The Ancient Practice of Marrying the Land

By Sharon Blackie on Saturday November 28th, 2015

The Ancient Practice of Marrying the Land

Reigniting the divine feminine through Celtic stories and traditions

The native pre-Christian mythology of the Celtic nations which stretch along the Western Atlantic seaboard of Europe is highly woman-centred. In our oldest stories, the creative, generative essence of the universe was female, not male; women represented the spiritual and moral axis of the world, and the power of men was predominantly social.

But the Celtic divine female was a long way from the remote, transcendent sky-deities we’ve grown used to in recent centuries here in the West: she had one foot in the Otherworld for sure, but she was firmly grounded and deeply rooted in place, indivisible from her distinctive, haunting landscapes.

In Ireland in particular, the Dinnseanchas — the ancient stories and lore of place, the foundation-stones both of personal and communal identity, and of moral obligations to the land and the tribe — tell us how so many major features of the landscape came to be named after women.

Alt text hereOtherworldly woman of the land

Feminine Authority of the Otherworld

Almost all Irish rivers, for example, bear the names of Otherworldly women. Ancient Irish literature is filled with stories of powerful women who were incarnations of Sovereignty, the goddess of the land who was its guardian and protector. Sovereignty was the spirit of the Earth itself, the anima mundi, a deeply ecological force.

She’s been treated badly over the centuries, this old goddess of Sovereignty. She began to lose her power when stories from the ancient oral tradition of the Celts were committed to paper by Christian monks; their written words formed the new and only permitted truth. A goddess could not be tolerated in this brave new world: theirs was the only god.

These powerful, complicated divine women who carried with them all the authority of the Otherworld, and the fertile and creative power of the land in all its ambiguity and complexity, were reinvented as saints. And if the qualities they embodied in their specific incarnations didn’t fit the new image of what a good woman should be, they were portrayed simply as ‘fairy women’, or remodelled as promiscuous, pseudo-historical queens.

By the seventeenth century, when a woman could no longer be accepted in any significant position of influence, all that remained of the story of the powerful goddess of Sovereignty were the dreamlike visions or aislings in which she appeared to inspire the poets – a weak, melancholy maiden, romanticised and unreal.

Alt text hereThe power of the goddess rests in the land

When the King married the Goddess of the Land

In the days when our native traditions predominated, the power of Sovereignty — the power of women — was also the power to determine who should rule the land. In the old myths, Sovereignty’s power was paramount. If the power she bestowed was abused, then we invited disaster.

During the reign of a king favoured by the goddess, the land was fertile and prosperous, and the tribe was victorious in war. But if the king didn’t match up to her expectations, he didn’t last long. And what she expected more than anything was that the king, and through his example, the people, would cherish the land.

So it was that the ancient rites of kingship in Ireland included a ceremonial marriage, the banais ríghi, between the king and the goddess of the land, and so fundamental was that idea to the Irish way of life that those rites lasted into the sixteenth century.

In this sacred marriage, the king swore to uphold and protect the land and his people, and to be true to both; in return Sovereignty, the source of life, granted him the gifts which would help him to keep his oath. But the source of life must be respected.

While there is mutual respect between the two partners – between the goddess and the king, between the land and the people, between nature and culture, between feminine and masculine – then all is in harmony and life is filled with abundance. But when the contract is broken, the fertile land becomes the Wasteland.

Alt text hereRespect for the Celtic goddess brought fertile land

Reclaiming the mythical woman of the past

And so it is that today we find ourselves in an ailing world, cut off from our roots. So we find ourselves in a Wasteland of unbelonging; in the throes of a worldwide environmental crisis of our own making which threatens the existence of so many species on this planet.

I began to write my forthcoming book, If Women Rose Rooted, because I believe we need to find our way out of the Wasteland, and I believe that women hold the key. The key is there, in the mythologies that are indigenous to my native lands. For women particularly, to have a Celtic identity or ancestry is to inherit a history, literature and mythology in which we are portrayed not only as deeply connected to the natural world, but as playing a unique and critical role in the wellbeing of the Earth and survival of its inhabitants.

Celtic myths for sure have their fair share of male heroism and adventure, but the major preoccupation of their heroes is with service to and stewardship of the land. And once upon a time, those stories tell us, women were the guardians of the natural world, the heart of the land.

The Celtic woman who appears in these old tales is active in a different way from their heroes and warriors: she is the one who determines who is fit to rule, she is the guardian and protector of the land, the bearer of wisdom, the root of spiritual and moral authority for the tribe.

Celtic creation stories tell us that the land was shaped by a woman; Celtic history offers us examples of women who were the inspirational leaders of their tribes. These are the stories of our own heritage, the stories of the real as well as the mythical women who went before us. What if we could reclaim those stories, and become those women again?

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.



women of visionary art

The Women of Visionary Art


How to Start a Happiness Revolution


An Indigenous Approach To Healing Trauma

Subscribe to UPLIFT

UPLIFT is dedicated to telling the new story of inspired co-creation.

Get free updates and news about UPLIFT events and films.

How will my data be used?



53 Responses to The Ancient Practice of Marrying the Land

  1. The motif of the king who marries the land in the sacred marriage rite is one of responsibility to land and to community (as the king is responsible for the unity between his people and the spirits of the land). Celtic myth still carries the seeds of Egyptian and Hebrew lore. 19th century scholar Gerald Massey wrote about the linguistic similarities and showed that cultural aspects were intimately related. The sacred marriage motif also relates to Hebrew lore of the union of the heavenly and the earthly. This is embodied most famously in the biblical song of songs (written by Solomon). Also in the dialogue wrapped in love poetry between the Sumerian gods Inanna and Dumuzi, goddess of love and war, and her consort who was a shepherd and steward of the earth.

  2. For me, a key feature of my Celtic culture is that a womans word was recognised in law. Thus she had the legal right to name the father of her child and name her rapist. Today in Britain only 4.9 percent of reported rapes result in a conviction. A great unknowingness descends on the male of the species when it is suggested that women can tell the truth. Apart from rape, threat of rape and low legal status, scurrilous gossip is another way in which women are controlled and intimidated. In ancient Ireland, men could be fined for revealing the secrets of a womans bed. American women need look no further than the Iroquois confederacy of present day New York State for inspiring examples of how to get it right: women had the right to name the war chiefs and the peace chiefs. It was recognised that women had a greater subtlety of intellect and could penetrate the lying subterfuges of the anti-social. The Iroquois revered the eagle and constitutional government long before George Washington turned up on their shores. Knowledge of herbal medicine was supreme: the Iroquois had a herbal form of birth control which was without harmful side effects. All this was swept away in the bloody cataclysm which befell this great culture following European contact. Women are very much the losers as a result.

  3. I have been claiming Earth as my Lover. I sure am hers.
    Upon reading this, I will now ask for her hand in Wholistic Matrimony. Thank you for this sacred gift of knowledge💚

  4. Im a guy,I purchased If women rose rooted and loved the book.I passed it to my girlfriend who in turn passed it to now 12 women to read,,Im a bee keeper and know the order a female brings to leadership,,,,,,,,,,,,Dave

      • I Love cherish and respect the earth, although I don’t feel as it it my forever home. We might think of how symbiotic our lives are intertwined, she supports us, and without her we would perish, but forgetting she is alive could be the death of us still.

  5. Or is this perhaps common knowledge? Could I cite it as common knowledge? I really don’t know since I come from another culture ; I am Finnish.

    Is this something any anglo-saxon would be aware of,say the way I know Wellamo was ancient Finnish water-goddess? I think not, or else there would not have been the need for the article.

  6. I loved the article – and the pictures. As I came here through google search on the connection of land and women in Celtic culture, sarching for a scientific citation for this practise is my problem. Any pointers?

    I’m writing a paper on ecocriticism so I need to cite.

  7. Woman will rule the earth again.the Goddess woman was given many names to label her.some of these names got her killed.

  8. I’d love to have a list of some of these female oriented myths and sources including a list of books they’re featured in.

  9. What are the sources in which this was drawn from? I’d love to use this in an academic paper about celtic people and connector to land. Thx.

  10. I so wish people would learn about the Welsh, Brythonic, Scottish, Pictish, Bretton and British stories that also tell of this, and which may be even older than the Irish. It so often feels as though Irish is the only Celtic. The marriage of king to the Land is ancient, ancient, and is the practice I was brought up in. One thing to notice is the number of places in Britain that are called Kingstone and Kingston. I live about a mile away from a Kingstone, in the smallest of the old kingdoms of Britain. These places are about the place where the king puts his foot into the land, in some places there’s even a footprint in the stone; Polanski uses this old ritual in his film “Macbeth” – he’s a bright lad :-).

    If we had kept this knowing (we call it kenning) into the modern age, if we (our ego-masculine selves) wedded the land throughout our lives, remaking the promise every day, the poor Earth would not be in the dreadful state she is. We need to make this promise, this wedding. Since Roman/Christian/Norman times wedding became about property, and so did women, the representatives of the goddess, of the Earth. But please, please, show all our stories, or at least mention their existence. We need all our stories …

    I feel so very passionate about this. It’s been the mainstay of my life for all my life, from the teachings of my family. I want all our stories known again …

    • The ancient high kings of ireland are well documented in the ancient books of ireland, hereditry listed to 2700BC, were the oldest monarchs in europe and occupied a divine place. The english crown as we know it only came into real existance around 300-500 years before Henry II claimed the irish crown in 1171. The coronation stone in Westminster is otiginally from Tara, seat of HIgh Kings in Ireland having been brought to Scotland as irish kingdoms at that time extended into Scotland. Of course the other clans and kings had their own rocks and stones for crowning purposes. The irish language is the oldest venacular in europe. Ireland is the source.

    • A bit late to the conversation, couldn’t agree with you more. I was thinking of the legend of Urien of Rheged meeting Modron at the ford, where they united, and she was the mother of his son Owain and his twin sister Morfydd.

  11. The ritual of sacred marriage between the King / the Priest of the tribe and the Grand Mother Godess Creator of the world has existed in Bulgarian villages since prehistoric time. BaNa means our Mother Godess Creator of the world. BanaAz means a Godly man, representative of BaNa. Righi is an old Bulgarian verb meaning digging or ploghing the earth. The sacred marriage is always done in the days of the Spring Equinox whereas the earth must be prepared with the plough (righi).

  12. we need the old Celtic Myths as well as creating our own today. In this we need to come close to Mother Earth and all her beings. Live with her and love her..she is alive…I experince a lot as i walk on her every day….I experience her waters and the elementals that lives there….aquafairies, the gnoms that works with the earth and so on….It is a form of being in the heart all the time……

  13. For the last 32 years I have led my Rocky Mountain town in celebrating the Marriage of the Earth and the Sacred Masculine, the Harvest Mother and the Green Man, our Mother Mtn. the Red Lady and the Community. I recently presented a TEDXTalk on this powerful ritual of marrying the Land and the Leader: TRANSFORMING COMMUNITY: Celebrating Our Stories and Spirit of Place. I would be honored if you would view it at: Our week-long festival honors the Earth by selecting a different woman each year to embody this powerful dynamic. The Sacred Feminine Earth principal is represented by a woman who is pregnant and considered to be powerful in her advocacy for our planet. Her consort, the Green Man is selected by the women of the village for his devotion to and protection of the environment, his leadership and the respect he holds in our community. The Red Lady is selected by the entire town as the embodiment of the mountain into which our village is nestled. Through these living legends and the embodiment of the Sacred Marriage of the Lord and the Land, I HandFast the Earth and the Green man in an annual, all-community Handfasting Ceremony. People of all ages join in this wedding ceremony with our Valley Place Spirit, recommitting each year to wed the wide Wilderness areas which surround our home, and to protect, preserve and promote Her fragile balance. As far as we know, this is the longest-lived contemporary grassroots festival of its kind in the US. Marcie Telander, Director of Earth Wisdom Institute and Mystery School, Colorado

  14. The stories of the Ancients remain, held within the earth and carried in our blood. We have only to know how to look deeply into what is sacred and awaken to our dreams. Our ancestors await our arrival, and have much to share with us. Yes much has been lost, or so it may seem, but really the stories of oral traditions past, are graciously held for us to discover. Sharon Blackie does this so beautifully and I am so grateful for the gift she shares.

  15. This touched my soul.Thankyou for sharing .Yes woman are coming to the fore and reclaimimg ,but for the balance as you say men who are aware of their femininity .I hold a monthly womans group Red tent ,where we gather share information and to become empowerd .blessings sue x

  16. Demih Frou, I will continue to speak the truth about the game which is played to hoodwink the vulnerable, to call out the violent (like the Catholic Church’s pedophilia and Real-Estate corporation without taxation)and the non-relational (those who choose WAR over intercommunication). And if I were a parent I would love my children: especially shoot for natural birth, hold them close in pre and perinatal days, skin to skin for at least a year. I continue to promote vasectomies and tubal ligations for those who know they have self-work to be done before creating new life and encourage them NOT TO PROCREATE (there are too many people on this earth crowding out the other divine creatures)–are we choosing to do away with all but ourselves?. For the truly unconscious, those in denial, all I can do is call out that denial in every setting, rather than placate them into deeper quicksand. Education– reading, listening to WHISTLEBLOWERS will wake lots of people up. I recommend books: *Parenting for a Peaceful World*, an eye-opener about adult abuse of children through the ages. I recommend *Sex at Dawn* for a wake-up call about our ancestry out of the apes. I recommend *Lies my Teacher Told Me*, concerning how manipulative our hero-making system is, how crude and barbaric Imperialism is. I suggest people read Alice Miller’s *Thou Shalt Not Be Aware*, and *The Drama of the Gifted Child*. She debunks psychology and religiosity to their roots. Needless to say I read to see past my own small world and I do encourage other to do the same.

  17. The essence of Earth’s femininity cannot be removed from its corporeal reality nor can its essence be solely a masculine force. Humans are the Earth’s soul and it is our responsibility to ensure the soul’s health by maintaining a balance in its interaction with the Earth. As this articles points out, this balance has been out of kilter for centuries, and I would argue since the loss of simple societies. One approach is for humans to step outside their gender roles and assume the responsibilities of the opposite at the same time striving towards the goal of creating a viable and sustainable environmental ethic.

  18. Wonderful story! I never heard it before. We have lost our way since the beaking of the contract, the male dominated Christian movement and centurys thereafter of enslavement by men who fear women. We are POWS who need debriefing, the sustenance of history we never knew and the support of others in our journey to find our rightful place, our true responsibility and the strength to do what is right. Break the chains that bind us!!#

  19. The Celts had a lot of wonderful wisdom, as did other indigenous groups (assuming we can call Celts indigenous).
    Sadly, most of the best info has been lost, because they didn’t write it down.
    But caring for the Earth was and is really important.They knew that. So do we.

  20. We need to realize that gender exists on a spectrum, it’s not an absolute. Gender is, ultimately, energy and we should stop confusing it with the biological manifestations of sex. Also, the world is changing; one symptom of our masculine/patriarchal paradigm is tendency to specialize and break things down into their component parts. Conversely, the new tendency to synthesize and combine specialties is a manifestation of the feminine principle. But it’s not women, per se, who will change the earth, it’s the feminine energy that will do it. It’s an important distinction because there are plenty of men these days who are very in touch with their anima.

      • Which shows that even though, we live in a masculine/patriarchal energy, it’s a distorted version of the masculine energy that didn’t even teach us to analyse and break things down properly. Cause if we did we would be able to see that the feminine energy and the feminine sex are not one and the same.

    • Yes, I totally agree. Would it be ok if I posted your comment on facebook? I have been thinking about this for some time and that this is something that should be brought to conciousness but didn’t find the right words so far. Can I put your name under it?

  21. Ab-raham
    was a prototypical consort of the priestess of the goddess, Sara, his
    half sister whom he married to bless the land. Ab-raham, literally means
    the source (abba) of many wombs or nations (ar rahman, ar rahim as love
    and compassion).. It’s the blood of the ancients that flows through our
    veins. The forms and names change, but the spiral of life remains…

  22. Yes, I agree it will take women to save the earth…but not women who turn back time and restore primitive ways. They must come together on a new moral code that does not leave themselves out as their predecessors did. The witches (healers) will be scientists with authority and in no small way, deflect males weaknesses and excuses.

    • Way to take a wonderful, insightful article and ruin it with hateful nonsense. You people have to inject your propaganda in everything don’t you? It’s now coming to light how much of a joke feminism is. Keep your Neo-Leftist doublethink on the west coast where you harpies belong.

      • Castration is appropriate for those who have no grasp of their unconsciousness. Don’t need a continuance of you here on the great MOTHER earth.

    • Hi Elaine. I do think it is primarily women who will make the difference with feminine energy that is life-giving like that of the old goddesses, healers. So in some ways we do go back in order to go forward, to become more clear on who we are and what we offer the world. And yes, in my view we aim for a partnership way (to borrow from Riane Eisler’s work), a way of balance and mutual respect that births more harmony in the world.

      • But Coyenator, seeing the great proliferation of low-vibration populous…people who live within 1-200 are locked into hate, jealousy, killing, war, bloodlust, pornography, hourding, addictions, denial and they are treading water, not progressing because they think this is ALL THERE IS. They would DENY anything they cannot see with their naked eyes …David Hawkins, many years ago estimated these make up 85% of the world….so what would you do to garner mutual respect from this unconscious majority?

        • “…what would you do to garner mutual respect from this unconscious majority?”
          Good point, Elaine, but the answer seems complicated.
          What would *you* do, or what do you think could lead us to the solution of such a problem?

  23. “The native pre-Christian mythology of the Celtic nations which stretch along the Western Atlantic seaboard of Europe is highly woman-centred. In our oldest stories, the creative, generative essence of the universe was female, not male; women represented the spiritual and moral axis of the world, and the power of men was predominantly social.”
    I personally believe this is why the huge difference in Celtic & Roman Christianity . because Rome was an extremely patriarchal pagan culture . the pagan customs carried into the new belief systems always carry on blend in in all cultures really . But I believe this is why Celtic Christianity was such a more loving tolerant & gentler version of Christianity . of course eventually as we know history Roman church pushed much harder …..
    I so love the idea of marrying the earth

    • Rome was a culture of conquering and warfare, and so that version of Christianity tends to be always at odds with any deviation from the rigid doctrines and dogmas It tends to push down all other religions and “conquer” other beliefs leaving little trace. Celtic culture is slower paced and accepting of things as they are, hence more tolerant of differences and accepting.

Leave a reply