All posts by amclaughlin2014

Member of Community of Grey Sisters of Pembroke; Masters Degree in Religious Communication, Loyola University, Chicago; Author: Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (2013) Planted in the Sky (2006) both published by Borealis Press, Ottawa Canada www.borealispress.com Retreat facilitator: The Wooing of the Soul (2013) The Sophia Salons, beginning in February 2016, offer journeys to one's own inner wisdom for small groups of women. For information: amclaughlin@sympatico.ca

Sophia at the Dawn of a New Year

Dawn above Glastonbury Tor. photo by Jasmine Grace Zahara

A most likely place to hide a promise. But here it lies. Within the writings of a little-known first century Roman, Lucius Apuleius, whose character, a hapless magician, turns himself into an ass. He cries to the Goddess for help. Suddenly, shining like the sun, she is there. She rescues him, refers to her many names, then makes this promise: I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing. Soon…shall the sun of your salvation rise…. Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness. 

That darkness would envelop the sacred feminine presence, forgetting her many names, abandoning her temples, sending her into two millennia of hiddenness…

Well, almost, but not quite.

The light of the feminine holy, like the dawn that follows the darkest night, would find a way to break through. The Shekinah of the Jewish Kabbalah, the Sophia of the Book of Wisdom and the Gnostic Gospels, Mary with her wonderful names drawn from the beauty of the planet: Mystical Rose, Star of the Sea, Our Lady of the Pines, of the Lakes, of the Mountains, Madonna of the Rocks… would find her way into hearts ready to receive her light.

We have been born into the time of the great recovery of ancient wisdom from story, myth, legend, from sacred writings, poetry, and ritual, from the peoples of earth-honouring religions: American and Australian Aboriginals; the Ancient Egyptians; the Celts.

Within these rediscovered traditions, we find the presence of a Sacred Mother, a womb of life who calls us to honour the earth and all her living systems, to honour ourselves, to honour our bodies which are part of the earth. She calls us to accept the wisdom of the circle of life: its rhythms of dawn to day to dark to day; of spring to summer to autumn to winter to spring; of birth to life to death to rebirth.  She calls us by our true name as she invites into the adventure of life in a time when each of us is needed to live fully.

She calls us into joy, through allurement to the hope, to the stunning beauty of a promise born in light. She reminds us that the universe herself is drawn, not through duty, despair, grim determination, but through allurement: the earth is allured to the sun, caught up into a dance of spinning wonder; the moon is allured to earth, circling her in ecstasy; the tides of the seas are allured to the moon, as are the cycles of women’s bodies. Each planet in our galaxy, like each of the galaxies of the universe, of the multiverse, twirls in a passionate dance of awe and delight.

Sophia calls us to awaken on this day which is being born from the womb of this present darkness. Her time is now.

From a Ritual for Epiphany, created by Kathleen Glennon in her book Heartbeat of the Seasons, (Columba Press, Dublin, 2005) I offer this chant/and prayer:

Chant: The wisdom you desire will be given unto you. (Eccl. 6:30)

Dance of Wisdom

Wisdom of the Universe, come to me/us/all

raise hands over your head and bring down to your head

Wisdom of the Earth, come to me/us/all

bring hand upwards from the earth and bring to heart

Wisdom of the Ancestors, come to me/us/all

bow reverently

For the following verse, extend arms upwards,

palms facing upwards and sway to the music

Wisdom of the maiden, come to me/us/all. 

Wisdom of the mother, come to me/us/all. 

Wisdom of the crone, come to me/us/all.

Final Blessing

May Sophia, the Wisdom of the Ages, the Wisdom of the Universe,

continue to journey with us.

May she meet us at our gates in the morning.

May she lie down with us at night.

May all who seek her find her.

May she bring the spirit of discernment into the lives of all.

May her company bring joy and happiness to all.  Amen. 

Sophia for Christmas

What does it profit me if Gabriel hails the Virgin

Unless he brings to me the very selfsame tidings.

(Angelus Silesius)

“The infancy narratives…need to be approached afresh….as an archetypal statement of the God of prodigious birthing…. we are called to become co-birthers with our birthing God of the ongoing evolutionary re-creation of God’s world in justice, love, compassion and liberation. Incarnation becomes an empowering and liberating dynamic, and Christians, instead of fleeing the world, are now challenged to embrace it in its full embodied existence.” (Diarmuid O’Murchu)

Jean Houston writes: Christmas is about yearning for something to come into the world. It’s the story of the birth of love, of hope, of a Holy Child in huge danger of being destroyed, bringing a new order of possibility into the world, needing to be protected and nurtured so it may grow into a free and luminous, numinous being.  

“Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is),because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because… because… because….

“What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit?  It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.” (Jean Houston in Godseed p. 38)

The Poet Christine Lore Weber imagines our calling in these words:

Some of you I will hollow out.

I will make you a cave.

I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.

You will be a bowl.

You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain…

I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.

I will do this for the space that you will be.

I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.

People will find their way through you.

A bowl.

People will eat from you

And their hunger will not weaken them to death.

A cup to catch the sacred rain…

Light will flow in your hollowing.

You will be filled with light.

Your bones will shine.

The round open centre of you will be radiant.

I will call you Brilliant One.

I will call you Daughter Who is Wide.

What is the newness I long for in my life?

What newness is needed throughout our planet?

Where within me/us is the Holy Child awaiting birth?

How do we prepare our hearts for this new dawning of possibility?

How may we nurture that luminous numinous being as our lives unfold?

        Reflective Process based on Jean Houston’s Godseed :

Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Imagine that you are dreaming. In your dreams you see light, and into this light comes a Being of Light, a Bearer of Good News. This angel says to you, “O Woman,  fear not to take unto yourself the spiritual partnership of the One who is Holy, for that which is conceived in you is of the Holy, and this Holy seed, if nurtured, shall be born of you and shall help you to go beyond your fears, your limits, your inability to trust in your own goodness, so that you may bring forth the Light, the Godseed, into the world.” 

Now see what the angel sees – the fulfillment and the unfolding of this Child of Promise within you. In the next few minutes, see and feel and know the possibilities, indeed the future of this Child in you,this Godseed, should you allow it to be nurtured and to grow and to be born into the world.

Watch your Godseed self now. Let it grow, love it, observe its unfolding, Its future.

Let it come into the world. Begin now.

Acknowledge that Godseed and its future. Know its future as Mary must have known the future. Stretch and sit up, ready for whatever the next part of your life will bring you.

Receive these words of Rainer Maria Rilke as a Blessing for new life:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

Go to the limits of your longing.

Embody Me.

Flare up like flame

And make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose Me.

Nearby is the country they call life

You will know it by its seriousness

Give me your hand.

Sophia at Solstice

The external darkness of winter is mirrored by internal darkness this year. The ongoing crisis of a planet-wide pandemic that shifts its shape to re-appear in new forms adds suffering to our fragile planet. In a bittersweet awakening, a collection of birdsongs from fifty-three endangered species in Australia has shot to top of that country’s music charts. The depletion of uncounted life-forms, the pollution of lakes, rivers, oceans, soil, and even the air we breathe can no longer be ignored. The warnings of scientists about a coming time of disaster have shifted to confirmation that the dark future is already here. We see the effects of the destruction of our home planet with our own eyes and hearts.

In a time of great darkness, we may look for light; we may seek it in denial of the reality, in distractions, in whatever comfort we may find to help us “make it through the night”… and yet there is another way: the way of the Cailleach, the way of Wisdom: we may choose to enter the darkness, to explore it for its hidden gifts, for what it has to teach us. We may learn to know the darkness.

Jan Richardson offers a Blessing for this:

Bless those

Who know the darkness

and do not fear it,

Who carry the light

And are not consumed,

Who prepare the way

 and will not abandon it,

Who bless with grace

That does not leave us.

Ancient people came to “know the darkness” with such accuracy that they could predict the time of the longer nights, the earlier dawns of winter solstice when the return of light became visible.

Winter 2020 Solstice Sunrise, Newgrange, Ireland

In our time, we have come to understand the darkness has come from an excessive love of light, from a worship of bright intellect over the nurturing of nature, the extremes of using the planet’s resources without the needed balance of wisdom….

The 20th century Jungian writer Helen Luke explains it clearly in her book The Way of Woman:

…the instinct of the feminine is precisely to use nothing, but simply to give and to receive. This is the nature of the earth – to receive the seed and to nourish the roots– to foster growth in the dark so that it may reach up to the light.

How are women to recover their reverence for and their joy in this great archetype of which the symbols have always been the earth, the moon, the dark, and the ocean, mother of us all? For thousands of years the necessity of freeing consciousness from the grip of the destructive inertia and from the devouring quality, which are the negative side of the life-giving mother, rightly gave to the emerging spirit of activity and exploration an enormous predominance; but the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun have produced in our time an estrangement even in women themselves from the patient nurturing and enduring qualities of the earth, from the reflected beauty of the silver light of the moon in the darkness, from the unknown in the deep sea of the unconscious and from the springs of the water of life. The way back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree is likewise the way on and up to the spirit of air and fire in the vaults of heaven.” (pp. 15-16)

It is time for humanity to shift from “the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun”. Women and men who are not afraid to explore their own feminine side, are called now urgently to do this work, essential for our time, to befriend once more the qualities of earth, moon, sea and springs, to make our way “back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree.”

Here is a Blessing of Hope from Jan Richardson for Winter Solstice :

Blessing for Longest Night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com

__._,_.___

Becoming Wild Inside

On the Greek island of Paros, we come upon a magnificent Church, built by Constantine to fufill a promise made by his mother Helena. 

The Church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani (Our Lady of a Hundred Doors) is the oldest remaining Byzantine church in Greece

In 326, St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, sailed for the Holy Land to find the True Cross. Stopping on Paros, she had a vision of success and vowed to build a church there. She founded it but died before it was built. Her son built the church in 328 as a wooden-roof basilica.

Two centuries later, Justinian the Great, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565, had the church splendidly rebuilt with a dome. The emperor appointed Isidorus, one of the two architects of Constantinople’s famed Hagia Sophia, to design it.

Inside we come upon two large, luminous icons of Mary. Affixed to the lower frame of the icons we see images made of gold and silver in shapes depicting eyes, legs, arms….. Our guide, Calliope, tells us that these are offerings given in thanksgiving for a healing. Kapi reminds us that we saw something similar in the Museum: plaster representations of an arm or a leg that was healed, offered in thanksgiving to the healer god Asclepius.

 The dogmas change; the traditions go on, our guide Kapi comments, revealing yet another way in which Greek spirituality is part of a continuum from ancient days. Where once the Greeks sought healing from Asclepius, they now turn to Mary in their need.

On this beautiful island in the Aegean, the mystery of Mary of Nazareth confronts us. A woman wrapped in silence, the one who waits in the shadow for the great birthing, who “ponders in her heart” the wonders that follow upon the coming of her child.

 As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, the One whose coming brings Light at the darkest time of the year, Mary is a companion, a guide, a friend who walks with us in the darkness.

 Mary has left us no written word. The little we know of her from the Gospels is sketchy at best, her appearances brief, her words cryptic. Yet her influence on Christian spirituality is staggering in its power.

Who is this woman, and how has she risen from a quiet life in the outposts of the Roman Empire to become, as the Church proclaims her, “Queen of Heaven and Earth”?

 When we first meet Mary in the Gospels, she is being offered an invitation.

Here is how the Irish poet John O’Donohue imagines the scene:

Cast from afar before the stones were born

And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,

The words have waited for the hunger in her

To become the silence where they could form.

The day’s last light frames her by the window,

A young woman with distance in her gaze,

She could never imagine the surprise

That is hovering over her life now.

The sentence awakens like a raven,

Fluttering and dark, opening her heart

To nest the voice that first whispered the earth

From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.

She offers to mother the shadow’s child;

Her untouched life becoming wild inside.

Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points? What are the words waiting for the hunger in us “to become the silence where they could form”? This might be a question to ask in our daily contemplative time… when our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?

 From Jean Houston, we have learned that there’s no time left for us to refuse any call that smacks of greatness. The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of newness. Here are Jean’s words, reflecting upon the call of Mary, the call of each of us:

 Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is), because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because… because… because….

 What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit? It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.

(Jean Houston in Godseed p. 38)

Eccentric. Inconvenient. Perhaps. But nonetheless it is our call. Mary’s story gives us the courage to say “yes” without knowing where that “yes” may lead. It is enough to know that certainly our own life will become, like Mary’s, “wild inside”.

Celebrating the Birth of Love

In The Quest of Rose (Jean Houston, Anneloes Smitsman, 2021) Rose’s grandmother, the wise woman Verdandi tells Rose: “your view of life as a story often determines how life will treat you.” (Chapter Three p.30) Yet how much are our own stories shaped by the dominant myths of our culture? Shouldn’t we first change those larger stories? Verdandi advises Rose that “to change the dominant myths, we need to guide people into the realms of their own psyches first, so they’re able to access their power to change their own essential story.” (p. 31)

Pondering the way our stories are influenced, intertwined, with the stories we learned as young children, I began to imagine how the new stories being told to children would shape their lives in a new way. One young mother I know is teaching her little daughter about the Universe and its divine power, about how it watches over us, how Christmas is a special time of year for the Universe.

The Jesuit Palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin taught us that everything that exists has a spiritual core. He wrote in The Divine Milieu: “This is what I have learnt from my contact with the earth—the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe, the divine radiating from the depth of matter a-flame.” Our experience of Love in this twenty-first century is rooted in the birth of our Universe nearly fourteen billion years ago. And this is our heritage, the gift we are being called now to share more widely:  

Here is a Story of the Universe based on Brian Swimme’s book: The Universe is a Green Dragon.

It began with fire. It was a silent fire, which was just as well, for there was no one, no thing to hear it. This fire filled the Universe. This fire was the Universe, for within it every particle that would eventually form life in the Universe already existed. It was being forged by heat and pressure.

From this fire there exploded a burning light that began to expand outwards. This light would burn for half a million years. Even now, in our time, almost fourteen billion years later, the light from the edge of that first fireball can still be seen with powerful telescopes. The light is still expanding, carrying with it all that was birthed from the fire: black holes and stars, like our sun, galaxies and planets, including our beloved Mother Earth, and all the life she carries above, on and within her: willow trees and walruses, dolphins and diamonds, as well as the latecomers, the humans like you and me. That light from the fireball has been there from the beginning; yet,  it’s taken billions of years for life to develop the capacity to see it, to interact with its radiation.

Now, in our lifetime, we know that everything that exists shares the same beginning in that silent explosion of light, and everything we see around us, on earth, in the sky, in the sea, in the depths of the earth contains elements forged in that ancient furnace. We are birthed from the stars. What is more, our future will be a continuation of the story we have only begun to know.

Do you see how this alters earlier understandings of the place of the human on the planet and within the universe?  There is nothing we might boast of that was not here millions, even billions of years before humans existed. We are the inheritors of the development of life, with capacities that were shaped and perfected before the first human stood upright to gaze across a vista with her eyes, to listen to the song of a bird with his ears, to tenderly hold her offspring to her breast, to paint with red ochre on a cave wall shapes of the animals his eyes saw…

It’s not difficult for us to relate to earlier forms of human life that echo our own life. But what of other forms of existence? Do these also have a “self” to organize what is needed for life? If all that we are was already there in the original fireball, the capacity to be guided internally towards life must have been there too.

Look at a tree: it’s made of the materials of the same supernova as we are, materials that came through space and settled on our planet even as the materials of our bodies did, commingling. Now it exists in the form of a tree, with its own hopes for all it needs: moisture from melting snow and rain, light and warmth from the sun, wind to carry its seeds into the future. It knows what it needs, and if it gets these things, it lives and thrives. If it cannot get what it needs, it dies. Looking at a tree, our task as humans is to become aware of its mystery, its presence, its intelligence, to send it blessings of thriving.

So too with the Earth, which humans once saw as only a clump of raw materials, good for growing food for our tables and trees to build houses, for pasturing livestock, but more valuable if we could dig deep to extract oil, coal and gas, gold, silver, uranium and nickel, even if we had to blow the tops off mountains or poison the ground waters to get at these buried treasures. 

Only now in our lifetime have we come to know that the Earth is a self, that she has the capacity to self-organize, to control and maintain a level of oxygen that was enough to allow for the development of animal life without being so much that there was a  risk of destroying the planet by fire.

We have come to know that our dreams are not ours alone. Our dreams of the Earth’s health and thriving are the Earth’s dreams coming awake in us.  We are entering the time of the great re-genesis. Our life activities, all that we dream and do from now on must be guided by the intercommunion of all species. Our destiny and our calling is to allow the Earth to re-organize herself in a new way, a way not possible in the four billion years of her existence.

We are being invited into a co-creative partnership with Earth, our Mother.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of the loving Christ two thousand years ago, may we also honour the Birth of Love in the Universe, fourteen billion years ago.

The Wisdom in the Tale of Vasalisa

Guided by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves, we journey deeper into the tale of Vasalisa the Wise:

“Intuition is the treasure of a woman’s psyche.  It is like a… crystal through which one can see with uncanny interior vision.  It is like a wise old woman who is with you always, who tells you exactly what the matter is, tells you exactly whether you need to go left or right. It is a form of The One Who Knows, the Wild Woman.” (74)

 “(A)ll aspects of the story belong to a single psyche undergoing an initiatory process.  Initiation is enacted by completing certain tasks.  In this tale there are nine tasks for the psyche to complete.  They focus on learning the ways of the Wild Old Mother.” (80-1)

The First Task — Allowing the Too-Good Mother to Die

“Accepting that the ever-watchful, ever-hovering, protective psychic mother is not adequate as a central guide for one’s future instinctual life (the too-good mother dies).

Taking on the task of being on one’s own, developing one’s own consciousness about danger, intrigue, politic. Becoming alert by oneself, for oneself. Letting die what must die.

“As the too-good mother dies, the new woman is born.” (81)

The Second Task — Exposing the Cruel Shadow

“Learning even more mindfully to let go of the overly positive mother.  Finding that being good, being sweet, being nice will not cause life to sing. (Vasalisa becomes a slave, but it does not help.)  Experiencing directly one’s own shadow nature, particularly the exclusionary, jealous, and exploitative aspects of self (the stepmother and stepsisters ).  Owning these.  Making the best relationship one can with the worst parts of oneself. Letting the pressure build between who one is taught to be and who one really is.

“Ultimately working toward letting the old self die and the new intuitive self be born.” (85)

The Third Task — Navigating in the Dark

“Consenting to enter into the locus of deep initiation (entering the forest), and beginning to experience the new and dangerous-feeling numen of being in one’s intuitive power. Learning to develop sensitivity as regards direction to the mysterious unconscious and relying solely on one’s inner senses.  Learning the way back home to the Wild Mother (heeding the doll’s directions). Learning to feed intuition ( feeding the doll).  Letting the frail, know-nothing maiden die even more. Shifting power to the doll, i.e., intuition.” (88 )

The Fourth Task — Facing the Wild Hag

“Being able to stand the face of the fearsome Wild Goddess without wavering (meeting up with the Baba Yaga). Familiarizing oneself with the arcane, the odd, the “otherness” of the wild (residing at Baba Yaga’s house for a while). Taking some of her values into our lives, thereby becoming ourselves a little odd (eating her food). Learning to face great power – in others, and subsequently one’s own power. Letting the frail and too-sweet  child die back even further.” (91)

The Fifth Task — Serving the Non-Rational

“Staying with the Hag Goddess; acclimating to the great wildish powers of the feminine psyche.  Coming to recognize her (your) power and the powers of inner purification; unsoiling, sorting, nourishing, building energy and ideas (washing the Baba Yaga’s clothes, cooking for her, cleaning her house, and sorting out the elements).” (94)

The Sixth Task — Separating This from That

“Learning fine discrimination, separating one thing from the other with finest discernment, learning to make fine distinctions in judgment (sorting the mildewed corn from the good corn, and sorting the poppy seeds from a pile of dirt). Observing the power of the unconscious and how it works even when the ego is not aware (the pairs of hands which appear in the air).

“More learning about life (corn) and death (poppy seeds).” (99)

The Seventh Task — Asking the Mysteries

“Questioning and trying to learn more about the Life/Death/Life nature and how it functions

 (Vasalisa asks about the horsemen).  Learning the truth about being able to understand all the elements of the wild nature (to know too much can make one old too soon).” (101)    

The Eighth Task — Standing on All Fours

“Taking on immense power to see and affect others (receiving the skull).  Looking at one’s life situations in this new light (finding the way back to the old step- family). (104)

The Ninth Task — Recasting the Shadow

“Using one’s acute vision (fiery eyes) to recognize and react to the negative shadow of one’s own psyche and/or negative aspects of persons or events in the outer world. Recasting the negative shadows in one’s psyche with hag-fire (the wicked stepfamily which formerly tortured Vasalisa is turned to cinders).” (107)

“Baba Yaga is the same as Mother Nyx, the mother of the world, another Life/Death/Life Goddess. She makes, fashions, breathes life into, she is there to receive the soul when the breath has run out. Following her footprints, we endeavor to learn to let be born what must be born, whether all the right people are there or not. Nature does not ask permission. Blossom and birth whenever you feel like it. As adults we need little permission but rather more engendering, much more encouraging of the wild cycles….

“By the light of the fiery skull, we know.”  (114)

REFLECTION :

As you ponder these nine tasks, where do you find yourself in your own story? 

What tasks have you completed?  Which still await you? 

How do you see your own intuition and power strengthening? 

What new life do you long to engender, encourage, in your own story?

The BabaYaga: Part Two

Vasalisa at the home of the Baba Yaga

The Baba Yaga has agreed to give Vasalisa the burning coal she requests. Now she states her terms. Vasalisa must serve her for three days, washing her clothes preparing her meals, performing whatever other chores are assigned. If Vasalisa does all to the Baba Yaga’s complete satisfaction, she will receive what she asks for. If not, she will DIE!

And so Vasalisa enters the strange house, and sets to work at once. On that and on the next evening, before she sets out on her haunts, the Baba Yaga assigns one further task so utterly impossible that Vasalisa is in despair. But as soon as the witch has gone, her doll says, “Rest now. I’ll help you with that task.” And in the morning when Vasalisa awakens, the impossible task is already done: sorting poppy seeds from dirt or sorting mildewed corn from good corn. On each day, Vasalisa devotes the hours before the Baba Yaga’s return to preparing her supper, cleaning her house, washing her clothes.

When the Baba Yaga returns, Vasalisa watches in wonder as a surprising thing happens. The crone summons hands from the air, hands that crush the poppy seeds into juice, hands that shuck the corn into neat piles, hands that then disappear.

The Baba Yaga appears both pleased and displeased by Vasalisa’s accomplishments. She softens enough to say, “Is there anything more you wish to ask me?” before adding crossly, “but take care what you ask, for too much knowledge makes one old before one’s time.”

Vasalisa asks about the three horsemen who passed her in the woods.

“Ah,” says the Baba Yaga, “you met my night, my dawn, my sunrise.

“What else do you ask?”

Vasalisa thinks of the mysterious hands that appear in the air to squeeze poppy seeds, to shuck corn. But the doll in her pocket whispers, “No”.

“There is nothing more,” Vasalisa answers, “for as you say yourself old mother, too much knowledge make one old before one’s time.”

At this the Baba Yaga almost smiles. “You are wise for your years. From whence comes this wisdom?”

“From the blessing my kind mother gave me before she died.” Vasalisa answers.

Hearing these words, the Baba Yaga flies into a rage. She roars, “Speak not to me of blessings or kind mothers. Get out! Get out! Get out!”

At the sound of her voice, her door flies open. The Baba Yaga shoves Vasalisa out into the night. Before the child can recover herself, the Baba Yaga is behind her. In her gnarled hands she holds a skull with a burning coal inside it. Seizing a bone from her fence, the Baba Yaga pushes the skull onto the bone and thrusts it into Vasalisa’s hands, shouting, “Here! Take your flame and go!”

The girl opens her mouth to say thank you, but her doll whispers, “No. Do as she says. Just go!”

And so she goes, returning home through the dark wood, guided by the doll in her pocket. The grinning skull frightens her so that she wants to throw it away. The doll in her pocket, sensing this, whispers, “No. Trust it. It will help you.”

As Vasalisa at last emerges from the woods, her father’s house stands in utter darkness. Her stepmother and sisters come running out to meet her.

 “We could not light the fire while you were gone,” the stepmother says.

 Vasalisa notices that the skull is looking intently at her stepmother and stepsisters, with a gaze full of knowing. Unaware of danger, the stepmother seizes the burning skull from her hands and runs indoors to light the fire.

When she wakens in the morning, Vasalisa comes downstairs to begin her day’s chores. At first, she can find no sign of her cruel stepmother and sisters. On the floor beside the stove she finds three burnt cinders.

A kind village woman takes Vasalisa into her home to await her father’s return from a distant land. While she stays with this woman, Vasalisa spins flax into thread. Her doll creates a loom so that she might weave the fine threads into linen.

Seeing the quality of the linen that Vasalisa is making, the old woman tells her that only the Tsar is worthy to wear clothes made from it. And so the old woman arranges for Vasalisa to make a dozen shirts for him.

So impressed is the Tsar with the quality of the shirts that he asks to see the seamstress.

At his first sight of Vasalisa, the Tsar falls in love with her and asks her to marry him.

The wedding is celebrated, and when Vasalisa’s father returns, he’s invited to live with his daughter and the Tsar. The old woman comes to live with them, too.  And Vasalisa keeps her doll in her pocket until the end of her days..

What is the meaning of the doll that is her dying mother’s gift to Vasalisa?

Vasalisa the Wise

Seeking the ancient footprints of the Sacred Feminine Presence, we take the path of myth and fairy tale.  Here we find beautiful maidens, loving mothers. Research by historians into the distant past has garnered glimpses of a time when the great goddess was honoured as both maiden and mother. In her guise as Mother, she holds all of life in her embrace even as the Earth does. She was known as the ground of being, the giver and taker of life. In her form as Maiden, she was seen as the power of regeneration, the rebirth experienced each spring.

Old stories are replete with maidens and mothers, but there is a third aspect of feminine power that we glimpse only briefly. She is the Wise One, the aged one-who-knows, the Cailleach. In Egypt, I encountered this fierce all-knowing one as Sekhmet. For the ancient Celts, this threefold aspect of the Sacred Feminine was honoured as the Trinity of Maiden, Mother, Crone. Patriarchal societies and religions could tame the maiden, subjugate her through submission to a father, then to a husband as his wife and mother of his children. But there is no subjugating of a crone. She claims her fierce power, her independence, her magic. When the castle doors fly open, kings and popes alike tremble.

Athena Goddess of Wisdom by Susan Seddon Boulet

Here is an old Russian tale of the fierce crone, the Baba Yaga.

Vasalisa, a young maiden on the cusp of womanhood, is the most beautiful girl in the Russian village where she lived. On her feet are shiny red boots, ready to walk with her into a life of happiness. But Vasalisa is not happy. Her beloved mother has died, her father has remarried, and her stepmother and stepsisters, all smiles in his presence, treat the young Vasalisa with calculated cruelty in his absence. Envying her beauty, maddened by her sweet disposition, they try to rob her of both by giving her all the hardest tasks in the household: chopping firewood, lighting the stove, cleaning the floors, as well as all the cooking. Her hands are becoming raw, chapped and calloused, her complexion reddened by the stove’s flames, but Vasalisa still does not lose a drop of her sweetness. “Yes, of course”, “as you wish”, “right away”, she responds to their every order.

This sweetness is like poison to her stepmother. One day when Vasalisa is outdoors chopping wood, the stepmother speaks to her two daughters in a voice that is low and husky with rage: “Enough. I can stand no more of her. Let us contrive to make the fire go out. I shall send the girl into the deep woods to fetch a live coal from the fierce Baba Yaga. That witch will make short work of her. Her bones will be gnawed by the wild dogs before morning.”

So it is that as dusk deepens, Vasalisa is making her way into the heart of the forest in search of the Baba Yaga. If you look at her white face, her large frightened eyes, your heart will go out to her, but look more closely. There is courage in the child. Watch her reach into the pocket of her apron, nod slowly and smile….

Vasalisa has a secret, a gift from her dying mother, a tiny doll she carries always in her pocket. “Hide her. Feed her when she is hungry,” her mother had said. “And when you are uncertain or afraid, ask her to guide you.” 

At each turning of the forest path, at each fork and crossroad, Vasalisa touches the doll, and the doll guides her surely through the darkness.

A horseman dressed all in black rides by on a stallion dark as a starless night. Suddenly Phrygian night envelops the forest. Vasalisa walks on. Hours pass and another horseman, this one all in white upon a milky horse, appears and it is dawn. A third horseman, all in scarlet riding upon a roan red horse, gallops past her. The sun rises, red as flame.

In the full light of morning, Vasalisa comes upon a strange house that dances on chicken legs, its doors and windows securely latched with bones. “Is this the house we seek?” Vasalisa asks the doll. “Yes” says the doll, even as the Baba Yaga herself swoops out of the sky, home from her night’s revels. She hovers above the child in her cauldron, a gnarled and fiercesome creature more ugly than any nightmare could create.

“Who are you? What do you want?” the Baba Yaga roars.

Trembling, but standing firm, the child answers, “I come from the house beyond the woods. Our fire has gone out, and my stepmother sent me to you to ask for a live coal.”

The Baba Yaga snarls, “Careless people! Exactly what I would expect from you! And why should I give you a coal?”

Vasalisa answers as the doll in her pocket prompts her, “Because I ask.”

Something softens for an instant in the Baba Yaga. “Well that is the right answer.”

(to be continued)

Sophia and Samhain

This week I’m posting a guest blog from my friend Kate Fitzpatrick who lives in County Kerry, Ireland. To learn more about Kate’s “Mythic Voice” blog and her music go to : http://www.patreon.com/mythicvoice

“In crossing the threshold to Samhain on 31st October we have the ancient energies of the land coming to meet us and take us into the Cave again. This is a cave of transformation, rebirth, gestation. It is the death of the year and the beginnings of a new one taking form within. It is the Cave of the Feminine – the womb, and a time to surrender. 

“This year, I believe, we are being asked to become lighter, clearer and more in resonance with a higher light of the Divine Feminine. All patterns of Patriarchal control and domination of this earth are being demolished.

Artwork: Marie Osos

“And what I believe – is that the Gaia, our Earth Mother – is spitting out abusive patterns one by one. With Earthquakes, volcanoes, breakdowns in many systems, this is helped by the power of the other planets and the beings of light from many places in our Universe that are collectively committed to this evolutionary change. Gaia – within us and around us – is raising her vibration of Light. 

“Centuries of abuse are being purged from the Earth. In the mythic sense, I see it not as an issue of ‘Climate Change’ nor a need for ‘Climate Control’ but rather that Mother Earth is taking her power to become free of this horrendous abuse to her and all her children. She is settling this score once and for all. Humanity will no longer be able to use her riches to dominate and control the beauty of the earth, nor the creatures and kingdoms that live within it. As all patterns of abuse are being purged, we keep in step with her as we release our own issues and regrets. We can, therefore, go with her to a higher, healed place.

“What I imagine also happening – is that the Divine Feminine Light of Source is coming in more and more to meet the Earth Mother and she is rising up to meet this new light. When they meet – perhaps in 2022 as many would say- it will be a union of Earth and Heaven. By our steep climbing and resilience to let much go from our lives – we too we can be a part of this.

“We are a part of that flow and right now – every day – every step we take – we are helping to release the energies needed for that Union. A Healed Feminine will exist in one whole body of light. New Earth Risen. A healed Masculine energy rising from the ashes of old systems – is a phoenix reborn and ready to meet this liberated Divine Mother.

“I have journeyed for more than thirty years in the search of Feminine Healed light and her integration with a healed and whole Masculine that is held in divine union. On and on and on, harrowing and endless it seemed as we progressed through the years. Never, ever giving up that journey to the Light.

“In the past few months I have the ever-increasing sense that we have now arrived at what we were looking for. I cannot put this into words. I cannot even understand it myself. But in every cell of my body and in the flow of each precious day, I know this: In the clear-seeing of  patterns being shown to me, and as I tackle every challenge thrown in my path by the forces that would resist the upgrade of Earth to a place of light and truth and healing, I know, in the whole of my heart, that this world is changing forever and that what we have steadfastly held as our life’s vision for New Earth, is about to manifest. Blessed Be.”

Wisdom Sophia as Mother

 

So I prayed, and understanding

was given me:

I called upon God, and Wisdom came to me.

I preferred Her to scepters and thrones;

Vast wealth was nothing in

Comparison to Her.

Before Her, gold is like sand;

Silver like clay.

I loved Her above health and beauty,

And chose Her eternal radiance

Over the most scintillating light.

All good things came to me with Her,

And I took joy in them because of Her,

But I did not then know She was

Their Mother.

(Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-12)

Who is this wondrous being who so captivated the heart of Solomon? He writes of a living, an abiding presence, one capable of giving him “all good things”; yet the  joy he found in everything is because of Her. His relationship with this feminine being of “eternal radiance” is one of love. Moreover this love unfolds, evolves as do our best human friendships. For he tells us that there was a time when he knew less of Her, and a time when he understood more: he came to know this Sacred Presence as “Mother” of all the good that She brought to him.

This is astounding. If a clay jar holding these words had been unearthed only in this century, we would be amazed. Yet, the very familiarity of these Biblical passages may have blinded us to their full power. Perhaps we saw them as “metaphor” for a way of knowing, a quality termed “wisdom” not unlike other qualities such as “courage” or “kindness” or “honesty”…

Who can fall in love with a metaphor? Solomon fell in love with a Someone.

One of the more surprising insights in Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book on the Divine Feminine is that “The Song of Songs”, attributed to King Solomon, is considered part of the Wisdom writings in the Hebrew Bible. Shapiro writes that the love affair described in exquisitely sensual images is between the “sage” (woman or man) and Wisdom/Sophia/Chochma.

You have captured my heart,

My sister, my bride,

You have captured my heart

With a single glance,

With one coil of Your necklace.

How sweet is Your love,

More intoxicating than new wine!

Your perfume more fragrant than the finest spice!

(Song of Songs 4:9-10)

In the midst of this global pandemic, in the urgent need to provide her people with safety, with guidelines, with assistance in this time of unprecedented danger and challenge, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, was inspired to write a poem which she addressed to “Mother Earth”. Here are a few excerpts:

Rest now, e Papatūānuku (Mother Earth)
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are
We’ll not move upon you
For awhile

We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home
Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.

Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgment
Time to cry
Time to think
About others
Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers
Gentle palms

Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong
For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans
and the sky full of rain

Prime Minister Ardern‘s poem expresses the leap in understanding that countless others across the globe are coming to: our home planet, our earth, is a living sentient being, of whose essence we are made, from whose body we are nurtured, without whom we would all perish.This is not a new understanding: ancient peoples, and those indigenous cultures who still live in this awareness, intuitively understood “to whom we belong.” They would have spoken in the same way to mother earth. They understood that finally it is “just you and the wind and the forests and the oceans and the sky full of rain”…

And they knew even more: They knew that within this sacred home dwells the divine energy/light/spark/love—whatever name they had for it—the Holy Heart of the Universe.

This is the wisdom we need to find once more in and for our time. If the Corona Virus opens us to that quest, it will be a gift of light within the darkness it has brought.