Monday, September 18, 2017

Ritual to Demeter: Harvest the Fury (Gaea Goddess Gathering 2017)


Every year for the past 21 years, ladies from the Kansas City area have went to great lengths in creating a festival for women.  This event is known as Gaea Goddess Gathering and is held at the Gaea Retreat Center in McLouth, KS on the third weekend of September.  This year, I had the honor of being asked to lead the main ritual!  As a nontheist, this was an interesting and enjoyable challenge.  I hope I did Demeter and the ritual justice!

This year's theme: With the strength of the mother, we rise.


My circlemate Amy volunteered to introduce the ritual.  I left her some key notes about food allergies and the like, then created a grounding medication that incorporated the earth and fire.  I wanted everyone to remove their physical selves, the physical markers of their lives, and become their most authentic souls standing in the circle.

Then Cathy Burchett and her drummers began the warrior beat and out we marched.


My guttural growl becomes a feral roar but I can stay silent no longer.  My fingers are blackened from the tarry earth I have clawed my way through to RISE.

Mother is not a soft name. Swollen bellies do not make her weak. She endures impossible pain to birth entire nations and, when her children are in danger, she does not cower in fear.  She is the protector with darkened eyes and blood on her lips and she will RISE.

Unconditional love does not make her weak.  These tears are not passive mourning.  When she lifts her head, she is a fearsome protector, a warrior, and she will RISE.

When Demeter lost her daughter to the dark god of the underworld, she did not passively mourn.  She ended crops and murdered entire generations in the icy tomb of winter.  Her rage is cold like the winds of a blizzard and hot like the hearth fire that burns down your home.  When Demeter faces conflict, she will not fall, she will RISE.

And now we face dark times, my witches.  From within anger turns to rage and resistance turns to fight.  We have seen the storm clouds building and we stand at the front, face towards the straight line winds, the quaking thunder and the light that cracks the sky.  We are more aware now than every before.  Harvest the fury, stand up and RISE.

All of us have wounds we bear.  The mark of racism, sexism. The mark of indignation, inequality and injustice. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. We are more than hell. We will give them hell.  Wear your wounds with pride and RISE.

Demeter, I invoke thee: Goddess of the harvest, mother of the grain. Your children need you!  Look upon us, a gathering of women in a dire time. Our bellies may be full but it's our hearts that are malnourished this evening.  Like Persephone, your daughters are being stolen from you.  Come to us with the ferocity of a mother scorned.

CLAW YOUR WAY UP FROM THE EARTH AND RISE.
CLAW YOUR WAY UP FROM THE EARTH AND RISE.
CLAW YOUR WAY UP FROM THE EARTH AND RISE.



Demeter is goddess of the harvest and mother of the grain.  When we think of the harvest time, we think of goals achieved from seeds sewn in the spring.  What we may forget is that the harvest is also the time of the cutting of the shaft - the end of one life to help another.  With one death, another life takes hold.  When we think of mothers, we think of swollen bellies, unconditional love and a gentleness that pervades all other forms.  But there's a darker side to the mother and I like to call her the protector.

So Demeter is goddess of the harvest.  That means she's also a goddess of cycles, of life and death, of beginnings and ends.  She's also a mother and thus a protector.  For many, she was a goddess that presided over sacred law, punishing those who dared defy it.  In fact, one of her epitaphs was aganippe or "the mare who destroys mercifully."  In this form, she was seen as a winged black horse with gorgon snakes entwined in her mane and the ability to turn those who defied the sacred law to stone.  So while Demeter is a goddess of bounty and love, she's also a protector that doles out justice swiftly and vengefully.

While many attending this ritual are or will be mothers, some won't or can't.  I fall into that latter category.  When you're not going to have a child, it makes it difficult to connect to the mother cycle of life.  But the protector?  That's something we can all relate to.  All of us have had to step up at some point and protect someone, be it a friend, a family member, a pet, a child or ourselves.  So that was my focus for the night.



And so I told the story of Demeter and Erysichthon, the arrogant and greedy king of Thessaly.  He was spoiled and surrounded himself with only the richest and most like-minded in the kingdom.  One day, he decided he needed a banquet table from which to dine on only the best of foods with the richest of his friends.  Thus he entered the woods with his slaves.


When Erysichthon found the tree he wanted to cut down, he commanded that his slaves do so but they refused.  Eventually, he became frustrated with them, grabbed the ax and did it himself.  As he cut, blood poured from the wounds because he was murdering the nymphs of Demeter in the goddess's sacred grove.  She appeared and, utilizing the disguise of the priestess Nikippe, she begged him to stop but he refused.  His conceit and vanity angered her and she assumed her true form in her rage, causing Erysichthon to feel fear for the first time in his life.

Now you are no slave to the ways of the greedy king.  Though his talk emboldens the feeble minded, you can see through his lies.  Demeter gifts you with the ability to free yourself:


But there's a catch: You must rely on one another to do so.  Attendants were asked that, once their chains were cut, to use the scissors and cut the chains of the sister next to them.  Use your freedom to help those who are maybe less free, your voice for those who are silenced.  Give and accept help, because only together can we rise.

Demeter then healed the nymphs and made the tree whole.  You too have been cut down before.  Perhaps it was a friend or family member you couldn't see eye to eye with, a parent or partner who abused you or a group who attacked you.  Maybe you cut yourself down and are trying to rebuild from the pieces of who you once were.  Regardless, these cuts are you wounds.

I asked ritual attendants to offer their wounds to Demeter throughout the festival at the temple so that she may heal them.  Willingly, she would and she would imbue them with two special statements represented by sigils on two pieces of birch:



Using the shackles they had been freed from, we bound the pieces of wood together, healing the tree and ourselves with Demeter's guidance:

I was once cut down, but now I am made whole.


But as we all know, the deepest cuts leave scars. These are nothing to be ashamed of.  They represent a battle you have fought to stand today, an event that has shaped you.  Using red paint, we marked each person with a scar that they could wear with pride to In This Moment's Fighter:


During the last chorus, we offered the box of wounds to the flames:


And the flames turned a bright, healing blue:


In her fury, Demeter cursed Erysichthon that, no matter how much he consumed, it would never be enough.  He ate endlessly but never gained in pound; in fact, he wasted away until he was skin and bones.  He sold all of his possessions, including his daughter Mestra, to buy food but it was never enough.  He ate until the fields were bare and the cattle were all gone.  He even grabbed the cat... and ate that too.

In desperation, he turned upon his own body and chewed until he died.


Behold, the body of the once proud king, his crown soiled in his own blood. Behold, he is no god.  His blood is not made of gold, his body is not made of stone. He is mortal and mortality is his fate.

I requested that each attendant consume the body of Erysichthon as a sacrifice to themselves, a sacrifice to a goddess of creation and beauty, a goddess who deserves so much more than society gives her.  I asked they consume him to remind them of what greed and pride beget a king.  Erysichthon wanted a luxurious banquet table from which he could dine on the most expensive of foods with only the richest of guests.  He was left an emaciated beggar with no riches, no friends, no dinner table and no dinner.


The bread was made of the oats Demeter reaps at harvest, transformed by the magic inherent in cooking.  The blood was made of honey, created by bees who pollinate the crops that grow our food.  In fact, priestesses of Demeter were called Melissae - bees - and the standards of beekeeping are called Demeter Standards.  This is why Demeter's wrath can be so cold.  Bees nurture and grow but they also sting.

Keep in mind that all of these elements sacred to Demeter are present in all of us.  Even the king returned to these elements upon his death.  It is our actions that determine if we consume or are consumed.


With this, I asked attendants to go forth and spread what they have learned from this ritual: That hate begets hate, greed and pride lead to failure and that we are so much more than what society believes.  I released Demeter.

Stay if you will, go if you must, but with your strength, we will RISE.

With the strength of the mother, we will RISE.
WE WEAR OUR SCARS WITH PRIDE AND WE WILL RISE.




A gigantic thank you to my ritual assistants and co-assistants, all of which came from either Circle of Fountains or Heena Lushede Coven.  You ladies made this ritual possible.  I could not have done it by myself!

Another thank you to my circle for getting together and making all of the ritual items.  They tied 250 yarn loops and decorated 400 pieces of wood.  They are my rock stars!


Thank you to Cathy Burchett and her drumming class for bringing us in and filling the gaps as we passed about the various ritual items.

Thank you to Ripley, Jenna, Barbara, Vickie and a whole slew of women who make GGG remotely possible and who trusted me with the immense responsibility of main ritual.  I hope I lived up to the expectations!

And finally, thank you to everyone who attended.  We had between 150-180 attending - I know because I don't have many sigils left!  Thank you guys for your patience and understanding when we ran into technical difficulties and for bearing with us as we tried to make a sacred space for so many strong, capable, independent and amazing women.

With the strength of the mother, we will rise!

6 comments:

  1. I'm so glad that you posted this today!!! I wanted to tell you that your ritual at GGG was the most powerful ritual I have ever attended. It affected me deeply, and I thank you for taping into a part of me that needed attention. You ladies looked amazing and were absolutely spellbinding!!! I hope that we get to experience the power of your rituals again soon. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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    1. Thank you so very much, Brooke! I'm so glad to hear that the ritual worked for you! Thank you again for coming out and participating. I hope to see you next year!

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  2. This is so great. I'm glad you posted photos and great points about the ritual. Wonderful symbols, imagery, and thought you obviously put into this ritual! Beautiful!!! I hope to be able to attend next year.
    Kim

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    1. Thank you so much, Kim! It's an amazing time. You should definitely come out if you can!

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