Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lessons in Becoming a Ma (Goddess)

On the road with Purna das Baul
      While I was writing  about Mother Mirra on my blog about alchemical women, Quintessia's Journey, I was reminded of some of my most precious memories. It was while reading of Mirra's Alfassa's (The Mother) time with Rabindranath Tagore   in Japan, that I was pulled back to a very magical time in my life: the time I spent with Purna Das Baul whom we lovingly called Baba.

          The Bauls of Bengal are a lineage of minstrels - gypsies- Sufis that travel the world singing love songs to the Divine. Purna Das Baul's lineage goes back nine generations. As a child he traveled with his father Nabani Das Baul throughout India. Nabani Das Baul was a close friend of Tagore's. Nabani was often asked to compose songs for him. It was the writings of Tagore that brought the Bauls into the global village. The Nobel Prize winning poet , who lived from 1861-1941, is often referred to as the "Greatest of Bauls". Baba, in turn, is  great friends with a modern poet-musician: Bob Dylan. Baba was on the cover of Dylan's John Wesley Harding album.
     Among the people of India, Baba is a holy being, a sacred incarnation of deity. When he is in the United States, people flock to him for blessings, which he freely gives. He also gives them prasad (blessed food) and he prays for their well being.
Purna Das Baul (far right)

     During 2003-2005 I was blessed with being asked to accompany the Purna Das Baul and his son Chotton as they traveled through the Southwestern United States performing. I had no prior training or context for this opportunity. I was working in a bookstore (which sold 2 books about Bauls) in San Diego one afternoon, when I felt a breeze in the room- prior to the door opening. As I looked up a beautiful woman (named Siai) in a brightly colored Sari was opening the door, with fliers in her arms. I asked "Are you a Baul?" From that moment I was pulled into the story.
     When Siai told hime about meeting me, Purna Das Baul asked to meet this woman who recognized this energy. Later I heard them sing a line repeatedly "Do you know the wind?" The wind in this context was the movement of the body's subtle channels in yoga. It was this I felt preceding the presence of Siai and the Bauls.
         From the moment of meeting him, he called me "Ma", not Debra, or Mrs. Page. I became Ma. Of course, I had no understanding what this meant at the time. This my was first direct experience with Eastern philosophies and religion. I loved Baba instantly, and I had no problem saying "yes" to the call to be with him. While I was with him, all my needs were taken care of. I was given beautiful Indian clothing, saris, jewelry, food, lodging- all needs were met. My rock musician husband, Larry, was given place in the band with them. There are so many wonderful stories about this time in our lives. However, this post is about  being a "Ma".
               Baba has an ongoing dialogue with the Divine Mother. He talks to her during the day as he goes about doing Baul things. He sings to to her, praises her, thanks her. I watched him interact with Her. I came to see through his devotion,  that she was the very force animating matter. There would be times when something needed to be done, tea prepared, prasad (blessed food) needed preparing,etc. and he would look at me and say "Ma?" I quickly learned in those moments, I was Mother answering his prayers. I assumed that all women were a "Ma", but that was not the case. According to Baul philosophy (which is a form of Tantra), all women are an aspect of The Mother. Yet, only certain women were an aspect of the prayer answering shakti. The definition of shakti is; 1) The active manifest power that creates the universe, and 2) The consort of the male expression of the divine, especially the god Shiva. (source:
      During my life, I had longingly searched for the Divine Feminine, the lost counterpart to our Christian concept of God. My heart ached to know Her. Baba was teaching me that She lived within me. She wasn't to be found out there somewhere, or in a temple on the other side of the world. She was right here, every moment. He was showing me that everyday life was a prayer to Her, and a dance with Her. He did not have to verbally tell  me how to do the many new things I was introduced to. There was a part of me that innately knew these things already. I am not claiming I was full of grace, or didn't make mistakes. Baba is an infinitely patient being. My neurotic mind was always afraid that the 6 yards of my sari would come unraveled!
       One afternoon, I was alone with him, which was a very rare occasion. We were sitting in a beautiful home overlooking a busy valley in San Diego. The afternoon sun was streaming in the room, making everything luminous. There was a beautiful fluid feeling of peace. I had a text of sayings by Anandamayi Ma (an Indian Avatar, or Incarnation of the Goddess). Baba was reading the same text in Bengali.

"Baba, what does it take for a woman to become a "Ma" (an incarnation of the goddess)? " I asked. 
"Complete and total sacrifice," he responded.

   The ego, in terms of self-cherishing in a selfish way, has to be sacrificed (to make sacred). If any human aspires to the  divinisation of the the body to incarnate the The Divine, they have to surrender the ego to the higher force.

Purna Das Baul lives this way every moment.



Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mary Sidney Herbert: Alchemist Extraordinaire

 UPDATE:After writing the post below,I created a new blog on woman & alchemy called Quintessia's Journey (click to visit).
The blossoming of spiritual alchemy (Natural Philosophy) in a given culture or society is a reflection of the peoples dialogue with the Imaginal Realm. This is the realm of the muse, myth, dreams, inspiration, and archetypes. This is why we see a flourishing of the arts and humanitarian efforts surrounding successful alchemists throughout the ages. In my personal commitment to following the image of Reindeer Woman through my blogging process, I came to realize the importance of the Imaginal Realm for all of humanity. It is the interface of human consciousness with the Imaginal Realm that leads us towards a truly beneficial relationship with all life.

     After coming to understand recent events of my life through the lens of spiritual alchemy, I became intrigued by women alchemists. I have always looked for the feminine practitioners of every spiritual tradition and, sadly, their importance has been often overlooked. Even though alchemy is one of the most publicized subjects in the book market (1), there is not a single book dedicated to the history of female alchemists!

     I pulled out my texts, searched through Google books, search library databases, & read what other women who walked before me posted on their blogs and websites. I found mention of many women alchemists, but very little documentation. I found them in all periods of history and in almost every culture.

     For the sake of this essay I am going to focus on one extraordinary woman: Mary Sydney Herbert: Countess of Pembroke, who lived in England from 1561-1621. I don’t feel I can give the amount of space needed in this essay to fully recount her influence on culture. I will try to show you what an amazing woman she was, especially during the historical period in which she lived.
     Mary Sidney was betrothed at 13 and married at 15 to Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. She became Lady Sidney, one of Elisabeth I’s most trusted ladies-in-waiting. She and her brother Sir Phillip Sidney were very close. Together they created the most influential literary circle in England, The Wilton Circle (2). Named for Mary’s estate, The Wilton House, their mission was to create great works of English literature. Her brother Phillip died when she was 27, and she proceeded to manage the Wilton Circle herself. The Wilton Circle inseparably linked to the legacy of Shakespeare. Many of Shakespeare’s works contain alchemical allegory (3)
      It was also at the Wilton Estate that Lady Sidney had her alchemical laboratory. Her lab assistant was Adrian Gilbert, Sir Walter Raleigh’s half brother.  Sir Walter Raleigh was instrumental in founding the colony of Virginia, named after the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I.  Gilbert was also responsible for designing and maintaining the elaborate gardens at Wilton. He used the principles of geometry to create a harmonious atmosphere.

     Other alchemists in her chemistry circle included:
   *Dr. John Dee (Elizabeth I’s own spy: the original 007, court astrologer, polymath and navigator)
   *Giordano Bruno (Bruno’s work Spaccio was dedicated to Sir  Phillip Sidney (4) )
   *Sir Francis Bacon (statesman, scientist, author)
   *Thomas Digges (Knight of the Garter, astronomer, inventor)
   *Sir Edward Dyer (Knight of the Garter, courtier, poet)
   *Sir Thomas Smith (Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State, Chancellor of the Order of the Garter)
    *Lady Mary Wroth (Mary’s niece, poetess.  Ben Johnson dedicated his play “The Alchemist” to her)

    There were many others who moved through the Wilton Literary Circle that also were alchemists. I am only using names I can find direct sources for. I wish there had been more documentation of the woman in this circle, but execution for witchcraft made keeping such records dangerous in the England of Elizabeth I and James I.

    Mary Sidney's alchemical interests were focused toward philosophy, the creation of medicinal tinctures and the search for “Universal Medicine” to help elevate and transform humanity to its highest potential. The alchemical philosophy involved the training of the mind to transmute negative circumstances and thoughts into creative growth. The laboratory wasn’t just used to create medicine, it was used to reflect back or mirror the alchemist’s mental state. An understanding of astrology and natural cycles were also important.

     Along with her alchemical interests here are some other fascinating facts regarding Mary Sydney Herbert:
   *She was fluent in French, Italian and Latin. (5)
   *She had the most extensive library in England (followed by Dr. John Dee).
    *She was a writer in her own right.
    *She was the most powerful woman in England at the time, except for Queen Elisabeth.
    *She financed New World exploration and was a founding member of The Virginia Company. (6)
   *She is one of 7 contenders for the authorship of the works of  Shakespeare…. but that is a tale for another day! (7)

Some Sources:

Photo 1 : Alchemedia
Photo 2 : Sketch by F.O. Morris

Mary Sidney & Alchemy:

Mary Sidney & the Authorship Question:

Women in Alchemy:

(1)     The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy, Dennis William Hauck/2008
(2)     Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare?, Robin P. Williams 2006/page 30
(3)     Chemical Theatre, Charles Nicholl/1997
(4)     Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, by Frances A. Yates  1991/page 219
(5)     Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a woman write Shakespeare?, Robin P. Williams 2006/page 98
(6)     IBID, page 103 
(7)     IBID, whole text

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Suprising Turn of Events

     After the dissolution described in my 12/31/2010 post , I physically crashed. Living with an auto immune disorder is difficult. Living with one in times of unusual stress always leads to me collapsing. This is why it's been so quiet in these parts.

   A month ago, my daughter (25 yrs) called to tell me she was making a life-changing decision. She needed a roommate & place to stay within  2 weeks. Days went by, with no apparent options. Then she called me to tell me that Suzie, a girl she known in highschool, had just gotten a 2 bedroom apartment in a different part of San Diego (they both had been living near the beach). Suzie asked Desiree if she'd be willing to move in with her and her young son. Desiree was very excited and relieved. She didn't know were the place was exactly, other than it was somewhere in the unincorporated town where I live (which has 2 zip codes and isn't very small).

As things turned out, the aparment was on the property directly adjacent to our condo complex. We share a property line and a parking area. My husband and I went to the appointment with Suzie and Desiree. We were talking with the property manager about our mutual property concerns (my husband is on our Home Owner's Association).  The manager asked my husband where he works, and Larry told her he was a manager at a health food store.
It was then that  it happened.
I did what I call an intuitive " blurt". What came of my mouth was not thought out before I said it. It just spilled out me.

"He also has a California state certified guard card," I blurted, while  questioning myself as to why I even said it. It didn't appear relevant.

"But I need a security guard!" , the property manager replied.

To make a long story short.... My husband starts his 2nd job next week, and our daughter and her friend live next door. How this all fell together is pretty amazing to all of us.