Practicing the Presence of the Goddess by Barbara Ardinger

Practicing the presence of the Goddess is a term I invented in the early 1990s when I started teaching a class with that name. It started out as a class where I taught women about the goddesses of the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Norse pantheons and gradually turned into lessons on modern paganism, then into a class on creating effective rituals and doing magic, and finally evolved into being in the world—practicing Her presence.

When I wrote about ways of being in the world on April 29, I went past mere existentialism and suggested that benevolence is a good way to be in the world. Be kind to people. Be polite. (Or as kind and polite as it’s possible to be in a world that is markedly unkind and impolite.) What benevolence really is, is one element of what I call practicing the presence of the Goddess.

Practicing the presence of the Goddess is a term I invented in the early 1990s when I started teaching a class with that name. It started out as a class where I taught women about the goddesses of the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Norse pantheons and gradually turned into lessons on modern paganism, then into a class on creating effective rituals and doing magic, and finally evolved into being in the world—practicing Her presence. As I kept refining and redefining it, practicing the presence of the Goddess became celebrating the wheel of the year plus demonstrating to Muggles that we pagans are not devil-worshippers plus practicing mindfulness in our daily lives. Mindfulness is, of course, paying attention to what we do.

Sometime between 1610 and 1615, when King Louis XIII, his mother Marie de Medici, and his prime minister Cardinal Richelieu were ruling France, a child named Nicholas was born in the duchy of Lorraine, which at the time was part of the Holy Roman Empire (Germany). Young Nicholas was raised in a religious family and at age 18 went off to serve in the Thirty Years War http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years%27_War between Catholic and Protestant forces. The Thirty Years War was as savage and terrible as any religious war or jihad we’ve seen in the modern world. Although young Nicholas was captured and charged with being a Catholic spy, he managed to persuade his captors that he was innocent. We cannot doubt that he witnessed many of the atrocities of the war, and it seems likely that he came home with what we today call PTSD. He decided to dedicate the rest of his life to God and became hermit. But solitary living did not appeal to him. He wanted to be part of a community, and in 1642 he joined the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites in Paris as a lay brother and was given the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Louis XIV, the Sun King, was ruler of France now. How did that affect the new friar? Apparently hardly at all. Friar Lawrence was assigned to kitchen duties, then other household chores (someone had to do the scrubbing and cleaning—there were no women in the monastery). He lived a life of great simplicity and eventually began writing little maxims, essays, and letters, which were collected after his death in 1691 and published, along with notes taken by people who had had conversations with him, as The Practice of the Presence of God, http://www.amazon.com/The-Practice-Presence-Spiritual-Maxims/dp/1602060339/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1336751349&sr=8-4 a little book that has been reprinted dozens of times.

One of the practices “necessary to attain the spiritual life,” Brother Lawrence writes, is “to take delight in and become accustomed to [God’s] divine company…. We must continually work hard so that each of our actions is a way of carrying on little conversations with God, not in any carefully prepared way but as it comes from the purity and simplicity of the heart.”

If I remember correctly, I first read Brother Lawrence’s book in the 1980s, about the same time the Goddess began calling me. I wasn’t interested in the Judeo-Christian god anymore, but the life of Brother Lawrence made a lot of sense. No, not the drudgery of it, but the way he perceived the work he was doing. He could be scrubbing out the ovens, repairing the monks’ sandals, performing any difficult task he was assigned—and no matter what he did, he did it mindfully. He carried on his conversations with his god. He prayed and sang as he did the humblest, filthiest, most onerous chores. He gave thanks that his god was present with him in his work.

“I keep myself in His presence by simple attentiveness and a loving gaze upon God,” he wrote in one of his letters, “which I can call the actual presence of God or to put it more clearly, an habitual, silent and secret conversation…which causes me interior, and often exterior, happiness and joy….”

I put the book down and started thinking. Would what this 17th-century friar was doing work with the Goddess in the 20th century? Could I find a way, short of becoming some sort of pagan nun, to practice Her presence? At the time, I was on a learning curve that went almost straight up, reading every book on the Goddess, goddesses, paganism, the worship of the old gods, and mythology and ritual that I could get my hands on.

For a little while, I thought I was one of those holy people, you know what I mean—better, holier, more sanctified than anyone else. What I was, alas, was mostly sanctimonious. But I kept working on it, and the true lesson of the practice of the presence finally slammed itself into my Missouri-mule-stubborn head. Don’t make such a big deal of it. Do what you have to do in the world and while you’re doing it, keep the Goddess in your head and heart.

Well. Yeah. I wish that were as easy as it sounds. When I was earning my M.A. in the sixties, I worked as a secretary to five psychologists. One lesson they taught me was the concept of learning by successive approximations. That means trying and trying again and each time coming closer to getting it right. I guess that’s what life is: learning to live by practicing living. Learning to practice the presence of the Goddess by practicing Her presence. Earning a living, raising our children, going to movies, driving on the freeways, and, yes, doing housework while talking to the Goddess in some secret way in our heads. One way to do this is to adopt a mantra and put it on automatic in our heads. And getting ourselves off autopilot and paying attention to what we’re doing. Being mindful.

The class lasted for two or three years and eventually I wrote a book about what I’d learned from my students (many of whom became my friends) and other people who knew lots more than I did about goddesses, old gods, paganism, and rituals. The title of that book is Practicing the Presence of the Goddess.  (It’s now available in a Kindle edition.) Here’s the poem from the beginning of the book. I wrote it at the winter solstice in 1999. It sort of explains what practicing Her presence means to a modern pagan.

…so I’m just sitting here,

sitting through the year’s dark night,

waiting, wondering, watching.

Is there anything I can do?

“Light a candle,” someone tells me,

“Cast a circle. Let the magic begin.”

So I light and cast and let.

And it’s still, and it’s dark,

and I’m wondering when the light will rise.

“Light your candle,” Someone murmurs,

“Cast the circle of your need,” She whispers,

“The magic is always in you,” She says.

Again I light, again I cast, and I let it be,

and—o, wonders arise—I’m still here,

working, playing, being in the world.

Her candle—that’s always you and me,

Her circle—that’s our blessed dreamlit world,

Her magic—that you and me, community,

Working, playing, being in the world…

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic.  Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations.  When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.



Categories: Goddess

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17 replies

  1. I like your idea of ritual/magic as mindfulness. We don’t have to raise huge cones of energy all the time. We can just sit quietly with our candles and bring to mind the love divine that inspires our love for each other and the world. Blessed be.

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    • Thanks, Carol. I very seldom go to big public rituals anymore. I do my own rituals mostly in my imagination. Yes, mindfulness works, and we are blessed.

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  2. Barbara, I enjoyed this post. Brother Lawerence reminds me a bit of Francis of Assisi who is credited with saying something or rather about how everything we do is really a prayer. I have been working on keeping the female face of god in my mind but so far this is still a struggle. I find myself resorting to visualizing something closer to an ungendered energy, but I can see that this is just more resistence to the idea of the Goddess. I suppose I had hoped that it would be a more comfortable compromise for me to erase gender all together from my conception of god, but this proves impossible. To ignore gender all together isn’t realistic. It evades thinking about the reasons for the resistence.There seem to be layers and layers of “stuff” to get through first. It isn’t as simple as just deciding to suddenly allow a new vision to surface. Mindfulness seems so peaceful a practice until I begin practicing it and it feels like a rubber mallet repeatedly bouncing off my head. Nonetheless, I continue to stagger through the process.

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  3. Isn’t it funny how the words of a medieval Christian saint and a 17th-century friar resonate in the heads and hearts of modern feminists. We modern pagans are great borrowers, and we take good where we find it. Me, I don’t want to erase the concept of gender. Gods are male, goddesses are female, and I’d rather pray to a loving Mother right here on earth with her children who lets us deal with the consequences of our actions than to a mean and jealous storm god who lives someplace far away and judges and punishes us. Yay, Mamma! Try not to practice mindfulness too hard. Don’t be hard on yourself. Put that mallet down.

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    • Are you saying than that you see God and Goddess as completely separate, as in not coming from the same substance? I have been going on the assumption that God and Goddess are two parts of a whole. I am curious as well, as to whether the Goddess ever shows anger or jealousy. I am asking because you mention the mean and jealous storm god in comparison. I am always cautious when something seems too good to be true, and so one of the things I struggle with here is the image of perfection given to the Goddess. I understand what is being rejected in the storm god, but question the ability of the Goddess to reamain untainted by human projections in the same way God has been defined through flawed and tainted religion. At some point will the Goddess not succumb to the same fate? Could not the Goddess also fall prey to misuse? I am thinking here of my struggle to move away from an either/or concept of the divine. I’d like to give seeing the divine in female form an honest try, but these are some of the thoughts holding me back. I have caught glimpses over the last few weeks of how this change of perpestive adds to my experience of faith, and how it might lead to healing old wounds. It has been illuminating.(As for the mallet, I pray the Godess can wrestle it out of my hand)

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  4. The Goddess is not, alas, perfect. The gods are her children, as are you and I and all other human beings and all the animals and plants living on earth. The Goddess takes many forms. One of them is Kali, pictures of whom often show her doing scary things. What we need to remember is that the Goddess is a goddess of creation and destruction. All is not sweetness and light with the Goddess. Two suggestions: 1. Buy Carol Christ’s book She Who Changes and learn how the Goddess is growing and learning along with us. 2. Buy my book Secret Lives and read chapters 20-22, which describes the weather war waged by the Norns gone mad in the modern world against the circle at the center of the book. Here’s an excerpt from Ch. 22:

    “Worshipping the Goddess, living a life ruled by Her,” Cairo’s voice was flat and controlled, “is not, as they say, all beer and skittles. It can be very hard work. It’s not all dancing and chanting. Not just doing pretty meditations and making pretty little goodies to put on our altars. Not just sitting in a comfy circle with pretty flowers and shiny crystals.”
    Some of the women nodded.
    “It’s dealing with the world as it is,” the novelist continued, “and the world’s a bloody mess. No, girls, don’t worry. This isn’t going to be one of my famous anti-patriarchal harangues. I’m merely making a point.” They waited. “Like the bumper sticker says, shit happens. We know white light isn’t the solution. It doesn’t help anyone to blame the victim, either, to say they brought whatever it is into their lives. Hannah, sometimes you just gotta fight back. Women went for five thousand years without fighting back, and look where it got us.” She paused for breath.
    “If you choose to make it so,” Margaretta said, “worshipping Her is a life commitment, with all of life’s ups and downs.”
    “And there’s plenty of ups and downs,” Sophie said.
    “However much we will it to be so,” said Cairo, “it’s not all just peace and love. There is no instant nirvana. In spite of what some of those famous authors tell us, it just doesn’t work that way.”
    “Worshipping the Goddess doesn’t automatically solve every problem you have,” Julia said. “Just look at my family.”
    Sophie nodded. “She also brings destruction.” She took a sip of her wine. “It was recognized ages and ages ago. She’s also the Bringer of Death, the Terrible Mother. It’s not nice. But it’s part of nature. It’s what is.”
    Margaretta leaned forward. “Hannah, have you ever seen the famous picture of Kali and Shiva? Where She’s squatting over his corpse and devouring him? Where She’s holding knives and skulls in her hands and wearing a necklace of skulls?”
    “Our Terrible Mother is as terrifying as anything on earth,” said Macha. “And we need Her just as much as we need our Loving Mother.”

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  5. If each day we do the best we can with what we have that’s all she expects. We are graded on a rolling curve. The more we learn, the better emotional and spiritual tools that we have the higher the bar is raised. However, we all have her safety net–it’s called love.

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  6. Great post! and a good reminder. I actively practice the presence when doing housework. It adds some sacredness to grunt work! Vacuuming is just a stupid job, but if I’m talking to the Goddess, then I can ask her to help suck away my problems, or just have an internal conversation of sorts. You mentioned mantra practice – that’s another way. One mantra book I read stated that a long-practiced mantra can run on auto-pilot in your mind all the time (thereby doing all of the nifty karma-cleansing or other mantra-related functions). I’m reading the Cadfael mysteries right now, and its a good reminder that although the Church and Christians don’t always get it right, a few really do.

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  7. I actually always liked the idea of a tough kick butt Goddess like Kali, and I definitely want a powerful female Goddess to defeat the patriarchal gods out there. I simply see this as a warrior amazon tradition, where women actually win a war against male evil worldwide…. male evil committed in the name of a male god, you need battle, you need war, you need explosive anger.

    I think of the Goddess of retribution for every insult ever inflicted on women by patriarchy. I am very comfortable with a Goddess killing the enemies of women everywhere! Go get ’em Kali!

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  8. My soul has a long history of following the warrior path. I usually had very short lives. That is the path of warrior. You don’t always win the battles.

    What I have learned is that sometimes you have to fight. More often than not it’s the easy way out of conflict. Meeting hate with more hate doesn’t bring peace. It intensified all the negative elements.

    There will be times when there is no alternative to fight, such as in self defense. But it is only a short term fix. Once the immediate situation is dealt with then you start looking for alternative solutions.

    For example: An abusive relationship. If as a woman I am begin attacked. I will defend myself. That first hit killed the relationship. Charges would be filed. I would mourn the loss and move on. If he continued, I would defend myself when necessary, but I would not waver in my resolve that the relationship was over.

    When you love and respect yourself from the inside out, you won’t be with anyone who won’t love and respect you back. Life is complicated sometimes but when it comes down to it we teach others how to treat us. When we say negative things or abuse ourselves we open the door for others to do the same.

    Kali is wonderful. But she is also a good Mom who does see all. If we are the source of the pattern of behavior then instead of dealing with the “Males” she will use tough love to help us learn the karmic lesson.

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  9. oops! This was suppose to read For example: An abusive relationship. If as a woman I am being attacked. I will defend myself. That first hit killed the relationship.

    Sorry.

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  10. You are so right, Barbara. This is beautiful and wise, and we are so much happier (and less frustrated!) when we do it. Blessings to you!

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  11. Thanks, Miriam. From you, this is high praise indeed.

    You should be writing blogs here, too. In your Copious Free Time.

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  12. I agree with Miriam, Barbara. This is a beautiful post. Most of life is at best “little conversations with the Goddess.” But sometimes the conversations get a lot juicier, like the ones I shared with Miriam and other Goddess women at the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology conference in San Francisco last week. I was hoping to meet you there, but I guess you weren’t attending.

    Love and light,
    Nancy

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Trackbacks

  1. Still Practicing Her Presence By Barbara Ardinger « Feminism and Religion
  2. Practicing the Presence of the Goddess « WiccanWeb

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