Sunday, August 29, 2010

Goddess of the Week

This week's pick is Morgana, also known as Morgan le Fay, the great sorceress and healer of the Arthurian legends. Though considered human in the late works, Morgana's divine origins are hinted at in her epithet 'le Fay,' meaning 'faery,' 'Fate,' or 'Otherworldly woman.' The strands going back are rather tangled, but she does seem to have a good part of her origins in an old Gaulish river-Goddess.

In the Arthurian legends, Morgan le Fay is one of three daughters of Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, and Ygraine, her elder sisters being Elaine (one of many in Arthuriana) and Morgawse, who would be mother of the infamous Mordred. They are half-sisters to Arthur, who was gotten on their mother by Uther Pendragon through a ruse (which makes it rape).

Morgan was unhappily married off to one Urien of Gore; their son was Ywain. She was very skilled in magic and much associated with Avalon, an Otherworldly island long connected with Glastonbury. She is usually thought of as a fierce enemy to Arthur; yet, when he was wounded at the end of his reign, she was one of the women of Avalon who took him in to be healed.

Those are the basics of the Arthurian legends. Let's look a little deeper now.

Her husband Urien (and their son Ywain) finds his origins in a real sixth-century king; his son Owain ap Urien was famous for battling the Angles. This fame got them both incorporated into legend, starting with the Welsh. Owain features in a tale of his own called The Lady of the Fountain; however in the Welsh Triads (Trioedd Ynys Prydain, Triads of the Isle of Britain), he is called a son of Urien and one Modron.

Modron is usually remembered as the mother of Mabon in the Welsh tale of Culhwch ac Olwen; he was said to have been taken from his mother when only three days old. Though there is not much information about either of them in this tale, there is something powerful and primal underneath it: for 'Mabon' simply means 'son', and 'Modron' simply means 'Mother.' Which means that Mabon ap Modron means 'Son, son of Mother', unusually enough; especially given that the ap part, meaning 'son of' is literally called a patronymic, meaning 'father-name,' it is remarkable that there is no mention at all of a father. And though he only has a bit part in the tales as handed down to us, yet Mabon gives his name to the collection of Welsh literature called the Mabinogion (or Mabinogi, more properly). Now Mabon does have Divine origins—ultimately he has his roots in Maponos, a Celtic God of Roman Britain often linked with Apollo. This is the Mother and Her Son.

Now as for Modron Herself: She in her turn derives from the Goddess Matrona, the eponymous Goddess of the Marne River in eastern France. Her name means 'Divine Mother'. She is probably a singular form of the old Matronae, 'The Mothers', Who are Celtic mother Goddesses going by a Latin name, usually shown in triple form, posed with various emblems of fertility such as bread, cornucopiae, or babies.

There is also a folk-tale that tells how Urien came upon a washerwoman at a ford; though she does not give her name, she tells him she is a daughter of Annwfn, i.e. a fairy-woman or Goddess, as Annwfn is the name of the Welsh Otherworld. She later has two children by Urien, Owain and a daughter Morfudd (mentioned as Morfydd in the Triads). And all that actually does connect Her with the great Irish triple Goddess of sex and battle known as the Mórrígan, which She is usually said not to have much relationship with, despite the similarity of names; for the Mórrígan can take the form of the Washer at the Ford, an Otherworldly woman seen washing bloody clothes in a river, Who presages the death of the person whose garments she washes.

You will notice, that even in the late legends Morgan is associated with triplicity—She is one of three daughters, a triplicity which is all the more pronounced given that Her sister Elaine has almost no story of her own; it's as if she is just filler brought into the stories to round out the number. And in the Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin) She is said to be one of nine sisters skilled in magic who live in Avalon.

So, then, what of all that?

It is remarkable to me how some things survive, and how despite layers and layers of camouflage and how various consonant, though unrelated stories can accumulate on an idea, one can still trace back to that source, that wellspring. In this case, literally, as Matrona has a shrine near to the source of the Marne River. I am tempted, then, to say that this week will be one of detective work and a search for origins; may it be as fruitful for you.

However Morgan le Fay, or Morgana, as I've called Her here, is perhaps calling us to remember our roots in a different way. She is never said to be anything other than human in the late tales; yet she still retains that 'le Fay' appellation. Work this week, I think, to discover your own fay-ness, if you will. We are not as separate from Nature as we would have it. We are certainly (and I realize I am rather preaching to the choir here) not un-magical beings, though we are human.

Her tale is of an ambiguous character, too; though Arthur's enemy she is also a great healer. Perhaps her story has merely been framed in a unflattering way by the storytellers who sided of course with Arthur; perhaps, also, it is a comment on the nature of magic being dark, complicated, many-sided, and rich, a characteristic that lovers of duality (who like to reduce everything to good and evil) cannot understand or endorse.

I think, though, that the main lesson this week is that you will have to figure it out for yourself. But this week marks the beginning of the end of summer, and the beginning of the turning of things, or at least that is what it has always felt like in my area. How is your world, your earth, changing now?

What does She say?

I am everywhere like the tide; the tide of the breath of the body, the tide of the seasons; I infuse it all. I am the undercurrent of the magical in all. I am that feeling of aliveness, that subtle body, the feeling of being alive. What is that after all but Magic?

Do not think that it is not all related, that the enlightenment of the Buddhists or the Christ does not also have its place, its name, its recognition in the older messier Ways; it is reality, after all, and it has always been, and has always been seen. Find the other definition for it, the one that is closer to home for you. It is there.

What do you think?


The Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, by James MacKillop

Wikipedia, believe it or not, which proved handy for keeping things sorted out

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Goddess of the Week

Nut is the ancient Egyptian Sky-Goddess; this is Her second appearance here, the first being last Valentine's Day (or Lupercalia Eve, if you prefer). She is one of the nine primeval Deities of the creation myths of Heliopolis. (Though the name Heliopolis is the one usually used, it is the Greek one; the old Egyptian name was Iunu Mehet or On. It is the modern Tell Hisn, a suburb of Cairo now). Several regions or cities in ancient Egypt had their own creation myths; in Iunu Mehet the story went like this:

In the beginning of days there was only Nun, the watery abyss, Whom the Egyptians called the 'eldest father'; out of Nun the Sun-God Atum emerged. Atum then created a mound of silt, which was the first land; after this He created two Deities, the Air-God Shu ('Dry'), and the Moisture-Goddess Tefnut ('Moisture'). From these two were then born another pair, Geb, the Earth God, and Nut, the Sky Goddess.

Geb and Nut then coupled, quite passionately.

In a slightly different strand of the myth, the Sun God Re (also of Heliopolis, and equated with Atum) then had Them forcibly separated by Their father Shu, the air, for He feared being overthrown by Their children. He further cursed Nut, and forbid Her from giving birth on any day of the year.

Luckily Thoth (Tehuti), the very clever God of Scribes, made a bet with the Moon and won, thereby gaining enough light to create five more days, bringing the total to 365 when it had been a nice even 360, or twelve months of thirty days each. (Of course 365 days is not the actual length of the year, it being more like 365.25 days, and they knew it; but the ancient Egyptians loved their round numbers and their order so much that, honestly, they kind of just let it slide). So Nut was able to give birth at last, and bore Osiris, Isis, Seth, Nephthys, and the elder Horus. Nut and Her five children, plus Geb, Tefnut and Shu, were considered the Heliopolitan Ennead ('group of nine Gods of Heliopolis').

Not counting Nun, apparently, and not naming the mound as the first bit of dry land, either, oddly enough.

As Sky Goddess Nut was said to swallow the Sun each night and give birth to it the next morning, making Her body, though the sky, in some ways a form of the Underworld; She was sometimes depicted as a sow, as they bear innumerable young (here equated with the stars) and have a reputation as cannibals who eat their young, as Nut alternately swallows the Sun (to bring night) and the stars (when it is day).

This week then is about waiting, pregnancy, and the anticipation of a good thing, I think, even if (like me) you have no desire ever ever ever to become literally pregnant yourself (or if, you know, you're a dude or something). Something Wonderful is coming—it is, in fact, just around the corner. The best part is that it's not something out of the blue, but something you have been working towards for some time that is about to bear luscious fruit.

Not, incidentally, that you need to do much about it at this point; it is, pretty much, inevitable that it comes at the appointed time. And that means whether you work at it or not at this point. Sure, keeping the momentum going is a good thing; but if you are tired or worn out, know that if you are unable to keep up your former pace now it will make little difference.

You may not even know you have been doing this work, incidentally. It may be one of those things that have been working themselves out on a deep dream-level, in your unconscious mind; perhaps something along the line of realizations about past circumstances that give you a new strength and purpose.

Just relax, and let it come, and be its own thing. Though like a child, it will almost certainly not be quite what you think it will be.

What does She say?

You are all my children. You are all born from me, as innumerable as the stars; and when your long day-life is over you will all come back to me, stars and gods and humans, devoured by the dark to be reborn sure as sunrise. Always devouring, always giving birth; it is the way of things, to be dark and light, joyous and fearful in their times. Though the fear is not really necessary, you know.

Granddaughter of the Void, they say; and I bear His nature, never forget.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Off For A Bit

I'm about to go out of town for the next couple of weeks, which means that posting (and comment moderating) will be off until about mid-August. See you when I get back!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Goddess of the Week

This is the first time Sedna, the Inuit Goddess of the Sea, has come up as Goddess of the Week. She lives at the bottom of the Sea in Her realm of Adlivun, the land of the dead, and She has control over all the animals of the Sea. She is the Inuit Great Goddess.

The Inuit, who live in the Arctic regions of North America, from Alaska to Greenland above the tree line, are popularly known as 'Eskimos'; however, this is generally considered a slur, as it means 'Foul eaters of raw meat' (a name given to them by the Algonquian Indians). 'Inuit' isn't quite right, either, as it's a little more narrow than 'Eskimo', but it is better, and I use it here. It derives from the word inua, meaning indwelling spirit.

Though most Great Goddesses are Earth Goddesses, Sedna is a Sea Goddess, which makes sense given the harsh climate that has forced the Inuit to turn to the Sea and its bounty to survive. As befits the Goddess of any Sea, but especially one so cold and harsh, Sedna is a mercurial, sometimes malevolent Goddess, Who can both give and withhold Her blessings.

The more well-known story of Sedna is from Greenland, where She is known as Nerrivik, a name which means 'Food-dish'. Nerrivik was once a lovely maiden who was reluctant to marry. She was finally persuaded by a handsome suitor; but when she went with him to his home she found she had been tricked, and he was a petrel-spirit in disguise. Her father and relatives found out, and rescued her; but on the way home the petrel-spirit raised a great storm which threatened to overturn their umiak (hunting canoe) and kill them all. In a panic and desperate to save himself, Sedna's father threw her overboard in an attempt to appease the petrel-spirit; but Sedna grabbed hold of the side of the umiak. Her father then took his axe and cut the ends of her fingers off. She still held on; he cut the rest of her fingers off. Still she held on, and he cut off her hands; unable to hold on anymore she then sank to the bottom of the Sea.

Her fingers and hands became the sea-animals, the seals, walruses, and whales; and Nerrivik became the Goddess of the Sea and ruler of the land of the dead.

A lesser-known story of Sedna is that She was the daughter of two giants and was born with an insatiable appetite. So insatiable and greedy was this appetite that Her parents were wakened one night to find their infant daughter attempting to eat them. Horrified at Her cannibalism, they took Her far out to Sea and threw Her overboard. Again, She clung to the side, and Her father mutilated Her, cutting off Her fingers, joints, and hands, which as above became the animals of the Sea.

When times are scarce, and the hunters cannot find any animals, the angakok or shaman of the people journeys to Her realm. This is a hard path, full of dangers, including an icy whirlpool and an abyss that can only be crossed on the edge of a knife, but if he or she makes it before Sedna, he or she then massages Her limbs and combs Her hair to soothe Her. If She is pleased, She can then be persuaded to tell the angakok one of two things: that She will send the animals, or that the angakok's people must move their settlement to another area.

She is also called Arnarkusuagsak ('Old Woman') and Nuliajoq.

The key, I think, in Her story is that though the environment is harsh and unforgiving, still, compassion plays a role. It is compassion that is given Her when the angakok combs Her tangled hair, as without hands She can no longer do it Herself. In some stories the angakok dances before Her, helping Her to forget Her harsh existence for a while.

Should you find yourself this week journeying to that dark cold realm inside you, remember to treat what you find there, the discarded, the hurt, the mutilated, with compassion.

Also, I think, have respect for those aspects of yourself, too. So often the metaphor is of going into the dark places and shining a light; this sounds in this case to be unnecessary, rude even, like suddenly shining a flashlight in someone else's eyes. Let your own eyes adjust in this case, and acclimate yourself to the dark. You will see more, and with more subtlety, if you do. Remember that though it is a part of you and you have the right to be there, that you are in some ways a guest, too. Do not just barge in and start demanding answers. Be respectful of what and who you find there.

What does She say?

She is the swell of the Sea, dark and huge; I can feel my body swaying, like you do after spending an afternoon swimming at the shore. She has dark eyes, like a seal, and does not smile.

You must understand, I did not give the animals freely. They were taken from me, and are mine, and I want them back, as I want the pieces hacked from me returned so that I may be made whole. You know this, you who discover truths; to live you must kill your brothers and sisters, the animals, the plants. You must kill me.

Though I endure. I am here at the bottom of the Sea, the cold, dark, icy Sea. Do you not think I have died? This realm is the realm of the Dead, is it not? How should I be here but that I am also dead, and that my injuries, my mutilation, have killed me? Does that not also mean that the animals who were my fingers, my joints, my hands, are all that is left of me alive?

You see why I do not let them go easily.


Native American Myth and Legend: An A-Z of People and Places, by Mike Dixon-Kennedy

Recipe for Lughnasadh

No, it's not for sun-dried tomato herb bread, or little saffron rolls shaped like the Sun, but it does use the first of the tomatoes from my garden and some home-grown fresh sage.

Really I just threw this together this afternoon, but holy MOLY it was so delish that after I ate it I spent the next few hours desperately craving more and so found myself outside with a flashlight picking more sage. I'm eating it right now.

It's pretty simple, and goes together real fast.

Pasta with Browned Sage Butter, Tomatoes and Parmesan Cheese

And that's all the ingredients right in the title. Instructions are for one serving, since that's what I made but you can multiply as necessary.

Put pasta of your choice on to boil.

In a skillet, heat oh about 1/3 stick butter (three tablespoons or so, or more if you want; enough to act as sauce for your pasta) over lowish medium heat.

Wash, dry, then chop up about a dozen sage leaves, then throw them in the butter, where they will fry and become crispy. Keep an eye on it as it cooks, since you are trying to brown the butter, which can be tricky. It can take a while, which is a pain, but it's better to do it slowly than to burn it. The butter will get to a point where it's foamy; start watching then. The milk solids will start to precipitate out and turn brown, and the whole thing will smell nutty. You don't want it too brown, but it ought to be a little more than golden. You'll smell it. Take it off the heat when you think it's good.

In the meantime roughly chop a bunch of fresh, room temperature, never been in the fridge tomatoes. Throw them into the butter when you take it off the heat to warm up a little.

Grate a decent sized pile of parmesan (I used the smallest holes on the grater, so my pile was pretty fluffy), then, drain the pasta, throw it in a bowl, pour the butter/sage/tomato sauce on top, then the cheese. Mix it all up and eat!