Sojourn, Volume 2: Issue 3, Summer 1998

Notes on European Pagan Traditions and Modern Pagan Practices Through the Eyes of Five Women 
Gaelic Celts 
 Sharon Folsom, Fort Bragg 
The name "Celt" actually comes from the Keltoi tribe of northern Macedonia from around 500 B.C. At the time of the Roman Empire, the British Isles and what is today France, Spain, northern Italy, large sections of Germany and parts of Denmark were Celtic-speaking. Surviving Celtic languages are Brethonic Celtic--including Welsh and Breton, and Gaelic Celtic--Scotish and Irish. Not long ago, the Irish spoke Gaelic or were bilingual since Gaelic was deliberately suppressed. My great-grandparents were Gaelic speakers. 
   During the ancient period, before the introduction of Christianity, the indigenous religion of the Celts had a priesthood. Who really knows what they called themselves? They were called "druids" by the Romans--a word meaning "people associated with oak trees." The sacred groves were their churches. Julius Caesar, after his conquest of France, wrote a book called The Gallic Wars since that part of Europe was called "Gaul." This book was Caesar's political justification for trying to save the savages from themselves. He talked about horrific things that druids did, but there is not a scrap of evidence to support this. A lot of what we've heard about them is a Victorian invention based on this document by Caesar. For intelligent reading about that priesthood, based on surviving Welsh and Gaelic ritual, read The White Goddess by Robert Graves. 
   Gaelic people, in and out of monasteries, had a rich intellectual and artistic life. Literacy was commonplace. Their arts and crafts and surviving literature astound us today with their almost magical technical perfection and rich complexity. Women had a very degree of independence and freedom. Today, our most radical feminists talk about the possibility of a system in which women would be compensated for bearing children and performing work in the home. That was institutionalized in Gaelic society, and continued even during the Christian period. 

Lunar Calendar 
 Cerridwen Fallingstar, San Geronimo  
Robert Graves talked about the thirteen sacred trees in the tree calendar of the Celts. Each lunar month was named for a particular tree. There is no question that the Neolithic peoples of northern Europe also kept track of astrological events. This is evidenced by Stonehenge and other stone circles and landmarks, which were constructed to reveal different aspects of the lunar and solar cycles. These people's powers of observation were truly amazing. 
   I met an archaeologist/anthropologist who has been studying an intact stone circle at the Callanish complex in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland for over twenty years. When she first got there, she thought the idea that this configuration could be a lunar calendar seemed absurd. Since it takes nineteen years from any given day for the moon to return to its exact location in the sky, she felt there was no way that primitive people could have tracked this cycle. Yet after observing the site for a number of years, she found that it was a completely accurate indicator of the lunar cycle. Every nineteen years, at the summer solstice, the moon appears to sink between two of the main stones, just as it goes beneath the horizon. As the moon sets, a flash of silver light traverses the circle and flashes down the processional aisle--the pathway leading into the circle created by two rows of facing stones. This moment is traditionally regarded as the return of the shining ones--the shining ones being the fairy people. 
   The hills in the area around the stone circle look like a pregnant woman lying on her back. At Lughnasad, the harvest celebration, the full moon appears to sink into her pregnant belly. This pregnant goddess will give birth at the appropriate time. 

Scotland is named for Cailleach of Scotia, who is a dark goddess, like Kali of India. Scotia is the Cailleach's land. Calendonia, an earlier name for Scotland, is another name for Kali. From this example, we see that deities did not stay in their original homes. There was an enormous amount of contact among different cultures--more than we sometimes imagine. The Aryans from India traveled widely. 

Sharon Folsom 
To the Celts, Mother Earth is sacred; people are eternal spirits in a natural landscape that is alive and filled with spirit and consciousness; people must live in harmony with nature; everything has consciousness, and has to be treated that way. Scholars have used the term "primitive animism." "Primitive" is a pejorative word denoting inferiority. In any real sense, however there's nothing primitive about animism. Animism, is simply the recognition of divinity in nature. Everything in nature has sacred consciousness. This means you can't sell it, cover it with filth, or defile it, without harming yourself. The Gaelic Church 
Sharon Folsom 
Rather than destroy folk beliefs, Christianity became a vehicle for the survival of many folk practices in Europe. The Gaelic Church incorporated folkways into its form of Christianity, which persisted in Ireland until the seventeenth century, when Cromwell finally wiped it out. Although Catholic, the Gaelic Church had many doctrinal differences with Rome. It acknowledged its connection with Judaism, lit a menorah during the readings from the Torah, then carried to the other side of the altar for the reading of the the New Testament. The covenant of Abraham and the Covenant with Jesus were both honored. 
   The church believed that by Peter's betrayal and cowardice, he forfeited the right to be the head of the church and that the successor to Jesus was not Peter but John the faithful who was referred to in the Gnostic gospels as "he whom the Lord loved." At the cross, Jesus reportedly said to Mary, "Mother behold thy son," and then turned to John saying, "John, behold thy mother." The Gaelic Church took this as an indication that Jesus was symbolically handing the church into John's care. Mary represented the human race and the church. The old writings make it pretty obvious that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalen and that John was his brother-in-law. The Eastern Orthodox church also did not acknowledge Peter as their chief bishop. The Gaelic Church recognized certain saints that the Catholics do not have--one of the greatest being Pelagius, an early Celtic Christian theologian who argued against the doctrine of original sin, viewed sex and reproduction as good, and nature as a reflection of divine perfection. 
   Elaine Pagels, in Adam and Eve and the Serpent, talks a lot about the history of the early church. For Christians and non-Christians, it is important to know that Rome's control of the early church has powerfully impacted all our lives, as women and nature became spiritually denigrated. This was not part of the old Gaelic Church tradition, nor was it part of early Christianity. However, it was part of Roman belief. In their society, women didn't even have personal names. If you are from the family of Livi, for instance, the daughters in the family would be called Livi number one, Livi number two, and so on. That's a frightening amount of depersonalization. Women had no individuality. The paterfamilius (the head of the Roman family) had the absolute power of life and death over all the women and children in his family. Since this remained part of Roman law into the Christian era, these attitudes and biases were grafted into the Catholic Church. It is very clear where this came from, and that it had nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus. 
   Gaelic Christianity did not acknowledge Rome as the center of the Christian world, and rejected centralized authority. For this and many other reasons, the pope declared Ireland to be an English territory in the twelfth century in order to try to bring them in line. That was the legal basis upon which Henry II began an attempt to conquer Ireland. This marked the beginning of the evils of an imperialistic adventure, that led to England's partition of Ireland and civil war in modern times. 
   In the Gaelic Church, the Sabbath was referred to by a term meaning "the day of God." Although modern Wicca material often refers to the eight yearly celebrations as sabbats, a Medieval term that comes from the Hebrew word for Saturday, the Gauls would never use this term. The term "Witches Sabbath," coined during the Inquisition, correlated the Jews with the Pagans. They were both outcast, persecuted and murdered periodically throughout the Middle Ages by the church. The mixture of terms used in ceremonial magic with Jewish tradition has little to do with European sacred time--but more with the creation of an anti-Christian religion by the design of very sick people who controlled the church and legal system during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Yet, there was never a witchcraft frenzy in Ireland. People who had magical beliefs were treasures in the culture. The few witch trials that took place were in areas controlled by the British. 

Sharon Folsom 
The tradition of the Sheila-na-gig was probably a holdover from the nature-centered religion of the Celtic people. 
   Sheila is an old Gaelic name for the female principle. Sile is the Gaelic spelling, si being pronounced "sh". It survives in Australian slang as a common name for women--sheilas, in Dublin slang as "How's your gee?" and in the term "gi string," which covers the genitalia. 
   Sheila-na-gigs are medieval stone carvings of women with exposed genitals--found in northern France, Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. Throughout northern Europe and the Mediterranean, images of both male and female genitals were believed to repel evils such as illness, strife, war, and various other harmful influences. In the context of this well-documented ancient folk belief, the theory brought by the Norman clergy that the Sheila-na-gigs were images of the sin of lust-- does not hold up. 
   Sheilas are often found in churches, where they are primarily used as door wardens. They are not always easily perceptible, and may be concealed in the top of the door lintel, by a window or in funny little places where you have to step over them. They are there to repel evil. I believe their message is that evil cannot stand the sight of the regenerative power of the feminine. They are often found next to wells and other places of healing. 
   There are many different kinds of Sheilas--all of whom blatantly display their genitals. Those that are obviously young girls I refer to as young "Bridget Sheilas" (bridge-og in Gaelic). Others are obviously aged with pendulous breasts, and others are too young to have breasts. Those that I call "birth-effort Sheilas" have their ribs showing; "bearing-down Sheilas" hold their knees open and seem to be screaming as if giving birth. Occasionally you can see what looks like the head of an infant. Some Sheilas look as if they are masturbating; there are those that hold their genitals apart, and those with fish tails. Some Sheilas are shown in the goddess position, with raised arms. We are actually talking about hundreds of carved stone images. Hundreds more were deliberately destroyed in the nineteenth century. 
   Magical folk and religious practices are associated with these carvings. In Canturk, County Cork, Ireland, there is a Sheila-na-gig near a holy well, to one side of the door as you enter. You mark her with a chalk, or touch her in specific ways, and then bless yourself. Then you can take water from the well to heal yourself or another person. 
Many of the Sheilas are associated with fertility, and are visited by women and men who are having fertility problems. By walking through the door she is under, taking water or earth from the area around her or interacting with her in some way, people are blessed. The many folk practices associated with her suggest that she is divine. 
Rituals of the Turning Wheel
Photo by Liz Haapanen 
  Sharon Folsom 
Astrological observation and cycles of natural events were the basis of calendars all over the world. The Egyptians based theirs on various events from the flood time of the Nile to the appearance of certain stars. However, the Roman calendar, upon which ours is loosely based, was not highly accurate. When July eventually shifted to wintertime, a new calendar had to be adopted in Europe. We now know that the ancients observed and worked with astrological events very carefully--planning crop rotations, sacred times, social festivals, etc. Calendars developed independently in all cultures. The ancient Indo-European calendar of northern India was very accurate. The Chinese developed a very sophisticated calendar from the earliest mythical times, as did the Meso-Americans and Polynesians. The Celts and the northern Europeans built standing stone structures related to astrologically events at Stonehenge and the Avebury Circle. 
   These early people's seasons of celebration and work were based on nature and the movements of the moon, sun and certain stars. Many people still observe what are called the Great Days. The pivotal turning points of the year in Ireland are Beltane (May 1) and Samhain (October 31). These were the two main days that separated the year into its warm and cold halves. 
   Samhain was the new year, the time of the ancestors, the day of the dead. At that time, all the cattle were brought down from the pastures before the heavy frost and snow. They were brought to "ballies"--the home farms of individual clan groups. "Bally" (Gaelic: bhallie) means "winter home." The Celts were cattle people, like the West Africans. If you've seen pictures of the Masai with their roundhouses and cattle, in many ways that is a good picture of the Gaelic people for thousands of years. 
   The Celts believed in a spiral of life--not linear time. At Samhain, everything goes back to the point of origination; everything disintegrates and is reordered from that beginning point. In the ancient ritual, the fires were all darkened and then relit again. Even today, this is the time that to remember the dead. In the dark house, the ancestors were fed. This is why little children come to receive food--candies, sweetness--at Halloween. The people believed that the ancestors returned as the children--who as gifts from the realm of the ancestors, could benefit the living. 
   In the movie "Amistad," one of the blacks who is fighting for his freedom gives a speech about his ancestors. He states that his ancestors will hear him because he is their living representative--their reason for having existed. His attitude toward them speaks for all indigenous people. So, at Samhain, you go back to the beginning, back to the ancestors; you invite them home, you feed them as they have benefited, nourished and fed you in the past. They bless you and then they return to their place. The circle of love does not break. The next day is the beginning of the winter half of the year. The Christians made this time the Feast of All Saints and all souls. 
   At Beltane, in May, there was a ceremony in which a great bon-fire was built. Anything that people needed to get rid of, symbolically or in reality, was put into that fire and purged. Then they would part the fire and drive the cattle through it. The people would then leap through the fire. The children and elders were carried, if necessary, so everybody was included. Passing through the fire symbolized rebirth. After Beltane, the cattle went back up to the high ground, to the "boolie" areas--the summer pastures. No permanent homes were built there. People made tents and booths out of foliage. Young people would take care of the cattle all summer, and hang out together; then they would come back at Samhain. 
   These two great days divided the year in half; those that divided it into quarters were midsummer's day and midwinter's day. Four other days completed the division of the year into its mid-quarters. Eight was the number of perfection. These eight days made up the wheel of the year on the spiral path of natural time, and reflected the constant change and flow of seasonal rhythms. 

Women's Gatherings 
Ann Card, Kelseyville 
Photo by Liz Haapanen
This last September, when I returned from a trip to England, I felt a push to do a gathering for women. This led to a decision to hold celebrations at the solstices, equinoxes and their mid-points--the eight seasonal points of light, using the Wiccan traditions to bring back the ancient knowledge. 
   Our first meeting was attended by thirty people. At our fifth, a Beltane, May Day celebration, we had fifty. I could easily have invited many more people, but I feel that small gatherings in various locations around the county are most beneficial. With too many people, the energy might scatter. 
   One thing that has struck me about this time as compared with even five years ago is that women are much freer. Many women work all day, and when they want some time off, they take it. The objective is to empower women, not to overpower anyone but to bring balance. I believe this also helps men in a very positive way. 


Maypole photo by Liz Haapanen
The Maypole and the fire cleansing are recommended for Beltane, the May Day. When we arrived each woman made a flower garland for her head. In our ceremony, we honored the four directions, participated in a guided meditation, hung tokens on a special tree to honor the god/goddess, jumped over a small fire and did a Maypole dance. The pole represents the male principle that integrates with the female ribbons that wind around the pole--the yin/yang. 

Sharon Folsom at home with her ancestors. Photo by Liz HaapanenSHARON FOLSOM, a self-defined Pagan and Mother Earth worshipper for thirty-five years, is a charter member of the Covenant of the Goddess (COG), which gives clerical rites to Pagans and Pagan groups--to perform marriages, comfort the dying, bury their dead, enter prisons, etc. This worldwide religious organization is part of the World council of Churches. Also a harpist, she founded the Gaelic historical music group, Sheila-na-gig--created with a grant from the DeYoung Museum Association when the Irish Art Treasures were brought to the United States. She co-authored a book by R.A. Macavoy, called The Book of Kells, published by Bantam Books, and has been investigating the feminine shamanic traditions within Tibetan Buddhism known as the Mother Tantras. Sharon works as a nurse in Fort Bragg. 

 Modern Wiccan Practices 
Cerridwen Fallingstar 
My approach to magic and ritual is Celtic/European in its base, but I am very much an eclectic "whatever works" kind of person. As one of my friends once said, "I practice magic exactly the way my ancestors did 60,000 years ago; I make it up." In that way, I'm very traditional. Magic is about learning to let go and move with the energy of the moment. 
   The word "Wicca" comes from the same root word as "wicker"--from willow--which is about moving and bending with the wind. It's about fluidity. Beginners tend to be nervous and want to do everything exactly right. I've also noticed that when people are into so-called "high magic", where everything has to be just so, nothing happens. There's no energy; it's all form, and no essence. Some people who have practiced Paganism for a very longtime still operate out of their egos and their heads. When a practice is done in a rigid way, it loses its power. 
   I live in America, a country that has brought people from all races and geographies together. Why practice strict Celtic religion here? That's not what the ancestors in America were doing. Where I live, the native ancestors were the Miwok. What were they doing? We don't know much about them, since their tradition was thoroughly wiped out by smallpox when the Spanish came. It's natural to integrate different traditions when you live in an area that is a racial, genetic and cultural hodge-podge. It also makes sense to adapt your practices as consciousness changes. 

Questioning Tradition 
One of the benefits of our tradition having been so completely broken is that it frees us up to explore what works. Through our trial-and-error process we learn why things were done in certain ways in the past. Most people practicing Paganism now have an entirely different consciousness than people did hundreds or thousands of years ago. Most of us are highly educated, and approach ritual from a very psychological perspective. We can consciously adapt old ways to our current needs. That is not to say we avoid doing anything traditional--we just don't do it blindly. 
   For instance, take the Jewish and Moslem tradition of circumcision. People have hung onto this practice but now we are asking, "What's the point?" For desert people, with very little opportunity to wash, it might make sense. The Jewish tradition says it was designed to make men less sexually sensitive, to try to keep them more faithful. Fifty percent of the nerve endings of the penis are in the foreskin. We may ask ourselves, do we still want to keep a tradition that damages people's sexuality? Does that fit with our beliefs today? 
   We have to try to understand tradition and ritual in the context of their practice. If we go back far enough in our tradition, we may find people did human sacrifice, but no modern European based Pagans even do animal sacrifice anymore. People did sacrifices because this opened the gate between the worlds. When something dies, the gate is opened for that soul to pass. This became suddenly clear to me when I was in Hawaii visiting places where sacrifice was done relatively recently. I had a vision of what they were trying to do. The person being sacrificed was not afraid of death and didn't see death as a huge divide--just as we don't make a big deal about going to sleep or make a drastic division between the sleeping and waking states. Although a lot of power came from the sacrifice, once you started sacrificing people who were unwilling or afraid, the energy became very, dark and evil. 
   To kill an animal while respecting and honoring it a being--as a soul--is far more humane and enlightened than killing an animal using the factory farming practiced in modern times. Most animals killed in our culture release a lot of adrenaline into their bodies. The animal's fear changes the quality of the meat, and effects us differently in our bodies--this in addition to the fact that the meat is also being poisoned by the chemicals and hormones that are injected into animals. 

Personal Teaching 
I have a Pagan-Wiccan group called "Earth Rite" which practices public rituals at the solar Sabbats. Between forty and a hundred people attend these. We don't advertise; it's all word-of-mouth. If we advertised, we would be deluged, and the rituals would start to lose intimacy. 
   I travel and teach workshops and lead tours to sacred sites. My year-long apprenticeship program is limited to fifteen people--a small, coven-sized group. By providing this intimate environment, trust can be established and people can connect deeply enough with each other to take risks and go into altered states. We never use any drugs. We use more controlled means--breath and trance work and other techniques for moving in and out of different dimensions. A person can read a lot of books, but if you work with a teacher you trust and respect, that's the best way. You don't have to learn everything by trial and error, which is basically how I learned everything. . . 
   That's a harder road. 

Cerridwen Fallingstar at Callanish site in Scotland. Photo by Liz Haapanen

Ceremonial Format 
  Barbara Willens, Willits 

In The Goddess Speaks ritual performance piece in Willits, Barbara Willens enacted Lilith. Photo by Liz HaapanenCeremonies are very important for bringing the sacred back into our lives. If we let a significant event pass by without some form of recognition, then life becomes a meaningless succession of days. But if we stop and take time to honor the important events in our lives--birthdays, moving into a new home, starting a new job, children moving out of the home, a young girl's first menstruation, or the ending of menses--then our lives become more enriched and we appreciate our life cycles as sacred and holy. Ritual acts as a bridge linking the spiritual with the physical world. 
   In bringing our awareness out of the everyday, ritual transports us between the worlds to focus our intention. Intention is important to move energy and create what you want. The following step-by-step format works well for a small, quiet, focused group. With a larger group following such a format may not be possible or desirable. A good ceremonialist or facilitator is open to the feelings and the energy of the circle and will pay attention to timing and transitions from one phase to the next. Information comes from attuning to the needs and receptivity of the group. 
1) The Altar 
The altar is the center of the circle, the focal point of any ceremony. It can be as simple as lighting one candle as a focus to open the consciousness for going between the worlds. The altar creates a distance from the everyday as you begin to move into the sacred space. It can be elaborated in special ways to beautify and add personal significance. I might place a beautiful cloth underneath my altar, add pictures of my children or ancestors, fresh flowers, a special stone, or anything else that is meaningful to me. It doesn't need to be ornate. 
   Next I establish the directions of the four elements. I use elements that are somewhat different than those used in Native American tradition. It doesn't matter what system you follow, as long as you are clear and comfortable with your intention. 
   In the east, the direction of air and intuition, I might place a feather to represent the winged ones, or incense that also goes into the air. The south is the element of fire. I usually have a red candle there, or something that has been forged in fire--a metal or clay goddess. This is the direction of the passions, which provide the energy to do the work. I may use a seashell or a bowl of water with oils to represent the west, which is the element of water. The north is the element earth. There I place a crystal or a little bowl of earth or salt. As this is the place of the wisdom of the ancestors, you could also have a picture of an ancestor there. The center is the Great Spirit, the great mystery that is the container for all of the elements. 
   As I create the altar, I begin to go into an altered state. As I place the pieces on the altar, I start to slow down and focus on present time. 
2) Smudging 
Smudging helps set the mood. It cleans the air and acts as a purifier. The scent helps me get in touch with my body, clear my mind and become present. Sage works well for a general ritual and is easy to obtain. I smudge the altar, myself and each person. I may put the sage in a special bowl, or on a charcoal disk, or use smudge sticks. For my classes, we have made blessing feathers with a leather handle to brush the smoke around each person. You can use something elaborate, a single feather or even your bare hands to cleanse and comb the aura. 
3) Invitation of the Elements through the Four Directions  
I ask people within the circle to call in the four directions, beginning with the east. This can be done through an invocation, song, prayer or simple statement. The elements of life and their associations--earth (north/wisdom, knowledge, being grounded), air (east/intelligence and inspiration), fire (south/passion and energy) and water (west/emotions, moods, healing)--support the ceremony by bringing their energies into the circle. The center of the circle represents the power to transform. 
4) Casting the Circle 
I walk around the circumference of the circle with a wand or branch and say, "With this wand, I cast the circle for love, support and trust. May all of our words and actions be for the highest good of all, harming none." This statement creates a sacred circle that is safe and protected, within which the energy is contained and focused. If casting the circle in this way is not possible, due to a large number of people being present, then stating the intention out loud can suffice. There are also ways to cast the circle physically by placing stones or salt around the perimeter. 
5) The Invocation 
The invocation describes the reason or focus for the ritual. For instance, "We gather here today to honor (person's name), who is turning fifty years old. In ancient times, it was the elder women who were called upon to make decisions for the welfare of the tribe. In ancient Greece, the Oracles of Delphi were the mid-life women." Or, "We gather here today to celebrate the return of the light at the winter solstice." 
6) The Body of the Ritual 
We are contained within the circle and can now follow through with our purpose. Everyone is involved in and is validated by the ritual. The body of the ritual contains elements of healing, change and transformation. 
7) Raising the Cone of Power 
This can be done through a song, drumming, a dance, or any form that lifts and releases the energy. I lead people in a visual experience at this point with some statement like, "Now, imagine all of our prayers taking form, swirling around and being sent out into the universe" or, "May the universe support (name) in her transition in turning fifty." 
8) Grounding  
As we let go of the energy and send it to the sky and stars, we bring residual energy down through the body and ground it back to Mother Earth, who supports our whole being. 
9) Send the Directions Back 
I thank the directions for joining in our circle and offering their guidance, wisdom, and energy to fulfill our dreams. We send them on their way and thank them. 
10) Song or Saying 
End with a song or saying. 
11) Open up the Circle 
If you go deeply into a ritual, you may have one between the worlds and find yourself in a kind of trance, or feel light-headed. Opening the circle brings you back to the everyday world. This is an appropriate time to share food and drink as this helps bring people back into their bodies. 
   I feel fortunate to be living in a Willits community that offers so many possibilities for growth and insight and belonging. It is heartening to know that on the full moon, new moon, solstices and equinoxes, women and men gather in circles countywide in celebration support. 

Barbara offers classes on creating sacred ceremonies and celebrating the eight holy days of the year--the solstices, equinoxes and the mid-points. As a ceremonialist she helps facilitate rites of passage in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, and continues to participate in full and new moon groups.  
Moon Cycles 
  Ann Maglinte 
The moon and her cycles deeply affect us and are rooted in the psychic patterns of our lives. Rituals to mark the moon's phases and the changing seasons nourish our heart and soul and help us understand how the cycles affect our moods, our energy level and our bodily rhythms. By setting our intention with the phases of the moon, we can harmonize with the natural cycles of change. 
   The stories and myths of the Goddess connect all women together and symbolize our own stories. They remind us that we are valuable, creative and powerful women. We are all the embodiment of the Goddess. 
   During the time of new-moon energy you might think of Artemis (Greece) and look toher for guidance. She and Diana (Rome) are maiden goddesses, protectors of the forest,Diana/Artemis stepping stone: Protectress of the forest and all creatures that dwell within. Photo by Liz Haapanen wild places and wild creatures. The new moon is the time of beginnings, the time to talk about dreams--what you are hoping for at the beginning of the month. She is the young woman, the adolescent and daughter, the one whose dreams are without limit. Athena (Greece), goddess of wisdom, freedom and women's rights, is also associated with the new moon. She is also the goddess of handicrafts and peace. 
   The full moon represents full power, abundance, and shared ideas. This is the time to get dreams going--a time for creativity and manifestation. She symbolizes motherhood and nourishment, and is akin to the Tarot card "The Empress," the mother and creative force. She represents fullness. Demeter (Greece), Isis (Egypt), Selene (Greece), Luna (Rome) and Kuan Yin (Asia) are all associated with the full moon. 
Athena Altar Plaque, cast hydrostone. Photo by Liz Haapanen   The dark of the moon is the time to release and let go of the things that no longer serve us. It is a symbol of regeneration. Ceremonial circles help people in this process by giving them an opportunity to share what they want to release. This can be done verbally or perhaps by writing a list on a piece of paper and burning it in a candle. Doing a quiet meditation by yourself is valuable, but when you actually speak your intention to others, it becomes more powerful and real. 
   The dark of the moon is a time for looking at the inner side of ourselves--the side we don't always want to pay attention to. Read myths about Hecate (Greece), Cerridwen (Wales), Persephone (Greece) or Kali (India) to bring yourself more in touch with this phase of the lunar cycle. They have the power to give life and to take it away. They are goddesses of the spirit world and of regeneration, the grandmother crones, the goddesses who no longer bleed. As woman of wholeness, they know the wisdom of life and death. Kali, the destroyer, is the dark and terrifying aspect of the goddess, who beheads the demon Ignorance. 

   Our Willits women's group used to meet monthly on the full moon. For the past year, we have been focusing more on our inner selves and our dreams, so we get together during the new moon--indoors at someone's house or outside if weather permits. Our circle is not closed. Anyone can invite a friend, and we welcome women who would like to share with us. Generally one person organizes the upcoming get-together. We have a specific focus with several parts to the meeting, and women take spontaneous turns in participating in what they enjoy leading or sharing--a guided visualization, singing, chanting, or a bit of knowledge. We often do some type of divination, giving each participant an opportunity to draw a card or stone depending on the divination tool, and then talk about it. We have used such tools as Medicine cards, Amulets of the Goddess, Mah Jong tiles (at Chinese New Year) and Nordic runes. When focusing on runes, we brought information about them, and then each person made her own set and fired them. Goddess Art 
Ever since I was young, I have drawn pictures of women. In college I did a lot of drawing in the Art Nouveau style--beautiful women with long, flowing hair. Many were Greek images. Now that I look back, I see that they were goddesses. I have found that the Native American, Celtic, Norse, Asian and other cultures shared the same universal archetypes of the feminine. For example Artemis (Greece) and Diana (Rome) are similar; Kali (India) and Hecate (Greece) are also very similar in what they represent. 
I enjoy researching goddesses for the plaques I make. For example, Athena, the goddess of the air is also the goddess of wisdom. She is associated with communication, intuition, and the direction, east. As I get to know each goddess, I ask certain questions. Is she a maiden, mother or crone aspect? Which direction and element is she associated with? What animals are her totems? What does she inspire? I inscribe this information on the plaques I make, hoping to inspire women to remember their own goddess-self as they look at them. 
   I have been making goddess plaques for about five years and am focusing on outdoor pieces now --incorporating both goddess and Celtic designs in plaques, stepping stones and outdoor fountains using serene forms to create beauty, suggest relaxation, and help one attune with the elements. 
   This is a shared process. I research and make the original design in clay, a process that takes several weeks; my husband makes the molds and casts the pieces in a concrete material called hydrostone; then I add finishing touches with paint to bring out the details. Some people feel our stepping stones are too pretty to walk on, but they actually look better when soil gets into the indentations and inscriptions. 
   Around the rim of the stepping stone/plaques I inscribe sayings about love, joy, abundance, and friendship. The Sun plaque inscription is, "Friends are like sunshine in the garden of life." The full moon stepping stone says, "May the moon shine upon you, may love surround you and pure light be within you." 
   As friends visit the homes and gardens where the plaques and stepping stones have been placed, and read these messages, the good feelings and positive energy we put into them spirals out.
 Bridging the Gap between Christianity and the Goddess  
From the Publisher ~ From the Realm of the Ancestors 
Living Deeply in the Personal ~ Luce Primera 
Notes on European Pagan Traditions ~Tribute to Marija Gimbutas 
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