In the Southern Hemisphere we have just passed the Earth holy-day of Winter Solstice, which was in late June; and are moving into Early Spring which may be marked and celebrated in early August, as the cross-quarter Moment traditionally named Imbolc.
Winter Solstice is the Seasonal Moment of the year when Earth’s tilt leans that hemisphere furthest away from the Sun – when the dark part of the day is at its longest in that place. The stories of Old tell of the Great Mother giving birth to the Divine Child on this night, as henceforth Sun’s light and warmth begin to return to that place, and the ongoing creativity of Earth seems assured. This Earth holy-day was adapted by Christianity as the time to celebrate the birth of its Divine Child: but “the Divine Child” of more ancient Earth-based religious practice seems to have been understood as renewed Being in Earth herself, and thus as the promise of never-ending renewal – apparent eternal Creativity itself. And just so, may it be re-storied in our times, with our renewed understandings of the unfolding creative Cosmos, largely gained by scientific endeavour set free from church controlled dogmas.
At the sacred site of Newgrange in Ireland – known by its indigenous name as “Bru na Boinne” – where the megalithic mound is dated at 3200 B.C.E., the Winter Solstice dawn lights up a Triple Spiral motif that is engraved on the inner chamber wall. One of the layers of meaning of this Triple Spiral is the representation of the Triple Goddess as She was known by the ancients in that place[i], and also it is thought that it represents the heart of the sacred heritage of that region: a heritage of ritual celebration of eternal creation that the seasonal wheel of the year expresses, and that this site records the timing of[ii].
Winter Solstice is the time for the lighting of candles, for embracing the miracle of being, for choosing a joyful response to the awesome fact of existence, for celebrating the gift of birth. Birthing is not often an easy process – neither for the birthgiver nor for the birthed one: it is a shamanic act requiring strength of bodymind, attention and focus of the mother, and courage to be of the new young one. Birthgiving is the original place of “heroics” – therefore better termed as “heraics”[iii] … many cultures of the world have never forgotten that the birthing mother is immersed in a cosmic act of creativity. But patriarchal adaptations of the story of this Seasonal Moment usually miss the Creative Act of birthgiving completely – pre-occupied as they often are with the “virgin” nature of the Mother being interpreted as an “intact hymen”, and the focus being the Child as “saviour”: even the Mother frequently gazes at the Child in Christian icons, while in more ancient images Her eyes are direct and expressive of Her integrity as Creator.
Winter Solstice and Early Spring rituals may be a contemplation of the Creativity of the Cosmos – Cosmogenesis … how it All unfolds. When told from within a Mother-mind– a mind that connects the biological creativity of the female body to Cosmic Creativity, to our Navel lineage, to the Nativity of every being, then we are all the Holy Ones. And we all – female and male – may know the skill and care required for birthing the New, whether that is physical, psychological, or however it may be categorized. In Earth-based religious practice, the ubiquitous icon of Mother and Child – Creator and Created – expresses something essential about the Universe itself … the motherhood we are all born within: it is not actually a “brotherhood”, as essential connection is commonly expressed. The icon of Mother and Child may express the essential Communion experience that this Cosmos is, the innate and holy Care that it takes, and the reciprocal nature of it: that is, how one is always Creator and Created at the same time … we cannot touch without being touched. We may realize that Cosmogenesis – the entire Unfolding of the Cosmos – is essentially relational: our experience tells us this is so.
The Early Spring/Imbolc celebration is traditionally a time of dedication to the nurturance of the New Young Being. Once again, this is no wimpy task: it is for the brave and courageous, whether one is committing to the new being in another or in one’s self. The Great Goddess Brigid of the Celtic peoples is traditionally invoked for such a task. She has been understood for millennia as the One Who tends the Flame of Being: a Brigid-ine commitment is one that is unwavering in its devotion to the central well being and truth of each unique particular self. The stories of Old speak of Brigid in three primary capacities – that may need spelling out in our times: She is imagined as Blacksmith, Physician and Poet.
Blacksmith is one who takes an unshapely lump of raw metal, melts it, then takes the fiery hot form and shapes it. This is no stereotypical “feminine” act as that has been understood in popular culture of recent centuries, but it was apparently understood as a female and womanly action in times when Brigid was Deity: the Goddess of Old was/is not bound by patriarchal dualisms. She is spiritual warrior, shaman – this is Her eternal Virgin quality, and which is never separate from the Mother quality or the Old One quality, and there was no need to characterize such power as “masculine” or dissociate it from “nursery” activity. It was apparently recognized that blacksmithing may be metaphor for what is actually taking place in the nursery, and also for any initiative, including the forging of a new era.
As Physician, Brigid could be conceived of as one who understands the “physic” of healing, the natural science of matter … how a body relates within itself and within its context, functions harmoniously and thus may heal/whole. In this role, Brigid is scientist and healer. Her physics is biologically connected: in Her Universe, physics and biology are not separate. Her Universe is an alive sentient Body.
As Poet of Old, Brigid is one who speaks the metaphors, the stories of cultural knowledge, the sacred language of Creativity – one who spells what may be so. It is a power of spirit: the voice enabled by air, resonant with the winged ones – the birds – whose perspective transcends boundaries. The ancients knew Poetry as a sacred and powerful task – that with our words, we bear a world and do create what is so. Brigid’s “motherhood statements” are statements of the Mother/Creator, who is never separate from Her whole self – the Young One and the Old One – a relational Dynamic represented in the Triple Spiral motif.
The coming into Being that Winter Solstice and Early Spring celebrates, is an awesome thing. It takes courage and daring. It has taken courage and daring – always. In these times of radical change, it is perhaps particularly so. Our times require the melting down of so much that no longer works, that will not carry us through. These times require the re-shaping and speaking of new realities – an aboriginal magic of new connections, with what is already present within us, if we can but plumb it, open to it deep within and bring it forth. These are great seasonal moments to get with the plot of Creativity, to align ourselves with our Native Wisdom … the Wisdom that in fact brings us all into being. We may re-spond to the gift of being by receiving it graciously – and thus become re-sponsible. Though we may feel inadequate, we are not – and we need to begin.
Sometimes it has been a useful exercise to re-write prayers or songs learned perhaps too well as a child or later, to re-speak them and imbue them with new understandings. It is a way of spelling one’s self, of changing one’s mind – to articulate with each word and phrase what one truly believes to be so. And besides, many of the prayers and praises that are found in patriarchal religions of recent human history are often founded upon the expressions of some earlier Earth-based Goddess religion that is now unmentioned and buried. So any re-writing and listening to one’s own interpretations of the pattern of the prayer may end up being closer to its original sense, as well as speaking a new moment.
I offer the following, addressing the Universe as Mother:
Who is with us,
Holy is our Being.
Thy Kin-dom is present.
Thy Desire is felt throughout the Cosmos.
We graciously receive your infinite daily abundance.
May we forgive each other our lack of skill and insensitivity.
May we understand our inner guidance,
and perceive each other’s needs.
For Thine is the Kin-dom, the Power and the Story,
in never-ending renewal.
© Glenys Livingstone 2012
[i] Goddess women have intuited this for decades and wrote of it journals of women’s spirituality in the 1970’s and 80’s (e.g. Ursula Kavanagh “Newgrange/Chicago” in WOMANSPIRIT December 1979, issue 22, p.7). More recently Goddess scholar Michael Dames specifically mentions the names of the Triple Goddess of that place in connection to the Triple Spiral in Ireland: A Sacred Journey, Element Books, 2000, p.192.
[ii] See Martin Brennan, The Stones of Time: Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland. Rochester Vermont, Inner Traditions International, 1994.
[iii] See Charlene Spretnak, “Mythic Heras* as Models of Strength and Wisdom” in The Politics of Women’s Spirituality NY: Doubleday 1982, p.87: Spretnak points out that in pre-Olympian times, Hera was Amazon Queen of the Land … not the “wife of Zeus”. Heracles was Her hero, because he did Her bidding, thus the term “hero” is derivative of “hera”.
[iv] Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. iUniverse 2005, p.259, with acknowledgement of Karen Davis’ term “Kin-dom”, from “A Peaceable Kin-dom and the Ethics of Eating”, EarthLight, Issue 51 Vol 14 No.2., Autumn 2004. p.54.
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