Empress Matilda: Treacherous Teen and Warrior Woman

 

Ah those Medieval queens! They really had it rough — often serving as pawns in games of marriage, forced to breed like cattle, and fighting endless battles in their quests for a bit of recognition.

Consider Empress Matilda of England. Born on this day, February 7, 1102, Matilda led a chaotic life. But no one could call her irresponsible.

Matilda was part of a powerful blood line, daughter of Henry I of England and granddaughter of William of Normandy — aka “William the Conqueror”.

Almost as soon as she was out of the cradle, Matilda became a vehicle for marriage. She was betrothed at age 8 to Henry V, King of the Romans. Her father considered this an advantageous marriage, as Matilda would be uniting with a prestigious family line. She traveled to Germany where she was put under the custody of Bruno, Archbishop of Trier. Matilda was then educated in German language and customs, and declared Queen of the Romans. At the tender age of 12 she was married.

To make matters even more shocking, Henry was sixteen years older than her. So yes, we are talking about a 12 year old girl married to a  28 year old man.

Apparently, that sort of thing was normal in those days.

By age 14, Matilda was already running her own royal household, dealing with political conflict in Europe, sponsoring royal grants, conducting ceremonies and staking her claim as Empress of the Holy Roman Empire.

Things did not go well for Henry and Matilda. It seems Henry was a bit of a tyrant, constantly jailing his chancellors and subjects. This led to rebellions. Eventually, Pope Paschal II excommunicated Henry from the church of Rome. Henry and Matilda, however, were not so willing to take their punishment. They countered Paschal by marching over the Alps and arriving in Italy with their armies. Paschal ran away.  His envoy, Antipope Gregory VIII, now under military pressure, agreed to crown Henry and Matilda at Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Weirdly, although Henry and Matilda were married for eleven years until he died in 1125, they never produced any children.  This barren status was bad for Matilda. She was now a widow at age 23. With no offspring, she could never exercise a role as an imperial regent. This left her with two choices; either marry again or become a nun.

Meanwhile, back in England, trouble was brewing.

Matilda’s father Henry I, King of England, had only two legitimate children; Matilda and her brother William. (Ironically, Henry actually fathered 22 illegitimate children! But only William and Matilda had a claim to the throne.)

In 1120, William died in a shipwreck. This left Matilda as the only heir to the crown.

King Henry I still had hopes of bearing another legitimate son. His first wife had died, but he remarried. His plan failed and he sired no more children. Of course, the big dilemma now was finding another husband for Matilda.

Her father decided the best match for her would be Geoffrey of Anjou. This alliance would strengthen relations between England and Normandy. However, there were a few problems. Geoffrey was only 13 years old. Perhaps Matilda, having been exploited herself, was not keen on taking a child husband.

She had little choice in the matter. The couple were married on June 17, 1128.  The newlyweds reportedly did not like each other very much. Matilda tried to get out of the union, leaving Normandy a several times. But Geoffrey always managed to force her back. Eventually, despite the fact that they were mismatched, they did have children. Their first son, Henry (yes another Henry!)  was born in 1133.

King Henry I reportedly was delighted with his grandson Henry. King Henry I died in 1135. This brought about the precarious question of who would take the throne. Although Matilda should have been the legitimate heir, a man known as Stephen of Blois, Matilda’s cousin, and one of old Henry’s favorite nephews, staked his claim.  Henry’s subjects had previously pledged themselves to Matilda, but many reneged on their pledge and followed Stephen. A woman had never ruled England before, and people did not take kindly to the idea.  They apparently preferred a British male king to a female ruler with a foreign husband.

Matilda, however, was not willing to give up. She had supporters — including Robert of Gloucester and King David I of Scotland. They attempted to overthrow Stephen with armies from Normandy.  So began the 19-year civil war known as The Anarchy.

Between 1138 and 1141, feuds between Matilda and Stephen put the country in chaos. In 1141, Matilda captured and imprisoned her cousin. She then began to make arrangements for her own coronation. However, it seems she still was unpopular with the people. Reportedly, Matilda imposed several taxes and placed sanctions upon her would-be subjects.  The people revolted. Growing animosity weakened Matilda’s claims. Then, Stephen’s wife (ironically, also named Matilda!) counter attacked with her own army.

Side note: Yes, I am wondering why they insisted upon naming everyone Matilda and Henry.

  • Henry I had at least one illegitimate daughter named Matilda.
  •  Stephen’s wife was named Matilda.
  • The Empress Matilda’s mother was also Matilda, aka Matilda of Scotland.
  • Eight rulers of England were named Henry.
  • Five rulers of France were named Henry.
  • Four rulers of Castile were named Henry.
  • Six Holy Roman Emperors were named Henry.
  • Seventeen Dukes of Bavaria were named Henry.

To be fair, I assume it had something to do with beliefs in the influence of names. The name Henry actually means “power” or “ruler”.  Matilda means “mighty in battle.” Appropriate! 🙂

Queen Matilda (Stephen’s wife) eventually defeated Empress Matilda. Empress Matilda was forced to release her cousin from prison. Stephen was officially crowned King of England in 1141.

Although Empress Matilda attempted more war strategies, setting up forces at Devizes Castle and attempting to oust Stephen for several more years, she was ultimately unsuccessful. She returned to Normandy in 1148. Her husband Geoffrey died in 1151. After Geoffrey’s death, Matilda ruled Anjou. She also set about trying to establish her son Henry as King of England.

Young Henry brought his armies to England with the intention of overthrowing Stephen.

Ironically, Henry somehow became Stephen’s “adopted son” and successor! When Stephen died in 1154, Henry took the throne as King Henry II. Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine, another powerful Medieval Queen.

Empress Matilda lived to the ripe old age of 65, probably a record for women of her day. She died on September 11, 1167. In yet another sad, ironic twist, her tomb stone only identifies her as “Daughter of King Henry, wife of King Henry and mother of King Henry.”  (I guess they leave us to figure it out — Henry I of England, Henry V of Rome and Henry II of England, respectively.)

At any rate, Matilda remains a significant historical figure. Her battle with Stephen had a profound effect on politics of the time. Perhaps Matilda even paved the way for the many powerful queens that were eventually to rule England — Mary, Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II.

Happy Birthday Empress Matilda! You put up a good fight.

 

 

 

Friday the 13th and the Divine Feminine

 

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Yeah yeah yeah. Everyone knows it’s evil, right? A day shrouded in superstition and fear. Supposedly it is the most unlucky day of the year. Well. It created a cottage industry of movie franchises, which I’d say was pretty lucky for Jason, Freddie Kruegar and certain Hollywood moguls…

Nonetheless, many people have a specific fear of this day. So many, in fact, that apparently we now have a medical term for the phobia known as ‘fear of Friday the 13th’. That term is known as ‘paraskevidekatriaphobia’.  (I can’t pronounce it either.)  This term was apparently coined by one Dr. Donald Dossey, a phobia specialist.  According to Dr. Dossey, paraskevidekatriaphobia is the most widespread superstition in the United States today. Some people refuse to go to work on Friday the 13th; some won’t dine in restaurants and many wouldn’t dare have a wedding on this date.  My my my.  But it wasn’t always like this.

In many pre Christian and goddess worshipping cultures, Friday and the number 13 were not so bad.   In fact, they were actually very lucky 🙂

To the ancient Egyptians, for example, the number 13 symbolized the joyous afterlife. They thought of this physical life as a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in twelve stages, leading to a thirteenth which extended beyond the grave.  (This explains why they had such elaborate burial and embalming rituals.)

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The number 13 therefore did not symbolize death in a morbid way,  but rather as a glorious and desirable transformation.  Interestingly, the 13th card in the Tarot deck is Death, which often represents not a physical death but a transformation, a chance for change or an opportunity  to release what no longer serves us.

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When Egyptian civilization perished, the symbolism of the number 13 was, unfortunately,  corrupted by subsequent cultures. Thirteen became associated with a fear of death rather than a reverence for the afterlife.

The number 13  has a unique association with the Divine Feminine. Thirteen is said to have been revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). The ‘Earth Mother of Laussel’ is a 27,000-year-old carving  that was found near the Lascaux caves in France. She is an icon of matriarchal spirituality. The Earth Mother holds a crescent-shaped horn bearing 13 notches.

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Primitive women kept track of time by the passing of their menstrual cycles and the phases of the moon, as well as the change of seasons and the wheel of the year.  However, as the solar calendar, with its 12 months, triumphed over the 13 month lunar calendar,  so did the ‘perfect’ number 12 over the ‘imperfect’ number 13. (But note that they really had to discombobulate those 12 months, giving some of them 30 days, some 31 and poor old February with 28, to make the 364 days…) Twelve became the sacred number after that, with, for example, 12 hours of the clock, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles of Jesus and 12 signs of the zodiac.  Thirteen became unpredictable, chaotic, untrustworthy and evil.

Friday (the Sixth Day) also offers a unique connection with the Divine Feminine. The name ‘Friday’ was derived from the Norse goddess Freya (or Frigg) who was worshiped on the Sixth Day. She is a goddess of marriage, sex and fertility.

Freya/ Frigg corresponds to Venus, the goddess of love of the Romans, who named the sixth day of the week in her honor “dies Veneris.” Friday was considered to be a lucky day by Norse and Teutonic peoples — especially as a day to get married — because of its traditional association with love and fertility.

As the Christian church gained momentum in the Middle Ages, pagan associations with Friday were not forgotten.  Therefore the Church went to great lengths to  disassociate itself with Friday and thirteen.   If Friday was a holy day for heathens, the Church fathers felt, it must not be so for Christians — thus it became known in the Middle Ages as the ‘Witches’ Sabbath’.   Friday became a big deal in the Bible. It was on a Friday, supposedly, that Eve tempted Adam with the apple, thus banishing mankind from Paradise. The Great Flood began on a Friday. The Temple of Solomon was destroyed on a Friday. Christ was crucified on a Friday, PLUS, there were 13 attendees at the last supper, the most infamous of course being the betrayer, Judas Iscariot.

Interestingly the sacred animal of the Goddess Freya is the cat (probably a black one) which also became associated with evil as Christianity began to encompass the Western world.  Freya then became known as (you guessed it!) an evil witch, and her cats were evil as well.

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Various legends developed around Freya, but one is particularly pertinent to this post.  As the story goes, the witches of the North would observe their sabbat by gathering in the woods by the light of the moon. On one such occasion the Friday goddess, Freya herself, came down from her sanctuary in the mountaintops and appeared before the group.

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The witches numbered only 12 at the time. Freya joined the circle, making the number 13, after which the witches’ coven — and every properly-formed coven since then — comprised exactly 13.

So, on this Friday the 13th embrace the luck and grace of the Goddess Freya! Pet your cats, engage in some moon-gazing, celebrate love and fertility with your significant other.  Rest assured, the Divine Feminine is with you and there is nothing to fear 🙂

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Remembering Magdalene

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She was the thirteenth disciple.  A devotee of Yeshua who followed him along the shores of Galilee, had heated debates with Peter, did a lot of anointing and brought a unique feminine energy to his ministry.  She even wrote her own gospel, which can be found in the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts.  Mary of Magdalene was with Jesus till the bitter end, witnessing the beatings, the nails, the crown of thorns and all the atrocities mankind had laid upon him.  Reportedly she remained even when some of the men had fled in horror.  She wept at the foot of his cross.  According to scripture, it was Magdalene who went first to Jesus’ grave, found the open tomb and witnessed the risen Christ.

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Some say she was actually the wife of Yeshua. This is a perfectly plausible theory. Long before The Da Vinci Code was flying off bookshelves, many historians had already proposed this premise.

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France was ahead of the game, having devoted many shrines and chapels to Magdalene centuries before anyone thought to delve into the secret/ not so secret societies of Knights Templar et al.  Some people claim that Magdalene and Yeshua had five children together.  And yes, you and I could potentially be descendants   🙂

During the Middle Ages, in a decision made by Pope Gregory the Great, the Catholic Church condemned Magdalene as a prostitute. This was supposedly due to some flimsy biblical evidence about loose women, but mostly it was due to fear – fear of having to acknowledge Magdalene as a powerful woman who was fully capable of conducting a ministry

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Ever since the repression of the ancient mother goddess, organized religions have had difficulty in recognizing the divine feminine.  Apparently the church felt the need to create a dichotomy, reducing women to a role of either Madonna or whore.   Mary of Nazareth, Yeshua’s mother, was clearly filling the Madonna role, so Mary of Magdalene had to become the slut.  Logical.

Pope Gregory’s decision, made in the year 591, stuck for a long time.  In fact, it stuck all the way up until 1969 when Magdalene was officially welcomed into the realm of Saints. (Yes, 1969!)  The freeing of Magdalene was possibly influenced by  civil rights movements and the 20th century version of women’s liberation.   However, the stigma remains till this day. Magdalene is often still portrayed as a temptress, seductress and femme fatale.

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By shutting off and reducing feminine power, the church has put itself in jeopardy. By not recognizing the sacred embrace of Magdalene and Yeshua, the church has cut itself off from sexual expression.  This has often resulted in perversity and darkness, not to mention child abuse, scandal and several legal battles.  (See  academy award winning movie Spotlight.)

This Sunday, Christians all over the world will be commemorating the risen Christ.  We can also  recognize and celebrate the divine feminine of Magdalene and principles of life everlasting.

We are all one, as infinite as the stars. There is no death, only a transference of molecules into another dimension.  Have a Blessed Easter.

Watch Magdalene’s song from Jesus Christ Superstar here:

 

 

 

“Bringing the world closer through peace, harmony and understanding of the wise-craft.”

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