The Wild Goose and Symbols of The Holy Spirit

Wild Geese
Wild Geese (Photo credit: Muffet)
Symbols of The Holy Spirit

 Various symbols are used in the Bible to represent the Holy Spirit. Most people know the dove is one. Others include wind, light, oil, and fire. When one object has several symbols by which it is represented, each symbol emphasizes a different aspect of the object. In the case of the Holy Spirit, some of the symbols connected with it do not describe what it is so much as what it does. 

Here are some of these distinctions.

But I wonder how many know that the wild goose which comes from the island of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland, is the ancient Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit. 

Maybe that helps explain why I sometimes feel I am on a wild goose chase !  
"It wasn't that the ancient Irish and Scots didn't know about doves, the more traditional biblically-originating symbol of the Spirit.  The name of the sixth-century founder of the abbey at Iona, the man who first brought Christianity to Scotland, Columba, means 'dove'.  

Below is a beautiful hymn/poem by John Bell of the Iona Community which describes  the brooding dove.


She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters, 
Hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
She sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
Waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.
She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
Lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
She nests in the womb, welcoming each wonder,
Nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.
She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
Waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
She weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
Nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.
For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
Gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
She is the key opening the scriptures,
Enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.
John Bell
Wild Goose Publications

"But, as lovely as doves might be, Celtic Christians decided the wild goose was perhaps a far more apt symbol of the Holy Spirit.  This one, cast in a studio in Ireland where Columba originated, and purchased at the abbey on Iona which he founded, hangs above the pulpit in a church in New Zealand around which are carved the ominous words, "Where there is no vision, the people perish". 
Both the goose and those words are a reminder and a warning to preachers and to the preached-to.They are reminders that the Spirit of God cannot betamed or contained.  They are reminders, when it comes to God, to expect the unexpected.
Wild geese are, well, wild.  That is, untamed, uncontrolled.  They make a lot of noise, and have a habit of biting those who try to contain or capture them.  That has been the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit through two thousand years.  
Time and again when theology and God have appeared to be firmly in the control of hierarchies and religious establishment, the Spirit of God has broken free – and has often bitten those who tried to prevent it happening."

Above text is taken from a great article on The Celtic Wild Goose from a homily given for Pentecost here. ( Sadly the website has been revamped since posting this and I can no longer find an up to date link for the full homily.)

Eternal Echoes: Following The Wild Goose from here

Flights of The Wild Goose from here.

Geese flying from Winged Migration
 and the first video contains an important lesson or two for us humans from the geese.

Just Beautiful

Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press

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