ERTAIN descriptions of early magical practices among Germanic
_ and Celtic tribes are often used somewhat misleadingly as a starting-point for the examination of witchcraft in Anglo-Saxon England. Caesar's remarks on the religious observances of the Gauls have been quoted so frequently for this purpose that they tend to overshadow his summary of the less interesting and less titillating customs of the Germans:
Germani multum ab hac consuetudine dijferunt. Nam neque druides habent, qui rebus divinis praesint, neque sacrifiis student. Deorum numero eos solos ducunt, quos cernunt et quorum aperte opibus iuvantur, Solem et Vulcanum et ~L.unam> reliquos ne fama quidem acceperunt. Vita omnis in venationibus atque in studiis rei militaris consistit; ab parvulis labori ac duritiae student,1
Two centuries later Tacitus examined these customs in greater detail and, in his attempt to identify and place varying practices, described tribes settled in areas from which men later emigrated to England. It is now generally considered unwise to accept even this more precise evidence as indicative of conditions in early Anglo-Saxon England unless corroborative evidence can be found, but one sentence in the Germania deserves attention:
Inesse quin etiam sanctum aliquid et providum putanty nec aut consilia earum asper-nantur aut responsa neglegunt.2
This statement could well be used as the first link in a long chain of references testifying the important position women held in some Germanic tribes, but its relevance to the conditions of Anglo-Saxon England is questionable. Certainly there are many instances of powerful priestesses, mediators between men and the divine, among continental Germanic tribes in the first seven centuries a.d.,3 yet there is neither Old English word for nor mention of such women.4
Some form of Germanic heathenism was most probably well established in England when the first Christian missionaries arrived from
1 De Bella Gallico VI 22. 2 De Origine et Situ Germ anorurn 8.
3 v. L. Eckenstein Women under Monasticism (Cambridge Mass. 1896) p. 6.
4 E. A. Phillippson Germanisches Heidentum bei den sIngeIsachsen (Leipzig 1929) p. 183.
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