The Order of the White Moon Goddess Gallery Presents
A Level 3 Final Project for the Sisters of the Rising Moon School
Level 3 Priestess and Member of the Order of the White Moon
(© 2011. All original material in this site is under copyright protection and is the intellectual property of the author.)
Columbia is both a very young goddess and a very old one. Ancient Romans worshipped Libertas, Goddess of Liberty, among many other virtues personified. Our own Statue of Liberty, actually entitled Liberty Enlightening the World, is directly modeled on classical depictions of Libertas. Another representation of American ideals is the statue which stands atop the dome of the Capitol, entitled Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace, often called simply Freedom. I am joining a growing number of American Pagans who see all these manifestations as aspects of a single goddess called Columbia, who is the embodied spirit of America and a representation of our highest ideals of freedom.
Female personifications of countries are common: the UK was often represented as Brittannia, France as Marianne, and Switzerland as Helvetia. At about the same time, depictions of America personified began to be called Columbia. The statue of Freedom atop the dome of the Capitol combines symbols of traditional depictions of Libertas, such as the classically draped gown, and of America, in the form of her crest of eagle feathers. Because of this combination, I see this statue as one of the best depictions of Columbia.
This statue has an interesting past which reminds us of the journey our country has made, sometimes in fits and starts, towards honoring its highest ideals in practice by recognizing and protecting more freedoms. Columbia, after all, takes her name from Christopher Columbus, whose explorations enabled the European occupation of the Americas, with tremendous losses of life and freedom for Native Americans that would continue for centuries. The inclusion of Native American elements such as her fringed blanket and the eagle should represent rather than erase this problematic past.
The eagle-topped helmet was actually a substitution; the sculptor’s original design had the figure wearing a pileus, or Liberty cap, which symbolized freedom because it had been worn by freed slaves in Rome. It became part of Libertas’ imagery, and can still be found in American iconography today, either held by Liberty or by itself, including in the seal of the Senate and on some state flags.
When Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, reviewed the design, he insisted that the symbol of freed slaves was inappropriate for the United States. Although he prevailed on the sculptor to change the design, the issue of slavery led to war less than ten years later. Davis and the Confederacy he led were defeated. As a result, when slavery was abolished, some of the newly-free people were ones who worked to create and install the statue.
Perhaps the least obvious irony embodied in Columbia’s statue is the very fact that she is a female symbol of a country where even a hundred years ago women could not vote. She carries a sword and shield, the armament of an infantry soldier, when women in our armed forces are not allowed to be infantry members, even though they play an increasing role in direct combat. From her first appearances to the present day, Columbia, goddess of freedom and liberty as American values, has symbolized ideals that we have only imperfectly lived out.
To me, worshipping Columbia is both a continuation of the ancient veneration of Libertas and a way of acknowledging the new forms that goddess takes. America's Bill of Rights, including freedom of religion, was revolutionary for its time, and although our progress towards respecting those rights in practice as well as theory has been slow and irregular, progress has been made and continues to advance. Thus, this new persona of an ancient goddess continues to call me to move forward by supporting and protecting rights for all people.
With this mythology and history in mind, Columbia's symbols include the pileus, the eagle and eagle feathers, the sheathed sword and shield which represent her protection, and the laurel wreath of peace.
Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits also worshipped Freedom/Liberty as a goddess. When the statue from the Capitol was brought down to ground level for cleaning and restoration, he led a group in consecrating it. His ritual for that and other magical resources are in his Liberty Rite Materials. Selena Fox, founder of the Lady Liberty League which works to protect Pagan civil rights, also wrote about connections between Libertas and Lady Liberty.
Greek Reconstructionist Pagans similarly venerate Columbia, celebrating the 4th of July as her feast day. They pray to her and give her offerings of materials native to the Americas, such as corn, tobacco, sage, and tomatoes, and pour libations of American wines. On Independence Day in particular, I would dedicate a couple of fireworks to her honor!
NB: Please note that some of this material was partially adapted from an article about Columbia I wrote for the Hail Columbia project.
The plaster cast from which the statue of Columbia was made is now on exhibit in the US Capitol Visitors' Center.
(Photo by Hecate)
Statue of Freedom
(Image in the public domain)
Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol dome in Washington, District of Columbia
(Image provided under GNU Free Documentation License)
Ritual to Columbia
Note: This ritual is specifically US-related, as Columbia is an American goddess. If you are in another country, you can do the ritual as it is written to send energy to support your sisters in the US, or you can change it to address a more general goddess such as Libertas, or a more local one like the Goddess of Democracy in China.
- an image of Columbia, such as a printout of an image online
- one white candle for freedom, and
- one black candle for protection
Suggestions: If you like, decorate your altar with symbols of freedom, with patriotic symbols or colors to encourage your government to protect religious liberty, or with symbols of protection, such as a shield or mirror. Burn incense such as sage, juniper, or pine, and use black and white stones like clear or smoky quartz, snowflake obsidian, hematite, or jet.
Cast the circle and invite the Elements as you usually do.
Light the white candle and place it to the right of the image of Columbia. Reflect on and give thanks for the freedom you have to worship the Goddess in her many forms. Say:
Hail Columbia, patron goddess of your district and of our government! You represent our highest ideals of freedom and liberty. Help us to strive towards the fullest expression of those values.
Light the black candle from the white one and place it to the left of Columbia's image. Visualize Columbia on top of a solid wall, or a dome of protection that surrounds the Capitol and even all of DC. You can imagine this as something that neutralizes and grounds any negative intent directed at it, or as something that reflects it away. Say:
Columbia, stand firm to defend the wall of separation between church and state that protects our precious religious liberty, so that we may continue to honor you. As we do, help us resist oppression and ensure justice.
Thank the Elements, open the circle, and let the candles burn out safely.