Veleda (also known as Velleda and Weleda) was a Celtic woman who lived during the first century and achieved some notoriety for her psychic abilities during the Batavian rebellion of 69-70.
Veleda practiced as a Völva (shamanic priestess) for her tribe, the Bructeri, in northeast Germany (modern day North Rhine-Westphali).
The name Veleda may actually be her title (from the Celtic welet meaning ‘seer’) rather than her personal name, and we know that she must have been highly revered by her tribe. In ancient Germany (and among other Nordic peoples) it was believed that priestesses were capable of seeing the future and tribes treated women like Veleda as living goddesses.
Veleda in particular was widely known for her powers and worshipped by many tribes. The term Völva literally means ‘wand carrier’ or ‘wand bearer’, and many of our modern notions about witchcraft and wizardry stem from the practices of women like Veleda.
In true fairy tale style, she lived in a tower by the Lippe River, where tribespeople would visit her for consultations. No one was allowed inside, instead she was passed messages by a relative, who acted as an intermediary. (This is similar to the lifestyle of the Pythia or Oracle of Delphi).
During Veleda’s lifetime large parts of Germany were occupied by the Roman Empire – which by the year 69 was in the grips of a power struggle. Following the death of Emperor Nero, who had left no heirs, Rome broke into a civil war known as ‘The year of Four Emperors’. This turmoil weakened Rome’s military presence in Germany, which did not go unnoticed by the local chiefs.
Civilis, the leader of the Batavian’s came out in open revolt against the Roman presence – and it is said that he did this following a prophecy from Veleda which promised him victory.
The revolt was indeed successful, at least initially. Civilius’ forces were soon joined by the Treviri tribe and together they quickly toppled the Roman garrisons at Novaesium (Neuss) and Castra Vetera (in modern day Neiderrhein).
The Batavians attributed their victories to Veleda’s power, and as a thank you gift they rowed a praetorian trireme (galley ship) up the Lippe to her tower.
Unfortunately the rebellion was short lived. It took nine Roman legions, but Civilis and his cohorts were defeated and dispersed. As Roman dominance in Germany was so reliant on co-operation with the Celtic tribes, the rebels were not harshly punished, and Veleda was allowed to continue in her capacity as Völva for some time.
Veleda is next heard of in 77, when she is either captured or rescued by the Roman army – for what reason, we do not know.
- Velleda, ein Zauberroman (Velleda, a Magic Novel) by Benedikte Naubert fictionalises the lives of both Veleda and Boudica. (1795)
- Die Symbole (The Symbols) by Amalie von Helwig in which she was called Welleda. (1814)
- Welleda und Gemma by Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué (1818)
- The opera Velleda by Eduard Sobolewski (1835)
- Star of the Sea by Poul Anderson (1991)
- The Iron Hand of Mars (1992) and Saturnalia (2007).by Lindsey Davis
- She is also a character in The Dragon Lord (1979), by David Drake.
On November 5, 1872, Paul Henry of Paris discovered an asteroid that was named 126 Velleda in honor of Veleda.
- Histories – Tacitus
“Lippe in Luenen 1” by Wolfgang Hunscher.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
“Ed0048” by Original illustration by Creator:Carl Larsson (1853-1919), engraving by Gunnar Forssell (1859-1903). – Project Runeberg: http://runeberg.org/eddan/ed0048.jpg Originally from Fredrik Sander’s 1893 edition of the poetic Edda.
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
“Velleda” by Charles Voillemot – fineartamerica.com.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Velleda, Laurent-Honoré Marqueste” by Léna – Own work.
Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons