On 4 April 1970, fishermen, working off Colijnsplaat, an estuary of Holland’s East Scheldt River, recovered three fragments from two altars eighty-five feet below the surface. In the process, they also recovered the forgotten goddess to whom those altars were dedicated. Further exploration recovered over one hundred twenty altars and sculptures. Inscriptions identified the goddess as Nehalennia, which has been interpreted as “leader,” “pilot,” or “steers woman.” Extremely popular during the early centuries of the Common Era, Nehalennia’s riverside temple was submerged by the North Sea when the shoreline receded at the end of the Roman era.
Nehalennia possessed at least two substantial shrines on Holland’s North Sea coast. (If there were more, they have not yet been recovered.) Based on what’s been recovered, Nehalennia was not a goddess of the starving masses but matron of the wealthy and entrepreneurial. Surviving altars include information regarding donors. Nehalennia’s shrines were well-endowed, patronized by the prosperous.
Nehalannia is a goddess of well-being and prosperity; her successful devotees were a living testament to her prowess. People traveled great distances to visit her shrine. Devotees included Celts from every corner of the Celtic world as well as Roman citizens and those of Germanic derivation. Nehalennia sponsored and protected North Sea traders and travelers. Many devotees were merchants, the ancient equivalent of business travelers.
Nehalennia’s emergence from under -water obscurity may indicate that she is actively back in business and ready to receive new clientele.
Virtually always portrayed with a large hound who sits beside her, Nehalennia’s pooch is consistently a big, friendly companion dog rather than a fierce or aggressive guard dog. Celtic deities closely associated with dogs tend to be associated with healing, death, and/or the afterlife, so Nehalennia’s canine companion leads to speculation that, in addition to being a protective goddess of prosperity, she is also a goddess of healing and/or death.
Nehalennia is depicted as a youthful woman wearing distinctive clothing (small round hat; short shoulder-length cape). She is portrayed with a dog that gazes up at her or touches her knee with his nose. Sometimes she is enthroned beneath a shell-shaped canopy. She’s sometimes portrayed in the company of Neptune. Nehalennia sometimes stands in a ship’s prow in similar manner to Isis and some Black Madonnas.
Boat, rope, rudder
Creature: Dog, dolphin
Altars: Nehalennia’s altars are decorated with marine motifs
Two temples have been found in what is now modern Holland:
• Domburg on the island of Walcheren
Ailinn; Black Madonna; Isis
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.