Germanic Belief: The Value of Women

“… it was customary among the Germans for the household matrons to determine by lots and auguries whether or not they would go to war.” — Caesar, the Gallic Wars

Such is how Germanic women step onto the stage of recorded history; with the power to pronounce divine will in regards to the declaration of war itself. This status is reflected over a century later in Tacitus’ work Germania in which he expands on it,

“… they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and prophecy, and so they do not scorn to ask their advice or lightly disregard their replies. In the reign of the deified Vespasian we saw Veleda long honoured by many Germans as a divinity, whilst even earlier they showed a similar reverence for Aurinia and others, a reverence untouched by flattery or any pretense of turning women into goddesses.” — Tacitus, Germania

We get glimpses of such women as these in Procopious’ tale of a 6th century Anglian princess who forced the Varni-King, Radiger, to honour his marriage contract with her; in Bede’s tale of the 7th century Queen of East Anglia who forced King Raedwald of East Anglia to continue honouring the deities of his folk despite his conversion to Catholicism, and who would later stir him to a victorious war against Northumbria; and of course the famous Anglo-Catholic Lady AEthelflaed of Mercia who came to rule Mercia in her own right during the turbulent 10th century. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxons boasted the first female Catholic saints, and the majority of these came hot on the heels of the conversion when indigenous Germanic attitudes and sentiments were still strong.  

Such powerful female figures as these can further be found even among the North Germanic folk of the Viking Age in the likes of Queen Sigrid of Sweden, and in the various and variety of powerful women found in the Icelandic sagas. Take Hallgerd Hoskuldsdotter of Njal’s saga for example, who arranged the deaths of two husbands she was forced into marriage with, and then contributed to the death of her third husband — of choice this time out! — because he had once slapped her face. While Hallgerd is hardly an example of womanly virtue, she personifies the power and willfullness of the female in elder Germanic society … the degrees they could go and get away with it.

Even in the direct wake of Christianization of all NW Europe, the Germanic people went on producing such powerful female figures as Eleanor of Aquitaine; whose legendary “court of love” allegedly brought about the fusion of the divine feminine and chivalry — and that “courtly love” nonsense — in the poetry of the troubadours. I would of course argue that the “divine feminine” always sat at the heart of native Germanic warrior ethics (see above).

While some might argue that this deals only with exceptional examples of the elder aetheling houses, and does not speak toward the common woman, Tacitus presents us with a more “boots on the ground” view of the value Germanic culture bestowed on women (albeit from the battlefield point of view of an outsider),  

“Close by them, too, are those dearest to them, so that they hear the shrieks of women, the cries of infants. They are to every man the most sacred witnesses of his bravery-they are his most generous applauders. The soldier brings his wounds to mother and wife, who shrink not from counting or even demanding them and who administer food and encouragement to the combatants.

Tradition says that armies already wavering and giving way have been rallied by women who, with earnest entreaties and bosoms laid bare, have vividly represented the horrors of captivity, which the Germans fear with such extreme dread on behalf of their women, that the strongest tie by which a state can be bound is the being required to give, among the number of hostages, maidens of noble birth.”

Such sentiments regarding the value of women are further reflected, most reliably, in the laws and customs of old. By Anglo-Saxon law for example, a woman was recognized as oath-worthy and capable of filing suit. Legal fines owed her for wrong-doing were paid directly to her, she could own land and both receive and assign inheritance, she could divorce (though rarely did so), marriage dowries were paid to her and remained in her possession and control, and yes, divorce entitled her to half of everything; though she was recognized as much as a producer and contributor to the general weal of the household as the husband. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxon words lord and lady (as an informal recognition of the heads of a household) meant “loaf protector” and “loaf-maker” respectively. while prior to the 13th century, the word man was indicative of species and not gender; the latter of which was indicated by such prefixes as wera (male) and wifa (female).

While the status of women was indeed diminished under the Middle Eastern born Abrahamic values imposed by the Church — to the point that ultimately they were no longer legally recognized as “persons” — the native temperament of Celto-Germanic women could not over-time be erased, thus leading in more recent historical times to a reassertion of their legal rights and cultural value. Indeed, NW Euro-descended women have acted as the authors and heralds of women’s rights for the modern world.

Not to unduly extol the virtues of modern feminism. While “butches”, ie. girls who wanted to do guy things, were not unknown among the ancestors, and relatively accepted, they were certainly not the norm, and modern “fundie feminism” has likely done more to devalue traditional female roles in society than the “oppressive white patriarchy” ever did. One would think that an insistence on the recognition of the value of these roles would have been more in order, as opposed to an adoption of male roles as the only roles worthy of anyone’s time. And speaking of the “male role”; too often the contribution that powerful males made to the cause of women’s rights goes completely over-looked, as though women rose up and forced the oppressive men of yore to relinquish their “monopoly on power” in some bloody “slave revolt” … which betrays itself of course in the very fact that those who have a monopoly on power, and don’t want to give it up, are pretty much in the exact position they need to be in to NOT give it up. In some places in the world if the oppressed speak out, the powerful simply shoot them in the head or stone them to death or whatever. It’s that simple where there is a great disparity of power and the powerful lack of sympathy for the powerless.

It should also be explicitly noted here that the modern fundie feminist has not been the eternal victim she makes her and her fellow flat-earth “sisters” out to be, but is in fact merely re-claiming something that was once, more-or-less, firmly in her possession. And which she only lost because of that famous value indigenous Germanic culture places on the counsels of women; which the Church used to facilitate the conversion of more than one king via arranged marriages between Heathen kings and Catholic princesses.

But all broadstroke finger pointing aside, we men and women of Germanic descent are all in this together. We know this in our hearts … that the “battle of the sexes” is, inevitably, a fraud that can have no winner. And you don’t let the “enemy” define you, your relationships, or your values. By indigenous Germanic values, our women … our mothers and grandmothers, our sisters and cousins, our daughters and nieces, our spouses and girlfriends, and those of our friends and neighbours … these things are sacred.

One profanes the sacred at their own risk.

“… to have had knowledge of a woman before the twentieth year they (the Germans) reckon among the most disgraceful acts; of which matter there is no concealment, because they bathe promiscuously in the rivers and [only] use skins or small cloaks of deer’s hides, a large portion of the body being in consequence naked.” — Caesar, the Gallic Wars

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Germanic Belief: The Value of Women

  1. Green Muse

    When Caesar writes, “to have had knowledge of a woman before the twentieth year” does he mean that a woman under the age of twenty is disgraceful, or is he referring to the age of the man? Does “having knowledge” mean seeing a woman’s body, or does he mean having sex? Or, is there no way to know what he meant exactly, and it is open to some interpretation?

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    1. jameybmartin Post author

      I think that the context indicates a reference to the male, but would thus include the female both by inference and evidence (Tacitus, Germania) that “age compatibility” was a factor in their thinking.

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  2. jameybmartin Post author

    We might question Caesar on this of course, as there simply is no general cultural preoccupation with virginity found in the lore, generally. But we would probably be wiser to question the details, ie. the age of 20. In fact, the separation between genders at the onset of puberty is a fairly wide-spread phenomenon among tribal people. For young Germanic males, this meant a complete removal, both symbolic and literal, from human society and social context … being forced into the wild to learn the ways of survival in a harsh world and be indoctrinated with the laws and customs of one’s community. From boy to wolf to man. The gist of the pan-Indo-European customs of initiating young males into manhood can be seen in the opening segments of the movie 300, where it tells the tale of Leonidas’ youthful ordeal. Certainly much of this training did not leave a youth in a position to “have knowledge of a woman”. And indeed, this state of being was also marked by what might be called a “badge of shame”. Tacitus mentions a lack of grooming of hair and beard, the wearing of a choke-ring. So, even when such youths were physically among the tribe they would be marked out as “ineligible”, by the same dynamics that status symbols mark a man out as eligible. For all of that, youths earned their place at the table of the men when they earned it. I doubt that there was any arbitrary age.

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