The Bard's Grove

"There are times when people need stories more than they need nourishment, because the stories feed something deeper than the needs of the body."
Charles DeLint, The Onion Girl

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Autumn Equinox: Harvesting the Seeds of the Future

The Drummer sits in the topmost branches of the great Tree, his hair blowing in the wind created by the whirling of the galaxies turning around his head. The Tree itself stretches through the center of a brightly glowing spiral of stars, with roots firmly grounded in the earth of many planets. He cocks his head to listen in the silence for the music of the dancing giants, and his hands keep time on one of the many drums hanging from the Tree’s branches. Slowly a smile lights his eyes until they gleam with the fires of heaven. Standing, he stretches his arms above his head as he begins to sing. He sings his name, the power that moves the dancers, for he is the Lord of Time, and it is a moment in the dance when he is called to mark a turning, to shape a Balance.

 Elana Gibeault

With the grace of a dancer, he leaps and swings down the branches of that wondrous Tree. Now this Tree is known by many names on many worlds, for it is the Cosmic Tree, the Tree of Life whose branches hold the blazing stars and whose roots descend to the waters which give birth to the dreams of the soul. Yet to the Drummer, it is truly and simply the Mother, who shelters life within Her many layers and who gives form to the dreams of all Her children. Now one of Her oldest children is being called to his task: to turn the Wheel of Life and witness the result of that movement.
As the Drummer descends to the lower branches, he sings his song which is his name and the power of Time draws near. The rhythm of his singing grows slower as the great Change approaches, for the uprush of life which he called forth in the Spring is now turning within and approaching a new Balance. As he descends and draws near to one blue-green world, he gathers in the Light and he gathers in the Darkness, for these are the tools of the power of Time.
He sits in the lowest branches of that great and mysterious Tree, his leg swinging to the beat of his drum, his eyes searching the horizon. With his descent, his song has taken on a depth and a longing that belongs to the heart of this world, and his name becomes a beseeching whisper carried on the back of the winds. The power of his song and the power of his drumming become the power of his loving as a figure appears. As He is Lord of Time, so She is the Lady of Life, alive and glowing with both Darkness and Light. She comes to him now—Dark as night, Dark as Earth, moving like the cat-creature that paces at her side.
She stops at the foot of the Tree, swaying to the rhythm of his music, and then, lifting her arms to him, the Lady begins her own song, a song of fullness and depths, of mystery and emptiness. She sings her name—Mararich with the textures, tastes, smells, sights and sounds of nature. And when she sings her beloved’s name – Mabon he leaps to the ground with a shout of gladness.
Now Mabon plays a new rhythm, one that binds them together in love. In that moment, as Lady Mara and her Lord, Mabon, hold the Balance between them, sinking into a deep silence, the Tree shakes itself from its crown to its roots, and the Balance of Time is achieved once again.
Within that infinite moment of looking and loving, the Change blows through them. And then the Lord of Time and Lady of Life send out their song, and call their children to gather around the Tree. And the children come with the fruits of their labor, for the Balance being struck between the Light and the Darkness is the moment of Harvest for this beloved Earth. To the rhythm of Time, they come to offer the fruits of the year; and stand in the silence as the moment of balance flows away, the Light receding before the Darkness.
Lady Mara looks upon her children with love and sorrow, for the ways of the world are secret and holy, and not all of her children have believed the senses which tell them of the ways of Spirit. For her world is now entering into the dark times, the season when death and decay need to be faced so that new life can be born in the future. Of all her children gathered there, she can only hope that a few have gathered in a harvest worthy of the gifts she and Mabon bestowed upon them in the springtime of the year. For although the Balance has been struck, the Dark is rising and the hope of the New Year lay in the harvest gathered in now.
One by one, their children dance before their eyes to the rhythm of their names and the sounding of the drum. The first to come by is an older man, dignified and self-important, with empty eyes and babbling mouth. Around his neck hang the skulls of women and children, and the skulls cry out against him. His is a harvest of death and there are no seeds to be gotten from him. Mabon’s hands fly over the drumhead and the dancer is forced to twirl and gyrate until the cries of the skulls are silenced as the figure explodes into dust.
Twisting from side to side in frantic haste, a woman scurries around the circle, with wide-opened mouth and a hole where her heart should be. She grabs at the air and THINGS appear—clothes, food, jewels—which she immediately stuffs down her throat. Unfortunately, they fly right out of the hole in her chest. The more she eats, the more frantically she grabs. There will never be enough. Sorrowfully, Mabon plays deeply and widely as the THINGS she desires overwhelm her and she is eaten by their nothingness. No seeds there.
One after another, their children dance their harvests, and they are too often harvests of greed and destruction, unconsciousness and small-heartedness, and soon the Tree is surrounded by corpses and bones dancing themselves to dust.
But just as sorrow has achieved its full measure, a woman appears with a small child at her side. As they dance, Mabon and Mara hear the young mother tell her little girl a story about a great Tree whose branches stretch to the very heavens and whose roots are nourished by the dreams of the world, and the child laughs for pure pleasure. And the hearts of the Lady and Lord lighten with laughter, for here at last is a bountiful harvest, with seeds for the future. As the woman and child dance before their parents, the abundance of their harvest is made clear to them, and they accept their blessings with grateful hearts.
Next comes an older woman, weighed down with years, who bares the fruits of the earth in her hands, and it is good. With her are many others, bringing the healing herbs and food they nurture by their daylong toil, and all are accepted with great gladness as seeds for the future.
Soon a man appears, broad of shoulder, with strong hands that are good at making and building. He carries the things which his heart has imagined and his hands have crafted—he brings with him the beauty he has created. And the Lord and Lady smile with delight, for here is a true son, bearing the harvest of his soul. The man lays the work of his hands at their feet, seeds of the future.
With him are others, whose harvests are of the heart and the mind as well as of their hands, and their daylong labors are blessed. And these children dance on the bones and the dust of their brothers and sisters, and their seeds rest in the decay of the dead, to sleep their winter sleep.
And Mabon and Mara look out over the harvest and see that it is bountiful, and their hearts rejoice, for in the silence of the Balance of Light and Dark, the seeds of the future are singing their names. 

This story is from my book, Stories of the Earth: 8 Tales of the Wheel of the Year.   It's an eBook and you can buy it here:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Captain Fantastic: Living, Breathing Truth

Captain Fantastic: Living, Breathing Truth

May the Light bless us all, and make true our tongues,
and truer our hearts, and truest of all our deeds.”
(Alison Croggon, The Riddle, p.64)

The new movie, Captain Fantastic, is fantastic because it actually tells us a story our world needs to hear and see and understand right now. And it tells it to us with beauty, grace, wit, sorrow and keen insight. It is a story about Truth and how we never know what that Truth really is until we fully live it, especially when it comes up against another's Truth.
The cast is amazing as well. Viggo Mortensen is intense as Ben, the father, wholly believing in his philosophy of our modern world. He's the old hippie, unwilling to bend to the world. He's dedicated to enriching his children's minds and hearts and bodies. He's a drill sargent, a college professor, a trickster and a loving father all roled into one character. As I mentioned. Intense. He believes in the rightness of his truth, even when others see it as wrong. He is a revolutionary and he is raising his kids to be revolutionaries as well. When he holds a celebration with his kids, it's called Noam Chomsky's birthday. Every time. Enough said!

The children are all a delight: training, learning, creating, being brave, speaking the Truth. The oldest, Bo (George MacKay ) is brilliant and brave and kind, and yet socially inept for an 18 year old. The two older sisters, Kielyr (Samantha Isler ) and Vespyr (Annalise Basso), both redheads, look and act like sisters, and both take on the older sister mothering role—fierce and creative and wise—very much as I imagine the priestesses of Artemis were back in ancient Greece. The troublemaker Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton ) is just as smart and creative as the others, but the secret Truth he knows is eating him up. The two youngest kids, Zaja, (Shree Crooks ) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell) are still young enough to show us the rigorous standards Ben sets for all of them, regardless of their ages or strengths. And how well they learn and prosper, especially when life, including sex, is explained to them matter-of-factly. Truth is the central value of this amazing family.
And then there is their missing mother. In a fairy tale, when the mother or queen is dead, it indicates a lack of the feeling values of life, the waters of life having vanished. There is something brittle about life without the nurturing Mother's presence. And so it is in this 'off the grid' primal paradise Ben and Leslie (Trin Miller ) created once she's gone. We discover that Leslie is being treated for bi-polar disorder. The kids miss her but Ben is stoic about it; she's sick. A fact is a fact is a fact... But as a astrologer, I'd rather think that she's got some Gemini doubts going on. We find out that she goes back and forth, changing her mind, about the rightness of this life they've created. She gets excited and then depressed about their life experiment. And the writer/director Matt Ross chose a perfect metaphor for the shadow aspect of this rigorous lifestyle—its extreme position gives rise to its opposite.
Every Truth has a shadow. Too rigidly holding to our Truth can hurt and even kill life.
When Leslie takes her own life, Ben and the children leave their Pacific Northwest forest home and travel down to Las Vegas (?) for the funeral. This is the journey and the testing for both Ben and the children. For Ben, we see that his memories of Leslie are all about her love for him. Is this the total truth or just part of it? For the children, we get to see how well they deal with the world their parents left behind. We see how they hold to their father's moral sense of right and wrong by stealing food from a store since there's no game off the roads to be killed and cooked. When they meet their aunt's family, we see the depth of their education and knowledge of life as opposed to two adolescent boys playing their video games and being jerks. As Ben says, his children will be philosopher kings – and queens.
But it's when they get to the funeral that we meet their biggest challenge. Their mother's parents. We've heard that their grandfather, Jack (Frank Langella ) doesn't want Ben at the funeral. So when he shows up with the children, we expect a showdown, which Ben percipitates by reading Leslie's will at the altar, which states she wants to be cremated and doesn't want to be buried by the Church. He is taken out of the church and the kids follow.
But the surprise comes when we see the love Leslie's mother Abigail (Ann Dowd ) has for Ben and the children. And that Jack loves them too. That's why he's going to sue for custody of them. He's worried for their safety. Then Rellian says he wants to stay with his grandparents. He's the most upset over his mother's death and the secret he's carried makes him turn against his father. The secret: that they argued over the life they'd created for themselves and the children. That Ben hadn't listened. And now Mom was dead.
This is what happens when we can't see how our Truth might not be someone else's truth. Perhaps Ben couldn't compromise his truth even though Leslie needed him to hear her. Something about their life was too hard and Leslie couldn't sustain it. But Ben wouldn't listen.
There is a feeling componant that is missing in Ben and his teaching and truth. It's only when the family tries to kidnap Rellian back and Vespyr gets hurt that he understands that his children are vulnerable and could be hurt by his truth. Then he steps away and actually cries for his wife and children. And that's when he gets everything back, even Rellian's love. Because Love is just as necessary as the Truth.
I won't spoil the movie by letting you in on what happens. But I will say that I was living in the desert when they filmed this movie and there's one shot of the night sky that I remember quite well. The Moon, Venus and Jupiter in Leo formed a bright triangle in the sky in June of 2015. Look for it in the movie. It's magical! You might also think about how we express our truth, faith and love in the most generous and open-hearted way. Isn't that what this movie is about? 

Speaking of this unusual configuration in the sky, I'd like to speak a bit about how this movie resonants with what's happening in our skies at the present moment. Once again, sychronicity comes into play. As Above, So Below. As Within, So Without.
Whenever we compare the connection between two planets, we talk of cycles because of their orbits around the Sun. Since November 26, 2015 (Thanksgiving), Neptune and Saturn have been at a roughly 90* angle to each other, in what we call a waning square. If you think in terms of the Moon's cycle with the Sun, it is like the last quarter Moon that rises after midnight. At this part of the cycle, we astrologers say that we have to face a crisis in consciousness, an important turning point in our beliefs. We have to look at what we know and believe and see if it's still viable. If you think of the cycle of a plant's life, this is the time when the plant dies and drops its seeds to be the beginning of a new cycle of life. What's important enough to seed the future?
This is what is happening between Neptune in Pisces and Saturn in Sagittarius. Saturn is at its last quarter square to Neptune while in the sign of the Truth-speaker and Truth-seeker. Sagittarius is where we look at Cosmic Law, the foundational truths of the universe we live in. Saturn sets limits and tests us to make us responsible for ourselves and our choices. In Sagittarius, Saturn asks us to stand up for our Truth. For what we really believe in. Of course, it is only our truth, perhaps a part of a larger Truth, so the test is how we use that truth to shape our lives.
Neptune in Pisces invites us into the world of Spirit and the Creative Imagination. On one hand, it takes us deep into the Collective Unconscious, those aspects of collective Life that our culture rejects and ignores, while on the other hand it invites us into the storehouse of Life, the repository of life experiences here on Earth, the Anima Mundi or World Soul.
The aspect between these two planets calls for some kind of action—the action of conscious choice. We can fall into delusions and illusion and martyrdom (Neptune in Pisces) about our beliefs and our truth (Saturn in Sagittarius) or we can open ourselves to new possibilities that our imagination shows us (Neptune again) and find ways to integrate this new awareness and possibility into our belief system (Saturn). That's what Ben ultimately does. He takes in both sides of the story and finds a new balance so the kids get to be both brilliant and socially adept. He does this by bringing in the feminine feelings that were missing before. He listened to his children and saw their needs.
This face-off between Neptune and Saturn is about our apparent reality vs. our true reality. The question is, 'What is true and what is false?', not just about American politicians but about our own lives. Sometimes we hold onto our truth without thought of real-life ramifications, like Ben does. Sometimes we can look at our truth and let our imagination take us to new places and new visions of that truth. Just like Ben does. The lesson of this Saturn/Neptune square is to value both realities and find the transcendent third way that Jung spoke about. It's about finding the balance.
This month of August will bring us face to face with the challenge of this Saturn/ Neptune square, as Mercury, Venus and Mars all come into contact with these energies. How will our minds (Mercury), our hearts (Venus) and our actions (Mars) address our Truth? These planets met for a 2nd time on June 17th and will meet for the 3rd and last time on September 10, 2016. We are faced with the cosmic task of finding and owning our Truth, because the planet is at a tipping point. Will we make true our tongues, and truer our hearts, and truest of all our deeds? This story, like the old mythic stories, can be a guiding light for that task.
Weaving the magical unity of Above and Below, I urge you to go out and see this marvelous film. And then think about your own relationship to your Truth.

From the Bard's Grove,
Cathy Pagano

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Maleficent: Reconnecting to the Divine Feminine Cathy Pagano, M.A.

I have to admit I loved Maleficent the first time I saw Disney’s Sleeping Beauty in 1959.  She had power and a dark beauty that was fascinating.  I loved her even more when I took my daughter to see a Disney retrospective at Lincoln Center in New York City in the early 70s—before VHSs.  My 3-year-old daughter decided she loved Maleficent, was going to dye her blond curls black and then went about terrorizing the other kids at the playground by jumping up and shouting, “I am Maleficent!” 

That’s why I went to see Maleficent and I came away more enchanted with her than ever.  Linda Woolverton’s script shows a deep knowledge of the various sources of the mythic sleeping beauty motif.  Her script is an imaginative, archetypal tale that speaks to our times, finally telling the truth about our patriarchal society’s wounding and rejection of Feminine Spirit, the original wound that caused the tale to be told.

Fairy tales show us the most basic, archetypal story patterns that have shaped our human development through the ages.  Archetypal patterns are the shared instincts that make us all human. And the best way to understand them is through stories.  

Just as it is always a storyteller’s prerogative to shape the story to her tribe’s needs.  Linda Woolverton has done just that with Maleficent.  She tells a story of what was, what is and what might be if we learn to love the things we have been taught to fear.  She tells the truth about how our patriarchal society has sought to strip women of our freedom and power, just as Stefan strips Maleficent of her wings. 

Patriarchal religions have suppressed our relationship to the Earth and any knowledge of our true interconnection with it, because the ancients worshipped the Earth as a Goddess.  Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose, The Sleeping Beauty of the Woods are all tales about feminine values, Earth values, that are rejected and ‘put to sleep’ by a patriarchal society that doesn’t value the Feminine Spirit of Life or our right-brain consciousness that sees the magic and beauty of the Earth through the eyes of the imagination.  And even worse, patriarchy creates the female witch, turning and twisting our feeling, intuitive life into something harmful and evil—something we are taught to fear.  

In the Grimm Brothers’ version of the story, Little Briar Rose, we find a King and Queen who long for a child.  This kingdom needs new life.  A baby daughter is finally born to them and they name her Briar Rose. At her christening, the King invites Wise Women to come and bless his child, acknowledging that there is still wisdom in the land, wanting his child to be blessed with appropriate feminine virtues. However, the king has only 12 golden plate settings, and there are 13 Wise Women.  So he doesn’t invite the 13th Wise Woman.  

The fact that the King leaves out this 13th Wise Woman tells us that this tale is about the rejection of some aspect of Feminine Wisdom—the part that doesn’t fit into patriarchal expectations.  Patriarchy only wants the wisdom of the wise women when it serves its purpose. The fact that the Wise Woman or Fairy is insulted belittles the truth: in rejecting this aspect of the feminine psyche, patriarchy cuts off a woman’s wildness and freedom.   Of course there’ll be payback.

The number 13 symbolizes the ancient Moon Goddess (whose power lay in the 13 Moon cycles of the year), the feminine wisdom of change and transformation as well as sexuality and psychic power.  Since patriarchy is a solar paradigm, 12 is the number of masculine completion, but 13 becomes a number of evil.  Really?  And so we get all the stories about the evil fairy, evil stepmother, evil Maleficent!

As a mythologist and symbologist, I love the symbolism of the 13th Wise Woman becoming Maleficent, the spirit and protector of her land.  As a young fairy, Maleficent is beautiful, kind, funny, courteous, strong, curious and powerful.  She also has an open heart, developing a friendship with Stefan because of his own original kindness to her.  

Maleficent is a unique fairy, with strong horns on her head and giant eagle wings that help her soar to the heavens.  Horns symbolize supernatural powers, the power of the soul arising from the head.  Horns are attributed to all Mother Goddesses and are often symbolized by the lunar crescent, the power of eternal change.  Maleficent’s horns are magnificent, attesting to her generative power and strong life force.  This connects her to the Moon Goddess as well as the Earth Mother.  No other fairy has them.  Her wings are another indication of her spiritual origins, for eagle wings are attributes of Wisdom and Spirit.  It’s so interesting that patriarchy turned those lunar horns into something to be feared—unless they appeared on Michelangelo’s Moses.

This Maleficent is a nature spirit who guards and protects her land from the greed and violence of the patriarchal king.  Unfortunately, Stefan desires that patriarchal power, just as the king desires to destroy and conquer Maleficent’s land.  Despite their loving connection, Stefan is willing to do anything to achieve power, most hurtfully when he goes against his love and his heart. No wonder he goes crazy!  

Stefan is the most stereotypical character in the story, seemingly a mouthpiece for the violence and madness of the patriarchal paradigm. It’s hard to have any sympathy for a mindset that only wants power.  Both Stefan and his predecessor have no connection to the feminine—we barely see Briar Rose’s mother, Stefan willingly gives his daughter over to the 3 fairies instead of defending Aurora himself, he disregards the Queen when she is dying in his madness and his fear, and when Aurora comes back to him, he locks her in a room instead of welcoming her.  Where is the concern for others?  Where is the love? Stefan is the very image of the negative father, which is what patriarchy has become.

Stefan represents a mindset where there are no redeeming feminine feeling values, creating an imbalance that needs to be rectified.   Everything is tuned to violence, and perceptions are based on fear and projection because Stefan has stolen Maleficent’s wings and imprisoned them.  He has repressed his own feeling life and his soul’s power, and now it is turned against him and his kingdom.  His power cannot last in such a state.

After Stefan’s betrayal, devastated by the loss of her wings, Maleficent makes Diaval, the Raven, her companion and her wings.  Diaval is a marvelously sympathetic character to both Maleficent and Aurora, ready with advice and concern.  In fact, Diaval is the redeeming masculine figure in the story.  He represents a new masculine energy that is aligned with Feminine Spirit.

Who would have thought that old grouchy cartoon raven would be so wonderful!  Ravens are magical birds with the ability to shape-shift—they are birds who are connected to birth and death, magic and mysticism.  Two ravens were Odin’s messengers—Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory).  Ravens are Moon birds and companions of great magicians, giving them the intuitive information they need to make decisions and create spells.  Diaval does this for Maleficent, shape-shifting to accommodate her needs.  Awakening her memories, questioning her purposes.

The scene where Maleficent arrives at Aurora’s christening has been modeled on the cartoon version, and it is well done indeed.  But when Maleficent curses the baby, she is the one, instead of the last fairy, who changes the curse from eternal sleep, giving Aurora the chance to awaken with true love’s kiss.  She does this to spite Stefan, since after her betrayal, Maleficent no longer believes in true love.   And of course, Love is the main issue in the story.  Without the nurturing power of Love, nothing grows. 

I enjoy the fact that Maleficent and Diaval find the 3 fairies and baby right away instead of on Aurora’s 16th birthday. These fairies want to help Stefan—an apt symbol of how patriarchy uses feminine gifts for its own purposes.  The 3 fairies are dim-witted, argumentative and self-absorbed, and seemingly have very little to do with raising Aurora—another result of suppressing the feminine.  Patriarchal women often forget how to nurture life!  That is left to Maleficent and Diaval, an interesting and quite accurate archetypal transformation.  This is the beginning of the healing between Aurora, who symbolizes the new feminine feeling life, and Maleficent, who personifies Nature.  

Angelina Jolie is a perfect Maleficent, facing Aurora with a cool distain that masks her wounded love nature.  She falls in love with Aurora.  And Aurora falls in love with her.  Maleficent is afraid to love again but Aurora’s trusting nature sees Maleficent’s beauty and kindness beneath her gruff exterior.  And we see the truth of Maleficent’s love when she tries to revoke her own curse.  But to her sorrow, it holds.

As the curse takes effect, we see some role reversals from the original story—giving us a clue of what is to come.  It is Maleficent who must make her way through the iron thorns that Stefan has erected around his castle to save Aurora, braving pain and iron burns to get inside to the sleeping beauty.  She is the one who brings Prince Phillip to Aurora’s bedside to break the curse.  But how can such young ‘love’ be true love?  It is not tested yet.  It is all projection and expectation.  And so Phillip fails.  Aurora sleeps on.

True love’s kiss can only come from a complete knowing and acceptance of a person’s soul.  So it is very satisfying that it is Maleficent’s kiss that awakens Aurora, just as it is archetypally perfect that it is Aurora who frees Maleficent’s wings and brings about Maleficent’s healing.  The Divine Feminine can only heal us and be healed through our human feminine nature and consciousness.

Aurora is the vehicle of Maleficent’s transformation and healing.  When the spirit child and the human child form a bond of love, magic happens.  Aurora—the new dawn—brings about a healing in the kingdom as well, uniting both her father’s world and the world of Faerie.  

This wonderful story is about reclaiming the 13th disregarded Wise Woman—the Wise Woman of the Moon.  I hope women everywhere reclaim our own 13th fairy, renewing our connection with the Divine Feminine.  It will bring healing to all our lives if we do!

Maleficent gets 3 thumbs up.