Welsh Goddesses: Blodeuwedd

blodeuwedd-terraincantata

Image by terraincantata

 

One of the most well-known Welsh goddesses isn’t even listed in the Mabinogion as a goddess. She is instead listed as the wife of Llew Llaw Gyffes, a son of Arianrhod. In the story, Arianrhod essentially curses her son, saying he will have no name unless she gives it to him, he will not bear arms unless she gives them to him, and he will have no earthly wife.

Llew’s uncle is a magician who helps Llew by tricking Arianrhod into naming him and giving him armor and weapons. The wife was a whole other issue.

In the end, Llew’s uncle forms a woman’s figure out of flowers. He then uses his magic to give her life, and so Blodeuwedd is created, an unearthly woman. Her sole purpose is to be Llew’s wife.

After they had been married for a time, Llew went away for several days. During that time, hunters come through his lands. Blodeuwedd, being a good hostess, invites the hunters to spend the night at her castle, which they gratefully accept. At dinner, she sees the lord who is the head of the hunt and falls deeply in love with him, as he does with her. They spend three nights together, and decide that they must be together. Over the course of the next year, they slowly gather the information and tools necessary to kill Llew.

Now Llew is rather hard to kill. He must be standing in a place that is neither inside nor outside, and can only be killed by a spear that is forged in a year, among other bits. Blodeuwedd feigns concern for her husband and convinces him to demonstrate how these requirements must be met. When he does so, Blodeuwedd’s lover throws a spear, seriously injuring Llew. In fact, for a long while, all believe he is dead. Blodeuwedd and her lover run away, escaping to his lands. Eventually she is caught and her punishment is to be turned into an owl.

Now, when I first read this myth, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with her. I mean, she plotted her husband’s death after cheating on him with some strange man, then ran away with him to escape punishment. And yes, on the surface, this is what happens. But there is a lot more to the story if you look a little deeper.

Blodeuwedd was created for Llew. She was given life with her sole purpose pre-ordained. She didn’t love Llew at all, but she was made for him. No one asked her what she wanted, or even if she would agree to marry him. The expectation was that she would do as she was told, as it was what she had been created for. She had no choice but to go along with it.

When she meets the hunter lord, she falls in love with him. He is everything she could have hoped for, and he feels the same about her. It is an instant, love at first sight that could lead to the deaths of both of them. So while they plot together, they are risking everything for each other.

Blodeuwedd shows herself to be a very strong woman. She breaks social norms and does what she feels is best for her. For the first time in her existence, she is working for something that she wants. She is strong and resilient. She finds something that she wants and she goes after it.

I feel like this makes her much more relevant to women today than ever. Too often we are forced into roles that do not suit us, things that we accept because we have to, not because we want to. If we follow our hearts and minds and break through those expectations, we are labeled as troublesome, headstrong and a whole list of worse derogatory words. Even with the advances in feminism today, we still have to fight to be what and who we want. Blodeuwedd shows us that we can do it.

Working with her has been eye-opening for me. She has shown me that the only one who defines my purpose is me. I don’t have to do something just because someone dictates that I have to. I am free to make my own choices for my life. My life, no matter who gave it to me, is mine to live.

To Book or Not To Book…

One thing I’ve noticed about spiritual paths today is the huge focus on studying. There are dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of books about almost every topic imaginable now. If you want information about something, chances are, someone else has written about it.

If you want to follow a path, you HAVE to read about it….  Right???

Wait, what? What happened to experiencing a faith? To actually doing the work? Did I miss something?

In a world that is increasingly about knowledge, we’ve found ourselves at a crossroads. Do we read, read, read, absorbing as much information as we can, hoping that one day we might know enough that we can actually do something in our practice?

Don’t get me wrong, I have zero issues with book learning. I’ve just noticed a trend in modern practices where a person is expected to know their respective myths and lore inside and out. It makes it super intimidating to newbies coming in, who are expected to have at least read them well enough to have memorized the basics before announcing themselves as (insert practice name here).

Have we really come so far that the emphasis is on the written word, rather than experiencing the joy of a faith? The devotion? The very experiences that give us our faith in the first place?

I’m saying this as a writer. As someone who consumes every word put in front of me, and never forgets anything I read. Oh, I may mess up a few details here and there, just like anyone, but that’s not the point. I’m supposed to come into a practice with this ingrained knowledge before I announce to the world that I follow X gods…  Why?

Why can we not get to know our gods in a personal way first? Why can we not experience them and hear their call first, leading us to want to learn more? I find it insulting that there are some faiths now that expect you to study like your life depends on it, simply because you “can’t be a true believer in X if you don’t know all their stories…” Yeah, I’ve heard it before.

Not only is it intimidating, but it drives people away from pagan paths. Yes, I agree that the newbies need to learn, but isn’t that what elders are for? Not to direct you to this book, and then that one, and then that one, ad nauseum, but rather to pass on the teachings? To embrace new followers of our Gods and lead them? Why does it all have to be so based on independent learning?

I’m not condemning independent learning, but I think we need to focus more on building a true community as well. One where those who have been around for a while might take a newbie under their wing, so to speak. Mentor each other. Everyone brings value to us as a group.

Instead of answering a question with “go read so-and-so,” we need to be taking the time to answer personally. To really get in there. Who cares if it starts a debate? Why do we fear that? Debate can be healthy and lead to growth. It prevents us from becoming stagnant.

I’m not thinking of, or directing this to any one path or practice. As a multi-tradition practitioner, I’ve seen it way too many times. It seems to be endemic at this point. By sending the newbies to books to learn, we miss the opportunity to teach, to share, to learn ourselves, and to build strong communities. We miss the chance to pass on our faith in the Old Ways. Many of the paths we follow as pagans are based upon ancient practices…  Oral practices…  Why do we not value that as a way of teaching now?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me…  I don’t think so though. I don’t believe I am the only person who thinks we’re missing the point here. Our faiths are living, almost breathing. By constantly sending people to study, we suffocate it. The debates become about the validity of a source, instead of taking what we can from it and discarding the rest…

So I beg you, the next time someone asks a question of you, try to answer it. give them your opinion, or your experience. Then, if you still feel it’s necessary, then you can send them to the library stacks…

 

©Lauren Michelle 2019

The Quest I Didn’t Know I Was On

All of my pagan life, I’ve been on a Quest. Not just a quest, but a QUEST. One of those big journeys that is supposed to culminate in some huge lesson, similar to the Quests that knights would go on in the old tales. Quest for the Grail and all that.

Strange right? I mean, I didn’t even know it was happening at first. I just studied wherever and whatever my heart led me to. I didn’t really have any goals in mind, any one thing that I was supposed to be learning. I just went where my heart led me.

It wasn’t until recently that it all began to come together. We’re not talking about a couple years of searching though. I mean, twenty years is a long time to be searching for something you didn’t even know you were searching for.

But that’s what happened…  Let me back up and explain a little of this journey…

I became pagan at the young age of 12. Yup, 12 years old. And yes, I knew what that meant then. I was the only one I knew, sort of. See, my grandmother was really New Age. As far as I know, she was Christian (at least nominally). Yet she had her own deck of Tarot cards (Rider-Waite) and a bag of runes. I remember sitting there somewhere between 10 and 11 years old, and playing with them. I read the little books, and tried to figure out what they meant, but just couldn’t grasp it at that point (it honestly took me years to be able to read Tarot, and I’m still only beginning my journey with runes).

After watching my efforts, my grandmother took me to the local bookstore she frequently haunted and let me roam the shelves of the New Age section. Nestles tightly between books on angels and crystals were spell books and books on REAL TRUE WITCHCRAFT!!!  Imagine the shock that went through my young mind to learn that witches were real! It was hands-down that most eye-opening moment of my life. I never struggled with the thought. Instead I embraced it, and began down the road that led me to this moment in my Quest.

At the age of 19, I began to study in earnest. I was finally able to understand what I was reading and I read everything I could. As it was the only word I knew, I called myself Wiccan, even knowing that it wasn’t the right word for what I did. More often than not, it was just Pagan, even though I was regularly having to explain what that was. It wasn’t a word that most people knew then. The internet was still a baby at that point, and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed were just beginning their foray into the wonderful world of witchcraft.

Moving forward a few years, I was in university and my studies there led me into the Arthurian tales, as well as myth cycles such as Y Mabinogi. I didn’t then realize what an impact they would have on me. One tale led to the next, which led to some historical work, and eventually led me to the edges of Druidry. Along the way, I was still studying magick, but I was becoming more and more disenchanted with it. Something was missing…

That search for the missing whatever it was became a search for my “real” spiritual path. I explored so many things, among them Heathenry, Druidry, Irish Celtic, Kemetic, and an Avalonian Tradition. None of them was right for me in it’s entirety, although I learned a lot from them. I learned more about who I’m not than I did about who I am, which led me into a deeper confusion. I was searching in earnest now, but still didn’t know what I was searching for.

All this searching was leading me into a crisis of faith. I mean, if I couldn’t find my right path, how could I truly call myself pagan in any way? I realize that that question doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense, but it’s how I was feeling. My entire identity had become wrapped up in who I was spiritually.

A decade of searching led me down many paths, none of them what I truly needed. I finally gave up. I started coming to terms with the thought that I would always have this really, REALLY, eclectic practice. I felt incredibly alone, like no one would ever understand how I felt and what I was looking for. After all, I didn’t know myself.

It took some time, but I was finally able to just relax and accept that my practice was really different from the rest of the pagans I knew. I knew that in the end, it didn’t really matter, as long as my practice, such as it was, meant something to me.

Then lightning struck…

I came to realize that my faith matched up with my Arthurian studies from so long ago. What I had begun then was the forerunner of where I was to end up. Suddenly, everything began to make sense to me in a new way. It was like putting together a puzzle face down, and then turning it the right way and seeing the whole picture! I had the answers all along, I just didn’t see it!

My path is in search of Awen, which is the Welsh word for divine inspiration. You see, in my mundane life, I am a writer. Not just here, but in multiple places. I recently had a book of poetry published and am currently working on two new ones. I was so close to my spiritual path with my writing that I couldn’t see it.

I work now primarily with Welsh deities, although it’s still very new to me. The words, the language, the myths, I am taking baby steps down this path, soaking it all in bit by bit. The term for the path, for those who are like me and like labels to define things, is Awenydd. Those who seek Awen, and strive to bring it into every day life, who work with the gods and spirits of Brythonic culture, attempting to bring them forward again.

I have found more peace within myself since coming to realize that the signs have always been there. I will continue to work with the gods I’ve already established relationships with, but now my Quest has become more pressing than ever. I feel like I am 12 years old again, reaching for those books that taught me about this world in new ways. I have come full circle, and move now into a new journey.

©Lauren Michelle 2019

Confidence in Paganism

I have a huge list of topics I want to cover, but decided to start with one not on my list: confidence in paganism.

It seems to be a common refrain as of late…  “Well, they all know so much more than me.” “I don’t feel like I have anything to contribute to the conversation.” I struggled with the same thoughts, before signing on to write this column. It was a lot of “who am I to think that anyone wants to hear what I have to say?” in various forms.

This is why I decided to cover this first. It seems to be a prevalent attitude that we don’t have anything of value to add, so why should we try? It’s not something that is restricted to paganism, of course, but due to the fact that it’s the community that I am the most involved in, it’s where I see this the most.

Even a friend of mine, who recently went on a retreat felt the same way. She hadn’t met any of the other participants in any way other than through their online community before she went. Upon getting there, she spent most of her time listening to everyone talk, rather than saying her piece as well, as she felt that everyone else there had way more experience than her.

Well, I am here to tell you….  SO WHAT???

Yes, okay, maybe some people have more time as pagans. Maybe some people have spend more time in study, or have a more active practice than you. Since when does that really matter?

Each of us grew up in a unique set of circumstances specific to us. Each of us comes to the table with something new to offer, even when we don’t think so. We all have different experiences, different views, different methods. It’s a big part of what makes our community so great! We all come here from different places and it adds strength to the community.

Don’t be afraid to speak up. Don’t be afraid to add in your two cents! You always have something of value to add to the conversation. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, what you have to say will actually help someone else…  It can open the eyes of everyone else there…

I struggled with this. I really did. “What if no one wants to read my posts?” “What if my writing style isn’t good enough?” What if, what if, what if….

Finally, I told that inner voice where to go. I decided to go ahead and do this, because I can. Because I want to. Because I have a unique voice, and lots to say.

Paganism prides itself, as a whole, on our ability to bring unique thoughts to our practices. The most common label I see is “eclectic.” We all have some element of personalization to what we do. Each of us has to find a way to fit our practice into our lives, and we have that experience to share. We may all read the same books, blogs, or websites, and be a part of the same groups on social media, but we still bring an element of ourselves to what we do.

What better way to see that than to share our experiences? We all bring something new to the table. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got years, months, or only days of it. What matters is that we keep contributing to the community. That we keep adding our voices. That is the way to the strongest community we can create.

©Lauren Michelle 2019