Saturday, July 31, 2010

Layne Redmond's "Your Brain on Drums"

This is an excerpt from Layne Redmond's film Rhythmic Wisdom. It combines Shamanism, Greek Religion, theta wave consciousness and the history of the wonderful frame drum. If you would like to learn more, read her book When the Drummers Were Women and view this instructional video.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Have you ever stumbled unintentionally over just the right thing at the perfect time? I am inclined to agree with Helen Schulman who said:
"Miracles are natural; when they do not occur, something has gone wrong."

To wit, I was shelving books at the library a few days ago when I spied a volume I've never heard of: When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm by Layne Redmond. I'm familiar with some of Ms. Redmond's work, but I didn't know she had written a book. I checked out the book and brought it home for perusal.

Holy Cow! (and I mean that in the Catal Huyuk/Hathor/Milky Way sense) Frame drums are amazing! The history of this instrument ties together several threads I've been working with independently of each other. It covers matrifocal Goddess culture, which is very much where my interest spiritually has been lately; shamanistic practice, which is something I've been researching for the last year; and rhythm, which (and this is a little embarrassing) I've been working with intensively during my down time as a "drummer" on the Rock Band video game.

Laura just happens to have a frame drum which she says I am welcome to use, so I believe I've been called to learn a new instrument!

Instances like this make me wonder if there is something to pronoia, "the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf". Right now I like to think so.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Colors of Athena

And now for some lighter fare.

I've been working with different epitaphs of Athena and making notes of their subtle differences. Most noticeable in these visions has been the various colors of Athena's peplos. And so, presented here as completely Unverified Personal Gnosis, are a few of Athena's epithets and their corresponding colors.

Athena Areia (war) - scarlet
Athena Ergane (crafts) - pale saffron yellow
Athena Glaukopis (gleaming, silver, or gray-eyed; glaux means owl) - shifting dove gray
Athena Hygieia (healer) - white
Athena Nike (victory) - deep yellow
Athena Pallas (spear brandisher) - garnet red
Athena Parthenos (virgin) - brilliant white
Athena Polias (city) - white with elaborate trim
Athena Promachos (fighter of the front lines) - garnet red
Athena Pronoia (foresight) - pale yellow
Athena Soteira (savior) - brilliant white
Athena Tritogeneia (born of Triton, or third-born) - deep silver gray

From this UPG I have devised a system of visualization and shrine adornment that focuses on specific aspects and traits associated with Athena.

White: Athena as healer, savior, protector, and eternal virgin.
Yellow: Athena as creatrix, holy wisdom, intellect, craftsmanship and victory.
Red: Athena as warrior, weapons master, and patron of heroes.
Silver/Gray: Athena as spirit of stormy sky, fresh water, olives, serpents, and owls.

I also associate Athena strongly with the color bronze because of her involvement with the Khalkeia festival. Often I perceive her weapons, helm, tools, and aegis to be bronze. Occasionally, especially when working with the "gray aspect" of Athena, I perceive her skin itself to be a shade of bronze.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on these associations, and would love to hear from you if you should choose to incorporate them into your personal practice.

Monday, July 12, 2010

133.33 and the Librarian Occultist

I am vexed, dear reader. It will come as no shock to you that I'm a librarian. I'm upfront about it right here in the "About Me" blurb on my blog: "I'm a librarian, a Hellenic Polytheist, a Traditional Wiccan, and an occultist." I first started working a library when I was in high school and I am now seeking my Master's degree in Library Science.

The overlap between my passion for libraries and my passion for occultism doesn't come up very often. True, I do see my work as a librarian as an abstract way of honoring the power of Athena, but I am "in the broom closet" at work. I am happy to serve quietly in my own way.

My frustration comes from a kind of open secret among the librarians I have known concerning occult literature. The secret is that books on occultism walk. What I mean by this is that these books (133.33 in the Dewey Decimal classification system) once checked out from the library never find their way back to the library. Often these books are not even checked out, but are blatantly stolen from the library. Go to any public library and examine the 133.33 section (it is an old habit of mine that I always go there first whenever I am in a new library). You will find it to be sadly lacking.

I've witnessed several responses to this dilemma. Some libraries choose to keep occult materials in a special "restricted" section, usually behind the circulation desk where they cannot be stolen outright. Other libraries keep the books as reference materials only so that they cannot be checked out. Still other libraries, and this breaks my heart, have elected to not carry occult materials at all. This is, of course, censorship, even if the library feels that it has no other course of action.

I have wondered for many years just who these occult book bandits are. The public library systems I have worked in have all been in very conservative rural communities. Is it rebellious teenagers looking for the small thrill of lifting a Wicca 101 book, or is it the rabid Christian fiction reading matrons attempting to save their community from "Satan"?

Who benefits from this form of censorship? Certainly not sincere seekers like the one I assisted earlier this week. Our online catalog showed twenty books on astrology, all of them listed as "long overdue" or "lost processing". The poor man simply wanted to know the stories behind the zodiac signs. I wanted very much to share with him the information orally, but, again, I am closeted at work and feared drawing attention to myself.

I am at a loss for a solution to this problem. Here at home I've enchanted my own personal library (which would make anyone with even a passing interest in witchcraft green with envy) so that any book loaned out (which, granted, only ever happens with those I trust implicitly) will find its way back home to me. The task of enchanting a public library collection seems daunting at best, and brings up some gray ethical issues for me.

I dream of someday directing a library filled with controversial books. Dangerous books. Books that open the reader's mind. For now I work quietly and wonder where have all the occult books gone?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Creating the Women's Goddess Retreat

I wrote previously about my experience of running the Babalon Rising festival for its fifth year. I compared it to a child, grown beyond the scope of my own dreams. It has become something that the community it spawned needs and shapes. Let me then speak of my other child, not yet two years old and only just now developing into what it can be. I am referring to the annual Women's Goddess Retreat, an event that I am very proud to have birthed, and that changed me in ways I never thought possible.

The retreat started as a vision. It came from Hera, who I had no prior working relationship with. I'd read an interview with Tina Fey about her film Mean Girls and the book that inspired it, Queen Bees and Wannabes. It had occurred to me that communities, especially religiously motivated communities thrived only when the women in them worked together to build a place they were spiritually, emotionally, and physically invested in. I had been disheartened by the cliquish gossiping that was going on at my own spiritual home, Our Haven Nature Sanctuary, and I knew that I was as responsible as anyone for the present female animosity there.

My friend Anita, who has always been a great guiding force of growth in my life, had loaned me a book about women on retreat, The Woman's Retreat Book by Jennifer Louden. This book made me hungry -- jealously starving -- for a retreat of my own. I fantasized about a week alone at Crescent Beach, FL with time to write and paint and nap. I told myself that if I could just get away that I'd find the next step on my spiritual journey, and that, like magic, I'd suddenly know exactly what I wanted from my life. No one ever accused me of being an entirely rational creature.

And then Hera showed up. She came in a vision requesting, no, demanding that I put together a women's retreat in her honor. I hadn't really considered the idea of a group retreat before. How could I do the very self-involved navel-gazing that I dreamed of when I was facilitating a group of other women? And what would a retreat centered around Hera look like anyway? I imagined a group of ladies lounging by a pool, fanning themselves with peacock feathers.

Again, Anita had a solution. The retreat would honor Hera, yes, but it would also honor other Goddesses from different cultures around the world. I pinned the number at thirteen Goddesses, for the thirteen lunar cycles of the year. We would hold a circle for each Goddess, during which we would learn a little about Her mythology and worship. We would then invoke that Goddess and share in an activity together designed to teach us a life lesson that Goddess shared. I set the circles at two hours each, and determined that each woman would receive a journal to record her experiences in. This was as much for myself as anyone -- I wanted time to do my share of navel-gazing, after all!

Anita and Laurelei helped me flesh out the group of thirteen. The Goddesses we held circles for were:
  • Shakti ~ The Lessons of Inner Awareness, & Healing Ourselves
  • Diana ~ The Lessons of Owning your Power, & Finding Inner Strength
  • Hera ~ The Lessons of Dignity, Friendship, & Trust
  • Pele ~ The Lessons of Tending the Sacred Fire & Staying Centered
  • Gaia ~ The Lessons of Interconnectedness & Being Present
  • Aphrodite ~ The Lessons of True Beauty & Self-Love
  • Babalon ~ The Lessons of Sexual Freedom & Bottomless Love
  • Hathor ~ The Lessons of Celebration & Sacred Movement
  • Inanna ~ The Lessons of the Shadow-Self & Initiation
  • Brigid ~ The Lessons of Mythic Resonance & Bardic Magick
  • The Triple Goddess ~ The Lessons of Women's Cycles & Change
  • Sophia ~ The Lessons of Inner Wisdom & The Powers of The Sphinx
  • The Great Goddess ~ The Lesson of the Charge of the Goddess
Anita couldn't make it to the actual retreat, so we asked a handful of trusted friends to help present the circles for a few select Goddesses. Gina, our Firepanther, shared Pele's fire with us. Terri, Cricket to her friends, lead us on a mind-expanding trip around Gaia. My beloved friend Mary "Hummingbird" lead a moving circle to Brigid. The remaining Goddesses Laurelei and I divided up to share. Laurelei introduced us to Shakti through the use of mudras to move energy. When we began the yoni mudra our stories began to pour forth along with tears and laughter. If I had any doubts that we wouldn't be doing real internal soul work, they were quickly set aside. Under Laurelei's guidance Diana gave us each our own spiritual weapon of power. She taught us to see how beautiful we are when we share our smile and our love through Aphrodite's mirror. We danced a graceful and joyful circle for Hathor.

I lead circles for Hera, Babalon, Inanna, The Triple Goddess, and Sophia. Hera taught us the lesson that inspired the retreat, how to trust each other. Babalon's sexy energy had us all laughing and purring. I wrote an involved guided meditation for Inanna that lead each of us to embrace our shadow-self, while Laurelei gave us a Jungian tour through the Heroine's Journey. The Triple Goddess came out in full force, and seems to be the guiding presence for the upcoming retreat for this year. Sophia shared with us the powers to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silent through a silent portion of the retreat.

Laurelei and I built a shrine in the woods for the Great Goddess. Our circle chanted "Ancient Mother" as women went in pairs to visit the shrine and meet the Great Goddess. When Laurelei and I had our turn we wept for joy and wonder, in spite of the fact that we knew exactly what the "mystery" of the shrine was -- we had placed it there ourselves, after all.

After the retreat I continued to use my journal daily until it was full. It got me writing again, in a way I haven't done in years. My writing inspired me to begin a book, Under Her Aegis, which I am still working on. My writing also lead me to understand my passions, and brought me to a place where I knew I wanted to be a librarian. It even inspired me to start this blog. I felt, after the retreat, as if I had brought something useful and necessary into this world. For the first time in my life I felt like a mother rather than a maiden. I will have no biological children of my own, and this transition was remarkable for me.

This year the Women's Goddess Retreat is changing its form. There are fewer Goddess circles and more time for personal reflection. There are also many rituals designed as rites of passage for several of the women in attendance. These women came forward independently of their own accord asking for rites of croning for themselves, and rites of womaning for their daughters. We are blessed this year with three croning ceremonies and one womaning rite. The retreat is becoming what I hoped it might be, a place for our community of women to come together and work with a common spirit.

The Goddesses for this year are:
  • Hestia ~ The Lessons of Finding Sacred Space & Returning Home
  • Grandmother ~ The Lessons of Inner Awareness, & Moving Energy
  • Brigid ~ The Lessons of Mythic Resonance & Bardic Magick
  • The Morrigan ~ The Lessons of the Warrior Spirit & Healing from Trauma
  • Athena ~ The Lessons of Peacemaking & Deep Wisdom
  • Discordia ~ The Lessons of Celebration & Spontaneity
  • Freya ~ The Lessons of Love & Women's Magic
  • Sedna ~ The Lessons of Role-Shifting & Adaptation
  • The Great Goddess ~ The Lesson of the Ultimate Boon
I will be facilitating the circles for Hestia and, yes of course, Athena. I am especially looking forward to Grandmother's circle, as we will be having an all-women's sweat lodge ceremony in Her honor. Also new this year we will be creating a Goddess quilt from 12x12 inch quilt blocks that each participant bring with her. We will assemble the quilt blocks on site.

I am proud to have brought this retreat into being, and I am nurtured and changed by it in ways I never imagined. Thank you for letting me share some of its magic with you, gentle reader.

My Journey to Athena

 How did I, a Witch and a Thelemite, become a Hellenic Polytheist? It has been a winding road.

Three years ago I began to open myself to the wisdom of the Greek pantheon. I had made a pilgrimage (hopefully the first of many) to the Nashville Parthenon, where I was struck with wonder at the awesome power of Athena for the first time.

I've worked with Owl as a primary totem since I was a dabbling teenager, my magical working name has always been Latin for the little owl, but I was not yet ready to accept that Athena had a place of prominence in my life. I had worked with the Goddess Lilith for many years with mixed results, and I resisted the Greek Gods as the stuff of my childhood. I had worshiped them when I was barely ten years old. They were my first forays into Paganism. Their myths were taught in public school. I sniffed at their commonness in my life. I was too blinded my the allure of the exotic to understand that what I mistook for commonness was nearness and affinity.

When Laurelei came into my life a year later she brought an enthusiasm for Aphrodite that was alluring. She also brought up some rather nasty conflicts whenever I channeled Lilith. My relationship with Lilith had been wearing thin for some time. She is wise, powerful, beautiful... but also jealous, cruel, and rapacious. Although I knew that ours was a poor relationship it was one I had cultivated over many years, and my own personal mystical symbolism had become intertwined with Lilith's. Owls, snakes, the Burney Relief, the apple, the Tree of Life, the cloak of protection offered by Her dark wings... these were ingrained in the very fabric of my spirit.

It seems now as if I had all of the pieces that should have led me naturally to Athena, yet still I resisted. I began to have visions of Hera, both waking and in dreams. She asked, no, she demanded that I found a women's retreat. I began work on that project, and it changed my life.

Then one night I had the dream. She was huge. Massive. As grand in scale as She was in Nashville. And yet, I could look Her in the eyes. She wore a garnet red peplos and carried a bronze spear that seemed to also serve as a spindle. Her hair was long, dark, and tightly kinked, like that of an African beauty. Her skin was rich bronze. She had a narrow full lipped mouth set above a strong round chin, a very noble high set nose that jutted forcefully from Her forehead. Her cheekbones were high and Her face was a gentle oval set upon a long regal neck. But what I will never forget, what is a blessing that will stay with me all of my life, was Her eyes.

They were deep set and very wide. Unblinking, steady, and shifting in color. One moment they were liquid sliver, like mercury, the next they were stormy, full of dark clouds and flashing lightning. Then Her eyes were the dark milky midnight blue of a barred owl's, and then the sea green of a deep pool or a "blue hole". When I think of them now my heart sings "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", so brilliant do they sparkle, so much like the heavens they shine. They were all eyes I had ever admired. The eyes of the National Geographic Afghan Girl, the eyes of a boy I knew in high school, the eyes of my mother and my father, the stylized eyes of the Buddha, eyes of timelessness, eyes gray with the silvery gray wisdom of the sphere of Chokmah. Athena Glaukopis, I would later learn was Her proper name.

She said nothing. She didn't need to. In my heart I felt that She had always been with me, that it was Her mark that had left strange symbols in my soul... owls, snakes, the Burney Relief, the golden apple, the olive tree, the cloak of protection offered by Her aegis, the burning, blinding quest for knowledge that defines me. Athena abides and perceives. I am honored to serve Her.