Etain (pronounce Ay-deen), a Celtic Goddess called “Shining One”, was originally a Sun Goddess before becoming a Moon Goddess and one of the White Ladies of the Fae. Her story, which lasts over one thousand years, reveals Her place as a Goddess of Love, Transformation and Rebirth. Elements sacred to Etain are the sun, dawn, the sea, rain, water, butterflies, apple blossoms, and swans. She is associated with healing and the transmigration of souls.
Etain shows us that we can overcome even life’s most difficult circumstances. She teaches us that though beauty, wealth and position might fade away we can regain our shining light. She lights our way on the path of transformation, guiding us toward balance, wholeness and rebirth.
Etain is a daughter in the “Land of Youth,” the mystic country of the People of Dana, the Tuatha Dé Danann. She is beautiful beyond words, beyond compare. Midir, a Danaan prince, became enchanted by Her and took Her as wife. Unfortunately his first wife, Fuamnach was jealous and turned Etain into a pool of water, then a worm and finally into a butterfly. Midir, enchanted by the butterfly, still had no appetite for Fuamnach. Thus she raised a storm that drove Etain out to sea, over rocks, for seven years, buffeted about and through out all of Erin
Finally as a butterfly she found refugee in the fairy palace of Angus on the Boyne. He built a sunny sanctuary for Her where she fed on flower nectar and rested.
Until one day Fuamnach found her. Again she was buffeted about by the wind for another seven years. Finally she fell into the drinking cup of the wife of Etar, an Ulster chieftain. Etain was swallowed in the drink and passed into the womb of Etar’s wife as she became pregnant.
And so Etain was born again, one thousand and twelve years after Her first birth, as Etain, mortal child, and daughter of Etar. She grew to be a beautiful woman. The High King of Ireland, Eochaid, wooed Her and made Her his wife. Together they returned to Tara.
Now, Queen in Tara, her next fate was near. Ailill, Eochaid’s brother, was wasting away with lovesickness for Etain. He revealed his hopeless passion for Her. She, taking pity on him and not wanting him to die, agreed to become his lover. They arranged a time and place to consummate their union
At this point Midir, Her husband from Her first life a thousand years before, once again entered Her story. He put Ailill into an enchanted sleep and appeared to Etain in the form of Ailill. But he did not take Her into his arms. Instead he spoke coldly of his love-sickness and then departed. Days later when She met Ailill his disturbing passion for Her had passed away. Etain knew that something mysterious, something beyond Her mortal comprehension had happened.
Midir then appeared to Etain as himself, beautiful and well dressed. He begged Her to return with him to Her true home, the Land of Youth, a land of music, beauty, and wonder. She hesitated until learning of Her true past life with him. Finally She agreed to return with Midir, but on the condition that the King, Eochaid, would agree to Her departure.
Upon which Midir appeared to Eochaid with an offer to play chess on his board of silver with gold, jewel-studded pieces. They played game after game, which Midir allowed Eochaid to win. In payment for his losses and true to the conception of the Tuatha Dé Danann as earth deities, Midir performed much magic to benefit the Land of Tara, reclaiming land, clearing forests and building causeways across bogs. Ultimately, having fooled Eochaid into believing that he was the better player, Midir proposed a final game, the prize to be declared upon victory. Now Midir used his true skills and Eochaid was defeated. Midir claimed his prize – an embrace and a kiss from Etain.
Eochaid was silent, knowing that he was trapped. He finally agreed saying that Midir should return in one month’s time. When the appointed date arrived Eochaid tried to keep Midir out by force. But Midir’s magic was too strong for Eochaid to resist. Suddenly, he materialized within the castle walls, standing before the court. With his spear in his left hand, he put his right arm around Etain. The couple rose lightly in the air, turned into white swans and then flew away toward the Fairy Mountains of the Land of Youth. And thus Etain returned to Her original home in the Land of Fae where she rested for a while with Her people until the next leg of Her journey began.
Like the pull of nature in the stages of a butterfly’s life – from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis and finally to its transformation into the beautiful butterfly, Etain leads the way for us through the various stages of our physical and spiritual lives. She shines Her light on our journeys of death and rebirth.
As the swans She and Midir transformed themselves into, She reminds us to remain faithful to love, to our true selves and to the beauty that lies within.
Call on Etain, the Shining One, when your journey becomes difficult and She will guide you back to your own shining light. Call on Etain when the change you confront seems too much to bear and She will create a sunny sanctuary for you. Call on Etain when you forget your true beauty and She will surround you with Her golden light and carry you home to your true self again. Etain, with Her wisdom, beauty and power, steers us through transformation to balance and wholeness.
Sources: Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by T.W. Rolleston, http://www.orderwhitemoon.org/goddess/Etain.html, http://www.guidenseek.com/goddess-etain.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ta%C3%ADn
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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. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website at http://judithshawart.com