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Another Pagan History -- What's Really Old, and What Likely Ain't PART 14

Author: A.C. Fisher Aldag
Posted: February 18th. 2007
Times Viewed: 4,381

Last time, we took a look at some goddessses of water, represented by sacred wellsprings. This time we're going to explore the ancient and modern worship of Diana, and the (possible) god form of the Green Man. These two deities are perhaps the most well-known, recognizable images associated with Pagan worship. Are they really old, or modern inventions? Is the Green Man actually a God? Was there a Diana in Britain before the Romans? Nobody is really sure, but we can make some educated guesses.

The Goddess Diana:

Originally a Roman goddess, Diana was brought to the British Islands by the invaders and quickly accepted by working-class people. This may be because the Celts already worshipped a female hunting and war deity in the form of Maub. This goddess and heroine also appeared in legend and literature as Mabh, Mabb, Babh, Bedhbh, Maeva, Maude, Mag, Mari, Maire, Macha, Madrone, St. Modron, St. Mabyn, and Mab the Queen of the Fairies. In East India, Mab is the goddess of heat, and in Ireland, she is Medb, the goddess of mead. In some older legends, Maub or Maeva was considered a fierce deity whose appearance foretold battle. Others list her simply as a maiden or mother. A figure said to be Mabh in her chariot appears on the Gundestrup cauldron. Shakespeare wrote of Mab as a midwife to the fairies, who drove her tiny chariot across a sleeper’s forehead, bringing dreams. Other tales say that Mabh set sail in a teacup, or rode a butterfly as a steed. Another legend tells of Maub’s prowess as a hunter, and refers to her as one of the leaders of the Celtic diaspora to the British Isles. This may be where the name of the “Mabinogion” came from, a Welsh collection of legendary tales, although others ascribe it to the word for male child or son. Some legends link Maire or Mor to the sea. She may be a form of Mab, or a different deity entirely. A standing stone monument is called “Queen Mab’s Throne”. One of the moons of the planet Uranus is named for Queen Mab. The goddess may be remembered in modern times simply as a characature in the “Molly” of folkplays, the elderly Malkin in stories, and the Mailte y Nos of darker fairy tales. The veneration of Maub seems to have faded out after the Roman occupation, perhaps supplanted by reverence for the Goddess Diana.

Like Maub, one of Diana’s aspects is a goddess of the hunt, and she is often depicted carrying a bow and quiver, accompanied by a faithful hound, pursuing a deer. Diana was also considered the queen of the fairies in some locations. Oak trees were sacred to her. She was also seen as an aspect of the moon, and the first sliver of new moon in the sky is sometimes called “Diana’s bow”. There are statues and artifacts related to Goddess Diana in Britain dating back to the early Roman incursions. As mentioned previously, literature and statuary make reference to “Diana Triformis”, a Romano-Celtic representation of the threefold goddess, perhaps relating to Diana’s association with the phases of the moon. A temple dedicated to Diana in London survived until being pillaged by the Saxons in the 7th century. St. Paul’s Cathedral was later built on the site. A transcript of a Church canon law from 906 C.E. described women who rode on the backs of beasts with “Diana, a goddess of the pagans, or with Herodias” and that on certain nights “they obey her commands as though she were their mistress”. Right up to the 1300s, priests were specifically instructed to ask their parishioners about worship of Diana in the confessional. During the Victorian era there was a resurgence of interest in “classical” writings, including the legends of Diana. Gerald Gardner possessed a gold necklace charm bearing the image of Diana as a moon goddess, which has been dated to mid-1700s Italy. It is currently for sale on e-Bay. Diana is a popular woman’s given name in Europe, especially in Greece and Italy. And of course, the Goddess Diana is revered by neo-Pagans and Wiccans today.

Diana is mentioned in two different forms in “The Charge of the Goddess”. In several of their written works, Gerald Gardner, Aleister Crowley and Doreen Valiente made reference to “Herodias”, possibly the Greek form of Diana. This name may also be a contraction of the Roman goddesses Hera and Diana. In the Bible, Herodias was the wife of the man who beheaded John the Baptist, and a Jewish queen that plotted John’s death. Mr. Gardner also wrote about a witchcraft goddess called Aradia, which may be a Romano-British pronunciation of the name Diana. Or perhaps Aradia may have come from Ariadne, or be an Italian pronunciation of Herodias. “Eko, eko Aradia” is one of Gardner’s most popular chants, although he originally spelled it differently. Aradia’s name is also used to ritually consecrate water. Gardner sometimes tended to combine legends of Diana, Aradia, Brighid, Cerridwen and the Matronae in his ceremonies. The Roman representation of Diana Triformus may be have inspired Robert Graves’s poetic image of a triple goddess associated with moon phases, which in turn might have influenced the modern neo-Pagan representation of Maiden, Mother and Crone.

Many of the current legends about Diana most likely come from Charles G. Leland’s _Aradia, Gospel of the Witches_, published in 1899. Mr. Leland, a folklorist and author from the USA, went to Italy to study mythology and folktales. While he was there, he is said to have encountered a woman named Maddelina, who over the course of twelve years gave him parts of a manuscript that Leland believed to contain the rituals and religious stories of a native Italian witchcraft tradition. Aradia has references to an “Old Religion” which was still practiced. The book has instructions for making talismans, a ritual for consecrating food, “conjurations” or spells, and other magical topics that pre-date modern Wicca. Leland was also the first contemporary writer to use the word “sabbat” as a term for a witchcraft rite.

The manuscript states that Aradia was the daughter of Diana and Lucifer, a god of light who was not considered evil. Cain was listed as Aradia’s consort. Although the god names are the “bad guys” of Christian mythology, they have no negative connotation in this book. Aradia does not have a threefold law or rede, and makes no bones about cursing or poisoning an enemy. Aradia also contains a poem very similar to Doreen Valiente’s “Charge of the Goddess”, including the advice to be “naked in your rites”. Of course, Diana or Aradia are both referred to as “Goddess of the Witches”.

There is some controversy about Aradia, including the accusation that Mr. Leland invented the legend and forged the manuscript. Maddelina was said to have “disappeared”, leaving no written record of her encounters with Leland. However, a modern author, Raven Grimassi, traced her immigration to the United States where she was listed in records at Ellis Island. Grimassi wrote several books about Stregheria, a hereditary Pagan tradition of Italy, which he believes to have come from the Etruscan civilization and which exists to the present day. Charles Leland edited the _Philadelphia Bulletin_ and wrote several other scholarly books and pamphlets, including a history of the legends and customs of the Algonquian Indians native to the Eastern United States. He also wrote about Romani or Gypsy folklore and fortune telling. Several of his works are still used by university anthropology departments. Several modern authors have made comparisons between British witchcraft and Stregheria, and some historians have suggested that Gerald Gardner borrowed heavily from Leland’s _Aradia_.

Today, Dianic Wiccens and neo-Pagan feminists have embraced Goddess Diana as representing the divine feminine. Some practice a form of monotheistic witchcraft, featuring Diana as their only deity. Others believe that Diana is one of many goddesses in a complete pantheon. And some honor the Maiden, Mother and Crone as universal aspects of the one Goddess of Wicca, the matron of Witchcraft.

The Green Man:

Nearly every ancient civilization had some representation of a fertility god, who may have symbolized death and rebirth, or the cycles of the sun and the growth season. Some of these deities take on the aspects of plants, including Dionysis with his wreath of grapevines, or Saturn whose head was cut off and sown in a field. The green fertility god likely gained prominence after the invention of agriculture, but he might also represent forests and the natural world. Sir James Frazer theorized that the agricultural rituals popular in olden times were symbolic of the death and rebirth of a fertility king or deity. While some of these god forms were believed to die and be repeatedly reincarnated, several of them seem to represent the permanence of Nature.

The “Green Man” figure may be once such entity. The Lady Raglan first used the name Green Man in 1939 for the image of a male face surrounded by or constructed of leaves, which can be found in many British buildings. The term soon came to mean any nameless icon of a human or animal face composed of foliage, vines, and fruit. Some images of the “Woodwose”, or wild man of the woods, depict the entity as half-man, half-plant. Robert Graves and other modern writers made the connection between the image of a leafy Green Man and various legends of a pre-Christian god who died and returned to life. Others viewed him as a representation of wild, untamed nature. Gardner wrote that he believed the Green Man was carved into the woodwork of church buildings by Pagan artisans as a connection to their Old Religion. Many scholars agree that the Green Man is likely a Pagan symbol, although there are few European representations that pre-date Christianity.

Countless foliage-face images can be found throughout western Europe, as well as in East India and Indionesia. Probably the oldest is carved on the Goar Pillar of Germany, which was created during the 5th century B.C.E. However, most Green Man figures date from the 12th to the 15th century C.E. and are located in Catholic churches. Images of the Green Man can be seen on Exeter Cathedral in England, St. Giles Cathedral in Edinborough, and in Notre Dame in Paris. There are over a thousand stone frescoes or wooden carvings representing the Green Man in churches across the British Islands. There are over seventy Green Men in Canterbury Cathedral alone. Besides the images found in Christian shrines, the Green Man is carved on public buildings, castles, banks and “chapter houses” throughout Europe. There are also several Green Man taverns, pubs and inns which date to the same period of history.

Anthropologists have several ideas about why the Green Man appears most often in Catholic churches. Some agree with Gardner, theorizing that stonemasons and craftsmen retained their original pre-Christian religious heritage, and carved the figures so that people could continue to worship the old Gods while in church. Others believe that the foliate images were put there to entice Pagans to attend Christian services. Since Canterbury Cathedral was built on the site of an older Pagan shrine, the artisans may have been trying to reclaim their holy ground. Some scholars think that the images may have symbolized punishment for the sin of avarice, as several of the Green Men spew foliage from their eyes and mouths, and resemble the victims of torture. I don’t subscribe to this theory, as there are far more smiling, cheerful Green Men than grimacing images. Other historians believe that the Green Man had lost much of his earlier veneration, and that he was simply used as a symbol to represent nature or prosperity.

The Green Man can be found in ritual, music and literature as well as in art. The oldest song in the English language, “John Barleycorn Must Die”, is believed to be a reference to a god of the harvest. Green George, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Goodfellow, and Sir Gawain’s Green Knight may be metaphors for an agricultural deity or forest lord. Graves proposed that Robin Hood, the king of the merry Greenwood, was a symbol of a woodland spirit or nature god. Many mummers’ plays contain a Robin Hood character. The Wiccan ritual involving the Oak King and Holly King likely comes from an older legend, perhaps of the Celts or Saxons, about the lords of winter and summer fighting for dominance. The story of King Arthur playing a board game with King Owain may parallel these seasonal ceremonies. Middle English legends and songs about holly and ivy (or holly and oak) representing male and female, winter and summer, show that awareness of foliage symbolism existed long after the rise of Christianity. Several Medieval tapestries depict the images of holly, ivy, and oak, along with other items of Pagan significance. Bringing greenery indoors at Midwinter, decorating building facades with green boughs on Mayday, and adorning trees or bushes with trinkets or ribbons may hearken back to worship of forest deities or nature spirits.

Several pre-Christian rituals honoring agriculture or revering nature survive to the present day in Britain. “Bringing in the May”; wearing crowns or costumes of wheat, straw, grapevines, leafy twigs or flowers; playing harvest games such as grain-cutting and threshing contests; creating Brighid’s crosses, bickle dogs, wheat weavings, and corn dollies or other effigies from the last sheaf harvested; and making wreaths out of green boughs to decorate the home were all documented by Frazer’s Golden Bough, Robert Chambers’ Book of Days or more recent anthropologists and folklorists. Skeklers wearing straw costumes at Halloween were photographed in the Shetland and Orkney Islands and Ireland in the early 1900s. The “straw bears” of Scotland, England and Germany, men covered in straw who march through the streets, may be a parallel to this custom. The Furry Dance of Cornwall involves garlanding buildings in greenery, and young men and women wearing green leaves or flowers, older traditions which persist until the present day. A parallel image of Jack in the Green exists in Sweden, where a man draped in pine boughs and greenery appears as “Naturklaus” or the Wild Man during winter festivities. In one recent ceremony, the Green Man is beaten with green sticks and splashed with water, likely to propagate the growth of the crops, although it had somewhat disintegrated into a drunken brawl over the last several decades. The Burry Man, a figure covered with cockleburs, is paraded through towns in the north of England and in Scotland each summer. Anthropologists speculate that this modern buffoonery has roots in ancient times.

While several of the Gods and Goddesses revered by Wiccans have their origins in Celtic or Anglo-Saxon Britain, others come from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and India. Some appear as an individual deity, others are worshipped in triplicate, and some traditions revere a pantheon or family of sacred entities. So, were the Father God and Mother Goddess of Wicca fabricated by Gardner?

Perhaps a more spiritual explanation is required. I believe that the Goddess and God appear to different individuals in varying forms, in such a way as to appeal to their particular culture. Many of the legends about the gods are quite similar. Yet the religious rites, images and worship of the various deities are different enough to satisfy the needs of diverse people in civilizations throughout the world. As for Gardner’s concept of duality, I agree that the Goddess appears in every woman, just as the God is personified by every man.

This concludes the segment on the Gods and Goddesses of modern Wicca and neo-Paganism. Next time, we'll take a look at some witches who were believed to really have genuine powers, right up to the modern era. Including one who hexed automobiles and the draft board, hee hee. We'll also revisit some of Gardner's sources, inventions, and just where the heck some of the modern practice of Paganism actually came from. After that, we'll talk about the Burning Times, which is certain to create some rousing chat-room arguments! :-)

Please, PLEASE go look up some of the Green Men listed in this essay. Many of them are quite awesome. Check out the statuary related to Diana, and legends related to Mab. Read _Aradia_ -- is it genuinely old, or a fraud? Read Leland's critics and adherents.

Copyright: Copyleft 2006 A.C. Aldag. Please reprint as you will, honoring those who did so first. The good folks here at the Witches' Voice ask that essays be reprinted after they're off the front page.


A.C. Fisher Aldag

Location: Bangor, Michigan

Author's Profile: To learn more about A.C. Fisher Aldag - Click HERE

Bio: Maub rules, what can I say? We reinact some of her legends at Caer na Donia y Llew events. If you're in S.W. Michigan around the time of the holidays, you're welcome to join us.

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