Queen of the Night relief

She is nasty, this child-killing, hairy-legged demoness. Terrifying men, women and children for a couple of thousand years. So much so that special incantation bowls were made to protect households against her, women were warned not to leave their husbands or children alone in a house in case she came and prayer circles inscribed with angels’ names were drawn around cribs. She is mentioned only once in the Old Testament (and that, a later addition in order to fix up an inconsistency) and yet – what a lot of power she held to terrify! What exactly is her story?

If anyone has heard, even glancingly of Lilith, it would be in this context: that the Book of Genesis states that God made a man and woman out of earth. (Genesis I:27 “So God created man in His own image, male and female He created them.”) Not a woman created from Adam’s rib, but both created at the same time. Later in Genesis, Eve makes her appearance (Genesis II: 18 “And Yahweh said, ‘It is not good for Adam to be alone. I will make a fitting helper for him”, Genesis II: 22 “And Yahweh fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman and He brought her to the man.”)

Around 500 – 600 C.E., the rabbinical scholars who sought to see the Holy Word as the Truth without contradiction or loopholes, began to have difficulty with these passages. Engaged in a learned pursuit called “Midrash” (meaning “to root out or investigate”), they attempted to resolve the discrepancy in Genesis by trying to fill in gaps. Even looking to similarities of words to find connections with other stories that may make the passages resolve. It seemed clear that Genesis was talking about 2 different women and so the rabbis of the time looked back through past biblical writings, settling on the Book of Isaiah which had a story of a woman who seemed to fit: Lilith.

The Book of Isaiah is a book of prophecy written about 742 – 701 B.C.E. by the Prophet Isaiah. Much of the Book of Isaiah is involved with encouraging God’s people to avoid those who worship other deities and to express God’s anger at the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. by those aforementioned foreigners. It is in describing the resulting desolation of the land that Lilith appears. (Isaiah 34: 14 “The land shall become burning pitch. Thorns shall grow over its strongholds. It shall be the haunt of jackals. There too the lilith shall repose and find herself a resting place.”)

It was known that the Book of Isaiah was referring to a Sumero-Babylonian female figure. It is suspected that the figure in question was so familiar in those times as to not need further elaboration. The “lilith” in question appears to be the Sumerian wind demon. There is a reference to a lilith in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. There are many versions of this epic story of a possible ancient king, found written on clay tablets dating between 2150 – 1000 B.C.E. Interestingly (in light of the biblical explanation that was to evolve), the part that seems to concern Lilith has to do with a demanding sexual partner, but it is the Goddess Inanna rather than Lilith who is making the demands. The story goes that Gilgamesh (the great Babylonian king) wanted to have sex with Inanna but she refused. In some versions she out and out refuses. In others she promises to have sex with Gilgamesh if he can complete a task. Regardless, at some point a sacred tree is cut down which has 3 beings in it: a bird, a snake and Lilith, the handmaiden of Inanna, in the centre in a house which she built. When the tree is cut down these beings have to flee. Lilith is said to have fled to the desert.

The scholarly rabbis from the 7th century C.E. seem to have grasped this image of Lilith, combining the 3 beings into 1: a being with long flowing hair, wings and talons like a bird (as pictured in the fresco) and even (later in history) being imaged with a snake’s body.

It is from this time that Lilith transforms from being the wind demon of the past into the terrible sexually threatening being that held mythic imagination up until the 20th century. In a book known as The Alphabet of Ben Sira containing 22 episodes (to correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet) the story of Adam and Lilith became fleshed out.

God made Adam and Lilith at the same time from earth. But in the sexual politics of the time, Adam wanted to take the male superior position during sexual activity and Lilith wanted nothing to do with it. Her attitude was basically that, as they were created at the same time, there was no need for her to take an inferior position. She did not want Adam on top of her, sexually, metaphorically or symbolically. As there was no working through this first of all relationship conflicts, Lilith decided to leave. She took off for the Red Sea (rather than the desert) and had sex with whomever she wanted, giving birth to a number of children (called “lilim”). Adam was not happy about this and appealed to God who sent 3 angels (Sanvi, Sansanvi and Semangelaf) after Lilith to get her back. But when she found out that it meant she’d have to accept the male superior sexual position, she declined. The angels punished her by exterminating almost all her sons and dooming her to lose 100 children a day. Lilith swore revenge on all sons of man. However, to prevent being drowned in the sea by the angels, Lilith agreed that she would not harm any child who wore an amulet bearing her name.

That ended the relationship between Adam and Lilith. And Adam had to make do with having sex with animals until he got tired of that and asked God for another wife, saying that all the other animals had mates of kind and so he should have as well. But God wasn’t going to make the same mistake of having the potential ‘equal rights’ argument come up again so this time he fashioned a wife out of one of Adam’s rib. The question of being made of equal stuff was now a non-issue. And things went along fairly well until the whole snake incident. Interestingly (as pictured below in Michaelangelo’s version of “The Fall”), there are some ties back to Lilith in this. That the snake was another version of Lilith trying to muck things up for Adam. Or, taken a different way, the snake was another version of Lilith trying to help Eve to gain some empowerment of her own. (Clearly I have taken a few liberties in the language of the retelling but the facts hold as related in versions of The Talmud and The Alphabet of Ben Sira)

Michaelangelo, The Fall

From this point on, Lilith truly gained ground as being a terrible beast who kills children in their cribs, has poison instead of milk in her breasts and will steal the seed of men while they sleep (i.e. the succubae of ancient times or the wet dreams of modern times). Several hundred years after The Alphabet of Ben Sira, the book that forms the basis of kabbalistic inquiry known as the Zohar, took her evilness to a new low. Though it expanded somewhat on the previous notion (added a further atrocity that Lilith actually uttered the name of God, Yod He Vau He in order to leave for the Red Sea which harkens to the story of Isis learning and using the name of Ra to gain power over him), the main addition to the Lilith story was to partner her with the male personification of evil named as either Samuel or Asmodeus. This resulted in the somewhat confusing explanation that there were actually 2 Liliths. The great Lilith, spouse of Samuel and the little Lilith, spouse of Asmodeus. Regardless of whether there were one or two, Lilith coupled with the male personification of evil made for a truly nasty piece of work.

Lilith’s myth grew through the centuries to create the image of a creature who was outside the realm of Divine grace, who actively defied and insulted God and worked viciously to destroy the children of man who were God’s people. But, was it all a mistake of translation? It is from the Sumero-Babylonian stories of Lilith that some hint of what she became mythologically is derived. About 4000 B.C.E. there were references to “lilitu” in Sumer, referring to wind or storm demons. This follows through with the Sumerian word “lil” meaning “air”. There was a well-known (for the times) Goddess of Sumer named “Ninlil” which literally translated as “Lady Air”. But the proto-Semitic language (or ancient Hebrew) had the word “lyl” which translated as “night”. There were also, in ancient Babylonia, the “lilitu” who appeared to men in erotic dreams. Interestingly, they were balanced by the stories of the Babylonian Gilgamesh’s father, named “Lillu” who was said to disturb the sleep of women. It is not a stretch to see how the meanings such as “night” and “air” coupled with stories of creatures who interrupted the sleep through sexual visions could end up, over time, coalescing into the myth of a night demon who preys on men and children. Particularly if this comes at a time when sexuality is beginning to be quite regulated and rule-oriented and fears over child mortality rates are fairly high.

It has been a long time coming, but in recent years Lilith has been going through a change in mythological persona. Largely in response to the revisiting and reclaiming that has been the result of the 20th century Jungian analytical psychology movement and the women’s movement, the more demonic aspects of Lilith have been left by the wayside. Rather than be seen as a monster, she is seen as our Shadow side, everything that our society frowns upon, but that needs to be acknowledged, embraced and accepted in a healthy way in order to avoid causing chaos and destruction in our lives. She is seen as the voice of strong and wronged women everywhere, those whom others have attempted to silence but who have refused to go down without a fight.

Considering the Jungian perspective of Lilith as Shadow, one very interesting example of her appearance is the astrological: in the form of the Black Moon. According to the website, , the Black Moon occurs because an ellipse has 2 focal points (whereas as true circle has just one). In the passage along the Moon’s ellipse, it is the Earth that occupies one focal point. The other focal point is named the Black Moon or Lilith. It occupies the place around which the Moon is the farthest point from Earth, reaching out towards the Sun.

Black or Lilith Moon

If taken into consideration in a chart, the Black Moon Lilith represents the furthest reaches of our Unconscious selves. The Moon itself represents the Unconscious so the Black Moon must represent that which is truly buried deep. Interestingly, there is a sense that it from this place, if explored and embraced, that we can move towards our greatest alignment with Spirit. This is reflected astrologically in that it is when the Moon is traveling in the domain of the Black Moon focal point that it is indeed closest to the Sun, the symbol of enlightenment, empowerment, vitality and true expression of Self.

One of the most beautiful contemporary illustrations of the positive reclaiming of Lilith’s empowering energy comes in the form of the Lilith Fair Concert Tours of the late 1990’s. Started by Sarah MacLachlan in response to frustration over concert promoters’ belief that having 2 female acts in a row at an event spelt death to ticket sales, the 3 Lilith Fairs (that consisted solely of female music acts) raised over $10 million for women’s charities and in 1997 was the top grossing summer concert tour of the year. There is word that the Lilith Fair will return in 2010 with concert dates in Europe.

As we started with Genesis, it seems only fitting to end with Genesis as well. However, continuing along with Lilith’s expression in the musical world… In what is (in my opinion) one of the greatest albums ever, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”(1974), there is a song tribute to Lilith, seemingly referring back to her days as handmaiden of Inanna, as she guides the hero of the song-cycle through darkness into light.

The chamber was in confusion – all the voices shouting loud

I could only just hear a voice quite near say

“Please help me through the crowd”

‘Said if I helped her through she could help me too

But I could see that she was wholly blind

But from her pale face and her pale skin

A moonlight shined.

Lilywhite Lilith

She’s gonna take you through the tunnel of night

Lilywhite Lilith

She’s gonna lead you right.

When I led her through the people, the angry noise began to grow

She said “Let me feel the way the breezes blow

And I’ll show you where to go”

So I followed her into a big round cave, she said,

“They’re coming for you, now don’t be afraid”

Then she sat me down on a cold stone throne, carved in jade.

Lilywhite Lilith

She’s gonna take you through the tunnel of night

Lilywhite Lilith

She’s gonna lead you right.

She leaves me in the darkness,

I have to face my fear,

And the darkness closes in on me

I can hear a whirring sound growing near.

I can see a corner of the tunnel

Lit up by whatever’s coming here.

Two golden globes float into the room

And a blaze of white light fills the air…

Lilith has truly spent many thousands of years traveling the dark path of rejection and castigation, being hated, feared and maligned. Through all the stories, she has held a power to tell the truth as she sees it, to embrace sexuality in a form that appeals to her and to refuse to bow to an authority that tries to rule her. And yet, she has wings and is described as beautiful.

Lilith can certainly be feared. As the one who has the ability to lead us to see that which is buried deep in our Unconscious – our animal natures, our unbridled sexuality and passion, our rejected selves – the path she leads us on can be truly unnerving. And yet, like the snake she embraces (or embodies), she can lead us to the cave that will act as the womb to our transformation.

My favorite vision of Lilith is the story in which she goes back to the Garden of Eden and holds her hand out to Eve. In my mind she is saying, “Come on, Sister. Let’s get out of this goddess-forsaken place. It’s got you a bit brain-washed and you have so much more to offer.”

Audio-visual Resources:

“Banned from the Bible”        documentary on History Channel

Book Resources:

Stone, Merlin      Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood  Beacon Press    1979

Walker, Barbara G.     The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets Harper Collins    1983

Website Resources:

Some books I have not read but found recommended on the “abroadplanet” website and which look really interesting:

Kotluv, Barbara Black     The Book of Lilith Samuel Weiser     1986

(Jungian feminist interpretation of Lilith legends)

Patai, Raphael  The Hebrew Goddess Wayne State University Press     1990
(Delves into not only Lilith but Asherah, Astarte and others)

Schwartz, Howard   Lilith’s Cave   Harper & Row   1990
(Collection of Jewish folk tales centering not only on Lilith but other related figures like the Queen of Sheba)

A novel I have read and highly recommend:

Cunningham, Elizabeth    The Wild Mother Station Hill Press    1993
(The story of Lilith, one of the descendants of the original Lilith who lives in the “Empty Land”, but is seduced by and seduces the alchemical professor, Adam Underwood who lives in the nearby walled mansion. As Adam uses the daughter that results from their union to try to recapture her, Lilith begins to die and fights to regain her freedom and her daughter.)

Reflections of Her: Brighid

(Originally published for Building Bridges Online Magazine, February 2011)

Greetings from the monthly column: Reflections of Her. A little corner to enter into the specific space of a certain face of the Goddess. A place to explore the specific dimension of a certain reflection of the Divine Feminine. May you find your own reflections here as well.


Culture: Celtic (Irish)
Domain: Healing, Poetry, Smithcraft
Aspect: Triple Goddess
Other Names: Bride, Brigit, Brighide, Brigantia, Briginda, Brigidu
Symbols: White cow (with red ears), snake, sheep, boar, white swan, wells and springs

Though it is difficult to find many myths and stories about Brighid, She is one of the most loved of the Celtic pantheon and was known throughout the ancient world with slight variations to Her name. In fact, the tribe of Brigantes took their name from Her (forgiving them their ghastly contribution to Celtic history through their queen, Cartimandua). It is said that She came to Ireland with two oxen (called Fea and Fermhean), one pig (called Triath) and one huge boar (called Torc Triath) and that these animals would cry out if Ireland was ever under attack or threat. It is also said that She was the daughter of the Dagda, the great God of the Celts (who described as an unkempt and ugly buffoon, and much loved). Some say She was the mother of Ruadhan; others that She was the mother of three Gods of Danu (named either Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba or Goibhnui the smith, Luchta the wright and Credne Cerd the metalworker)

It is important when exploring the myths of Brighid that there are two that have become intertwined. As a Celtic Goddess, She was so loved in Ireland that, with the coming of Christianity, She was transformed into and embraced instead as St. Brigid.

As the Goddess Brighid, She is the “Fiery Arrow” who fans the gifts of fire in many forms. The hearth fire is sacred to Her, as well as the qualities of peace, purification and hospitality it brings. There is also a connection with the healing aspect of the hearth fire. Perhaps in some way connected to the emotional rest one can often find there or connected to the more tangible element of creating healing teas and potions. The ‘fires of inspiration’ are also Her domain, touching on multiple elements as well. Clearly, this is where the poetic domain lies. But it also other significant creative areas important to the Celts, such as smithcraft and metalwork. Each of these speak to Divine inspiration and are metaphors for Divine connection and magical powers. Brighid is also the Goddess of Spring, of abundance and increase. Wells and springs are sacred to Her and the waters that begin to run at this time give healing to those who come to them in Her name. If you see a well that has been decorated with ribbons and flowers, no doubt someone has taken a moment to honour Brigid and receive Her blessing.

St. Brigid was said to have been an abbess around 525 C.E. (around the same time as St. Patrick) and was associated with the town of Kildare. Most famously, the flame of Brigid (which no man could see) was tended by 19 nuns. There was one nun to tend the flame for each of 19 days. On the 20th day, it was said to be tended by Brigid Herself. Doused by King Henry VIII (in the 16th century), it was relit in 1992 by Brigantine nuns in Kildare. Called “Selas Bhride” (“Light of Brigit”), this light still burns today in a house of nuns in a modest suburb of Kildare.

There are many traditions associated with Brighid and ways in which to honour Her today. Most carry Her name.

Perhaps the most familiar is that of the “Crosog Brigde” or Brigit’s Cross. These are 3 or 4 pronged crosses created out of rushes that were hung in homes and barns for protection. This symbol is still well-known in connection with the Goddess.

An extension of Brigit’s Cross is the less well-known “Crios Bride” or Brigit’s Girdle. These were large hoops of wheat, straw or rope that had 4 Brigit’s Crosses attached at various points. Traditionally, everyone in the family or community would step through the hoop three times, reciting “Brigit’s Girdle is my girdle, the girdle with the four crosses. Rise, housewife and go out three times. May whoever goes through my girdle be seven times better a year from now.”

The “Brideog” is a doll usually created from an ear of corn from the previous harvest, decorated to represent Brighid. In some communities, children would carry Brideog from house to house and ask for treats, offering Brighid’s blessing in return.

In some communities, while the younger girls made the Brideog, the older women would make the Leaba Bride or “Bride’s Bed”. On the Eve of the Festival of Brigit (which falls on February 1), the girls would bring the Brideog into the house to lay in the bed. For some, a wand of birch, broom, bramble or white willow was placed in the bed alongside the Brideog to represent the qualities of justice and peace and her divine lover, Oenghus.  The following would be said three times: “Let Bride come in. Bride is welcome. Bride, come in. Your bed is made.” On the morning of February 1, the ashes of the hearth fire would be scanned to see if the wand had made an imprint. Called “Brigit’s footprint”, this was considered a very good sign and the household especially blessed.

Even one who is not particularly craft-handy can participate in the common tradition of the “Brat Bride” or Brigit’s Mantle. This is a piece of cloth or ribbon left outside to receive Brighid’s blessing as She passes on the Eve of Her feast day. More connected with the saint than the Goddess, this tradition in inspired by the story that Brigid was midwife to Mary at the birth of Jesus, wrapping the wondrous child in her cloak. Traditionally, if the Brat Bride has collected dew in the night, it is considered blessed and the cloth itself said to be imbued with healing powers.

Clearly, with so many traditions to honour Her, Brighid was and is well-loved. Her energy is integral to welcoming the warmer elements of Spring. The joy expressed in honouring Her at Imbolc is, in part, the relief felt at knowing the worst of the Winter is over. It is saying good-bye to the “Hag of Winter” as we embrace the “Maiden of Spring”. Nowadays, we look to the groundhog to tell us how close to saying good-bye we are. But originally, this tradition was connected with Brighid, albeit with a difference. It is said that on Imbolc morn, a snake would awake from its Winter sleep and emerge from its hole. Upon seeing the snake, it is traditional to recite this charm: “Early on Bride’s morn the serpent shall come from its hole. I will not molest the serpent nor will the serpent molest me”. There are interesting depths to this particular tradition, in that there are no indigenous snakes in Ireland! It seems an odd tradition to attribute to a predominantly Irish Goddess. Some explain by saying it is rooted in Scottish lore. But on some levels, it also seems to be a response tradition to the tale of the other 5th century Irish Saint: Patrick, who is said to have “driven snakes from Ireland”. It warrants noting that there is an air of acceptance and mutual respect in Brighid’s tradition that is lacking in St. Patrick’s story.

Without doubt, Brighid is a fascinating Goddess whose stories, myths and traditions deserve far more than a passing article. She touches on hearth and home, on poetry and inspiration, on the powers of healing, the powers of communication, the powers of creativity. She is the protector of beginnings (a midwife to life) and ushers in the hope and energy of budding life (the burst of Spring).

One of the beautiful traditions connected with Candlemas is that of candle-making. That this was the time of year to make the candles that would last throughout the year. There is a sense of purification which comes from creating anew that which will provide light throughout the year. And what a beautiful way to connect to the energies of Brigid: in the making and in the lighting. Bringing  the light of inspiration and healing into our own lives.

Yvonne Lacey’s Retirement Speech 1987

My mother’s retirement speech to the graduating class of University of Toronto Schools (UTS). It is anecdotally significant to my family, of course, but I share it here because she also speaks of universal themes, not least forging a courageous life in the face of challenge and adversity. I find the snippets she shares of her experience fascinating and the nuggets of her life philosophy heartening. On this day that marks her passing from this world, I share this from my heart and hope you enjoy. The photo that accompanies this article is of my Mom climbing Macchu Picchu – in her seventies, after retirement!

As I am the first lady staff member to end her teaching career at UTS, I felt I should like to say a few words.

In 1907 Nellie McClung began to fight for women’s rights in Canada. In 1929, as a member of the Alberta legislature, she was instrumental in having passed a bill whereby women were declared to be persons. Within my professional years I have been witness to the gradual change in the attitude of society toward women in the workforce and professions, especially married women. I still remember the commiseration my husband received when it became known that his wife wanted a career. The sympathy could not have been greater were he to have been saddled with a wife with two heads or some other such abnormality. The fact that I was accepted at OISE, today’s FEUT (Faculty of Education University of Toronto) at all resulted from a kind of fluke. They knew I was married by my name, but assumed at my interview that I must have been widowed in the war or I wouldn’t be applying for their course. There was one other married woman accepted that year. She was a widow. Twice I was rejected from consideration for teaching positions because the deep-seated conviction of the male selection committee was that as a married woman, with children no less, my place was in the home.

The first time as a teacher I was expecting a child, I had to leave as soon as a replacement could be found. I was three months pregnant and it was judged that my delicate condition would be a source of tremendous embarrassment. By the second time when, as a teacher I was in the family way, the Age of Enlightenment had dawned. The concern was that I was taking my students through to the end of the year to avoid a hiatus in their preparation of the Grade 13 exam. I made their deadline. Just! My classes ended on a Friday and Tiffany was born on Monday. With this background I felt it was a real irony that one reason I was invited to join the teaching staff of UTS was because I was a woman. And the married status had no particular import. UTS, becoming at almost the last ditch, a co-educational institution, necessitated the hiring of several lady staff as quickly as vacancies on staff appeared. Another bastion of male exclusiveness had been breached. The 20th century in history is destined to be known not only as the age of the greatest technological advances, of the two most devastating World Wars, but of the ultimate recognition of the woman as having equal potential to a man to be an active, contributing, creative individual in the workforce and professions.

I have enjoyed being in the vanguard of the dawning of this age of recognition. Today however I equate with the graduating class. Albeit, I have been a much slower learner. We are both ending a chapter. So far, the book has been an exciting one, full of adventures, mundane and bizarre, characters of varying race, creed and ability, dramatic moments, challenges, soul wrenching disappointments, self-enriching achievements, the cacophony of sound pleasant and unpleasant, camaraderie, joy, frustration, love. As I pause to reflect on the story thus far, I do not share Odysseus’ statement (as Tennyson quipped it), “How dull it is to pause”. There comes a time when it is salubrious to allow the impact of experience to settle. We do reach saturation and need time to refurbish our energies for the future. Michael Lee, talking on ‘Time’ in his Middleton speech referred to the present as a point between the experiences of the past and those yet to come in the future: an island, if you will, between the receding tide of the past and the choppy waves of the future.

You and I, graduating class, are on that island. Our story, temporarily laid aside, brings us to a quiet moment to appreciate the plot development to date, the significance of our life at UTS. For me, I’ll reflect these 12 years with nostalgia: the juggling of umpteen projects to fit on the shelves in room 203, the numerous intellectually curious students I have taught, the budding thespians I have directed, midnight sentinel duty at Tawingo, campfires at Norval, May madness, committee stalemates, faulty equipment, tropical heat, Arctic chill, but always the prevailing sense of purpose and determination to surmount the obstacles, hang on to one’s stamina, and meet the imminent deadline. No, while the school year was in progress, it just was not feasible to pause.

On the other hand, however, I do agree with Odysseus’ statement as I pause to reflect. I am part of all that I have met, yet all experience is an arch through which gleams that untraveled world – that is the future. Our untraveled worlds will differ because for each, there is a season: a time to plant – that is yours – a time to pluck up that which is planted – that is mine. Our seasons differ, yes, but we do share the thrill of challenging the unknown and traveling in our respective lives to reach the self-imposed goal. May the ensuing chapters of our story be as sustaining as those we have just completed.

A final thought, rather an enigmatical one really. Although as a classicist I have dealt with the past. My philosophy has always been to make the most of the present and lay down good foundations for the future. In our combined enthusiasm to start on the next chapters of our story, let us not scorn the importance of the present, ‘the right now’. For once it becomes the past, we cannot relive it to make it more meaningful. One of Rome’s great poets, Horace, said, “Carpe Diem” – pluck the flower of today.

Yes, even while we speak, the door has shut,

Upon a portion of the passing flow

Of that most precious gift to cherish but

The present tense of time is never slow.

Do not waste it, students. Enjoy!

May I wish you all good luck – bonam fortunam. May you find happiness, self-enrichment and sustaining companionship in the years ahead. Salvete, discipuli, atque valete.

Embracing the Divine Child Within

One of the things I love most about working with the Wheel of the Year is how precisely applicable it is to our own inner life. Certainly, the Festivals that lie around the Wheel are connected with the agricultural cycle. For our ancient forebears, to ignore such a cycle meant disaster on a very tangible level. Without supplies and stores to bring the Tribe through the winter months, starvation and death were a very real possibility. An enormous amount of focus and energy went into meeting the basic needs of food, shelter and safety. The eight Festivals, as we know them today, marked significant moments throughout the year addressing the movement from preparation to planting to harvest to rest.  As is known by every Pagan, the ancient traditions of celebration have found their way into many contemporary ones. These traditions reflect the outer world – the things we do “out there” to connect us with the energy of the season. However, as said by renown comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell “When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make reference to yourself, you have misread the image”. We joyfully join in honouring the Festivals in our communities. This is significant and important for connecting us to others and feeling a part of a larger whole. The Festivals help us to be conscious of the world around us and to live in alignment with the land. But how can we draw upon these festivals to become more conscious of ourselves? How can we ‘pull the image within’?

Each Festival has its core archetypal energy. When one scans across the landscape of ancient Western culture, it is possible to see the correlations between gods and goddess, traditions and activities. All these give us clues as to what the synthesizing element is – what connects the varied names and traditions together into a cohesive pattern. Interestingly, when one identifies the archetype of each Festival, there is a direct correlation to traditional psychology which is reflected in family systems theory and childhood development. The Festivals offer us a doorway through which to explore inner alignment.

At this time of year, the anticipation of Yule is high. For many of us, there is a soft (and cold) blanket of snow upon the ground. The darkness sets in what feels like mid-afternoon. The desire to cocoon is strong – gentle firelight, a warm mug, perhaps a catchy book. The dark surrounds us and we seek that which brings comfort. We are not that far removed from the ancestors who would gather around a hearthfire to be regaled with lengthy, heart-stopping epic tales.

The Winter Solstice is the moment of tipping towards the Light. The ‘birth of the sun’ signals hope. There may still be dark days ahead, but each day brings a bit more sunlight and holds the promise of warmth, growth and potential abundance. The Festival itself celebrates the Birth of the Son – the Divine Child who holds within Him the hope for humanity. He may be called Marduk, Lugh, Mithras, Baldur, Horus, or Apollo. He may be called by a thousand other names, but His energy remains the same. He is the bringer of Light, promising order over chaos. He may become champion or protector, but regardless of future guise, He unites the community in celebration and optimism. The Divine Child is the embodiment of Spirit on Earth, welcomed and well-loved by all.

Within each of us there is a Divine Child – the archetype of joy, wonder, curiosity, adventure and pure love. We come into this world as the Essence of the Divine, squishing the expansiveness of the All into a teeny little package. It is not an uncommon experience to look into a newborn’s eyes and see the wisdom of the ages reflected back. In the words of the poet, William Wordsworth, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” (Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, 1804). We come into this world as Spirit and begin the process of forgetting our Divine nature. In the stories that come to us from ancient myths, each Divine Child soon experiences its trials and challenges. They fight monsters or wage battles or are killed in spite and deceit. Their birth is celebrated and then the trials begin.

We too come into this world bathed in Light and soon begin to experience the challenges that disconnect us from that self-knowledge. What is created in its stead is the complete opposite: our Shadow. Rather than see ourselves as perfect and wondrous in our Beingness, we experience ourselves as flawed and unworthy of love and acceptance. We become shame-based, rather than Essence-based. Painful as this is, it is this Shadow experience of self that reveals the path towards our future reclaiming or ‘coming home’. It is by entering the dark that we come to know our Light once again. Not an easy path, but one we must all endure in this human form.

From a psychological perspective, this time of year offers us the opportunity to look at the environment surrounding our own birth and family-of-origin issues. The family into which we were born is our first ‘tribe’. It is the community into which we have chosen to experience our ‘forgetting’. As children, we have very little influence on the construct of our tribe. Our initial development is dependent on the health of that environment. According to John Bradshaw (in Bradshaw: on the Family, Health Communications, 1990), an astounding 96% of families are unhealthy. Of course, there is a wide spectrum of what this looks like. A family that is struggling with addiction and abuse is on a far different end of the spectrum than one that has muddied communication skills. But it is both humbling and revelatory to realize that we pretty much all come from families that could benefit from inquiry and insight. To a greater or lesser degree, we have each been born into an environment which hurt us, causing disconnection from an inner experience of ourselves as Divine. The environment of our birth gives us the trials through which we can begin to explore our lost Essence.

It can be helpful to have an understanding of what constitutes a healthy or unhealthy family system. Healthy systems accept each member of the family as a unique individual, with his or her own perceptions, feelings and beliefs. Healthy systems are open to communication, acknowledge feelings and are comfortable with change, including the life transitions of each member within the family. Healthy systems literally have an ‘operating system’ that says “We are all here, doing the best we can. We may not always agree or get along, but we are all valuable in our own individual ways.”

Unhealthy family systems operate from a very different inner message. The ‘operating system’ in an unhealthy system says “I am flawed and unworthy. My shame is so hard to bear that I must cover up those feelings and make sure the entire system does the same so no-one outside the system ever sees how terrible we are.” These unhealthy systems can take a couple of different forms.

The chaotic system seems to flip the ‘natural order’. The parents may be so trapped in compulsion or addiction that the children step into ‘adult’ roles for pure survival. The ‘rules’ of the household may change with the wind. What can result is a family that has to proceed through hyper-vigilence. Is today a spring breeze or a typhoon? One’s inner sense of safety depends completely on the answer to that question. Yesterday I could be a child, laughing and playing. Today, I have to take care of my siblings, making sure they are fed and cared for because the adults are missing in action, physically or emotionally.

The controlling family system also stems from that core sense of shame, but it presents very differently. There is an unbending rigidity in the controlling system that slots each family member into a particular role that does not allow for individual expression. Feelings are discounted. Communication and feedback is non-existent. It is literally ‘my way or else’. And the ‘or else’ can feel very threatening.

It is important to recognize that unhealthy family systems are created because of shame that often echoes back through generations. It is not personal, but it is still a painful environment in which to grow up. In the Festival of Yule, when we celebrate the birth of the Light, it is beautifully healing to gaze past the pain of our childhood to connect with the Divine Child within who chose this particular human form in order to bestow our own gift to the world.

To quote an oft-used hermetic axiom: As above, so below. As within, so without.

As the Wheel turns another notch, may you find within that special gift that is your unique contribution to the world in this time and celebrate your Divine Child.

Article first appeared on Pagan Square, December 1, 2013

Reflections of Her: Brigid Soul Alchemist Academy

Greetings from the monthly column: Reflections of Her. A little corner  to enter into the specific space of a certain face of the Goddess. A  place to explore the specific dimension of a certain reflection of the  Divine Feminine. May you find your own reflections here as well. In this snippet, we meet the Irish Celtic Goddess Brigid. 
  1. Reflections of Her: Brigid
  2. Embracing the Divine Child Within