Spring into a Fresh Start

IMG_0003 by Serena Jayne

The rebirth of the earth during spring signals the opportunity for new beginnings. Spring is the epitome of a juice cleanse after scarfing down an entire box of Girl Scout cookies. Spring cleaning allows people to shed their hoarder habits, and finally locate their lucky socks. There’s no better time than spring to take an inventory of one’s life, and use the fresh start to focus on what truly matters.

Charles Prendergast’s painting “Untitled (Rites of Spring),” which is a part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection, shows a number of maidens frolicking in celebration of the season. The gold and silver leaf makes the scene sparkle and shine. Even the birds look happy. Spring is not only in the air, but in the minds and hearts of every joyful creature depicted.

IMG_1127

The seasons progress much like the triple goddess expressed as maiden, mother, and crone. Spring is the fresh-faced maiden, unspoiled and full of opportunity. Summer becomes the mother, whose energy is shifted to her kiddies who keep her busy chasing rainbows and unicorn dreams under a sunny sky. Fall and winter symbolize the crone, who brings wisdom and sometimes icy regret, a far cry from the promise and hope of spring.

In Greek Mythology, Hades abducts a maiden named Persephone and takes her to his home in the Underworld. Her mother Demeter, the goddess of agriculture among other things, expresses her grief over the loss of her daughter by making the earth barren.LMG100045 Persephone’s return from the Underworld is arranged, but because of the pomegranate seeds she’d consumed there, Hades maintains a hold on her. A kind of shared custody agreement is struck, where she splits her time between Earth and the Underworld. When mother and daughter are reunited, Demeter’s icy exterior melts bringing spring. The Earth remains fertile until Persephone’s return to the Underworld come fall.

The myth of Persephone and Demeter demonstrates a new beginning. The mother-daughter relationship is ever changed by Persephone’s abduction and her seasonal return to Earth. Demeter is forced to see her daughter, not as a child, but as a woman. Absence may make the heart grow fonder. A reunion with what was once lost brings a new appreciation and gratitude. The requirement to share her daughter with Hades makes each moment with Persephone a little more special—a little more precious. Something perhaps previously taken for granted is now cherished.

In his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, Mark Manson encourages the reader to restrict her time and energy to the people and things that truly matter in life. Change generated by unsolicited self-evaluation beats regret, because as magical as spring may be, second chances aren’t a guarantee. Time trudges ever forward. If one fails to take advantage of the renewal spring offers, soon it’s time to pull out the boots, puffy coats, and snow shovels, and opportunities turn to might-have-beens.

800px-Christian_Bernhard_Rode_001Use spring to jump start positive change. Decide where best to channel time and energy. Make plans with friends and family. Dust off that To-Do list. Prioritize To-Be-Read lists and bucket lists or simply decide who and what matters most, and adjust time and energy accordingly. If things don’t go as expected, don’t worry. Persephone will be back for a return engagement bringing the gift of another opportunity for a fresh start and a bright future. Plan accordingly.

Brigid, the Goddess of Wisdom and Everything Else

by E.J. Lawrence

I love studying mythology. Since we generally live in a society that brushes myths off as “mere superstition” and “just stories,” we run the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater; of denying the truth of mythology simply because it does not line up with our understanding of the facts.

But facts and truth are not the same person. They are siblings–they share blood, and perhaps DNA, but are two distinct, unique beings.

For if mythology were “mere superstition,” we should have no need of any fiction, for fiction–and mythology especially–are not just stories which allow us to escape from this world. Rather, they are stories that allow us to understand it. Few stories do this better than creation myths.

There are those who say all creation myths are the same. There’s something to that–but only because they do not vary by kind; still, they do vary somewhat by degree.

180px-The_Great_Holker_Lime_at_Holker_Hall_-_geograph.org.uk_-_271197
The Great Holker Lime at Holker Hall (John Clive Nicholson)

But in considering our November theme of women who have experienced much and done much, I could think of no mythological figure who fit this theme better than the Celtic goddess Brigid, whose role is pivotal not only to the Celtic creation myth, but to the culture as a whole. Brigid literally translates to “Exalted One,” and we find that though Brigid is a well-rounded goddess, what makes her truly exalted is her thirst for wisdom.

The Celtic creation myth, much like other myths such as the Greek or Norse traditions, has supernatural figures that exist before the gods. In Celtic mythology, Danu–the “Mother Goddess”–and Bíle–the sacred oak–fulfill these roles. Into the void, Danu sends her divine waters to the thirsting oak, and from the oak come two acorns. The first is Dagda, “Father of the Gods”; the second is Brigid, the “Exalted One.”1

St._Brigids_Well_Cullion_WellwithStationinBackground
St. Brigid’s Well

Brigid becomes the mother of many gods. She was known for imbibing from the holy waters of her mother, Danu, and thus grew in wisdom.2 In this is a beautiful picture of the historical significance of wisdom being passed from mother to daughter and continuing through generations. Because of Brigid’s willingness to drink from her mother’s fountain–being nourished by her both literally and figuratively–she became one of the most accomplished goddesses of mythology, overseeing healing, craftsmanship, smithing, poetry, war, and so forth. As one mythologist puts it, “she excelled in all knowledge.”3 Many mythologists believe that it was her understanding that the secret to all wisdom came from her mother which granted her access to such knowledge and insight. This again points back to a culture that values the voices of women as being voices of wisdom. Without these voices, we, the children, cannot hope to attain the heights or enter the secret places of discernment.

1200px-Rossetti,_Dante_Gabriel_-_La_Ghirlandata_-_1871-1874
La Ghirlandata (D.G. Rossetti)

That isn’t to say the Celtic culture is the only one who understands this. Indeed, it seems many ancient cultures had similar ideas; the entirety of Proverbs 31, from the Judeo-Christian tradition, is a king reciting a series of lessons his mother taught him, including to stand up for those who cannot defend themselves and to look for a wife who “speaks with wisdom and…faithful instruction.”4 Can you imagine how much different the world might be if we sipped from the fountain of wisdom which came before us?

Brigid is “exalted,” revered, listened to, believed. Not simply because she is a goddess; she enjoys her stature because of her thirst for wisdom and because she is relentless in her pursuits. Though she is the goddess of war, she is also the goddess of poetry, two perhaps contradictory pursuits that she, being steeped in wisdom, understands how they connect. In one story, she tells her children to go and people the world, but to beware their cousins who are all the inverse of their grandmother (what’s a myth without a battle between good and evil?). It’s in this war that one of Brigid’s own sons (Ruadan) is killed, and Brigid shows that even the exalted can be brought low. Yet, from this defeat, rises a new form of song, keening, showing Brigid’s other face–the face of emotion. Of Poetry:

“But after the spear had been given to him, Ruadan turned and wounded Goibniu. He pulled out the spear and hurled it at Ruadan so that it went through him; and he died in his father’s presence in the Fomorian assembly. Brig came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Brig who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)”5

Her symbols are fire, water, snakes, and oxen. She is goddess of the home, and goddess offire-1629975_1280 the battlefield. Goddess of the flame, and goddess of the well. Goddess of those who create, and goddess of those who destroy. It’s almost as though there is no end to her multi-faceted being. In some versions of the legend, she is a three-part goddess, and each part represents a different aspect of her nature. Her wisdom is the seed for all else; it allows her to understand, to empathize, to learn, to seek, and to do.

It’s hard to believe Brigid would be quite so renowned and exalted if she had not first sought wisdom and discernment from the waters which flowed from heaven and “showed her children that true wisdom was only to be garnered from the feet of Danu, the Mother Goddess, and so only to be found at the water’s edge.”6 Whatever one might say about the factual nature of this statement, the truth of it cannot be denied; in fact, it’s the old paradox repeated in story after story, “mere myth” after “mere myth”–in order to ascend the heights, we must first humble ourselves at the feet of another. Only then can we obtain the wisdom necessary to know what true potential is.

 

  1. Ellis, Peter Berresford. Celtic Myths and Legends, London, 1988, pp. 25.
  2. Ellis, pp. 26.
  3. Ellis, pp. 26.
  4. The Holy Bible, New International Version, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+31&version=NIV

5. Cath Maige Tuired, translated by Elizabeth A. Gray, line 125, http://www.sacred-     texts.com/neu/cmt/cmteng.htm

6. Ellis, pp. 26.

Pythia of the Womb of Life and Death: The Significance of the Oracle at Delphi

by K.P. Kulski

I count the grains of sand on the beach and measure the sea.

Oracle at Delphi – 560 BC

220px-John_Collier_-_Priestess_of_DelphiShe stands close to associations with the Earth, the musty damp womb of the dirt where decay and birth exist simultaneously. You can find her only after a journey, you can hope she will proclaim that you are destined for greatness or give clarity for your decisions, but she may also give omens of dread, of doom or mere unsatisfying riddles. Whatever she utters, for ill or good, are the words of divinity.

delphi-ancient-city-ruins-greece-mainland-tour-europe-dp7874493-1600_0Read the great mythologies of Ancient Greece and you will encounter over and over the Oracle at Delphi, the Pythia. She dwelled at a place that must have seemed to the ancients was the opening to the womb of the Earth itself, a seam from which the vapors arose giving the Pythia the power of prophesy. Her words can be found in many sources from the ancient world. But there’s so much more to the existence of the Pythia that captures my imagination, it is what she represents—a remnant of even older belief systems.

serpentThe serpent brings instinctive fear. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is the Devil, in the form of a serpent who tempts Eve, who, along with Adam are cast out from the Garden of Eden as punishment. The Medusa of Ancient Greek mythology with her head writhing with nest of serpents could turn a man to stone. Early civilization abounds with the association of women with serpents, something that continues into the Ancient Greek world. The very title “Pythia,” is a reference to themedusa great Python, the serpent beast who originally guarded the Delphi site.

Snakes frequently nest in crevices and the underground. They emerge from the Earth itself, as if born forth from a womb. Much like humanity, they can be beneficial but are also dangerous. The Oracle is the conduit, much like the Earth, or a mother for what thing that emerges. She is the womb of prophesy, just as filled with potential and uncertainty as humankind. While controversial, the studies of Marija Gimbutas bring entirely worthwhile connections. If the serpent is representative of what can emerge from the Earth, what other connections can we find? Gimbutas says upon death European Neolithic cultures may have believed, “new life grows from the remains of the old…symbolically, the individual returned to the goddess’ womb to be reborn.”[1] She goes on to place a direct correlation between what she calls the “tomb as womb.”[2] That is to say, in death everyone returned to the womb of the Earth and then ultimately were reborn.

The site at Delphi likely represented that regenerative cycle, further because of the presence of the fault line within. The Pythia was further reported to have drank from a spring that ran underground and back to the surface near Apollo’s temple.[3] The spring is yet another strong cyclic signifier. The mythological story of Apollo slaying the Python of Delphi and claiming the site as his own also points to this cultural memory. Some have argued that Apollo acts as a patriarchal symbol slaying a matriarchal belief system. If we interpret the serpent and Earth as female symbols, it is not hard to see a patriarchal connection to the slaying of the Python.

virgil_solis_-_apollo_python“Then Phoebus Apollo boasted over her (Python): Now rot here upon the soil that feeds man! You at least shall live no more to be a fell bane to men who eat the fruit of the all-nourishing earth…but here shall the Earth and shining Hyperion make you rot.”[4]

But even as Apollo takes control (by force) over prophesy, he cannot eradicate the origins of the Delphi site. Note that the Pythia, like many oracles in the ancient world, was a female specific position. While the Ancient Greeks believed that Apollo gave the words of prophesy to the Pythia, the oracular significance remains female. Joan Breton Connelly asserts that, “the Pythia Pythia Aegeus Themis Delphi[1]exerted considerable control over the oracles that she delivered,” and that while male priests existed they did not perform as oracles and further were not the ones who were the subject of attempted bribery.[5] Meaning, they had little control or influence over the Pythia and further, she likely was quite purposeful when she delivered her highly influential answers.

I suppose, some things don’t change after all.

____________________________________________________________

[1] Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses (Berkley: University of California Press, 1999), 55.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Joan Breton Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 76.

[4] “The Homeric Hymns.” Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Accessed 28 OCT 2017. http://omacl.org/Hesiod/hymns.html.

[5] Joan Breton Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 78.

Persephone’s Side of the Story

by Kaitlin Bevis

The Persephone myth has resonated with women generation after generation. I can think of no other myth with more retellings, ranging from Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast, to classic literature-turned-Broadway shows like Phantom of the Opera, to dozens of contemporary retellings like my novel, Persephone.

51lCi2vqdnL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Persephone is a fascinating figure in mythology. She goes from a nameless maiden (Kore) picking flowers in a meadow, to Hades’s queen (Persephone), to the terrifying ruler of the Underworld (The Iron Queen). But through the entire transition, she never gets to tell her own story. The myth goes into Hades’s motivations, his negotiations with Zeus, Demeter’s panic, Ascalaphus’s trickery to get Persephone to eat the pomegranate seeds, random nymph bystanders, and villagers seen along Demeter’s quest. Every person in the story gets a voice except Persephone.

Her lack of her voice, her thoughts, and fears, and feelings, plucks at our subconscious, insisting there is more to the story. Is it any wonder there are so many retellings trying to fix that problem?

It’s a story that demands to be told.

 

And for too many years it was told wrong. Her role reduced to that of a victim. Very few versions of the myth go into her role in the Underworld afterward. How it was widely acknowledged throughout Greece that Hades was a bit of a pushover, but do not mess with his wife. She was feared, revered, and had entire cults dedicated to worshiping her name.

It’s a common problem for women in history, mythological and otherwise. Look at Helen Keller. If you walk up to a random person off the street, they can likely tell you she was blind and deaf, they can probably tell you her first sign, and the name of her teacher, but what they aren’t likely to know are the legion of accomplishments to her name. Like Persephone’s story ends when she emerges from hell for a portion of each year, reunited with her mother, Helen’s story often ends with her ability to communicate unlocked.

Greek mythology is a very good microcosm for the way women are treated in history. Though the women in Greek mythology were powerful and complex, they were often reduced to a single, definable (often passive) trait. In popular culture, Athena isn’t known as the war goddess she was, but the goddess of wisdom, known for popping up and giving heroes advice. Persephone is a victim, not a queen, Hera is a jealous lunatic, not the God-Queen, Aphrodite is painted as a whore. That’s it. That’s her entire role. While Zeus and Poseidon somehow get left off the hook for their ridiculous levels of promiscuity. If mentioned, it’s never their sole defining trait.

I figured it’s about time the stories of these amazing, powerful, flawed, and complex mythological figures got told right. So, I wrote the Daughters of Zeus series, starting with Persephone’s myth. I take Persephone from the innocent maiden picking flowers all the way to her rise as one of the most feared goddesses in the Pantheon. My next trilogy tackles Aphrodite. The other gods and goddesses make appearances all throughout the series in their full complexity. I took liberties transitioning the myths to modern day, but I remained true to the spirit of the original myths. I am not the only author envisioning these myths for a modern audience, nor are my versions perfect. But they are full of powerful women with different flaws and strengths, leaning on each other as they navigate the horrors of a pantheon steeped in patriarchy.

You should check it out.

To learn more about Kaitlin Bevis, click here. Or go here to order your own copy of Persephone.

 

Unequivocal Voices: The Sacred Feminine Challenges Authority

by K.P. Kulski

As so many things do, this begins with a story… 

Many stories in fact, but I’m going to start out with just the one.

In 508 BCE, the great Spartan King Cleomenes joined forces with the exiled family of Cleisthenes in the hope of overthrowing Hippias, the tyrant of Athens. (Take a breath, I know that was lot of ancient Greek names.)

victorian-engraving-of-the-ancient-interior-of-the-parthenon-athens-efn0e4King Cleomenes managed to get himself to the acropolis, the central and most important part of the ancient Athenian polis, also the location of the holy temple of Athena. Weary and looking for a moment of spiritual reflection, Cleomenes, King of Sparta enters to the holiest place in the city of Athens, to pray. I imagine he opened the temple door, ready to step into the welcome cool dim within when he heard an angry female voice. An angry and powerful female voice, accustomed to being obeyed.

An Athenian priestess rose from her seat within and is said to have shouted, “Spartan stranger, go back. Do not enter the holy place.”1

She harnesses the power of the divine and exists in liminality, between the living and the dead.

This Athenian priestess is not given a name, not like the males in the story. She doesn’t stick out individually, but her strength, conviction and divine authority is enough to get King Cleomenes thrown out of the temple. She, like many women throughout history harnessed a special mystique, a voice that does not sway to the demands and wants of a king, conqueror or the greater society.

She harnesses the power of the divine and exists in liminality, between the living and the dead. With mere words she has toppled kingdoms, flicked away the pride of overzealous politicians and directed the focus of entire civilizations. She accomplishes these things with no significant wealth or army at her disposal. Through the authority of her own female divinity she is the sacred vessel of supernatural knowledge. What she has to say, whether a king likes it or not, holds the weight of powers more significant and more powerful.

This is not unique to the polytheistic world. As Christianity rose to predominance, it brought with it the identity of sacred women as powerful figures. If you think about it, Mary’s pregnancy was a rebellion. While married to Joseph, Mary gives birth to the son of the divine, instead of her husband’s offspring. Her own immaculate conception further cements the concept of her sacred feminine before she even conceives Jesus. She exists outside the normal conventions of society and gender restrictions simply do not apply to her.

As Christianity rose to predominance, it brought with it the identity of sacred women as powerful figures.

Classical works, embraced by medieval Europe created a natural dilemma for the Christian devout. If these works were to be celebrated and revered, scholars could not ignore the blatant references to pagan gods. Taking one of their favorite classical writers, medieval thinkers harnessed the prophetic presence of the Cumae Sibyl in Virgil’s Elcogue. The Sibyls, an extension of the classical Greek oracle tradition, played a similar and significant prophetic role in ancient Rome. Virgil’s mention of the Sibyl’s words, most likely meant as a propaganda outlet for Augustus, were interpreted by medieval scholars to have been

180px-SibylCumae.jpgoracular visions of the coming of Jesus Christ and the ultimate establishment of Christendom. Yet it is interesting to note that Christians of this age viewed the prophesy of the Cumae Sibyl as a frightening example of female paganism. This is a fascinating conflict, despite rejecting paganism itself, they acknowledged the power of the female prophetess. Christian scholars were convinced that Sibyl, by divine power, had foreseen the birth of Jesus and through extension rejected Roman pagan authority.“By Destiny’s unalterable decree. Assume thy greatness, for the time draws night, Dear child of gods, great progeny of Jove!”2 While the Sibyl represented a pagan belief system, medieval scholars recognized that she held a special power, especially if she foresaw the coming of their Lord.

Even from the lowest rungs of society, she commands with the voice of the gods and becomes a goddess herself.

In 1492, the Maid of Heaven, Joan of Arc met with the Dauphin of France, Charles VII. France was at this time, a shadow of itself, a kingdom on the verge of complete annexation. English ambitions to rule over France seemed only a hair’s breadth away from realization. Charles himself was not in a strong position. But something about Joan, a commoner who somehow managed to obtain a chance to meet with him, the Dauphin, moved Charles to invest in her rebellion. It was of course, in his interest and whether Charles himself was religious moved or inspired by Joan, cannot be definitively decided. Nonetheless, if Joan was a mere political gambit for Charles, she still appealed to a multitude as a figure of French resistance. This is in great part because of the figure she cut into the collective French identity – a virgin girl in direct communication with God.

As seen above, this model is quite familiar, a female who is a conduit to the divine which can only be achieved because of her gender. This embodiment goes beyond divine inspiration, but to the very pores of her being. She is symbolic of the divine and therefore cannot be ignored. Even from the lowest rungs of society, she commands with the voice of the gods and becomes a goddess herself.

We can see those connections of female divinity to the very dawn of civilization, where Ancient_Akkadian_Cylindrical_Seal_Depicting_Inanna_and_Ninshubursacred womanhood is not to be underestimated. This is reflected in the very stories of the divine, contained with the feminine— a sacred looming power.

So, I leave you with these powerful and daring words of the first known author, Sumerian priestess Enheduana as she exalts her goddess Inana:

Burney-Relief“At your battle-cry, my lady, the foreign lands bow low. When humanity comes before you in awed silence at the terrifying radiance and tempest, you grasp the most terrible of all the divine powers. Because of you, the threshold of tears is opened, and people walk along the path of the house of great lamentations. In the van of battle, all is struck down before you. With your strength, my lady, teeth can crush flint. You charge forward like a charging storm. You roar with the roaring storm.”3

Endnotes

1. Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Aubrey De Selincourt (London: Penguin, 2003), 337-338.

2. Virgil, “The Eclogues,” The Internet Classics Archive, http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/eclogue.4.iv.html.

3. Enheduana, “The Exaltation of Inana,” The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.4.07.2&display=Crit&charenc=gcirc&lineid=t4072.p7#t4072.p7.