November, formerly the ninth month of the ancient calendar represents a time of year for thanksgiving, reflection and rest. Throughout October we celebrated the changing of the leaves, the beauty of the autumn colours, the joy of the harvest moon and now we are ready to give thanks for nature's bounty. This time of year has been celebrated universally by cultures throughout the world in similar ways. Winter, in the northern hemisphere, brings the cold and a loss of vitality as we see vegetation wither and die, and animals prepare for the long months ahead by gathering and storing food.
Astrologically much of November is under the sign of Scorpio which is asociated with Death, Transformation and rebirth. It is said that the veil which separates us from the faithful departed is thinned, enabling easier communication with loved ones who have passed on. At the feast of All Hallows Eve (Halloween/Samhain) we light candles, carve pumpkins and leave out food to give light and sustinence for those spirits who wish to join us. In November we start the month with prayers for our continued good health. We store food that will help us to survive the harsh winter months ahead. And, as we prepare to spend most of our time indoors, we look for activities and projects that will keep us busy.
There are thousands of Goddesses who represent all aspects of our lives. It may be difficult at times to choose a Deity who will represent our needs and whose story will guide us in our reflections. One of my favourite stories is of Erishkegal or Allatu, the dark sister of Ishtar. Ereshkegal is known as the Queen of the underworld, a dark place into which a descent was guarded by seven gates or hells as some authors write. As the story goes, Ishtar has a lover named Tammuz, who is killed by a wild boar. His body is taken to the underworld. Ishtar is desolate and inconsolable. She decides to go to the underworld to find him and beg her sister for his release. She demands entrance of her sister, Ereshkegal but this is denied. She must, if she wishes to enter, shed her garments one by one at each of the seven gates until she is naked before Ereshkegal. The Queen of the Underworld is not forgiving and holds Ishtar prisoner.
As a consequence, the world above becomes an infertile place. Fearful of the consequences of a barren land, Ea, the God of water, intervenes on behalf of Ishtar and begs for her release. Ereshkegal relents and allows Ishtar to leave. On the way out The Goddess collects all the finery that she discarded on the way in. Tammuz is washed, oiled, revived and returned to Ishtar so that life on earth is regenerated.
There are many interpretations to this story. In particular the idea of death and rebirth is very strong. Without rebirth we would not exist. From ancient times the stories of death resurrection and renewal have given us hope for the future. In this story I see Erishkegal and Ishtar as two different aspects of one person. Many of the Goddesses has triple natures representing the maiden, mother and crone or two faces representing the bright and dark side the nature. Ishtar's descent into the underworld parallels, for example, my need to take time during the winter months to reflect, prepare and plan. Only by going to the depths of my being, and stripping my self of all external problems, will I find hope, healing and renewal. For me, water rituals are comforting during this process. Others may find that earth based rituals provide a more firm foundation for growth. In the end, there is a quiet strength to be gained from this inner peace.
Some of you will relate this story to the barrenness of winter and regrowth in the spring. Others who are familiar with Goddess mythology will recognize similarities in the story of Demeter and Kore/Persephone. Whatever you association with this time of year, try to make the time to ensure that your spring awakening is glorious.
There are many rituals associated with this event. Some people suggest seven phases of exercises that represent the seven gates. Others plant bulbs whose reemergence in the spring in colour presages the beauty of the summer.
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