Monday, March 26, 2007

Lady of the Labyrinth

My partner and I have just returned from a weekend of sacred dance with June Watts deep in rural Wales. We stayed in a lovely early twentieth century house set in a delightful wooded valley. Lambs in the fields, swathes of daffodils in the gardens, everything bursting with life in the sunshine. We created a traditional seven circuit labyrinth in the garden and danced to honour Ariadne and explore Her myth. Beloved Ariadne, source of creativity in nature and human culture. Some words of Homer came to mind, Diadalos created a dancing place for Ariadne of the lovely tresses. How the Goddess loves the dancing place!

We remembered how the Greeks had spun the myth to discredit the Minoan way. The bull turned into a monster, The labyrinth as a place of human sacrifice. Ariadne portrayed as the betrayer. We danced for truth, for beauty, for Ariadne. One dance I found particularly evocative. Set to an ancient melody with an unfamiliar rhythm it became our processional dance for those who would leap the bull and find life.

One final thing made the weekend perfect. The secluded spot meant it was possible to experience real darkness. I live close enough to the city to be bathed in light pollution at night. At home it is never possible to experience real darkness and the utter beauty of star light. The human heart yearns for the peace and beauty of real darkness. To enter the dark is to enter the labyrinth, to walk an unknown path, to feel the Goddess there beside you and at the still centre touch timeless eternity.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happy Oestara

Vernal Equinox folklore relating to hares can be found in both Celtic and Saxon traditions. In Wales the Vernal Equinox is sometimes known as Gwyl Canol Gwenwynol. In that land a story is told of Melangell and the hare. Though the story is from Christian Times it seems to evoke a much more ancient Goddess of Protection. It is said that Melangell was an Irish princess who lived about the turn of the 7th century ce. She fled her native land in order to escape a forced marriage and settled in a beautiful valley in mid-Wales. One Spring day Prince Brychwel Ysgithrog of Pengwern Powys was out hunting. He started a hare and gave chase with his hounds. The hare darted across the fields to the place where Melangell lived and hid beneath her skirts. When the prince arrived on his horse he tried to drive his hounds forward but they would not move closer to Melangell. Chastened by the power and beauty of Melangell he gave her the land of the valley as a place of sanctuary for any woman, man or animal that needed protection. It is said that to this day hares are respected by the hunters of Cwm Pennant and are never ever killed.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Altar Stones to local Goddesses

The north east of England has a surprising number of Romano-British altar stones dedicated to local Goddesses. Not surprisingly many of these are specifically dedicated to Brigantia of the Brigantes. There are some fine examples at Arbeia at the very eastern end of Hadrian's Wall. The one pictured above is set in a quiet garden there and it is a joy to be able to leave an offering of altar plants (Verbena) and rest awhile in the presence of the Goddess.

Nearer home two unique altar stones were discovered at Ilkley. The parish church stands on the sight of a Roman fort and some of the stone from the fort was used in its construction. This included an altar stone depicting a Goddess in a pleated dress holding a snake in each hand. The second altar stone was found under the stairs of a house. It bears the inscription, VERBEIAE SACRVM CLODIVS FRONTO PRAEF COH II LINGON (To holy Verbeia, Clodius Fronto, prefect of the Second Cohort of Lingones dedicated this). The original became the property of the Catholic Church and is now hidden away somewhere but a copy can be seen in the Manor House Museum. It is possible that in these two altar stones we have both an image and a dedication to the Goddess Verbeia.

Verbeia is now recognised as the Goddess of the river Wharfe which flows from her source at Langstrothdale Chase in the Yorkshire Dales for 97 kilometres until she joins the river Ouse passing through Ilkley along the way. The Wharfe has always had a reputation of being very dangerous and many people have drowned whilst swimming. Upstream from Ilkley is the Strid, a narrow gorge at some points less than two metres across at the surface. The gap looks as if it can be jumped easily, but is deceptive as the many ledges on the sides are at different heights and often very slippery. Many people have fallen in and drowned. Fierce currents that run through this section drag people down where they become trapped among the underwater ledges, and hollows carved by the rapids.

Dangerous rivers are full of the wild powerful energy of the Goddess and their very power is reflected in local legend. It is said that whenever the Strid claims a victim a white horse appears at the spot. Another tale speaks of a pony that appears to travellers trying to cross the river but if the traveller mounts the pony it gallops off to the deepest whirlpool. And then there is the tale of Jinny Pullen a witch said to have lived on the banks of the Wharfe who was noted for crossing the river in a sieve.

All these cautionary tales remind us that our forebears treated the Wharfe - its awesome power and wild natural beauty - with a great deal of respect. In Spring she brings the dale to life again and in Summer she brings a greening to the land.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Thank you

As a man I hesitated to post on International Women's Day but today I would very much like to take this opportunity to thank the many women who have touched my life and been such an inspiration. So I ask the Goddess to pour her abundant blessings upon the following wonderful women I am privileged to know.

My life partner of 35 years, a beautiful sacred dance teacher and weaver of magic. Our daughter who finds mystery, magic, beauty and wonder in words. All those who work tirelessly for peace and who stand against the tide of war, Trident and Menwith Hill. Amazing women who care for the terminally ill and heal the deep wounds of patriarchal religion. All the women whose sacred dance in circles and spirals honours the Goddess, Her cycle of seasons and brings wholeness and healing. The beautiful, talented women who gather for the Glastonbury Goddess Conference. All those who had the vision to found the Goddess Temple. The Priestesses of Bride.

A hundred thousand blessings upon all those women who opened my eyes, mind and heart to the Goddess and showed me a path of utter beauty. Blessings upon all those who taught me the healing power of touch and all those who have held me and hugged me during difficult times. You bring beauty, colour, inspiration and so many talents and gifts and life would be so dull without you all, blessed be.

Monday, March 05, 2007

How many times have you danced about the moon?

It was my birthday last Friday and I was delighted to be given a copy of Merlin Stone's book, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood. Apart from reading it from cover to cover I know this is going to be a book I shall be dipping into a lot.

At the full moon I found myself reading a poem to Huitaca, the Moon Goddess of the Chibcha people in Colombia. Merlin Stone describes it as, "wonderfully rebellious." and that is what I love about it. It speaks against all those who would take the joy out of life and ban innocent pleasure. It describes Huitaca's defense against all those who would ban music, dance, wine and the pleasures of human touch. It rebels against all those who think that gross national product is more important than individual happiness. It stands against all who put law before love and all who would destroy another's joy for their own gain. When we rejoin the ancestors it will not be our wealth or status we take with us but the music, joy and love that is in our heart. Some people believe we will ultimately be questioned and judged. I guess that if we are questioned about anything the Goddess will ask, "How many times have you danced about the moon?"

Wonderful Huitaca,
wild and lovely Goddess,
appearing in the night,
some say as an owl,
some say as the silver moon,
leading us into merriment,
encouraging us to drink
the juices of intoxication,
encouraging us to feel the wonder
of the touch of our bodies against another,
until the time Bochica spoke against you,
saying that life must be completely serious
and that the joys you offered
must be seen as wrongs.

This joyless Bochica,
walked throughout the countryside,
preaching that the good drinks were bad
and pleasure from our bodies even worse,
crying out that to follow your ways
was a great mistake.

But just as the people of the villages
began to consider his ideas,
you appeared, laughing and happy,
teasing the unsmiling one
so that his anger rose
but all who watched and listened
soon laughed along with you,
calling you Chie and Jubchas Guaya,
Mother of joy -
and though Bochica frowned and glowered -
we dance about the moon
and called your name.

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