It would have been difficult for me to have enjoyed my first reading of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon more than I have. I’m still not quite finished, but I have spent all 586 pages that I’ve read drooling over her perfectly cohesive fusion of historical fiction, her own imagining of Arthurian legend (an obsession and passion of mine), and modern Paganism.
One thing that has interested me most in my reading has been her use of a distinct and different “face of the Goddess” for each individual who reveres Her, a face that belongs to a living woman. As far as the characters portrayed in The Mists go, this woman is one dear to a person–the Lady of Avalon, the Lady as a feared but loved mother, the same woman as foster-mother of her highest priestess, this priestess as sister and lover, and as someone desired and loved. More than that, all the priestesses who lay with a king bearing the antlers of the Horned God at the Beltane rites do so as the Goddess Herself.
As I read, I continue to wonder, “Whose is the face of the Goddess to me?” All of us who are called to vow ourselves or at least give reverence to the long-ignored gods of the ancients do our research not only into these gods, but also into the daily lives of their worshippers, and the greater world in which they lived. We learn all we can of the nature of these gods, and of those who loved and/or feared them, but still us lone wolves who follow no distinct and set tradition have no more detailed set of beliefs regarding these deities, beyond what we glean from reading and experience; solitary worshippers must rely heavily on personal gnosis, for lack of any initiation or Mysteries to be taught.
But what if we cast off all of what we think we know of our matron goddesses and considered individuals–a priestess, a local matron with many roles and many faces–as not only being capable of “drawing the Goddess into themselves” (a very awkward and ignorant Wiccan concept in my mind), of being a “representative” of the gods at certain times (another concept I do not much like; reminds me far too much of Catholicism), but rather as a complex embodiment of the Goddess-on-Earth? What if this person’s characteristics defined what one considered “God” or “Goddess”? The gods of my tradition, the Tuatha De Danann, were the High Kings and Queens of times long past, who are written of in old texts as a race of people with powers, not quite “gods,” though certainly I revere them as such. Even so, is the idea of Pagan gods-on-Earth, in the same vein as Marion Zimmer Bradley puts forth, truly a big stretch, particularly when one considers animal deities? Could it be where the idea of gods first originated?
Certainly more thought, research, and meditation are necessary on this topic, but Bradley has certainly given me quite a bit to consider, like the question:
Who is, for you, the face of “the” Goddess?
As for me, I am still waiting to meet them.