Ancient Women Shamans of Ireland: Healers, Priestesses and Diviners
All around the world many of the oldest ceremonial megalithic sites are associated with women shamans and oracular tradition and prophecy.
A good example of this is Napta Playa which was linked to Hathor and her priestesses. These shamanic women, known as The Prophets of Hathor, practiced divination and magic. A Hathor priest could also be a man, although many of the duties such as childbirth, fertility, and specific types of magic were the responsibility of women only.
Feminine Energy Abounds at the Temple of Tentyra
This tradition later migrated into Egypt and the Temple of Tentyra at Dendera, where it is said the site was chosen because of its already existing feminine energy.
Infamously, the temple was later vandalized by Christians when many of the statues of Hathor were defaced.
Temple of Tentyra, Dendera. (AnnaReinert /Adobe)
Parallels of Prophecy and Visions Unveiled
Another ancient lineage of shamanic women is the Moura Encantada, who are usually associated with Mediterranean Europe, but recent evidence has discovered that they may have also existed much further north. Many researchers see strong parallels with the Volur of Nordic and Germanic regions. Some similar motifs include the power of prophecy, trance visions, spinning time, and accessing the past, present, and future. These women were also known for their medicinal knowledge and the power to travel to the realm of the Otherworld.
A moura-fiandeira carried Pedra Formosa on her head while she was spinning time. (Henrique Matos / Public Domain)
There is an interesting connection to the Australian spirits, the Mimi. These fairies were said to live in rocky places and were the beings who taught the indigenous people skills such as food preparation and art.
How Were the Megalithic Sites Used?
Many of the most famous Irish megalithic sites are dated to at least 3500 BC. We know that like many others, Irish monuments have an astronomical function and are aligned to the sun, moon, and stars. There are also recorded alignments to Sirius, Venus, and the Pleiades, for example, all of which have associations with spirit beings named in folklore and mythology as gods, goddesses, and teachers of human beings. We can also find many sites that are places said to evoke access to the Otherworld and spirit ancestors.
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Megalithic sites in Ireland can be linked with prophetic women. (swen_stroop /Adobe)
When the Celts and other later people arrived in Ireland, they used these ancient sites to bury the ashes of their own dead. We can speculate about other ritualistic functions based on commonalities with other cultures, but it is hard to definitively state what these were.
The question must then be asked, if other megalithic sites around the world were associated with prophetic women and female shamans, can we say that this may have also been the case in Ireland?
Prophecy Through Poetry and the Journeying Trance
Ancient Irish texts mention the Druí, fáithi, fili, and fénnidi who all were said to be able to communicate with spirits and, through trance, enter the Otherworld.
There is also a particular type of journeying trance called Imbas forosnai, which can be described as a method of prophecy and shamanic ability practiced by certain ‘poets’ of ancient Ireland.
Power through poetry (fotorince / Adobe)
It is when we discover the term ‘poet’ that we might consider digging a little deeper into this deliberately chosen description. According to Irish tradition this may refer to either ‘normal’ poetry, which can be memorized, or that of a ‘received’ poetry, which was understood as being a power or gift given by the Gods and Goddesses of the Otherworld itself.
Chanting – Spirits Speaking Through the Seer
In Max Dashu’s recent work, ‘ Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700-1100’ the author writes about how there are many prophetic mentions in the Norse sagas beginning with the line, “And a chant came to her lips.” This distinguishes the poem or song from being routine and means that the spirits are speaking through the seer. This also parallels what researchers believe about the Irish seers.
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Woman Chanting in a Forest. (Andrey Kiselev /Adobe)
The Many Ways of Traveling to Reach Wisdom
These women shamans traveled into the wilder places alone in order to receive this wisdom. This type of divination is worldwide from South America to Australia (in many cases there are separate sacred sites for men and women in Aboriginal societies), indigenous vision quests and ‘Well-Wyrding,’ which is a practice where women would visit a holy well or sacred spring on certain nights and divine prophecy based upon the movement and sound of the water. For many contemporary seers and witches this might be the night of a dark moon or perhaps when a particular star constellation is at its zenith.
This type of spirit contact was so widespread that a Christian law in 1178 was created to ban women from going out alone in order to receive these prophecies.
This divination technique is a very similar practice to that of how women druids would go out into the wild alone and listen to the sound of the wind through sacred trees or visit mounds and megaliths in order to receive visions from the ancestors. All of these concepts are shamanic in origin and nature, and although compartmentalized through language and culture, really transcend any attempt at categorization.
Top image: Gothic queen in red dress doing magic. Women shamans are a common feature aroudn the ancient world. Source: (Andrey Burmakin /Adobe)
By David Halpin
David Halpin is a writer from Carlow, Ireland. He compiles local folklore and documents alignments between ancient monuments near his home in Ireland, and is a regular contributor to Ancient Origins and various Fortean and occult websites. Join him for virtual and physical guided tours of ancient Irish sites at @CircleStoriesDavidHalpin
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