Nine maidens (mythology)

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Many cultures around the world have stories about groups of nine women. In Great Britain they occur in a variety of situations. In Scotland there are references to Nine Maidens, purportedly a group of,[1] and there were a number of wells dedicated to them,[2] but like all similar groupings would appear to have had their origin in pre-Christian times. In Arthurian material, the best known of these groups are the Nine sorceresses, Morgan and her sisters who live on the Isle of Avalon and are both seeresses and healers.[3] Another group occur in the Welsh tale of Peredur son of Efrawg, and these are the armed witches of Caer Lyow.[4] Also in Welsh mythology, we have nine maidens who tend the fire below the Cauldron of the "Chief of Annwfn"; this cauldron is the target of Arthur’s raid on the Underworld in Taliesin’s famous poem Preiddeu Annwfn.


Groups of Nine Maidens crop up in the Icelandic tales of Thidrandi[5] and in Brand’s saga, in the story of Svipdagr, as Valkyries [6] and as the daughters of the sea goddess Rán.

Norse mythology[edit]

In Norse mythology, the watcher god of Valhalla, Heimdallr is said to be born of nine mothers,[7] and they are also associated with the World-Mill which created the known universe from the bodies of the Ice Giants slain by Odin and his companions.[8]

The sea-god Njörðr and the jotun Ægir (whose domain is also the sea) each have nine daughters.


The Anglo-Saxon Charm Against a Kernel refers to a character called Noðþe with nine sisters.


An echo of the daughters of Rán appears in the Irish tale of Ruad, Son of Rig-Donn, in which he is stopped at sea by nine giant maidens with whom he has a child.[9]

In Ireland, the attendants at St Brigid’s sacred fire at Kildare are sometimes said to be nine, though sometimes nineteen. Brigid also is said to have gone to Scotland with Nine Maidens to found Abernethy, just as Monenna is said to have come from Ireland with nine female companions.[10] St Brigid appears to have been modelled on the earlier goddess figure Brìde, who was also indigenous to Scotland [11][12] and may well have been the tutelary goddess of the Brigantes in North West England.[13]

Beyond Britain, the nine occur in the Breton story of the Korrigan,[14] who along with her nine attendants lured unwary men to their deaths and in the tradition of the Gallicenae; the Nine Maidens[14] who lived on the Isle du Sein, latterly known as the Isle of the Druidesses.

Greek Mythology[edit]

In Greek mythology, the Muses were originally thought to have been a whole series of different groups who, like their counterparts in Scotland, are associated with mountains and wells.[15] Robert Graves in The Greek Myths drew attention to a similarity between groups of ecstatic Maenads and the cave painting form El Cogul Roca Dels Moros near Lerida in Catalonia which has nine women dancing round a spectacularly priapic male.


In Kenya, the Kikuyu people claim descent from nine sisters [16] who, like many other such groupings, are associated with a mountain – Mount Kilimanjaro - and a single powerful male figure.

Female figures linked to groups of nine women[edit]

Brìde – goddess in England, Ireland and Scotland who was the origin of the Irish St Brigid

Cailleach – The Winter Hag aspect of the Mother Goddess in Scotland. Similarly known in Ireland

Cerridwen – the Welsh Goddess who had a cauldron of poetry and inspiration

Monenna – an early Scottish saint who supposedly had chapels on Dumbarton, Edinburgh and Stirling Rocks, and Traprain Law – all important Dark Age sites.

Morgan - the leader of the nine sisters of Avalon linked to King Arthur.

Rán - Norse goddess of the sea

Male figures associated with groups of nine women[edit]

  • Apollo - Sun god of the ancient Greeks who was said to have a had a temple in Hyperborea – theel and beyond the north wind. This temple has been located by commentators at Calanais and Stonehenge.
  • King Arthur – the medieval romantic once and future king was based on earlier legendary material amongst P-Celtic peaking peoples of north west Europe. Including in Scotland.
  • Gikuyu - traditional founder of the Kikuyu people of Kenya.
  • Heimdallr – the watcher god of Asgard and the progenitor of the human species.
  • Njörðr - god of the sea.
  • Ægir - sea-jotun in Norse myth.
  • Saint Donald of Ogilvy - Scottish Saint, had 9 virgin daughters, his feast day is July 15th.


  1. ^ Forbes, AP. Kalendars of Scottish Saints 1872, Edinburgh, p420
  2. ^ Mackinlay, J F. Traces of the Cultus of the Nine Maidens Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1910 pp255-65
  3. ^ Parry, JJ. The Vita Merlini 1925, University of Illinois Press, p27
  4. ^ Jones,G & Jones T. 1993, The Mabinogion Everyman p164
  5. ^ Jones, G. Eirik the Red and other Icelandic Sagas 1961, Oxford University Press, p160
  6. ^ Grimm, J. 1880-88, Teutonic Mythology vol 1, p421
  7. ^ Davidson, HRE. 1990, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe p175
  8. ^ Mackenzie, DA. 1995, Teutonic Myth and Legend Senate p4
  9. ^ Gwynn, E. (ed),1903-35, The Metrical Dinshenchas Royal Irish Academy, vol 2, p27
  10. ^ Forbes. AP. 1872, Kalendars of Scottish Saints' Edinburgh, p404
  11. ^ Chadwick, H. 1949, Early Scotland Cambridge, pxii
  12. ^ Leslie, J. 1888-95, Historie of Scotland Vol. 1, p229
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b Spence, L. 1977(repr), The Legends and Romances of Brittany London, p59
  15. ^ McHardy, SA. 2003, The Quest for the Nine Maidens Edinburgh, p123 ff
  16. ^ Kenyatta, J. 1979, Facing Mount Kenya: The Traditional Life of the Gikuyu London, p3