Molly sat in the car feeling the tenor and tone of her mental and physical fatigue. “I’ve gotten this far – dirty jeans exchanged for clean; green plaid shirt for the blue…. Now I need to start the car, pull out the hand break, put it into reverse….” She tended to speak to herself when she was in this state. “Thank goodness I have an automatic shift now. One less set of details to track…. I don’t have far to go this evening. I’ll be fine.”
Her mind groped towards the ceremony ahead. She’d noticed before that she needed to be deeply tired in order to allow herself let go out of her doing self into her magical receiving self. “Does it take exhaustion for me to hear the voice of the Goddess? That’s hardly a healthy way to go about it…. but maybe it’s the best I can manage at this juncture in my life.” She took a deep breath. And another.
“How do I prepare myself for the content of this ritual?” She thought about her son Ethan who lived in the city. He was not far away and his connections here actually brought him home fairly often. No complaints there.
What washed over her was how much she minded not having a daughter. Her matriarchal line ended with her. It had been umbilical to umbilical to umbilical down countless generations of women. She was the last. Hardly a new thought, but tonight a particularly deep level of sadness welled inside her along with a pang of jealously for her sister in Southern Oregon who had two daughters, as did Ursula…. A sob welled in her chest.
Molly pulled to the side of the road to look out over the ocean for a good weep. Her thoughts were tortured. “If I had been able to stay with you, oh husband once mine, maybe we would have had another child that maybe would have been a daughter…. Who maybe would now have a child…. Faugh! Enough of these tired ‘what ifs.’ Perhaps the work for tonight is to let go of this hugey grief.” Releasing old pain was surely part of coming into new awareness – becoming healed…. Demeter could help….
Happily enfolded in her goddessy dress, hair only a little damp from her rainy communion with the elements, Ursula set up the altar in the middle of the frayed oriental carpet that had come from ReBound years ago. She spread a red silk cloth shot through with gold and set on it the vases and candles she’d prepped. Running back upstairs to her bedroom, she located a white bowl decorated with wheat sheaves. Back down again, she filled it with Mountain spring water. Should she light the candles now or wait ‘til people arrived?
That question was answered by a knock on the door that turned out to be Pia arriving early with an armload of grasses for the altar, as well as a red bowl of pomegranate seeds and a few whole ones.
“Molly got these to me yesterday so I could pick out the seeds ahead of time. What do you think about leading the young women off to the hot tub with the pomegranate seeds?” she asked.
“That might be perfect,” answered Ursula. “But how ‘bout we wait to see if it fits in the moment? I see more cars arriving. Will you smudge people in the entryway? I want to use the rain stick just inside the door. I’m thinking it should be a non-chatty beginning tonight.”
So Pia stood tall and elegant in a rainbow-striped caftan, her frizzy henna-dyed hair aglow, as women came into the large entryway lined with benches. Umbrellas and walking sticks stood in a tall handmade urn. Each hung their wraps on the hooks that once sported children’s jackets, added their shoes to the jumble that lived there and, one by one, stood to receive the cleansing wafts of white sage from Pia’s bundle. She waved it over each head, down the front with a spiraled focus over their wombs, and went all the way down to their feet, which some people raised to get the bottoms cleared. Then up the backs of their legs and spines with another spiral at their back heart before circling the head again. Finally with a kiss on their forehead or cheek and sometimes a whispered word or two, she sent them through the French doors into the living room.
She admired Cindy’s new purple hooded cape and thanked June & Celeste for their role as counselors, pleased to have them there though they weren’t mothers as far as she knew. Sensing Molly’s tiredness, she gave her a little extra attention until she could feel the ReBound Director sink into this place rather than the outside world. She winked at Thea who was looking around in wonder. Could this be her first time here?
Cali entered the familiar space of her old home with a smile. It always smelled the same, even with the overlay of whatever had last been cooked. What was it? Damp coats, smudge certainly and just a tiny whiff of the cat box. Her mom must have skipped that prep detail. She gave Pia a hug and her mom one too once she went through the door, where Ursula was tipping a long rainstick up and down each person’s body. “Could you light the candles?” Ursula whispered. “I never quite got to that.”
When it seemed like all had arrived and settled into a circle, Ursula moved to stand in a spot left for her. Everyone else stood listening as she continued the soft shuuush shuuuush of the rainstick. “Feel your roots going down into the ground like rainwater – nourishing, replenishing, centering into the Mother. Feel the Mother’s warmth coming back up into your root chakra and up through each energy wheel in turn, through belly, solar plexus, heart, throat, to your third eye. Feel washed and grounded by the Mother all through your body.”
Ursula stopped the rainstick and Molly dinged together the two discs of a Tibetan chime. “Feel this sound in your third eye. Feel it shimmer with your consciousness up through your crown to burst out of your head and shoot up past the clouds and the moon. Feel it swoop around the Universe. Then bring the starry light – let’s call it masculine light tonight – back down into your crown, down past your third eye, through your throat and your heart to glow there in your diaphragm. Mother Earth and Father Sky. We are here.”
Turning to the East, the group called out associations with that realm. “I call on Eagle for the wider vision.” “Clarity.” “Inspiration.” “Breath.”
Facing South next, a few began to clap their hands and shimmy a little. “Fire!” “Warm hearts.” “Passionate feelings.” Cali glowed, this being her favorite element and direction.
Watery West brought new voices into the mix. “Dreams.” “Mermaids.” “Orca’s telepathy.” “Gray Whale.”
Facing North, the group began to stomp. “Ancestors, we call you in with all your stories.” “Polar Bear.” “Rocks and bones.” “The Mountain.”
Finally turning back to the center, and raising their arms high they called in unison, “To the Above.” Then they bent to touch the ground, “To the below,” and rising to extend hands forward, “To Spirit, the Great Center.”
Pia called out triumphantly, “The circle is cast. We are between the worlds.”
Thea felt a shimmer down her spine.
Ursula stood silent for a few moments, then took up her bright feather be-decked rattle and spoke into its rhythm. “The harvest is mostly in, the herbs are drying on the racks, tinctures are a-brewing. The serious rains are coming. It is close to the time for the bears among us to go inward. We are accustomed to the march of seasons here. But once upon a time in these latitudes and in many around the world, it was always summer. Demeter and her daughter Persephone (sometimes known as Kore) played in the fields and gardens year round. They wandered among the ever-growing plants and ever-bearing trees plucking what they needed. They nibbled on berries and spinach, threshed grain, and dug up carrots and beets. It was a rich, sweet life.” Ursula paused so all could remember and soak it up.
“Yet, there came a time when Persephone was beginning to feel a little restless. She had recently begun to bleed every month and was noticing the young men eyeing her. None of them had caught her fancy enough for her to forego the pleasure and security of her mother’s company…. So far….
“Then one day, as she was picking flowers in the meadow Persephone noticed a dark stranger standing at the edge of the forest. He was tall and beautiful, with a spotted wildcat skin around his loins and curling hairs on his bared chest. He was older than she….”
“Sexy,” someone pronounced and everyone giggled. Ursula nodded and winked.
“Persephone was very intrigued by him. Acknowledging her interest, he put the set of pipes Pan had given him to his lips and beckoning with his eyes for her to follow, he turned and slipped between the trees deeper into the forest. Who among us wouldn’t have been at least tempted to follow? Persephone, though hardly of an impetuous nature, never even looked back. She followed the stranger all the way to his gloriously bedecked cave deep within the earth….”
Rhea moaned and all the women followed suit, elbowing each other knowingly.
“Ah, but when Demeter tells the tale she sounds like a Mother Bear: ‘I was at the far end of the garden tending to the grapes when I looked up to see a dark bearded man shrouded in a cowl, grabbing my beloved Persephone. He dragged her screaming into a huge crack in the earth that had opened at the edge of the forest. I dropped my basket of fruit and dashed after them but the crack closed and they were nowhere to be found. I searched and called and threatened to no avail. I moaned and mourned, pounded the earth and tore my hair ‘til the skies became dark and the rains fell like never before. Not gentle rains but hurricanes and typhoons, one after the other. Such tempests seemed fit mourning for the abduction and rape of my Persephone.
“’This went on for months until all was laid waste such that famine threatened. The people, unaccustomed to having to fend for themselves, begged me to forget about my grief for my daughter and let the sun shine again so that their food could grow.
“’Finally able to hear their plight, I sent Hermes to the Underworld to beg Hades for her return, for that was who I learned had taken her. Hermes and Hades reached agreement that Persephone could come back but before she left, hellish Hades tricked her into eating a single pomegranate seed…. For the Fates had a rule that whosoever consumed food or drink in that place of death was doomed to spend eternity there and so the compromise was that Persephone must return to the underworld for six months out of each year. Thus each year we have six months of autumn and winter when I mourn my daughter’s absence, and six months of new growth and warm weather in spring and summer when she is returned to me.’
“This is how the mother tells the story, thinking the worst. And this is how the Patriarchy has told it through several millennia, being rather enamored of rape and pillage and macho displays. But what if Persephone was actually happily ensconced with her lover – a beautiful wild man who treated her magnificently, fed her elegantly, and loved her well and often. She did sympathize with her mother, of course….”
“Of course.” Was the group’s tone just a teensy bit sarcastic?
“So when the bargain was struck she didn’t mind going back up for part of the year, but she always returned to the dark world and her true love with joy and anticipation…. Now some stories say she was also “Mistress of the Labyrinth” and it is appropriate that we think of her as such given our recent journey into the Equinox Labyrinth. I also like to think of her as a healer – an edge-dweller, She who is willing to go deep into the mysterious shadows but who is also the bringer of Spring.”
Ursula sat down quietly with her hands in her lap, waiting to see what would happen next. It wasn’t long before June spoke, “There is another dimension to this story that I love. Persephone and Demeter came to represent the great wheel of life, death and rebirth. They were celebrated in ancient Greece in the Eleusinian Mysteries at this time in late September. The women danced wildly, took hallucinogenic potions, and were part of secret rites that have never been described to this day, it being death to any who told of them to the outside world.”
“That gives me shivers,” said Cindy, her almond shaped eyes aglow with ancient memories.
“Me too,” agreed Ursula. “I’d forgotten that part when Demeter came to me so strongly last week. It was as if she were asking for this ritual.”
Thea didn’t say anything, still being so new to all this, but thought of her Mountain Woman painting. Was it Persephone in her cave being with the shadow side? Or was it a local native version of a similar archetype?