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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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

A Devotional Ritual for Nephthys to Bless and Protect the Dead

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.

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My Latest Paintings Will Debut at an Upcoming Exhibition on “Ritual”!

Hip, hip, HUZZAH! I received official confirmation that my two latest paintings, both painted on the same Saturday in February during a 9-hour spate of frenzied creativity, have been accepted for the Life Force Arts Center’s upcoming exhibition entitled The Creative Soul: Art, Play & Ritual. The opening reception for the exhibit is May 6, 7 – 10 p.m. If you’re in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, come on by and say hello! Better still, buy the artwork! This is the first time that my pieces will be for sale. Continue reading

My Goddess Sculpture Makes Its Debut in a Chicago Art Gallery in 11 Days!

This is definitely going to be a September to remember for me, and I’m very excited that my activities are located in the intersection of Art and Spirit. My latest terra cotta sculpture, a replica of a Neolithic artifact dating from the Vinča Culture of the prehistoric Balkans (c. 8,000-5,000 B.C.E.–actually, the very figure I made a replica of was unearthed by the late archaeologist Marija Gimbutas in the 1960s in the vicinity in Serbia where my mother hails from), will be making its debut at the upcoming exhibition The Spiritual Power of Art: Myth, Religion & Mystical Experience at the Life Force Arts Center in Chicago. The opening reception for the exhibit is on Saturday, September 12; it runs through January 5, 2016.

My piece is entitled Velika Maijka, which is Serbian for “Great Mother.” Isn’t She cute?

She's more than clay to me...

She’s more than clay to me…

She’s currently adorning my household shrine to my female ancestral spirits. I’ll be bringing Her to the gallery on my birthday, September 8, as I’ll be helping out to install the artwork for the upcoming exhibit with other volunteers.

This is the second sculpture of mine to be making its public debut. As with the first (also a goddess statue, incidentally), Velika Maijka won’t be for sale. I feel that, energetically, it’s important for pieces like this to have a dialogue with the public at large. As a newly appointed Artist in Residence at the Life Force Arts Center, I’ll be working in the year to come on bringing art-centric Pagan and polytheist rituals to life for anyone and everyone to enjoy and to help raise their vibrational levels while honoring specific Powers. I’ll be devising a ritual in particular that has Velika Maijka as its focal point, so stay tuned for details!

Thank you, Jupiter in my Sun Sign, for expanding my creative horizons! Thank you, Ancestors of mine from the Land of the South Slavs, for instilling me with your wisdom and the call to safeguard our Mothers, the sanctity of soil, and the fragile blue planet we’re inhabiting! Živeli--To Life!