Embracing the Dark Goddess
During a dark time of my life, when I was trying to deal with the pain of past experiences, I had a vision of the dark goddess Lilith. Lilith was the wild haired and independent first wife of Adam who refused to be dominated by him. Because of this, she was cast out of the Garden of Eden and replaced by the more complacent Eve. In my vision, Lilith appeared frightening at first sight; claw-footed and winged with blazing red eyes. But I did not turn away from her. I knew that no vision comes without reason, so I drew closer to her. When she felt my fear fading she spoke to me. She told me that her beating wings were her freedom, her claws held her power and her red eyes blazed with the anger she felt towards those who had tried to suppress her. Behind the anger was pain. Behind the pain flowed the strength, understanding and the wisdom of our full feminine nature. When I stepped back from her and looked again she was beautiful. All of the fear I had placed on her had disappeared and I knew that she had much to teach me and the I had much to learn.
It is no wonder that the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess is the most feared and misunderstood. She represents the most frightening aspects of our humanity; destruction and death, fears we have yet to face and mysteries that we have yet to know. While most of us would love to dwell in the youth and light of the Maiden and Mother Goddesses, we cannot deny the Crone's presence. Though we may try to push her to the backs of our minds, the Crone makes herself known by emerging in the horrifying forms of our nightmares and deepest fears. But it is only because most of us dread to look her in the eyes that she emerges in such terrifying forms. If we could learn to truly face her and therefore our own dark natures, we would see that she holds within her the wisdom and strength which we need to heal ourselves emotionally and to become more spiritually complete.
While the pagan God is represented in two aspects (the young, wild and passionate God of the Hunt and the older, more reserved and self-sacrificing God) the Goddess is represented in three aspects. These aspects are the Maiden, Mother and Crone. The Maiden is the young Goddess, represented by the moon which is waxing towards fullness and the season of Spring. She is the carefree Goddess who is full of wonder and budding sexuality and who rules among the blossoming of life towards Summer.
As Summer and Fall approach, the Mother Goddess takes rule as the Goddess of the full moon and Summer season which moves towards Fall. The Mother Goddess is the life-giver and nurturer of the Earth and her people.
The waning and new moon are the symbols of the Crone or Dark Goddess. She is the older Goddess who is full of the wisdom and experience of life and death. The Fall and Winter are the seasons of her reign where the circle of life moves towards and through the stage of death. She rules the Underworld, which was a place for all spirits no matter what their earthly behavior had been. Monotheistic theology transformed what the concept of the Underworld was into the more commonly known Hell full of everlasting torments. Pagan belief still holds true to the initial concept of the Underworld as a place for all to rest and prepare for physical rebirth.
The cauldron is a symbol of the Crone Goddess and is representative of the womb from which all life springs and must return. The Crone takes in energy and matter so that it may be broken down and recreated in other forms. She holds within her the greatest mystery of all which is the mystery of death and of the afterlife. Visual representations of the Crone Goddesses are usually frightening in appearance. She is the Wicked Witch who is seen in abundance during Halloween, in fairy tales and in the movies. Because of her frightening appearance, she is often feared and ignored by pagans who see her as being evil and destructive.
When someone says the word "Witch," the Crone in her modern depiction is the image which will most likely appear in one's mind. But it must be understood how patriarchal society and monotheism has portrayed the general idea of the Witch in such a negative manner because in a society where the patriarchy rules, the Powerful Woman is seen as a threat. The Witch is strong, wise and self-sufficient if she so chooses to be. The Crone possesses all of these wonderful qualities, along with a lifetime of experiences and encounters to draw from. She is not someone to fear, but a helpful and insightful guide who should be called upon to aid us in confronting our fears and feelings of being powerless. For pagan men, study and encounters with the Crone can help in understanding the strength and emotion of women as well as getting in touch with men's own feminine natures.
The Crone has many names and is included in the pantheons of many cultures. She is Kali in India, Hekate in ancient Greece, Eresh-Kigal in Sumeria, Morgana in Britian and Lilith in the Near East. In this article, I will be discussing three of the Crone Goddesses; Kali, Hekate and Lilith, along with ways in which the Crone Goddess may be helpful for emotional healing and the gaining of wisdom.
Of all of the Crone Goddesses, the Hindu goddess Kali is the most hideous and fear-evoking. Kali is a black-skinned goddess who appears to be fierce and unapproachable. She wears a necklace of skulls around her neck and has four arms which she uses to flail her victims to death before devouring them. She is often sen with protruding fangs or tusks and a long tongue which she uses to lap up the blood of her victims. The skulls around her neck were used by her to form the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. Each skull was inscribed with one of the fifty letters of the alphabet which collectively were called the matrika (mothers) and words were formed with these symbols. When myths speak of words being formed, it is usually a metaphor for the act of creation.
Although Kali is frightening in appearance, she is a fierce warrior goddess who is a fighter of demons and yet is still able to dispense grace to her followers. She was first manifested from the brow of the mother goddess Parvati in order to slay the demon Daruka. The demon had gained divine power and was threatening the safety of the gods. It was told that a drop of blood which fell from the demon would produce millions more like him, so Kali could not slay him in a usual manner. Instead she held him up and drank every drop of blood from the demon, therefore saving the gods from destruction. But the taste of blood and the thrill of destruction made Kali insatiable. She was unable to be controlled by anyone, including the gods. The thrill and ecstacy of killing made Kali dance an uncontrollable dance of death on top of her victims. Kali was so uncontrollable that. The god Shiva was almost trampled under her dancing feet.
One of the most frightening depictions of the goddess Kali is a statue of her squatting over her consort Shiva and engaging in sex while eating his intestines. Kali is the goddess of destruction and regeneration, and it is therefore appropriate that she be depicted in this manner. While she is taking in Shiva's seed, she is destroying him simultaneously. Shiva is a god of life and Kali is a goddess of death. These two forces meet and join in this statue of Kali and Shiva, where Kali kills and prepares to create new life from Shiva's seed.
Because Kali is a manifested aspect of the Mother Goddess, she is representative of the Cosmic Power and of the totality of the universe. She is the destroyer who makes way for creation and is therefore seen as harmonizing all pairs of opposites. The four arms of Kali are often viewed as being symbolic of this harmony. Her upper left hand grips a bloody saber, her lower left hand holds a severed head by the hair. Her upper right hand is often seen making a "fear not" gesture while her lower right hand bestows boons to her devotees.
Those of the Hindu religion realize that in order to fully understand the Goddess, we must understand all aspects of her. They do not see Kali as being evil, but s being one of the manifestations of the Divine Mother, or Shatki. In fact, there is hardly a village in India which does not have a temple devoted to her. She is one of the most recognized and respected deities of the Hindu pantheon. The horrific looking Kali represents an important contribution to Vedic Hinduism by showing both the negative and positive aspects of the Mother Goddess. She symbolizes a meaningful abstract view of Hinduism, that creation and destruction arise from the same source.
As a Goddess who rules over both life and death, the Dark Goddess or Crone holds within her all aspects of the Triple Goddess. She is the mature and aged Maiden and Mother, who possesses the wisdom and experiences of youth, adulthood and old age and who stands as a bridge between death and rebirth. As a goddess who retains attributes of the three aspects of the Triple Goddess, Hekate is often seen in triple form. She rules not only over death and the underworld, but over birth and regeneration as well.
Hekate is one of the most ancient and primordial representations of the Goddess in Greek mythology. She was originally said to be the daughter of Nyx (Night) and therefore a Titan who predated the more commonly known Olympian gods. While most of the Titans were overthrown by the more civilized gods of the Olympian pantheon, Hekate was given a place in the Olympian realm and was very honored and respected by Zeus, the most powerful god in Greek mythology. She was so respected by him that he gave her dominion over the Heavens, Earth and the Underworld. He also allowed her the one power that only she retained; the ability to grant or withhold anything that humans asked of her. Mythology later changed Hekate's origin to that of the daughter of Zeus and Hera so that she could more easily fit into the structure of the Olympian myths. In Hesiod's Theogony, sh is said to be the daughter of Perseus and Asteria.
Because Hekate was given rule over all of the three realms; the heavens, Earth and the Underworld, she was originally a goddess who encapsulated all three aspects of the Goddess. However, as Olympian mythology evolved, her dominion was minimized to primarily that of the Underworld. She is said to have helped Demeter in her search for you daughter Persephone in the myth of Persephone's descent to the Underworld. In the myth, the young Persephone, who represents the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess in Greek mythology, is spotted by the Lord of the Underworld, Hades, while she is picking flowers in a field. He captures her and takes her to the Underworld to be his mate. While Persephone is in the Underworld, all of the plant life on Earth dies and cannot come back to life until she is returned to Earth. Her mother Demeter goes searching for her daughter with the help of Hekate, and a deal is made with Hades that he allow Persephone to return to Earth for half of the year (Spring) and spend the other half (Winter) as his mate in the Underworld. This myth was told to explain the changing of the seasons and the path of the circle of life. It is repeated in various forms in the mythologies of many cultures.
Because of the importance of the myth of Persephone, Hekate is most commonly recognized as the Goddess of the Underworld and of death and its mysteries. But as it is with all Crone goddesses, Hekate still possesses the attributes of all three aspects of the Goddess. She is the Queen of Night, who rules over magick, ritual and prophecy, but also over childbirth and regeneration. Many statues of Hekate depict her with three heads and six arms. The three heads are the three faces of the Goddess; Persephone (Maiden). Demeter (Mother), and Hekate (Crone). In the Triple Goddess form, she is known as Hekate Triformis, the Goddess who rules over the three phases of the moon.
All animals are sacred to Hekate, but the dog is her primary animal. Hekate is said to be followed by packs of howling dogs who can see the spirits of the dead who follow her. Although she is the goddess of the vast Underworld, she is seen primarily as the goddess who rules over those who have died unnatural deaths. Those who have died unnaturally, such as from suicides, executions and death at birth were often buried at crossroads, where three roads meet. This is one of the reasons that Hekate is said to be able to be summoned at the cross roads by those who would ask for her help with magick, childbirth or false claims against them. Many statues and masks of Hekate have been found at crossroads, where her presence is believed to be most powerful. Offerings of dog meat, blood and small cakes topped with candles have been found at the crossroads as gifts to Hekate. But the crossroads also have another significance. As a symbol of the place there paths of fate may be taken and where the paths of life and death meet, it is appropriate that Hekate could be summoned as asked for guidance at the crossroads.
Hekate is one of the deities known as The Goddess of the Witches. Her precedence over death and mysteries as well as her told as protectress and revenger of those wrongly accused and oppressed makes her a powerful goddess who can aid us in many different areas of need. Hekate is worshipped and respected because she has the power to destroy and create through rebirth as well as disclose the wisdom and mysteries that come with the knowledge of the afterlife.
As an initially primordial goddess who was the daughter of Titans, Hekate evolved to become the more "civilized" goddess of the Greek Olympian pantheon. As with many gods and goddesses, she changed in lineage and function in order to meet with the needs of changing cultures. However, the dark goddess Lilith is one who retained her primordial feminine self throughout the evolution of many cultures. Various manifestations of Lilith can be seen in Sumerian, Babylonian, Canaanite, Persian, Hebrew and Teutonic mythology. Persistent throughout these mythologies, Lilith is the primal seductress and she-demon of the night, a killer of mortal children and Mother of child demons.
There are several myths which account the origin of Lilith. The Hebrew Zohar states that God created the masculine sun and feminine moon initially equal in power and reign. However, because of their equality, the moon and sun were constantly arguing. Because the moon more frequently questioned the authority of the sun, god in judgement told the moon that she must diminish herself. This means that her radiance would be less than that of the sun and that she would take rule over the night. Her diminishment is seen in the waxing and waning of the moon's phases.
Lilith is created in this myth by the diminished moon, who is angry and resentful at having to distance herself from the sun because of God's judgement. The anger and rage which the mon feels from the judgment of God creates a powerful light from which Lilith is born. Therefore Lilith, in essence, is the power that is gained by the feminine when she is misunderstood, alienated and "diminished" by the masculine.
Another myth claims that Lilith was present at the time of God's first presence. It states that God and his feminine representation, the Shekina ruled above (in the Heavens) and that Sameal (the Devil) and his feminine representation, Lilith ruled below (on Earth.) These four manifestations of the one source of Power were like four shoots coming forth from the same seed.
While Hebrew myths are full of the tales of Lilith, she is very rarely seen in the Old Testament of the modern Bible, where the story of her origin comes before that of the creation of Eve as a mate for Adam. It is told in this myth that God created man from the dust of the earth and that woman was created in the same manner. Man, or Adam's wife was named Lilith, but the soil from which God created her was impure and of a lesser quality than the dust from which Adam was created. Again, Lilith argues with Adam as to why he should be the dominant of the pair. She refuses to lie under him during intercourse because she feels that this is an act of domination of her by Adam. Lilith wished to be an equal with Adam, having the same freedoms and ability to choose as he. Fearing that Adam would be able to overpower her, she flees from the Garden of Eden and utters the ineffable name of God. Lilith flies through the air and dwells in a cave by the shores of the Red Sea. There she mates with demons and brings forth millions of demon children, called Lilim.
The name Lilith is derived from the Semetic word for night. As an intense and fiery emanation of lunar and feminine energy, Lilith is a goddess of the night who rules over spirits of the dead. Her symbol is the owl, and she is depicted with wings and the owl's taloned claws. She is also often depicted as the serpent with a woman's head. She is said to have given Eve the forbidden fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.
When Adam and Eve fell from the grace of God, Adam vowed in penance to avoid the sexual pleasures of marriage for a hundred years. It is said that Lilith then sought her revenge. Each night she would come to Adam while he slept, mount him and have sexual intercourse with him. She would capture his sexual emissions and use them to produce more of her demon babies.
Lilith was a succubus; a she-demon who would visit men while they slept and have intercourse with them without their knowledge. A man who was visited by a succubus would feel pressure on his chest while he slept and have a feeling of "being drained" when he awoke from sleep. A succubus would not only have sex with the sleeping victim but would also drain them of their vital energy. Therefore, a succubus is a demon seductress and psychic vampire who is feared by men.
The connection with Lilith and mortal children is a strong one. She is said to visit infants while they slept and tickle them, causing them to giggle in their sleep. Lilith is also known to have murdered many infants or to cause the children's deaths during childbirth. Numerous amulets worn to repel Lilith form pregnant mothers have been discovered.
The myths of Lilith and her vengeful actions against men show her to be full of anger, rage and resentment at the idea that she could not be wild and free and still remain in the favor of God. She represents the darkest facets of femininity; the opposite os the maternal and nurturing instinct which seeks to be sexually indiscriminate, wild and self-sufficient. While the maternal instinct causes one to desire to bear and protect infants, the qualities which Lilith represents are evident when one wishes to abandon her children, motherly and wifely duties. Women possess both maternal and dark feminine qualities and it is natural that they have both, because they are in persistent struggle to be both independent and nurturing at once. Feelings associated with Lilith may come before and during menstruation when a woman may feel compelled to speak her mind, be isolated and ride the waves of her emotions.
Masculine and Feminine energies are both extremely powerful, but significantly different in their qualities. When viewed through the myths of masculine heroes, masculine energy is a force with strategy and purpose. It is represented by the hero who plans his actions and takes a logical and rational progression towards his goal. Feminine energy differs in that as seen through the myths of the Crone Goddesses, it is often intensely emotional and chaotic. Kali dances the wild Dance of Death without logical reason and Lilith mates and murders often indiscriminately. The Crone is instinctual in her actions, but this does not mean that they have a lesser purpose than those of the male gods. It is because she is instinctual and emotional that she is able to guide us through the mysteries which may not be fully understood and yet can still be known. The realm of dead, magic and the unknown can best be known by one who does not rationally think of them but instead allows them to be revealed without conscious thought with the aid of the Goddess.
When one is overwhelmed by emotions, fears and the desire to take actions which may not seem logical, the Crone Goddess can be called upon to guide and aid in understanding the darker desires one may have. A woman cannot fully understand herself and a man cannot fully understand Woman or his own feminine nature without understanding the Crone.
As a holder of the deepest mysteries, the Crone is an obvious choice for those wishing to understanding magick and ritual as well as the art of divination. The Crone knows all phases of the circle of life, death and rebirth and is therefore able to disclose that which we as mortals may not foresee and also aid in molding energy so that it may manifest into our desired goals. It would be appropriate to call the Crone the Goddess of the Witches for these reasons.
But the Crone is also helpful in understanding the death processes and in dealing with the grief over the loss of a loved one. Since she rules the Underworld, she has knowledge of these areas which we least understand. When we approach old-age, the Crone is there to comfort and guide us to a better acceptance of this stage of life. It is for all of these reasons that the Crone should not be feared or denied. She should be faced and recognized as one of the balancing forces of nature and as a means to balance the spiritual natures within ourselves.