Reflections of Her: Meeting the Faces of the Goddess These writings appeared between 2009 â€“ 2010 in Building Bridges e-magazine. All articles are written by Tiffany Lazic.
Images of the Goddesses are from various artists and are used with gratitude to illustrate the energies of the Goddesses introduced in the articles.
Arianrhod Culture: Celtic Domain: Patterns and celestial movement Aspect: Maiden Symbol: Silver Wheel Arianrhod is the “Goddess of the Silver Wheel” (“Rhod” being the Welsh for “wheel” and “arian” the Welsh for “silver”). She is the Goddess of the Celestial Skies, the one who works with the very patterns of the movement of the planets as She sits in Her castle, Caer Sidi. But in truth, She is so much more. She is the Goddess who holds the key to attaining our Sovereignty, the one who places the tests that propel us to claim our birthright. In The Mabinogion, this Goddess of Destiny is presented as the reluctant if not outright hostile mother. In the myth, Arianrhod wishes to become the virgin footholder of the Great King Math (Her uncle). However, She is tricked by Her brother Gwydion into birthing 2 sons at the court, revealing Her ‘non-virgin’ status and losing Her opportunity to become footholder. The first son, Dylan immediately slips off into the sea. Gwydion slips the second son into His cloak to raise Himself . When Arianrhod discovers the existence of this second son, She lays a taboo that He will never have a name unless She Herself names Him. A deceptive trick by Gwydion leads Her to naming the child Lleu Llaw Gyffes (“Lleu of the Skillful Hand”). She lays a second taboo that He shall never bear arms unless She Herself gives them to Him. Again She is tricked into doing by Gwydion. In fury, She lays the final taboo on Lleu - that He shall never marry a woman born of the race of men. For this, Gwydion enlists Math’s aid. The two powerful magicians fashion a beautiful woman out of flowers and draw Spirit into Her, creating the Spring Goddess Blodeuwedd to be Lleu’s wife. Though it appears that Arianrhod would like nothing more than to have nothing to do with motherhood whatsoever, if one looks beneath the surface of the myth, the true ancient charge of the Mother Goddess is revealed: She Who Bestows Sovereignty. There are many ways in which Arianrhod teaches us to be in our power. Many of them are by Her example. She is autonomous. She is a leader of the women in Her castle. She knows Her worth, even when others try to tear it down. She is comfortable in Her anger and does not give way when others try to cow Her down with charges of “being wicked”. This is a whole side of Arianrhod that is hard as a diamond and will not give.
And yet another side of Arianrhod shows Her as being appreciative of beauty. As Mistress of the Celestial Skies, She is in tune with patterns, Cycles and order. My sense is that She harbours a great appreciation of the beauty that results from having all flow as it should. There is an ancient Celtic tradition which holds that it is the Goddess, and only the Goddess who can bestow the Sovereignty of Kingship. As a matrilineal culture, lineage was determined through the mother-line. Even in The Mabinogion, reference is made to kingship passing to the eldest son of the current king’s sister. Rather than seeing Arianrhod as a hostile, reluctant mother, from this light, She is claiming Her right as Mother to bestow Her son’s destiny of Sovereignty upon him. She is restoring order and calling out Gwydion for attempting to usurp that right. The true gift in Arianrhod’s story is the charge of the 3 geis (taboos): Her potent declamations to Gwydion regarding Her second born son. Through these, Arianrhod tells us what is most core in our Quest to come to our Sovereign selves. What we must know without a Shadow (of a doubt). And what we must strive to attain. What will make us Whole. The first geis is stated as: “I put a curse on him that he shall not have a name until he gets it from me” (Ford, pg. 99) We must know who we are. But it is not our mortal, given or perhaps “childhood” names that are at the heart of our Sovereign selves. Rather, it is the name that resonates between us and the Goddess. It is the name by which the Divine knows us that connects us to the first step of knowing who we truly are. The second geis is stated as: “I put a curse on this boy that he shall never take arms until I arm him” (Ford, pg 101) We must know our strengths. Again, it is not necessarily what others have reflected to us of our strengths, but that which we hold in our very cores. Our friends may call us “smart and perceptive” and, indeed, that will be a part of what makes us who we are. But between us and the Goddess, if She reflects to us our “intuitiveness” or our “discernment”, then this geis tells us to honour that reflection and embrace that the Goddess has reflected to us our true and spiritual strength. The third geis is stated as: “But I will put a curse on him that he will never get a wife from any race that’s on the earth now” (Ford, pg. 102) We must know how to live in balance with Spirit. Our relationships to others are important and significant. They help us feel connected to community and serve as a means through which to express our hearts. But this geis reminds us that the relationship to the absolute rather than the transitory is the one we have with the Divine: that which is not of the race of humans. No matter how permanent we wish our mortal relationships to be, they change and shift. They come and go. Even the loved ones we hold so deep in our hearts sometimes move on, often to
our great sorrow. When we embrace a partnership with the Divine, it is with us always. It is from this Divine partnership that we are able to move into all our mortal partnerships from a place of perfect love and perfect trust. When we stand before Arianrhod, the most powerful thing we can do is raise our voices and ask: “In what name do I stand before you?” “By what inner strength do I engage in my life on this Earth?” “In what ways can I honour my relationship with the Divine?” There is a sense that, in working with Arianrhod, it’s always about how rising to the challenge brings us into alignment with all the celestial energies impacting on us. This is not a situational type thing. It is Cosmic. She is the Goddess of the Celestial Cycles. She is the Goddess who connects us to how our energy has appeared and transformed over time. She is the Goddess who knows how to connect us to what is permanent and absolute about ourselves. She is the Goddess who charges us to step into the empowerment of our True “core” Selves. Arianrhod is the Goddess who reflects our path to seizing the truth and strength of our own lives. References: The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales, translated and edited, with an introduction by Patrick K, Ford, University of California Press, 1977
Brighid Culture: Celtic (Irish) Domain: Healing, Poetry, Smithcraft Aspect: Triple Goddess Other Names: Bride, Brigit, Brighide, Brigantia, Briginda, Brigidu Symbols: White cow (with red ears), snake, sheep, boar, white swan, wells and springs Though it is difficult to find many myths and stories about Brighid, She is one of the most loved of the Celtic pantheon and was known throughout the ancient world with slight variations to Her name. In fact, the tribe of Brigantes took their name from Her (forgiving them their ghastly contribution to Celtic history through their queen, Cartimandua). It is said that She came to Ireland with two oxen (called Fea and Fermhean), one pig (called Triath) and one huge boar (called Torc Triath) and that these animals would cry out if Ireland was ever under attack or threat. It is also said that She was the daughter of the Dagda, the great God of the Celts (who described as an unkempt and ugly buffoon, and much loved). Some say She was the mother of Ruadhan; others that She was the mother of three Gods of Danu (named either Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba or Goibhnui the smith, Luchta the wright and Credne Cerd the metalworker) It is important when exploring the myths of Brighid that there are two that have become intertwined. As a Celtic Goddess, She was so loved in Ireland that, with the coming of Christianity, She was transformed into and embraced instead as St. Brigid. As the Goddess Brighid, She is the “Fiery Arrow” who fans the gifts of fire in many forms. The hearth fire is sacred to Her, as well as the qualities of peace, purification and hospitality it brings. There is also a connection with the healing aspect of the hearth fire. Perhaps in some way connected to the emotional rest one can often find there or connected to the more tangible element of creating healing teas and potions. The ‘fires of inspiration’ are also Her domain, touching on multiple elements as well. Clearly, this is where the poetic domain lies. But it also other significant creative areas important to the Celts, such as smithcraft and metalwork. Each of these speak to Divine inspiration and are metaphors for Divine connection and magical powers. Brighid is also the Goddess of Spring, of abundance and increase. Wells and springs are sacred to Her and the waters that begin to run at this time give healing to those who come to them in Her name. If you see a well that has been decorated with ribbons and flowers, no doubt someone has taken a moment to honour Brigid and receive Her blessing.
St. Brigid was said to have been an abbess around 525 C.E. (around the same time as St. Patrick) and was associated with the town of Kildare. Most famously, the flame of Brigid (which no man could see) was tended by 19 nuns. There was one nun to tend the flame for each of 19 days. On the 20th day, it was said to be tended by Brigid Herself. Doused by King Henry VIII (in the 16th century), it was relit in 1992 by Brigantine nuns in Kildare. Called “Selas Bhride” (“Light of Brigit”), this light still burns today in a house of nuns in a modest suburb of Kildare. There are many traditions associated with Brighid and ways in which to honour Her today. Most carry Her name. Perhaps the most familiar is that of the “Crosog Brigde” or Brigit’s Cross. These are 3 or 4 pronged crosses created out of rushes that were hung in homes and barns for protection. This symbol is still well-known in connection with the Goddess. An extension of Brigit’s Cross is the less well-known “Crios Bride” or Brigit’s Girdle. These were large hoops of wheat, straw or rope that had 4 Brigit’s Crosses attached at various points. Traditionally, everyone in the family or community would step through the hoop three times, reciting “Brigit’s Girdle is my girdle, the girdle with the four crosses. Rise, housewife and go out three times. May whoever goes through my girdle be seven times better a year from now.” The “Brideog” is a doll usually created from an ear of corn from the previous harvest, decorated to represent Brighid. In some communities, children would carry Brideog from house to house and ask for treats, offering Brighid’s blessing in return. In some communities, while the younger girls made the Brideog, the older women would make the Leaba Bride or “Bride’s Bed”. On the Eve of the Festival of Brigit (which falls on February 1), the girls would bring the Brideog into the house to lay in the bed. For some, a wand of birch, broom, bramble or white willow was placed in the bed alongside the Brideog to represent the qualities of justice and peace and her divine lover, Oenghus. The following would be said three times: “Let Bride come in. Bride is welcome. Bride, come in. Your bed is made.” On the morning of February 1, the ashes of the hearth fire would be scanned to see if the wand had made an imprint. Called “Brigit’s footprint”, this was considered a very good sign and the household especially blessed. Even one who is not particularly craft-handy can participate in the common tradition of the “Brat Bride” or Brigit’s Mantle. This is a piece of cloth or ribbon left outside to receive Brighid’s blessing as She passes on the Eve of Her feast day. More connected with the saint than the Goddess, this tradition in inspired by the story that Brigid was midwife to Mary at the birth of Jesus, wrapping the wondrous child in her cloak. Traditionally, if the Brat Bride has collected dew in the night, it is considered blessed and the cloth itself said to be imbued with healing powers.
Clearly, with so many traditions to honour Her, Brighid was and is well-loved. Her energy is integral to welcoming the warmer elements of Spring. The joy expressed in honouring Her at Imbolc is, in part, the relief felt at knowing the worst of the Winter is over. It is saying good-bye to the “Hag of Winter” as we embrace the “Maiden of Spring”. Nowadays, we look to the groundhog to tell us how close to saying good-bye we are. But originally, this tradition was connected with Brighid, albeit with a difference. It is said that on Imbolc morn, a snake would awake from its Winter sleep and emerge from its hole. Upon seeing the snake, it is traditional to recite this charm: “Early on Bride’s morn the serpent shall come from its hole. I will not molest the serpent nor will the serpent molest me”. There are interesting depths to this particular tradition, in that there are no indigenous snakes in Ireland! It seems an odd tradition to attribute to a predominantly Irish Goddess. Some explain by saying it is rooted in Scottish lore. But on some levels, it also seems to be a response tradition to the tale of the other 5th century Irish Saint: Patrick, who is said to have “driven snakes from Ireland”. It warrants noting that there is an air of acceptance and mutual respect in Brighid’s tradition that is lacking in St. Patrick’s story. Without doubt, Brighid is a fascinating Goddess whose stories, myths and traditions deserve far more than a passing article. She touches on hearth and home, on poetry and inspiration, on the powers of healing, the powers of communication, the powers of creativity. She is the protector of beginnings (a midwife to life) and ushers in the hope and energy of budding life (the burst of Spring). One of the beautiful traditions connected with Candlemas (another name for the Celtic Festival of Imbolc) is that of candle-making. That this was the time of year to make the candles that would last throughout the year. There is a sense of purification which comes from creating anew that which will provide light throughout the year. And what a beautiful way to connect to the energies of Brigid: in the making and in the lighting. Bringing the light of inspiration and healing into our own lives.
Hekate Culture: Greek Domain: Crossroads, Transition Points Aspect: Crone Symbols: Hounds, all creatures of darkness
A dark and mysterious Goddess, one that brings up resistance for some, Hekate has often been both misunderstood and maligned. Probably best known in Her title of “Queen of the Witches”, Her area of power and focus actually encompasses the width and breadth of human experience. Though widely believed to be a Greek Goddess, there is evidence that a cult of Hekate originated in either Egypt or Thrace (a state bordering Greece) where She was primarily worshipped as a Goddess of the wilderness and childbirth. However, with the movement into Greece proper, these roles would have had Her stepping on Artemis’ toes. As Hekate became increasingly embraced by the Greeks, Her area of domain began to shift more and more. The Greek writer, Hesiod, who lived around 700 B.C.E. recorded that Hekate was a Titaness (some say the daughter of Perses and Asteria, some say the daughter of Gaia and Uranus) who was a midwife at Zeus’ birth and helped hide him from his father Cronos (who had eaten all His previous children). She was the only one to help Zeus in His battle against the Titans and so was the only one not banished to the underworld realms after their defeat by the Olympians. Hesiod writes: “ Hekate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honoured above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honour also in starry heaven and is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods.” In fact, as is indicated by Hesiod’s words, Hekate ends up touching every aspect of the human experience from birth through to death and even beyond. She is the protectress of everything newly born, called upon to ease the pain and progress of a woman’s labour and to insure and restore the health and growth of a child. She is the guardian of the household. Her statues were placed in doorways (transition areas) as protection for homes. She is the Goddess of the three paths or crossroads, stemming from Her original sphere as Goddess of the wilderness and untamed places. She guides us from sure footing to more unfamiliar ground. To insure safe travel, Greeks would set poles with masks of each of Her heads facing in different directions. An extension of seeing in all directions, She is the “allseeing Goddess” who dispenses justice.
She is the midwife both into this world and out of it, helping the elderly make a smooth and painless passage to the Other Side. In short, She is the Goddess who helps us make transitions in life and is wise in all life’s mysteries, often asking us to let go of that which is familiar and safe. One of the most famous and well-known myths around Hekate that helps us to see Her in so many of Her aspects is that of Persephone and Demeter. When Hades secretly steals the maiden, Persephone to be His wife in the Underworld, her mother, Demeter is distraught. She searches the world for Persephone to no avail. For, of course, Persephone is no longer in the world but beneath it. Only Helios, the Sun (and Hekate’s grandfather, it should be noted) and Hekate (the all-seeing) have seen what had occurred. And it is Hekate alone who informs Demeter (which may give cause as to why ultimately Apollo replaced Helios as the Sun God). Enraged, Demeter withdraws her love and blessing from the world, holding back the rain and causing drought and barrenness until finally Zeus, King of the Gods (and Persephone’s father, it should be noted) is left with no option but to try to prevail upon Demeter and Hades to try to reach a resolution. It is determined that, as Persephone ate 6 pomegranate seeds while in the Underworld, She would have to spend 6 months as Queen of the Underworld by Hades’ side and 6 months walking the earth as Persephone, the maiden daughter of Demeter. As this agreement and resolution, interestingly, Persephone is embraced by Hekate! They become companions, especially during the periods of Persephone’s reign as the Dark Queen and it is Hekate who ushers Her between the worlds, providing guidance on the transition (along with Hermes) from one to the next. There is much in this myth that speaks to Hekate’s fearlessness, Her discernment in making the right choice rather than the easier choice and Her compassion. She is very much like a crusty grandmother who will not hesitate to tell it like it is and not let one back down from a challenge, but will hand over a cookie while cleansing a scraped knee. If ever there was a message of not apologizing for speaking the truth or responding from a place of one’s own inner nudge, it certainly comes from Hekate. In Her triple aspect, with Her 3 faces, Hekate is often linked with Artemis (acknowledging their bond of midwifery and wild places) and Selene. One can approach the phases of the Moon with Artemis as the New Moon (with the delicately arched bow), Selene as the Full Moon and Hekate as the Dark Moon. She is also often linked as a triad with Persephone and Demeter. As we enter the Dark Half of the Year, Hekate is there to hold out a hand and help us across. With a torch in Her hand, She brings us Light in times of uncertainty or uncomfortable change. Through Her guidance, we can rest in the knowledge that there will always be passages and transition points. It is not about trying to avoid them, but embracing the mystery of moving from the known to the unknown. Hekate the all-seeing knows what lies ahead and beyond and She is compassionate (though firm). With our hand in Hers, we are able to set our feet on the unfolding path with trust.
Ix Chel Culture: Mayan Domain: Moon, Water, Fertility and Childbirth, Healing and Medicine, Weaving Aspect: Maiden (although Triple Aspect as well) Other Names: Lady Rainbow, Chak Chel (in Crone form), Ix Kanleom (“Spider’s Web Catching the Morning Dew”), Ix Chebal Yax (“Protector of Weavers”) Symbols: Rabbit, Jaguar, Serpent, Eagle, Dragonflies, spiders and bees In Mexico and Guatamala, in the Mayan culture, there seems to be a Goddess who is beloved above all the others in their large and varied pantheon. That is Ix Chel (pronounced EE-shell), the Goddess of the Moon. Ix Chel was the most beautiful Goddess who captivated all the Gods, but Her heart was drawn to Itzamna (also known as Kinich Ahau), the God of the Sun. He paid Her no mind, even as She followed Him about the heavens which wreaked havoc in all the waters and tides of the ocean as She did. Her grandfather guarded Her jealously and He was pleased that Itzamna refused Her attentions. However, Ix Chel, having observed the spider from Her place in the heavens, brought the gift and art of weaving to the people. She Herself wove a magnificent tapestry which caught Itzamna’s eye. Through Her beautiful work, He noticed Her and fell in love. It is said that, to hide from Ix Chel’s grandfather, Itzamna came to Her in the form of a hummingbird. She graciously met Him with a cool drink of the honey of tobacco flowers. While He sipped, Itzamna felt the sting of a clay pellet piercing His side and Ix Chel, knowing it was Her grandfather who had harmed the hummingbird, carried it to the privacy of Her room where She nursed it gently until it could fly once more. Healed, Itzamna suggested they fly off together into the empty spaces of the great heavens. Ix Chel’s grandfather raged and called upon Chac who controlled storms, asking Him to hurl a lightning bolt at the pair. To escape, Ix Chel transformed into a crab and Itzamna a mottled turtle. Both slipped into the water for protection, but to no avail. The bolt hit Ix Chel, killing Her. Heavenly dragonflies gathered around her body, beating their wings in mourning. The dragonflies prepared thirteen hollow logs and for thirteen days, so many dragonflies hovered around Ix Chel that no-one could see what was happening. On the thirteenth night, the logs
split open. Out of twelve crawled the great snakes of heaven, but from the thirteenth came Ix Chel, whole and radiant. Itzamna was overjoyed and proposed marriage to Her. Ix Chel and Itzamna were married and set their home in the heavens, side by side. She bore four sons, the Jaguar Gods (Becabs). Each was named for one of the four directions and each was responsible for holding up his part of the sky. Mulac was the North and His colour was white. Kan (later Chac) was East and His colour was yellow. Cauac was South and His colour was red. And Ix was West and His colour was black. All revolved in perfect harmony for a time until trouble came to their home in the form of Itzamna’s beautiful brother, Chac Noh Ek (Morning Star). Chac Noh Ek would linger near Ix Chel the Moon, leaving just before the arrival of Itzamna the Sun. Soon Itzamna was overcome by His own jealousy, accusing Ix Chel of encouraging Chac Noh Ek. In a rage, Itzamna threw Ix Chel from the heavens. She was hurt at being so unjustly accused and treated, but soon that hurt turned to anger and defiance. She accepted the help of the vultures, living among them high in the mountain peaks until Itzamna, in remorse, found Her and begged Her to come home. He promised such treatment would never happen again and reminded Her of the early days of their love. Ix Chel, with Her great heart and compassion, allowed Herself to be swayed and gave Itzamna another chance, returning to Her heavenly home. But sadly, Itzamna’s jealousy and rages grew worse. He beat Her, trying to destroy the beauty of Her radiance. But, as He marked Her outer surface, Her inner power grew stronger. One night, Ix Chel transformed Herself into a jaguar and slipped out of the home. Every time, Itzamna came searching for Her, she became invisible. Finally She escaped to Her beautiful island of Cozumel, where She spent much time helping women during pregnancy and childbirth, and to Her sacred island of Isla Mujeres which was dedicated to Her worship. She never married again, though many Gods offered. And She never returned to Itzamna, although She always called Him Her husband. For the rest of time, whenever He appeared, She quickly disappeared. Ix Chel shows women how to shine their own brilliance and teaches all women to recognize oppression and draw upon their own inner strength to stand up against it. She teaches that, when faced with adversity, one can take charge of one’s own life and create what they choose, rather than be defined by another. She is compassionate. By Her own actions, She illustrates that everyone does deserve a second chance. It is the third chance that is questionable. Her compassion is part of what contributes to a beautiful optimism that flows from Ix Chel. Though a Moon Goddess, Her energy is inextricably linked with dawn and the light of new beginnings. Partly, perhaps because this is the time She makes Herself invisible so as to hide from Itzamna or because dawn also harkens to all new openings and connects us to Her domain over new life and midwifery, She expresses the joy and celebration of transition. Her presence
was always welcomed at births, although it was said that She did not attend during Lunar Eclipses and so women tried to insure that they did not go into labour during those times. With Ix Chel, there is a seamless blending of Moon, water, healing and birth. And, indeed women throughout history have felt the interconnection of these energies in their bodies and their souls. Traditionally Her temples overlooked the water with two of Her most renowned being set on islands (Cozumel and Isla Mujeres). As the Goddess of Healing and Medicine, She draws our attention to the wisdom of plant lore, particularly as it relates to midwifery and the easing of the womb. In ancient times, the Mayan women honoured Ix Chel by cultivating beautiful flowers, particularly white lilies, and raising hives of bees for their honey. She was invoked at the feet of sick people through copal sacred smoke (crushed amber) and during labour through singing and drumming. When Ix Chel comes to us, we are inspired to look at what new beginnings may be occurring in our lives and how to approach these new beginnings with anticipation and joy, releasing any fears of the future unknown. She encourages us to care for ourselves, be gentle with ourselves. She reminds us that our physical and emotional health is of vital importance: that there may be times when we have to stand up for ourselves and that we can always look to the Earthâ€™s bounty for sustenance and care. It is unquestioned that Ix Chel was truly beloved by the ancient Mayan women. But that love was returned a thousand-fold. Ix Chel holds a deep love for all women: for their strength and tenderness, for their skill and for their capacity to both bring forth and nurture new life. And in the face of the Moon, we see that deep love reflected to us, if we are open in our hearts to take it in. Temple of Ix Chel on Isla Mujeres
La Befana Culture: Italian Domain: Gift giving and blessings Aspect: Crone Other Names: La Vecchia (Old Woman), La Strega (Witch) Symbols: broom, bag, gifts (particularly dolls, oranges and candy)
Befana continues to be an important aspect of Winter celebration in Italy. Her special day is January 5, The Eve of Epiphany. Indeed, her name may be derived from a certain mispronunciation: Ebefani. But her roots harken back to older times, to another gift-giving Goddess, Strina or Strenia (close the La Strega) who distributed gifts (“strenae” in Latin) at the beginning of a new year. Strenia is a Goddess of Strength and Endurance and, as the tale of Befana reveals, that strength is one of the heart and endurance that of the capacity to see through hardship in order to let love be one’s guide. Befana was the mother of a fat and happy baby and the wife of a good man, once. Somehow, she lost them both. Some say an illness; some say that her child was lost to Herod’s soldiers; some say they don’t know why, but it happened. In the emptiness that surrounded her like a desert and the cold bright nights above her home, she became something else: old and sad and angry, which was somehow better than being lonely. She cleaned her house as if her husband might someday walk through her door, marking decades with the swish of dust and straw. Sometimes, she took the doll out of a wooden chest and inhaled, pretending that she remembered what her child smelled and felt like. She would sing the doll to “sleep”. The nearest neighbours thought she was crazy and soon the only people who knocked on her door were travelers who didn’t know that she was prepared to shoo them away with her broom. One bright winter’s night when a shining star shone in the East, three strangers came knocking at Befana’s door. The men wore rich robes and animated expressions. They kept pointing to the star and the road. Befana was tired and didn’t know what to say to three strangers who couldn’t speak her language, so she slammed the door in a hurry. The men and their camels stood outside her door for awhile before moving on, disappearing over the hills in the direction of the star.
It was even more disturbing to her when Befana heard another knock at the door. This time, it was a shepherd. He was freezing and something about him made her remember what it had felt like to be a good wife and a kind neighbor. She invited him in to sit by the fire and he regaled her with the story of a terrifying angel, a baby and a star. He was a simple man and not inclined to argue with angels, so he was on his way to Bethlehem with his sheep. He wasn’t sure why the baby might need him and he asked Befana what it was that he should bring to such a child. Not being a father and never having met a king, he was unsure. Befana has been waiting years for anyone to ask her advice, to feel needed and of value for input. She responded with a wealth of information, a dam burst. But she did not tell him where this information came from. She did not tell him about what happened to her family. She did not tell him about the doll. As he prepared to leave, in gratitude and kindness, the shepherd asked Befana to join him on his special journey. But Befana was scared. She was scared of the night and the desert. She was scared of the three strangers who had come before and of the bright, shining star. In all the years past, she had barely set foot on the road past her house, and, though her heart leapt, she responded to the shepherd with a torrent of dismissals. She had too much sweeping to do. Too much tidying. But in her heart, she was afraid to leave her lonely little house and her small narrow life to follow a star that no-one had ever seen before. She sent the shepherd on his way and set to ridding her home of dinner crumbs. No sooner did the shepherd disappear over the hills than the sky lit up and a fresh clear wind carried ethereal sounds across the way. Suddenly Befana was afraid both outside of the house and inside of it. She thought regretfully that she would much rather be afraid in the company of the shepherd than alone, with the air breathing stars and wonder and this sound rushing across the night above her hut. She thought that, if she hurried, she might still find the shepherd. Quickly, she grabbed three oranges for the strangers, some sweets for the journey, her child’s blanket and the doll – the special doll from her wooden chest. At the last minute, she thought perhaps the child’s mother might need some help and she grabbed a broom to help with tidying. Then she rushed, terrified, across the desert and called for the shepherd as she ran. But her voice was lost in the wind and the stars and the song that filled the night. As she raced in what she thought was the right direction, she came across a village. Through nearly every window, she saw a child at rest and in peace. “Perhaps if I just leave the doll and blanket, the candy and oranges, I can just go home,” she told herself. It was a relief, this giving up. A hope to go back to the lonely, but safe life she had before all this. She left the doll at the cradle of the first babe she saw. And as she looked down at him, she thought of all the things she had dreamed for her own son and she wished them for this child. She tucked the blanket around him, laying down dreams as if they were gifts themselves wrapped around his sweetness and innocence. She lay the oranges and sweets beside the cradle and then crept away, with only her broom and her empty bag. Except the bag wasn’t empty.
Befana was surprised that her bag still felt heavy and, when she peeked inside, she saw it still contained the doll, the blanket, the sweets and the oranges. She must have gotten lost in her own thoughts and forgotten to leave them, she thought. She turned to go back into the house with the sleeping babe, but found she didnâ€™t recognize the house. She tried, but it wasnâ€™t there and so she found another house in which she saw a little girl sleeping. Befana left her gifts on the pillow by the girlâ€™s head, again offering dreams and wishes alongside. Again and again this happened. Every time Befana crossed a threshold, having left gifts and wishes, she felt her bag grow heavy again. She raced through the streets, trying to empty the sack of gifts and soon found she was in another village. Then another. Finally she raced so hard that her broom and her feet left the ground and her heart was as full as the bag she carried. As full as it had ever been when she held her own child and smiled at her own husband. And in that night she carried love, warmth, sweetness, joy and blessings to every child. It is said, on the night in the depths of Winter, Befana still rides her broom, sweeping the sky clean as she goes, searching for the shepherd and leaving gifts and blessings for the children as they sleep. And so, Befana teaches us so many things. That loss and pain can isolate us, particularly if we choose to cloak ourselves in anger in order to stave off loneliness. So much so that we appear odd to others who begin to choose to stay away. And yet, there always remains the capacity to love again and to experience our hearts as full and giving. She shows us how to move past the fear that keeps us in our own small places, engaged in activities that may feel so important in the moment but are truly serving to keep us stuck. She teaches us that strangers can help open our eyes to things we have overlooked for a long time. She shows us how to have the courage to allow dust and clutter to gather because there are more important things to attend to. She teaches us that the small and simple gifts can be significant, particularly when given with a blessing and a dream. Most importantly perhaps, Befana shows us, through her own transformation that one is never too old to experience an opening within. That, even if one has carried hurt for a long time, there is always the opportunity to give ourselves the gift of an open and loving heart. And this, in itself allows us the possibility of seeing the world from a place of wonder and magic. We can all be as children in the world, if we allow our hearts to let go of pain and see the beauty that lies before our eyes.
Lilith Culture: Sumero-Babylonian Domain: Freedom, Shadow, Sexuality Aspect: Maiden Symbol: Snake, Dark Moon, Owl She is nasty, this child-killing, hairy-legged demoness. Terrifying men, women and children for a couple of thousand years. So much so that special incantation bowls were made to protect households against her, women were warned not to leave their husbands or children alone in a house in case she came and prayer circles inscribed with angels’ names were drawn around cribs. She is mentioned only once in the Old Testament (and that, a later addition in order to fix up an inconsistency) and yet - what a lot of power she held to terrify! What exactly is her story? If anyone has heard, even glancingly of Lilith, it would be in this context: that the Book of Genesis states that God made a man and woman out of earth. (Genesis I:27 “So God created man in His own image, male and female He created them.”) Not a woman created from Adam’s rib, but both created at the same time. Later in Genesis, Eve makes her appearance (Genesis II: 18 “And Yahweh said, ‘It is not good for Adam to be alone. I will make a fitting helper for him”, Genesis II: 22 “And Yahweh fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman and He brought her to the man.”) Around 500 - 600 C.E., the rabbinical scholars who sought to see the Holy Word as the Truth without contradiction or loopholes, began to have difficulty with these passages. Engaged in a learned pursuit called “Midrash” (meaning “to root out or investigate”), they attempted to resolve the discrepancy in Genesis by trying to fill in gaps. Even looking to similarities of words to find connections with other stories that may make the passages resolve. It seemed clear that Genesis was talking about 2 different women and so the rabbis of the time looked back through past biblical writings, settling on the Book of Isaiah which had a story of a woman who seemed to fit: Lilith. The Book of Isaiah is a book of prophecy written about 742 - 701 B.C.E. by the Prophet Isaiah. Much of the Book of Isaiah is involved with encouraging God’s people to avoid those who worship other deities and to express God’s anger at the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. by those aforementioned foreigners. It is in describing the resulting desolation of the land that Lilith appears. (Isaiah 34: 14 “The land shall become burning pitch. Thorns shall grow over its strongholds. It shall be the haunt of jackals. There too the lilith shall repose and find herself a resting place.”)
It was known that the Book of Isaiah was referring to a Sumero-Babylonian female figure. It is suspected that the figure in question was so familiar in those times as to not need further elaboration. The “lilith” in question appears to be the Sumerian wind demon. There is a reference to a lilith in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. There are many versions of this epic story of a possible ancient king, found written on clay tablets dating between 2150 - 1000 B.C.E. Interestingly (in light of the biblical explanation that was to evolve), the part that seems to concern Lilith has to do with a demanding sexual partner, but it is the Goddess Inanna rather than Lilith who is making the demands. The story goes that Gilgamesh (the great Babylonian king) wanted to have sex with Inanna but she refused. In some versions she out and out refuses. In others she promises to have sex with Gilgamesh if he can complete a task. Regardless, at some point a sacred tree is cut down which has 3 beings in it: a bird, a snake and Lilith, the handmaiden of Inanna, in the centre in a house which she built. When the tree is cut down on these beings have to flee. Lilith is said to have fled to the desert. The scholarly rabbis from the 7th century C.E. seem to have grasped this image of Lilith, combining the 3 beings into 1: a being with long flowing hair, wings and talons like a bird and even (later in history) being imaged with a snake’s body. It is from this time that Lilith transforms from being the wind demon of the past into the terrible sexually threatening being that held mythic imagination up until the 20 th century. In a book known as The Alphabet of Ben Sira containing 22 episodes (to correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet) the story of Adam and Lilith became fleshed out. From this point on, Lilith truly gained ground as being a terrible beast who kills children in their cribs, has poison instead of milk in her breasts and will steal the seed of men while they sleep. Several hundred years after The Alphabet of Ben Sira, the book that forms the basis of kabbalistic inquiry known as the Zohar, took her evilness to a new low. Though it expanded somewhat on the previous notion (added a further atrocity that Lilith actually uttered the name of God, Yod He Vau He in order to leave for the Red Sea which harkens to the story of Isis learning and using the name of Ra to gain power over him), the main addition to the Lilith story was to partner her with the male personification of evil named as either Samuel or Asmodeus. This resulted in the somewhat confusing explanation that there were actually 2 Liliths. The great Lilith, spouse of Samuel and the little Lilith, spouse of Asmodeus. Regardless of whether there were one or two, Lilith coupled with the male personification of evil made for a truly nasty piece of work. Lilith’s myth grew through the centuries to create the image of a creature who was outside the realm of Divine grace, who actively defied and insulted God and worked viciously to destroy the children of man who were God’s people. But, was it all a mistake of translation? It is from the Sumero-Babylonian stories of Lilith that some hint of what she became mythologically is derived. About 4000 B.C.E. there were references to “lilitu” in Sumer, referring to wind or storm demons. This follows through with the Sumerian word “lil” meaning “air”. There was a wellknown (for the times) Goddess of Sumer named “Ninlil” which literally translated as “Lady Air”.
But the proto-Semitic language (or ancient Hebrew) had the word “lyl” which translated as “night”. There were also, in ancient Babylonia, the “lilitu” who appeared to men in erotic dreams. Interestingly, they were balanced by the stories of the Babylonian Gilgamesh’s father, named “Lillu” who was said to disturb the sleep of women. It is not a stretch to see how the meanings such as “night” and “air” coupled with stories of creatures who interrupted the sleep through sexual visions could end up, over time, coalescing into the myth of a night demon who preys on men and children. Particularly if this comes at a time when sexuality is beginning to be quite regulated and rule-oriented and fears over child mortality rates are fairly high.
It has been a long time coming, but in recent years Lilith has been going through a change in mythological persona. Largely in response to the revisiting and reclaiming that has been the result of the 20th century Jungian analytical psychology movement and the women’s movement, the more demonic aspects of Lilith have been left by the wayside. Rather than be seen as a monster, she is seen as our Shadow side, everything that our society frowns upon, but that needs to be acknowledged, embraced and accepted in a healthy way in order to avoid causing chaos and destruction in our lives. She is seen as the voice of strong and wronged women everywhere, those whom others have attempted to silence but who have refused to go down without a fight. Considering the Jungian perspective of Lilith as Shadow, one very interesting example of her appearance is the astrological: in the form of the Black Moon. According to the website, www.astro.com , the Black Moon occurs because an ellipse has 2 focal points (whereas as true circle has just one). In the passage along the Moon’s ellipse, it is the Earth that occupies one focal point. The other focal point is named the Black Moon or Lilith. It occupies the place around which the Moon is the farthest point from Earth, reaching out towards the Sun. If taken into consideration in a chart, the Black Moon Lilith represents the furthest reaches of our Unconscious selves. The Moon itself represents the Unconscious so the Black Moon must represent that which is truly buried deep. Interestingly, there is a sense that it from this place, if explored and embraced, that we can move towards our greatest alignment with Spirit. This is reflected astrologically in that it is when the Moon is traveling in the domain of the Black Moon focal point that it is indeed closest to the Sun, the symbol of enlightenment, empowerment, vitality and true expression of Self. One of the most beautiful contemporary illustrations of the positive reclaiming of Lilith’s empowering energy comes in the form of the Lilith Fair Concert Tours of the late 1990's. Started by Sarah MacLachlan in response to frustration over concert promoters’ belief that having 2 female acts in a row at an event spelt death to ticket sales, the 3 Lilith Fairs (that consisted solely of female music acts) raised over $10 million for women’s charities and in 1997 was the top grossing summer concert tour of the year. The Lilith Fair is returning in 2010, arriving in Toronto on July 24!
Lilith has truly spent many thousands of years traveling the dark path of rejection and castigation, being hated, feared and maligned. Through all the stories, she has held a power to tell the truth as she sees it, to embrace sexuality in a form that appeals to her and to refuse to bow to an authority that tries to rule her. Lilith can certainly be feared. As the one who has the ability to lead us to see that which is buried deep in our Unconscious - our animal natures, our unbridled sexuality and passion, our rejected selves - the path she leads us on can be truly unnerving. And yet, like the snake she embraces (or embodies), she can lead us to the cave that will act as the womb to our transformation. Significantly, she has wings symbolizing our ability to take flight and soar. My favorite vision of Lilith is the story in which she goes back to the Garden of Eden and holds her hand out to Eve. The Garden of Eden is truly lovely, but it is walled. Lilith offers the opportunity to move past our restrictions and limitations. She offers the possibility of resolution between our human and spirit selves, our Light and our Shadow. Resources: “Banned from the Bible” Cunningham, Elizabeth Kotluv, Barbara Black Patai, Raphael Stone, Merlin Walker, Barbara G.
Documentary on History Channel The Wild Mother (Station Hill Press, 1993) The Book of Lilith (Samuel Weiser, 1986) The Hebrew Goddess (Wayne State University Press, 1990) Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood (Beacon Press, 1979) The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (Harper Collins,1983)
Tailtiu Culture: Celtic (Irish) Domain: Land, Sovereignty Aspect: Mother Symbols: no traditional symbols found
This Goddess has fascinated me for a long time. Not least because She appears never to have gained the type of reknown that other Celtic Goddesses achieved. No Brigid, Macha or Ceridwen is She. And yet, the entire Festival of Lughnasad is said to have originally been held in Her honour. The Irish town of Telltown in County Meath is named for Her. Some force She must have been. And yet, how many of even the most dedicated Pagans are familiar with Her story? To learn about Tailtiu and gain some sense of her significance, one must dive into the murky waters of Irish history – in particular, the Invasions. (Grab a cup of tea and settle in.) It is likely fairly familiar ground to say that the Leabhar Gabhala Eireann (“The Book of Invasions of Ireland”) lists five Invasions of Ireland. This book is said to have been written sometime around the 11th century by an anonymous scholar recounting the ancient and mythological Irish past. For the most part, the first few “Invasions” appear to be less battles for staying power on the land than attempts at settlement. The first 3 Invasions are named for the leaders of the groups who arrived in Ireland and all 3 arrived from the Mediterranean lands. The first Invasion was led by a woman named Cessair, said to be the granddaughter of Noah. Taking fair warning for what was to befall the Middle East, she fled with a number of companions (numerous women and 3 men). They arrived in Ireland 40 days before the Flood. However, there were problems that arose when 2 of the 3 men died after arrival and the third was rather overwhelmed with the task of populating the Tribe himself. The women are all said to have perished, though no particular reason given. However, Cessair left a legacy: she is credited with having introduced sheep into Ireland. The second Invasion was led by a Greek named Partholon who arrived many years after Cessair (versions alternately state 300 years or 1002 years). Having to escape Greece for wrongs he had done there, he traveled with companions for many years before settling in Ireland. He is said to have introduced cattle into Ireland and cleared much new land to aid the prosperity of his Tribe. However, Partholon died after only 30 years in Ireland.
The third of these Invasions happened right around the time of Partholon’s death, led by another Greek by the name of Neimheadh (Nemed). He appeared to have a bit more of a time of it, needing to oust a strange race called the Fomhoire (Fomorians)who had also arrived and
gained a foothold on Ireland as a base for themselves. The Fomhoire were said to be one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged people with dark hair and dark skin who were intimately connected with the sea (“Mor”) In myth, they tend to appear as representing chaos and blood-thirstiness. Neimheadh brought with him a wife (named Macha!), four sons with wives and about 20 other people. After defeating the Fomorians, the Nemedians worked hard to clear land and create a home for themselves. It is even supposed that he built 2 royal forts. However, ultimately Neimheadh died (presumably of The Plague), as well as many of his descendents and the Fomhoire returned. His legacy and his connection to Ireland continued, through the story of 2 of his grandsons. Rest assured, we are getting to Tailtiu! This all ties together, I promise. One of Neimeadh’s grandsons, Semeon, returned to Greece. His descendents became the Tribe known as the “Fir Bolg”. Another grandson, Beothach fled to the North and was the forebear of the Tribe known as the “Tuatha De Danaan”. Both of these Tribes were integral to the next part of the Invasion story. An interesting aside is that one of Neimheadh’s son, Fearghus Leathdheaig fled to Britain and is said to have fathered the Britonic people. Back in Greece, the people known as the Fir Bolg were put into bondage. Many, many years passed. Enough years for, indeed, 3 separate groups to grow from Semeon’s line. Not just the Fir Bolg, but the Fir Domhnann (said to be connected with the Celtic Dumnonii tribe) and the Gaileoin (connected with the Laighin tribe of Leinster) sprang from the same line. All 3 actually eventually made the trek back to Ireland, although it is only the Fir Bolg who are mentioned in the Leabhar Gabhala. Five brothers of that Tribe returned (apparently arriving around the time of Lughnasad, although it would not have been called that at the time) and divided the land, hence creating the well-known 5 ancient provinces of Ireland. However, the Fir Bolg did not fare well. It is said there were no new cleared plains during the 37 years they were in possession of Ireland. Disastrous in a land where Sovereignty and Land were so intimately connected and significant in the ultimate meaning of Tailtiu’s story. For Tailtiu herself was connected to the Fir Bolg. She was the daughter of Moghmor, the King of Spain and the Queen of Eochaidh mac Eirc, the last King of the Fir Bolg. Which would have been fine except that the Tuatha De Danaan arrived and they wanted to settle in Ireland. As the Fir Bolg did not want to share, war was declared. It appears that a coalition between the Tuatha De Danaan and the Fomhoire occurred with the marriage of Eithne (daughter of Fomhoire King Balor) and Cian of the Tuatha De Danaan. They had a child, Lugh. Together the Tribes defeated the Fir Bolg. Somewhere in there Eochaidh mac Eirc died and Tailtiu became the wife of a warrior chieftain of the Tuatha De Danaan whose name was (confusingly enough) Eochaidh Gharbh. It was these two, Tailtiu and Eochaidh, who fostered and raised the young Lugh. All of this background is fascinating for many reasons. The connection of the peoples of ancient Ireland with distant lands, particularly Greece and Spain. The success or failure of the Invaders
based on land clearing and nurturance of the Land itself. The connection between the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha De Danaan when looking back to their forebears: 2 very different branches stemming from the same place. All of this comes together in Tailtiu. As foster-mother of Lugh (a descendent of the Tuatha de Danaan and the Fomhoire), She guided him in His early years (bringing her connection to both the Tuatha De Danaan and the Fir Bolg), laying the foundation for His later sovereignty. The message of Goddess as bestower of Kingship is intact, with the added element of some cohesion of all the disparate lines of the Invaders. She is the mediator, in a sense, between the 2 opposing tribes and nurtures the resolution of all these energies in Lugh. But what is even more fascinating about Tailtiu is that She is one of the very few Goddesses who dies. Her story ends. One can infer that sometime after Her marriage to Eochaidh Gharbh (of the Tuatha De Danaan) and after having fostered Lugh for some amount of time, She set Her mind to the clearing of a great plain. As was seen with the Invasions, the clearing of plains was enormously important. It was the way in which the Tribes cared for the Land, insuring space for farming, supplies for building, speaking to honouring the intimate relationship between caring for the Land and the success of the Tribe. That Tailtiu takes on this task Herself indicates Her love of the people, her dedication to doing everything in Her power to help Her people and her enormous capacity of self-sacrifice. The burden of the task is so great that Her heart breaks under the strain and She dies. The plain She cleared became the town that bears Her name: Tailtiu in ancient times or Telltown as it is currently known. Even in this there are many messages we can take from this Goddess. She teaches us that there are times we may need to buckle down and set our eyes purely to the task at hand. She teaches us that our effort and sweat for the greater good of all is a beneficial and worthwhile thing. She teaches us that even a Goddess can dig Her hands in the Earth and get dirty. But Her story also warns us to be aware of the uses of our own energy stores. That we need awareness of when we have taken on too much. Perhaps even a message of not having to do everything on our own, but that appropriate distribution of tasks may not be a bad thing. There is a part of me which has wondered if Tailtiu was not trying to restore the name of the Fir Bolg through Her actions. That, though no plains were cleared while they held Ireland, She (having been their Queen) made up for that once the Land turned over to the Tuatha De Danaan. That the inactivity of the Fir Bolg never sat well with Her and this was Her chance to correct was had been put out of balance. Unfortunately, at a great cost. But not without notice. The most beautiful part of Tailiuâ€™s story comes after Her death. And the very reason for the writing of Her tale at this time. The time around the beginning of August had always been significant to the people of Ireland. As mentioned before, it is said that the Fir Bolg arrived in Ireland at this time. It was a time of gatherings, weddings and contract negotiation. Considered the midway point of summer (after the work of cultivating was complete and before the work of harvesting was begun in earnest), it was a time of Tribe gathering to set in place arrangements that would foster (hopefully) beneficial future
relationships. It is said that, out of deep love for His foster-mother, Lugh buried Her in a huge chambered cairn on the plain which She had cleared and instituted the tradition of holding games in Her honour: the Aonach Tailteann (Tailtean Games). It is said these games are the oldest in history, pre-dating the Celts and possibly dating back to around 2,000B.C.E.! Not surprisingly (given Tailiu’s feat) these games consisted mainly of sport and feats of strength. They were a way of honouring Her accomplishment and of celebrating the gift which She had given to Her people. I find it particularly beautiful and touching that Lugh clearly held such deep feeling for His foster-mother that He set in place that which would honour Her throughout time. We now know the Festival as Lughnasad (literally “The Fair or Assembly of Lugh”). But, though it bears His name, this Festival still carries the energy of honouring the Goddess who gave Her life in order to insure the survival and future of Her people. If you are ever feeling overwhelmed. If you are ever feeling you can’t see the forest for the trees. If you are ever feeling that you put more energy in than you receive back. If you ever feel over-responsible, overworked or overburdened, remember Tailtiu. Remember the bigger picture of what you are striving to accomplish and hold yourself a beautiful, fun celebration!
A small selection of writings by Tiffany Lazic, originally published in Building Bridges e-magazine between 2009 - 2010
Published on Jul 8, 2012
A small selection of writings by Tiffany Lazic, originally published in Building Bridges e-magazine between 2009 - 2010