The Wisdom of Worn-Out Tapes

March 4, 2022

For everything that is evil and harmful to you has its existence only in the mind.

I’ve been listening to Meditations by Marcus Aurelius in preparation for my move, as I dump the cassette tapes I’ve accumulated over the years, acknowledging that they have reached the end of their shelf life.

Marcus Aurelius. Musee Saint-Raymond. Artist unknown.

Think about how many years you have been putting things off, and how often the gods have given you extra periods of grace.

I was kind of “meh” about this tape when I first heard it, because I was going through a phase of rejecting a lot of New Age rules for living I’d acquired over the years, and I recognized a kernal of New Age philosophy in Marcus Aurelius. That was a revelation.

Marcus Aurelius was a guy who spent his life perpetually trying to talk himself out of a bad mood. He kept a diary of thoughts not for posterity but for his own reflection. He lived in the second century and subscribed to the Stoic brand of philosophy, which emphasized moral character. Also, he was an emperor of Rome.

Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.

The New Age emerged in the nineteenth century in the experimental mysticism of the western New York state region known as the Burned Over District. It was “burned over” because there was so much religious fever. Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon sect) got his vision here, the Masons were huge, African Americans were reclaiming their folkloric roots, and the Christian Science that inspired twentieth century New Age guru Louise Hay was born.

While the New Age is rightly criticized as a tool for privileged people to justify the material inequalities of the world, it started out as the polar opposite of this. Religious leaders believed the working class pessimism and resignation endemic in Europe was beginning to infect America. They wanted ordinary people to take more control over their lives.

The mind can transform any obstacle into something new, creative, and purposeful to help us on our way.

Certainly blaming all your problems on fate or other people is not going to get you anywhere. Given a choice between denial of oppression and the competitive victimhood of the Identity Age, I’ll take the New Age. Fortunately, with maturity comes discernment, and if even the Freudians can admit that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” the rest of us can admit that, no matter how “spiritual” we tell ourselves we are, sometimes life is just darn hard.

For I seek the truth, and no man was ever injured by the truth.

Which brings me back to Marcus Aurelius. I’m enjoying what he has to say this time around. I think his philosophy rings true or false, depending on where or how it is applied. Also, it goes down better in small doses. If the dude had just let go and allowed himself to feel sad or afraid or angry for a day, maybe he wouldn’t have had to write all that stuff down.

Carol Christ 1945-2021

July 23, 2021

Early women’s spirituality thealogian Carol Christ passed away last week. Carol Christ critiqued Western philosophy, particularly Platonic philosophy, as going wayward from a primary mistake: denial of the primacy of the body, “the locus of changing life.”

From She Who Changes:

…Plato draws a sharp contrast between the time-bound world we inhabit and the eternal. Change is what separates our world from the eternal. In our world, things come into being or pass away. In our world, things are born, grow, and die. In the phase of growth, things increase or become more than they were. That which is perfect cannot change; otherwise it could become than less of itself, but this was thought to be impossible, as that which is perfect cannot become more perfect or less perfect. Plato asserts that in order to be free from change, the eternal must exist alone with itself, because relationships inevitably involve change and dependence. The highest Good or, as theologians understood Plato, God, therefore must be free of change, and therefore he must exist alone–that is, free of relationships that could cause him to become more or less perfect than he already is. For this God there is no change and no touch.

Carol Christ’s essay, Reading Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as Matricide and Theacide got to the heart of the misogyny embedded in Platonic philosophy.

In light of this, it seems certain that Plato did not “just happen” to choose a cave as the location of his “prison.”  Like the Genesis story in the Bible, his was  a “tale with a point of view.”  The point of view Plato was challenging was the view that this world is our true home, that we should enjoy life in the body, and that we should honor the mothers and the Mother who have have given us life. 

A lover of Greek culture and herstory, Carol Christ spent many years on the islands of Lesbos and Crete, conducting guided tours for spiritual feminists.

A biography of Carol Christ’s life can be found here, along with information about a virtual memorial service to be held December 20, 2021.

Favorable Omen

December 4, 2020

I caught this rainbow on Main Street in Keene Valley village midweek. This unusually strong double rainbow (the one in the upper portion doesn’t show up well in the photograph) was seen midday. Rainbows are the symbol of the goddess Iris, messenger of Hera. Iris is an amiable goddess who carries glad tidings for all the gods.

Hermes Chthonios

October 20, 2019

I became totally absorbed this week in a novel I’m writing. Prominent in this novel is the Greek god Hermes as an underworld deity.

Like the god Elegba in the African Yoruban tradition or the god Ganeshe in the Hindu tradition, Hermes is a god who facilitates connection between the seeker and other deities, and he is often the first deity addressed in a ceremony. He is a god who moves between worlds. Hermes conveys the souls of the newly dead to the underworld where Persephone rules with her consort Hades, and he is, at least in this aspect, a chthonic deity. For this reason, he can be a helpful divine companion in shamanic journeying. If you are going to the land of the dead for information but do not wish to tarry in the underworld, invoking Hermes will ensure a safe passage.

Hermes in the Underworld presiding over the passage of a slain warrior.

The Maiden Returns

March 29, 2019
Wildflowers in Death Valley, California. Photo: Chuck Abbe.

Spring is when most Witches celebrate the maiden goddess Persephone and her reunion with her mother Demeter. Persephone is the Queen of the Underworld and Demeter is the Goddess of Grain.

According to the standard version of the myth, the child-goddess Persephone is picking flowers with her nymph friends when the god Hades emerges from his underworld kingdom and abducts the maiden, forcing her to become his wife. The distraught mother Demeter retreats into her sorrow, refusing to tend her plants. The earth dries up.

Alarmed at the dying vegetation, the remaining gods unite to pressure Hades to relinquish the maiden goddess. Hades relents and agrees to release Persephone, provided she has eaten nothing while in the land of the dead. Of course this is trickery, because Persephone has eaten one pomegranate seed. A compromise is reached, whereby Persephone spends one-third of the year in the underworld and two-thirds of the year above ground.

While this myth explains the fertile and fallow periods of the agricultural calendar quite well, there are parts of the story that don’t fit. How is the Goddess of Death able to spend most of her time in the land of living? Gods and goddesses go back and forth between these worlds all the time, but welcoming the spirits of the dead isn’t a job you can just pack up and leave, except maybe for a long weekend. If Persephone is integral to the world below, and the poets insist that she is, then surely she can’t live in Greece two-thirds of the year. She would be considered a full-time resident for tax purposes (and husband Hades has a ton of assets).

Many scholars resolve this confusion with the conjecture that Persephone has been syncretized with another goddess, who is Demeter’s daughter in the myth. Since Persephone is often addressed in Classical texts by the title Kore, which means “Maiden,” this inferred goddess is called Kore. Separating Persephone into two personas goes a long way to clearing up the confusion.

But there is another problem. Persephone’s cult, the Eleusinian Mysteries, welcomed her back to the land of the living at the Autumn Equinox, rather than in the spring. In a lot of ways this makes sense, since the spring wildflower season in the Aegean is succeeded by hot dry months inhospitable to agriculture. Recall that Kore-Persephone is picking wildflowers when she is abducted. At the same time, Classical texts often place Kore’s return as the spring. This is most commonly considered the season of the world reborn. Perhaps the timing of the myth has been modified to apply to other localities or later agricultural practices.

When does Kore-Persephone leave and when does she return? It probably depends not only on hemisphere, but climate. In low-desert places in the northern hemisphere, most agricultural activity ceases as summer approaches. Or perhaps it depends on whether you live by an agricultural calendar at all. If you follow an academic calendar, summer is a time of rest and productivity reboots in the autumn. Spring is when most Witches celebrate the maiden goddess Persephone and her reunion with her mother Demeter.


Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Compete Edition, London: Penguin Books, 1960.

Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Gregory Nagy, trans. Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University.

Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Books, 1990.


The poppy is believed to be Persephone’s flower. Photo: Cristian Bortes, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Calling Hestia

October 12, 2018

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.

Medusa in Art

November 18, 2016

I’ve been looking at art work of the goddess Medusa lately, and I’ve been surprised at the amount and breadth of art that is available on this goddess. I was aware of a few much-reproduced classical images and also aware that Medusa is a popular subject among contemporary artists, but the scope of art involving Medusa was surprising even to me. Of course, the amount of historical art available under Creative Commons and Public Domain licenses is to some extent reflective of the popularity of the subject in the early 21st century. Still, there is far too much material to ascribe its availability solely to fashion and fad.

Medusa is the Greek goddess who turned everyone who looked upon her face to stone. She has been depicted and described as both unspeakably beautiful and horrifyingly ugly. Medusa is also referred to as “the Gorgon,” a woman with snakes growing out of her head like hair. Some classical writers insisted that there were two other Gorgons, sisters to Medusa and unlike her immortal. The hero Perseus took up the challenge of slaying Medusa, a task with logistical difficulties since he had to behead her without gazing upon her.

Artwork with Medusa as a theme can be divided into six categories: Greek archaic, classical Greece, Greco-Roman, Renaissance, Romantic, and postmodern (“postmodern” referring here to the time period from 1970 to the present, not to the political philosophy). Art depicting Medusa seems to be varied in all time periods, though the Perseus theme was popular in all periods up to the Romantic, so the following examples from each period are not representative.

Plate with Medusa in center surrounded by sphinxes, sirens, and  animals.  Greece, 660 B.C.E. Source: Walters Art Museum.
Plate with Medusa in center surrounded by sphinxes, sirens, and animals. Greece, 660 B.C.E. Source: Walters Art Museum.
Detail of a pair of Gorgons on handle of vase depicting a wedding scene. Greece, 350 B.C.E.  Source: Zde/Wikimedia Commons.
Detail of a pair of Gorgons on handle of vase depicting a wedding scene. Greece, 350 B.C.E. Source: Zde/Wikimedia Commons.
Roman mosaic of Medusa. 300 C.E. Photo: Carole Radatto.
Roman mosaic of Medusa. 300 C.E. Photo: Carole Radatto.
Perseus (left) with sword raised to decapitate Medusa. Baldassare Peruzzi,1510.
Perseus (left) with sword raised to decapitate Medusa. Baldassare Peruzzi,1510.
Medusa, bust by Harriet Hosmer, 1854.  Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Medusa, bust by Harriet Hosmer, 1854. Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Medusa Masquerade at 2011 WonderCon. Source: The Conmunity - Pop Culture Geek.
Medusa Masquerade at 2011 WonderCon. Source: The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek.