Quill of the Goddess

Free Your Feminine Voice

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The great traditions of the goddess emphasize her overwhelming power, but call us to love her. Not in spite of her power, but because of it. Not in spite of death, but because of life. It is not easy to travel on the path of the goddess, but once her challenges are met, life is filled with unimaginable sweetness. -Patricia Monaghan, The Goddess Companion

Finding the Goddess can feel like coming home, like being nurtured and loved at last after so many years of searching for…belonging? acceptance? something that honors the feminine in a world that has glorified the masculine? I remember that feeling. After suffering through a patriarchal Baptist upbringing, the Goddess was like a cool drink of water from a sacred well. Here I was free to be entirely myself. Here my gifts were acknowledged, even celebrated. Here I found sisters (and a few brothers) who were cut from the same cloth.

I exhaled…releasing the poisonous vapors of original sin, menstrual shame, sexual repression, and misogyny. I inhaled the truth of the soul’s incorruptible perfection, my sacred blood, second chakra liberation, and an abiding, fierce love of myself as a woman and representation of She Who Is. There was no going back. Even if I had wanted to retrace my steps, She would have corrected my course again. The Goddess is tolerant of many things, but playing small is not one of them.

She loves us, feeds us until we’re strong again, and then kicks us right out of the nest when the time is right, like any strong, wise mother would do.

I’m reminded of these brilliant lines by Erin Hanson:

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?

She knows the only way we’ll find out is if we step right up to the edge of our comfort zone and swan dive into a future we cannot see. Sometimes we are gently nudged. Sometimes we are shoved.

Gentle nudging is when the same message keeps showing up in different ways. Maybe you’ve always wanted to take up pottery, but you keep talking yourself out of signing up for a class. You’re too busy. You’re not even artistic. You might be a terrible potter, and all that money would be wasted. But then a flyer shows up in the mail about a pottery class in your town. You flip open a magazine, and there’s an article about the therapeutic effects of working with clay. You’re surfing through channels, and there’s a documentary about famous women potters. That’s a nudge. That’s the Goddess saying, “Take the class already, and quit making excuses. How many messages do I really need to send?”

Getting shoved is when you ignore all of those messages, deny your inner calling, and then chaos arrives. You break a finger through some unfortunate accident. Now your hand is useless for a while. So while your bones are healing and you are cursing the annoying splint you have to wear, you wish like hell that you had gone to that pottery class last weekend while you still had two perfectly intact hands. Ouch.

Thus, my second major awakening to the Goddess was discovering that She is both the Benevolent Mother and the Challenger. (Well, hello there Kali Ma, Morrighan, Hecate, Baba Yaga…and all others who have taught me so much while kicking my butt at the same time).

Challengers question things and create opposition in order to force some growth. They swoop in and utterly destroy anything that has gone way past its expiration date. It’s part of their job. They clean shit up, and you won’t always like their methods. It’s not like a quick Saturday morning dusting and vacuuming. Nope. It’s more like taking a bulldozer to the whole house and starting over with a new foundation.

They want the real you…minus all the false walls you’ve erected and the useless objects that weigh you down. You know what I’m talking about: the job that still sux no matter how many positive affirmations you’ve stuck on the mirror, the relationship that doesn’t work no matter how much counseling you’ve tried, and the friends that are beginning to feel more like frenemies. That stuff will devour you from the inside out, and it would be a travesty if you exit this life before accomplishing all the amazing things you came here to do.

Goddess knows this far better than you can imagine, which is why she shows up as Challenger with sword in hand (or wrecking ball), poised and ready to rearrange your life and priorities. The truth is that we just don’t have a lot of time to waste on being meek, mild, and mediocre. The world needs repair, and we are the bandages, my friends. So if Goddess is showing you some tough love right now, know that it is because you are worthy and those natural gifts you’ve been hiding are extraordinary. Claim them. Use them. Start from the fresh, fertile ground she has leveled for you. Grow something that will benefit the seventh generation and beyond. I believe in you.

© 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Sacred ritual, properly guided by an experienced shaman, can create a “whole brain” experience that awakens the curiosity of the neocortex, satisfies the need for safety of our more primitive limbic brain, and makes ecstatic states accessed by the frontal lobes of the higher brain possible. Ritual performed wholeheartedly allows us to transcend our limiting roles and beliefs and experience more elevated states of being. – Alberto Villoldo
Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation by Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman

The Random House Dictionary defines ritual as “an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite.” That’s a rather ho-hum definition that suggests following something very structured and scripted that may or may not be inspirational. The word itself can feel heavy and laden with centuries of doing the same thing over and over again in the vain hope of recreating a sense of wonder and ecstasy. It can also suggest something mundane, like brushing one’s teeth or applying deodorant.

Yet, the idea of being in a ritual and experiencing something ethereal is part of what drew me to paganism. I wanted to be out of my head, out of my body, and out of this world if possible. After working in sacred circles for many years, I now see ritual as a catalyst for spiritual transformation when it flows from the heart and is fueled by strong intention and desire. A well-designed ritual has the power to transport us to a different level. We enter the circle, and we are changed by what occurs inside. The change may be instant or gradual, but there is no denying that a shift occurs.

That magical shift in thought and awareness is something that modern society has tried hard to achieve through psychology, but we’re now waking up to the fact that traditional methods are losing some ground. A paper published in the Psychological Bulletin revealed that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is roughly half as effective as it used to be in treating depression, for example. It’s quite possible to lie on a couch and talk about a problem with a therapist for years without ever making progress. Perhaps the frustration over “getting stuck” is one of the reasons people are seeking something much older and more shamanic in origin. Rituals use symbols that work with the subconscious mind to bring about lasting (and sometimes dramatic) changes. It’s more than just venting about what hurts—it’s getting to the root of the issue and healing it on a deep level.

When designing group rituals, I look at what’s happening seasonally, astrologically, and energetically. Are we in the dark half or light half of the year? Are we more inwardly focused and reflective or more active and expressive? What solar and lunar influences are at play? What is the overall mood of the group? Sometimes there is a need for rest and recovery; sometimes it’s more about raising energy for particular goal.

Tarot can also be helpful when I need guidance on developing a ritual theme. During the month of March, for example, I did a reading on what the focus should be for the next women’s circle. I drew the Eight of Pentacles, the Hanged Man in a reversed position, and the Nine of Pentacles. I’m sure there are many ways to interpret those cards, but I was seeing frustration over being out of alignment with one’s higher calling. Too much time and effort was being wasted on making widgets instead of making a life. The graceful ease and refinement depicted in the Nine of Pentacles hadn’t quite manifested, but the desire was certainly there.

Given that the date for the circle was near the Spring Equinox, it was the perfect opportunity to focus on planting seeds, both literal and symbolic. Our ritual focal point was the blessing and planting of some organic basil seeds, which are now quite leafy and ready to transplant into a larger container! Basil is associated with drawing money and success while warding against misfortune, so its properties also matched our intentions. (Plus, it makes a yummy pesto).

My personal rituals often begin with a shamanic journey. Most of the time, I know what I want to address, but I don’t always have immediate inspiration on how I will go about it. So I let the sound of a drum take me deep into theta where I can meet with a trusted spirit guide. I’ve received advice on ritual timing, herbs, incantations, crystals, talismans, and more just from traveling in the astral realm. I tend to trust what my guides tell me more than the ready-made spells available in books and on the Internet. Those were fine when I was new to the Craft, but eventually, I wanted something more personal and specific to my needs.

After learning what I need to know from my journey, I do the ritual. I inscribe the candle with runes, create the mojo bag, bury the object, paint something with menstrual blood, make a collage, chant the words, dance like a banshee…whatever needs to be done (as long as it’s legal). Then I let it go. This last step is crucial—when a ritual is over, obsessing about the outcome won’t help. I trust that I’ve done all I can, and I leave the rest up to forces greater than I am to work out the details. I believe that all rituals work—even the ones that seem to affect nothing, because they are sending a message that everything is in stasis for a reason.

I won’t say that rituals are the solution to every problem—if you need professional help, please go get it. But I will say that serving as my own priestess and shaman has helped me navigate the seasons of my life and deal with the harder blows like divorce, death, and illness. I didn’t have to trek deep into the Amazon or climb the Himalayas to find a guru, either. I became my own. I’ve never felt completely powerless, because I knew that as long as I had breath in this body, I could at least be fully present in sacred space and do something that symbolized what I wanted to achieve. If there is one magickal axiom I still trust completely, it is this: As above, so below. As within, so without. As the universe, so the soul.


Johnsen, T. J., & Friborg, O. (2015, May 11). The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000015

© 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

I have written quite a bit on the Wild Woman, as many of us are reclaiming our wildness in the truest definition of the word: living in a state of nature; not tamed or domesticated. Now that we are on the astrological date of Beltane, my thoughts turned more toward Wild Woman’s counterpart, the Wild Man. I felt that if she were extending an invitation for revelry and ecstasy on this ancient festival of flames and fertility, it might go something like this…

I want all of your wildness,
your gritty, earthy rawness,
your unleashed primal howl.

I want the sharp, muskiness of your sweat,
the sweetness of honey wine on your lips,
the smell of forest and loam in your unkempt hair.

I want the roughness of your sundrenched skin,
the sound of your heart like a ritual drum,
the heat of your body like a blazing torch.

I want the dark, unexplored depths of your eyes,
the hard sinuous muscle encasing your bones,
the blood rushing through every vein and artery.

I want all of your wildness,
your gritty, earthy rawness,
your unleashed primal howl.

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

art-pure-love-of-the-divine-fine-art-america-by-shiloh-sophia-mccloud
“Pure Love of the Divine” by Shiloh Sophia McCloud @ Fine Art America

She goes by several names…Mary, Miryam, Magdala, Magdalena. I won’t speculate on her origins or elaborate on the Gnostic teachings that describe her as Sophia, the original female principle, the Goddess. Many have already devoted books to the exploration of her mysteries, but I will leave all of that for the scholars to pick apart and debate. What I know of the Magdalene comes from simply asking, listening, and receiving. This is what she would like women to know about balancing service with the art of self-care. These are her words:

Welcome, my sisters, to the path of the Sacred Heart. You have climbed the steep, rocky hill like so many others before you to reach the entrance to the sacred cave. This is not the sparse chamber filled with hard, lonely benches and a shrine to the woman they believed me to be. No, this is a warm, inviting place where only a mystic and a priestess of women’s mysteries would dwell.

Now that you are here, step inside and see. I shall unveil it for you. The light of many beeswax candles illuminates the way, and soft rugs woven from the finest wool lead into the inner chamber. The calming aromas of myrrh and frankincense cleanse the layers of your aura. Here you may rest upon pillows that hug every curve of your sumptuous body. Here you may take respite from life’s burdens that press so heavily upon your aching shoulders. Here I shall wash your tired feet in a basin of purest rosewater and anoint them with precious oils. You are safe, weary traveler, and you are loved more than you could possibly know.

I can see that you have taken on the pain of others because of the immense love you have for them, but that is not the role of a healer. A priestess holds space for those who seek her help, and by doing so, she enables them to see the truth of their own existence. All healing begins with a desire to change, and then the source of the problem reveals itself, sometimes all at once, sometimes in layers that peel away like an onion. You must allow this process of shedding and releasing. It is what some describe as a crisis, but it is more like a flower responding to the light. It is the petals opening up at last, spreading out, and revealing the fragrance of the soul. You may water the flower and create a healthy environment, but the opening, the blooming, will happen in its own time and space.

Take care, also, my sisters, that you do not neglect your own body, mind, and spirit in the service of others. Your body allows you to do your work in the world. Treat it with kindness and respect. Bow to your body the way you would bow before entering a holy temple, for it lives inside the soul. Keep your mind free of distractions, and do not allow negative thought forms to become etched upon the tablet of your heart. Be mindful of all that you see, all that you read, all that you hear, all that you take into yourself. Consider whether these things are helpful or harmful to your inner being. Nourish your spirit with uplifting images, words, and sounds.

Allow stillness into your life like the waters of a deep pond, and feel your own intuition ripple lightly across those waters. Speak, move, and act from that source which can never be depleted and to which you are always so deeply connected. Always remember your Divine Feminine essence, even in those moments when you feel that nothing about you is lovable. All about you and within you is lovable. Without roots reaching into the darkness of the soil for nourishment, there would be no flowering branches spreading into the light. You are both the root and the branch, and one is no more sacred than the other. Both must work together in harmony for the existence of the whole. One is seen; the other is unseen. Self-care is the unseen work, and yet it is the foundation for all other works.

Remember this, my sisters, and treat yourselves with gentleness while you are engaged in the greatest of all tasks: the birthing of a new age, a new consciousness.

Peace & Blessings

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

I wrote this poem after contemplating how often women deny or suppress their own power because of shame or social conditioning. I believe many, including myself, have felt that we lost our sensual selves along the way somewhere. The truth is that we can’t ever lose something so dear, but we can (and do) find ways to hide it away or make it more “presentable” for the patriarchy. This is an invitation to be defiant, be disturbing, be whatever they fear most, be the sorceress, be the witch they tried to burn, be the temptress, be the lover, and most of all, be unapologetically you.  

At any moment, you can call it back—
all that power you have bottled up,
labeled Hazardous Material,
and placed on the highest shelf.

At any moment, you can reach up,
wrap your fingers around that amber vial,
twist off the corroded cap, and then…

what shall you unleash upon the world?

the fluidity of your stride,
the sway of your hips,
the grace of your hands,
the bounce of your breasts,
the might of your thighs,
the light in your womb,
the alchemy in your eyes,
the goddess in your smile

You own all of that until the day you die.

No one can take anything
from she who is one-in-herself.

You can remember what you are, woman,
before they said you were unsafe for consumption,
and you believed them.

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Oh, you learned that verse too well, my sister.

That’s what they expect, after all.

Be a nurturer, a supporter, a giver.

It’s your holy calling. It’s what women do.

Give until your creative well is empty,
until your back is broken,
until you are crawling on your hands and knees,
eating dust from a trail
that someone blazed before you.

Go ahead.

Lick some more of that dust, dearest one,
until it chokes the music and the poetry right out of you.

No one taught you how to receive, of course.

Why would they?

You are so tame now,
so much easier to control
when you’re half-starved
and bleeding from wounds
that never heal.

Receiving…yes…that dirty little word,
that unblessed state of being,
on the opposite shore from giving
where they don’t want you to be.

Get in the boat,
take the oars,
go anyway.

It is lush and wanton there,
where the Wild Woman lives in the trees,
feasting on mangoes
with sweet succulence dribbling down her chin.

It is velvety and halcyonic there,
where the Wild Woman lies naked in the sand,
as the foamy waves kiss her feet
and the stars become jewels in her crown.

How do you receive?

Through eyes that see the resplendent beauty of the world
or through filters that render it all in sepia and gray?
Through a mouth that tastes the pungency of life
or one that craves insipidness?
Through a heart that beats with joy
or one that hardly beats at all?
Through a stomach that fuels your sacred calling
or one that rejects vitality?
Through a yoni that glistens as a gateway to the cosmos
or one that has fallen asleep?

Listen, my sister, and I shall write you a new verse.

It is blessed to give, and it is blessed to receive.

It is time you learned how.

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

There are two witches living inside of me…one wild, one tame.

I won’t deny that I love the wild one most—

she who resists order and structure,
she who prefers the loamy smell of woodlands and the sand of untrodden shores,
she who calls the lightning bolt down to shatter the tower,
she who gives not a single flying fuck about your opinions.

The wild witch knew magic long before it was sifted down and spread categorically into the pages of dusty books and grimoires. She knew it well before the Golden Dawn, before Gardner, before Cunningham, before replicated lists and correspondence tables. She knew the Goddess before they gave her names and the Horned Hunter before they demonized him.

The wild witch walked in the forest, lifted her hands to the sky and felt the radiance of the noonday sun pulsing through her veins. She pulled the power of rocks and soil and gnarly roots up through her bare feet into the core of her being, renewing her connection to the Earth Mother. She waded into the stream, and the water swirling about her calves and thighs was her very first lover.

The trees spoke to her in every season, bearing the changes of growth and dormancy in equal measure; so she learned to do the same, dropping her leaves like the oak in autumn…blooming like the hawthorn in spring. The flowers and herbs beckoned to her, revealing all of their secrets one by one, and they became her strongest allies. Rosemary grew tall and strong at her door. Artemisia graced the entry to her garden. Primrose danced between the stones of her walkway.

The wild witch attended the university of the winged ones, the four-leggeds, and the creepy crawlies. Lessons arrived daily. She listened to the hawk’s piercing cry and reveled in the raucous laughter of crows…caught a glimpse of the elusive fox and the owl’s golden eyes at dusk…watched the shy, gentle deer and the steely serpent shedding its skin.

The moon waxes and wanes, and so does the wild witch.

The cycle of

intentions

expansions

culminations

reflections

releasings

replays over and over again with the ebb and flow of Luna.

Her world is fearless inspiration…blood and fire of creation…bitter ashes of death and destruction.

She recoils from domestication.

Don’t try to “save” her, please. You will find her in the deepest of caves, drawing portraits of her yoni on the walls with red ochre.

The wild witch loves as only feral beings can love…completely but without attachment, deeply but without anchors.

There are two witches living inside of me…one wild, one tame…and how fiercely I love the wild one.

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

Everywhere I go, I find myself in gatherings of women. Most are spiritual seekers, deeply engaged in the process of healing old wounds and awakening to their divine purpose. Sometimes I’ve been in tribes that formed naturally and easily, as though we already knew each other, and we were just picking up right where we left off. Other times, I’ve had to be more like a lighthouse, beaming out into a misty void, not really knowing who would show up and drop anchor. This past year has been a lighthouse kind of year. Both circumstances—having a closely knit tribe and then searching for one in a new place—has taught me a lot about what women look for in a sacred circle.

There is such a longing for women’s rituals and ceremonies that it’s almost palpable, especially here in the southeast. Can you feel it, too? It’s like the stirrings of a seed underground that has finally been watered enough to burst forth from its protective layer. I have read this quote by Starhawk many times over the years, and each time, I am filled with inspiration for what could be…and a twinge of sorrow for what women have lost:

We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.

Several books have been devoted to the subject of creating exactly the kind of community Starhawk envisioned. I own a few of them myself. They offer sound, practical advice that looks so delightfully inspiring on paper. All of them will make you want to erect a giant Red Tent in your back yard or buy 20 acres just to create your own version of Stonehenge. The reality is that most gatherings happen in living rooms or around a kitchen table or on someone’s patio or maybe in a community center. It doesn’t really matter—any space can be sacred, depending on the energy and presence of mind and heart that you bring to it—and that feeling of sanctuary and trust in each other is what women are seeking and not finding so easily.

But why?

You’d think that developing a strong sisterhood would be easy. Women are naturally communal and cooperative, right? Sure we are, but we’ve also learned how to be competitive with each other, how to hide our authentic selves, how to be controlling, and how to sabotage our own personal growth. All of that comes into the circle, too, more often than not—and the circle sometimes fragments as a result. So, then the question becomes whether we can unlearn those patriarchal influences while still holding space for each other to move past those barriers.

I’ll just say it right now—it’s easier to give up, go your own way, and practice your own solitary rituals. But then you also miss out on the power of women whose energies are united and fueled by the mystical radiance of the moon, the strong pull of the tides, the healing power of the sun, the richness of the earth, and the lineage of our matriarchal ancestors going back thousands of years. It’s strong medicine and much needed in this world. I believe it’s worth getting out of our own way and working together for the common good. Maintaining both a personal and communal practice helps both the individual woman and her tribe, creating a ripple effect that ultimately benefits the whole planet.

As Sandra Ingerman notes in Awakening to the Spirit World, “Ceremonies and rituals are performed to honor the spirits, to celebrate life and changes in Nature, to acknowledge rites of passage, to give thanks, and to create change. Performing a ceremony or ritual creates transformation.”

Indeed it does. When a ritual encompasses an entire group, transformation happens on a much larger scale. How it affects individuals will vary, depending on their openness and receptivity, but the point is that everyone experiences some degree of change on both a personal and transpersonal level. The energy that is raised collectively is always stronger; therefore, the responsibility for working with that energy both during and after a group ritual is even greater.

With that in mind, I believe there are four key elements that can help establish and maintain a women’s circle when the focus is ritual and self-improvement:

  • Purpose: Never lose sight of why the group formed in the first place. What do you hope to accomplish together? If the purpose doesn’t remain at the forefront, then the circle can quickly dissolve into nothing more than a social hour or a venting session.
  • Sacred Space: Creating a space that feels safe is absolutely essential. It requires more than just wafting around some white sage, ringing a bell, or chanting a mantra. All of those things are lovely, but they are useless if those inside the circle don’t feel free to speak openly and straight from the heart without being judged. Many of us carry scars. Many of us are fighting hard battles right now. Sharing our stories makes us both vulnerable and courageous at the same time, and it’s vital that we honor that by refraining from gossip or anything that would compromise the integrity of the circle.
  • Leadership: Good leaders set the direction of the group and keep the support of the whole in mind while doing so. Leadership can remain with one person, or it can rotate so that all experience having that responsibility for a time. Anyone leading a women’s circle should understand that it’s much more about service and much less about power and ego. An article from Forbes on The Most Undervalued Leadership Traits in Women highlights the following: “Looking for respect more than recognition, the most successful women leaders don’t seek to become the star of the show — but they enable others to create a great show.  In other words, being in the spotlight is not what drives them – but rather it’s the ability to influence positive outcomes with maximum impact.” I believe this holds true, whether you are running a business or serving as a High Priestess.
  • Flexibility: Circles tend to change and evolve. People come and go for different reasons. Some move away. Some decide they need to follow a different path. Some attend for a while, disappear to do their own solitary work, and then return later. It’s all perfectly fine. As long as the core purpose of the group stays in tact through the guidance of inspired, heart-centered leaders, the circle can still flourish even as it changes. Strength and flexibility don’t cancel each other out—they support each other, as any athlete knows very well.

The dawn of the Aquarian Age marked the beginning of many positive shifts for women. We are still waking up to our inner Shakti. We are tapping into the Divine Feminine in new ways, as we seek greater equality and balance in the world within and around us. We have spent a lot of time and energy examining how we relate to men in the quest for greater understanding and equality. Maybe it’s time women looked just as deeply into how we relate to each other and how we can best move forward in our sacred circles, our sisterhoods, our communities, and our world.


References:

Copyright © 2015 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

I was raised in rural Appalachia where Georgia meets Tennessee, so let’s just say that I’ve endured a goodly number of Southern Baptist funerals. I’ve heard my share of sermons on how the deceased had been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and would therefore be assured of eternal peace in heaven. These are my family’s beliefs, so when one of them passes to the other side, I have no choice but to honor their wishes. After the flowers, hymns, Bible verses, stories, and personal anecdotes, the body is lowered into the ground. According to the officiating minister, the soul ascends to the Baptist version of heaven, leaving behind photographs and keepsakes and a lifetime of memories for those of us who are still topside of the dirt.

I wasn’t with my maternal grandmother when she passed, but I had a dream a few weeks later in which it felt like we were in a busy airport. Lots of people were passing through, but she found me in the crowd and held me tightly. It was her way of giving me the closure I had not received at her funeral. I spoke of the dream to my mother, who dismissed it completely, saying that it wasn’t really my grandmother at all. “You just miss her, so you had a dream about her. That’s all it was. It doesn’t mean anything,” she told me.

It meant everything, though, and I have maintained a connection with my grandmother ever since. She was, after all, the first to introduce me to the concept of astrology and how to plant a garden by the signs and phases of the moon. I would not be the witch I am today without her early influence and her guidance even after she left this plane of existence back in 1996. Sadly, my mother did not share her views and ruled such practices as mere superstition and foolishness.

So that is how it goes sometimes for pagans with family members who don’t share our views on death and the afterlife. We are often advised to accept the notion that the connection between the living and the dead is severed like a limb from a tree. We are supposed to be happy for the soul that has broken free from the chains of this “wretched” body. We are bombarded with casseroles from well-meaning church ladies. We are counseled to simply move on with life. We are expected to get on with our grief and resume our daily routines for everyone who needs us to be “normal” again.

The truth is that grief takes as long as it takes—and it can’t be remedied with pills or booze or anything other than time.

As a pagan, I have come to view death as both the end and the beginning of a cycle. We let go of the life we led, with all of its challenges and triumphs, all the lessons learned and the pain endured, and our consciousness returns to the source from which it came. After a resting period, perhaps we come back to give it another try, to execute another life plan to continue on with our soul’s evolution. Birth and death are one and the same to me. From the minute we exit the womb and sound our first importunate cry to the world, we are dying. Every single minute we are living, we are simultaneously dying.

Seeing it all as an infinite loop has made me much more comfortable with death, like an old friend I would invite over for tea. We can sit across from each other in an easy silence, sipping our Earl Gray, each in full awareness of the other’s function. I know I will have a final date with death someday, and that’s perfectly okay. I know I won’t get to choose when that date happens, and that’s just fine, too. I’d rather not know. I can only strive for a life well lived until then.

I have several friends who are nurses, and all of them have said that death can truly be kind, especially when the body is wracked with pain and there is no hope of recovery. They have all emphasized the importance of dying with dignity, of giving death as much reverence and honor as birth.

I’ve witnessed this firsthand, as my mother is now in the last stages of a rare illness called Multiple Symptom Atrophy. She can no longer walk or move anything other than her head at this point. Her speech is all but gone as well, and it is only a matter of time before the rest of her physical body shuts down completely. I’ve had a long time to prepare for her death, mentally and emotionally. I’ve had to think about how I will honor her life in my own way, knowing that her funeral will certainly be in accordance with her Baptist beliefs. I know that any ritual I do to honor her will have to be carried out privately, after all the formalities are said and done.

Although she may have never honored the Goddess within herself, I do, as I do in all women. So when the time comes, I will carry a remembrance of hers to the sea. I will release it as the tide goes out, celebrating her life with this final blessing:

I bless your womb that carried me,
and the scar on your belly
that marked my entrance
into this wide, magical world.

I bless your arms that held me
the chair that rocked me
the hands that soothed me
the stories you read to me.

I bless all the fond memories
of planting vegetable gardens
and canning strawberry preserves
and baking apple turnovers in the fall.

I bless that beaten up 8-track tape
of John Denver singing “Country Roads”
because we played it on every road trip
and it still reminds me of you.

I bless all that you taught me
and how you released me
so I would learn and grow
even when it broke your heart.

I bless your bright spirit
now free and boundless
as the wide expanse of the sky
and the gentle caress of the wind.

May you rest and be comforted.
May you know that you raised me well.
May all mysteries be revealed to you,
and may you always feel my love.

The womb first awakens as we bring her the gifts of Presence, devotion, deep respect, appreciation, and the feeling qualities of love and adoration…The womb will then begin to speak of her needs and desires. Only the purified heart will hear, only the courageous will respond. –Padma Aon Prakasha, “The Power of Shakti: 18 Pathways to Ignite the Energy of the Divine Woman”

Much of Goddess spirituality focuses on the inherent power of the womb, the center of a woman’s creativity, her chalice, her Holy Grail, her sacred blood, her life force. When women seek to know the Goddess, they begin to reclaim this power for themselves—and it always shakes their foundations, no matter how solid and carefully constructed. Old modes of thinking, being, and doing simply will not work anymore. Relationships break apart or become refined into something truer and deeper. Careers take a different and often very unexpected direction. Sometimes, even the physical body will react with illness to protest the changes occurring internally and externally. It is all just a process of realigning with something far more ancient and mysterious than any religious text or philosophy could ever describe—the creative force behind the tiniest microbe on our planet to the furthest reaches of space. The womb is a gateway to higher consciousness for both women and men if we choose to honor it in this way. Sadly, most of us don’t here in the West, because we haven’t been taught to do so.

Having been raised in a very patriarchal religious system, I never thought of my womb as anything very remarkable or even very sacred when I was a younger woman. I was mostly concerned with preventing a new life from gestating inside of it, because nothing was going to screw up my plans to finish graduate school and do something with my life. I would not make the same “mistakes” as all the other women in my family. I would not be chained to anyone or anything that could get in my way, least of all a needy, wailing infant with a loaded diaper. I seemed to have no maternal instincts whatsoever. I never held babies or made a fuss over them. They were cute…from a distance. I never even played with dolls other than Barbie (and yes, I know all about her unrealistic 18” waist). I understood animals very well and related to them easily, but tiny, wrinkled humans? Not so much.

The house with the white picket fence and the 2.5 kids looked like the gray walls of a prison to me. I didn’t judge other women for wanting to be mothers, but I felt continually judged by them for my choice to remain childless, as though my fertility were being wasted somehow. In my view, I was being quite noble for sparing a child from a life of misery with a mother who had way too many childhood issues of her own. I never felt that I was financially stable enough, either, so I was also preventing that potential child from experiencing the poverty I had known growing up. Why couldn’t anyone else see that? Why weren’t they handing out medals to women like me?

So, my womb felt much more like an enemy than a friend for most of my adult life. I saw it as this wild, unpredictable thing that had to be managed, controlled, and subdued somehow. It annoyed me. I was quite envious of the sexual freedom men seemed to enjoy with such ease. I resented the birth control pills I swallowed dutifully, despite the nausea and depression they caused, and then later, the IUD that made me anemic every month from heavy bleeding. My womb was costing me a lot, and I didn’t like it one bit.

Around age 30, it even grew a polyp that had to be removed through dilation and curettage. Having the entire contents of my womb scraped out was a horrid, bloody, painful experience, and I was quite furious about the whole thing. I needed to be at work. I didn’t have time to be dealing with this unruly part of my anatomy that seemed hell bent on hurting me.

Even so, I still loved the idea of honoring my womb. I had read plenty of texts on the Goddess movement, Wicca, and pretty much anything having to do with female empowerment by this point. I understood it all in theory. I even experienced what many of those authors wrote about when I gathered in circles with other women. The Goddess in her many phases was something I could relate to emotionally and intuitively, especially her carefree Maiden aspect. But on a deeper level, I knew I was still missing something. I still felt completely disconnected from this pear-shaped organ in my pelvis; yet, it seemed so very central to female selfhood and to the older, shamanistic practices to which I was drawn. I knew I wasn’t going to get a hall pass on this. I would have to deal with it one way or another, but I wasn’t sure how.

The irony is that who knows me well enough would probably describe me as “artsy” or a “creative” or maybe just a bit left of center. I felt like I lived through my ability to write and create, but I was plagued with pelvic pain at the same time. None of it made sense to me. Right after my 40th birthday, I finally surrendered to whatever my body was trying to tell me.

First, I had my IUD yanked out (and I do mean yanked—the removal of the wretched thing was just as bad as the insertion). Then, I started paying attention to my cycle…really trying to understand it for once…charting it every month, getting in sync with the moon, and noticing the alternating fluctuations of activity and introspection that occurred in conjunction with the ovulatory and luteal phases. I thought this would fix things—and it did result in much easier cycles—but my lesson wasn’t over yet.

Years of stress and pain had resulted in a hypertonic pelvic floor, which could only be treated with months of physical therapy, rest, and conscious relaxation of those muscles. After enduring medical tests that revealed nothing, and listening to doctors say that sometimes there is no identifiable cause for pelvic pain, I am inclined to believe that the real source goes even deeper than muscle tissue.

What I now understand about the womb is that it has a tremendous capacity to store love, hope, and renewal…and an equal capacity to store self-loathing, despair, and desolation if it is ignored, denied, and untended. It has its own intelligence and its own emotional center. It remembers everything and everyone who has “entered your inner kingdom without love” as Wayne Dyer would say.

A passage from “Circle of Stones” by Judith Duerk reminded me that answers do not always glide down from above like a feather. Sometimes they wait until you are ready to dive down into very murky waters to find them:

To discover who she is, a woman must trust the places of darkness where she can meet her own deepest nature and give it voice…weaving the threads of her life into a fabric to be named and given…sharing it with the women around her as she comes to a true and certain sense of herself.

I plunged headlong into the velvety blackness, because there was no other place to go.

I began engaging in conversations with my womb while in deep trance, and I was often shocked, saddened, and sometimes in awe of what she had to say. Much of it was like watching a slide show of suppressed memories that came back in full Technicolor detail. One journal entry in particular captures some of her dialogue with me:

You went from one unsatisfying relationship to another…You gave your power away, over and over again, but you kept your heart out of the equation. You kept that precious part of you locked away, and yet you exposed me to these assaults, as if I never mattered at all…

My eyes became tidal pools of tears…for the girl I had been, for the young woman who had cast her pearls before swine, for the scars I still carried. I felt like my entire body would become saltwater and that I could just merge with the sea, becoming nothing and everything all at once…drifting somewhere far beyond the ninth wave.

My beloved became my fortress, holding space for me while I healed physically and emotionally. This is what a conscious man does for a woman he loves. He shelters her until the wounds heal, however long it takes. Such men are rare, and should you find one, I humbly suggest that you love him fiercely, with your whole heart, and with every fiber of your being—and he will return it back to you immeasurably.

The final phase of my healing culminated with the Rite of the Womb, the 13th Rite of the Munay-Ki. It is a sacred lineage passed from woman to woman, a reminder of the truth that has been there within the core of our being all along: The womb is not a place to store fear and pain. The womb is to create and give birth to life.

 And so it is. And so creation and birth and life take many forms, and all are so very sacred, so vital, so transcendent.

The many sisterhoods forming now in the blossoming of this new consciousness have the power to reawaken this birthright. I see them all around me, bright souls radiating their light and love to a weary world. As we heal each other, we heal our relationships, our broken but beating hearts, and our resplendent Gaia, first Mother of us all.


In addition to a wonderful pelvic floor therapist, the following books were also helpful in my healing process:

  • Ending Female Pain: The Ultimate Self-Help Guide for Women Suffering from Chronic Pelvic and Sexual Pain 2nd Edition by Isa Herrera, MSPT, CSCS
  • The Path of Energy: Awaken Your Personal Power and Expand Your Consciousness by Dr. Synthia Andrews, ND
  • The Women’s Book of Healing by Diane Stein
  • Wild Feminine by Tami Lynn Kent