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.

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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

March 19, 2008: On the Fifth Anniversary of the Illegal and Immoral Occupation of Iraq

By way of editorial commentary: As the great Yogi Berra once quipped, “It’s deja vu all over again.” As the drum beats for war in the Middle East once again reverberate loudly to catch the attention of the American Sheeple, I thought of this poem I wrote on the date of the 5-year anniversary of the Iraq War, which should have been called “Operation Enduring Bullshit” (I’m all about truth in advertising). This process is so formulaic, surely I can’t be the only person seeing the template of (a) a democratically elected president, once he’s fallen out of usefulness/favor with the U.S., gets demonized as a “dictator” (e.g., Hussein, Mubarak, Gaddafi, and now al-Assad); (b) the U.S. covertly funds destabilizing agents, first praised by the media as stalwart “rebels” against an oppressive “regime” (think “Star Wars,” folks) to depose said “dictator”; (c) the “rebels” armed and trained by the U.S. turn out to be terrorists; (d) “blowback” on a major scale erupts; (e) a series of highly publicized atrocities elicit commentary from the POTUS on inevitable military action; (e) the shareholders of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, et al, applaud fervently. To quote the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.”

Well, as a Pagan priestess who loves to wear her critical thinking cap and remind people, even through her bumper stickers, that “YOU CAN’T KILL FOR PEACE,” I want to offer my poem “On the Fifth Anniversary of the Illegal and Immoral Occupation of Iraq” in the hopes of blockading the march to war. Salaam.

March 19, 2008

I’m having a Sylvia Plath evening

of arduous domesticity, where poetry

leers between loads of laundry,

bidding me to take up the pen

while Tide Pure Essentials with Baking Soda™

valiantly tries to scrub the menstrual blood

from my newly stained underwear

I’m not the only creature bleeding in the world today

Is blood spilt in the desert easier to sweep away? Continue reading