“By truth the Earth endures.” This Old Irish pronouncement quoted by Peter Berresford Ellis in The Druids (p. 162) holds such hope. In this moment when the survival of humans and other living beings on our planet is uncertain, when we wonder how we can ensure a future we want our descendants to live in, this centuries-old statement tells us exactly what to do. Revere truth, speak truth, live truth, and the Earth will endure.
The “truth” by which the Earth endures is not simply the state of being factually correct, but, to the ancient Irish, as well as other cultures, also a mighty force that is an element of all that is good. “…The old Irish word for Truth is also the basis for linguistic concepts of holiness, righteousness, faithfulness, for religion, and for, above all, for justice (p.169)” according to Ellis. What gives truth this immense authority is the power of the Word. Ellis tells us “Truth was the Word and the Word was sacred and divine and not to be profaned…’Truth is the foundation of speech and all words are founded upon Truth’” (p. 162).
In fact, truth has a kind of magic. In the story of Cormac of Tara, a judge gives a ruling based on a lie and the courthouse begins to fall down a cliff. Only when the people rebel and demand the truth does the courthouse come to a standstill. Similarly, denying truth gives rise to devastation. In her Elements of the Celtic Tradition, Caitlin Matthews quotes a “famous Gaulish oath: ‘If I break faith with you, may the skies fall upon me, may the seas drown me, may the earth rise up and swallow me’” (p. 13). More positively, in a poem in the Book of Leinster cited by Ellis, truth defeats enemies, causes the corn to grow, and even turns away death itself.
Clearly, truth has a powerful spiritual component, often related to goddess reverence, not only in Celtic culture, but globally. We can see this in the goddesses from around the world who use truth to judge the dead. The Egyptian Ma’at weighed each person’s heart at death to determine worthiness and there was no lie that would save those judged unworthy. The Scandinavian Syn and the Chinese Tou-Mou both keep truthful records of people’s lives which are then used to judge them at death. This is a truth that sees beyond what we say and do to who we most truly are. It sees what the truth of us is in our souls.
The statement “By truth the Earth endures” also evokes a profound Earth truth, a truth that comes from the power of the Earth as our home, our Mother, and the source of the minerals, water, and other nutrients from which we were created. Earth truth is the sense of awe and mystery we feel in nature. We see Earth truth in Ala of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria who is both Earth mother and Creatrix as well as the goddess on whom Her people swear their most sacred oaths. The Indian Ila is also Earth goddess, Creatrix, and the inventor of speech, “the word” from which truth emanates. We see who we truly are in relationship to other beings in the light of Earth truth.
We can see in our own lives and this moment in history the power of truth and the catastrophic destruction of untruth, the unrelenting power of the Word. In our world where untruths can circle the globe faster than at any other time in history, the catastrophe of untruth can seem unstoppable. Still, this greater idea of truth as a spiritual power is, to me, a great source of hope. It is a path forward. We witness this power in campaigns to bring about reconciliation and justice by truth-telling in Rwanda, South Africa, and Canada. Truth-telling art, like the work of truthful feminist creators Toni Morrison, Gabby Rivera, Leslie Marmon Silko, Frida Kahlo, Maxine Hong Kingston, Andre Lord, Viola Davis, Judy Grahn, Judy Chicago, and so many others, can also bring about conversations and illumination that change lives and sometimes even societies.
Feminist spirituality has a special role in truth-telling. By bringing into public consciousness goddesses and holy women, we show the truth of women’s equality and spiritual power throughout the ages. By diving deep into the way holy texts, myths, and stories have been distorted, and rewriting and re-envisioning them, we can uncover original truths that can guide us now just as they did millennia ago. By our original thought and creative expression, we reveal new truths to illuminate our own age. Finding and airing the truth has always been a hallmark of feminist religion and spirituality, and we can be sure of its continuing power.
Truth is a guidestar. We will always know the right path by asking ourselves, will this lead to more truth or more confusion and untruth? Even if the ancient Irish and other cultures that revered truth did not face exactly our challenges, their wisdom in uplifting the power of truth has been demonstrated in both past and present. “By truth the Earth endures.” We are the means by which truth manifests, and by our dedication to truth and its passionate practice, we, all living beings, and the Earth may truly not only endure, but thrive.
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, drummer, and herb and native plant gardener. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. She explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com,where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.
Sources beyond those already noted: Patricia Monaghan, Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines; Patricia Monaghan, New Book of Goddesses and Heroines
Door to Truth, Sri Rangnath Swamy Temple, Pushkar: Jakub Hałun, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Ma’at: Sailko, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
People’s Climate March: Dcpeopleandeventsof2017, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons