(Prose 2) The Cailleach: The Ancestral Mother of Scotland By Jude Lally


Cailleach – Photo by Jude Lally

A Wild and Ancient Site

There are many sites across Scotland and Ireland relating to the Cailleach for there wasn’t just one Cailleach as she had many sisters. Less than one hundred miles from where I grew up is the long loch of Loch Tay in Scotland. If you were to take to the hills until you reach Glen Tay, then continue onto Tigh na Cailliche (Glen Cailleach), you will come across the little structure of Tigh Nam Bodach, the Shrine of the Cailleach. It is possibly the only surviving shrine to the Cailleach in all of Scotland.

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(Prose 1) The Cailleach: The Ancestral Mother of Scotland by Jude Lally


Cailleach – Photo by Jude Lally

“She is a symbolic personification of a cosmos that has been in place since time immemorial, certainly since before human society.”                            Gearoid O Crualaoich (2003)

While growing up my Samhain’s (Halloween’s) were all about Guising – diving into my grandmother’s bag of old clothes and wondrous fabrics and piecing costumes together. Guising was all about dressing up so that when the ancestors and spirits came through from the otherworld, they wouldn’t know who was who as we were all in disguise. I can remember the thrill of running from neighbours’ houses imagining the ancestors and spirits embodied in the night’s winds – swimming through treetops and swooping down to chase us while blowing up piles of fallen leaves for dramatic effect.

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(Prose) My Thanks to Dolasilla by Claire French

It must have been around my twelfth year when I found the Saga of the Kingdom of Fanes in the local almanac of the South Tyrolean city of Bozen/Bolzano. It was illustrated by a pen-drawing of the legendary princess Dolasilla mounted on a black horse, wearing a blue Rayeta Stone in her tiara and glowering against her enemies.

It was this woman on horseback who never left my mind. In those moments of truth that decided my life she appeared to me again and again.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

On my arrival in Melbourne, a young migrant without money or connections, I was ready to return to my Tyrolean mountains, when I suddenly found myself in front of the equestrian statue of the State Library: this image of my heroine Joan of Arc changed my mind. Many years later, the altar of Epona at the museum of Stuttgart (Stuttgart means Garden of the Mare!) touched me just as much as the image of Australian saint Blessed Mary McKillop, riding in nun’s garb through the endless solitudes of Australia to bring the blessings of literacy to lonely farmers’ children.

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(Prose) Aine and the Giant Leap by Deanne Quarrie

For our full moon rites coming up on the first of July we will be honoring Aine, Goddess of Love, Light, and Fertility who is also Queen of the Faeries. Aine’s name means “Bright” and She is typically honored at the Summer Solstice when the sun is at its peak of power. The next full moon falls just after the Summer Solstice. The Solstice is associated with abundance, beauty and bounty. It is not necessarily about the harvest season, as that is yet to come. However, everywhere we look we can see the abundance of the Mother and so it is when we first acknowledge, with joy, what is before us.

In my Tradition, the Summer Solstice falls within the Oak Moon, the Moon in which we “court the lightning bolt.” What that means to us is that with our roots planted firmly in the ground, as does the oak tree, now is the time to take all of our plans and put them into action. “Go for it” is what we are saying to ourselves and to the world. Continue reading

(Prose Part 2) DANCING COLORS OF GODDESSES FROM THE NORTH by Kirsten Brunsgaard Clausen, Sweden

Photo Credit: Braido, https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%96sterg%C3%B6tlands_runinskrifter_KJ54

Photo Credit: Braido, Wikipedia

The theme of each Goddess festival held the gathering together as a whole, and from there, it flowered into a wild diversity of lectures, ceremonies, workshops, dancing, sharing groups.

For example, in one of the programs we were introduced to Goddess Yoga, to the Sewing and the Dancing of our Hands, and to Birth-giving as a self-experienced Initiation to Motherhood. In the meadow, we danced Oriental Dance on Roses, and walked the Flower Labyrinth of Self Discovery. We learned of better alternatives to democracy, realizing that democracy will always allow the majority to over-rule the dreams of minority groups or individuals; instead, we (and society) might engage in giving support to and finding ways for everybody’s dreams to become physical. We heard about the Ancient Women Culture in Crete that has never died out, but lives on, to this day, underground. We stepped into our Divine Feminine Power though our Womb-Flower; and we learned about practical Green Economy; we used our Powerful Voices; and we manifested our sisterhood symbolized by Tortoise and Snake; we experienced Shamanic Communication with Plants; we learned about the dramatic change following the Minoan and Mycenae cultures colliding; we let our Dancing Feet Bless the Earth and we made Fire Ceremonies.

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(Essay) The Women of Fanes by Claire French

Old Agostino was the yardman in my uncle’s building yard. He was a hunchback with a large bony face, sad grey eyes and unkempt grey hair. His hands were like shovels, strong and hard, and he walked with a heavy shambling gait like Alberich in the Northern saga. But to me, a lonely little girl in a world of grown ups, he was always of exquisite gentleness, and I soon discovered that he was a wonderful storyteller. His voice was deep and strong, in stark contrast to his misshapen body, and his words, broken Austrian-German interspersed with his native Ladinian, sounded like water murmuring, rippling and gushing over a stone-filled creek bed.

Agostino hailed from the Dolomite mountains, from the forgotten tribe of the Ladinians, and that was his pride and his sorrow. “Agostino, tell me of Dolasilla”, I begged, and waited for the radiant smile to light up his face.


ancient image: Woman/Goddess on horseback. Credit: “HorseDreams”, Spinifex Press, 2003.

“Ah, Dolasilla, the Princess of Fanes … she was so beautiful. Straight and slim she sat upon her charger, and the blue Rayeta Stone gleamed in her crown. She wore the white mantle of the marmots and she had the unfailing silver arrows in her quiver.”

This was a story that I did not find in my book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. A princess who fought in battle and who was an invincible warrior. But Agostino did not spare me the tragic end. Yes, Dolasilla wanted to stop fighting and conquering, but it was her father, the wicked king, who would not allow it. He banished her lover, handsome prince Ey-de-Net, and promised his daughter to the King of Aurona, the Great Goldmine. But Dolasilla would not be married against her will. When the King of the Aurona came to get her, she fought against him. But without her lover, who was also her shield bearer, she was vanquished. She was killed in battle and her kingdom, the Kingdom of Fanes, was destroyed.

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(Poem) Dew Kissed and Beltane Blessed (Beltane) by Deanne Quarrie

Photo Credit: Maypole; © open domain: https://pixabay.com

Photo Credit: Maypole; ©

hawthorn gathered in the may

atop a tree of birch

gaily blowing in the wind

rainbow ribbons spin


queen of may, jack o’green

bless the fields and land

lively dancing kissing twirling

ribbons in the hand

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(Meet Mago Contributor) Deanne Quarrie. D. Min.

deanne_2011_B_sm_Deabbe Quarrie_ContributorPhoto.jpgDeanne Quarrie. D. Min. is a Priestess of the Goddess, and author of five books.   She is the founder of The Apple Branch where she mentors women who wish to serve as priestesses. There she teaches courses in Feminist Dianic Wicca, Druidism, the Ogham and Northern European Mysteries.

She is also an adjunct professor at Ocean Seminary College. She is the founder of Global Goddess, a worldwide organization open to all women who honor some form of the divine feminine, and the publisher of The Oracle, and online magazine for Goddess Women.

(Art essay 2) An experience of the Cailleach Beare, primordial creatrix of ancient Ireland by Frances Guerin

Australian author David Tacey speculates that the power of the Australian land is activating a deep layer of psyche in white Australians that has been overlaid by civilisation…“ in this context a descendant of the Celtic world is likely to discover that a version of ancient Celtic spirituality is awakened… it is as if the psyche, automatically realising that a bridge must be constructed between the colonising consciousness and the primal landscape, reaches back into cultural memory to find an answering image of aboriginality.” (Tacey 2000, p. 139)

To reflect the hybrid state of an Irish person living under the southern cross, I also made works of oak grafted onto eucalyptus branches. Some branches had a snake-like quality that reflected both the Blue Snake of Ireland and the Australian indigenous Rainbow Serpent. Like the Cailleach the rainbow serpent is female and she created passages through rocks and formed waterholes in the Kakadu landscape helping form a habitat for all beings. She is also part of the life cycle of plants animals and seasonal changes.

The Book of Durrow Carpet – Page with interlacing snakes. c.675: 9x5 inches

The Book of Durrow Carpet – Page with interlacing snakes. c.675: 9×5 inches

This connection is lent weight by research which has also found common genes and language between the Dravidians of India and Australian Indigenous people. (Sidharth Gautham Sunder 2013)

The Indo-European words for oak and Pole Star have been traced to the Sanskrit words Daru and Dhurva respectively. The Gaelic word for oak is dair while druida and the Irish draoi refer to the wise man of the oaks. Drui -in is the wren, the little bird of the druid. Several D -R English words include duration, endure and durable. (Meehan 1995, p.17-18).

A monument to the ancestors was based on Grunewald’s Crucifixion. Psychoanalyst and art critic Julia Kristeva used Grunewald to describe the state of abjection a place of primal anguish where borders between self and other dissolve. The women at the foot of Grunewald’s cross arch backward in the Arch of Hysteria, a posture described by Charcot in the 19th C. asylums of Paris. The arch was the subject of many of Louise Bourgeois sculptures that reflect upon to the relationship between the genders, and in Ireland’s story a painful one of violence, alcoholism and multiple pregnancies emerged, as is found in any dispossessed and vilified people. The Catholic Church was both a source of comfort and control especially of women’s rights within marriage in terms of contraception and abortion.

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(Art Essay 1) An experience of the Cailleach Beare, primordial creatrix of ancient Ireland Frances Guerin

I was summoned to Ireland by a crow tapping its beak loudly against my window just after dawn for many months. In frustration I yelled out, “Who are you and what do you want?” Surprisingly, a thought responded, “Mother and grandmother”. Then the crow came no more.

However at night I dreamed of the Gaelic place names of Ireland, and the mysterious words, Cailleach Beare and Fianna, written in the scales of a snake’s back. The great blue snake sped across the south west of Ireland and transformed into a woman in white with a red sun behind her. Then little ceramic figures emerged including one of a woman riding a turtle.

Frances Guerin 2012, Woman riding a Turtle ceramic, raku fired .25mx .9m.12m

Frances Guerin 2012, Woman riding a Turtle ceramic, raku fired .25mx .9m.12m

The great Ah ha moment came when I found other contemporary artists who had made similar works of a woman on a turtle.

Annette Messager, 1988, detail from Le Jardin du Tendre

(a) Annette Messager, 1988 detail from Le Jardin du Tendre (b) Peter Jones,
Louise Skywoman falls to earth ( c) Vishnu’s 2nd incarnation as Kurma the Turtle

French artist Annette Messager drew a constellation in the form of a woman on a live turtle and set them free in the Jardin du Tendre. Peter Jones, an Iriquois Indian, told an old tale of Louise Skywoman falling to earth, off balance as she copes with contemporary life as a drinks waitress. The final discovery was the blue Hindu god Vishnu’s 2nd incarnation as a turtle that bore the earth mountain on his back during a flood similar in ways and times to the biblical Noah.

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(Special Post Isis 3) Why the Color of Isis Matters by Mago Circle Members

[Editor’s note: The discussion took place in Mago Circle during the month of July, 2013. Our heartfelt thanks go to the members who participated in this discussion with openness and courage.]

Part 3 Isis, Arab Women Revolution, and Black Goddesses

Naa Ayele Kumari Going back to the original topic of the post…. Some quotes ” Women are in half the society… How come there are only 7 in the Assembly… and they are all Islamist! ” I can’t beat up my wife and almost kill her and call it discipline… this is not discipline… this is abuse and insanity”


12-Year Old Explains Egyptian Revolution in Under 3 Minutes


Max Dashu It is tremendously heartening to see these insights being expressed, and spread. The Salafis have made such inroads, and now the pushback is happening.

Harita Meenee Dear Naa Ayele Kumari, thank you actually reading my post and commenting something relevant to it. It’s refreshing when someone does hear what we have to say instead of projecting their own notions. Building a solidarity movement with those who are oppressed but fighting is very important during these critical times!

Harita Meenee See also:


The uprising of women in the Arab world انتفاضة المرأة في العالم العربي

حرية الفكر ، حرية

التعبير ، حرية الاعتقاد ، حرية التنقل ، حرية الجسد ، حرية اللب…See More

Glenys Livingstone … as you say Max …” way too much of it going on” – amongst people who should know better (I would have thought): “Dark goddess as terrifying, challenging, white goddess as benign; “black magic” as harmful; I see way, way too much of this going on out there.” And related to that in my mind is all the “love and light” business that is so common: the Ground of Being is Dark … it seems to me that mystics have always understood the quintessential darkness of Love/Deity.

Max Dashu Sure. I would just like to add that the critique raised here addressed issues much broader than the substance of the article, which made some good points. But once the choice of graphics flagged the issue of representation, people had much more to say about that old yet still very fresh wound which is constantly reopened by the cultural habit of whitening Egypt, or interpreting Africa through a eurocentric lens. It is not on any one person to carry the weight of that; we all have a responsibility to address the issues, but especially those of us of European heritage need to familiarize ourselves with how this plays out over and over. Just as men have a responsibility to speak up in support of women when patriarchal assumptions are on board. We all can learn something from each other, along all the various axes of domination, and overthrow them in coalition.

Naa Ayele Kumari I have often considered where the roots of this psychology comes from. It is dualistic thinking that causes us to compare and contrast, then sum up judgement of good or bad and place a value on each. It extends into competition and justification for war. It also doesn’t escape me that often this came with certain civilizations who systematically destroyed others. It didn’t just happen with blacks in Africa… but blacks in Asia and the Indus Valley as well.

With the Aryan invasions of India, came the eventual introduction to lighter divinities and more emphasis on male divinities. Southern Indians, Sri Lankans are very dark… even more so than many African Blacks. The caste systems implemented by the Aryan invaders did the same thing to them casting them as “untouchables”. With that came the marginalization of their black female divinities such as Kali. Kali actually has 10-16 forms… from compassionate mother, the fountain of wisdom, to she of great beauty but she is minimized as just destructive and terrifying… especially as Brhaman, Vishnuu, and Shiva grow in popularity. One of Kali’s statues has her black self standing on top of Shiva because she conquered him. Later there is a discussion in on of the Hindu text explaining Kali (as Parvati) after being subdued by Shiva she becomes lighter. Further they have stories about him rejecting her and calling her blackie which made her do austerities to rid herself of her black skin.

Naa Ayele Kumari It should not be overlooked that in the Story of Alice in Wonderland… a story intended to keep Goddess elements for future generations, has the Elder sister ( the Queen of Hearts) portrayed as man, ego, and power driven who cuts off heads and has a fierce dragon…a clear reference to Kali. The White goddess as the younger sister is her opponent… and her mission is to usurp the throne of the Queen of Hearts even though she was the rightful heir as the oldest … or primordial. Stories like these also reinforce the stereotypes and negative iconography.

Max Dashu Yes, it is pervasive in many cultures of domination. Demons are portrayed as black not only in Europe, which we know well, but also in China and in a lot of Buddhist iconography. In modern India, the sweet goddesses are shown as pink, the wrathful as black; and Krishna (name means “dark”) is turned powder blue. (Another of his titles, s’yam, also meaning dark, is the word translated as “green” in Green Tara.) The countercurrents (Black Mazu, loving Kali – esp in Bengal and south India, Black Madonna) bubbled up from the common people, who knew and longed for something other than the dominant racialized hierarchy.

5Naa Ayele Kumari I am just discovering Mazu ( Matzu/LuShui) in China today! Never knew about her. This discussion has led me to look deeper for black goddesses in Asia.

Max Dashu Taoist spiritual tradition often refers to Xüan Nü, which can be translated in several ways. You’ll usually see it rendered as “the Mysterious Female,” a phrase that occurs in the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), and this is a valid translation; but what is less emphasized is that it also means “the Dark Woman.” In this usage she is an initiator into the Mysteries. Ultimately of course these meanings can’t be separated.

Rick Williams This thread was awesome. I intended to awaken diverse versions of TRUTH. Received much more, thank you all. Want add that SPECTRUM color variations coincide with empowerment of vibrational imagery. To see this REALM with one VISION goes against all that I REmember, as IM taught NOthing in this REALM. When any political CONflict lacks a reVIEW of SPIRITUAL imBALANCE nothing in relationship to that LIFE circumstance will be resolved. To continualy HOPE that WE may ONEDAY see TRUTH without AFFIRMING TRUTH in the SPIRIT of MER MA’AT conflicting ENERGY will reMAIN to RULE the DAY by NIGHT. HTP, LOVE and PEACE.

(End of the Discussion. Read Part 1 and Part 2)

(Essay) “The Language of the Goddess” In Minoan Crete by Carol P. Christ

While the “war against Marija Gimbutas,” rooted in what my friend Mara Keller calls “theaphobia,” is being waged in the academy, her theories continue to unlock the meaning of hundreds of thousands of artifacts from the culture she named “Old Europe.”

According to Gimbutas, the Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures of Old Europe c. 6500-3500 BCE were peaceful, sedentary, agricultural, matrifocal and probably matrilineal, egalitarian, and worshipped the Goddess as the power of birth, death, and regeneration in human and all forms of life.  The cultures of the Old Europe contrasted with the Bronze Age cultures of the Indo-Europeans who brought the Indo-European languages and value systems to Europe and India and to all of the European colonies.  The Indo-European cultures were patriarchal, patrilineal, nomadic, horse-riding, and warlike, and worshipped the shining Gods of the sky.

“The language of the Goddess” includes a series of signs and symbols that the people of Old Europe could “read” as surely as you and I know that a cross on top of a building marks it as Christian or that a woman wearing a star of David pendant is Jewish.  Gimbutas identified the meaning of these symbols through a painstaking process that involved comparison of artifacts, attention to where they were found, and clues from the recurrence of similar symbols in later cultures.  In twenty years of leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete, I have found Gimbutas’ theories an indispensible “hermeneutical principle” which unlocks the meanings of the artifacts we encounter.


(Read the remainder of the essay in Feminism and Religion.)

(Special Post Isis 2) Why the Color of Isis Matters by Mago Circle Members

[Editor’s note: The discussion took place in Mago Circle during the month of July, 2013. Our heartfelt thanks go to the members who participated in this discussion with openness and courage.]

Part 2 The Color Talk in Goddesses
Isis of Egypt sits on her lion throne nursing her sacred son Horus. Her head is crowned with a snake and horns, both symbols of regeneration. Isis is often depicted in black basalt. Isis and Horus become models for the Virgin Mary and child, particularly the Black Madonnas. As it gained power, Christianity absorbed earlier myths and made their stories its own. Bronze sculpture, c. 600-400 BCE, Leiden Museum, Netherlands Goddess Banner Isis by Lydia Ruyle

Isis of Egypt sits on her lion throne nursing her sacred son Horus. Her head is crowned with a snake and horns, both symbols of regeneration. Isis is often depicted in black basalt. Isis and Horus become models for the Virgin Mary and child, particularly the Black Madonnas. As it gained power, Christianity absorbed earlier myths and made their stories its own.
Bronze sculpture, c. 600-400 BCE, Leiden Museum, Netherlands
Goddess Banner Isis by Lydia Ruyle

Kahena Dorothea Athena was also whitened which is sad. However the statues were worshiped by many women to whom they brought comfort. And their origins were later remembered by the abundance of Black Virgins that became important in Italy and other parts of Europe. I don’t see Dark Goddesses as shadows but as having depths of Creativity and Knowledge. My main Goddess is Kirke and the bast relief I have of her is a chocolate brown.

Diane Horton The worship of Isis broadened from Egypt to all the countries bordering the Mediterranean, as well as the Middle East and the isles called now the British Isles. She and Her worship were virtually everywhere in the westernly known world of the time! She IS the Goddess of 10,000 Names! And as such she was adapted to each culture’s vision of Her. She was the basis of all the” Black Madonnas”. I do not think of this as Isis/Auset representing the “dark” Goddess as something somehow bad or to be dealt with, but rather that ancient darkness represents infinite potential, eternal creativity/fertility, the beginning and ending of all things, and the always deepening knowledge of magick.

Max Dashu However, there is a politics of representation that we all need to be aware of, that pushes original African iconography down and away, and fronts Europeanized images. There is no possibility of “colorblindness” in such a system; a restoration of the original must be actively striven toward. This is incumbent on all of us not of (recent) African descent. Otherwise we perpetuate the injurious status quo, instead of overturning it.

Harita Meenee I agree with those who say that race is largely a social construct. Its roots seem to lie in colonialism and the slave trade. I would also like to add that racism is used to oppress people of different nationalities and colors. Ηere in Greece the IMF neo-liberal policies are destroying our economy (and lives); they go hand in hand with a vicious racist campaign against immigrants, along with the rise of a neo-Nazi party.

This is part of an effort to redirect people’s anger away from the government and bankers, towards those who are poor and foreign and often have a different color or religion.

Fortunately, many grassroots activists are responding to this by building a strong anti-racist, antifascist movement. You can see our Facebook page below. It’s in Greek but the photos are quite revealing. If anyone is interested in learning more about the situation here, please message me and I’ll try to find some articles in English for you.


19 Γεναρη –

ΑΘΗΝΑ ΠΟΛΗ Αντιφασιστικη

Μπροστά στη κλιμάκωση της φασιστικής

απειλής και της ρατσιστικής βίας, στη εμφάν…See More

Naa Ayele Kumari


Let me put this in the context of something you might understand. This is a goddess group that honors the feminine and the power it represents. People in this group understand the oppression and misrepresentation of women. We understand the implications of misogynistic patriarchal thinking. We understand the implications of stealing the information, rites, and traditions from goddess centered cultures and rephrasing them into male dominated themes… especially those that then went on to oppress women today.

This is the same thing that has happened as it related to race and our cultures. It infuriates us when a man may say… why do we have to focus on the goddess? Let us just accept that we are all human and no special consideration should be given to anyone because of their gender. Or, this is just a distraction or social construct and it really doesn’t matter. We understand the blatant disregard and ignorance of those statements. Yet, the same is true for race and people of other races. Your attitude and casual disregard perpetuates a lie that you are comfortable with and don’t wish to move from that comfort zone. It means you don’t have to be accountable for the injustices or oppression it continues to perpetuate in the larger culture toward people who do not look like you.

As far as I am concerned, I truly believe that the dark goddess for many with white skin IS their shadow… It is the part of themselves that they deny and fear. That you may have come from black people may scare you… even when the science proves it. That deep down… you fear what you don’t understand. To even confront it is frightening… something that you would rather ignore and deny… Yet… here we are. Black, Yellow, Red… people.. women… who have been oppressed for thousands of year because of this… and are asking… to be seen in their true likeness… not as you wish them to be… or fear them to be.

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(Special Post Isis 1) Why the Color of Isis Matters by Mago Circle Members

[Editor’s note: The discussion took place in Mago Circle during the month of July, 2013. Our heartfelt thanks go to the members who participated in this discussion with openness and courage.]

Part 1 Is Isis White (European) or Black (African)? 

Harita Meenee

What could Isis have to do with the political situation in Egypt? Read on to find out!

1Isis, Egypt and the Revolution

For the past few years Egypt has felt like a second home to me. Some cherished friends and co-workers live there, to whom my thoughts often travel. Also, Isis, the Egyptian great goddess once worshiped all over the Mediterranean, has been an ever-present source of inspiration…

By: Harita Meenee, Author


Rick Williams Isis and that picture for me is kind of offensive in 2013. KMT [Kemet, Egypt] and AUSET [Isis] “worship” is an oxymoron.

Kahena Dorothea Can you explain, Rick Williams, how it is an oxymoron? I am curious.

Rick Williams First, Auset as a deity was not a singularly honored symbolic personage. KMT taught principles of BALANCE and UNIVERSAL COSMOLOGICAL TRUTH. There are NO images from the dawn of that age depicting her as EUROPEAN.

[Threads curtailed]

Helen Hwang I would strongly suggest that Rick and others who see Rick’s point educate us in Mago Circle. I know this is very difficult but we are here to learn and express differences from each other. We are all centers and please share your perspective and knowledge so that others can learn. I am doing that with patience and tolerance as well. Thank you all!

Rick Williams I try to be as honest and respectful when I can, Helen. I only personalize things when ONE person says something. Yet there are those who know that the people of that land now weren’t the same people who honored the deities of mythology and that image isn’t of Auset. When will folks stop promoting fictitious images and uneducated observations? I could have beat around the bush and politely asked about the statue, why that one isn’t truly the same of Auset’s time?

Helen Hwang Okay, conflicts and contradictions are everywhere. Nonetheless, we can’t be beat by those. We are exploring ways to be empowered by addressing our differences in Mago Circle. We trust that we have good intentions and yet we are not perfect. I do Mago Circle and Return to Mago because I believe there is a way for us to meet and talk with our differences, I can’t let that hope go! Thank us for talking to each other.

Naa Ayele Kumari I can see both points. Egypt has a long and ancient history… One filled with invaders.. wars.. people who stole the magic and manipulated it for their own purposes… Those invaders changed images to make them in their own reflections all the while slowly destroying the indigenous images of power and strength as well as the sacred tradition they were built on.. As a woman of African descent, it is sometimes difficult to see the Hellenistic images of our mother.. because her original images were

a woman of color. Racism… whether we chose to admit it or not has played an immense part in our oppression as a people and that includes the struggle for Egypt today. It is especially a sensitive issue because those images play a role in how people see and view black women… even today. The dark goddess is stereotyped as being a part of our shadow while the white goddess is caste as being all that is good in the world. What black women struggle to tell the world is that those projections are simply racist projections… and so we reject them.

Still, I recognize that people like to experience the divine in their own image and that our Mother has been taken around the world… and by extension absorbed many names and faces because after all, she is mother not to just Africans… but to the World.

Right now, we have dominant tradition of Islam… that at its roots has a feminine basis… (Islam came from the word Isis) all the while oppressing women by its dogma. The indigenous people of Egypt, the Badarians and Nubians… are oppressed by Arab invaders who have taken control, projected their own religions all the while wanting to destroy the remainder of the images of the ancients.

Injustice recognizes injustice… and all the ways that it shows up. At the root of Egypt…is Isis… called also Esi and Auset by the indigenous people. She has been oppressed by many layers of invaders… Her daughter’s voices have been muted… Timeless icon that she is, as the tides are turning, so are the heavy oppressions being lifted. Women are finding and re-remembering their power… and as they do… Mama Esi.. is taking back her throne.

2Naa Ayele Kumari This is the Isis on the walls and temples of Egypt.

Harita Meenee Seeing the people of Egypt as all white or all Black means stereotyping them. In fact the inhabitants of Egypt are of different colors: some are white, others are Black and many others are something in-between. The same was true in antiquity and it’s reflected in Egyptian art.

Rick Williams Harita, really? What does that have to do with your choice of misrepresentation of that image? Please enlighten me, thank you.

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(Art Essay) Brigid, Goddess of Healing, Poetry, and Smithcraft by Judith Shaw

Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Healing, Poetry, and Smithcraft, begins her reign on Imbolic, February 2, the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox. On this day the ancient Celts held their Fire Festival in honor of Brigid and the growing light. In Scotland, as recently as the mid-twentieth century, houses were cleaned and the hearth fires rekindled on February 2, to welcome in  Brigid.  Remnants of this festival are found in America today on Groundhog Day.

Like the Cailleach, She existed in many places and  was known by many names.  The Irish called her Brighde; she was Bride in Scotland,  Brigantia in Northern Britain, and Brigandu in France.  Some called her Brid, Brig or Brighid.  Later she was transformed by Christianity into Saint Bridget.  Her older name was BREO SAIGHEAD.   Her name has various interpretations, many relating to fire – “Power,” “Renown” “Fiery Arrow of Power ” “Bright Arrow”, “The Bright One”, “The Powerful One”, “The High One” and “The Exalted One”.


As a triple goddess She reigns over three aspects of life, all united by fire.  Her  sacred flame is symbolic of the creative principle. In Kildare, Ireland, Brigid’s shrine had a continually burning sacred fire, even after the shrine became a Christian nunnery.  Finally in 1220 it was extinguished by the orders of Archbishop Henry of Dublin.

(Read the remainder of the essay in Feminism and Religion.)

(Novel 1) The Singing of Swans by Mary Saracino

[Note: This is an excerpt from the first chapter in Mary Saracino’s novel, The Singing of Swans (Pearlsong Press 2006). Used by permission from the publisher. For more information, visit http://www.pearlsong.com/thesingingofswans.htm.]

Chapter 1

Night Rider

Singing of SwansThe night sky held no moon as Ziza pushed through the roof of her house and soared into the stark blackness.  A gust of wind became her wings, pushing her up and up above the slumbering sounds of her small village, Caneva, in Friuli — a province tucked away in the northeastern corner of a country that what would someday be known as Italy. Far below, beneath an inky darkness, only the occasional stray cat peered up from the cobblestones, twitching its tail in anticipation of a passing mouse. Ziza’s neighbors snored in their beds. Her husband, Aldo DeSante, tossed and turned, unaware that while his wife’s body lay beside him, her spirit traveled elsewhere. She promised to return before the stroke of five to ensure that death would not claim her mortal limbs.  Her children were lost in complicated dreams and her mother, Carmela, nursing a bout of insomnia, sat before the family’s ancestral Lare altar, next to the cold hearth in the corner of their small home. She alone knew that Ziza had been called away on official business.

It was cold that Thursday night in the midst of the Ember days of fasting. A sharp wind howled fiercely down the alleyways that third week of September in the year 1575, foreshadowing a long, frigid winter, but Ziza felt nothing of the chill for her body was as vaporous as air. Light and porous she flew past the church steeple, the shops that lined the piazza, and over the well in the center of her village. Dense clouds hovered over the land; no stars shone to guide her, but still Ziza kept on.   She levitated above the tiled rooftops, pausing a moment to determine if the others were ready, as well. From the darkened bell tower, an owl hooted, signaling for her to proceed.

At the edge of town, Ziza joined Lucia, Pietro, Sophia, Antonio, and Filaberta.  Without a word, the night riders veered west and south, toward the wheat fields on a stony ridge two miles outside of town. There amid acres of bearded grain the others waited. There, during this time between solstices, this midnight of the autumn Ember Days, they would enact the ritual.

The wind bellowed as the cadre of journeyers sped over roads and rivers, byways and stone fences, olive trees and vineyards. Ziza’s tangle of snaky dark tresses swirled around her face as she raced through the night sky. The night smelled of damp grass and wet soil for the rain had pummeled the countryside earlier that evening. The omen had been favorable and Ziza knew in her bones that after midnight the battle would begin. A victory was possible, if their hearts were pure enough and focused on the welfare of their townspeople.

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(Essay 2) The Midsummer Dancers by Max Dashú

Priestly accounts accuse the entranced dancers of being possessed and questioned whether they were christians. An old Belgian chronicle described them with the verse Gens impacata cadit / Dudum cruciata salvat: “people restively fall, doubting the cross saves.” [Bachmann, 201] “A contemporary poem speaks of their being opposed to the faith, haters of the clergy, and indifferent to [its] sacraments.” [McColloch, 256-7]

The Liege Chronicle of 1402, also written by a monk, says that the dancers first came to Liege for the consecration of the Mary Church, where they leaped and danced before the altar: “On their heads they bore a sort of wreath, and as they leaped they cried ‘Frilis’.”[Bachman, 199] The wreaths, leaping dances and gathering at Marian shrines turn up in other descriptions of the wandering dancers. Johan of Leyden wrote that they wore wreaths on their heads and kept crying out, “Frijsch, Frijsch” as they danced. [Bachmann, 200]

A much later version in Koelhoff’s Chronicle of 1499 has the dancers shouting as they leap, “Oh Lord St John/so, so/ Whole and happy, Lord St John!” [Bachmann, 203] The word Frisch is no longer being used, but its meaning is retained (and confirmed). Fragments of the old call survived in the Fulda region’s midsummer bonfire cry: Haberje, haberju! fri fre frid! [Grimm, 618]

Across Europe it was customary to dance around Midsummer bonfires. The Swedes used nine kinds of wood in their blaze, and wove nine kinds of flowers into the dancers’ garlands. In many places people gathered nine special herbs, usually including hypericum and mugwort. The Spanish gathered verbena at dawn and leaped over the fires (as the Catalans still do). The Letts sang and gathered hypericum and a plant called raggana kauli, “witch’s bones.” People observing these old pagan customs were called “John’s folk,” after the saint whose day fell on the old pagan festival. [all Grimm, 1467]

Mugwort, Artemisia Vulgaris Herbs in the Artemisia family are regarded as sacred in North America (desert sage, among others, has purifying powers), China (where it is used in moxibustion smudging by acupuncturists) and Europe, where it also was used as a smudge to remove negative influences and was said to protect those who wore it.

Mugwort, Artemisia Vulgaris
Herbs in the Artemisia family are regarded as sacred in North America (desert sage, among others, has purifying powers), China (where it is used in moxibustion smudging by acupuncturists) and Europe, where it also was used as a smudge to remove negative influences and was said to protect those who wore it.

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(Essay 1) The Midsummer Dancers by Max Dashú

How people dealt with distress in a time of extremity by reviving the old pagan dances.

Midsummers Day was holy all over Europe. Irish and Scots, Swiss and French, Germans, Lithuanians, Italians, Russians, and Swedes celebrated the climax of the light with celebratory rituals. At midnight on the holyday’s eve, said Spanish tradition, the waters are blessed with special power. Maidens rushed to be the first to reach the springs. The first to drink the water received its “flower,” and left a green sprig to show others that it had been collected. People brought this water home as medicine. They took off clothing and shoes to bathe in the Midsummer’s eve dew, which had blessing and curative powers.

Everything was possible on this night of mysterious power. The dark sky was alight with bonfires, and people dancing around them, singing “Long live the dance and those who are in it/Señor San Juan! / Even the stars will join in/ Viva la danza y los que en ella están!” Long live the dance and those who are in it!” The Church had succeeded in renaming Midsummer’s Day after one of its saints, but not in eliminating the ancient customs.

Basque woman musician

Basque woman musician

At sunrise the sun dances with joy, and the entire world is washed clean, full of grace. The xanas emerge from their wells and caves, combing their long hair, and people sought gifts of abundance from them. (Xanas are faeries whose name is derived from the Roman dianae, or dianas.) At Salas tradition prescribed going to the xana’s fountain on St John’s morn to say, “Xana, take my poverty / Give me your wealth.” [Canellada, 249, 262]

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(Essay) Women, Power, and Religion in Ancient Athens by Harita Meenee

If there ever was an intimate connection between state and religion, we can see it quite clearly in ancient Athens. The very name of the city is attributed to a goddess—Athena, its protectress and guardian. There are different versions of how this came to be as she competed against Poseidon, the angry god of the sea and earthquakes. A fascinating story about this fight comes surprisingly from a Christian writer, St. Augustine:

At the time of Kekrops [legendary king of Athens] an olive tree suddenly sprung up on the hill of the Akropolis and a spring gushed out near that spot. Kekrops asked the oracle for advice and received the response that the spring suggested Poseidon, while the olive tree pointed to Athena. Kekrops called an assembly of all the citizens, male and female, to vote on the question; for at that time and in that place the custom was that women as well as men should take part in discussions about the affairs of state. When the matter was put before the people, the men voted for Neptune [Poseidon], the women for Minerva [Athena]; as it happened, the women outnumbered the men by one; thus, the victory was given to Minerva.

Then Neptune was outraged and devastated the territory of Athens flooding it with sea-water (…). To appease his anger (…) the women suffered a threefold punishment: they were never to have the vote again; their children were never to take their mother’s name; and no one was ever to call them “Athenian women.”[1]

This amazing myth reveals a telling connection between religion and politics. Also, it states quite bluntly that there was a time when women had significant rights: they participated in the decision-making in a democratic way, they had the legal status of Athenian citizens, while the naming of children was likely to be matrilineal. The essential truth of this legend is confirmed by archeological and anthropological evidence, showing that egalitarian societies did exist in prehistoric times, while in some parts of the world they survived even until recent years.[2]

Furthermore, the matrilineal naming of children is attested among several ancient peoples, such as the Lykians of southwestern Anatolia, the Egyptians and the Etruscans. It is also evident in the Hellenic colony Lokri Epizephyrii in Southern Italy, as well as in the area of Western Lokris in Greece.[3] Even in modern Greece, where, as a rule, children take their fathers’ surnames, a number of surnames clearly originate in female names.

The tale preserved by St. Augustine also demonstrates that Athena was worshipped mainly by women—it was their vote who made her patron (or rather matron!) of the city. Yet at the same time this story shows how religion was used to justify women’s oppression: their subordination was presented as a kind of punishment inflicted through the wrath of a male deity, as plainly stated by St. Augustine. Far-fetched as this may sound, it is also reminiscent of another story used to marginalize the female sex in more recent times: the punishment of Eve, who is portrayed as angering God within both Judaism and Christianity…

Women were indeed deprived of many rights in class-divided, patriarchal Athens; yet the power of the goddess never failed. Athena remained strong and independent—unlike other goddesses, she was never defeated, raped or forced into marriage. The best-known monument of ancient Greece, a testimony to the glamour and wealth of classical Athens, is none other than her temple, the Parthenon. The word derives from Athena’s title Parthenos, “Virgin,” a term originally denoting a woman’s unmarried status rather than her physical virginity.[4] The goddess’s huge statue, made of gold and ivory, was the work of Pheidias, one of the most famous sculptors of antiquity.[5]

Many were her titles and attributes in ancient Athens: Polias, “Goddess of the City,” Promakhos, “Defender,” Boulaia, “Of the City Council,” Ergane, “Industrious” etc.[6] Splendid festivals, like the Panathenaia, were organized by the state in her honor. Women always retained a special place in her rituals, as her priestesses and worshippers. They took part in formal processions, wove herpeplos (mantle), carried her sacred objects and ceremonially washed her wooden statue. They also tended the fertility of the earth in festivals like the Skira and the Arrephoria, since women always maintained a mystical connection to the land and the magical energy of the goddess.[7]

Although, according to myth, they suffered the loss of many rights because of their devotion to her, they knew better than to hold that against her. Besides, oppression is usually rooted in political, social and economic conditions rather than in religious beliefs used to justify it. The wealth and power of ancient Athens was largely based on the exploitation of women and slaves—female as well as male ones.[8] Aristophanes, the greatest comedy writer of antiquity, pointed in his own way at women as the possible solution to the problems of social injustice and war.[9] It seems that memories of a more egalitarian and peaceful world, in which the female gender played a major role, were still alive in his time. Intertwined with these memories was old, wise Athena.[10] For the women of the city she was a mighty goddess of peace and freedom, dear to their hearts, rejoicing in their celebrations, or so grandpa Aristophanes tells us. Thus, the female chorus in hisThesmophoriazousai makes a touching invocation to her:

Athena Pallas, the dance-loving goddess,
it is custom to call to our dance,
the virgin, unmarried maiden,
holding our city,
she alone having evident power,
she, the keeper of its keys.
Appear, you who properly despises tyrants.

The womenfolk are calling you;
come to us bringing Peace,
who loves festivities.[11]

Copyright by Harita Meenee

(This was originally published here: http://hmeenee.com/1794/8501.html)

(Essay) Orphic Mysteries and Goddess(es) of Nature, Greek Hymns Honoring the Divine Feminine by Harita Meenee

“Nature, mother goddess of all… almighty one… primordial… law-giver of the gods… Leader, ruler bringing life… Destiny and fate, fiery breath…” These phrases belong to the Orphic Hymn to Nature (Physis in Greek, from which the words physics and physical derive). It’s hard to find a more telling description of the Divine Feminine’s immense powers in all of the Hellenic literature!

Neolithic marble figurine from Sparta, Southern Greece. The polos on her head indicates that she was probably a goddess. From the 6th millennium BCE. National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece. Photo by Harita Meenee.

Neolithic marble figurine from Sparta, Southern Greece. The polos on her head indicates that she was probably a goddess. From the 6th millennium BCE. National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece. Photo by Harita Meenee.

The Orphic Hymns form a collection of 87 poems, each one dedicated to a specific deity. They were used in the rituals of a group practicing a mystery religion, most probably in Asia Minor. Those initiated in the Orphic Mysteries claimed Orpheus as their founder — he was the most famous legendary musician of Greece, son of the Muse Kalliope, and husband of Eurydike. His existence (real or imagined) is shrouded in the mists of a mythical past, but his followers were active from the 6th century BCE on.

The dating of the hymns is a controversial subject. Some scholars think they were composed in the late Hellenistic era (3rd — 2nd c. BCE), while others place them in Roman times, in the 1st — 3rd century CE. However, it seems quite likely that the content of these verses is based on much older material.

The powerful presence of goddesses in the Orphic collection is unquestionable — out of 87 poems 41 are dedicated to female deities, many of whom are also mentioned in the hymns to gods. Olympian figures, like Demeter and Aphrodite, are highly praised, often in unexpected ways:

Everything from you derives; you yoked

the world and rule over three realms,

giving birth to all that is in heaven,

on the fruitful earth, in the ocean depths…

(Orphic Hymn to Aphrodite, 4-7)

Moreover, some of the poems honor primordial goddesses of nature, such as Gaia, Nyx (Night), Selene (the personification of the moon) and Tethys, an old and venerable sea deity. They also praise Rhea-Cybele, the orgiastic “Mother of Gods and human beings” (14, 9; cf. 27, 1, 7). The goddess of justice in her diverse forms, as Dike, Dikaiosyne and Nemesis, also figures prominently in the collection.

Could this highly important role of female divinities reflect the significance of women in the group using the Orphic Hymns? We certainly know that women participated enthusiastically in most of the mystery religions of the ancient world; it seems that the Orphic one was no exception, in spite of certain misogynist elements present in it. We might wonder then if some of these verses, whose poets remain anonymous, could have been written by female authors. Why not, after all? Hellenistic women, like Anyte, Nossis and Moiro, are often delighted to mention and praise goddesses in their poems.

One way or another, it is exciting to see female deities honored in such a whole-hearted and fascinating way as revealed in the Orphic texts. Above all, the Hymn to Nature brings to light the age-old Mother Goddess of many names, the supreme Creatress, “dancing with whirling noiseless feet” her eternal dance of life and growth…


Orphic Hymn to Nature

Nature, mother goddess of all,
ingenious mother, crone!
Creatress of many, sovereign
ruler, all-taming, always untamed.
Celestial, all-shining, almighty one,
+ * honored and supreme in every way, 
imperishable, primordial, first-born.

Praised by people, seasoned and wild,
nocturnal, light-bringer, dancing
with whirling noiseless feet.
Pure, law-giver of the gods,
unending and the end,
shared by all, yet
alone untouched.

Self-fathered, fatherless,
desired and sublime
full of lovely flowers, delightful one.
Friendly and knowing,
weaving, mixed with many things.
Leader, ruler bringing life,
maiden who nurtures all.

Self-sufficient, lady of justice!
You of many names
the Kharites obey.
Protectress of the air,
of land and sea,
bitter to the wicked,
to the obedient sweet.

All-wise, all-giving, care-taker, queen of all,
growth-bringer, fertile, ripener of fruit.
Father and mother of all,
nurturer and nurse,
giver of swift births.
Force of the seasons,
fruitful one and blessed!

Giver of all arts, creator, many things
you shape, setting all in motion,
eternal, + goddess of the sea. 
Prudent and skilled,
in everlasting swirl whirling the swift
flow, ever-flowing, moving
in cycles, shape shifting.

Seated on a fine throne,
honored, you alone
decide, being far above those
who scepters hold.
Loud thundering,
fearless and strong,
force that tames all.

Destiny and fate, fiery breath,
eternal life, immortal providence;
all + is in you, + since  
you alone create.
Goddess, to you I pray:
bring + in rich + seasons, peace, 
growth to all and health.

Author’s Note: *The symbol + indicates that the manuscript is worn out at this point, hence the words cannot be read clearly and their interpretation is uncertain.

Bibliography and Further Reading  

Athanassakis, Apostolos N. The Orphic Hymns: Text, Translation and Notes. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1988.

Guthrie, W.K.C. Orpheus and Greek Religion. 2nd ed. Princeton, NJ: PrincetonUniversity, 1993.

Long, Asphodel P. In a Chariot Drawn by Lions: The Search of the Female in Deity. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1993.

—. “Orphic Hymns.” Arachne 9. 1989. Available online, http://www.asphodel-long.com/html/orphic_hymns.html.

Mystical Hymns of Orpheus. 2nd ed. Translated by Thomas Taylor. Chiswick: 1824. Reprinted by Kessinger. Available online, http://www.theoi.com/Text/OrphicHymns1.html.

“Orphic Hymn to Demeter.” Translated by Harita Meenee. http://hmeenee.com/1773/index.html.

Orphic Hymns. 3rd ed. Τranslated by D. P. Papaditsas and Helen Ladia. Athens: “Hestia” Bookstore, 1997.

Snyder, Jane McIntosh. The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome. Carbondale, IL: Southern IllinoisUniversity, 1989.

First published in She Is Everywhere! Volume 3: An anthology of writings in womanist/feminist spirituality (iUniverse 2012), co-edited by Mary Saracino and Mary Beth Moser.

The anthology has been selected to receive the Enheduanna Award for excellence in the field of women’s spirituality from the Master’s Program in Women’s Spirituality at Sofia University (formerly the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology) in Palo Alto, California. The book is available at http://www.amazon.com/She-Everywhere-Anthology-Writings-Spirituality/dp/1462064337.


(Essay) Searching for Diana by Max Dashu

After a long hiatus, I’m back to work on the manuscript—most recently on Diana: goddess of the Moon, of the ancient Sabine and Capuans, and a goddess of women and of enslaved people. With the greatly expanded reach of Google as a research tool, many topics blossom in amazing ways, but in this case I was struck by how little quality material was available. But women’s religion usually goes unattested, especially by sources as patriarchal as the classic Roman writers.

So much attention goes to the relatively late Roman legend about the rex Nemorensis (“king of Nemi”). This was supposed to be an ancient line of priests of Diana who had been fugitive slaves or criminals, and who gained the priesthood by murdering their predecessors: “who slew the slayer and shall himself be slain.” Nothing about this story, of course, fits with anything we know about Diana. James Fraser wrote about the rex Nemorensis in The Golden Bough (although he concluded that such priests actually served the forest god, not Diana).

The title comes, of course, from Diana’s oldest sanctuary of Nemi. But this story about the rex Nemorensis seems to be quite late; all the sources for it date to the 1st century CE and later. The lack of attestation for such an ancient tradition puzzled more than one scholar. “The problem is peculiarly obscure,” commented Arthur Gordon, a respected scholar of Diana, and an earlier commentator agreed: “It is curious that in none of the inscriptions that have been found is the priest of Diana mentioned…” Gordon confirmed that there was no record of such priests or what function they might have served. 1 In the 1960’s, the distinguished classicist Joseph Fontenrose was one of the first to discount the story as false. 2 Yet it continues to be told.

So where are the priestesses? The picture is murky, since the scholarly literature does not seem to mention any. But Plutarch (also a late source) tells us that no man was allowed to enter her temple, a tradition also reported for the women’s mysteries of Bona Dea. 3 We can eke out more by looking at what is known about the goddess and her temples.

Diana’s sanctuary of Nemi stood in the Alban hills. (This place was also known as Aricia, after aDiana of Nemi, threefold goddessfemale water-spirit). There, a volcanic lake lay in a crater surrounded on three sides by steep, forested cliffs. On its shores three statues of the goddess stood in a sacred grove. Later, around the 4th century BCE, a stone temple was added. Diana Nemorensis or Nemoralis (“of the sacred grove”) was related by name to the Celtic forest goddesses Nemetona, Nemetobriga, Arnemetia. All these titles refer to forest sanctuaries.

Diana had another ancient hilltop grove at Tifata, further south near Capua. This goddess was known as Diana Tifatina. On the Palatine hill in Rome, there was a sanctuary of Diana Noctiluca (“light of night”) that was kept illumined til dawn. Diana had another grove at Tibur, where she was called Opifera, “help-bringing.”4 This place was the very old shrine of the Tiburtine or Albunean sibyls, prophetic women linked to the goddess Fauna, also known as Fatua Fauna or Bona Dea, the “Good Goddess.” She was an explicitly feminist deity, called Dea feminarum, “the goddess of women,” whose myths speak to female oppression and resistance, and who was known for all-female rituals. (See “The Women’s Mysteries in Rome.”)

The name of Diana means “luminous, shining,” and comes from the same Indo-European root as our words “deity,” “divinity,” and the Latin dea (“goddess”). She is literally the Goddess. She is light and strength and the boldness of women. Her name is also related to Dione, goddess of the Greek oracular priestesses at Dodona, the “black doves” that Herodotus said had come from Thebes in Egypt. Diana also shares a common root with Jove (originally Diuve), a form of Jupiter, and with dies, Latin for “day.” The core meaning of “shining” in these names and words also describes the moon, and this is the core essence of Diana. Like many other moon goddesses, she had power in birth, life, death and the underworld.

Diana was a threefold goddess, like Hecate, with whom she was often compared and associated.5 Both goddesses hold the title Trivia, “three roads,” charged with all the magical potency of the crossroads. An inscription at Aricia does call Diana a great mistress of sorcerers, an attribute she retained into the middle ages.6 Diana, like Hecate, is a protector and defender of women.

The ancient image of Diana at Aricia was three statues linked together in front of trees, as we know from numerous coins. The trees are probably cypresses, which were connected with Diana, the dead, and chthonic spirits. This triune quality stayed with Diana; centuries later, Horace was still calling her diva triformis. 7 One of her three forms holds a bow, another a poppy, both attributes borrowed from the Greek Artemis, at least according to most of the scholars. I’m not so sure about that, given the Diana-like attributes of the Italian huntress and warrior Camilla of ancient Volscian legend. But I digress.

The triple goddess on the Arician denarii has other “un-Greek” attributes that go back to the Etruscans—like the short curly hair she sports on the obverse side of the coins. This was a commonDiana with Etruscan coiffure style for Etruscan women around 500 BCE. Later coins show Diana with loose, undressed hair that looks positively wild next to the tightly coiffed and veiled classic Roman femininity. Another striking thing about these “maiden” profiles is the witchy dragon-headed wand that appears to their left. The reverse of these coins depicts Diana as a single goddess holding a stag by its horns, in archaic Greek style, with a spear in her other hand. 8

four coins with images of Diana

Diana with maiden’s tresses and with spear and stags. Roman coins

The lake at Nemi was called the Mirror of Diana. It was fed by the spring of Egeria, another nymph who was worshipped at Nemi. Women carried torches to Egeria’s waters to pray for children and easy birth. “Almost countless clay models of the uterus have been found near her shrine, together with the torch, the symbol of midwives and of the Mater Matuta, who in the early hours of the morning opened the uterus and bade the baby come forth.” 9 Diana Lucina herself was a guardian of birthing mothers. 10 She shares this title of Lucina with Juno, another ancient Italian goddess, who goes back to the Etruscan goddess Uni.

The first Roman temple of Diana was founded on the Aventine hill, outside the city limits. It was inaugurated on August 13, the festival of Diana, back in the early days of Rome. On that day a league of the eight Latin tribes raised a bronze pillar in Diana’s new Roman precincts, inscribed with laws governing the festivals of all Latin cities. The inscription was known as the Aventine canon. All this testifies to the political and cultural importance of this goddess in ancient Latium. She oversaw political treaties between tribes, laws, and the oldest religious calendar of Rome.

However, for the Roman patricians, Diana retained a definite aura of otherness. She was and remained a foreigner to them, as a Sabine goddess and therefore a plebeian goddess—the conquered Sabines being the first settlers of the plebeian Aventine hill. And so the August 13 festival of Diana was known as servorum dies festus, “a holiday for slaves,” or simply dies servorum, “day of slaves.” 11 In this quality of compassionate protector and liberator, Diana resembles the goddess Feronia, in whose temple at Terracina slaves were emancipated. 12

Diana’s connection to slaves is one of several ways that she resembles Artemis of Ephesia, whose temple was a refuge for fugitive slaves. 13 (And this is the one aspect of the rex Nemorensis story that has some truth to it: that slaves took refuge in the temple of Diana—but not by killing each other.) Strabo related an old tradition that the statue of Aventine Diana was modeled on that of Artemis Ephesia, by way of Massilia (Marseilles). 14 An older story, going back to the 6th century, says that the Nemi sanctuary was founded by Orestes and Iphigenia, who had fled the temple of Artemis at Taurus on the Black Sea, carrying her image with them. 15 This legend is dubious, though many scholars think that Diana did take on the huntress aspect from Artemis, possibly via the Etruscans. However, Greek influences were also strong from the south, and are visible in what remains of the temple of Diana Tifatina.

But this mixture of influences is typical. We can look back and discern similar strands of transmission and exchange throughout history. They are everywhere, because culture is like a web. Look at the Sumerian theophoric name Ku-Bau, borne by a woman trader who founded a dynasty at Kish, and compare the name of her goddess (Bau) with the great Syrian goddess Kubaba of Carchemish, and the Anatolian mountain goddess and “Mother of the Gods” Kybele. The Romans brought the sacred meteorite of Kybele (Cybele as they wrote it) from her sacred mountain to their imperial capital, and from there her veneration disseminated across much of north Africa and Europe. As Kybele travelled, she exchanged titles and symbols with Isis and Juno and Tanit and Atargatis. The devotees of these goddesses recognized their commonalities in the last great flowering of the Magna Mater in the first centuries CE.

The women who came with torches to Aricia for Diana and Egeria also welcomed Isis into their sanctuary. Stone reliefs of ecstatic dancers in the Egyptian rite were raised there when Isis veneration swept across the Roman empire. Similar welcomes for Isis were rolled out at Paestum and Pompeii and other places where women reverenced the local goddess, whether Fortuna or Hera or Ceres. Britons combined Celtic veneration of ancestral Mothers with that of Minerva and Diana. At Metz and Lyons and Autun, Gaulish people honored Kybele, who was worshipped with Demeter at Eleusis, with Bona Dea near Marseilles, and with Isis in Libya.15 We’re in a similar period of cross-pollination under empire now.

It seems as if I’ve strayed from Diana, but she underwent this cultural journeying process herself, as Minerva had in an earlier period of the Roman empire, becoming syncretized with Celtic goddesses of healing springs, as Kybele also was. But somehow it was Diana who emerged in late antiquity as the quintessential pagan goddess that the Christian clergy were desperate to stamp out. Through a process of giving Roman names to everything, what scholars call the interpretatio romana, all other goddess came to be conflated under the name of Diana. It was she who was associated with ecstatic states, and those who underwent them were dubbed dianaticus or dianatica (compare lunaticus, which came to mean crazy person but originally meant someone under the influence of the moon).

It was Diana, too, who was said to lead hosts of spirits and women on shamanic flights through the night skies. The origins of this tradition in late Roman times, and their transmission through the early middle ages are most obscure and difficult to track. They are under the historical waterline, lying in the pagan corners that were kept carefully hidden from church and state. We know this much: by the ninth century, Frankish bishops were denouncing beliefs in Diana as a goddess of the witches, eager to stamp them out as “an illusion of the devil.” So Diana shines in the darkness, in the foundational myth of the European witch tradition.

Bibliographic Notes

1. Gordon, Arthur E., “On the Origin of Diana,” 186; and Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1911, “Nemorensis Lacus,” 369, which cites Strabo, Pausanius, and Servius as the first sources for the rex N. legend.

2. Fontenrose, Joseph, Ritual Theory of Myth, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966

3. Plutarch, Roman Questions, 3.

4. Noctiluca is mentioned by the old Roman writer Varro; on Opifera: Palmer, Robert E.A., Roman Religion and the Roman Empire, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974, pp. 58, 77; and Ogilvie, R.M.: Early Rome and the Etruscans, Atlantic Highlands NJ: Humanities Press, 1976, pp. 65-7

5. On triune Diana and Hecate: Green, Carin M. C., Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia, Cambridge University Press, 2008, 134; on the goddess of sorcerers: Alföldi, “Diana Nemorensis,” in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 64 No. 2, April, 1960, 141

6. Alföldi

7. Alföldi

8. Hurd-Mead, Kate Campbell, A History of Women in Medicine, from the earliest times to the beginning of the 19th century, Haddam CT: The Haddam Press, 1938, circa p. 49

9. Green, 135

10. Gordon, 185; Plutarch, Roman Questions, 3

11. Servius, ad Aen. viii. 465, in Gordon

12. Altheim, in Gordon, 185

13. Strabo, IV, 179f

14. Servius, in Gordon, 180

15. Vermaseren, Martin J., Cybele and Attis: The Myth and the Cult, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977, pp. 36, 133-4, 128.

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