Tanya Tagaq Sings with the Voice of Gaia

Tanya Tagaq sings with the voice of Gaia. She is an Inuit throat singer and much more with award-winning albums, including the recently released Animism. Her music isn’t sweet or pretty by mainstream musical standards. Her Gaia isn’t the tall, blonde, lithe, blossom-crowned Gaia that so often is the way Earth is depicted, but the powerful, strong, non-human Earth of blizzards, tsunamis, and earthquakes, and also the immense abundant force that has given and supported life on her skin for millions of years and is now being devastated by only one species, our own.

Tanya’s compositions are a fusion of traditional throat-singing and modern electronic music with some non-throat singing but lots of sounds – shrieks, moans, howls, and more –  that come from the depths of the human body as it reveals and represents the life force of Gaia, her animals, and her environment. Some commentators call Tanya’s music “scary,” but that only reveals how frightening it can be to truly face both the force and the love of the Earth and the truth of what is happening to the Earth.  Many others comment that Tanya’s music brings up in them profound depths of emotions and so it does.

Tanya Tagaq is 39 and an immensely gifted composer, performer, and graphic artist. She has won a number of awards in Canada for her work, including the Polaris Prize for album in the year in 2014. She is well-known for collaborations with Bjork and the Kronos Quartet. She uses her voice not only for singing, but for political activism on behalf of the Inuit people, including the murder of Inuit women and the importance of seal-hunting to Inuit culture. Here is a youtube video of some of her work.

The Seven Summits Women: Together We Reach Higher

sevensummitsOn December 23, 2014, four young Nepalese women of the Seven Summits Women Team reached the summit of Mt. Vinson Massif, the highest peak in Antarctica. This was the final climb in their goal to scale the highest mountains in each of the seven continents, a goal reached by only 350 people, including 51 women, in the past. These women, and the three other members of their team, pursued their goal not to “conquer” the mountains or principally for their own self-development, but to make a better world for everyone, especially women and young people. On their website, they identify their message as “Together We Reach Higher.”

The early lives of the members of the team were as challenging as their mountain-climbing. All were well aware of the especially strong constraints on opportunities for women in their home communities in Nepal.  One left home at age 14 to escape plans for an arranged marriage. Another was told that she would be too ugly to marry and so she was sent to school to become self-sufficient.  Others come from families who struggled without the financial resources to provide food and shelter for all the children.  Education and a love of the outdoors was the means for each to overcome her early difficulties and go on to join the team.

Not surprisingly given their backgrounds, they climb the summits both for the joy of those experiences, but also as a means to further the causes of, as they state on their website, “education, empowerment, and environment.” Surrounding each adventure, they have visited and given presentations at schools, universities, and organizations, engaged in “empowerment exchanges” with local women, met with national and local officials, and more, all promoting their three causes. In the seven years they have been climbing, they have already reached tens of thousands of people. Ultimately, they plan to produce a book for young people about their seven climbs to encourage readers to believe in themselves and reach high for their dreams.

Their relationship to nature is an extremely important aspect of their work. They say on their website, “We believe that any development in education or empowerment is meaningless if we do not consider environment along the journey. We understand environment not as something around us but it’s who we are as well.  We have experienced in our close encounters with nature that we are not separate from her. We are part, product and process of environment. It is our mission to share this with the world as we aspire to reach higher together.” Rather than seeing their climbs as ways to “conquer” nature, they view them as a means to become closer to the Earth, to realize that they are part of the Earth and She is part of them. These climbs are sacred homage to Nature.

Another essential component of their story is that they did not reach the tops of these mountains alone. As with any expedition, they needed significant resources and the list of sponsoring organizations is amazing, including international, national, and local groups, and individuals. These young women have not only made individual achievements, but have brought together immense resources globally to further the goals of education, empowerment, and environment, not an easy task in these days of division among nations and people.

The older and more experienced I become, the more I have come to believe that it is efforts like these – international, inclusive, bringing people together for positive change – that will make the biggest differences as we seek to bring about a world that is peaceful, just, and sustainable and further the causes of women’s rights and well being. Take a look at the website of these young women – www.sevensummitswomen.org – and be inspired! As their website says, “We welcome all, women and people of the world to come join us in the epic journey. Together We Reach Higher!”

Moving the World Forward on the Spiral of Life

To read a new blog post on Feminism and Religion about the power of thinking of your life as a spiral, please click here Moving the World Forward on the Spiral of Life.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO: QUEEN OF AFRICAN MUSIC AND HUMANITARIAN, ADVOCATE, AND ACTIVIST

Beninoise singer-songwriter-humanitarian-advocate-activist Angelique Kidjo has been called by London’s Daily Telegraph “The undisputed queen of African Music.” She has won Grammy awards. She has recorded numerous albums since 1991 and her music is influenced by traditional African music, jazz, Afropop, reggae, gospel, Latin music and more. She has served as an ambassador for UNICEF for 12 years for which she has traveled to many African nations. The Batonga Foundation, which she co-founded provides and advocates for education to girls in Africa through many different means. She has campaigned for many other organizations and causes, including Oxfam and the International Federation of Human Rights’ Africa for Women’s Rights initiative, and participated in innumerable special performances and concerts. She has won a long list of awards for both her music and her humanitarian, advocacy, and activist efforts.

In 2014, she released her latest album “Eve” which she dedicated “to the women of Africa: to their resilience and their beauty.” It features stunning music made by Kidjo and an array of musicians and women’s choirs from Benin, Kenya, and Cotonou. On her website, she describes it as ” a 13-track set of melodically rich, rhythmically powerful expressions of female empowerment.”  To see and hear a track from it yourself, watch this youtube video in support of polio vaccination that Kidjo made to her song “Eve” from the album. You can read more about her at her website.

FROM THE HANDS OF OUR ANCESTORS TO OURS

Yesterdaytorso I visited the magnificent new Harvard Art Museums. I saw hundreds of objects but the one that has stayed with me is not a Cassatt, Matisse, the Monet, or monumental Greek or Roman statue of a deity and ruler, or piece of provocative modern art but a simple tiny female torso. This object is in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Art section. Someone carved it of steatite or chorite about 8,000 years ago, in the Neolithic era. It is only about an inch and a half long, but the details are familiar to anyone who has seen photos or examples of the thousands of statues of women or goddesses from that time. The torso is without a head, arms, or feet, focusing all attention on the torso and triangle from which all human life comes.

While we can never know exactly how these statues were used, the small size, in particular, strikes me as evidence that this object was created for daily use by ordinary people who might, for example, need to pick up and move often. Perhaps it was carried in a small bag or set carefully on a small household altar, much as many women I know place objects that remind them of the sacred within themselves, or of qualities of goddessness that they would like to develop, or of the faith of their foremothers that makes them feel at home in this world. I think that such an object would perhaps have been passed down from a woman to her daughter or niece or granddaughter or maybe an apprentice or priestess-in-training over many generations. Then, at some point, it came to rest somewhere until it emerged in our own time and came back to us.

I think of the lives of the women who first used it. While I imagine they had moments of great joy and love when they would come upon an especially beautiful landscape or gaze at the face of a beloved, I think that, like many of us in the 21st century, they also knew times of hunger and mortal danger and hatred and violence. They also suffered from serious illness and felt their life force ebbing from their bodies, yearning for a few more moments on earth. There must have been days when they felt as if waking up to face one more day was not worth the challenges of getting through it.

But they did. No matter where our personal ancestral lines take us in the world, and for most of us that would be many continents, whether or not the genes of the women who actually used that statue still live in some of us somewhere, we are all the result of generations and generations of women who go back to that Neolithic time and beyond. We all carry within us the flesh of women who lived in that time and, most likely, cherished some object like that on the 3rd floor of the Harvard Art Museums.

When I gaze at that object, I see not just a small piece of stone carved thousands of years ago, but all that my foremothers overcame in the strong, unwavering belief that life on earth is not only worth living for themselves, but passing on to future generations, including me. The statue is not just an object, but a message from the women who lived all those thousands of years ago – “Go forth. Make this Earth a place where my great-granddaughters and great-grandsons can live better lives than I or you did. Know that every morning you wake up is a good morning, no matter what your circumstances on that day. Revere the life that comes from me and make all that I went through for you to be here worth my while.”

Photo credit: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Louise M. and George E. Bates

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.

Great Hera! Wonder Woman on Feminism and Religion blog

If you would like to start out your new year by reading a new post I wrote for the Feminism and Religion blog on Wonder Woman and taking women’s power back from the mainstream media, please click here.

A Light in the Darkness: Celebrating the Dark When All the World Yearns for the Light

dark matterAt this holiday time of year we are surrounded by “lights in the darkness” – twinkling holiday reminders of the coming light now that we have reached and passed the Winter Solstice, the darkest time of the year. For millennia, humans all over the world have made bonfires and light festivals at this time to signify the hope in the midst of mid-winter despair that Earth’s life will renew itself. In our not-so-distant past, when winter could be a time of starvation, especially in my part of the northern hemisphere, such rejoicing at the coming of the light at the Solstice made sense for it meant reassurance of springtime food and relief from the killing cold.

But I love the darkness. I wait for winter and the chance to rest, dream, and be more fully my spiritual self in the long nights and velvety deep blackness I see for so much of the day and night. As much as anyone can who lives in the modern, western world, I retreat into my envisioned cave and enjoy being part of the cosmos while exploring my inner world. The little twinkly lights sometime seem like an intrusion. The springtime and long summer days will come soon enough; why do they need to invade my too short season of darkness?

Yet, there are lessons to be learned in winter’s starlike lights that can only be learned when we also appreciate the darkness. The combination of deep darkness and the holiday lights are a reminder that we are both infinite and embodied. So often we see those two aspects of our being in conflict, as if we can only be one or the other at a time. But what if they are not in conflict, not even complementary, but each is necessary to the other?

The twinkly lights remind me that my winter dreaming is useless if it has no meaning in the embodied, action-packed daytime aspect of the world, if I cannot take my dreamings and make a better planet with them. When we are in the dark dreaming, we must remember to make our dreams achievable and relevant to the outside world.

The twinkly lights remind me that we need to make our bodies ready for the more active time of the light by resting, by nourishing ourselves in these moments of quiet contemplation. Soon the twinkly lights will become the blazing sun and our labor, of whatever kind, will be required to put food on the table of the world, whatever form our work in the outside world takes.  Our bodies must be ready for the task.

Finally, the twinkly lights are our beacons of light on the way back to our home in the sun, just as the few hours of darkness we may enjoy in the summer when we are in nature and able to see the blackest night without artificial lights are our pathway back to the dreaming time of winter.  When our time of resting, contemplation, and creating the seeds of what we will harvest in the summer and fall is over, we know we will have a way to where we need to be.

To those of us who do not long for the spring and summer in the dark days of winter, the illuminations that the world seems to so instinctively light at this time of year are a reminder of the importance of our dreaming and resting in winter to the world of action that thrives under the sun. It reminds me that this luxuriant season of darkness is short, the summer will soon be upon us, and we must make the most of it.

 Photo of dark matter credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe (NASA JPL/Caltech and STScl)

 

Sacred Questioning

To read a new post of mine about asking essential and uncomfortable questions as a spiritual practice on the wonderful site Feminism and Religion, please click here.

Living Between Our Lives: Thriving in Liminal Times

The beginning of November is a “liminal time.” It is a time when the veil between the worlds is thin and it can be easy to feel we are in some mystical realm when we get up early and see the mist rising off the fields or the crimson light of an early sunset when we are used to daylight. It is the new year in some cultures. It is a time when change is in the air and we are putting away our summer routines and remembering our winter ones.  No matter what the month, we all have especially “liminal” times in our lives, when we choose, or have forced upon us, great change and we are no longer fully living in our old lives yet not quite in our new ones.

As I look back over my life, I see that I am someone who has enjoyed “regenerating” myself, each time creating a liminal time as one phase faded and another came into being. I grew up in a university town in the Midwest in the 1960s and 70s and left that comfortable life for the punky, noisy, and art-infested East Village of the 1980s when I was in my 20s.  Then, at 30, I left again to be a spouse and parent in a small town in New England, complete with a Victorian fixer-upper house, herb garden, and professional job.  Each time, I felt both the stress and thrill of, in a way, starting my life over.

I’ve found that these liminal times offer two unique opportunities and November provides a special perspective on each of them. The first is the chance to learn who we really are without the trappings that come with living in a particular place and time so long that we surrender our uniqueness to the convenience of routine. In November in my garden, some plants that only live a season are already on the compost pile waiting to become nutrients for next year. Others are perennials that are withered and need to be cut back. A few are still in flower and as fresh and green as they were in the spring. Yet, they are all on the cusp of change in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. They teach us that, even as we let one life pass away and another take over our days, we still remain essentially ourselves. Next spring new flowers will emerge from the seeds cast this fall and fresh stalks and blooms will appear out of the ground from the roots of perennials, but there is some essence that will remain the same. Jerusalem artichokes will not arise from the seeds of geraniums and bee balm blooms will not grow out of raspberry canes or grapevines. Just as the plants will be different next spring as they adapt to next year’s environment – some will flourish with abundant rain while others may struggle without adequate sun — there will still be something about them that makes them immediately identifiable, so do we have the chance to see what remains the same in us when our environment changes. Liminal times reintroduce us to our most essential selves, both those aspects we love about ourselves and nurture and those that we may wish not to face and so use the busyness of everyday life to ignore.

Liminal times can also make us aware of the magnificence of everyday life as we explore new routines, places, and people that may soon become so commonplace to us that we forget to appreciate them. For a short time, we have the wonder of living in a world that is fresh and exciting, demanding more of our attention but in return giving us the joy of being engaged in its details and possibilities. Think of the first snowfall, an event that frequently happens here in New England in November. I have seen a first snow for every one of the past 55 winters, and I know that within a month or so I’ll be ready for spring, but I never fail to run outside to experience the beauty of the flakes as they waft down to the ground, or the refreshing taste of their chill on my tongue, or their gentleness as they fall on my hand. After the first heavy snowfall when the ground is covered, I always feel as if I am walking out into a new world, one that has never known the step of humanity before. And so it is with our new circumstance or environment. This new corner of the world has never known us before and we can make of it completely what we choose here and now.

While these liminal times can be a time to revitalize our world, not all of them lead to better life situations than we had before. A health crisis, the loss of a loved one, and other similar changes can be more catastrophes than opportunities. And even preparing for a new phase of life we are looking forward to can be exhausting as we do our usual chores each day while needing to fit in all those extra logistical tasks that come with closing out one part of our lives to move into the next. These liminal times can still be our means to gain strength, wisdom, and power. Consider Inanna, a goddess who chose to visit the Underworld to learn the lessons she could not find anywhere in her bright world above. Before she could enter she had to give up all her symbols of position and wealth, even her clothes, which she did willingly. While in the Underworld she lost even her life until she was rescued. While there she found she was deeper, richer, fiercer, and a better goddess than she ever knew she could be and through the agreement to send her husband down to the Underworld to take her place for six months each year, she set into motion the seasons that make life on Earth possible*. She found who she truly was in her essence and remade the world into one of abundance and vitality.

While we may mark the phases of our lives with great changes, in reality most of the time we are more like the moon that gradually moves through being new, waxing, being full, and then waning, progressing slowly in small incremental steps instead of revolutions.  In fact, every day brings changes, though we may not recognize them. Perhaps by remembering the positive, life-giving ways we have felt during these liminal times, we may find ourselves more alive and joyful every day.  May we bring the blessings of these liminal times to each moment we live.

*To learn more about Inanna and Her descent, see Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer’s Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer.

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