Sovereign Lady, Loaf giver, Gate of Life

     Gullveig vexes the Gods of Asgard by bringing life where there had been death.  Brought to account, she proves equal to death and a great battle starts.  In the end a balance is found between life and death and she comes as Freya to Asgard, and along with her own Hall, she is also given a hall within Odin's hall, for the Lady (Gate) of Life has wed the Lord (Gate) of Death.  The promise has wed the price.
     Later, many said that Freya and Frigga were separate Godesses.  I feel this was done because Christians could not conceive of a Goddess of sexuality (in their limited conception of what a deity is) who was also a Married Woman!  (Shock-what will those pagans think of next?)  Asking them to imagine a sexual, desirable woman who was also a highly honored and revered wife and mother was more than they could do.  I realise (who couldn't?) that many still promote this division, but I do not think there is any solid basis for this.  And the more finds we make of actual Pagan era artifacts and information dating from pre-Christian times, the more clear this becomes.  Even Jacob Grimm did not feel he could come up with an etymological basis for the division-and he wanted to find it.  In one of the few places I've ever seen him be dodgy, he just gives up.   "Even if the Norse names here have sprung out of Latin ones, they show how Venus was translated both by Frigg and Freya and Mary."  "Before so close a contact of the two names I pause…"   "We gather from all this, that the forms and even the meanings of the two names border closely on one another."  Even up against so much evidence, and he had less than we do now, he seemed to come up against a basic mental barrier-how could they be the same-one was sexual, and the other married.
     It is a shame that this division is still clung to by so many pagans, for it embodies a horrendous lie about not just women in general, but life.  Married life is based on a sexual relationship.  This means two people being sexual-not just the man.  To institutionalize sex as being separate from motherhood or wifeliness is so strange as to be bizarre.  Not only that but the natural result of engaging in sex for a woman is motherhood. 
So what do we do with these titles and images from the past.  Well, we know that the basics still exist;  that women are the gates of life still.  Women engender babies with men and then grow, birth and produce milk for the babies. Although we spend a while as girls, and longer as elders, the bulk of our life strength is spent being (or at least with the potential to be) a mother.  This we have not yet entirely managed to muddle away, although as a culture, alas, we have tried.
     So let's start with this.  Do we realize that our sexuality is inextricably linked with fertility?  Are we cognisant that when we awaken our sexual natures, we are opening the gates of life?  Do we prepare for it mentally, emotionally and physically?  Do we see it as a precious, indeed miraculous, ability--gift-- that we need to protect and preserve?  Do we recognize that birth is a highly magical time and treat it with the reverence, joy and sacredness it deserves?  Do we let our pregnant  bodies be pregnant and respect that they are already working on building a life?  Do we give our sweet babies milk, our milk, when they are born and until they don't need it anymore?  Do we live lives that mean our breasts are ready to nurse them when they need it?  At the least, this is a core part to being a mother.  Modern culture has been failing miserably at this, especially lately.  Do we as Pagans do any better?
     Unfortunately, Paganism (neo) has mostly chosen to throw its lot in with the misguided feminist agenda, an agenda that fits in very well with the consumer/ worker ideal.  (I do not mean a move for equal rights before the law-this has been an entirely good thing and part of the larger  equalising of the law for various people groups.  I am referring to the idea that there are no differences between men and women except those imposed by society-and that society should stop imposing them.) But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.  Many pagans have believed various lies;  lies about what pagans believed and thought and did in the past, and lies about what is true and good and magical.  These lies destroy lives and will destroy any hope of reviving a truly pagan culture unless exposed for what they are--an attack on our very humanity by the consumer mentality.  (Heavens, this is not meant to be a diatribe against capitalism as an economic model.  It is meant to be aimed at Commercialism-which comes closer to being a bizarre religion.)  Central in these attacks are the lies about our sexuality-and that includes lies about mothers and babies. 
     * Sex is just for fun.  Nope.  Sex is to make babies.  Making babies is fun--or should be.  (Of course, one can always practice making babies in between.)
     One of the horrid lies, because so many couples are completely shocked to realize that they're pregnant(!) when they were only playing.  Pregnancy is not an undesirable side effect of sex.  The Great Rite is all about fertility and the miracle of the beginning of life.  It's not just something fun the Gods do, nor is it a great way to raise energy.  It's not appropriate to use it solely for raising energy for other purposes, for then becoming pregnant becomes a failure of the other alleged magic.  This is a grievous misunderstanding and abuse of our bodies, sacred selves, life, the Gods, magic, and the poor baby.  Making a baby is the highest purpose of sex--period.  (Following in a close second place is to bring us as close as is possible to another human being-also not a frivolous thing.  Do not throw pearls before frogs; wait for a prince.)
     As Pagans we should hold sex in the greatest esteem, recognizing the honor we have in "co-creating" life--not just with each other, but with the Gods.  We should see becoming sexually active as the point when we are ready to accept any new life made into our lives.  Yes, there are magical, ethical ways to "control" or avoid it for a time.  But, if no children are wanted at all--then for that time it is not appropriate to have sex; because babies do happen occasionally, no matter what, if sex is happening.   Not ready for babies, not ready for sex.
     This obviously has a corollary in that both partners need to be prepared for a baby--more on this, though, later.
     *Pregnancy is a disaster except in certain perfect situations. Nope, pregnancy is a natural, magical event that is an expected, indeed indicative, part of being a healthy woman in her prime.
     Despite the heartache of the many women who wish to become pregnant and are having a very hard time of it, this culture definitely pushes the idea that pregnancy is a negative thing for a woman.  (I have seen medical plans that include the statement "Pregnancy is covered as any other illness".) Of course, setting her up for this is the lie that sex is just for fun, so women unready for a baby find themselves potentially with one.  Or worse yet, girls find themselves in this position.  And the men are usually shocked to find that their "Of course, I'll support your decision" is ever taken as being willing to support an "unwanted" baby.  Or sadly, the man would like the baby, half his, but the woman refuses.
     These are all quite expected outcomes resulting from the previous lie.  But this lie pushes it further by instilling the immediate reaction of, Oh, no!  And, subtly or not so subtly, denigrating pregnant women--seeing them as unattractive, unsexy, even gross and worthy of rude and vulgar jokes .  This puts quite a hurdle for men and women to get over on the way to accepting the naturalness of pregnancy and babies. 
     Right now we are going through another celebrity baby craze--we can hope that this will have some positive effect on how mothers and babies are seen, but unfortunately it seems doubtful.
     *Babies are best planned.  Nope, babies are best when we prepare for their arrival.  But babies are always the most potent magical gift we can ever receive from the universe and the Gods.
     When in high school, my social studies teacher--actually my religions teacher-- and his wife talked to the class about their aborting their baby.  They had one child and were planning to have another soon.   But because they hadn't specifically, particularly planned this baby--ahead of schedule by a few months--they aborted him.  He said it was the principle of the thing--that unplanned babies shouldn't be allowed to live. 
     I was horrified then and I'm even more horrified now and for more reasons.  And this was a "nice" guy-- a good, conscientious man and teacher.
      As Pagans we embrace the concept of abundance.  We embrace and celebrate the amazing force of the life energy.  We love the idea of fertility, recognizing it as key to the Pagan worldview.  Guess what?  We don't control any of those things.  The Gods do, not us.  (And no, we do not control the Gods.)  We have bought into the idea that planning and controlling are pre-eminent virtues and should be extended to life itself.  And then we hide behind that to absolve ourselves for failing to prepare. 
Also as Pagans we should understand the injunction to "know thyself" and not attempt to manipulate others to make up for our own lacks.  Knowing ourselves includes understanding how our bodies work, how fertility  works, what the responsibilities  of an actively sexual person are and what we can control--ourselves.  That's it.  We don't control our partners.  We don't control whether our babies live or not.  Destruction is not control.
     We can know where our bodies are in their fertile cycles, pay attention to the affect light at night has on our fertility and discuss with our husbands whether to refrain from intercourse or not.  We can use barriers to impede the natural course of events.  This is being responsible.  This is not impossible--this is adult.  As long as we don't think it equates with control of forces outside of our purview.
     When babies happen, life is happening.  They are the bright spot, the best outcome,  If you think they aren't, you are out of sync with life.  No baby is an accident.  Even in horrid circumstances, no matter how grim, the baby is the greatest consolation prize the universe can give--new, innocent life itself.  And face it, most surprise babies are not started in grim nasty circumstances;  they simply aren't what someone had in mind at the time.  They seem to get in the way, but really they are the way.
     If there is no room in your life for a baby at all, then there is no room for you to be participating in the Great Rite, the great dance, which is the celebration of male and female coming together to bring life into this world.  (Of course, at some point women leave this part of their life behind them, but still have a full sexual nature.  How thoughtful of the Gods…)
     *A pregnant woman is no different than a man and can fulfill all the requisites of a man's job.  Nope, not only are men and women different, but pregnant women are especially different.
     Pregnant women already have a job they're doing 24/7 that no one else can do, even another woman, let alone a man.  The man who can come closest  to helping her is her husband.
     As Pagans, we are supposed to not only acknowledge and be in touch with more subtle realms, with things unseen, but respect that.  So why would we expect a woman with her body producing a miracle and acting as a bridge between this world and the next to busily be keeping up the lie that pregnancy is just a function that her body fufills, and she is quite capable of handling herself like a man.  This is silly.  And tragic.  Because a woman acting out this lie, can not be in touch with the miracle happening.  (Lip service doesn't count.)  And pulling all of her consciousness into this world and forcing her resources to focus on this mundane job actually puts her baby  (and her) at risk . 
     Let us cease to fall for the idea that fairness and equality  mean that women and men are the same and should always be treated the same.  Pregnant women are special and should be treated with consideration.  They should start treating themselves that way too.  Put your feet up, take a nap.  Yes, you're going to be more spacey.  No, it doesn't mean you're dumb, just that your body/mind/spirit is very busy interfacing with another world and growing a baby--constantly.  In other words, you are already working.  Relax.  Yes, you can still get things done, but they must acommodate to you, not the other way around.  This does rule out many jobs.  Food for thought.
     *Birth is best managed.  Nope,birth is best respected.
     Babies are born in a myriad of ways.  Fast, slow, up, down, singly, pairs, (or more), quietly, exuberantly, but never boringly.  Babies and mothers are meant to fit together, there's no such thing as a too large baby.  Babies are meant to come out, you don't need to pull them, you don't even need to pushl  Babies have lived through contractions since life began, so you don't need to monitor them.  Certainly not by screwing something  into their sweet little heads!  Some people think that whoever contributed sperm should be considered the father( and hopefully it is the same person) but I think the honors ought to go to him who has the manhood to be with his partner during birth and then helps catch the baby.  Helps the Mother catch the baby that is, because nobody else really has any business being there right then.  (Always excepting the poor fathers who can't be there, but want to be--my heart goes out to them.)
     A lovely birth at home with mother and father is the ideal.  Coming out of the womb into the loving hands of the two who started this life for him and the nuzzling into mothers arms for milk.  This is a sacred right/rite that belongs to every baby.  A baby being born anywhere, though, is a joyful, holy event.   Anybody else who is there needs to understand that they are, in effect, interlopers, and should be as respectful as they can.
     *Babies don't really need their mothers.  Oh yes, they do.
Despite lip service sometimes paid to the sentiment that babies and mothers belong together, it is obviously not really felt to be true.
Hospitals still determine how much a mother may be with her baby--some generously, some very not.  Mothers are encouraged to return to work at 6 weeks--I guess babies don't need  them anymore at that point! And of course, government bureaucrats love determining whether a mother should be allowed to have her baby at all,  given the chance.  (Army, Welfare, prison, Social Services,…)
     Mothers aren't optional for babies.  They are a dire necessity and that bond must be upheld.  Very few things should ever weaken or break that bond.  Again, a sacred bond. 
     *Babies don't really need breast milk.  Oh yes they do. 
     Again, we have lip service paid to the idea that breast milk is good for babies.  But what do we see in practice?  Although most women start out trying to nurse their babies (and this is a good thing--much better than 25 years ago), they don't last long.  There is a steady, precipitous drop off, until by 6 months most babies are on bottles.  And very few are still nursing at 1 year.  After 1 year, many mothers who are still nursing feel they have to fight to do so.  Why all this?
    Well, are desirable women shown breastfeeding?  And remember, being desirable is what gives you the most personal validation in this culture.  That and a paycheck.  (And here's where seperating desirability from proven fertility, i.e. babies, comes back to haunt us again.)  Do fashions easily allow a baby to be nursed?
     We must grow up and realize that breasts are primarily for babies.  They are not for titillating anyone, not primarily.  They aren't just for display.  They shouldn't be augmented, reduced or surgically rearranged.  They shouldn't be caged in wire bras--these endanger the mother's life anyway.  We must stop believing lies such as "nursing ruins breasts".  What a horrendous belief.  Breasts are beautiful--because they are a sign of fertility and abundant provision of life for more life.  They are indicative of the generous,  flowing, nurturing love that women can bestow on their children-- and others. The givingness that the breast represents--this is desirable.  It's ok to be titillated by them, but you need to remember that that's not their primary purpose.  There is no "just as good" substitute for breast milk.  There are decent formulas that can be made, but not commercially!  And, if available, breast is still best.
     *Therefore, Mothers can easily hand their babies over to others to care for.  Indeed, doing anything else is demeaning.   Nope, babies need their mothers.  Children need their mothers.  Even teenagers need their mothers.
     Babies not only need to  be nursed by their mothers, they need  to be surrounded by their mothers love and arms.  They need a deep, unbreakable bond formed with their mothers so they can develop properly and understand relationships, including the relationship between the us and the Gods.
     This is not only vitally important for baby, it's necessary for mother.  This is how we come to know what "mother" means.  It's how we develop.  We can never become elders, grandmothers, crones unless we go through being the Mother. Some may pass around it, due to whatever reasons.  But, if not enough women actually physically pass through 
the Mother stage, and truly be it, then we lose our cultural reference point as to what it means.  Then at that point I don't think there is a viable alternate route.  How could there be? The bearings are lost.
     Women today seem afraid to not "work for hire".  They seem afraid to say being a mother is fulfilling, challenging, satisfying work.  To say that would surely mean that they aren't real people--not equal to men.   Remember, equal doesn't mean the same.  Taking a demeaning job outside the home does not prove anything.  Even having a "dream" job doesn't, unless you can truly have your babies/toddlers/children be part of that.  This is very rare--especially in this cultural climate.  And most women do not have that dream job.  Most just work because that is how they've been trained to receive their sense of validation as a person.  What a shame.
     Fire your boss.  Strike out on your own.  Be a mom.
     *Therefore, mothers don't need fathers.  Nope, mothers desperately need fathers--now as much, if not more so, than ever.
     And I don't mean Mr. Mom.  Talk about demeaning. (Ok-once again I am not slamming men who are put into the position of needing to be both mother and father to their children.  They have as tough a row to hoe as any single parent.  I'm talking about trying to make both parents indistinguishable-and somehow this comes closer to looking like two mothers than two fathers.)  Each and every one of these lies is an attack on the family and on being human, or being allowed to develop naturally into "people".  An attack.  Who's defending us?  Whose job is it to guard his pregnant wife from outside nastiness while she's growing their baby?  Whose job is it to protect the sanctity of the birth and not allow anyone to threaten the mother and baby?  Whose job is it to not let anyone separate the two or let anyone cut, prod, or harm them?  Whose job is it to guard the nursing relationship?  Whose job is it to see that his baby receives the best care possible, that is, with his mother? 
     It is a truly horrid, demeaning, and damaging lie that fathers aren't needed.  Mothers and babies, especially during pregnancy and postpartum--but really across the board--need protecting.  Oh, sure, a pregnant woman can defend herself if necessary.  But as we have seen, the attack is unrelenting and sneaky.  And overwhelming.    Mothers and fathers come in pairs so that while one is holding a baby, the other can fight.
     And fathers are also important directly to the baby.  Important for the development of trust in the universe and the magic of the special other.  And for girls and boys to understand what a man is.  (And indeed for fathers to understand what they are fighting for--the holiness of the battle.)
     And here's where the vicious cycle comes full round.  For if men aren't wanted, aren't needed;  if women can be mothers all by themselves (with the help of a bureaucracy or two), then why stick around at all?  The only meaning women could have for them is as a sexual partner.  And children?  Well, maybe, later, if they fit in...  This is the attitude of all too many men, especially young men. 
     Therefore, women are encouraged to take doubtful birth control to make themselves maximally available with minimal (supposedly) liability for the man.   Women abandoned by boyfriends when they keep the baby.  Men insisting women have no more babies but return to "work".  Women who feel they can't really trust the men in their lives to guard them and support them and so handle their life accordingly, further alienating their men.  Babies born in sterile conditions, handed over to strangers and taught to be another estranged member of the mainstream. 
     It may be a beautiful vision for some but it horrifies me.  We need women who aren't afraid to claim their natural roles-and men who honor those roles in their mates, and then later in their daughters.  We need to realize that our fertility and having babies is so core to being female that we must organize our lives around it, not the other way around.  And it would help in doing this if we ceased to believe that there is some natural difference between "free sexualtiy" and "married love".    

©2007 Oak Hedge