Goose Art, Myth & Meaning
My Celtic goose art plus goose myth & meaning explored...
The farmyard goose was once widespread across Britain and Ireland – equally so its wild ancestor, the Greylag Goose.
The name is thought to relate to the fact that this grey goose ‘lagged’ behind other geese at migration time and was one of the last to leave for migration. Another suggestion is that it was originally the ‘grey-legged goose’ but since its legs aren’t grey, but orange, I feel this theory is unlikely.
Even in the earliest times, geese were seen as special. In Ancient Egypt, the goose “was the Sun as it emerged from the primeval egg” (Albert Champdour, Le Livre des Morts) – a solar bird-god that laid the golden egg (the sun) each morning.
Pharoahs who identified with the sun were shown with their souls in the shape of a goose. And when a new pharaoh was proclaimed, four wild geese were released to the four corners of the Earth to tell the gods of the new earthly ruler. So the Egyptians saw the goose as a messenger between heaven and earth.
Likewise, the Chinese, too, saw the geese as heavenly messengers. The wild goose was a common symbol in the ancient religious poems of the Shi-ching (The Book of Odes), parts of which date from the seventh century BC – and its theme was often one of eroticism or sexuality.
The Ancient Romans considered goose fat as an aphrodisiac – but they also had another use for geese…
Geese were kept as guardian birds to raise an alarm call with their noisy honking in case of intruders. The Romans kept guardian geese around the Temple of Juno. In 390 BC, they proved their worth by raising the alarm when the besieging Gauls attacked by night.
The Celts revered the goose and (alongside the hare and chicken) would not eat its flesh but kept the goose for its eggs and for its instinctive guardian nature.
The aggressively territorial and defensive nature of the goose meant that it often became associated with Celtic war deities.
A bronze figurine of a Celtic war goddess was found in Dineault, Brittany wearing a goose helmet.
And Celtic forms of the Roman war god Mars are often shown with a goose – such as the god Mars Thincsus who was worshipped in Northern England at Housesteads and Hadrian’s Wall. In this circumstance, it is thought that the goose may also relate to a healing theme.
At Roquepertuse, France, a stone goose on a lintel over the doorway guards an Iron Age temple to war deities.
And Iron Age warriors were discovered buried with geese, in graves found in the former Czechoslovakia.
The Celtic horse goddess Epona is often shown riding on a flying goose – and likewise, the Celtic ‘Great Mother’, or the mother goddess, Brigantia, is depicted riding a goose.
This may link back to the role of geese to link heaven and earth.
In the Altai Mountains, shamans were believed to ride a goose in order to communicate with the spiritual realm.
It was also believed, in medieval times, that witches rode geese…
And the Druids used the migratory patterns of geese to divine the changing of the seasons, much as we still can do likewise, today. It’s said that a skein of geese flying towards the sea will bring good weather, whilst geese heading to the hills forecasts poor weather.
We do know that the Celts would use geese for healing. Christianity did not reach the remote island of St. Kilda in the north of Scotland until the very start of the 18th century, so the inhabitants kept their ancient traditions and practices long after other parts of Britain has lost them. The St Kildans used goose fat for healing – called ‘Gibanirtick’, it was greatly prized.
Although the ancient Celts did not eat the goose, in medieval times geese were eaten. It was customary to eat goose at Michaelmas (29th September) and at Christmas – and large ‘goose fairs’ were held around the countryside. Farmers would march their geese to market over many miles, sometimes protecting their feet with tar and sand.
In some areas, it was traditional for a tenant to give their landlord a goose at Michaelmas – perhaps alluding to a former sacrificial role for the goose at this time?
At the Michaelmas goose feast, the breast bone of the goose was pulled in order to divine the future. This was called the ‘Merry Thought’ and is believed to be the origin of our modern custom of pulling the lucky ‘wish-bone’ of the chicken.
“Whosover eats goose on Michaelmas Day
The Christmas festivities, linked to the darkness of winter and the rebirth of the sun, may also link back to the ideas of the goose as the solar bird and the golden egg, with its obvious symbol of rebirth.
In times of the English Civil War, the goose again became associated with war. The Roundhead Soldiers marched to a ‘goose step’ and popular nursery rhymes such as ‘Goosey Goosey Gander’ were actually satirical observations on this troubled period of history.
In Elizabethan times, the goose came to be a symbol of loose sexual morals – a prostitute was often called a ‘goose’. This may be because of the goose’s showy mating rituals – a goose pair will go through a ‘triumph-ritual’ each time they reconnect…
But in actual fact, the greylag goose will nearly always mate for life and is a devoted and faithful partner who defends its family fiercely. The young goslings will stay in the family group over winter as they migrate and will only leave their parents in the following year.
So the goose has now become a symbol of partnership, commitment, fidelity and family.
The goose was seen as highly intelligent in earlier times.
Creating my Celtic Goose Art
I created my Celtic Goose artwork digitally from pen and marker drawings that are then scanned into the computer, digitised with Adobe Illustrator and combined together to make a complete artwork.
Here's what happened...
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How to Buy my Celtic Goose Art
You can find my Celtic Goose Artwork in my Redbubble store:
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More about my stockists here - plus why I decided to go with print-on-demand for my art...
Explore more Celtic art here and more British birds art and nature & wildlife art here...
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