Posts Tagged ‘goddess’
Is your city a god or goddess?
One of my favorite things about the socio-political phrase ‘the separation of church and state’ is that it does not include pagan concepts when it separates out ‘church.’ Organized monotheistic religion is automatically cast as a bias for political motivations, while the more spiritual ethos like those practiced here are allowed a place at the table. Political iconography is full of pagan and esoteric occult elements which subtly play on the psyche of the masses to promote ideas of community and nationalism.
Just take a look at the statue of Liberty. She’s not just a pretty lady wearing a tiara and holding up a torch. She is a sculpture of the Roman goddess of Liberty. And yet she is not a museum statue, or a remnant of a bygone age. She is actively worshipped as a symbol of welcome for the huddled masses searching for the promised land of the American Dream. And for those already in the United States she is a perpetual guarding symbol of the democratic spirit she so poignantly embodies. Overall, she was an entirely apropos gift from the republic of France to the United States: the first government of the modern era to successfully practice democracy (the only previous working variant having been in 5th century BCE Athens).
The Statue of Liberty wears a stylized toga comparable to those of Republican Rome (an antique civilization the France of the past three centuries has actively idealized). She carries a tablet of laws (the political variant of the moral Ten Commandmants) and a torch of enlightenment. But most intriguing of all ~ is her crown. Her crown hearkens back to ancient traditions of city-goddesses, where the deity most associated with the city (or the personification of the city itself) would wear a divine mural crown symbolic of the city’s walls or battlements. From the creation of the first cities there has been an implicit identification of the city as an anthropomorphic divine figure ~ a protector of man analogous to the city battlements she wears on her crown. The most prominent iconographic depiction of this centers on the ancient Near East, where the Tyche city- of the Phoenician coast reigned supreme. She was a symbol of the town’s prosperity and linked to the well-being of their inhabitants, the various Tyches could be counted on to guard the fortune of her denizens.
Anthropomorphization, or the transformation of a concept or inanimate object into something human, is something man and womankind intrinsically does to make these concepts or objects relatable. We do it in a myriad of different ways, both in ancient times and modern, often without even thinking anything of it. We name our cars. We treat our domesticated pets as human children. We even cast the gods in our own image, and then justify this by saying that we were cast in his or her image and that thus it is an infinite playback loop. By granting the space we live in, i.e. the nation, the city, the street, the house, etc a personhood, we make it easier for us to relate and understand the understandable.
Why does it rain? Because the weather god is sad. Humanity, even perceived humanity, implies an understanding of culture and emotion. In casting human forms on the divine, we cast them into a society which parallels and interacts with our own and therefore can be understood as a grand godly soap opera. It makes the big scary unknowable things about the universe fathomable while still retaining some elements of their mystical mysteries.
Creating these humanistic symbols also builds a community, who, if they have nothing else in common, at the very least possess this shared iconography. Just as sports teams has associated colors, team jerseys, and a mascot ~ so too can this team building psychology be applied at wider levels of society. The personified nation, be it in the form of the statue of Liberty or the likes of the Roman Empire’s Roma, acts as a visible totem for people to follow and share.
Gradients of civic divinity can be seen throughout modern society. From the goddesses on state seals to the magickal spells implicit in state, government, and even school models. The deification of space and of concepts is happening all around you.
And so, this week I ask you to look around your world and inquire into how many wonderful gods and goddesses may be going overlooked and in need of a bit of your attention. Is your city a god? Does your school have a patron goddess? What do you anthropomorphize and why? Why is it so important that humankind does this?
Magickal Traditions Hidden In the Mundane
It’s really rather pleasantly shocking how many customs with pagan or magickal roots are tucked amongst the seemingly Christian holiday season cheer. Indeed the entire premise of the Christmas holiday is deeply indebted to the ancient polytheistic festivals which could never quite be stamped out. And with mainstream Christmas upon us, I thought we might take a quick look at the continuing magickal trends you might not have noticed going on today and indeed throughout the holiday season and into the New Year ahead.
This Christmas, the story of the birth of the Christian semi-god Jesus Christ will be reenacted in churches and schools all over the world as part of the Nativity play. But did you know that this classic tale is actually a re-working of an even older myth concerning the Eastern deity Mithras, who also had a birthday on December 25th? The Apostle Paul, who’s version of the birth of Christ is the most heavily relied upon for the traditional Christmas story, hailed from Ephesus- a center of worship for Mithras in the later Roman Empire. His writing was highly influenced by his surroundings and thus incorporated several of the elements of the Mithras cult and birth story into his telling; including both the idea of the virgin birth and visit of the three wise men to his birth site (in a cave vs. a stable). Indeed it is likely that the early church fathers cast Jesus’s birthday in the winter to take advantage of the pre- pagan winter festivities in the first place.
The Eastern Star associated with the Nativity story, and its derivative decorative value over the holidays is likewise an element of older cults which was refashioned to suit monotheistic needs. Intriguingly, some of its greatest usage is attached to ancient mother goddess cults, including that of the goddess Asherah: the oft forgotten wife of the god Yahweh ~ the original version of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim God celebrated on Christmas. Many other nature symbols, like snowflakes and poinsettias, which are also associated with the holidays were likewise used in older pagan cults. None more so than mistletoe. Added into the Christmas mythos through its Germanic and Norse usage during winter festivals, it is linked inevitably to the Norse gods through its appearance in the myth of Baldr, the dying god of Viking myth. Following a prophecy detailing Baldr’s impending death, his mother extracts promises from all of the plants and creatures of the world but forgets about the lowly mistletoe tucked up in the oak trees. And so when the mistletoe is unwittingly tricked into stinging Baldr at the behest of the trickster god Loki, the sting is fatal and Baldr is committed to the Afterlife until the end of the world (Ragnarok) when he will emerge to lead the new world order. The theme of the dying god appears over and over again throughout world mythology, indeed the story of Jesus Christ itself represents a ‘dying god’ myth. The re-use of mistletoe as part of the Christmas festival is therefore most fitting indeed.
Also stemming from northern European pagan traditions are the Yule log and Christmas ornaments. The giant Yule log was traditionally chosen to be burned on the Winter Solstice, the darkest and longest night of the year. The cheerful fire of the long burning log was intended to ward off the evil spirits that lurked in the dark. Families would gather together on this dark night both in fear of the darkness and in celebration of the upcoming new year ahead. The winter holidays were highly important in the pre-scientific world. In a time where you cannot fathom the astrological and natural reasoning behind the turning of the seasons, when all the plants die and the weather gets bad ~ you want to do everything you can to encourage a better season to come round.
Christmas ornaments, however, are perhaps the most gory of modern holiday traditions. Rumor has it that Germanic warriors would hang the heads and saddle gear of conquered foes on trees near their residence as trophies of their battle. These dark prizes eventually transitioned into more metaphorical baubles which in turn were placed on the first famous Christmas trees popularized by the Germanic Prince Albert at the court of Queen Victoria in nineteenth century England. Decorated vegetation was not however limited to Northern European traditions, decorated boughs of a variety of plants were common features of ancient Roman and Greek festivals, and were intended to both encourage the future bounty of the crops and protect the house from evil spirits.
Other household holiday decorations possess further overlooked magickal significance. Have you ever noticed how many anthropomorphic figures there are around Christmastime? Gingerbread men, snowmen, figurines of angels, the nativity characters and Santa and his crew: there are hundreds of thousands of little simulacra of people associated with the holidays. And while such representations of humanity may seem commonplace in today’s society, for thousands of years and indeed still in some cultures such things were and are forboden. From the ancient so-called Venus figurines of prehistoric Europe to the statues of the classical world, the recreation of the human form was considered sacred and powerful. Perhaps the most well known remnant of this concept are the voodoo dolls of Santeria and other Afro-Caribbean traditions. Their Christmas cousins may be just as powerful. From the helpful elf who watches over children’s good behavior to the angels atop the tree: these personifications of the human soul and spirit are no less powerful if one chooses to believe in them.
And finally, let us consider the concept of the infamous Santa Claus himself. The story of Santa is ripe with magickal elements. Ultimately, he is a semi-deity who lives in a magickal dimension on the northern fringes of the human world accompanied by a bevy of miraculous toy-making beings and flying creatures. And though the tradition of Santa is not very old in and of itself, the idea of powerful house spirits who bear gifts and good fortune goes back to the very beginning of time in almost every culture. In some cultures, particularly in Eastern Europe and Japan, these house spirits are still widely venerated in the modern world.
Ultimately, though Christmas is a monotheistic holiday. Its modern celebration is chock full of symbolism and traditions which hearken back to earlier times and brighter pagan customs. One needs only look closer to find them and celebrate their wonder.
Prayer and song are elements of religious culture which anthropologists assume were some of the key early features of the world’s first religions thousands of years ago. The spoken or sung verbalization of a wish, a cry for help, a thank you and other types of prayer formalizes the supplicant’s desire ~ pushing it out from them and into the wider cosmos. It is a beautiful expression which bridges the gap between human and divine.
With the advent of writing in ancient Mesopotamia, these prayers began to be written down ~ their power deriving now as much from the vocalization of the desire as from the act of being written. Early writing was considered sacred. The knowledge of being able to read and write was a powerful skill; one which was possessed by the rare few; in fact, initially only priests, royal administrators, their scribes, and occasionally the royals themselves were capable of writing and reading. It was used as much for organizing the newly expanding Empires of the world as it was for magickal purposes. Over time, it would filter down to the merchants and beyond, sifting down through the ages until the invention of the printing press in China in the sixth century AD and the later, more prominent Western discovery of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century, and the wider spread of literacy that ensued because of these discoveries. But in ancient Mesopotamia, the power of the written prayer was myriad, and was used to call upon the gods for a vast array of purposes.
The following prayer, or hymn, to the goddess Ishtar is from approximately 1600 BCE, during the first Dynasty of Babylon. It was written in cuneiform on behalf of the King Ammiditana, and survived the ages, to be deciphered by the archaeologists of the early twentieth century and ultimately read by you, dear reader, at the beginning of the twenty-first.
One of the things I love most about the Sacred Mists is its emphasis on learning; learning not just about oneself, but about the world at large. We are not alone, there is no singular Big Brother bland culture but rather an awe-inspiring multi-faceted tapestry of cultures. And I find that the Sacred Mists encourages people to take a step back and appreciate the vast and powerful picture the people of the world have created.
I recently had the opportunity to experience the magick of Hindu rituals up close and personal and thought that perhaps those of you at Sacred Mists might like to hear a bit about it. My lovely friend Anjali was recently wed ~ and as a bridesmaid at her fabulous Indian wedding, I had a chance of a lifetime to witness firsthand the beauty and sanctity of several ancient Hindu ceremonies in their modern contexts. Hinduism is one of the oldest continuing religious traditions still flourishing in the modern world. Based on the prehistoric beliefs of the Indian subcontinent, it was shaped by millennia of social and political upheavals, and influenced profoundly by its philosophical offshoots, Buddhism, Jainism, and Lamaism. With over one billion followers worldwide, it is one of the largest mainstream religions; and the biggest religion which recognizes more than two deities. Its emphasis on spirituality, myth, ritual, and polytheism make it of particular interest to Sacred Mists readers. Read the rest of this entry »
Arianrhod is the Mother aspect of a Goddess triad along with Blodeuwedd and Cerridwen. She is also said to be one of the five Goddesses that originate from the isle of Avalon; the other four being Blodeuwedd, Cerridwen, Branwen and Rhiannon. Unfortunately Arianrhod is one of the many Goddesses who’s myths and details of how she was worshiped have been lost in the mists of time and much of what we know about her now either originates from the Welsh myth cycle of The Mabinogion or it is presumed, or even made up, as being something that “may have been”. At the same time people have been creating and developing new ways of honor her and many other deities who originate from cultures that either had little formal record keeping or who’s information was lost over time.
Arianrhod’s name is pronounced “ari-an-rod” and is said to translate to “silver disc” or “silver wheel” and she is often referred to as The Silver Wheel (the etymology though could be more of folk meaning since its been suggested that “arian” may mean “round”). She is a Goddess who was a shapeshifter and was known to take the form of an oil. She rules over the moon, stars and the sea, but was also seen as a Goddess of beauty and fertility. The Silver Wheel that she is said to be tied to is the wheel of life, time and karma. With this she helps to ferry a boat known as the Oar Wheel which carried the souls of dead warriors to Emania (said to translate to Moon-land) where they would then reside. It is also believed in some myths that Arianrhod fills the roll of timekeeper and turns the Wheel of the Year, seen also as The Silver Wheel.
Visually Arianrhod is often depicted as powerful and strong yet delicate and beautiful. She is often seen with pale skin and light blonde hair to resonate her connection to the moon and the color silver. Arianrhod is the mother of the Shining God/Shining Son, Lleu, also know in myths as Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Lleu meaning “shining one” and Llaw Gyffes meaning “skillful hand”).
The myth of Arianrhod in The Mabinogion, the only real recorded myth of her, is somewhat confusing. You can read the original story here, but in brief the story is about Arianrhod, her brothers Gilfaethwy and Gwydion, and their uncle Math ap Mathonwy who is the king of Gwynedd. It is said that the king must keep his feet resting in the lap of a virgin when he is not on the battlefield at war, so Math has a foot holder named Goewin who resides with him. Gilfaethwy has a secret desire for Goewin but because of her need to remain pure in order to serve Math there is nothing he can do about this desire. Eventually his longing for her becomes too much and along with the help of his brother Gwydion they devise a plan to steal pigs from Pryderi, the king of Dyfed, a neighboring kingdom, and making it look as though Math was responsible. While the two kings are fighting over the stolen pigs, Gwynedd uses this as his chance to be with Goewin. (Depending on the translation or presentation of the story this part changes; the original tale depicts it as rape while in other more modern retellings it’s softened a bit and sometimes worded as he “had his way with her”, or even outright saying it was a consensual affair). When Math returns he finds out about Goewin no longer being a virgin and therefore no longer being able to fill her role in his kingdom. He is enraged with his nephews and curses them to reside in the bodies of animals; they are turned into male and female animal pairs including a stag and a hind deer, a boar and a sow and a male and female wolf, each time forced to mate with one another and bring the offspring to Math.
In the process of this Math marries Goewin to remove the shame of what has happened, but he still needs a new foot holder. Feeling obligated, Gwydion offers up his sister Arianrhod to replace Goewin. Math accepts her but when she arrives at his kingdom he suspects that she has had many relations with men of all sorts, including mermen, and possibly her own brothers. Math decides to test her chastity and has her jump over his wand telling her that if she is a virgin this will tell him. She does but as she does so she gives birth to a young boy named Dylan and a blob-like entity. Dylan is said to be the result of a union with a creature of the sea and he is immediately returned to the ocean. Gwydion takes the entity before anyone else can and hides it in a chest and soon after it turns into boy who grew at twice the rate of a normal boy.
Arianrhod felt same over the events in the king’s court as well as the birth of an unknownable entity. She returns to her home where Gwydion arrives several years later with the now growing boy. She curses the child, saying he will never have a name unless she decides to give him one. Gwydion disguises the boy as a shoemaker and takes him to Arianrhod to have her fitted for shoes. While there the boy kills a wren with the throw of a single stone and she remarks that the fair haired shining one has a skillful hand (giving him the name Lleu Llaw Gyffes). Discovering she has named him she curses him to never be able to carry or use a weapon unless she gives it to him. A few years later Gwydion again tricks her, this time disguising Lleu as a bard who comes to entertain her. While everyone sleeps Gwydion conjures a fleet of warships to Arianrhod’s home and she gives weapons to all the men to help her fight, thus arming Lleu. Again she curses him after discoving what she has done, this time saying Lleu will never have a woman of any race or form on the earth. This curse is later broken when Gwydion and Math create Blodeuwedd, the Flower Faced Goddess, out of oak, broom and meadowsweet and give her to Lleu whom she marries. Thus Arianrhod attempts to deny Lleu three aspects of masculinity, a name, the right to fight armed, and a wife, yet he his trickster uncle is able to save him each time.
Hymn to Arianrhod
By Janet and Stewart Farrar
From The Witches’ Goddess
Arianrhod of the Silver Wheel
By all the names men give thee -
We, thy hidden children, humbly kneel
Thy truth to hear, thy countenance to see.
Here in the circle cast upon the Earth
Yet open to the stars – unseen, yet real -
Within our hearts give understanding birth,
Our wounds of loss and loneliness to heal.
Isis unveiled and Isis veiled, thou art;
The Earth below our feet, the Moon on high.
In thee these two shall never be apart -
The magick of the Earth and Sky.
Here are some correspondences for working with Arianrhod:
Call on her for help with:
magickal brewing, working with the cosmos, courage, cunning, death/transition, enchanting, fertility, initiation, life cycles, lunar magick, magickal arts, honoring the moon, magick with or honoring the ocean and sea, passion and lust, poetry, prophecy, reincarnation, renewing, retribution, sky magick, spellcasting, time, weaving and spinning (physical, magickal or metaphorical), wisdom, women’s issues (especially as they relate to fertility).
blue, purple, gray, silver, white
Herbs and Essences:
Spinning tools, silver wheel, zodiac, nets, wheels, silver, the full moon, the Corona Borealis
Silver coins, wheat, green or white candles
(Information on correspondences for Arianrhod are somewhat scarce.)
The pictured statue of Arianrhod can be found in the Sacred Mists Shoppe in both a black resin and a copper cast. The Shoppe also has a beautiful locket filled with solid perfume by Jessica Galbreth featuring her depiction of Arianrhod on the front.
Cerridwen is the Keeper of the Cauldron, the mother of transformation and change. She brings inspiration, wisdom and the gifts of prophecy to those that work with her. She is seen in Welsh legend as being a crone Goddess, creating a triad with Blodeuwedd and Arianrhod. Cerridwen’s energy resonates with the darker elements of the Goddess and has connections to the Underworld. The meaning of her name is somewhat debatable. There is the more modern, new age interpretation that claims to to mean “white sow” yet in the early texts where her name is first found, spelled “Cyrridven”, it is interpreted to mean “crooked woman” (“cyrrid” meaning crooked and “ben” meaning woman). With the change of spelling to Cerridwen the etymology changed and her name could then be seen to mean something to the effect of “blessed or sacred woman”. There are still other spells of her name that you’ll see from different time periods as well including Ceridwen, Caridwen and Kyrridwen.
In the Welsh myths and legends of The Mobinogion, we see the legendary story of Cerridwen where she puts a young boy named Gwion in charge of stirring and watching over a cauldron, known as Amen (which later became Awen, a Welsh word meaning “poetic inspiration” and what is believed to be contained within her cauldron), full of a magickal brew she was making for her son Morfran that would make him very wise and knowledgeable in order to make up for his physical failings as he was very ugly. Cerridwen figured that he’d miss opportunities because of his looks but should he have endless knowledge he would have more changes. The brew which consisted of six herbs would need to brew within the her cauldron for a year and a day and would need to be watched constantly. She gives strong instructions to Gwion not to spill anything out the cauldron since only three drops of the brew will be useful to her son since the rest will become poison. On the last day Gwion accidently splashes several drops of the hot liquid on his hand as he is stirring and in a movement of reflex he puts his hand to his mouth and sucks on the burn only to suddenly become enlightened with this great power and wisdom intended for Morfran since he has taken within these three drops of magickal brew. The rest becomes poison and knowing that the contents of the cauldron will be of no use to Cerridwen, Gwion flees in fear. From here we see a wonderful and magickal dance of shapshifting and transformation as Cerridwen changes into the form of many different creatures to chase down Gwion who now also has the power of transformation and begins to shift as well during this dance. Eventually at the end Cerridwen catches up to Gwion and swallows him, taking him within to transform him further. Nine months later Cerridwen gives birth to a boy named Taliesin, one of the greatest poets to ever live.
The story of Cerridwen and her symbols provide us with a wonderful story for transformation and understanding the idea of cycles in our lives and the lives of all things around us, including nature. She beings by trying to take the shadow element of her son Morfran and using her cauldron to create a potion of wisdom to transform him. Here we the concepts of “brewing” knowledge for a year and a day, letting this simmer and marinate and come together during a process of tending to the fires that keep the process going. We then see that, through taking in this knowledge deeply and letting it do it’s work, flowing with it and letting it transform and change us, we have the ability to experience many different things. We may also find that we need to chase after what we truly desire as a result of desiring knowledge (like chasing down your dreams). Once we make the transformation we may need to let it ruminate some more and nurture and care for our projects or knowledge and then, when the time is right, the fruits of our labor are born.
Cerridwen, while having her dark side, is just as much a mother as she is a crone. Her crone aspect encompasses her wisdom but as a mother she nurtures that wisdom and the growth that it brings. She is an approachable Goddess though, if you come to her asking to be shown knowledge, truth and wisdom in any aspect, whether mundane, magickal or spiritual, she will put you through tests and trials and will make you earn that which you seek. She isn’t a Goddess that hands things out to the ungrateful and she isn’t one that spoonfeeds love and wisdom, but for those that are willing to truly seek out the Holy Grail, as her cauldron is sometimes seen to represent, then she will help you uncover it. Working with Cerridwen will transform you and you will find that your views, your path and your spirituality will be vastly different once you have passed her tests.
Some areas of working that Cerridwen can be helpful with include:
Aging, aminal magick, the arts, astral travel, astrology, magickal brewing, clarity, creation and creativity, darkness, death, destruction, discipline, disease, divination, dreams, energy of the lunar eclipse, enchantment, enlightenment, exorcism, fate, fear, fertility, grief, guidance, healing and health, herbs, initiation, inspiration, intuition, judgment, justice, karma, law, learning, longevity, dark and light magick, lunar magick, meditation, mysteries, night, oaths, obstacles, opportunities, poetry, power, protection, psychic abilities, rebirth, regeneration, reincarnation, renewing, retribution, revenge, shapeshifting, sorcery, spellcasting, tarot, transformation, truth, Underworld, wisdom, witchcraft, woodlands, writing.
Colors associated with Cerridwen include:
purple, black, gray, white and silver.
Seasonally Cerridwen can be associated with the Sabbats of:
Yule and Samhain
Animals associated with Cerridwen include:
Hen and white sow
Herbs and essences associated with Cerridwen include:
Vervain, vanilla, almond and bergamont
Stones and crystals associated with Cerridwen include:
Coral, agate and carnelian