Coventina, Northumbrian Well Goddess
Goddesses of water, wells, and springs were revered in Celtic Britain. Near Carrawburgh, in one of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall (not far from Hexham), reside the remains of Coventina’s sacred site. Sacred wells were often sites of healing with offerings also made for fertility and safe delivery for childbirth. These are usually feminine associations. What makes Coventina’s Well doubly interesting is that there is evidence she was also worshipped by roman soldiers who were assigned to Hadrian’s Wall.
At Carrawburgh are also a Roman fort and a temple dedicated to Mithras. Mithras was a Persian god of light, often showing slaying a holy bull. A cult of Mithras grew over the years, and he was often considered a soldier’s god. Within a short distance of each other, close to Hadrian’s Wall, are temples to the Roman-appropriated Persian soldier’s god and a temple to a Celtic goddess of a healing well. It is an example of The Mingler at work.
A Goddess’s Origins
Coventina’s origins are obscure. Sometimes she is called “goddess” and sometimes she is called “nymph.” In Caitlin Matthews’s beautiful Celtic Wisdom Tarot, Coventina is represented as Card 14 of the Major Arcana. She is called “The Mingler” in this deck, on a card that is called “Temperance” in many other decks.
The goddess’s name gives clues to her origins. “Co-” in Latin means “together” and “venio” means “a coming.” So her name indicates a coming together, or mingling. In Gaelic, interestingly, “co-” (also “cho-“) means “equally.” “Ti” means “any human being,” and “tinn” means “sick” or “unwell.” Several combinations of these words would make sense in the naming of Coventina’s healing well.
Coventina’s temple has ten remaining altar stones. Four of these were dedicated by auxiliary Roman infantry units. The stones had carvings of thanksgiving on them. The phrase (when translated) “fulfilling a vow” appears on several of the altar stones. We can only wonder what kind of vow this inscription refers to. Were the stones made as a thanksgiving for answered prayers? When excavated, a large amount of Roman coins were found in the well. The soldiers may have performed their rituals to Mithras, but they did not lack gratitude toward Coventina.
Coventina in a Modern World
We can appeal to Coventina is several ways. One is to convert a bathroom into a temple to her. Create a place of healing waters, where you can relax and wash away a stressful day, or start your morning with invigorating waters. Use soothing colors and appropriate scents. Set up and altar or shrine. Remember to leave thanks and offerings as often as you leave requests. I make my own bath salts and oils, and I named one in her honor that is specifically tailored to relaxing and restore sore, overworked muscles.
If you can’t redesign your entire bathroom to recreate Coventina’s temple, you can keep a candle or two that you only use when you wish to heal with waters. Dedicate special bath salts, oils, or soap to Coventina, and use them in your ablutions.
You can also obtain a tabletop fountain, decorate it with stones in soothing, healing shades, and dedicate it to Coventina as a healing fountain. It can become part of your regular working sacred space, or you can assign it a site of its own. Spend time here in contemplation, and let your soul heal after a rough day. Take time to build a relationship with Coventina, a goddess who has listened and responded to petitioners for centuries. Coventina’s origins may be obscure, but her relevance is timeless.
(this article, by Cerridwen Iris Shea, originally appeared in the Llewellyn 2005 Magical Almanac. Used with permission of the author).
More information and photos on The Megalithic Portal.
A case study from Newcastle University, via Futurelearn.
Eric Edwards has an interesting article on her here.
I chose her as the patron for my NYC-based coven in the series because each of the women in the coven needs to heal in order to follow her life path and her heart path, because Northumbria is one of my favorite areas in the world, and because I liked the idea of a well/river goddess as a patron of a Manhattan coven.