The Goddess gives birth to all things and all things are put in their proper place by the God. Of all the many gods, these are the greatest, the Queen and the King of both gods and humans. We give honor to all the numinous beings that live on the many worlds and in the spaces between the stars, but the Two whom we revere the most are worthy indeed of great honor. We do not neglect the many deities, nor the spirits of places, nor of our ancestors, nor of the peoples and nations, nor of the elements, the plants or the animals: we give to each of these the honor and offerings they deserve. But first in our hearts are the Mother and Father of All.
Although Wicca is essentially duotheistic, it is not in keeping with the vision of the ancient Pagans to assume that the God and the Goddess are the only deities, or that each deity is simply a form of the two great ones. Paleo-Pagans were unabashedly polytheistic. Although they were quite willing to find equivalences between the deities of their culture and those of others, they were not willing (except in the later stages of Graeco-Roman Paganism) to assume that the deities of their own pantheons were simply forms of a greater deity. They were true polytheists, and most believed quite literally in the existence of the deities.
What is being described here is a form of henotheism. A henotheistic religion is polytheistic, but one of its deities is supreme. The non-supreme deities are distinct from the supreme ones, and in some sense subordinate to them. In keeping with the unique vision of Wicca there are two supreme deities here, of course; it is a duotheistic henotheism.
Because the deities are distinct, the Goddess is not Brighid, Isis, Diana or any of the other goddesses known from ancient times; these are distinct entities. Rather, She combines their characteristics; She is a healer and inspirer, a mother and protector, and a goddess of the moon and of the chase. That is not because these other goddesses are simply forms of Her. Because she is the All-Goddess, any attribute that may be attributed to them will be included in Her identity as well. In the same way, we ourselves have the attributes of the Goddess without being identical with Her. All of this is true of the God as well. It is thus possible to learn of the nature of the Goddess and the God by learning of the nature of the other deities or of ourselves.
Something else to be noted is that it is incumbent on Pagans not only to worship the God and Goddess, but also to give reverence to all the gods and goddesses and the other holy ones. Unfortunately it would take far too much space to discuss the proper worship of these thousands of other deities. Each deity has arisen in a particular culture and if you wish to worship a particular deity you must learn how that culture did so. An ordhos may feel a devotion to deities other than the God and the Goddess and incorporate their worship into the ordhos' practice if it so wishes. Individual members of an ordhos might feel a devotion to certain deities as well and worship them individually.
There are further the spirits of the ancestors. The practices associated with them vary according to the culture these spirits came from and therefore do not form part of Wicca as such. Also, each family has ancestors unique to them. Wiccans should honor their ancestors in their personal and family worship.
Land spirits are, of course, local, and should be revered according to local tradition. In America that will require researching local Indian beliefs and customs. The different tribes were even more varied than the countries of Europe are, so you will need to research the tribe from your area. In Britain the fairy lore is appropriate, but there will still be local variations.
The gods need us, just as we need them. Their need is both expressed and filled through ritual. The most basic of rituals is the offering, a gift from our world to the other. Through offerings we reach out to the gods, and in response the gods reach back. Through offerings we establish and maintain a reciprocal relationship of hospitality with the gods. Sometimes we are hosts, and sometimes we are guests. The establishment and continual strengthening of this bond are the main purposes of our rituals.
There is a Proto-Indo-European root that expresses perfectly our relationship with the gods. *Ghostis (pl. *ghostēs) means "someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality." (American Heritage Dictionary, p. 2105). Our words "guest" and "host" both come from this root. We are *ghostēs with the gods.
Our gods have no true names, no sounds that are perfect representations of their true being. They defy such limitations. We give them titles that describe to us the ways they function in relation to us. Some of these are in the language we speak - Mother of All, All-Father, Lord, Lady. Some are in the languages spoken by our ancestors - Maghya, Mater, Kerntos.
The names this form of Wicca uses for the Goddess and the God are from Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Because they are not used in any known Pagan religion they have certain advantages. If we call on Isis, for instance, we owe it to her to conceive of her as she was when she was worshiped by the Egyptians and Romans; otherwise, what is the point of using this name and not another? Further, as I wrote above, the Goddess is not Isis; she is beyond Isis. There is no name from the ancient times that is associated with a Goddess quite like ours; to use such a name would therefore be to call upon someone other than the Goddess. By using such titles as I give, we avoid both of these problems.
It may be argued that the old names are useful as representing varying aspects of the deities. For instance, when we wish to call on the God as god of the dead, we can use Osiris. I find it objectionable, however, to take the name of another people's god and use it as my own, acting as if I know his true nature better than his ancient worshippers. It seems rather patronizing, as if we are so much more advanced in our understanding than those poor benighted heathens. Further, Osiris exists in his own right, not merely as a useful tag for us to hang on the God when we wish to see him a certain way. This practice, then, will result in rudeness both toward the god whom we call upon and the ancients who worshiped him (and those ancients may well be our ancestors, and thus worthy of our respect in their own right.)
However, even if this practice is assumed to be acceptable to the gods, when we want to name the Goddess and the God in all of their aspects it is best to use a name which no ancient people used for the simple reason that no ancient people worshiped a God and a Goddess such as we do. Duotheism is a Neo-Pagan concept, not a Paleo-Pagan one, and therefore no Paleo-Pagan deity name will ever fit our Goddess and God perfectly.
The names I have used are titles. This practice was common in antiquity. "Cernunnos," the name of a Gaulish god, means, for instance, "The One with Antlers." This certainly sounds more like a title than a name. Such titles are not the essence of the gods, but rather descriptions of their functions.
If you do not like using PIE names you can use titles in English. Many Wiccans do this already; they call the Goddess "Lady" or "Mother" or some other title rather than by a particular name. In part this is an acknowledgment that the Goddess and God are not in fact any of the ancient deities whose names we know. The advantage of Proto-Indo-European over English is that it relates to our language without carrying our everyday associations. When we say "Mother" we think of our mother. When we say "mater" we might think of the root of motherhood rather than a particular woman.
There is beauty in names, and there is magic, but while knowing these names helps us to call to our gods, it does not give us control over them. The gods hear us when we call them by these names, but they are not compelled to answer. They are true gods, not lap dogs. They are beings of power, with their own desires which it is proper for us to respect. The God and the Goddess come to us when we call because they are our Mother and Father and we are their children. They love with a parent's love.
Deities who could be controlled would not be worthy of worship. They would be our possessions, not our deities.
Although we call the Mother of All by many names, She is best called Maghya, "Lady of Power." The Goddess is the source of all power, in all the worlds. It is for this reason that we believe Her images on earth, the females of all plants and animals, to be the source of our power.
"Maghya" is from the PIE root *magh, meaning "to have power, to be able to." The "-ya" is a feminine ending.
It is not just that the Goddess has power. She has the power. She is where power comes from. It might be said, in fact, that She is power, that power is the essence of what She is. Her power is the power of being. She is pure existence, and nothing is without Her.
Maghya is three, and two. When she is three she is the Triple Goddess of the Moon: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. And as two she is the Cow and the Mare.
As the Maiden, Maghya comes to us free from all attachments, dancing and seductive, freely bestowing her power. She is called Mari when she comes thus, for that means "Young Woman." As Mari she is the very embodiment of that love of the world which does not attach itself in a lasting way to any one thing. She loves, but remains separate. She is associated with the waxing moon.
When she comes as the mother, she is called "Mater," for that means "Mother," and she can be everything we know of mothers: in turns comforting and stern, serious and playful, a listener and a teacher. She bestows her power carefully, with wisdom and forethought. She is associated with the full moon.
She can come as the Crone, the one who sucks energy from us and the world, the whirlpool which draws us down into the depths, the dark abyss at our feet. She does not bestow power, but she will give wisdom in return for power. Her price is steep, and we do not often dare call the Goddess in this way, but when we do we call her Anna, for that means "Old Woman." She is associated with the waning moon.
The triple Goddess in the form of Maiden, Mother, and Crone is one of the characteristics of Wicca that was not found in Paleo-Paganism. It was in fact invented by Robert Graves in his immensely influential book The White Goddess, and is not found in early Gardnerian Wicca. Graves himself based it on a mention in Pausanias's Guide to Greece (8.22.2) of three shines that had once existed in Stymphalos where Hera was worshiped as Child (a young Virgin), Perfect (married to Zeus), and Widow (when she had quarreled with Zeus and left him). These shrines no longer existed in Pausanias's time, and his mention of them makes it clear that they are seen as exceptional, rather than a standard pattern.
This is not to say that there were not goddesses in the old days who were maidens, mothers, or crones. It is not even to say that there were not goddesses who appeared in groups of three. Nor is it to say that there were not goddesses who seem to have had three forms. What I am saying is that except in the Pausanias material the idea of a Great Goddess who can appear alternately in the forms of Maiden, Mother, and Crone was not found in the ancient world.
As an example of the first category of goddesses, we can choose Kore, Demeter, and Hecate. We certainly have here a maiden, a mother, and a crone who are found together in a myth, one which formed the core of the Eleusinian mysteries. What we do not have here is one goddess under different guises.
The most famous of the second type, goddesses who appear in groups of three, are the Romano-British Matres. These are three goddesses represented usually sitting, holding something in their laps that may be loaves of bread. Their title of "Matres," "mothers," is known from numerous inscriptions. These are three deities that are mothers, not three phases of the same deity. (There are numerous instances of the same figure appearing singly or doubly, and even one example of four Matres.) It is possible that they are three manifestations of one goddess, but all three are mothers.
Perhaps the best example of the third type, goddesses who appear in three forms, is the Irish Brighid. This seems to be a case where we do have one goddess in three forms. These three forms, however, are not Maiden, Mother, and Crone, but Inspirer, Smith, and Healer. They would seem to correspond to the three Indo-European social classes, or functions, of priest (which included poet), warrior, and producer (including all forms of fertility, health, and sexuality). Brighid is an example of the Indo-European transfunctional goddess, able to function in any role. This goddess was, in fact, the closest thing that northern Europe had to the modern Wiccan Goddess, operating in all social classes, and source of kingly power. She is the inspiration for much of the theology of the Goddess as developed here.
As Wiccans, we have one Goddess. How is she to reflect all the aspects that it is possible for one Goddess to have? To an extent she can simply have different functions. For instance, if we need help in battle, she can certainly pick up a spear. This is evidently the Indo-European, and thus the Celtic and Germanic, solution. But in her fertility aspects, this is not possible. Virgin, mother, and post-menopausal are phases, not temporary roles which may be assumed in any order. They are not something she can pick up and put down. If, as maintained earlier, the Goddess is pure existence, she must be each form, not merely take it on as a role.
What she does instead is transform herself. By so doing, she becomes the sacred model for our lives, both in the more mundane aspects of simply surviving until we grow old and in the more magical aspects of personal transformation and growth. The Triple Goddess is all goddesses in one.
The concept of the Triple Goddess is a necessary one for Wicca, then. It has, as well, provided thousands of people with a way of viewing the feminine that has brought beauty and power into their lives. It is worth keeping in Wicca. We owe it to the memory of our ancestors, though, to be honest about the source of the idea.
With that said, I would like to point out that the names of the three phases of the Goddess are again Proto-Indo-European.
Of these forms, the Goddess is most often called in the form of Mater.
It is common for Neo-Pagans to depict Maghya in the form of Mater. Mari is all Maiden. Anna is all Crone. But Mater, like any mother, must have aspects of all three if she is to function properly. She must be both dancer and discipliner. She is therefore the balance point between the two extremes.
It is often said that there are three phases of the moon, and that the three forms of Maghya correspond to them. But there are in fact four phases of the moon. The dark of the moon appears to have been left out of the Triple Goddess. It is included, however, in the Dual Goddess.
The Cow Goddess is called "Gwouwinda." She is the benevolent mother, the Goddess whose sexuality is in the service of the community. She is the giver of milk, the bestower of growth. Her love is directed outwards, towards all.
The Mare Goddess is called "Ekwamedha, or She may be called "Ekwona." She is a danger; She robs those who approach Her of power and avenges insults quickly. (It is not really theft, however, for that power came from Maghya in the first place. She is merely taking Her own back.) Yet She is the one who may give the greatest power if approached properly, for great power and great danger are frequently found together. Ekwamedha is, in fact, the bestower of sovereignty. It is She who makes the God a god. Her love is hard won, but its rewards are great. Her wrath is great as well, and will descend on those who transgress against Her, or against Her image, that is to say, women.
Most especially as Ekwamedha (but also as Gwouwinda) the Goddess is the ruler of all functions of men, and bestower of inspiration and skill in all their endeavors.
If the four phases of moon are placed in a circle, and the three forms of Maghya placed on the same circle, the dark of the moon falls between Anna and Mari (see figure 1). It is therefore the time when Anna is transformed into Mari.
If the menstrual cycle is also superimposed, ovulation would obviously fall on Mater. That would put menstruation at the dark of the moon. The combination of transformation from Crone to Maiden, with menstruation, can fairly be placed in the realm of women's mysteries.
What happens during this period of mystery can be illuminated by investigating what happens on either side of it. During the dark time, the Goddess changes from Anna to Mari. Both these forms are considered dangerous. As a symbol of old age it is obvious why Anna is considered dangerous. She is the absorber of energy, the one who beckons to us from the path of death. She is dangerous wisdom.
The nature of the Maiden has been a source of debate within Neo-Paganism. Many have been uncomfortable with the idea of limiting female sexuality to Virgin, Mother or Crone. The most commonly suggested solution is that "Virgin" apparently meant unmarried, unattached, and uncontrolled, but not necessarily sexually inexperienced or, indeed, inactive.
Mari does not seem at first glance to be very dangerous. She is the young dancer, the maiden wearing flower garlands. A sweeter, more innocent image is hard to imagine. She is, however, a personification of sex purely in the service of the self, purely in the service of sexuality. No matter how pleasurable or useful for personal development such sex might be, it is a danger to the community. This is the sort of sex that breaks up other people's relationships, or that prevents stable relationships from forming in the first place.
Mari is, as well, the bestower of energy. She is thus a source of power, and power always has a dangerous side. As the playful dancer she may be expected to bestow it indiscriminately, from our point of view at least.
The explanation of the time of transformation is found clearly in the Indo-European myths. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1980) has shown that Indo-European goddesses are of two types, the cow-goddesses (maternal and benevolent) and the horse-goddesses (erotic and dangerous). Mater is clearly a cow-goddess. The name Gwouwinda which is given to her in her benevolent aspect means either "Provider of Cows" (Campanile, 1985) or "White Cow." Opposite her, in the dark moon, should therefore be the realm of the mare goddess, Ekwamedha. This name is composed of *ekwa-, "mare," and *médhu, "mead, inspiration, intoxication." It may thus be translated "The Mare Who Intoxicates," or "The Mare Who Inspires." The name is actually found in the Rig Veda as ashvamedha, the horse sacrifice that established a king as a just ruler, and in Gaul as Epomeduos, a personal name (Puhvel, 1955). This goddess is accompanied by birds, and may take their form as well as that of a horse.
The horse goddess shows up in Irish myths as Macha, daughter of Sainreth mac Imbaith, "Nature of the Sea." She is forced to run a race against a chariot while pregnant. She wins, but dies giving birth to twins. As she dies, she curses the men of Ulster, that in the time of their greatest need they will be as weak as a woman in labor. Later Medb of Connaught takes advantage of this when she wishes to make war against Ulster.
Medb is herself most likely a version of this goddess; her name, which is a reflex of *medhu, is one indication. Another hint is a story that wherever she placed her horse goad a sacred tree grew. A horse goad was also the symbol of poets and healers, and could be used to encircle people with a protective barrier, as well as being used in rites inaugurating a king. It is thus a tool of all three functions. In the earliest version of the Táin bo Cualinge, she is called a mare who leads men to destruction. In Mesca Ulad, she is described as a "woman warrior, the daughter of Eochu Feidleach," whose name means "Horseman, who is Righteous". Medb has an affair with Fergus mac Roich, "Manly Force, son of Great Stallion." This Fergus is described as having a 42 inch penis, and requiring seven women to satisfy him, but is apparently no problem for Medb. Finally, her goading of men to war and fury with those who reject her advances reflect the nature of Ekwamedha.
There are several other Medbs in Irish mythology, which is to be expected if she were a goddess of local sovereignty. Medb Lethderg, from Leinster, would allow no one to be king of Tara who wasn't married to her. In fact, she was married to at least five kings, including her own descendants, and held the throne herself at times. She is described as fierce and merciless. Like Medb of Connaught, she seems to be a local manifestation of a goddess of sovereignty.
There are actually three Machas in Irish myth, corresponding to each of the three Indo-European functions. The one already mentioned, the mother of twins and imposer of a sexual curse, is a third function figure. There is also Macha Mong-fruad. The rival of five men for rule, she disguises herself as a leper and follows them into the wilderness where she captures them, one at a time, when they try to have sex with her. The dangerous sexual aspect is clear here, operating in the service of royal rule, an aspect of the first function (sometimes connected with kingship). As a second function figure (warrior), Macha is listed together with Badb and Morrígain, both war goddesses. In a medieval gloss on Cath Magh Turedh, "Macha's Mast" is given the meaning of the heads of the slain.
In "The Birth of Cú Chulainn," Deichtine becomes mysteriously pregnant. The story implies both that this happened when she drunk a tiny creature that fell into her drink, and that the father may have been her brother. When she is married to Sualtaim mac Roech she aborts the child so as to avoid going to her husband's bed pregnant. She then becomes pregnant again and gives birth to Setanta, who was later called Cú Chulainn. The horse element enters with two foals. Deichtine had been at Brugh when a woman gave birth, and at the same time two foals were born. She had then taken the woman's son for fostering, and it was while mourning for his death that she had become so mysteriously pregnant. And while pregnant, the god Lug had appeared to her in a dream, saying that he had arranged all this so that she might bear Setanta, who should be raised along with the foals. Further, Deichtine is the charioteer of her father, and is depicted accompanied by birds.
Then there is the Morrígain, a battle goddess whose name means "Nightmare Queen" (Lincoln, 1980a). Her connection with horses is somewhat tenuous, being limited to a gloss in a fourteenth century manuscript that identifies Macha as a Morrígain. She is, however, strongly associated with birds, frequently appearing in that form. Furthermore, she shows the same voracious sexual appetite as Medb and the same fury when refused. Like Macha, Medb, and Deichtine, she is caught up in the Cú Chulainn saga, ultimately causing his death in revenge for his rejection of her. Finally, she is paired with the cow goddess Boand (< Gwouwinda) as a mate of the Dagda.
From Wales comes Rhiannon, whose story is told in the Mabinogi (Ford, 1977; Gantz, 1976). She appears riding a pale horse which stays ahead no matter how quickly it is pursued. She gives birth to a son on Beltane (May Day), but that son disappears. She is accused of eating him, and sentenced to carry guests on her back like a horse. The son is not dead, however, and appears in a barn far away, where a foal has just been born. The two are raised together and eventually he is reunited with his mother. In a later story Rhiannon is temporarily punished by being made to wear the collars of asses after they had carried hay. She is also connected with birds; the stories tell of the birds of Rhiannon which bring peace and healing. The stories which tell of her are quite late, and much has been confused. The accusation of her eating her son may have once had a darker side to it (she may have been guilty). As it is, all that is left of Ekwamedha's rage is a tendency for Rhiannon to lose her temper.
In Norse religion, Freyja is a sexual goddess, associated with battles, the dead, and protection. Her brother and lover Frey is represented in "Volsa Thattr" by a stuffed stallion's penis. In "Lokasenna" 30 and 32, Loki accuses her of having seduced each of the Aesir, as well as her brother. A witch named Gullveig ("Drunkenness of Gold") is mentioned in "Voluspa" (21). She is killed three times, and revives each time, and now is called Heidhr, "Shining." Edgar Polomé suggests (1989, pp. 60-1), that she is Freyja, who is said to weep tears of gold. Her transformation from witch to shining one may equate to the Anna/Mari transformation.
Going further afield, we find in India the goddess Saranya, married to Vivasvant, the sun. Originally not wanting the marriage, she turned herself into a mare and ran away, leaving behind a duplicate named Chaya, or "Dark Shadow." Her husband saw through the deception, however, and chased her, taking the shape of a stallion. Although his semen fell to the ground, she became pregnant purely from her desire, and gave birth to the twin horse gods, the Aśvins.
Greece provides a number of possible reflexes of this goddess. There is, for instance, Demeter of Phigalia. Lusted after by Poseidon, she ran from him in the form of a mare; he, however, turned into a stallion, followed her, and raped her. Because of her rage over this she was given the name "Fury."
There is also the story of Anthus, son of Hippodameia ("Horse Tamer), who drove his father's mares from pasture. In revenge for this, they attacked and ate him. The horses of Diomedes, which became man-eaters from anger at being penned up, were also mares.
As one final bit of evidence, in folklore witches were often described as mares. This is especially true of man-eating witches.
When all of these stories are analyzed, it appears that we are dealing with a goddess who can take the shape of a horse, is associated with birds, is highly erotic, and is dangerous, being especially prone to eating men. I hope it would not be too Freudian to associate the last two, connecting eating with voracious sexual desires.
One important aspect to observe is that the goddess's anger arises in the context either of rejection of her sexuality or the commission of certain sexual sins, notably rape and incest. She may be seen, then as the punisher of such sins.
The danger of the horse-goddess can be mediated, however, for she has another function. She is the bestower of sovereignty, without whose approval no king can rule. Of the goddesses mentioned above, several fulfill this function. "Rhiannon" means "Great Queen," and when she marries Manawydan it is he, not her son, who becomes Lord of Dyfed. Medb is an even better example; it is said that without her no king can rule.
This same goddess appears also as the hag who determines the rightful king. For instance, Niall of the Nine Hostages encounters a hag who is described as having hair like a horse's tail. She refuses to give Niall and his brothers any of the water from her well unless one of them will kiss her. The others refuse, and she says that neither they nor their descendants will be kings, but Niall agrees to. As a result, she changes from a hag into a beautiful maiden. She then promises Niall that he will become the high king of Ireland, as will his descendants. She identifies herself as "Flaith," "ale," and says that the water she gives him will be like mead, honey (from which mead is made) and ale.
This story contains all of the more important mare motifs: a connection with horses (as well as Flaith's hair, there is Niall's father's name, "Eochaid," which means "horseman);" a goddess associated with intoxication and sexuality; the conferring of sovereignty; and the transformation from hag to maiden.
The same transformation takes place in the story of Lugaidh Laidhe. He and his brothers are sent to hunt a fawn to determine who will be king. They encounter a hag who demands they sleep with her or be changed into monsters. Only Lugaidh Laidhe will, and when he does she becomes a beautiful maiden, who confers the kingship on him and his sons (Gwynn, IV:1135-41).
This transformation is an example of the folklore motif of the "Loathly Lady." Its most famous example is in the story of Gawain and Lady Ragnell, in which Gawain agrees to marry Lady Ragnell, who is a hag, if she will give Arthur the answer to her brother's question, "What is it that women want the most?" and thereby save Arthur's life. The answer is "sovereignty." When Gawain marries Lady Ragnell and kisses her, she is transformed into a beautiful maiden. However, the curse that had been placed on her by her brother is only half lifted, and she can be beautiful only half of the day. She asks Gawain to choose, but he says that the choice is hers. This breaks the spell completely, and she will now be beautiful all the time. This ballad is late, but it is remarkable how recognizable the story still is.
This transformation is exactly what happens during the dark time - the hag is transformed into the maiden, Anna into Mari. The dark time, although dangerous, is thus as necessary as the Full Moon, for it is the means by which the absorber of energy is transformed into its bestower.
The constellation of myths floating around this point seems to crystallize into the idea of the mare goddess as the Crone who is transformed into the Maiden by lying with the mortal God (the king). By this the king is given the sovereignty. This is a dangerous time, involving as it does contact between an immortal and a mortal. It is all too easy to transgress against the Crone's sense of sexuality, with disastrous results. The prospective king must follow Ekwamedha's laws and show proper respect for Her, especially for Her sexuality.
The New Moon, then, is a time of dangerous transition in which the Crone, the absorber of power, becomes the Maiden, the bestower of power. It is only by accepting the Crone as she is, however, that she may be transformed. This is a moment of paradox, in which the only way to avoid danger is to accept it, even to revere it. It seems almost a mere side effect that sovereignty is conferred on the king in the process. (This is not a side effect for the king, of course, and it will be seen to be very important for the Priest later in this book.)
Ekwamedha is the cusp between the dark and the light moons, and Gwouwinda must obviously be the full moon. She is the form of the Goddess that is thought of as "Mother Goddess." She is the giver of nourishment. Although she has sometimes been described as passive, she is quite active in her giving. What makes this giving seem passive is that it is dedicated purely to the service of her children, and thus has no motive of its own.
The most famous Celtic reflex of Gwouwinda is the Irish Brighid. Most of what we know of her is recorded in the folklore and cult surrounding St. Brighid. There most likely was an abbess named Brighid who was canonized, and who, because of her name and sanctity, drew into her orbit the attributes of the goddess with the same name.
We've seen earlier how this, Brighid was a triple goddess of the transfunctional kind. The Goddess is transfunctional, then, not only as Ekwamedha but also as Gwouwinda. As the giver of nourishment, she empowers all three functions. Her name, which means "Exalted," further connects her with the highest of goddesses.
Brighid's status as cow goddess is clear from her stories. She is accompanied by a white, red-eared cow (that coloration being the standard Celtic sign of an Otherworldly beast), and is left offerings of milk. Her cows may be milked three times a day, producing a lake of milk. Her role as mother is expressed in St. Brighid's title of "Foster Mother of Jesus."
Another Irish form of Gwouwinda is Boand, the goddess of the source of the river Boyne. Her name in fact comes from *Gwouwinda, and like Brighid she is patron of a water source.
Perhaps the most famous aspect of Gwouwinda is "cow-eyed Hera" of Greece. She also appears to have been transfunctional; the inspirer of prophecy, mother of the smith Hephaestus, and patron of childbirth. The origin of her name is unclear, but it may mean "Possessing Power" (Adams, 1987), and thus be the same as "Maghya."
Hinduism is well-known for its reverence for cows. One form of Gwouwinda, Sarasvati, appears already in the Rig Veda. Her name, "The Flowing One," describes her as a goddess both of nourishment and, like Boand, a sacred river. Although she later came to be considered the goddess of speech, writing, eloquence, and wisdom, in Vedic days she was transfunctional: patron of prayers, destroyer of enemies, and giver of wealth and fortune. Her status as a cow is clear from the Rig Veda, where she causes milk and melted butter to flow for the deserving (RV 9.67.32). There is reference as well to her inexhaustible breast (RV 1.164.49). She is described as white and wearing a crescent on her forehead, connecting her both to the moon and to cows.
That nourishment and good fortune were associated with cows by the Indo-Europeans should come as no surprise. They were a pastoral people, relying on their cows for their livelihood. The expression "men and cattle" was even used to refer to the entire community.
The overall impression of cows is as gentle providers of nourishment and as mothers. This is a good description of Gwouwinda as well. Her nourishment is in the form of milk. It is important to point out, though, that this milk only becomes available through pregnancy, and thus cannot be brought into being without a male.
Gwouwinda, then, is the Goddess in direct relationship with the God. Ekwamedha, on the other hand, has a relationship with the God, but it is not a necessary and defining aspect of Her nature. One of the two forms may appeal to us more, but She is both.
The Goddess is difficult to know, subtle and hard to grasp. She is like a jewel which is constantly turning; new facets are continually sending out light which falls on our bewildered faces. But what is in the heart of the jewel? That we can never know. It is enough to stand in awe as the facets flicker.
Maghya holds the power in all three of the worlds of men; whether we are priest and poets, warriors and rulers, or farmers and merchants, she is our protector and source of inspiration, strength, and fertility. If we do not drink from her cup, we will have no power, for there is no other cup from which to drink.
But it is the God who is the performer in these worlds. It is He who teaches the skills, though Maghya is the one who controls the access to them and the power to learn and use them.
The distinction between women as being and males as doing is often made. I have heard it objected to by women on the obvious grounds that women also do. Of course, but they do from their being. No matter what they do, behind it is what they are. When they are what they truly are, then their actions will be perfect. And men also "be" - when men do that which is most truly proper to them, then will their being be perfect.
Gardnerian Wicca recognizes this distinction in its tradition that a High Priestess may serve as High Priest in his absence by the act of buckling on a sword. The High Priestess takes on maleness by a simple act. The High Priest, however, cannot take on the role of the High Priestess. She can take on what he does, but he cannot take on what she is.
Another side to this question is seen in the types of gods vs. the types of goddesses that are most common in Indo-European mythologies. The gods are gods of the functions. The goddesses tend instead to be associated either with the states of womanhood (especially as mother) or with the earth, either as the whole earth, a local territory, or a specific location. Once again the gods are performing and the goddesses are the area in which this performance can take place. The goddesses are, as well, the source of all this doing, either by giving birth to it or being the energy source for it. In Celtic religion, many gods were tribal protectors. When it is remembered that the Irish kings, who might be said to be the earthly forms of those tribal gods, assumed their power from a goddess of sovereignty, who personified the land, we can see the same distinction taking place.
He is the Father of All, the Shining One, the Bright Sky. We call Him by many other names as well, but most often we call him Kerntos, "He Who Wears Horns." You see in His titles something of who He is, the bright sky above us, and the one who wanders in the dark forest as both hunter and hunted.
"Kerntos" means "Horned (or Antlered) One." It is thus equivalent to the name "Cernunnos," which is used by many Wiccans as the name of the God. "Kern" is from the Proto-Indo-European root *kher(n), meaning "horn, head," and "-tos" is a masculine ending. Because of the ambiguous meanings of *kher(n) and "head," the name may also be translated "Chief" or even "Lord."
Like Maghya, Kerntos comes to us in more than one form. We honor him as the Old One, the Lord of Death, who is called Gerontos, and the Young God, the Lord of Life, who is called Yuwen. Gerontos is the father of Yuwen, and Yuwen is the son and killer of Gerontos. Thus youth kills death, but death is the father of life. And yet both are but sides of one God.
"Gerontos" is Proto-Indo-European for "Old Man." In this form he may be seen as the sage, the repository of wisdom, the old king. He is also the ferryman of death, often described as an old man. It is true, of course, that it is old age which will ferry us to our death if we are fortunate enough.
"Yuwen" simply means "Youth," again in Proto-Indo-European.
The exact workings of the relationship between Yuwen and Gerontos are expressed in the Myth of the Year. See Chapter 15 for a more complete explanation.
The God is less subtle than the Goddess. He is easier to understand. Kerntos holds no secrets, and keeps nothing back. He is what He does.
Again, He is what He seems to be. He may be described as a mask, but only if it is remembered that unlike the masks we wear His does not cover up a reality, it manifests it. The mask does not hide who He really is, it is who He really is.
The great difficulty in understanding Kerntos is accepting this lack of secrets. It is difficult indeed to gaze upon the sun, but Kerntos must be as bright as he is because he is holding nothing back. He must reveal everything.
This difference between Maghya and Kerntos is illuminated by considering their symbols. Maghya's moon is constantly hiding and revealing itself; the earth contains many layers which hide each other, and even its surface features conceal others behind them. The sun, however, may change position, but it is always the same sun, and the sky conceals only by its great expanse and openness. It is there above us, we need only look.
While the Goddess undergoes transformation in the cycle of the Moon, the God undergoes transformation in the cycle of the seasons. Through the year He changes with the seasons, aging from Yuwen to Gerontos. And, at the proper times, He dies. This is the greatest distinction between Kerntos and Maghya. Since She is the power that brings all life into being, She cannot Herself die. He, however, as the embodiment of acting, must undergo the greatest of changes, from life to death to rebirth. This change is His mystery, just as the dark moon transformation is Hers.
The God is the skillful one, great in knowledge, the user of tools and weapons. He is a singer, a drummer, a dancer; He is a warrior and a hunter, He is the enemy and the prey. God of all actions, He is well invoked by those engaged in them. God of all actions, He is found in their midst. God of all actions, what He does, He does perfectly.
The Goddess is transfunctional, but the God, who is the one who acts, is usually found expressed in one function at a time. She may be all things, but he cannot at one time be doing all things. For this reason the representations of the masculine side of divinity from ancient times are more fragmented than those of the Goddess.
One of the most complete of these representations of Kerntos is the Dagda, from Ireland. This is actually a title, meaning "The Good God," not in the moral or beneficent sense, but rather more accurately "The God Who is Good at Everything." A less literal but more accurate translation would be "The Skillful God." This is explained in Cath Maige Turedh (Stokes, 1891), when after the other deities have boasted of their skills, the Dagda says that he has all the powers they have named. His actual name is "Eochu Ollathair," "Stallion All-Father," linking him with Ekwamedha by his first name and Gwouwinda by his second.
The Dagda is further linked with Ekwamedha since he mated with her once. It is told in Cath Maige Turedh that he came upon the Morrígain, washing herself at a ford later called "Ford of Destruction." This was at Samhain (Halloween), the dark day of the year and thus equivalent to the dark of the moon. They had intercourse, but there is no record of a child coming from their union. (The sexuality of Ekwamedha is her own, and does not result in children.)
The Dagda mated with Boand as well. With her he fathered Oengus, also called Mac Oc, "Young Son" (Yuwen). It is only fitting that this mating should result in a child, since Boand is a reflex of Gwouwinda.
The Dagda is described in Cath Maige Turedh as appearing like a fool, wearing clothing that was too short for him. Perhaps this was meant to ascribe to him elements of the Trickster, or perhaps it had its origin in descriptions of him as a giant, for whom all clothing was too small. He carried a club which was irresistible in battle, or rather he dragged it behind him, forming a ditch big enough for the boundary of a province. This club could kill with one end and restore life with the other, associating the Dagda with both Ekwamedha and Gwouwinda.
With the collapsing of myths into duotheism, all of the Celtic gods may be seen to manifest aspects of Kerntos, of course, but one more Irish god is particularly useful in understanding him. Lugh Samildanach, "The Bright One, Skilled in Many Arts," is, as his name implies, god of crafts and skills, possessing all that there are. A list of some of these skills is given in Cath Maige Turedh: wright, smith, harpist, hero, poet, historian, sorcerer, healer, cupbearer, brazier. He succeeded the elder Nuada in the kingship of Ireland, and led the forces of the Tuatha de Danaan to victory over the Fomorians.
It may be that in the Dagda we have a form of Gerontos. If so, Lugh would be Yuwen.
The Welsh equivalent of Lugh is Lleu Llaw Gyffes. This god is shown in The Mabinogi as a youth who requires the help of his uncle (and perhaps father) Gwydion. His mother, Arianrhod (possibly a partially but flawed maternal form of Ekwamedha), has refused to allow him to be given a name or arms unless she gives them herself. When Gwydion tricks her into doing so, she lays a final curse that he not marry any woman born of people. Gwydion forms a bride from flowers, who eventually betrays Lleu and tries to kill him. He is rescued once again by Gwydion. This god does not seem as skillful as Lugh, but he is still a form of Yuwen.
In Germanic religion the equivalent of the Dagda is Woden (Norse Odin). The ruler of the gods, he is also called "All-Father." He too is possessed of great skills and wisdom, and the myths give us a glance at how he acquired some of these. For his wisdom he gave an eye, and he hung fasting on the World Tree for nine days and nights to acquire knowledge of the runes. While he does not appear as a fool, he does appear in the form of an old man in traveling clothes. He is a god of the dead as well.
The other great Germanic god is Thor (Anglo-Saxon Thunor). He is a god of the common people, bringing them protection and fertility. He is a rowdy god, fond of fun and fighting. His weapon in these fights is a hammer, a typical weapon for a Indo-European thunder god.
Odin may be seen as Gerontos, both because of his title of "All-Father" and because of his status as god of the dead. As a hero god and bringer of fertility, Thor is certainly Yuwen. If they are compared with the Dagda and Lugh the distinction at first seems unclear; Thor's hammer should equate with the Dagda's club. Instead, however, it should be compared with both Lugh's standard weapon, the spear, and with the sling with which he killed the enemy Balor, which is equivalent to Thor's battle against the Midgeard serpent.
Great indeed are the Two, each great in their own way. The Goddess is greater than any could possibly be, and the God does greater than any could possibly do. Worthy are they of worship.
The Two are the first division of all things into male and female, and they are the pattern by which the whole world may be divided. Thus in our rituals there are acts and words that are given to the Priestess to be performed, and there are acts and words that are given to the Priest to be performed.
We do not say, then, that men and women are the same. If they were, what would be the point of having both a Goddess and a God? Surely one would be enough.
We do not say, however, that one of these is more important that the other. In their relationship to each other, men and women reflect the relationship between the God and the Goddess.
We also do not say, however, that they are different in all things. If they were not the same in many ways, they could not know each other. We do not even say that there are tasks more suited to one than to the other. Each will bring a gift to whatever task is at hand, and the task will be done. Perhaps it will be done differently by a man than by a woman, but who are we to say that different is bad?
People tend to think that of two opposing things one must be better. Through the workings of the rituals and meditation on the old stories, however, it is hoped that we will learn that this is not necessarily true, and will allow the gifts of all people to flow without fear.
As well as the Two, and the great ones of the company of heaven, there are many other numinous beings, spirits who are worthy of honor. Let us never forget these spirits; the spirits of the wild, the spirits of the garden and house, the spirits of the ancestors, the spirits of our people, the guardian spirits of the People - all deserve honor and offerings. May we never pass a sacred site without a prayer on our lips. When we pass over our thresholds each day, when we encounter a tree, when an animal passes by us in the forest or in the city - let us be aware, and let us remember, and let us do honor to those who share the world with us.
When the Vikings settled Iceland, they brought their gods with them. Thor, Odin, and the rest were worshiped there; some settlers even brought parts of their ancestral temples so they could reerect them in the new land.
The new land required more of them, however. It had its own sacred places, and its own spirits. As part of the settling, the Vikings sought them out, and learned how to honor them in the way in which they wished to be honored.
Many Wiccans find themselves in a similar situation, far from their ancestral homes. We may take with us the worship of the Shining Ones, but we must also seek out the sacred places and the spirits of this land in which we find ourselves. The settlers of Iceland were the first people to settle there, and so they went out on their search on their own. Those of us who live in America have been given a great gift. There have been others before us who have made the searches for us. It behooves us, then, to learn who the spirits of our land are and how they wish to be honored. We can learn this from those who knew it before our ancestors arrived.
The different parts of our land will have different spirits, and these spirits will have different ways of being honored. We must learn these if possible, not so we can steal the ways of the Native Americans, but so that we can live in a way that this land will accept. We should keep to our own ancestral ways, as well, however, for we are our own people. We must honor where we came from as well as where we are.
The Indo-Europeans migrated throughout Europe and Asia. Since their gods represented social roles (modes of acting), they could come along with their people. The goddesses, however, were often associated with places (being), and could not be brought. When the Indo-Europeans entered a new area, they sought the local sacred spots and incorporated the goddesses of these spots into their pantheon. As a result, male deities have tended to be recognizably Indo-European, while the female deities have not.
An exception was made in a few instances, the most prominent of which is the goddess of the hearth. The patron of a place that could be moved, she came with the Indo-Europeans, although her name changed as they migrated.
To honor the numinous beings of a new land, especially the goddesses, is a tradition of great antiquity, then. It shows respect for the places in which we find ourselves.