In Annals Book 1, chapter 51, Tacitus records a massacre of people of the Cherusci, Chatti and Marsi and total destruction of the celeberrimum illis gentibus templum quod Tamfanæ vocabunt ("the temple . . . of Tamfana, as they called it, the special resort of all those tribes"). The previous chapter states that the location was in the territory of the Marsi.
There is no undisputed testimony of this goddess besides the passage in Tacitus. An inscription Tamfanae sacrum was found in Terni, but is considered a falsification by Pyrrhus Ligorius. She is also mentioned, as Zamfana, in the supposed Old High German lullaby, which was accepted by Jacob Grimm but is now also considered a forgery.
Since fana is Latin for "temples," it has been suggested that it was a temple to a god Tan, shortened from the German word for a pine-tree, Tanne, or that the first element meant "collective." The division of the word was rejected by Grimm among others; he called the name "certainly German," the -ana ending being also found in Hludana, Bertana, Rapana, and Madana.
The passage is one of few to contradict Tacitus' own statement in Germania that the Germanic tribes did not have temples. Wilhelm Engelbert Giefers proposed that Tanfana derived from tanfo, cognate with Latin truncus, and referred to a grove on the site of the Eresburg, related to the Irminsul.
Many suggestions have been made about the goddess' name and nature. Grimm was unable to interpret it, but suggested variously that it was connected to Stempe, a name of Berchte, that she was named for an association with a sieve, and, based on the now discredited lullaby, that her name meant "bountiful, merciful." Based on folklore and toponymy, Friedrich Woeste proposed that the name was cognate with German zimmern and meant "builder" or "nourisher"; based on the season at which the festival and the Roman attack took place, Karl Müllenhoff proposed she was a goddess of harvest plenty, properly *Tabana, cognate with Greek words for "expenditure" and (hypothetically) "unthrifty"; others added Icelandic and Norwegian words for "fullness, swelling," "to stuff," and "large meal." A. G. de Bruyn, a scholar of Oldenzaal folklore, returned to splitting the name into Tan and fana on toponymic grounds and because of a stamp dated 1336 found near Ommen that shows a woman holding a fir tree flanked by a sun symbol and a catlike creature and a bird; he proposed that she was a moon or a mother goddess, perhaps related to the Carthaginian goddess Tanit. He and more recently Rudi Klijnstra relate Tanfana, or Tan, to legends surrounding de Groote Steen te Oldenzaal (the Big Stone at Oldenzaal) in the area of Overijssel; the stone was originally located on a hill called Tankenberg, the highest point in the area, but was later moved into the city.
- Translation by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, online at Tufts University Perseus Project. The sole manuscript has a with a nasalization sign above it and can therefore be read either Tamfanæ or Tanfanæ.
- Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, tr. James Steven Stallybrass, volume 1, London: Bell, 1882, p. 80, note 1.
- Jacob Grimm, "Über die Göttin Tanfana," Monatsberichte der Berliner Akademie March 10, 1859, pp. 254–58, repr. in Kleinere Schriften, ed. Karl Müllenhoff, volume 5 Berlin: Dümmler, 1871, pp. 418–21, p. 418 (German)
- Thomas Smith, ed. Francis Smith, Arminius: A History of the German People and of their Legal and Constitutional Customs, from the Days of Julius Caesar to the Time of Charlemagne, London: Blackwood, 1861, OCLC 34219379, p. 126. Smith believes it was a Wotanfana, a temple of Wodan.
- Johannes Bühler, Deutsche Geschichte volume 1 Urzeit, Bauerntum und Aristokratie bis um 1100, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1934, repr. 1960, p. 371 note (German)
- "Über das Wort Liude," Archiv für Geschichte und Alterthumskunde Westphalens 1.4 (1826) 114, repr. in Kleinere Schriften volume 6 Berlin: Dümmler, 1882, p. 374 (German)
- Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 1, p. 257.
- Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 1, pp. 79–80, 84.
- E. O. G. Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964, OCLC 3264532, p. 236.
- Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 4 (Supplement), London: Bell, 1883, pp. 1311–12.
- Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 1, p. 278.
- Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 3, London: Bell, 1883, p. 1109, note 1.
- Grimm, "Über die Göttin Tanfana," p. 419.
- Friedrich Woeste, "Spuren weiblicher Gottheiten in den Überlieferungen der Grafschaft Mark," Zeitschrift für deutsche Mythologie 1 (1853) 384–96, 2 (1855), 81–99, pp. 385–88 (German)
- Karl Müllenhoff, "Verderbte Namen bei Tacitus," Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum 9 (1853) 223–61, pp. 258–59 and "Tanfana," Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum 23 (1879) 23–25 (German); Rudolf Koegel, Geschichte der deutschen Literatur bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters, reported in Hans Krahe, "Tamfana," PBB 58 (1934) 282–87, p. 287 (German)
- A. G. de Bruyn, Geesten en goden in oud Oldenzaal, n.p., 1929, OCLC 64372573 (Dutch)
- Rudi Klijnstra, Tanfana, de Twentse Godin: haar mythen, legenden & heilige plaatsen, Hengelo: Annwn, 2007, ISBN 978-90-902155-6-3, excerpts online at RunningFox.nl (Dutch)