Many years ago, in the group of women I work with, we all had a marvelous epiphany. It was spontaneous combustion that fueled our collective desire to learn about the “Nine Maidens.” It was as though some unknown force was driving all of us to seek out and to know.
I would like to share what we collected:
“… My poetry, from the cauldron it was uttered. From the breath of nine maidens it was kindled….”
“… yg kynneir or peir pan leferit. O anadyl naw morwyngochyneuit.”
(Preiddeu Annwn or The Spoils of Annwyn from ‘Llyfr Taliesin’ 9th to 12th c. CE.)
Anadyl = breath
These lines are from the poem, the Spoils of Annwyn, where Arthur and seven knights raid the rotating island fortress of Caer Sidi in the Otherworld for possession of the Cauldron of the Head.
The Nine (maidens, sisters, goddesses) is an archetypal group seen frequently in the Norse and Celtic religions.
An article, “The nine sisters and the axis mundi”, describes parallels to the story of the Nine Maidens in other European literature, In Prose Edda, a medieval Icelandic poem, there is a reference to the “nine skerry brides.” In this story, the Nine live in a mill, the source of wealth and abundance, and represent the world. In Finland, a similar cosmic mill with nine locks is called the Sampo. This “World Mill” is related to the idea of the Axis Mundi, the center axis on which the Earth turns, and analogous to the celestial axis.
The Sampo, like Yggdrasill, the Norse world tree, has three roots that stretch out into the worlds. The very word Sampo has its origins in the Sanskrit skambha, meaning pillar or support.
These World Mills and World Trees are associated with water and wells at their roots, or with connections to floods and the sea, all of which seem to symbolize the deep knowledge connected to the element of water.
Heimdall was the warrior son of nine sisters. This comes from the poem Voeluspa him skamma, and in one version the word ividju, plural for the nine maidens, can be translated at “troll-wife”, a woman of divine or supernatural provenance.
This may originally have meant something like “she who dwells in the woods.” It would closely resemble another interpretation of the word, “twigs’ or ‘wands.” The word for “World Tree” is mjoetvid, literally ‘measuring tree’ is a reference to the way that Yggdrasill encompasses and limits the whole of the cosmos.
The lines of the poem could then be read, “I remember nine homes, nine tree women of the measuring-tree” (The nine homes being the nine worlds of the Norse cosmos.)
The nine “ividi” could also be translated as nine “branches.” The is a suggestion that there is suggestion of the Nine Maidens and Mothers of Heimdall as waves of the sea, “because of the tradition that every ninth wave is bigger and stronger than the eight preceding it.”
- The Hindu God Agni, God of Fire had nine mothers.
- The Nine brides of the cosmic mill,
- The nine locks on the door of Sampo, another cosmic mill,
- The Nine Tree women who dwell in Yggdrasil,
- The Nine Maidens whose breath fuels the Cauldron of Rebirth,
- The legend of Morgen of Avalonian who lived at Ynys Avallach with her Nine Healing Sisters,
- The Nine Priestesses of the coastal isles of Brittany,
- Brighid with her sacred fire that is tended by between nine and nineteen Sisters,
- The Nine Fylgjur, clad in White, who represent the well-being and luck of a family.
- The Nine Disir clad in black are often related to the Three Nornir, who dwell at the root of Yggdrasil and are concerned with the fate of the worlds and who, when we add the Furies and the Graces, become Nine.
The Carmina Gadelica brings us a blessing of protection that is three and nine and three again:
The Sacred Three:
This Eve, This Night, Oh this Night
And every night
Each single night.
The Power of Nine by Dearbhaile Bradley
“Oh you maidens, numbered nine,
Who dance your way cross
Land and time: witches, sisters
What’s your wisdom?
What can you teach us?
Nine skerry-brides powered the mill,
Ground out the world
From the ice giant’s bones.
Nine sisters were nine mothers
To the hero Hiemidalir.
Nine Valkerie bring the brave to Valhalla,
As nine Morgana guide Arthur to Avalon.
There’s nine maiden mountains,
And nine maiden wells,Nine maidens painted on a cave in Cogal,
Nine witches of Caer Lyow,
Nine sisters of Mont Dol,
Nine ladies of Stanton Moor,
Nine maiden circles at Maldron,
Boskaden, Tregaseal, Waldron,
Nine druidesses of the Isle of Sien,
Nine who dance the Full Moon Rites,
Nine maenads and nine muses,
And then, with Cerridwen,
There’s nine whose breath kindles the fire
That heats the potion with the power to inspire
With Wisdom, Knowledge and Prophesy,
The initiate, willing to risk
All that they are in the name of truth.
In time, out of time, by time, through time,
Everywhere you look you find them.
Thrice times three, trinity or trinities,
Over and again in myth and legend
These nine maidens weave their enchantment.
What’s their secret? What’s the mystery?
What do we learn from nine maidens’ histories?
Nine is the number of initiation.
Nine is the number of endings and beginnings.
Nine is the number of inspiration.
Nine is the number of transformation.
Nine moons to bring forth a babe.
Nine planets spinning round.
Nine dimensions to time.
Nine is the centre of all things.
Nine is the still point in the wind.
Thrice time triple, nine-fold magical,
The power of three by the power of three
Can bind the world to our will.
Oh, you maidens who ever weave
In and out the fabric
Of time and place and story,
Guardians, in all your guises,
You nine whose sacred breath
Warms the cauldron of Cerridwen,
I stand before you now
Calling on your power.
I am a willing initiate
And I would drink
Of the cauldron of inspiration,
Of the potion of truth,
Open to the wisdom
Of those who’ve gone before.
I would know the nature of Awen,
Flowing of spirit,
Essence of life in motion.
Speak to me now.
Speak through me now.
Speak with the true voice of prophesy.
However we have called on you before
We have never needed you more.
‘You have chosen this incarnation
To be part of the transformation,
Of this sick “civilisation”,
Of an end to waste
And an end to greed
And the dawning understanding
Of what you truly need.
Listen to your hearts
Find the truth that’s beating there.
Open to your longing
For right living in the world.
Know that it is possible
For the point of power is now.
These are the most important things:
Hold your vision. Love with passion.
Speak you truth, and also listen.
Open to the dreams that call you
To a truer manifestation
Of the spirit of creation
And honouring of sacredness.
It is time to own your power.
Heed the maidens’ message.
Thrice times triple, nine-fold magical
The power of three by the power of three
Can bind the world to your will.”
The mysteries of the Cauldron represent the inner and sacred teachings of creation, transformation, and regeneration. The Cauldron is the holy vessel for offerings to the powers of the Great Goddess. Its chief power is that of spiritual and physical transformation. The Cauldron bestows wisdom, knowledge, and inspiration.
In the Celtic myth the Cauldron of Cerridwen was warmed by the breath of nine maidens and produced a brew that conferred inspiration. The Cauldron was located in the realm of the Underworld and, according to the poem “The Spoils of Annwn” the breath of nine maidens kindled the fire beneath it.
The roots of the word inspiration speak of breathing ‘life’ itself into something; as in myth many references are made to the divine blowing life into clay. For us to write, compose, dance or create anything artistically we seek to imbue that creation with a ‘life’ of its own. To give breath and soul to our creation, we appeal to the goddess that She might favor us with the ability to infuse ‘life’ into our creation.
Here at approaching Equinox, winds move upon the land. The March wind blows away dead leaves that cover the earth, exposing the soil to the new light. Our concept of Spirit is linked as a metaphor with the breath – “breath hovers over the waters.” The wind is seen as a great power behind the natural world and becomes that power’s creative spirit. A strong gust of wind suggests an infusion of creative potential. The Tuatha Dé Danann, who are the Old Gods of the Celtic people, suddenly appeared in Ireland out of the air, on wind-borne clouds. The Cauldron of creativity is fanned (inspired) by the breath of nine maidens who are seen as the Goddess in her ninefold manifestation. To the ancient peoples of the world, life was not thought to begin until a newborn child took its first breath, thus being infused with the spirit of the Goddess, life began.
As the year unfolds, we find that the “wind over the sea” follows logically after the bursting-forth of the “lake over the plain.” The waters have escaped the abyss, bringing the essence of fertility, but this fertility is still inert and without known purpose. Now the Goddess as a Divine Wind must breathe herself into this potential, bringing growth. What this means to us, is that we must now open ourselves to this gift of the life giving breath of the Goddess. It is now time to contemplate this creativity and how we will resume conscious action in our lives.
For Spring, we invoke the essence of these Nine Maidens, the Goddess in Her nine-fold manifestation, to aid us as we breathe life into our creations.
I am a child of the Earth.
I live and breathe, walk and dance upon Her face.
She is my source and I learn from Her each day. This I know…
Life begins in the dark as Desire.
Deep in that dark place life begins to form, taking root and becoming…..
As life stirs…… deep in the Mother’s Belly,
there is a gentle quickening, movement
that alerts us to a “knowing”
of the presence of something yet to come.
As the Earth prepares Herself with warmth,
the rains and waters come and flood the land,
nourishing the soil in which She is creating new life.
Earth and Water and Fire
come together and Form continues to take shape.
One last thing is needed.
Just as new form emerges,
She breathes Air upon it.
Her Breath, giving Life to all that She has nurtured.
Earth and Water and Fire and now, Air
Breathing life into all, we open to Her gift.
Her Breath ~ http://herbreath.com
May the Nine Maidens breathe life into your Spring. May your life blossom in beauty.
The Women of the Apple Branch, especially Mut Danu, HPS
Jones, Mary, website at http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t30.html
Welsh dictionary at http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/03/daniel/welsh/earlywelshdd.html
Stone, Alby. “The Nine Sisters and the Axis Mundi”. Originally published in Mercian Mysteries No. 16 Aug. 1993. http://www.indigogroup.co;uk/edge:9sisters.htm
Nine Maidens and Avalon at: http://www.haverford.edu/engl/faculty/maudwebpage/WebArthur/spoils/old%20spoils/kaczmarekavalon.htm
Carmina Gadelica translation: http://www.faeryshaman.org/es62/es62arc3.htm
Deanne Quarrie. D. Min. is a Priestess of the Goddess. She is the author of five books. She is the founder of the Apple Branch where she teaches courses in Feminist Dianic Witchcraft, Northern European Witchcraft and Druidic Shamanism. She mentors those who wish to serve others in their communities. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Ocean Seminary College and is the founder of Global Goddess, a worldwide organization open to all women who honor some form of the divine feminine.