Energetically speaking, astrological events this year have really forced us into a “review and release” mode as we evaluate our lives. This past summer was an extremely challenging period for many people (myself included), dominated as it was by the Mars Retrograde and the major shake-ups brought by the eclipses. Whether we were ready for it or not, we were tasked with major, even karmic, releases. Now the shift focuses on reviewing and reevaluating our lives, including how we attract or repel the forces of abundance, as the planet Venus gets ready to station Retrograde on October 5, plunging us into the archetypal experience I liken unto the Goddess Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld.
“Horror films unleash the forces repressed by Christianity—evil and the barbarism of nature. Horror films are rituals of pagan worship. There western man obsessively confronts what Christianity has never been able to bury or explain away.”
—Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, p.269
“The Eternal Feminine propels us onward.”—Goethe, Faust, II. V.
Whenever I approach the Crossroads of Art and Spirit, I hope to encounter newfound understanding for a given medium’s ability to express the Numinous. The effect of such an encounter on me is multidimensional—emotional, intellectual, and spiritual—and I require several days of processing before I can begin to consciously articulate the artwork’s Numinosity to others. In the case of American writer/director Ari Aster’s critically acclaimed 2018 debut feature film, Hereditary, I became hooked after my first viewing on the evening of June 8 (and dashed back to the theater for a second viewing 9 hours later) not just because the film is wonderfully Saturnian in its mood or because it courageously dares to cast an unflinching gaze at the culturally taboo subjects of the rejection of maternity, children’s deaths, and PTSD, but because it delivers a surprising whopper of an occult philosophy that showcases the Feminine Daemonic (in all Her Chinnamasta head-chopping glory, no less)!
Be advised: This film review contains spoilers for Hereditary!
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.
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.
This past Saturday at World Tree Healing, I led a workshop on “Loving and Serving ‘Dark’ Deities.” It was a well-attended workshop and for the first hour, I engaged the participants in a series of discussions based on the following prompts:
- How has staving off criticism from mainstream religions made Paganism afraid of its own shadows?
- How do you help outsiders to your tradition distinguish between “darkness” and “evil”?
- Has anyone ever had an experience of invoking Dark Deities in a group ritual context and then been castigated for invoking Them?
- How is the function of the Trickster valuable to a society? Who is devoted to Trickster Gods?
- In his Manifesto for his powerful Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey has declared: “We call an end to the pretense of respectability.” What are your thoughts on this? What do Pagans lose by attempting to claw their way to the interfaith table, begging for scraps of acceptance from Abrahamic religions?
It was a great discussion that appeared to make two people with Abrahamic allegiances very uncomfortable, so they left after I had announced that we’d be taking a short break before our ritual to Nephthys would begin. Good riddance, I thought. I certainly didn’t want the miasma, or spiritual pollution, of their presences to spill over into my devotional ritual to my Patron Deity. The major risk of hosting a public Pagan ritual is that you never know what kind of people may show up, especially folks with overtly hostile ideologies (read: patriarchal monotheists) who attend solely to destabilize the gathering, which is why I absolutely favor doing private ceremonies in the company of fellow devotees I can vouch for.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
–William Wordsworth, “The Tables Turned” (1798), lines 21-24
I judge the effectiveness and emotional relevance of a film, as I would any other artistic medium, by how much I keep engaging in dialogue with it long after my initial experience of it has ended. Is my overall curiosity not sated, but piqued, as a result of the cinematic experience? What elements–in subject matter, theme, mood, portrayal, technical composition–prompt me to seek discussion with others? Do I find that thoughts of the film, or my visceral responses to my emotional experience of it, intrude in my waking consciousness the following day? Do I want to see/reexperience the film anytime soon?
Robert Eggers’ 2015 directorial debut of The Witch, a 92-minute genre-bending historical/horror/dark fantasy film set in seventeenth-century New England (the subtitle of the film is A New England Folk-Tale), is going to be incorporated into my Top 10 list of all-time favorite movies–right up there with Kubrick’s The Shining (which Eggers acknowledged as a conscious influence on his filmmaking process for The Witch) and The Last Unicorn. It won critical acclaim at last year’s Sundance Festival. It’s even gotten an official endorsement from the Satanic Temple!
My Bodacious Beau™ and I saw it last night, and when (mostly fellow Pagan) Facebook friends of mine saw my movie theater check-in post, they naturally wanted a succinct review from me afterwards. “Delightfully unnerving” was my two-word answer. And yes, it felt so good to come home to so many familiars afterwards! (Too bad I don’t have a black goat…not yet, at any rate!) Continue reading
R.I.P., My Cousin Kristina (1971-2015): Death and the Negation or Affirmation of Meaning (Or, Why I Hate Cancer)
During my four years of a self-imposed exile/major Underworld initiation on the island of Oahu (translation: a military marriage that uprooted me from everything I’d cherished in my life prior), I used to teach literature and writing at the undergraduate level…mostly to active-duty military personnel working on attaining their bachelors’ degrees between deployments. Honestly, it was a Kafkaesque arrangement–I never in a million years would have seen any of it coming. But happen, it did.
And I made the decision to teach for a variety of reasons: first, I wanted to work in a way that would actually put my advanced education to use, as well as share my immense love for literature in the English language and help people become critical thinkers and more effective communicators; second, the nature of the work was very time-consuming–my classes were five-hours-long each–and I was desperate to spend as little time alone while my then-husband was sent off to war (let’s just call it “Operation: Enduring Bullshit” because these were the Bush Years and the Orwellian motto of “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” was very much en vogue) because otherwise the depression and anxiety I felt in my empty Navy wife house in Pearl Harbor were just too overwhelming (I attempted suicide twice during those four years); and third, I wanted to better acclimate myself to the strange subculture of life as a military dependent in which I found myself, and I thought the best course of action would be to simultaneously “give back to the community” whilst trying to gain a better understanding of living within it–its plethora of rules, its penchant for acronyms dropped into casual conversation with dizzying speed, its organizational structure rooted in hierarchical, phallocentric thinking. Much alien. Very Kafka. Wow. Continue reading