Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ériu – Queen of the Emerald Isle

Ériu was the sovereign earth-mother goddess of Ireland. She was one of a triad of goddesses: her sisters, Banbha and Fodla, were also goddess queens of the land. Ériu was married to the King Mac Gréine (Son of the Sun), who was himself the son of the Dagda, the father god of the Tuatha dé Danann.

When the Milesians (the humans) came to the Emerald Isle, they were confronted by the three sisters, each of them offered the island in exchange that the land be named after them. Banbha and Fodla became poetic names for the island, while Ériu became the chief name. We now know the land as Ireland, the root of the name coming from the name Ériu.

Ériu was an earth goddess, and this painting focuses primarily on that aspect of her. I wanted to tune in to earth energies rather than focus on form. As I worked on the piece, I filled my mind with images of Ireland, the land itself, and its plentiful plant and animal life. I used a photograph of a moss and lichen covered rock in Ireland as a guide to the composition. The range of colors in the painting reflect Ireland’s lushness and richness of life.

Ériu was also considered a solar goddess, through her marriage to Mac Gréine. When Ériu, as queen, conferred the land to the new human king, she offered him wine in a golden cup. Wine was the symbol of the earth, rich with life and plenty while the cup symbolized the sun, the source of illumination and healing. By using glazing techniques, I incorporated qualities of the sun in the painting as well. Glazing requires very thin layers of color layered over each other. The light shines through the transparent layers to the white canvas below, when the light bounces back, the colored layers blend, creating the different hues. I used only Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Blue, and Alizarin Crimson in the paintings. I didn’t mix colors on a palette. All the different colors appear solely from light blending together the multiple layers of color.

Ériu was also a goddess of sovereignty. In ancient times, the Celtic kings were married to the goddess of the land. It was the king’s responsibility to please the goddess, to make sure no one died in childbirth, that the food should grow plentifully, and so on. If the goddess was happy, the people thrived and were happy. If the king was unable to fulfill these duties—the king would be overthrown, having lost favor with the goddess.

I think about how such beliefs truly bonded people to the land they lived on. It was much more difficult to disrespect the land, or to take without first obtaining the permission of the land itself. How many of us today take a moment to consider how our actions affect the land we live on? If we thought of the earth as a living being would it be as easy to treat it so poorly? Imagine how much better off the environment would be if we each thought of ourselves married to the land?


Prints are available at Fine Art America 

(Ériu: Queen of the Emerald Isle, 30” x 30”, acrylic on canvas)

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