The Girl in the Goddess
by Kassie Nic Sionnach
Today the trees show new shades of bright greens and the spring blossoms gently perfume the air. The world around us awakens with new life and new opportunities. When one stands quietly under the body of the deep night sky with the stars covering the heavens like a warm blanket -clear and gentle - we begin to expand our awareness: the vastness and beauty of the world on which we experience this mortal life.
For many today, this beauty is personified in the God and Goddesses of old. Yes the gods of lore and myth. Aphrodite and Thor roam the world of spirit with devout followers of the ancient paths. The illumination of Hecate and Diana shine through the eyes of so many. The world cries out for champions of the old spirit and many answer in their own unique ways.
These people are the pagans and they are born wild and free, with minds and hearts that embrace ancient goddesses and gods with great love. Their eyes see the trees as relatives and the rivers of the earth as their blood. These are the ancient practices revived from european stone circles and folk practices, the bones of the ancient priests and priestesses call to us to remember the song of the soul.
To them, the seasons are more than just the yearly change. To them, during the spring the mother Earth shows her wedding clothes off proudly and joins with the wild God in creating the new life all around us, and celebrating it with passionate love and song. Within the wheel of the year the great lovers play is mimicked in the seasons from conception, pregnancy, birth, life and death.
For many, the Divine Feminine is focus of worship. It is she who calls the Pagan souls to remember their birthright in the sacred and wild places of the world. She is director, the nurturer of all within and without, above and below.
I tend to see the Divine as an example, a personification that we all can relate with and understand. Her different incarnations around the cultures of world are facets of the same jewel. Her stories remind us not to be one-faced, but to have many skills, many outlooks calmly rooted in truth and tempered with wisdom. Am I saying that the gods aren’t real? I just honored and praised their influence in this world? What am I doing? This seemingly contradictory statement is explained by Gerald Gardner:
“The Gods are real, not as persons, but as vehicles of power. Briefly, it may be explained that the personification of a particular type of cosmic power in the form of a God or Goddess, carried out by believers and worshipers over many centuries, builds that God-form or Magical Image into a potent reality on the Inner Planes, and makes it a means by which that type of cosmic power may be contacted.”
To me, the Goddess Brighid brings strength, vulnerability and healing. Her Fire, forge and well stand to remind me of my own passions, creativity and abilities. To me, the Goddess Epona brings wisdom of alertness, the power of the herd and a maternal knowledge that continues to escape me. The great Mare reminds me to be sure of my footing, strong in my expression and accepting of life's cycles. To me, the Mór Rígan brings No-fear, sacred rage and sovereignty. Her strong sword, watchful ravens and definitive, defiant grace and knowledge reminds to never back down, to fight for the sacred- to battle-cry the injustices and never let my power be given to others.
Artistic interpretations of the Goddesses Brighid, Epona and the Mór Rígan
These women of myth, these goddesses of the soul often reside unknown in the books of history and there is a very strong movement around the world of women and men, eager to offer their time and talents to gain the spiritual light of our ancestors, our Pagan Ancestors.
Many adhere to Wicca, a very popular branch of Neo-paganism (“Neo” meaning new). This branch was (re)created by Gerald Gardner, a retired British civil servant. He is considered by many to be the “Father of Wicca”. Wicca started to become very popular in the 1950's and 60's but the ideas of a revived ancient spirituality started to be known to the public earlier. Wikipedia reports:
“In the 1920s and 30s, the Egyptologist Dr Margaret Murray published several books detailing her theories that those persecuted as witches during the Early Modern period in Europe were not, as the persecutors had claimed, followers of Satanism, but adherents of a surviving pre-Christian pagan religion - the Witch-Cult. Despite now being discredited by further historical research, her theories were widely accepted and supported at the time.”
I believe that the romantic revival period has a strong connection the quick growth of paganism/occultism. Many individuals participated and the growing popularity of gentlemen archeologists/historians and fraternal orders seemed to greatly influence many important individuals at the time. The ideas from Dr. Murray still permeate several pagan philosophies and continued to spur on the new found possibilities of a spirituality that didn't seem possible before. Again Wikipedia sources say:
“It was during the 1930s that the first evidence appears for the practice of a pagan Witchcraft religion (what would be recognizable now as Wicca) in England. It seems that several groups around the country, … set themselves up as continuing in the tradition of Murray's Witch-Cult, albeit with influences coming from disparate sources such as ceremonial magic, folk magic, Freemasonry, Theosophy, Romanticism, Druidry, classical mythology and Asian religions.”
We know now that Wicca was not and is not a continuation of a whole, old spiritual system but a conglomeration of many parts and markedly modern in its practices.Even so, there was and is a great need for a spiritual path that puts the power of life and personal sovereignty back into the hands of individuals.
I believe that this is the draw of Wicca. How can we not want to become an integral part of the cosmic system of existence? For all its interesting history, multiple theological positions too numerous to outline here, and controversial initiation processes-Wicca does hold an illuminating candle to the mystery of self and challenges old mechanisms for touching the divine, which should be the goal of any spiritual path.
Pictured above are(left) Gerald Gardner and (right) Doreen Valiente
Wicca is largely the first pagan religion most people encounter and it paved the path for many other mystery cults to become more open and in 1964 one of Gardner's initiates became a prolific interpreter of the core ideas and spirit of Wicca. She composed the first set of written guidelines, in the form a 'rede'. Without Doreen Valiente's writing I don't think Wicca would have quite the same color as it does today. Valiente put down the initial corner stone of Wiccan belief in the “Wiccan Rede”. It outlines the basics for nearly every ritual and practice simply.Below is a portion of it:
Bide within the Law you must, in perfect love and perfect trust. Live you must and let to live, fairly take and fairly give.For tread the circle thrice about to keep unwelcome spirits out. To bind the spell well every time, let the spell be said in rhyme. Light of eye and soft of touch, speak you little, listen much. Honor the old ones in deed and name, let love and light be our guides again...Heed the flower, bush, and tree by the Lady blessed you’ll be. Where the rippling waters go cast a stone, the truth you’ll know. When you have and hold a need, harken not to others greed. With a fool no season spend or be counted as his friend.Merry meet and merry part bright the cheeks and warm the heart. Mind the Three-fold Laws you should three times bad and three times good. When misfortune is now wear the star upon your brow. Be true in love this you must do unless your love is false to you. These Eight words the Rede fulfill: An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will!
Valiente's and Gardner's advice and influence are still very much felt and Ms. Valiente seems to be more the “Mother of Wicca” than Gardner is the “Father”. The story that follows is from Valiente's personal writings.
Shortly after she was initiated Gardner claimed the material was taken directly from the New Forest Coven and was the remnants of the Old Religion, which had been passed down through the ages. His astute student Ameth (the name given to Doreen) noticed that one passage read out by Gardner was taken from Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Mass. On this point, Doreen took Gardner to task and he replied that the Wicca rites he had received were fragmentary and he had filled them in the best he could. He gave Doreen his Book of Shadows saying “Can you do any better?” She did, replacing much of the Crowley and Masonic material with her own verse. She reconstructed the documents into a logical, practical and workable system, leaving us with what we know today as “Wicca”.
Wicca is without a doubt the fore runner for nearly all current neo-pagan practices and helped make it easier for those modern day practitioners to openly participate.
It wasn't easy for the pagans of the 1960's. Faced with the judgement of satanism and general misunderstanding of nature worship. History wasn't terribly kind to non-christian practitioners but the call of the sacred winds could not be ignored no matter how hard our spiritual ancestors tried. Powerful works of the spirit continued to pour from Valiente and her contemporaries. The practices of Wicca continued to be a very closed and closely guarded for some time, until about 1975-80 ( note to self: my guess). Then publishing houses and private magazines began to really embrace the need for distribution Pagan writing. Many traditionalist were encouraged to become more open with the publication of ‘Solitary practitioner’ guidebooks. Covens became more open and slowly tip-toed into the spotlight.
Once again, Doreen Valiente’s work brings us a fantastic example of Wiccan ritual workings in the “Charge of the Goddess” which I’ve included in part to be an example of ritual poetry and work. To showcase the beauty of how Wiccans invison the world and its soul
This is an invocation used in many instances in Modern Wicca or witchcraft. It can be used at the start of a ritual to facilitate sacred mindfulness of the energy one is about to bring into the space or in the closure of a ritual as a reminder of the divine words/intuition you’ve received. It can also be used as a mantra of sorts in daily meditation, to help attune the practitioner to the Goddess energy.
.Listen to the words of the Great Mother; she who of old was also called among men
Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine,Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Cybele, Arianrhod,
Isis, Dana, Bride and by many other names:
Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, then shall ye assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of me, who am Queen of all the witches.
Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess; she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, and whose body encircles the Universe. I who am the beauty of the green earth,
and the white Moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, and the desire of the heart of man, call unto thy soul. Arise, and come unto me. For I am the soul of nature, who gives life to the universe. From me all things proceed, and unto me all things must return;
and before my face, beloved of Gods and of men, let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite. Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth;
for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you.
Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus by John William Waterhouse
And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not
unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest thee findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.
We have thirsted after something substantial and powerful in the realms of natural spirituality for some time and now we’ve been able to find it within the many strains of Paganism there were hiding in the midst of folk practices and histor. Some examples are Wicca, Druidry, Witchcraft traditions and Re-constructionist Traditions such as Ásatrú (Norse), Kemetism (Egyptian), Celtic and Hellenistic(greek/roman) Reconstruction. These are not all the Pagan faiths; there are many other groups calling themselves Pagan who participate in the Pagan community today.
Within Wicca and through poetic, authentic ritual and personal exploration we can begin to find the divine within ourselves and that’s really the goal of any pagan path.