Tuesday, July 18, 2017
This is Goewin, from Welsh legend, which I did as a commission. She was the virgin footholder of Math, the lord of Gwynedd in the northern part of Wales. Her story is told in the Mabinogi, a collection of tales taken down in medieval times. Though the stories are presented as legend rather than myth (i.e. more like fairy tales than religious stories), many of the characters are clearly Deities, though it can be difficult to make out given that it was written down in Christian times. Some of the characters are said to be related to Dôn, the Welsh mother Goddess Who is probably the equivalent of Danu of the Irish. Math is Dôn's brother, and so in all likelihood a disguised God himself.
But back to Goewin. Math could only rule on the condition that, except in times of war, his feet rested in the lap of a virgin. That sounds like a strange condition, but it's probably related to the idea of Goewin as a sovereignty Goddess, a theme that was quite common in Celtic myth, especially among the Irish. A sovereignty Goddess represents the Earth and Her powers of fertility and life; in Celtic thought, the kingship was a partnership between the mortal King and the land he stewarded, protected, and ruled over. If he was not fit to be King, the land, in the personification of the Goddess of sovereignty, had the right to reject him. This is why sovereignty Goddesses (like Queen Medb of Irish legend) tend to have many husbands; not because they are insatiably promiscuous (though their sexuality is very much a part of their power), but because the Goddess is entitled to choose the man She likes best at the time, and discard those who are no longer worthy. That Math had to keep his feet in the lap of a virgin may mean that She represented that land and earth; the virgin condition may have come about because the sexuality of virgins was considered to be a concentrated form of that power.
In the story, however, Math's nephew conceives a lust for Goewin, and aided by his brother starts a war as pretext for sending Math away; while he is gone he rapes Goewin. When Math returns, he punishes the brothers by transforming them into wild beasts, and makes Goewin his queen to save her from shame. So the sovereignty Goddess ends up a sovereign Herself.
I put Her in white, for innocence, with a purple mantle for royalty. She holds Her hands in front of Her a little protectively, but She is still shown in an attitude of power.