The Goddess Columbia on the 1860 U.S. Seated Liberty Dollar
“If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not Conservative by 40, you have no brain”. ~Winston Churchill
I think it’s fairly safe to say that generally Pagans aren’t members of The Tea Party here in America, or even Republican these days. This isn’t to say that there aren’t conservative Pagans out there, and being conservative in and of itself is certainly not a bad thing. I always used to consider myself to be more conservative than not. I believe in a limited federal government, individual freedoms, personal responsibility, free markets and that the people should hold the overall power of the country (these are all things that The Tea Party says that they’re trying to bring back right now according to www.theteaparty.net). While I was always socially liberal, I also believe very strongly in my second amendment rights.
And then G. W. Bush happened, and the Republican party decided to completely lose its mind in regards to religion and their treatment of women. Not that there weren’t always some elements of these things drifting in the background, but that was not their focus. I think one of my defining moments of realizing that I could never be a Republican was when my mother and I argued over Sarah Palin. I think Palin is a nutcase, my mother thinks she’s amazing. I still can’t understand how someone who protested for women’s rights by burning her bra in the sixties and seventies could possibly like completely Anti-Choice Sarah Palin!
This crop of Conservatives like to conveniently forget that our Founding Fathers went out of their way to ensure that the government was secular and not religious. This isn’t to say that many of our founding fathers were not extremely religious men, but they had already seen the dangers of allowing one religion to rule a free nation. So when I see the conservatives trying to force our country “back into it’s Christian foundation”, it scares me.
Being both a woman and a Pagan, I see that our country is currently facing huge dangers in relation to religious freedom and gender equality. The nation itself seems to be dealing with a huge divide between Christian morals and our modern day lifestyle. As my S.O. says, our morals have not yet caught up with our technology.
The Wild Hunt did a fabulous article about this called Caught In Another Faith’s Crisis. As Jason Pitzl-Waters poses:
“What about us? What about the 22% or so of Americans who aren’t Christian? The “others” and “nones” on those surveys. How do we live in a society where the dominant faith is experiencing a crisis? How do we make our voices heard in a landscape that has devolved into “Democrat Jesus” vs. “Republican Jesus,” where all moral arguments are couched in the language of Christianity?”
It seems like these Christian morals are in almost every law that comes up these days, especially in regard to women’s rights. Arizona recently passed a law where conception is recognized two weeks BEFORE insemination occurs. My own state is trying to pass just such a law. How scary is that? Where is the line that we cross before we lose all of our rights as women? When do we become just like Iran in 1979?
In the end, its all about balance, and we, as Americans, seem to have lost that.
So I find another discussion that has been going on a lot lately to be extremely interesting when looking at the overall picture of our country right now. As the article In Goddess We Trust: America’s Spiritual Crossroads posits: “Perhaps what is needed is a reaffirmation of allegiance not to our nation’s God, but to our nation’s forgotten Goddess: Columbia, the Great Dove, the Maiden Martyr.” We have certainly leaned so heavily into the male side of thinking that women are being left behind in all things. The article goes further to say: “So then, we must change the medium, if we wish to change the message. And thus, the IMAGE of the Great Goddess must come back to the forefront if we are to reform our social, civic and educational institutions in meaningful and productive ways.”
This is not the first time that the American Goddess has come up lately. A few months ago I noticed a Facebook group called “Hail Columbia”. This group was formed in response to the DC40.
“In particular, the DC40 have decided that Columbia, a personification of the United States (much like Britannia for the UK and Marianne for France), is a face of this demon, as are female representations of Liberty and Freedom. Since they are obsessed with legalisms, they have issued a faux-legal “divorce decree” to separate the country from Ba’al (another name for a related demon – it’s hard to keep track) and assert that they have used their spiritual authority to rename the District of Columbia as “the District of Christ.”
While the DC40 were working actively with prayer to force America into being a land of Christ “once again,” the group “Hail Columbia” wants people to pray to counteract this movement, fighting prayer with prayer. “The change DC40 wants to make is electing leaders who fear the Christian God and “find that compromise is not the way” as it is impossible to “compromise with unrighteousness.” “Hail Columbia” wants Pagans to actively petition Columbia to intercede on our behalf to stop this.
So who is the Goddess Columbia?
Columbia is the feminine personification of America, who first appears in the poetry of African-American Phillis Wheatley in 1776 in a letter to George Washington during the revolutionary war. This in and of itself is interesting; Phillis Wheatley was a slave, she herself didn’t have any rights.
Throughout the Revolution, the image of Columbia was used all over the new America: cities were named for her, songs were sung about her, and her image can be seen throughout the architecture and art of the period.
A replica of the Goddess Columbia from atop the U.S. Capitol Dome, Columbia appears all over architecture in the Capital.
She is often closely associated with Lady Liberty. Some like to tie her to the Masons, which is not unreasonable, considering how many of our Founding Fathers were Masons. Others take this even further. It is common knowledge that the capital was built on Masonic principles. And doesn’t it make sense to have a goddess in counterpoint to the God/s of the masonic orders? And as my S.O. points out “Be aware that until 1932, the United States had a Goddess depicted on nearly every coin minted; the Goddess of Liberty. She was the focus of the Morgan Dollar, the Peace Dollar, the Seated Liberty dollar…the dime that people refer to as a “Mercury Dime,” was actually a “Goddess of Free Thought,” designed by Mint designer Adolf Weinman. France and England continue to depict Goddesses on their coinage; in the U.S. collectors may purchase (very expensive) limited mintage silver and gold coins from the Mint, both depicting the Goddess of Liberty: neither coin is currently in circulation.”
The American government has always sanctioned Columbia, even putting her on our coins.
Columbia grew out of early depictions of America as the Indian Queen. The Indian Queen was the original personification of the New World. She was a bold figure wearing little more than feathers. This personification was slowly transformed into the proud Indian Princess (of which many often show Pocahontas as a portrayal), until Greco Roman images slowly replaced that of the Indian Princess. Much of the early American republic was depicted as a sort of neoclassical revival and they probably wanted this Goddess to reflect that as well. Columbia became America’s spirit of nationalism, being depicted in the cap of liberty (a cap worn in Classical Rome by emancipated slaves), draped in the colors of the flag.
Columbia seems to have a much more passive role as the goddess of our country, seen as the mother of the nation who watches after her children from afar until there is such a time as she is needed. Until this year, I had never heard of the Goddess Columbia, but she makes perfect sense to me. How could a nation like America not have a personification like Columbia? I think she is especially interesting because of how a new nation seemingly birthed her to represent them. Columbia herself is a new goddess who still has an opportunity to grow into something even better. So then how do we ignore her so much? How has she been forgotten?
Needless to say, these days I consider myself to be moderate and try to remind people that without balance, we lose our spiritual healthiness as well. Maybe if more people begin to remember Columbia, the feminine can be brought back into the language of American democracy. We live in a changing world. As a society, we are on the cusp of great change. The way we actively pursue that change will forge our future. If we’re to have a bright future, we need to bring the balance of Columbia and the feminine back.
I know that I come across a lot of new Pagans who haven’t yet thought about what being Pagan means in the larger sense of the word, the sense of what it means for an individual standing in the greater society. I know most people think about how their family and workplace will react and there is still a great fear of being “outed” and being persecuted for being Pagan. But I also know that a lot of Pagans become so wrapped up in that, they forget to think about the larger politics. Someone like Herman Cain isn’t going to get your (Pagan) vote if you aren’t looking for a Christian society.
So don’t forget her. Remember all of the ideals that the Founding Fathers originally used her to symbolize. Don’t let a small group of fanatics overwhelm those of us who don’t agree with them. Especially when we are slowly losing so many of the rights that those in our past fought and died for. Especially right now, right before International Pagan Coming Out Day on May 2nd. Bring Columbia back into the conversation.
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.