A Samhain for Cerridwen

I was just suggesting to a friend on Facebook that we need to publish more rituals for the community to draw upon.  I figured that maybe I should see if I could find a few that folk might be interested in.  Here is the Samhain ritual that we did in 2013.  Note that for Samhain rites we do not invoke a gatekeeper since the veils between the worlds is thin.

Special Notes

  • One of the women should have a bundle of dry sticks.
  • Participants will be asked to hold one particular ancestor or departed loved one in mind to call out to.  They may bring an offering/light a candle and/or say a few words to them.



The group processes towards the nemeton.  As they approach, Druid 1 asperges them with water, saying “May the waters of the Earth Mother cleanse you.”  and Druid 2 purifies them with incense, saying “May the air of the Sky Father purify you.”

Initiating the Rite:

The group gathers in a circle around the centre.

Druid says:

“Of old, on Samhain the Celts would put out their hearth fires and clean their fireplaces.  Then the women would spend Samhain day gathering dry wood.  Have the women come with dry wood?”

A woman brings forth a bundle of dry wood.  Druid continues:

“With such wood, the men folk would build a need-fire.  Without fire, the tribe would not survive the coming winter, so it must be made or we shall perish.  But once lit, each member of the tribe would bring home with them an ember of the need fire to kindle anew their hearth fires.

Now, if the women would raise some energy, we men shall try to kindle the need fire!”

The men work on kindling the fire while the women chant:

“Come fire come we welcome you
come fire come we honour you”

Establishing the Group Mind

When the fire is kindled, all of the folk join hands and dance deosil, singing:

“Fire red, summer’s dead
Yet it shall return.
Clear and bright, in the night,
Burn, fire, burn!”

Statement of Purpose

Druid provides the statement of purpose:

“As our Ancestors did in times before and our children may do in times to come, our tribe has gathered once more to mark the High Day.  We come to walk the old ways, to honour our ancestors, the land, and the Gods.

Throughout the year, we sow seeds within our lives and the world around us.  And at Samhain we reflect upon the harvest that we have reaped.  What is your harvest?  Has your life been enriched by that which you have sown?  Is the world a better place?  Think of our ancestors and the harvests of their lives.  Are you yourself being a good ancestor to those who will follow you?

I invite you all to take a few moments to reflect quietly on these thoughts.


Now, it is Samhain, and the land turns to darkness as the new year begins.  Tonight we shall prepare our fields for new plantings.

But first, as is our custom, let us give thanks to Our Mother the Earth.

Honoring the Earth Mother

Druid gives the Earth Mother prayer:

“Danu, Earth Mother, your children sing to your body
Danu, Earth Mother, your children sing to your bones
Danu, Earth Mother, your children honour your spirit
Danu, Earth Mother, your children honour your stones

Earth Mother, accept our sacrifice!” (repeat by all)

Druid scatters the Earth Mother offering on the ground.

Establishing the Sacred Center

Druid honours the well:

“Boanne of the well of the Hazelnut Trees,
Daoine dhen Tamais calls out to you,
to make of this vessel the Sacred Well
|the gateway to the underworld!

Boanne, join me in my incantation!

Sacred waters that flow and swirl
Earthen waters of elder wisdom,
foam and bubble and come to me!
Rise up and reveal to us your Mysteries!

Sacred Well, flow within us!”

Druid offers silver to the well.

Druid repeated by All:     “Sacred well, flow within us!”

Druid honours the fire:

“Bright Brigid of the Hearth,
Poet, Healer, and Smith,
Daoine dhen Tamais calls out to you
to sanctify this fire as the gateway to the heavens.

Bright Brigid, join me in my incantation:

Sacred flames that leap and dance,
Flames of passion and wild poetry,
soar and surge and come to me!
Rise up and reveal to us your Mysteries!

Sacred Fire, burn within us!”

Druid offers incense to the fire

Druid repeated by All:     “Sacred fire, burn within us!

Druid honours the tree:

“Blodeuwedd, flower of the mighty oak,
Daoine dhen Tamais calls out to you,
to bless this tree as the World Tree
the cross-roads of the world!

Blodeuwedd, join me in my incantation:

“Sacred tree that touches the sky,
Rooted deep and crowned high,
Centre of the Earth,
Axis of the world,
Link now the land, the sea, and sky.”

Druid offers water to the tree:

Druid repeated by All:     “Sacred tree, grow within us!”

All chant repeat x 3:

By Fire and by Water, between the Earth and Sky,
We stand like the World Tree, rooted deep, crowned high.”

Opening the Gate(s):


“The waters support and surround us.
The land extends about us.
The sky stretches out above us.
At the center burns a living flame.

Thus we stand at the sacred center,
upon the land between the sea and the sky.
The three Goddesses
Boanne, Brigid, and Bloudwedd about us
The well, the fire, and the tree within us.

It is Samhain and the veil between the worlds is thin
May the well open as a gate to the underworld!
May the fire open as a gate to the upperworld!
May the tree become the crossroads between the worlds!

Let the gates be open!!”

All:     “Let the Gates be open!”

Inviting the Three Kindreds


“The gates are now open, and our words shall travel to the other worlds.
Now let us invite the Three Kindred to join us.”

Druid invokes the Ancestors:

“The children of the earth call out to the mighty dead. Hear us, our ancestors!

Let us each call out the name of one of our departed ancestors, whether they be of our blood or our heart.”

Druid takes up a bell and asks each participant to name one departed loved one.  As they do so, the bell is rung.  Participants may also light a candle and/or make offerings to those ancestors.  When all is finished, the druid continues:

“Now, close your eyes and think of the ancestor you have called.
Bring their face to life in your mind’ eye!

Noble ones, we call to you as our kin,
in the love of the all-mother, to join in our rite.

Come to our fire, Ancestors,
to guide and ward us as we walk the elder ways.”

Druid makes the Ancestor offering, saying:

“Ancestors, accept our sacrifice!” (repeat by all)

Druid invokes the Spirits of the Land:

“The children of earth call out to the Spirits of this Land.
We call out to the Spirits of the New World and the Old World,
spirits of stone and stream, of fur and scale,
spirits of forest and air, of root and feather,
we offer you welcome.

Mighty ones, we call to you as our allies,
in the name of the all-mother, to join in our magic.
Come to our fire, spirits,
to aid us as we walk the elder ways.”

Druid makes the Spirits of the Land offering, saying:

“Mighty Ones, accept our sacrifice!” (repeat by all)

Druid invokes the Gods and Goddesses:

“And finally, the children of earth call out to the Gods and Goddesses,
first children of the all-mother, wisest and mightiest,
Hear us, shining ones!

To the gods and goddesses of this place, ancient and powerful,
who were honoured here before our Ancestors came from across the seas, we offer you welcome.

And to the Gods of all those here gathered,
The Gods of our Ancestors and of our Hearths,
All you Gods and Goddesses whom we worship,
and who bless our lives and our homes;
we offer you welcome.

Shining ones, we call to you in reverence and love, to join in our rite. Come to our fire, shining ones;
to bless us as we walk the elder ways.”

Druid makes the Gods/Goddesses offering, saying:

“Shining Ones, accept our sacrifice!” (repeat by all)

Druid invites the participants to make an offering to the Kindred.

Key Offerings:

Druid says:

“They say that in Wales by the banks of the Lake Tegid there once lived a mighty witch.   To her I shall call.

Under the moonless sky,
on this dark night of Samhain,
Daoine dhen Tamais calls out to the Dark Mother!

Mighty Cerridwen,
Sorceress, Shapeshifter, Queen
Hear us,
though we tremble at your presence,
answer our call.

Let the moon be reborn
Let the land be reborn
Let your children be reborn
Through the darkness that is Thy Mystery.”

Druid makes an offering, saying:

“Cerridwen, accept our sacrifice!”

Cerridwen enters the circle.

Druid says:

“Now hear my tale.

The great witch, she had two children,
and her daughter was the most beautiful maiden in all the lands.”

Creirwy walks across the circle, looking beautiful.

“But her son was ugly and misshapen,
and all who looked upon him cringed.”

Avagddu crosses the circle, hump-backed.

“So said the witch to herself..”

Cerridwen says:

“Fair is foul and foul fair.

If my son is to be looked upon with respect,
as ugly as he is, he must have great powers,
powers of knowledge and divination.”

Cerridwen sets the cauldron above the fire, saying:

“A magic broth I shall make.

Now to gather the herbs for this potion,
trick or treat,
bitter and sweet.”

Cerridwen goes around the circle with a basket to each person, asking:

“Have you herbs for me?”

When she is done, Cerridwen puts the herbs into the cauldron, saying:

“For a year and day this cauldron
must bubble and boil,
til it is thick with three drops,
of magic, and wisdom, and learning,
and all else shall be poison.

Now who can I find to stir it for me?”

Druid says:

“Let us all take turns stirring the cauldron.”

Led by Druid, all participants take a turn stirring the cauldron.

When all have taken a turn, Druid (D1) says:

Now, I ask you to listen to the sound of my voice
as your eyes fall shut
and you bring to mind the memory of stirring the cauldron,
how you held the spoon,
the heat of the fire,
the smoke in your eyes
the scent of the herbs.

When you began stirring, it was Samhain,
and you stirred through winter
and you stirred through spring
and you stirred through summer
and Samhain has come again.

And just as the potion has boiled down,
three drops leap out of the cauldron
and land upon your finger.
Scalded, you immediately suck on the burn
to sooth it and the three drops are in your mouth.

And in that moment
you suddenly know the past, the present, and the future,
and great wisdom floods through your mind.

And you know, too, that the wrath of Cerridwen
will be great.   You must flee before her,
so you use your new powers to transform yourself
becoming a swift hare upon the field,
your powerful legs propelling you across the land.
But soon you see a sleek dark Greyhound
coursing you down, and you know that it is Cerridwen herself.
You keep running but soon feel the hot breath of the hound
upon your neck and know that her fangs will soon be upon you.

At that moment you spy a river and leap into it,
turning yourself into a swift salmon,
your tail propelling you through the sea.
Yet your escape is short lived, as you quickly
see that a sleek otter is now giving chase.
You swim as a rapid current, yet still the otter swims faster.

Just as it is about to snatch you, you leap up and take wing,
transforming yourself into swallow,
your feathers propelling you through the sky.
Yet, just as you feel you have escaped, you notice
a hawk now giving chase.
You may fly fast, but she flies faster.

You begin to tire and realize that soon she shall have you,
and just then you notice down on the ground below
a barn filled with the harvest wheat,
and you transform yourself once more,
this time taking the shape of a grain of wheat.
Surely a hawk cannot possibly find one grain amongst so many?

But when she lands, it is not as a hawk but a great black hen,
who begins to claw at the grains, scratching away in search.
Your energy is spent, you cannot transform yourself again,
you can only wait and wait and wait until the great high-crested hen
is above you,
and swallows you,

and you go down, down, down

into the belly of Cerridwen and the darkness therein.


Now, as you slowly open your eyes and gaze upon the fire,
be reborn through the mystery of the Great Goddess Cerridwen.”

Seeking the Omen

Druid invites the Seer to take the omen.

“We have been reborn.  May the Seer to come forth and take the omens of the new lives ahead of us.”

Seer pronounces the omen.

Calling (asking) for the Blessings

Druid :

The Seer has read the omens and pronounced the blessings.

Do the folk accept the blessings?”

All:    “We do!”

Druid:    “Then let us call them forth!”

Druids 1 and 2 hold the two blessing cups up.  

Druid 1 invokes the Waters of Life:

“We have given due honour and sacrifice,
now as we have given let us receive.
Mighty Cerridwen,
we open our hearts to your blessings.

Let these cups overflow with your blessings,
let your blessings become the waters of life.
Give us the waters of life!”

All:     “Give us the waters of life!”

Hallowing the Blessing


“The waters of life are the gift of the Gods.

Behold the waters of life!”

Affirmation of the Blessing

Cerridwen goes about the circle deosil, asperging each of the participants, saying:

The blessings of Cerridwen be upon you.

Druid follows with the blessing cup and offers it to the participants.

Thanking the Beings


Our work is now complete.  Let us now thank those who have joined and helped us.

“Great Cerridwen,
for your blessings and your presence this day,
we thank you.”

All:    “We thank you!”


“Shining Gods and Goddesses, for your blessings and your presence this day, we thank you.”

All:    “We thank you!”


“Mighty Spirits of the Land, for your aid and your presence this day, we thank you.”

All:    “We thank you!”


“Noble Ancestors, for your guidance and your presence this day, we thank you.”

All:    “We thank you!”

Closing the Gate(s)

Druid thanks the Gatekeeper.

“Gatekeepers,for your aid and your presence this day, we thank you.”

All:    “We thank you!”

Druid (D6):    

“Now let the fire become flame,
let the well become water,
Let all be as it was before.

Let the gates be closed.”

All:     “Let the gates be closed!”

Closing the Rite


    “This rite is now ended. Go now in peace and blessings until we meet again.”

Simple Office Blessing

I recently moved into a new office at work and decided to perform a short blessing ritual on it.  Fire was obviously not an option, which for me meant that the ADF framework was out.  Anyway I liked the idea of calling the directions, so decided to make it OBOD-y.  If anyone is interested in using this, feel free!

With the blessing of the hawk of the dawn soaring in the pure clear air, I call upon the powers of the east. May you bless this office and grant knowledge and inspiration to he who toils within it. Blessed be.

With the blessing of the stag standing under the fire of the noon sun I call upon the powers of the south. May you bless this office and grant passion and leadership to he who toils within it. Blessed be.

With the blessing of the salmon of wisdom who dwells within the waters of the sacred well, I call upon the powers of the west. May you bless this office and grant wisdom and health to he who toils within it. Blessed be.

With the blessing of the great bear of the starry night and deep earth, I call upon the powers of the north. May you bless this office and grant strength and prosperity to he who toils within it. Blessed be.

Cernunnos, stag lord Cernunnos, king of the golden torc Cernunnos, you who stand between the civil and the wild I make you this offering and ask that you bless and protect this office and he who toils within it. Cernunnos accept my sacrifice!

After each quarter, I put a dab of “Horned God” essential oil on the wall. After my Cernunnos invocation I poured a small vial of wine into the soil of my office plant.  Ta da!  All blessed!

The Earth Mother Prayer as Student Prank

I’ve been doing a cycle of ritual that aims to teach the folk about the various elements of the liturgy in a hopefully engaging and entertaining manner.  At Imbolc we took on the Earth Mother Prayer aspect.  Here is the ritual script for that part of it, in the hopes that it may be useful for interesting for someone.

Statement of Purpose

The Druid provides the statement of purpose:

“Let us pray with a good fire.

As our Ancestors did in times before and our children may do in times to come, our tribe has gathered once more.

We come together to walk the elder ways, to mark the changing of the seasons, and to honour our Gods.”

Honoring the Earth Mother

The Druid says:

“But first, as is our custom, let us give thanks to Our Mother the Earth.

The Druid begins to kneel but is interrupted by the Bard, who says:

“Uh, hang on one second if you please.


“Yes, what is it Chief Bard?”


“Well, we are Druids right?”


“Not hard.  Yes.  Yes, we are Druids.  Now, as is our custom, let us give thanks to Our Mother the Earth.”


“Now bear with me here…. as Druids we honour the Celtic Gods and Goddesses do we not?”


“That is easy to say.  Yes, we honour the Celtic Gods and Goddesses. And if you don’t mind, we are about to honour the Celtic Earth Mother…”


“Forgive me, but I’m confused now.  Fact is there is no evidence that the Celts honoured some sort of “Earth Mother” is there?”  


“Well… no.  Not as such, I suppose.  Now, if you have no more questions, let us give thanks to our Mother the Earth….”


“ I mean, Danu for instance was probably a river goddess, not some sort of Gaia figure.  So if the Celts did not have an Earth Mother Goddess, why do we honour Her?”


“Not hard.  If you must know, it all started as a student protest.

You see, the year was 1963.  “Blue Velvet” by Bobbie Vinton was the number one song on the radio.  The flower children were just beginning to hatch.  And, foreseeing the coming counter culture revolution, a small college in America’s Mid-west decided it would be a good idea inoculate their students from it by requiring that they attend weekly religious services.  

However some of students decided that they should make up their own religion… with mead! and robes!

And so the Reformed Druids of North America were born.

Of course, they had no idea what the real Druids did, but they figured that they were really into nature.  As a result, most of their rituals were focused on the ‘Earth Mother’.

The protest worked, and the very next year the college rescinded its mandatory religious service requirement.  However quite a few of the students had decided by then that they really liked this new form of Druidism, and it actually spread to many other colleges.  Thus it was that Isaac Bonewits joined the fold.  He eventually decided that the Reformed Druids were neither Pagan-y nor scholarly enough for him and went off and formed Ár nDraíocht Féin.  ADF has since defined a new ritual format, but it has kept a few elements that were invented by the Reformed Druids and one such element has been honouring the Earth Mother.”


“So…. when we perform the Earth Mother prayer, we are protesting a college in Minnesota?”


“Well… errr…. the fact is that the Earth Mother is a concept that resonates with Neo-Pagans, and regardless of how this aspect of ritual came into being, it is a means of connecting us to Her.  All life comes from Her, and all life returns to Her, and so it is fitting that we spend a moment at each ritual reminding ourselves of that, and thanking Her.”


“Ah, okay then.  Well, as is our custom, let us give thanks to our Mother the Earth!”

Druid gives the Earth Mother prayer:

“Danu, Earth Mother, your children sing to your body
Danu, Earth Mother, your children sing to your bones
Danu, Earth Mother, your children honour your spirit
Danu, Earth Mother, your children honour your stones

Earth Mother, accept our sacrifice!” (repeat by all)

Druid scatters the Earth Mother offering on the ground.

A Samhain for The Morrigan (with ritual drama!)

I’d like to start publishing some of my rituals in the hopes that they may be of some use to others.  Our grove Daoine dhen Tamais performed this ritual at Samhain 2014.  The invocation was quite something, but we probably had way too much fun with the drama!

The liturgy followed the ADF core order of ritual, so what follows is from the key offerings:

Druid 1 steps forth, saying:

“An Mór-ríoghain – I, (name) of the tribe Daoine dhen Tamais, call to thee
An Mór-ríoghain – Great Queen! I honour you!
An Mór-ríoghain – Lady of Sovereignty! I welcome you!
Freely I give this mead that the Land may bless you back!”

Druid 1 makes an offering of mead

Druid 2 says:

“Mórrígu – I, (name) of the tribe Daoine dhen Tamais, call to thee
Mórrígu – Battle Raven! I honour you!
Mórrígu – Lady of the Reaping! I welcome you!
Freely I give this whiskey that the waters of life may flow between us!”

Druid 2 makes an offering of mead

Druid 3 says:

“Morrigan – I, (name) of the tribe Daoine dhen Tamais, call to thee
Morrigan – Cauldron Witch! I honour you!
Morrigan – Lady of Sorcery and Prophecy!  I welcome you!
Freely I give this raven’s feather that you may watch over us!”

Druid 3 makes an offering of a raven’s feather.

Druids 1-3 each take a sword and position themselves around the fire.  They hold the swords up in a triangle above them, so that they form a pyramid, and begin to chant:

Morrigan Morrigan three times three
hear the words we ask of thee

Morrigan Morrigan Raven Queen
All that’s been and all’s that’s seen

Morrigan Morrigan on Samhain night
Grant us wisdom grant us sight

The chant is repeated three times, after which they lower their swords into the fire, exclaiming:

Morrigan! Accept our sacrifice!

(repeated by all)

The three Druids disperse.

Narrator steps forth, saying:

When the Milesians came to Ireland,
The Tuatha Dé Danann retreated to the Hollow Hills
and became the Sidhe.  

But — they did not necessarily leave the world of humans forever.

So it happened upon a time
that Queen Maeve of Connacht coveted a great Dun Bull
and went to war against Ulster to steal the bull.”

Queen Maeve steps forth.

Narrator continues:

“Queen Maeve had a mighty army…
but there was just one problem…
To enter Ulster with her army there was but one ford,
and upon that ford stood a young man from Ulster.
And his name was Cuchulainn.”

Cuchulainn steps forth, wielding a wooden sword.

Narrator continues:

Maeve sent champion after champion
after him, but Cuchulainn cut them down one by one.”

Queen Maeve sends Champions one and two in turn to attack Cuchulainn.  Each in turn, is killed.

Narrator continues:

This went on for some time, and Cuchulainn was
becoming tired and hungry, when a young maiden approached
him.  She had long red tresses and her form was most becoming.”

Morrigan steps forth.

Cuchulainn (gruffly):

“Who are you?”


“I am the daughter of Buan the king.
I have come to you for I have loved you for your
reputation as a great warrior, and I have brought
my cattle and my treasure.”


“The time you have chosen to come is not good.
My condition is wretched for sleep and hunger.
Get thee gone, girl.”

Morrigan (angry):

“I would have been of great help to you.
But by refusing me I shall be more troublesome.
I will come to you when you are in combat,
and I will come in the form of an eel about your feet in the ford,
so that you shall fall before your enemies.”


“I think it likelier that you are an eel than the daughter of a king.
And when you come I shall crush your ribs between my toes,
and these wounds shall stay with you forever
unless I should take them back with a blessing.”


“Then I will come to you in the form of a great she-wolf,
and I will drive the cattle upon you in the ford.”


“Then I will throw a stone at you, and put our your eye,
and this wound shall stay with you forever
unless I should take it back with a blessing.”


“Then I will come to you as a great red heifer,
and rush the cattle towards you, and you will not see me.”


“Nonetheless I shall throw a stone at you, and break your leg,
and this wound shall stay with you forever
unless I should take it back with a blessing,
but this I shall never do.”

Morrigan leaves in anger.

Narrator continues:

The next day, Queen Maeve tricked Cuchulainn
to coming away from the ford,
and had fourteen of her men ambush him.
He slew all of them.  Then, tired and wounded,
he returned to the ford and there was again attacked.
Maeve’s bards sang songs against him to sap
him of his strength, and one of her greatest warriors
came against him.”

Loch Mac Emonis steps forward.

Narrator continues:

Just then as he was preparing for yet another battle,
Cuchulainn became aware that a huge eel
had slithered out of the water and was wrapping
itself around his legs, so that he could not move.”

Cuchulainn pretends to be captured by the eel while Loch taunts him.

Narrator continues:

But just as he promised, Cuchulainn stomped upon
the eel, breaking many of its ribs, and it retreated.”

Cuchulainn makes a stomping motion.

Narrator continues:

Yet just as the eel disappeared, he spied a great grey
she-wolf, driving the cattle towards, such
that they might crush him down in their fright.

But Cuchulainn threw a stone from his sling.”

Cuchulainn makes a sling throwing motion.

Narrator continues:

And just as he promised, he put out the eye of the she-wolf.

But not to be outdone, the wolf changed into a
huge red heifer and led the cattle speeding towards him,
and just then water from the river splashed up into his eyes
and he was unable to see.

But again he threw a stone from his sling.”

Cuchulainn makes a sling throwing motion, appearing blind.

Narrator continues:

And just as he promised, he broke one of the heifer’s legs.
And having done all that he said he would do to The Morrigan,
he turned back to Maeve’s champion and slew him.”

Cuchulainn kills Loch, then appears to be exhausted.

Narrator continues:

“With the battle at an end, Cuchulainn is spent,
wounded and half crazed from hunger and thirst,
when he spied an old hag, half blind and lame,
wandering by with a cow that had three utters.”

Morrigan enters, appearing bent over and fraile (with her head cloaked?)

Cuchulainn says:

“Old woman!  Please may I have some of your
cow’s milk, for otherwise I may die?”

Morrigan pretends to milk one of the teats, and hands Cuchulainn a cup.  He drinks it and then says:

A blessing of health be upon you.  May I have more?”

Morrigan pretends to milk the second teat, and hands Cuchulainn a cup. He drinks it and then says:

A blessing of strength be upon you.  May I have one more?”

Morrigan pretends to milk the third teat, and hands Cuchulainn a cup.  He drinks it and then says:

May the blessings of the gods and non-gods be upon you.”

Morrigan stands upright, a beautiful young maiden again.

Morrigan says:

You said that you would never heal me.”

Cuchulainn says:

“And if I knew it was you, I would never have!”

Narrator continues:

“And with that, she was healed of her wounds.
And so it was between Cuchulainn and the Morrigan,
until he lay upon his death bed.

But that is another story.”


The Pagan Origins of Maleficent

I have always been drawn to Maleficent. The 1959 Disney film presented her as villainous, but I never bought it.  She was dark and powerful and vengeful yes, but not evil.  After all, she was Fey.  The Fey are not all sunshine and butterflies; they are nature spirits – wild and magical – and not to be trifled with. They are older and mightier than humans and thus deserving of our respect.  Should we fail to show them proper honour, as King Stefan and Queen Leah did by failing to invite Maleficent to Aurora’s birth party, we should rightly expect their wrath.

Maleficent Classic

Maleficent Classic – still from the 1959 film Sleeping Beauty.

So I was quite pleased by the new film and the depiction of Maleficent not so much as the “Mistress of Evil” but rather as a terribly wronged Fairie Queen.  If anything, I felt that she was much too lenient; any human who so horribly betrayed and abused a Fey got off far too easily by merely having his first born cursed.  In any case, the film got me thinking more about Maleficent’s origin and where she came from.  How far back could we trace the tale of Maleficent?

Jolie's Maleficent

Angelina Jolie as the winged Maleficent

Much has been written about the origins of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, but not so much about its characters. So whence did Maleficent come?  In Sleeping Beauty she appears without explanation, just as the third fairy was about to bestow her gift upon Aurora.  “Well, quite a glittering assemblage, King Stefan” she declares, “Royalty, nobility, the gentry, and…. how quaint, even the rabble. I really felt quite distressed at not receiving an invitation.”

Even if you think you already know the answer, bear with me.  I will here argue that Maleficent’s character is much older than anyone has yet suspected, and the story is older than Grimm, Perrault, Basile, and even Perceforest.  In fact, this story is from Pagan roots at least 1500 years old, and Maleficent with it.

Little Briar Rose (Dornröschen)

Most people are aware that Sleeping Beauty is an adaption of a story called Little Briar Rose from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, first published in 1812 with a second version published in 1857.  The 1812 version, translated by Professor D.L. Ashliman, opens as follows:

A king and queen had no children, although they wanted one very much. Then one day while the queen was sitting in her bath, a crab crept out of the water onto the ground and said, “Your wish will soon be fulfilled, and you will bring a daughter into the world.” And that is what happened.

The king was so happy about the birth of the princess that he held a great celebration. He also invited the fairies who lived in his kingdom, but because he had only twelve golden plates, one had to be left out, for there were thirteen of them.

The fairies came to the celebration, and as it was ending they presented the child with gifts. The one promised her virtue, the second one gave beauty, and so on, each one offering something desirable and magnificent. The eleventh fairy had just presented her gift when the thirteenth fairy walked in. She was very angry that she had not been invited and cried out, “Because you did not invite me, I tell you that in her fifteenth year, your daughter will prick herself with a spindle and fall over dead.”

The parents were horrified, but the twelfth fairy, who had not yet offered her wish, said, “It shall not be her death. She will only fall into a hundred-year sleep.” The king, hoping to rescue his dear child, issued an order that all spindles in the entire kingdom should be destroyed.

According to the Grimm brothers, then, the antagonist of the story is the thirteenth fairy who was angered at being jilted out of an invitation due to the royal household’s limited quantity of golden plates.  However, she makes no further appearance in the story.   In Sleeping Beauty, Disney had Maleficent charm Aurora and lead her to the spinning wheel.  But according to Grimm, on the fateful day when the princess is introduced to the spindle we hear that she “found herself in a small room where an old woman sat spinning flax. She was attracted to the old woman, and joked with her, and said that she too would like to try her hand at spinning.”  In no way does the text suggest that the “old woman” was the thirteenth fairy.

The Thirteenth Fairy

“The Thirteenth Fairy”, an illustration by Arthur Rackham for a 1909 publication of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

It is notable that the Grimms’ version ends rather abruptly shortly after the princess is awoken by a kiss from the prince, and they all live happily ever after.  This was not true of the other two, earlier, oft-cited sources of the tale to which we will now turn.

The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (La Belle au bois dormant)

The first of these earlier sources is the most obviously related, The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, published by Charles Perrault in his book Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals in 1696.  Here are the opening verses as translated by Andrew Lang in the Blue Fairy Book:

There were formerly a king and a queen, who were so sorry that they had no children; so sorry that it cannot be expressed. They went to all the waters in the world; vows, pilgrimages, all ways were tried, and all to no purpose.

At last, however, the Queen had a daughter. There was a very fine christening; and the Princess had for her god-mothers all the fairies they could find in the whole kingdom (they found seven), that every one of them might give her a gift, as was the custom of fairies in those days. By this means the Princess had all the perfections imaginable.

After the ceremonies of the christening were over, all the company returned to the King’s palace, where was prepared a great feast for the fairies. There was placed before every one of them a magnificent cover with a case of massive gold, wherein were a spoon, knife, and fork, all of pure gold set with diamonds and rubies. But as they were all sitting down at table they saw come into the hall a very old fairy, whom they had not invited, because it was above fifty years since she had been out of a certain tower, and she was believed to be either dead or enchanted.

The King ordered her a cover, but could not furnish her with a case of gold as the others, because they had only seven made for the seven fairies. The old Fairy fancied she was slighted, and muttered some threats between her teeth. One of the young fairies who sat by her overheard how she grumbled; and, judging that she might give the little Princess some unlucky gift, went, as soon as they rose from table, and hid herself behind the hangings, that she might speak last, and repair, as much as she could, the evil which the old Fairy might intend.

In the meanwhile all the fairies began to give their gifts to the Princess. The youngest gave her for gift that she should be the most beautiful person in the world; the next, that she should have the wit of an angel; the third, that she should have a wonderful grace in everything she did; the fourth, that she should dance perfectly well; the fifth, that she should sing like a nightingale; and the sixth, that she should play all kinds of music to the utmost perfection.

The old Fairy’s turn coming next, with a head shaking more with spite than age, she said that the Princess should have her hand pierced with a spindle and die of the wound. This terrible gift made the whole company tremble, and everybody fell a-crying.

At this very instant the young Fairy came out from behind the hangings, and spake these words aloud:

“Assure yourselves, O King and Queen, that your daughter shall not die of this disaster. It is true, I have no power to undo entirely what my elder has done. The Princess shall indeed pierce her hand with a spindle; but, instead of dying, she shall only fall into a profound sleep, which shall last a hundred years, at the expiration of which a king’s son shall come and awake her.”

Here there are eight fairies rather than Grimm’s thirteen.  Interestingly we are given a somewhat more reasonable explanation for lack of an invitation; it wasn’t so much that the King and Queen just didn’t have enough gold cutlery; it was just that everyone thought that she was dead.   Still, the offense taken by the fairy may have been just as much about not getting the booty as it was about not being invited.

The eighth fairy

The eighth fairy curses the princess. Illustration by Louis Pauquet from an 1842 edition of Contes du temps passé.

As in Little Briar Rose, our early Maleficent makes no further appearance in the story.  Perrault makes it quite clear that the old woman spinning with the fateful spindle had no idea who the princess was.  However there are a few interesting elements to this story that should be mentioned.  First, this is the only version prior to the film that has dragons.  However these dragons have nothing to do with the eighth fairy; instead they pull the chariot of the seventh fairy when, after the curse manifests, she returns to put the rest of the palace to sleep.

The other element that needs to be discussed is what happens to our prince and princess after they marry.  There was no happily ever after for them.  Instead, the story takes a bizarre turn; it turns out that the prince’s mother is an Ogre.  When the princess gives birth to a daughter, named Morning, and a son, named Day, the Ogre Queen contrives to eat all three of them.  Fortunately her plans are thwarted by her clever cook, who substitutes lambs for the children and a deer for the princess.  For Perrault’s story, this episode seems almost tacked on as an after-thought, and perhaps for this reason it was omitted by the brothers Grimm, who otherwise rarely shied away from the gruesome.  In contrast, this cannibalism element plays a much more central role in the other oft-cited source.

Sun, Moon, and Talia (Sole, Luna, e Talia)

Sun, Moon, and Talia appeared in Giambattista Basile’s posthumous Il Pentamerone (The Tale of Tales), published in 1634, some sixty years earlier than Perrault’s tome.  This is a very different story indeed.  It opens, as per the 2007 translation by Nancy Canepa:

There was once a great lord who at the birth of a daughter named Talia summoned all the wise men and fortune-tellers of his kingdom to predict her fortune.  After conferring a number of times, they concluded that she would find herself in great danger because of a little piece of flax.  And so the king  issued a prohibition aimed at avoiding that baleful encounter: in his house neither flax nor hemp nor anything of the sort was to enter.

Wait, what?  Where are the fairies?  Their absence is most conspicuous.  The old woman who introduces the princess to spinning is present, but rather than impaling her finger on the spindle, Thalia gets a bit of flax under her fingernail causing her to fall “dead upon the ground”.  Thereafter the story is quite different.  The lord locks his daughter away and runs off.  A passing king happens upon her and rapes her in her sleep then returns to his wife.  Nine months passes after which Thalia, still asleep, gives birth to a son and daughter who are given the names Sun and Moon.  The daughter Moon, looking for a teat to suckle upon, takes hold of Thalia’s finger and sucks out the piece of flax whereupon Thalia wakes from her sleep.  The rest of the story plays out similarly to the second part of The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood.  In this version, however, the rapist king’s wife plays the part of the ogre and, rather than her trying to eat Thalia and her children, she tries to trick the king into eating them as revenge for his infidelity.

It seems that many researchers, including Basile’s modern translator, have suggested that Basile was Perrault’s primary source for The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (Canepa 413). If this is indeed the case and Sun, Moon, and Talia is the earliest version of the story then we can only conclude that the very first origins of Maleficent is as an anonymous gaggle of wise men and fortune-tellers, and that Perrault simply made up the entire part about the fairies.  In the absence of an earlier source we would be left with this rather disappointing conclusion.


Fortunately, there is an earlier source — in fact much, much earlier — and what a source it is!  Researchers at least as far back as the late nineteenth century were aware that the anonymously authored medieval French romance Perceforest contained a sleeping beauty story (Lang liv.)  The surviving manuscripts for Perceforest date from the second half of the fifteen century, but most evidence points to an original composition date of around 1330 (Bryant 24).  This places the story a good three centuries prior to Basile and Perrault.  However, due to its immense length it remained untranslated and therefore largely inaccessible to English researchers (Bryant 1).  It was not until 2011 when Nigel Bryant published a redacted translation that this remarkable story has finally become available.

So let us explore this medieval sleeping beauty story. This is a true romantic story rather than a fairy tale so the narrative is quite complex, but the general synopsis is as follows:  there was once a king named Zelland who had a queen.  In their kingdom the people primarily worshiped the three goddesses Venus, Lucina, and Themis.  It was a custom in this land that when a woman was about to give birth she would have her handmaidens go to the temple of the three goddesses and prepare a table spread with three places set with “all manner of food and drink”, goblets filled with the “finest spiced wine” and knives to eat with.  Lucina would have pride of place as the goddess of childbirth.  Venus would sit next with “her torch ready to fire the child”, and Themis next, who is described as the “Goddess of destiny, who immediately determines the child’s life and all that will befall it”.

As it happens, when it came time for the queen’s birthing somehow Themis was not given a knife.  Taking exception to this slight, she declared upon the birth of the princess that her fate would be “from the first thread of linen that she spins from her distaff a shard will pierce her finger and cast her into a sudden sleep, from which she’ll never wake until it’s sucked out!”  (Note: prior to spinning wheels, distaffs and spindles were used to spin wool).  Venus, however, intervened and assured the queen that indeed the shard would be sucked out and all made well.

The princess, who is named Zellandine, grows up and falls in love with a Scottish knight named Troylus.  While Troylus is absent in his native land, Zellandine’s destiny catches up to her and she falls into a death-like sleep and is placed in a high tower by King Zelland to await the mercy of the gods.  When the news reaches Troylus that his love has fallen into a sleep from which she cannot awake, he rushes back with plenty of adventures along the way.  Stopping in at the temple of the goddesses, he meets Venus who tells him that “when you pluck from the slit the fruit that holds the cure, the girl will be healed.”

Later Troylus is lifted by the mischievous spirit Zephir into the tower where Zellandine lay.  Finding her sleeping in the nude, Troylus rather amusingly implores Venus to guide him to ‘the slit that houses the fruit’ since he could not possibly find it on his own.  He tries to wake Zellandine with kisses to no avail.  He struggles mightily with Reason and Propriety which tell him that he shouldn’t take advantage of an unconscious girl, but finally Venus arrives and questions his manhood until he is berated into raping his betrothed.

Nine months later, still asleep, Zellandine gives birth to a son who, seeking food, grabs one of his mother’s fingers and begins sucking, removing the thread thus breaking the curse and waking her.  Before she is quite able to figure out what is going on, a huge bird with the torso of a woman comes through the window and snatches the baby away to deliver it to the three goddesses who end up raising it.  Delighted by his daughter’s awakening, which he attributes to the god Mars, King Zelland looks to marry her off to a local prince.  Unable to persuade him otherwise, Zellandine elopes with Troylus.

It is easy to see in this story the seeds of both Basile’s and Perrault’s tales, and it nicely explains some of the differences between the two.  Oddly missing is the evil queen and her cannibalism, but we will return to that later.

But before we continue let us consider the question: is it possible that the three Goddesses of Perceforest could be directly linked to the fairies of Sleeping Beauty in the Wood or is it more likely that the Goddesses were simply forgotten along the way and then fairies invented independently?    In fact there is certainly recorded precedent for Pagan deities to fade to fey; the Tuatha Dé Danann became the sidhe, after all.  Furthermore, Basile’s story seems to demonstrate what happens when the goddesses were forgotten; they were replaced with an anonymous cluster of fortune-tellers, and the perceived slight was forgotten along with them; all that remained was the divination of the princess’ fate.  Finally, in both Perceforest and Perrault there appears a being who mitigates the curse; Venus in the former and the seventh fairy in the latter.  It seems reasonable, then, to conclude that Perrault’s fairies were the three goddesses rather than an invention added to Basile’s tale, and Themis therefore was the progenitor of Maleficent.

Or was she?

But wait!  What the heck were our gods doing in this book anyway?  After all, by the time of the composition, France had been Christianized as part of the Roman Empire for at least 800 years!  Well, the book was set primarily in the British Isles which, thanks largely to a continual influx of Germanic invaders, remained largely Pagan for quite some time.  And after all, a primary theme of the book is the rise of the ‘Sovereign God’ of Christianity.  Yet the Pagan gods and goddesses frolic throughout as though they were still in Ovid….  but this is a mystery for another day.

Statue of Themis, 300 BCE, by Chairestratos from the temple at Rhamnous

Statue of Themis, 300 BCE, by Chairestratos from the temple at Rhamnous

But let us consider Themis.  Who was she?  Themis was actually a Titan rather than an Olympian and was the personification of law according to custom and rightness (Smith 46).  Smith tells us that she was the second power behind the Delphic oracle, after Gaia and before Apollo, thus demonstrating that she was indeed held as a goddess of divination (47).  Still, while not underestimating the important of the divination aspect, she is primarily known as the keeper of ‘that which is right’ as sanctioned by the gods (49).  This refers largely to the divine laws of piety and hospitality, exactly the things that Zellandine’s mother broke by failing to give one of the three goddesses a knife for her birthing feast.  So are we safe to say that Maleficent’s origin is as the titan Goddess Themis, offended by a lapse in proper hospitality and thus pronouncing a curse upon her?  Well, not quite so fast.

The problem is that while Themis may be the personification of divine law, she does not appear to be the one that enforces it.    However, it turns out that she had a friend who did just that, for she shared a temple in Rhamnous with the goddess Nemesis.

Nemesis in marble, 2nd century CE from Egypt

Nemesis in marble, 2nd century CE from Egypt

And who was Nemesis?  She is often considered a chthonic nature deity (Hornum 7), which is most fitting indeed if her fate was indeed to end up as a fairy.  A daughter of Nyx, the goddess of night, Nemesis was the goddess of moral indignation and retribution (Atsma).  For our purposes, a particularly intriguing tale of the goddess appears in book 48 of Nonnos’ epic poem Dionysiaca, which tells the life of Dionsyus.  A composition date of around 450 CE places this version of the story at least eight centuries prior to Perceforest.


This particular part of the poem begins with “impious words” from the maiden goddess Aura to another maiden goddess, Artemis.  Swimming nude together in a river, Aura teases Artemis for being a virgin while having such full and soft round breasts as opposed to her own boy-like figure.  Artemis takes great insult at this; she seeks out Nemesis and begs her to turn Aura to stone in retribution.  Nemesis balks at this punishment as she shares a Titan ancestry with Aura.  However, she does promise revenge of a sort:

“Aura the maid of the hunt has reproached your virginity,
and she shall be a virgin no longer.
You shall see her in the bed of a mountain stream
weeping fountains of tears for her maiden girdle.”

With that, Nemesis tracks down Aura and lays a curse upon her, then enlists the help of Eros to fill Dionysus with lust for the maiden.  Struck by the arrows of Eros, Dionysus hunts for Aura but wonders how he could possibly convince the chaste goddess to lie with him.  As he wonders, a nymphs appears and tells him:

“Bacchos can never lead Aura to his bed,
unless he binds her first in heavy galling fetters, and
winds the bonds of Cypris round hands and feet ;
or else puts her under the yoke of marriage in sleep,
and steals the girl’s maidenhood without brideprice.”

He resumes the chase and along the way meets the ghost of Ariadne, and here enters the first source for the spinning wheel aspect of the story; she gives him a distaff and suggests that if his ‘bride’ asks for a gift that he present it to her.

After this meeting, Dionysus catches up with Aura.  Seeing that she appeared thirsty, the god struck the ground with his staff, causing a fountain of sweet-smelling wine to appear.  Eros leads Aura to the fountain where she drinks until she falls into a drunken sleep.  Then, egged on by Eros, Dionysus proceeds to rape Aura in her sleep, leaving afterwards.

Waking some time later Aura immediately realizes what has happened to her, but not by who.  Driven quite mad in anger, she goes on a murderous spree, killing every man she sees; shepherds, oxherds, goatherds, farmers, hunters, vineyard workers, and herdsmen alike are all slain, til the hills run red with blood.

As time passes she comes to realize that she is pregnant, and then we are told this:

She longed to know her husband,
that she might dish up her own son
to her loathing husband, childslayer and paramour
alike, that men might say — ” Aura, unhappy bride,
has killed her child like another Procne.”

(Procne is known from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  She was a queen whose husband Tereus raped her sister Philomela.  In revenge, she killed and cooked her son and then fed him to Tereus).  On a mountaintop, Aura gives birth to twin boys.  Still quite mad, she immediately kills and devours one of them.  The other is snatched away and saved by Artemis — which may explain the bird with the torso of a woman in Perceforest who steals Zellandine’s baby away.  Artemis brings the boy to Dionysus who places him in the care of the Bacchae.  Aura ends up throwing herself into a river to drown and is transformed into a fountain, thus concluding Nemesis’ curse.


If one was to simply compare the story in Dionysiaca with Disney’s film Sleeping Beauty, one would be hard pressed to say that they are the same tale.  It is only by tracing the story’s history back through Grimm, Perrault, Basile, the anonymous Perceforest, and finally to Nonnos, that it becomes clear that they are all one and the same.  And this means that Maleficent is none other than a modern incarnation of the goddess Nemesis.

Thoughts?  Disagreements?  Can anyone find an even older version of the story?

Nemesis by Gheorghe Tattarescu, 1853.

Nemesis by Gheorghe Tattarescu, 1853

Maleficent as Dragon from the 1959 film

Maleficent as the dragon from the 1959 film

Works Referenced

Atsma, Aaron. Nemesis.  The Theoi Project.  Web. 29 Oct 2014.

Bryant, Nigel. Perceforest: The Prehistory of King Arthur’s Britain. Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2011.  Google Books.  Web. 24 Oct 2014.

Canepa, Nancy.  Giambattista Basile’s The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones.  Wayne State University Press, 2007.  Google Books. Web. 23 Oct 2014.

Hornum, Michael. Nemesis, the Roman State, and the Games. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993.  Google Books.  Web. 28 Oct 2014.

Lang, Andrew. Perrault’s Popular Tales. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1888.  Archive.org. Web. 24 Oct 2014.

Nonnos.  Dionysiaca. Trans. W.H.D. Rouse. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1940.  Archive.org.  Web. 29 Oct 2014.

Smith, Amy.  Polis and Personfication in Classical Athenian Art. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2011.  Google Books.  Web. 27 Oct 2014.

Status Update

As some of you will already know, I have left ADF.  Part of the reason for my leaving has to do with my last post here but there are other reasons which are just as important to me.

However despite leaving ADF, I am continuing to pursue my Druidry and will likely continue to post the occasional essay on things that interest me and which I hope will be of interest to others.