Goddess of the Month - Libertas


The Goddess of Democracy by the students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, China

Call Her what you will, but the Goddess known as Libertas by the ancient Romans is a Goddess both ancient and modern. She is universal in Her reach and She fills the hearts of common folk everywhere with Her song. Libertas was always considered a Goddess by the Romans, but She was more of a personified virtue than an actively worshipped deity until the time of the Second Punic War (around 218 BCE). Since that time Libertas has become more and more of a strong Goddess who is one of the most openly loved and acknowledged in modern times in regions all over the world. Some of Her other names include:

Efígie da República - Brazil
Marianne - France
Kartilis Deda - Republic of Georgia
Lady of the Mountain - Iceland
Mother Russia - Russia
Britannia - England
Polonia - Poland
Lady Liberty - USA

Ancient Worship of Libertas

The Romans acknowledged Libertas as a personified form of one of their great virtues from early in their history. During the Second Punic War, the consul Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus ordered a temple be built in Her honor on the Aventine Hill. The temple was quite prominent during that time and along with the usual temple functions also stored the census records of the republic. There are no records of any special rites or sacrifices specific to Libertas during the Roman republic or during the later Empire, so the best we can do is to assume that Her temple was honored by the standard sacrifices of the time.

Libertas in the Modern Age

The Statue of Liberty
The role of Libertas has morphed in the modern world into one of Muse. She inspires people to rise and break their chains in countries as far apart as China and France. One of the first modern instances of Libertas being worshipped openly as Goddess of a freedom movement was during the French Revolution when the Cathedral of Notre Dame was turned into "The Cult of Reason" and a statue of Libertas as Marianne, Lady of the People, was placed on the altar in place of the Virgin Mary. Her most famous representation is the sculpture done by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi that stands in New York Harbor. I speak, of course, of The Statue of Liberty, or as M Bartholdi named Her, Liberty Enlightening the World. She was presented as a gift by the French people to the people of the US on the centennial of their independance from Britain. Directly inspired by the Roman depictions of Libertas, this Lady of Liberty wears the Roman stola and sandals and Her features are done very much in the classical Roman manner. She is shown in motion, her left foot crushing the shackles of tyranny. For many years Her visage was the one that most immigrants first saw when they came to the United States.

The newest and most poignant representation of Libertas arose in 1989 in the People's Republic of China. The Goddess of Democracy was built during the student uprisings of 1989 to inspire those who were protesting for government reforms and greater freedom as well as to defy the Chinese government by making Her so large that the government would be unable to simply dismantle Her. She was 10 meters tall and made of paper mache over a metal framework. The students let leak false information about Her and how they were going to show Her to the public so that they could safely transport Her to Tienamen Square in central Beijing without being harrassed by the authorities. She was assembled without incident on 30 May 1989. The Goddess of Democracy directly faced the large representation of Mao Zhe Dong, and the image of the two was captured and disseminated worldwide. A declaration by the students who created Her was also disseminated and a copy of it was attached to Her and read aloud by one of the female students. It reads as follows:

At this grim moment, what we need most is to remain calm and united in a single purpose. We need a powerful cementing force to strengthen our resolve: That is the Goddess of Democracy. Democracy…You are the symbol of every student in the Square, of the hearts of millions of people. …Today, here in the People’s Square, the people’s Goddess stands tall and announces to the whole world: A consciousness of democracy has awakened among the Chinese people! The new era has begun! …The statue of the Goddess of Democracy is made of plaster, and of course cannot stand here forever. But as the symbol of the people’s hearts, she is divine and inviolate. Let those who would sully her beware: the people will not permit this! …On the day when real democracy and freedom come to China, we must erect another Goddess of Democracy here in the Square, monumental, towering, and permanent. We have strong faith that that day will come at last. We have still another hope: Chinese people, arise! Erect the statue of the Goddess of Democracy in your millions of hearts! Long live the people! Long live freedom! Long live democracy!

On 3 June 1989 the Army began an assault on the protestors so that they could get to the statue and destroy Her. Blood was spilled in Beijing that night by oppressors threatened by free people acting without fear. The reached the Square in the early hours of 4 June 1989 and used a tank to topple and then crush Her. Since then new representations of The Goddess of Democracy have indeed been created in many places to honor the free spirit of those protestors and in honor of the Goddess who loves Freedom for all people, everywhere.

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus (1883)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

back to the Goddess of the Month pageBack to the main page...