Mōdraniht or Modranicht (pronounced [ˈmoːdrɑniçt]; Old English for "Night of the Mothers" or "Mothers' Night") was an event held at what is now Christmas Eve by heathen Anglo-Saxon. The event is solely attested by the medieval English historian Bede in his eighth-century Latin work De temporum ratione. It has been suggested that sacrifices may have occurred during this event. Scholars have proposed connections between the Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht and events attested among other Germanic peoples (specifically those involving the dísir, collective female ancestral beings, and Yule), and the Germanic Matres and Matronae, female beings attested by way of altar and votive inscriptions, nearly always appearing in trios.
In De temporum ratione, Bede writes that the pagan Anglo-Saxons:
Incipiebant autem annum ab octavo Calendarum Januariarum die, ubi nunc natale Domini celebramus. Et ipsam noctem nunc nobis sacrosanctam, tunc gentili vocabulo Modranicht, id est, matrum noctem appellabant: ob causam et suspicamur ceremoniarum, quas in ea pervigiles agebant.
Theories and interpretations
Scholars have linked these Modra ("Mothers") with the Germanic Matres and Matronae. Rudolf Simek says that Mōdraniht "as a Germanic sacrificial festival should be associated with the Matron cult of the West Germanic peoples on the one hand, and to the dísablót and the Disting already known from medieval Scandinavia on the other hand and is chronologically to be seen as a connecting link between these Germanic forms of cult."
Simek provides additional discussion about the connection between Mōdraniht, the dísir, and the norns. Scholars have placed the event as a part of the Germanic winter period of Yule.
Regarding Bede's attestation, Philip A. Shaw commented in 2011 that "the fact that Bede's modranect can be to some extent confirmed by the Romano-Germanic votive inscriptions to matrons does at least indicate that we should not be too quick to dismiss the other evidence he provides for Anglo-Saxon deities".
- ^ Giles (1843:178).
- ^ Wallis (1999:53). Note that the first element of the phrase matrum noctem is here translated with "mother's", whereas it is plural: a translation "mothers' night" is therefore more accurate.
- ^ Simek (2007:205–207) and Herbert (2007:24).
- ^ Simek (2007:220).
- ^ Simek (2007:205–207).
- ^ Orchard (1997:187).
- ^ Shaw (2011:61).
- Giles, John Allen (1843). The Complete Works of the Venerable Bede, in the Original Latin, Collated with the Manuscripts, and Various Print Editions, Accompanied by a New English Translation of the Historical Works, and a Life of the Author. Vol. VI: Scientific Tracts and Appendix. London: Whittaker and Co., Ave Maria Lane.
- Herbert, Kathleen (2007). Looking for the Lost Gods of England. Anglo-Saxon Books. ISBN 1-898281-04-1
- Orchard, Andy (1997). Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-34520-2
- Shaw, Philip A. (2011). Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World. Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 978-0-7156-3797-5
- Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D. S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-513-1
- Wallis, Faith (Trans.) (1999). Bede: The Reckoning of Time. Liverpool University Press. ISBN 0-85323-693-3