The Witch in the Curio Cabinet

In a curio cabinet of a historical society in a small New England town is the story of the town’s witch.  She was a woman who lived in the mid-1700s and was called a witch but was, most likely, not someone who healed with herbs or practiced a non-Christian spirituality.  She did wear a long red cape.  In the 1700s in New England, apparently this was enough to cause an entire town to ostracize a woman and call her a “witch,” no small thing given that it was within living memory in her time that people were hanged as witches not too far away. 

She had received the cape as a gift and liked to wear it when she went out and about.  Of course, given that the consequences of doing this showed that it was clearly more significant than just a fashion faux pas in the culture in which she lived, her wearing of it was possibly just one of many other rebellious acts.  Maybe she spoke out against some of the small hypocrisies and tyrannies that she saw going on in the town.  Perhaps she refused to do some of the duties of the meek and mild perfect wife and mother that were expected of her.  It isn’t too hard to see her reading books that were not the Bible; questioning religious, political, and social assumptions; talking back to her “betters,” as any man in the town would have been considered to be.  It could be that she was just plain cranky, Goddess bless her.

To me, her story holds much significance.  First and foremost, lots and lots of women were born, lived, raised families, and died in that town.  Almost all of them did exactly what they were supposed to do and were buried with, one can imagine, the minister praising their obedience, their lives of unselfish service, and their blessed silence when it came to any issue of importance.  Not a one of them has her story told in any curio cabinet in the historical society.  I think our witch – somehow I think of her as belonging more to our time than hers – would have enjoyed the fact that women like you are reading her story nearly 300 years after she lived. 

Second, you have to wonder how many other women’s stories that would inspire and speak to the real lives of women in past times are hidden in curio cabinets in small town historical societies.  Only when I happened to be in the back room of a public building housing the curio cabinet did I read our witch’s story.  If we all did a little digging, perhaps we could, together, write new chapters of American and women’s history.

Last, we only have to read the newspaper or examine our own lives to see that times have not significantly changed.  Intolerance of people who do not do as they are expected and seem to challenge authority has certainly not gone away.  Our society still has its own lethal witch-hunts.  Women, especially those who are born into communities or families with strict rules about what women should be and do, must still look and act within very narrow bounds in order to survive.  We may shake our heads at the idea of a woman being shunned and called a witch for wearing a red cape, but it is not hard to figure out what the “red capes” of our time are, especially if you happen to “wear” one of those “red capes.”

I love that woman with the red cape, and if I could, I would put flowers on her grave and invite every young woman in that town to come with me to celebrate her by doing the same.  Unfortunately, I don’t know where she is buried.  But, there are plenty of women with “red capes” in my own time and place: women who fight back against abuse, women who question authority and have their jobs and family’s well being threatened because of it, really, all of us have our own “red capes.”  Maybe the best thing to do is to honor her by working even harder to make it so that it is less than 300 years before people shake their heads that women could be alienated for such things.

When Death Comes

Over the past couple of weeks death has come so often into my home it seems as if as if it lives here.  Among the deaths I have experienced have been that of a friend; a husband, an aunt, and an uncle of people I care deeply about; a grandchild and friends of people I know; even a family member’s pet.  At one of the funerals, I held a friend in my arms as she grieved, collapsed against me from the devastation of her mourning.  I tried to think of what I could say to bring comfort to this woman who had lost a lifetime love after having spent the past weeks seeing a healthy, vital man suffer needless, intense pain and finally be so weak and ravaged by cancer that he could do nothing for himself.  I reached into my own belief system for some words, but somehow telling her that his death was just part of the great wheel of life, death and rebirth just did not seem like it would do the trick.  Granted, I doubt that others’ words — that she should be happy that her husband was now in heaven and that he was called by God because he was a good churchgoing man — were of much help either.  I finally just shut up and held her until she let go; I think that was the right thing to do.

If the Great Wheel of Life is a bust when it comes to those moments when a spiritual salve are most needed, what is it good for?  It may be true, nature may work that way, but where is the comfort and sureness in the sense of deep truth that causes us to know that we are in line with the universe and that we are being who we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing?  It is not only humans that grieve death, as anyone knows who has seen a dog or other animals react when a beloved companion is no longer in their lives.  If we are simply participating in a completely natural process that is a common part of all existence, shouldn’t it be easier?

After some pondering, I came to see the creation of the world as being in two parts.  First, the Creator made the mechanical aspect, the wheel of life, with its many layers of existence, the physical one being earth, but also those places where those who are outside of our existence, before birth or after death, dwell.  Then, when it was spinning round and round quite happily she blew love into the mechanism and gave the wheel meaning. Now it was no longer simply a machine, but a universe that was the home of beings of all kinds.  It had life and a purpose.  But, with love comes both joy and sorrow.  In fact, without love there is no joy or sorrow.  Love both exists within the wheel of life, as humans are born and die, but also outside of it, as love begins before birth and endures after it.  Love is like the electricity that makes the machine move and do meaningful things, but it exists outside of the machine.  Just because the wheel of life is part of nature does not mean that its consequences cannot cause grief.

In fact, love is its own kind of wheel of life, death and rebirth.  When I think of those people who have the deepest compassion, wisdom and understanding; who are able to bring comfort to others and make this world a better place to live, it is those who have experienced heartache who come to mind first.  When we have those we love in our lives, happy and healthy, we are in life.  When they die and we experience grief, an aspect of us dies, too.  We will never be the same people we were before we experienced our loss.  An aspect of ourselves is gone.  And then, over time, we come to live again, but in a different way.  We cherish each day and those who are still in our lives more.  We care about unimportant things less.  We see more joy and beauty where there was commonplace expectation that each day would be more or less like the last before.  We are reborn.

Wheels over wheels over wheels.  So many wheels of life, death, and rebirth in our lives.  It is not an answer, not a remedy, but a pattern that helps us to make sense of those elements of life that are most meaningful.  The next time I hold a grieving friend in my arms, I will hold her silently, not from confusion as to what to say, but knowing that I am helping to midwife her rebirth.

Eating Your Way to the Sacred Feminine

My lifelong relationship with food could be called dysfunctional at best; we just never seem to understand and support one another; we bicker a lot.  I am probably the most typical of typical 21st century American eaters, yet I have the same body image whether I weigh 125 or 150 pounds, and it isn’t good; whenever I am stressed, those oreos go straight down the gullet; I think of myself as being in constant battle with food either because I am too tired to make it when I am hungry, or I eat too much and feel bloated afterwards, or I feel guilty that some foods call to me and I have no power not to answer.  Oh, tiramisu, thou beast!

Yet, food and eating should be one of the truest ways to come to an understanding of our own sacredness and bond to Divinity.  In ancient times, Goddess and food, especially grain, were intimately connected.  Thousands of statues of goddesses have been found in grain bins and near bread ovens.  Goddess and Her altars were kept near the kitchen, near the heart of the family where, indeed, She belonged.  When some goddesses were angry, the crops would not grow and the people would starve.  We still, in many religions, sanctify our relationship with Divinity through ceremonies featuring bread.

However, once I enter into our kitchen or the nearest fast food restaurant, any sense of food as a sacred entity disappears for me.  Food becomes an object, something that we need, but yet we really wish we could do without because it can be so much trouble to make and to eat.  Then we have to deal with the effects of it on our bodies.  Even when I determined that I was going to be better to my body and eat only whole grains, keep sugar, caffeine, and salt to a minimum, and make meals of tofu and vegetables over brown rice – oh yum — it was still an adversarial relationship.  Food was a means to an end — that of better health — not a gift. 

Part of this comes, no doubt, from the moment of life I am in.  I work, I raise a family, I have obligations to my community and others.  Dinner is something to be made in 20 minutes or I will miss the opportunity to have my family eat together and serve them something relatively healthy before they rush out the door or to homework.  Breakfast gets five minutes and lunch is whatever I put into the freezer at work, to be eaten in between a constant stream of people coming into my office apologizing for interrupting my lunch as they sit down and start talking.  When I was young and single and had a job with little responsibility, I would buy fresh produce from stands along my way home and then cook and eat dinner slowly during the evening.  That must have been nice, but it was so long ago I don’t remember what it was really like.

But, perhaps the answer is to change my perspective, to see the divine not only within myself, but also within food, to see it as Mother Earth’s way of nourishing me, of welcoming me as an embodied being on this planet.  If I see food as divine, as an emanation of Goddess, then it makes sense to cherish every bit of it, to eat only what is closest to its divine state of being fresh and unprocessed and to eat only what I need to be as healthy as possible.  This is, I’m sure, how those ancient people viewed their food which had to be sown, grown, harvested, milled, and then baked by their own hands into bread.  They knew that food was life-giving because they had seen life end when it was not abundant.  If the grain they had stored over the winter gave out before the next harvest, they would starve, they could not go to Kroger’s for more. 

If I view each meal with this same sacredness, then I will eat what is best for my body, and just enough, so that my body will end up being just the right size, which is no doubt larger than our culture’s ideal. I would eat higher quality food, but only when I was hungry and never from stress or emotional need.  I would, in fact, say grace before each meal, something that I’m sure my great-grandparents, who were farmers, did, and they meant it. If food is sacred, I can still eat it quickly if I have to.  I can still find ways to prepare it fast in order to share it with my family, but what I make will be more deliberately prepared and served with love and patience.  I will  eat for pleasure, but only just enough, and not worry whether it will make me fat because my body image will be who I am when I am happy with myself, not what I wish to be.

If I had one wish for you who are reading this blog, it would be that sometime this week you would get to indulge in some homemade, whole grain bread with honey or jam or whatever you like on top.  Being the Nature Girl that I am, I will admit that I always think it’s a good idea to act in accordance with the seasons and this, if course, harvest time.  But, more than that, there is something elemental about fresh, homemade bread that nourishes us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, that reminds how deeply loved we are just for existing.  If I actually …  well…  you know…  lived nearby you…  I would fire up my bread machine and make you an apple cinnamon loaf.  Since I can’t, maybe sometime in the next few days you’ll come across some bread and have a slice and know that bread is the earth’s love song to us. Whenever you are sung a love song, listen to it for it is the staff of life.

Celebrating Ourselves as Sacred Women While Driving a Teen to the Mall

I would love to be able seek spiritual happiness by spending months in the Andes or weeks in Sedona or Montana or western Massachusetts or going on a retreat in some ancient site or a spending a winter alone in a hermit hut someplace. Most of my spiritual contemplation happens in the car while I am driving my teen child to the mall.  So, I ask myself, “How do you discover the Sacred Within when it is all you can do not to throw a shoe out the window at the car that just cut in front of you?  When you don’t feel the powerful abundance of Goddess in your heart, but instead are so frazzled trying to cope with the details of your life that you forget your own name?   When all you want to do is nap instead of meditating on some ancient goddess and her place in your life story?”

I don’t know.  I really don’t.  Believe me, my life would be easier if I did.

I suppose I should stop here, but that would be a disappointing end to the entry.  So, I will just say that…  what a wonderful opportunity driving a  teen to the mall is to dive right into the full storm of the stuff of real life.  No soap opera could ever beat a single day of the life of a parent for drama, for unexpected triumphs and heartbreaks, for never-ending toil.  When you drive a teen to the mall, you learn to focus intensely on the present moment.  No trivial chatter clogs up your mind.  You couldn’t ruminate if you wanted to, but you do live.  You do enter into what it means to be human in an elemental way. 

When the Creator made the universe, She didn’t create perfection, but instead made the world full of bustle and mess and frustration and dirt.  You kind of get the feeling that that is how She likes life, because that is how life is in nature. When you watch a chipmunk or an eagle or a turtle, they are running here and there stuffing acorns in their cheeks or flying off with baby rabbits in their beaks or shoveling out their homes in the mud. There must be something sacred about hubbub if the Creator made so much of it.

So, maybe these years of active parenthood are actually a special time of life, a unique way of being with spiritual messages that we can only get by living this way for twenty years or so.  Perhaps we can only truly understand the gift that life is by spending a quarter of our lives in the nitty-gritty of getting someone else’s life off to a good start, by cleaning up the diapers and mashing up the peas.  It could be that we can only truly appreciate solitude when we have memories of our heads exploding from the constant clamor.  I think that we can only get a true sense of the task of Creation when we understand that the glory moment of turning on the sun is part of it, but so is hearing the cries of billions of humans in despair all at the same time.  Perhaps this is one way of entering into Goddess’s own work, of being at Her side in a way that is not possible through any other means.  And you don’t even have to travel to another continent, or even across the street.

When Our Life’s Web is Unraveled by Violence, Goddess Mourns

My dream is that, at some time in the future, violence will be so rare that it would seem strange to write about it in a blog about the sacred feminine in everyday life.  Unfortunately, though, for now it is all too much a part of daily life for many women, whether through experiencing the organized violence of war, or crime, or domestic violence, or the emotional violence that is part of too many relationships. 
I first began to understand the importance of celebrating the Sacred Feminine as a way to heal the wounds left by many years ago when I heard an older woman speak to women of  her community about her life as a survivor of many decades of abuse.  After a lifetime of silence she was speaking up.  I asked myself what had given this woman – who had always been told to be quiet, to serve, to take whatever violence was forced on her — the courage to speak out.  Of course, she was never to blame for the violence against her, but something had changed her perspective of the violence and herself so that she was able to respond in a way that could help prevent other women from experiencing violence. All I could think of was that she had finally fully understood her own divinity.  She believed she had a soul, that all women have souls, and that she had to become the protector of her own soul and that of the women in her community.  It was then that I realized that the Sacred Feminine isn’t something to just study, to simply practice for my own pleasure and enlightenment, but a way to create peace in our own homes, communities, and world.

Celebrating the sacred feminine certainly does not provide instant healing from violence.  It does, however, change one’s way of experiencing the world so as to illuminate truth so that we may see violence for what it is and respond accordingly.

At its most basic, violence is a statement that the person to whom violence is being done is not a sacred being and so it is all right to violate her or him.  Celebrating the totality of one’s sacredness requires honoring the sacred feminine within all of us, especially when being a woman is part of what we consider to be our essence.  Quite simply, when we grow up in a culture that considers Divinity to be exclusively male, as women, we must readjust our thinking to honor our female selves as being sacred.  Once we see ourselves as sacred, we begin to understand that violence is never deserved. This is especially important when a component of so much violence involves convincing victims that they are to blame for violence against them.  This is especially true in domestic violence.

When you celebrate the Sacred Feminine, suddenly you are no longer alone in the universe.  So often, creating isolation and the feeling of hopelessness is part of the violence.  When you recognize the Sacred Feminine, you are embraced by all the women in the world and all they have suffered; your cries of despair are heard by She Who Hears the Cries of the World.   You are connected to that which is female in All that Is. Never again will you be truly alone or go unheard and very little is as healing as that.

So often I have heard women say “If only I had done this or that, the violence would not have happened.”  One woman who had been raped once asked me if God was mad at her for not fighting her rapist even when her life was threatened.  While some images of Goddess also include judgment, to me, the image of Goddess as ”mother” has more acceptance than judgment.  Within the Sacred Feminine, survivors are gathered to receive compassion and nurturance and not further violation through judgment by those who could not possibly understand what a woman has experienced.

So, the Sacred Feminine is where survivors of violence can find a space that offers them what they need for healing: a sense that they did not deserve the violence, being listened to, relationship, acceptance.

Of course, men also experience violence.  What about them?  Are they to suffer simply because they were born with y chromosomes?  I believe that the Sacred Feminine is just as essential for male survivors of violence as for women.  They, too, need to honor all aspects of themselves as sacred, to be heard, to find relationship to She Who Hears Their Cries, to be accepted and not judged.

The Sacred Feminine also offers a vision of a world where all beings are considered sacred and where violence, therefore, would not ever be acceptable.  While violence is considered a legitimate way to respond to a situation, it will always exist and proliferate.  As long as it is a strategy rather than an abomination, people will use it for their own ends.  Celebrating the Sacred Feminine offers a vision of a world without violence, where all beings, women and men, are sacred and therefore inviolable; where all beings, women and men, are connected through their essential humanness and generation from a Divinity that they also carry within; where all the cries of the world are heard; where judgment is less important than compassion.  When we carry this vision in our hearts and minds, we hold the seeds of a world without violence.

I have been fortunate to have few memories of real physical violence against me, but I know that few women or men can say that.  So, I invite those who have more experience than I do to comment and share your own thoughts and stories. This entry is just a beginning of a dialogue, just thoughts from my own experience.  Perhaps by telling each other our stories and talking about our thoughts about them, we can all find ways to banish the violence that threatens our lives and our very existence. 

Is There a “Women’s Language”?

Recently, the world lost the last speaker of a “women’s language” in China.  This language was one created and spoken exclusively by women so that they could discuss their lives with one another.  Is there also a “women’s language” here?

While, obviously, women and men both speak English, the ways in which women use language can express qualities that some associate with “being female,” and these can be very positive.  Some of these ways women speak have been derided as being passive and weak and women have, for years, been told to speak more like men, especially if they are in, or seeking, positions of power.  But, perhaps some of these ways can be looked at differently.  For example, women tend, the experts say, to make statements into questions.  This, they claim, makes it sound as if women aren’t sure of what they are stating.  Or, could it be that they are inviting dialogue, that they are creating relationships rather than simply declaiming facts?  That they are acknowledging that no one can be sure of just about anything and they want to know what others think and believe?  That they value the opinions of the person to whom they are speaking and not only their own?  

Women are also criticised for speaking softly.  But, does not nature so often speak powerfully in just this way in the opening of a rose bloom or the quiet gurgle of a river that has flowed for thousands of years or the cascade of a leaf onto the ground in the fall?  When we speak softly, we invite others to tell us how they truly feel, knowing that we will listen and not overshout them.  As long as we also know when to speak loudly and make our voices heard, speaking softly can bring gentleness into a world where almost nothing is needed more urgently.

When I edit women’s writing or listen to women speak, I will frequently find that women are more likely to express themselves in a way that brings ideas together rather than separating them.   Could this not be a way of communicating wholistically, showing the greater whole when one does not divide and classify?  How much more  do you taste a sundae when you read “vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce and nuts and whipped cream and a cheery on top” than “vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry”?   How much more do you feel the flow that is how life is actually expressed when you read “Today I witnessed the sunrise and counted the geese flying across the noontime sky and then lay in the field and sang to the stars” than “Today I watched the sunrise, counted geese, and sang to stars”?

Women’s writing, especially when they are communicating casually with one another, may have lots of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and other indicators of emotion.  Some may call this hysterical; I call it enthusiastic and expressive of feeling, giving a sense of the person behind the words and how she perceives what she is writing about.  If I had to choose a lunch companion with whom I knew I could discuss real issues in my real life and who would show compassion and understanding, I would much rather go with a “!” than a “.”.

The differences in the way women and men speak and write are important.  Language is important and shapes how we view the world.  If we want a world that has balance; that values women and the way they think, then we must also value those aspects of communication that present and foster those human qualities that we associate with women.

Goddess and Nothingness

Today it was announced that scientists have found a great big nothingness in the universe.  It isn’t a black hole or something that is too dark to be seen, it is literally “nothing there.”  While they are contemplating the scientific meaning, I am considering the creative and spiritual meaning. 

To me, the universe is the great artistic enterprise and whatever is in it, or not, has a message both for those who create and those who think about what Goddess, who is the original creator, is all about.  What does it mean to create a creation where a lot of it has nothing in it? 

To me it means that Goddess is looking for co-creators.  It isn’t that She expects us to make galaxies and stars and planets and park them in that space.  But, you have to create a place of nothingness for people to create in.  If every spot is filled, you do not have the emotional and intellectual space to allow what is within to come to being in the physical world.  She is saying “now it’s your turn.  I want you to create with me — whether it’s a birthday cake, or a painting, or a song, or a letter, or a quilt, or a bouquet of flowers, or anything else.  It is what we create together that is beauty.  So, here is a space that has the silence and receptivity of nothingness to hold you as you create.”

What will you make in Her space? 

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