Blog 2014

Little Essay for Spring

Little Essay for Spring

April 26 2014


In 2009, I was fortunate to be able to visit an old friend who was living in Brittany.  I went there mostly to visit Normandy as part of research for some writing I was doing.  I did some other traveling around Brittany, and happened, one day, upon a festival dedicated to Mary, Notre Dame du Roncier.  While there, I talked at length with a nun who told me Saint Anne (who is the patron saint of many places, Brittany included) is revered more than Mary, more than Jesus, because she is the Great Mother who bore the woman who bore Jesus.  (She asked me if I was Catholic.  I told her I was Atheist.  No matter: I could always be saved, she said.)  What fascinated me was how, there, in Roncier, in Anne through Mary, I seemed to be witnessing living ritual as remnants of a lineage going back to the Great She as one-time Goddess over All:  Anne, from whom the sacred was brought forth, through a daughter who is the way to Jesus.  How fascinating to find this connection to the Feminine Divine somewhat intact.  The banner reads: A Jesus Par Marie: To Jesus through Mary.  This is what remains…. 




           Saint Anne, Virgin & Child*                     Festival: Notre Dame du Roncier                  "Black" Madonna and Child



I am always unnerved when I read how the sea is a violent, tumultuous symbol of death.  This is a rewriting instilled by voices in patriarchal culture that ride the waves of thought patterns into “learning” until all learning is considered a kind of singularity, a one way, with no way back, destined to collapsing into its own nothingness, which is not the no-thing-ness of Zen as much as it is the fall with k[no]w[ledge] designed to exclude, where the whispers of the feminine divine are quite disappeared.  Only death-affirming cultures kill such Ways by converting them to suit the myths by which they live.   Epistemology is here, no doubt.






Charlemagne                                                                                                                                              Jean d'Arc


I am always overjoyed, then, when I find the Feminine Divine living in any culture, and when I discovered Her in the affirming waters of the Great Triple Goddess Yemoja, flanked by her sisters Oxun and Oya, for whom rituals are still practiced in Brazilian, Cuban, & Nigerian traditions, I felt I had come closest to that Old Paleolithic She, the One of the conch shell, the Great One whose water marks were painted on walls and artifacts, whose symbols were worn as pendants.  She is giver-of-life who spreads her legs wide from the sea.  She is the sea.  She is water.  She is Death and Not-Death.  She is renewal and resurrection.  


When I first heard the frame drums played in procession, specifically the tambourines played by a group of women led by Layne Redmond and Tommy Brunjes (at Saint Catherine’s in St. Paul, October 1999), I was inhabited by the simultaneity of a great sob and great joy.  I was astonished by this instinctive response and have followed the drums ever since, realizing along the way that what I had experienced at that first hearing of the tambourines was an awakening to prehistoric memory.  Layne told how Nubian musician and frame drummer Hamza el Din taught the strokes on the frame drum represented and invoked the elements.  These are Doum: Water; Kah: Earth; Tak: Fire; and Cha: Air.  When you invoke the elements you are also invoking ancient memory; you are re|member|ing as you play.  What the Ancient Greeks would destroy, the Pre-Hellenic mind would recall.




                                                                                         Cypriot Drummer                   Leigh Herrick


In the life-death-life process, in the fire that destroys to breathe anew, there are the practices of the sacred keepers; practices for animal and plant life; practices that are sustaining beyond the aggressive traditions of the old, possessive destroyers.   There is plenty to worry about these days.  The outcome of a conquer-usurp-control paradigm that is not holistic but concerned with power over is a threat to All.  We are running out of time, no doubt, but in that danger a resurrecting continuity offers hope through a shifting toward, in ReCollection, as People Gather across cultures to ReTurn, honoring land and food, saving seeds, planting for bees and butterflies, creating edible yards, enacting all manners and ways of sustainable living—each step small, but in the whole, perhaps, effective through re/new/ed definitions of practice. 


And that’s just it, isn’t it?  Practice: Such an all-encompassing little word.  In it is the place of memory where the bees of Aphrodite, like the resonance of the sea as drum stroke re/sounding Yemoja’s flow, have never ceased to hum.



-Leigh Herrick




Photo credits: All photos © Branko Gulin, 2009, except the photo of the poet en face Layne Redmond's photo of a Cypriot drummer, and *Statue of Sainte Anne, Vierge, et Enfant, © Myrabella, CC-BY-SA-4.0ia, Wikimedia Commons