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The Body of the Earth Goddess: Ireland and the Passage Tombs

Categorized in these topics: Baba Yaga Feminine Matrix and Female Culture

A work/study travel tour in Women’s Studies & Feminist Archetypal Psychology

February 2001

Over five thousand years ago, our grandmothers of mother earth and sky wisdom were capable of fashioning passage temples from stones, clay and earth. These passage temples are metaphors for the body of the Earth Goddess. Not only did the Mesolithic (middle stone age) peoples work without metals, but our ancient grandmothers had no access to the technological tools that nowadays overwhelm our lives with more and more information. Yet, these wise women were able to build, with precision, a passage temple that is illuminated by the winter solstice sun through the upper part of a doorway after the darkest night of the year.

In Ireland, the Earth Goddess is alive in every stone. The divine feminine spirit is revitalized in her body with the return of the sunlight. I am awed at how “embodied” ancient Mesolithic women were. I search the faces of grandmothers and I often now wonder if some of this lies buried in their DNA, psyches or spirit. The Passage Temples and Irish landscapes point to the rich ancient wisdom that manifested and integrated the body, mind and spirit, a phenomenon that sparked the original eco-feminism movement. Women had to have honored and reverenced their bodies to have built a passage temple in the shape of Her and their female bodies.

The pure art of having this metaphorically-enacted every winter solstice points to a deep specificity of life involving the female body. Combining the heavens and the rotation of the earth along with their passage temples, the Irish Earth Goddess was able to experientially enact every detail cosmically from a fixated point on land. The Mother Earth, also our Earth Goddess, intercourses with all other matter, living and dead.

Cheryl Straffon, author of The Earth Goddess: Celtic and Pagan Legacy of the Landscape , wrote her book because of her need to capture oral mythology described in an older book written in 1860. Cheryl Straffon had the need to be as specific as possible and to capture all the details about the Irish Earth Goddess. That book from the 1860’s that she flipped through described a Giantess of the land who was an ancient earth-creating Goddess which enabled a deep listening within Straffon’s own divine feminine. Straffon’s listening process to her own female body and its divine feminine birthed her book on the Earth Goddess. As I read her book, I became aware of the amazing connection between the sacred feminine divine pilgrimages to Malta where another Giantess lived on in legend and in the stones. Witnessing Ireland with its stones -the Irish Earth Giantess legends braided both Malta and Irish Goddesses in Giantess metaform.

Archeologists have termed the passage temples as “Passage tombs” and “Burial tombs”, but findings show only a few skeletons inside the passage temples. This is so unlike the Maltese burial tombs where thousands of bleached bones were laid to rest for remembrance. I felt intuitively and indigenously as a woman that these were passage temples of our uteri and vaginas, hence my use of the term, “Passage Temples.”

Walking through the passage way is tight and somewhat serpentine in flow, as if one is going through the birth canal. In fact, each time I emerge from the Newgrange passage way into the three ear-lobed chambers, I have a headache on the side of my head. One of the women on the travel study tour, a woman Lorna Tirman of Truckee, California who is an intensive care nurse, now a doctoral candidate of psychology and a presenter on the work/study tour, gently spoke of the newborn infant going through the birth canal when I spoke of my physical sensation. Another woman on the work/study tour felt that same sensation.

Newgrange stands as a mute reminder of those grandmothers of mother earth and sky wisdom who lived in their bodies and understood how the cosmos is contained in women’s blood mysteries, their cycles and moons of life experiences. Straffon writes that the ancient Irish sites “combine a dramatic interplay of celestial symbolism with artistic imagery that may have both a language of the cycles of the year and celebration of the Goddess of life, death and rebirth.” The women were captivated by Newgrange’s enactment of the winter solstice after bearing witness to the Earth Goddess in Newgrange.

The Ireland work-study tour was an involved listening process into our bodies. Ireland’s archetypal landscape and passage temples sensualized five women on this work/study. Held in the womb of the Moyglare Manor, a 17th century stately grand house, the work/study women were able to wake up in extravagantly-appointed rooms with large windows that invited the stunning sunrises and sunsets and the rising Irish mists. Even the problematic patriarch, the manager, could not take from away the intensity of the place. On our walks around the Manor, the work/study explored the ruins of an eleventh century church and the grave of Kathleen who died in the early 1500s.

At the “Hill of the Witch,” at Loughcrew, our work/study circle was allowed to embody the passage temples in ritual and metaform without any interruptions and in total freedom. Being immersed at the “Hill of the Witch” liberated women’s spirituality, due to this location’s being a relatively unknown site with very little traffic. One of the rituals with the work/study circle involved the participant’s donning of a black velvet cape after being initiated in the circle of directions and entering alone into the Passage Temple. A much smaller version of Newgrange, the “Hill of the Witch” passage temple was the perfect medium to allow only one woman to enter at any one time.

Told to not speak of what they saw or encountered in the Passage Temple after they emerged, each woman gave the black velvet cape to the next initiate to enter alone. Later, the women spoke of how they studied the ancient inscriptions on the walls of the temple and how they were able to “embody” the passage temple more fully. One of the women, an attorney for an international organization, spoke of the symbols as resembling “UFOs” in nature. An Artemis type woman, Elizabeth Breedlove, on the work/study who now lives in Barcelona and will be orchestrating a hiking tour with me in the Pyrenees next year, found her scream inside the passage temple. It was a soulful, wild-woman instinctual wolf song that brought all of us running to the wrought iron gate of the passage temple. Her scream echoed deeply in all of us and echoed the listening Mother Earth, the Earth Goddess. A professor of English Literature in Holland spoke of how time was nonexistent for her once inside the passage temple.

Ireland’s landscapes activated our psyches, our feminine DNA structures and set our divine natures free. No one remained untouched by the “Hill of the Witch.” As if to make sure that we did indeed hear HER, as we left the hill and started walking down, a red/orange engorged ball of fire started setting in the west. Our Artemis of our work/study circle climbed on top of an Irish boulder and started her baleful and soulful expression. Later on, she read to us her poem of her experiences ranging from my Crete work/study tour in April 2000, her encounter of near-death with the raging floodwaters in Spain and her experience of Ireland’s embodied landscape. Like the serpent rising from the waters and the snake shedding its skin, the transformational aspects of the “Hill of the Witch” gave everyone a new skin. Some of us were not accustomed to the new feeling and much pain was processed in emotional interchanges. But it was all a part of the sacred process.

A tall elegant blond, Nina Kojevnikov, a professor of English also accompanied me to Bosnia before the Ireland trip. She spoke of the many ways of how women submit to patriarchal churches, and of how Muslim women submit in Bosnia. Remarking that Ireland felt like home for her, but that she was very conscious of the patriarchy reigning in Ireland, I was reminded of Mary Condren’s piece from the wonderfully heavy tome, “The Realm of the Ancestors,” titled “Forgetting our Divine Origins; The Warning of Dervogilla.” Condren, the director for the Institute for Feminism and Religion in Ireland, cites Marija Gimbutas’s archeological and archemythologies work as instrumental for her reclaiming the Goddess in Celtic lore and sorting it from the patriarchal propaganda. Mary Condren stated that,”Images found at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth in Ireland speak of a culture in which ambivalence, mystery and cyclical regeneration, the attributes of the serpent, were revered.”

Condren’s work on the erasure of female deities, the loss of the female images of the divine and the female representations of words, and the fact that the female symbol system is an empowering tool for women who are oppressed and have been oppressed is powerful. Ireland’s landscape and archeological sites are the physical female symbol system that hopefully will not be erased and will be used for the healing and excavation of the divine feminine. When we return to Ireland, we return to the female body and with intercourse with the cosmos. Please join me next time in Ireland.

Danica Anderson is a forensic psychotherapist practicing somatic psychology Kolo Trauma Treatment and performs cyclical work/studies pilgrimages at sacred sites. Her work with Bosnian war crimes and war survivors incorporates a yearly gathering in Travnik, Bosnia All are invited to attend. Please email her at:

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