Penelope and the Fish Short Story on The Goddess Pages

I am honored to have a short story, Penelope and the Fish, appear in the most recent issue of The Goddess Pages. You can read it here.

Our Souls Between Earth and Sea: A Short Story

I am so grateful to The Goddess Pages for publishing a new short story of mine, Our Souls Between Earth and Sea, about selkies and women and the true home of us all in the water. If you would like to read it, please click here.

Isis Makes the World Whole for the Solstice

Behold, mighty Isis of ancient Egypt soars over the earth, her shining wings softly beating the air, her hair shorn and her robe in tatters, gathering the pieces of her beloved murdered Osiris. She spoke magical words over Osiris’s body and he was made whole and alive. Together they conceived the god Horus who is said to have been born at this time of year, returning in his form as the sun each Solstice.

Millennia later, I find myself feeling as if the world is tearing itself apart. Political conflicts and  random violence break hearts and communities while climate change sends chunks of glaciers crashing into the ocean. The Winter Solstice holds many stories of hope and healing, but at this moment I can’t help but think of Isis and her beloved Osiris and their son, Horus.

In fact, it seems to me that Isis’ action of fusing fragments back into a whole and renewing life is a way of looking at the mission of all of us at this moment. We have the means to be one world with a variety of nations, religions and cultures, each being a complementary part of the whole, and we know what we need to do to begin to right the ecological wrongs, but in each case only a global response will work. Like Isis, we need to make a unity out of the jagged shards.

Isis is said to have declared “I will overcome fate,” promising her followers that they would live beyond their allotted time. What made Isis believe that she could conquer death and time itself? Perhaps it came to her as she flew over the world seeking the pieces of Osiris. Maybe it was while she was soaring above our beautiful blue ball of fire, soil, water and life that she began to believe that she could join the pieces and make Osiris whole. As she looked down upon the earth, she was able to see beyond borders, beyond our perceived limitations of our abilities, beyond all that she had been told could never be. She simply saw what needed to be done and did it.

We are told that this time of year is one of miracles. Since the birth of our species, we have gathered in the last days of December to wonder at the return of the light and so many other miracles that we celebrate. There is always that moment before the Solstice when I think, “is this the year when the sun will not return, when we will not be able to say to our children ‘all is well’? Have we gone too far wrong this time?” but yet the days always begin to grow longer and eventually the warmth comes back to the Earth.  Like the return of the light, so many miracles surround us every day that we take for granted, whether it is a child growing up to be more amazing than we had ever conceived or rivers becoming clean again after decades of pollution or the tiny baby steps of progress towards justice and equality that add up to what would be considered a miracle to those who began the fight so many years ago.

How many times have you accomplished something because you had not believed the people who told you couldn’t?  I bet more than you would imagine if you really think about it. We are all Isis at times, working miracles and bringing back to life that for which part of us had no hope and part of us refused to give up hope. The earth needs us all to be Isis at this season of both wonders and great violence to each other and our planet. What fractured pieces in your part of this world need to be made whole, though you know it’s impossible?  Will you strap on your Isis wings, help them come together, and bring them back to life anyway?

Gravity at the Temple of Aphrodite

Celebrate February by honoring Aphrodite. Aphrodite, as she was known to the ancient Greeks (she was also called Venus by the Romans) is best known as the Goddess of romantic love and sensuality, but she can also be so much more. If you are in the Boston area before February 20, be sure to visit Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and their exhibit titled “Aphrodite and the Gods of Love.” Learn more about the exhibit here.  The exhibit brings together over 150 pieces of art and everyday objects relating in some way to Aphrodite. Included are not just sacred and sometimes erotic art, but everyday items related to marriage, children, and even Aphrodite’s role as patroness to seafarers.

One of the curators of the exhibit said in her written comments that, as she lived with all these objects over time, she came to see that Aphrodite was really the Goddess who brought people together, who propels us into each other’s lives. This emotional and spiritual gravity is every bit as strong and important as physical gravity which keeps the stars and planets spinning in their orbits. Not everyone will agree, but, to me, that makes her not just a Goddess of love, but an expression of a force that includes love as well as all those emotions, impulses, and desires that pulls us to one another, a recognition that we are not really independent individuals, but part of a web of inter-related beings.

To me, this force has an effect on every moment of our lives, but really has no name. It is so deeply a part of us that we rarely notice it unless we are riven with sorrow when we are without a loved one or in pain when we are forced to live in solitude. As if we didn’t know the importance of being in a unity with others from our everyday experience, research study after research study has shown that being social – connecting and feeling a part of other people’s lives – is essential to physical and mental well being. People who spend time with others in diverse networks creating strong bonds live longer, have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure, suffer from less memory loss and maintain better cognitive functioning, and are generally happier and less stressed. Condemning prisoners to solitary confinement is one of the cruelest forms of psychological torture.

Aphrodite’s power is, to me, not just the force bringing different individuals together, but also that which calls the many aspects of ourselves to come together to be our whole selves. As I look back on my life, sometimes I see myself not as one being, but as many early versions and shadows of who I am now. Some of these are the child who believed  in the endless potential of the future, the teenager who could be silly for days on end, and even the young woman who assumed that humanity is at heart benevolent. Some days these versions of me all seem within reach and other days they seem irretrievably gone.  How I would like to gather them back to me, like lovers or children lost. Many of the statues of Aphrodite have a very inward-looking aspect. Perhaps by reflecting a little on Aphrodite we can tap into this power of integrating all our selves into one essential, unfolding being.

To our peril, reverence of this force that Aphrodite evokes seems to be in ruins just like so many of her ancient temples. For all the lip service that the concepts of “community” and “unity” receive, words and behavior that divide people through borders, stereotypes, or social, religious, ethnic, or political boundaries seem to be valued highly in our century.  Name-calling in politics is at an all-time high and is rewarded with votes. Officially-sanctioned discrimination and divisions seem to be everywhere. Rarely do we have time in our overly-busy culture to heal the fragmented aspects of our individual selves. What a different world we would have if everyone truly believed and acted on their belief in unity as a real virtue, if Aphrodite and her power to bring together were truly celebrated now as her image was in ancient Greece.

As we join the rest of our culture in sending Valentine’s cards and eating candy hearts in February, maybe we can find our own ways to celebrate Aphrodite and her special power of bringing people together. At one time in ancient Greece, she was worshiped in temples with elaborate rituals. Those of us who can’t travel to Europe to do that can still keep her in our minds and hearts this month in our own ways. Perhaps we might like to contemplate these words from Sappho, who mentions Aphrodite often in her poetry and who seemed to feel her as a presence in her everyday life:

I asked myself

What, Sappho, can

You give one who

Has everything,

Like Aphrodite?

What can we give to ourselves and each other besides candy and flowers, what thoughts and actions can we leave on Aphrodite’s altar within ourselves, to honor her and her mighty power to make us one within ourselves and with one another?

The Royal Wedding, Disco Balls, and The Goddess of the Land

You may have heard that there was a Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey this week.  Some polls showed that not even most people in Britain were that interested in it, but you wouldn’t have gotten that impression from the million people lining the street outside the Abbey or even from the Royal Wedding fervor in my neck of the woods. Members  of my family were up at 5 am to take in every moment and just about everyone at my office was DVRing it and bringing in Dunkin’ Donuts Royal Wedding donuts. When I asked them, a bit insensitively, I suppose, “what was the big whoop,” it was hard for people to quite put their fingers on why this wedding made them so happy and fascinated.  It was “an inspiration,” “a little bit of fun,” “the stuff fantasies are made of,” they said. There was just something about it…

Which makes me think of the tradition of The Goddess of the Land (and not just me – others have also seen mythic significance in various aspects of the wedding*).  In the ancient Celtic tradition, as well as in others, kings married the Goddess of the Land, the spirit of Mother Earth, and without her favor they could not rule. Caitlin Matthews, in her excellent book King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land  (Inner Traditions International, 2002) describes this tradition and its relation to such Celtic goddesses and mythic figures as Rhiannon, Epona, and Gwenhwyfar. Could it be that some of the reason people were so drawn to this event was an unconscious remembrance of this idea that a happy marriage of king and queen guaranteed peace and prosperity, two qualities so lacking in our own time?

If that is the case, how much has changed in the past 30 years since the marriage of Charles and Diana!  Diana, as I have read this week, was only 19, hardly knew Charles, and was of privileged birth.  She became the celebrity of celebrities, far removed from ordinary folk, though people I know who adored her did so because of her good-hearted charity work on behalf of those in need and the fact that her well-publicized family troubles made her both more human and more noble.

Kate is, as her fans have told me, a new kind of princess.  They tell me she is 29 and the first woman who is or could become queen who is university-educated, she has held a job, and she a commoner. Reporters have noted her “normal” family and how comforting that must be to William. The number of people at the wedding that Kate and William knew through their charity work far outnumbered the celebrities.  If rumors are true, she and William will do their own shopping and live as much like regular people as you can while waiting to be king and queen. One of my favorite details is that Kate’s sister Pippa hung disco balls at the Royal Ball to make the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace a bit snazzier.

Maybe a Royal Wedding is really just a Royal Wedding, but I cannot help but wonder if the difference between the popularity of Diana 30 years ago and that of Kate today is not also related to the Goddess of the Land and how she is re-emerging in the everyday lives of women as the Sacred Feminine within each of us. Could it be that women love Kate because she is not so far removed from them?  She shows that the royal/sacred is now not outside their world, but is inside them. Their sense of the  sacredness of their daily lives is reinforced by Kate and William’s choosing of normal over royal.

My favorite poster handmade by a spectator along the wedding route said “It should have been me!” More important than ”It should have been me!” is “It could have been me!” because we all could be, and are, the Goddess of the Land and are responsible for the Earth’s protection and the creation of peace and prosperity. Every way that women from all walks of life discover and demonstrate that is a big whoop indeed.

* I found these two commentaries and I’m sure there must have been others:  and

Leaving Eggs in Ostara’s Forest

Every Spring Equinox, I join a circle of women who gather and celebrate the coming spring by telling the story of Ostara, a goddess from Europe from whose name the word “Easter” comes. Since elements of her story are part of the Easter tradition being observed today all over the world, I thought I would tell her story and how I think it is as meaningful for today’s world as it was hundreds of years ago.

Ostara was a gentle and compassionate goddess who loved to take walks through the forest, reveling in the chirps of the birds, the blooms of the delicate woodland flowers, and the romping of the animals who made the forest their home.  One day in very early spring, just about the time of the Spring Equinox, she was walking and shivering because the season had been especially cold this year.  She came upon a small bird, frozen and close to dying, unable to fly away to someplace where it could be warm and live.  She quickly transformed the bird into a rabbit so it could hop away to a nice, cozy hutch to recover.  She had to work so fast, however, that the transformation was not complete, and from that time on, the bird-made-rabbit still lay eggs.  Every year, at about the time of its rescue, the grateful rabbit would hop through the forest, placing beautifully decorated eggs along Ostara’s path for her enjoyment.

I love so many elements of this story.  I am moved by Ostara’s deep love for each being of the forest, that a goddess would stop to save one small bird.  To me, this is an important message of spring, when each small spring bloom seems so precious because it has been so long since we have seen flowers. Each baby animal and bird needs nurturing by its parents as well as by all of us, even if this means not disturbing a nest, no matter how much we would like to look at the babies. So many hearts need healing after this past long winter that has held so much sorrow all over the world.  When so many deaths have been counted in the thousands from both natural and human-made disasters, focusing our loving attention on each small being is an affirmation of the sacredness of every life and the spectacular wonder of our planet.

I love that Ostara turns her focus so quickly from enjoying her forest walk to compassionate service.  She reminds me of Tara, who sometimes is shown sitting in a lotus position with one leg extended, ready to spring into action whenever she “hears the cries of the world.” Ostara reminds me that when I need help, it is okay to peep that I need a little transformation and that help will come. Assistance may not come in the form I expect and life may never be the same as it once was, but assistance will appear, even if it is just me identifying the problem so that I can find again my own inner power to solve it.

Like everyone else, I sometimes hesitate to help because I do not feel that I am the best for the job; that maybe if I stay behind, someone else who is more perfect will come along to do the job better. I sometimes doubt my own abilities to do even those things I feel called as a sacred mission to do.  Ostara reminds us that we do not need to be perfect to help. A half a rabbit is better than a dead bird. And sometimes our imperfect help makes an even more perfect outcome – without Ostara’s almost-but-not-quite transformation, our Easter baskets would be much less beautiful, just as sometimes the help that isn’t quite what we had planned causes us to be more resilient, with a wider experience, and sometimes leads us in a direction we hadn’t mapped for ourselves but turns out to be just the right way to go.

Finally, I love that the rabbit expresses its gratitude in such a tangible way – those beautiful eggs along the forest path.  It is so easy to feel gratitude without expressing it.  I find that so many times people do for others and never know how much their help is appreciated.  I’m sure that there have been years when Ostara was sorrowful during her Spring Equinox walks for one reason or another and was cheered by seeing those lovely eggs and being reminded that what she does makes a difference.

I think that this year I will celebrate this day by finding one person who has helped me without being asked, who always springs into action at the first sign that someone is having trouble, and who does what she or he can without worrying that what is done is perfect, and find a “colorful egg” way to say thanks.  Maybe I will write a check their favorite foundation. Maybe I will bake a cake and leave it on their doorstep.  Maybe I will write a note of gratitude and ask how I can make their next difficult task a little easier.  Maybe I will simply take a walk through the forest and thank the Earth by looking for small beings who need help – a plant that is growing on the path and needs to be moved out of the way of hiking feet perhaps – and being Ostara for the day.

Once Upon Our Time

In order to make some of my columns and articles available to readers here, I am reprinting them as posts.  This was first published in Moondance in July, 2009.

Once upon our time, a woman lived in a room of twisted mirrors. Though she was courageous, strong, and wise, she saw a cowardly, weak, silly, and useless woman reflected in the mirrors. So, that’s what she believed about herself. One day she could stand to look at the empty, distorted being in the mirrors no more, and she shattered them with one blow, revealing a window that had been hidden. When the woman peeked outside, she finally saw her real reflection in a pool of water. She climbed out the window carrying a flat, smooth mirror shard and then visited each house along the nearby road. Inside each house dwelled another trapped soul, imprisoned in a mirrored room. The first woman shattered all the other women’s mirrors and then using the flat mirror shard she’d saved, she let each inhabitant gaze upon her true face so she too could leave her captivity. As the growing band of women walked down the road, they realized that, while they had been held inside, the land outside had been laid to waste by neglect. So, they set to nourishing and reseeding the land until it was verdant and lush. Then the original woman flung the flat shard into the sky where it found its place as our moon so that we might always see ourselves as we really are.

I invite you to gather this story into your hands. Cradle it gently and raise it to your eyes. Peer at it from all angles. See where it shines and glimmers and also where the light only glances off it, giving up only fertile darkness. Feel its pulse against your own flesh and blood; let its spirit breathe onto you. Look bravely into its heart. Do you see yourself there?

I created this story; storytelling comes naturally to me. Like many women, I am my family’s storyteller, or “Keeper of Eternity.” I take vacation, holiday, and birthday photos and put them into albums, copy and organize the video archive, and pack boxes of keepsakes to be opened at some undetermined time in the far future. I created my family biologically, but I also shape moments and memories into an entity, a vessel, a story where our vision of our family resides and to which we can return when we want to remember who we are and from where we came.

Of course, since I take the pictures and videos, I’m almost never in them. Being rarely “in the picture”—both literally and symbolically as I focus on others instead of myself—means that my memories often are not quickened into stories that can reflect our lives and nobility back to us. Perhaps because so often we are taught not to trumpet our own achievements and are surrounded by stories women as dependent and incapable, we rarely see ourselves as worthy of stories, and definitely not as heroines.

Recently a young woman who overcame years of abuse by her stepfather and now helps other teens could not understand why I called her “strong.” Her life was, to her, a jumble of memories of being victimized and, in her mind, weak. She was quite eloquent, however, when she told others’ stories. Only when I told her story to her through a storyteller’s eyes—as an arc of devastation, courage, and rebirth—did she recognize herself as others saw her.

Women from other times and cultures grew up with stories of goddesses and queens who modeled women of power and achievement. How might my life have been easier if the story I most often heard as a child was that of Inanna, the courageous and passionate Queen of Heaven who descended to the Underworld and reemerged mighty and wise? Might I have, from childhood, made unwavering career and personal choices toward being more Inanna-like myself rather than wondering at each step if I was strong or intelligent enough to succeed?

If we wish to give ourselves and other women the gift of these kinds of heroines, where are we to find them? The ancient world and many current cultures are full of them, but perhaps we do not need to go so far. Maybe, in fact, we can look to our own lives for stories of heroines—stories that we know will have meaning in our own time and place.

My stories may seem to be those of an ordinary woman, but all our stories are extraordinary and need to be heard. We are of the cusp generation, between the world of the present and the future and one of the past, when our youth was much more restricting of life choices, belittling in its image of women, and often isolating. When I was ten, I could only wear dresses and skirts to school. I believed marriage and children were my only life choice. Domestic violence was rampant but never spoken of and abortion happened with coat hangers. Only when I look at my world objectively, like a storyteller, do I realize how far women of the twenty-first century have brought ourselves, however far we still may have to go.

I also have been blessed to have unique opportunities that future generations who will grow up in a less oppressive world may not. I’ve sat in circles with women where we’ve experienced the thrill of believing that what we do—from protests to ceremonies to creating art—can profoundly affect a world in desperate need of changed attitudes, laws, and customs. I have had the joy of discovery as I gathered with other women and looked at artifacts of ancient goddesses and queens, knowing that we may be the first to perceive their power in thousands of years.

Our stories are our gifts, not only to ourselves and to our contemporaries, but they are our best legacies to the women of generations to come, our way of making the desolate land fertile again. In fact, the farther in time women are from another, the more stories are the sole carriers of messages between them. We have some artifacts from the ancient Sumerian followers of Inanna, but it is in Inanna’s stories that we hear their thoughts, their desires, and most deeply held faiths. What we have to say to our granddaughter’s granddaughters will travel best in our own stories.

May my granddaughters know the world I grew up in through stories, but be wary of its return by knowing what it was like to live in it. May they look at how far my generation has come in a short time and be inspired to move farther in an even shorter time. May my granddaughters catch my generation’s adventurous, world-changing spirit in their hands and bask in it, loving themselves and their lives and their time with fierceness.

Our own stories are perhaps the most magical force for transformation we will ever know because they are how we bring our truths to life. This summer, as you lift your eyes skyward to the sun’s light, remember to gaze also at the night moon, and let your story show your true face to you and to all those on whom it shines its light.

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