As we approach Women's Little Christmas on January 6th, or 'Nollaig na mBan' as it is known here in Ireland, it is worth noting that early January has many associations with women, female ancestors and, indeed, Goddessess.
In Eastern Europe and The Balkans, for example, January 9th is a day to celebrate midwives and the older generation of women in families. And, as we have previously seen, in Italy, the eve before January 6th is the night of La Befana, the witch who visits households on her broom, bringing gifts for children who have been good and coal to those who have been bad. As I have previously written about, La Befana has been associated with both the fairy queen, Nicnevin, as well as the Roman Pagan Goddess, Strenua.
January the 11th, 12th and the 15th are also the feast dates of Goddesses who share some strikingly similar attributes to Brigid and another Irish triple Goddess, Laserian/ Lasair/ Latiaran.
And, as we will discover, these Goddesses also have strong associations with megaliths and stone circles.
I will write more about Brigid as we approach Imbolc but for now let’s take a closer look at the various Goddesses associated with January.
Firstly, the Camenae were Goddesses of childbirth, prophecy and sacred wells. The chief goddess amongst them was Carmenta. The celebration was observed mostly by women on the dates the 11th and 15th of January. It should be noted that the month January is also named after the God Janus, who had two faces, one looking backwards and the other looking forwards so this is similar to one of Carmeta’s powers which was the ability to see into the past and the future.
On Carmenta’s feast day water would be drawn from a sacred well by the maidens of the Goddess Vesta. Why Vesta is equated with the Brigid archetype is noticed through Brigid’s association with the hearth, home and fire. Vesta also had a sacred fire which was tended by her maidens, the Vestal virgins. This has strong parallels to Brigid’s 19 maidens who attended to her own sacred flame and eternal fire in Kildare.
19 is also the number of years in the metonic cycle, so we have an interesting lunar connection there.
The name Carmenta comes from the term carmen, which means a magic spell, or prophetic song, which is a path others might enjoy exploring.
The Camenae also have much in common with the Iberian Goddesses, the Moura Encantada, who were associated with spinning, prophecy and stone circles and this is where we find another very interesting coincidence because variants of the Moura were also associated with midwifery and birth.
The Moura Encantada were said to use a distaff to spin yarn and time itself. A distaff is an ancient spinning stick used to hold the fiber from which yarn is then spun. They were also said to be able to spin the sun, which may be a half-remembered association with the properties of stone circles and astrology.
Our next association takes place on Distaff Day. Traditionally, Distaff Day falls on January the 7th, however, just to be even more confusing, another version of Distaff Day takes place on January the 12th in celebration of the Norse Goddess, Frigg.
In this instance, once the Yule festival had come to an end it was a time for women to begin weaving and spinning again. Spinning, from a Norse perspective, is an attribute of the Norn’s and the three most famous of these supernatural wise-women were said to spin time itself so we can see why many researchers notice commonalities in relation to the Moura Encantada.
Of course, the scope and complexity of all of these Goddesses and deities are deeply entwined with individual cultures and indigenous belief systems from all over Europe and the world. Pointing out how people make associations with the most primal and fundamental aspects of life does not negate their own unique identities and mythologies.
What we can perhaps glean, then, is with all of these Goddesses and associations so closely embedded into this time of the year perhaps the overall meaning and reason for this was the focus upon new beginnings.
The incorporation of what was learned in the previous year was carried over into the spring and a fresh start. All of the Goddesses mentioned are renowned for their wisdom of prophecy but also their ability to protect and inspire. At the beginning of a new year and a new cycle these are powerful gifts to wield. (C.) David Halpin.