The goddess has no face

The goddess has no face

Who is the Goddess of the Beginnings, then, who has genitals but no face?

—Jean Markale, The Great Goddess

 

One night several years ago, I journeyed down a moonlit inner path to meet the Lady. I found her in a copse of trees, on the edge of a deep forest. She stepped into a clearing and let the silver light fall on her face. She was beautiful.

Then she changed.

Every time I blinked, she wore a different face. Her hair shifted from black to gold to red. Her eyes became dark pools of mystery, then blue as sky. The more I tried to hold a single image of her, the faster her faces slipped away.

In my first encounter with the goddess of the Wica, I learned that she has no face.

You could, of course, just as truthfully say she has many faces. Maid, mother, crone. Star goddess, moon goddess, earth goddess. So many names. So many aspects. You could just as truthfully say she has no face of her own because she wears the face of All.

Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who was of old also called Artemis; Astarte; Diana; Melusine; Aphrodite; Cerridwen; Dana; Arianrhod; Isis; Bride; and by many other names.

—Doreen Valiente, “The Charge of the Goddess”

But I love her best when she has no face.

If you look at paleolithic cave paintings and figurines such as the Venus of Willendorf (above), they often depict a great mother goddess with no face. Anthropologists can make all sorts of guesses as to why. Maybe they depersonalized their images to make it clear they represent transpersonal forces rather than individual people. Maybe those early artists simply couldn’t imagine features beautiful enough to belong to her.

Venus of Laussel, PD-US

To be honest, I don’t often see a goddess statue I like. It’s the faces that bother me. Even when the symbolism is all there, something about the face just isn’t quite right to me. When I mentioned this to a witchy friend, he said the facial features shouldn’t matter. It’s the energy of the piece that counts.

But that was exactly my point. The more rudimentary the image, it seems to me, the more it captures her essence—and the more her energy comes through. More often than not, the face just seems to get in the way.

Having tried to paint her myself, I suspect we just weren’t meant to pin a face to the goddess. Even in myth, she’s always changing. One minute she appears as a hideous hag, the next she’s a beautiful princess. Or an animal. Like Joseph Campbell’s mythic hero, she wears a thousand faces, and she can change them without warning. Beatific mother one moment, merciless devourer the next.

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A stream of rainbow

A stream of rainbow

On a Sunday, at the time of dawn,
Between the bird of wrath and Gwydion
Thursday, certainly they went to Mona
To obtain whirlings and sorcerers.
Arianrhod, of laudable aspect, dawn of serenity
The greatest disgrace evidently on the side of the Brython,
Hastily sends about his court the stream of a rainbow,
A stream that scares away violence from the earth.
The poison of its former state, about the world, it will leave.

— Taliesin, The Chair of Cerridwen

 


Featured image by Jiaqian AirplaneFan—Rainbow near of Montmorency waterfall, CC-BY-3.0

Stones cast long shadows

Stones cast long shadows

They paced the distance, built an earthen ring,
Split hard rock, pushed up each crushing stone,
And built a doorway for the rising sun
To enter when the Earth turned back to spring.

—Emily Burns

 

I’m standing on a bluff getting pummeled by wind. The westward sun throws a spectacular gleam on the river below, a shiny ribbon threading through the gorge. Here on the precipice of the light half of the year, there’s a radiance to the waning daylight, as if the veil of winter has finally lifted.

Behind me, to the east, the standing stones stretch their shadows.

I follow the last streaming rays of daylight through a doorway, and I’m inside the stones. Stepping into their midst is like entering the embrace of a mountain. They encircle me like concentric rings of dancers waiting for the first note to strike. I feel as though I’m standing in the center of a neolithic clock whose cogs might start turning at any moment, each ticking in a different direction.

By Justin Hamel, via Wikimedia Commons

But these stones weren’t erected by prehistoric hands. They weren’t dragged from a quarry miles away in a mysterious feat of human ingenuity. They haven’t absorbed thousands of years’ worth of prayers, tears, awe, reverence and magic.

They were molded from concrete less than a hundred years ago. They were poured and cured and rebarred. And they are massive.

Built to scale, they throw a crisscross of shadows toward the central altar. This is what Stonehenge must have looked like when it was new. Before the crumbling set in. Before the stone ranks began to fall.

This sacred ground has a different flavor though. Planted 800 feet above the Columbia River, the stones seem less rooted here. Winds constantly gust through their gaps, stirring up perpetual motion as earth and air fight each other for dominance. Stillness is rare, here among the stones.

There are three of us. We weave between them like cats, exploring, absorbing, chasing our shadows. We bring offerings of wine and bread. We bring candles and incense and water scooped from a nearby lake, whose surface hides the underwater remains of a 3,500-year-old native village.

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Laws of nature prayer

Laws of nature prayer

I know the Laws of Nature are you, Lady.
Keep me mindful that I step upon Your Body, with your feet,
that my sorrows are Your sorrows,
and that a healthy priestess makes all things sound.
I feel Your breath in the wind, and Your hand in mine.
Keep me sincere.
Give me Your work,
which is to be joyous, and to tend all things,
because all things live, of themselves,
and with Your spirit.
Your will through mine, so mote it be.

—Francesca De Grandis

 


Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

As above, so below

As above, so below

Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.

—Marcus Aurelius

 

Back when the ancient race of giants towered over Britain, a giant named Idris was said to read the future in the stars, all the way to doomsday. From his throne on the peak of a mountain, he mapped the dance of constellations across the night sky.

Some scholars believe the great poet Taliesin may have surveyed the stars from the same mountaintop chair. In Hanes Taliesin he says, “I know the names of the stars from north to south.

Throughout history, shamans, magicians, druids and poets have all understood the wisdom of studying the stars. They memorized the wheeling of the zodiac. They recorded the constellations in myth and sought their myths in the constellations. They found similarities between the patterns of the sky and the patterns of the Earth.

Some believed the celestial alignment at the moment of birth revealed a blueprint of the person’s life—the seed that would unfold into their future.

Encoded within this belief is the Hermetic Principle of Correspondence, one of the seven esoteric principles that form the underpinnings of much of Western mysticism. They’re gleaned from writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, who claimed to know the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe. These, he said, were alchemy, the art of transmutation; theurgy, the art of invoking deity; and astrology, the art of divining by the stars.

The Principle of Correspondence states:

That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing.

What does it mean? It means the movement of the stars mirrors what’s happening on Earth. It means the outer world reflects our own inner world. It means the same laws that govern dense matter also apply to subtle matter. It means whatever happens on any plane of existence—physical, mental and spiritual—happens on all the others.

It means that, if Hermes is to be believed, we can understand the universe through its patterns.

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Instructions for the afterlife

Instructions for the afterlife

To the left side of Hades’ palace is a spring;
close by stands a ghostly cypress tree.
Here, souls descending to the underworld may dissolve.
Do not approach this spring;
go on to the spring of chill waters from the Lake of Memory.
The Guardians there will interrogate you;
asking what you seek in the gloomy underworld.
Say:  ‘I am a child of Earth and of starry Heaven,
but my lineage is of Heaven: this you know yourselves,
and I am parched with thirst and perishing;
refresh me with the waters from the Lake of Memory.’
And they will present you to King Hades,
and give you drink from Memory’s lake.
And then you will follow the sacred path
that many other renowned initiates take.

—Orphic Mysteries

 


Featured image: Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

Walking the labyrinth

Walking the labyrinth

Step outside its sacred stones,
and the ancient way
slides back underfoot, tracing
its twisted line
through the everyday.

Erica Steinweg

 

Stand at the threshold. Feel the abyss yawning. Feel your toes curl over the edge. Let it suck you in.

Now you’re on the path. It’s longer than you thought. Take your time. Turn away from your goal. Turn, and turn again. When you see it next, it will seem farther away than before. Keep turning. Trust the path.

Let your feet consecrate the ground. Let them grow roots. Tear them up and plant them anew. Make each step an offering. Make each breath an offering.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Get lost awhile. Forget your intentions. Forget the center. Let go your thread. Be a child exploring ancient ruins. Shed your expectations. Shed your thoughts. Shed it all. Shed it like Inanna’s regalia. Shed it like dead snakeskin.

Become a vessel. Let the rain fill you. Let the sun fill you. Let the wind and birdsongs fill you. Let the holy light of the source fill you. Let yourself brim. Let yourself fountain. Let yourself spill onto the sacred ground beneath you.

Rest at the center. Fill it with prayers. Flood it with tears. Offer up whatever is inside you. Throw it on the sacred fire. Watch it burn.

Be still. Sit in the stillness. Let it take you. Let it consume you. Feed the flame. Be the flame.

Let it go.

Let go the peace. Let go the stillness. Let go the center. Let your feet itch again. Let them guide you out. Make each step an offering. Turn, and turn again.

Pause once more at the threshold. Feel your toes curl over the edge. Feel the possibilities calling. Let them lure you out.

See what awaits.

One slow step
at a time, you practice
the aching art of leaving,
only to find as you make your bow,
cross the threshold,
and fold your body back into your life,
that it is every bit the twisted holy path
you thought you left behind.

Erica Steinweg

 


Feature image via Wikimedia Commons

Invocation to Arianrhod

Invocation to Arianrhod

O Arianrhod of the Silver Wheel,
By all the many names men give to thee —
We, all thy hidden children, humbly kneel
Thy truth to hear, thy countenance to see.
Here in the Circle, cast upon the Earth
Yet open to the stars — unseen, yet real —
Within our hearts give understanding birth,
Our wounds of loss and loneliness to heal.
Isis Unveiled, and Isis Veiled, thou art;
The Earth below our feet, the moon on high.
In thee, these two shall never be apart —
The magic of the Earth, and of the sky.

—Janet & Stewart Ferrar, The Witches’ Goddess

 


Featured image by Brian Tomlinson—Tree and Star Trails, CC-BY-2.0

The three realms of Arianrhod

The three realms of Arianrhod

I know all the names of the stars from North to South;
I have been in the galaxy at the throne of the Distributor…
I have been three periods in the Prison of Arianrhod

Hanes Taliesin

 

Ancient poets spoke of a revolving castle where brave travelers could claim the gift of inspiration. Within this spiral tower, the powerful star goddess Arianrhod ruled over the cycles of death and rebirth. Those who touched her realm and lived to tell of it became prophets, endowed with clear sight and silver tongues.

But how did they get there?

The way wasn’t easy. It required a deep understanding of the Celtic cosmos, which encompasses three realms: land, sea, and sky. The land comprises the physical world we live in. The sky consists of the upper realm, or heavens. The sea serves as a boundary between our world and the lower realm, or underworld.

Like the ancient Greeks, the Celts placed their gods in the heavens by mapping their mythology to constellations in the night sky. But their gods didn’t just exist in the upper realm. They also resided here on Earth. Britain is full of physical sites, on both land and sea, where the gods were said to have dwelt.

Arianrhod’s castle is one such place. In myth, Caer Arianrhod was the place where human souls were said to travel upon their death. It existed in all three realms at once, each separate and distinct, and each serving as a portal to the others. Those who knew the way could use the Caer’s revolving door as a gateway for traveling between worlds.

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