Embracing the Wild

What were you taught about nature and her ways? 

The first messages I received about the wildness of the natural world were diametrically opposed. My mother taught me that nature is splendid when controlled in a garden or observed from the boxy windows of the house or vehicle. She would have made a fine Victorian lady. My father taught me that the wild is the only place where one can truly escape the pain and sorrow of life, and that anything one might possibly need is there. He would have made a fine pioneer.   

If I believed my mother, then nature was a frightening and unpredictable place where all sorts of horrible tragedies might befall me. If I believed my father, it was paradise and my salvation from too much civilization.   

I wish my father had taken the time to teach me all of his practical outdoor skills, but there were obstacles. I was bookish, dreamy, a bit awkward, and I was not a boy. Even if he had maintained the patience to teach wilderness survival to a little girl who didn’t like baiting a fishhook, it’s unlikely that my mother would have allowed such expeditions. Death had taken her first daughter, and she worried, constantly, that he was stalking her second. 

I lived much of my childhood through my dead sister’s shadow, trying to find some middle ground between gaining my independence and not increasing my mother’s anxiety. A fearful, depressed, and controlling mother was too hard to bear in the end, so independence ultimately won. I left home at 18 and only told my mother what I thought she was able to handle about my life, which was mostly the acceptable highlight reel.    

Relying on field guides and advice from seasoned hikers to fill in the gaps in my outdoor knowledge bank, I certainly didn’t tell her when I backpacked on a portion of the Appalachian Trail for the first time or any time that I went out into the woods with the barest essentials. I couldn’t explain the benefits of hiking and camping to someone who said, “I will not sleep on the ground when I have a perfectly good bed at home.”  

But there are waterfalls that can only been reached by traveling miles into the forest on foot. There are wide vistas that can only be enjoyed by climbing, step by aching step, to the top of the mountain. There are meadows full of wildflowers and gurgling creeks and the simple comfort of a fire at night under a canopy of bright stars. 

We spoke completely different languages, she and I. She craved walls and security. I craved fresh air and whatever is around the next bend.     

I reserved my nature-loving conversations for my father, who understood the peace of wild things and that my soul was being hurt by too much domestication from suburban living. The outer trappings of my life looked like progress. Degrees. Job. Paycheck. Retirement fund. House. Car. Boxes all checked, but there was less and less time and energy to be outside exploring. Weekends were taken up with maintaining the lawn and the house and running errands. Then it was Monday again, and I would try to push away the feeling that my life had been stripped of all meaning and purpose. It wasn’t supposed to feel like this. I took no pleasure in any of my accomplishments. What had I won? A concrete jungle? I didn’t want it. I wanted a forest. I wanted to wake up and see trees all around me, instead of the neighbor’s back porch, the rows of privacy fences, and the asphalt leading to places I did not wish to go. Even the local nature trails had become too familiar, predictable, and heavily occupied by joggers and cyclists.   

My own search for a connection or reconnection to the earth was really a search for self and identity. How a woman feels about the earth reflects how she feels about herself. Either she embraces all that is wild, unapologetic, fierce, and untamed within her, or she lives in denial and represses her natural instincts. Either she accepts that the feminine is both nurturer and destroyer, or she feels that a part of herself remains caged as she struggles to fulfill the impossible cultural expectation of flawless motherhood and domesticity. It is still shocking to some that the Goddess has teeth and claws.  

Such profound realizations often occur on the cusp of the final transformation. Nearing the end of her life and unable to walk, my mother actually loved seeing photos of my hiking trips. Faced with her own mortality, she became keenly aware of all the places she would never go in this life and all that she would never see or experience. She said that my photos made her feel like she was out there with me on the trail, seeing the world through my eyes. I brought her the wild, and at last, she understood this sacred, primordial part of me and of herself and of all women. 

“Go,” she told me. “Let your hiking boots take you every place that calls to you, and I’ll be with you every step.” 

And she is. I feel her, and I feel the Great Mother surrounding me every time I leave the known for the unknown, the safe for the precarious, the tame for the untouched and irrepressible wildness of the world.       

The Problem with Perfect

I’m nine years old, it’s late summer, and I’m playing tag and roughhousing with a group of boys in the churchyard. My mother is standing on the church steps with the other adults, talking and smoking cigarettes, stretching out the fabric of the evening until the stars are visible. Occasional shrieks of laughter punctuate the cacophony of insects and tree frogs, and fireflies dart like tiny, luminescent spirits in the graveyard. It’s the kind of Southern night that can make a poet or a songwriter swoon.    

The boys are beginning to accept me as one of their tribe and rarely cut me any slack for being a girl. I want to understand their world, so I learn the proper way to throw a football, and I try to be impressed with things like baseball cards and comic books. I am holding my own in whatever game we decide to play, and being an only child, they give me some sense of what it would be like to have a bunch of annoying brothers. I’m learning that having brothers means I need to be tough and willing to get my clothes dirty. So I don’t think much about the mud on my shirt when I notice the adults putting out their cigs and shuffling towards the parking lot. 

I wave goodbye to the boys, reaching the car at the same time my mom does. There is just enough light from the streetlamp for her to notice that my white shirt is no longer pristine. She is instantly furious and launches into a tirade about me being thoughtless and careless in my “good clothes” and how we don’t have money to replace such things. I feel shamed and humiliated, and not knowing what else to do, I slide into the back seat, hoping that it’s too dark for anyone to see my tears. 

I overhear one of the other mothers say, “It’s alright. A little stain remover will take that right out.” 

As the parent of two rambunctious boys, she probably owned stock in stain remover and could tackle grass, mud, and blood without batting an eyelash. I cry even harder because she is standing up for me, and I wish I could go home with her instead. Maybe she would like to add a lively daughter to her brood. Then I notice a brief glitch in my mother’s programming. An expression that almost looks like regret passes over her face, but I don’t get an apology. 

What I internalized from that experience and many others is that the way to avoid criticism, shame, and humiliation is to be perfect. 

The years that followed were full of honor rolls, college degrees, summa cum laude, and all the other academic accolades I could acquire. I got the corporate job after graduate school and surpassed anything anyone in my family had ever done in terms of education and position. If I could do enough and be enough, then I thought I would finally be worthy of love. In my world, love was conditional, merit-based, and could be withdrawn at any moment. It paid to be an over-achiever.  

What did I pay with? My soul, mostly. 

On the one hand, I developed self-discipline and the capacity to stick with something long after the initial excitement wore off. I learned how to push through apathy, boredom, illness, frustration, fatigue, and doubt. I learned how to work when I felt like it and when I didn’t. That is how you win the medal and save the day, or so I thought. It’s a repetitive process of self-denial, grit, and determination. 

On the other hand, I developed a harsh and relentless inner critic that never made allowances for being human. I was still the girl afraid of getting mud on her shirt. Every bit of my self-worth was tied to achievement, and without it, I had no idea who I was. If I wasn’t working toward something and slaying a goal, then I was nothing.  

Attaining the goal always ended up feeling shallow, though. I would sink into depression afterward, because there was always something higher and better on the horizon. I didn’t pause to celebrate accomplishments, because they were never enough for me anyway. I didn’t bother to hang diplomas or awards on the wall. If achieving made me feel worthy, then I had to find another hit as quickly as possible.       

Fast forward to the present. I’m sitting in my therapist’s chair, watching the fishes dart back and forth in their tank, wondering if they feel limited by their world or if they are blessedly unconscious of lakes and oceans. For their sake, I hope they have no aspirations.     

Determined to get to the root of my perfectionist problem, my therapist, who seems a lot like Gandalf to me, finally asks, “Can you be okay with not being a god? Can you accept that you are a fallible, flawed human?”

“No, not really. I’d rather be a goddess,” I reply with my usual wit and sarcasm, laughing while I cry a little on the inside, because it’s true. I’m not madly in love with being human and never have been. A part of me has always felt like I don’t belong here in this life or even on this planet. (Some say that people like me are starseeds, but that’s a far out topic for another blog). 

I’ve also spent over two decades immersed in women’s spirituality and the Goddess movement, which helped me wake up to my own feminine power in a hypermasculine world. I had to slough off a lot of early conditioning, and I did it with sisters who weren’t afraid to drum, dance, sing, laugh, chant, howl, cry, and connect with our ancient lunar wisdom and magic. 

I still emphasize connecting with the Divine Feminine in much of my writing and my spiritual practice. It can be a path for healing low self-esteem and victim mentality, particularly for women who were brought up in extremely repressive, misogynistic environments. It’s a period of recovery and reclaiming, and I believe it’s sacred, vital work for bringing feminine consciousness back into the world. 

There is also a field out beyond that where a woman knows her power and strength after doing the inner work. She doesn’t doubt what she can manifest. She isn’t afraid to speak her truth. She owns her sexuality. She has clear boundaries. She is less of a student and more of a teacher now. She can hold space for others quite easily, but she must also hold space for herself.

I stand in that field of wildflowers now, asking questions and looking into the well of wisdom with my own face reflected back to me. Who am I now after all that I’ve done? What if I could still accomplish great things with love and acceptance for my human flaws? What would that even feel like?  

One aspect of Goddess spirituality that I find troubling is the tendency to put Her on such a high pedestal that She is completely unrelatable. A depiction of Aphrodite rising from the sea foam might inspire more self-love or it might trigger body dysmorphia. It depends on a woman’s personal history and point of view. In a world that already wants to slice and dice women into unrealistic, commercialized images, it can be difficult to access something true and genuinely feminine. Something divinely human. Something perfectly imperfect. If we are to see the Goddess in ourselves, then what does that really look like? Here’s a hint: it’s probably not something porcelain and immaculate.     

When I consider the Goddess now, I want her to be a lot less celestial. Maybe she’s sporting a messy bun and still in her pajamas on her third cup of coffee, because she’s deep in her creative process. Maybe she has paint in her hair and mud on her feet…or on her shirt. 

Looking back on it all, I know my mother was doing her best to give me a competitive edge, and she did it in the only way she knew how. I can only imagine the fear she must have felt inside at the thought of sending her daughter out into a world that would expect her to think and act like a man in order to be successful. She wanted me to reach higher and go further than she did, and she was trying to prepare me for the fact that my softer, feminine qualities would not be considered assets. I have so much compassion for her, knowing that what she passed on to me was part of the patriarchal illness that affects us all. I’m wide awake to the symptoms, though, and it’s my job to heal myself and to help others if I can.  

Healing means knowing I’m worthy down to my bones because of who I am, not because of what I achieve. I’m finally reaching a place where I can pause and simply stand on everything I’ve learned in my life and put it into practice for the greater good. 

As I was wrestling with perfectionism and beginning to write about it, a friend called out of the blue one afternoon with a message that felt like it came straight from the Universe. 

“I want you to know that what you offer has value,” she said. “You speak the truth and listen compassionately. No matter what I’ve talked to you about, I never felt judged. That’s a rare thing, and I felt like you should know that it’s really needed in this world.” 

Her words touched me deeply. I realized that I did not learn the things she spoke about from a textbook or a professor. They cannot be learned. They are the medicine I carry, and it is enough. 

When You’re Woo-Woo as F*ck and Your Partner Isn’t

It may surprise you to know that despite being a witchy, Goddess-powered kind of woman, I cohabitate with a man who is decidedly non woo-woo. It has come to my attention that there are quite a lot of us out there who maintain some type of spiritual practice that doesn’t involve our partner. It’s like we’re all keeping a holy sanctuary that our most-loved person never enters.

Does it matter? Well, that depends.

For some, it’s no big deal, as long as the partner is respectful and understanding about things like burning candles, wafting incense, reading Tarot cards, and being highly conscious of the moon’s exact phase and astrological transits. As long as love is the foundation of the partnership, it works well enough.

I’ve also known women who relish their spiritual path as their private, inner world, and they have absolutely no wish at all to share any of it with a partner. Doing so would almost feel like a violation, because they have fought so hard to create that sacred space for themselves.

For others, spirituality becomes a sticking point. They want and need their partner to be fully on board and engaged with them and their spiritual practice. Questions can begin to arise like, ‘If my partner rejects my spiritual values, does he/she reject me as well?’ and ‘If I can’t share this part of my life with him/her, then do we really even have a relationship?’

In the earlier days of my break from mainstream religion, I was thrilled if the guy I was dating didn’t bug me about church or try to convert me. It was even better if he didn’t freak out over words like witchcraft, Goddess, and pagan. (Having been raised in the South, I was recovering from the emotional abuse and patriarchal wounds I received from the church. The slightest hints of fundamentalism would send me running).

So, I only looked for tolerance and open-mindedness from potential lovers, and that’s mostly what I attracted. The word witch almost served as a kind of litmus test to see who would stick around, although I have to say that many didn’t care what I believed or practiced. They were far more interested in my body than my mind and spirit anyway.

I thought that men who were spiritually awake, plugged in, and switched on would be too much to hope for, quite honestly. I figured I’d be doing really well just to find one who was stable, reliable, intelligent, driven, and kind. Enter Domestic Partner #3, who has all of those qualities.

I felt that he was extremely fortunate to have parents who didn’t drag him to church or force him to practice any type of religion. I certainly wasn’t going to do that to him, either. He formed his own beliefs, which are pretty close to agnostic if I had to put a label on them. He has always been supportive of me, but we’ll never share the exact same views on the inner-workings of the Universe and the things I feel inside but can’t always explain.

Our relationship works, as long as my witching and priestessing takes place on the outskirts of our daily life. It works, as long as my woo-woo conversations are limited to friends and members of my community. It works, as long as I don’t connect the dots between sexuality and spirituality. It works, as long as I don’t care if he ever joins me in my inner temple. It works, as long as I keep this immense part of myself, which informs so much of my writing and all that I do, separate from all that we do as a couple.

Sometimes I do care, though I try hard to release any expectations. I’ve learned that having expectations of anyone is always a recipe for disappointment. Knowing that is one thing; putting it into practice is another. Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes I feel we are speaking a completely different language, and there is no translator. Sometimes I follow the flowchart back to the beginning and find that the heart-centered medicine men and sages of this world are still in short supply.

I’ve never felt that my partner rejected me personally or even my spiritual outlook directly. It’s more that I question how deeply a relationship can go if one of the most important aspects of my life can only be experienced with others.

Goddesses Don’t Wear Bras

Friends, it’s hotter than Brigid’s forge in lower Alabama, so I’ve been going sans bra as much as possible. It’s ridiculous to be layered when atmospheric conditions are at rain forest levels. If it would not result in arrest, I’d probably go around naked through the Dog Days of summer. Since public nudity isn’t an option, I can at least shed my bra.

If you trace the word brassiere to its Old French origin, it means armor or “a protector for the arm.” I’m not going into battle, so why do I need “armor” for my breasts? Why does any woman? What are we protecting our breasts from, or rather, why is the world still so concerned with the appearance of breasts that we spend $16 billion on bras annually? Such a waste of funds!

When I look at ancient statues of goddesses, so many of them are bare breasted. Consider the Venus of Willendorf, or Astarte, or the Minoan Snake Goddess…I could go on. All of them reflect eras when the life-giving, nurturing aspect of the Goddess was honored. Breasts were powerful, not just sexual. They represented fertility, sustenance, and abundance of the land and its people. Goddesses don’t wear bras. The very idea would be insulting.

Today, breasts are hypersexualized, objectified, and somewhat divorced from their main function. Ask any woman who has breastfed her child, and she will describe the challenges of doing this in public without feeling shamed and judged. Society is much too worried about the appearance of a woman’s nipples, despite the fact men have them, too.

How far we have fallen from our matriarchal roots.

When I posted about bra hatred on my personal Facebook page, several friends raised their virtual hands in agreement. We discussed the fact that even when we go braless, we often resort to hacks like covering our nipples with those nifty circular Band-Aids if we’re wearing tight clothing. So even if our breasts are freed from the underwire cage, our nipples might still be muffled under cheap adhesive bandages or nude-colored pasties. Why? Because we feel self-conscious. Our culture has made us believe that if our breasts bounce and our nipples show, we will be considered loose and immoral. We’ve been trained to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention, lest we be assaulted, raped, or killed.

Yes, trained—and it all begins with the training bra we’re told to wear at the first signs of sexual development. Think about it. Who or what is being trained? Are we training our breasts to get used to the bra, or are we training ourselves to conform to a social standard that we didn’t even set? I remember asking my mom for one, because all the other girls in school were beginning to wear them. I was beginning to feel self-conscious without a bra, which shows just how much pressure girls are under to conform. The message we internalize is that there is something much too vulgar and tempting about breasts, so they must be hidden under double layers of fabric. We carry that message our whole lives, unless we consciously work to reclaim our natural beauty and worth. Reaching way back into our collective memory and connecting with the Goddess is a doorway to the process of reclaiming our selfhood.

Thankfully, some wonderful teachers and empowerment coaches are now actively assisting in the work of showing us better ways to appreciate and work with our bodies. Saida Desilets, Ph.D., creator of the Taoist-based Jade Goddess teachings, describes the energetic quality of breasts in this way:

Our breasts are considered our love center because they sit on either side of our heart and represent the external expression of our heart chi. Chi naturally flows from our heart center out into the world. Our breasts have long been a symbol for nurturing and loving energy. They also hold the secret to our longevity. (206)

Susun Weed, herbalist and author of The Wise Woman Way, also speaks of the power we hold in our breasts:

We are the Ancient GrandMothers and our breasts are ancient. Perhaps you find them ugly. See how they drift yearningly toward the Earth, lower with every passing year. We smile knowingly; we know our breasts contain a power that is resilient, flexible, supple, easy, and impossible to restrain. Whether the whim of fashion says our breasts are to be large or small, pointed or flattened, with cleavage or without, padded or bound, accented or obscured, it matters not to us. Our breasts fall free, untouched by current notions. The power of our breasts is the power of life.

Yet, we block and constrict that power, and we’ve been doing so for the last 500 years since the introduction of the corset.

I have this fantasy that women all over the globe will join together in a Bra Burning Day. I see us all flinging off our constricting garments of torture and dancing around the flames, never looking back. I see men there with us, drumming in the outer circle, supporting us lovingly and committing to the work of demolishing the old paradigms.

May we unlearn the rules imposed upon us by earlier generations that were ruled by fear and shame. May we nourish our breasts with freedom of movement, healthy relationships, massage, good nutrition, and a positive self-image. May we remember that we are the reflections of the goddesses of old, who are still alive and within us now, calling forth our courage and our love.

So Mote It Be

Copyright © 2017 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Désilets, Saida. Emergence of the Sensual Woman: Awakening Our Erotic Innocence. Kihei, HI: Jade Goddess Publishing, 2006. Print.

Weed, Susun S. “Ancient Breasts.” Wise Woman Herbal Ezine, http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/February09/breasthealth.htm. Accessed 14 July 2017.


Laughing Out Loud: Goddesses of Mirth and Revelry

I remember chatting with a friend at a coffee shop after a period of intense cosmic energy that had left us a bit flabbergasted. We were getting mighty tired of feeling like pinballs in the inscrutable game of life, and both of us were wondering when things were going to feel lighter, easier, or at least not quite so darn Saturn-ish.

“Is there a goddess of laughter? Because I need that one!” she said.

“Actually, there is! Look up Baubo,” I said. “She’s a Greek goddess who rules laughter and all things crass and unmentionable.”

I hadn’t studied much about Baubo up to that point—I just knew she was the goddess in the Eleusinian mysteries who made Demeter cackle so much that she ceased mourning for her daughter Persephone. This was no small act, considering that the Earth was suffering under an endless winter without Demeter’s attention. Restoring her spirit gave her the courage she needed to secure Persephone’s release from Hades, thereby allowing spring to enliven and quicken the land again. Powerful magick, indeed.

Greek terra-cotta figurine of Baubo holding a lyre.

Laughter is good medicine, and Baubo is the queen of deep belly laughs, dirty jokes, and unbridled sexuality. I would compare her to Mae West or Amy Schumer. She is a goddess who speaks directly from her genitals, and your approval is neither sought nor required. Precious little survives of her likeness and her story, but the unearthed figurines of her depict either her face in her belly with the vulva forming her chin or an exaggerated vulva between her legs. Whatever she was hiding under her skirt certainly gave Demeter the giggles.

If you invite Baubo into your life, be prepared to find humor in just about everything, to laugh until your sides hurt, to flaunt your fabulous self, and to stop apologizing for being “too much” for the curmudgeons. If they can’t laugh along with you, dear one, it’s their loss.

Another goddess who gives no fucks is Uzume (pronounced oo-zoo-may) from Japanese mythology. She is a shaman goddess who found herself in a similar role to Baubo as court jester, clown, and one who saves the day through raffish humor.

Uzume, from The Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky

As the story goes, Amaterasu, the life-giving, compassionate goddess of the Sun, had hidden herself in a cave. She was severely depressed and grieving over the violent actions of her brother, Susano-o. He was quite jealous of her power, so he went on a rampage, slaughtered a young horse (a sacred animal to the goddess), and threw its carcass into her weaving room. He destroyed her looms, ruined all of the valuable fabric, and terrified all of the women who were working there at the time. In some versions of the story, he kills all of the attendants and wounds Amaterasu as well.

Her refusal to come out of the cave after this episode was beginning to distress all of the other gods and goddesses. The rice fields were dying, and the situation was getting desperate. They had tried to lure her out with no success, and then Uzume showed up at the cave entrance. She begins by looking quite serious and refined and then proceeds to lift her kimono for a frenzied, erotic dance that made all the assembled deities howl with laughter. When Amaterasu became curious enough to venture outside, the others sealed the cave so she could not return. Balance was restored to the land once again by a goddess who understood the power of comedy.

So here we are about halfway through a Mercury retrograde, and I know it’s eclipse season, and the Equinox is less than two weeks away, and the holidays are coming, and the election is looming, and the world is exploding, and Winter is coming…yeah, I get that.

But laugh. Really. Find some cat videos on YouTube. Go see some live stand-up comedy. Check out the People of Walmart. Do whatever it takes to laugh so damn hard that tears roll down your face, and ask Baubo and Uzume to help you.

Blessed Be

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


The Goddess as Challenger

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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.

Creating Ritual

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.

Invitation to the Wild Man

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. 

Service and the Art of Self-Care

“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.