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A New Version of the Legend of the Descent of the Goddess

This is different from the other essays; it’s not about the history of Wicca so much as the present, or even future. It’s a version of the Legend of the Descent that I’d like to think contains more than the original.

It my be a version for the present or future, but it’s from my past. I wrote it for a Book of Shadows I was putting together in the early 1980s, from a mixture of traditional Gardnerian material; material from folklore, myth, anthropology, and comparative religion that wasn’t available to Gardner; and my own ideas. I combined Gardner’s version with more elements of the Legend of the Descent of Inanna, and brought in some shamanic bits (the birds flying up through the smokehole). “Open thy gate” through “much uprooting” is from the Sumerian. I then punched it up a bit as far as the theology was concerned.

In the beginning of fall, in the time of the harvest, the young God died. There are those who say it was the Goddess herself who killed him, taking the form of a boar and coming upon while he was hunting. And some say that he was in the grain that the harvesters beheaded with their scythes. Be that as it may, the God died. The young Lord died, and the Goddess mourned.

So it was, that at the time when the harvesters took from the fields their crowns of gold, as they wove the sheaf into a corn dolly in memory of the God, as they threw it into the red and gold flames; as these things were done, the gold of the Sun dwindled. The Goddess mourned, and the Sun, with no longer the you Lord to sustain him, mourned with her.

With the Goddess withdrawn and the Sun waning, soon the trees lost their garlands of green and crowns of scarlet. The animals hid, fearing to go forth in the naked forests. Finally the people, turning from their harvest feasts, faced the dark and felt the cold. And now all mourned, mourned for the lost King.

The Goddess, alone and withdrawn, heard from a distance the cries of her children. Whereas before she had been alone in her sorrow, she now knew the world to be in mourning. She knew, and, knowing, acted. She resolved then, swearing by the child within her, to win back her dead Lord.

Now as the young God had descended to the land of the dead, she went in search of its entrance. She found it in the side of a barrow mound, marked by a dolmen and closed tight. But as the Sun went down, the door opened. She stepped within the dolmen, and she stood there while the world stood still. It was the time of the turning, the cusp of the year. It was Samhain, and the dark ruled.

Dark it was, but she brought light with her, her own light. Soft moongleams shone from her crown, her earrings, her breastcups, her bracelets, her jeweled belt, her sandals, and her gown. With this light she started down.

It was not long before she came to another dolmen. Standing before this was a beast, half bird and half man, that raised a sword to her. The arm that raised it was bare and white, and ended in talons that matched in cruel sharpness the tip of the bird’s beak. So it raised a sword in challenge, saying:

         Who is it, then, that enters this realm, unafraid, unaided, with shining light?
         What is your quest, and what your token?

The Goddess answered:

         Fearsome Guardian, open thy gate!          It is I, the Mother, who walks this path. I go in search of my love and my lord.          My face is set, I will not turn back.          Step aside then, beast, or feel my wrath.
         Open thy gate that I may enter,
         or this is what I will do:
         I will smash the door, I will shatter the bolt,
         I will make my way with much uprooting.
         My strength is great, my love is greater:
         My face is set, I will not turn back.

The beast was amazed to hear such boldness, but stood steadfast, saying:

         Greetings, Goddess; we welcome you here.
         But still I must enforce our laws.
         Enter our realms, if such be your quest.
         Come through the door and submit.

Boldly the Goddess walked, stepping under the dolmen. As she passed by the beast, he took her crown and held it to him. She asked him:

         By what right do you take my royal crown?

He answered thus:

         The laws of this land require it thus:
         that all who enter lose regal power.
         Here are no king, no merchants, slaves:
         Humility learn, or else turn back.

The Goddess said:

         My face is set, my love is strong;
         beside my love such loss is small.
         My face is set, I will not turn back.

With that she stepped out from below the stone. The beach placed the crown as an arm ring about his left arm, and it disappeared, leaving feathers as it went: both arms grew into wings. With this he chattered like a bird and followed the Mother.

In like manner she passed through six more gates. At the second the guard demanded her earring, saying:

         The Dark Lord’s will demands it thus:
         That those who enter lose all knowledge,
         all discrimination, all reason.
         Lose them, Goddess, or else turn back.

At the third, the guardian demanded her breast cups, saying:

         The rule is set, it must be thus:
         Surrender your sex, renounced womanhood.
         Here no male to female drawn:
         Divide them no more, or else turn back.

Her bracelets were lost at the fourth gate. The guardian took them, saying:

         This, O Goddess, is required of all
         who seek to tread this spiral path:
         To lose all skill in works of hands:
         Give up your arts or else turn back.

The fifth gate required of her her jeweled belt. The guardian said:

         This is the way of the Land of Death:
         that those who come here give up their strength,
         that weakened here they must remain:
         Give in, O Mother, or else turn back.

The beast at the sixth gate took her sandals, saying:

         The Death Lord’s law is stern and hard:
         No gods may pass into his land.
         All pow’r to go, to make, to weave,
         abandon here, or else turn back.

It was at the seventh gate that she lost her robe. The breast said:

         In this, O Goddess, our ways our set:
         No one may pass the final gate.
         Your soul must die in passing through:
         Give up your self, or else turn back.

With that the Goddess stood naked. About her the seven guardians, all now birds, beat wings in the darkness. The dark was complete now that her last garment was gone. But as she was pushed towards the Dark Lord’s throne she began to glow. She had given up all, even self, and was now pure love, pure in her quest. And as she approached the throne, the God of Death wondered at the beauty of her love. There, as he sat on his throne, he was moved to love for such a one. And so, coming down from his seat of power, he stood before her and said:

         Goddess of love, I welcome you.
         This realm was cold without your love.
         Above, all mourn without you there,
         but here we rejoice.

She said to him:

         I come in search of my young Lord.
         Why did you cause him to die?

He said:

         It was his part to meet his death,
         to enter this realm was his fate.
         But you have come here of you own free will:
         such a marvel to us – stay and be my Queen.

But she said:

         I was a Queen before my King did ere I see.
         And now I seek to rescue him
         from this land so deep, so dark, so cold.

The Dark God was sad at her words, saying:

         By entering my realms you accepted my power:
         none may do so and return.
         Within my kingdom my word is done.
         So Goddess, stay and be my Queen.

Her love for her dead King was strong, and she said:

         If stay I must, ‘tis a small price to pay
         if I can be with my Lord.
         But not as your Queen:
         Your power extend not to touch my heart.

With this he removed his crown and the torque from his neck and laid them at her feet, saying:

         My kingly power, my godly power,
         I lay at your feet.
         You gave up all but love to come here;
         I give up all but love to have you remain.

It is said by some that when he bowed low she saw the mark of the boar on his back, and by others that when he removed the torque she saw where he had been beheaded. But it may just be that it was his love that she recognized, for the Dark Lord was none other than her dead king. Picking up the iron crown, she placed it on her head, and lo! the iron torque became silver, with a crescent on its front; and when she placed the torque on her neck it became a necklace of beads, the necklace of rebirth. At that moment the birds took flight and disappeared up through the hole that the pillar behind the throne went through. Thus it was revealed that the power of Death had been from the talismans of the Goddess all along.

When she reached down and touched the God, he remembered himself as the God of Light and Life. Together they sat enthroned throughout the winter, and together they brought death and rebirth in their time.

Farrar, Stewart. What Witches Do. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, Inc., 1971.

Gardner, Gerald. Meaning of Witchcraft. New York: Magickal Childe, 1959.