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Ethereal Ways 2: Ilmatar, Goddess of Ether

If you were to ask your average pagan what deities come to mind in connection to any of the four main elements, most would probably have at least a couple ideas, if not a plethora. But does anyone in particular come to mind regarding the element of Ether?

As wonderful synchronicity would have it, I recently discovered a beautiful goddess who is in fact called “Ether’s Daughter”. Her name is Ilmatar, and she is the primordial mother of creation in Finnish mythology.

If you are enough of a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you may be aware that today, October 25th, is the day that the Council of Elrond occurred at Imladris. In honor of that (especially as we are in 2018 and the Council took place in their year of T.A. 3018!), it is most fitting to describe not only this elegant goddess, but how Professor Tolkien led me to discover her.

Tolkien’s Elvish language is strongly based upon Finnish, which is probably the most beautiful language I have ever heard and certainly it must have been to philologist Tolkien as well. Earlier this month, when I was watching the Appendices of the Extended Edition DVDs of the The Fellowship of the Ring, I was reminded of something I had learned when I saw them for the first time, years ago; that it was the epic Finnish poem Kalevala that largely inspired Tolkien to create the Elvish language and lore.

Somehow, I was finally really moved to actually look it up and read it. After sampling just the first few lines on the internet, where the poem can be found in its entirety in both English and Finnish, I knew I had to own a real copy and so ordered one the next day. I didn’t take me long at all to get a strongly intuitive sense of how much real magic and mystery was actually to be found within the lengthy text.

This was even confirmed for me by two 1888 reviews included at the beginning of the edition I had ordered, one from the Theosophical magazine The Path, as well as a review by Madame Blavatsky herself!  

The Path stated, “We have read the poem because it is full of Occultism and Magic, and shows the ancient Finns to have been believers in Reincarnation and other such theosophical doctrines. There is much in it drawn from ancient magic that will not be understood except by those who really know what true occultism is.”

In her review, Madame Blavatsky says, “The last proof in the universality in time and space of that grand system of philosophy, called by its disciples the Archaic Wisdom Religion, or the Secret Doctrine – comes to us from a little-known people, inhabiting a bleak, wild, and seldom-visited land. In the “Kalevala”, the national epic of Finland, we find many traces of the Archaic philosophy, some clear and luminous, others more veiled and hidden.”

The first runo, or rune, literally “poem”, is entitled “The Birth of Väinämöinen”, and tells mostly of that hero-shaman’s mother, Ilmatar, and the creation of the world before (and during and after) his birth.

In primeval times, a maiden,
Beauteous daughter of the Ether,
passed for ages her existence
In the great expanse of heaven,
O’er the prairies yet unfolded.
Wearisome the maiden growing,
Her existence sad and hopeless,
Thus alone to live for ages
In the infinite expanses
Of the air above the sea-foam,
In the fair out-stretching spaces,
In a solitude of ether,
She descended to the ocean,
Waves her coach and waves her pillow.

It is interesting to note that the primary elements named along with the anterior Ether are Air and Water. Perhaps we can surmise that those two elements are the ones most closely connected to, and alike in nature, the Ether. Many creation myths and their references to early forms of the world speak of an expanse of air, water or both; often a void and/or an abyss. Usually, no land is yet seen until the rest of the story unfolds.

Ilmatar’s name literally means “Female Spirit of Air”. She is also later named the “Water-Mother” when she becomes magically impregnated with Väinämöinen by nature itself, and gives birth to him into that primeval sea – the first water birth!

The element of fire mentioned in this first runo is within Ilmatar herself as she sits still in the sea to allow a wandering, hapless mother duck to lay her seven eggs upon her knee which rose like a hill out of the water.

Warmer grows the water around her,
Warmer is her bed in ocean,
While her knee with fire is kindled,
And her shoulders too are burning,
Fire in every vein is coursing.

The stiff, warming goddess cannot help but stir uncomfortably and so sends the seven cosmic eggs tumbling into the sea. They did not perish, but “transformed in wondrous beauty”, their fragments and contents forming the rest of the world.

Three different times are the directions of the movements of the three characters in this poem – Ilmatar, the duck, and Väinämöinen – described in a pointed order. Ilmatar swims east, then southward, west, then northward, creating a circle. The duck, searching for a place to lay her eggs, flies east, then west, then north then south, forming a cross. Finally, Ilmatar’s son and the primary hero and wizard of the rest of the epic, emerges into the sea from his mother’s womb and swims northward, then south, then eastward then west, also forming a cross but in a path opposite to that of the duck. This creates a well-known, beyond ancient symbol of an equal-armed cross inside a circle, which beautifully represents all of creation; all of life inside in the womb of the mother, and all the four elements inside the circle of Ether from whence they are born and which they also come together to form.

Use this symbol to meditate upon and connect to the beauteous, primeval maiden Ilmatar, as well as to all the elements and their sacred matrix, the Ether. She is a most comforting and empathetic mother goddess, who understands that

All this life is cold and dreary,
Painful here is every motion.

Or that, sometimes, it certainly can be.

We must begin at the beginning if we are to learn to harness the elements for magical workings or even to understand them, which of course we must do before we attempt to work with them. So many modern texts about elemental magic are seriously lacking in more than a passing reference to Ether, at least from what I have seen, so I hope this serves as at least an effective starting point to enlighten and inspire you.

By all means, visit and read this magical epic or buy a physical copy, which is always better!

© 2018 (All original material) Meredith Everwhite - All Rights Reserved

The above image is of Ilmatar, painted by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin.

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Introduction of Correspondences for The Elements and Animals

 In their daily lives, animals are closely aligned with the elements. Based on their elemental correspondences, animals will often act as caretakers of that element. For example, the sandgrouse has a net of filaments on his upper body. After he returns from soaking at the water hole, his chicks drink from the water stored in his net. One could think of the sandgrouse as a guardian of water. This desert bird could be called upon for water magic in arid areas. (Since the elements correspond to the directions, an animal could be asked to guard a particular direction, as well.)  

For the next series of posts, I will be offering suggestions for the pairing of various animals with the elements. This is to give people an idea of how to go about doing this for themselves. I will first list the mammals, since many people have an affinity with them. In other postings, I will continue with birds, reptiles, and insects.

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An Introduction to Creating an Element-based Spirituality

No faith, no magical practice, and no school of philosophy has the monopoly on elemental belief. From Aboriginal animism to Druidism to Shinto to Plato, “the Elements” have played a huge role in how humans have related to and deified the natural world around them.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    My hardcover copy of Runequest Roleplaying in Glorantha arrived today. Every character in the game; not just the players, is alig
5 Elements: Creative Visual Exploration through Photography

Cross-posted at Goddessing From the Heart.

For today's #InspirationFanatic post, I snapped a series of photographs based on the five elements--earth, air, fire, water and spirit. I've been lacking any desire to be creative and needed a way to get plugged back into Nature. I felt connected to Goddess through this experience, especially when I found the "spirit" spot. I encourage you to go to a favorite natural setting and do the same! I've included a few prompts for each element in case you need ideas to get started.

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Mindful Amid the Snowfall

Cross-posted at Goddessing From the Heart.

Winter snowfall provides a perfect time to engage your senses in mindful observation. This act of meditation can deepen your relationship with nature. If you live in a climate where it does not snow, most of the practice could easily be adapted using crushed ice.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Energy of the seasons

Energy of the seasons

Depending on where you live in the word you will be guided on what your seasons are and how they affect the energy around you.  But here is a rough and I mean rough guide for working with the energy of the seasons in general.  You will need to consider the weather, the area, the energy and all the other tiny elements that create the energy for any one particular day.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Prayer for Syria

Last Sunday I was invited to lead a prayer at a benefit for Syrian refugees. It was sort of a Pagan-ish prayer, since the audience wasn't Pagan and I wanted it to be relatable. Feel free to use it for your priestessing in non-Pagan situations, or simply as a template for your own prayers for Syria.

Take a breath, close your eyes, and turn your attention to the East, place of air and sunrise, of new beginnings. Send a prayer for wisdom: the wisdom to find a lasting road to peace, the wisdom to do what needs to be done. Take a breath and send that prayer.

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Ms. West, Thank you. Syria is the the birthplace of Neoplatonist Paganism and theurgy, which may well explain why Socrates is con

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