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The Winter Goddess
The Winter Goddess
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Date:December 14, 2014
MOST of our knowledge of Germanic myth is derived from the Old Icelandic texts and especially from the Eddas. The Eddic tales centre their attention on the trials and triumphs of the male members of the pantheon and tell us little of the female forces.’ That these wielded power we learn, however, from votive monuments, from the names of natural and man-made places, from Tacitus’s Germania, and from the traditions of the countryside.

From these heterogeneous sources scholars have tried to reconstruct the features of the ancient goddesses, and have drawn figures which are to some degree related to fertility and, sometimes, death.2 In these attempts the scholars have made little use of the abundant information offered by the long memory of folk-belief. I have turned, in contrast, to folk-customs and folk-legends and I claim that the material has allowed me to discern the clearly defined form of potent female forces, imperious Ladies of the Woodland, who found their origin at a very early stage of social development. More specifically I assert:

1. The female forces, here discussed, are indeed divinities.
2. Behind the many local manifestations we may recognise one basic form with vivid characteristics.
3. These forces belong to a widely diffused type: they developed from guardians of nature and of animals, found among hunting civilizations, into a more complex godhead, and resemble in this development the ‘Lady of Wild Beasts’ of ancient
4. The forces have arisen in indigenous belief and belong to the North and Northwest
of Europe

Originally Published:

Vol. 95, No. 2 (1984), pp. 151-166