As much as I love writing for a living and writing for pleasure, the one writing assignment I dread ever doing again is crafting–and delivering–a eulogy. One of the great and terrible milestones of my life that I’m going to have to address with a series of blog posts, so irrevocable and lasting have been the profound spiritual transformations wrought by it, was the death, on January 27, 2013, of my dearest spiritual mentor in Chicago’s Pagan community, Deena Butta. Archpriestess-Hierophant of the Chicago-based Fellowship of Isis Lyceums of Eleusis and Alexandria, Deena touched the lives of so many people in her public priestessing ministry for over 35 years. Her widower husband, Ray Butta, asked me to write and deliver her eulogy the morning of her funeral, January 31, 2013. As we in the Chicago Fellowship of Isis community gear up for our 21st annual Goddess Festival, a public celebration of the Divine Feminine Deena founded and energetically prepared for every autumn–even leading up to her death–I wanted to honor Deena’s memory and legacy by publishing the eulogy I wrote and delivered at the behest of Ray. As we say in Egyptian Paganism/the Kemetic Reconstructionist path, “What is remembered, lives.” I will always remember and love you, Deena.
Good morning, everyone, and thank you for coming to honor the memory of a precious pearl of humanity: Deena Celeste Weglarz Butta, daughter of the late Joseph Weglarz and Michaline Pabisinski; loving wife for nearly 29 years to Raymond Butta; proud grandmother to sweet little Michael Butta; and loving mother of three fine sons—Alex, Philip, and the late Maris Butta.
My name is Anna A. and I am a friend of Deena’s and Ray’s and an ordained priestess in the Fellowship of Isis, an international religious community to which Deena devoted over 35 years of her life, in service to the Goddess, the planet, and harmony between people of various religious traditions.
Ray, my heart breaks for you in losing such a treasured companion on life’s journey. Alex, and Philip, my heart aches for you in losing such a remarkable mother, a woman who defined the very essence of selflessness as she opened her heart and home and taught so many things to so many different kinds of people. She was your mother in this life but I felt that she was my mother in spirit, and she exuded such a sense of gracefulness, dignity, and quiet power in everything she did. Please accept my heartfelt condolences on this horrendous loss.
In my 12 years of knowing her and especially the past seven years of doing focused, celebratory ritual work with her and my other family members of the Chicago chapter of the FOI, Deena struck me as a person whose consciousness was largely informed by a love of history, and that love made her excel in her career as a reference librarian—with a specialty in genealogy—at the Glenview Public Library, and that love of history also made her an outstanding priestess and artist. As the great poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, “The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.” For Deena, the past could be gloriously resurrected with pageantry and religious devotion and expressed artistically.
For example, from 1982 to 1990, Deena was a member of the Dance Ensemble of Olde Towne Renaissance Consort, so it’s not much of a surprise to those of us in the FOI who have been a part of the annual Goddess Festivals held every autumn equinox, that Deena would devise an elaborately choreographed dance as part of the main ritual event. The choreography almost always involved medieval- or Renaissance-inspired movements, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine Deena being alive during those centuries, delicately hoisting the train of her dress as she methodically traipsed around her dance partner with grace, poise, beauty, and an inimitable stage presence that commanded your attention. Deena had a way of having you notice her without drawing attention to herself, which speaks volumes about her charm, captivating personality, and beauty.
That was the first thing that struck me about her. I first heard about Deena in the autumn of 2001, at an event in Chicago called Pagan Expo, which was held at the Irish-American Heritage Center. A mutual friend of Deena’s and mine, a gentleman by the name of Robert (Schultz), gleefully tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I knew Deena or had ever heard of the Fellowship of Isis, because she was sitting at a vendor’s table with flyers and other materials that promoted the group. When I said that I hadn’t heard of either her or the group, he said I should go over and say hello because I’d “get a kick out of it,” remarking that she and I looked as though we could be relatives—we had the same raven hair in a Cleopatra-styled bob haircut, pale skin, Egyptian-looking eye liner, and a similar air of aloofness. Deena wasn’t out working the crowd at that moment. She was seated at her table, calmly surveying the scene. Poise. Grace. I took my friend Robert’s advice and went over to her table to introduce myself. We do look as though we could be related, I thought at the time. Hey, she’s Polish and I’m Serbian so we’re both Slavic, right? And everybody knows Slavic Goddesses ROCK!
And as I would later discover, there was another trait that Deena and I shared and I loved her greatly for it: although she was justly proud of her own Polish culture, Deena really knew herself to be a citizen of the world who sought to understand and explore other cultures. I often ran into her at local pow wows, for example, especially the annual November Pow Wow at Navy Pier hosted by Chicago’s American Indian Center, an organization where my own mother volunteered. A love of Native American spirituality informed Deena’s own ritual practices—offerings of tobacco and smudging with sage and sweetgrass were staples of our FOI rituals. Aside from local pow wows, Deena also took her family to the annual Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown. Deena had a deep admiration for the ancient medicinal and philosophical traditions of China. This cosmopolitan worldview of Deena’s is hardly surprising, given that she graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology. Furthermore, the first sight that greets you upon entering her beautiful house in Chicago’s multicultural Albany Park neighborhood is a series of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves spanning the entire living room, stuffed to the gills with an amazing array of books, many of which pertain to studies of other cultures or curious tomes of historical, magico-religious, lore. So as a librarian and as an anthropology major, Deena doubly was an incurable bibliophile whose tantalizing bookshelves invited exploration.
People who have a fondness for other cultures also usually entertain a willingness to understand the different religious traditions of those cultures, and promote interfaith educational initiatives, and Deena championed that worldview beautifully. Deena served as a member of United Communities of Spirit—A Global InterFaith Initiative—in which she represented the Fellowship of Isis, but perhaps no moment in Deena’s life expressed her commitment to interfaith education than her involvement in the 1993 Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, the largest interreligious gathering in 100 years. While representing the Fellowship of Isis, Deena deftly wove together the strands of her religious faith, love of world cultures, and artistic skills during that celebrated occasion by giving the delegates a presentation on Egyptian dance. And it was during the convening of the Parliament that Deena was consecrated as Hierophant by Fellowship of Isis co-founder Lady Olivia Robertson and the late ArchDruid, Isaac Bonewits.
The Lyceum of Alexandria and the Lyceum of Eleusis were Deena’s two major contributions to Pagan religious development in Chicago overall and a crystallization of the Chicago FOI community in particular. I remember how happily I sat in the temple space of the Butta house on Summer Solstice, 2006—my first ritual back with the group upon moving back home from a near four-year stint of military married life on Oahu. The sun beautifully shone through the windows facing the Buttas’ backyard on that first official day of summer, but the real warmth for me was in the smiling faces of the people who surrounded me in our ritual circle gathering—many of the faces of friends I see here today. I remember expressing my thanks to Deena and Ray for that ritual homecoming experience, and it was the first time I mouthed the words to the group that have rung true for me ever since: “You guys are my spiritual family. And it’s so good to be home.”
As Archpriestess Hierophant of the Lyceum, Deena was the matriarch who anchored our spiritual family, selflessly devoting her energies as we commemorated the cycling of the seasons with rounds of Fellowship of Isis rituals, dancing, prayer circles, and delectable potluck feasting—all done in a spirit of love and sharing. The annual Goddess Festival the Lyceum of Alexandria produced every Autumn Equinox was an event that Deena poured so much of her heart and creative soul into to ensure a successful weekend event. She tirelessly coordinated a massive theatrical undertaking, with costumes, the memorization of scripts, and, yes, endless rounds of rehearsals—especially for her elaborate dance choreography. And each year, she would sigh with relief that the weekend had passed…and then she’d almost immediately begin planning next year’s festival. On top of that, she offered classes in person and correspondence centered around the Fellowship of Isis Manifesto, and she offered a structured course for clergy ordination. She wasn’t just a one-person theology department, but a publishing powerhouse also, editing and producing the print and digital copies of the quarterly Isis-Seshat magazine, which housed the best literary efforts of her fellow servants to the Muses.
I will always be greatly indebted to Deena as a spiritual mentor—she taught me so much. As the famous Brazilian novelist, Paulo Coelho, of whom Deena was very fond, poignantly asks in his novel The Witch of Portobello, “What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.”
That kind of inspirational force is what I’ll always associate with Deena, and she wielded it up until the very last moments of her life. The last physical conversation I had with her was on December 9th, the day after Ray had informed me and other FOI members about her diagnosis of Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease. Prior to my visit, Ray informed me that Deena was losing her hearing and was on her way to losing her vision. She could read what you wrote, though, and reply verbally, so I equipped myself with a notepad and Sharpie marker. I wound up writing questions that Deena would answer verbally. Despite the sense of shock and sadness I felt at seeing her in those stages of neurological impairment, which would rapidly worsen, I was also amazed at her fortitude of spirit and her calm acceptance of what had befallen her. She and I engaged in quite a philosophical dialogue that afternoon—I remember writing the phrase “the Universe is one Big Schoolhouse” on one of the sheets of paper and Deena’s eyes lit up as she read it. “Oh yes, it is!” she exclaimed. “Unending lessons. But I have faith in the Goddess and I have faith in the God.” Then she smiled at me quietly.
Yes, this schoolhouse of a Universe does present us all with lessons. And I truly feel honored to have learned many lessons on what it means to be a gracious and giving woman, a true friend, a wise counselor, a historical scholar, an ambassador of interreligious harmony, and a loving servant of the Divine Feminine from Deena. Even in her departure from this world, she taught the lesson of grace in transformation, a lot like the goddess Inanna, whose myth of descent and return strongly resonated with Deena. The poet Deanna Emerson beautifully expresses such transformative power in her poem, “Inanna’s Ascent”:
I have seen the piercing eyes of the dark goddess
As she stands naked in the silent shadows
Planting the seeds of vision
Reached into the arms of my deepest sorrow and looked into the eyes of death
Yet the world dance did not cease.
By the light of the waning moon
I have seen the faces of the shining ones
Taking the sword of wisdom
Cut the cords that bind me.
Armed only with love
I have entered the healing
Power of the moon
Drawing it down around me
To enter the sacred womb
Of the dark goddess
Turning pain into power
I have returned.
Deena, thank you for being such an amazing woman. I was delighted to know you in the form you are leaving behind, and I look forward to knowing you and circling through the seasons with you once again. For it is has been said in our lore “that we shall meet, and know, and remember, and love again.”
So shall it be.
I invite anyone else to come up at this time to share their memories of Deena if they so desire.
- American Indian Center
- ancient Egypt
- Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions
- Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease
- Deanna Emerson
- Deena Butta
- Fellowship of Isis
- FOI Chicago
- Glenview Public Library
- Goddess Festival
- Isaac Bonewits
- Kemetic Reconstructionism
- Lady Olivia Robertson
- Lyceum of Alexandria
- Lyceum of Eleusis
- Paulo Coelho
- pow wow
- public ritual
- T.S. Eliot