Don’t Look Back

Dead things…dead things everywhere! It is that time of the year when the veil is thin and it is so much easier to walk back and forth between the worlds. Lately, on our walks through New Orleans, we have been finding many dead things.

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Found dead, Acadian Flycatcher, photo by my S.O.

The weather is finally cooling off here in New Orleans and Fall is upon us. My mother sent me this beautiful picture from her garden in Ohio.

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Fate is weaving her web for the new year and it’s time to get ready for the winter.

This is of course the time of year when the Goddess is making her way to the Underworld and it’s hard not to think about Persephone and Inanna and all the other various Underworld Goddess tales we know. The Hades and Persephone myth is probably one of the most well known tales in any tradition or culture and at least here in the US, one that most of us find fairly early on. I grew up loving this story and it has been interesting for me over the years to see how my understanding of the tale changes over time and through aging.

I stumbled across this favorite tumblr meme recently and it always makes me laugh a little.

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The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is of course an excellent example Hades allowing a soul to leave. Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies and Orpheus, who loves his wife so much, goes to the Underworld to ask Hades to allow her to come back to life.

(You can find a beautiful reading of Virgil’s Orpheus and Eurydice in Latin here).

I’ve always disliked Orpheus. His inability to not follow Hades’ directions to not look back bothers me. How can you go through so much to give up at the last minute?

Orpheus is impatient and this is his downfall.

Looking at the dead or the divine or the sacred is a taboo in many cultures.

Semele looks at Zeus and is completely destroyed.

Those who look at the Gorgon are turned to stone.

Pysche looks upon Eros and is cast out of her home and away from her husband and she must venture to the Underworld to win her right to her divine husband back.

Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt.

Peeping Tom peeps at Lady Godiva as she rides by and is blinded for his lack of respect.

But why this rule in the case of Orpheus and Eurydice?

It is often believed that if Orpheus had looked back at Eurydice while she was still technically dead, he would have seen secrets that he, a mere mortal, literally couldn’t stand to see and would, like Semele, be obliterated by the sight of such immortal things.

In the mortal world, we find it important to look someone “in the eye.” Anyone who can’t do so, is generally considered to be deceitful or up to no good. So it’s interesting that not looking is such an important part of myth and fairy tale.

There are many recipes for salves to put on one’s eyes to allow you to see fairy. Of course, if the fey figure out that you can see them, there are also many stories of those who use the salves being blinded by the fey who know what they are doing.

It is never good to attract the attention of the divine or magical.

I stumbled across a short video series by Gia Coppola and Gucci for Vogue, the series is a retelling of the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice using fashion and NY to express the familiar tale.

It’s beautifully done and I love this video series, because Coppola manages to make you understand why Orpheus looks back. In this scenario, I might have looked back too!

 

 

 

 

Aristaeus plays a big role here. In some versions of the tale, Aristaeus fell in love with Eurydice, chasing her so that she is caught unawares by the snake that bites her. Here it’s interesting that Aristaeus is a woman in red, which symbolizes things like love and lust and vanity. She cannot quit watching Eurydice, inadvertently killing the very thing she wants, which is later echoed by Orpheus himself: “Orpheus’s bomber is stitched with the words “L’Aveugle Par Amour”– blind for love. In the film’s last scenes, we hope Orpheus will heed the phrase and keep his eyes off Eurydice, even as we—and he—know that he won’t” (Studeman, 2016). Orpheus is so distraught over losing Eurydice a second time, that he disdains women for all time. Later, the Maenads tear him apart for this hubris.

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I think that one of the things these videos proves is that the old myths are never actually old. They are still relevant to us today and still have many things to teach us, even though things have changed so much between their origins and now.

Don’t look back at the things the gods give us. They bring us only heartache and ruin. The gifts of the divine, especially when we transverse the Underworld, should never be taken for granted.

Don’t eat the fruit of the gods or fairy, unless you’re willing to be entrapped and don’t look at the divine unless you want to lose everything.

During this time of year, when the veil is thin, this is an important lesson to remember.

 

References:

Bonaparte, M. (1954). The fault of orpheus in reverse. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 35, 109. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1298189715?accountid=14437

Studeman, K.T. (2016). Gia Coppola’s New Film Takes Downtown Cool to Mythic Levels: A cast of Gucci-clad scenesters animate the director’s Orpheus series. W. Retrieved from http://www.wmagazine.com/culture/2016/06/gucci-orpheus-gia-coppola-lou-doillon/photos/

Mabon, the Sacred King and Sacrifice

Blessed Mabon! A little late.

This is a good time of year to talk about the idea of the Sacred King and the Barley Man.

This part of the year, from Litha through Samhain, is focused on the young God and the sacrifice that will guarantee the continuity of the crops. The young god must die with this year’s harvest, and then enter the Underworld, so that he can be reborn in the crops of the following year. It is only through the sacrifice of the king that the people can flourish. Mabon (pronounced MAB-un) is at the center of this cycle.

Six weeks ago, at Lughnasadh, we celebrated the sacred games (named for Lugh, the Irish God of all skills). The winner of these types of sacred games is often crowned the king of the year, and at Mabon, the old king is sacrificed in a variety of different ways for the fertility of the fields. In some places, this is done every year. In other places, it’s either a three, four, five or seven year cycle. The seven year king cycle is found across multiple mythologies.

Looking across the wheel to Ostara, the goddess returns from the Underworld. At Beltane, she and the young god enjoy themselves together. Litha is when the sacred marriage takes place, and at Lughnasadh he is crowned king. At Mabon, the young God must die; and at Samhain, the Goddess travels back to the Underworld to be with him and start the cycle all over again (think of Persephone and Hades as an example of this).

In Wicca, we constantly celebrate the cycle of the Old God, the Young God and the Goddess. This is a cyclical mythology found across European mythology.

James Frazer talks about this idea in The Golden Bough, a book that you can read and reread over and over and still learn new things every time.

“IN THE CASES hitherto described, the divine king or priest is suffered by his people to retain office until some outward defect, some visible symptom of failing health or advancing age, warns them that he is no longer equal to the discharge of his divine duties; but not until such symptoms have made their appearance is he put to death. Some peoples, however, appear to have thought it unsafe to wait for even the slightest symptom of decay and have preferred to kill the king while he was still in the full vigour of life. Accordingly, they have fixed a term beyond which he might not reign, and at the close of which he must die, the term fixed upon being short enough to exclude the probability of his degenerating physically in the interval.” ~ Chapter 24, The Killing of the Divine King, Section 3. Kings killed at the End of a Fixed Term.

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I actually came across this concept for the first time when in middle school I read Mary Renault’s The King Must Die . While this novel is historical fiction; it follows the life of the hero Theseus (famous for defeating the Minotaur in Crete) and looks at the transition from matriarchal society to a patriarchal one in ancient Greece. Reading this novel made me immediately think of Demeter and the rites at Eleusis.(I highly recommend this novel for anyone interested in this mythology. I read it when I was fairly young, but it is an adult novel with a lot of amazing mythological insights).

While Demeter searches for her daughter, She comes to the home of a human family.

And thus it came to pass that the splendid son of bright-minded Keleos, Dêmophôn,[25] who was born to well-girded Metaneira, was nourished in the palace, and he grew up like a daimôn, not eating grain, not sucking from the breast. But Demeter used to anoint him with ambrosia, as if he had been born of the goddess, and she would breathe down her sweet breath on him as she held him to her bosom. At nights she would conceal him within the menos of fire, as if he were a smoldering log, and his philoi parents were kept unaware. But they marveled at how full in bloom he came to be, and to look at him was like looking at the gods.[26] Now Demeter would have made him ageless and immortal if it had not been for the heedlessness of well-girded Metaneira, who went spying one night, leaving her own fragrant bedchamber, and caught sight of it [what Demeter was doing]. She let out a shriek and struck her two thighs,[27] afraid for her child. She had made a big mistake in her thûmos. Weeping, she spoke these winged words: “My child! Demophon! The stranger, this woman, is making you disappear in a mass of flames! This is making me weep in lamentation [goos]. This is giving me baneful anguish!” So she spoke, weeping. And the resplendent goddess heard her. Demeter, she of the beautiful garlands in the hair, became angry at her [Metaneira]. She [Demeter] took her [Metaneira’s] philos little boy, who had been born to her mother in the palace, beyond her expectations,—she took him in her immortal hands and put him down on the floor, away from her.[28] She had taken him out of the fire, very angry in her thûmos, and straightaway she spoke to well-girded Metaneira: “Ignorant humans! Heedless, unable to recognize in advance the difference between future good fortune [aisa] and future bad. In your heedlessness, you have made a big mistake, a mistake without remedy. I swear by the Styx,[29] the witness of oaths that gods make, as I say this: immortal and ageless for all all days would I have made your philos little boy, and I would have given him tîmê that is unwilting [a-phthi-tos].[30 But now there is no way for him to avoid death and doom.[31] Still, he will have a tîmê that is unwilting [a-phthi-tos], for all time, because he had once sat on my knees and slept in my arms. At the right hôrâ, every year, the sons of the Eleusinians will have a war, a terrible battle among each other. They will do so for all days to come.[32] I am Demeter, the holder of tîmai. I am the greatest boon and joy for immortals and mortals alike. But come! Let a great temple, with a great altar at its base be built by the entire dêmos. Make it at the foot of the acropolis and its steep walls. Make it loom over the well of Kallikhoron,[33] on a prominent hill. And I will myself instruct you in the sacred rites so that, in the future you may perform the rituals in the proper way and thus be pleasing to my noos.” ~ Homeric Hymn to Demeter, lins 233-274

She taught this little boy the mysteries of agriculture, how to sow and harvest the fields. While he didn’t end up being immortal, he was given a great gift, and is considered to be the founder of the Great Rites.

The greater rites were held in September and celebrated the Persephone myth. While whatever happened in detail at the rites is unknown, we do know that an initiation took place where those shown the mysteries came out with a greater understanding of death. Games and feasting were an important part of the celebration. Cicero wrote “Nothing is higher than these mysteries…they have not only shown us how to live joyfully but they have taught us how to die with a better hope”.  (If you want to read further, I found this article).

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In my coven, we celebrate the great harvest with a sacrifice of the barley man (called John Barleycorn in the British tradition). While the first fruits of the agricultural cycle are available around Lughnasadh, Mabon is when the fields are really ready for the first full harvest. At Samhain, we celebrate the final slaughter of the animals and the last harvest before winter comes. We send the Goddess off to the Underworld and turn inward for the cold months. But at Mabon, it’s time to celebrate the fruition of all our work throughout the year. It’s a time when we can fully reap everything that has been sown, both physically and spiritually. It’s a time for joy and celebration, but also time to sacrifice to ensure that the crops grow again next year.

While ancient cultures may have literally sacrificed the king, we are slightly removed. So we take the symbolic fruits of our labor and bake a Barley Man. I use gingerbread. Molasses, flour and brown sugar are all ingredients that are grown and produced here in Louisiana. Because we are ensuring the fertility of the cycle, he becomes a very obscene barley man, and at the height of ritual, we “chop” his genitals off and slit his throat. He is later left outside and offered to the Gods to do with whatever they will.

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Feasting and celebration is a huge part of our ritual. This is our Thanksgiving. It is time to say thank you for the year that has past and start preparing for the year that is to come.

So feast and make merry and remember the sacrifice that goes into our lives. We may not be sacrificing the traditional way, but blood, sweat and tears still go into everything we have and do, and this is the time of year to celebrate that, embrace that and accept that sacrifice is necessary.

 

Blodeuwedd and Personal Agency

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Blodeuwedd by my SO

I work quite a lot with the goddess Blodeuwedd. If you’re not familiar with this Welsh goddess, she appears to us in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh mythology. I’ve written about her here in other contexts, but a student recently asked me: “Why Blodeuwedd?”.  Blodeuwedd’s tale is not exactly happy or inspiring on the surface. My student asked, what was it about Blodeuwedd that drew me in?

The story goes that Blodeuwedd was created by the Gods Math and Gwydion from the flowers of the forest. The god Lleu has been rejected by his mother Arianrhod, who has refused to give him a name, weapons or to allow him to marry a human woman. Gwydion gets around these issues by tricking Arianrhod into naming Lleu and giving Lleu weapons, but to make sure Lleu can marry, Gwydion, with the help of Math, has to go a step further.

So they create a beautiful woman out of flowers (and as I have posited before), possibly from the spirit of a white Underworld goddess (death). Math and Gwydion arrogantly assume that this non-human woman that they’ve created will do as she’s told. And in the beginning, she does. She marries Lleu and for a while they are happy.

But, Lleu eventually goes off on a hunt and Blodeuwedd meets the hunter Gronw. The two conspire to kill Lleu, who can only be killed in very specific, very weird, way.

Blodeuwedd gets Lleu to tell her, and then show her, how he can be killed. To, you know, make sure it never happens, because she’s sooooo worried. As Lleu demonstrates how he might be killed, Gronw kills him, using goat, water, a house, and most pointedly, a spear. Blodeuwedd and Gronw walk happily off into the sunset.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Lleu being a god, isn’t actually dead, but transformed. Gwydion tromps off into the forest and eventually finds Lleu as an Eagle sitting up high in an oak tree. Through a lot of magical singing and poetry, Gwydion gets Lleu down from the tree and transforms him back into a man (or at least an anthromorph).

Lleu returns home, challenges and defeats Gronw, and Blodeuwedd ends up changed into

an owl, flying off into the forest. Some stories say that Lleu turns Blodeuwedd into an owl for her treachery, others say that it’s Gwydion that changes her. Still others say that Blodeuwedd changes herself into the Owl. Either way, Blodeuwedd goes from a flower, fertility goddess of the Spring/Summer, to a goddess of death and omens of the Autumn/Winter. In Welsh, the name Blodeuwedd literally means flower face, which is the word for owl. She is not one or the other, she is both and was always meant to be both. (Again, when you “create” someone out of flowers, using the spirit of death, what do you expect?)

So yes…not exactly a pleasant tale. Blodeuwedd has been represented by some as the ultimate victim. In her novelization of the Mabinogion, Evangeline Walton goes as far as to blame Her for the existence of rape! So, my student saw only what she perceived as treachery and subjugation.

What is so easy to forget, especially when reading this story through the translations of Christian monks, is that Blodeuwedd is not just some woman, she is a Goddess.

Blodeuwedd makes her own choices, with a full understanding of what she is setting in motion. She is the Goddess who moves the wheel of the year and it is through her actions and choices that this cycle continues.

When looked at objectively, this is an allegory for the agricultural cycle. Blodeuwedd spends time journeying back and fourth between the Upperworld and the Underworld. Lleu is the young sun god that blesses the fields. Gronw is the old stag of winter. The young god and the old god must fight it out every year, the young god dying at Litha, the old god winning at Yule. We see this throughout most European mythology.

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The Forming of Blodeuwedd by my SO

It is so easy to try to make Blodeuwedd into nothing more than a victim and to refuse to allow her agency over her own story. She is trapped between all of these men and her choice of Gronw is nothing but a selfish betrayal of her “husband.”

But Blodeuwedd is not a victim. She makes choices for herself. She does not simply stay married to Lleu because she is told to. She meets Gronw and knows that she belongs with him.

She is also not forced into marrying Lleu, though that certainly seems to be the intent of Math and Gwydion. Hey, let’s face it, Lleu is a hot young sun God: who wouldn’t want some of that? But to think that a Goddess couldn’t have refused to play along is sort of ridiculous. We all know that Math and Gwydion’s arrogance is what has gotten them into this mess to begin with, and they have both made decisions already that are, let’s face it, pretty stupid. They have already pissed off other powerful goddesses. Blodeuwedd chooses to marry Lleu, and then she chooses to get rid of him for someone else.

Blodeuwedd is not human. She has her own power and her own magic.

In the end, it all comes down to her actions and her choices to drive the tale and the events. Just like Persephone chose to eat those pomegranate seeds in Hades, Blodeuwedd chooses to take an Underworld lover.

When a Goddess ‘chooses’ you, you can feel it. Blodeuwedd definitely chose me. But while Blodeuwedd definitely chose me to be one of hers, I also heartily accepted Blodeuwedd as a patroness. Her choice, her decision, to do what is right for her, is so powerful. Her choices literally drive the seasons, the crops and the fertility of the world around us. She does not choose to make other people happy, she does not exist within social expectations. She is a goddess and she does what she needs to do for herself. It is her control over her choices that allows the world to flourish. She knows that her power, which is greater than that of either Gwydion, Math, Lleu or Gronw, is what truly matters in order for the world to cycle naturally. And how could I not be drawn by that power? She is the ultimate feminine choice. Her actions are not to make other people happy, but to what is right for herself. And I hope in this world, I can emulate her by living truthfully for myself in the same way. The choices I make are for me, not because someone tells me to make them. Blodeuwedd seeks happiness, and while that doesn’t always quite work out the way we might want it to, that is also life.

I am where I am today because of her. In looking back over the last few years, I know I was

chosen specifically to hold this place right here, right now because she saw as much in me as I see in her. The choices I have made definitely do not please other people. I have been vilified and many have tried to take my own personal agency away from me by making me into nothing more than a victim who obviously can’t choose for herself.

But just like Blodeuwedd, I am not a victim. I am a powerful, independent woman who stands by her own choices and by those she chooses to support. Are there consequences to that? Of course. But my truth is what drives me. You don’t have to agree with me, like me, or support me. You don’t matter in the sphere of the choices I make for myself and my family.

I too chose Gronw over Lleu, and I have never, not once in the midst of everything, regretted that.

And this is what Blodeuwedd teaches us. Our choices drive the world we exist in. Just because other people have influence on our lives or occasionally force us into doing things that we don’t want to do, doesn’t mean that we are beholden to acting the way others try to make us or expect us to act.

Blodeuwedd represents the ultimate female agency and choice.

So is this a story of victim-hood and subjugation? I don’t see it that way. I see Blodeuwedd doing what every person should do. She ignores the mantle of civilized expectations and makes choices that will fulfill her role and life. I proudly serve Her and hope that my own actions mirror hers.

I do not accept the role that others give me, and that is why I will walk away at the end of the day. If you can accept your power to make your own choices, you’ve already won and no one can take that from you.

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Goddess Secrets, by me!

A Ritual for Baba Yaga

A friend of mine posted an article that made me laugh last night: Russian Witch Baba Yaga’s Guide To Feminism:

“Free women from the shackles of domesticity by abducting their children. You can then indoctrinate these children in the ways of feminism and/or use them as free labour. Or just eat them. Whatever. It’s hard to find good sources of protein deep in the Siberian forest.”

The article pokes fun at this mythological figure, but it really isn’t all that far off with nailing this scary witch’s essence.

While we were discussing psychological tests the other week (see blog here), my student didn’t get my reference to the witch’s house on chicken legs. She had never heard of Baba Yaga!

Zouravliov-Baba_YagaBaba Yaga – Vania Zouravliov

Baba Yaga has always been one of my favorite witches. She’s a terrifying figure that lurks just outside the boundaries of civilization. But I think the thing I like about her the most is that she’s willing to help you if you’re willing to help yourself. She recognizes that death is sometimes the only option and her cruel nature might just be saving you from something much worse. (Would you rather have a clean death over a horrible, tortured, messy one?)

Baba Yaga might eat you, but she also might save you. You just have to prove yourself first: “As ambiguous as she is hideous, Baba Yaga has been described by scholars as an anomaly, both a maternal, mother-nature figure and an evil villain who enjoys eating those who fail to complete her tasks” (Stone 2015). In the story of Vasilissa the Beautiful, she helps Vasilissa not once, but twice! The first time she aids Vasilissa by giving her the burning skull, which kills Vasilissa’s cruel stepmother and stepsisters. The second time, Baba Yaga appears as the kindly old grandmother who has the knowledge every young woman needs to get the boy!

Baba Yaga embodies the wild woman archetype. The feral, crone figure who does not finesse her lessons to make them easier for you to bear: “She is thought by some to be a dark goddess who symbolizes the death of the ego which is needed to achieve wisdom and, through this death, rebirth to a new life” (Chambers 2007). Her demesne is the forest far beyond mortal boundaries, an Underworld figure who lurks in the darkest part of ourselves. Of course, as the witch in the woods, her true role is as initiator and priestess. She is able to judge character instantly and has no patience for those who don’t deserve aid. She shows us how our darkest nature can be helpful in our fight against our greatest obstacles. Her aid won’t be pretty, it will change you forever, but it will also empower you and allow you to triumph and ensure your rightful place. Her power is our gut instinct and first impressions. She is that thing in us that lashes out at those that would hurt us. She is our most basic, primal response to dire threat.

And unlike other dark figures, Baba Yaga is trustworthy: “Though it appears she never goes after anyone unprovoked—that is to say, without the person at least coming to the door of her hut—she appears to follow little or few morals.  Nevertheless, whatever promise she makes to the hero after his completion of her tasks, she keeps” (Stone 2015). She doesn’t try to trick you. She tells you what she needs you to do and if you accomplish the task she sets, she will aid you. She is not a trickster at all.

Baba Yaga proves to us that just because terrible things happen to us, we are not without agency. Baba Yaga gives us aid in our darkest moments. She may not have nice, pretty, happy solutions, but she will clear the path for you and at least bring you bloody satisfaction. She proves that we are only victims if we let ourselves be and that there is always a way out: “The truths She tells are often bitter; Her healing can be as painful as the illness it cures. But we disregard what She has to teach us at our peril: if we are not strong enough to look without flinching at the truth She shows us, we face passing up Her many gifts of wisdom and healing as well” (Vassy 2000). Baba Yaga is the old grandmother that gets things done and doesn’t flinch at the terrible things that life hands us. She has seen it all, done it all, and she’s not afraid of the blood and yuck that we wade through constantly in our battle with life.

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A ritual to call upon Baba Yaga for Self Healing:

(Do not do this ritual if you don’t want sudden and possibly drastic results).

To prepare –

This can be done inside or outside as one prefers, though preferably during the new moon.

Be prepared to spend time on this ritual. Don’t rush through this.

Set an altar in the center of your space with:

A single unlit candle in the middle of your altar – make sure to have a taper candle sitting there as well.

A lit candle in the east.

A jar of 3 kinds of mixed, dried beans set in the south and 3 sorting bowls

A mortar and pestle set in the west with some dirt in it.

A bottle of vodka, an empty glass, and a steak that has been cooked rare on a dinner plate with a fork and knife. (Its better to take the time to cook the steak yourself before hand). Set these items like you’re setting a table on the northern side of the altar.

A freshly baked loaf of bread (also better if you’ve baked it yourself. Here is a Russian black bread recipe if you need one!).

Its better to do this on the new moon. Start by working in a room with no lights except for one lit candle in the east.

The Ritual –

To begin, carry in the fresh loaf of bread and lay it in the east, by the lit candle, chant: “Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I come to thee of my own free will! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I ask for your hospitality and bear no charms or blessings! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I am willing to work for you and share my energy with you for your aid!

Cast your circle by sweeping with a traditional besom.

To call the Quarters:

Start in the East, say: “White Rider, I beseech thee to bring me the light of the dawn!”

Move to the South, say: “Red Rider, I beseech thee to bring me the light of the noon-tide sun!”

Move to the West, say: “Black Rider, I beseech thee to bless me with the light of the night-time Moon!”

Move to the North, say: “Baba Yaga, Mother of Death, allow me access to the Underworld!”

Return to the East and say: “Turn your front! Turn your back! Round to me! I enter the hut of Baba Yaga willingly!”

Turn toward the center of your altar and state your purpose for asking Baba Yaga’s aid – “Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I ask that you help to bring the light back into my life! To make me strong so that I can overcome the obstacles and people that stand in my way. Baba Yaga! I ask that you remove the obstacles that hinder me from having control over my own life!”

Move to the southern part of the altar with the jar of mixed beans. Hold the jar and think of all the things that are causing you mental pain. Think of all the bad things you want to get rid of from your life. Meditate on the visceral emotions these things cause. Focus it all on the jar and into the beans. When you’ve carefully poured out all your hurt and anguish, slowly pour the jar of mixed beans across the southern portion of the altar. Say: “Baba Yaga! As you asked the maiden Vasilisa, I will sort these kernals to aid you in righting the wrongs of your own enemies.” Carefully sort each of the beans into the separate bowls, by their type, meditating the whole time on driving the problems you previously focused on from your life. When the 3 different kinds of beans have been separated and sorted. Line the three bowls up in the South and say: “Baba Yaga, thank you for this honest, hard work that helps me repay your hospitality.”

Move to the Western side of the altar. Pick up the mortar and pestle and start grinding the dirt. Say: “Baba Yaga, just as I grind this dirt in the mortar with the pestle, do you grind the bones of the dead. The dead have no need for their bones and for those of us still living, our bones are constantly pounded and ground into the earth by the world around us. My body has taken a beating from the living world! Please put me through your mortar and pestle to heal me of my sorrows!” Continue to grind the dirt until your hands and arms are weak. Set the mortar and pestle down and say: “Baba Yaga! An honest days toiling in the dirt cleanses me of my sorrow and helps you keep your house in order!”

Move to the North. Pour a glass of vodka from your bottle. Take the bread from the east and slice it, laying a piece by the plate. Present the steak and say: “Baba Yaga, I made this meal for you! Through my hard work and pure intentions, I ask that you eat this food that I have made you and partake of my energy to aid and restore your work!” Stand and give her time to “eat.” Understand that you have built up energy throughout the ritual and that this is part of what you’re offering her. When you feel drained again, move back to the east.

In the East, say: “Baba Yaga! I have sorted your grains, I have toiled in the earth for thee, I have baked you a fine dinner. Please give me your fire to carry back into the world of the living!” Pick up the taper candle and light it from your Eastern candle. Light the center candle. Gently blow out your taper. Say: “Baba Yaga, I know when to stop asking. I do not have to understand all of your ways. Please send me back to he land of the living!” Pick up the center candle and walk out of your circle.

When you’re well away from your circle (if I was doing this indoors, I would walk outside), hold your candle up and say “Baba Yaga! Thank you for the fire and your blessings! I am prepared for what they will bring to my life!” Blow out your candle.

Leave your circle and altar set until dawn breaks. Let the East candle burn through the night. In the morning, go back and say thank you to the three riders for their light and wish them well on their constant journey. Take the meal you prepared and leave it outside somewhere for Baba Yaga to do with it what she will. Scatter the dried beans in the forest. Take the earth in the mortar and pestle and gently work it into your garden or house plant. Remember that you carry Baba Yaga’s fire in you now and that anything can happen.

Baba_Yaga's_Hut

References:

“Baba Yaga”. 2007. In Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained, edited by Una McGovern. London: Chambers Harrap. https://libproxy.tulane.edu/login?url=http://literati.credoreference.com/content/entry/chambun/baba_yaga/0
Ryan Stone. “Baba Yaga, The Confounding Crone of Slavic Folklore,” Ancient Origins, March 29, 2015, accessed November 19, 2015, http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/baba-yaga-confounding-crone-slavic-folklore-002836.
Rebecca Vassy. (2000). “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues Or My Adventures with Baba Yaga.” Sagewoman, Oct 31, 11. http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.tulane.edu:2048/docview/221846152?accountid=14437.

Pysch Test or “Oh, The Bear!”

One of my students is taking a psych class. Tonight she decided to try one of her classes’ psychological tests on us, to somewhat hilarious results.

Proving perhaps that when you ask witches these type of questions, our inner mythology comes to the forefront and can’t be ignored.

The Test

You are walking in the woods:

1.Who are you walking with?

My answer – By myself.

My partner’s answer – With a bear… and Lauren (me).

2. You come to a clearing in the woods and there is an animal. What animal do you see?

My answer – A deer.

My partner’s answer – An elk.

3. How do you interact with that animal?

My answer – I observe and nothing else.

My partner’s answer – Lauren and I watch with glee as the bear eats the elk.

4. You see a dream house in front of you, how big is the house?

My answer – A witches’ cottage

My partner’s answer – A one story house made of candy

5. What do you see around the house? Is there a fence?

My answer – The house is on chicken legs and there is a fence of flaming skulls.

My partner’s answer – There are candy canes and a fence of ginger bread men

linnunjalka-talo6. You walk inside the house and you see a dining table. What’s on the table?

My answer – Nothing

My partner’s answer – Pie

7. You walk outside, there is a cup on the ground. What is the cup made of?

My answer – A golden, jeweled chalice

My partner’s answer – Wood

8. What do you do with the cup?

My answer – I leave it alone.

My partner’s answer – Give it to the bear.

9. You walk further away from the house and you come to a body of water. What body of water do you see?

My answer – A clogged (with vegetation) pond

My partner’s answer – The Western Ocean

10. How do you get across the body of water to get to the other side.

My answer – A rowboat

My partner’s answer – A magical, white horse

The explanation for all of these are:

The answer to question number 1 is the most important person in your life. The size of the animal is representative of the size of your problems. How aggressively you interact with the animal is how you deal with your problems. How large the house is, is how big your ambition is to solve your problems. How enclosed your house is shows how protective of yourself you are and how welcoming you are of others. The amount of things on the table is proportionate to how happy you are. The durability of the material that makes up the cup you see is your perceived durability of your relationship with the person from question number 1. Who you give the cup to is how you treat the person from question number 1. The size of the body of water shows how passionate your desires are and how wet you get while you cross the body of water shows how engulfed you are in those desires.

So for a normal person, my answers would reflect that I am the most important person in my life (selfish bitch that I am!), my problems are normal sized and I have no desire to solve them. According to the size of my house, I have few problems, but am super protective of myself. The clear table symbolizes that I am not happy and with the cup, I am very invested in the durability of myself and obviously care only for myself. My body of water is a clogged pond (my student is now very worried about my clogged pond!) means that I am not passionate and I didn’t get wet, so obviously I am not engulfed in any desires. In normal society, I am a weird, unkind, freak of nature, devoid of desire.

My partner on the other hand loves the bear more than he loves me (though he did include me and while we can get into who I think the bear represents, I will leave that to your imagination). His problems are a little larger than mine, but he attacks them viciously with another person (again, that bear!). His candy cottage is one story, so again, fewer problems (HAHAHA) and his table has a pie on it, showing that he is welcoming and willing to share his bounty. My partner’s cup was made of wood, a natural and organic material that is warm and inviting. He gave his cup to the bear, showing that he cares for the bear’s role in his life (oh that bear!). He approached an ocean, showing that he is vastly passionate, though he didn’t get wet either, riding his magical horse across the waves, so obviously, from the normal perspective, is not engulfed in those desires.

But for me, these questions were more of a walk through my astral temple. The same for my partner. We are both active, practicing, witches.

As soon as you tell me that I am walking through a forest, I enter a ritual mindset. This is immediately no random mental exercise.

My astral temple is a forest path, I walk that path alone until I meet deity (in my case, usually my patron god who appears to me as a deer). The house is obviously the house of the witch and when I think about the witches’ house in the woods, I am always happy when I think of Baba Yaga’s house on chicken legs. And if the house belongs to Baba Yaga, obviously there is a fence of flaming skulls around it! The table is clear, because the witch doesn’t want to scare away her visitors and you are never sure what you might find there. Obviously the cup, just left carelessly outside of the witches’ house is magical in nature and should be left alone. A clogged pond is something that you might find in the forest and  is the type of pond I grew up in (full of turtles and muskrats and other small creatures). Rowboats are again, something I grew up with.

I won’t take you through my partner’s magical thinking, it might make your head hurt. (But Oh the Bear…!)

The Bear Wife by my partner...Oh the Bear!

The Bear Wife by my partner, acrylic on canvas…Oh the Bear! (Once again a painting based on Sami folklore. In the mythology of the Sami and other members of their language group, such as the Mansi and Khanty peoples of Russia, there is a creation myth of a human woman who marries a bear. The bear is usually a cosmic creature, or is born of the Goddess Mielikki as the earth is created. This union of human and cosmic bear creates a specific tribe, or in some tellings, all people. )

For those of us who have been in Circle and who have done astral temple work, the answers to these become very different. To many “normal” people, the forest is a scary place. For me, as a witch, the forest is liminal space where initiation and other magical moments happen. The witch lives in the cottage in the woods and mythology comes alive. When I walk through the forest and interact with animals and objects, fairy tales and the lessons they teach take precedence. I don’t think tests like these are meant for people like me. I view the world very differently.

Being a witch is more than simply cackling and potions and spells…it is a completely different world view from everyone around you. There is an old Witch saying: “Witches may live among people, but they are never one of them.”

Personally I’ll take my weird, twisted world view. My clogged pond is very comforting and not representative of my desires and passions. I have immense passion and I dearly love both my partner and other people in my life (including, perhaps, the bear). I have huge problems, but I will always take a practical approach and won’t let them overwhelm me. The witch lurks in the woods and she might eat you, but she might also invite you in and help you. The gods walk with me and I commune with them. The woods are the Underworld and I feel comfortable there. In my astral temple, things appear with purpose and sometimes need to be left alone. I know my lore and mythology and, unlike many others, I know better than to touch and taste.

And while you contemplate these heavy issues, eat some delicious Cuban White Chili (which my student made for us!)

Cuban White Chili

Ingredients:

1 package, boneless, skinless chicken breasts

few pinches of salt

olive oil

2 onions

4 cloves of garlic

2 pablano peppers

3-4 tomatillos

3 cans Northern White Beans

Chicken Stock

1 Jalapeno

lots of cilantro

2 cans Rotel tomatoes and green chiles

cumin (enough)

1 lime

1 avocado

1 Bag of Shredded Mild Cheddar

Sour Cream

Recipe:

Dice garlic finely and dust lightly with salt. Dice onions. Add onions and salted garlic to skillet with 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Brown onions and garlic.

While onions and garlic are cooking, cube chicken and brown in a large pot, also in olive oil.

To onions and garlic, add all cans of rotel. Dice tomatillos and jalapenos, add to onion and rotel mixture.

To chicken, add chicken stock (as much as you like, though definitely enough for it to be a soup).

Once onion mixture is bubbling, add to chicken. Add all cans of beans to pot. Toast pablano peppers directly on flame of stove and then peel (to properly roast and peel pablanos, see this video). Dice, add to pot. Add handful of cilantro and enough cumin to taste, simmer for 30 minutes. Add another handful of cilantro and add more cumin if desired.

Simmer for at least another hour, serve on top of shredded cheese, with sour cream, uncooked cilantro, sliced avocado and lime juice as desired.

Enjoy!

Peppers roasting merrily on my stove top!

Peppers roasting merrily on my stove top!

Blessed Samhain!

Today of course starts one of my busiest weekends of the year!

It might be a little cliche, but Samhain is my favorite sabbat and I go out and participate in numerous Halloween activities around the city.

This year, for our costume day at work, I decided to go with Miss Argentina from the movie Beetlejuice. Miss Argentina is literally on screen for about 10 seconds, but she has always been one of my favorites.

Miss Argentina is the receptionist in the Underworld. I think that would be an amazing job to have!

Hades…Arawn…any Underworld Gods/Goddesses out there…I have excellent filing and customer service skills! (Or maybe I shouldn’t tempt that one…?)

Blessed Samhain All!

Miss Argentina

Miss Argentina

Magical Apples

Fall and is definitely a season of apples! At least in North America. The apple dominates many seasonal activities, foods and symbolism. I asked my students to research Samhain traditions throughout Europe (Samhain is of course inherently Celtic, but many other European cultures see the Fall as a time to celebrate the reaping of the harvest and death as Fall fades into Winter) and one of my students found a tradition in which people bury apples to feed their ancestors, which inspired this post.

The tale of  the serpent and the apple is one that probably almost every person in Western culture is familiar with. The apple, the forbidden fruit, is the symbol of Eve’s disobedience and in many ways, women’s power over themselves, their bodies and their choices. It is also a reminder that Eve was not Adam’s first wife. Lilith, the snake, she who would not be ignored, is one woman that Western culture often conveniently likes to overlook. The apple represents knowledge and the ability to reason, and therefore make our own choices and not simply follow the instructions of an uncaring deity, the way that Lilith did before she was cast from the Garden.

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, 1808 (illustration of Milton's Paradise Lost)

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, 1808 (illustration of Milton’s Paradise Lost)

Of course, Lilith is a much older deity than the one dimensional character she plays in the Old Testament. Lilith is remembered originally from the Epic of Gilgamesh, a text that was written probably around 1800 years before Genesis. Lilith sits in the Huluppu tree that Inanna has planted in order to use to build a new throne. Inanna is the goddess of creation and she is afraid of Lilith, who represents the chaos of the primordial world. Inanna asks Gilgamesh to rid the tree of Lilith’s presence, in order for Inanna to establish her order over Lilith’s chaos. Of course the tree, just like the tree in Genesis, is the World Tree or the Tree of Knowledge, and Lilith is the feminine spirit that inhabits the tree. In Genesis, Jehovah wants an inherently masculine world and Adam promises not to eat the fruit of the tree, which is feminine in nature. Eve never makes that promise and when the serpent tells her to eat the fruit, she has no qualms about doing so. Of course, Jehovah cannot stand to have female energy dominate his new world and casts both Adam and Eve out in order to contain Eve’s possible knowledge.

Lilith is known as the mother of demons; motherhood here seems to be the ultimate evil. When Eve was cast from the Garden, she is forced to endure pain in childbirth. To this day, menstruation is seen as unclean throughout many cultures and in those cultures, being male is the only way to be truly pure.

Another story of the apple representing knowledge and discord is the infamous Apple of Discord thrown by Eris, eventually causing the Trojan War, a war that transitioned the world from the age of myth and heroes to the age of history and reason. Again, women are seen as being at the cause of the issue of the apple and of the war itself. Where did this apple come from? It was the apple that Hippomenes used to distract Atalanta from beating him, apples he got from Golden Aphrodite, the goddess of love, thus forcing Atalanta to marry and become a mother.

Do we see a common theme in all of these apple stories?

In North mythology, Idunn guarded the golden apples which kept the Aesir young. When she was kidnapped for her golden apples by a frost giant, Loki had to rescue her to ensure that the Aesir wouldn’t age. The apple is a symbol of rebirth and beauty, just as in the other myths already discussed.

Arthur Rackham's

Arthur Rackham’s “Freya”

Of course, there is also Avalon, the Isle of Apples, the place where Excalibur is forged and that is famous for mystical, magical practices. Both Morgana Le Fey and Nimue are associated with Avalon and apples. Arthur is taken to Avalon in order to recover from wounds received during the Battle of Camlann, the battle where he fought Mordred and lost.

In later fairy tales, the apple shows up over and over as well. The most famous instance is perhaps the apple in the story of Snow White. Unlike the Disneyfied version of Snow White, the Witch Queen disguised as an old beggar woman first tempts Snow White with golden combs and a beautiful corset. The combs are poisoned and when they are removed from her scalp, Snow White wakes up. When the Dwarves cut the corset off Snow White, she is able to breathe again and is once more OK. But with the apple…the apple is stuck in her throat and this time the Dwarves can’t understand what is wrong and can do nothing but put her in the famous glass coffin. Unlike in most modern versions, it is not a kiss from the Prince that awakes Snow White, it is because when the Prince comes and sees Snow White, he demand that the Dwarves allow him to take the beautiful woman in the glass coffin home with him. In the course of carrying it, the coffin is dropped, jolting the apple out of Snow White’s throat. It is only through the Witch Queen’s careful initiation that Snow White gains the knowledge she needs to claim her rightful place in the adult world and become a wife and mother.

Apples are inherently important throughout western myth. And the apple and the witch figure often go hand in hand.

In Gardnerian Wicca, its a sacred act to slice an apple down the center in order to see the pentacle inside.

apple

Photo by Lauren DeVoe

Apples are often used in divination and love spells. If you can peel an apple without breaking the peel and then toss the full peel over your shoulder, the peel should form the initials of your true love’s name.

CIder is of course the base of Wassail and is found as a part of ritual throughout the year.

The wood is used for many different magical purposes as well. Many shipbuilders traditionally wouldn’t use apple wood to build ships, because apple wood was used to build coffins, again helping people transition to the Underworld.

The apple is the foundation of so much of our myth and ritual; take the time this Samhain to enjoy the apple season. Go to an orchard and pick apples with your friends and loved ones. Cut an apple open on the full moon and thank the Goddess for another year. Bury apples so that the dead have something to eat. We often take the apple for granted and forget its many magical uses. When you eat an apple, you are eating the fruit of knowledge and are acknowledging the power of the sacred feminine and at the end of the day, just like the sexuality of women, the apple is simply a delicious fruit that should always be savored.

61_by_kennyfiddler-d6qulvn

Photo by KK at Brushwood, 2012