The Veil Between

On Saturday night I took part in an ancient tradition, the autumn bonfire, which we Americans associate with fall, hot apple cider, and possibly football games. But it is a tradition that goes back to ancient times and the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced Sow-wen), the end of summer on earth and the beginning of it in the Underworld.

Samhain is the Celtic New Year, time when the veil between the world of the living and dead is thinnest and it is said we can see across the maw, a time to honor our ancestors and get rid of that which no longer serves us, by throwing it into the fire. It is celebrated on the eve of October 31 and the day of November 1, the same day the Catholic church calls All Saints Day. They appropriated the day from the traditional pagan worship and made it a grab-bag Christian holiday. (Clever Catholics.)

I've always loved Halloween and as I've gotten older it seems I have found fewer and fewer opportunities to dress up and change my persona. This year with hubby and daughter out of town, I decided to dress up in goddess garb and commune with other women who celebrate the divine feminine.

This night, we chose to celebrate Hecate, my favorite triple goddess, known as the Old One, the Wise One, the one we can turn to when we are at the crossroads, seeking counsel, wondering which way to turn. This is her season. She leads us into the darkness that is now beginning, with her lantern lighting the way. She can see into past, present, and future, the crossroads in which we all find ourselves, at all times.

In the circle, we each let go of something that we no longer wanted in our life. Mine was fear of completing my creative project. We brought in the qualities we wished to bring in or hold onto. Mine was play. We also gave a gift to our ancestors (mine was healing the feminine wound in our family), and we named the ones we wished to remember. On that night, I honored my father, Cliff, and my grandparents, Mamie Marie and Walter Valentine Reichard, Lillian and Charlie Anderson, and my Auntie Drue. Their gifts to me are laughter, speaking from the heart, divining the soul, appreciating the beauty of nature, treasuring the gift of life, and intelligence. I felt the ancestors were with us that night of honoring and healing beneath the full Hunter's moon.

What do you want to let go of?

What qualities do you want to bring in to your life?

What is your gift to your ancestors?

What is their gift to you?

Thank you, Goddess sisters, for gathering to honor ourselves and those who have gone before us.

It is the feminine spirit that is needed to bring balance and healing to this planet and to all creatures who suffer.

Maiden, Mother, Crone

...three aspects of the triple goddess, which every female knows on a deep, soul level no matter what her age or stage of life. Sure, the maiden--or Kore--could be said to be the personification of innocence and couldn't possibly know what it means to be a mother and an old woman, but yet, every maiden shows glimpses of these future stages. She's the mother when she cuddles kittens and babysits and learns to nurture her bff through every drama and crisis they come to share. She's the crone, or wise woman within when she offers sage advise or surprises her own mother by offering words of wisdom that you think she couldn't possibly know. I remember when I was holding my baby girl, Chloe, and crying because I had just learned I had thyroid cancer and she put her hand on my face and looked into my eyes and said, "It's gonna be okay, Mommy." I remember blinking and looking at her and thinking, "Oh, my God, a wise woman just spoke to me," and I knew I was face to face with a deep soul who would have as much to teach me as I would her. Her words definitely brought me around and I felt like God had spoken through her and I relaxed, knowing she was right. It was going to be okay. I just had to trust. The maiden is not far from us even when we become mothers and crones. We can still recall the dreaminess, the giddiness, the je-ne-sais-quoi of that time of life, and we can even channel the maiden when dancing, dreaming, and playing. As mothers, we move into the active, nurturing stage of life, juggling schedules and kids, husbands, work, and projects; a time when our energy is truly at its peak and we can stand in the middle and look back at the maidens we once were and sigh (both sad and glad to be through it) and look ahead to the future of empty nests and the crowning of the crone--time to ourselves, time to Be More, Do Less. The crone years, usually sometime after 50, has the true gift of overview and begins to care less and less about outer world concerns and what people will think and how they will be perceived. She will often speak her mind because she knows and because she doesn't give a damn. She's been there, done that. She doesn't suffer fools gladly but at the same time she has all the patience in the world because she can leave grandbabies with their mothers after spoiling them rotten, turn inward and find solace in her own company, and she can go home (to herself and perhaps to the old man or woman she's shared her life with). She truly has the vision of past, present and future and standing at the crossroads like Hecate, can point the way if you just turn to her and ask for guidance. She knows the way.

I have to admit, I'm in a funny in-between place, like many of my friends who had babies late in life--half mother/half crone. One foot in the active Doing stage and one foot in the contemplative Being stage. It's kind of an interesting place to be, a little like a balancing act, a little schizophrenic at times, occasionally dizzying as you dig deep into the underworld of the unconscious where Hecate reigns and navigate the world above, sowing seeds and reaping harvests like Demeter, a personification of Mother Earth, herself. But wait, what of Persephone, Demeter's daughter, who was abducted from her mother and taken into the underworld where she became queen? With Hecate's help (she with the gift of overview), Demeter found Persephone and her daughter was returned to her for half the year and would spend the other half in the underworld with Hades, the dark god who presides there (with Hecate as her guardian). In that way, Persephone became the mediator between the upper and the lower, the darkness and the light. It is her mediation that brings an end to the dualistic way of seeing the world. The triple goddess reminds us of that oneness--that multi-facted jewel that we are.

I have been exploring the triple goddess and playing with the three aspects in my writing and art for some time now, and in March I will be leading two workshops at the wonderfully exciting 3-day spring retreat, Persephone Rising, at Buzzard's Bay on Cape Cod. The retreat will be held at a wonderful, old farmhouse near the water and a nature preserve, where we will celebrate the muses of art, nature and the goddess in each of us. In one of my workshops I will be taking participants on three guided journeys to meet their inner maiden, mother and crone and to receive gifts from them. This will conclude with a nature treasure hunt. Then, in the second workshop, we will be honoring one of the three goddesses by creating a shrine or altar and a goddess effigy or doll with found objects from nature, paint, and collage. There will be other workshops to choose from that will include writing and art and singing and dancing our wild selves--a true experience of mind, body and soul. Take a look at the wonderful classes planned and join us, as like Persephone, we celebrate the rites of spring in true goddess fashion--diving deep within and carrying our found wisdom out into the world in sacred ritual, celebration, and play!

Winter Solstice & The Goddess Hecate

Triple Goddess of the Crossroads I have emerged from hibernation--yes, I started early. Hibernation for me took place during the fall -- I moved to a new home in September. It's a wonderful farm house on 5 acres that feels like country -- we are surrounded by horses, cows, deer in abundance, and a few coyotes (newcomers to this neighborhood) -- yet we are only five minutes from town (Carrboro). During these past few months I have taken a much-needed break from external demands and allowed myself time to settle into our new home and new life, just one year after moving to North Carolina. It takes time to reassemble, I have had to remind myself. Now I feel the wheel turning...

It seems fitting to return to Owl and Crow at the time of the winter solstice, coming up on December 21, just one month from my birthday in January. (Crow has been very irritated with me for my absence, pecking at my brain, telling me to get back to writing and expressing myself. Owl doesn't want to be bothered and would just as soon sit in silence, preening and pondering, or read a good book.) But I tend to come alive in the winter, a sort of rebirth as I approach the place on the wheel of my sun sign, Aquarius.

The Solstice, from the Latin sol stetit, meaning "sun stands still," is the time when the sun seems to rise and set at the same point on the horizon for about a week. It is considered the turning point of time, when people of old celebrated the return of the light. The winter solstice signifies the moment of new beginnings, the point that divides the year in half, a time of mystery when the gates between the two worlds stand open for a moment.

Celtic Queen of Winter

It is also the time of the crone, the third aspect of the Triple Goddess. In Celtic tradition, the Cailleach, Queen of Winter, or "The Old Woman Who Never Dies," walked upon the earth toting boulders in her apron and a great feather pillow over her shoulder. She was a creatrix from the beginning of time, who created the mountains when she dropped a boulder. She brought the cold, bitter winds with her as she trod upon the earth, as well as the frost and snow when the feathers spilled from her pillow.

In the Greek tradition, it is the triple goddess, Hecate, who stands at the crossroads, or threefold path, guiding us on our journey to the unknown. She is a lover of solitude, often depicted with three black hounds, and other times as having three animal heads (the horse, the snake and the bear), which allow her to see the past, present and future. She may visit us while we sleep (as nightmarish, shadowy creatures, the dark feminine, the black Madonna), and awaken us to new insights. She can guide us to see things differently and help us find greater understanding of our selves and others.

Although her name means "The Distant One," Hecate is always close at hand in times of need, helping us to release the old, familiar ways and find new ways of being. As protector of women during childbirth, she can help us give birth to new aspects of ourselves. But it's important to remember that the birth process is not easy and it can feel scary, uncomfortable, and lonely as we find our way in the darkness before emerging into the light of new awareness. Be gentle with yourself during these times and call on Hecate for guidance, nurturing, and protection.

As the New Year approaches, you may notice you are at a crossroads pondering which direction to take or groping in the dark a bit. It may be time to let the old die so the new can be born. How can Hecate help you transform?

Mother Musings II

by Meinrad Craighead

On Thursday, I am going to see a documentary about this artist, Meinrad Craighead, who was once a nun and then devoted the rest of her life to creating sacred images of nature and the feminine. I’m drawn to this painting called Mother and Daughter, which clearly was inspired by the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It is said that you can't know Persephone without an understanding of Demeter and you can't know Demeter without knowing Persephone. I think this is true of all mothers and daughters, even when we don't want it to be. As daughters, we can try to disown parts of the mother we don't like, but unless we do it consciously, healing the wounds rather than covering them or pushing them down out of sight, they become our shadow aspects. And you know that little poem by Robert Louis Stevenson that goes,

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, And what can be the use of [her] is more than I can see. [She] is very, very like me from the heels up to the head; And I see [her] jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about [her] is the way [she] likes to grow-- Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;                                    img_18491 For [she] sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball, And [she] sometimes goes so little that there's none of [her] at all.

[She] hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play, And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way. [She] stays so close behind me, [she's] a coward you can see; I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up, I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup; But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head, Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

This is the problem with our shadow aspect—it never really goes away; it just dogs us until we do something about it, essentially face it, work with it, and integrate it. Otherwise, it keeps popping up when we least expect it and we end up making fools of ourselves, as in, “Oops, how did that slip out?” Or, “I always swore I’d never say that to my child. I sound just like my mother!” Of course, sometimes it’s this very trickster-like element that allows us to heal—kind of like looking in a funhouse mirror. We recognize our mother in the reflection of our own distorted image and we cringe. What to do?

Once we have dealt with the pain and the wounding through grief work (and I’ve done a lot of that), I think all we can do is just notice, laugh, and embrace it. For we can never really put the shadow to bed. It is our teacher, and so our mother is our teacher, and our grandmother, and all of our ancestors that speak down through the generations to remind us who we are. As well as being part of a particular family with all its foibles and flaws, we are also part of the human race, fallible and imperfect. We are not gods, but we are enough. It is enough to be a human being who stumbles, who doesn’t always get it right, who doesn’t need to prove anything-- even that I am not my mother. But I am my mother’s daughter.

So when I take in this painting of Mother and Daughter I see the reflection and the opposites; one can’t exist without the other. It’s a little cosmological joke. It reminds me, once again, to accept, to embrace, to love life, and the one (and many) who gave it to me.