Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No.6. Vol. 1, Vernal Equinox 2004

Sovereignty and Ecology:
A Celtic Neo-Pagan View Point
by J. S. Kupperman

Sovereignty[1] is the archetypal goddess of the land, and the land She rules over is usually named after Her. Thus Brigantia rules over Britain and Eriu over Ireland.[2] It is through Sovereignty that a person may become king or champion of the land. There are many aspects to Sovereignty and the implications of these aspects are important when looking at the ecological responsibilities of the human race.

The most important aspect to Sovereignty has already been mentioned, it is only through Her that a person can rule. Sovereignty chooses who shall rule Her land and without Her support the ruler will fall. This aspect of Sovereignty is shown repeatedly in both Irish and Welsh mythology as well as in the Arthurian Grail stories.[3] This aspect of Sovereignty is show best though in one of the oldest Irish myths called Lebor Gabala Erinn or “The Book of the Taking of Ireland” which tells of the several invasions of Ireland, ending finally with the coming of the Gaels.

In this story the Gaels come upon the then rulers of the land, the Tuatha De Dannan, the People of the Goddess Danu, without warning. On their way to the Dannan the Gaels, being led by their chief bard Amergin, are stopped by three women who make Amergin that when the land is conquered their names will be used to name the land, these women were Banba, Fodla, and Eriu. When the Gaels arrive at the capital city, Tara, Amergin makes an agreement with the Dannan to take his people beyond the ninth wave, a traditional distance, for a certain period of time so the Dannan can prepare for war. When the Gaels have left the Dannan's druids control the weather so there is a great storm blowing about the Gaels boats. It is at this point that Sovereignty, in the guise of the three women steps in. Because Amergin had accepted their conditions, to use their names as the name of the land, Amergin has the sovereignty over the land, and sings one of the most famous poems in Irish mythology wherein he and his people are identified with the land.

This poem shows Amergin’s use of his sovereignty. In it he invokes the land Herself and identifies himself with several aspects, in effect “becoming” the land. Amergin can only do this because Sovereignty, in the guises of Banba, Fodla, and Eriu, has granted him that power. Conversely Tuatha De Dannan’s druids no longer hold sovereignty and their magic is overcome.

Another version of this can be found in the story Branwen Daughter of Llyr, found in the Welsh Mabinogion. In this story the British insult the Irish who accept compensation in the form of Branwen, daughter of Llyr, god of the sea, and sister to Bran, king of Britain. Branwen is also the representative of Sovereignty. The important part of the story is when the Irish mistreat Branwen, thus abusing Sovereignty. When this occurs Bran leads the British to Ireland and conquers the land, rescuing his sister and laying waste to the land of Ireland.[4] Here it is not the rescuing of Branwen that is truly important but the fact that Ireland is conquered. The Irish are defeated because they have lost their sovereignty by mistreating Branwen.

This has an important ecological implication; human beings do not rule over the land, the land give humans sovereignty. Humans must then learn that if they abuse their power it will be taken away, or worse. These stories show that the control of the land is really in the hands of the land itself, and to mistreat the power that the land gives is to court disaster.

This leads us to another aspect of Sovereignty, She chooses only the most fit to be Her champions and when they become disfigured they must step down or face the consequence. While the word “disfigured” can be literally taken as having some physical problem, it can also mean to have been changed for the worse, either physically, or more importantly psychologically. To be disfigured in this context means to be no longer competent to rule. This can happen because of poor choices. All of these can be found in Celtic mythology.

In the Mabinogion’s Pwyll Lord of Dyved, Pwyll, who is a ruler of several lesser kingdoms, makes the mistake of killing the stag that was hunted down by another mans hounds. The man in this case is Arawn, who is king of the Underworld. As punishment for this lack of honor Pwyll must take Arawn's place in the Underworld for a year and a day and must defeat a foe who is too great for Arawn to defeat. It is only because of Pwyll's honor during this year and a day that he is able to defeat the foe and when he returns to Dyved, his land, he finds that the last year has been the most prosperous the land has ever had and his reputation is increased a great deal.[5]

The loss of sovereignty through poor choice, meaning to choose something for yourself over the needs of the people, is shown in The Adventures of Art Son of Conn, an Irish tale. In this story, Conn, who is High King of Ireland, marries the faery woman Becuma who was exiled from the faery realms for some unnamed crimes. She really wants to be with Conn’s son, Art, but chooses Conn because he is the king. With this marriage the land becomes desolate; no food grows and the cows don't give milk. This is because the king is married to an unworthy woman, a woman who does not represent Sovereignty. Conn does not give up his wife for the land though, instead she is able to beguile him into exiling his son Art until he can bring back the son of a sinless couple to be sacrificed, which she says will restore the land. Art is successful in his quest but the child, who is a version of Mabon, Sovereignty’s son, tells Conn what really is at the heart of the problem. Eventually Becuma is ousted and Art becomes king after marrying Delbchaem, another faery woman, but one of royal blood who fittingly represents Sovereignty.[6]

Human kind can learn much from these tales. In the first sovereignty is lost by choosing a dishonorable or disrespectful path. On can do dishonor to the land as well as to a human. To dump toxic wastes or strip mine fertile land are aspects of this disrespect. When humans do these things the land is hurt and the people are punished; there is less land to grow food on and with fewer plants the oxygen level can be decreased causing problems with the ozone layer of the atmosphere. The same can be said for choosing human kinds wants over the needs of other species and the land. When humans chose to over populate the planet or create toxic wastes so that they can be more comfortable there is a price to pay, the land no longer produces food and animals die, no longer supplying the nutrients that people need to live.

This brings us to a final aspect of Sovereignty that both sets of tales share in common: when the king[7] abuses his rulership or becomes disfigured in some way Sovereignty removes Her power until a new king is chosen. The removal of Her sovereignty usually ends in the land going to waste. This can be seen in Arthurian legend when Arthur is wounded and Guinevere, an aspect of Sovereignty, leaves him for Lancelot, the land goes to waste.[8]

A movie that parallels this is the modern story The Lion King by Disney. When Scar takes over the pride he brings in the hyenas, who are enemies to the lions, and over hunts the land. After several years of this the land becomes desolate and the lionesses, who in this case represent Sovereignty, refuse to hunt for him. Sovereignty is shown again in this movie when Nala, a lioness, leaves the land and finds Simba, the rightful king. Returning to the pride with Nala/Sovereignty, Simba is able to overthrow Scar and the hyenas and the land returns to normal.

These two stories show the penalties for breaking with sovereignty, the loss of power, and in Scar’s case, the loss of life. This is an important ecological message, when we hurt the nature, nature will hurt us. We can see this today where there is a population problem, poverty and world hunger. Even more reflective of this aspect of Sovereignty is the increase of disease in the world. The old diseases that were once defeated by penicillin are becoming immune to such treatments, and new diseases are appearing. The appearance of HIV and AIDS in the last 30 years and the newer appearance of SARS are just two examples. Humanity has abused its sovereignty and has become disfigured, Sovereignty is not amused.

These three sets of tales can show humanity many things. We can see that it is really nature who is in charge, not us. This means that humans don’ have the right to use or abuse the land, who is in control is up to nature. Through these myths we can also see how we can become unworthy to hold our sovereignty. When we choose ourselves over the needs of the land and its other inhabitants or act disrespectfully towards nature we show ourselves no longer fit to hold dominance over the land. In both of these cases, when humans push nature too hard, nature pushes back, as can be seen in the last set of stories. When the king is no longer fit to rule, the land dies, and so do the people. Pestilence and famine spread throughout the land, curable diseases are no longer curable.

There is one final aspect to Sovereignty that is important though; She can be appeased. As can be seen in a full reading of all of these stories the land can be restored. To do so a new champion must be chosen and the old ruler must be disposed of or the old ruler must make amends and become whole again, as Naudu, king of the Tuatha De Dannan in Cath Maige Turied, the Second Battle of Moytura, does, returning him to the thrown[9]. Still this has two implications for humanity. One is that by taking a new view of our relationship with nature we can change our ways and beg forgiveness of Sovereignty. By doing this the land will eventually be restored and balance will be regained. Another, darker, interpretation is that humanity can be replaced as sovereigns of the land; with the rise in the population, increase of disease, the depletion of the ozone, and the destruction of the rain forest and other large areas of plants, this appears to be the future of our sovereignty.



Blamires, Steve. The Irish Celtic Magical Tradition. London: The Aquarian Press, 1992.

Gantz, Jeffrey, trans. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. By Various Authors. London: Penguin, 1981.

---. Mabinogion, The. By Various Authors. London: Penguin, 1976.

Matthews, Caítlin. Arthur and the Sovereignty of Britain. London: Arkana, 1989.

Matthews, Caítlin and John. British and Irish Mythology: An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend. London: Diamond Books, 1988.

---. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1994.

Shallcrass, Philip. The Bardic Tradition and the Song of the Land. In The Druid Renaissance. Ed. Carr-Gomm, Philip. San Francisco: Thorsons, 1996.



[1] I will use the capitalized Sovereignty when referring to Deity and sovereignty when referring to the more political aspects of rulership.

[2] Matthews & Matthews, An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend: British & Irish Mythology. p. 148

[3] Matthews, Arthur and the Sovereignty of Britain. p. 21.

[4] Gantz, The Mabinogion. pp. 67-82.

[5] Gantz, The Mabinogion. p. 46-51.

[6] Matthews & Matthews, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. pp. 376-87.

[7] It is always appears to be male ruler or champion in Celtic mythology, perhaps balancing the feminine aspects of Sovereignty Matthews, 64-5.

[8] Matthews, p. 158.

[9] Blamires, The Irish Celtic Magical Tradition. pp.115-118.