This knot I knit,
To know the thing, I know not yet,
That I may see,
The man that shall my husband be,
How he goes, and what he wears,
And what he does, all days and years.
Three is health,
Four is wealth,
Five is sickness
And six is death.
Whenever the cat of the house is black,
Its lasses of lovers will have no lack.
Spell of Power
Ziccary zan; Hollow bone, crack a bone,
It must be done;
Well, I thought, what intriguing little spells and verses; they would be perfect to print with the coming Samhain Tide. I looked to the source of these jewels and was astonished to learn they were not only from Mother Goose, but published to the general public for hundreds of years!
Hundreds of years! Right in the middle the fanatical Christian suppression of anything even remotely Pagan, are these and other verses. They were printed and illustrated in books that were lovingly read to the children of the time. I wondered how many people knew or suspected the origins of these rhymes and then I opened my own childhood Mother Goose book and experienced the second thunder bolt of the day. On the title page of The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book, is a picture of, as far as I'm concerned, a witch riding a goose. In the various images of Mother Goose I came across in the coming weeks, I consistently saw an old woman, tall pointed hat, black cat and even a broom. Could the resemblance to a witch be any clearer?
In my book's picture, she carried an egg in her right hand as she flew. My Pagan mind jumped to symbolic connections between eggs and fertility and old women and wisdom. This is a very potent symbol for young children to gaze upon. How many people consciously saw a witch reading stories to their children? Did they know that she was passing along hundreds if not thousands of years of wisdom? Did they know that storytelling has always been the role of the old woman, the hag, the witch?
Amongst the lace, baby powder, and pastel pinks and blues is the very image we have been warned against. Even though we have been instructed by our most threatening authority figures (church leaders) not to trust this woman, indeed to shun her, she is watching over and reciting to our beloved children as Mother Goose.
We have been told for centuries that the witch is evil, consorts with the devil, hexes the innocent and boils infants in her cauldron. Her image is meant to represent the old and the haggard and the frightening.
With all the bad press, you'd think she would have been banished from all sight, yet at the height of the steam- cleaned morality of the Victorian age, she is there as Mother Goose. In some depiction's she is plump and grand motherly instead of spooky and witch-like, but most often she is how I have described above.
I decided to do some research into this matter and see what I could come up with. I first did some reading on the general subject of Mother Goose and what follows is a medley of information I came across in three different encyclopedias.
Mother Goose is described as ". . . fictitious narrator of nursery rhymes. She is the smiling old woman with magic wand, tall hat, and flowing cloak who rides through the air upon a goose. . ." ". . . fictitious old woman, reputedly the source of the body of traditional children's songs and verses knows as nursery rhymes. . ." 3 ". . . Some scholars believe that Mother goose is based on a real person, but others say that Mother Goose is a fictional character."
Mother Goose's identity has been attributed to the Queen of Sheba of biblical times to Queen Bertha, the mother of Charlemagne in medieval times, (Bertha's nickname was 'Goose-footed Bertha' or 'Queen Goose-Foot'. This nickname was not elaborated on, but one can speculate that she had some webbed toes or was pidgin-toed.) to Elizabeth Goose (Vergoose/Vertigoose) of colonial Boston.
No one will ever prove who she was or from whence she came, but it is my opinion that she is a combination of real-life women and arctypical characters. No matter how suppressive or scolding a patriarchal society is, it cannot eliminate our need for the divine feminine.
Mother Goose has not only cloaked ancient pre-Christian beliefs from modern eyes, she was the medium of scathing political commentary. Her rhymes were taken from ancient folklore, songs, ritual, proverbs and the political opinion of the common folk. Below are two examples of her political tongue:
Georgie Porgie, pudd'n pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
Attributed to a promiscuous monarch of the day.
Jack Spratt could eat no fat,
His wife would eat no lean,
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean.
Possible commentary of the fat and greedy churchman , and in
particular an Archdeacon named Pratt.
I next investigated the goose she always rides and did not have to dig very deep to find a solid vein of goose mythology. I learned that geese, ducks and swans have been in our history and storytelling for thousands of years.
The Egyptian goddess Hathor gave birth to the sun when she took the form of the Nile goose and was often referred to as the 'Goose that laid the Golden Egg'. The goose was sacred to Celtic tribes because of the connection to the Sun-Egg. Even today in some areas of Ireland, the goose is 'kept but not eaten'. In medieval times it was forbidden to kill a goose in midwinter because the sun was thought to need the incubation of the goose in order to be re-born.
Our own dinner-time custom of a chicken's wish bone can be traced to Western Europe when a goose was killed and eaten at Martinmas (Nov. 11. Currently Veteran's Day in the US). The breast bone was allowed to dry over night and the next day the oldest of the household made her/his divination on the coming winter based on the shape of the bone when pulled apart.
The goose has been linked to a holy bird which flew in front of the earth-mother Berchta in Germanic lands. This same Berchta is closely related to Queen Bertha (mentioned above) and is Connected With fertility.
Gula the Healer, goddess of ancient Ur, is pictured seated on four geese as they fly across the ocean or the sky. From India, China and Japan come ancient stories of young women riding geese across the sky. These images are nearly always referred to as symbols of fertility. The goose being the male symbol (the sun) and the woman the corresponding female (moon) element. Aphrodite and Adonis are seen riding in a chariot drawn by two swans. 6 Alone, Aphrodite is depicted on the back of a swan or goose from the Mediterranean to Britain.
I must come to the conclusion that Mother Goose being in the company of such an ancient symbol is no accident. I must also conclude that her resemblance to a witch is not happenstance, but our need to keep this woman and her teachings close at hand. However superficially we detest the hag, she manages to stay in our midst.
At this time of year, she is everywhere as the wicked witch_ someone to fear and hate, yet the costume of the witch is one of the most enduring for children and adults at Halloween. I can take some comfort that the witch will always stay close by, even if too often portrayed in a negative light, but my warmest comfort comes from her image as Mother Goose. She is a hag of wisdom and learning, also known as Hecate, the Ancient Greek triple goddess who ruled heaven, earth and the underworld. She guides us into the future with lessons
from the past. I know Mother Goose is a witch and now, so do you.
1. Skelton, Robin and Blackwood, Margaret. Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Arkana, Penguin Group, New York, 1990, pp. 65, 69, 72, 229.
2. Bracy, William. Collier's Encyclopedia, P.F. Collier Inc., New York, 1993.
3. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th Edition, Encyclopaedia Britanica, Chicago, 1994.
4. The World Book Encyclopedia, World Book Inc., Chicago, 1993.
5. Bracy, William. Collier's Encyclopedia, P.F. Collier Inc., New York, 1993.
6. Walker, Barbara G. The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1988, p. 402.
7. Armstrong, Edward A. The Folklore of Birds, Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1959, pp. 30-40.
Note: If you search into the origins of the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel's popular song Scarborough Fair, you will discover that a good deal of it is from a Mother Goose rhyme called The Tasks. 1 p 229.
Books in PDF format to read:Aleister Crowley - Book Of The Heart Girt With The Serpent
Michael Magee - Robin Hood And The Witches
Andrew Lang - The Witch And Other Stories