The White Moon Gallery Presents
Ancient Goddess and Sovereign Queen Of the Celtic People
Written by SummerGaile
As a Level II Final Project for
The Sacred Three Goddess School
(All original material in this project is under copyright protection and is the intellectual property of the author. (c) 2011)
Medb comes to us as a Goddess and a Sovereign Queen of the Celtic people from the region of Ireland known as the Province of Connaught. She is an infamous legendary figure who stalked the landscape as an ancient Goddess, powerful Queen, and ruthless Warrior, approximately 2000 years ago, in the year 01 A.D. Her name translates to “The Intoxicating One”, a direct association to the sacred beverage of antiquity: Mead. In researching this, it appears that this reference to mead links her directly to Royal Sovereignty and a ritualistic bonding to a Kingdom and it’s people. It was considered that only a king united with the Divinity of a Goddess could accept the rightful place of Sovereignty to rule over his territory. A typical aspect of Celtic Sovereignty Myths suggest that a king would proclaim himself as the rightful heir to the throne and royal ruler; in doing so he was declaring himself eligible to mate with the supreme Goddess of the Land. A Fertility Goddess who consents to this mating is bound to the land. She is also bound by the rite of marriage to a mortal king, thus uniting Divinity with Royalty in the Kingdom. She retains her divinity as Goddess and takes on the attributes of the Sovereign Queen of her people. The king now holds the power of rightful ruler and is anointed as the chosen and rightful one to rule, as consort to the Sovereign Queen.
The Celtic people in pre-Christian days were Polytheistic. They worshiped their Gods and Goddesses and Spirits in sacred groves throughout Britannia. Their ancient history and folkways were committed to oral tradition, and their ritualistic practices were passed on by the Druids without the advantage of a written text, as it was considered a sacrilege to do so. In the 11th century the Christian monks became interested in the folk lore because of the popularity of the established folkways that were still being practiced by the local population. The people claimed to be Christian, but in reality they were Pagan in spirit and held on tenaciously to their old religious views, ways of worship and heathen rituals. To better sway the populace the monks began to write down the local lore adding embellishments demonizing the legends according to their way of thinking to promote strict adherence to Christian ideology. A noteworthy medieval clergyman of his time, born from Welsh nobility, Gerldus Cambrensis, (1147-1220) also known as Gerald de Berry of Wales, was a celebrated historian and distinguished ecclesiastic writer in the early middle ages.
Page from 11th Century Manuscript
Many of his works reflected his observations and commentaries regarding the abuses and corruption within Orthodoxy in the Church of Wales. His writings came to the attention of King Henry II of England and by royal invitation he was directed to accompany the king’s son, Prince John, during his Irish expedition of 1184. The impressions of that expedition were reflected in Gerald of Wales 1188 A.D. writings, which can be found in his work, Topographia Hibernica. Among this written material there were descriptions of the “Wedding Feast of Kingship” also known as “Banais Righe”, the Sacred Marriage, where a Fertility Goddess was joined in union with that of a Reigning King for the betterment and prosterity of the Kingdom. During this ritual a locally worshiped Goddess was wedded to a mortal King to insure the fertility and rightful sovereignty of the land and its people. This union was a sexual union with full participation of fertility rights and rituals observed. The Proclamation and Coronation of the Goddess Sovereighty Queen and the Ruling King was futher demonstrated by the partaking of a sacred libation, knows as the “Feis Temrach”. Gerald of Wales noted in his writings his dismay and disgust at such an implicit show of barbarbous condut during these ritualistic practices, by expressing in his writtings his “shock” at witnessing these acts. In recording these events we are able to take in a detailed account of what has come to be viewed as “Sovereign Fertility Rites.”
Gerald de Berry of Wales
Beltaneor or Beltaine (also known as Oidhche Bhealtaine ) traditionally marked the beginning of Spring in Celtic Society. It symbolized fertility and rebirth. To understand the mindset of the Celts one would have to examine the time in which they lived. In Ancient times Cattle and livestock were vital to their existence and held in high esteem. Much value was placed on cattle, and it was often used as currency determining one’s wealth. Beltane marked the time of moving the cattle to higher pastures where there would be a greater abundance of food. During this time great bonfires were set ablaze and herds of cattle and live stock were driven between the bonfires for purification and to bring forth prosperity against famine and disease. The Ancient Sacred Rites of Marriage were preformed at this time to solidify the line of Royal Secession and to bring about a ruling class that would defend the people from all enemies and outsiders, keeping the populace safe from intrusion so taxes could be levied and laws upheld. Great emphasis was placed upon fertility during the Beltaine celebration, which included the sexual act of copulating with the mortal King, who personified the male role in agriculture, a metaphor of sowing the seed. The Mother Grain or Earth Goddess, whose womb was the life giving fertile ground of growth, mated with the King and thus brought forth renewal of life and the promise of rebirth, and reaffirmed the continuation of the seasons. Ultimately, their union united the land with it’s people, insuring hardy crops and the bonding of kinsman and tribal heads. During this great celebration, sexual acts and nudity were considered willing natural acts, and were often displayed along with other behavior such as swearing oaths, forming new allegiances and the rekindling of old, all of which was accompanied with great merriment and feasting throughout the night.
Beltaine Fires purifying the cattle
Painting by Michael A. Hampshire in The Celts from Time-Life's Emergence of Man Series, 1974, page 28
Thses practices were well established and continued openly into the latter Celtic pre-Norman era. This is to say that a union between a divine mythlogical figure and a member of the ruling class of Celtic royality was practiced prior to, and surviving into, the days of the Norman Conquest of 1066, as historically noted in 1188 C.E. by Gerald of Wales. Pagan observences of the Sacred Marriage and its libations continued to be conducted long after Christainity took hold among the Celtic people, as an established tradition that was carried over from Pre Christian times. To reinforce this act of Sovereign commitment, it was commemorated by drinking a draft of Mead, the sacred drink of the Gods.
Bee and honey for making Mead
In Celtic tradition, bees came from the world of the Sun and Spirit. The bees bring the sacred drink from the Otherworld as a gift to mortals from the God(dess). Bees were held in such a manner that laws was passed to protect bees and their hives and honey. On the Isle of Mann it was a capital offence to steal bees. Mead was unquestionably held in high esteem by the Celtic Clans as the drink of Royalty. It became known that “The Hall of Tara”, the place where the High King and Sovereign Queen ruled, was also referred to as “The House of Mead”. This reference also suggests that this place was the sacred ceremonial hall and seat of Queen Medb, and that this Royal landmark gave host to the Royal Blood line that was associated with Queen Medb, also denoting the meaning of her name, “the Intoxicating One”. These people of Tara were the kinfolk of her clan who so dutifully sought her out as a Goddess and Lady Sovereign, to whom they gladly rendered their offerings and pledged their solemn oaths. Praises were sung to her as Sovereign Queen and the sacred Mead drink was given during feasts and offered as a libation during High Ceremonies.
Royal Goblet of Libation
Ireland’s provinces correspond to the four directions: Connaught to the West, Ulster to the North, Leinster to the East, and Munister to the South. Tara, known as the Royal Hall of Tara, was considered the Spiritual center, around which all the cardinal points pivoted. Medb as a Sovereign Queen is illustrated as one of the most powerful females in Celtic Mythology. Queen of her clans and fierce competitor, she became known as the Great Warrior Queen Maeve. Her consort, the legendary High King Ailill, received his royal status to claim and unite his territory and kingdom through the act of the Sovereign Rite of Fertility with Queen Maeve, referred to as the Sacred Marriage.
Royal Hill of Tara
Medb is described as riding in her golden chariot drawn by handsome steeds. Horses are sacred to her as with many War Goddesses who ruled with an iron fist, and relied upon these animals to go to war or deliver swift passage throughout the Iron Age. Queen Medb’s reputation among the fighting men earned her the title of Warrior Queen. She boasted as having only the finest of things, from her chariots to her horses to her dress. She was lavish, and held only the very best of all possessions. Her competitiveness showed in her determination to stop at nothing to obtain what she desired. She was ruthless to the point of being extreme, to get what she wanted at all costs. For a Sovereign Queen, entitlement to wealth was privileged. Queen Medb enjoyed her own accounts and personal treasury. She had her separate storehouses and herds of livestock and cattle separate her property from that of her husband and consort King. She was competent and wealthy in own right, and in a position to compete with rivals to raise a vast army of eager fighting men at will.
Fairy Queen Medb of the Sidhe
We have discovered in ancient Celtic times the personification of Goddess as a Sovereign Queen was often won by sexual alignment with a reigning king. However, Medb’s sexual powers were celebrated; Medb was infamous for her beauty and her sexual prowess, and reputed to be extremely active sexually. As to her sexual appetites, it was expressed that she claimed to have bed thirty-two men in one night. She developed a great liking of military men and took many of them unto herself as lovers. She would stop a battle to satisfy her lust and continue fighting when her needs were fulfilled. She was passionate and fiery, and selected only the bravest and fittest men to serve in her bed and in her army, and in turn bestowed sexual favors upon them. Her men were the fiercest and most loyal of battalions in all the land. Not surprising, given to her methods of assuring Oaths of Loyalty! She rivaled them in blood and mayhem as well, which added to her alluring beauty. She was ageless as a Goddess, and appeared to hold her youth in spite of chronological age. She sat upon her thrown with confidence and arrogance. She is pictured to be wearing a finely woven cloak of gold, purple and blue, with animals such as live birds and squirrels draped over her shoulders. Upon her head she wears a gold crown and at her feet a golden shield symbolizes her lust for combat and power.
Cuchulain in Battle
Among some of the prize possessions held by the Celts were cattle. They were extremely important to the livelihood of the Celts and regarded as currency. Wealth was attributed by the number of cattle one owned, and acclaimed by the bloodline of the bulls. Raids upon cattle were commonplace and in some instances it was considered honorable to engage in a raid and capture a great prize bull. It has been recorded that the early cattle were sacred, and that the husbandry of such an animal required great care. Medb was a woman of means and was determined to get what she wanted at all costs. Medb drew up her battle plans and acted upon her instincts to dispense bloodshed and havoc to anyone who stood in her way. She was a cunning and deadly adversary. An example of this, to the extreme, is the following story of that famous Battle in which Queen Medb pursued her desires in this Epic tale, “The Tain Bo Cuailnge” ( the driving off of the cows of Cooley), or better rendered as The Cattle Raid of Cooley or simply The Tain. This tale is set in the Ulster Cycle , one of the four cycles that make up the corpus of Irish Mythology. It comes to us in the writings of the late 11th and 12th century manuscripts compiled by Catholic Monks in the Monastery at Clonmacnoise. Part of the story is reflected in the work known as the Lebor na hUidre ( The Book of the Dun Cow), and the other is retold in a later version found in the Yellow Book of Lecan. These two sources overlap to form a complete text that could be reconstructed into a complete manuscript. Many other oral versions existed and were told down through the ages, but these written sources are the most relied upon and documented.
Ancient Goddess and Sovereign Queen
Some historians dispute this claim and argue Medb was actually more then one woman who possessed this title. However, for this study, my findings indicate that the line of succession began with the joining of deity in a Sovereign relationship. Others feel that the act of becoming a mortal was the result of early Christian influence to denounce Medb as a Mother Grain Goddess of Fertility and discredit her by placing her in a role as a mortal Queen. It must be taken into consideration that the practices Gerald of Wales observed first hand of Sovereign rituals on his journey into Ireland were very similar to practices of mythological Goddess figures taking on the mortal mantle in sovereign relationships uniting deity, land, and kinsman. Throughout antiquity such practices were not uncommon among the ruling classes. For untold generations before written language flourished, ballads and songs were sung boasting the epic of Medb, the Warrior Queen of Connaught. More then a mortal woman, she held her place as Lady Sovereign and Goddess Queen. Regardless, Medb remains as one of the most ferocious and vivacious females who graced the Celtic landscape in all of history. As a Sovereign Goddess or Warrior Queen, she ruled the land with might and left a mark upon her people that has come down to us today.
Warrior Queen Maeve
The following is a summary of this infamous story:
This is the most famous and extensive of the legends of Cuchulainn and is the story of the war fought over the Brown Bull of Cooley (Cualgne). This is the story of two bulls of the Sidhe (the race of immortals). The bulls themselves were immortal and had been transformed from other forms and origins. First they were the swineherds of the gods Bodb( King of the Sidhe of Munster) and Ochne (King of the Sidhe of Connaught).
The two swineherds were in rivalry with one another, changing shape in pursuit of their endless quarrel. They became ravens and battled for a year, then they changed to water creatures, then they changed to human champions and then finally into eels. One of these magical eels swam into the River Cruind in Cualgne in Ulster and was swallowed by a cow belonging to Daire of Cualgne. The other swam into the spring of Uaran Garad, in Connaught, where it was swallowed by a cow belonging to Queen Medb.
From these origins were born two bulls, the Brown Bull of Ulster, and the White Horned Bull of Connaught.
The White Horned Bull did not want to be the property of a woman, so he wandered into the herd of Ailill, husband of Medb. When they were surveying their property one day they discovered that they had equality in all possessions except that Medb had no bull to equal the White Horned Bull in her husband's herd. (Having equal possessions was important to a marriage for the head of the household was determined by their property and it could be either a male or female depending on who owned the most goods).
So Medb determined to get a loan of the Brown Bull of Cooley so that she might appear equal to her husband. One version of the story has it that she "offered Daire the knowledge of her upper thighs" in other words offered to have sex with him if he would lend her the bull; he agreed at first, and broke his cushion bouncing on it for joy, and spilling feathers out of it everywhere. However the agreement did not last as a servant of Daire's overheard the messengers from Connaught boasting that if the bull had not been lent to them they would have taken it by force; the servant reported this back to Daire and he reneged on his former agreement.
So began the great war of the Cattle Raid, with Queen Medb raising her army to take the bull by force. She thought this would be an easy task as all the champions of Ulster were under the effects of the ancient curse of the Goddess Macha, who cursed them to feel the pains of labor at a certain time each year because of an insult she had received from an ancestor of King Conchobar’s.
Medb sought a prediction from her magician Calatin, concerning the outcome of the battle, and he just told her that even if no-one else returned that she would. As she was riding in her chariot a woman of the Sidhe appeared to her called Feidelm and told her that she saw all the men of Connaught covered in crimson blood. Medb questions the verity of her words saying " but all the great champions of Ulster are afflicted with the curse of Macha at this time..." but Feidelm says "I see a man who performs weapon feats, the hero's light is on his brow, he is young and he resembles Cúchulainn of Muirthemne... this much I know that by him shall the host of Connaught be bloodied."
Cúchulainn because of his divine heritage was not affected by the curse of Macha and it fell to him to defend Ulster single-handed against the army of Connaught. This was possible because of the Celtic method of single-combat - a champion would be chosen to fight against a champion from the opposing side. This meant that there was not as much carnage as occurs in modern warfare and only those specifically trained in Warcraft would be involved. He managed to kill any of the champions of Connaught that came against him in duels and many more from a distance with his sling. He slew one of Medb's serving girls because she had been wearing Medb's gold headdress and he mistook her for the queen.
Eventually Medb, seeing how the duels were going, and wanting to meet Cúchulainn face to face, sent one of her bards to ask if he would meet with her. He agreed, and she was amazed to be faced with this young man of only seventeen years without a beard. She offered him her friendship and to sleep with him (one version has her going to him naked) with great honour and possessions if he would leave Ulster and come work for her, but he refused her offer. In the end he offered her terms of battle by which as long as he was in combat with one of her champions her main army was allowed to move forward, but as soon as combat ended her army were to stop where they were. Medb agreed to these terms as she thought it a better bargain to gain a little ground daily, then to lose many men and gain no ground at all. Medb's champions could not defeat Cúchulainn, but they managed to engage his attention long enough so that Medb could steal the Brown Bull and fifty heifers and head back to Connaught with them.
The Brown Bull of Cooley had been captured and travelled with Medb's army into Connaught, where he challenged the white bull of King Ailill. During the terrible battle which happened between them, the Brown Bull ripped the White to pieces, tossing his loins as far as Athlone and his liver to Trim. After the fight the Brown Bull returned to Cualgne, where he became maddened with rage and killed all before him. Finally, his heart burst with the pressure of all this exertion, and so he died. Thus ended the cattle raid of Cooley.
Level II Project:
Hand Fasting Head Piece
Hand made by SummerGaile
For the Hand Fasting of Julie and Brion
My Sincere Thanks to Julie and Brion for allowing me to use their Hand Fasting for this project.
Beltane Hand Fasting
May 1st 2009
Written and Officiated by SummerGaile
At Loggerhead Key in the Dry Tortugas Islands
For Julie and Brion
The Hand Fasting Altar
The spoken Oaths
The Hand Fasting
Sealed with a Kiss
J. Dunn - Táin Bó Cualgne 1914. translation.
Thomas Kinsella - The Táin, translation. Oxford University Press, 1970.
Liam Mac Uistin - The Táin, The Great Celtic Epic. The O’Brien Press. Dublin 1989.
Cecile O’Rahilly editor - Táin Bó Cuailgne from the Book of Leinster. (text and translation) Dublin Institute for
Advanced Studies. 1946.
· Fraser, Antonia, The Warrior Queens: Legends and the lives of women who have led their nations in war, (1988) Vintage Books, Random House, Inc. N.Y.
· Monashan, Patricia“The Red Headed Girl from the Bog” Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit”, (2003) New World Library, Novato, Ca.
· Proinsias MacCana, “Aspects of the Theme of the King and Goddess in Irish Literature”, Etudes Celtiques, 7 ( 1955-6) p. 76-114, 356-413.
· Lady Sovereignty: http://www.answers.com/topic/lady-sovereignty
· Beltane: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltane
· Celtic Polytheism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_polytheism
· Siobhan halstead, Mead the Nectar of the Gods: http:// www.katiehodges.com/TheRisingWind
· Lucas, A.T. (1989) “Cattle in Ancient Ireland”, Boethius Press, Kilkenny Ireland
· Frymer-Kensky, Tikva, “ In the Wake of the Goddess: Women, culture and biblical transformations of pagan myth ( 1992) Fawcet Columbine, NY. Sub-title: Agricultural Fertility and the Sacred Marriage.
· Sacred Texts: Gerldus Cambrensis: Topographia Hibernica.