Circle Round: Raising Children in the Goddess Tradition. (New York, Bantam, 1998) Co-written with Anne Hill and Diane Baker.
What Is Goddess Tradition?
Not long ago I (Starhawk) was part of a circle of women celebrating the First Blood ritual of my Goddess-daughter Shannon. We walked a labyrinth cut into a meadow on a ridge of the coastal mountains; we strung necklaces of blessings and beads; we bathed her in a clear stream trickling through a grotto of moss-covered rocks.
The ritual felt as ancient as the spirals we traced on her back and shoulders with henna paste, and at the same time as contemporary as the self-tanning cream her mother added to the paste to make the designs last longer. In that way, our ritual was a perfect expression of the old/new character of the Goddess tradition itself: primeval as the big-bellied sculptures of Paleolithic cave dwellers, modern as the thousands of Pagans linked on the Internet.
Goddess tradition is indeed both the oldest and youngest of spiritual paths. For as long as human beings have existed, the numinous powers of conceiving, birthing, feeding, and bleeding have stirred the imagination wherever people lived in close relationship with the earth. For generations, the European-based expressions of that long tradition were suppressed or forgotten. But over the last twenty years, as our ecological and social crises have deepened, more and more women and men have been newly drawn toward a spirituality that puts the earth at center.
Most Pagans, therefore, have come to the Goddess in adult life. We are faced with the challenge of rearing our children in traditions in which we ourselves were not raised. The heart of our ritual for Shannon, for example, was the time we spent telling stories about our own first menstruations, which were not celebrated with gifts and magic. Our tales were charged with the awkward feelings and embarrassment of the women of our generation, born at midcentury into a world in which rituals such as Shannon’s were mentioned only in anthropology texts. We stand between two worlds: the world of our parents and grandparents, in which rituals such as Shannon’s are unthinkable, and the world of our daughters and sons, grandchildren, and Goddess-children, for whom we hope such celebrations will become the norm.
How, then, do we answer our children when they ask questions about life and death, about causes and origins, about right and wrong?
In this section we present the basic worldview and some of the core myths of the Goddess tradition. If you are brand-new to Goddess tradition, the following discussion will help you understand the concepts and values that underlie our stories and rituals. If you have many years of experience creating ritual on your own, what follows will clarify our interpretations. If you identify strongly with some other spiritual tradition, or with none at all, you will find here both differences and points of similarity with your own beliefs.
The stories and explanations that follow are meant not as gospel but as a workable framework for rituals and traditions that we hope will develop many unique expressions reflecting your own encounters with the sacred and the needs of your own community.
Goddess Tradition: Explanations for Children
Who Is the Goddess?
The earth is a living being whom we call the Goddess. Everything around us is alive and part of her living body; animals and plants, of course, but also some things that may not ordinarily seem to be alive, such as rocks, mountains, streams, rivers, stars, and clouds.
Even though we are separate people, all of us are part of her, just as each of your fingers is a part of your hand. And the earth herself is part of the larger living body of the universe, just as your hand is part of your arm, and your arm is part of your body.
Each living being is important and sacred, the way each part of your body is important to you. When something is sacred, we must take care of it and respect it. Human life is sacred to us, and so are the plants and the animals and all the elements that make life possible. If one thing is hurt, it hurts us all–just as when you cut even the tip of your little finger, you feel the pain all over.
The Goddess is always close to us. You touch the Goddess whenever you hug somebody, climb a tree, smell a flower, or pet a cat. The water we drink, the food we eat, and the ground we walk on are all part of the Goddess.
We also believe in many different Goddesses and Gods, whom we call by many different names. They are all spirit parts of the living universe, and there are many beautiful stories about them. To Pagans, each Goddess and God is a different way of trying to understand the universe. The universe is so enormous that our minds cannot understand it all at once, only in parts. We know that different people have different names they use for Goddesses and Gods, and that’s good. The universe-being is like a great jigsaw puzzle. Each of us has a piece of the puzzle, and the more pieces we place together, the more we can understand about the whole. No one group or piece has all the picture; no one idea is right for everybody. The Goddess tradition teaches us to respect other beliefs and ways of thinking.
The Goddesses and Gods can help us in different ways. When we call on a particular Goddess or God, it’s as if we stepped into that piece of the jigsaw puzzle. In the movie Mary Poppins, the children step into a chalk picture and it comes alive and takes them into another world. Calling on a particular Goddess or God is a bit like that. In our imagination, that piece of the puzzle comes alive for us, and we learn something only that Goddess or God can teach us. In this book, the many stories about different Goddesses and Gods are like magic pictures we can enter.
The Circle of Life
Life is a circle. We are born, we grow up, and we die. But death too is part of the circle, not a final end. When we die, we are told, our spirit goes to a place where we can rest and grow young again, and be with the Goddess and the old Gods. We call this place Summerland, or the Isle of Apples, or the Land of Youth, and we imagine it as a beautiful land across a dark sea, outside of ordinary time. There we can think about what we learned in this life and what we might do in our next life. When we are ready, we are reborn in some new form. When someone we love dies, we are sad because we can’t see them and talk to them in our daily lives anymore, and we will miss them. But we are not afraid for them, because we know that they will be in a place of peace and love and beauty.
We can’t see the dead, or talk to them, except in our minds, but some of us do have dreams or visions of the dead. Sometimes we receive very clear messages from them. Some of us remember other lifetimes or know things that we learned in other lives. But mostly we know that life is a circle because we see how everything in nature moves in circles.
The moon is born as a silver crescent, grows to be round and full, and wanes away to darkness, only to be born again. The seasons change from warm to cold and back to warm, or from rainy to dry to rainy. Baby plants grow up as green shoots from the earth, grow tall, blossom, set seed, and die. The seed falls to the earth and goes underground, only to rise again in the spring.
Pagans practice magic. That doesn’t mean we can just wave a wand and turn mice into horses. We wish we could! If you listen to the word magic, it sounds a lot like imagine. Magic is a way of training our imagination to make pictures and sounds and feelings and even smells in our minds that are so clear they almost seem to be real. When we say we practice, we’re not kidding, because it takes a lot of practice, just as it does to become a good dancer or baseball player. Luckily imagination is something kids are naturally good at, better even than grown-ups.
Magic can’t turn straw into gold. But with magic, we can change the way we feel about things, and sometimes that can change things outside us too. Magic can change the energy around us, and when energy changes, new things can happen. And magic can help us remember that we are part of the Goddess, that we are important and sacred and loved.
We use magic for healing, and for helping things go better in our lives and in the world around us. We believe that using magic to harm somebody is not only wrong but stupid. Whatever you send out with magic, whatever you create, that same kind of energy will return to you three times over. So if you use magic for good, for helping and healing, good will come to you. But if you use it to gain power over others, or in harmful or greedy ways, you are asking for harm to come to you.
The four elements–air, fire, water, and earth–are especially sacred, because they are the things all life depends on. We all need air to breathe. Even the fish who live underwater need oxygen to survive. We all need water to drink. All life and growth on earth feeds on the sun’s fiery energy. All our food, the minerals, and solid parts of our bodies come from the earth.
Whenever we begin a ritual, we call on the four elements because we know that everything depends on them. Each element goes with a different direction. Air is in the east, fire in the south, water in the west, and earth in the north. Where we live, on the west coast of California, the elements fit those directions very well, but your family may arrange them differently to fit your land and climate.
There is a fifth element, too, which is found in the center. We call that element spirit. You can’t see it or touch it, but you can feel it inside, just as you can feel when somebody loves you.
Creation: A Story for Small Children by Diane Baker
Circle round, and listen how we came to be. . .
The Goddess, alone in emptiness, felt the stirrings of love in her heart, love for a partner, love for a child, love for a friend. As love filled her heart, she became filled with swirling heat. She spun the heat into a great spiral, where it became the stars, including our own sun, making light. Delighted with her work, she laughed, and from this laughter formed the God, her partner and child. Now, knowing joy and life, she shared her gifts.
From our sun she blew great arms of fire that shot out into space, becoming swirling clouds that grew heavier and thicker, forming planets. The earth was one of these. Spinning around the sun, the earth grew denser, her surface covered with pale water and rock.
The Goddess, who holds within her the spark of all living things, found this planet mild enough for life, and scattered life’s pieces across the earth in dense puddles.
She breathed upon these pieces. Tiny bits clumped together and made cells, each the tiniest quivering little piece of life, able to make itself again and again.
Life calls to life, and life comes from life. These bits jumped, bumped, and collided. Some learned how to turn sun and water into food. Some ate each other. Others sucked up minerals, dissolving rocks into soil.
Bits of life fused together, joined by seed and pollen, by egg and sperm. Others just divided themselves in half. Some groups became animals, some became plants. Their breath sweetened the air and their bodies fed the new soil.
Life grew abundantly, always growing and dying, nourishing itself until the earth sang. Some creatures grew big, others stayed tiny. Water bloomed with plants and fish. Air filled with birds and insects. Floating seeds and pollen covered the land with plants, and roaming animals grazed and preyed. Some of them thrived, some disappeared. Eventually, walking on two feet and flexing ten fingers, people came, carrying babies and making tools.
All life knew the Goddess, and people did, too. The first people fashioned her image from clay and stone. We drew her picture as we imagined her. We molded her image with clay. With words we wrote poems, with music we made songs, with our bodies we danced.
And now when we worship, when we journey toward the Goddess with our dance, our music, our songs, our drums, when we travel to our quiet places or our wild places, we feel her breath in our cells, that tingle of life we share.
The Goddess Dances the World Awake: A Creation Story
retold by Starhawk
Long ago, before anything was, the Goddess awoke alone in the vast dark and emptiness. She had as yet no name and no form, but she felt an urge to move. She stretched, she rocked, she began to dance. Whirling and twirling, she wheeled and spiraled through space.
Her dance set in motion a great wind that followed her, playing catch, trying to caress her. The Goddess danced with the wind, and the wind took form, becoming the God in the shape of a great serpent, Ophion. Ophion wrapped his coils around the Goddess, trying to become one with her, loving her with all his being.
Suddenly the Goddess felt something stirring inside her, as if her dance had come alive. Something wanted to be born. She reached out, and her arms became wings. As a giant dove, she flew aloft while Ophion coiled himself into a nest for her. She settled onto his back and laid a huge, huge egg.
Ophion guarded the egg, sheltering it from below as the Goddess brooded it from above. At last the egg cracked open and the whole universe fell out–suns and stars and galaxies, planets and moons and the green living earth, all spiraling and spinning, whirling and twirling through space in the Goddess’s dance.
So that’s how the world came to be. And the whole universe is still spiraling and spinning, whirling and twirling to this very day, in the dance of life
Excerpted from Circle Round by Starhawk, Diane Baker, Anne Hill
Copyright© 1998 by Starhawk, Diane Baker and Anne Hill. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.