From the Archives: Artio, Celtic Goddess of Wild Life, Transformation and Abundance by Judith Shaw

This blog was originally posted August 26, 2015. You can read the original comments here.

Artio, 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 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.

Artio,Celtic Goddess

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

Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shaw

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

BIO: 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 paintings.



Categories: Feminism, General, Goddess Spirituality

Tags: , , , ,

6 replies

  1. As a black bear researcher I have always been fascinated by the mythological relationship between bear and bird – one is about going to ground, the other takes to the air… love the paintings.

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    • Sara,
      I think Carolyn’s comment about “The Bear Goddess and the Bird Goddess are the Bear Goddess indeed.” – “I wonder what the sentence means, though? That’s the kind of sentence you could meditate about for hours and come up with many mystical meanings!” is very true. That relationship is mysterious – maybe it’s about the union of Earth and Sky as manifest in the human soul……?

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  2. We always learn so much from your posts. And of course the art is wonderful, too.

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that Artio is also related to Arthur, but I do not remember reading that King Arthur ever worshipped a goddess. How interesting mythological history is!

    Bright blessings to your work, especially your artistic talent. Keep creating those wonderful cards!

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    • Barbara,
      There does seem to be a linguistic link if you consider “Her name comes from the old Celtic word for bear, arth(e), which the Roman’s Latinized to Artos.” – arth(e) -arthur. As to King Arthur worshipping a goddess wasn’t the whole story sort of about the transition from Goddess worship to Christianity? Thoughts for more research….

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  3. “The Bear Goddess and the Bird Goddess are the Bear Goddess indeed.” This is amazing! I love that the first written sentence in Old European invokes both the bear and the bird goddesses. I wonder what the sentence means, though? That’s the kind of sentence you could meditate about for hours and come up with many mystical meanings! Your painting is beautiful and so evocative, as always. I think humans have always had an affinity with bears — if only we were as caring about our children as they are about their cubs the world would be a better place.

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