Artist, Julie Zdenek (c) 2016
From mom's previous post, you can see that I come from a long line of warrior women, who possess a certain quality of feminine energy: strong willed, assertive, at times combative (usually for a just cause), bold, daring, intellectual and powerful in their circles. Viking blood runs down both sides of my family tree and I'm sure some of my female ancestors wore awesome breast plates as they served as sheildmaidens. (Boyfriend: We'll have to work up to that costume.)
This is a little bit how my relationship with my mother seems to work: Mom says in last blog post, "Let me reassure my friends and family that I do not advocate worship of any of these goddesses as live beings – or dead ones, for that matter." And I go ahead and create a ritual baptizing myself in devotion to the Goddess and start praying to Her daily.
My baptism actually occurred before mom's post, on January 24, 2016 at 1 p.m. I just haven't told my mother yet. Or created the certificate. But maybe in feminine spirituality external proof and printed certifications are unnecessary. Still I'm nervous to tell my mom or anyone for that matter. She and I span our own dance of the opposites and my orbit always seems to move into the realms of the forbidden and strange. Which makes life both scary and exciting, qualities of aliveness I believe.
During this season of Lent I am discerning what devotion to the Goddess means for me and how serving Her shapes my actions in the world. Do I choose just one Goddess? Or does each Goddess teach me about another aspect of the Divine Feminine? And is She OK with me staying devoted to Jesus? Yes, she says. Jesus is just alright with me. <3 Or maybe that was the Doobie Brothers. Whatever the case, she certainly speaks to me in mysterious ways. I set up an altar in my home and, on the recommendation of a mentor, I chose the Goddess Isis first, since she's a fun energy to be hanging around with my kids and because her name is being co-opted for violence and fear. And then feathers started appearing on my altar. And everywhere else in my life. But that's another story.
I do not see this Goddess devotion as a severing of my Christian roots. In fact I see the Goddess as a part of the One who is further upstream, and also interwoven with our Christian traditions which incorporated Her festivals. Her stories flow into Christianity like Isis and her son Horus flowed into Mary and her son Jesus. We are all flowing from the same source, and all of our ancient human stories show us that She is there at the beginning, with God, co-creating. We are all flowing streams from the divine. Or to use another metaphor: The divine is like a diamond and each of us represents a facet of the whole, while at the same time being completely whole in and of ourselves. Each of us is sovereign over the reality that is being expressing through us. Whatever we do to one another, we do to an aspect of God. The All is in the One and the One is in the All. And the Goddess comprises at least HALF the facets of God, mom, not just 1/3!
As a child in the religious circles I was raised in, I recall these qualities of a strong warrior woman being labeled as sinful which created a lot of dissonance within my spiritual learning and these strong women around me. I remember getting the message that to be a strong independent sexual woman was to live outside of God's law where the man was the head of the woman. Woman was property. She took his name. Sometimes she was bought. I remember being taught that woman brought sin into the world. Woman was emotional. Woman was not rational. Woman was less trustworthy, less divine than a man. I remember being taught to be cautious of my family's beliefs. I heard that the denominational churches of my mother's family roots were merely the "has been" of the Holy Spirit. Religious leaders told me that my Grandfather's faith was dead. He was a Lutheran minister. Seeds of doubt were planted early in my religious formation that were intended to sever me from my mother's spiritual roots. The communities I was in were filled with a lot of paranoia about who to blame for all the evil in the world. Was it the homosexuals? The feminists? The Lutherans? It was a hard chasm to hold as a child. My two realities seemed so polarized within my family and within the world as everyone worried: who is in? who is out? who is being saved? who is going to hell? I desperately wanted to do the right thing and end up on the right side, but I had no idea who to trust because everyone had a different firm conviction on the matter.
Until fifth or sixth grade, I wore I love Jesus T-Shirts to school and endured a lot of teasing from my peers. I was strange. I was overly sensitive. I was weird. To everyone, my peers, my family. I was very confused about the meaning of life. And I had bony knees to boot. Since I was five years old until junior high, I prayed daily. I asked God for miracles. I spoke in tongues. I had experiences of rapture. And experiences of deep shame. Now there's a chasm to hold.
To make matters more complicated, I had been pulled into the mysteries of sex when I was raped at 14 and then crowned the school slut when my abuser bragged about his plunder. My religion taught, “don’t have sex”. And every time I heard it, it felt like fingernails on a chalkboard. Too late, I thought. I’m already all screwed up. Suddenly my naive sheltered "Christian" life had a very dark taboo underworld to it. The only underworld I knew of was “hell” and that was a place where evil people went, so I must definitely be in the "out" group now both with my peers and with God. I had gone to hell. I was living there. I believed I was unredeemable. God died. Or He turned away and left me for dead. And my inner devotion to the images I had of Him as a child stopped at that time.
I never spoke of this experience until I was a mother myself, 27 years old and in the care of a trusted therapist. Then, I told him how I had faced six months of relentless public scrutiny and humiliation in junior high (thank God before Facebook) just as I was learning how one socializes with peers, a thing at which I already struggled. The southern town was small and even the adults were gossiping about me. My mother had no idea what was going on, and she also experienced women judging and rejecting her as they got wind of the elaborate story which had evolved into me giving blow jobs and having sex with the entire football team. (Isn't that what every school slut does?) I didn't know how to tell anyone what had happened to me. So I attempted suicide—or made a gesture towards it—by cutting my wrist. I sent a signal to my parents that I was not OK and I was not going to be OK unless they helped. Not knowing what happened to me, and having no guides for navigating the underworld, they sent me to live with my aunt and uncle in Colorado, a counselor and an elementary teacher, who provided a safe space for me to recover. For years I buried the incident and when ever anyone asked about what happened behind the high school that one summer day, I lied.
I returned home the following summer and the rumors had mostly blown over. I soon excelled at climbing the social ladder and I learned how to be a good cheerleader, ascending into the light of a much higher social status, radiating in the football stadium glow, cheering on the boys and sighing with relief when the kids crowned another girl the school slut. I had made it back to the other side and I didn’t ever want to go back to the underworld. Better another girl go there than me, I thought as I participated now in the social hazing that orders the world of who is in and who is out. Committed to living cut off from my pain (as many in the "in" crowd must do), I also cut off my connection to my sisters in order to earn the approval and safety of the patriarchy. In high school I used my regular column in the school newspaper to rile up my community by quoting Rush Limbaugh and calling feminists, "femi-nazis" like he did. (I'm so sorry.) To earn power and success in life, I felt I had to stay very quiet about the truth and very harsh towards the vulnerable within me and within in the world. At the time I was more tapped in to the warrior woman energy. (Mom: remember how selfish and stubborn and strong I could be too?) I created a shield of hair out of Aquanet hairspray. No one was ever going to hurt me again, I hoped, I was wrong. This way of being in the world was a disconnected life. And it was not sustainable as long as it was cut off from my deep pain. This meant that in order to be whole I needed to go back to the underworld. Maybe not just once, but often in order to stay connected to my depths and true to my experience.
Descending, beholding pain, learning compassion, rising again. This was not a one time ride. This would be the ride of my lifetime.
Instead of proceeding through life like many of my female ancestors like the warrior goddess Athena who operates externally showing her strength in the realm of the public square, my feminine energy moved more like that of Persephone. My life energy would have to span both the earthly realms and the realms of the underworld too. I would have to learn how to traverse between two worlds.
GATE SIX + THIRD EYE CHAKRA + PERSEPHONE
Thousands of years before Persephone's birth, her ancestor Inanna descended to the underworld to face her sister Ereshkigal who at the beginning of time was the only ruler of the underworld in the most ancient of human imaginations. Inanna makes the descent of her own choice and in her own time. Persephone does not. She is taken to the underworld against her will and against the will of her mother. Persephone is the daughter of Demeter who is the wife of Zeus. Persephone is that aspect of the psyche that is the maiden, the young girl, the innocent, introverted feminine. One day she is picking flowers in the field with her mother when the earth below her feet cracks open and up comes Hades, who grabs her heel and pulls her into his depths. Demeter screams. Zeus looks away and rations: Hades needs a wife... so let him have Persephone. The God of heaven approves the young girl's abduction and rape.
The sixth chakra, or the third eye chakra, is located in the space between the eyes on the forehead actually in the center of the brain, in the pineal gland. In Christianity the forehead is marked with the sign of the cross at baptism. In India this space is marked with a red dot, a Bindi, which marks the center of spirituality in the human body. Behind the forehead lies the frontal lobe where the executive functioning, or highest thought processes in the human brain occur. This area is not fully developed in human beings until around the age of 25.
This is also the area with which clairvoyants seem to have special talent. Seeing with the third eye means seeing the spiritual realities that surround the human drama which can seem invisible to most people. Yet this ability to see into the realms of the spirit are available to each person to open and develop. This can involve seeing auras, spirits, intuiting wisdom, interpreting dreams and more. A Persephone woman gains access to these skills as learns them in order to survive whatever horror or trauma she has been drawn down to experience. She must face dark pain, often at a much younger age then her peers. She finds inner strength and she learns the ways of resurrection. She transforms from being an innocent vulnerable maiden to becoming the Queen of the Underworld, a woman with power who is on equal standing with her husband, Hades. She accepts her wounds as her fate and learns from them the ways of healing. Persephone spends half of the year with her mother Demeter, and half of the year with her husband Hades. Her return to her mother was celebrated during the spring fesitvals. Through surviving her dark and traumatic experiences and returning to new life, a Persephone woman develops the skills to traverse between worlds and she helps others do the same.
I wanted you to save me
But you saved your lighting
For another rainy day
When I fell away from you
When I lost my point of view
Did you even hear me
Did you stop the spring from blooming?
When I fell away from you
When I lost my point of view
How much farther must I fall
Must I lose it all?
And who is this that waits for me
In this wound that bleeds and bleeds
Is it just one seed that makes this girl
Who let you in the door
Is it me
You're looking for?
Yes I can see
The leaves are falling
And I am fading
Should we grab a cup of joe before we hit the road?
Oh my Hades is it you
Have you come to claim your bride
Take me back to the other side?
All the way
Back into the pain
Like you did on that summer day
When you stole my life away
One more thing
Don't you ever forget
Who's your queen
Yoga Pose: Humble Warrior
I chose Humble Warrior for Persephone because she is a different sort of warrior, a sensitive one who must find a balance between two worlds. In this pose her feet are grounded on the earth, like she is when she is with her mother half the year, and her head faces the great below, where she lives with her husband Hades, the other half of the year. In Humble Warrior the neck is soft and prana, or the life force, is allowed to come into the frontal lobe area of the head, the sixth chakra, to open perception. Also, I like that Persephone is upside down in this pose because she takes a different look at the world and can see it from the perspective of the underworld. In Humble Warrior her heart is open as her arms reaching up towards her mother while she faces the great below.
To do this pose stand with wide legs and outstretched arms placing your feet underneath your wrists. Line up the front foot so the heal is in the same plane as the arch of the back foot. The back foot is placed at about a 45 degree angle so that the heel is the farthest part away from the body. Now bend the front leg until the knee lines up right over the ankle. You are in warrior 2 to begin with arms reaching out, wrists should be lined up over the ankles. As you push your feet into the ground, pretend you are standing on ice and draw the legs together using your interior muscles, while leaving your feet firmly planted. Tuck your tailbone and zip up through the core. Strong lower body. On an inhale, lengthen through your spine as you sweep your arms behind you clasp them together or fly them free if that's easier, and open your heart. On an exhale use your core to slowly lower your shoulder to your bent knee. Let your neck be completely soft. Head hangs. Take a few deep breaths here with attention to your third eye. Allow illusions to fall away and open yourself up to see life in a new way. On an inhale, use your core to return upright. Observe how the blood flushes through your head and pours down your legs leaving you refreshed, grounded, and open-minded.
Download the mandala coloring page for Persephone. This also supports Episcopal Relief and Development: Gender Issues and Women's Development.