(Prose) Snowy: Tribute to a “Spirit Animal” by Sara Wright

Photo Credit: Sara Wright

Photo Credit: Sara Wright

(4/10/13 – 1/22/16)

What do I mean by the words Spirit Animal? Indigenous peoples take it for granted that each animal has an Elder Spirit who watches over that particular species. Most of the time this Elder Spirit stays in the other world as a discarnate being. But there are exceptions and sometimes these Spirit Animals cross over to our world. Some come as teachers, some come to warn of impending danger, some give their lives so other can live, some come to bless a child or to act as a protector, healer or personal guide, all embody Grace and love with a capital “L.”

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Harriet Ann Ellenberger

Harriet_02aug2012Read all posts by Harriet Ann Ellenberger.

Harriet Ann Ellenberger

Harriet Ann Ellenberger was an activist in the U.S. civil-rights, anti-war and women’s liberation movements before immigrating to Canada at the age of forty. She was a founding member of the Charlotte (North Carolina) Women’s Center (1971), co-founding editor of the journal Sinister Wisdom(1976-81), a founding partner in the bilingual feminist bookstore L’Essentielle (Montreal, 1987), editor of a small web publication She Is Still Burning (2000-2003), and co-editor (2004-8) of Trivia: Voices of Feminism. She lives in rural New Brunswick, where she writes, practices piano and helps her partner rebuild their old farmhouse. She blogs at http://www.harrietannellenberger.wordpress.com/

Recently published posts: 

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(Special Post) Why I am a RTM Contributor by Sara Wright

Sara Wright

Sara Wright

I think it’s very important to support the creative works of other women in a feminist context. I also think that it’s important to comment on what others have written to help them to feel seen and heard. We feminists must work harder than others to be acknowledged and MAGO has been a beacon in the night for those of us who continue to choose this life -path.

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(Prose Part 1) The Bear Goddess in Europe by Sara Wright

“It is very peaceful with the bears; the people say that’s the reason human beings seldom return.”  Leslie Marmon Silko

Sara Wright winter rain image

Red bear, 80 cm wide, on the wall in the Cactus Gallery. Photo: Clottes (2003)

The mythology of the Bear Goddess has its roots in all continents and appears in all circumpolar cultures. The giant carnivorous nine-foot cave bear was antecedent to all. The themes of the bear first as an image of the Bear Goddess as Great Mother, guardian, celestial guide, shapeshifter, marriage partner, soul bridge, healer, and agent of renewal are present in all these cultures. In this essay we will seek out the Bear Goddess as she manifests in these guises in Europe.

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(Essay) The Messages of Birds by Hearth Moon Rising

Long before tarot, runes, I Ching, or throwing the bones, divination was applied through signs in nature. A sophisticated system of reading these signs was known as augury during the Roman empire, and it focused entirely on birds – their flight, how they perched, the way they ate or drank, the type of bird, the entrails of the bird when gutted, etc. A form of augury is still practiced in some cultures, and its origin likely goes back far into prehistory. Roman augury was a male priesthood, but I cannot find information on whether this was the case elsewhere. My guess is that augury was a non-gender specific skill, taught to everyone like reading and writing today.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Stone Age people would have closely observed bird behavior along waterways in the course of their daily activities. Even before permanent settlements humans camped along rivers or, in arid regions, moved between waterholes. Like humans, many species of birds prefer to congregate around water. Long legged fish-eating birds like herons hunt in shallow water. Webbed foot geese dive for tubers along the banks of ponds and slow moving rivers. Pelicans eat baby ducks as well as fish. Loons travel significant distance underwater as they hunt. In the tall trees eagles and osprey nest, swooping to catch small fish in their talons.

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(Art) Yeowa by Lydia Ruyle

Yeowa

Yeowa is a Goguryeo tomb painting of a winged celestial spirit holding the moon with a frog in it for rebirth. Her serpent dragon body with claws and feet connects Yeowa to the neolithic bird goddesses of old Europe. The three legged crow in the sun below her is Samjoko, a symbol of power and the Goguryeo Dynasty. In East Asian mythologies, the three-legged crow is a symbol of the sun and is said to live there.
Source: Wall painting. c. 1st BCE-7th century CE.
Complex of Goguryeo Tombs. North Korea

(Essay) The Linden Prophesy by Hearth Moon Rising

Hand. Photo by Hearth Moon Rising,

Hand.
Photo by Hearth Moon Rising,

The linden is an important tree in herbalism and in the folklore of the Baltic region. This tree belongs to the Latvian goddess Laima (pronounced like the first word in “lima bean”). Her Lithuanian name is Laime.  Be careful not to get her confused with the fairy goddess Lauma or the Greek Lamia.

Laima is associated with many trees, but especially the linden; many birds, but especially the cuckoo; and many animals, but especially the cow. Laima is the goddess of birth, fertility, fate and prosperity — goddess qualities that seem to go together. Laima measures the length of the day, the length of a lifespan, the length of a spell of good luck. I have a mental picture of her flying around with a wooden ruler measuring things. (“Baby girl, you are going to be this tall.”)

Large-leaved Linden Tree. Photo by Willow.

Large-leaved Linden Tree.
Photo by Willow.

The linden is the tree more commonly known as basswood in the United States and lime in England. It has soft wood used for musical instruments and a pliable bark used for basket weaving. It is a choice wood for carving. The sweet smelling flowers of the linden are brewed for respiratory and urinary infections. The flowers attract insects, particularly bees, which produce a honey prized for flavor and medicinal qualities. The insects in turn attract birds, as does the linden fruit.

The bird Laima favors is the cuckoo. The reappearance of the Common Cuckoo from her African migration marks the beginning of spring in Europe, and the cuckoo is said to prophesy by her number of calls. According to Marija Gimbutas, “Another folk belief relates that the tree on which the cuckoo sits becomes sacred and imbued with the powers of the goddess. If a person peels a piece of bark or breaks a branch of this tree, he or she will know the cuckoo’s prophesies.”

The cow is the special animal of Laima, also associated with the linden tree. Laima presides over the birth of calves, usually by appearing in the stall as a black snake or a black hen or even a black bug. In one song she appears in the cow stall as a linden tree:

A branchy linden tree grew
In my cattle stall.
This was not a linden tree,
This was Laima of my cows.

Laima produces goats and sheep from her other trees:

All roadsides were covered with Laima’s trees:
From a birch a ewe was born,
From an aspen-tree, a little goat.

It is common in Euro-shamanism for land animals to have a bird form. Here we have sheep and goats with tree forms.

Of course Laima also measures the length of a woman’s pregnancy and presides at the birth of children. She governs the bathhouse and sauna where Latvian women traditionally gave birth. In this role she takes the form of a woman with braided hair bearing linden branches.

Why so swift Mother Laima
With linden twigs in your hand?
To still the tears of a young bride
Who came last year to our land.

American Basswood. Photo by Hearth Moon Rising.

American Basswood.
Photo by Hearth Moon Rising.

Laima can appear as one goddess, three goddesses, or as many as seven. In various aspects she may be given different titles, such as “Cow Laima” or “Fate Laima.” This is interesting in the context of the linden tree, because its trunk often looks like it has multiple trunks fused together. The American Basswood has several distinct trunks rising from a single base. The linden tree exemplifies the idea of the goddess who is many and one.

Sources:

Evans, Erv. “Scientific name Tilia Americana.” North Carolina State University Cooperative Extention. http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/tilia_americana.html

Forler, Scott. “Linden-Lime-Basswood Honey” The Honey Traveler, 2011. http://www.honeytraveler.com/single-flower-honey/linden-lime-basswood-honey/

Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddesses. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.

Motz, Lotte. The Faces of the Goddess. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Nix, Steve. “American Basswood, A Common Tree in North America.” About.com. http://forestry.about.com/od/hardwoods/tp/American_Basswood.htm

This article originally appeared July 20, 2012 in Hearth Moon Rising’s Blog. http://hearthmoonblog.com

Meet Mago Contributor, Harriet Ann Ellenberger

Harriet_02aug2012Harriet Ann Ellenberger was an activist in the U.S. civil-rights, anti-war and women’s liberation movements before immigrating to Canada at the age of forty. She was a founding member of the Charlotte (North Carolina) Women’s Center (1971), co-founding editor of the journal Sinister Wisdom(1976-81), a founding partner in the bilingual feminist bookstore L’Essentielle (Montreal, 1987), editor of a small web publication She Is Still Burning (2000-2003), and co-editor (2004-8) of Trivia: Voices of Feminism. She lives in rural New Brunswick, where she writes, practices piano and helps her partner rebuild their old farmhouse. She blogs at http://www.harrietannellenberger.wordpress.com/

Recently published posts: 

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(Poem) Compassion goddess hears the cries of the world and descends to help those in need by Donna Snyder

I came here on the back of an extinct crane
Its slender neck
Wings fierce and gilded with the feathers of the north wind
I heard the needs of the people and the tormented world
I fled the other place and came to the border of here and there
Don’t measure my strength by the standards of your own desires
Do not judge my beauty by the light of the eyes you behold when you look into the obsidian mirror
Plumb my darkness and encounter your own illumination
Herald my compassion and celebrate the outrage in my heart
Look me in the face and dare to see me
Now sorrowful
Now ashiver with ecstasy
You may be blinded by the stars about my head
Twist my hair into a knot and bind me to your fate
You may be blinded
But I will not look away
There is no existence without the “I”
There is no authenticity without the “now”

this poem previously appeared in my poetry chapbook “I Am South” which was published in 2010 by VirgoGray Press.
Donna Snyder.jpg crane goddess

(Photo Essay 5) ‘Gaeyang Halmi, the Sea Goddess of Korea’ by Helen Hwang

Part 5: Gaeyang Halmi, How Does She Relate with Mago?

The field research concerning Gaeyang Halmi was undertaken with the thought that Gaeyang Halmi is related to Mago in some way. Such assumption is on the grounds that the folktales of Gaeyang Halmi and Mago Halmi substantively share the same motifs. In fact, I had thought Gaeyang Halmi is another name of Mago Halmi. A scrutiny has proven that the picture of their correlation is far more complex than I first envisaged, exposing the hidden nexuses of Old Magoism. This last part aims at disentangling the grips. It is indispensable for me to invite my readers to the task of reconstructing ancient East Asian mytho-history.

Gwaneum (Guanyin) of Sea Water, Naksan-sa, S. Korea

Haesu Gwaneum Bosal (Bodhisattva Gwaneum of Sea Water), Naksan-sa, S. Korea

Gaeyang Halmi embodies a partial manifestation of Mago as the Sea Goddess. Nonetheless, such a statement lacks complex subtexts that this topic involves. The Gurang (Nine Maidens) mytheme of Gaeyang Halmi sheds light on the mytho-history of Old Magoism (read Magoism in pre- and proto-Chinese times characterized by shaman rulers). To be specific, Gaeyang Halmi in the gurang pantheon suggests a yet-to-be-known shaman ruler, “Ungnyeo” (Bear/Sovereign Woman), founder of the confederacy of the nine states, which I call Danguk (ca. 3898 BCE-2333 BCE). The gurang represented by Gaeyang Halmi is no small clue to the pervasive yet misunderstood civilization of Ungnyeo. “Ungnyeo” is eponymous of the female symbolism of nine, such as the nine-tailed fox in East Asia and the nine muses and the nine forms of Durga beyond East Asia mentioned in Part IV. In short, Gaeyang Halmi oscillating between “Mago” and “Ungnyeo” in Her identity testifies to the suppressed history of Old Magoism.

Methodically, I have two types of mythological texts to decipher the overtones of Gaeyang Halmi’s mytheme: folklore (oral narratives) and the written myth. Goddess mythemes, malleable yet immortal, constitute the grammar blocks of the gynocentric language that often appears “awkward” if not “ridiculous” to moderns. They need to be analyzed and interpreted. Feminist techniques are apt to sort out the sediments and decipher the diastrophic disturbances caused by patriarchal advances in the course of time.

Some parallels between Gaeyang Halmi and Mago Halmi folk stories are overt. Their stories are so similar that they appear to be an identical goddess:

A: The motif that Gaeyang Halmi walks on the sea, often described as wearing namak-sin (wooden shoes) or only beoseon (Korean traditional socks), is also commonly told in Mago stories especially from Jeju Island[i] and other coastal regions.

B: That Gaeyang Halmi walks around in the sea to measure its depth is also told in the stories of Mago from other coastal regions.

C: The mytheme that Gaeyang Halmi had eight daughters recurs in the stories of Mago, especially from the region of Mt. Jiri. Mago is said to have had eight daughters and sent them to eight provinces.

Given the above, it is evident that Gaeyang Halmi lore resembles that of Mago. Were the populace confused about these two goddesses? I hold that the confusion was not a mistake but a way to convey that Gaeyang Halmi is related to Magoism rather than Mago Herself. In folklore, “why” and “how”are the questions to be interpreted, not to be read.

Supreme Goddess of Seonang Shrine, Korea

Supreme Goddess of Seonang Shrine, Korea

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(Essay) Ratatosk, The Red Scoundrel by Hearth Moon Rising

I remember yet
the giants of yore,
Who gave me bread
in the days gone by;
Nine worlds I knew,
the nine in the tree,
With mighty roots
beneath the mold
–From The Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

Coming down off the mountain, I found a clean log to sit on and emptied the pebbles from my boot.

Red Squirrel. Photo by 4028mdk09

A red squirrel appeared and began chattering angrily. I stretched, closed my eyes for a moment, then adjusted the weight distribution in my pack. The squirrel continued to squeak, click and scold. “Will you be quiet!” I shouted finally. “I’m not hurting you!” The squirrel ran away ten feet, turned around, and began haranguing me again.

Yggdrasil, from a 17th century Icelandic manuscript.

There is no mystery as to why the red squirrel Ratatosk, who scurries up and down the world tree Yggdrasil, is believed to carry insults and verbal abuse. Even the ordinary squirrel scampers to the far reaches of tall trees and down again, seemingly to no purpose, scolding furiously. But the ancestors who studied Yggdrasil’s nature did discern a purpose in Ratatosk’s behavior: he carries insults from the Eagle, who lives in the upper reaches of the ash tree, to the underworld of Niflheim (NIV-el-hame) where the giant serpent Nidhogg (NEED-hog) nibbles at the roots. Nidhogg then offers invectives of his own, which Ratatosk brings up to the Eagle.

What kind of a purpose is that?

To understand the genius of Ratatosk’s role, we have to go back to the nature and the purpose of Yggdrasil itself. The world ash actually supports nine worlds, including the world of the gods, Asgard (AHS-guard), the world of the dead, Niflheim, and the world of humans, Midgard. At the base of the three main roots, the Norns, three goddesses of fate and prophecy, water the tree with white water from a magical lake. They nurture the roots by feeding them moistened clay. Nourished in this way, Yggdrasil’s roots, shoots, leaves and trunk could grow unchecked, choking the universe; but Nidhogg and his sibling serpents nibble at the edges of the roots, a nanny-goat eats the sprouting twigs, and four deer munch on the leaves. Ratatosk, whose name means “drill-tooth,” chews the bark of the tree. The worlds, supported by the sacred ash, remain in balance.

Detail of Ratatosk, from the same drawing

So back to the silly Ratatosk, conveying invectives in the ongoing battle between eagle and serpent. Trying to discern a straightforward purpose in Ratatosk’s behavior is a futile task. We need to ask: if Ratatosk were to go away, what would happen in the conflict between the Eagle and Nidhogg? Would they fight each other directly? Neither is bound to their station. Since eagles prey upon snakes, the Eagle would inevitably emerge victorious in such a battle, and the nine worlds, which depend on both the tree and its antagonists in equilibrium, would collapse.

Ultimately, we need to know more about the feud. The Eddas, sacred texts of Germanic lore written several centuries after the Christian conversion, have little to say on this topic. The name of the Eagle is not even given. We only know that the Eagle is “wise” and Nidhogg is “evil.” They are separated by the long trunk of Yggdrasil, with Ratatosk enabling a virtual war between wisdom and evil with words, like the verbal battle between truth and lies.

The gods know that balance is a state that cannot remain indefinitely, and so the worlds we know must someday end and be replaced by something else. The Eddas say that it will be evil, not wisdom, that will gain the upper hand. But either way, the fate of the nine worlds supported by Yggdrasil is sealed. Still it is the duty of the gods, indeed of everyone, to hold off that day as long as possible. And so Ratatosk scurries up and down the sacred ash, transporting and returning the words wisdom and evil tell each other.

Sources

Bellows, Henry Adam, trans. The Poetic Edda, 1936. At http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe06.htm.

Cooper, D. Jason. Using the Runes. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian Press, 1986.

Guerber, H.A. The Norsemen. London: Senate Books, 1994. Reprint.

(Poem) The Neighbours Send a Message by Harriet Ellenberger

 The Neighbours Send a Message

Moose, deer, lynx, coyote, bear,
skunk, porcupine, snowshoe hare,
hawk owl, ant, crow, honey bee,
all who live in the woods
behind the house I live in,
now formally address the human race:

We, aforementioned children of earth,
together with all our relations,
and by the power of spirit that moves in all things,
do hereby protest vehemently
the destruction of our homes.

We have kept watch in silence
while you made war on each other,
but our time for surveillance
and fleeing is finished.

We will not watch
without intervening
while you mindlessly kill our mother.

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger

Many thanks to Monica J. Casper (co-editor of Trivia: Voices of Feminism www.triviavoices.com) for encouraging me to turn a flippant e-mail remark into a finished piece.

A note on the hawk owl, for those who live outside her territory: The hawk owl is a northern owl who hunts silently by day. If you’re a field mouse in the wrong place at the wrong time, her shadow will be the last thing you see. If, however, you’re too big to be on her luncheon menu, you are free to calmly admire her fluffy-feathered beauty, her grace in the air, and the stealth and precision of her strikes.

A note on “the power of spirit that moves in all things”:  Watching animals, birds, insects, reptiles, and being influenced by them, has given me the idea that they feel “the power of spirit that moves in all things,” that they’re plugged into cosmic mind. I think humans used to be plugged into cosmic mind too, but that the social systems which developed with patriarchal religions broke the connection. Since then, we’ve been rushing around out-of-sync with everyone else on the planet, and, as a consequence, increasingly unhappy and destructive. I especially love the many images of Goddess-with-her-sacred-animals because these images help me feel again what the other beings on earth feel; they help me reconnect to universal intelligence.