3 Ways to Find the Goddess That Don’t Involve Instagram Hashtags

“An uneasy reaction to the word Goddess is common among women. Thousands of years of repression, hostility, and conditioning against a Divine Mother have made a deep impression on us. We’ve been conditioned to shrink back from the Sacred Feminine, to fear it, to think of it as sinful, even to revile it. And it would take a while for me to deprogram that reaction, to unpack the word and realize that in the end, Goddess is just a word. It simply means the divine in female form.”

-Sue Monk Kidd, Dance of the Dissident Daughter

Oya inspired art I made
Oya inspired art I made

I used to think the only way one could incorporate the goddess into your life was to don clothes of the white toga variety, be a woman who wore flower crowns in the dead of winter and frolic around in green pastures a la Julie Andrews.

I have written about how I had to face some difficult truths about how I shallowly tried to embrace the Divine Feminine (here, here, and here) in what I called my Divine Feminine Fallacy.

But, how does one incorporate more Sacred Feminine energy into their lives beyond a t-shirt screen-printed with the word Goddess Is Me in Helvetica Bold or creative hashtags on Instagram? How do we go far beyond pure commercialism, “buying” our goddess energy as it were, instead of being in it? Learning about it?

How we start to unwind from the conditioning we have all faced in terms of this word and its associations?

There are times I fear the we are having a reoccurring “girl power” moment, one where we shallowly praise women and barely graze the deep-seated misogyny that undergirds most of our society. We make peace signs and yell GURL POWA and call it a day.

I want more. I want this damn world to be transformed by this energy. And part of that change starts with us.

This is by no means an exhaustive or total list, but I hope it can be a guide for you, Goddess. I really do.

  1. Explore and Accept What You Truly Feel When You Hear the Word Goddess

Do you cringe? Sideways laugh? I remember having to stifle a major orb shifting eye roll when I would first hear the word goddess. Granted, I was living in Portland, Oregon AKA Land of the Rainy Earth Mother. I was working with a holistic health counselor who was based in NYC and when she started incorporating goddess stories into her telephone work with me, I was like Et tu, Brute?

I was a girl who played basketball, went to military school, a black woman who was often expected to be tougher than who I was. I heard the word “goddess” used to describe beautiful women, but could not see how this word actually related to my day to day existence.

Now, I see that my inner discomfort at hearing this word was revealing some deep seated stuff. The ways I felt estranged from fully inhabiting my femininity. The ways in which I was raised to see God purely in masculine terms. The ways in which I equated anything associated with the Feminine with a certain brand of weakness and silliness despite my feminist leanings.

Yemoja inspired art by moi
Yemoja inspired art by moi, those boobs are shells

So, be honest about how the word makes you feel. Write it out. Talk with your friends about. Dig deep. Does it feel gimmicky? Do you worry your priest will find you in your new neighborhood and dole out 500 Hail Marys (how ironic) if you were to use it? Sit with your feelings. Notice what emerges. Live the answers.

2. Explore Your Own Cultural Path of the Goddess and read some books 

Part of the reason I was a little disenchanted with the Rainy Earth Mother Goddesses of Portland, OR was how some of these women seemed to be picking out goddesses to “invoke” like they were putting together a celestial grab-bag: A little Kali over here. A dash of Brigid here. A smattering of Athena and Hera over there. And when I heard there was a small group of uninitiated women who were worshipping the deities Oya an Osun, I was even more annoyed.

This is not to say one cannot study or learn from goddesses that do not necessarily “belong” to your culture. I will forever have a crush on Greek mythology, I love the stories of Amateratsu and Guanyin and Isis.

As a second-generation Yoruba woman, I know that my lineage contains stories of Oba, Osun, Oya, and Yemoja to name a few. They are not necessarily goddesses, but they are divine and they are female. Not every black woman in the diaspora has the gift of knowing where she came from, but there are many goddesses to  know (Abiola Abrams has an awesome starter pack of Goddess Cards only featuring those of black/African descent!)

Still, I am clear that I do not worship any of these deities. I do not invoke them or make altars in ways that are solely for the initiated. Perhaps one day this may change, but as of now, I am okay with being a student of the goddess.

What’s your lineage and what are the stories of feminine deities that are located in your own history? How do those stories make you feel today?

And if you like reading, well….

A Couple Books All About the Goddess/Sacred Feminine : Finding Soul on the Path of the Orisa by Tobe Melora Correal,  The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Elser, Pussy by Regena Thomashauer, Woman Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone and Divining the Self: A Study of Yoruba Myth and Human Consciousness by Velma Love.  (Just to name a few!)

Osun inspired art by Hannah Eko
Osun inspired art by Hannah Eko

3. Find a Your Own Goddess Journey and Walk It

When I first started reading about the goddess, I wanted to ape the journeys of women like Sue Monk Kidd or Meggan Watterson or Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I didn’t think my journey was all that interesting. I needed to travel to an ashram, become some sort of priestess, have the same exact synchronous mystical experiences as these women did.

I could not be a tall blerd* reading Dance of the Dissident Daughter on the R train and journaling in 54 cent composition books.

No, that was not intense enough.

But, really, the Goddess is wherever we are. Some find a closer relation to her by examining the demographics of their churches. Some find her by getting in touch with their bodies though a Wednesday gentle yoga class. Some find her when they are walking home from a party and take care to notice their breath and the ways they are connected to all that is life. Some find her by exploring their sexuality or reading female empowerment stories to their grandchildren of any gender.

There is no special certification or pre-requisite for exploring the Goddess. No timeline or six-week course. You don’t have to wear a toga or change religions. You can be who you are, committing to explore the Goddess in a way that works for you. You can be any gender and any age.

You can be you.

In my gradual acceptance of who I am, I have been able to host goddess groups with willing (yay!) friends, performed goddess ceremonies twice this summer, and last year I went to Nigeria FOR FREE to study (but what else?) the goddess in the form of Oya, Osun, and Yemoja. I have talked to strangers about the assumed gender of God and about once a month, some person I barely know calls me a goddess.

That girl on the R train who was aching for a deeper connection to the Sacred Feminine would be so proud. But, I didn’t know HOW any of this would occur. I just wanted it.

And here it is. Right on time.

I wonder what your goddess journey will look like for you. :)

Onward,

Hannah

 

*black nerd. (And proud.)

 

 

 

 

Spring Awakening (A Reflection)

How’s your Winter going, stardust?

Winter fading away...
Winter fading away…

We are about a full month away from the Spring Equinox (March 20th), though honestly, this week in Pittsburgh has had all the feeling of summer.

I didn’t have to wear my Michelin-Man winter jacket once.

I’m going to miss winter this year, a fact no doubt helped by the mild temperatures and limited amount of dirty snow accruing on the edges of sidewalks. Each year, I fall a little bit more in love with this slower, inward turning phase of the year. I truly believe we are meant to heed the seasons.

It doesn’t mean I go need to go into full-on hibernate mode in the Winter or race down the streets nude when Spring arrives (though, wouldn’t it be nice?) I just notice where energy is nudging and follow it’s flow in a way that makes sense for my life.

It’s actually quite fun.

Right now, I can feel the energy prickling the air as Spring approaches. I’m an Aries so Spring is kinda my time. Velvety green buds are appearing on trees. I want to run for no discernible reason. Creative ideas that I’ve spent all winter mulling over are starting to yawn and stretch awake.

This winter has been one of great inner awareness and healing for me. I send a hearty thank you to all who have made it possible.

As we head into Spring, I thought I would bring back the questions I introduced at the beginning of winter, a sort of mid-term check-in if you will.

The Questions:

How did I explicitly slow down (even just a little) this Winter?

In small and big ways. I curbed back some writing project goals. Focused on the slow curl of each rep during workout days. When my ten minute naps turned into two hour slumbers, I didn’t have a panic attack (this would’ve been my main mode last Winter, for sure). I went to restorative yoga sessions with my partner. I have started to actively pencil in daydream time into my calendar where I make weird art or lip sync to 90s alternative rock.

Slowing down made me feel more grounded and real. It reminded me that in a society that prides itself on depletion and busyness, it is okay to take a more human pace and let my body rest.

What is one thing I want to see born in the Spring and how did I use the Winter season to bring it about?

One thing I wanted to see in Spring was a deeper sense of self-love. I knew that I had my sticky places with food, money, and time management. I knew that it was going to take steady dedication to bring healing to these areas.

I’m not quite so good at doing “one thing”. It’s the Aries thing again…

For food, I enrolled in When Food Is Your Mother to learn more about my sticky own emotional eating habits as related to attachment theory. It sounds amazing and totally unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

For money, I extended my six-month clothing fast to a year, so now I have until August 15th. (Okay, I may have bought a beautiful burgundy vintage cape at a friend’s clothing swap for 50 cents, but other than that, no clothes shopping for this girl!)

And for time management, I look at my Happiness Planner (love, love, love it) each day and consistently remind myself, “I can balance my duties with ease.” Sometimes that is about all I can manage for time management BUT, I have been a lot less procrastinating than last Winter, so I’ll take it!

The light
The light

What is one daily or weekly practice of nurturing I practiced?

I spent a lot of my winter months solidifying my self-care morning regimen in a concrete way to show that I value myself. As of now, I meditate for ten minutes, say hello to my late grandmother, read affirmations aloud, and stretch for five minutes. It’s not much but it truly shapes my day in life-preserving ways.

I saw how easy it was to not take care of my Self. To put my to-do lists above it. To deem self- care frivolous and self-indulgent.

But, then I remind myself: My world and those in it benefit from my living my best life. And this includes the basics of self-care.

Sometimes I had to stretch at bedtime. Sometimes I read my affirmations in between classes via my phone. Sometimes I only got to meditate for five minutes.

Every little bit mattered. And I feel so much more steady in my self-care path because of the twenty minutes I spend each day tuning in and taking care.

How did I bring more fiery energy into my Winter?

Lotsa time in any hot tub I had the pleasure of being around. The weekly Burlesque Goddess class at Vitality Bellydance. Frequent visits to People’s Indian Food on Penn Ave for their lunchtime buffet.

How has your Winter been my friends? Is there anything you want to linger with before we greet the Spring Equinox on March 20th? What major things did you learn about yourself this season?

Onward to the light,

Hannah

 

My Own Private Goddess Journey

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In 2012, encouraged by a friend, I ordered the book Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. As if sent by the ghosts of Amazon sisters of years past, the book arrived within a day of purchasing without any addition of rush ordering by me.

I read that book in about five subway rides between Atlantic Terminal and the S79 bus stop in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I felt like someone had finally put a language to the questions and longings I had been entertaining since I was a little girl about God, spirituality, and being a woman under the patriarchy.

Yes, the book is written by the same white woman who wrote the Secret Life of Bees. Yes, this book completely changed the trajectory of how I viewed the world and my place in it.

Yes, I love it.

I never felt like a good patriarchal daughter completely. I was forever uneasy about all the Hims and Hes in the Bible and I have had some sort of feminist bend since I was around nine years old. But, I did fall in line in many ways. I eschewed bell hooks for Cornel West in college and spent way too many hours agonizing over food choices and how my body appealed.

But, I think there comes a time in almost every woman’s life where she wonders who she truly is. When she peels back the layers of who she has been told to be and starts to ask her own questions and make her way along a path that she makes her self. She gathers “sisters” along for the ride and may even become a leader.

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Sometimes this inquiry starts in the rebellious teenage years or within the illumination of the post-college era. Sometimes it happens after a major life change like when the kids leave the house (finally), or the partner wanders away, or she births a new life of her own.

My “goddess journey” started when I was 23 and fresh out of the US Merchant Marine Academy. Without the constant structure of the school around me and my peers and living in a new place, I found myself on a zig-zagging labyrinthine path toward true self-knowledge.

And not just self-knowledge and embodiment that would solely serve my own inner questions. I really honestly wanted to know how I could most be of help to others.

For awhile, I tried aping other women’s goddess journeys. I contemplated visiting distant lands and completing my own eat-pray-love jaunts. I wondered if I should seek out certain gurus or invest in a bounty of white robes.

It all felt sort of disingenuous and weird. Most of the women who were writing most prominently about goddess journeys were worlds away from my experience. They were white, older, usually departing a Christian faith, married, and subscribed primarily to the Greek/Roman pantheon of goddesses. Or sometimes they were of color but their definintions of “feminine” felt so stringent and a little retroactive.

And sometimes it all seemed way too surface to me. “Goddess” has become a sort of marquee word in the last couple of years and is reaching Instagram ubiquity but quickly being washed out and turned into yet another commodity.

While, I learned much from these women and am grateful for their truths, I really wanted to see my own experience reflected. The answer was simple and but difficult:

I had to be share my own experiences, own my truths, and be honest about what I have found. I had to start where I was with what I had. I had to blunder ahead and create my own goddess path.

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My goddess journey has been made up with re-writing the story of my body, of questioning the ways in which I have been taught to see and relate to other women, learning what sensuality and sexuality mean to me, of embracing pleasure and bliss and other feminine principles of being, and of looking at the patriarchal wounds that have occurred within my own family system.

It has been that and so much more.

I have had weird fucking Jungian style dreams and cried while staring into a woman’s eyes and lit a candle to the Black Maria in Spain and have been blessed by Osun priestesses.

I am still on my journey and as such, don’t have some neat, coherent storyline to pass along. I just have my truths.

I will use this space to speak the multi-farious levels of what I have learned and am still learning.

I hope you like.

Onward,

Hannah

*All artwork by Adefolake

Honey is the Knife

dark skinned black woman with white headscarf and white shirt and braids takes selfie in forest looking upward
On the last day of the Osun-Osogbo festival

This summer I spent six weeks in Nigeria, courtesy of the Nationality Rooms Scholarship from the University of Pittsburgh.

It was life-affirming. It was crazy. It was surreal.

I’ll write more about it one day, but tonight I want to write about a phrase that has been percolating and shifting through ,my brainspace ever since I returned.

HONEY IS THE KNIFE.

(I think it’s so important that I even have to write in block letters.)

When I first discovered the feminine deities of the Yoruba, I was obsessed with Oya.

It made sense: Oya is usually pictured as tall, dark-skinned, a warrior woman, a goddess of turbulence and Amazonian proportions.

She is the archetype I find myself often leaning towards, the one who other people often associate with me because of my height, skin color, and the fact that I’ve been in “masculine” clubs for much much of my life (basketball, the military, the sign of Aries…)

book cover of oya play by lekan balogun, in front of green bush. dark skinned woman in traditional yoruba dress is on cover

I never really “got” Osun. Often pictured as a light skinned, flirtatious woman, she seemed to exhibit the kind of femininity that always seemed beyond my reach.

I told myself that she just wasn’t “my” goddess. But my life betrayed me at every turn with truth.

Dancing is my favorite way to find movement. Sensuality and soft femininity give me life where books cannot reach. Like this river goddess, I love to preen in front of mirrors (how do people not look at themselves when they walk by a shiny, reflective surface???) I am forever on the look-out for the next mass celebration.

In Nigeria, I couldn’t get away from Osun. My visit coincided with the Osun-Osogbo festival after all. I saw Her everywhere. Her devotees walked around the Sacred Grove with their white and yellow beads. I was often residing in the area of Yorubaland renamed after her. I walked alongside her river and later on, I drank from it.

dark skinned black woman with braided ponytail stands by river with hands behind back on hips and closed eyes. river is brown and trees surround her. she is wearing a white shirt and blue jeans.
Taking it all in by the River

A lot of my initial distance from Osun was due to the ways I used to believe I had to inhabit this body and this life as a black woman.

Black people fight. We had and have to in this world. Many of our images of inspiration are laden with raised fists and defiance.

I never felt I had room as a dark-skinned Amazon to be soft, to cry, to exhibit certain”feminine” traits. I was encouraged to be STRONG instead.

Who was going to take my black tears or hurts seriously?

I needed Oya for all these reasons.

But, I see now that I desperately need Osun too.

Charles Abramson, a late Black artist, built an ornate altar for Osun in Brooklyn and worshiped her there. He said that with Osun one realizes honey is the knife.* Stories abound revolving around Osun and her ability to solve paralyzing problems with the jangle of her bracelet, the upturn of  her winking smile. Her power resides in never forgetting that sweetness is also a tool for survival. He was inspired by her way of combating the ills of this world with feminine grace.

So am I.

Osun reminds me that to be sweet, to be soft, to be feminine and/or a woman is not weakness. In Nigeria, she asked me to remember that her coquettish, sensual nature belongs to me just as much as Oya’s saber does.

dark skinned black women in white ensembles sit near tree and look into camera. they also have intricate braided hairstyles and most are wearing beads
Trying to blend in…am I doing a good job?

Maybe even more so.

I remind myself of this fact when I see the headlines of yet another unarmed black person shot dead, when I feel the weight of having to squash my complexity to stand as a “strong black woman”, when I see yet another mass media dismissal of black beauty.

Honey is the knife.

Honey is the knife.

There is beauty and strength in learning to soften in a hard world.

Onward,

Hannah

*Excerpted from Osun across the Waters : A Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas, edited by Joseph M. Murphy and Mei-Mei Sanford

 

 

 

The Return of Oya

Small figurine of Oya orisha of the wind holing saber and stepping off one foot. She is dark skinned with long black hair and also holding a horse whip tail. She is wearing a long skirt of nine colors (purple, red, yellow, green, blue, white, gold, etc). Skulls surround the base with an eggplant and cowrie shells.
Oya from Pomona

I’ll admit that my interest in Oya intensified when I read that she was often depicted as a tall, powerfully built, dark-skinned black woman.

It’s not a little narcissistic to desire one’s own image in the face of the Divine, I get it.

I still love that her visual representation is Black Amazon :)

I wanted to know all I could about this goddess. I conducted informal research courtesy of Dr. Google, bought self-published books at Afro-centric bookstores, and even created a nine-page zine in her honor in 2013.

Logically, the the next step was to purchase a figurine of Oya from a wholesale supply store in Pomona. My mother shook her head in soft, perplexed sorrow when she saw what I was buying, no doubt afraid that her eldest daughter was officially a pagan queen.

I took her home to New York and placed her on top of my top bookshelf in my 320 square foot apartment. I loved looking up to her assertive demeanor as I typed an assignment. Loved saying hello when I came in from another trek to a local bodega.

But…then I felt silly. I was no Ifa inititate. She came from a place that sold discounted fake Persian rugs. There was probably a MADE IN CHINA sticker attached somewhere.

And I also wondered if I was being respectful to Ifa and the orisha. Was I really supposed to be buying figurines like this? Did I need to commit to the practice of Ifa before making such a declaration to Oya? Granted, I wasn’t praying to the deity nor was I invoking her name in any sort of ceremony, but I worried after the glibness of my acquisition.

Orange book bearing title and illustration of Oya figure. Oya" Ifa and the Spirit of the Wind by Awo Fa-lokun Fatunmbi.
One of the many books…

And so, with a sorry and sad heart, I decided to give my Oya figurine away. I offered some prayer that she would be found by someone who needed her and I placed a nice note at her base for the finder. Then, I exited my Brooklyn apartment and left her atop the low brick partition right out front.

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