Celebrating the Goddess Lada at the Cloister of the Sisters of Mary Magdalene

Spring is in the air in New Jersey – finally, after the winter that would not end, after the endless snows of February, spring is in the air. And with the coming of Spring the good sisters of the cloister of Mary Magdalene were eager to sweep out the staleness of winter, to throw open the windows and doors of the cloister and of their hearts. They were ready, willing and able for the ablutions of spring cleaning. But this year they wanted more. They were feeling, well, they were feeling downright festive, and a festival just seemed right to them. But a spring festival? In honor of what? In honor of whom?

As the sisters were wont to do in times of gleeful quandary, they turned to Sister Honora and sought out her wisdom on the matter.  Sister Honora being who she is thought for a very brief moment, and she told Mother Magdalene that this was a very serious matter, one that required mugs of mead all around so that the good sisters would all be in the proper spirit for the considerations. Mother Magdalene shook her head, rolled her eyes, and asked Sister Beatrix, the young postulant, to go down to the cloister cellars and to tap the keg of mead and bring a mug for each of the sisters.

When Sister Beatrix returned with the mugs, and after Sister Honora had drained a full half of her mug, Sister Honora smiled contentedly and said, “Well, Sisters, it is lovely of you all to come and visit with me today. What is the news about the cloister these days?”

Clearly her 90 years were beginning to take their toll. Either the years or the mead. Undaunted, Sister Bryda, took Sister Honora’s hand and said, “Sister, we were talking with you about organizing a spring festival. We were wondering if you had any thoughts about Saints to whom we might dedicate the festival. And you thought that some mead might inspire your thoughts.”

Sister Honora sipped on her mead, more thoughtfully this time and said, “Indeed. Mead is the beverage of scholars and poets. Mead festivals are always in the spring. It is the right and proper source of inspiration for all things spring. Why I remember when I was young we would celebrate spring as the turning of the wheel of the year, the time of green shoots, the beginning of blossoms, the promise of fertility and the hope of a bountiful harvest. Spring was always the time to honor and celebrate the Goddesses of flowering and fertility.

Ah, my dear Sisters, for the ancient Greeks, Spring is the season of Persephone, the Goddess of the underworld, of spring and of rebirth.  You may remember that Hades kidnapped Persephone and she became his Queen of the underworld. There she was responsible to escort the souls of the dead to their places in that world. But, because she had eaten only four seeds of the pomegranate, she was compelled to this task for only four months of the year. The other eight months she could live with her mother Demeter.  When Persephone left the underworld each year, her return to our world marks the beginning of spring. When Demeter saw her daughter’s return, Demeter would lavish growth and abundance on the land – the beginning of spring’s thaw and fertility. And when Persephone has to return to the underworld, Demeter covers the world in cold, leaving it barren looking.”

Sister Beatrix then chimed in, “So that is why Persephone is the Goddess of death and rebirth?”

Sister Honora nods and continues, “Yes Dear, and she is also regarded as the Maiden aspect of the triple Goddess of the Maiden, Mother and Crone.  As the Maiden Goddess she stands for purity and innocence, and for the power of the soul’s dreams. We would often turn to her when we were in need of girding our ability to compromise and become more adaptable. But, Persephone can also become self-centered and overly focused on achieving her own dreams and goals, so caution is in order when you revere her. Yet, she is a wonderful reminder to each of us to cherish and nurture the child within each of our hearts and souls.”

Sister Beatrix looks a bit perplexed as Sister Honora goes on about Persephone. Finally Beatrix burst out, “Oh, Sister, I was just hoping for a Saint or Goddess we could honor with an open hearted Spring Festival. Persephone is so, well so serious!”

By then Sister Honora had finished her mug of mead, and so she burst out laughing, and said, “Well then, it’s Lada that you want! Dear, wonderful Lada, the Goddess of Spring and love. Back home in Poland, and I believe throughout much of Eastern Europe, at the first hints of Spring, every town and village would hold its most jubilant festival in honor of Lada, the Goddess of peace, harmony, joy, youth, love and beauty. She is the Goddess of spring, love and jubilation for your festival!

Lada is the Goddess of spring and love as I said. She was the one we would turn to in the old country when we were in need of protection, energy and joy.  Lada is the Goddess who would sweep away the ice and snow and cold of winter. As Lada moves through the land, her skirts sweep away the cold and sickness and call forth earth’s bounty and beauty. She carries with her branches from the birch tree and flowers to honor fertility and to invite planting the soil. So plan your festival with birch and bells.  Ring in the beginning and the end of the festival with bells and chimes. Sweep all of the floors and door lintels with birch brooms. Drink birch beer ice cream floats at the festival, so that the cold of the ice cream melts in the warmth of your mouth, symbolizing the transformative power of Lada, and bringing that transformative power into your own being.  Take a cake of ice, and place a seed on it, watch it melt throughout the festival, and then plant the seed in an honored place in our garden, watering it with ‘winter’s water’ to welcome Lada back to the earth and into our hearts and homes.

And there my dear sisters is your spring festival. A festival of joy, celebration and transformation. Shared with you in the joyful spirit of mead.”

And yet again, Sister Honora left Mother Magdalene in awe of her insight and wisdom. Sister Beatrix was positively giddy with plans for the festival. She and the other set off singing quietly, “Lada, Lada, Lada, Lada.” Sister Visentia was quietly planning how she might get birch beer to ferment. And all was well with the Sisters in the Cloister.

Walking a Labyrinth to find Pandora’s Gifts

Cape Cod is a most wondrous place. It is a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic ocean. It is divided from the mainland of Massachusetts and the United States by a man made canal (rendering it an island? Or not? I think not.) It has miles of beaches and sand and dunes. It has hundreds of kettle ponds. It has rolling hills and trees and forests and marshes, estuaries and bogs. It has historical sites and houses, state parks and a glorious national sea shore and museums of art and natural history. In the town of Sandwich (named after the Earl not the food) it has Heritage Museums and Gardens. Cape Cod is indeed a most wondrous place.

Heritage Museum and Gardens was once the home of Charles Owen Dexter, When he was 59 years old Mr. Dexter was diagnosed with a serious illness and was told that he had only months left to live. Upon hearing this, Mr. Dexter decided to live his last days in the pursuit of  activities that nurtured his soul. So, he purchased what was then known as the Shawme Farm in 1922 and devoted himself to gardening, to planting and hybridizing rhododendrons. When Charles Owen Dexter died in 1944 – at the age of 81he died a happy man. Cape Cod is a most wondrous place – so too is following the path of your heart.

Heritage Museum and Gardens, in addition to its amazing rhododendron gardens also has a labyrinth. Labyrinth’s are Greek in origin, with connections to the labrys – a two edged sword, and with connections to the earliest goddesses. Labyrinth’s have come to symbolize a path to a sacred center, as symbolic forms of pilgrimage. So, one cool afternoon I was at Heritage Museum and Gardens walking the labyrinth, quietly chanting and meditating on life and change. I slowly followed the path through to center, round the tree at the center and back out again. It was a quiet afternoon, so I sat down on the bench under the tree just at the edge of the path and had myself a bit of a nap. And while I napped I dreamt of Pandora. She was beautiful, and radiant, and immediately struck fear in my heart (I was raised catholic after all, and early practices linger). When she saw my fear Pandora laughed, and as she laughed, she said,

“Daughter, do not believe all you have been told. Too many of the early fathers where jealous of the life giving abilities of the mothers, and they strove to distort our gifts and our countenance. This is the truth of my being: I am Pandora, Giver of all gifts. To you my children I have given the pomegranate, I have given you the flowering trees that bear fruit, and vines that bear grapes that sustain you and give you joy. I have given you seeds and taught you planting. From me you have received plants for hunger and illness, for weaving and for dyeing. I am the goddess of the earth, and beneath my skin I hold for you minerals, ore and countless clays to shape and mould to your needs and uses. I have given you flint to spark the fires of your hearth to warm your heart and home. I, Pandora bring you wonder, curiosity, memory, and wisdom. Justice tempered with mercy are my gifts. I bring you caring and the love of family and friends. I bring to you courage, strength and endurance. I bring to you compassion and loving kindness for all sentient beings. Daughter, I bring to you the seeds of peace. Fear not my gifts. Revile not my name. Take what it your birthright and celebrate it with open hearted joy, rejoicing in the bounty and grace of the goddess and all that is woman.”

 And I woke from my dream, murmured, “so mote it be.” And gave thanks for the gifts of the goddess Pandora, for her daughter Charlene Spretnak who opened a path to re-member the lost goddesses of early Greece, and for the wonders of Cape Cod.