Tuesday, December 31, 2013

For the New Year: "Let's Meet At the Confluence........"

Let this magnificent poem by Drew Dellinger again be my wish for this coming year.  May we all, and All Beings of The Earth, grow in empathy  at that Confluence. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Empathy and Human Evolution

 " Empathy is the invisible hand.  Empathy is what allows us to stretch our sensibility to another so we can cohere in larger social units.  To empathize is to civilize.  To civilize is to empathize."

Here's a beautiful short video about empathy and human evolution.  On so many levels, from mythology to archeology to evolutionary biology we've been long conditioned to think that war, competition, intellect over "lower (feminine)" emotional intelligence, and individualism over the need to cooperate and belong........is the way it's always been.  It's just not true.  Rifkin explores a hopeful argument of human  evolution as the development of empathy in pre-history from small family units to the possible evolution, now, of a global civilization and global empathy.   I think of  the vision of "Motherworld" that Kathy Jones and the Goddess Temple of Glastonbury.  Certainly I agree that the next evolutionary step will not be an intellectual one, so much as an empathic evolution, a capacity to not only "see", but to truly "feel" our interconnectedness and interdependency.  The "New Age" begins with revaluing, and continually evolving, the capacity for Empathy, not just with other human beings, but with the entire planet. 

"Bestselling author and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. Taken from a lecture given by Jeremy Rifkin as part of the RSA's free public events programme.  The RSA is devoted to creating social progress and spreading world-changing ideas. Find out more at http://www.thersa.org .
Produced and edited by Abi Stephenson, RSA. Animation by Cognitive Media.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Songs of Ancient Midwives, Un-Named Madonna, and other Arisings

This piece is brand new (as of Christmas Eve, 2013).  I don't yet know what to title it:  "Our Lady of _____________?"  I think her face is sorrowful, and of course the image of old, broken, decorated tiles or potshards have always meant to me reclaiming and arising of that which has been lost, broken, buried in the ancient past.  There is a surprising sense of Arising in these Icons that  I've felt compelled to finish  these past few weeks.  The Arising of the life-giving Goddess, arising from the mythic body of the Earth, arising from the shadows in this time of need.  And now that I think about it, this recent holiday, buried beneath all the consumer frenzy, is about the Solstice, and the birth of the new Sun God, the Christ Child..............

When I searched the internet, was it so hard to find any (good)  poems about Birth, let alone Midwives.  Believe me, there are plenty of poems about Battle and the glories, or not so glorious, realities of War.  I think this is another indicator of our world's  patriarchal priorities (death is way more important, and interesting, than the bringing forth of lifeAnd even that becomes trivialized or co-opted.)  Perhaps this is part of what the sorrowful expression of this "Madonna" means, seeking to arise in the fragmented consciousness of humanity..........

Certainly, these works keep surfacing from the dusty depths of my own creativity, and some dreaming part of me wanted to bring them forth.  

 "Sings with the Voices of Ancient Midwives the Songs They Once Sang, Singing the New Life Into The World.........."

"Shrine for the Ancient Midwives"


I'm always making Shrines, Reliquaries, "Containers" for images or objects that are important to me in one way or another.  This is a universal human impulse, and such shrines provide us with a "memory station" to re-connect with what is large, meaningful, sacred in the midst of daily life.   Here's a few new ones:

"Bloom Where You Are Icon"
The "Reliquary for the Flight of a Phoenix" is something I make over and over.  It began on the Summer Solstice in 2003, when I was at an artists colony in Connecticut, I-Park.  That ecstatic summer I would walk in the woods and fields, and let the objects I found tell me stories, integrating them into story sculptures.  A bright yellow feather, perhaps from an Oriole, became a relic left over from the recent flight of a Phoenix, born again from the ash and, as one holds that magical feather in one's hand, somehow you participate in that glorious, distant flight.  It becomes your own flight as well. 

"Reliquary for the Flight of a Phoenix"

Here are a few from earlier times.  I've always loved the one below, which I guess shows various symbols of transformation, including the Phoenix and the Snake, and of course, the breaking away of masks that enclose the soul.  If that makes sense..................


Did I see you?
feel your smile
as you

People cross bridges
cars pass under them
or water

you waited
then jumped
(it must have happened

but what was it that rose in you
like a slow Phoenix
new wings

....Felicia Miller


One of the "Persephone Icons",  and Persephone is always identified for me with the eternal process of life dying and being reborn.

One of the Spider Woman Shrines I made at Wesley..........to remind myself that we are all "weavers" with the actions of our minds and hands.  So may I align with the Great Weaver................

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Remembering Ethics in Industry ...........A Photo Collage

"I hope we shall crush in its birth (of our nation)  the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

Thomas Jefferson

In 1844 the Factory Acts were passed to address the injustice of exploitative child labor. These acts addressed the working conditions that children and women had to work in.  All women and young persons (13-18) were limited to work for only 12 hours and children under 13 could only work for under 6 ½ hours. In addition, all children under 8 could not be employed in factories. This was a continuation of the first factory acts in 1833, and there were 3 more factory acts to follow.  

Eventually  child labor, and slavery, were outlawed in the U.S.  Later came environmental protection laws, affirmative action in the labor market, decent work environment protection,  and pensions for retirees. 

 And also anti-trust laws to limit corporate power.

Faces of the past.

Just about everything we buy now does away with those laws. 



Faces of  today.



Do you know where your chocolate comes from?
  It might not be so appetizing......

“The history of the twentieth century was dominated by the struggle against totalitarian systems of state power. The twenty-first will no doubt be marked by a struggle to curtail excessive corporate power.”  

 Eric Schlosser

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Santa Claus, Father Christmas and.........Odin?

Odin on his 8 legged horse (Image source:   http://www.designboom.com/design/santa-claus-changing-design/)
The Winter Solstice has been celebrated since time immemorial, and in the  cold Nordic countries, where the return of the Sun's life giving warmth is of particular concern, there is evidence that it's been celebrated since the time of the Megalith builders and before.  Yule/Jól was was probably connected to the full moon nearest the winter solstice. 

Santa with his flying Reindeer

According to Wikipedia: 

Yule or Yuletide ("Yule time") is a religious festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples, later being absorbed into and equated with the Christian festival of Christmas. The earliest references to Yule are by way of indigenous Germanic month names (Ærra Jéola (Before Yule) or Jiuli and Æftera Jéola (After Yule). Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Modranicht.    Yule is also used to a lesser extent in English-speaking countries to refer to Christmas. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule or Yuletide ("Yule time"). 

Yule is the modern English representative of the Old English words ġéol or ġéohol and ġéola or ġéoli, with the former indicating the 12-day festival of "Yule" (later: "Christmastime") and the latter indicating the month of "Yule", whereby ǽrra ġéola referred to the period before the Yule festival (December) and æftera ġéola referred to the period after Yule (January). Both words are thought to be derived from Common Germanic *jeχʷla-, and are cognate with Gothic (fruma) jiuleis and Old Norse.   The word is attested in an explicitly pre-Christian context primarily in Old Norse.

 Among many others  the long-bearded god Odin bears the names jólfaðr (Old Norse 'Yule father') and jólnir (Old Norse 'the Yule one'). "

 The  Yule Log

The origins of  the Nordic Yule go back to a feast to honor the Norse God Odin, who among other things was the jolly  God of Intoxicating Drink. The custom of  the Yule Log or Yule Tree  emerged from this winter festival as well.  

The custom of Yule log varies from region to region.  It's good to remember the primal importance of the gift of warmth and of fire to early people living in the cold North, the "flame at the Hearth" for ancient families.  The Log may have originally been a large tree (Christmas Trees)  brought to the house with great ceremony. 

On Christmas, people light the Yule log placed in the hearth.   The burning of the Yule Log brings good fortune for family and friends.   After Christmas celebrations, a piece of the Yule log is retained to relight next year along with next year's log.

Origins of Santa Claus 

"The appearance of Santa Claus or Father Christmas, whose day is 25th of December, owes much to Odin, the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Gift bringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. … Odin, transformed into Father Christmas, then Santa Claus, prospered with St Nicholas on the Christmas stage."

......Margaret Baker 
The Origins of Santa Claussanta claus changing designSt.  Nicholas was a 4th-century Christian bishop from Lycia (now in Turkey), who was  known for his charity, and giving gifts to the poor. In one notable story, he met a pious but impoverished man who had three daughters. He presented them with dowries to save them from a life of prostitution. In most traditional Iconic images,  St. Nicholas is portrayed as a bearded bishop, wearing clerical robes, an important patron saint of  children, the poor, and prostitutes.
So few people know that Santa Claus is a blend of an early Christian saint living in Turkey (Saint Nickolaus)  and the Norse god Odin, with a few other influence thrown in over the ages. But I guess that would take away the fun............

The other mythos from which Santa Claus derives is much earlier,  Odin, the ruler of Asgard.    Odin was often depicted as leading a hunting party through the skies, during which he rode his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. In the 13th-century Poetic Edda, Sleipnir is described as being able to leap great distances, which some scholars have compared to the legends of Santa's reindeer (and, of course, the Edda are from Finland, which once abounded with reindeer). Odin was portrayed as an old man with a long, white beard. 

Odin (1886) by Georg von Rosen
I read that during the winter, in some pagan folklore, children would place their  boots near the chimney (and in the cold of a Nordic winter, it's a good place to put them), filling them with carrots or straw as a gift for Sleipnir. When Odin flew by, he rewarded the little ones by leaving gifts in their boots. Like traditions of the "Green Man" in England, in rural areas of Germanic countries  this practice survived despite the adoption of Christianity. As a result,  gift-giving became associated with St. Nicholas rather than the earlier Pagan god Odin.  Only now we hang stockings by the chimney, and leave cake and brandy rather than carrots and straw.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Frau Holle and Her Feather Bed

Since there is so much snow back East, I thought  of course of the old legends of "Frau Holle", a Nordic Goddess of Yuletime who, it is said, is shaking her feather bed when it snows.  So I felt like re-visiting an article I wrote about this Triple Goddess last year.


One of the  Goddesses that reflects this time, and the idea of the flux of cycles, is the Nordic Goddess Frau Holle. Holle has very ancient origins indeed, and is a Weaver Goddess, a Spinner of fate.   Mother  Holle is very much associated with Yule, and with the hearth and home, especially in the winter.  But she is known throughout northern Europe, an ancient goddess that predates the advent of Christianity. ** Also known as Holda or Hulda, she is a  triple goddess,  embodying the passages of life. In some myths, she is "the ash girl", her face half black with soot and half white.  This comes from a story of how in order to marry the God of Winter she had to come to him neither naked nor clothed, and neither in light or darkness (the White Goddess and the Dark Goddess).   As the Mother goddess, she protected the forest and was often shown among trees.  Holle (interesting to see the relationship in the name - "Holy", "wholly", "whole")  in old age  is Winter's Queen, and Mother Holda is the source of  "Mother Goose"  legends, because the snow flies when the she shakes the feathers from her down bed.  In Holland, they still say that 'Dame Holle is shaking her bed'.
"Frau Holle, as she is known in Germany, was called The Queen of the Witches. The brothers Grimm tell a story of step-sisters who both go to visit Frau Holle in the 'nether realms'. They begin their journey to her by falling in a well............Holle's name is linguistically related to the word Halja, which means "covering", and is the ancient Teutonic name for Hel, the Norse land of the dead. Holle is sometimes called the Queen of the Dead, and resides in the 'nether' regions. She possibly lent her name to the country Holland, 'the land of Holle', which is also called the Netherlands because many parts of the country are below sea-level."   

Sandra Kleinschmitt
Holle/Hel  is thus  both light and dark, young and old, illumination and shadow. Whole.
 As Joseph Campbell pointed out, to understand the evolution of myth is to understand many things, including the evolution of language and religion.  One of my images that I keep creating lately is "dual" masks, masks that are half black and half white, or half "underground" and half "above ground vegetation".  I think this reflects my sense of how very important holistic consciousness is, personally and collectively, whether we speak of shadow work, coming to terms with the ebbs and flows of self, or the cycles of our Mother Earth, the ebbs and flows of the seasons and the creation/death/rebirth cycle.  To try to live within the Whole.  Or at least, come to terms with it!

And who is Hel, the ashy side of Holle's face, from whose name we get "Hell"?   Besides being the origin of the word people use daily as a swear word, and millions of Christians have a mighty fear of going to (without knowing anything about where the concept originated from).  People no longer remember that once "go to Hell" meant to die.
"Hel (Hell)  has been used by the early  church as a scare tactic to frighten the masses into “righteous” acts. To get the real story, we have to go back to the early Nordic people and look this death Goddess in the face. 
Hel" by Susan Seddon Boulet
Hel is cast into the netherworld and becomes the ruler of that underworld to which souls who have not died in battle will depart. As thanks for making Her ruler of the netherworld, Hel makes a gift to Odin. She gives him two ravens, Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory). Ravens are messengers between this realm and the next, opening pathways to death’s realm.
Her realm is named for her, Hel or Helheim. Because She accepts all to Helheim, she also becomes the judge to determine the fate of each soul in the afterlife. The evil dead are banished to a realm of icy cold (a fate that the Nordic people found much worse in telling than a lake of fire). Unlike the Judeo-Christian concept, Helheim also served as the shelter and gathering place of souls to be reincarnated. Hel watches over those who died peacefully of old age or illness. She cares for children and women who die in childbirth. She guides those souls who do not choose the path of war through the circle of death to rebirth."............
 Rowen Saille of the Order of the White Moon,
Like Persephone, who is both the Queen of Spring and the Queen of Hades, Hel as the dark side of Holle governs the world beyond that of the living, the underworld or invisible realm. In magic, she makes thin the veil between worlds.

"Magic is the art of changing consciousness
 at will."............ Starhawk

 Seidhr [SAY-theer] or Nordic shamans called upon Hel's protection and wore  "the helkappe", a magic mask, to render them invisible and enable them to pass through the gateway into the realm of death and spirit.  The Helkappe, a mask, was thus understood as a liminal tool that enabled transit between the seeming dualities of life, and was infused with shamanic power.  To take this metaphor further, to wear a mask consciously, and as a psychic/sacred tool, is to engage consciously with the continual flux of personae - young/old, dark/light, good/bad.  This is the realm of the soul, beyond duality.  Wearing that kind of mask,  and taking it off at will, enables one to enter both realms.
For anyone who may wonder where the "flying broomsticks" of witches (or Harry Potter) comes from, Dame Holda is probably  the source.  Because of her association with the hearth and home, the Broom was both symbol and magical tool.  Folk traditions of "sweeping away evil from the hearth" are very ancient throughout Europe.  As a symbol of the Hearth, it is interesting to see this also transformed into the "vehicle of witches".  In later folktales, Frau Holle becomes a fearsome hag, riding her broom and bringing the storms of winter.

A wonderful commentary on Holle/Hel come from the   Goddess Inspired  Blog 
and again I quote, as she writes so beautifully of the non-duality of this myth.  

"Mother Holle  started off Her existence as the Goddess of Death and Regeneration. During the Neolithic in what Marija Gimbutas termed Old Europe people believed in the cyclical nature of all existence. Every ending was understood to be the beginning of a new chapter. Death, rather than being the final end, was seen as a resting stage prior to new life. Just as seeds rest deep undergound during the cold winter months waiting to sprit up as a seedling in spring, so were the dead seen as having returned to the Goddess’ dark womb to await renewal and rebirth.

The Goddess of Death and Regeneration was associated with winter and the colour white. Small stiff white Goddess figurines with small breasts and exaggerated pubic triangles were placed alongside the dead in order for Her to accompany the person on her or his journey of renewal. The Goddess of Death and Regeneration was not feared or seen as being evil, but instead was considered to be benevolent and generous.
Mandorla of the Spinning Goddess by Judith Anderson

“She holds dominion over death, the cold darkness of winter, caves, graves and tombs in the earth….but also receives the fertile seed, the light of midwinter, the fertilized egg, which transforms the tomb into a womb for the gestation of new life.”..... Marija Gimbutas

Old white-haired Mother Holle and Her underground realm are one interpretation of this aspect of the Goddess. In the fairy tale Mother Holle is described as being kind and generous and very just. She lives at the bottom of a well. The well itself can be interpreted as being the birth canal leading to Her dark underground womb...........Mother Holle is described as having ugly big teeth, a big nose and a flat foot. The latter shows her love for weaving or spinning, another sacred act associated with the Goddess: She is the Life Weaver, the Spinner of Destiny and Fate.

Mother Holle was known all across the Germanic world. She was called Holle in Germany, Hel or Hella in Scandinavia and Holde on the British Isles. She is the origin for the word hell and its German variant Hölle, as well as words such as holy and holding in English and Höhle (= cave) in German.

The Scandinavian Goddess Hel is probably the most widely known version of Mother Holle as Goddess, although by the time the Indo-European Norse wrote down their religious beliefs, Hel was no longer the benevolent Regeneratrix of the Neolithic. She had become the dreaded Queen of the Dead.

As was the case during the Neolithic, Hel’s realm Nifhelheim also lies below the earth at the root of the World Tree. Incidentally the bottom of the World Tree is also home to the three Norns, Weavers of Destiny. While, as said above, originally the Goddess of Death and Regeneration was also the Weaver of Fate and Fortune, later beliefs separate Her more and more into Her various aspects. 

 Despite being feared by the Norse as the dreaded Hag of Death, Hel has Her benevolent roots hidden in plane sight. Being linked to the earth, She is one of the old Vanir Earth Goddesses, Vanir meaning “the Giving One”.

In Central Europe Mother Holle also evolved over time. Instead of becoming the Goddess of the Underworld, though, She became the Queen of Elves and the Mistress of Witches. Her character was actually very similar to that of Greek Hekate, the old Crone who roams the world with Her fearsome dogs.   Around 900CE Frau Holle had become an old weather hag who was said to ride in on Her broom stick bringing with Her whirlwinds and snowfall. Her life-giving generous nature was retained more in Germany than in Scandinavia, as even during Christian times She was seen as bringing life to the land causing growth, abundance and good fortune."



Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Winter of Listening

"I Rest in You, a Seed" (1993)
The Winter of Listening 
 (by David Whyte)
All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

All this trying
to know
who we are
and all this
wanting to know
what we must do.

But what is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire.

What disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves
but what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born…

Friday, December 6, 2013

New Old Work........

Last spring I began a series of 4 masks, inspired by a friend who wished to use them for a ritual theatre process based upon the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece.  We don't know exactly what occured in the Mysteries, because participants were forbidden to tell what occured - "Mystery" derives from a work that means "that which cannot be spoken".  But the  Eleusinian Mysteries  combined spirit of place and mythic enactment to transform pilgrims as they  enacted the death/rebirth cycle of nature, based upon the Triple Goddess Demeter/Persephone/Hecate  for almost 2,500 years, and probably longer, as, like many places of pilgrimage today, the origins go back far into prehistory. 

I wanted to try to make the masks look old, and tried to imagine what they might have looked like as painted Greek masks..........these don't really look much like ancient Greek masks at all, but I like them anyway.  They were recently used by a ritualist in California, so they have some energy instilled in them and I hope they'll "travel" to others who might want to use them to explore these important myths.



I've written quite often about Hecate, the Underworld Goddess who bears two Torches to assist Persephone, and the immature unconscious parts of all of us, through the Underworld to mature empowerment - here's a recent post.


Here's another recent variation..............Demeter aren't done yet.  But I had fun making the masks look "bronze".  I like the idea of these masks, and the other sculptures that seem related, really looking sculptural, with a heavy, strong, dark,  metal presence. 

Black Madonna
Here's an other theme that keeps arising, and it's good to come back to these images, play with them again.  The Primal Black Madonna, Earth Mother, Gaia, the Source that sustains us all.

Transformer:  Yin and Yang
I love these paper casts of a dead snake that I found years ago and made a plaster cast of.  Snakes were very sacred in ancient times as a symbol of the renewal of life because the snake sheds its skin.  Snakes also represented the serpentine movements of nature, the spiral of the Goddess that moves through nature's cycles, through life/death/rebirth again and again.  The Snake is identified with Demeter and Persephone, and in ancient Egypt the word for snake or cobra was the same as the word for female deity.

I did this "Skin Shedder Mandala" back in 1986, when I was studying "The Spiral Dance" by Starhawk as a graduate student at the U.A.  A lot of people found it dark or grim............but I still love it.  

The Black Madonna (2013)

Black Madonna earlier version...............
  And I'm having fun making these variations on the Torso .................... I guess the next one is a "copper patina" effect.  Good to be in the studio again, having my discussions, in the symbol language of art I think, with the Dark Goddesses of  Winter....................

Cast of sculpture from IPark in 2005