New, Revised, Updated, Expanded!
the Ancient British Goddess
©Kathy Jones 2002
In ancient Britain the Goddess was the One who expressed Herself through the Many. She was the great Void, the Beginning of all things. She was the Source of Life, the Creatrix, Continuer and Destroyer of all that exists. She was the Matrix, the Great Mother, Spinner of the Thread of Life and Destiny, Weaver of the Web of Continuity and Cutter of the Thread at death. All souls were born from Her sacred Womb, lived for a span upon Her Body the Earth, then returned to Her Tomb/Womb at death. She was Mother of the Stars in the Heavens and of all Nature. She was the Tree of Life.
She was the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone; the Virgin, the Lover and the Whore. The Holy Grael of Immortality, the Chalice of Love and the Cauldron of Transformation were all in Her keeping, reflecting Her Triple nature. She was the Three, Nine and Nineteen Sisters, Ladies, Maidens, Mothers, Faerie Queens, Crones or Hags, who expressed themselves through the fourfold cycle of Her seasons.
Nothing has changed, it is all still true!
She lives now, today, here in our land!
In legend and landscape She has many Names
In Ireland She is Aibhinn, Ailech the White, Ailinn, Aine, Almu, An, Anny, Ana, Anu, Anu-Dana, Aoibheall, Artha, Badbh, Banbha, Beansidhe, Blanaidd, Bo, Boand, Breacha, Brid, Brighde, Brigit, Buanann, Cailleach Bheare, Carman, Cron, Cymeidi Cymeinfoll, Dana, Danu, Domnu, Eadon, Eblinne, Echtga, Eithne, Erin, Eriu, Etain, Fand, Fedelm, Flidas, Fodhla, Garbh Ogh, Grainne, Grian, Hag of Bheara, Kessair, Kersair, Kele, Liban, Life, Macha, Maeve, Lady Mary, Medb, Morrighan, Niamh of the Golden Hair, Queen of the Sidhe, Sadb the Deer Mother, Sheela na Gig, Sinnann, Tailtiu, Tara, Tea and the Woman with the Silver Branch.
In Wales She is Arianrhod of the Silver Wheel, Blodeuwedd the Flower Maiden and Owl, Branwen, Cordelia, Creiddylad, Creidne, Creirwy, Elen, Fflur, Flower Maiden, Ganieda, Gwenddydd, triple Gwenhwyfar (triple White Phantom), Helen, Iris, Keridwen, Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach, Maumau, Meredith, Mona, Morfydd, Olwen of the White Track, Rhiannon, Sheela na Gig, White Sow and Winifride.
In Scotland She is Bera, Bride, Cailleach Dubh (Dark Old Woman), Cailleach na Mointeach (of the moors), Cailleach na Montaigne (of the mountain), Cale, Car, Carline, Io, Ioua the Moon, Mag Moullach, Scathach, Scota and Scotia.
In England She is Agnes, Alba, Albina, Ambrosia, Amma, Ana, Anna, Angnes, Anna Favina, Annis, Apple Woman, Argante, Ariadne, Artha, Black Annis, Black Maiden, Blue Hag, Bona Dea, Bree, Breeshey, Brigantia, Britannia, Cardea, Cat Annis, Cliton, Countess of the Fountain, Coventina, Crone, Dame Ragnell, Dana, Dark Mother, Dea Matronae, Dea Nutrix, Diana, Dindraine, Elaine, Elen of the Trackways, Enid, Eostre, Epona, Etain, Faery Queen, Flora, Fortuna, Giantess, Gliten, Glitonea, Goda, Graine, Green Lady, Green Woman, Guinevere, Hag, Harvest May, Helen, Hoeur, Igraine, Isis, Ker, Kernel, Kerhiannon, Koeur, Kundri, Lady Bertilak, Lady of Avalon, Lady of the Fountain, Lady of the Lake, Ma, Mab, Madron, Maia, Maiden of the Cart, Maid Marian, Mam, Mary, Madron, Mazoe, Modron, Morgaine, Morg-Ana, Morgen la Fey, Moronoe, the Mothers, Nimue, Nine Maidens, Nine Morgens, Nine Sisters, Nine Witches of Gloucester, Oestre, Old Wife, Old Woman, Our Lady of Glastonbury, Our Lady of Walsingham, Phaedria, Pomona, Queen of Elfame, Queen of Fate, Queen of the May, Queen of the Wasteland, Raven Queen, Regan, Rigantona (Great Queen), Sabrina, Sovereignty, Spring Queen, Sulis Minerva, Swan Maiden, Thetis, Thitis, Tree of Life, Tyronoe, Ur, Ursel, Vivienne, Verbeia, Venus, Washer at the Ford, White Doe, White Lady, Wise Woman of Wookey Hole.
Hail to you, Brigit Anna
Hail Great Queen of Brigit's Isles
Hail Sovereignty, Our Lady Britannia
Hail Goddess of ten thousand names
May you be honoured and adored forever!
(Sources for the names of Goddesses include Complete Irish Mythology by Lady Gregory, Iona by Fiona Macleod, The Golden Key and the Green Life by Elizabeth Sutherland, Ladies of the Lake by Caitlin and John Matthews, The Mabinogion translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, The Modern Antiquarian by Julian Cope, Ortho Nan Gaidheal by Alexander Carmichael, The Serpent and the Goddess by Mary Condren, The Silver Branch Cards by Nicholas Mann, The Sun and the Serpent by Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, edited by Rachel Bromwich, The White
Goddess by Robert Graves.)
The Early Goddess Reigned Alone
For the long ages of the palaeolithic era before 30,000BCE, the Goddess reigned alone. She was the Origin, the Virgin Void out of which She was Self-created. She was present in all forms of life. Her arching Body was the star-filled Sky. She was the Sun, the Moon and the Stars and the Space between. She was Mother Nature, Mistress of the animals and the plants. The Earth was Her Body. The rivers and oceans were Her blood and life fluids. The plants, trees and vegetation were Her hair. She was the Mother of Time. In ancient Britain the pattern of life was determined by the cycle of Her seasons. Through the turning of the year Her body was visibly transformed from the fresh green Maiden, to the vibrant Lover, to the radiant Mother and the slowly dying Crone. Through the aeons this cycle of transformation repeated itself, interrupted only by the Ice Ages in which the British Isles were completely covered in glaciers and sheets of ice.
Images of the Goddess as Woman
Images of the Goddess in a woman's form first appear in Europe in the Upper Paleolithic era, from 30-20,000 BCE. They show different aspects of the Goddess's abundant nature as expressed in women's inherentcapability to carry and give birth to children, and to feed them for the first years of life from the milk in their breasts. These figures are nearly always naked and the head and face are often unfeatured, but sometimes show markings of hairstyles or hats.
Some figurines have rounded fertile bodies with large breasts full of milk, the Goddess's hands resting upon Her pregnant life-giving womb. In others She is slim-shouldered with hands on Her breasts and bulging thighs and visible genitals. Sometimes She is reddened with ochre, faint traces still showing on the images. In Her death aspect She is stiff and white, carved in bone and chalk. Few male figures have been found dating from these early times.
Early European Goddess images:
Right, the Venus of Lespugue dating from 20,000BCE - the fertile Maiden Goddess with emphasised hips, thighs and buttocks.
Above right, the Venus of Laussel from the Dordogne in France dating from 25,000BCE - the Mother Goddess with her hand resting on her protruding pregnant belly. She holds a bison horn in one hand which has 13 lunar notches. She is still stained with red ochre.
Below right, the Venus of Willendorf dating from 30,000BCE. The Fruitful Mother Goddess who has just given birth. Her hands rest on Her full milky breasts. She wears a woven hat or headdress.
The Goddess and the God
After aeons of sole creation, for unknown reasons, except maybe the desire of Her daughters to share Her love, the Goddess sought a mate, a God to play with, to make love to, with whom She could bear human children with divine souls. She was the radiant Sun whose light and warmth gave life to the earth. He was the silver Moon, who reflected Her light. Each lunar cycle His body would slowly swell to fullness and He would make love to the Sun in the darkness beneath the horizon. His fullness expended He would then shrink and disappear into the days of the dark Moon to await regeneration. He was the father of all human children and women began their monthly bleeding, their moontime, after making love to the Moon God.
Early gatherer/hunter peoples in Britain as elsewhere lived a nomadic lifestyle, travelling through defined circuits of territory, which they knew intimately. For them the Goddess and the God were visible in the landscape, in the mountains and rivers, in the wind, rain and sunshine, in the forces of Nature. They were also to be found in the plants and the trees which covered the land and sustained their lives and in the animals who shared the same territory.
In the colder regions of the world, which included Britain for much of the paleolithic and mesolithic eras, the bodies of animals were essential to the lives of early nomadic people. They provided food, protein; skins and guts for clothing, protection and warmth; horns, bones, feathers, teeth and hooves for tools, for decoration and ritual purposes. The animals were viewed as Divine Creatures.
Beautiful cave paintings of many kinds of animals have been found in central and southern France, Spain and Portugal dating from between 30,000-10,000 BCE. The famous cave paintings of Lascaux in France date from 15,000 BCE. Fabulous images of animals are found deep inside caves and must have been painted by the light of flickering oil lamps. Sometimes they overlook an abyss to even lower levels, suggesting that they were offerings to the Dark Earth Mother. Small ochred handprints suggest that the painters of these images were probably women. No such equivalents have been found in Britain which during this time was in the grip of an Ice Age.
The Arrival of the Neolithic Era
The huge ice sheet of the last Ice Age began to retreat northwards from the British Isles from about 9,000 BCE onwards. The earth slowly warmed and Neolithic or New Stone Age culture began to flourish in Britain from around 4,500 BCE. Sea levels were much lower than they are now as sea-water was locked up in huge polar icecaps. Southern Britain had a Mediterranean climate while Northern Scotland was like southern Britain is now. In 1150 BCE a volcanic explosion in Iceland produced huge quantities of dust in the atmosphere, creating a mini Ice Age in Britain. The large widespread population retreated southwards.
Neolithic culture with its large ritual architecture of mounds, barrows and standing stones was found all over the world, dating from approximately 8,000 BCE onwards. There is much speculation by archaeologists and historians as to its origins in the area of the Fertile Crescent covering modern day Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. It is here that domestic varieties of grains with their increased flour content are first believed to have been cultivated, harvested, ground into flour, baked into bread, stored for winter, etc. These developments allowed people to settle and live in one place, rather than having to move seasonally in search of food.
Evidence of the growing and grinding of grain is seen earlier in the grindstones found in Egypt, dating from 15,000 BCE. There was also a parallel development in the cultivation of grain in the Far East, from the same time as in the Near East.
Neolithic culture with its megalithic architecture followed from this discovery of the secrets of the grain and is believed to have slowly diffused outwards from the Fertile Crescent in the four directions by land and sea. Some of its most outstanding architectural remains are to be found in the remaining megalithic sites of Brigit's Isles and Western Europe, particularly in Brittany in France, which has always had close connections to Brigit's Isles.
These megalithic remains are part of a recognisable ritual landscape, in which stone and earth monuments were placed within the context of surrounding hills and valleys, rivers and streams. This ability to look at landscape as a whole is one of the predominant features of neolithic society. The people of those times knew about the natural rhythms of Mother Earth. They had knowledge of the movements of the stars. They knew how to correctly position stones and mounds within the landscape in order to maintain the balance and harmony of their Mother's Body. They knew how to communicate with Star beings. They knew much that we have forgotten.
As Marija Gimbutas showed through her inspired archaeological research the attributes of the neolithic Goddess are expressed in a symbolic language found carved on standing stones and inside ritual mounds which date in Britain from 4,500 BCE onwards, the beginning of the neolithic era.
According to Marija the main theme of this symbolism is the mystery of birth and death and the renewal of life, not just human life but all life on earth. Symbols and images cluster around the Goddess as Giver of Life and Wielder of Death and around the Earth Mother, the Fertility Goddess, young and old, who rises and dies with the plant life. Particular patterns are associated with different Goddesses. For example chevrons and Vs are associated with the Bird Goddess whose concern is life creation and regeneration. Zigzags represent water and female moisture. Snakes are a symbol of life energy often emerging from water. Concentric rings represent the all-seeing eyes of the Goddess.
There are symbols which represent cyclical, not linear, mythical time, manifesting in dynamic swirling motions, whirling and twisting spirals, winding and coiling snakes, circles, crescents, horns, sprouting seeds and shoots. For further information please read the wonderful Language of the Goddess by Marija Gimbutas.
There are few carved images or figurines of the Goddess from this time in Britain although as many people have noticed there are numerous figures and faces, human, divine and animal in the forms and shapes of the megalithic stones which are found all over Brigit's Isles from Callanish in the northwest Scotland to Avebury in Wiltshire.
Terence Meaden has shown in his book The Secrets of the Avebury Stones that many of the standing stones at Avebury contain the faces and forms of our ancestors, of the Goddess and Gods of ancient times which are highlighted through the day as the sun travels across the sky.
One of the earliest figurines of the Goddess in Brigit's Isles was found preserved in the peat of the Somerset Levels. She dates from 3250 BCE and is 6" tall and carved out of ash wood. Although claimed by archaeologists to be a hermaphrodite god doll, She has typical large breasts and a lower protrusion, which is on her left side, like a leg rather than in any central phallic position. She was found beneath the Bell Track, one of the ancient wooden trackways which once crisscrossed the watery Levels, where nomadic people fished and hunted throughout the mesolithic and neolithic eras. Perhaps she is the earliest representation of the Lady of the Lake.
In early European shrines from 8,000 BCE onwards the Goddess is often represented in figurines, carvings and wall paintings as being part animal and part human-divine. She is the Snake Goddess with a woman's body and snake-like limbs, hair and head. She is the Bird Woman with the body of a woman and the face, feet and wings of a bird or the body of a bird and the face of the woman. She is the Sacred Sow, Cow, Fish, Frog, Dog, Mother Bear and Deer. The qualities of the animals were Her qualities. The shamanka (woman shaman) would invoke the powers of the Goddess by decorating her body with pigments, skins and feathers, wearing headdresses made from animal heads or Her horns.
The early God was associated with hunting and the animals and like the Goddess also took His forms from the animal world. Shamans identified with the God's power, dressing in feathers, horns and animal skins. This was part of an ancient tradition and some cave paintings show men wearing animal skins, heads and horns.
The early Gods were often horned animals - the Sacred Bull, Ram, Goat, Elk, Buffalo and Bison. There was the Stag God Kernunnos represented on the Gundestrop Cauldron with stag horns on his head. He is consort to the Grain Goddess Ker, who is also a Horned One. Horns are magical antennae connecting the head to the stars. As image they represent both divine Masculine potency and the fallopian tubes and womb of the Goddess.
In Britain certain animals have been revered from the earliest times as divine, playing magical roles in stories of transformation. They include the Salmon of Wisdom, the Sea Eagle, the Wren, Green Woodpecker, Owl, Ousel, Frog or Toad, Hare, Crow and Raven. These animals are totems/magical spirit creatures or Goddesses and Gods depending on
one's point of view.
In later European mythology Goddesses and Gods were often represented as being part human, part animal and part divine. They are the Swan Maidens and Swan Princes who live for a time as human beings and then for a time as swans. Brigit, Madron, Hathor and Kali are all both Sacred Cows and Goddesses; the centaur Chiron was divine human and horse; Rhiannon is Goddess and White Mare; Pan is the Goat and Godman; Keridwen is woman and divine Sow; Asterion the Minotaur was human and divine Bull; the Oannes of Sumer and the Nommo were human/god and Dolphin or Fish.
Goddess and God were worshipped together and separately in the cycle of the Seasons of the Sun and the Moon. Living closely in Her nature the spirals of Divine Life were experienced by all human beings, who knew that their lives depended upon divine Grace. The partnership between Goddess and God could be seen in the round of nature. The marriage between Goddess and God was celebrated annually with great jubilation. Women were recognised as having direct access to the divine through their innate ability to bear children, to create Life from within their own bodies. They were the planters of grain, fertilising the earth with their menstrual moon blood. Men were Guardians of Nature.
With the arrival of patriarchal religions the seasonal sacrifice of the God in human and animal form became the norm. His death blood was spilt upon the Earth in the mistaken belief that like life-giving menstrual blood it too would bring fertility to the land and the people. The God's chosen representative on earth was given in marriage to the Queen of the land. For the duration of his royal marriage to the Goddess, the Chosen One was given all his heart desired. When his time had passed he was killed. These ritual deaths reflected the demise of the Goddess who seeks no blood sacrifice, only the honouring of the holy blood of the Womb and of life.
The neolithic Goddess was associated with cultural creativity in all its aspects particularly those traditionally associated with women - planting, gathering and harvesting, bread baking, making fire and shelters, carding, spinning, weaving, sewing, cookery, teaching, poetry, arts, crafts and healing. Small statues of the Goddess have been found many times in granaries and under bread kilns and in other relevant places throughout ancient Europe.
For reasons of space we have had to leave out several illustrations - see the book for these!
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