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.
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’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.
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?
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.
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 🖼