Again and again, I keep cycling back around to a deeper and deeper exploration of how easily we Other individuals or groups, halting any progress towards meaningful relationship, potential friendship, and peaceweaving. While there are endless examples to be held up in today’s media, in this moment I find myself taking my questions to my altar instead of my newsfeed and to the mythos of the Ladies of my chosen Tradition.
For The Sisterhood of Avalon, this is the season of Rhiannon, Great Queen of the First Branch of The Mabinogion. When we first catch site of Her, She is riding out from Gorsedd Arbeth, portal of the passage from the Otherworld into our world. Confident, self-assured, She comes into our world of Her own volition to pursue Her sovereign path in lieu of the life Her father wants to set before Her. She chooses to marry Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed (in southwest Wales) and together they build a life and rule a kingdom. For many years, all appears to be well. But when Rhiannon bears a son who mysteriously disappears hours after his birth, we see that the people of Dyfed have not forgotten that Rhiannon is Other to them– a foreigner, a stranger, mysterious, dangerous even, and not to be trusted.
The precious child is gone. Rhiannon, exhausted by the labor, is asleep. And the nurses charged with the child’s safekeeping panic. Fear takes over. They slaughter a puppy, litter the bones around the sleeping mother, and smear Her hands & face with the poor creature’s blood. They know this strategy of framing Rhiannon for Her own son’s death will save them from blame & punishment. Why? Because they know the court of Dyfed has never stopped Othering Rhiannon.
When She wakes, surrounded by bones, dripping with blood, She cries out, pleading with the women in attendance for them to tell the truth of the events of that night. Her pleas and offers of immunity fail to move the women from their conspiracy to blame this Other Woman. They refuse to recant their allegations against Her and even Her own husband passes judgement against Her; sentencing the Great Queen to seven years of grueling punishment.
Revisiting Her mythos every Cycle, I find something new She is asking me to consider. In this moment of Her season, I find myself examining the tragic events of Her labor & birth experience from opposite viewpoints in turn.
When have I been one of the terrified nurses? Around whom have I scattered false bones? Who do I paint with unjust blood? Who do I label as dangerous; as the stranger not to be trusted? Who do I Other because of my own personal or cultural fears? What does this tell me about the work I need to do within myself and out in the world around me?
And when have I woken up to find myself painted the Lady of Other? When have I fought to comprehend strange blood on my hands or bones at my feet? Or struggled to understand the fearful looks of those who have been conditioned not to trust me? How could I give my best effort to establishing that trust? When that fails, what are the circumstances surrounding the times when have I been unable to overcome being Othered? How have I been able to bear that burden without letting it destroy me?
This is the work She sets before me now.
So what about you? In a culture rampant with violent Othering, what does your faith/spiritual tradition teach you about how we can reweave this patter of Other and Othering in our own hearts, in our communities, and in the world at large? What do(es) your God(s) or Goddess(es) tell you about how you Other and how you can cope when Othered yourself? What can you do with those understandings to affect change in your here and now?
Kate Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is a somewhat nomadic American, homeschooling her children with the world as their classroom. She holds a BA from Tulane University, where she studied Economics, International Relations, & Religious Traditions. Kate volunteered as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas for several years where she hosted seasonal women’s gatherings, facilitated labyrinth rituals, and led workshops on an assortment of women’s spirituality topics. She recently returned to the US and is breathing into the potential of this new chapter of her life.