With the theme for this month's devotional service at The Goddess House being "Warrior Goddess", the following is an extract from Merlin Stone's Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood about the Celtic Warrior Goddess.
In ancient Europe the major Deity was the Great Earth Mother. The first works of art were of female figures and images of a fertility nature represented by female genitals or breasts. The Earth Mother represented sensuality, the erotic, regeneration and fertility. She was the relatedness of all life forms and in later agricultural societies a pregnant woman symbolised this.
With the coming of warrior people from Europe, the male dominated hierarchical culture had an impact on the lands of the Earth Mother. Tribes, such as the Celts, mixed with the existing Goddess people, absorbing the Goddess knowledge and balanced the Earth Mother with the Sky Father concept. They produced a culture which existed on hunting and agriculture where men and women represented as equals.
Ancient sacred springs and healing centres of the Goddess became dedicated to the Christian saints, sometimes taking the Goddess names directly, such as the many wells of Saint Bridget in Ireland, and Saint Modron's Well in Cornwell. The landscape itself was also seen as the sacred body of the Great Mother with the mountains and rivers holding Her life. Great stone monuments and megaliths focuses on the Earth's energies and harmonised it with the cosmic forces.
The most ancient Celtic Goddess is Danu, the Mother of the Tuatha de Danaans. She is said to have brought the dawn of being for those who dwelled upon Her banks, giving them sustenance and life. She was first mentioned in the Irish Lebor Gabala (Book of Invasions), dated around 1000 AD. The Welsh Mabinogion call her Don and this image of the Goddess probably originated during the periods when the Celtic tribes inhabited mainland Europe, with Danu being closely linked with the River Danube. In places like Brittany She was Ana or Anna, who became Saint Anne.
Midsummer's Eve is said to be the holiest of Danu's holy days and worshippers carrying torches of straw made their way up the mountainsides to bless the new cattle and the newly planted seed, for this was the day that the children of Mother Danu had first set foot upon Irish soil.
The Great Mother often took on the Triple Goddess manifestations (maiden, mother and hag) in many deities like Bridget, Macha and Morgan. These related to the different phases of the moon and the seasons of the year's working cycle which corresponded with birth, death and rebirth. The Hag of the winter was always reborn as the Maiden of spring, just as the full moon of the Mother becomes the dark moon of the old Hag, and then returning to the new moon of the Maiden.
Another aspect of the Goddess is the ability to shape change. The Morrighan and Cerridwen transform themselves into numerous animals, while Macha, the Caillech Bheur and Rhiannon take the form of horses. This shape changing aspect of the Goddess is one that recurs repeatedly and unless it is viewed as a poetic metaphor, it may have encouraged those who worship the Goddess to treat all animals with respect and caution.
Warrior women are found in the descriptions of Scathach, Aoife, Medb (Maeve) and the nine Gwyddynod of Gloucester. Actual historical records of the actions of Boudicca, the Queen of the Iceni tribe who led the rebellion against the Romans in 61 CE, and of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigates, who signed a peace treaty with Claudius of Rome, suggest that the more legendary figures were based on historic realities. Another warrior figure was Tailltiu who was said to be the mother of Lugh and is honoured at the Feast of Lughnasadh. The prehistoric mound of Newgrange in Ireland is said to be associated with the Goddess Grainne.
The changing nature of the Goddess saw Her as mating then replacing the husband with her son, or even staying independent for a time. Nothing is static in the laws of nature, the wheel spins, growth comes from change. It can be hard to define any Celtic Goddess clearly as She so often changes from one character to another, defying definition. Sovereignty of the land is one of Her major roles. This means that the Goddess is the land and any king or any man who wishes to understand his harmony with the land or who needs to see his responsibility to the land and all life force, must undertake a trial or sacred marriage with the Goddess.
In modern times the Goddess is re-emerging and being defined. She is a symbol of the feminine principle and archetype in both men and women, and with forces or regeneration.