Jul 042010

Liberty Enlightening the World

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
‘ With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These words, written by Emma Lazarus, are engraved inside the statue of Columbia Liberty.

From the beginning, when Columbia was first revealed as the Goddess of this land, She was seen as a guardian of freedom and a generous granter of plenty.  In early depictions of Columbia, she wears the cap of freedom and holds a cornucopia.   The eagle and the rattlesnake are sacred to Her.

Today I honor Her with offerings and pray that She blesses us with Her gifts.  I ask Her to guide us – our country seems to be at a crossroads and is facing difficult times.  Our nation’s identity and ethics are muddled.  How I wish Her statue was still behind the  Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives – having Columbia Liberty as a guide for our elected officials  (especially Nancy Pelosi) certainly couldn’t hurt!

Columbia Liberty, which formerly graced the niche behind the Speaker in the House of Representatives.

I hope you enjoy a wonderful 4th of July celebration today – whether you join the increasing number of Pagans who celebrate it as a festival day in honor of Columbia Liberty or if it is a purely secular holiday for you.

I leave you with a poem by Phillis Wheatley, a famous slave poet of colonial America.  In 1776, Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem to George Washington, lauding his appointment as commander of the Continental Army and praising him as a true son of Columbia.  I agree with Ms. Wheatley, seeing Washington as a Hero, a semi-divine being worthy of cultus, and today I honor Him as such.  May he continue to guard and protect our nation.

To His Excellency, General Washington
By Phillis Wheatley

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and veil of night!

The goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel bind her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.

Muse! bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or thick as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou know’st them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honours,—we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!

One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! be thine.

 Posted by at 7:15 am

  22 Responses to “Columbia, Patron Goddess of the United States”

  1. Thanks, Cara!

    All hail Columbia! May She grant us strength, courage, and wisdom: for Freedom itself is never granted, but must always be won.

    A let us honor and remember the great founding heroes of our Land. And it is appropriate for Pagans to emphasize the fact that many of these heroes (although not all) were committed especially to the cause of religious freedom.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Star Foster. Star Foster said: RT @paganpolitics: Columbia, Patron Goddess of the United States [caption id="" align="alignnon... http://bit.ly/bKQe4M http://bit.ly/bKQe4M [...]

  3. Hail Columbia! The Wheatley poem is a lovely tribute!

  4. ” (especially Nancy Pelosi)”

    A very nice post. But you had to muddy it with partisanship…

    • Pelosi is our current Speaker of the House of Representatives so I’m not sure what you are talking about.

      • I saw the same thing. I think that, even if it wasn’t intended that way, it should regardless be edited to remove something that reads very partisan. One could charitably consider this to be a gaffe on your part, but one that you could fix.

        • I just want to point out that you are requesting to have something edited in an editorial essay written on blog project that is specifically both political and editorial in nature because it reads to you as politically partisan.

          So although I didn’t write this entry as slam against any political party, I’m not overly adverse to people seeing it that way, so I’m having a hard time understanding why the post should be edited because you perceive political bias in it. There is political bias in every single post in this blog project and it is stated in an up front and transparent way.

          • Fair enough. You do have the right to express an opinion that some people (you know, those people) are less patriotic than yourself, in a post that is ostensibly about a celebration of how we, as a nation, were unified under a common ideology.

            Good for you. I’m sad to discover that that is what you meant to say, rather than it being an accident of phrasing.

            • You appear to be seeking to reinforce an (erroneous) assumption that you already held. When you do that, you can generally find something.

              • If the assumption were really erroneous, why would you refuse so adamantly to make a simple correction that removes the ambiguity? With each response, you sound more disingenuous.

                • I think I see where you have gone wrong. I believe you are making an assumption that I wrote the post with the goal of being totally non-partisan. That would be incorrect.

                  The goal, if you want to call it that, was to talk about Columbia from the POV of a conservative Hellenic Polytheist. That’s the bias ever post I write on here is coming from. Every post on here from every writer will have a political bias because that’s our function.

                  That said, I didn’t write the post with the intent to disparage Pelosi. A few years ago the post would have read “especially Dennis Hastert.”

                  As I’m sure people can tell from reading my previous posts, when I do wish to criticize a person or a political stance I’m not subtle about it nor do I shy away from clarifiying that “yes, I really did mean that and further more…”

                  In this case clarification was asked for and I gave it. I gave it especially since you should assume political bias on my part. I will admit, though, I appreciate it when people ask me to expand or clarify rather than just making an assumption.

                  At this point people can either accept my clarification or refuse it. I’m fine either way. But I did want to respond to you on this because I want readers to be clear that when they ask me a question, “Do you believe/think X” or “Did you mean to say Y” and I answer them, they can count on my answer being a truthful one.

      • Had you written “currently” instead of “especially” you could defend it as you are attempting.

        • I’m not defending it – I just didn’t understand what you meant.

          I wasn’t going for a jab against Pelosi, just emphasizing the importance of her position (which is why Columbia used to look over the shoulder of the Speaker of the House, the importance of the position). The person in that position, more than any other in the House, could use the guidance of our Goddess. Which is why I used “especially.”

          My personal opinion is that Pelosi has done a horrible job in that position, but I can’t think of too many Speakers that have done that job without being a total political hack and putting Party before Country. Can you?

  5. Cara, I have to admit I found this piece rather disturbing. It is awash in patriotism, but there are an amazing number of hidden ironies here and I wonder if you are aware of them.

    Columbia, a goddess created (or, as you say, “revealed”) in the 18th century, was named after Christopher Columbus, the first European known to have enslaved anyone in the New World. Columbus arrived in the Caribbean with the explicit and open intent of capturing slaves and stealing gold, not to mention spreading Catholicism around the world, so it is extremely ironic that the goddess named after him would come to be associated with freedom and plenty. Freedom and plenty for whom?

    Phyllis Wheatley, writing in 1776, was the first known person to speak of Columbia as a goddess, and she was, as you say, a slave. Born in Senegal and enslaved at age eight, she was named “Phyllis” after the ship that brought her to America. She was purchased by the rich Wheatley family of Boston, and adopted as their daughter. They gave her an education, and her poetry was read in England and throughout America. She married John Peters, a free black man, in 1778, but he was put in debtor’s prison shortly thereafter, leaving her alone with a sickly infant daughter. In the land of freedom and plenty, she inherited no money from the Wheatleys and, indeed, was legally unable to own property; so she had to set aside her poetry and work as a scullery maid at a boarding house. She died at age 31.

    Again, ironic; but I for one am not surprised at how Columbia rewarded her prophet.

    Wheatley’s poem is full of praise of martial glory, so it is not surprising that Washington recruited her to read her poetry to the revolutionary troops to improve their morale. This was essential, because only 10-20% of colonists supported the revolutionary war in the first place (another 10-20% wanted to remain with England, and most were indifferent to the matter; it was primarily the rich white elite who stood to gain freedom and plenty from independence) and Washington’s army was suffering from constant desertions.

    Speaking of Washington, this Hero, this semi-divine being, he was of course a slave owner himself. While he claimed to dislike slavery, he ‘owned’ over 300 of them (black and white), violating Pennsylvania law (which abolished slavery in 1780 before Washington served in Philadelphia as President) in order to hold on to them, and signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed escaped slaves to be kidnapped and brought back to their ‘owners’, and made it a crime to give them refuge. He set about half of his slaves free in his will; the other 150+ remained, with their descendants, to make sure his wife had freedom and plenty.

    Cara, were you aware of these ironies? Were you aware of how the facts of real history belie the sunny picture you paint above?

    It’s fine to lavish praise on the praiseworthy, but the ugly facts should not be ignored. Otherwise there is nothing to prevent Columbia’s name being used — again — to justify violence, slavery, and want.

    • I won’t nitpick, but some of what you have written is not exactly correct, but that doesn’t hamper the the point you are making.

      Yes, I am aware of all of this. What you see as irony I see as complexity and reality and adding humans and all their flaws into the mix.

      I don’t believe the Gods are omnibenevolent nor do I expect them to be. And yes, one of our Goddess’ names is that of a man who sailed to American and wrought all kinds of intentional and unintentional harm. There has also been some intentional and unintentional good that has come out of that history, as well. That is part of our country and it shouldn’t be forgotten, ever. Since then, our land has seen some profoundly good deeds and bad and a whole lot of neutral. And that is part of our land, too. Which is part of our Goddess. Columbia didn’t gain the additional name Liberty (or Libertas) until later. Did She not care about liberty until then, or did we not understand enough about Her until then? Do we know Her now? Those are all questions that I’ve been interested in.

      The Heroes we have in my religion, Hellenismos, are certainly not perfect. Some of them, a person would be hard pressed to call them good. Yet they are Heroes and they have become semi-divine beings worthy of cultus.

      So I guess it’s not that I have only a sunny picture and am unaware of the not so wonderful parts, but that I’m at peace with the entire picture – that no God or human or situation or Hero is 100% omnibenevolent.

      • Well cool. :-) I also don’t think the gods are all-good or all-knowing, so we’re definitely on the same page there. But I do think it’s extremely important to state the bad with the good, even — or perhaps especially — on the 4th of July.

  6. [...] an unexpected shake down in faith last week in the wake of the July 4 celebrations on various Pagan blogs hailing Columbia as a goddess of liberty and personification of the country. This bothered [...]

  7. [...] of how fortunate I am to have been born here and I try not to take that for granted.  I honor Columbia, Patron Goddess of our land, and I hope She continues to bless us even though we often don’t uphold Her [...]

  8. [...] this point on, I will be honoring the goddess Columbia as a way to strengthen the freedoms that our nation stands for.  Instead of using a god of peace [...]

  9. [...] written about Columbia by Cara Schulz. Columbia, Patron Goddess of the United States Our Sacred Constitution Patriotism Has A [...]

  10. Beautiful poem by the late great Phillis Wheatley.