfilled his vow willingly and deservedly.


It is know that this Secundinius lived in Cologne, where several other inscriptions were found, all testifying to the existence of a wholesale trade in ceramics.

The Dutch altars were discovered at two places: in 1647 near Domburg on the island of Walcheren, and between 1970 and 1974 in sea north of Colijnsplaat (Noord-Beveland). Of the Domburg group only two pieces remain, because many were destroyed during a fire in 1848; the Colijnsplaat group contains 122 altars.

It may seem strange that the Colijnsplaat altars were discovered in the sea, but it must be noted that the Zeeland archipelago did not exist in the Roman age. In those days, the river Scheldt had its estuary north of Colijnsplaat, and modern archaeologists assume that the altars at Domburg and Colijnsplaat were part of two sanctuaries, which belonged to the Frisiavones, the tribe that lived in ancient Zeeland. Colijnsplaat may or may not be identical to their capital Ganuenta.
Only two altars can be dated exactly. The oldest mentions the consuls Lucius Marius Maximus Perpetuus Aurelianus and Lucius Roscius Aelianus Paculius Salvius Julianus (223 CE); the other was made during the consulate of Marcus Nummius Senecio Albinus and Marcus Laelius Maximus Aemilianus, four years later.

However, the cult of Nehalennia was much older. This can be deduced from the name of the goddess, which is neither Celtic nor Germanic. Since the ancient original population of the Netherlands and Belgium spoke a conservative Indo-European language that became germanized after 100 BCE, we must assume that Nehalennia was already venerated in the second century BCE. Had it been younger, we would have expected a Germanic name.

Only a part of the cult can be reconstructed. During a tempest, the goddess was invoked by sailors, who promised her a votive altar when she would save them. After the rescue, the captain bought an expensive piece of imported natural stone (the Low Countries have no stone quarries), ordered a mason to cut out the prescribed formula and erected the monument near the sanctuary.

It looks as if the sailors made some sort of bargain with the goddess ('I give this to you if you give that to me', or, in juridical Latin, do ut des), but that is too easy a conclusion. Because the votive stones are our only evidence, we simply do not know if and what kind of sacrifices were prescribed, whether processions were necessary, what sort of behavior was expected from the saved. We do not and can not know what these altars meant in the whole of cultic practices. (If you find 160 statues of the Virgin Mary, you do not know anything about Catholicism.)


Nehalennia (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)

The interpretation of the reliefs is extremely difficult, but one thing is almost certain. Since the woman is depicted in an apse, a place that was normally reserved to the gods, we may assume that she is the goddess (and not a priestess or a mermaid). However, it is not possible to establish whether she protects or tramples the ship near her foot, and we are therefore left with the question whether she caused the tempest or its silencing. (The fact that the sculptors depicted ships not wrecks suggests the latter, but we can not force this argument.) The meaning of the fruits is a mystery too: are we to think of the 'apple country' Avalon that is known from Celtic sources as some sort of heaven, or is it a reference to the transience of life? And what to think of the dog? Is it a protective animal, or is it one of the threatening 'dogs of the sea' mentioned in the description of the North Sea by the Roman author Albinovanus Pedo? Again, we do and can not know.

Perhaps it is possible to make a link to the Matronae or Matres, a group of three female figures -perhaps goddesses, perhaps fairies- that was commonly venerated in the Rhineland. An even closer parallel is the iconography of the death goddess Herecura, whose cult spread from the Adriatic Sea to Germania Superior. Representations of these deities resemble Nehalennia, but on the other hand: a similar image is not a similar goddess (cf. Saint George and Saint Demetrius, who are iconographically identical but completely different saints). It is also tempting to link the votive altars from Zeeland to a remark by the Roman author Tacitus (Germania 9) that a part of the Germanic tribe of the Suebians venerated a goddess like Isis, who was depicted with a ship's prow. However, the Frisiavones were no Suebians.

One remarkable aspect is that the texts are written in Latin, on stones that had to be imported. The native population, however, appears to have spoken a native, pre-Celtic and pre-Germanic language that had become germanized. It is possible that they had taught themselves Latin; it is also possible that she was worshipped by non-natives; and it is possible that Nehallenia's devotees were natives who, for this occasion, wanted to make a good impression and used Latin.

The cult of Nehalennia came to an end in the third century, when the sea destroyed the sanctuary.


I found this Goddess named in my Priestess of Avalon book, where the main character is Helena, a young priestess who marries an emperor & begets Constantine. She is connected to the goddess through a "fairy dog" given her (apparently produced when a hound has only 1 pup in litter & it is stock white). I definately wanted to know more about her, and found this article. I'm hoping that since she's Germanic in nature that Ragnar may have a little more information about this Goddess. She certainly seems to have spanned a large area (relatively speaking, of course). Of course, any information from the rest of my Library would be most apprieciated as well. :-D

The book also mentioned another Goddess Elan of the pathways... but I have not been able to find mention of her anywhere. She's going to be my next goddess for research. ;) :-D
Trying to create a world, even in words, is good occupational therapy for lunatics who think they're God, and an excellent argument for Polytheism. -S.M. Stirling

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Post by Willow » Mon Sep 17, 2007 5:05 pm

Wow, that is a lot of great info thanks!
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.
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Post by katsu » Tue Sep 18, 2007 10:48 am

:hug: :hug:

Btw, on the Aughust the 13th 2005, the Queen's agent of the province of Zeeland has opened a reconstructed temple at the Marina in Colijnsplaat.
After 7 years of planning this was finally realised =D>

For those of you wanting to see what it looks like:

the openingceremony
here is how the temple was being built.

And here you can find some old drawings of the altars.

I can't show you pictures from inside because I have yet to go there (it being closed now), but I'll see if some friends have some.

Katsu

Ps, sorry about all the Dutch language in the links. They don't have an English website. But I hope you like the pictures :-)

-edit- links were not working
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Post by Crazy Healer Lady » Tue Sep 18, 2007 2:29 pm

Wow fantastic! Thanks for sharing :D
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Health and happiness to you!

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Re: Goddess of the Week - Nehalennia

Post by Ragnar » Tue Sep 18, 2007 11:09 pm

Kitsune wrote: In those days, the river Scheldt had its estuary north of Colijnsplaat, and modern archaeologists assume that the altars at Domburg and Colijnsplaat were part of two sanctuaries, which belonged to the Frisiavones, the tribe that lived in ancient Zeeland.
The area was later taken by, what later became to be called Saxons.
In the 3d and 4th cent. the Saxons were active in raiding expeditions along the coasts of the North Sea. The European coast from the Loire to the Scheldt rivers and the southeastern coast of Britain, where defenses were erected against their piratical raids, were known to the Romans as litora Saxonica [Saxon shores].
The description differs very little from Ran, the Saxon/Germanic/Norse Sea Goddess. Which, along witjh Tyr/Tiw/Ägir, are considered to be some of the oldest Gods/esses in the Germanic system.
However, the cult of Nehalennia was much older. This can be deduced from the name of the goddess, which is neither Celtic nor Germanic.
Could be Finno/Ugric. Which would fit in well with this Goddess being linked to Ran. As the first mentions of a "Ran like figure" are from the Finno/Ugric speaking Baltic. (Kavadella. The Finno/Ugric equivallent to the Norse Eddas.)
The meaning of the fruits is a mystery too:
Only to "scientists.

Apples/other fruits, and bread, are considered symbols of good harvest and fruitfulness. Most important for tribes that depended on the sea for a living.
One remarkable aspect is that the texts are written in Latin, on stones that had to be imported. The native population, however, appears to have spoken a native, pre-Celtic and pre-Germanic language that had become germanized.
It is possible that they had taught themselves Latin; it is also possible that she was worshipped by non-natives; and it is possible that Nehallenia's devotees were natives who, for this occasion, wanted to make a good impression and used Latin.
A lot of the Roman soldiers took over the local Gods/esses as their own. Going on the theory (As with the Norse), Gods do not travel well. It is always better to trust the Gods that know the area than trying to fit Bacchus into a fishing environment with no grapes.

All along the Rhein valley, and across Europe, there are temples identical to the local form, but the inscriptions are in Latin. Some covering the original earlier inscriptions.

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Post by Willow » Thu Sep 20, 2007 7:02 am

Quote:
The meaning of the fruits is a mystery too:

Only to "scientists.
LOL, good call.
Katsu, thanks for the links, I hopethey get an english site. there is a girl at my school who studies Norse paganism (her focus is scandanavian countries but I still think she would find it useful).
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.
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Post by katsu » Thu Sep 20, 2007 1:35 pm

Willow, I can translate anything in Dutch if she needs it (or anyone else here). However at the moment I'm working 13 days in a row.......it might take some time.

Katsu
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Post by Loke » Thu Sep 20, 2007 4:00 pm

Hi

My first thought went to Idun when reading, the seafaring part is not her province but then the "apple" part may have taken me for a ride;).

Loke

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Post by Willow » Fri Sep 21, 2007 6:06 am

No worries, I think she is OK, witht he languages, but I appreciate the offer. Thanks!
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.
Dr. Seuss (1904 - 1991)

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Post by Windwalker » Sat Sep 22, 2007 6:43 pm

That's awesome, thanks for that!
si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes

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Post by Kitsune » Mon Sep 24, 2007 8:35 am

I thought you all might enjoy that!

And Ragnar, thanks for clarifing what you can!

She seems like a very cool Goddess, even if her worship seemed to have died off in the early times.

I'm still trying to find information on Elan of the Pathways, but since I've been sick, I've had to put it on hold till I'm feeling better... :oops:
Trying to create a world, even in words, is good occupational therapy for lunatics who think they're God, and an excellent argument for Polytheism. -S.M. Stirling

http://www.bamatthews.comThe Writings and Musings of B.A. Matthews

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Post by Jescissa » Fri Sep 28, 2007 5:49 am

Wow this is really interesting! Thanks for sharing!

One point I have to make is that Finno-Ugric and Indo-European are classifications for two totally seperate language families. Finnish might be spoken in Europe, but it is just as seperate from the Indo-European languages as Basque is. We linguists get a little niggly about the different classifications! It would be possible to track Nehalennia's origins through language use, though, and Ragnar is right in thinking that Nehalennia sounds much more Finno-Ugric than Indo-European, I've never seen a word outside of Finnish that resembles the same pattern!
"If you trust in yourself and believe in your dreams and follow your star...you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy. Goodbye." - Miss Tick, Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men

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Post by Ragnar » Fri Sep 28, 2007 6:26 am

Jescissa wrote:I've never seen a word outside of Finnish that resembles the same pattern!
Did I dream it? Or did I once hear that the closest to Finnish was something like Hungarian?

Don't mind me, it's pay day. I can not be held responsible for what I think....not till the money is spent any way. :lol:

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Post by Jescissa » Fri Sep 28, 2007 6:52 am

It's true, Hungarian and Estonian :-)
"If you trust in yourself and believe in your dreams and follow your star...you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy. Goodbye." - Miss Tick, Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men

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