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Goddess in the Wheel of the Year
by Linde

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Lammas 2003, Vol 2-4
MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
African woman grinding corn
Grinding Corn Kernels
courtesy of © Willi Gutowski
Lammas: Goddess of the Grain Reborn
We meet to celebrate the harvest of the grain
Or to call upon the Goddess for the rain
Through her, the crops will be born again
But she will strike at those who show disdain.

In the Celtic calendar, Lammas represents the first of three harvest festivals, the time when the mythological grain god is sacrificed. The grinding of the grain represents his death, baking it into bread represents rebirth in the womb of the Goddess, and eating the bread brings new life.

The Serpent Goddess is invoked at Lammas because of her role in rebirth and in protection of grain. Serpents used to be kept in households to safeguard the domestic food supply from rodents. Even today, serpents protect grain crops. Snake meat became so popular in restaurants in China at the start of the Year of the Snake in 2001 that the crops were threatened due to the uncontrolled population explosion of mice.

The Greek goddess of grain, Demeter, was often depicted with her sacred serpent, as in a terra-cotta relief from the 5th century BCE showing Demeter holding wheat and poppy pods, with snakes facing her.

Demeter is best known as the goddess who brings winter to the earth when her beloved daughter, Persephone, is in the underworld with her consort, Hades. The myth of Demeter's search for her kidnapped daughter was reenacted in ritual in the Greek mystery festival known as the Thesmophoria, which
was exclusively for women. The actual rites were practiced in great secrecy, but we have a general idea of what may have taken place during the Thesmophoria.

Ritual objects, believed to be a sacrificed piglet and replicas of serpents and phalluses made of flour, were thrown into snake-filled chambers. Poet Robert Graves believed that originally the ritual objects included the severed genitals of the sacrificed king, or of his surrogate. The presence of serpents in the chamber, and the serpent loaves, suggests the theme of renewal during this festival. On the final day of the three-day festival, the women would descend into the chamber and retrieve the ritual objects, clapping to frighten away the snakes. They mixed the rotted sacrifices with grain, and put the mixture on the fields to ensure the fertility of the crops. In ancient Greece, the Thesmophoria was celebrated in the fall. It is appropriate, however, to invoke Demeter as the goddess of grain at Lammas, the earliest harvest festival.

sketch of cobra
The Women Draw Snakes on Walls
Sketch © 2003, Sage Starwalker.

In India, the floods from the monsoons in early August bring serpents with them. At this time of year, festivals are held to celebrate the Serpent Goddess, Manasa. Not only is she petitioned to protect people from
snakebite, but also to cure disease and bring wealth. According to art historian Buffie Johnson, worshippers are devoted to Manasa, not from a fear of snakes, but because they believe that the Serpent Goddess is a primeval form of the Great Goddess herself.

The Jhapan Festival, held in the Bengali town of Vishnupur in early August, celebrates the glory of Manasa. It is basically a regional harvest festival. Snake charmers bring to the festival, in woven baskets, cobras, vipers, kraits, pythons, rat snakes, vine and flying snakes, and perform with the poisonous snakes while chanting hymns praising Manasa. Some participants even enter into trances.

Manasa is often shown sitting under the merged hoods of seven cobras, with fruit in one hand, and a snake in the other. In rural villages, young women worship Manasa by setting out milk in a ritual pot for her serpents to drink. Manasa has been compared to Kundalini, the Serpent Goddess found at the base of the spine, who rises through the energy chakras with the practice of yoga to unite with divine energy at the crown of the head.

Manasa's best known myth involves the misfortunes she inflicts upon a man named Chand, who refuses to worship her. She first destroys his garden, then kills six of his sons, sinks the ships carrying his wealth, and finally, kills his last son with the bite of poisonous snakes. At last, Chand agrees to worship Manasa as a goddess, and she has been worshipped as one ever since. As a goddess of rebirth, Manasa then restores the life of Chand's last son.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake  
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
 

Moving from too much rain to too little, the Hopi Indians of Arizona perform a snake dance every second August to invoke the Serpent Goddess to bring rain. The dancers, men of the Snake and Antelope clans, perform with live rattlesnakes which are released after the ceremony to carry the prayer for rain back to the goddess.

A Hopi myth tells about the origin of the snake dance. A young Hopi man travels to the land of the Snake People, where the sun sets. The Snake People can assume the form of snakes. There, the young man meets the Chief, who tests him by asking him to identify which snake is the chief's daughter. When he successfully selects her, he receives her in marriage, as well as the secrets of the snake ceremony. The couple travels back to the young man's village where the now pregnant Snake Wife tells her husband that she will wait outside the village until he returns for her.

She warns him, however, that no one must touch him while he is in the village. When a village woman embraces him, the Snake Wife is forced to leave her husband and return to her people. First, though, she gives birth to a baby who remains in the village, becoming the ancestor of the dancers. Like his mother, the child could take the shape of a snake. This myth establishes the divine lineage of the Snake clan. It also explains how the Hopi came to perform with snakes to call for rain. The Snake Wife is a form of the Serpent Goddess, with her connections to life-giving rain and royal ancestry.

Cihuacoatl, Aztec snake goddess
Cihuacoatl
Copyright © Edgar Martin del Campo

For the Mexica (Aztecs), the principal goddess was Cihuacoatl, 'Snake Woman,' and she, too, could change herself into a snake. The Aztecs believed in a continuous cycle of creation and destruction, with each era following a previous one. In one myth, Cihuacoatl illustrates the creative power of grinding, evoking the role played by women when they ground corn for meal. The god, Quetzalcoatl, returns from the underworld with the bones of the people who lived in the era previous to this one. Cihuacoatl takes the bones and grinds them on her stone mortar to a fine meal, which she mixes with the blood of the old gods who committed self-sacrifice so that the new era could begin. From the mixture, Cihuacoatl creates the humans of the present era.

These myths describe the role of the Serpent Goddess at harvest time, in the rebirth of the sacrificed grain god and to control the rains that bring fertility to the land. Lammas is a good time to celebrate the early harvest and the rejuvenating role of the Serpent Goddess.

References
+ Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths: Complete and Unabridged Edition in One Volume. New York: Moyer Bell Limited, 1988. (Originally published 1955).
+ Ions, Veronica. Indian Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1984. (Originally published 1967).
+ Johnson, Buffie. Lady of the Beasts: The Goddess and Her Sacred Animals. Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1994.
+ Nicholson, Irene. Mexican and Central American Mythology. London: Paul Hamlyn, 1967.

Graphics Credits
+ Mambilla woman pounding dried corn kernels with wooden mortar and pestle, courtesy of © Willi Gutowski.
+ The Women Draw Snakes on the Walls, Copyright © 2003 Sage Starwalker. All rights reserved. (Based on a Naag Panchami illustration.)
+ Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Gary Stolz, photographer, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

+ Cihuacoatl, Copyright
© ca. 1996-2002 Edgar Martin del Campo. All rights reserved.

Contributors retain the copyright to their work; please do not take art or words without permission. All other graphics and reference materials are used and attributed as per the Fair Use Provision of The Copyright Act and individual terms of use.
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