Statue of Liberty: Is She a Goddess?

Here’s story that I find pretty interesting in light of my developing relationship with the Goddess Columbia. Rick Perry, the extremist evangelical governor of Texas, is considering a run for president. (Of course, a number of the Republicans running don’t expect to have even a shot at the nomination. But running ups their exposure (our so-called “liberal media” will cover them, regardless), helps them sell books, maybe gets them a job catapulting the propoganda commenting on Fox.) As part of his appeal to the Dominionists, Perry is:

busy coordinating an Evangelical event called “The Response,” which he describes as “a call to prayer for a nation in crisis.”

It’s also a cynical and obvious attempt to court the GOP’s social conservative base, a population who regularly claims that God granted the United States exceptional power and divine authority.

But Perry’s Bible-thumping plan may backfire, because “The Response” has been endorsed by an Oklahoma-based pastor, Dr. John Benefiel, who calls the statue of Liberty a “demonic idol” that uses democratic ideals to beguile Americans from their true calling: Christian worship.

Benefield has said that:

“Listen folks, that is an idol, a demonic idol, right there in the middle of New York harbor,” . . . in a sermon.

People say, ‘Well, no, it’s patriotic.’ What makes it patriotic? Why is it? It’s a statue of a false goddess. We don’t get liberty from a false goddess, folks. We get our liberty from Jesus Christ and that statue of liberty in no way glorifies Jesus Christ. I’m just telling you, we practice idolatry in America in ways that we don’t even recognize.

Here’s the video:

You’ll see that he takes aim at Columbia, as well as the Statue of Liberty. He equates them, along with Libertas and other Goddessess, with the Queen of Heaven, a fundie term for any notion that divinity may take female forms. His attack on the Statue of Liberty is particularly interesting to me, given a conversation that I had with G/Son a few weeks ago.

Ever since he was a little baby, I’ve sung G/Son to sleep with: Hush Little Baby, and We All Come from the Goddess, and Hoof and Horn, Hoof and Horn, All that Dies Shall Be Reborn; Corn and Grain, Corn and Grain, All that Dies Shall Rise Again. I admit that I never thought of any of them as a way of protelyztizing, or even as particularly religious songs. I sing them because their repetitive nature tends to put little babies to sleep. (And because, to be fair, their unchallenging scope allows me to sing them. You’d have to love me the way that my G/Son loves me to want to listen to my singing. I’m a woman of many talents; singing isn’t one of them.)

Last night, just as we climbed, clean-toothed and cotton pajamaed, under our heavy covers and turned out the lights, it began to rain in earnest. Through the open window, we practiced listening to the rain drops all together and then we practiced listening to each individual drop. G/Son was watching the lightening and listening to the thunder, clutching his new Thor Super Hero toy in his hands, and explaining to me how lightening and thunder do not mix well with water. He said, “Nonna, sing the song about the drops of rain.” And, so, I did. “We all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return, like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean.” I said, “Each drop of rain that we hear outside is flowing into Spout Run, into the beautiful Potomac, into the Chesapeake Bay, and into the Atlantic Ocean. And, someday, that is how I hope to flow.”

G/Son said, “Nonna, I know who the Goddess is. Jesus.” And he sang a song that I think he must have learned from his other grandma about “Jesus we love you and we know you will heal us.” I said, “Yes, a lot of people worship Jesus as a god. And ‘god’ is the male form of ‘goddess.’” G/Son thought about this for a bit and then he said, “Nonna. I know who the Goddess is. She’s the Statue of Liberty.”

And I said, and if this is wrong may the Goddess forgive me, and if this is right may the Goddess forgive me, because I am only trying to walk a middle way, “Yes, the Statue of Liberty is a statue of a very important Goddess. The Goddess of Liberty. And I pray to that Goddess every day.”

And G/Son said, “Sing to me again about ‘hush little baby,’ and then sing to me again about ‘corn and grain.’ Is the ‘corn and grain’ like the seed in your garden that comes back every year?”

I have to admit that, until G/Son said that, I’d never thought of the Statue of Liberty as the statue of a Goddess. He’s had almost no exposure to any, for example, of the Greek Goddesses, nor even, now that I think about it, to Columbia. So it makes sense that when he hears the term “Goddess,” the Statue of Liberty is what comes to mind. I think, as I imagine that most of our founders thought, and as I imagine the French thought when they gifted us with the Statue of Liberty, that the statue was simply a way to personify a quality. There’s a long history of personifying qualities such as wisdom, liberty, inspiration as females. And, clearly, at some point, for many of them, those personifications morph into, become associated with, acquire the qualities of Goddesses. Hence, Athena is the Goddess of political strategy. Demeter is the Goddess of motherhood and agriculture. Diana is the Goddess of feminine independence. I don’t know enough history to understand which came first.

And, for me, Columbia, a female representation of the idea/Higher Self/akashic form of America and, in particular, of my city, is indeed a “real” Goddess, just as Hecate is a real Goddess of liminal spaces (and is Ellis Island sacred ground? I think it well may have been for my Swedish ancestors, escaping overpopulation (caused by initially-more-successful farming methods), and I can certainly see Hecate, Goddess of the Crossroads, standing, holding keys, behind Lady Liberty) and Hygeia is a real Goddess of health. Trying to learn Columbia’s story is a magical way of helping her to move from/birth herself as/reveal herself through being “just” a symbol or a statue.

So maybe Benefield isn’t completely wrong. And maybe he is right to be afraid. We’re everywhere. The Goddess is alive and magic is afoot.

Picture found here.

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15 responses to “Statue of Liberty: Is She a Goddess?

  1. I always understood the Statue of Liberty to be a Goddess, a form of old Roman Libertas. From my Classical Handbook:

    Libertas The Roman personification of Liberty. She was represented wearing the Phrygian cap which symbolized liberty and sometimes with the dagger. There was a temple to Libertas on the Aventine Hill.

    (That’s the entire entry). With the Phrygian cap and dagger/sword She sounds quite close to what I’ve seen of your Columbia. I don’t know how the Libertas in the harbor got Her iconography switched around to the rayed crown and lamp, &c., but that isn’t anything that must remain static to be true.

    The Romans did like to personify qualities; I don’t think that makes them *not* Goddesses, even if they were newly ‘invented’, even if they were a lot of the time ‘created’ for propagandic purposes. Also I’m inclined to think that if the personification of Liberty had a proper temple in Rome, She was a Goddess. Or at least the Romans thought so, and honored Her so, even though they also knew they had ‘invented’ her. (Assuming She is one of the newer personification-Goddesses, which I don’t know off the top of my head. Some of the personifications, like Ops, were quite old.) I guess I’m not seeing that there is necessarily a distinction between personification and Goddess. If it was good enough for the Romans…

  2. Wait, more on Libertas. (You do understand I love researching about obscure Goddesses, right?)

    From Dictionary of Roman Religion by Adkins and Adkins:

    Libertas A Roman goddess who was the personification of liberty, the condition of a free man (not a slave but not necessarily possessing other rights, including political ones). Under the empire, Libertas came to mean the personification of political liberty. This goddess had a temple on the Aventine Hill in Rome which was founded around 238 bc and which was restored by the emperor Augustus. She was sometimes associated with Feronia and Jupiter, and there was also a temple of Jupiter Libertas on the Aventine Hill.

    She had a temple where she was worshipped for at least 200 years, where I assume She received offerings. What else would She be but a Goddess?

  3. Thalia,

    I hope you are writing a book. You know so much more than anyone else I know about all this “stuff.”

    Hail, Libertas!

  4. Nah, just a web site. :)

    I was going to add, since this really is a very favorite topic of mine, that I don’t think there was a process of starting out as a personification and then becoming a Goddess. To the Romans, anyway, and that is where Libertas finds Her roots, a personified quality *was* a Goddess, right from the start.

    Now I’m way curious about Feronia. Wild places or something?

    Wait I’ll look it up. Spring flowers and woods, main cult center in Lucus Feroniae (calls it a town but that’s properly the name of a grove I would think). Grove and temple in the Campus Martius (the old mustering field in Rome). Temple at Terracina where slaves could seek sanctuary at the altar (a Greek custom it says). Slaves probably freed there. Evidence that her cult in Rome was linked to slaves and freedmen, so sometimes identified with Libertas. (paraphrased from Adkins and Adkins).

  5. Is Ellis Island sacred ground? Ask any of the descendants of the Jewish people who fled from the persecution of the fascists in the 1930′s and ’40′s and they will tell you. My father was one of those refugees, as was my mother, who came by a different route. Their certificates of citizenship were treated as sacred documents. I have them still. All of this was, of course, before “immigrant” (like “liberal”) became a dirty word in the public discourse of our nation of immigrants.

    FYI, a 65-foot-high statue of The Republic, by Daniel Chester French, graced the main mall of the Worlds’ Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. A 24-foot replica was later erected in Jackson Park. Information and pictures here. An interesting factod: As you can see from the photos, She is holding, in Her left hand, a staff with the word “Liberty” inscribed on a crossbar that is draped with a laurel wreath. The original statue held a spear decorated with laurel leaves and topped by a Phrygian cap. At the time that the replica was erected, however, this was considered a bit too provocative (dare I say even revolutionary?) in view of the communist and anarchist scares that were then current.

  6. Pagan Puff Pieces

    But how could anything “of heaven,” the term coming from her enemies themselves, be demonic?

    Anyhow, I had a similar “oh, yeah…” moment when I was at an event held by a Japanese company. The company president, talking about the Statue of Liberty, referred to it as a Goddess and how seeing her inspires people. It caught me a little off guard and then I put two and two together and thought, oh, right, in a Japanese way of looking at things, of course Liberty Illuminating the World would be understood as a Goddess.

    The New Yorker in me, though, thinks of our green Liberty as that a very New York sort of being. >3 After all, up until that point, I just considered her another part of the city. Another New Yorker. Columbia may be all over the place, but Green Liberty is ours. (Bear in mind this is no serious theological statement. Just my local identity speaking)

  7. I grew up in NYC as a kid, and I went up Lady Liberty a few times, all the way up to Her crown. My great or great great grandparents came over and WERE Jewish from Russia, passing through Ellis Island I’m sure. Look at Her, She is awe inspiring, and the greatest gift the French have ever given us. At present, and especially after the decision in NYC passing marriage equality fully into voted law and signed by the Governor, I bought a Liberty statue at SF Pride this year with the rainbow flag draped across Her.

    I also love the statement at the base: “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” can’t remember all the rest, but an incredibly empowering statement of what the BEST of the U.S. is meant to represent, and what we’ve gotten so far away from since Bush decimated the Constitution and passed The Patriot Act.

    A couple years ago we did a ritual where Lady Liberty was represented, and as one who had a small part in this ritual, as one woman actually clothed herself as Lady Liberty and enacted Her in the ritual and in Her pose, it came to me that Liberty was intimately connected to the Goddess Athena energetically. I KNEW She represented a very, very old Goddess who has been around millenia. And I know She has a connection with other freedom Goddesses as well as with Athena. That was the ah ha moment for me, and when I spoke it to the High Priestesses of the ritual, they confirmed this for me.

    Of course a fundamentalist xtian patriarch forcing his religion on everybody else would HATE ANY POWERFUL Spiritual freedom loving Female representation, and accuse such an icon of ‘being demonic’ because it doesn’t exalt his male power and what he supposedly represents. It was such patriarchs that murdered the Witches, the Jews and gay folks, powerful women, and continues to do what it can to continue that legacy throughout the world to this day….and to him all females should be subservient and submissive.

    Many, many of our icons come from ancient Greece and Rome, because those images represent that Female power that has been lost…but MUST be acknowledged on one level or another, whether obviously or subliminally, after all, it’s all humans birthed from the Female, connected on some level to the Sacred Female, and NOT from any male’s rib! And thusly are coded on many State and National seals ect. If you look at the State seal of California, who is on it? Athena!

    -FeistyAmazon

  8. P.S. that Liberty statue with the Rainbow flag draped over Her, is on my living room altar!

  9. The poem inscribed on the plaque on the inner wall of the pedestal:

    The New Colossus

    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!”

    –Emma Lazarus, 1883

  10. First, Thank You very much for this article. It was enjoyable to read.
    Second, to me, the question in the title was a non-starter, for a couple of reasons. My father’s parents came to this country -during- the First World War. Whenever they spoke of Her, She was =always= “La Bella Donna” (‘The Beautiful [Noble-]Lady’ in Italian) and was treated with -at- =least= as much love and respect as Mother Mary. (BTW, do you know why almost every {Italian, ‘Latin’, Irish, etc} family “altar” has a statue of the BVM? Because that’s where the ‘power’ =really= is .. and if you don’t believe me, watch what happens when grown men over six feet tall and strong as oxen piss off a ‘little old lady’ barely five feet tall with a wooden spoon in her hands!! };D> {Yep, seen it happen more than once…}) They =knew= what life was like in ‘The Old Country’ under the ages old patriarchal systems! To them, the Hope & Love & Freedom ‘The Beautiful Lady’ expressed in Emma’s poem was =REAL=, not just ‘some nice words’! Is She a “goddess”? Hell, =yes=, and don’t you ever forget it!! >smack

    The other reason is much more ‘personal’. I am a veteran. I didn’t bleed (literally – unfortunately) so some fat-cats could keep their cigars lit, et al. I didn’t put my buddies in body-bags so a bunch of hate-full hypocrites could preach/inflame common folks to spit on us “baby-killers” when we came home. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. Yes, in many ways it -was- for each of us in the Team or squad or section or whatever, because combat, killing and dying together, does make those bonds. But much more importantly it was to protect ‘The (most) Beautiful Lady (in the world)’, so other children, parents, and grandparents could know Her as my grandparents did. =THAT= ‘Lady’ is worthy of every drop of blood I have .. and I sure as hell wouldn’t say that for any ‘mere mortal’ (..almost..).

    Hmmm, think I better shut up, now. Sorry.

  11. Uncle Draggi,

    Thank you so much for sharing that!

  12. Uncle Draggi,
    Thank you!

  13. The answer to your question is YES. Or was it rhetorical?Googling “Statue of Liberty” +Goddess will turn up many versions of the history of this Goddess. One of the most complete and relevant to many people who visit this blog is Selena Fox’s article on http://www.circlesanctuary.org/circle/articles/pantheon/GoddessFreedom.html
    She traces the history of the Freedom Goddess/Libertas/Lady Liberty etc., from Rome, to the American Revolution, through the gift from France to the US and further. And, Hecate, your beloved Columbia/Freedom atop the Capitol is another version of Her (as are many other depictions in various States.) Selena closes her article with some rituals and meditations to honor this Goddess.

  14. Medusa,

    Many thanks; I wasn’t aware of this article. Will have to spend time with it this weekend. Still have a few more Conversations with Columbia posts to go.

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