April 1st, 2017

Meet the Gods: Tricksters

Merry meet.

Given the tradition of April Fool’s jokes, this month’s column is about tricksters – those who play tricks on others, pay no heed to rules or authority, and care not for conventional behavior. They are generally smart or possess knowledge others don’t. They can be playful or harsh – either way, they are disruptive. Some can change their appearance.

Tricksters are often characters in stories and myths originating in many cultures, including Coyote, Raven, Crow, Rabbit, Spider, Bear and Raccoon. They often serve as messengers between the earth plane and other realms.

Some of them, however, are gods.

Loki is one of the most notable. In Norse mythology, he is a shapeshifter, appearing as a falcon and as a mare who gives birth to Odin’s shamanic horse with eight legs, Sleipnir. Originally a friend of the gods, they grew to dislike him and his tricks.

In the Polynesian culture, M?ui’s exploits and trickery are famous – among them, pulling up islands from the ocean floor with his magical fish hook, rising the sky and making the sun shine longer.

Hermes, a god of transitions and boundaries, plays the trickster in some Greek myths. He is cunning, invented lying and is the patron of travelers and thieves. As a child, it’s said he was able to steal cattle from Apollo by putting tree bark on their hooves to disguise their tracks. Hermes moves easily between men and gods, so he is also the one who escorts the souls of the dead to the afterlife.


(This image appears in the lid of a wooden box I bought at a tag sale.)

In some Native American cultures, Kokopelli not only represents the spirit of music and dance, as a fertility god, he rules over agriculture and presides over childbirth. The hunched-over flute player is known for his mischief. One story tells of him playing his flute while everyone in the village sang and danced all night; then, in the morning, every maiden was pregnant.

For help shifting your reality, try calling on a trickster god. He can help change the thoughts and words in the story you tell so that you create something that has been eluding you.

Tricksters can be great teachers – one lesson might be that laughter can defuse a tense situation.

And, if you believe it takes a thief to catch a thief, a trickster might make a good ally if someone is stealing from you.

Merry part. And merry meet again.


Meet the Gods: The Horned God


(PHOTO: Holly King

The Holly King by Raven Willowhawk)

Merry meet.

The Horned God roams the forests – wild, loving and protecting the Goddess and her children. He is the oldest of the Gods and perhaps the most common depiction of masculine divinity. Many pagans believe that the Horned God is the Lord of Death, ruling the underworld or Summerland, and is therefore the one to comfort and console the dead as they await rebirth.

Since ancient times, the Horned God has been associated with fertility, the forest, the field and the hunt. He is known by such names as Cernunnos, Pan, Herne, Dionysus and the God of the Wicca.

In some pagan traditions, the Horned God is seen as being comprised of the Oak King and the Holly King – twins, each who reigns for half the year, looses the battle between them and retreats for the next six months to nurse his wounds, reflect and gather his strength.

At the Winter Solstice (Yule), the Oak King conquers the Holly King, reigning until the sun is at its fullest on Summer Solstice (Litha). At that time, the Holly King returns to battle with the now old Oak King, defeating him, and ruling over the half of the year going into darkness. The Holly King represents death and darkness that have ruled since Samhain. It’s a time of reflection, or recognizing lessons, and the chance for rebirth. The Horned God is born as the baby Oak King, bringing a promise of new life. The traditional Yule log – which is made from oak from the previous year and adorned with evergreens symbolic of the Holly King – is burned to symbolize the birth of both the son and the sun.

As the wheel turns, the dueling repeats.

In some traditions, the exchange of power occurs on the equinoxes with their most potent points aligning with the solstices.

On Imbolc, the Horned God is said to lead a wild hunt

Both kings are portrayed as forest creatures, with the Holly King often looking like a woodsy Saint Nicholas, sometimes driving a team of eight stags. One of my favorite depictions of the Holly King was done by Raven Willowhawk. The Oak King is seen as the King of the Forest, often similar in appearance as the Green Man. Each exists as part of the horned God, so both have horns or antlers.

In my practice, I honor the role of both the Holly King and the Oak King at both the Summer and Winter Solstices, each taking turns symbolizing death and rebirth. I have both holly and oak leaves or acorns on my altar.

Merry part. And merry meet again.


Meet the Gods: Februus


(Image by Samantha Sullivan)

Merry meet.

February is named for Februus, the Roman God of Purification. He lived in the underworld and became known as the King of the Underworld, but then his name became so intertwined with Pluto, eventually it became another name for Pluto, the God of the Underworld who judged the dead. (The Greek called him Hades. He is the one who abducted Persephone.)

According Wikipedia, “He was also worshipped under the same name by the Etruscans as the god of purification, and also the underworld. For the Etruscans, Februus was also the god of riches (money/gold) and death, both connected to the underworld in the same natural manner as with the better-known Roman god Pluto.”

Februus was taken from the Sabine people of the Apennines by the Romans who conquered them. In the old Roman religion, Februus meant “purifier.” To get on this god’s good side, they held a festival in his honor, and then named February after him.

One source theorizes that he may have been named in honor of the more ancient Februa, the name of a spring purification festival held on the 15th of the month. It was celebrated with washing and ritual purification. In the Roman calendar, February was the last month of the year as well as the beginning of spring. Thus, the sense of “spring cleaning” emerges with this festival. Februus could be the personification of the festival, Februa, that was marked by sacrifice and atonement, and offerings to the gods.

February would be a good time to invoke Februus as part of your practice.

During the month, might choose to invoke Februus as part of your practice should you decide to purge what you no longer need for your highest good and greatest joy, cleaning out things or thoughts that are cluttering your life. Or, if you were looking for access to the underworld, he could be your key.

Merry part. And merry meet again.



Mischief, jokes, puns, trickery, buffoonery, clownish, childish, foolish antics. All these words

and more are used to describe somebody who’s acting goofy or silly. These words also

describe the sort of actions that fall under the realm of the Trickster Gods.  In every

mythology there is at least one god, goddess or being that is considered a trickster.

For the Native Americans it was the Coyote and the Raven, for the Greeks it was Prometheus,

Hermes, Sisyphus and others, the Celtics had leprechauns, fairies, and beings of that nature.

The Norse pantheon however had Loki. In fact..mention the words Trickster God and the first

person most people name is Loki. Norse mythology was the mythos of the vikings. Beings

like Thor; god of thunder and lightning also wielded the hammer Mjollnir, Odin; ruler of the

universe and ruler of all the deities, Heimdall; creator of mankind and watcher of the Bifrost

Bridge, Asgard which was home of the gods, Valhalla home of the fallen warriors and

Valkryies who were the battle angels and ALWAYS female.  Loki however was a special

case. He’s considered a god but his origin is that of a frost giant. The giants and the gods

differed much like the Greek Titans and Gods. He starts out as a mischief causing, joke

pulling, prank loving misfit. Somebody that was good for entertainment….no so good

for when serious work needed to be done.  Although connected with fire and magic, Loki

is better known for his mischief, shape changing ability. He’s also known for fathering (in one

case mothering) with the giantess Angerboda; Hel the goddess of death, Fenrir the giant wolf

that would eventually kill and devour Odin at Ragnarok and Jourmungand the midgard

serpent. In the case of being a mother, Loki helped the Gods of Asgard out. The giant

Hrimthurs boasted that he could construct the walls around Asgard in a single winter and if he

finished he would gain the sun and moon as payment. He would also gain Odin’s wife Frigg

too. The god were sure they would lose so they chose not to accept Hrimthurs’ wager but Loki

was quite confident that Hrimthurs couldn’t finish in a single winter, so he goaded the gods

into accepting the bet. With his stallion Svadilfari, who was able to haul the heavy rocks

quickly, Hrimthurs was making good on his wager. Seeing this, the gods forced Loki to

sabotage the bet. Loki turned himself into a mare and led Svadilfari away into the forest.

Without his stallion, Hrimthurs lost the bet. As a  result of the forest frolick with Svadilfari,

Loki ended up prengant and gave birth to Sleipnir, an eight legged colt who would become

Odin’s magical steed.  Although Loki’s pranks and mischief were generally lighthearted, they

became darker as time went on. The darkest being when he became responsible for the

death of Balder.  Balder was the god of beauty and was loved by everyone and everything.

However it was foretold that he would die and that his death was one of the signs that

Ragnarok was coming.  To prevent this, Frigg went around to every animal, god, goddess,

creature, and plant making them promise to not harm Balder. The only plant she did not get

this promise from was mistletoe as she believed it to be too young to be held to such a

promise. Loki tricked Frigg into revealing the only thing that could kill Balder and upon

finding out, Loki coaxed the blind god Hod, into joining in a game of throwning things at

Balder. This was a favorite pastime of the deities as Balder could not be harmed. Loki handed

Hod a sprig of mistletoe and directed his aim. Hod threw the sprig as hard as he could and

everyone watched in horror as it pierced Balder who died instantly. For this crime Loki was

punished severly. He was bound by three rocks, one between his shoulders, another under

his loins and the last beneath his knees. A venomous snake was placed above his head and

dripped venom on him for eternity. His wife Sigyn, who  remained faithful to him despite his

fathering beings with the giantess Angerboda, lovingly collected the venom in a bowl so that

it would not drip upon Loki. However  when the bowl filled, she had to leave to empty it and

this left Loki unprotected. When the venom hit his bare skin, he would writhe about in pain

and cause earthquakes. Ragnarok was the end of days for the gods, the day they would go to

war and fight amongst themselves. When Loki’s chains broke and he was freed, it was he who

lead the giants into battle. Loki killed Heimdall but also died at Heimdall’s hand.  As much

fun as mischief and pranks are they can be taken too far. Not even Gods are immune to the

allure and excitement of pulling a prank on somebody or acting foolish, nor are they immune

to the consequences that come from causing such foolish acts.

A Tale of Prometheus
Prometheus was a Titan who sided with Zeus in the war of the titans. The Titans were then conquered, partly because Zeus released the hundred-handed monsters from their prison, who fought for them with their weapons (thunder, lightning and earthquake), and also because Prometheus took sides with Zeus. Zeus owed him a debt and Prometheus was on Zeus’ good side at the beginning. That changed however in one tale about the creation of ‘mankind’.
Zeus delegated the creation of mankind to Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus. This was in part due to the fact that Prometheus had helped Zeus in the war. Epimetheus went with his first impulse and changed his mind afterwards. He was quite scatterbrained, but Prometheus was very level-headed and wise. Before making man, Epimetheus gave all the gifts to the animals. Including strength, swiftness, courage, fur, feathers, wings and other traits. And he did this until no good was left for man. He then asked Prometheus to help him and Prometheus thought of a way to make man superior. He changed their shape so they were upright like the Gods, and he went to the sun, where he lit a torch and brought down fire, which would protect man more than anything else. He did so without the permission of the Gods.

“And now, though feeble and short-lived,
Mankind has flaming fire and therefrom
Learns many crafts.”

At this point only men were on the earth- no women. Zeus created women later, in anger at Prometheus because of his love for humans, and the fact that he stole fire from the Gods for them. Zeus also was angry at Prometheus for tricking him. Prometheus had cut up an ox and he was told to divide it in two, one half for man and one half for the gods. Prometheus wrapped the best parts in the hide and covered them with innards. Beside this heap he put another pile of bones, but he disguised it by covering it in the fat of the ox. He then told Zeus to pick the pile he liked best, and Zeus took the tempting half that was covered in fat. Zeus became very angry when he discovered he had been tricked, but he had made his choice and needed to abide by it.
Zeus swore to take revenge on Prometheus and he wanted to do this by punishing man as well. Zeus made a ‘great evil for man, a sweet and lovely thing to look upon, in the likeness of a shy maiden, and all of the gods gave her gifts, silvery raiment and a broidered veil, a wonder to behold and bright garlands of blooming flowers and a crown of gold- great beauty shone out from it.’ They called her Pandora, which mean ‘the gift of all’.
The gods then presented Pandora with a box, into which each of them had put something harmful and told her never to open it. Then Zeus sent her to Epimetheus, who took her gladly even though Prometheus told him not to. After, he realized how curious Pandora was and she had to see what was in the box. And after a few days she lifted the lid to see inside and out flew many plagues, sorrow and mischief for mankind. Pandora quickly shut the box- but it was too late. Luckily one good thing came from it- hope. And hope remains to this day a comfort. Once this happened mortals learned that you should never try to trick of deceive Zeus. And Prometheus discovered this too.
Zeus punished Prometheus by getting his servants Force and Violence to seize him and bound him to Caucasus and they told him

“Forever shall the intolerable present grind you down
And he who shall release you is not born
Such fruit you reap for your man-loving ways
A God yourself, you did not dread God’s anger
But gave to mortals honour not their due
And therefore you must guard this joyless rock-
No rest, no sleep, no moment’s respite
Groans shall your speech be, lamentation only your words. “

Zeus also knew that fate, which brings all things to pass, had decreed that one day a son of his would dethrone Zeus and drive the gods from their home in Olympus. Prometheus knew who would be the mother of this son, and Zeus wanted to know that information. Zeus sent Hermes to Prometheus. In response Prometheus said

“Go and persuade the sea wave not to break
You will persuade me no more easily.”
Hermes then told Prometheus that if he did not disclose his secret he would suffer more terrible things.
“An eagle red with blood
Shall come, a guest unbidden to your banquet
All day long he will tear to rags your body
Feasting in fury on the blackened liver”

Nothing could break Prometheus though and his suffering continued. His spirit would not break and he would not give in to brutal power no matter what. He told Hermes

“There is no force which can compel my speech
So let Zeus hurl his blazing bolts,
And with the white wings of the snow,
With thunder and with earthquake,
Confound this reeling world.
None of all this will bend my will”

Hermes left him to suffer, but many years later he was released. There are a few different notions on how this came to be, but I find that the most popular is that while looking for the golden apples that grew on a magical tree of life, Hercules finds Prometheus nailed to the rock. He kills the eagle that torments him and sets him free. In gratitude, Prometheus tells Hercules how to get the apples.



The Eloquence of Calliope

This month I offer a look at one of my favorite muses, Calliope. Enjoy!

The Muse, Calliope is the oldest of the Muses and according to the Theogony of Hesiod was foremost of the muses. Holding this preeminence, suggested her creative gifts were many with specific association with music and song and is often depicted playing the harp in early art work. In many mythological tales, Calliope is the mother of the Bard and player of the lyre, Orpheus. Calliope’s gifts of eloquence and music moved through her child Orpheus, considered to be the greatest musician and poet of Greek mythology having the ability to stir the emotions of God and man, alike into passive acquiescence.

As each of the Muses was later parceled out as representation of specific skill set, Calliope was assigned as the muse of Epic poetry. Her name means “beautiful voiced” and it is this quality that enhances her representation as a being of great eloquence; using that gift in the crafting of beautiful and emotionally evocative poetry. It was this gift that she offered to the Kings so that they may speak with power and authority in a manner of clarity and preciseness and it was this eloquence that she brought as judge to the dispute of the Goddesses Aphrodite and Persephone over Adonis.

“Aphrodite hid the newborn child, Adonis, in a chest, which she gave in charge to Persephone, queen of the nether world. But when Persephone opened the chest she was beheld by beauty of the baby, so she refused to give him back to Aphrodite, although the goddess of love went down herself to the Underworld to ransom the baby Adonis from the power of the dead.

The dispute between the two Goddesses of love and death was settled by Zeus, who decreed that Adonis should abide with Persephone in the underworld for one part of the year, and with Aphrodite in the upper world for another part. When he stayed in the underworld, it was winter. When he returned, the Earth blossomed into spring and summer.” (Greek Myths and Stories)

Later attributions depict her with pen and tablet and designation specifically as the muse that inspired the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer. In Greek mythology, Calliope is linked to Ares the God of War and Achilles, to whom she taught rowdy drinking songs. She had two sons by her mentor and teacher, the God Apollo and by all accounts her beguiling gifts of creative inspiration, word and song weave through many of the Gods and Goddess myths.

As is the case with many of the Muses, Calliope’s name is used is association with a similar attribute of representation by an object. The Calliope is a musical instrument that produces sound by sending a gas in the form of steam or compressed air through large tubular whistles. These tubes were originally part of the whistles found on large locomotive engines. The sound emitted was typically very loud and piercing, often being heard for miles. Unlike most musical instruments, there is no way to vary the tone or loudness relying solely on the interval of time between notes and their individual length. It was for these reasons that the Calliope was most often used as the advertising tool to let the community know that the Circus, an epic event, was coming to town.

This reference to a sound-producing instrument of this sort and magnitude and its use in calling attention to what would be multiple acts (or stanzas) of adventure, excitement and peril that formed the comprehensive story of man overcoming physical limitations (think of the aerialists and acrobats) and taming the beasts themselves (think of the animal trainers).

When we call to the Muse, Calliope we are calling attention to the many stories and adventures we have encountered in our life’s journey. The valiant successes and the epic failures are all waiting to be codified and through the gift of eloquence, we find the gems of our most beautiful and meaningful way of expression. This may take the form of journaling the experiences in prose. Going back later and reading through that epic phase of your experience and ultimately being inspired from its telling and sharing of what has served to move you forward. It may take the form of a beautifully written poem, pouring heart and soul onto paper, guided by rhythm and rhyme, semantic and syllable. And, in this way unraveling the mysteries of your hidden feelings word-by-word, line-by-line like so many layers of paint on a fine work of art. Each important to the larger picture crafted, yet transparent in their uniqueness and need.

In my own work, I call upon Calliope to inform my writing and stir the flow of creativity, but especially when I am writing a pathworking. A pathworking is much like the epic poem. It stimulates and serves as key to your personal journey into unknown territory that will provoke a response and set of challenges along the way that ultimately lead you to a new land, new perspective or new form and way of being.

** Excerpted from a series of articles, “EnLIVEening the Muses” from my blog the Womb of Light (Sage Woman Blogs at Pagan Square).

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