Forgotten Ancient French Goddesses from the Gaulish-Celtic Pantheon
It’s not often we hear of the Gaulish pantheon. The Gauls were a large tribe of Celts who lived in the region that is now France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and some of Northern Italy and Germany. The Gauls had their own beliefs and traditions, as well as deities. In this article, we revive the ancient French goddesses like the bear goddess and the goddess of healing springs who deserve a moment in the spotlight!
French Goddesses, You Say?
I’ve had numerous people comment on this blog post and say there’s no such thing as “French goddesses”. While I admit that these goddesses did not originate with the modern French people, they did originate in the area we now call the country of France. And the reason I wrote this article was to give people of French ancestry or heritage the ability to connect with deities from that region, even if they are ancient deities from a people long ago. So when I say “French goddesses”, I’m really saying goddesses from the Gauls, a Celtic people who lived in the area of France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, etc. in ancient times. As well as goddesses from the Franks, a Germanic people who also lived in the area of France in later times. So, roll with it, people. Let’s not get so caught up in semantics.
Now, For the French Goddesses…
Abnoba: Gaulish-Celtic Goddess of the Hunt
Abnoba is a Gaulish goddess who was once worshiped in the Black Forest region of Germany in ancient times. Her name may mean river or water, indicating she originated as a river guardian spirit. An ancient altar and Roman bath in Muhlenbach compared Abnoba to Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt. It’s safe to say Abnoba may share many other qualities of Diana like a domain over the moon and wildlife. There’s also a mountain range named for Abnoba, making her an ancient French water and earth goddess.
Artio: The Bear Goddess
We don’t know a lot about Artio, an ancient french goddess, but what we do know is she was intimately connected to bears. The few pieces of evidence we have of her cult’s existence have been found in modern Switzerland and Southern Germany. A bronze statue depicting Artio feeding a giant bear was found in Bern, Switzerland. Scholars say she is feeding the bear because she has a bowl of fruit in her lap. There was once a great tale about this encounter, I’m sure; however, over time the lore of Artio was lost. The inscription on the Bern statue translates to “for the goddess Artio”. As with Artemis’ name, we see the link to the bear in Artio’s name. Art translates to mean bear in Gaulish.
Bormana: Gaulish-French Goddess of Healing Springs
Bormana was a Gaulish-French goddess worshiped alongside Bormo (a god of healing). Bormana’s name translates to “boiling” which makes Bormana a goddess of healing springs. Bormana was once a spirit of the water that was eventually deified, as in many of the Celtic gods and goddesses. Her cult was prominent in Southern Gaul (France). However, because the god Bormo was venerated in the city of Bourbonne les Bains in Eastern France, Bormana’s cult might have been more wide-spread than once thought.
Damona: French Goddess of Animals
Damona is another obscure ancient French goddess worshiped in Eastern Gaul whose name means ox or sheep. Because of her name, she was most likely a goddess who protected animals and ruled over fertility and abundance.
Dea Matrona: The Divine Mother Goddess
Dea Matrona, also Dea Matres, was a Mother Goddess of the Gauls whose worship spread to the Teutons and Romans. She was a triple goddess depicted as three women holding baskets of fruit and flowers. The Dea Matrona protected children, animals, hearth and home. Her name and image were placed in fields to assure a plentiful crop. Dea Matrona is compared to the Welsh Goddess Modron, who is the mother of the god Mabon. The Three Mothers are linked to triple goddesses appearing in other cultures, such as: the Norse Norns, the Roman Fates, and the Greek Moirai.
Freia, Frankish French Goddess
The Franks occupied a large portion of what is today modern France, and it’s pretty obvious the country was named for this Germanic people. Being of Germanic origin, the Franks worshiped deities that corresponded with the Norse peoples including Wuotan (Odin) and Freia (Freyja). Freia’s name translates to Lady, and she’s known as a goddess of paradox. She wages war in a frenzy, but also reigns over domains of love, sex, and seidr (a form of Norse magic).
Icovellauna: Goddess of the Springs
The ancient Gauls revered healing springs and believed healing spirits presided over the waters. These healing spring spirits became deified gods and goddesses, one was known as the goddess Icovellauna. Two temples in particular were built over springs and honored the goddess Icovellauna—the Le Sablon temple in Metz and the Altbachtal temple complex in Trier. Her name means “good fountain”. Because of her watch over the healing springs, she was a goddess of healing and was perhaps once a water nymph before being deified.
Nerthus: Germanic French Fertility Goddess
Yet another Germanic deity likely worshiped by the Franks is Nerthus. We know of this through Tacitus’ writings. Interestingly, Nerthus is considered a fertility earth goddess, yet her home or sacred place was believed to be a secret island somewhere in the ocean. Some scholars believe her name actually translates to earth, and she was well-known as the lady of the wagon procession. The ancient Germanic people carted her image around and supposedly drown sacrifices to her in her sacred lake.
Melusine: The Serpentine Lady
Melusine is a figure in French folklore who was once a goddess associated with wells and rivers. She was the daughter of a fairy woman and mortal king. Moreover, in one legend, Melusine lived on the Isle of Avalon until she married a mortal. Her husband defied her and referred to her as a “serpent” in court. Then in her anger, Melusine transformed into a dragon and flew off. The concept of Melusine as a shapeshifter demonstrates the likelihood she was once a guardian spirit of place (genius loci). The name Melusine features in folklore all over Europe but is most prevalent in France.
Nantosuelta: Ancient French Earth Goddess
Nantosuelta is a unique goddess and deity from ancient Gaul. She manifests as a bright woman with long golden hair, holding a staff with a bee’s hive at the end. She lived in a round home, similar to the hills of the Tuatha de Dannan. Her cult was centered in what is today Northern France, particularly near modern Metz. Her sacred animal, the raven, accompanies her in many altar reliefs from the Roman time period. Scholars believe her name translates to “sun-drenched valley”, hence making her not just an earth goddess but also a goddess of the sun. She brings fertility and abundance.
Sequana & Sirona: Healing French Goddesses
Sequana is an ancient Gaulish goddess who was venerated at the Seine River and at the Springs of the Seine in a valley north of Dijon. She was the matron goddess of the Sequani tribe, one of the tribes of the Celtic Gauls who lived in France and Switzerland, respectively. At Sequana’s springs, many artifacts have been discovered that were offerings made to her in return for healing. It was customary to bring metal sculptures of whatever body part was in need of healing—limbs, eyes, etc. These were offered in return for healing, as well as fruit, meats, wine, etc. Sirona was also a goddess of healing springs and is depicted with a snake and eggs (both symbols of healing). She was venerated in France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Sirona’s cult permeated the Triveri tribe.