Patricia Nell Warren

Hello -- Liberty Is a Pagan Goddess

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | October 05, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Politics
Tags: ancient Greece, ancient Rome, emancipation proclamation, Founding Fathers, Goddess Liberty, Libertas, Liberty, Statue of Liberty

To the creators of that Republican campaign commercial that appropriates the Statue of Liberty -- I've got news for you. You're hawking the wrong symbol. In fact, you're stealing a symbol that actually shoots a big hole in all the fundamentalist churchy propaganda put out by your party during this election.

Liberty is a pagan goddess. Obviously you weren't paying attention in history class. It's spelled G-O-D-D-E-S-S. There's a test on this tomorrow.

The Goddess of Liberty isn't found in the Bible. (If you really studied the Bible, you'd know that.) She comes straight out of Greek and Roman pagan tradition, complete with that toga and sandals. Under the name Libertas, She appeared on Roman coins as an emblem of the emancipation of slaves. She often wore a liberty cap that the newly freed Roman was allowed to put on in a special ceremony at Her temple.

Devotion to Her was revived during the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, when Europeans began to kick off the shackles of state Christianity. Finally Liberty made the leap to the Americas with colonists and founders who were educated in that classical tradition of government by republic. Her image was stamped on the very first coins minted by the new republic of the United States, along with the old liberty cap and our new national motto LIBERTY. And She was on our money for nearly two centuries. It took your Bible-believing friends nearly a century of lobbying to get the motto changed to "In God we Trust" (Act of Congress, 1865).

Next it took your Bible lobby nearly another century to to get that "heathen" (as the lobby called Her) removed from our coins entirely. It was done so stealthily that -- even as She became our national icon, with the Statue of Liberty going up in New York Harbor in 1886 -- the public didn't notice. She was off the cent by 1857, off the nickel by 1912, off the quarter by 1930. The last Liberty dollars to be minted for circulation came in 1935. Wearing Her liberty cap, She was still on the dime till 1945. As the Walking Liberty, She was on the half dollar till 1947. How appropriate that She saw us through World War II and the victory over fascism. But our government was evidently not grateful to Her for the victory. After 1947 -- poof! She was gone.

Nations always put their most important symbols on their money. Nearly two centuries of a pagan goddess on our money is proof that the United States of America was not "founded under God." If it was -- if your Bible buddies had that kind of clout in 1776 -- our coins would have showcased Jesus from the start.

Yes, Liberty is a pagan. She keeps company with Isis, and Juno, and Tara, and White Buffalo Woman. She wasn't recommended in any Catholic encyclicals. She wasn't touted by Martin Luther, or Cotton Mather, or R. J. Rushdoony. Anywhere that the love of liberty finally awoke in the hearts of thinking Christians in Europe and the U.S., it was because they borrowed the idea of Her from the pagan ancients -- and they knew it was an idea whose time had come because they'd seen the abuses of non-thinking religion up close. Yet some fundamentalists today are even talking against Her statue in New York Harbor, calling it the "Whore of Babylon." One day, that magnificent monument to the most human side of our history -- immigrants who came here to find liberty -- may also be demolished.

In your ad, the book that the Statue carries in one arm is not the Bible. It's the pagan Book of Knowledge -- the schoolbook of thinking statespeople who were freeing themselves from coercive belief and enslaving government. The Latin word for book is liber. That's because the great minds of Greece and Rome had figured out that there is no emancipation without education. The torch She carries is another symbol of education. It takes data, not dogma, to shine into the darkness and make things clear for us.

Maybe that's why your party has let American education go to the dogs -- graduating more and more Americans who are ignorant enough to believe all the religious lies and propaganda that they're fed -- including the myth that "America was founded under God."

For us in the LGBT world, the Goddess of Liberty is a life-saving, sanity-saving symbol -- the ultimate icon. To come out, to be honest with ourselves about who we really are, we've had to educate ourselves, little by little. We've had to crack that Book of self-knowledge. We've had to shine that torch into the terrifying, fearful darkness of the closet where we spent so many years.

During LGBT History Month, we deal formally with the tons of old religious dreck that the conservative religion-mongers like you are still try to pile on us -- all the old corrosive, coercive, dark beliefs and misinformation about sexual orientation and gender identity that made each of us live in waking nightmares during childhood and youth in different religions -- that each of us had to leave behind and burst out into our own personal daylight..

It's too bad about you folks who created that campaign ad. You say you want to lead us, but you aren't even free yet.

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Great article, but I can't imagine the three graces by Boticelli wearing "pants suits" or Lady Liberty in the New York Harbor for that matter. There are wonderful gold and silver coins being minted today called American Gold and Silver Eagle Coins which I have traded cash for and buried on the desert near my home in Palm Springs when times get rough. In a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt, Saint-Gaudens wrote that his design would feature "some kind of a (possibly winged) figure of Liberty striding energetically forward as if on a mountain top." In response, the President suggested that Saint-Gaudens design a distinctively American Liberty with an Indian feather headdress. President Franklin Roosevelt was very enthusiatic about Sanit-Gaudens design, but there were outcries because "In God We Trust were not on the coins. Now, nearly 100 years later, the original design concept of Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens has finally been realized in pure gold and silver a commemorative fromthe U.S. Mint and legal tender.

Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in floppy work clothes called "pants suits" are a farce and ridiculous. Either wear a flowing grecian gown as did Isadora Duncan, or a man's suit and tie. The in between "we have come along way baby" sloppy fashion with pearls doesn't work.
Black pants suits can pass, but the pastel feminine ones that show a big ass, no way.

Thanks for mentioning the commemorative issues. The high-value coins of this type from the U.S. Mint don't go into circulation -- they're strictly for collectors. Usually only the low-value commemoratives get circulated, like the state quarters. As a bow to our entire history, a few carry a Statue of Liberty image.

Coins from the Franklin Mint are not legal tender, since this mint is a private corporation marketing its own designs to collectors.

My favorite has to be (what else) the Walking Liberty -- with Her essence of flowing toga. This 1920s design, which pushed the envelope on bas-relief so She seems to be emerging from the metal -- is thought by many to be the most beautiful of all U.S. coin designs.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 6, 2008 12:36 AM

In a similar vein Patricia, decades ago when I visited Monticello I asked the docent about Jefferson's views on the "age of reason" which should have been an opening to a discussion of the innate rights of "man." She immediately leapt into an assurance that Jefferson was a churchgoer. As we were in the middle of Virginia and Sally Hemmings had not yet entered the consciousness of the country I dropped it.

I don't think the others on the tour of the President's home even know what I was talking about. So well have we been served by ignoring our own history.

The smoothness of your prose in this post is absolutely wonderful, Patricia. It flows like poetry --- angry poetry perhaps, but poetry none the less. Beautiful!

Since we have seen Liberty re-incarnated in different manners through the millennia, and since the Romans revered her as the symbol for the emancipation of slaves, then an apropos American image of Lady Liberty might be one who is distinctively African-American. Her features are always clearly Anglo-European; I've never seen a Black Lady Liberty on a coin. I think this is a haunting vacuum in our national iconography.

And while I'm designing new coins, I'd also like to see her walking hand in hand with that other pagan female deity, Sophia, the Goddess of Wisdom --- for exactly as you say, Patricia ... "there is no emancipation without education."

A.J. -- thanks for this great question. I recall having seen an image or two of an African-American Liberty, and will google around to try and find Her again. As I remember, these are creations of modern artists who felt the same vaccuum that you mention.

There IS a native American transformation of Liberty that you can find in the early coins and also in some of the early art in Washington D.C.
Another hidden pagan fact about our history is that the Six Nations of the Northeast were very supportive of the colonists' attempt to create an independent government. The Confederacy had its own democratic government, the Haudenosaunee, which had been operating for many centuries, with equality of women and men. Representatives of the tribes attended some of the Continental Congresses and were received with respect. I used to know author Paula Underwood, whose g-g-g-g-g-g-grandfather was the Seneca liaison with Benjamin Franklin. Various features of native government were borrowed by the framers -- the four-year term of office, for instance, and the concept of impeachment...even the title "Chief of State." There were, um, no Chiefs in Europe to borrow from.

In Her most magnificent form, this Liberty can be found in a bronze statue atop the Capitol Dome, created in the mid-1800s by Thomas Crawford. Check Her out at You can pull up full resolutions of the jpgs to get all the detail. She's more baroque and expressionistic than the Liberty in New York --wearing an eagle-feather crown, symbol of chief's authority (women could be chiefs in the Confederacy, as well as some of the tribes in the interior). Her fringed robe suggests a tribal dress. She symbolizes a marriage of Old World and New World law that is almost forgotten in our history today. Her official name is "Freedom." I think she's one of the great art works of American culture. It's amazing that nobody pays attention to Her -- our politicians walk around under Her feet every day.

On the older coins, from the colonial period up to around 1900, you can sometimes find Liberty wearing that eagle-feather headdress, now and then with big shell earrings. Sometimes there is a wreath of tobacco leaves around the rim of the coin. Tobacco was money for the colonists, but a sacred plant of prayer for the tribes.

But all this is "forgotten" today by narrow religious minds who can't admit that anything in our government was borrowed from "heathens."

I visited the Crazy Horse monument near Mt. Rushmore, and the artists studio is part of a museum with photographs of Chief Crazy Horse and his tribe. There was no mention of his being a berdache, or the fact that one of his wives was a man. There were many photographs in the museum of a local South Dakota Catholic priest "sanctifing" Crazy Horse's grave with a pot of insence. There were lots of photographs and letters from the Pope in the museum. I think the sculptor was a free thinker, but his wife was not. The sculptor had made a sculpture of "Pan" and it was labeled "Satan". So much for rewriting history by conventional religious thinkers. Sick.

I am surprised that the Lakota have put up with this "Catholicization" of Crazy Horse's memory. After all, the white missionaries were among those who wanted him dead, because alive he would have been a symbol of ongoing resistance, even on the reservations. So it was arranged for Crazy Horse to be gunned down in cold blood.

I would never buy an investment from Franklin Mint. I dislike disputing you, but the Liberty in both silver and gold is now legal tender on the otherside of the Eagle. The following is a link to the U.S. Mint where I purchased mine.

Sorry, I should have made it clearer about the Walking Liberty. It's a U.S. Mint issue, not a Franklin Mint issue. But those high-value U.S. coins in gold and silver are bullion. They aren't circulated -- they are only for collecting and investment.

Gold was taken out of circulation in 1933, and 90%silver coins (notably dollars) disappeared in 1965. The only U.S. coins that circulate now are the lower denominations, that have little if any silver in them...a queasy symbol of how little our money is worth these days.

True Patricia. But if one were to take them to a bank to cash them in they would give the spot gold value the same as they would a Kruggerand of Canadian Maple Leaf. Should gold , silver or platinum ever be worthless (which it won't), then they would give the face value stamped on the coin.

What a fabulous post, Patricia. I had no idea.

Yes, I had never thought of Liberty as a goddess, but that is what she is. The campaign to remove her from our coins is an eerie echo of today's religious right.

Why we abandoned the Walking Liberty design, which is both beautiful and moving, was always a mystery to me. I guess I understand now.

"There were, um, no Chiefs in Europe to borrow from."
The word does not derive from any Native American language. It derives from an old French word chef, which derives from the Latin word caput, meaning "head". (Such words as captain, cap and capital also derive from it.) The concept of the tribal chief was quite common in pre-Christian Europe and even in post-Christian Europe where the heads of the Celtic clans in Scotland and Ireland were known as chiefs.

I didn't say that the word "chief" derives from Native American language. I was talking about the idea of it.

You're right -- "chief" does come from the French word chef, as in "command chief of the French royal army." But this usage, even when it referred to a clan chief, usually did not denote a sovereign head of state. Even a clan chief, in the feudal order, owed allegiance to a sovereign. And it was often a hereditary position. Also, an army chief, or a mission chief, or a diplomatic chief, may be the "head" of something, but he or she is appointed by somebody higher -- an emperor or monarch of president.

In the native world, however, the English word "chief" came to be used for an individual who did take a high-profile leadership of his or her people as, in effect, a head of state, though the position was seldom hereditary. There were peace chiefs and war chiefs. They didn't correspond to the political usage familiar to Europeans. They usually got their position by the people's agreement or election...which made it a more democratic system.

After the Revolution, Washington was essentially the war chief who had led his people into peacetime. So his election as President was more in the native American model than the European model.

Ywans your just now finding this out and our founders used classical symbols all over the place.Oh and a Heathen is a follower of ASATRU not ot be confused with my Pagan friends.In the Gods we trust now go vote early if you can as I just did today.

Politics is a contact sports with no rules!

A beautifully informative article, Patricia, thank you. Also to the commentators.
The Liberty link above didn't work (for me), but this one did:

for those who would like to see her in high resolution. She's gorgeous! More information about her may be found at:

which notes, "After Secretary of War Jefferson Davis objected to the sculptor's intention to include a liberty cap, the symbol of freed slaves, Crawford replaced it with a crested Roman helmet." lol
I do agree that the Walking Liberty is the most compelling.

oh and as to on coins shes on the Silver dollar and the curren Presidential dollar coins.

The coins you're talking about are commemorative issues. They're in a class by themselves. As such, they pay tribute to our whole history, so the Statue of Liberty might reasonably show up somewhere. The Presidential dollar series pays tribute to dead Presidents. However, Liberty has been demoted from her old position on the obverse (front), which had made her the #1 symbol of our country. She's now on the reverse (back). Her place on the obverse has been taken by the head of a President.

Re "silver dollar" -- If you mean the U.S. Mint's silver Eagle with the Walking Liberty on it, it's just for collectors and investors. It's not in circulation. The government is making a bow to the lucrative collectors' market with the Walking Liberty, because this design is a great favorite with people who love coins.

The point of my story is -- the Goddess of Liberty went from an overwhelming leadership presence in our coinage to virtual zero because of lobbying by the religious right.

Heads of Presidents, by the way, reflect yet another pagan tradition. Greek and Roman governments stamped the head of their male ruler on many of their coins. Our American coinage tradition put its roots in Greek and Roman. So naturally, when the U.S. government started removing Liberty from the obverse, they began replacing Her with heads of Presidents. The first was the Lincoln penny in 1909.

Gerri Ladene | October 6, 2008 9:55 PM

Since this discussion lends itself to the history of Lady Liberty everyone should enjoy this.
I thoroughly enjoyed the piece of American pagan history in Patricia's post along with the other comments added made for quite a history lesson past and present.

Sorry but the Pesidential dollars are legal and spendable coin of the realm.Just the mint refuses to do away with the dollar bill at this time.So folks dont think to use them go to your bank and you can get them and yes spend them you may have to tell the clerk that they are legal etc but they are issue coins.

The Silver eagles are technicaly considered colectors items but all US coins have a face value and can be used to buy goods and services but only a fool would do so on the Silver Gold and Platium coins.

As to the religious right they have screamed for the In God We Trust to be put back on the face of the dollars. But they have said nothing about the statue of liberty being on the back of it.Even I dont care for the on the edge design for date etc.And personaly I prefer the flying eagle of the Sacagawea as to what they used on the Presidental series.

So why would we worry about if lady Liberty even was on the coins or not?Other than an intersitng side topic.

Carry on


I never said the Presidential dollars aren't circulated. They are -- though there aren't many around, because the demand for them is not very great, even though they're also meant to be collectibles. They aren't made of silver. Their content is copper, nickel, zinc and manganese.

Yes, technically the silver Eagles are also circulated. But in practice, they don't get around the way nickels and dimes do. Like you say, people would be fools to use them that way...and they don't. In the 22 years since silver Eagles first appeared, nobody has ever given me one at the store. If they did, I would keep it...which is probably what happens to any that might start into casual daily circulation.

They are 99.9% silver, and are the official bullion coin of the U.S. So they're bought for investment purposes, and can be legally used to fund IRA accounts. People use them for gifts. The proof versions go for collectors.

Wow, I didn't know this. I love your posts about Pagan history, Patricia. Thanks for adding to my education!

Thanks all, what a wonderful article Patricia...what a miracle the internet. I was the one just emailing you about the Coming Out Proclamation you wrote for Alaska..and then I find this via Waymon's new Florida Bilerico..weekly list! ... and get this great lesson.

PS Tomorrow I will go to my first, very First every Rally...and I went to BERKELEY in l963! It will be a NO on PROP 8 and Remember Matthew Shepard combined Rally.

Thanks for all you write...have written.

See this article regarding the statues of Liberty and Freedom, both statues of goddesses: