Witchy Wednesday: The White Goddess

This one took me a while to get to.  I could have easily written about the Morrigan or Danu or a number of other well-known goddesses with whom I’ve had some experience.  But they aren’t the ones who have been on my mind lately.

Beltane is nearly upon us, and the archetype of the May Queen is what has been filling my thoughts.  For some traditions, she is the Goddess in her Maiden form, a grown woman ready to take the Young God as her lover.

Other traditions see her personified as Flora, Creiddylad, the Faery Queen, Maia, and/or Lady Guinevere of the Arthurian cycle.  She is the vital, vibrant, blossoming embodiment of the awakening earth.

Prior to my departure from regular practise, I was feeling myself really drawn to the Arthurian cycle as a mythos of British/Welsh deities.  This isn’t an easy position to explore as much of the world sees Arthurian legend as a fictional tale, and the players within it as profoundly popular caricatures of people who may never have existed at all.

This never really felt right to me.  The characters have always seemed too archetypal to be simple fiction.  And if you remove Christian morality from the picture, you can see the players in a different light.  I think I may explore this more in future posts, but right now I want to get back to Guinevere as the May Queen.

Queen Guinevere's maying, by John Collier, 1900
Queen Guinevere's maying, by John Collier, 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guinevere is described in many ways through many tellings of the Arthurian mythos.  She is a white, untouchable beauty, a beloved queen, a faithless wife, a chased prize for foreign knights, a lost treasure of the land, among other guises, but she is forever tied to and defined by the men in her life.

Though the gentle, witless Christian princess was historically the favoured view of Guinevere, many more modern interpretations portray her as a strong Celtic queen.  A queen who, like her ancient contemporaries, was in complete control of her life, her heart, and her head.

As a goddess, Guinevere represents the sovereignty of the land.  Arthur’s kingship is dependant upon her favour.  Her favour belongs to the king so long as he is fit to be king.  Without her, his kingship crumbles and the land falls into chaos.  She is chased by other knights bent on gaining power because it is through her that kings are made.

Under the mantle of the May Queen, white, fertile, and vibrant as the hawthorn blossom, many champions seek her hand.  She chooses for her king the one who represents all the things that have made Arthur so beloved throughout the ages – courage, strength, honour, honesty, valour, chivalry.  Together they symbolize vitality, new life, and hope for a better future.

When seeking to honour the May Queen at Beltane, I think about all the things that I feel on a warm spring day, when I get to take my shoes off for the first time and stand barefoot in the new green grass.  It’s nearly impossible to describe the surge of energy you can feel in spring, yet every creature seems to share in it.

That flood of new life is the gift of the May Queen.

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7 thoughts on “Witchy Wednesday: The White Goddess”

  1. I’ve always viewed Guinevere as a very Blodeuwedd sort of figure. In general, I think you can look at the Arthurian legends as either a retelling of the Mabinogion, or the telling of the same story from a different perspective. Guinevere is the Goddess who is the land who has to birth the summer God and see to the old God’s death. Without Guinevere’s role/choice, the year doesn’t turn. She is archetypal, but I don’t think that she is archetypal from a Christian view point at all. The modern/Christian viewpoint of Guinevere has changed her role to something very different from her original role as the White Goddess.

    1. I haven’t read the Mabinogion fully. I get a little stuck with it because I keep finding similarities to Irish mythology, and when I go back to check the stories, I just end up re-reading the tales I already know. One thing that I would like to explore more fully is the various different goddesses of Celtic sovereignty and how their tales relate to each other.

  2. Rosalind Miles has written an amazing novel called “Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country.” It is a beautiful retelling of the Arthurian legend from the point of view of Guenevere. If you have not already read it, I strongly recommend it!!

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