Mabon and the Forgotten Queen

This was a blog post from Witches and Pagans originally posted on September 17th, 2012. Blodeuwedd is a goddess that I work very closely with.

 

Mabon is the Sabbat where the focus of the wheel of the year goes from Life and growth to Death and the harvest. It is when the young God experiences death and begins his journey to the Underworld. It is also when the White Goddess begins her descent to the Underworld to take her rightful place as the Queen of Death. The Welsh figure of Blodeuwedd is an often ignored facet of the Queen of Death.

Blodeuwedd is a Goddess that modern audiences have a hard time viewing outside of the lense of our industrial, patriarchal culture. Blodeuwedd, who comes to us in the Fourth Branch of the Welsh Mabinogion, is a woman created out of the flowers of the forest by the Gods Math and Gwydion who need a wife for Gwydion’s son Lleu; Lleu has been cursed by his mother, Arianrhod, to never take a human wife. Blodeuwedd’s story is often seen as one of rape and revenge, similar to the way the Arthurian legends are often treated. It is a story that most people never try to reconstruct with the meaning it might have had to pre-Medieval Welsh listeners. For modern listeners, Blodeuwedd is not seen as the White Goddess that she is; she is viewed as a woman torn between two lovers, such as the Medieval Iseult, or Shakespeare’s Juliet, and the tale of the two Gods/men (Lleu and Gronw) becomes one of lust and revenge.

Unlike the Greek myths, where we have the original stories “written” out to us by the Greeks themselves, the Mabinogion comes to us through the interpretation of the “modern” and patriarchal society who recorded it. Christian ideology overshadows the retelling of the stories, and these tales are doomed to be seen in the shadow of modern ideologies. Blodeuwedd as a Goddess is a victim not of rape, but of misinterpretation.

In the modern scenario, Blodeuwedd has no agency of her own as an individual and therefore no power as the Goddess that she is; she is the tool of the men around her, rather than a woman with true power. She becomes an excuse to shame women and is not seen as the force of nature she is, the force that assists in turning the wheel of the year. In this way, Blodeuwedd becomes similar to Pandora and Galatea, a plaything of a thunder wielding, sky father God. But let us remember that Blodeuwedd is a creature of the forces of land and nature worshipped by the agrarian Celts.

In the contemporary retelling of Blodeuwedd’s story, we sense that Math and Gwydion’s intentions are simply to create a wife for Lleu; that there are no other reasons that this woman needs to be brought into existence. But consider that Math and Gwydion create Blodeuwedd from the flowers of the forest, which symbolize the life and death aspects of the cycle of the year; they are intentionally drawing the White Goddess of the Underworld, the White Lady of Death, into the physical realm. Blodeuwedd of the Underworld is the balance to Lleu’s role as the Lord of the Sun.

Arianrhod, Lugh’s mother (another misunderstood Welsh Goddess), foreshadows the role that Blodeuwedd is to play. Lleu’s birth is seen as being shameful to her in the Christian context; she is not seen as the High Priestess figure who is helping her son through his initiations to gain the power that he is destined to inherit. Gwydion’s “trickery” to make Arianrhod name Lleu, by getting her to exclaim “the young lion has a steady hand” when he kills a wren (symbol of winter), is the first place where it is understood that Lleu has to kill the Old God in order to take his rightful place as God of the Sun. It is the starting point for the task that Blodeuwedd will assume in order to facilitate this cycle. Blodeuwedd’s lover Gronw is the wren that Lugh originally kills to claim his title. Life and Death work side by side to ensure this cycle continues.

Blodeuwedd is the physical manifestation of the Goddess of the Underworld. Just as Persephone in the Greek myths, Blodeuwedd is aware of what she is doing when she tasks Gronw with killing Lleu. Blodeuwedd’s “choice” between Lleu and Gronw is the neverending cycle of Growth and the Harvest. The Sun God must die so that winter may come: the cycle of death and rebirth again and again. Blodeuwedd is not just a woman who is torn between two lovers through Math and Gwydion’s magic; she is an incarnation of the White Goddess.

Blodeuwedd’s role in this cyclical story is an integral part of what Mabon symbolizes. When we forget the basic meanings behind the stories of our holidays or misinterpret their meanings, we forget the true importance of what we are celebrating. Blodeuwedd is not a light Goddess; she is the Dark that awaits all of us in the end, and her presence at Mabon should be considered in light of her true aspect.

The Liminality of Festivals

For the past two years or so I’ve been blogging for Witches and Pagans. As some of you may or may not know, my life is currently in a state of upheaval.  While I’m not yet comfortable talking about that and while I sort out everything else that is going on, I thought I would start publishing some of those posts here. I don’t know whether or not I will stay at Witches and Pagans when all is said and done, but…I think a lot of those posts were really great and I would like to both share them with you and to be able to keep them.

So I will start with this one, “The Liminality of Festivals,” which I originally published July 25th, 2012.

~

I just returned from Sirius Rising, a festival held at Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, NY.

For me, festival is a liminal experience. That probably sounds rather cliche in this context (who doesn’t like to bring up liminality?), but every time I go to a festival, something life altering ends up happening.

After the last festival that I went to, I hit a young buck with my car coming home. The police officer who arrived to help me, told my father as I was sitting on the side of the road next to my completely shattered car, that I was lucky to be alive. At the time, with a full Mabon moon riding red and heavy in the night sky, I assumed that I hadn’t given enough of myself that Mabon and that some more blood needed to be offered.

Now, looking back on the events of that festival and what happened in my life around that period (all of which started right before that particular festival), I’m pretty sure a particular God was giving me a very clear message about a decision that I had just made, letting me know that I was going to have to change course to set myself back on the proper spiritual path.

The events of that autumn changed me forever, and as with any initiatory experience, I think that I had to have that experience to get where I am now. I had to come face to face with the Underworld, both that night and once again later in that Fall at Samhain, to enter back into life. Yule, as it’s supposed to, brought the beginnings of the possibility of life back to me. While the Wheel of the Year is pretty clear in its metaphorical meanings, that year demonstrated many more of its actual practical realities on my life. And where I am now is a very happy, healthy place, largely because of the wonderful man that those events led me to.

This was, as I see it, my first real initiatory experience, though it was neither planned nor officiated by anyone human, and was messy and rather drawn out, with Death serving as a grim sort of Summoner. The Pirates of the C.U.C. Constantine had helped me put a name on everything that I had always felt up to that point in my life as Pagan, and this experience, assisted patiently by my pirate sisters, was my transition to my current Wiccan path.

This year, at the first festival I’ve been to since the last one, I took my next Wiccan elevation. While I’m still a ways away from actual initiation in my current tradition, I think that first walk between the worlds was the only reason that I was allowed to move onto this one.

b2ap3_thumbnail_tree_20120725-182000_1On another forum that I participate in, someone was questioning the role that initiation plays in Paganism. I feel I understand that role now. Without that initiation, nothing that has come since could have been allowed to happen. Initiation is a sort of death: it is the gateway through which you have to pass to move forward. You have to be tested, whether it is by someone else or by yourself; and you must face Death to move on. Festival plays a big role in this for me. It is a place that you go that is between the worlds (without you ever having to cast a circle). Going to festival takes you out of the mundane world. While I live my Pagan life 24/7, unlike many Pagans who are not able to be out of the broom closet, festival is still an important place for me to go to be fully myself. While I sit at my desk all day at my nine-to-five job, I have to curtail much of my true self. At festival, dancing naked around a fire, the wild, primitive me has a rightful place of existence. The Goddess flows through me and happily leaps with the excited beating of my heart in ways that She can’t manifest herself in the “real” world. Festival is a path between the worlds where you get to exist for a full week. Many things can happen in seven days when you walk between the worlds.

It also helps to remind me of the sheer joy of being a Pagan. While I study Wicca seriously and constantly, and love what I am doing, festival reminds me in a much more visceral manner about what being Pagan is and what has always drawn me to this life.

All last week, I kept stumbling across snakes. At the beginning of this festival, I had formally asked for my next elevation, but didn’t think that it was going to happen that week. I didn’t find out until near the very end of festival that it was actually occurring. Right before the actual ritual, I was sitting just outside of Brushwood’s amazing Labyrinth, starring at the Bottle Tree that they had erected for their Spirit ritual, contemplating what this elevation would mean to me. I looked up at the gorgeous and expansive night sky to witness two shooting stars. Stumbling out of the woods later, I happened to look up to see another one. The Gods were clearly walking with me once again.

This initiation was not as life altering as that very first one, but it will still have as many profound effects on my life. And I draw some satisfaction that correct decisions brought me to a much more peaceful and quick initiation this time. Would this have happened without the atmosphere of the festival? No. There was more than the usual amount of magic in that place that assisted me to further my journey into Paganism. Festivals can be many different things to many different people, but they allow for things to occur in life that perhaps can’t occur elsewhere. The level of magical energy simply amplifies all that one experiences. Whether I am hanging out with Pirates or with my Wiccan coven, festival is a place of spirit and family. While events around festival aren’t always pleasant (just ask that deer), they are vital to our existence as Pagans.

If you haven’t tried a festival yet, take a week and do it. It is not an experience that you will ever find anywhere else. You never know what might be waiting in the shadows of the forest for you, but festival is a place where you certainly might find out.

King Duffus

When all the witches were haled to the stake and burned,
When their least ashes were swept up and drowned,
King Duffus opened his eyes and looked round.

For half a year they had trussed him in their spell:
Parching, scorching, roaring, he was blackened as a coal.
Now he wept like a freshet in April.

Tears ran like quicksilver through his rocky beard.
Why have you wakened me, he said, with a clattering sword?
Why have you snatched me back from the green yard?

There I sat feasting under the cool linden shade;
The beer in the silver cup was ever renewed,
I was at peace there, I was well-bestowed:

My crown lay lightly on my brow as a clot of foam,
My wide mantle was yellow as the flower of the broom,
Hale and holy I was in mind and in limb.

I sat among poets and among philosophers,
Carving fat bacon for the mother of Christ;
Sometimes we sang, sometimes we conversed.

Why did you summon me back from the midst of that meal
To a vexed kingdom and a smoky hall?
Could I not stay at least until dewfall?

~Sylvia Townsend Warner

St. Joesph’s Night 2014

Tonight was St. Joseph’s Night and that means Mardi Gras Indians! We live right on the edge of Central City, the heart of Mardi Gras Indian territory. Lasalle Park is the central meeting place every year for all of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tribes…which just happens to be about 3 blocks from my house.

I’ve already written about the Mardi Gras Indian culture here in New Orleans (you can read about it here), so I won’t regale you with a long explanation now.

But this year, I got something a little special. Just as we left our house, we ran into two tribes meeting on their way to Lasalle Park.

When two tribes meet, there is an complex ritual of greeting. A great deal depends on whether or not the two tribes are friendly with each other. Even when the tribes are friendly, the ritual of greeting is an elaborate dance and contest of wittiness. This tradition comes from “Playing the Dozens,” a contest of insulting each other in witty ways.

Luckily, these two were friendly tribes. When the tribes are enemies, onlookers back away and the underlying violence of the Mardi Gras Indian culture comes out in a much more hostile interaction. In the past, unfriendly tribes would have reacted with violence, but since Hurricane Katrina, each tribe has worked hard to bond together, which helps the community as a whole. While there are definitely tribes that still don’t like each other, they generally keep their violence to their song and dance.

These two tribes were a lot of fun to watch! Enjoy!

Happy St. Joseph’s Night!!!

 

 

A Love Story for a Mummy

I’m writing a longer blog entry for later, but until then…

As a child, while I was reading Greek and Roman mythology, I was also fascinated by Egypt and its mummies.

The whole idea of preparing a body for an eternal afterlife was (and still is) fascinating. Reading about the magic and ritual involved in the Ancient Egyptian rites of the dead is still a favorite of mine.

I came across this again today. I had completely forgotten about it, but it’s definitely one of my favorite little music videos. Probably not what the Egyptians originally had in mind as a possible consequence of mummification.

A tragic love story of death and rebirth.

Enjoy!

Proteus

Today is Mardi Gras and unfortunately, it is a very dreary, rainy, wet Mardi Gras. While Kenny and I wait to see if the rain will let up a bit so that we can proceed on our usual jaunt through the Quarter, I thought I would share some pictures of my favorite parade this year.

Usually Muses is my favorite parade. It is one of the only, all female krewes to ride the Uptown parade route. (The Uptown parade route is the main one. My house also happens to be right on it). This year, Muses wasn’t as great. This was probably due to the drunken parents we were standing with that kept forcing their children over and under the rest of us to get throws. So…for the first time in three years, I did not get the coveted Muses shoe. (I wrote a guest blog for Kenny last year about Muses, which you can find here. I got some great pictures last year!)

My friends and I at Muses this year.

My friends and I at Muses this year.

So I was surprised when Proteus ended up being my favorite this year. Proteus and Orpheus role on Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras, and are usually mostly attended by locals. All of the super-krewes, like Bacchus which had Hugh Laurie as the Grand Marshall this year, role the weekend before Mardi Gras. Kenny had a gig in Florida over the weekend, so we actually escaped the crowds and the lack of parking to go to West Palm Beach, which was very nice. But we were both very happy to get back home and jump back into our local Mardi Gras activities.

(The beach, however, was perfect!)

(The beach, however, was perfect!)

Proteus roles before Orpheus and usually I really go for Orpheus. Their floats are famous for using lights and they have a lot of big names. In the past I’ve gotten beads from Mariska Hargitay and Harry Connick Jr. This year they had Quentin Tarantino and James Roday of Psych.

Orpheus' famous Trojan Horse float.

Orpheus’ famous Trojan Horse float.

Quentin Tarantino in Orpheus.

Quentin Tarantino in Orpheus. (I ran into QT in a bar one night. We think he meant to go to the Phoenix, a bar known for it’s super risque Bounce nights. Instead he ended up at the St. Roch, a traveling kid hangout which also has a bounce night. I didn’t even realize who it was at first because he had some chick bent over the bar, making out, all night long. He finally came up for air and I realized who I was standing next to. Only in NOLA….)

James Roday, who was just as cute in person as he is on TV!

James Roday, who was just as cute in person as he is on TV!

But this year, Proteus really stole the show. Their floats were gorgeous, their riders were happy and excited and I was thrilled by their theme, which was “Ancient Elements of Alchemy.”

An important aspect of the very Catholic Mardi Gras is Paganism. Revelers become Pagan once more during Mardi Gras so that they can have something to repent for during Lent. Both Proteus and Orpheus (whose theme was “The Enchanted Land”) were very Pagan this year.

Proteus is the second oldest krewe in New Orleans. It started in 1882 and the krewe says of itself:

The Identity of the King of Proteus is never revealed to the public. His Parade float is a giant Seashell and very march part of the New Orleans Carnival scene for generations.

Proteus did not parade from 1993 – 1999 but returned to parading on Lundi Gras (The Monday before Mardi Gras Day, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday) in 2000. The Parade of The Krewe of Proteus Follows the Traditional Uptown or St. Charles Route ending on Canal Street. The actual Krewe of Proteus parade floats are still using the original chassis from the early 1880′s.

The Mythical Proteus
The son of Poseidon in the Olympian theology ( Homer,Odyssey iv. 432), or of Nereus and Doris, or of Oceanus and a Naiad, and was made the herdsman of Poseidon’s seals, the great bull seal at the center of the harem. He can foretell the future, but, in a mytheme familiar from several cultures, will change his shape to avoid having to; he will answer only to someone who is capable of capturing him. From this feature of Proteus comes the adjective protean, with the general meaning of “versatile”, “mutable”, “capable of assuming many forms”: “Protean” has positive connotations of flexibility, versatility and adaptability.

Proteus is also known as a shape shifter and can assume the guise of anyone or anything he so chooses. When held fast despite his struggles, he will assume his usual form of an old man and tell the future.
The so-called Old Man of the Sea, is a prophetic sea divinity, son of either Poseidon or Oceanus. He usually stays on the Island of Pharos, near Egypt, where he herds the seals of Poseidon. He will foretell the future to those who can seize him, but when caught he rapidly assumes all possible varying forms to avoid prophesying.

Proteus [PROH-tee-us], like all six of Neptune’s newly discovered small satellites, is one of the darkest objects in the solar system — “as dark as soot” is not too strong of a description. Discovered by Stephen Synnott, Like Saturn’s satellite, Phoebe, it reflects only 6 percent of the sunlight that strikes it. Proteus is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) in diameter, larger than Nereid. It wasn’t discovered from Earth because it is so close to Neptune that it is lost in the glare of reflected sunlight. Proteus circles Neptune at a distance of about 92,800 kilometers (57,700 miles) above the cloud tops, and completes one orbit in 26 hours, 54 minutes. Scientists say it is about as large as a satellite can be without being pulled into a spherical shape by its own gravity. Proteus is irregularly shaped and shows no sign of any geological modification. It circles the planet in the same direction as Neptune rotates, and remains close to Neptune’s equatorial plane.

Anyway, here are a bunch of the pictures that Kenny took during the parade. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!!!

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

12

13

14

(This float was titled "The Great Work")

(This float was titled “The Great Work”)

16

17

18

19

20

22

30