Goddess Thealogy

Walking the Labyrinth: Cycles and Circles of Existence

Have you ever watched a group of people as they move through a labyrinth? Their movements are very different from how we normally travel through the world when we focus on getting from point A to point B. They weave in and out, moving sideways in a cadence reminiscent of the flow of a river. They seem to be getting farther from their destination, only to make a turn and appear significantly closer. Labyrinths are physical manifestations of natural and internal phenomena; the cycles that bring us to life and lead us downward toward our demise also transition us into new phases of existence. In today’s #Thealogy Thursday, we’ll examine the concept of circles and cycles within Goddess Spirituality as well as within our own lives.

Cycles within Goddess Spirituality

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always imagined the year as a circle, like a clock face. July is at 12 o’clock, October at 3, the New Year at 6, and March at 9 (realizing as I write this it isn’t evenly divided!). I assumed everyone else had the same general layout and was surprised when the people to whom I spoke about it gave me weird looks. Not everyone sees time as a loop! Cycles and circles are everywhere in Goddess Spirituality, so it’s no wonder it had an innate appeal to me.

Some of the main processes that are viewed as metaphors within Goddess Spirituality include the moon, the menstrual cycle, seasonal changes, and the life-death-rebirth paradigm. Life emerges, transforms, undergoes entropy and then recasts itself in a new form. I sometimes think the purpose of life is to grapple with the fact of its eventual ending; it is in realizing our finite nature that our existence become a precious community.

As someone who struggles with mental health concerns, it has been helpful to see that, through this lens, the current focus on keeping one’s thoughts tuned only to high vibrations falls flat in defining the full context of our biological and psychological cycles. We may have experiences where we rightfully resist unnecessary negativity, but expecting everything to come up roses if we just keep our focus on the positive is simply unworkable in my opinion. There are moments we exist in full thrall dancing in sunlight and swirling with energy, but it is antithetical to the basic nature of existence to expect bliss to last or that we will arrive at it as a destination.

“Circle Within A Circle”

With these dynamics in mind, how then can we make sense of the unfolding of our own lives? I’d started this blog post as it related to thealogy; I then read a great article by updownflight on recovery and mental health. The dialogue we had regarding that post sparked a realization in me that there is an intimate connection between Goddess’ cycles and the long-term cycles of our own lives.

I’ve begun to visualize the labyrinth when I consider my own growth and development. This viewpoint allows me to see how far I’ve come in an area, but also feel connected to the “layers” below or adjacent to my journey that inform where I’m at right now. The word “meandering” keeps coming to mind in the sense that I might not make it straight from A to B, but I’ll get there eventually.

I wrote a previous post regarding finding my spiritual home. As I deepen my understanding of my spiritual walk, I see that there are transition points where I do see progress. This image below of the triple labyrinth speaks to me as it connotes an ongoing pathway that transitions from one realm to the next. Something shifts, but we’re still connected to who we were and who we will become.

triple map

I spent a lot of time in the past 5 years or so envisioning my “future self,” knowing that a shift was going to happen eventually. Writing this blog has been that shift, as I see myself making manifest the inner work I’ve been doing. “Future self” dreaming has taken a backseat for now, as I’m living in the next version of who I am. I’m certain that this is yet another cycle, one that will eventually restart with a sense that something is going to be birthed in me followed by movement into another spiral.

I do not want to imply here that movement is always positive. I see the spiral as existing in three dimensions, so that there are times of decent and times of ascent throughout our journeys, even as we traverse another layer. Moments can snag us so strongly that we are convinced there is no way out, or we can reach peaks that we are certain have permanently elevated us beyond the earthly plane. And yet, there is that moment where we look back and see it was high or a low point in our journey, rather than something separate from the rest of our existence. Mythology is ripe with images of Goddess descending to the underworld or rising to the sky as she makes manifest her will and destiny, and, at times, as fate unfolds beyond her control.

I am freed from comparing myself to others when I use the cycle, circle and labyrinth models. It may be trite to state that “we are each walking our own path,” but I think it takes on a different meaning when we see it through the visual imagery of the labyrinth. People may seem out of reach during a particularly high or low point in their journey, or during a moment when they are nearing a transition in their life. Accepting that our paths interweave in sometimes unpredictable ways, with strange angles, curves and points of coordination, may allow us to release some of the hold we desire to have over another person’s timeline and progress.

I am very curious to see how you conceptualize the unfolding of your life; the metaphors you use to describe time and the cycles you experience. I plan to unpack more regarding the connection between trauma, mental health and how we see our journey on an upcoming #SurvivingnThriving Tuesday.

Goddess Thealogy

Goddessing Our Personalities

If someone asks you to describe your personality, how do you explain who you are? I tend to discuss my personality from a psychological perspective (introverted, conscientious, etc.), but I’m also beginning to think of who I am and where I’m at in my development from a spiritual viewpoint. I believe the easiest way to do this is to start with an understanding of who Goddess is. For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I’ll be discussing traditional views of Goddess, as well as newer conceptualizations; I’ll also interweave ways we can see ourselves in Her form.

Traditional View

The most familiar way of viewing Goddess to me is the three-fold model of maiden, mother and crone. I’ve referenced Starhawk’s classic The Spiral Dance for my explanation here. The maiden relates to the beginnings of development. She is free-spirited and filled with possibility. There is knowledge and experience she hasn’t yet tasted.  The mother is found in creativity, in new life, in fullness. She loves and lives out her destiny. She knows herself and satisfies her desires. The crone shows up in wisdom and inner work.  She intuits that which is needed, even if it means loss, because she knows loss leads to renewal and rebirth.

I conceptualize our personalities as consisting of all three at once, in various forms and expressions. I don’t think this viewpoint is consistent across practitioners of Goddess Spirituality, but personally I want to find a balancing point between each expression in me. Others may take these three typologies more directly, focusing their practice within one aspect of Goddess, and conceptualizing themselves in one of the three visages at different points as they age.

Alternative Presentations

In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk also refers to a pentagram of life aspects, including new life, opening, fertility, inner work, and dying. The main difference between this and the three-fold Goddess prototype is the addition of the second stage, which involves self-definition and autonomy. I appreciate this addition because I struggle with Goddess models that place the group above the individual as the ultimate “feminine” way of being in the world.

Goddess can also be seen as nature, not just in nature. She is the very earth itself, and the moon above. I’ve deepened my practice of viewing myself and humanity through the metaphors presented in nature. My understanding of concepts tends towards the practical and the concrete, so this practice is extremely appealing to me because I find myself returning to the stories to make sense of various situations.

Lasara Firefox Allen’s Fivefold model, laid out in Jailbreaking the Goddess, is a way to view Goddess that is less strictly tied to female biological processes than the traditional model. Her typology includes Femella (Goddess as innocent), Potens (Goddess as warrior), Creatrix (Goddess as creator), Sapientia (Goddess as wisdom), and Antiqua (Goddess as aged one). I will need to spend more time with this model to determine how well I think it captures Goddess’ essence.

Goddess Archetypes

We can also use specific archetypes or mythologies to connect to expressions of Goddess at particular moments in our lives. I’ve found correspondence books to be helpful in this regard. I also use Goddess tarot and oracle cards to select the aspects of Goddess that I need to embody to handle specific situations.

Part of the beauty of myth is that it gives us a narrative to which we can attach our own comings and goings. I’ve perused the Women Who Run With the Wolves book by Clarissa Estes, and I’ve found that the story of Baba Yaga pops into my head in some situations. There may be certain stories that you find interweave themselves into your life, perhaps because you identify with one of the characters.

Goddess is much more than our individual personality and characteristics. She exists whether we see Her in ourselves or not. My perspective on Goddess spirituality is that it blends the esoteric and mundane, and that it has meaning for our personal lives. Somewhere in the many myths, visions, and conceptualizations of who She is, we are.

Goddess Thealogy

Kuan Yin Contemplation

It’s #Thealogy Thursday! This contemplation can be done indoor or outside; I think it is perfect for a slightly cool morning with the dew still on the grass. You will need tea; there is actually a type of tea named after Kuan Yin which is supposed to have mythical origins. As you practice this contemplation, you can also set aside a small portion of the tea as an offering.

Prepare a cup of tea. Slowly drink it, mindfully savoring each sip. Experience it filling you with warmth and coziness as you drink deeply. I like to gaze at an image of Kuan Yin as I do this, in order to begin to prepare my mind for contemplating compassion. If you’d like, you can practice divination with the tea leaves when the cup is finished, asking Goddess for insight into what compassion means to you.

Next, take a few minutes to sit in silent meditation. Let the warmth the tea started in you expand into your entire body. Feel your muscles relax as you breathe in love and compassion, and breathe out any lingering negativity or hostility. Feel your body solid on the ground and your heart-center alive with you. Ask Kuan Yin to reveal to you a simple, concrete act of compassion you can do today. Let yourself linger for a moment on the sacrifices she made, drawing inspiration from her legend. Thank her for the insight she shares with you.

Goddess Thealogy

Natural Rhythms and Mental Health

I touched on the relationship between seasons and our inner work not long ago. I wanted to take this exploration a step further and delve into how mental health conditions common to trauma survivors, such as depression and PTSD, are also affected by the rhythms of Mother Nature. I do want to take a moment to note that being a trauma survivor and having a mental health condition are by no means synonymous; one can occur without the other. They do co-exist for many people, and the ways in which they manifest can relate to the earth’s patterns.

Moon Cycles

Words like “lunacy” and “lunatic” date back as far as the Greeks and Romans. These words refer to mental health problems thought to be caused by the moon. Although the scientific evidence for this connection is scant, many people still believe that the full moon brings out something wild and untamed. One explanation I’ve found intriguing is that the brightness of the moon, especially to those living exposed, may have caused problems sleeping, which we know does factor into symptoms of mood disorders and anxiety.

For those of us who are women, our monthly menstrual cycle interrelates strongly to our mental health. For many women, the time just before menstruation involves an uptick in emotional distress, even to the point of full-blown depression symptoms. In her book Witch, Lisa Lister describes this time as one where we may be able to more deeply access our intuition and feel ripe for inner work. Some months this holds true for me; others I am too far gone with depression to be able to do this.

If you are curious about your emotions and mental health problems correspond to monthly cycles, consider tracking the course of your rhythms using resources such as a moondala or moon dreams diary. I’ve been using Molly Remer’s book, the Womanrunes Companion Journal, and have been delighted to see how many days I’m actually feeling good at the start of the day. It is helping me track the specifics of how my cycles affect my viewpoint and vice versa.

Wheel of the Year

As a practitioner of Goddess spirituality, I do not follow the Wheel of the Year quite as closely as some Pagan traditions, but I’m fascinated by the richness of each celebration for both community and individual spiritual life. I’m beginning an exploration of how it related to our inner work, using resources like The Great Work. As a strong proponent of self-care, I will be examining more fully how we can resource our needs and respond to the needs of others at each spoke of the wheel. I plan to publish a series with guidance for each of the upcoming celebrations for the next year.

Mental health concerns do wax and wane with the time of year. The manic side of bipolar disorder is sometimes related to excessive sunlight in summer. There is a specific form of major depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder which relates to experiencing depression in the winter when there is a lack of sunlight. Suicidal behavior is highest in the spring and summer. One explanation I’ve heard for this phenomenon is that people who have struggled with seasonal depression may have lingering depression symptoms coupled with their energy escalating as winter lifts. Anxiety issues and PTSD may increase with certain seasons as well, depending on the specific triggers an individual faces.

It is interesting to me that some of the Pagan traditions reflect, in a healthy way, these flows of energy and mood. The summer festivals are full of energy and light, whereas some of the fall and winter ones are centered on contemplation and loss. Our ancestors appear to have recognized the cycles we go through, some of us in a more serious way than others, as the seasons change.

Embodied Heart, Goddess Thealogy

The Eyes Have It: She Sees With Compassion

Facing Injustice

How do we understand and respond to grave injustice in the world? As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, this isn’t a rhetorical question to me. Being told “it’s all in God’s plan” or “forgive and forget” doesn’t provide any comfort to me. I don’t believe we signed a contract before we were born for torture, or that our present difficulties are the result of karmic leftovers from a previous life. I have no logical answer for why some of us experience more injustice than others—why some of us are born into a society that automatically judges our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, ableness and a host of other differences as “less than” and treats us accordingly. I reject any attempt to deny or diminish the suffering we endure at the hands of our fellow humans.

What I do know to be true is that there is a world of difference between suffering alone and suffering while supported. Research on “toxic stress” during infancy and childhood shows us that it isn’t the specific horrors we might endure that tip us into the endangered brain territory, it is suffering them without a supportive parent or caregiver in our lives. The “no one to turn to” is the final arbitrator between how deep the wound will go, and how long it will take to heal. As a result, a potent form of healing that we can offer to each other and that Goddess offers to us is to just be there. She lets us know we are seen and heard, even in our aching, wounded hearts.

Goddess of Compassion

This is the first time I am referencing a specific Goddess in a post, which makes me nervous. In my everyday life, I strive to be appreciative of cultural diversity and sensitive to cultural appropriation. My particular viewpoint on Goddess Spirituality, which is only one of many perspectives, is to see Goddess primarily as a reflection of our inner wisdom and collective consciousness. From this standpoint, I want to balance an historical understanding of the origins of a Goddess with a modern reinterpretation through an archetypal lens. If nothing else, I think I have to start where I am at, make some mistakes, and learn and grow through the process!

A particular Goddess to which I’ve been drawn over several years is Kuan Yin. She is the Buddhist Goddess of compassion. In The Goddess Guide, Priestess Brandi Auset describes her as Deity to whom healers may dedicate themselves. She also notes her name as translating to “She Who Hears the Weeping World.” Her mythology, described in Patricia Monaghan’s Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines, involves a journey to the underworld and a decision to remain in human form to continue to minister to people. Her legend sometimes blurs with that of a male deity, Avalokiteśvara, resulting in her being portrayed with a thousand arms and eyes in order to respond to the needs of the world. This sense of her compassionately responding to suffering has given me great comfort. It leads me to think about how we can fulfill this role for ourselves and for those with whom we come into contact.

Bearing Witness

There have been a few times in my life where I’ve felt truly seen in the most vulnerable places in me, and those moments are etched in my memory. Something transformative happens when we allow another being into this sacred ground. This is different than re-enacting past traumas or having a flashback because we are able to keep one foot in the present and integrate the experience. When I first shared my experiences of childhood sexual abuse, the impression I had of the person listening was that he had “storm-clouds” in his eyes. I can’t express it well in words, but it felt like a concrete reflection of my inner world and was the first time the traumatized parts of me felt “seen.”

In interacting with people who are in deep emotional pain, I feel the vulnerability and power I hold in my being as I deliberate how to respond. I think these moments are recognizable because they have the potential to induce shame or to instill hope. If I have one thing I want to avoid in this world, it is causing someone else shame. At times, my viewpoint has been too narrow and I failed the task. I know I’ve caused others to feel worse in these cases, and, even though I apologize, it doesn’t take the sting out of my actions for me.

In other situations, I had no idea if what I said was helpful, but I knew I hadn’t added to the person’s struggle and that meant something. I think the more we are comfortable with our own flaws, insecurities, wounds and shame, the more likely we are to be able to respond to another from a place of compassion instead of judgment. I think this can be even more important than being able to say “I know what it’s like” when we’ve experienced a similar situation. Sometimes feeling like we can relate short-circuits our ability to listen carefully and really hear the nuance in what someone is saying. Instead, holding space mentally for others, letting their stories take center stage, with eyes of compassion, can speak volumes.

Advocacy

Advocates typically fight for systemic change. Individual acts of violence and trauma do not happen in a vacuum; they happen because systems allow for them. This battle can include seeking individual accountability but it can also include advocacy to change laws and traditions. I have discomfort here because I clearly know in me this isn’t the main type of expression to which I’m called, but it’s hard for me to give myself permission to be a witness instead of a standard-bearer. Perhaps my role will shift with time. I suspect there are people who can play both parts, but I think the burden of either weighs enough on its own.

I can see an ultimate goal of advocacy around areas related to trauma and injustice as also relating to reducing shame in one form or another. For instance, it may be to reduce the shame of our sexual desires so people can talk openly and seek consent before engaging in sex, or to reduce shame around our failings as humans that might lead us to otherwise lash out at others who are different from us. Calling out injustice and breaking down the systemic barriers that lead to it frees us all from internalizing shame.

Life tends to give us plenty of opportunities to use our eyes, our hand, our whole bodies, in response to others’ suffering. It’s usually easy to access a place of empathy when the person we see in front of us reminds us of a younger version of ourselves or seems particularly vulnerable. It’s harder when this person is different from us, difficult, or doesn’t seem interested in having anyone serve as a witness or advocate. And it may be hardest of all when we’re looking in a mirror. Through Goddesses like Kuan Yin, we can internalize a model of compassion that shows up and stands up no matter what is in front of us.