Woman and the Owl

Over at the Woman and the Owl project, I was recently interviewed by Dr. Jessamine Dana, whose project is to cultivate and support women as spiritual leaders in all walks of life. I had the honor of being interviewed for her project, which you can watch here. We have both been drawn to the owl as kindred spirit and totem animal to women and our intuitive process. The owl has long been associated with the goddess, witches, wisdom, magic and the supernatural. To me the owl represents my inner voice, the place I go to within to hear answers. I wait and listen, often needing to let go of what I thought I knew or what I thought I was supposed to do, so that magic can happen.

As Jessamine Dana puts it, "The relationship between the woman and the owl is the complex connection and attraction between ourselves and our potential, between who we are and who we might become, and between the internal and the part of us that flies forward, exploring what the world might hold. The Project, is the work of going again and again into that place of mystery, of the unknown, of the Divine, from whence much of the spiritual feminine comes. It is the work of renewing our commitment to ourselves, our communities, our students, to be brave, to step forward, and to be us."

Aho.

A Goddess Pilgrimage: Magical Santorini - Part 4

"To Journey without being changed is to be a nomad.To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim."

- Mark Nepo


It was 3 months ago that I returned to the United States from my 3 week goddess pilgrimage to Greece. It has taken me that long to assimilate it all, to let it seep into my skin, settle in my bones, and animate my dreams...

The last stop of the trip, after leaving Crete and the wonderful journey there to meet the Minoan goddesses with 19 sister pilgrims, was 3 days in Santorini. I didn't know much about Santorini except that I was told it was breathtakingly beautiful. My friend and traveling companion, Diane Marshall, and I were pretty beat from the two-week pilgrimage, jokingly referred to as "goddess bootcamp."  It takes a lot out of you to traverse an island, climb mountain tops, descend into caves, dance, sing, create altars and rituals, and navigate a different culture, language, and people in a group of 20. Diane and I made a few last minute changes to our itinerary so we could enjoy a full 3 days of resting in Santorini, and we were so glad we did.

We took a boat the 70 miles from Crete to Santorini and arrived at a small semi-circular island whose towering cliffs jutted out from the sea like a giant cake. The white buildings that covered the tops of the cliffs looked like drizzled icing. It wasn't until we went up the steep roads to our hotel, the Volcano View, and collapsed in chairs on the cliffside patio that we gasped in amazement at the beauty of our surroundings.

I knew Santorini was on a caldera, or cauldron, formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption, but I now saw that this little slip of an island was actually one part of the circular edge of the volcano. There were a few other smaller islands that peeked up from the sea across from it which I now realized formed the other edge of the volcanic ring.

Wow! It hit me that we were perched on the rim of a volcano that had last erupted in 1450 BCE, and was now surrounded by water. We had heard much about this volcanic eruption on Crete because it was one of the factors that contributed to the demise of the rich, goddess-loving Minoan culture. We were to learn more about its effects here, at its epicenter, when this land was known as Thera and thought by some to have been the lost continent of Atlantis.

Diane and I spent the first day relaxing at the beautiful hotel that overlooked the sea and took in the calming blue and white of the sea, sky, clouds, cliffs and white-washed churches with blue-painted domes. All of Santorini seemed to be blue and white, colors that seemed to both calm us and cleanse us of our weariness.

We learned that there are more than 250 churches on the little island which takes no more than an hour and a half to traverse lengthwise. Here, the Virgin Mary was venerated and considered to be a guardian goddess of the island, comprised mostly of Greek Orthodox and some Catholics. We were to learn that some of these churches were built on sites that were once sacred to the goddesses of old, including Hecate, Artemis, and Isis, the latter due to the shared cultures of the Greeks and Egyptians during ancient times. Mary has had to stand in for the goddesses that were once revered in Her many forms.

The second day there, we rented a car and set out to explore the island. We were eager to visit the ruins of Akrotiri, a Minoan town that flourished until the volcano blew in 1450 BCE, changing the course of civilization in this area. When the volcano erupted, it covered the town in a thick layer of volcanic ash, much like Pompeii, preserving a portion of the town and many of the artifacts of life during that time, as if placed in a time capsule. It is one of the few excavations we visited that was enclosed to prevent further damage from the elements. As we entered, we saw two and three-story buildings that opened onto small squares, remnants of doors and windows, stone-paved roads, sophisticated sewer systems, furniture, utensils and earthenware jars lined up in basement storage rooms. It left one with the feeling that life was suddenly interrupted, although it is speculated that the people who lived there probably had time to evacuate as many earthquakes presaged the volcano's eruption.

In the midst of this gray, ashen ghost town, some buildings exhibited beautifully-painted frescoes on the walls. One in particular thrilled me as it showed what women of the time looked like, how they dressed and wore their hair. I especially loved the painting of the young priestess who seemed to be in motion and the life-sized female figures portrayed in the "House of Women" who seemed so vibrant.

 

 

 

From there, we wandered from black volcanic beaches to white pumice beaches to red lava stone beaches until we found the old settlement of Thera, perched on a hillside. I read about the tiny church halfway up the hill that was built on the site of an ancient temple of the goddess, and wanted to see it. Once again, as Jean Shinoda Bolen points out in Crossing to Avalon, one way of "usurping goddess sites was by building chapels or cathedrals in honor of Mary on them. As a feminine expression of divinity, Mary is archetypally the mother goddess. In all but name, this is how she is worshipped... For regardless of discriminating points made by theologians, the man or woman who prays to Mary is speaking to the same compassionate goddess whose names were, among others, Demeter, Isis, Tara, or Kuan Yin, goddesses who, like Mary, understood suffering.... When Mary chapels are built on goddess sites, they are, in effect, reconsecrated and renamed, places where it can be said that the Goddess continues to be honored."

After a full day of exploring, we made our way to the north tip of the island to the town of Oia where we were told the sunsets were spectacular. There, we sat on a rooftop patio and sipped wine and watched the sun go down along with throngs of others lined along the walls of the cliffside city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third day was spent just walking up and down the cobblestone streets of the quaint town of Fira, relaxing, shopping, always eating magnificent food and taking in the beauty around us.

It was hard to leave this magical isle. We wanted the days of keeping our gaze on the deep blue sea, sipping wine, and letting the warm wind blow through our hair until the sun dropped beneath the horizon to never end. But as all good things must, this journey, too, came to a glorious end in Santorini.

The pilgrimage to Greece to encounter the goddess was one that will always be a part of me, and that did indeed, transform me as I felt the presence of the goddess both within and without. For She is there. Wherever you seek Her, you will find Her. And I came to know, as did Morgaine, the last priestess of the goddess in The Mists of Avalon, who followed a young girl into a chapel at the end of the story "...even if they think otherwise... these women know the power of the Immortal. Exile her as they may, she will prevail. The Goddess will never withdraw herself from mankind."

 

A Goddess Pilgrimage: Crete - Part 3

As Carol Christ, our fearless leader, explained to us that first night in Crete, a pilgrimage is more than just a journey to a sacred place, it is a journey between states -- physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. In a way, when you are on a pilgrimage you are without a country. In starting a pilgrimage, you cross a threshold into a liminal state, where you often experience a sense of timelessness, if not another place in time. Pilgrims are on their own personal odyssey as well as on a collective odyssey with other seekers. In their book, The Archetype of Pilgrimage: Outer Action with Inner Meaning, Wallace and Jean Clift describe the various reasons for embarking on a pilgrimage:  to answer a call to adventure (one of the first stages Joseph Campbell described in "The Hero's Journey"); to experience a place of power; to hope and ask for healing or a miracle; to express a love of God (or Goddess); to find or reclaim lost pieces of ourselves; to give thanks; to ask for forgiveness; to leave the routine of ordinary life and experience something new or numinous; and to prepare for death. On this last point, it would seem we are always preparing for death, albeit often unconsciously, and going on a pilgrimage can feel like one of those things you need to do before you die. In many respects, all of these reasons compelled me to go on Carol Christ's Goddess Pilgrimage, a 2-week sojourn she has been leading in the spring and fall for 20 years.

The night before we left Athens for Crete, I put on some music (Gabrielle Roth's CD, Luna) and danced on the rooftop of our hotel, where I had a stunning view of the Acropolis, awash in golden light. I was celebrating the initiation I had experienced at Delphi and preparing myself for our morning sight-seeing at the Acropolis, afternoon releasing ceremony at Eleusis, and evening flight to Crete the following day. Dancing in the moonlight I felt the energy of the priestess. I was integrating the mysteries I had already experienced and initiating myself for those to come.

The next night, we landed in Crete and met our sister travelers on the rooftop of our hotel in Heraklion under a full moon. There were 20 of us, including Carol and two sets of mother and daughter travelers. I knew my mother was a part of this journey in spirit, and felt her presence strongly at times as I continued to both grieve and celebrate our life together. My sister pilgrims and I shared a little about ourselves and why we were there, starting with the affirmation, which would become a familiar refrain, "I am whole, I am here, I am... " and say our name.

"I am whole, I am here, I am Stephanie." And so began the pilgrimage on the beautiful island of Crete, where the ancient, yet advanced, Minoan civilization honored the goddess of earth, sea and sky.

The first stop was the palace or sacred center of Knossos, built around 2,000 BCE on sacred grounds where people had lived and worshipped since Neolithic times (6,000 BCE and before). We silently walked in procession through these ruins, some of which were partially reconstructed by the archeologist, Arthur Evans, in the early 1900s. This was where the snake goddesses, which I was thrilled to see in the Heraklion Museum, were found.

The palace of Knossos is where the King-Priest Minos and Queen-Priestess Pasiphae were thought to have lived, as well as the half-man/half-beast minotaur, in the center of the labyrinth. Some surmise that the myth of Theseus slaying the minotaur with the help of the princess/goddess, Ariadne, whom he later abandoned, represents the end of the worship of the goddess and the beginning of the patriarchy on Crete and throughout Greece, as Theseus was a warrior king from Athens.

What was most likely enacted here before the patriarchy was the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage between the priest and priestess who wore masks of the bull and cow, representing the joining of the sacred masculine and the sacred feminine, or the sun and the moon.  This celebratory pageant, attended by all members of the community, included the connubium, or consummation rite, and ended with the coronation of the king and queen in the center of the labyrinth. The mural depicting the "ladies of the court" were likely priestesses, dancers who led the procession and circled around the royal couple. The bull was sacrificed as part of the marriage feast to ensure fertility across the land. These rites were once widely celebrated at the sacred centers of the Minoans, for they were an egalitarian society in which the goddess was honored as the ubiquitous, life-giving force that She was.

We were to visit many other sacred centers of Minoan culture throughout the two week pilgrimage. We would weave in and out of the stone passageways and crumbled  foundations, imagining what it would have been like to live in these village centers where the people practiced sacred rituals as part of their everyday life. Virtually all of these sites had stone altars, many in the form of kernos stones, giant table-like slabs, with bowls carved into them for the placement of offerings.

Many of these sites had lustral baths, large cisterns or small rooms filled with water in which people passed and cleansed themselves before taking part in sacred ceremonies. There were storerooms with giant pithos jars that were used to hold the olive oil and wine. Many of these centers were built over and over again after maurauding invaders set fire to them or earthquakes ravaged them. At times, we would feel the veil was thin between present time and days of yore, and we could feel, if not hear, the priestesses dancing and singing or sense the panicked state of those who fled from impending danger.

 

This introduction to Minoan culture was followed by a much anticipated visit to the Paliani Convent, an old convent (from about 668 CE) and the sacred myrtle tree that is said to be over 1000 years old. Sue Monk Kidd described her visit there (while she was on Carol's pilgrimage) in her book, Traveling With Pomegranates, and the granting of her wish to write a novel after being a non-fiction writer for many years. The Secret Life of Bees, which featured the black Madonna as a prominent character, would be her first book of fiction.  I looked forward to visiting this sacred tree as I have always loved the spirit of trees, and this one was magnificent.

 

 

The story goes that after the Turkish invasion in 1821, the convent was destroyed, but an icon of the Virgin Mary was found in the tree. The nuns moved it into the church, but the next day it was found back in the tree. As many times as they tried to take it in, She made her way back to the Tree of Life. And so she has remained there, now entirely encompassed by the arms of the great tree (a smaller replica hangs on the branches for all to see).

Here, we said prayers, asked for healing, and tied a ribbon on the tree in remembrance. We each took a small piece of the myrtle tree from fallen twigs, wrapped the same color ribbon around it, and brought it home with us. One member of our group shared that she had experienced an instantaneous healing of a problem she had been having for months. The nuns who lived there were sweet and welcoming, and we felt Mary's presence.

The highlights of the pilgrimage for me were the rituals we performed at altars we created in various settings, from a Tholos, or rock tomb on the top of a hill, where we all took part in a ritual to honor our ancestors, to ones we performed in some of the caves we visited, which very much felt like being in the womb of the Great Mother, to those we built on mountaintops with panoramic views of Crete and the surrounding seas. We each bought a Minoan snake goddess to represent us on the altars. We would bring liquids for libations to pour onto them, including clear spring water, wine, and honey, as well as seeds, stones and talismans we wanted to bless.

Our arduous climb down into the depths of the first cave, Skoteino, which means "dark," was a profound experience for me. As we entered the cave, I heard a fluttering of wings and a white dove, symbol of Aphrodite, flew out. She is an ancient mother goddess I have felt a strong connection to so I felt this was a sign of her presence.

We created a beautiful altar and releasing ceremony, where I was able to not only let go of the hurt between my mother and me, but lifetimes of pain in my motherline that freed us all.  We then descended two more levels and ten of us made our way down into Her womb. There we extinguished our lights and sat in complete darkness, meditating. I felt such peace and connection to the divine as I sat upon the moist, red Mother Earth and envisioned being held in her great lap. In each of the five caves we visited we sang songs to Her, the walls reverberating with the sound of twenty women's voices, as if we were in a cathedral. And, so we were -- the cathedral of the divine feminine.

In these two intense weeks of travel, we got to experience the beauty of Crete, from beaches to mountains, caves, gorges, lakes, and plains. We sang songs to the goddess on the bus as we zig-zagged across Crete. We rode donkeys to the cave of Zeus. We sat in the roots of a 2,000 year old tree that all 20 of us together could just wrap our arms around. We wandered the streets of many a town in search of treasures and adventure.

We got to know the people who lived there, simply but happily close to the earth and her bounty, and those who ran small inns and tavernas.

 

 

 

 

We feasted on many gorgeous meals of fresh vegetables, fruits, the most delicious homemade yogurt, feta, bread, local honey, and olives of every variety that most taverna owners harvested from their own orchards after the tourist season ended. And always the raki, the distilled wine aperitif that was served with every meal. Yamas!

It was always a treat to pluck a ripe pomegranate from the trees that flourished there.

 

We met women who were hand crafters in the old tradition of weaving on looms, creating intricate embroidery, and lace-making. We learned of the hidden motifs of the goddess, the tree of life, the snake, and other symbols of the feminine divine that have been woven into fabrics and piece-work for centuries. While Greece is very much a patriarchal country, which was evident in the roles we saw played out, archetypes of the goddess are still evident in many weavings.

handwork with goddess motif

We danced traditional Balkan and Greek dances under the leadership of Laura Shannon, who leads women's ritual dances around the world and whom we were privileged to have with us.

We savored our days off in beautiful locales like the small mountain resort, Zaros, the picturesque fishing village of Mochlos (I want to go back to both of those dreamy places one day) and the small coastal city, Agios Nikolaos, where I behld the goddess in the sunrise.

The weather was warm and clear as was the sea we swam in more days than not. There is nothing like eating and drinking at a seaside taverna and then plunging into the warm waters that lap at the shore. At Mochlos, we could swim to a small island and explore the ruins of a sacred center of the Minoan culture that was once attached to the land.

This pilgrimage to the goddess of ancient Minoan culture was a journey that has continued to play out in my dreams and memories. It all started with a dream I had last year of standing on a Grecian cliff and noticing some undiscovered temple stones beneath my feet and realizing that I had found one of Aphrodite's forgotten temples by the sea. To me, this symbolizes the rising of the goddess and the shift of consciousness that is slowly taking place that will include once again an embrace of the divine feminine. For all of us who shared this pilgrimage we truly came to know She is there for all who seek Her.

Be sure and read Parts 1 and 2 and the conclusion of my journey to magical Santorini in Part 4.

If you wish to explore the goddesses on your own, I offer e-courses that you can learn more about by going here:  New Moon Goddess Mystery School and here: Goddess Temple e-courses

If you are interested in taking the goddess pilgrimage to Crete with Carol Christ in the spring or fall, you can find out more by clicking here: Ariadne Institute 

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.

A Goddess Pilgrimage: Initiation at Delphi - Part 1

I came to Greece to go on a two-week goddess pilgrimage to Crete, with a few days added on either end to explore mainland Greece and Santorini. The journey truly began for me that moment when I crossed into liminal time and space at the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia at Delphi.

Liminality, from the Latin word līmen, meaning "threshold," has been defined as "the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete." (Wikipedia). Websters defines it as "of or relating to a sensory threshold."

My friend, Diane Marshall, and I had arrived in Athens the day before we went to Delphi, just as a general strike of workers was called and all public transportation, tourist destinations, and museums were shut down. We wandered around Athens that first day, somewhat jet-lagged, but excited to take in this sprawling world capital city. "Just stay away from the parliamentary buildings," we were told, "and you'll be fine." And where we roamed, through the famous plaka, the old, historical "Neighborhood of the Gods" at the foot of the Acropolis, there were no signs of protests or unrest. In fact, it was a little quieter than usual due to the strike and people staying home from work, which made it easier to acclimate to our surroundings.

We took in the agora, the ruins of the old Roman marketplace, which once had homes and shops lining the Sacred Way that led to the Acropolis, where magnificent buildings, including the Parthenon and Temple to Athena, once stood as a fortress overlooking the city. We could not go up to the Acropolis on this day, so we walked and walked and enjoyed eating the healthy and delicious Mediterranean cuisine at the open-air cafes, or tavernas, grounding ourselves as much as possible on our first day in a country neither of us had been to before.

On our second day, we were happy to leave the energy of the city and head to the mountains, to Delphi, a couple of hours from Athens. I was excited to see Delphi as I was fascinated by what I knew of the oracles at Delphi, priestesses who prophesied for people who made the pilgrimage there to seek their counsel. Since we were on a tour with only a couple of hours to spend at Delphi, we were taken to the more recently erected Sanctuary of Apollo (6th c. BCE) built on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.

In ancient times when the goddess reigned and the Mycenaeans, an early agrarian, peace-loving people who worshiped Her, inhabited the area (1500 to 1100 BCE), the first prophetess, Herophile, sat on top of a rock, known as the Sibyl Rock, and prophesied next to the omphalos, or navel of the earth mother, Gaia. Leaders and people from near and far came to hear the gifted oracle's prophesies, which included the foretelling of the Trojan War. But then about 1000 BCE, the Dorians overtook the Mycenaean villages that included a sacred spring and cave with vapors emanating from deep below that were said to have trance-inducing properties. These invaders brought their god, Apollo, with them and instated him there.

The story goes that Apollo had to fight and kill the giant python, the offspring of Gaia, that guarded the sacred Castalian Spring so that he could establish his own temple and oracle. This would presage the end of the worship of the Great Mother earth goddess, and the beginning of a patriarchal culture represented by the Hellenic gods and goddesses, some of whom were preempted and reconstructed from the attributes ascribed to the ancient mother. But these new gods and goddesses behaved much more like humans, acting out qualities of both light and shadow, such as love, generosity, wisdom as well as jealousy, narcissism, and vengefulness.

Symbolically, the male god killing the snake, a primordial symbol of the goddess, made a fitting myth for the beginning of the cult of Apollo, also establishing his might and power over the region. Apollo is said to have arrived riding on the backs of dolphins which became his priests in the temple. Some myths say he made the sailors who brought him his priests. These priests became intermediaries to the new oracle, a priestess known as the Pythia, a woman chosen for her deep, intuitive abilities. She sat upon a tall tripod in an underground chamber inside the temple, chewing on laurel leaves, and breathing in the hallucinogenic and noxious fumes that emanated from the underground fissures as she prophesied. (The priestess had to be replaced every so often as this was a dangerous and often deadly calling, owing to the poisonous fumes. One can't help but consider that enclosing her in a chamber is what made this job fatal, whereas before the patriarchy took over, she was on a rock in the open air where she would not be in danger.)

While it was interesting to contemplate this story and see these temples, I felt called to go down to Athena's temple across the road and down into a ravine below Apollo's temple. On the way, I passed the Castalian spring, the same water source that has flowed down from the mountains since ancient times. In the past, those who came to the oracle for guidance, would anoint and purify themselves at the spring. I stopped and drank from the spring and used it as holy water, touching it to my pulse points, third eye, and heart. I walked down the road towards the temple of the goddess I had blogged about last month, thinking about her qualities as protector and patroness of Athens, where I had just been. I thought about her earlier origins, where she was not seen as a warrior goddess, but as a patroness of arts and crafts, particularly weaving. She, too, had been co-opted by the patriarchy.

As I started down the path leading to her temple, I noticed that a tourist group was boarding their bus, leaving the place empty. I was delighted to be going down to her temple by myself so that I could perform a ritual. I pulled from my medicine bag a beautiful, blue, double-lobed celestite stone that a friend and sister from my Goddess temple e-course had gifted me. I had brought it as my talisman for the trip. Its properties help you feel harmonious and peaceful under times of stress, and as I knew traveling in a foreign country can bring its own kind of stress, I wanted to have it as a calming touchstone. It was also said to open one to new experiences and connection with the divine.

As I approached the remaining foundation stones of Athena's temple, I felt the stone grow warm in my hands and decided to set it down and charge it in the bright sunlight that beat down on the dark stones. I circled the temple wondering if I should leave the stone as an offering to Athena. I was torn since I wanted it for my protection and yet, it was a beautiful offering to this goddess who I felt was initiating me into this world of ancient and modern Greece.

I stood on the temple stones where many hundreds of years ago, priestesses had walked. I imagined what it must have been like when there were temple walls, altars, and sacred rites going on here. I held the celestite in one hand and asked Athena for protection on my travels, openness to new experiences and people, and to the mystery that I knew was unfolding. Then it seemed as if the gem leaped from my hand. I heard it hit the hard floor and I saw half of it roll away and fall into a crevice in the middle of the temple. The other half of the gem lay at my feet. I picked it up and held it in wonderment. Athena had answered my question with such an obvious solution. She would take one half and I would take the other with me, and so we would be joined in divine sisterhood.

I slowly walked out of this sacred sanctuary changed, enlivened, moved. I had crossed the threshold into a feeling I would carry with me over the next 3 weeks in Greece and even back home with me. It has taken a month for me to start feeling back on the ground of my country, home, family and work. Now I am in the process of integration, of deep rest and the need for more sleep, for any crossing into liminal time and space changes you, maybe even shatters you, in some way. This kind of dismembering is good and necessary for transformation. I would say there is no going back: you are changed on some level by crossing such a threshold, through ritual that brings about a shift in consciousness, by experiencing life in a different culture, setting, and even time. For my journey felt like one that embraced many lifetimes. I had a sense that I was able to move thought the past, to have glimpses of what life was like hundreds of years ago -- a remembering -- and at the same time be present to what was happening in this lifetime in a rather fluid, dreamy way. This was the initiation of my pilgrimage that in many ways, I am still on, and will always be on.

Stay tuned for future installments: Part 2, The Mother-Daughter Story, where I recount my healing journey to Eleusis, the place where the Eleusinian mysteries and the story of Demeter and Persephone played out for thousands of years; followed by Part 3, Goddess Boot Camp, the 2-week, life-changing odyssey on the island of Crete with 20 sister pilgrims; and Part 4, Santorini Magic.

 

Psyche’s Journey and the Creative Process

In my Goddess Temple e-course to meet the Alchemical Goddesses, you take a similar journey as Psyche, the woman who became a goddess. If you want to know Who is Psyche? you can read about her here. I am fascinated by this story because there are so many ways to understand it. One way to look at Psyche’s journey is the one presented by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson in his book, She, as symbolic of feminine psychology, the way we women tend to operate and face challenges as distinct from masculine psychology (which he defines in the book, He).

Another way is to look at Psyche’s journey as symbolic of the creative process. Each time we take on a creative project or endeavor, whether it’s starting a business, writing a story, committing paintbrush to canvas, starting a new course of study, or any number of ways we enter the creative realm, we are faced with obstacles and challenges, fears and doubts, breakthroughs, growth, and jubilation.

The first obstacle might be characterized as the terror of beginning. It often feels overwhelming to look at the journey ahead and all that we need to accomplish to bring our creation to fruition when we are at the starting point. Where and how do we begin? The blank canvas, the blank page -- facing the unknown -- can be daunting.

The first of Psyche’s tasks is sorting a huge pile of seeds. The task of sorting is a good way into the creative process. Whether it’s words on a page that have to be organized, paint colors and media that have to be decided on, classes that have to be selected, or choosing the steps needed to make a business a success, we are needing to sort through ideas, words, concepts, materials.

Sometimes we need to organize our office or studio and clear out the clutter, and as we do so, sort through the wheat and the chaff in our head, before we feel prepared to embark on the creative journey. A jumble of words and ideas will need to be sorted into coherent sentences, some edited out. The colors and image chosen for a painting may get painted over as a new image and colors emerge that we like better. So many decisions need to be made as we start the process of bringing our creations to life, decisions that may be changed a hundred times as we sort through what matters most.

Psyche’s seed-sorting task speaks to this aspect of beginning the creative process. It is a winnowing of ideas, of discerning what’s important and vital to our vision, and what’s not.

Psyche despairs about doing this seemingly impossible task, but she is able to do it with the help of the ants. Ants represent patience, taking one step at a time, moving one kernel at a time, until the job gets done. So as we begin to create, it’s important to step into the mess or chaos of not knowing and begin with one thing. And then another, and another, whittling away until the vision starts to take form and we’re in it!

The second task Psyche has to accomplish is to obtain a bit of golden fleece from a fierce and potentially deadly ram in a field. She can’t see how to do this and almost gives up in despair until she hears the reeds whisper to her a way. All she has to do is wait for the right time, when the rams are on the other side of the field, and pluck some fleece from the bushes! That’s like one of those moments when you say to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that? Of course!” This is when we discover that there is an easier way to do something than we had thought or than we have been doing. And we start to do it that way now because we have learned a more efficient and clever way to do something, but we had to do it a different way or sit with the dilemma for a while first.

This often happens in the creative process when we’re stuck. We’re frustrated and don’t know how we’re going to proceed or how to solve a problem and we may think about giving up because it’s just too hard! This is when we need to pause, wait, and listen. Just when Psyche was about to give up, the inner voice whispered an answer. If we can learn to wait for it and listen, many times we will find the solution.

Sometimes we need to sit on something, sleep on it, or otherwise take a break and come back to it with new eyes. By biding her time, Psyche was able to get the prize in a way that did not require that much effort. We forget sometimes that the easiest way may be the best way. We may realize that we’re making something harder than it needs to be. This is the lesson of the second task: Stopping to see what our choices are and letting the answer come to us. If we can hang in there and not give up, and stay open and ready to receive, the answer invariably arrives. It may come from our own inner knowing, from a dream, or it may come from an outside source, a synchronistic event. This is a matter of trust.

The third task involved Psyche being sent to the River Styx, the boundary between the Earth and the Underworld, where dead souls pass over, and which is guarded by all manner of monsters and beasts. She is to fill a goblet with water from the dark river and bring it to Aphrodite. Again, Psyche is ready to give up, knowing that she cannot approach the river under these circumstances. She is helped by an eagle, who carries the cup to the water, fills it, and brings it back to her. The eagle was summoned by Eros who asked Zeus to intercede and send the eagle. This points to the need for helpers, support, and the ability to gain perspective.

There comes a time in most creative endeavors when we must ask for help, feedback, or support. Again, we may be trying to do things the hard way, all alone, and feel that we are working in a vacuum. Like the eagle, we need to be able to fly overhead and look down on our situation and ask: What help do I need? Who or what can assist me and help me overcome these obstacles and accomplish my goal?

We also want to be careful of the trap of stubbornly insisting upon doing things our way, on our own, with no help. The creative process needs to be fluid and active, like the river, and we need to consider all of our resources and tools and not be closed to outside help, however it may come. The intervention of the masculine forces in the myth, suggests marshaling that part of our psyche that can logically figure out what needs to be done, swoop in, and do it without letting fear stop us. The feminine is the allowing, receiving, and being open to intuitive wisdom and guidance. The gift of overview, the eagle eye, can help us see what needs to be done more clearly.

The fourth task Psyche is faced with is to go down into the Underworld and obtain a box of beauty from Persephone, who rules there. She is not supposed to open the box, but we already know Psyche is a curious woman, who couldn’t resist looking upon the face of her lover. So, of course, like most of us would be inclined to do, she peeked into the box. And then something came over her that caused her to fall into a deep sleep and near-death. Fortunately, Eros (again, the masculine part of our own psyche that knows when it’s time to act) flew in and revived her.

We could see this as Psyche being a bit too passive, overwhlemed and immobilized by ideas and things to be done, not to mention the myriad obstacles before her, that she can’t quite get up the motivation and energy to meet the task and complete it. She gets off-course by looking into the box even though she has been advised not to. This symbolizes the things that distract us and pull us off our path, procrastination, or things that we know are destructive to our creative process, but we do them anyway in an unconscious act of self-sabotage.

It is often at the end point or near the end of a creative project, that we want to give up and are tempted to abandon it, leaving it by the wayside, incomplete and unfinished. It is the masculine component of our psyche that helps us to wake up, activate, organize, and get the job done. We may need to step back and reconnoiter, and call in our inner warrior to help us move past these last barriers to accomplishing our dreams.

Thus reunited and joined as Psyche and Eros in divine union, we reach the pinnacle of the creative process when our inner feminine (thoughts, ideas, imagination, inspiration) and masculine (acting, doing, accomplishing, manifesting) are working together harmoniously and are able to give birth to new life. The wedding of Psyche and Eros represents living out our creative potential and the divine child they give birth to is our own creative dream brought to life.

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.

Brigid, Triple Goddess of the Fire

In Celtic tradition, February 2, Imbolc or Candlemas is celebrated. This is the time when Brigid or Bride, makes her presence known. She is goddess of the fire; Imbas was the word that described inspiration that came from her creative and transformational fire. Imbolc refers to the time when the ewes are lactating in preparation to give birth to their lambs in spring, just six weeks away. it is a time for the maiden Brigid to bring in the light so as to usher the old crone of winter out and let the sunshine in.

Brigid's triple aspect is as goddess of poetry, smithing, and healing. The fire is important to each of these crafts. The poet receives enlightenment and passion from the fire, and the stories and poems told by the bards were like fire themselves, unable to be harnessed, touched or held. They could only be passed from mouth to ear in a sacred way by those who were skilled in the art of storytelling. Both the white-hot fire of the blacksmith that shapes lumps of metal into useful objects, as well as the healing fire of the hearth that boils the herbs and potions, bring about transmutation. And so it is with each of us as we honor Brigid's fiery presence. She has the power to enlighten us.

When Christianity usurped the worship of the goddess, St. Brigid was born in the fifth century CE, with many of the same attributes as the beloved goddess of yore. St. Brigid was born at sunrise just as her mother crossed the threshold of her home, associating her with the idea of liminality--existing between worlds. There were many legends about St. Brigid's connection to fire, like the goddess of her namesake. One such is that when she was an infant, she was left in the house while her mother tended the animals. Neighbors saw great flames of fire engulfing the roof of her house and rushed to her. But when they reached her, there were no flames or burnt remains. She was said to perform miracles, like the magical goddess herself, healing the afflicted, bringing stillborn babes to life, and having a never-depleted cauldron of food for those who were hungry.

St. Brigid's fire is still tended by 19 nuns in Kildare, Ireland and never allowed to go out. Tonight I gather with a group of women who celebrate these sabbats as the Great Wheel turns, and we will all light candles from one that was lit from Brigid's sacred flame in Kildare. I invite you to light a candle in honor of the returning sun, the bright goddess, and the passions that stir within each of us.

Kuan-Yin & the Year of the Dragon

Happy New Moon and Chinese New Year! It is my birthday today, on the cusp of the New Moon in Aquarius on January 22 and the Chinese New Year on January 23, when the Year of the Dragon commences.

I have this very picture of Kuan-Yin, goddess of compassion, mercy, magic, and fertility on my wall. Her name means "one who perceives sounds," which means she can hear the cries and prayers of the people, particularly the children of the world.

She is often depicted riding a dragon over the sea. The dragon is an ancient symbol of power, wisdom and transformation. As we enter the year of the dragon, which occurs every 12 years, we can be sure that this will be a year of getting things done on both the spiritual and physical plane.

Whatever you set your mind to this year, you have the strength and power of the dragon to propel you forward. In Chinese astrology, each animal of the year is paired with one of the five elements, and this is the year of the water dragon, also bringing Kwan Yin to mind.

So this is the time to find compassion for ourselves and others, a year to transform on a feeling (water) level, and to complete whatever needs to be healed or transmuted. Water calms the fiery dragon, so there may not be as much upheaval and anger both on an inner and outer level with this tranquil influence.

How auspicious as we enter this new moon in Aquarius, the water bearer, we also welcome the water dragon. We can call in the great bodhisattva (near-Buddha), Kuan-Yin, who vowed never to forsake us as long as there was one human being who had not yet seen the light of truth. She is with us, another form of the Great Mother protector, whenever we need her. We're in good hands.

If I were adrift upon the ocean

with demons and dragons all around.

I would think of sweet Kuan-Yin

and the hungry waters would subside.

If I were trapped within a furnace

as hot as hell's own blazes,

I would think of Kuan-Yin's power,

and the flames would turn to water.

If enemies pursued me, if I were thrown

from a high mountain peak, if knives

were raised against me, if I were imprisoned

or beset by beasts, I would call on her.

Her pity shields me from the lightning.

Her compassion is like a cloud around me,

which rains down sweetness and

puts out the fires of my sorrow.

- Chinese prayer to Kuan-Yin

Yemaya, Goddess of the New Year

Ready to plunge into the New Year, Sisters?

Yemaya, Yoruba goddess of the ocean, is one of my favorite goddesses. She is Mama Wata, Star of the Sea, Stella Maris, a Mother Creator goddess who gives birth to us in the New Year as we give birth to ourselves, with new skin, fresh eyes, and an open heart.

She grants wishes, midwifes our dreams into reality, buoys us to dance in the creative waters, helps us flow through life and swim in the liquid pools of our being. She encourages us to dive deep and find the essence of our soul's yearnings and bring them up to the surface. She invites us to play like little seals and otters, allowing our creative juices to spill out and over the canvas of our lives.

There is no right or wrong, she says, when it comes to creating. Follow your intuition, let it flow! It doesn't matter whether you step in and slowly find your footing, wading further and further out, or jump in feet first. She opens her arms to you. The water's fine.

I accidentally brought this goddess into being three years ago before I knew much about her and before I started working with her intentionally. When I was creating my SoulCollage® card for my sacral chakra, center of creativity and emotions, sensuality and sexuality, I journeyed to meet my animal ally of this place.

There I was met by a manatee, a great, soft, gentle creature, which can be found in both salt and fresh waters. Manatees were once mistaken for mermaids because of their feminine, cowlike form. In the image I created, I included a mermaid queen who fed the manatee of my creative chakra. Behind her danced the goddess, Thetis, a Greek sea nymph, who like Yemaya, represents fertility, as well as pleasures found in dancing and singing. Only later, as I actively explored the mythology of the mermaid goddess Yemaya, did I realize that I had already met her and cast her in the important role of feeding my creative soul.

I started actively working with her in 2010 and got to know her well, calling upon her by literally sending a message in a bottle to her by dropping it into the ocean. She heard my call and helped me give birth to my SoulWork book, In the Lap of the Goddess: Connecting With the Divine Feminine in 2011. I kept the SoulCollage® card I made of her archetype (below) next to my computer as I worked. I thought sometimes of my creative work as the steady drip, drip, drip of water until it forms a pool. At times I imagined myself swimming around in the murky depths until I found clarity. I saw myself opening shells and finding pearls. I honored her with a chapter in the book about working with this creator goddess. With Yemaya's help, I persistently kept moving through, diving deep and resurfacing, again and again.

And I call upon her now as I take another leap in 2012. My dreams include:

  • adding another chapter to my book on Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. This chapter will be on self-love and self-care.
  • launching Goddess Temple, where I will offer 2 e-courses based on my book, the first of which will run from March 4 - 31, and will explore The Triple Goddess, the maiden, mother and crone within each of us.
  • sending my workbook to publishers to secure a book deal, which I envision in an expanded form with more goddess goodness to work and play with
  • traveling to Greece to visit the sacred goddess sites, temples and caves, and soak in the Mediterranean beauty

Remember, Sisters, Dream Big. Size Matters.

What are your wishes and dreams for the New Year? Yemaya is waiting to hear your call.

Go here to register for the Goddess Temple e-course, a 4-week exploration of The Triple Goddess, Persephone, the maiden, Demeter, the Mother, and Hecate, the crone using my SoulWork book, In the Lap of the Goddess (discount available if you've already purchased the book):  Goddess Temple

Cerridwyn and the Winter Solstice

I am Cerridwyn, daughter of Wales. I live alone on an island in the middle of Llyn Tegid (now Bala Lake). Some call me a hag witch, which I consider a compliment for they are only acknowledging my powers as a holy woman, a fierce healer. I have two children, a daughter, Creidwy, and a son, Morfran, who I would fight to the death to protect from harm's way. And that is what I do for you, my children, protect and guide you through the dark nights of winter.

For this is a time to be brewing new potions in your cauldron for the coming year. It is time now to sit by the hearth fire and stir the thick soup, letting it simmer over the long dark nights to come. Don't be afraid to add new ingredients, to play with the recipe. I encourage you to add generous dollops of Courage, magnums of Inspiration, and heaping cupfuls of Trust. Circle the cauldron throughout the winter months, remembering its power, touching the container of life, death and rebirth, the never ending cycle, the beginning and the end.

Seek the light in the pregnant darkness. Gestate. Care for yourself. Renew. Restore. Release. And do it now my children, on December 22, the longest night of the year, when the sun appears to stand still in the sky. It is the time to release all that has been accumulating and weighing you down so that you can make way for the new.

I invite you to follow the lead of my sister, Pixie Campbell, as she guides you in the Mother of All Releasings Ceremony: Winter Solstice, 2012.

Happy Solstice!

Winter Solstice Blessing by Stacy Anne Murphy

Shed away your tired old coats my darlings. Shed the tears that tear you from within. Like a snake who has outgrown her skin, writhe and scrape until the dull old scales fall away.

Slough off the remnants of your worn-out self. Peel away the layers that no longer suit you, that constrict you, so a shiny, smooth, lissome you emerges.

Glide effortlessly into the new year adaptable, flexible, amenable, joyful.

Enter your new beginning with grace, warm, bright, glistening, grace.

Lakshmi and the Taurus Moon

On this Taurus full moon, with the pulsing energy of 11/11/11, a time of wish-fulfillment upon us, the goddess Lakshmi asks us to check in with our self-worth and to own our power as creative women deserving of abundance. Lakshmi is the Shakti or activating female goddess counterpart of Vishnu, the preserver of all life. She is much like the Greek goddess Aphrodite; both are seen as ancient Mother Goddesses who are said to have been born from the ocean, the Great Mother's womb.  They are goddesses of love, beauty, fertility, and abundance.

Taurus is governed by Venus, the planet named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty. A Taurus full moon helps us bring into being that which we have been longing for and to get our needs met in ways that are self-fulfilling and rewarding to us.

Lakshmi wants us to know our self-worth and act from this place of personal power. When doubt and fear creep in, Lakshmi can help us transform these shadowy energies into confidence and love, and create a bountiful harvest.

Lakshmi reminds us of our wealth, both on a soul level and on the earthly plane. She reminds us that the Universe is abundant and plentiful. We have all we need and more. If we're feeling needy and lacking, where is this idea coming from? What old story are we telling ourselves that may need to change so that we can embrace the life-giving, loving, sustaining energy of the Goddess Lakshmi?

Lakshmi stands on a lotus, a symbol of spiritual enlightenment and beauty. By seeing and embracing our own inner beauty and the beauty that surrounds us, we allow our perception to create our reality. This is our secret power, simple but profound. As we change the way we see things, our reality shifts and reflects how we think about ourselves and the world.

I am whatever is. Whatever is, I am. I am whatever is visible. Whatever is visible, I am. I am whatever is invisible. Whatever is invisible, I am. I am whatever is alive. Whatever is alive, I am. I am whatever moves and breathes. Whatever moves and breathes, I am.

I am the very spirit of life. The very spirit of life, I am. Everything that exists in time is part of me. I am everything that exists. When time ends, I will end. I will vanish, disappear, dissolve. And with me, everything else will vanish, disappear, dissolve. I alone can create, and I alone destroy, this universe.

Everything that exists is mine. Everything that exists is me.

- Invocation to Lakshmi, India

The questions to ask yourself now are:

What is it I want to manifest?

What is my plan to fulfill it?

How am I living or not living in abundance?

How might I be giving my power away?

How can I own my power and manifest my dreams?

What am I willing to let go of that may be in the way of making this happen?

What do I need to add to my life or change to make this transformation complete?

How can I better love myself?

How can I better love others?

Namaste.

Hecate and the Threefold Path

If you see an old woman walking down the road one dark moonless night, take heed, because that may be the "Distant One" who has words of wisdom for you. Be kind to the woman who stands at the crossroads for that is said to be the threshold to the underworld, the realm of Hecate and the maiden-turned-queen, Persephone.

And if you come upon such a crossroads, leave an offering for Hecate's supper.

If you honor her, she will honor you by showing up whenever you need help, whenever you stand at a crossroads and need to make an important decision, a choice about which direction to take.

She is the one who will stand beside you and help you summon the courage to step into your power, to listen to that inner voice that knows what is the right decision for you in that moment.

She is the one who will help you hear the answers that your ancestors have to give you if you will but ask and listen.

She is the one who protects you in remote places, when you have lost your bearings, when you feel trapped, hemmed in, without a safety net.

She is the one who is the Dark Mother, who will hold you in the blackness until the first streams of light illuminate your path.

She is the one who midwifes you through your own birth, death, and rebirth and who helps lost souls pass over.

Hecate is one of the oldest manifestations of the triple goddess and her power is in threes:  

She embodies the three faces of the goddess: maiden, mother and crone. Sometimes she is depicted as having three animal heads: lion, snake and dog or at other times the dog, horse, and bear.

She travels with three black hounds or some say the three-headed dog, Cerebrus.

She stands at the crossroads where three roads meet. From there, she can see into the dimensions of past, present and future.

She is the moon in its three phases of waxing, waning, and full.

She walks between the three realms of earth, sky, and the underworld, where she presides over the passages of birth, life, and death or of birth, death and rebirth, a reflection of the moon's phases.

She represents the three stages of the mysteries of agriculture: the green corn (Kore, the young maiden), the ripe ear (Persephone, the queen) and the harvested corn, symbolized by Hecate, herself.

She is a goddess of magic and transformation and carries three sacred objects: a key, a rope and a dagger. Use these symbols to help you unlock the wisdom of the ancient mysteries.

The key is the way into the underworld, where we must go to transmute fear into love and bring unconscious stirrings into the conscious light of day.

The rope is the umbilical cord that when cut allows us to experience rebirth, renewal and enter a new cycle.

The dagger, like Kali's sword, cuts through the illusion of control and duality and allows us to see things in greater dimension, no longer in black and white, either/or possibilities. She helps us give up control when its needed to allow magical transformation to occur.

Hecate represents our medial nature, our ability to see beyond the ordinary, and thus she can help bring magic and mystery into our lives.

Hecate, daughter of Nyx or Ancient Night, is with us now, during the dark, new moon and especially on Samhain, October 31.

It is on October 31 that the veil between the worlds is said to be most transparent, and a good time to converse with the ancestors, leave offerings, and discard what no longer serves us into the fire. What do you need to release? Halloween is a good night to name it and cast it into the fire.

Hecate stirs the cauldron of creativity. What is brewing in your cauldron tonight? The new moon is a good time to start a new project or claim a path you want to take and step onto the road with Hecate at your side.

The Dark Mother: Snake Goddess

I am the Darkness behind and beneath the shadows. I am the absence of air at the bottom of every breath.

I am the Ending before Life begins again, the Decay that fertilizes the Living.

I am the Bottomless Pit, the never-ending struggle to reclaim that which is denied.

I am the Key that unlocks every Door.

I am the Glory of Discovery, for I am that which is hidden, secluded and forbidden.

- excerpt from "Charge of the Dark Goddess" by Lynne O'Connor

One of the very earliest manifestations of the Dark Goddess was the Minoan Snake Goddess, who reigned during the 16th century BCE. She holds two snakes aloft, symbolic of the dual nature we see on earth: masculine and feminine, light and dark, life and death. The goddess acts as the fulcrum, the one who holds both in balance. The netlike pattern on her skirt reminds us that She is the weaver of life, her womb the center of the web. The seven layers correspond to the number of days in each of the moon's four quarters. Sitting in the lap of the goddess invites one to experience the matrix of time and eternal transformation.

The Aries full moon on October 11 and the Scorpio new moon on October 26 provide a portal to walk through the door and meet the Dark Mother. This is her season, the time when the veil between the worlds starts to dissipate, culminating on the Celtic cross-quarter day, Samhain, or Halloween, on October 31, when the veil is thinnest.

The full moon initiates us on the Quest, the journey to find our True Self, and the creative and artistic expression that is our Soul's purpose. It is time for the Kundalini serpent power that lies coiled at the base of the spine to awaken and move up through the chakras into its full power. This feminine life force has been recognized and celebrated since ancient times. It allows us to reconcile the dark and the light, the positive and the negative, to let go of that which no longer serves us and to transform.

The Dark Goddess helps us see in the darkness of our own being, that which lies beneath the surface, wanting to be seen, heard, known, born. It has but to be cultivated so it can reach up through the rich soil of the unconscious towards the light. We can help it by looking inward now and sitting with the feelings that are percolating, shining light on them, and tending them.

If it is fear, we can observe it and wrap it in a blanket of security and safety, transforming it into love.

If it is hurt and pain, we can cry and release it and hold it in our arms, nurturing and calming it, allowing it to turn into understanding and peace.

If it is anger and negativity, we can allow it to speak and be heard and then release it, changing it into gratitude, acceptance, and serenity.

But, first we must acknowledge these dark places, illuminate them, and then work with them to bring them into a higher state of consciousness and integration. For they are all parts of the shadow that must be seen and taken care of, for they will get our attention one way or the other. Like the snake that sheds its skin, we can release the old, shadowy parts and claim our new skin.

Ancient people used to think that the snake died when it shed its old skin and was reborn with its new skin.  The Greek word for the snake's cast off skin is "geras" meaning "old age." After shedding the skin, one was reborn, and made new again. Snakes were seen as magical beings and were associated with the mother goddess as symbols of transformation.

But once the patriarchal religions supplanted the worship of the goddess, snakes, along with women, were vilified and seen as the source of evil, seduction, and temptation.  Since Eve listened to the Serpent who guarded the Tree of Life and ate the apple as the snake implored her to, women have been blamed for the fall of man.

However, Eve's biting into the apple was what allowed us to enter into consciousness, and it is a role that women continue to play in the world. It is the feminine that shines the light, and brings consciousness to relationship. As we begin to enter the cycle of the dark half of the Wheel, Autumn and Winter, it is time to shine our light and do the healing work that starts with each one of us. Healing ourselves we do our part to heal the world.

There are a number of pages in my workbook, In the Lap of the Goddess: Connecting With the Divine Feminine, which are devoted to this deep, soul work and transforming negative emotions into positive ones. I would love to gift you with my 57-page self-care manual so that you can work with the five goddesses that make up the chapters. Please leave a comment here about what you would like to transform and I will randomly select a winner on October 26 and send the book to your door.

Baba Yaga Rides Again

The full Harvest Moon on Monday marks the time when farmers bring in the last of the summer crops, the late harvest of root vegetables and cruciferous plants that will warm our blood over the colder months to come. The weather is starting to change, the sky to darken, foreshadowing the turning of the Great Wheel towards fall. We celebrate the autumn equinox on Friday, September 23. There's something in the air. Do you feel it? The stirrings of the Wild Woman, the dark goddess who arrives on owl's wings, silently gliding through the forest to awaken us? Do you hear it? The yip of the coyote, the howl of the wolf, the yowl of the cat, as they pad stealthily through the underbrush in search of sustenance?

As September wanes, what does your inner Wild Woman want? Before we start to draw inward, there's still time to dance under the light of the moon, to stir something up in the creative cauldron. What is your passion? Art? Writing? Dancing? Singing? Cooking? Teaching? Nurturing? Healing? If you don't know, it's time to listen to your inner voice, to the Wise Woman within, to The One Who Knows.

You know the story of Baba Yaga, don't you? It all starts with a little girl named Vasalisa, who much like Cinderella, must live under the watch of a horribly jealous stepmother and two mean, ugly stepsisters after her mother dies. But on her deathbed, Vasalisa's mother gave her a little doll, dressed just like Vasalisa. She tells her to keep it in her pocket at all times and to ask her for help whenever she needs it.

So, as in all such stories, Vasalisa is sent out into the forest, into the dark unknown, where the old woman, Baba Yaga lives. Her mission is to fetch an ember from the Yaga as her stepmother and sisters secretly conspired to let the fire burn out. Everyone knows Baba Yaga is an ugly old witch, a frightening hag who flies about in the dead of night in a cauldron with a pestle as an oar. It's well known that she eats children for breakfast and uses their bones for toothpicks. Oh, and did you know her house dances around on chicken feet? Go on, little girl, there's nothing to be afraid of.          

And so the brave, little Vasalisa ventures into the deep, dark woods, just as we all must step into the darkness at times and face our worst fears. What are they?

That you may fail?

Look foolish?

Not be liked or approved of?

Or perhaps that you won't live up to others' expectations?

Name your fear: ____________________

But at each twist and turn of the path, Vasalisa consults the doll in her pocket and is advised which way to go, until at last she arrives at the crazy house that careens about on chicken feet.

Vasalisa sees the fire for which she has been sent inside of a skull perched on a fence post. As she starts to reach for it, the unmistakable cackle of Baba Yaga causes her to pull her hand back in fright. Baba Yaga demands to know why she should give her the fire.

"Because I ask," Vasalisa replies. That is the right answer, Baba Yaga tells her. Why? Because we cannot get the help we need unless we ask.

Baba Yaga tells her she will give her the fire if she will complete the tasks she sets for her, seemingly impossible ones. She must cook three meals and clean her entire filthy house during the night, which Vasalisa is able to do with the help of the little doll. The next night she must sort thousands of seeds from the dirt so that Baba Yaga will have oil the next day. This she is again able to do with the help of the little doll in her pocket guiding her.

Satisfied, Baba Yaga gives the skull with the burning ember inside to Vasalisa. She carries it home trumphantly, much to the surprise of the evil stepmother and sisters who thought they had seen the last of her. And, as is often the case with evildoers such as they, the fire consumes them, and leaves nothing behind but a few charred bones.

And so it is with Baba Yaga, the witch, the crone, the hag -- for hag comes from the word, haggia, meaning holy wisdom -- the wise, old woman who teaches us. Her words are sometimes harsh, her demeanor frightening, her lessons hard. But as the dark goddess, the dark mother, she helps us burn up our fears and transform from frightened little girls into women of courage, women who are willing to take the necessary risks to reap the rewards of consciousness and creativity, to fuel the fires of our passions.

And so, the Wild Woman learns to listen to her inner voice, follow her intuition, and dance by the light of the moon. Are you ready?

If you're in the Triangle, come to my Art & Soul workshops at Dancing Moon Bookstore on Saturday, September 24 and October 1, where we will meet and explore five goddesses: Persephone, the Maiden, Demeter, the Mother, Hecate, the Crone, Kali, the Destroyer, and Yemaya, the Creator, using my workbook, In the Lap of the Goddess: Connecting With the Divine Feminine. Pay by September 19 for a discount. Go here for more information: http://owlandcrow.saladd.com/goddess-workshop/