Today is International Women’s Day, a day in which we celebrate, appreciate, and highlight the economic, political, and social achievements of women. Here are some women that have influenced or inspired contemporary Pagans.
The queens of Egypt
Men have generally dominated the political arenas for the better part of human history. Women have done the best they could as wives, mothers, and mistresses. Few are remembered by history.
Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (ca. 1370 – ca. 1330 BC) was the Great Royal Wife of the pharaoh Akhenaten. They ruled what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history, but are better known for a religious revolution. Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc.
Nefertiti was made famous by her bust, now in Berlin’s Neues Museum. The bust is one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt and it solidified her iconic status. After Cleopatra, she is the second most recognisable or famous queen of Egypt.
Hatshepsut ( 1508–1458 BC) was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. She was one of the most successful pharaohs and reigned longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. According to Egyptologist James Henry Breasted she is also known as “the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.”
Hatshepsut established trade networks and expeditions and maintained a peaceful foreign policy. The great wealth she brought to Egypt enabled to her become a prolific builder, commissioning hundreds of construction projects that included buildings and statuary. She raised the calibre of Ancient Egyptian architecture to a new standard that would not be rivalled by any other culture for a thousand years. So much was produced during her reign that almost every major museum in the world has Hatshepsut statuary among their collection.
Cleopatra VII Philopator (69 – August 12, 30 BC) was the last active Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. She represented herself as a reincarnation of Isis and, although she was said to be extraordinarily beautiful, Plutarch and Cassius Dio wrote that it was her wit, charm, and “knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone” that made her special. She was brilliant to listen to as well as to look upon. Cleopatra captured the public imagination like no other and is invariably the Queen of Egypt as well as the Pagan Queen par excellence.
The warriors and scholars of antiquity
Sappho (born between 630 and 612 BCE and died around 570 BC) was a Greek lyric poet born on the island of Lesbos. Very little is know about her life and the bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, has been lost. However, her reputation has endured. Sappho’s work centres around love and passion for people of both sexes. Her name gave us the word “sapphic” and “lesbian” derives from the name of the island of her birth. Sappho and her work are an inspiration for GLBTIQ Pagans.
Artemisia I of Caria ( fl. 480 BCE) was queen of Halicarnassus, and is best known for having fought for her overlord Xerxes I, King of Persia against the free Greek city states during the second Persian invasion of Greece. She personally commanded her contribution of five ships at naval battles and was praised for her courage and the great respect King Xerxes I was said to have of her.
Boudica (d. AD 60 or 61) was queen of the British Iceni tribe, a Celtic tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. Ultimately, the Romans defeated the Celts. It is not known how Boudica died and she was largely forgotten until the Victoria era when her fame took on legendary proportions.
Hypatia (born c. AD 350 – 370; died 415) was a mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher in Egypt, then a part of the Byzantine Empire. Remarkably, she was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria. Hypatia was murdered by a Christian mob after being accused of exacerbating a conflict between the governor and bishop of Alexandria. Naturally, she was labelled a witch by her haters. Hypatia is a powerful symbol and inspiration for many Pagans today. For example, she is the guardian ancestor of Cherry Hill Seminary.
The Modern Visionaries
In the world of modern occultism, men such as Mathers, Crowley, Regardie, and Gardner dominate the stage. However, there are many notable women that have made great contributions and continue to teach and inspire us today.
Moina Mathers (28 February 1865 – 25 July 1928) might best be known as the wife of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, one of the founders of the organisation Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Moina was a talented artist and occultist in her own right, a seeress who illustrated what her husband evoked. After his death, she became head of a successor organisation, the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega.
Dion Fortune (6 December 1890 – 8 January 1946) was a prominent British occultist, author, psychologist, teacher, artist, and mystic. Two of her novels, The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, became influential works in the Goddess Movement and Wicca.
Pamela Colman Smith (16 February 1878 – 18 September 1951) was an artist and illustrator. She would have been forgotten had she not been the co-creator of the famous Waite-Smith deck of tarot cards. Her name didn’t even appear on the title of the deck which was originally published simply as Tarot Cards and later as The Rider Tarot Deck (after the publishing house) and later still as The Rider-Waite Tarot. We don’t know if this project was little more than a paid gig for Pixie, as she was known to her friends, but we know she was a member of the Golden Dawn who converted to Catholicism and may have been into Mary-worship. She was described as a visionary artist and she is being rediscovered today and appreciated anew.
Doreen Valiente (4 January 1922 – 1 September 1999) is perhaps the most influential Wiccan woman. Initiated by Gerald Gardner, she went on to write much of the early Gardnerian religious liturgy and played a big part in bringing Wicca to wider public attention. Considered the mother of modern Witchcraft, she produced the most enduring inspirational Wiccan text, the Charge of the Goddess.