Monday, August 29, 2016

HerStory - Memories of the Past

In the beginning, there was no time. People wandered the earth searching for food, warmth and shelter. Ice covered the land. Slowly the ice began to melt and the long winter gave way to a fertile spring. As the sheets of ice retreated further and further northwards, the earth which they uncovered unfurled its green shoots. In the wide grasslands the first plants grew, followed by bushes and finally trees. The land became covered with grasslands and forests. Animals, birds, insects and flowers flourished. Eating berries and ripe fruits, the wanderers trapped animals and noticed the changing seasons, times of plenty and times of darkness. Traveling across the land they were guided by the sun during the day and by the moon and stars by night.
Afraid, and very small in so vast a land, the people looked to the sun and moon as their guides, as spirits which protected them. The sun always moved in the same direction and remained constant, but the moon, mysterious light of the darkness, changed her shape. Like the women in the tribe, she sometimes swelled as if full of spirit and at other times she was not there. The darkest of nights. People within the tribes, older women, young girls before their first bleed, began to take the light of the moon, who had become Mother, into their bodies, and young men took in the male god of the hunt, dressed in skins and horns. These sacred workers traveled into the Other world of shadows, spirit realms, where the moon kissed them and the sun warmed their bones and they were taught all mysteries. They knew how to fly with the dead ones and take their spirit home to the Mother. In the Other world they learned how to make the sacred drinks to heal the sick and to read omens for the hunt.
The People began to settle, at first in caves and later, as more families gathered together, they built huts of wood and stone and moved down on to the plains. As the communities grew, laws were made from tribal customs and the clan elders formed councils. Sacred potters made images of the Goddess, the Great Mother of All whose ample breasts and belly brought health and fertility to the tribe. Drawings were made in caves of the hunt, the gods of the chase, and the Old Ones who carried the sun and moon.
Millennia passed; the Old Ones became the Great Ones, their civilizations flourished: In Sumer, Egypt, Atlantis. They watched the passage of the stars, charted them and the divine science of astrology was born. They counted, and saw and recorded the sacred symmetry of numbers. Watching the souls of the dying and the incoming of the new-born, they followed the soul's passage through the many heavens. Studying sickness and health they theorized on the body and its relationship to the soul, and made healing plasters and elixirs. They looked for omens and auguries to make sense of the vicissitudes of their lives; the plagues, the floods, the curses and blessings. They named their gods and built shrines to them, and the shrines grew into temples and then whole cities were dedicated to the Goddess.
Great in their glory; the power of the Great Ones was awesome and terrible, and behind their lesser gods was the Cosmic Mother of All, whose breasts poured milk into the firmament and who birthed new stars, whose curved and luscious body was the very earth they trod on. Her undulations were the forest, grove, copse, and spring. Immanent, she was everywhere. In each rock, each leaf, in the lowliest animal and in the greatest. She nursed them all, brought them to life, held them as they grew, fed and protected them, and when their time was over, she took them back to her.
Burrows were made and stone circles, temples and high towers; she was worshiped in fields and groves, in towns and on the wildest shore. The land grew rich with grains, all manner of fruits and sweet wine, and with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air.
The Temples flourished. Priestesses of the Goddess, who had many names, presided over birth and death, the blessing of fields and the building of cities. They became rich, their rites more complex, their caste more separate. This was a Golden time when peace reigned. But as ripened fruit soon rots these idylls perished by fire and flood and bloodshed. Atlantis, the sacred island, was subsumed by a great wave, all its glory washed away like so much shingle. The primeval waters of the Mother washed away the greedy and corrupt priestesses, who, forgetting her, imagined her power was their own and used the sacred Kundalini fire for temporal things.
Tilted dangerously in the soft blue waters of the Mother, the world shifted on its axis, madly tumbling its helpless people into the fire of blood and iron.
Men came, hordes of them from the southern deserts, in wave upon wave, from the northeastern wastes. At first they fell under the spell of the Goddess, but as more and more poured in, wielding swords, raping and burning their way across the land, the rule of the fathers smashed the Mother's paradise. Everywhere the world went mad. The invaders moved downwards, and the tide of rape, pillage, and bloodshed was unstoppable. Omens didn't help, neither did sacrifices. Once begun, the hordes who knew no gods but war and no beauty but blood and iron, raped and pillaged and enslaved all women. Priestesses were hung by their hair in sacred groves, temples and shrines were burned, desecrated, defiled.
With fear and hatred they took over, and with an iron glove they ruled. There was no end to their audacity; they usurped the Mother Goddess and put a father in her place. The people were afraid. They gathered in fields, in market places, in shrines and caves, frightened at what the Mother might do, what terrible vengeance she might wreak.
Plagues came, wave upon wave of terrible sickness. People died screaming in agony on the streets; there was no God. Thousands upon thousands were choking own their own blood, with swelling, blackened limbs, deadly boils. The Black Death swept with the Reaper's cloak across the land. Crows picked the eyes off corpses and the Morrigan stalked the land. Hecate in her night time places urged rebellion. The pustule of the Father, which the people called love, burst open, spewing forth all manner of demons. People died in agony, crops failed, wars raged. God the father in his death-head mask replaced life. All hope was gone.
He had, they said, sent his only son, the Prince of Peace, avatar of love, but the men of the Father killed him too, like Odin nailed to a cross. The Prince of Peace, who overturned the money-lenders' sordid trade, and had his sacred whore, the Magdalene, closest to him. His words fell like raindrops on a parched desert; priests of the Father quickly kicked over the traces and carried on as before. Embodying the mirror image of love, their darkness knew no end, no depth too low for them to sink.
With force and fear they conquered and spread a putrid stain across the world. No corner was safe, they sailed to the farthest lands, the fairest people, and butchered them.
The Old Ones took to the hills, when persuasion and discourse failed. They moved away from the new cities of pomp and gilt, to the Mother's sacred groves and mountainsides. They hid and kept their counsel.
Fear kept them from writing. The Old Ones moved, roamed around, nomads again, telling their tales, curing and counseling. Speaking of ancient myths of sacred lineages they carried news from sacred groves to every hearth and orchard where a welcome waited for them and the Old Ways were kept alive. They still watched the stars and kept to the eight sacred festivals. Watching the moon move from dark to full, they calculated poetic meters, the names of the Goddess and the centuries that might pass before peace prevailed. They hexed and healed with incandescent verse and watched over their healing sisters as they laid out the dead, birthed new life and mothered the clans.
The darkness grew. The Father's men grew more afraid that the common people would not swallow the lie and did not set much store by empty rituals. Neither did the fine monuments or churches, nor the bones of saints move the heart of commoners. They looked for their Goddess and found a sterile Mary; a pale replica of the fecund thighs and belly and the wild, deep mysteries of the Mother. In small wells and shrines they worshiped. The priests danced alongside them at festivals, whose named they changed, in the hope the people might forget their origins. But the spirit had gone. Where was this love of God they preached? They listened to sermons of hell-fire and damnation, of their wickedness, their filthiness, their sin. But the people saw other things, the whorehouses the priests ran, and the wine shops. They saw the priests' wealth while they starved. They saw how their greed was like a canker, how they wore robes of the finest silk and satin, huge jeweled rings and crucifixes, and how they carried golden goblets and filigree salvers while the people shivered outside in coarse robes, shoe-less in the snow, with the tithes to be paid even if there was no food for the table.
War was declared against all unbelievers. Great armies, men, women, clerics, walked and rode to Jerusalem, the Holy City. They left behind a land starved and parched. These soldiers of Christ were promised blessings in the afterlife while their families starved and anarchy followed in their wake. The sacred world of the Goddess splintered further and further. The rich grew richer and brought untold wealth from far lands. They brought disease and famine.
As the Holy wars were fought, plague after plague decimated the people. They became angrier, more desperate and some planned rebellion, revenge against the All Powerful Mother brought low.
The people gathered in mountain groves, in secret caves, on beaches in the moonlight. They were afraid. This was the Mother's Curse, the land laid bare. Nothing prospered, no green shoots or chinks of light were seen. In despair they called to Her and other avenging Gods: Hern the Hunter, Hecate the Revenger, Themis the Wise. The Father God gave them no hope, offered only more pain and suffering in a dark place called Hell. Groups formed, societies, sororities of seekers after truth, who wished for peace, for a return to order and an ending to all the bloodshed.
The Father's men responded in kind, declared another war, a break between crusades and the conquering of Paradise. They declared all Witches should be burned, tortured, to the very limits of human endurance. Their money would fill the coffers of the church, and they would denounce their friends and family. Law after law was passed; there was no hiding place, Europe was aflame with the pyres of burning women. Children, pregnant women, the old were burned by the purifying fires of the Father. Half a millennium later nine million women were dead and society was rent from bottom to top. No woman was safe, not one.
Witch, Witch, Witch. An icy fear ran through the veins of each woman. It meant rape, torture and death by hanging or burning. But not before she had named twelve accomplices and watched her children tortured or burned before her eyes, screaming. The inquisitors grew fat, protected by their henchmen and armor beneath their robes. They went about in fear of revenge. Some few were indeed strung up by outraged families--but not enough. The inquisitors carried their evil into the New World, and tortured and killed their way across the continent.
The Wise retreated further, although the hills offered precious little protection. Family clans turned in among themselves, exchange stopped, no one talked or even looked the other in the eye. There was silence.
You cannot kill a people, a culture. It lives on, after the last person has been slaughtered. In the rocks, the trees, the rivers, in the very winds which moisten the land. The spirits wait in sacred hollows, in springs and rock pools until the bloodletting has finished.
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©1996 Deborah Nuckles