Branwen, A Goddess for Troubled Times

It’s now been almost three weeks since the fateful election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. It’s still so hard to believe that the forces of hate have won out over those of love.  I still get sick to my stomach as with each passing day the worst seems to be coming true.

Though I know deep in my heart that ultimately this dark and hateful energy will fall, I also know that much pain and suffering will have to occur first. I search for ways to handle my fears and ways to continue advocating for a world in balance, a world where peace and justice is available to all. The heart finds solace where the heart will – while editing the stories in my Celtic Goddess series soon to Branwen, Celtic Goddess of Love and Beauty, painting by Judith Shawbecome a deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards, I reread my telling of Branwen’s story, who seems to be an appropriate Goddess for this time.

Branwen, Celtic Goddess of Love and Beauty, speaks to me about the power of love to unite and the patience needed to endure suffering while holding onto the light.

Branwen was the sister of Bran the Blessed, king of all the Island of the Mighty. In the ways of the Old Tribes of the British Isles she was also the mother of the next king. She was the center from which all life emerged and thus possessed a vision which saw the whole, the greater scheme of things.

Her story is long. You can read the details on my post on the Feminism and Religion blog. But in essence She fell in love with and agreed to marry the Irish King, Matholuch, who had made the sea voyage to seek her hand. At first life in her new home in Ireland was happy. The Irish loved Her and She soon gave birth to a son.

But once word of an atrocity committed by one of Her brothers against the Irish got out the people turned against her. King Math, at the urging of his people, put her aside. She was made to work in the kitchen where she was routinely mistreated. With the help of her friend, the starling, she got word to Bran of Her plight. Bran raised an army and off they went to Her rescue.

Branwen urged a peaceful resolution and Her release was negotiated. The face-price for peace was that Branwen’s son, Gwern would become the Irish High King. But the same brother with hate in his heart destroyed this peace. During a celebration of Gwern’s kingship, he threw Gwern into the fire and killed him. War broke out, a war of extreme destruction in which ultimately both sides were destroyed.

Branwen’s story is truly one of sorrow which speaks to many of us today who are in deep sorrow by the recent election results and fear over what these results will mean. Branwen sought to unite two lands by love. We must do the same. With this love she was able to forgive and continue seeking peace for all. We must do the same. She sought this peace not only for the people but also for the land. We must do the same.

Branwen, Great Goddess of Love, died not by violence but of a broken heart at the destruction surrounding her.  Her great love for humanity, Her patience in the face of difficulties, and Her ability to forgive are abilities we can seek to live up to in the difficult days ahead.

Branwen’s wisdom is one of love and peace.  She gives us the wisdom to restore our vision of wholeness, our vision of a world where connections are recognized and diversity celebrated.  Branwen shows us the way to empathy and to the courage to persevere during times of danger and fear.

The Day After and Beyond

I am writing this on the day after (Nov. 10), the day after (Nov. 9) of the 2016 U.S. presidential election on November 8.
I woke up at 3:30am on Nov 9, checked online to find the election results, only to discover the nightmare of a possible Trump presidency was now a reality.  Nausea and fear set in immediately and I was up for the day.  My first reaction was to do what many did – search the internet for possible escape routes.  But where can one really run when a man with the temperament of a 13 year old bully (I taught in middle school so I know that m.o. well) has his finger on THE button.
I reeled around all day trying to get some work done on my computer but was lacking focus or the ability to think much.  I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach knowing that the leader of our country, a country who for so long has been trying to live up to its own values, is a man who jokes about sexual assault and how easy it is for him to force himself on women, a man who belittles disabled people, a man who calls a whole nation a bunch of rapist (could that have been projection), a man who calls for increased and more horrible methods of torture…. I could go on but we’ve all heard it and we know who he is.

Painting after Trump elected by Judith Shaw

Light in the Darkness – work in progress by Judith Shaw

Finally I took refuge in my studio with paint brush and canvas.  I had a canvas already prepared with a glaze of alizarin crimson on which I intended to paint something related to bees.  At first I could do nothing but apply dark, dark colors with no form.  I thought that I’d have to let the “bee” concept go and just delve into the darkness I was feeling about the state of America and the consciousness of her citizens.  But oddly enough as I worked the feeling lifted a little and I started to feel a glimmer of light.   The painting is not finished but here it is for you to see.  It’s dark but the bees have come back and they bring a bit of light with them.

A week has passed and it’s still hard for me to find the light in this darkness.  Guess I’ll just have to focus on the bees and the sweetness and light they bring to the world.  And I plan to get much more active than I have been.  We must stand up now and let the voices of love and compassion be heard loudly and clearly.

Elen of the Shimmering Ways

Long before St Jude was prayed to as Patron Saint of Travelers, there was Elen of the Ways, who both created and guided the pathways and trackways of the Elen of the Ways, Celtic Goddess painting by Judith Shawworld.

Dawn follows darkness; shining day gives way to starry night – cycles of change and flow.

Elen of the Ways is She who guides us on these paths of change.

Like so many Celtic Goddesses, She is elusive, shimmering, changeable. She endures through the ages, shifting into what each time needs Her to be. She is an antlered goddess who rules the Ways, the Roads, the Passages of human life, both physical and spiritual. Most likely She has been worshiped since paleolithic times. She is a Sovereignty Goddess who bestows the right to kingship on the one who will best steward the land, linking sovereignty to fertility and well-being.

Read my retelling of Elen of the Ways’ story on my post at the Feminism and Religion blog.

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Long Have Women Loved

Long have women loved.  Long have women loved their children, loved their men, loved their community, loved their land. This capacity for love created homes, created agriculture, created culture.  This capacity for love gave us great sovereignty, over our personal lives and the lives of our communities.

Over the past 5,000 years our sovereignty has been turned, slowly but surely, turned into dependency.  But women did not go willing to this state.  It was facilitated by violence and oppression. That violence, violence of centuries, violence of eons, suppressed the power of love and turned it into dependency.

Yet the seasons continue turning and the world changes once again.

Woman Flying, painting by Judith Shaw
Now in our modern times we are a nation of women, a nation of women rising, flinging off the chains of male dominance. We fly free.  Though still we suffer, at times all alone in a world ruled by men, we claim our power and we fly free.

Love – Only for the Young?

Red Moon - Blue Sea, painting by Judith ShawAs summer comes to an end, I find myself remembering a summer of many years past – The summer of the waning crescent moon dropping red into the sea as we drove the shores of the Aegean at 3am heading home after an evening of food, drink, dancing and conversation.

United by love, drawing by Judith Shaw

United by Love, oil pastel on paper, 9.5″x12.5″, by Judith Shaw

White the beach, black the sea, deep blue the sky – bands of color running along side us – the air caressed us both with its soft, moist breath.  It was a summer of love, a love I’d never known before.  It was love at first sight and yet we danced slowly into each others arms. It was an impossible love as we came from worlds far, far apart, both in distance and in cultural expectations. And yet we fell into the depths of that love, coming together for one extraordinary summer of intense communication, both spiritual and physical.

That summer ended and I had to return to my own land.  We planned, we hoped, we expected to be together again soon.  But that was not to be as the vast, vast distances of culture whipped up freezing winds to chill the hearts and break the bond. When finally I was able to return to his land it was a return to heartbreak.  Our love was true.   Our love was deep.  But sadly love is not always enough to turn the passion of first love into the enduring love of companionship.

Now, nearing the end of the autumn of my life, I wonder about love.  Are such experiences only for the young?  Can love warm a cold heart again?

Union, painting by Judith Shaw

Union, oil on canvas, 49″x40″ by Judith Shaw

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Boann, Celtic Goddess of Imagination

The Celtic Goddesses are deeply rooted in place. From their various locations they fulfill two main functions in Celtic mythology.  They are guardians and protectors of the land who bestow sovereignty on the king, presiding over sources and destinations.  Their other function is as goddesses of inspiration and Boann, Celtic Goddess of Inspiration,painting by Judith Shawcreativity, ruling the realm of imagination

Boann falls into the second category as Goddess of Inspiration and Creativity.  She rules over writing in general and poetry in particular.  Flowing waters, spiritual insight, fertility, knowledge and creativity are Her domain.

She was also known as “White Cow.”  Cows were sacred and associated with water in many ancient cultures.  In the eyes of the ancients, both milk and water, the substances of life, flowed from the breast of the Goddess. In addition to being associated with rivers, some scholars connect Boann with the heavens. The Milky Way is also known as “Way of the White Cow”.  Boann, as “White Cow” thus either becomes or rules over the river of heaven, the Milky way.

Read my retelling of Boann’s story on my post from last month on the Feminism and Religion Blog.

A Time of Light – A Time of Darkness

Summer solstice fell on June 20th this year, which is my birthday.  I have always loved this time of year so much, not only because of celebrating my birthday but also and largely because of the long days of light and the buzz of activity from a world wide awake with bird song, ripening fruit, and the hustle and bustle of human endeavors.  But it is in fact the day in which we begin our return to the darkness.  This thought has rarely occurred to me, but this year at this time death seems to be prominent.  The truth of the precariousness and preciousness of life has become evident – from the death of celebrity after celebrity, to the latest mass shooting in Orlando, to fires raging in some parts of the world with extreme heat, to a friend of mine dropping dead of a massive heart attack a few Olwen, Welsh Sun Goddess painting by Judith Shawdays before the solstice – death seems to be all around us.

The Celtic Goddess I explore this month is the perfect one to nurture our understanding of the unending connection of life and death.  Olwen, Welsh Flower and Sun Goddess, rules in the three realms – the Underworld, the Earth, and the Heavens. She was known as the “White Lady of the Day” or “Flower-bringing Golden Wheel of Summer.”  In the medieval story which retells her ancient and lost stories, she is the motivating force in healing a world of aggression, violence and rivalry.

Yes the human experience has long been one of suffering and pain. Yet the more we allow ourselves to feel each moment – the good and the bad – the more we can appreciate the greatest gift of the Goddess – Life.  The Way of the Goddess guides us through the light and the dark on the path to balance and wholeness.

Discover the power of Olwen to help you on that path. Read my retelling of Olwen’s story in my latest post on the Feminism and Religion blog.