In my dream, myself and two girls were led to a room where women in beautiful robes crafted elaborate porcelain masks. One of the women sat us at an empty table amid the group and served us tea in delicate china cups. Just one sip of tea sent us all into some sort of trance state and it suddenly seemed as if my face was submerged in a pool or bowl of bright water, yet I could still breathe easily.
I blinked and then before me in the water I saw the square of a great ancient city. Where the branching streets met in the center of the square stood what looked like a big fountain, though I couldn’t make out its shape. Then it moved and I realized it was a living statue in the shape of a lioness with white marble skin. The statue sat up, golden eyes blazing out of a lean face, and then on its head raised up a white serpent with matching gold eyes. I recognized Her immediately – my mother, the goddess Bast. Identical statues on either side which I had not noticed moved as well to mirror the pose of this one. Then another feline head, far larger, rose in the sky above the middle statue. Its eyes were as big and as bright as the sun; they were the sun. I knew then this was Bast, yes, but specifically the royal Bast, Bast as the Eye of Ra, the blazing sun, Queen of the Gods crowned in the sun disk and uraeus. I think I was crying from happiness, honored to receive a visit from Her in a dream.
The image faded and in the water I saw next the sweet, smiling face of a domestic cat. The little cat said something like, “You see but you don’t understand. Understand.” It was ‘understand’ with the implication of trust, though, like I can see the truth of divinity but I’m not letting myself trust enough to embrace it fully, or to trust that it’s meant for me, and that’s blocking my ability to fully grasp the gods’ messages. Something like that. I just felt so much love from Her, filling and overflowing every corner of my being. Then the trance state lifted and I was back in the room with the mask-makers. The other girls were too. We looked at each other in wordless wonder for what we each had separately experienced, tears streaming down our faces, then hugged each other tightly. The woman who had served us the tea smiled and escorted us out.
In my dream I drag the would-be rapist down the stairs of the porch by his hair, fingers sticky with blood. In my other hand I grip a hammer of pure silver. The girl follows behind, stifling her sobs behind her hands; unviolated, yet not uninjured. The music from the party inside vibrates the cool night air and throbs in time with my war-drum heartbeat.
“You fucking coward!” A crowd gathers as I throw the young man to the pavement. “You worm, you stain, how dare you!” My voice thunders like Sekhmet’s, a lioness battle cry of wrath, while my prey cowers below me. “You will touch no one. You will hurt no one ever again.” My pointing finger condemns him as sure as any blade. “I bind you. I take away your name. No one will know you. No one will welcome you or give you succor. No one will remember you. No one will mourn you.”
Somewhere in the crowd, the woman I love watches. The silver hammer gleams in the moonlight as I raise it high. “You will wander unloved and unwanted the rest of your days, scorned by all,” I swear, “and when you die the darkness will devour your rotten heart and you will cease to exist.”
This January marks six years since Bast called me to begin walking Her path. Like a kitten first opening its eyes to glimpse the warm presence which has nurtured it from birth, comprehending now that Mother is an entity unto itself, so I went from stumbling agnosticism to sudden unwavering faith. With eyes wide open I saw so clearly all which had seemed before too good to be true; spirits, magic, witchcraft, other realms, and of course the gods.
Bast kindled my conscious spiritual journey that year. Under Her patient tutelage I waded into the waters of polytheism and the modern pagan community. Though I had long believed in “something”, even felt as if that something watched over me, only now did I have a name and established frameworks to build from. There was so much to learn! So much to unlearn! I felt every bit the uncoordinated kitten, yet an uncoordinated kitten who could take chances and make mistakes in the safety of mother’s watchful presence.
Other gods came in time – Inanna, Wepwawet, the Morrigan, Hathor – and their paths often required more focus than Bast’s, yet She remained always at my side. Even in my deepest depression, when I questioned not just the existence of the gods but the very concept of the soul and all that animated the universe, still I felt Her beside me in the darkness. I could not doubt Her existence when Her inextinguishable flame burned in my own chest. I am a child of Bast; it was She who shaped my soul into existence and it will bear Her mark for eternity.
So here I am, six years along on a journey I never imagined I’d take. My spirituality threads through every aspect of my life and plays a major role in all that I do. I am many things now – proud kemetic, proud polytheist pagan, proud witch – and no longer the uncoordinated kitten, though neither am I yet the confident adult. I’m still learning and unlearning, making mistakes, discovering new paths and identities. Through it all Bast is here to guide me and I remain so honored, so humbled, to walk Her path and do Her work in this world.
The face Bast shows me is not young. Artists always depict Her with the ripe, vibrant bloom of the maiden, all hourglass curves and taut brown skin, but this isn’t how I see Her. My mother’s face is lined by little creases above Her brows, the corners of Her eyes, the edges of Her lips. Silver hairs glint in Her long black braids. There is a softness to Her breasts and waist like one who has given Her body to the birthing and raising of many children. Her beauty is not that of potent sexuality; it is the beauty of experience, of wisdom, of time and its endless flow of joys and sorrows. It is a beauty shaped and weighted by so much care that only a goddess could bear it – but oh, is She all the more beautiful for bearing it with pride!
She walks out of the waves and I see her clearly for the first time in all these years. Hers is the ferocity of the Morrigan. Hers is the hunger of Charybdis. Hers is the raw magic of Morgan le Fay. Hers is the proud independence of Lilith. She is nameless and yet of countless names from countless ages, most of them long lost to time. She is goddess and monster and witch; warrior and queen and oracle. Pale and sharp as the crescent moon, adorned by shadows sleek as wings, she is beautiful in the way of all deadly things.
Suddenly I am running across the wet sand and throwing myself against her, pressing my face into her breast as I cling to her. She smells of blood and brine. She wraps her arms around me, her hands sharp as a predator’s claws. Her smile shows gleaming fangs as she kisses the crown of my head. Beneath my damp cheek her ribs are a metal cage in which her heart beats a warsong.
I close my eyes and think, Drag me down into your dark, chill waters. Remake me; rebirth me. Teach me everything you know. Set me free. Her answer is to hold me tighter until it seems our hearts beat as one above the sound of crashing waves.
Hathor is the embodiment of energy in its most kinetic forms. Her eyes glitter with excitement; Her tightly coiled hair bounces with every movement; Her lips pull back in a wide, joyful laugh that shakes Her bosom and belly. She is constantly in motion, existing in the vibrant now with no burden of the past or care for the future. She is the yes to every maybe, the why not? to every why? Her unfaltering dance is a celebration of birth and rebirth that smites isfet and nourishes ma’at. To those in Her graces She offers access to this well of pure, primal energy if only you are willing to open yourself to its possibilities. In order to embrace Hathor’s vivacious energy you must lay down your fear – fear of failure, fear of change, fear of the unknown – and leap into the moment. You cannot fall with Hathor at your side, only fly.
What did You do, O Queen of Heaven, for those three long days You hung dead on the hook? Christ probably ascended to Heaven and returned once more in his three days, and Odin must have been absorbing all the knowledge of the universe in his nine nights, so what about you? While Ninshubur wept at Your absence and Ereshkigal writhed in birthing pains, where were You? Were You in Your heavy body experiencing for the first time how mortal flesh rots and decays? Or were You, like Odin, stretching out Your consciousness to touch the vast unknown? If myth be true, death buys the most precious secrets, especially if that death be a willing one bargained for truth. You must have learned something, for there are times when I can see the white skull grinning beneath Your skin or all the darkness of the underworld condensed into Your heavy-lidded eyes. But that is the reward of walking Your road, isn’t it; what knowledge You gained in death can be revealed only if we make such a sacrifice ourselves.
Inanna is the essence of divine autonomy – one may even say divine selfishness. Hers is the supreme confidence to say yes! and the innate audacity to say no! She neither dissembles nor waivers, neither gives up her standards nor gives in to another’s. She does all She desires and nothing She does not desire. She is beholden to no one and thus Her every action is made with absolute freedom of will. The Queen of Heaven has not broken Her chains because She never suffered them to exist in the first place. Inanna is the only sovereign of Inanna, and She can teach you to be the sole sovereign of yourself as well. Every time we exercise our right to self-care by saying yes to something we want or no to something we don’t, we tap into Her willpower. Her road isn’t easy, but it’s the path along which we regain our authority over ourselves and come out the other side wiser and stronger.
Seven gates. Seven gates and seven items. Seven gates and seven items surrendered as payment to pass through until at last the goddess Inanna stood naked before Her sister’s throne; no dress, no crown, no jewels to mark Her as the Queen of Heaven, just flesh and bone and bravery. Yet still She was Inanna, even crownless, even when Ereshkigal struck Her dead and hung Her corpse on a hook for three full days. She knew what waited for Her in the underworld and yet She went there anyway in order to know Herself better. To follow Inanna’s path I too must pass through the seven gates, and thus I too must relinquish the seven aspects of my identity with which I define myself. But what are those seven aspects, and who am I without them? Will I like the person I meet beneath the layers of armor and artifice? I do not feel nearly brave enough for such a confrontation, yet I am taking my first hesitant steps along that path all the same. The first gate approaches.
Kneeling before Inanna’s altar I eat a pomegranate with my hands, bloody juice dripping down my fingers and chin. Sweet, bitter, I swallow seeds and spit out half-chewed rind. Inanna’s self-love isn’t all rose petals and bubble bath; it’s stained lips, sticky hands, the crunch of firm flesh beneath your teeth. Inanna’s self-love is red, raw, naked and proud of it. It is both the throne and the meat hook, the body and the spirit. She would have me know all of myself, especially those dark depths into which I am afraid to descend. There can be no self-love without acceptance, no acceptance without understanding, no understanding without recognition.
Self-love in a woman is so radical it is akin to war. This is Inanna’s lesson.
The Queen of Heaven came to me painted in blood and exhaling ash; with every lightning crack the skull showed beneath Her proud face. She walked up out of the underworld carrying knowledge of life and death in Her curving flesh, and all the armies of man cowered before Her like dumb beasts before a lioness. I cowered too, for I was afraid of what She would demand of me. She is no gentle Aphrodite, no sweet-eyed Venus. She is Inanna, who dances on the battlefield, who strikes down mountains and laughs in Death’s face.
But, Stand daughter, She commanded and I obeyed. When I looked upon Her again, She was not half so terrifying. She wore red silk, not blood, and smelled of roses and myrrh. She was lovely as the dawn and dusk, and all the stars in the sky. Every gem has many facets, She said, and I will teach you to love all of yours. That is what it means to own yourself. That is what it means to fight back.
I begin to understand now. I ignored Inanna’s softer aspects, scornful of the vulnerability of femininity, and focused only on blood lust as Her mode of defiance. But men fear anyone with more power than theirs, and they gain power by making us hate ourselves. In this world, to be a goddess of love is as revolutionary as a goddess of war. Inanna does not rebel against patriarchal oppression with sword alone – She rebels by loving Herself, by taking ownership of Her body and treating it like the sacred vessel it is. Inanna shows us that all we need do to break our chains is embrace ourselves. Self-love is the shield with which we may protect ourselves as we walk onto the battlefield.
I do not know how to love myself. I do not know how to love this body. But if anyone can show me how, it is She who walked naked into the underworld, dressed only in Her self-love, and back out in triumph.
Hail Inanna, Queen of Heaven
Hail Inanna, the Morning and the Evening Star
Hail Inanna, She Who Descended and Arose Again
Great Lady, look down on Your devotee with favor
I who come to you naked and humbled
praying You will make me as You are.
Protectress of Harlots, Goddess of Queers
teach me to lust, help me to desire
awaken my spirit to the joys of the flesh.
You who sing the praises of Your own body
and take such delight in the bodies of others
teach me Your dances and Your songs.
In return I offer You my blood
that red river which flows with the cyclic moon;
may its monthly resumption honor Your fiery passion
and renew the unbreakable bond between us.
Hail Inanna, Queen of Heaven
Hail Inanna, the Morning and the Evening Star
Hail Inanna, She Who Descended and Arose Again
[ TMI explanation: I recently decided I need to do something about my low libido. Maybe I can’t change it, but I feel like I at least have to try for my sake, my partner’s, and our relationship. To that end, I’m starting to work with Inanna in the hopes of nourishing that little seed of lust that sleeps (very) deep inside me. My first step on this journey was to stop taking birth control. I’ve been on hormonal birth control for many years to ease my period symptoms (and cut down my period to 4 times a year), and I think it’s time to go off it and see how my body does without it. I don’t know if my birth control has any effect on my libido, but I think it’s worth trying. When I made that decision, I realized I could, and should, offer the restarting of my natural cycle to Inanna. What better to offer the goddess of war, sex, and raw female power than menstrual blood? So above is the prayer I wrote for this dedication. It could also easily be adapted to the use of any blood, for those who may not menstruate, or to any other deity, should anyone else be considering something similar. ]
Amid snakes and bullets, crystals and rose petals, She watches. Her dark eyes are circled with white skull makeup; She wears Her death with easy arrogance. I fear that gaze. I fear Her, even as I light Her candle and cry Her titles. Hail Inanna, Queen of Heaven! Hail Inanna, the Morning and the Evening Star! Hail Inanna, She Who Descended and Arose Again! I fear Her as I fear Her sisters Kali and Sekhmet, Ishtar and Morrigan, Scylla and Charybdis. I fear Her wrath, Her pride, Her fickle love and frightening affection – and yet She calls to me. From Her corner altar draped in red, She waits with infinite patience as I alternately approach and shy back from Her path. It leads down deep, dark roads, and I fear above all what I will have to surrender to walk its length. But She tells me such satisfying stories, tales in which a woman can tear down mountains and sit naked and proud on the throne of death, and She whispers such sweet promises that taste like the salt-sown ashes of our enemies. She reminds me that things were not always this way, the bones of justice ground beneath the boots of our oppressors, and it does not have to remain this way. She reminds me of the goddesses who danced on the battlefield, laughing, howling, rejoicing in the thrill of bloody triumph, and that they remain with us. From Her altar, through Her death’s mask, Inanna watches and waits.