Thea & Athena

Thea didn’t know if Athena was inside her or she was inside Athena. She’d come to this spot, this moment intentionally. This was not a take over or a walk in…. at least it wasn’t meant to be. Thea had been hearing Owl’s call to go deeper ever since her soul retrieval and her conversations with Owen, Molly and the others.

She’d been lying in bed at 4 am going over and over the psychic openings that were continuing to escalate. Thanks to help from her new friends, she was increasingly at ease with this opening up to a world that had at first seemed so alien. Literally. At the same time she was pondering all that she could be releasing that her protective, egoic side had in place to protect herself from just these openings. Her belly, the extra weight she’d been putting on ever since consciously beginning this journey. Well, and since menopause. She was never sure how much the two were inter-related but certainly the timing was synchronous. It was during “The Change” that she’d begun to put on padding. Shields. Shields against getting hurt…..

“Gonna lay down my sword and shield.” She heard the song beginning in her head. “Down by the Riverside.” Black history come to haunt. Generations of soulful singers. She’d heard the kids at Illahee sing it too. “Down by the Riverside….” Who carried a sword and shield?

Athena & Her Medusa Shield

A picture of the Greek warrior goddess popped into her mind’s eye. Athena. Thea’s mother’s family was from Greece so she had always been drawn to those stories and Athena in particular. Her long elegant neck. Her head capped by a helmet pushed back off her forehead such that it seemed like she had eyes on top of her head. Her shield that carried the image of Medusa’s head. Medusa, ancient Gorgon and crone, slain by Athena herself in a fury. Afterwards Athena had regretted her rashness so much that she vowed to carry Medusa’s image with its snaky hair on her shield. Thea had been revisiting this pair of goddesses lately, not the least because she was so drawn to snakes. The snake that turned up in her soul retrieval and a recent dream of snakes crawling over her shoe. She was actually thinking of letting her hair grow into dreads – those snakey locks that reminded her of her power to be whoever she wanted to be. Maybe they’d be a kind of antenna into other realms….

There were also indications that in pre-history Athena had originally been one of the black goddesses whose story had wandered north from Africa…. This, of course, appealed to Thea, poly-racial as she was. And the similarity of her name, as the women the other day had pointed out….

Suddenly Thea knew she needed to get up and go down to the stream flowing past the corner of her lot. Drizzly rain or no. A little trickle most of the year, yesterday afternoon it had been in full flood, about 2 feet wide and lapping at the stepping stones placed there once upon a time.

She pulled on sweats and her warm orange “power” ruana. As she stepped into her rubber boots, she spied a flat clay disc on the windowsill with a bas-relief of Medusa on it. Thea had fashioned it several weeks ago at the Full Moon. Now it seemed appropriate at the new moon for it to go to ground. “Down by the Riverside….” The song still floated in her head so she began to hum it.

She made her way along the path, flashlight in hand. “I suppose if I were a real outdoor girl, I wouldn’t need a flashlight.” She could hear the Goddess laugh in her head. “I don’t want to have to go pickin’ you up off them roots. I’m not responsible for your lack of night eyes or knowledge of the woods. You make full use of your flashlight, Girl. No heroics here. Or should that be heroine-ics?”

“I’ll be as heroic as I want to be, damn it. I’m out here aren’t I? And I’m happy to be a hero thank you. Heroine sounds too much like a love-sick maiden.”

Good for you,” Athena intoned. “You’re ready for me then. I like that spunk!”

Soon standing by the water, she felt the Goddess come more deeply into her. Or herself go into the Goddess. Kneeling, she set an imaginary sword by the bank. She could see it glowing there for a moment before she nudged it into the stream and watched it out of sight on its short path to the ocean.

Next she buried the disc. Earthy and real. “It’s here at my boundaries if I need it. But it’s out of sight and hopefully out of body and mind. No more need for shields.”

Thea wondered what Athena would give her in return for the disposal of the protective albatross she’d been lugging around for so long. Like Athena and many women of this time, Thea had thought she needed to compete with men at their own game, and she did well at that, jock and smarty-pants that she was. But now she could take off the shoulder pads donned only slightly more gracefully than protection at a Powder Puff football game. She’d been good at that sort of warrior play but there was no need any longer. She could shed her disguise and come out into the light of day. Wise Woman, Artist. Witch. The artist part she was comfortable with, of course. The other two she wasn’t so sure of…. “Uh oh. What have I let myself in for now?”

She listened for some sort of confirmation from the Universe. Athena herself… or at least the woods around her. But it remained quiet. And peaceful now. “Guess that has to be confirmation in itself,” she muttered as she headed back to the house and her warm bed.

Names and Goddesses

Maenads

“How did you get your name, Ursula?” asked Thea. “I hear it’s a taken name.”

“I decided to change it some years ago when Bear really came into my life. ‘Ursa’ means ‘bear’ in Latin.”

“Oh sure, like the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.”

“Yup, right up there, said Ursula pointing northward to the sky over the Mountain. “They are also called the Big and Little Dipper.”

Women of various ages were sitting around an impromptu campfire on the beach on one of those gorgeous late September evenings when the sky sparkled with stars just coming out. Their fronts were warmed by the fire – sometimes too warm – but most had their backs covered by cloaks or hoodies.

“I was taking a shamanic journeying class from one of my teachers – you’ve heard of my mentor Stella who has a practice in Nekelew. Had? She’s mysteriously gone a lot and none of us have seen her for a while. One night we were practicing journeying out in the woods lying in the moss when Bear came to me in the Underworld wearing an apron like Mama Bear in Goldilocks. She came from behind and wrapped me in a gentle hug, as if she knew I was intimidated by the idea of her as a spirit ally.”

“A bear hug obviously,” laughed Thea. “I can see why you would be afraid of bears in real life, but why were you afraid to have her as an ally?”

“It was more like I was in awe of her and didn’t feel I was powerful enough – important enough – to rate such an illustrious ally.”

“Poo!”

“It seems silly now, but remember this was early on and I was still trying to understand all this weird stuff. I was so drawn to it – just like you were saying the other day – but I had no idea how to measure up to my full power. I still don’t know the extent of that but I’ve come a long way.”

“Had you gotten other signs or messages from Bear?” asked one of the younger women.

“Yes, many, but the strongest was the year I had a strong sense that we needed to base a Winter Solstice ceremony on Bear to honor Owen’s brother Gordon who had shot a huge bear while hunting elk out in Eastern Oregon. He hadn’t meant to but he was saving his buddy who had gotten between the bear and its recent kill. He was really upset about having shot it so I wanted to help clean up some of that energy. I kept wavering about it cause one person in the group was a vegetarian and couldn’t cope with the idea of hunting, much less eating the meat. One day after talking with her I reached behind the back seat of my car for shopping bags and found a metal necklace pendant on the floor that I’d never seen before – a stylized bear claw. Huge shivers went up and down my spine. ‘Okay, Bear, okay,’ I said, ‘we’ll do the ceremony. I promise.’ The ritual was beautiful. We told the story of the kill and then honored all the growers of our food. Even the vegans found a way to be with it. Afterwards all I wanted to eat at the potluck was the bear meat that Gordy brought. I just couldn’t get enough of it.”

“Where had the necklace come from?”

“It took me a while to figure that out.”

“It was mine,” laughed Molly. “My sister had given it to me when I was visiting back East. Ursula had picked me up from the airport and it must have dropped out of my pack. It had been there for a couple of weeks. I gave it to Ursula after that, of course.”

“By then it was like I had outgrown my given name. It was time for a change.” They were all silent for a bit.

“How about your name, Thea?” asked Caliente. “Doesn’t it mean Goddess?”

“I’ve always been named Thea. I thank my mom almost daily now that I’ve discovered the Goddess. It seems like it was preordained somehow.”

“But it’s even cooler than that,” said Molly. “Didn’t tell me that one of your special totems is Owl?”

“Yeesss, they’ve shown up a lot in my paintings. I figured they had something to do with the deep diving I’ve been doing into my shadow side. What else about Owl?”

“You’re right about the going inside part. Owls can turn their heads almost all the way round and that reminds us that the wise can see all sides of an issue and can also glimpse the backside-of-the-moon kinds of things. But Owl is also associated with the Greek Goddess Athena and sits on her shoulder to symbolize her wisdom.”

Thea still looked blank.

“I get it. Thea sounds like Athena,” blurted Cindy excitedly.

“Oh. My. Gosh,” breathed Thea. “Another synchronicity. Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Goddess, for this blessing.”

“I’ve always wondered, Molly. How did you connect with the Goddess?” asked Rhea. “I’ve never heard that story.”

“It was pretty neat. I was reading an early copy of Ms. Magazine. You young uns’ have no idea how precious that magazine was to us back then,” she said as an aside. “Alice Walker wrote about how the Mother Goddess came over from Africa with the slaves and became disguised as the fat black Mammy archetype with a headscarf and apron who took care of all the white ‘chillens.’ She’s Aunt Jemima and stereotyped caretakers and kitchen servants in so many movies like Gone With the Wind. It just went clunk into my very being and I knew it was a change point in my life. Shortly after that a wooden figure of her as a recipe holder came into ReBound and I snatched it up. It would seem racist in somebody’s kitchen but I treasure it on my altar.”

Molly leaned over and poked the fire to cover her emotions and a little silence while people took this in.

Thea breathed deep at this affirmation of something she had long wondered about. It gave such meaning to that terrible slave legacy. Perhaps the African Diaspora was the only way that ancient Black Mother form of the Goddess could make it to the new world. Would She ever have left her native land on her own? “I guess we’ve needed this time to integrate all the pieces – that melting pot of all the cultures and traditions,” she said to herself.

“You know, to me the Virgin Mary is another form of the old Goddess in disguise,” said Molly. “When I went to Europe I saw images of her everywhere with all the pagan symbols – snakes, rabbits, eggs, bees and hives. It’s like she became a ‘good girl,’ had God’s baby even though she hadn’t had sex (or so the story goes), bowed her head, and hid her power under that light blue veil.”

“I think of forget-me-nots as Mary’s goddess energy quietly reminding us of her every May,” said Cindy.

“Which is, of course, Mary’s month.”

“Cindy, don’t you make a flower essence of forget-me-not?”

“Yep – it’s to help us tune into the Goddess.”

“We must have drunk a bunch of it recently.” Everyone laughed.

“Then there’s the Black Madonna….”

“And Mary Magdalene.”

“Don’t get me started on her!” said Ursula. “What rich stories. Have you read the Elizabeth Cunningham novels of Magdalen as druidic student and a sexual priestess, among other blasphemous things like being Jesus’s wife. She tells the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding as his own wedding to Magdalen. I have some of the books down at the store.”

“Even Athena had to hide herself,” said Molly. “I’ve read that she was originally one of the old black goddesses from northern Africa and chose to make herself Goddess of War – as well as wisdom – to compete with the men at their own game.”

“Kind of like how modern women put on shoulder pads.”

“I hate shoulder pads. I always take them out,” said Pia tartly. “I can be powerful without that added masculine breadth, thank you very much.”

“Let’s do a ritual soon on all the re-membered goddesses!”

“There’s one on Demeter coming up, check your email tomorrow,” said Pia.

“Good timing, Pia.”

”It was Ursula’s idea.”

“Demeter came to me strongly the other day. I’m still not sure exactly why but I’m waiting to see what unfolds. I know it is about mothers and daughters so I hope ya’ll will come.”

“How do the male Gods fit into all this,” asked Fern, another of the younger women.

“Very well, thank you, and it feels yummy,” quipped Pia. Everyone hooted thinking of penises and vaginas all fitting together. It took them awhile to calm down again.

“Ask Owen about Osiris and Orion some day. There are plenty of the male gods who have been hidden too.”

“The Green Man. Pan. The Christians turned him into the Devil. He’s goat footed – cloven hoofed – and is the wild, wild nature energy that our culture has been trying to tame. It’s time we allowed that back into our lives.

“And let the rivers run free…”

“They’re really all One, you know. And so are we,” said Molly quietly. “It helps us relate to their different aspects to divide them up. But really….”

“There’s a shooting star!” gasped Cindy and Rhea at the same moment.

“Guess we’re on the right track….”

“Anybody want some chocolate?”

 

Thea’s Morning

Thea Culver stretched and climbed out of bed. “No more musing,” she told herself sternly. “Time to get to work.” The sun was just peeking into her bedroom window over the tops of the mountains and through the huge Sitka spruces in her yard. She knew that meant it would soon be streaming into her studio upstairs. But first she got to enjoy it through the shower window. As she ducked her closely cropped crinkly hair in the gloriously hot stream of water, she thought about all that she was washing away in her life these days.

Gone were the ambitions to be a successful “capital A” Artist…. well, almost gone. The “capital C” Call of her recent move to the coast had been a compelling one. She had come despite the warnings that by going so far from the mainstream both geographically and content-wise, she was throwing her hard earned reputation away. She hated to think how many had cautioned that her galleries in Portland and Seattle would not be interested in this new weird bent she was on.

Gone too was her primary identification with her black community. “It’s mostly alotta white folk out there,” was the gist of the comments from her friends. Her family understood that part of it – much of her mother’s side was Greek and she had grown up in Beaverton. That Portland suburb had a little racial variety but nothing like she had found going to art school in the East or what she had consciously chosen upon returning to Portland twenty years ago. But even her family thought she was headed dangerously over a cliff into woo woo land. How could she explain this strong sense that she needed to explore this deeper side of herself away from familiar territory.

The Call had definitely created a fork in the road. Though terrified, she had nevertheless decided to “take the road less traveled.” How that would show up in her life was still unknown. There was a lot of blank canvas between her and any sort of clear outcome.

She thought of the tarot cards in her basket. The Hanged One – a figure dangling upside down from a tree branch – had been coming up a lot lately in her readings for herself. It was a symbol of changes chosen freely, unlike the Tower that was a painful lightening bolt wakeup zap. One of her books referred to the Hanged One as the Norse God Odin who had friends lower him by his heels into a well where he uncovered the runes. The card was also about a sacrificing of success and power for a communion with the earth. A surrender of the sort that is neither a giving up nor a defeat. She was choosing to take the continuing appearance of this card as a sign that she was on the right path. Sometimes it felt that she had hung herself that drastically as well. It was one thing to paint the watercolor urban landscapes she was known for and which sold well. It was quite another to dive deep into her psyche and pull up images of bleeding vaginas and strangely morphing shamanic power animals, not to mention the change in her palette that made many uncomfortable.

It was no wonder she had been so drawn to the tarot when she first encountered it a few years ago just as her monthly bleeding was coming to a halt around her 50th birthday. It was like the Fates or whoever had given her a gift for the next phase of her life. Looking back, it was clear that it was a gift that had changed everything. She would never forget the Chariot of the MotherPeace deck – the first card she had drawn. There had been that shiver of delight as she recognized the apple tree, Athena with snakey haired Medusa on her shield and Nut, the Egyptian Sky Goddess, arching over. So many symbols she had grown up loving….

“Oops, musing again,” she thought now, feeling guilty about the hot water running down the drain. She was just learning to be conscious of water and energy conservation. “But then ‘a Muse’ and ‘to muse’ is a gift for an artist. It’s precious ruminating time and don’t you forget it.” she lectured herself, chuckling as she noticed the puns. “It can even be ‘amusing!’”

As her new friends here reminded her if they heard her fretting, a shift as big as hers was bound to take a while to get started, much less to gel. “To change gears, you have to go through neutral,” both Ursula and Owen had said more than once. It seemed everyone here was wiser than she was. Yet she had to give herself credit for listening to the Call in the first place – especially with all she had given up of her former life including lover, nice home and her comfy reputation.

“Too comfy. Sometimes a snake has to shed her skin,” she snorted as she put on the bespattered sweats that were her painting outfit in colder weather. “Brr,” she thought now. Fall was definitely here.

Her studio was indeed inviting, if chilly. The little electric heaters were whirring and would soon warm it, as would the sun. It lit up the paintings on the walls and the cutouts pinned all over like a collage gone wild. Some were pretty strange to her and she hadn’t yet figured out why she was drawn to put them up. Looking at the Georgia O’Keefe pelvis print always gave her a shiver as did an older painting of Indians sitting around a campfire, most with their backs to her, their faces lit by the fire. “Should I be thinking of them as Native Americans?” she wondered a little guiltily.

And then there were her own paintings. At first it had been a matter of blind faith to launch into the new mediums of acrylics and oils, avoided since her college days. Now she delighted in the immediacy of one and the smear-ability of the other. Both gave freedom from the carefulness that had kept her previous work pretty tight. She’d avoided putting figures in her other work, but thanks to life drawing classes many years ago, women’s bodies still flowed out of her hands. She wished she’d had more male models back then. But the Chagall postcards she had pinned up with their rough characterizations and dreamlike quality gave her license to push those boundaries in her own work.

Now this new one of an old woman at a spinning wheel…. She kept having the feeling that the woman was under the Mountain somehow or in it. Spinning seaweed? Spinning stories? Thea wondered if there were any native legends about a woman in this Mountain she now lived at the toe of.

What colors would she be wanting on her palette today? Was it a green day or a purples and reds day? Would that weird combination of phthalo green and white come out? It seemed more and more to indicate some wild, uncontrolled magic in the paintings, often showing up when the Pan-like figure did.

Should she smoke a little weed to get herself going? That was a new practice for her too. She had somehow missed most of the drug-laden times of her growing up era, but had recently been drawn to some locally grown that added a deepening to her process. She didn’t smoke every time she painted but some days it was a potent tool. A sacred one that added a sacred dimension to her work. Blessings on California for instigating the conversation about making marijuana legal. Thea found her pipe and stash tucked where she had left it by the paint rags.

Soon, as she looked around, her eyes were drawn to the clutter. Perhaps she should use the rags to clean up a bit. She lovingly polished the empty Damiana liqueur bottle on her altar. The clear glass bottle’s fat, motherly Goddess shape was such a gift to her, as were the ancient stone and clay figures it was based on, especially since her menopausal body (“menopaused?”) was showing signs of a similar shape. Thea rubbed her own belly, then reached for and donned a round large-breasted pendant of turquoise that she’d laid aside on the windowsill the other day. Not for the first time she gloried in the synchronicity of the name her mother had given her. “Thea” meant “goddess!”

She looked over to the corner where a Frieda Kahlo print was propped. She’d found it the other day at the recycling center. Frieda, practically a goddess herself, inspired Thea to be bold and fearless as she delved deep. It had been Frieda’s karma to undergo some serious Tower episodes to reach into herself, portraying her tortured world unflinchingly. Thea was determined that her own healing and search would be more like the Hanged One – no need to have a bus accident to take up the journey she was meant to be part of.

She was about to tackle the cobwebs around her growing collection of feathers, shells and dried flotsam, when she thought of Grandmother Spider, whose season it was. A huge spider had recently taken up residence over her kitchen sink and amazing webs were all over the yard. As a city girl she ought to have been afraid of spiders, but she never had the heart to kill them, though she did usually try to keep their webs at least slightly under control. Today, however, she suddenly made the connection between spiders and Halloween, the witchy time just around the corner. She was learning that they are an inevitable fact of life here in the woods and perhaps she should be honoring them by letting even their webs stay a bit longer. Perhaps that was why cobwebs were a part of Halloween decorations. This time of year it was simply too overwhelming to keep them cleaned out.

The unfinished green painting of the old woman caught her eye again. Is she spinning just like Spider does? Does the silver thread come out of her midsection like that of the Southwest Indian creator goddess? What needed to happen to that painting so that it expressed both The Mountain and the storyteller and Spider?

Grabbing a purple felt tip pen she scrawled the words from an old Judy Collins song:

If somehow you could pack up your sorrows,

And give them all to me.

You would lose them,

I know how to use them.

Give them all to me.

Then selecting B-Tribe on her iPod, Thea settled in to discover what else the painting wanted and what Grandmother Spider had to teach this willing student.