The Year of the Body: Week 19
in which we step into the female body and discover a mystery or two lurking there
Friends, soul writers, mystics, and lovers of prayer,
Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. Mother’s Day is a fraught holiday with deep tendrils in the transition from honoring the female body to desecrating it.
It was started by Anna Reeves Jarvis prior to the Civil War as a way to gather mothers to call for a world of peace. In 1870, abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe picked up the thread and wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” asking mothers to unite in promoting world peace.
The idea was mocked by a male congress who joked that if we have mother’s day we have to have mothers-in-law day.
Can’t you just hear the caustic laughter.
But people began to honor their mothers anyway and businesses quickly coopted the intent from promoting peace to making money. Lots of money. Flowers. Candy. Phone calls—more than on any other day.
Usually, I skim over Mother’s Day. My son always sends a lovely note reminding me I’ve been a great mother, but beyond that, the day hasn’t held a lot of meaning for me.
But this year—the year of the body—I’m thinking more deeply about the bond between the body of the mother and the body of the child.
Not just my body and my son, but all bodies, all mothers, all children, going back to the First Mother from whom we came and to whom we will return.
The female body is life.
But the female body has been maligned and abused ever since patriarchal religion arrived on the scene.
Before patriarchy, we lived in a matrilineal communal system in which women and their bodies were precious. The children were precious. The land was precious. Everyone and everything was treated with reverence. Because the Goddess was precious.
This isn’t my imagination.
The anthropological record shows no evidence of rape or war prior to the shift from worshiping the Goddess in and as the earth and in and as all bodies, to worshiping an external male god of light, who demands obedience to dogma and rules.
And if that meant torturing non-compliant bodies, well so be it.
A few examples:
- You shall not suffer a witch to live. Exodus 22:18
- A…woman who is a diviner, a soothsayer, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones and their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 21:27
- Fie upon the evil-smelling body…. You bag of dung, tied up with skin, you demoness with lumps on your breast. The Elders’ Verses, Theragatha (attributed to earliest Buddhist monks)
- All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman…. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable. Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) main guidebook for witch hunts 1486
- Women are the portal and the gate of the devil. John Knox, founder of the Presbyterian religion, author of The Witchcraft Act 1563
Despite growing up immersed in an anti-witch world, when witch landed in my body last August, I said yes.
And why not. When I said yes to prayer artist in 2018, it upended my world, true, but I loved all the places it carried me.
I got to redefine prayer. Write a whole new genre of prayer as love songs. Discover the magic of full-body anointing. And offer prayer intensives with fellow female mystics.
How much fun can you have!
But witch? Now this is a word that has led countless women to their deaths.
But I said yes anyway. And witch is most certainly carrying me to places I could never have imagined.
First up, I’m discovering what witch really means.
We are told it means old scary hag doing evil things. But surprise, the root word in every European language comes from:
- to weave, to spin, to turn
- the central folk sacraments of tribal women were spinning, weaving, plaiting, wickerwork, and knotting
So, a witch is a consecrated woman who practices sacred gifts of divination, prophecy, healing, herbal knowledge, incantation.
Are you as surprised by the hidden sacred etymology as I am?
How did consecrated women chanting prayer into the clothes and baskets they made for their families become someone so terrifying that the authorities took them into the public square to murder?
Well, you start asking questions like that, and you will find yourself face to face with some great mysterious women who were persecuted as witches. Perhaps the most magnificent women who ever lived.
Queen Boudica for example. Or Marguerite Porete.
They had voices. And they used those voices to speak truth to power. But as history reminds us, this doesn't usually go well under patriarchy.
But I kept following the trail. And it led to one very sacred woman murdered as a heretic and witch.
One incredible woman who at 17 ran away from home, cut her hair, donned male clothes, and somehow convinced the future king of France to make her the general of the French Army.
Try to put this in context of a teenager you know. Your daughter. Granddaughter. A neighbor.
To try to comprehend the audacity of it, I thought back to my son, Jerry, at 17, a junior in high school. I try to imagine him telling me he’s going to Washington to tell the president (George W Bush at the time) that he needs to put Jerry in charge of the military and send him to Iraq to end the wars in the Middle East.
Could this have happened? Not in any world I know.
But Joan of Arc did exactly that.
- Joan, an illiterate peasant girl ran away from home at a time when no female could leave home without a man's permission.
- Joan, who’d never ridden a horse, jumped on a fierce war horse called a charger and rode it as if she were born to the cavalry.
- Joan, who’d never touched a sword, told her companions to go to a chapel and dig behind the altar. There, just as she predicted, was her ancient sword.
- Joan, who’d never seen the towns she conquered, told her troops where and how and when to lay the siege. The English army became so frightened they started abandoning garrisons upon hearing she was on the way.
I need to know more about this woman. So I started reading. I’m still reading. And the more I read, the more mysteries I uncover.
My primary reward seems to be that new and bigger questions surface.
I took all my questions to Perdita Finn.
You know Perdita as the author of The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary.
If you’ve read that book, you know that, just like the true meaning of witch has been hidden under thousands of years of patriarchal distortion, the original ancient rosary was totally co-opted by the church so we wouldn’t get close to its mystical power.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that Perdita is a devotee of Joan.
Perdita started asking questions about Joan of Arc years ago. Questions like:
- Why is she called Joan of Arc? After all, that wasn’t her name.
- How did this illiterate peasant girl become the youngest general of any gender to lead an army?
- Why is she the only person in history to be condemned by a church and then sainted by that same church?
- Why did the church and the French government conspire to murder her? Why were they so afraid of her?
- Who did people in the 1400’s say she was?
- And why is her story wrapped in so many mysterious symbols? What does it all point to?
I need to know because Joan gave me the call to create The Return of the Witches Jeanne d’Arc Listening Pilgrimage this summer.
And there’s no doubt in my mind that SHE is the one asking me to create it and guiding the way. She selected the 13 witches we will meet. And she is sending the 13 champions who will tell these 13 womens' stories.
I always know Joan has sent the champion when they start to talk about why they want to be a part of this radical event and begin to tell me something in their life that connects them directly to Joan.
I just turn to Joan and smile. And whisper thank you.
The more I work with Joan of Arc, the more I love her and her mysteries.
And, make no mistake, Joan is nothing if not a mystery.
That’s why I asked Perdita Finn, who has explored and lived Joan’s mysteries for over a decade to please help us enter Joan’s mysteries and explore them for ourselves.
When you enter the world of mysteries—think Eleusinian mysteries, for example—you let go of the need for black and white answers. Instead, you pick up the magic of inviting a mystery to come alive in you. In your body.
One of the radical explorations we will make together is that the mysteries are not historical ideas or philosophies or rituals. The mysteries are alive in and through and as us.
That means Joan is alive in and through and as us. As you. As me.
Is that an overwhelming realization? Be not afraid, she goes before us, clears the path, and waits to put the crown on our heads.
Join Perdita and me starting next Sunday, May 16 for three rich Sunday afternoons from 2-3:30pm Eastern for a deep dive into The 15 Mysteries of Joan of Arc.
We will complete our mystery walk with Joan on May 30, the anniversary of her death--a perfect example of her fingerprints.
Click on the link for schedule, details, and registration. Note that everything is recorded if you can't be with us live.
to exploring the mysteries of Joan of Arc in our own lives, our own hearts, our own bodies
PS: Joan performed quite the miracle this week. She inspired me to end my 9 month hiatus of my podcast, Praying at the Speed of Love! I stopped recording show in August when witch arrived.
Last Thursday, Perdita and I recorded an eye-popping conversation about Joan that left us both in tears. Perdita shared things about Joan that have never been spoken or written anywhere.
I'll send a short email when the podcast is ready. Either Wednesday or Thursday. Watch for it!
But don't wait to register. I'm sending the Welcome email tomorrow, Monday May 10.
PSS: Now I think it is a Happy Mothers Day after all. A day in which Joan leads an army of mothers to create a world of peace. Yes, I'll celebrate that!