Celtic Myth, Moon Blood, and the White Beauty Standard by Marisa Goudy


My woman’s body is entering the dark time of the moon, even with blinding white snow lashing the windows, even with a full moon tracing its way far above thick clouds. My mood is black and soon I’ll be flowing red, and the snow will just drive on white, white, white.

In The White Goddess, Robert Graves tells us: “…the New Moon is the white goddess of birth and growth; the Full Moon, the red goddess of love and battle; the Old Moon, the black goddess of death and divination.”

The Celt in me feels cradled by this imagery, even if, as Judith Shaw and Carol P. Christ have pointed out elsewhere on this site, the idea of maid, mother, and crone is a modern invention, not gift from the past. I agree with Christ:  “My suggestion is that we give up the idea that the details of contemporary Goddess Spirituality are rooted in and authorized by tradition. We can instead acknowledge that though we are inspired by the past, we are the ones who are creating contemporary Goddess Spirituality.”

In the midst of this menstrual blizzard, however, I’m not thinking about what part of my tradition is invented, reclaimed, or in a constant state of creation. I am simply wrapping myself in the colors of black, white, and red. My body wants to curl in on itself and be left to rest and release until I am renewed, but my mind is as restless as the wind.

And then, I remember there’s a trinity that we know for certain the ancient Celts held dear. They understood the colors black, white, and red to be the ultimate expression of beauty.

Deirdre of the Sorrows was the tragic heroine of Irish mythology who was destined to bring ruin to the land of Ulster. She grew up in seclusion until she could be married off to the king who imagined he had the power to thwart the druid’s prophecy, but still she dreamed of true romance. As Marie Heaney tells it in her Over Nine Waves collection, Deirdre exclaims to the crone, her only companion, “Look, Levercham, I could love a man like that, with hair as black as the raven, and skin like the snow, and cheeks as red as blood!”

Suddenly, the color scheme that seemed to offer such tender care for my human truth seems less perfect, less complete. And no, it’s not because poor Deirdre will throw herself from a carriage when her true beloved dies at her royal fiance’s command. Once I might have wept for her, back when nothing seemed more dramatic than star-crossed love, but now I’m moved by the collective struggle of people trying to make their way across an earth that seems terribly far from the heavens.

I am not a Celt from the early moments of history or even an Irishwoman of the modern age. I am a 21st century American of western European descent who has blithely traveled under the shelter of green eyes, red hair, and freckled skin for nearly forty years. Only now am I stopping right in the middle of my own story, mouth agape at a lifetime of assumptions. I’m reckoning with my own solipsism, with my unexamined beliefs about how my own experience and appearance was the universal, the default.

Only recently, as I grow and change with a world that’s growing and changing all around me can I see the damage caused by accepting the idealized “skin as white as snow” without question.

This ancient myth that describes this version of perfect beauty, it’s being revealed to be just that: an ancient myth. We’re in an age when any and all of our systems of division and control are under review – thank the goddess, thank the gods. We’re in an age when we’re called to create our own spirituality, our own culture, our own myths that refuse to equate “the ideal” with white skin.

“European standards of beauty can have damaging effects on the life trajectories of black women, especially those with dark skin, primarily in the form of internalized self-hatred,” says Susan L. Bryant.  This research isn’t new (Bryant does a fine job of summing it up here).  I invite you to sit with what researchers have recognized for decades – and plenty of people of color have realized for far, far longer: perpetuating this old beauty ideal without a second thought for what real people are going through right now is to permit and even condone suffering.

Keeping to my comfy nest of whiteness with all of its privileges and assumptions is no longer an option. This is true when it comes to how I consume media produced today and lore pulled across thousands of years. This is true when it comes to how I inhabit this world as someone who sources her spirituality in the Celtic realm and also wishes to root her feminism in the here and now.

I cannot unsee. I do not want to unsee all that I am beginning to understand of the pervasive, malignant myth of whiteness: the social construct that sets white people and culture as the norm, the standard against which to judge all else.

It’s a private thing, one woman’s swirl of hormones within a life of privilege, but the stories that I use to understand my experience and to teach my fair haired daughters with their Irish names… Those are part of the collective.

And the collective changes the moment I challenge everything I think I know of beauty and risk ruining what my ancestors would have considered a perfect metaphor.

My quest: dig deep into the richness of the tradition that seeds my imagination. I ground into my corner of spiritual earth not to isolate myself, but to be strong enough to contribute everything I’ve got to being amongst “the ones who are creating contemporary Goddess Spirituality” – a Goddess Spirituality that affirms and includes all people and every shade of beauty.

 

 

Marisa Goudy is a story healer and writing coach with a passion for everyday creative magic. Currently, she’s working on a book project called Sovereignty Lessons which invites women to “free the princess, crown the queen, and embrace the wise woman.” Marisa is fascinated by the Irish Sovereignty Goddess and how her many expressions in myth and contemporary understanding can guide us through 21st century life through life. A graduate of Boston College’s Irish Studies program and recipient of an MA in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama from University College Dublin, Marisa lives with her husband and daughters in New York’s Hudson Valley. Visit her website to sign up for the free community writing practices sessions she holds regularly and for the #7MagicWords challenges that she offers at the turn of each season. 

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Categories: Activism, Body, Embodiment, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Goddess, Goddess feminism, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, intersectionality, Privilege, Race and Ethnicity, Race and Religion, Spirituality

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15 replies

  1. Amen! It is so inspiring to see young black women around the world responding to Megan Markle becoming a fairy tale princess. Some of us might say, yeah but who wants to be a princess. But that is a choice many girls of color felt they never had. We who are white need to constantly remind ourselves that we are not nor should we be the norm. I get so sick of seeing art work by white women showing “the white Goddess” being reproduced without questioning the message that is being sent. We can do better than that.

    Birth, death, regeneration, this is the triple Goddess. Regeneration occurs in the darkness, let us never forget that. For the Old Europeans white was the color of death.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Agreed! I think this triple goddess image begins with darkness of the womb -and I am frankly repulsed by the white images of the goddess that ARE sending the message that white is somehow better….The color white is also associated with death in Native American traditions. North is its direction…

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      • It’s wonderful to “meet” you, Sara. I just started exploring your blog and I am so excited to dive deeper… Isn’t it fascinating that we’re told color has so much meaning and then in the next moment we realize that those meanings are being written year to year, culture to culture?

        Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Carol, thank you so much for reading and responding. (My well-marked copies Rebirth of the Goddess and She Who Changes are always looking down at me from my office shelves and I’m having a moment of “and now SHE read ME!)

      Yes, it seems like perfect timing to be having this conversation on the weekend of the royal weekend. Fortunately, there seem to be more and more “perfect moments” to redefine what it means to beautiful and human.

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  2. Regarding “the White Goddess” as the moon, the identification of male with sun and light and female with moon and darkness is part of Indo-European mythology, this is not Old European symbology, nor is it found in all cultures.

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  3. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post, Marisa. I appreciate how you examine and question what is personal, what collective, where the two intersect and affect each other; what cultural assumptions are carried in myth and how they can change meaning as ancient roots put forth shoots in the contemporary world.

    A side note, the late scholar and Celtophile Patricia Monaghan wrote a book called O Mother Sun!

    I look forward to more of your posts on FAR!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Elizabeth, thank you for the part you played in bringing this post to FAR.

      Because there are no coincidences, I have P. Monaghan’s Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines at my elbow right this moment. Epona and I were having a chat this morning…

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  4. “The Celt in me feels cradled by this imagery, even if, as Judith Shaw and Carol P. Christ have pointed out elsewhere on this site, the idea of maid, mother, and crone is a modern invention, not gift from the past.”

    When I first came to goddess spirituality I was immediately drawn to these images because they seemed to express a truth – many years later – I still feel this way. Perhaps we are inventing these phases but then I think about the waxing and waning of the moon, the seasons, our lives, and I feel re – connected to those images of who we are and were and will become.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for this wonderful post, Marisa Goudy. I love where you say: “I’ve got to being amongst ‘the ones who are creating contemporary Goddess Spirituality’ – a Goddess Spirituality that affirms and includes all people and every shade of beauty.”

    And as regards that new personage in England Carol mentions, that is, Meghan Markle, the wife of the prince, part negro (mother) and part white (via her father) by race, I saw a comment online which seemed to delight in the situation, and praised the USA too, as a champion via its delight in diversity.

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    • Yes, Sarah, I’ve never been one to pay much attention to the royals, but this marriage caught my attention and captured my imagination in a new way… It’s one more sign that the change we’re seeking personally and collectively is becoming beautifully real.

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  6. Your prayer is very moving, thanks Marisa. It’s so commonplace in many metropolitan cities in the USA, that there are a wide variety of races, religions, age groups, etc. But the USA was built that way from the beginning with emigrants arriving from all across the globe. Not all that unusual really that our parents each have different races, backgrounds, religions, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, Marisa! My mom has an olive complexion, dark brown hair and blue eyes and when I was younger wished I’d taken after her instead of having my father’s fair skin and light brown hair. I’ve never understood why white skin is supposed to be better than other skin colors. After all, the whiter the skin the easier it burns and the faster it ages. :)

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  8. I love your embrace of the modern Goddess lore we are creating, entwined with the past but not synonymous with it, and cognizant of the diversity of which we all are a part.

    Like

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