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Naming the Great Mystery

in Books, Goddess, Spiritual Practice

Here’s a journal entry I scribbled down in my notebook while waiting for the ferry on the morning of July 25.  I didn’t know that my dad would enter the hospital later that day, and I didn’t know he would die four days later.  But I did have Spirit on my mind.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the names that we give to the Source of All Things.  (I’m not talking about the various deities, which to me are like the color rays of a prism when the light shines through it.  I’m talking about the One behind the Many.)

“God” doesn’t really work for me as it conjures up images of patriarchal oppression, although I realize that others use it with no problem.  “God/dess” is more descriptive but lacks elegance.  I don’t really care for “Mother-Father God.”  I used “Dearest Goddess” for many years.  It’s a phrase I learned from Patricia Monaghan’s book O Mother Sun (sadly out of print);  I think it’s the translation of Her name from dozens of eastern European folk songs.   It’s personal and affectionate, and female, and best describes how I relate to Deity (yet another boring name).  But lately “Dearest Goddess” has morphed into “Mama Gaia” or “Mama Ocean” or “Grandmother” depending on my mood.  I like the name Cate Kerr uses — the Old Wild Mother.  I like the quasi-Native American name I learned from my Kamana nature studies:  “The-Spirit-Who-Moves-Through-All-Things.”  I love all the names, or titles, that Caitlin Matthews comes up with in her Celtic Devotional (which I read out loud every morning and evening).  Here’s a few:  “Brightener of Mornings, Singer of Summer, Hastener of Dreams, Gatherer of Dew, Keeper of the Heart, Kindler of Hope.”  There’s many, many more.  This is why, no doubt, that an intrinsic part of Celtic spirituality is writing poetry.  There are so many ways to name and describe the Divine.

But the name that resonates the most with me right now is “the Grace.”  It’s from Charles de Lint’s novel Medicine Road, and is used by characters who are shapeshifters.  They’re sometimes human, sometimes animal. They pass easily between this world, the Otherworld and the one Inbetween.

“The Grace” — it’s so personal and so mysterious at the same time.

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Katherine Thu - Aug 10th 2006 4:40 pm

    I wonder if you have ever read the essay “On the Marionette Theatre” by Heinrich Kleist, found here:
    I think it is a beautiful concept of grace, more human-positive than the typical Christian view. Grace is such an interesting concept, in all its meanings. It is a great lens to see the “great beyond” through.

  • Sophia Thu - Aug 10th 2006 4:45 pm

    It’s funny…I, too have found this a dilemma. In the naming, by default almost, we limit the unlimitable. Maybe that’s why Israel’s God had no pronounceable name. For a while I used “Godde” as a kind of morph between God/dess, but it sounds the same as “God.” I love “The Grace.” It’s how I relate to the divine spirit, too. 🙂

  • Linda Mon - Aug 14th 2006 5:06 pm

    I have been reading Charles deLint for a very long time. I have to agree with you. I love the concept of “The Grace”. The Grace is also in several of his other books. It is so good to read this post of yours. Very meaningful to me.

  • Cate Tue - Aug 15th 2006 8:16 am

    Joanna, I loved these words. As I go along it becomes less important to name Her or call Her something specific, although I have thought of Her at times by many titles: Great Goddess, Goddess Mother, Terra, Gaia, Old Wild Mother, Mother Earth, Grace, Spirit, Mystery and sometimes just “Mama”. Charles was spot on when he chose to call Her “the Grace”, and She pops up in a number of his books including the delightful “Medicine Road”, the equally lovely “Someplace to Be Flying” (I think) and Widdershins. By whatever name we think of Her, we are walking on Her, with Her and among Her – we are part of Her, and it is Her fierce and loving presence which flows through us. She is with Cassie and me on every single pottering, and we are overjoyed that She is.

  • Lunaea Wed - Aug 16th 2006 1:39 pm

    …”the color rays of a prism when the light shines through it”… What a beautiful way to express the various aspects of the Goddess — or of any deity. I plan to steal this mercilessly. 🙂

  • Andy Sat - Aug 19th 2006 1:57 am

    Oh, painful synchronicity. I am reading these recent entries of yours today and felt an almost physical smack of grief at reading of your father’s passing. I am so, so sorry to read this news. Knowing it was coming is no preparation for the feelings and thoughts that you are no doubt experiencing. My heart to yours, my friend. An embrace across the oceans which divide our bodies but not our souls as we walk the Path and share understanding.
    I say ‘synchronicity’ because I have literally just finished writing up a blog entry in which I continue my own musings, as it were, on what happens beyond death to consciousness, to personality. Your phrase ‘Mama Ocean’ rings so true and is a beautiful way of looking at the force which underlies and informs everything. I’ve come to refer to the entirety of existence – gods, goddesses, people, animals, life, death, life after death – as the Great Ocean. Everything is fluid, all is change, nothing is constant or solid or ‘real’ and that is how things are meant to be and we should embrace the paradox of our apparently transitory natures and our everlasting soul energies.
    I recall right now, somewhat painfully, your blog entry a few months ago not long after Dolly died in which you contemplated the connections you were seeing among friends who had lost loved ones. My own awareness of that connectivity has never been so strong, your words ringing true.
    Oh, remember the love, the care; be mindful of the fact that you carry your father within you as both memory and in the fabric of your flesh and blood, your DNA, your personality and beliefs which owe so much to the fertile ground laid down by him. You are your father’s daughter and as such, he lives on in a fine, courageous, kind and talented woman with a strong but non-judgemental moral compass and an incredible eye for the beauty of this world. You honour him with who you are, and what you do. Be proud. I have absolutely no doubt that he is enormously proud of you and always was.
    Much love to you at this time, my friend. I ask Brigid to extend Her swan wings around you and make you mindful of all the love supporting you, extending from various corners of the world. x