Archive for the ‘goddess’ Category

Messing with Gods, Part II

[You can find Messing with Gods, Part I here.]

“Faith begins as an experiment and ends as an experience” — William Ralph Inge.

I’m feeling contrary: you could just as well aver that the reverse of Inge’s assertion is also true.  Faith or awareness often begins with an experience and ends as an experiment — and more importantly, one that may never come to any sort of definitive conclusion.  A personal example:  without ever seeking her out, I encountered the Goddess — or a goddess* — on my father’s dairy farm in western New York state in 1983.  (Those who know her ways might say that this time I was only and — finally — paying attention, because she’d been there all along.)

grove2I was walking a low-lying and boggy field on the edge of our 170 acres that apparently nobody cultivated in the last several decades. The November afternoon was still but cold, and the ground underfoot was firm after a recent hard frost.  I stopped in a half-grove of old tree stumps, fallen branches and new growth, and sat for a while to take in the scene.  Late afternoon light leaked out of the sky.  The sky loomed above me, overcast with a gray that anyone living in lake-effect country knows well.  Look at it this way:  the western New York climate where I grew up rivals Seattle’s for fewest sunny days a year.

I’d graduated from college that spring, and this fallow time was a gift, though not an easy one.  The great luxury and curse of being the son of a family farmer is that there’s always work:  hay each summer to bale and stack in the dark mow over the milking barn, manure to haul and spread daily, fence posts to replace and fencing to strengthen when the ground has thawed, the rhythm of milking morning and night, morning and night, every day of the year, and a hundred minor tasks of repair and maintenance in every season for a semi-skilled hand that easily fill the days.  One result is that unlike my peers with degrees in hand I felt no pressing urgency about what to do next.  It would clarify, and meantime there were cows to milk and soon, this being November and Wyoming County, New York, the first snowfall of a long winter to shovel and plow.

I sat on a dead log for a while, to take in the quiet.  Maybe the sound of a distant car on our country roads, but that was all.  Or a dog’s bark, perhaps, from the nearest house, over half a mile distant.  Then vision came: a great, towering figure some fifty or sixty feet tall, feminine and indisputably present, though I could still see the grove, unchanged, through it all.  Still November afternoon.  Still my breath smoking in the chill.  No words, just the upsweep of attention to more than the physical, though vision didn’t exclude anything.  This was addition, not replacement.  Then, after two or three minutes, the sense of her presence subsided and twilight resumed its place as single reality.

What can words do with such a thing?  No communication beyond presence. She did not come to prove or disturb, to overwhelm or convert.  No summons or command, no benediction even, beyond the ample gift of those minutes, though the experience wrapped itself like a robe around me for hours after.  Though I carried it with me, I never spoke of it to anyone till almost two decades later, to a group of students in a campus alternative spirituality group at the school where I used to teach, who asked me a pointed personal question when we were talking about the Goddess in Wicca.  And that was a decade ago now.  So thirty years ago this fall.  Sometimes such things happen seemingly out of time, out of reach of any response beyond memory, vital in itself as shelter or altar, and our lives have to catch up for those experiences and their aftermath to have a place to inhabit.  For in forgetting we have just one more way we can censor the divine in its reaching out to us, as it constantly does, in its multitude of forms and means.  It is important that awake people stay awake, says Stafford in the poem from a couple of posts ago. We all wake and sleep constantly, shuffling our days and moments to make a kind sense that will not swamp the little boat of the self, but which if we are not careful will also wash us up on a shoal and strand us while the river flows on and on around us.

There’s a place now in my worlds for a goddess.  Not that I am yet or maybe ever called to do more, usually, than acknowledge her from time to time.  My focuses remain in other places, but she is here in the same way the clouds are that roll overhead and change the face of the sky.  But she has on occasion made her potency immediately alive in my awareness:  this March ’12 post is one such result.

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*When the divine chooses a permanent form which all people encounter the same way, I’ll clarify my terminology.  (Not happening!) Or when the particular goddess who reached out to me connects with me again, or I with her, I’ll ask her name.  Sometimes I think the gods themselves haven’t got all it sorted out yet.

I have no photo, but this image from Pathfinder Ridge will do.

Posted 5 October 2013 by adruidway in Druidry, goddess, spiritual practice

Tagged with , ,

Messing with Gods, Part I

A couple weeks ago I read a blog post I’ve been carrying around with me ever since — it pops up at odd moments, because it touches on a profound experience of the divine familiar to many Druids and other Pagans.  But it goes deeper than that, too, in its perception of the nature of divinity.  You can find it over at Banshee Arts, courtesy of blogger Morpheus Ravenna.  She reflects on her patron deity, the war goddess Morrigan, and receives wisdom from her that we need to hear and contemplate.

Here’s Morpheus’ post for March 22, 2013, “Voice of the Sacrificed,” which I cite verbatim in its entirety, so you can read it all here.  The italics are original with her post:

This week brought my 37th birthday, and with it the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

Yes, it was my good fortune ten years ago, to watch as my country preemptively invaded another and lit its skies on fire with “shock and awe”, on my birthday. I remember it vividly.  Though I knew the war wasn’t launched on my birthday for any reasons to do with me, somehow that coinciding still did make it more personal and even more unsettling to me than it already was. My oldest friend had recently joined the army and I knew she would soon be deployed there; I’d been worrying about that all winter as the war loomed inevitably closer. And then it launched on my birthday.

That war felt terribly intimate, as though it had attached itself to me; as though by inaugurating on my name-day it had taken my name and was ruthlessly marching its destructive way in my name. Well, it was. Not just me, of course. It was destruction in all our names, all American citizens.

And I suppose it also felt intimate because I was eyeballs deep in a personal moral struggle over my devotion to a war Goddess. As the country stomped its bombastic way toward war, I had been engaging in a series of deep meditations communicating with the Morrígan. I was confused, scared, disturbed. I had always felt some unease about my devotional relationship with a war Goddess – had wondered if on some level I was condoning the brutality of war by worshiping Her. Now those questions haunted me irrepressibly as the war began. I went to my altar and prayed, chanted, begged for answers. She spoke.

I recorded my memories of those conversations in my journal (to the extent that direct nonverbal communications with a divinity can be translated into words). Here are a few fragments:

Why have I been chosen to have this connection with you? You know I am ill at ease with your warlike aspect.

It is in your blood. You are descended from invaders, violent warring Celts. Warfare and violence are part of who you are. You cannot run from this. You must understand it, and it is through me that you can understand this part of your being.

I am troubled about this war, about the justice of it. How can we tell a just war from an unjust war?

There are no just wars. For each individual who experiences it, war is an injustice. It is an injustice to those who suffer and die when they should have lived; it is an injustice to those who find themselves doing violence to their human kin in the service of war. War is always an injustice. The Gods cannot tell you whether your war is right or wrong by the standards of your justice; you must count the cost and choose, though you are blind. And sometimes it will come on you without your choosing, and that too is an injustice. Your task, when you do choose to make war, is to pursue it swiftly and strike with certainty. You must recognize that every life destroyed is in your hands and it is up to you to make that sacrifice worth something.

The reason your ancestors revered their enemies so much is this: when you slay your opponent in battle, the spilling of their blood is a sacrifice to your sword. It is required that you honor their sacrifice by dedicating it to a worthy purpose.

The law of human life is that you are only capable of solving your problems within the set of ways your culture contains. I arose in the form you know me among the old Celts. Their culture was shaped and defined by tribal warfare. You, and your culture, are the inheritors of this in many ways. When you alter your culture to contain a different set of possible actions, then you may be able to solve your problems without bloodshed. Until then, I will always be present. My role in war is to make it swift and terrible, and effective; to carry for you the knowledge that you could learn from your actions if you choose to listen; and to mourn the cost.

Unlike most gods of monotheism, the Pagan gods specialize (though often enough Jehovah gets his war on, so we can be excused for thinking he’s principally a war god, too).  But what wisdom Morpheus (and the Morrigan) offers here:  “The law of human life is that you are only capable of solving your problems within the set of ways your culture contains.”

Or to paraphrase so apparently unrelated a thinker as Muslim reformer Irshad Manji, “There is nothing wrong with a culture that cannot be corrected from what has been historically right with the culture.”*  Or to go to the Qur’anic source that inspires Manji:  “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (Qur’an 13:11). But I would add that the change may alter the culture sufficiently so that many feel uprooted, or even perceive that their culture has “died.”  All things are subject to change, and human creations like cultures don’t stand exempt.  Certainly we walk today in the midst of deep change in many of the world’s cultures.  This is a time rife with change, and also ripe for change and possibility.

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*Check out a half-hour interview with Manji by Canadian talk show host and Conservative pundit Allan Gregg on Youtube — the line cited above is paraphrased from Manji’s comment around 13:00 in the video.

A Time of Rebalanced Energies

The Equinox is upon us.  Still the Druid Prayer of the Revival echoes from last weekend at the East Coast Gathering:

Grant, O God/dess, thy protection,
And in protection, strength,
And in strength, understanding,
And in understanding, knowledge,
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it,
And in that love, the love of all existences,
And in the love of all existences, the love of God/dess and all goodness.

The lake in the picture (photo credit Sara Corry) is at the base of Camp Netimus, where the East Coast Gathering assembled for its third year this last weekend.  In the presence of such moments, it’s easier to perceive that the physical world is one face of the holy, or as Jung expressed it, “Spirit is the living body seen from within, and the body the outer manifestation of the living spirit—the two being really one” (253).  Humans respond to beauty and to such transparent intervals as this, often in spite of what they may consciously believe or claim about reality.  We cannot help but be moved because we are part of what we witness.  We may witness a score of hierophanies, visions of the divine, each day.  Whatever our beliefs, these openings to the sacred nourish and help sustain us.

The rebalancing we hope to accomplish depends on our state of consciousness, on our ability to accept a gift given.  And so in a workshop last weekend, “The Once and Future Druid:  Working with the Cauldron of Rebirth,” we repeatedly turned to another seed-passage, this time from Neville’s The Power of Awareness: “The ideal you hope to achieve is always ready for an incarnation, but unless you yourself offer it human parentage, it is incapable of birth.”  I carried that with me for several days, marveling at its ability to focus the attention.  Whenever I found myself falling into old patterns of thought, I return to its simple truth. The power of such meditations and seed-exercises reaches beyond their apparent simplicity or even simplisticness.

In one sense we are consciously meme-planting, even if it’s on a personal level.  Why not plant our own, rather than be subject to others’ constructs, which may not suit us?  Yes, these seed-thoughts and heart-songs may remain lifeless if we do not ignite them with our attention and desire.  But properly sustained, like a campfire (sorry … the camp images stick with me!), fed and banked and tended, it can pour out a healing and transformative warmth all out of scale to its visible size.

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Jung, Carl.  Modern Man in Search of a Soul. London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul/Ark Paperbacks, 1984.

Updated 9/28/12

Celebrating “Manhattanhenge”: Sparks of Urban Druidry

Our green world and ready contact with its natural rhythms can sometimes feel remote in urban settings.  Because so many people live in one of the “mega-metro” areas on the planet, their appreciation of the natural world may often burn more brightly than it does for the small-towner who has lived all her life surrounded by cows and trees.  With Tokyo, Seoul, Mexico City, New York and Mumbai heading the list at over 20 million souls each (counting their greater metro areas), it’s good to celebrate the green world particularly when it makes itself known among the girders and concrete.  The first entry in my “Druid of the Day” series, just started, was a nod in that direction.  Manhattanhenge is another one, and much larger:

If you follow Yahoo, you probably caught it.  The caption for yesterday’s image reads “The sun sets during ‘Manhattanhenge’ on July 12, 2011 in New York City. The Manhattan Solstice is a semiannual occurrence in which the setting sun aligns west-east with the street grid of the city.”  There’s a short sequence of similar images worth visiting.

We need such rhythms — to calibrate our biological clocks, to remind us how the world nourishes and sustains us, and how we need to remember it in our daily decisions — not out of piety for the Earth Mother (though nothing’s wrong with that, of course) but for the very real reason that this world is home.  Whenever we can truly celebrate, our hearts open.  And in a time when so much “news” doesn’t help us live better, stopping to enjoy the sun looking down the city streets is a good thing.

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For those interested in astronomical details and explanations, Wikipedia’s entry for Manhattanhenge helps.  The event occurs twice a year, in May and July, on either side of the planetary solstice, as the sun makes its (apparent) journey north and then south again after the solstice.

The Beach of Consciousness

The challenge:  to write a coherent and meaningful post in about an hour — before I’m out the door and off to another commitment during a particularly busy couple of weeks — without a topic already in mind.  What will get tossed up on the beach of consciousness?  The trick is to keep writing, trusting that something will come.  Ah, there it is: trust.

I trusted the presence of Skaði sufficiently to create a separate shrine-page for her, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago.  To ask whether I believe in her feels like it misses the point: she appeared in my consciousness, amenable for an exchange.  I made a choice to engage, she honored her part, and I mine.  What’s interesting to me is that we would never ask a similar question about a human-human interaction.  Do I “believe” in the shop-clerk who sold me a sandwich at the cafe where my wife and I had lunch yesterday?  The question never arises.  What do our interactions imply for the future, in the case of either shop clerk or goddess?  That’s something we’ll negotiate as we go.  From what I can tell, none of us would have it any other way.  If I patronize the shop regularly enough, the clerk and I may learn each other’s names, we might make small talk, I might eventually come to have a “usual” that I predictably order, and so on.  With the goddess, the terms might be similar:  future interactions will build a history between us.  With that kind of growing trust, is belief necessary?

Trust is a curious thing.  Like water or mustard or fire, too much or not enough suggests there’s a happy middle ground.  Trust is also earned:  babies may come by it naturally, and the other blessed innocents of the world may not yet have had it betrayed out of them, but usually ya gotta deserve it to get it.  I trust the sanity of the clerk not to poison the food the shop sells, and Skaði and I trust each other enough at this point to fulfill any exchanges we have agreed on.  Liking may enter the relationship down the road, which may broaden outside the immediate context of simple exchange if both parties are willing.  But that’s not a given.  Right now we have a starting point — that’s all.

Other kinds of trust operate at deeper levels.  There’s a kind of trust, after all, every time you open door of your room, your apartment, your house, when you step outdoors on a sunny today like today is shaping into, a trust that the air is breathable, that the universe, at least in the foreseeable future, is not out to kill you — that it might even cooperate with you long enough that you can accomplish something worthwhile.  If you’re fortunate enough, aware enough, lucky enough, or just attentive enough, you might even call it love. I’ll close with Kathleen Raine‘s fine poem “The Marriage of Psyche,” written 60 years ago now, in 1952.  It feels like it fits here — the sense of amazement, of wonder at beauty that lifts you out of yourself.  A gift.  Read it to yourself out loud, to hear its rhythms.

He has married me with a ring, a ring of bright water
Whose ripples travel from the heart of the sea,
He has married me with a ring of light, the glitter
Broadcast on the swift river.
He has married me with the sun’s circle
Too dazzling to see, traced in summer sky.
He has crowned me with the wreath of white cloud
That gathers on the snowy summit of the mountain,
Ringed me round with the world-circling wind,
Bound me to the whirlwind’s centre.
He has married me with the orbit of the moon
And with the boundless circle of stars,
With the orbits that measure years, months, days, and nights,
Set the tides flowing,
Command the winds to travel or be at rest.

At the ring’s centre,
Spirit, or angel troubling the pool,
Causality not in nature,
Finger’s touch that summons at a point, a moment
Stars and planets, life and light
Or gathers cloud about an apex of cold,
Transcendent touch of love summons my world into being.

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Updated 25 May 2014: next to last line of Raine’s poem corrected from “gold” to “cold.”

Gods and Orphans

Sometimes you have experiences that just don’t fit.  They’re orphans, and like orphans, too often they’re left to fend for themselves, so they end up on the street.  Or else they’re stuck in a home by some well-meaning authority, where they may subsist uncomfortably for years in places where everyone else looks and acts and talks different.  There may not be enough love to go around, either, and like Oliver in Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, they’re reduced to pleading, “Please, sir, may I have some more?”

Monday night, before the hard freeze here (19 and windy) that threatened all the burgeoning flowers and trees, I offered up a prayer.  I don’t usually pray in this way, but I found myself praying for all the wordless Rooted Ones busy putting out buds and leaves and new growth in response to the warm spell that caressed so much of the U.S.  “I cry to the Powers,” I found myself saying.  A little more love here, please.  The great willow in our back yard has pale leafy fronds.  The currants are budding.  Crabgrass pushes up from dead mats of last year’s growth.  The stems of bushes and the twigs of trees show reddish with sap. At the same time, I took stock in what I knew in some traditions about plant spirits, the personifications of energies that help individual species thrive.*  Let the devas and plant guardians sort it out.  Serve the larger balance — that sort of thing.  Then the nudge to pray came, so I honored it.  Everyone has a role to play.  Then the goddess Skaði presented herself.

All this took place while I was driving down and then back home with my wife from an out-of-state trip to CT.  Bookends to the day.  We’d tried to be efficient with our driving and gas use, like the good Greenies that on occasion we actually are, and schedule several appointments for the same day.  So we rose early, drove through welcome morning sun and glorious light to have a thermostat and brakes replaced on our car, get eye exams and prescriptions and glasses before a sale ended on April 1, drop off a gift at a friend’s house, and get to an admissions interview for a certificate program I’m interested in.  (More about that as it progresses.)

We’d scheduled ourselves fairly loosely, but still the sequence of appointments mattered for times and distances to travel to the next stop.  So when the car service that we’d been assured would take no more than two hours now promised to consume most of the day, we got a loaner car from the dealership, rescheduled and shuffled some of our meetings.  Ah, modern life.  Maybe it’s no more than imagination, but at such times recall of past lives makes horse-and-buggy days seem idyllic and stress-free by contrast.  Back then we didn’t do so much because we simply couldn’t.  Does being able to do more always mean we should?

So, Skaði.**  Not to belabor you with too much detail: she’s a Scandinavian goddess of winter, hunting, mountains and skiing. A sort of northern Diana of the snows, an Artemis of the cold heights and crags.  I’d run across her a few years ago, when I was doing some reading and meditation in Northern traditions.  She loomed in my consciousness then, briefly.  Frankly I found Bragi, the god of eloquence and poetry and patron of bards, much more to my taste.  But there she was, for a short time.

I flashed on an image of Skaði then, and she seemed — and still seems to me — quite literally cold, implacable, uninterested in humans, remote, austere, elegant in the way ice formations and mountain snows and the Himalayas are elegant — and utterly forbidding.  Not someone even slightly interested in exchange, in human interaction.  Now here she was.  If you’ve been pursued by any of the Shining Folk, whether the Morrigan or Thor, Jesus or Apollo, you know that often enough they choose you rather than the other way around.  So you make do.  You pay no attention.  Or you can’t help it and now you have a patron deity.  Or something in between.  If you’re a bloody fool, you blab about it too much, insisting, and the nice men in white coats fit you for one too.  Or maybe you and Thorazine become best friends.  It’s at times like this that I’m glad of the comparative anonymity of this blog.  I can be that bloody fool, up to a point, and the people who need to will pass me off as just another wacko blogger.  And then this post will recede behind the others, and only one or two people will happen on it in another month or two.  The gods are out there, and they’re in our heads, too.  Both/and.  So we deal with it.  And I can step back to my normal life.  Or not.  I’ll keep you posted.

So Skaði of the daunting demeanor wants something.  I prayed to the Powers, almost in the Tolkien Valar = “Powers” sense — to anyone who was listening.  Open door.  Big mistake?  I’m a Druid, but here’s the Northern Way inserting itself into my life.  My call goes out, and Skaði picks up and we’re having this conversation in my head while I drive north on I-91 with my wife.  I’ve gotten used to these kinds of things over time, as much as you can, which often isn’t so much.  In a way I suppose it’s revenge — I used to laugh out loud at such accounts when I read them and shake my head at what were “obviously people’s mental projections.”  Now I’ve got one saying if you want protection for your shrubbery (God help me, I’m also hearing the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail at this point.  The Knights of Ni:  “Bring me a shrubbery!”), then do something for me.  What? I said.  A blog post, first, then a website shrine.  So here’s the blog post first.  I’ll provide the shrine link when I’ve set it up.

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*If you’re interested in an excellent account of this, check out The Findhorn Garden, originally published in 1976.  This Scottish community, established on a barren piece of land, “inexplicably” flourished with the help of conscious cooperation with nature spirits.  It’s documented in photographs and interviews.  There are several books with similar titles and later dates, also published by Findhorn Community.

**The ð in her name is the “th” sound in with.  I’m slowly realizing that part of my fussing over words, the urge to get it right, the annoyance at others who seem not to care about linguistic details, can be transformed to a gift.  So for me part of honoring Skaði is getting her name right.

Image:  Skaði.  I can’t draw or paint to save my life, so when I came across this stunning representation, a shiver slalomed down my back.  Skaði’s footsteps, I guess I should say.  This is in the spirit of my experience of the goddess.

Potest Dea — a Dream Vision

Goddesses are possible again — the word is spreading even to those who aren’t paying attention.  The new dream is all about shapes arising where before we thought there was only darkness pooling around our fears and our faces.  The old forms aren’t always the ones the goddesses are re-animating.  It’s also something new this time, answer to the severity of our need.  Need more, and the Goddess answers.  How much we need.  It’s called her forth.

Who is she? an old man asks.  He’s never had truck with goddesses before.  I don’t know anything about ’em.  You can see it in his face, in his posture.  He holds himself like a piece of cloth, something that can spread or crumple easily, at will or whim.  But then who has dealt with goddesses recently?  Ask around and what answer do you probably get?  Yes, a good Catholic says the Rosary, prays to Mary because she’s vastly more approachable than that God made in the image of the old men of the Magisterium.  Goddesses are possible, the old man says, doubting his own words, indicted along with the pedophile priests because we can no longer distinguish truth from truthiness, what is from what we wish to exist, to serve our weakness as a shield, so that we needn’t change.  The Goddess opens one door after another, doors rusty on their hinges.  You can hear them squeaking, maybe late at night when the only other sound is the breathing of sleepers near you in the dark.  Who has dealt with goddesses before? We all have.

To breathe in the dark, awake. There you can feel the Goddess.  It’s a start, a beginning like the edge of a blade, something sharp you can sense without trying.  She is more than possible, more than a shape companionable in the darkness, one that doesn’t move and so isn’t a threat, isn’t alive, but rather a piece of furniture, something you can count on to stay the same as you make your way around in the dark.  God the Father, in whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning, the Bible says.  Everything she touches changes, say those who have encountered the Goddess.  And she touches everything.  So how can these two co-exist without canceling each other out, matter and anti-matter colliding and releasing some intense humongous cosmic energy to rival the Big Bang.

And the Cosmic Trickster lounging somewhere near the back door of our brains says That’s it exactly. Put God and Goddess together and you get the Big Bang, the ecstatic copulation, the first orgasm that even now continues, sustaining all that is, energy streaming out from both of them, because we need both.  God without Goddess turns out to be a dry old stick, a petty tyrant peering in people’s windows and clicking his tongue at s s s i n.  But ignore him long enough and he sends his grunts and heavies to round you up, to snatch you out and shove you up against a wall and shoot you, because you’re not holy enough, because you doubted, because you’re too real for the god-museum image that everybody worships and nobody lives.  And tell the truth and it’s only a toss-up whether you’re on the shooting side, or the shot side.  Not much difference in the end, it’s you or your best friend, opposite sides.  Then neither side is worth the game.

But the Goddess alone is no better.  It’s not the Fear of Feminism you see among some  men, as if the ladies will replace us  gentlemen in the fine art of hypocrisy and murder. Those men, they’re afraid they’ll get what’s coming to them, because they know deep down what goes around really does come around.   But it won’t be like that.  Instead, it all collapses into orgy, and everything comes.  The definition of a puritan, remember, is a person with the horrible fear that somebody somewhere is actually having fun.  God without Goddess is a stick, but Goddess without God is a soft gooey center that melts in your hands, not in your mouth.

Goddesses are possible again because we’ve earned them.  We’re opening the door we’re petrified to open, terrified to walk through, but we can’t help it because the imperative we all follow eventually is growth, and if Goddess will give when God holds back, then we need to meet and embody the divine as Goddess in order to live at all.  The prod of the god/dess is love for all existence, and we cannot both love and fear.  So much fear nowadays, you can smell it.

And love?  The Charge of the Goddess reminds us that all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals.  This life is sacrament.  Priestess and Priest, be welcome to the rite.  Come before the Lord and Lady with gladness and thanksgiving.  Not in obedience, but in desire to celebrate what you know to be true, that each day is a gift, that this incarnation, in spite of all its troubles, is a blessing and worth that trouble.  Potest Dea.  The Goddess is potent, the Goddess can.  Praise God, the Goddess is.

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Blue Madonna by Carlo Dolci, Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida.

Labyrinth at Hagal’s Farm.

Edited for spelling and grammar 5 Oct 2013

Goddess and Human

As editor of a collection of essays, The Rebirth of Druidry, OBOD‘s Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm attempts to characterize something of the appeal of the spirit of Druidry in human terms.  I quote his article at length because in its effect it is all of a piece, and because it provides a suitable introduction to some things I want to say about the Goddess:

Druidry is the perfect lover. You fall in love with her so easily because she is so romantic.  She whispers to you of the magic and mystery of the turning stars and seasons.  She loves trees and Nature above all things, and you yearn for these too.  She tells you stories of Gods and Goddesses, the Otherworld and fairies, dragons and giants.  She promises secret lore — of sacred trees and animals, of herbs and plants.  She points deep into the past, and ahead towards a future which is lived in harmony with the natural world.   But just when you are convinced you will marry her, because she is so beautiful, so tantalizing, so romantic, she turns around and there she is, with rotten teeth and hideous face, cackling and shrieking at your naivety.  And she disappears, leaving you with just her tattered cloak, made up of a few strands:  some lines from the classical authors, whose accounts are probably inaccurate anyway, a few inferences drawn from linguistic and archaeological research, which could be wrong, with the rest of the cloth woven from material written from the eighteenth century onwards, replete with speculation, forgery and fantasy.

You feel a fool.  You don’t tell your friends about your lover.  You feel tricked and defrauded, and decide to follow something more authentic, more established, more substantial — like Buddhism, or Christianity, or Sufism, or Taoism — something serious.  But then you go out walking.  You follow the old trackways, you come to the old places.  You see the chalk gods and stone circles.  You pause and open yourself to the Land, and there She is again.  But this time she is even more enchanting because you can see that she is not just a beautiful woman, full of romance and seduction, you can see that she is also a wise woman, who will provoke as well as seduce you, who will make you think as well as make you feel.  And then you suddenly know why she has been the object of fascination for so many through the ages.  She is the Muse, the Goddess behind Druidry, the bestower of Awen, of inspiration.

Obviously the imagery here from a male author conveys part of how a man may first encounter the “Goddess behind Druidry”; it may not appeal to women, who find their own powerful ways of connecting with Her.  In mythic terms, however, this account very much reflects the changeability of the Goddess — what has inaccurately been called her fickleness, and which has caused many accustomed to meeting deity in a single, invariant form to confuse variety with unreliability or untrustworthiness.  Westerners in particular have largely been cut off from experience with aspectual deity, which the Goddess so clearly manifests.  Rather than manifesting a loving and compassionate presence, “[t]he deity may appear in wrathful or challenging forms, but these should not be considered hostile.  She is the kernel of truth at the heart of everything, and if she appears in challenging forms to you, look more deeply, considering why this may be so,” suggests Caitlin Matthews in her slim but potent book, The Elements of the Goddess.  “Many of those who venerate the Goddess are unhappy with her supposedly dark aspects because they associate ‘dark’ with ‘evil.’  In order to save her child about to do something dangerous or silly, a mother will get angry, shout or scream, but this doesn’t mean to say she loves her child any less.”

My first encounter with the Goddess came unbidden, unsought, when I was 25.  (You need to know: I’m not especially sensitive  or psychic.  Friends who are say anyone who wants to reach me has to raise quite a ruckus to get my attention. If you’d asked me then I’d say — still would probably, even today — that half of what people experience in such situations is imagination.  But now by “imagination” I mean something considerably larger and more potent than I did then.  More about that later.) It was a frosty autumn day, and I was wandering the fields and scattered woods of a farm my father had recently bought in western New York, south of Rochester.  I paused in a swampy grove of trees, with several fallen and decaying trunks to sit on.  A mood or atmosphere of autumn pervaded the place, almost palpable.  The air lay perfectly still.  The musty-sweet smell of dried dead leaves filled the air, along with a tang of rot and manure from a nearby field, and a hint of woodsmoke.  Over the hills from a distance came the faint roar of some town maintenance vehicle — they were always patching roads in the area.  But distant sounds simply deepened the stillness by contrast.  As this meditative silence spread and enveloped me, I became aware of a presence that filled the grove and towered over me, fifty, sixty feet tall.  Immense.  One face of the Goddess. Conscious encounter.  Her.

She didn’t knock me on my ass, though that might have been useful too, given how dense I can be.  But though I describe it here in mild enough terms, the experience was unforgettable, not for any one detail, but for its undeniable — and familiar — quality.  This was someone I knew.  Not someone or something alien, or to be feared, or a matter of belief, any more than I need to believe in the tree-trunk I sat on.  It was like finding a limb which, when you found it, you knew had always been a part of you all along.  You just hadn’t been aware of it.  As if it had been asleep, but for its waking you finally twitched a muscle in it, and in feeling it respond you felt it.

So what’s the big deal, you say?  “He met the Goddess, in some ways it was an anticlimax though also somehow memorable, he got over it, it was years ago.  So?”

A year later I was in the throes of my first love affair (can anyone say “late bloomer”?), a tumultuous relationship in which I did get knocked on my ass.  Among all the other things this Goddess encounter was, it was preparation, or warning.  I needed greater emotional experience, insight, maturity.  I was about to get it.

In between the divine and human realms is an archetypal one — a place, often, of dream and vision, and the idealized images of Others for men and women which “haunt our imagination and often make our love-lives incredibly tortuous until we realize that these daimons will never become physical realities.  They are messengers between the divine realms and the human levels of our experience” (Matthews, 13).  This was part of what I needed to learn firsthand. No book knowledge this time.  It was an initiation of its own.

So this fall at OBOD’s East Coast Gathering, in a meditation involving an encounter with the Goddess in her guise as Cerridwen, I felt a surge of panic — again.  “Cerridwen is bad. She tricked Gwion Bach in the old Welsh tale.” But it was old programming.  Incomplete knowledge.  Fear of that “fickleness”  I mentioned earlier.  “The old, outworn, dualistic concept of the Goddess as cruel and capricious must be viewed for what it is:  a reflection of our shadow-side, a terrible polarization of social responsibility with which women have been burdened as a sex” (Matthews, 24).   But now I had more tools to begin to deal with it.  At Samhain I did specific work with the Goddess.  I needed to.  Is it any wonder I also spent 15 years working in a freshman girls dorm as a house parent?  Training up close and personal.  “The Goddess stands at the heart of life, death and further existence and she will assume the forms which are most appropriate in her dealings with our world” (Matthews, 24).  Or as a teacher in the other path I follow related, when he talked about his own experiences with inner and outer realities, “They had to get me to stop bowing every time they appeared, so they could actually work with me and get some work out of me.”

Matthews continues, in ways particularly useful for a male bard like me.  “Men experience the Goddess through their creative side.  She makes manifest their ideas by animating their dormant creativity.  There is a strong sense of ebb and flow about these energies which give men an experience of the cyclical nature of the feminine menstrual cycle.   This kind of relationship is rarely recognized for what it is, yet all men can discover and welcome this experience.  Although the effect of a Goddess upon a man is less immediately physical than in a woman, it is nonetheless potent” (15).

There is much misunderstanding of gender and sexuality, and what constitutes the self and its connection to the world, perhaps nowhere more so than in the West, with its addiction to pornography, its fear of homosexuality, its violence against women, and its frequent indifference to children.  I’ll let Matthews have her last word here.  “Every human being is a child of the Goddess … The way of the Goddess is one of natural law and natural wisdom … It is primarily the people of the West who are orphans of the Goddess.  The social and political reasons for this desolation have been documented in many books … Both women and men need to find their Mother, relating to her and her creation in fresh and balanced ways, for every one of us needs to drink of her wisdom and realign ourselves with her natural laws.”  This is not a matter of belief but of incarnation — our own — to live fully, gratefully and passionately in this world, until we leave it.

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Nano update time.  Is it any wonder, in light of this post, that I’m writing about a succubus?!  And sympathetically — as a main character?!  Must be some sort of assignment from the Goddess.  Further training.  God knows if it’s publishable.  (Goddess may know, but if she does, she ain’t tellin’.)  Reached 17,804 words:  over 1/3 of the way there.  Need to hit 20,000 today to be fully caught up, including today’s work.  Should be able to do it.  Major scene yesterday, in which Alza connected with the man she needs for her magical work, showed him her nature in a brief feed and reversal of energies to restore him, bypassing the mental level altogether, where the idea of a succubus would have completely flipped him, and left him with a medallion magically linked to her — ongoing physical contact to reinforce the dynamic.  The resulting reactions when he deals mentally and emotionally with what he already knows will be interesting to capture, but the heavy lifting for that scene is done.

I’d been including more fire imagery in description and action, since Alza’s succubus nature seemed increasingly to resemble that of a fire demon.  And then, as a break yesterday, doing some research on demons and succubi in other cultures, I happened on this quotation from the Qur’an:  “And the jinn, We created aforetime from the smokeless flame of fire” (Al-Hijr, 15:27).  And in an email yesterday from the university where I’m taking a seminar, advertising a weekend workshop for men:  “FRIDAY, 11/11/11 – SUNDAY, 11/13/11 – ON THE EDGE OF FIRE:  A MEN’S SPIRITUALITY RETREAT.” Right between the eyes — the kind of serendipity and synchronicity and happy accident one hopes for in writing.  So I’m on some kind of track.  I’m just still discovering what it is.  And that’s much of the deep pleasure of this verbal marathon.

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