Profile of a Goddess: Boann, Goddess of Water

By catalyst

Goddess Boann is here to invoke creative inspiration and to give you courage to go beyond what is comfortable in order to gain knowledge.
-by Carol Koleman
goddess.jpgBoann: Goddess of Water
Translation: She of the White Cow
Religion: Celtic, approximately 12th century
AKA: Boand, Boannan, Buan

AKA in other mythologies: Approximately 46 water goddesses correspond to Boann, ranging from Nyai Loro Kidul (Javanese) to Atanea (Polynesian). Half of them appear in only four traditions-10 Celtic (Abnoba, Adsullata, Ancamna, Boann, Clota, Danu, Nantosuelta, Sequana, Nabia, Tamesis) , five Inuit (Arnakuagsak, Arnapkapfaaluk, Aulanerk, Nerrivik, Sedna), five Greek (Ceto, Harpina, Praxithea, Leucothea, Naiad) and four Aztec (Atlacamani, Atlatonin, Chalchiuhtlicue, Huixtocihuatl). While these goddesses represent different aspects of water such as rivers, oceans, lakes, hot springs, rain, wells, creative and destructive aspects of water, the womb, birthing, and so on, they are all one element. Why do these particular mythologies have so many goddesses associated with water?

Symbolism: A white cow. (Cows are sacred to Celts and the color 'white' is associated with illumination.) Hazelnuts, salmon and water all represent wisdom.

Mythology and interpretation: Long ago, in the time of the Tuatha de Danaan, there existed a sacred well, named Segais, which was the source of wisdom. The well stood hidden in the shade of nine hazelnut trees, its magical waters inhabited by salmon who ate of the nuts as they fell into the water, providing them with the knowledge of the universe. The keeper of this well was Nechtan, god of water. Because this was a sacred place, only he and his three cupbearers were allowed to approach the well. They were the guardians who kept anyone from entering these sacred grounds and possibly obtaining knowledge no mortal or other god should understand.

But curious Boann, the goddess wife of Nechtan, challenged this law by approaching the well to partake of its wisdom. She walked counter-clockwise around the well, causing the waters to rise up and rush after her in response to the violation of this sacred place. The raging waters chased her through the land toward the ocean. As Boann was swept along, she lost an arm, a leg, an eye and ultimately her life to the churning waters that consumed her. At once the water became Boann, Boann became the water, and their merging created the river Boyne. Boann realized her quest for knowledge and she was from that moment on universal wisdom, inspiration to poets.

Boann's thirst for knowledge was her downfall because she lost her life, but ultimately it was her (and our) blessing because she received, and thereafter provided, illumination. Her story is reminiscent of the biblical Eve who rebelled against God's word in her quest for knowledge.

Disregard for the law exacts a great price; Eve was expelled from the garden, and Boann suffers significant losses as she tumbles in the raging waters. She essentially loses half  her body (an arm, a leg and an eye), a symbolic image suggesting that she is half of this world, half of the other. Is there a moment where nature and divine being merge, each giving up half in order to accept the other? This sentiment runs deeply in Celtic belief; that the land, or more precisely, the genius loci (spirit of the place) and its people are one and the same, much as in Australian aboriginal belief; there is no separating the two.

The term Tuatha de Danaan (where Boann is), means "land" and also "people." The people of this land were considered a divine race of  poets, seers, and warriors incarnated in this world to ready the earth and its inhabitants for an awakening. They were called the "Salmon of Wisdom;" those who had been exposed to the sacred salmon in Segais well and who then beheld the wisdom of the universe. Boann is of this race; and as goddess of water, what other fate would be hers but to completely enter the spiritual realm of the Tuatha de Danaan and reach us through water so that she may inspire us? In doing so, she embodies all the purposes of this sacred people/place. She becomes the vessel where we may swim and absorb all that she has to offer: awakening of the mind, inspiration, illumination, courage, creative power, knowledge, poetry, wisdom.

Meditation: Goddess Boann is here to invoke creative inspiration and to give you courage to go beyond what is comfortable in order to gain knowledge. Go to her when you need to access this energy. Remember that Boann does not borrow illumination from some outside source, rather, she brings what you already have within yourself to light. The best atmosphere to meditate on Boann is near a stream or river. Find a peaceful, comfortable spot close to the bank where you may be alone and without distraction. As you sit with eyes closed, inhale deeply and smell the breeze that follows the water's current, allowing Boann's breath to flow into your body and become part of you. Imagine her swimming like a water nymph through your external and internal rivers. See her darting in and out of light and shadow, attaching to the greater aspects of both and showing all to you. Hear her flowing toward you, through you, past you. Boann enters you through all senses and flows in the currents of your body, awakening the creative powers that reside there.

If you are unable to access a stream or river, you may supplement your meditation by listening to Boann's Clan (a musical group) which offers an entire album dedicated to Boann's story called "Dance of the Water Gods." You may listen to/purchase it through or The following songs in particular may inspire you: Morning Mist on the Boyne, Ebb and Flow, Whitewater, Death of a Goddess, and Song of Boann.

In her spare time from teaching kindergarten, raising two mini goddesses and managing a band, you may find Carol Koleman Taiko drumming, shooting some photos, making talisman necklaces or spinning fire machetes in the desert.

References: Dictionary of Ancient Deities, Turner and Coulter, Oxford Press; Dictionary of Irish Mythology; Berresford, Oxford Press; Book of Leinster; The Divine Races of Ancient Ireland, Eloise Hart;, Jason Kirkey.

This article was originally published on May 31, 2007.