Paying Homage to Hestia

(one of author’s dogs, “Hope,” gravitates instantly to the heat of the wood stove)

This morning I was kneeling in front of my new wood stove kindling a fire from hot coals when I felt the presence of the Greek Goddess Hestia, Lady of the Hearth moving through the house. The goddess manifests as a crackling wood fire, and when I kneel before my wood stove to coax coals into flames I feel as if I am paying homage to her.

I have spent two winters without a wood stove, and have missed this ritual fall lighting of the fire, and the knowing that I am participating in ancient practice that extends back far beyond the Patriarchal Greeks to the dawn of humankind.

Today I felt her presence in a visceral way as I looked out the window at the first flakes of white snow disappearing into wet ground, and felt the hearth warming beneath my feet.

Hestia symbolizes the importance of creating sacred space within one’s home by honoring the fire that turns wood to ashes and re –kindles itself, resurrecting what was dead. This is also a time to give thanks for every tree that sacrifices itself to keep us warm…

Hestia’s name means “hearth” or “fireplace,” and her status shows how important the hearth was in the social and religious life of Ancient Greeks. Making and preserving fire was essential for early cultures, which made the household fire a sacred element at a very early stage of “her – story.” In later days, Hestia became its embodiment.

Hestia received the first offering at every meal in the household with families pouring sweet wine in her name and dedicating the richest portion of food to her.

The hearth fire in the household was not allowed to go out by any family unless it was ritually distinguished.

In the Greek myth, Hestia was one of three “virgin” goddesses; the other two were Athena and Artemis. I interpret this virgin aspect as being “one unto herself, indicating wholeness which has nothing to do with chastity. Athena was a goddess of war and got lots of attention, Artemis was Mistress of Wild Animals and also a great huntress. Hestia was acknowledged as Mistress of the Fire, and cultivator of the home place. Of the three goddesses she got the least attention, probably because the Greeks were a Patriarchal warring culture that valued men over women, and thrived on conquest, rape, and killing (power over). Honoring any peaceful nurturing goddess of the household was less important.

There is an interesting story about a potential rape of Hestia by a drunken god while she was sleeping. The braying of a distressed donkey awakened Hestia in time to ward off this atrocity and thereafter, on Hestia’s feast day a donkey that wore a garland was included in Hestia’s festivities. This intervention by a loving animal may carry a significance that is easily missed. Animals can represent women who are living in a state of wholeness because they have married instincts to awareness. To become en – souled is a holy undertaking that connects a woman to All That Is.

This autumn I welcome Hestia as Keeper of the Fires into this house asking for her blessing, honoring WOMAN who tends the potentially transforming element of contained fire in her own home or realm.

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The End of Democracy?

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All three sides of this terrifying sculpture

 

I recently read Carol Christ’s response to an article “ The Patriarchy Will Always Have Its Revenge” (New York Times) with respect to our current political insanity with regard to women and rape. Carol wrote, “I find myself caught in the undertow of bad memories, stuck in a simmer of rage. My hands furl into fists. My jaw clenches. My teeth grind in the night.”

 

Mine too.

 

The Brett Kavanaugh case makes it abundantly clear we still blame women for rape even when the woman is a child.

 

The independent and most neutral of all papers from my point of view, The Guardian, states that according to the New England Journal of Medicine, rape is about four times more likely to result in diagnosable PTSD than combat.” I would add that attempted rape has the same result.

 

As a woman who has suffered from PTSD her entire life, has a history of sexual abuse, and has worked with abused women during most of her adult years I know from personal experience that this statistic is accurate, and as a therapist, I recognize that attempted rape destroys a woman’s sense of self in mind, body, and soul, just as actual rape does.

 

Ironically, the same morning I read Carol’s post a man posted the above picture on FB stating “that the sculpture was about a man thinking about wife giving birth.” WHAT? This frightening triple image spoke volumes to me about the hold real men and the dominant Patriarchal culture have had over Women and the Earth for millennia.

 

But thankfully not all men. John Erickson asks the same questions in his post on feminismandreligion.com that I have been asking as the horrors mount:

 

“If you are like me, you have found yourself, more times than one I am guessing, watching the news, mouths agape, mind in disbelief, and your heart heavy with grief and sadness. While these great travesties occur, I find myself wondering what is the cost? How many children must be locked in cages? How many women must come forward with accusations of sexual assault and rape? How many more people must accuse the President of harassment and assault? How many more anonymous op-eds and faulty promises must be made before we finally all see that the real cost, is that these great travesties themselves (too many to recall here) are what it really takes to take down imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

 

He continues: “People have grown weary of having me at parties because my normal talking points are:

  1. Asking people if they’re registered to vote (and if not, why aren’t they?)
  2. Making sure people are discussing difficult issues with their friends and families that may or may not support Trump…
  1. Asking how long they think it will be until we are actually living in The Handmaid’s Tale universe?”

He also reminds us that this is more than about Trump’s presidency. Trump’s election is a symptom of the disintegration of an entire culture.

 

John finishes his essay by encouraging us to vote.

 

In my despairing state I have reached the same conclusion. There’s nothing else left to do. If we don’t vote in November to begin the process of ending this insanity, feminist or non –feminist, Democracy will be dead.

Second Class Citizen

When he backed me

up against the tree

inching towards me

menacingly

with his big powerful car

I couldn’t believe

what was happening.

I was holding the space

for a car full of dogs

waiting to park

just behind him.

 

He got out of the car

and I said

You can’t do this

this spot is taken.

Six feet tall, he sneered

You can’t save spaces

in a parking lot.

 

I have two dogs

and they won’t allow

them in the store –

it’s too hot in the sun

I need this spot,

I tried to explain.

I have dogs too

the man replied.

Are they with you

I asked?

– Giving him

a chance to redeem

himself.

 

No. My dogs

are home.

Then you of

all people should know

how I feel.

He laughed,

his mouth twisted

into a grimace full of scorn,

tossed a golden mane

dismissing me.

Walked off

so full of himself

and his rights.

 

“You Bastard”

I cried out twice

as two employees,

both boys,

snickered enjoying

the fun at my expense.

One had the audacity

to tell me

I was troublemaking

in a public parking lot.

 

To them

a 73 year old

woman being driven

from a tree shaded space

while advocating

for animals and human decency

was nothing but a joke.

 

In the car

I cursed the man

flung poisoned arrows

his way,

knowing that nothing

would take away

the pain of knowing

that as a woman

and as an elder

I had less rights

than these arrogant

men and boys.

I am by virtue of my sex

a second class citizen

in a woman hating culture

that just won’t quit.

 

Working notes:

 

The encounter in the parking lot followed another that occurred when I tried to enter the store I have shopped in before with my two dogs. This time, barred at the entrance, I was asked if my dogs were service dogs. When I said they were I was interrogated. What was my problem? I suffer from PTSD I told them and these dogs are my support system. All this was true. “An emotional problem doesn’t classify as a reason to enter the store with animals.” What?????

 

You can be sure that if I was an ex-military man accompanied by dogs who said he suffered from PTSD no one would have barred him from the store.

 

To be singled out as a “second class citizen” twice in one day because I am a woman diminished me as a human being against my own will. Old wounds surfaced. I am full of holes that I cannot repair because lack of accountability on another’s part ensures that shame will once again attach itself to me.

 

The Terrifying Power of Denial and Commentary

 

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(my photo)

The Wings of a Butterfly

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Denial is a silent violence that aims to make invisible a trauma maybe evident or not, to make it acceptable as normal and allow the victims of this trauma to be exploited from a system of oppression or people in power. Denial is that voice sugarcoated with correctness that asks us to shut up and sit down on our own pain so as to not disturb anyone. Is a silence that yells loudly, because sooner or later it will speak through the different ways we hurt ourselves and others.

It is not a mystery that women all over the world are subjected to a variety of violence and oppression. Women and girls are hijacked, raped, assaulted, murdered, their experiences mocked or banalized and their bodies thrown around like trash. People get outraged asking how this is possible? Well, this is possible because when a girl is born, she is “bestowed” the foundational denial that will allow the normalization of this violence and belittling during all her life: The denial that she is a human being.

Women in patriarchal societies are not people: we are bodies, objects, “pussies” but not individuals. The society not only allows this, endorses it and benefits from, by keeping women in the denial of our personhood and humanity making sure we accept this situation through the process of socialization. Women have been taught to live in denial to support a narrative that oppresses us. We learn to accept the denial of our humanity and to sustain the denial of the humanity of other women. A woman who doesn’t embrace herself and other women with empathy can’t be free and the system is everyday at work to prevent women from loving ourselves and each other. We are the result of centuries of pedagogy that creates mistrust between women, and the validation and reproduction of our oppression and conditioning towards mutual competition.

All the violence a female will live along her life, both in the personal and public sphere are expressions of the denial of her humanhood as a political mechanism of control on her, because all oppressed bodies, as women bodies are oppressed, are social spaces. The denial of human-hood for women and how this expresses through our bodies get a broader dimension for the trauma inflicted by denial if we consider that nothing we experience is foreigner to the body: All happens in our bodies: ideas, tastes, sensations, laugh and sorrow, reproduction, pleasure, feelings and spirituality…. Who controls women´s bodies, controls society. The violence that terrorizes us today is the projection of an accumulative process that can be tracked centuries ago. The system we live in is designed to produce this violence against women, but it’s in denial of its own participation as enabler and this makes it very difficult to achieve the very needed changes to stop it, because denial can only perpetuate abuse.

Talking about intergenerational trauma I had to link that phenomena to women’s lives as oppressed group. Women are receptors and transmitters of trauma and denial. Assuming that my history is similar to the history of other women, both at existential and biological level, I wonder: What of the traumas that my body expresses belong to my life story and which ones mirror other women’s pain – my mom´s pain, my grand mother´s pain and my female ancestors? Which of my sufferings will my daughter express? How much of what has been written on my body and what of what has been denied will people read in the eyes of my granddaughter, if I have one, someday?

I have a tattoo on my right shoulder. It’s the simple drawing of a butterfly with open wings. It makes me remember everyday that no matter how hard and ugly experiences you might live through, you always can become something beautiful and shiny by yourself. 10 years ago I was raped by a man I was dating. What happened to me from the day after was a journey through denial: The denial of the police that what I had lived was rape. The denial of justice, since my perpetrator was never prosecuted. The denial of people around me who didn’t give me space to talk about. The denial of my humanity from other women who said that, in a way, I deserved it.

Dismantling a system of oppression starts from doing it within each of us from what we have all been shaped at its convenience and resemblance. For women this means to break the glass wall of denial, to demand our and other women’s human-hood, to develop empathy among women in the context of oppression, which allows us to see ourselves as people and see ourselves in other women, to build a sense of community to resist the violence that means to survive in misogynist societies. Any idea of social equality that aims to be serious must be based in the radical notion that women are people. This notion, deliberately absent or suppressed so far, has power to transform our lives, our relationship with other women and society from the very basis.

My butterfly, ready to fly is a reminder that I have survived sexual violence and the violence of denial, to claim my fundamental act of justice every day: Stand up every new morning, face up before the world with my story, with a voice that clearly speaks up its truth, embracing my personhood to walk wrapped in authenticity on my way through, leaving a trace of courage, resilience, and love.

Here is to women who challenge denial to rise from the ashes of trauma and gather their courage to survive, to release, to heal, to thrive, to break free; who won’t be silenced, rather awake and loudly thriving.

Those women deserve what they dream.

Wings and Power to you.

 

(All bold italics highlight sentences or paragraphs that struck me as most meaningful)

My Commentary:

Every now and then I read a piece of writing that simply screams to be noticed. Vanessa’s writing is a perfect example.

Denial is one of the most destructive and effective strategies used by humans to destroy one another. It is also the most invisible, and in my opinion because of this characteristic, the most frightening….

Having been socialized into denial as a way of life as a child I have struggled mightily to throw off this deadly cloak throughout my life and have succeeded… Pain incites the fires of transformation.

I encounter denial on a daily basis with people I know well, family members included. Both women and men use this strategy and think they get away with it, but of course they don’t because eventually everyone loses.

There is no way through. Denial is a wall made of cement. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out.

It is because of denial that we find ourselves on the edge facing human extinction.

No small thing, that.

I chose the Luna Moth as an image because these moths have eyes in their bodies that see through delusion, and they take flight at night.

Departure

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I wander along

a river path,

cross an old pasture

under a forest of cottonwoods –

a sage garden to my right.

The road turns to red dirt.

I feel a sense of peace

but only for a moment –

He spoils the day.

in rampant fury,

hacking away

roots

with a vengeance

that sends

chills

through my body.

Making the choice

for both of us,

I depart in sorrow

and self defense.

This man

who cannot speak

the truth

about what troubles him

blames me instead.

After all, I’m a woman –

A five thousand year old

patriarchal myth

rears its ugly head.

A genuine exchange

is impossible.

In this story

Reciprocity is dead.

Please Give Feminists a Break

I remember so vividly entering graduate school in my early forties and being told I was an “eco – feminist” by my professors. What does that phrase mean I asked having no relationship that I knew of to feminism. Feminists, I thought vaguely, naively, burned bras and hated men…

 

I was asked to read “Woman and Nature; The Roaring Inside Her” by Susan Griffin to help me see who I was, and after finishing this one book I submerged myself feminist writings like a starved woman – child. My teachers were right. I was a feminist – an eco –feminist because I had already made the connection between what was happening to the Earth and what had happened to me. Every tree that was chopped down was a part of me, every stream that was polluted was a part of me every animal that was slaughtered was a part of me because I was a part of Nature. I owed my life to Nature, the only mother I had ever had. I loved Her, honored her, became her fierce advocate and in the process She eventually taught me to love myself.

I had come to feminism through the back door. I was a naturalist, an animal lover, a plant woman whose love for the Earth had sustained her through childhood trauma, sexual, emotional, psychological abuse, my brother’s tragic suicide (after which I totally lost myself entering the ‘dead years’), and finally a through a grotesque experience with physical abuse in my late 30’s during which I was repeatedly battered by a male partner.

I believed I was crazy until I began to have my ideas validated by other feminists some of whom were my teachers. Submerging myself first in eco – feminism and then in feminist scholarship I began to see the world through a very different lens – a lens that included women as part of “his – story” even though most of us remained invisible, and remain so today.

For the first time in my life I allowed my anger to surface and to find home in a lost self that had denied the damage that had left her with PTSD and an anxiety disorder. For a while, my fury/outrage/grief at being treated so horrifically by my family, schools, community, religious institutions, and culture consumed me. Up until that point I had been forced to use denial in order to survive and had turned my anger inward paralyzing myself with self – hatred.

Now I could express that anger appropriately and began to hold members of my family, the men in my life, (eventually including my adult children) and the culture accountable for their despicable actions… Ever so slowly, I began to heal from self – hatred as my fury and outrage peaked and then dissipated.

For about five years I struggled with my rage towards the men in my life who had sexually and emotionally abused me as a child and as a woman who didn’t know how to protect herself (my fifty percent – this is an example of the importance of being accountable – there are always two sides).

Then I left tunnel vision behind and came to the realization that men were not the problem – the culture I had been raised in was flawed, privileging men over women in every way that I could think of. Men were socialized into this privilege by virtue of birth, some, of course, more than others. White middle class men “ruled” the world (and continue to do so today). The “man against nature paradigm” that was so contrary to my lived experience – turning me into an eco – feminist without my knowing it – now became a platform for me to begin telling a different story, a practice I continue to this day.

Patriarchy is an incredibly destructive ideological structure that privileges men over women, men over children, men over Nature. This system oppresses women, children and men who are not part of the dominant material culture albeit in different ways, and this system is what has brought us to the edge of the global political and ecological breakdown we are facing today.

The point of all this story telling is to help women understand that feminism is a perspective worthy of our attention – so worthy in fact that without incorporating a feminist perspective – one that values compassion, cooperation, and equality for all peoples and non human species – we will all be facing extinction.

Recently I read an angry feminists response – probably that of a young woman – that blamed men for women’s oppression. Annoyed by this attitude I remarked somewhat heatedly that hating men was not the answer, forgetting a truth I learned from personal experience, that when women discover feminism it is normal and part of their process to become angry with and blame their personal oppressors. In time this attitude will pass, just as my own anger did.

Blaming is a natural response to being harmed and part of the human condition. It is also an opportunity to begin to grow up and take responsibility for our personal actions, as we pull back our projections and work with our own shortcomings. Most older feminists like me reached that point after a few angry years.

Today we see feminism as a flickering beacon of hope for men, women, children, and the Earth. If we can work together women and men can restore the feminist values of respect, compassion, cooperation. Patriarchy has only been around for about 4000 years. Seeking a matrifocal way of being in the world might save people and the planet from dying an unnatural death.

SO PLEASE, PLEASE, GIVE FEMINISTS A BREAK.

 

What follows is an excerpt from a poem by feminist activist author Robin Morgan written at the time as a result of a visit to South Africa in the 1980’s. I think that Robin can be forgiven for her binary splitting of men and women when she encountered such inequality between the two, and was no doubt struggling to deal with her own anger. As I said, righteous anger is part of every feminist’s growth and that anger needs to be forgiven and understood as part of an ongoing process of female development. We remain as a culture in desperate need. Blaming feminists is NOT the answer.

I think that every woman who reads these excerpts can identify with what it’s like to be a woman. So many “ make do,” and most women remain anonymous to this day..

Robin brings Winnie – Mandikizela Mandela to life. She was named South Africa’s “Mother of the Nation” by the poorest people, the ones who suffered the most. I had never heard of her until Robin wrote this tribute.

“Arbitrary Bread” (excerpts)

…Men make impressions, arbitrary decisions, names
for themselves, wars, profits, laws, reputations,
deals, fortunes, threats, enemies, promises, tracks.

Women make do, ends meet, babies, way, clothing,
breakfast and dinner and supper, quilts, homes,
apologies, baskets, beds, light of it, room….

Beginning again, unlearning how
to make jokes, compromises and bargains,the best of it. Relearning how
to make trouble, a living, a practice of politics.
Cracking wheat, crushing millet, dissolving
salt crystals, pounding the dough. Waiting
the first rise. Reshaping the dough. Waiting
the second. Heating the oven of metal or clay.

Winnie Mandela stands outside
the smoking timbers of what yesterday
was her home. She stares. She does not enter.
Lost articles—inanimate speechless things—flare
to mind, each vivid, crisped, with grief.
The books. The diaries. The humble gifts
from ordinary people. The wedding pictures.
The letters, thirty years of them, from him
in prison. While she raised the children,
carried messages, was banned, was under house arrest,
in jail and out again, while she made visits
to him, made speeches, made an example
of herself, was made his symbol, was made
a metaphor for freedom.

Men manage to make
their revolutions from abstraction. But no slogans
can be made from the thoughts of a woman
sifting the ashes of her life.
The last bed in which they ever slept together,
gone now. The baby pictures. The headscarf her mother
left her, the recipes. The saved invitations
to far countries where she could not go.
The mirror she aged in.

Over and over, practicing how
to make a fresh start, making the most of knowing
the worst of it—not what’s assumed:
that they can torture, degrade, kill, erase you,
but this—that they can just tire you out….

Again and again learning how
to make peace:
cracking open the whole grain of anger,
crushing the fear, dissolving the sense
of futility, deliberately making
believe,
pounding, shaping, reshaping the act—
arbitrary but this time our own….

Clay is the wild crystal
making itself through eons of weathering
by the pounding, cracking, crushing of rocks,
the dissolving of rocks, the absorption
of water in minuscule pores, developing “defects”
in crystalline lattices which collect energy, store it,
transmit it. This is one definition
of a life form.

A regular crystal is perfect, blank until
it receives an imposed pattern of charges.
But clay replicates, layering
pattern on pattern of ions coded in flaws.
Disorder, the woman scientist whispers,
is precisely the thing which can hold information.
Strike an ordinary lump of clay with a hammer:
it blows ultraviolet energy for a month….

I want to make
this so plain
that every woman can feed herself with it,
make it her own, make it
mean what she chooses, make
demands of it, make
it available, make
mischief, a difference, a miracle, ready.

I want to say this in the quietest voice possible:
Give us this day
our arbitrary bread.
Do I make myself
clear?

Copyright 1990 by Robin Morgan. All Rights Reserved.
From: Robin Morgan. “Upstairs in the Garden”

March Moon Grief and Betrayal

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A moon full of grief

spills pale blue light

blinding stars

erasing Shadows

cast over the night –

Exposure to betrayal

is an experience

without parallel.

I weep even as high desert skies

shiver under reflected light

and second sight.

Yet, Venus shines on.

Her silvery orb a

sharpened steel point

an inspiration for some.

We do have a choice.

Betrayal speaks to the severing

of ties – psychological wounds

are no excuse for ending a friendship –

expose lack of integrity and weakness.

Keeping red hearts open

creates space for a rainbow

spectrum of feelings.

Experiencing each honestly

allows love to re – enter,

shattering separateness,

the most sinister human delusion of all.

 

Postscript: I used the image of this morning’s sunrise to highlight the colors of betrayal as I experience them. This poem was inspired by a woman’s betrayal that blindsided me yesterday. The bare trees against the sky remind me so much of this woman and myself, because she loves one tree in particular although my life is permeated with love for all trees. Women and trees simply go together as sisters in mythology as well as in day life. This women, by betraying me, chopped down her own tree.