Lawrence Durdin-Robertson - Cult of the Goddess Prologue
(Introduction by Nicola Gordon Bowe)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I actually introduce Mr. Durdin-Robertson’s lecture, I should like to say how fortunate I feel we are to be the first people to gather a scattering of the fruits of his profound study and research into the history, mythology and cult of the Great Goddess. Mr. Durdin-Robertson’s interest in comparative religion stems from undergraduate days and what we shall read in his books - the first volume of which is to be published this December -and hear in this lecture, is the result of a great deal of careful and scholarly study and a strong belief in his subject.
He is going to tell us of the history, rites and ethics of the cult of the Goddess and to describe some of her manifold roles and propensities. She can be seen as guardian angel, mother, queen, deity, goddess within a pantheon, muse, heroine, patroness or fairy and it does seem, as we see the restoration of former valuable parts of our national heritage, that here is an aspect of our native religion that we cannot ignore.
The importance of the Cult of the Mother Goddess is becoming increasingly recognized in many fields and disciplines. Many people nowadays feel insecure, confused and threatened as they see rapid changes in their environment and ways of life. Science and inflation zoom ahead and it sometimes seems as though man is taking on so much so quickly that he is heading for the destruction of himself and all around him. We live in a paradoxical age of creation and destruction and man might well feel the need for a maternal figurehead to balance that of the paternal.
The symbolism of the Goddess has been the most persistent feature in archaeological records from the last phase of the old Stone Age onwards, over a widespread area of the Universe and has had a profound influence and been of great significance in the thought and practice of religion and society, as, gradually, her role became more clearly defined. She is seen as a lively, unforgettable obsession, deeply fixed in the racial memory of the European countryman but rather too instinctive to slot into an ideally patriarchal, authoritarian society, based on rational explanation, often dull routine, mechanical mass production and oppressive obligation. She is the Goddess of Inspired truth, Wisdom and Poetry, whose habit has never been to coerce by negatively ethical behaviour and punitive law, but to grant and withhold her favors as her sons and lovers come to her with gifts of their own choosing - as Mr. Durdin-Robertson will tell you - “her service is perfect freedom”.
And now to turn to her part in the history of Ireland - As we are now well into Autumn, you might look at the hedgerows laden with fruit and notice, amongst other trees, the hawthorn. This was the tree of the Shee in Ireland and was particularly associated with the mother earth goddess cult. Indeed, at nearby Tinahely, a sacred hawthorn tree is referred to as rowing over the well of St. Patrick. In Ireland the Cult was widespread - as can be imagined in a largely agricultural land. All Irish Goddesses are different concepts of the same mother, who saw to the fertility of the earth, animals and men and would help her devotees in distress with her supernatural powers. She was usually localized and inspired and guarded the arts of peace in an ordered, domestic, industrious life. She favored Love, Beauty and Truth, and the Joy of Song, Poetry, Dance and Music. It was the mothers, in the days of the Druids, who governed the harmonies, inherent in all life. To name but a few goddesses of Ireland, - there is Brigid, the Great Triple Goddess, who was a deity of learning, wisdom, culture and skills, who was invoked as a Muse and was the original inhabitant of New Grange in Co. Meath. Armagh was named after Macha - the Great Nature Queen of all Ireland. Cesara, a contemporary of Noah, formed her own ark and sailed with 50 mothers of the nations and her own family to found a settlement in Ireland. She shared immortality with Fintan and welcomed the Gaels. The Fair of the Goddess Carman (in Wexford) was an old religious Festival for Agriculture. Ireland itself is named Eire after one of the Queens of the Tuatha de Danaan, Triple Goddess of the Fates. The country was named after each Queen in turn until the Gaelic invasion, when the currently reigning Queen’s name was retained. In Donegal we find the Goddess Sadb of the deer and Hibernia is shown as representing Ireland with her harp. Niamh of the Golden Hair, was the beautiful Goddesss of the Land of Eternal Youth and Ana appears in Irish mythology as a Danaan goddess who came to be worshipped in Munster as the Goddess of Plenty - and after her are named the two Kerry mountains, the Paps of Anu. She was a Moon Goddesss in charge of crops and cattle and a midsummer Fire Festival was held for her. The lunulae we now see excavated would be made of Wicklow gold and worn in honour of the Moon Goddess. Thomas Moore tells us that our ancestors worshipped the moon under the name of Re and swore by the moon. Indeed, in Irish wakes the man enters with the head of an ox and the woman with the head of a cow - believed to be connected with the cult of Isis. The Iris were even at first called Scoti, after the Milesian queen Scota. The mysterious banshee is a Woman of the Hill and a priestess of the Great Dead.
Ireland is full of fascinating reminders - such as the Sheela-na-gige, so often found as a keystone on old churches and the silent majesty of the domens - burial chambers where heroes were buried in foetal position in a womb of earth, awaiting rebirth - and the barrows which were oracular tombs and the passage graves - each connected with the matriarchal cult of the Earth Goddess.
And now ……… I have much pleasure in introducing Mr. Durdin-Robertson.