Andraste, Celtic War Goddess – a Non-violent Approach, by Judith Shaw

Mythology can be a helpful lens through which to view the march of history. The goddesses and gods are archetypes, illustrating the many facets of human experience for us, while at the same time lighting the path of connection between all Earth’s creatures and Earth herself – helping us understand ourselves and our place in this beautiful, yet often difficult, world of duality.  

Most all of us today are descendants of a warrior tribe who either wiped out or conquered and assimilated with the indigenous population. Though the artifacts of pre-history offer a possibility that we once lived together in harmony, worshipping Earth, Mother Goddess and all her creatures – history, defined as having a written record of events, is definitely one long litany of cruelty and atrocities, of male dominance and aggression, of violence and war.    

Mother Goddess – Ankara Anatolian civilization museum – photo By Zigomar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

As the world changed and the domain of Mother Goddess turned to a world filled with violent conquest, ancient Celtic sovereignty and fertility goddesses added another aspect to their influence – becoming War Goddesses, helping defend their territory and striking fear in their enemy’s hearts. 

As a woman who believes in peace, I approach the warrior aspect of the goddess with trepidation. How does one reconcile acts of violence carried out in the name of a war goddess, with a love of peace? What wisdom does a war goddess have for us today?

Very little is known about the Celtic War Goddess, Andraste, but it is very likely she is a later, Brittonic variation of the Irish War Goddess, The Morrigan – an ancient goddess who originated in the mists of pre-history. Like The Morrigan, she was also a Sovereignty and Fertility Goddess.

Andraste, gouache on paper, by Judith Shaw

Andraste’s name means “the invincible one” or “she who has not fallen.” Ravens were sacred to Andraste as well as The Morrigan. Her name was invoked before battles to ensure courage and victory. She was a goddess of prophecy whose omens predicted the victor in battle – another similarity to The Morrigan. She was the patron goddess of Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni tribe in 1st century Britain.

Boudicca, whose name means “victory,” led a revolt against Roman rule in 60CE. Her name suggests an association with a Welsh goddess, Boudiga, whose name means “victory.” It is possible that Boudicca was not her given name but a religious title given to her in the early days of the rebellion. That would make Boudicca an earthly manifestation of Andraste in the eyes of her followers. That could account for her ability to unite the constantly warring Celtic tribes against the Romans.

It is reported that Boudicca released a hare before her great victory as a means of divination. The outcome of the battle could be read by the direction in which the hare ran. Victory for the Celts was predicted, most certainly lending great courage to those taking part.

Andraste’s  stories are lost to us today. We mainly know of her through Roman accounts of Boudicca’s sacking of London and other Roman held cities. According to Roman historian Tacitus, Boudicca’s army was extraordinarily savage, especially in retaliation against Roman women who were rounded up, murdered and mutilated in a grove sacred to Andraste.  

Boudicca’s statue next to Westminster Palace

Having been publicly flogged and her two daughters raped by the Romans (the ultimate insult to fertility and the goddess), was it Andraste who urged Boudicca on to such savagery and blood sacrifice or was it the brutality the Romans inflicted on the Celtic tribes of Britain in general and her tribe, her daughters and herself in particular, which caused Boudicca to respond in such a way?

2,000 year old coins – believed to be Boudicca and her horse

Unfortunately Boudicca’s victory was short-lived. When the Roman provincial governor Paulinus returned from a military campaign in Wales, the Romans gained the upper hand, completely defeating the Celtic tribes. It is believed that Boudicca and her daughters killed themselves rather than be captured. 

Considering all this violence, how do we today gain wisdom from a goddess like Andraste?

Might it be that we create the goddesses and gods in our own image – reflections of our own state of consciousness? With peace instead of vengeance in our hearts we just might hear a different message about how to act when faced with imminent threats.

The only thing we know for sure about Andraste is that she was worshipped in sacred groves – places that give access to the spiritual realm. Perhaps this is the moment in time in which we can see our War Goddesses as Spiritual Warriors. Let Andraste – The Invincible One Who Has Not Fallen – be your guide to personal empowerment, to courage as you stand strong and proud on your spiritual path, and to finding true purpose in life.

Light and dark, good and evil, spirit and matter, male and female – all examples of the duality found on Earth. Andraste – She Who Has Not Fallen – helps navigate these dualities, moving through the chaos of transformation, offering strength in struggle and helping to right injustices. It is up to each of us to find a way that avoids the pitfalls of violence and war. 

Sources: The White Goddess, Loathly Lady

Postscript: My painting of Andraste and subsequent thoughts on how the war goddesses can be relevant to us today was initiated by receiving a commission for the painting from PC Cast, a New York Times best selling author. She is currently working on a historical novel about Boudicca and of course Andraste is part of that. A publication date has not yet been set for the novel’s release. I for one am looking forward to reading a novel about Boudicca from a woman and a Celt’s point of view.

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!

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 art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Wisdom. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or 🖼



Categories: General, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Myth, Paganism

Tags: , , , ,

19 replies

  1. Great post, Judith, dealing with a complex subject. For me, I find it important to remember that “religion” is a complex system of symbols. We ascribe meaning to those symbols as you’ve elaborated here so well. “Might it be that we create the goddesses and gods in our own image…?” I think it’s the reification of those symbols that can get problematic. Thanks for writing this essay.

    PS Love your hair color!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Esther,
      You hit the proverbial nail right on the head I think when you said – “I think it’s the reification of those symbols that can get problematic.” I believe that spirituality takes us deep within our own hearts and souls but then often when spiritual experiences and practices get turned into religion the danger of dogma and objectification rears its ugly head allowing all kinds of horrid acts to be done in the name of that religion, god, goddess.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Judith, dealing with a complex subject. For me, I think it’s important to remember that “religion” is a complex system of symbols. We (humans) ascribe meaning to those symbols as you suggest here: “Might it be that we create the goddesses and gods in our own image…?” It’s the reification of those symbols that (for me) gets problematic–something you develop well in your essay. Thanks for writing this wonderful piece.

    PS Love your hair color!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A wonderful and thought-provoking post, and a beautiful painting! I, too, have always struggled with the warrior goddesses. I agree with you that we need to look at them through the lens of the cultures in which they either emerged in which war was an integral part of the culture. While not ignoring the warlike aspects from past visioning of warrior goddesses, I think we can put a 21st century interpretation on the warrior goddesses, and I think of protectors and others who face danger on behalf of values and the well being of others, such as firefighters and those who respond to floods and other disasters, those who protest in the face of repression, health care workers during the pandemic, and so many others.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Carolyn,
      Oh that’s wonderful! I had not thought about including people like firefighters, disaster responders and such into the fold of warrior goddesses/gods but that is certainly where they belong. A modern person who I think really illustrates the war goddess and spiritual warrior is Greta Thunberg. I see her using the spear of her words to strike through the veil of lies told by all those powerful men she confronts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Judith. I have long been troubled by the violence of my (our) namesake. I love the concept of Spiritual Warrior, One Who Has Not Fallen as “guide to personal empowerment, to courage as you stand strong and proud on your spiritual path, and to finding true purpose in life”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Judith,
      I have had a different response to my/our name. Being called Judy while growing up but never liking that name at all – it took me awhile to claim “Judith” as it just seemed too strong. But once I claimed it I felt honored to have a name which referred to a woman who saved her people. Personally I would never instigate violence but I do believe I would resort to violence if I could to protect myself or my loved ones.

      As difficult as our current time is I am mindful and grateful that I do not have to fear being pillaged or stolen into slavery by conquering armies of men as many of our ancestors had to face.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Although I have a figure of the Morrigan on my shelf of goddesses, I’ve never known more than Andraste’s name. Thanks for all the information in this post. Would it be safe–or politically correct or incorrect–to say that Andraste and other warrior goddesses are the ones we need today? Especially today, when the conquering is not being done by warriors but by men in suits not sitting in the Senate but giving stupid interviews and doing very little to govern us and everything possible to suppress us. Yes, we need a great big statue of One Who Has Not Fallen to stand with her spear outside every government office in the land. Your painting of her is beautiful and inspiring. Bright blessings to you and your work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barbara,
      I think we need all aspects of the goddess today but as you say we most certainly need the war goddesses. if that’s politically incorrect – well so be it.

      And as you say we – at least in the U.S. – are dealing with tricks played and psychological manipulations by powerful men in suits. One would hope that with the extreme power of modern weapons the days of troops on the ground are over but….. Ukraine shows us differently.

      What a wonderful image – of One Who Has Not Fallen as a big statue in front of every government building. That thought makes me wish I could at least paint a large mural of Andraste and other war goddesses in some prominent spot.

      Like

  6. I love this post but I too am troubled by war goddesses – I would prefer to interact with theses powers without warmongering being part of of what I am asking for – the bottom line is that ward begets war and we need to eradicate war – exchange it for strength to work towards reconciliation -our goddess figures are creative enough to choose strength and endurance without going to war…

    Like

  7. Your post made me think of the Goddess Sekhmet, who was asked by the Gods to rid the world of evildoers. She did not create the conflict but was called upon like a protective lioness to spring upon the evildoers with her wisdom to restore balance in the world. Anger is part of all of us but we need to learn how to express it in a positive way so that the transformation empowers and energizes. I created a painting of Sekhmet in August 2019 when I found myself dealing with the injustices placed upon POC and the escalating crap associated with the Presidential election. It was my way of calling on Sekhmet to rid the world of evildoers.

    Like

    • Jan,
      Yeah, I think it can be hard for women to embrace anger when it appears. It is part of the duality of life and like you say it is the way in which we express it that’s important. The story of Sekhmet is a powerful one showing the need for action that might not look pretty on the surface but is necessary.

      I also have used my art to channel feelings of anger. I remember a few years ago feeling so angry at the ongoing destruction of Earth that I created a painting of Kali, the Destroyer in response.

      Like

      • Could it be that we are confusing warrior with passion? After all, it was (still is?) frowned upon that women show excitement, passion, extreme feelings…even anger in society. Are we not allowing ourselves as well as other women (Goddesses?) to feel these emotions?

        Like

  8. It is very likely that Boudach’s war on the Romans was a response to the Roman military expedition to the Holy Island to destroy the religious centres there which involved the Druidic oak groves but also the older and much more sacred Brughan Mor (Great Wombs, Bryn Mawr in Brythonic). The Mother Bru is in Ireland on the Boyne River and dates to 3200 BCE. ‘Bryn’ is ‘Broinn’ in Irish Gaelic and means ‘Womb’. ‘Mawr’ is ‘Mor’ in Irish and means ‘Great’. British Celtic immigrants to America founded a college for women and called it ‘Bryn Mawr’.

    Like

  9. The Romans trivialised the revolt against Paulinus’ existential threat to the British culture posed by his destruction of the religious centers on the Holy Island Manan. They pretended it was a personal response by Boudach the Rigan (Queen) of the I Cein (the People from Far Away, recent settlers from the Continent) to a rape and flogging of the Queen and her daughters. They thus reduced the issue to one of mere personal pride. It was far more than that.

    Like

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