Brigid, Oestre, Aphrodite, Leda, Hariti, Anahita, Saraswati: The Ever Pregnant Swan Maidens

Wendy Andrew, Brigid Swan Maiden

The Irish Goddess Brigid shares some avatars and attributes with Germanic Oestre, specifically the hare and the swan or goose. These shared attributes link Her to the archaic Aphrodite of pre- patriarchal Greece, who rode a swan as her avatar, bore a white flower or lily, was associated with Love, Fertility, Creativity, Divine Knowledge, Wisdom, and the supreme Craft of the Creatrix. Aphrodite adds sacred Bees into the coterie of avatars of fertility.

Aphodite astride Her swan, with Her crown and scepter. Black Attic Ware, c. 450 BC.
Aphrodite astride Her Swan, attended by Erotes, Black Attic Ware c. 400 BC

The original attendants of Aphrodite were the Erotes, tiny perfect beautiful winged youth, who tended the fertility Goddess as pollinators tending the Tree of Life. They are shown hovering around the branches of the Tree of Life in Minoan art, frem whence they came, along with the Melissae, tiny winged women with bee features and co- pollinators, with the bird-featured Erotes, of the eternal Tree of Life embodied in Aphrodite. At the temple of Aphrodite at Eryx, the priestesses were called “melissae”, which means “bees,” and Aphrodite herself was called Melissa, the queen bee.

Later patriarchal Greeks made the sacred narrative of the Love and Fertility Goddess into a rape narrative, whereby their supreme Father God, Zeus, took the form of Aphrodite’s animal avatar, or swan form, so as to rape the Goddess under the new name and reduced status of Leda, a human female. The issue of this assault was the set of light and dark polarized twins, Castor and Pollux.

Roman oil lamp, 1st century AD

The paternalistic theme of ‘Leda and the Swan’ remained a hugely popular subject for the art, poetry and ‘learned’ pornography of classical Rome and Enlightenment Rape Culture, some of the most notable examples from the Romantics, François Boucher and Theodore Gericault.

Leda and the Swan. Marble relief from Knossos, 1st-2nd century AD.
Leda and the Swan by François Boucher, 1740, oil on canvas.
Leda and the Swan, 1817 — Theodore Gericault
Leda and the Swan by François Boucher, 1740, oil on canvas.

More graceful representations of the story, such as Goble’s, bring the Swan Maiden’s character closer to her source in the sacred narratives of the Love Goddess and Her swan or goose avatar, signifying creativity, fertility, knowledge, wisdom, arts, music, and refinement.

Leda and the Swan by Warwick Goble (British, 1862–1943)

This reconnection brings Her archetype still further back, to Her cousin in the Vedic pantheon, Saraswati. Saraswati rides her swan or goose avatar, and is the Goddess of creativity, also signifying fertility, knowledge, wisdom, arts, music, and refinement. The Goddess carries a lotus, lily or white flower, just like Aphrodite and Brigid.

In the Rig-Veda Saraswati is explained as “Saaram vaati iti saraswati” — “She who flows towards the absolute is Saraswati” — thus edifying the ability of knowledge and communication to steer one towards spiritual absolutes.

The Folk and fairytale figure most often associated with Oestre, Mother Goose, is also the scion of this ancient sacred lineage of wise, fertile Sex- and Mother-Love Goddesses.

Often shown with tons of children, or at least with a baby or two, Mother Goose bears traits of Brigid, Oestre, Aphrodite, Leda, and Saraswati.

Nursery rhyme Mother Goose illustration

Aphrodite’s ancient Pagan Persian equivalent (and probably both Her and Saraswati’s precedent) was Harauhuti or Hariti. She was also a Fertility or Mother Goddess, envisioned as a highly prolific mother with hundreds of children. Hariti’s history goes back to around 2500 BC or earlier. At that time the Iranians and Indo-Aryans were still one people– the Indo-Iranians. They worshipped two classes of deities: Devas and Asuras in Sanskrit, or Daevas and

Ahuras in Avestan. After the Indo-Iranians split into two distinct civilizations, Vedic civilization (eventually) adopted the Devas as Gods. There are also similarities to Aredvi Sura Anahita (Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā), the Avestan language name of an Indo- Iranian cosmological figure venerated as the divinity of ‘the Waters’ (Aban) and hence associated with fertility, healing and wisdom. Aredvi Sura Anahita is Ardwisur Anahid or Nahid in Middle- and Modern Persian, or Anahit in Armenian.

Aphrodite’s ancient Pagan Persian equivalent (and probably both Her and Saraswati’s precedent) was Harauhuti or Hariti. She was also a Fertility or Mother Goddess, envisioned as a highly prolific mother with hundreds of children. Hariti’s history goes back to around 2500 BC or earlier. At that time the Iranians and Indo-Aryans were still one people– the Indo-Iranians. They worshipped two classes of deities: Devas and Asuras in Sanskrit, or Daevas and Ahuras in Avestan. After the Indo-Iranians split into two distinct civilizations, Vedic civilization (eventually) adopted the Devas as Gods. There are also similarities to Aredvi Sura Anahita (Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā), the Avestan language name of an Indo- Iranian cosmological figure venerated as the divinity of ‘the Waters’ (Aban) and hence associated with fertility, healing and wisdom. Aredvi Sura Anahita is Ardwisur Anahid or Nahid in Middle- and Modern Persian, or Anahit in Armenian.

The relief carving from Southeast Asia, above, surrounded by children, birds, and Trees of Life, and the Gandharan masterpiece below, carved in a warm-toned schist, portrays Hariti as the epitome of maternal grace, a regal, divine figure. Surrounded by children and infants, she sits on Her throne, unperturbed.

The ancient portrayals of Hariti, so like Mother Goose with all Her babies and children, shows affinities with the Romantic era portrayal of Leda and the Swan by Jean-Léon Gérôme, where the woman is pictured more like a Nature Spirit, or Deva, welcoming her Swan fertility avatar and all the magical offspring that come with it.

Hariti with children.”House of Naradakha,” Found in Shaikhan Dheri, Charsada, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.

The ancient portrayals of Hariti, so like Mother Goose with all Her babies and children, shows affinities with the Romantic era portrayal of Leda and the Swan by Jean-Léon Gérôme, where the woman is pictured more like a Nature Spirit, or Deva, welcoming her Swan fertility avatar and all the magical offspring that come with it.

Jean-Léon Gérôme. Leda and the Swan, oil on canvas, 1895
Wendy Andrew, Brigid Swan Maiden

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.