A Pantheon of The British Goddess
A number of people in Britain are practicing Shamanism from the perspective of a different
land and culture, such as North or South America. Their animal allies belong to different landscapes. However, Shamans are essentially in relationship with the landscape where they live,
with the animals and spirits of the Land that is part of their everyday life, for that is the very essence of what Shamanism is, how else do we connect to Nature?
Some people may make a stonger connection to another land, maybe due to a past life, maybe just because their individual inner landscape resonates with a different country, possibly because they have learnt their Shamanic practice from a teacher or through a practice focused on another culture. And that is fair enough, it is good to follow the heart. However, where we live there are animals, plants, minerals and landscape features we can connect to in our own back-yard and to ignore them is to misunderstand the role of the shamanic practitioner.
There is a heritage and knowledge available to us for developing a living Shamanic practice and connection to the Spirit of Britain by connecting to the ancestors who lived within this Land and tuning in to the vibrations of Nature in Britain. Although we are citizens of the World, we really benefit if we start by relating to Nature in the place where we live our everyday lives.
Britain is a distinctive land, defined by its island boundary and its glorious seasons. Britain has hills and mountains, valleys and rivers, rocks and crags, forests and woodland. Britain is home to many wonderful creatures, our brothers and sisters of the Land; fox, deer, badger, eagle, adder, salmon, hare, swan, horse, wild cow, wild cat, butterfly, bee, to name but few. Britain has also been the home of other creatures whose presence may no longer be here physically, but on the psychic plane these creatures are still present. These include wolf, bear and lynx.
Naming the Goddess of the Land
In the section ‘What is ‘British?’ I mention some of the names of Britain. Names of place are commonly names of the Divine Feminine.
Both ‘Earth’ and ‘Gaia’ relate to Goddess names. ‘Gaia theory’ sees the planet as a living, breathing ‘being’ or organism. To personify it as a female being is quite logical due to the fecundity of Nature, and so it is with the immediate locality and landscape features.
Not only does the country of Britain have an energetic ‘being’ identity, but there are innumerable Nature ‘beings’ attached to rivers, mountains, springs, and other natural places which the Shaman connects to.
But we will focus on the British Nature being, who is, of course, none other than the British Goddess. Her names are Brig, Brid, Bride, Brigit, although there are other Goddess names connected to The Land of Britain, invoked at different times and by different tribes and peoples. Some of the earliest known in Britain and common worldwide include Ma/Mam, An/Anu and El.
The Goddess and The Land are one. There is no separation between Land/Nature and Goddess.
As the Shaman has a relationship and connection with Nature and The Land, this relationship is symbolised through the Shaman’s interactions with a female Being, and this is the case throughout the mythology of tribal peoples throughout the world. This relationship is key to understanding the story symbolism within the Four Branches of the Mabinogion.
In the First Branch, Pwyll makes a Shamanic journey to the Underworld where he is tested by the Goddess to see if he is worthy to be a Shaman.
To understand the nature of relationship between Shaman and the Land/Goddess, try reading the Four Branches applying the Golden Rule – that every female character is an aspect or personification of the Goddess, and therefore, is also The Land/Nature.
This fundamental rule can be uncovered in many other stories, including 'Snow White', 'Sleeping Beauty', much of Grimm’s tales, folk tales generally, and, my personal favourite, Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’s Tale’ from The Canterbury Tales.
In this tale by Chaucer, all the female characters, including the maiden who is violated, the queen who passes judgement, and the old woman who marries the miscreant knight, are none other than the Goddess herself. The final lesson of the story is that what women desire is 'Sovereignty'. This refers to nothing less than the Power and Sovereignty of the Goddess and The Land, the pact that is the sacred 'marriage' between Shaman and Goddess.
All feminine energy is Sovereign and feminine energy is in all of us, men and women alike.
In the First Branch, Pwyll passes the test because he treats the Goddess (Arawn's wife) with
respect and honours her Sovereignty, as the knight in Chaucer's tale learns to do. As a result, Pwyll shows himself worthy to make the Shaman’s ‘marriage’ with the Goddess, which
means ‘marriage’ to The Land.
This enables him to interact with and influence the Spirits of the Land for the benefit of the tribe, bringing health and abundance for all.
This 'sacred marriage' is the original foundation of every marriage since. Some people feel that marriages between same sex couples is 'wrong' in the eyes of God but the origins of marriage go way back before Christianity or even the Old Testament. The 'marriage' between Shaman and Goddess is not really about a man and a woman, as a Shaman can be either and so can a 'Goddess' (see the section on 'Goddess as Male').
Nature is giving and provides the energy for humans to live and manifest their ideas into reality through their actions. As such, Nature exhibits 'feminine' energy.
Humans 'act' on the physical, making them 'doers' like the Shaman. As such, they generally fulfill the role of masculine energy.
This is why Nature is depicted as 'female' and Shaman as 'male'. A man or a woman can be a
Shaman, but when they are in this role, they are acting with 'masculine' energy which is directive, and they are accessing and utilising 'feminine' energy from The Land/Goddess, which is
The oldest stories depict this energetic exchange in terms of the relationship between a male kinght/Chief/King (Shaman) and a female maiden/princess/Queen (Divine Being or Goddess).
The best Shaman of all is a woman or man who is perfectly balanced because their feminine and masculine energies are equally developed within them.
Throughout the Four Branches, the Goddess appears in one of three stances; passive, assertive, aggressive. Likewise, the seasons, weather and Land can show us each of these 'faces'. The sea, wind or mountain can be kind, cruel or even kill.
Branwen and Goewin show passivity, they are simply representations of Sovereignty, holding the
energy or power for others, as required, but seemingly dis-empowered themselves.
Rhiannon acts assertively and she is a teacher or guide for Pwyll, enabling him to fulfill his test and ‘marry’ the Land.
Arianrhod and Blodeuwedd act aggressively. They create difficulties and challenges and look like baddies, but their actions enable Lleu Llaw Gyffes to reach the elevated level of transformation he attains, and without their challenging behaviour, this would not have happened.
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. The Princess's sleep or death-like state is the sleeping of the Land throughout Winter, the season of the Maiden (even Snow White's name is a description of this Winter landscape). The Prince's kiss is the waking of the Maiden and her transformation into Bride at the onset of Spring at Beltane.
As in the stories of Ceridwen and Taliesin, or Arianrhod and Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the actions of Snow White's step-mother seem aggressive, but are they?
The Hag Goddess is positioned on the Wheel of the Year at Autumn, and by receiving the poisoned apple of wisdom, the Maiden enters a deep sleep, which symbolises the sleeping of the Land during Winter. It is the role of the Hag Goddess to drive the Wheel of the Year forward by transmitting her knowledge and wisdom to the Maiden as a seed within the apple. The Maiden sleeps through Winter and in the Spring the Prince, who represents the alliance of the Shaman with the Land/Goddess, intervenes and the Maiden becomes Goddess as Bride. This enables the regeneration of the cycle of the Year.
The story of Sleeping Beauty (another Winter landscape name) 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 the strongest of symbols for the Wheel of the Year, 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 Maiden Goddess/Winter, and as she sleeps so does the Land. During this repose, the power of the Land/Nature/Goddess lies hidden within, waiting to be activated. 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/Shaman/Prince to bring in Spring, the season of the Bride.
These well-known childhood fairy tales are stories for projecting into universal consciousness the magic of nothing less than the Winter Solstice, a juncture on the Wheel of the Year which is probably the single most powerful and important moment to our early ancestors.
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 (not just a weakness but also a strength). In her direction, the energies of Reflection, Cleansing Consolidation and Recuperation are found.
Like the Maiden, we are often 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 as a species 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 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, 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, Protection, Nurture, Productivity, 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. 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. Celebrate 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 Goddess Kali.
There are many other versions of the Crone or Hag Goddess, including Ceridwen, Arianrhod, Sheela-Na-Gig 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 to a new phase.
The Wise Woman appears both as a beautiful young woman and as an ancient, stooped 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 when she requests it despite his own misgivings. As he kisses her she transforms into a
beautiful young woman and tells him that what women want is Sovereignty (to have supreme power and authority). She is referring to the Power and Sovereignty of the Divine Feminine, to the fact
that he was respectful towards her, that he did not impose his will upon her but accepted her wisdom and was led by it with humility. She is referring to the need to be respectful and to
acknowledge the Sovereignty of the Divine Feminine within each and every one of us.
That was the lesson the knight in the story needed to learn after abusing the Maiden at the beginning of the story (the same lesson Math taught Gwydion and Gilfaethwy in the Fourth Branch after their abuse of Goewin). This is the lesson we all need to learn, one that both men and women seem to have forgotten. This echoes again the role of the masculine as the 'doing energy' and the feminine as the 'being or holding-power energy'. This wisdom does not only refer to 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 that appears after his transformation to a state of enlightenment.
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 to his enlightenment. The word 'anathema' was originally the name given to curses uttered by Anat or Anath, an ancient Warrior 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, Wisdom, 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 'magical 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 when the journey of Her energy begins again.
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 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 a 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.
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.