Night becomes day, winter becomes spring, children become adults who become elders who become ancestors – transformation is a theme that appears again and again in our myths, legends and natural world.
But transformation is not easy as it requires us to let go of the old, the comfortable, the familiar and make way for the new and unknown. We can look to myth and legend with their many instances of transformation for guidance through these difficult moments.
Throughout these years that I have focused on animals and their spiritual meanings – often in ways that relate to goddesses – I’ve heard from many people about their own encounters with animals. It seemed that for me animals mainly showed up in images and words. But now different animals have been showing up in my life while out in nature.
This past summer I was visited by Butterfly. A large Yellow Swallowtail graced my yard for several days on several occasions – a positive sign of ongoing transformation. In September a big colorful swallowtail caterpillar was chomping away at a parsley plant in my herb garden. Not long after a Black Swallowtail appeared with more Butterfly messages of joy and transformation.
Recently I lost that positive feeling of joy and the promise given by transformation – feeling instead a sense of stagnation, of not having achieved my goals and wondering what I needed, to create change and revitalization. With no answer in sight, I activated my go-to cure for the blues – a bike ride in the Bosque – Albuquerque’s cottonwood forest growing along the Rio Grande.
It was a glorious autumn day in the cottonwoods – hues of green turning, turning turning into orange, yellow, gold – sun-white grass heads shimmering in the sun, framed by a deep turquoise blue sky.
Stopping by the river, Dragonfly lit on a stalk of grass, swaying over the water. It remained. I photographed it – moved in closer. It remained. Breathe… wait…. look…. It remained. Suddenly Dragonfly darted – up, down – left, right – circled round – quickly, quickly and then returned to the stalk. It remained. Same sequence repeated ending on the stalk.
Still it remained. I spoke with Dragonfly while gazing at its huge eyes. Eyes that lead to true sight. “Dragonfly,” I said “Show me the way to a positive transformation, give me a sign. With your true sight lead me to an answer, a resolution to my dilemma.”
I repeated these words several times as Dragonfly remained – a few times flitting about – yet always returning. Dragonfly was still perched on its stalk when I finally moved on.
Returning to the cool shadows under the trees, I trekked along. Arriving at a spot where the trees opened up to the banks of the river was a downed tree – a good spot for a river view.
Shortly I noticed a lone bird, standing tall on a small island in the far side of the river It stood and it stood – same position – same spot. It was tall like a crane – many are arriving now. But no, something was different – it wasn’t a crane. It was grayer with fringe-edged feathers around its neck. With the help of my phone camera I discovered it was a Great Blue Heron. I was amazed!
“Ah ha!” I thought. “So this is my sign. Blue Heron has the wisdom I need now”
Not yet having investigated Great Blue Heron I had to wait until I got home to my computer and the wealth of information on the internet. What I discovered was not what I was hoping for.
As I had been struggling with what I needed to instigate the changes wanted, all I could focus on was who to connect with, what action to take, what project to start…. But Great Blue Heron delivered a completely different message.
Blue Heron brings messages of solitude, of standing still and waiting patiently for what you need to come to you. This is how Blue Heron hunts. Blue Heron encourages calm while watching for opportunities to arrive. Blue Heron says that only after calmly waiting, will opportunity arrive – which you must catch quickly or it will disappear.
Dragonfly, embodiment of transformation and true sight, led me to Blue Heron who then informed me that my usual way of doing and fixing and forging ahead would not work. Blue Heron called me to stop, to remain in my solitude and to wait. Now I can only trust that with patience and quiet meditation I will be able to flow with all of the forces active at this time and the path to the realization of my goals will become clear.
A week later, while on a bike-riding break from working on editing the stories for the Animal Wisdom deck, Coyote popped up in my path a mere 25 feet away before hightailing it across the way. I suppose I should expect the unexpected in this time of calm waiting.
I hope you too can find meaningful messages from the animals that appear in your life – messages that help rediscover the wisdom of our ancestors and support the reemergence of the feminine principle in your life.
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment.
Judith is currently in the pre-press stage for her new oracle deck – Animal Wisdom. To learn about a soon-to-come, pre-order special, sign up to receive her newsletter on her website.
The Celtic Goddess Oracle Deck is still available. Order your deck from Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Hawk, beautiful and deadly, soars high in the air – circling and circling – its piercing eyes focused below. Spotting Hawk, one is amazed by its elegance and power while feeling a strange and ancient connection to this magnificent bird. Yet it strikes fear in the hearts of small animals.
I offer this look at the life and stories of Butterfly as a healing salve for our very troubled world. In this time of great, world-wide transformation, as we grapple with the many, many racial, social, economic and environmental injustices currently tearing the fabric of society apart, may the lessons that Butterfly brings help us on our path to love.
At the end of Anita Diamant’s novel, THE RED TENT, Dinah—the same young woman who is only briefly mentioned in the biblical account (Genesis 34)—dies after a long and full life. The biblical text tells us that Dinah “went out to visit the women of the region” and that “Schechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her…seized her and lay with her by force” (vss. 1-2). The passage is often titled “The Rape of Dinah.”
In Diamant’s version of the story, Dinah and King Hamor’s son engage in consensual sex. In keeping with the biblical account, the king then attempts to negotiate a bride price with Jacob (Dinah’s father), but Jacob and his sons are reluctant to agree to the marriage. They demand soon thereafter that all the men in Hamor’s kingdom undergo circumcision as a bride price. On the third day after surgery, the sons steal into the city and kill the men.
After just a mere mention of Dinah’s “rape” in Genesis 34, she disappears from the story. In THE RED TENT, Diamant not only gives Dinah a powerful voice, she also weaves a wonderful tale of mothers, daughters, heartache, betrayal, loss, love, and joy. Dinah gives birth to her lover’s son in Egypt, develops a strong bond and working relationship with the midwife, Meryt, and eventually falls in love with Benia, a master carpenter.
Bear has been important to human mythology and story for thousands of years. Some feel that Bear is the oldest European deity, as bones and skulls of bears have been found lovingly arranged on niches found in caves across Europe. The first written sentence from the Old Europe Script, invented around 6,000 years ago reads, “The Bear Goddess and the Bird Goddess are the Bear Goddess indeed.
In Andean traditions the entire month of August is devoted to Pachamama.
Pachamama is the Supreme Goddess honored by the indigenous people of the Andes including Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. She is referred to as both the physical planet Earth as well as the universal Feminine Energy in time and space. Her name literally translates as Pacha – meaning world, land, earth, universe; and Mama, meaning Mother. She is the Mother of the World.
In Incan mythology Pachamama is also celebrated as a fertility Goddess who oversees planting and harvesting. She is responsible for the well-being of plants and animals and is often depicted as a Dragon or serpent representative of the Andean Mountains. When Pachamama feels disrespected it is thought that she causes earthquakes. Andean people believe that recent earthquakes in the region are a result of humanity’s destruction, disregard and disrespect for the planet. Continue reading “Pachamama – August 1st – A day to Honour the Great Mother Goddess”
Dragonfly, dragonfly darting quickly hither and yonder, up and down, left and right –a transparent shimmering spark with effervescent wings, representing the dreamtime and the illusionary nature of reality.Dragonfly, dragon – both immortalized in mythology worldwide.
Fall is here, the leaves are changing color, the days are shortening and our ongoing natural cycle of change and transformation now moves toward the dark, quiet days of winter. Both the idea and the process of transformation have fascinated me my whole life. Blame it on my Scorpio rising. Scorpio is ruled by Pluto, the planet of transformation and regeneration. Diving deep and surfacing has always been my mode.
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.
Public Art displays like the image above, a dragon that appears to be moving through the sand dunes of Borrego Springs, California offer tremendous insight into the time and era of the society when it was created, the surrounding community, the patron of the work and of course, the artist. In the case of this artwork and several other similar sculptures found in the barren but beautiful landscape within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park the subject matter supports the wildness of the region and invites the viewer to consider the area before the impacts of modern civilization. In this case, it isn’t difficult to imagine such an untamed time as there are miles and miles of sandstone, treeless mountains and desert brush with very few people anywhere to be found. Also in this case, the artwork is absolutely appropriate for the environment in which it is placed.
“If private art suggests an intimate exchange, public art gathers a congregation. While I have observed that all art is to some degree public, pubic art merits its name in virtue of the fact that the creation of a public is its point of departure. Public art presupposes the public sphere and produces a public in relation to that concept. Unlike popular or mass art, it does not assume a preexistent generic audience to be entertained or instructed but sets out to forge a specific public by means of an aesthetic interaction.” (Hein, pg. 49)
Love does not create powerful empires or concentrations of wealth or military might. Love is not what fuels the tanks of commerce or political clout or financial success. Many would say that love slows things down, mires us in complication. Love is not the way the successful and the effective move–it’s not fast enough, it’s not ruthless enough, it’s not excellent enough.
It’s no coincidence that women have often been seen as the carriers of love–the mothers of how we are loved and how we wish to be loved. The domain of women has been traditionally seen as “behind the scenes.” Women are the nurturers, the familiar narrative goes. Women are the ones who provide a soft landing after a hard day, an understanding ear for all the stresses of the world “out there.”
The extended narrative is that women will have to become masculinized to “play the game” of public life. Women will have to learn to be “like men” in order to compete, in order to win, in order to make an impact. Underneath these narratives of nurture and impact are the contours of power in patriarchy. Imprinting women with the responsibility to love in a context where love is secondary or even tertiary to things like aggression and competition, means women will often relegate themselves to the margins of public power. Not because we think we should be powerless, but because that’s where we often feel the most at home. And sometimes ceding public power can feel like the price women pay to truly love–to love ourselves, to love who we love, and to love the world around us. The contours of power in patriarchy can distort not just women’s lives, but everyone’s lives in ways that carry the weight of this distortion of love.
These gendered expectations of how and where love gets to live and move and breathe in this world distorts the power that love brings with it. After almost ten years of life working from the margins of institutions (church and academy) as an independent scholar and “freelance theologian” I have felt the push back about love as a respectable methodology and mode of operation enough to recognize it quickly.
Institutions often answer my invitation to a loving attentiveness to bodies, particularly to traumatized bodies, with legalities and anxieties: the language of “boundaries,” “reporting laws,” and “misconduct” can shut down work or conversation. The patriarchal hyper-sexualizing of love makes it a no-no or at least something to be feared as a slippery slope in institutional life. In ecclesial settings, where love is supposed to define our mode of operation, these conversations rapidly find their way to sin and human failure. Love is “in spite of” who people are, not because of who they are. Love is impossible without lots of grace and patience and overlooking the problematic things that people do. Love is, if we’re honest with ourselves in these contexts, a real chore in this iteration of its nature. And people default into feeling like a burden, not wanting to bother anyone with their problems, and feeling ashamed of who they really are.
Love is about trust: trusting a moment, trusting a space, trusting each other. And love struggles in contexts where spaces, moments, and people are not trustworthy. So many with whom I work in consulting, retreats, spiritual direction, and teaching struggle to trust and to love. They struggle to trust and love anything because they have encountered so many untrustworthy spaces along the way. The competitive intensity of doing good work can translate into a diminishing and demeaning cycle of “never enough” and the need to protect and defend.
It is amazing to witness what happens to people when they realize they can trust a space–even if it is just a temporary space, a pop-up beloved community where you can really be yourself and won’t be judged or scrutinized. The conventional standards of excellence might suggest such settings work from the lowest common denominator and the generated “product” will suffer from a lack of competition or lack of scrutiny. On the contrary, I see over and over again the beautiful things people can be and do and say and feel when they are loved and accepted. Art, poetry, unique insights, oratorical wisdom, powerful music, deep healing, a sense of freedom, clarity, creativity, peace, support, friendship, and good work all emerge in startling and potent ways when people encounter trustworthy love.
The academy and the church define themselves as places where people can learn and grow and find community. These institutions were formed by patriarchy, but are they doomed to reiterate the diminishing returns of patriarchy forever? Their aspiration is to help people find their way in the world in the most constructive ways they can. And in the world today, people need trustworthy love to truly find the music of their soul. The power of love can transform the spaces of enlightenment and ecclesia into truly collaborative, supportive, loving places of work. Far from screeching to a halt, these spaces might finally hit their stride.
Danu, of the flowing waters, Queen of the fertile land – Danu, the Great Mother Goddess of the Irish Celts, known as Don by the Welsh Celts, is the Creator Goddess of the Tuatha De Danann, the first wave of Celtic tribes to invade Ireland. She is also known as Danann, Ana, and Anann. She gave birth to all life in the land of the Celts.
No stories of Her survive but Her power remains strong. She is the most ancient of all the Celtic deities. In a silver flash of iridescence she appears in my mind’s eye.
As the “Flowing One” She is associated with the seas, wells, springs and the Danube River, gifting Her children the magic of transformation, inspiration, and wisdom. As an Earth Goddess, She bestows abundance and earth mysteries. She embodies the wisdom of living in balance with the Earth. She is sometimes associated with Flidais of the cattle and deer. She is also connected with Brigid, Goddess of Healing, Poetry and Smithcraft, who the original Neolithic people of Ireland worshiped long before the Celts arrived. Continue reading “Danu, Celtic Mother Goddess by Judith Shaw”
“Power belongs to those who stay to write the report!” stated Jeanne Audrey Powers during her presentation at the Religion and the Feminist Movement conference at Harvard Divinity School back in 2002. Though the statement sounds a little funny, it does raise a good question about how one participates in creating change. Where does the power for change and transformation lie? Is it in the writing of reports; is it from within institutions; from without? This question seems to be of particular relevance to those of us who have feminist visions and commitments and also remain involved in Christian churches – churches of a tradition with deeply embedded patriarchal habits and practices.
Recently, this concern was raised in a class for which I am a TA. We were talking about the fact that some feminist theologians develop feminist systematic theologies; by definition a cohesive theological system done from a feminist perspective. In part, the motivation is to reclaim the systematic way of doing theology and have it stand alongside other widely recognized theologies – but do so in a feminist way. Additionally, the traditional systematic format gives it validity and may serve to temper the prevailing habit of teaching feminist theologies as so-called ‘contextual’ theologies (as if other theologies are not also contextual, but that’s a topic for another post). A critique of this development, of course, is that by writing systematic theologies feminists are simply reinforcing patriarchal forms and patterns of academentia instead of expanding and creating new ones. Continue reading “Transforming the Church from Within or Without? by Xochitl Alvizo”
Last fall I undertook the Ariadne Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete and saw many wonders. Foremost for me was our descent into the Skoteino Cave, following in the footsteps of ancient Cretans who understood the cave to be the Source of Life, the womb of the Goddess, and a place of transformation. I ventured down tentatively taking very wary steps, protecting my two new hip replacements, determined to join our sacred ritual in the cave with my sisters. My hips called a stop to my descent half-way down. I perched perilously on a small rock ledge and there I confronted inner and outer darkness. It was indeed a profound transformation. Continue reading “Inner and Outer Darkness in the Skoteino Cave by Coleen Clare”
Last time, we considered whether the creation of rituals, I mean habits, might serve as an antidote to depression, or as a way of managing depression. But the creation of ritual has had a much more significant role in feminist religious practice than such an approach might suggest. Currently, WATER – Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual, a leading center for feminist religious thought – creates multiple rituals marking various seasons and events in the year, most recently for the summer solstice. These rituals can provide alternative ways of marking the year’s rhythms, and they can serve as ways to take control of liturgical spaces that have tended to exclude women or to allow women to serve only in various subordinate roles.
Yet the terminology is odd. What does it mean to create a ritual? If I think of the rituals of my childhood, what presented itself to me as ritual was connected either with religious practice, or with seasons of exception. Indeed, the most stylized rituals of the year were areligious (as I understood religion). They took place on Christmas Eve. First, during the distribution of presents, my father would put on a terrifying, horrifying, grotesque Santa mask. It was intended, clearly, to be a friendly Santa, which was why its leering was so fundamentally disturbing. My sister and I would try to run away, emotionally and sometimes physically petrified by the transformation of our father into this monster. Second, after Christmas dinner, we would eat cold rice porridge with cream and try to get an almond – “mandel i grøten” in Norwegian tradition. Getting the almond, which is blanched and hidden in the porridge, is considered an auspicious omen for the new year, and requires that the finder be given a gift – traditionally, a marzipan pig. Continue reading “Creating Ritual by Linn Marie Tonstad”
“I did not know to recognize you as individuals when I bought you, but I know to recognize you as individuals now…”
I had been a vegetarian, and sometimes pescatarian, for more than 10 years before becoming vegan. Despite the length of my vegetarianism, in all that time I had not been inclined to go vegan. First, I really didn’t know too much about veganism and only began meeting a few vegans about five or six years ago here in Boston, none of whom had shared a compelling enough reason for their choice (at least not compelling to me). Further, I had no imagination for life without cheese or Cherry Garcia ice cream(!), and so I happily continued with my vegetarian ways. Then enters Carol Adams…
In a teleconference that WATER had with Carol Adams on March 14, 2012 (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual), the beauty of her veganism moved me to a new understanding of my food choices. I listened to the WATER audio recording some months after the actual event (these teleconference audio recordings are a great resource you should all access), and although I had been familiar with some of her work and had heard her speak before, I had not heard her talk about the compassion element of veganism. Her emphasis on increasing compassion, which I witnessed in action during her conversation with one of the listeners, was what moved me to my new practice. Continue reading “Extending Compassion and Vegetarianism by Xochitl Alvizo”
(I offer here an abridged version of the sermon I gave on Yom Kippur (5773) at Temple Emanuel in Lowell, MA. The full version will be available on their website soon. The book of Jonah is always read on Yom Kippur in the afternoon service as the Haftorah. It is rather traditional that someone (usually the Rabbi) offer an interpretation of it. Temple Emanuel asked me this year. I thank the congregation for the honor and I hope my words offered them, and now you, food for thought.)
Scholars believe the Greek philosopher Plato lived between 428 BCE and 348 BCE. The Allegory of the Cave is one of Plato’s most famous stories. It illustrates the effects of a change in knowledge, education and experiences on the human being. Some of you may know it or have read it at some point but for those of you who don’t, let me offer a very brief summary.
This week, I read an excellent, gripping, poignant blog post by Feminist Philosopher Leanne Dedrick entitled “Things That Make Me Cry: The Practice of Unbelief.” The purpose of the piece was Leanne’s desire to address a misperception by some non-atheists that atheists are devoid of emotion, violently hostile to anything associated with faith, and unable to deal honestly with the Divine. She also corrects the erroneous assumption that atheists seek to “hide from, or purposefully turn […] away from, the ‘saving grace’ of religion.” In the post, she wrote specifically about her own journey from ultra-conservative Christianity to atheism. Continue reading “The Solace of Another Woman’s Story by Yvonne Augustine”
My simple daily rituals and spiritual practices are what keep me mindful of G-d and G-d’s presence in my life. They also remind me of G-d’s call to justice, care, compassion and love.
“I find by experience, not by reasoning,
but by my own discovery that G-d is near me,
and I can be near G-d at all times.
I cannot explain it but I am as sure of my experience
as I am of the fact that I live and love,
but I know I do.
In the same way, I know I am in contact with G-d.”
This poem by Lily Montagu speaks to me. I read it most mornings as I say my morning prayers, and it is one of those mantras I try to live by. I have found that contrary to popular belief, sustained religious practices can be just as transformative as instantaneous conversion experiences. This is why I have developed certain spiritual and specifically Jewish practices (For more about my joinery to Judaism, see one of my previous blogs “Reflections on my Spiritual Journey: Claiming Judaism”). I find that they help me develop and cultivate a strong relationship with G-d. For example, I keep a kosher home; wear a kippah daily; try to pray at least twice a day andbefore snacks and meals; practice the principles of Mussar; attend regularly Shabbat services Friday evenings at my Reform Congregation in Lowell and Saturday morning services at a Conservative congregation in Nashua, NH; light Shabbat candles; try not cook or create on Shabbat; make Havadalah to mark the end of Shabbat; give tzedakah as much as I can and study Torah with my friends. This list is not all encompassing and there are quite a few areas of my practice I wish were more disciplined as well.
It can only be that She begins in a small way at a single place in the world. It can only be that She begins within us.
Carol Christ’s post this week made me think of a favorite little passage I love from a Catholic theologian, Gerhard Lohfink, who wrote a book about whether God needs the church. I’m not going to engage that specific question here nor am I going to talk about the ins and outs of the book. I simply mention it because it holds within it the beautiful passage that deeply resonates with me and has become the primary image I hold on to when thinking about how I want to participate in the transformation of the world. The passage comes from a part of the book where Gerhard Lohfink muses about how God would start a revolution while still respecting human freedom and participation:
God, like all revolutionaries, desires the overturning, the radical alteration of the whole society – for in this the revolutionaries are right: what is at stake is the whole world, and the change must be radical, for the misery of the world cries to heaven and it begins deep within the human heart. But how can anyone change the world and society at its roots without taking away freedom? (Lohfink, 26)
The issue is that for centuries people have tried and tried again to change the world, to ‘free the masses’ and save people from suffering, misery, and oppression – but too often revolutionaries resort to violence as their means. The systems are so rigidly and stubbornly in place that the revolutionary comes to see no other way to bring about radical social change except through a widespread violent overthrow. Continue reading “How Does Goddess Change the World? by Xochitl Alvizo”
At a surprisingly early age, perhaps nine or ten, I became the author of my own spiritual narrative, meaning, I took it upon myself to initiate and pursue the deep mystery of my faith. Weekly Mass was an event, not an obligation, and something to which I attended without my family. The singleness of my worship at such a young age drew stares and whispers from those families who had arrived in tact. And while I was not unaware of their curiosity, I found it easier to lose myself in the absolute wonder of my environment. This was the world to which I belonged. I was at once home and alive in a devotion filled with sacramentals, those objects of religious piety that created a force field of God’s protection around me.
While the mystery of God’s love enveloped and graced my adolescence, a slow and creeping suspicion began to take hold of my faith. Because of my “girlishness,” I was barred as an alter server, and I began to absorb my otherness. I worried about my difference, and began to question the fairness of God. Telegraphic messages of inferiority caused me great confusion. The implicit reality that as female I was ontologically challenged, slowly sifted its way into my psyche and I would argue, my soul as well.
As a budding young feminist, what I found within the teachings of the church, either implicit or explicitly, did not coincide with what I felt to be the inner me. On the cusp of adulthood, the collision between self and Church [read as God] was inevitable. The catechetical formation of my youth, of coming forth equally male and female in the image and likeness of God seemed like a childish myth and certainly not the reality of the andocentric church to which I was now departing.
Fast forward twenty years, and I cautiously found myself back in the Catholic Church, only this time in the arms of feminist theologians. I was hooked. Their writings informed my life choices, directing me towards my current doctoral pursuit. Yet I have found the academic arena is able to shield and protect me from the pain I continue to feel within the institutional church. To demonstrate the interweaving of the challenges and nourishment I experience as a Catholic I addressed above, I would like to share with you the following story. Continue reading “Feminism, Ontology and the Priesthood of all Believers”