Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Goddess of the Week

This is the first time Arianrhod has come up. She is a Welsh Goddess Whose name means 'Silver Wheel' or 'Silver Disk'; She is usually interpreted as a Moon Goddess, but I tend to see Her more as a Star Goddess, since the Moon does not turn like a wheel, but the Stars do appear to. It is hard to tell, though, since what we know of Arianrhod is through the medieval Welsh collection of tales called the Mabinogion; for by the time it was written down the old stories of the Deities had been Christianized into fairy tales. Sure, there is plenty of magic and the supernatural in the Mabinogion, but the original Divinity of some of the characters does look to have been downgraded and hidden away.

In the Mabinogion Arianrhod is a candidate to be the foot-holder of Math, a position that one has to be a virgin to hold. When She is magically tested for said virginity by Her brother, the magician Gwydion, She immediately gives birth to twins, putting the lie to Her claim. One of them, Dylan, dives straight into the Sea; the other, Lleu, is a formless thing that Gwydion claims.

Arianrhod wants nothing to do with Lleu; so Gwydion brings Him up, periodically tricking Arianrhod into giving Her son what He can only be given by His mother; each time She is tricked, She heaps scorn upon the both of Them, accusing Gwydion of perpetuating Her shame at not being a virgin by throwing Her son in Her face.

But each time Her refusals are overcome through the magic and trickery of Gwydion, and Lleu gains a name, is armed, and even obtains a wife, the maiden Blodeuwedd, Whom Gwydion and Math create out of flowers. That, however, ends rather badly (see any of the previous posts on Blodeuwedd linked in the tag below).

That, at any rate, is the story in the Mabinogion.

Now, let's first get the family relationships straight. Arianrhod is the daughter of Dôn, Who is the Welsh Mother Goddess, the equivalent to the Irish Danu, the mother of the Sidhe or faery-people. She has (at least) four brothers: Gwydion, Gofannon, Amaethon, and Gilfaethwy. Their names represent some very fundamental skills, the sort of basic building blocks of civilization: Gwydion's name means 'Knowledge,' Amaethon's 'the Divine Ploughman,' and Gofannon's 'Smith.' (I was unable to track down the meaning of Gilfaethwy's name.) Math fab Mathonwy (Math son of Mathonwy) is Dôn's brother, Their uncle, Who, like Gwydion, is also a great magician.

Remember, the tale in the Mabinogion has been straightened up for a Christian audience, the probably Divinity of the players downgraded or glossed over. There are pieces missing. And so there is no outright mention of Who the father of Arianrhod's sons might be. And while it's tempting to go the route of 'well it must be an older virgin mother scenario that was hidden in a vast Christian anti-woman and anti-Goddess conspiracy' (and while I usually do tend to that), this time I don't think so.

The internal evidence, such as it is, points to Arianrhod's brother Gwydion being the father. Lleu is in fact called His 'son' in the tale, though perhaps this refers to His position as adopted son. (And, no, I am not just making this up; I am getting this from MacKillop's Dictionary of Celtic Mythology.) Now, in myth, incest is not the same as it is in reality, where it is a taboo, shameful, horrific thing; in myth, it can simply be a shorthand way of saying the pair are considered equals, in the way that Isis and Osiris, Freyja and Frey, and Hera and Zeus were sister and brother.

But by the time of the Mabinogion that's all been buried; and there is only the barest hint of incest. What we are left with, as explanation for Arianrhod's extreme anger towards Lleu, Her own son, is Her shame at being exposed as not a virgin.

It is hard to say. Nowadays that is not considered the end of the world, or even all that important, really; though, it's true, virginity (in women, of course) certainly was very much prized in some ancient societies. But something never quite rang true for me. That alone never felt like a good enough reason for Arianrhod's utter rejection and hatred of Her son.

But when I looked at Arianrhod as the victim of rape it all fell into place. (My version of Her tale is here.) Her hatred towards Lleu, Her own innocent child, then takes the place of Her anger at Her brother Gwydion, the powerful magician Whom She can not touch.

A modern feminist reading? Maybe. Though rape is certainly not a modern phenomenon, and I don't imagine that women, being human, have had vastly different experiences of it through the ages.

There is this, though:

In a related tale in the Mabinogion, Math's virginal foot-holder is one Goewin. Gilfaethwy, however, conceives a lust for Her, and with the help of brother Gwydion hatches a scheme and rapes Her while Math is away; when Goewin tells Math what Gilfaethwy did to Her, Math offers to marry Her, elevating Her to a position of honor as queen; He also punishes Gwydion and Gilfaethwy by transforming Them into a pair of beasts for three years. Each year one takes His turn being the female and bearing young; at the end of the three years They are considered punished enough. (I don't know if Goewin, however, thought it sufficient.)

This is the situation that necessitates Math finding a new virginal foot-holder, and which leads to Gwydion's suggestion that Arianrhod apply. On one level that doesn't even make sense: if Gwydion is the father of Arianrhod's twins, then for sure He must know She is not a virgin. Is He trying to punish or shame Her further? Or is it simply a detail that has not been thought through, some piece gone missing by the time it was written down in fairy-tale form?

I have always found the psychological analysis of fairy tales fascinating; the sort of thing Bruno Bettleheim did in The Uses of Enchantment. That way of figuring dips back into very primal, archetypal ideas. Wicked step-mothers are a way of splitting off bad behavior unacceptable in an actual mother; and mothers can be further split off into more than one character. (For example, in Hansel and Gretel, the wicked step-mother who hatches the plan to abandon the children and the cannibalistic witch in the bread house are the same figure at some level.)

I've really got no evidence for this, I suppose, beyond a hunch, but I suspect that Arianrhod and Goewin are in some ways different aspects of the same character. They are both foot-holders to Math (which is in itself a puzzling title or occupation; all it says is that Math had to have His feet in the lap of a beautiful and virginal young woman. I don't know what else it is implying); They are both entangled with Gwydion, Who obviously has no scruples when it comes to facilitating rape. I mean it's all been sort of made logical and fit into an actual, non-mythological timeline; but there is something moving around under the surface of the stories. I don't know; but I find it fascinating and disturbing.

So what does my long, rambling digression mean for the meaning of this card? I don't know. Let's just go back to the card itself, for a moment.

At very first glance, Arianrhod as a Star Goddess with Her back to the North Star would seem to fit quite well with the time of year up here in the northern hemisphere, with the winter solstice just past; the idea of north, the direction defined by the Earth's axis, and the still point in the whirling about of time, that moment when the sun is said to stand still before turning back the way it came. And that fits with the whirlwind cards that have been coming up lately, Oya and Kelaeno the Harpy. Though this time, the focus is on the still point, and maintaining yourself in that space while all is whirling about you; as ever, this time of the year is a good time to go inwards into the dark and the stillness.

But the dark is also where the fascinating and disturbing lives, the layers underneath, the meanings, concepts and motivations that cannot be approached by logic but must be intuited out. I would say try to spend some time there this week, feeling out old tales of your own; pay attention to dreams, especially, but also other stories and myths (both cultural and personal) that catch your eye. Something's up. On a very basic level the year has turned; look for evidence of that turning, of a shift in the current of the psyche's Sea which may bring formerly deep things towards the surface. I'm not sure what kind of specific advice to give; I think the point is that you will have to figure it out for yourself.

Let's see what She says:

I whirl but I am not dizzy. I am solid in myself, in my anger, in my knowedge that I am right. Deep in my bones I am I, myself, me, and I know it.

It is all panic and war-plans and lies when there is in fact peace. Shoemakers misusing their skills, all a plot, a plan, a surface shuffling about of colors. It does not affect the underlying story, the reality of it. Destiny is destiny, after all, and I am the Woman with my back to the Deep, the north star, the straight line, the center, the axis; there is no fooling me, no getting around the Fate I proclaim. And so the pretty flower-woman is Death in disguise, for my Son does not escape his destiny.

All is fate and spinning and round and round the center. Trying to keep track of the whirling is a waste of time and energy, though it may be pretty; find the center. You can admire it all from there without being caught up in it. It is much quieter, here, much more conducive to thought and contemplation, which is what you need right now.


What do you think?


The Mabinogion, translated by Gwyn and Thomas Jones

The Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, by James MacKillop

This isn't anything related to the Arianrhod tale, but it did get me thinking: a psychological analysis of maternal cannibalism in the Hansel and Gretel tale (as well as Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood) by Tracy Willard is here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Al-'Uzza is a Goddess Who was held in high esteem by the pre-Islamic Arabs, especially those of the Quraysh tribe of the area around Mecca, who counted in their number one Mohammed, who would found the religion known as Islam. Her name means 'the Mighty One', and She was worshiped as a baetyl, or block of stone (carved or uncarved) in that area. She is closely associated with the Arabian Goddesses al-Lat (whose name means 'Goddess') and Manat ('Fate'); sometimes They are all called the daughters of al-Lah ('God').

According to the Kitab Al-Asnam, or Book of Idols, by Hisham Ibn-al-Kalbi (c. the 9th century CE) in Mecca the Quraysh would ritually circle the Ka'aba (a holy place long before the advent of Islam) and chant:

By Allat and al-'Uzza,
And Manat, the third idol besides.
Verily they are the most exalted females
Whose intercession is to be sought

Al-'Uzza was also an important Goddess to the Arabs up in Petra in modern Jordan; She may have been the main Goddess worshiped there. She is known to have had a major temple in that city, though which one is not known; the Greeks identified Her with their Aphrodite Ourania.

The relief on the little round tholos (temple-like structure) of the Khasneh in Petra is likely al-'Uzza; though it is much defaced, it shows a Goddess robed in the Greek style carrying a cornucopia and a patera. She is thought to be syncretized with both the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Tykhe, their Goddess of good fortune; in the Roman world the equivalent Goddess would be Fortuna. (The Romans incidentally linked Isis with Fortuna, worshiping Them in one as Isis-Fortuna.) Tykhe was also considered a protective Goddess of individual cities; though it is hard to make out, the Goddess in relief on the Khasneh may also wear Tykhe's turret crown as city guardian. This may mean She was considered the protective Goddess of Petra, one Who looks after the good fortune of the city.

At al-'Uzza's shrine in the Hurad valley not far from Mecca, visitors could receive oracles, presumably from the Goddess. She also had three acacia trees holy to Her there, which were cut down at Mohammed's command; according to legend, when the last was slated to be cut, an 'Abyssinian woman with disheveled hair' was found there in much distress. Mohammed's minion killed Her on the spot; the Prophet later remarked, 'That was al-'Uzza. But she is no more. ... Verily she shall never be worshipped again.' Well. I beg to differ.

Al-'Uzza is linked somewhat tenuously to the planet Venus as the morning star; I assume this is through the association the Greeks had with their Aphrodite Ourania, Aphrodite of the Heavens.

Calm and the level gaze, that small but bright Star of truth held in the corner of the eye; that's what I'm getting for the week ahead, the week that includes Christmas, not generally a calm one for most of us in the western world. There is a solidity, now, though, if you can tap into it; in some ways the low point of the year, the low point of the sun's cycle, that darkest, longest, night, is the most grounded time. This is the time of calm, and night, and the dark, and the sun going down down down into the dark, and then standing still for a moment as we all hold our breaths. Try to remember that, I think, in this busy busy week. That calmness is there, inherent to this time.

She says:

Fix your gaze on the light, on that little point, that Star; keep me in your sight. You need not always follow, but know I am there.

I am ally, friend, protectress, Powerful One. I guard, I prosper you, I amend you. I make you whole. I am pieces, myself. I am the scrub-tree in the desert, old and tough and beautiful beyond thought. I watch, I wait, I endure. I am still here. I am thorns and dry bark and fragrant bloom. I teach patience and strength. I win because I will wait.

I am the dry riverbed, the rain gleaned in the rock-cut channels. I am almost as old as Time; I am the uncut Stone.

Ask me; I hear you and I will answer. I am still the Mighty One.

What do you think?


There is quite a good article here on al-'Uzza (though it could use a bit of proofreading).

The Kitab Al-Asnam, or Book of Idols, by Hisham Ibn-al-Kalbi (737-819CE), English translation here. Be warned: though it's just the straight-up text from the 1952 translation by Nabih Amin Faris and appears perfectly reputable (I've seen the Book of Idols text linked from educational sites, for instance), the rest of the site is an evangelical Christian one. I'd advise not backing up into the main site of that one unless you've a stronger stomach than I do.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Tale of Fire and Ice

This is Mother's Night, the darkest of the year; and it all turns tomorrow. Here is another story for the dark. Turn, and turn:


Surrounded by the dark of the year, I am suddenly filled with longing; so I say to him, "Oh, I want a story."

He laughs. "Okay," he says, and with no more preamble than that begins:

"Once there was a woman called Aisa, whose hair was black as the Dark; but her skin was very pale, the color of ice, nearly. Like ice, too, were her eyes, which were a milky pale blue; and she was blind.

"But her blindness was of a peculiar variety, for, despite being without a doubt physically unable to see, she had an uncanny knack for maneuvering through the world, never tripping over or bumping into things. For she had the ability to see the Shadow World, that world which runs within and underneath our own. And she was greatly gifted in this Sight.

"But it made her a rather uncomfortable neighbor, and though she was quite pretty in a Gothic sort of way, people avoided her, if only because she tended to stare at the space next to them during conversations.

"Not that she was much of a conversationalist, really, all told; and so she lived, quite alone, in a little house on the top of a hill, and did not have much congress with others.

"And one day Aisa found herself pregnant."

I raise my eyebrows; though having finally learned not to interrupt him when he's telling a story, I don't say a word. He shakes his head. "When Ereshkigal gave birth, was there any talk of a father? No. This is like that. The child was hers, and hers alone.

"As her belly grew she drew into herself more and more, in fear, or in preparation; and the time came, as it will, when she felt the pains of labor.

"But it was like trying to give birth to a stone, and the pain and the blood were very great, enough that she feared for her own survival. But, finally, after a very difficult time, the baby was born. And it was dead.

"With great effort then she brought the baby, still covered in blood, to her breast. And she held it to her, though she could feel the warmth slowly going out of it, the warmth given it from her own body.

And as she held it there, worn out and weak, she passed entirely into the Shadow World."

He pauses, as the story stands still a moment; and I, knowing this, wait.

"After a time she woke, as it were, and opened her eyes; but though she was in the Shadow World, she could See little, for it was very dark.

"And Aisa was surprised, and frightened; for in all this time her Sight had never failed her. And she held still for quite some time, not knowing what to do.

"But then she remembered why she had come, or, at least, what she meant to do there; and she stood up, though she was truly blind for the first time in her life. And she resolved to find what she sought, the Soul of her daughter, who she knew had lost her way.

"But she could not See. And so she sang.

"She stood there in the dark and sang a song of warmth, a mother's song of comfort to her child, a calling-home song, a song of welcome and safety.

"But she was alone.

"She stood there in the dark and sang a song of light, a song of the starry way, a song of illumination and recognition, and the path found.

"But still she was alone.

"She stood there in the dark and sang a song of restoration, the Soul's song, a song of unity and wholeness, of longing and love.

"And she was not alone.

"For there beside her stood a woman, with hair red-gold as the sunrise. And but for the hair she was a mirror image of Aisa; 'Ah,' said Aisa, understanding.

"And she took her daughter's hand.

"Not long after Aisa found herself lying in bed, back in the living world; and at her breast she held her tiny newborn daughter, who, though weak and still covered with blood, was alive. And Aisa could See by the light about her that her daughter would live. And she named her Sivil, for the color of her hair.

"But Aisa could also See that she would not herself long survive the birth; and gathering up what strength she had, she bundled the baby up and took her outside, out into the night and the cold. And she set Sivil down on the ground.

"Then Aisa gathered up as much dry kindling as she could manage, which wasn't much. And she slowly leant it against the outside wall of her house, and took out tinder and flint; and with great care she made a fire.

"And when she was sure it had caught, she laid herself down, her body already growing cold; and she died.

"The townspeople, of course, when they saw the house burning, came to put it out; and so they found both the dead mother and the living daughter; and as Aisa had Seen, they called the baby Sivil, for she was found on a night of fire.

"The end."

"That's a pretty dark story," I say.

"It's what you needed to hear," he says softly.

"It always is," I say, and he nods.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pussycat Update

Well we took Sir Isaac Mewton in for an ultrasound very early yesterday morning in the freezing cold. Now who was it was talking about Mercury going into retrograde? That's when improbable disasters all pile up on top of each other with excruciatingly perfect bad timing, right? Because part of the way there the car decided to overheat. It's an old and familiar problem, with that car; it goes through coolant really quickly for some reason, though as far as we've ever been able to tell it doesn't leak. And, you know, with the cat being sick and all I forgot to check. Nevermind that I don't use that car all that often (being self-employed at home, so generally commute-less) and the thing had only had water put in it last time, not proper antifreeze.

But luckily I have a sibling who is good with cars; and miraculously enough when I called him he was awake and even more miraculously he agreed to bring some antifreeze. And he got there quickly and poured a bunch of stuff in and then he hopped in my car to keep an eye on things and I hopped in his car and we kept on going straight to the animal hospital.

When I got in his car there was a CD in the player. It was the Black Crowes. The song was Remedy. I nearly cried.

But when we got there the sibling told me that there was no heat in my car, which foretold bad things for the state of the heater core, like water had gotten in there and frozen the thing solid; as far as the cat went though we weren't even late, since the appointment was for 'between seven and eight am' and we'd gotten an early start; and Mewton was good and non-freaking out and the vet was very kindly. And as luck would have it there was a slot for the ultrasound right while we were there (they had originally planned to keep him there for a half day, which would have been an issue with a blinky car).

So the cat got his ultrasound; my brother left my car running to try to thaw the heater out, and he said he'd bring it back to his heated garage and drain the system out properly so he could put in all antifreeze.

So I'm trying to keep all these things in my head and then the vet comes out. Sir Isaac Mewton, it turns out, has pancreatitis, an inflamed pancreas, which is not necessarily good; however it is not a tumor, which is good. So it's his poor swollen pancreas which is crowding his bile ducts, not anything wrong with the ducts or his liver per se.

Now, the vet said most of the time they don't know what causes pancreatitis in cats; she said about a third of the time it's bacterial, though, so she gave me some antibiotics. And, she said, since he is still eating (though he's lost a little weight his appetite is still pretty good), she said we could bring him home, but that we would need to keep a very close eye on him. Any sign of going downhill and we are to bring him into the local vet's office quickly.

So. I am grateful: for siblings who know about Volvos and who don't grumble when called at 7:15am, though I know his schedule is about as vampiric as mine; for the fact that it turned out the car was okay and the heater core thawed and works fine now; for the fact that it is not a tumor; for the fact Mewton is eating well and looks perky enough; and I am absurdly grateful for Remedy, honestly. And I am very grateful to all of you for the kind thoughts and good energies sent his way. And to Bastet, Lady of the Salve.

So, here's a picture or two of Sir Isaac Mewton. In this one, without the flash, you can see he looks perfectly bright-eyed and decently healthy:

In the second one, though, with the flash on, you can get a better look at the clear-cut swath they had to shave so they could give him the ultrasound. Poor guy. It's kind of scary, though; the skin of a black cat is usually this nice sort of silvery grey. But though the color in the picture isn't exactly perfect, you can still see that his skin is a bit on the yellow side, because he has jaundice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Help For Sir Isaac Mewton

My dear darling Sir Isaac Mewton has been feeling rather poorly lately. We took him to the vet today, where everything checked out okay save for a bit of telltale jaundice visible in his third eyelids (though the vet pointed out his gums were perfectly pink, meaning that whatever it is it is not very bad so far), meaning something's up with his liver. I believe that could be something very minor or the beginnings of something very nasty; I have so far resisted the urge to google 'cat liver jaundice disease' as that will not help anything and only make me feel worse. He is not very sick, at present, but enough that he is off his game, which is usually a very fine one indeed. They took blood today and I'm waiting on the results, which will come in tomorrow.

Here he is, in all his X-TREME glory and handsomeness:

Anyway, I'd really appreciate it if any of you who feel up to it could send some nice gentle but thorough healing energy his way. I've been petitioning Bastet left and right myself.

UPDATE: Just heard from the vet. He told me a bunch of technical stuff (which I wrote down) but bottom line is it's not FIP, feline leukemia, or FIV, which is all good. But something is clogging up or cutting off the flow in his bile ducts, which could be anything from 'sludge' (the vet's word) to a tumor. So...

He's recommending an ultrasound, which will probably run about $350. Which we will do, but oh boy. So healing thoughts and wishes are still much appreciated, along with good prosperity vibes. Thank you all so much.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Well. Another storm Goddess. This week's pick is Kelaeno, one of the three Harpies of Greek myth, with Her sisters Podarke ('Fleet-Footed') and Aello ('Whirlwind'). They are storm and wind Goddesses Who are also very much associated with horses, probably because of the swiftness of that animal. (I have a hunch, also, that a horse's mane is symbolic of the wind.) There are generally said to be three, but some authors name just two. There are a great many names attributed to the Harpies besides those above, such as Nikothoe ('Running-Victor'), Aellopos ('Storm-Footed'), and Thuella ('Storm Wind' or 'Hurricane'). Oddly enough, Kelaeno's name is the only one I've seen that does not reference swiftness or the wind; for it means 'the Black One.' Perhaps this refers to the dark storm clouds; but it is striking that She shares a name with the Hindu Goddess Kali, Whose name means the same, 'Black One.' I would even venture a guess that the words are related, given that both Greek and Sanskrit are Indo-European languages.

The name harpyiai means 'the Snatchers,' and They were said to be instruments of divine punishment, Who went out at the command of Zeus. They were famously set on King Phineus of Thrake as punishment for his too-accurate oracles; They harassed him by either snatching his food away or making it befouled and inedible. They were eventually chased off by one Boreades, Who, though an Argonaut, was actually one of the sons of the North Wind and the Goddess of snow, Khione. Boreades, like the Harpies, had great wings and could fly; He chased them all the way to the Strophades Islands, where He was stopped by Iris, the rainbow Goddess (and sister to the Harpies), Who forbid Him to harm Them; in exchange for Their promise to leave Phineus alone, Boreades let the Harpies be.

They were depicted in many different ways through the years, and could be beautiful maidens, horrible bird-monsters, or some combination of the two; but They were always shown with great wings. Kelaeno seems to have been Their leader, and She had the gift of prophecy; though unsurprisingly Her oracles were mostly of the gloom and doom sort.

So then this is two weeks in a row that we get a storm Goddess, as last week's was the Yorùbá Orisha of storms, lightning and hurricanes Oya. Something is changing, and it's not just the season, though parts of the US did have a major snow storm last week. But this is no ordinary storm. The Harpies are the Goddesses of sudden disappearances, of things snatched away, of things inevitably catching up with you; and I don't know what anyone can do to ward them off. They are persistent and tenacious, and very very angry. I don't know that they can be placated.

I ask what She has to say, Kelaeno, the Black One. She is very sly. I was not expecting that. I assumed Her loud, angry, windy.

Her hair billows, though, in no wind; she is constantly moving, feathers ruffled, always shifting, never sitting still.

She says:

I am of the black, the Void. I am the breath of the world, I am the swift air, the horses thundering across the plain shaking the earth. I am the darkness under earth, the blackness there, the fair wind in the stale underground. I bring you there, to the dark, you and the year we go together.

I bring you where you need to go. Not where you want to go; where you need to go. It is not your choice.

I am movement and change I blow the leaves off the trees and pile them in hollows where they will rot to black, the dead rotting to the mould and the marrow, becoming next year's rich soil; though I am not really concerned with that end of things.

I am cold cold wind and I am the dark. But remember that the winter wind chases me away. Wait for it to turn. Though the darkness turns the cold has only just begun to set in; that is the island's name, the turning, strophe. We can not be stopped, only turned.

Take a deep breath. Here I come, for you.

Well. What do you think?

Reference: The Theoi Harpies page.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Story for the Dark

(I wrote this a couple of years back; it seems appropriate to share it here, now.)

"Tell me a story," I say, as we lie there in the dark.

He laughs, for even to my own ears I sound like a child, but also, because he recognizes that winter is the proper time for stories, stories that both explore and keep away the dark.

"Okay," he says.

"Once there was a girl named Aridela, with hair black as ink. Now Aridela loved the dark and the night; and her favorite thing in the whole world was to lie asleep and dream, of faraway places and wonderful lands, of magical beings and forests that spoke. But one night, something terrible happened, and it happened in the dark she loved so much: her mother was lost."

"Oh," I say, all fear and foreboding, "You don't think my mom is going to die soon, do you?"

"Shhh," he says, "Don't interrupt. Your mother's fine, she'll outlive us all, trust me, and God help us. And anyway I didn't say Aridela's mother died; I just said she was lost. Try to pay attention.

"So Aridela lost her mother, and it made her very sad, and a little angry, too. And she looked long and far in the dark for her mother, and could not find her. And she began to hate the dark, the dark she had used to love.

"Now, underneath all hate is a little seed of fear; and though Aridela didn't see it at first, that fear grew until she feared the dark and became terrified of it. And she became too afraid to even put one foot in front of the other, and she stopped altogether, and sat down in the dark in a little ball, too frightened to move. And, eventually, she became so afraid that she dared not even breathe, hardly, and she felt the walls press in on her, as if she were deep underground.

"She stayed this way for a long time, silent, still, and unable to see, for there was no light, no light at all where she was.

"But in time she became so still that everything around her also became still; and at last she saw before her feet a tiny little light. And she saw that it was coming from a little pool, which had become so still it was now like a mirror; and the little light was the reflection of a star, a star that shone through a hole in the roof. And Aridela stood up, and pulled herself out of that hole onto a hilltop into the good night air, surrounded by the beautiful dark. And to the east she could see the horizon, and the faint light of the coming dawn. The end."

"The end?" I say. I don't think I find his story very comforting. "What happened to her mother? Did Aridela ever find her?"

"No," he says, "she didn't. Aridela's mother found her."

Well, that's a little better. "Now hang on," I say, and I know he knows that Aridela is a title of the Goddess Ariadne, "With a name like Aridela I'd expect Dionysos to be in there somewhere."

"He was," he says. "He was the Star."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Speaking of dark Goddesses, this week's Goddess pick is Oya, the powerful Yorùbá Orisha (roughly Goddess) of destruction, violent storms, and change. She is described as a warrior Goddess around Whom whirlwinds swirl, Who can call forth the lightning; She carries a saber or machete, which She uses to clear new paths, and a fly-whisk as emblem of royalty, for She is considered a Queen. She is an excellent horsewoman and rides into battle ahead of Her husband Sàngó, bringing Her storm winds.

She is one of the three wives of Sàngó (with Oba and Osun), and is associated with the Niger River. Purple, maroon and dark red are Her colors, and nine is Her number, as the Niger River is traditionally said to have nine tributaries.

As Goddess of destruction and change Oya destroys the old to make way for the new; and unsurprisingly She is also associated with the dead, and, like Maman Brigitte in the Vodou tradition, is guardian of cemeteries. She watches over the threshold between life and death, and is a psychopomp, or a Deity Who guides the souls of the dead to the Underworld.

Oya brings rapid, sometimes violent, change, and Her tempestuous moods are legendary (much like Yemaya, Who is sometimes said to be Her mother). For all that She can bring chaos and destruction, however, Her methods are firmly in service to truth; though whether that truth is easy or difficult to accept is not Her concern.

Though the general theme of the death of the old to make way for the new is certainly appropriate at this time of year in the North, I'd say this card this week brings it a bit, well, closer to home. Destruction and change, perhaps unexpected or sudden is the theme of the week. I don't know what advice to give, except to try to ride it out, and to remember that what is cleared away has been so to make way for truth of some kind. I imagine it will get worse before it gets better, though.

On the other hand, it promises (threatens?) to be exciting. Perhaps the best advice would be to see if you can't align yourself with these forces of change, rather than being their hapless victim. Easier said than done, I know.

So I ask Oya, with respect, what if anything She has to say to us this week:

She is all flashing eyes and brightness, lightning flickering behind Her. Her voice is low and throaty, strong and vibrant, holding life and death at the same time, layered upon each other. She says:

Die that you may live.

She is gone.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


These last few years I find myself craving black in this season. Not at Samhain; no, then I crave orange and russet and red, the colors of the leaves or the fat full moon rising at sunset. But now, as we spiral down to Yule and the Solstice, and the light gets smaller and smaller like the aperture of a camera closing down, I want black like you wouldn't believe.

These last few years the practice of lighting lights for the season has seemed so alien, so wrong, so, and I don't normally use this word, so blasphemous. One does not welcome the dark by lighting a candle. This seems obvious to me, these last few years. Perhaps I am becoming old and cynical and fed up with holiday spirit and the usual forced cheeriness; that is entirely plausible. Probable, even. But I want to sit with the dark. That feels proper. I do not want to hurriedly banish it away at the first thought; that feels like denial, like fear, like willful ignorance. This preemptive warding-off, this feverish and wide-eyed jumping ahead to the light feels disrespectful, like it is ignoring, dismissing the reality of the dark.

I want to sit with the dark a while, in quietude. Long enough, at least, for my eyes to grow accustomed to it. Long enough that I can, maybe, look around a bit.

For me, anyway, and only in these last most recent years. I do not know why my attitude has shifted, but it feels calm and measured, and not based in fear, or despair, or seasonal depression. Perhaps I have simply had enough of the blaring commercialism, itself a form of denial. I don't know.

And this year I find I want to paint Styx, the Goddess, She of the blue-black river, the eldest daughter of primaeval Ocean. A dark Goddess, certainly, but an uncomfortable one; and I am not entirely sure why I am so drawn to paint Her. For Her name means Hatred.

She is an ambiguous figure, or is, at least, to a radical feminist such as myself. She is a Titanis, one of the elder race of Gods, against Whom upstart Zeus started a war for supremacy. When He declared war He invited the other Gods to join Him, telling them He would heap status and gifts on those taking His side; and Styx, though a Titanis Herself, was the first to come to Him, against Her own people. For this, She was rewarded with a river named for Her, a river considered so holy the Gods swore oaths by it.

Did you catch that? When Zeus declared war, Hatred immediately flew to His side.

She is properly a traitor, this Styx, though of course described in glowing terms by the winners Who wrote mythic history, meaning, the Olympians, Who ended up dominant and victorious. Nike, Victory, is Her daughter, which is I suppose a large part of why the Olympians won, for when Styx went to Their side She brought Her family with Her. Victory, Daughter of Hatred. Something is being acknowledged there, don't you think?

But Styx is a Titanis, and is mentioned as early as Hesiod (which is about as early as you're going to get in Greek myth). And the thing with the Titanes is that they are generally regarded as belonging to an older stratum of myth, one likely held by an earlier people, who were assimilated into the Greeks proper when they arrived in the land; the mythic war between the two sets of Gods being a sort of fossilized representation of the conflict between the two peoples and their traditions playing out. That is of course simplified, and probably only true in a general sense; still, it makes me wonder about the roots of Styx. What is She really?

I would guess that the myth has it backwards, as myths usually do concerning attributes of the Gods; She was always Goddess of that Underworld river, as that is by definition what She is. The story about being given the river as reward is a later explanation, a rationalization; the river was always Hers. And it is unusual, also, that She is a river Goddess, for the overwhelming majority of river Deities in Greek myth are male, as a quick skim of the Potami page at Theoi shows. So She is a rare exception to the rule. That, right there, hints that She is old, or original, autochthonous if you will, sprung from the land, some older remnant that proved intractable to the new inhabitants, and could not be changed, only adopted. But I don't know.

She is, as I said, ambiguous, for although Her name means Hatred, Styx is also concerned with matters of justice and truth; Her river is so sacred, and so powerful, it knows, She knows, when the Gods are lying, and the waters will poison Them if They do, which is part of why oaths sworn by Styx are so strong. Or, at least, matters of justice and truth so far as the Olympian Gods, so far as Zeus, are concerned. I do not know that I consider His justice my justice.

I spent an evening not too long ago researching Styx, starting out at the Theoi page and following branching paths and faint scents; and I found that there is a real river, in Arkadia, Greece, which is called the Styx. It took a bit of research to get to its modern name, and where exactly it is located, but after a few hours I tracked it down, and, wonder that the internet is, it wasn't too long before I found a photo of it. It is quite dramatic, a high spring falling from a sheer cliff; and the rocks at the base are a rusty red and a deep, wet, black. Here, see for yourself.

If I paint Her I will make Her hair black, and long, and flowing, as is proper to a river Goddess. She will be in red and blue-black, I think, and in shadow. The north side of a mountain, of the underworld, kind of shadow, the kind that never sees the sun, deep and ambiguous and dark.

I mean, if I paint Her. I am not sure I will.