Special Plates

Notice how each particle moves.

Notice how everyone has just arrived here

from a journey.

Notice how each wants a different food.

Notice how the stars vanish as the sun comes up,

and how all streams stream toward the ocean.

Look at the chefs preparing special plates

for everyone, according to what they need.

Look at this cup that can hold the ocean.

Look at those who see the face.

Look through Shams’ eyes

into the Water that is

entirely jewels.”


Ah… welcome to the Thursday Feast. The plates are heaping today, with Poetry, Art, Parable and Myth.

So sit you down, take your place and tuck in Gentle Reader. I lay it all out before you now… There is enough here for all, and maybe a treasure concealed within….

On The Feasting Board:

The Links

From Victoria: Fredo Viola

Mulla Nasruddin & The Mirror

Sky Gods and Earth Deities – Ralph Metzner

The Hunter and the Bird

Three Poems of Hazret-i Uftade

Two Poems from Rumi

Art: The Neo Classical Parade….

Bright Blessings,



The Links:

Embraced by many religions, ‘Labyrinth’ allows broad discussion of faith issues

First-Ever Dwelling Mound Found in Germany

LI teacher sues, claiming she was falsely accused of being witch

New priest for old faith


On suggestion from Victoria… Fredo Viola


Mulla Nasruddin got so drunk that there was a fight with another drunkard, and he had wounds and scratches all over his face.

He came home in the middle of the night, looked into the mirror and thought, “Now, tomorrow morning is going to be difficult!” How is he going to hide these wounds and these scratches? His wife is bound to know and she will say, “You got drunk again and you have been fighting again!” How to hide it?

A great idea occurred to him. He searched in the medicine chest, found some ointment. He put it on his wounds and scratches, was very happy, pleased with himself that by morning things would not be so bad… and went to sleep.

Early in the morning when he was still in bed, his wife shouted from the bathroom, “Who has put ointment on the mirror?”


Sky Gods and Earth Deities

Ralph Metzner

One very significant and very ancient source of the split between humans and nature in the Western world came with the transition from earth goddess to sky god religions and the concomitant institution of patrirarchy. Very different and conflicting stories began to be told, reflecting a more distanced, fearful and aggressive relationship between humans and nature, and between humans and gods. In this essay, I discuss the conflict-laden mythic legacy resulting from these profound cultural upheavals. 1

About 6000 years ago the first wave of Indo-European Kurgan tribes began to migrate out of their presumed homeland in South-Central Asia. Backed by the power and mobility of horses and wheeled chariots, these people (previously known also as Aryans) invaded and conquered the relatively peaceful agrarian Earth Goddess cultures of Old Europe, as well as Anatolia, Iran and India. Over the course of the next two to three millenia these nomadic pastoralists imposed an entirely new set of ideologies and values that have been at the foundation of the Western worldview ever since. For the matrilineal, matricentric order of the Neolithic village, they substituted a patrilineal and patriarchal system that became the norm in the Bronze Age, Iron Age and all subsequent ages up to the present. A pantheon of sky and warrior gods was superimposed on the earth and nature divinities of the original inhabitants of Old Europe, resulting in what Marija Gimbutas has called “hybrid mythologies.” A similar transition from goddess-centered religions to the cults of male law-giver gods, also reflected in radically transformed mythologies, occurred in the Semitic cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The pervasiveness of the Indo-European language family and the associated parallels in religion, worldview and mythology have been known since the 19th century, when scholars first thought of Sanskrit as the mother tongue of Indo-European languages. Numerous parallels were found to exist between words and names, such as that for the ruling deity, the “Lord of the Shining Sky”: Sanskrit Dyaus and Deva, Baltic Dievas, Old Germanic Tiwaz or Ziu, Greek Zeus and Latin Deus. Although some earlier scholars, such as Bachofen, had described an archaic period of Mutterrecht, there was only fragmentary knowledge about the pre-Indo-European cultures and much was misunderstood. What we now understand as undercurrents of Old European religion, persisting beneath the Indo-European overlay, went unrecognized and were typically characterized as “mysterious”, “obscure”, “very old”, “minor deities”, or even as “an older generation of gods”.

However, persistent residues of the Old European religion and culture do indeed exist and are identifiable in myths, symbols, folklore and ritual practices. Thanks in large measure to the work of Marija Gimbutas, the symbolic language and mythic imagery of these most ancient cultures have been re-discovered and fully described in the second half of the 20th century. As Gimbutas writes, in the concluding section of The Civilization of the Goddess, “The functions and images of Old European and Indo-European deities, beliefs in an afterlife, and the entirely different sets of symbols prove the existence of two contrasting religions and mythologies. Their collision in Europe resulted in the hybridization of two symbolic structures in which the Indo-European prevailed while the Old European survived as an undercurrent.”2 During the hundreds, even thousands of years of cultural interaction there was undoubtedly not only conquest, assimilation and superimposition of an alien religion, but also intermarriage of peoples, a blending and combining of religious and mythic images. Gimbutas’ concept of hybrid mythologies provides a kind of corrective lens with which many previously obscure and incomprehensible features of European mythology can be understood.

In a similar vein, the poet-mythologist Robert Graves, in his book Greek Myths, first published in 1955, wrote that “In the Hellenic invasions of the early second millenium BC… small armed bands of herdsmen, worshipping the Aryan trinity of gods — Indra, Mitra, and Varuna — attached themselves peacefully enough to the pre-Hellenic settlements in Thessaly and Central Greece…Thus a male military aristocracy became reconciled to female theocracy, not only in Greece, but in Crete, where the Hellenes … exported Cretan civilization to Athens and the Peloponnese.”3 The ancient nature-goddess cults were appropriated and twisted for ideological purposes. Hera, one of the forms of the ancient Great Goddess, whose cult was overrun, almost certainly with much resistance by her worshippers, is ridiculed in Greek myths as the complaining wife of a robust, adulterous father-god. Athena, a form of the ancient life-giving bird-goddess, is transformed into a cool warrior strategist, born fully armed out of her father Zeus’ head — thus eliminating any traces of her true origin and status, turning her into a “brain-child” of the father-god.

The invading Hellenes’ take-over of the pre-existing matricentric goddess cults is vividly portrayed in .he well-known stories of the Olympian gods, including Zeus and Apollo, with their seduction (more accurately called rape) of local goddesses, nymphs and nature spirits, as well as human women, priestesses of the Goddess. One example is the substition of the solar god Apollo for the earth goddess Gaia as the protector deity of the cave oracle at Delphi. Another is found in the story of the Cretan princess Europa, after whom the continent is named: Zeus changed himself into a gorgeous bull, whom she trustingly rode, not knowing of his intent, in order to seduce her. According to Graves, this myth reflects the Olympian’s take-over of the Minoan sacred bull-cult, in which the priestesses rode on the bull in processions, and danced with the bull in the games. A third well-known example is the abduction rape of Persephone, daughter of the Cretan Earth-goddess Demeter, by Hades, ruler of the Underworld, brother of Zeus, with the latter’s complicity.

Some Greek gods and goddesses, however, were not Olympians. They clearly belong to the older stratum of Earth- and Goddess-centered religion. Pan, the horned, goat-bodied god of wild and domesticated animals, was invoked by lusty country people in orgiastic celebrations. Robert Graves suggests that the satyrs, portrayed as goat-bodied with rampant phallus, were goat-totem tribesmen whose chosen god was Pan. To the Christians, with their life-negating attitudes, he was the chosen embodiment of the horned and hooved devil. Around the time of Christian beginnings a legend arose that sailors on a ship in the Eastern Mediterranean had heard a supernatural voice proclaim “Great Pan is dead”. But in the underground pagan traditions of witchcraft and folklore Pan survived: he became the Lord of Animals, the Wildman covered with hair, who represented our connection with the non-human natural world, particularly animals. His feminine counterpart was the Lady of the Beasts, whom the Greeks knew as Artemis and the Romans as Diana, the protectress of witches. In the Celtic world Pan resembles Cernunnos, the shaman-god with deer-antlers, holding a snake and surrounded by animals.

Another non-Olympian, the androgynous Dionysus, was an ancient vegetation deity, originally from Asia, who spread the wine-cult throughout the Mediterranean area. The Hellenic Greeks coopted his cult, among others, by inventing a fantastic story of Zeus carrying and birthing him from his thigh. He was the god of intoxication and ecstatic transcendence, and to deny his power was to risk madness. His cult followers were primarily women, who found in his annual rites temporary escape from domination by their men. These maenads, and accompanying satyrs, processed and danced through the night woods in his honor, singing and shrieking in wild abandon, provoked perhaps by the ingestion of wine with hallucinogenic mushrooms. In the later classical period, the Dionysus cult was adopted and adapted into the Orphic mysteries of death and rebirth, where Dionysus symbolized the immortal soul, transcending death.4 In the European Middle Ages, Dionysus the vegetation god reincarnates as the leaf-masked Green Man of foklore, whose mysterious visage graces many Gothic churches.5

In Egyptian mythology, the parallel to Dionysus was Osiris, the green-skinned god of vegetation and regeneration, whose repeated deaths, followed by resurrections with the aid of his sister-consort Isis, symbolize the recurring cycles of death and renewal in vegetative life. The conflict between Osiris and his violent and envious brother Seth reflects the ongoing clash and competition between the matricentric farming cultures along the Nile and the marauding bands of herder-warriors who lived in the harsh, arid conditions of the peripheral desert regions. On a more cosmic level, the struggle between Osiris and Seth became a metaphor for the general polarity between generation and destruction, or good and evil. The Greek mythographer Plutarch, wrote that “they (the Egyptians) give the name of Osiris to the whole source and faculty creative of moisture, believing this to be the cause of generation and the substance of life-producing seed; and the name Seth (or Typhon) they give to all that is dry, fiery, and arid, in general antagonistic to moisture.” 6

In India, one can see marked similarities and mythic parallels between Dionysus and Siva. Alain Daniélou has argued that Siva was actually the phallic vegetation god of the pre-Aryan Dravidians of India, who was coopted by the Brahmins and turned into the ascetic god of yogis, as well as the Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), who dances the universe into being.7 Thousands of shrines containing the lingam-yoni (phallus-vulva) stone carving are found all over India, testifying to his androgynous erotic potency and the disguised persistence of the old fertility cults. During the Tantric revival, in the first few centuries of the common era, there was a resurgence of Shakti (Goddess) worship, and sensual-sexual experience in the context of sacramental ritual was acknowledged as a path to spiritual realization. Siva and Shakti in ecstatic embrace became the guiding images of Tantric yogis. They embody the reconciliation and mutuality of male and female energies, and the healing of the dissociative split common in the patriarchal and ascetic traditions.

Among the Semitic peoples of ancient Mesopotamia the thousand-year long transition from a matricentric Goddess-oriented culture to patriarchal culture is reflected in the transformations between Sumerian and Babylonian religious mythology. In Sumerian religion, Inanna is Queen of Heaven and Earth Goddess, whose temples contain the granaries, and whose priestesses express their devotion to the Goddess through sacred sexual rites. Inanna’s son-lover Dumuzi, the shepherd king, is sacrificed each year to ensure the continued fertility of the land, and reborn each year with the renewal of springtime vegetation. In Babylonian mythology, the solar warrior-god Marduk, is the leader of a rebellion against the power of the older Creatrix Mother, personified in the form of a great female dragon, Tiamat, whom Marduk slays. He first splits her in half like an oyster, the two halves becoming the sky and the sea; then comes the rest of creation — the planets, the seasons, plants, animals and humans. Eventually, in a kind of compromise or accomodation with the older religion, the Babylonians established a male-dominated family or council of gods with their consorts and children, much like the Vedic pantheon in India, the Greek Olympian family and the Nordic-Germanic family of Aesir gods.

In the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic, the oldest written literature in the Western world, the two mythic-religious strands are closely interwoven. The epic opens with an ironic paean of praise to the semi-divine hero-king Gilgamesh, builder and ruler of Uruk, who is so arrogant and tyrannical that the people of the city complain to their gods, begging them to intervene. The gods then turn to the older Creatrix Mother Goddess Aruru, asking her to create a counterpart to Gilgamesh, one who can match his strength and contain his overbearing arrogance. The Goddess does so and Enkidu is born, who is a Wildman, covered with hair and living with the animals. Enkidu is seduced by a priestess of the goddess Ishtar, using her erotic arts. He abandons the wild life-style of running and hunting with animals and goes to the city to meet Gilgamesh. The two men first fight and then become best friends, performing numerous heroic deeds and adventures. Enkidu the Wildman is more in touch nature: he inteprets certain dreams of Gilgamesh as warnings against abusing and disrespecting the divinities of nature.

Various aspects of the conflicting and blending layers of religious ideology are suggested in this complex and beautiful tale. There is the domination and tyranny of the warrior-hero, as experienced no doubt by the adherents to the older religion. There is resistance on the part of the original people and their Goddess religion, as they ask for help from the creator deities. The original civilizing role of the feminine is acknowledged, as the wildman is domesticated into urban life by the priestess of the Goddess. In the background of the story is the transition from the hunting-gathering “wild” state, to life in the farming villages and towns of the Neolithic, with their temples, priesthoods and warrior-kings.8

In the religious mythology of the Nordic-Germanic people, there is fascinating evidence for the interaction between the Indo-European Kurgan invaders and the Old European cultures. We find this in the myths of the prolonged warfare and eventual peacemaking between two families of deities, the Aesir and the Vanir. The clashing and hybridizing of religions and worldviews between Indo-Europeans and Old Europeans is clearly discernible here, even although the later Indo-European layer is obviously dominant. In that sense Nordic-Germanic mythology serves as an example of a pattern of cultural transformation that occurred all over Europe, and the Near East, over the course of many centuries.9

The Aesir are primarily sky- and warrior-gods, including Odin, Tiwaz or Tyr, and Thor the Thunderer. On the other hand, the Vanir, including Nerthus, Njörd and the brother-sister pair Freyr and Freyja, are primarily earth- and nature-deities. Archaeological evidence in the form of carved inscriptions and images on stelae or ornaments, indicates that both the Aesir and Vanir deities were worshipped at particular sites. They are portrayed in the myths as two different families or clans of divinities who are often at odds and even at war. Presumably this reflects the conflict, drawn out over many centuries, between the invading Indo-Germanic tribes from the East and the aboriginal populations of Old Europe who resisted the attempted assimilation. It seems probable that after the Indo-Germanic people had settled in Central Europe, the Vanir continued to be the gods of the farmers and fishermen, while the Aesir were worshipped by the military aristocracy, who had appropriated the land and established their domination.

Several earlier scholars had proposed that the myth of the war between Aesir and Vanir reflects the actual historical conflict, in the 2nd millenium BCE, between the indigenous “Megalith culture” of Southern Scandinavia and Western Europe, whose gods were the Vanir, and the invading Indo-Aryan “Battleax culture”, whose gods were the Aesir.10 The views of the French mythologist Georges Dumézil, who identified a tripartite model of divine and human functions in Indo-European cultures, are often cited as countering this view. Dumézil says that the Aesir-Vanir war myth refers to conflict between two different social classes within Indo-European society, the warriors and the farmers. But this is not really inconsistent with the Indo-European invasion theory. On the contrary, it affirms that the Germanic story fits the pattern of Indo-European conquest and subsequent assimilation of the Old European cultures.As Mircea Eliade, the eminent historian of religion, has written,

the invasions of the territories inhabited by the Neolithic agricultural populations, the conquest of the autochthons by militarily superior invaders, followed by a symbiosis between these two different types of societies, or even two different ethnic groups, are facts documented by archaeology; indeed they constitute a characteristic phenomenon of European protohistory, continued, in certain regions, down to the Middle Ages. But the mythological theme of the war between the Aesir and the Vanir precedes the process of Germanization, for it is an integral part of the Indo-European tradition. In all probability, the myth served as the model and the justification for a number of local wars, ended by a reconciliation of the adversaries and their integration into a common society.11

The only term I would question here is “symbiosis”, since this refers to a mutually supportive relationship between two different species. The more appropriate ecological metaphor for the Indo-European takeover would seem to be “parasitism”, in that the interests of the host (the agricultural societies of Old Europe) were subordinated to the interests of the parasite invaders (the Indo-Germanic pastoral warrior societies), at least at first. In time, of course, accomodation must have occurred as well as assimilation, so that a coherent social order developed, with hierarchically organized castes or classes. Hybrid myths were created, with their associated artistic and ritual forms, expressing the strengths and values of both cultures. I like to imagine the situation as analogous to a palimpsest, with the deeper, older strata of religious imagery detectable in fragments, through the dominant, later overlay.

When we look at classical mythology, both of the Mediterranean areas and of Northern Europe, there are three mythic complexes that clearly reflect this clashing of cultures and blending of mythologies. There is a group of myths that justify invasion and domination, the self-justifying stories of the Indo-European or other pastoralist invaders. There is a second group of myths of resistance and retaliation, in which the popular resistance to the Aryan take-over is expressed, what one might also call “the revenge of the goddess”. And thirdly, there is a group of myths of compromise and reconciliation, which express the harmonizing and accomodation that presumably was reached by the people who had found a way to reconcile their differences.

Myths Justifying Invasion and Domination

There is a central myth found in many Indo-European societies, including Indians, Iranians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Germans and Hittites, of a divinely justified cattle-raid. Besides the horse, the most revered animal for the Indo-Europeans was the cow. There is, for example, a Nordic-Germanic creation myth in which the first proto-human giants were licked out of salty ice-blocks by the primal cow Audhumla, whose milk then also nourished them. The cow also features prominently in Vedic mythology, and is revered in India to this day. Among Indo-Europeans and other pastoralists, cattle have always been the measure of a man’s wealth. In the cattle-raiding mythic complex, there is a hero figure (such as the Greek Heracles, the Celtic Cuchulainn) who loses his cattle to a monster, generally associated with the local non-Indo-Europeans. The hero then re-captures the cattle, sometimes with the help of a warrior god. According to historian J.P. Malory, the evidence “suggests that this cattle-raiding myth served as a charter which both helped to define the role of the warrior in Indo-European society (the proper activity of the warrior was cattle raiding), and sanctioned Aryan cattle raiding against foreigners.” It seems clear that the Kurgans and other Indo-Europeans typically indulged in cattle stealing as a way of augmenting their herds and wealth, and that this activity became so central to them, that religious myths grew up to justify and rationalize it.12

In the Semitic world, the Biblical story of Cain and Abel can also be read as a reflection and justification of the pastoralist take-over and expulsion of the indigenous farmers. Biblical commentators tend to gloss over God’s unexplained unfairness toward Cain: Yahweh favors the offerings of Abel the sheepherder, and rejects the offerings of Cain the farmer. The high moral drama of fratricide, guilt and divine punishment obscures the underlying message. The farmer is cast in the role of villain, and the “keeper of sheep” is the innocent victim — a neat reversal of the historical facts, since it was the Hebrew herders who invaded and conquered the Canaanite farmers. God curses Cain and punishes him by driving him out of his lands: “a fugitive and a wanderer shall you be on the earth.” (Gen. 4: 11-12) The invading herders expropriate the land, driving off the indigenous farmers and then tell a story that God ordained this fate as punishment for the farmers.

In the Bible, this is actually Yahweh’s second curse against humans and the earth. After Adam and Eve’s transgression, which consisted of eating a forbidden fruit, Yahweh, in a fit of vituperation curses the serpent, the woman, the man and the earth. He curses the serpent “above all cattle and beasts of the field”, by condemning it to crawl on the ground. He curses the woman by “greatly multiplying the pain” of pregnancy and birth, and making her dependent on and subordinate to the man. He punishes Adam for listening to his wife; and he curses the earth: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat the fruits of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth, and you shall eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, until you return to the ground; out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust shall you return.”(Gen. 3, 14-19)

Perhaps these maledictions expresses the envious resentment that the desert nomads must have felt toward the lifestyle of comparative ease and pleasure they found in the Fertile Crescent. The text condemns and denigrates farming and a fruit-vegetable diet. But the implied message goes further: natural, biological processes — the serpent’s closeness to the ground, the human woman’s labor of childbirth — are categorized as divine punishment. In a larger sense, the curse of Yahweh sets a fateful tone for the direction of Western civilization. From the beginnings of the patriarchal, Judaeo-Christian monotheistic take-over, man’s (Adam’s) relationship to the Earth does seem to have suffered from a curse of scarcity and antagonistism. In the 20th century we still seem to be suffering from the consequences of this antagonistic attitude, in the form of massive pollution and ecological destruction. Are we not still living with the consequences of Yahweh’s curse — a traumatic disconnection from the nourishing and regenerative energies of the Earth?

Several scholars, including Merlin Stone, Gerda Lerner, Elinor Gadon, John A. Phillips, Carol Ochs and others, have analyzed in depth how the Biblical myths justify the subordination of women in Judaism.13 Uniquely in the world’s creation mythologies, Yahweh creates the world and all its creatures out of his own head, by proclamation, without even the hint of any female participation. Eve, or Havah, whose name means “Mother of All Living”, clearly a form of the ancient Creator Earth Goddess, is reduced to mortal status. Turning the natural order upside down, the woman is brought out of the body of the man, and is blamed for the expulsion from the garden of abundance. The Levite priests and prophets cited in the Bible savagely attack the cult of the Canaanite Earth Goddess known as Astarte, Ashtoreth or Asherah, and encourage their followers to destroy Her shrines and groves. The ancient initiation ritual of the Goddess, in which eating the fruit of the tree and communing with the serpent provided divinatory insight, is also turned on its head: rewritten it becomes a story that prohibits participation in the old Goddess cult, justifies the inferior status of women, and places severe strictures and guilt on the female’s autonomy and expression of her sexuality.

Quite similar attacks on the character of the feminine, both human and divine, and on the old Earth Goddess religion, occurred in other Near Eastern cultures during the millenia of the patriarchal take-over. In the Sumero-Babylonian Gilgamesh myth, as already mentioned, the interweaving strands expressing conflicting ideologies can be clearly discerned. The goddess Ishtar is protrayed as fickle, petulant and vengeful. The warrior-hero Gilgamesh rejects the amorous proposition she makes to him and in a bitter tirade, accuses her of betraying, abandoning and even killing those who were her lovers before, including the lamented Tammuz. Ishtar, stung by the rejection, brings down the “Bull of Heaven”, a flooding tempest of destruction. These passages probably represent a the male hero’s complaint against the authority of the Goddess and her priestesses in the ancient cults, in which a king was first the chosen bridegroom and then replaced or sacrificed. Psychologically, it is analogous to the petulant projections of an adolescent male reacting to the uncertain affections of an autonomous female. The character of the Goddess is ridiculed and denigrated as promiscuous and faithless, thus providing apparent justification for the warrior-kings’ attacks and subjugation of the matricentric Goddess religion.

In Greek mythology, the story of the Athenian hero Theseus defeating the monstrous Minotaur, which was kept in a maze in Crete, can be read as a justifying myth for the Athenian (Dorian) invasion of Crete. The Greek historian Plutarch describes a raid on Knossos followed by a peace treaty, with the Greek king marrying the Cretan princess. According to the myth, the Minotaur was a bull-headed monster, who demanded periodic sacrifices of Athenian youths and maidens. Theseus entered the maze, slew the Minotaur, and found his way back out by means of a golden thread, given to him by the king’s daughter Ariadne, whom he married but did not take back to Athens. Minoan Crete revered the bull as an animal sacred to the Goddess, staged fertility dances in a maze and acrobatic games in which youths and maidens danced and leaped over bulls. So the myth portrays the Minoan religious ceremonies as perverted and monstrous, in the eyes of the Athenians, in order to justify the invasion and take-over.

In Nordic-Germanic mythology, as already mentioned, there is extensive treatment of the conflict between rival factions of deities, the Vanir and Aesir, representing the Old European and Indo-European cultures. The question naturally arises, who was seen as causing or originating this war? The story of the origins of this war is referred to in only a few tantalizingly brief and obscure passages, in an Edda poem called Völuspa, the “Visions of the Seeress”. The verses refer to a sorceress-goddess called Gullveig, one of the Vanir, whose appearance among the Aesir provokes them into trying to kill her — three times, unsuccessfully. The Vanir then fight back, and “this is how war came into the world,” we are told. Gullveig’s provocation is unexplained in this ancient song of the Edda. The story of the assault of the Indo-European warrior aristocracy against the Old European matricentric cultures is told with minimal justification.14

Myths of Resistance and Retaliation

We can surmise that there must have been a great deal of resistance to the Kurgan incursions into the cultures of Old Europe, as well as to the patriarchal take-over in the Near Eastern city-states. The cultural transformation took centuries, in some areas millenia, and it would be strange indeed it if there were no evidence in the mythological traditions of resistance and revenge. Indeed, the story of Gullveig and the war between Vanir and Aesir, referred to above, is a prime example. The ability of the Vanir gods to hold their own against the invading Aesir is also attested to by the continued presence (particularly in Sweden) of shrines to the Vanir, with figures and runic inscriptions, well into the era in which the Aesir cult was dominant.

There are two myths of peace-making attempts between the rival clans of deities, one that fails, and one that succeeds. At the first peace treaty, there is an exchange of emissaries between the two groups. The Aesir send the unknown god Hoenir and the giant Mimir to the Vanir as ambassadors. Mimir (whose name is related to Latin memor) is the guardian of the Well of Remembrance at the foot of the Tree of Worlds, the holder of ancestral and evolutionary memory. But the Vanir do not consider these two individuals a worthy exchange. To indicate their displeasure they decapitate Mimir, and send his head back to Odin. This tale has many intriguing aspects. It clearly shows the Vanir earth-religion holding its own against the Aesir sky-religion. The decapitation of Mimir, the memory holder, could be seen as a metaphor for the forgetting of evolutionary wisdom, consequent upon disrespect for the old nature divinities.15

In Greek mythology, the most dramatic and powerful story expressing the theme of the revenge of the Goddess is the story of Gaia the earth goddess and Uranus the sky god. It was Gaia whose voice originally spoke through the oracle at Delphi, before it was expropriated by the Olympian Apollo. Uranus, whose name parallels the Vedic pastoral god Varuna, was first Gaia’s son, and then her consort, fathering the one-eyed Cyclopes and Titans with her. In the historical reading of this myth we recognize Uranus as the skygod of the invading Aryans, consolidating their take-over by claiming the earth goddess as wife and the nature spirits (Cyclopes and Titans) of the indigenous people as offspring.16

According to the myth, Uranus banished the Cyclopes to Tartarus, the lower depths. Presumably this reflects a demolition of the old nature-cults by the Achaeans. In outrage, Earth Mother Gaia induced the Titans, led by Cronus, to castrate and kill their father with a flint sickle provided by her. Cronus then becomes the world ruler, until he in turn is deposed by his son Zeus. This myth has echoes in several ancient Near Eastern myths, such as that of Cybele and Attis, in which the son-consort of the Goddess is castrated or killed; and in which ritual self-sacrifice or self-castration was practised by the demented priests of that cult.

The Gaia and Uranus myth tells the historical story of the assault on the earth goddess religion by the followers of Indo-European sky god cults, and the subsequent retaliation against the oppressor cult. The emasculation of Uranus can be read as a metaphor for the loss of generative power, which follows upon the denial and suppression of the feminine and the spiritual energies of the natural world. In modern psychological terms, we get the imbalanced, uncreative, authoritarian men (and many women) typical of patriarchal societies. The earth goddess gives birth and health, but also disease and death to the human, natural body. When this power is not respected, the painful consequences are unavoidable. The loss of generative and regenerative power, as seen for example in the spread of degenerative diseases, is the price paid by us all for the patriarchal suppression of the Goddess.

I had a dream which illustrated this theme: I was in Africa with a group of North American AIDS sufferers. We were studying the ancient African goddess religion. I was told that AIDS was a consequence of turning away from and ignoring the power of the Black Goddess, and healing it required reconnecting with Her. The Black Goddess is the goddess of the fertile, black earth and of female, procreative sexuality. Being cut off from the regenerative and procreative power of the Earth had led to the collapse of the protective immune system, in many thousands of men and women. I told this dream to an acquaintance AIDS victim, who felt it expressed a meaningful truth about their condition.

In the mythology of Celtic Ireland, which also chronicles and reflects the often tumultuous transition from matricentric to patriarchal society, the story of the Curse of the Goddess Macha symbolizes the revenge of the Goddess in a most poignant and awesome manner. Macha was a form of the ancient Irish horse and sun goddess, who could outrun any horse. When her human husband boasted of her prowess at the annual horse championship races in Ulster (now known as Northern Ireland), the king angrily demanded that she appear to race against his prized horses. Being pregnant, Macha was reluctant to go and consented only when the king threatened to kill her husband if she did not come. At the race, she appealed to the assembled warriors and king for a delay, since she was about to deliver — “for a mother bore each one of you”. The king refused, she ran the race, won easily and immediately gave birth to twins. At the moment of her victory, she pronounced a curse upon the men of Ulster, that “when a time of oppression falls upon you, each one of you in this province will be overcome with weakness, as the weakness of a woman in child-birth.” This curse became known as the “Pangs of the Men of Ulster”.17

In commenting on this story, Irish theologian Mary Condren has written that the cry of Macha “has resounded in Ireland down through the ages”, up until the late 20th century. A curse, particularly the curse of a deity, was no trivial matter, as we might think of it today. Is it not strange that Northern Ireland is still wracked by seemingly intractable hatred and violence? “The Goddess Macha cursed the patriarchal age that had dawned..Her cry was possibly the last symbolic attempt to appeal to true motherhood as the basis for public social ethics. That her people ignored her meant that the values of relationship and affiliation were effete; violence, death, and the threat of death became the dominant grammar of political relationships.”7

Myths of Compromise and Reconciliation

The myth of Demeter and Persephone, which provided the central story of the Eleusisinian Mysteries, for 2000 years the core religious ceremony of the Greek world, was an acknowledgement of the clash between the Olympian religion of sky and mountain gods and the earlier earth goddess cults. Demeter is the Cretan Grain Goddess (known to the Romans as Ceres, from which we get the word “cereal”), who taught humankind the cultivation of the grain, and was revered for her frutifulness and abundance. Her daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, brother of Zeus and ruler of the underworld, who had displaced Hecate, the earlier underworld goddess. In the myth Demeter searches the world in profound grief and despair. When she discovers that her daughter’s abduction had taken place with the complicity of Zeus, grief turns to rage and she unleashes drought and desolation upon the earth, threatening the survival of all life. Demeter’s rage is against the Aryan sky-gods and their aggressive disrespect for the religion of the Earth. The revenge of the Goddess involves the loss of fertility, barrenness and death.

When the gods realize the enormity of their transgression against the goddess of all earthly life, Zeus works out a compromise: Persephone stays underground for half the year and above ground the other half. Here this myth blends with earlier myths of the seasonal death and renewal of vegetative life. Demeter then agrees to release the blight she has sent upon the land; and teaches again the secrets of agriculture and regeneration. The Eleusinian Mysteries celebrated this whole story of assault, revenge, reconciliation and renewal in a ritual involving poetry, song, dramatic presentation and prayer. Albert Hofmann, Gordon Wasson and Carl Ruck, in their book The Road to Eleusis, have argued that the ceremony could have included ingestion of a hallucinogenic potion derived from the ergot fungus which grows on rye, and contains LSD-like alkaloids. In this case the entire ritual would have been amplified to the ecstatic intensity of mystical experience. Whether amplified by hallucinogens or not, the Eleusinian Mysteries brought thousands of ancient Greeks to a reconciliation with their pre-Hellenic, ancestral religion and with a reverential attitude to the nourishing Mother Goddess.18

In Irish mythology too there are hints of reconciliation rituals between the invading patriarchal Celts and the indigenous matricentric cultures, who worshipped the Goddess of the land and build great stone circles and passage graves in her honor. These myths often refer to the ritual marriage of the warrior-king to the local goddess of the land, who offered sacred kingship in exchange for having the land named after her. Éire, the ancient name for Ireland, was derived in this way from the goddess Ériu; and the town of Armagh was named after the goddess Macha. As in many Near Eastern ancient societies, the annual ritual mating of the king with the goddess of the land or her priestess ensured the fertility of the land for its people. As Mary Condren wrote, “In a famous story of one of the Celtic invasions, Ériu makes it clear that anyone wishing to enter Ireland would have to revere the goddesses if they wished to prosper and be fruitful.” 19

Nordic-Germanic mythology also has a story of reconciliation, in the long drawn-out conflict between Aesir and Vanir gods. When, after their first failed attempt at peacemaking, the rival families of gods finally decide to cease fighting, they meet, according to the myth, in a council circle around a gigantic cauldron. Each deity spits saliva into the cauldron and out of their mingled juices an incredibly wise being, named Kvasir is born. This Kvasir is then killed by two dwarves, who mix his blood with honey and thereby create a drink that inspires both humans and gods with poetic creativity, the mead of inspiration. The name Kvasir relates to a Slavic word for fermented beverage, and the riual of mingling saliva reflects archaic practices of inducing fermentation. We have here, as with Eleusis, a mythic ritual of reconciliation, probably referring to the kind of reconciliation and accomodation that must eventually have taken place between the Kurgan invaders and the Old Europeans.20

Metaphorically, this is a story about the wisdom and creativity that arises out of the reconciliation of previously antagonistic opposites, what Jung called the coincidentia oppositorum. This is the wisdom that comes from loving instead of fighting, from cooperating instead of competing, from partnership instead of domination, and from honoring and celebrating differences instead of fearing them and using them to create scapegoats for our guilt. When we can dissolve the barriers of separation and conflict between nations, races, religions, and the other traditional but artificial divisions of humankind, we would unleash an unparalleled explosion of the arts and creativity in all areas of life — this would appear to be the message of these myths of compromise and reconciliation.


The hybrid mythologies telling of domination, retaliation and reconciliation are found throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, the Near East, Iran and India, wherever a patriarchal ideology with cults of male sky and warrior gods was superimposed on matricentric egalitarian societies that worshipped the Great Goddess, with countless manifestations in all the forms of plant and animal life, including especially the human female. The basic pattern is everywhere the same, whether we are talking about the bands of Kurgan pastoralists who invaded Old Europe, the Celtic warriors who invaded Britain and Ireland, the Hebrew pastoralists who invaded Canaan, the Aryan Hellenes who invaded Crete and Greece, or the Mesopotamian city-states, who may have evolved a patriarchal dominator ideology without foreign invasion. There is much we don’t know about pre-history, and we may never know the full story about the origins of the patriarchy.

We do know that with the establishment of the patriarchal dominator pattern, there was a partial loss and submergence of the gynocentric Earth spirituality which was the human heritage from the most ancient times of paleolithic gatherers and hunters. Certain aspects of this archaic worldview were preserved in the animistic and shamanistic traditions of Northern Europe and the polytheistic religions of classical antiquity. With the expansion of Christianity, the suppression of the old pagan nature religions and the oppression of women took a sharp upswing, culminating in the Inquisition, in which, according to some estimates, as many as 6 to 9 million witches were exterminated, the majority of them pagan women. This sustained misogynistic assault on women and paganism must be seen in the context of thousands of years of antagonism toward the ancient Earth Goddess, the “Mother of All the Living”.

It has been about 6000 years since the first waves of Kurgan pastoralists migrated westwards and established their sky-god religion and patriarchal social order in the peaceful farming communities of Old Europe. Perhaps the worldwide environmental and women’s movement, and the questioning of Eurocentric ideology that is now going on are signals that the patriarchal dominator system is beginning to be dismantled. The need for rituals of compromise and reconciliation has never been greater and is being increasingly recognized. The wisdom and creativity expressed in the myths of our ancestors can be drawn on to help us find the connection back to a more respectful, harmonious and joyous relationship with the natural world and all its creatures.

I like to imagine that we are in the civilizational transition that William Blake referred to when he wrote in his visionary prophecy The Marriage of Heaven and Hell :

The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell. For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his appear infinite and holy, whereas now it appears finite and corrupt. This will come to pass by an improvement in sensory enjoyment.

The cherub guarding access to the tree of life is the patriarchal myth that our alienation is God’s punishment (the so-called “Fall”). The cherub’s departure means we can return to the sacred Tree of Life, to the regenerative nature-reverencing animism and joyous sensitivity of our pre-patriarchal ancestors.

Notes and References

1. This essay was originally written in conjunction with The Well of Remembrance. Under the title “Clashing Cultures and Hybrid Mythologies”, it is published in From the Realm of the Ancestors – Essays in Honor of Marija Gimbutas, ed. Joan Marler.

2. Marija Gimbutas, The Civilization of the Goddess (HarperCollins, 1991). p. 401.

3. Robert Graves, Greek Myths (Penguin Books, 1955) writes: “A study of Greek mythology should begin with a consideration of what political and religious systems existed in Europe before the arrival of the Aryan invaders from the distant North and East. The whole of Neolithic Europe, to judge from surviving artifacts and myths, had a remarkably homogeneous system of religious ideas, based on workshop of the many-titled Mother-goddess (p. 13).. All early myths about the gods’ seduction of nymphs refer apparently to marriages between Hellenic chieftains and local Moon-priestesses; bitterly opposed by Hera, which means by conservative religious feeling (p. 18).. The familiar Olympian system was then agreed upon as a compromise between Hellenic and pre-Hellenic views: a divine family of six gods and goddesses, headed by the co-sovereigns Zeus and Hera and forming a Council of Gods in Babylonian style (p.19). See also: Merlin Stone, When God was a Woman (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1976); Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece (Beacon Press, 1978); and Elinor Gadon, The Once and Future Goddess (Harper & Row, 1989).

4. Arthur Evans, The God of Ecstasy – Sex Roles and the Madness of Dionysos (St. Martin’s Press, 1988)

5. William Anderson The Green Man – Archetype of Our Oneness with the Earth. (HarperCollins, 1990).

6. Meyer, M.W. (editor) The Ancient Mysteries (Harper & Row, 1987).

7. Alain Daniélou, Shiva and Dionysus (London: East-West Publications, 1982).

8. I have made an audio tape of the Gilgamesh story along these lines: The Hero, the Wildman and the Goddess (available from the Institute of Noetic Sciences).

9. For a detailed rexamination and interpretation of the Nordic-Germanic myths, including the conflicts between the Aesir and Vanir deities, in the light of Marija Gimbutas’s concept of hybrid mythologies, see my The Well of Remembrance – Rediscovering the Earth Wisdom Mythology of Northern Europe (Shambhala, 1994).

10. Snorri Sturluson, the Icelandic author who in the 13th century compiled the Prose Edda (also called Younger Edda), one of our main sources for Germanic myth, himself stated in his introduction, that the Aesir were the (human) leaders of warrior bands who came from Asia. The etymological connection he made between “Aesir” and “Asia” is however regarded as spurious by contemporary scholars. See Rudolf Simek, Lexikon der Germanischen Mythologie, (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1984), pp 460-461. See also The Well of Remembrance, op. cit. pp. 165 – 172.

11. Mircea Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas Vol. 2 (University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 159.

12. J.P. Malory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans (Thames & Hudson, 1989), p. 137-138.

13. Merlin Stone, When God Was A Woman (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1976). “The image of Eve as the sexually tempting but God-defying seductress was surely intended as a warning to all Hebrew men to stay away from the sacred women of the temples, for if they succumbed to the temptations of these women, they simultaneously accepted the female deity — Her fruit, Her sexuality and, perhaps most important, the resulting matrilineal identity for any children who might be conceived in this manner. .. The Hebrew creation myth, which blamed the female of the species for initial sexual consciousness in order to suppress the worship of the Queen of Heaven, Her sacred women and matrilineal customs, from that time on assigned women the role of sexual temptress.” (pp 221-222) See also: Gerda Lerner, The Creation of the Patriarchy (Oxford University Press, 1986); Elinor Gadon, The Once and Future Goddess (Harper & Row, 1989); Carol Ochs, Behind the Sex of God (Beacon Press, 1977); and John A. Phillips, Eve – The History of an Idea (Harper & Row, 1984).

14. See Ralph Metzner, The Well of Remembrance, op. cit., pp. 165-172, for further elaboration on this fascinating myth.

15. Well of Remembrance, op. cit., pp. 219-228.

16. It is interesting that according to James Lovelock’s “Gaia theory” — that the Earth is one vast unitary living organism — the atmosphere is in fact produced (out-gassed) by the living matter of the Earth. So both ancient myth and 20th century science tells us that the air-sky is produced by, or born from , the living Earth.

17. Mary Condren, The Serpent and the Goddess – Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland. (HarperCollins, 1989)

The Hunter and the Bird

A hunter once caught a small bird. ‘Master,’ said the bird, ‘you have eaten many animals bigger than I without assuaging your appetite. How can the flesh of my tiny body satisfy you? If you let me go, I will give you three counsels: one while I am still in your hand, the second when I am on your roof, and the third from the top of a tree. When you have heard all three, you will consider yourself the most fortunate of men. The first counsel is this: “Do not believe the foolish pronouncements of others.” ’

The bird flew on to the roof, from where it gave the second counsel, ‘ “Have no regrets for what is past.” Concealed in my body is a precious pearl weighing five ounces. It was yours by right, and now it is gone.’ Hearing this the man began to bewail his misfortune. ‘Why are you so upset?’ asked the bird. ‘Did I not say, “Have no regrets for what is past”? Are you deaf, or did you not understand what I told you? I also said, “Do not believe the foolish pronouncements of others.” I weigh less than two ounces, so how could I possibly conceal a pearl weighing five?’

Coming to his senses, the hunter asked for the third counsel. ‘Seeing how much you heeded the first two, why should I waste the third?’ replied the bird.



Three Poems of Hazret-i Uftade

If you desire the Beloved, my heart,

Do not cease to pour out lamentations.

Observing His existence, reach annihilation!

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Let tears of blood pour from your eyes

May they emerge hot from the furnace

Say not that he is one of you or one of us

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Let love come that you may have a friend

Your distresses are a torrent

Sweeping you along the way to the Friend

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Take yourself up to the heavens

Meet the angels

And fulfill your desires

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Pass beyond the universe, this [unfurled] carpet

Beyond the pedestal and beyond the throne

That the bringers of good tidings may greet you

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Remove your you from you

Leave behind body and soul

That theophanies may appear

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Pass on, without looking aside

Without your heart pouring forth to another

That you may drink the pure waters

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

If you desire union with the Beloved

Oh Uftade! Find your soul

That the Beloved may appear before you

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Saying Hu

Hu is a dervish’s rapture

Hu is a dervish’s grandeur

Hu is a dervish’s wealth

Uttering Hu is a dervish’s litany

With Hu, one ascends every degree

Saying Hu is a dervish’s guide

The gates of the way to the Friend appear

Then light surrounds the dervish

When he is liberated from seeing other than Him

The eye of the dervish’s heart is opened

Then he will be able to see the beautiful face of the Friend

And the dervish’s secret consciousness will be opened up

Üftade, if you desire the remedy for pain

Serve the dervishes by saying Hu.

Oh He and You who is He

If you desire the Beloved, my heart,

Do not cease to pour out lamentations.

Observing His existence, reach annihilation!

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Let tears of blood pour from your eyes

May they emerge hot from the furnace

Say not that he is one of you or one of us

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Let love come that you may have a friend

Your distresses are a torrent

Sweeping you along the way to the Friend

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Take yourself up to the heavens

Meet the angels

And fulfil your desires

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Pass beyond the universe, this [unfurled] carpet

Beyond the pedestal and beyond the throne

That the bringers of good tidings may greet you

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Remove your you from you

Leave behind body and soul

That theophanies may appear

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

Pass on, without looking aside

Without your heart pouring forth to another

That you may drink the pure waters

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

If you desire union with the Beloved

Oh Üftade! Find your soul

That the Beloved may appear before you

Say “Oh He and You who is He”.

(1490-1580 A.D.) Mehmed Muhyiddin Üftade was the founder of the Jelveti order of Sufis.

Hazret-i Pir-i Üftade was one of the great masters of Ottoman Sufism at the height of that Empire, and founder of the Celvetiyye order. His primary focus was not on writing (this collection of poems is one of the few pieces of his writing that still survives), and most of what we know of him is courtesy of his favourite disciple, ‘Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, who kept a near-daily journal of the spiritual education that he received from his master.

Üftade was not, strictly speaking, a mystical poet like Yunus Emre or Niyazi Misri, and these poems reflect, above all, his interior state and the advice he imparted to his disciples. Üftade is not connected to the line of Persian mystical poetry, and his simple poems belong in the category of religious songs that accompany ceremonies of collective invocation.


Two Poems from Rumi

A Community of the Spirit

There is a community of the spirit.

Join it, and feel the delight

of walking in the noisy street

and being the noise.

Drink all your passion,

and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes

to see with the other eye.

Open your hands,

if you want to be held.

Sit down in the circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel

the shepherd’s love filling you.

At night, your beloved wanders.

Don’t accept consolations.

Close your mouth against food.

Taste the lover’s mouth in yours.

You moan, “She left me.” “He left me.”

Twenty more will come.

Be empty of worrying.

Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.

Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always

widening rings of being.

‘Where Everything Is Music’

Don’t worry about saving these songs!

And if one of our instruments breaks,

it doesn’t matter.

We have fallen into the place

where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes

rise into the atmosphere,

and even if the whole world’s harp

should burn up, there will still be

hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.

We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

This singing art is sea foam.

The graceful movements come from a pearl

somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge

of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive

from a slow and powerful root

that we can’t see.

Stop the words now.

Open the window in the centre of your chest,

and let the spirits fly in and out.