Tag Archives: women’s mysteries

Lunescence

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Drawing Down the Moon

The Moon has long been linked to women’s mysteries, particularly their menstrual cycles. The twenty-eight days of a woman’s cycle correspond to the Moon’s own waxing and waning. She is mistress of the dark night whose ebony depths are echoed in the wombs of women and the underground caverns of Earth. In our culture and many other’s the Moon is considered feminine with strong links to a host of goddesses – Artemis, Hecate, Áine, Sefkhet, Cerridwen, Selene, Chang-o, Ishtar, Hina Hine, Mama Quilla ‑ the list is long and comes from around the world.

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Most of the moon goddesses are associated with fertility, childbirth or the protection of women. While scientific data assures us the old stories linking moon and madness have no basis in reality; other studies confirm what women have always known – the Moon can affects their production of hormones and the onset of menses.

Little if any scientific research has been devoted to determining if the Moon actually affects the way plants grow but the amount of anecdotal evidence is enormous. There are over five million references on the web to planting by moonlight. Moon gardening continues to have Goddess knows how many hundreds of thousands of adherents as it has for millennia. Fertility is her watchword.

Women have always gathered on the full moon to perform their rites and practice their mysteries. To this day circles of women meet in circles at the full moon to seek sisterhood, counsel and support from each other.

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My collage shows a Mycenae priestess engaged in the rite of drawing Down the Moon, a ritual in which women gather together to focus their attention on invoking the Goddess while their priestess opens herself to the Goddess’s presence and allows Her to speak through her. The priestess holds a snake – powerful symbol of feminine life, renewal and transformation. The snake sheds its skin just as a woman once a month sheds the soft inner lining of her uterine wall.

I can’t mention this rite without pausing to remember Margot Adler who died this year on my birthday.  She is was just my age.  Below you can see a copy of her original well-thumbed and much-loved book. In 1979 we were just beginning to re-member the feminine divine and revive Her mysteries.

Margot Adler 1946-2014 Author of "Drawing Down the Moon"

Margot Adler 1946-2014
Author of “Drawing Down the Moon”

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A small catlike form perches on the priestess’s head. Cats were once considered sacred and revered in their own right. Cats are nocturnal creatures, prowling the night with luminous round eyes. They too have a long association with birth, fecundity, motherhood and milk.

People see different things in the Moon – rabbits, faces, buffalo and sometimes a beautiful woman with long dark hair.  My moon is based on medieval Celtic design. It contains a woman tangled in her own hair and surrounded by ancient symbols. She represents the strange and prophetic nature of dreams, visions and intuitions sent by the Moon to those who seek her counsel.  She also stands for the danger inherent in stepping between worlds to engage with either the numinous  or one’s own unconscious.  The gods can drive you mad if you strive to penetrate their mysteries to vigorously, tangling you in a labyrinth of self-reflecting thoughts and imaginings.

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If you look closely, you will find several flakes of mugwort incorporated in the design of the background. Mugwort is a common name for several species of aromatic plants in the genus Artemisia, named after the moon goddess Artemis. Mugwort can be used as a sacred smoking or smudging herb for protection or divination. Used in a ritual context it may enhance astral projection, lucid dreaming and altered states of consciousness. Keeping mugwort under your pillow or in your bedroom encourages prophetic dreams.

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The Goddess in the Details

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TerebinthI couldn’t help noticing while researching this story and reading the passages in Genesis over and over, how often the word terebinth appeared.  I wasn’t even sure what a terebinth was, though it seemed like some kind of tree.  And then there was the Oak of Mamre, named as if it were a landmark of some kind.  The inclusion of these details fascinates me.  The centuries act like sandpaper on stories; planing and refining away extraneous detail until only their essence survives.  Ergo propter hoc,the details must hold some significance.

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Terebinth of Hebron in today’s Israel

The Oak of Mamre mentioned in Genesis may in fact be a terebinth.  There seems to be much confusion in translation around oaks and terebinths. Both trees are found in Palestine with the terebinth filling the oak’s niche in the south and east where the climate is warmer and more arid.  The terebinth, of which there are many species, is a gnarly tree with a full bushy canopy. The leaves can be used medicinally, as a culinary seasoning, the shoots may be eaten as vegetables and its bark oozes aromatic resin and may be tapped for turpentine. Galls, produced on the leaves as a result of insect bites, were once used for tanning leather. “As ordinarily met with today, the terebinth attains the stature of thirty or thirty-five feet. The root is substantial, and penetrates deeply into the ground; the boughs spread widely, and at a considerable angle, and being clothed, except in winter, with dark and shining foliage, the tree presents, during the larger portion of the year, a beautiful and conspicuous spectacle. The reddish hue of the branches and of the petioles, especially while the parts are young, contributes to the pleasing effect.” The trees usually stand alone, providing recognizable landmarks in the stark landscapes they prefer. To this day terebinths are often chosen to mark the graves of nomads who die in the desert.

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Terebinth in full glory – notice the resemblance to pomegranate seeds. The pomegranate figured prominently in Temple decor and is another ancient symbol of feminine spirituality.

Terebinths, including those at Mamre, have long been associated with cultic sites and have a venerable association with concepts of death and rebirth across eastern Mediterranean lands possibly because of their deep roots, regenerative properties and red inflorescence.  In ancient Israel the terebinth was associated with Asherah, a Hebrew goddess thought by some scholars to be the consort of Yahweh, by others as the feminine aspect of God.

Asherah is always identified with trees; sometimes she is the living tree and sometimes pillars of wood, called Asherah poles, or carved wooden images represent her.  The pillars of the Temple are said by some to originate in her worship. Trees are closely associated with the Tree of Life and the Menorah, both powerful symbols in Judaism to this day.  Taken together, these symbols with their deep deep roots (like the terebinth) in Jewish culture, hint at a lost tradition of  feminine spirituality that could explain why the stories of Hagar and Sophia with their references to women’s mysteries (fertility, sexuality, childbirth, blood) resonate so strongly to this day.

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Votive figures thought to represent Asherah, found in the hundreds along with their molds indicating their widespread use and popularity