Rhythms of Language

writing-with-nature-3by Tina Welling

All living things pulsate with energy; so too should our language. Writing that lives and heals and engages us will breathe in and breathe out. When we go into nature and begin a Spirit Walk, our attention moves alternately inward and outward as we first alert ourselves to body and place, then send our senses out to gather information and pull that information inward. Then, again, we send our senses outward to gather more information and again pull it in, each step bringing our bodies and attention to greater consciousness. When we arrive at the third step of the Spirit Walk, we acknowledge the emotions that arise and let the stories come. Throughout the entire Spirit Walk, our attention moves as our breath does, in and out.

If we continue this rhythm while writing our stories, the writing will come alive to us and to the readers with whom we share our work. We will write these stories with the same pulsation that we experience when naming, describing, and interacting during our Spirit Walk. Inward to our body sensations, outward to our surroundings, inward to our emotions, outward to setting, dialogue, and so on. This rhythm gives rise to writing that is satisfying to write and that we love to read.

Here’s an excerpt from The Shipping News by Annie Proulx that demonstrates beautifully the inner/outer pulsation in writing: “A watery place. And Quoyle feared water, could not swim. Again and again the father had broken his clenched grip and thrown him into pools, brooks, lakes and surf. Quoyle knew the flavor of brack and waterweed.” This example by Proulx begins in the outer with “A watery place” and moves within to emotion — Quoyle’s fear. Outer activity and places; inner sensations of body and senses.

Another example I like is from Wally Lamb’s novel I Know This Much Is True:
I would remodel her pink 1950’s-era kitchen, sheetrocking the cracked plaster walls, replacing the creaky cabinets with modern units, and installing a center island with built-in oven and cooktop. I conceived the idea, I think, to show Ma that I loved her best of all. Or that I was the most grateful of the three of us for all she’d endured on our behalf. Or that I was the sorriest that fate had given her first a volatile husband and then a schizophrenic son and then tapped her on the shoulder and handed her the “big C.”

This example is almost a story in itself. We get a full image of the kitchen in both its present form and its future form, but before we ever think, “Okay, enough about the kitchen,” Wally Lamb moves us inward — new territory, a wilderness, really. He tells us the thoughts and feelings of his character’s inner world. This rhythm is kept up throughout the book in varying lengths, but always the writing pulsates inner/outer.

Whether we are writing in our personal journals or with the intention to publish, pulsation — an inward/outward rhythm — keeps both writer and reader engaged and enlivened by the language.

Writers often fall into two camps. One writes paragraph after paragraph of outer description, dazzling scenery depicted in intricate detail. The other camp goes within and explains on and on what the character feels, thinks, remembers, hopes, and dreads. Despite the talent or skill of the writer, both methods drone a reader — and the writer — into numbness. But put the two together into a pulsating inner/outer rhythm, and the pages shimmer with life.

We live our lives by balancing our root systems with our outer growth of branches, and this lesson follows through into our writing. We are not in a balanced state of being when we write paragraphs of only outward experiences or paragraphs of only inward experiences.

We are after an easy ride here. In William Stafford’s words, “following whatever happens to come along in the writing process.” We don’t want to strong-arm this pulsating rhythm, though, in the beginning, we may practice making what is a natural occurrence more conscious by deliberately moving inward and outward with our attention. We do want to be present in order to ride what comes along and allow it to take us into whatever wilderness it may lead to. Effort and force have no place in this process. Openness without judgment or expectations for outcome works best. Take what you get, and go with it. Trust your inner authority, as discussed in chapter 3. This kind of writing plants us in the flow of life.

“Somehow the language that comes to you when you are truly available to immediate experience can bring you surprises, can enrich experience, can reveal profound connections between the self and the exciting wilderness of emerging time,” Stafford says in Crossing Unmarked Snow.

It may be tempting, when we first do a Spirit Walk, to dis-miss the stories that occur to us. But what if archaeologists re-buried their discoveries because they didn’t meet their expectations? We would call this behavior small-minded, even unethical. Writers, too, need to brush off the mud from their discoveries and accept them as the rough treasures they are; these artifacts offer information about our buried, less conscious lives.

Try This:

Write a paragraph with a deliberate in/out rhythm of attention. Begin with place. Write a sentence describing the room in which you sit or the natural world surrounding you. Follow this with a couple of lines that express inner mood, body sensation, emotions, or thoughts. Then repeat.

This is to practice becoming conscious of the natural inner/outer pulsating attention we engage in normally and to become aware of writing in a rhythm that reflects the aliveness around us and our engagement with it.

Next take a page from your journal or a manuscript you have written in the past, and rearrange your material to reflect a natural pulsation. This may mean that several sentences are engaged in outer or inner awareness punctuated by a single phrase of its opposite.

There are no rules to follow about how to do this. The idea is merely to create contrast and rhythm and to mirror the natural attention of humans. Even when we talk to each other eye to eye about intimate, intense matters, our attention flickers outward to the scenery around us and inward to the emotional responses in our bodies. If alone in a dark room sobbing with a broken heart, we would still be aware of someone walking past the door. If awed by beautiful scenery, we would still be aware of an insect bite.

Wild Words Heal

In therapeutic counseling sessions, the inward/outward attention to personal detail and outer event while relating our story keeps the experience in balance and in proportion to actual life and aids in the healing process. Often, a counselor asks for outer details and descriptions when a client is locked into her own emotions and not moving through her process. And in the reverse, the counselor requests acknowledgment of personal feelings and memories when a client is frozen into everyone’s experience but her own.

James W. Pennebaker, PhD, reports in his book Opening Up that he and his graduate student Sandra Beall conducted experiments asking three groups to write about a traumatic event. The first group was assigned to write down their emotions in detail while also describing in detail a traumatic event. A second group was asked to report only the event of the trauma, no emotions. And a third control group was requested to only vent emotions. Pennebaker and Beall requested each group to write for fifteen minutes a day for four consecutive days, then measured their health. The results of writing about one’s emotional experience in detail along with describing the outer traumatic events proved in each case to have a dramatic healing effect on the participant’s body, with measured health benefits lasting approximately six weeks.

In six months, the participants who wrote about both inner emotions and outer events made 50 percent fewer visits to a health center for illness, while the other groups made more. Pennebaker reports that writers experienced negative feelings in the hour or so immediately following their writing about the trauma and its emotions, but mood, outlook, and physical well-being improved considerably thereafter. Most writers reported a sense of relief and happiness. Pennebaker states that writers who wrote about their “deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding traumatic experiences evidenced heightened immune function.” The experiment was expanded to help people endure the loss of their jobs and to heal relationships.

Try This:

Recall an upsetting event in your life — it need not be traumatic — and write continuously for fifteen minutes about the event, including physical details and the emotions and thoughts surrounding it. Do this for four consecutive days. Use this method periodically as a clearing exercise for the unconscious. The unattended, unexamined emotional events of our lives drain energy.


Writers give witness. To suffer alone without human acknowledgment is a special hell of its own. It is the fear of prisoners, torture victims, and the sick and injured. Jean Shinoda Bolen uses the term “vision carriers,” which applies to anyone writing and witnessing for others.

I have given readings of a short story that came from my experiences with my mother when she was suffering from Alz-heimer’s disease, and people have approached me afterward to express relief that I put words to the humor, sadness, and puzzlement of caring for an Alzheimer’s victim. While I witnessed for them, the listeners witnessed for me. In fact, the short story arose from journal entries in which I was witnessing for myself, translating into words the trouble my mother and I suffered together, which cleared the way for us to better manage the situation. Healing energy was at work throughout each part of the process, from journal entry to public reading.

Writing is a full-circle experience of healing.

A Give-and-Take with Nature

For an intimate relationship with the earth, you don’t have to know the natural environment in the manner of a biologist or geologist. You just have to know it in the manner of you. Your experience will bring you amazing intimacies and knowledge not commonly known. For instance, select a single snowflake, watch its journey, and discover that snow does not always fall downward from sky to earth, as is commonly assumed, but rather travels in swags like a warbler, darts abruptly like a dragonfly, or actually floats upward for a ways. A single snowflake often does all three before landing.

As we watch that single snowflake, we align ourselves with the creative aliveness of the natural world. When we draw from this energy to write, we make an exchange with nature. Our natural surroundings then create us as we create our art.

The poet Pattiann Rogers calls this reciprocal creation. In her poem “Dream of the Marsh Wren: Reciprocal Creation,” she tells us how the wren creates the sun through its experience of the sun in the marsh as “blanched and barred by the diagonal juttings of the weeds.” And how the marsh creates the wren, “makes sense of the complexities of sticks / and rushes.” The wren “makes slashes and complicated / lines of his own in mid-air above the marsh by his flight.”

What Pattiann Rogers says in her poem is exactly our goal in writing wild. It is the recognition that we know ourselves through our natural surroundings; that this is the basis for our understanding of all life; and that our natural surroundings create the patterns in which we view life, like the wren who sees the sun in terms of slashes between reeds and who then darts in flight in the same pattern. Rogers also believes that “the land anywhere, the earth, responds to and encourages and itself takes sustenance from such human bonds.” The human bonds I believe Rogers refers to are the love and attention we offer the earth. She is saying that the earth receives nourishment from us just as we receive nourishment from the earth.

When writing wild, we give sustenance to and take it from the earth. First, we still ourselves and open to the rhythms of the natural world around us. We breathe the air deeply into our bodies. Second, we cast our net of awareness, using our senses, and pull in a “sense” of the moment. This moment. There is no other like it. This moment is all we need to live fully. The result is sometimes a quick, sharp memory that rises almost immediately, and we begin writing. Sometimes we go deeper into the life of the earth; we lie still and wait; we walk a distance; and we gather a more and more intimate experience of the natural world around us. We begin to synchronize ourselves with the breezes and birdsong; we enjoy a unison of mood and manner. I think of this time as romance — sometimes moving quickly through the mating dance, sometimes going for the deep intimacy, and always building to a pregnancy of creative energy, giving birth to our writing.

Try This:

Take your notebook outside and choose a fallen leaf, a frosted twig, a teaspoonful of dirt, and experience this small piece of nature and yourself interacting with it. Do this by first naming, then describing, then letting memories, ideas, wishes, and concerns stir within you. Whatever occurs to you in the moment, you are to trust, for it is yours and yours alone, inspired within you by your openness to nature in this time and in this place, with each step in accordance with mystery and chance. It is of the moment and of the mood, one playing within the rhythms of the other, back and forth, and then producing a third mystery: a story of one’s own. A memory stirs, the body experiences a change, emotions surface into consciousness, and scenes produce themselves in our minds.

What we create then creates us. We are altered by our own awareness and language.

Tina Welling is the author of three novels published by NAL Accent/Penguin, including Cowboys Never Cry. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Sun, Body & Soul, and a variety of anthologies. She lives in Jackson Hole, WY and her website is www.TinaWelling.com.

Rhythms of Language is excerpted from Writing Wild. Copyright © 2014 by Tina Welling. Reprinted with permission from New World Library www.NewWorldLibrary.com.


The Shadow of the Father

shadow-of-fatherby Kent Nerburn

The image of my father floats like a specter before me as I try to form my thoughts about manhood. I see him as he is now — a shell of a man, lost in private memories, spending his days idly flicking a television from channel to channel in hopes of finding something to occupy his time.

I see him as he is, but I remember him as he was.

I remember his strong back as he worked late into the night, weeding or raking or painting, the sweat forming a great, swooping arc down the middle of his spine.

I remember his perfectly ordered workbench in the basement with a hook for each tool and a label on every box.

I remember his outbursts of anger, his halting attempts to talk to me about sex.

I remember his silences and his diligence, his inarticulate efforts to show me through ritual what he could not say in words.

And I remember his unspoken pride as his children grew, graduated, found mates, and went off into life.

He remembers little of this. His memory has begun to fail. The man who would recite me Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from memory can no longer remember the day of the week. His workbench is in shambles and bits of long-forgotten projects sit in dusty piles behind boxes in the corner. The man who in memory towered over me, all shoulders and biceps and strength, seems shriveled and small, cautious in his gestures and tentative in his gait.

I should feel sadness for this, and I do. But it is a sadness mixed with awe. With each passing day I realize more how much he lives within me, and how great a shadow he casts over my life.

It is the same for all men. None of us can escape this shadow of the father, even if that shadow fills us with fear, even if it has no name or face. To be worthy of that man, to prove something to that man, to exorcise the memory of that man from every corner of our life — however it affects us, the shadow of that man cannot be denied.

I am lucky. Though his anger ran deep and his heart was lonely at its core, my father did me no damage. His hand was always on my shoulder when I needed it, and he worked hard not to visit the sins of his father onto the life of his son.

Other men have not been so lucky. Their memories are filled with violence and brutality, the smell of alcohol, moments spent cowering in corners beneath the sound of breaking glass.
Others have only the aching emptiness where the memory of the father ought to be.

But we all labor under the shadow. It makes us who we are and shapes the man we hope to be.
To become a father is to understand the power of that shadow from the other side. You realize that the touches you make upon your son will shape him, for better or for worse, for his entire life.

And who can know which touches have meaning? A word here, a glance there, a time together, a time apart — which will be the moments that will rise up in memory and shape the child who looks without judgment on all that you do and say?

I see an image before me. It is an apartment hallway, bathed in half-light. My father stands there. I am behind him, a frightened ten-year-old, peering tentatively toward a door. We have a bicycle with us. It is a purple “racer,” as we called them, with hand brakes and a gearshift. It is the most beautiful bike I have ever seen. We are returning it to its owner.
My father had found this bike on one of his early-morning walks along a city beach. He had kept it in our garage, covered with a blanket. He wouldn’t let me ride it because, he said, it belonged to someone else. For weeks that bike had stood in our garage as my father advertised in the local papers for its owner. I had secretly dreamed that the owner would never call so I could have that bike for my own.

But the owner did call, and now we are standing at his door prepared to return his bike to him.

My father knocks. The door opens a crack. A man peers out and looks past us both toward the bike. He pulls it in the door and examines it. My father and I stand in the doorway, waiting.
“It has a lot of new scratches on it,” the man says.

My father says nothing.

The man turns the wheels, test the handlebars. He looks at my father accusingly. I want to cry out that there are no new scratches, that it has been under a blanket in our garage. Instead, I look down. The bike glints and shines in the hallway gloom.

The man pulls it further inside and mutters, “I suppose I should give you something.” He pulls out a crumpled bill and tosses it toward my father. My father gives it back.
The man glares at us and goes back to examining the bike.

We turn and walk down the hall. I grab my father’s shirt. “Why were you so nice to that man?” I ask. “He was really mean.”

My father keeps walking. “Maybe he’ll pass it along someday,” he says. I trail behind him through the spare yellow light. We never mention that bike again.

This image fades, recedes, is replaced by another.

It is many years later. I am visiting a local jail on some minor administrative task.
While I sit in the waiting room I notice the name of one of my former students on the prisoners’ list. He has been arrested for some act of public drunkenness and destruction of property. It is not his first arrest.

I have always liked this boy. He has a winning smile and there is a genuine kindness and love of life somewhere deep behind his eyes. He has no family. He has spent his life being shunted from foster home to halfway house. He doesn’t know who his father is and he claims he doesn’t care.

I ask the jailer if I can see him.

The jailer escorts me through a series of steel doors, each one echoing a little hollower as it slams behind me. I am brought to an empty cement room that is bright with the lifeless glare of fluorescent light.

“Wait here,” the jailer says.

He brings my student into the room. “Hi, Chris,” I say. Chris doesn’t answer. His eyes are scared and blinking. “He’s been a little wild,” the guard says, “so he’s been in solitary. It will take him a while to adjust to the light.”

Chris looks at me. His lip is quivering. “Please don’t let them put me back in there,” he says. His eyes are those of a frightened child.

“Please,” he says again. I have never before heard him say please to anybody.
I look at him for a minute. All I can see are his frightened eyes.

“Okay,” I say. “I’ll do it.” His lip quivers once and he breaks into a grin.

I contact the guards and pay Chris’s bail. They bring him his clothes. I sign a few papers and take him out to my car. I buy him a hamburger, then drive him out to a house where he says he can stay. By the time we get there he is chattering away, full of his old bluster and swagger.

As I pull to a stop he jumps out of the car. “See ya,” he says. He never even turns around.
The next day I am telling a friend about Chris. He gets angry and begins to lecture me. “I can’t believe you did that,” he says. “You let him hustle you, just like he hustles everybody. You should have let him rot in that jail. Maybe he would have learned that he can’t talk his way out of everything. Why did you do such a stupid thing, anyway?”
I look down. “Maybe he’ll pass it along someday,” I answer.

My friend shakes his head and goes back to his work.

Somewhere, many miles away, my father stares blankly at a television screen.

A two-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award, Kent Nerburn is the author of thirteen books on spirituality and Native American themes, including Simple Truths, Neither Wolf nor Dog, and Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce (featured on the History Channel). He lives in Minnesota and his website is www.KentNerburn.com.

Excerpted from Letters to My Son. Copyright © 1994, 1999, 2014 by Kent Nerburn. Reprinted with permission from New World Library www.NewWorldLibrary.com.



fatherhoodby Kent Nerburn

Little is perfect in our lives. We dream of perfect love, we try to become perfect people, we challenge ourselves to see the universe as a perfect creation. But all our efforts and struggles are doomed to disappointment. We are not perfect. We are fraught with self-interest and unquenchable longings. Nothing is ever enough.

But there is one place where perfection is given to us in all its wholeness: Fatherhood.

When you look upon a child you have made, there are no limitations and longings. You are looking with a perfect love.

This is only natural. A child is born with a perfect love and dependence on its parents. It offers itself fully, unconsciously, in the complete unity of its being. There are no conditions and there are no motives. In its lack of self-consciousness it offers itself as a perfect gift.

In the perfection of its love it calls forth the perfection of yours.

For one shining moment, made flesh in time, you experience that oneness that comes from wanting nothing more, nothing less, than the life you have been given.

I thought I never wanted to be a father. A child seemed to be a series of limitations and responsibilities that offered no reward. But when I experienced the perfection of fatherhood, the rest of the world remade itself before my eyes.

I was not limited; I was freed from the fear of limitations. I was not saddled with responsibilities; responsibilities ceased to be a burden.

Nature aligned itself. My fatherhood made me understand my parents and honor them more for the love they gave. My son-hood was revealed to me in its own perfection and I understood the reason the Chinese so value filiation, the responsibility of the son to honor the parents.

I saw my own imperfection cast in high relief, because I knew how much I wanted to do things right. I felt the unity of generations cascading into generations from the beginning of time. I felt something in the world that was more important than I was.

And that was just the beginning. I knew every other man with different eyes. I hated war with a new passion, but knew what I would fight to save. I loved women for the gift they carried within, not only for the beauty they showed without.

I knew a new kind of love that was devoid of self-interest and desire.

In my bondage to a child I had found true freedom.

The power of this experience can never be explained. It is one of those joyful codings that rumbles in the species far below understanding. When experienced, it makes you one with all men in a way that fills you with warmth and harmony.

This is not to say that becoming a father automatically makes you a good father. Fatherhood, like marriage, is a constant struggle against your limitations and self-interests. But the urge to be a perfect father is there, because your child is a perfect gift. In your heart you know perfection, and it sets a standard that lifts you upward in your daily life.
So move cautiously toward fatherhood. It is much easier to become a father than to be one. When you become a father your whole life suddenly becomes measured against your vision of what good fatherhood should be.

And if your life is not in order — if you have not married well, if you are haunted by personal demons that eat away at your life, if you do not have the discipline that fatherhood requires — you will live in a private shame that will drag you downward and keep you from being the father that lives in your heart. Nothing — not alcohol, not other women, not running away — will shield you from the harsh truth of your failure.

So look upon fatherhood as a gift. It is one of life’s common miracles, available to everyone and given freely to us all. A child, whether healthy or ill, misshapen or beautiful, opens the world into a new sunlight. It is an experience greater than a dream.
If it is true that God loves us like a father, we can all rest peacefully. We are loved with a perfect love.

A two-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award, Kent Nerburn is the author of thirteen books on spirituality and Native American themes, including Simple Truths, Neither Wolf nor Dog, and Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce (featured on the History Channel). He lives in Minnesota and his website is www.KentNerburn.com.

Excerpted from Letters to My Son. Copyright © 1994, 1999, 2014 by Kent Nerburn. Reprinted with permission from New World Library www.NewWorldLibrary.com.


Father is the First Teacher

by Sara Wiseman

My bathing cap is too tight; it doesn’t hold the cascade of hair that someone’s piled on my head in order to squash it on, pull it tight until it covers my ears. When I take it off later, my hair will be sodden, snarled, and the long strands will catch in the cap, causing me to yelp in pain.

I wear it, because I want to pretend I am immune from the water: that even when I am submerged, my body will be safe from all that scary wetness.

If we wore goggles back then, I’d have put them on, too. But goggles haven’t been invented yet—at least not for child swimmers like me. I squint my eyes tightly against the sun, against the stinging chlorine, against the very large dollop of zinc oxide that has been applied to my nose in precaution against sunburn, and allow myself to descend into the whirling wet that awaits.

It’s summer, I’m at the pool, I’m maybe 4 or 5, and I’m learning to swim. It’s not an easy surrender.

I gasp, my heart pounds, and I catch sign of myself in reflection: I’m a green-capped alien, the water is dangerously blue, every ripple like a flash of light along the pool’s floor, and I’m hanging on to the only safety I know: my father’s arms, my father’s chest, my father’s neck, everything sturdy and comforting, covered with blond curling hair.

If he lets go, I’m sure I’ll die.
If I let go, I’m sure I’ll drown.
I’m learning to swim, he thinks.
I’m trying to survive, I’m sure.

My body is rigid with panic, my arms clamped tight around him, and yet we don’t stop. We go deeper: past my knees, past my waist, until I’m up to my neck in water.
And even as we submerge deeper, I hear his voice in my ear: relax, you’re doing fine, it’s okay to let go.

Relax. You’re doing fine. It’s okay to let go.

Which I realize now, many decades later and 12 years after his passing, were the only real lessons I ever needed to learn from him.

The father is also a part of our soul circle; of our primary circle. Many souls are lucky to know our fathers well and long; in this loving relationship, our fathers bestow upon us a trust in the world that cannot be taken away. When our father is here, when our father is in the house, all is right with the world.

Others recall different teachings from their fathers. There may be grave difficulties in the relationship: karmic wounds that are beyond forgiving.

Still others don’t know of their fathers, or their fathers flit in and out of their lives, undependable at best, heart- breaking at worst.

Sinking back into those long time ago memories, I can see other fathers at the pool now, encouraging, berating, training, teaching, ignoring, punishing, present, authentic, cruel, real, loving, gentle.

All those fathers, teaching lessons.

My own father took me continually to deeper depths, letting go of me even as I held on.
Relax. You’re doing fine. It’s okay to let go.

These are the soul lessons I’ve been working on, lately, with nary a swim cap in sight, feet fully on dry land.

You, as daughters and sons of other fathers, will have your own lessons to learn.
We all receive what we need, even on summer day in the pool.

What have you learned, in accepting or rejecting your own father’s teachings? The male energy moves in all of us, whether we are male or female.

It is a part of us, just as everything is a part of us. Take a moment now, and be grateful for what you’ve learned—the lessons your father taught you, and also those lessons he failed to teach. Allow yourself to open your heart to all of it. (Excerpted from Living a Life of Gratitude).

Sara Wiseman is a spiritual teacher, intuitive and author of six insightful books on spirituality and intuition, including Living a Life of Gratitude. She is the founder of Intuition University, hosts the popular radio show Ask Sara, and is a top contributor to DailyOM, InspireMeToday, Aspire and more. Visit her at www.sarawiseman.com


The Changing Face of Magic

3 lotus sparklesby Brandi Williams

(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)

When we make magic, magic makes us.

All of us are shaped by many factors: genetic heritage, family structure, our generation, the culture in which we are raised, and how that culture views gender. As we move through the years our experiences also go into making us who we are. Magic gives us tools to cope with the challenges life presents. For example, many of us learned to ground and center as our first magical lesson, establishing a mental, emotional, and energetic foundation from which to act.

Some magical techniques address our human needs—attracting love, caring for a family, and engaging in meaningful work. The western magical tradition calls this kind of magic thaumaturgy, or low magic. I’ve heard this described dismissively, “That’s just thaumaturgy!” Donald Michael Kraig points out that the term “low” describes magic developed in the lowlands, in farming communities where healing ailments and managing a bit of prosperity are vitally important. Thaumaturgy is contrasted with theurgy, magic involving the gods or divine powers. Theurgy is also called high magic, which Kraig notes developed in the cities, literally higher than the countryside.

Don’t let anyone tell you high magic is superior to low magic! Every human being needs to eat, to have a place to live, to be healthy, and to be loved. It’s much harder to invoke your Holy Guardian Angel if you are couch-surfing with family. Thaumaturgy provides the essential foundation of our magical lives, helping us to provide for ourselves and contribute to the families and communities which support us. My book Practical Magic for Beginners describes this kind of magic at length, detailing the knowledge that forms the western occult heritage, and applying that knowledge to aid us in our everyday lives.

Magic also offers us a path of personal development, a way to explore our relationship with the divine and our own divine natures. Theurgy is sometimes translated “god-work,” the work we do to bring ourselves closer to the gods. High magic (or ceremonial magic) tends to be formal, involving established ritual, and includes the study of esoteric magical systems, particularly Qabbalah. In the Magical Philosophy series, Melita Denning and Osborne Phillips note that engaging in esoteric study is a form of initiation in itself. Many ceremonial systems and groups also include a staged series of initiations that are designed to take the student on a spiritual journey to magical adepthood.

High magic evolved over millennia to fit the needs of past generations. The formal magical systems draw on the western occult heritage—the workings of the elements and planets, energies and tides—to build transformative rituals. Many ceremonial orders exist today that preserve the rituals of the last century, providing an opportunity for men and women of all ages to experience their power.

Just as we are shaped by our times and culture, magical systems are shaped by the needs of the people who create and use them. The last century offered a different set of challenges than the ones we face today. One hundred years ago the industrial age promised an ever brighter future, brightening the night, greening the desert, and extending the human lifespan, while at the same time conflicts exploded into destructive world wars, tearing families and countries apart. In this century we are struggling to cope with the destructive legacy of industrialism itself while learning to tolerate cultural and religious differences and support the right of all people to govern themselves.

We think and act differently than our forebears did in the last millennium. This is especially true of how we think about gender and how our culture treats gender differences. In the last century women worked for the right to vote, to wear trousers, to move into the workforce. Today women work for equal representation in leadership, to earn the same salary as men for the same work, to be taken seriously as agents of our own destiny.

High magic has not yet incorporated the cultural shift in gender roles. Rituals created to help men to experience the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel don’t work in the same way for women. My book The Woman Magician examines the ways in which Western Traditional Magic has thought about women and creates an initiatory system for women to explore their highest spiritual potential.

High magic similarly fails to include diversity of race, sexual orientation, and ability; to cope with the equation of magic with superstition and the academic framing of magic as opposite to science; and to explore spirituality in the context of competing world religions. It is the challenge of today’s magicians to synthesize a cohesive view of the world that takes contemporary diversity, religion, and scientific discovery into account in a way that includes and validates magical-spiritual endeavor.

Remaking High Magic

How do we go about remaking magic? What even gives us the right to think such a big thought? Doesn’t that kind of work come from geniuses or people who speak the words of the gods?

Geniuses may absorb information more quickly, but anyone who can read and is willing to persevere can acquire knowledge. We can overcome our personal limitations by working in groups, encouraging each other, and supporting our individual development in a communal context. For example, we know now that any group is smarter than its smartest member, even if that smartest member is a genius. Also, any one of us can establish a relationship with deity, and every one of us can come to a realization of the divinity within us.

Suppose we give ourselves permission to tackle this idea. Where do we begin?

    • List Sources

      A good place to start is to consider the sources of our magic. It’s important not to censor this list and to be willing to include all the roots of our systems, however unlikely or embarrassing. Fans of the Harry Potter series will remember Luna Lovegood, whose willingness to consider unorthodox sources of information earned her scorn but permitted her to notice things that others did not see.We have inherited high magic from people who assembled magical knowledge for thousands of years. Astrologers studied the skies, alchemists studied metals, herbalists pondered plants. Some of those herbalists must have contacted the spirits of those plants just as Eileen Caddy did at Findhorn in Scotland. Many spirits have communicated to humans. People routinely see and hear the spirits of loved ones who have died, an experience that blossomed into the popular religion of Spiritualism in the last century. Angels spoke to Edward Kelly and John Dee, and gods have appeared in dreams and visions to magicians many times throughout the ages.


    • Study Religion

      High Magic encompasses the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as the folk religions and ancient Paganism that underlies them all. Since the Parliament of the Worlds Religions brought east and west together in 1893, western magic has incorporated Buddhism, Hinduism, and Tantra, while in modern times techniques from indigenous religions, particularly involving chant, trance, and possession, have been incorporated (some say appropriated) into the systems.


    • Study Philosophy

      Some of the great thinkers of past ages seem like geniuses to us because their education was different than ours. We no longer study Latin and Greek in school as the turn-of-the-century magicians did. It is a rare person today who has any knowledge of philosophy, the history of how humans have come to think the way we think.I came to philosophy as an outsider, reading on my own rather than in an academic environment. Even women who study inside the academy report feeling like outsiders, as the practice of philosophy has been held to be a man’s domain for several millennia. So I was surprised to discover how fascinating the study of ideas can be. If religion is the history of magic, philosophy is its operating system. Studying philosophy teaches us how to think about thinking, the meta-level that is precisely the place we need to reach to be able to rethink a magical system.


    • Experience Ritual

      Since the philosopher-magician Apollonius of Tyana visited India in the first century of the common era, the magicians who have contributed to the high magic systems have often been great travelers and experimenters. In the last century the men who crafted the rituals and study systems we use today were often Freemasons, trading and collecting fraternal initiations and religious ordinations, while the women who created the rituals and study systems also participated in Theosophy and Spiritualism. Today there are so many public events and open groups available that anyone can gain a wealth of experience that would have been the envy of any Victorian magician. We are the most cosmopolitan magicians in history.


  • Ask the Fundamental Questions

    Who are we? Why are we here? How does the universe work? What is the appropriate way for a twenty-first century magician to behave? The knowledge we gain from our studies, along with the experience we gain from our rituals, informs our answers to these questions. Our answers may change over time as we incorporate new experiences and knowledge.

As Denning and Phillips said, in the Hermetic tradition the study of knowledge itself changes us. To remake the systems of high magic we apply those changes to the body of traditional knowledge and ritual. We can then create new rituals that incorporate diversity, honor religion, partner with science, and shape us into the people we need to be to face the challenges of our age.

Not everyone is called to this work, but anyone who wills to do so can participate in it. The Woman Magician is one contribution to this effort, joining that of many others who are rethinking ceremonial magic for the twenty-first century. Together we will shape the form of high magic that will shape us into the people we envision we can be.

Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2011. All rights reserved.


8 Lessons of Alchemy

2imagesby Mark Stavish

(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)

Wisdom is only gained through experience and reflection upon that experience, which draws out the lessons it has to offer. A life not reflected upon is a life lived in the shadow of reality. Only by stopping, looking back at where we have started, what we have done, where we are in the present, and how we got here, can we begin to call ourselves wise—and Wisdom is the goal of genuine esotericism, not power, fame, or titles—Wisdom is the fruit of experiences that are understood.

To practice alchemy is to knock on the doors of the Temple of Sophia, of Wisdom, and to pray to enter. One quickly realizes that no matter how hard one knocks, there is nobody on the other side to open the door. It is we who must, individually and through our own free will and accord, push on the door and open it for ourselves. Once inside we find some peculiar and helpful friends waiting, but only once we have taken the responsibility to open the door for ourselves.

This article is a summary of some of my own, as well as other alchemists’ experiences, that occurred during our first twelve months of practicing spagyrics or plant alchemy. Hopefully they will be useful to aspiring alchemists, and even students of other occult arts and sciences in understanding the path that they have chosen and its potential.

Lessons Learned
Many have found the study of alchemy particularly rewarding, first because of the kind of returns one gets for their investment of time, and second because of the certainty of the results.

Jean Dubuis, the founder of the French qabalistic and alchemical organization The Philosophers of Nature, frequently stated during seminars that “Alchemy is the only path that does not lie.” By this he meant that in a variety of esoteric, and so-called esoteric practices, it is easy to excuse ones failures or lack of results. We hear these excuses all the time: the wrong incense was used, the moon cycles were off, the “mood” wasn’t right, the wrong associations, planets, gods, or Elements were invoked. The list is endless.

However, in alchemy—even plant alchemy, or spagyrics as it is properly called—everything is a learning experience that points towards how we are to approach not only our alchemical operations but also life itself. As Frater Albertus said, “All manifestation is accomplished by the utilization of will, which is another term for being alive.”

If we have manifestation we have demonstrated that we are truly “alive” on a level that not only affects and includes the material, but also precedes and supercedes it. It is the Ouroboros, the serpent eating its tail; the Alpha and the Omega. Alchemy my friend, does not lie, and here are some of its lessons.

  1. Lesson One:

I am responsible for my own Becoming.
Alchemy teaches that I and I alone am responsible for myself, my life, my consciousness, and my growth in wisdom, or “Becoming” as it is called. While others can try to help me along the way, I have to be receptive to their assistance and listen to the voice of experience. At the end of time, when I stand before the Eternal, my answer to the question, “Who are you?” must be in the words of Victor Hugo, “I am freedom.” Freely I have entered the Path, freely have I undertaken its challenges, and freely do I share with others what I have learned.


  • Lesson Two: Nature does not care if I am stupid.
    Nature will help me if I am alert to what is happening. I am the handmaid of Nature and assist it in its work just at is assists me in my undertakings—but only if I am aware. Nature responds to one’s actions as well as intentions. Unlike in ritual magic where an error can be made and the inner essence override the misstep in the ritual, an error can result in ruining all of the work to date. Working directly with material elements means being responsible to material laws as well as psychic ones.



  • Lesson Three: Energy goes where your true attention is, not where you think it is.
    During the distillation of some alcohol off of red wine for use in the making of a spagyric tincture, a fellow alchemist decided to go sit outside and let the process run. To pass the time he decided to “send some energy” to a small plant near where he was sitting. First some Earth, with no response; then Water, with only a slight response; then Air, with better results; and finally Fire, with great results (as well as hearing his distillation explode, sending flaming alcohol all over his ceiling). A similar incident occurred to another practitioner of the Art, with him finding a flaming blue liquid all over the ceiling fan in his kitchen. If you are working on an alchemical experiment, stay focused on it until it is complete, or that portion of the process is finished.


Thoughts are things and affect my physical and psychic environment. As such they are not limited only to ‘me’ but also impact on those around me.


  • Lesson Four: Learn the theory before practice.
    Alchemy works primarily on the Earth element, and as such, promises nothing quickly. In the host of false promises offered up by a variety of authors and systems, and even self-styled abusers of the word “alchemy,” the Royal Art stands alone in saying that Illumination can be had—but at a price. The biggest price is time, as skills must be learned, preparations made, notes taken and reviewed, and experiments catalogued. Preparation is the key to success in anything, be it material or psychic. A key element of this was memorizing the Emerald Tablet and accepting it as an outline of the entire alchemical process regardless of other methods taken. It is a poor craftsman who blames his tools.



  • Lesson Five: Make Haste Slowly.
    Constantly in the alchemical literature there are references to the work being done slowly, and then, just before it is completed, to increase the heat on a given product, but to do so carefully and diligently, so as not to burn the matter and thereby destroy all of one’s efforts just as success is in sight. It is often said that in any project, eighty percent of the work takes place during the final stages, and in alchemy this is clearly true. Slow, slowly, slower, is the best way to go, with daily attention to the work.



  • Lesson Six: We must be prepared before we begin the Work.
    Preparation is more than just a physical process of making sure the glass is clean, and the proper materials and equipment are available and in working order, it is also an internal process. To be successful in alchemy—or any occult practice aimed at material or psychic manifestation—students have to be ready to accept and participate in the process. This means making one’s self a perfect vessel by internalizing the steps of process. First intellectually through memorization, and through this, letting them operate internally on our subconscious to organize and direct its energies. Once we have internalized the work in theory, we can begin to use it in external practice. Internalization of the process results in externalization of the process through a successful technique. The devil is in the details. “Read, Read, Read, Pray, Work and Read Again.”



  • Lesson Seven: It is Finished!
    The Hermetic axiom from the Emerald Tablet states, “As Above, So Below; as Below, So Above.” Internalization is also Paracelsus’s statement that we only transmute without what we have first transmuted within. We must pay attention to the still small voice within—the voice of Hermes, of our Inner Master—as it will respond to our work and teach us in our dreams and meditations. The information will be practical as well as theoretical or symbolic. It is not uncommon to suddenly sense a process is complete when working with the production of plant stones. That is, there is an inner knowing that it is time to move on to the next step. Sometimes this even takes place verbally. Once during the process I heard, “I am done” and knew that this was my attunement to a plant stone I was working on letting me know the process was complete, even though it was the middle of the afternoon and I as preoccupied with something else all together. Even here however, this inner knowing was checked against reality. Did the plant stone work? Did it do what a plant stone is supposed to do? The proof is in the results, not the wishes, desires, or beliefs, but in the cold hard evidence of an operation that was successful.



  • (Lesson Eight: You’re not an alchemist until you have had at least one explosion.)


In the words of Hermes, “That which I have to say about the Operation of the Sun is completed.”

Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2006. All rights reserved.


The Everyday Clairvoyant: What’s Your Gift? (And Does It Help You Clean the House?)

1-7474248_f496by Cyndi Dale

(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)

I see pictures for a living.

That’s not the same as creating them; I can’t so much as draw a stick figure. Nor is it equivalent to collecting art or hanging photographs or scanning MRIs. It’s a little more, well, complex than that.

I’m a clairvoyant. I see images in my mind that inform me about reality. If you were to ask me what you ate for breakfast, I might watch an entire filmstrip of you in a chef hat being Julia Child or Jean-Luc Albin (okay, he’s a pastry guy, but you might be into croissants.) Based on your kitchen antics, I’d most likely make a pretty good guess at what you whipped up.

Or maybe I’d envision a hen and deduct that you ate eggs. I might even visualize a Starbuck’s drive-through, which suits my idea of haute cuisine. Whatever the case, I perceive images that are literal, descriptive, or metaphorical; from the past, present, or potential future; or appear as shapes, colors, and symbols. From these, I construct and construe answers to various life questions, which provide the fodder for my work as an energy healer, intuitive consultant, and author.

I’ve shared images with more than thirty thousand individuals and countless groups. That’s a lot of pictures—and questions, which preceded my answers. These questions constitute life’s major concerns, which always fall into one of three categories: relationship, destiny (work), and balance (health). See if you can think of something important that doesn’t edge into one or several of these baskets.

Will I ever get married? Do I have a soul mate? Is s/he having an affair? Are affairs always bad? Do I have spiritual guides? Did Atlantis ever exist? What happens during miscarriage? Abortion? How do I deal with an abusive partnership? Are there ghosts? Do animals have souls? You guessed it; these are RELATIONSHIP questions.

What’s my purpose? Is it bad to go bankrupt? Did I ever live before? How might past lives affect my current life? What are my specific spiritual gifts? Why we there so many people on this planet right now? How can I make more money? Will I ever win the lottery? Is peace on earth possible? Here we are in the land of DESTINY.

Why am I sick? Why is there illness on this planet? Can entities cause problems? What are the keys to being healthier? How do I deal with stuck emotions? Bad beliefs? Can I ever really become who I want to be? Here we are in BALANCE.

In my book, >Everyday Clairvoyant: Extraordinary Answers to Finding Love, Destiny, and Balance in Your Life, I share the most burning, typical, and stellar questions I’ve heard, such as the ones listed. I provide a summative response, crafted from twenty-five years in my trade as a clairvoyant. I also talk about what being a clairvoyant means in my “real life,” for that’s where I show up every day: at home, in relationships, going grocery shopping, mothering, and even cleaning the house. I share all of it to underscore one main point:

Even though my profession isn’t listed on IRS forms—or any other, for that matter, I’m no different than you.

What does that mean but that YOU are as “weird” as I AM.

Words like ESP, supernatural, channeling, telepathy, psychic, shamanic, empathic, clairvoyant, and paranormal aren’t only descriptive of “different people,” but of ALL people. We are ALL intuitively gifted. We are ALL amazingly, brilliantly, and sometimes annoyingly, psychic.

We are all born with psychic abilities. “Psychic” simply refers to the ability to gather, decipher, and generate information that moves quicker than the speed of light.

While a lot of people don’t like to admit that they are psychic—or even see a benefit to it— it’s a great thing to be. When moving really fast, you don’t have to obey the traffic cops of the Universe. You can slip through walls, bypassing obstacles. You can enjoy a cup of coffee before it’s even served, which is pretty important if you need an instant shot of caffeine. A thought doesn’t even need to halt at a stop sign the way that sensory, “earth bound” information does. You can receive knowledge from the future, awareness from the past, and make it all work for you right now.

Whether or not we know it, our spirits communicate through psychic activity much more often than through sensory means. It’s just easier. If you know something important is going to happen tomorrow, why not get ready today? If you can disappear a tumor before it happens, why not play doctor right now? If you can “reach out and touch someone” through psychic e-mail versus sensory snail mail, why not go for the time advantage?

Clairvoyance is only one of the many psychic gifts available to us all. When teaching classes, I share that there are eleven major universal gifts and a twelfth that is unique to each person. Each gift is housed in a chakra, an energy center that connects the psychic with the sensory.

I work with a twelve-chakra system, which is described in my book, The Complete Book of Chakra Healing, but I also reference these energy centers and corresponding gifts in Everyday Clairvoyant, for one main reason: the key to enjoying satisfying relationships, living on destiny, and being balanced, is to uncover and embrace your true spiritual gifts.

Which gift is incipient to you? Scan this list, which outlines a couple of ways to label each gift and corresponding chakra, and see if anything pops out:

  • First chakra: Physical empathy and manifesting
  • Second chakra: Feeling empathy and creativity
  • Third chakra: Mental empathy (clairsentience) and administrative ability
  • Fourth chakra: Relational empathy and healing
  • Fifth chakra: Verbal empathy (clairaudience, channeling, telepathy) and communicating
  • Sixth chakra: Clairvoyance, visioning, strategizing
  • Seventh chakra: Spiritual empathy and prophecy
  • Eighth chakra: Shamanism
  • Ninth chakra: Soul empathy and harmonizing (representing world causes)
  • Tenth chakra: Nature empathy and sensitivity to the environment
  • Eleventh chakra: Force sympathy and leadership
  • Twelfth chakra: Unique to you

Know that whatever gifts you have, they aren’t to be used in a vacuum or “solo.” Our strongest gifts—each and every one of them—support our destiny or spiritual purpose. You could say, “They help us help others.” Besides being a clairvoyant, I am also a communicator. I therefore combine my sixth chakra clairvoyance with a fifth chakra communication skill in order to teach and write about my vision for the world.

Our gifts also impact our relationships. Being both visual and verbal, I relate to others these ways. I notice how someone wears a hat, eats a sandwich, moves his or her head. I respond to what I perceive. And I talk. A lot. Not for me, the strong, silent type. I’d be bored silly.

As well, our chakras and corresponding gifts affect our health. Each chakra is based in a bodily locale and connects to our physical self through a specific endocrine gland. As a fifth and sixth chakra person, I have to nourish the glands associated with these chakras: the thyroid and pituitary glands. If I don’t, I’ll get sick. I also participate in fifth and sixth chakra activities in order to burn off stress. For instance, movies are a great sixth chakra escape. Know what works for a fifth chakra person? Talking is a good start. (The problem is it’s hard to combine these two without getting kicked out of a theatre.)

In the end, we can’t separate ourselves from our gifts. The “paranormal” isn’t something outside of ourselves. We are “para” or beyond “normal” ALL the time. I might sit in a chair all day and see pictures for a living. But I also interweave my abilities—my psychic self—into and through everything about me.

Even my mothering.

My friends can testify to the fact that my youngest son would never have survived childhood if I didn’t have “eyes in the back of my head.” I think back to a remark made by a friend of mine after I’d been on the phone with her for a while.

“Did you know that you saved Gabe’s life three times in the last few minutes?” She asked.

I pondered the question. I hadn’t even seen Gabe for a while, although I did remember punctuating the house with a few “marching orders” called out to him, sight unseen.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, first you told him to stop tying the dog’s tail onto the curtain rod, which could have fallen off and beamed him. Then you kept him from playing Spiderman on the wall over the glass tabletop with all the sharp edges. Lastly you made sure he didn’t turn the bathtub into a swimming pool and nosedive in.”

I did do all that—from a different room, unconsciously tapping into my clairvoyance.

Having mastered the fine art of psychic mothering, I’ve set myself the goal of psychic housecleaning. Wouldn’t it be grand, to imagine the house picked up and have it so? To envision the dogs’ food bowls full, the guinea pig’s cage scrubbed out, the cat litter changed, and presto?

I’ll work on it and let you know when I’ve figured it out. Maybe I’ll even invent a computer with psychic command functions or kitchen appliances that make the bread and bake it with a single thought. And perhaps I’ll visualize something even more grand, like peace on earth. Because if I know anything, I know this:

Underneath it all, we are spirits, embodied so as to engage the everyday world toward a single, vital goal: We are here to create more love on this planet.

And we have the gifts to do it.

Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2010. All rights reserved.


A Few Famous Goddesses and Heroines

art 3aphroditeAn Excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines

No encyclopedia, no matter its length, could list all the goddesses the world has known. Due to colonization and forced conversion, innumerable goddesses and their stories have been lost. But an impressive amount of information remains, although scattered in sacred texts, literary epics and drama, story collections, ethnographies, and many other works. This encyclopedia brings together thousands of such sources to offer an entry point for further research. Casual and curious readers will find the legends and myths the most compelling part of this work, but researchers will be able to trace each figure to additional writers, who in turn will provide further reference points.

All the works referenced in this book are in English. This excludes many works available in other languages, especially those of the cultures in question. In some areas, as with the former Soviet Union, little is available in translation. Were all published material in multiple languages to be included in this encyclopedia, it would be volumes longer. But the sources listed typically offer bibliographical references in the languages of cultural origin for each figure, so scholars should be able to access information where available.

Sources are not limited to scholarly ones, because much goddess material appears in literature and in children’s storybooks. The Roman poet Ovid, for instance, wrote goddess narratives that are among the classics of ancient literature. In other cultures, such literary treatments are not available in English, but the myths and legends appear as narrations for children and young adults. Where traditional religion was subjugated, goddess narratives often were sustained by becoming “old wives” tales, told orally to children and as entertainment to adults. Thus folklore as well as literature provides a source of information about ancient goddess figures.

Due to the occasional inconsistency of electronic sources, only material published in paper format has been used. Scholarly material continually becomes more readily available electronically, and many of these sources can be accessed that way. However, some materials available only on the Internet are of questionable validity and/or offer an uncritical analysis of the material. Thus Internet-only sources have been excluded.
The encyclopedia’s sections are based on geographical and cultural divisions. Each section offers an introduction describing the role of women therein. Any specific questions contemporary researchers address are also covered in these introductory sections.

Finally, modern revivals of ancient goddess religions are mentioned as well as ethical or other concerns about such revivals. Each section provides individual entries for important goddesses and heroines from that culture. Rather than full footnotes for each entry, the source of the story is noted, for which readers may refer to the bibliography.

Despite this book’s length, there is no question that some goddesses are missing. In some cases, their stories have not yet been published in English. In other cases, the narratives do not specify their names. A figure might be called “the earth goddess,” while in the same story a male divinity is given a personal name. The quest to reclaim lost goddesses is never ending, for as with the Venus of Hohle Fels Cave, information continually comes to light. Such new information can only add to the great richness of images of female potency and power offered in these pages.

Asase Yaa – This Ashanti goddess of agriculture and human fecundity appears as Asase Efua among the Fante and Akan. The two names indicate Thursday (Yaa) and Friday (Efua), the “birthdays” of the two goddesses, on which farmers allow the earth to rest. When Christianity came to western Africa, a difficulty was that this supreme divinity lives and is worshipped in plowed fields, not in heaven or in temples like the Christian divinity. Asase reclaims people at death, and everyone who works a field becomes a co-power of fertility after death. (Ephirim-Donkor; Feldmann; Manyoni; Mbon; Parringer 1967, 1970; Pobee; Radin)

Gunnlod, Ruler of Poetry – Gunnlod was the owner of a cauldron of mead that endowed anyone who drank it with eloquence. The god Odin attempted to gain poetic power through trickery, coming to the hall of Gunnlod’s father, the giant Suttungr, in disguise because the Norse gods were bitter enemies of giants. Gunnlod sat on a throne of gold, from which she dispensed mead to Odin. He seduced her and, while she was sleeping, drank all three vats of mead and shapeshifted into a bird to escape. Gunnlod’s father pursued Odin back to the land of the gods, changing himself into an eagle, but the gods saw him coming and lit fires that killed him. (Larrington)

Luna – It is unclear whether Luna was originally divine or whether she was a poetic personification elevated to divinity. Diana was often described as riding in the lunar chariot, especially after her assimilation to Greek Artemis, but Luna and her companion Sol, the sun god, appear in literature and epigrams. They were, however, not revered in cult and had no festival dedicated to them. Luna was more honored than Sol, for while they shared a temple, she had three others. (Smith)

Uti Hiata “Mother Corn” – was a significant Pawnee and Arikara divinity, born in primeval times after ducks brought silt from the bottom of the cosmic lake to build prairies and foothills. The sky father, seeing giants populating the earth, sent a flood to destroy them. After he replanted the earth with maize seeds that sprouted into human beings, he sent Uti Hiata to assist at their birth.

Finding no one on earth, Uti Hiata walked about. Thunder kidnapped her and hid her beneath the earth. There, she was helped by mole, mouse, and badger to dig through the ground. As she emerged, so did people, to whom she taught secrets of life, methods of agriculture, and religious rituals. (Dorsey 1997)

Brigit – Because of the local nature of Celtic divinities, few were honored across a wide geographical area. But there is evidence of a widely known goddess with a name or title meaning “high one.” In Britain, the Brigantes honored a goddess, Brigantia. In Gaul, we find Brigindo or Brigindu, of whom little is known except that she was invoked to encourage abundant harvests. At a thermal spring in southern France, Brixia was honored.

In Ireland, Scotland, and Wales and on the Isle of Man, Brigit appears as a central goddess. Her symbols were cattle, fire, and water; her holy day, February 1. A member of the Tuatha©Danann (see Danu), Brigit was daughter of the god of fertility, Dagda, and mother of the hero Radn, at whose death she invented keening. She appears in three related forms, as goddess of healing, smithcraft, and poetry. It is unclear whether her worshippers knew three separate goddesses named Brigit, each with her own specific domain, or whether all were one goddess.

Ritual devotion to Brigit, centered on sacred fire and holy wells, continued after the goddess was “converted” to a Christian saint. Documents suggest that a college of priestesses served Saint Brigit. Giraldus Cambrensis reported that nuns in Kildare tended an undying ashless flame, a ritual identical to that offered to Sul. Not long after Giraldus made his 1184 report, clergy dowsed the fires. In 1988, the foundation of the ancient temple was rediscovered in Kildare. Not long after, the Brigidine sisters spearheaded an international revival of interest in Saint Brigit.

Both saint and goddess are honored on February 1, the feast of Imbolc, still celebrated in Ireland. The most widespread ritual entails praying at dawn at a holy well. Pilgrims also tie small pieces of cloth to trees nearby. In Kildare, rush crosses are hung on houses to prevent fires. In County Kerry, Biddy Boys dress in white, don straw hats, and go begging; giving to them ensures a good harvest. Other traditions include crafting dolls from rushes, laying fabric outdoors for Brigit to walk upon as the sun rises, and jumping through a circle of straw. In Scotland, Imbolc was celebrated by dressing sheaves in women’s clothing and setting a wooden club beside the figure. The next morning, women looked in the ashes for an impression of Brigit’s club.

Brigit may have taken on aspects of a pre-Celtic seasonal goddess. In Scotland, stories relate how the Cailleach kept Bride imprisoned in high mountains. Her son fell in love with the girl; at winter’s end, they eloped. The hag chased them, causing storms. After she turned to stone, Bride was freed. (Bourke; Brenneman and Brenneman; Carmichael; Condren; Cunliffe; Danaher 1922; Delaney; Cambrensis; Ellis 1995; Koch; Logan 1980; MacAnna; Clancy; MacKinlay; MacNeill; O’Faol in 1985, 1999; Wavle and Burke.)

From the book Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines. Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Monaghan. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.


Discovery of the First Known Icon of a Goddess

art2useAn Excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines

Whether a goddess or not, the figure at Hohle Fels Cave created a sensation. Finds of Paleolithic Venuses, while never commonplace, are frequent enough that archaeologists were not surprised to unearth another. But stone figures like the Venus of Willendorf have been found with other objects suggesting an age of no more than 30,000 years. Because the Hohle Fels figure was carved of bone, scientists were able to carbon-date it. This showed the figure to be 35,000 to 40,000 years old, 10,000 years older than similar finds. The Venus of Hohle Fels is the oldest depiction of the human form ever found. And she is indisputably female.

What does this Venus look like? Like other such works, she is naked and robust, corpulent or possibly pregnant. Her breasts are huge and her pubic triangle exaggerated. Her arms and legs are tiny in proportion to her body, and she has no face. Where the head should be, Venus has a ring, suggesting she was worn as a pendant or amulet. She is only 2¬Ω inches long and weighs less than an ounce.

Is this the image of humanity’s primal divinity? We cannot know what people believed in prehistory, as by definition they left no written records. We do know that since recorded history began, humans have honored goddesses, for among the earliest written documents are hymns to the Babylonian goddess Inanna. But the Hohle Fels figure is ten times older than the oldest religious writing.

We cannot know whether those who carved the Hohle Fels Venus intended to represent a divinity in female form. But we do know that almost every culture since the dawn of time has honored goddesses as well as gods. Then, somewhere around 2,500 years ago, monotheism emerged in the eastern Mediterranean, first in the form of Hebrew tribal religion (which became Judaism), then as Christianity, and finally as Islam. These related religions center their worship on a single male divinity. In doing so, they eliminate age-old reverence for the divine female.

By contrast, no goddess has ever occupied the solitary position in a religion. The difference between monotheism and goddess religion cannot be clearer: No monotheistic goddess religion has ever been found. Every religion that honors a goddess honors a god as well.

Debate rages over whether the honoring of goddesses makes any difference to the lives of real women, with critics pointing out the practice of widow burning in Hindu India, for instance, as proof that placing a goddess on the altar does not necessarily free women from oppression. Similarly, Greek and Roman religion created magnificent images of the feminine divine, yet denied basic rights to women. Patriarchy and monotheism are not identical. One can exist without the other.

There is no question monotheism limits women in religious situations. Only recently have some Christian denominations permitted women to serve as priests, with others holding up the presumed “sex of god” as a reason to deny the pulpit to women. Whether such bias extends beyond the church is a matter of debate, but there is little question that boys who are taught that god looks like them, but not like their mothers and sisters, grow up differently than girls who are taught the opposite. It is probably not surprising that those raised with such an orientation find it difficult to believe that our forebears may have honored divinity in female form and captured her image in forms such as the Hohle Fels Venus. Although it is certainly possible men carved big-breasted women as fantasy sexual objects 35,000 years ago, the greater likelihood is that this faceless woman represents what we call “Mother Nature,” the embodiment in female form of the forces to which human life is subject.

Whether or not prehistoric figures represent goddesses, there is no doubt that once written history begins, we find goddesses sharing the religious stage with gods. Throughout the world, people pictured divinity in female form. Often, divine women acted like human women, especially when they performed the one activity biologically limited to women: bearing children. Goddesses often conceive without a male partner. They are impregnated by wind or ocean waves, by snakes or fiery flames, or simply by their own desire. When they have a mate, the relationship need not replicate those of humans. The goddess may have intercourse with her father or her brother, with a stranger, or with several deities at once. She may be promiscuous. Or she may have one mate with whom she forms a model of the ideal human couple.

Not all female divinities are “mother goddesses.” Goddesses can appear as young nymphs, self-reliant workers, aged sages. They can be athletes or huntresses, dancers or acrobats, herbalists or midwives. We find goddesses as teachers, inventors, bartenders, potters, surfers, magicians, warriors, and queens. Virtually any social role women have played or are capable of playing appears in a goddess myth.

This volume shows the breadth of possibilities associated with the feminine through many ages and cultures. Some figures will be familiar to the general reader, especially those from classical European sources. Others are obscure, recorded only in a single source as, for instance, some native North American stories transcribed from the last speaker of a dying language. Not all would be called “goddesses” by the people who told their stories, for that word generally refers to divine or supernatural beings. Between such figures and mortal women exists a category this work calls “heroines.” Some were originally human women who attained to legendary status: clan ancestors, extraordinarily faithful lovers, self-sacrificing saviors, remarkable queens, bold adventurers, wonder workers. Others represent a halfway category between human and divine. These include women with superhuman powers, spirits of nature, personified abstractions, bodhisattvas, ogres, cannibals, and saints.

Finally, monotheistic religions often have female figures who function in goddess-like ways, giving birth to gods or saving humanity from peril. Although monotheisms deny the existence of goddesses, these figures are listed in this work, because such figures are sometimes submerged goddesses or powerful goddess-like beings. Where such figures are included, the view of worshippers from that religion is clearly stated.

From the book Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines. Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Monaghan. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.


The History of The Goddess

EncycloGoddesses_cvr_fnl.inddAn Excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines

In 2008, archaeologists in Germany made a startling discovery. In Swabian Jura, where caves in limestone cliffs sheltered ancient humans, a figurine was unearthed from rubble. Carved from mammoth ivory, the figure showed a naked woman. Such figures have been found before where this “Venus” emerged, for the figure found in Hohle Fels Cave was named for a Roman goddess, as has been common since these figures were first discovered more than a century ago. In Austria (Willendorf and Galgenberg), France (Brassempouy, Laussel), and other European sites (Doln√≠ V√ªstonice in the Czech Republic, Moravany in Slovakia, Monruz in Switzerland, Mal‚Äôta in Russia), archaeologists have found tiny figures of naked women. They are among the most ancient artworks of humanity, carved from stone or bone or molded from clay between twenty and thirty thousand years ago.

That long ago, during the Paleolithic Era, humans lived in small groups hunting and gathering foods. Recent studies suggest a large proportion, up to 80 percent, of their diet came from plant foods like berries, fruits, and roots, which scholars assume were gathered by women. Meat, while providing necessary nutrients, was less readily available and required significant strength and skill to acquire, and it is presumed hunting was a predominantly male occupation, although women may have trapped small mammals and caught fish. What distinguishes this period of human history from earlier ones is that for the first time humans began to use stone tools. This revolution led to others, such as the establishment of year-round villages and the invention of art.

What knowledge we have of these ancestors comes from scanty traces of their daily lives. Only material resistant to decay survives the millennia: bone, stone, fired clay. We have no way of knowing how ancient humans dressed or what footwear they favored. We have no Paleolithic fishing nets or traps, no spears, no baskets. We do not know how they organized their societies or traced their descent lines. We have no idea what languages they used. But because they carved bone and painted on stone, we can see and appreciate their art.

The cave paintings at Lascaux and Pech-Merle in France show that these ancient humans had a sophisticated sense of beauty and a command of painterly techniques. In Lascaux, animals leap and prance around the walls and roof of a series of interlocking caves. At Pech-Merle, spotted horses and woolly mammoths adorn the walls, and the outline of a hand suggests the presence of the artist. In addition to such painted galleries, we have dozens of examples of Paleolithic portable art in the form of expressive incised drawings of animals on bone and delicate carvings of “Venus” figurines.

Before 2008, experts dated these figures to be-tween 28,000 and 24,000 years ago. Despite the span of time involved and despite the stylistic diversity in the figures, the Venuses share an emphasis on female sexual characteristics. Breasts and pubic triangle are always exaggerated; thighs and buttocks can be disproportionately large as well. This emphasis seems to have been so important that many Venuses have no facial features and only sketchy arms and legs. They are never clothed, although some wear what appear to be woven belts, and most have elaborate hairstyles. Contemporaneous cave paintings, with their highly realistic depiction of prey animals, show that these artists did not lack pictoral ability. Rather, the artists appear to have selectively exaggerated certain aspects of female anatomy.

Although we cannot know whether men or women (or both) made the carvings, or what they meant, interpretations abound. Among these is the idea the images represent the first known deity: a goddess. This theory is supported by the fact that virtually the only human images found in such ancient art are these full-bodied naked females, with the artists otherwise focusing their energies on animals. But this idea is a controversial one, especially among male scholars, some of whom prefer to label the figures as “Paleolithic pornography,” projecting today‚Äôs sexual behavior into the distant past. Because for nearly 2,000 years, male monotheism has been the dominant religious pattern, the idea that ancient humans honored a goddess as their primary divinity is unsettling to many, scholars and nonscholars alike.

From the book Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines. Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Monaghan. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.