Thursday, October 27, 2011

From Darkness All Things Emerge

   For me Samhain doesn’t really start until sunset on October 31st.  The Celts marked their days from sunset to sunset.  Some have hypothesized this in honor of Bile, a god connected to the Underworld and often seen as Danu’s counterpart.  Marking the days from sunset to sun may have been a way to remember that they came from the darkness of the Underworld (Bile’s realm), and that all things have to pass through darkness to come into light.  Whatever the reason I find myself contemplating this concept as we approach Samhain.  Having the new day begin at night may seem odd to us today.  We think of our days beginning in the morning with the rising of the sun, but we aren’t that different from the Celts.  The new day technically begins at 12 am, a time of darkness, so even today we acknowledge that the day begins in the depth of night.  We tend to think of death, darkness, and the Underworld as the end of the journey.  But really it is our starting point.  We are born out of darkness, and to it we return to begin again.  We spend nine months in our mother’s dark watery womb before coming into the world of light and life.  The seed germinates in the dark rich soil before it reaches up towards the light of the sun.  We survive the cold and long dark days of winter, to reap the fruitfulness of summer with it long days of warm sunlight.  When must pass into darkness of the Underworld to be reborn. All things come out of darkness.  Through the darkness of Samhain night, the new year is born.    
     Although she is not a Celtic goddess, Nyx, the Greek goddess of night has been on my mind the past few days along with the idea of seeing night and darkness as a beginning.  She was a primordial goddess, one of the Protogenoi (the first-born elemental gods, who made up the basic components of the universe, which included earth, sea, light, day, and time).  She was the mother of Eris the goddess of chaos, and Thanatos the Greek personification of death, but with Erubus (the god of shadows and darkness) she is also the mother of Hemera the goddess of day.  At times she is prophetic, dispensing prophesies from her cave beyond the sea (at times her cave is at the end of the cosmos).  She is depicted either riding in her chariot, trailed by stars or a woman with black wings.  In her mythology she is a force to be reckoned with.  Even Zeus, the king of the gods, listens when she speaks.   Each sunset and sunrise she passes by her daughter Hermera as they exchange places.  That moment as night becomes day or day becomes night is that only time the goddess of night can greet her daughter who ushers in the day.  I find it interesting that the goddess of night gives birth to the goddess of day.  To me it mirrors the Celtic idea that light can only be born out of darkness.  While today we think of day preceding night, our ancestors saw darkness as the beginning of all things.  They knew we needed to pass through darkness in order to find light.  Whether it is our inner darkest or a dark time in our lives, we must pass through darkness in order to find light and new beginnings.  Dawn would be meaningless without the long journey through the night.       

                                Nyx Sunset Spell for New Beginnings

At sunset carve what you wish to manifest on a black candle.  Concentrate on your desire, see it clearly in your mind, see that image filling the candle.  Hold the candle in your hands as you invoke Nyx, saying:

Black winged Night
Dark mother Nyx
All things are born from your darkness
From the dark of our mother’s wombs we are born
From the dark soil the seed germinates and grows
From the dark of the Underworld our spirits are reborn
Nyx as you wrap your dark cloak over the world
I recognize that night is a time of beginnings
A time of rebirth and becoming
In the dark womb of night let my spell form and grow
And with the dawn manifest
Mother Night hear my prayer!

Light the candle and let it burn out.  If you can not let it burn all night (in a fire safe container of course) light it for a few minutes each night until it is spent.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Samhain, Morrigan and Dagda

  When he first saw her, she was bathing along the river bank.  Long pale limbs, her skin the color of polished bone.  Clever hands loosed the nine tresses upon her head, leaving her hair to spill down her back.  It was the black of a starless night, with the glossy sheen of a raven’s feathers.  She sang softly as she poured the water over her porcelain skin.  The song was both somber and joyful, filled with all the pain and ecstasy that was life.  Something roused in him at the site.  He knew this woman.  Some called her Death, others knew her as Battle- but all he could see now was a painful, dangerous beauty that he longed to make his own.  He didn’t realize he had moved towards the bank until she was already in his arms.  She looked up at him with dark, raven eyes that mirrored his own passion.  He laughed to himself, perhaps it seemed odd that the God of life and the Goddess of Death should make such a passionate union together.  But as the sun sank and the old year died, he happily died in the ecstasy of her love, knowing with the dawn he would rise again, reborn.  The Morrigan may bring death, but Dagda knew her true gift was rebirth. 

   To many the story of the Morrigan and Dagda’s union on the eve of Samhain is perplexing.  They don’t seem at first glance to be two figures who would get along at all, let along come together in the manner that they do.  Like most myths there are several ways to look at it, and I find during different times of the year different aspects of the story stand out more than others.  On one level Dagda’s union with the Morrigan is a sacred marriage between the king and the Goddess of the land, giving us a glimpse into the Morrigan’s origins as a tutelary earth Goddess.  But as Samhain approaches it is the close connection the Celts saw between life and death that stands out to me the most. 
   At first they seem like an unlikely pair.  While the Morrigan is a very complex deity, at Samhain her connection to death comes to the forefront.  She is the Washer at the Ford who warns warriors that their deaths are near.  She over sees battle, taking pleasure in the bloodshed.  Dagda on the other hand is a comical figure in most of his myths.  He lives life to its fullest and indulging in all it has to offer whether that be good food or sensual pleasure.  He represents fertility, plenty and the bounty of life.  It would seem these two have nothing in common.  Yet upon seeing one another, they come passionately together, in a perfect union that ushers in the new year and new beginnings.  
   In today’s culture death and life are suppose to be enemies.  We think of these forces as opposites that clash, forces that exist to destroy the other.  Yet upon seeing one another, the Goddess who personifies death and the God who embodies life come together in a perfect union.  To the Celts life and death worked closely together, rather than being at odds with one another.  They recognized death is an unavoidable forces within life, and when we cross its threshold it ushers us into rebirth. 
   More often than not we concentrate on death during Samhain. After all it is a time to honor the dead and Samhain marks the end of the old year.  The veil between the worlds thins and we can more easily connect to those who have passed on and celebrate the lives of our ancestors.  But rebirth is also an important part of Samhain.  We must remember that life, death and rebirth are intrinsically linked.  Where one is present, the other is as well.      
   So as you prepare for your Samhain celebration, remember that it is also a time of beginnings.  A celebration of both life and death.  As the new year is born, we can shed the burdens of the past and begin anew.  Like Dagda, when we embrace death and welcome Her powers of change, our lives can be transformed, and with the dawn we can be reborn anew.       

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dark Goddess of the Week: Medusa

“I saw you once, Medusa; we were alone.
I looked you straight in the cold eye, cold.
I was not punished, was not turned to stone.
How to believe the legends I am told? . . .
I turned your face around! It is my face.
That frozen rage is what I must explore –
Oh secret, self-enclosed and ravaged place!
That is the gift I thank Medusa for."

-May Sarton, The Muse as Medusa


   I have always been fascinated by snake goddesses.  Having four pet snakes I suppose this is not too surprising.  From the Naga Kenya of India, Medusa and the Erinyes of Greece, to the serpent that tempted Eve, snakes have played a vital role in mythology.  Although with the influence of Christianity they are now connected to sin and evil, in earlier times they were symbols of rebirth, power, and wisdom.  They were also the faithful companions of the dark goddess. 

   Whether you love them or are scared of them, watching a snake shed its skin is fascinating.  Its skin becomes pale, its clear eyes become glassy and opaque.  Then slowly it peels its old self away, revealing new vibrant skin.  The snake symbolically dies and is reborn over and over again.  It knows change is necessary, and that we die and are reborn many times within our lives, before true physical death claims us.  While snake venom can kill, the snake only uses it to eat or for self defense.  Almost all snake bites are caused by humans not watching their step and startling the snake.  The snake teaches us discernment.  To strike, and use our power, only at the appropriate time.  Venom while deadly in many cases, is also used to save lives and create antidotes for snake bites, teaching us that sometimes something destructive can also help heal us.  With their connection to death and rebirth it is no wonder the snake has become the companion of the dark goddess, who embodies similar traits. 

     In Greece the snake is found wherever we find the dark goddess.  They were one of the animals associated with Hecate, goddess of the crossroads and underworld.  In her more terrifying incarnations she was the Erinyes, three sister goddesses with wings and snakes for hair, who punished those who committed crimes.  Like Hecate, the Erinyes were connected to the underworld.  They dwelt in Hades, only leaving the land of the dead to bring justice to murderers, and those who committed crimes against women and children.  At times they drove their victims mad.  If their target died without expressing remorse the Erinyes followed their spirit until he or she showed remorse for the crimes they committed.  

  The Gorgon Medusa is perhaps the best example of the merger between goddess and snake.  The Gorgons were the daughters of the sea god Phorcys and Ceto, whose gaze could turn men to stone.  While her sisters Stheno (forceful) and Euryale (far roaming) were both immortal, Medusa was subjected to mortality.  Because of their legendary gaze images of the Gorgons were often carved into homes, public building, and temples as a form of protection.  Like the gargoyles that would later decorate cathedrals, their frightening forms were thought to scare away those of ill intent.   

   Some myths claim Medusa was beautiful once, her golden locks and charms catching the attention of Poseidon.  She also vainly thought her beauty to rival that of Athena.  Unfortunately her beauty gets her in trouble.  In some versions the sea god is so enamored with her that he rapes her, in others she is Poseidon’s willing lover.  Either way the couple had the misfortune to give in to their desires in Athena’s temple.  Enraged the virgin goddess cursed Medusa, transforming her beautiful hair into writhing serpents.  Later Athena sent the hero Perseus to kill Medusa.  When he cut off her head the hero Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus sprang to life from her blood, as she had been pregnant by Poseidon prior to her transformation.  Eventually Athena would mount Medusa’s head on her shield (or in some version on her breastplate).  Athena also was said to have given a portion of Medusa’s blood to Asclepius (the god of medicine) who used it to both cure illness and cause death.    

   Most likely Medusa was Athena’s “darker” aspect.  While Athena represents the chaste and rational side of the goddess, Medusa embodies her sexuality and her destructive side.  She is in a way Athena’s shadow self.  It seems no accident that she blatantly makes love within Athena’s temple.  As a virgin goddess, Athena to some extent is suppressing her sexuality, while these impulses are played out in the uninhibited Medusa.  Ashamed of these desires Athena views her other half as something ugly and vile, and thus Medusa is transformed.  By sending Perseus to kill Medusa, Athena is in a way attempting to defeat she shadow self, to purge herself of her inner darkness.  Athena’s connection to snakes in her myths are also hints to the fact that they are two sides of the same goddess.  Along with the owl, snakes were also one of Athena’s sacred animals.  In Orphic poems she is called “la serpentine”, and she is accredited an “unwavering” or “unblinking” stare, not unlike Medusa’s stony gaze.  In battle she could also take on the Gorgon’s terrifying appearance, presumably because Medusa’s head was mounted on her shield.  In a way placing Medusa’s head on her shield is a sign that Athena, after confronting Medusa (via Perseus) has merged both of her “selves”.  With the Gorgon on her shield, in battle she can appear as either the goddess of wisdom or the fierce snake haired goddess, suggesting she has become whole.      
    Medusa may have been ugly in Athena’s eyes, but her only sin is giving in to her own desires and passions.  She sees no need for modesty, recognized her own beauty and declaring it as divine (by claiming to be more beautiful than a goddess).  She is comfortable with her sexuality in a way that Athena is not, boldly displaying her lovemaking in Athena’s inner sanctum.  Medusa, although she is punished for it, lives freely without the constraints of others.  As two side of the same goddess, it is Athena who is in denial of Medusa’s power.  Medusa represents the inner power Athena is afraid to accept.  Whether it is because of social morays or fear, we at times do the same thing.  We deny our own sacred natures.  We try to fit in, we give our power away to others.  But eventually we must embrace our own darkness.  We have labeled our inner power and desires as something dark, we have cursed this aspect of ourselves as Athena did, instead of recognizing its beauty.   But it is only when we learn to embrace this part of ourselves, and like the snake shed our fears and inhibitions, that we can become whole.  When we gaze into Medusa’s face, we see our own.  And like Athena, when we truly embrace ourselves for who we are we become an unstoppable force in the world.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Understanding the Warrior Goddess

   When I tell most people my patron Goddess in the Morrigan usually their first questions is “Why would you want to worship a Goddess of war?”  Those who have worked with the Great Queen will already know the Morrigan has many faces and aspects, war and battle only being one of them.  But it is this attribute, one she shares with many other Dark Goddesses, that sadly makes some people question working with her. 

  Why is it that we fear the warrior Goddess?  She appears to us in many forms, and across several cultures.  In Egypt she was Sekhmet, the lioness Goddess who drank the blood of her enemies.  In Greek she was Athena, goddess of wisdom and war.  As Durga she was called upon by the Gods to battle demons, as only she had the power and strength to defeat them.  She is Kali, Oya, Andraste, Freya, Bellona, and many others.  In so many cultures the warrior Goddess was revered and held sacred.  She defended clan and country, her fierceness filled enemies with despair.  Those she favored were blessed with courage, battle frenzy and victory.  Yet now she has become to many a deity to be avoided.  What has changed?  Have we suddenly recognized these Goddesses as representing something dangerous or have our attitudes towards her mysteries changed?                   

  I think part of why we are afraid of the warrior Goddess is because our concept of war has drastically changed.  We live in a world where we don’t have to worry about our food being stolen by people in the neighboring town.  The battlefields our armed forces fight and die on are often far away, leaving us with the illusion that the violence of war is something distant, only to be viewed from afar on TV. Modern warfare more often than not is motivated by political agendas, but to our ancestors war was often an aspect of everyday life and most importantly survival.

   In the Morrigan’s case we must remember that warriors were held in high esteem in the Celtic mind and that the warrior caste was one of the highest in their society.  Why?  Because they kept everyone safe.  Take a moment to bring some of our modern day warriors to mind: our military personnel, our police officers and firefighter.  Soldiers and police officers sometimes need to use force and violence to protect us.  It’s part of their job.  They aren’t evil people because they use force.  We hold them in esteem for doing a difficult and dangerous job, one that protects the rest of us and maintains peace (most of the time) in the world.  In many ways this is how the warrior archetype, divine and otherwise, was seen by ancient Pagans.  When we consider this the warrior Goddess isn’t so unapproachable.  Her nature is sometimes fierce, she is a Dark Goddess, her lessons difficult, but she is not by any means evil, nor is there any reason why modern practitioners should avoid working with her.          

   Generally war Gods or Goddesses reflect the type of warfare their culture participated in, embodying their ideals of honor and glory on the battlefield. War itself varies from culture to culture. The highly organized warfare of the Roman legions bears little resemblance to the somewhat haphazard style of warfare the Celts participated in or for that matter to our modern day high tech approach to war.  Irish warfare in particular revolved around cattle raids.  Cattle where seen as the ultimate source of wealth, were used as currency to pay debts and as bride prices.  The fact that Celtic warfare revolved around cattle, (and ultimately sovereignty over the land and its wealth) is reflected in their Goddess of war, as the Morrigan is usually occupied in stealing cattle, herding them or making it difficult for others to obtain them; all functions that reflect the Celtic cosmology of warfare.

   Oddly enough the Morrigan’s male counterparts Dagda, Lugh and Bran who participated in battle do not retain a stigma for being “bloodthirsty” or “evil”.  The fact that the Morrigan is female and connected to battle makes her dangerous.  Although women have gained equality with men in many ways we are still afraid of women who are dominate.  War in the modern mind is still very much thought of as belonging to the realm of men.  Women who participate in it become unfeminine and unnatural.  Women today who aggressively pursue their dreams and desires, (whether that be a career or other goals in life) and who stand up for themselves are often accused of acting like men.  This is especially true in the business world.  Unfortunately the message our culture is sending women is that strength and power belong to the realm of men and it is unnatural for women to display these traits.  Yet they can be found in warrior goddesses in cultures all around the globe.

   Ultimately our concept of war and that of the Celts (or any ancient culture for that matter) is vastly different. We can neither divorce Morrigan from war, nor can we call her evil for being a Goddess of battle. Like the warriors the Celts revered, she protects her people, inspires those who take a stand, and guards her children. She reflects the Celtic concept of battle and war, not our modern ones. That is not to say she cannot be called upon in this guise today, just that to understand her role as a Goddess of war we must keep in mind the culture she came from.

   But where does that leave the modern worshiper?  Can the warrior Goddess still have a role in our lives today?  Absolutely.  Her role in our lives may have changed compared to that of our ancestors, but that does not mean we should abandon her mysteries.  The warrior Goddess, in all her many guises, is concerned with all forms of conflict and its resolution, and her knack for bringing victory to those who invoke her make her a powerful ally when dealing with life’s problems. 

   Embracing the warrior Goddess has nothing to do with brandishing a sword or joining the military.  You can be a pacifist and still work with a warrior deity.  Modern warriors can be found in the most mundane places.  The single mom working two jobs to provide for her family, firefighters, police officers, teachers, social workers and environmental activists, these are all warriors and draw on the power of the warrior Goddess.  People who draw on an inner strength to help themselves and others, all embody the warrior spirit. 

   The warrior Goddess challenges us to stand up and be counted, to draw on our inner strength and champion life’s battles.  She knows the most important wars are not the physical ones.  Whether it is overcoming an obstacle in life or fighting our inner demons the warrior Goddess is there to champion our cause.  Maybe the warrior Goddess will challenge you to fight a “war” against poverty by working to help low income families.  Maybe your “war” will be against animal cruelty and you will feel drawn to donate time at an animal shelter.  Maybe you wish to draw on her strength to settle a conflict, to end an abusive relationship, to confront sexual harassment in the work place, or negotiating a raise from your boss.  Whatever you do, whatever your battle, when life has you down say a prayer to the warrior Goddess.  She is always there, waiting for us to embrace her, ready to offer us victory.       

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sexuality and the Nature of the Dark Goddess

   The dark Goddess's love life is always getting her in trouble or giving her a bad rap.  In this week's blog I wanted to take a little time to discuss the meaning behind the Goddess's troubled love affrairs.
   Sexuality plays a vital, yet often misunderstood, role in the myths of many Dark Goddesses.  While in the stories of other Goddesses sexuality can be a positive attribute, (such as with Goddesses of fertility, love and abundance) the libido of the Dark Goddesses is usually cast in a sinister light.  Many would say the Dark Goddess is connected to sexual indulgence, lust, wantonness, and aggression- but is that the truth?  What purpose does this aspect of the Dark Goddess serve, and what lessons are hidden in her stories? 

   For some Dark Goddesses sexuality becomes a way to assert independence.  The Goddess Blodeuwedd takes a lover after being magickally created from flowers for her husband.  She is created for a single purpose, to be the wife of Llew, regardless of her own personal wishes or feelings.  At first she allows others to make decisions for her.  When she finally asserts her independence, she takes charge of her body, she takes a lover of her own choosing.  Then she attempts to dissolve the marriage and take revenge on her husband.  Lilith similarly leaves Adam when she refused to submit to him sexually. 
   Being in control of one’s sexuality and in turn one’s body is empowering and gives women (and men) a sense of control over their lives.  Losing that sense of personal power is akin to losing control over one’s life. The attempt to control female sexuality within theses myths can also be seen as an attempt to control the power of creation, something inherently female.  Despite the attempts by the males in their lives to control them both of these Goddess find their inner strength and brake free of a negative situation.  Declaring our independence and personal power can be a scary thing.  Both Lilith and Blodeuwedd face consequences for their actions, they are banished for taking control of their bodies, and for declaring their independence.  But no matter the initial consequences, embracing our true feelings, and inner nature, can be a liberating experience.  The dark Goddess teaches us that when we embrace change our world can sometime come tumbling down around us, as Blodeuwedd and Lilith’s did.  But we have to ask ourselves, were they really banished or set free?  Neither Goddess is remorseful at their banishment, they get exactly what they want- a chance at a new life. 
   Another Goddess whose sexual nature is often seen as a negative aspect of her personality is the Morrigan.  She sleeps with many men, both gods and mortals, and is often seen as wonton and spiteful, as when she hinders the Irish hero Cúchulain in battle after he refuses to sleep with her.  Rather than allowing the men in her life to pursue her, the Morrigan initiates relationships with her lovers.  While Cúchulain never becomes her lover, she tries to seduce him, not the other way around.  In her guise as Macha (one of the Morrigan’s three faces) she simply appears in the farmer Crunnchu’s house one day and takes over all the household duties, including warming his bed as if she had always been there.  While Crunnchu is more than pleased with her rather bizarre entrance into his life, she doesn’t exactly give him a choice about their union.  She just shows up and takes over. 
   While many other Celtic goddesses take numerous lovers and participate in elicited affairs, the Morrigan’s sexuality is often described as uncontrolled.  But her sexuality is no different or perverse than her contemporaries.  The Morrigan’s passions are not simply feelings of lust, but instead becomes a powerful creative force within her stories.  Her passion can change the outcome of battles or summon prophetic visions in the throes of ecstasy.  As a woman in control of her own personal power she channels this force just as surely as she channels her magickal energies.  Her love affairs and sexuality are a potent part of her personality.  Yet she is vilified for this power. 
   The Morrigan’s origins point to her originally being a goddess of the land and sovereignty.  That is not to say that battle doesn’t play a role in personality, but simply that it is only one aspect to a very complex Goddess.  She makes her home in the Cave of Cruachan, and it is from here that the Morrigan flies forth to take part in the conflict in battles and conflict.  Her name appears in the name of numerous features of the land such as a pair of hills called The Dá Chich na Morrigna (The Two Breasts of the Morrigan), Gort na Morrigna (Morrigan’s Field), Mur na Morrigna (Mound of the Morrigan) an earthwork found in the Boyne Valley, and “The Bed of the Couple”, a depression in the land beside the river Unius, marks the spot where Morrigan mated with Dagda. 
   To the Celts true kingship required the king to be ritually linked to the land by entering a sacred marriage with the goddess.  This marriage between goddess and king, land and ruler, was not necessarily permanent.  If the king no longer acted to the benefit of the land, was too old, or disfigured, the goddess could leave the marriage and anoint a more suitable leader.  For this reason sovereign goddesses are usually linked to love triangles involving an older king and a younger man who eventually takes the place of the old king.  This love triangle is present in several Celtic myths, and remnants of this theme can be found in Arthurian legend with the relationship between Guinevere, Arthur and Lancelot.  As with Guinevere, many sovereign goddesses were portrayed as lustful and wonton women in later myths.  As Christianity influenced these ancient stories the goddess of sovereignty diminished into mortal queens.  A powerful woman in control of her sexual nature did not appeal to Christian morals.  As women’s sexuality became the property of their husbands, so too did the goddess’ right to choose her sexual partners change, becoming distorted into the image of a sinful woman stripped of her personal power. 
   As a Goddess of sovereignty the Morrigan maintains her right to choose her sexual partners, bestowing those she favors with true kingship.  When we see the Morrigan as a Goddess of sovereignty her sexual nature is no longer fierce and uncontrolled, but holds a deeper purpose.  Refusing her advances becomes a refusal to acknowledge the power of the Goddess.  While Cúchulain was not a king, instead being the champion of Ulster, he acts in much the same way a king would by protecting the land.  By refusing to have sex with the Morrigan, he refuses to acknowledge the power of the goddess who personifies the land.  Fueled by his ego he believes he does not need her favor to win his battles.  After rejecting her offer of a sacred union and her conferred sovereignty she wounds Cúchulain in battle.  When the Túatha Dé Danann attempted to overthrow the Fomorians it was not until the Dagda’s sexual union with the Morrigan that their victory was assured.  As one of the kings of the Túatha Dé Danann, Dagda’s union with the goddess of the earth ensured the Túatha Dé Danann’s sovereignty over the land and established them as the rightful rulers of Ireland.
   While Blodeuwedd and Lilith’s sexuality speak to us of independence and freedom, the Morrigan reminds us of our own inner sovereignty.  When we examine their myths and origins their sexuality takes on new meaning.  They are still dark Goddesses, but their action can inspire us to take control of our own bodies and personal power.  The dark Goddess's sexuality is not out of control or negative, but instead offers us new lessons to learn from her.   

Friday, August 12, 2011

“Pure Polytheism” vs “Soft Polytheism”

   I’m not sure if I would call this a “divide” in the Pagan community (at least not just yet) but there is a great deal of discussion out there (even outright bickering) regarding “pure Polytheism” and for lack of a better term “soft Polytheism”.  I’m sure everyone will have their own definitions for these two terms, but generally speaking pure Polytheism is seeing the Gods and Goddesses of each pantheon as separate entities, while a soft Polytheistic view would be seeing all Goddesses as aspects of one Great Goddess and all Gods and different faces of the Great God. 
   I’m finding that many Pagans argue that our ancestors were pure Polytheists, seeing the Gods as purely separate from one another, so therefore this view would be the most historically accurate.  I understand this point of view.  When I work with different deities their energy and personalities are very distinct and different from one another.  Athena is Athena, not the Morrigan with a Greek helmet on.  Cernunnos, while a dark God, simply does not have the same energy or attitude as Hades.  The beauty of this view point is that we experience the Gods not as archetypes but as individuals.  When you don’t think of Oya as just another personification of the “warrior aspect” of the Goddess, you can build a more personal bond with that Goddess, and truly learn her mysteries.  But does that mean that all these separate gems of divinity can’t still be separate and individual beings who also make up a beautiful complex whole?   
   Soft Polytheism would be more of the traditional Wiccan point of view.  To quote Dion Fortune “All gods are one god, and all goddesses are one goddess, and there is one initiator.”  In this view all the many Gods and Goddesses are aspects that make up a greater whole.  The down side to this is that for many working with the Goddess has become a sort of Chinese takeout version of spirituality.  We look at a list of Goddesses embodying similar qualities and pick which one to invoke at the next full moon ritual as if we were ordering General Tso’s Chicken.  We forget to really get to know the Gods.  We forget that even if Athena, Oya, Sekhmet, and Morrigan embody the “dark” Goddess or the “warrior” aspect of the Goddess that they are still different Goddesses, their energy within ritual work is not identical.  Their lesson may be similar but not identical.     
   Is one view better than the other?  Is one outlook the “correct” one?  Can both be true at the same time?  More importantly can the two sides get along?  In a way it seems these two points of view are beginning to veer off into extreme schools of thought.  There are both good and bad aspects to either point of view.  Personally I don’t think either one is wrong.  My own personal point of view is that both are correct.  With my own practices I try to both look at the past, and combine it with what I am sensing and picking up on from my own personal experiences with divinity.  I see the Gods as individuals.  They are distinctly different from one another, but I also believe that they are aspects of a greater whole, a greater whole that is far too complex for us to perceive in our mortal states.  My beliefs are somewhat a combination of both, and I think there are valuable lessons to be learned from either view point. 
   The only problem that I see is that soft Polytheism is slowly becoming deemed as a creation of “fluff bunny” Paganism, and that it has no value or historical backing.  But it truth many Pagan cultures where not strict Polytheists.  Some cultures did see their Gods are purely separate, and had no concept of all gods being one god.  In fact I would argue that the concept of “all gods are one god/goddess” is a modern one.  But ancient Paganism does clearly show us that our ancestors did see some Gods as aspects of others.  Many cultures weren’t pure Polytheist or soft Polytheist but rather a mixture of the two.
   For the last few weeks I’ve been doing some research on Egyptian deities.  Tracing the origins of any Egyptian Goddess can make your head spin.  The Egyptians liked nothing better than to mesh deities together to form new interpretations of the divine.  As one Goddess rose to prominence and her worship spread she absorbed the identities and attributes of other Goddesses.  Hathor for examples took on the attributes of Sekhmet, Isis, Mut and Bat.  When Mut’s worship in Thebes grew to prominence she became worshiped as Mut-Wadjet-Bast, then later when her worship became combined with Sekhmet she was hailed as Mut-Sekhmet-Bast.  Three Goddesses meshed into one.  The Egyptians sound like the first Wiccan theologizes.  To the Egyptians merging their Gods complemented rather than detracted from each God’s stature.  For them it made sense that these Goddesses could be individuals, yet still be aspects of one another. 
   The Roman’s had a similar view point.  As they conquered foreign lands they compared their Gods to the local ones, seeing them as the same deity just hailed by a different name.  At Bath the Celtic Goddess Sulis became Sulis- Minerva.  Similarly the Greeks equated their own Gods to those they found in Egypt.  In his writings Herodotus claimed Isis was the Egyptian Aphrodite.
   In the end I think the debate between the two is moot.  If we look back to the Pagan beliefs of the past we find both schools of thought being practiced.  Saying one is better than the other is verging on being dogmatic.  I think what has surprised me the most is how adamantly some Pagans will tell other Pagans that their beliefs are “wrong”.  Do we as a community want to venture down that path?  The Pagans of the past did not all view the Gods the same way, just as the Pagans of the present.  Ultimately no matter how we choose to view the Gods I think it is our relationship with them that is of the upmost importance.  A “pure Polytheist” Priestess of Brighid and a “soft Polytheist” Priestess of Brighid are still honoring the same deity, can share similar experiences, and learn from one another.  When we forge a true bond with divinity the term “pure Polytheism” and “soft Polytheism” should cease to matter.                        

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dark Goddess of the Week: Badb, Goddess of death, battle and rebirth...

  Of the three Goddesses that form the triple Goddess Morrigan, Badb seems to be the least understood.  She calls to us from the misty battlefields of legend, disguised as a hooded crow her shrill cries heralded doom for warriors.  She is the banshee, a battle furry, a prophetess, and guides souls to rest and rebirth.  Badb stands before us with one foot in the mortal realm and the other firmly in the realm of spirits.
  Badb’s name means “crow” or “one who boils”.  “One who boils” refers to the Otherworldly cauldron she was said to preside over.  It was believed that the world would end when her bubbling cauldron overflowed, its brew spilling upon the earth.  It seems odd that a cauldron, a symbol of life and the womb, should be used to bring about dead and destruction, but this story reinforces Badb’s connection to both life and death.  As the dark Goddess she destroys to create anew. 
   Badb is specifically connected to the hooded crow, a member of the corvine family with a dark gray chest and black wings, head, and tail feathers, giving it the appearance of wearing a hood.  In the form of a crow she flew over battlefields inspiring battle frenzy, causing confusion and striking fear into her enemies.  Battlefields were once referred to as the “Land of Badb”.  When she was not watching over warriors as a crow she wandered across battlefields in the shape of a wolf.  Badb’s connection to both these animals, is most likely because both animals would have been found scavenging for food on battlefields.  By consuming the flesh of the fallen they were symbolically taking in the warriors’ essence/spirit.  Gathering souls in animal form Badb would bring them to the Otherworlds and to eventual rebirth.    
   As the Washer at the Ford, Badb appeared as a phantom who washed the blood soaked clothes of those about to die.  Although we would assume in this dark aspect she would appear as a hag or a crone, Badb appeared just as often as a maiden as an old woman.  When she appeared to the infamous Queen Maeve she is described as a “white lady, fair with brilliancy” (Leahy, The Courtship of Ferb, p.78).  While today we connect black to mourning and death, white remained the color of mourning up until the time of Henry the VIII.  White represented the purity of the soul and during medieval times the mourner’s hope for the soul’s entrance into heaven.   As Badb often appears lamenting future deaths this is a fitting color for her.  The Irish Banshee maintained both a similar appearance and function in folklore, and most likely Badb evolved over time into this faery.  Like Badb the faery Banshee was also a death messenger, whose mournful wails heralded a death in the family she watched over. 
   At first glance this phantom washer woman seems like a being to be avoided, but once we shed our fears surrounding death and change Badb can become a powerful ally.  She does not cause death or disaster, but instead warns us of the consequence of our actions and guides us through transition and change.  Badb teaches us that death is a part of life, and shows us how to part the veil, and draw on the wisdom of our ancestors.  She can also teach us to conquer our own self-made phantoms, and confront our shadow-selves, the aspects of ourselves we fear.  She speaks to us of death and destruction, yet also guides us toward healing and rebirth.
   Call on Badb for protection, learning about past lives, releasing negative habits and emotions, communicating with the dead and divination.  The best time to work with Badb’s energies is during the new or waning moon.  Dark red wine, symbolizing the blood of death and birth would also be an appropriate offering to Badb. 

Colors: Red, White
Sacred Times: New Moon, Winter, Fall, Dusk
Tarot Card: Death

Badb Invocation

   The beginning of this invocation is based on the prophesy Badb delivers at the end of the Second Battle of Mag Tuired.

Peace to the sky,
Sky to the earth,
Earth beneath sky,
A cup very full,
Summer in winter,
Spear supported by shield,
Bring your blessings to me Badb!
Battle fury, Crow Goddess,
Both Maiden and Crone,
Cauldron keeper,
Fate weaver,
Badb, lead me towards rebirth!

  Dumb Supper to Honor the Ancestors

   This ritual can be done as part of a dumb supper (alternatively it can be done in front of you ancestor altar).  If honoring a specific person who has passed create a dinner featuring their favorite foods.  Some people prefer to do this on either the loved one’s birthday or the anniversary of their death.  Place a white candle in the center of the table to represent the ancestors/ the deceased loved one’s spirit.  Pictures of  the ancestors or loved one should be placed around the candle.  Before serving dinner light the candle and welcome the person’s spirit to the table by saying:

Badb, Lady of the Land of Shadows,
Open the Veil between life and death,
Tonight we gather here to honor the ancestors (or name of specific person)
and invite them to sit among us for a short while,
and to know that they are remembered and loved.
   Reminisce about the person who has passed or tell stories passed down in your family about the family’s history/culture.  If you wish to speak directly to the ancestors/desceased loved one do so.   When you are ready extinguish the candle, saying:

Badb, Lady of the Land of Shadows,
Draw back the Veil,
Close now the doors between life and death,
Ancestors and beloved dead (or name of specific person),
depart in peace with our love and blessings.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Sun in the Underworld

   This was originally posted on Morrigu’s Daughters for the new moon, but I thought I would re-post it here as well.  One would think the topic of sun Goddesses would have little to do with the dark Goddess but ironically the female sun almost always makes a journey into the underworld in mythology.  She is both a dark Goddess and a bringer of light in one, and I think a side of the dark Goddess we are mostly unfamiliar with.  Enjoy!

   For many of us we are use to viewing the sun as male and the moon as female.  This view comes to us from the Classical myths of the Greeks and Romans, who ascribed to the same gender distinctions for these celestial bodies.  Modern Wicca keeps in line (to some extent) with this same view.  But when we look to world mythology it becomes apparent that the sun was just as often a Goddess as a God.  The same, in fact, can be said of the moon.  Modern Goddess worshipers are adept at working with the energies of the moon, but we forget to see the sun as a representation of the Goddess’ power.  Sometimes we need to draw on the energies of the intuitive, lucid moon, other times we need to be the vibrant sun who dances across the sky. 
   I could go on about the different types of sun Goddesses – suffice to say there are many- and the multitude of roles they fill with mythology but as it is the new moon , and many of us are endeavoring to rise above the stresses and obstacles in our lives, one sun Goddess myth in particular comes to mind, and has been playing a role in my own personal rituals over the past month.  The sun Goddess in the underworld.
   At first glance it may seem odd that sun goddesses would be so closely connected with the underworld.  When we think of the sun, light, warmth and heat come to mind.  We think of the sun in its glory on a cloudless summer day.  When she sinks below the horizon we know she is shedding light on the lives of those on the other side of our planet.  But to our ancestors the sun’s nightly journey beyond the horizon, and eventual return, was a sacred mystery.  Where did the sun go?  What did it do when it was not shining its light and warmth on the world?  From these questions arose an almost universal myth found across all cultures.  Whether she died, traveled underground, or went willingly to bring her light to the dead, the sun nightly journeyed to the underworld or to the land of spirits.  This theme is also repeated in the sun goddess’s habit of retreating to a cave.  Caves were considered entrances to the underworld in several cultures, as the realm of spirits was often envisioned as a land below the earth.  The Aboriginal sun goddess Yhi traveled into the deep caves of the earth to awaken the spirits of the first animals and people, symbolically bringing their spirits from the underworld to the moral world. 
   The Egyptian sun Goddess Hathor greeted the soul of the dead every evening and offer them food and shade under her sacred sycamore tree.  The Canaanite sun goddess Shapash was charged with shining her light in the underworld and guiding souls there.  She was therefore given the title Luminary of the Underworld.  When Baal, the god of fertility and rain, died she searched the underworld for his spirit and restored him to life.   Bast, another Egyptian sun Goddess, nightly descended into the underworld to battle the serpent Apep, who embodied chaos.      
   Macha, one of the thee Goddess that form the Morrigans triple form, was called the “sun of womanhood” and was equated to another Celtic sun Goddess, Grian.  Yet Macha was also a goddess of death who collected the severed heads of dead warriors.  As the head was the seat of the soul in the Celtic mind, she presumably brings their spirits to the Otherworld/underworld.  In one story the Baltic sun goddess Saule drowned in the sea as she was descending from her journey across the sky.  Her daughters (sun maidens and younger versions of herself) descended into the underworld and bargained for her release so her light could shine on the world once again.  While not guiding the souls of the dead, she herself dies and is reborn with the dawn.
   In story after story the female sun descends to the underworld.  She conquers darkness or battles chaos or simply brings comfort to the dead.    The sun travels through the underworld and returns, her light still shining and radiant.  She is unique in being both a goddess of light and one who embodies the traits of the Dark Goddess as well, via her travels through the shadowed realms.  She is a light in the darkness.  Teaching us to burn our brightest, even in our darkest hour.  I think this is a valid description of all Dark Goddesses.  We call them “dark” because of the mysteries they embody but really they dwell in the dark because their inner light is an unconquerable force.  They shine like the sun in the shadowy underworld.      
   The summer months are an excellent time to connect to the vibrant powers of the sun.  I think we owe it to the Goddess and to ourselves to not limit our perception of the divine feminine.  She can be both sun and moon.  A bright Goddess and a dark one.  Let her be a guiding light during the day, and when the sun sinks below the horizon, let her be a guide in your darkest times.          

   Here is a meditation/visualization I have been using to draw upon the power of the underworld sun, and as it is just a few dasy after the new moon it is an excellent exercise to draw new beginnings into your life. 

Midnight Sun Meditation:

  Sit comfortably.  Visualize the sun shining above you (if you like do this while outside in the sunlight).  The sun is warm and radiant, like on the most perfect of clear summer days.  Slowly the sun begins to descend, her light and warmth growing closer and closer to you.  Soon she hovers just above your head, right at the point of your crown chakra.  Her light and warm do not harm you, instead filling you with a sense of strength and vibrance.  As you take a deep breath in, see the sun’s energy filling your chakra, her beautiful light flowing through your bod and spirit filling you.  Next see the sun descend to your heart chakra, then finally your root chakra.  At each point breath in and fill yourself with the sun’s vibrant force.  
   Now that you are filled with the sun’s energy see yourself standing in front of a large cave.  You walk forward knowing this is an entrance to the underworld.  Slowly the rock beneath your feet spirals downward, bringing you deeper and deeper into the lower realms.  Soon you hear sounds.  You are not alone, but you are unable to see in the dark of the underworld.  Soon a figure comes into view.  Take a moment to take in how the person (or being, it could be an animal or just appear as unformed energy, a feeling or a mist) appears.  This person or being represents the obstacles in your life.  It stands before you, blocking you path.  Think of the radiant sun, let the light of the sun and your own inner light shine through.  As you do so the underworld becomes filled with light, and the figure dissolved as mist dissolves in the wake of the sun’s warmth.  You inner light shining brightly you continue through the underworld, noticing that the path is slowly beginning to rise toward the surface.  Soon you come to a cave mouth and emerge to the world above.  Take another moment to see yourself shining with the radiance of the sun.  Know your inner light will burn brightly whenever you are faces with life’s difficulties.         

Defining the Dark Goddess

It seems appropriate to start this blog with some musings on who exactly the dark Goddess is.  She is the Washer at the Ford, keening while she washes the bloody cloths of those destined to die, the terrifying Kali, who dances with abandon on the corpses of her enemies, wearing their severed heads as ornamentation, and she is Sekhmet who drinks blood like wine.  She is queen of the underworld, mistress of death, a warrioress, and a ferrier of souls.  But do we really know her?  
   More often than not the dark Goddess is treated with fear.  Sometimes we are simply afraid to welcome change into our lives and to let go of our fears.  After all there is nothing that scares us more than change.  We may recognize that change is necessary, but humans have a tendency to cling to the way things are.  Others fear that working with this aspect of the Goddess will bring out the darkest or worst parts of themselves.  This concept that the dark Goddess is “evil” or “harmful” in any way is simply not true.  While working with the darker aspect of the Goddess may make you face things about yourself you would rather ignore, her path is ultimately one of healing.  Her destructive aspects teach us that there is death within life, that we are constantly changing and evolving. 
   For many the dark Goddess has become synonymous with the crone.  When we think of the darker mysteries we immediately connect them to “death” (whether that be physical or symbolic) and therefore relegate them to the realm of the crone.  But not every dark Goddesses is a crone.  In fact many of them are maidens and mothers.  The dark mysteries are embodied within all the aspects of the Goddess.  Ultimately the dark Goddess embodies transformation, whether that be the process of physical death and rebirth, or the ending of one phase of life and the beginning of a new one.  She teaches us that change is a constant process.    
   The dark maiden teaches us to be true to our selves.  As Persephone she begins as a Goddess of spring.  When she leaves her mother’s side and travels to the realm of spirits, she becomes queen of the underworld.  She is a light in the darkness.  It is not until she leaves her comfort zone (being with her mother) that she truly comes into her own power.  When Persephone was in the underworld the earth above remained barren.  Her life giving energies are centered within, nourishing the Goddess instead of the soil and plants. 
   The maiden Blodeuwedd was magically created from flowers to be the husband of the god Llew.  When she dared to love another she is punished by being transformed into an owl, banished to the night for asserting her independence.  As the beautiful Sedna she refuses to marry any of the suitors her father picks for her.  Angered her father threw her over the side of his boat, chopping her fingers off as she attempted to climb back in.  Her severed limbs transformed into seals, and other sea creatures.  Again the dark maiden is punished for her independence.  Hecate who in modern times is almost always portrayed as a crone, often appeared as a maiden.  Several Greek statues show her as a youth in triple form.
   There is no Goddess fiercer in the Hindu pantheon than Kali.  She wears severed head and limbs as necklaces and fights demons, yet she is also hailed in traditional prayers as a ‘divine mother’ or ‘mother Kali’.  One time Kali became so lost in blood lust during a battle that she was in danger of destroying all mankind.  In one version of the myth the god Shiva transformed into a baby and throws himself in the raging Goddess’ path.  Once she heard the child’s cries her motherly instinct kicked in and she snapped out of her killing rage. 
   One would assume that all crone Goddess where by definition dark Goddesses, but this is not necessarily true.  At times she is the hag brimming with wisdom earned by experience, but other time she is the wild black-winged Morrigan, who takes pleasure in shattering our egos and forcing us to face our inner demons.
   The dark Goddess teaches us to dance in the void, to delve into our own darkness and emerge renewed.  She is a vital and powerful force, a face of the Goddess we should explore and embrace.  Sometimes we fear her, but without her mysteries life could not exist.  If nothing changed, if nothing died, there could be no rebirth, no continuation of life.  She hands us the cup of truth, allowing us to gaze upon our true selves.  She tears us apart, but only so she may lead us to rebirth and renewal.  No matter what we have been through in our lives we can rise from the ashes, and like Kali dance ecstatically on the ruins of our old selves toward rebirth.