Engraving of Classical Temple Dedicated to Liberty, Justice, and Plenty

Minerva, or Civic Virtue, Associated with Franklin and Washington, W.D. Cooper, "America Trampling on Oppression," The History of North America, E. Newberry: London, 1789, frontispiece in Rare Book and Special Collections Division Library of Congress.

Goddesses of Liberty

If the United States of America was founded as a "Christian" nation, then why is Liberty always depicted as a Pagan Goddess?

Because Liberty inspires people with such passionate love of Her that they will sacrifice their wealth, their safety, even their lives to invoke Her into being

Lady Liberty isn't just an abstract personification of freedom. Early American art makes clear that She is the Greek Athena and the Roman Minerva, Goddess of wisdom, philosophy, and civic virtue, the patroness of good government in Athens and Rome.

It would easy to read into the ancient myth of Athena's birth a modern metaphor for the birth of Liberty — especially if you were one of the classically educated artists and thinkers of the Revolutionary era, who studied Greek and Roman mythology in its original tongues.

Zeus, King of the Gods, swallowed Athena's pregnant mother, Metis, Goddess of Wisdom, in order to forestall a prophecy that one of Her offspring would be greater than He. But while captive inside Zeus, Metis gave birth to Athena, and crafted for Her daughter a helmet and robe. The incessant hammering as the Goddess of Wisdom forged the helmet gave Zeus such a terrible headache that at last He allowed the Divine Smith Hephaestus to strike His head with an ax. Athena then leaped forth from Zeus's head, fully clothed in Her helmet and robe.

1849 California state seal depicts Minerva and Gorgon Medusa, and small grizzly bear
Minerva guards the Golden State in the state seal of California. In this, the original 1849 design, the face of Gorgon Medusa — so terrifying that it turns all enemies to stone — is fully visible on the Goddess's aegis, or shield of protection, as the detail shows. (The modern design hides most of Medusa's face behind the grizzly bear.)
Detail: Head of Medusa on Minerva's shield

Metis — whose name is related to the words "measure, meter," suggesting the mathematical and scientific arts — represents knowledge. Her swallowing by the King of the Gods represents authority enslaving knowledge in order to suppress dissent and maintain control — as the revolutionaries saw that Church and Crown had done for centuries through inquisition and censorship. But you can't repress the truth forever. The incessant hammering at religious and political tyranny by the philosophers of Liberty, such as John Locke and Ben Franklin, eventually leads to the beheading (symbolic or real) of the tyrant ruler — liberating the true exercise of good government, which wears the helmet of wisdom and the robe of the philosopher.

The Romans said that Minerva bore two shields, one for peace and one for war. The early American engraving at upper left shows "Doctor" Benjamin Franklin's head on Her shield of peace, and "General" George Washington's on the shield of war. (The polarity may be a forerunner of the olive branch and sheaf of arrows carried in the two talons of the American eagle.)

The helmet is the symbol of this Goddess as Athena/Minerva. But as Liberty — or "Libertas," as the Romans called Her — Her symbol is a distinctive red stocking cap: the pileus, or Phrygian cap, said to be worn in ancient Rome by slaves who had won their freedom. In the Revolutionary era, rebels in America and France wore this "liberty cap" as a symbol of freedom from enslaving authority, and often raised it on a pole or pike as their standard.

Red liberty cap on light blue background, from arms of Argentina

Many national and state flags and seals depict Liberty bearing a pole topped by a liberty cap. (We've lifted the liberty cap illustrated above from its pole on the coat of arms of Argentina.) Liberty is accompanied in the seals of State Seal of North Carolina with goddesses of Liberty and PlentyNorth Carolina and State Seal of New Jersey with goddesses of Liberty and PlentyNew Jersey by the cornucopia-bearing Goddess Plenty. Liberty here carries a scroll, representing the Constitution's guarantee of freedom.

The light-giving Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor holds a tablet marked with the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence rather than a Constitutional scroll, and wears a nimbus of rays instead of a liberty cap or helmet. But despite the slight variation in symbols, She represents the same Goddess as the Minerva who tramples Oppression and the Liberty who fights for Constitutional human rights.

She may bear a torch, a cap, a scroll, a balance, a shield — but true Liberty never brandishes a sword in aggression. Attacking a weaker nation in order to "impose democracy" on it is not only oxymoronic, but utterly contrary to Liberty's nature. Any ruler who pretends otherwise — debasing "democracy" into a mere code word for "capitalism" — is setting himself up for one hell of a splitting headache.

Original state seal of Mayland shows Liberty holding scales of justice
Liberty holds the scales of justice on the front side of the once-famous original seal of Maryland, which was designed in 1794 by artist Charles Willson Peale and recently rediscovered by Ann Forfreedom.
(view complete seal)

Does a Goddess bless your state's seal?

Pray to Liberty: On a symbolically important day such as a patriotic holiday or a seasonal Sabbat, leave an offering at (or in alignment with) the feet of a statue or picture of Liberty. The offering can be a flower, a coin, a special stone or crystal, or something that signifies "freedom" to you. Sit or stand quietly before Her image, and pray through it to the Goddess it represents. From then on, whenever you feel so moved, or whenever you pass by the image, send forth a prayer for freedom. You can pray for liberation from any unjust oppression, whether personal or collective — "free me", or "free us".

If the Goddess of Liberty appears to you in a dream, write down or record a description of the dream and the date you had it as soon as you awaken. It will contain an important message or an omen. Consider sharing your dream with others, because it may be not just about you, but about your larger community.

Publicly consecrating a statue of Liberty can be a pro-freedom direct action — and magically efficacious, as Isaac Bonewits described:

"In 1993 c.e., I led a group of Druids, Wiccans and other Earth Religionists in consecrating the statue of the Goddess of Freedom that now stands atop the Capitol Building's dome — on the same day, it turned out, that Masons were ceremonially (re)consecrating a duplicate of the building's cornerstone on the other side of the Capital. In keeping with the ancient spiritual principle of 'as above, so below,' the Capitol Building now has powerful magical talismans dedicated to freedom and democracy physically in place above and below it."

Latest update: 29 Jan. 2011