Conversations with Columbia: Part 1

This post is mirrored by kind permission of Hecate Demeter.

As a polytheist, I find it endlessly interesting seeing to which deities different people are drawn.

For some people, there’s an attraction to a pantheon related to their ancestry, although, even there, there’s a wide variety of Goddesses/Gods from which to choose. What makes someone choose Freya over Frigga or Idrun? (Or should the question be, “What makes Freya choose some people, while Frigga chooses others, and Idrun still others?”)

For others, and this has been true for me, certain Goddesses simply reach out and grab the imagination, devotion, attention of certain people and it has nothing to do with any ancestry. My mother’s family was from Sweden and my father’s from London and Wales, but my primary devotion is to Hecate, a Greek Goddess likely from Anatolia. I didn’t decide to worship her; it just happened. For a long time, I also worked with Baba Yaga, and then she told me that it was time to move on, so I did. I’ve worked with Hygeia ever since my Circle focused on her one year; I work with her specifically on health issues. I’ve known Witches deeply to devoted to Brigid, to Lilith, to Innana, to Lakshmi, and to Gaia.

As a Witch, I also feel a need to be in communion with the place where I live. And every place has land spirits, genius locii, dryads, nymphs, and tomtens. And Goddesses and Gods. I live in a bit of Arlington that was once within the District of Columbia: a town named for a Goddess. (This area was once the home of a people known as the Nacotchtank. (D.C.’s other river — the Anacostia — is an Anglicization of their name.) There’s not much information on their religious beliefs, at least not much that I’ve been able to locate. I’d love to learn more about their deities and practices.) And over the past few years, I’ve begun to develop a stronger relationship with Her. Although the city of Washington, D.C. is named for her (as are other towns throughout the country), she’s considered the personification of the United States of America.

Like many Goddesses/Gods, she’s not all sweetness and light. Her name comes from Christopher Columbus, who didn’t do Native Americans any favors. And although she was originally drawn as a kind of exotic Native American maiden, she gradually came to be pictured a bit like Athena, another Goddess for whom a city was named. Here she is as a Native American:

(John Ashcroft would be horrified. Our founders weren’t such prudes.)

And here she is in 1872, when she was a symbol of another not-so-great idea, manifest destiny.

But my favorite image of her is the giant statue (called “Freedom”) of her that sits atop the United States Capitol. She’s helmeted, like Athena, although, as a reminder of her beginnings as a Native American, her helmet is decorated with an eagle’s head and feathers and she wears a Native American blanket. I see her every morning when I drive into the city and I send energy down through her copper and tin molecules for those who are doing her work in this world.

One thing that Columbia lacks, that other Goddesses often have, is a history, a set of myths about things she did, stories that let you get to know her. You know, Demeter made everything stop growing until she got her daughter back; Isis reassembled Osiris’ body; Freyja has a beautiful necklace called Brísingamen and rides a chariot pulled by two cats.

And so I’ve set out, through a series of meditations and magic workings, to try to learn her story from her. I began yesterday and asked her to tell me who she really is. I used the Wild Wood Tarot. I pulled The Green Woman (who corresponds to the High Priestess in a standard Rider-Waite-type deck.)

Here’s what the book says about the Green Woman:

The Green Woman encompasses the female archetype of wildness and green energy. Her presence balances that of the wild man and represents the earthly manifestation of female solar energy and the rich bounty of the Great Mother. She also represents the goddess of the land, sometimes expressed as Sovereignty, who challenges all comers to brave her tests and to offer to those who succeed the gifts of inner kingship and love and a deepening bond to the riches of the Earth. From her pours the glorious light of the midsummer sun, blessing everything it touches with life and boundless energy.

This figure is complex and subtle but highly dynamic in her interaction with anyone who seeks to understand the nature of the Widlwood mythos. She mediates the sacred blessing of earthly fertility, and the beasts that inhabit it, and forms a deep bond with the seeker who wishes to attune to the rhythm of the Wheel of the Year.

In the Arthurian tradition, she validates the kingship of Arthur by bringing him the sacred sword, and establishes him as the guardian of the Hallows of Britain, sometimes appearing as the Lady of the Lake, who fosters . . . Arthur himself as well as the young hero Lancelot. In other stories, she manifests as the Flower Bride, sought after by more than one of Arthur’s great knights and offering the deep bonds of matrimony and joy to those with whom she shares her bounty. At its heart, her sacred role is the initiator of the human individual into the realm of the Wildwood.

So, yes, she’s the Goddess of the land, Sovereignty, the woman who gives the government its sacred sword and appoints the guardian of the Hallows of the Land. That all makes sense to me.

It’s her green, foresty aspect that is new to me, especially as I see her as such a city-dweller. And so I’m going to work with that, mediate about it, do some dreaming and some journaling.

I’ll let you know what I find out.

(For more, see Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)

This post was written by
Literata is a Wiccan who studies theaology and enjoys developing poetry and rituals. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Mandragora and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. She also blogs at Forging Futures and writes for her own site, Works of Literata, . When she's not leading Rose Coven, reading Tarot or communing with nature, she works on her Ph.D. dissertation in history and enjoys travel and spending time with her husband and four cats. Please note that everything Literata writes here is solely her own personal opinion. It does not represent the position of any organization with which she is affiliated.

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