“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.”
“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?”