Welcoming the Sisters – Dawn and Dusk Devotionals

Devotional activities can run the gamut from simply sharing tea with the Powers to performing full-on choreographed theatrical productions. I leave the theater to the High Days. I prefer something much more low-key for daily devotions, and over time I’ve learned that it’s best if they’re tied to some activity I’d already be doing anyway. It’s also the best way I’ve found to seamlessly integrate devotions, and thus honoring the Powers, into my day-to-day life.

I’ve discussed mealtime offerings before. Now it’s time to talk about offerings for dawn and dusk. Like mealtime offerings, they’re fairly quick and easy. They’re also way more meaningful than we might otherwise think.

The Herald of Dawn 

The dawn goddess pops up all over the Indo-European world, indicating that She was very important. In fact, the case can be made that She was the most important goddess of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. She’s certainly the most easily reconstructed!

The PIE name She’s given in Deep Ancestors is Xáusōs, or “Rising”. PIE-descendant cultures honored Her too: She appears as the Greek Eos, the Roman Aurōra, the Vedic Uṣás, the Lithuanian Aušrine, and the Germanic Ōstara.

The ubiquity of Her worship in the ancient world makes total sense for a traveling, migratory people. After all, no matter where you go She still appears in the east to open the Gates of Dawn and usher in the coming day. PIE-descended hearth cultures sometimes associated Her with spring, too, as the dawn of the planting season out of the chaotic Fallow Time.

Which brings us to the topic of liminality. Honoring the dawn was incredibly common because it was a transitional, liminal period.  And that made it dangerous.

We hear the most about the ambivalence of betweens from Celtic tradition, but the care necessary when navigating treacherous liminal spaces is part of all PIE-descended cultures. Dawn is a between, a transition zone between night and day, and as such it’s a dangerous opening through which chaos could enter the world. By opening and closing dawn’s gates, though, the dawn goddess controls and safeguards that opening. She’s on the front lines, defending existence itself against the agents of chaos.

The Goddess of the Dawn, in all Her pastel glory.

Pretty heavy stuff for a Goddess almost invariably shown clad in pastel rainbows.

In the Vedas She (as Uṣás) is also associated with prosperity. We see that with the Germanic Ōstara too, through a connection to the fecundity of rabbits and chickens. Every new dawn brings us a new chance for success, prosperity, and acclaim in our lives.

The dawn goddess also illuminates and “wakes up” the world with Her coming. Because of that She pushes back the darkness of the unknown and heralds the coming of enlightenment, strength, action, and activity. She energizes and inspires us.

With all of that in mind it makes sense to respect Her and Her role in the world with every new day that dawns.

Twilight’s Mistress

I’ve been using Deep Ancestors as my primary guide to exploring PIE religious practice. It’s what inspired me to start working with the dawn goddess Xáusōs in the first place. The more I did, though, the more frustrated I got. It felt incomplete.

Celtic lore holds that dusk is just as much a between as dawn, just as dangerous. Dusk too is a liminal time. Simply ignoring the danger inherent in an unguarded liminality seems entirely out of character for the Proto-Indo-Europeans, especially considering the emphasis they put on guarding dawn. However, the surviving lore doesn’t mention the dawn goddesses pulling double duty here. Who guarded the gates at twilight?

So I did some research.

In Vedic lore, the dawn goddess Uṣás has a sister goddess called Ratri. Ratri is usually seen as a quieter, more restful figure than Uṣás. Still beautiful, spangled with stars as She is, but more reserved. She protects us against all night-time dangers, guarding the earth as it sleeps. She’s also associated with dewdrops, and together with Uṣás is said to boost vital energies.

Uṣás and Ratri together are considered “weavers of time and mothers of eternal law”, and in their progression illustrate the cohesion of the created order that sustains the earth. I found that rather significant to PIE practices in general, personally.

We get something similar from the Baltic region, where we have another set of sister dawn/dusk goddesses – Aušrinė and Vakarinė. Aušrinė (associated with the Morning Star) saw the sun goddess off on Her journey through the sky every morning, while Vakarinė (associated with the Evening Star) made Her bed every night.

Another example is found in Slavic lore. The Zorya are yet another set of sister-twins. The first – Zorya Utrennyaya, or the Morning Star – opens the gates to the Sun Palace at dawn. The other – Zorya Vechernyaya, or the Evening Star – closes the gates to the Sun Palace at dusk.

In addition to these duties the Zorya are together the guardians of a winged doomsday hound named Simargl. If Simargl breaks the chains binding him to the northern star Polaris, he’ll eat the constellation of Ursa Minor and end the world. Like Uṣás and Ratri, the Zorya are crucial to maintaining universal order.

The Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurōra, doesn’t have a twin sister. However, She was married to Astraeus, the god of dusk, and together They birthed the four winds. In an interesting link to the Baltic and Slavic lore, Astraeus was also seen as the father of the five “wandering” stars, one of which is the Morning/Evening Star Venus (not to be confused with the goddess of the same name, although there might be some syncretism there). In another interesting link, the Zorya sisters were also collectively called the Auroras.

There’s just too much material here for me to ignore. I’m perfectly comfy moving forward with the idea that there once was a god(dess) associated with twilight who has been lost over the years. I’m also perfectly comfy with considering that deity to be a female sibling, if not an outright twin, of Xáusōs.

I needed a name to call Her, though, since whatever the PIE peoples might have called Her has been long forgotten. After oodles of searching I finally broke down and contacted the author of Deep Ancestors,  Ceisiwr Serith, with a plea for assistance. I simply don’t understand PIE language and linguistics well enough yet to figure this out for myself. He graciously helped – even showed his work with verb conjugation so I could follow! – and suggested “Négwntī”.

This name has a lot going for it. Xáusōs means “Rising”, while Négwntī means “Becoming Dark”. They mirror each other nicely in translation. I also like that both are verbs, action words, because for me that really brings home the fact that They represent a process instead of something static. They embody abstract concepts of Time, Cycles, and Order. So Négwntī’s what I decided to go with.

Welcoming the Sisters

I honor three goddesses as part of my daily devotions, in addition to my Lady.

First of those is Wéstyā, the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the hearth. I honor Her with the mealtime offerings I introduced in a previous post. She helps us maintain order in the domestic sphere, in our homes and families and day-to-day life.

I also honor Xáusōs and Négwntī – They who maintain the progressive order of Night into Day and Day into Night. I love the way they bookend everything. My shrine reflects that.

My kitchen shrine.

My kitchen shrine. To the left is the teacup and saucer used to honor Xáusōs, in the middle is the statue before which I make offerings to Wéstyā, and to the right is the cup and saucer for Négwntī. I’m debating switching the cups around, to reflect the sun rising in the east, but I haven’t decided yet.

Morning Offerings

When I wake up I take care of my immediate needs, walk my dog, and blearily try to activate my brain. Prior to now, my waking up process has been sitting in front of my computer with a cup of tea until the caffeine jolts my system awake.

Now I wake up with tea (coffee would work too) and Dawn’s Lady instead.

It’s really simple. I set up Her cup and saucer, fix the tea, fill Her cup, and say the following over it:

Good morn to You, Herald of the Dawn!
I welcome Your rising as I welcome sun’s glory. 
May I meet all on my path with
An open hand, an open heart, and an open mind. 
Praise to Your name, She Who Opens the Way!

Then I fix a drink of my own, sit down, and quietly think about my day as I wake up. No computers, no distractions, just communing. It takes around 15 minutes.

When I’m done, I empty and wash the dishes I used and return them to their places.

Evening Offerings

Evening offerings follow the same pattern as the morning. Instead of going for the caffeine, though, I go for a nightcap. It’s usually something like Egyptian licorice or chamomile tea.

Whatever it is, I set that to brewing while I prepare Négwntī’s cup and saucer. Then I pour Her a cup, over which I say the following:

Good eve to You, Twilight’s Lady!
I welcome Your presence as I welcome night’s repose.
May You guard my sleep and guide my dreams
That I awaken refreshed and renewed when next I rise

Praise to Your name, She Who Closes the Day!

After that I quietly sip my own cup and cuddle my pupper – without computers or books or anything else – as I calm down enough to sleep. Sometimes that takes another cup of tea, and that’s ok. Whenever I’m ready, though, I clean the dishes I used and return them to their places.

By doing simple devotional activities at dawn, for meals, and at dusk I do up to five devotional activities per day. They’re so simple, though, and so integrated with what I’d already be doing, that I do them with a sense of joy instead of feeling obligated or pressured.

And that – prioritizing joy over pressure – is to my mind the key to regular devotional work. I don’t even have to memorize anything! As with my mealtime offering prayers, the prayers for Xáusōs and Négwntī are written on little cards I can just read off (which is especially handy before my morning caffeine!).

What might/does work for you? I’d love to see your takes in the comments!

 

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Daily Devotions – Mealtime Offerings

Honoring the Lady of Home and Hearth was the heart of regular day-to-day practice in ancient times. Taking place in kitchens across the Proto-Indo-European world, it was carried over to the descendent hearth cultures too.

For the most part, our ancestors were practical people. They understood that regular practice couldn’t be maintained if it was approached like a full seasonal festival every time. Seasonal festivals can only be lavish and complicated because they’re done seasonally. As our day-to-day lives are much simpler than a three-day festival involving the whole town, so our daily devotions are simpler than a full High Day ritual.

Perhaps that’s why one of the most pervasive types of regular devotional activity is the humble mealtime offering. Even those of us raised in non-religious households are familiar with the idea of bowing our heads in thanks before a meal. If you’ve ever done it yourself feel blessed – you’ve taken part in a practice that was prevalent before Christianity and has survived remarkably intact to the present day.

Mealtime offerings are one of my absolute favorite types of regular devotional work. Mine only take about sixty seconds per meal and still manage to resonate throughout my whole day. That’s a lot of bang for your buck!

Intrigued? Read on!

Why Mealtime Offerings?

Oh, the many reasons, y’all. This type of devotional work has some serious traction behind it.

  1. It’s a time and type of devotion we’re already accustomed to in modern American culture. Granted we might not see it out and about very often, but if someone bows their heads over their plate before eating we know exactly what they’re doing without having to ask. Some of us may have even grown up doing it. It’s a familiar place devotion-wise, is what I’m saying, and if it ain’t broke why fix it?

    A family praying before a meal.

    Many of us might have taken part in this over the recent Thanksgiving holiday even if it’s not part of our usual practice.

  2. Mealtime offerings aren’t time- or labor-intensive, and there’s no expectation that they should be. We want to eat while it’s still hot! There’s no pressure to make them longer, or fancier, or hugely profound, or whatever else. We’re hungry. Get it done.
  3. They’re not intimidating because we know they vary, and that’s ok. Some folks have a set prayer every time, others make it up as they go, some adults go on forever with it, and some kids use quick nursery rhymes. It all works, so we can feel confident in knowing that whatever we come up with works, too.
  4. Eating is when we take the produce of the Earth and consume it, our foods dying so that we might live. When we die we’ll become part of that same cycle, feeding the earth for those who come after. Recognizing that most fundamental of truths is about as nature/earth/cycle centered as we can get, making it an excellent anchor for devotions.
  5. Mealtime offerings are in the lore! Not only can we draw on our own experiences with this, we know for a fact ancient polytheists did them too. Greek and Roman families made offerings from every meal on their household shrines/in their hearth fires, for instance (which is what my personal approach is based on).
  6. Mealtime devotions continued from ancestral practices right through to the present day (albeit in different forms). Because of that, they connect us directly to what our ancestors did regardless of the faith they practiced. There’s not much else in our lives that can do that. Nifty, huh?

With all of that going on it makes all the sense in the world to take a minute or three out of our day to join the party!

Timing 

We all eat. Ideally, we all eat multiple times a day. We don’t need to look for opportunities to do mealtime offerings. We’re kind of spoiled for choice!

I make offerings at every meal that involves heat to prepare. Some folks might be more comfortable with something else, though, and that’s ok too. Other timing options include only meals eaten in your home, only the evening meal, only Sunday dinner, breakfast every other day… Honestly, they’re your meals and your devotions. What works for you?

My Mealtime Offerings

In my practice meals are the dominion of Wéstyā, the Proto-Indo-European Lady of the Flame and Goddess of the Hearth. She is naturally the Goddess I look to for all domestic matters, and it is to Her that I make mealtime offerings.

I have two versions: one for when I eat at home and one for when I don’t.

At Home: In the old days Wéstyā was always present in the hearth fire. Few of us even have hearths anymore, though. That’s ok. All it takes is a candle or oil lamp in the kitchen, lit when we start preparing our meal and extinguished when we’re done with clean up. Can’t make the kitchen candle/lamp work, for whatever reason? Put Her candle on your shrine instead. I have roommates and limited counter space, so I honor Her on my shrine.

Anyway, when I begin preparing my meal (or when I start ordering delivery), I take a moment to light a candle for Wéstyā. As I do, I say:

Wéstyā is here, heart of my home. 

When the food is ready to serve/arrives courtesy of the local pizza joint, I offer Her a small bit of whatever it is before anything else is served or eaten. She gets first dibs. I just take a bite-sized piece of whatever (no meat, though – She doesn’t care for it) and put it in the little dish I keep ready for the purpose by Her candle. As I do, I say:

Burn on our hearth, Wéstyā, source of all that is holy. Bless us who dwell here, and smile on our home, and give special care to guests that our care of them might honor You.

Then eat as usual. When the meal is done, collect Her plate along with all the other dishes and clean up. Return Her cleaned dish to Her shrine while saying:

I welcomed You into my home with the offerings due a guest, Wéstyā, but I know that I am ever a guest in yours. May Your flame always shine bright. Blessings to You, Lady of the Flame!

Blow out Her candle, thus scattering Her blessings around the home. Done!

What I particularly like about this setup is that it reminds me to consider Her during the entire meal, from preparation through cleanup. However, at no point does it feel overwhelming, scary, or difficult. When I first started with this approach I kept little cards with my lines by Her candle (since everything is said there), one for each section, so I didn’t forget or stumble. After a while I naturally memorized them, but I didn’t feel like I had to. And I still keep the cards underneath Her candle, just in case.

Westya's place on my shrine.

Wéstyā’s place on my shrine. On the left, you can see the cards tucked underneath and the dish I use for Her offerings. On the right, the cards are spread out so you can see them. Unless I’m burning the candle the top covers it – I like this particular candle holder because the handle part looks like a flame too!

Away from Home: The process doesn’t really change, just the actions. I say the things I’d normally say, but in my head instead of out loud. Instead of lighting a candle I visualize it. And instead of putting Her offering on Her shrine I set a small plate up for Her to the side. I’ll either bring one with me or, if I’m in a restaurant, I’ll just request an extra saucer from the wait staff. I’ve never once had anyone not dining with me question it. Not a plate-type meal? That’s fine. Use whatever is being used for whatever you’re eating.

Variations

What I use is obviously not the be-all/end-all of possibilities for mealtime offerings. It’s totally ok if you want to change it up. Hell, I based what I actually say in large part on prayers written by Ceisiwr Serith in Deep Ancestors. Feel free to adapt what I’ve provided here to reflect your practice, the Powers you honor, and the way you take your meals. Or write your own!

I usually prepare, eat, and clean up my meals solo, so my devotions are written that way. Want to involve more people? Have the head cook do the first part, whoever’s in charge of clean up do the third, and maybe rotate the second. Or have the oldest/youngest do it. Or rock/paper/scissors for it. Or draw lots. Or roll dice. Be creative!

Want to honor a different Power? Feel free! An obvious substitution here would be the Greek Hestia or the Roman Vesta, but any home and hearth goddess would be a perfectly suitable choice. Want to honor Ancestors or Land Spirits instead of a goddess? Go for it!

Really like the candle part and want to use one away from home too? Or live somewhere that candles are absolutely prohibited (like a dorm)? Consider dedicating one of those battery-operated tea lights to Her and using it instead. Switch it on when you would usually light the candle, leave it on during the meal, and click it off when the plates are cleared and you’ve given thanks. Use a real candle if you can, but if you can’t by all means use what works.

A package of 2 LED tea lights.
Two for $1 at the Dollar Tree. Complete with “flickering effect”.

Really, the sky’s the limit here.

Devotional work doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated, intimidating, or time-intensive. It always, always goes back to hospitality – being ready and willing to entertain, offering food/drink, and being respectful. As long as you hit those three points you’re on the right track!

Libertas – Freedom in Service

For every blessing there’s a burden, and devotional relationships are no exception. The latest over at Gangleri’s Grove talks about some of the highs and lows in a devotional life, and I personally found that it resonated quite a bit. Check it out!

I was reading a novel a few days ago and came across a line from Seneca “deo parere libertas est” – to serve/devote oneself to a God is freedom. I was so intensely struck by the sentiment that I’ve been mulling it over since I first read it. Certainly, it is a sentiment that I […]

via Libertas — Gangleri’s Grove

Eclipse/New Moon Prayer Ritual

I’ve been inspired by Stevie Miller over at Grundsau Burrow. She’s been holding regular formal prayer rituals of late and I think that’s a damn fine idea. I’m hopping on the bandwagon and joining in. In these trying times we need all the help we can get!

That being so, when better than the coming solar eclipse? I’ll be continuing this practice on every new moon for the foreseeable future, but this seems like a great time to start!

solar-eclipse-clouds

This is an open call for prayers to be ritually made on your behalf on August 21st. If you would like to participate, please let me know your name and what you’re praying for so I can add you to the list and do the prep work. You can comment here, tag me on Facebook, PM me, email me, whatever makes you comfy. And feel free to share! I’m taking the whole day off to make this happen, so let’s get it rolling!

I will stop accepting prayer requests at 5:30a EST, August 21st.

*Note: I reserve the right to refuse prayers for anything I find ethically dodgy. Thank you for your understanding.

Ladies of the Fourth Branch: Goewin

Goewin as the foot bearer for Math son of Mathonwy.

CW: Rape. It’s fairly light in the “Goewin in the Fourth Branch” section, but much more graphic in the “Beyond the Text” section. Reader discretion is advised. 

The Mabinogi are a series of Welsh stories written in the 12th and 13th centuries. Their actual origin is much older than that, though, because the stories were based on the centuries of oral tradition that came before.

By the time the Welsh got around to writing these stories down they were firmly Christianized, and that Christian worldview was laid over the traditional stories to make them more palatable to the audience of the time. Luckily for us that Christian overlay is mighty thin in some places, and with some work we can pull it off the rest of the story too. When it’s gone we see that the entire thing is a sprawling saga rooted in Welsh polytheism.

My Lady is Welsh, so studying the Mabinogi is important to my personal practice. Her story appears in the book’s last section, the Fourth Branch, and combined with UPG gives me some important insights into Her motivations and character.

She’s not alone in that story, though. There are two other women in there too, each contributing Her own piece to the whole. Together Goewin, Arianrhod, and Blodeuwedd are the women of the Fourth Branch, and they’re connected by far more than a mere narrative.

But who are They? And how do They relate?

Let’s start at the beginning and find out.

Goewin in the Fourth Branch

The Fourth Branch opens at the court of Math son of Mathonwy. According to the story, Math could only live while his feet rested in the lap of a virgin. The only exception was when he marched to do battle, at which point he could go take care of business before putting his feet back up. In the first paragraph, we learn that the virgin serving Math was named Goewin (GOH-win), “the fairest of all the maidens that were known in her time”. Because of course she was.

Goewin as the foot bearer for Math son of Mathonwy.

Goewin as the foot bearer for Math son of Mathonwy.

The life of the king and the stability of the kingdom both rested, like the king’s feet, on Goewin and her chastity. A threat to her chastity was both an attempt on the king’s life and an act of treason. She was the most untouchable woman in the whole kingdom.

So of course, of course, that means some bastard had to take relieving Goewin of her virginity as a personal challenge. Enter the king’s nephew, Gilfaethwy. He went beyond infatuation with Goewin into full-on obsession. He couldn’t seduce her without bringing all kinds of hell down on himself, so he just heaved a lot of heavy sighs, refused to eat, and presumably wrote bad poetry in her honor while artistically crying into his wine.

Eventually, his brother Gwydion noticed Gilfaethwy’s distraction and called him on it. Once Gilfaethwy confessed his unquenchable thirst for Goewin to his brother, Gwydion decided to “fix” it.

I guess Gwydion’s solution was obvious once you remove all honor from the equation. King won’t leave the target – sorry, girl – unprotected unless there’s a war? Well, why not instigate a war then?

So they did.

Gwydion masterminded the whole thing, with Gilfaethwy riding his coattails (which honestly seems to be the usual way things went down with those two). The first step of the plan was picking a fight with a neighboring king. Once that was accomplished the two brothers sold their uncle Math on their version of events. Math, being a dutiful king who trusted his nephews, left his Court and went to win the war.

Leaving Goewin defenseless.

While the king was occupied, Gilfaethwy and Gwydion snuck back to the castle and together raped Goewin repeatedly in the king’s own bed. The next morning they went back to the battle like nothing had happened. The abused and defiled Goewin was left behind, a broken toy with which they were no longer interested in playing.

Many men on both sides died during the fight the brothers instigated (the Mabinogi calls it a “massacre”), including the other king to Math’s own blade, but Math’s forces were declared victorious.

Math son of Mathonwy fighting in the battle Gwydion orchestrated to rape Goewin. Art by Alan Lee.

Math son of Mathonwy fighting in the battle Gwydion orchestrated to rape Goewin. Art by Alan Lee.

Once it all wrapped up the king returned to his castle, eager to put his feet up again and get back to his regular routine. That’s when Goewin had to tell Math that she couldn’t be his foot bearer anymore because his nephews had raped her and shamed him in the doing.

She made it very clear that the whole thing was against her will, that she fought and screamed so that the whole Court heard it, but no one stepped in to save her. There was no one left in the castle who could. Anyone who could have prevented it was in battle with the king.

The king was shocked and, rare for both the time and a man of his rank, supportive. As her chastity had been stolen while under his protection he immediately married her, to both show that he still valued her and to reassure her that she should bear no shame for what had happened.

Then he magically punished her rapists, causing them to shift into three animal shapes over the course of three years and mate with each other like the animals they had proven themselves to be. They switched sexes during those three years too, so that each would know what it was like to be raped.

Once the sentence was served Math forgave them and welcomed them back into the Court, restoring them to their previous position and embracing them as kinsmen once more.

Math changing the brothers from wolves back into men.

Math changing the brothers from wolves back into men. Available here.

Beyond the Text

After the king says he’ll marry her Goewin is never mentioned again. We don’t know what became of her or what her life was like after that. Honestly, we don’t really know a lot about what it was like before! We can, however, infer quite a lot.

Goewin wasn’t born a foot bearer. Math had to find her. We learn later in the story that, when the king needed a foot bearer, he asked his courtiers for recommendations and then summoned potential candidates to the castle.

This tells us two things. One, to be recommended for the position Goewin had to have already been favorably known by a courtier in Math’s court. Two, replacing a foot bearer was common enough to have a system in place to do it.

The likeliest reason for Goewin to have already been known is that she was being dangled as marriage-bait by her parents. Aristocratic girls were married off pretty early in those days, as early as 12, so she would have been a very young woman when her name came to Math’s attention.

I can just picture a young Goewin preparing to leave her home to serve her king – who she may have never met – in a position of such importance. Was she excited? A little nervous? Terrified? Overwhelmed? And what did she do upon meeting the king to have him choose her from among the other candidates?

It states in the story that Goewin was “the fairest of all the maidens known in her time”, but I doubt that alone would have been enough to endear her to a king. After all, Math knew before he chose her that’s he’d wind up spending every waking moment with his foot bearer, and we all know a pretty face isn’t enough to make up for a slow wit or an irritating personality. Not for any significant length of time, anyway!

I can’t imagine anyone, especially a king, voluntarily saddling himself with a shadow who wasn’t at minimum intelligent, a good conversationalist, and kind. They spent too much time together for them to dislike each other.

Goewin was already in service by the time the story opens, so we’re not sure how their dynamic was at the beginning. Math would have been her official guardian, but how that manifested is up for grabs. Did Goewin see Math as a father figure? An uncle? An older brother? A friend or colleague? A star-crossed lover barred from her by chastity and magic? And how did he see her?

Regardless of how it started, by the time Math returned from the war Goewin trusted him enough to call out his kinsmen as her rapists, and Math valued her enough to marry her in apology. Neither of those is a trivial act.

Her time as a foot bearer would have been limited, though, and both of them would have known that going in. Foot bearers did eventually marry. That’s why they had to be periodically replaced.

I’m sure canny families with daughters who’d chastely served their king leveraged that into securing more favorable marriage contracts. It would likely be the only reason parents accepted their daughter’s serving at all. Additional exposure in the Court introduced maidens to many men of high rank. Being a close confidant of the king was definitely something a potential bride could bring to the bargaining table. And in addition to everything else, there would likely be a significant financial contribution from the king towards the maiden’s dowry when she “retired”. All of that together would allow her to marry (and her family to gain entry) into the highest levels of society.

That just adds to the horror of Goewin’s story, though, because those high social levels would have included Gilfaethwy.

It’s easy to overlook because they behaved with such depravity, but neither brother was an untried youth. Math physically couldn’t travel from place to place, for the same reasons he required a foot bearer to start with. Travel was customary for kings of the time, though, so he sent Gwydion and Gilfaethwy to represent him instead. They were trained and trusted diplomats, handling all the negotiations Math couldn’t physically attend and carrying news from their travels back to Math. They were trusted enough by the king to act in his name and held high in his esteem.

If Gilfaethwy had wanted Goewin for more than a night – or even wanted to honorably have her once – he could have asked for her hand in marriage. And he’d have likely gotten it! Nephew of the king, highest position it was possible to have in the government, a well-known diplomat … it’s unlikely Geowin would have found a better match short of the king himself. Sure he would have had to wait until Math found a replacement, but that’s a small price to pay to claim the object of your obsession. The story is very clear in stating that Gilfaethwy was pining away for want of Goewin – did honorable marriage never enter his mind?

Such a desire certainly never entered the story. Gilfaethwy instead helped his brother engineer a massacre and kill a neighboring king simply so he could rape the one woman he couldn’t immediately have. And somehow I doubt Goewin was the first woman either brother had raped, separately or together. She was simply the woman who had enough influence to have them called on it.

And not even having the ear of the king saved her from the pair of them.

Can you imagine what that night was like for her? I picture Goewin relaxing with the other women of Math’s court while the men were off at war. It was an extremely rare chance for her to spend time with other women without having a man’s feet in her lap. Maybe she danced, or walked the gardens, or simply sat around chattering the way young women do when there aren’t men around to listen in. The women would have been looking for ways to distract themselves from the battle they knew the men were off fighting, and what better way to do that than with the medieval version of a slumber party?

Into this serene female space came two men who weren’t supposed to be there. Goewin knew them, of course. They might even have been friendly. I’m sure the brothers had quite a bit of business with the king, and Goewin would have been there for all of it.

I have to wonder – did her inevitable closeness to Math color her feelings towards his nephews? Did she view them as extended family, or friends, or colleagues? Did they treat her like a little sister or an extension of Math or a piece of furniture? Did their attack on her feel like even more of a betrayal because she’d trusted them as Math did?

Whatever she felt for them, she couldn’t have known that Gilfaethwy had been lusting after her. He’d successfully hidden it from Math. Goewin wouldn’t have seen it coming either.

When the brothers banished all the other women except her from their presence she would have been confused, perhaps even concerned. It wouldn’t have been until Gilfaethwy grabbed her and started dragging her to the king’s bed that she would have known exactly what was happening. That’s when she would have started fighting, yelling and screaming and sobbing, but she had to have known it was futile from the start. There was no way an untrained teenager could have fought off one trained warrior, let alone two, and there was no one left in the castle with the authority or the strength of arm to stop them.

When they reached the king’s chambers it would have been Gilfaethwy stripping Goewin down, glorying in finally slaking his lust in her body despite her struggles. Maybe her struggles even spurred him on. Gwydion would have sprawled in a chair and smirked as he watched his brother rape a woman they’d literally created a war to get their hands on, a predatory cat waiting for his turn with the mouse.

The story doesn’t say when Gwydion decided to participate in Goewin’s rape. Maybe it was his plan all along. Maybe he saw raping her as his due, a prize he was owed for arranging things for his brother. Maybe raping women together was a regular brotherly bonding experience, their version of a beer and a game. Or maybe it wasn’t until his brother was finished taking her the first time, when she was naked and sobbing and bruised. She’d have been too exhausted and sore at that point to fight back much – maybe that’s what finally turned Gwydion’s crank.

The whys don’t really matter, I suppose. He did decide to participate, and by the time he was finished raping her Gilfaethwy would have been ready to go again. And so it went until the sky began to lighten beyond the windows. They could take their time and be as loud as they wanted. No one was there to stop them.

When they finished both men got dressed and went back to the battle they’d instigated. Mission accomplished.

The story doesn’t tell us what happened to Goewin in the immediate aftermath of her rape. Did anyone comfort her after her rapists had left, or tend her wounds? How many apologies did she hear from people who knew she was being attacked but didn’t try to stop it? Did she accept those apologies or find the words stuck in her throat? How many women commiserated with her pain? Were what men were left in the Court able to look her in the eyes when next she walked the halls? Was she able to meet their gazes? Did she feel vengeful and angry, or shamed and small? Was there anywhere in the castle she felt safe?

The next we hear of her is her telling Math why she could no longer be his foot bearer. To his credit Math is horrified by the news, immediately promising to make Goewin his queen. It was more than many rulers would have done in his place, no matter how much he valued Goewin and her service. Then he turned around and punished the two rapists in a rather elegant way, which is again more than Goewin might have expected.

When that punishment was served Math declared all forgiven and welcomed them into his home. Into Goewin’s home.

I have to wonder if Goewin was as forgiving as her husband. Somehow I don’t think so. No matter how well adjusted she was, it had to be difficult to be duty-bound to treat her rapists as beloved family and tend their needs.

Did she try to smile at them? I’m sure she had to. Were her smiles from her heart, or brittle? When she spoke words of welcome were they sincere or like acid on her tongue? Was she able to eat in their presence without feeling threatened, or sick, or fantasizing about killing them in their sleep? Did she pray for them to ignore her, or fend off their lustful looks or dismissive sneers when Math wasn’t looking? Did she see Math’s forgiveness of their crimes as a dismissal of her pain or did she eventually find her own peace with everything that had transpired?

Her rape forced her out of an honored position and shunted her into another vastly different role, with no notice and against any wishes she might have had to the contrary. Did she find it to be an equitable trade? How did it feel to see another woman sitting at her king’s feet, doing the job she was no longer allowed to do? Did she miss being a foot bearer and resent her replacement, or do what she could to take the next maiden under her wing? Did she long for the days of being included in all the king’s meetings and negotiations, or was she relieved by her exclusion and the freedom it brought?

Was her marriage night scary for her, or awkward? How did she and Math handle the abrupt adjustment to their relationship dynamic? Did it change at all, growing into a content marriage, or did it forever feel like something forced upon her? It’s likely that she slept with the king in the same room where she’d been raped, perhaps even on the same bed. Was she ever able to rewrite the bad memories with good ones? Did Math’s presence make her feel safe, or was even that safety taken from her?

Did she ever get a chance to flirt and tease, to be courted with music and sonnets, to blush over a man’s compliments and wonder if he meant them? Or did she obediently pass from young maiden to chaste foot bearer to devoted wife, continuously serving her king as her duty required without ever being allowed the freedom to grow into herself?

Above all, though, I wonder how she felt watching what happened to the next women to interact with Math and Gwydion, the women who came after her. Did their stories resonate with her own? Did she feel a kinship with them that went deeper than blood and duty? Did she envy their choices or scorn them?

What advice would she have given to Math, if he’d thought to ask?

Honoring Goewin

It both surprises and saddens me that there are three women in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, all with damn near equal page time, but only the latter two are commonly honored on Celtic altars. That’s even more upsetting when we realize that Goewin’s story set the stage for both Arianrhod and Blodeuwedd’s tales.

Thalia Took's image of Goewin.

Thalia Took’s image of Goewin. Available here.

In my practice, Goewin is the Lady of Duty and Honor. She represents sacrificing our wants and needs for the greater good, doing what’s necessary because it’s necessary and finding fulfillment in that.

She helps us understand the personal fulfillment that can come from fulfilling our duties and meeting our obligations. We pay bills because it’s a demonstration of our integrity. We call our parents even when we’re tired because it’s not always about us. We go to work and clean our homes and take the car in for maintenance and donate to charity and vote because it’s these actions that provide a foundation for everything else, just as Goewin’s lap was the foundation that allowed Math to rule.

It’s Goewin I turn to for steadfast resolve, for slogging through difficult times, for faithfulness in the face of despair, for trusting despite heartache. Sometimes the only way forward is through, and She understands that better than most.

Goewin shows us how to love others through service. She shows us that careful attention and devotion supports those around us, lifting them high without stealing their thunder. She shows us the value of grace and kindness and gentle wit when it comes to being a friend, the potentials of intimacy without and beyond sexuality, and how helping others creates support systems that in turn support us when we need them.

And She does all of these things while still sticking up for Herself when necessary and claiming Her due.

Goewin is ideal to call on for help with interpersonal relations and politics. She learned to negotiate and govern at the feet of a king and learned to influence the Powers That Be even when She officially didn’t have a voice. She understands etiquette and decorum, modesty and small talk, veiling our thoughts to keep the peace. She knows how to mingle, and persuade, and be the sounding board that provides clarity with the phrasing of a single question.

She also shows us that there is life after trauma. She shows us that things might be different, and might be hard, but better times do lie ahead even if they’re not what we originally imagined them to be.

Goewin is foot bearer and queen, maiden and wife, woman and Goddess. And She is the first of the triad within the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi.

Seeing the Wheels

A close-up of the armillary sphere on my altar. It is on top of a black wooden box, and flanking it on either side at the bottom are two burning jar candles.

I recently felt a deep, overwhelming need to change up my altar. Specifically, I needed a statue to represent my Lady, Arianrhod.

Thing is, I couldn’t find anything that fit Her. The most common statue of Her simply doesn’t work for me. Nothing wrong with it – it’s beautiful work – but I can’t get over my quibbles with it enough to put it on my altar.

Maxine Miller's Arianrhod statue, in bronze, on a black background.

Maxine Miller’s Arianrhod statue.

Then I had a completely different kind of thought. One of the first concepts my Lady shared with me is that of the Center. It’s been fundamental to my worldview since I figured out what it is, and I always associate it with Her. She is the Lady of the Silver Wheel, after all!

Which is why an armillary sphere to represent Her on my altar is perfect.

A close-up of the armillary sphere on my altar. It is on top of a black wooden box, and flanking it on either side at the bottom are two burning jar candles.

The armillary sphere on my altar. Isn’t it awesome?

Once I got everything on my altar sorted and rearranged I lit some candles and settled in to spend some time with Her.

And then I had a vision. I Saw the Wheels, my Lady’s Wheels, and touched a Mystery.

After recovering a bit, I realized that this vision can be shared. You can have it too!

So here it is. I invite you to See the Wheels with me. If you don’t have an armillary sphere of your very own Google some images (or simply use the picture above as a reference) to see a manmade model of what I’m talking about. It’s worth the time.

The Vision

I open my eyes and gasp. I’m floating in space, surrounded on all sides by velvety black skies spangled with gleaming stars. They’re silver, yes, but also icy blue and blazing red and warming gold. Celestial fires burning, beacons in the dark.

A picture of a field of stars taken by the Hubble Telescope. These are from the Sagittarius sector.

Like this, all around me.

I wonder if I can reach out and cup one of those fires in the palm of my hand. They look so close I think maybe it’s possible. As I reach out I hear a voice like bells say “Not today!”, and lower my hands back to my sides. Maybe tomorrow?

I feel gentle winds caressing my skin and fluttering my hair. I’m confused for a second – since when did space have wind? – but I’m soon distracted by a glow at my feet. First I see a dot of light, growing ever larger, until it forms an arc. It suddenly clicks that I’m seeing part of a ring spinning around me. It contains all the colors I think I’ve ever seen, and it rotates clockwise as it rises to meet me. 

This is the first circle of the armillary sphere, the Wheel of the Day. In this Wheel is contained every moment of a day in my life. I even see a section of the Wheel that looks like my current vision! Sunrise and sunset, work and home and worship and sleep and play, all the seconds that make up my day, spin around me in a dance of light and shadow. 

Beyond the borders of the Wheel of the Day I see another glowing ring of light. It too rotates clockwise, although much slower, and it’s angled differently. This Wheel encompasses both the Wheel of the Day and me, still floating in the Center. It’s the Wheel of the Year! I see, in glorious procession, the flowers of Spring melting into the verdant fields of Summer, which meld into the golden fields of Autumn and then the barren snows of Winter. Along the ring are eight shining gems of light, and in them I see the colors of the surrounding seasons magnified and clarified. And I understand sabbat celebrations in a way I didn’t before. 

In a different part of the star-strewn velvet in which I float I see another arc rising, another Wheel spinning. It’s further out, and that ring encompasses me and the other two Wheels too. It too spins clockwise, but it’s offset from the others and rises on its own plane. Peering at it more closely I see it’s the Wheel of my Life. All the years I live, all together, with my memories in gleaming color and my future in shadows that are broken with seemingly random flashes of intense light. I realize that even here I can’t see my future clearly, because it’s not set. Those flares in the shadows show me that events are coming that cannot be changed, only managed, even if I can’t figure out what they are yet. My Lady’s presence surrounds me and I relax, knowing She is preparing me for them even now and will be with me when their time comes.

In yet another part of the sky I see another Wheel rising, on yet another plane. It too spins clockwise, but more slowly still. It gleams red like blood and flows like water, with an infinite number of glittering flecks swirling through it. This is the Wheel of the Ancestors. Every person who has ever lived is represented here, and the glittering flecks that glow most brightly are the people who have directly contributed to my line. They’re family! I see some flecks growing equally brightly, but in different hues, and know that these are family members of the heart instead of blood. It’s humbling to see all the people who have died so that I might live, and I promise to lift them high by living with honor and purpose. 

Beyond that Wheel I see another, also spinning and rising. This one is green and gold, copper and bronze, the dark brown of rich soil and the glowing red of molten lava. It glimmers with hidden gems and shines with metallics as it spins with aching slowness. This is the Wheel of the Land, and since Land moves in a timescale that’s hard to comprehend it’s only here that I can see it moving at all. It makes sense that this Wheel surrounds the Ancestors too, because without the Land the Ancestors would have no place to stand. I see the colors getting paler and dustier as this Wheel spins, like they’re losing saturation as it turns, and realize with a sinking sensation that I’m seeing the effects of humanity on the Earth. I see shrinking habitats and strip mines, pollution and disease and death, and acknowledge my contributions to the fading while vowing to do my very best to ease them.

At the very edges of everything I see another arc rising, another Wheel encompassing the whole. This one is crystalline and iridescent, and so bright that the only reason I can bear to gaze upon it is because I’m being allowed to See. This is the Wheel of the Gods, where all the divinities who have ever been dwell. I see Olympus, and Valhalla, and the Otherworld. I see nations rise and fall as the Gods play chess on a board, except I know both chess and boards and this is too incomprehensible to be either. The more I try to understand the brighter the light, until I have to blink to get the spots out of my eyes. 

Far beyond the edges of the crystalline Wheel of the Gods I see the shadows of other Wheels spinning, other cycles of which I am vaguely aware but are too distant for me to grasp. I feel blessed to have seen them at all.

I turn my attention back to myself, at the Center of all the spinning Wheels. With a bit of a jolt I realize that I too am a Wheel! I spread out my legs and arms like a starfish, like DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, like a pentacle, and feel myself spinning within the Center of all the other Wheels. I peer into myself and see an endless number of Wheels spinning inside me too, each smaller than the last, and feel myself falling. Or am I flying? It’s hard to tell, and I start to get dizzy, so I pull my attention elsewhere.

I look at all of the Wheels together, for the smallest to the largest, and suddenly know that each and every Wheel’s spin is necessary to the spin of all of them. They’re interconnected and interdependent. Epiphany strikes. They’re not distinct Wheels at all! They’re all part of one big spiral! I hear my Lady’s laugh as Her hands continue smoothing and spinning the spiral, feel Her determination that it continues to spin, and know that I have a part to play in all of this too. But what?

I feel my Lady’s regard as She patiently waits for me to work through what I’m being shown. I gently spin for what feels like hours while I search for what She wants me to know, until suddenly it becomes obvious. By Centering myself, by opening myself to change while smoothing the spirals over which I have influence, I make Her job easier. In my own small way I contribute to the spinning of ALL the Wheels, even those I can’t clearly see, because I am one. I’m part of the whole. 

I hear her voice, full of pride, whisper “well done” as the Wheels flicker and vanish.

I open my eyes and gaze once more at the armillary sphere on my altar, serene and still as it represents this great Mystery.

 

Arianrhod is a Bit of a Compulsive Goddess

I enjoy reading Galina Krasskova’s blog. We don’t agree on everything, of course, but I felt a lot of resonance with her latest post about how Odin is a very utilitarian God. That post ended with the following:

Now, readers, tell me about your Gods, and Their quirks, and the parts of Their nature that you have personally found to challenge others the most. Forgive the rhyme, but let us learn together to venerate better.

*nods* OK then. Let’s do this.

I follow Arianrhod, the Lady of the Wheel, the Welsh goddess of Fate. She is as complex and multifaceted as any goddess out there, and She’s got a lot of different irons in the fire, but in Her heart of hearts She is driven by one Purpose that overshadows everything else: All potential must be realized. That’s the key to everything with Her.

In Her eyes we are nothing but potential. Her job – Her joy, Her fetish, Her very reason for interacting with us at all – is to nurture and develop that potential to its fullest extent. The thing to really understand here is that She could not care less about what the potential is for. She’s not encouraging people to develop their potential in any particular way, isn’t working towards any Machiavellian agenda of Her own. She simply cannot stand to see any potential wasted.

*fretting* All that potential, right down the drain. If only it had been channeled somehow…

Honestly I often think She’s OCD on the topic. It’s more of a bone-deep compulsion than anything else, and because of that compulsive nature Her approach is … energy-intensive. To avoid wasting potential we must first be aware that waste is happening, then decide what we’re going to do about it (because obviously we’re going to do something about it – right?), and then we actually have to implement whatever plan we’ve devised. So that’s what She thinks we should be doing. Constantly. She expects nothing less than our 24/7 involvement and engagement on the awareness/assessment/implementation front. After all, She’s putting in the time!

She’s not totally unreasonable, and in fact this focus can lead to amazing things. She just sometimes forgets that we’re only human. She fully understands that actually breaking people is counter-productive, and as long as She’s reminded occasionally She’s really very good at avoiding it. I’ve even been able to request breaks when I’m completely overwhelmed, and as long as I’m not slacking She’s been open to that. She’ll dance you right along that edge of what you can handle – pushing limits is par for the course, and “safe” is in no way equal to “comfortable” (a distinction anyone working with Her learns damn quick!) – but She’s got an expert’s eye of exactly where the edge is and is always open to honest feedback. That open quality alone is worth its weight in gold, and goes a long way to explaining how She has engaged my loyalty on such a deep level.

We walk the rope. We might fall all on our own – failure is learning, after all – but She makes sure the wind and rain don’t knock us off while we try. And if our legs start spasming from the strain we’ll be allowed to rest a bit.

I think it’s that expert eye for the edge coupled with that openness to new perspectives that gives Her the practical streak that is Her hallmark. She can cut through excuses and obfuscations and self-justification with a truly divine eye for bullshit. Self-delusion and people-pleasing behavior simply aren’t tolerated. They’re barriers between us and whoever we’re becoming, blocking or artificially shaping how our potential develops. But reasons? Legitimate reasons? That She can (often gleefully) help with.

See, She wants us to notice and take care of issues all by ourselves, because that’s part of personal growth. But sometimes we’ve tried everything and need a little boost. When that happens, and we request it, She’ll help just enough to get past the hurdle – often teaching Valuable Character Lessons along the way – and then step back so we can do our thing again. I’ve never had a cheerleader as unfailingly encouraging as my Lady.

There’s a whole other side of Her, though, if we slack off, if we refuse to see the problem, or if we refuse to do the work. That’s when the gloves come off. She has no compunctions about doing whatever necessary to make us sort our shit. And Her toolbox for that kind of thing is pretty extensive.

how-to-organize-tools-1

Let’s see, we can try “coaxing”, “screaming”, “sink or swim”, “patient education”… I know! We’ll go with “bruises teach best”! *pulls out a paddle*

It is simultaneously the most accepting and most demanding perspective I’ve ever encountered in my life. You can be anything you want to be, anything at all, so long as you do it full throttle and full speed ahead. This one concept dominates every single interaction with Her, and once it’s understood to a large extent so is She.

She sees every person (and every Power, too, as far as I can tell) as a work-in-progress. As far as She’s concerned our only job is completing that work. To do that requires us to constantly be moving, growing, changing. It’s a 24/7 task, and She won’t let us shirk it. Ever. As soon as I settle somewhere in any facet of my life and start relaxing a bit She’s there to prod me onwards to a destination not even She can see. Sometimes the prods lead to external changes, sometimes to internal shifts, but there’s always some kind of change happening.

Willing to stay where you are indefinitely? That’s simply not acceptable. If you don’t move of your own accord in some way or fashion She’ll make you. You have been warned.

After all of this time with Her I’ve learned to see the world through this lens of potentiality, and in many ways it governs my life. I am potential. No matter where I am now, or where I want to go, there is always the potential to change things. It’s an incredibly empowering concept, and it applies to everyone. That’s huge. The whole idea has affected the way I plan for things, how I interact with others, how I enforce my personal boundaries, how I choose where to live and work, etc.

My Lady is many things – a poet, a leader, a librarian, a guide, a weaver, a visionary, a Mistress, a nurturer, a coach, a ball-buster. But above all else, My Lady’s obsession with realizing potential is often the hardest for other people to really understand and work with, simply because it is such a difficult concept for most to internalize.

Has anybody else reading this worked with Her in a similar fashion?