I would like to talk about the River Idle in more detail in this article. The area of focus in this blog has been centred around the area south of Mansfield, from Sutton-In-Ashfield to Rainworth.
The River Idle rises in Sutton-In-Ashfield, and after flowing under the centre of the town, it joins the river Maun and is know by that name until it once again becomes the Idle at Markham Moor. Before it reaches this point though, it is joined by Rainworth Water at Ollerton, which has its source at Thieves Wood, just outside Sutton-In-Ashfield and was also once known as the Idle. This means that two rivers both named Idle join the Maun many miles before the Maun and the Meden conflate to become the Idle that we know today. Further, the sources of these river Idles all rise within a few miles of each other in Ashfield, some 20 miles from Markham Moor where the Idle officially begins.
I have stated before that rivers have a tendency to retain their Celtic names. We can see this in many other local rivers such as the river Leen (which also rises in Ashfield but flows south to the Trent) which comes from the word for lake or pool, Llyn in modern Welsh. The Trent or Trisantona meaning great thoroughfare. The Derwent meaning valley of Oak Trees. The reason that rivers retain their old names is because unlike a town, which is easily renamed by a new group of people, a river is shared among many communities up and down its banks. Used for transportation and trade, it is much harder for a new group of people entering the land to rename the river and to have the name stick.
It is therefore not unreasonable to think that the name Idle may be much older that we currently believe. The best guess at the moment is that it is derived from Anglo-Saxon, and it means slow and lazy or idle. The name would fit the first part of the river before it joins the Maun where it is little more than a trickle. But the better known bigger river Idle is a strong and fast flowing river, and the name simply does not fit. So what could the name mean? Is it older than Anglo-Saxon?
If the people who lived on these lands in the past, our ancestors, knew all of these rivers as part of the Idle, then it is also not to unreasonable to think that the river Idle could also have had a local river goddess associated with it, who would have been a unifying force for the people of the area. We may even be looking at the area of a very local sub tribe of the Brigantes or Corieltauvi tribes. So who might this goddess be? There is one very interesting name that is both spelt and pronounced in a similar way, the name Ida.
As a name, Ida has multiple contested sources. It is a popular name to this day in Nordic countries like Denmark and Sweden, derived from the Germanic word id meaning “work” or “labour”. Alternatively it may be related to the Old Norse goddess Iðunn who is associated with apples and youth. She is also the wife of Bragi the god of poetry. The Norse gods however are not the gods of this landscape. They are the gods of the Norse lands, and it is unlikely Iðunn has anything to do with the river Idle. But it must not be entirely discounted in that the Germanic culture developed from the same Indo-European culture as the earlier Celtic tribes. Ida is also the anglicisation of the ancient Irish girls name Íde. There is no reference to an ancient Irish Goddess by that name that I am aware of, however, there is a St. Ida.
St Ida of Killeedy was known as “the foster mother of the saints of Erin”, and her name is said to mean “thirst for holiness”. She was also known as “the Brigid of Munster”. It was said that Ida embodied the six virtues of womanhood – wisdom, purity, beauty, musical ability, gentle speech and needle craft. Her feast day is the 15th of January and she was also known as a prophetess and spiritual director. Genealogies of the saints state that Ida’s mother Necht was a daughter of Dallbronach, making Ida a cousin of Brigid.
It is well known that many of the Irish saints are really ancient Irish gods in disguise, adopted by the early christian church in Ireland in order to ease the conversion of the pagan population. There is no record of a Pagan Ida Goddess in Ireland, instead we are presented with her life story including dates of birth and death, in much the same way as we are with St Brigid. But we know that St Brigid has many of the attributes and associations of the earlier Goddess Brigid. They are largely the same character. At this point I would like to remind readers that in previous articles we have shown that the local tribe the Brigantes and their patron goddess Briganti are evident in our local landscape.
One very interesting area of investigation is the similarities and links between the ancient Irish language and stories, and that of the Indian Rig Veda of the ancient Verdic peoples. There are many websites and articles that document some of the many fascinating links, but one that I would like to point to now is the Verdic Goddess Ida. This Hindustani goddess of speech, the earth, and the source of abundant food and nourishment was seen as the primary cause of the origins, continuance and dissolution of all beings. Cows and milk are sacred to Ida, whereas in Ireland these are sacred to Brigid. In the Rig Veda she is associated with and often mentioned along side Bharati and Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, fertility, and flowing rivers. Bharati is a feminine adjective meaning “high, great, lofty” and seems to be a title applied several times to the goddess of the dawn Uṣas. As you may know, the names Briganti, Brigantia, Brigit come from a cognate proto indo-european word *bhrg’hnti from the root word berg’h meaning “high, lofty, elevated”.
To surmise for a moment then, we have an Irish St Brigid who is associated with St Ida. Brigid is based on an earlier Indo-European goddess Briganti who is also present in Verdic culture as Bharati. The Verdic goddess Uṣas/Bharati is also associated with the Verdic goddess Ida. Further, Verdic Ida, Uṣas/Bharati and Irish Brigid are all associated with cows, milk and motherhood. Briganti is clearly present in our landscape, and we also have a river named Idle for which we have no clear entomology. Could it be there is a forgotten Brythonic Goddess named Ida associated with the river Idle?
So what about the Maun? Well from this perspective the Maun is nothing more than a local name for a short section of the Idle, known to the Romans as Aqua Mam. Mam meaning “mother, breast or hill” in reference to Hamilton Hill where the source of the Maun is. If Ida is a goddess of the earth, of the land, and Hamilton Hill her breast then the Maun, Aqua Mam is her milk, the waters of the mother.
There is another possibly related goddess too, from Greek. The goddess Idaia, meaning “she of mount Ida”, Ida meaning “wooded mountain”. There are actually two sacred mountains named Ida, both sacred to mother goddesses. The first in Crete is where Rhea, mother of the first generation of Olympian gods put the infant Zeus to nurse with Amaltheia. The second mountain was in Anatolia, modern day Turkey, and was mentioned in the Iliad of Homer as sacred to Cyble mother goddess of the Anatolians and sometimes known as Mater Idaea or “Idaean Mother”, mother of the Idaean people.
There is of course no way to be sure about any of this. Is there a lost local Celtic Ida, local to this area associated with the river Idle? It is all just conjecture really, but I am certainly beginning to feel that we of Ashfield and the surrounding area are Ideans. We are Ideans in so much as we are the people of the Goddess Ida of the River Idle.