Monday, April 27, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Blodeuwedd has come up twice before; once for the last week of November and then again the first week of December.

Blodeuwedd is a Welsh Goddess Whose name means "Flower Face," and in The Mabinogion, which dates from medieval times, She is said to have been created by two magicians from the blossoms of the oak, broom, and meadowsweet, to be the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, Who was cursed by His mother Arianrhod to never have a wife from any race of the earth. Lleu (don't ask me to pronounce that) is connected with the Irish Lug Lámfhota as well as the Gaulish God Lugos; He is probably originally a God of the sun or of light, as lug in Old Irish means "light" or "brightness."

It is not surprising, I suppose, that the sun or light should be connected with flowers in myth; after all the growing light and heat of springtime is what causes the whole shebang, at least in the temperate regions. And it makes sense that Blodeuwedd and Lleu, flowers and light, should show up in the week that includes Beltaine, that merry festival of union and blossoming.

But something about Blodeuwedd's story bothered me. The springtime element is only a part of it. For She is also an owl Goddess, connected with autumn and dying; and Her story does not end happily.

Not long into the marriage of Blodeuwedd and Lleu, it happened that Lleu was away for a time. While He was away, a hunter by the name of Gronw Pebyr came by, and since it was late in the day and he was far from home, Blodeuwedd invited him to stay the night in the castle, in accordance with the customs of the time. But at the feast it was quickly obvious to both of them that it was love at first sight; and in bed that night they contemplated their situation. It was Gronw's assertion that for them to be together Lleu had to die; and he convinced Blodeuwedd to find out how Lleu could be killed, as special protections had been placed on Him by the magicians.

So She did, and a year later Gronw gored Lleu with a magical spear, in odd and predestined circumstances; and Lleu, grievously injured, changed into an eagle and flew away. He was eventually found by the magicians and restored both to human form and good health.

For Her part in it, Blodeuwedd was punished by being transformed into an owl; and Gronw was killed by Lleu.

Rereading Her legend this time, I was struck by how the blame for Lleu's death always falls squarely on Blodeuwedd. Even though She was not the one to throw the spear. Even though it was not Her idea. Even though Lleu didn't actually die.

She gets more blame than Gronw does, Gronw who spent a good year of Sundays crafting that spear with ill intent, Gronw of the strong arm and sure aim. In The Mabinogion Gwydion (one of the magicians who created Her, and let me tell you, no favorite of mine) tells Her that for Her part in the plot 'I will not slay thee. I will do to thee that which is worse; that is I will let thee go in the form of a bird.' Whereas Gronw, though he is killed, is allowed the mercy of holding a stone between himself and Lleu's spear, since 'it was through a woman's wiles that I did to thee that which I did.' It doesn't help, of course; Lleu is so strong that the spear goes right through the stone and into Gronw, killing him.

(Incidentally, all of Blodeuwedd's maidens are killed as well, though it is not always mentioned--they are driven off a high cliff into a lake, where they drown. Gronw's men are not similarly punished.)

Now, the argument can be made that Blodeuwedd is the force behind all this, as She is really an old Goddess of transformation, of spring and autumn and the changing year, disguised as a princess in a medieval fairy-tale; and I wouldn't disagree with that. She is Maiden and Crone both. And I suppose I really shouldn't be surprised that a medieval version of a myth would place the blame on the woman; I mean they were working under the influence of Christianity and its foundation myth of Eve. I get that. (Though The Mabinogion does have more than a few outspoken and intelligent women in it--Rhiannon and Arianrhod for starters.) But in all the retellings I've seen it is always said that Lleu is 'killed' by Gronw's spear, even though he obviously wasn't; even in my own quick retelling on my web site, written some years ago, I use the word.

Because the blame always falls harder, and the punishment is always harsher, for women in this society. And it is taken as normal, such that people who are supposed to be aware (and I include myself) don't even see it.

Sure, this week is Beltaine, and the beginning of May and flowers and all that happy stuff (and don't get me wrong, May is my absolute favorite month, and Beltaine my absolute favorite holiday); so it is entirely appropriate that a Goddess made from flowers should show up. But I think the deeper message this week is about that misplaced blame. We women have internalized it for so long.

But to weed it out of ourselves we have to be able to see it first; and I don't know what kind of advice can be given to help that. If we don't see it, we can't see it, you know? But I think we have to try. Maybe take a situation from your past, one where you blamed yourself, and try looking at it with fresh eyes. How has the expectation of blame affected what you believe? What part of the blame have you taken? What part does not actually belong to you?

This is properly Blodeuwedd's realm, after all, as She is both owl-Goddess Who sees in the dark as well as Goddess of springtime's rebirth; and it is inevitable that one runs into the other--that one causes the other.

Well, after all that blathering on my part, what does She say?

White the blank sheet
White the snow
White the hawthorn
White the bones

It is my nature to be both. It is the Earth's nature to be both; it is not betrayal. It is both day and night; both together make a whole. It is simply the seasons. One after the other, each to the other. Remember spring here is autumn there, as the Earth is a whole, a circle, a globe; and opposites are always present at the same time.

If you can get your head around that, you'll be getting somewhere. For Earth as well as for yourself.

What do you think?

Quotes from the Gwyn and Thomas Jones translation of The Mabinogion.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Speaking of shedding skin...

A few of you may have noticed that I have a CaféPress store called The Cat and Cauldron. I have worked hard on it in the past few years and have managed to get it to the point where, though it is not a luxurious living, it does pay the bills.

But now I'm not so sure.

Yesterday we all got an email from CaféPress announcing a change in the policy regarding the CaféPress Marketplace, that big search engine of theirs. Starting June first, CaféPress will be setting the prices of products in the Marketplace at a set rate and giving the artist/designer a flat 10% commission.

See, now, this is how CaféPress has always worked: they have a product, say a white t-shirt, that they charge a set price for (they call it a 'base price'). This price includes everything on their end--the actual product, the labor involved in printing it, &c.,--plus whatever they need to make a profit. And then, the artist/designer, the person who has set up a shop with them, adds what they think their design is worth and what they think the market will bear.

So let's break this down. Let's take the example of that white t-shirt. For the sake of round numbers, let's say their base price is $14.00 (that's rather low for the vast majority of shirts, but, you know, round numbers). Let's say then that I add a $6.00 markup (which is about the usual) so that it sells for $20.00.

Under the old system, if I sell a t-shirt I then get $6.00. But under the new system, if that t-shirt sells in their Marketplace for the same price, I will get $2.00. That's one third what I was making.

Now I'm one of the lucky ones, in that I get 70% of my sales through my store, which will not be subject to the 10% rule; still, I'm figuring I stand to see my paychecks drop to 80% of what they were. Some people make 90% or more of their sales through the Marketplace and are now looking at not being able to pay their mortgages and medical bills.

Also, in reading people's stories over at the CaféPress forum (which is really only begrudgingly allowing the discussion there) I am realizing just how much of a Godsend CaféPress has been to people with disabilities. I had just thought it the perfect job for me since I'm an anti-social deeply anti-authoritarian late-sleeping hermit who can't stand the idea of a boss (you could charitably read that I suppose as an 'eccentric artiste' if you like); but I had not realized just how big a difference it was making to people who can't work the standard nine to five.

I am not sure right now what I'm going to do. The loss for me is not huge, though it is still significant; and the nasty moral I'm getting is that I should never have put all my eggs in one basket. Which is unfair, really. If I were working in an office somewhere, and it paid the bills, I would not be expected to have more than one job, would I?

I have already looked at other print-on-demand companies, and I imagine I will be shifting over to Zazzle sometime in the future. But it's a daunting prospect. I have a few hundred designs on, and this floored me when I did the math, some 10,000 products. I'm not going to be able to replicate that somewhere else overnight.

The kicker (and I do mean kicker, as in the phrase kicking someone when they are down) is that in their announcement CaféPress says:

5. How did CafePress determine the commission rate of 10%?

This decision was a combination of what was realistically affordable, what we thought felt was right, and what industry experts recognize as a fair design licensing fee. A 10% commission is lower than the average seller margin in the Marketplace, but fair – relative to current retail design licensing models.

I can think of a lot of four-letter words describing that percentage; fair is not one of them.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Tlazolteotl is an Aztec Earth and Mother Goddess, Whose name is sometimes glossed specifically to 'Dirt' Goddess, or even 'Filth' Goddess. She is a both a Goddess of lust and sexual impurity, and a Goddess of purification and cleansing.

And so She both inspires and absolves sins. She had the ability, if the proper rituals were followed, to pardon a petitioner absolutely; and this pardon even extended into the world of law, for the petitioner was also freed from the legal consequences of his/her sinful actions.

Now, I have included Aztec Goddesses as part of my Goddess Oracle Deck because to not do so would be a slight and an offense; but I will confess they make me rather nervous. Because, in addition to such innocuous things as being the patroness of spinning, Tlazolteotl, as a Goddess of the Earth and renewal, required the sacrifice of a handsome young man every year. After he was killed, his body was flayed and his skin wrapped around a statue of the Goddess.

And so a common representation of Tlazolteotl is as a woman giving birth while wearing the flayed skin of a human being over Her own. It is a quintessentially Aztec symbol of renewal and springtime, which draws, I assume, on such phenomena as the snake shedding its skin. Though nowadays it is only metaphor, still, once it was taken quite literally; and I just can't get my modern American brain around it. Which, I guess, is not necessarily a bad thing.

I think, though, that this card's message this week is a reminder that some things, some changes, some renewals are only had through blood and sacrifice. Birth was, until recently, a very dangerous prospect, one many women did not survive; and even though modern techniques can handle things better if something goes wrong, the process itself has not changed. Babies aren't any smaller, or women's hips any larger, than they ever have been; and there is still much blood and pain involved.

This is not usually how I read things. I have had to do a lot of work with fear, personally, and my motto in the recent past has been one of kindness and allowing myself to not do something if I am uncomfortable or afraid. But then, this isn't just about me, since I asked advice for the world. Some things, this card would seem to be telling us, have to be done the old fashioned way, and require walking the hard road. Whatever it is this week, whatever is being born or reborn, it would seem, this is the path.

It is well to remember, also, that one cannot, actually, sacrifice another. It must be something of your own that is offered.

What does She say to the World?

Blood, blood, blood, it all ends and begins in blood. You think that is frightening, dark, pagan, evil?

Who said spilled blood? I am the mistress of lust, of life, of experiments and experiences; I am the mistress of the blood singing in your veins. You may certainly keep it there, and that is fine by me. We all adapt to the times, you know.

But yes. Shedding your skin is painful, and rightly so. It is a newness, a softness, a vulnerability in this hard world. But it is necessary. And it is especially necessary now.

Peel that old skin away. Dig your nails into it, as you dig your nails into the Earth to plant a seed. For it is this Earth, also, Who is shedding Her skin. You do not believe this? Look around you. Change has begun, and cannot be stopped. You can sacrifice the old to keep up with it, or you can remain trapped and suffocating and unable to see. Which do you think will be less painful in the long run?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Well, though I'm not a Christian it is Easter Sunday. So it makes sense that this week's 'Goddess' is the Black Virgin, a somewhat mysterious form of the Christian Virgin Mary depicted with dark or black skin. Though there can be various reasons why Her skin is dark (depending on the individual Madonna), more than a few are linked with ancient Goddess worship.

Now, I was operating under a fairly loose definition of 'Goddess' when I did these cards originally, which is why folk like Joan of Arc and the occasional Buddhist Bodhisattva have been included; but this one, particularly, has more claim to being a Goddess than most.

Black Madonnas are a mostly medieval European phenomenon, with between 450-500 of them in existence, a good part of which are in France, though there are famous examples in Belgium, Spain and Poland. Now, there are various reasons given for the dark color of Her skin, some of which are quite mundane: for example pigments changing over time, or soot from candles darkening the colors (though oddly enough in a lot of cases this seems to only affect the paint of the hands and face, not the clothing. Hmmmmm.) Still, it's quite clear that a number of them were painted dark on purpose.

It's also clear that quite a few of the sites with Black Madonnas were at one time sacred to some form of the Goddess, mostly Isis, Cybele, or Artemis. This isn't particularly mysterious--when the Roman Empire officially dedicated itself to Christianity, the Church's policy with the more stubborn holdovers of Paganism was to adapt them over to Christian purposes. So in the same way that elements of the Saturnalia, the great Pagan Roman winter festival, were adopted into Christmas, so churches were built on old Pagan holy sites. And if they had been dedicated to a Goddess, well it just made sense to dedicate the Church to the Christian version of the Mother, Mary.

And so then, because these Madonnas are connected with the old Earth Goddesses, the color of their skin is that of the rich, black, earth.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is perhaps the most famous Black Madonna. She is originally Spanish; but in Mexico one Juan Diego had a vision of Her in 1531, and so since then She has become a symbol of Mexico. She has been linked, incidentally, with the Aztec Earth-Goddess Tonantzin or their Great Mother Coatlicue.

I should probably offer a little bit of explanation on the art of this card. When I painted it I had in mind the Goddess Cybele, also known as the Magna Mater or Great Mother. Cybele was native to Phyrgia in central Anatolia; but the Romans adopted Her. Quite formally, actually: in response to a crisis in 204 BCE (there was always a crisis in Rome), the Senate consulted the Sybilline books, and came to the conclusion that Cybele's worship should be brought to Rome. Which they did, by bringing Her icon from Phyrgia. This icon was in the form of a conical (or needle-like) uncarved Black Stone, and was a meteorite; which I suppose makes it a conical aniconic icon.

Anyway, so that is why I only painted Her face black, to represent Cybele's Stone. The blonde hair, blue eyes and doll-like features are meant to evoke the European shell put over the ancient Eastern Goddess.

This card represents ancient secrets in plain sight, then, or the layers of the past showing through in the present; and despite the rewritten history the origins of things are easily discerned. So this week, be on the lookout for old patterns underneath current circumstances; it may not be apparent on first glance, and may require a little digging, but you may well find that what you thought was something new is actually a manifestation of an old issue or old way of doing things. Or, it may be less about old habits you're falling into and more about ancient themes of the sacred popping up in unusual or modern-looking places. I think, mostly, it is advice for the week to be aware and look closely at what is just beneath the surface, to see the patterns, habits, connections, or old ways of worship there.

What does She have to say?

I am Earthshaking Cybele, rattle your bones, bang on my drums! Rattle rattle BOOM! Dance the ecstasy, run up the mountain; you are all wild still in your bones, under your veneer of civilization. I cannot be stopped; I cannot be forgotten; I will always be here and I will always be powerful, whatever veil you throw over me. I am the Old Mountain Mother of the Mural Crown; I walk with lionesses at my side.

Rattle rattle BOOM! Let the kettledrums thunder! Every drumbeat is mine. Every drumming heart is mine. This is as it is. From the beginning to the end, it is mine.

I am the Great Mother. I always have been, and always will be. I am always here. And you are always my children, all of you. If you have need, ask. Even as a pretty Madonna, what do I do but bridge Earth and Heaven? For I am the Black Stone that fell from the Sky.

Well. She is very strong, and that was not what I was expecting. Two letters in to typing that I found I had hit the CAPS LOCK key; I turned it off but She is LOUD! I think, then, I will add to my advice above and say that reclaiming our wildness is also part of the message. Get your heart beating: go dancing, running, be loud! I am reminded of the boom of a firework, how it is so loud it almost stops the heart; but at the same time it opens the heart WIDE.

Wait a minute. I just remembered! One of Cybele's Roman festivals was the Megalensia, held from April 4th through the 10th, marking both the arrival of Her Stone to Rome and the founding of Her temple on the Palatine. There was also a (probably earlier in origin) festival of Cybele in March, the Hilaria, held from the 15th to the 28th; and some of the rites of the Hilaria are strikingly similar to those of guess what, the Christian Easter.

Well then!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Creative Every Day Update

I'll tell you whut, it is waaaay easier to make little dresses for the Sims than it is to:

Find the right combination of fabrics
Draft the pattern
Cut it out and
Sew it up
Embroider the Hel out of it
Try it on and
Start cussing because it doesn't fit, I've put on weight, it doesn't look good on me anyhow, it's running headlong into body image issues, and where would I wear it anyway? &c., &c.

Never mind finding all the proper accessories and jewelry that are made out of gold or something that would cost a pretty penny. Nope, much easier to just make a 512 by 512 pixel texture map.

So, here are a couple of wee Viking women:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Goddess of the Week

This week it is again Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano-Goddess; She is the latest in a string of repeated Goddesses. Last time I picked Her, three weeks ago, She spoke of change and adaptation and anger.

I think we are in a turbulent time right now, and I mean not just the times in general but this week in particular. Something old is being destroyed, and is coming to an end, right now. And it is a big change.

Something is boiling over.

One thing I'm seeing is that this past week there seems to be a rash of Dudes Who Can't Handle It. You know the type--something bad happens in their life and so they open fire on nursing home residents, immigrants, strangers, their own children. Sometimes they kill themselves, too. (Though really, I can't help thinking, can't they just do that bit first? You know, and spare the rest of us all the misery? But then spreading the misery around is the point, isn't it?)

It's entitlement clashing with the reality of a painful life, or a negative change; and instead of changing themselves to fit, or adjusting their expectations, they decide the world is the one that has to change.

This is a peculiarly male phenomenon in this society. And I'm afraid I have no sympathy for men who do this; even less when I read the articles, which are usually careful to point out in what way the man was 'driven' to it. 'Driven,' really? As if it's all understandable, all justifiable, and the man had no choice.

Yeah, well, I call bullshit on that.

Something is boiling over.

The thing about volcanoes, about Kilauea, is that you cannot make them adjust to you. A lava flow will do as it likes; you cannot stop it, and it will destroy anything that does not move. So you move. You get the hell out of its way. And you don't expect anything else.

Also I cannot help but think this card is about the Earth pushing back. We have abused Her for so long; and in some ways it is already all coming undone.

I don't know; that's not exactly cheery, is it? I don't know what advice to give that doesn't sound like I'm telling us to devote our time to quelling a mutiny on a rapidly sinking ship.

What does She say?

Oh honey, it's not that bad. Though, my idea of bad and yours are probably different, true. But as something is destroyed remember that something else is born. To be reborn you must first die, remember? Your resistance is what will make it difficult, or less difficult. Sorry, it's true; easy is not an option right now. Okay maybe it is that bad. The world will end in fire, you know that, right?

Oh great. The only thing I can think of that might help is to look at what is going on, as honestly, as bravely, and as humbly as possible (there is no room for ego in this), and then being willing to change.

That and that we support each other. That, I think, is crucial.

Art Journal Pages

A couple more art journal pages for Creative Every Day; April's theme is color.

Coincidentally enough I did that 'Blue' page in March, before the theme was announced; guess I'm just ahead of the curve. Or psychic, or something. It's a collage of blue things cut out of magazines with some painting over the top. The second one is a 'quilt' made of origami papers cut up and pasted together. I apologize that the photos are not as good as I would like; the lighting wasn't that great and I'm afraid they are a little blurry.