Artio, Celtic Goddess of Wild Life, Transformation and Abundance by Judith Shaw


judith Shaw photoArtio, Celtic Goddess of Wild Life, Transformation, and Abundance, is one of the more obscure goddesses in the Celtic pantheon.  She is often shown with baskets of plenty and surrounded by animals.  Artio is frequently depicted as a bear. Her name comes from the old Celtic word for bear, arth(e), which the Romans Latinized to artos.

Artio,Celtic GoddessArtio arrived in western Europe with the Helvetii a Celtic tribe who migrated to Switzerland around 450 BC.  They worshiped Her as the “She-Bear”.

But Her origins could be even older than that.  Some feel that the bear is the oldest European deity as bones and skulls of bears have been found lovingly arranged on niches found in caves across Europe.  In 1840 in Ireland, during the restoration of Armagh Cathedral, ancient, small stone carvings of bears were found.

Further evidence of Artio’s ancient origins is found in the first written sentence from the “Old Europe Script”, invented around 6,000 years ago, long before the Celts arrived.  It reads “The Bear Goddess and the Bird Goddess are the Bear Goddess indeed.”.

In Northern Europe the bear was always associated with transformation and shape-shifting. The female bear conceives in the fall, going into hibernation pregnant.  She journeys in the darkness and emerges in the spring, symbolizing rebirth and a shaman’s return with new wisdom and insights to share with the world.

Joseph Campbell, in his Historical Atlas of World Mythology, concludes that Artio is the Celtic sister of the Greek Goddess Artemis, who is also associated with bears.

Campbell also explores Artio’s connection to the heavens by connecting Her and the long line of bear cults to the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Great Bear and the Little Bear (which contain the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper).  The brightest star in Ursa Major is Arcturus  which is Greek for “bear watcher” or “guardian of the bears.”

Campbell writes of these constellations – they are “revolving forever as constellations around the Pole Star, axis mundi of the heavenly vault”.  In the same way Artio was perhaps seen as strong and enduring – as the center and the connection between Heaven and Earth.

As the years moved on and Christianity took hold in Europe, many Goddesses changed their forms to that of saint.  It is very possible that Saint Ursula, whose name is the Latinized form of the Saxon ‘Ursel’ (‘She Bear’) retained elements of Artio in the hearts of Her worshippers. Saint Ursula’s feast day is celebrated on October 21 which coincides with Artio’s association with an abundant harvest.

Some view Artio as a Goddess of the Hunt.  But I see Her more as a protector – like a mother bear who fiercely protects her cubs.  Artio protects wild animals and the natural world, bestowing the abundance of nature of us, her human children.

When Artio calls your name, know that you are protected.   Know that the universe always provides what you need. Take time for introspection. Feel yourself transform as you gain a fuller understanding of the power and abundance of the natural world. Stay calm and feel the power of the Earth and the unending love She provides.

Sources: http://goddessschool.com/projects/wavewalker/l1fpartio.html, https://journeyingtothegoddess.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/goddess-artio/, http://lairbhan.blogspot.com/2012/09/artio-germano-celtic-bear-goddess.html, http://www.opusarchives.org/blog/?tag=welshceltic, http://www.mythphile.com/2012/06/brave-the-bear-and-the-bow/, http://www.mcmahonsofmonaghan.org/source_of_Mathghamhain.html

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. Purchase Judith’s prints and paintings, priced from $25 – $3000 through her website.

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Categories: Goddess Spirituality

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15 replies

  1. What a fascinating trinity of attributes for this goddess, unusually diverse — Wild Life, Transformation, and Abundance! Wow! And I think your bear mask fits in doubly well, thanks Judith, because it also suggests Artio’s attribute as a Goddess of Transformation. Well done!!

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  2. I have also read that King Arthur’s name is related to Artio. Is this true?

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    • for what it’s worth: Given Name ARTHUR
      GENDER: Masculine
      USAGE: English, French, German, Dutch, Norwegian, Danish, Welsh Mythology, Arthurian Romance
      PRONOUNCED: AHR-thər (English), ar-TUYR (French), AHR-toor (German), AHR-tur (Dutch) [key]
      Meaning & History
      The meaning of this name is unknown. It could be derived from the Celtic elements artos “bear” combined with viros “man” or rigos “king”. Alternatively it could be related to an obscure Roman family name Artorius. Arthur is the name of the central character in Arthurian legend, a 6th-century king of the Britons who resisted Saxon invaders.

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  3. I so enjoy your posts, Judith!

    I practice a combination of Celtic/Native American Paganism and Bear is very prominent in both so this post really spoke to my heart.

    As for your question, Barbara, I do believe that King Arthur was referred to as “The Bear”. The name Arthur actually means bear. It would seem the Goddess Artio would have something to do with him especially since the Arthur mythology is of Celtic origins. Any insights Judith?

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  4. Thank you for sharing Artio with us!

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  5. Judith, this is fantastic. May I share on my facebook page, Creativity and the Divine Feminine?

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  6. HI All, Sorry for the delay in responding but Wednesday are my days out in the world with 56 middle school kids which takes all of my time and attention.

    Anyway about King Arthur – yes I found in my research a correlation between bear and Arthur. The Celtic word for bear was arth or arthe, Latinsed as Artos, which in addition to being found in the name of Goddess Artio also gives rise to the name of ‘Arthur’. There seems to be a symbolic relationship between bear and kingship, which is interesting when you consider the whole concept of Divine Marriage and a king being a king only at the pleasure of the Goddess.

    Joseph Campbell finds this progression of names, from Artio to King Arthur as proof of the importance of the bear cult through Europe. Continuing to view King Arthur through this symbolic lens, it’s an interesting fact that legend places him sleeping in an underground cave until the time Britain needs him to rise again – hibernation, transformation, rebirth.

    Jessica, of course – please share.

    Carol – I loved painting those little bears.

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    • I teach senior English, i.e. British lit, at a high school. Last year I had my students write a paper telling me whether they thought King Arthur was a real person or a legend/myth based on research they had to do. Today, we talked about the first English literature being of pagan origin. When I asked them what the word pagan means, only a few seemed to have a clue. Most claim to be Christian but I have discovered they know nearly nothing about Christianity.

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