The Greeks believed the sun travels under the ocean at night. This makes sense when you consider that the sun seems to drop into the water when you are standing on the seashore facing west. The god of the sea, Poseidon (Roman name Neptune), owns a set of horses that pull the sun through the water, the counterparts of the horses who pull the sun through the sky. These horses can be spotted near the shore occasionally, their manes twirling in white-cap waves, their feet running onto the sand.
Poseidon the water-horse god has a persistent, sometimes violent rivalry with the goddess Athena, whose sacred olive tree grows in country bordering the sea. The waves constantly batter and erode the shoreline as Poseidon seeks to expand his territory.
Poseidon the horse god was a late-comer to the Aegean who “married” a sea goddess called Amphitrite in a patriarchal takeover of an older cult. Amphitrite, who does have a querulous side like Poseidon, is the personification of the sea and a mother goddess of animals.
I’ve written a lot about deer, especially reindeer, this year. Here is a poem about the Saami reindeer sun goddess Beiwe.
She rides across heaven in antler wagon. She rides across heaven in antler wagon. Holding her daughter, she defines the day. Holding her daughter, she defines the day. She crosses antler heaven holding her daughter,
defining a day in the wagon ride.
Bring peace to hearts in the blackness. Bring peace to hearts in the blackness. Offer red blood of white reindeer. Offer red blood of white reindeer. In the heart of the blackness offer red blood. White reindeer bring peace.
Bring light to wake forest in springtime. Bring light to wake forest in springtime. Make rings of birch branches. Make rings of birch branches. Birch forest light rings, bring branches, make time wake the spring.
Her reindeer daughter brings heart. Her reindeer antlers hold the light of day. In the forest she wakes blood in birch. Time branches, crosses heaven, makes an offering. Black, red, white define the wagon ride. Peace.
August 13 marks the start of an ancient Roman festival to Diana. Torches were carried in processions in honor of the goddess with the aim of averting storms which might imperil the ripening harvest. The torch is one of Diana’s symbols, as she is the goddess who governs light.
Thinking of Diana as goddess of light fits with another of her symbols, the deer. In earlier posts I wrote about how deer migrations are so closely aligned with solar rhythms that in many cultures deer goddesses are also sun goddesses. Many other animals have rhythms ruled by the sun that are noticeable to us, of course, but deer were once a staple in the human diet.
Frejya has appeared to me as a stocky young woman against a backdrop of tall spruce forest, standing on the snow beside the kind of weaving, shallow streams that develop in the north as winter moves into spring. She comes as a spring goddess, evidenced by the height and intensity of the sun. (One of the nice things about a vision is that you can look directly into the sun without feeling pain in your eyes.) When I say she is stocky, I don’t mean fat: her shoulders are broad and she is proportioned like a tall woman. Her rib cage is large, like the stout breast of the gyrfalcon. She has a brown cloak, curling brown hair and glistening brown eyes. Some describe Frejya as blond, but to me she appears in falcon coloring. What those who have seen Frejya mostly comment on, however, is her mouth: a small, very red, well-shaped mouth with lips curved in a joyful yet seductive smile. It is an entrancing smile, a smile that says she knows just about everything. I do not believe that Frejya would have had to have slept with the dwarves to obtain the Brisingamen Necklace; she must have done so only to please herself. To obtain the necklace she would only have had to spread those red lips in the smile no creature could resist. But I digress.Frejya’s Amazonian proportions and her seductive manner place her in the “maiden” category for those who see goddesses in terms of maiden-mother-crone. Yet the fertile, family-focused boar is usually associated with motherhood, and Norse pagans appear to have regarded Frejya as a benevolent goddess bestowing wealth and favors. Her rune is among the most auspicious, and Cooper describes its divinatory meaning as “Good fortune, fertility, increase in property and success in endeavors.” These are qualities that proclaim “mother.”The point of intersection between the fir, falcon, and boar is, of course, death. The gyrfalcon is a fierce hunter who winters in the frozen world. The Norway Spruce thrives in cold environments and remains forever green. The boar is also fierce in her own way, and carrion is a major part of her diet. As described in the last post, there are dying and resurrecting gods and goddesses from other European and Middle Eastern cultures with pine, pig, or falcon associations, but we don’t really need these examples to establish the point. Frejya’s representation throughout the lifecycle suggests an affinity with the sun, which defines the cycle of the year. Her association with both the winter and the summer solstices reaffirm this connection, as does the Yule fire and the summer bonfires. Frejya’s amber necklace represents her command over the sun and hence the passage of time. Those who see Frejya as blond may be focusing on her sun aspect, perhaps dazzled by the brightness of her nimbus. It is interesting in this regard that the Egyptian sun god Horus also takes the form of a falcon.Although Frejya is a goddess for all seasons and all ages, I want to explore Frejya’s death aspect more closely. I will do so in a later installment of this series.
Cold and flu season is upon us, and herbalists are writing about garlic, echinacea, mullein, honey, and a host of other beneficial plants. Irish herbalists saw the blessing of the goddess Aine (pronounced ON-ya) as a necessary catalyst in these herbal concoctions. Aine is a fire goddess whose spark makes its circuit throughout the body commencing with every sunrise. Aine often takes the form of a red mare, as in Celtic lore horses are equated with the sun. At Midsummer Aine’s protection for livestock would be invoked by waving torches over animals.Probably due to her fiery nature, Aine appears in stories as a lustful woman with many lovers. She bore many children, and Irish rulers often traced their family lineage to her. She is said to have a stone birthing chair cut into the side of a mountain. Those who sit in this chair become insane, and the insanity is permanent if they repeat this procedure three times. But insanity can also be cured by sitting on Aine’s chair, so perhaps no lapse of sanity is incurable.Like many healing goddesses, Aine has a wrathful side. In one legend she curses her rapist by sucking the skin off his ear and depriving him of his possessions. My guess would be that this is based on an older story related to a broken taboo at Samhain (Halloween). Aine also had a legendary father who was cruel to her. After her escape she became a spinner of sunbeams in the forest (another allusion to her origin as sun goddess) where she tutored wives in the art of slowly debilitating their husbands through herbal interventions. I’m guessing that the debilitated husband story refers to the aging process measured by the movement of the sun, as well as Aine’s role as teacher of herbology.Aine is believed to be the same goddess as Anu, about which little is known aside from her prehistoric monument of twin hills capped with cairns to look like nipples. She has also been equated with Danu, the legendary mother of the Irish gods, which would explain why so many rulers sought to legitimize their reign by claiming to be her descendents.SourcesCeltic Mythology. New Lanark, Scotland: Geddes and Grosset, 1999. Matthews, Caitlin and John Matthews. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. Shaftesbury, UK: Element Books, 1994.Matthews, John and Caitlin Matthews. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Myth and Legend. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2004.Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. New York: Checkmark Books, 2008.