October 15, 2014

Hold a Dumb Supper for Samhain

Posted in Devotionals, Dumb Supper, Samhain tagged , , , , at 5:26 am by Babs

A year ago I was privileged to attend a stunningly visual Samhain ritual written by one of our High Priestesses and performed by all of the initiated High Priestesses.  This made it very special for the 1st and 2nd degree initiates, myself included.  I was asked and happily agreed to host a Dumb Supper following the circle.  Even though most of us understood the symbolism of the supper I decided to write a short “history” to provide some background to the newer members.  I also outlined the “room setup” and “rules” so members would know what to expect and what is expected of them before they entered into the dining room area.  Since the meal is silent… you have to prepare everyone before the meal starts.

History of the Dumb Supper:  While the exact origin of the Dumb Supper is hotly debated the symbolic gesture of honoring those who have passed beyond the veil with a shared offering of a meal transcends most spiritual paths. From early ritual sacrifices, to offerings of the harvest and hunt, to the Eucharist of the Christian faith, the ceremony has been celebrated in one form or another by people around the world.

In Celtic traditions, a Dumb Supper is commonly held on Samhain (Sow-en), October 31st, when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest. The Celts believed that it was at this time, during the dark half of the year, that the spirits hear us and may even wish to make contact with us. This is the time of death and resurrection, new beginnings and fond farewells.

As its name suggests, a Dumb Supper is held in silence. From the moment you enter the room to the moment you leave it you must turn inward and be quiet. Often it is suggested that you are symbolically crossing over to meet with your ancestor in the Summerland. During this passage you are not to speak.  Your communication with your loved one is yours and yours alone.  To further the symbolism of the crossing, many hosts/ hostesses conduct the supper in complete opposite of how it would be held in the realm of the living such as serving dessert first and appetizers last to even setting the table in a mirror image of common practice (i.e. forks on right and knives and spoons to the left). For our version, we will simply be silent and walk widdershins (counter-clockwise). Because of the nature of the meal being with spirits of those who have passed on, the space where the supper is held will be sacred space where a circle of protection is cast with sage and the area blessed.

What do you say to the deceased? Often when a loved one passes there are sentiments you didn’t get to express. Whether it’s the poignant “I love you”, “I forgive you,” or “please forgive me” to the ever-present, “I miss you,” there is always something we wanted to say. When speaking to those who have passed on it is important to share with them the important things you would have been excited to share if they were still alive; the birth of a child, a marriage, an achievement.

How will you know they are listening? As with any conversation it is just as important for you to listen as it is to share. Some people may experience a moment of clarity, while others will smell a perfume their grandmother favored, or feel a touch, a sensation, or experience a vivid memory. Some feel a sense of peace. Many may receive a sign from their loved one long after the meal is over.  Whatever your experience is, be open to it and cherish this time with them.

Commonly in larger gatherings there is often a single place setting for “Spirit” since an individual setting for each ancestor becomes unmanageable. For our Supper we will have a Goddess setting in honor of the crone Hecate in addition to a single symbolic Ancestor setting. Behind this setting will be the photos of those we have invited to join us.

So now, close your eyes and find your center, bring an image of your loved one to your mind’s eye and begin your meal together.

Dumb Supper Rules (for our circle):

Room Set Up:

  1. The dining table has been staged with the Goddess setting at the head of the table and one common Ancestor setting at the foot of the table. These symbolic chairs will be draped.
  2. All other settings will have water, utensils, and napkins ready for you.
  3. An Ancestor altar (for photos and candles) will be set up behind the Ancestor place setting. When placing your photo/ memento here, you are inviting your ancestor to the table.
  4. A buffet table with the food, drinks, ice, etc. will be set up to one side.
  5. All lights will be turned off and no cell phones or cameras will be permitted.
  6. From the moment you transition from the circle to the dining room, there will be no speaking.

Ancestor Table – The faces of the photos have been blurred intentionally.

 Dumb Supper Process:

  1. HPS will enter the sacred room first to bless it, sage it, and call upon the Goddess to join the feast. She will then return to the line of waiting guests motioning each to enter the room. She will allow time between each guest to complete the following:
  2. Each guest should collect their ancestor’s photo from the ritual altar in preparation of walking with their ancestor into the dining room.
  3. Each guest will enter the dining room in widdershin fashion.
    • Walk to the altar and place their Ancestor photo.
    • Select a tea light from the basket and light it in honor of their loved one.
    • Approach the Goddess seat and in silence thank her for being with them.
  4. Each guest is then invited to the buffet to take some food, set the plate down at the next available place setting starting at the Goddess’s left, and remain standing.
  5. HPS will be the last through the buffet. Once she has set down her plate, she and helper will serve will serve the Goddess and the Ancestors some of the feast.
  6. When HPS takes a seat, everyone takes a seat, and eats in continued silence.
  7. HPS, determining when everyone is done eating, will rise from her seat. This will signal everyone to rise. Proceeding widdershins starting with the person at the Goddess’s right, each guest moves to the Goddess’s chair, pauses, and in silence thanks Her for attending. They then leave the room.
  8. HPS snuffs the candles and is the last one out after thanking the Goddess.
  9. The supper is now complete.

Dessert, Coffee, Discussion & Divination: Lights may be turned back on and all guests are invited back in for coffee/ tea and dessert. This is a social time where everyone may share any experiences felt, thought, or messages received from their honored ancestors.

This is our discussion and social time after the supper.

Final Notes: I hope this was of some help to you as a solitary or for your group.  I have held private/ solitary Dumb Suppers for a few years and you can get more elaborate in your table settings by reversing the silverware and serving alcohol.  For the group I pulled together aspects outlined in many different rituals to create this for about 25 people.  Due to the large number of participants we felt the buffet was easiest and all dishes were labeled clearly.  My advice – keep things simple.  There were hiccoughs along the way (expect them and roll with them) but most people found it to be successful and a moving event.  If you try a Dumb Supper, please share your results and your modifications.  I love trying new things every year!

Blessed Samhain to you all!

September 11, 2014

God’s Eyes = Litha Fun!

Posted in Crafts, Decorations, Litha, Wiccan Things, Witchy Things tagged , , , at 1:05 am by Babs

Recently I wrote my first ritual for my 2nd year class as an exercise.  I chose the next Sabbat and was thankful it was Litha, a favorite of mine.  After much anxiety over taking on such a responsibility, it was funny how easy it was… to sit down, center, listen to the breeze moving the wind chimes and just focus inward.  After a bit of cyber research and review of my many magickal books I had my theme and the rest just fell together on its own.  After submission to my High Priest and High Priestess for review I was surprised and pleased to learn that my exercise for class would be used in the next ritual!

My circle has experienced much upheaval over the winter and I wanted to add some activity to get people working together.  It was the first step in rebuilding the lines of communication and trust.  While it is important to learn and grow from the troubling times… it is just as important to focus on those who remain.  Forgive the hurt and put the rest in the past.  Harm None!

So to facilitate the healing effort I went looking for a craft project fitting for the time of year that people might be interested in.  I found a craft on-line that I used to make as a child… God’s Eyes!  It was perfect!  While it is commonly associated as a Christian project it was originally a solar symbol which fit in perfectly with the Litha Sabbat.  Also, the symbolism of it being an “eye” was not lost on me as I hoped to bring a theme of focus to the group.  What do you want to manifest in your life? What seeds do we sow now in order to make the most of the harvest later in the summer?

Surprisingly, we had several people who wanted to partake.  While making them up, there was great conversation, lots of laughs, and new friendships made.  Now this was the community that I wanted to be a part of and serve the Goddess with!

A sample of our God’s Eyes!

What was best, it proved a good use to all the yarn remnants I had in the house… and using sticks from my butterfly bush… it was entirely free!

August 1, 2013

Making Your Own Drum

Posted in Crafts, Tools, Witchy Things tagged , at 11:12 pm by Babs

Before you can march to the beat of your own drum… you first must have a drum!  Recently I attended a weekend retreat (Feminine Energy Experience) where a bunch of like-minded women gather to discuss life, love, and our addiction to coffee.  We end up with lots of laughs, great discussion and many ideas to ponder.  One of the activities was drum making and I was all over this opportunity and I learned a lot.

Starting with the basics; a drum frame, a hide and sinew – I was ready.  We learned a lot about cleansing the hide and sinew from the fear and pain the animal felt when it was killed as well as thanking the animal for its sacrifice so that we can make this sacred object.  We then used oil to anoint the frame of the drum doing the same for the tree (Maple) that was harvested so that we could make this drum.  Once our materials were “cleaned” we were ready.

I have to say, my OCD was a bit on hyper-drive but with a patient teacher I was able to realize that there is no “wrong” way.  What was meant to be would materialize in the form of a completed drum.  Once I “let go” I realized I was having more fun because we were telling stories, laughing and working with our hands all at the same time.  It was divine!

Punching the hide with anchor holes is a bit of an art form that requires some open thinking and some brawn.  Then making the holes large enough for the sinew to be strung through is the next step.  All during this process you have to keep the hide wet so that it remains supple for the stretching over the drum frame.  The stringing is where the OCD went out of control but it was quickly accomplished.  Lacing the longer of the two ends to make a cross of sorts on the underside taking in the four directions; north, south, east and west and tying it all off.

What was important to do is let the ends of the sinew (however long) dry along with your drum and NOT cut them off.  When the drum is fully dried and ready to play… you symbolically cut the ends like an umbilical cord.  This sets the drum free to be its own entity.

What is invaluable to note: while I started this blog stating the intent to “march to the beat of my own drum” which on many levels instills a concept of individuality… drum making made me aware of the importance of the drum and the symbolism of the elements, the directions, the interconnectedness of all life and the (heart) beat that holds us all together moving forward and evolving.

July 24, 2013

Skadi: The Norse Goddess of Winter

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , , at 10:02 pm by Babs

Skadi [Kaw-dee] is also known as Skade, Skadhi or Skathi.  She is a giantess, also called the “snow-shoe goddess”, and the embodiment of winter.  She is the wife of the god Njord.  When her father Thiazi was slain by the gods, Skadi wanted to take revenge.  The gods thought it wiser to reconcile and offered her a marriage with one of them.  She was free to marry and god, but while she made her choice she was only allowed to see the feet of the potential candidates.  She noticed a very elegant pair and, convinced that their owner was the fair god Balder, she chose them.  Unfortunately for her, those feet belonged to the older god Njord.

Skadi (sometimes spelled Skathi – the name of one of Saturn’s moons) appears to be the most independent of the Norse Goddesses.  She is a giantess whose father Thiazi was killed for stealing the Goddess Idun (and therefore the God’s apples of immortality).  Her recompense was to choose a God to be her husband, but she could only judge them by their feet, the rest of their bodies being hidden.  She chose the most lovely pair, thinking that they belonged to the beautiful and good Balder, but instead got Njord, the Vanir sea-god.

Well, they tried living together, but Skadi wanted to live in her father’s hall, Thrymheim, and Njord wanted to live in Noatun, his seaside hall.  They tried to compromise by switching between halls every nine days, but it didn’t work out, and they finally got a divorce.  Rumor has it that Skadi then got together with Ullr, the God of winter and archery (among other things).

Skadi is called a “snowshoe Goddess” but scholars argue over whether these were actually snowshoes as we know them, or if they were instead skis.  I’d prefer to think she was a snowshoe Goddess.  She is also the Goddess of winter, but no one seems to know why.

To me, Skadi is a tall and strong with white-blonde hair (like Sunna) but with pale, icy-blue eyes and pale skin.  She wears her long hair in a thick braid and carries with her always a staff/ spear (I’m not sure which).  She may or may not have wolf/ dog friends.  I’m not sure which because wolves have a bad rap in Norse mythology (see Fenrir, Skoll, and Hati), but the Norwegian Spitz, for example, resembles a wolf/ husky type dog.  At any rate, she probably has some sort of animal companion who helps her hunt, maybe even a snowy owl.

Thrymheim, Skadi’s father’s home, is a big granite thing cut into the face of a cliff.  It is, after all, a giant’s dwelling.  Perhaps due to her upbringing, Skadi is definitely a Goddess of the mountains and perhaps her favorite place is in the boreal forest near the treeline.

Even though she is a winter Goddess she does not appear to spend a great deal of time on the tundra and/or with reindeer.  That is too much of a Saami domain.  She is said to affect the winter weather and like many winter Gods she has something of a short tempter.  However, I don’t think she tends to hold a grudge.  She did give up her revenge against her father’s killer for the prospect of love and marriage.  For some reason she is also associated with hunting which is probably why she was such a good match for Ullr.  This means she takes away but can also give and/or spare life.  She is likely more concerned with keeping the balance than wreaking havoc even when she is in a less than cheerful mood.

Herstory: Skadi

In Norse mythology, Skadi is the daughter of the giant Thiazi.  It is said that Thiazi kidnapped the youthful Goddess Idun and while the God Aesir came to rescue her, he killed Thiazi.  Skadi wanted revenge for the death of her father.  When she found Aesir they agreed she would not kill him if one of the gods could make her laugh and that she could pick a god to marry.  The first condition was met when trickster Loki made her laugh.  To meet the second condition she was only allowed to look at the god’s feet to pick her partner.  She was secretly in love with Balder as he was the most handsome god of them all, so she went for the cleanest and best looking feet but was disappointed to find they were not Balder’s.  Instead she had picked the Sea God Njord and not long after, married him.  Their marriage was difficult and after a while they separated because he loved to leve near the sea whereas she loved the mountains.  Later in life she remarried but there are conflicting stories of who she married; Ullr, the God of Skis or Odin, the god of War and Death.  Skadi ruled over mountains, wilderness, winter, revenge, knowledge, damage, justice and independence.

When do you call upon Skadi?  Call upon her when you need help moving from the dark into the light.

She is often depicted hunting while on skis/ snowshoes or on a snow-capped mountain.

Skadi is a huntress, a dark magician and in some stories she is depicted as a troll woman but Skadi is not an evil Goddess.  She symbolizes the many dark times that we all go through.

July 16, 2013

Pandora: The First Woman

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , at 7:45 am by Babs

In Greek mythology, Pandora (“all gifted”) was the first woman, fashioned by Zeus as part of the punishment of mankind for Prometheus’ theft of the secret of fire.  According to the myth, Pandora opened a container releasing all the miseries of mankind – greed, vanity, slander, envy, pining – leaving only hope inside.

The myth of Pandora is very old, appears in several distinct versions, and has been interpreted in many ways.  In all literary versions, however, the myth is a kind of theodicy, addressing the question of why there is evil in the world.  Hesiod, both in his Theogony (briefly, without naming Pandora outright, line 570) and in Works and Days, ca. 700 BCE, has a very early version of the Pandora story.  In modern times, Pandora’s Box has become a metaphor for the unanticipated consequences of technical and scientific development.  The evidence of the vase-painters reveals another, earlier aspect of Pandora.

The Myth According to Hesiod

The titan Epimetheus (“hindsight”) was responsible for giving a positive trait to each and every animal.  However, when it was time to give man a positive trait, there was nothing left.  Prometheus (“foresight”), his brother, felt that because man was superior to all other animals, man should have a gift no other animal possessed.  So Prometheus set forth to steal fire from Zeus and handed it over to man.

Zeus was enraged and decided to punish Prometheus and his creation: mankind.  To punish Prometheus, Zeus chained him in unbreakable fetters and set an eagle over him to eat his liver each day, as the eagle is Zeus’s sacred animal.  Prometheus was an immortal, so the liver grew back every day, but he was still tormented daily from the pain, until he was freed by Heracles during The Twelve Labors.  Another possible reason for Prometheus’s torment was because he know which of Zeus’s lovers would bear a child who would eventually overthrow Zeus.  Zeus commanded that Prometheus reveal the name of the mother, but Prometheus refused, instead choosing to suffer the punishment.

To punish mankind, Zeus demanded that the other gods make Pandora as a poisoned gift for man.  Pandora was given several traits from the different gods: Hephaestus molded her out of clay and gave her form; Athena clothed her and the Charities adorned her with necklaces made by Hephaestus; Aphrodite gave her beauty; Apollo gave her musical talent and a gift for healing; Demeter taught her to tend a garden; Poseidon gave her a pearl necklace and the ability to never drown; Zeus made her idle, mischievous, and foolish; Hera gave her curiosity; Hermes gave her cunning, boldness, and charm.  Thus the name Pandora – all gifts – in Hesiod’s version derives from the fact that she received gifts from all deities.

The most significant of these gifts, however, was a pithos or storage jar, given to Pandora either by Hermes or Zeus.  Before he was chained to the rock, Prometheus had warned Epimetheus not to take any gifts from the gods.  However, when Pandora arrived, he fell in love with her.  Hermes told Epimetheus that Pandora was a gift to the titan from Zeus, and he waned Epimetheus not to open the jar, which was Pandora’s dowry.

Until then, mankind lived life in a paradise without worry.  Epimetheus told Pandora never to open the jar she had received from Zeus.  However, Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her and she opened it, releasing all the misfortunes of mankind: “For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills [kakoi] and hard toil [ponoi] and heavy sickness [nosoi argaleai] which bring the Keres [baleful spirits] upon men; for in time to keep one thing in the jar: hope.  The world remained extremely bleak for an unspecified interval, until Pandora “chanced” to revisit the box again, at which point Hope fluttered out.  Thus, mankind always has hope in times of evil.

In another, more philosophical version of the myth, hope [Elpis] is considered the worst of the potential evils, because it is equated with terrifying foreknowledge.  By preventing hope from escaping the jar, Pandora in a sense saves the world from the worst damage.  The daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora was Pyrrha, who married Deucalion and was one of the two who survived the deluge.

Problems and Mistranslation

Most scholars contend that Pandora’s “box” is a mistranslation, and her “box” may have been a large jar or vase, forged from the earth, perhaps because of similarities in shape between a jar and a woman’s uterus.  There is also evidence to suggest that Pandora herself was the “jar”.

The mistranslation is usually attributed to the 16th Century Humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam when he translated Hesiod’s tale of Pandora.  Hesiod uses the word “pithos” which refers to a jar used to store grain.  It is possible that Erasmus confused “pithos” with “pyxis” which means box.  The scholar M.L. West has written that Erasmus may have mixed up the story of Pandora with the story found elsewhere of a box which was opened by Psyche.  The original Greek text from 700 BC of Hesiod’s Works and Days, whence we get the earliest extant story of Pandora and the jar, does not specify exactly what was in the box Pandora opened.

M.L. West has written that the story of Pandora… pandoapoakdook… and her jar is from a pre-Hesiodic myth, and that this explains the confusion and problems with Hesiod’s version and its inconclusiveness.  He writes that in earlier myths, Pandora was married to Prometheus, and cites the ancient Catalogue of Women as preserving this older tradition, and that the jar may have at one point contained only good things for mankind.  He also writes that it may have been that Epimetheus and Pandora and their roles were transposed in the pre-Hesiodic myths, a “mythic inversion”.  He remarks that there is a curios correlation between Pandora being made out of earth in Hesiod’s story, to what is in Apollodorus that Prometheus created man from water and earth.  (Appolodorus, Library and Epitome, ed. Sir James George Frazer.)


The story of Pandora’s Box can be interpreted in more than one way, but is often thought to be a version of “curiosity killed the cat”.  Various feminist scholars believe that in an earlier set of myths, Pandora was the Great Goddess, provider of the gifts that made life and culture possible, and that Hesiod’s tale can be seen as part of a propaganda campaign to demote her from her previously revered status.  For an alternate view of Pandora, see Charlene Spretnak’s Lost Goddesses of Early Greece; A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Mythology, 1978.  The presence of hope in a jar full of evils for mankind raises questions about whether Hope is a comfort for the evil mankind experiences, or whether the hope for something better must be interpreted as the damnation of mankind.

Pandora As Depicted By the Vase-Painters

Jane Ellen Harrison turned to the repertory of vase-painters to shed light on aspects of myth that were left unaddressed or disguised in literature.  The story of Pandora was repeated on Greek ceramics.  On a fifth century amphora in the Ashmolean Museum the half-figure of Pandora emerges from the ground, her arms upraised in the epiphany gesture, to greet Epimetheus.  A winged Ker with a fillet hovers overhead: “Pandora rises from the earth; she is the Earth, giver of all gifts,” Harrison observes.  On another vase showing the fashioning of Pandora she is inscribed with her alternate name: [A]nesidora (“who sends up gifts”).  “Pandora is form or title of the Earth-goddess in the Kore form, entirely humanized and vividly personified by mythology.”  and she quotes a scholium on a passage of Aristophanes mentioning a sacrificed white fleeced ram to Pandora: “to Pandora, the earth, because she bestows all things necessary for life”.  Thus Harrison concludes “in the patriarchal mythology of Hesiod her great figure is strangely changed.  She is no longer Earth-born, but the creature, the handiwork of Olympian Zeus.”

In Summary

Pandora plays an intriguing role in Greek mythology.  According to the most well-known legend, she was the first woman, created by the ruler of the gods, Zeus.  Zeus was assisted in this task by other Greek deities, including Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, who used her powers to bestow upon Pandora grace and loveliness; Hermes, messenger of the gods, gave Pandora persuasion; and Apollo, god of music and the arts, favored the woman with musical skill.  Because of the gifts of the gods, Pandora was very attractive – her name even means “all gifts”.

However, Pandora had a flaw.  She was curious.  When she encountered a jar that belonged to Epimetheus, she could not resist learning about its mysterious contents, and so she therefore opened it.  This jar contained all of the evils, which were then released into the world.  The only thing that remained in the jar was hope.

She, as the first woman, created after man, is sometimes compared to Eve in Hebrew myth.  Pandora was originally a title of the goddess Rhea (the name means all gifts) – but the story of Pandora and her jar (not box) was more the anti-feminine invention of the poet Hesiod.

But even if Pandora had a jar and not a box, women as portrayed in ancient art are forever putting things tidily away in boxes of various kinds.  There’s even the myth of Danae, where she and her son Perseus were themselves tidied away in a box and dumped at sea.  Francois Lissarague has discussed the idea that the box is symbolic of women’s life in Athens – she was to a large extent herself seen as a container – for the sperm, for the child, who spent most of her life in a container (house) designed for the purpose of allowing no unauthorized person to open the box.

There is a second myth which is less known that says Zeus created Pandora, in good faith, to be a blessing to man.  Zeus sent with her box containing the marriage presents, which were given by every god.  Pandora, being curious, opened the box and all the blessings flew out, save one, Hope.

It is said that the second myth seems more logical, for how could Hope be stored in the same container as all manner of evil and illness.  Unlike today’s associations with Pandora, we need to remember that this goddess’ name mans “all-giver” or “sender of gifts”.  And when the evils of the world threaten, let us not forget that Pandora’s box still, and always, holds hope.

July 9, 2013

Pele: The Hawaiian Goddess of Fire

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , at 10:38 am by Babs

Described as “She Who Shapes The Sacred Land” in ancient Hawaiian chants, the volcano goddess Pele was passionate, volatile, and capricious.  In modern times, Pele has become the most visible of all the old gods and goddesses.  Dwelling in the craters of the Big Island’s Kilauea Volcano, she has been sending ribbons of fiery lava down the mountainside and adding new land around the southeastern shore almost continuously since 1983.

Pele was born of the female spirit Haumea, or Hina, who, like all other important Hawai’i gods and goddesses, descended from the supreme beings, Papa, or Earth Mother and Wakea, Sky Father.  Pele was among the first voyagers to sail to Hawai’i, pursued, legends say, by her angry older sister, Na-maka-o-kaha’i because Pele had seduced her husband.  Pele landed first on Kaua’i, but every time she thrust her digging stick into the earth to dig a pit for her home, Na-maka-kaha’i, goddess of water and the sea, would flood the pits.  Pele moved down the chain of islands in order of their geological formation, eventually landing on the Big Island’s Mauna Loa, which is considered the tallest mountain on earth when measured  from its base at the bottom of the ocean.  Even Na-maka-kaha’i could not send the ocean’s waves high enough on Mauna Loa to drown Pele’s fires, so Pele established her home on its slopes.  Here, she welcomed her brothers.  A cliff on nearby Kilauea Mountain is sacred to her eldest brother, to this day, Pele never allows clouds of volcanic steam to touch this cliff.

Her other brothers also still appear on the Big Island mountain; Kane-hekili as thunder, Ka-poho-i-kahi-ola as explosions, Ke-ua-a-kepo in showers of fire, and Ke-o-ahi-kama-kaua in spears of lava that escape from fissures during eruptions.

Of all her siblings, Pele favored her youngest sister Hi’iaka, the most.  Pele, Hi’iaka and another sister, Laka,  goddess of hula, were all patronesses of the dance, but Hi’iaka was said to have hatched from an egg that Pele kept warm during the long canoe ride to Hawai’i by transporting it in her armpit.

After Hi’iaka grew to womanhood on the Big Island, Pele traveled in spirit form to the north shore of Kaua’i to witness a dance performance at a pahula, or dance platform, that still exists near Ke’e Beach.  Here she manifested herself as a desirable young woman, and quickly fell in love with a handsome young chief named Lohi’au.  She dallied with Lohi’au for several days, but eventually her spirit had to return to her sleeping body on the Big Island.  Upon awakening, Pele sent Hi’iaka to convince Lohi’au to come to her.

The sisters extracted vows from each other: Hi’iaka promised not to encourage Lohi’au should he become attracted to her  and in return, Pele promised to contain her fires and lava flows so as not to burn a grove of flowering ohi’a trees where Hi’iaka danced with her friend Hopoe.

On Kaua’i, Hi’iaka found that Lohi’au had died of grief after Pele disappeared, but the graceful younger sister was able to restore his spirit to his body, bringing him back to life.  Together, the two of them began the journey to the Big Island, but Pele’s suspicious nature got the best of her.  Because forty days had passed since Hi’iaka had set out on her assign mission, Pele decided she had been betrayed, and so sent a flood of lava into Hi’iaka’s ‘ohi’a-lehua grove, killing Hopoe in the process.  When Hi’iaka saw the smoldering trees and her dancing friend entombed in lava, she flung herself into the arms of Lohi’au.  In retribution, Pele set lose another stream of lava, which killed the mortal Lohi’au, but Hi’iaka, a goddess could not be destroyed.

The legend has a happy ending, however, as yet another brother of Pele’s, Kane-milo-hai, reached out and caught Lohi’au’s spirit when he saw it floating past his canoe.  He restored the spirit to Lohi’au’s body, and once again, the chief was brought back to life.  Hi’iaka and Lohi’au returned to Kaua’i to live contentedly.

Legends about Pele, her rivals and her lovers abound.  Most of the lovers she took were not lucky enough to escape with their lives when she hurled molten lava at them, trapping them in odd misshapen pillars of rock that dot volcanic fields to this day.

One lover who proved a match for Pele was Kamapua’a, a demigod who hid the bristles that grew down his back by wearing a cape.  The pig god could also appear as a plant or as various types of fish.  He and Pele were at odds from the beginning; she covered the land with barren lava, he brought torrents of rain to extinguish her fires and called the wild boars to dig up the land, softening it so seeds could grow.  Pele and Kamapua’a raged against each other until her brothers begged her to give in, as they feared Kamapua’a’s storms would soak all the fire sticks and kill Pele’s power to restore fire.  In Puna, at a placed called Ka-lua-o-Pele, where the land seems torn up as if a great struggle had taken place, legend says Kamapua’a finally caught and ravaged Pele.  The two remained tempestuous lovers, it is said, until a child was born, then Kamapua’a sailed away and Pele went back to her philandering ways.

Pele’s greatest rival was Poliahu, goddess of snow-capped mountains and a beauty who, like Pele, seduced handsome mortal chiefs.  Pele’s jealousy flamed after she had a fling with a fickle young Maui chief named ‘Ai-wohi-ku-pua, as he was traveling to the Big Island to court a mortal chiefess, Laie.  Paddling along the Hana Coast, ‘Ai-wohi-ku-pua saw Pele in human form as a beauty named Hina-i-ka-malama, riding the surf.  He paused for a brief affair.  Then he went on to the Big Island, where Poliahu seduced him.  He convinced his personal goddess to release him from his promise to his first love, and went back to Kaua’i with the snow goddess.  Pele (as Hina-i-ka-malama) chased after them, eventually winning back the fickle chief, but Poliahu was so vindictive, she blasted the lovers with cold and heat until they separated, and ‘Ai-wohi-ku-pua was left with no lover at all.

According to Hawaiian historian David Malo in his book “Hawaiian Antiquities,” in old Hawai’i, some gods and goddesses, including Pele, were believed to be akua noho, gods who talked.  They could take possession of an earthly being, who became the god’s kahu.  Malo writes, “The kahu of the Pele deities also were in the habit of dressing their hair in such a way as to make it stand  out at great length, then, having inflamed and reddened their eyes, they went about begging for any articles they took a fancy to, making the threat, “If you don’t grant this request, Pele will devour you.”  Many people were imposed upon in this manner, fearing Pele might actually consume them.”  Naturally, people who had seen others destroyed in Pele’s fiery lava flows, were terrorized by such a kahu.  Pele has continued to intrigue contemporary men.  Not long after the old religion was abolished in 1819, the high chiefess Kapi’olani defied Pele by eating ‘ohelo berries at the edge of Halema’uma’u caldera without first offering them to or requesting Pele’s permission.  In open defiance, Kapi’olani threw stones into the molten lava below.  When she was not harmed, she insisted it proved Pele had no power and it was time for Hawaiian people to accept Christianity as their religion.  In 1823, when Reverend William Ellis became the first white man to visit Kilauea, most Hawaiians accompanying the expedition were still in awe of the volatile goddess.  The hungry missionaries began to eat ‘ohelo berries, but were quickly warned to give Pele an offering.  Ellis wrote, “We told them… that we acknowledge Jehovah as the only divine proprietor of the fruits of this earth, and felt thankful to Him for them, especially in our present circumstances.” …We traveled on, regretting that the natives should indulge in notions so superstitious.”  At the crater, the Hawaiian guides “turned their faces toward the place where the greatest quantity of smoke and vapor issued, and, breaking the (‘phelo) branch they held in their hand in two, they threw one part down the precipice, saying:

E Pele, eia ka ‘ohelo ‘au; (Oh, Pele, here are your branches)

e taumaha aku wau ‘ia ‘oe (I offer some to you)

e ‘ai ho’i au tetahi (some I also eat).

To this day, tales of Pele’s power and peculiarities continue.  Whispered encounters with Pele include those of drivers who pick up an old woman dressed all in white accompanied by a little dog on roads in Kilauea National Park, only to look in the mirror to find the back seat empty.  Pele’s face has mysteriously appeared in photographs of fiery eruptions, and most people who live in the islands, whether Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, Pagan or other religion, speak respectfully of the ancient goddess.  After all, she has destroyed more than 100 structures on the Big Island since 1983, and perhaps even more awesome than that, she has added more than 70 acres of land to the island’s southeastern coastline.

Personal Note:  When visiting Kilauea National Park with my Mom a few years ago… I picked up and pocketed 3 small chunks of lava stone; one for me and the others for friends who would appreciate the stone for its association with Pele.  When the tour was moving on, the guide explained about the “woman in white” and how she frowned upon those taking bits of her island (and hard work) away.  It is said that she will visit you and bring all the wrath she could to punish you for your actions.  Here I am with three chunks of her work in my pocket!  Not wanting to attract attention to myself at the time… I kept quiet and returned to the cruise ship.  When I could, I slipped out to the deck railing… quietly explained to her what I had done, apologized, and tossed the stones over the rail stating that I hoped reaching the ocean helped her work rather than hindered it.  It is important to realize that I risked getting caught throwing things off of a cruise ship which they frown upon greatly.  I thanked my lucky stars for not getting caught, returned to the cabin… and dressed for dinner.  All these years later I have not had a visit from the Woman in White or her little dog and feel that she accepted my apology!  I was sure it is a story told to keep people from weighing down airplanes and cruise ships with chunks of lava… I wasn’t taking any chances!  When I told this story to my High Priestess she explained that people have often resorted to mailing back the stones to the Big Island to escape the bad luck associated with stealing the stone.  Packages are sent from all over the world… so Pele has far reaching affects!  To this day, offerings are made to Pele at the edge of the crater in the form of fruits, flowers and even alcohol.

July 1, 2013

Acca Larentia: Roman Mother Goddess

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , at 10:46 pm by Babs

Acca Larentia is a Roman Goddess who is most famous for being the foster-mother of the mythical twins Romulus and Remus.  She is an Earth Goddess and protectress, and the divine ancestress of Rome, associated with wolves, the Underworld, and the fertility of the earth and fields.

In a late but widely known legend, Acca Larentia is the wife of Faustulus, a shepherd to the King of the time, who found the abandoned infants Romulus and Remus being miraculously nursed by a she-wolf.  They were really sons of the God Mars, who had come to their mother, the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia in the form of a wolf.  Faustulus took them home to his wife, who then acted as their wet-nurse.  Acca Larentia and Faustulus had twelve sons; since one of them had died, Romulus took his place.  These twelve brothers under the supervision of their mother sacrificed annually in the fields (the arvae) to bring fertility to the crops, and were said to be the foundation of the twelve-man brotherhood of the Arval priests.

Sometimes Romulus and Remus were said to have been nursed by the wolf-goddess Lupa or Luperca, who was identified with Acca Larentia.  In this version Luperca’s husband is the wolf and shepherd god Lupercus who brought fertility to the flocks and through his rapport with the wolves, kept them from harming the sheep.  The Lupercalia was the festival of Lupercus and was concerned with fertility and purification of both the flocks and the City of Rome.  Wolves and sheep come up a lot in these legends concerning and glorifying the origins of Rome for the city was believed to have been founded by a clan of shepherds who settled on the Palatine Hill, and Romulus and Remus were shepherd kings.

In another tale, Acca Larentia is a notorious and beautiful prostitute who was shut up in the temple of Hercules overnight.  There She dreamed that Hercules came to Her, and promised a gift from the first man She met the next morning.  Accordingly, the next day She met a wealthy man who fell in love with Her and married Her, leaving his great fortune to Her at his death.  At Her own death, She bequeathed the fortune to the city of Rome.  In a variation of the same tale, Acca Larentia gains the wealth not through marriage but through Her own career as a prostitute in which She is known as Lupa, or “she-wolf”, ancient slang for a prostitute.  In either case, the people of Rome were to grateful to Her that they instituted a festival on December 23rd, called the Larentalia, where sacrifices were made at a site in the Velabrum (the low-lying little valley between the Palatine and the Capitoline hills) by the Flamin Quirinalis, the Priest of Quirinus, aka Romulus, as His foster-mother.  This spot was said to be either the location of Her tomb, or the spot where She disappeared when She ascended as a Goddess.

Although in most of the Roman tales Acca Larentia is said to be a deified mortal, She is actually a very old Goddess of Etruscan origin.  She is connected with the Lares (also Etruscan in origin), the household Gods who protected the family and were sometimes thought of as the spirits of the benevolent dead.  In earliest times, the dead of a household were usually buried on the family’s property, hence the localized nature of the Lares.  Her name among the Sabines is Larunda, to whom She was a house-goddess like the Lares, and whose festival in December became the Roman Larentalia.  As Lara or Mater Larum She was considered the Mother of the Lars and an Underworld Goddess.  In yet another myth, Lara was a nymph who talked too much; Jupiter cut out Her tongue, and afterwards She was known as Muta (“the Silent”) or Tacita (“the Secret”), also a name for one of the Camenae, a group of four prophetic Roman Goddesses.

So it seems that Acca Larentia is an old benevolent Earth Goddess, with both chthonic and fertility aspects.  In Her role of Underworld Goddess, She watches over the beloved dead, protecting them and their living families, as well as the larger family of the people of Rome, whose mythical founder Romulus She nourished and sheltered.  As Wolf-Goddess She watched over the shepherds and their kings and brought fertility to the flocks; as Mother of the dead She also has connections to prophecy.  As the fertile Earth She brings abundance and bounty to the fields, and in the reference making Her a courtesan one sees a hint of a Goddess of Springtime and Love; for Acca Larentia was also honored on the last day of April, a day that fell within the springtime festival of the Floralia, a wild joyous celebration where prostitutes were especially honored.

Alternate names: Acca Laurentia, Acca Larenta, Larentia, Laurentia, Lara, Larunda, Larenta, Larentina, Mater Larum (“Mother of the Lares”).  Equated with  Faunda (wife of Faunus, who had an oracle on the Aventine hill), the Bona Dea, Lupa, Luperca, Dea Dia.

June 19, 2013

Yuki Onna: The Japanese Snow Maiden

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things at 9:23 pm by Babs

To those lost in blizzards, struggling futilely against the cold, she came, soothing them, singing to lull them to sleep, then breathing a deathly cold breathe on them.  The “snow maiden” was the spirit of death by freezing; a calm, pale woman, who appeared to the dying, making their death quiet and painless.

Also known as The Lady of the Snow, The Snow Queen, Snow Whore, Snow Demon, Winter Ghost, Goddess of: Death, Cold, Winter and/or Snow.  She is represented as a beautiful woman with moon pale skin and long black hair wearing a white kimono.

Appearances in mythology sometimes has Yuki Onna as a beautiful earthly woman, marries and has children.  Other times she kills those she meets and forbids survivors to tell of their encounters (under punishment of death) before disappearing in a cloud of white mist.

In a village of Musashi Province, there lived two woodcutters: Mosaku and Minokichi.  At the time of which I am speaking, Mosaku was an old man; and Minokichi, his apprentice, was a lad of eighteen years.  Every day they went together to a forest situated about five miles from their village.  On the way to that forest there is a wide river to cross; and there is a ferry boat.  Several times a bridge was built where the ferry is; but the bridge was each time carried away by flood.  No common bridge can resist the current there when the river rises.

Mosaku and Minokichi were on their way home, one very cold evening, when a great snowstorm overtook them.  They reached the ferry; and they found that the boatman had gone away, leaving his boat on the other side of the river.  It was no day for swimming; and the woodcutters took shelter in the ferryman’s hut thinking themselves lucky to find any shelter at all.  There was no brazier in the hut, nor any place in which to make a fire.  It was only a two-mat hut, with a single door  but no window.  Mosaku and Minokichi fastened the door, and lay down to rest, with their straw rain-coats over them.  At first they did not feel very cold and they thought that the storm would soon be over.  The old man almost immediately fell asleep but the boy, Minokichi, lay awake a long time, listening to the awful wind, and the continual slashing of the snow against the door.

The river was roaring and the hut swayed and creaked like a junk at sea.  It was a terrible storm and the air was every moment becoming colder.  Minokichi shivered under his raincoat.  But at last, in spire of the cold, he too fell asleep.

He was awakened by the showering of snow in his face.  The door of the hut had been forced open and by the snow-light (yuki-akari), he saw a woman in the room – a woman all in white.  She was bending above Mosaku and blowing her breath upon him and her breath was like a bright white smoke.  Almost in the same moment she turned to Minokichi and stooped over him.  He tried to cry out, but found that he could not utter any sound.  The white woman bent down over him, lower and lower, until her face almost touched him, and he saw that she was very beautiful; though her eyes made him afraid.  For a little time she continued to look at him then she smiled and whispered:

“I intended to treat you like the other man.  But I cannot help feeling some pity for you – because you are so young.  You are a pretty boy, Minokichi and I will not hurt you now.  But, if you ever tell anybody, even your own mother about what you have seen this night, I shall know it and then I will kill you.  Remember what I say!”

With these words, she turned from him, and passed through the doorway.  Then he found himself able to move and he sprang up and looked out.  But the woman was nowhere to be seen and the snow was driving furiously into the hut.  Minokichi closed the door, and secured it by fixing several billets of wood against it.  He wondered if the wind had blown it open.  He thought that he might have been only dreaming, and might have mistaken the gleam of the snow-light in the doorway for the figure of a white woman; but he could not be sure.  He called to Mosaku and was frightened because the old man did not answer.  He put out his hand in the dark and touched Mosaku’s face and found that it was ice!  Mosaku was stark and dead.

By dawn the storm was over, and when the ferryman returned to his station, a little after sunrise, he found Minokichi lying senseless beside the frozen body of Mosaku.  Minokichi was promptly cared for and soon came to himself but he remained a long time ill from the effects of the cold of that terrible night.  He had been greatly frightened also by the old man’s death but he said nothing about the vision of the woman in white.  As soon as he got well again he returned to his calling, going alone every morning to the forest and coming back at nightfall with his bundles of wood which his mother helped him to sell.

One evening, in the winter of the following year, as he was on his way home, he overtook a girl who happened to be traveling by the same road.  She was a tall, slim girl, very good-looking and she answered Minokichi’s greeting in a voice as pleasant to the ear as the voice of a song-bird.  Then he walked beside her and they began to talk.  The girl said that her name was O-Yuki, that she had lately lost both of her parents and that she was going to Yedo, where she happened to have some poor relations, who might help her to find a situation as servant.  Minokichi soon felt charmed by this strange girl and the more that he looked at her, the handsomer she appeared to be.  He asked her whether she was yet betrothed and she answered, laughingly, that she was free.  Then, in her turn, she asked Minokichi whether he was married, or pledged to marry; and he told her that, although he had only a widowed mother to support, the question of an “honorable daughter-in-law” had not yet been considered, as he was very young… After these confidences, they walked on for a long while without speaking; but, as the proverb declares, Ki ga areba, me mo kuchi hodo ni mono wo iu: “When the wish is there, the eyes can say as much as the mouth.”  But the time they reached the village, they had become very much pleased with each other and then Minokichi asked O-Yuki to rest awhile at his house.  After some shy hesitation, she went there with him; and his mother made her welcome, and prepared a warm meal for her.  O-Yuki behaved so nicely that Minokichi’s mother took a sudden fancy to her, and persuaded her to delay her journey to Yedo.  And the natural end of the matter was that Yuki never went to Yedo at all.  She remained in the house, as an “honorable daughter-in-law.”

O-Yuki proved a very good daughter-in-law.  When Minokichi’s mother came to die, some five years later, her last words were words of affection and praise for the wife of her son.  And O-Yuki bore Minokichi ten children, boys and girls, handsome children all of them, and very fair of skin.  The country folk thought O-Yuki is a wonderful person, by nature different from themselves.  Most of the peasant-woman age early; but O-Yuki, even after shaving become the mother of ten children, looked as young and fresh as on the day when she had first come to the village.

One night, after the children had gone to sleep, O-Yuki was sewing by the light of a paper lamp and Minokichi, watching her, said “To see you sewing there, with the light on your face, makes me think of a strange thing that happened when I was a lad of eighteen.  I then saw somebody as beautiful and white as you are now – indeed, she was very like you.”

Without lifting her eyes from her work, O-Yuki responded, “Tell me about here… where did you see her?”

Then Minokichi told her about the terrible night in the ferryman’s hut, and about the White Woman that had stooped abouve him, smiling and whispering, and about the silent death of old Mosaku.  And he said, “Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as beautiful as you.  Of course, she was not a human being and I was afraid of her, very much afraid, but she was so white I … indeed, I have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw, or the Woman of the Snow.”

O-Yuki flung down her sewing and arose and bowed above Minokichi where he sat, and shrieked into his face, “It was I – I – I!  Yuki it was!  And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one word about it!   …But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment!  And now you had better take very, very good care of them for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!”

Even as she screamed, her voice became thin, like a crying of wind, then she melted into a bright white mist and spired to the roof-beams, and shuddered away through the smoke-hole… never again was she seen.  The story above has a few variations but in this adaptation the Yuki-Onna takes on a much sweeter disposition.

Baba Yaga: The Slavic Goddess of Death

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , , , at 7:44 pm by Babs

It is only through examination of our dark side that we can hope to be reborn.  It is in crossing the comfort zones and visiting our shadowed selves that we can empower ourselves spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and physically.

The ancient Slavic Goddess Baba Yaga is the wild old crone guardian of the Water of Life and Death.  She is the Goddess of Death and Birth associated with autumn, who sings while sprinkling corpses with the Water of Life to let them be reborn.  Although she is fearsome to look upon, like all forces of nature that are often wild and untamed, she can also be kind.

Often depicted living in the deep center of the earth, or in a hut built of human bones, complete with bone fence with inset skulls whose eye sockets light up in the dark.  And it’s a mobile home; it runs around supported on gigantic chicken legs.  She represents the power of old age, of which, and of the life cycle that is birth, death, and rebirth.  She is therefore also associated with birch forests (birch being the tree of beginnings and endings).  Another image is that of “White Lady” or Death Crone, as she is stiff and white and carved of bone (she can also be referred to as Goddess of Old Bones).

Baba Yaga’s own eyes turn humans to stone,  and her mighty mouth has knives for teeth.  She can also pole herself around in a giant pestle and mortar which she also uses to grind up and un-petrify her victims.

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

In Russian folklore there are many stories of Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch with iron teeth.  She is also known as Baba Yaga Boney Legs, because, in spite of a ferocious appetite, she is as thin as a skeleton.  In Russian that’s: “Baba Yaga Kostianaya Noga”.  In some stories she has two older sisters, who are also called Baba Yaga, just to confuse you!

Her nose is so long that it rattles against the ceiling of her hut when she snores, stretched out in all directions upon her ancient brick oven.  Not being a boringly conventional witch, she does not wear a hat, and has never been seen on a broomstick.  She travels perched in a large mortar with her knees almost touching her chin, and pushes herself across the forest floor with a pestle.

Whenever she appears on the scene, a wild wind begins to blow, the trees around creak and groan and leaves whirl through the air.  Shrieking and wailing, a host of spirits often accompany her on her way.

Being a somewhat secretive lady, in spite of the din she makes, she sweeps away all traces of herself with a broom made of silver birch.  What are brooms for anyway?  She can also fly through the air in the same manner.

Baba Yaga lives in a hut deep in the forest.  Her hut seems to have a personality of its own and can move about on its extra-large chicken legs.  Usually the hut is either spinning around as it moves through the forest or stands at rest with its back to the visitor.  The windows of the hut seem to serve as eyes.  All the while it is spinning around; it emits blood-curdling screeches and will only come to a halt, amid much creaking and groaning, when a secret incantation is said.  When it stops, it turns to face the visitor and lowers itself down on its chicken legs, throwing open the door with a loud crash.  The hut is sometimes surrounded by a fence made of bones, which helps to keep out intruders.  The fence is topped with skulls whose blazing eye sockets illuminate the darkness.

When a visitor enters her hut, Baba Yaga asks them whether they came of their own free will, or whether they were sent.  One answer is the right one!  Thankfully, she appears to have no power over the pure of heart, such as Vasilisa and those of use who are ‘blessed’ meaning they are protected by the power of love, virtue, or a mother’s blessing.

Baba Yaga rules over the elements.  Her faithful servants are the White Horeseman, the Red Horseman and the Black Horseman.  When Vasilissa asks her who these mysterious horsemen are, she replies, “My Bright Dawn, my Red Sun, and my Dark Midnight”.  Amongst her other servants, are three bodiless and somewhat menacing pairs of hands, which appear aout of thin air to do her bidding.  She calls them “my soul friends” or “friends of my bosom” and she is more than a little reticent about discussing them with Vasilisa.

Another strange character who served as a herdsman for Baba Yaga is the sorcerer Koshchey the Deathless.  And here’s a mystery for you: While she is giving instructions to Vasilisa, Baba Yaga mentions that ‘someone spiteful’ had mixed earth in with her poppy-seeds.  What could she have meant?  Could Baba Yaga possibly have an enemy?  Would anyone dare to risk incurring her wrath?

Although she is mostly portrayed as a terrifying old crone, Baba Yaga can also play the role of a helper and wise woman.  The Earth Mother, like all forces of nature, though often wild and untamed, can also be kind.  In her guise as wise hag, she sometimes gives advice and magical gifts to heroes and the pure of heart.  The hero or heroine of the story often enters toe crone’s domain searching for wisdom, knowledge and truth.  She is all knowing, all-seeing and all-revealing to those who would dare to ask.  She is said to be a guardian spirit of the fountain of the Waters of Life and of Death.  Baba Yaga is the Arch-Crone, the Goddess of Wisdom and Death, the Bone Mother.  Wild and untamable, she is a nature spirit bringing wisdom and death of ego, and through death, rebirth.

Suggested Mantra: Rebirth

Suggested Affirmations:

  • I am revitalized
  • My insecurity is replaced with wisdom
  • At my center there is an incandescent fire
  • I release myself from harmful judgements
  • My new life path reveals itself to me
  • I say goodbye to destructive influences


  • Garnet
  • Bloodstone
  • Tourmaline
  • Smoky Quartz
  • Red Stones
  • Scapolite
  • Amazonite
  • Chiastolite

June 14, 2013

Saraswati: Goddess of Knowledge, Wisdom & Art

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , , , at 9:20 am by Babs

Her name means “The Flowing One.”  She is the personification of the Sarasvati River in north – western India.  She is the Goddess of knowledge, speech, learning and the arts, fertility and prosperity.  She is considered the originator of speech and of all the arts.  She is one of the trinity (the maiden aspect) which includes Devi and Lakshmi.  Sarasvati is pictured as a graceful woman with white skin, usually sitting on a lotus or a peacock and usually adorned with a crescent moon.

The Sanskrit word “sara” means “essence” and “swa” means “self.”  Thus Saraswati means “the essence of the self.”  Saraswati is represented in Hindu mythology as the divine concert of Lord Brahma, the Creator of the universe.  Since knowledge is necessary for creation, Saraswati symbolizes the creative power of Brahma.  Goddess Saraswati is worshipped by all persons interested in knowledge, especially students, teachers, scholars, and scientists.

In Her popular images and pictures, Goddess Saraswati is generally depicted with four arms (some pictures may show only two arms), wearing a white sari and seated on a white lotus.  She holds a book and a rosary in Her rear two hands, while the front two hands are engaged in the playing of a lute (veena).  Her right leg is shown slightly pushing gazing at Her.  This symbolism illustrates the following spiritual ideas:

  • The lotus is a symbol of the Supreme Reality, and a white lotus also denotes supreme knowledge.  By sitting on a lotus, Saraswati signifies that She is Herself rooted in the Supreme Reality, and symbolizes supreme knowledge.  The white color symbolizes purity and knowledge.  The white sari that the Goddess is wearing denotes that She is the embodiment of pure knowledge.
  • The four arms denote Her omnipresence and omnipotence.  The two front arms indicate Her activity in the physical world and the two back arms signify Her presence in the spiritual world.  The four hands represent the four elements of the inner personality.  The mind (manas) is represented by the front right hand, the intellect (buddhi) by the front left hand, the conditioned consciousness (chitta) by the rear left hand, and the ego (ahankara) by the rear right hand.
  • The left side of the body symbolizes the qualities of the heart and the right side symbolizes activities of the mind and intellect.  A book in the rear left hand signifies that knowledge acquired must be used with love and kindness to promote prosperity of mankind.
  • The rosary signifies concentration, meditation, and contemplation, leading to samadhi, or union with God.  A rosary in the rear right hand representing ego conveys that true knowledge acquired with love and devotion melts the ego and results in liberation (moksha) of the seeker from the bondage to the physical world.
  • The Goddess in shown playing a musical instrument that is held in Her front hands, which denote mind and intellect.  This symbol conveys that the seeker must tune his mind and intellect in order to live in perfect harmony with the world.  Such harmonious living enables the individual to utilize acquired knowledge for the welfare of all mankind.
  • Two swans are depicted on the left side of the Goddess.  A swan is said to have a sensitive beak that enables it to distinguish pure milk from a mixture of milk and water.  A swan, therefore, symbolizes the power of discrimination, or the ability to discriminate between right and wrong or good and bad.  Saraswati uses the swan as Her carrier.  This indicates that one must acquire and apply knowledge with discrimination for the good of mankind.  Knowledge that is dominated by ego can destroy the world.
  • A peacock is sitting next to Saraswati and is anxiously waiting to serve as Her vehicle.  A peacock depicts unpredictable behavior as its moods can be influenced by the changes in the weather.  Saraswati is using a swan as a vehicle and not the peacock.  This signifies that one should overcome fear, indecision, and fickleness in order to acquire true knowledge.

Saraswati is the sometimes forgotten third member of the Hindu triple goddesses; Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati.  Lakshmi, Goddess of Plenty, is as you can imagine, wildly popular.  Everyone wants to honor her and hope for the good fortune she can bestow.  Kali will not allow herself to be forgotten.  She is the Goddess of Destruction and of Creation (although that aspect is frequently forgotten).  She is, perhaps, too frightening to forget!  Saraswati, the Goddess of Music and Poetry and Learning, is less popular since she neither destroys people nor dispenses favors.  Ah, but Saraswati can help poets and musicians when they need inspiration!  She was the inventor of written language (Sanskrit) and for this reason is also invoked for help in schoolwork and other written endeavors.  Her color is white (Kali is black and Lakshmi is red) and her incense is white sandalwood.

Her Mantra: “Om Aim Saraswatyai Namah”

Beyond being the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge, music and all the creative arts, Saraswati is called the Mother of the Vedas and the repository of Brahma’s creative intelligence.  She is also called Vak Devi, the goddess of speech.

Dressed in white, Saraswati holds a mala and a palm leaf scroll, indicating knowledge.  Saraswati usually rides a swan and sometimes a peacock, while playing music on a veena.  The Vilma Vashi temple in Dilwara is dedicated to Saraswati.  Students worship Saraswati to perform well in examinations.

This sloka (mantra) of Saraswati can be recited daily to improve memory, power and concentration in studies:

Saraswati Namasthubhyam

Varade Kamarupini

Vidhyarambam Karishyami

Siddhir Bavathume Sadha

Saraswati is worshipped as the consort of Bhrahma the creator.  Legend has it that Bhrahma the creator acquired the power to think and create only through the power of Saraswati and that it was Saraswati that enabled Bhrahma to listen to the naadabhrahmam the primordial sound which is revered as the source of all creation.

Saraswati is also referred to as Sharda the fountainhead of knowledge who leads seekers from darkness to light and from ignorance to spiritual enlightenment.

The now extinct river Saraswati, once an integral part of Vedic culture is associated with Saraswati the Goddess of Knowledge.  Legend has it that when Shiva opened his third eye, the flame that emanated threatened to destroy everything in its path.  Only Saraswati the source of wisdom was unperturbed by the power of the flame, owing to her firm understanding that the flame would only destroy what was impure.  She then took the form of a river, carried the flame deep into the sea and transformed it into a fire-breathing mare and declared that the creature of destruction would stay underground as long as wisdom was sought after and that it would surface if this search was totally abandoned.

Shrines dedicated to Saraswati are commonly seen in many Saivite temples all over south India, located to the right of Parvati’s shrine.  There is a lone temple dedicated to Saraswati near Thanjavur in Tamilnadu.  There are shrines to Bhrahma and Saraswati at Uttamar Koyil near Tiruchirappalli in Tamilnadu.

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