Words are a fundamental part of our humanity. The physiology of our brains is designed to make sense of ourselves and our world through language. We name things with words, and then load value and meaning onto these names. Every aspect of our shared society, interpersonal relationships and inner self-talk are dictated by these word-names.
There’s immense power in names. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the names people give to us, and the ones we give to ourselves. This naming can either narrow or expand who we are, and how we engage others and our greater environment.
Oppressors, those who conquer, dominate and control others, have used this power in names throughout history. Take away the names people give to themselves — taint and distort them, make these names a weapon — replace them with other, socially acceptable, domesticating names — and you’ve set up a system of control that becomes a normal, entrenched part of our social fabric. And not just names are taken away, but also language, story, dance, art, and other forms of culture, self-identity and expression.
All marginalized groups — on the outside of the white, male, heteronormative, Judeo-Christian ethos that dominates our Western society — have been impacted by this system of control through names.My Story of Names
I’m a white woman of British descent, born into a working class family of moderate means, and raised in a middle-of-the-road city in the eastern part of Canada. My upbringing was mainstream, banal and seemingly innocuous. And this is my story of names.
If I had the conscious awareness to name myself in my youth, I would have called myself a good girl.
I was a domesticated creature — nice, sweet, pretty, and well behaved. I did what I was supposed to do: work hard at school, follow the rules, hang out with other nice girls, date boys that my parents approved of, and keep a smile on my face, even when boys and men said and did not nice things to me.
No one in particular, and everything around me, gave me this name and the very narrow band of personhood that went with it.
In my early adult years, I named myself professional woman.
This was just another form of my good-girl domestication, set by a hyper-masculine corporate environment.
I had the right qualifications to excel: an MBA, competitive instincts and workaholic drive. The price of admission was to mask my womanhood in an androgynous wardrobe of black, gray and navy suits, to emulate the work-hard, play-hard ethos of the successful man, and to keep a smile on my face, even when men diminished and sexualized me.
Like so many women, these straitjacket names of good girl and professional woman squeezed my bigness of being into a half-life dictated by rules that I had no say in, and that were designed to keep me small, tame, fearful and disconnected from my true nature.
In my late twenties, something woke up in me and I found a new name for myself: feminist.
I rebelled. I wanted to live an authentic life, in alignment with my undomesticated womanhood and my true, deep Self, outside of the dictates of a male-dominated, woman-negating society.
With this new name came seismic shifts. I left my corporate career and returned to graduate school to become a feminist academic, studying power, change and organizational gender issues. I became educated about the deep-rooted and daily discrimination faced by women, and the negation and undervaluing of the qualities and skills we bring to society and the workplace; and I made a commitment to myself to become an agent of positive change.
In my early thirties, as this journey of claiming my true, undomesticated womanhood deepened, I found another new name for myself: witch.
Again, this new name came with immense transformation. I discovered the Goddess and Wicca, and with them a whole, hidden story of feminine Divinity and power, and a wild, delicious, empowering, life-centered reality that was the antithesis of my years of domestication.
My world became infinitely bigger and more nourishing. For the first time in my life, I felt whole, inside-out powerful, and my Self.
Now in my early sixties, I fully inhabit my reclaimed name: woman.
Piece by piece, I’ve been reclaiming the lost fragments of my true, untamed womanhood, until I’ve come to know and honor my Self as woman, outside of the strictures of a society that fears and distorts women and feminine-based power.
I now know that my womanhood is a complex thing, woven of many, diverse threads: feminist, witch, writer, dreamer, dancer, wild thing, mother, partner, friend, ally, and so many other things that are too big and mysterious to name.
I’m whole, sacred, a being of infinite love and resilience, honed and evolved through my personal story and shared woman history of light and shadow, beauty and wounding, and the wonders and horrors of this mundane and magical world.
The outer voices have lost their control over me and there’s no squeezing me back into the half-person I’ve been. Woman I am, and woman I will be, on a journey of self-discovery and evolution that will last all the days of my life.The Power and Shadow of Names
In my journey of names, my life and womanhood were profoundly, positively transformed when I shifted from the names of good girl, and its adult variant of professional woman, to feminist and witch. Yet I was discouraged from claiming these names for myself by well-meaning friends and family members.
In our shared culture, feminist and witch are dangerous names, weighed down by negative projections and horrific histories. Good girls — nice, sweet, pretty, and well behaved — are safe, happy, and well-adjusted. Free-spirited, empowered women — feminist, witch, or any other name you choose to give yourself outside of the dictates of a male-centered society — are an aberration, heretical and dangerous.
This negation of uppity women has been burned into our collective psyche, literally. During the Burning Times of the 14th to the 18th century, the name of witch was demonized by the Church and used to justify the brutal rape, torture and murder of an estimated sixty to hundred thousand people, predominantly women — healers, practitioners of witchcraft, community leaders, independent women and other marginalized people caught up in the madness. Any indication of women’s spirituality, feminine-based power or an uppity nature could condemn you as a witch.
These horrific events have left a deep scar and shadow on our human psyche through our fear and distrust of women and feminine-based power.
Call yourself a feminist and you tar yourself with the societal stereotype of the feminazi: an angry, aggressive, male-hating woman battling for female supremacy.
Call yourself a witch and you conjure up the frightening specter of the wicked witch: an evil, devil-worshipper who uses their power to harm others.
These are lies and distortions that feed on our fear and distrust of women and feminine-based power. To use these names is to risk misunderstanding, discrediting, censure, and rejection. But to not use them when they speak to your soul and true Self is to remain small, silenced, powerless and domesticated.
What my story of names taught me is that there’s only one way to release the power in a name, be it feminist, witch or whatever power names we claim for ourselves and community: confront and step past the shadow in these names, and claim them as our own, not just for ourselves, but also in service of our greater society.Your Story of Names
How we name ourselves and others matters deeply. These names can either trap and diminish us, or heal and free us to become more fully, deeply our Selves.
You can start by exploring your own name story and those that apply to the groups you’re part of. Consider the defining features of your humanity, for example: your biological gender and gender identity, skin color, sexual orientation, ethnic and cultural heritage, religion or spiritual practice, socio-economic status, and the history of your people.
What names have been used to domesticate and marginalize you and the groups you’re part of? What names have empowered you and helped you grow and evolve? What names do you choose for yourself? What are the shadow and power in these names? How can you heal and reclaim these names? How can you support others, especially marginalized groups, in healing and evolving our collective names and language?
Your journey of names is a lifetime in the making. The more consciousness you bring to this journey, the more you can find and claim the names that capture your true, deep Self, and heal the shadow in the names that can set you and others free. And perhaps someday, names will be used to connect us to ourselves and each other in power and beauty, and in the making of a better, kinder, saner world of acceptance, love and justice for all.
Artwork by Nick Gentry
The same message — one that seems simplistic and naïve at a quick glance — comes to me over and over again: to mend our soul and heal our world, we need only show up to the love that is Goddess, that is life, that is here, now, all around and within us.
This message first came to me in a group trance led by Starhawk at a spiritual retreat focused on being a positive agent of change in these turbulent, evolutionary times:
Our intention for the trance is to seek guidance from the Mysteries on how to shift the destructive ways of humanity. A sense of urgency and despair fuels our magic. The human world is a mess. We are destroying the planet. And time is running out.
As we close our eyes and begin to visualize together, someone suggests we head to the East, the direction of new beginnings. A path appears that leads to a broken-down stone castle, overrun with vines and weeds. People see and name what appears to them in this desolate place.
But I see only one thing: a voluptuous, naked Goddess floats above the ruins, on Her back, Her legs spread wide, with a river of golden honey flowing from Her yoni — down through the broken castle, down the path we have traveled, and out into the waking world. The image is so unexpected and outrageous that I have to push myself to share with the group.
I have no idea what this vision means. There’s a sense of disappointment with some group members. When you’re looking for practical, concrete spiritual guidance, what do you do with a larger-than-life, honey-gifting yoni?
Yet the peace and grace in this vision stays with me — a seed of wisdom, of power, of hope, of ease — gestating in the secret depths of my inner landscape.Waking to Her Golden Love
Fast-forward several years and many powerful magical and life experiences later — the vision returns to me and this time I get it.
I’m at a community ritual. We’re working with the wild winds of change charging through our waking lives and world. Each of us gives voice to the Goddess.
This is what She says through me: “I am here; the awakening is now.”
What does this awakening look like in my life? Big endings: my dear friend is dying of cancer in the prime of her life, leaving behind her young family. Big new beginnings: I’m publishing my first book, Tale of the Lost Daughter. These immense events push me to the limit and split me wide-open, with the powers of death and creation turned on high.
What comes through this chasm is love — from the community that holds my dying friend and her family in a 24/7 circle of support — from the Tribe that gathers close to witness and charge my birthing of Tale of the Lost Daughter into the world — from my pagan-circle companions who weave magic between the worlds with me — from my beloved partner, son and family who are the beating-heart center of my life.
I feel this love viscerally; it’s thick and sweet and golden. It coats my skin, fills my lungs and overflows from my heart. I lavish it on others, unable to staunch its flow, and let others lavish it on me in return.
The Goddess is here. She is this love. I am this love. It is everywhere and in everything.Mending Our Soul — Healing Our World
Fast forward a few more years to the present moment. The human world is still a mess. We’re still destroying the planet. Time is truly running out. Urgency and despair are still our shadow companions.
The broken-down castle of the vision is real. We bear witness to it every day in the dysfunction, injustice and destructive roots of our political, social and economic systems, and in the heavy burden of personal pain most of us carry from our life experiences and family history.
I turn to the Goddess for inspiration and guidance, continually asking the question: how can I be a positive agent of change in these turbulent, evolutionary times? I open my heart, step out of the way, and let her flow through me.
And I find myself writing and speaking about your beauty, your goodness, your power, your love; these precious, precious things are your, and my, best offerings to this world. I don’t turn away from your wounding, or mine, or the pain and horror of this world. These too are part of our journey forward, cupped in that golden love that is Her greatest gift to us and our greatest gift to each other.
My heart aches, with love, with pain, with life, with death, and with all the moments in between. Each struggle is an opportunity, to show up, to see clearly, to speak truth, to be changed, to love, and love, and love more.
The golden-honey yoni of the Goddess is also real and ever-present, lavishing us with Her life-centered and nurturing love. We’re not separate from this golden love. We don’t have to earn it. Nor do we have to spoon it out to others in small measures.
My mind, the part of me that wants direct, concrete action, still doesn’t understand these things. But that doesn’t matter. We can’t change this world just by doing things differently. First we have to become something different. That difference is the golden love of the Goddess. We must embrace and live this love, be this love.
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It’s day one of my spiritual retreat, and time for our morning learning circle. I’m part of the Ancestors Path that meets in the shade of a mighty willow tree, with a pristine mountain lake and craggy peaks to one side, and untamed West Coast rainforest to the other.
Our teacher leads us on a guided trance. We’re going to meet our psychopomp: our personal spiritual guide in the land of the dead, and then journey with this ally to connect with the Ancestors.
In the trance, I come to an ancient wooden door. There’s a key in a lock, the key of conscious choice, that I turn and then enter the space beyond. I find myself on silver, shining path suspended in a black void — a vast, fertile emptiness of infinite possibilities.
My psychopomp meets me on this silver path. She takes the form of a sleek black panther who greets me by placing a paw on each shoulder. Even though I’ve never worked with a psychopomp before, my soul immediately recognizes my spiritual guide as an old ally and friend.
The teacher continues the guided trance, and tells us to seek out the land of our Ancestors with our psychopomp.
Although there’s more to this guided-trance experience, this one, crystal-clear insight stayed with me: my body is the body of the Ancestors.My Body is the Body of the Ancestors
On a surface level, this may seem like an obvious statement. My physical form is the result of the coming together of the DNA of my parents, and this DNA holds the material characteristics of the generations that went before me.
In simple terms, this means who I am, how I live, what I give my attention to, how much I let the past and my family patterns determine my now thoughts and actions, and the myriad of other big and small life choices and experiences that make up my everyday existence matter deeply.
Each of us inherits not only the physical DNA of our family lines, but also the energetic DNA of generational stories and experiences, especially those of trauma. For many of us, it’s the unacknowledged trauma, passed on generation after generation, that’s our shadow partner in life. These things live on in our body and life choices. And they can also end, be healed and transformed, through our body and life choices.
Beyond the trauma, how I care for my body speaks to how I treat the body of my Ancestors. Giving my body the food, sleep, relaxation, exercise and pleasure it needs to be happy and healthy are the ways I honor myself and my Ancestors, and how I show respect and gratitude for the precious gift of life and physical form that my Ancestors have given me.
This body of mine, the body of my Ancestors, is a great responsibility. It’s a miracle — a living, unfolding story — an opportunity for healing, growth and transformation — an invitation to joy, pleasure and love. Our Ancestors in the land of the dead no longer have access to this gift and miracle. There are things that they can’t undo, can’t experience, can’t touch and care for. Yet I can do these things on behalf of my Ancestors and family line.My Body Is an Ancestor in the Making
Life is short, and there will come a time when I’ll leave this world and join the ranks of the Ancestors. My physical body will be gone, but what I did with my body in this lifetime will continue on in the energetic DNA I leave behind. I can pass on the energetic lineage I inherited, or I can make this DNA anew, and gift the Descendants in my family line with something more healed and whole.
Perhaps more importantly, my son and the younger generation in my family witness and absorb how I’m living my life now. All the things I do, or don’t do, to respect and honor my body, and the gift of my life are on full display to the Descendants of my family line.
No one can live a perfect life. These insights from the Ancestors aren’t coming to me as a burden, or to increase my self-judgment and guilt. Instead the Ancestors are calling me to claim and rejoice in this precious body and life of mine, and to know that I have a great responsibility to them, to my Descendants, and to myself.
As always, the lessons from the dead remind us how to live.
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Photography by frida-vl
For many years, I’ve been doing ritual work in anticipation of a momentous turning point in our human society — the Great Turning that would decide the fate of our species and our planet home. Life as we know it has been coming apart at the seams, with the turbulence and growing unrest in our political, economic and social systems, and the looming threat of global warming, driving us toward a moment of irrevocable change.
That moment has now arrived. The Great Turning is here, and it’s looking pretty ugly. The world has never been in more of a mess, with the worst of our humanity on full display. At the exact time we need to be getting our act together, we seem to be heading backwards on the crucial social justice, human rights, economic disparity and environmental issues that threaten to take us all down, and Mother Earth with us.
What comes to me as I dig deep into my magic to find my grounding and place in these chaotic, terrifying Great Turning times is a memory of a dark Samhain night, and a small circle of powerful companions gathered around the wild, fierce flames of a ritual bonfire.
In turns, we let the Mysteries speak through us. It’s the Dark Mother who comes to me, and this is what She says:
“This isn’t a time of despair, but of rejoicing. I don’t call for endings, but for new beginnings. And you don’t need to look further than your own self for the change this world desperately needs.
Don’t believe that you are worthless and made of base elements not deserving of redemption. Don’t believe that the hurts you carry are because of some flaw and distortion in your nature. These are lies that have been fed to you, to make you small, to make you weak, to turn you away from the beauty and gifts that shine so bright within the depths of your being.
For you are woven, like all of Creation, from the light and the dust of the stars. In your core rests a unique fragment of the star-bright Universe that is yours and yours alone. You were made to shine your light, brave, bold and brilliant, into the darkness.
No my children, now is not a time of despair, but of courage.
Step out of the shadows into the light of your own profound beauty. Shed the stories that make you so much less than who you truly are. Trust the path that I lay before you to find your way home to yourself, to love, to my life-giving ways.
Know that in healing yourself, you heal the world.
Shine. That is all I ask of you. Shine, as the brilliant, star-made creature that you are. Shine with your beauty, your presence, your love. Shine and the way forward will be made clear to a brighter, more loving and life-affirming future, with me and other waking ones by your side.
This is the moment; you are ripe, you are ready.
I share this memory with you as a gift from the Dark Mother to us, Her waking children, in our time of transition and great need.
I offer these words as a magic medicine and transformative prayer that can wake you up to your true worth, and place your feet firmly on a path of new beginnings.
I reach deep inside and deep outside of myself, from my shining to yours, knowing that together we can shift the tides of this Great Turning, and find a way forward to a better world.
Shine as you step into the star-bright being that you are.
Shine as you embrace and heal the shadowy, painful places inside of you.
Shine as you share your very best gifts with a hungry and waiting world.
Shine into the darkness of fear, greed, injustice and despair that plague our human society.
Shine with your presence, your voice, your actions, your love.
Shine as a beacon of light of what else is true and possible.
Shine, brave, bold and brilliant, and make our world anew.
Shine and we will light the way forward together.Check out Path of She book offerings in the Path Store.
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash
The Goddess is calling you home.
Long, long ago, in the unfolding of humanity, She was lost to us — Goddess, Great Mother — priestess, healer, wise one — the Divine Feminine within.
We became the lost daughters, cut off from one half of the Universe, our humanity, self esteem and our true Self: She who is wild, confident and untameable; She who is liquid sensuality and earthly pleasure; She who wields the powers of magic and mystery; She whose laws are love and the nurturance of all life.
And we have been wounded, hungry, incomplete, ever since.
Yet what has been lost can be refound.
Sarah Ashby, a rising, young financial executive, is a lost daughter.
Sarah appears to have it all: good looks, a fantastic career and affluent lifestyle. But, in the secret recesses of her inner world, she’s not happy or well, anxiety and depression lurk beneath her polished exterior. Then one fateful evening, Sarah has an emotional breakdown that jolts her awake to the longings of her soul, and propels her on a spiritual adventure to a remote, rugged island on the Canadian West Coast.
Here Sarah discovers a pagan world of magic, ritual and the Goddess, and the lost mysteries and beauty of her divine-feminine nature. What is lost can be refound. But Sarah must choose to step beyond the everyday, corporate world that she knows, and on to this new path of the Goddess, the Path of She. And by this choice, her life will be forever changed.
Let Sarah be your inspiration and guide.
Journey with Sarah as she dives deep into the healing powers of magic and the mysteries of Hecate, an ancient Goddess whose lost tales of She can return the life-giving ways of the Divine Feminine to the waking world.
Through Sarah’s tale, discover the lost parts of your own divine-feminine nature, and those awakening moments that can change your life forever. Like Sarah, the Goddess and your own soul will guide your way home to the things you hunger for: your wild, untamed, self-confident nature; sensuality, spiritual enlightentment and connection to the living Earth; the powers of magic and mystery; and the love and nurturance that are the essence of the Goddess.
The Tale of the Lost Daughter is calling to you. Come. It’s time. You are ready. You are ripe.
What Readers Are Saying:
I suggest everyone reads this book! First time read this book like the beautiful story it is. Then read it a second time slowly to start transforming your life. Kathleen
I’ve read Tale of the Lost Daughter two times, and will read it again. Sarah is me, or at least that’s how I felt as I followed her through her adventures. She is a businesswoman and a spiritual woman at the same time, and she learns to listen to her heart rather than just her head. I didn’t want to put the book down. Sherry
This is one of those books that makes the outside world disappear and you are completely immersed in the story, feeling every feeling as the story goes! Then suddenly you realize that sometime during the story, something so deep had been awoken in you, and you know, without a doubt, that you will never be the same! Jody
It is my belief that this book has come at a time when our planet is crying out for our love, and attention, and also the Divine Feminine is calling to us. It is time to heal our world, ourselves, and find a better way to move our world forward. The times of division, and hatred and greed are coming to an end. I highly recommend this to anyone who is feeling lost, disconnected, depressed, or who is searching for something elusive something you know you need but just cannot define. You may just find it here. Kelly
“Tale of the Lost Daughter” belongs alongside Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing”, Marge Piercy’s “Woman on the Edge of Time”, and Alice Walker’s “Temple of My Familiar”. In a world aching for the sacred and a deeper connection to ourselves, community and our Earth, “Tale of the Lost Daughter” brings us an enchanted weaving of the universal story of the archetypal journey home. So too is it a beautifully crafted modern day myth of the return of the Sacred Feminine. Christina
Artwork by Brad Kunkle