From the Archives: America’s Two National Goddesses by Barbara Ardinger

Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade that they tend to get lost in the archives. We have created this column so that we can all revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted July 1, 2018. You can visit the original post here to see the comments.

I bet almost no one knows this secret: the United States is being watched over by two goddesses! One of them stands on top of the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C. The other stands on an island in New York harbor.

The goddess standing above our congressional building is named Libertas, or Freedom. She’s a Roman civic goddess whose sisters are Concordia and Pax. Although the Romans hardly ever experienced freedom, civic harmony, or peace, they always kept their eyes on the possibilities. Libertas was sometimes merged with Jupiter, sometimes with Feronia, who was originally an Etruscan or Sabine goddess of agriculture or fire. In Rome, Feronia became the goddess of freed slaves. Libertas is shown on Roman coins as a matron in flowing dress and wearing either a wreath of laurel leaves or a tall pilleus, which is called a “liberty cap” and looks like a witch hat without the brim. And there’s also a bird—is it a raven?? She holds either a liberty pole (vindicta) or a spear, and in some paintings of her (she was a popular subject in the 19th century) there is a cat at her feet.

Because the late 18th century is sometimes referred to as the Augustan Age (for classicism in architecture, literature, and art and named after the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus), the Roman Libertas became Lady Liberty during the American Revolution. To celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, Paul Revere created an obelisk with an image of Lady Liberty on it, and a short time later, Tom Paine addressed her in his poem, “The Liberty Tree.” An enormous bronze statue of Lady Liberty was commissioned in 1855 for the top of the Capitol building, and she was hoisted up there in 1863, where she stands, hardly visible, to this day.

Here’s my idea. This FAR community has lots of power. We—and at least two thirds of the U.S. population—are very unhappy with the antics of the Lyin’ King and his court…excuse me, the executive and legislative branches of our national government. So let’s visualize Libertas coming to life. Watch her stomp her heavy bronze feet so hard she breaks a hole in the top of the dome. Watch her fly down into the main lobby of the Capitol. Now she turns in one direction and stalks into the Senate. “Gentlemen and Ladies,” she begins, “you were sent here to do a job. You’re not doing your jobs. Work together! Learn to compromise. Stop talking so much. Get to work!” And then she marches into the House. “Why are you here?” she asks. “And why are you here only three or four days a week, and why aren’t you working for the benefit of all the citizens of the United States?” I suspect that Libertas, who is 19 feet 6 inches tall and weighs approximately 15,000 pounds, could indeed put a scare into Congress, not to mention all the lobbyists. Remember, she also carries that spear. And she no doubt knows how to use it.

Our second national goddess? “Liberty Enlightening the World,” whom we call the Statue of Liberty, was a gift from France to the U.S. circa 1886 on the occasion of our centennial. Designed by Frederic-Auguste Bartoldi and Alexandre Eiffel (who also built a famous tower in Paris), Lady Liberty holds a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law) in one arm and with her other hand raises a torch, a common symbol of truth and purification through illumination. She wears a crown of solar rays similar to the crown worn by the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

For almost a century and a half, Liberty has welcomed immigrants to our Atlantic shore. Those immigrants were the grandparents and great grandparents of nearly all of us. Now let’s visualize Liberty taking action. Goddesses can perform magic; let’s visualize Liberty multiplying herself into 10,000 Liberties, and then let them travel to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California and—you guessed it—let them stand facing south. Let these 10,000 goddesses with torches of purification replace the Xenophobe-in-Chief’s wall/fence/border army. Let’s ask Liberty to welcome people into the U.S. Because she’s smart (and the flames of that torch can reveal a lot) and there are indeed drug smugglers traveling in addition to men, women, and children who are coming for sanctuary or safety or work, let her use her torch to reveal the small proportion of criminals trying to sneak in. And let her welcome and protect everyone else and keep families together. (Maybe she could send all the ICE agents off hunting coyotes, who are no doubt smarter and more humane than they are.)

Here is the full text of “The New Colossus” the poem by Emma Lazarus that Lady Liberty proclaims to the world. Maybe our senators and representatives should read it—for the first time, I bet. They should pay attention to what it says and obey the words and principles of this goddess.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let us visualize both of these American goddesses doing their work and protecting the hard-won rights of everyone who lives in the United States.

BIO: BIO: Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (barbaraardinger.com), is the author of Secret Lives, a novel about crones and other magical folks, Pagan Every Day, a unique daybook of daily meditations, and other books. She really enjoys writing her monthly blogs for FAR. Her work has also been published in devotionals to Isis, Athena, and Brigid. Barbara’s day job is freelance editing for people who have good ideas but don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. To date, she has edited more than 400 books, both fiction and nonfiction, on a wide range of topics. She lives in Long Beach, California, with her rescued calico cat, Schroedinger.



Categories: Activism, American History, General, Goddess, Goddess feminism, Women's Power

Tags: , , ,

3 replies

  1. Thanks for this! I loved your visualizations. I found myself wondering how we might be different if we had enshrined her sisters as well — harmony and peace. Enshrining only one without the other two is what has led us into the trouble we’re in today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love these words Barbara:

    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles.

    i so enjoyed this post – particularly all the research around the goddesses – OH, we need them now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always loved this poem so much. I also lived in Switzerland for a time; when the different regions came together to form a confederation, what we now call Switzerland, the symbol they eventually settled on was this allegorical strong, wise, and virtuous woman. The abbreviation for Switzerland is CH, Conföderatio Helvetica (named after the Helvetii, a Celtic/Gaulish tribe that had lived in the Swiss Plains). Every time I saw a statue of her, it felt so powerful and inspiring to me. I have always been grateful for Lady Liberty and Lazarus’ poem; we saw a miniature of the statue of liberty when we drove into Colmar, France, where the original sculptor Bartholdi was from. Thank you for this inspiring post.

    Liked by 1 person

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