Etain, The Shining One – Celtic Sun Goddess/Goddess of Transformation by Judith Shaw


gugg jude72Etain (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, Celtic GoddessEtain 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

Update – Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is ready for publication.  Pre-order your deck at her crowdfunding campaign with Indiegogo -9.19.17 – 10.19.17 – and help bring the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses into the world.

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

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Categories: General, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Paganism

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19 replies

  1. Hi Judith, I love your painting, but I must say I am unmoved by the stories you recount. They do nothing for me. I would like to hear from you or others why we need these stories…which are set within patriarchy–a Goddess rescued by a spear-holding magician, not my story…I am much more interested in images and rituals than myths and legends–but that may just be me.

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    • Why does it seem they always make the Goddesses turn into humans? Frustrating. I am happily married and I can tell you right now that my husband is more likely to need saving than I am. I am much more likely to be the fighter and my husband the negotiator. This doesn’t mean I am a man and he is a woman. As a person of Irish and Scottish descent I am so disappointed when I read these stories. Pre-Christian Celts, while not perfect, allotted much more freedom to women than many ancient societies. Women could divorce and own property. Women could choose not to marry and have a child without a partner. Seeing how far the society has fallen is sad.

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    • Carol —

      I agree with you that the Celtic stories of goddesses that I have read (here and elsewhere) do not portray them as having much power or agency. I always wonder what their pre-patriarchal myths might have looked like OR if the Celts were always the warrior patriarchs that we see in these stories. I have difficulty distinguishing any matriarchal roots in these myths and legends, which supposedly predate the Celtic laws governing women’s property and marriage rights.

      However, I find it extremely ironic that you state that images and rituals are more interesting to you than myths and legends, since I first began thinking about the significance of story in women’s lives as a result of your earliest (?) book _Diving Deep and Surfacing_ as well as your formative article “Why Women Need the Goddess.” I’ve been intrigued by Goddess myths ever since. But I’m picky. As a feminist, I want the Goddess myths that become important touchstones in my life to empower me and other women.

      I believe that stories give form to our lives. In fact, I would say that human beings exist within a web of narrative, some of which we’re aware of and some of which shapes us unconsciously (Does this sound familiar?) And nowhere can we feel the cultural weight of story as in our myths and other religious tales. More than any other type of story, myth orients us to the major sources of meaning in our lives, because it’s the type of tale that a society tells itself in order to represent its worldviews, beliefs, principles, and fears. Myths instruct us in how we’re supposed to relate to nature, to ourselves, to others, and even to the sacred itself. As a result, myth can aid us in living, especially if it’s empowering to women in the disempowering environment of a patriarchy.

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      • Here’s a thought – different context but I feel related to this discussion.
        Pete Seeger, legendary folk singer and social activist died a couple of days ago at the age of 94. As a result many radio stations were playing his music and interviews with him. I heard an interview he did with Amy Goodman about 4 years ago. He was talking about his rendition of “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”. He said “We are all descendants of good murderers. People who were not good murderers did not survive to have descendants. That’s the way the world has been for thousands of years.” He then went on to say that the world has turned and we are now in a new season in which we must learn a new way of being or we would no longer be here as human beings. For some reason that is not linear, I keep thinking of his statement as we discuss Goddesses and how they have been changed by the patriarchy.

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    • The stories are speaking to you, Carol, but you are not listening.

      These are not modern stories about modern people; they are Medieval records of ancient oral tradition stories, drawing on symbols and metaphors not of your modern society, but of ancient ancestral cultures. You see a patriarchy because you are reading through the lens of your own wounding, not because that is the culture represented on the page. If you want to see the lessons of self-empowerment that the stories teach, you have to work a bit harder than that.

      You have to be prepared to suspend the desire to judge and condemn, and enter into several ancestral cultures and worldviews, because more than one is represented in each of these stories. The culture that recorded the stories is not the same culture(s) that created the stories. You are too eager to dismiss them.

      If self-empowerment doesn’t interest you, then fine. To each his own. But how we lose and regain self-empowerment, and how that expresses as sovereignty, these lessons are there at the heart of each story, if one is willing to roll up one’s sleeves, let go of having “the one right answer (or ‘right’ kind of feminism)” and explore with an open mind, and an understanding of the ancestral context.

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      • The medieval stories *are* a patriarchal lens. They come through a history in which medieval women had it rough, under social codes that privileged men. Bits and pieces of ancestral tradition come through, as i describe in my post 18 months ago, (near page bottom here) but they are filtered through that lens. It’s why we have practically nothing on Don/Donwy, the great mother of the Welsh, and why remaining powerful female figures are demonized / negated in the tales as they were recorded. Self empowerment means knowing that we have a right to more than crumbs, to stories that reflect the awesome brilliance of women and goddesses, outside the patriarchal frame.

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  2. I think one thing myths and legends provide is choices for how to deal with what life throws at you. You may not wish to choose a particular behavior, but at least you are aware of different options and their consequences. The second feature may be something to do with – you theology types probably have a word for this please share- embodying the quality of a god, goddess, or saintly person to survive a tough spot in life. To illustrate:

    In the Sindh region of Pakistan there is a Sufi saint known as Lal Shabaz Qalander (Usman Marwandi , d. 1274). One of the many stories surrounding him is that he once transformed himself into a falcon to save his friend Sadr ud-Din Arif from execution at the hands of a despot. Did Lal Shabaz Qalander actually change into a falcon? Did Sadr see a falcon, was reminded of his friend, and suddenly found the words to convince the tyrant to free him? I don’t know, but it’s something I like to ponder.

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  3. Thanks for telling the story. It’s good to know How Things Really Happened. And thanks as always for your artwork.

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  4. I too have a problem with the patriarchy slant of many of the myths we so love. But it must be mentioned that there are plenty of myths, especially Celtic ones, where the goddess reigns supreme and is totally in control of the situation. Stories of the Morrigan and Cerridwen come to mind. These are strong goddesses who hold their own fate as well as others firmly in their own hands. I still love this story but it does send a message that she is a very week goddess that allows herself to be pushed around by everyone else in the story. At this time in the evolution of the feminine we really don’t need any more of these kinds of stories.

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    • Carrie, I really don’t see Etain as a weak Goddess at all. To me She is very strong, She does not allow Herself to be pushed around -life happens (in the form of Fuamnach’s jealousy) and She endures many difficulties, survives, and is reborn. Almost everything that is written has a patriarchal slant as writing began at the same time as the beginning of organized warfare and patriarchal institutions. We don’t have any written stories to accompany the amazing artifacts uncovered by Marija Gimbutas – how I wish that we did!!

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  5. Carol, note in this story how, after all the trials and tribulations, after all the magic and battles, after all the bravado of the men, it is the one woman who can give us the gift of our hearts. She is surely stronger than all the men put together, which is why the story is about her, and not “about” them:

    “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.”

    I know this isn’t true with all folk tales, but it is true with this one. Note, too, that even when she is transformed into a fragile butterfly, she perseveres, she survives, she lives to give gifts to others. There is a strong message in that for us, and I am not sure at all that a male figure could have conveyed that message. Personally, I love the story, and I truly love the painting. Incorporating the butterfly and the swans is just so perfect.

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  6. Sorry for entering into this lively discussion a bit late but today is a teaching day for me so now is my first chance. Anyway… it’s so interesting how synchronicity continues to unfold in my life.

    Carol, as I was finishing up this piece on Etain I thought that I wanted to write my next post on the deeper meaning of many of the Celtic Goddesses I have been exploring. One of the difficulties modern people have with all of the Celtic material is that nothing was written down until the 11th and 12th centuries – long after the Celts had been Christianized. So much has been lost. Plus the Celts were invaders who incorporated instead of obliterated the religious beliefs of the original inhabitants of Western Europe and the British Isles. The Cailleach and Brigid are certainly strong examples of original Goddesses more than likely from the neolithic times. Etain who was originally a Sun Goddess was probably worshiped before the Celts arrived also. And in this story Etain was not rescued by Midir. She was perfectly fine where She was as Queen of Tara. But Midir came to woe Her back and She ultimately agreed. Her story continues and she ends up changing Her mind.

    Christine you might enjoy reading Evangeline Walton’s retelling of the Welsh Mabinogi, “The Mabinogion Tetralogy” It’s definitely written from a feminist perspective. She believes, and I agree, that the Celtic myths and legends as we now have them reflect the diminishing status of women over the years. The Ulster Cycle and the Mabinogi, both writtten in Medieval times, do change the Gods and Goddesses into kings and queens, but then what else could we expect from a Christian culture of that time? Sounds like you are a true Celtic woman, who is not afraid of a battle. I have not even started to cover the Celtic War Godesses, mainly because I am so uncomfortable with violence. But there they are, waiting for me to explore and attempt to understand.

    NMR I agree with your thoughts on the importance of myth and legend to our lives. In addition to providing insight on how we might deal with challenges, I also think they tell us something about the unfolding of human’s collective unconsciousness over time.

    MaryAnn I also felt that the men were of little or no consequence to the story of Etain. She is the Shining One who like the sun shines in our lives every day.

    More to come on why I have chosen to explore the Celtic Goddesses and how they are relevant to me today in my next post…..

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  7. Etaín does very little in the story, not much agency there. In fact men choose her; one takes her as a second wife, provoking the wrath of the first; she is buffeted here and there; another man “made her his wife, conflicts with an earlier husband over her, then pretty much gambles her away. The only acts she performs, are consenting to marrying Ailill out of pity, and making sure she gets her husband’s permission. Her beauty is her tragedy, making her a shuttlecock of men’s desires.

    I do see myth as important, but it is not always a lens of cosmic truth. Sometimes it reflects histories of domination– or prescriptive codes. The story of Rhiannon, showing her humiliated as a wife and mother, has these elements. But it has others that show deeper layers of power — her horse and bird aspects, her power in dreams, even her name reflects a Gaulish counterpart, the goddess Rigantona. These stories have been messed with by the scribes that recorded so many of them. Lots of water under the bridge. Where we can get under the layers, there are sometimes riches to be found. But I’m not content to accept the top layers, the Blodeuwedds and other Pygmalion yarns, that magnify the deeds of men, or the Deirdres who show the cruelty done to women, but from outside, without managing to identify with how they must have felt to be treated as chattel.

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  8. Yes, there are so many versions of the Celtic stories that one can get dizzy from it all. They can certainly spin a tale.

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