On Motherhood and its Ritual Power

Before starting on the Tarot section of this blog, I would like to share a small passage I came across while reading about tribal consciousness in the Americas.

Some of the last remaining matrifocal groups in the world include a number of the Native American tribes. In her book “The Sacred Hoop – Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions” the late Paula Gunn Allen, a Laguna Keres Indian on her mother’s side, beautifully describes many of the differences between the Western or Anglo way of thinking and that of the American Indians. Even after 500 years of contact with patriarchal European culture, the Native Americans have retained their cyclical and ritualistic tribal view of the world.

The following quote from Paula Gunn Allen’s book is so very relevant to the re-discovery of the Goddess and the sacred power of womanhood for it is written from within a matristic mindset. It is so enlightening!

Corn Dawn Mother by Marti Fenton

“The water of life, menstrual or postpartum blood, was held sacred [by pre-contact American Indians]. Sacred often means taboo; that is, what is empowered in a ritual sense is not to be touched or approached by any who are weaker than the power itself, lest they suffer negative consequences from contact. The blood of woman was in and of itself infused with the power of Supreme Mind, and so women were held in awe and respect. The term “sacred”, which is connected with power, is similar in meaning to the term “sacrifice”, which means “to make sacred”. What is made sacred is empowered. Thus, in the old way, sacrificing meant empowering, which is exactly what it still means to American Indians who adhere to traditional practice. Blood was and is used in sacrifice because it possesses the power to make something else powerful or, conversely, to weaken or kill it.

Pre-contact American Indian women valued their role as vitalizers because they understood that bearing, like bleeding, was a transformative ritual act. Through their own bodies they could bring vital beings into the world – a miraculous power unrivaled by mere shamanic displays. They were mothers, and that word implied the highest degree of status in ritual cultures. The status of mothers was so high, in fact, that in some cultures Mother or its analogue Matron, was the highest office to which a man or woman could aspire.

The old ones were empowered by their certain knowledge that the power to make life is the source and model for all ritual magic and that no other power can gainsay it. Nor is that power really biological at base; it is the power of ritual magic, the power of Thought, of Mind, that gives rise to biological organisms as it gives rise to social organizations, material culture, and transformations of all kinds – including hunting, war, healing, spirit communication, rain-making, and all the rest.

At Laguna, all entities, human and supernatural, who are functioning in a ritual manner at a high level are called Mother.

[…]

But its value [that of being a mother] signifies something other than the kind of sentimental respect for motherhood that is reflected in Americans’ Mother’s Day observances. It is ritually powerful, a condition of being that confers the highest adeptship on whoever bears the title. So central to ritual activities is it in Indian cultures that men are honored by the name mother, recognizing and paying respect to their spiritual and occult competence. That competence derives entirely from Mother Iyatiku, and, through her, from Thought Woman [Spider Grandmother] herself.

A strong attitude integrally connects the power of Original Thinking or Creation Thinking to the power of mothering. That power is not so much the power to give birth, as we have noted, but the power to make, to create, to transform. Ritual, as noted elsewhere, means transforming something from one state or condition to another, and that ability is inherent in the action of mothering. It is the ability that is sought and treasured by adepts, and it is the ability that male seekers devote years of study and discipline to acquire. Without it, no practice of the sacred is possible, at least not within the Great Mother societies.” [pg 28 / 29]

NOTE

[1] Anyone who wants to submerge themselves into a tribal often matristic mindset that is ritual-based and has a cyclical rather than linear understanding of time should definitely read fiction and poetry by American Indian writers especially women writers. Two of my personal favourite novels of all times are Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms. They are both just beautiful and simply make sense.

A New Dawn

Prayer of 7 directions

Look at us, Hear us!

Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth!

Give us our descendants, our succession,
As long as the Sun shall move!

May the people have peace,
May they be happy!

Give us good life,
Grandmother of the Sun, Grandmother of the Light,
Let there be dawn, let the light come!

– Mayan dawn prayer

From “Grandmothers of the Light – A Medicine Woman’s Sourcebook” by Paula Gunn Allen

A Winter Solstice Story

wintersolstice11

Today is the day of the solstice, the day when the sun appears to be standing still. Here in the northern hemisphere, where I live, it is winter. Today is the longest night of the year, it is a time of darkness, of cold and of rest. However, that is not all that the winter solstice signifies. Just as the dark season has come to its peak, the light is about to return. From now on, although night will continue to rule for a while longer, the hours of darkness will be getting shorter every day to give way to more and more light.

The ancients used to say that on this day of the winter solstice when the sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, the Goddess in Her manifestation as the Moon gave birth to the Sun. It was celebrated as the day of rebirth of the light, the day when the young Sun was born again from the darkness.

This story is so very old and yet continues to stay with us to this day. Most cultures have a story that tells of how at this time of the year during the hours of darkness a mother gives birth to a son. It is no coincidence that in English the words for sun and son sound identical. In German also the word for sun “Sonne” (although female) is clearly related to the word for son “Sohn”. This is the case in most, if not all, Germanic languages.

Today on this beautiful solstice I’d like to talk about one of those stories, the one those of us in the Western world are most familiar with: the Christian nativity myth. Although familiar with the story of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, what most people don’t realise, however, is that the story is neither unique nor only 2,000 years old. It is one of many many stories in which the Goddess as virgin gives birth from within Herself to a life form that although part of Her is quite different to Her.

Although essentially a solstice story, the birthgiving by the mother to a usually male infant has another broader meaning as well. Let us look at that one first.

The Mother who represents the immortal Goddess as Mother Nature gives birth to a child who symbolises all mortal existence in the universe. The Goddess Herself is the Great Spirit, the universal immortal energy source of all and everything. The Greeks described this permanent aspect of nature as “zoe”, while the Egyptians knew it as “Ka”. Her infant child, on the other hand, represents the transient, finite aspect of nature (known as “bios” to the ancient Greeks and “Ba” to the Egyptians). He stands for all the different individual mortal life forms in existence. The child is usually described as male (i.e. different to his mother) in order to symbolise the great variety of life that Mother Nature gives birth to. His infancy represents his and thus our inherent dependency and connection to the Goddess as Nature. As one of the many life forms in existence we are one with all other life, be they plants, insects or even other mortal creations such as a new star. As the baby is one with his mother so are we one with the Goddess who is immanent in all and everything in existence. This basic truth is always present and represented pictorally in all mother-son myths throughout the ages.

The solstice myth, more specifically, deals with the events that are taking place at this time of year. From our vantage point on Earth it appears that throughout the year the sun moves from being overhead in summer to being barely above the horizon in the winter. It seems that as the year wanes so does the sun become weaker.

Many cultures imagine the Sun as a male figure who is born at the winter solstice, grows up and matures throughout the year until he ages and dies at the end of the year only to be born again as an infant at the winter solstice. [1] In these stories his mother is generally the Moon, for our ancient foremothers and fathers knew that all existence comes from the dark primordial seas of the universe and the Moon with Her close connection to water was seen as Mistress of the Dark Watery Abyss of the Night Sky. The Moon is one of the main manifestations of the Goddess. And so the ancients pictorally told the story of how every year at the winter solstice the Goddess as Moon gave birth to Her son, the Sun.

The essence of this story has to this day been captured and retained in the Nativity Story.

First of all, the story takes place on December 25th. Based on the Julian calendar this was the day after the solstice (December 21st + three days of standstill + the day after).

Secondly, the story takes place at nighttime in a dark corner of a barn or stable and in some versions a cave. This is a very important aspect of the myth, as with all the solstice stories it signifies the rebirth of the young Sun from the darkness.

Mary, although hidden in plain sight, quite clearly is the ancient Goddess Herself. Like all the Great Mother Goddesses before Her She is Goddess of the Sea and the Moon. Her name in Latin is Maria, which is derived from “mare”, the sea. Mary is often depicted sitting on a moon crescent wearing a blue dress – the colour of the sky and the sea. Her pose with Her baby in Her arms is reminiscent of Isis and baby Horus. She wears the mural crown of Cybele and Diana and is often depicted with the Gorgon mask on Her breast.

Mary is Virgin – before, during and after the birth of Her child. As was the case with the Goddess’s more ancient manifestations rather than Mary’s virginity signifying Her castity it really symbolises Her power to create new life from within Herself without having had intercourse with a man.

According to some version’s of the myth Mary was impregnated by the Holy Ghost. Today many people understand the Holy Ghost to be synonymous with the Hebrew god Yahweh, however, that it quite wrong. In the original script the Holy Ghost was Hokhmah, wisdom, which is female in Hebrew. Translated into Greek, wisdom became Sophia, also female. Only in the Latin translation did wisdom change from the female Hokhmah / Sophia to the male Spiritus Sanctus. To this day the Holy Ghost retains Her emblem, the dove, a very ancient symbol of the Goddess. As the Goddess as Wisdom as Hokhmah as Sophia as the Holy Ghost impregnated Mary in Her mortal form, the Goddess essentially impregnated Herself, just as She always did throughout the ages!

Mary is

– “the Mother of God”
– “Great Mother of Life and Death”
– “Queen of Heaven, Earth and the Underworld”
– “Goddess of Animals and Plants” [2]
– “Goddess of Wisdom of the Soul”.

She is Stella Maris, the “Star of the Sea”.

Mary is Goddess of the Crescent Moon when She gives birth to Her son. She is Goddess of the Full Moon when She mothers Her child. Mary is Goddess of the Dark Moon when She mourns Her son for three days.

The divine child, baby Jesus, who represents both transient life as well as the rebirth of the Sun at the winter solstice, is “Sol Invictus”, the Unvanquished Sun. He is divine in the same way as all of the Goddess’s creations are divine, including every bug, every weed as well as every human being.

The star of Bethlehem that features so prominently in the story has always been sacred to the Goddess. It is the evening star, the planet we call Venus which is sacred to Inanna of Sumer, Astarte of Canaan, Aphrodite of Greece, Venus of Rome and many other guises of the Goddess all across the globe. Similarly, Sothis, the star known to us as Sirius, is sacred to Isis in Egypt.

And finally the three wise men are symbolic of the three phases of the Moon and are therefore also sacred to the Goddess. They follow Her star, they travel long distances to pay homage to the miracle of the Great Mother Goddess giving birth to new life. They pay homage to the rebirth of the Sun.

“The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing!”

Happy Solstice and Blessed Be! xxx

image

NOTES

[1] Other cultures imagine two alternating male enities – the god of light who is born at the winter solstice and dies at the summer solstice and his brother, the god of darkness, who is born at the summer solstice and dies at the winter solstice. According to Robert Graves the ancient Celts knew these two brothers as the Oak and Holly Kings.

[2] Mary is revealed as such by giving birth in a barn / stable surrounded by the animals.

[3] My primary resource for this article was “The Myth of the Goddess – Evolution of an Image” by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford.

Hathor-Sekhmet – Holy Heifer – Lioness – Egyptian Goddess of the Sun, the Moon and the Heavenly Sky

Hathor and Sekhmet are two sides of the same Goddess. Hathor is Her gentle, nurturing and life-giving aspect, while Sekhmet is Her fierce and destructive side.

Hathor, the Holy Heifer, symbolises the entire heavens including the Sun, the Moon and the stars. She is depicted as a cow, which is a symbol of nurture and life and by extension represents civilisation. Hathor reveals Her origins through Her headdress which consists of a solar disc surrounded by two lunar cow horns and the ancient wise serpent symbol, the Uraeus cobra. Hathor’s cow belly is descibed as being full of stars, which connects Her to the Goddess Neit, who is the heavens.

Hathor’s origins lie in southern Upper Egypt. It is speculated that She is about 6,000 years old, as Her image has been found drawn on rocks near Naqada and at the settlement of Girez. Both excavations have been dated to the Predynastic Period of about 4,000 BCE.

Although later Egyptian mythology was similar to Classical Greek mythology in that it had an entire pantheon with goddesses and gods that were very human with family trees and life stories, earlier predynastic beliefs were much more animistic and nature based. With that in mind, Hathor – who wasn’t always called that, but nobody knows Her original name for sure – literally IS the sky, the Moon and the Sun.

Hathor, who Merlin Stone suggests was once one and the same as Neit, Methyer and Meh Urit, is the primordial gentle aspect of the universe. She is the gentle life-giving aspect of our Sun without which there would be no life on Earth. She is also the gentle Moon with Her three phases that are so closely linked to women, water and magic. Hathor’s celestial milk is the nourishing rain that fills the rivers and sustains life. She is all the stars in the sky, although over the years She became particularly associated with the seven stars of the Sothis constellation (Canis Major).

The ancient Egyptians pictorally visualised the sky, the Sun, the Moon and all the stars as being a living cow who sustained Her children with Her nourishing milk, i.e. the rain. Later mythology would associate Hathor solely with the sky while Horus would come to represent the Sun. This is also where Hathor got Her name from. About 3,000 BCE Upper and Lower Egypt were forcibly united into one large country. At the same time the “Shemsu Hor”, the People of Horus arrived. They re-named the Great Cosmic Mother, the Holy Heifer, the Giver and Sustainer of Life, to “Hat Hor” or “House of Horus”. Unfortunately, as said before, nobody knows for sure what Her original name was.

As the Goddess as the Sun Hathor-Sekhmet symbolises both aspects of our beautiful star. While Hathor, the Celestial Cow, represents the gentle spring Sun – note how Taurus, the Bull, is the fixed sign of spring – Her alter ego Sekhmet, the Fiery Lioness, represents the hot burning summer Sun – again, note how Leo, the Lion, is the fixed sign of summer.

Like Hathor, Sekhmet also wears the Sun disk and the Uraeus Serpent as Her headdress. She does not, however, wear the lunar cow horns, as She is solely linked to the Sun.

Sekhmet, the Mighty One, the destructive mid-summer Sun, is hot, fierce and dangerous. She is also called “Nesert”, the Flame, as the dry summer heat is often linked to destructive wild fires.

Although the fierce African sun is potentially life-threatening, in small doses it can be medicinal. All life on the surface of the Earth needs sunlight to thrive, so even in mid-summer the Sun has healing properties. Sekhmet is “the Great One of Healing” and Her priestesses were renowned for their medical expertise.

Returning to gentle Hathor, here is a little more about Her:

Hathor is the Goddess of Song and Dance. The ancient Egyptians believed that it was She who taught humans how to sing and dance the sacred dance of the sistrum rattle with its jingling rhythms. The sistrum was associated with Hathor and treated with great reverence.

Hathor is the Goddess of Happiness, Joy, Love and all Good Things. She was worshipped all across Egypt and beyond, as far north as Byblos in Phoenicia (today’s Lebanon) and as far south as Nubia, northern Sudan.

Hathor is

– Lady of the Stars
– The One Who Shines as Gold
– Mistress of the Desert
– Lady of Heaven
– Sovreign of Imaau [1]

It is said that Hathor is right there when a baby is born. It is She who breathes life into her or his nostrils with Her sacred Ankh. As the Sacred Seven She prophesises each infant’s destiny.

Hathor is the wind and the rain. She quenches our thirst with Her celestial milk. She heals and sustains us with Her gentle life-giving sun’s rays.

Every year the ancient Egyptians celebrated the Feast of Hathor in the third month of the Flooding Season (Inundation) at the end of August. They would party like crazy with sistrum music, dancing, lovemaking and lots of intoxicating red barley beer.

The origin of this can be traced to two stories. The first one is definitely a dynastic story, so is tainted with ideas of manly pride and war. It was a story told by the followers of the Sun god Ra in his main centre of worship Heliopolis. The second story rings much more ancient, as Hathor seems to be still autonomous. It comes from Denderah near the ancient rocks of Naqada, Hathor’s likely place of origin.

Starting with the first story, this tells us a little more about Hathor-Sekhmet and the significance of the red barley beer that was consumed so liberally at Hathor’s Feast Day.

According to legend one day the Sun god Ra turned to Hathor for help and protection. Apparently he’d overheard a group of men on top of a moutain plotting a conspiracy against him. He asked Hathor to “neutralise the threat”, as it were. This is when gentle nurturing Hathor transformed Herself into the fierce lioness Sekhmet. She slayed all of Ra’s enemies, but didn’t stop there. Having got a taste for human blood, She went on a rampage that nearly killed all of humanity. In order to stop Her Ra apparently made up a brew from red ochre and barley beer to trick Sekhmet into thinking this was blood. He poured all 7,000 jugs onto the ground and the Goddess drank and drank and drank until She was so intoxicated She fell asleep and returned to being gentle Hathor.

A lot of people have interpreted this to reveal Sekhmet as a Goddess of War. I personally believe this story symbolises the change of the seasons from spring to summer that brings with it the danger of fire as the intensity of the Sun increases to incredible levels, especially in Egypt that is surrounded by desert. While fire is a valuable tool when used with care and respect, it can become a life-threathening danger when left uncontolled. Sekhmet is the wild fire that kills, destoys plants and homes alike. She may also be the fire that was set on purpose or by accident that got out of control, raging across the land. As summer gives way to autumn Sekhmet returns to being gentle Hathor.

Red ochre is usually a symbol of rebirth: Ancient people including Neanderthals used to cover their dead with red ochre as they carefully returned them to the earth, the dark Womb of the Goddess. With that in mind the red barley drink symbolises the regeneration and revitilisation of the Earth after summer’s fierceness and the return of the gentler autumn sun, represented by the Goddess as Hathor.

The second, most likely older, story from southern Egypt centres around Hathor as the life-giving river Nile. Like the first story it is about the changing of the seasons, but here the agricultural seasons from growth (autumn / winter) to dryness (spring) to eventually the flooding of the Nile (summer).

One day Hathor grew very angry and threathened to destroy the entire universe She had previously created. She was going to throw the earth back into the sea and return to Her own primordial serpent form. Before She actually went through with any of it, Hathor transformed Herself into a lioness and went to Nubia just south of Egypt. While She was gone chaos and grief swept across the land, everything dried up and life became difficult for all.

In order to persuade Her to return to Egypt, Her brothers Shu and Thoth also transformed themselves into lions and followed Hathor. They did eventually manage to change their sister’s mind and She went back north with them. As the Goddess returned to Egypt, so did peace and happiness. The Nile swelled and life was beautiful again. The time of Hathor’s return and the swelling of the Nile coincided with the rising of the star Sothis (Sirius to us) at the same time as the morning sun. From then on, the rising of the “Dog Star” on the eastern horizon would mark the new year and the season of the Inundation (Flooding) that followed would be dedicated to Hathor. Her special feast day at the end of August marked the time of the peak floods. Later mythology would associate the annual Nile flooding with Osiris.

Adoration to You, Het-Hert, Mistress of Iunet, the August One in the Sanctuary of the August One.
The One Shining as Gold in the Sanctuary of Gold, the Atenet, eldest child of the Aten.
I adore Your Majesty with Your heart’s desire, I exalt Your Ka to the height of Nut.
I praise Your Manifestation to the limits of the rays of the Aten; I serve Your Majesty in Your shrine.
The Powerful One, the Great One, Mistress of Fear, Great of Terror among the Netjeru.
The Horizon-Dweller, Mistress of Heaven, the Brilliant One who creates the rays of the sun; the Netjeru rise early in the
morning to pay You homage.
Your beautiful face is satisfied by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, beloved of the Great Het-Hert,
Mistress of Iunet, the Eye of Ra.

— From the Temple of Dendera, in S. Cauville: Dendera I

— translated into English by Neferuhethert, c. 1999

NOTES

[1] From Merlin Stone’s “Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood”

[2] Some people talk of Hathor and Sekhmet as being two parts of a Triple Goddess: Bast-Hathor-Sekhmet, whereby Bast is the Maiden, Hathor the Mother and Sekhmet the dark Crone aspect. This is a very valid connection, although I don’t believe it ever existed in ancient Egypt in quite that form. Sekhmet most certainly isn’t a lunar Goddess and Bast is quite a separate Cat Goddess from the Northern Lower Egypt. Saying that, the connection I’m discussing here with Hathor and Sekhmet being two aspects of the same Goddess, may not actually have existed in prehistoric Egypt either, as the “creation” of Sekhmet is linked to the Sun god Ra, who most certainly is a much later dynastic development.

Pele – The Hawaiian Volcano and Fire Goddess

Pele is the Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes of the Hawaiian people. She is “She Who Shapes the Sacred Land”.

Pele is a Destructress-Creatrix. She embodies Divine Creative Power that here manifests as the Volcano Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Pele destroys in order to clear the way for new creation. It is Pele who has shaped the island to what it is and continues to do so to this day.

She is “Pele Honua Mea” – “Pele of the Sacred Earth”.

She is “Pele Ai Honua” – “Pele Who Devours the Earth”

Pele is the Divine Flame. She is the Flame of Passion, the Fire of Purpose. Pele embodies Dynamic Creation, Drive and Action. She exudes Energy. Pele is Raw Power.

Pele represents confidence and courage. She is beautiful, awe-inspiring, strong, powerful, creative, active, enthusiastic, spontaneous, alive, passionate, hot and eruptive. Pele is dangerous, yet giving and kind.

Pele is the Regeneratrix of the Dead. She receives the souls of those who have died and renews them for rebirth with Her Fires of Creation.

It is said that Pele’s origins lie on the island of Tahiti in the South Seas. There, legend says, She once lived with Her mother, the Earth Goddess Haumea, and Her many sisters and brothers. Pele, being a Fire Goddess, has always been fascinated with fires and flames, which makes Her sister Namaka, the Goddess of the Sea, very angry. Pele, as the fiery volcano, and Namaka, as the sea, have always been at odds with each other. As soon as Pele starts to burn and bursts out in a hot gush of fiery lava, Her sister Namaka with Her tidal waves quenches the fires and cools the burning flow of molten rocks.

One day Pele had had enough and decided to move away from Tahiti. She set off in a canoe cradling the egg of Her unborn sister Hi’iaka within Her armpit. Hi’iaka would one day become the Goddess of Hula. Their journey was a long one and many times Pele tried to settle on some of the islands they encountered. But every time She tried to set up Her burning volcano-home Her flames would be put out, either by Her sister Namaka who continued to pursue Her in the form of blizzards and giant waves, or the many Snow Goddesses who Pele and Hi’iaka found living on the top of island mountains.

Eventually Pele reached the area where today lie the islands of Hawaii. She caused the volcanoes under the sea to erupt and thus created the islands we know today. She Herself settled as the Volcano Kilauea on the Big Island. Here, She’s been able to live in peace with neither Her sister – the Sea – nor the Goddesses of Snow reaching Her. However, to this day you can witness Pele and Namaka fighting whenever the molten lava is cooled by the splash of the waves as it reaches the shores.

Pele loves Her home and guards it jealously. It is said that Her anger is easily roused when Her island body isn’t honoured and tourists take Her lava stones with them as souvenirs. Then She stamps Her foot so that the earth shakes. It is even said that those who dare to take Pele’s stones away with them will be cursed with bad luck. True stories tell of how tourists have returned the taken pieces to the island together with offerings and even letters of forgiveness to the Goddess. They say that their bout of bad luck breaks abruptly after that.

Pele has many forms. Besides being the volcano, the lava and the fire’s flame, Pele is also symbolised by the “Ohi’a Lehua”, a tree that grows quickly on fresh lava flows. The lehua flowers are sacred to Her, as is the Hawaiian honey creeper that drinks the nectar from the lehua blossoms.

Pele sometimes transforms Herself into a young maiden or an old crone with a white dog. Reports tell of how a young woman with long brown hair wearing a red dress is sometimes seen dancing on the rim of the Kilauea crater. Others tell of an old woman who wanders the area close to the volcano with Her little white dog. She sometimes asks for a cigarette which She lights with no more than the snap of Her fingers. Grandmother Pele or Tutu Pele, the old woman, is the most commonly reported sighting of Pele in human form. Tutu Pele is greatly beloved by the people of Hawaii, for She gives advice, passes on wisdom and warns of impending dangers. She disappears into thin air as quickly as She arrived.

The people of Hawaii consider Pele to be their “aumakua” or Guardian Spirit. Before the spreading of white man’s memes on the islands, Pele’s priestesses would wear robes with burned sleeves and hems. They carried a wand symbolising the “Paoa” staff that Pele is said to have used to create Her volcanic craters. Despite modern belief systems, Pele’s people still remember their Goddess and continue to bring Her offerings of fish, flowers and fruit.

According to Merlin Stone in “Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood” despite discouragement of Pele’s worship by Christian missionaries “…when Mauna Loa erupted in 1880, sixty-three year old Princess Ruth Keelikolani still knew the ancient chants of the priestesses of Pele.” In order to protect the town of Hilo, the princess walked up to the edge of the lava flow, reciting the ancient chants and presenting Pele’s lava stream with gifts of silk cloths and brandy (to represent the ancient sacred “awa” drink). The eruption stopped the very next day before the lava ever reached Hilo! A similar thing occurred in 1955 when the village of Kapoho was threatened. Villagers offered Pele gifts of food and tobacco and again, the lava stream stopped just before reaching the village.

 

Call to Pele
by
Ka Wahine Ahi

Aloha Pele Honua Mea!
Aloha Pele Ai Honua!
E komo mai!

I smell sulphur in the air and feel heat rising from deep in the Earth below.
The ground trembles beneath my feet.
You light the night in crimson, gold and orange,
As lava and flame flow from Your domain at the world’s core.

I ask You to hear my call and grace me with Your awesome presence.
I ask You to hear my call and bestow Your Protection on me.
I ask You to hear my call and enlighten me with Your wisdom.
I ask You to hear my call and heed my entreaty.

Ignite my passion!
Kindle my fire!
Send Your blazing energy to inspire!

– from orderwhitemoon.org

Inanna – Sumerian Mother Goddess, Queen of Heaven and Earth

One of the longest lasting Goddesses from the ancient world is Sumer’s Inanna, who was revered in the Middle East for over 4,000 years. And even today in modern Islamic Iraq Inanna’s emblems of the reed knot and the date palm continue to have meaning to the people. [1]

Inanna’s origins are very very old and date back well into the Neolithic age. It is believed that the Goddess-revering Al ‘Ubaid culture brought Her imagery with them when they settled in the region south west of the Euphrates river as early as the 6th millennium BCE, i.e. 8,000 years ago. Her earliest temple was discovered in Uruk (Erech), Inanna’s main and longest lasting place of worship, and dates back to about 5,000 BCE.

In the early days of Her worship Inanna was still seen as the all-encompassing Mother Goddess. She was still revered as the source of the Upper and Lower Waters, as the Queen of Heaven, Earth AND the Underworld. As human consciousness – probably due to external factors – changed over the millennia, Inanna’s powers diminished. At first She was split into the Goddess of Life, represented by Inanna, and the Goddess of the Underworld, represented by Her sister Ereshkigal. Eventually She would be given a father who was said to have given Her Her powers.

According to earliest records from the 4th millennium BCE Inanna’s grandmother is Nammu, the primordial Goddess of the Sea. The Babylonians knew Her as Tiamat. Nammu created Heaven and Earth and gave birth to Ningal / Ninmah, the Goddess as the Moon. Ningal / Ninmah Herself created the first people. She also gave birth to Inanna who manifests as the planet Venus, and as Inanna is the daughter of Ninagal / Ninmah, so is Venus the daughter of the Moon.

True to Her heritage, Inanna is the Goddess of the Morning and Evening Star as well as the Moon. Her imagery include the lunar crescent horns and the 8-pointed star, the rosette, which represents the planet Venus. Her headgear consists of a horned crown enclosing a cone, which is symbolic for the sacred mountain.

Inanna is often depicted with wings and a serpent-entwined staff. This imagery tells of Her roots as an ancient Bird and Snake Goddess, the Creatrix of the Upper and Lower Waters and the Goddess of Life, Death and Renewal.

Inanna is often dressed in blue which, just as Her lapiz jewels, reflects the blue of the Upper Waters or “The Deep” as the Sumerians referred to space. In fact they saw the sky as being a manifestation of the Goddess with the clouds being Her breasts and the rain Her milk. Inanna’s necklace is described as the rainbow and Her girdle as the zodiac.

Inanna is associated with the gate to cow-byres and sheepfolds, the gate representing Her vulva and the cow-byre or sheepfold Her womb. In ancient Sumer two bundles of reeds with curved ends (“Inanna’s Knot”) were placed at the entrance of Her storehouses and later Her temple Eanna in Uruk (Erech) to symbolise the Goddess.

Inanna’s sacred animals include the lioness and the cow, the former representing Her powers – She is able to tame wild lions! – and revealing Her as Goddess of the Animals, while the latter represents Inanna’s life-giving and nurturing aspect.

In her life-giving aspect Inanna’s birds include the white lunar dove and the swallow. In Her aspect as Death-Bringer She is associated with the viper and the scorpion, but also the owl, one of Her names being “nin-ninna” or “Divine Lady Owl”

Inanna, the Great Mother Goddess of the Sumerians has many titles such as:

“Queen of Heaven and Earth”
“Priestess of Heaven”
“Light of the World”
“Morning and Evening Star”
“First Daughter of the Moon”
“Loud Thundering Storm”
“Righteous Judge”
“Forgiver of Sins”
“Holy Shepherdess”
“Hierodule of Heaven”
“Opener of the Womb”
“Framer of All Decrees”
“The Amazement of the Land”
“The Green One”
“She of the Springing Verdure”
“Queen of Stall and Fold” [2]

Although Inanna is a Goddess of Life and Death, later mythology passes Her dark moon aspect on to Her sister Ereshkigal who once having been a Corn Goddess becomes the Goddess of the Underworld. This changeover has much to do with a changing attitude towards death and the life cycle. While during the Neolithic and the early Bronze Age life was seen as cyclical with death not being the final end but rather a resting stage before rebirth, in later years as humanity distanced itself more and more from the natural world, the understanding of the Underworld changed from it being the womb of the Goddess to a place of no return. Ereshkigal is the Ruler over the Sumerian Underworld. However, some of the old cyclical beliefs remained even during the later Bronze Age, as late Sumerian mythology tells of how Ereshkigal gives birth to new life.

In Her capacity as life-giving Goddess Inanna is all about fertility and abundance. This is the aspect of Her that today we most associate with the Goddess as Venus.

As Queen of Earth Inanna is Goddess of grain, vine, date palms, cedar, the sycamore fig, the olive and the apple tree. Her temple towers known as ziggurates were large storehouses from where Her priestesses would watch over the fields, fisheries and livestock. They would accept donations from the people and share them with everyone. All incomings and outgoings would be recorded by them on clay tablets using reed styluses.

The High Priestess or Entu was seen not just as Inanna’s representative on Earth, but as the Goddess’s incarnation. Every autumn at the new year she would select a young man as her lover-consort to celebrate the Sacred Mating (Greek “Hieros Gamos” = Sacred Marriage). Through the love-making of the Entu and the man, who would become the king for the next year, the fertility of all life on Earth would be assured. Any children that were born of this union were considered to be half divine and half human, just as the hero Gilgamesh was thought to have been.

Just as Inanna is the Hierodule of Heaven, so were Her priestesses the hierodules of Earth. Hierodule is a Greek word that means “sacred work” or “servant of the holy”. Fertility and life is how the Goddess manifests Herself on Earth. [In most cases] Sexuality is the means by which fertility and thus new life comes about. In order to honour Inanna and to help keep the Earth a rich and flourishingh place, Her priestesses would re-enact the sacred act of lovemaking with Inanna’s worshippers at Her temples. The feelings of ecstasy experienced were seen as a divine state of bliss. Unfortunately, when Sumer with her long-hidden secrets was discovered not so long ago, the worldview of the archaeologists and anthropologists was clouded by Christian teachings who misunderstood the sacred role of hierodule and called Inanna’s priestesses “temple prostitutes” or “harlots”.

Inanna is the Queen of Heaven, her celestial manifestations being the Moon and the planet Venus. Like Isis in Egypt the star Sirius is sacred to Her as are the constellations Virgo and Scorpio.

Inanna is the Goddess of Death and Destruction. She is a Goddess of the Storm who represents the raw, unbridled destructive power of nature. Inanna is also known as “the Dragon” and is depicted as such with venom spewing from its mouth. In Her capacity as Destructress She is also represented by a lion-headed thunder bird known as “Imdugud”[3]

Inanna is the Goddess of Natural Law and Justice. She is the Bringer of the “me”, the Sumerian Tablets of the Law. Inanna is just and compassionate. Her gifts to humankind include civilisation, wisdom and prophesy. [4]

As said before, at the start of the Bronze Age humans still saw themselves as being completely part of nature and therefore the Goddess. However, as time went by and our consciousness and self-awareness increasingly developed we felt more and more separate from the source. While initially humans saw death not as an end but just as another step on the cycle of life, with the increasing separation from nature came the realisation that while life in general continues indefinitely, the inidividual life will not. The Ancients described this in terms of a permanent life source – Ka soul or Zoe – and the many varieties of temporary life – Ba soul or Bios – the latter of which was believed to return to the source after death. The permanent life source was experienced as the Goddess and that of the temporary life force that is born from Her and returns to Her after death was represented by Her son-lover-consort. The life and death of the son-lover contains the lunar myth of birth, growth, decay and death. It also represents the Wheel of the Year with the god or son-lover being symbolic for the vegetation that grows and dies with the seasons. By the end of the Bronze Age rebirth was no longer envisioned for the individual but reserved only for goddesses and gods.

In Sumerian mythology this story is told through the birth and death of Dumuzi, the son-lover of the Goddess Inanna. His name literally means “faithful son”, but being a vegetation god he was also referred to as “The Green One”. He is a shepherd, “Lord of Life” and “Lord of the Net”. As “Bull of Heaven” the bull is sacred to him, but so are the ram and the goat. In Sumer the date palm which was the Tree of Life was associated with Dumuzi, as were grains, especially barley. Inanna’s son-lover was identified with the harvest and all the produce that was stored inside Her temples.

Every year in the autumn when in Mesopotamia the fertile raining season started, Inanna would join with Dumuzi in the rites of the sacred mating / marriage. This would ensure the fertility of the land. At the onset of the summer in July when the Sun would dry up the land and burn the crops, Dumuzi would die and enter the Underworld.

The story of Dumuzi’s death is interlinked with Inanna’s Descent. As said before, at some point during the Bronze Age people stopped believing in the uninterrupted cycle of life and death for themselves. The Underworld no longer was the womb of the Goddess, but instead became “The Land of No Return”. However, Inanna’s priestesses were aware of this split between the Upper and Lower Waters. Just as in ancient Greece every year many Sumerians would re-enact the descent of the Goddess into the Underworld in order to reunite their own consciousness with their unconscious and regain completion. It was a shamanic journey for both the Goddess and Her initiates.

The story of Inanna’s Descent involves the Goddess visiting and re-uniting with Her dark self or sister Ereshkigal. It is very much a lunar myth of the dark moon. On the way Inanna encounters seven gates – the number of days of the waning moon – where She has to give up the seven regalia of Her office. When She finally meets Her sister, She dies and has to hang on a hook for three days – the number of days of the dark moon. During that time Ereshkigal, the Dark Moon Goddess or Inanna’s dark moon aspect, gives birth to new life. Eventually the Queen of the Underworld agrees to let Inanna return to the world above, but only on the condition that She can find a replacement for Herself. Inanna returns to Heaven and Earth where She finally chooses Her Son-Lover Dumuzi to take Her place, as unlike everyone else he did not grieve for Her and instead enjoyed his time on Inanna’s throne.

Much of Sumerian mythology was adopted by the Babylonians where She was known as Ishtar and Her son-lover as Tammuz. Eventually the story of the Goddess and Her son would make its way into Christianity where to this day millions of people celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas and his death and resurrection at Easter. Mary to this day is celebrated by many as the Mother of God.

Unto Her who renders decisions, Goddess of all things,
Unto the Lady of Heaven and Earth who receives supplication;
Unto Her who hears petition, who entertains prayer;
Unto the compassionate Goddess who loves righteousness;
Ishtar the Queen, who suppresses all that is confused.

To the Queen of Heaven, the Goddess of the Universe,
the One who walked in terrible Chaos and brought life by the Law of Love;
And out of Chaos brought us harmony, and from Chaos Thou has led us by the hand.

– Babylon, Eighteenth to Seventh Century BCE

NOTES

[1] From Elinor W. Gadon’s “The Once and Future Goddess” pg.119

[2] From Anne Baring and Jules Cashford’s “The Myth of the Goddess – Evolution of an Image”

[3] Eventually as life in the Middle East changed and became less peaceful, Inanna was turned into a Goddess of War. This, however, was not one of Her initial attributes!

[4] Later myth passes the “me” on to the god Enki, by then described as Her father, who gives them to Inanna only to regret his decision later.

Freyja – Great Mother and Shaman Goddess of the Nordic People

The Goddess Freyja was the Mother Goddess of the Northern Germanic or Norse people. Her roots reach all the way back to the Neolithic and Her worship didn’t cease until well into the Christian era only a few hundred years ago.

Freyja is Queen of the Vanir Goddesses and Gods. According to Norse mythology there exist two quite distict groups of gods.

One are the Vanir Goddesses, Gods and Nature Spirits who were said to live in Vanaheim, a world just west of our human world (known as Midgard). The Vanir were also referred to as “The Giving Ones”, as they are essentially the Old European Earth-based Goddesses and Gods who inherited most of the old paleolithic and neolithic beliefs and associations. They are linked to nature, the Earth, fertility, abundance, wellbeing, agriculture, the Wheel of the Year and the cylce of life, death and rebirth.

The other newer group of gods are the Aesir or Sky Gods. These were the gods of the Indo-European invadors who were said to live in Asgard at the crown of the world tree Yggdrasill. The Aesir are mostly males – sometimes with wives – and, like the Greek Olympians, they are mostly concerned with thunder, lightning and, of course, battle. The exception is Odin, their father god, who was taught runes and divination by Freyja and is more of a shaman than a god of battle and heroism. [1]

The name Freyja in old Norse means “Lady” while that of Her brother Freyr means “Lord”. As in other mythologies Freyja and Her brother are sibling-consorts whose love assures the fertility of the land. Their relationship may also reflect the leadership set-up within the ancient matrifocal nordic people, where genererally a woman and her brother co-ruled their clan.

The Goddess Freyja is a free woman, who bows to no-one. Later myth tells of an absent husband called Odr, with whom She had two daughters, Hnoss (= precious) and Gersimi (= treasure). The fact that Odr sounds so similar to Odin and that Odin’s wife Frigg’s name was Frija in Old German has made some scholars suggest that Freyja and Odin were married off to each other in a bid to unite the two factions of the Nordic culture, namely the Old European natives and the Aryan invaders.

Unlike in more southerly climates where sunshine is a given and the Sun is so powerful that it can cause fires and damage crops, in northern countries such as Germany and Scandinavia the Sun is much milder and it’s in fact the lack of sunshine that can cause lower crop output. As a result mythologies in hotter climates identified the Moon with the Goddess and even today their languages (such as Spanish, Italian and French) describe the Moon as female. On the other hand, northern mythologies identified the Sun with the Goddess and Germanic languages such as German still see the Sun as female.

For that reason I believe that Freyja is actually a Goddess of the Sun. There is no evidence that Freyja was ever associated with the Moon and Her three phases. Freyja has always been an all-in-one Goddess. When the Romans encountered Freyja they likened Her to Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty. And while it is true that the Goddess Freyja has much in common with Venus and other Venus Goddesses, Her origins are most likely Sun-based. (See also The Original Venus – Goddess of Heaven, Earth and the Underworld.) Everything about Freyja is described as golden and Her magical necklace Brisingamen is golden and shining brightly with a fiery light. Incidentally it is said that it was Freya’s magical necklace that created the Morning Star or planet Venus.

Freyja is very much still like the original Great Mother Goddess from the Neolithic Age. Even long into the Christian era She retained all of Her aspects, primarily those of being a Life Giver and Death Bringer.

Freyja is the Goddess of Love, Fertility, Pleasure and Abundance. She is beautiful and passionate and shares Her love freely with whomever SHE chooses. It’s Freyja’s lovemaking that assures the fertility of the land and the growing of the crops. No doubt just as it was custom in ancient Sumer so did Her priestesses known as Völvas share their love as freely in order to honour the Goddess and help bring fertility and fruitfulness to their tribe. This aspect of Freyja is what reminded the Romans of their own Goddess of Love, the beautiful Venus.

Freyja is also the Goddess of Death and Renewal. She is an ancient Bird Goddess whose totem animals include the raven and falcon. Legend says that half of all the slain warriors go to Freyja’s hall Sessrumnir in the realm of Folkvanger. Some accounts connect Freyja with the Valkierie battle maidens, who decide over life and death on the battle field, but that connection likely is only anecdotal.

Another of Freyja’s totem animals is the wild pig, which is symbolic for both life and death. Freyja Herself is often referred to as Syr (= sow) which is a strong fertility symbol. She is also said to ride Her battle swine Hildesvini whenever She’s not riding in Her cat-drawn carriage. This can be seen as a metaphor for Freyja acknowledging the existence of and having complete control over Her wild potentially dangerous side. In many mythologies the boar is the bringer of death.

Freyja is a Shaman Goddess, a Goddess of Magic, Prophesy and Healing. In mythologies where the Goddess manifests as the Moon, these are all aspects of the Dark or Crone Goddess. Freyja taught rune magic and divination to Her daughters and eventually Odin, the father god of the Aesir. She owns a special falcon cloak that allows the wearer to transform into a falcon. It represents Her power to travel shamanically through different worlds.

The ancient Germanic people had an animistic-shamanic religion, whereby everything was seen as being sentient and alive, and the Wise Women or Völvas would enter altered states of consciousness in order to heal and gain spiritual knowledge and awareness. Freyja’s Völvas were greatly revered seeresses gifted with divination, clairvoyance and prophesy. And just as cats were Freya’s special animals, so were they the spirit allies of the Nordic Wise Women. [2]

Freia’s Nine Names

Hail to Freia! Lady of Dark and Light,
Our Lovely Lady of Day and of Night.
Maid/Mother of Seith-crafts both Black and White,
Hail to the Mistress of Magic and Might!

Gullveig–thrice born Seith-bride greedy for gold,
Anon She shall live, beautiful and bold.

Heidh–the Seith-wife, the comely and clever,
To wise-women, She was welcome ever.

Hreda–enchanting Seductress of Spring,
Lustful Lady of Noatun’s noble King.

Mardoll–our Shining Mother of the Seas,
Kind Benefactress of comfort and ease.

Mengloth–Mount Lyfja’s Mistress and Sun-bride,
Nine Healing Maids, faithfully by Her side.

Horn–flax and fate Mother silently spins,
Always All-knowing, trust and troth She wins.

Syr–bewitching Sig-maiden of the Sun,
Masterful Sword-bride of battles well won.

Gefn–our divine Dis-Giver’s touch shall heal,
Powerful Patroness of wealth and weal.

Heithrun–wild and wanton She raptly rides,
In frost-filled forests, under deep dark skies.

Praise to the Ladies of Dark and Light!
Praise to the Ladies of Day and Night!
Praise to Freia, our Mistress of Might!
Praise Her Nine Names and Their Blessings Bright!

© Rhonda Turner
By author´s special permission, may be freely shared for private, non-commercial purposes,
as long as it remains intact and this copyright notice is included.

NOTES

[1] One interesting thing about the Aesir gods is that according to the foreword of Snorri Sturluson’s “Prose Edda” the Aesirs were not so much gods as normal humans from Asia who had acquired supernatural powers along the way! With Aesir and Asia sounding so similar, this may actually be confirming the theory that the Aesir were the gods of the Aryan invaders, while the Venir were the goddesses and gods of the original Old European inhabitants of northern Europe. And as is the case with Greek mythology the interactions between the Vanir and Aesir may actually be reflecting the real interactions between the two groups (invaders and natives) and their eventual merging of beliefs.

[2] Sadly due to the demonisation of the old religion by the Christians, the wise Völvas would eventually be portrait as evil witches and their cats as their familiars. Once greatly revered and appreciated for their goodness, they would eventually be tortured and burned at the stake.

[3] Interestingly, the German word for “woman” “Frau” is derived from the southern Germanic variant of Freyja, which literally means “lady”.

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