Ostara: Red Eggs and Rabbits and Snakes, oh my!

“Spring is come home with her world-wandering feet,
And all things are made young with young desires.”

Image

Spring celebrates the Goddess as Maiden – Kore returns from the Underworld and brings the fructifying principle of nature back with Her.  Hibernating animals reawaken, migratory creatures return; plants, busy with root-growth all winter, begin pushing up and out.  The sunlight, growing since Yule morning, now graces and warms our days.  By Ostara – our Spring Equinox holiday takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring – we have nearly three more hours of sunlight each day than at the solstice.  Even if the weather’s still wintry, the earliest plants are struggling to rise and the nights are significantly shorter.

So are the shadows.  As the sun moves from a southern to a northern declination, we lose the low light angle and long daytime shadows of deep winter.  The light gains ascendancy and winter literally recedes.  The Vernal Equinox occurs on the first day on which the sun rises north of the equator, falling within a day either way of March 20.  This year it’s March 20, today.  The days and nights of equal length actually occur a few days earlier, this year on March 16 (sunrise to sunset, this day was still a few minutes less than twelve hours long) and March 17 (the daylight hours exceeded twelve hours by several minutes).

“Vernal” comes from the Latin verb vernare, meaning “To renew oneself in Spring, to be young.”  In a seasonal ordering of the Beth-Luis-Nion tree alphabet, Robert Graves connects the Latin vernare to the letter Fearn, between letters Onn and Saille.  In his poetic hand, the letters Onn-Fearn-Saille evolve into Anna Fearina Salmaona, “Queen of the Spring, Mother of the Willow,” a lovely image now, when the small willow aptly called red-twig gradually begins budding.  If your concept of “willow” tends only toward tall and weeping, watch for this widespread wild version glowing red along Colorado creek beds.  A decorated willow-branch archway figures in an Argentinean springtime ritual for mothers and godmothers.

The color red rules in Ostara traditions.  Numerous sources speak of eggs being dyed red now to symbolize rebirth, and red is surely a more compelling hue than the tender pastels that dominate modern Easter decor.  Zsuzsanna Budapest connects red eggs to the Festival of Astarte (March 17), an ancient Near-Eastern rite joining female/male energies (a nice analogy for the night-day balance).  Pauline Campanelli associates scarlet eggs to the Druids, colored red with furze (Onn) blossoms to honor the Sun.  Red dye can also be obtained from bark of the alder, named as a tree of resurrection in The Odyssey.

ImageEggs and the color red were both common burial inclusions.  Eggs have been found in or on ancient graves in Hungary, Egypt, Russia, Greece and Britain; red ochre has been found in megalithic graves in Pembrokeshire’s Prescelly Mountains, at the Çatal Hüyük site in Turkey and on the Salisbury Plain, among many others locations.  In the funerary context, red is usually interpreted as a charm for either rebirth through reincarnation or new birth into a life-after-death.  At birth, we arrive slicked with our mothers’ blood; there is a pleasing symmetry in departing back into the Earth’s womb wearing the same color.  And of course Spring, symbolically associated with the East (and the dawn) is as logical a time for rebirth rites as the autumn (sunsets and the West) is for death-rites.

Why the big emphasis on eggs?  For our ancestors, eggs were scarce during the winter months.  Hens need sunlight (and the Vitamin D it provides) to produce eggshells, so back then, when the hens began laying plentifully again, Spring had really returned.  Foods imported from distant regions and factory farms with artificial light sources now put eggs in the grocery stores year around.  An egg is first “born” when its laid, and then again when it hatches.  And while we tend to associate eggs with birds, remember that eggs are also laid by snakes.  By shedding their old skins, snakes symbolize regeneration and transformation as well (and they present an alternative to all the seasonal cuteness, though, alas, I’ve yet to see a chocolate snake).  Barbara Walker mentions a 13th Century French custom in which a snake was carried up to the baptismal font during Easter week.  Hibernating creatures, snakes too begin reawakening in Spring.

The rabbit or hare, the other main symbol at this time, is cited for its fertility.  This is more than mythological: The gestation period for a doe rabbit is a mere thirty-one days.  By contrast, cats and dogs carry their young twice as long; even squirrels average forty-four days.  Rabbits can begin breeding at six months.  Mad as a March hare?  That “madness” is estrus, sexual frenzy.  Ostara Herself was believed able to take the form of a hare, and these animals, especially white ones, were sacred to Her.  In British myth, the hare also symbolizes transformation, another reason for the creature’s significance now.

Ostara’s resurrection theme can’t be over emphasized.  This is the time for renewal, rebirth, resurrection after winter’s dormancy.  In my group, raw, preferably fertile eggs are decorated in circle and taken home to our personal altars (after we all try to stand them on end, of course, a feat allegedly possible only at the equinoxes).  If you plan to garden, Ostara is a logical time to bless those seeds; if you do any pruning, save the wood for the Beltane fires.  In celebrations, consider meditations and journeys on such questions as “what is awakening now in my life?”

RITUAL IDEAS and QUESTIONS

— Decorate and balance eggs

— Bless the seeds (or starter-plants) for your garden

— “What is (re)awakening now in my life?”

— “What is coming into balance?  What feels unbalanced?”

© 2014 Renna Shesso -
If you share this, please credit and link

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Resources:

Alternative spellings are Eostre, Ostre, Eostara, possibly related to Eos and Astarte, and definitely the source of the word “Easter.”  Derived from estrus, from the Latin oestrus, or frenzy.

The quote comes from “From the Night of Forebeing, An Ode After Easter” by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, The Grandmother of Time

Pauline Campanelli, Ancient Ways - Campanelli has extensive information on coloring eggs with natural dyes.

Robert Graves, The White Goddess

Buffie Johnson, The Lady of the Beasts

John and Caitlin Matthews, The Aquarian Guide to British and Irish Mythology

Luisah Teish, Carnival of the Spirit

Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

 

IMBOLC – A Celebration of Light Returning

blacksmith-lady-detail“You know how to whistle, don’t you?”*

Following the Winter Solstice, the days are noticeably longer by the time the next holiday arrives, whether we call it Imbolc, Brigid’s Day or Candlemas.  And what date is it anyway, the 1st or 2nd of February?

Fact is, what we celebrate as the mid-point between Yule and Ostara was originally several different holy-days, with separate origins and dates, but with a few broad thematic points in common.

Brigid is the Irish name of the great Triple Goddess of the Celtic empire.   She was hailed as Brigantia in England, Bride in Scotland (where Her symbol is the white swan), and Brigandu in Celtic France.

Fire is Her element, and the arts of poetry, medicine and smith-craft fall under Her particular provenance.  She’s identified with Mother Earth Herself, childbirth and the fertility of the soil, and is credited with the invention of both whistling and mournful keening.  She’s credited with teaching the foxes to dance.  In Ireland, Her principle shrine was at Kildare, where Her priestesses kept an eternal flame well-stoked.

In the sixth century, February 1st became Saint Brigid’s Day on the Catholic calendar when Irish worship of the goddess and Imbolc, Her cross-quarters holiday, proved impossible to eradicate.   A fictitious history was concocted to transform a Goddess into a saintly human, and her Kildare shrine evolved into a nunnery.   Even as a saint, Brigid’s miracles concern fertility and She remains the patroness of poets, blacksmiths, midwives, healers and the hearth.

Recognizing Her ancient power, the Kildare nuns sang, “Brigid, excellent woman, sudden flame, may the bright fiery sun take us to the lasting kingdom.”

Candlemas, on February 2nd, is a separate holiday overlaid with a variety of church traditions as the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin.  According to Mosaic Law, women were soiled by the act of childbearing and could “touch no hallowed thing, nor come into sanctuary” for a proscribed time after giving birth.  February 2nd, falling forty days after Christmas, marked the official end of Mary’s imposed isolation after the birth of Jesus.  Incidentally, giving birth to a daughter was considered even dirtier work, with eighty days of “purification” required.

Whether this custom had its roots in male fears of female procreativity or was originally a welcome opportunity for the new mother and baby to rest and bond, the name Candlemas came from the the fact that the year’s supply of church candles were blessed at the February 2nd mass, which gets us back — albeit circuitously — to fire.

The first half of February, starting on the 2nd, was originally dedicated to Juno Februata, worshipped in pagan Rome as the goddess who inspired the combustible fire, the fever — febris — of love.  To honor Her, Romans carried burning candles with them throughout the city.  This irritated early Christian authorities, who responded by co-opting the fire connotations of February 2nd as Candlemas.

The love-fest portion of the energy was pushed a couple weeks back to St.  Valentine’s Day in an attempt to “abolish the heathen’s lewd superstitious custom of boys drawing [lots for] the names of girls, in honor of their goddess Februata Juno…”

This mingled history gives us Brigid’s fire and fertile soil, Juno Februata’s love-fever, and plenty of potent images of heated creative skills:  Poetry, smithing, healing, loving and birthing, all fanned by the first warm-winded hints of winter’s demise.  In ritual, strike metal (a rhythmic beat on a Tibetan singing bowl, perhaps) and evoke Brigid’s smithy: How will Brigid’s smith-craft shape and temper our lives in the coming months?

RITUAL IDEAS and QUESTIONS

  • “What projects fire me up right now?”
  • “What old stuff can I cast away into the flames?”
  • “What do I love?  How do I feed that fire?”

To the sound of ringing metal, journey and ask Brigid to shape your life, smoothing out the rough spots, bringing in strength and beauty

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* From the Howard Hawks film version of “To Have and Have Not,” 1944.

Other sources:
Robert Graves, The White Goddess; Janet and Stewart Farrar, The Witches’ Goddess; Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines; Barbara Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets; and (no kidding) Father Butler, Lives of the Saints.  Originally printed in The Hole in the Stone magazine.

 

Pouring libations

Artemis libationWhen I go outside to talk to the stars – or to the Moon, or Venus, or the clouds – I take some things with me.

It might be a glass of wine.
Or a piece of bread or a tortilla or an apple.
Or a cup of water (I’m in high-plains Colorado and water is sacred here, even if it comes out of a tap).

Once outside, I speak my thanks aloud, first and foremost.  If I don’t say Thanks for what’s going right, why should the Goddess bother sending more?  Then – sometimes – I add requests.

Somewhere in the midst of this, I pour out some liquid, scatter my grain-stuffs.  This isn’t because I think the Goddess, the gods – or the divine source, or the Higher Power, or by-whatever-name – are literally hungry or thirsty.  That’s physical-world stuff.

My offerings are a form of honoring, and an exchange of energy.  Offerings and libations – the liquid portion of these offerings – have an ancient tradition worldwide.  I think of offerings as a symbolic giving-back of what’s been given to me.

That’s why I use the good stuff.  Offerings can’t be some moldy bread I might fling out for the squirrels, or a bottle of cheap vino I keep just to pour on the ground but won’t drink myself.  As per an old adage about not cooking with any wine you wouldn’t care to drink, what’s getting “cooked” here are my goals, my plans, my life.  This is worthy of good ingredients.

Offerings and libations needn’t be a fancy-supplies-laden practice.  They don’t need to be scheduled in advance.  This can be a spontaneous practice, fairly casual and brief, because what really happens here is between you and the deities you’re addressing.  And when that happens, life-shifts happen, too.

Spinning the world into creation

French15c3
New Years 2014:
I stepped out at midnight to look south and up, to Orion and his belt, always prominently placed in the Solstice-New Years season’s midnight sky. Orion’s three-star belt is easy to find, and usually the “sword stars” below it are clear, too.

But in other lore, the sword stars and the belt above them represent Freyja‘s distaff, the spinning tool that holds the not-yet-spun flax: Here the sword-stars are the shaft and the belt-stars are the fiber-holding prongs. The distaff was the feminine version of a staff of office, especially in the hands of a völva, the shaman-seeress. For her, it was a seidhstafr and represented her spiritual office, and her ability to access the realm of spirit. Rather than fibers, for the seeress the seidhstafr-distaff held potential. As the spinning can direct concentration, the distaff directed the will.

The goddess Frigg was a domestic spinner. Frejya is a the spinner of magic.

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The image – a woman spinning off a distaff – is French, 15th century.

Christmas Eve – Mother’s Night

T-holly

Our calendars call it the first day of Winter, but the Yule Solstice actually signifies the return of the sun and the beginning of the end of Winter — small wonder it’s a time of celebration. Thanks to the Earth’s own axis tilt, the sun has been heading into the south since the Summer Solstice. From the Autumnal Equinox onward, the results have been ominously obvious: As the sun goes farther and farther south, it stays lower in the sky and the days are progressively shorter. Plants wither, animals migrate or hibernate, the Snow Demons reign. In ancient times, if the harvest was poor and the hunting was meager, Hel, the Norse Queen of the Underworld, began calling frailer folk to Her realm, optimistically called the Summerland.

newgrange-light-box

Newgrange & winter sun.

In an age when winter was so potentially lethal (as it still is for some among us), knowing just how far south the sun would go was of crucial importance. The psychological impact would have been considerable — it still is. Hundreds of geographically diverse sites from antiquity, from Stonehenge and Newgrange to Chaco Canyon, incorporate sun-watching markers — stand right here and you’ll see the sun rise or set over that special hill, between those particular rocks, or reach in to illuminate this otherwise-dark place.

When that happens, the sun has stopped moving south and will briefly hold its position, rising in the same spot for a few days. The Latin roots of “solstice” mean just that: the sun stands still. In December, the sun’s southern-most declination (23º 25’ S) is reached around the 19th and held through about the 23rd.

Then the sun begins its move back toward the north. The longest nights grip us from about December 18th through around the 26th, after which the days begin to lengthen. “Sol” to the Norse peoples, “Sulis” to the Celts and “Sunna” to the Old Germans, the Goddess of Many Names begins returning north, gradually bringing with Her the birds and beasts, the green growing plants and the blesséd warmth. Slowly the earth becomes fecund and lush again.

Fertility is the underlying theme behind many Yule-season traditions, with the plants carrying much of the symbolism. In its living state, mistletoe was considered the genitalia of the oak-god, Zeus-Jupiter, and its white berries were equated with semen (Graves describes the berries as having a “spermal viscosity”). Virgil wrote of it as Golden Bough, saying the mistletoe gave access to the Underworld; in fact its Norse name is Guidhel, or “guide to hell.”  Mistletoe’s wood is also extremely strong, apropos of its legendary use in spears (another phallic association).

Holly gets its name from Hel or Mother Holle, the Underworld Goddess, its red berries signifying female moon-blood. Linguistically, “holly” also connects with “hole” and the German word Hohle means both hole and cave.

Put this is sexual terms, and the symbolism becomes as clear as a snuggle-inducing midwinter night. Holly and mistletoe displayed together betoken female/male union, a ritual sacred marriage to re-fructify the earth. With a nod (and a wink) to the sexual preferences among your householders and holly-day guests, you might consider hanging the two plants in combination in some doorways, Holly alone hung in other spots, and the familiar Mistletoe on its own elsewhere. Bound to liven up the festivities.

Christmas trees originated with the sacred groves of trees consecrated to the Great Mother. Like caves, circular groves symbolized the Goddess’ vulva; a single tree within the circle represented both Her child and Her lover.

Suddenly the phallic significance of that yule log also seems obvious, if not downright blatant: the folk songs of Provence (fabled retreat of Mary Magdalene) tout the fertilizing prowess gleaned from even the ashes of the French “Noel Log.”  Put a simple circle of small pine clippings ‘round the base of a hefty candle and and  bring on the generative heat!

Single standing stones were credited with similar powers. With the winter Sun traveling low in the sky even at noon, the stones’ shadows remain at their annual most-virile extreme from sun-up to sundown.

This holiday seems far more sensual than our Fundamentalist friends might prefer for their lone divine birthday party. Jesus wasn’t always a Capricorn, of course. His official birth date didn’t land on Christmas until the 4th century. December 25 — often the first day of northerly solar motion after the solstice’s standstill — was already widely celebrated as Mithra’s “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” The nouveau church fathers, as usual, simply co-opted that date for their own Son. The Winter Solstice also marked the birthdays of Attis, Dionysus, Osiris, Zeus, Cuchulain and other northern hemisphere deities.  The annual rebirth of the Norse god Frey was also marked then by the celebration known as Yule, the pagan name by which we know the holiday.

Lest all the emphasis seem to be on the son/sun, please note that Christmas Eve — known of old as Modranect  or Mother’s Night — used to be considered an even greater festival than Christmas Day itself.  Mother’s Night probably emphasized the act of giving birth, letting the Solstice itself emphasize that which was born: why not have two holidays?

In Yule ritual, darkening the room completely is very effective, as we journey into our own deep hearts on this long night — what inner work, “root-work,” is occurring now?  What will we bring forth into the light in the coming months?  And then we return, with lights, candles, perhaps a brilliant cauldron-fire (of clean-burning epsom salts and  rubbing alcohol) to welcome the inspirations we give birth to.

RITUAL IDEAS and  QUESTIONS

– Darken the room and  then invite light to return

– Consciously cast off something in your life that feels “dark,” perhaps by writing it out and burning the paper

– Consciously invite in the “light” — ask for inspiration

– Perform a “Birthing,” pulling each person in turn through an arch of legs

– “What inner work — root growth — are we doing now?”

– “What will we take forward into the light?”

It’s hard to begin manifesting something we can’t at least imagine. Let your long-winter-nights dreaming spark forward into waking reality.

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Some sources:

Janet and  Stewart Farrar, The Witches’ God, (Phoenix Publishing: Custer WA, 1989).

Robert Graves, The White Goddess, (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: New York, 1966).

Gerald S. Hawkins, Stonehenge Decoded, (Dell Publishing: New York, 1965).

Lucy Lippard, Overlay, (Pantheon Books: New York, 1983).

The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Published annually.

Renna Shesso, A Magical Tour of the Night Sky, (Weiser: San Francisco, 2011).

Peg Streep, Sanctuaries of the Goddess (Little, Brown and Co: Boston, 1994).

Barbara Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and  Secrets, (Harper and  Row: New York, 1983).

Breaking a lengthy silence…

cowrie_leopard_medium

…that didn’t involve being silent anywhere but here in the strange terrain of Blogville.

I’ve had a few months of emotional processing that wasn’t the stuff of public posting – the health, hospice and healing and long-term care… or demise – of other people.

And yesterday, I was one of the officiants in a memorial service that felt like it both gave me closure and opened the way, simultaneously.  The memorial was for a not-close friend and former student.  Over her months in hospice,  I gradually became aware of her long-time activity in a variety of wide-ranging areas in her own life – in Wicca, in incest/abuse-recovery, in her lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered community, in her vocational circle, in her Daughters of the American Revolution circle.  Like me, many of her friends knew her only through one of these avenues.  At her memorial, her very Wiccan memorial, people were cross-pollinating between groups and meeting each other for the first time.

And given the nature of the woman we were remembering, those who appeared for her memorial were open, and curious, and willing to share of themselves in sharing their stories about her.  There were tears, but some were tears of laughter.  People knew her vividly, because that was how she’d lived.

When we imagine a vivid character, there’s a tendency to conjure up the Auntie Mame archetype: an extravagant, wealthy eccentric, someone “living large.”  None of that here, since money – or its absence – was often an issue.  But character isn’t dependent on cash.  Mentions of this woman’s sense of humor  wove a quirky strand through so many remembered episodes, humor that was irreverent in laughing at life and at circumstances and at herself, a sense of the absurd. And one person after another spoke of some remembered comment she had made to them, thoughtful words, kindly spoken, freely given at a time and in a way that had deep and lasting significance to that person.

After sharing and laughing and crying, we all shaped ourselves into the rough form of a boat and rowed her spirit into the West and waved farewell.  It wasn’t quite what she’d requested: She originally wanted us to build a physical boat.

Sometimes in my shamanic journeying, I used to ask about compassion, to better understand compassion, to know more clearly how to help foster more compassion in myself and in the world.

My power animals and other guides eventually got tired of this.  “Quit using these big words.  Compassion!  Compassion!  You and your big words!”

Me: “Well, then, what?  Help me understand this better.”

“Forget compassion.  Be kind.”

As I absorbed this and let it expand, their short-and-sweet teaching spoke to whether we wanted to perceive ourselves as large-spirited, noble and high-minded beings, or whether we could simply act on the impulse of being kind.  The idealized self-perception versus the simple embodied action.

I don’t recall anyone yesterday describing our departed friend as “compassionate.”  But they shared story after story that spoke of her kindness.

“Death is that state in which one exists
only in the memory of others,
which is why it is not an end…”
— Tasha Yar, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

Standing in the rain

lightning-tx02-PDx

Thunder rolled overhead, and then the sound of rain began, soft and then louder, pounding the ground.  So I went outside.

When I was a kid, one of the best things to do ever was to be outside during a storm, feeling the rain, , splashing through puddles, getting drenched.  I’d take long walks in the rain and come home soaked and happy.  One of the best ways to be in the rain was at night, laying in the wet grass, face up, feeling the rain pound across me in waves.   I was outside of time, merged with energy of sky and land, a small being between sky and land, mediating the space between them, dissolving that boundary.

 I am the daughter of Earth and Water, and the nursling of the Sky… I change, but I cannot die.*

Sitting inside today, working, hearing the thunder begin, I realized how seldom I’ve been outside in a storm in recent years.   Some camping trips have been remarkably wet, but when camping, weather goes with the territory, and staying dry is a good practical decision. Here at home, I may feel thankful for rain, but when outside in it, I tend to run from doorway to car, from car to doorway.

Choosing rain is different.  I’m not dodging raindrops to get somewhere. The rain itself is where I’m going.  The object isn’t to get wet… that’s just a side effect.   The object is the rain itself, the moisture, the atmosphere, this particular way of experiencing water and weather.   There is a recklessness about rain.

Thunderstorms – big ones, real gully-washers, the kind that pound through town, that sweep twigs and leaves into the storm sewers and then vanish out into the plains – used to be a regular part of the spring and summer.   These sudden storms seem rarer now.   Rain seems rarer.   But the plants, the soil itself, are hungry for rain, excited for it.  Rain is erotic… Mother Earth getting a sloppy-wet kiss from the sky.  Carpe diem?  Carpe pluvia… sieze the rain.

Comes a time, with age or infirmity and the benign incarceration they can bring, when going outside at all unassisted may not be an option.  When a request to go outside into the rain may be translated as “let’s increase your dosage.”   I have loved ones and friends in that situation now, needing help to navigate a even few steps, protected from recklessness, protected from rain.  Well, you don’t need to protect me, not yet, dammit.

So, outside I go.  The rocks along the garden are brighter, their colors intensified by the moisture.  The scent of the rain-bruised mint plant infuses the wet air.   The clouds move off to the east, taking the downpour with them, but the grass glows green, and I’m wet.

My thanks to the storm gods.  My thanks to the water goddesses.  My thanks to the cloud spirits. My thanks for wet skin and the ozone rain aroma.  My thanks for this human form that I get to inhabit here for a while, so perfectly designed to enjoy a rainstorm.

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“The Cloud,” P. B. Shelley

The Three of Wands, at Sea

Wands-03

Thou know’st that all my fortunes are at sea…
(Antonio, Act 1, scene 1, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare)

“At sea” turns out to be a vital point in The Merchant of Venice.  To help finance his friend Bassanio’s courtship of Portia, the merchant Antonio borrows money, gambling on the potential gains from his various ventures.  In fact,

…he hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the Indies; … a third at Mexico, a fourth for England… But ships are but boards, sailors but men…”
(Shylock, Act 1, scene 3)

Shylock loans Antonio the money.  Then, in subsequent scenes, we learn Antonio’s ships have all  been lost at sea.  Antonio is ruined and Shylock seeks to claim the macabre bond that Antonio agreed to, if the loan couldn’t be repaid: a pound of Antonio’s own flesh.

Antonio and Shylock ultimately land in court, with the latter ready to cut away a pound of the merchant’s flesh, when a young lawyer’s reasoned arguments reverse the decision against Shylock, saving Antonio’s life.  The lawyer is actually Portia, in male disguise.

ellen-terry

Ellen Terry

Where does the Tarot come in?  Pamela Colman Smith, the artist of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (RWS), was also a professional designer of costumes and sets for English theatre companies.  That could be why Smith’s Tarot dramatis personæ tend to look like they’ve escaped from a Shakespeare play, and why some images have such a stage-like  appearance.

Look at the RWS’s 2, 5 and 7 of Swords; 2, 4, 9 and 10 of Wands; 2, 5, 10 and Page of Cups; and 2, 4, 6 and 8 of Pentacles: these cards’ foreground characters seem to be standing in front of theatrical backdrops, painted canvas panels that might be pulled up any moment to change to the scene.

Of greater interest is the fact that Smith was good friends with Ellen Terry (1847-1928), considered the greatest Shakespearian actress of her era.  The clearest artistic Terry-Tarot connection is in Smith’s Queen of Wands, which is believed to be modelled on Terry. wands-queen

More significantly, perhaps: Portia was one of Ellen Terry’s most acclaimed roles.  Smith’s 3 of Wands, I’m inclined to believe, gives a nod to Antonio, the merchant whose many ships are at sea, their fates boldly ventured, but still so uncertain.

Pamela Colman Smith is known to have created her Tarot designs between April and October, 1909, a remarkably short time.  Working so rapidly, would it be  surprising if she drew on familiar theatrical sources?  If she ever made notes on why she designed the Tarot cards as she did, no one has found those papers yet, which allows aficionados like me to wildly fantasize.

More coming about a different deck’s Three of Wands.

Sex and gender: Whose diversity gets honored?

Ardhanariswara-statue

Back after a pithy silence, I’ve just been reading Shauna Aura Knight’s eloquent piece about women, those of us who were born this way, and those who are new converts to our tribe: trans women.

This involved some deriding of “…the idea that women need women-only space.  You know, real women only, right? Now, I can see how, in a generation or so, statements like that will be as faux pas as saying, ‘You know, we want white-only space. We don’t want to have to deal with sharing space with black people or brown people…’”

I can see the point Knight is trying to make (and it’s a point with some strong emotional heft) but how many black or brown people have race-change surgery?  Her analogy isn’t an apt one, but let’s flip it around anyway:

  • Can I as a white woman feel justified in attending an event aimed at, say, “social activism and consciousness-raising, from black women to their daughters”?
  • Or “curandera traditions we learned from our grandmothers”?
  • How about “networking for people of color in the Wiccan community”?

I’m white, but my heart’s in the right place, so here I come!  Not.

If someone identifies themselves to me as female, they’re welcome at my occasional women-only event.  I’m not going to peek down anyone’s pants or check state-issued IDs.  But when someone self-identifies as trans, in my experience it means they’re still focussing on that change and what that transition means.  I honor that, but it doesn’t mean we have the same issues or needs, or a shared frame of reference, or parallel past experiences.

The pagan community tends to be extremely inclusive, which makes me proud and joyful, except that we sometimes carry this to extremes that make no sense whatsoever.

For example, how do we define “crone”? Even with guidelines like “55 and older, and/or post-menopausal,” we had a nursing mother show up to a crone’s gathering and demand inclusion (unsuccessfully), based on her many experiences of giving birth. Does everyone have access to everything?  Really?

When I visit a sweat lodge, I accept a generally-unspoken agreement to honor the traditions as taught and used in that specific lodge (whether or not I would ever choose to adapt them in my home lodge).  I’m there as a guest, not as a teacher, and it’s not my role to “correct” their ceremony.  I honor their ways as an act of cultural respect.

Isn’t there a specific range of experiences unique to those of us who were born into female bodies, and the paths we’ve walked?  I think so, and those who adapt a female body and path later in life haven’t shared many of those experiences (for starters, no menstruation talk, no bloody underwear, and no tampons), just as I haven’t shared many of their experiences.  No fault, but to insist on equal-access equivalency implies a sameness in identities that can short-change both of us.

We say we honor our community’s diversity.  When we as women occasionally claim our own space, shouldn’t our choice be honored in that same light?

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Sculpture: Ardhanarishvara, is a composite androgynous form of the Hindu god Shiva and his consort Parvati.  A blend of female and male, as we all are in our own ways.

Traditions? Ashes or flames?

424px-Gustav_Mahler_Emil_Orlik_1902

Tradition is the handing down of the flame, not the worship of the ashes.”
Gustav Mahler, Austrian composer and conductor, 1860-1911

I found a version of this quote in Annette Høst’s article “The Legacy of Seidr: History, Experiences and the Path Ahead,” in the latest issue of A Journal of Contemporary Shamanism (Vol. 6, Issue 1, Spring 2013), the membership publication of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners.

This is a spring-cleaning time, whisking out a lot of accumulated excess stuff, especially that stuff that – even if it blazed bright in the past – is now no more energetic than a pile of ash.  Physical cleaning is great and cathartic, but the inner cleansing is vital, too, which means out with the beliefs and ideas that no longer serve me.  Honoring  the past and its lessons doesn’t mean getting stuck there.

So… Bravo for the past service of some items and ideas, but it’s time for dead ashes to be swept away, the better for fresh flames to burn clearly.  And Beltane approaches, a good time for inviting fresh fire energy.

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Mahler etching by Emil Orlik, c. 1903.  This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.