Horse – Symbol of Power and Freedom by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoThe horse was first depicted in art about 32,000 years ago on the cave walls of southern France and northern Spain. Though  archeologists disagree as to whether the paintings are realistic depictions or symbolic markings, many concur that they are both. Perhaps our ancestors applied a numinous meaning to the horses and the symbols painted on those ancient cave walls.

Continue reading “Horse – Symbol of Power and Freedom by Judith Shaw”

A Rescue Remedy, Part 2 by Barbara Ardinger

The handsome but uncharming prince having been magicked, the witch and her coconspirators know it’s time to focus on finding Ella. The witch looks around the table.

“Mrs. Janedoe and Mrs. Worthington,” she says, “you are two of our most highly experienced sauceresses…I mean sorceresses. Mrs. Bezukhov, you are also a woman of great, if temporarily diminished, power. Let us work together and see what we can do. Surely when people of good will work together they can raise energy that leads to positive results. Yes?” She looks around. “Please come up to my study.” The ravens of course know they are members of this ad hoc coven, and Mrs. Bezukhov goes out to her little room (actually a stall) in the barn to fetch her old scrying stone.

“Now,” says the witch, “we need to find out where Ella is and—”

“Before that,” says Kahlil, the prophetic raven, “we gotta fly that…er…sausage to the city ’n’ drop it on that lousy prince and hit ’im where it’ll do the most good. Make sure he got the message, doncha know. I got a new buddy who’ll fly with us.” He waves a wing at the window and another raven flies in. “This’s Icarus.” The new raven bows. “Despite his name, he’s a good flyer ’n’ he knows the safest routes to the capital and the bestest ways to get around the city.” Kahlil shows the bagged sausage to Icarus, who studies it and shakes his head like he’s just been attacked by a million fleas. “Okay,” says Kahlil, “youse girls just keep an eye on us in that there scrying stone.” He starts to rise from the table, but Mrs. Worthington stops him.

Continue reading “A Rescue Remedy, Part 2 by Barbara Ardinger”

Opening Our Hearts Through Armenian Dance by Laura Shannon

The candle represents the light of love, compassion and connection kindled in our hearts as we dance.
In these challenging times, one of the hardest things to do is to keep our hearts open. Grief and despair tend to shut them down. And even among close friends, colleagues, family members, and people with whom we share worship, when we clash over differing political opinions, trust can swiftly erode. These kinds of losses and sorrows can make us just want to close the doors to our hearts.
Yet hardened hearts and minds are not going to help us overcome conflicts and affirm connections. Only if we can open our hearts to one another, holding the fullness of our (and others’) feelings in a compassionate way, can we weather the storms which threaten to divide us further. And only if we are united can we find our way together through those storms.
One of the best ways I know to connect with others and to open my heart is through the joyful experience of traditional circle dance, particularly Armenian dances. I have written previously on this blog (The Dance of MemoryThe Wishing Tree) about Armenian dances and their ancient roots, their links to the pre-Christian Goddess, and how they affirm survival throughout the traumas of history. I have also written about my friend and colleague Shakeh Major Tchilingirian and her inspiring Circle of Life project, which brings Armenians, Turks, Kurds, Assyrians, and other survivors of atrocities and genocide to dance together for reconciliation.

Continue reading “Opening Our Hearts Through Armenian Dance by Laura Shannon”

Yemaya, Mother Whose Children are the Fish by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoI spent the winter holidays in Rio de Janeiro with my sister. It was wonderful to experience the warmth of both the Brazilian people and summer in the Southern Hemisphere but a little odd to miss the quiet, dark time of winter back home. One huge bonus to the trip was to be in a place where the worship of Yemayá is alive and active. I was blessed to witness a ceremony to her on New Year’s Eve held by Afro-Brazilian practitioners of the Candomblé religion on the beach of Copacabana.

Continue reading “Yemaya, Mother Whose Children are the Fish by Judith Shaw”

A Rescue Remedy, Part I by Barbara Ardinger

A year, now. It has been a full year since the phony election that put El Presidente in the Golden Office. A year since people began leaving the capital and the nation’s other large cities. While some of the refugees emigrated to quasi-democratic nations, most of them settled in the small towns and on the farms across the countryside, where they began building new, rural lives. A year ago, it was a flood of refugees. Now fewer people are able to escape.

A year, now, and even though she has studied and practiced, the wicked witch is no wickeder than she ever was. Nowadays she even forgets to put on the wicked-witch mask that she used to think scared people. But it’s easy for everyone to see that, masked or not, she’s just an ordinary woman practicing an old-time religion. She’s never fooled anyone, not the sixty or so refugees who now live on her farm, especially not the various ravens who drop by regularly for snacks in exchange for gossip.

Continue reading “A Rescue Remedy, Part I by Barbara Ardinger”

SHEELA-NA-GIG by Carol P. Christ

On a trip to Ireland several years ago, I was fortunate to have been able to see the Sheela-na-gigs in the National Museum of Dublin.  Two of these Sheelas including the one removed from the Seir Kieran Church of County Offaly, pictured below, are currently on display.  They stand at the doorway of a room dedicated to items from the medieval period and easily missed.  As there was little interest in them and they are not in cases, I was able to silently commune without interruption.

Continue reading “SHEELA-NA-GIG by Carol P. Christ”

Honey: A Thousand Flowers by Mary Beth Moser

Today I am finishing the last bit of the honey I hand-carried home from my most recent trip to Trentino. Sun yellow in color, it is made from the nectar of mountain flowers. Its label tells its origin—di montagna, of the mountains, and its type — mille fiore, often translated as “wildflowers.” Literally, however, it means “a thousand flowers.”

The valley where my maternal grandmother was born, Val di Sole, is renowned for its honey. In Croviana, one of the villages in the valley, new honey is celebrated in July with a sagra, a communal food festival. There are more than a dozen different types of honey from Trentino, including apple, chestnut, and rhododendron. These are plants of place – nature’s gifts that appear in the folk stories and are present in everyday life. Continue reading “Honey: A Thousand Flowers by Mary Beth Moser”

Kafemanteia: Women Reading the Coffee Cup by Laura Shannon

Greek Coffee

In my lifetime of researching women’s ritual dances in Greece and the Balkans, I have often come across related practices of divination or healing. One of these is the custom of coffee divination, the art of interpreting patterns in the fine grounds left in the cup after drinking Greek or Turkish coffee. The practice is found in Greece, the Balkans, Asia Minor, the Caucasus and the Middle East, and all over the world where people from these regions have emigrated. It is practiced mainly by women, particularly older women.[1]

Kafemanteía is related to much older techniques of divination and ritual, including the libations or liquid offerings which were an integral part of prayer in ancient Greece.[2] Sometimes, after the libation was poured, ‘the empty cup was examined for signs of oracle.’[3] The Old Testament mentions Joseph’s skill in divination by use of a cup,[4] while Istustaya and Papaya, the spinning and weaving pre-Hittite goddesses of destiny, divined using bowls of liquid akin to vessels used for scrying in many cultures.[5] The humble coffee cup can thus be seen as belonging to a long tradition of ceremonial vessels used in divination.[6]

Female figure in stance of invocation, with miniature votive shrines, pillars and cups or bowls for offerings. 5000 BCE, Netafim spring, Eilat, Israel.

In antiquity, Joan Breton Connelly makes clear, ‘religious office presented the one arena in which Greek women assumed roles equal and comparable to those of men,’ a fact which despite abundant evidence ‘has, until recently, been ignored by modern commentators or, worse yet, denied’.[7] In ancient Germanic, Celtic, Canaanite, Mesopotamian, and Anatolian cultures, ‘it was primarily women who were regarded as able to interpret signs and omens and to foretell the future’.[8]

Women who read cups today tend to view their ability either as a divine gift or as a talent learned or inherited from their mother, grandmother or aunt.  The concept of inherited oracular or shamanic talent is an ancient one, according to Barbara Tedlock, who suggests that intuition as an ‘unconscious cognitive process’ may be ‘genetically determined in its structure and function.’[9]

In her 2005 book The Woman in the Shaman’s Body, Tedlock describes what she calls ‘the primacy of women in shamanism’, stating that ‘women’s bodies and minds are particularly suited to tap into the power of the transcendental.’[10] Her assertions have important implications for the discussion of kafemanteía as a women’s art, but also reignite feminist controversy about biological ‘essentialism’ and ways that theories about differences between the sexes have been used to justify oppression based on gender.

As an in-depth discussion of essentialism is not possible here, I highly recommend Carol P. Christ’s excellent posts on the topic for those who wish to think more deeply about these questions. As Christ shows, the assumption that ‘if there are sex differences they must inevitably determine behaviour’ is a flawed syllogism. Christ invites us to discuss these issues in a more open-minded way: ‘I think our feminist conversations would be richer if we could find ways to talk about sex differences without immediately jumping to the conclusion that it is regressive or anti-feminist to do so.’[11] In our discussion of kafemanteía, I suggest we remain open to the possibility that neurological and biological differences may have significance, though not in a deterministic way. Men can also be readers of coffee grounds and tea leaves, but the fact remains that most readers of cups are women. Why might this be?

The social component of kafemanteía is very important, offering comfort and company to both reader and querent. According to neurologist Louann Brizendine, women have both a greater need and greater capacity for the positive emotional interaction of this social relationship. Neurologically, the female brain contains more mirror neurons than the male brain, giving women an advantage in establishing emotional connection and triggering production of the anti-stress hormone oxytocin.[12] Rather than ‘fight or flight,’ female stress responses follow a behavioural pattern known as ‘tend and befriend,’ based on the maintenance of social networks that increase bonding and decrease stress.

Reading the patterns

The intuitive response when reading the patterns in a cup often comes from what we call ‘gut feelings,’ which, as neuroscientific research reveals, ‘are not just free-floating emotional states but actual physical sensations that convey meaning to certain areas in the brain.’‘ [13] As Brizendine shows, areas of the brain that track gut feelings are larger, more sensitive, and more active in women’s brains; thus ‘the relationship between a woman’s gut feelings and her intuitive hunches is grounded in biology.’ [14] A further element to consider is the fact that neurological activity in most men is left-brain dominant, while women’s brain function tends towards a more even balance between left- and right-hemisphere activity.

Finally, Barbara Tedlock presents fascinating information on protein and collagen matrices embedded in connective tissues in the human body, ‘composed of liquid crystals and biopolymers that behave as electronic conductors, storing large amounts of cognitive information.’ [15] Given that these matrices can be seen as the biological structure in which ‘somatic consciousness’ resides, I would venture to ask whether the greater proportion of fat cells in women’s bodies may enable greater cellular conductivity for storing and transmitting intuitive and cognitive information. I would love to see further research in connection with the biological tendency of women to accumulate more fat cells post-menopause, and the image of the older wise woman or crone considered in many cultures to have oracular or divinatory powers.

I have had my cup read many times on my travels, and have often been astonished by the accuracy of information offered by the reader, including precise personal details which she could not have possibly known. This remains a mystery. Although I support further study into kafemanteía, I acknowledge that in essence it appears to defy conclusive rational explanation and therefore may remain permanently impenetrable to the scholarly mind. Perhaps all we can do is to simply increase our awareness of, and respect for, this living divinatory art, and the older women who keep it alive worldwide. I would be interested to hear from others about their experiences!

This post is drawn from a much longer article I have recently written, ‘Kafemanteía: coffee divination as women’s prophetic art in ancient and modern times.’  It appears in the current issue of Walking the Worlds 3:2 (2017): 52-68, available from

[1]          Green, 1992:85, Miller 2015:2, Seremetakis 1991:56.
[2]          Connelly 2007:176.
[3]          Walker 1995:191.
[4]          Genesis 44:5.
[5]          Stone 2014:194.
[6]          Barber 2013:186, Karcher 1997:14.
[7]          Connelly 2007:2.
[8]          Stone 2014:187-197.
[9]          Tedlock 2006:70, citing Winkelman 2000: 243-44.
[10]         Tedlock 2005:xv, 4-5.
[11]         Christ, FAR February 16, 2015.
[12]         Brizendine, 2006:121.
[13]         Brizendine, 2006:120.
[14]         Brizendine 2006:120.
[15]         Tedlock 2006:71.

Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990).  She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’,  was published in Dancing on the Earth. Laura lives partly in Greece and partly in the Findhorn ecological community in Scotland

Barber, Elizabeth Wayland. The Dancing Goddesses. New York: Norton, 2013.
Brizendine, Louann. The Female Brain. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006.
Christ, Carol P. ‘What If There Are Sex Differences But Biology Is Not Destiny?’ FAR February 16, 2015.
Christ, Carol P. ‘Has the Vatican Discovered that Women Should Be Running the World?’ FAR February 9, 2015.
Connelly, Joan Breton. Portrait of a Priestess. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.
Green, Marian. “Wise Women Counsellors: Popular Methods of Divination.” In World Atlas of Divination, edited by John Matthews, 81-87. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.
Karcher, Stephen. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Divination. Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element, 1997.
Miller, Guldjin. The Secret Art of Coffee Reading. Australia: Guldjin Miller, 2015.
Seremetakis, C. Nadia. The Last Word. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Shannon, L. ‘Kafemanteía: coffee divination as women’s prophetic art in ancient and modern times.’ Walking the Worlds 3:2 (2017): 52-68
Stone, Merlin. “Inner Voice: Intuition.” In Merlin Stone Remembered, edited by David B. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, and Lenny Schneir. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Books, 2014.
Tedlock, Barbara. The Woman in the Shaman’s Body. New York: Bantam Dell, 2005.
Tedlock, Barbara. “Toward a Theory of Divinatory Practice.” Anthropology of Consciousness 17:2 (2006): 62-77.
Walker, Charles. The Encyclopedia of the Occult. New York: Crescent Books, 1995.
Winkelman, Michael. Shamanism: A Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing. Westport, Conn.: Bergin and Garvey, 2000: 243-44. Quoted in Tedlock (2006):70.

A New Story for the Summer Solstice by Barbara Ardinger

This year the summer solstice occurs on Tuesday, June 20 in the Northern Hemisphere. (In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the winter solstice and it occurs on June 21.) For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice is the longest day of the year. The word “solstice” means “sun stands still.” It’s when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and seems to stand in the same place before it begins moving toward the winter solstice. We like to think that the primary solar deity is Apollo, but there’s a whole crew of solar gods who are born near the winter solstice and live for a season in great honor, after which they’re sacrificed, spend a season underground, and are reborn.

But before there were solar gods, there were solar goddesses. Patricia Monaghan’s New Book of Goddesses and Heroines (Llewellyn, 1997) lists 58 of them, from Aclla to Xatel-Ekwa, who have been honored all around the world. Monaghan also tells us that Cinderella and Rapunzel may have been goddesses before they became heroines of what the Brothers Grimm called household tales. (Not fairy tales—no fairies in their stories.) Cinderella might have been a goddess of fire, and fire includes the sun. Rapunzel might have been “a sun maiden who would bring spring if she were not held prisoner by the witch of winter” (p. 265). Let’s reimagine Rapunzel in a solstice story… Continue reading “A New Story for the Summer Solstice by Barbara Ardinger”

Shapeshifting Goddesses by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photo

Magic, divine intervention, shapeshifting – what do these things offer the modern mind, concerned with time clocks, definitive proofs and skeptical disbelief? Yet to the ancients, shapeshifting was a well known tale, found in stories and mythologies across the world.

Continue reading “Shapeshifting Goddesses by Judith Shaw”

The Reindeer Goddess by Judith Shaw

Judith Shaw photoWinter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere is the day of the least daylight and the longest night. Long before Christmas our Northern European ancestors celebrated the Winter Solstice, the moment that heralds the return of the sun and with it the promise of new life in spring. Without the comforts offered by modern technology, this time of year must have raised fears in the hearts of our ancestors; fear that the sun would not return to its summer glory, fear that there would not be enough food for the winter, fears that surface most easily in the dark. A celebration of light would have been most welcome and needed.

Continue reading “The Reindeer Goddess by Judith Shaw”

Mother Demdike, Ancestor of My Heart, Part 1 by Mary Sharratt



Pendle Hill, seen from the back of my house, in May.

mary sharrattThe Soul of Gaia is the numinous earth beneath my feet, her soil cradling the bones and the stories of the ancestors who have died into the land and become part of the ever-living spirit of the place.

An expat writer, my home is everywhere and nowhere. A wanderer, I have lived in many different places, from Minnesota, my birthplace, with its rustling marshes haunted by the cries of redwing blackbirds, to Bavaria with its dark forests and dazzling meadows and pure streams where otter still live. But I don’t know if any place has touched me as deeply as Lancashire, England, my home for the past fifteen years. Continue reading “Mother Demdike, Ancestor of My Heart, Part 1 by Mary Sharratt”

In Search of Ancestral Wisdom by Max Dashu

Max 2011

 What is the preserving shrine? Níansa (not hard).
The preserving shrine is memory and what is preserved in it.
What is the preserving shrine? Níansa.

The preserving shrine is Nature and what is preserved in it.
Senchas Mór, Ireland

In a world in extremity, we are searching for the wellspring, the inexhaustible Source known to all our ancient kindreds. Many of us have been cut off from our deep roots, and especially from the ancient wisdom of women, and female spiritual leadership.

My long quest has been to discover the lost strands of my own roots, the old ethnic cultures of Europe, and to reweave those ripped webs. I have spent decades searching for authentic cultural testimony about women’s spiritual ways before Christianity, before the Roman empire, before men commandeered all positions of religious leadership. My book, Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, brings together these ripped strands of the cultural web. Continue reading “In Search of Ancestral Wisdom by Max Dashu”

Hey, Diddle, Diddle by Barbara Ardinger

Hey, diddle, diddle
The cat and the fiddle.
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such sport
And the dish ran away with the spoon!

From her lips to our ears.

What is this? Maybe it’s an absurdist play. An operetta. An oracle. A carnival. Or all at once. I’m only a Seeing Woman, not a Priestess or a Thealogian, but I’ve permission to be present at great events and small. So I was there. I was watching. It was indeed a carnival, but one of our old-time carnivals where we celebrate all there is celebrate in life. Not one of those new-fangled carnivals of those new religions, where they grab everything good they can for one day before they have to give up all the pleasures in life while their god does…well, whatever he and his disciples and prophets do up there in the sky.

Dish and spoonWhat on earth, I hear you asking, got into that dish? Why did she run away? Well, let me tell you. It was at one of our last carnivals. It was an enchantment. That dish was our Princess, and she was under the enchantment. Actually, the whole Royal Family was enchanted. The warriors came galloping in from the steppes beyond the river, but first they sent a Prince. He told our Queen that they were coming to “protect” us, that they were bringing new gods to us. Bringing what they called new civilization and new ways, bringing us what they called “good news.” Well, our Queen and Her Consort were rightly skeptical about all these news, and they locked the Princess up in a safe tower. Kept her there for who knows how long while that handsome but rapacious Prince came and went and the warriors surrounded our lands. Back and forth, back and forth. It was them that declared the carnival and threw that enchantment on all our important people. The Prince lured her down out of the tower—he’d stolen the magic words that unlocked the door—and then he told her he was going to eat her up. She thought it was a joke. He dressed himself up as a big spoon and persuaded her to dress herself as a dish. And then, when the invasion got serious, she ran away with him. Maybe she thought she was saving herself. Continue reading “Hey, Diddle, Diddle by Barbara Ardinger”

Humpty Had A Mother by Barbara Ardinger

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

From her mouth to our ears.

Humpty1You see that kid sitting over there on the wall? The one wearing the Jester’s hand-me-down suit? The Jester also gave him that funny name. That kid is looking for his father. That kid is my son.

My father the King is a tyrant, and he has more bastards than any other king in our nations history except for one other King, a long time ago. (Maybe these Kings try to populate the land all by themselves.) I’m one of his bastards. My mama travels with the Players, and after I was born, she traveled on and left me here. Oh, the Players come back every year, and she always tells me about her adventures, like when they went to visit that Prince up north, the one who was pretending to be crazy and got killed in a duel. My father the King lets his sons take the name Fitzroy, but us girls? What do we get? We’re lucky we get to live in the palace. That’s thanks to the Queen, who is kind and protective of all the King’s children, legitimate or not. I’m part of her court. A minuscule part, but she knows who I am and has answered my prayers several times. I’ll never rise in society. But I’m making plans for my son. Continue reading “Humpty Had A Mother by Barbara Ardinger”

Arduinna, Gaulish Goddess of Forests and Hunting by Judith Shaw

judith Shaw photoArduinna, Gaulish Goddess of Forests and Hunting is one of the many Celtic Goddesses who is associated with a particular region or body of water.  She was worshipped in the heavily forested regions of the Ardennes, located in what is current day Belgium and Luxembourg with small portions found in France and Germany. She was also associated with the Forest of Arden in England. Her name has its roots in the Gaulish word “arduo” meaning “height”.

Continue reading “Arduinna, Gaulish Goddess of Forests and Hunting by Judith Shaw”

Mother Hubbard Speaks Her Mind by Barbara Ardinger

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone;
But when she came there
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.


From her lips to our ears.

Ya wanna know why my cupboard’s bare? It’s because we’re poor! Well, not all the time. Mr. Hubbard gets a good job from time to time, and then him n me an the kids an the animals have enough to eat. But those jobs never last long enough. And ya wanna know why? It ain’t just the economy (which is, yeah, pretty stupid). It’s on accounta we don’t quite look like everybody else ’round here. On accounta we don’t speak the “normal” language at home. We obviously came from someplace else. An’ the folks ’round here are so worried about themselves they don’t care about us. Some of ’em don’t like us at all. (And, I ask you, where’s the folks who look like me in the schools n the gov’mint an on the police force?)

Now we don’t live way out in the sticks like my friend Mrs. Shoe does with all her children. We live in the outskirts of this big city, and we can grow a lot of our own food. Lotsa times, though, we march into the big city and look around for more food. There’s lotsa food that got thrown away, perfectly good food goin’ to waste every day. That’s how I get bones for the old dog an good stuff for the cats, too. An, of course, for the kids an the hubby n me. An for the homeless folks who show up from time to time. Share ’n’ share alike, that’s my motto. We do what we can for who we can.

And we don’t share the “normal” religion of the folks in the big city. Most of them never heard of the Mother Goddess. Or any goddess at all, for that matter. No, they’re all enthralled by that greedy Mammon or by those other old bearded guys who stand up on top o’ that metaphorical mountain and yell down at their favorite men about invadin’ some foreign land r other. An ya know what? When the folks in the city are havin their prayers and we happen to be there, we stand quiet-like and bow our heads (politeness counts, doncha know) and wait till they’re done before we walk away and go lookin’ for more good thrown-away food ’n’ other stuff to take home with us. But would they stand respectful-like if we started prayin’ in the city to our Mother Goddess? (That’s what they call a rhetorical question. Don’t need no answer.)

Continue reading “Mother Hubbard Speaks Her Mind by Barbara Ardinger”

Wisdom Fiction (Part 2) by Elise M. Edwards

Elise Edwards“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

In my previous two posts, I’ve discussed the wisdom that can be found in black women’s literature. Continuing this series, I’m sharing a statement from the most well-known novel written by Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was an American novelist, folklorist, anthropologist, and cultural critic whose work was first published in the 1920s-1940s. Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937 and has since been reissued and adapted into film.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” This quote is one that has circled around my mind every New Year and every birthday for many years. These times of year are when I’m likely to reflect on the previous year and wonder what has come from it.

Continue reading “Wisdom Fiction (Part 2) by Elise M. Edwards”

No Man Can Spin Gold (Part 2) by Barbara Ardinger

RumpelstiltzskinPerdita was in a panic. She looked this way and that, but all she saw was a towering pile of straw. She sat down to breathe deeply and think deeply. While she was breathing and thinking, the little man held is peaked green hat in his hands and marched anticlockwise around the room, whistling a jolly marching song she’d never heard before. He marched around the room three times.

Finally Perdita said to herself, Who knows what can happen in a year? That’s a long time. I can promise anything now. And then, well, I know I’ll be able to think of something to do. I’ll study all year! Aloud she said, “Kind Sir, you are miraculous, for no man can spin gold, and yet—here you are, spinning gold! You can have what you ask for.

And so the little man smiled a smile that showed all his teeth and sat down at the wheel and—whirr, whirr, whirr—the whole roomful of straw was soon spun into the finest gold thread imaginable, twice as fine as the finest silk thread the merchants sold at the harvest festival.

As soon as the Queen arrived back at her palace the next day, her Nephew introduced his betrothed to her. The Queen was much older than Perdita thought she would be, and she was as wise as she was old. She took Perdita into her private chamber and asked her several questions. She learned more about Perdita than the girl realized, also about her mother and stepfather and young traveling scholars. Nevertheless, the Queen gave her royal blessing to the marriage, for she wanted her Nephew to be married to someone with a quick mind, good manners, and some ambition so the land would be well cared for after her death.

The wedding took place on the day following the summer solstice, and guests were invited from lands all around. Perdita’s mother and stepfather were invited, too, and they were both given new clothes to wear. The stepfather tried to have a private conversation with the Queen, but the major-domo led him into the map room and showed him some extremely dependable treasure maps.

After the wedding banquet of roast peacock and candied goldfish and artichoke hearts and rosewater dumplings, the Queen and Perdita’s mother walked together in the gardens and talked of many things. Pretty soon, after the stepfather had memorized several of the treasure maps and borrowed enough money to rent a ship and set off to claim his treasure, the mother was invited to move into the palace, where her healing and domestic arts would be appreciated.

A year and a day later, Perdita gave birth to a daughter who was the most beautiful baby in the whole land. The royal birth was celebrated with fireworks and parades and festivals and rituals in the temples that lasted three whole days without pause. Perdita’s mother was appointed chief nursemaid and immediately hired a wet nurse who had the creamiest milk in the whole land.

On the third night after the baby’s blessing and naming day, Perdita was alone in her chamber, brushing her long, curly hair, when she heard a noise behind her.

“Well then. I have come for the baby.”

“What?” Perdita pretended not to recognize the little man. “And just who are you? And what are you doing in my private chamber? Get out immediately or I shall call the guards.”

“You know who I am. You know why I’m here.”

“Yes, yes, I confess it. I do.” She allowed a tear to roll down her cheek. “Oh, but please don’t take my baby. I have never loved anyone before, and I love this baby more than anything I have ever possessed. Here—take my jewelry. All of it. Take my jeweled toys. Take the tapestries from the walls. Take my richly embroidered clothes. Take my royal robes. Take my golden coronet. Take these books I’ve read. Take anything you want, but please, Kind Sir, oh, please don’t take my daughter.”

“We made a bargain. I have spun the gold for you. No man can spin gold, but I can, and I spun for three nights. Because of my spinning, you are now the heiress of the throne of this land. You must keep your part of the bargain.”

“No, no!” Perdita cried, glad that the baby was in her mother’s watchful care. “I cannot give up my daughter! She is more precious to me than gold.” And Perdita began to cry, to really cry, and her crying was so heart-rending that the little man finally began to take pity on her.

Continue reading “No Man Can Spin Gold (Part 2) by Barbara Ardinger”

No Man Can Spin Gold (Part 1) by Barbara Ardinger

PerditaIn a land not too far away there once lived a widow who was so poor and who worked so hard day and night to make a bare living that she had almost no time to teach her daughter the things a girl needs to know to be a proper wife. The girl, whose name was Perdita, had learned how to do a few useful things around the house, but when she laid the fire she always mixed green wood with the dry, when she made the soup she always forgot the salt and pepper, and when she swept she inevitably forgot to sweep under the bed. When she sewed she always pricked her fingers and left little red spots on the fabric, and when she spun she always made huge knots and horrible tangles in the new thread. Although she wasn’t very good at these important homely tasks, she had somehow learned to read and study numbers and she had even learned about Panglossian optimism. Her parents had no idea how this learning had come to her, unless it had something to do with the scholars who regularly passed through the town and with whom Perdita spent a lot of time. In her own opinion, the girl more than made up for her lack of useful skills with her brilliant mind and quick tongue…not to mention her beauty.

One day, although her mother had ordered her to finish the washing and hang the clothes in the sun to dry, Perdita left them soaking in the tub and went out and about with her mother’s second husband. On the road they happened to meet the Queen’s eldest Nephew. Now since the Queen had borne no daughters and was now too old to do so, everyone knew that one of her Nephews would inherit the throne when she died. As soon as he spotted the young man, Perdita’s stepfather saw an opportunity.

“Here’s your opportunity,” he murmured to the girl. “Do what you can to attract this fellow. If you do, things will go well for you and your mother.”

Perdita saw an opportunity, too. An opportunity to raise herself socially and find a life that was not so filled with laundry and other mind-numbing hard work. So she tossed her curls and swung her hips, she gazed up at the Royal Nephew, and soon she had his attention, for this young nobleman was interested in the things that have always interested the upper-class men. During their ensuing conversation, Perdita said coyly, “I may have a poor mother, but I’m quite clever, you know. I can read and write. I can cook and clean. I can sew and spin.

“I’m interested in girls who can do useful things,” said the Queen’s Nephew. “Are you good at all things you do?”

“Oh, yes, I am very, very good,” the girl replied demurely. “I have a great many talents.”

“And,” said her mother’s second husband, “some of this girls talents no one has uncovered yet.”

“I see,” said the young man with a wink. “And may I learn what your hidden talents are, my dear?”

“Why,” said Perdita with a pretty blush, “why I can…I can

“She can spin straw into gold,” said the stepfather. Who do you know who can do that?”

“No one at all.” The Royal Nephew took Perdita’s hand. “It’s well known that no man can spin straw into gold.

And she works very fast,” said the stepfather. “See how soft her hands are! Her fingers are as nimble as my own. Even though we’re not even related by blood, I have taught her all she knows!”

“Indeed,” the Royal Nephew said, “nimble…” And after he thought for a moment, he added, “My dear, would you like to come to my Aunt’s palace with me and show me—show us your talents?”

So with an unnecessary push from her stepfather, Perdita, who was sure she would be moving into the best of all possible worlds, went to the palace with the Queen’s Nephew. But the Queen was not there, for she was visiting one of her Sister Queens in a nearby land. When the Royal Nephew asked Perdita to show him how she spun straw into gold, she batted her eyelashes at him and, remembering what she’d seen other girls do, shrugged her linen bodice just a little bit off one shoulder. A little while later, when the Royal Nephew asked again about spinning straw into gold, she shrugged her bodice a little bit off her other shoulder. When he asked a third time about spinning straw into gold, however, she finally understood that he expected a reply.

She had to think fast. “Oh,” she said disingenuously, “oh, I only do it at night, when the moon is full, and I can never do it if anyone is watching. I can spin straw into gold only when I am left absolutely alone with my work.” She was feeling quite sure that the Royal Nephew would never leave her alone, especially with her soft linen bodice falling off both shoulders.

But Perdita hadn’t noticed that the moon was full that very night, and when the Royal Nephew offered to let her stay in the palace, she was loath to refuse the invitation. I’ll think of a way out of this predicament, she said to herself. I always do, for I’m very clever.

The young nobleman was keenly interested in gold, as nobles always are, and so he ordered a room at the far, far end of the farthest corridor to be filled one third full with straw. Then he got his aunt’s best spinning wheel and put that in the room, too.

Spinning wheel“Here is a fine and private room,” he said to Perdita, “and I guarantee that no one will disturb you. Just spend the night here and show me how you can spin straw into gold, and I’ll give you a lovely reward in the morning.” And he winked at her.

What could the girl do? She watched the Royal Nephew close the door. She heard the key turn in the lock. She began to walk about the room. At last she sat down beside the wheel. But she didn’t have the least idea about how to spin straw into gold, for she couldn’t even spin flax into decent linen thread without getting huge knots and horrible tangles in it. She began to cry. “I’m lost!” she wailed. No one is here to advise me. No scholar I’ve ever met has considered this situation. No man can spin straw into gold, but I can’t, either. Oh, woe is me.”

“Well now.”

Suddenly she heard a voice, and when she peeked between her fingers, she saw a little man wearing a peaked green hat and a long brown jacket and wide brown trousers. He had a long white beard and big strong hands.

“Good evening,” he said. “Why are you crying?”

“I’m supposed to spin straw into gold, but I don’t know how.”

Continue reading “No Man Can Spin Gold (Part 1) by Barbara Ardinger”

Dionysian Rites by Carol P. Christ

In today’s blog, I offer an excerpt from A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess. The setting is Zaros, Crete, the time of year is mid-October.

We had a scrumptious dinner of fresh fish, salad, fried potatoes, local amber-colored wine, and tiny olives.  Later the two waiters, Themis and Nikos, bearing another pitcher of wine, sat down at our table.

They told us they were best friends and had just gotten out of the army. When they discovered that we were writers, the two young men were intrigued. “Our village has a very interesting history and many interesting customs,” they told us. “If you would like to come back and write about it, we will introduce you to all of the old people.” This conversation was in Greek, but I translated for Naomi. “This must indeed be a very interesting village,” I said to her, “because when they learn that I am a writer, most Greek men will say ‘write about me, I have a very interesting story.’ These men, in contrast, want us to write about their village.”

When we finished our wine, the young men offered to give us a lift back to our hotel on their motorbikes, suggesting we could have a coffee at the hotel bar. When we got to the hotel, they didn’t stop. “What happened?” I asked. “The bar wasn’t open at the hotel, so we’re looking for another place.” I wondered what Naomi, perched on the back of a motorbike and unable to speak Greek, must be thinking—especially since she was afraid of the unknown. We drove through the town and turned down a dirt road, arriving at the Zaros water factory. “We wanted to show you this,” they said sheepishly. “People drink our water all over Crete.” “O.K., “Naomi said, “but then you must take us back.” There were a few workers on the night shift, and the boys told us they had worked there too, before going into the army.

making rakiLeaving the factory, we continued down the dirt road heading away from the town. “Where are we going?” I asked, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. “Just a minute,” Themis said, as he got off the bike in front of what looked like a small house in the middle of nowhere. “We need to go back,” Naomi said definitively. “Yes, I already said that,” I answered. “Come inside,” Themis beckoned. “We want to show you how they make the raki (the colorless alcoholic drink that had been offered to us in shot glasses us after meals). This is the still,” he continued, as he showed us into a small dark room with a glowing fire. “After the wine is pressed, they put the skins and stems into barrels like those you see in the corner. The mixture takes six weeks to ferment, and then they bring it to a still, where it is heated over a fire. The steam that rises is directed through long curved pipes, and comes out as raki,” he said, pointing to various parts of the mechanism. Continue reading “Dionysian Rites by Carol P. Christ”

Knossos: The Truly True Story by Barbara Ardinger

Barbara Ardinger(Note: this story was inspired by a blog written by Carol P. Christ. But she’s not responsible for the nonsense I write.)

Once upon a time there was a woman named Carol who lived in the largest house on the Island of Crete and had the largest flower garden and the largest herd of cattle. Because of her riches, not to mention her common sense, she had been elected chief of the Council of Mothers, the government of the island. The Council had searched and searched for a proper title for their leader and finally, reluctantly, decided that Queen was as good as anything else…as long as everyone remained politically correct and understood that Queen was merely a handy title. Queen Carol had a husband named Minos who tried and tried to assume the title of King, but no one ever paid any attention to his pretensions. Because he had nothing else to do, he spent most of his time lounging in the front parlor and reading the Knossos Times-Myth-Dispatch.

“Look here,” he said one day, waving the newspaper at his wife. “The Greeks are ramping up for a war over in Troy. They’re calling for kings and armies to join them.”

Carol laid her feather duster aside for a minute. “Well, if you really want to,” she said, “you can go. It’ll be better for you than sitting around here all the time and complaining that you’re bored. But you’d better not come back here and set yourself up as a warrior king! None of those huge statues like they’ve built in Egypt. None of those huge temples with carvings of conquering armies on them, either. We mothers won’t stand for it!”

Continue reading “Knossos: The Truly True Story by Barbara Ardinger”

The Grimm Brothers’ “The White Snake”: A Feminist’s “Adam & Eve”? by Jeri Studebaker

Me, 2013I was trying not to fidget as I sat on the hard, unforgiving walnut pew.  It was a gorgeous summer day out, and I was locked inside breathing stale air and with nothing to look at but the dreary speaker, and, behind him, a life-sized, picture of a sweet-looking man about to be hung from nails driven through his hands.  I was visiting my parents, who love to take me to church, and I just wasn’t able to say no.

As I sat I daydreamed about our indigenous European ancestors.  They did “church” outdoors, in fragrant, airy forests with wild bluebells, warbling birds, and gentle breezes caressing their skin, ears and eyes.  Instead of doing hard time on walnut benches, they got to dance, chant, hold hands and jump through fires.

Continue reading “The Grimm Brothers’ “The White Snake”: A Feminist’s “Adam & Eve”? by Jeri Studebaker”

Howl: A Mashup Story by Barbara Ardinger

Barbara ArdingerHowl!

For centuries, the wolves were the lords of the forests, ruling wisely and carefully culling the herds of the dumber animals, which actually helped to preserve many species. The wolf packs, led by their alpha females, worked to maintain the balance established by Great Mother Earth. But now a new predator was coming into the forests. Men were cutting down trees and making farms and towns and cities. They were forgetting the stewardship assigned to them by Great Mother Earth, upsetting the natural balance, making enemies of the wild creatures.


Something had to be done to save the wild places and the wild creatures. The great wolf packs called a World Parliament of Lupine Peoples, which met in a secret location in Mitteleuropa. The werewolves who attended had their own breakout session later in the week, but the men who cast wolf whistles at young women were chased away, as were all wolves in sheeps’ clothing and all wolves of Wall Street. Although there was some discussion about admitting the medieval English queens called she-wolves after a queen in one of Shakespeare’s plays (if you’re curious, it’s in Henry VI, Pt. 3), they were admitted because they were intelligent, brave, and cunning women. The Princess Lupa, stepmother of Romulus and Remus, was a special guest.

Continue reading “Howl: A Mashup Story by Barbara Ardinger”

The Dance of Memory, Part 2: The Wishing Tree Laura Shannon

Laura Shannon square crop

Now is the time of Beltane, the great festival celebrating life and fertility.

Last week, on April 24th, in my post The Dance of Memory I wrote about the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, and invited everyone to join in this worldwide day of remembrance through prayer, meditation, music and dance. Subsequently I received testimony from students and colleagues all over the world about dance events they had organised in response to my call.

Dancing friends from Europe, North America, South America, and Australia told how moved they felt to be part of a larger whole, connected through the wordless beauty of music and dance, and by our compassion and caring for all those affected by genocide. Many, including my sister Leslie, thanked me for my ‘call to include Turkish and other dances in the Armenian commemoration activities’. She wrote from New Zealand, ‘The world needs more of this kind of inclusiveness!’

In Germany, Sybille Kolaric danced Armenian dances and a Turkish dance with her group, saying, “I really liked the idea to combine in the dance circle what is so separated in reality.”

A beautiful coming together of Turks and Armenians took place in Istanbul, where my dear friend and colleague Shakeh Major Tchilingirian went with her family, along with many Armenians from all over the world, for the April 24th commemorative ceremonies. A few days before, Shakeh had been leading Armenian dances with Turkish university students there as a ritual of reconciliation (you can see the film, Circle of Life, about a similar event she led in London). Shakeh wrote that they attended a very emotional service in the Armenian Church, and then went to Taksim Square to tie cloths to the Wishing Tree.

Shakeh wrote from Istanbul, “Last night I read some of the messages on The Wishing Tree, messages remembering ALL victims of atrocities and genocide as well as the displaced. There were thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of people sitting silently in Taksim Square, many Turks and Kurds amongst us. There is a lesson to be learned here: we are all victims of the situation we find ourselves in and the longer these wounds bleed the more difficult it becomes to heal.”

The Wishing Tree in Taksim Square was created by Turkish artist Hale Tenger, specifically to mark the centennial of the Genocide. She invited participants to tie pieces of cloth to its branches in homage to the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Armenian-American Nancy Kricorian brought with her from New York a strip of fabric from one of her grandmother’s aprons, saying, “My grandmother Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian was a survivor of the 1915 Genocide, and tying this cloth to the Wishing Tree in Istanbul will be a tribute to her life.”



Clouties_near_madron_wellArmenian wishing tree cropCoincidentally, my April 24 post on FAR included a photo of an Armenian grandmother tying an offering of cloth to just such a tree. The ancient folk custom of the wishing tree, where people (usually women) tie cloths with a special prayer for a loved one, can be found today in Armenia, Turkey, and Greece, in Asia and throughout Europe as far as the British Isles and in Asia as well. This ‘clootie tree’ by the ‘clootie well’ (cloth = clootie) in Madron, Cornwall, is almost identical to the Armenian one shown in my previous post.

Carol P. Christ’s comment on my last post described a similar tree on her Greek island of Lesvos which she tells me is near hot baths once sacred in antiquity. She also stated that brides in ancient Greece would leave articles of their unmarried clothing on a tree dedicated to the virgin Goddess Artemis, one of many tree-worshipping rituals which were well-known and widespread in the ancient world.

Women on Carol Christ’s Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete have all participated in such a practice, tying coloured ribbons onto the venerable myrtle tree already covered with ribbons and votive offerings called tamas, at the sacred monastery of Palianí. When I went there with Carol in 2012, my encounter with the tree led to a profound and lasting experience of healing, which Carol remembered in Giving Back to the Mother.

Paliani myrtle DSCN9080Paliani tamas DSCN9079

Tree emb Paliani DSCN9092Sisters on Carol’s pilgrimage also get to encircle the 2,000-year-old plane tree at Krasi. Even today village festivals are held under the canopy created by the ancient tree.  We know that tree worship on Crete has roots in Minoan times, as depicted in gold seal rings and other examples of Minoan art, and we know that tree worship is both ancient and widespread.  My life’s work researching the Goddess in traditional Balkan dance has shown that the Tree is often associated with the Goddess, for instance in many Balkan embroideries  This abstract but recognisable version comes from the curtains of the reception room in the Palianí monastery.

Maibaum_Ostfriesland967The sacred tree remains a living tradition in central, western and northern Europe in the form of the Maypole. I write this from Austria, where virtually every town and village honours May 1st (the ancient celebration of Beltane) with a May Tree, or Maibaum, a tall decorated pole with a wreath at the top. I love how this one from Germany resembles the Goddess.  Can you see her too?

Once-universal practices revering trees, nature, and the Goddess may have changed, but the act of praying for others’ well-being remains common to us all. The longing to keep our loved ones safe transcends all religious, political and ethnic boundaries. Love for others is one of the strongest bridges to common ground, and here is where we find our meeting place once again.

As I read through the messages sent in response to my invitation to dance on April 24th, I feel that each dancing circle is like a votive offering hung on a sacred tree. Each one is a gift of love for humanity, unique, yet part of a shared desire to end suffering, to bring healing, and to ensure the safety and survival of every single being in creation.

Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990).  She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’,  was published in Dancing on the Earth. Laura lives partly in Greece and partly in the Findhorn ecological community in Scotland.

Twelfth Night: Men’s Dance Rituals in Northern Greece by Laura Shannon

Laura Shannon square crop

The twelve days between Christmas and the New Year are still held to be holy days in Greece, a mystical and dangerous time when mischievous spirits emerge from the underworld, seeking to wreak havoc in the human realm. On the 6th of January, Theophania or Twelfth Night, masked men in goatskins and sheepbells dance through the streets to dispel these spirits, awaken the fertility of the earth, and ensure a good year. The name Theophania, literally ‘the appearance of god’, here refers to the return of the sun after the winter solstice, and fire and light are very important to this holiday.

The rituals I describe here come from six tiny villages in the region of Drama, just south of the Rhodope Mountains, close to the border between northern Greece and Bulgaria. Similar rituals featuring masked, bell-wearing men appear all through the Balkans and Central Europe as far as the Swiss Alps. They will dance through the village streets, in the cemetery, and in front of every house, in a ritual of blessing and catharsis which has roots in age-old worship of Dionysus, god of fertility and wine.

For me, who came to Greece to study women’s traditional songs, dances and costumes, it makes a refreshing change to observe ritual customs almost exclusively performed by men. These activities take place in winter, either at Theophania or during Carnival, in contrast to spring and summer rituals which are chiefly in the hands of the women.  However, as we shall see, in order for men to assume ritual abilities and responsibilities normally ascribed to women, some of the men must dress in women’s clothes.

Here I would like to mention Carol Christ’s recent analysis of essentialism in feminist theory in her excellent post of September 15. In Carol’s words, the essentialist view holds that the “‘essential qualities’ of a thing (a table, a horse, a woman, or a man) precede the ‘existence’ of any individual in the group to which it belongs; these qualities are universally—always and everywhere—expressed by members of the group.”

Carol and I both live in Greece, where, as in many other parts of the world, tradition assigns quite different tasks and attributes to men and to women. Without reawakening the essentialist discussion here, I would just like to say that modern-day feminists do not have to agree on whether women and men are essentially or inevitably different; however, in order to understand Balkan culture, we do need to realise that people here believe in these differences and have done since ancient times.

Angelos Keras, the Archigos (leader) of the Arapides in Monastiraki (photo: Spyros Taramigos)
Angelos Keras, the Archigos of the Arapides in Monastiraki

Back in Drama, in the village of Monastiraki, preparations have been underway for days. The night before the big event, a designated house – half-ruined, but still with a roof intact – slowly fills with the joy of friends and acquaintances greeting one another. Red wine flows, and traditional goat soup is served free to all. A fire has been kept burning here continuously throughout the twelve nights of Christmas, producing sacred ash with healing and protective powers. Musicians play through the night, producing archaic sounds on the Macedonian bowed lyra or kemene, accompanied by large goatskin tambourines called daheres. These are the only instruments. The overall effect is all the more hypnotic as the musicians play in absolute unison; even the singing is monophonic, in a musical structure intended to emphasise old values of community and coherence.

Meanwhile, people dance the same few dances over and over. As on all ritual occasions, the repetition of familiar simple step patterns frees the dancers to focus on the inner work of igniting their own good mood and raising good energy (kefi) to bless the community.

After dancing and drinking all night, the male celebrants help each other dress in the early hours of dawn. They are truly fearsome in shaggy dark skins, tall conical masks, and wide leather belts from which swing three pairs of heavy double bells. One of their names, koudonofori, means bell wearers; they are also called Arapides, the Black Ones or Moors.

Looking behind the apparent racism of the terminology, these ritual dancers blacken their skin with burnt cork both to invoke the power and protection of the sacred fire, and also in order to enter the realm of darkness. Here, the dark is seen as the repository of the earth’s fertile powers, which their bells and dances aim to awaken, as well as the realm of things ‘not seen’ , such as the spirits known as kallikantzari, which pose a threat to the new light and the new year. They themselves must go unseen, in masks and disguises, to enter this realm.

'Arapides', masked ritual dancers at Theophania (January 6) in Monastiraki (photo: Lenka Harmon)
‘Arapides’, masked ritual dancers at Theophania in Monastiraki

Brandishing long wooden swords, this group – known as a tseta – appears fully capable of driving out any number of kallikantzari. The phallic swords and headdresses leave one in no doubt that the Theophania rituals are men’s rituals, yet the ability to give new life, to enter the realms of the dead, and to bestow the blessing of fertility are essentially women’s powers. To claim these powers, some of the men must dress as women, as Dionysian revellers have done since ancient times. These are theGilinges, or Brides. 

Pappoudes ('Grandfathers') with lozenge-shaped beaded amulets, and Gilinges ('Brides') in Ksiropotamos (photo: Lenka Harmon)
Pappoudes (‘Grandfathers’) with lozenge-shaped beaded amulets, and Gilinges (‘Brides’) in Ksiropotamos

Wearing women’s clothing may be a means for men to temporarily gain access to the realms of life and death, where normally only women may go, or to symbolically give birth to the life-affirming fertility and joy which bring renewal at this dark and hungry time of the year. (Men wearing women’s clothing for ritual purposes are depicted in archaeological finds dating back to the 5th C. BCE; I think we see it today in the ecclesiastical robes worn by Christian priests.) In an additional affirmation of what is seen as women’s power, the Brides’ costume is rich in goddess embroideries, while all the members of the party wear beaded amulets in the lozenge-shaped symbol of female fertility going back to Neolithic times. Goddess symbols are also stamped on many of the bells.

As well as the Arapides and the Brides, the tseta includes Pappoudes or Grandfathers in Thracian men’s traditional dress, and Evzones or Tsoliades wearing short white pleated foustanella kilts and thetsevres, a special garment made of twelve large white kerchiefs sewn into a triangle densely fringed with beads, sequins and coloured threads, which takes four months to prepare.

Musicians and 'Tsoliades' ritual dancers in Monastiraki (photo: Lenka Harmon)
Musicians and ‘Tsoliades’ ritual dancers in Monastiraki

There is also an occasionally appearing Bear, who some say represents ancient worship of the Goddess Artemis.

As they journey together through the village, the bell-wearers leap and stamp, swinging their bells back and forth in an apotropaic din – this will indeed awaken the earth! – almost drowning out the eerie sound of the lyras and daïres. The Evzones dance with athletic half-turns which send their short kilts sailing up to their waist, emphasising (so I am assured) the fertile power of the male generative organs, without revealing the organs themselves.  At every house the entire tseta is rewarded with abundant food and drink, in the living tradition of sacred hospitality which is the most powerful blessing of all.

Hospitality to strangers in Ksiropotamos (photo: Lenka Harmon)
Hospitality to strangers in Ksiropotamos

By three o’clock, the whole village gathers at the plateia to dance. Hundreds of people spiral into a single circle with one leader, keeping the large centre open as a sacred space for the tseta to enact ancient rituals of death and resurrection, plowing and planting, and the hieros gamos or sacred wedding. The dancing goes on until dusk and then continues at a taverna through a second consecutive night.

IMG_4982 - 4
Everyone joins in the great circle dance in the plateia of Monastiraki

Each village has its own variation of the Theophania rituals. In some places, children and women also participate: in Ksiropotamos young girls dance in traditional costume, while in Petrousa, all the dahereplayers are teenage girls. Some traditionalists view this change with unease, but I must confess my pleasure at seeing thirteen young women lined up like priestesses of Cybele from the time when the drummers were women. Here too, people dance at crossroads, springs, sacred trees and finally around an enormous bonfire.

Cauldrons at the crossroads in Ksiropotamos (photo: Laura Shannon)
Cauldrons at the crossroads in Ksiropotamos

Fire is important in all the Theophania rituals, and cauldrons on open fires are a key part of the festivities. This is another symbol of women’s power adopted on this occasion by men – traditionally, women cooked in pots; men roasted meat over an open fire. In Petrousa, the Dance of the Cooks can still be seen. Although it is no longer danced around the cauldrons themselves, the symmetrical step pattern still focuses the energy or ‘fire’ of the dancers in a particular way.

It seems to me that these fire-focused rituals hint at the unnamed presence of the Goddess Hestia, whose domain is centred on the hearth, source of light, warmth, food and all that is beneficial to the home. The nikokira, the lady of the house, was seen since ancient times as Hestia’s priestess. Her role is to tend the sacred fire through practical and ritual work and to literally focus its brilliance (estiazo, fromHestia, means ‘to focus’) so that it may bless the household and all its inhabitants. In ritual activities such as the Theophania, through the mediation of men dressed as women, this focused fire can be brought once a year from the private space of the home – the realm of the women – into the public space of the village, the realm of the men.  This union of men’s and women’s fertile powers is the hieros gamos, the holy spark of blessing which ensures health, wealth, happiness and abundance for all in the coming year.

Nikos Papadimitriou, an Arapis in Ksiropotamos (photo: Lenka Harmon)
Nikos Papadimitriou, an Arapis in Ksiropotamos

Continue reading “Twelfth Night: Men’s Dance Rituals in Northern Greece by Laura Shannon”

Dancing Daughters of the Living Goddess by Laura Shannon

Laura Shannon

A lifetime of research has convinced me that the women’s ritual dances and costumes of Greece are living remnants of ancient Old European Goddess traditions.  In previous posts on FAR I have written about these dances and embroideries, as well as the Midwives’ day rituals which honour the wise women, and the healing effects the women’s circle dances can have. All of these threads came together again in my most recent trip to Thrace.

Today trisected into Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish parts, Thrace is a wild landscape of mountains, forests, rivers and fertile fields. Less than one hundred years ago Greeks, Slavs, Turks, Pomaks, Gagaouzides and other ethnic groups lived and mingled freely throughout the whole area, and although the traumatic wars of the 20th century precipitated a huge upheaval of refugee movement and new settlement, Thrace is still home to a great variety of different peoples here who have kept their customs alive.

In Greece, Thrace is the most northeasterly region, and Evros is the very topmost bit of it, rising up like a thumb between Turkey and Bulgaria. I started visiting the villages of Evros some years ago and have  been back many times. When friends invited me to celebrate my birthday there recently I jumped at the chance. All the villages we went to are Greek Orthodox, with visible elements in costume and culture – such as the Goddess embroideries – which survive from pre-Christian times.

We started off in Pentalofos, my favourite village, with music, dance, song, feasting, and wonderful grandmothers in splendid traditional costumes. In this village they still spin, weave, sew and embroider their festive dress by hand. I have my own costume from Pentalofos like the one Kyria Koula is wearing (on the left), made for me by her, Kyria Loulouda and other women of the village.

photo 2

The bodice features a triple butterfly design, connected to the ancient labyris / double axe. It is also a symbol of transformation, not least the transformation of individual women – through dance, song and ritual dress – into manifestations of radiant feminine strength and beauty, moving beyond their personal identity and concerns in order to embody a larger power. This phenomenon is represented by the image of a woman with wings, easily discerned in the butterfly design here and in other villages.

Photo 1

Other villages have their own version of the Thracian women’s costume, as in Doxapara where we went next:


Chryssa, on the left, wears the costume made by her mother, on the right.


Chryssa’s handkerchief is embroidered with a flamboyant sun-headed Goddess/flower motif.  An ancient V-shaped motif of spiral horns, or perhaps a pair of wings, appears on her sleeve in red. This motif is more discreet, but its central location affirms its importance. Women’s hands – which created all this and much more – were considered holy and worthy of protection. As on the handkerchief, Goddess figures are often depicted with radiant, extra-large or winglike hands.

Knitted socks in Doxapara depict winged Goddess figures in red, black and white.

We celebrated my birthday eve in a little taverna in Oinoi, a village of Gagaouzides, Turkish-speaking Greek Christians from Bulgaria. Friends (and friends of friends) needed no persuading to dance up a storm.


Music was provided by gaidas (bagpipes), laoutos (lutes), clarinets, violin and doumberleki, not to mention everyone singing along. The ‘Happy Birthday’ songs, both English and Greek versions, sounded fantastic with this orchestra.

Hospitality is a sacred obligation in Greece, as in many parts of the Balkans, and dancing must be accompanied by feasting. My birthday cake weighed 3 kilos and fed 75 people. ‘Many years, Laura’!

On the morning of my birthday, while everyone else was still asleep, I went to a favourite church in Kleissos, which has a little side chapel filled with 144 icons of the Virgin Mary, whom Greeks call the All-Holy One, the Panayia. As you see, people pray to her very fervently here. The images are copies of famous miraculous icons from other places like Tinos and Kythira. The Panayia of Kleissos is also believed to be a miracle-working icon; I can attest to its power from past experience.


Later we proceeded to Ambelakia, a village I had not visited before.

These women are Marides, an ancient Thracian tribe. Their costumes feature many Goddess embroideries and, on their socks, the recurring motif of the wild bee. Priestesses in Thrace and other areas were once known as bees (mélisses).

The women here told me about the ancient festival they keep, called ‘Gynaikokrateía’, Gynocracy or Women’s Rule. It is related to Thracian Midwives’ Day celebrations (described in a previous post) and falls on the same day, January 8th.  On this day, they told me, gender and power roles are reversed and women take over the town hall, village square, cafes and other male-dominated public spaces. They exact toll payments from passing vehicles, which they use to buy wine. The women’s unrestrained merriment and public drunkenness, unthinkable on the other days of the year, is combined with ribald and satirical skits lambasting men’s misbehaviour. This sharp commentary is remembered, laughed over and talked about for months afterwards, thus providing an apparently innocent, yet effective, social deterrent to abuses of power.

Marides women’s costumes can be ‘read’ as a treasury of ancient women’s wisdom hidden in plain view, an open secret for those with eyes to see. Yellow headscarves with long fringes resemble both sun and rain, life-giving elements of agriculture both originally identified with the Goddess. Woven aprons illustrate flowing life force, womb energy and women’s awesome creative power, with Goddess/Tree of Life figures inside the central rhombs.

Spiral horns reappear on the hem of the underdress. Sacred symbols on this spot simultaneously pronounce and protect the power of what lies directly above. ‘Doves’ encircle the hem of the black overdress; ‘bees’ adorn the socks.

In the central place on the heart of the bodice: the winged Goddess motif, a sign of the dancing priestess and a key Thracian symbol for thousands of years. This powerful image is usually invisible, hidden under scarf fringes, beaded necklaces and garlands of gold coins, but the women revealed it to me because I knew it was there and asked to see it.


As much as I loved meeting them, they loved meeting me – as they would love to meet any woman who can recognise them for what they are and what they wear.

And of course there was another feast.

It was a fabulous birthday. I even danced, managing to overcome lingering injuries from a bicycle accident I had had some months before. Giving myself to the healing energy of women sharing steps together, I felt radiantly joyful and truly alive, as if at a momentary crossroads of space and time, simultaneously fleeting and eternal.

In Thrace, I feel extremely privileged to witness the survival of motifs and ritual customs with roots in Neolithic Old Europe, as well as key values from the Old European worldview articulated by Gimbutas, Carol P Christ, and others: respect for nature, a sense of interdependence, the need for social justice and the importance of community celebration.

We are blessed to live in an age where these and other ancient treasures of women’s wisdom, are now returning, visibly and consciously, to our own culture. Patriarchal domination has not and will not manage to destroy these riches from the past. At this time of the winter Solstice, I wish us all the healing joy, connectedness, and love in abundance which these dances embody, to warm us and guide us all into the rebirth of the year.

Love & blessings,

Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990).  She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’,  was published in Dancing on the Earth

Reclaiming the Feminist Beginnings of America’s Thanksgiving by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Freyhauf, Feminism, Religion, Durham, Old Testament, Blogger, Bible, Gender, Violence, Ursuline, John CarrollFor those who are unaware of my research focus and methodology, I try to use history to reconstruct or reclaim the feminine voice through more of an exegetical lens rather than an eisegetical or ideological lens. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I have yet another opportunity to restore credit to or at least bring visibility back to a woman who fought for Thanksgiving to be recognized as a national holiday on the last Thursday of November. Her works, though plentiful and sometimes known only by title, are largely forgotten to history; Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788-1879) is responsible for Thanksgiving becoming a national holiday in the United States.

Certainly, I do not have to go into the disparity that befell women during the 1800’s when it came to education and overall fundamental rights – that is a history with which we are all well familiar. Hale was educated through her brother, Horatio Gates Buell, who shared his education while attending Dartmouth College and “seemed very unwilling that [Hale] should be deprived of all his collegiate advantages,” and through her husband, David Hale, a lawyer who helped her cultivate her writing skills in the evenings. They even established a small literary club with their friends that allowed her to write. Hale was left a widow at a very young age with five children, the oldest age 7. Hale, like so many women during that time period, had to find a way to support herself and her family.

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale

After authoring a book of poems with her sister-in-law, The Genius of Oblivion and Other Original Poems, Hale, in 1827, published her first novel called Northwood – a book published the same year as Uncle Tom’s Cabin that also challenged slavery. From fame gained through this novel, Hale obtained a job as an editor of a women’s magazine, Ladies Book (later Godey’s Ladies Book then American Ladies Magazine), where she worked for about 40 years. She wrote about half of the material contained in the magazines, as a means of helping to educated women. Hale helped to discover and promote such authors as Edger Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia Maria Child, Catherine Sedgwick, Lucretia Mott, Emma Willard, Susan B. Anthony, Henry David Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

She is credited for helping to establish Vassar College for women and wrote the familiar child’s poem “Mary had a Little Lamb” in 1830 (Poems for Our Children, republished in Juvenile Miscellany), Traits of American Life, which contained the story of “The Thanksgiving of the Heart:”

Continue reading “Reclaiming the Feminist Beginnings of America’s Thanksgiving by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Exuberant Noise by Safa Plenty


 She is the firefly
that lights up our nights,
her cherubed face,
and cheeky smile,
laying siege on our living spaces.

Her tiny form occupying,
our basement steps,
as she joyously serenaded us
in an infantile song,
spanglish laced with berber.

Her two energetic companions,
careening from couch
to table, then to floor,
laughing and screaming,
racing feet threading
across laminate floors. Continue reading “Exuberant Noise by Safa Plenty”

Painting La Negrita by Angela Yarber

angelaOne week ago thousands of Costa Ricans made a pilgrimage to visit their patron saint on August 2. Some penitents walked the 22 kilometers on their knees from the capital of San José to the Nuestra Señora de los Angeles Basilica in Cartago where the small statue of La Negrita is now on display. Joining Virginia Woolf , the Shulamite, Mary Daly, Baby Suggs, Pachamama and Gaia, Frida Kahlo, Salome, Guadalupe and Mary, Fatima, Sojourner Truth, Saraswati, Jarena Lee, Isadora Duncan, Miriam, Lilith, Georgia O’Keeffe, Guanyin, Dorothy Day, Sappho, Jephthah’s daughter, Anna Julia Cooper, the Holy Woman Icon archetype, Maya Angelou, Martha Graham, Pauli Murray, and all my other Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist is this seemingly small saint who has done big and mighty things: La Negrita.

Also known as La Virgen de los Angeles, the Black Virgin is a very small representation of the Virgin Mary. She was originally discovered by an indigenous woman on August 2, 1635. When the poor indigenous woman tried to take the stone statuette, it miraculously reappeared. The people responded by building a shrine around her. Continue reading “Painting La Negrita by Angela Yarber”

%d bloggers like this: