Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earthly Vanity

These past three years around Earth Day I have highly anticipated and dreaded Vanity Fair's Green Issue. Anticipation because I love their writing (it's really never about the person on the cover, but about hardcore issues affecting the world's political, cultural and social landscapes) and dread because the news about our dear Mother Earth is so often gut-wrenching.

Last year, I cried a good while after reading articles about China's dire water problems and the oil industry's heinous actions in the Amazon.

This morning I finished an article titled "The Arctic Oil Rush" (check out the entire issue online - it's worth it). Various countires are scrambling to claim rights to the Arctic because of the oil possibilities lying under a rapidly shrinking ice world (the irony of this is simply stunning - the world is warming up because of oil, revealing more and we go right for it).

The most interesting part was that the author spoke to Northern Russian locals, including some of the few remaining shamans, and they said that the climate changes are the results of humanity's poor treatment of nature. Part of their proof in the pudding surrounds the mammoth bones that are surfacing due to permafrost melt. People are starting to gather the tusks to sell on a still-flourishing ivory market, but the elders of the communities don't think this is such a hot idea.

"One of the results of the melting is that too many mammoth bones appear on the land and people are collecting them," the article quotes one of the locals as saying. "But in our tradition the mammoth is the spirit of the underworld and we can't take their bones. So the elders are saying we have awakened these underworld spirits. The main thesis of our traditional view is: Don't take from nature more than you need; if you take more, you are not respecting nature."

Later in the artilce, the author, Alex Shoumatoff, points out that diseases like small pox and anthrax can lurk in the corpses of things frozen beneath layers of ice. As the ice melts, the germs get released, etc., and he adds in a bout of dark irony that perhaps those underworld spirits aren't fooling around.

I love this year's cover image. Putting the persona of Madonna aside, I love this sexy woman standing between the Earth and any potential harm. The look in her eyes is one of challenge and also seduction, combining two things in my life that mean a great deal to me: sensuality and Earth magick.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Our bodies are the spell

As I go deeper and deeper into my work as a priestess of the body, I am overwhelmed by the magickal gift that my body is.

My body is not just a temple, it is the ritual itself.

Yesterday, I did some tarantella work on my own, releasing all manner of things that no longer served me, and then, this morning, at my bellydancing classes, I again moved magick through my body, expressing desire, healing, love, compassion and deep joy with my hips, hands, eyes, lips, legs, all parts of me.

I think in our current culture, even among pagan types, we all too often separate
our bodies from "ourselves." More and more, I'm understanding this isn't just some vessel, but a singificant part of the magick itself. A quick glance at many of the world's pre-Christian ecstatic traditions is enough to support that.

A local poet I know, Kathi Wolfe, wrote the following piece as the closing for her recently published chapbook, "Helen Take the Stage: The Helen Keller Poems" (you can order the book here, and I highly recommend it!).

The entire book is from the fictionized point of view of Helen Keller. I loved this last poem, because I felt that it so expresses so much of what I experience when I'm in movement.

Dancing with Martha Graham

Flying is only for the gods, I think, until
you hold me so close your sweat becomes mine,
my sandals barely touch the ground,
my silk dress melts into your organza gown,
you twirl me like a pixilated top, and I fly
quick as Teletype, smooth as a martini
on a summer night, beyond sound,
beyond light.

(Photos: The top image is one that I found at www.lartenoscia.it, and it's of the Pizzica Tarantella, the incredible tarantella dance ritual that I mentioned above. The second photo is of the Daha Ata Sannya, and exorcism dance of Southeast Asia. Photo credit goes to Sanka Vidanagana, AFP/Getty. Finally, the last picture, taken in 1908 by Edward S. Curtis, is of a Crow man performing the Plains Indians' famous Sun Dance ritual.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cybele, Golden Lion of Change

Yesterday, I was up at the New York Open Center, participating in a workshop led by Alessandra Belloni. This all-day event focused heavily on the drumming and dancing associated with the tammorriata rhythm, which connects to the Black Madonna and Cybele.

The rhythm is a very resonant, powerful beat that provides an easy entree into trancing out, and I really noticed yesterday how body-centric the rhythm is. The drumming style takes physical stamina, and moving the entire body helps to keep the flow going. Plus, the placement of the drum for different drumming techniques causes different areas of the body to vibrate, notably the heart, solar plexus and sexual chakras.

I began working with Cybele in earnest after reading more about the Galli, her priestesses, who were often queer men. They were an ecstatic cult that used drumming (with the frame drum), dance, ritualized performance and sexuality to access divine experiences. Notably, they often mocked the status quo - after all, they often wore long, blond wigs and wild makeup. They were legendary for a certain yell they let loose that was deafeningly loud; I suspect these cries actually held ritualized magical power.

These men frequently castrated themselves in wild, sacred rituals, throwing their genitals on a large rock or onto the earth. Although this initially gave me shivers (and not in a good way), I soon realized what a powerful act this self-castration was in a society like Rome that was so patriarchal - these priestesses kept their power while being physically emasculated. (Pictured above is a gallus, with frame drum and other instruments close by.)

Cybele is frequently associated with and pictured with lions, and the Galli were sometimes called the lions of Cybele. In my own visions of her I see her as a large, maned lion, although she also appears to me in a large woman's form. (The image below was one found at an ancient archaeological site, Catal Huyuk, in Turkey. Some researchers believe this statue was of Cybele. Note the lions at her sides.)

Yesterday, we learned a chant dedicated to the Black Madonna, who, in later years in Italy, became the newest outward appearance of Cybele, a way of blending the conquering the Christianity with the old ways. Alessandra talked about an area of Southern Italy where men still play the drums while walking up a specific mountain, going into a cave and into a sacred spring. The women soon follow singing the song dedicated to the Great Mother.

We learned that chant and rhythm, and it is most beautiful. All the while, a painting of the Black Madonna hung by an altar, and throughout the day, I would look up and see her beautiful face. I felt so grateful to be there and access the rituals and dances associated with Cybele and her priestesses - men, women and those in-between. I felt as if I was connecting to a deep part of my spiritual history as a queer priestess when doing these sacred dances dedicated to her.

Of course, we also worked our juju with the Pizzica Tarantella, a tarantella dance ritual, and it was really moving and, I suspect for myself, deeply powerful. More on that later, as I get a deeper understanding of what this particular ritual meant.