A recent review of Witchcraft Today, G. Gardner reminds me that in medieval days, while a female witch might be seen carrying a broom to and from her meetings in the grove or field, a male would instead carry a pitchfork to the gathering.
There must be a reason for the difference, I pondered. The pitchfork is an obvious symbol of the labor of men in such agrarian times, and would not be noticed as unusual to see a man walk the cartway with such in hand. And a pitchfork is an odd, counter-intuitive tool that you have to use in faith to think a fork so large with tines so far apart would pick up straw and hay. Yet it is the most efficient tool for such. One with sturdy points would even be able to loosen compacted soil. And with three teeth, it becomes a potent symbol of the triple way crossroads of the goddess.
Was this enough to make it ‘his’, as broom to a lady witch? I remembered, too, fighting eerie echoes from the past, the old acusations of the Inquisitioners who insisted that some wanton (read as: indiscrete) pagan worshipper had bedded the devil. Could it be that perhaps all anyone saw was her lover’s pitchfork as the two practiced ancient fertility rites? And would this be enough to attach the three-pronged pitchfork to the symbol of an iconic adversarial figure that troubles our collective imagery? It seems an unlikely solitary source.
Then I recalled the ancient god who also carried a trident. A tool of very similar shape. Neptune, god of the seas and waters. He is also known as Poseidon, God of oceans and earthquakes. He is one of the ancient gods, a son of Chronos and brother to Zeus/Jupiter and Hades/Pluto. It is said that he among the gods was most revered upon the isle of Atlantis. Oh, really? So, the symbol of a potent and ancient God is handed to the new religion’s top devil in the religious propaganda. Where have I heard that before?
What would the God of Waters do with a trident, anyway? In the oeans and rivers, the trident would be a good way to harvest your basic ocean dinner. Odd as it seems, a giant barbed fork is just the tool to pick up small slippery fish. But you have to be quick. In this counter-intuitive way the trident is also similar to a pitchfork.
And Neptune’s trident has other, magickal, powers as well. With this tool he is able to call forth wondrous storms of overwhelming proportions. The Rogue Wave. The Perfect Storm. These are his province, his domain of great strength.There is another wave, of course: the Tsumani, and this wave too is the subject of Neptune. It makes sense, because he is god of earthquakes.
According to the stories, they are his to command. But this reasoning is circular. Why would this God of Waters have power over the quakes and moans of Mother Earth? Well, when you put it that way… Brings something else to mind, doesn’t it?
And this was also one of ancient Netpune’s workings, to be consort to the Great Goddess we call home. As a god of fertility, he presides over all the waters, including fresh water springs and streams. Without him, Mama Earth is a dry rock in space.
His horse is the winged steed: Pegasus (more on the horse in a moment). It is from the word Neptune that we get the term ‘nuptual’. ..For the waters cover the earth as man covers a maid, and so also do the clouds cover the sky…
The idea of it boggled me as a child. ‘Why would the god of oceans need a winged horse?’ Yet I understand now that the waters of the sea are transported through the sky to rain again, on Mother Earth. Ooo I hear laughter in the rain…
The idea of Neptune, too, as one who causes earthquakes is gaining acceptance among the labcoat and clipboard set. It seems that especially at times of exceptional high and low tide there is (think about it) a great shifting of weight on the edge of the nearest continental shelf. The relative difference in pressure along this edge being in the gazillions of tonnes are thought to be enough to cause the shift Mama Earth needs for a shuddering release. This idea called syzygy makes sense, and once more, science confirms the ancient tales.
Neptune…I catch myself staring into the rain dreaming of his attributes, feeling like the schoolgirl who once hopped about the apartment in a sleeping bag, pretending to be a mermaid.. I didn’t know his name then. There were so few tales of him directly. I still do not know who gave Neptune/Poseidon the trident or how it was acquired.
During my research, I fear losing perspective. My opinion of the god Neptune is growing, from obscurity to (blush) passionate love affair. This clouds my objectivity as a reporter. The God of fertility is sometimes confused by modern archaeologists as Jupiter because he is so fecund. But if he has a fishes tail, I’m calling him God of the Waters.
And since I never claimed to be objective, I will assume that you don’t mind too much. The following is an offering to Poseidon/Neptune. It is a poem I wrote long ago inspired (as a mermaid can be) by a prince with legs who got away. But that is what legs are for sometimes, and it turned out not to be for that prince anyway- but for the God of Waters, instead.
drawn by it’s mystery
dancing my dance with the sea.
the storm at once upon me
leaving no escape
or desire to.
curiosity binds me
of waves upon the cliffs
wild and foaming
to know more and
with no escape
aware of something
about to be
I cry out
help I am dying
salty shoulder now a pillow
apology to shore
for what neither could resist.