Monday, January 7, 2019

Knowing Innana: the Goddess of descent and return


Shape-shifting is probably the most common feature of all goddesses across all cultures. All gods needed to bi-locate, at least – but what they often do is to multi-locate to meet the needs of those seeking their assistance. Shape-shifting is more of a forming spiritual connection to address the needs of followers across geographical boundaries, and even across the boundaries of cultural practices. Although the screen print in this little votive offering was originally of the Bird-headed Goddess of the Nile River,[1] she has shape-shifted for me into Inanna.

Over the years, Inanna has shown herself historically to be a wonderful example of that quality, particularly through knowing her influence in the lives of my friends going through much shape-sifting themselves. She has become present to me more recently in my own life, as I work my way through dealing with all the outcomes of having been diagnosed with metastatic (sometimes called ‘advanced’) melanoma, starting with the wide local excision on my cheek in November 2015 and going through to February 2016, when I started the immunotherapy treatment.

Sumerian Inanna is variously called Ishtar in Babylon, and perhaps Astarte or Ashera in Canaan and Israel. She is certainly of goddess of fertility, both for the land and as the virgin bride of the new king, who can renew her virginity to bring fruitfulness. She is similar to Persephone, daughter of the Greek Demeter, who descends to the Underworld annually in order to return fertility to the lands and those who dwell on it. There are many versions of the story, including the one that has her descending to rescue her consort/husband Dumuzi. Another tells of her descent on hearing the wailings in childbirth of her sister and Underworld counterpart, Ereshkigal. She was required to abandon an item of clothing in order to pass through the seven gates that guarded entrance to the Underworld. Finally, on arrival, it appears she gave her own life, being suspended lifeless on a hook until her ‘return’. (I’ve always said it is women who are the “sacrifice”). Whatever view or emphasis is given to the narrative, it is a story of a difficult and perhaps unwilling descent, but also of a triumphant return, bringing new life – and of holding the opposites.

Here she is standing triumphant with a full moon behind her.

After two years and nine months of treatment with immunotherapy, it became clear that I was not being ‘rescued’ with the hope for outcome: NED (no evidence of disease). There had been other incidents during those years, which now I think of it, could be aligned to passing through the gates: loss of thyroid function, skin rashes, another seemingly unrelated melanoma on my vulva, lichen sclerosis, to be topped off with almost 3 months of dealing with a bout of very painful shingles that prevented me from having my regular infusions. During the last six months I’d been wondering why it did not seem possible to give me a PET scan to see if the lesions were still active. If they were not active, I could go off the immunotherapy with peace of mind, but for whatever reason, I could not have a PET unless I did cease treatment. Catch 22. Russian roulette.


Going through all of those ‘gates’ had caused various types of anxiety – developing stage by stage I suspect – until it just couldn’t be ignored! Perhaps most of all, I felt very disappointed in myself that I had not defeated the demon. I had worked so hard, but seemed to be left hanging! Thanks to the oncology team, they recognised the symptoms of my ‘existential anxiety’. The immunotherapy was halted (with my agreement), and a PET ordered. While the lesions had shrunk in size by more than 30% during the long course of treatment, they were still obvious on the CT scan, though the PET showed no metabolic activity. So no NED for me, but  a respite and at least I am now free of the grind of three-weekly infusions requiring blood tests prior and all the follow up. Now it’s a CT every three months.

 I decided to show my Inanna rising from a lotus, a sacred flower across cultures. Its anchor is below the surface, and it shows its beautiful flower on the surface, nurtured as it is by its roots in the mud below. After all, Inanna is about change and transformation, no matter what her original and morphing stories. I can claim my own story, and I feel that I have shape-shifted to a new place in my ongoing story of living with melanoma.




[1] Again I am grateful to the creator of this image, Suzanne Swanson. Together we made many screen prints of this powerful goddess, and I have nearly used them all now.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Latest quilting 'adventures' - win one!

It has been quite some time since posting here...(bloody) shingles hit me hard, and so have been out of reach for nearly 3 months - and definitely not able to do any creative stitching. My left shoulder and arm have been quite incapacitated, with lots of pain. Incapacitating mentally too, but coming out of it now I hope. 

Two years ago, when first diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic melanoma, I met with a wonderful woman who is part of the CanAssist Blue Mountains Branch (1300 226 277). It is a group that helps financially those affected by a cancer diagnosis - and I have been very grateful for their help during the early stages of going off paid work, while going on to an Age Pension and immunotherapy treatment. They will be raffling a small quilt of mine, called "Garden trellis" to raise funds for their supportive work. I'm not sure when that is happening, or how to get tickets, but I can keep you posted, and for the locals, it will be advertised the the Blue Mountains Gazette. Here is the wall-hanging (using attic windows design). It's all cotton, machine pieced and free-machine quilted (90 x 100cms).




And, almost simultaneously, another of my quilts purchased by Glenys Livingstone and Taffy Seaborne has been very generously donated to the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group to raise funds for those refugees who are making a new life in our beautiful Blue Mountains. It is the "Beltane Fires" quilt (110 x 125cms), a triptych depicting a full moon rising over the escarpment cliffs of the Blue Mountains, where the setting sun's energy lights up the rock face. It celebrates nature's coming into the fullness of spring and summer. - a celebration of the bountiful beauty of nature, and feeling of being blessed to be living in this fragile, wilderness environment.


Made from hand-dyed cottons, the quilt can be seen here (though darker colours are not really accurate - much brighter) or on my website, along with other seasonal art quilts for sale: http://www.soulseasonsartquilts.com/


The refugee support group can be contacted on  https://www.bmrsg.org.au; or inquiries to George Winston, the fundraiser directly on bmrsg@aapt.net.au

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Arriving at a title


With a certain amount of unplanned spontaneity, the quilt starts to emerge in mirror image, at least of the two female figures, the Birdheaded Snake Goddess and the Sheela-na-gig, sitting diagonally across on the opposite borderlines. It then becomes apparent that the spiral can sit at the top or bottom of the quilt, unfolding in the anticlockwise direction with a new moon below, or a waning moon above. Of course at all stages of the moon’s cycle we are living “between the worlds”, which may become more visceral as we draw closer to the end of our days living with Mother Earth. The large green leaf at the beginning edge of the spiral reflects the changing light of autumn evenings as the sun sets over the gully below, all green, with patches of light dotted throughout the bush. Living between the worlds is a name that starts to resonate for this particular quilt, with its reversal capability. So I make pockets for hanging at both ends.
 
In the Daughters of the Moon tarot by Ffiona Morgan, in the Aether Arcana as the spiritual element, the card usually referred to as the ‘hangman’ in traditonal tarot is given the title “Reversal”, and makes strong reference to the changing nature of a flowing river, or ‘a voluntary surrender, or letting go of outworn ways of thinking’, which is found by being suspended in time, made entirely vulnerable by events that have us stop and listen to the inner for the metamorphosis to occur. And our reflection in water guides us to a new pathway, to validating ourselves as a changer and reverser of destiny offered by our new insights.[1]
As a sacred space for such communion with self, the spiral facilitates the surrender and the transformation, hence the second part of the title. I’m not sure where the little meditation came from; it may have been Jean Shinoda Bolen, but it is widely used in many circles. Here is the version I printed as dedication for Jan’s quilt to her croning process. It is enclosed by the orobourous, the snake making a full circle by grabbing its tail, symbol of rebirth and new beginnings.

"Between the worlds: in the Sacred Circle of Self"
'It is a private space, created by whatever makes you feel safe and protected.
You can make it as large or as small as you need, and fill it with whatever takes your fancy at the time. Fill it with whatever nurtures, supports and loves you. It is adaptable and flexible to your needs as they change and arise. Stay in your circle until you sense your boundary is in place, ready now and always to protect and nurture you.'
 
You can create this circle at any time, just by going there in thought and spirit. A powerful way to create this sacred circle to self in a deliberate way is to call in the cardinal directions of East, North, West and South, by welcoming the full cycle of Earth’s creative process (according to a Southern Hemispheric perspective, and moving anticlockwise):
East is the dawn air, the first breath of inspiration;
North is the spark that ignites and awakens courage and determination;
West grounds us to bring inspirational dreams into form;
South is the watery womb, from which all creation springs.

There is so much more I envisaged going into his quilt, but I am finishing this quilt in the spirit of the very old Japanese tradition of ‘wabi sabi’, that nothing is ever perfect or ever complete. It is also complete through the circle being... 
‘…open, but unbroken. Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again’, the way we “close” a circle gathering…in readiness for the next circle.





[1] Ffiona Morgan,1991, Daughters of the moon tarot. Daughters of the Moon: Forrestville, Ca., p.28.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Other Halloween (Samhain) Goddesses


There are several other wise old women Goddesses ‘embedded’ in this quilt. They are all present in spirit at least in the quilt, and probably the little Sheela-na-gig holds them all (– and others not mentioned), all strong empowered women, encouraging personal responses that may have been exceptional and even unruly. Hecate is the oldest of the old, an ancient pre-Hellenic midwife between death and rebirth. She is a Goddess of the Underworld, keeper of the sacred well fed by underground rivers and waterfalls. She offers security in emotional knowledge gained through deep passion and emotion. She is a reflective spirit, and offers peace and tranquility by her waters for confronting and choosing alternatives to outworn ways of being in the world. She is also the challenging Goddess of the ‘trevia’, the meeting of ways at the crossroads, a liminal space for reviewing before making decisions.

The Celtic Cerridwen is also said to be keeper of the cauldron containing the sea of souls. The cauldron of the quilt is the point where the spiral turns to rise to the surface after descending. It is where the little spiral sits. Knowing all for who they really are, she is honest, trustworthy, and is a capable shape shifter (into many animals) when needed. She knows the secrets of fire, and energy in all its forms to promote change and growth with safety.


Then there is Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of the Moon and her messengers are eagles. In her Crone aspect, she cuts away stifling thought patterns and has the wisdom to do it with care and love, learned from past struggles. This way she brings things to their natural closure. Another lovely goddess image is Spiderwoman of the Pueblo peoples (Arachne of the Greeks), who is the life weaver, continually spinning the substance and weaving into shape the world as we know it. She resonates with the seasonal wheel of the year, the wheel of fortune and karma, helping develop skills and a wisdom through which we celebrate the major landmarks born of the seeds we have planted in the past, learning to trust and understand more deeply life’s creative processes in our own lives. In her Crone aspect, like Ixchel, she also cuts the thread of time, as I’ve been reminded by cutting quite a lot of threads in time too, just while making this quilt!

Reflection: all of these goddesses are (in each of) us.