"Braids, tapestries, and currents in the river show us the way again and again--it cannot be one clear way or another, it has got to be both ways and together."
--Eila Carrico, The Other Side of the River...
Listening to the woods, to the stones, to Gaia, and to women...
In the woods behind my house rest a collection of nine large flat rocks. Daily, I walk down to these “priestess rocks” for some sacred time alone to pray, meditate, consider, and be. Often, while in this space, I open my mouth and poetry comes out. I’ve come to see this experience as "theapoetics"—experiencing the Goddess through direct “revelation,” framed in language. As Stanley Hopper originally described in the 1970’s, it is possible to “…replace theology, the rationalistic interpretation of belief, with theopoetics, finding God[dess] through poetry and fiction, which neither wither before modern science nor conflict with the complexity of what we know now to be the self.” Theapoetics might also be described, “as a means of engaging language and perception in such a way that one enters into a radical relation with the divine, the other, and the creation in which all occurs.”
–Christopher Penczak, Sons of the Goddess, p. 51
Our oldest son is rapidly sliding into manhood. Creaky voice. Height stretching on a near-daily basis. Fuzz on upper lip. It is hard to hold space for this transition while still caring for a not-quite-two year old small boy as well, one who reminds me regularly of my first baby boy and what it was like to be a mother to only one, focused on each stage of development, each new word, each successful identification of a new color. Now that first baby boy swings that last baby boy onto one hip with practiced ease, washes dishes, helps to cook, pours milk for his sister....
As someone who comes to goddess spirituality from a feminist thealogy perspective, I have found it important to distinguish between the lineage and history of goddess spirituality and that of contemporary paganism as a broader and larger movement. While the roots of goddess spirituality are indeed entwined with paganism and Wicca, there is still a distinct “herstory” of the goddess movement in the United States, as well as qualities, traditions, values, perspectives, and tenants within it that are worthy of consideration on a stand-alone basis.
The Goddess in America, forthcoming from Moon Books this fall, is a highly recommended anthology of insightful essays about the meaning, role, expression, and experience of the Goddess in the United States. This is not a 101 or introductory book, but rather a complex exploration of a variety of topics including cultural appropriation, differences between feminist goddess spirituality and Wicca, contemporary priestessing, pop culture goddesses, goth goddesses, polytheism vs monotheistic concepts (i.e .the difference between “all goddesses as one” and each goddess as an individual), goddesses and the land and whether goddesses can be “transported” to other locations/lands, and much more. The book contains contributions from nineteen writers with diverse perspectives and experiences and it identifies the “enduring experience of Goddess Spirituality through a four-part discussion focused on the Native Goddess, the Migrant Goddess, the Goddess in relation to other aspects of American culture (Feminism, Christianity, Witchcraft, etc.) and the Goddess in contemporary America.” As someone who loves books, I believe that anthologies are possibly one of the greatest inventions of all time. Indeed, the only problem I had with this book was that the writers were so talented and have written so many other interesting books, that my to-read bookshelf now becoming even more extensive!...
It is late autumn, 2009. I am 30 years old and pregnant with my third baby. He dies during the early part of my second trimester and I give birth to him in my bathroom, on my own with only my husband as witness. The blood comes, welling up over my fingers and spilling from my body in clots the size of grapefruits. I feel myself losing consciousness and am unable to distinguish whether I am fainting or dying. As my mom drives me to the emergency room, I lie on the back seat, humming: “Woman am I. spirit am I. I am the infinite within my soul. I have no beginning and I have no end. All this I am,” so that my husband and mother will know I am still alive.
I do not die.
This crisis in my life and the complicated and dark walk through grief is a spiritual catalyst for me. A turning point in my understanding of myself, my purpose, my identity, and my spirituality.
It is my 31st birthday. May 3rd. My baby’s due date. I go to the labyrinth in my front yard alone and walk through my labor with him, remembering, releasing, letting go of the stored up body memory of his pregnancy. I am not pregnant with him anymore. I have given birth. This pregnancy is over. I walk the labyrinth singing and when I emerge, I make a formal pledge, a dedication of service and commitment to the Goddess. I do not yet identify myself verbally as a priestess, but this is where the vow of my heart begins.
I do not know at the time, but less than two weeks later, I discover I am in fact pregnant with my daughter, my precious treasure of a rainbow baby girl who is born into my own hands on my living room floor the next winter. As I greet her, I cry, “you’re alive! You’re alive! There’s nothing wrong with me!” and feel a wild, sweet relief and painful joy like I have never experienced before.
“The word ‘rune’ originates in words meaning ‘secret,’ but ‘rune’ has also come to mean ‘a poem, charm, or spell.’ Runar (from the Norse) means ‘a magical sign,’ and runa (from Old German) is ‘to whisper a secret.’ ‘Hidden,’ ‘magic,’ ‘whispers,’ all words long associated with Faery, the secret country. So when we talk of runes, we are speaking of objects that have multiple meanings, letters both worldly and otherworldly in origin and aspect. Their ‘secrets’ may not reside so much in hidden meanings, but in ways of seeing the world. In this sense, each single rune creates layers of phonetics, poetry, and power built up over time. Runes are intended to endure. They record things that must be remembered or heeded. Runes are letters and words that must not be lost or wasted. They embody and express essential knowledge…”
–Brian Froud, Runes of Elfland
Several years ago I had laryngitis and was completely mute. I woke up in the morning with a crystal clear vision of the earth, suspended in space, feeling awe-struck at the majesty and complexity of this planet whirling through space, part of the vast, unfathomable universe. It seemed so clear to me that I was seeing the “invisible net of incarnation” of which we are all a part, the earth held in this enormous web of the universe. Upon rising for the day, I was thinking about my ideas about divinity and reflecting on my cosmological view of the universe as the “body” of the Goddess and the idea that the very web of life itself is the Goddess. Accompanying the sense of majesty was then a profound sense of impersonality. How can I possibly connect personally with something so vast and so powerful? So, as I sat that morning at my little corner altar in the living room, I asked (silently—I had laryngitis, remember!): “what do I need to know about the personalization of the divine?” I drew a Crone Stone from my little bag by the altar…
Remember the laryngitis and then also imagine the huge smile on my face when the stone I drew was, “The Speaker,” with the questions included in the interpretation, “is your voice being heard?” and “how will you share your voice with the world?” And then the final message, “let your voice pour forth like a flowing river…” At this moment I felt I had received an answer to my wonderings—that the Goddess is both as enormous and impersonal as my vision of the web holding the earth and yet also personal enough to offer me this cosmic “wink” through my Crone Stone.
“When all is said and done I think every Witch should, at some time, face the moon alone, feet planted on the ground, with only his or her voice chanting in the starry night.”
–Laurie Cabot, Power of the Witch
I will never forget the first time I heard someone recite the Charge of the Goddess from memory. Bare-breasted, she strode around the fire in sacred circle at a large goddess festival in Kansas, delivering the words with power, grace, and confident resonance. I thought: I will do that someday.
In February of this year, we took a family trip to Dauphin Island. While there, the afternoon of the full moon, I decided that the time had come: I was going to memorize the Charge of the Goddess. First, I thought I would only memorize it a piece at a time. It seemed “too big” to do in a single sitting. I had it printed out on a piece of paper that rapidly became damp with the salty sea air. I drew a labyrinth in the sand with my toes, set one of my goddess sculptures at its entrance, and drew a Womanrunes card.
My specialty is small group rituals and retreats for women. However, a primary reason behind having women-only rituals at this point in my life is purely logistical. I find it nearly impossible to have a complete “retreat” experience with kids also present! Someone has to take care of the kids during said retreats…hence, single-sex rituals/ceremonies often make the most sense for my local community. However, shorter and simpler rituals are possible with kids, though they have a completely different feel and even function and so that energetic output needs to be balanced with the renewal and restoration we often need as parents, mothers, and women.