The Ties That Bind

In the New Age community there is often talk about the act of cutting cords. This essentially means the severing of the binds that connect us to negative habits or people, any damaging ties to the past, situations that no longer serve us and things or relationships that drain us in our present. These cords have a very real, physical impact on us and some clairvoyants claim they can see them actually attached to our bodies. Anything that stirs a powerful negative emotion can take up residence not only in our minds and emotions – we all know what it is like to obsess over something and the way that can make us feel – but it can also be held in our bodies manifesting as tension, anxiety or stress.  The cutting of cords is seen as a kind of emotional and psychic housecleaning because carrying unwanted baggage or suffering toxic relationships are not healthy for any of us.

However, I have never felt entirely comfortable with the idea of ‘cutting’ cords. It feels like a very sudden and almost violent severing of something that, although might be holding us back, is nevertheless a part of us and may have been so for many years. It might just be semantics but I much prefer the image of untying a knot, or unravelling a plait as a method of visual releasing. It somehow is a better analogy to the process of letting go, because in truth, it can take time to remove those negative thoughts, relationships, habits and situations that bind us. The cutting of a cord suggests instantaneous results which for most of us, doesn’t really happen. Those things have been woven into our lives over time, and the painful nature of them means that they need some gentle handling and loving patience to let them go. For me, any magical or ritual act must be followed up with ‘acting in accord’; that is following through on our intention with action that supports it. This is the hard work bit, the place where we practice our intention until it becomes a reality.

The image of a knot or plait unravelling resonates with me because the act of weaving a thread and unpicking it, suggest that we have a creative input into the living of our lives. Unravelling the binds gives us time to honour those relationships or the experiences of our lives that have possibly brought us to a bad place.  The energy of those things remains in our hands and we are given the choice to reweave them in ways that are more appropriate for who we are now, or for who we would like to be.

In the past I have used plaiting and knotting of cords in ritual as a way of focusing attention on what I want to bring into my life, so it makes sense to use this technique in reverse for what I wish to remove. When we are struggling with those emotional shackles or with relationships that do us harm, we need to be kind with ourselves and understand that it’s ok if the letting go takes a little time. We are asked to be patience but consistent; to acknowledge any pain, sadness or resistance around the issue – we don’t have time to do that if we cut. Cutting demands an immediate end; unweaving coaxes it gently.

I guess I feel that cutting doesn’t give me the time to integrate the experience. We can’t remove our past, unlive what has happened; those things remain and are a part of us. However,  by unweaving and reweaving, we take what is ours and make it anew; we transform challenging life energy into something more productive for ourselves; we weave a new pattern for our lives.

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Deity, Gender and the Problems of Essentialism

lovers

Before I post about the individual deities that I work with, I want to write a little about the problematic area of deity and gender. As explained in my previous post, I view personified deity as aspects of nature and the cosmos. One of the most liberating attractions of modern Paganism is that it offers us images of the Divine Feminine. Female images of ‘God’ have been woefully lacking in our culture for hundreds of years and this has undoubtedly had a negative impact for both women and men. Neopaganism, and particularly the modern Goddess movement, has seen a resurgence in the honouring of the Divine Feminine in a variety of forms. Being able to see oneself reflected in the Divine has been an immensely empowering experience for women, one which has for countless years been taken for granted by men. It is extraordinary to me that when we say the word ‘god’, the majority of us will automatically assume that figure to be male. Even if we haven’t been raised in an Abrahamic faith, the assumption is so deep rooted in our culture, that even the most secular of us will still perceive God as male.

Embracing the notion of a Goddess has enabled both men and women to challenge the restrictive essentialism that is entrenched in our societies, which can only be a good thing for all of us, but I recognise that there are problems when we attempt to determine what defines and differentiates the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine. One issue is that in trying to explain what these are, we inadvertently slip back into essentialist notions of gender. Many will respond by saying that there is a difference between gender – which is a cultural construction – and wider concepts of Goddess and God. This might be so, but a lot of the time it seems gender essentialism is still hard to shift when we attribute qualities to male and female faces of the Divine.

If I were a pure Pantheist, this wouldn’t be a problem for me because the Cosmos as Divine energy in action would be too vast, mysterious and complex to place a human face upon. However, I am drawn to work with individual goddesses and gods, so how do I approach the tricky issue of gender and deity personification?

I tend to work with deities as archetypes. When I engage with a particular deity, I am attempting to contact the energies of that archetype so that I can understand them better and express them more positively in my life. In my next post I will write in more detail about my relationship with Aphrodite, but for now, if we say that Aphrodite’s energies are love, connection, union, attraction, the first thing we might ask ourselves is, are these things specifically male or female in nature? Culture has given them a female face in the form of the goddess Aphrodite but if I am honest, I would say that these energies, for me, transcend gender. To me, the energy of the archetype is ‘pure’;  when we approach and attempt to engage with it, we bring to it all our own cultural conditioning. We can tend to view the archetype with a somewhat distorted lens. Aphrodite is a good case in point. She is often viewed as a coquettish sex kitten, which is a woefully inadequate perception of a deity of love and passion (as anyone of us who has been in love will attest). What we see in this image is the distorting of a powerful archetype that says more about a culture’s attitudes towards its female members (Classical Greek Society was notoriously misogynistic!) than it does about the full, flowering power of that archetype. Part of the joy and challenge of working with deities is that we each bring our cultural distortions to the table; working with deity is an opportunity to strip these away and see ourselves and the archetype more honestly.

LgeKuanYinonLotus

Another example might be useful.  Kuan Yin is a Buddhist bodhisattva who has also been embraced by many Neopagans as a Goddess of Compassion, Mercy and Kindness. For many throughout the Far East, Kuan Yin is perceived as female, however, Avalokitesvara is her male form, and although not as popular as her female manifestation, is still honoured.

This fascinates me because it suggests that the qualities that Kuan Yin embodies – Compassion, Mercy and Kindness – are here associated with both Male and Female figures, which further suggests that the qualities themselves are of greater importance than what personification we clothe those qualities with. I suspect that there will be many people who connect with those qualities more easily via a female form (and no doubt a little essentialism has influenced this – the gentle energy of this archetype being more in keeping with many people’s assumptions about women’s ‘innate’ being). However, we are all capable of compassion, regardless of gender, and that we connect with this energy is more important, ultimately, than the face we choose to give it.

avalokitesvara_by_pavari-d6dzzdn

Having said this, I do recognise that there is a good deal of rebalancing that needs to be achieved, so giving expression to goddess forms is vitally important for challenging gender assumptions. However, we have to guard against a further essentialism by valuing the image over the quality. For me, the quality or energy of the archetype is central; what personification I choose to clothe that quality with is deeply personal. Basically, I have chosen the forms that, for me, make the most direct and potent connection.

With regard to Aphrodite, I choose to see her as a goddess but she could just as easily be perceived as male in form. I know this because I see her and experience her through my partner (who is a man). For me, her energy is not confined by gender. This being said, I am also aware that as I work with her as a female image, as I challenge the sex kitten image and discover a deeper and richer expression, I am in some way liberating myself as a women from so much of the misogyny that underpins our attitudes to female sexuality.

I will now follow with some posts about those very faces of the Divine that draw, challenge and inspire me the most…

What is Deity to Me?

With%20the%20eyes%20of%20the%20Goddess2

Over time, I have become less and less concerned with spiritual labels. It’s not that I don’t think them useful but I have come to believe that we should remain as flexible and open in our definitions as possible. Fundamentalism is a frightening and limiting view to me. I am of the opinion that how we perceive and relate to the Divine is a very personal thing and will differ from person to person. Hearing others speak of how they relate to deity is fascinating; I might not agree with that person’s approach but I feel my own experience is enriched in the sharing. And so in this spirit, I will offer my own current take on the Divine. Having said labels are unimportant, I am now going to reel out some of my own; however, I am aware that all of these are subject to change as I walk my spiritual path.

I consider myself a Pagan and essentially a Pantheist – that is, I believe that the Divine is present in the Cosmos, in fact, IS the Cosmos and exists in all life-forms, both animate and inanimate. These days, I feel that I am probably a Panentheist in the sense that my Pantheism is also open to the possibility that there is something beyond the material universe, a spiritual force that transcends it whilst also being imminent within all existence, much in the way that Hindus might view Brahman. Once again, like Hindus, I believe that the Cosmos functions through the dynamic interplay between the complimentary forces of the Goddess and God, although I don’t understand these in terms of gender, more in the way certain energies – for instance creation and destruction – move in an endless dance that fuels life.

Awen RaysMy Pantheistic/Panentheistic sensibilities are the broad stroke, that is, they are a view of the Divine that for me cannot be contained or fully understood by my limited consciousness – the Divine at this level is a vast and unknowable mystery, one that inspires but is a little difficult to get to know in a human way. I get a little closer when I start to see this force as Goddess and God, but for me, it begins to get a lot more up close and personal when I view these forces in their expression of multiple goddesses and gods. To clarify, the Cosmos is a unified whole made up of a myriad of natural forces; the gods and goddesses are facets of that Divine whole. I recently heard someone refer to them as lenses that focus in on aspects of the Divine whole.  I seek my most intimate connection to deity through selected lenses, that is, through particular goddesses and gods. These deities are aspects of nature and by extension, human culture. I work with these as archetypes (more on this later).

By now, some of you will recognise that I am a ‘soft’ Polytheists. Polytheism is the worship of many gods but there are differences in the Polytheistic approach between what is now termed ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Polytheism. Hard Polytheists view their deities as distinct, individual beings who exist in their own right and are not seen as merely aspects of an overarching Goddess and God (who in themselves are aspects of an even greater overarching Universal Force).  Soft Polytheists are often accused (mainly by hard polytheists) that they are actually not Polytheists at all but Monotheists ; Monotheism is the belief in a single God (are you still with me!!) and for hard core Polytheists, Pantheist are seen ultimately to honour that Cosmic Oneness, regardless of how they might break it down from there.

a-journey

 

This all leads me back to my original point. All the labelling, trying to work out what we believe, can be useful in orientating ourselves and deciding what our spiritual practices will be, but in truth, defining the Divine is not nearly as important as the relationship we build with it. I have discovered that the methods are important only in so much that they have to work for you, they have to make possible an authentic and enriching relationship with the Divine. For instance, if you choose to be a Wiccan but discover that the Wiccan view of the Divine just doesn’t help you to connect, explore another way. Don’t be hemmed in by dogma or rules of any one belief system.

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating, and so, I will follow with a series of posts that explore the deities that I currently work with and how these impact on my spiritual understanding and practices.

Rekindling the Fire

Imbolc Shrine

Imbolc Shrine

It’s been a while since I have seriously and consistently celebrated the festivals of the Wheel of the Year. For almost twenty years, these seasonal festivals have been the foundation of my spiritual practice but this recent period, with all its attending difficulties, has found me only sporadically writing and performing rituals for them.

After so many years of orientating myself through the honouring of these seasonal changes, it has been strange to let them go for a while. In the past, the qualities and themes of each season played an enormous part in my well-being. Through joyful times, they enriched my life and when life presented its inevitable struggles, I found the wisdom of the Wheel a huge help in getting through.

As the grief took hold of me, I stopped hearing and seeing the wisdom. The sense of spiritual connection that I had once felt crumbled in the face of the overwhelming loss that I was experiencing; the spiritual meaning that had once felt so deep and nourishing now appeared shallow and brittle.

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When our spiritual survival kit stops working and there is nothing to replace it, we can suddenly feel ourselves resident in a psychological wasteland. The wasteland is an interesting place; it is a bleak and shadowed landscape, lifeless and featureless. It exists in parallel to normal life and those caught behind its veil can continue to witness life going on around them and yet cannot see its colours, or fully feel its sensations. It is as if we gaze at life through darkened glass. We can feel that we are in life but not of it. It’s a painful place to be.

It takes courage to function without any spiritual scaffolding but I have come to believe that this process is actually a very important part of all of our spiritual journeys. There are many stories and myths that tell of a descent to the Underworld. I have written here before about my love of the goddess Persephone. Her tale articulates so well the experience of being catapulted into the wasteland by painful change in our lives. Persephone’s abduction to the Underworld by the God of Death is an archetypal experience. We will all find ourselves in such a position at some point in our life when we lose something precious to us – a loved one; our health or any other loss that shakes us to our core.  When faced with such devastating change, we are compelled to take that journey to the land of the shades, and whilst there, we will encounter our hopelessness, cynicism and nihilism. It can feel like crying out into a void, hoping to hear an answer to our prayers but receiving only silence or echo.

We might fear that we are trapped in this grey place forever but gradually, and with faltering, meandering steps, we find our way back to the light. The darkness will always remain a part of us but somehow we will now understand its inherent wisdom. It changes us but it doesn’t have to destroy us.

I have just celebrated Imbolc. I wrote a ritual for it – my first in months. I threw myself in to decorating my shrine in honour of the season, making it pretty and decorating it with things that spoke of the first stirrings of spring.

Bride by Jane Brideson

Bride by Jane Brideson

Imbolc is strongly associated with the Celtic Goddess Brighid. She is a goddess of fire. At this time of the year she is the light that warms the soil and brings it to life; she is also the purifying and transformative flame that burns away all that no longer serves us and keeps us chained to the past. She is a matron of midwifery and as such is connected not only with physical birth but with helping us to birth new ways to be. When we are stuck and stagnant, her fiery energy brings movement – she is the rekindling; that glorious moment when we feel the life and hope within us returning.

Brighid has long been one of my special deities. I honoured and worked with her for many years but in these recent times of upheaval, she has felt very distant. Brighid was a core deity for me, so it was a surprise to sense my relationship with her slip away. I had started to feel that Brighid and I had lost touch for good but this last week, particularly since my Imbolc ritual, I have felt her presence growing.

This reconnection has undoubtedly been triggered by the realisation that I need to let go of some things I have been holding on to. When we are in the wasteland, the past calls to us; all that we have lost resides in our memories. Reaching out to the past is a natural response to grief; all that is lost to us returns in those moments of remembering. It is a way of coping with loss and honouring what we grieve but we cannot stay in this place for ever – we must come to the place of letting go. This process takes a long time – months, years even – there is no timetable that we can follow; these things unfold at their own pace, but we must all return to the surface – Persephone can’t stay in the Underworld forever or spring will never return.

This last month I have been able to take a step back and see just how much I have been clinging to the past, so much so that the current blessings of my life are being missed. Key to reclaiming the present is acceptance – beneath the heavy weight of anger and impotence that loss brings, awaits our acceptance. Acceptance is compassionate and patient and will wait for as long as we need to discover it within us.  It is an extraordinary moment when we begin to feel its effect upon us, as I have this past week.

For my Imbolc ritual I felt the strong urge to offer up my recent past to Brighid’s healing fire, handing it over to her with trust and faith that nothing is truly lost but merely transformed into something new. I made a commitment to myself to embrace the tender stirrings of healing and renewal happening within me and in doing so, I have felt Brighid’s protective, joyful and empowering presence growing inside me.

Snowdrop by Amy Weiss

Snowdrop by Amy Weiss

A month ago I could never have envisaged this shift happening but the gift of acceptance has laid down its thread of light to guide me back from the wasteland. The wasteland is not the enemy, or a punishment –it is, in fact, a place of healing although it can feel the opposite when we wrestle with our pain. The wasteland is the dark, cold, wet soil of winter waiting patiently for the warming light to stir it. The rekindling has come; the frozen earth cracked open by a tender snowdrop.

 

 

 

 

The Colour Red

The autumn equinox brought that moment when the light and dark hours of the day, for just a brief moment, were perfectly equal. That moment is like the silent, still gap between breathing in and out; sometimes we catch ourselves noticing it, frozen in our observance of its stillness but knowing full well that we must release back into the relentless movement of the inhale and the exhale.

And now the dark seeps across the lines, spreading out and staking a claim to more of the day than I would currently like. Samhain will soon be here…

For modern Pagan’s the festival of Samhain celebrates the earth’s shedding, that part of its cycle that expresses the dying back and letting go. Amongst other things, it honours the rot and the shit, that through the miraculous transformation of death and decomposition, transmutes into the rich compost that feeds new life.

It is perhaps easier for us to accept this process in the natural world around us but painful to experience it in our own lives. This year, Samhain will hold a powerful resonance for me as I find myself walking away from a 27 year old marriage.

Endings can have their own unique tonalities; sometimes they are joyous things: the end of pain or a difficult time; sometimes they bring almost unhealable grief: the death of those we love and the things we cherish. When we are there in the midst of the chaos that endings can bring; we can only, as a friend of mine recently advised, ‘keep breathing’. Just like that momentary pause of equinox, there are still, clear moments but we quickly realise that none of us can stand truly motionless; life will not allow us the luxury of a long pause because our hearts continue to beat and betray the unstoppable nature of living.

I am walking away from a whole life-time of shared experience; someone (me, something deep inside pushing for it) set fire to the forest and now I stand at the centre of a strange kind of devastation, one that brings deep feelings of sadness and grief but also a sense of the necessity of that act.

In our northern hemisphere, at Samhain, we can walk in the forest and smell the rich, woody earthiness of the mulch beneath our feet; the wet, rotting mass breaking down gradually but relentlessly into the food that will sustain the forest’s life. In less temperate areas of the planet, where the change of seasons are fewer, this vital transformation crucial for the continuation of a forest’s life  must come from other means. Fire plays its part; stripping back whole areas to charred plains that on first observation are distressing and lifeless. However, the nutrients from the ash prepare the ground for new life just as effectively as the moist, rich compost of our own woodlands and are as necessary to the survival of those habitats.

This said, on a human level – although the inspiration of nature can help us deal with the changes that we encounter – the courage it takes to let go – the pain and uncertainty of it – are no easier to bear and we are called upon to trust in the process, to face the growing darkness without even knowing if the light will ever reappear.

For me, there are places of hope in my life that keep me going when I feel the exhaustion upend me or when the fear of the future paralyses me; even amongst the hurt, guilt and confusion can be found strength, love and joy (although it might take a greater effort to see it, or sense its presence, on those days when all that has happened weighs heavy).

Yesterday evening, the autumnal sky in the west shone with a golden light reminiscent of Turner’s paintings; in the east was a vast bank of the darkest cloud, a wash of murky browns and greys, thick with rain. The two skies began to merge, the cloud taking on the light as if the world below were on fire and it reflected its burning. And there, drawn across the darkening sky, a rainbow, it’s most dominant colour, a vivid red…the colour of love, of passion, of the blood that pumps through our hearts; the colour of the energy and will to keep living and breathing and being, whatever life brings; whatever losses we inflict or endure.

 

The Birds of Rhiannon

Rhiannon by Wendy Andrew

What follows is a small ritual for the building of self-esteem for women, although with a little tweaking it could be adapted for men too.

The Goddess Rhiannon was wrongly accused, driven to doubt herself and as a white mare, forced to carry all upon her back and tell, again and again, lies about herself to all who would listen. Rhiannon knows the pain of women: she has been within women the countless centuries when their talents have remained unused; when their bodies have been violated and brutalised; when their dreams have been crushed or ignored; when their beauty has been rejected and distorted and their experiences and perceptions of life have been deemed less worthy.

Rhiannon knows that when there have been so few positive reflections of her in the world over such a long time, women can doubt themselves, doubt their intelligence, their beauty and their worth. Like Rhiannon’s story we can believe the lies that are told about us, re-tell those lies ourselves, and carry the burden of other’s projections upon us. The heaviest burden of all is the weight of our own self-criticism, our own lack of self-love and belief.

The following ritual is designed  to help us recognise and name the lies that have been told about us; giving the pain of these over to transformation, reclaiming the truth that we are talented, beautiful and worthy of love and respect, both from ourselves and from others.

In preparation for the ritual, think long and hard about the key moments in your life when you were made to feel badly about yourself, about your talents or your appearance; the times when you were bullied or controlled and made to feel un worthy or unlovable. Think about how each time this happened, it re-enforced a negative image of yourself, so much so, that you started to believe that this false image was actually you. Think about how these events still affect your life by the way they have made you view yourself. Write these events down on small strips of paper using key phrases that express the negative things they make you feel about yourself e.g. I am fat; I am ugly; I am stupid; I am unlovable etc. Performs the following:

Rhiannon, I come to you with my burden of self-doubt and self-loathing; I come to you with the lies that were told about me, that made me feel unworthy and unlovable, that I carry to this day and have come to believe as truth. I give these over to you Rhiannon to be transformed in your fires of love.

Burn each slip of paper in the cauldron. Release each of these negative thoughts about yourself to Rhiannon; give them over to her loving presence.

In legend, Rhiannon was surrounded with a cloud of birds whose singing was so sweet and magical that it was said to raise the dead and send the living into a blissful sleep. Call upon the Birds of Rhiannon to sing in your ear; let each individual bird sing a new song of your worth and beauty.

I call upon the Birds of Rhiannon and ask that you come and sing your sweet and magical songs to me; sing to me of my true worth; sing to me of tender self-love and self-esteem; of a true and loving relationship with myself. The songs of Rhiannon’s birds are how she truly sees me. I now choose to see myself through Rhiannon’s eyes.

Settle yourself, close your eyes and turn inward. See Rhiannon before you surrounded by her beautiful birds. Hear their sweet music. Then, one by one, as many as is needed, see each bird fly to your ear in turn; listen to their song –  each will sing a song of your true worth and beauty. Rhiannon’s birds can only sing sweet songs: everything they tell you about yourself will be loving. Hear what each says and write these new, positive things about yourself down on paper.

You may have trouble hearing positive things – these may not come to mind. Your critical voice might drown them out. This is because we have become adept at putting ourselves down. We have trained ourselves to do this. In this ritual, we are beginning to retrain ourselves in the art of self-love. If you have problems, ask Rhiannon for help; see yourself as a mother, telling her daughter how wonderful she is. If you keep this image of a loving mother talking to daughter, it becomes very hard to let in those negative judgements. Remember, it is Rhiannon who speaks to you through her birds – she is your mother and you her daughter. She wants you to feel loved, beautiful, worthy and gifted because that is exactly what you are.

When the birds have finished singing their songs, thank them and now read what you have written. Turn each of these new statements into an affirmation e.g. If a bird sung ‘you have beautiful eyes’, you write ‘I have beautiful eyes’; if a bird sung, ‘you are immensely skilled and organised’, you write, ‘I am immensely skilled and organised’. These affirmations will be the new songs that you will sing to yourself again and again to replace the horrible, negative ones that have been burned. When ready say,

I pledge to sing a new song about myself, one of love and appreciation:

Read your new, positive and loving affirmations…

…I am a daughter of the Goddess and as such I have marvellous gifts to share with the world: my talents and skills; my beauty; my experiences and knowledge; my love. Never again will I doubt my value; never again will I let another lead me to doubt my worth.

Close your eyes once more. See before you a cage of birds. These birds are all the wonderful parts of you that have been crushed and suppressed by the negative conditioning you have lived under until now. Now is your chance to set them free! See yourself move towards the cage, release the latch and open the door. Watch as all the birds take flight and find their freedom – their flight is your flight. Feel the exhilaration of this moment.

 Now see Rhiannon before you. She holds out her mirror. Open your eyes. Pick up the mirror from the altar and look at yourself. See how beautiful you are; see Rhiannon’s face staring back at you.

Now light your special candle and say,

I light Rhiannon’s fire of self-love in my heart. In her honour, may it burn brightly there always. Blessed Be.

A Call to the Goddess and God of Imbolc

Brighid Light - Wendy Andrews

 

At Imbolc time we call upon the Goddess of the Sacred Flame, Maiden of the Snowdrops and the first stirrings of spring. Her seemingly fragile blossoming is filled with the strength of the inner fire of life, surviving the harshest frosts, snows and storms, just as the light of our spirit survives the darkness and cold, her love protecting it like hands cupped round a flame. She is that moment of magic as the first glow of light emerges from the dark horizon, signalling the coming of dawn.

She comes with her warmth and energy and quickens the seeds of our new life; she comes with the life-giving heat of her fire to thaw all that is frozen and trapped within us; she comes with the melting release of her healing waters, cleansing away the staleness of our spirits, the winter debris of our hearts. She is the liberation of the land from winter’s grip; freeing us from our own stagnation. She is the bright spark of life and inspiration that burns in us all; the hearth fire at the centre of our homes and hearts, sustaining and warming; a place to gather and draw inspiration, nourishment and comfort. She is the fire of passion that animates our creativity that we may create our world anew, that we too may become the spring. Goddess of the Sacred Flame and the Healing Waters, we open to you now,

We call upon the God of this time of quickening, he who has been held in the still darkness awaiting the warming and life-giving touch of the Goddess’s heat. Her fiery kiss melts the stillness and the first flow, barely perceptible, begins; the movement of new life ever building and strengthening.

As the God of renewing life, at the edge of our senses, we begin to feel his energy increasing, visible in the growing light and the first greening shoots of Imbolc. Like seeds that feel the stirrings of growth in the dark soil, we feel the first call of his desire, a sense that we must soon stretch, moving up from the warmth and safety of the dark to the ever quickening call of the light.  God of youth, beauty and love, we open to you.

Lighting the Inner Fire Meditation: 

It is a cold, crisp night in the hours just before dawn. The starry sky arches it vast, twinkling darkness above you. You are sat upon the earth; the soil is hard and frozen; the grass glistening with frost. The land is silent and asleep. Your body and being are motionless, chilled and inert like the winter earth but you sense inside yourself the stirrings of change and you know that you must prepare for its coming.

Draw your attention inward to the very centre of yourself; this place is the centre of the sacred circle of your being, and it is here that you will light the sacred fire; it is the spark of life; it is the fuelling heat at the centre of the planet; it is the burning sun at the heart of our galaxy; it is the fire of the smith that will magically melt and transform you; it is a candle flame of hope in the darkness.

Standing at the centre of you inner sacred circle, you see the tinder and dry wood of your life, ready to be lit, and in their lighting you know that the heat of this fire will bring a change in the land, will bring the first tender signs of new life and renewal, of growing strength.

Become aware of your solar plexus. There is a flame that always burns here. Take some of this perpetual flame upon your finger and now light the wood at the centre of your inner circle from it. At first it glows only beneath the dark wood. Blow upon it the breath of your ideas and inspiration. As you do this, the flames begin to grow until the fire lights up the darkness.

You find yourself back beneath the vast starry sky, upon the frosty, frozen earth, but now you are aware that there is a glow at the centre of your being. Feel its warmth and light spread out through your chest, down your pelvis, into your legs and feet; feel it moving up through your shoulders, down your arms and into your hands and fingers, up through your neck and into your head, until your whole body is filled with its golden heat and light. You are radiant in the darkness. Stay here in this moment for a while –take note of the feelings and images that rise…

Your attention moves from the inner glow to the land around where you sit. You gaze down at the once frozen soil beneath. The frost has melted into life giving moisture, droplets hanging from the blades of green, and through the earth a carpet of snowdrops rises, drinking in the life giving melt, strengthening themselves in the warmth of your glow. As if by magic you watch their brave green shoots pierce through, their delicate, white blossoms unfurl and hang in gentle bells of white. You have lit the fires of passion within and the land responds with the first tender signs of a new beginning. Pause for a moment; take note of all you feel and see…You gaze at the horizon; along the line of the land, a slim strip of the sky begins to lighten…the dawn will soon be here…

Vines and Happy Times

'To Be Reborn As Your Favorite Flower' by Monserrat

On the south-facing slopes of Brading down is the Adgestone Vineyard. It is an idyllic spot, sheltered by the undulations of the land as it slopes down towards the impressive arch of Sandown Bay. From here you can look out across the fields and the ocean, Ventnor downs rising in the distance to the south, Culver Cliff and Bembridge Harbour to the east.

The vineyard produces three very nice wines, one white and two red. It also has a lovely little café, with a wooden veranda interlaced with vines. It is one of my favourite spots on the Island. There is nothing quite like sitting and drinking coffee looking up over the lines of vines, the land edged on both sides by wind-breaks of large poplar trees whose leaves sing constantly in the breezes. It is such a peaceful place.

Today we ate lunch there. Buzzards coasted the tree covered summit of the downs, occasionally floating out on the thermals across the vineyard, spreading their wing tips with all the ease of a creature at one with the subtle shifts in current, the air the most perfect of companions in the most elegant of dances.

About half a mile or so to the east, through a small gap in the trees, the red, living plant roof of the building that houses the excavated Roman Villa can be seen. Its own undulating shape blends in beautifully with the surrounding fields. The Villa’s stunning mosaics hint at its own ancient vineyards. The current vineyard may well have been in the exact spot of the Romano British one, the sheltered south-facing aspect perfect for growing grapes. I love this thought, the sense of continuity making those ancestors appear very close in their connection to present day Islanders. They, like we, were blessed by the Island’s abundance and I feel such a sense of gratitude that this bounty continues to thrive and bless us.

At this time around the solstice, the Island is stunningly beautiful. There has been such an abundance of honeysuckle, its deliciously sweet fragrant flowers interweaving their creamy, red-tinged petals throughout mile upon mile of hedgerow. At the noon of the year, I perceive the Goddess as Lady of life’s abundant blessings. Here, in her local expression, she is the rich red earth, the fertile ground of my being; the explosion of life, colour and joy that enraptures my senses and feeds my body and spirit. She is the heady scent of rose and the pungent thick muskiness of elder flower; the cool peace of forests and the exhilarating skies of downland; she is a field of poppies and corn chamomile vibrant with the sun. She blesses us with the vital rains, lush rivers and wetlands teeming with life; the deep wells and sparkling springs; she is the moon and the ever-changing tides; the hem of her gown the vast ocean, its salt water helping to cleanse and heal our wounds. I call the Solstice Goddess the Mother of Sweetness; she is the keeper of the abundant and overflowing chalice of life that renews and nourishes, and her cup is the place within us that can never run dry. Each animal and plant, each drop of water, each clod of earth is radiant with her spirit. She is the ecstasy of the earth and when we open to her, each cell brightens with the strength of her love.

At this time I also view the God as Father of the Solstice Sun. For me, is not only the growing heat that warms and comforts but also the lush greenery that is irresistibly drawn by that glowing light. Through him we engage with the joy in our hearts; he is that bright gasp of knowing how good it is to be alive. His spark of life burns deeply within us, opening us to the inspiration that enables us to live our time here in love and happiness. When we open to him we are filled with his strength of spirit, the burning delight of his creative power. His heat makes fertile the body of the Goddess; his light sparkling upon her surfaces. At this time of the rich fullness of the year, he is the sun to her moon; the fire to her water. She reflects him lovingly and soothes him when he grows too hot; he warms her cool depths and stirs her passions. Together they nourish, nurture and bring all life to fruition; from the ecstasy of their union all life comes. As life swells into the sensual abundance of summer, from the Goddess’s Chalice all blessing abundantly pour, each one shining with his golden spirit.

At this time it is good to count one’s blessings; to acknowledge and gives thanks for those things that enrich our lives; the people, the experiences, the simple but blissful moments of watching buzzards and drinking coffee.

Persephone Calling

Persephone by Patricia Ariel

I awoke early this morning, feeling as if someone had performed a mini lobotomy over night. I had the strangest sense that the right part of my brain just wasn’t working, or was on ‘sleep’ mode; everything in there waiting to fire up but not getting the signal. The progestin seems to be the likely culprit. I am now on the lowest dose of Utovlan, my aim to get to down to absolutely no synthetic progesterone in my system at all. My moods swings are still acute. Laurie has been on the front line of my progestin journey; it has been such a help for him to keep me informed about my behaviour, and to reassure me that this has only been happening since taking the progestin. I know that I don’t feel at all myself but it can be difficult to judge from the inside. It’s so important to have that objective voice; it serves to remind me that I am not going quietly mad, that these symptoms have a very real and obvious cause.

The right part of the brain is of course linked to our imaginative faculties, the part that help us to engage with our inner lives; in lowering the dose, I have had glimpses of this place; I am dreaming more certainly but I am aware that this faculty currently feels as if its battery is near flat. For someone who has previously enjoyed a strong relationship with their inner life, this new state feels like purgatory; its impact leaves me feeling not a complete part of any world, inner or outer. Ladies beware! Synthetic progesterone can make you depressed and kill off your creativity!

I have been thinking a lot about the Goddess Persephone during the last week. The Persephone Myth has been an important one for me throughout my life – as is it for many modern Pagans. I got interested in it first through the work of the Jungian Astrologer Liz Greene, long before my Pagan journey started in earnest. She believed that because of the universal, archetypal nature of myth, each of our lives would express a resonance with specific myths, our personal experiences echoing their themes and lessons. When I first read the Persephone Myth, I was struck at the uncanny resemblance to my teenage life experiences: as a thirteen year old girl I was undoubtedly Kore’s ignorance and innocence. The death of my mother coinciding with the beginning of an abusive sexual relationship with someone older also seemed to mirror quite starkly Kore’s abduction into the Underworld by Hades, resulting in her mother Demeter being lost to her. Also, although my grandparents had all died and some uncles too at that point, my mother’s death was definitely the one encounter with Hades I’d had so far that illustrated to me the shock of my own mortality, the utterly visceral nature of death.

Choosing to approach the Persephone Myth as one of my own life myths was enormously healing; it gave me the opportunity to see my life journey not as a pointless and meaningless set of events but as a story rich with meaning and full of wisdom and potential learning. It gave me a route through the pain and confusion to find depth and understanding.

It is no wonder that this myth was central to one of the most successful Mystery Schools in the Mediterranean: Eleusis. Its power resides in the truth that this myth’s themes are ones that we will all encounter at some point in our lives. We are each Kore’s ignorance of life’s darker lessons; we are also her need to grow. In meeting Hades we confront not only our own mortality and loss but our potential for transformation and change.

We have or will know Demeter’s grief, anguish and depression. The Goddess Demeter’s fruitfulness shrivels into barrenness; loss for us can also mean that the world becomes a place devoid of life. We can become Demeter’s joyless search, her aimless wandering to regain what is lost.

I have found that when innocence is lost; when love and nurturance and protection seem to have abandoned us, this is when Persephone comes into her own in our lives. The transformation from the powerless and terrified Kore to the wisdom of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, is a saving grace for us all. Kore’s violent awakening to the reality of death and loss is the beginning of her transformation:

I am Persephone and in my suffering I have seen the cold, pitiless face of Death transform into peace and compassion. I have felt the violence of his grip turn to a protective embrace. I have touched his hand in understanding. I have eaten of the dark, red seeds, full of the potential for new life. I have planted them within me.

In eating the pomegranate seeds, Kore becomes Persephone and her fate is sealed to live both in the upper and the underworld but then this was always inevitable; we cannot undo what has been done; we cannot escape death or the wisdom of experience and nor should we try.

The Goddess Hecate’s role in this story teaches this point beautifully. When we recognise it is time to release Kore’s innocence and inexperience and Demeter’s grief and tenacious grip on the past, we – as Persephone – come to the heart of Hecate, to the place of making sense and letting go:

I am Hecate. I am both the moonless dark and the brilliance of my torch. I am the devouring night and the path made clear. I am the web of wisdom that connects; I make sense of every lesson: seed-time and harvest; death and life. I am the perfect love and trust of release; I am the midwife of renewal.

Going through the processes of loss, making sense, seeing the connections, are all part of us eventually returning to the surface of our lives; however, our experience means that we will now always be aware that we also inhabit that inner, sometimes shadowy space –something we may not have been aware of before – and more than this, we come to understand that we can draw nourishment and guidance from it too.

I have felt Persephone calling in these last few months. I have lived long enough to know that the most challenging of our life experiences have the potential to lead us to greater wisdom, no matter how much we rail against the journey. The last few months has had me feeling at times both Kore’s fear and Demeter’s grief, and yet, you come to a point when you have to place your trust in the Queen of the Dead, feel her moving into view at the heart of the struggle. The wisdom of Persephone teaches us that in returning from the dark realm of Hades, lit by Hecate’s torch; upheld by Demeter’s love; carried forth by Persephone’s wisdom and compassion, we come to find that we are once again Kore, a new shoot, our old life – broken down in the soil – feeding our new growth. Through Persephone’s journey we find our greater wholeness.

And so, I offer up a prayer to that Goddess of the Land of the Shades –she who seems to have walked so closely by for so much of my life. Through her presence –with compassion and acceptance – I patiently wait for that moment, that shift, when the darkness brightens and the way is made clear.

Persephone, guide me safely into the darkness.

May I know that for every journey there, you are at my side;

for every moment of fear and hopelessness,

you are there to comfort me.

Great Goddess of life’s deepest mysteries

plant me; enfold me in your still darkness, and with compassion

help me grow towards the light of a new understanding, a new wisdom.

In you I await my new beginnings; in you I find my deepest strength and wisdom;

because of you I will never be the same.

With you I walk the light and the dark

and fear neither; 

With you, I journey to the depths, I endure and I survive, transformed and reborn by the experience.

I give thanks that I travel now with a foot in each place,

nourished by both my inner and outer worlds.

I am a bat at home in the darkest cave;

I am a blossom unfurled in the warmth of the sun.

I embrace all that I am and honour all that I have experienced;

in the depth of your compassion may I find grace.

Arta the Bear Goddess – Mother Honey Paw

'Sweet Bear Hug' by Denise Kester

Finding courage and inner resilience seems to be the order of the day for so many people around me at the moment, myself included. The Goddess as She-Bear has always held great attraction for me. In modern Paganism some have come to call her Arta or Artio. As Goddess, the She-Bear is our primal mother – ‘Mother Honey Paw’ – fiercely protective, birthing us in the dark stillness of the winter cave; nourishing us from her own body and giving life and growing strength to our potential. She embodies courage. In the darkest and coldest of times, it is the warmth of her deep fur that we cling to, her vast body encircling us gently, her rich milk nourishing our spirits. It is in the black stillness of Arta’s cave that we learn to let go of the old, envision the new, grounding and centring ourselves to contact that deep peace and inner knowing. In this part of the world, in the spring she leads us out of our winter caves, blessing us with the courage to move forward into life.

We have in the past performed ceremonies calling in Arta to bless us with her invaluable gifts in times of struggle, or when venturing out into the unknown and the new; each of the quarters offering us something of Arta’s all-encompassing love and protection. Arta equips us for battle – for life – supplying us with the courage and energy when we are required to go that extra mile, despite feeling weary and worn. In the south of the circle she fills us with courage and fiercely protects our path, animating us with renewed energy, enthusiasm and trust. In the West she enfolds us in her secure embrace, nurturing and nourishing us with a profound love. In the North, we tap into her immense physical strength and endurance, the clarity of her inner vision and wisdom guiding us. In the East she reminds us of the sweetness in life, that all challenges bring the potential of new beginnings, a whole new journey. Through her, we seek to integrate these qualities into our beings, expressing them in our lives both in our relationship with ourselves and others.

In dark and fearful times, all we need do is gaze up into the night sky to see her ever present starry form stretched across the heavens. In the spring, the paws of the Great Bear constellation are up high, walking the spiral galaxy, the bowl of her ‘Big Dipper’ inverted, pouring the love of Arta upon the awakening earth. The Great She-Bear of the night sky points us to the pole star; with Arta we are never lost; she is the star fire that guides us.

May Arta’s immense strength and courage go with you on your journey; may she protect your path, inspiring you with the energy to move onward; may you be upheld by the power of her love and guided by her infinite wisdom – may the sweetness of Mother Honey Paw be yours always.

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