Lady of the Apocalypse

‘And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars …’
Revelation, Chapter 12
Because that doesn’t describe a goddess at all or anything…
This is my most recent painting. This is a recreation of a 14th century illuminated manuscript page illustrating Revelations. You can find the original here, courtesy of the British Library.
Lady of the Apocalypse

Lady of the Apocalypse

I’m really fascinated by the ways that the Goddess sneaks into Christianity.

In the description of the original, it says: “Detail of the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, from the Queen Mary Apocalypse, S.E. England or East Anglia, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 20v”

The six heads are the winds and the guy holding the book and staff is old St. John himself, admiring the Lady…and of course, where would we be with pseudo Pagan imagery if we didn’t have some “foliage” hanging around?

Twelve stars on her head and the moon under her feet…? Where else have I seen that lately…?

Oh wait…

I like the idea that the end of the Christian world is ushered in by a beautiful woman and a seven headed dragon (not depicted) and I really like this image. Maybe next time you think of the apocalypse, you’ll think of the Lady too…

Lughnasadh and the Goddess Tailtiu

And so we come to Lughnasadh and a full blue moon.

Lughnasadh, the beginning of the harvest season, often recognized as the first harvest; a festival that celebrates the first fruits, the sun god Lugh and games of skill.

In reality, this sabbat was originally about Lugh’s foster mother, Tailtiu, rather than Lugh himself.

Tailtiu was the last queen of the Fir Bolg. She is described in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, a famous history of Ireland:

§59. Tailltiu daughter of Mag Mor king of Spain, queen of the Fir Bolg, came after the slaughter was inflicted upon the Fir Bolg in that first battle of Mag Tuired to Coill Cuan: and the wood was cut down by her, so it was a plain under clover-flower before the end of a year. This is that Tailtiu who was wife of Eochu son of Erc king of Ireland till the Tuatha De Danann slew him, ut praediximus: it is he who took her from her father, from Spain; and it is she who slept with Eochu Garb son of Dui Dall of the Tuatha De Danann; and Cian son of Dian Cecht, whose other name was Scal Balb, gave her his son in fosterage, namely Lugh, whose mother was Eithne daughter of Balar. So Tailltiu died in Tailltiu, and her name clave thereto and her grave is from the Seat of Tailltiu north-eastward. Her games were performed every year and her song of lamentation, by Lugh. With gessa and feats of arms were they performed, a fortnight before Lugnasad and a fortnight after: under dicitur Lughnasadh, that is, the celebration (?) or the festival of Lugh. 
Unde Oengus post multum tempus dicebat, “the nasad of Lug, or the nasad of Beoan [son] of Mellan.” 

Tailtiu cleared a great forest in order for the Irish to plant the first fields. This feat exhausted her and when she was finished, she laid down at her castle and died. The Lughnasadh games were actually the funeral games held by Lugh in her honor.

Tailtiu is the great mother goddess. It is through her pains that the fields were cleared and the harvest was able to be born. She is also seen to be a goddess of childbirth and labor. Tailtiu’s death was a necessary part of bringing forth life for the people. So while people celebrated her life through her funeral games, they also mourned her death and Lugh himself is said to have sung her death song every year. Because of this, Tailtiu is said to have prophesied on her death bed that as long as Lughnasadh is celebrated, there will always be music in Ireland.

Tailtiu’s death was a part of the sacred king rites of Ireland. Tailtiu was a Queen at Tara, the seat of the High King’s of Ireland. She was also married to the last Fir Bolg ruler. While Nuada was the first of the Tuatha rulers, Lugh was his successor.The High King’s of Ireland married the goddess who was sovereign over the land itself. Without holding this sovereignty, no one could rule. Lugh could not marry his foster mother, but by celebrating the sacrifice that ensured the prosperity of the land, Lugh was certainly honoring that connection. Tailtiu is often seen as the dynastic link between the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha de Danaan.

Lugh is the dying and reborn god, the sun and the grain in the fields. While Tailtiu cleared the land through her labor, it was Lugh who embodied the grain that grew in that land and was cut down for the harvest. Tailtiu didn’t birth Lugh physically, but she was certainly his mother in this sacred sense. Lugh is the young God that we cut down and sacrifice and who returns to the underworld and who is later reborn after the Goddess and the Old God marry. But he can only do this because of the original sacrifice of the Goddess.

So this Lughnasadh, while you dance and sing and make merry, also remember Tailtiu, the Great Mother whose death allowed the fields to grow so that the people could eat.

Wailing, Weeping Women

My great grandmother Bertha DeVoe (who I'm amused to note, my father looks exactly like).

My great grandmother Bertha DeVoe, as seen in an old photograph at my parent’s house.

There’s a story in my family about my great grandmother. She died at home in southern Ohio, very near the Ohio River. She was surrounded by family in her bed. As was the usual custom of the time, my great aunts, who were standing at the foot of the bed, let out the death wail.

The death wail is a very traditional keening cry done at a family member’s death. Its not something you see very often anymore, but when you hear it, you’ll never mistake it for anything else. It’s an eery noise that will haunt you for a long time. (The British Library has a recording of one that you can hear here: death wail on wax cylinder).

So my great grandmother dies. The doctor who was also there, pronounced her death and my great aunts let the death wail loose.

My great grandmother sits right back up, looks at my great aunts and asks, “Can I go now?” At the family’s shocked silence, she laid back down, closed her eyes and was gone again.

Needless to say, they did not give the death wail again and as far as I know, my great grandmother still peacefully sleeps in the family cemetery. (At least we all hope she does).

The family grave site.

The family grave site.

Death wails and laments were traditionally done at funerals as well and in Celtic mythology were tied to the tradition of the Banshee.

My family is very Irish and the mythology around the death wail is fairly potent.

In Irish and Celtic mythology, the Banshee (or Bansidhe) is a figure that appears to families to worn about an imminent death. There are many myths surrounding the Banshee, who is said to wail when someone is about to die. In other Celtic myths, the Banshee will be seen washing the bloody clothes or armor of those who are about to die. In Ireland, the more powerful families were said to have their own Banshees and many people refuse to marry into family’s with Banshees, since they are seen to be so unlucky.

Banshees are traditionally fairy women (who funnily enough are also known for herding fairy cattle), but they can also be the ghost of a murdered woman or just a ghost associated with the family they are forewarning.

Banshee sightings have continued to occur even over here in America, especially in the Appalachian regions that were settled by so many Celtic immigrants. Very famously, in 1874 on the Ohio River, Mary Marr met a veiled woman on her path by the river who, when greeted by Mary Marr said, “I am here to tell you, Mary Marr that Thomas Marr has just died. Say your prayers, Lady. I bid you well” and then mysteriously disappeared. Thomas Marr was Mary’s husband, and sure enough, Thomas Marr’s body was found on the riverbank later that day.

And this is not the only story of the Banshee along the Ohio River. In 1935 near Parkersburg, West Viriginia, a little girl and her grandmother supposedly met the Banshee on horseback while they walked to the outhouse before going to bed one night. This occurred during a flu epidemic. The Banshee pointed at them and said, “One of yours is to die this very night!” before disappearing before their very eyes. Sure enough, the little girl’s uncle died of the flu within the hour.

The tradition of the wailing woman is not just tied to the Banshee. The White Lady ghost tradition is found throughout Europe and Asia. And this particular ghost is famous for appearing along abandoned stretches of roads, always foreshadowing the death of a loved one. In America, the White Lady story is usually tied to the death of young women who are tragically killed in car accidents. Usually a motorist will see a woman in white walking along the road where the accident happens. If the motorist stops and picks her up to give her a ride, she will give a shriek after riding for a while and then suddenly disappear, of course scaring the m.

In the South West, you’ll find La Llorona, the ghost of a woman who murdered her children after her husband leaves her for

another woman. La Llorona is a more malevolent spirit who supposedly kills children that she meets in order to appease her own murdered children. She wanders the hills and desserts, weeping for her lost children. A famous song comes from this story:

My family has a somewhat happier ending when it comes to the death wail. My great grandfather was dying in the same bed that my great grandmother died in, and supposedly suddenly smiled. When the family asked him why he was smiling, he said that he could see my great grandmother standing in a beautiful garden. He reported that she said to him, “It’s beautiful here, you’ll like it, don’t be afraid. When you see me again, we’ll be together forever.” He died with a smile on his face a while later, proving that the foreshadowing doesn’t always need a wail, but sometimes just a quiet word.

Letting a death wail loose lets an intense amount of energy go. Grief is never an emotion to think lightly of. It’s no wonder that so much folklore and mythology surrounds women who make those types of noises. I don’t know that I agree that these ghostly figures are unlucky, but I also would prefer not to meet one unexpectedly on the road. Unlike many other fairy figures, there is no way to protect yourself against the Banshee who appears. She comes, she gives you the omen of death, and leaves. Just like the tragedies of life, the wailing woman cannot be stopped, she simply must be survived and surpassed.

Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic

She neither prays to Gods Above nor begs divine

aid with suppliant hymn, nor does she know prophetic

entrails. Decking altars with flames funereal gives her

joy — so does incense filched from pyres already kindled.

The Gods Above grant her every evil the moment

she invokes Them — They fear to hear her second prayer.

~ description of Erichtho from Lucan’s Pharsalia, Book 6, lines 523-528 from Jane Wilson Joyce’s translation

The last few months I haven’t put a great deal into writing here because I have been so focused on finishing my thesis for my M.A.

It focuses on the classical witch Erichtho and her appearance in one of John Marston’s plays. I fell in love with the witch Erichtho in an independent study on the witch in literature last year.

It is finally officially done and published! If you’re curious, you can find it here: http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020/

I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope I can keep working on this fascinating, powerful witch figure.

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia - From the British Museum Online Collection

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia – From the British Museum Online Collection

Abstract:

Since classical times, the witch has remained an eerie, powerful and foreboding figure in literature and drama. Often beautiful and alluring, like Circe, and just as often terrifying and aged, like Shakespeare’s Wyrd Sisters, the witch lives ever just outside the margins of polite society. In John Marston’s Sophonisba, or The Wonder of Women the witch’s ability to persuade through the use of language is Marston’s commentary on the power of poetry, theater and women’s speech in early modern Britain. Erichtho is the ultimate example of a terrifying woman who uses linguistic persuasion to change the course of nations. Throughout the play, the use of speech draws reader’s attention to the role of the mouth as an orifice of persuasion and to the power of speech. It is through Erichtho’s mouth that Marston truly highlights the power of subversive speech and the effects it has on its intended audience.

DeVoe, Lauren E., “Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic” (2015). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2020. http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020

Commencement 2015

I graduated on Friday with my M.A. in English Literature. I did this degree full time over the last two years as I worked full time. I graduated with a 4.0, which was an act of humongous will and stubbornness.

I am very proud of my degree. I wrote my thesis on the witch Erichtho and passed my defense with distinction. Hopefully in the future I can continue the little scholarship on this very interesting Greek witch and contribute to the witchcraft discourse in an academic way.

At graduation, I was confronted with an invocation by a Catholic priest who ignored every non Christian (well really, every non Catholic) in the room. It was uncomfortable. I thought it was in poor taste from a university that celebrates diversity.

Our speakers were decent enough, they had some interesting things to say, but nothing that truly moved and inspired me.

Today, Neil Gaiman posted a link to Ian McEwan’s commencement address to Dickenson College. This is the speech I wish I had heard. I think the things he talks about are so important in today’s world and in today’s America.

If you want to read through it, Time posted the entire speech here.

McEwan says at the end:

I hope you’ll use your fine liberal education to preserve for future generations the beautiful and precious but also awkward, sometimes inconvenient and even offensive culture of freedom of expression we have. Take with you these celebrated words of George Washington: “If the freedom of speech is taken away then, dumb and silent, we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.”

We may be certain that Dickinson has not prepared you to be sheep.

Remember that your words have power. At the end of the day, intention and will is at the heart of every magical working and when you blindly parrot the speech of others, without truly investigating or thinking about what is being said, you help their words take action and form in the world around us. Our speech has consequences, sometimes in ways that we aren’t even aware of. Sticks and stones as the old childhood rhyme goes, but we should all know better.

God in Every Man, Goddess in Every Woman

One of the very first assignments we give to students who are studying with us is the “God in Every Man, Goddess in Every Woman” assignment. It’s a way for students to start learning about the Gods and to make them aware that the divine is in and around us all the time. We tell students to take a person in their lives and compare them to a God or Goddess. We ask the student to tell us about the God or Goddess and then explain how the person shares similar characteristics or qualities with that God or Goddess. By looking at the people around us and seeing how they share characteristics with the divine, it becomes much easier to recognize that divinity within us as well.

One of my students gave us her first entry today and I thought it was extremely well done and very well thought out. I thought I would share it here (with the student’s permission). It certainly made me think and I think it will make you think too!

Athena

(My Beloved Sister) and Athena (The Virgin Goddess of Wisdom, Courage, Strategy and Warfare)

According to myth, Zeus was so fearful of the conception of the child that had been prophesied to be even more powerful than Zeus himself (king of the gods and ruler of the universe), that he tricked the mother, Metis (cunning, wisdom and prudence) into becoming a fly and then swallowed her. He was too late, and Athena grew inside him while Metis forged her a suit of armor. The hammering caused him great discomfort that eventually culminated in a massive headache. When an axe was used to split open his head (presumably in an effort to relieve the headache), Athena sprung from his head fully grown and armed. Instead of his rival, however, she soon became Zeus’s favorite child, and was even entrusted to yield the power of his lightening bolt. In contrast to Ares, the god of war, violence, and bloodshed, Athena is associated with the strategy, valor and generalship of warfare and is accompanied by Nike, goddess of victory. She is a virgin goddess, but is loved and revered by the Athenians who look to her as the patroness and guardian of their city.

My sister* is strong, intelligent, and fiercely independent. She is righteous and responsible in her actions, holding herself and those under her care/authority to the highest standard. Though she may appear cold and objective in her relationships, she is exceptionally generous, protective and loyal. She has a brilliant mind with a natural aptitude for math and science, and her impressive education has made her a force to be reckoned with.

Well beyond her years in wisdom and maturity, her competence and understanding levels have consistently surpassed expectations since early childhood. In many ways, it was like my sister was born fully grown and armed. She was able to demonstrate levels of judgement, reason and responsibility you can’t expect from most adult men before she reached puberty. Though to a certain extent, I believe that her maturity and armored personality are a result of early influences and circumstances, her strength and intelligence are unique, and not everyone could have adapted and excelled with such grace.

It is fitting to compare my sister to a virgin goddess, especially one who is most often depicted wearing a suit of armor. Growing up, she always emphasized the importance of modesty, and even still, she is constantly telling me to be more careful in concealing the things that make me vulnerable to others who could hurt me. Even as a newborn, Athena is never naked. My sister is a virgin in the sense that she is untouched and unknown to pretty much everyone, even me at this point. She is unexposed. And though I know there are scars beneath that armor, she is protected, whole and unbroken.

Our father taught us that the knowledge and wisdom from great books are like armor. He used that analogy too. He said he wasn’t exposed to books like The Art of War and The Prince and Atlas Shrugged until he was in college, and that when he discovered them, it was like building a suit of armor. He was finally able to understand the world around him, protect himself, and succeed. In an effort to arm us, and give his own children the head-start that he believed would have spared him so much struggle and pain, he gave us these books, and many more, all before we started high school.

I was a disappointment on this front. I was not able to appreciate the brilliance of Machiavelli and Ayn Rand at the age of 13. And you know, I don’t beat myself up for that, I don’t think most people can. Those things started clicking much later for me, and like mythology, many things still are sinking in at the right time for me. I tend to think my father wouldn’t have been so shocked and disappointed by my reading and comprehension level if it hadn’t been for my freak of a sister who came before me (just kidding, she is a goddess…).

My sister not only read the books he gave her, but sought out the writing of every great philosopher, poet, novelist that he ever quoted (which pretty much makes up most of our dialogue). What’s more, she actually understood them and could have intelligent conversations about them as a preteen. I attend a liberal arts university and I can honestly say that my sister was more well-read as a 16-year-old than any college student I know.

And yet, even though at times I could almost believe that she literally sprung from his head as his mental conception of the perfect child, the two of them have spent countless nights fighting until dawn. Her persistence, intelligence and strategic approach have definitely provided him with a worthy sparring partner. The appreciation and mastery of the art of argument and war that he has always respected and encouraged in her has also lead, I’m sure, to some excruciating headaches (I know they have for me).

Like Athena, however, my sister’s strength and intelligence have made her the favorite. Her loyalty and hard work have earned her his favor and trust, and just as Zeus empowered Athena to share in the power of his lightening bolt, our father has gifted and entrusted my sister with power and opportunity known to very few. Though a great weapon and power in itself, it is only in addition to the already impressive force that she is on her own. The mere force of her will has been enough to defeat even her most formidable opponents in battle. If, however, there is ever a time when this is no longer true, she is equipped with the gifts and support of a very powerful ally.

While her spirit is confident and unflinching, she remains unassuming and heedful of the constant flux of threats and opportunities around her. There is a simultaneously intoxicating and sobering quality to her determination that should not be taken lightly. She is never unarmed, and she is never unprepared. She is strategic and offensive in her
interactions with the outside world, and others look to her as a leader, guide and guardian.

She is courageous and unrelenting in her endeavors, and her achievements are both grand and well-deserved. She is wise, skilled, accomplished and respected in her field, and as with Athena, victory is at her side.

*Name ommitted to protect the innocent :)

The Hunting of the Hare

Betwixt two Ridges of Plowd-land, lay Wat
Pressing his Body close to Earth lay squat.
His Nose upon his two Fore-feet close lies
Glaring obliquely with his great gray Eyes.
His Head he alwaies sets against the Wind;
If turne his Taile, his Haires blow up behind:
Which he too cold will grow, but he is wise,
And keeps his Coat still downe, so warm he lies.
Thus resting all the day, till Sun doth set
Then riseth up, his Reliefe for to get.
Walking about untill the Sun doth rise
Then back returnes, down in his Forme he lyes.
At last, Poore Wat was found, as he there lay
By Hunts-men, with their Dogs which came that way.
Seeing, gets up, and fast begins to run,
Hoping some waies the Cruell Dogs to shun.
But they by Nature have so quick a Sent,
That by their Nose they race, what way he went.
And with their deep, wide Mouths set forth a Cry,
Which answer’d was by Ecchoes in the Skie.
Then Wat was struck with Terrour, and with Feare,
Thinkes every Shadow still the Dogs they were.
And running out some distance from the noise,
To hide himselfe, his Thoughts he new imploies.
Under a Clod of Earth in Sand-pit wide,
Poore Wat sat close, hoping himselfe to hide.
There long he had not sat, but strait his Eares
The Winding Hornes, and crying Dogs he heares:
Starting with Feare, up leapes, then doth he run,
And with such speed, the Ground scarce treades upon.
Into a great thick Wood he strait way gets,
Where underneath a broken Bough he sits.
At every Leafe that with the wind did shake,
Did bring such Terrour, made his Heart to ake.
That Place he left, to Champion Plaines he went,
Winding about, for to deceive their Sent.
And while they snuffling were, to find his Track,
Poore Wat, being weary, his swift pace did slack.
On his two hinder legs for ease did sit,
His Fore-feet rub’d his Face from Dust, and Sweat.
Licking his Feet, he wip’d his Eares so cleane,
That none could tell that Wat had hunted been.
But casting round about his faire great Eyes,
The Hounds in full Careere he neere him ‘pies:
To Wat it was so terrible a Sight,
Feare gave him Wings, and made his Body light.
Though weary was before, by running long,
Yet now his Breath he never felt more strong.
Like those that dying are, think Health returnes,
When tis but a faint Blast, which Life out burnes.
For Spirits seek to guard the Heart about,
Striving with Death, but Death doth quench them out.
Thus they so fast came on, with such loud Cries,
That he no hopes hath left, no help espies.
With that the Winds did pity poore Wats case,
And with their Breath the Sent blew from the Place.
Then every Nose is busily imployed,
And every Nostrill is set open, wide:
And every Head doth seek a severall way,
To find what Grasse, or Track, the Sent on lay.
Thus quick Industry, that is not slack,
Is like to Witchery, brings lost things back.
For though the Wind had tied the Sent up close,
A Busie Dog thrust in his Snuffling Nose:
And drew it out, with it did foremost run,
Then Hornes blew loud, for th’ rest to follow on.
The great slow-Hounds, their throats did set a Base,
The Fleet swift Hounds, as Tenours next in place;
The little Beagles they a Trebble sing,
And through the Aire their Voice a round did ring.
Which made a Consort, as they ran along;
If they but words could speak, might sing a Song,
The Hornes kept time, the Hunters shout for Joy,
And valiant seeme, poore Wat for to destroy:
Spurring their Horses to a full Careere,
Swim Rivers deep, leap Ditches without feare;
Indanger Life, and Limbes, so fast will ride,
Onely to see how patiently Wat died.
For why, the Dogs so neere his Heeles did get,
That they their sharp Teeth in his Breech did set.
Then tumbling downe, did fall with weeping Eyes,
Gives up his Ghost, and thus poore Wat he dies.
Men hooping loud, such Acclamations make,
As if the Devill they did Prisoner take.
When they do but a shiftlesse Creature kill;
To hunt, there need no Valiant Souldiers skill.
But Man doth think that Exercise, and Toile,
To keep their Health, is best, which makes most spoile.
Thinking that Food, and Nourishment so good,
And Appetite, that feeds on Flesh, and blood.
When they do Lions, Wolves, Beares, Tigers see,
To kill poore Sheep, strait say, they cruell be.
But for themselves all Creatures think too few,
For Luxury, with God would make them new.
As if that God made Creatures for Mans meat,
To give them Life, and Sense, for Man to eat;
Or else for Sport, or Recreations sake,
Destroy those Lives that God saw good to make:
Making their Stomacks, Graves, which full they fill
With Murther’d Bodies, that in sport they kill.
Yet Man doth think himselfe so gentle, mild,
When he of Creatures is most cruell wild.
And is so Proud, thinks onely he shall live,
That God a God-like Nature did him give.
And that all Creatures for his sake alone,
Was made for him, to Tyrannize upon.

~ Margaret Cavendish, 1653

Copyright Lauren DeVoe

Photo Copyright Lauren DeVoe