Demystifying the Nine Sorceresses at the Center of Time
Myths, folklore ancient songs and poems present the number ‘nine’ as being connected with the underworld, and this has been extended into modern pop culture. There were ‘nine circles of Hell’ in Dante's Divine Comedy ; in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth men were given ‘nine rings of power’ and in Roman Polanski’s 1999 mystery thriller The Ninth Gate, the protagonist played by Johnny Depp, embarks on a dark esoteric quest through nine levels of Biblical mystery.
Hesiod and the Muse by Gustave Moreau (1891) - Mus ée d'Orsay, Paris . ( Public Domain )
While the literary devices of nine gates, nine circles and nine rings dominate modern fictional writings, in ancient times, religions, myths, legends, songs, poems and stories featured groups of nine goddesses, mothers, maidens, daughters, sisters and sorceresses and to understand what these nine females originally represented, one must look to ancient Greece.
Questing the Ancient Origins of Nine Supernatural Females
In ancient Greek mythology, according to an account written by Hesiod about 600 BC, the ‘Nine Muses’ were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyn (‘Memory’ personified). Regarded as the personification and source of the secret knowledge embodied in song, mime, writing, traditional music and poetry they later featured in the Roman pantheon. In 43 AD Pomponius Mela, the earliest Roman geographer, wrote about: “a group of nine sorceresses… on an island in the west in the Britannic Sea… famous for its oracle, whose priestesses, sanctified by perpetual virginity are reportedly nine in number.”
Pomponius Mela's map of Europe, printed by F. Nansen in 1911. The Britannic Sea can be seen in the upper left. ( Public Domain )
Scholar George Kish, in his 1978 book A Source Book in Geography, detailed Mela’s description of the nine sorceresses: “they have been endowed with unique powers, they stir up the seas and winds by their magic charms, that they turn into whatever animals they want, that they cure what is incurable among other peoples, that they know and predict the future.” Mela’s 1st century account recorded the supernatural attributes most often associated with the nine females within world myths, which were: island dwellers, shape shifters, healers, controllers of the weather and the ability to predict future events.
In Scotland, according to James Cargill Guthrie’s 1875 book Legend of the Nine Maidens , when the 8th century Saint Donald of Ogilvy died, King Garnard of the Picts granted his daughters, the ‘Holy Nine Virgins’, lodgings in a monastery
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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history . www.ashleycowie.com.
Top Image: Apollo and the Muses by Robert Sanderson (1848 – 1908) ( Public Domain )
By Ashley Cowie