Fand – Goddess of the Sea – a Shapeshifter for Samhain by Judith Shaw
Fand is a Celtic Sea Goddess whom some scholars believe originated as a Manx sea deity (the original inhabitants of the Isle of Man). With time She became the most loved of Ireland’s fairy queens, called “Queen of the Fairies. Fand, meaning “Pearl of Beauty” or “Tear” was stunningly beautiful. Though she was married to the Celtic Irish Sea God, Manannan Mac Lir, She, like other faery queens, fell in love with and then enchanted a mortal man, linking our world with Her Otherworld. Being the Goddess/Faery Queen she was, Fand fell in love not with any common man but with Cuchulainn, the greatest Irish hero.
As these two worlds don’t meld together well, their love started and ended in a stormy fashion. We first meet Fand, Shapeshifter, as a sea bird from the Otherworld in the Ulster Cycle tale, Serglige Con Culainn (The Sickbed of Cuchulainn). Fand and Her sister, Li Ban are seabirds flying with a flock of enchanted birds. Each pair of birds is joined together by a silver chain but Fand and Li Ban’s magnificence is seen by the gold chain which joins them.
Our hero, Cuchulainn wants to capture one of the birds for his wife, who longs to have birds fluttering about her like the Welsh Goddess, Rhiannon. He wounds Fand when his stone pierces Her wing. This infuriates Her. She then slips into the role of the Avenging Goddess. She and Li Ban confront him on the shores of a lake as Women of the Otherworld. Perhaps to Cuchulainn it was like a dream but a dream with real life consequences. They beat him senseless. Maybe he was physically wounded or for all one knows he was lovesick, but never the less upon waking he fell ill or into a stupor and lay abed for a year.
Some scholars believe that during this period of Cuchulainn’s illness, Manannan Mac Lir left Fand, leaving her defenseless against Formorian warriors who beseiged Fand in an attempt to control the Irish Sea. The Formorians are a semi-devine race of dark-haired, dark-skinned giants believed to have inhabited Ireland before the Celts with their Gods, the Tuatha Dé Dannan arrived. The Formorians are associated with chaos and the destructive powers of nature. Fand, being a Goddess of Healing and Earthly Pleasures was in no position to combat these warriors.
Li Ban and Laeg, Cuchulainn’s charioteer, negotiated for Cuchulainn’s return to health in exchange for his help against the Formorians. An agreement was reached and at Samhain Cuchulainn’s year of illness was over. At this time the veil between the worlds of the human and the supernatural is the thinnest which allowed him to pass more easily from his world to the Otherworld.
Cuchulainn is victorious over the Formorians. Fand and Cuchulainn fall in love and become lovers. But Cuchulainn’s wife, Emer, passes between the worlds also, angrily claiming her right to her husband. Though Cuchulainn had many lovers before Fand, this was the first time she became so jealous. But upon arrival in the Otherworld and seeing the depth of Fand’s love for Cuchulainn, Emer offered to step aside. Fand, not wanting to be outdone in the magnanimity department by a mere mortal, decided to leave Cuchulainn to Emer and return to Her husband, Manannan Mac Lir. He, knowing that the interaction between the two worlds – faery and human - would eventually destroy the faery world, wrapped Fand in His magical cloak which made Her forget the human hero. Back on Earth with the help of the Druids He gave the gift of forgetfulness, in the form of a magic potion, to our hero and his wife, returning them to their original state.
Call on Fand, Goddess of Earthly Pleasures, for blessings in your love life. She helps us maintain awareness of the joy of earthly delights and of the consequences of our actions. She helps us navigate the waters which merge these delights with awareness and responsibility.
Fand also helps us when we are in need of healing. She gives us the understanding that an illness itself can be the means through which we transform from disease to health.
From Fand’s origins as Sea Goddess to Her marriage to Manannan Mac Lir, Sea God, one understands the She, like Manannan, rules as Lady of the Sea. In the days before the rise of the gods, she might have been the sole gatekeeper to the Otherworld. Now together with Manannan, Fand stands at that gateway for us. She is there to help us when we seek passage from our everyday awareness into an altered state of consciousness, one where magic rules and miracles occur. As we shift our awareness we can pray to Her, Shapeshifter between worlds, for safe passage between the inner and outer states of consciousness. She helps us heal emotionally as we seek a mystical awakening to an understanding of our deepest truth.
Today, October 31, is the eve of Samhain, that time when communication between the two worlds is the thinnest. The Celts did not honor any particular deity on this day, but rather honored the whole gamut of supernatural forces. Today is a good day to keep Fand in your heart and allow yourself to open to the Otherworld of deep mystery where she reigns as the most beautiful Faery Queen, Goddess of Earthly Delights and Health.
Sources: The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, Patricia Monaghan, Celtic Mythology, Proinsias Mac Cana, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fand, http://hellishwolf.livejournal.com/88310.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_people
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork. She continues to be inspired by the Divine Feminine in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and teaches part-time. She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website at http://judithshawart.com