On the Sixth Day of Christmas, my Goddess gave to me…
six geese a-laying.
There are many myths and legends which involve geese and their relationship with goddesses and women.
In her Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, Patricia Monaghan had this to say about the goose:
Both the tame and wild goose had mythological and symbolic significance to the Celts. The barnyard goose, a notoriously aggressive being, was seen as an image of the warrior divinities, both male and female. Stone geese lined the temples of Gaul, while Brittany produced bronzes of war goddesses with goose-head helmets. Given this symbolism, it is ironic that the Celtic siege of Rome was ended when the geese of the goddess Juno Moneta’s temple set up such a commotion that the defenders were roused and the invading Celts defeated. So strong was the identification of the Celtic people with the goose that the animal was a taboo food amongst the Britons, used for divination and eaten only ritual occasions. Some fairy beings could change by shape-shifting into geese.
But perhaps the best known goddess associated with the goose isn’t Celtic. Rather, she comes to us predominately from the land of Germany, and surrounding areas. She goes by many names – Holle, Holda, Hulda, Hilde, Hilda, Hel…as well as Perchta, Befana, and other names. She is the Old Goddess, the Goose Mother, the Wise Woman who lives deep in the mountain forest with her flock of geese.
When Frau Holle shakes her down-filled quilt, the feathers fall to the earth and become snow. A Welsh proverb states that when the snow falls, people say that “The old woman is feathering her geese” or “Mother Goose is moulting” or “The goose mother is feathering her nest.”
Some say that Holle is the predecessor to the character many of us came to know in our childhood…Mother Goose. When one considers that the Brothers Grimm – Jacob and Wilhelm – were born and raised in Germany themselves, it is not difficult to make the connection between this goddess of German folklore and this imaginary author of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. However, in reality the Mother Goose tales have little if any true connection to the stories from the brothers. And yet the connection remains.
Certainly these are not the only cultures or civilizations that venerated the goose. We see this creature connected to female deities of various pantheons.
Images of Aphrodite riding a goose have been found in many examples of ancient artwork and sculpture, and bear a strong resemblance to modern-day depictions of Mother Goose:
Hindu goddesses have also been been illustrated as riding birds that looked much like a goose…although admittedly they may actually be swans, the concept remains the same – a female deity astride a large white feathered creature.
The image continues.
And we find ourselves asking…who is this character, whose personification seems to stretch over international boundaries? How is it that her image seems to show up practically everywhere? What does she signify? Nobody really knows for certain.
Perhaps the Mother Goose of later years was a way to preserve the image of the Great Goddess of earlier eras…to disguise her and guide her through dangerous times, to make her more easily dismissed by patriarchy.
And yet her power to influence us, to shape our imaginations, to teach us lessons in her fables and fantasies stays with us still.