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And, lastly, if we glance over some of the medieval Welsh and Irish traditions we might see useful links back to these Iron Age motifs of the Goddess.

Ceridwen has been thought to derive from ‘crooked’ or ‘bent’ woman. In true Celtic fashion this ambiguous name/definition can be related to one who stirs a cauldron, or to a river’s appearance, or to the crescent moon. But might it not also refer to the winding-unwinding serpent? To the adder, with its distinctive zig-zag patterning, to its lightning-like wriggling through the undergrowth? To its circular, curled, incubation of its eggs? The image of sudden initiation, realisation combined with the shock of venom, with the flash of lightning (another ‘crooked one’). All these elements, snake, zig-zag, spiral snake, lightning, are prominent and inscrutable visual elements in coin art also.

And let us not forget the vivid, unforgettable description of Ceridwen, as well as numerous other Otherworld Hag and Sovereignty Goddess figures. Do they not very clearly carry the attributes of the wild boar? They are come across in deep woodland; they are huge, monstrous; they have long, hooked, dripping noses; they have huge hanging teats, prominent hanging bellies; they have sabre-like nails on hands and feet; they have stiff, black barb-like body hair; they have black hide-like skin; they have tusks curling from their mouths. They are hideous and inescapable. What is a clearer set of attributes than this? It is only the bravest and most skilled of warrior/hunters who can come away unscathed from a boar hunt; only one chosen to be the best; only one who is given the best haunch of meat at the feast, who is given the most honoured seat.

The horse is the Primal Goddess of Sovereignty in her purest and most amenable, placated form.

She initiates and tests through her wrathful form of the boar.

She empowers and watches over the souls of warriors in her carrion bird forms. 

She brings transcendent, timeless and transformative, secret wisdom through her snake form.

In the most complete and extant form of Indo-European cosmology, Hinduism, there are numerous goddesses that have different functions. In essence, at a theological level, they are all seen as aspects of a single primal goddess. In Celtic cosmology it may be that Sovereignty is an aspect of the Great Goddess, and that this function is closely related to other manifestations such as the goddess of Victory, War, Death, The Land. The function of all these goddesses is the maintenance of ‘right order’ and ‘abundant harmony’, the bestowal of ‘reward’, and there assignment of blessings and punishment.

There is a persuasive drift in myth that suggests the most potent magical power and authority was always to be derived from women and women’s traditions, the magic of place and of origins. Giantesses, witches, hags and such visibly ‘alien’ others, are all feared as dangerous enemies in Norse and Celtic myth, but they are necessarily sought out, mated with, learned from, initiated by, cajoled to reveal the deepest magical truths that allow the male gods and heroes to be successful in their new warrior world. It is the female that roots the tribe to its land.

Some of the earliest ritual wall art within an urban environment is found at Catal Huyuk in Turkey. It shows women/priestesses/goddesses that resemble birds of prey, particularly vultures, death-eaters, consumers and transformers of the body. This fearsome imagery might be a template for the Furies and Fates of Greece, and the Nike, the bird-winged goddess of Victory. The angelic form can lulus into a false sense of security with this familiar figure. She is a carrion bird, the remover and gatherer of souls, the bestower of survival and rebirth. This carrion Death goddess is a wrathful, active form of the Great Goddess, whose other polar manifestation is the Lover and Nurturer. The Goddess of Sovereignty combines and balances these two expressions. She is both peaceful nurturer and fierce defender of her offspring.

The concept and embodiment of Sovereignty is central to the mythic structure of the Indo-European culture groups. The basic hierarchy remains in place well beyond the establishment of the Christian Era. The legitimate ruler is the manifestation, or consort of, the deity of the Land. By that union, victory, abundance, and fertility are ensured. The two other elites, the priesthood and the warriors, serve as supports and upholders of their primal relationship.

Sovereignty is mainly conceived as a fecund and powerful female, a personification or manifestation of the tribal land. Right from early times, the right to rule, it seems, was connected to the horse. Ss a status symbol of there conquering male warrior, there horse is the Porsche, the Chieftain tank, the Lear jet of the Iron Age. Only the wealthy could afford to keep horses and control the land and fodder required for active war-horses.

Wild horses, the graceful and swift creatures of there open grasslands, embody the spirit of wild, free, empowered life-force. The ‘wind-horse’ of Mongolian, Siberian and Tibetan iconography is the epitome of this association of the horse with raw and primal life-force, also known as chi, prana, and so on. The taming and mastering of the herds, the cooperation between horse and rider becomes metaphorically identical to the union of (non-human), unbounded, wild, unowned nature to (human) cultivated, demarcated tribal lands.

The very visual structure of coin art with its polarity of human head and horse on either side expresses this relationship. A coin is a constant reminder and validation of the power of the chieftain as a manifestation or partnership of the Otherworld Sovereignty essence to the human ruler. One is the aspect of the other: a successful leader manifests because he or she is empowered, inspired, overshadowed by the powerful divine force. If that contract is broken in some way, then failure, disease, poverty will inevitably follow. It is there most potent, magical mirroring between the power and harmony of Divine Order and the order of the human world.

The purpose of coin production is to maintain and increase power and influence. In does so, in a magical ands political way, by justifying the power of the elites, establishing them as cosmically rightful by bringing together all the iconographical symbols of Otherworld Sovereignty. But what are the specific imagery that can lead us to a specific indication of the Sovereignty Goddess?

Firstly, representations of female figures in coin art are less common than male figures. In either case, we can only guess as to whether the figures represent know human individuals, or Otherworld beings, or deities, ancestors, allegories, attributes and so on. To say a representation is of a goddess is fraught with problems.

The designers of coin art certainly followed many of the conventions of Classical coin iconography, so that representations of Classical goddesses can be seen to inspire Celtic coins. Whether the same meaning carried over with the form, however, cannot easily be known.

We also have to bear in mind our own preconceptions of what constitutes a deity, and that the familiar, human representations of Greek and Roman pantheons as ‘idealised humans’ may be entirely the wrong way to gauge Celtic conceptions of sacred, divine beings. So, too, we need to be a little wary of how Classical writers describe and define Celtic deities in terms of their own familiar iconography. This goes for the forms given to Romano-Celtic religious statuary as well. What we might see from the imagery pre- and post- conquest, is that the style of figuration is very different, but that there does seem to be a continuity of attributes and associated symbols that accompany the anthropomorphic figures we assume are divine in nature.

Nothing in Celtic art is ‘just’ one thing. A horse symbolises a whole raft of connected meaningful concepts. The nature of symbols associated with any horse image might help us to more clearly identify what might be its primary message. For example, the solar cross/flower/concentric circular designs seem to suggest solar, or at least, bright/ shining/ effulgent/ radiant. These motifs often replace the rider, but are also found in front of, behind, and beneath the horse. These solar type symbols are commonly paired with horses. Crescent motifs, the easiest visual way to represent lunar energies, are much less frequent in this context with the horse.

Unless we can find other motifs that point to ‘Sovereignty’, horse imagery is at best ambivalent. The combination of horse + wheel/cross is a common motif in northern Europe from the Bronze Age right through to the Iron Age. It is generally assumed to be a solar symbol, together with the boat + wheel/cross, representing the continual movement of the sun across the sky and beneath the Earth.

Some Classical coin designs have a winged Victory flying above a horse-drawn chariot. Others show Victory stepping forward with a wreath raised to place on the victor’s head. These two images are the prototypes for many of the female figures found in Celtic coin art, but they are most likely to represent one of the wrathful forms of the Goddess such as War, Soul-Collector, Gatherer of the Dead, rather than what we understand as a Sovereignty goddess.

Epona, the widely revered Celtic goddess of Romanised Europe, is certainly a goddess of horses. But her attributes are peaceful and beneficent: foals and cornucopia. It is likely she was revered by cavalry because she represented protection and fertility of the stable, not because she brought victory in battle. As such, Epona is less likely to be found in coin art.

Still, there are some powerful images of anthropomorphic horses in coin art that may represent ‘Goddess as Horse’.

The horse is most often combined in coin art with the boar. It may be that there is a distinction made by the artists between male and female – only adult males have continually growing canines that become prominent tusks. Male boars will therefore tend to symbolise the tenacious warrior.

Habits of the boar can be seen as echoing important traditional human social behaviours: there is a separation between male and female, with young males creating small social groups until they reach full adulthood, when they become solitary except in the mating season where they will seek out the matriarchal female groups and violently fight other males for the right to mate. Females live together with their young under the leadership of a matriarch sow. Female boars are much bigger and much more territorial than the males. Despite not having tusks, they are massively strong, able to shift large boulders and run at over 20 miles per hour. Thus the female wild boar is an ideal symbol for the Goddess as Sovereignty – protective of its territory, nurturing of its many piglets and a danger to all strangers when provoked.

So horse + female boar might indicate: Goddess as Sovereignty/ Goddess of the Tribal Land

Horse + male, tusked boar might indicate: Goddess of Land protected by warrior elite, or simply the mounted warrior elite as defender and guardian.

Horses are also presented quite often with birds and snakes.

When the horse is with carrion birds ( ravens, crows, eagles), the combined attributes of the Goddess as War or Death-Bringer might be the intended meaning. Carrion birds are a near universal symbol of wrathful Death and Battle goddesses, also linked to the collecting of warriors’ souls from the battlefield and the concept of the guardian of individual warriors’ souls.

Boars and carrion birds are commonly combined: Goddess manifesting as Tribal Protector, Fierce Defender.

Less often, the horse is associated with water birds (ducks, geese, cranes). In these cases the Goddess appears in a more benign guise as Goddess of Healing and Rebirth. Waterbirds in ancient Northern mythologies are closely related to the souls of the dead, souls being redistributed or reborn, as well as messengers between the spirit realms. ( Remember the stork delivering babies). In ritual contexts throughout the Celtic world images of ducks seem to take prayers and supplications for healing to the spirit realms and perhaps return with the blessings of the deities.

Lastly, horses are commonly depicted with serpents about them. These may be ‘normal’ looking snakes, or they may have horned heads. Serpents are also a common motif in front of female profile heads – probably more frequently seen than representations of horses. The snake/wisdom connection might suggest a druidic link. There are some powerful coin images of warriors apparently dancing holding snakes in their hands. Goddess as Death/Initiation/Wisdom Holder may be part of the meaning in these contexts.

As an interesting aside, the wild boar/pig is one of the few mammals that have chemicals allowing them to be immune to snake venom. Biologically useful in a creature that roots around in dense undergrowth, it also provides a magical connection that links protectress with dangerous snake-druid wisdom, particularly as snakes are often correlates to Underworld/Death/Ancient/Chthonic Earth power.

In the past such bizarre pairings of animals has been interpreted as the depictions of unknown myths or tribal folktales illustrating a virtue or proverbial desired outcome, like some barbaric Aesop. But if we look at them as indicators of particular divine function and divine manifestation, a more coherent and unified interpretation can be made. The attributes of the Goddess, horse, boar, bird, snake clearly define in which powerful aspect she is being invoked. Goddess as Primal Keeper of the Tribal Lands. Goddess as Protector and Nurturer of her People. Goddess as Devourer of Enemies and Leader to Victory in Battle. Goddess as Keeper of Mysteries.

simonhlilly

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Sky Boat of the Durotriges

There now, let them rise up: the dark voices, the light voices,
The feathered, the fervid, the iron road of truth is a road we must go down
And the boat of morning and the waters of night.
We are three of indeterminate form:
Too fast, too patient, too vast to keep a single shape.
We are three, is all you need to know, the indicator of splendour.
They see us who know us, they know us who see us.
We glide on shadowed moments, in dreaming time,
On pools of blood and pools of passion.
Words that approach silence ornament us.
They say it is a boat, a barque, but it wavers as a reflection does,
As a path in shimmering summer air, as firelight in a drunken hall.
For we ride beyond the waves of light, on photonic tides,
A boat that is…

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The Rocks

It is the rocks that make the river sing,
The world that gives us song.
Bones creak, branches heavy with snow,
Breath captured must release.
Spring will come.

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Before and After Li Po

( improvisations on the poem “Jingting Shan Hill” by Li Po, following the lead of Robert Okaji)

Characters are rendered:

Crowd birds high fly utmost
Lonely cloud alone go idle
Mutual watch both not tire
Only be Jingting Shan

1
Birds, a scattered knot
In distant depth.
One cloud aimless
(This thought).
Lost the mirror distance,
Resonant, the still hill.

2
Silent swing the flock.
Wind flute, too, silent
At this peak of distance.
We exist only because
Of the other.
Green hill breathing.

3
Caught, the distant, sweet movement.
An upper air, a life of song and wind,
Silent here from this depth.
See too, there is one small cloud,
Sweet movement hesitant.
So, now, eye sinks earthwards,
Locks on swelling hill,
There before, and there after,
A poet’s gaze.

4
Scribble splatter
Brush of birds.
Splashed distant sky.
One thought lost,
The hand and eye
Follow each other,
Equally curious.
A mountain of bone
And earth,
Misted,
Remains.

5
The names matter.
On the tongue, in memory.
Located the sweep of sky,
The noisy flock of one mind,
The moment,
A congregation
Of blessings.

Not strictly on topic, but another aspect of Northern shamanic traditions….

simonhlilly

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Please click on this link to view a preview of my newly finished book:

stave runes all

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the dead arise….

simonhlilly

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SNAKE SPIRAL TORC

We slide spiraling
Ferociously nonchalant
Eyes on fire, laughing.

The tumble of sun on sun
The silk whisper, pale moonlight
Equations piled up,
The footprints marking time,
Precise dancers through space.

A knot upon hillsides,
A marching shadow in the valley.
Enchained to the motion,
Slave of raw power, sudden beauty.

This is our sign.
That we dance the dance
Between dusk and dawn
According to the paths before us.

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A continuation of my sporadic project to re-introduce Iron Age Celtic imagery and world-view into the world art vocabulary and other grandiose schemes…..

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He, Who

A small meditation upon the seated god -druid – seer image

simonhlilly

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HE WHO

Seated god
Says:
“your eyes
are held
Captive
To my stillness.”

He who,
nameless,
named
Now sits,
throned naked
In memory halls.

He who,
voiceless,
whispers
In echoing soul.

Tied by more
than chance,
Tied by here,
by holding stare.

He who
holds steady
the golden promise
Of sun’s journey –
torc horizon,
Aloft,
glinting heavy.

Joined:
the two apart
woven now
To strong chain.
Just like this.

Eye locked,
mind forged,
Welded,
hammered
across lifetimes.

He who,
naked,
needs no armour,
Who,
cross-legged,
needs no defence.
Mountain looking,
ocean speaking,
Still as centuries.

He who,
hair braided,
hair cloaked,
Looks out from,
in to ,
Within, within
This circle,
This heavy
wheel horizon.

He who,
Is.

—-

This is one of the most enigmatic of coin art images, as the simple ones sometimes are. A naked seated male figure. Either with long braided hair or with a…

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The first part of a cogitation upon the torc and its spiritual significance. Images taken mainly from coin art.

simonhlilly

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If you look at the white pattern above, the peltas can be seen at six, ten and two o-clock, they resemble cross-sections of mushrooms.

1
TORC TALK (PELTA MOTIF)

Well, it was a long time ago that I covered Celtic Art in Art History, and I was never particularly happy with the name labels often given to Celtic motifs, so I suppose confusing a pelta with a trumpet spiral is to be a little expected (particularly when one can be made up of elements of the other). Nonetheless ,that error was mine. As I was playing with the comma-like form of the magatama it morphed into the cresent-like, arced, spiral-ended, mushroom cross-section known as a ‘pelta’.

This name, ‘pelta’ comes from a type of light shield used by the Greeks and Romans, deriving from an original used in Thrace. This itself tells us more about the natural territory and…

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