Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Goddesses Alive Ritual at Parliament of World Religions - Article by Heather Greene

Heather Greene —  September 27, 2015

In 1999, artist Lauren Raine was commissioned to create 30 leather masks that each reflected the spirit of a different Goddess from around the world. Earlier that same year, she had a dream during which she saw “a long line of Goddesses in all colors, in beautiful costumes.” Then, as if by magic, Raine was presented with a commission to create the series of masks to be used in Reclaiming’s 20th anniversary Spiral Dance in San Francisco.
On her newly updated blog, Raine wrote, “Masks in traditional societies are viewed as liminal tools, as vessels for the sacred powers. With a mask it is believed the Gods and Goddesses can visit, tell their stories, give their blessings, heal or even give prophecy.”
Although the commission was the beginning of her “Masks of the Goddess” project, Raine’s interest in mask making began years before. She said, “My first Goddess mask was Kali … It was a time in my life when there was just so much I had to get rid of, so much maturation I needed to do, so many old patterns and ways of being I needed to get beyond in order to evolve. In retrospect, I think I made the mask of Kali as my own kind of invocation, my call for help from the One who helps us to slay the demons of the mind, to cut away that which has to go.”

When Reclaiming commissioned the masks, Raine welcomed the challenge, saying “I wanted to create them as contemporary temple masks to be used to invoke and re-claim the feminine faces of God.” In the end, the 1999 Spiral Dance used 20 of Raine’s masks for a 3 minute long Goddess invocation.
One of the mask wearers and supporters of the mask project was Aline O’Brien, more commonly known as M. Macha Nightmare. During the Spiral Dance, she wore the Morrigan mask. In 2007 blog post, O’Brien, remembered, “[This was] the baddest-ass Morrígan you ever hope to encounter. Even my friend Urania who helped me put it on was afraid once it was in place … I reddened my palms and displayed them as the Washer at the Ford in the processions.”
After the Reclaiming event was over, O’Brien felt disappointed with the presentation. Although she was personally “inspired by the masks,” she felt that they were underused and “not appreciated.”
With that in mind, O’Brien set out the design her own theatrical ritual that would emphasize Raine’s art, focus on the masks and embody the spirit of the various Goddesses. With the help of Mary Kay Landon, she wrote a script and an innovative ritual structure that focused solely on the Goddesses and the masks.
Then, in February 2000 at PantheaCon, O’Brien had the first opportunity to present her mask ritual, which she named Goddesses Alive! She found volunteers to assist with the both the staging and the various aspects of the performance, which included song, music, readings and dance. The brochure read:
Goddesses Alive! A processional and experiential ritual of masked, embodied goddesses to bring a re-awareness of the Goddess into current Pagan practices. We encounter the goddess embodied by 13 priestesses wearing stunning leather goddess masks created by Lauren Raine
O’Brien told The Wild Hunt that she chose 13 masks for the project, specifically those that would be the most recognizable to her audience. These included Artemis, Hecate, Bridget, Isis, Spiderwoman, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu, Inanna, Oshun, Sedna, Pele and Kali. Despite the limited budget and time, the ritual was a success.

Later that year, Goddesses Alive! was staged for a second time. With support from the New College of California and the Lilith Institute, O’Brien produced the ritual in a dance studio the following December. Once again, she had no budget but the performance was a success. Live music and a chorus of 5 people accompanied the words and movements of the Goddessess. It was attended by around 100 people. Looking back, O’Brien said, “I loved it.”
Despite the success of both performances, O’Brien had no idea if she would ever have the opportunity, time, energy or money to ever do the project again. The Goddesses Alive! script was filed away. The experience was left only to memory with no photos or video recordings ever taken.
Although Raine was not actively involved in either of the Goddesses Alive! performances, she said, “[O’Brien] activated the masks. She created a beautiful, and effective, sacred container for a community to use the masks, and ritual theatre, allowing each participant to evolve them in her or his own way. I think she would be happy to know that her vision has kept going.”
After O’Brien’s rituals in 2000, the masks were used again many times over in other theatrical performances throughout the U.S. Raine even expanded her collection, including elemental masks and other Goddesses. On her blog, she wrote, “I’ve been privileged to share my work with dancers, ritualists, playwrights, storytellers, priestesses, activists, and students bringing the Goddesses into the world in many ways. No artist could ask for more.” Raine created a compilation video of some of that theatrical work:
In addition to using the masks in performance, Raine also began selling them as art pieces. When thinking back on all the many masks created over the past 17 years, Raine said, “The affinity with certain masks changes as I change, but … my favorite masks concern Grandmother Spider Woman, my guide. She always seems to be in the background, the hand at the heart of the great Web.”
Over that same period of time, O’Brien never forgot her own dream of re-staging her very uniqueGoddesses Alive! ritual. Then, in 2014 when the Parliament for the World Religions sent out a call for presentations, Raine and O’Brien both had the same idea: let’s bring back Goddesses Alive! And, to their delight, the presentation was accepted. O’Brien said, “I was blown away.” She never really thought that she’d get a chance to do it all again.
With experience both as a ritualist and as a interfaith representative, O’Brien had the know-how and skill to adapt her otherwise Pagan-focused script for a broader audience. When asked about the adaptation, she admitted that “not much really had changed.” The biggest difference is the actual room size. The original ritual was designed for an inclusive theater-in-the round with only 100 audience members. The new script allows for the same set up but within a large ballroom and for an audience of over 300.
In addition, O’Brien selected new Goddesses based on mask availability and also to better reflect global diversity. She chose the following 13 masks: Hecate, Sedna, Brigit, Isis, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu Omikami, Inanna, Oshun, Kali, Pele, Pachamama and White Buffalo Calf Woman.
As Raine went to work on prepping the performance masks and, in some cases, creating new ones, O’Brien dusted off the old script and began recruiting performers and a tech crew. By summer 2015, she had her team and planning began. Jeffrey Albaugh signed on as the stage manager. When asked about the upcoming performance he said:
It is difficult and to serve as stage manager for an event like this, where all the performers are coming from so far away, and with no time for rehearsal. It puts an onus on me to make sure the production goes off without a hitch, and is as close as possible to Macha’s vision. However, with this kind of production, focused on movement, sound, voice and using Lauren’s brilliant masks, I think there is a high possibility of real magic occurring during the performance. The numinous will hopefully break through.
As Albaugh notes, the performers and crew herald from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. Cherry Hill Seminary Director Holli Emore will be wearing the Isis mask. She said, “The rich pageantry of Goddesses Alive! is sure to stir people on a level far deeper than cerebral, the emotional place where we become imprinted with life-giving ideas. I feel that years from now we will all look back on this performance as a piece of our collective Pagan history and I’m very proud that I will have a small part in that.”
Emore will be joined by Anna Korn, Jo Carson, Rowan Liles, Áine Anderson, Mana Youngbear, Faelind, Wendy Griffin, Diana Kampert, Maggie Beaumont, Eileen Dev Macholl, Jerrie Hildebrand and myself, Heather Greene.
Rev. HPs. Gypsy Ravish volunteered to be one of the singers. She said, “I am honored to add my voice to this divine Sisterhood.” Other musical performers and script readers include Vivianne Crowley, Celia Farran, Lauren Raine, Rowan Fairgrove, Gypsy Ravish, Robin Miller, Jenn Vallely, Ruth Barrett and Aline O’Brien.
Led by Albaugh, the crew is equally diverse, with everyone coming together to make this single event happen. Mary Kay Landon, who helped O’Brien revise the script, said

 “Working on this production–and watching it evolve over the years–has given me a unique opportunity to research goddesses from across the world and, as I did so, to enter into relationship with them as we, together, created their evocations. What a privilege!”

When asked what Goddesses Alive! will offer a global religious audience, O’Brien said that she believes Pagans have “a deep appreciation of the art and design of ritual” and that is “one thing that Pagans bring to the interfaith table.” She explained that we have a “freedom of design” that is often lacking in other religious traditions. “We bring a freshness … and willingness to change.” And she hopes that this ritual performance will bring about an appreciation for that creativity and flexibility.
Goddessess Alive! was designed to be participatory ritual theater. The music, the singing, the readings and the Goddesses will move from behind the audience and through the audience. This technique serves to surrounded viewers in the full theatrical experience, and O’Brien hopes it helps to “open their minds to perceiving the divine” in new ways and to respecting “non-traditional, non-Abrahamic religious traditions.”
For Pagans that attend and others who are more familiar with a similar ritual performance, O’Brien hopes the experience will “demonstrate that the we have something to offer [the interfaith community] that maybe was unexpected.”
Ultimately, O’Brien would like Goddesses Alive! to be “consciousness raiser” for all who attend – Pagans and non-Pagans alike, and that everyone “leaves the room with a sense of community.”
The Goddesses Alive! ritual performance, which is being dedicated to the memory of Sparky T. Rabbit and Deborah Ann Light, will be held at the Parliament of the World Religions Sunday, Oct. 18 at 1:45 p.m. in Salt Lake City. Currently, the production team is still looking for volunteers to film and photograph the event.
Heather Greene
Heather is a freelance writer and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has worked with Lady Liberty League and has formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. Heather's work has been published in Circle Magazine and elsewhere. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History with a background in the performing and visual arts.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Balance (from the Rainbow Bridge Oracle)

For some reason, probably because of the recent Equinox, this painting of mine from the RAINBOW BRIDGE ORACLE  came to mind, so I decided to just post it here.  Balance in every way is so important.........

In the traditional Tarot, this card was called Temperance.  The androgynous angel of Balance holds two cups, dark and light, pouring water into each, representing the energy of a continual harmonious exchange of opposites.  The "rainbow bridge" issues from this exchange, which is the practice of creating Balance.   In addition to the meaning of temperance or moderation, this card can be interpreted as symbolizing the blending  of opposites.

The rainbow is the visible spectrum of the  whole of white light.  The rainbow may also represent  the "rainbow bridge of the chakras", which in Hindu philosophy represent the different energy and perceptive systems of the human subtle body.  Balancing the Chakras is  to balance the energy system, thus maintaining spiritual and physical health.  If you've chosen this card,  continue to develop this virtue and insight in your life.  Reversed:  You are out of balance, and must seek ways now to bring about harmony, be it physically, psychologically, or even socially.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mass of the Moon Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse, photo by Howard Brannen
The Lunar Eclipse going on today is extraordinary, and I just had to re-post this beautiful poem.  This is a cosmic event that could also be known as a Rite of Passage for many.  Denise Levertov imagined the Eclipse as not a phenonomena, but a Mass, a celestial event that moves us all in its orbit into the sacred. Blessed be.


Not more slowly than frayed
human attention can bear, but slow
enough to be stately, deliberate, a ritual
we can't be sure will indeed move
from death into resurrection.
As the bright silver inch by inch 
is diminished, options vanish,
life's allurements. The last silver
lies face down, back hunched, a husk.

But then, obscured, the whole sphere can be seen
to glow from behind its barrier shadow:  bronze,
unquenchable, blood-light.  And slowly,
more slowly than desolation overcame, overtook
the light, the light
is restored, outspread in a cloudless pasture of
spring darkness where firefly planes
fuss to and fro, and humans
turn off their brief attention
in secret relief.  No matter:  the rite
contains its power, whether or not
our witness rises toward it;
grandeur plays out the implacable drama
without even flicking aside our trivial
absence, the impatience with which we
fail to respond.

                And yet
we are spoken to, and sometimes 
we do stop, do, do give ourselves leave
to listen, to watch.  The moon,
the moon we do after all
love, is dying, are we to live
on a world without moon?  We swallow
a sour terror.  Then
that coppery sphere, no-moon become once more
full-moon, visible in absence.
And still without haste, silver
increment by silver
increment, the familiar, desired,
disregarded brilliance
is given again,

given and given.

Denise Levertov, "Mass of the Moon Eclipse"
from This Great Unknowing:  Last Poems
1999, New Directions Press

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cosmic Spider?


Here is something Eddie Bailey of the U.K. sent me - pointing out the way an illustration of the Earth's magnetic field is very similar to an ubiquitous  prehistoric symbol found among the Mississippian people of  ancient America (one that, interestingly enough, also occured in 2005 as a crop circle in Wiltshire, England.)  The "Cosmic Spider".....this motif can be related to "Spider Woman's Cross" and the archetype of Spider Woman, earth mother, creatrix, weaver of the threads of life, as well as midwife for each new age, found throughout the Americas from the Maya to the Hopi and Navajo.

As Mr. Bailey pointed out, 

 "The truth will cease to be stranger than fiction when we get used to it."........ "I realise symbols work on many levels or fractally.  It is said matter is condensed light, and Light is an electro-magnetic wave or particle.  The electric field and the magnetic field are ALWAYS perpendicular to each other - like a Cross on a certain level."

2005 crop circle of ancient American spider motif, Wiltshire, England

He also kindly shared comments by Laid Scranton, who believes that the "primitive people" of Africa, the Dogon people, not unlike  the similarity between the  "cosmic spider" of ancient America and the Earth's magnetic field in relationiship to our sun, seem to have created or intuited a complex symbol language as well: 

"The Dogon symbols and concepts relating to atomic structure so thoroughly mimic their scientific counterparts that, if our purpose was to refute their basis in science, we would first need to explain in some believable way the following extraordinary similarities:

• The po, which is defined in terms similar to those that describe the atom
Sene seeds, which are described in form and behavior as being similar to protons, neutrons, and electrons and whose "nesting" is recognizable as an electron orbit
• The germination of the sene, whose drawn images are a match for the four types of quantum spin particles
• The spider of the sene whose threads weave the 266 seeds of Amma, much as string theory tells us all matter is woven from strings. 
Likewise, there seems to be a relationship between Dogon cosmological drawings and the shapes of various Egyptian glyphs, yet among the Dogon, these drawings have never taken on the status of an actual written language.
Dada, the Dogon spider who weaves matter and whose name means "mother" in the Dogon language, exhibits many of the classical attributes of the Egyptian (and Amazigh) goddess Neith.  In fact, other ancient goddesses, like Athena, who are traditionally associated with Neith also are associated with spider symbolism similar to that found in Dogon cosmology. Such consistencies suggest that the Dogon system of myth could represent an early incarnation of the Egyptian myths."


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Circe's Lament and other Visitations

I used to write the occasional poem, but that doesn't seem to happen much any more.  Perhaps the Muse of Poetry has flown away, finding me uninteresting.  Fickle creatures, muses.  But here is a poem I wrote years ago inspired by a strange Muse - the Goddess or Enchantress Circe of the fame of the Odyssey.  Ulysses  landed on her island, and among other things, she turned his men into swine.   It was originally inspired by  Margaret Atwood'Circe/Mud Poems.** (see her poem below).  I've loved the collection since the 70's, along with her rendering of yet another Goddess/heroine connected to the Odyssey, her so very witty look at Penelope's point of view in  The Penelopiad .  Penelope, like Circe, has  a somewhat different perspective on the events of mythic history.
In my poems, it would seem that the voice of "Lexusturned up after writing the first poem, no doubt to protest the indignity of being just an ordinary sailor, with the misfortune to be caught in someone else's epic.


I cannot recall how it happened.

I was on fire, I do remember that,
my imagination a tropical sunset
inflamed, exultant

and for one shining
Hallelujah of an hour
everything I touched

You squeal your indignation
through ruddy snouts:

It was a misfire, I swear it.

In the splendor of my exuberance
this was nothing I anticipated.

Tell your handsome Captain
I will petition the Gods this very day.
I have grown old, absent minded

in my solitude
my spells go astray

be patient, dear ones.
Meditate upon this dark, fertile
squalor of sensuous mud
you find yourself
so horizontal in.
This low rooting through an
odoriferous cosmos of fragrant compost.

Are you so undone
by the base pleasure of it all?
This nosing, snorting self-knowing,
the delight of a half fermented carrot?
Never a sow smelt so sweetly fecund before
nor was love so simple.

Surely we have become sleepy,
half-drowned by the lethargy
of our two-legged dignity.

Consider this, if you will,
an interlude of primordial grace.



All I wanted
was a touch, a kindly word,
a little ease.

Eight long Gods' forsaken years
on the stinking boat, and before that,
war, war, war, blood
and lamentation.

Who are you,
to name me thus?
Is your worth and wit
so much greater than mine

to dole out shame,
because I dared to love you
in my clumsy way?

Did I not bring you flowers
admire you from afar?

HE is adored by Goddesses,
hears the Sirens sing his wild praises,
returning at last to patient little Penelope,
his pretty kingdom.
Ballads, sung at last
beside his flowery grave.

Me - bale, Lexus, bale!
hoist the mast,
and don’t piss on the foredeck.

Who are you, to unmake me thus?
To twist and shape me
as suits your capricious humor
because my face is unlovely,
my gestures naive?

Who are you to judge my folly?

what magnitudes I glimpsed,
what private splendors
lived once within this breast?

Lauren Raine (2000)


There are so many things 
I wanted you to have.
This is mine, this tree,
I give you its name,

here is food, white like roots, red,
growing in the marsh, on the shore,
This is mine, this tree,
I give you its name,

here is food, white like roots, red,  
growing in the marsh, on the shore,
I pronounce these names for you also.

This is mine, this island, 
you can have the rocks,
the plants that spread themselves flat
over the thin soil,
I renounce them.
You can have this water,this flesh, I abdicate,

I watch you, 
you claim without noticing it,
you know how to take. 

Margaret Atwood   (1972)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Cowspiracy - a Very Important Documentary


One of the most important documentaries I've seen in a long time is COWSPIRACY  - The Sustainability Secret, a film by a group of young film makers from California.  They point out a very large "elephant in the room" that very few people are talking about, because such a vast economic system is behind that "elephant".  But everyone should know about it, because it's something we can do, every single day, that can actively make a difference. 

Recently the United Nations has recommended a vegan diet as SIGNIFICANT TO ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY.  The U.N.!  Regardless how people may feel about animals, and the health benefits of a vegan diet, if they care about climate change and a future for their children, I believe this is very important information.

The movie is available on Netflix, and elsewhere.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Wendy Griffin "Crafting a Voice from the Darkness"

I'm currently taking an online course at CHERRY HILL SEMINARY, where I'm also the current Resident Artist.  The Course is Voices of Gaia, with Wendy Griffin Ph.D.   Wendy Griffin  is an extraordinary voice for Mother Earth, Gaia, Pachamama.  I was delighted to find (via the course I'm taking) this moving and urgent presentation on U Tube, which I saw when I attended the Conference in January this year.  I am further delighted that Wendy will be invoking Pachamama at the Parliament of World Religions in October.

She summed up succinctly the reality of climate change, as well as pointing out (since we are a culture that places value on money) the economic, political and social consequences coming as well…….the increasing numbers of refugees driven by the loss of habitat and resources (many speculate that the situation in Syria actually  reflects the drought they have suffered for a decade), the rising of all kinds of tribal wars and religious fundamentalism  as populations become increasingly stressed.

She spoke of the "prevailing narratives of our times, the stories we tell ourselves, the myths that we tell today" which include the fact that "our current economic system depends upon indefinite expansion - and a belief that progress through development is the ultimate good and improves everyone's lives."  And that "technology and science will save us".  She pointed out the truly terrifying denial of climate change on the part of Exxon Mobil and the oil industry in support of fracking and the oil sands of Canada.

I was moved and heartened to hear Wendy comment that "instead of these old myths what we need is a new narrative …..toward the behaviors that can create a sustainable, global civilization".    Because "re-mything culture" is at the heart of what I feel the Pagan movement can uniquely address itself to, the very reason I joined the movement so long ago, finding existing structures inadequate. 

"We need to create an understanding of how the world works as a global culture ….. We need to draw on ancient archetypes and tell ourselves new stories....and pagans are in a unique position to do this...........we understand the power of archetypes, the (power of myth making), we create these in our rituals."

I am in no way denigrating the progressive theologians. activists, and spiritual leaders associated with diverse  faiths  who are addressing climate change and the  humanitarian concerns of our times as we rapidly emerge into a global culture with a global crisis.  I am a great admirer of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and also of Pope Francis.......and so many others who have stepped up to the call of the time, great leaders.

But we are also confronted with religious forces that are fundamentalist, medieval, oppressive in their world views, and  DO NOT include evolution, climate change, women, or cultural diversity in their narrow worldviews.   And like it or not,  they have a lot of power.    Witness the power that evangelicals have within the USA, people who take the Bible as the literal truth, and wish to impose this "truth" on everyone else.  In South Carolina, for example, I recently read that some schools are not allowed to talk about fossils found locally because the age of the fossils, unfortunately, disagrees with the Biblical notion creation's timeline.  

Sadly, this kind of  "truth" also de-sacralizes the Earth and embodied existence (which, since women are generally the means by which people enter the world with a body, provides fuel to the scapegoating of half the human race as well.)   These fundamentalist religious structures were perhaps useful during the dark ages, or to wandering Semitic tribes 2,000 years ago, or the fall of the Roman empire,  but they have not evolved to be appropriate to the crisis of our time.

As an emergent religion neo-Pagans are uniquely gifted with the ability to "re-myth".    Our very creativity is our strength, and our reverence for Mother Earth is the mythos we can further.  The "new narrative" Wendy speaks of  is a task we're up to, we are weavers together in the great work of creating a  "webbed vision".  

And as Wendy pointed out in her presentation as well, this "webbed vision" has to be active, not passive, and certainly not fatalistic.    If the Earth is our Deity, then our actions upon the earth (which includes member of our species as well as all other Beings of the Earth) have to be seen as either desecration or reverence. 

While I was reading I thought of one of my favorite books, THE GURU PAPERS by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad.  They speak of how many contemporary religions, from evangelical Christianity to aspects of Buddhism to "Guru traditions" to "A Course in Miracles"….. are in their essence   "renunciate" theologies.   In these systems  divinity is placed "elsewhere", be it the heaven or paradise that awaits the faithful ("be in the world but not of the world"This is a prime theme in religions that are  patriarchal, with authoritarian deities such as the Old Testament Yahweh.  Or , more subtly, the message is  that "this is not real", and hence "the real world" is to be found in some diviine, other-worldly abstraction once we are "purified", "enlightened",  or have our conciousness raised sufficiently.    

Human beings are myth makers, and religions are mythic, archetypal systems that help people to concretize the ineffable.  What are needed desperately now are myths/religions that are appropriate to the crisis we have been born into, that are "embodied", that sanctify again the great Community of Mother Earth.  We can't afford "somewhere else" religions, not now.

“Hope now lies in moving beyond our authoritarian religious past in order to build together a sustainable future for all the interwoven and interdependent life on our planet, which includes the human element.  We will have to evolve now into a truly compassionate and tolerant world – because for the first time since the little tribes of humanity’s infancy, everyone’s well being is once again linked with cooperation for survival.

 Our circle will have to include the entire world.”

Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad