Thursday, December 20, 2018

Honoring the Dark Goddess; Winter Solstice 2018

in researching a direction to point a Solstice ritual in, I ran across many deities (Demeter, Persephone, Dionysus, Saturn, Isis, Horus, Amaterasu, Tonantzin, Mithras, Quetzalcoatl, Lucina/Lucia, Sarasvati, Spider Woman, Deer Mother, the Hopi Kachinas), and festivals (Saturnalia, Poseidonia, Haloa, Brumalia, Yule, Hestia's Fires, Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Soyal) across all traditions (Persian, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, Yoruba, Pagan, Italian, Swedish, Native American, Eleusynian/Women's Mysteries, Jewish), nations (Europe, India, Asia, Africa, North & South America), that have a connection to the Winter Solstice, including this one crazy Viking Goddess of Winter called Skadi, who "in some of the more negative tales...was named Mornir, the troll woman, and was said to have castrated and then collected the penises of heroes," and "that offerings of men's blood were made to Skadi, symbolizing the blood of Loki that had fertilized her.  Priestesses of Skadi were said to have bathed in blood as preparation for their rituals."  pretty intense.  she, like other Dark Goddesses whose stories center around this time of year, is not evil - she is symbolic of the primordial womb, and reminds us that without darkness there is no light.  we celebrate these deities with home fires and ritual, though more privately, and in a more domestic sense, then one would in summertime.  While she is always associated with fertility and the continuation of life, in her aspect as the Dark Goddess, The Crone, She Who Cuts the Thread is calling back the Sun God, to whom she is giving birth.  he is the son/sun who will grow to re-fertilize the Earth in the spring, bringing light and warmth back into the world.

of course, since I've been on a journey with Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Dead, I feel it's her and her sister's story I want to engage with this year.  the short version - Inanna made a pass at Gilgamesh, he didn't dig it, she got mad and sent her sister's husband, Gugulana, after him. Gugulana is killed, and when Inanna shows up at the gates of Kur to pay her respects, she is made to remove an article of clothing or accessory at each of seven gates, appearing naked before Ereshkigal, and still makes a play for the throne, cheeky girl.  she is found guilty by the 7 Judges of the Underworld and sentenced to death.  Ereshkigal then kills her, and hangs her corpse from a hook to rot.  of course, Inanna left instructions for her servant to come to her aid after three days and three nights, which she did by having another god make two sexless beings to enter Ereshkigal's domain and empathize with her labor pains, to win both Inanna's corpse and the means to revive her.  so Inanna was set free, offering first her husband, and later his sister, to take her place in the underworld.

this story is obviously the basis for the later Demeter and Persephone mythos surrounding Hades that I think more people are familiar with, but it's the same, nonetheless - the longest night ending the dark half of the year, and the oncoming increase in the light, but acknowledged from a feminine perspective.  rather than a mother's sorrow over the loss of her daughter through the implied rape of a powerful man, we have two sisters symbolizing different aspects of what could be any woman's psyche.  the male archetype is hardly necessary in this myth - he is a later invention of the Son born to the Mother, who grows into the Lover, that becomes the Consort, when he can fertilize the fields, and they can be reborn.  the child belongs to the Mother - the Mother is the constant.  Our Great Mother.  enough son gods have been born, and as much honor as most of them deserve, I worship none above non-gendered Creative Source, and I give my solstice energy to its divine aspect as the Dark Goddess, Ereshkigal.

we may not find the Dark Mother comforting or appealing, but we must be willing to acknowledge the Goddess in all her aspects if we want to understand ourselves in the same way.  Most traditions honor any number of deities or beings associated with shadows and darkness, and calling upon them in ritual can act as a way to cleanse and balance our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy, help us face up to any fears, be real with ourselves, do the dirty work and get it done, offer strong protection, boost confidence, and invite joy.  in whatever form you worship Her, remember to show respect.  the following ritual is written specifically for Ereshkigal and Inanna, but feel free to change it up as you need.

I begin preparations for my rituals ahead of time, such as doing a general de-clutter around my house (especially if it's around a gift giving holiday), finishing up paperwork that's been on my desk too long, moving things in or out and making sure they have places to live, dusting, vacuuming, that sort of thing.  I'll prepare special foods or fast, plan a ritual bath, and take time to choose my outfit and accessories in a certain state of mind as it's all a part of the plan, and an important step in creating a mood and vibrational energy.

decorate your altar with symbols of the season, such as evergreen, pinecones, antlers, bells, suns, mother and child statuary.  mead or wine, water, pomegranates, apples, oranges, and walnuts are all appropriate for the altar, too, but I wouldn't eat or drink during the ritual, and would probably fast for a day or so before, though eat right after.  have a black candle for Ereshkigal, a white candle for Inanna, a blue candle for the lapis lazuli associated with them both, and a gold candle for the new-born sun (red, orange, or yellow work, too).  stones you might use include black tourmaline, jet, hematite, obsidian, bloodstone, garnet, ruby, emerald, and diamond.  pine, cedar, bayberry, cinnamon, frankincense, and myrrh are all good choices for incense.

fire is an essential part of any ritual, and since it's too cold out to do ritual work outdoors, even near a fire, I plan to light a small one in the woodstove I'm lucky enough to have in my living room, to burn throughout my day.  into the iron cauldron filled with water on top of the stove, when it's going (to put some moisture back into the air), I will toss some pine needles, fruit peels, and cinnamon sticks.  some of the stones I mentioned for the altar would do well to be charged out in the moonlight for several nights, then added to the ritual bath - or at least on/near the tub - before being placed on the altar.

for the ritual bath:

  • fill up a bath with water at the temperature you prefer (I like it hot), and add dried or fresh herbs (sage, chamomile, basil, peppermint, cinnamon, sandalwood, lavender, rosemary), a few drops of essential oil, or both.  add any stones charged in the moonlight.
  • light candles and incense around the tub, turn out the lights, close the door/curtain, play soft music.  intentionally create and set this space.
  • sink slowly into the water, and feel yourself relaxing and releasing, letting go everyday thoughts and tensions, and making way for clear, cleansed, and purified focus and intention (a quiet, hummed, 'Om' often helps, bonus if there's an echo) .
  • honor your shadow self, and your connection to 'darker' emotions, thoughts, feelings, and actions.  connect them to the deepest roots in our psyches, our oldest instincts.  examine your fears and feelings of discomfort.  sit with them awhile.
  • offer these feelings to the Mother and to the Moon.  hold them up for Her to see.  let Her give you the strength, courage, and endurance to rebirth them into something new.
  • after the tub has drained completely, discard any herbs outside in the moonlight.
remember to dress and accessorize intentionally and accordingly!

for the ritual:

light any candles not for use in the ritual
light incense 
cast a circle
call the quarters

light the white candle and say, 

The land is dead, the soil is cold.
The fertile womb of the Earth is barren.
As Inanna descended to Kur,
so the Earth descended into Night.
Relinquishing a piece of Herself
at each of the Seven Gates
to Her sister's realm,
She stood naked, 
was found guilty,
struck dead.
Our Lady,
hung 3 days and 3 nights
on a hook
to rot.

light the black candle from the white candle
extinguish the white candle and say:

In her anger and sorrow, 
Ereshkigal locked the gates
to her realm.
Stripped Her sister
of her crown,
jewels, and garments,
and killed Her.
The crops died,
all life withered,
and the soil went dormant.
In Her grief, 
She cries.
For all the love lost,
for lives ended too soon,
for Justice.
For all the dead souls 
held inside Her,
and the pain 
of rebirthing 
the world anew.

Half the year
we dance 
with the growing light;
half the year
we dance 
with the growing night.
We honor
and celebrate
the deepest shadows
in the darkness.

now is the time to enter into personal meditation.

take some time to reflect on the darker aspects of your personal human experience.  think of deities and other mythological beings who evoke the darkness, and other frightening aspects of our nature.  do you see some of that nature in yourself?  is there some pain you are hiding, or longing to set free?  are there old wounds, anger, or frustration that you still need to move past?  She knows our ancestor's pain and She's here to destroy us, the shameless harlot, to fashion our raw heartbreak and rage into something new and beautiful.  in this context, Ereshkigal is the catalyst for Inner Knowing.  She isn't mindlessly evil, She is the Refiner's Fire, the Ordeal one must complete in order to reach the next stage of their development.  Her boundaries are clearly defined and firmly set, and Her wrath is incurred through their violation.  Her rules are not to be disrespected.  now is the time to acknowledge that the worst kinds of work we are called to do in whatever capacity is good and valid, to be thankful for it's place on our path to the light, and to offer our appreciation for those who do that work regularly.

when you are ready to end the ritual, chant:

Isis Astarte Diana Hecate Demeter Kali Inanna
Isis Astarte Diana Hecate Demeter Kali Inanna
Ereshkigal, Lilith, bringers of destruction and darkness,
we embrace you.
For our rage, we have pleasure,
for our pain we have peace.
For making it through the night, 
we are given the day, 
for without death, there is no life.
Dark Mothers - we Thank You
as we look towards the return 
of the light.

relight the white candle from the black candle
light the gold candle from the black candle

close the quarters
open the circle

this year, we have the added delight of the moon being full on the (day after) Solstice, so definitely find a way to work the Moon into your ritual, which shouldn't be hard to do, since it's pretty woman-centered to begin with.  it's got a bunch of cool traditional names like the Full Cold Moon, Long Nights Moon, and Big Spirit Moon, and as if all that plus the Ursid meteor showers weren't enough celestial goodness for you, there's ALSO a bunch of conjunctions with the moon and Aldeberan, Jupiter and Mercury, Venus and Saturn...check it all out at:  I also read an interesting bit about how Venus  - associated with Inanna - appears to...well, disappear from one horizon for three days, then show up on the other horizon, then switch back.  I didn't chase it down because I was headed elsewhere, but it sounded pretty interesting, and is worth going back for!  Venus is also connected to the number 7, and the 7-circuit labyrinth (and my Lady Ariadne), which reminds me of the 7 gates, and the 7 things Inanna has to give up, and the 7 chakras...there's just so much to explore.

I was once again disappointed (though not surprised anymore) at how Eurocentric all the articles I referenced were.  obviously, it has much to do with the content, but I've long since felt that I should know more about African traditions than that in our modern age, about half of the continent is Muslim, and the other half is Christian, with a handful of other Abrahamic traditions mixed in.  there is a huge, colorful, varied historical background particular to each different group of people inhabiting that vast land, and I want everyone to know more about all of it.  I also want to engage more with the Hindu Vedas and Upanishads to get a better understanding than my basic knowledge of some of their main deities, and the names of their holy books.

so enjoy your personal holiday celebrations, but remember to let your spirit draw inward as well, and rest.  do some serious hibernating to honor your inner sacred stillness, and renew your strength.  tend to your flame so you can emerge into the new solar year renewed and refreshed, whole, and in harmony.  I'm so far down in my solstice descent already I've been having headaches from forgetting to eat while preparing for my ritual work.  then I got my period, and my car broke down, and I didn't have any groceries in the house!  so I baked bread with what I had in the pantry, and slathered it with butter, which has become one of my funerary rights - when someone I care about dies, my body craves bread and butter.  there just something comforting about something so simple, I guess.  and it's like I'm mourning my own hanging on that hook during these darkest days, but we're almost through them for the season, and on into the light.

Blessed Be!

great link to various myths! -

other various links:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Hannukah 2018

lame store-bought excuse for suvganiot, given how delicious my homemade version is...

it's the last night of Hannukah, and it's been a rough week, so I'm glad it's over, but I'm also feeling like I need to take stock of how my holiday panned out, now that I have a minute to sit back and think about it.  so here's a quick rundown of how it went:

1st night - it's a week ago, already, so I barely remember what happened, but I DO know my teen was away with his sports team until around 3pm, after which he had a 3 hour band rehearsal.  I lit the electric menorah in the window before we left for rehearsal so we'd enjoy seeing it's glow in the night when we returned, but there was no holiday food, or presents (other than the gift of being together, safe, sheltered, with electricity, food, water, our good health, and our cat, which is plenty good enough for both of us, but I'm sure the cat thinks she could have done better).

2nd night - the teen came home early from after-school sports practice, and discovered a package in the mailbox from his dad (no note or anything) with a cool pair of wireless earbuds in it.  we got out our 'proper' menorahs to light actual candles (we still light the electric one, but it doesn't feel right to me unless we light the real ones), and made delicious latkes for dinner.

3rd night - I completed an important overdue task before indulging in some much needed self-care (good meal/hot shower/clean clothes), and went to the laundromat while the teen was at music lessons & band rehearsal, where I ran into and chatted with a newer friend, before visiting the home of a much older friend, until it was time to pick up the teen and go home.  I think we forgot to light the electric menorah before we went's pretty disappointing when you pull up in the driveway and those pretty lights aren't there to cheer you.

4th night - really rough...the teen had a spot of trouble at school, and as a result, was not allowed to compete with his team in their event after school that day, which broke his poor dear heart, but he learned that his less-intelligent actions can have serious repercussions, no matter how remorseful you feel in retrospect.  he needed to crawl into my lap (all 130+ pounds of him) and have a good cry about it, too.  we lit candles, but they burned down in the kitchen while we cuddled on the couch watching a movie and eating crap food.

5th night - we splurged and went out for a meal ($30 total, tip included).  another rehearsal night.  we may have lit candles when we got home, and I'm pretty sure we remembered to light the electric ones before we left.

6th night - the teen skipped sports practice to come straight home from school because he had to report to the venue for his gig by 4pm.  and there were gifts for him!  socks and comfy pajamas from some dear friends!  he did great at his performance, but I felt barred from entering the venue to watch him so...I didn't feel particularly celebratory, or supported by my 'community'.  it was an electric menorah night, and a rough one, at that.

7th night - I was gifted with the concern of several of the other parents at the music school who were wondering what had happened between the school and me to cause such bad blood between us so suddenly after 5 years, and their insistence that I offer those administrators (and the idiots who sowed the seeds of discontent with them) a big 'fuck you' by standing proudly in the middle of the room to watch my son perform.  while it was nice to feel seen, heard, and supported, I was too fragile to do it due to being blown off two nights in a row by the teen's friend who said they'd be there, but wasn't.  the teens are too young to drive, so it's not really the kid's fault for not making it, and who knows what their mom was struggling with to tell me she would bring her kid to the show two nights in a row, and not only Not show up, but Not call to make any kind of excuse...well, that's pretty insulting to me, and disrespectful of my time, and makes me have to reconsider how close I want to be with her in the future, as this isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened between us.  knowing one's worth - or being reminded to respect it - is an important gift in and of itself.  the teen performed another great show, and his gift was his mama's pride.  seeing our almost fully lit menorah in the window as we arrived home was a comforting sight.

8th night - we took the day off.  we literally laid around in our pajamas and did nothing other than watch some television shows we borrowed from the library, and munch on handfuls of cereal straight out of the box.  since we had no plans of any kind (for a reason - I wanted us both to have a break after our busy week), I had hoped that This would be the day that I would somehow magically have the energy and fortitude to make 500 latkes and 1000 suvganiot to celebrate Hannukah the way I know how - with lots of yummy fried goodness, and song (I'm still without the resources to provide material gifts, but yes, that's generally a part of it, too).  we didn't.  we did have to run out to the grocery store, and while we were there, I picked up the last, pathetic, getting stale, jelly donut in the case to serve as the symbol for our crumpled-wax-bag of a Hannukah this year.  we lit the electric menorah, ate our sad, commercial-grocery-store-bakery-bland, overly sugary donut (pictured at the top of the post), made a mockery of singing a few verses of various Hannukah songs ridiculously loudly, high-fived, and called it a holiday.

in stating my disappointment with myself at not having made the time to either decorate, or cook traditional foods, the teen wisely reminded me that it doesn't have to be Hannukah to make latkes or suvganiot, and I replied, "no, I only make them once a year, and that once is on Hannukah, and Hannukah's over now, so...I'm not doing it."  I knew in advance it was going to be a hard holiday for us due to my lack of financial wealth, a particularly bad case of 'winter blues/seasonal affective disorder', and the work/school/extra-curricular schedule, but there were still times that I could have made cooking a priority instead of plopping down in my chair to check facebook, or watch part of a movie.  there was definitely some gratuitous lounging around this week as I was having a hard time processing all of the emotional baggage into manageable packages so I could function at a base level, if not much more.  mainstream society doesn't often leave much room for cultural norms that fail to coincide with the status quo, and I'm not surrounded by a large and loving family/community that makes it easier to be festive by all being involved in preparing for the same party.  in fact, the one party I Was preparing for (my son's gig) left me out in the cold, and feeling the very opposite of joyful and connected.

still, all in all...the teen and I, in our tiny little two-person family, made some effort at keeping the traditions alive, which is better than not having done it at all.  the teen got some gifts that he needed (and loves), and even a gift that he wanted (and loves).  he sang his heart out, played the best solo of his life two nights in a row, and gracefully accepted some hard lessons.  I got reminded how important it is to be with people who cherish me rather than tolerate me, and that even though it generally feels like I'm out here all alone all the time, there are still folks who are willing to come out and support me every now and again.  the teen and I joked and laughed together, the way we always do, because even though our lives can be hard, we do our best to have fun and enjoy it anyway.  and to be fair, the one batch of latkes I did make were delicious (even if I did forget the sour cream and applesauce).  now it's time for me to retreat into my best version of hibernation, do some serious inner journeying for the Solstice, avoid the madness of late December consumerism disguised as religious posturing, and look towards celebrating my 50th birthday soon after the new year.  I hope it has something wonderful in store for us, we sure could use some 'wonderful' around here.

happy winter holiday season, whatever you celebrate!