America’s Goddesses

Even in this so-called Christian nation (yes, I know they’re the majority, but the Founders did not intend this nation to be anywhere near a theocracy), there are concepts not based in any one religion that are considered sacred. For example:

Liberty and Justice for All.

I’ll discuss Lady Justice another day. Today, we honor Lady Liberty. If this country as a whole could be said to have any one image of the divine feminine, our favorite “harbor chick” gets the nod. I mean no offense by that, BTW — I just finished watching Ghostbusters 2 to get a quote :-).

The city is under the influence of a river of evil psychoactive slime that’s feeding off negative vibes, and if any city knows how to feed bad vibes it’s New York (as the mayor says, “Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker’s God-given right.”). The boys in grey need something to get the city to generate a lot of positive energy.

Spengler: We need something that everyone can get behind, a symbol —

Stantz: Something that appeals to the best in each and every one of us —

Spengler: Something good —

Winston: Something pure —

Venkman: Something decent.

And they all look at the image on the state of New York’s licence plates: The Statue of Liberty.

Her image is one of the most iconic representations of what America is supposed to stand for. After 9/11, some of the most poignant images were of her standing, torch raised, with the smoke from Ground Zero behind her. She was still there, and all that she stood for survived. Or at least, so we hoped.

When someone wants to show a threat to our rights, She stands in for us. When the Village Voice wanted to show what Bush was doing to this nation, they used a wonderful (but chilling) image by Alex Ross. When Roland wrote “Damsels in Distress” for Democracy Means You, the art chosen to accompany the article shows the Ladies Liberty and Justice. More than one editorial cartoonist has gone with similar imagery*.

An article I came across a while back covers this better than I can, what with several days of 90+ temps and sweltering humidity having broiled my brains — The Goddess of Freedom:

The honoring of the Goddess of Freedom began more than two thousand years ago among the ancient Romans. They called Her, Libertas, the Latin word for Freedom. Libertas signified freedom of action, freedom from restraint, independence, rights, and related forms of personal and social liberty.

Libertas as Lady Liberty began emerging in America during the colonial era as part of the American quest for political independence from Britain. American patriot Paul Revere may have been the first to depict Lady Liberty in that context. In 1766, on the obelisk he created in celebration of the repeal of the Stamp Act, he used the image of Liberty with a Liberty Pole surmounted by a Liberty Cap. Another patriot leader, Thomas Paine, included Her in his poem, the “Liberty Tree,” referring to Her as “The Goddess of Liberty.” Freedom Goddess depictions not only emerged in America during its Revolution, but a few years later in France during its own Revolution, with the female symbol of the French Republic, the Marianne, depicted wearing the Liberty Cap, and often accompanied by Liberty’s Cat.

As the USA became a nation, Lady Liberty became part of the official symbology of some of its newly formed states. Holding Her Liberty Cap atop the Liberty Pole, Lady Liberty appears along with the Goddess of Justice on the New York State Flag. On the obverse of the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia, created in 1776, Liberty holds the Liberty Cap atop a pole in Her right hand and is flanked on Her left side by the Roman Goddess of Eternity (Aerternitas) and on Her right by the Goddess of Fruitfulness (Ceres).

The most famous of the Freedom Goddess’ American depictions, the Statue of Liberty, was a gift from France to the United States in honor of America’s 100th birthday. Originally called “Liberty Enlightening the World,” the Statue of Liberty was designed by French Freemason and sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi with the assistance of engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. The head of Lady Liberty’s statue wears a crown with solar rays, similar to the crown on the Colossus of Rhodes, a magnificent monument to the Sun God Helios that once stood astride a Greek harbor and was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The seven rays on Liberty’s crown represent the seven continents and seven seas. The torch Liberty holds in Her right upstretched hand is the Flame of Freedom, and underneath Her feet are broken chains representing overcoming tyranny and enslavement. The tablet Liberty holds in Her left hand is inscribed with July 4, the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the USA as a nation. Her flowing gown is similar in design to depictions of Libertas in ancient Rome.

Lady Liberty images can be found not only throughout America, but elsewhere in the world. She sometimes makes appearances at political rallies, usually in Her Statue of Liberty form. Such was the case in May, 1989, when She gained worldwide attention as She emerged as the Goddess of Democracy in student demonstrations in Beijing, China. Pro-democracy demonstrators erected a 33 foot styrofoam and plaster Liberty Goddess with torch image in Tiananmen Square, and this became a powerful rallying symbol of their quest for Freedom. Although, a short time later, tanks moved in and crushed this statue as well as demonstrators and their demonstrations, their vision and work for Democracy continues within and outside of China.

Today, on this day we celebrate our independence as a nation, let us also remember what the nation was supposed to stand for. Let us honor Lady Liberty — today, and always.

* Images originally at frankgalasso.com/IMAGES/vintage/liberty%20in%20distress.jpg and michaelhanscom.com/eclecticism/graphics/2001/09/graphics/libertycrying.gif

5 comments

Cookie jar (4.00 / 14)

Something red, white and/or blue today, I think -).

by Morgan on Tue Jul 4th, 2006 at 11:37:45 PDT

Very interesting! (4.00 / 5)

I appreciate this fresh perspective on Independence Day – how often do we hear about the ancient religious symbolism of Lady Liberty?  Not very often…

“If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe; but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe.”–Søren Kierkegaard

by Mahanoy on Tue Jul 4th, 2006 at 11:44:29 PDT

Wonderful post (4.00 / 6)

May Lady Liberty continue on for many more millenia!

“Faith is best expressed in story.” Madeline L’Engle

by Shawnari on Tue Jul 4th, 2006 at 12:50:57 PDT

Excellent (4.00 / 4)

A good reminder of the roots of our national symbols. Lady Liberty is often ignored (as the recent Homeland Security budget for NYC illustrates). But I’ve always thought of her and the Spirit of Justice on top of the Capitol dome in DC as the guardians of the spirit of America. They serve as reminders of who we are and what we’re supposed to stand for. I’m sadly afraid we’ve let them down in recent years.



Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
Those who study history are doomed to know it’s repeating.
– Jwhitlock

by Alice Venturi on Tue Jul 4th, 2006 at 13:51:31 PDT

Thank you (4.00 / 3)

May she never see the demise of liberty in this country.

“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

by sdc2027 on Tue Jul 4th, 2006 at 18:53:01 PDT

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