Whether you are tracing your Celtic roots or looking for deeper meaning within them, all roads will eventually lead to Rome (as the saying goes), and in this case, they actually do. Any foray into the history of the Celts will probably lead to touching upon their pagan practices before the Roman Conquest of Gaul (50 BC), and southern Britain (43 AD), through to the gradual conversion to Christianity in Europe in 380 AD.

Unlike the strict tenets that came with organized religion, however, the Celtic piety of old centered on a fluid reverence for nature that sought to transform the mundane into the magical. This glorification of Mother Earth and its ideological extension – the mother goddess – cultivated a distinctly feminine principle that steadily wove its way through the centuries to become a recognized archetype within contemporary Celtic myth.

Discovering these influences begins with a glimpse into the lives of Celtic women before and immediately following the Roman invasion, examining the distinct goddess classifications during this period, and understanding how the resurgence of the divine feminine affects our lives today.

A Celtic woman is often the equal of any Roman man in hand-to-hand combat. She is as beautiful as she is strong. Her body is comely but fierce. The physiques of our Roman women pale in comparison.” — Unidentified Roman Soldier

During Ancient times, Celtic women fared much better than their Roman and Greek counterparts. Many were educated and recognized as leaders, scholars, and artists, imbuing their environments with a compelling, often commanding presence. Unlike women of adjacent societies and cultures, prehistoric Celtic women could own and inherit property and maintain assets separate from their husbands. Later, under patriarchal Roman law, Celtic women became the property of their husbands and had few legal rights. Despite the decrease in civil status, characteristic perseverance prevailed and became apparent within numerous references that depicted Celtic women as rivaling men in their courage and tenacity during battles with territorial enemies in the early centuries AD.

Ammianus Marcellinus, a 4th-century Roman soldier, and historian, noted that “a whole band of foreigners will be unable to cope with one [Gaul] in a fight; if he calls in his wife, stronger than he, with flashing eyes; … when she swells her neck and gnashes her teeth.”

It is, perhaps, no surprise then that the high priests of ancient Celtic culture, the transcendent Druids, were not solely male. Although written records of female druids are sparse – Roman writers generally tended to ignore women – historical references to female Druid Circles, the Gallizenae in Bretagne and the Druidesses of Gaul are two examples, have purportedly been remarked upon by Julius Caesar himself in his “Commentarii de Bello Gallico.”

Roman scholar Tacitus (AD 56 – 120) did write a definitive and chilling account of the female “Banduri” and an impressive defense of the island of Mona in Wales in 60 AD. Although defeated in the battle, the harrowing story of their fight against (male) Roman invaders is only one literary example that highlights a fierce and feminine band whose potency is seemingly derived from otherworldly, if not divine, powers.

Despite such daunting images, Celtic women are the primordial guardians of the family, with motherhood an intrinsic and honoured role across history. Tracking descendants through the mother was common as significant importance was placed on the eternal bonds between mother and child, as evidenced in the lore.

Women, particularly those found in Irish myth, were often portrayed as having the power to determine life and death.

While the myths and legends of alternate cultures honored male warriors and kings exclusively, Celtic women appeared as earthly goddesses to be both feared and respected.

Evidence of a sacred feminine element within Celtic culture is not limited to literature but is also visible in ancient iconography. Some references attribute the triple spiral in the pre-Christian Triskelion as being linked to the recurrent pattern of the Triple Goddess and Trinity motifs frequently personified as Maiden, Mother, and Crone.  The concept of the Triple Goddess is explored in detail by author Robert Graves in his book, “The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth.” Although Graves delves deeply into the subject, any interested observer can easily connect the symbolism of the goddess in triplicate as evocative of the Christian Trinity, but with a notably feminine twist.

However, exploring the ritual practices of the Celts relative to any aspect of the Divine Feminine found in contemporary culture is not without its challenges. Written historical records are limited and, in many cases, unverified. The Ancient Celts passed down knowledge and wisdom primarily via oral tradition, rarely committing anything to writing. Many archives from the Greco-Roman period were either altered or possibly amalgamated with Roman deities. In addition, pagan practices, especially those initiated by women, were met with severe punishment in the Christian era, and most accounts were either repressed or – perhaps surprisingly – appropriated in some way by medieval Church authorities.

Nevertheless, history managed to salvage the ever-pervasive influence of the Matronae – the Celtic Mother Goddess archetype, with origins in Gaulish culture dating back to the early centuries AD. Fertility rituals and other ceremonies that honored the feminine in its divine form trickled down through the ages, despite being watered down by Roman and Christian influences.

While there is no single female deity that scholars can agree upon that represents the quintessential mother goddess figure in Celtic mythology, Danu is the most widely recognized as the mother of all Celtic goddesses. Traced to the invasion myths of the Tuatha Dè Danann – a mythological and highly mystical Irish race of gods with magical powers – Danu is often compared to her Greek equivalent, Gaia, Goddess of Earth, earning her a spot at the top of the Celtic pantheon as a guardian of the natural world.

Celtic myths reference a female aspect of God who embodied the land itself, believed to be present within the trees, bodies of water, serpents, bees, and certain celestial bodies, most notably the moon.

This sacred feminine energy was linked to the “mothering powers” of intuition, nurturing, and an inclination toward fostering wholeness. Several Celtic female goddesses were associated with the full spectrum of Earth’s cycles and rhythms. In some cases, this also included veritable sovereignty over the land. These female deities were deemed responsible for bestowing actual territories upon earthly kings through elaborate rituals resembling marriage ceremonies.

The Morrigan is one such powerful female Celtic deity. Though not a sovereign goddess in the strict sense of the word, she was, in fact, a guardian of territory and designated as a triple goddess. Made up of three beings – Macha, Nemain, and Badb – The Morrigan (a loose translation from old Irish meaning “Phantom Queen”), is said to represent different aspects of combat.  Associated with several cycles of mythological tales depicting her as a “night hag” and “female monster” she foretold the outcome of battles, often appearing in the form of a crow, to inspire or frighten warriors and tell of victory or defeat. Some scholars have linked Morrigan to the Morgan of Arthurian legends and Avalon as an otherworldly sister to King Arthur. In any event, she certainly dispels any flowery notion of a feminine God aspect as inconsequential or fragile. The beauty and self-possession of The Morrigan – an archetypal Celtic goddess who balances the feminine aspects of fertility and intuition with industriousness and independence – epitomizes the apparent secrets of their superpowers that resemble many contemporary women today.

It may be the goddess Brigid who fully embodies the spectrum of the divine feminine standard that managed to span the ages and even infiltrate organized religion. With dual associations in both paganism and Christianity, the qualities attributed to Brigid appear to disseminate the true essence of Shakti – the ultimate female god aspect as defined in Sanskrit. Like Danu, she is linked to the Tuatha Dè Danann with unique associations to fertility and protection, the elements of water and fire, and even blacksmiths and beer brewers. Perhaps, most remarkably, she was considered the favored muse for poets and bards in the classical age and beyond. Due to these many affinities, Brigid, another designated Triple Goddess, is alternately defined as being made up of three sisters, or a triune figure representing grandmother, mother, and daughter.

The legends of the goddess Brigid are conveniently personified in the tales (and many unverified) accounts of the Christian St Brigid (450 to 521) of Kildare, Ireland, one of three national saints alongside St Patrick and Columba. St. Brigid shares many of her pagan counterpart’s attributes – including her feast day, celebrated February 1, which also marks the celebration of Imbolc and the coming of spring.

Much like her goddess namesake, St. Brigid was a force to be reckoned with within a male-dominated world. Rumoured to have once intimidated a ruling king enough that he handed over valuable land for her charitable causes, she apparently could turn water into beer, among other miracles!

The accounts of the multifaceted Brigid the Goddess and Brigid the Saint reveal strength and stamina, talent, and significant responsibility, making both figures as relevant to any modern woman as they may have been to female citizens of the past.

The question remains, however: are the myths of the ancient Celtic goddesses still applicable to our lives today?

History may provide some clues.

The emergence of the Goddess movement in postwar society is understandable in light of the rise of feminism in the 1960s in response to a male-dominated Western society steeped in monotheistic religions. This reappearance of the goddess in the 20th century wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, only a natural evolution following a long and often bloody history of oppression for women who displayed any form of spiritual power.  Discovering a feminine aspect of God is not as precarious today, nor is it an endeavor that automatically pits women against men.

The interest in female Celtic deities is not merely an evolved form of feminism but a relevant point of inclusion within a revival of New Age ideology. It seeks to fulfill an unconscious yearning for strong female archetypes that transcend gender and can guide us toward a transformative inner journey to where the sacred in all of us abides.

Linked as the goddess was in Celtic lore to the cycles of nature, creation, and transformation, the return of the divine feminine has prompted many to explore their own inner goddess. Yet, despite the noblest of intentions, some eager initiates may have hopped on the trend and rushed to purchase crystals and other products, hoping to magically change their lives, or burned sage on the advice of an “expert” on a social media platform, only to be disillusioned.  The message of the sacred feminine is not rooted in marketing ploys.

Accessing the Divine Feminine is more about harmonizing the splintered perspectives within ourselves and integrating aspects traditionally viewed as masculine or feminine to balance out long-held rigid social mindsets and disparities. Much like the hero’s journey of historical epics, a contemporary understanding and application of myth can promote wholeness with far-reaching implications beyond any self-serving New Age trend.

“I believe it is very important to know about our old (Celtic) mythology because the personal, social, and environmental problems that we are facing today have arisen not just as a result of our profound disconnection from this beautiful planet on which we live, but also our lack of rootedness in our own ancestral traditions,” notes Dr. Sharon Blackie, an award-winning writer, psychologist, and teacher of the mythic feminine.

When traced from ancient Celtic history to contemporary culture, the recognition of the Divine Feminine offers an invitation to give as much time to our rich inner landscapes as we do to our collective obsession with the outer world. It is a primordial call urging us to heal the brokenness of our beings, explore the beauty in our hearts, and heed the timeless wisdom of our ancestral roots.

~ Story by Lillian Holt