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water

Guest Posts, Women

Dancing in the Waves: My Reflection, Water, and Aphrodite

October 13, 2020
aphrodite

By Callie S. Blackstone

The bathroom was dark except for the light emitted by a pink votive candle. The air was heavy with rose incense and the warmth emanated from the bathtub. It was my second or third year practicing paganism, yet I was still struggling with accepting the existence of any deity —  spiritual doubt created by an abusive childhood. I squinted in the dimness and read the words of the ritual calling upon the goddess.

I don’t remember why I chose to call on Aphrodite that day. I believe I wanted to connect with the element of water and knew she was a goddess associated with it. So I whispered the words welcoming her into my bathroom. I stepped out of my clothes and into the water. I tried to relax and let it embrace me, but as always it was difficult to focus and my mind was racing. Am I doing this right? I felt silly calling into the darkness. My body was tense.

Admittedly, I was also hesitant to call on Aphrodite. My education included several courses on Greek literature. Older, male teachers had explained that Aphrodite was a shallow deity, absorbed with her own looks and driven mad with lust. What connection could possibly be made with such a deity?

Aphrodite spoke loudly and clearly to me that day and told me what she expected of me.

The first thing I learned was that Aphrodite is a goddess of surprises. She did not speak with the ditzy, flirtatious tone I feared. Her voice was strong, her words loud and clear. I did not understand everything she told me on that first day. But, she told me it was time to do deep shadow work regarding my father and his legacy of abuse. She guided me, and I told my father that he no longer had control over my mind or body.

I felt my energy building and crescendoing and I visualized myself creating a psychic boundary  my father could not penetrate. He could not keep me captive anymore.

I had worked with other deities before I made an offering to Aphrodite. After the bathtub meditation I continued with my regular routine. The meditation had been powerful, but power is often frightening for those of us who have lived without it for so long. Other deities demanded things I was capable of giving. Could I do what Aphrodite was asking me?

I continued to make offerings to other deities. I spent the summer trying (and failing) to learn basic beading so I could craft sacred jewelry for them. As I toiled away, my stomach started to churn and fill with guilt. Something was not right.

Colorful beads flickered in the fluorescent store lights. I eyed bright red sale stickers and slowly walked waiting for the right purple beads to show themselves to me. My eyes rested on a seasonal display of golden summer beads shaped like conch shells and sand dollars. I fingered some small pearls and my mind drifted to that night, the night of the bathtub meditation.

I began to list the traditional associations with Aphrodite: pearls, scallop shells, roses, doves. The churning in my stomach slowed to a stop.

While I understood that Aphrodite was making a request of me, I ignored the implications. I assumed Aphrodite wanted to receive the honors other gods I worked with did: daily offerings of candles, incense, and prayers. Badly made ritual jewelry that took painstaking hours to create.

Yet, I still refused to acknowledge what Aphrodite was trying to reveal to me — that I was a woman capable of knowing herself, accepting herself, and of loving herself. A woman who would manifest her desires and accept no less from herself, let alone others around her.

I was attracted to deities associated with darkness that many others feared. But it was Aphrodite, a goddess strongly associated with all things feminine and that scholars framed as weak that terrified me the most.

My father controlled everything about my life during my childhood and teenage years. On weekend visits to his home he would sift through the clothes I brang and determine what was or was not inappropriate. His eyes lingered over my body and what I wore. The clothing that made him stare the longest enraged him and was deemed unacceptable.

Teenage independence was a double-edged sword for me: the ability to leave my father’s home for a few hours was a respite. I barely knew how to function outside of his control but I groped through these early social interactions blindly, joyous to be away from him. But when I returned the lectures and the punishments for my excursions were unbearable. Once, he told me that I should be careful during these rendezvous — “ugly girls can get kidnapped and raped, too.”

I made it through these years by dissociating. I did not inhabit my body because it was no longer my own, it was an object that attracted disgust from all of those around me. I could not stand looking in the mirror and often left the house without doing so, donning frizzy hair, toothpaste stains around my mouth, and wrinkled, baggy clothing that hid my body. I did everything it took to hide from myself, from my own body.

As I navigated graduate school I gained weight and my thighs expanded, stretch marks rippling across them. The idea of looking at my own body naked was becoming more and more nauseating.

Men had taught me that Aphrodite was a goddess of beauty, preoccupied with her own face and cosmetics. Men had taught me that Aphrodite was a goddess who betrayed Hephaestus, a god who was a skilled provider and caretaker. No one seemed to acknowledge or care that he was forced upon her.

In reality, some myths stated that the marriage between Aphrodite and Hephaestus was forced upon her to stop male deities from fighting over her. Other myths stated Hephaestus tricked Hera and forced her to give him Aphrodite’s hand in marriage. Yet, male academics still found a way to twist these facts and blame Aphrodite for men’s uncontrollable, violent sexual desires.

Shame is inconceivable to Aphrodite. She is a goddess who knows her own body and what it desires. She owns her grounded reality. Because of this, Aphrodite easily rebels against the expectations forced upon her by others. She seeks sexual gratification elsewhere when she is not satisfied by the husband forced upon her. She has sex with gods or mortals. Aphrodite laughs in the faces of men– divine or mortal– who think they can tame her. She is wild and dances in the foam of the waves that lap the beach. She opens her eyes and sees herself clearly in the water. She runs her hands  through her long hair and over her body and smells and tastes her own saltiness. She grins as she thinks of the next man she will consume for her pleasure– the next man deemed holy enough to worship at her altar.

Darkness enveloped the beach. The full moon hung pregnant and heavy, the only light source on the empty beach. The only sound was the faint, steady lapping of the waves. I brought awareness to my body, brought my focus to my breath. I let myself relax, I let myself feel my belly and my thighs, skin and flesh I had feared for so long. I whispered prayers to my own body that transcended men’s values of attraction — I thanked my body for carrying me through this life. I let myself relax into it, and could not remember ever doing so before.

Aphrodite. Goddess of self-control. Goddess of our bodies and our sexualities. Goddess of confidence. A fierce warrior of self-love. A wild woman who defies stereotypes without even acknowledging them. A woman whose language does not include words for self-doubt or permission. Goddess hungry for vengeance against oppression. Goddess who demands that we create our own revolutions by finding ourselves and looking deeply into our reflections.

I stood at the edge of the waves and peeled off my socks. My body was electric and alive, grounded in the hard packing sand beneath my feet. The waves lapped over my ankles, soaking my jeans. The water was bitingly cold and the wind ripped through me. I stepped into the water and saw my pale face reflected back at me. No fear. Nothing except for my reflection, the water, and Aphrodite. Power.

Callie S. Blackstone is a lifelong New Englander. She is lucky enough to wake up to the smell of saltwater and the call of seagulls. Her creative nonfiction has been published in special interest magazine ‘SageWoman.’ Her poetry has been published in The Elephant Ladder. It is also forthcoming in an anthology titled ‘Tell Me More’ that is being published by East Jasmine Review.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option.

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Abortion, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

The Pull of My Own

August 26, 2020
pull

By Isa Nye

I craved a little being to nurture, to suckle. I dreamed of nursing a newborn – I felt the pull of the moon at night – procreate procreate procreate. But I waited. I waited and waited. Because the first time was wrong. I let the first baby go not knowing how I couldn’t, not knowing how I could, in a sweat, in a nightmare, in a dream, in a doctor’s office, in desperation. Metal medical equipment and cheap posters on the wall. I waited years then. I waited for everything to be right – to hold my baby in my arms, nurture it, give it my milk, and all my love.

The CIA says every five seconds 20 babies are born and 10 people die – all day, all night, over and over and over –so many humans come and go, and yet when it is my own baby my world re-aligns and spins around this tiny being, my own baby, even in the womb, my baby pulls at gravity and becomes the center of my very existence.

My third baby waited eighteen days past when he was due to be born. Each one of those eighteen days dragged past – each of those nights it seemed as if the sun would never set, the moon never rise, like the day would never come where I would meet my boy. But I did.

There were the cramps – they started low, below the belly, a tightening, like everything inside me was constricting inward to a point that it could not reach, straining and tensing. “I think this is it. I think I’m going into labor,” I said through gritted teeth, writhing on the hospital bed, monitors already attached to me. “Take the cords off. Take them off!,” I said, loudly, pulling at them, throwing them away from my body, and climbing from the stiff sheets, touching the cold floor with my bare feet, squatting down, standing up, grabbing at my belly, leaning over, breathing in. “This is it. I’m pretty sure this is it,” I said, sucking in air, breathing out loudly, squeezing my eyes closed tightly, and everything in the world reduced to the sensation in my body – the contraction of uterine muscles sending out shock waves in an earthquake all my own.

This was my third baby. On the maternity ward a lullaby played every time a baby was born, marking a new being’s arrival on earth. Several women were in labor at the same time as me, and nurses busily rushed from room to room, a night’s work for them.

He was born into water. I pushed him from me with a roar of strength I did not know I had and may never feel again. A lullaby must have rung out across the maternity ward, but I did not hear it. I only heard him. “My baby, my baby, my baby,” is what I said over and over as I cradled him to me, naked and wet, his skin against mine, as around us the nurses, midwives, and doctors hustled, as my husband cut the cord.

The second baby had not come so easily. Not like the third. She was born amid struggle, after hours of effort, hours of pain that took over everything and became everything and then subsided and returned and subsided and returned. I bore down so hard I though my intestines would come out. She drug her placenta behind her on a short cord and when at last I pushed her from me, she took a moment to catch her breath. “Say hello to her!” the midwife said, “She needs to hear your voice!” They had taken her to a table where they were working on her, getting fluid from her mouth and nose; her tiny hand clasped my husband’s finger. “Hi, baby. Hi. Hi, baby,” I said, my voice sounding foreign to me, disconnected. “Hi baby. C’mon, baby. Hi, baby.” A cry erupted from her and she sucked in her first breath of oxygen on earth. During my twelve hours of laboring her from me to the world, roughly 180,000 babies were born, statistically speaking, but only one of them was mine.

My first baby I never saw nor heard, but felt, yes. That baby’s exit from my body was not so monumental, miraculous, mythical. It was mechanical, methodical, medical. My breasts ached for that baby who I never knew was a boy or girl, or in between those. I didn’t know. The baby let me let it go, or so I told myself because everything was at stake. I was strong then too, on the operating table, waiting for the doctor. While she sucked the baby from my womb, I was strong. I did not cry or let out a cry. On the hour drive home I laid my head against the cool window of the passenger seat and did not talk, or cry. My boyfriend cried in the backseat. My friend drove us home, and for that I was grateful. During that hour long drive from the clinic to my bed, about 6,000 people died, statistically speaking, but none of them were mine. I might have been numb the but it was mine I knew I would mourn, and even if I knew I didn’t question my choice, I would feel the loss.

Isa Nye has written ever since she could. She was raised in Montana among cowboys and professors, and she turned to the written word to both escape and to make sense of that life. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two young children, and writing still brings her both solace and clarity.

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Guest Posts, Self Image, Writing & The Body

Powerful Child

March 10, 2019
swim

By Monica Welty

Strong currents of chlorinated, blue silk push against my body and I push right back. I also pull. We work with and against each other: me pushing forward, the water sliding back along my body. Spiraling and bubbling in my wake and then calming until I flip and come back again, heading in the opposite direction. I cup my hand to grab a swirling ball, like a wizard’s spell in his open palm. On land, water cupped in my hand drips down between the crevices of my fingers but in the water, I grab hold of it and use it to my advantage.

I love the muffled world under here. Even though I can’t breathe, it feels as if my chest is heaving like a track and field sprinter. Even though I can’t feel the sweat pouring off me, the salinated beadlets are instantly dissolving into this chemical-laden universe. Even though I feel as sleek and strong as any sea mammal, my skin, my temples, my thighs are pulsing and burning from the hot blood flow of my movement. Until I turn my head to put my ear to the bottom of the pool, all I hear is a tamped down world and the heavy breathing I am not doing. Then, I hear my quick gasp for air, my lifeline, the moment that both fuels me and slows me down. Back into muffled bliss, I feel more keenly the splashing water on my forearm and elbow as they leave the water momentarily in my flurry. Continue Reading…