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Ancient Gaelic Women - Priestesses, Wise Women, Herbal Experts, Warriors, Royal Rulers

Updated on April 20, 2012
Christofers Flow profile image

Christofer has been a paralegal for 25 years. He has 4 children and 8 grandchildren. He and his mother studied astrology for over 40 years.

Historic Times SERIES

Because most people learn their history from the back end of a sociology class, or from a venomous comment in a political seminar, many people get the world like this:

"The Greeks were hostile males, who loved each other's company more than their wives. The Roman Catholics were "puftas" who despised women. And before that women were subservient all the time. Aren't you glad we came along to reframe the entirety of human history so that us girls right now could feel valiant, angry and free?"

The Gaelic Woman

First of all, the history of women is far more fascinating than the above characterization. But the point of this article is that Ancient European Gaelic Culture has been found to be much more interesting. First of all, it has been habit to "barbarianize" the Gaelic culture. This is the habit of the Victor in History - The victor being Romanism and Hellenistic superiority. A study of art, weaponry and tradition and archaeology is revealing a very sophisticated, interconnected advanced culture that simply had an emphasis on ORAL tradition instead of WRITTEN.

Gaelic Woman could:

Sue for divorce,

Own land,

Buy and sell real estate portions.

Gaelic Woman could be:

Priestesses, Seers, Medicine Women and Prophetesses.

AND if they wished to, and had the skill and the leadership -- could qualify to be WARRIORS.

Boudicca

Boudicca was the wife of Prasutagus, who was head of the Iceni tribe in East England, in what is now Norfolk and Suffolk.

In 43 CE, the Romans invaded Britain, and most of the Celtic (Gaelic) tribes were forced to submit. However, the Romans allowed two Celtic kings to retain some of their traditional power; one was Prasutagus.

The Roman occupation brought increased Roman settlement, military presence, and attempts to suppress Celtic religious culture. There were major economic changes, including heavy taxes and money lending.

In 47 CE the Romans forced the Ireni to disarm, creating resentment. Prasutagus had been given a grant by the Romans, but the Romans then redefined this as a loan. When Prasutagus died in 60 CE, he left half his kingdom to the Emperor Nero to settle this debt.

The Romans arrived to collect, but instead of settling for half the kingdom, seized control of it. To humiliate the former rulers, the Romans beat Boudicca publicly, raped their two daughters, seized the wealth of many Iceni and sold much of the royal family into slavery. The collected Celtic tribes in that region, planned to revolt and drive out the Romans.

Led by Boudicca, about 100,000 British attacked Camulodunum (now Colchester), where the Romans had their main center of rule. Boudicca's army burned Camulodunum to the ground; only the Roman temple was left. Immediately Boudicca's army turned to the largest city in the British Isles, Londinium (London). Suetonius strategically abandoned the city, and Boudicca's army burned Londinium and massacred the 25,000 inhabitants who had not fled. Archaeological evidence of a layer of burned ash shows the extent of the destruction.

Next, Boudicca and her army marched on Verulamium (St. Albans), a city largely populated by Britons who had cooperated with the Romans, and they were killed as the city was destroyed. Boudicca fought one more battle, though its precise location is not sure. Boudicca's army attacked uphill, and, exhausted, hungry, was easy for the Romans to rout. Roman troops of 1,200 defeated Boudicca's army of 100,000, killing 80,000 to their own loss of 400.

What happened to Boudicca is uncertain. It is said she returned to her home territory and took poison to avoid Roman capture.

Boudicca's story was nearly forgotten until Tacitus' work, Annals, was rediscovered in 1360. Her story became popular during the reign of another English queen who headed an army against foreign invasion, Queen Elizabeth I.

A Sharp Dagger Strapped to her Inner Thigh

The Grandma with a classical education talked one fresh spring morning with her 3 grand daughters. "Now dears, I want you to see how the Ancient Irish girls protected themselves." She put her leg on a chair and pulled up her dress above her knee. She grabbed a sharp knife from the kitchen drawer. "In order to protect their virtue, Ancient Irish maidens would strap a knife like this to their inner thigh."

One of the "correct" Mamas corrected the old crusty Grandma. Her daughter stood up to proect her Grandma. "Mother, we know we can't do that today, but you know what, this makes me feel different about my ancient Irish cousins. They were well prepared to meet all of the challenges that life offered them."

Equal Station Enjoyed by their Women

When the Ancient Romans encountered the Celtic tribes inhabiting Northern Europe, in an area north of the Alps, and extending from Turkey in the east, to Ireland in the west, they were impressed with equal station enjoyed by their women.

Celtic women enjoyed an unusual degree of freedom by standards known in the Ancient and Medieval worlds.

They were renowned for their individuality and courage, and were particularly praised for their qualities of self-respect and independence.

Celtic women could inherit land and title, no less than their male siblings.

A woman could serve as chief of the clan, and enter into battle, just as men did, in time of war.

The ferocity of the Celtic warrior women is the subject of legend.

The Romans were shocked by the sexual liberty enjoyed by Celtic women, who extended what the Celts euphemistically referred to as, "the friendship of the thighs."

Proper Roman matrons, with the false standards of "respectability" imposed upon them by their men folk, found lovers among those prepared to indulge in secret liaisons.

Matrilineal

Due, perhaps, to the sexual liberty of the Celts, succession within their tribes and clans was matrilineal because, amid such general promiscuity, it could be difficult to ascertain who the father of a particular child had been.

A Celtic woman could divorce her husband if he failed to support her, or treat her with respect, if he was impotent, homosexual, sterile, or gossiped about their sex lives.

She could leave him if he was fat, a snorer, or just plain repulsive." from A Toast to the Lassie, by Carson C. Smith.

When you ponder the challenges that modern woman face, there is a similarity to the broad challenging world of the Gaiec(Celtic) woman in her world at her time. Their villages were seasonal oftentimes, and they had to be very flexible, in addition to having the ability to function in society, in love, in leadership, in hunting and in war. The limiting way in which women have been studied for exemplars of Roman and Greco worlds tells women that those societies might be fairly representing roles of women, or not, but it is definitely advisable to work to understand those old worlds with a new breadth and a fresh desire to look at previous exemplars anew. Christofer French adheres to Syncretism, a new way of approaching older traditions.

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    • Christofers Flow profile image
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      Christofer French 5 years ago from Denver

      Thanks for your comment. These things show that women were fully and completely involved in their cultures -- rulership, spiritual and priestly functions along with all of the other things women have done through the ages.

    • profile image

      woman 5 years ago

      There were, according to the sagas of those of the northlands, women of power in ancient times in northerly and germanic lands as well. These women held the spiritual or magical powers, and were seers, weavers, brewers, medics. They were the "angelic" guides and protectors of warriors as Valkyries, the for-see-ers of fates as Norns, queens of the Vanir people as daughters of Freya. Odin had to give one eye and risk being called womanly by Loki, to learn some of the spiritual magic of women, whilst women did not have to sacrifice a body part to be what they were by nature, that is, people of a spiritual bent and highly intuitive.

    • Christofers Flow profile image
      Author

      Christofer French 5 years ago from Denver

      Amen. Women are the better people. They already know much and men are here to discover and learn. It is easy to be defensive, but in the end making women friends betters the man's position and fortune.

    • profile image

      female-traveller 5 years ago

      Great post, thanks for that! Yes, in many ancient cultures women enjoyed the status of being higher or equal to men, even in Africa. Surprisingly when I went to Varanasi museum (BHU) in India I saw many ancient paintings of women drinking alcohol, smoking together with men and enjoying other currently Indian male activity.

      What happened? When in India, for example, invaders started coming, Indian men felt the need to protect the physically weaker female. Then they realised that this protection works to keep women slaves to them, so they never really ended this need to protect women and thus keep them always at home.

      Lots of men are afraid of smarter females, even in the West. If a guy realises that the girl is smarter, he kind of avoids her. How dumb! So in India, for example, guys make sure that never happens by keeping female uneducated.

      I hope that males will mature and females will get more gutsy in certain countries. We all need to express ourselves and not be scared of another sex!

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Yes, ancient Gaelic women were independent, intelligent, and fierce. These women owned their femininity and essence. Ancient Celtic and Germanic societies fostered respect for women as opposed to ancient Greek and Roman societies which denigrated women and elevated men to the status of supreme beings who held autocratic sway over the female population in all areas of life.

    • profile image

      Claire Ireland 6 years ago

      "In 43 CE, the Romans invaded Britain, and most of the Celtic (Gaelic) tribes were forced to submit."

      Good article. But I found one major fault, the terms "Gaelic" and "Celtic" are not interchangeable nor equal in meaning. This is a common mistake made by people who are not Gaelic culturally or whose ancestors left Ireland or Scotland long ago. The Gaels are a group of peoples from Ireland who spread to parts of Scotland and the Isle of Man bringing their culture and laws with them. These Gaels (Gaelic) made little or no surviving impact on the area's we now know as England and Wales, some where found on the fringes of Wales and the SouthWest England at one time. The Celtic tribes of these area's are known as "Brythonic" not Gaelic.

      Boudicca was Brythonic and a Celt but not Gaelic.

      While the original peoples of the British and Irish Isles are genetically similar their cultures diverged thousands of years ago. The similarities of the Brythonic and Gaelic languages are there but they are small, maybe 20% or less, so while they have the same root they are not the same or interchangeable or indeed understood by the other, written or oral.

      So the term Gaelic is only used for peoples of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man who share a common culture. The Gaelic languages are Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic.

      The term Brythonic is used for peoples of lowland Scotland, England, Wales and parts of Northern France. The languages of the Brythonic peoples are Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric and Breton. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_languages

      Our Gaelic ancestors had their own separate legal system, actually the oldest evolved legal system in northern Europe, known as the "Brehon" laws, which would have governed the treatment and attitudes towards women. Irish Gaels took these laws with them to Scotland around 500AD. The oldest fully intact written record that still exists is from the 700's. http://ua_tuathal.tripod.com/testdefault.html.

      In short, while all Gaelic people may be related to their other Celtic cousins not all Celtic peoples are Gaelic, only those who originate in Hibernia (Ireland) are called Gaels (Gaelic). The Gaels have their own language, laws, culture and customs distinct from the Brythonic peoples and other Celtic peoples of Europe. The Term "Gaelic" should not be used as a substitute for the term "Celtic". Indeed current academic thought disputes the term "Celtic" altogether as a historic inaccuracy. It seems the term may have been attributed incorrectly to groups of people around Europe who share a common root but should have been used only to describe a tribe in Europe unrelated to our common ancestors. Never the less I'll still be using the term "Celtic" until they come up with a better one!!!

      So while the irish are Gaelic the Cumbrians or Welsh are not but they are all considered Celtic.

    • Ivorwen profile image

      Ivorwen 7 years ago from Hither and Yonder

      Thank you for this look into the lives of Gaelic women. History, as taught in schools, does tend to be boring and insufficient. I am glad that we don't have to quit learning, once we leave school. Life would be very dull, and our perceptions very warped. :)

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