When I was writing the second book, Dagger’s Destiny, in the renamed series, Curse of Clansmen and Kings, the story went into a direction I had not anticipated. It is based on the concept of the Celtic sovereignty goddess. The goddess associated with the land confers kingship upon a mortal man whom she decides is worthy to rule. The sacred marriage ritual of the sovereignty goddess is hinted in The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. The mystical Morgaine is chosen as a symbol of the Goddess to sleep with her brother, Arthur, and confer kingship to him.
Below is an overview of some of the mythology and rituals associated with the Celtic sovereignty goddess.
Celtic Sovereignty Goddess
The idea that the divine female personifies sovereignty is persistent in early Irish mythology. She is the goddess of the land, the spirit or essence of Ireland itself. Fortunes, fertility, and prosperity of her territory depend upon her guardianship. The Celtic sovereignty goddess legitimizes a mortal king by marrying and/or having sex with him. Stone carvings of a divine couple representing the goddess of the land and the mortal king have been found in regions of France, United Kingdom, and Ireland. The goddess often carries a cornucopia, a symbol of abundance. Her male companion often bears a spear, a symbol of protection.
The Celts and Roman venerated the horse-goddess Epona as a protector of their soldiers and their mounts. She represents the well-being of the tribal land with domestic prosperity and fertility. However, lands must also be protected and defended through warfare. Both Romans and Celts prayed to Epona to protect their horses used in battle.
Epona with Her Horses
The nature of the Celtic sovereignty goddesses is dynamic and complex. She is responsible for the fertility of the land. In this role, she symbolized sexual promiscuity and polyandry. Her marriage to several successive mortal kings is not the result of unbridled sexual appetite but the need to choose the best consort for the benefit of the realm. Sexual prowess and the ability to shape-shift were also frequently linked. For instance, Morrigan had the power to transform herself into a raven.
Many of the sovereignty war goddesses were represent as triplicate goddesses with different functions. She was first and foremost a goddess of war and destruction, but was also strongly linked with fertility and sovereignty.
Stone-carved Triplicate Goddesses Displayed at Bath
A key aspect to the Irish sovereignty myth was the sacred marriage. It is the ritual union of the goddess of the land with the mortal king. The key element of the sacred marriage—and kingship—was the consummation between the king and the goddess of the territory he was to rule over. The goddess only enters this marriage if the king is suitable, and even after marriage, she can reject a weak ruler in favor of a man who is better suited.
The ritual of the goddess handing the sacred goblet of wine to the king symbolizes his sacred partnership with his kingdom. Their sexual union legitimizes his rule over the land, which should then make the kingdom prosper. The goddess Eriu, after whom Erin (Ireland) is named, gives her mate a golden cup of wine, interpreted by some as symbolic of the sun.
Mebd of Connacht
One of the best known figures in Irish mythology is Medb from the Ulster Cycle. She is a queen-goddess who emerges as the great Connacht leader of the conflict with the neighboring province of Ulster. She is sexually vigorous and a warrior, with the death-dimension seen in the Irish Goddesses Macha and the Morrigan. She emerges as a powerful ruler with substantial wealth and leads her kingdom’s army as a battle-commander in the campaigns against Ulster. Mebd would ride her chariot around the battlefield, encouraging her soldiers. She started quarrels and bribed warriors to take up arms against friends and relatives. She gloried in war, bloodshed, and destruction; she was the essence of death. She mated with nine kings and allowed no man to rule at the royal court of Tara unless he slept with her.
Celtic Warrior Goddess-Queen in Chariot
Mebd is interpreted as “she who intoxicates,” and is associated with mead. Drinking of liquor emboldens warriors with a fighting temperament and symbolizes the union of the sovereignty goddess with the mortal ruler. Given the close relationship between inauguration and drinking, part of the king’s inauguration involved his intoxication (at the hands of the goddess, in the process of their marriage). The ritual drunkenness during inauguration opens the king up to an ecstatic state in which he is lifted out of himself in the hope of contacting with the divine. The drink itself is representative of sovereignty. Accepting the drink being served by the goddess of the land is the same as accepting the kingship.
The Celtic goddesses were guardians and protectors of the land. Much of the power of these goddesses stemmed from their sexuality. Not only was sexual energy linked to fertility and abundance, it was associated with warfare, sovereignty, and healing. These goddesses were powerful entities that embraced the entire religious spectrum: from warfare to healing; from sovereignty to destiny; from creation to destruction. They could be capricious and vengeful but also gentle and benevolent. Their treatment of humans depended on the respect shown to them.
- Miranda Green, Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins, and Mothers; British Museum Press, London, 1995.
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