Encounters with the Dark Goddess: Artistic and Ritual Reimagining of Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. As a former college English instructor, a published poet, and an ordained Priestess, I honor the legacies of artists whose works have transcended the boundaries of their artistic mediums, and the vagaries of the times in which they lived, rippling out with profound spiritual force to affect so many people today. American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) is such an artist who has had an incalculable effect upon my developing spiritual consciousness from my adolescence onwards; I go so far as to hail her in the ranks of my Mighty Dead, my spiritual forebears in Witchcraft.

Three years ago, I began to meditate on the idea of Plath’s poetry as a vehicle for encountering Dark Goddess energies and the need to harness those energies in a public Pagan ritual format. I knew I wanted to weave together the strands of my academic analysis of her work (I taught American poetry at the undergraduate level for 3 years as an adjunct English professor on Oahu), my Priestessing skills in generating energy and directing it towards a specific purpose to benefit a group of participants, and my own personal religious devotion to specific Dark Goddesses (e.g., Hekate, Nephthys, Hel). Art served as the medium of inspiration, as it often does: not just Plath’s poetry, but my artistic interpretations through acrylic paintings of some of Plath’s most famous works.

The following chronicles my process and its eventual public ritual outcome: an evening of tribute to Plath’s genius through the ritual encountering of Dark Goddess energy, recitals and discussions of Plath’s poetry, and a shamanic journey facilitated by the use of my 2017 painting An Homage to Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ as a portal into the Otherworld. My goal was to have ritual participants surrender to the “blackness and silence” of the Dark Goddess, as described in Plath’s inimitable voice, and experience the transformative gifts of the Shadow.

Continue reading

Allyships and Familiar Spirits: The Summer 2018 Issue of Isis-Seshat Journal Is Now Available!

Tending to my cancer-stricken father has definitely pushed me way behind in my production schedule for the Summer 2018 issue of Isis-Seshat journal, a quarterly journal of the worldwide Fellowship of Isis for which I serve as the Executive Editor, but I’m pleased to announce that I’ve just launched it and PDF copies are available for immediate download on my Etsy site, JackalMoonDesigns.

Continue reading

Hymn to Hekate

“Hymn to Hekate”

(c) A. Applegate 2017

 

We give greetings to fair Hekate,

Mighty monogenes--sole child of starry Asteria and the Son of Eurybia.

Titaness of the Threefold Realm of Earth, Sea, and Sky,

Revered above all the Ancient Powers by Olympos-dwelling Zeus Himself.

With pleasing eyes, accept our sacrifice

Hekate Khthonia,

Mistress of the Underworld surrounded by swarms of spirits,

And open the ways to the dreaded realm of Thy majesty,

O Brimo,

That we may claim our rightful power in service to Thee.

 

With pleasing eyes, accept our sacrifice

Hekate Krataiis,

Strong One of the Wine-Dark Sea,

Who birthed death-dealing Skylla,

And open the ways beneath the waves,

O She-Wolf, O Sea Wolf,

That we may draw into the depths of our being

Unending praise of Thee.

 

With pleasing eyes, accept our sacrifice

Hekate Soteira,

Queen of Angels, Savior of the World-Soul,

And open our ears to receive Thy counsel in the Music of the Spheres.

Hidden Hekate, fair of face,

Mighty Hekate, Lady of Power,

Lead us through the crossroads at the behest of Thy grace,

In our magical endeavors,

Help our workings to flower.

In heartfelt devotion,

We kneel before Thee,

Goddess Incomparable!

Io, Hekate!

Hekate altar

My Hekate altar is the heart of my temple space. Photo (c) A. Applegate 2017.

Hymn to Hermes

“Hymn to Hermes”

(c) A. Applegate 2017

 

We give greetings to Hermes,

Clever Son of Zeus and Maia,

Wanderer of all the worlds

God of great cunning

Who, on His very first day of drawing breath,

Proved Himself a maker of music and mischief,

Strummer of the lyre,

Thief of the cattle of Apollon

The One Who achieves fame amongst the Gods by His deeds

The Prowler by night Who lurks in the street before the gates.

 

We hail holy Hermes

Who wards all wayfarers

Whether travelers for pleasure or commercial pursuits,

or those seized by thanatos

Who wend their way into dark caverns to be seated as guests

in Hades’ great, gilded halls

 

We hail Hermes Psychopompos,

His most sacred charge

Serve as our unerring Guide, our Companion, O Khthonios,

May Your lamps reveal the Mysteries

Glory gleaned in gloomy depths

To those ready to receive the Light of Your Wisdom

 

Hermes of Arkadia’s dawn

Hermes by Persephone’s shade

Be here with us as our magic is made!

 

Io, Hermes!

The Spring 2016 Issue of Isis-Seshat Journal Is Available

Hot off the presses…and shipping around the world! I serve as the Executive Editor of Isis-Seshat, a quarterly journal of the worldwide Fellowship of Isis, and I literally have five copies remaining for sale in the limited print run for this full-color, 80-page (printed on 80-lb. glossy stock paper) Spring 2016 issue, whose theme is “Worlds Beyond: Mapping the Soulscapes Encountered in Ritual.” It pleases me greatly that once again, an Isis-Seshat issue has been birthed thanks to a global effort of FOI members and friends–theistic Pagans, Polytheists, and Spirit-Workers of all stripes. Rituals are the beating hearts of our devotional practices and I am excited about the perspectives offered by 14 contributors on this theme, representing countries as remote as Australia and Greece, with Ireland, England, and the USA thrown in for good measure. Continue reading

A Lament for My Familiar

Death. I’ve been acutely reminded of its omnipresence in many ways lately. Seeing the low angle of the sun at this time of year has begun to trigger my seasonal affective disorder. My nightly cemetery walks have been tinged with greater pensiveness and even despair. It’s a gloomy, cool day here in Chicago as the Sun gets ready to enter the eighth sign of the zodiac, Scorpio, herald of the mysteries of death and rebirth. I’m still processing the devastating news I received on Tuesday when I took my 11-year-old cat, Thor (a feral kitten rescue from Hawaii), to an emergency veterinary clinic for an abdominal ultrasound and other tests. My regular veterinarian had performed an X-ray on Thor to determine the cause of his misshapen stomach and elevated liver levels revealed from recent blood testing. The X-ray indicated a mass protruding from Thor’s liver–one so large it had actually pushed Thor’s stomach at a 90-degree angle. No wonder Thor’s lost 9 pounds in a little over two months. Was it a tumor? If so, could surgery be an option? I was referred to the emergency clinic, which is equipped with an advanced radiology department, to find the answers. Instead, the main veterinarian there stunned me with the diagnosis: advanced pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to his liver and lungs. And then those horrible six words, laden with the iron weight of finality:

“There is nothing we can do.” Continue reading

On Grief and Grieving

The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness–
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way.

–Sylvia Plath, “The Moon and the Yew Tree” (1961, lines 17-22)

The more that I think about it, the less I believe what I experienced at 4:52 this morning was the ending of a dream. It was more of a spontaneous shamanic journey, the kind I’d had with disturbing regularity in the first two years of my brother Mark’s death. What I know for certainty was that I was in the Duat, and Sekhmet was next to me. She panted/grunted while scenting the air, Her lioness nuzzle awash in blood. Her pupils were massive, dilated, and gleaming like actual carnelian stones. Torch light either gleamed from behind or radiated from within Her. There was a wall behind us. We stood within a long, dark corridor. I knew unequivocally that Sekhmet protected me fiercely against evil entities that wanted to harm me. She fed on them. I was afraid–not of Her, but of where we were. I wanted out. And no sooner did I think that than did I feel myself being rapidly “plucked” upwards–in sheer nanoseconds. It was a jolting sensation, but I felt myself being pulled up out of the ground–even through my bed’s mattress!–before “crash landing” back into my body. I gasped and thrashed a bit–hitting my fiancé in the process–before sitting up and grabbing my iPhone from my nightstand. 4:52. Continue reading

Persephone’s Rising

By way of editorial comment: This poem of mine was published in Datura (2010), an anthology of Pagan poetry and essays by U.K.-based occult/esoterica powerhouse Scarlet Imprint.

*********

Persephone’s Rising

If the Ides of March are past

whence comes this heaviness of heart?

 

He said it would be like this

in the silver half-light

the chariot steeds splashed across the waves

of Acheron

then I tumbled headlong into Lethe

 

No forgetfulness, though,

for She Who Never Slumbers Above

yet she caused the earth to slumber

her own body to be ravaged by winter’s withering

force

Golden poppy tresses

trembling with rage

as I found a new half-life for myself

fructifying

the dead populace

and my beloved drank deeply

smeared himself

with my pomegranate juices

nectar more precious than wine, he said

pomegranate

 

Everything cavernous

cadaverous eye sockets

the mask of white loveliness

frozen onto my face like the folds of

the himation molded to my breasts

The pillars of this place

gleaming with the hope

of untold dreaming

the quiet denizens of this murk-world gape and shuffle towards me

arms outstretched

Mother

Queen

The curve of the sickle

Warm lap of abundance

Fertile in fallowness

Gaze not with the imperium of the Judge

but as an unconquerable Protectress

Continue reading