zaterdag 16 november 2013



It has been said that Death came into existence only with the rise of
man's consciousness, a roundabout way of saying death is more real for
humans than for any other animal, because only humans foresee it. 1
Religions owe their existence to the unique ability of the human animal
to understand that it must die.
Against this realization the forces of imagination are mustered to
deny it. It's hard for any perceiving mind to perceive its own
notbeing, with cessation of all perception. Worshippers of Kali managed
to view the beyond-death state as Dreamless Sleep. 2 But most ancient
people couldn't formulate an idea of non-perception.
Even when the land of the dead was minimally stimulating, as in
the Babylonian concept, it was perceptible to the senses. It was the
House of Dust, and the end of the Road of No Return. The dead
were clothed in feathers, like birds. "Dust is their food and clay their
meat..., they see no light, they sit in darkness." Yet in the same
House of Dust there were priests and kings ruling, and servants to carry
the baked meats and pour water from water skins. 3
Babylonian literature reveals a hope that eventually the right ritual
cure for death will be discovered, rather as modern people hope for a
cure for cancer. The recommended avenue of investigation was necro-
mantic consultation with the dead themselves. "The quest for
immortality was essentially the search for the right ritual, the knowledge
of what to do in order to secure a continued existence of the body
after death. This knowledge is possessed by the ancestors, and can only
be obtained from them." 4
Men have usually believed that knowledge of death can only come
from those who have experienced it. Hence the initiatory procedures
involving mock death, as among Siberian shamans, who experience in
trances being torn apart and reduced to bare bones. "By thus seeing
himself naked, altogether freed from the perishable and transient flesh
and blood, he consecrates himself, in the sacred tongue of the
shamans, to his great task, through that part of his body which will
longest withstand the action of the sun, wind and weather, after he is
dead. ... [I]n certain Central Asian meditations that are Buddhistic and
tantric in origin or at least in structure, reduction to the skeleton
condition has ... an ascetic and metaphysical value-anticipating the
work of time, reducing life by thought to what it really is, an
ephemeral illusion in perpetual transformation." 5
So vivid were the fantasies of the death-world that some Oriental
sages prayed for sufficient conscious sense to realize that they were
nothing more than inventions of the mind: "May I recognize whatever
visions appear, as the reflections of my own consciousness. May I
know them to be of the nature of apparitions in the intermediate State.
May I not fear the troops of my own thought forms, the Peaceful
Deities and the Wrathful. ... May it come that all the Sounds will be
known as one's own sounds; may it come that all the Radiances will
be known as one's own radiances." 6
Tantric Buddhism proposed that the death world or Intermediate
State could be controlled if one were prepared through carefully
guided fantasy in life to retain memory, consciousness, and the goal of
choosing for one's self the right "womb-door" for a better reincarnation. 7
Living and dying were only complementary aspects of the same
cycle, both requiring proper education. "Material life moves between
two poles," Bachofen says. "Its realm is not that of being but that of
becoming and passing away, the eternal alternation of two colors, the
white of life and the black of death. Only through the equal mixture of
the two is the survival of the material world assured. Without death
no rejuvenation is possible ... the positive power cannot for one moment
exist without the negative power. Death, then, is not the
opposite but the helper of life." 8
The Great Goddess was intimately involved in every manifestation
of death as she was in those of life, which is why she had an
"emanation" for each fatal disease, such as Mari-Amma, Ankamma,
Mutteyalamma, etc. Her priestesses supported and taught the dying.
"As among the gods, so among the mortals was death everywhere
woman's business. A woman is said to have invented the wailing for
the dead.... Women cradle the infant and the corpse, each to its
particular new life." 9
Romans thought death should be kept in mind at all times,
especially when life at its peak might make one forget the other,
equally necessary part of the cycle. When a military hero entered Rome
in triumphal procession, riding in a golden chariot, hailed as a god in
the ancient equivalent of a ticker-tape parade, a person wearing the
mask and costume of Death stood at his shoulder, preserving him
from the sin of hubris by saying each moment in his ear, "Man,
remember you will die."10
Paganism fostered the Tantric idea of growth and decline in
recurrent cycles. "The old fertility gods did not shrink from the fact
of death; they sought no infantile evasion, but promised rebirth and
renewal." 11 Christianity on the other hand denied that members of
its sect could die. Early Christians who died were said to have "fallen
asleep," soon to wake up again with the second coming of Christ. A
morbid anxiety often accompanied ritual denial. Kermode says, "Christianity
of all the great religions is the most anxious, is the one which
laid the most emphasis on the terror of death." 12
Sometimes fear became obsession, in a love-hate relationship with
death. In the Secret Book of James, Jesus recommended suicide,
remarking that the kingdom of death could only belong to those who
put themselves to death, and no one who avoided this duty could be
Obsession flowered into a thousand elaborate death customs and
rituals aimed at encapsulating the phenomenon, separating it from
ordinary life experience so its inevitability need not be fully understood.
In Frazer's opinion such customs and rituals have been the most
wasteful ever seen in any society:
No belief has done so much to retard the economic and thereby the social
progress of mankind as has the belief in the immortality of the soul; for
this belief has led race after race, generation after generation, to sacrifice
the real wants of the living to the imaginary wants of the dead. The
waste and destruction of life and property which this faith has entailed are
enormous and incalculable. 14
Pagan philosophers' acceptance of death may have been more
practical than the elaborate denials that arose later. With a somber but
courageous serenity, Euripides stated the pagan idea that opinions on
death are not possible:
But if any far-off state there be
Dearer to life than mortality
The hand of the Dark path hold thereof,
And mist is under the mist above;
So we are sick for life, and cling
On earth to this nameless and shining thing,
For other life is a fountain sealed,
And the deeps below are unrevealed,
And we drift on legends for ever. 15
Because they were westerners, the Greek philosophers have
been given more credit for originality than they deserved. Actually, their
opinions of death and its implications for the living were largely taken
from Oriental sages who evolved them first. Greek notions of the
Dreamless Sleep, of reincarnation, of the four ages of man including
the primordial Age of Giants, all were derived from Oriental sources.
Tantric sages spoke of the faraway Golden Age when all men were
giants and lived lifetimes of about a thousand years each, because they
were nearer in time to the world's creation, when the Goddess's
nourishing birth blood was more abundant and the knowledge of her
was more intimate among her children. As the Bible said, there were
giants in the earth in those days (Genesis 6:4) .16
The same long-lived giants were identified with their own ancestors
by the authors of Genesis. The Hindu concept of human
longevity in the Golden Age was copied into the Bible as a quality of the
early patriarchs-not quite a thousand years a piece, but at least more
than nine centuries. Adam lived to be 930 years old; Seth 912 years;
Enos 905 years; and so on, the champion being Methusaleh at 969
years (Genesis 5).
However long delayed, though, death must come, and that was the
thought that patriarchal thinkers found unacceptable. The older
matriarchal religions were more realistic in their acceptance of death,
making it the sage's duty to realize the ugliness, corruption, and
decay in nature as fully as he might realize its beauty: to accord death
the same value as birth. The two were of equal importance, as two
passages through the same Door: one coming out, the other going in.
Different forms of the Goddess represented the idea. On the one
hand she was the beautiful nubile Virgin or the tender nurturing
Mother; on the other hand she was a hideous ghoul, herself corpse-like
and a devourer of corpses-and these two forms of her were to be
adored equally. Avalon justly remarked that in the west, "the terrible
beauty of such forms is not understood"; missionaries could only
describe the Death-goddess as a she-devil.17 Yet, for the enlightened,
"This fanged and bloody Goddess is the same as the other, the beautiful
mother and lover. To be able to superimpose and adore both images
in one is perhaps the solidest beginning on the road of sadhana." 18
Some individuals in western culture arrived more or less independently
at the vision of this archetypal female death spirit. Wherever
there was a concept of Mother Nature, it could hardly fail to be noticed
that it was natural to die, and the roots of every flower lay in organic
rot. Coleridge spoke of the "Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH" as a
woman. Keats described himself as "half in love with easeful Death."
Like the Oriental sages, Alfred de Vigny perceived Death as a maternal
Goddess: "O Death divine, at whose recall / Returneth all / To fade
in thy embrace, / Gather thy children to thy bosom starred, / Free us
from time, from number, and from space, / And give us back the rest
that life hath marred." 19


Greek koimeteria was a Place of the Mother, where the dead could
rest as close as possible to the Goddess's temples. The custom was
continued in Christian Europe. The church-yard, home of the dead,
derived from Germanic gard or garth, meaning "earth" or "world," i.e.,
the world of the dead under the soil.
Tantric dakinis celebrated the rites of the dead in cremation
grounds, "where ordinary people feared to go," because they were
death-priestesses intimately acquainted with necropoli.1 Their Goddess,
Kali Ma the Destroyer, was the same queen of tombs called Kalma in
Finno-Ugric myth.2 Dakinis became European vilas, valas, or wilis,
women associated with the dead, later called witches. The traditional
legend of witches celebrating their sabbats in cemeteries may have had a
real basis in ancient matriarchy.


From Scandinavian gard or garth, "world," the earth.1 The churchyard
descended from the old pagan tradition that a temple and its
environs constituted a model of the universe, and those buried in the
yard-corresponding to the Greek koimeteria, "cemetery" -automatically
entered paradise because they were already in its vicinity (i.e.,
close to the temple). This was the pagan belief underlying the Christian
habit of burying the pious in "consecrated ground" adjacent to the
church. Refusal of such burial to criminals, witches, and other outcasts
was tantamount to sending them to hell, for it was believed that
anyone buried in unhallowed ground was automatically damned.


"The Worm" or "The Worm That Never Dies" sometimes designated
the Earth Goddess in her corpse-eating aspect. Her spirit was
thought to inhabit grave-worms (maggots), for which the Old Norse
word was mathkr, Old English matha-both related to "mother." The
modern word descended from a Middle English derivative, mawke.1
Linguistically related to these "worms" were the Goddess's familiars or
mawkins. See Cat.

Along with the vulture and raven, the carrion-eating crow was
northern Europe's common symbol of the Death-goddess. Valkyries,
sometimes described as man-eating women, often took totemic form
as ravens or crows.1
Anglo-Danish myths spoke of a witch named Krake (Crow),
daughter of the Valkyrie Brunnhilde. Krake was a shape-shifter: at
times a beautiful virgin, at other times a hag, monster, or crow. She
married the Danish king Ragnar Lodbrok (Leather-Breeches), and
gave birth to the hero Sigurd.2 Sigurd was the same as Siegfried, whose
mystic lady-love was the Valkyrie Brunnhilde; thus appeared the
same convoluted incestuous relationships found in the oldest myths of
sacred kingship. Again, the Triple Goddess returned as the three
prophetic daughters of Ragnar and Krake, Fate-weavers who created
the magic banner called Raven (Hraefn).3
There was a mythological Kraken associated with the sea, pictured
as a serpent or water-monster; but this was only another form of the
same Death-goddess. The Three Ravens (Kraken) in old ballads were
birds of doom perching over the slain hero. Sometimes there were
only two of them, as in the ballad of the Twa Corbies (Two Crows),
who proposed to pluck out the bonny blue eyes of the slain knight.4
Such manifestations of the Goddess as a crow might be linked with
Coronis, "Crow," a death aspect of the pre-Hellenic earth mother
Rhea. Classical mythographers tended to ignore Coronis, remembering
her only as the virgin mother of the healing god Asclepius; but she
seems to have been another of the Virgin-Crone combinations: Rhea
Kronia as Mother Time who brings death to all things.5


"Crow," the Crone or Death-goddess in Anglo-Danish mythology;
sometimes a Queen of Witches, identified with the man-eating Kraken;
sometimes a beautiful virgin, spouse of kings.1 See Crow.


In its black plumage, the raven was a natural totem of the deities of
death. Many forms of the Lord of Death were incarnate in a raven.
Chukchi shamans called their ancestral wizard-king Big Raven, he
who was ceremonially castrated and killed. 1 Danes spoke of a Valraven
who was Hel's king in the underworld. As a son and mate of the
nether Goddess, he was sometimes personified as King Morvran, "Sea-
Raven." 2
Valkyries could take the form of ravens to drink the blood of slain
warriors, which is why Norse skalds called blood "the raven's drink." 3
Like a Valkyrie-psychopomp, a raven was supposed to perch on the
shoulder of the Orphic initiate as he entered the temple for the
ceremony of mock death and rebirth.4 According to the Mithraic
Mysteries, the initiate received the title of Raven when he attained
the first degree of enlightenment, which corresponded to ascent to
heaven's lunar sphere, the domain of the Moon-goddess who received
and cared for the dead.5
So constant was the death-and-resurrection symbolism of the raven
in Germanic tradition that the new Germanic hero of the Second
Coming, Emperor Frederick, was said to be guarded by ravens as he
waited, sleeping, in his underground sanctuary for the day of his
return to earth. According to the Armenian version, the emperor still
sleeps under a magic hill called Rock of the Raven.6 In fairy tales, a
raven is often the soul-bird who conducts the hero into mysterious
underground places and out again, or gives information concerning
the after-world.


One of the oldest totems of the Great Mother in Egypt was the
vulture, eater of the dead. Vultures who devoured corpses were regarded
as her angels of death, since they carried the dead piecemeal to
heaven. In Neolithic times it was a common practice to expose dead
bodies to carrion birds, who embodied the Mother's spirit. For this
reason even the Greeks and Romans fostered a belief that all vultures
are female.1 On the Stele of the Vultures from Catal Huyuk, 7th
millenium B.C., dead bodies are carried off by vultures-in a time and
place where only the female principle was worshipped.2
Ancient Iranians didn't bury their dead, but exposed them to
vultures in open-topped "towers of silence" called dakhmas, many of
which still stand today. Such towers were built when Iranians worshipped
the Moon-goddess Mah, the Mother, and believed that
vultures carried the deceased to her heavenly realm.3 Even after burial
was instituted in Persia, a dead body couldn't be interred until it was
first torn by vultures.4
Egyptians worshipped the vulture-headed Mother as the origin of
all things, calling her Mut, Isis, or Nekhbet.5 In combination with the
serpent goddess Buto (Per-Uatchet), the vulture-mother gave rise to the
Two Mistresses, guardians of royal dynastic clans, and nurses of
deceased kings in the after-life. Temples had special chapels for the
Two Mistresses: on the· east, the serpent Goddess brought the sun to
birth; on the west, the vulture Goddess daily ordained his death.6
Sometimes both Goddesses appeared as vultures on the sacred mount
of Sehseh, where the deceased pharaoh became an eternal infant at
their breasts.7
Egypt's oldest oracle was the shrine of the vulture goddess Nekhbet
at Nekhen (modern Al-Kab), the original "necropolis" or city of
the dead. Because it was a birth shrine as well as a death shrine, Greeks
called it Ilithyiaspolis after their own Great Mother of childbirth,
Aphrodite Ilithyia.8 Romans called it Civitas Lucinae, the city of Juno
Lucina, Goddess of childbirth.9
Egypt's symbol for "grandmother" was the vulture goddess bearing
a flail of authority: a totemic form of the pre-dynastic clan
matriarch.10 The word "mother" was written in hieroglyphics with the
sign of the vulture.11 Nekhbet the Vulture once ruled all of Upper
Egypt, wearing the white crown in token of sovereignty. As Isis, she
appeared in vulture form on mummy-pillows, crowned with a vulture
skin and bearing in each claw the ankh or Cross of Life.12 As a vulture
she devoured her dead consort Osiris, just as Kali devoured her dead
Shiva.13 Then she reincarnated him in her body, and gave him rebirth
as a new Holy Child, Horus.
Osiris was dismembered, which was the funerary custom of primitive
Egypt, dating from a remote time when the dead probably were
eaten, after the manner of primitive Greece's omophagia. Funerary
magic lay in the hands of dancing priestesses called muu, "mothers,"
who may have worn costumes of vulture feathers to represent "eaters"
and, like Isis, reconstitute the dead in their own bodies. The Book of
Ani said the first gate of the uterine underworld was guarded by the
vulture Goddess, whose tearing beak could admit the dead to the
place whence they rose again. 14
The vulture-mother was known also in northern Europe and Asia.
Valkyries were "corpse-eaters" to the Saxons and often took the form
of carrion-eating birds such as crows or ravens. In Siberia, each shaman
had a "Bird-of-Prey Mother" who appeared twice in his life, at his
spiritual death-and-rebirth-like the Dove-mother appearing at Jesus's
baptismal ceremony-and again at his physical death. This spiritmother
was a large carrion bird "with an iron beak, hooked claws, and a
long tail." 15
Funerary priestesses came to be called "dirty" in classic myths, as
they appear in the tale of the vulture-feathered Harpies. However,
the ancient claim that all vultures are female was believed well into the
Christian era. Church fathers cited, in defense of the Virgin Birth,
the "fact" that vultures conceived their eggs only because they were
fertilized by spirits of the wind. 16


Iranian topless "tower of silence," once used to dispose of dead
bodies, which were dropped in and left for the vultures to carry to the
sky (see Vulture). Large dakhmas still stand today. The adventure of
Sinbad the Sailor in the charnel valley, where supernatural birds carried
off gobbets of meat, may have descended from a legendary sage's
sojourn in a dakhma as a ceremonial death-and-rebirth.


Female death-spirits from Mount Dicte, home of the Cretan Goddess,
embodied in carrion birds, probably vultures. They had bird bodies
with women's heads and breasts, suggesting the Minoan style of
funerary priestesses in feather costumes with bare necks and bosoms.
Their name meant "snatchers" or "pluckers," perhaps related to
their use of the harp in funerary music, since a harp is played with
plucking motions.1 Patriarchal Hellenic myth made the Harpies
obnoxious monsters, but they seem to have been once the same as
dakinis or Valkyries. Christian iconography continued to picture
winged angels, who carried souls to heaven, as harp players.


Archaic Egyptian name for Mut, the Vulture-goddess of death and
rebirth. Her necropolis at Nekhen was an original City of the Dead and
one of Egypt's oldest oracular shrines. Nekhbet has been recognized
as "the representative of an ancient matriarchal stratum" in Egyptian
religion.1 See Vulture. 

An ancient, universal shamanic practice of wearing swan-feather
cloaks created numerous myths of deities able to transform themselves
into swans. The Heavenly Nymphs (Apsaras) of Hindu mythology
were swan maidens. As a phallic god sporting with these sexual angels of
the Vedic heaven, Krishna became a swan knight. Multiplied forms
of his Goddess were sometimes swan-houris, sometimes milkmaids, the
Gopis. Kalmuck tales of the Siddhi Kur, translated from Sanskrit,
made Krishna a swan knight who courted the Triple Goddess in the
guise of three milkmaids, daughters of the Old Woman (Kali).1
The same Indo-European lore surfaced in Scandinavian myth as
the swan incarnations of the Valkyries, who wore magic swan-feather
cloaks to transform themselves. Kali or Kauri became the Valkyrie Kara,
who flew in her swan feathers above battlefields and sang magic
charms to deprive the enemy of strength. Legends insisted that if a man
could steal a Valkyrie's costume of swan feathers, she would be
forced to grant his every wish.2
The swan knight Krishna reappeared in classic Greek myth as
Zeus in swan feathers, disguising himself as a swan to seduce the
Goddess Leda, who gave birth to the World Egg, which suggests that
she too was a totemic swan. Sometimes she was confused with the
Goddess Nemesis to whom Zeus's very life was subject: Leda or
"Lady" being only her title.3 Northern mythology also identified her
with the Valkyrie Brunnhilde, whose seven children or Seven Dwarves
were transformed into the seven swans of the fairy tale.4 Zeus's swan
form can be traced also to the Vedic image of Brahma in his special
vahana ("vehicle," animal incarnation): a swan.5
Swan maidens and swan knights associated with the Old Religion
were common in European folklore throughout the Christian era. A
certain order of knights connected with the legendary Temple of the
Grail and the defense of women claimed descent from a divine swanhero.
The families of Gelders and Cleves bore a swan on their arms, to
honor their ancestor "the Knight of the Swan, servant of women," in
whose memory Duke Adolph held a tournament in 1453.6
This Knight was sometimes called Lohengrin, a savior of women
like the British hero Lancelot-Galahad. After the classic pattern,
Lohengrin floated in a mystic vessel on the sea in his infancy, and was
found and raised by a great queen in a foreign land. After his death he
was reborn or reincarnated as his own son.7
When Lohengrin became one of the Knights Templar of the
Grail, he was sent from the Grail castle at Montsalvatch to champion
the cause of Duchess Else of Brabant, who had been unjustly imprisoned
for exercising the ancient right of noblewomen to choose a
lover from among men of inferior rank. Having overcome Else's
enemies, Lohengrin married her. According to one version of the
story, probably drawn from the myth of Psyche and Eros, Else was
forbidden to ask her husband's real name, but couldn't help insisting
on it; so, sorrowfully revealing his name, Lohengrin was obliged to leave
Else and return to the Mount of Paradise. Other versions of the story
said he took her with him to Montsalvatch, where they lived happily
ever after.8
Other stories said Lohengrin appeared in his swan-feather costume
to defend Clarissa, Duchess of Bouillon, against the Count of
Frankfort, who tried to steal her duchy. Or, he took up the cause of
Beatrice of Cleves, whose property rights were threatened by hostile
barons.9 Though he sallied forth to the rescue of several ladies in
distress, the Swan-knight's real home was always "the mountain
where Venus lives in the Grail." 10

Aphrodite's totem, the bird of sexual passion, symbolically equivalent
to the yoni. 1 In India, too, the dove was paravata, the symbol of lust. 2
Joined to her consort the phallic serpent, the Dove-goddess stood for
sexual union and "Life."
The phrase attributed to Jesus, "Be ye therefore wise as serpents,
and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16), was no random metaphor
but a traditional invocation of the Syrian God and Goddess.3 The
Oriental meaning was remembered by the gypsies, whose folk tales
said the souls of ancestors lived inside magic hollow mountains, the men
having been changed into serpents and the women into doves.4
Christians adopted the feminine dove as a symbol of the Holy
Ghost, originally the Goddess Sophia, representing God's "Wisdom"
as the Goddess Metis represented the "Wisdom" of Zeus. Gnostic
Christians said Sophia was incarnate in the dove that impregnated the
virgin Mary, the same dove that descended on Jesus at his baptism to
impregnate his mind (Matthew 3:16). Pious admirers of Pope Gregory
the Great made him even more saintly than Jesus by reporting that
the Holy Ghost in dove shape descended on him not once but many
times.5 All this was copied from Roman iconography which showed the
human soul as a dove that descended from the Dove-goddess's
oversoul to animate the body.6
Aphrodite as a bringer of death, or "peace," sometimes bore the
name of Irene, Dove of Peace. Another of her death-goddess names
was Epitymbria, "She of the Tombs." 7 Romans called her Venus
Columba, Venus-the-Dove. Her catacombs, mausoleums, and necropoli
were known as columbaria, "dovecotes." 8 Thus the soul
returning to the Goddess after death was again envisioned as a dove.
From this image, Christians copied their belief that the souls of saints
became white doves that flew out of their mouths at the moment of
death. In the Catholic ceremony of canonization, white doves are
released from cages at the crucial moment of the ritual.9
Christian iconography showed seven rays emanating from the
dove of the Holy Ghost: an image that went back to some of the most
primitive manifestations of the Goddess. 10 In the Orient, the mystic
seven were the Pleiades or "Seven Sisters," whose Greek name
meant "a flock of doves." They were daughters or "rays" of Aphrodite
under her title of Pleione, Queen of the Sea. 11 Hemdotus said seven
holy women known as Doves founded the oracles of Dodona, Epirus,
and Theban Amon.12 They were worshipped in the Middle East as
Seven Sages or Seven Pillars of Wisdom: the seven woman-shaped
pillars that had been upholding temples of the Goddess since the
third millenium B.C. 13 See Caryatid. Arabs still revere the Seven Sages,
and some remember that they were women, or "doves." 14 The
Semitic word for "dove," ione, was a cognate of"yoni" and related to
the Goddess Uni, who later became lune, or Juno.
The cult of the Doves used to incorporate primitive rites of
castration and its modification, circumcision. India called the seven
Sisters "razors" or "cutters" who judged and "critically" wounded men,
the Krittikas, "Seven Mothers of the World," root of the Greek
kritikos, "judge." They killed and gave rebirth to gods who were
castrated to make them fertile, like women. The name of Queen
Semiramis, legendary founder of Babylon, also meant "Dove" in the
Syrian tongue. She was said to have castrated all her consorts. 15
When circumcision replaced castration, the doves were involved in
that too. Even Christian symbolism made the connection. The
official symbol of the Festival of the Circumcision of Christ was a dove,
holding in its beak a ring representing the Holy Prepuce. "Christ's
fructifying blood" was linked with the similar emblem of Pentecost,
which showed the descending dove on a background of blood red,
officially described as a representation of the church fertilized by the
blood of Christ and the martyrs. 16
A certain "maiden ma~tyr" called St. Columba (Holy Dove) was
widely revered, especially in France, although she never existed as a
human being. 17 Another curious survival of pagan dove-lore was the
surname given to St. Peter: Bar-Iona, "Son of the Dove." 18 Some
survivals may have been invented to explain the doves appearing on
ancient coins as symbols of Aphrodite and Astarte. 19

Columba, Saint

"Holy Dove," a spurious canonization of Aphrodite as a "maiden
martyr" Columba of Sens.1 Celtic myth called her Colombe, the yoni
maiden mated to Lancelot as a lightning bolt, the Phallus of Heaven. 2
See Lightning.

Irene, Saint

"Peace," the third of Aphrodite's three Horae; the Dove who
announced the coming of death. She also associated with the "peace" to
be won by ritual castration, even as late as the 14th century A.D. when
a nun or priestess bearing her name was linked to the heretical sect of
Mount Athos monks who emasculated themselves.' (See
The pagan temple of Irene on the acropolis of Constantinople was
taken over by Christians and renamed the Church of Holy Irene.2
Thus the Byzantine Goddess was canonized, along with her two sisters
in the same Trinity.3


 Literally "Virgin of the Sea," the mermaid was an image of fish-tailed
Aphrodite, the medieval Minne, Maerin, Mari, Marina, mereminne,
mare-mynd, mareminde, marraminde, or maraeman. 1 Her Death-
goddess aspect, sometimes named Ran, received the souls of those put
to sea in funeral boats; or, she might trap living men in her fish net.
Teutons said drowned men went to dwell in the house of Ran.2
An English law, still on the books in the 19th century, officially
claimed for the Crown "all mermaids found in British waters." 3


The convoluted symbolism of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters suggests
an extremely archaic tradition. The importance attached to this small
group of dim stars seems out of proportion to their apparent
The sacrifice of the Mexican savior Xipe Totec, Our Lord the
Flayed One, took place on the Hill of the Stars at the moment when
the Pleiades reached the zenith on the last night of the Great Year
cycle. It was thought if the Sisters were not propitiated by the
sacrifice, the universe would fall to pieces and the world would come to
an end.1
Pre-Vedic India also attached sacrificial significance to the Pleiades,
called Seven Mothers of the World, or Krittikas, "razors" or
"cutters." They were also seven priestesses who "judged" men-a
cognate was Greek kritikos, "judge" -and sometimes "critically"
wounded them, for their razors were castrating moon-sickles. The fire
god Agni copulated with the Seven Mothers while they were menstruating,
the usual Tantric rite later outlawed by the Vedic priesthood.
They gave birth to a solar hero enveloped in a great red cloud
(female symbol) penetrated by bolts of lightning (male symbol). The
hero was sacrificially slain, wounded in the side with a spear, and
from his body sprang his reincarnation, another hero like himself. 2 In
this myth may be discerned rites of great antiquity, predating the
discovery of fatherhood, when blood was the essence of generation.
The Pleiades were prominent in the early cult of Aphrodite, who
was supposed to have given birth to them under her name of Pleione.
Aphrodite was a castrating Crone-goddess as well as a Holy Dove; and
the Pleiades were "a flock of doves."3 They were connected with
sacrificial New Year ceremonies in Greece as in central America and
southeastern Asia. The Seven Sisters stood at the zenith on New
Year's Eve as if to select the god of the new Aeon. Old Babylonian texts
began the year with the Pleiades. Later, the zodiacal sign of the New
Year became Aries, the Ram.4
Egyptian texts allude to the Pleiades' archaic significance as
Krittikas, judges of men, assigning them also to seven planetary
spheres as the seven Hathors. The dead had to speak the names of these
Goddesses to pass their "critical" examinations and enter paradise:
"Hail, ye seven beings who make decrees, who support the Balance on
the night of the judgment of the Utchat, who cut off heads, who hack
necks in pieces, who take possession of hearts by violence and rend the
places where hearts are fixed, who make slaughterings in the Lake of
Fire, I know you, and I know your names; therefore know ye me, even
as I know your names." 5 The reference to tearing out hearts is
remarkably evocative of Aztec religious customs. The Seven Mothers
Who Make Decrees appeared also in Arabia as Seven Sages or
imams (from ima, "mother").6
In classical mythology the Pleiades represented the Maytime feast
of life and the November feast of death at opposite points of the year.
They were emanations of the Moon-goddess "who was worshipped at
the two solstices as the Goddess of alternatively Life-in-Death and
Death-in-Life and who early in November, when the Pleiades set, sent
the sacred king his summons to death."7 Prayers for the dead were
recited before the Pleiades on November 1, which became All Soul's
Greeks said the leader of the Pleiades was the Dove-goddess
Alcyone, the "halcyon" bird who brought good weather for the
planting season. Another Pleiad was Electra, mother of Dardanus,
legendary founder of Troy, whose name is still preserved in the
Dardanelles. Another Pleiad was Merope, "Bee-eater," a title of Aphrodite's
queen bee as devourer of the drone. Some said Merope was
one of the Furies; others said she married the doomed sun-hero
Sisyphus. Still another Pleiad was Maia "the Maker" or the "Grandmother,"
mother of Hermes the Enlightened One, as her Hindu
counterpart Maya mothered Buddha the Enlightened One.9
Classical writers seemed anxious to disguise the real nature of the
Pleiades. One story insisted they were all virgins. Orion the Hunter
tried to rape them, but Zeus protected them by turning them into doves
and placing them in the heavens. The story was obviously absurd, as
all the Pleiades had lovers or husbands, and three of them had mated
with Zeus himself. In earlier myths, Orion the Hunter was their
victim, not their attacker. The Huntress of the Seven Stars, Artemis,
shot him to death in the sea, suggesting that victims were sometimes
riddled with arrows then consigned to the deep. 10
Artemis personified another set of seven stars, the much larger
constellation Ursa Major, the "Great She-Bear," who may have been
another version of the Seven· Sisters. Artemis and Aphrodite both were
associated with ancient cults of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, seven
mantic priestesses of Seven-Gated Thebes, where the Seven Hathors
once ruled, where sacred kings were slain every seventh year, and
where Teiresias was castrated and lived seven years as a temple woman.
The same magic seven were called Seven Midwives in Egypt and the
Orient. They were probably represented in pre-patriarchal Jerusalem by
the holy Menorah (seven-branched candlestick) symbolizing the
sevenfold Men-horae or Moon-priestesses, as shown by its female-genital
decorations, lilies and almonds (Exodus 25:33).
Medieval superstitions betrayed fear of groups of seven females,
perhaps a relic of ancient images of the Sisters. East Frieslanders
believed that in any family of seven sisters, one of the seven was sure to
be a vampire or a werewolf.11 The sevenfold grouping could also be
arranged in a vertical line of descent, e.g. in the ubiquitous belief that a
seventh daughter of a seventh daughter was always a witch.


"Cutters" or "razors," Hindu name for the seven Pleiadic sisters called
Mothers of the World, who chose, judged, castrated, and killed sacred
kings. Their title gave rise to Greek kritikos, "judge." See Pleiades .


Carved temple pillar representing a woman; in Greek tradition, a
priestess of Artemis Caryatis, modeled on the moon-priestesses of
Caryae. Matriarchal temples' seven high priestesses were known as
the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The Bible says the Goddess of Wisdom
has "builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars"
(Proverbs 9:1). As early as the 3rd millenium B.c., Moabite temples of
the Goddess were provided with seven menhirs.1 Each pillar apparently
became a soul-image of one of the Seven Mothers, the original
"pillars of the church." See Pleiades.


No one knows when man first domesticated the dog. Evidence
suggests that "man" didn't do it at all; woman did it. In myth, dogs
accompanied only the Goddess, guarding the gates of her after-world,
helping her to receive the dead.
Like other carrion eaters-e.g., vultures-dogs, wolves, and jackals
were associated with funerary customs. Dogs carried the dead to
their Mother. In Iran, even after it became usual to bury the dead, it was
thought necessary to let dogs tear the corpse before burial, a survival
of the older practice.1 The Vendidad said the soul enroute to heaven
would meet the Goddess with her dogs: "Then comes the beautiful,
well-shapen, strong and graceful maid, with the dogs at her sides, one
who can discern, who has many children, happy and of high
understanding. She makes the soul of the righteous go up above." 2
Semitic tradition transformed the Goddess into the Angel of
Death, whose approach can be seen only by dogs-which is why
dogs howl at the moon to announce a death.3 Devonshire folklore still
says there is a dog in the moon who acts as a messenger of death.4
The Irish say two dogs guard the gate of death, which used to lead to
Emania, the Moon-land; mourners were enjoined not to wail too
loudly, lest they disturb the dogs and cause them to attack the soul at the
gate. This and many other similar images can be traced to the ancient
Vedic concept of the moon as death's gate, ruled by the Goddess and
guarded by her two dogs.5
This Oriental symbol is still seen in an almost pure form on Tarot
trump # 18, the card of the Moon. The conventional picture is of two
dogs howling at the full moon in front of a gate, or two pylons, with a
road leading between them to a distant horizon. The scene was
usually interpreted as having to do with death.6 Sometimes the card was
called Hecate, after the classic death-goddess whose totemic companions
were dogs.7 Her gates were guarded by the three-headed hound
Cerberus, "Spirit of the Pit." 8 In Celtic myth the ·gatekeeper was a
dog named Dormarth, "Death's Door." 9 The same dog might be seen
on the famous Gundestrup Cauldron, guarding the yonic gate
through which heroes pass on their way to death and transfiguration.10
According to the Vedic tradition, the Bitch-goddess Sarama was
the mistress of the death dogs, and a divine huntress like Artemis,
Diana, Anath, and other western versions of the lunar maiden.11
Ancient Babylon knew her as Gula, the Fate-goddess, whose symbol
was a dog.12 She was assimilated to Ishtar, whose sacred king Tammuz
was torn to pieces by "dogs." 13 Under his Greek names of Adonis or
Actaeon, he was torn to pieces by the Dogs of Artemis. As the savior
Orpheus, he was incarnated in Neanthus of Lesbos and torn to pieces
in the Orphic temple by "dogs." 14 When Athene assumed the guise of
the death-goddess, her priestesses filled her temple with canine
"howlings" (houloi), like wolves or dogs singing to the moon.15 Sometimes
a whole pack of dogs-or priestesses?-hunted souls in the
realm of death, like the Celtic Hounds of Annwn, which Christians
soon converted into the Hounds of Hell. 16
Originally this meant the hounds of the Goddess Hel, ruler of the
land of death. Norse myth said she gave birth to lunar wolf-dogs who
ate the flesh of the dead and carried souls to paradise. Their leader was
Managarm, "Moon-Dog." The Prose Edda says Managarm was
"gorged with the flesh of the death-doomed; and with red blood he
reddens the dwelling of the gods." 17 In other words, he carried the
dead away in primitive, carrion-eating canine fashion.
An alternative name for the Norse moon-dogs' mother was Angurboda,
the Hag of the Iron Wood: an older version of Hel, sometimes
called Hel's mother.18 Two of Angurboda's canine children, Geri and
Freki, lived in Valhalla and ate the food offered on "Odin's table,"
meaning the altar.19 This suggests that the Vedic image of the two death
dogs passed into Norse mythology as a pair of canine gods, like the
many holy dogs, wolves, or jackals of the ancient world in general.
One of the oldest of these gods was Egyptian Anubis, brought
from central Asia at a very early date under the name of Up-Uat,
"Opener of the Way." He was also known as Mates, "He of the
Mother," similar to the archaic Irish word for a dog, madra.20 This
old Asian god was said to be a wolf, but he soon merged with the jackal
Anubis, who was called his twin. The composite was a deity "whose
face is like unto that of a greyhound ... who feedeth on the dead ...
who devoureth the bodies of the dead, and swalloweth hearts." In the
predynastic period he governed sacrificial priests, "jackal-headed men
with slaughtering-knives," in an old section of the underworld.21
Coptic Christians later identified Anubis with Gabriel, who was called a
judge of the dead.22
As a lord of the land of death, Anubis became the god of
mummification. He was often shown bending solicitously over the
mummy of Osiris, applying the preservative mumiya from which the
word "mummy" descended. When the Osiris cult became astrological,
much of its imagery was transposed from the underworld to the
heavens, including the image of Anubis.
The star of Anubis was Sothis (Sirius), the Eye of the Dog, in
Greek, Canopis. Sirius is the star forming the "eye" of Canis Major, the
Great Dog. It is the brightest star in the sky. Egyptians believed it
held the soul of Osiris, whose rebirth coincided with the rising of the
Nile flood, when his star rose in the east. "Three wise men" pointed
the way to the newborn Savior: the three stars in Orion's belt, which
form a line pointing to Sirius. The holy city of Anubis on earth was
also Canopis, the Eye of the Dog, origin of the canopic mummy-jar.
Anubis came to Rome as a leading character in the Osirian
Mysteries. He was seen in processions "condescending to walk on
human feet ... rearing terrifically high his dog's head and neck-that
messenger between heaven and hell displaying alternately a face
black as night, and golden as the day; in his left the caduceus, in his right
waving aloft the green palm branch. His steps were closely followed
by a cow, raised into an upright posture-the cow being the fruitful
emblem of the Universal Parent, the goddess herself, which one of
the happy train carried with majestic steps, supported on his shoulders.
By another was borne the coffin containing the sacred things, and
closely concealing the deep secrets of the holy religion." 23
Not only Anubis, but many other dog-deities were worshipped
throughout the Roman empire. An early Roman cista from Palestrina-
Praeneste showed the Moon-virgin Minerva sacrificing a naked
Mars over a cauldron, attended by her three-headed death dog,
clearly the same as Persephone's or Hecate's Cerberus.24 The dog as
the keeper of Mother's gate was known everywhere in antiquity,
probably because wild dogs were first domesticated as guardians of the
home threshold, doorways being generally sacred to women who
owned the houses. In Assyria, images of dogs were buried under
thresholds of houses, suggesting similar burials of deceased watchdogs
in former times.25 The dogs' spirits continued to halt intruders, which
may account for the ancient custom of lifting a new bride over a
threshold, so the guardian spirits beneath would not think her an
intruder but would accept her as a resident.
The Cynic sage Diogenes made himself a watchdog at the gate of
the Great Mother's temple, where he lived in "a large earthen pot,"
representing the terrestrial womb.26 Cynics were the Goddess's "doglike
ones" (kynikos). Their sect, founded in the 4th century B.C., professed
to foretell the end of the world from the circumpolar constellation Ursa
Minor, which they called the Dog. The north pole star was the Dog's
Tail, kunos oura, the Cynosure.27 When it moved from its place at the
still point of the turning world, according to the Cynics, the end of
the present universe was at hand.
The Cynic idea of the dog affixed to the north pole is still found in
European folklore. Slavs spoke of the three Zorya (triple Fategoddess),
keeping "a dog which is tied by an iron chain to the
constellation of the Little Bear. When the chain breaks it will be the
end of the world." 28 Egyptians similarly believed the Goddess kept
"powers of darkness" fettered by a heavenly chain until the last days
of the world. 29 Northern peoples said the chain held the cosmic
doomsday-wolf Fenrir, who would be released by the Noms (triple
Fate-goddess) to devour the heavenly father at the end of the world; this
would signal the destruction of all the gods.30 Norsemen therefore
called doomsday the Day of the Wolf.31
The Great Goddess was herself a wolf, in the very old Roman cult
of the She-Wolf Lupa, whose original consort was Lupus, the Wolf.
He was also Feronius, or Dis Pater, a subterranean wolf god inherited
from the Etruscans, as was the She-Wolf who suckled Rome's
founders, Romulus and Remus. The famous Lupercalian statue of the
She-Wolf was cast in bronze during the 5th century B.C. The two
babies under her belly were not part of the original work but were added
centuries later, to suit the Roman version of the legend. 32
The Lupercalia may have been a corruption of Lupa-Kali; the
Oriental Great Goddess was also a she-wolf. Under her yoni-name of
Cunti she gave birth to a divine son "in the cave of the wolf," like the
Lupercal grotto. Her child was placed in a basket of rushes and set
afloat on the Ganges, as Romulus and Remus were set afloat on the
Tiber, Moses was set afloat on the Nile, and Sargon was set afloat on
the Euphrates. The wolf bitch Lupa was identified with the midwifegoddess
Acca Larentia who took Romulus and Remus from their
basket, just as Akka took Sargon, and "pharaoh's daughter" (another
version of Akka) took Moses. Akka, Acca, or Acco was the same as
Hecate, who turned into a wolf bitch in Homeric legend.33 Lupa (or
Acca) disappeared into the sacred spring of the Lupercal grotto,
where her spirit was worshipped every year at the Lupercalian festival.
There were many lupine foster-mothers in Middle-Eastern myths.
Tu Kueh, legendary founder of the Turkish nation, was preserved in
infancy by a holy she-wolf whom he subsequently married: that is, she
was the Goddess of the land in totemic form.34 A famous Turkish
leader was Ataturk, "the Gray Wolf." 35 Zoroaster was raised by a she-wolf.
Cyrus the Great, born of Mandane (Moon-mother), was
nursed by a woman whose Greek name was Cyno, her Median name
Spako, meaning "Bitch." Siegfried too was a wolf's foster child; his
oldest name was Wolfdietrich.36
The oldest religion of the Canary Islands was a dog- or wolf-cult,
traces of which are still seen in many ancient canine statues. Canary
birds and canary wine took their name from the islands, which were
really named for Canis, the dog.37
The same name once applied to the hereditary caste of Jewish
priests, Kohen or Cohen, from Greek kuon "dog." 38 Because dogs
were associated with the old matriarchy, the epithet "dog" became an
insult to Semitic patriarchs; Islam forbids both women and dogs to
approach a shrine.39 Yet Moslems still incongruously believe the gall of
a black dog can serve as a holy amulet to purge an entire household
of evil influences.40
Early Christians made an effort to assimilate the Gallo-Roman
wolf god under the name of St. Lupus or St. Loup, "Holy Wolf." 41
He was made a legendary bishop of Troyes, credited with miraculously
turning back the invading Huns from his province; but this story was
fiction masquerading as history.42 The church was not wholly comfortable
with any of the manifestations of Lupus, who was really a
prototype of the werewolf. Saxons used to worship him in the first
month of the sacred year, called Wolf-monath (Wolf Month); but
Christian authorities changed the name of this month to After-Yule, or
Jesu-monath. Its runic sign was a dot in a circle, the same as the
Festival of the Circumcision of Christ (New Year's Day).43
Diana the Huntress and her "dogs" had an extensive cult in
England. Some of her legends merged with those of Arthur, Lancelot,
and other British heroes. One of the tales told how Lancelot, like
Actaeon, trespassed in the Goddess's greenwood and fell asleep at her
secret spring:
There was a Lady dwelt in that forest, and she was a great huntress, and
daily she used to hunt, and ever she bare her bow with her; and no man
went never with her, but always women, and they were shooters, and
could well kill a deer, both at the stalk and at the trest; and they daily
bare bows and arrows, horns and wood knives, and many good dogs they
had. 44
When the "Lady" caught Lancelot in the forbidden place, she
didn't set her dogs on him as her forerunners had done. She only shot
him in the buttock, "that he might not sit on no saddle."45 Thus he
was disgraced, since a warrior was supposed to show wounds only in
Because dogs were natural companions of the housewife as well as
the huntress, they were often cited as witches' familiars. A black dog
seemed even more suspect than a black cat. The dog was frequently
believed to be the animal form of a demon lover, probably because
women were inclined to fondle their dogs; many women were hanged
in England on that count alone. One witch was officially condemned
for having "carnal copulation with the devil in the likeness of a man, but
he removed from her in the likeness of a black dog." 46
Gypsies told a story based on such witch trials: there was a
beautiful maiden whose lover was her dog. Once each year he
transformed himself into a man and lay with her. In due time, she gave
birth to a "little white puppy," then she jumped into the river and
drowned (a popular method of disposing of witches was to drown them
in the so-called swimming ordeal). The demon lover assumed his
human shape, retrieved the maiden's corpse, and brought her back to
life by placing the puppy-child at her breast to suck. Afterward, as in
all fairy tales, they married and lived happily ever after.47
The black dog was the witch's helper in gathering materials for
charms. According to an exceptionally durable superstition, the
miraculous mandrake root could not be pulled out of the ground except
by a black dog. This curiously formed root, called "the phallus of the
field," or "the devil's genitals," was supposed to emit a scream if
uprooted by the unwary; and all who heard the sound would go
insane, or die.48
The Irish remembered the dog's connection with death and
maintained that true curses could be cast with a dog's help. Among
the Celts, cainte, "dog," denoted a satiric bard with magic power to
speak curses that would come true.49
Dogs or wolves played their ancient role of psychopomps in a
number of strange stories about cathedral-building, which might be
traced all the way back to the Etruscan Lupus or Dis Pater, the wolf-headed
Lord of Death who carried sacrificial victims away. In the very
old rite of the mundus, trenches dug for temple foundations were
filled with sacrificial blood. It was believed the building would be
unstable if this blood-magic were omitted; so it was done, from Hindu
India to Latium and Britain. Lupus appeared in sacred art as a wolf-angel
carrying the victim to a blessed after-life. On an Etruscan vase,
the death-god Charon is assimilated to Lupus and wears a wolf skin. 50
This notion that sacred buildings needed to be founded in blood
has been evident in every tradition including the Judea-Christian
one. The Bible says when Hiel founded the city of Jericho, "he laid the
foundation thereof in (the blood of) Abiram his firstborn and set up
the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of
the Lord!' (1 Kings 16:34). British legend said Vortigern's temple
walls kept falling down because the blood sacrifice for their foundation
had been forgotten.51 Such pagan customs continued in the Middle
Ages. Many skeletons have been found buried in walls, pillars, and
cornerstones of churches and abbeys, placed there as supportive
sacrifices.52 A deaf-mute was buried under the cornerstone of a monastery
near Gottingen.53 A parish church at Holsworthy, North Devon,
was found in 1845 to have a skeleton in its southwest wall.54 Illegitimate
children were frequently buried in building foundations. One St.
Benezet, or Little Bennet, was walled up in the foundation of a bridge
at Avignon in 1184. Five centuries later his crypt was opened, and
St. Benezet proved his saintly status by remaining fresh and undecayed. 55
So his ecclesiastical press agents claimed, at any rate. "It was
really a common thing among Christians to sacrifice children, maids, or
grown-up people by burying them alive under the foundations of
castles, etc., to insure their stability." 56
When St. Columba founded a monastery on the island of Iona, he
called for a volunteer to be buried alive in its foundation. A monk
named Oran, or Odran, earned a later canonization by offering
himself.57 For some reason-perhaps a promise of Christ-like resurrection-
he was dug up again after three days. Still alive, he began to
preach blasphemous doctrines: there was no God, no devil, no heaven
or hell. St. Columba therefore had him killed and re-buried.58 It was
not uncommon for monks infected with Gnostic, agnostic, or atheistic
beliefs to meet with such a fate.
Europe's totemic dog or wolf clans seem to have become involved
in these sacrificial customs, just as they were involved in the ancient
cult of the mundus. For instance, Cologne Cathedral was said to have
been designed by the devil, and its bells were cast under the devil's
direction at the foundry of a mysterious smith named Wolf. After
casting a certain discordant bell, supposed to be rung only in time of
disaster, Wolf was killed by a fall from the bell tower. The architect who
collaborated with the devil was also killed, crushed by a great stone
that already had his name engraved on it.59
Chansons de gestes told a somewhat different version. The builders
of Cologne Cathedral killed a hero named Renaud (Fox) and
buried him in the foundation. A church was erected to Renaud's
memory in 811 A.D.; a chapel stood on the spot in Cologne where he
was slain.60 Some said Renaud was the same as the trickster-hero-demigod
Reynard the Fox; others said he was a great warrior, one of
Charlemagne's paladins.
The devil and the wolf were also linked with Charlemagne's tomb
at Aix-la-Chapelle. The devil contributed money to build the cathedral.
In return, he demanded the life of the first creature to enter its
doors. At the dedication ceremony, people thrust a wolf into the
door. The devil took the wolfs life. Then it was safe for people to enter.
Like Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle had a discordant bell for emergencies.
The founder of this bell was crushed to death by the clapper, so the bell
was baptized with his blood.
Similar stories were told of Strasbourg Cathedral, supposedly
designed by a wise witch named Sabine, once a title of Lupa, the
Sabine She-Wolf. The dedication of the cathedral was marked by the
sacrifice of twin brothers, like Romulus and Remus, one of whom
killed the other by pushing him under a cornerstone as it was dropped
into place. (Of the twins nursed by the Sabine She-Wolf, Romulus
killed Remus while digging a furrow for the foundation of Rome's
walls.) The bishop of Strasbourg ordered the cornerstone raised
again, and the second brother was crushed under it also, by his wish. He
explained, "My body will serve as a protection to the cathedral." 61
Remnants of these curious beliefs and customs survived to the
present time. In World War II, the Nazi SS caused human bodies to
be "encased in the concrete fortifications and bunkers, as though such
bodies could give strength to inanimate matter." 62 To this day, Greek
peasants insist on a blood sacrifice at the building of any bridge, to bathe
the foundation in the lifeblood of a bird or animal to "strengthen"
The notion that a dog's blood is equivalent to the blood of a
human being is still found among the Berbers, who believe that a
murderer is magically tainted by the blood of his victim for the rest of his
life. The killer of a dog is similarly tainted.64 Nearly everywhere one
can still find the belief that dogs can see ghosts and other spirits, left over
from the formerly universal association of canines with the world of
death and the special preserve of the underground Goddess.65


"Dog's Tail," the kunos oura, name given by the Greek sect of
Cynics or "Doglike Ones" to the pole star, which they believed would
move from its place at the still point of the turning heavens when
doomsday was near.1 This, and the fact that the Dog's Tail was the
prime navigational star, made it the "Cynosure of all eyes." See Dog.


Sacred totem of many European clans during the Middle Ages, as
shown by the frequency of the name Wolf or Wulf in place names and
family surnames. The old Saxon year began with Wolf-monath
(Wolf Month). Wolf mothers or wolf nurses figured prominently in the
biographies of pagan heroes. An early version of Siegfried was nursed
by a divine she-wolf and was named Wolfdietrich.1
Worship of the wolf among heathen clans led to innumerable
superstitions about wolf-demons and werewolves. Wolves were associated
with death and reincarnation, since they were carrion eaters,
formerly believed to carry the dead in their own bodies to the pagan
heavens and hells. See Dog.


This became a naughty word in Christian Europe because it was one of
the most sacred titles of the Goddess, Artemis-Diana, leader of the
Scythian alani or "hunting dogs." The Bitch-goddess of antiquity was
known in all Indo-European cultures, beginning with the Great Bitch
Sarama who led the Vedic dogs of death. The Old English word for
a hunting dog, bawd, also became a naughty word because it applied to
the divine Huntress's promiscuous priestesses as well as her dogs. 1
Harlots and "bitches" were identified in the ancient Roman cult of
the Goddess Lupa, the Wolf Bitch, whose priestesses the lupae gave
their name to prostitutes in general.2 Earthly representatives of the Wolf
Bitch ruled the Roman town of Ira Flavia in Spain, as a queen or
series of queens named Lupa.3
In Christian terms, "son of a bitch" was considered insulting not
because it meant a dog, but because it meant a devil-that is, a
spiritual son of the pagan Goddess.


Vedic bitch-goddess, mother of the brindled Dogs of Yama, who
were westernized first as the Celtic Hounds of Annwn and then as the
Christian Hounds of Hell.1 Sarama was the eastern form of the
Huntress, known in classical mythology as Artemis, Diana, or Hecate.
(See Dog.) Like other Huntress-figures she symbolized the deathdealing
function of the Goddess who implacably hunted down all whose
time of dissolution had come, according to the cycles of karma.


Amazonian Moon-goddess, worshipped at Ephesus under the Latin
name of Diana or "Goddess-Anna." Like the Hindu Goddess Saranyu
who gave birth to all animals, she was called Mother of Creatures.
Her image at Ephesus had a whole torso covered with breasts, to show
that she nurtured all living things. Yet she was also the Huntress,
killer of the very creatures she brought forth. 1 In Sparta her name was
given as Artamis, "Cutter," or "Butcher." 2
Artemis's myths extend back to Neolithic sacrificial customs. At
Taurus her holy women, under their high priestess lphigeneia,
sacrificed all men who landed on their shores, nailing the head of each
victim to a cross.3 At Hierapolis, the Goddess's victims were hung on
artificial trees in her temple. In Attica, Artemis was ritually propitiated
with drops of blood drawn from a man's neck by a sword, a symbolic
remnant of former beheadings. Human victims were later replaced by
bulls, hence the Goddess's title Tauropolos, "bull-slayer." 4
Her Huntress aspect was another form of the destroying Crone or
waning moon. Like Hecate, she led the nocturnal hunt; her priestesses
wore the masks of hunting dogs. Alani, "hunting dogs," was the
Greek name for Scythians who revered Artemis. The mythological
hunting dogs who tore the Horned God Actaeon to pieces were really
Artemis's sacred bitches.
Classic mythographers pretended that Actaeon committed the sin
of seeing the chaste virgin Goddess in her bath, and she condemned
him out of offended modesty. Actually, the bath, the nakedness, and the
tearing to pieces of the sacred king were all part of the drama. In
barbarian Germany, the Goddess's ritual bath could be witnessed only
by "men doomed to die." 5 Actaeon's deerskin and antlers marked
him as the pre-Hellenic stag king, reigning over the sacred hunt for half
a Great Year before he was torn to pieces and replaced by his tanist
(co-king). In the first century A.D., Artemis's priestesses still pursued and
killed a man dressed as a stag on the Goddess's mountain.6 Her
groves became the "deer-gardens" (German Tiergarten, Swedish Djurgarden),
once the scene of venison feasts.
One of Artemis's most popular animal incarnations was the Great
She-Bear, Ursa Major, ruler of the stars and protectress of the axis
mundi, Pole of the World, marked in heaven by the Pole Star at the
center of the small circle described by the constellation Ursa Major.
Helvetian tribes in the neighborhood of Berne worshipped her as the
She-Bear, which is still the heraldic symbol of Berne. The city's very
name means "She-Bear." 7 Sometimes the Helvetians called her Artio,
shortened to Art by Celtic peoples who coupled her with the bearking
Arthur. As Artio's Lord of the Hunt, the medieval god of witches
came to be known as "Robin son of Art." According to the Irish, Art
meant "God," but its earlier connotation was "Goddess" -specifically
the Bear-Goddess.8 She was also canonized as a Christian saint,
Ursula, derived from her Saxon name of Ursel, the She-Bear.
There was a rather sophisticated astronomical reason for worshipping
the heavenly She-Bear who followed her track around the Pole
Star, year by year. It was probably discovered first in the far east. "The
months and seasons are determined by the revolution of Ursa Major.
The tail of the constellation pointing to the east at nightfall announces
the arrival of spring, pointing to the south the arrival of summer,
pointing to the west the arrival of autumn, and pointing to the north the
arrival of winter. ... The Great Bear occupies a prominent position
in the Taoist heavens as the aerial throne of the supreme deity." This
deity in Taoist tradition is the Queen of Heaven, Holy Mother Ma
Tsu P'o, with characteristics similar to those of Artemis. She protects
seafarers and governs the weather; she is called a virgin, and Matron
of the Measure; she is a Mother of Mercy who has been compared to
the virgin Mary and to the Buddhist Goddess Maritchi.9
The axis mundi was often associated with male gods, as either a
Great Serpent or a World Tree more or less recognized as a phallic
symbol. Similarly the Little Bear within the circle of the Great Bear was
pictured by the Greeks as Areas, her son (see Callisto). Yet among
the oldest traditions may be found hints that this world-supporting tree
or pole was female. Even as Yggdrasil, the World Tree of the
Vikings, it showed many parallels with birth-giving, fruit- or milkproducing
mother trees of the Near East, under its older name of
Mjotvidr or Mutvidr, "Mother-Tree." Sometimes it was Mead-Tree,
like "the milk-giving tree of the Finno-Ugric peoples, a symbol which
must go back ultimately to Mesopotamia, and be of great antiquity." It
was said that "the tree is the source of unborn souls," which would
give birth to the new primal woman, Life (Lif) in the new universe after
the present cycle came to an end. Its fruit could be given to women
in childbirth "that what is within may pass out." The spring at the tree's
root was a fountain of wisdom or of the life-giving fluid aurr, which
may be likened to the "wise blood" of the Mother-that much mythologized
feminine lifesource likened to the Kula nectar in the
uterine spring of Kundalini, as if the maternal tree upholding the
universe were the Mother's spine with its many chakras.10 See
Menstrual Blood.
"Many-breasted" Artemis was always a patroness of nurture,
fertility, and birth. Male gods turned against these attributes in
opposing the cult of the Goddess. Her own twin brother and sometime
consort Apollo made birth illegal on his sacred isle of Delos;
pregnant women had to be removed from the island lest they offend the
god by giving birth there. 11 Christians continued to vilify Artemis.
Tatian said, "Artemis is a poisoner; Apollo performs cures." 12 The
Gospels demanded destruction of Artemis's Ephesian temple (Acts
19:27). St. John Chrysostom preached against this temple in 406 A.D.
Soon afterward, it was looted and burned. The patriarch of Constantinople
praised Chrysostom's zeal: "In Ephesus he stripped the treasury
of Artemis; in Phrygia, he left without sons her whom they called the
Mother of the Gods." 13 See Diana.
Marginal note:
 Ursa Major "Great
Bear," colloquially
called the Big
Dipper, a circumpolar
constellation with
seven bright stars
including the "north
pole pointers."


"Hunting dogs," Greek name for the Scythian tribes who worshipped
Artemis as their Divine Huntress. The name Alan still carried
the original Greek meaning of a hunting dog when it became popular
among the Scots during the Middle Ages. Artemis was often called the
Great Bitch, and her hunting priestesses were the "sacred bitches"
who chased, killed, and consumed boar-gods and stag-gods like Phorcis
or Actaeon. Thus, to Christians, "son of a bitch" meant a devil
worshipper-that is, a pagan devotee of the Goddess. See Dog.


Black bitch-totem of Hecate, a form assumed by her Trojan incarnation,
Queen Hecuba, when she was captured by Odysseus. The cause
of his long wandering exile apparently was the curse Hecuba-Maera
laid on him. Some said she was killed and buried in "The Bitch's
Tomb." Others said she scared away her enemies with her spells and
curses and ran free.
She was an animal version of the fatal Crone-goddess Moera,
symbolized by the Lesser Dog Star whose rising announced human
sacrifices in Attica. One of her victims was a king whose daughter
Odysseus married, "and whose fate he will therefore have shared in
the original myth." 1 Similar sacrifices were still offered to the Death -
goddess and Wolf-mother Maerin in her temple at Trondheim as late
as the 11th century A.D. 2

"Queen of Heaven," Roman name for the Triple Goddess as (1)
Lunar Virgin, (2) Mother of Creatures, and (3) the Huntress (Destroyer).
Her Greek name was Artemis. Her major pilgrimage centers
were Ephesus and Nemi, the Sacred Grove. She was Dione, Diana
Nemorensis, or Nemetona, Goddess of the Moon-grove. In her
sanctuaries, sacred kings periodically engaged in combat, the loser dying
as the god Hippolytus, the winner invested as the Goddess's new
favorite, Virbius. See Hippolytus, Saint.
As Diana Egeria, patroness of childbirth, nursing, and healing, the
Goddess made Nemi' s holy spring the Lourdes of pagan Rome.1 The
legendary King Numa was said to have derived all his wisdom from a
sacred marriage with her.
Diana's cult was so widespread in the pagan world that early
Christians viewed her as their major rival, which is why she later
became "Queen of Witches." The Gospels commanded total destruction
of all temples of Diana, the Great Goddess worshipped by "Asia
and all the world" (Acts 19:27).
Roman towns all over Europe habitually called the local mother
goddess Diana, as later Christian towns were to call her Madonna.
Fortunatus said Diana was the Goddess worshipped at Vernemeton,
"which in the Gaulish language means the Great Shrine." In the 5th
century A.D., the Gauls regarded her as their supreme deity. Christians
spoke slightingly of their pagan custom of adoring the spirit of Diana
in a cut branch or a log of wood.2 Gozbert, a 7th-century Frankish
chieftain, doubted the claims of a Christian missionary on the ground
that the Christian God was "no better than our own Diana.''3
At Ephesus, the Goddess was called Mother of Animals, Lady of
Wild Creatures, and Many-Breasted Artemis, shown with her entire
torso covered with breasts to nourish the world's creatures.4 In the 4th
century A.D., the church took over this shrine and re-dedicated it to
the virgin Mary. 5 One of the earliest churches devoted to "Our Lady"
existed at Ephesus in 431; but most of the people believed the Lady
was Diana, not Mary. In 432 the Council of Ephesus tried to eliminate
worship of the pagan Goddess, but the bishops were besieged by
crowds demanding, "Give us our Diana of the Ephesians!"6
An excuse for converting Diana's temples into Mary's churches
was provided by a made-to-order legend that Mary lived at Ephesus
in her old age. Her tomb was located there, and some Christians even
pointed out the house in which she had lived. 7 But sometimes she
was identified with the sinister Widow of Ephesus, a Crone aspect of
the Goddess showing some primitive features.
Petronius's version of the myth said the Widow hung her husband's
dead body on one of the three crosses in front of Diana's
temple, replacing the body of a previously crucified thief. Then she lay
with her new lover at the foot of the cross. 8 The parallel between this
image and that of the triple Mary at the foot of Jesus's cross was too
close for comfort, especially since Diana herself was assimilated to the
Christian myth as Mary's mother, or elder self, the "Grandmother of
God" under the name of either Anna (Hannah) or Di-anna
Gnostic Christians called their Wisdom-goddess Sophia the same
Grandmother of God, and frequently identified her with Diana of
Ephesus. When Diana's temple was finally pulled down, as the Gospels
ordered, its magnificent porphyry pillars were carried to Constantinople
and built into the church of Holy Sophia. 10
The magic of Ephesus was remembered through the Middle Ages.
A writer said in 1725: "It is recorded in divers authors that in the
image of Diana, which was worshipped at Ephesus, there were certain
obscure words or sentences ... written upon the feet, girdle and
crown of the said Diana: the which, if a man did use, having written
them out, and carrying them about him, he should have good luck in
all his businesses." 11
Some Christians even remembered that Diana was once the triple
deity who ruled the world. A 14th-century poem attributed to the
Bishop of Meaux said Diana was an old name for the Trinity. 12
Officers of the Inquisition however regarded Diana as the "Goddess
of the heathen" with whom witches made their aerial night
journeys-or thought they did. 13 The worship of Diana was denounced
wherever it was found, even when the worshippers were members of
the clergy. In the 14th century, a bishop found the monks of Frithelstock
Priory worshipping a statue of "the unchaste Diana" at an altar
in the woods, and made them destroy it. 14 The notorious inquisitor
Torquemada declared bluntly that Diana is the devil. 15
Devil or not, Diana ruled the wild forests of Europe through the
medieval period. As patron of the forest of Ardennes she was Dea
Arduenna; as patron of the Black Forest she was Dea Abnoba. 16
Serbians, Czechs, and Poles knew her as the woodland Moongoddess
Diiwica, Devana, or Dziewona.17 She remained the Goddess
of wild woodlands and hunting, all the way up to the 18th century in
Dianic rites were celebrated even in church, despite objections
from the clergy. A minister wrote against the traditional parade of a
stag's head into St. Paul's Cathedral in London: "bringing in procession
into the church the head of a deer, fixed on the top of a long spear or
pole, with the whole company blowing Hunters Horns in a sort of
hideous manner; and with this rude pomp they go up to the High
Altar, and offer it there. You would think them all the mad Votaries of
Diana." 18


Dog-faced Furies of the Earth Mother Demeter, giving rise to the
Latin name of the same Goddess, Ceres. Like most other versions of
the Great Goddess's death-hounds, the Keres visited battlefields and
ate the dead to carry their souls to glory. They were another aspect of
the frightening female psychopomps otherwise called Valkyries, dakinis,
harpies, Nekhbet-vultures, she-wolves, or sacred bitches.1 (See


The earliest angels were heavenly nymphs, like Hindu apsaras, who
dispensed sensual bliss to the blessed ones. Vikings called them
Valkyries. Greeks called them Horae. Persians called them Houris, or
Peris (fairies). A guardian angel was a personal Shakti who watched
over a man and took him into her ecstatic embrace at the moment
of death.
Hindu angels were created primarily for lovemaking. They had no
menstruation, pregnancy, birth, or nursing, though they were mothers.
Each child appeared miraculously on its mother's knee at the age of
five years. Apsaras could copulate endlessly with gods without any
emission of fluids or loss of energy. Such a being was "the perfect
dispenser of sensual delight and amorous bliss on a divine scale."1
Like the queen of the Holy Grail palace in bardic romance, the angel
was a "Dispenser of Joy." (See Grail, Holy.)
There were earthy angels too, the dakinis, "Skywalkers." Tantric
writings said they lived in the Palace of Lotus Light. They were
sometimes called prostitutes' daughters, or yoginis, i.e., yogapriestesses. 2
Although such angels seemed to be every man's wish fulfillment,
patriarchal religions denied the sexuality of angels. Moslems rejected
the Houris (heavenly "whores"), and insisted the angels are without
carnal desires. 3 Yet this contradicted the teaching of the Koran, that
after death every hero would receive beautiful girls as heavenly
European Christianity consigned the formerly divine Horae to
Fairyland, the earthly paradise distinguished from the celestial one.
The place was called locus voluptatis terrestis, the Terrestrial Place of
Pleasure, or pratum felicitatus, the Paradise of Joy.5
Angels were often confused with seraphs and cherubs. The former
were six-winged fiery flying serpents, the lightning-spirits of Chaldean
myth. The latter were Semitic kerubh, from Shehan mu-karrib,
"priests of the moon"; sometimes they could take the form of birds.
Angels accompanying the Hindu Great Goddess were able to fly on the
wings of garuda birds.6
Biblical angels were "sons of God" who came to earth to beget
children on mortal women (Genesis 6:4). Later these were called
demons, or incubi, or "fallen" angels. The Book of Enoch blamed
women for the angels' fall. Women had "led astray the angels of
heaven." 7 In the Magic Papryi, the words angel, spirit, god, and demon
were interchangeable.8 When St. Paul said women's heads must be
covered in church "because of the angels" (1 Corinthians 11:10), he
meant the daemones (demons) supposed to be attracted to women's
hair. The Greeks thought each person had an individual guardian angel
or daemon which could appear in animal form, and under Christianity
evolved into the "familiar spirit." There were no really well-defined
distinctions between angels, demons, familiars, fairies, elves, saints,
genii, ancestral ghosts, or pagan gods.9 Among supernatural beings one
might always find many hazy areas of overlapping identities, even
"good" or "evil" qualities being blurred.
A Gallup poll showed in 1978 that over half of all Americans still
believe in angels. 10


Hebrew kerubh, the Babylonian totemic animal deities combining
eagle wings, lion feet, bull heads, and serpent tails-animal symbols of
the four seasons, cardinal directions, and elements. The cherubim
who guarded the gates of Eden and the throne of God were quite unlike
the naked winged babies that romantic and baroque art later called
cherubs. As animal-masked and costumed priests, the cherubim probably
descended from Shehan mu-karribim, "close kindred," guardians
of the shrine of the Moon-goddess at Marib.


"Skywalker," a Tantric priestess, embodying the spirit of Kali Ma as
an angel of death.1 Dakinis were usually elder women, but sometimes
young women impersonating the divine Shakti who took the last
breath of the enlightened sage with a kiss of peace. Dakinis attended the
dying, embracing and comforting them in their last moments. But
there were also "fierce dakinis," representing violent or painful forms of
Like western witches, dakinis held their meetings in cemeteries or
cremation grounds, having charge of funeral rites and the preparation
of dead bodies. See Death.

Spenser said the word "elf' meant "alive." 1 But there is little doubt
that elves were the ancestral dead, still "alive" in their burial mounds; "it
is well known that in Scandinavia the dead were formerly called
'elves.' " 2 The Kormaks Saga, pagan Icelandic poem of the l0th
century, described sacrifices to them for curative purposes: "Redden
the outside of the mound with bull's blood, and make the elves a feast
with the flesh; and you will be healed." 3
The paradise of Alfaheimr (Elf-land) was always matriarchal,
inhabited by the bright female spirits who made the sun. Like their
eastern counterparts the dakinis, these Valkyries or fairies could be
both beautiful and hideous, representing both birth and death.5 In the
new creation after doomsday, the new female sun would be Glory-of-Elves.6
Christianity opposed this ancient female-centered theology, as
shown by accounts of elf-feasts as demonic sabbats where "clovenfooted
dancers" trod their fairy rings. Henry More, 17th century
English philosopher and poet, said they often appeared in northern
England and in Ireland.7 Ballads merged the demon lover with the "elfknight,"
a wooer from pagan northlands.8 The custom of the Wild
Hunt or Night Ride, sacred to the elf-king (Odin), was transformed into
a procession of wind-riding demons, as at Halloween and other
pagan festivals. Leader of the night riders was called the Erl King, from
Danish ellerkonge, a king of those who belong to Hel. He associated
with the sacred alder tree.9
Other plants often associated with elves were the holly sacred to
Hel, the mistletoe, the mandrake, and various witch-herbs including
rosemary, known as the Elfin Plant,10 named after the Goddess herself.
(See Rose.)
Marginal note:
The word elf was
related to the helleder,
people belonging to
Mother Hel as Death-goddess.
In general it
meant heathen, both
dead and living.
Sigvat Thordarson in
the 11th century
called heathen people
alfar, "elves," who
worshipped their deities
at feasts called
alfablot (elf-blood) in
certain "heathen-holy"
houses ruled by


Norse name for the Sun Goddess, who would give birth to a
daughter sun to rule the new universe after doomsday.1 She was
probably modeled on the Aryan Sun Goddess Aditi, whose offspring
would be "revealed" at doomsday.2

Erl King

Danish ellerkonge, "king of elves," associated with the sacred alder or
elder tree, and the underground land of the dead. As Lord of Death, he
was the consort of Hel, Goddess of the elder trees.1 He was really a
form of Odin, leader of the Wild Hunt composed of ghostly riders on
the night wind.


Saxon and Frankish names of Odin, whom the Goths called Godan
(God), or Father Goth. The day sacred to him was Wednesday-Woden's
Day. German churchmen eventually changed the name of
the day to Mittwoch, "mid-week," to prevent speaking of the heathen
deity's name.
Wednesday is Mercury's Day in Latin-based languages (Italian
mercoledi, French mercredi, Spanish miercoles), because Woden-Odin
was identified with the Roman Mercury (Hermes). As a
Conductor of Souls, Woden was associated with the cult of the dead,
who were formerly called "elves" in Scandinavia; therefore he evolved
into the Elven-king, Erl King, and leader of the Wild Hunt, when
ghosts rode through the sky at Halloween. As Hod, the slayer of the
year-god Balder, he appeared in his death mask and hood as a
malicious deity, Old Carl Hood, father of the greenwood-hero Robin.1
Christians readily identified him with the devil because he was
already a fearful deity of death very like the Hindu Yama.

Pagan gods and goddesses, tribal ancestors, and those who worshipped
them all became "fairies" in the traditions of France, Germany,
and the British Isles. The Irish still say fairies live in the pagan sidh
(burial mounds and barrow graves), several hundred of which still stand
in the Irish countryside.1 The Welsh knew their ancestors had a
matriarchal society. Like the Irish, they called fairies The Mothers, or
The Mother's Blessing; and fairyland was always the Land of
Fairies came out of their fairy hills at Halloween, Celtic folk said,
because the hills themselves were tomb-wombs of rebirth according
to the ancient belief, and Halloween was only a new name for Samhain,
when the dead returned to earth with the help of the priestesses who,
under Christianity, were newly described as witches.3 Respect for
the pagan dead endured to a remarkably late date, even among
Christians whose church taught them that the old deities were devils.
Cornish miners refused to make the sign of the cross when down in a
mine, for fear of offending the fairies in their own subterranean territory
by making a gesture that invoked their enemy.4
In the Book of the Dun Cow, the fairy queen described her realm
as "the land of the ever-living, a place where there is neither death,
nor sin, nor transgression. We have continual feasts: we practice every
benevolent work without contention. We dwell in a large Shee
(sidh); and hence we are called the people of the Fairy-Mound." 5
The pagan after-world was a golden "dream time" of long ago,
when heroes were deified by sacred marriage with the Goddess. The
Great God Lug, father of Ireland's dying savior Cu Chulainn, came
"out of the chambered undergrounds of Tara where dwell the fourth
race of gods who settled Ireland. They are the glorious and golden
giants, Tuatha De Danann. These people of the goddess Dana first
used gold and silver in an Age of Bronze. They first cleared the land,
first drained the swamps. They built the great temples of stone like
the one they sent to Britain-Stonehenge. When conquered, they
retired to their underground barrows or Sidhe where they still live
today." 6

Fairy mounds were entrances to the pagan paradise, which might
be located underground, or under water, or under hills on distant
islands across the western sea where the sun died.
The fairy queen was obviously the ancient fertility-mother, like
Demeter or Ceres. William of Auvergne said in the 13th century she
was called Abundia, or Dame Abonde: "Abundance." 9 She was also
called Diana, Venus, Hecate, Sybil, or Titania-a title of Cretan
Rhea as ruler of the earth-spirits called Titans, predecessors of the
Olympian gods. (See Titania.) She had all three personae of the
Triple Goddess, including the death-dealing Crone-which is why an
Irish title Bean-Sidhe, "Woman of the Fairy-Mounds," was corrupted
into banshee, the shrieking demoness whose voice brought death. In
the form of the triple Morrigan, she sang of blood sacrifices related to
springtime renewal of vegetation.10 A variation on her title was the
notorious Morgan le Fay or Morgan the Fairy, also known as the
death-goddess, "Morgue la faye." 11
The Romance of Lancelot du Lac spoke of the fairy queen in
another incarnation as Lady of the Lake: "The damsel who carried
Lancelot to the lake was a fay, and in those times all those women were
called fays who had to do with enchantments and charms-and there
were many of them then, principally in Great Britain-and knew the
power and virtues of words, of stones, and of herbs." Their knights
were forbidden to speak their names, for fear of betraying them to
Christian persecutors. 12

Secrecy attended many aspects of the fairy-religion, for the very
reason that it was carried on clandestinely under a dominant religious
system that threatened its practitioners with torture and death. One of
the charges that sent Joan of Arc to the stake was that she "adored the
Fairies and did them reverence." 13
A legend repeated by the gypsies said if a man found the statue of a
naked fate (fairy) in the ruins of pagan temples or tombs, he should
embrace it with love and eject semen on it. Then, like Pygmalion's
Galatea, the fate would come to life in his dreams and tell her lover
where to find buried treasure, and she would become his "fortune." He
would be happy with her forevermore, provided he agreed never to
set foot in a Christian church again as long as he lived.14
This idea of the fairy-fortune might be traced all the way back to
ancient customs of matrilineal inheritance and matrilocal marriage,
characteristic both of Bronze Age myths and of fairy tales. The fairy-tale
hero rarely brought a bride to his own home; instead, he left home to
seek his "fortune," which usually turned out to be a foreign princess
won by trial and wedded in her own country, which the hero
afterward helped rule. As in the pre-patriarchal system, a woman was
the "fortune" or "fate" of the young man, words which also meant
"fairy," through such intermediates as Fata, Fay, Le Fee, or the "fey"
one. Fairy and Fate were further related through fear and fair:
medieval Latin fatare, "to enchant," became French faeror feer.15
Many believed fairies lived in the deep woods where their sacred
groves had been hidden from priestly interference. Romanians still
speak of the Fata Padourii, Girl of the Woods, a fairy similar to the Irish
banshee. At night she makes eerie sounds that portend death to the
hearer.16 In Brittany, where there were many groves dedicated to the
Moon-goddess throughout the middle ages, fairies were sometimes
called man-devent, "Moon-goddesses." 17
It seems the fairy-religion was practiced secretly through most of
the Christian era, especially by women, whose Goddess the patriarchal
church kept trying to take away, giving them no substitute but
Mary, who lacked the old Goddess's powers.
Certain French leaders of the Old Religion were described as
"great princesses who, having refused to embrace Christianity...
were struck by the curse of God. Hence it is that they are said to be animated
by a violent hatred of [Christian] religion and of the clergy."
Sometimes they were called Korrigen, Korrig, or Korr, perhaps devotees
of the Virgin Kore. A Breton lay said: "There are nine Korrigen,
who dance, with flowers in their hair, and robes of white wool, around
the fountain, by the light of the full moon." They seem to have been
old women who used masks or makeup: "Seen at night, or in the dusk
of the evening, their beauty is great; but in the daylight their eyes
appear red, their hair white, and their faces wrinkled; hence they rarely
let themselves be seen by day."18
As late as the 17th century it was said there were shrines kept by "a
thousand old women" who taught the rites of Venus to young
maidens, and instructed them in fairy feats like shape-shifting and raising
storms.19 They were known as fatuae or fatidicae, "seeresses," or
sometimes bonnes filles, "good girls." 20
Norwegian, Scottish, and Irish Christians claimed the fairies were
offspring of the fallen angels. Like the non-fallen angels, they carried
off souls of the dead. Any who happened to die at twilight, the fairies'
hour between day and night, would find themselves in fairyland
between life and death, or between heaven and hell.22 Such legends
reflect ancient views of the after-world as without either punishment
or reward but only a way-station in the karmic cycle, which is why fairies
were like the un-dead -able to emerge from their tombs at will. As
psychopomps, they were the same as Valkyries or Hindu apsaras, the
heavenly nymphs who became peris, "fairies," in Middle-Eastern
countries where the Old Religion was also maintained as a sub-current
in patriarchal culture.
Certainly one of the strongest attractions of the fairy-religion was
its permissive view of sexuality, typical of ancient matriarchal societies,
living on in contrast to the harsh anti-sexual attitudes of orthodoxy.
Fairyland was the heaven of sexy angels, as opposed to the Christian
heaven where "bliss" was specifically not sexual, not even in matrimony
(Matthew 22:30). The fairyland called Torelore in the romance of
Aucassin and Nicolette was a home for lovers, as opposed to the
Christian heaven of"old priests, and halt old men and maimed." The
fairy king lay in bed pretending to give birth to a child, in the ancient rite
of couvade (see Fatherhood); the queen led an army against their
enemies in a bloodless battle, the combatants pelting each other with
symbolic foods such as apples, eggs, and cheeses. The king said, "it is
nowise our custom to slay each other." 23 (See Paradise.)

Toward this paradise the Fairy Queen led her lovers on a "broad,
broad road across the lily lea," as Thomas Rhymer's ballad said,
which some called the road to heaven, and others the road to hell: a
prototype of the famous Primrose Path. The Queen herself was
addressed as Queen of Heaven.24 Sometimes her earthly angels were
more spirit than mortal, like the fairies called Little Wood Women
(wudu-maer) in Bavaria, to whom dumplings and other foodstuffs were
offered.25 Yet most sources admitted that the fairies were real live
women. Prior wrote, "In Danish ballads fairies are full grown women
and not the diminutive beings of our English tales." Said Andrew
Lang, "There seems little in the characteristics of these fairies of
romance to distinguish them from human beings, except their supernatural
knowledge and power. They are ... usually of ordinary stature,
indeed not to be recognized as varying from mankind except by their
proceedings." 26 In other words, they were women practicing heathen
Marginal notes:
The Irish called the
fairies' land Tir-nan-og,
Land of Ever-
Youthful Ones; or
Tir-nam-beo, Land
of the Ever-Living; or
Tir-Tairngiri, Land
of Promise; or Tir-na-Sorcha,
Land of
Light; or Mag Mell,
Plain of Pleasures; or
Mag Mon, Plain of
Sports; or I-Bresail, I-Brazil,
or Hy-Brasil, the
Land of Bresal,
which gave rise to the
name of Brazil.7
Fairyland was also the
magic "apple-land"
of Avalon, or the
Fortunate Isles, or
Elf-land, Elphame,
Alfheim, or
Elvenhome. Sometimes
it was the "nevernever"
land, perhaps
after an Egyptian
word for paradise,
nefemefer, "doubly
beautiful." The Faroe
Islands were once
"fairyland" (medieval
Norse Faeroisland)
because the original
explorers reached
them by sailing west
and believed them to
be the islands of the
Tasso's list of Fairyladies
showed them
from either Goddesses
or witches, for they
had names of both,
including the titles of
Fata, Maga,
lncantatrice, or wise-woman.
They were
Oriana, She of the
Mountain; Silvana or
Silvanella, She of the
Wood; Filidea, She
Who Loves the
Goddess; Mirinda, the
Warrior Woman;
Argea, called Queen of
Fate; Lucina, called
the Lady of the Lake;
Urganda, called the
Wise One; two Fates or
Fays named
Dragontina and
Montana, and
Morgana with her three
"daughters," the


"Forest-mother," literally "Wood-Mary"; Old Saxon for a nymph or
fairy of the sacred grove, a priestess of the Oak-goddess, or a female
druid. In Bavaria, the wudu-maer were presented with offerings of
foodstuffs to court their goodwill; they were known as Little Wood
Women.1 A similar concept of a forest priestess survived in English
legends of Maid Marian. See Robin.

Joan of Arc

"Joan of the Bow" -Joan the Huntress-also called La Pucelle, "the
Maid," a traditional title of a priestess in the fairy-religion 1 Joan herself
stated that she received her mission "at the tree of the Fairy-ladies," a
center of the Dianic cult at Domrémy.2 In 1429, ecclesiastical judges
examined her and announced that holy angels had appointed her to
save France.3 Later, the Bishop of Beauvais reversed this decision. In
1431, aged only 19, she was burned as a witch at Rauen, wearing a
placard that said: "Relapsed, Heretic, Apostate, ldolator." 4 Ecclesiastical
authorities never did explain the nature of her "idols." The
executioner pretended to find her heart unburned in the ashes, to sell it
as a holy relic.5
For 500 years Joan remained a popular national heroine until she
was finally canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. To the church
of her own time this would have been unthinkable. "The Church,
jealous of her pagan authority over pagan soldiers; and jealous, too, of
her success-based popularity with the masses; needed no urging by the
English to see Joan as 'dispensable.' It was the Church which tried
and condemned her; the Church which regarded her-rightly, of
course-as an enemy; and the Church was glad to get rid of her." 6
Ironically, the same church that pronounced Joan a witch and had her
killed, now claims her as a saint.


Celtic Fairy Queen, whose name meant "mead" -a red drink
representing sovereignty which she gave to each of her many consorts.1
Like the "claret" in the lap of Thomas Rhymer's Fairy Queen, this
seems to have been a concoction of the queen's own menstrual blood
as the feminine wine of wisdom. Mab's legends date from the
matriarchal age, when queens chose and invested their own kings. See
Thomas Rhymer.


Germanic water-fairies similar to Greek nereids, children of Mother
Night, whose name in Norse was Nott; in Greek, Nyx. 1 As a personification
of the dark Chaos at the beginning and end of the universe,
she gave rise to the word nix, negation or nothingness. Pre-Christian
religions viewed the Goddess Nyx-Selene (Night-Moon) as the agent
of deification after death, which made her a direct rival of the Christian
savior figure. 2 Her nixies were abyssal angels who kept the souls of
the dead in an underwater fairyland, in "pots turned upside down," after
the manner of all Teutonic death-spirits.3 In the Middle Ages, the
water-fairies assumed the same characteristics as their close relatives, the
mermaids, sirens, wilis, and water-witches: that is, they lured hapless
sailors into the water and magically devoured their souls.


Also called Erinyes or Eumenides, the Furies personified the vengeful
moods of the Triple Goddess Demeter, who was also called Erinys
as a punisher of sinners. The three Erinyes were emanations of her.
"Whenever their number is mentioned there are three of them .... But
they can all be mentioned together as a single being, an Erinys. The
proper meaning of the word is a 'spirit of anger and revenge'.... Above
all they represented the Scolding Mother. Whenever a mother was
insulted, or perhaps even murdered, the Erinyes appeared. Like swift
bitches they pursued all who had flouted blood-kinship and the
deference due to it." 1
Greeks believed the blood of a slain mother infected her murderer
with a dread spiritual poison, miasma, the Mother's Curse. It drew
the implacable Furies to their victim, and also infected any who dared
help him. In fear of the Furies' attention, lest they might have
inadvertently assisted a matricide, people called the Furies "Good
Ones" (Eumenides), hoping to divert their wrath.
Aeschylus called the Furies "Children of Eternal Night." Sophocles
called them "Daughters of Earth and Shadow." Their individual
names were Tisiphone (Retaliation-Destruction), Megaera (Grudge),
and Aledo (the Unnameable). Some said they were born of the
blood of the castrated Heavenly Father, Uranus; others said they were
older than any god.2 Their antiquity is demonstrated by the fact that
they were invoked against killers of kinfolk in the female line only: a
relic of the matriarchal age, when all genealogies were reckoned
through women.3
Aeschylus's drama The Eumenides presented the Furies pursuing
Orestes for killing his mother, Queen Clytemnestra; but they cared
nothing for the murder of the father. He was not a real member of the
clan. When Orestes asked them why they didn't punish Clytemnestra
for murdering her husband, they answered, "The man she killed was
not of blood congenital." Orestes inquired (as if he didn't know),
"But am I then involved with my mother by blood bond?" The Furies
snapped, "Murderer, yes. How else could she have nursed you
beneath her heart? Do you forswear your mother's intimate blood?" 4 In
short, the Furies harked back to a matriarchal clan system like the one
in pre-Christian Britain, where "the son loved the father no more than a
stranger." 5 Indeed the name of the archaic Triple Goddess of
Ireland, Erin, or Eriu, has been linked with the triple Erinyes.6
The Furies were also "fairies," identified with witches because of
their ability to lay curses on any who transgressed their law. Such
"fairies" may have been real witches who tried to defend the rights of
women against encroachment by Christian laws. Their modus operandi
could have been similar to that of the Women's Devil Bush
society in Africa: if a woman complained to this society that her
husband abused her, he soon died of a mysterious dose of poison.7
Christianity adopted the Furies, incongruously enough, as servants
of the patriarchal God. They became part of God's penal system in
hell: dog-faced she-demons known as Furies Who Sow Evil, Accusers
or Examiners, and Avengers of Crimes.8 Their duty, as always, was
to punish sinners. As "grotesques" they appeared on the tympanum of
Bourges Cathedral, with large pregnant bellies bearing the full
moon's Gorgon face, and pendulous breasts terminating in dogs'
heads.9 Greek art, however, depicted them as stern-faced but beautiful
women, bearing torches and scourges, with serpents wreathed in
their hair like the Gorgons.10
Although classical tradition understood the Fury as a symbol of the
impersonal functioning of justice, yet she came to represent men's
hidden fear of women, an image apparently still viable. Psychiatric
Worldview says:
To those men who are aware of contemporary changes it becomes
abundantly clear that there are a number of openly angry women
around. ... Men trained to recognize and enhance their own anger and
aggressiveness in a society where rape and revenge are commonplace
view angry women with alarm . ... Men see women project onto them the
full extent of their own potential aggressiveness. The spectre of an
angry Fury or Medusa's head strikes fear in men, which is then often
awkwardly handled because men are not supposed to display fear. A
woman seeking only reasonable social or vocational equity may be
perceived by a man as being out to get the kind of revenge that his
pride would require had he experienced the narcissistic and practical
wounds that she has sustained.11


"Good Ones," a euphemistic title of the Furies, intended to placate
their wrath and refrain from attracting their attention through invocation
of their real names.


Dog-faced Furies of the Earth Mother Demeter, giving rise to the
Latin name of the same Goddess, Ceres. Like most other versions of
the Great Goddess's death-hounds, the Keres visited battlefields and
ate the dead to carry their souls to glory. They were another aspect of
the frightening female psychopomps otherwise called Valkyries, dakinis,
harpies, Nekhbet-vultures, she-wolves, or sacred bitches.1 (See


 Literally "Virgin of the Sea," the mermaid was an image of fish-tailed
Aphrodite, the medieval Minne, Maerin, Mari, Marina, mereminne,
mare-mynd, mareminde, marraminde, or maraeman.1 Her Death-
goddess aspect, sometimes named Ran, received the souls of those put
to sea in funeral boats; or, she might trap living men in her fish net.
Teutons said drowned men went to dwell in the house of Ran.2
An English law, still on the books in the 19th century, officially
claimed for the Crown "all mermaids found in British waters." 3


Greek nymphe, Latin nympha, a bride or a nubile young woman.
The same word was applied to female-genital symbols like the lotus
flower, water lilies, and certain shells. "Nymphs" served as priestesses
in ancient temples of the Goddess, especially in sexual ceremonies,
where they represented the divine principle of flowering fertility and
were sometimes known as Brides of God. See Virgin birth.
In medieval times the word nymph was applied to either a witch or
a fairy, since both descended from the pre-Christian priestess. As
spirits of nature, the "nymphs" were believed to embed their souls
forever in certain parts of the natural world that the Goddess had
ruled in antiquity: there were water nymphs, tree nymphs, mountain
nymphs, and nymphs who dwelt in the earth, the sea, or Fairyland.
Their ancient connection with sexuality was more or less consistently
maintained. Even now, "nymphomania" connotes sexual obsession,
like the moon-madness supposed to motivate the ancient nymphs in
their seasons of mating.


"The Enchantress," a Vedic nymph whose "white bowl" or belly-cauldron
was said to be the source of Soma, the gods' elixir of
immortality. See Cauldron; Menstrual Blood.


Greek "nymph" at whose reflecting pool Narcissus met his death.
According to the classical myth, Echo grieved so sorely for her beloved
flower-god that she pined away until there was nothing left of her but
her voice.
Originally, she was Acco, the pre-Hellenic birth-goddess, in an
oracular mood as "the last echo of the Voice," meaning the Voice of
Creation, the same as the Goddess Vac in ancient India (see Logos). In
Hebrew she was Bath Kol, Daughter of the Voice. 1
Apparently the Word she spoke to the springtime god NarcissusAntheus-
Adonis-Hyacinthus was the death curse heralding the final
phase of the sacred king's fatal drama; for Narcissus was the same god as
Dionysus with all his flower-titles.2


Homer's word for the magic women ofCyrene, who cast spells on
ships to cause them to be wrecked on the rocky coast. The "sweet
songs" by which the Sirens lured Odysseus's sailors were spells to
draw foreign ships into the Cyrenian shallows, where natives apparently
carried on a profitable trade as wreckers.


Teutonic river-nymphs, original owners of the golden treasure of the
Nibelungs. Since the Nibelungs were "shades," or spirits of the dead,
the Ring symbolized the karmic wheel and the Rhinemaidens were
keepers of the dead who were consigned to water, like aquatic Valkyries.
They resembled eastern Vilas and Homeric Sirens; hearing their
sweet songs could mean death to men. In antiquity, such songs were
sung by priestesses in connection with sending a corpse to the Watermother
by way of the funerary boat.

Norse death angels who hovered over battlefields and took the souls
of brave warriors to Odin's heaven, Valhalla-according to the classic
picture. Previously, the Valkyries seem to have been Amazonian
priestesses who ruled the gates of death, and in the most primitive times
even cannibalized the dead to give them rebirth.
Valkyries were northern counterparts of the funerary vulture-priestesses
of Egypt, often decking themselves in feathers. Like
angelic Hindu apsaras, they wore swan feathers; or, in funerary aspect,
they appeared as carrion crows (ravens). Dead warriors were known
in skaldic verse as hrafengrennir, "raven-feeders," and the blood of slain
men was called "the raven's drink." 1 In Old Saxon the Valkyries
were walcyries or waelceasig, "corpse-eaters," defined as "man-eating
women" during the 11th century A.D. 2
Valkyries in their black raven-feathers were called Kraken, or
"crows." In the Middle East also, ravens were spirits of the lunar
sphere of death and rebirth, symbolically preserved in Mithraic religion
as the Raven who led the initiate into the first stage of mystical
hierarchy, the sphere of the Moon.3 Similar connotations were still
attached to ravens in 1613 A.D., when Perkins's Witchcraft said if a
raven stands on a high place (lunar sphere), "and looks a particular way
and cries," death can be expected to come from that direction.4
Swans, ravens, crows, or hawks represented Valkyries in old
ballads, such as "The Maiden Transformed into a Bird," who was
fond of eating her true-love's flesh. This was beneficial to him, for after
sacrificing his flesh to her, he attained a state of paradise in her arms.5
Eliade says, "The Valkyries are psychopomps and sometimes play the
role of the 'celestial wives' or 'spirit wives' of the Siberian shamans.
... [T]his later complex extends beyond the sphere of shamanism and
has elements both of the mythology of Woman and the mythology of
Death." 6
The Valkyries were also totemized as mare-women, like the
ancient horse-masked priestesses of Demeter. In Sweden, a mare-woman
was a valva, meaning Goddess, priestess, or a witch who could
turn into a mare and carry a man away to death. A cognate was vala,
a holy woman, with Slavic and central Asian counterparts in the Vilas,
Wilas, or Wilis, possibly derived from vilasa, the heavenly bliss
dispensed by Hindu nymphs of paradise in the service of the Goddess.7
Such spirits were sometimes called Samovila or Samodiva: "death-
goddess." 8 Some claimed that death in the arms of a Vila was a blissful
passage into a fairy paradise. Others said it was cruel torment.9
Naturally, this was a mythic expression of various ways of dying. See
The Grimnismal lists 13 Valkyries, the number of a witches'
coven; other sources said there were only nine, the number of the
Muses. From the l0th to the 14th centuries, Valkyries and witches
were considered identical; both were also mystic swan-maidens and
fairies.10 Earthly priestesses who played the Valkyrie role in pagan
funerals were described by churchmen as either Vilas or witches.11
Valhalla or Valhöll was the death-realm of Hel, the Great Vala.
Though it was taken over by new gods led by Father Odin, its archaic
feminine name remained. Later myths made it a paradise reserved
solely for warriors and war-kings, members of the military caste who
shared the opinions of Japanese samurai and Moslem "soldiers of
Allah," that heavenly bliss belonged only to those who died fighting
Radbod, king of the Frisians, refused to abandon this faith when a
Christian missionary informed him that Valhalla was the same as the
Christians' hell. Where were his own ancestors, Radbod wanted to
know, if there was no Valhalla? He was told they were burning in hell
because they were heathens. "Dastardly priest!" Radbod cried. "How
dare you say my ancestors have gone to hell? I would rather-yes, by
their god, the great Woden, I swear-I would ten thousand times rather
join those heroes in their hell, than be with you in your heaven of
priests!" 12


Valkyrie swan-queen who defeated her enemies with magic songs,
flying above them in her dress of swan feathers. Another name for the
Aryan Great Goddess, also rendered Kauri, Cara, Kari, etc., as
mother of the heavenly swan-nymphs or Apsaras. See Swan.


Slavic witch-spirit associated with water; cognate of the Scandinavian
Vala or Valkyrie. Russian Vilas were sometimes known as Rusalki,
daughters of Holy Mother Russia (Earth). Like Valkyries, the Vilas
of old had charge of the rites of death and the guiding of souls.
Sometimes, especially favored men were invited to join the Vilas
for a while, usually seven years. A man would be invited into a cave
or hollow tree, and find himself in fairyland. He was "one who has won
the love of a Vila," and his title was Krstnik, a "Christ," which meant
both an Anointed One and an Accursed One.1 That is, he was the
Slavic version of the Enchanted Hunter (Chasseur Maudit), or
Thomas Rhymer, Tannhäuser, etc.
In Dalmatia, a man associated with the Vilas was called Macieh,
"Messiah." He took the form of a youth in a Phrygian cap, like the
Indo-Iranian sun-hero Mithra.2 The female spirits he lived with were
also called krstaca, "crossed ones," from krst, a cross- cognate with
both the Greek Christos and the Saxon "curst." The female spirits were
also known as Rogulja, "Horned Ones." 3
Vilas or Wilis came to be feared as angry, dangerous "souls of
drowned women" who dwelt in water, perhaps because so many
"witches" were drowned. Like Sirens, they were supposed to draw into
the waters any heedless wayfarer who happened to see them dance by
moonlight. They still dance on modern stages in the classical ballet
Giselle; the old fear of them resides in such phrases as "it gives me
the willies." A cold shudder was said to be a prophetic touch from a
Wili's deathly hand. However, traces of the priestesses' former
benevolence are found in the legend that where they danced on the
nights of the old pagan festivals, there the grass grew thicker and the
wheat flourished more abundantly.4


Russian water witches and psychopomps, named after Mother Russia;
formerly her priestesses of rivers and springs. Rusalki were feared as
sirens who could lure men to a watery grave. Yet their old function as
fertility-spirits was not forgotten. During Rusalki Week at the beginning
of summer, they would emerge from the waters by moonlight and
dance. Peasants said "where the Rusalki trod when dancing, there the
grass grew thicker and the wheat more abundant." 1 They were the
same as the Wilis, Vilas, or Valkyries.


There were many other words for witches, such as Incantatrix,
Lamia, Saga, Maga, Malefica, Sortilega, Strix, Venefica.3 In Italy a
witch was a strega or Janara, an old title of a priestess of Jana (Juno).4
English writers called witches both "hags" and "fairies," words which
were once synonymous.5 Witches had metaphoric titles: bacularia,
"stick-rider"; fascinatrix, "one with the evil eye"; herberia, "one who
gathers herbs"; strix, "screech-owl"; pixidria, "keeper of an ointment
box"; femina saga, "wise-woman"; lamia, "night-monster"; incantator,
"worker of charms"; magus, "wise-man"; sortiariae mulier, "seeress";
veneficia, "poisoner"; maliarda, "evil-doer." Latin treatises called witches
anispex, auguris, divinator, januatica, ligator, mascara, phitonissa,
Dalmatian witches were krstaca, "crossed ones," a derivative of the
Greek Christos.7 In Holland a witch was wijsseggher, "wise-sayer,"
from which came the English "wiseacre." 8 The biblical passage that
supported centuries of persecution, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to
live" (Exodus 22:18), used the Hebrew word kasaph translated "witch"
although it means a seer or diviner.9
Early medieval England had female clan-leaders who exercised
matriarchal rights in lawgiving and law enforcement; the Magna
Carta of Chester called them iudices de wich- judges who were
witches.10 Female elders once had political power among the clans,
but patriarchal religion and law gradually took it away from them and
called them witches in order to dispose of them. In 1711 Addison
observed that "When an old woman begins to doat and grow chargeable
to a Parish, she is generally turned into a witch." 11
Scot remarked that the fate of a witch might be directly proportional
to her fortune. The pope made saints out of rich witches, but poor
witches were burned.12 Among many examples tending to support this
opinion was the famous French Chambre Ardente affair, which
involved many members of the aristocracy and the upper-class clergy in
a witch cult. Numerous male and female servants were tortured and
burned for assisting their masters in working witchcraft; but in all the
four years the affair dragged on, no noble person was tortured or
Illogically enough, the authorities persecuted poor, outcast folk as
witches, yet professed to believe witches could provide themselves
with all the wealth anyone could want. Reginald Scot, a disbeliever,
scornfully observed that witches were said to "transfer their neighbors'
corn into their own ground, and yet are perpetual beggars, and
cannot enrich themselves, either with money or otherwise: who is so
foolish as to remain longer in doubt of their supernatural powers?" 14
Witchcraft brought so little profit to Helen Jenkenson of Northants,
hanged in 1612 for bewitching a child, that the record of her execution
said: "Thus ended this woman her miserable life, after she had lived
many years poor, wretched, scorned and forsaken of the world." 15
The nursery-rhyme stereotype of the witch owed much to Scot's
Women which be commonly old, lame, blear-eyed, pale, foul, and full of
wrinkles; poor, sullen, superstitious, and papists; or such as know no
religion; in whose drowsy minds the devil hath gotten a fine seat; so as,
what mischief, mischance, calamity, or slaughter is brought to pass,
they are easily persuaded the same is done by themselves. . . . They are
lean and deformed, showing melancholy in their faces, to the horror of
all that see them. They are doting, scolds, mad, devilish; and not much
differing from them that are thought to be possessed with spirits.16
Persecutors said it was heretical to consider witches harmless.
Even in England, where witches were not burned but hanged, some
authorities fearfully cited the "received opinion" that a witch's body
should be burned to ashes to prevent ill effects arising from her blood.17
Churchmen assured the arresting officers that a witch's power was
lost the instant she was touched by an employee of the Inquisition; but
the employees themselves were not so sure.18
Numerous stories depict the persecutors' fear of their victims. It
was said in the Black Forest that a witch blew in her executioner's
face, promising him his reward; the next day he was afflicted with a fatal
leprosy. Inquisitors' handbooks directed them to wear at all times a
bag of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday; to avoid looking in a witch's
eyes; and to cross themselves constantly in the witches' prison. Peter
of Berne forgot this precaution, and a captive witch by enchantment
made him fall down a flight of stairs-which he proved later by
torturing her until she confirmed it.19
Any unusual ability in a woman instantly raised a charge of
witchcraft. The so-called Witch of Newbury was murdered by a
group of soldiers because she knew how to go "surfing" on the river.
Soldiers of the Earl of Essex saw her doing it, and were "as much
astonished as they could be," seeing that "to and fro she fleeted on the
board standing firm bolt upright ... turning and winding it which
way she pleased, making it pastime to her, as little thinking who
perceived her tricks, or that she did imagine that they were the last
she ever should show." Most of the soldiers were afraid to touch her,
but a few brave souls ambushed the board-rider as she came to shore,
slashed her head, beat her, and shot her, leaving her "detested carcass to
the worms." 20
From ruthlessly organized persecutions on the continent, witch-hunts
in England became largely cases of village feuds and petty
spite. If crops failed, horses ran away, cattle sickened, wagons broke,
women miscarried, or butter wouldn't come in the churn, a witch
was always found to blame. Marion Cumlaquoy of Orkney was burned
in 1643 for turning herself three times widdershins, to make her
neighbor's barley crop rot. A tailor's wife was executed for quarrelling
with her neighbor, who afterward saw a snake on his property, and his
children fell sick. One witch was condemned for arguing with a
drunkard in an alehouse. After drinking himself into paroxysms of
vomiting, he accused her of bewitching him, and he was believed.21
A woman was convicted of witchcraft for having caused a neighbor's
lameness-by pulling off her stockings. Another was executed
for having admired a neighbor's baby, which afterward fell out of its
cradle and died. Two Glasgow witches were hanged for treating a
sick child, even though the treatment succeeded and the child was
cured. Joan Cason of Kent went to the gallows in 1586 for having dry
thatch on her roof. Her neighbor, whose child was sick, was told by an
unidentified traveler that the child was bewitched, and it could be
proved by stealing a bit of thatch from the witch's roof and throwing it
on the fire. If it crackled and sparked, witchcraft was assured. The test
came out positive, and the court was satisfied enough to convict poor
Witches were convenient scapegoats for doctors who failed to cure
their patients, for it was the "received" belief that witch-caused
illnesses were incurable. Weyer said, "Ignorant and clumsy physicians
blame all sicknesses which they are unable to cure or which they have
treated wrongly, on witchery." There were also priests and monks who
"claim to understand the healing art and they lie to those who seek
help that their sicknesses are derived from witchery." 23 Most real witch
persecutions reflect "no erotic orgies, no Sabbats or elaborate rituals;
merely the hatreds and spites of narrow peasant life assisted by vicious
laws." 24
Witches provided a focus for sexist hatred in male-dominated
society, as Stanton pointed out:
The spirit of the Church in its contempt for women, as shown in the
Scriptures, in Paul's epistles and the Pentateuch, the hatred of the
fathers, manifested in their ecclesiastical canons, and in the doctrines of
asceticism, celibacy, and witchcraft, destroyed man's respect for woman
and legalized the burning, drowning, and torturing of women. ...
Women and their duties became objects of hatred to the Christian
missionaries and of alternate scorn and fear to pious ascetics and
monks. The priestess mother became something impure, associated with
the devil, and her lore an infernal incantation, her very cooking a
brewing of poison, nay, her very existence a source of sin to man. Thus
woman, as mother and priestess, became woman as witch. ...
Here is the reason why in all the Biblical researches and higher
criticism, the scholars never touch the position of women.25
Men displayed a lively interest in the physical appearance of
witches, seeking to know how to recognize them-as men also craved
rules for recognizing other types of women from their physical
appearance. It was generally agreed that any woman with dissimilar eyes
was a witch. Where most people had dark eyes and swarthy complexions,
as in Spain and Italy, pale blue eyes were associated with
witchcraft. Many claimed any woman with red hair was a witch.26
This may have been because red-haired people are usually freckled,
and freckles were often identified as "witch marks," as were
moles, warts, birthmarks, pimples, pockmarks, cysts, liver spots, wens, or
any other blemish. Some witch-finders said the mark could resemble
an insect bite or an ulcer.27
No one ever explained how the witch mark differed from an
ordinary blemish. Since few bodies were unblemished, the search for
the mark seldom failed. Thomas Ady recognized this, and wrote: "Very
few people in the world are without privy marks upon their bodies, as
moles or stains, even such as witchmongers call the devil's privy
marks." 28 But no one paid attention to this.
Trials were conducted with as much injustice as possible. In 1629
Isabel Young was accused of crippling by magic a man who had
quarrelled with her, and causing a water mill to break down. She
protested that the man was lame before their quarrel, and water mills
can break down through neglect. The prosecutor, Sir Thomas Hope,
threw out her defense on the ground that it was "contrary to the
libel," that is, it contradicted the charge.29 When a witch is on trial, Scot
said, any "equivocal or doubtful answer is taken for a confession." 30
On the other hand, no answer at all was a confession too.
Witches who refused to speak were condemned: "Witchcraft proved by
silence of the accused." 31 Sometimes mere playfulness "proved"
witchcraft, as in the case of Mary Spencer, accused in 1634 because she
merrily set her bucket rolling downhill and ran before it, calling it to
follow her.32 Sometimes women were stigmatized as witches when they
were in fact victims of unfair laws, such as the law that accepted any
man's word in court ahead of any number of women's. A butcher in
Germany stole some silver vessels from women, then had them
prosecuted for witchcraft by claiming that he found the vessels in the
woods where the women were attending a witches' sabbat.33
Sometimes the accusation of witchcraft was a form of punishment
for women who were too vocal about their disillusionment with men
and their preference for living alone. Historical literature has many
references to "the joy with which women after widowhood set up
their own households, and to the vigor with which they resisted being
courted by amorous widowers." 34 The-solitary life, however, left a
woman even more vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, since men
usually thought she must be somehow controlled.
Those who tortured the unfortunate defendant into admitting
witchcraft used a euphemistic language that showed the victim was
condemned a priori. One Anne Marie de Georgel denied making a
devil' s pact, until by torture she was "justly forced to give an account
of herself," the record said. Catherine Delort was "forced to confess by
the means we have power to use to make people speak the truth,"
and she was "convicted of all the crimes we suspected her of committing,
although she protested her innocence for a long time." The
inquisitor Nicholas Remy professed a pious astonishment at the great
number of witches who expressed a "positive desire for death,"
pretending not to notice that they had been brought to this desire by
innumerable savage tortures.35 See Torture.
The extent to which pagan religion, as such, actually survived
among the witches of the 16th and 17th centuries has been much
discussed but never decided. Dean Church said, "Society was a long
time unlearning heathenism; it has not done so yet; but it had hardly
begun, at any rate it was only just beginning, to imagine the possibility
of such a thing in the eleventh century." In 15th-century Bohemia it
was still common practice at Christmas and other holidays to make
offerings to "the gods," rather than to God.36 European villages still
had many "wise-women" who acted as priestesses officially or unofficially.
Since church fathers declared Christian priestesses
unthinkable, all functions of the priestess were associated with paganism.37
Bishops described pagan gatherings in their dioceses, attended
by "devils ... in the form of men and women." 38 Pagan ceremonies
were allowed to survive in weddings, folk festivals, seasonal rites,
feasts of the dead, and so on.39 But when women or Goddesses played
the leading role in such ceremonies, there was more determined
suppression. John of Salisbury wrote that it was the devil, "with God's
permission," who sent people to gatherings in honor of the Queen of
the Night, a priestess impersonating the Moon-goddess under the name
of Noctiluca or Herodiade.40
The Catholic church applied the word "witch" to any woman who
criticized church policies. Women allied with the 14th-century
Reforming Franciscans, some of whom were burned for heresy, were
described as witches, daughters of Judas, and instigated of the Devil. 41
Writers of the Talmud similarly tended to view nearly all women as
witches. They said things like, "Women are naturally inclined to
witchcraft," and "The more women there are, the more witchcraft
there will be." 42
Probably there were few sincere practitioners, compared with the
multitudes who were railroaded into the ecclesiastical courts and
legally murdered despite their innocence. Yet it was obvious to even the
moderately intelligent that Christian society deliberately humiliated
and discriminated against women. Some may have been resentful
enough to become defiant. "Women have had no voice in the canon
law, the catechisms, the church creeds and discipline, and why should
they obey the behests of a strictly masculine religion, that places the
sex at a disadvantage in all life's emergencies?" 43 Possibilities for
expressing their frustration and defiance were severely limited; but
voluntary adoption of the witch's reputation and behavior was surely
among such possibilities.
Marginal notes:
Skeat's Etymological
Dictionary derived
"witch" from medieval
English wicche,
formerly Anglo-Saxon
wicca, masculine, or
wicce, feminine: a
corruption of witga,
short form of witega,
a seer or diviner; from
Anglo-Saxon witan,
to see, to know. Similarly,
Icelandic vitki, a
witch, came from vita,
to know; or vizkr,
clever or knowing one.
Wizard came from
Norman French wischard,
Old French
guiscart, sagacious one. 1
The surname Whittaker
came from
Witakarlege, a wizard
or a witch.2 The
words "wit" and
"wisdom" came from
the same roots.


A cognate of "guest," both words rooted in Germanic Geist, originally
a spirit of a dead ancestor invited to tribal feasts on such occasions as
Samhain (Halloween) and other solemn ceremonies. Many European
peoples preserved the heads or skulls of ancestors, which were set up,
painted, and decorated, in a prominent position at gatherings of the
clan, and were consulted for oracles after being offered their portion of
the collation. Hence the "Death's-head at the feast." During later
Christian times the custom was discouraged, for the church's doctrine of
resurrection of the flesh forbade burial of bodies without heads.
Nevertheless, the visiting ghost was an ineradicable belief. Ghosts were
supposed to haunt all the scenes of their former lives, especially if
they died violently or unhappily, or were buried in unconsecrated
ground, or had possessed evil spirits. The earlier, more benevolent
type of family ghost is still suggested by the identical pronunciation of
"ghost" and "guest" in northern England.1 The anger of ghosts was
most feared by people who refused to honor them as guests.


"Ghosts," Roman term for ancestral spirits who rose from their
graves to attend the annual festival of the Lemuria; a synonym for lares,
larvae, or manes.1 The mythic lost continent "Lemuria" literally
meant a ghostworld.


"Love-Death," the killing of a Germanic sacred king when he
married the Goddess, or a Valkyrie who would bear him to heaven.
Like the Oriental sage, the Nordic hero was united in death with his
female soul (Shakti), a Heavenly Vala. Most pagan thinkers said the best
death was mystically connected with love. Ovid wrote that he wanted
to die "in the act of coming to Venus." 1 Heavenly "bliss" was often
confused with orgasm.


Burgundian queen who married and immediately killed Attila the
Hun. In her marriage bed on the wedding night, she bathed in his
blood. Also known as Ildico, she may have represented the Germanic
Goddess who gave immortality to sacred kings through the Liebestod
(Love-Death). See Kingship.

Curse, Mother's

In ancient Asiatic belief, a mother's curse meant certain death. All
death was brought about by the Goddess's word of destruction, as all
birth was brought about by her word of creation. By virtue of
motherhood, any woman could tap the verbal power of the Goddess.
The Markandaya Purana says, "for all curses there is some remedy;
but there is nothing anywhere that can dispel the curse of those who
have been cursed by a mother." 1 Similarly, the biblical Hannah
rejoiced when she became a mother, saying, "My mouth is enlarged
over mine enemies" (1 Samuel 2:1) because maternity gave her
curses an irresistible power.
Homer tells the story of Meleager, cursed by his mother for
murdering her brothers. Falling on her knees, she knocked the earth
with her fists and called upon the underground Goddess. "And the
Fury that walks in the dark and has inexorable thoughts heard her
from Erebus." 2 The Fury told Meleager's mother to burn his soul in
the form of a wand, so he was stricken with a fever, and soon died.3
Witchcraft of this sort was not even necessary-the curse alone
could kill. The Greek word for the effect of a mother's curse was
miasma, a kind of spiritual pollution bringing slow but sure destruction.
Miasma could pursue members of a clan for many generations. The
tragic family history of Orestes might be traced to a curse laid by the
Goddess Artemis herself on his ancestor Atreus, who dared to
withhold the golden fleece of a sacrificial lamb she had sent, using it to
confirm his right to rule.4
Gods launched curses too, and some of them were spectacular, like
those with which Yahweh threatened all who disobeyed him: a
combination of pestilence, fever, consumption, inflammation, blasting,
mildew, extreme burning, emerods (hemorrhoids), the scab, the itch,
the botch of Egypt, madness, blindness, slavery, great plagues oflong
continuance, and barrenness of the land (Deuteronomy 28). However,
the gods' curses seemed not to arouse as much terror as those of
Goddess or Mother.
The terrible vehicle of the feminine curse was menstrual blood,
still called The Curse. To "damn" has been linked with the Hebrew
dam, "blood," specifically mother-blood, the fluid of the womb, anciently
thought to create one's very soul-and destroy it. Dam was
also synonymous with " mother" (ma-dam, my mother). Elder women
past menopause were thought to be the most efficient cursers, on the
ancient theory that their "wise blood" was retained in their bodies,
giving them numinous power to make their words come true.5 This
was why medieval Europe believed any destructive charm having
menstrual blood as one of its ingredients must be irresistible, and why
elder women were viewed as prototypical witches, their words or even
their glances heavy with dread.
Fathers of the church even wooed converts with the assurance that
the Christian faith was strong enough to overcome a mother's curse,
the most powerful curse known to man. St. Augustine claimed that
some children cursed by their mother were afflicted by constant
weakness and tremors, but St. Stephen converted them to Christianity,
and they were completely cured of the effects of the curse.6
Eastern sages believed the feminine power of the curse must be
allayed not so much by opposing it with a patriarchal religion, as by
treating women well, so they would not be inclined to use their
destructive power. The Laws of Manu said:
Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands,
and brothers-in-law, who desire their own welfare. Where
women are honored, there the gods are pleased, but where they are not
honored, no sacred rite yields rewards. Where the female relations live
in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are
not unhappy ever prospers. The houses on which female relations, not
being duly honored, pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed
This advice came from the place northern Aryans called Mutspellheim,
the Home of the Mother's Curse, in "the hot lands of the
south." According to the Scandinavian prophecy of doomsday, the
Mutspell would fall upon the violent patriarchal gods who ignored
ancient tribal bonds and rules of morality, and instituted cruel
warfare. The result of the Mother's Curse would be the death of all
gods, their Gotterdammerung or Going-Into-the-Shadow; thus it
seemed the Mother's word of destruction meant the end of the world.8
Christian Gnostic writings reveal the same belief in a worlddestroying
curse from a Great Mother disgusted with the cruel
behavior of the gods she created. In her anger, the Goddess would send
a great power from the place "where the firmament of woman is
situated," the Gnostic equivalent of Mutspellheim. "Then she will drive
out the gods of Chaos whom she had created together with the first
Father. She will cast them down to the abyss. They will be wiped out by
their own injustice." 9
Myths in general suggest that a mother's curse was the necessary
instrument of destruction for any god, even a Savior-son, most of
whom were solemnly cursed before immolation.10 Since a mother's
curse was immutable, no guilt accrued to the executioners who
carried out sacrificial killings in ancient dramas of death and resurrection.
Mythology bears out the archetypal idea that one who gives
birth has unlimited power over the life so given, and may retain control
of that life's duration.
As a rule therefore, death curses usually employed female symbolism.
Typical was the curse of the "black fast," utilizing a black hen,
once sacred to the Queen of the Shades as destructive twin of the
Mother of the World Egg. The curse was accomplished by the
operator and the black hen fasting together, every Friday for nine weeks
(the Goddess's day and number). After this, an accursed one was sure
to die.11


"Weepers," title of sacred harlots of Ishtar, whose duty it was to make
formal lamentations for the dead.1 They also wailed for the dead savior
Tammuz in the temple of Jerusalem, where Ishtar was worshipped as
Mari, Queen of Heaven (Ezekiel 8:14). Their title was related to
Egyptian Utchatti or Udjatti, Divine Eyes, sacred to the Goddess
Maat as the All-Seeing Eye, whose hieroglyphic eye emblem later
became associated with the cult of Horus.2


Semitic "Peace," with variations like Shalem, Shalom, Selim, Solomon,
Shalman, Salmon, Shalmaneser. Jeru-salem was "the House of
Peace," or of the god Salem, whose earlier city was ruled by
Melchizedek (Genesis 14), the "King of Light" called Melek or
Molech in Phoenicia. "Peace" was the word spoken daily to the
dying sun, and also to the dying sacrificial victim who impersonated him
in the rites that "brought forth bread and wine" (Genesis 14: 18). See


General designation of the third of the Triple Goddess's three
aspects, exemplified by such figures as Kali the Destroyer, Cerridwen
the death-dealing Sow, Atropos the Cutter, Macha, Hecate, Hel,
Eresh-Kigal, Morgan, Queen of the Ghostworld, Queen of the Underworld,
Queen of the Shades, Persephone "the Destroyer," etc. All
such forms represented old age or death, winter, doomsday, the waning
moon, and other symbols of the inevitable destruction or dissolution
that must precede regeneration.
The "Crone" may have descended from Rhea Kronia as Mother
of Time, though the title has been linked with Coronis, the carrion
crow, since crows and other black creatures were sacred to the Deathgoddess.
Her fearsome character often had a "virgin mother" side as
well, because her trinity of appearances was cyclic. It was said in the
East that true lovers of the Goddess must love her ugly "destroyer"
images as well as her beautiful ones. The Crone also represented the
third (post-menopausal) phase of women's lives, and her shrines were
served by priestesses in this stage of life. Because it was believed that
women became very wise when they no longer shed the lunar "wise
blood" but kept it within, the Crone was usually a Goddess of Wisdom.
Minerva, Athene, Metis, Sophia, and Medusa provide typical


Primitive Egyptian death-goddess living at the bottom of the underworld;
a shadow twin of the Goddess Nut who lived at the summit of
the sky. A group of nether gods with slaughtering-blocks hacked the
dead to pieces and fed Tefnut with their blood-a mythic memory of
Neolithic sacrifices.1
Tefnut was identified with Hathor-the-Sphinx and with the
Greeks' Artemis.2 Some said she was a savage Goddess from the
Nubian desert; she was always reddened with the blood of the men she
devoured.3 She resembled the blood-red Kalika who devoured all that
she brought forth (see Kali Ma).
Tefnut's consort was Shu, "Giver of Winds," a god of dryness as
opposed to her wetness.4 He was "dry, parched, withered, empty."
He was a phallus called Prop of Heaven, but a spent phallus entering
the Goddess's "deep" which served as "a hiding-place for his body."
He could give souls of air to the dead, like Yahweh in Ezekiel's valley of
bones; in fact some Jews said Yahweh and Shu were the same.5


 Norse Queen of the Underworld, whose name became the English
"hell." Dead heroes who went to the house of Hel were known as
Helleder, "Hel's men." 3 Sometimes they were ancestral ghosts
known as Hella cunni, "kinsmen of Hel," corrupted in the medieval
mystery play to Harlequin, lover of Columbine the Dove-maiden,
who was another version of the Goddess. 4 The Celtic Lord of Death,
wearer of the apex or pointed tiara of divinity, bore the title of
The early "hell" seems to have been a uterine shrine or sacred
cave of rebirth, denoted by the Norse hellir.6 The notion of Hel as a
cauldron-womb filled with purgative fire may have been related to the
idea of the volcanic Mother-mountain (Latin caldera). In the Pacific,
Mother Hell or Mother Death was often a fire-mountain entered by
way of a sacred cave. The Hawaiian volcano-goddess Pele, like Hel,
kept souls of the dead in regenerative fire. Pele and Hel may have had
linguistic connections, as p and h may be interchanged in Indo-European
languages. In Malekula, the dead live in a volcano under the
Goddess's rule: "Abiding in that fire is bliss; there is no fear of being
consumed." Japan's sacred volcano was named for the fire-goddess Fuji,
"Grandmother" or "Ancestress." 7 Similarly, Hel was a fire-mountain
according to German legend; the emperor Theodoric became immortal
by entering her womb through a volcano.8
The Infernus of classical paganism contributed to the Christian
amalgam of images of Hel's land. Infernus meant an oven in the
earth; an old Roman proverb said "the oven is the mother." Roman
ovens and bakeries were associated with temples of the Goddess,
whose harlot-priestesses were often called Ladies of Bread. Their orgies
were called Fornacalia, "oven-feasts," from fornix, the "oven" which
gave us both "furnace" and "fornicate." 9 Naturally, Christian authorities
maintained that tasting the sacred fire of eternity through
"fornication" was a sin.
Medieval legends spoke of Hel as Brunnhilde, "Burning Hel," also
the name of a leader of the Valkyries, otherwise known as Hild the
Avenger. 10 Another of her names was Matabrune, "Burning Mother,"
who gave birth to King Oriant, a version of the Oriental sun god born
at dawn from the bowels of the earth. 11
Magic fire surrounding the Valkyrie's castle was an allegory of
cremation fire, through which a hero passed enroute to Hel. Cremation
of the dead was later forbidden by the Christian church, on the
theory that cremation destroyed the body and prevented "resurrection
of the flesh" according to the orthodox dogma. The more practical
reason for outlawing cremation was that, as a pagan ceremony, it
brought no revenue to the church. 12 It was profitable, however, to
cremate witches while they still lived; inflated charges were made for
every rope, nail, and stick of wood. 13
Some myths suggest that Hel was originally envisioned as not fiery
but dark: a Crone-goddess like Black Kali, eater of the dead. As the
Nether Moon, she was called Nehellenia. Her ancient altars were found
in Holland at the mouths of the Rhine. 14 Vases and statues from her
shrines were discovered in Zealand in 1646. 15 Sometimes, her underworld
was not hot but ice cold, as if serving as a model for Dante's
innermost circle of the Inferno. The cold, dark Queen of Shades was
Nef-Hel or Nifl.
Hel was supreme and inescapable, seizing even gods in her
embrace. The Swedes said Odin the Heavenly Father was buried in a
barrow known as Hel's Mount. 16 Because she was associated with
mountains, Hel sometimes merged with Mother Freya. A fatespinning
Goddess called Hel of the Air was worshipped on the
Luftelberg.17 She was simultaneously diabolized as feminine counterpart
of the Prince of the Power of the Air (Odin-Satan) who led the
Wild Hunt. Tenth-century witchcraft texts said the heathen women
rode forth under the leadership of "the witch Holda." 18
Like her Greek twin Hecate, Hel sometimes wore all three faces of
the Triple Goddess. The German poem Gudrun represented her as
the ruler of Holland, incarnate in three virgins living in a mystic cave:
Hild, princess of Isenland, Hilde, princess of India, and Hildburg,
princess of Portugal. All three resembled mermaids or wood nymphs.
The legendary Prince Hagen married all three Hels, after the usual
ritual combat with an elder king.19
Ballads and sagas depicting such encounters between mortal men
and supernatural women were collectively described as "hellish" - that
is, hellig, medieval Danish for "holy." 20
Pliny said all the inhabitants of "Scatinavia" (Scandinavia) were
children of Mother Hel, thus they were called Helleviones.21 They
considered their Goddess incarnate especially in elder trees, which were
still called Hel-trees or elven-trees in the Middle Ages. Danish
peasants prayed at elder trees to the Hyldemoer, that is, Hel-mother, or
Hel's ancient connection with fertility was still evident in her
medieval titles, Lady Abundia or Satia (abundance, satiety). In this
guise she led the "ladies of the night" called Hellequins, who rode forth
to receive offerings of food and drink from common folk, promising
in return to bring prosperity on the house.23 Apparently these were not
mere legends but real women, carrying on the Goddess's nocturnal
festivals. Hel was despised by the church, but the common people seem
to have thought her more benevolent than otherwise. Her underworld
was reached by crossing a river, like the Greek Styx; the river was
Gjoll, "Wailing." On the bridge that crossed it stood the Goddess's
emanation, Modgudr (Good Mother), ready like the Orphic Persephone
to greet the deceased and see him safely into eternity.24
Northern shamans believed they could put on the Helkappe, a
magic mask or Hel-met, which would render them invisible like
ghosts, and enable them to visit the underworld and return to earth
again without dying. The Helkappe seems to have represented the
shamanic trance, in which death and resurrection were experienced as a
vision. See Mask.
Marginal note:
 In various dialects
Hel was Holle, Halja,
Hild, Helga, Holde,
Helle, Ella, or Hellenia.
Helgo, Heligoland,
Helsinki, Hollingstedt,
Holstein, and Holland
were a few of the
many place names
derived from her.
She was the usual tomb-womb
of rebirth after
death. Iceland still has a
traditional "home of
the dead" in Helgafell
or Hel's Hill.1 In
Germany, "Dame
Holle's Well" was
called the source of all
the children on


To the druids, holly was the plant of death and regeneration, sacred
to Mother Holle, or Hel, the underworld Goddess.1 Germanic witches
who worshipped her favored holly wood for magic wands. Red holly
berries showed the female blood-of-life color, corresponding to white
mistletoe berries associated with male elements of semen and death.
In the divine marriage celebrated at Yule, they were displayed together.
The "holy" holly was linguistically linked with Hel's yonic "hole"
(Germanic Hohle, a cave or grave). It was the most sacred of trees,
according to a carol sung by medieval pagans at Yuletide, saying holly
"bears the crown." 2
In the Dionysian cult, female holly was paired with the god's male
symbol, ivy.3 Green boughs of both were used to adorn doorways at
the solstitial festival. Tertullian condemned the custom, saying any
Christian who has "renounced temples" should not make a temple of
his own house door.4 Nevertheless, house-decorating with holly, ivy, or
mistletoe at the solstitial festival went serenely on. The Council of
Bracara ruled that no Christian should bring holly into his house for
Christmas, because it was a custom of "heathen people." 5 Heathen
or not, it was inextricably linked with Yuletide celebrations and could
not be eradicated.
Even the sexual symbolism of the holly was remembered, in a way,
up to the 17th century. Christmas games included a mock battle of
the sexes, in which the master and mistress of the house engaged:
"Great is the contention of holly and ivy, whether master or dame
wears the breeches." 6 The kiss under the mistletoe originally represented
sexual union, a peaceful resolution of the battle.


Gothic name for Hel, Goddess of the underworld, also known as
Helga, Helle, Holle, etc. This was the name used to translate Infemus
in early translations of the Latin Bible.


"Nether Moon," a variant of the Goddess Hel, or Holle, after whom
Holland was named. Altars and artifacts dedicated to her were found in
Holland after a great storm in 1646 washed away the soil that had
buried them.1


Alternate name for the Teutonic underground Goddess Hel, ruler of
the dead. She was the Greek Nephele, a shadow-twin of Mother Hera.
Both names, Nifl and Nephele, meant darkness, clouds, obscurity
(Old High German nebul, Old Saxon nebal, German Nebel). Children
of Nifl were the Niflungar or Nibelungs, the Burgundians' designation
of their dead ancestors, who lived in the womb of Nifi-Hel and
were turned black, like shadows. Their sagas became the
In the Bible, the same ancestral ghosts are called nephHim,
"children of Nephele." By Jewish tradition, the nephilim were giants,
sprung from a great dark mother named Nephesh, "Soul of the Earthly
World." 2 See Shadow.

From Barbara Walker's Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

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