The Goddess Path  Issue #032

In The Wilderness

February, 2005

This Issue: Table of Contents

1. Hard Times
2. Wandering in the Wilderness
3. Goddess Mazu: The Rescuer
4. Yemaya, She Who Comforts
5. Small Stuff
6.The Third Week
7. Digging Deeper

Hard Times

There are but two emotions--love and fear. These are the base emotions from which all others arise. It is not always easy to keep them apart. The last few weeks have made that abundantly clear.

Yesterday the first of them arrived in our town, those who had lost so much yet managed to survive. This will be their home for a while as they start to reshape their lives. Stunned and weary, they find themselves in a strange place and on an unknown path.

And so are we. There has been an outpouring of love, but you can also sense the fear. We know that all our lives have changed in ways we have yet to comprehend. Understandably, we are afraid.

We hope that love can keep the upper hand should our fears breed anger and resentment. Time enough later to distribute all the blame and worry about how deep our pockets will turn out to be. It's enough for us to hope that Diane DePortiers was right when she said:

 "Courage is as often the outcome of despair as hope; in the one case we have nothing to lose, in the other, everything to gain."

We hope that we can find the meaning of it all as we . . .

Wander in the Wilderness

"Wilderness", Sarah Ban Breathnach reminded us, is "a bleak, numbing word that instantly calls to mind a feeling of hopelessness, nothingness, barrenness, and most of all a sense of powerlessness."  In her exquisite book, Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self, she describes the Wilderness as "a radical spiritual amputation of the weaker and toxic parts of our personalities--our neediness, our hubris, our willfulness, our self-loathing--that are holding us back from manifesting the Divine Plan of our lives."

She quotes John O'Donohue, the Irish poet, from the Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, "Sometimes this gift may involve suffering and pain that can neither be accounted for nor explained."  And then she goes on to say that we "are sent into the Wilderness for one reason, and one reason only": to find our selves, the persons we were truly meant to be.

"The Wilderness is tough-love", she says. "A love so ferocious it's meant to alienate us from others, estrange us from the world and cut us off from ourselves, if that's what it takes to fully regain our focus."

There is an ancient story about a woman who sought healing from the Buddha. Her only child had died, leaving her in abject grief, unable to find energy or purpose for her life. She asked the Buddha to heal her heart.

He agreed, but on the condition that she must first bring him a mustard seed from a home that had never been burdened with sorrow. She set out, like the grieving Demeter, walking the face of the earth, never stopping to rest, searching for this simple thing that would restore her life. But she would not find it, for each home she entered had known its own grief and pain.

After anguished years of searching, she came to understand. Though none could offer what she sought, each had given her their support and encouragement. Each had taken the time to listen and to share her pain, easing it with their acceptance and compassion.

She returned to the Buddha to tell him what had happened on her journey. He asked only how she felt now. "My heart feels strangely full," she replied. "What is this feeling?"

"Sorrow," the Buddha replied. "Like the others now, you no longer are alone."

Erica Jong once said that surviving means being born over and over again. This is the challenge of the Wilderness. The life we once knew is over. Let us begin to find our new way together . . . with courage and with love.

In these times two great goddesses come to mind. One is a fascinating mortal who repeatedly rescued her beloved people when storms threatened them on sea and shore and later became a deity. The other offers divine comfort; she holds our hands when it is dark and we are displaced and sorely afraid.

I share with you the stories of the goddesses Mazu and Yemaya.

The Goddess Mazu

It is claimed that the goddess Mazu, a Chinese sea goddess,  is the goddess most celebrated in modern times, with the number of her devotees currently estimated at over 100 million and more than 1,500 temples devoted to her worship. Her name, Mazu (Ma Tsu), means mother, and like Kuan Yin she is a goddess of compassion, one who is willing to intercede on the behalf of those in distress. But she is also revered for her courage, her willingness to fight for her principles. 

Many experts believe that Mazu may have originally been a real woman, born around 960 A.D. to a devout Buddhist family that lived on a small island. This girl, Lin Mo, showed an amazing spirit and mind and asked to study with the Buddhist monks who, aware of her precocity, accepted her as a pupil when she was only thirteen. She blossomed under their tutelage and soon amazed them by developing a "second sight", an awareness of events that one usually has no way of knowing. She was also blessed with extraordinary powers and was known to calm storms and rescue sailors who were in danger. Some say she was proclaimed a bodhisattava (in Buddhism, a person who has attained perfection but elects to remain on earth to help others).

Faced with pressure from her family to marry, Lin Mo agreed to marry only if the man seeking her hand could defeat her in a match of Chinese boxing, a skill she had obviously mastered. She remained undefeated, and unmarried, throughout her brief life.  At the age of 28, Lin Mo told her parents that she must leave them, was surrounded by a dense fog of clouds that lifted her to a nearby mountaintop where witnesses saw her transformed into a magnificent rainbow as she was carried into the heavens.

You can read her story here:
Goddess Mazu

Yemaya, Comfort Us

Yemaya is a mother goddess, the goddess of home, fertility, love and family. Like water she represents both change and constancy--bringing forth life, protecting it, and changing it as is necessary. She will go to the ends of the earth to comfort her children.

Yemaya was a river goddess of the Yoruba in Nigeria, far from the ocean.  When her people were hoarded onto the slave ships, Yemaya left the rivers went with them, thus becoming the Goddess of the Ocean. She traveled with them from Nigeria to distant lands, comforting them in the holds of the slave ships that took them far away from their homeland in Africa.

In the creation myths of the Yoruba, the creator Olodumare first created a mortal god-human, Obatala, and gave him a wife. Their children were Yemaya and Aganyu, who had a son together. They named him Orungan. As a teenager Orungan rebelled against his father and brutally raped his mother. When he tried to rape Yemaya a second time, the river goddess fled to a nearby mountaintop where she cursed her son until he died.

In sorrow she chose to end her own life on the summit of the mountain. As she died she gave birth to fourteen powerful orisha. When her waters broke it caused the great flood that inundated the world and created the seven seas. Obafulom and Lyaa, the first human male and female (and the ancestors of all humans), arose from the bones of Yemaya. Thus, Yemaya became the mother of all life.

Yemaya's first gift to humans was a sea shell in which her voice could always be heard. To this day we honor Yemaya when we hold a shell to our ear in order to hear her voice, the ocean.

Yemaya actually shares responsibility for the ocean with another orisha.  Okolun rules the dark and turbulent depths of the ocean. Okolun, the orisha of the bottom of the sea where the light does not shine, inspires respect and fear. His powers of destruction that can be unleashed from the ocean depths are vast.

Yemaya’s domain is the upper level, the part of the sea that the light strikes, where water evaporates to be carried to land by her daughter Oya (the wind) to make rain for the crops. Yemaya's gentle waves rock the watery cradle of the abundant life forms of the sea.

Okolun demands respect for his ominous power that is unbounded. But it is Yemaya that is associated with creation and with life itself. When each of their dual aspects, (male and female, power and compassion) is held in proper balance, these two orisha unite to offer enormous gifts and unlimited energy.

Often depicted as a mermaid, or simply a beautiful woman standing amidst the waves, Yemaya is a goddess of comfort and inspiration. When it comes to caring for others, her impulses are sincere and comforting. And she has a love for children that is unequalled.

Yemaya reminds us that even the worst catastrophes can be endured and that, with her help, we can learn to negotiate the ebbs and flows of change in our lives with her wisdom, courage, and grace.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Now it all seems minor when placed in proper perspective, but we've had a few challenges at Goddess Gift, the largest being that our web server fell victim in the big 'worm attack' on the internet. Associated Press and CNN were up and running the next day--we're still limping along, having to rebuild much of the site after being moved to a new (and less hospitable) web server where few things worked anymore. (Audible whines and sighs from a weary webmistress!)

Happily the Goddess Quiz and the shopping cart are both working once again! The bottom line....apologies for missing last month's edition of the newsletter and for the backlog in responding to your emails. Please forgive.

The Third Week

There is a term for it--compassion fatigue. It's a well known phenomenon in some circles. Those of us in the 'helping professions' see its face in many guises: the dwindling support of family and friends a few weeks after the catastrophic injury or illness, the way charitable donations drop off, and the irritable impatience that greets the suffering who are told to "just get over it and start getting on with your life."

And sadly, the helpers themselves are not immune. Overwhelmed and oft defeated, some of us gradually develop calluses where the concern and caring used to be and become of little use to those who need us.

Digging Deeper

So let's fight the compassion fatigue and open our hearts, again and again. American Red Cross is seeking 40,000 new volunteers to give respite to those who've been working so hard the last three weeks. We can clean out our closets, our bookshelves, and basements. For the ones who survived, well. . . they're going to
need some help.  Their homes, cars, clothes, computers, their jobs, and more importantly- their world as they knew it got swept away.

We can transfer our frequent flyer miles to one of the airlines' disaster assistance programs, create jobs for those who need them, adopt a pet who has lost its humans, or do hundreds of other things to help.

Americares has set up a donation web page for the victims of the Katrina Hurricane. It's at  Or you can make a donation at: American Red Cross, The Salvation Army or The United Way to name a few. To help the animals you can go to the U.S. Humane Society or the ASPCA.

In the Spirit of the Goddess

Let's light a candle and call on Mazu to give us courage . . . and Yemaya to help us love.

In closing . . .

Wander when you must but
always keep hope within your heart,

The Goddess Path

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