Autumn colors passed their peak about a week ago. The best fall foliage happens at an early cold autumn. This year it stayed warm very late (something I’m not complaining about, after last winter!). Even in an off year, it’s still pretty. I went out several times but had trouble getting pictures because it kept raining and I didn’t want to get my camera wet. Anyway, here it is.
Hestia, you who tend the holy house [at Delphi] with soft oil dripping ever from you locks, come now into this house, come…draw near and bestow your grace upon my song.
Driving back from town yesterday in the early evening, I saw more deer by the road in more places than I could count. Seeing so many deer made me think of this passage from Divining with Animal Guides.
The Scottish goddess Cailleach Bheur roams the hillsides herding giant deer and drinking their milk. Cailleach, under various spellings, has been characterized as a deer, hare, cat, grain, serpent, gray mare, mountain, stone, and hag goddess, or as a hag goddess alternating with a maiden alter-ego. The pervasive characteristics of this deity are: female, old, and very large (even giant). I believe Cailleach is a word for a pre-Celtic concept of ancestress, and hence we should expect to find many Cailleachs. The deer Cailleach may be a reindeer, since milk and herding are part of her lore. Reindeer were indigenous to northern Scotland up to the thirteenth century. Alternatively, the deer Cailleach may be linked with Red Deer, who also live in groups and are larger than other European deer species. Another possibility is that the deer Cailleach could be an Irish Elk, a huge species of deer (not elk) that inhabited much of western Eurasia through the Ice Age. It is speculated that the changing climate could not support the Irish Elk, but the species was able to Into the Mist survive in isolated pockets throughout the Neolithic, documented in the foothills of the Ural Mountains even in historical times. The male Irish Elk had beautiful, formidable antlers.
The Scottish word for shape shifting, fith-fath, literally means to take the shape of a deer. It is easy to see why deer, having such a fey quality, would be equated with this concept. Deer are crepuscular creatures, active in the gray periods of the day, and seem to appear and disappear at will. I once stood next to a doe in an open forest and did not see her, so invisible did she make herself. It was almost like she transformed herself into a tree. I have heard many anecdotes about women changing themselves into deer—always women for some reason—and I have even witnessed this phenomenon myself.
Halloween will be upon us soon and this object fits the mood. This is a replica of a dagger found in an early gravesite in Poland. This was a gift from my friend Sonya and I do not have a date. Death Goddesses in Eastern Europe were not typically the voluptuous “Venus” figures but were more often thin and depicted in rigid posture.
This has been a strange summer leading up to a stranger fall. Normally foliage is near peak this time of year, but it has barely started. Anyway, here is your early autumn photo essay. Perhaps I’ll get another one posted later in the season.
Women-only space has been an important part of feminist spirituality. My essay this week reminisces about women-only space in matriarchal Appalachian culture. I plan to write a series of articles about women in women-only spaces.
Heard this song for the first time, ironically, on a day when I was feeling sorry for myself. Reminded me that I have a pretty nice life.
Late last week, heads exploded when the online Pagan news journal, The Wild Hunt, posted an article where lesbian feminist Witches were quoted extensively on how they viewed their women-only witchy group, The Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft. The way it’s usually done at The Wild Hunt is to summarize and round up links to blogs denouncing the priestesses for determining their own boundaries, without interviewing any of the priestesses for their side of the issue, and certainly without fact checking any accusations linked. It’s called “being inclusive.”
Turns out, it was all a mistake. Those who feel entitled to dictate the religious boundaries women may set and how they may describe those boundaries have asserted themselves and The Wild Hunt has apologized. The author, Terence P. Ward, has resigned as staff writer for The Wild Hunt, thus far without a public statement.
Many people on social media condemned The Wild Hunt’s retraction of the article as “cowardice.” I think this is unfair. I used to follow this news site regularly, and I believe the misogynistic attitudes of those at The Wild Hunt are sincerely held. It seems to be editorial policy, in deference to “feelings,” to proscribe the use of any word or phrase (even in a quote) that describes the class of people greeted with the words “It’s a girl!” when they are born. Referring to womyn-born-womyn, biological women, genetic women, etc. is verboten, thus depriving the conversation of any language that could be used to fairly discuss divergent women’s views. This is where Ward apparently came aground.
The international publicity (most of it negative) that the Pussy Church has received over the past few weeks is a matter that deserves reflection. Usually a church that applies for tax-exempt status is not a newsworthy item even in the Pagan communities, except perhaps locally or within a tradition. When the article in Forbes brought attention to the Pussy Church based on the author’s admiration for the thoroughness of the paperwork, the issue immediately became a hot-button one of transgender inclusion. Virtually anyone who goes public with anything conflicting with the dominant transgender ideology can expect some heavy backlash. (See, for example, Terence P. Ward.) It should be noted, however, that there are some women who cannot avoid conflict with transactivists because their words and actions are continually placed under a microscope and evaluated critically against transactivist postitions. These women who are subjected to ongoing political purity tests are radical feminists, women in born-women-only traditions such as Dianic Witchcraft, and lesbians. The Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft hit the trifecta, thus setting off a wild round of condemnation. In the context of this, an article on a well-read Pagan site allowing leaders of the Pussy Church to express their views in their own words should have been welcome, but apparently this was too “controversial.”
Targeting groups for close scrutiny against purity tests, along with accompanying persecution, is, by the way, the very definition of a witch hunt. In the Middle Ages it was old women who were targeted; in the McCarthy era it was people in the arts. Today, if you have not received reprisals for doing or saying anything conflicting with transactivist beliefs, you are probably not a radical feminist, a Dianic Witch, or a lesbian.
One thing that surprised me in doing research for this article is the number of Pagan blogs still in operation that have scrubbed their sites of posts condemning Dianic Witches. It really does look like the tide is, slowly, beginning to turn. Who knows, maybe in the near future even The Wild Hunt will decide it’s time to change history, scrub their site of their sins, and pretend none of this ever happened.