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Archive for the ‘Women’s Spirituality’ Category

For some time now I have been pondering the influence within paganism of the western centric worldview. No doubt other minds have pondered this very thing, and written about it. The sure knowledge that pagan scholars (or any scholar for that matter) have grappled with this topic (or any other that might rumble in my brain) has created a sort of lethargy in expressing my own views. Why add to the noise of the cultural milieu? I know this is silly thinking….

As with any thought you try to contort into a coherent one, you need a beginning. My beginning was living in Ireland, and then looking back over the water (as it were) at the way U.S. pagans take localized deity forms and transplant or interact with them on other continents. [bias warning: This tendency has always irked me because it feels like the “daddy god” syndrome I dislike in Christianity – “You are a floating up there ever present caretaker that loves me and desires to communicate with me wherever, whatever, I am.”] In fact, let me take a moment to express why this irks me. It seems the height of nonsense (and arrogance) to imagine that a being more complex or vast than myself would have the slightest interest in listening every time any of the several billion there are of us currently on this planet needs a parking place or has a headache. I don’t always listen to my partner, and he is only one person who is intimately important to me, and often located in the same room! Now, back to the point. Here in Ireland it is clear to see how modern pagans take a personal god or pantheon and then interact with them in much the same way Christians interact with their god. Why this became so clear to me while living here on this land is for another post.

So, this coddled, narcissistic [my bias showing] view that some complex, powerful being is paying attention to every little whim of humanity smacked of foolishness from the beginning. It irritated me within Christianity for both religious and political reasons. It is incredibly human centric and is at the core of the western-centric worldview: a term I first heard in a comparative religions class. Most people reading this will know that the idea of worldview arose from the word “Weltanschauung” and was a concept fundamental to German philosophy. It is understood as “the fundamental cognitive, affective, and evaluative presuppositions a group of people make about the nature of things, and which they use to order their lives.” You can see how understanding a particular religion’s, or culture’s, worldview is imperative for scholars studying them comparatively. It is equally as important to identify your own worldview when engaging in ANY study – whether that be the sciences (both hard and soft), philosophy, or religion. In fact, I think the great work of the 21st century may be untangling our sciences from the grip of a western-centric worldview.

If we take just a moment to consider what has shaped our fundamental views, which include such seeming secular things as human rights, rationality, individuality, freedom, separation of church and state, etc, we find very quickly several factions of Christianity. This one religion, along with strong helpings of Greek philosophy, has utterly shaped our perceptions, and the way we view our world. Since most pagans I know were brought up within a western society, none of us has escaped this conditioning. The tangled web of our western worldview utterly influences our current understandings, and practice, of a neo-pagan religion which originated pre-western society (unless you are a Hellenist).
Now to my pondering. A few of the underlying tenets of Christianity that I see shaping western worldview are:

  • There is something called “truth”, and usually just one of it, i.e., THE Truth.
  • The human race is a special creation of a personal, loving god. Which means that humans have a purpose for being alive and this personal god is active in each and every one of our lives.

(I’m a mother, and this notion of being active in every human life makes me tired on a whole new level!)

I am not finished pondering (not by a long shot), but I will close this post here. If paganism is to become a growing and robust religious movement we must grapple with the issue of worldview, and not on a superficial level. Unless I still believe in a human centric universe, why in the world would I cling to the notion that some god form (or as I prefer to call them, incorporeal persons) is attentive to my every whim and is portable, like a pop-up tent? In a community of non-human and human persons, what makes the human so damn special?

I propose that the human is only special if we are still living, moving, and having our being within a western-centric worldview which is shaped by Christianity and its belief that the human race has a purpose and is a special creation.

…..more to come.

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Meadowsweet is in bloom along the hedgerow and it lends a distinctive, clean fragrance to the air. I was out for a run this morning, and deeply appreciative for the tonic of its aroma. In fact, this is probably the one quality we most associate with meadowsweet: its heavy scent. Many of us have heard how meadowsweet was added to the rushes, which were strewn on the floor, to freshen the space (the rushes doing the hard job of insulation, moisture control, and padding). Here in Ireland, it was known as Airgead Luachra, which means Rush Silver… or silver rushes. They are fairly tall plants that bloom in summer and have reddish stems with dark green leaves and distinctive creamy flower heads.

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Now, whether you covered your floor in these pungent flowers might depend on where you lived and what the local folklore was. Generally in Ireland, it was believed the scent was perilous, because it could cause a person to fall into a deep and possibly fatal sleep.(1) Though, in west county Galway it was believed that if a person was pining or wasting away because of interference from *the Good Neighbours* that putting meadowsweet under their bed would ensure a cure by morning. (2)

Meadowsweet had another name in Irish, Crios Conchulainn (Cuchulainn’s belt), but I am not sure why or where this arose. Perhaps connected, is its association, along with watermint and vervain, as being one of three of the most sacred herbs to the druids. (3)

So, on to herbal uses. As I understand it, the english name comes from the Anglo-Saxon meodu-swete (mead-sweetener) and, you guessed it, was used to flavour mead, beer, wine, and probably anything they were making. A wonderful little herbalist named Gerard once said, “the smell thereof makes the heart merrie and joyful and delighteth the senses.” In Ireland it was used to clean milk vessels and was mixed with coperas (ferrous sulphate) to make a black dye. According to another herbalist, K’eogh, a powder made from the roots was effective in preventing diarrhoea and dysentry, and an infusion of the flowers was good for curing fevers. (4) It was also widely used as a cure for colds, sore throats and other pains, no doubt due to its salicylate content, which is similar to aspirin. (In fact, I have heard that the acid was a disinfectant so it not only made rooms smell better but helped the fight against bacteria. Its painkilling and anti-inflammatory uses were beneficial but hard on the stomach, and it was only after it was synthesised that it become an acceptable candidate for mass production and sold in tablet form as ‘aspirin’ – ‘a’ for acetyl and ‘ –spirin’ for Spirea, the original botanical name for Meadowsweet). People in counties Cavan and Sligo reportedly used it for dropsy and kidney trouble, while those in westmeath preferred to use it as a tonic for nerves.

In traditional western herbalism the plant is ruled by Jupiter (Thursday) and is associated with the zodiac sign Pisces.

1. Ui Chonchubhair, M., Flora Chorca Dhuibhne: Aspects of the Flora of Corca Dhuibhne.
2. Vickery, R., A Dictionary of Plant Lore
3. M. Seymour, A Brief History of Thyme
4. Williams, N., Díolaim Luibheanna
5. Allen & Hatfield, Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition

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A fierce westerly storm roared last night.  The rain lashed our stone house and the West Wind sang strong in the treetops.  I am a child of the Wind.  My body came into the world on the Gulf Coastal Plains, home to hurricane, tornado, strong southerly winds, and great blue northers.  I feel most at home standing in the power of the winds, arms outstretched and hair wild.

I went out into the beauty of it today.  I walked down the lane to the crossroads I am cultivating.  Who are the winds here?  I know their relatives, the winds of Texas and the Gulf Coast, but who are these mighty winds of the Atlantic and Europe.  I open myself to their song, to their touch, to the power of their Being.  As I walk, I recite Yeats…

the Winds awaken, the leaves whirl round

our cheeks are pale, our hair unbound

our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam

our arms are waving, our lips are apart.

I run and skip and twirl on the lane.  My hair billows in the wild wind.  I see small rabbits hop into hedgerow, a pair of pheasant stealthily scurry in tall grass, and fresh spring rains fall, dancing, on my face.  At the crossroads I stand, looking northeast to the undulating fertility of Sléibhte Chnoc Mhaoldomhnaigh (the Knockmealdown Mountain range), with its voluptuous peaks:  Cnoc Seanchuillinn (hill of the old holly), Cnoc na Loiche (hill of the lake), Cnoc na gCloch (hill of the stones), and the Sléibhte na gCoillte (Galty range – Mountains of the Forests), with its ripening peaks: Ladhar an Chapaill (fork of the horse), Cnoc an Tairbh Beag (little hill of the bull), Cnoicín na Teanga (little hill of the tongue-shaped land).

The West Wind feels masculine, carrying messages from the Great Ocean Mother to Her Sisters, who recline in their pregnant state, birthing spring onto the Green Land.  “Caress me, oh Wind.  Kiss my Lips, dear lover.  Wrap me in your embrace.”

The Host is rushing ‘twixt night and day, and where is there hope or deed as fair?

 

 

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A friend mentioned this singer recently and since I am enjoying it so much (apart from a few tracks), I thought I would share.

Enjoy!

Kellianna – The Ancient Ones

 

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Within one of my traditions are a group of Old Ones that have agreed to work with human animals for specific purposes, as we like to say: they guard, witness, and join.  Who these Beings are is debatable and there are several juicy origin myths for them.  One story identifies them with the Nephilim of Genesis (when the sons of God mated with the daughters of men), while another story I’ve heard identifies them with the Fomoire of Irish mythology.  They are viewed as Celestial by some, Animal by others, and powerful Old Ones by all.  Certainly, they are not to be trifled with.  The saying, “when you look into the abyss the abyss looks back”, applies here.

It is often said then when one is called to this path it is the Guardians who instruct them.  This notion of Guardian as teacher, as mentor, and as protector is on my mind as regards women.  :screech: (that is the sound of the vehicle changing directions)

In women’s psychology there is a developmental stage between the ages of 42-49 when we are moving into midlife transition.  Dr. Joan Borysenko has dubbed a key component of this transition, the “birth of the Guardian”.  She is referring to the beginning stages of what sociologist Paul Ray termed the Cultural Creative.  Midlife is a time when many women who have accomplished personal healing work and have reached a level of emotional maturity enter their second pubescence full of new energy.  The midlife woman’s intuition is increasing, she tolerates less BS, keenly perceives injustice and is willing to speak truth to power, calling people and institutions to their higher and best expressions.  As she continues to develop a larger social, political, and spiritual perspective throughout her forties and fifties, she is prepared to become a visionary with the heart and GUTS to create change.

Ray identified three major worldviews within American society: Traditionalist, Modernists, and Cultural Creatives.  The emergent CC social group identifies feminine values as core, and are “seriously concerned” with psychology, spiritual life, self-actualization, self-expression; are socially concerned; advocate “women’s issues”; are strong advocates of sustainability.  Women who have moved into and through midlife transition by stepping into the Guardian role often find themselves in their fifties and sixties in the company of Cultural Creatives. 

These powerful Old Ones are mentors to young women, a strong voice for the feminine values of relationality, and are inspiring forces for change.  It is with the emergence of the CC worldview that women’s values are gradually beginning to shift the zeitgeist in the US.  Of course, there is a backlash occurring and many of those values are under heavy assault.  This is a time when we truly need our Guardians, both human and celestial, to stand, guard, and join.

It is yet another time in the history of women that we must call on our Mothers and Grandmothers, our Guardians and our Guides, our Beloved and our Mighty.  It is time for each of us to step fully into our own Power, learn our unique Voice, and Use It.  The world needs the gifts we all have to offer, the skills we have learned as witches, and those etched into our bone from before Time.  It’s past dallying…. no more talking, it’s time for action.

(she exits her soap box gracefully)

 

 

 

 

Ray, P.H. (1996). “The Rise of Integral Culture,” Noetic Sciences Review (Spring 1996): pp. 4-15.

Borysenko, J. (1996).  A Woman’s Book of Life; The Biology, Psychology, and Spirituality of the Feminine Life Cycle. New York, Riverhead Books.

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How beautiful they are…the Lordly Ones who dwell in the Hills….

I climbed Sliabh na mBan recently, home to the women of Feimheinn and the sídhe of Bodb Derg….grandfather of the Children of Lir…the white swans.  This area of Tipperary is called Magh Feimhein and the wide plain that stretches beneath the mountain is sacred.  The stories of this area all involve women or are centered around women, from otherworldly women that enchant mortals to an all female race to the summit.  I climbed the Mountain of Women to meet the land and to gather what gifts were presented.

One of my dear friends is getting married in June.  A gift I want to bestow, (as all good Faery Godmothers should have something to offer), is fertility.  I was certainly blessed with it and the land I reside on is rich with it.  As I set out on this pilgrimage, for sacred journey it was, I held my friend and her partner in my heart, and I listened… for what the land might offer.

The day was gorgeous.  This spring the Cailleach has kept a hold, either not wishing to depart or not quit finished with us.  The days have been cold and gray but the morning I left for my climb the sun shone bright; Gráinne full and strong in the sky.  Which is interesting… because one of the stories of this area tells of Gráinne winning a foot race to the summit of the mountain against women from other counties,  for the prize of Fionn as husband.  (Grainne means sun and Fionn is a nickname that means white or bright)  It definitely felt propitious and I tingled with anticipation.

The path to the summit takes you first through a thick forest of pine. It was cool and dark. My eyes spied something gleaming white in the underbrush. Bone, tossed in a pattern I couldn’t read. The first gate is often surrender. I made my offerings, thanking the land for Her gift. There were forgotten dwellings, strange stone walls, and tumbled stone in the dark. I felt immediately welcome and the place delighted me. So much so, that I was reluctant to leave it.

I emerged from the forest onto heath, a moonscape under the white light of the sun. The light is different here. I don’t know enough about the latitude and how that affects the refraction of light but I can see it and feel it. When the sun shines full it is a white, bleaching feeling. The land, perpetually covered in low cloud mist that sometimes appears and other times does not, is turned to haze when the temperatures rise. I have noticed that sunrise is a warm, golden hue, often clear and gorgeous. But once the sun rises above a certain angle the cloud suddenly, as if by magic, becomes visible. They were obviously there all along, the white wool clouds of Her cloak, but not until the light shines through them above a precise angle do they reveal themselves. This magic trick comes into play again when the temperatures reach 20 Celsius. It might be a blue sky day, with not a thread of Her cloak visible, then suddenly…. White Filmy Gossamer.

The ascent was hard. My breathing labored and I thought of childbirth. Up, up, up. When I thought my heart would explode I stopped, turned, and let the sun fall full on my face as I drank in the view. Stunning. Stretched out for miles were fertile fields. The image of my dear friends danced perpetually in my mind. I was climbing for myself, and I was climbing for them. I don’t know how many times I had to stop, but they were frequent. The nearer the top I got, the more frequent my breaks became. I felt as though my legs were lead. At one point I sat, dismayed and afraid I couldn’t make it. Maybe ¾ of the way up it seemed too much. Two crows flew overhead, laughing.

“Yes, I know. I’m a foolish sight, aren’t I. We silly humans have forgotten how to be two legged animals. I’m sure your ancestors saw many a person skip up this ‘hill’.”

There was a small monument along the path, written in Irish and Ogham with a delicate image carved onto the top. I paused long here, sinking down into the land.

“Who are you?”

As I began my trek again under the blazing sun I felt the sweat run down my back. I thought of my friend, and the beads of perspiration that will gather on her brow during labor. Mór Mumhan, whose valleys are so rich, whose estuaries drip with fecundity, whose round belly and breasts are nourishing, and whose vengeance is fierce against those who would harm her children. Great Munster! Full of song and the poetry of great deeds.

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

I labored up the mountain, a poppet for my friend. Life sized doll. My body laboring as her body will. I wanted to cry, “I can’t do this!”

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

And, as all long struggles eventually do…. At last, I reached the end. The summit stretched before me. Ravens soared. A cairn loomed ahead. I held my rock, for you always add a rock. It’s respectful. Beautiful nipple atop a full breast. I was a child come for succor, come to drink of the fertility of this land… Munster the Great. I sat at the base of the cairn, my head resting on a large boulder. I closed my eyes and listened to the secrets of the wind. Shadows watched and eyes were on me. I looked up to see a Raven hovering just above me. We saw each other. Then she glided back out of sight on the wind.

I spent as long as possible on the summit, drinking in the 360 views, trying to memorize the shapes of the surrounding hills, straining to hear their voices. When I finally began my descent, on the ground was an object, long, slim, and perfect to hold in my hand. I grasped it firmly, like a strong cock. It was into this I let pour all the energy and dream and thought and toil. I held it all the way down, allowing the day to drain into it.

They dance with white shapely arms,
the women of Feimhein,
Singing of the riches under the Hill
for great is the warrior who holds it.

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on my mind…

“Even in milder forms, the Christianity Europeans attempted to export to the world frowned on anything that looked to them like ’emotionalism.'” (Ehrenreich,156)

“The mature fruit of the spirit is not the subliminal uprush, the ecstatic inflow of emotion, the rhapsody, the lapse of inhibition, but RATIONAL [emphasis mine] love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness – self-control.” (Davenport, 323)

The distinction between ritual and festival “evolved as a consequence of modern religious systems’ attempts to obliterate native religions.” (Stoeltje, “Festival”, in Bauman, 262)

Bauman, Richard, ed. Folklore, Cultural Performances, and Popular Entertainments.

Davenport, Frederick Morgan. Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals, A Study in Mental and Social Evolution.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Dancing in the Streets, A History of Collective Joy.

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