When you hear the word “goddess,” whom do you see? A celestial figure, holy mother, or larger-than-life Amazon, exotically beautiful, awesomely powerful, and possibly feared? The goddess was once a universal icon with countless names, faces, and attributes: Quan Yin, compassionate mother of Asia; Kali, Hindu creator/destroyer goddess; Aphrodite and Venus, Greco-Roman love and beauty goddesses; and, of course, Mother Earth, worshiped as Gaia.
In ancient times, the word meaning “mother” was analogous with “home,” “source,” “people,” and “tribe.” One might have said, “I am from the East River Mother,” or, “I”m from the Mother of the Far Hills.” In recent times, many continents and governments still manifest the concept of the goddess as motherland in such figures as Democracy”s Lady Liberty.
Earth and environmental health include the balancing of the yin and yang principles at the center of feng shui’s bagua. There is a Tao proverb, “Where heaven and earth come together, gentle nurturing rains fall.” Similarly, the ancient Europeans included the divine goddess and god to balance and center the seasonal wheel of change and four cardinal directions. Aboriginal North Americans reverently pray in the medicine wheel to Mother Earth and Father Sky. The ancient Essene also prayed to the heavenly father and earthly mother. The Dead Sea scrolls revealed the prayer, “Our Mother who art the earth, hallowed be thy name, for thine is the earth, body, and health. Amen.”
How do we translate, utilize, and incorporate the ancients’ multifaceted concepts of feminine divinity into our current lifestyles? What is the relevance of any of these goddesses today?
What began within the feminist and environmental movements to acknowledge, heal, and empower women and the earth has become a global interest in human and earth stewardship. This grass-roots “goddess movement” affirms honoring and protecting the earth as living mother and life-giving source.
As global awareness grows and barriers to travel shrink, the sense of a networked “global family” is rapidly developing. Scouring the Internet in search of lost parents, relatives, and family trees is a rising trend, and many seekers are finding new cultural and ethnic roots farther back in their lineage. Identities are expanding and old prejudices are relaxing; traveling in search of places of family origin, individuals are inspired to seek out cross-cultural information. More historic records have come to light and research reveals goddesses buried in the foundations of most cultural heritages.
Many religions adapted or evolved these goddesses. For example, St. Brigit was once widely worshiped throughout Celtic Europe as Brigita, triple goddess of the flame, and in Ireland her eternal flame still burns. The Romans Christianized her high holiday as Candlemas. Originally called Imbolc, the holiday celebrates the transition from winter to spring. Communal bonfires lit atop each community’s highest hill once connected the Celtic empire by signaling all was well throughout the realm. Groundhog Day evolved from this first light ceremony; ancient lore held that if it rained on this day, the thaw would come early. If clear and cold, it was time to take stock and communally prepare for more of winter”s harshness.
Physical and emotional mood changes of the cyclic lunar calendar benefit from the understanding of shared experience. Many feel a renewed exhilaration with the coming of spring and a heightening passion for creativity and pleasure seeking, as our sunny days of summer invite recreation. Some experience a sense of loss after autumn”s colorful harvest. As leaves fall away, we may become dissatisfied with unrealized goals and dreams. When the cold and darkening days of winter set in, light deprivation sensitivities may cause depression.
During Goddess circle celebrations, we practice simple elegance, sometimes extravagantly performed, creating a physical resonance to inspire movement into the sacred from the mundane. Gathering together our extended families, we share transformational ceremonies in recognition of the changes in our lives. We perform house blessings and cleansings, healings and mournings, hand-fastings or engagements, weddings, and even divorce ceremonies. We celebrate transitions between childhood, adolescence, parenthood, and honor the passage into wise elder.
The circle shares poetry, affirmative blessings, and meditations. We dance and sing and prepare lavishly festive vegetarian meals with cornucopia centerpieces and altars using the garden”s harvest. It’s a great excuse to take out our rarely worn festive wardrobe, dressing in garb that evokes Renaissance or Greco-Romanesque art, as if we just walked off a Waterhouse or Botticelli canvas, in seasonal colors of long flowing velvets, luscious silks, and sensuous satins.
Seasonal festivals were critical in bringing together ancient communities ensuring winter survival and spring planting after the final frost. Now, taking time out of our hectic schedules to attune to the significant patterns, we can learn to share in healthful preparations to better weather the changes of both bright and dark times.
Historically enlightening and enriching, our sacred circles are dedicated to the highest good, with harm to none. We acknowledge the passage of time and major events in our lives in a non-religious yet traditional context of our ancient European heritage. Our ancestors celebrated the year on an agricultural calendar, recognizing the solstices, the equinoxes, and the four cross-quarters (the date halfway between the equinox and solstice). Each six-week passage focuses our intention on manifesting affirmative changes in the coming days of the season. We release everything unlike love in ourselves and our environments that might hinder optimal health, affirmative progression, and realized potential.
These occasions of good cheer and holiday spirit extend family celebration and travel plans with friends throughout the year, beyond just Christmas, Chanukah, or Easter vacations. Circles are a way to add fun, whimsy, and magic lore of the fairy folk, retell old stories and legends, and explore realms of the likes of mystical Avalon or Camelot. You can create a physical resonance facilitating inner sacred space, while being amongst the sacred groves and standing stones of ancient sites in the Greek or British Isles, or standing among the trees and rocks of your own backyard.
As individuals, male or female, we are learning to balance the individual masculine and feminine natures within and to participate in relationships as whole beings. Men of the “90s learned to participate more actively in child and home care, and many women have learned to juggle both parenting and employment.
Now, at the millennium, maturing “wise women” are shifting towards integration of the whole family. More circles embrace the concept of goddess and god, all and one. Beltaine (May Day) honors the sacred union of male and female. Summer solstice celebrates the full light of the solar yang principle, just as winter solstice does full darkness and the lunar yin principle.
Today we celebrate the goddess and god in every woman and man. Observing the cycles of life”s process builds and strengthens confidence and self-esteem and helps us meet the growing demands of daily living in our fast-paced society. We celebrate the beauty within and express that beauty with gratitude for the abundant blessings in our modern lives, bridging between the ancestral past and the future of our children. Sacred circles encourage creative wisdom at play and revere the human integration of body and mind, Earth and spirit.
About the author:
For more than a decade, Rhea Peake has been collaboratively creating and leading celebrations as sacred theater and ceremony with her dear friends. For more information on Goddess circle events, contact Rhea Peake.