This talk was given for the 40th Anniversary the Founding of the Fellowship of Isis in March 2016
ORPHANED OF THE GODDESS
|The Ever Living Lady by Danuta Meyer
from The Celtic Book of the Dead by Caitlín Matthews
The Manifesto of FOI begins with: 'Growing numbers of people are rediscovering their love for the Goddess.' How those words have echoed down the last 40 years!
Like many other people born in the 1950s, I had a sense of growing up in a world in which many things could come into being, although you would need a fine imagination to envision this. The Second World War had left the city of my birth in ruins, resources were scarce, life was pretty drab and the food was awful, but a sense of spiritual liberation was abroad, and a chance to rise up and seek ways to remake our world in a better pattern.
Spiritually, things were very conventional on the surface: people went more commonly to church then, but just under the surface, there were the buds, shoots and rootings of a wider tree that nourished the soul. As a child, I was mostly unaware of these flourishings about me that were all present in the city of Portsmouth. I only knew that when I went to church that the imagery and nature of deity seemed alien compared with my experience. When I went into nature, when I lay in bed at night pondering these things, it seemed to me that my intimation of the divine had a feminine nature. By the time I was twelve, I had made my own liturgy and rituals to this feminine divinity who had a number of different aspects.
Of course, all over the world, we know that this same sense of the divine as Goddess, not God, had once been commonplace: in other parts, the Goddess had never gone away - or rather, people had not absented themselves from her. Our loss of that sense of a divine feminine in our worship and in our daily lives, had resulted in us being orphaned of the Goddess - something that has profoundly affected our development as human beings and our world in general. It left the administration and practice of spiritual expression without priestesses of any kind. It resulted in a socio-economic pattern in which the balance of the sexes was severely skewed. Throughout the 60s and 70s, a rising wave of feminism, which was taken up by men as well as women, was making headway, campaigning for equal rights, equal pay and a place at the table of life.
Here at Huntington in Clonegal, consciousness of the Goddess had already taken hold in a big way. Well back before I was born, the Goddess was at work within the Robertson family, who had been brought up to welcome spiritual integrity and inspiration wherever it was encountered.
In her appreciation of a talk given by Derry at the Wexford Festival in October 1974 - two years before FOI was launched - Nicola Gordon Bow stated that, 'Mr Durdin Robertson has been instrumental in the creation and gradual development of a shrine and centre for creativity - of a musical, poetic and magical nature where the Bardic Tradition of our forefathers can be continued in the harmonies of music and song, where things of beauty can be carved, painted and depicted, and ritual festivals celebrated.' (from The Cult of the Goddess)
So we can already see how an understanding of the Goddess with her civilizing and inspiring works was at work here, wherein the inspiration of the Muses, a respect for the ancestral traditions of Ireland, and a desire to live a ritual life, all blended together. For no spiritual belonging can exist without these three: divine inspiration, respect for the land and the ancestors, and a ritual liturgy to hold it in place.
THE HEARTH OF THE GODDESS
The first I knew about the Fellowship of Isis was from the pages of an occult magazine in the adverts section in 1977. John and I had been together for just a year and were both working in a library in London. We noticed that our friend, Geoffrey Ash, had joined the FOI - knowing that he was a Catholic, we were intrigued - what kind of fellowship was this that could accept someone who belonged publically to one of the major religions and yet still welcome him as a devote of the Goddess? Accordingly, we went off to study the Manifesto to discover more, both joining in that year.
The manifesto was and is so all-embracing that people of all walks of life and religious traditions could align themselves with its principles and still not be constrained. It did not demand a unified belief system nor did it exact any dues. Individuals followed their chosen deities, in the tradition of their choice. This breadth of vision was what I had been yearning for, and it encouraged me to engage more deeply and with greater confidence in my personal practice. It proved to be a meeting ground of real soul-friends, people whom I now regard as my spiritual family.
Our founders - now the spiritual ancestors of all FOI members - Olivia, Derry and Poppy, understood that no-one can continue in any spiritual way without support, and this is where the liturgy arose, offering a way for all to study and learn by way of rituals that could be performed alone or with others. The scholarship of Derry was the essential mine from which these rituals were quarried, but it was the inspirational vision of Olivia that wove them together.
Of all the words that I read of those early liturgies, none affected me as much as idea that the domestic home was 'a hearth of the Goddess.' When Olivia wrote of devotees shrine-keeping in a bedsit, she was addressing me, who had been living in bedsit land in Kensington since I came to study at drama school. It was the first time I had left home and I couldn't afford much space, so my first rental was a room that was a converted bathroom - it had just room for a bed, a sink, a wardrobe and a gas ring. When our tutors told us to go home and practice our exercises, I had to admit that I hadn't even enough room to lie down in order to do some of them - so I was simply directed to use the landing instead! In so straightened a space, the sacred indwelling of it was really important to me.
It was an era when a tarot pack was not a common thing and there were very few outlets where you could buy lovely statues and icons of Goddesses. I had a simple wooden shrine case with folding doors in which a figure of Mary stood - you could hold it in between your two hands and it would vanish, so small it was. I would light a candle before it and then go to bed at night, having said my prayers. That daily service was often all I could manage while I was a student as my acting day started early and finished late.
I had been a member for the Fellowship for some years but didn't come to Ireland to visit the castle until the early 1980s and it was then that Olivia ordained myself and John. I was not one of those who had ever spent a lot of time here, although I had friends who had been deeply involved with the early developments of the FOI, including Vivienne O'Regan who ran the Centre of Isis and Sophia of the Stars in West London. While I lived in London, I attended her Lyceum, and a later the Lyceum of Astraea run by Felicity Wombwell in North London. John and myself were commissioned to form a Lyceum by Olivia in 1989, forming the Lyceum Domus Sophiae Terrae et Sancte Gradalis.
I think we were the first to chose a Latin title, something that delighted Derry, who himself was a keen Classicist. It was he who noted the new calendar date of the foundation of the Fellowship as starting from the coming of Cesara, in Latin, of course! Now Cessair or Cesara was a primordial being who, according to Irish myth, brought with her fifty women in a ship when the world was flooded, landing here on Irish shores. This event was dated by Archbishop of Armagh James Ussher, who in the early 17th century attempted - in the face of little information from geology or science - to date the beginning of the world. The date that was adopted by the Fellowship and which appeared on all publications, including early copies of Isian News, concurrently with the temporal date of each issue, bore the name of Cessair, becoming the imprint name for all publications issued from Huntingdon - Cesara Publications. So the equivalent date for 2016 is 4364 Anno Deae Cesarae, from the year of the landing of the Goddess Cesara on Irish shores.
|Island of the Crystal Net by Danuta Meyer,
From The Celtic Book of the Dead by Caitlín Matthews
I chose to bring up this seemingly tiny detail to your attention because this renaming of time not only marked the foundation of the Fellowship of Isis, in the year 4328 Anno Deae Cesarae, 40 years ago on the Vernal Equinox, but also something more important than that. From that time to this day, we have been living in Our Lady's time, in sacred time. Our every day, week, month and year has been given in her service: it is not the same as living in ordinary, temporal time. The opportunity has been given to us to live with a scope and a devotion in which ordinary life is hallowed.
All of us whose forebears were orphaned of the Goddess have been given a very great gift. All who live now and those who follow us can offer our service and ministry, comporting ourselves as her devotees, so that our words, deeds and thoughts may be reflective of hers, as her garments - for it is humanity that can give hands, feet and voices to deity so that the care of the Goddess may be known upon earth. The Goddess returns to the shores of our soul through our service - not just the fifty women who arrived with Cesara 4364 years ago - but thousands more - men as well as women who, scattered throughout the earth, all do their part.
Our numbers have increased considerable since then, of course. There are many members who cannot be with us today but who are celebrating in their own groups, temples, and groves. What is it that brings us together? What holds us together?
THE BLESSINGS OF THE EIGHT RAYS
Throughout world religion, the number eight gives rise to precepts or pathways by which people can live: In Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path requires
• Right understanding: Understanding that the Four Noble Truths are noble and true.
• Right thought: Determining and resolving to practice Buddhist faith.
• Right speech: Avoiding slander, gossip, lying, and all forms of untrue and abusive speech.
• Right conduct: Adhering to the idea of nonviolence (ahimsa), as well as refraining from any form of stealing or sexual impropriety.
• Right means of making a living: Not slaughtering animals or working at jobs that force you to violate others.
• Right mental attitude or effort: Avoiding negative thoughts and emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
• Right mindfulness: Having a clear sense of one’s mental state and bodily health and feelings.
• Right concentration: Using meditation to reach the highest level of enlightenment.
Similarly in Christianity, there are the Eight Beatitudes, from the Sermon on the Mount:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10)
But in the Fellowship we have another eightfold path. Olivia's conceptualization of the soul's belonging to the Goddess was enshrined in what became known as the Cosmic Web: this diagram with its four spirals emanating from the centre of an eightfold web, she said: 'illustrates the emanation of Life from the Divine Matrix, Womb of the Goddess, and the Path of Return thereto with harvest of attainments.' The spirals were named for Tiamat, the great creating Goddess of Mesopotamia who took the form a dragon, while the eightfold web was named for the Goddess, Ishtar, whose sign was the eight-pointed star.
Each of the daughter foundations of the Fellowship - the College of isis, the Noble Order of Tara and the Spiral of the Adepti, Spiral of Alchemy and Druid Clan of Dana - all follow this Web, and to it are assigned the rainbow rites that offer us pathways to initiation and the coming-in of spiritual gifts that shape our souls.
Each of these pathways offer possibilities of progress, but according to our individual aptitudes and needs, as Olivia wrote, 'The spiral is open-ended. There is no correct way to travel through it. You can start at the centre of extreme idealism, and work your way through to wider horizons. Or you can start with a wide view, enter from outside, and travel through a series of experiences until you reach centre.... using rites on the diagram (the Candidate) should choose them in the order most helpful to his or her own chosen Path.'
Each path on this Cosmic Web is assigned to a colour of the Rainbow: the seven rays which are familiar to many from Theosophical and Hindu teaching, with the colour white, giving us 7+1 or the octave.
Eight is the number of the pleroma, the fullness of the cosmos, combining the 7 Classical Planets’ blessing, with the wisdom of the Earth itself, for Olivia assigned the 8th pathway to the earth and to the rainbow.
0. North to Centre:
5 The Spheres
13 Earth Magic
21 Pisces & Ceridwen
29 Scorpio & Kundalini
0 & 8th
I. N.E. to Centre:
6 Demeter & Persephone
14 Mars & Morrigan
22 Aries & Durga
30 Sagittarius & Brynhild
II. East to Centre:
7 Eros & Psyche
15 Venus & Vishnu
23 Taurus & Isis
31 Capricorn & Terra
III. S.E. to Centre:
8 The Labyrinth
16 Mercury & Sophia
24 Gemini, Artemis & Apollo
32 Aquarius & Juno
IV. South to Centre:
17 Jupiter & Hathor
25 Cancer & Tiamat
33 Mystical Initiation
V. S.W. to Centre:
18 Saturn & Astarte
26 Leo & Sekhmet
VI. West to Centre:
(& Inner Sun)
19 Uranus & Sarasvati
27 Virgo & Dana
VII. N.W. to Centre:
4 Awakening of Osiris
20 Neptune & Ngame
28 Libra & Kwan Yin
This Cosmic Web with its eightfold structure and its four spiral paths has proved to be an enduring framework for our life and liturgy. It offers each soul a series of approaches to Deity, for the soul cannot shape itself without the aid of the Gods and we need the pathway of their Mysteries.
We are here to celebrate the fullness of the years with this celebratory anniversary. Some of us who have been alive over these 40 years may see another generation or three, depending on our age, but we also acknowledge that some of us here will not see another 40 years. Our service is to teach and seed the work and worship of the Fellowship to other generations. In a changing world, we have to ask a few questions. Where will the Fellowship have most influence and be most effective in the future?
To some extent, this for us is the Grail Question: 'Whom does the Grail serve?' It is one which each of us must answer. 'How may I best serve? Where do my skills and the world's needs meet? How can I help weave the spiritual and physical worlds closer together, so that the sacred can be respected in all places?'
The Cathar Grail by Wil Kinghan,
from The Cathar Tarot by John Matthews
I believe we have to return to our founders' vision. They understood that the most grievous error over the last 2000 years has been the denial of Deity, the denial of the Gods - the female as well as the male Gods. By the practice of following deity within our heart, we are lead to discover the gifts and truths that the Gods distribute to the universe. This abundance overflows like a never-ending river that irrigates everything with the life-giving water of creative ideas.
We live in a time where, for many, the Gods do not exist. We also have dominant religions that are predicated on a vision that leads to 'the end of the world.' There are few visions more damaging to the cosmos or to the human spirit than this, for it leads, on the one hand, to a carelessness for our whole Cosmos and environment, and on the other hand, it belittles the power of eternal Deity. Such a belief in 'the end of the world' causes its believers to live in fear - one of the greatest obstacles to union with the divine. Such a belief causes disempowerment for all: our society becomes infected with expedient and short-term solutions to problems. By even considering the end of the world as a mission to which we are inevitably travelling, Deity itself is reduced and diminished to a monotheist demiurge who creates, only to destroy again: a figure that we recognize in the Gnostic Yaldabaoth, William Blake's Old Nobadaddy, or Philip Pullman's The Authority in His Dark Materials. Deity is much, much more than this sorry travesty.
Living in a time and society that has this vision underlying it, it is vital that we do not ourselves fall into this trap. It is essential to keep before us the true vision - that the nature of Deity is abundant, ever-flowing, rhythmic: unending, enduring, ever good and beautiful. The way that we have communion with Deity is through the soul, for the soul of every creature has seeded within it all the ideas and essentials that Deity has already comprehended. As Proclus, the 5th century Neo-Platonist, wrote:
'Let us celebrate Deity as unfolding into light the whole intelligible totality of the Gods, as the unity of all unities, more ineffable than all silence, and more unknown than all essence, as holy among the holies, that is concealed in the Gods themselves.' (Proclus, Theology of Plato II,11.)
The Gods who lead our soul, guide us to the essential truth of Deity through memory, experience and virtue. Many of the myths of the world show us this truth. But let's note that, in our time, myth is being used to mean 'a falsehood,' but a proper understanding of myth is rather as a guide to truth. Myth is language that speaks of the divine metaphorically - it is not to be taken literally: in its patterns and stories, it reveals greater truths to us.
Let us take just one of them: among the Greeks, Kronos and Rhea are among the first Gods. The name of Kronos is a corruption of Kore-Nous or 'Virgin Intelligence' yet, rather than allowing that intelligence to be shared with his children, Kronos swallows his progeny, for he is a static God who does not proceed creatively. But his consort, Rhea, is very different. Her name means 'flowing', and she is the one who hides the infant Zeus who finally enables her children that have been swallowed up to be released from Kronos' belly. It is she who becomes the fountain-head of all souls. Like Sophia, Rhea releases souls from the entrapment of stasis and ending, enabling them to flow again. And in her son, Zeus, that Virgin Intelligence which his father Kronos tried to lock up, is permitted to come forth and join with Rhea's flowing and life-giving power.
The Greeks saw Rhea as manifest within Demeter, the Mother: and in Kore, the Maiden, Persephone becomes symbolic of every human soul who takes its journey to divine union. It is a helpful myth, for it speaks of that journey and gives us lots of clues.
The soul's journey into life is through memory, experience and virtue. We forget and remember; we live and experience the vicissitudes of life which turns into knowledge within us; and by our striving to speak, think and do well - in imitation of the Gods - our virtue brings us to Deity, because we mirror forth the truths and essentials of Deity according to our circumstances and understandings. We are guided on our journey by taking different initiations. This is what Damascius, the last head of the Platonic Academy, wrote about this initiatic journey of the soul:
The soul descends into generation, in the manner of Kore,
She is scattered by generation, after the manner of Dionysus,
Like Prometheus and the Titans, she is bound to body.
She frees herself by exercising the strength of Heracles,
Gathers herself together through the help of Apollo
And the saviour Athene, by truly purifying philosophy, (practices)
And she elevates herself to the causes of her being with Demeter.
(Damascius, Commentary on the Phaedo of Plato 1, 130)
Here the Gods lead the soul to Deity, taking it through many initiations until it becomes one with Demeter/Rhea again. This is a cycle, not an ending, for the soul comes into incarnation and goes out of it, passing to and fro in a migration that the ancient Irish called a tuirgin - described in Cormac's Glossary as: 'A birth that passes from every nature into another,' or 'a birth of the true nature.' We can think of it as a circuit of births in which we draw closer to Deity.
Such a circuit of lives is influenced and guided by the Mysteries, which give us the points at which we engage with the myths of the Gods: they are our template, a Cosmic Web on which we are never lost, but through which we work out those adverse parts of ourselves that have built up over many lifetimes, so that our soul's wings might unfurl.
LOVE AND VOCATION
What does all this have to do with daily life, and the future that lies before us? By holding in our hearts the vision of our founders, we envision the world in a different light, as part of our soul's journey - the point at which love and vocation come together. The Manifesto recognizes this journey:
At first, this love (of the Goddess) may seem to be no more than an inner feeling. But soon it develops; it becomes a longing to help the Goddess actively in the manifestation of Her divine plan. Thus, one hears such enquiries as, "How can I get initiated into the Mysteries of the Goddess? How can I experience a closer communion with her? Where are her nearest temples and devotees? How can I join the priesthood of the Goddess?", and many other such questions.
The Fellowship has squarely faced these questions by making provision for these Mysteries to be experienced through the liturgy, but that initial longing 'to help the Goddess actively in that manifestation' has to remain the wellspring of our work. It is vital that we each understand our own role in it.
Our manifesto, thanks to Poppy's wonderful suggestion, contains an important clause: that, 'All members are equal, and are not subject to anyone. All work with the Goddess - or Goddess and God - of their own Faith. Every Being - human, animal, bird, tree - element - is an eternal offspring of the Divine Family of the Mother Goddess.' Though many of us specific tasks within Fellowship, we each carry equal importance. Our individual vocations contribute to the wellbeing of the universe: they are the unique blessing that we came into this life to deliver. These are what make the difference to our future, when our souls are guided by Deity to play our part. One person may be drawn to work with the environment, another through the path of science, others will be inspired to work with animals, with the education of children and so on.
How we each follow our soul's vocation does not confer status upon any of us. I am often disturbed when I attend events around the world to hear some women introduce themselves to the circle as the Goddess, or as a Goddess - of course, this is hubris. I hope and believe that what they really mean is that they are available to be a garment of the Goddess: someone whose hands, feet, heart and voice are given to Her service. A priest, priestess or devotee is a servant of all, not the one who is served.
The real sense in which we become divine is through the attunement of our soul to the Gods: like a sympathetic string that, though unmoving in the music, vibrates with the string that is being struck, so we too come closer in communion with Deity by sharing that vibration - not only in prayer, song, meditation, dance and ritual, but through the working out of our vocation.
The soul's true likeness to Deity is shown in other ways. As the Manifesto says, The Fellowship believes in the promotion of Love, Beauty and Abundance. No encouragement is given to asceticism. The Fellowship seeks to develop friendliness, psychic gifts, happiness, and compassion for all life.
The ascetic, self-flagellations of some traditions are not required of us. As members of the Goddess, our part is to repair the imbalance and damage that is done through such practices, as well as through human default, by fixing our attention on how the Goddess moves our soul. Her divine plan brings us into Ma'at, justice, balance and harmony, quelling Isefet or the chaos that threatens to overset it.
Those who live by 'the end of the world' scenario look dour and driven. But those who live by the doctrine of ever-abundant Deity and the guidance of the Gods have a different demeanour. Olivia wrote that you could always recognize a member of Fellowship by their cheerfulness, which is a word she liked a lot and often used.
it is also worthy of note that, while under different forms of monotheism, we suffer wars of religion; under polytheistic cultures in our history such religious wars are hard to find. The Goddess of peace and concord, of the civilizing arts and sciences, does not require us to go to war on her behalf. This is an influence that we wish would spread further, but we are not missionaries. So how is our influence experienced in the world?
Many in this dear world of ours have souls that are forgetful. These are like Osiris when he lies prone in his coffin: souls without sign of life. Like Osiris, souls await to be re-awakened and re-membered. And our prayer goes to all who have no hope, health or happiness of soul, who have neither guidance nor goodness, for whom the divine abundance is more a taunt to their poverty of spirit, rather than a promise of their natural heritage. For them we pray, 'Awaken, O souls at the touch of Isis who brings together what is scattered into one place and breathes back life into what is dead. With the wings of Horus, arise, O souls, and fly about the world! - In the name of Deity, may it be so!'
Our task is to be the gatherers who re-member, the ones who by our work and worship reveal the Goddess as the seed at the heart of all life, in the soul's centre. Respecting the soul in whatsoever state it is, recognizing the likeness of the Goddess in the features of all we meet, cherishing that seed of the Goddess in all life - this is our task. There is a simple way that we can daily engage with this - through mediation.
The Love of the Goddess can be mediated to all, from the Planetary Being that is the soul of our planet, to the very cells of our world that make up its physical substance. We do this by mediating what we understand of Deity to every part of our planet, so that, whether the soul that receives this mediation is developed by spiritual practice, or is evolving and growing, or in need, or in ignorance and denial, no being is left out. Much as an older sibling cares for a younger one by being their way-shower and supporter, so the love of the Goddess, our Mother, is shared with all that is. This is our 'eternal offering,' to the whole of her family.
The spiritual heritage that passes into our hands has been recovered after being buried for so many centuries: to love the Goddess, to worship the Gods, to venerate Deity. It may seem a difficult task in a time that turns its back upon such matters, but consider yourselves as heroes and heroines - just like the Gods and heroes of the living myths. Remember that seemingly impossible quests have been successfully accomplished by the unfolding of the soul's power, with the divine help that is with us always, and with the love that is poured out upon us from the Goddess.
Now for our Mother Centre, I invite you to pray and mediate that love:
O Beloved Land of Ireland, O Genius and Juno of this Temple, we give thanks for all the wisdom that you have awoken in us. We ask a blessing upon all the guardians of this holy place who maintain it still, and we honour the ancestors and founders of this fellowship who have gone to be with their Ka. We ask a blessing upon all who live in this land: the sidhe, the people, animals and vegetation: may health, joy, and abundance be their portion!
We give thanks to all the divinities who have revealed themselves to us, and to all those unseen - the guardians of temples and sacred places, the keepers of the secrets of primordial Deity. All you invisible, we bless your guiding presence as we gather in reverence and wonder. And to all our members of our Fellowship of Isis gathered here, and those at their hearths and shrines, and those yet to join us, may joy, health, love and peace be theirs this day and forever!
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