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Finding a new way of tracking time
I’d like to nominate the three-faced Roman Goddess, Hecate as a replacement for the two-faced God, Janus, as a symbol of the transition into the new year. Janus, the origin of our word, January, looks forward and back in a linear way, to the past and future. But Hecate adds the dimensions of up and down. As do many of the feminine divine, Hecate has a more complex relationship to time. Hecate’s ability to move through time is layered. She represents a web of time with no real beginning and end but instead a cycle that spirals back on itself and returns again. In this way, she captures more accurately our true experience of time, always circling back to the past and projecting forward into the future, integrating all the selves we once were and are meant to be.
More about Hecate
Hecate also symbolizes crossroads and portals. Her three faces, sometimes seen as a dog, serpent and horse, all originally had associations with the underworld. She protects women through life transitions, from childhood to womanhood, to marriage, to pregnancy and childbirth. Among her symbols are keys, torches and portals. One of Hecate’s best-known roles was to use her torch to guide Demeter down to the underworld to find her daughter, Persephone, who had been abducted by the lord of the underworld. Hecate, though a goddess of the darkness, is also a light-bringer. Using her key to open the door (portal) to the underworld, Hecate then guided Persephone back out of the underworld. Hecate is a very complex goddess, that would take much longer than one blog post to fully describe. But what I am trying to capture here is her ability to navigate space and time in a way that we can greatly benefit from if we want to disengage from a surface-oriented relationship with time and space.
A few examples of my non-linear calendars with tracking joy
Non-linear calendars, circles, spirals and infinity loops
Why would we want to disengage from time and space in this way? Doesn’t this sound kind of wacky? Maybe on some level yes, but on another level, there is a freedom in letting go of a linear, goal-oriented narrative of life. I used to write goals at the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. I would plan what I was hoping to achieve in the new year and tally up what I had achieved in the year before. But it never felt right. It often felt like a set up for frustration and disappointment of expectations. I felt stuck in that linear track of achievement and accomplishment.
Then in 2015 or so, I started to track joy in my calendars. I created non-linear calendars-circles, spirals, and infinity loops, one for each month. And I used symbols or colors to track how much joy I had experienced in a given day or month. I gradually stopped making these calendars but they had an impact on me and influence the way I think about my intentions today. Now I think about intentions in a more flexible way, allowing for change and adjustments along the way. Rather than setting goals, with their association to outward structures and achievements, I set intentions, just one or two, that have more to do with how I want to feel in the coming year and who I want to be.
Ancient goddesses as portals
What happens when we use goddesses like Hecate to open up a new portal into our relationship with time? She opens us up to a world beneath the surface of linear time. She helps us to see a doorway, where we may only see a wall. She opens us up into a new way of seeing our path ahead. She opens us up to overlapping dimensions of time. We may, in encountering one of her portals, find ourselves suddenly in contact with our deep ancestors, whose wisdom we might need at that moment. Or, we may open a door into the future, gaining a goosebump-inducing glimpse of who we might or could be, if we lived out our best intentions.
Life becomes more messy and chaotic this way, but more connected to the present moment. One of my mentors, Sally Kempton, in her book, Meditation for the Love of it: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience, talks of the potential for any experience, especially those with a sensual dimension, to be a portal to the divine. In reflecting on the ‘tree-ness” of trees or in stopping to fully experience the taste of a strawberry for instance, we can drop into a deeper sense of our rootedness to all beings. Or in looking into our children’s faces, we can see the echo of our great-ancestors, speaking to us from the past.
Portals to joy, Hildegarde of Bingen and “greenness”
I’m reminded too of Hildegarde of Bingen, a mystic who lived at the turn of the first millennium, in a time that in some ways was much like ours. Her joyful vision of life centered on the idea that to be awake is to be “filled with greenness.” To her, every being on earth, not just humans, could potentially be filled with a spark of life, “for no creature exists that lacks a radiance, be it greenness or seed, buds or beauty…otherwise it would not be a creation at all.” (p. 67 Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen.) Each element of our living earth is a potential portal into aliveness and gives us an opportunity to experience our fullness and divinity. The mystics, poets and artists of the world remind us of this connection and yet we are each capable of experiencing it ourselves if we open ourselves to it. The ancient goddesses such as Hecate live in all of us, as potential to our fullest, most joyful and alive selves.
“The real voyage consists not in seeking new landscapes but having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
The Room in Which We are Every Age At Once
by Naomi Shihab Nye (from Honeybee)
As if there were
a home in the air around us from birth,
spaciousness bidding us enter,
we live inside the long story of time.
And it was language giving us bearing,
letting in light.
When I was 3, rimming pink above rooftops,
Grandpa planted a redbud tree
that would bloom for years beyond us.
Each year it would say spring first.
Vocabulary falling into place,
we were always old and young
feeling familiar lines resound,
my favorite Margaret Wise Brown,
who died right before I was born,
and precious solitary Emily D.,
the words of all time waiting,
latched together like small huts,
stories of wise animals
and human beings
rising up inside us
to shelter our days.
The messy lineage of the Fierce Feminine
For the last couple months, in preparation for an on-line class I am teaching this Spring, I have been immersing myself in myths, fairy tales and lore related to the messy lineage of the fierce feminine. During my lifetime, the last 60 years or so, there has been more interest in the stories of the feminine divine hidden within the patriarchal world religions. There are many books about the feminine face of God written in the past 60 years. These books tell of fierce dark goddesses who were connected to the earth and its rhythms. Yet, sometimes I feel a resistance in myself about embracing these stories. Is it that they sound too “woo woo?” Am I afraid of appearing too “out there” myself? Still, another part of me feels in my bones a connection to these powerful archetypes. And this part of me feels that it is worth taking the risk of embracing the fierce feminine, no matter how foolish or New Agey it might make me appear.
The Crone and the Un-nesting instinct
For instance, the crone has something to say about an experience that many of us begin to have as mid to late middle-aged women. Our culture speaks often of the nesting instinct of women, our wish to have children and to procreate, our wish to create a home, to nurture those in our care, and to sacrifice our needs for them. But you don’t hear much about the “un-nesting instinct” that comes later in life and that the crone archetype represents so well. At the time of the crone, we take apart our nests, jettisoning all that we no longer need in our lives. This feels necessary and scary at the same time.
We are still mothers and yet, our responsibilities have changed. Instead of focusing on those in our care, we turn inward to the riches of our inner world, riches accumulated after years of experiences of caring for others and contributing to society. Now it is time to shed layers of experience, of roles and of expectations and time to begin to live truly for oneself. This can feel kind of uncomfortable and awkward. The famous poem, Warning, that starts, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple…” speaks to this instinct to shed all the unnecessary baggage of our lives lived for others, and begin to turn to our true soul identity.
The end of the year, with the coming of winter and the solstice can be a good time to meditate on meanings of coming into crone-hood, whether we are fully in the midst of it now, or whether it is an experience far in our future. Because, none of these faces of the divine feminine exist in isolation. Instead, the maiden, mother, crone and death are usually seen as faces of the same central figure.
The turning of the year, hope of light at the coming of the dark
The winter solstice is the time of year that corresponds with mid to late middle age for women. Along with the coming of winter, this time is celebrated in all the world religions in a similar way, as a time of hoping of light in the midst of darkness. At this time of year, we release what is no longer needed from the previous year. The element associated with this time of year is earth and the direction is north. The crone is strongly associated with the earth and the darkness of the northern climate. She is dark, elemental, and grounded-in-the earth. One such figure is the Dark Madonna, (a dark-skinned representation of the Virgin Mary, often seen as an advocate for the poor and underserved.) She has roots in earlier figures such as Tiamet (Babylonia), Europa (Greek and Roman), Cerridwen/Caillech, the Morrigan, (Celtic) Kali or Durga, (Hindu) and in Eastern European fairy tales, Baba Yaga.
Who were these ancient feminine figures?
All of these powerful crone-like figures derived energy from the earth itself. They were wild souls, free from constraints of a structured existence. Turning away from society’s norms, they turned towards the healing darkness of the forests, of under the ocean, of caves and of under the earth, where the dark soil rejuvenated itself for the growth of another year. They connected also to the plants and animals that hid themselves in the dark woods and knew how to source their potions and remedies from these places. Stones too were sources of power, not just for the protective qualities of stone caves but also the power contained within the stones themselves. So much mystery here, things we don’t know.
Ancient goddesses who in fact, were the earth
I mentioned a wide range of seemingly disconnected ancient goddesses above. Some, like Tiamet and Europa were themselves the body of the earth. In ancient stories, it was told that the bodies of these goddesses were torn apart to make the mountains, valleys and waters of the earth. They were in fact, the earth. Instead of an association with the celestial bodies, as their more celebrated male counterparts, they were rooted in the earth and grounded in the cycles of the seasons. Many of their stories had to do with the ways in which they had the power to bring or withhold the warmth of spring and summer. One such story is the Greek and Roman goddess Persephone whose banishment to the underworld for six months out of the year meant the coming of darkness and winter.
Where did they go?
What is my point in moshing all these various ancient figures together? I am not claiming in any way to be an accurate religious scholar or historian. For those of you more steeped in knowledge of the ancient goddesses, please forgive my inexactitude, in exchange for my enthusiasm. What I am alluding to is the truth that we as women all know in our bones, but was not reinforced in the world around us. Instead, this feminine form of the divine was for centuries strenuously denied and rejected by what Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls the “over-culture.” In the over-culture, a male dominated, hierarchical divine force perpetuated violence, greed and hierarchy. This force destroyed and is destroying the earth under our feet in order to meet its relentless needs. Its hierarchical order was imposed from without. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in today, a world that is most likely to destroy itself in the not-too-distant future. We know in our bodies that there is more than this. Our yearning for a more cyclical, nurturing, regenerating way of living is our turning towards the crone, not only for us as individuals, but also for our planet.
Baba Yaga, one of my favorite crone stories
One of my favorite figures of the crone archetype of the dark feminine is Baba Yaga, from Eastern European folk tales. I can’t presume to be able to describe her many guises because there are so many stories about her, and they originated from oral narratives. But she represents to me the way in which the crone holds such rich inspiration for us as women. She carries within her some of the elements most common to the crone archetype. She lives in a way that is one with the forces of nature around her and derives strength from nature, rejecting the norms imposed on women, especially older women, by society. One of her symbols is the cauldron, most often associated with crones, symbol of the ability to gestate, create, dream. She is fierce and feared. She lives far away from “civilized” life. She, like many crone figures, is often demonized and denigrated and yet, for those who are brave enough to meet her, she carries wisdom and truth.
An archetypal figure of the crone, Baba Yaga
One does not go out and seek Baba Yaga. Rather, you surrender and in your lostness, you come upon her. And it helps if you have the right intentions, if you seek her out of true curiosity and innocence. She immediately senses falseness and greed. In one of my favorite stories about Baba Yaga, the person who finds her is a young girl called “Vasilisa the Brave.” This young girl is sent, in one version of the story, into the forest to get fire from Baba Yaga, by her wicked step-mother, who intends for Vasilisa to be killed. The step-mother wants to get rid of Vasilisa.
But luckily, Vasilisa has, in her pocket, a wise doll that had been given to her and blessed by her mother on her deathbed. (Here are also the elements of the maiden, mother and crone in the story all at once) This wise doll is able to guide Vasilisa through her visit with Baba Yaga, so that she knows what to ask, what to do. Impressed with the respect and care with which Vasilisa interacts with her, Baba Yaga doesn’t kill and eat her, but instead, after Vasilisa completes all the tasks she is given, Baba Yaga gives her a skull with magic flames coming out of its eyes. Using this magic flaming skull, Vasilisa vanquishes her step-mother and nasty step sisters. The point is, the fierce feminine is potentially dangerous but if handled with the utmost respect and with some intelligence as well, one can gain great wisdom and power from interacting with her. In her own way, Baba Yaga is still a guide and protector.
What is it like to encounter your own inner crone?
What permissions do you give yourself when you allow this crone being to come into your consciousness? What is it time to clear out now? If you are inspired, take some time now to reflect on what you are ready to let go of, whether on a physical level, as in clutter, or emotional level, to-do lists that no longer apply, relationships that no longer serve or spiritual level, creating spaciousness for what might want to come in at this time. Release these in a silent meditation, either sitting in a meditative space in your home, or a silent nature walk.
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us—listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!