By: Jhenah Telyndru
First published in The Beltane Papers, Issue 41 Fall 2007
“Like this, momma?”
“Just like that, dear one.” My three-year-old daughter was hunched down over the fuzzy tufts of a dandelion gone to seed, asking permission to pick it in hushed and respectful tones. After waiting a moment to receive her reply, Ariana looked up at me, beaming, and excitedly announced, “She said yes, momma!”
I nodded at her, and then, carefully, with the focused intent that comes so naturally to young children, she picked the flower and clutched it excitedly to her chest, scattering some of the fluff in her enthusiasm. “What are you going to do with it now, bunny?” I asked.
“I’m going to send kisses to the Goddess!” She closed her eyes for a moment, puckered her rosebud lips and brushed them against the downy head of the dandelion. Then, with glee, she blew the seeds free and they took to the air around her as she giggled with delight. Living in an urban area as we do, I take pains to teach her about the natural world and it’s cycles. As subtle as the flowers that grow between the cracks in the pavement that send kisses to the Goddess, to the big beautiful moon that follows us home at night, making sure that we arrive safely, sharing the ways of the Goddess with my now-four year old daughter has brought me immeasurable joy.
As a priestess with many years dedication to the work of the Lady, I undertook my pregnancy as consciously as possible, connecting with the energies of the Great Mother and asking her blessing upon the miracle growing in my womb. When Ariana Starling was born by emergency c-section the day before the September 11th attacks, my world narrowed to focus on this tiny child, born into a world of uncertainty and facing struggles of her own. She spent nine days in the Neonatal ICU, connected to tubes and machinery that dwarfed her new body, as she struggled to gain strength. Although my hometown had been attacked, I could barely process all that was going on in light of my breaking heart, as I filled her tiny form with all the reiki I could muster in my own weakened state. There is no pain like that of leaving the hospital without your child after having given birth, and though I grieved, I knew that there were women who did not have the promise that their child would soon be whole and home. I prayed for guidance and comfort and healing, and in the end was granted my fondest desire – my dearest daughter came home to us, whole and healthy.
In the four years since then and now, there isn’t a day that goes by that I do not thank the Goddess for my daughter – truly my life’s greatest blessing. I consider it a deep honor and an awesome responsibility to guide this shining soul down her life’s journey of growth and experience until such time as she has claimed her full sovereignty as a woman, and with wings strong and eager to fly, she leaps eagerly from the security of the nest, ready to ride the currents of her own choosing. It is my hope that when that day comes, she will bring with her a solid moral foundation and a sense of herself that is so strong and centered, she will be able to ride out any storm and attain any height she seeks to reach.
In her life-changing book, Circle of Stones: Woman’s Journey to Herself author Judith Duerk asks, “How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you? A place for you to go… a place of women, to help you learn the ways of woman… a place where you were nurtured from the ancient flow sustaining you and steadying you as you sought to become yourself. A place of women to help you find and trust the ancient flow already there within yourself… waiting to be released… A place of women… How might your life be different?”1
For my daughter and for the daughters of other women I know who are raising them to know the Goddess and to recognize their sacred natures as women, we are creating that place, even as – for most – there was no such place for us. How WOULD my life have been different if I, like my daughter, had first entered into the warm enfolding darkness of a Maiden Sweat lodge when I was but three years old? If I had learned to seek my answers, and receive my validation, from within? If I had known that my experiences as a girl and a woman were sacred? If I had been encouraged to find my own way of expressing my connection to the Divine? If I had come to know that my body was beautiful, my emotions were powerful, and my ability to express myself, limitless?
One of the ways I have tried to support this sense of the sacred in my young daughter’s life is to invite her to share in communal experiences of the Goddess in all-women settings. The yearly Womongathering festival in the Northeastern United States is a powerful place for such experiences. At her first Womangathering, in 2004, Ariana and I stood waiting outside the ritual space, surrounded by friends and strangers, all joined in our love for the Lady. My precious three year old walked along the path, picking up rocks and gifting them to the women around us. They were taken by her charm, and cherished the special stones she had picked especially for each of them.
Due to inclement weather, the opening ritual was held indoors, and we sat in the back of the large gymnasium because I was unsure how Ariana would do in such a large group of women and I didn’t want to disturb the flow of the work. It turns out that I needn’t have worried. She was completely taken in by the chanting and the drumming, and swayed along with the snake dancers as they blessed the sacred space. As each of the quarters we called, the group responded “Blessed Be” and in the silence that followed, Ariana called out “Blessings Be!” At the sound of her voice, hundreds of women turned around to see who owned the small confident voice, and smiled at this littlest priestess. With each quarter call, she responded “Blessings Be!” in her own space and time, eliciting smiles and laughter from all around.
Everyone knew and recognized her throughout the course of the rest of the festival. Dubbed the “Blessed Be Priestess”, Ariana was approached and hugged by the many women who had been touched by her ritual participation, and I realized as the festival went on that just as Ariana was learning about the Goddess and about her own spiritual nature, this very process was a source of teaching and opening and healing for the other women who were there. I had never been so proud to be known simply as “Ariana’s mother” and it is a role I know I will always cherish and hold with joy in my heart.
To see the wonders of the Goddess through the eyes of a child is to see them as if for the first time. The leaves dancing spirals down a windblown lane hold that much more magick when a child delights in them. Paying attention to the cycles of the moon holds that much more mystery as you chart her ebb and flow with a sliver of a maiden at your side. Through my daughter’s sense of joy and wonder, things I thought I had understood and mastered symbolically and intellectually have found their way into my soul to take root and grow anew, now infused with a sense of grace and deep beauty.
Recalling my own process when I first started down the Goddess path, I remember how difficult it was for me to learn to hear the voice of the Lady with clarity and discernment. It took time to unravel the tangle of my inner resistance, tied up as it was in issues of worthlessness and poor self-esteem. How different my experience would have been had I not spent so much time and energy in fighting myself and questioning my worth! I know that if could give my daughter but one gift, it would be for her to trust her inner wisdom and fully realize her sacred nature by recognizing the source of Divinity lies nowhere but within.
One night as Ariana was getting ready for sleep, she looked up at the plaque of the Goddess that has been hanging above our family bed since the day she was born.
“Who is that lady, Momma?” She pointed up at the image that I had purchased because it evoked the energy of the Goddess for whom my daughter had been named.
“That’s a picture of the Goddess,” I answered.
“That’s the Goddess?”
“No, sweetling! That’s not the Goddess – just a picture of Her. It helps us to remember that She is always with us, looking after us and loving us.”
“Oooh,” she said, as if understanding.
I seized upon the moment. “Do you know where the Goddess really is?”
She looked up at the plaque and thought for a moment. “In outer space with the moon and the stars?” she asked, taking cues from the image above her.
I smiled, “No, my dearest. Not in outer space. The Goddess lives in your heart.”
“In my heart?” she repeated, unsure of this new information.
“That’s right, in your heart. And any time you want to talk with Her, all you need to do is close your eyes, put your hands over your heart, and feel it fill up with love. Once you feel that nice warm love, you can talk to Her about anything. Try it!”
She closed her eyes and put her hands over her heart. “That’s it, “ I encouraged her, “think of all the things that make you happy – drawing pictures, dancing, playing with the cats – everything you can think of. Now, think about all of the people you love and who love you – me, daddy, all your grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts – think about what it’s like to be kissed and hugged and snuggled all cozy and warm and feel that in your heart.”
As I spoke, I watched a smile spread across her face as she imagined all of these things. “How do you feel?” I asked.
“Great! That’s where the Goddess is – there in your heart! Now you can ask questions and talk to Her about anything you want.”
“Ok, “ she said, and was quiet for a few moments. I noticed how her breath had instinctively become soft and rhythmic.
She opened her eyes and said, “The Goddess said that She is in your heart too, Momma!”
Tears sprang into my eyes as I said, “Yes! Yes she is! She is in the heart of all living things.”
“Even my cats?”
I pulled her close and gave her a huge hug, “Especially your cats!”
It is hard to know how much a young child can understand of abstract concepts like Goddess and love, and what is meant by the heart. I have found that it is important to hold the space for these concepts and to reinforce them much as possible when opportunities present themselves. I am often amazed at the sophisticated level of thought of which a child is capable, especially when it comes to matters of the spirit. Perhaps it is because they are closer to the spirit world than are we, and hold memories of their soul’s true nature. Or perhaps it is that they have not yet learned the meaning of impossibility – a grace, I think, it is a parent’s duty to protect. Still, even knowing this, I am often awed and humbled by my daughter.
“Momma, what’s wrong with Trees and Windows? She’s not swimming” The inevitable question came sooner than I had hoped. My husband won a goldfish for Ariana at a carnival the week before; she was quite taken with this little goldfish in a bag and named her “Trees and Windows.” We got a bowl for her with cobalt blue beads and a piece of coral to create a snug little home. We put the bowl in Ariana’s room and she proudly fed the fish every day. Now, this!
I followed Ariana into her room and saw that indeed, Trees and Windows was no longer with us and was currently floating upside down in her bowl. Och! How to explain death to a three year old!
I gathered her close, “Honey, I am afraid that Trees and Windows has died.”
“Yes, love. She’s gone back to the Goddess – all that is left now is her body”
She shed some tears as we took her out of the bowl and reverently committed her fishy body to the mystic watery spiral of rebirth — the toilet.
I took the empty bowl out of her room, and Ariana stayed behind because she wanted to spend some time alone. After a while, she came back to me and said, “Momma, I don’t have to miss Trees and Windows.”
“You don’t? Why not?”
“Because she is my heart. She went back to the Goddess and the Goddess is in my heart so that’s where Trees and Windows is too.”
My goodness! What a complex theological leap for such a young child! I was pleased and amazed that she had been able to integrate the things I was trying to gently teach her, and that she was able to use this as a source of comfort. Too, it spoke of a recognition of the interconnectedness of all things, an understanding of which I believe is the foundation for a life lived in harmony and respect for the Earth and all who dwell on her.
I am learning too, that the presence of the sacred Now is a child’s constant companion. My daughter doesn’t need to think about honoring the essence of life – it is second nature for her to be thankful for the gifts of leaves, flowers and acorns, to blow kisses of thanks to the Sun for it’s warmth or to give hugs of kinship to every tree as we pass. The beauty of walking the path of the Goddess with Ariana is that I find myself opening in places I’ve never considered possible in my own life, and I am learning to see and explore the world in a whole new way. Whether we are looking for faeries among the wild flowers or thanking the crickets for their twilight song, I am healing old wounds of limitation and birthing myself anew through the gift that is my daughter.
I love to watch her when she is completely immersed in her inner world, unaware of my presence and lacking any shred of self-consciousness. She makes fairy houses out of stones and branches when we are in the country on her grandmother’s land, and bakes magical pies and cookies to leave for their tea parties. She likes to rearrange the altar we created in her room, moving around all of the various leaves, shells and dried flowers with which she has adorned it, talking to the wooden carving of the Goddess holding a baby (“That’s me with the Goddess before She put me in your belly!” she once told me) and counting the tumbled gemstones as she drops them one by one into her small cast iron cauldron. I love to kiss her while she is sleeping, drawing the covers around her as she snuggles the purple Goddess plush doll that was one of her first gifts.
I thought I knew the meaning of joy until the first time I heard the familiar strains of “We All Come from the Goddess” pass between my small daughter’s lips – I have often sung her to sleep with this chant, and we’ve sung it together as we played our drums. But this was the first time she sang it alone and spontaneously, and while it may be a mother’s bias, I know I have never heard it sung more beautifully or with more meaning than in her sweet scratchy baby voice. “This is my favorite song, Momma!” she announced as she danced in circles around me
“Mine too, sweetheart. Mine too.”
There are wonderful resources available to help share the ways of the Goddess with young children. Some of my favorites include:
Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions, Starhawk, Diane Baker, Anne Hill, Bantam 2000 ISBN 0553378058
Circle Round and Sing – Album, Anne Hill, Serpentine Music, ASIN: B00004TATV
Celebrating the Great Mother: A Handbook of Earth-Honoring Activities for Parents and Children, Cait Johnson, Maura D. Shaw, Destiny Books 1995, ISBN 0892815507
Seven Times the Sun: Guiding Your Child Through the Rhythms of the Day, Shea Darian, Gilead Press, 1999, ISBN: 0967571308
Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children, Carol Petrash, Donald Cook, Gryphon House, 1992, ISBN: 087659156X
Moon Mother, Moon Daughter: Myths and Rituals That Celebrate a Girl’s Coming-of-Age, Janet Lucy, Terri Allison, Fair Winds Press, 2002, ISBN: 1931412138
Sacred Source – Child-sized Goddess statuary
Dancing Goddess Dolls – Handmade Goddess and God dolls for children of all ages.