Imbolc: Emerging Into Light
The Celtic festival of Imbolc celebrates the return of Spring from underground and the soul to renewed life.
BY: Mara Freeman
Once again, it is time to welcome in the early Spring and the festival of Bride, or Brigid, the Goddess who brings Light and Life to the land. The ancient Celts called it Imbolc, the time when the new lambs were born, the Earth is beginning to thaw, and new, impossibly fragile-looking green shoots start to emerge through the bare soil.
This miraculous emergence into light is one of the major themes of the holiday. An old Scottish rhyme tells us that this is the time when Bride emerges from the Earth, just as in the Greek myth, enacted at this time of year as part of the Eleusinian mysteries, the goddess Persephone came out of the underworld and Spring returned once more.
These myths are not only about the return of Spring to the land, but also the return of the Soul–traditionally depicted as feminine–from its dwelling in the obscurity of the subconscious mind. In the western world, we tend to get so caught up in material pursuits that the soul is forgotten most of the time – even though we never feel truly at home to ourselves without that connection. At the dawn of the modern age, a poet wrote that “affairs are now soul size.” His words are even more true today: with the escalating crises in the world from wars to global warming, now is the time to fully awaken into what each of us has been called to do during our time on Earth, to emerge into a life that catches fire from the soul-flame within each of us.
When humanity listens to the voice of the soul, rather than being seduced by the astral glamour of consumer-driven culture, then the Soul of the World, the Anima Mundi, will also emerge, like Bride or Persephone, from deep within the Earth where it has been hidden, and its long estrangement from the human race will be over. This is the true meaning behind the Quest for the Holy Grail, a symbol of the Divine Feminine that was withdrawn from the world when our insatiable desire for dominance turned it into the Wasteland. For the Grail to be found, for the Wasteland to be restored to the Courts of Joy, we must learn to become co-creators in partnership with all the Living Intelligences of our planet: human, animal, faery or Devic.
The Festival of Bride is also known as Candlemas, for it is marked by the lighting of candles to brighten the long February nights. This also gives us an opportunity to rekindle our own inner flame upon the shrine of the soul. So light your own candle this season, and as you do so, see this tiny flame as a spark of the One Light that shines through all the worlds. Then sense your own inner flame within your heart and know that you, too, are a spark of the Divine. Breathe in the peace of this knowledge, and listen to your soul telling you how to fully awaken into Light in the emerging year.
Calendar of the Moon
Altar: Upon a golden cloth place a single red candle, a crown, two crossed swords, and the figure of a knight on horseback.
Offerings: Aid someone in a leadership position.
Daily Meal: Roasted meat.
Invocation to the Spirit of Arthur
To be a King
Is to live a life of compromise
And to do it uncompromisingly.
To be a King is to be the center of every struggle
Yet be not on the front line of the battle.
To be a King is to balance warring forces
Whose very nature is to be opposed,
To rein in the lions and then to release them.
To be a King is to be first among equals
And to never forget that they are equals
Yet never let them forget that you are first.
To be a King is always to be an example
And never forget that you are watched.
To be a King is to be gracious
Even to those who do not deserve it,
And to struggle always between justice and mercy.
To be a King to the land and the people
In the sacred manner,
Is to lead by inspiration
Rather than by force.
To be a King is to be an avatar of the Sun
And to let it burn through you,
Even if you are consumed in the process.
So let us remember those who were consumed
Even to ash of body and soul
And let their lives sift through our fingers
And live again in inspiration.
Song: “Cold Iron”
(End with readings of Arthur and other such who embody the qualities of honorable nobility.)
Good Morning, my lovely friends! Lovely? Huh, don’t ask! You know it is going to be one of those mornings when you find yourself drinking milk and eat cookies for breakfast. On the main page, were the pics alternate, you have to have a huge image to fit there. Well I have been playing in Bing for probably about an hour to find such a pic. I am scared to death to think there are two more slots for featured articles.
But seriously, I put on a new article about Hecate. In the process, I got to posting the “Charge to the Dark Goddess” and some poetry. So I got to thinking why not start the day off with the “Charge To The Goddess?” That is one piece of work, I can never get enough of reading.
Have a very blessed day, my precious friends!
The Charge Of The Goddess
Whenever ye have need of any thing, 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 She, who is Queen of all witches. There shall ye assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet have not won its deepest secrets; to these will She teach things that are yet unknown. And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in Her praise. For Hers is the ecstasy of the spirit, and Hers also is joy on earth; for Her law is love unto all beings. Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever towards it; let naught stop you or turn you aside. For Hers is the secret door which opens upon the land of youth and Hers is the cup of wine of life, and the cauldron of Cerridwen, which is the Holy Grail of immortality. She is the gracious goddess, who gives the gift of joy unto the heart of man. Upon earth, She gave the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and beyond death, She gives peace and freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before. Nor does She demand sacrifice, for behold, She is the mother of all living, and Her love is poured out upon the earth.
She who is 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, calls unto thy soul. Arise, and come unto Her. For She is the soul of nature, who gives life to the universe, from Her all things proceed, and unto Her all things must return; and before Her face, beloved of gods and men, let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite. Let Her worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you. And thou who thinkest to seek Her, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold, She has been with thee from the beginning; and She is that which is attained at the end of desire.
The Charge Of The Goddess
Listen to the words of the Great Mother: She, Who was of old also called among mortals, Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Dana, Arionrhod, Isis, 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.
There shall ye assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery yet have not won
its deepest secrets; to these will I teach things that are as yet unknown. And
ye shall be free from slavery, and as a token that ye be really free, ye shall
be naked in your rites and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love all
in My praise. For Mine is the ecstasy of the Spirit and Mine also is joy upon
Earth, for My love is law unto all beings.
Keep pure your Highest Ideals; strive ever toward them, let naught stop you nor turn you aside, for Mine is the secret door which opens upon the door of youth. And Mine is the Cup of the Wine of Life and the Cauldron of Cerridwen, which is the Holy Grail of Immortality.
I am the Gracious Goddess, Who gives the gift of joy unto the hearts of men and women. Upon Earth I give knowledge of the Spirit Eternal and beyond death I give peace, freedom and reunion with those who have gone before. Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all living and My love is poured out upon the Earth.
Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess, She in the dust of Whose feet are the
hosts of heaven, Whose body encircles the Universe…
I am the beauty of the green Earth, and the white Moon among the stars, and the
mysteries of the waters, and the desire in the hearts of humans.
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 humans, 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, honor and humility, mirth and reverence with you. And
thou, who thinkest to seek for Me, know that the seeking and yearning shall
avail thee not unless thou knowest the Mystery: that if that which thou seekest,
thou findest not within thee, thou shalt 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.
by Doreen Valiente
And last but not least……
The Small Charge of the Goddess
By Doreen Valiente
I who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars and the mysteries of the waters, I call upon your soul to arise and come unto Me. For I am the soul of nature that gives life to the universe. From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return. Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold — all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you. And you who seek to know Me, know that you seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.
by Imré K. Rainey
Sacred Kings are just one part of the mystery of the Alder moon, but a very important one, and one that is easily misunderstood. What exactly is a Sacred King? Who is Bran? How are the Sacred Kings and Bran connected? Through an analysis of the following legend of Bran, and a comparison of this story with the Christian legend of the Grail, we will begin to see the connections.
The Story of Bran the Blessed, King of Britain
Bran, king of Britain, son of Llyr, was standing at Harlech looking out to sea from the cliffs. “There is that in Ireland that I must have, for without it the land will fail,” exclaimed the king. He chose an entourage of his men to sail unto Ireland with him. They would leave Bran’s son Caradwc and seven wise men to watch over Britain, and offer Matholwch, the Irish king, Britain’s friendship.
Upon arrival, Bran and his men were greeted and escorted to Matholwch’s house. Matholwch accepted Bran and his men as friends, and invited them to a feast in honor of their new alliance.
When the feast had been proceeding for a time, Bran asked Matholwch, “Tell me, O King, whence had you that cauldron which is in the centre of the hall, but from which no one is seen to eat?” “Well that you may ask,” answered Matholwch, who proceeded to tell of a strange couple that he encountered one morning while hunting by the Lake of the Cauldron. When asked their purpose in his land, they responded that they were searching for a place to stay, as the woman, who was very ugly and carrying the very cauldron in question on her back, was great with child and would soon give birth.
Now Matholwch, being an honorable king, would not have it said that any went unhoused in his land, so at his home they were to stay. After a year, his court demanded that they be sent away because of their disturbing appearance and conduct, and so the King had a house of iron built within which they would reside. However, the plan was not only to move them out of the castle, but also to rid Ireland of the terrible family.
And so, once the frightening brood was in the house, Matholwch’s men heated its iron walls. The court stood back and watched as the walls grew hotter and hotter. And when the walls were at their hottest, glowing white as death, the family dashed against the walls, broke them, and escaped. When the house had cooled and the King’s men searched the remains, they found the cauldron that Bran saw before him. Its properties were described as that of resurrection.
“And who is this wretched woman of whom you speak?” asked Bran. “Cerridwen!” exclaimed Matholwch.
The feasting continued until finally all of Matholwch’s men, including himself, passed out. Bran rose to his feet and collected his men. He threw the cauldron onto his back and they sailed back to Britain.
The time was not long until Bran could see the King of Ireland approaching Britain on the sea. Quickly, Bran sent his men to meet Matholwch. In return for renewed friendship, Bran offered his sister, Branwen, to the Irish king. Matholwch accepted and Bran arranged a feast to honor the joining of the King of Ireland and his sister. However, Bran’s brother grew angry at the arrangement and mutilated the Irish horses. Deeply insulted, the Irish sovereign departed without taking leave. Upon hearing of this, Bran sent the King new horses and many treasures, in return for peace.
Years passed and Branwen bore a child to the Irish king, yet the Irish people could not forgive the insult that had been directed towards their King long ago. They demanded that Matholwch reject Branwen. In order to keep his people happy, the King did so. In hopes of maintaining her child’s safety, Branwen attempted to accept her husband’s rejection. After much heartache and humiliation, Branwen finally broke down and sent one of Rhiannon’s (British Goddess of the Underworld) birds with a message to Bran. Enraged, Bran sailed to Ireland with his ships. Matholwch realized what had happened and fled across the river Linon, breaking the bridge away behind him. Upon Bran’s arrival, Branwen left the Irish court and joined her brother.
Bran laid himself across the river and his men ran over him towards the Irish. Seeing Bran’s great display of strength and size, Matholwch quickly offered to give Branwen’s son the throne in return for his own safety. Branwen urged Bran to accept and a great feast followed in the Irish castle.
Matholwch met Bran at the feast and handed his throne over to Bran, who, in turn, crowned Branwen’s son. The new king went to his family seeking blessings, but was thrown into the fire by Bran’s jealous brother. Great fighting broke out and the cauldron was destroyed. Bran received a wound in his thigh, which would soon take his life, from a poisoned spear. The Brits fled with Branwen, who soon died of grief; the mortally wounded Bran; and the remains of the cauldron.
When at a safe distance, Bran gave instructions to his men. On their route to their destination they were to stop twice and feast as gods with food and ale. During these times they would forget all their troubles and woes while listening to Rhiannon’s birds, who had the power of enchantment. These feasts were to last many years. Finally, upon completion of their travels, they were to cut off their King’s head and bury it in the White Hills of London, their final destination.
This version of the myth was extrapolated from The Song of Taliesin.1
The story of Bran the King of Britain originates in The Mabinogion. The story is told by different authors, and so has different translations and slightly different variations. For example, the cauldron appears both as Cerridwen’s and also Branwen’s (this will be looked into later). Its property is resurrection, yet some versions say that the resurrected could not speak of what they had experienced in death, while other versions say that the resurrected could not speak at all. The context of the story also changes slightly; however, for our purpose, John Matthews’ version will suffice.2
The story of Bran is centered around a cauldron which originally belonged to Cerridwen or, in other versions, to Branwen. Cerridwen, as defined by Barbara Walker,3is the Triple Goddess, or the three aspects of the Goddess — maid, mother, and crone — in one (she is especially recognized as the crone aspect). In this view, Cerridwen can be associated with Morrigan, the “threefold goddess of the Celts of Gaul and Britain.” Further, “the second aspect of her trinity [was] Babd.” Babd, according to Walker, is the Welsh Branwen, the other keeper of the cauldron. Once it becomes clear that Cerridwen and Branwen are simply different aspects of the same entity, the dual ownership of the cauldron is understood (keep this in mind).The Holy Grail
In Christian legend, one comes across the story of the Holy Grail. According to Chrestien de Troyes4 the legend of the Holy Grail originates with Jesus and the Last Supper. The grail is the chalice in which the mystery of Jesus’ blood during the Holy Eucharist took place, and/or the container in which Jesus’ blood was collected when he was removed from the cross. Either way, the chalice, or grail, held within it the blood of the Christ through which one could be healed or receive eternal life.
Once empowered, the grail was to be protected so that it would not land in evil hands. Arthurian legend, originally made popular by de Troyes, tells of the battles that took place over the possession of the holy relic. While protecting the grail, the Fisher King (the guardian of the Grail) was mortally wounded — castrated — by a spear, but managed to keep the grail from falling into evil hands. He was then given eternal life by God and set to stand by the Holy Grail as its guardian until the chosen knight appears, who will ask the question that will give the Fisher king back his virility, thus returning the land to fruitfulness.
The legend of the Holy Grail asserts that the Grail is of Christian origin; however, the previous discussion of Bran and the Cauldron of Inspiration makes it clear that not only is the Holy Grail not originally Christian, but that it is an alteration of the Celtic legend. The Holy Grail is most definitely Cerridwen’s cauldron (or Branwen’s). Both the Grail and the Cauldron possess the power to restore life. The Fisher King is Bran. In Perceval, or The Story of the Grail, de Troyes5 tells of the great feast and generosity shown Perceval by the Fisher King who housed him for a night. In the story of Bran, we learned of the great feasts and generosity of Bran, the King of Britain (Britain is also known as the Isle of the Mighty, which is complementary to the Grail Castle where the Fisher King’s mighty knights dwell). The Fisher King was mortally wounded by a spear, while protecting the Holy Grail, as was Bran mortally wounded by a poisoned spear, while protecting the remainder of the cauldron.
When Perceval first saw the Holy Grail during his stay in the Grail Castle, it was being carried by a beautiful young woman; however, later, he was again in the company of the woman and she was old and wretched to his eyes. The association between the young, beautiful bearer of the grail who later appeared as an old, wretched hag and the multiple identities of Cerridwen and Branwen as young maidens and frightening crones is uncanny and cannot be ignored. Also, Robert Graves6illustrates the belief that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was the first owner of the Holy Grail. Mary was a maiden who, as a virgin, gave birth to the Christian son of God. She later witnessed the killing of her son. She can easily be identified with the Triple Goddess who, as the Maiden, or virgin, is pregnant with the god, becomes the Mother at his birth, and, after witnessing his death with the turning of the wheel of the year, evolves into the Crone. It is, therefore, obvious that the Holy Grail legend is derived from the story of Bran and his quest for the Cauldron of Inspiration.Sacred Kings
The Celtic society greatly depended on farming and the fruitfulness of yearly harvests. In relation, the Celtic king was much more than a mundane tyrant. In Celtic legend, the kingship of the land was dependent upon the queen, who was considered the earthly incarnation of the Goddess, and personified the land. The king, as well as being the ruler, actually personified the people. Upon the king’s marriage to the queen, he was in effect marrying the Goddess, and wedding the people to the land. It was, therefore, believed that whatever fruit he sowed as king (fair rulership, strong children, etc.), was reflected by the fertility and well-being of the land and people. Caitlin Matthews7 describes this concept with the example of King Conaire mac Mess Buachalla:
Good is his reign. Since he assumed the kingship, no cloud has veiled the sun for the space of a day from the middle of spring to the middle of autumn. And no dew-drop has falled from grass till midday, and wind would not touch a cow’s tail until noon …In his reign, each man deems the other’s voice melodious as the strings of harps, because of the excellence of the law and the peace and the good-will prevailing throughout…
…the land under Conn, who has married Becuma, an Otherworldly woman outcast from the Blessed Islands: “Conn and Becuma were a year together…and there was neither corn nor milk in Ireland…”
The king, again, accepted responsibility for his actions at the beginning of his rule. If the land and people suffered because of him, then he would have to make amends, and sometimes the only acceptable offering was his life. (Notice the elements of the legends of Beltane and associated celebrations, when the Celtic people celebrated the fertility of the land. In legend, if not necessarily in historical fact, the people offered the Goddess of the land the May King as a sacrifice to ensure fruitful harvests. The king was also symbolized in the character of the Fool, who voluntarily chose to be the king for a day and then be sacrificed in the Wicker Man, because the king had failed his people. The May Queen, who sentences him, is the character who represented the Goddess.) Finally, to complete the sacrifice of the sacred king, his head must be taken.
Bran was a sacred king, as will be illustrated by the fol-lowing elements. His land prospered and his people adored him because of his kindness, yet when his people were killed in great numbers and he, himself, was fatally wounded during the last battle with Matholwch, he could no longer successfully serve. His remaining countrymen had to be protected, so he offered himself as a sacrifice and ordered that his head be cut off and buried in the White Hills in London as protection for his people.
Goddess Of The Month
Goddess of grain and agriculture, pure Nourisher of youth and the green earth, health-giving cycle of life and death, and preserver of both marital fertility and the Sacred Law.
In Greek mythology, Demeter (Greek: “mother-earth” or possibly “distribution-mother” from the noun of the Indo-European mother-earth) is the goddess of grain and agriculture, the pure nourisher of youth and the green earth, the health-giving cycle of life and death, and preserver of both marital fertility and the sacred law. She is invoked as the “bringer of seasons” in the Homeric hymn, a subtle sign that she was worshiped long before the Olympians arrived. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter has been dated to sometime around the seventh century B.C.E. She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which also predate the Olympian pantheon. The Roman equivalent is Ceres, from whom the word “cereal” is derived.
Demeter is easily confused with Gaia or Rhea, and with Cybele. The goddess’ epithets reveal the span of her functions in Greek life. Demeter and Kore (“the maiden”) are usually invoked as to theo (‘”The Two Goddesses”), and they appear in that form in Linear B graffiti at Mycenaean Pylos in pre-classical times. A connection with the goddess-cults of Minoan Crete is quite possible.
According to the Athenian rhetorician Isocrates, the greatest gifts that Demeter gave were cereal, which set humans apart from wild animals, and the mysteries, which give humankind higher hopes in this life and the next.
The Eleusinian Mysteries
Without a doubt, the most important role of Demeter was as a goddess of the Elusinian mystery religion. In this capacity, her primary function was to provide the cultic adherents with hope for eternal life (or a pleasant afterlife). Though little is known of the specifics of worship, it appears that it involved a hidden knowledge (gnosis) being shared by the participants:
The object of the [mystery] is to place the [participant] in a peculiarly close and privileged relation with the divinity or the deified spirit…. all of the members of the city, gens or household could freely join in the cult, if they were in the ordinary condition or ritualistic cleanliness; and the sacrifice that the priest performed for the state might be repeated by the individual, if he chose to do so, for his own purposes at his own house-altar. Both in the public and in the mystic service a sacrifice of some sort was requisite, and as far as we can see the religious conception of the sacrifice might be the same in both. But in the former the sacrifice with the prayer was the chief act in the ceremony, in the latter it was something besides the sacrifice that was of the essence of the rite; something was shown to the eyes of the initiated, something was done: thus the mystery[.]
These rites are one of the most compelling enigmas in human religious history, as the vow of secrecy that all participants were obliged to take has remained largely unbroken—meaning that many elements of these practices have been lost to the mists of time.
Demeter and Poseidon
Demeter and Poseidon’s names are linked in the earliest scratched notes in Linear B found at Mycenaean Pylos, where they appear as PO-SE-DA-WO-NE and DA-MA-TE in the context of sacralized lot-casting. The ‘DA‘ element in each of their names is seemingly connected to an Proto-Indo-European root relating to distribution of land and honors (compare Latin dare “to give”). Poseidon (his name seems to signify “consort of the distributor”) once pursued Demeter, in her archaic form as a mare-goddess. She resisted the sea king’s advances, but she could not disguise her divinity among the horses of King Onkios. Poseidon became a stallion and “covered” (read: violated) her. Demeter was literally furious (“Demeter Erinys”) at the assault, but washed away her anger in the River Ladon (“Demeter Lousia”). She bore to Poseidon a daughter, whose name could not be uttered outside the Eleusinian Mysteries, and a steed named Arion, with a black mane. In Arcadia, Demeter was worshiped as a horse-headed deity into historical times:
The second mountain, Mt. Elaios, is about 30 stades from Phigaleia, and has a cave sacred to Demeter Melaine [“Black”]… the Phigalians say, they accounted the cave sacred to Demeter, and set up a wooden image in it. The image was made in the following fashion: it was seated on a rock, and was like a woman in all respects save the head. She had the head and hair of a horse, and serpents and other beasts grew out of her head. Her chiton reached right to her feet, and she held a dolphin in one hand, a dove in the other. Why they made the xoanon like this should be clear to any intelligent man who is versed in tradition. They say they named her Black because the goddess wore black clothing. However, they cannot remember who made this xoanon or how it caught fire; but when it was destroyed the Phigalians gave no new image to the goddess and largely neglected her festivals and sacrifices, until finally barrenness fell upon the land.
Demeter, Persephone and the Eleusinian Mysteries
The central myth of Demeter, which is at the heart of the Eleusinian Mysteries, is her relationship with Persephone, her daughter through a dalliance with Zeus. In the tale, Persephone becomes the unwilling consort of Hades (Roman Pluto, the underworld god of wealth) and is taken from her mother’s side into her new spouse’s dusky kingdom. Demeter, distraught over the loss of her precious daughter, devoted the entirety of her time and attention to seeking her, which had the consequence of halting the progression of seasons. During her search, she had many additional adventures, though none of them were sufficient to distract her from her maternal concerns. Eventually, the situation on Earth grew so dire that Zeus found it necessary to intercede directly, imploring his brother to return Persephone to her mother. Before she was released, however, Hades tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds, which forced her to return to his realm for six months each year. When Demeter and her daughter were together, the earth flourished with vegetation. But for six months each year, when Persephone returned to the underworld, the earth once again became a barren realm. This myth, in addition to providing an aetiological explanation for the progression of the seasons, also explain the connection between Demeter/Persephone and the Eleusinian Mysteries (which were centered around the achievement of eternal life).
Demeter’s stay at Eleusis
While Demeter was searching for her daughter Persephone, she found it expedient to adopt the guise of an old woman (Doso). In this form, she received a hospitable welcome from Celeus, the king of Eleusis in Attica (and also Phytalus). He asked her to nurse Demophon and Triptolemus, his sons by Metanira.
As a gift to Celeus (in thanks for his hospitality), Demeter planned to make Demophon as a god, which was achieved by coating and anointing him with Ambrosia, breathing gently upon him while holding him in her arms and bosom, and by burning away his mortal spirit in the family hearth every night. Unfortunately, Demeter was unable to complete the ritual because one night Metanira (the child’s mother) walked in and saw her son in the fire and screamed in fright. This angered the fertility goddess, who lamented that foolish mortals did not understand the power of her ritual.
Instead of making Demophon immortal, Demeter chose instead to repay her host’s generosity by teaching Triptolemus the art of agriculture. From him, the rest of Greece learned to plant and reap crops.
Portrayals of Demeter
- Demeter is usually portrayed on a chariot, is frequently associated with images of the harvest, including flowers, fruit, and grain. She was also sometimes pictured with Persephone.
- Demeter is not generally portrayed with a consort, though the exception is Iasion, the youth of Crete who lay with the goddess in a thrice-ploughed field and was sacrificed afterwards.
- Demeter placed Aethon, the god of famine, in Erysichthon’s gut, making him permanently famished. This was a punishment for cutting down trees in a sacred grove.
The Dream of Pagan Unity and Why It’s So Hard to Achieve
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ecumenism among Pagan groups; maybe its the recent flurry of Pagan Pride Day planning, maybe its the common refrain that so many people love to sing about wanting the community to all get along. Either way it’s been on my mind a lot, because it seems like, if everyone who wants unity among the various groups meant what they said, then we would already have it; yet as a community we are divided in many different ways.
Some people are limited by their own views of those outside of their particular group or tradition, some are stuck in old feuds or in personality conflicts, and some are simply stuck in the idea that their way is the only “real” way. So how do we overcome this? It seems easy enough, if we could only get everyone to acknowledge their own hang-ups and issues with unity we could all pull together – but realistically can it be done? Should it be done? Are there compromises that simply should not be made, not even for so often dreamed of a goal as this one?
When I started writing this I began by thinking of my own biggest block, a particular local leader that I have a small laundry list of issues with. And I asked myself, can I let these go? Some of them, I can answer yes for even though it would take effort. I am capable of letting the past go if I really put some energy into it, especially when he never did me, personally, any direct harm. It wouldn’t be easy but it could be done; however if I am honest with myself there are other issues as well that I don’t know if I could move past, ongoing things relating to integrity, truth in teaching – or I should say deception in teaching – and intentional perpetuation of ignorance that touch on areas where I have a much harder time looking the other way. And the bottom line of all this soul searching is that even when I try to put my personal feelings for this person aside, I am still left in a place where I do not want to be associated with him in any way.
How do we build community unity from that? And there is no other way; unity is not the same as tolerance. To be united as a community we must all stand together, and that is more than problematic when – in my own case – I have to always fight the urge to speak out against this person. How do we let go of the desire to let personal conflict and dislike interfere? How do we embrace community members that we simply do not like on a personal level?
How do we define our community? Who is in and who is out? Even within Paganism, in the subgroups of traditions and religions, this is a massive issue. How do we define “us”? We cannot hope to unite as a larger group of Pagans until we figure out who we are as smaller individual groups and that seems an impossible task when every sub-group is fractured by inner disputes. Group self-definition is like the Holy Grail, everyone is searching for it but no one can really find it. Do we include or exclude people convicted of crimes? All crimes, or only some?
Do we push out the snake oil salesman and false prophets that are selling lies while proclaiming it the only “real” Witchcraft/Heathenry/Druidism/etc., or would that very attempt put us on the same level of the more-pagan-than-thou types who cause so much dissention already? We must set boundaries for the safety of the community if nothing else, but how do we decide what those boundaries are and how do we enforce them?
One thing that needs to happen to start is that as a group Pagans need to stop nitpicking each other; if another tradition has a different way of doing things that you disagree with on purely theological or personal grounds let it go. If it’s not your group, why do you really care how they are doing things? If a group is engaging in dangerous, illegal, or manipulative practices that’s a whole different issue, but differences in approach shouldn’t matter. We waste way too much energy fighting over how other people do things, instead of looking for the common ground.
So at the beginning of this I asked if Pagan unity can be achieved, and I think the answer is yes, and no. We can form a stronger, larger community if we find a way to put aside the differences that can be put aside, like letting go of the ideas that any one particular way is “the” way, or “the” tradition. As soon as people start saying that they are the “true” Witches (Heathens/Druids/etc., ) they have set up a rigid dichotomy of us against them, and if you aren’t with them then you aren’t “real” and therefore aren’t legitimate; that attitude has to go right from the start.
I may not agree with someone, I may even hate everything about what he or she does and how he or she does it, but that doesn’t make them less “real”. Of course acknowledging that they are really Pagan, or whatever they are identifying as, does not mean that anything they are saying is true or accurate. (There is also a deeper argument about people claiming to be part of initiatory traditions when they aren’t – that isn’t what I’m talking about here, I simply mean the broad labels that are largely matters of self-identification) .
The flip side of that coin, and this is where the “no” part of the answer comes in, is that some things can never be compromised and we as a community need to stop acting as if anyone calling themselves pagan is automatically a good person. People are people no matter what their faith and some pagans are good people and others are pretty crappy people, just like everyone else. It’s okay for us to say, “no I won’t be associated with that person” if the reason is legitimate and we have really looked at whether we can compromise on this.
That means that true, complete unity will never be possible because there will always be people identifying as Pagans who contribute nothing but dissention to the community. There are online “trolls” and there are real life ones, there mentally unstable people, there are pedophiles and violent people, and there always will be, and these are issues that the community will always have to contend with. Being pagan does not mean that all the bad in the world and in people just disappears, but we can acknowledge this fact and deal with it. So unity is a utopian idea, but building a strong ecumenical community isn’t. That dream could be possible.
Building a larger community depends on putting aside the little things like personality conflicts, pride, and mistrust of other traditions, and embracing the things we have in common. It means working together to build a larger sense of community, not to homogenize all the traditions into one, but to respect the differences and the similarities; it’s our diversity that makes us such an interesting group. Pagan community can be built and made strong, but not without real effort and soul searching from all of us – and that’s why it remains a dream and not a reality.