Prayers for the Goddess

As I get older and journey along my spiritual path a little further, I find the labels and definitions of ‘belief’ get hazier for me. I have stopped worrying about whether I am duotheist, polytheistic or monotheistic; about what tradition I might or might not feel myself a part of. I feel at home in Druidry because it seems to me to be remarkably inclusive and undogmatic, something that increasingly suits me very well; it allows me to express my love for certain aspects of eastern spirituality, make peace with my Christian past and remain open to learn from other beliefs and philosophies. I had the absolute pleasure of attending my friend Mark’s ordination into the Open Episcopal Church last weekend; a wonderfully moving ceremony that included not only Christian priests but Druid and Pagan ones too. To hear Christian liturgy alongside Druid and Goddess prayers in an atmosphere of tolerance and openness was heart-warming.

How we are touched by the Divine is so personal to us, and although our vision might be shared by others around us, the impact and deeper meaning of that relationship can only truly be understood by ourselves. This is why it seems such a pointless exercise to enforce one’s ideas of the Divine onto others. It has been said many times before but Divinity/Life is really too awesomely expansive to put in a box. However we perceive the Divine, the connection and relationship we build is ultimately far more important than the form or forms we perceive it to take – which is not to disrespect the forms but rather to embrace diversity and celebrate both difference and tolerance.

I went through a stage of exploring the Feminine Divine through a five-fold aspect of Maiden, Lover, Mother, Priestess/Wise Woman and Crone. Like the eight-fold Wheel of the Year (something that remains the foundation of my practice) such systems are an enormous help in deepening our understanding. They give us a structure within which we can explore and learn. I was always trying to find systems that I could settle into, that would have a sense of permanence but found – and have come to accept – that most of these mutated and changed. We outgrow structures, shedding their tight and constricting skins when we reach a point of readiness to expand and fill a wider space in our thinking and understanding.

As we grow, we shed; sometimes we revisit with new eyes what we once knew but have forgotten, and so the journey is more a meandering spiral than a rigid line. In this spirit, I share some of my five-fold Goddess Prayers from way back – those goddess forms that have moved through my life and being and have helped to shape and change me. I am aware that my understanding of these forms is confined by my own limitations of perception but the great thing about changing and shedding is that a little more of the mystery is always potentially there to be discovered along the way.

Maiden

Brighid, Bright Lady of the Triple Flame, you are my passion and poetry, my sun-bright inspiration, my heart-fire and my healing peace. You are the light in my brightest day and darkest night. Your precious spark journeys within from my heart to my tongue in word and song. At the touch of your warmth, like a burst of bird song, the thrill of your gift of life pours out from me – pours out that I might drink from a deeper well, that I might see the sun on the sea and know the wonder that all life is born from your fire and water. You are the precious pearl of light that is my Maiden self, ever renewing and transforming my world with new vision. Sweet Brighid, Sweet Bridie, Sweet Brigit, bless me.

Lover

Blodeuwedd, ‘Flower face’, sacred blossom that opens to the bee, you are the vibrant Green Woman of the earth’s desire and the earth’s yielding, of the sap rising and the embrace of longing. It is you that sets fire to my belly with joyous heat, who animates my body with the blissful energy of your love. You are the pleasure of union, the exquisite unfurling of body, mind and spirit. Owl of wisdom, you teach that through desire I am able to touch and unite with the world beyond my skin; able to let life in, and in doing so encounter my greatest lessons of transformation. Blossom of all creation and desire, in you I find my unique beauty, the sweet passion and wild delight of my womanhood. Blodeuwedd bless me.

Mother

Madron, whose cornucopia overflows with the abundant blessings of life, I am your child; the warmth of your womb and your powerful embrace are each the safe harbours of my life. I sense your nurturance and strength guiding me; I feel your unconditional love and acceptance upholding me. For you are my protector and provider, cradling me with your comfort and grace, nourishing me with your bounty and love. From your breast flows the Milky Way that feeds my inner life. I eat of your body and grow strong; I draw from your immense creativity the ability to birth my own dreams, as you have birthed the world. Great Mother, hold me in your peace and welcome me home. Madron bless me.

Wise Woman

Ceridwen, you are the deep dark place where change begins;  the fathomless pool where, from the depths, transformation rises – at first barely seen – to surface within my being. Tomb and womb, there is only stasis without you. I have died and been reborn a thousand times in the cupped cauldron of your hands. You are the midwife of my soul’s journey, eternally reshaping me that I might make a better fit, might grasp a little more of the mystery, might uncover a truer place to be. Each ingredient of my life you carefully prepare, simmered in your pot – my soul food. Dark Mother, I give to you all that needs to be transformed; you give to me the first precious breath of a new life. Ceridwen bless me.

Crone

Cailleach, Grandmother of stone, of mountain, cliff and cave, and rocky, windswept crag, you are my bedrock of strength and endurance. Ancient Bone Mother, you are the frame upon which my life takes shape. Rugged and timeless, your wildness inspires journeys into the remote and lonely places of my soul, for it is here that I find you, your face bright in the moonless night; your laughter my sacred song of dark wisdom and mother wit. Ancient Crone of all knowing, sing over my bones and remake me. Through your care may I be whole and transformed; blessed with your wisdom; keen as beak and talon, beautiful as the arching sky that carries your feathered spirit. Cailleach bless me.

 

 

 

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An Authentic Life

The Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow recognised, through what he termed the Hierarchy of Needs, that when humankind’s most basic needs are met – that is once they have food, shelter and safety – they will endeavour to move towards self-realisation. Maslow understood that this drive to actualise our greatest potential is a fundamental part of our humanity. In other words, as long as we are not starving, homeless or war-torn – consumed wholly by the demands of mere survival – we will come to a point when the urge to express, create, grow and flourish will move in us.

Maslow is saying that we, as human beings, are born to express our passions and gifts; it is inherently a part of our humanity and this process unfolds over an entire lifetime.

Maslow’s colleague, Carl Rogers, wrote about this process of self-realisation as an endeavour to live authentically, or as he termed it, to live the ‘good life’:

This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life.    

Rogers realised that the full expression of the good life could easily be thwarted by pressures from without – emotional, social, cultural or political expectations leading a person to forgo an authentically expressed life in order to gain approval from others. ForRogers, many folks ‘live lives that are not true to themselves, to who they are on the inside.’

As we reach middle-age and beyond, this possible tension between who we truly are and the life that we lead might result in a breaking point. As we age and become more aware of time speeding, of the irresistible call of our own mortality, it might do us good to recall those crossroad moments in our past when we could have chosen the authentic route but took another. When we find ourselves at such a juncture again, maybe we need to remind ourselves of Maslow’s rather wonderful assumption that fulfilling our potential is the bottom line and because our gifts, talents and passions are such a fundamental and intrinsic part of our humanity, it is never too late to rediscover them or even to reveal and embrace them for very first time.  

To many of us the thought of changing paths, careers or lifestyles in our latter years appears too daunting; it takes courage to stand in that current but when we do, it could be suggested that it is because we have come to a point on some deep inward level where we no longer have the choice – we either take the risk or whither inside. Aging can bring with it a sense of urgency, each moment made more precious by the limitations of our mortality. One of the beauties of aging is that death’s closeness encourages us to whittle out the dross and keep what truly matters. This sharpened awareness of death can grant us the permission to rebel but unlike the rebellions of youth which perhaps lack the wisdom of experience, we have the depth and knowledge to make those rebellions truly count.

Finding one’s ‘Passion Path’ later in life is not an impossibility; it’s about reaching middle-age and beyond and suddenly making the decision to step into that current, one that is uniquely ours, allowing it to move and inspire us. These currents, once we stand in them, have a momentum all their own that does not necessarily concur with modern ideas about success, fame or wealth. Standing in one’s passion path is certainly not an answer to every ill; we do not have control over every force that impinges on our lives; we might have only limited personal control over the wider social and political cycles that we are born into and that direct us in ways that most cannot prevent. In truth we are often more like little human bumper cars, in the driving seats to an extent but constantly bumped off course by other people or events.  However, we each have that innate spark waiting to ignite in us, waiting to open us to our core selves.

Where Should We Go From Here?

Despite the fears we are encouraged to have about taking risks as we age, it may well be that we will all find ourselves increasingly forced to take those risks due to the wider social and economic changes that confront us. We live at a time when there are an unprecedented number of people living healthily into old age. This increased longevity is happening in post industrial societies where technological advances, the globalisation and rationalisation of business and the fragility of economics systems all conspire to reduce the work force. There are presently few solutions as to how the burgeoning ‘silver’ generation will fund or occupy themselves.

The French Philosopher Andre Gorz wrote back in 1989 in his Critique of Economic Reason:

Neither is it true any longer that the more each individual works, the better off everyone will be. In a post-industrial society, not everyone has to work hard to survive, though may be forced to anyway due to the economic system.

Gorz understood that these changes would create an increasing tension between the long-held values of our work-based society and a reduced labour market, many members of which would find themselves redundant or surplus to requirement.

This important conjunction between the changes in our working lives and an ever aging and expanding population competing for fewer jobs, suggests that we need a radical rethink in our attitudes to work and its true meaning and value:

The connection between more and better has been broken; our needs for many products and services are already more than adequately met, and many of our as yet unsatisfied needs will be met not by producing more but by producing differently, producing other things or even producing less. This is especially true as regards our needs for air, water, space, silence, beauty, time and human contact.

As this seismic shift in our economies and culture continues to unfold, Gorz’s words have a powerful truth about them; they suggest that now is the perfect moment to reassess how our lives might be lived more effectively, particularly as we age. The economic problems that currently face the western world mean that the raising of the retirement age is now a reality. The fantasy of early retirement for many will be a financial impossibility, a great many of us being forced to work on into our seventies. For some, this prospect holds many benefits; retirement can be an extremely difficult time for those who just don’t feel ready to throw in the towel; loving a job and being forced to leave can be deeply traumatic. Others might find themselves financially trapped in work that is unfulfilling, the thought of yet more years of labour enforced by personal economic imperatives signalling a bleak future. Of course, our extended working lives are actually dependent on there being available jobs and the wider long-term prospects appear contradictory. What seems likely in the current climate is that many of us, as we age, we will be forced out of the mainstream competitive job markets by younger, cheaper applicants and find ourselves taking a cut in wage and perhaps forced to accept less skilled or satisfying work.

The prejudices about aging may be as entrenched as ever but the certainties about our working lives are clearly breaking down. As Gorz predicted, this situation sits uneasily aside the values about work that have held dominance in the west for many years. There is a work ethic that runs deep within western capitalist countries that has it roots in Lutheranism and Calvinism, traditions that promoted one’s vocation or daily work as a form of devotion to God. There is something deeply attractive about this idea of making one’s work a sacred act, however for Luther and Calvin, their puritan values placed strong dictates on what would be understood as acceptable or worthy work. One need only look at the ambitions of Victorian Industrialists to see how these values distorted even further to produce what where pretty questionable business practices that made massive profits from the exploitation of the poor and disadvantaged. It is now readily acknowledged that Britain’s rise to economic dominance in the 19th Century could never have happened without the use of child labour and slavery. Weber argued that those good Christian God-fearing industrialists could justify their actions as the ‘rational pursuit of economic gain and worldly activities dedicated to it’; crucially framing this with the Calvinist notion that such ‘pursuit’ was ‘endowed with a moral and spiritual significance’.

As society has become increasingly secular, the spiritual significance may have lessened but the moral dictates remain as strong. People often become deeply upset at the thought that others might be avoiding work; to work is to contribute to the wider society, most obviously in the paying of taxes but also in a more intangible sense of playing one’s part. To choose not to work, a person could be perceived as setting themselves apart from or above the mass, of leaching off it whilst giving nothing back. Our own work ethic has made it difficult for us to perhaps acknowledge that a great deal of the anger we might feel at the thought of others shirking honest labour is rooted in the dissatisfaction we might secretly or subconsciously harbour about our own working lives. It also ignores perhaps the deeper, more unpalatable truth that a great many jobs have very little true meaning or value at all beyond that they are work for work’s sake. This is troubling enough but there is also the fact that as a society we are yet to fully acknowledge that many of our jobs might contribute to environmental or social problems, leading to real suffering and deprivation for others. If we take the example of western companies employing eastern sweat shops, these products sold by western employees, it becomes apparent that the moral dictates of our work ethic are truly problematic ones.

As the world of work drastically changes, perhaps we need to come to an honest examination of what work actually means to us. Is it merely a method of financial survival? Something we endure as a duty, playing our part despite the unhappiness it might cause us or others? Or – considering the time we spend doing it – should it be something that positively exploits our talents, helps us to learn and grow as human beings? Wouldn’t it better serve us for our work to contribute to the world in ways that have depth and meaning, helping to create a society built not on exploitation and inequality but upon values that support human development and well-being?

For those of us who have reached middle age and beyond, given all our life experience, given that we sense the pressures of mortality more acutely and have a deeper understanding of how precious and short-lived our time here is, could we not set ourselves as the vanguard for a new approach?  If we find ourselves unfairly scuppered by a work market that is increasingly ageist whilst demanding that we continue to work, then is it not time to challenge the role that work plays in our lives and reclaim our passions as our work?

How we balance economic prosperity with individual and collective well-being is a vast and complex issue which cannot be answered here. However, a good place to make a start in reclaiming our work as our passion – long into old age – is to give ourselves permission to reject the old work ethic. With age we should defiantly asks ourselves – without embarrassment – the truly big questions. Why are we here? Why as individuals do we possess the gifts that we born with? Why does our society not care enough about all of us, regardless of age, being given the opportunity to express those gifts, that each might truly contribute in a personally meaningful way?