Reflections on Mōdraniht

Photograph of a pot of steaming hot soup.
Ceremony has its place, and so does praying over a hot stove. Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Mōdraniht is an Old English holiday that comes to us from Bede, who recounts [1] that it was celebrated by the pre-Christian heathens on the night before Christmas. The name means Mothers’ Night, though there are (naturally) a variety of views among modern heathens as to Who precisely these Mothers are and how They should be honoured, though it is common practice to observe Mōdraniht the night before celebrating Gēol.

For myself, I have celebrated Mōdraniht in a variety of ways through my years of practice, and have settled on it as a celebration honouring Frig and her Twelve Handmaidens (of Whom more at a later date), my Mōdru Goddesses, and as the focus, the Ealdmōdru. This is a name for the Ancestral Mothers of us all – by which I mean all the innumerable Ancestors who were women, perhaps mothers and perhaps not, indeed perhaps of other genders while still with a close relationship or alignment to womanhood and femininity.

I celebrate Gēol day on the Winter Solstice, which in 2021 was the 21st December, and Mōdraniht the night before, in 2021 the evening of the 20th December. I had planned and hoped to perform a full ritual, with whatever pomp and ceremony I have – something a little elaborate, a little out of the ordinary, a little High Day-worthy. When the day rolled around, however, I was slammed by the end of year rush at work, my husband was in a sling with a broken elbow on his dominant side, and we had both just tested positive for Covid-19.

The circumstances were, shall we say, not ideal. When I got off work, I was knackered, still had dinner to cook, and knew I wouldn’t have time or energy for a full ritual afterward. The prospect of not doing any observance was upsetting and frustrating, but I usually have a policy of not doing ritual or ceremony if I can’t commit to it or give it what I feel is the proper level of time and focus.

On this occasion in particular though, I felt a little different. After a little consideration and turning it over a few times in my mind, I felt the best thing to do was this: I covered my head with my hoodie, and prayed out loud and made small offerings as I prepared noodle soup for our dinner.

I was a little apprehensive, but this felt not just acceptable, but appropriate. My Ancestor veneration is very much focused on the countless ordinary folk, the common people not glorified by history, and the Ancestors I was praying to for Mōdraniht are such women. I wanted to recognise Them and the work They did through the generations, in the fields, in the home, in the factories, for so long and by so many ignored and unsung. They cared for and taught the children, cared for the aged and laid out the dead, cooked the food and cleaned the house, wove the cloth, milled the grain, mixed remedies, tended the hearth. They were parents, craftspeople, sex workers, farmers, servants. They were the salt of the earth, on whose labour societies depended – and still depend.

Surely many of those women would have done their worship and their devotionals as I did – with little ceremony in snatched minutes. Lighting candles after they light the stove. Offering salt before sprinkling it in their bubbling pots. Praying for their family as they chop, stir, and dish out the evening meal. Holding their Goddesses and their Ancestors in their hearts as they go about their work, the work that must be done, that keeps the world spinning.

As we honour these Ancestors – of which every one of us has innumerable – we don’t need formality, or ceremony, or to take chunks of time we don’t have out of days that are kicking our arses. We may honour Them by keeping Them in our hearts, remembering Them, and taking the smallest of snatched seconds to whisper our gratitude and scatter salt, oats, herbs, oil, water, in Their holy memory.

I wish all who celebrates a blessed Mōdraniht and a glad Gēol.

References and further reading

1 – the Venerable Bede, De tempore ratione

More on the Mōdru/Matronae goddesses: by me, on the Lārhus.

A rather nice Mōdraniht ritual written by Beofeld.


2 thoughts on “Reflections on Mōdraniht”

  1. I always love reading about other Heathen’s perspectives on different holidays and rituals! Your ritual sounds lovely. Not all rituals need to be so formal with pomp and circumstance. One of the most meaningful rituals I’ve ever had was an extremely informal one for my mother on the anniversary of her death one year.

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