#Goddess is Everywhere

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Today I woke up to the news that Instagram has now banned the #goddess tag. What this means is you can use the tag, it just won’t show up in searches- essentially making all content with this tag invisible in search. #bringbackthegoddess as well as #goddesses tags have been used as work-arounds.

Instagram has not explained its reasoning. Women on the platform are guessing there was some kind of “pornographic” images using the tag. Surely if that is the case it would be easier to ban the IP addresses of those accounts abusing the #goddess tag instead of silencing a any pagan, heathen user, anyone who likes to call their friends a #goddess, anyone wanting to talk about history, literature or cultural production of the human race? Would they ban #God, #Allah, #Buddha? And what exactly would happen if they did? If they reinstate this tag but monitor it, what exactly will they be looking for?

Just a few weeks ago Instagram banned the body-positive tag #curvy, only to reinstate it with the warning that all #curvy tags will be monitored for content that Instagram finds offensive. And there is the ongoing nipple fiasco, where male nipples are OK, but female nipples in either a breast feeding portrait or in all their body-part glory will get you banned.

Back in the late 80s when I was a Women Studies major at San Francisco State, we debated stuff like this, as well as how to spell women, who could speak to oppression and other things that at the time seemed so academic to me.  The argument against anti-porn campaigns went something like this– if we demand patriarchal porn to be banned, the first people these laws will be used against will be feminist women working with images of the body. I wondered at the time how this would manifest.  If I could go back in time I could show my younger self this object lesson, except that there are no laws, no platforms for discussion with those in power. We’re subject to the whims of the ones who own our means of communication– I have tried to do with out them, believe me, but it doesn’t work if you have an online business and have friends all over the world.

Like the banning of curvy, this is an attack on women, albeit a stupid, petty one. This morning I feel such outrage, but it is only a reminder of that bit of ancestral memory, of being slowly or violently erased– what women have had to fight against for thousands of years– so much of our ancestors spiritual legacy has been renamed, rebuilt, built over in another God’s name, burned, raized, forgotten. I am under no illusion that the internet is a safe place for women, that it’s democratic or even forward looking, yet I’m not cynical enough for this to be routine.  It’s still met with rage.

Collage from Pagan Reveries blog
Collage from Pagan Reveries blog

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Collages from the Pagan Reveries Blog
Collages from the Pagan Reveries Blog

The Season of the Witch

Selfie of me wearing Illamasqua's Pristine lippy.
Selfie of me wearing Illamasqua’s Pristine lippy.

So being a witch is in– even Urban Outfitters is getting in on the haute occult game, selling crystals and divination tools, usually the wares of the local, independent pagan or New Age shop.

This look is a simple resurrection, Stevie Nicks, but paired way down: 1970s Victoriana dresses in black, layers of jagged hemmed garments worn in an undefinited sihouette.  If you look like you just stepped out of your chicken-footed cottage, you’ve got it right.  It’s all the rage.  But what if the rage is you, and has always been? How do you ride the tide of fickle fashion when the High Street is cashing in on what you love? I say, keep doing it, and do it like you mean it.

A Polyvore Set featuring Feral Strumpet designs.
A Polyvore Set featuring Feral Strumpet designs.

The upside of all this is now that these trends have names–Dark Mori, Nu Goth, etc., I’m able to find my style sisters–like-minded souls on Instagram and Pinterest, mutual style inspirations and co-cacklers. Here are some witchy discoveries– recent and not-so-recent- that I’ve found whist searching the web for fellow darklings.

The Hermit card from the Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans
The Hermit card from the Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans

The Wild Unknown Tarot- She dresses like a witch, walks like a witch and even talks like a witch, but can she divine the signs? Herein we separate the crones from the drones.  The Wild Unknown Tarot is new to me, and the imagery resonates profoundly. Though I first learned the craft through Tarot, I often felt scolded by my Rider Wait training deck, and when I switched to the Golden Tarot, the feeling didn’t change.  I came to reading Runes years later.  They speak to me with more immediacy and appear as allies rather than ominous harbingers, as the Tarot often did. Still, when I saw this deck it rekindled my fondness for Tarot, simplifying the meanings and rooting them in the earth and nature.

Black Lippy in Pristine by Illamasqua.  Part of this trend is black lipstick, and though I have been a non-orthodox sort of goth most of my life I have shied away from this make up staple because I couldn’t find a black lippy with enough coverage and mixing my own out of eyeliner, eyeshadow and chapstick was unpleasant. So one of the benefits of this mainstreaming is that almost everyone is coming out with a black lippy formula.  I have tried many and so far Illamasqua’s Pristine is my favourite.  I do love this make up brand for its original formulas, many of which are supremely wearable and natural looking despite many of the OTT Instagram make up posts using this brand. I do love that they often use older women in their ad campaigns and a variety of face shapes and types of beauty.  They are cruelty free as well.

Image of A England Fotheringhay Castle polish by @lakodom on Ink361.com
Image of A England Fotheringhay Castle polish by @lakodom on Ink361.com

A England Polish in Fotheringhay Castle.  This is my newest obsession, this lichen-green polish with a mysterious scattered holo. I do love this brand, founded by designer Adina Bodana.  Her collections are inspired by English history, paintings and lore.  This particular colour is part of her new Elizabeth and Mary collection and is named for the final place of imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was tried and executed in the castle. I love all the movement and depths in her polishes, but this colour is particularly magical. Once I was at the 18th century folly based on Stonehenge which is called the Druid’s Circle.  Moss and bracken have taken over the site giving it an ancient feel.  The site itself has a fascinating if somewhat disturbing history which I’ll save for another post.  But one day during a late summer visit I found deep in the shadows of stone some biolumensecent lichen– green glowing sequins worthy of an Arthur Machen story.  I have researched to find out what kind of life form I had seen, to no avail. It was indeed something from the Twilight realm of the fey. This polish is exactly the same colour.

swirlSwirl Clothing- Ok, I didn’t discover this company recently, but I have to give a shout out to my homegirl Sal and her clothing company.  She designs witch dresses in all sizes, including plus sizes. The simple shapes are perfect foundation pieces for a layered dark mori look, or a minimalist Nu Goth shape when paired with one of my rosary necklaces and perhaps a wide-brimmed hat. Sal has a brick and mortar shop in York as well as an online shop.  I wear her dresses almost every day.

How we adorn ourselves is our most immediate form of self-expression– it can be the most intimate descriptor we have of ourselves.  When fashion takes these shapes and ideas and sells them back to us, we have to keep playing and keeping things true to our own identities while supporting other independent, pagan, heathen and witch-friendly businesses.   What, if anything, in this current trend is inspiring you? What gems have you found?

Loaf Mass Blessings, Strumpets!

Lammas postage stamp from Red Moon Musings blog.
Lammas postage stamp from Red Moon Musings blog.

I live in a place where history is a constant companion. There is no place where this isn’t true, but York, and Yorkshire in general feels haunted, submerged in the past, and this inspires me.  Sometimes I don’t even have to imagine it– it manifests itself, like this summer afternoon at the abbey ruins of Rievaulx when these minstrels created what felt like, in the words of Hakim Bey, a temporary autonomous zone.

Today is the feast day of Saint Peter in Chains, and the glorious York Minster is dedicated to this original Houdini.  I’m going to walk to the minster today and think on all the miraculous escapes in my life! A day to not only celebrate shaking off the fetters of whatever holds us back, but it’s also a time to let things come to fruition– help them rise, like yeast in bread. It is Lammas, or as the Anglo Saxons called it hlaf mas or “loaf-mass”– a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, a baking of the magic bread.

I’m not much of a baker. Sometimes I wish I knew how to fire ceramic beads in a kiln– clay instead of grain– now there’s a magic bread.

The Kitchen Witches' pentagram ring, available made in your size, in my shop.
The Kitchen Witches’ pentagram ring, available made in your size, in my shop.

I have begun to incorporate small ceramics in some designs, like the Kitchen Witches’ pentagram ring, above. I make these in many colours, but perhaps my favourite colour is the raku pottery– which is an ancient Japanese style of firing which allows for “happy accidents”– the colour takes on hues of a stormy sea or iron rich silt or even blood. I like to imagine that the fire makes up its own mind what the colour will be! In a way, that symbolises the creative process for me.

In the Middle Ages, when people lived by the seasons, the wheat stores were running low, and the new harvest and the first breads baked with it meant that the season of plenty was beginning again.

Ironically, this is true for my own business (and retail businesses in general!) The summer months are slow and I’m busy making for the time when the harvest begins again– late summer and then into the intensely busy winter holidays.

I’ve been making lovely new pieces that I’ll roll out over the next few weeks– this is my magic bread. What’s yours?

Julian’s Bower, Imbolc, 2014

Julien's Bower, Lincolnshire
Julien’s Bower, Lincolnshire

This weekend I celebrated Imbolc (Some say this word has derived from Old Irish, meaning “in the belly”) referring to gestating pregnancies of ewes, but I like to think of it as a special holiday for belly dancers.  Having just begun to teach an American Tribal Style Belly Dance class in York, this “In the Belly” felt most auspicious.

Imbolc corresponds with the Christian candlemas– I left a candle lit all day during this festival of light which has always brought aspects of my creative life together.

Chartres Labyrinth Necklace, available in my online shop.
Chartres Labyrinth Necklace, available in my online shop.

For those of us who may be following a Heathen path, this is also the “Charming of the Plough” where the tools of our livlihoods are put on our altar to be blessed so that we may be creative and fruitful in the new year.  All my tools were laid out– the mandrels, cutters, pliers and bail makers, the files and hammers.

Brigid has been my patron goddess for many years– I went from earning my (extremely small) crust as a poet to working in metals. Brigid is the goddess of the poet and the blacksmith– the two workings are alike in many ways. Poetry is made from words formed in the heat of the will, and the cold forged designs I make have their own rhythms, rhymes and meters.

This Charming of the Plough is a Dísablót, a celebrating of the dísir, or female ancestors. I cooked a meal for my female ancestors and poured them some good beer, and the day was done.

julians_bower3The next day, M and I drove to Lincolnshire to visit Julian’s Bower, a turf labyrinth that is most likely medieval, though the first written record of it dating from the 17th century claims it’s Roman. Someone had left three fresh pink roses in the centre– three pale norns– covered there by the muddy edges of the turf so that they were only visible once you had walked the full circuit. On a clear day you can see the York Minster from this place. These Northern turf mazes share much in common in naming and structure to Scandinavian turf mazes, and one would like to think these may date from the Viking Age, or perhaps they are a remnant of ancestral memory from that time.

Mike and Me, Julian's Bower, Lincolnshire, Imbolc, 2014
Mike and Me, Julian’s Bower, Lincolnshire, Imbolc, 2014

Bells for Coyolxauhqui

Brass Bells for a Goddess. My new Yule Design.
Brass Bells for a Goddess. My new Yule Design.

It’s that time of year when I start thinking of a place that has never been. I get homesick for a mythic land, that hybrid place of Mexico-in-America. You tengo morriña de Aztlan. I hunt down Mexican hot chocolate and make huge piles of tamales so that we end up freezing them and eating them for months afterward, and I dream of the sun. Ironically, this place inside a place is exactly the psychic locael I inhabit as an immigrant in England. Being in two places at once is something I learned way back when I lived in Cali.

This Yule design came out of that nostalgic emotion. I was thinking about the Aztec moon goddess Coyolxauhqui whose name means “Golden Bells”.  Bells have long been a way to call to the Goddess, and I prefer that aspect to the anachronism of sleigh bells ringing this time of year.

Thalia Took's beautiful illustration of Coyolxauhqui
Thalia Took’s beautiful illustration of Coyolxauhqui

It is said that Coyolxauhqui was killed by her brother who dismembered her, flinging her body into the sky so that her head became the moon.  When the moon is low and bright in the sky, you can see the golden bells of her cheeks shining there.  She is also the goddess of the Milky Way.

For a wonderful interpretation of Coyolxauhqui’s story, go to Thalia Took’s Goddess pages.

This necklace is the green of nopalitos, the red of sangre in the sol.

Blessed Yule for those that celebrate it.  

Slavering Sal of East Witton

Slaverin' Sal, the gargoyle head on Diana's Well, East Witton.
Slaverin’ Sal, the gargoyle head on Diana’s Well, East Witton.
Me at Diana's Well
Me at Diana’s Well

Diana’s Well in East Witton is a long ramble up from the village, into a forest ride called “Castaway Ride” which is actually gated with a “Private: Do Not Enter” sign. The well is about a half mile deep into the woods, but easy to find because it’s enclosed in a 19th century well house. According to Edna Whelan and Ian Taylor in my much-referred-to copy of Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, the well house was built by the Earl of Aylesbury, and the inscription on the entrance marks the date as 1821. They propose the stonework came from the ruins of Jervaulx Abbey, not far away.  Before the dissolution, the monks there were famous for horse breeding and they introduced cheese making to the region, now famous for its Wensleydale.

Another fragment from the abbey is the distinctive face  on the outside of the well house. Water is piped in from the basin inside, out to this stone countenance, dripping through the mouth which is now covered with a thick beard of moss– so that its face resembles a green man or woman.  No doubt it’s this face that earned the well’s local name “Slaverin’ Sal” which Whelan and Taylor argue is a “folk echo of Sul or Sulis, the Celtic Water Goddess.”  Sul was worshipped in Bath by the Romans as Sulis-Minerva. Linguistically, sul may stem from the word for “eye or gap” in Old Irish.  Michael Graves has argued for a symbolic parallel in neolithic earthworks where the shape of the eye rhymes with the shape of the vulva.  You see it up close in the winking eye of Sal here at the well, and the gap at the mouth, now upholstered in luxuriant moss, is unmistakably a font of fertility. Though the growth of moss and lichen has obscured the eye carving, it’s clear that in previous illustrations of the font, Sal has two eyes.  It seems that perhaps the other has been chipped away, blinded by vandals.

Diana's Well, Well House, East Witton
Diana’s Well, Well House, East Witton

Named after the Roman Goddess of the moon, childbirth and the hunt, I wonder when it began to be called Diana’s Well. Is this a 19th century folly of a name? A pastoral whimsy? Regardless, it was never Christianized, though it was the original water supply for the village of East Witton.

The Well House, Diana's Well
The Well House, Diana’s Well

According to Gary R. Varner in Sacred Wells: A Study in the History, Meaning and Mythology of Holy Wells and Waters, many holy wells sprang up where the head of a decapitated saint had fallen. The beautiful St. Winifred’s Well in Wales is one such place. (Her head was actually reattached and she lived, so the story goes.) St. Winifred’s well in Shropshire has the same legend attached to it. In fact, Varner summarizes many 6-7th century legends which begin the same way– an attempted rape– and end with a decapitation and creation of a sacred spring. For some wells the healing was said to be amplified if the water could be drunk from a skull– the skull of a suicide in particular.  Varner argues these are remnants of the Celtic “head cult” surviving through ancestral memory and folk fragments. Edna Whelan goes into some depth on the Celtic head cult and wells in Yorkshire here.

The basin of Diana's Well-- cold clear water flowing
The basin of Diana’s Well– cold clear water flowing

This well has a history of a wishing well, where pins were thrown as an offering to the genus locii. Another name for this well is the “Castaway Well” and according to OutofOblivion.org, the name derives from this practice of throwing an offering into the water.  This well has been taken care of– there’s even a new roof on the well house. Watching the rivulets catch the sun as they trickled down the moss-laden sides of the dark house, the light glimmered and flickered, like a fairy fireworks display– it was mesmerising– staring at it I felt that I was indeed in a sacred place– away with the fairies.

Pick up Every Stitch

This Samhain passed quietly, without a single trick or treater, despite our expertly carved pumpkin in the window. People don’t really celebrate Halloween here– it is seen as a crass commercialisation of an ancient Celtic holiday, a “Yank” import.

It remains my favourite holiday, and really, I celebrate it all year round. Last night we had to decide what horror movie to watch. I don’t like to watch anything too scary at night. I love horror films but I have to watch them during the day.  So that ruled out most things, leaving us with our Hammer boxed set, Ginger Snaps, and Season of the Witch from 1972.

George Romero’s little known masterpiece of Suburban witchcraft is a nod to the pyschological horror of Hardy’s The Turn of the Screw while still being a feminist meditation on the mainstreaming of non-conformity happening in the early 1970s.  It is also proof of the power of a title– marketed as “Hungry Wives” in the US and “Jack’s Wife” in the UK, both distort for me the heart of the film. The thrill of watching this is similar to seeing the seductive and colourful British folk customs through a cinematic distortion in original The Wicker Man.Here we get to glimpse of the pagan rituals of a solitary witch who later joins a coven, all glamorised for the big screen.  Of course, this might seem cliche– we have had many witches on mainstream telly in recent years. But Jan White’s sincere performance of a woman coming to power strikes me as very real in a film genre that is full of histrionics and dazed women victims.  As she discovers who she is, you feel as if you are seeing this moment of transformation for the first time as well.  Romero says it is the only one of his films he would like to remake, and I would be curious to see that happen.

Miniature witch ball, inspired by old Yorkshire custom, available in different colours in my Etsy shop.