Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Statue of Freedom - America Freedom Triumphant

The Statue of Freedom
America Freedom Triumphant

Gazing up at the tholos, the lighthouse atop the Capitol Dome of the United States of America, it is virtually impossible to discern the figurehead who serves as an enduring reminder of the symbol of our national identity. On his deathbed in 1857, Thomas Crawford, the sculptor of this magnificent bronze statue, named her America. When she was mounted atop the Capitol, she was known as Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace. She is now commonly known as the Statue of Freedom. Her name appears to evolve with the spirit of the Nation. She was placed there at the time when this newly formed Nation was meeting its greatest trial to stand for freedom; the highest value our country purported to uphold. Ironically, Philip Reid, a master craftsman was a slave when he cast her. He was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation the same year she was mounted on the Dome in 1863.

We owe a debt of gratitude to, a Native Hawaiian Kahuna, Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona, a healer and seer who brought this distant figure on the Capitol Dome to public attention. Mornnah had initially assumed that the statue represented Pocahontas, but gazing up at her from the Capitol lawn, Mornnah learned from her that she wanted to be known as “Our Lady of Freedom”. She saw her as the “Conscience of the Nation” and recognized her as the embodiment of freedom not only for the land that is now called the United States of America, but also for the whole Cosmos and all creation. So she decided to dedicate her life to bringing the Statue into public awareness. She appealed to her State Senator, Daniel Kahikina Akaka Daniel Kahikina Akaka for support. With funding largely from the Foundation of I, founded by Mornnah, the original plaster model of America was taken out of storage and installed at ground level in the Russell Senate Office Building in 1993. That same year the bronze Statue was brought down from the dome to be refurbished. In 2008 the plaster model was moved to the new Capitol Visitors Center and now presides over Emancipation Hall.

Thomas Crawford had received many important commissions to embody the nature of the Republic at the time of the building of the Capitol complex and was intimate with the different ideas being requested of him to portray of the ideal of America. The continents have feminine names, for example Asia, Africa, Europa, Antarctica, Australia, so naturally America needed to be represented as feminine. Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War who would become the President of the Confederate States of America, and Montgomery Meigs, the Capitol Engineer who would become a general of the Union Army, were in charge of choosing the Capital art. Both were graduates of West Point. Thomas Crawford, born in New York, worked from his studio in Rome, Italy.

Crawford developed three models of the Statue at their bidding. Crawford had previously carved a woman representing America in the Progress of Civilization on the Senate Pediment. Jefferson Davis’ first idea was for the statue to resemble the Goddess of War, Minerva—her original Greek name is Athena. He himself had made a drawing of Minerva while at West Point.

Crawford’s first response was a drawing of a coy and placid Athenian type goddess with a headdress of wheat and laurel, holding a sword, shield and an olive branch to represent war and peace. He called her Freedom Triumphant in Peace and War—peace and war in that order.

In the second design, Armed Liberty, the olive branch symbol of Athens and of peace had been discarded. She stood erect on top of a sphere circled with the Nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum, out of many one. She wore a Phrygian cap encircled in stars. Phrygian caps were a symbol of a freed slave, and since the citizens (white men) of the United States were born free, this was rejected as inappropriate.

The third and final model was sent on March 19, 1856. In this model Freedom had emerged as a Euro-American Goddess. The Athenian toga-like dress is now covered with a Native American cloak with fir fringe. A Peace Medallion, like those gifted to Native Chiefs by US Presidents, ornaments her dress. The Phrygian cap was transformed into the head of an eagle replete with talons to suggest the complete bird. The sword, shield and laurel wreath are what remain from the original European allegorical symbols of the first model. The letters between Crawford and his employers are really not detailed and nothing has been found that Crawford wrote about his inner process. However, in a letter to Jefferson Davis dated March 19, 1856, he wrote, “I read with much pleasure the letter of Honorable Secretary and his remarks have induced me to dispense with the cap and put in its place a helmet, the crest which is composed of an eagle’s head and a bold arrangement of feathers suggested by the costume of our Indian tribes”.

Now that she can be seen at eye level, she calls upon us to reflect upon where she came from, how she manifests, and what her significance is. My personal experience with her invokes a clear and undeniable union with the original Americans. The Statue embodies for me the Iroquois creation story, their values and symbols that emerged from the bedrock of the experience of millennia of life in unity with this land and their struggles for freedom and peace. She embodies Euro/American experience as a whole with important interrelationships between the myth of Athena and the creation story and the history of the Iroquois intertwined.

Mythology and allegory lift the veil that history imposes upon the deeper truths. Myths, creation stories, are repositories of the mysteries of the divine. Mythmakers, in touch with the world behind the world, who create myths, seek to engage arcane wisdom to speak to limited understanding. They call us to reflect upon essential truths that contain moral significance. Myths gather meaning through the eons as they inherit human experience thus making myth eternally true. They foretell the development of the cultural soul. The two Goddesses from the mythic realm weave an important allegory to inform these times.

The ideal of majestic architectural beauty for the Capital was meant to rival classical European models derived from the Greeks and Romans. Jupiter’s temple in Rome was built on Capitoline Hill. The word capitol is derived from the Latin word caput, meaning head. Since Roman classical mythology appropriated the Greek myths, to avoid confusion I will use the names from the original Greek myths.

Metis, Zeus’ wife, the Goddess of Wisdom, had saved Zeus from being eaten by his father Cronus, the supreme ruler of the universe. When Metis became pregnant, Zeus feared the prophecy that she would give birth to a son who would supplant him as King of the Gods. In his father’s style, he swallowed pregnant Metis consuming and repressing her wisdom. Athena was born of Metis inside her father. Plagued by a terrible headache Zeus called upon Hephaestus, to crack open his head with an axe and Athena emerged in full golden battle regalia with her sword drawn, perhaps in anticipation that she would have to defend herself. But this beautiful female was not perceived as a threat to his power. Disarmed by his bright-eyed Athena, she became an object of his adoration, his closest confidant, strategist and advisor. She was most famous for her arts of diplomacy and became known as the Goddess of Wisdom. Because she remained a virgin, she devoted her independence, wisdom and creativity to creating many boons to civilization, and so, like career women of today, took a seat of honor in the patriarchal world. Woman with Athenian qualities have paved the way to an acceptance of the wisdom of the feminine in societies where women have had to fight for equality and respect. This is the role the Athenian goddess played to assist Freedom’s ascent to the dome.

Artists in union with mythic realms aspire to portray the essence of the archetype that comes through to them. The Athenian goddess that first came through to Crawford seems to represent Athena’s wisdom body. In Crawford’s drawing, she stands with a downcast look as if to say that the Dome of the US Capitol is really not her place. But she paved the way for an ideal feminine deity from this hemisphere who would ultimately take the name of Freedom who is the Peace Queen of the Iroquois Nation, the Mother of Nations. She stepped out of the mythic realm into Iroquois history and co-created the Great Law of Peace with the Great Peacemaker.

This Great Law of Peace would play a key role in the development of our democratic government. The evidence is very strong that the Founding Fathers studied the workings of the Iroquois League of Nations and relied heavily upon this Great Law of Peace, the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. This is a participatory democracy joining five Nations that existed on this land for centuries before European contact. The Founding Fathers could never admit the influence of the Iroquois League of Nations on the Constitution primarily because the Iroquois gave great attention to balancing the genders in governance.

The following research is taken from The White Roots of Peace, by Paul Wallace and was inspired by Iroquois scholar and writer Barbara Alice Mann who has compiled the many versions of the Iroquois stories, Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois League) - Johansen and Mann. I am recounting a very abridged version of the stories for the purpose of bringing light to the various symbols represented on the Statue of Freedom.

Crawford’s second and final version of the Statue has her standing erectly on a globe with the Latin motto, E Pluribus Unum, Out Of Many One. Paul Wallace writes,“ To the outside world the spirit of the League might seem to be expressed in the Latin motto E Pluribus Unum. But to the nations within the League its spirit might have seemed better expressed in the words Ex Uno Plura. The strength of the whole made safe the individual differences of the members.”

The stars on the cap of this second and on the final version of the statue represent the Iroquois legend of the creation of the continent. Ataensic, Sky Woman fell from Karionake, the Sky World, a world that traveled among the stars whose inhabitants read the dreams and assisted the planets that called to them. Ataensic’s husband, the Ancient One, who was jealous of her superior dream reading powers, pushed his pregnant wife through a hole that was made in Sky World by the Tree of Life that had been uprooted. As she fell, she managed to grab hold of the seeds of corn, bean, squash and tobacco that were clinging to the uprooted roots. These seeds were the gifts of Sky World to what would become the human population below.

Eagle, flying at a great height, caught sight of Ataensic plummeting towards the watery world and called out to Heron and Loon who were flying below. The two flew together, linked their wings and caught her. Eagle called to Great-grandmother Turtle, alerting her to the birds struggling to carry the woman. Turtle called a council of the animals of the waters to bring up some sand from the bottom of the waters to make land on Turtle’s back for Ataensic who could neither swim nor fly. After many failed and tragic attempts, finally Beaver managed to bring up some sand on his tail, flip it on to Turtle’s back, and she was set down. By walking east toward the sun, Ataensic then created the continent known by Native peoples as Turtle Island. With every step the land grew in front of her. She planted her seeds, and gave birth to her daughter who she named Lynx, the first human born in this hemisphere.

When Ataensic’s daughter, Lynx, grew up she mated with North Wind. She gave birth to four children, two boys and two girls, yet she died during childbirth. She reincarnates into history as Jigonsaseh, the Peace Queen, and meets one of her sons named Sapling who has reincarnated as the Great Peace Maker. He traveled across what is now Lake Ontario in a stone canoe with a mission to bring peace to the warring nations of the south. These wars had been created by the policies of the Mound Builders who allowed people to grow corn only for their ceremonial purposes. As corn was the primary staple food in balance with the bean and squash, the people were starving. They had turned to cannibalism and were constantly at war with one another.

The Great Peacemaker’s first primary ally was Jigonsaseh who was peacefully confronting the ruling patriarchy of the Mound Builders. A Clan Mother, she stood for the “corn way” growing corn for food. She modeled the highest ethical standards under the existing rules of the time for the role of women. When the Great Peacemaker encountered her, he immediately recognized her as his own Ancient Mother. The two sat to craft the Great Law of Peace. Because peacemakers of both genders created this Law, they created gender balance in governance that gave women key roles—a participatory democracy.
When the Great Law of Peace was finally enacted, five warring nations were brought under the Tree of Peace, later to be joined by a sixth. The weapons of war were buried under the Tree whose white roots extended in the Four Directions. Atop the Tree, Eagle perched to guard and warn of impending danger. Eagle now stands on the head of Freedom, and as we know, symbolizes the Nation as a whole.

When Crawford submitted the final model, he added more symbols from the Indigenous world. He gave her a fir-fringed cloak. The Iroquois understand freedom afforded by government to afford protection of citizens so they will be free from fear and from want. Freedom’s cloak represents those kinds of protections. President Obama iterated exactly these same freedoms in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. “… a just peace includes not only civil and political rights -- it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want”.
Medallions like the broach that holds her dress with the letters US, were given by US Presidents to Native American Chiefs to seal friendship and trust. They were greatly prized by their recipients. Although we can never undo the destruction to our Nation’s first peoples, this Medallion calls us to live up to their intent and move forward.

Freedom’s shield represents the Constitution. The shield was first used on the Great Seal before the Constitution was finalized, but not before the Great Law of Peace was created. Protection against tyranny was the intent of the Great Law of Peace. It is the founding principle and cornerstone of our democratic system.

On the inside the Rotunda of the Dome, Constantine Brumidi's fresco depicts Freedom wielding her sword and shield, assisted by Eagle with the bundled arrows that are the symbol of the Iroquois Confederacy. They are beating down tyranny and kingly power, the enemy of freedom. Ironically, the Founders of this Nation did not see the “Right of Conquest” as the worst imaginable form of despotism. This was the first “Right of Kings”, established by William the Conqueror in 1066. It remains the most egregious offender to the ideals of freedom that the Founding Fathers aspired to achieve. This “Right” allowed them to obliterate the Indigenous peoples with impunity. The Iroquois in Ohio, whose land had been promised to the soldiers who fought the Revolutionary War, gave Washington the name of “town burner”. Like many who followed him, he used horrifying tactics to eradicate them like vermin. Our history is fraught with struggles against these types of blinders to the pre-existing European tyrannical forms, but the call to freedom is unstoppable.

Freedom’s sword under her poised hand is sheathed and wrapped in its belt serving as a constant reminder of our Nation’s unenlightened story. Yet, she holds the laurel wreath of triumphant victory over the shield. False greatness resulting from violent conquest cannot hold a candle to the grandeur of world peace.

The ideals depicted by the Statue of Freedom are the vehicle for the Apotheosis of Washington, the envisioned rising of this Nation to divinity that is depicted in the same fresco beneath her feet on the inside of the Rotunda of our Temple of Democracy.

Whether Thomas Crawford intended these interpretations or even understood the scope of these allegorical symbols is irrelevant. The artist in connection with mythic realms is a diviner whose work cooperates with posterity and exceeds the expectations or the experience of the artist. As a natural born citizen of the United States of America with both Indigenous and European roots, I see it as my birthright to cast a fresh light upon Freedom’s meaning by introducing a cosmology that more closely parallels the long history of this hemisphere with the intent upon aligning our Nation on the path of freedom, our Nation’s highest ideal—and to help to heal the rift between Indigenous culture and the Western world at a time when our Nation is ripe to reinvent our national identity to meet an emergent phase of human consciousness in the 21st century.

Because I believe it is within our Nation’s potential to possess true greatness, my name for the figurehead who presides over our Nation’s Capitol, the Temple of Democracy, is America Freedom Triumphant forecasting the day when we as a Nation have reached that point of glory.

In closing a short prayer from the Native Hawaiian practice Ho'oponopono in honor of Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona:
I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.
I love you.

May peace be with you,
Shannyn Sollitt

I would like to express gratitude to Katya Miller for sharing with me her years of research, her inspiration and intention to bring the Statue of Freedom to the people.


  1. atop the eagel head helmet,there seems to be another bird,that looks a lot like a phoenix?

  2. Exquisite! Excellent research and very well-written. I appreciate you including the Iroquois Creation story which shines more light upon The Lady of Freedom. May she be seen and may she be heard. Deep gratitude to you.