Monday, May 31, 2010

Goddess of the Week

We haven't seen Her in nearly a year, but Amaterasu, the Japanese Goddess of the Sun, is making Her third appearance here. (Her other two: in July of 2009, and early November, 2008.) She is the principal Deity of Shinto, considered the foremother of the Imperial line, and said to have invented weaving, agriculture, and therefore civilization. Her name, given in full as Amaterasu-Omikami, means "The Great Goddess Who Shines in the Heavens."

Amaterasu is the daughter of the first couple, Izanami ("She Who Invites") and Izanagi ("He Who Invites"). After creating the islands of Japan, Izanami and Izanagi then desired to have a child Who would rule over all; and so Amaterasu was born. It is important to remember that Amaterasu is not just an important Goddess, but the supreme Shinto Deity of either sex; in my reprint of Myths and Legends of Japan, which was originally from 1913, the primeval couple ask Themselves "Why should we not produce someone who will be the Lord [sic] of the Universe?" since of course the Deity at the tippy-top of things must be male, from the western author's point of view.

Now, it's true, Japanese myth is not my strong suit, but my feminist nose is smelling some revisioning of the myth. In the story of Amaterasu's parents, Izanami (Her mother) and Izanagi (Her father), came together to an island. Having decided to marry, They set up a ritual pillar, which They walked around in opposite directions (it would be interesting to know Who walked sunwise, and Who walked widdershins, wouldn't it?). When They met, Izanami exclaimed, "How wonderful! I have met a beautiful young man!" This angered Izanagi, however, since He felt He was entitled to the first move, and the first speech, since He was male (and that is specifically the reason given); He insisted They do it over, and when They met the second time, He said, "How wonderful! I have met a beautiful young woman!" And this, according to the legend, made everything right with the Universe.

Yeah, well. That's a pretty literal account of men being rewarded for taking credit for something women have done first, down to the words from our mouths being stolen; and also it strikes me as a pathetically transparent justification for building a society on a sexist foundation. So transparent, that I wonder what is there to prove? It if really is just as it always has been, is there a need to justify it like that? So I wonder if this is a remnant, a remembering in myth, of a time when Japan was not patriarchal. From what I understand of history, Japan does have a matriarchal (or whichever word you choose to describe it) past; the Chinese are said to have been surprised when they first encountered the Japanese tribes, as the leaders of those tribes were often women.

Now Izanami and Izanagi's next child was the Moon-God, Tsukuyomi; and though They thought He and Amaterasu a perfect pair, They argued almost from the first sight of each other. And so Amaterasu rules without a consort. Which She doesn't need anyway, being brilliant, canny, inventive, hard-working, and an excellent archer to boot; and She always uses Her gifts to further civilization.

This week I think it will be about sunshine; specifically, the kind of sunshine that illuminates the dark places. Perhaps it will involve taking credit where it is due, or shining the light on someone else's misappropriation; it may also involve bringing dark areas of your past to light in the name of healing. It may be somewhat painful to look, I fear, but it is a good time, if you choose. Stand in the sun; be aware, and warmed, and visible. The light will prove a great source of strength.

Take credit for the good discarded or buried things that are yours, but also recognize what isn't yours--perhaps shame, guilt, or the like which you have been carrying around with you. This week will provide a very good opportunity to see things with remarkable accuracy and clarity.

She is brilliance, and warmth, and growth. She draws the flower to Her; the plants grow towards Her, longing to reach Her.

What does She say?

Reach for me, unfold yourself, unfurl yourself in my warmth. It is safe here. I am the Truth that stands in the Light, and I will not be denied. I am strong, and intelligent, and prepared to defend myself and you; and I cannot be fooled. Grow towards me; use my warmth and light to grow strong. Remember I am always here, even in the winter; and even if my light is low, I always return. Come out into the light!

What do you think?

References: Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology

Monday, May 24, 2010

Goddess of the Week

This is the first appearance of the Welsh Goddess Cerridwen, Who keeps the cauldron of inspiration. The meaning of Her name is a little obscure, but it may be related to words for 'poetry' or 'cauldron' and the -(g)wen on the end, which usually means 'white', may, since it is used of a Goddess, mean 'blessed' or 'holy'. She is said to live at the bottom of Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) in Wales. Her story:

Cerridwen was the mother of a girl and a boy; the girl, named Creirwy, grew up to be the most beautiful woman on earth, but the boy, Morfran, ('Great Crow') was conversely relentlessly ugly. To make up for Her son's hideous looks Cerridwen decided to brew a magical potion that would confer upon Him divine poetic inspiration and the gift of prophecy; this potion, however, was a large undertaking, requiring a year and a day to brew. To help Her in this She enlisted a blind man and a servant boy, Gwion Bach, to attend to the fire and stir the cauldron.

At the appointed hour She set Morfran by the cauldron, and exhausted, went to sleep; but something went awry, and the three magical drops intended for Morfran fell instead on Gwion Bach.

And so the first thing Gwion Bach understood with his newly acquired gifts of prophecy and inspiration was that Cerridwen was going to kill him. So he quite wisely fled, taking the form of a hare.

Cerridwen awoke in a rage and pursued him in the shape of a greyhound. He changed into a fish, and She became an otter; then he became a bird, She a hawk. Finally he fled to a granary, where he took the form of a single grain of wheat. Cerridwen, not to be thwarted, became a hen, Who without much trouble located him and ate him.

But of course this is myth; and so soon enough Cerridwen found Herself pregnant with the boy. When He was born He was so beautiful She could not kill Him, as She had intended; still, wanting nothing to do with Him She set Him adrift in a coracle, a small boat. Three days later, on Calan Mai (the first of May, or Beltaine) He was found, caught in a fish-weir; and in time He grew up to be the divine poet Taliesin.

Though Cerridwen is quite clearly a mother She also has crone or hag like elements, perhaps because of Her reputation as a sorceress, or because She is a negative or devouring mother. Which is perhaps a little unfair; after all She was quite determined to help Her elder son Morfran. And perhaps it can't be broken down that simply anyway. She is probably more properly thought of as a Goddess of transformation--of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Though Her cauldron is specifically a source of awen, poetic or prophetic insight, in other tales from Celtic lands cauldrons are a means of regeneration and rebirth. The tale of Branwen from The Mabinogion features a wondrous cauldron: if a man slain that day is placed within it, the next day he will be alive again and his strength at its peak; the only caveat being that he will lose the power of speech. Death, after all, is silencing, and one does not come through a transformation without change.

So this week is about transformation and inspiration both; but there is a very strong element of unpredictability. The best laid plans, well, they will go awry, and all your hard work may seem dashed. If you can see it through, however, things will loop around to something really quite wonderful, perhaps more wonderful than you could have imagined. Trust this process, if you can; at the least patience will help.

Or it could be that you do get what you want, and things go off without a hitch; but you come to the realization that what you thought you wanted wasn't. Because you have changed. Perhaps those plans have not yet come to fruition; this may be a good time to reevaluate things in light of where you are now. Do those plans still serve you? How have you changed?

In the story above, do you identify with Cerridwen or Taliesin? Your answer will offer insight as to where you are in your transformation. And yes, we are all in the middle of that process, always.

Me, I always felt more for Cerridwen than for the boy. In fact I felt compelled to write Her story, the first one I wrote for the Goddess deck book, because I had read Ari Berk's version of Taliesin's tale for his and Brian Froud's The Runes of Elfland book; I wasn't intending at all to write stories (or rather, I wasn't intending to channel stories, 'cause really, I swear I'm not writing them myself) at all. But She demanded I take down Her side of the story.

So what does She say?

Would you be divinely inspired? It will cost you. Of course. That is how it is.

Throw it all in the pot. ALL. Your life's work, your life's blood, your life. Boil it down to its essence. Boil off the distractions, the extraneous, the unnecessary. Be transformed. It is the only way.

But you know this already.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Goddess of the Week

For the first time we get Medusa. She is one of the Gorgones, three monstrous sisters with snaky hair, fangs, and great wings of bronze Who live out in the furthest West; and Medusa is commonly said to be the only mortal of the three sisters. In the classical myth, Medusa was once a beautiful maiden famed for Her glorious hair Who incurred the wrath of Athena by having sex with Poseidon in one of Athena's temples. Or She incurred the wrath of Athena by being raped by Poseidon in one of Athena's temples. Ancient patriarchies of course (and modern ones, alas) don't really distinguish between the two. And so in the story Athena punished Her, Medusa, not Him, Poseidon, quite savagely, by transforming Medusa into a monster so ugly Her merest glance turned men into stone.

Now, I like Athena. A lot. But I'll have no truck with this blaming the victim crap. None at all.

I suppose you could rationalize it by theorizing about why Athena wouldn't want to go after Poseidon--He is too powerful, it could start a very big war, it wasn't going to end well, whatever--and so, eminently practical Goddess that She is, Athena took out Her anger on the next nearest target, His victim.

Or we could just say it's the fucking patriarchy putting words in Athena's mouth and assume it's all been twisted out of recognition. I lean towards this interpretation myself, but then, I really like Athena. So I am not unbiased.

The thing is, though, Medusa as a transformed maiden doesn't really make much sense. Now, okay, it's mythology, and so it is no more linear and logical than a dream; and ordinary reason does not apply. But Medusa has those two sisters, Who are always spoken of as monstrous, snaky-locked, bronze-winged and fangéd. That is just how they are, and always have been. Why should Medusa be any different? I suspect part of it is the Perseus myth, where the hero cuts off Her head (while She is asleep!) on a dare, helped along by the typical heroish accoutrements of winged sandals, a helmet of invisibility, a mirrored shield. For him to be able to do this Medusa has to be different than Her sisters: She has to be mortal.

She also has to be 'guilty', I think. When Perseus cut off Her head, two beings leapt out from Her severed neck: Pegasos, the magical winged horse, and the hero Khrysaor, about Whom one hears very little except that He was the father of the three-bodied Geryon. Poseidon is said to be their father.

Think about all that a minute. It is usually glossed over, or made invisible, but that means Medusa was pregnant when Perseus killed Her. She was also, as far as I've ever heard, just minding Her own (albeit monstery) business. It's not like She was harassing the locals and threatening to eat a princess or something (i.e. Andromeda).

Something here has been re-cast, the story changed. I'm not sure how though and am truthfully just going on instinct, on the fact that something smells off to me; but Hesiod (one of the earliest sources), though he does call the Gorgones monsters, also makes no mention of rape, or of Athena's temple; instead, he says that 'Poseidon, he of the dark hair, lay with [Medusa] in a soft meadow and among spring flowers.' From what I can tell, the story of Medusa's rape in the temple comes from Ovid. While it's true he may have been repeating something said earlier, still he is not only late (the first centuries BCE and CE), he is in fact also Roman.

There is also the matter of Medusa's name. It means 'Mistress,' 'Guardian,' or 'Queen.' Those are not usually negative words. Her sisters, incidentally, are Sthenno ('Strength', Whom I have painted), and Euryale (either 'Wide-Stepping' or 'the Wide Salt Sea'). They are daughters of the Sea-Deities Keto (Who gives Her name to the order of whales, cetaceans) and Phorkys.

They are certainly elemental, primeval creatures, as are Their siblings, Skylla, the Graiai, and the dragon Ekhidna. And civilization does tend to demonise the primeval, to make monsters out of the natural world which can be so unthinking of the needs of us humans.

But there is something else about Medusa.

When Perseus cut off Her head, Athena caught up some of Her blood. That from the left side of Medusa's body killed instantly, but that from the right had such healing powers it could bring the dead back to life.

So. She is primeval, and powerful, and not entirely monstrous. Perhaps that is why in the later legends She is said to once have been beautiful. The story of Her blood is part of the reason I painted Her as beautiful, and why Her snakes are that deep red color.

So for this week then? I think last week's theme, anger and the primeval power of the natural world will continue to play out; also the Gorgones' connection with the Sea make me think of the gushing oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Although of this writing I hear it has been capped somewhat, the effects of the spill are going to be with us a long time. There are consequences to be dealt with, Work to be done on that.

On an individual level, keep paying attention to your anger. What does it ask of you? Keep an eye towards fairness and justice, never forgetting to turn it towards your own self. And blood, too, however you interpret that, though it need not be dire. Myself I tend to see menstrual issues in this card, if only a warning that you may be in for a crampalicious week.

Whatever it is it's pretty primal or basic. Be aware (or as aware as you can manage) of the forces, emotional and physical, that are moving about under the surface. Don't assume your conscious mind has the full picture right now.

What does She say?

I am blood. I am old, old as blood, old as seawater; I move within each of us, in tidal rhythm. I am slow, and powerful, and ancient. I inhabit the furthest west, that place where night meets the Sea; a liminal realm, threshold to another. I guard that border. You cross only in accordance with my will.

Sisters, remember me. I am also that which is made monstrous by fear. And I am truth. Seek out the truth of me. Unbury me from your stories. I am not what you might think. But you will have to find your own truth of me.

To read Her story, go here.

References: Theoi's Medusa and Gorgons page.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Goddess of the Week

Pele comes up again as our Goddess of the Week; She showed up just over a year ago, on March 14th and April 5th of 2009. She is the Hawaiian Goddess of volcanoes and their power, said to live within the crater of Kilauea on Hawaii, perhaps the most active volcano on the planet. The Pu'u 'O'o cone, part of the Kilauea system but not located within the main crater, is currently erupting, and has been since January 1983; just this morning as a matter of fact it ate a webcam.

Here's an aerial view of Pu'u 'O'o:

(Picture from Google Maps)

In legend Pele quarreled with Her elder sister Na-maka-o-kaha'i, the Sea-Goddess; an angry Na-maka-o-kaha'i pursued Her through each of the Hawaiian islands in turn, destroying Pele's efforts to set up homes there. But when Pele came to the Big Island She took refuge in the crater of Kilauea; this proved to be too high for the Sea-Goddess to reach, and Pele was finally able to make Her home there.

Pele is capable of immense swaths of destruction, and is accorded much respect, as is proper; but Her acts of destruction are at the same time acts of creation. There is no land in Hawaii that is not born of a volcano.

As for this week: Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland is causing problems again, or, rather, our dependence on air travel is causing us problems; the volcano is really just doing what volcanoes do. I think that may be part of the lesson here--distinguishing what is in our control and what is not, and then accepting the situation. Seriously, would you argue with a volcano?

Also I can't help but think that it has gotten to a point where the Earth has begun to push back. Well, not push back, per se. Really it's all a natural and normal reaction to the crap She puts up with from us humans--the pollution causing rising temperatures, the oil pouring into the Gulf due to our own greed and insistence on using everything up--and we should not be surprised. That we are is testament to our hubris.

On a personal level, what are your volcanoes? I once had a nightmare in which a new volcano formed a street over from my house; it was quite terrifying. When I woke it seemed to be warning me of anger I held within myself. What do you hold inside? What threatens to erupt? Kilauea rarely explodes catastrophically, since it is constantly spewing lava; I won't call it a 'gentle' eruption, as it is after all a volcano. Still, there is a lesson there, about being open to expressing our anger regularly so that it does not build up to explosive levels.

What does She say?

I rumble from within. Lava is my blood and it boils. I destroy, all the time, constantly; I create, all the time, constantly. I am partial to neither. It is simply what I do.

Learn that you are small. Very small. Keep this in mind. You must learn some respect. Well, you will or you will not; it will not matter, really. You are just so small.

There are some things that are beyond your control.

What do you think?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Goddess of the Week

Vivian is the Lady of the Lake in the Arthurian legends. This is the first time She has come up as Goddess of the Week.

Her name is variously spelled as Vivian, Viviene, Niniane, Nimianae, Niviene, Nimue, &c. She was said to live at the bottom of a lake and to have been Lancelot's foster-mother, (which is why he was called 'du Lac') and to have given the magical sword Excalibur to Arthur. She was also the pupil and lover of the great magician Merlin; in time She became more powerful and learned than he, and imprisoned him in a tree or a cave, depending on the version of the story.

Now. I'm primarily concerned with Goddesses; and when I did the art for these, some dozen years ago now, well, first, I was operating with a fairly loose definition of 'Goddess', and, second, I was going more by intuition than anything else, which in this case, told me that Vivian, Nimue, &c., had Her origins in some sort of Celtic Goddess.

Which is probably true. However, tracking it down is nearly impossible. The Arthurian legends are extraordinarily dense and tangled, having both been transmitted orally back and forth between quite a few cultures, Irish, French, and Welsh to name a few, and copied and recopied in writing (frequently badly, with many misspellings and misreadings, which may account in large part for the myriad variations on Vivian's name, especially when you consider medieval styles of calligraphy, in which U, V, N, and M look very similar).

So in researching this, frankly, I'm over my head, and just about cross-eyed from trying to sort it out in a succinct manner. Still, I'll take a stab at it.

She is quite likely related to Morgan le Fay, at the very least as far as the elements to Her tale(s) goes; Morgan in turn may (or may not) have some affinity, or may derive from, the Irish Goddess Macha and/or the Mórrígan, and/or the Irish Modron ('the Mother'), famous as the mother of Mabon, Who derives (this one at least is certain, or as certain as these things get) from the Gaulish Matrona, Who gives Her name to the Marne River in France; Matrona in turn is related to the triple Matres of Gaul in the time of the Romans. That, at least, is (some of) the Morgan side of things.

She has also been linked to the Irish Bébinn, sometimes anglicized to Vivionn (though my Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by James McKillop says the Irish and French names are not related, others disagree); this name is one born by several women of Irish legend, one of Whom is an early Irish Goddess of childbirth.

None of this is clear cut, though. There are elements and influences from stories that reminded the tellers of others they had heard, and so were partly incorporated into their tales; and I'm sure the general idea of a sea, river, or lake Goddess or fairy got stuck in there somewhere.

Perhaps this doesn't matter that much, and I should just concentrate on Her role in Arthuriana; but I like origins, and digging. It is tangled, and perhaps cannot be separated. And maybe that is the message this week. At the river's mouth, who can say what part of the water originated in which stream?

I would expect this week to be rather tangled then, but rich. The search is nourishing, even if you don't get to the bottom of things. A big part of the Arthurian appeal is the longing for an older, more magical time, one that is (supposedly) long past. I do not know to what extent this is actually an illusion; but enjoy the pleasant melancholy anyway, if you can.

Though keep in mind, also, that it may be a distraction from the real heart of the matter. It is the week after Beltaine after all, and the faeries are said to be out and about; and they are tricksy types. Try to keep a clear head.

What does She say?

Of course I'm a Goddess.

Trace back and back yet there is no real source is there? All the water on this earth has been around and around the globe many many times. All waters are one water. This is the key part you must remember.

There are no clear boundaries, either, with water. It all flows into itself and a line may not be drawn. By nature it is always in-between.

Remember, also, that a good deal of your body is water. This is your nature too.

What do you think?


Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by James MacKillop.

"Morgain La Fee and the Celtic Goddesses," by Roger S. Loomis. Speculum, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Apr., 1945)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy Beltaine Anyway

Well I spent most of Beltaine in bed. Which sounds quite lovely in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink sort of way until you factor in the chicken soup, orange juice, tissues, cough drops, and enormous quantities of snot.

I hear it was a nice day, though.