Monday, May 25, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Hekate is the Greek Goddess of witchcraft, the night, and magic. She is one of the Titanes, the old guard of the Gods, and She is a triple Goddess, of the Moon, Earth, and the Underworld, having powers over the sky, earth and sea. Crossroads, especially those where three roads meet, are sacred to Her, as are hounds. She is sometimes described as a ghostly figure, who goes around at the dead of night trailing ghosts and spectral hounds; and She protects travelers, especially those out on lonely roads at night.

She was usually said to be the daughter of the Titanes Perses ("Destroyer") and Asteria ("Starry One"); Her name means "She Who Works From Afar." She is associated with the night and the dark.

She was depicted in ancient art with torches to light the night; and She is the only Goddess Who helped Demeter search for Her daughter Persephone after She was abducted by Haides. And after it was decided that Persephone would spend a part of the year in the Underworld as its Queen, Hekate chose to accompany Her as friend and adviser.

The last day of the month was sacred to Her, meaning the last day of the lunar month, or the dark of the moon before the new moon is sighted. Since that was yesterday, I'd say Her timing is impeccable.

She's a psychopomp, in some ways, I think, given Her torches and the ghosts that follow Her; and in some parts of Greece, like Eleusis, home of the famous Mysteries, She was paired with Hermes, both of Them having parts in the ritual return of Persephone to the world.

Though She's Greek, not Celtic, I always associate Hekate with the season of Samhain, late autumn when the leaves are off the trees (at least in New England); and though it's Beltaine here now, it is Samhain in the southern hemisphere. Up here, though, it's all flowers and new green grass and leaves, and the light is getting brighter and brighter; perhaps, She is reminding us that the two, the dark and the light, are always to be found together, and that the light carries within it the seed of the dark, just as the dark carries within it the seed of the light.

Like I said She has aspects of a psychopomp, the Soul Guide Who guides the spirit to the Underworld (and back, sometimes); perhaps She tells of a journey into something to retrieve its opposite this week, or that we are embarking on a journey of soul retrieval, if even a little one at this time. This card could also serve as a heads-up to look deeper and more closely at a situation that may appear to be very bright indeed; not, necessarily, as an exercise in pessimism (of needing to find the misery in the middle of happiness) but as a lesson in balance and seeing the true whole.

So, as always, I ask, What do You say, Lady?

You are a Witch. Do not forget that. I do not forget.

I am fearsome and I am compassionate both. I am invoked in curses and I protect the alone and frightened. I am powerful in dark magic, and many a black she-lamb has had its throat cut to me; also I helped a grieving Mother find Her lost Girl. But mostly, I am Woman's friend. I am very old, and do not side with the patriarchs. Even Zeus fears me.

He would not cast me into Tartaros with the other Titanes; He did not dare. But what good would that have done Him anyway? It is my realm already. But He will not harm me. He does not dare. Remember that, too.

What would you know now? Within the light there is dark, always. You see the light within the dark, do you not? At winter's lowest point what do you do--light a candle, decorate your homes with tiny lights, twinkling as my Mother, the starry void. All I ask is you do the same in the season of light. Find the shadows now. Seek them out. Be whole.

I'm not, myself, sure how to go about doing that. Any ideas? What do you think?

References: mainly Theoi, Aaron Atsma's amazing site on Greek mythology, which has extensive primary sources quoted and organized by Deity, hero, demi-god, &c. Go check it out (if you haven't already).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unfinished Business

Speaking of Skaði, I've been thinking lately of sharing some of my (myriad) unfinished pieces here. I've got quite a few of them, including several of the Goddess (Athena) Nike, Whom I don't seem to be able to paint to my satisfaction. ('Paint', I say, never knowing quite what to call my works in watercolor pencil. 'Paint' seems not quite right, since it doesn't [much] involve a brush, yet 'draw' seems too far down the importance scale. Oh well.) But I expect my problems with Nike stem from my ambivalent attitude towards victory; try as I might, I can't get my brain around it as a positive thing. Too much glorifying violence and competition, I suppose, even if the battle is only fought within the self. I prefer other terms.

Anyway, here's one I started ages ago of Skaði, the Norse Goddess of winter, skiing, and the hunt. Actually I (and I am quite serious) vowed this piece to Her several years back when I found myself on the bunny slope of a local ski resort in a dead panic fervently praying not to die. I didn't (in fact I didn't even fall once); and so I promised Her a portrait. I should probably finish it; I suspect Skaði (Whose name is related to our 'scathe,' meaning 'harm') likes to have promises kept. But it's been so long I don't even use that medium anymore, Prismacolor colored (wax) pencils. But here She is, anyway. The background was/is going to be snowy fjords and pine trees and the like. She wears a wolf-skin and ornaments of silver.

Goddess of the Week

This week's Goddess is Hel, Norse Goddess of Death and ruler over Niflheim ("Mist-Home"), one of the realms of the dead; those who had died accidentally, or of sickness or old age came to Her realm.

She was said to be the daughter of Angrboða ("She Who Brings Sorrow"), a jötunn or giantess, and the God Loki (Who is also technically a giant or jötunn, though accepted into the circles of the Gods). Hel is described as being half alive and half dead, of foreboding expression. She was given Her realm by Odin, Who gave Her power over the Nine Worlds, i.e., the whole of creation; meaning, I assume, that all is mortal and will come to an end, including the Gods, Who are fated to die in Ragnarök.

When the well-loved bright and shiny God Baldr was killed through the machinations of Loki, the Gods much mourned His loss. Determined to do something about it, the God Hermod rode off to Hel's realm to try to bargain with Her; though She seemed a bit skeptical that Baldr had been quite that well-loved, She agreed to let Him (and His wife Nanna, Who had died of grief at His death) go back to the realm of the living on one condition: all things, living, dead, animate or inanimate, must shed a tear for Him.

It would have worked, too, save for the giantess Þökk, who didn't think Baldr was quite all that and a bag of chips; and so Baldr remained (remains) with Hel in Niflheim. Þökk, of course, was Loki in disguise.

Now someone as bright, as beautiful, as good and as perfectly one-dimensional as Baldr is of course not realistic; and I have always felt the legend of His death to be a sort of repudiation of that kind of naïve vision of things. Because life is more complicated than that; and nothing is wholly good, or wholly of the light. And I have to say I have always agreed with Þökk. Death cannot be cheated; not because it is breaking the rules, but because it isn't the natural order of things. It isn't right.

Interestingly enough, some versions of the myth say that Hel is the same as Skuld, the Norn or Fate of the Future; also the Winter-God Ullr, sometimes husband of Skaði, is said to spend a couple of months of the year in Niflheim as Hel's lover.

Hel is half alive and half dead, half light and half dark; and I have always considered this a card of balance and integration, though Her legends may seem to be weighed towards the dark. That She has a lover, though, is a point or two for the living, the light side of things; and I suspect He is Her summer lover (when would a God of Winter be said to be in Niflheim, i.e., dead? Summer, I'd guess). So Hel is not all dark. Nor is She necessarily unreasonable, though She is, it is true, rather unsympathetic. It's a good trait in a Death-Goddess, I imagine.

So I think the message this week is about finding the balance within a situation that appears dark, or looking into a place inside you you have thought dark or dead and finding the light and life there. And then seeing how the two support and harmonize with each other, or how the two are integrated. Integration, after all, brings integrity, both of the physical or structural kind as well as the moral kind. And if there is one thing Hel is, She is strong.

So what does She say?

Do not think you may cheat; all come to me. All the natural deaths, all the non-violent ones. Why is violence celebrated in my world? Because glory and daring are celebrated, though I suspect you see right through that. It is not all as dreary as they would make it in my realm; and anyway who wants to be surrounded by drunken boasting heroes for what is left of time? Rest is a very good thing.

I am the black and the white; I am the shades of grey; I am the mist that cloaks. Do not forget that Hvergelmir, the roaring cauldron giving birth to the twelve rivers, bursts forth from my realm; I have a hand in inspiration too, you know. There is far more here than you think.

I am on the one hand and I am on the other hand. It all comes to me in the end.

Well. What do you think?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Goddess of the Week

No, you're not seeing things. Evidently I am to get my wish, the one where I said I thought I should pick the card, mull on it a week, and then write the post. That, or Gwenhwyfar's decided that She wanted to get in on the repeating action, like Kamrusepas, Ishtar, Blodeuwedd, and Pele. Or, it's my own energy interfering here, given that I tend to take my time with things.

Or, most probably, She simply still has something to say to us.

So, Gwenhwyfar it is, the Lady Whose name means 'White Phantom.' She is the Welsh precursor to the Arthurian Guinevere, and like her, Arthur's Queen even in the earliest mentions of Her; She is a sovereignty figure, one Who embodies the power of the land Whom the King must wed if he is to rightly rule. She isn't ever explicitly called a Goddess in the tales we have, but if the land personified is not a Goddess then what is?

Though it is not mentioned in the Welsh versions of the legend, one of the most famous symbols of the Arthurian cycle is the Round Table, the great table in Arthur's court at which all his knights were seated. It is a symbol of wholeness and cycles through its circular shape alone; but it is also specifically said to represent the equal standing of the knights who sat at it (and I would assume the King as well), as a round table has no head and no favored position. It is interesting to note that Arthur only acquired this symbol of wholeness and equality through marriage to Guinevere, as it was part of her dowry.

Gwenhwyfar's name is etymologically related to the Irish Finnabair, daughter of the fabulous Queen Medb, herself a thinly veiled Goddess of the land, sovereignty, and sexuality, known for her many, many lovers, and so called 'Medb of the Friendly Thighs' in the tales. Though Medb has a husband, King Ailill mac Máta, in her most famous legend, it does not stop her from exercising her right to take other lovers; when Ailill, however, is found to be unfaithful, Medb has him killed. Though that might sound like a double standard, it is probably more a commentary on the fact that while kings come and go, the earth remains, or, in mythological terms, the Goddess is constant in Her change while the God dies and is reborn with the year.

Echoes of that idea can be found in Guinevere's love affair with Lancelot, as well as Guinevere's not-infrequent abductions by upstarts bent on the throne, as I mentioned in last week's post.

Gwenhwyfar is in my piece depicted as the May Queen, the Bride to whom the King is wed; and all around us at this time of year (well, in the North where it is the season of Beltaine) the flowers and the birds and the trees and the bees are, well, consummating that union. Last week I asked how you were wedded to the Divine. This week, how is the Divine wedded to you? How are you the Queen, the Earth, the one who is constant in Her cycles? How does the Year come to you?

As always, I ask, what does She say?

Now I am the Bride. Be merry! Dance in the grass; better yet, make love in the grass, in the woodland, in the fields beneath the apple tree. I am the flower that becomes the fruit, in time; but right now I am newly wed, the honey-mead in the mouth. Celebrate, and toast my health. It is toasting yours.

I am Blodeuwedd and Rhiannon; I am the Great High Queen, the Mother of Souls, Queen of Phantoms and the Otherworld; I am Queen of the Shades moving within you even in this season of warmth and light. I am the overlapping shadows, the sun and the moon and the earth aligned in the long cycle. I am the hawthorn, the may, great majestic Maia; and the king is my consort. Not I his. That is important for you to remember, both for my story and your own.

What do you think?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Goddess of the Week

This week's Goddess is Gwenhwyfar (and yes, I spelled it incorrectly on the card; I shall have to fix that!) the Welsh forerunner of Queen Guinevere, and like her the Queen to Arthur's King; given that I have depicted Her here as the May Queen I am not particularly surprised I picked Her just a few days after Beltaine (though I really did think I was going to pick Her last week. Instead we got Blodeuwedd, another Welsh Goddess associated with flowers).

I have called Gwenhwyfar a Goddess, here, though in the legends She is considered a mortal Queen; but there is evidence of Divinity in Her past, though, it is, as these matters tend to be, a bit on the hazy side.

She most likely has Her origins in a Goddess of Sovereignty, of the right to rule; and I suppose on its most basic level that makes Her a variety of Earth Goddess. In the later legends Guinevere is always being abducted by some upstart or other, the idea behind it being that if said upstart is wed to the Queen (even if by force), then he must be King. Her body, then, is literally being equated with the land.

Further evidence of Gwenhwyfar's Divine past is found in the so-called Welsh Triads, which are a form of verse grouping traditional wisdom in threes, which number is an especial favorite in the Celtic cultures. In the Llyfr Coch Hergest (the "Red Book of Hergest," which is also incidentally one of the principle sources for The Mabinogion), dating to the late 14th century, there is this triad:

Three Great Queens of Arthur:

Gwenhwyfar daughter of Cywryd Gwent, and Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr son of Greidiawl, and Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gogfran the Giant.

Celtic Goddesses were commonly depicted in triple form; one example of this is the Deae Matronae (Latin for "Mother Goddesses"), Who were worshiped in the Celtic lands during Roman times. They were typically shown on sculpture as three seated Goddesses holding symbols of fertility and abundance such as fruit or bread. (Note, also, that one of the Gwenhwyfars is the daughter of a Giant, an Otherworldly or fantastic being.)

So what, then, is this card saying for this week? It is the week of Beltaine, certainly, up here in the North, anyway; and it is a liminal time, when, like Samhain, the veil between the worlds is thin; though I tend to think that this time of the year it's the faeries poking through a bit rather than the ghosts. All the land is blossoming and mating and making merry; and though Guinevere's liaison with Lancelot is depicted in the (Christian) legends as shameful and bringing the downfall of Camelot it has always struck me as, well, right, as the true relationship. Not human marriage but the joining of Goddess and God. I've always felt that Arthur was the one in the wrong; theirs was an arranged marriage for political ends, and had little to do with love.

I guess the question is, then, how are you wedded to Divinity? How do you love God? And make no mistake, not platonically, but as a lover. This is the season of passion, after all.

What does She have to say?

May, that is key, I am gone a-maying. Lancelot and I are the Beltaine lovers, the true love. Arthur is the political, the patriarchal, laid over the old legend. How am I to love that? It is not the true story. Lancelot is the fosterling of a Faery Queen, is he not? And what is Arthur? Merely human.

But I am old; it is right in my name, White Ghost. I am ancestress, the old spirit of the land, the White Queen; and I span both past and future. How many Jennifers do you know, after all? It is my time now, this time of may. May the month, may the hawthorn.

My depiction of Her as May Queen owes a lot to the paintings Queen Guinevere's Maying, by John Collier, as well as Millais's The Bridesmaid.

Friday, May 1, 2009

More Art Journal Pages

I've acquired a bit of a backlog on these; after not doing any for a while I sat down the other night and did like six of them. Several are continuing Leah's April theme of color. The third one is bits of color cut out from magazines and arranged in chromatic order. I don't remember now where I got the idea, though I know I read it on someone or other's blog. Not Leah's, as far as I can tell. Whoever came up with the idea, thanks!

Then there's this one, in cobalt blue and iridescent copper, with a washed-out printout of the art in the last post, which I had been using to attempt to make some kind of transfer print with, as I'd had another print out accidentally get wet and end up sticking to another piece of paper and transferring the color over quite nicely. My first attempt with watercolor paper was too blurry and I think it was too wet; but I shall see if I can't figure it out. The texture of the cobalt and copper is really quite astonishing, though you can't really tell:

And this one, which started on another page with blocks of color laid down in oil pastels; but it was sticky so I put down a bunch of acrylic over it in a labyrinth pattern and ended up covering it with several layers of gloss acrylic gel, mostly because I had a new jar of the stuff. When I opened it up a couple days later the entire top layer peeled off; so I stuck that down upside-down onto another page.

And then there's this one, a vision board to get me working on the herb garden I want to put in in the back:

I do apologize for the quality of the photos. It would appear photography is not my strong suit. They were too large to just scan in.