The North American goddesses of the Frost Moon - International Moon Circle 5

I developed the year-long Moon Circle last spring when I was taking goddess spirituality classes from Ocean Seminary College. At that time, I decided to focus on North American goddesses during the Frost Moon (November). There were reasons. They had to do with symbolic correspondences and Thanksgiving, a day when I can't help but think on the sorrow and hardship Native Americans have faced due to European immigration.

But now as the Frost Moon approaches I am stunned by the news from North Dakota. In this year 2016, this moon would have to be dedicated to North American goddesses regardless of previous plans. Thousands of people, mostly the largest conglomeration of Native American tribes in history, have gathered far from the public eye in North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and they are facing extreme brutality from police. Video from the scene shows police dogs attacking peaceful people who offer no violence as well as police using mace against peaceful people, including against children.

Creative Commons image by Walt Jabsco

Creative Commons image by Walt Jabsco

The Dakota Access Pipeline is yet another pipeline contributing to climate change and ecological destruction. Its construction is destroying sacred Native American locations and it threatens the drinking water of vulnerable communities. Hundreds of people have been arrested and journalists have been specifically targeted, as if there is a police tactic to deny information about the pipeline protests to the public. There has a media blackout, a great silence about these events in the mainstream media, but some independent journalists have gone to monitor the situation and have been arrested, while standing on public roads with cameras.

The "protectors" are called a riot by the police, yet there is no video or any other evidence that they do anything but peacefully pray and verbally protest the pipeline construction. This is the reality of Native American people today, who are the most likely of all groups in the US to be shot by police.

These events are inseparable from the spirituality and goddesses of North America. Anyone who wants to connect with this spirit has to take a hard look at this crisis. The people protesting in North Dakota are primarily praying and singing, offering no violence or physical resistance. I would give a great deal if my health and family situation would allow me to go and be there with them. At least, I will lend my spirit and my words to this struggle, which is--due to its connection with climate change--in fact the most crucial and urgent crisis of these days in the world. It is more important than the US presidential election or any other news events at this time.

As always I have chosen a maiden, a mother and a dark goddess or crone for the phases of this moon. For the Maiden I have chosen Ptesan-Wi, who brought wisdom and prayers to people. The Mother is Hanwi, a goddess who knows the struggles of women and who carries the strength to survive in harsh or unhealthy social systems. The Dark Goddess is Spider Grandmother, weaver of transformative power. 

New or Waxing Moon

The story of Ptesan-Wi begins when the Lakota Oyate clans were starving one winter when hunting was scarce. Two hunters went out searching for game and found nothing for a long time. Then climbing a sheer hill, they saw a figure coming toward them, a maiden so beautiful that they knew she had to be holy rather than an ordinary young woman. 

Still one of them desired her and reached out to seize her. She struck him down and he was burned to ash and charred bones. The other hunter treated the maiden with respect. Four days later she visited his people and brought them the first sacred pipe and their spiritual and ethical teachings. 

Lakota shawl dancer - CC image by Neeta Lind

Lakota shawl dancer - CC image by Neeta Lind

Ptesan-Wi, called White Buffalo Woman because of the white calf that appears beside her, is a gentle maiden, except when she is threatened. Then she is swift and lethal.

Her story is of a young woman who brought the traditional wisdom to the Lakota people, including the teaching of peace and binding agreements of honor. Her lessons involve respect for ecology and the earth, honoring warriors and defenders of the people, as well as the desire to give back to whatever it is that fills us with abundance. (Warch 2014)

Ptesan-Wi’s symbol is a picture or figure of a white cow, calf or horse. You can connect with her through using a smudge of sage or sweet grass and by reading about Native American ethical and spiritual teachings. This is a good time for meetings for peace and healing. May the waxing of this moon bring hope to those at the heart of protecting the earth.

Full Moon

Hanwi is the moon goddess of the Ogalala and Lakota. One of the stories about her tells how she was tricked into coming late to a feast, so that another goddess could usurp her place beside her husband Wi, the sun god.  He was supposedly punished by the sky god for allowing the other woman to take Hanwi’s place, but the punishment actually fell most heavily on Hanwi, who had been the victim. She was separated from her husband and banished to the night. If she appeared at all in daylight, she would have to hide part of her face in shame for having been spurned. 

The culture this story comes from was once patriarchal and focused on the prowess of men. Hanwi grieves with the phases of the moon, but she also turns hardship to good purpose. She is the protector of anyone who is out at night. She brings peace of mind in times of loss and difficulty. (Hassrick 1964) When thinking on the culture this story comes from and the enduring strength of women to pass on their wisdom from generation to generation, it occurs to me that there may be a more feminist way to re-imagine this story as well. Coming to rule the night also gives women the freedom to explore the feminine mysteries under cover of darkness. 

Here is a ritual to connect with Hanwi, which can be done alone or with a group, generally at night. Place a picture of Hanwi or a triple moon emblem on the altar. Listen to soft women’s drumming music, possibly Native American. Light candles and a white-sage or sweet-grass smudge. Drum and chant a song in honor of mothers. Tell the story of Hanwi while drumming with a slow heartbeat. Allow everyone to write or draw about ways in which they have been made to feel ashamed onto white or light-colored pieces of cloth with washable markers. Make as much mess of it as necessary, using whatever colors you associate with shame. Talk about how shame doesn’t help children or adults to learn and grow. Each person undergoes their life lessons with good reason. We grow but we should not be shamed.

Often we have shame for something unwise we did long ago and we have since grown. Many causes of social shame are really nothing to be ashamed of at all. Women have often been shamed for their natural bodies. Allow each person to look at the shame they have depicted on the cloth and prepare to release the feelings of shame. Using a large basin wash the cloths to release the color. Take the cloths and the basin outside and let out a wild, shameless yell as you throw the water into the night. Hang the refreshed cloths up in the moonlight and ask Hanwi to give you strength to let the shaming messages of society roll off of your shoulders in the future. Leave an offering of sweet grass or other cleansing herbs outdoors.

CC image by Nicolás Santiago

CC image by Nicolás Santiago

Waning or Dark Moon

Spider Grandmother is the crone for this moon. Her darkness is not overwhelming, though telling her stories is often limited to the dark and cold season of the year. She is the creator of the world in the Southwestern Native American religion of the Pueblo and Hopi peoples. She took a web she had spun, sprinkled it with dew and threw it up into the sky. The dew became the stars. (ChamanAra 2010) 

The Navajo nation and the Coos of Oregon each have tales of a powerful Spider Old-Woman and the Choctaw people have a story of a Grandmother Spider who stole fire and offered it first to the animals, who refused it, and then gave it to the people, who keep it safe. (Lynch 2004) Spider Grandmother cares about the people and teaches useful things, but she is also dangerous and connected to night, tricks and the cosmos. One of her primary symbols is weaving. You can connect to her by weaving or making pottery as well as by telling oral history stories.

We need Spider Grandmother now more than ever. It was she who taught us the secrets of fire and in good measure those secrets are at the heart of climate change, through the burning and destruction of forests, as well as the burning of fossil fuels. But her gifts are also those that can save us and all the living beings on earth. We can harness more directly the power of the sun, through solar and wind power. In countries such as Germany--far to the north--as much as seventy percent of electricity comes from these sources already and the technologies are quickly improving. There is a way forward, a way that does not require pipelines and poisoned water for forgotten people.

This is a time to call on Spider Grandmother. It is her deep transformation that we need.

The Goddess in America - Pagan Book Review

Here's America's answer to Pagan Planet. which focuses heavily on the British Isles. The Goddess in America: The Divine Feminine in Cultural Context, edited by Trevor Greenfield, is an impressive anthology of Neopagan, Reclaiming and Goddess-oriented writers and it provides a valuable study guide for anyone seeking to understand Goddess-centered faith in America.

Right off the bat, this book passes the first, most obvious and most often failed test when it comes to looking at Goddess spirituality in America. That is it starts before Columbus... long before Columbus and stays there for a solid chunk of the book. Kudos to the editor for that. It isn't a stance without its critics and dangers. 

The issue of the uneasy relationship between Goddess-devotees of European descent, Native American Goddess spirituality and cultural appropriation is addressed without any definitive conclusion. It's a sticky subject and there is essentially no way to satisfy everyone. Several authors weigh in on the topic in this anthology, all offering various versions of a moderate viewpoint: i.e. people should be free to honor goddesses other than those from their own genetic background as long as they do so with true respect and take the time to understand the cultural context of the goddess and give something back to the culture and community that the goddess comes from. Some authors have more exacting standards than others when it comes to correct respect but that is the general consensus.

The book continues with a variety of perspectives on the historical development and contemporary character of goddess spirituality in America. Again, the editor has heard the calls for more racial diversity in such anthologies and the authors represent reasonable diversity within the movement, including Vodun and Hebrew goddess perspectives. 

The book is generally well written, excellently edited and interesting to read. Unlike some similar books there is little attempt to make it easy or light reading, however. The authors state their issues in all their complexity, which will make the book appropriate for university programs and other scholarly considerations. It includes several sections on pop culture, including an essay on representations of the Goddess in pop culture as well as the Goth movement, but these issues are handled from an analytical perspective, with respect for those who are part of these trends and yet without playing to a pop culture tune. 

If there is any issue in which I feel the book is not fully representative of American goddess-spirituality it is in the emphasis of several authors on Reclaiming. My broad experience of the on-line world of American goddess spirituality shows that both formal Reclaiming groups and the general values and ideals of Reclaiming are much less prominent in America than they are represented in this book.

I personally love the Reclaiming movement, however, and I wish these values and ideals had greater sway in the popular goddess movement in America, so I don't take offense at its exaggerated influence in the book. I dearly wish more people today took social and environmental activism to the core of their spirituality and acted on the principles they profess. Instead I find a media landscape which deadens passion and ridicules those who stand up for their beliefs actively.  

Thus to paraphrase the motto of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, this is something like the Goddess in America--as she is and should be.  This book sets out not just to document where we are but also to point a conscious way forward for the goddess community in America. 

All in all this is an excellent anthology on contemporary goddess spirituality and well worth the read.