Fiction: Buddha and the Rocking Chair

Your ex-boyfriend gave you a solid brass Buddha, one foot high. You hate to think what he had to pay for it. Not knowing what else to do with it, you place it on your bookcase. You must admit that it’s a beautiful object, that it inspires a certain peace. But it leaves you cold, just like the crucifix hanging in your parents’ bedroom always left you cold.

Your ex-boyfriend gave you a solid brass Buddha, one foot high. You hate to think what he had to pay for it. Not knowing what else to do with it, you place it on your bookcase. You must admit that it’s a beautiful object, that it inspires a certain peace. But it leaves you cold, just like the crucifix hanging in your parents’ bedroom always left you cold. Only when you sit in your dead grandmother’s chair and rock yourself into a trance can you reach your world of wonder, that green and gold place where May sunshine washes through newly unfurled birch leaves, where shadow and light dance on the white bark you peel off like onionskin. Long ago, you think, people worshipped their ancestors.

You wake up to cold and gray, to a day so drab that it hurts like a permanent migraine. On the bus ride to the office, the commuters in their career clothes are scrying into their phones. No free seats so you grab the handrail and gaze out the window. Instead of city buildings and dirty snow, you see an old farmhouse at the edge of an apple orchard. A gaggle of geese guards that house. They rush towards you, flapping their wings and hissing. But you walk resolutely on until you reach the veranda, and then the front door, propped open by a pair of gardening shoes. Stepping into the hall, you breathe in the mixture of baking bread and boiled coffee. A woman comes to you, a woman like your grandmother, but older. Her thin silver hair reaches her knees. Her face is so wrinkled, you can hardly see where her glittering eyes end and her crow’s feet begin.

Cocking her head, she says, “What took you so long?” And taking your hand, she marches you into her kitchen where a cat sleeps on the windowsill. She sits you down and serves you elderflower wine in an old jam jar. You take one sip and the kitchen reels around you.

You hear a rushing sound, a pounding, and then you are alone on a beach holding a piece of driftwood shaped like a goose in flight. A strange new weight pulls at your shoulder blades. Craning your neck to investigate, you see the wings sprouting there, blue-black crow wings. Of their own volition, they stretch and flap until you are airborne. Heading out over the waves, the tips of your bare toes graze the water.

“You dream too much,” your ex informs you. “You live on another planet. When’s the last time you watched the news? When’s the last time you voted? You can’t just spend your whole life with your head in the sand.”

Your ex is an activist. He majored in queer theory. He worked on Bernie Sander’s election campaign. He buys everything organic and volunteers one day a month at the soup kitchen. You are humbled by his social engagement, but when he sends you links to articles and videos overflowing with the world’s misery, the weight is too heavy for you to bear. You find yourself wondering how many homeless people he could have fed for the price of that solid brass Buddha.

Your grandmother lived until she was ninety-nine. She quarreled bitterly with everyone who came to visit and expressed concern about the farm falling into disrepair around her. She told them she just wanted to be left in peace. Then one day she died of a stroke while chopping wood on that old farm where she had lived alone for fifty-six years. She died instantly—no lingering pain, hospital gowns, or stench of bedpans or disinfectant. That’s how it is on your mother’s side of the family—the women are widowed early and seem to live forever until the day they suddenly drop dead.

After her death, her children sold her farm to a developer, who tore down her Victorian house to build rows and rows of condos. They left only three of her apple trees standing. Those trees are as old and gnarled as she was when she died. Like old women, they no longer bear fruit but stand and bear witness to what once was, but is no longer.

You pack the brass Buddha away in old newspapers, stick it in a cardboard box. You’ve decided to donate it to a drug rehabilitation center. Maybe it will bring the people there peace and clarity. Then you brew a pot of tea and sit in the rocking chair, huddled in an afghan your grandmother crocheted before you were born. You close your eyes and you are far out over the ocean, sometimes floating, sometimes flying. A blast of salt wind fills your shiny black wings, lifting you even higher. Opening your beak wide, you cackle and caw.

Mary Sharratt is committed to telling women’s stories. If you enjoyed this short piece, please check out her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, and her new novel Revelationsabout the mystical pilgrim Margery Kempe and her friendship with Julian of Norwich. Visit her website.

Fireless Altars and Crone Encounters By Barbara Ardinger

We’ve just entered November, the beginning of winter, the season of darkness. Twenty-odd years ago, I led a group of students through the Wheel of the Year in a class I called Practicing the Presence of the Goddess. (I also wrote a book with the same title.

Continue reading “Fireless Altars and Crone Encounters By Barbara Ardinger”

Brigit and the Cailleach by Christine Irving

Today, I bring you an old old story from Scotland.  It explains how and why winter became spring.   Cailleach is another name for the Hag – the archetypal Crone.  She represents winter. Brigit is the forever Maiden and stands for spring.  There are many ways to spell her name, all of them correct.  Ben Nevis is a mountain in Scotland and the word bairns means “babies”.

It’s always important to remember that myths come to us through retellings by countless bards and storytellers.  They are layered one on top of the other like palimpsests and sometimes appear contradictory.  I think of stories- particularly the ones who have existed for millennia as three-dimensional puzzles to be slowly played with and unlocked in increments.  Furthermore, what we see and hear in a story means different things to us at different times and circumstances.  There is always something new to be gleaned. Continue reading “Brigit and the Cailleach by Christine Irving”

Through a Dark Forest: Fairy Tales as Women’s Stories


My first brush with raw and authentic fairy tales took place nearly thirty years when I was teaching English to Japanese children in Munich, Germany, where I lived from 1989 – 2000.

Intending to stock up on children’s literature, I discovered the a whole section of the Munich City Library was devoted to fairy tales from different cultures. It contained literally thousands of volumes, some of them ornate and leather-bound, as beautiful to hold as they were to read. I loved the Russian fairy tales the best, for they were the most haunting and evocative for me.

The fairy tales held me in thrall and would not let me go. They got under my skin and rooted themselves in my writing and my life. I was hooked.

Fairy tales are the domain of women. In past centuries, the traditional European storytellers were women sitting at their hearths and spinning at their spinning wheels–spinning a yarn, if you will. Telling old wives’ tales.

The original fairy tales were not romantic children’s stories. Only very recently with Walt Disney have these raw and very ominous stories been reduced to little more than cute cartoons. Until the 17th century, fairy tales were adult entertainment, the way of passing a dark winter’s evening. Many older fairy tales are quite bawdy. Allocation of fairy tales to the nursery took place in the 18th century when the educated upper classes rejected the irrational and supernatural aspects of the tales in favor of a more rational and scientific world view, thus dismissing these tales as nonsense and only good for amusing young children.

Yet, as the enduring popularity of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves attests, fairy tales are meaningful and relevant for contemporary women seeking deep guiding archetypes and images of female strength.

These centuries-old stories bristle with wild and sometimes terrifying women who possess amazing powers. The witches and sorceresses who inhabit the dark forests of fairy tales offer a stark and startling contrast to the innocent maiden protagonists.

What I find most fascinating about fairy tales is not the young girl’s encounter with the prince, but with the witch. Baba Yaga in the Russian tradition and Frau Holle in the German tradition are both sorceresses of intimidating dimensions.

Baba Yaga eats human flesh and flies around in a cauldron. Her house dances on hen’s feet. Frau Holle lives in a house in a beautiful underground meadow and she showers young girls with either pure gold or filth, depending on how they have served her.

Both these figures are ancient archetypes of female sovereignty that had their origins as pagan goddesses. Baba Yaga was once a great mother goddess of the Slavonic peoples. According to ethnographer Sonja Ruettner-Cova, Frau Holle was originally a solar goddess and a weather goddess. When she shook out her featherbed, it snowed.

Ironically Baba Yaga and Frau Holle have lived on in fairy tales even after the old myths and religions that honored them were banished, precisely because fairy tales have been dismissed as children’s stories. The tales’ deep magic lies hidden in their deceptive simplicity.

The naive young girl must go into the woods on the darkest night to face Baba Yaga. She must leap down a well to find her way to Frau Holle’s house and serve her for a year and a day. Once the young heroine encounters the sorceress, she will be completely and utterly transformed–a girl no longer but a woman with secret powers of her own.

Fairy tales are full of images of women who both challenge and empower other women.

The culmination of the heroine’s journey a deep inner rootedness. It is finding and claiming that house in the forest deep in your soul.


Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her most recent novel Ecstasy is about the composer Alma Schindler Mahler. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for Mary’s newsletter or visit her website.


The Four Phases of the Feminine Way by Elisabeth Schilling

For so long I’ve been wandering in the maiden stage, but now I am a mother, to myself, since I’ve made hard decisions to loosen or cut ties with people who have not always acted in my best interest in their attached and, at least to me, manipulative ways; I have long felt a mother to whatever group of students I have the honor of guiding; and I moonlight as a card reader/astrological guide where I feel I can nurture and provide compassionate advice to those who desire a connection from the universe. The way I practice is that I allow my empathy and research about ourselves to encounter the client’s own internal wisdom. There is not anything that qualifies me to be a teacher or reader any more than anyone else. We are all guru to each other when we listen closely.

I am not sure why I have never wanted to be a mother of a child. Not-wanting has felt very natural to me. Now that I have put some distance between myself and my own mother, her voice and so her desires are not so much hovering over me. I feel free and good about my decisions, about following the path that is normal for me.

But what I really love about the four phases of the feminine way – maiden, mother, maga, and crone — is that we do not necessarily need to always identify with the stage that aligns with our age or any rites of passage. I remember going to a goddess ceremony in California where we could speak from any of the perspectives we felt aligned with that at the time and explain why.

Continue reading “The Four Phases of the Feminine Way by Elisabeth Schilling”

The Reaper by Natalie Weaver

elizabeth-taylorI have begun to call my mother the “Reaper,” which I understand could be to some mums sort of insulting. Images of the Reaper are typically not terribly flattering, you know, with all that sunken skin and stringy black cloth flying around. My mom looks nothing like that, by the way. In fact, she has at all stages of her life borne a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor, causing many a stranger to run up to her over the years, exclaiming, “Oh my goodness, do you know who you look like?” And, let me add, often much to the consternation of those in Mom’s company, such as, well– me, for example– when I was trying to deliver my first baby and the attending nurse ignored me in order to chat with my mom about her resemblances. But, I digress here.

Mom is the Reaper because she is at that point in her life when she rather unabashedly tells it like it is, “reaps truth” as I have come to think of it. Though she may look all violet eyes and white diamonds, she is beyond mincing words.

Is this a feature of aging? I once read that the decreased estrogen and increased testosterone levels in post-menopausal women may contribute to a personality shift where women are more inclined to report on what they are thinking. This may be a factor, but I would find it likelier that many women, menopausal or not, simply get to a point when they have seen/heard/experienced/endured enough that they find little merit in putting up fronts, regardless of hormonal predisposition.

Plus, I am wildly unimpressed by some of the material out there on menopause. It seems like a lot of conflated nonsense that correlates every aspect of female sexual maturation with hormonal imbalance and impending doom. I recently read a book by an “expert” named Dr. Miriam Stoppard – great last name for a menopause specialist, right? – that actually gave medical advice alongside hints about make-up tricks, relationship management tools for your depressed mid-life spouse, and what girdles to wear to help hold up your sagging flesh.

It is interesting that “women who speak their minds” are even an object of contemporary cultural commentary at all. I mean, would there be any talk at all about males who speak their minds? Young girls who speak their minds are cast as feminists, strong-willed, scary to boys, unfeminine, and so on. Of course, the embedded androcentric assumption is that they are doing something contrary to normative female behavior. Older women who “speak their minds” are cast as rude hags and crones, spreading around their venom and disappointment, especially if they swear. This blog on post-divorce dating, kind of says it all:

Continue reading “The Reaper by Natalie Weaver”

An Archaic Trinity of Goddesses? Not Necessarily. by Barbara Ardinger

Barbara ArdingerIn her comment following my last post which was about mythology, my friend, Carol Christ, expands on my paragraph about how the so-called “ancient triple goddess” was really invented in 1948 by Robert Graves in his book, The White Goddess. (Thanks, Carol.)

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Goddess movement was just getting up on its feet and our ovular books were being published, the idea arose that if “they” have a holy trinity, “we” have one, too. And ours is older and holier. We see it in the three phases of the moon, new (Virgin), full (Mother), and dark (Crone). Here’s a tiny sample of these books that changed the lives of so many women and men:

  • Woman’s Mysteries Ancient and Modern by M. Esther Harding (1971, but first published in 1933)
  • The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974) by Marija Gimbutas
  • When God Was a Woman (1976) by Merlin Stone
  • Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths (1978) by Charlene Spretnak
  • The first edition of The Spiral Dance (1979) by Starhawk
  • The Chalice and the Blade (1987) by Riane Eisler
  • Laughter of Aphrodite (1987) by Carol P. Christ
  • The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries (1989) by Z. Budapest
  • The Reflowering of the Goddess (1990) by Gloria Feman Orenstein
  • Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book (1990) by Miriam Robbins Dexter

Triple goddess? ’Tain’t so. Our beloved triple goddess is one of our foundational myths. It’s nice and it’s perhaps inspiring, but it’s only a myth. Anyone who looks at a calendar or almanac—or up into the sky every night for a month—can easily see that the moon doesn’t have three phases. It has four: waxing, full, waning, and dark. And since the late 20th century, women have lived long enough to go through more than three stages of life. Continue reading “An Archaic Trinity of Goddesses? Not Necessarily. by Barbara Ardinger”

Lady of the Trees by Mama Donna Henes

Donna Henes, Urban Shaman, Queen of my  self, crones,

Her roots reach to the very center of the Earth where they wind around the sacred wells, the deep source of wisdom…

Possessing the potent powers of fertility, growth, resilience and longevity, the tree is widely seen as the progenitor of the world. Family Tree. The Tree of Life. The tree goddess was seen as a sylph, an airy tree spirit who resides among the green leaves, sustaining and nurturing the vegetative forces. She is the symbol of the flow of life, a Mother Goddess who is Herself the Tree of Life.

The Maasai people claim their descent from an original parent tree. For the Slavs, the world tree is the symbol of all relationship, and as such, is held as the central philosophical image in that culture. The Maya of Central America understand themselves to be part of a great celestial ceiba tree. This silk-cotton tree, which stands for all life is the pole at the center of the Earth and serves to hold up the heavens. The Koran refers to the cosmos as a tree. Continue reading “Lady of the Trees by Mama Donna Henes”

The Full Spirited Four-Fold Goddess: The Maiden, the Mother, The Queen and the Crone by Mama Donna Henes

Donna Henes, Urban Shaman, Queen of my self, crones,

The Queen paradigm promotes a new understanding of what it might mean to be a middle-aged woman today who accepts complete responsibility for and to her self, and it celebrates the physical, emotional, and spiritual rewards of doing so.

Although I have been passionately devoted to the Many Splendored Goddess in Her complex multiplicity for more than thirty years now, I am not a believer in the Triple Goddess paradigm. It has never resonated with me because it belies what I believe to be the true nature of nature. The Triple Goddess in Her tripartite phases is widely understood to represent the complete cyclical wholeness of life. She who is Three is likened to the moon, the tides and the seasons, whose mutability She mirrors. And therein, lies the rub.

I am sorry, but forty years of researching, teaching, and writing about Celestially Auspicious Occasions — the cycles of the cosmos and the earthly seasons, and the multi-cultural ritual expressions that they inspire — I can state unequivocally that the moon has four quarters, not three, and that there are, as well, four seasons in the year. Continue reading “The Full Spirited Four-Fold Goddess: The Maiden, the Mother, The Queen and the Crone by Mama Donna Henes”

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