Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Butterfly Woman Mask

Another new  mask, this one based on the Native American (Pueblo) stories of the "Butterfly Woman".  She is often represented among the Hopi people as an older woman, solid and experienced:  because the work of a Pollinator is no work for an inexperienced, naive young girl.  It is the hard work of pollinating the seeds of a new year, a new generation, a new world.  

The story below is not really based on the wonderful traditions of the Hopi,  rather, it kind of emerged from me some 20 years ago, when much was changing in my life.  But wherever  "La Mariposa" disappeared to, I am certain she has joined her tribe in order to continue the great work of the Pollinators...............


Once upon a time, in a dusty village like any other village, a  village with  three good wells,  fields of blue and yellow corn,  a white church, and a cantina, there lived a woman who was neither young, nor old.  She was brown of skin, and eye, and her hair was as brown as the sandy earth, and her clothes were  brown and gray as well. She was neither beautiful nor ugly, neither tall nor small, and she walked with a long habit of  watching her feet.

One day, she saw a tree alight with migrating butterflies.   Their velvet wings fluttered in the wind of their grace, and one circled her, coming to rest upon her open hand.  She thought that her heart would break for the power of  its fragile beauty, and she held her breath for fear of frightening it.  La Mariposa  was as orange and brilliant as the setting sun falling between indigo  mountains, as iridescent, as black and violet as the most  fragrant midnight.  At last the butterfly lifted from her hand to rejoin its nomad tribe, and its wings seemed like a whisper,  "Come with us, come with us..."

The next morning they were gone.  She held her hand out to the empty tree, as if to wave farewell, and saw that where the butterfly had rested, there remained a dusting of color, yellow, like pollen, the kiss of a butterfly wing.  And she thought  something had changed.

She went to the well to draw water, and saw her face reflected there.  She was not the same -  there were now minute lines, hairline cracks, along the sides of her face, at the corners of her eyes.  Later, she noticed  little webs of  light beneath the sturdy brown skin of her hands,  barely visible except in the dim  twilight.

This was a frightening thing.  She drew her  skirts more closely around herself, pulled her scarf over her eyes.  But as time went on,  there was something that kept emerging, something that would not be denied.  She was peeling open.  At first, it simply itched, like a rash, like pulling nettles.  As  weeks went by,  what had been easily born, could be endured,  became painful,  became an agony.  Try as she might, as tightly as she wrapped herself in her cocoon of shawls and skin and silence,  the comforting  routines of her life,  colors emerged from her hands, spilt from her mouth, colors and tears, deep waters that seeped from within,  washing away the dust of her life.

Soon, sleep became impossible.  Standing by her window one day, shivering,  she shook  with fear.   A beam of sunlight fell across the floor of her little room like honey.  "Please help me", she cried, "I'm not the same".   Then she noticed a beam of sunlight that fell across the floor of her little room like honey.  Motes of dust gathered in the golden light, becoming  a flurry of butterflies dancing through an open window into a sky as blue and vast as forever.   And La Mariposa  opened her arms, took the gift of wings, and rose.

When her neighbor came to walk with her that evening, she found only a dusty shawl and an old brown skirt upon the floor, the early stars glimmering through an unshuttered window.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Show of the Masks of the Goddess: The Morrigan Mask

In May, 2019 I will be exhibiting the entire "Masks of the Goddess" Collection, along with photos of participants, at HerChurch in San Francisco (details and announcement of opening to follow soon) as part of the closing of this 20 year project.  Giving a talk and performance, as well as donating some of the masks to the Temple of the Goddess in Glastonbury, U.K.  was the first part of my formal closing.    I have been very privileged indeed to share this work with many people:  Storytellers, Priestesses, Dancers, Actors, Communities.  No artist could ask for more.

Some of the masks, over the years, have been donated, sold, or lost, so I'm having a grand time right now making new ones.  This is the first new one, the Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of war, lamentation, and also justice.  Celtic warriors went into battle believing that She would bear their souls to the Summerland in honor if they fought well and bravely.  Her totem was the Raven.  I tried to get the expression of "battle lust"........ I hope I succeeded.  

This performance piece/poem I wrote in 1999...........I honestly sometimes think I "channelled" it because it came forth so fast and with such strength and passion.  Goddess of Justice She is, and a very, very fierce compassion.

Image result for raven in flight


You who bring suffering to children:  May you look into the sweetest, most open eyes, and howl the loss of your own innocence.

You who ridicule the poor, the grieving, the lost, the fallen, the inarticulate, the wounded children in grown-up bodies:  May you look into each face, and see a mirror.  May all your cleverness fall into the abyss of your speechless grief, your secret hunger,  may you look into that black  hole with no name, and find....the most tender touch in the darkest night, the hand that reaches out.

May you take that hand.  May you walk all your circles home at last, and coming home, know where you are.

You tree-killers, you wasters: May you breathe the bitter dust, may you thirst, may you walk hungry in the wastelands, the barren places you have made.  And when you cannot walk one step further, may you see at your foot a single blade of grass, green, defiantly green.

And may you be remade by its generosity.

And those who are greedy in a time of famine:  May you be emptied out, may your hearts break not in half, but wide open in a thousand places, and may the waters of the world pour from each crevice, washing you clean.

Those who mistake power for love:  May you know true loneliness.  And when you think your loneliness will drive you mad, when you know you cannot bear it one more hour, may a line be cast to you, one shining, light woven strand of the Great Web glistening in the dark.

And may you hold on for dear life.

Those passive ones, those ones who force others to shape them, and then complain if it's not to your liking:  May you find yourself in the hard place with your back against the wall.  And may you rage, rage until you find your will.  

And may you learn to shape yourself.

And you who delight in exploiting others, imagining that you are better than they are: May you wake up in a strange land as naked as the day you were born and thrice as raw. 
May you look into the eyes of any other soul, in your radiant need and terrible vulnerability.

May you know yourSelf.  
And may you be blessed by that communion.

And may you love well
Thrice and thrice and thrice
And again and again and again
May you find your face before you were born.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

In Partnership With Mother Earth by Robert Koehler

In 2014 I shared an article by Robert Koehler titled "Calling All Pagans - Your Mother Earth Needs You" and wrote to the author in appreciation for his article.  I was surprised when he wrote back, and we had an exchange of ideas, and very pleased when he sent me a followup article in which he quoted me from our email conversation.  This was his followup article, and I felt like sharing it again.  


OK, mankind, it’s time to grow up, and I see a good way to start: Change the wording of Genesis 1:26. Change one word. 

Last week, I quoted that Bible verse in a column about the increasing velocity of climate change:   “And God said . . . let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,” etc.  

Dominion!  Nature belongs to us, to suck dry and toss away. And thus we moved out of the circle of life and became its conquerors, an attitude at the core of the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilization. The momentum of this attitude is still driving us. We don’t know how to stop, even though most people now grasp that we’re wrecking the environmental commons that sustains life.

Addressing the verse and the idea of “dominion,” Phil Miller, a minister, wrote: “Some of us understand that word to mean ‘stewardship’ or ‘responsibility.’” And David Cameron wrote: “One has to wonder what would have ensued had the translation said ‘stewardship’ rather than ‘dominion’? Almost incomprehensible that our future and the future of so many and so much may have hinged on that one word.”

If in one of the most defining religious-political texts of the human species we’d been charged with stewardship of the natural world, not some sort of adolescent, consequence-free control over it, what sort of spiritual understanding would have evolved over the millennia? What sort of technology? What would our civilizations look like if we believed in the depths of our beings that they were not distinct from but part of nature? What if, instead of organizing ourselves around the concept that we have enemies to subdue — “survival of the fittest” — we explored the complexity of our connectedness to one another and the whole of creation, even when the connections were barely visible?

What I am coming to learn, as I ask such questions, is that this understanding is already vibrantly present in the collective human consciousness, drowned out as it may be by the special interests that run our world. These interests, which serve war and money, have belittled complex understanding as “paganism” and colonized, enslaved and slaughtered its primary keepers: the tribal and indigenous people of the world. 
Listen to the words of Rupert Ross, from his remarkable book Returning to the Teachings, as he describes his dawning understanding of the aboriginal culture of northern Ontario: 

 “The word ‘connecting’ leapt at me. It captured not only the dynamics I imagined in that room, but also the key feature of all the traditional teachings I had been exposed to thus far. Until then, I had somehow missed it. It involved a double obligation, requiring first that you learn to see all things as interconnected and second that you dedicate yourself to connecting yourself, in respectful and caring ways, to everything around you, at every instant, in every activity.“. . . (Children) had to learn to see themselves not as separate, individual beings but as active participants in webs of complex interdependencies with the animals, the plants, the earth and the waters.”

Indeed, Ross and many others have pointed out that indigenous science has always known what Western science has only recently relearned: that the universe is energy and dynamic flux, that there’s no such thing as objectivity and separation. 
“Like Western science, indigenous science relies upon direct observation for forecasting and generating predictions,” according to the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network. “. . . Unlike Western science, the data from indigenous science are not used to control the forces of nature; instead, tell us the ways and the means of accommodating nature.”   Among other critical distinctions, according to the website: “All of nature is considered to be intelligent and alive, thus an active research partner.”

 I note these ideas not to throw rocks around in some “debate” about who’s right, but to open up the national and global conversation about who we are. We can let these ideas sit in our imaginations. What might stewardship of nature mean if we regarded the relationship as a partnership? What might a celebration of Earth Day (April 22) look like?

“We need to re-myth culture, to re-sanctify nature before it’s too late,” Lauren Raine (“a longtime advocate and practitioner of neo-pagan theology and resident artist for Cherry Hill Seminary, “the only accredited Pagan seminary in the U.S”) wrote to me last week.“Earth-based spirituality is to be found in all cultures, including many rich traditions from Europe and Great Britain. The evolution of our strange, life-denying religious backdrop has much to do with the evolution of patriarchal culture and values. We need to get rid of the war gods, and return . . . to honoring the Mother.

We also need to put our lives on the line, or at least honor those who do. One of the many responses I got to last week’s column was from environmental activist Jessica Clark, who faces jail time for sitting in a tree last fall.  
In September, she and other members of the Michiana Coalition Against Tar Sands, or MICATS, temporarily blocked Enbridge Inc.’s tar sands pipeline expansion through Michigan. This was an expansion of the same pipeline that ruptured in 2010, badly polluting the Kalamazoo River; it was the largest and costliest inland oil spill in history. 

One night the protesters climbed trees at the construction site in central Michigan and anchored their platform to the company’s construction equipment. If the ropes had been moved, the protesters’ platform would have tipped, dropping them 50 feet to the ground. That didn’t happen, but they were arrested and convicted of trespassing — for the crime of stewardship. It’s the price of growing up.

 Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available.
Contact him at or visit his website at