Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Madonna and the Whore

I am guilty of living in the Madonna-Whore complex.

One day I can be looking with great longing and admiration at the pious veiled woman of the Mosques, the devoted wife and mother, and the idealised image of the medieval maiden, of Lady Guinevere, and - stripping away the thought of any oppression and unrealistic expectations of women - I see women of kindness, devout faith, dignity, self-respect and regality. I see a face of the Goddess that has been called Maria, Kwan Yin and Sophia... I admire them and feel like they could represent my potential to be the best person I could be.

Another day I can be looking with great longing and admiration at the confident and expressive belly dancers at the Haflas, the suggestive burlesque dancers of film and stage, the image of the bare-breasted huntress of the woodlands and blood-stained warrioress of the battlefield. I see women of power, bravery, an unapologetic understanding of their beings. I see a face of the Goddess that has been called Aphrodite, Morgana and Ishtar... I admire them and feel like they could represent my potential to be the strongest person I could be.

I am torn between the desire to be pious, 'pure' and kind, and being strong, natural and powerful. (When we I say 'natural' I mean sexual - understanding ones natural, sexual-instinctive being.) One is no better than the other. And being one does not discount you from being the other at the same time.

I've found it strange that I am drawn to the more wild, sexual Goddesses like Aphrodite, Freya, Hathor, Shakti and Asherah. Surely they are nothing like me? Sensible, organised, ordered, shy and modest... How could I ever be like golden Aphrodite, who in sculptures we see, makes no real attempt to cover her nudity, who makes no apologies for her form and open sexual nature. Perhaps I was better suited to more conservative religions...

Statue of 'Capitoline Venus'

If I look properly at myself I can see that I am gentle, emotional, 'physically modest' by western standards, 'well-behaved' and romantically loyal. But I am also someone's lover, a belly dancer, defensive and driven. I could be called Madonna and Whore. And because of this, I am neither. I am not a 'perfect maiden-wife' to be placed on an angelic pedestal beside Lady Maria. I am also not Oholah and Oholibah, the bible condemned prostitutes, looked down upon and considered defiled...

I'm a woman. And I'm breaking out of these barriers that try to push us into either path. I am breaking out of these barriers that encourage the pious woman to envy her lusty sister, or the lusty woman to sneer at her pious sister.

I also encourage men to break their barriers too, with their expectation to become the Alpha Male of sexual prowess, physical strength and numbed emotional state...

Inspired from a post by:
http://aphroditerises.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/madonnas-and-whores-and-double-standard/

Sunday, 12 January 2014

When did I meet Her?


I've been reading Kathy Jones' 'The Ancient British Goddess' and soaking up some Goddess love this week. Books such as this and 'Priestess of Avalon, Priestess of the Goddess', also by Kathy Jones, and 'Walking an Ancient Path', by Karen Tate have opened Goddess Spirituality up to me. I haven't read many books on the sole topic of Goddess and so I have realised that the Goddess path is relatively new to me.
The first part of this post is my own thought processes about how my path began. The second part is directly relevant to this particular topic.

Not knowing what to search for

As a child I had the natural wonder of the world, a belief in faeries, a vivid imagination and a very real sense of innate power within and connection without. But this flame seemed to retreat into my subconscious as I entered secondary school and the pressures of teen life set in. 
Mental maturity gradually emerged, in conjunction with my initiation into sexuality, and as a deep questioning in the nature of suffering grew I searched for answers in religion. I imagined the Priests of the church as wisemen with the love of God that could conquer any pain. But as the webs of fate worked, my attention was instead directed to the mysterious, romantic practices of Pagans.
And so I started to tread upon the Pagan path in November 2007. The path was dusty and broad, with many things far away from me. I had a friend to keep me company as I travelled, and whilst it was refreshing and inspiring, it was very much like throwing myself in at the deep end of a blinding new world with a labyrinth of routes to take. (And when I decide to do something, I simply must go in head first!) I'd never been fully involved in religion before and so was happy to memorise set rituals and correspondences of non-traditional Wicca. Being told what to do was a comfort, especially when what I was told seemed to make logical sense too. 
When asked by Rebecca Cody, a director of a teenage documentary on witches, what was it that drew me to Paganism and Witchcraft, the answer was at the tip of my consciousness. I felt foolish to answer, 'There is something romantic, alluring, exciting and beautiful about it all, but I can't place it.' What is it about the stone circles, sacred fires, watery cauldrons and beautiful icons that really convinced and gripped me? I didn't feel that other religions would reply in such a fanciful and indirect way. Had I missed something? Was I just following a rebellious and alternative path as an imaginative teenager?
I feel that whilst my heart grew, my knowledge and experiences didn't fill up to their potential. As a teenager I had a lot of other distractions and little time to read pagan related books. Shortly after participating in the teen documentary (a few years after starting my path) I turned 18 and could meet with other Pagans. From here I began to open up. The flame of wonder was rekindled and realised, and began to grow. Nevertheless it was at a slow pace, compared to the mad rush of the first years.
But I wanted to learn so much! Over the year I had covered the surface of a number of topics that interested me, but none in any true depth (apart from the religion of ancient Egypt, which I have gone on to study more at University). In my youtube videos I had originally tried to ask questions, interact with others and share new things I learnt. I did not know it all and I still don't. Today I still make videos on new things I learn and I never claim to be an expert; I just enjoy sharing the twists and turns of my path and new realisations that I enjoy.
So where am I now?
When I began my path, as I said, I learnt many things that books told me. I just accepted them. I came to be very confused about the 'Choice' of how to percieve deity. What did I believe? Was deity Male and Female, and all others an aspect of them? Were there many Gods and Goddesses? Was it something else? I had no idea; how could we ever know this? I had never conciously experienced Goddess or God. I had learnt the actions of casting a circle, what to say, the directions ect... I had learnt names and associations of deities and I could recite them in 'invocation'. I never had a clear and direct experience, and I believe this is because whilst my mind was alive with these ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and practices, my heart, the little flame, was still a waiting seedling.

She steps forward

After four years of my path the seed was still waiting. I'd have thought from the realisation of becoming Pagan the seed would start to grow. Instead I feel that it was awakened, like it had been awake in childhood, but it was waiting to be nurtured and grow. For even with the new information, practices and beliefs, heartfelt spiritual stimulation can still be lacking. As a child I had fallen from the mother tree as a seed, and come secondary school I was gathered up to be planted later on. Four years after starting my journey I have arrived in the fertile soil.
I find that the key part of approaching Goddess Spirituality is becoming conscious of it. It is true that She has been with you from the very beginning. She was there when my mother gave birth to me, when as a child I danced in the garden, when my body became that of a 'woman', when I cried, when I fought back, when I fell in love. She was there where I recited Her names and epithets but I didn't yet know how to FEEL them. She was there when I cast a circle holding onto the book of instructions but I didn't yet know how to FEEL the energy. So even though I didn't quite know Her yet, She held the torch as I walked the Labyrinth. As I walked the Sprialled Path. 
At the end of the aforementioned book, 'The Ancient British Goddess', women recite their own stories of finding Goddess and so today I wondered how I actually found Her. After all the journeying, when did I find the soil of Her body and nestle in?
I decided to train as a Priestess of the Fellowship of Isis in 2011 and completed this in 2013. I don't even know if at the moment I decided this I had quite realised why. Something told me I wanted to be Her Priestess, and that I wanted to know Her. And the feeling grew. I remember in 2012 I began to undergo some spiritual confusion as I explored Islam at my University. In the end I realised that no matter the religious doubt over polytheism, ritual actions and the like found in contemporary Paganism (we all get this religious doubt now and again), the one constant love and belief was Goddess. I could never bring myself to question Her existence. The absolute belief in the Life of Nature and the Life of the Goddess was unshakable, even if occasionally a monotheistic God sat on the other side of the wall.
This caught me by surprise. I didn't realise how much I believed in Her. I hadn't spent hours devoted to her rituals and prayers each week, or day, or undergone numerous meditations with Her, and offered copious offerings... Just as I had tried to learn the surface of many Pagan related topics, I learnt the surface of information about the Goddess... and yet She had a pillar-like presence in my heart. I knew that even if I did theorectically (and I mean theorectically, not in definite consideration) decide to don the hijab and touch my head to the ground for the five daily prayers of Father God, Goddess was damn well going to sit on Her throne beside Him, naked, shining, golden hair flowing and sceptre in hand. And I somehow did not feel that God hated Her like patriarchal religion say he did.

Well, well... It seemed that She had entered my heart without me knowing and didn't intend to leave. In 2013 I underwent a year of transformation. Hard personal lessons had to be learnt, bad habits understood and shifted, intentions reaffirmed, love realised. Previous body and sexual shame had to be eradicated; understanding and love of the self meant that I could love and understand others better. This perhaps sounds a little chiche, but this is what needed to happen. I was turning 21, preparing to enter the adult world, accepting and understanding the mechanics of life. As my body woke up to the initiations of womanhood, so did my mind and love of the Goddess. This seed has fallen from the mother tree and is now germinating for her life ahead.

Seeing the Priest/esses of Avalon in Glastonbury, reading about them, and the Priest/esses of the Fellowship of Isis has really been an inspiration for how to proceed. This January I have confirmed in myself that the path of the Goddess is the way I need to go. Previously when I had tried to explain what it was that drew me to Paganism, I found it hard to explain: As above, ''There is something romantic, alluring, exciting and beautiful about it all, but I can't place it.' What is it about the stone circles, sacred fires, watery cauldrons and beautiful icons that really convinced and gripped me?" The answer is Goddess
Romantic
Alluring
Exciting
Beautiful
Her bones are the standing stones and her memory whispers on the wind of our ancestral sites. The sacred fires burn in thanks for the gifts She gives. The watery cauldrons invite us to look into the depths of her mysterious womb. The beautiful icons are our way of reaching out and expressing the feelings that She gives us. And so on. Every joy that I feel in my path can go back to Her.

And whilst She sits on Her throne and encourages me to do the same, God sits beside Her and beside me. It is through remembering God (after a number of years protesting against patriarchal religion and what I insisted was a spirit-less method of control) that I remembered Goddess, for Who She truly was and how important She is to me. Every year is an initiation into new life experiences and insights, and we cannot predict what lies ahead, our path is ever changing, our journey through the Labyrinth taking many routes. 


Thursday, 9 January 2014

My Coptic Church Experience


On the 6th January I had the pleasure of attending a Coptic Christmas service (Coptic meaning 'Egyptian'). We travelled to a Coptic Church especially for this event. I definitely felt very 'other' as I travelled with the Coptic Christians and attended the overall event, but people were very friendly and happy to introduce themselves.

Upon entering the church I saw an entrance lobby, with two arches, one leading to the high altar, the other to the congregation. Beautiful smelling incense wafted around me, and as we were late arriving the sound of loud rhythmic male voices vibrated through the room, accompanied by the clang of cymbals and triangles. 

I took my place in the stalls by myself and looked eagerly to the front. The altar could only be seen through a small wooden archway, leading to a sense of mystery about the rites being enacted. Men and boys sang in front of the arch, all wearing white robes with red sashes. Above the arch that stood behind them was wooden panels decorated with twelve icons, and two larger ones depicting Mary and Jesus. Looking around the room were further icons, gold candelabras and a shrine to the Virgin Mary containing relics (I longed to approach it throughout the whole ceremony).

As the men sang I could spy the lead clergymen through the archway to the high altar, enacting rites over a white cloth covering something, holding up a cross, and holding up what appeared to be a gold Bible. The men and women of the congregation sat separately, the men on the left and women on the right; some of the women wore white veils over their hair, and some wore all white clothes. Perhaps the wearing of white clothes is a survival from ancient Egyptian practices. With regards to the veil I found the following purpose summarised from Corinthians: "The spiritual meaning behind it is to cover human glory in the presence of Gods." (A woman's external glory is in her hair.)

I did wonder why it was only men up there singing and enacting the rites. One man mentioned that whilst he was unsure, he believed it was due to menstrual impurity in women, a concept argued to have existed in ancient Egypt also; however I did wonder why this then discounted young girls from singing, if young boys could. A woman told me that men were given this duty from God, and women were given other duties.

The service contained much of this singing, with few breaks for short liturgical readings on the theme of the nativity. What I found greatly interesting was how it appeared to be a blend of a Catholic Church and a Muslim Mosque. With all of the iconography, bible readings, crosses and Jesus references, the readings and some songs were sang in the characteristic arabic/muslim 'singing' that they use when reciting the holy Quran. Please pardon my ignorance on what this is called! A screen showed the lyrics and readings to the congregation in English, Ancient Coptic, and Arabic. It was unlike anything I'd seen before in a Church. I found it fascinating!

At the end one of the lead clergymen shared a message about Christ, about how he came down to us not born in a palace, with fine linens, warmth and food, but in a dirty stable with an unmarried mother. He was a very spiritual and friendly looking man. To end the service some Copts from Zambia sang a beautiful song accompanied by a woman playing a large drum.

Upon leaving the church the friendly looking clergyman thanked me for coming with a warm smile and then complimented a woman's baby daughter by saying she looked like a young Ankhesenamun, which I liked! 

It was a very different experience from other churches that I have visited. Despite being a three hour long service (!) I'd consider going again to soak in the spirituality and love of the place.