Conversations with Columbia

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.

Who’s “your” deity? Why?

Pictures found here, here, here, and here. Picture of Columbia rosary, a gift from a dear friend of mine, and altar by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.

14 responses to “Conversations with Columbia

  1. Hi, found this by a link on facebook.

    My deities started as Athena and Freyja. They still listen and I have a statue of Athena. But of late, Hera has heard me more and Hermes seems to have taken to me. I suspect it has something to do with the fact I both write and drive for a living.

  2. I would also connect Columbia to the Latin word columba, “dove.” Doves are an attribute of Aphrodite, and the entire notion of civic and national pride, and love for one’s home, is very much a concept that was familiar to the Greeks and the Romans. So, I think that, not unlike the temple of Venus and Roma in Rome, one should also think of Venus/Aphrodite in very close association with Columbia–and given the interpretation of Sovereignty you’ve added above, that fits perfectly!

  3. My sense is that we should look to watersheds and ecoregions for intimations of these “new” or renewed deities and guardians and figures. Perhaps Native American lore provides some hints for us, perhaps not. Native American lore is, after all, diverse and does not share any single deity across all its peoples and cultures.

    Honestly, I find myself ambivalent about Columbia and other candidates for continent-wide Goddess (such as Our Lady of Guadalupe/Tonantzin). I suppose because I try to know the land on the basis of some characteristic other than political geography. At the same time, I appreciate the creation and enrichment of “new” mythology, and I actively take part in it.

    Good luck with your getting to know Columbia project.

  4. Remember, of course, that DC is also a city of trees…

  5. This is such a beautiful entry. I’d never heard of Columbia the goddess, but this makes her sound deep and fascinating.

    I don’t know for sure who my deity is yet. I’m still working on expanding my own awarenesses.

  6. My deities are Ma’at, Isis, and Bastet. I believe Ma’at first noticed me in the sixth grade, when I had a spirited discussion with my history teacher of how Ma’at had to be the chief goddess/god of the Egyptian pantheon, because without her there would be no order, and no order= no gods, or nothing at all.

    Columbia fascinates me though. I never knew of Columbia as a goddess (I’ve heard of Libertas, though, a.k.a Lady Liberty), but she seems very powerful, and I’m feeling drawn towards her.

  7. Pingback: Conversations with Columbia: Part 1 - Hail Columbia

  8. Pingback: Conversations with Columbia: Part 3 - Hail Columbia

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  10. What a fascinating blog post. I don’t work with named dieties particularly in my practice but an earthy mother goddess (gaia-like) and a harvest god are my two main archetypes.

    When I started reading the Green Woman description I had an immediate “yes” feeling. I live very close to another place named for this Goddess.. .the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. The Columbia, though dammed and tamed, still flows through some of the most amazing wild mountains and plains in all the land. The Columbia River Gorge, just east of Portland, OR, has the highest density of waterfalls in the whole world. Green trees, green mountains, green grasslands further east and even kind of gray green water.

    I’m off to read your other entries, now. Thanks!

  11. Hello. I’ve just recently started reading your blog, and finding many other people who acknowledge and honor Columbia. I thought I was alone. I’m so glad I’ve been able to see that there are others who know Her as I do. I was born in the District of Columbia, and I’ve always seen Her as the Goddess of our Nation, though I feel She is infinitely older than the country She protects. She is so vast, and there is so much I’m learning from Her everyday. Thank you for writing this, and for honoring Her, and especially for sharing your experiences with Her, with all of us. You are a true blessing.

  12. We have to come to a realization of hormonal realities in the area of gender complementarity, and these sometimes mean submission to men. But there are aspects of this that are honorable, as when women increase their progesterone during pregnancy, making them superior in the area of caring for infants, the most important work human beings can know.

  13. This is indeed a wonderful country where nuts are free to believe anything they want.-Sage

  14. Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a
    amusement account it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you!
    By the way, how could we communicate?

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