Dancing with Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space by Joanna van der Hoeven

Dancing with Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space
Joanna van der Hoeven
Moon Books, 2014
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Review by Jennifer Lawrence.

When I first began reading this book, I was wholly unfamiliar with the goddess Nemetona. I knew the word nemeton, of course; as a member of several druid organizations, it would be difficult to remain unaware of the idea of a sacred grove. As it turns out, it isn’t odd that I was unfamiliar with Nemetona, because very little is known of her with any sort of historical accuracy. A few place-names, a few inscriptions: all that’s left to tell us about a goddess whose worship apparently once stretched from Germany to Spain to Britain. Greece, Gaul, Ireland, Wales; these places paid reverence to her, but today she has all but vanished from history, and the author tells what little is known of her within a page and a half of introduction.

The first chapter talks about one’s personal “nemeton,” which, rather than being a term for the sacred space outside of one’s body, appears to be the author’s way of discussing a person’s aura — that veil of energy which wraps around and through the physical body, changes color and shape with health and mood, and can be impinged upon by others both positively and negatively.

As the book moves into further chapters, it takes time exploring Nemetona’s titles and purviews: the Lady of Edges and Boundaries, of Hearth and Home, of the Sacred Grove, of Sanctuary, of Ritual, and finally, of Everything and Nothing. Of all these, only the final chapter seems to be a stretch: while the last title might be valid in a modern interpretation of Nemetona’s strengths (which, of course, this is), I suspect that the original peoples that venerated the goddess might have found room to argue the point. If nothing else, “everything and nothing” smacks of a monotheistic deity that rules all, and given how many modern Pagans came to Paganism after leaving such monotheistic religions, they might not want much to do with a deity that claims some of the same qualities as the god they left behind. However, the rest of the material leading up to that chapter is excellent, both well-written and well-presented, although I might have wished that the book as a whole was longer.

It was a bit of a surprise to see how much of the material in this book was originally found by the author within the ideology of Zen Buddhism. This is less odd in today’s mix-and-match Paganism than one might suspect. The Zen material woven into the book actually supports the ideas on Nemetona well enough to not be objectionable.

There is so much good material that works well in this book that the above-mentioned issues are of very small import. Not only are the exercises simple to do and effective, the greatest mass of the written material reads like poetry, full of elegant and beautiful imagery that flows like clean water. When the author describes the shadowed, quiet peace of the forest, the sweet smell of earth after the rain, the songs of the trees and the sunshine, the reader is vividly and instantly able to see that forest, smell the wet earth, and hear those songs. That ability to paint a vivid picture is one of the marks of a really talented writer. This is especially so in any book on material of a spiritual nature, where the reader must be lifted — or even torn — away from the dull reality of mundane life. That Van Der Hoeven has succeeded so well at this minimizes anything I might find fault with otherwise.

This was a beautifully-done book with some excellent exercises and enough material to give an individual the tools to begin a relationship with this obscure but important goddess and the things she rules over.

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Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul by Jane Meredith

Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul
Jane Meredith
Moon Books, 2012

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Review by Pegi Eyers.

She is the one who makes and unmakes us. She is the one resting deep inside us when we think we have nothing left.” — Jane Meredith

The Dark Goddess as we know her is Kali the Destroyer, Hecate the Nightwalker, Morgana the Villainess, the Wicked Stepmother, Persephone Descending, and the Crone. She is also the necessary shadow side of life, the terrifying or womb-like darkness we all encounter. Sudden change, illness, accidents, grieving or sea changes of the soul — all these things can bring us face-to-face with the terrain of the Dark Goddess. Meet Her we must, but as Jane Meredith tells us, better to get to know Her ahead of time, and become familiar with the intricacies of change, healing and renewal. Journey to the Dark Goddess is a wise and wonderful guidebook for our journey into the transformational darkness and back again.

Using powerful symbols in the myths of Persephone, Inanna and Psyche, Jane traces the many stages of our visit to the Underworld, offering stories, rituals and guideposts to prepare for our Descent, our time in the Underworld, coming back, and continuing the cycle of life.

The myths and fairy tales of heroines who have lost everything, who are stripped to the bone and still come back reborn, have deep fascination and meaning for us. Similar to the many personal narratives found in the book, during my own experience with serious illness, I spent many months firmly in Her dark embrace. Feeling safe and protected at all times, I arose from the ashes and gained powerful life lessons. The Dark Mother grabbed me, held me, loved me and let me go. I learned that once you surrender and embrace Her in her full glory, powerful insights are waiting to be found.

Meredith is a superb guide to uncovering the meaning and metaphor in ancient mythologies as maps that we can apply to our lives today, and she fully grounds us in the self-inquiry and soul-expression tools such as journaling, dreaming, dancing, creating mandalas, altars, art and poetry. She offers powerful and meaningful rituals that connect us to Diety and the Earth, bringing clarity and integration to our own unique journey.

Instead of resisting, or being dragged kicking and screaming, Jane suggests that we deliberately seek out the means and methods to face the Dark Goddess. As much as the dominant society denies it, the fertility and blessings of the darkness are a natural part of nature’s cycles, such as the waxing and waning of the moon and the growth and passing away of the seasons. “Living eternally in the dark is no more a natural existence than staying eternally in the light.” Jane urges us to taste the pomegranate, open Pandora’s box and willingly step into the unknown to bring much-needed balance to our lives and the Earth.

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The Chrysalis Tarot by Holly Sierra and Toney Brooks

The Chrysalis Tarot
Art by Holly Sierra, text by Toney Brooks
US Games, 2014

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Review by Hayley Arrington

Chrysalis Tarot is now one of my favorite decks. Holly Sierra’s paintings for the cards are truly beautiful; I’m even enamored of the back of the cards, showing delightful, psychedelic butterflies. There is so much to see in each card that meditating on the images alone would be time well spent.

Chrysalis has some characteristic differences. Let us begin with the Minor Arcana:

Stones replace Pentacles/ Coins
Mirrors replace Cups
Spirals replace Wands/ Rods
Scrolls replace Swords

At first, I had trouble differentiating Spirals and Scrolls. However, remembering the idiom, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” when encountering Scrolls, has helped me to remember that they have the same associations as Swords. In Chrysalis, Spirals are associated with fire and Scrolls with air, but there is little in the cards to let the reader know this, it is told to us in the little white booklet (henceforth referred to as LWB). So, in my opinion, associate these suits with whichever element you feel comfortable associating them as, or are most accustomed to doing.

The court cards for these suits are collectively called The Troupe and are each given a distinct name. For instance, “The Weaver” is the name given for the “Queen of Scrolls” while “ The Acrobat” is the “Page of Stones.” These are delightful cards, but I must say that their representations bear little association with their suit, so it is all the more important that their “Queen of-,” “Page of-” names remain on the cards.

Working with Chrysalis has been fun and enlightening, although my experience with the LWB was generally frustrating. Upon reading through it, I noticed some cards whose interpretations were almost like their reversal meanings.

The Major Arcana is an interesting mix of world cultures and characters. I found these to be heavier on the Celtic theme than I would have thought based solely on the paintings. Here are several that I noted as odd or especially liked.

II – Sorceress (The High Priestess)”: This card is beautiful, and I like this card, overall. Brooks writes that Sorceress portrays Morgan le Fay, and in fact, calls her this exclusively in the description. I wonder why they just didn’t name the card this, then.

IX – Storyteller (The Hermit)”: This beautifully evocative card is my favorite in the Major Arcana, possibly my favorite overall.

XII – Celtic Owl (The Hanged Man)”: At first, I was taken off guard by this card’s representation not as a human figure, but as an owl in flight. Working with the deck has made me appreciate this card and the symbolism I feel it has. I am a little confused, however, by the description and keyword Brooks gives it, as “REBIRTH” (p. 14) is usually a keyword given to the Judgment card.

XIII – Ariadne (Death)”: If this is what death looks like when it comes my time to die, I will be happy to slough off my mortal coil. Brooks’ description, though, leads me away from the images in the card. Brooks writes that the figure in the card is “Ariadne, Celtic goddess of the gates of time…” (p. 15). The heroine of Minoan, society is suddenly Celtic. I am left guessing at the reasons for Brooks calling her Celtic and a goddess of something I’ve never heard her associated with. This description made me throw the LWB across the room.

Apart from using my favorite Tarot spreads, I used Brooks’ “Pentagram 5-Card Spread” which is similar to Shekhinah Mountainwater’s “Pentagram Tarot Layout,” from her book, Ariadne’s Thread.

Chrysalis Tarot is a beautiful deck, clearly made with love, and is currently a favorite of mine. It is my recommendation that Tarot readers, lovers, and collectors go out and get a deck and learn the many intricacies found within. Working with Chrysalis has definitely made me a true fan.

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Merlin Stone Remembered: Her Life and Works by David H. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas and Lenny Schneir

Merlin Stone Remembered: Her Life and Works
David H. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas and Lenny Schneir
Llewellyn Publications, 2014

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Review by Barbara Ardinger.

Merlin Stone’s book, When God Was a Woman, was a lightning bolt of feminist scholarship that told the world that before there was a Judeo-Christian god there were goddesses, and before there were goddesses, there was the Goddess. If you’re reading this review and you have not read When God Was a Woman, buy the book. Right now. As you sink into Stone’s book, try to imagine what it was like before we knew about Isis or Inanna or Astarte, before we knew that the tree in the Garden of Eden was probably a sacred fig and that the serpent was a symbol or aspect of the Goddess and that people who ate figs or worked with serpents were honored priestesses and prophets. The work of the second wave feminists added to the work of scholars like Merlin Stone and Marija Gimbutas, but this didn’t begin until the second half of the 20th century. Before that? Just “God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.”

Gloria Orenstein puts Stone’s work in context. Orenstein cites G. Rachel Levy’s The Gate of Horn (1948), Helen Diner’s Mothers and Amazons (1973), and Elizabeth Gould Davis’ The First Sex (1971). These books gave us some of our foundational myths, but, Orenstein writes, “we can see that although there was some writing that had already attempted to reconstruct a history of women …, much more expertise and authority were needed” (p. 8).

She continues, “Once Merlin Stone provided us with her careful scholarship and a truly feminist (not biased, patriarchal) accounting of ancient Goddess cultures, I and all who found Merlin’s work were finally able to understand our herstory…” (p. 9).

Merlin Stone Remembered is divided into eighteen parts; one is a timeline. Stone was born as Marilyn Jacobsen in 1931, became a sculptor and teacher, and in 1972-73 traveled in the Middle East to do research. She met her life partner Lenny Schneir in 1976, was featured in Donna Reed’s film The Goddess Remembered in 1989, and died in 2011.

Another part is Schneir’s memoir, a panegyric in which he describes himself when they met as a wannabe “manly man.” Though they never married, he and Stone lived together for thirty-four years. She turned his life around. “I worshipped her,” he writes. “She … sculpted me into everything I wanted to be. I needed her energy to succeed, and she gave it to me generously, naturally, and fully” (p. 74). He describes a homey, hippie life. It’s a fascinating read.

Unraveling the Myth of Adam and Eve” is Chapter 10 from When God Was a Woman. Rereading this chapter, we see again the depth of Stone’s work. Citing the best known male scholars of the 20th century, she also tells us about evidence of Goddess cultures — not cults! —found by those scholars and others in sites around the Mediterranean.

Regarding Stone’s second book, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, which is descriptions of goddesses, stories about them, and liturgical free verse, editor Axelrod writes that Stone’s poetry “teaches, coaches, and sings the long-lost, the banished, the often-forbidden goddesses back into our lives” (p. 141).

There’s more in the book, including Stone’s notes for a presentation in which she carries on a conversation with the voice, named Intuition, in her head. Unpublished works, including parts of a novel, poetry, color photos, a long section on Stone as an artist and sculpture, a remembrance written by one of her daughters. You may be long familiar with Stone’s work or this may be your introduction to it; either way, this is a valuable resource. Highly recommended.

P.S. A personal note. The book was lying on my couch when a friend who is an astrologer and Tarotist came to visit. She saw it, exclaimed, picked it up, and said. “I read When God Was a Woman in 1988 or 89 and it changed my life.” Me, too.

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