The wheel of fortune isn’t just a TV show or a gambling device. Fortuna is another of those early Roman civic goddesses. Her statues show her holding an overflowing cornucopia in one hand and a ship’s rudder in her other hand. Beside her stands her wheel, a multivalent symbol that we see in mandalas, the wheel of the year, the zodiac, and the rose windows of Gothic cathedrals. Although Fortuna is sometimes blindfolded, she’s not just “Lady Luck.” Her name originally meant “she who brings,” and what she brings is what happens in our lives. She steers our fate with her rudder, and her cornucopia shows that she can bring us wealth. What she brings in early spring is fertility—crops, animals, humans. The Greeks called her Tyche, the Anglo-Saxons called her Wyrd, and in the medieval Christian church she was known as St. Agatha.
Tarot Card X is The Wheel of Fortune. When this card comes up in a reading, I interpret it as a change of fortune, either up or down, depending on what the querent wants out of life. Fortuna’s wheel is always turning. It’s a common theme in medieval and renaissance literature that anyone who stands on the top of the wheel will inevitably fall, just as anyone who clings to the bottom will inevitably rise. Thus we have the tragedies of kings and the comedies of ambitious commoners.
Reader, today is a good day for divination. Get a tarot reading. Toss a coin (another wheel) and see what Fortuna has in store for you during the first quarter of this year. As spring begins, do you find yourself at the top or the bottom of Fortune’s wheel? It’s likely that your life will change before the end of spring. That’s how wheels work: they’re always turning.
“You light up my life.” A charismatic person “lights up the room.” When we become aware of something, the “lights go on” or we suddenly “see the light.” In cartoons, a light bulb turns on over the head of the guy who has an idea. Conversely, we call someone who isn’t enlightened “a dim bulb,” or maybe “the lights are on but nobody’s home.”
Light—especially the famous “white light”—is a major metaphysical symbol. Light has traditionally been equated with spirit. It’s the manifestation of intellect, virtue, morality. Because light comes from the east, when the Theosophical Society was founded and the European Occult Revival occurred in the late 19th century, it was Eastern Wisdom that flowed across the planet like healing light to illuminate us benighted Westerners. (I know people who fervently believe that the only true wisdom comes from the Ancient Masters of the East—those guys are apparently still hiding in Shangri-La or Shambhala.)
My point is not to argue the relative merits of Eastern and Western wisdom. What I’m wondering is what does it mean to be enlightened? What happens to us when we’re illuminated? Physiologists know that parts of the brain do sort of light up when we’re thinking. Is this literal or metaphorical light? Or does enlightenment specialize and give us a laser-like focus? When we become enlightened, is it a one-time occurrence or does it last for the rest of our lives? Do ordinary people like you and me get enlightened, or is this state reserved for great, wise, and holy people? Were they common before they got enlightened and that’s why they became great, wise, and holy? And, finally, can we fall out of our state of enlightenment and go back to where we were before? How do we tell the difference?
Yeah, some people who say we should never, ever leave the light. We should endeavor to be “light workers” who fill every shadow with light and eliminate all darkness. We should surround ourselves with white light at all times and, like Lady Bountiful, bestow our white light on darker people.
This is an exceedingly naïve attitude. If the light’s on all the time, how on earth do we get any sleep? Do we ever get to close our eyes? If all there is, is light, and there aren’t any shadows, how do we keep from going blind and bumping into things? How do we distinguish one thing from another?
Nearly every standard reference work I looked at says that darkness signifies gloom and “primigenial chaos.” Pagans understand that as much as we crave enlightenment—learning, knowledge, holiness—that much do we also require endarkenment. The New Age just doesn’t seem to have caught on to yet. We can help others see that without the darkness we cannot even recognize the light. We need literal shadows—and psychological and metaphysical ones—to tell us what’s out there.
During the month of February, we witness change. We see the movement from darkness and long nights to light and longer days. Fortuna’s wheel turns, the wheel of the year turns, and things change. It’s that simple.
Maybe it’s also that scary. When we seek endarkenment, we set out to explore dark places, and some of those dark places are in our minds. Readers, it’s useful to know that we have dark places. It’s useful to be aware of our shadows and know that we’re not always kind and good and pure. When we own our shadows, then we can be more tolerant of other people’s shadows. When we’re endarkened, we are capable of change.
Anahita, one of the earliest of the Great Mothers whose titles include Golden Mother and Immaculate One, originated in Babylon, traveled throughout Asia Minor, Egypt, and India, and finally became the preeminent mother goddess of the Persians, who identified her with the planet Venus. During the reign of Artaxerxes (436–358 B.C.E.), Persians built numerous temples in her honor. She was so popular that it is said that Ahura Mazda himself worshipped her, though Zoroaster generally ignores her. She was also said to be the mother (or consort) of Mithra.
In a part of the world where water is scarce and a spring can mean the difference between life and death, this goddess of fresh water deserves great honor. Another of her names is Ardvi Sura Anahita, which means “humid, strong, immaculate one.” As Nahid (a modern name), she is associated, like Aphrodite and Ishtar, with love and music. As the ruler of water, semen, and milk, all of which flow and fertilize, Anahita also rules human propagation, which is why “sacred prostitution” was practiced in her many temples. An Iranian scholar says that “after the occupation of Iran by Moslem Arabs, the ritual of respecting women and mother and the sanctity of Nahid … became a secret creed.” If any rituals to Anahita/Nahid remain in Iran today, they must be conducted in extremely remote locations by people who are careful not to be found out.
To celebrate Anahita, remember that Imbolc is when ewes were milked for the first time in the spring. If you can, go to a place where fresh water flows and drink a glass of milk. Consider the connections between milk and fertility and praise this ever-flowing goddess. As you drink, ask Anahita for good health, good sex, increase (of herds and/or wealth), and safe childbirth.
Concordia, the personification of community harmony, had at least two temples in Rome, a city that certainly needed her blessings. The Romans acknowledged her by holding a feast called the Charistia, where people met to reconcile their differences and settle their disputes. Reader, it sometimes happens in a tradition, coven, or circle that fragmenting issues arise. Fault lines of power and control appear. Eris, goddess of discord, starts whispering in our ears. Words are said that were better left unsaid. Actions are taken that cannot be taken back. Let’s bring Concordia back into our circle.
Here’s a ritual to keep Concordia present. First, get a big ball of rainbow-colored yarn. Next, everyone sit on the floor in a circle. Sit so close that you’re all touching, shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh. Now, holding the end of the yarn in one hand, the first person tosses the ball so it flies like a comet with a rainbow tail to someone across the circle. As you toss the yarn, speak the words that Concordia whispers in your ear. “I honor the way you tell the truth.” “I respect your right to want to do things differently.” The person who catches the yarn touches it to his or her heart, then tosses it to someone else with an affirmation of harmony.
Keep tossing the ball around the circle and speaking words of harmony until you’ve used up all the yarn. What you’ll have now is a great big knot, an untidy web. (Well, concord is seldom tidy.) You also have a cone of energy of community harmony hovering above you. Ground the energy into yourselves and to work together to figure out a way to preserve that great big knot as a symbol of your determination to preserve the harmony of your community.
The Music of the Night
The dark has much to tell us. Reader, if you wake up at three or four in the morning, try this meditation of extended hearing.
Lie still and simply listen. Listen to your own breathing. Listen to your heart beating, to the other sounds your body makes, chugging along, keeping your alive.
Now begin extending your hearing. If you sleep with a partner, listen to his or her breathing and his or her other little sleep sounds. Feel the comfort these accustomed sounds bring you. What other sounds can you hear in your bedroom? Extend your hearing through your home. Listen to the little noises your children make in their sleep, to your dog or cat doing what it does in the nighttime. Listen to the humming of the refrigerator, to the plumbing, to the settling of your foundation. As you listen, be glad for your home and its familiar noises.
Extend your hearing past your walls. Listen to the nighttime animals outside, an owl, a feral cat. Hear an occasional car or truck driving down your street. Who could be driving at three a.m. and where are they going in the dark? Wish them a safe arrival. Listen to your neighbors. In the building next to mine lives someone whose lights are on twenty-four hours a day and who plays soft classical music all night. I’ve never seen this person.
Extend your hearing to wider and wider areas. By now, you’re not hearing very much with your physical ears—perhaps a train whistle or an occasional siren racing across town. If you hear a siren, send blessings. It’s now that you listen with your imagination. Now, in the hours before the dawn, you are hearing the voices of the earth. What are they telling you? What are they singing about?
The Matronalia, or Festival of Women, began on March 1, when the Vestal Virgins entered a sacred grove and hung offerings of their hair on the oldest tree. Some historians say that Roman matrons served their female slaves at this feast. For every baby born in Rome, a coin was deposited in the temple of Juno Lucina, “Light,” to give thanks to the goddess for a safe birth.
Juno is the guiding light of women of all ages. Let’s have our own Matronalia and invite mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, aunts and sisters and girlfriends.
First, decorate the room with garlands and sprays and bunches of flowers and green plants and blooming plants in pots. Because we’re honoring Juno Lucina, illuminate the room with masses of beeswax candles or lamps with beautiful silk, beaded shades. Put pale pink bulbs in the lamps. Let’s decorate ourselves, too and wear our most colorful, most fantastic outfits.
This is a feast day. Find out what the girls and women really like to eat. If it’s pepperoni pizza and chocolate cake and tacos and fried rice and crudités, that’s fine. Order take-out food so no one has to cook or wash dishes, but if someone wants to cook, honor her (and help her clean up). Before you eat, give a bite of food to another woman and say, “May you never hunger.”
How do we spend our day together? Let’s tell stories. Let’s talk about the springtime of our lives, when we had invisible friends and thought we could do anything. Grandmother can tell us how she had fun in the days before computers and cell phones, mother can tell stories about the succulent things she’s done, and granddaughter can talk about her dreams, about what she wants to be when she grows up.
Like Athena from the head of Zeus, Barbie was born (in 1959) from the mind of Ruth Handler, cofounder of Mattel, Inc., and named after her daughter. Well … if you want to know the truth, Barbie is known to be a knock-off of “Bild Lilli,” a lascivious doll from a German tabloid. But our Barbie wasn’t a naughty German plaything. Like “Kitten” on Father Knows Best, like Mouseketeer Annette, our Barbie was an All-American Girl. She became the most popular doll in America. The author of Forever Barbie writes that she “may be the most potent icon of American popular culture in the late twentieth century.”
Reader, have you noticed that Protestants don’t have goddesses? The faithful of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches have Mary Mother of God and gaggles of saints, but the sixteenth-century Reformers reformed Mary right out of the church. The Puritans further purified the church of beauty and holidays. John Knox wrote a tract called A Monstrous Regiment of Women, in which he attacks uppity women like Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots and praises women who know their proper place. In the early Protestant churches, everyone could be a saint, but no one could even think about being a goddess.
Today, America worships the goddesses of the silver screen and MTV, but who’s the greatest popular goddess? I nominate Barbie as Protestant Goddess, as the Goddess of All Girls. Just as Isis is She of Ten Thousand Names, so Barbie is She of Ten Thousand Wardrobe Changes. Behold the apotheosis of the doll.
Hail, Barbie, full of grace,
Mattel is with thee.
Blessed art thou among dolls
And blessed are thy multitudinous accessories.
Holy Barbie, girlfriend of Ken,
Play with us now
And as long as plastic and fabric will last, amen.
In case you’ve been residing in a cave, here’s the news. It’s not politically correct to be a feminist. The “second wave” of feminism arose in the 1960s and 70s when Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique (1963), Z. Budapest founded the Susan B. Anthony Coven #1 (1971), Gloria Steinem founded Ms. Magazine (1972), Mary Daly started her series of radical feminist books with Beyond God the Father (1973), and Merlin Stone wrote When God Was a Woman (1976). (The “first wave” was the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.) Today, young women are being discouraged from women’s studies or Goddess research, and a backlash has arisen against the work of Marija Gimbutas, mostly by people who don’t know the evidence from the field (either the digs or the literature).
The words “feminism” and “feminine” come from the Latin femina, “woman,” which simply identifies a gender. Whereas “feminism” has taken on a connotation of ferocity and separatism, “feminine” remains soft, weak, and generally less admirable than “masculine.” In grammar, a feminine ending like “-ess” or “-trix” diminishes a noun. A poetess has less status than a poet, an actress is less serious than an actor, and an aviatrix is less brave than an aviator. That’s why women call themselves poets and actors and aviators. Even in poetry, feminine rhyme (a two syllables) is less powerful than masculine (one syllable), even though it’s harder to write.
I know women who believe that men came from another solar system entirely and should probably go back there. Consider the phrases “divine feminine” and “feminine divine.” What’s the difference between them? Which describes a more active force? Does anyone say “divine masculine”? Why not?
Feminie is a Middle English word that means “women collectively.” Should we bring this word into modern usage?
1 From Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives (Weiser Books, 2006), copyright Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. Reprinted with the permission of Dr. Ardinger.