Friday, July 30, 2010

Not always what they seem

I am currently planning a trip to Greece for next year.  As you might imagine, I am beside myself with excitement about the possibilities.  There are so many places I want to visit and so many things that I want to do.  I keep wondering what kinds of experiences I might have while I'm there.  Will they be life altering spiritual epiphanies or more subtle brushes with the divine? 

Which reminded me of something I wrote before.  The following piece was published in PanGaia magazine in the Winter 2003 issue.  I wanted to share it here, unedited, as it appeared in the magazine.  A lot in my life has changed since this time, and it isn't Persephone-centric, but I think the lesson I learned in Wisconsin nearly 10 years ago is universal.  (Also, I think - and hope - that I am a better writer now than I was then!)

The Goddess in America

Janesville Wisconsin

With all of the lessons I have had over the years, there is one that speaks the loudest to me. Don’t go looking for a spiritual experience, they have a way of finding you. There will be rituals that can blow your mind and conversations that will enlighten you, but often the Gods chose a more subtle approach. I learned this on a very special trip to Janesville Wisconsin in March of 1998.

Pagans are generally aware of the teachings in Native American Culture. In 1994, when a white buffalo calf named Miracle was born, the news fanned out quickly across the country. Her birth was celebrated by all Earth Centered people. The little white buffalo was the answer to a prophecy made in the legends of the Lakota peoples. The buffalo ranch in central Wisconsin was flooded with visitors, whom they welcomed with open arms.

I graduated from college in 1997 and moved close to my hometown. I began a job that was good for opening doors, but terrible for my daily stress level. In March of 1998, myself and my newly handfasted husband decided to take a long weekend vacation to see the Frank Lloyd Wright houses of Wisconsin. I realized as we were planning this trip, that we would be very near Janesville…and Miracle.

My personal connection with White Buffalo Calf Woman began while I was still in college, so to have a chance to meet her felt like a culmination to a spiritual experience. Little did I know, it was only the beginning. Before this I could only piece together a little about the story of White Buffalo Calf Woman. My connection began with dreams in which a white buffalo or young Native American woman would appear. I asked a couple of people what it might mean, but I put very little thought behind it. One Sunday afternoon I made a routine trip to a local grocery store where I fell in love with a small stuffed white buffalo. I bought it and brought it home. That very afternoon I was watching TV while cuddling with my new buffalo. I came across an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that told the story of “Miracle”.

The legend of the Lakota peoples of North America tells us that there was once a great famine among their tribe and a maiden Goddess appeared to them and taught them how to hunt the sacred buffalo. She then told them that she would return seven generations later in the form of a female white calf. The legend further explained that as she grew her coat would change from white to black to red to yellow, representing the four colors of human skin. Seven generations later, the ranch in Janesville, Wisconsin witnessed the birth of Miracle. I was struck by this story and I threw myself into learning everything that I could about Miracle and the legend of White Buffalo Calf Woman.

I learned that it was customary to prepare an offering representing a prayer for Miracle. I put my time and heart into making a beaded gift for the White Buffalo. We flew into Madison, Wisconsin and armed with only a map from, we set out to find the Buffalo Ranch that was owned by Dave and Valerie Heider. We drove and drove through rural Wisconsin, unable to find our Miracle. I was frustrated and angry about being lost and having to stop and ask directions several times. We almost aborted the mission more than once as our tempers short circuited. Finally, we found the ranch, not even 10 feet from a spot where we had turned around 30 minutes before. I was surprised that there nobody was there; everything I read told me there were always great numbers of Native American and Earth Religion visitors present. We entered the “Gift Shop” which showcased local Native American crafters. Once inside, “Grandpa”, Valerie Heider’s father, greeted us. He and his wife were the only two people at the ranch that day. We explained to him that we came from Michigan to see the White Buffalo and he eagerly took us to where she was kept. Miracle had reached her yellow phase, which seemed rather buffalo colored to us, so she mixed in well with the other buffalo. Before Grandpa had to point her out, I knew which one she was. I could feel her energy.

As I approached the fence she stepped toward me. I pulled out the offering, thought a prayer, and looped the beads onto the fence. Grandpa told us that she was going to be a mother soon and pointed her mate out to us. After some small conversation, Grandpa reached to the ground and pulled out a handful of grass and clover. He handed it to me.

“They don’t like it when we do this,” he said, “The Indians don’t want us feeding their sacred animal, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.” So I reached my hand through the fence. Miracle sniffed at the clover and gently licked it out of my hand.

Before we left for Wisconsin I anticipated an intense spiritual experience. It hardly felt profound as it happened, but now as I reflect on the events that day, it was deeply spiritual. It was a moment that I alone shared with the White Buffalo – the incarnation of a Goddess. That is a very powerful experience.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Silly Symphonies: The Goddess of Spring

For some reason, I can always count on Disney. You know, except for the whole Hades/Devil thing. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The First Loaf of Bread

We're halfway through July and quickly approaching the festival of Lammas.  This isn't a festival I normally celebrate and I certainly know that it isn't specific to Persephone.  However, in doing research for my on-going feature for The Juggler about Beer styles of for the 8 major holidays I have been reacquainting myself with the symbols of Lammas.  An alternate name for the festival is Loafmas - the wheat harvest.  Persephone's mother, Demeter, is the goddess of the harvest and it was traditional to offer the first loaf of bread of the season to her as an offering.  In an age when our bread typically comes from the bread isle of the grocery store, I thought it might be a great Lammas devotional exercise to try baking.  I found this great website that talks you through the process of baking your own bread. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Persephone Melitodes

A while back, someone asked me about a brief mention of offering honey to Persephone they had come across in their research. She had been unable to find any primary sources that confirmed it, so she emailed me. I also had never heard anything about offering honey to Persephone, but I was intrigued.

One of Persephone's epithets, Persephone Melitodes, means "Sweet as Honey", which probably has a lot more to do with her role as the goddess of spring renewal than any sort of expected offering. That got me thinking about honey and Persephone and I can't see why she wouldn't like offerings of honey. It is sweet, it is golden like the sun she's missed living in the underworld, and it is made by the labor of the industrious bee.

Just yesterday, I learned about "Good New Bees". I had actually discovered them for the first time over the 4th of July weekend when I was camping in the mountains of Western North Carolina. This strange bee would hover around us while we were working on our tiny cabin in the woods and we just weren't sure what it was. Yesterday, in a random conversation, a friend mentioned Good News Bees. Good News Bees, or Yellowjacket Hover Flies, are not even bees at all. They feature the brilliant black and yellow color of bees, but they don't sting. That means they also don't make honey, since they aren't bees at all. But I felt a connection to the little hover fly and Persephone. To Persephone Melitodes, specifically. This little mimicking insect is known for hovering right in front of a person's face telling us the news. I can just imagine the little guy interacting with Persephone, buzzing at her sweet face with news of how her beloved husband fares in the underworld without her. In the mountains of North Carolina, Good New Bees are in season from May to September, the same season Persephone in is our world. They feed on nectar - honey sweet nectar. Suddenly I felt that the Good News Bees were the messangers of Persephone herself.

I honor Persephone Melitodes, the honey-sweet maid, and all the bees and bee-like creatures that make the sweet honey or bring the good news.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lectio Homerica: The Homeric Hymn to Demeter Part Six

Once again, the Loeb translation: 

And of them all, well-girded Metaneira first began to speak: "Hail, lady! For I think you are not meanly but nobly born; truly dignity and grace are conspicuous upon your eyes as in the eyes of kings that deal justice. Yet we mortals bear per-force what the gods send us, though we be grieved; for a yoke is set upon our necks. But now, since you are come here, you shall have what I can bestow: and nurse me this child whom the gods gave me in my old age and beyond my hope, a son much prayed for. If you should bring him up until he reach the full measure of youth, any one of woman-kind that sees you will straightway envy you, so great reward would I give for his upbringing."

Then rich-haired Demeter answered her: "And to you, also, lady, all hail, and may the gods give you good! Gladly will I take the boy to my breast, as you bid me, and will nurse him. Never, I ween, through any heedlessness of his nurse shall witchcraft hurt him nor yet the Undercutter: for I know a charm far stronger than the Woodcutter, and I know an excellent safeguard against woeful witchcraft."

When she had so spoken, she took the child in her fragrant bosom with her divine hands: and his mother was glad in her heart. So the goddess nursed in the palace Demophoon, wise Celeus' goodly son whom well-girded Metaneira bare. And the child grew like some immortal being, not fed with food nor nourished at the breast: for by day rich-crowned Demeter would anoint him with ambrosia as if he were the offspring of a god and breathe sweetly upon him as she held him in her bosom. But at night she would hide him like a brand in the heart of the fire, unknown to his dear parents. And it wrought great wonder in these that he grew beyond his age; for he was like the gods face to face. And she would have made him deathless and unaging, had not well-girded Metaneira in her heedlessness kept watch by night from her sweet-smelling chamber and spied. But she wailed and smote her two hips, because she feared for her son and was greatly distraught in her heart; so she lamented and uttered winged words:

"Demophoon, my son, the strange woman buries you deep in fire and works grief and bitter sorrow for me."

Thus she spoke, mourning. And the bright goddess, lovely-crowned Demeter, heard her, and was wroth with her. So with her divine hands she snatched from the fire the dear son whom Metaneira had born unhoped-for in the palace, and cast him from her to the ground; for she was terribly angry in her heart. Forthwith she said to well-girded Metaneira:

"Witless are you mortals and dull to foresee your lot, whether of good or evil, that comes upon you. For now in your heedlessness you have wrought folly past healing; for -- be witness the oath of the gods, the relentless water of Styx -- I would have made your dear son deathless and unaging all his days and would have bestowed on him ever-lasting honour, but now he can in no way escape death and the fates. Yet shall unfailing honour always rest upon him, because he lay upon my knees and slept in my arms. But, as the years move round and when he is in his prime, the sons of the Eleusinians shall ever wage war and dread strife with one another continually. Lo! I am that Demeter who has share of honour and is the greatest help and cause of joy to the undying gods and mortal men. But now, let all the people build me a great temple and an altar below it and beneath the city and its sheer wall upon a rising hillock above Callichorus. And I myself will teach my rites, that hereafter you may reverently perform them and so win the favour of my heart."

 When she had so said, the goddess changed her stature and her looks, thrusting old age away from her: beauty spread round about her and a lovely fragrance was wafted from her sweet-smelling robes, and from the divine body of the goddess a light shone afar, while golden tresses spread down over her shoulders, so that the strong house was filled with brightness as with lightning. And so she went out from the palace.

And straightway Metaneira's knees were loosed and she remained speechless for a long while and did not remember to take up her late-born son from the ground. But his sisters heard his pitiful wailing and sprang down from their well-spread beds: one of them took up the child in her arms and laid him in her bosom, while another revived the fire, and a third rushed with soft feet to bring their mother from her fragrant chamber. And they gathered about the struggling child and washed him, embracing him lovingly; but he was not comforted, because nurses and handmaids much less skillful were holding him now.

All night long they sought to appease the glorious goddess, quaking with fear. But, as soon as dawn began to show, they told powerful Celeus all things without fail, as the lovely-crowned goddess Demeter charged them. So Celeus called the countless people to an assembly and bade them make a goodly temple for rich-haired Demeter and an altar upon the rising hillock. And they obeyed him right speedily and harkened to his voice, doing as he commanded. As for the child, he grew like an immortal being.

Now when they had finished building and had drawn back from their toil, they went every man to his house. But golden-haired Demeter sat there apart from all the blessed gods and stayed, wasting with yearning for her deep-bosomed daughter. Then she caused a most dreadful and cruel year for mankind over the all-nourishing earth: the ground would not make the seed sprout, for rich-crowned Demeter kept it hid. In the fields the oxen drew many a curved plough in vain, and much white barley was cast upon the land without avail. So she would have destroyed the whole race of man with cruel famine and have robbed them who dwell on Olympus of their glorious right of gifts and sacrifices, had not Zeus perceived and marked this in his heart. First he sent golden-winged Iris to call rich-haired Demeter, lovely in form. So he commanded. And she obeyed the dark-clouded Son of Cronos, and sped with swift feet across the space between. She came to the stronghold of fragrant Eleusis, and there finding dark-cloaked Demeter in her temple, spake to her and uttered winged words:

"Demeter, father Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, calls you to come join the tribes of the eternal gods: come therefore, and let not the message I bring from Zeus pass unobeyed."

Thus said Iris imploring her. But Demeter's heart was not moved. Then again the father sent forth all the blessed and eternal gods besides: and they came, one after the other, and kept calling her and offering many very beautiful gifts and whatever rights she might be pleased to choose among the deathless gods. Yet no one was able to persuade her mind and will, so wroth was she in her heart; but she stubbornly rejected all their words: for she vowed that she would never set foot on fragrant Olympus nor let fruit spring out of the ground, until she beheld with her eyes her own fair-faced daughter.
I think this passage really gets into the meat of the story.  Here we find that when Demeter takes on the disguise of the old woman she is intending to bestow great fortune on the child Demophoon.  I think this is the lesson in the story: be careful what you wish for.  Metaneira wanted for this stranger to nurse her son, she wanted her to keep him from dying young.  She didn't begin to understand the gift of immortality that was being given to him.  And when she confronted the old lady, she learned the true nature of the Goddess.  Interestingly enough, it appears to be this episode that truly leads Demeter to punishing the human race, not necessarily the specific kidnapping of her daughter.  Maybe she thought she could replace Persephone with a son, now that her daughter had gone off to marriage.  With Demophoon ripped from her, all the riches and temples and worshiping in the world would not give her the satisfaction that she was seeking.  But it was after the people built the temple in her honor that she "caused a most dreadful and cruel year for mankind over the all-nourishing earth". 

I also love the imagery of all the Gods of Olympos coming to Demeter's temple to bring her gifts and offerings as if they were mortals.  And yet not even all the gods could persuade Demeter to change her mind, to stop punishing the mortals for their own missteps, in the case of Demophoon, or the kidnapping of her daughter.  The latter being something mortals had no part in.