Exploring the beliefs of English people during the fifth to ninth centuries

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The triple hooded ones


genii cucullati 1

genii cucullati 2

Genii cucullati


The Deae Matronae (see The Mothers)were not the only triple spirit-deities. We also have carvings depicting three hooded figures. They are known as genii cucullati – spirits of place wearing the culcullus, a full-length hooded woollen robe. If they look more than a little like medieval monks then this is because their successors also adopted this pragmatic attire.

Genii cucullati seem to be the male counterparts to the three-fold Matronae, and all are seemingly related to the cult of the Greco–Roman (but perhaps originally Germanic) deity Telesphorus, also depicted cloaked. Telesphorus was the child of Asklepios, the healer deity, and his powers were in the realms of sleep and dreams; he was also the protector of children and a fertility deity, and may have shared his father's attributes as a healer.

On the Continent some cucullati are depicted with the cucullus open to expose the penis. Others are depicted with eggs or moneybags – both overtly sexual symbols at the time. The shape of a cucullati figure is inevitably phallic. Small carved cucullati are found as grave goods, suggesting they were protective after death. Perhaps cucullati seen as life-long protectors, from conception to death – and beyond?

Like the Matronae they can be found throughout Germanic and Celtic lands. Yet, despite this seeming universality, Matronae and cucullati seem to be depictions of deities specific to the locality. They are the ancestors of the landvaettir, the guardian spirits of the land mentioned fairly frequently in the Scandinavian sagas, and the land wights of Anglo-Saxon England.

See Who were the landwights?

 

copyright © Bob Trubshaw 2013

 


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