Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dead Languages


A poem from the collection "Late in the Day" (2014), reflections from the long study 
of language by a master writer.

Dreadful, this death, dragging
So many lives and lively minds along
After it into unmeaning. 
Endless, imbecile silence.

The more ways there are to say Mother
The wiser the world is.
Never are there enough
Words for Well done!  Or Welcome!

A line of verse revives lost Aprils.
In the name for Home lie whole nations.
The unused word may be the useful one.

Old nouns are in no hurry.
Old verbs are very patient.
The water of life is learning.

May elders ever tell the mythic origins
In the almost lost old language
To children cheated of knowledge
Of their own holy inheritance.

May myopic scholars scowl
Forever at fragments of inscription
So that the young may yawn
Log over grim grammars, learning

To speak the tongues unspoken
And hear a human music otherwise unheard.

Ursula Leguin

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"Numina", and the Intelligences of the Living Earth

NUMINA:  Spirit of Place, Myth and Pilgrimage
By Lauren Raine MFA

"To the native Irish, the literal representation of the country was less important than its poetic dimension.  In traditional Bardic culture, the terrain was studied, discussed, and referenced:  every place had its legend and its own identity....what endured was the mythic landscape."

    R.F. Foster 1

The Romans believed that special places were inhabited by intelligences they called Numina, the "genius loci" of a particular place.   I personally believe many mythologies may be rooted in the actual experience of “spirit of place", the numinous, mysterious, felt presence within a sacred landscape. 

To early and indigenous peoples, nature includes a “mythic conversation”, a conversation within which human beings may participate in various ways.  Myth is, and always has been, a way for human beings to become intimate and conversant with what is vast, deep, and ultimately mysterious. “Mything place” provides a language wherein the “conversation” can be symbolically spoken and interpreted, as well as personified.    Our experience, and our relationship with Place changes when Place becomes "you" or "Thou" instead of "it". 

  In the past, "Nature" was not just a "backdrop" or a "resource"; the natural world was a vast relationship within which human cultures were profoundly embedded and interactive.   The gods and goddesses arose from the powers of place, from the powers of wind, earth, fire and water, as well as the human mysteries of birth and death. 

In India, virtually all rivers bear the name of a Goddess.  In southwestern U.S., the “mountain gods” dwell at the tops of mountains like, near Tucson, Arizona where I live, Baboquivari, sacred mountain to the Tohono O’odam, who still make pilgrimages there.  This has been a universal human quest, whether we speak of the Celtic peoples with their legends of the Fey, ubiquitous mythologies of the Americas, or the agrarian roots of Rome:  the landscape was once populated with intelligences that became personified through the evolution of local mythologies.   

"The Desert Spring", mask from 2013 performance with Ann Waters
 The Romans called these forces “Numina”.  Every valley, orchard, healing spring or womb-like cave had its unique quality and force - its Numen.   Cooperation and respect for the Numina, the animating intelligences of place, was essential for well-being.  And some places were regarded as imbued with special power, they were special places of pilgrimage.

With the evolution of patriarchal monotheism and religions that increasingly removed divinity from Nature and from the body, and, in the past century, the rapid rise of industrialization, we have increasingly looked at the world from a "users" point of view instead of a participatory one.  This overview tends to view the natural world as an object to be used or exploited, forgetting indeed that virtually all pre-industrial human cultures have rich traditions that teach that  the world is alive and responsive.   From Katchinas to the Orisha, naiads to dryads, the Australian Dream Time to Alchemy's Anima Mundi, every local myth reflects what the Romans knew as the resident “spirit of place”, the Genius Loci.

In those reverent traditions, sacred places may be locations where the potential for revelation, healing, or transpersonal experience is especially potent, and many contemporary places of pilgrimage carry on this mythos. It’s well known that early Christians built churches on existing pagan sacred sites.   An example would be the numerous sacred wells that are dedicated to a Black Madonna in Europe, or a Saint in England, in much the same way the Oracle of Delphi was dedicated to Gaia, the primal Earth Mother of Greek mythology, and later to the God Apollo.

"Gaia", 2013 performance with Ann Waters
Contemporary Gaia Theory 2 proposes that the Earth is a living, self-regulating organism, utterly interdependent and always evolving.  A system of relationships.  If one is sympathetic to Gaia Theory, it follows that everything has the potential to be “conversant” in some way, whether visible or invisible.    Ancient Greeks built their Oracle at Delphi because it was felt that it was especially auspicious for communion with the Goddess Gaia, and undoubtedly it was a site that was sacred to prehistoric peoples prior to the evolution of Greece.  

There is a geo-magnetic energy felt at special places on our planet that change consciousness, and can catalyze insight, healing, or visionary experience, perhaps even, as the Oracle of Delphi believed, prophecy.  Before they became contained and mythologized by religions or designated by prehistoric monuments, these sites were intrinsically places of numinous power and presence in their own right.  

They touch all who visit, and ultimately, no particular belief system is needed for them to have a transformative effect, although human architecture and the accumulation of human psychic energy and visitation may amplify this effect.  

Roman philosopher Plinius Caecilius commented that:

"If you have come upon a grove that is thick with ancient trees which rise far above their usual height and block the view of the sky with their cover of intertwining branches, then the loftiness of the forest and the seclusion of the place and the wonder of the unbroken shade in the midst of open space will create in you a feeling of a divine presence, a Numina."3

Many years ago I lived in Vermont, and one fall morning I stumbled down to the local Inn for a cup of coffee to discover a group of people about to visit one of Vermont's mysterious stone cairns on Putney Mountain.  Among them was Sig Lonegren 4, a well-known dowser and researcher of earth mysteries who now lives in Glastonbury, England.  Through his generosity, I found myself on a bus that took us to a chamber constructed of huge stones, hidden among brilliant foliage, with an entrance way perfectly framing the Summer Solstice.  

No one knows who built these structures, which occur by the hundreds up and down the Connecticut River, but approaching the site I felt such a rush of vitality it took my breath away.  I was stunned when Sig placed divining rods in my hands, and I watched them open as if I had antennas, quivering as we traced the “ley lines” that ran into this site.    Standing on the top of the somewhat submerged chamber, my divining rod "helicoptered", letting me know that this was the “crossing of leys”; a potent place geomantically.  

Months later friends gathered in the dark to sit in that chamber and watch the Solstice sun rise through its entrance way.  We all felt the power of the deep, vibrant energy there,  and awe as the sun rose illuminating the chamber.   None of us knew what to do, so we held hands and chanted.  We were all as “high as a kite” when we left.  

Earth mysteries researcher John Steele 5 wrote in  the 1989 book EARTHMIND  (in collaboration with Paul Deveraux and David Kubin) that we suffer from "geomantic amnesia".  We have forgotten how to “listen to the Earth”, to engage in what he called "geomantic reciprocity"; instinctively, mythically, and practically, to our great loss.   We disregard for short term economic gain places of power, and conversely, build homes, even hospitals, on places that are geomagnetically toxic instead of intrinsically auspicious.   Remembering, re-inventing, and re-claiming  what inspired early peoples  may be important not only to contemporary  pilgrims, but to creating future human societies that can be sustainable.

The act of making a pilgrimage to a sacred place is among the oldest of human endeavors. The Eleusinian Mysteries combined spirit of place and mythic enactment to transform pilgrims for over two millennia.  One of the most famous contemporary pilgrimages is the "Camino" throughout Spain, which concludes at the Cathedral of Santiago at Compostella.  Compostella comes from the same root word as "compost",  the fertile soil created from rotting organic matter -  the "dark matter"  to which everything living returns, and is continually resurrected by the processes of nature into new life, new form.  As researcher and mythologist Jay Weidner has pointed out, pilgrims finally arriving in Compostella after their long journey are being 'composted' in a sense.  Emerging from the dark cathedral, and the mythos of their journey, they were ready to return home with their spirits reborn.

In 2011 I visited the ancient sacred springs of Glastonbury, the Chalice Well and the White Spring as well as participating in the international Goddess Conference there.   Making this intentional Pilgrimage left me with a profound, personal sense of the "Spirit of Place", what some call the "Lady of Avalon".  Pilgrimage opens one to blessing and vision, and can take us out of the ruts of our daily lives into transpersonal communion.

Sacred Sites are able to raise energy because they are intrinsically geomantically potent, and they also become potent because of human interaction with the innate intelligence of place, the Numina.  “Mythic mind” further facilitates the communion.   Sig Lonegren, who is a dowser, has spent many years exploring sacred places, and has commented that possibly, as human culture and language became increasingly complex, verbal, and abstract, we began to lose mediumistic consciousness, a daily Gnosis with the "subtle realms" that was further facilitated by symbolism, mythology, and ritual. 

With the gradual ascendancy of left-brained reasoning, and with the development of patriarchal religions, he suggests that tribal and individual Gnosis was gradually replaced by complex institutions that rendered spiritual authority to priests who were viewed as the sole representatives of God.  The “conversation” stopped, and the language to continue became obscure or lost. 

Perhaps this empathic, symbolic, mediumistic capacity is returning to us now as a new evolutionary balance, facilitated by re-inventing and re-discovering the mythic pathways to the Numina.


1 Foster, R.F., The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 2001)

2 The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or Gaia principle, proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. The hypothesis, which is named after the Greek goddess Gaia, was formulated by the scientist James Lovelock and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s.

3 C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus minor, Epistula 41.3, from Nova Roma,

4 Lonegren, Sig, Mid Atlantic Geomancy, website and blog (

5 Steele, John, Earthmind: Communicating with the Living World of Gaia, with Paul Devereaux and David Kubrin (Harper and Row, 1989)

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Buddha's Eyes

I found this essay by my friend, Felicia Miller, who became a Buddhist, in my files the other day, something she wrote and shared with me  toward the end of her life (she passed in 2009 ).  And then I found a poem she gave me long before that time, when we were both young students during  halcyon years at Berkeley.  I just felt like sharing and pairing the two here as I remember my friend as well.  

I think Felicia would see the connection.  There are gaps in a life, but again, the same song, no gaps, just an open window.


This longing to see the gaze of the Buddha, what is it? What would it be to look into this ancient, ancient man’s eyes? 

Like entering the tractor beam of a powerful darshan? Perhaps, but not only, also something else. “The taste of freedom is everywhere in my teachings,” the Buddha said. Maybe like looking through a window to see a limitless sky.

My friend Claude told me about a ritual that Korean priests perform to bind the community to the temple and to each other. They go to the temple hall and attach strings from the lanterns that hang near the ceiling and run these strings from each one around the temple, going from each to each. All the strings converge at the eyes of the  Buddha above the alter. Like the tiny buddhas in a certain Tibetan practice that we picture streaming through the practitioners’ eyes,  back and forth moving along rays of light that connect us all. After the Korean temple ritual is completed,  priests cut the strings into  threads of protection  for others to wear. People tie them around their necks or wrists and wear them until they disintegrate. Protected by the community, the sangha, protected by the dharma, protected by the Buddha.

So what would I be looking for, if I could look into the Buddha’s eyes? 

Surfing Amazon, I came across a book titled “To See the Buddha.” An image of curious eyes accompany the caption, “Look inside this book.” I look, and find: “the Buddha is an absent presence.” Present and absent, yes. The Buddha is an act of the imagination, really, an absence we fill with our desire to be ruled no more by desire.

In Sri Lanka, an artist has finished an image of the Buddha. The last thing he must do is to paint the Buddha’s eyes. He does not do this painting the  vacant lids up close. Instead, he  holds up a mirror, using  the reflection in the mirror to guide him. The statue’s eyes are thus  not part of the representation of  form.  They are a  gap  introduced through the device of the mirror’s reflection. A point of reflection for the artist,  a gesture that says “This is a statue of the Buddha, but not the Buddha. This isn’t it.” 

A gap. Bardos at every level of being - at the end of life, and at the ends and beginnings of every breath, if we can but look for them. 

The Buddha is a presence that denotes absence.  We  stand and stare, but to see the gaze of the Buddha, one would have to look with the eyes of the Buddha. A shift somehow.  A trick with incense and mirrors.  What does one see through the Buddha’s eyes? 

What is seeing when no one is looking? Nagarjuna says “the horizon of enlightenment is the same as the horizon of samsara.” The same, only different, but not.

Felicia Miller  (2009)

Someone was the Sun

            calling from across
                        the little island fields

we turned,  and took the last
          glimpse of the closing lid

"Let's go, shall we?"

I could not answer
         but only followed after

         just someone's glance
                    along the rock path.

Felicia Miller (1972)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Carol Christ on Patriarchy, Ownership of Women's Bodies, and War

"Gaia" 1987, Oil on Canvas

carol p. christ 2002 color
"Control of female sexuality is fundamental to the patriarchal system.  This explains why there is so much controversy about the “simple matter” of access to birth control and abortion and so much anger directed at single mothers. " ~Carol Christ

I never cease to be amazed that the contemporary versions of Biblical Patriarchs continue to fight for control the bodies and lives  of the female population, even as they attempt to remove virtually all infrastructure to support or assist poor and single mothers who don't happen to be "owned" by benign, affluent men.  
Here's a brilliant article I felt like reprinting by feminist scholar and philosopher  Carol Christ that takes a long look at the issue, so deeply embedded in our world, and so very crucial to change.
  Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection 
  of the Control of Women, Private Property, and War 

 (Part 2), February 25, 2013


Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.*

In last week’s blog, I explained patriarchy as a system in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality with the intent of passing property to male heirs.

 How did a system that identifies a man’s essence with his property and the ability to pass it on to sons come about? I suggest that the answer to this question is war and the confiscation of “property” by warriors in war. Patriarchy is rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.

My argument is that the origin of “private” property, defined as property owned by a single (male) individual, and as that which defines the “essence” of that individual, is the “spoils” of war, which are divided up by victorious warriors.  The “spoils” of war are the tangible treasures “looted” or taken by the victors from the conquered, such as jewelry and sacred objects.  The “spoils” of war include land “taken” as the result of warfare, along with the right to exploit resources, directly or through taxes and levies. The “spoils” of war also includes the right to “take” the women of the defeated enemy and to confirm ownership of them (and humiliate their fathers or husbands) by raping them.  The “spoils” of war also include the right to “take” these raped women and their young children home to serve as slaves and concubines.

Though many people were surprised when the rape victims of the recent war in Bosnia began to speak out about the use of rape as a tool of war by Serbian soldiers, in fact, rape has always been an “ordinary” part of war. In the “great” epic known as The Iliad which is said to be the foundation of western culture,  Achilles and Agamemnon are fighting over which of them has the right to rape a “captured” woman named Briseis.  The term “spear captive” is used to mask the reality that Briseis and other women like her were “rape victims” and that the “heroes” being celebrated were their “rapists” and “jailers.” I believe that the institution of rape and the (twisted) notion that men have a right to rape (certain kinds or types of) women originated with war.

The institution of slavery also originated in war. Both the Bible and the Greek epics testify to the ancient custom of enslaving the women and children of the enemy.  Slave women in every culture, like the slave women on plantations in the Americas, are at the mercy of their owners and his sons, who can rape them if they felt like it. The “custom” of taking slaves from the enemy and the “custom” of also taking enemy women sexually, is deeply intertwined with the history of war.  The Africans who sold other Africans into slavery in the Americas were selling Africans they had taken as the spoils of war.
If we entertain the hypothesis that earlier matriarchal clan systems existed, then we can see that the notion of individual powerful men’s peri-ousia being defined as the treasures, land, and people they “stole” and then claimed to “own” would have involved a massive cultural shift.  The shift to defining men by the property they owned required that men would also ”own” and absolutely control their wives and daughters, who had previously been free.  Such a cultural shift could only have been instituted and maintained through violence.

Patriarchy is a system of male domination, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence. Warriors who have learned the methods of violent domination of other human beings—not only other soldiers, but also the women and children of the people they conquer—bring the methods of violence home.  Violence and the threat of violence can then be used to control “one’s” wife or wives, in order to ensure that “one’s” children really are “one’s” own. Violence and the threat of violence can be used to ensure that “one’s” daughters are virgins who can be “given” to other men to perpetuate the system of patriarchal inheritance.  Violence and the threat of violence can be used to hold enslaved people “in line.”  In addition, violence and the threat of violence can be used to subdue those within one’s own culture who are unwilling to go along with the new system. Women who refuse to let men control their sexuality can be killed with impunity by their male relatives or stoned by communities as a whole.

How does such a violent system legitimate itself?  By religious symbols.  In Greece, warriors were “in the image” of the “warrior God” Zeus whose rape of Goddesses and nymphs was celebrated.  In Israel, the power of warriors is mirrored in a male God who is called “Lord” and “King” and who achieves his will through violence and destruction. Sadly, this is not an exclusively western problem. In all of the so-called “highly developed” cultures defined by patriarchy and war, symbols of divine warriors justify the violence of men.  Laws said to have a divine source enshrine men’s control the sexuality of their wives, permit some men to rape some women, and allow some people to own other people as slaves.  

Patriarchy is not simply the domination of women by men. Patriarchy is an integral system in which men’s control of women’s sexuality, private property, violence, war, and the institutions of conquest, rape, slavery arise and thrive together. The different elements are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate one as the cause of the others.  Patriarchy is an integral system of interlocking oppressions, enforced through violence.  The whole of the patriarchal system is legitimated by patriarchal religions.  This is why changing religious symbols is necessary if we hope to create alternatives to patriarchal systems.

The model of patriarchy I have proposed argues that control of female sexuality is fundamental to the patriarchal system.  This explains why there is so much controversy about the “simple matter” of access to birth control and abortion and so much anger directed at single mothers.  The model of patriarchy as an intergral system can help us to see that in order to end male domination we must also end war–and violence, rape, conquest, and slavery which are sanctioned as part of war.  We must also end the unequal distribution of wealth inherent in the notion of ”private” property, much of it the “spoils” of war, which led to the concept of patriarchal inheritance, which in turn required the control of female sexuality.  As feminists in religion we must identify and challenge the complex interlocking set of religious symbols which have sanctified the integral system of patriarchy–these include but are not limited to the image of God as male.  Ending patriarchy is no small task!

*I am offering a functional definition of patriarchy that does not address the separate question of why it originated.  I will be publishing an expanded version of this dicussion in the future.

This Article is from Feminism and Religion, February, 2013 

Carol P. Christ will be leading life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete.  Join her and learn more about prepatriarchal woman-honoring Goddess cultures.   Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions