Virgin Death Goddesses: Hel, La Santa Muerte, and Yewa

Editorial Note: This is the transcript of a talk I gave at the 24th Annual Fellowship of Isis Chicago Goddess Convention, October 28, 2017, at the North Shore Holiday Inn in Skokie, Illinois.

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Introduction

Good morning and thank you all for coming to our 24th Annual FOI Chicago Goddess Convention! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Anna and I’ve been proudly serving as legally ordained FOI clergy since 2012, though I have been active in Chicago’s Pagan community for 18 years and counting. I’m the executive editor of Isis-Seshat, a quarterly publication of the Fellowship of Isis, and I’m the founder of the chartered Iseum of the Rekhet Akhu, whose mission is to highlight the interrelatedness of the communities of the living and the dead and to cultivate transfigured spirits (akhu in ancient Egyptian) in human form.

So why did I choose this topic? We’re in the season of Samhain, the Celtic reckoning of the end of summer and the liminal time between one year and the next, and during this time our thoughts often turn to ones of our own mortality, as well as to remembrances of those who have gone before us. More than any other time of year, the honoring of the Deities and Spirits of Death is top of mind for most of us.

As a show of hands, who here honors a Death God or Goddess in their personal devotional practices? (Pause.)

I’m a Polytheist devoted to such Holy Powers, and I’d like to spend some time with you discussing three in particular: the Norse Goddess Hel, Mexico’s La Santa Muerte (the Holy Death), and the Nigerian Orisha, Yewa—Who They are, Why They matter, and how you can cultivate a devotional relationship with Them if you feel Their bony hands laying claim on you. What’s striking about these Death Deities of various cultures—northern European, North American, and West African—that I’m going to talk about is that They’re gendered female and They’re regarded as virgins, so we have a lot of intersectionality to examine when we focus on what we know about each Goddess historically and what we know about Them in contemporary worship.

But before we start discussing each of these three Cosmic Femmes Fatales, I’ve got a few thoughts I’d like to share on what significance gender bears as well as historical notions of the concept of “virginity” and how these impact the mythologies and the cultic practices surrounding the worship of Hel, La Santa Muerte, and Yewa.

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More Halloween Nostalgia and Musings

Here we are in the United States, having another weekday Halloween experience. As much as I have absolute gratitude for my job and the manifold blessings it brings, I honestly wish I were at home now…daydreaming (in terms of the day’s planetary transits, the waxing Pisces Moon is squaring dour Saturn, making this an ideal day for daydreaming and otherwise not being “productive”), preparing for tonight’s great Samhain Sabbat ritual experience, greeting trick-or-treaters that may be diurnally marching around or pushed in strollers by their caregivers around my cul-de-sac…and just plain old nostalgically musing about the beloved Halloween experiences of my happy 1980s childhood. I wrote about the pleasures of Halloween nostalgia last year, and I find that once again, events in the here-and-now–even a frenzied morning commute into Chicago’s Loop that had my arms overburdened with Halloween treats to bring into the office and share with colleagues–invariably pluck the invisible strings of a mental tripwire, sending me smiling along for yet another journey down a pumpkin-laden Memory Lane.

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The Feast Day of Sveta Petka: The “Saint Friday” of Eastern Orthodoxy

In my Serbian culture, we honor a curious saint on her feast day today, a protectress of women whose name literally translates to “Saint Friday” (Sveta Petka). Sir James Frazier’s well-known quip about Saint Brigid of Ireland–“She’s an ancient goddess in a threadbare Christian cloak”–seems applicable to the ancient and mysterious Saint Petka, also known as Saint Petka Paraskeva. Her name is a clue to her far-older-than-Christianity origins; it’s clear that her cult places us in the goodly company of Weaving Goddesses known throughout Old Europe: Goddesses of Fate and Destiny. Continue reading

Remembering Maris and Reflecting on the Sad Legacy of Suicide

Nine years ago today, my friend Maris made the tragic decision to take his own life; he was two weeks shy of turning 22 years old. He served active duty as a Senior Airman in the United States Air Force and was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu, just blocks away from my former home at Naval Station Pearl Harbor. Maris was the middle son of Ray Butta and the Rt. Rev. Deena Celeste Butta, my former ArchPriestess in the Fellowship of Isis and founder of our Chicago-based Lyceum of Alexandria. In the fall of 2012, Deena herself was shockingly diagnosed with a rare brain disorder; in the 8 weeks remaining in her life after her diagnosis and the rapid onset of symptoms, Deena spoke often to me about how she relished to be reunited with her son–that she could literally feel his presence luring her towards the Mysteries on the other side of the grave.

Maris

Senior Airman Maris Michael Butta, 1987-2009

Shortly after Deena’s funeral at Imbolc of 2013, I had a series of visitations from both her and Maris for several weeks and knew that mother and son were indeed together again in the Afterlife. The two of them would stand motionless at the foot of my bed, silently staring at me. Both had completely white hair. Deena looked just as I had known her in life: tall, beautiful, and elegant, her dancer’s training evident in her poise. Maris, however, had appeared as he must have looked when he was seven or eight years old–Maris as a child, albeit with the surprise of the all-white hair. Maris only ever appeared to me in that state and always with his mother, whereas sometimes I would have visions of Deena walking alone on a moonlit beach and I realized she was aligning herself with the energies of the Lady of the Lake, one of her favorite Goddesses.

The shock of Maris’ suicide rippled across the Pacific. There were no indications that he suffered from depression. Military service runs in the Butta family and Maris was proud to have served his country in the Air Force. He left no note behind, no clues. He took his life in a public location in downtown Honolulu and nearby security cameras captured everything, quelling fears that he may have been the victim of foul play. In the immediate aftermath, Deena asked me about my experiences with what I perceived as profoundly negative spiritual entities residing all over Oahu’s lush, rain forest-canopied leeward coast, where Maris and I both used to go hiking. Could any of those hostile spirits have driven Maris to suicide? I do believe that such a phenomenon could have been at least partially culpable. I had a horrible, heart-sinking-into-the-pit-of-my-stomach feeling that Maris’ spirit risked becoming earth-bound on Oahu and possibly subjugated to the more powerful, nonhuman entities that hold such sway over the island: as a result, a massive undertaking of repeated ceremonies of release, performed both on Oahu and in Chicago, went underway.

And all of it, of course, coincided with the energies of Samhain.

As it still does.

With the great gates of Scorpio swung wide open to usher in the season’s retinue of restless spirits in this liminal time between the ending of the ancient Celtic year and the beginning of the new, I take comfort in one of the maxims my Gardnerian coven used to say in ceremonies performed on behalf of the Mighty Dead: “May we meet, know, and remember, and love one another again.”

Tonight I will hail Maris at my shrine of my beloved dead. A Sagittarius in life, he wanders freely still–of that I’m certain. All I can do is pray that my love and prayers born of tremendous heartache can reach his spirit and the hearts of his living family members.

 

Postscript

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than twice as many Americans die by suicide each year than by homicide. Please seek help for a loved one in crisis or reach out for help yourself if you’re feeling suicidal: someone is waiting to take your call 24/7 at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Jupiter Enters Scorpio: King of Cups Energy

I’ve been giddily anticipating this transit for the past few months. Jupiter, planet of expansion and opportunity–our Big Daddy of the zodiac–has officially entered into the fixed water sign of Scorpio today, and will remain there until November 8, 2018. Of course, whether one experiences planetary transits as mostly “positive” or “negative” depends on the sign being transited and that sign’s relationship to one’s own Sun and Moon Signs and Ascendant (for the most part). Continue reading

Thoughts on Yesterday’s Inherit Chicago Event: “Female Power Models in Greek & Indian Mythology”

I had the opportunity yesterday afternoon to attend a series of performances of great relevance to contemporary Polytheists and the struggles many of us face in the West of assuring our dual Overculture (dual in the sense that it is both secular as well as overwhelmingly Abrahamic monotheism-influenced) that our modalities of religious worship constitute living, grounded-in-the-here-and-now traditions, not ones consigned to the dustbin of history. Made possible by a collaboration between the nonprofit organizations Inherit Chicago, the Indo-American Heritage Museum, and the National Hellenic Museum, the performances in question all related to the theme of “Female Power Models in Greek & Indian Mythology.” Dr. Lori Barcliff Baptista, Director of the African-American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, served as the moderator, introducing the sets of performances and facilitating audience discussion between them and at the end.  Continue reading

Announcing the 24th Annual Chicago Fellowship of Isis Goddess Convention, Dedicated This Year to THEMIS

Calling all Kemetic and Hellenic polytheists, Pagans, ceremonial magicians, FOI members worldwide, devotees of the Neteru of the Two Lands, devotees of the Deathless Hosts of Olympos, and friends! All are welcome to the 24th annual Fellowship of Isis (FOI) Goddess Convention in Chicagoland! It takes place Saturday, October 28, 2017 at the Holiday Inn North Shore Chicago (Skokie Business Center), 5300 W. Touhy Ave., Skokie, IL 60077, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (On-site registration begins at 9 a.m.) Plenty of room to move and to park as the hotel has, naturally, free visitor parking and a plethora of access points via mass transit. FOI members flying in from out of state are eligible to receive a discounted room rate at the hotel.

Sponsored by the members and friends of the Chicago-based FOI Lyceums of Eleusis and Alexandria Mishigami; the Iseum of the Rekhet Akhu and the Iseum of Hathor-Neith-MahaLakshmi; the Kemetic Temple Kheperu em Inu; and by Chicago’s Life Force Arts Center, this year’s Goddess Convention is dedicated to the Titan Goddess and Cosmic Law-Giver, Themis. The Main Liturgy to be performed is the Priesthood Alchemical Drama “The Riddle of the Sphinx”—the first ritual in the late Lady Olivia Robertson’s FOI clergy publication, Fortuna: Creation Through the Goddess.  Continue reading