Blodeuwedd embodies the spirit of the trickster. She is herself literally the work of trickery and artifice. Her physical body is not a unity, but a cobbled-together assortment of twigs and blossoms given a kind of unnatural animation through the magic of Gwydion. And although she is designed by men far more powerful than she is for one specific purpose — to serve as Lleu's wife and queen — yet she thwarts that purpose through lies and deceit, following the call of her own hunger, her own passion and desire. As a result she is cursed, like so many other trickster figures, to aimless wandering in the wilderness, a social outcast. She is both subhuman and superhuman, both bestial and divine. She is the thief who steals away the beloved from the rightful king, except that it is her own self that she steals away — is this theft, or reparation? Either way, this is a goddess familiar with dislocation and disconnection, and one who embodies within her very being the ambivalence of human technology and how it mediates our relationship with the natural world.
As an animist, my relationship with the gods is rooted in my relationship with the land and its many beings. Yet so many of my gods are in exile from the lands of their origins. What does it mean for an American living in the Pacific Northwest to worship deities of Ireland and Wales? In part, it means that many of my gods are — like myself — pilgrims and strangers in a new world, still finding their feet and learning what it means to move in this new land with grace and respect. Their lessons today are often lessons of ambivalence, dislocation and longing. For me, no goddess has been more insistent in her teaching than the flower-faced maiden, Blodeuwedd. Who is Blodeuwedd? She is a goddess of dangerous innocence, an innocence so pure that it threatens to undo our easy assumptions about the world and our place within it.
Not all of our companions will elbow their way into our lives and demand our attention. Some of them linger beyond the limits of our ordinary experiences, leaving only footprints and snapped twigs as traces of their presence. These are our guides to the depths of mystery and wilderness. They are dark wanderers who cross our paths only in the obscurity of a moonless night, whose form we seem to see only just on the periphery of our vision before it dissolves again into the tangled undergrowth of the unknown. They are the companions whose presence we sense with the thrill of uncertainty, that mixture of excitement and terror that gives rise to awe. Their breath is the sound on the edge of hearing that we catch just when we think we are alone. Lest we forget that nature is not only familiar and intimate, but deeply wild and strange. Lest we forget that some things are hidden, and will remain hidden. The bear is, for me, this kind of companion.
I'm thrilled to be the newest member of the SageWoman team! My first column, "Forever Maiden: Wild Dirt-Worship in the Digital Age," makes its debut with a story of seeking out those safe spaces to nurture the youthful goddess within. Plus, my contemplative essay "Goddess in the Details" is featured as the lead story for the issue. Squeeee!
To me, a woman without children, the idea that a mother might not have even a few hours to herself to nurture her passions and pursue her own dreams is horrifying. Who could be more deeply concerned with the future of our society? Who could have more at stake in the work to see the arc of history bend swift and sure towards justice? Who could want more for a better world for future generations, than a mother? What words do we have for her? Is it enough to tell her that we honor her sacrifice and expect her to keep soldiering on? Do we pay lip-service to her noble self-giving as a way of refusing her the full depth of her desires, the fullness and complexity of her humanity? Or do we find a new way of living together?
Three nights of waiting, building power under the dark moon. I have done my preparation. I have cleared the space in the waning light. I have drawn the circle around myself in salt and stone, strength and love. The borders of my life are bare. I have released the old attachments that will no longer serve. I have made peace with the yammering beasts and bitches, buried them in the dirt beneath the forest floor, given them to the earth to hold and keep and break open and transform. I have felt the night air cool on my naked skin. Now, I have three long nights of waiting to begin.
"She didn't say it in so many words, but I got the distinct impression that she thought we should 'see other people...'" My voice trailed away. Folks sitting nearby in the restaurant who didn't know we were husband and wife probably thought Jeff was helping me through a break-up with my girlfriend. I found myself sobbing. I felt cut off and vulnerable. Even if I'd wanted to honor her, I didn't know how. What ritual forms to use, what offerings to make, what actions to take. The strong intuitive connection that I felt pulling me forward didn't seem to be so tame in any case. She didn't want scripted prayer or the right kind of incense or historically accurate idols on the altar. She wanted me out in the wilds, she wanted me raw and free and dancing with devotion. I was going to have to change my life...
What is She? Who is She? Celestial, ephemeral, pristine and pure, delicate, new, grace itself, fresh and bright. Earthy, dark and grounded, sweat and dirt and hot breath, the hard flex and tension of muscle, the rough power of fire and stone, the burning fluidity of molten ore. Primal, deep and ageless, utter stillness and distance, utter light in the darkness, spun out, flung out, fragmented, holographic, the whispering wholeness buried within each disparate glint of limit and form.
There's a lot of navel-gazing and turning inward in the Pagan and New Age communities, as people seek an antidote to the self-sacrifice and self-denial found in so many Christian traditions. But this focus on the self can so easily become an excuse to withdraw, to flinch away from the difficult work of putting down roots and reaching out to find nourishment and connection in others. Connecting with others always means an ebb and flow of energy, a willingness to give as well as receive. Establishing healthy, porous boundaries takes work — and when a person already feels drained and powerless, it can seem like too monumental a task to face. But by turning away from that task, by refusing that connection in order to "take care of ourselves first," we so often discover that we've cut ourselves off from our own deeper power. Instead of feeling rested and revived, we only end up feeling weak and even more vulnerable. Our roots are too shallow to feed our hungering souls.
In my latest post over on No Unsacred Place, I share the story from Welsh mythology of Mabon, son of Modron, in honor of the coming autumnal equinox. This story was originally published on the former site of Meadowsweet & Myrrh back in 2009. In the comment section of the original post, a reader asked, "I've never understood the connection between this tale and the Equinox. Can you help with that connection?" This was my reply: "In Druidry, the autumnal equinox is not actually called Mabon, but instead goes by the name Alban Elfed/Elued (Welsh, meaning 'Light of the Water/Sea'). ..."