Blessed Beltane and Happy Orthodox Easter!

Blessings bright on this beautiful, summery (here in Chicago, we’re looking at bright sunshine and temps in the mid-80s again!) Beltane and Eastern Orthodox Easter Sunday! As my friend Szmeralda observed, “You’ve got double the magic!” in my household as dual-faith observances, begun on Friday, continue. 

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A Wonderfully Wyrd, Spiritually Synchronous Spring Equinox Weekend (Or, “Look, Ma! I Got Engaged!”)

What do you get when you combine a romantic weekend getaway at an out-of-state B&B (a getaway that you planned for your partner’s 32nd birthday); supreme hospitality and welcome from the genii loci as well as the human residents of a place you’re visiting for the first time; the energies of the Titan goddess Hekate; the energies of the Inuit goddess Sedna; the energies of All-Father Odin; the energies of the particular Elder Futhark runes Dagaz, Ansuz, and Gyfu; an amber ring; and the supremely potent cosmic “reset” button energies ushered in by Friday’s whopper of a total solar eclipse Spring Equinox? YOU GET ENGAGED, THAT’S WHAT! Continue reading

“Love’s Magic Realm”: The Venusberg of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” and European Witch Lore

Und dunket mich, wie si gê zuo mir dur ganze mûren, ir trôst und ir helfe lâzent mich niht trûren; swenne si wil, so so vüeretvsie mich hinnen mit ir wîzen hand hôhe über die zinnen. Ich waene sie ist ein Vênus hêre.

Methinks she comes to me through solid walls, her help, her comfort lets me nothing fear; and when she will, she wafteth me from here with her white hand high o’er the pinnacles. I ween she is a Venus high.

–Heinrich von Morunge, quoted in Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Vol. II. (1844)

This past Saturday night, my bodacious beau and I experienced an unforgettable Valentine’s Day at the Lyric Opera production of Wagner’s Tannhäusera three-act opera, first performed in 1845, based on a medieval German legend that Wagner treats with a bombastic Romantic libretto, some of the best choral singing in any opera ever (the famed “Pilgrims’ Chorus” in Act II), and the thematic treatment of the human inner struggle as Wagner understood it (in a Christian schema) between the lure of carnal desire and the quest for spiritual redemption (the Id vs. the Superego, if you want to page Dr. Freud about it). This theme would find greater development in Wagner’s later operas of Lohengrin (1848), Tristran und Isolde (1859), and especially Parsifal (1882), works that are also steeped in medieval lore that commingles Pagan and Christian characters and sensibilities.

Experiencing Tannhäuser as our epic date night seemed all the more appropriate considering that the goddess Venus (sung in this production by the stunning German mezzo-soprano Michaela Schuster) is not just a principal character, but Tannhäuser’s lover. This is made unequivocally clear before any singing takes place at all; it’s during the dizzying Prelude that the audience is treated to the stunningly hypnotic, stupendously athletic, and sexually explicit Bacchanalian dance choreography (brava to choreographer Jasmin Vardimon!) that introduces the concept of a loving and lavish Venus doting on her mortal amour, the wandering singer Tannhäuser (sung by acclaimed South African tenor Johan Botha). Who better to see and hear on stage on Valentine’s Day than the sea foam-born Roman Goddess of Love? However, it didn’t take long for my Pagan Priestess PowersTM to discern that Dark Goddess currents were swirling about, ones that would contextualize Tannhäuser’s fall from grace amidst his peers and society squarely within European witch lore. Would Tannhäuser have been shunned the way that he was–especially by the pope during his pilgrimage to Rome–if his “sin” was merely sexual congress with the Goddess of Love?  Of course not. He is shunned by his peers because they know–in a feat of dramatic irony audience members might know not if they’re not versed in Teutonic mythology–who the Goddess Under the Mountain really is. She is none other than Frau Holda (or Holle or Hulda), the Chthonic Goddess to whom German witches were said to journey to during their Sabbat rites (Ginzburg, The Night Battles 55); the Goddess who leads the Wild Hunt or the Furious Horde, die wütende heer (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Vol. II, 268)Hence by having stayed with Her in Her Underworld for several years before returning to, as Venus in Act I scene ii calls it, “the cold world of men,” Tannhäuser returns from the Land of the Dead, a feat that would have been unthinkable outside the pale of Christian Grace. Continue reading