A PANTHEON OF THE BRITISH GODDESS
In the beginning, there was no God, only ‘Goddess’.
The earliest human images are carved figures made during the Paleolithic period known as ‘Venus’ figures. They are super-feminine figures, showing the female figure with all the gender features of breasts, tummy, hips and triangular pudenda exaggerated.
These figures date from a period of time between 40,000 years ago and 11,000 years ago. We don’t know for sure that the figures are representations of Goddess, but considering their powerful symbolic appearance, it seems most likely they are.
The earliest male images seem to show either hunters or Shamans, often half man and half animal beings.
In this early reality, there are Humans and there is the Earth, Land and Nature, and they are ‘Goddess'. There is, as yet, no concept of a masculine Creator being, since the role of creation belongs within the realm of Female Energy. Nature blossoms and gives birth to flowers and fruit and woman gives birth to the child. This is the world of the Goddess and the Shaman.
So how do we understand what ‘Goddess’ is? Here is a diagram to help explain:-
The green circle, circle 1 represents The Land, Nature and the concepts of ‘Place’.
The yellow circle, circle 2 represents the Seasons, the Weather and the concepts of ‘Time’ and the ‘Cycles of Life’, including ‘The Wheel of the Year’.
These two circles are inseparable, for Nature, the Seasons and weather cannot exist without each other. Together, they become ‘Goddess’, Sovereignty and the Divine Feminine (the white bit of the diagram above, area 3).
This energetic concept represents the Goddess, and She is manifested in the form of female characters such as Gaia, Rhiannon, Brid, who are individual aspects of Place, Being and Cycles of Time.
All of this exists inside the large circle 4, which includes both the physical and non-physical worlds, both everyday life and the Shaman’s Other-world, two sides of the same coin.
The Maiden Goddess is a symbol of Winter, the season of dormancy and snow. Think of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, for these stories are depictions of the Goddess as Maiden. They both fall into a deep sleep, just as the Winter landscape sleeps under a blanket of snow, their names, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Snow White’ are descriptions of a Winter landscape. They are each woken by a Prince (Shaman) to become the Bride (the next phase of the Goddess of the year, as Winter becomes Spring).
The stories keep the old lore alive and remind us that we are all part of the Cycle and The Divine. They also remind us of our current human condition, for, like the Maiden and the Winter's landscape, humanity as a whole has not yet activated our inner wisdom to come into our true Power as Divine beings, which is what we truly are.
The Goddess as Bride is like a Woman who is fertile and is in her menstrual cycle. Her monthly cycle of bleeding is her power. Like Spring, she is capable of creating new life. As the bee fertilises the flowers, so the Bride requires the intervention of the Shaman to empower the Land and enable the fecundity of Nature. At Beltane she is impregnated, and becomes the Mother.
The Great Mother Goddess symbolises the abundance of Summer and reflects the process of womanhood when a woman gives birth and brings up a family. This may be the birth of projects and creative endeavours just as much as a child. The woman eventually reaches the menopause, when the fertility system switches off.
The fourth phase is synonymous with Autumn as the leaves fall from the trees and sap begins to slow. At this point of her life she is enjoying the fruits of all she has learnt and is now in a position to share this with the younger generation. Here is the Wise Woman or Elder, sometimes called the Crone, and her role is to transmit her wisdom to the Maiden for the completion of the cycle, for the benefit of the next generation and the continuance of Life.
Many sources speak of the Triple Goddess and name her as Maiden/Mother/Crone.
However, on the cycle of the wheel of the year of the Land, there are four Goddess aspects, Maiden, Bride, Mother and Crone, and each of them has three faces as they each reign within the wheel of the year for a period of three months or moons.
Each Goddess aspect has three faces, one for each of the moons of their quarter. They are Passive (The Bearer), Assertive (The Teacher) and Aggressive (The Challenger).
'The Bearer' holds the Power of Sovereignty, but does not act, she is passive, like Branwen and Goewin. Historically, she is often depicted as a Cup-bearer, but she is the quiet one, who appears to be under the power of another, but is, in fact, simply keeping her power hidden within. As such, she is identified mostly with the Maiden.
'The Teacher' guides and teaches, as Rhiannon guides Pwyll to enable him to come into his power as her consort. She is the active helper and is assertive in her actions for the benefit of empowering the energetic quality of Sovereignty that she holds for the tribe.
'The Challenger' provides difficulties and trials, as do Ceridwen, Arianrhod and Blodeuwedd. Their challenges enable the transformation of those they influence, often through death and rebirth. Equally, it is the challenges and difficulties that life brings each of us that leads us to grow. 'The Challenger' is mostly associated with the Crone or Wise Woman as Goddess.
In the same way, the weather and landscape, as sea, storm, mountain, for instance, can be passive, helpful or challenging towards us.
Each of the four Goddess aspects of Maiden, Bride, Mother and Crone can present themselves in any one of these three faces.
GODDESS AS MAIDEN
Rhiannon - Olwen - Goewin - Creiddylad
The Maiden Goddess as virgin is an expression of the purity of the Divine Female, whilst the Mother Goddess is an expression of her fertility, the Bride is her power and the Elder her wisdom. They are all parts or aspects of the one Goddess, in truth.
As such, the Virgin Goddess is a key element of the roots of Christian faith, as The Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ. She is a Mother but also magically retains the purity of the Maiden element of the Feminine Divine.
The Maiden is common in mythology and fable, in stories such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The heroines of these tales are depictions of the Goddess as Maiden. She is beautiful, innocent, pure and vulnerable, and tends to fall into a deathly sleep at the hands of a woman who represents the Goddess as Crone or Hag. This is not really an attack, but a symbol hidden within the story. The process of death and rebirth is played out as the power of Sovereignty passes from the Hag to the Maiden so that the cycle of life can be regenerated.
Let us look a little closer at these two stories in order to uncover the information hidden in their symbolism. The old queen, Snow White’s step-mother, disguises herself as an old woman (Goddess as Hag) and gives Snow White (Goddess as Maiden) a poisoned apple. The apple is a symbol of wisdom, and here we see the wisdom of the Hag Goddess being passed to the Maiden Goddess. The poison and the act itself are not as negative as first perceived. It is regularly documented that key persons in tribal Shamanic societies imbibe small quantities of poisonous substances in order to bring about experiences of transformation.
As in the stories of Ceridwen and Taliesin, or Arianrhod and Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the actions of the step-mother seem aggressive, but are they?
The Hag Goddess is positioned on the Wheel of the Year at Autumn, and by passing the poisoned apple of wisdom to the Maiden Goddess, the Maiden enters a deep sleep, which symbolises the sleeping of the Land, meaning Winter. It is the role of the Hag Goddess to drive the Wheel of the Year forward. The Maiden sleeps through Winter, and in the Spring, the Shaman (Prince) intervenes and the Maiden becomes the Goddess as Bride. This enables the regeneration of the cycle of the Year.
The story of Sleeping Beauty has similar but even more obvious symbolic content. In this case, the young princess (Maiden Goddess) is taught to spin when she finds an old woman in the castle with a spinning wheel. The spinning wheel is a strong symbol for the Wheel of the Year and the spinning of destiny and of time. This is the job of the Hag Goddess of Autumn who is driving the cycle. Once again, the Hag Goddess is passing the power of Sovereignty on to the next phase of the Maiden Goddess/Winter, and as she sleeps so does the Land. During this repose, the power of the Land/Nature/Goddess lie hidden beneath, waiting for their power and potential to come forth. Once again, she is eventually woken by the prince (Shaman) and becomes the Bride, the next phase of the Goddess in the turning of the wheel.
Through these stories we meet the Maiden as the Goddess of the Land, the personification of Winter itself, sleeping and awaiting the potent ‘kiss’ of the Sun to bring in Spring, the season of the Bride.
The Maiden stands in the North, her season is Winter, the element is Air. Her power holds the qualities of Hidden Potential, Purity, Innocence and Vulnerability. In her direction, the energies of Reflection, Consolidation and Recuperation are found.
Like the Maiden, we humans are also vulnerable, and our true potential as Divine beings is hidden deep within us, like a seed or nut lying dormant under the Winter ground.
We lack the wisdom of age and are waiting for the sun to fill up our hearts and minds so that we can ‘wake up’ to our Sovereignty and Divine birth-right. The Maiden is indeed a symbol of the human condition. Like the Maiden, we carry the seed of our future evolved Soul and Spirit within us, so we will one day unfold into our own magnificent beauty, just as the chrysalis becomes the butterfly.
In the Mabinogion, Rhiannon is The Maiden Goddess, for her name means ‘Maiden’. She is the one Goddess who is depicted throughout the Branches as Maiden, Bride, Mother and Wise Woman. Other Maiden Goddess archetypes include Olwen, Crieddylad, Crierwy. The Maiden is often associated with the huntress, she is the personification of purity and freedom and wildness, just like the season of Winter she portrays.
The Story of Olwen, also in The Mabinogion, is older than the Four Branches. This is the story of a young man who is seeking the beautiful Maiden, Olwen, to be his Bride, whilst her father, the great giant Ysbaddaden, does all he can to stop the union taking place. Interestingly, Ysbaddaden, whose name means ‘Hawthorn’ is related to his daughter Olwen in the same way Bran relates to his sister Branwen.
Ysbaddaden and Bran represent Divine Beings, not Shamans, and they are also depictions of Goddess, not God, for Ysbaddaden and Bran are akin to the Goddess as Crone, whose role is one of challenger and aggressor, enabling the transition from life to death, through rebirth to life again.
Notice that both Ysbaddaden and Bran are giants and thus larger-than-life. They represent an aggressive element within the Divine Feminine which can be understandably represented through a masculine projection of personality.
Both the Hawthorn tree (Ysbaddaden) and the Raven (Bran) are associated with the Wise Woman or Crone aspect of the Goddess. In truth, whether the Goddess appears as a male or female character is not important as they are simply expressions of energetic principles that can be symbolised as either male or female in nature. Every one of us is a combination of male and female energy, and the Goddess is no exception.
The festivals associated with The Maiden are Samhain when the power of Sovereignty is passed from the Elder Wise Woman or Crone and handed on to the next generation, to the Goddess as Maiden. And then the festival of Imbolc, when the Maiden is 'kissed' by the warmth of the sun and transformed into the Goddess as Bride.
The season of The Maiden, during November, December and January, is an introspective period, a time of reflection and inactivity, a time for taking stock and building resources. The Maiden, more than any other persona of the Goddess, is closest to the human condition, for we are, as a species, holding our Divine potential within ourselves, waiting to evolve into Homo Luminous, when the fire of the Bride is lit within us.
GODDESS AS BRIDE
Brid - Bride - Blodeuwedd - Branwen
Brid, Bride, Brig, Brigit are the evolving names of the Goddess who eventually gave her name to the Land of Britain itself. Further back in time, her name began as Pryd/Prid. Her name is found all over the British landscape in places such as Bridport, Bridstow, Brighouse, Brigham, Priddy and features such as rocky outcrops known as The Bridestones. As Bride/Brigit she is just as important in Ireland.
Her name possibly comes from root words meaning something of value that is of the earth, and came to mean Bride. She was very well known during the Celtic era, which is why she is Irish and British, but she comes from a much earlier time. She was so important that it was necessary for her to be made into a saint by the Catholic church, as St. Brigit, since they could not eradicate her.
Why was Brid so important for such a long time? Because she is a Fire Goddess, and Fire is the centre of Life as the hearth is the centre of the ancient home.
The Bride Goddess represented within the Mabinogion is Blodeuwedd. She is the Flower Bride, made of flowers and summoned to be Lleu Llaw Gyffes's bride. Her fiery nature demands the blood sacrifice of her husband, which echoes the requirement of the Land itself, for whom through death comes life. As the Owl, she is a predator of the night, a symbol of wisdom and lunar mysteries. Symbolically, fire and blood carry the same energy, and Blodeuwedd brings about the death of her husband which leads to his transformation and rebirth anew. Like Brid, she is a Goddess of sacrifice and transformation.
Another Bride Goddess is Branwen, her story is most closely linked to Sacrifice. She seems passive, but her role as the one who embodies Sovereignty and the Divine is paramount. Her son is sacrificed in fire, her brother and her Divine counterpart is likewise sacrificed, indeed two entire countries are laid to waste around her. This is a tale of a blood-soaked land, all for the sake of creating the magical Head whose powers include that of protection of The Land and the ability to communicate beyond the veils of the other-worlds, to go beyond the veil of Death.
The Bride Goddess stands in the East, her season is Spring, her element is Fire and her power is Potent, Transformative and Sacrificial.
Fire is the central hearth of every home, and Brid is Goddess and protector of the home. Fire is magical and transformational, and during the Bronze and Iron Ages the power of metals made beautiful artefacts and weapons that brought status. These were crafted with Fire sacred to Brid.
The festivals of Brid are Imbolc and Beltane. At Imbolc the Maiden becomes the Bride in the cycle of the year, and at Beltane the Bride becomes the Mother.
At Imbolc, light a candle and from that one candle let candles be lit one at a time, like a chain of light, for each member of the household, each person lighting the candle of the next person until everyone's candle is lit. Even better to do this with a group of friends. This practice represents the kindling and passing on of the Light of Spirit within each of us, the Light of the Divine, from one tiny flame until there is a blaze of light. Do this in the dark for maximum effect. This is a time to celebrate the returning of the Light after Winter, a time of hope and promise.
Beltane is also a Fire festival, so light a bonfire and use it to put to flame all your unwanted concerns and behaviours, by writing them down on pieces of paper and burning them. Fire takes our sacrifices. Sacrifice means giving up our time and energy for others, as well as letting go of out-moded ideas and habits.
GODDESS AS MOTHER
Ma - Mam - Modron
The Great Mother Goddess of Britain is Modron, and more ancient still, she was known as Ma or Mam.
As a word for 'Mother', 'Ma' seems to be in universal use, unlike words used for 'father'. In Egypt she is Maat, the Great Goddess of the All-Seeing Eye and the Spirit of Truth, and her Babylonian counterparts include Mami and Te Mut.
Modron means 'Mother' and she appears in the story 'Culhwch and Olwen', as the mother of Mabon, whose name means 'Son'.
She is the Great Earth Goddess, found in caves, underground places, within soil and stone. She is fertile and responsible for the wonderful abundance that feeds us, clothes us, keeps us satiated. Her fruits and flowers enable the ongoing cycle of abundance, even into the next generations.
Her form is found in the land of Britain as great round hills such as Mam Tor in Derbyshire, named for her. She is also found in caves, crevices and dark places. Inside the prehistoric flint mine of Grimes Graves, dug out over 5,000 years ago, a small stone statue of a pregnant woman, like the 'venus' statues above, was discovered on a flint altar along with red deer antler offerings.
She is identified in Silbury Hill and her form is created in each long barrow and chamber made of earth and stone in image of her life-giving womb. In these dark places, ancient Shamans in Britain 'travelled' to meet her in the Under-world.
As Mother Goddess she stands in the South, her season is Summer, her element is Earth and her power is Abundance, Fertility and Fecundity.
Within the Wheel of the British Year, the Goddess comes into existence at Beltane at the May-day festivities when the Bride is fertilised. She carries the seed within her for just three moons, and then the magical child is born at Lughnasadh (Lammas) when the plentiful gifts of the Great Mother Goddess are celebrated. Nowadays, the harvest festival is an echo of this.
Beltane is a festival of fire and flowers. The red and white phallic pole around which the maidens dance is both the Shamanic pole of the worlds and the symbolic means of 'penetration'.
Lughnasadh is a festival of golden wheat and corn and plentiful abundance from the Earth. A time to celebrate all that is given to us from Nature, and the fruits of our own labours and projects. Do this by making an offering, giving a gift of gratitude, love and humility back to the Land, the Goddess, Nature.
Modron is nurturing, grounding and protective to those who make a relationship with her. She is Mother to all life, she exists within all life and sustains all life.
GODDESS AS WISE WOMAN
An - Anu - Don - Ceridwen - Arianrhod
The ancient British Goddess of Wisdom, the Crone, Hag, Elder or Old Wise Woman, was known as An, Ana, Anu, Annis and Dana, Danu, Don or Dan.
In other regions of Britain her ancient names include Ker, Cali, Cailleach (pronounced Kar-lee-ach), like the Hindu Death Goddess Kali.
There are many other versions of the Crone or Hag Goddess, including Ceridwen, Arianrhod, and in Ireland, The Morrighan. They are all Goddesses of Death and Rebirth. Death is not an ending and neither is it negative. It represents a process of change and movement forward into a new phase.
She appears both as a beautiful young woman and as an ancient, old figure. She is strongly associated with water. It is said she may be encountered on the banks of a river washing clothes or her hair.
One of my favourite stories about the Hag Goddess is 'The Wife of Bath's Tale' from Chaucer. It is the story of a knight who abuses a Maiden (who is a symbol of the Goddess and thus Divine Feminine). As a result the Queen (Goddess again) gives him a year to answer the question "What do women want?"
The knight searches high and low and asks everybody, but nobody gives him a good answer. (It seems that not even the women he asks know the answer! Or at least, they all say different things and none of their answers seem likely to be the one the knight is searching for.) Near the end of the year he gives up and heads for the court to forfeit his life, but then he meets a Hag (Goddess) who says she knows the answer, but will only tell him if he marries her. She is very old and ugly but he promises to marry her as he has little choice.
At the court they are married and he retires to bed with his new bride. He is respectful and goes to bed with her according to his husbandly duty, (much like Pwyll does with Arawn's wife in the First Branch) and kisses her as she requests despite his own feelings. As he kisses her she transforms into a beautiful young woman and tells him that what women want is Sovereignty or Power. She is referring to the Power and Sovereignty of the Divine Feminine, to the fact that he was respectful towards her. She is referring to the need to be respectful and to acknowledge the Sovereignty of the Divine Feminine.
That was the lesson he needed to learn after abusing the Maiden. (The same lesson Math taught Gwydion and Gilfaethwy in the Fourth Branch after they abused Goewin.) That is the lesson we all need to learn, that even women have forgotten. This echoes again the role of the masculine as the 'doing energy' and the feminine as the 'being or holding-power energy'. It does not only mean men treating women with respect but that we all acknowledge and respect the Divine Feminine in each of us.
Ceridwen is associated with Bala Lake in Wales, where she is said to live. The earliest version of her name in the Black Book of Carmarthen means 'Crooked Woman', and she possesses a large cauldron in which she brews a magic potion of inspiration and wisdom. Her frenzied pursuit of Gwion Bach, who imbibes the potion, represents the challenges and hardships she puts him through to attain his death and rebirth as the great and wise Taliesin, whose name means 'Shining Brow' referring to the halo or aura of light around his head.
Arianrhod too, is associated with water, not only is her home surrounded by the sea, but one of her sons, Dylan, is so closely allied with the sea, it is as though he is one with it. Like Ceridwen, she creates challenges for her other son, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, that lead to his death and rebirth. Arianrhod utters 'anathemas' on her son, disowning him, and these challenging curses eventually lead him to his enlightenment. The word 'anathema' was originally the name given to curses uttered by Anath, an ancient Hag Goddess of Death.
The Elder or Wise Woman Goddess stands in the West, her season is Autumn, her element is Water, and her power is Transmission, Teaching, Regeneration, Insight and the Turning of the Wheel of Time.
The Goddess as Wise Woman enters the cycle of the year at Lughnasadh, after the birth of the 'child' and she reigns the wheel throughout Autumn, when the fruits and nuts of Nature are still being harvested, even as the leaves are falling from the trees and the growth of Nature slows down.
She is responsible for ensuring that as the year comes to an end at Samhain, the cycle still continues afterwards as the power and energy held by the Goddess and the Land is passed on to the Maiden at this time.
This is why Arianrhod has her name, which means 'Silver Wheel'. This refers to her important role as maintainer of the Wheel of the Year, for she is required to make sure the Wheel keeps turning into the next phase. The colour silver evokes the qualities of water and the moon, both being connected to the feminine energies of reflection, fluidity and insight. Silver is balanced between the colours black of the Hag and white of the Maiden.
The Goddess and the later God(s) can be understood as externalisations of the Divine essence as ‘Self’. The infinite Divine that we each embody has been reflected onto a being outside ourselves.
This occurred at the beginning of this current great cosmic time cycle as we lost the connection with a higher consciousness and became more intimately connected to the physical world of matter.
Thus the Divine essence is transferred to the body of the planet, the Land, the moon, sky, and then personified. The Divine essence or ‘external’ Goddess mirrors our cycles of birth, life and death.
Ultimately, this change led to a sense of separation from each other which led to fear of each other. The journey to regain this truth is the goal.
In the many world mythologies of Gods and Goddesses, they are prone to behave in ungodly ways and are often very ‘human’ in their weaknesses and mistakes. Seen as projections of us, this makes sense.
So who are we? People who used to be the embodiment of Divine essence but aren’t anymore, or people who have forgotten we are Divine? If we forgot, then let’s remember. If we have lost it, then the fact we once had it means we can regain our natural capacity to embody the Divine.
There is a fifth Goddess who stands on the Wheel of the Year, and you will find her standing in the centre, at the Hub. If you want to see her face, look in the mirror, it matters not whether you are man or woman, her face is your face for you are Divine and the Goddess exists within you.
Even if the Goddess archetypes may be projections of us, archetypes are created by the energy invested in them, so they begin to exist by themselves and can be interacted with. Our ultimate goal is to embody their greatest characteristics. So remember, you are Goddess, and your beautiful Divine Spirit seeks to perceive and honour the Goddess in yourself and every person you meet.