Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mythological Deities as Doorways

Tlazolteotl, by Susan Seddon Boulet

Like many children, I learned life lessons from the storybook fairy tales I read. When venturing into an unknown wood, leave a trail of breadcrumbs so you can find your way back out. When strangers stop you on your journey, don’t tell them intimate details of your life, like where your Grandma lives. Don’t break into other people’s houses and take what isn’t yours, even if it is ‘just right’. Don’t give up who you are for a man, because trading your fins in for feet won’t make him love you. Beware your desperation in the solitude of night and what you call to your aid to save you. It would be better to learn to live with darkness and fend it off for yourself, for the small man will save you, but he will come later asking a cost you cannot yet comprehend. And still, in his lesson, we learn that the power of naming a fear can and will illuminate where you stand in that dark.
            For me, it wasn’t much of a stretch to look at the stories of mythological deities for lessons of a spiritual nature to aid in my personal growth. Now, I don’t believe that deities personified in cultural myths and religions were once living beings that walked the earth. Before the Romans came to Celtic lands, the indigenous people did not personify their deities. Danu was not a woman but the mighty river of the same name. The river was deified, for the people lived at its mercy. More than that, they could feel the energy and spirit of the river and honored it in the form it took. It intimates to me that they lived alongside the natural world around them, without putting themselves above it. When the Romans came to their lands, they were the ones who decided the Celtic gods should have human faces.
I see the compendium of deities as a multitude of archetypes that define specific energies. Through all cultures there are gods and goddesses of love, wisdom, fertility, healing, death, war, arts, etc. Each individual deity represents an aspect, a lesson, of how we define our humanity as it relates to divinity, from within the context of a specific culture, largely determined by its geography. To me, all of the female deities are facets of the core group of feminine energy, which is just half of the core of divinity, made up of both gendered energies. And this core is just a pebble in the energy well of all living things.
In opening doors towards my ancestors, I used the tools of mythological archetypes to reach a deeper understanding. There are lessons to be learned in the attributes that our forefathers gave to their deities and the associations they ascribe them with. It’s a way of fleshing out the emotional connections they had to their spirituality. In opening myself to the energy of the natural world, and seeking guidance from it, sometimes that energy finds me, shows me a path to take.
Two years into my pagan practice, at Equinox, I jumped into a dance around the fire, letting the drums speak to my bones. My body felt not entirely my own and there was a freeness to it. Instead of resisting, I opened. And as I fell into the dance, the smell of the autumn air grew thick and heavy with strange perfume. It was a jungle heat, wet and dark. I was flooded with emotions and images, flowers and birds, with songs and visual colors and I felt like someone has stretched a layer of soft light cotton over me and I relaxed deeper into the moment, letting the dancer do the dance.
I looked up at the others dancing around the fire and I knew their faces, but over each of them I saw shapes and images of other beings, dancing in tandem. Some had swords flashing, arms akimbo, masked faces, and some were crushing sea shells underfoot. I knew we were in a moment of ecstatic grace, touching that primal energy and being gifted with a direction. I later wrote down everything I experienced and researched goddesses, narrowing the list with the sensory experiences and visuals I had to South America, and out of my element, as far as pantheons I was familiar with. And then I found her, Tlazolteotl, an Aztec Goddess of Sex and Excrement.
            I believe my initial response was, “What?” It was a pantheon with such bloody connotations and I was seeking to heal the anger inside me, not give it purchase. But I kept researching. She was all things. Prostitutes given to the soldiers during training were dedicated to her (and later sacrificed for being tainted). She ruled the ninth calendar month and a festival of brooms was performed in her honor, where the city itself was ritually swept and cleansed. Once a year, men could visit her priests and be cleansed of their sins. She was the great cleanser… something else I was seeking.
I knew it was important when, in my research, I came to know that Tlazolteotl had been with me the whole time, waiting for me to stumble into her path. Fifteen years ago, I bought a print of the artist Susan Seddon Boulet at a yard sale. I wasn’t familiar with the piece but was beautiful, and I was happy to have one of hers. An image search I ran brought up a copy of that print. It was Boulet’s depiction of Tlazolteotl and the picture was hanging in my living room.
She is a balancer. You cannot enjoy the sensual pleasures of love and sex if you cannot also accept the releasing of the toxins in your body through defecation. Her medicine, her lessons are about seeing with both eyes clearly. It’s about accepting someone’s flaws as part of the whole of the person that you love. And it’s about forgiveness, but forgiveness of self. Why Aztec? Why this legendary bloody pantheon? I think the primal nature of the culture, that base energy of survival, is what I needed to realign myself with my intuitive body… the very basic questions of was magic real and was I capable of touching it? And through my meditations on taking the pain with the pleasure and the dark with the light, I found my answer was yes.
More personally than that, my work with Tlazolteotl taught me that it’s all right to love something and want something, even though the act was once tainted through violence. She teaches me constantly that more than one thing can be true and that if I believe that, I cannot hold my truth as more important than another. These lessons transformed me, and transform me still.
I have used other deities’ stories for personal growth and transformation and my inner amateur anthropologist is always eager to understand what lessons the deities held for the cultures that revered them. I also endeavor to study deities of death and dying, of gateways and crossroads, as a means of understanding the way my ancestors related to the idea of an afterlife, as a way of constantly reassessing my own beliefs.

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