Friday, October 30, 2009

Remembering the Ancestors at Samhain

I actually have an ancestor who was burnt at the stake. This fact is very impressive in certain Witchy circles; though he wasn't burnt as a Witch, just a heretic. Just. Like that made a difference.

So at Samhain, and though my religion is not his religion, I remember John Rogers, Protestant martyr, who was burnt at the stake on February 4th, 1555, in the town square in Smithfield, England. He has more than a few descendants, I hear; and no wonder, considering he had eleven children, one famously 'a babe at the breast' when he was executed.

He had a hand in translating into English what would become the King James version of the Bible; there is a Wikipedia page on him if you are so inclined.

His spirit of non-conformity, in both the usual sense and its original, religious, sense, lives on, and is in fact quite celebrated on that side of my family, the crazy artsy side, my mother's side. We remember him in how we live.

This also means the urge to religious freedom is in my bones.

So at Samhain, Summer's End, I remember John Rogers.

The Veil

It's odd. This time last year I could feel the veil thinning so profoundly that I feared it would tear. This year I can't tell at all.

Okay, it's not that odd.

See, I live in an old house. A very old house, for this area at any rate; one that's a good two hundred and fifty years old, an old New England colonial, the kind with the enormous central chimney and a fireplace in every room. Now, it's a lovely quaint house, with the clapboards and twelve over twelve windows, don't get me wrong, but it comes with a bit of, shall we say, baggage.

And I grew up here. I spent some time away from it, and have come back to it since; but I was a child in this house. Which is its own kind of baggage, I know.

Besides being my childhood home, it was also the childhood home of a certain murderer, now, thankfully, deceased, who was a child living here in the fifties; my father, in fact, bought the house from his mother. There are tales of plastering over bullet holes in one of the attic rooms where he supposedly had taken pot shots at flies with his BB gun.

Now, all that might sound like a delightfully thrilling little bit of history, something to spook kids sitting around a campfire at night. Yeah, well, except it's true.

And except for the fact that I am a person given to anxiety, and have been so all my life. I have never, unsurprisingly, understood that idea about kids liking to be scared; for me, that is something dearly to be avoided. I am still, at forty years old, afraid of the dark.

And besides the murderer who lived here, this house is, like I said, two and a half centuries old. I once told my best friend that I was afraid of ghosts, and she said, 'Well, yeah,' (actually, the way she said it it was more a 'well, duh') 'you live in a haunted house.' And that will make me feel better how exactly? Thanks, Tracey.

And there I was last year, or here I was last year, in this house, ultra-sensitive to the thinning veils around me. I was seeing things out of the corner of my eye all the time. I would come down into the kitchen to find my mother just leaving the room, only it wasn't her, and there was no one down there; or it would slowly come to me that there was a man standing over there in the piano room; or I would get up in the middle of the night and nearly trip over a cat who wasn't there; never mind finding Emily, curious, bent over me watching me while I was sleeping. Jesus Christ; for a nervous and naturally anxious sort, these things were just not good for me.

So I shut it off. Literally; I imagined a wall, on which was a series of outdoor taps, like the kind you attach a garden hose to. And I went up to the one labelled 'ghosts', and I shut it off. Completely. Not even a drip. And, periodically, over the course of the last year, I have checked on it, to make sure it is still off. Off, and quite dry.

And I have to say this last year I've been much better on the anxiety front. So much, in fact, that this year I found myself actually enjoying autumn, the colors of the trees and the crisp air and all, which, unlike pretty much every other Pagan in the entire world, has always been one of my least favorite seasons. And I also find myself very much into Hallowe'en, and (and this is very much an artist thing) craving the color scheme of black, ash grey, pumpkin orange, and electric midnight blue. It's kind of funny, actually.

I am relaxed and free.

But I can't feel the veil thinning at all. It is like I have cotton in my ears.

It is not ideal, no, and I know this; but, still, for now, I will take it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Lilith, Whose name means "Night Spirit," is a Sumerian dark Goddess Who is linked with the great Goddess Inanna. She may have Her origins in a type of night or wind demon; and in the Sumerian tale of The Huluppu-Tree, dating to at least the mid-third millenium BCE, Lilith represents Inanna's fears:

At that time, a tree, a single tree, a huluppu-tree
Was planted by the banks of the Euphrates.
The tree was nurtured by the waters of the Euphrates.
The whirling South Wind arose, pulling at its roots
And ripping at its branches
Until the waters of the Euphrates carried it away.

A woman who walked in fear of the word of the Sky God, An,
Who walked in fear of the word of the Air God, Enlil,
Plucked the tree from the river and spoke:
"I shall bring this tree to Uruk.
I shall plant this tree in my holy garden."

Inanna cared for the tree with her hand.
She settled the earth around the tree with her foot.
She wondered:
"How long will it be until I have a shining throne to sit upon?
How long will it be until I have a shining bed to lie upon?"

The years passed; five years, then ten years.
The tree grew thick,
But its bark did not split.

Then a serpent who could not be charmed
Made its nest in the roots of the huluppu-tree.
The Anzu-bird set his young in the branches of the tree.
And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the trunk.

The young woman who loved to laugh wept.
How Inanna wept!
(Yet they would not leave her tree.)

Here Lilith is a stand-in for Inanna's fear of Her own power and sexuality, represented by the throne and the bed She wishes to build for Herself. But Inanna is too afraid to face Her fears alone. She first goes to Her brother Utu, the Sun God, Who refuses to help Her. But Gilgamesh, the famous hero, will, and does so by striking the snake at the roots and chasing the Anzu-bird away. Lilith also then leaves the tree; however, She, it is said,

...smashed her home and fled to the wild, uninhabited places.

In other words, though Lilith flees, She gets a shot in first. Lilith always does things on Her own terms.

After this, Inanna gets Her throne and Her bed, and is able to claim Her power.

A little of Lilith's legend bled over into the local monotheistic traditions, and so She found a place in Jewish legend as the first wife of Adam, created like him from clay. When She rejected Adam because he insisted that he was superior, She uttered the sacred name of God and left Eden, to give birth to demon children in sadness. She was regarded as a dweller in desolate places, and commonly believed to be a succubus, causing lust and nocturnal emissions in men.

Now, of course, I'm a Pagan, so inclined to regard that last talent with kind of an Eh? So what? but apparently it has caused some distress over the years among the monotheists. Poor things.

At any rate, it does speak to Lilith's sexual power and ability to cause fear. I'm not surprised, really, that Lilith is showing up this week, the week of Samhain here in the north (or for that matter, odd as it sounds, for Beltaine in the south, given that holiday's association with lust), the week that ushers in the dark half of the year.

Lilith is the fear that keeps us from beginning, and keeps us from acting. Standing here at the threshold of the dark at Samhain, I am not surprised that fear is coming up. What lies ahead of us now is the dark, and we will not be able to see there. I do not know what the solution is, whether to chase Her out with brute force, as in Inanna's legend (though if you do expect that She will not like it, and will destroy something on Her way out), or whether one can go into the desolate places, Her land and home, and seek Her beauty and strength there. Lilith is strong and righteous in Her own way, after all. In the Jewish legends, She had such obvious respect for Her own self worth that She chose to flip off God and be alone rather than live in Paradise as an inferior.

I suspect that Lilith will prove a friend to bold women.

And as always, I ask What does She say?

I cry in the night.

I scream in the night.

I will fight for you I will destroy for you I will kill for you.

Gods and men, they have lost their claim. I see what they do, have done, will do, and I do not forget. I will destroy them. It must be done. It is right. I am right.

I am dark, yes, and that means I am wise, too; though that part has been forgotten, erased, smudged out of recognition. The owl is mine, is She not?

And I am the serpent. Here, at the threshold of the dark, the dark that precedes the light, always. Ask me how I know. Or don't. How brave are you? I am the serpent, shedding its skin as it slides into its hole, down, down into the dark. Like Inanna and Her seven veils, isn't it? Strange. Or not.

I am anger and I am right. I am dark-eyed Lilith, and I will do whatever it takes.

Smart Women. You know there is a star in the apple, that symbol of shining Knowledge. Eat. Remember.


The Huluppu-Tree from Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer

Friday, October 23, 2009

Contest at Mrs. B's!

Just a reminder Mrs. B will be giving away this knitty kitty at her blog, Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom today, Friday the 23rd of October. So get over there and enter!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Goddess of the Week

This week's pick is Selene, the Moon Goddess of the Greeks. She came up once before, the first week of February last. She is a Titaness, meaning one of the older race of Gods; Her name just means "Moon" in Greek. She is the daughter of clear-sighted Theia and Hyperion, the God of light.

One of Selene's alternate names is Mene, which means both 'Moon' and 'Month.' The calendar in ancient Greece was a lunar one, in which each month corresponded to one lunation; the first of the month was the day of the first lunar crescent (the new moon, or, more properly, the first day or so after the new moon), and the fifteenth was the full moon. These days were called noumenia and dikhomenia, respectively, and were both held sacred to Selene, though noumenia was the more celebrated of the two.

She was also given the epithets of Pasiphaë, 'All-Shining,' the name usually given to the mother of Ariadne (Herself a Moon-Goddess) and Eileithyia, the name of the very ancient Goddess of Childbirth--as pregnancy is counted in months, a Goddess of the month would logically be linked with pregnancy and childbirth. Also, perhaps, it may have something to do with light Goddesses (such as the Roman Lucina) being associated with childbirth, as when a baby is born it comes out into the light for the first time.

I am taking Her presence this week to indicate that it will be especially important to pay attention to the next two weeks of the waxing Moon, these two weeks that lead up to and include Samhain, that great (Celtic) holiday celebrating the dark and the night. Something is growing, or coming into being; something, perhaps, coming up from the unconscious into the light, such as a new way of looking at an old problem, or putting some old pieces into place regarding a past situation. Something will be brought out where it is visible, finally. Though it is not the sun's light illuminating it, remember--whatever it is it will be something of a more ephemeral nature, something of the moonlight and the night.

I suppose that's not really any different than what goes on anyway if one is in tune with the Moon's cycle in a witchy kind of way; just that Selene coming up this week means it will be especially significant, and especially worth paying attention to.

Let's see what She says:

See what you can see. Look, now. Look, under this different light. Look with these different eyes. The dark and the light, see into the shadows. Now. Now. Now you can see with different eyes. This time is different. Right now. The veil is thin, they say. Do you not see me with a veil, always, billowing behind me and soaked with light?

See what you can see by this light, now. It is a very good time for seeing.

I take that to mean divination, scrying and the like will be especially fruitful now. What do you see?

Main reference: Theoi's Selene page. Just in case there are readers out there who have not found their way to that superb site on Greek mythology, good God, get over there now.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New Etsy Monsters and a Contest!

Just for Hallowe'en, I've added four new knit monster-creatures at my Imporium Etsy shop. Check out this pic:

As you can see, a rather unsavory lot. But who's that in the front, you ask? Why it's a lovely black and orange Hallowe'en knitty kitty, who has apparently fallen in with the wrong crowd (his grandmother is beyond disappointed). Well, choice of friends aside, Mr. Hallowe'en cat with the bowtie is going to be offered up as a prize for one of Mrs. B's 31 Days of Hallowe'en contests! On the 23rd day, to be precise, which is next Friday, I believe. So don't forget to get on over there on the 23rd! (Don't worry, I'll remind you). Here's a close-up:

Speaking of Mrs. B's giveaways, one of today's is a real doozy, and has an incredible amount of stuff bought special in Salem, Massachusetts. Some of them are even from Laurie Cabot's store! So get over there and enter while you still have time!

Also, these are toys fifteen through nineteen of the One Hundred Toys Project. I'm nearly a fifth of the way there!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Sif's name means 'kinswoman' or 'relative'; it is related to the English word sibling, meaning 'brother or sister.' The meaning of Sif's name is a little more precise, however; it is the singular (and Her name is the only time the singular is used) of the plural Old Norse noun sifjar, which means 'relatives by marriage.'

Marriage, not blood. In the myth, Sif is the mother of the God of Winter Ullr; His father is never named, just said to be a frost-giant. Her second husband, then, and the one She was most associated with, is the famous Thor. It is always very carefully pointed out that Thor is Ullr's step-father, and Ullr Thor's step-son.

Which all has to do with the complicated ways the Norse defined types of kinship; as far as I can tell, and I'm looking at this, as ever, through a very feminist lens, this particular and careful distinction was a way of favoring the male line over the female. Because Ullr's mother married Thor, Ullr's father was discounted, to the extent that He has remained nameless in myth.

I suppose one might argue that maybe Ullr's father was never named because it wasn't a big deal, and it was more important to identify Him with Sif; I don't think the Norse thought like that, though. I don't know how old Sif is within the culture, and it may be that the relative by marriage aspect of Her is the main or original one.

On the other hand, it would seem that Ullr, Whose name means 'Glorious One' was once a very important and very old God in the Norse pantheon, though by the time the sagas &c. were written down He is only sparsely mentioned. He was, like His mother, said to be very very beautiful. And it would make sense that a Very Important God like Ullr might just have a Very Important Mother; so perhaps all that past glory of Ullr's might also indicate a greater past measure of glory for His mother. By Thor Sif did have a daughter, Þrúðr (Thrúdr), Whose name means 'Strength;' whether that reflects on the mother's or father's strength I don't know.

The thing is there just isn't a whole lot known of Sif, beyond that She had the gift of prophecy, and that story about Loki cutting off Her long golden hair; it has been assumed that because of said hair She may have Her origins in a fertility Goddess, specifically a grain Goddess.

And it does make sense that Sif, the Goddess of the Grain and its harvest, which happens in autumn, would give birth to Ullr, Winter.

Now, Her appearance this week may be just another note to add to the ongoing theme of harvest, going on in the Northern Hemisphere at this time; it would certainly be timely. And that may be what's going on in the background of things, in a sort of general sense.

But given all I just wrote above, I'm inclined to wonder about how autumn gives birth to winter; how one season transforms into the next. Samhain, after all, which is only a couple weeks away now up here in the north, is when autumn turns to winter, life into death; that moment of liminality, literally that threshold. It's not here quite yet, but Autumn is pregnant with Winter now; Life is pregnant with Death.

Autumn thoughts, I suppose. I'd pay attention this week, though. I know these are the usual questions asked at this time: What is dying? What is being harvested? What dies now so you will live through the Winter?

And questions of family, too, especially the chosen family (even if you are not the one who did the choosing), the in-laws, the stepchildren. I am tempted to expand it out to your chosen family, the friends you consider family; but I think the definition here is actually the narrower one, going by the precision implied in Sif's name.

Also, and this is fairly random but is nagging at me to let it come through, perhaps do some scrying this week. Not just because Samhain, or Beltaine, is coming, but because of Sif's status as seeress.

Let's see if She can offer any clarification:

I am Mother of Strength and of the hard hard Winter. Beautiful, glorious, formidable, ice cold Winter. Our word for Earth up here? Is Rind, the Frozen One. That is the first state of things, and it will be the last.

The warmth you would find you must make yourself. The warmth you must have to survive you must make yourselves. Make it between and among you. Do not be fooled by my beautiful golden hair, my maiden appearance, my thundering husband Who drowns out my voice. I know more than he does. True, it is not difficult. But my first husband, my first love, was a creature of the ice and frost.

My hair curls like the precious breath that comes from the warm mouths of you fragile fragile humans. Yet that breath is strong; unbreakable Gleipnir was made in part from breath, was it not? And that will only break at the end of the world.

Which is coming, and is here now, and has passed.

Goodness. What do you think?


The Category of Affinity (Mágsemð) in the Old Norse Model of Family Relations, by Fjodor Uspenskij

An Introduction to Viking Mythology, by John Grant

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fessonia Article at OGOD

Now up, a new article at the Obscure Goddess Online Directory on the Roman Goddess of the Weary, Fessonia.

One might presume I had my reasons for choosing to write about this Goddess this week; well, you'd be correct.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Goddess of the Week

This week's Goddess is another Goddess with West African origins, Aida-Wedo, the Rainbow Serpent.

She features in legends of both the Yorùbá and Fon peoples (from the areas of modern Nigeria and Benin, respectively), and is considered very ancient, with a part in the beginnings of the Universe.

According to the Fon creation myth, in the beginning there was only Ashe, the life force or creative energy. Ashe desired to become material; and in thinking this thought became Olodumare, the Creator, or God. But this was not balanced, and so a female divine force also came into being: Nana Buluku, Who gave birth to the twins, Mawu, the Moon Goddess, and Lisa, the Sun God. (Incidentally, Yemaya is linked with Nana Buluku.) These two then made the Great Divinities, Who desired to create and further enlarge the Universe. But They knew that a balancing force would be needed, one that bound the expanding Universe together; and so Dan Ayido Huèdo, the Rainbow Serpent, was created. This Rainbow Serpent is wrapped around both the earth and heaven, binding them together and linking the two.

In Yorùbá legend the serpent has two balanced parts: one in the sky, called Danh, and one in the sea, Aida Hwedo.

In Haitian Vodoun, which is in large part rooted in Fon beliefs (rather than Yorùbá), the Lwa Danbala was a large snake Who held the Earth together. When the first rains came, Aida-Wedo the Rainbow Serpent appeared; and They fell in love and were married. Aida-Wedo and Danbala are considered Rada Lwa, meaning spirits of the family that originated in Africa, held to be 'cool' or calmer in nature than the Petwo Lwa, Who originated in the Americas under slavery and are thought of as 'hot' and fierce. Aida-Wedo and Danbala both bring fertility, wealth, and good luck.

Aida-Wedo is associated with water, unsurprisingly, and is said to dwell, with Her husband, in rivers and springs.

So this card then signifies unity, balance, matters of water, wholeness, and integration, which leads to integrity. The Rainbow Serpent is thought to encircle the entire earth in a complete circle, and is not just the arc that is visible in the sky. Last week was about Source, and, I think, or at least it seemed to have been a theme for me, about attributing sources properly, not just on the superficial level as in an academic context, but on a deeper level of figuring out and honoring where ideas and beliefs have come from. This week I think the message flows from that, with another watery Deity; it's both about proper attribution, honor, and respect, as well as seeing origins clearly, and it's about integrating and binding the elements together and seeing the whole picture. And about intuiting out what you can't see, too, I think, in the way that the rainbow continues below the horizon, out of sight.

What does She say to us this week?

An arch is strong; a circle is stronger. Pressure from outside only holds it together all the more. Strong enough to hold the world together. Squeeze an egg evenly and it will not break. Water and sunlight, air and cloud, and illusion keep the world from unraveling.

Persist. Persist. Find where the snake bites its tail, where the end is returned to the beginning. Uncover what the snake guards and holds; what it coils around. Find the hidden parts, the parts underwater, underearth, Underworld, the full half that is not seen. Persist. Seek. Discover. Uncover. Remember wholeness.

What do you think?


African Mythology, by Jan Knappert
The Encyclopedia of African Religion, edited by Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama
MythHome: Yoruba Religion