The Mōdru

Meaning of Name: “The Mothers.”

Pronunciation: The ‘o’ is pronounced as the ‘o’ in ‘go’ and the ‘u’ is pronounced as the ‘o’ in ‘do’. I.E. Mow-drew.

Other Names:
Matronæ/Matres (Roman, Gallo-Roman)

Function: Rudolf Simek links the Mōdru of Bede’s Mōdraniht with the Gallo-Roman Matres and Matronæ, a Northwestern European incidence of divine ancestral mother figures, and positions them as something distinct in their worship from the later Norse practice of the Disir and Dísablót, which make the Mōdru categorically different from the Old English Ides, a collection of female spirits.  Phillip A. Shaw is in agreement, supporting Bede’s account of the Mothers with Romano-Germanic votive pieces.  This would place them closer in expression to the earlier forms in the Roman world, rather than the later Norse.

To Bede’s world, the heathen Mōdraniht was a sacrifice that fell the night before the beginning of Gēol, although the recorded proceedings of the rite were ultimately never made.  This holiday is held by some to be the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon new year.

The Mōdru, as native representations of the Matres, are tribal and local Goddesses that take their place in the continuum of regional worship.  They represent fertility, plenty, and fate, and are, like their Gallo-Roman predecessors, potentially associated with other ancestral mother figures.

Iconography: None known.  Gallo-Roman and Roman iconography portrays the Matres in groups of three, with motifs of plenty: seated or standing female figures, with one breast bared or one’s hair uncovered, accompanied by children or babies, with fruit (particularly apples), cornucopias, coins, bread, boats, and spinning materials (reflecting fate).  Portrayal of the Matronæ (as opposed to the Matres) are periodically without coverings, which mark a distinction between the two groups.  Iconography of the Matres and Matronae also contain flora and fauna, typically oak trees on their altars, birds, snakes, goats, and dogs.

Attested Sources: The Venerable Bede gives us our best source for a native Anglo-Saxon experience of the Mōdru in his De Temporum Ratione: the term Mōdranecht, or Mōdraniht, or “Night of the Mothers”.  This night takes its place as one of three known holiday periods associated with specific deities in the Old English corpus.

Known Matronæ of England:

Name Location Interpretation Related word(s)
Arvolecia Brough, Northumberland Goddess who heals quickly OE læce ‘healer’
Beda Houseteads, Cumbria Request goddess OE byrele ‘giver, bringer, bearer’
Fimmilena Housesteads, Cumbria Court goddess OFris fimmelþing ‘legal assembly’
Friagabis Housesteads, Cumbria Freely-giving goddess OE freo, gife ‘free, gift’
Garmangabis Lanchester, Durham Rich-giving goddess(?) OE eormen, gife ‘vast, gift’
Germanae Winchester Germanic mothers Latin Germani ‘Germanic people’
Harimella Northumberland War-fetter goddess OE here ‘raiding army’

OIrish mall ‘slow’

Magusanus (Hercules) Northumberland Powerful (?) god PGmc *maguz ‘power’
(Mars, Tīw) Thingsus Housesteads, Cumbria Legal assembly god ON þing ‘legal assembly’

*Credit to Lārhūs Fyrnsida for the majority of this information and description. The known Matronæ names have been sourced from Pollington’s “Elder Gods”.

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