|Ste. Barbe, possibly another syncretization|
I remember how it happened, both the beginning of something severely real and the conscious decision to say, “no. Not now. Maybe not ever.”
Hosting a samhain party at my house, a bit of tension in the air from the spirits of the thresholds and my own poised step between multiple worlds and multiple others, between one work and another, between one lover and another.
She pinned me against the wall, an old friend, not a pagan, but certainly a dancer upon the winds of madness and the currents of the under-earth. “It’s coming, you know. You’re gonna have to confront her, the goddess, the goddesses, women as divine, as dark, as breathing from grave, from the womb.”
She terrified me. Goddesses terrified me. Sometimes they still do, as they should.
Sometime around Beltaine the next year, dreaming in a dark room, still straddling those myriad worlds, I tried to get rid of an image that wouldn’t go away. A white tower in the middle of the city near a lake, not quite in the city but more behind the city, underlaid or overlaid of the city. Light between sky and earth connected it, but it was physical, forged from a sort of stone that wasn’t stone at all, almost chalk, probably…bone.
It wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t sleep this night or any of the nights before it because it was there when I closed my eyes, sometimes there just before I closed my eyes.
And I remember saying aloud, finally–“no. Not now. Maybe later, maybe not ever.”
I may deviate from the list for awhile. Structure is great, and it’s particularly helpful, but so is deviation. I am nothing if not my deviations.
Let me elaborate. The story of Arianrhod, the story of my relationship to my gods is itself a sort of deviation, or a deviation back on a deviated path, away from a futile attempt to hold onto normality by keeping the Other in abeyance.
There’s lots of sorts of pagans, and they don’t always get along so well. Sort of like how there’s lots of sorts of humans, with all the accompanying complications of difference. Normality is generally over-rated, certainly, but normality is one of the best ways to survive Modernity. Deviate, and certain things are closed off to you. Say, prefer the fierce and brutal erotic closeness of men while also being a man, and lots of doors are suddenly closed. There are some ways of forcing those doors open, such as acting normal despite your deviation, or minimizing your deviation. These require a certain sort of double-mindedness of which I am no longer capable.
Live a deviant life, and many doors are closed. But live a deviant life, and many more things are open. Ever spent time with the homeless? Try it. Sit with them for most of a day on a street and listen to their stories, their difference in perception of the city or the world. There’s something terrifyingly alive in their stories.
I was born into near abject poverty. It really could have been worse, though–being born white was still easier than another skin-tone, since it’s America and this is a horrible place to be if you’re not white. Also, male. Lots of privilege, but simultaneously lots of not-privilege. Some in my position side with the dominant class (white, christian, middle-minded) in hopes of either becoming accepted, gaining access to privilege, or at least having an easier time of it.
I never do.
What’s this got to do with Arianrhod?
Go back to the story of her children. What did she give them?
A goddess in a towered castle on the sea, a goddess in a towered castle in the stars has two children. She’s a maiden, but not in the virgin sense. She’s unmarried, single, powerful. Two children, one a child from the sea, one a blob of flesh. One returns to the sea, the other, hidden in a chest, becomes a man sooner than others of his kind do, perhaps fathered by a giant.
A foolish sorceror-bard, Gwydion, whose meddling has already caused him to become an animal thrice and to live and mate as an animal with his brother, to give birth himself at least once, takes the child to Arianrhod. She takes from the child everything that gives him access to society and sovereignty–a name, arms, and marriage.
As for as myths go, this is my fucking favorite one.
X. Offerings and Worship
What do you give a goddess who strips you of a normal life, a normal existence, an ordered world?
A poetic, brilliant, deviant life.
There are several celtic goddesses of poetry and bards. Brighid/Ffraid is the best known one. Arianrhod almost seems an inverse Ffraid sometimes, or if you worship her as part of a triad including Ceridwen and Brighid/Ffraid (as I do), she is a third expression or path towards wisdom and poetry.
All three are goddesses of poets and inspiration, and all three offer transformation. Brighid, goddess of springs, flame, and the hearth/forge, presents what as I see as an alchemical transformation, rooted in the processes of life. In the forge fire is the breaking down, the separation, Solve before the reforging, the remaking, Coagula.
The path of Ceridwen’s transformation is different, but related. The boy Gwion, tending her Cauldron (at a hearth, interestingly) accidentally steals the Awen, the poetic inspiration, the sense of the Other when it spills out. Ceridwen (who also had two children, one beautiful, the other ugly) hunts him and kills him and gives him birth again. Hers is the sudden tranformation, the shapeshifting hunt through the realms, death and birth which are, one comes to understand, the same.
And Arianrhod? Initiation. “I have been three times in Caer Arianrhod” claims Taliesin (that is, Gwion-become-Taliesin). Some people start with lots and lose it. Some people start with little and have to earn it. This is the transformation of Arianrhod, and it is also a path of desire and sovereignty, both of which I’ll discuss again later.
Also, she seems to like Chamomile. I don’t know why. I mean, I like chamomile too, but I don’t know why she seems to prefer it on my altar. Also, mirrors. And I have a glass owl which I sometimes use (another association I’ll get to later).
XI. Holy Days/Festivals
These are both personal. I have no proof that Arianrhod was worshipped on any particular day (though I’ve read several places that it may have been in April). That being said, both Beltaine (or, more specifically, April 29th-May 1st) and November 25th seem appropriate days.
The first comes from my own practice and rituals. Two nights before I initiated into OBOD, I had a really severe dream which I can still recall vividly, one I’ve discussed elsewhere and may bring up again. The next night I found myself in an open field in southern Oregon at a festival, staring at the myriad of stars above me and felt them not only seem to wheel about me, but felt myself to fall into them, a brilliant vertigo of despair and wonder. Furthermore, through Tarot and grove ritual, Arianrhod appears always in the place of the South-east; that is, the “gate of Beltaine.” Also, one of the St. Catherines are venerated on April 29th.
November 25th is another St. Catherine’s day, the one specifically associated with the wheel. I intend to venerate Arianrhod on this day, and I’ll let you know how it goes.
These are coming slow for several reasons.
- One: I write at least twice (and in this particular entry, three times) as much as I end up using. Some of this has to do with clarity, but much of it is something else: I’ve got a responsibility to tell this correctly, and it’s difficult to figure out where what I think I should write and what I think needs to be told begin and end.
- Two: I’ve made a specific decision in my mind and practice that is sort of undefinable, but also personally profound. Understanding why certain gods and goddesses have been more important to me than others, as well as how important what others have to say about them has been a matter of great interest to me. I find myself rejecting certain notions of “normality,” even more so than what I’d already rejected. This is both liberating but also jolting. I’ve Dionysus to thank for this, by the way, as well as some very dedicated people who’ve likewise decided to embrace deviancy rather than walling off the Other.
- Three: I’ll now be contributing every Friday on a blog at Patheos, A Sense of Place. I’m absurdly excited. Also, it’s more writing. This is a good thing.
- Four: I’ve just finished the last of a kilo of Ceylon I smuggled out of Europe. This is concerning. Rhyd-with-Tea is better than Rhyd-without-Tea. Ask any lover I’ve known.