owl & crow

stephanie anderson ladd

What Women Most Desire

Posted By on May 1, 2013

Guinevere Going A-Maying by John Collier

Happy Beltane! And on this happy day when men and women in days of yore leapt over the sacred fire and met in the fields and meadows to frolic and couple in revelry to ensure fertility across the land, we may ponder what makes a sacred marriage… For this is the time of divine union between the solar masculine and the earthy feminine. A time to embody one of the great truths the alchemists, priestesses, shamans and initiates to the mysteries know: as above, so below, as within, so without.  

As you find balance between your own inner masculine and feminine, you attract this partnership in the outer world. As the inner masculine — the active, thinking, doing part — learns to serve the inner feminine — the receptive, feeling, being part, integration and harmony find expression. But you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince, they say. And sometimes you have to kiss a hag before you find your queen.

Let me tell you one of my favorite stories, the Arthurian legend of the Wedding of Sir Gawain, that speaks to the task of the knight and the lady, and what trust and serving a higher purpose bring to relationship.

King Arthur by Arthur Rackham

This story begins with the battle-weary King Arthur on a hunt, separated from his men, astride his horse alone in the forest. For a moment he stops, his memory taking him to another time and place where the smell of death and the sound of men dying on the killing fields is very much with him.

And then, through the mists, he becomes aware of a visage that makes his blood run cold. A knight twice his size, bedecked in black from his head to toe, a mantle of black cormorant feathers rippling across his broad shoulders, rides forth on a large, black steed. Before Arthur realizes that his sword, Excalibur, is not at his side and he has but a dagger to defend himself, the knight is upon him, his cold, steely blade pressed against the young king’s neck.

“The crown is mine,” Arthur hears the black knight intone, “unless you can answer a simple question.”

“What is it?” Arthur asks, feeling a trickle of blood from the blade cut ever so slightly into his skin.

“Tell me what it is that a woman wants most,” the black knight growls. “You have three days to solve the riddle, and if you answer correctly the kingdom remains yours; if not, it is mine.”

Knights of the Round Table – Crane

That evening at court, the knights of the round table and the ladies of the court, indeed, even Queen Guinevere, buzz with excitement and consternation, puzzling over the black knight’s challenge and offering up their own answers.

“A queen wants a good king, a noble husband and partner,” Guinevere says, “like you.”

Guinevere with Ladies in Waiting

Others offer up their opinions: A family, a home, wealth, good humor, honesty, a knight in shining armor — the usual. But Arthur knows it isn’t enough. He queries Merlin, who only answers that he must solve the puzzle or pay the price. His men ride furiously to supplicate the wise men and women of the land while Arthur rides out into the forest alone, wondering if his days are numbered, if the battles he has fought have been for nought.

And as he rides deeper and deeper into the forest he comes upon a crossroads and halts, stopped by a horrifying sight and a putrefying stench — what appears to be a heap of filthy rags writhing and moving like a bag of snakes.

There arises from the pile a loathesome creature, the ugliest crone he has ever laid eyes on, her face pockmarked and warty, her eyes bloodshot and rheumy, her nose crooked and running, and her teeth — what few she has — blackened and broken. She farts and belches in greeting as she stands before him, cackling and scratching at her sores, her one good eye looking him up and down.

She thrusts a gnarled finger at him and points, beckoning him closer. Arthur feels compelled to dismount and approach the old woman, although he draws his sword, wary of her intentions. She laughs, a gutteral, hacking grunt that sounds more like death than mirth.

“I have the answer you seek,” she tells him, “and I will give it to you for a price.”

“What is your price?” he asks.

“That I may marry a knight of your court.”

And so accepting the bargain, Arthur rides forth to the castle of the black knight and answers the question the crone whispered to him, and the kingdom remains sovereign under the reign of Arthur and Guinevere.

Yet Arthur has to go back to his round table and tell the knights of the quest and of the hag’s bounty. All is quiet. No one steps forward to exact the price as they each contemplate the fate of marrying such a wretched being, until the youngest knight, Sir Gawain, Arthur’s nephew, stands. Everyone tries to talk him out of it and implore him not to go through with it. Even Arthur is ready to renege on his promise rather than see his nephew make such a choice.

But on the first of May the wedding day arrives, and Sir Gawain meets his bride — the loathesome, stinking hag — at the altar, and they exchange vows.

No one can watch Gawain walk back down the aisle with the hag on his arm.  Few words are spoken and there is little joy at the wedding feast that follows. Those in attendance avert their eyes as the couple make their way to the wedding chamber where they will spend their first night together as man and wife.

As she sits on the bed and turns to face him he stands staring at the countenance of the shriveled old woman before him. And he realizes for the first time that she is a human being who has no doubt been through a great deal of pain and suffering. As he looks deeply into her eyes, he feels a wave of compassion flow through him.

She smiles. “You are a true and gallant knight,” she says, standing up to meet him. Though he wants to pull away, he does not move, and her lips press against his. He stumbles backwards seeing the woman before him — a beautiful maiden, her lips parted, her breasts heaving in their queenly robes.

Take the Fair Face of Woman by Sophie Anderson

“Who are you?” he stammers in amazement.

“I am your queen. But I cannot remain like this always. You must choose: You may have me as you see me now at night and as the hag by day, who others will see and judge. Or you may have me as you see me now and for others to see by day and as the withered crone by night. What do you choose, My Lord?”

Sir Gawain, cognizant of the impossibility of such a choice tells her, “I cannot choose, My Lady. You must decide.”

And with that she smiles the sweetest of smiles and takes his hand. “Thank you,” she says, “You have broken the spell by giving me what a woman wants most.”

“And what is that?” Sir Gawain asks, aware that it is the very same riddle King Arthur had learned the answer to that had saved the kingdom.

“Her own way,” the Lady tells him, “A woman most desires being sovereign unto herself.”

And so it is that every knight and king gains his full power through marriage to the lady or queen who represents the sovereignty of the land and of her own body and soul. In the service of true equality and sacred right relationship, a woman must remain sovereign to herself and not to any man.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Waterhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time of the Maiden: A Bouquet of Spring Goddesses & Their Messages

Posted By on April 3, 2013


It’s been a slow awakening for me this spring. I really did hunker down in my bear’s den for some deep, much-needed rest this winter. I had to wrestle with my inner taskmaster and guilt-tripper who kept pushing and nagging me to do more with my time. What about that book proposal you wanted to write? Get on it, Sister!

And I had to answer, “In due time. I am not ready. I’m still hibernating and gestating, so leave me alone.” I needed to paint and play and was able to pull together a couple of low-key workshops — or playshops as I call them — to remind me of what I really want to do: Breathe. Play. Enjoy. Connect. Rest. Just Be.

As the great wheel turns and Mother Earth begins to green and blossom, the sleepy mama bear in me is struggling to open her eyes and face the world and the things she wants to accomplish this year, while another part of me is rising joyfully to meet the thawing warmth of spring.

As the wheel turns, so do we all sense the turning and churning of transformation within us. The maiden is being reborn. It doesn’t matter how old you are in real time, the crone of winter, who has slept and rested and stirred her bubbling cauldron in the cave all winter long, now gives way to the maiden.

You do know that the maiden and the crone inhabit the same body, don’t you? Just as surely as the moon changes from new, to full, to dark, a woman moves through the phases of maiden, mother and crone.

Sometimes the maiden awakens and rises slowly from the matrix making her way to the world above in measured steps, and at other times she springs forth all in a rush, throwing off the crone’s snowy mantle, fairly bursting at the seams to frolic in the warming upper world.

Do you feel the sap rising? The energy surging up from the depths? The bubbling of creative juices? The stirrings of longing? The push to arrive like a newborn babe from the darkness of the womb into the glistening light of the world above? It is the maiden within, the renewed feminine, awakening, ready to sing her anthem of rebirth.

The maidens are many, celebrated throughout the world as the promise of youth, the fool who ventures out into the brave, new world caring not a whit if she stumbles and falls, for she will just get up, dust herself off, and continue on her journey, reinventing herself as she goes…

she is the wild child who cavorts and plays in the woods, discovering who she is as an artist, writer, dancer or other creatrix…

she is the unselfconscious girl who dances with boundless enthusiasm and energy wherever her feet lead her…

she is the curious student filled with wonder and the need to learn more about the world and what makes it go round…

she is the lusty lass who is unashamed of her body and ready to test her powers as a sexual being…

She resides within every woman, no matter her age, waiting to break free and have her day. Here are a few maiden goddesses with messages for you:

Meet the Springtime Goddesses…

There is Persephone, the Greek goddess whose maiden self is known as the Kore. She spends half her days in the underworld with the crone, Hecate (for really they are one and the same–the maiden within the crone within the maiden), and the other half with her mother, Demeter, the goddess of grain and growth. Persephone learns to turn her sorrow into strength and becomes a queen in the underworld. When she rises each spring, she is transformed–the maiden once again, bringing warmth, beauty, light, and serendipity with her.

Persephone’s message: Give yourself time to wake up to the inner stirrings bubbling beneath the surface. Pay attention to your dreams and write them down. Plant seeds of ideas and watch and water them, taking time to smell the flowers as you cultivate your dreams and desires.

Flora and Zephyr by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Meet Flora, the Roman goddess of the flowers, patroness of prostitutes (and secret patroness of Rome) whose feminine body was considered the sacred vessel of life, just as the flower is the sex organ of a plant. Women’s naked bodies were honored in ancient Rome at the Floralia, a celebration that took place from April 28 to May 3, when all of Rome came out to play.

Flora’s message: Honor your body by doing something that feels delicious or nurturing to it. Get a message. Learn to belly dance. Take perfumed bubble baths. Anoint yourself with a fragrant body oil. Wear something sexy and then take it off for your lover. Declare your love for your holy body temple.

There is Ostara, or Eoster, the Germanic maiden of April who lent her name to the Easter holiday we celebrate. Easter comes from the word estrus, the time when animals are most fertile and open to conceiving. The tradition of painting eggs began as a way to honor her renewing fertility and the bountiful colors of spring.

Ostara’s message: Come out of your shell and try something new that you’ve always wanted to do but never allowed yourself. Wear bright colors and let yourself shine.

Maia by Alphonse Mucha

Maia is the May goddess of both Greek and Roman tradition, who was celebrated on the first of May or May Day, now given over to Mother Mary. She was considered a fire goddess who stoked the fires of passion and warmed the earth with her solar heat. In Greece she was also known as “Wise One,” or Grandmother, and acted as midwife to women giving birth.

Maia’s message: Pay attention to the fire in your belly. What wants to be birthed this year? Take care to nurture it and fan the flames regularly so that it ignites and burns brightly and doesn’t peter out.

Butterfly Maiden is a Native American goddess who is one of the Hopi kachinas. She is honored for her transformative ability, her fragile beauty, and her importance in flying from flower to flower to help the plant people pollinate and thrive.

Butterfly Maiden’s message: Look for beauty everywhere around you, within and without. When you see something that you want to judge harshly, look for the beauty in it and transform your thoughts, gaining new perspective.

Freya by John Bauer

Freya (considered by some to be the same as Frigg) is the Scandinavian goddess of fertility, the one who presided over life, which she celebrated through her unabashed sexuality, and death, presiding over the underworld much like Persephone. She was a magical maiden who rode through the sky in a cat-drawn chariot.

Freya’s message: Wake up to your sexual nature and desires. Don’t let yourself stagnate. Treat lovemaking as a playful experience whether alone or with your partner.

Renpet by oh-no-heather-jo
http://oh-no-heather-jo.deviantart.com/

Renpet, an Egyptian maiden, symbolized by the palm sprouting from her head, represents time and the eternal nature of the earth’s cycles, the return of spring and new growth each year.

Renpet’s message: Get your hands in the dirt. Plant a garden or flower bed. Keep fresh flowers on your table to remind you of the fragile beauty of each day, each hour, and each moment. 

Enjoy spring and the maiden within! 

 

Note: All images are credited except for the first one, which I would be happy to credit, if anyone knows who the artist is of this stunning illustration. The ones not captioned are SoulCollage® images I have created.

 

 

 

Woman and the Owl

Posted By on February 21, 2013

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

Posted By on January 17, 2013

“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.

view from our cliffside hotel

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.

a view of the Aegean and the islands of Theresia and Aspronisi, once all part of one land known as Thera

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.

Akrotiri house

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

Posted By on December 30, 2012

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 Acropolis at Night, photo by Diane Marshall

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.

Snake goddesses of Knossos

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.

Knossos Palace, partial reconstruction, photo by Diane Marshall

reconstructed throne room at Knossos, photo by Diane Marshall

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.

The Ladies of the Court, part of a mural at Knossos

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.

kernos stone for offerings at sacred center of Malia

kernos stone at Gournia with our 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.

 

lustral bath at Phaistos

pithos jars with snake motif

She is in the earth and stones

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 Sacred Myrtle Tree

 

Diane and me holding the myrtle tree

 

The Virgin of the Myrtle

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).

Entering the Paliani Convent

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.

One of the nuns outside her apartment at the convent

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.

an altar

a cave altar

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.

the group of us who went down to the fourth level, triumphant

Diane emerging from the cave after the arduous climb out

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.

a view of Mount Juctas from afar

on top of Mount Juctas

held by a great grandmother tree

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.

the two lovely women who cooked us a feast before we descended into Skoteino

 

Diane at a favorite resting place, the mountain village of Zaros

the lake at Zaros with swans, symbol of Aphrodite

 

sister pilgrims enjoying coffee in Zaros

the Gorge of the Dead where cave tombs can be seen

 

hiking through the Gorge of the Dead

 

donkey ride to Zeus’s cave

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!

a real Greek salad, photo by Diane Marshall

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

photo by Diane Marshall

 

photo by Diane Marshall

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

handwork with goddess motif

woman showing her work

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.

Dancing in Zaros

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.

Eos, the goddess of dawn, greets us

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.

Diane meditating at the ruins of the sacred center on the tiny island across from Mochlos

between Mochlos and the island ruins

savoring a day off in Mochlos

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

Posted By on November 18, 2012

Demeter and Persephone

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.

Demeter Mourning for Persephone by Evelyn Pickering de Morgan

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.

me before altar to Hecate

Diane at the remains of the Temple to Demeter

Temple of Demeter, illustration for Harmsworth History of the World, 1907

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.

Relief with Demeter on throne and Persephone holding torches, Eleusis, 480 BCE

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.

an ancient altar stone

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.

Mom and 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

Posted By on November 9, 2012

at Delphi, overlooking the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia

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.

Athens street

Diane on Aeropagus Hill in front of the Acroplis

the sacred way traversing the agora

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 rock of the sibyl

the omphalos stone, navel of the earth at Delphi, considered by ancient Greeks to be the center of the world

columns of Apollo\’s temple

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.

Apollo slaying the python by Goltzius

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.)

Pythia on tripod by John Collier

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.

celestite gem on temple stone

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.

what was left of the Temple of Athena

sanctuary of Athena Pronaia

drinking from the Castalian spring

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.

 



Don’t Mess With Athena

Posted By on August 25, 2012

photo by Dim Leventis, http://www.panoramio.com/photo/48823977

As I will be in Athens in just a little over one month where I will begin a goddess pilgrimage, I have been exploring the stories of Athena, patron of the city. She almost didn’t get that job as she and Poseidon were both in contention for that honor. When the people voted, it was split down the middle because the women voted for the goddess while the men voted for the god; however there was one more woman than there were men, and she cast the deciding vote. It is also said that the Olympian gods gave it to Athena because she planted the first olive tree on the Acropolis. Apparently the men of the newly named city of Athens were so angry that She won that they decreed that women of the city would give up their citizenship, no longer be able to vote, and their children would no longer go by their mother’s last name as had been the tradition, but would take their father’s instead.

This, my friends, was the beginning of the patriarchy, when the stories got changed. It would almost seem that Athena was made a token female deity (disguised as a man) so that the men in power could strip women of their rights. However she may have been used, she was thereafter cast in the role of masculine warrior goddess who, the patriarchal story went, was born from the head of Zeus, top Olympian dog and her father. They now proclaimed her a virgin goddess, devoid of sexuality, and in her newly cast androgyny made her “all for the father,” aligning her with the patriarchy against the rights of women and the motherline.

Before I go on to talk about the earlier origins of Athena — an entirely different story, which always interests me more — the heady times when women ruled more peacefully before men took over — it may be worth pondering for a moment the similarities between what happened then and what is going on now, right here in River City, that is the United States of America. Does it not seem as if we are in danger of slipping back to a more rigid patriarchal structure what with the conservative Republicans (Paul Ryan and Troy Akin to name two) trying to take away hard-fought women’s rights on abortion, equal pay, and reproductive freedom, as well as the rights of LGBTs to enjoy the same constitutional freedom as everyone else? We may need Athena’s warrior prowess and ability to protect us now more than ever.

But getting back to her pre-patriarchal beginnings… Athena is also known as Pallas Athena, which appears to refer to her role as a warrior who went into battle to fight the good fight when necessary. She was a prudent warrior and strategist, being the goddess of wisdom, so as an archetypal figure for women, she is the one who does not shrink from bullies and who will not only go into battle herself, but will do everything she can to help others win, especially when the odds are stacked against them. She may have gotten the name Pallas Athena from killing her father, a giant named Pallas, who tried to rape her. She then took his skin, tanned it, and made it into her aegis or shield and appropriated his wings for her own feet. We’ll talk about how the image of Medusa’s head ended up on her aegis in a moment.

But one other interesting story of note is that Athena is often depicted with a large snake either coiled around her or at her feet. The snake is an ancient symbol of the goddess, often thought to symbolize the transformational aspects of birth, death and rebirth that is at the heart of all goddess mythology, and indeed the story of woman. The snake was an animal that could travel underground and above ground, in both worlds, and could shed its skin, the ultimate transformation from the old into the new. But on a very practical level, snakes in those days were helpful creatures who were often kept near the stores of grain almost like watch dogs to kill and eat the vermin that threatened the food supply. It is also said that the snake may have been Athena’s child with Hephaestus, the lame smith god (and cuckolded husband of Aphrodite) who also tried to rape Athena, but failed. However, his ejaculate fell to the ground and instead impregnated Gaia, the earth mother goddess, and from her a serpent boy named Erichthonius, was born, whom Athena, in a sense, adopted, and who seems to have followed her around like a little puppy dog.

As to the snake-headed goddess, Medusa, whom Athena wears on her breast and shield, some say that Medusa is Athena’s sister and helped her ward off evil and intimidate her enemies with her monstrous gaze. Some legends say Medusa was once a stunningly beautiful Amazon warrior with luxurious, thick, black hair. However, she made the mistake of defiling Athena’s temple by making love to Athena’s rival, Poseidon, there. Athena had her servant kill Medusa by cutting off her head and her hair was turned into snakes. And the more familiar myth has Perseus cutting off the head of Medusa with the help of Athena, who was angry at her for messing around in her temple (although her anger about this seems positively patriarchal).

Another story suggests that the priestesses in the temples of old wore helmets and masks adorned with snakes, the symbol of transformation, and that it was not Medusa’s head on her shield but a representation of the priestess who was the mortal emissary of the goddess. Some say that Medusa is but the shadow side of Athena and the two are one and the same. The message is: Don’t mess with Athena. You might be turned to stone.

However, before Athena became the warrior goddess of the Athens city-state, her primary role in the matriarchal culture appears to have been much more benign. She was a goddess of the home, family, and community at large, as well as patron of handicrafts, particularly weaving. In the patriarchal worldview this protector of the family tribe was given big cajones and put in charge of the political state and given the same status as Ares, god of war. At her heart, though, we may see Athena as a fierce protector of women, children and family, whose wise counsel is to be sought in times of conflict, as one who will stand up to abusers and tyrants.

She is often seen as holding a sword, which I like to think of as the sword of truth, which must be held high whenever we are confronted by foes who would take away our power. As long as we stand in the truth, demand nothing less than our right to equality, and don’t give away our power, we will prevail. Hear that, Romney, Ryan, Akin, and all other preservers of the patriarchy? We’ve got Athena, goddess of wisdom, truth and justice, at our side. We’re ready to fight the good fight.

Psyche’s Journey and the Creative Process

Posted By on July 8, 2012

Cupid and Psyche by William Page

In my Goddess Temple e-course to meet the Alchemical Goddesses, you take a similar journey as Psyche, the woman who became a goddess, which I wrote about 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.

Eagle Flying Over River by Jack Bolin

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 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.

Psyche Opening Box by John William Waterhouse

We could see this as Psyche being a bit too passive and immobilized by ideas, things to get done, and the 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 could symbolize 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.

Amor and Psyche by Michel Philbert Genod

It is often at the end point or near the end of a creative project, that we want to give up or may 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, 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 child they give birth to is our own creative dream brought to life.

Psyche and Eros by Adolphe Bourguereau

Death Mother/Creation Mother

Posted By on June 10, 2012

“The Creation Mother is always also the Death Mother and vice versa. Because of this dual nature or double-tasking, the great work before us is to learn to understand what is around and about us and what within us must live, and what must die. Our work is to apprehend the timing of both; to allow what must die to die, and what must live to live.” - Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

Maiden/Crone – SoulCollage®

This is what I love about studying the goddesses. I love seeing all that primal stuff just laid out there for us. For every young, beautiful maiden and light goddess there is an ugly, old one, a dark goddess, saying, “Don’t get too caught up in all that loveliness, Sister, there’s more to the story. Life ain’t no bed of roses all the time. You better smell the flowers while you can, cuz there’s some decay a comin’.”

The Graiae

And at the same time, just when you think life is a big, steaming pile of shit, the goddess of love and life comes waltzin’ in saying, “Hey, that ain’t all there is, Sister. Get your head out of your ass and start living cuz there’s beauty all around you. Life’s too short. And what is it you want to be doing anyway? Get to it! You better be loving yourself. Look in the mirror, Sister. You got it going on!

Venus at the Mirror – Rubens

For every Persephone, there’s a Hecate. For every Bast, there’s a Sekhmet. For every Athena, there’s a Medusa. For every Kali, a Lakshmi; for Rhiannon, there’s Cerridwyn; Cinderella/wicked stepmother; Snow White/Dark Queen, Vasilisa/Baba Yaga. You get it: Birth and Death. The endless cycle. Two sides of the same coin.

Athena by Klimt – that\’s Medusa\’s face on her aegis

But, wait! The wisdom of the divine feminine is that it’s not just black and white, either/or, crazy-ass, patriarchal dualistic thinking. There’s a triple goddess to be found here. She is life, itself. She is the in-between. She is the one who travels the bridge to both worlds: the conscious and the unconscious, the upper and the lower, the internal and external, masculine and feminine, and understands that it’s not one or the other, it’s both/and. She knows the third way that moves betwixt the worlds and doesn’t get stuck in the extremes. She is the wisdom that comes from living and knowing that birth follows death and death follows birth, but in between there is a life to be lived.

So don’t be fooled by those old hags, or that stone cold evil eye of the Medusa. She contains the beautiful, wise goddess Athena. And don’t be thinking that little girl don’t know nothing. She’s hiding the wise old hag within her very bones. Remember to live, Sisters, live it all. Remember to cherish the dark days as much as the glory days for they portend something else is coming. Nothing stays the same. And we can either wallow in the shit, complaining about the stink, or we can stand up and walk through it until we get to the other side, smelling like roses again.

And in case you forget, just walk outside and look up into the night sky. And there she is. Shining a little or a lot, for all to see. The Death Mother becomes the Creation Mother becomes the Death Mother becomes the Creation Mother and everything in between.

The Goddess Temple e-course on the Alchemical Goddesses starts in one month. We will be exploring the Death Mother when we meet Kali and the Creation Mother when we meet Yemaya and Aphrodite, that Great Mother Goddess of Love and Beauty, will be leading the way. What are you waiting for, Sister? Don’t miss the boat. Life’s too short.