The Priestess of Memory

There has never been a timewhen you and I have not existed... There will never be a time when we will cease to be

~ from the BHAGAVAD GITA

This morning as I took a meditative walk on a beautiful, mild, summer day with my old dog, Maggie, I thought about the cycles of the seasons, of life, death and rebirth. I felt the awesome power of life being experienced in a single moment, deep in my bones, which is not surprising given that we're in the month ruled by Cancer, archetype of the Great Mother. This is a time when we are often more aware of emotions washing over us like ocean waves, flowing in, baptizing us, and then just as surely flowing back out to sea. There is no need to do anything other than notice and accept the inevitable tides.

I have come to see I am in the autumn of my life and I am beginning to accept that I must slow down and take pause, experience more of the present moment and less frantic hurrying to the next. It hasn't been an easy surrender, and I am not sure I am even there yet, as I still have things to do. But there is a subtle shift taking place within me, a shift of perception, a need to turn the prism lens and see things differently, to allow new ways of being to take hold. 

The ritual of taking a morning walk begins with Maggie, our black lab, dancing around me eagerly when she sees me putting on my shoes. I don't dare say out loud that we're going for a walk or she will bark incessantly, unable to suppress her excitement. I am aware of the time I spend with her now as I know that at 11 years old, she doesn't have many years left with us. Yet she still has plenty of puppy energy even though her chin has turned white with age. (I am starting to see the similarities between us.) She has become more protective of me lately and follows me around the house, always close at hand, usually napping contentedly, while I cook or read or work at the computer. When I leave, she curls up on the rug by the door to await my return. Thoughts of Maggie's presence in my life and the gratitude I feel for her companionship shift as I walk with her down our shady street to thoughts of my mother and father.

Yesterday, my husband, Rob, and I rode our bikes the half-hour trek on country roads to the Honeysuckle Tea House for a Sunday sup. When we walked into the peaceful, open-air teahouse, the medley Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole was playing. This song is one I have designated as my dad's song as he loved the song, What a Wonderful World. Rob and I exchanged a smile and my eyes welled up with tears. It is a song that is reflective of my dad's optimistic and appreciative view of life. I feel fortunate that I had a father who would say to me, "Life is beautiful. Every time you hear a bird sing, remember that." He told me that my grandfather opened his eyes as he lay dying and spoke his last words, assuring him "It's beautiful."

My thoughts of my mom have been more and more about the gifts she gave me even though I spent much of my adult life focused on what I didn't get from her and longed for. My life's journey, and indeed, my soul's purpose, I believe, has been to heal the mother wound that was passed down, through her and through my grandmother that originated who knows how many generations back. I feel that wound is healed now and I feel deep forgiveness for her unintentional emotional abandonment as she did not know what to do with her own feelings of loss, nor did her mother, and so it went back through time.

The gifts my mother gave me were of a fertile and active imagination and the need to seek a deeper spiritual understanding of the world. As I walked this morning, I remembered how she comforted me at night when I had restless thoughts of spirits in my bedroom and feverish dreams of other worlds. She rubbed my back and taught me a prayer that began, "Father Mother God loving me..." These were the seeds of the divine feminine taking root in my psyche that would later provide the soothing balm to the ancient mother wound. I believe the reparative work she helped facilitate healed back generations of women in my family and forward to my daughter and for generations to come.

I see now that it didn't begin with me. She was trying to heal, too, and so was my grandmother, but they had fewer resources, opportunities, and support systems. It may have been an evolutionary process: They tried to find answers in the best way they knew how and passed on what wisdom they could. Perhaps it was left for me to pick up the threads and weave them together in such a way that a tapestry was formed of interconnected lives in which boundaries of time and space are but an illusion. And perhaps there will be dangling threads for my daughter to pick up and sew as well. Perhaps these are my gifts to her, and so it goes...

"Your soul is the priestess of memory, selecting, sifting, and ultimately gathering your vanishing days toward presence." - John O'Donohue, Anam Cara

A Goddess Pilgrimage: The Eleusinian Mysteries - Part 2

One of the things I knew I wanted to do on my trip to Greece was to take time to release feelings I still carried about my mother's death on June 12th of this year. Because of all that I had going on in my life at the time, I didn't fully grieve her passing. I felt relief that she was freed from suffering a 14-year mental and physical decline due to dementia, culminating in a broken hip and having to spend the last eight months of her life in a nursing home, confused and alone. In many ways, I had been grieving the loss of my mother for years, so I was prepared for her to go when she at last died at age 94. But this mother-daughter relationship is a deep and primal one, and regardless of the nature of the relationship, a mother's death generally marks a profound passage in a daughter's life. And so, for me, two questions seemed to be nagging at me: How do I grieve my mother's death? and How do I honor her?

My relationship to my mom is a complex story, as is the myth of Demeter and Persephone, which I have written about here and here. I have come to believe that some of my healing work with my mother entails past lives and karmic ties that I felt needed to be severed once and for all. So I felt compelled to visit Eleusis, a town 14 miles outside of Athens, which is now called Elefsina and is known as an oil refinery town, situated on the Bay of Eleusis. Because of its inelegant surroundings, there are not many visitors anymore. It is not on the list of tourist destinations, and in fact, our wonderful and accommodating travel agent in Greece, tried to dissuade us from going there, saying there was nothing to see. Of course, that depends on what you're looking for.

My friend and traveling companion, Diane Marshall, agreed with me that it was important for us to go there for we both had some work to do with our own mother-daughter story even though it was going to be inconvenient to get there in the little time we had left on the mainland. Something was telling us to go despite the obstacles and naysayers, and as often happens when you are clear about your intention, things fell into place. A lovely man named Nikos was sent by the travel agent to take us there for 2 hours on our way to the airport, where we would depart for Crete that evening.

During the taxi ride there, we caught glimpses of the old road, the Sacred Way, which was used thousands of years ago by the pilgrims who annually made the trek to Eleusis from Athens. They went in a procession, cleansing themselves along the way at a well, stopping to pray and offer sacrifices at altars and shrines, led by the high priestess of Demeter carrying a casket of sacred objects for the initiation rites. This happened in September, the same month we were visiting the sanctuary. The Eleusinian Mysteries were enacted for over a thousand years and many people, from kings and queens to commoners, chosen as initiates, took part in them. We don't know exactly what happened during the 9-day ritual at the Eleusinian Sanctuary, but we do know some things: that to be able to participate you had to swear an oath of secrecy and that when participants completed the rites, they no longer feared death.

Eleusis is the place where the Demeter-Persephone story was played out as part of the mystery school and figures in the myth, itself. It is the story of life, death and rebirth. It is the story of the matrilineal and matriarchal culture being supplanted by the patrilineal and patriarchal culture. It is the story, seldom told, of the primacy of the mother-daughter relationship, which in a matriarchal culture would have been deemed as important as the story of the father and son (of God), which took its place.

Demeter was the name of the Greek Mother Goddess, some say another name for Gaia, the earth goddess, who was known and celebrated in earlier Minoan Crete before she came to Greece. She was the goddess of the grain, which represented life in ancient times, for people were dependent on the earth, its growing seasons, and the food that came from Her and sustained all life. The earth was seen as feminine for she was like a great, round, pregnant belly where life grew in the fertile darkness until it was ready to burst forth into the world, and then eventually die, as all living things do. And miraculously, it seemed, every spring there was rebirth as new life came forth from the seeds that grew in the darkness, in a continuous circle of renewal. So the earth became synonymous with the Great Mother, who was responsible for life, death and rebirth. And in olden times this cycle was sacred and celebrated, as was the goddess. Offerings were made to the Great Mother to keep her bounty plentiful and so that people could express their gratitude for her abundance.

The story of Demeter and Persephone can be understood on many levels, but on one level it is simply the story of the earth mother, Demeter, giving birth to the seedling grain, Persephone, who is snatched away by Hades (death) and taken into the Underworld for a time (germination, growth), only to be brought back into the world above by the power of the Mother, the giver of life (rebirth). On another level, it is the story of the daughter leaving her mother and becoming her own person and the grief that the mother feels when her little girl goes off into the world to carry on this cycle as a goddess in her own right.

Both Diane and I were mothers in the middle of this motherline ourselves. My mother had just died and my daughter will be graduating high school and going off to college next year. This year, my friend, Diane, had to put her mother in a memory care facility and her grown daughter moved away to another state. When we got to Eleusis we were both immediately drawn into the energy of the setting and entered a liminal state. We could feel the power of what was enacted in this sanctuary, once hidden behind high walls. We walked around, taking in the place where temples to Demeter, Artemis, and Hecate once stood.

In the myth, after Persephone is abducted, Demeter searches for her for 9 days, grieving mightily. In her anger, she stops nurturing the crops and a famine occurs. She finds herself in Eleusis, where she attempts to bestow immortality on the king's son (alluding to the new, coming patriarchal story), but is thwarted by the queen who thinks she is trying to harm him by passing him through the fire (of eternal life). Demeter then reveals herself as the goddess and commands that a temple be built there in her honor.

Her temple is the site where the final enactment of the mysteries took place in the dark of night. It is believed that during the final 2 days of the initiation, after fasting for several days and taking part in an enactment of the myth, the celebrants drank kykeon, fermented barley water that likely had hallucinogenic properties (ergot from barley is known to have these effects). During this ritual, the initiates' eyes were opened to new ways of understanding by beholding the epiphany of the goddess as Earth Mother, the rising of Persephone, and the reunion of mother and child.

Diane and I were drawn to the cave that represented the entrance to the Underworld, where Persephone was abducted and where she later rose. This was near the ruins of the Temple of Hecate, the goddess who heard Persephone's cries and alerted Demeter as to her whereabouts and the Plutonian, an underground sanctuary dedicated to Pluto or Hades, where initiates may have spent some time in the darkness.

Diane used her pendulum to find the site that had the most concentrated energy and it was on a primitive altar stone where we built our own altar. I placed photos of my mother and me as well as a medicine bag which contained shells representing her bones and hearts with our names on them that I had created for this purpose. Diane and I together created a ceremony of thanks to our mothers and daughters as well as a releasing. For me, it was a time to let the tears flow onto the Mother herself, the earth that held us, provided for us, and to which we will one day return.

Earlier this year I took a shamanic journey in which I saw what had happened between my mother and me in a past life, which I believe bound us in a way that I knew needed to be dissolved. In this journey I saw that I was her mother at a time when women were in mortal danger for practicing healing arts that many called witchcraft and thought were the devil's doings. I was a healer, a medicine woman of those times, and my mother was my daughter who mistakenly betrayed me, letting the powers that be know what I did to help others, and I was killed. I saw that my mother was an innocent who was horrified at what she had inadvertantly done and carried that guilt over many lifetimes. It explained a lot about our relationship during this lifetime. Why I always felt like her mother, why things always seemed to overwhelm her and I would be in charge, why she was interested in metaphysical healing and chose a religion (Christian Science) founded by a woman healer (prayers were addressed to "Father-Mother God"), and lastly, an answer to the puzzling riddle of why my mother never could understand what I did for a living even though I would explain it to her over and over. This refrain continued through two distinct careers I had in my life in which my mother would often say, "Now tell me again what it is you do for a living. Explain it to me," and I would until I became infuriated that it never seemed to sink in.

At Eleusis, I symbolically cut the cord that tethered us in this karmic way.  Synchronistically, two months before my mother died, I found a letter she wrote to me 25 years ago that I had forgotten about in which she asked me for forgiveness, explaining how difficult it was for her to be a mother given her own emotional abandonment by her mother. Upon reading this letter years later, I knew that the forgiveness she sought went back many lifetimes. I knew I needed to call her although I wasn't sure she would be able to comprehend what I wanted to say. At that time, my mother was in the hospital and had been taken off the hideous, sedative drugs they gave her at the nursing home, and a window of clarity and opportunity opened. I told her I forgave her and would always love her and that we could release any hurt and pain we had carried between us in this lifetime and in past lives. She thanked me and told me how good it was to hear those words from me. I asked her to forgive me, too, for my anger at her and any pain I had caused her as her daughter. She told me there was nothing to forgive and that even though she didn't at all times know how to show it, she had always loved me.

Those two hours spent at Eleusis, at the very site where an ancient ritual of mother and daughter love and loss was played out for over a thousand years, were healing and transformative for me. I am quite sure I was there, too, in a past life, and perhaps my mother was, as well. For we have in common that we have been seekers of the greater meaning and understanding of the mystery of life, we both sought creative ways to explore our soul's purpose, and we both found a spiritual path that embraced the divine feminine. I can better honor my mother for the life and gifts she gave to me, which are so much clearer to me now that the veil of pain has been lifted.

 

If you are interested in exploring the myth of Persephone and Demeter and how to work with these powerful archetypes, you may enjoy my Triple Goddess e-course that explores the maiden-mother-crone through the Greek goddesses Persephone-Demeter-Hecate.

Goddess Temple e-course: The Alchemical Goddesses July 8 - August 4, 2012

You are invited to enter the mystery in the sacred Goddess Temple, where you will meet three powerful goddesses of alchemical transformation: Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Destruction; Yemaya, the West African Goddess of Creation, and Aphrodite, the Greek Mother Goddess of Love and Beauty.

Over the four weeks from July 8 - August 4, 2012, you will take a journey of initiation, as did Psyche, the young mortal woman who dared to shine light upon the face of her lover, whom she met only in the dark of night and was forbidden to look at. She discovered that he was none other than Eros, the beautiful God of Love. When he opened his eyes, the spell was broken, and he flew away. Psyche was bereft. How to find this missing part of herself, her soul?
For Psyche means Soul. The only way back to herself and to wholeness was to follow the instructions of the mighty Aphrodite, mother of Eros. She gave Psyche four tasks.

And so, upon entering the Goddess Temple, you, too, will be given four assignments on your way to meeting the Great Mother herself. These challenges (which promise to be soulful, creative, and magical) will arrive in the mail in separate envelopes to be opened each week.
Your mission, if you decide to accept it, is to meet each of the goddesses and accomplish the tasks set by Aphrodite. In the end, You, like Psyche, will have gone through an alchemical transformation and become the goddess.

Register now. Aphrodite begins mailing instructions on June 20, the Summer Solstice.

Don't miss this golden opportunity.

Click here to register.

Who is Psyche?

Freya and Beltaine Magic

Freya is the unapologetic goddess of love and sexuality in Norse mythology. We celebrate her on May 1, Beltaine, a cross-quarter day between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.

As described in Elizabeth Cunningham’s first book of the Maeve Chronicles, Magdalen Rising, in which Mary Magdalen is brilliantly transmogrified into a Celtic goddess, “the eve of May was a socially sanctioned orgy. Running off into the woods with someone who wasn’t your spouse was practically your civic duty. You were obeying the oldest law. You were multiplying the orgasms of the sexy, fecund earth. Hey, it could only help the crops--and hence the tribes. So just this once, go ahead. Surrender. Let go and let god/dess. That was the mood of Beltaine.”

Freya is perfect for the season. She is a sassy, bawdy and bold goddess archetype who, like Aphrodite, has many lovers -- pretty much whomever she chooses -- and her legions are legend.

Her story is one of love and lust for life, men, and beautiful objects like the necklace of amber tears she obtains after bedding the four dwarves who made it. (Makes you wonder about Snow White and what she was doing in the beds of the 7 dwarves, doesn’t it?)

It turns out these four dwarves represent the four directions in Norse mythology, and through these acts of consummation, Freya embodies the energy of these directions as well as the elements of earth, air, water, and fire. The necklace came to symbolize her life-giving power, and though many tried to steal it, including the trickster, Loki, Freya held onto it with fierce determination and supernatural authority.

For she is a goddess with magical powers and knowledge of Seidr, a form of Nordic shamanism that allows her to shapeshift into various animals from falcon, to sow/boar, to goat. She rides in a chariot drawn by two cats and is sometimes described wearing a white catskin cloak, gloves, and shoes, and at other times wearing a cape made of falcon feathers.

Freya shares some qualities with the Greek triple goddess, Persephone, Demeter and Hecate. She has the ability to resurrect after being killed in initiatory rites much like the Eleusinian mysteries allude to, and has the role of leader of the Valkyries, who bring half of the dead warriors from every battle to her (the other half going to Odin, who may or may not be her husband referred to as Od). She is adept in the magical arts like Hecate, a seer and spinner of the Great Wheel of life and death with all of its lustiness, messiness, and juiciness.

So enjoy, this frisky time of the waxing moon, Sisters and Brothers (Oh, did I mention that one of Freya’s lovers was her twin brother, Freyr, similar to Isis and Osiris, the holy rulers of the land who ensure fertility and abundance through their divine union?). These gods and goddesses remind us of our primal nature and connection to Mother Earth whose bounty we enjoy but often take for granted. Beltaine is a day to jump over the fire, have a picnic, “go-a Maying,” (or roll in the haying), and remember who our mother is.

In Honor of Gaia

We Have a Beautiful Mother

By Alice Walker

We have a beautiful

mother

Her hills

are buffaloes

Her buffaloes

hills.

We have a beautiful

mother

Her oceans

are wombs

Her wombs

oceans.

We have a beautiful

mother

Her teeth

the white stones

at the edge

of the water

the summer

grasses

her plentiful

hair.

We have a beautiful

mother

Her green lap

immense

Her brown embrace

eternal

Her blue body

everything we know.

HAPPY EARTH DAY. Every day we can... Give thanks. Pick up trash. Reuse. Recycle. Consume less. Use less plastic. Plant a tree. Grow a garden. Use less water. Give back.