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2017: A prayer for us all

January 3, 2017
Guadalupe as Star Mother, painting by Denise Ostler

“Guadalupe as Star Mother” by Denise Ostler

I came home the other night to find the Black Madonna in my kitchen. She’s inspecting my oven.

“Hello,” I say.

“Your oven’s a mess.”

“I know, I—”

“Don’t bother with excuses, I’ve heard them all.” She takes a carrot out of her pocket and holds it up to the light. “By the way, where are your pearls?”

“They’re upstairs.”

“Go get them.”

She’s munching the carrot as I climb the stairs.

Upstairs, I open my dresser drawer, lift the lid of my jewelry box. Nothing. I search the whole room. Nada. Empty handed, I return to the kitchen.

“Of course you can’t find your pearls,” she says. “You hid them.”

“Where?” I ask. “I don’t remember.”

She sighs. “Last time, you pawned them for a television. I had to go all the way to 59th Street to get them back for you. Time before that, you gave them away to the Venetian blind salesman ringing your doorbell. I had to visit with his mama to get them back for you.

“You know, girl, those pearls didn’t come cheap. They didn’t come from the dollar store or out of a mail-order catalog. Your mama gave you those pearls.” I wince, she nods. “Yes, your mama gave them to you when you were born. They were her mother’s, and her mother’s mother’s before that, going all the way back to when they were mine, when I was Ocean Woman, deep-sea diver, at home in the African tides.

“Now you’ve hidden your pearls and you don’t remember where. Can’t say I’m surprised. You hid them in a place you’re too ashamed to look.”

“Where’s that?”

She puts her hands on her hips. “Would you believe me if I told you?

I take a glass down from the cabinet and pour myself a drink of water from the pitcher on the counter. When I turn back to reply, she’s gone.

I eat my dinner in front of the television, wash the dishes, go upstairs to get ready for bed. And there she is, the Black Madonna, rifling through my drawers.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Look at this!” She’s waving my newest item of shapewear, a slenderizing spandex panty I wear to flatten my stomach. She holds it up, one edge between her thumb and index finger as if any more contact would contaminate her. “Can you breathe in this thing?”

“Not very well. But at least my belly doesn’t pooch out of my clothes.”

“Well, that’s convenient, I suppose. When you don’t breathe deeply, you don’t feel. When you don’t allow yourself to feel, you cut yourself off from what you know, your instincts, your soul-power. Put this tight band around your belly and you abandon yourself. The place where you’ve hidden your pearls? You wipe it off the map.”

I gasp. “I can’t let people see me with my belly poking out. Look at the fashion magazines! The movie stars! The diet plans and fitness equipment! Barbie! Women aren’t supposed to let our stomachs show. It’s embarrassing.”

“Honey, take it from me, your belly isn’t shameful. It’s where I live.

“You sign yourself over to several multi-million dollar industries every time you look in the mirror and try to suck your belly in, wishing it would go away. Your ‘shapewear’? It’s an instrument of social control. Wear it and you’re cooperating with your own oppression. If you want to find your pearls again, you’ll ungirdle yourself and give yourself room to breathe.”

I lay myself down to sleep. The Black Madonna comes to my bedside, places her right hand on my belly. Her hand feels warm, radiates relief. Tension melts away. Breath goes deep into my body. My belly rises and falls like an ocean wave.

Now I feel her left hand resting on my heart; golden light circles through my body in the orbit between her hands. I feel at peace, at home. I dream of deep-sea diving, finding treasure.

• • •

People who see Denise’s paintings frequently ask her two questions:

Q. Are you aware that most of your magdalenes are black?
A. Yes.
Q. Do you know why you are painting black people?
A. No.

Mexico’s Virgin of Guadalupe, Kali of India, Isis of Egypt, Yemaya of Africa, the Black Madonna: The Dark Goddess is an image of the Power of Being—the force creating, sustaining, and regenerating the world. An icon of the Sacred Feminine, she’s Mother of the Universe, Star of the Sea. She elbows her way into our awareness these days through story, image, dream.

Who is she? She’s matter infused with spirit, the holy immersed in and shining through the everyday. She’s the nourishment our souls are craving. She’s the satisfaction we spend our whole lives seeking. She is the force of nature who we essentially are.

My prayer for us all: May we know ourselves as sacred beings.

Season’s greetings … and prayers

December 19, 2016

With so much gratitude for our connection,
I’m wishing you a joyful holiday season
and an illuminating new year,
offering prayers for well-being
addressed to the Sacred Feminine


In celebration of

• Solstice
• Kwanzaa
• Hanukkah
• Christmas

A prayer to All-That-Is, however named

• Great Spirit
• Odudua
• Shekinah
• Demeter, Danu
• Nüwa, Izanami

In this season of extremes,
may grace enable us to put our arms
around everything — dark and light,
cold and warm,
us and them.


Body Shame and the Extrovert Ideal

September 24, 2016

quietI recently read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Mercifully, the book validates the “quirks” of those of us who tend to take pleasure in solitude, need alone-time to recharge, listen attentively, speak concisely. You know, introverts.

I deeply appreciate Cain’s affirmation of the tribe and (could you guess?) me. And I’m grateful for her book’s unexpected bonus: an additional perspective on the cultural roots of body shame.

If you’ve read The Woman’s Belly Book: Finding Your True Center for More Energy, Confidence, and Pleasure, you know I report on the cultural valuation (and devaluation) of women’s bodies and bellies from prehistory to the present.

These are the central questions: How do we move beyond body shame? How do we begin to love our bodies and our bellies now?

I’ve fielded these questions in radio interviews, workshops, and everyday conversations. My response: The problem is we’re jumping outside ourselves and looking back, inspecting our bodies as if we’re peering into a mirror, judging our bodies as we fear others will judge us.

That’s not even living from the outside in. That’s living on the outside, period.

(Even the term “body image” assumes this virtual visual assessment, this exile. I realize that’s a relatively subtle point. I imagine that many if not most body positive activists — including the fabulous Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the global Body Image Movement — use the term in their good work. We have to start somewhere!)


The solution I’m exploring is living from the inside out, attending to how my body feels, valuing the obvious and subtle sensations of bodily experience. Preoccupation with body image gives way to fulfilling body awareness.

Who has a talent for living from the inside out? Introverts do. But our culture dismisses introversion and rewards, as Susan Cain calls it, the Extrovert Ideal:

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk­taking to heed­taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups.

If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain…. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

Here’s the bonus: Cain marks the turn of the twentieth century as the time when the Extrovert Ideal came to dominate American expectations. She joins cultural historian Warren Susman in naming this change as a shift from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality:

In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth. But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining. “The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer,” Susman famously wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self.”

Americans responded to these pressures [of the urban, commercial age] by trying to become salesmen who could sell not only their company’s latest gizmo but also themselves.

[Reference: Warren Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century]

We started to focus on how others perceived us — and how we could sell ourselves. We started jumping outside ourselves and turning back to see how marketable we might appear to others. We cast our bodies as commodities. We submitted our bodies to the marketplace to determine their value.

Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.
— Anaïs Nin

The Extrovert Ideal is not, after all, the ultimate standard for human being. Living on the outside looking in is not all that entertaining. No matter how much our culture applauds the Extrovert Ideal, the culture is still evolving. The talent for living from the inside out, for deepening body awareness, is key to the process.

As I write in The Woman’s Belly Book, activating the pro-creative power dwelling within our body’s center — within our bellies — is an act of cultural renewal. It’s a path to reinhabiting our center of being and a personally rewarding way to live.

Taryn Brumfitt is a Belly Buddy

September 24, 2016

Taryn Brumfitt, founder of Body Image Movement

Taryn Brumfitt’s body positive film “Embrace” is now on screens in the United States.

Her book, Embrace: My Story from Body Loather to Body Lover, came out in 2015. Now, with this film, the Australian woman’s going global with a comprehensive Body Image Movement for women’s empowerment through body confidence.

I’ll be seeing the film — produced with $200,000 raised through a Kickstarter campaign — in Asheville on Thursday, September 29. Click here to find screenings near you; meanwhile, you can see the trailer here.

Did I say comprehensive? In addition to her book and film, she’s got an online video series, an educational and social outreach program, and a roster of global ambassadors in the making.

According to Taryn,

The Body Image Movement teaches women the value and power of loving their body from the inside out, supporting health and happiness at every size. Advocating natural ageing and natural beauty, the movement aims to uncover the true beauty that lies within each and every one of us…

But wait, there’s more.

As I’ve been watching Taryn’s YouTube interviews and reading up on her doings, I came across a recent Huffington Post article about her, Mom On A Mission To Change The Way Women See Their Bodies. The photo below appears toward the end of that article — complete with her revelation that “My stomach used to be the part of my body that I loathed the most.”

Click on the photo or here to see the image full size and read the rest of her statement — which makes Taryn an honorary Belly Buddy, wouldn’t you say?



Dreams Come True

February 9, 2016
Couverture du livre

Now in print, published by Éditions Trédaniel, Paris

It’s been three — and thirty — years in the making.

Now the dream’s coming true: The Woman’s Belly Book has just been published in its French edition by Éditions Trédaniel.

I’m going to France this summer to share the good news — we hold the power to promote creation within our body’s center, within our bellies.

The book’s French title means “become friends with your belly” or more simply, “befriend your belly.” The subtitle refers to the practice of belly-energizing movement and breath: “5 minutes a day to connect with your source of energy.”

If you’ve read The Woman’s Belly Book, you know how the Source Energy concentrated within our body’s center connects with the Sacred Feminine as she dwells within us. And with the presence of Mary Magdalene as she brings the Sacred Feminine into life and into form.

In addition to leading a workshop at Centre Tao in Paris, I’ll be visiting bookstores and libraries to present readings. What’s more, I’ll be visiting sites that strong with the energy of Mary Magdalene.

The adventure continues!

In upcoming posts I’ll say more about the “belly magic” threading through my dream, my intention, of sharing this work with women worldwide. I’ll share the introduction that I wrote (in English) for this new French edition. And I’ll post notes of my journey through France this summer.

For now, if you or your friends read French, or are French, here’s something for you: Anne Delmas, the splendid woman who translated The Woman’s Belly Book, provides a fine description of the book’s French incarnation here.

Reviving Christmas

December 22, 2015

dove-2015Every year, it seems, I’m bewildered by all the fuss about Christmas. And every year I eventually rediscover, or revive, a meaning for the season.

This year, as in other years, it’s happened a day or two before December 25, and now I’m scrambling to join the Christmas cheer. This is the story…

I’d recently finished reading Margaret Starbird‘s Magdalene’s Lost Legacy: Symbolic Numbers and the Sacred Union in Christianity. Another of her books about Mary Magdalene, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail, was a major inspiration when I was writing The Woman’s Belly Book, so intrigue led me to read more of her work.

In Magdalene’s Lost Legacy, Starbird presents the system of number-coding called gematria, how it figures in the writings of early Christians, and what it means for understanding Mary Magdalene and the return of the Sacred Feminine to Western culture.

These subjects are, of course, intricate and deep. Here’s how I’ve rolled them into this year’s Christmas card — and how they’ve spiralled into the Source Energy, the pro-creative power, dwelling within our body’s center:

What’s gematria? The way I’m understanding it, gematria is an ancient practice that links mind to spirit by relating letters to the vast significance of number.

Greek and Hebrew alphabets imbue each letter with a numerical value. Summing the numbers assigned to each of the letters in a word reveals another number, another dimension of meaning, another connection to human experience.

The Greek word for “dove” is peristera, written περιστερα, with these numerical values:


These Greek letters spelling “dove” add to 801. The number 800 corresponds to the Greek omega (Ω); the number one corresponds to alpha (α). With gematria of 801, the dove is the “Alpha and Omega,” the unity of beginning and end. Reaching from first to last, it is completion, fulfillment.

What’s more, the sum of the numerals comprising 801 is 9, a trinity of threes, the epitome of three.

Three carries the significance of the circle, the unconditional acceptance that encompasses both this and that. Three enfolds dualities into one wholeness: the Sacred Marriage yields the Divine Child.

For the early Greeks, the dove signalled the presence of Aphrodite, embodiment of love and beauty — she who brings life, death, and peace to the world. Early Christians understood the dove to signify Sophia, Holy Wisdom; they later adopted the dove as sign of the Holy Spirit.

The gematria of “Holy Spirit” (το αγιον πνευμα) is 1080. That same number, its numerals adding to nine, is the measure of the moon‘s radius in miles. Given numbers one, eight, and nine, gematria links Holy Spirit with moon, goddess, Sophia, the feminine — and with the dove.

In this light, the dove (801) coming to rest upon Jesus’ shoulder at his baptism in the River Jordan heralds the descent of the Holy Spirit (1080) — Sophia — into his nature. Indeed, early Gnostic Christians understood Sophia to be incarnate in the dove sparking Mary’s pro-creative power to birth Jesus as the child of Holy Wisdom.

Pro-creative power, yes.

That’s what more or less fits into a Christmas greeting. For the illustration, I filled the dove with a pattern of Chinese spirals and sent her flying over a shrine in which doves perch atop three pillars. This miniature clay shrine, found in Knossos, Crete, dates to 2000 years before the birth of Jesus.

What about those pillars?

As the Rite for Reconsecrating Our Womanhood was developing, I called number 13 in this sequence of belly-energizing exercises “Stretch Up/Press Down,” describing its way of tracing a vertical axis. As I did with each of the 23 moves in the sequence, I paired this gesture with an ancient artifact conveying a sense of the Sacred Feminine. In this case, I paired the move with an image of pillar, recalling Sophia’s “pillars of wisdom”:

Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn out her seven pillars…
— Proverbs 9:1

I made a clay replica of the three-pillar shrine presented in Elinor Gadon’s The Once and Future Goddess. (For more detail, see the color photograph of the original, displayed at Greece’s Heraklion Archaeological Museum, here.) I also sketched the shrine as a line drawing.

Gadon fig 66

Figure 66 in Elinor Gadon’s The Once and Future Goddess

Clay replica informed by photo in Elinor Gadon's The Once and Future Goddess

Clay replica inspired by Gadon’s photo

Incorporating that sketch, the Rite for Reconsecrating Our Womanhood shows Stretch Up/Press Down as a gesture of affirmation: As we let go of preconceptions and expectations, we can attune more nearly to our inner wisdom, to Sophia.

text-line drawing

Still, pillars are powerful phallic emblems, and doves perched upon pillars show us something about the Sacred Marriage. Indeed, there’s a lot of Sacred Marriage going on this season:

The shaft of light at the dawn of winter solstice penetrating deep into the dark of Neolithic earthworks such as the tomb at Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland. The Hebrew Shekinha — the word’s Semitic root refers to birds nesting — partnering Yahweh. The virgin Mary partnering Deus. The prelude to Mary Magdalene, understood by early Gnostic Christians as an incarnation of Sophia, partnering Jesus.

Maybe next year I’ll be writing a post titled “Sex and the Santa Claus.”


Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and the Single Girl
Joseph Campbell, “The Mystery Number of the Goddess”in In All Her Names: Explorations of the Feminine in Divinity
Elinor Gadon, The Once and Future Goddess
Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess
Margaret Starbird, Magdalene’s Lost Legacy: Symbolic Numbers and the Sacred Union in Christianity
Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects
Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Herbalist Lindsay Wilson

November 20, 2015

Lindsay Wilson. Photo courtesy of Luisa Porter, Catfish Alley Magazine

I met herbalist Lindsay Wilson when she presented “Restoring Digestive Health,” a day-long workshop at the Organic Growers School’s Harvest Conference near Asheville, NC.

Her name was already familiar to me. Since publishing The Woman’s Belly Book, I continue to delve into the body center’s role in every dimension of our well-being. When I was looking into the connection between soil depletion and our ability to replenish the gut bacteria so important to our bodymind well-being, I found Lindsay’s helpful blog post titled Eat Dirt.

Along with a gastroenterologist and a naturopath, Lindsay figures in Give thanks for beneficial gut bacteria and feed them well, my recently published article in Asheville’s weekly newspaper, the Mountain Xpress. “Our gut is a garden,” she says, and you can read her suggestions for cultivating that garden here and here.

Now settled in Mississippi, Lindsay lived north of Asheville for several years. I was curious about her connection to Western North Carolina and asked her: What influence has your time in this region made upon the ways you understand and address digestive health?

Her answer details a deepening relationship with the natural world:

I moved to Spring Creek, just outside of Hot Springs, in the Winter of 2009-10. I became the Retreat Manager at a 30-year-old silent, contemplate retreat center called Southern Dharma. While working there, I continued to deepen my interest and awareness around digestive health.

As the retreat manager, I took all of the basic enrollment information from retreat participants. One of the questions asked about food sensitivities or intolerances they had. I was really surprised by all of the various digestive issues people had and that further solidified my interest in digestive health.

After my time there, I worked on a farm near Max Patch for a year or so. I grew a good bit of my food and foraged for greens, berries, and mushrooms as well. Even though I had always had a garden, working with the soil and the land on this scale was eye-opening. I began to have quite a few insights into the nature of our digestive complaints and our disconnection with the basics of life. I began to see that soil work…was indeed…soul work.

Living in the mountains was simply mesmerizing. I charted and took note of what was in season and how that particular food or herb was relevant to health of the body at that time of year. I named certain seasonal phenomena and observed nature because there was no distractions and only time. For example, I started to call the fruiting season the “berry wave,” which was a steadily ripening flow of berries from mulberries in the early season to autumn olives in the very end of the season.

Basically, with the stark beauty of the Pisgah Forest, I began to see the impeccable timing of it all. Jessica Prentice’s book Full Moon Feast was in my possession and I read it for the third time while living there. Her book was about certain indigenous and traditional cultures that had named the thirteen cycles of the moon.

These names were also connected with seasonal phenomena of a particular bioregion, something I began to call Seasonal Intelligence. I even taught two on-line courses on this, using the framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine and their five seasons and related organ systems. The participants and I met on the phone each season so that I could present a basic framework of how to use food and herbs in a seasonal context.

Living in the mountains was a real boon to my understanding of natural cycles and my place in it all.  I am forever grateful for the experience!

Empowerment is herbal conference’s recipe for women’s well-being

October 15, 2015

IN HER ELEMENTS: Danielle Creeksong joined more than a thousand women at the annual herbal conference in Black Mountain amid gusting wind and pouring rain to cultivate healing relationships with the world of plants.

The Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference, founded and directed by herbalist Corinna Wood, took place in Black Mountain, NC the weekend of October 2-4.

I reported on the conference for Mountain Xpress, Western North Carolina’s weekly newspaper. The article, now online, is here.

Charged with reporting rather than opinionizing, I’ve had to reign in my urge to editorialize. Given Asheville’s recent Waking Life scandal and our moment of conversation about rape culture, that was hard to do.

The sordid details of the sexual exploits broadcast by two men, the proprietors of the Waking Life Espresso coffee shop, can be found here and here and here and here.

I’m hoping readers, including you, will take this opportunity to write letters to the editor, naming women’s empowerment as an essential ingredient in the recipe for moving beyond rape culture — a cultural evolution to benefit both men and women.


Magdalene On Being

October 12, 2015
Saint Mary Magdalene (detail) by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523) Galleria Palatina, Florence, Italy

Saint Mary Magdalene (detail) by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523) Galleria Palatina, Florence, Italy

“Mary Magdalene and Radical Hospitality,” excerpted from a longer article, is now on On Being, the website linked to Krista Tippett’s superb radio show of the same name.

My longer piece references and quotes from Cynthia Bourgeault’s excellent The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity.

Drawing on what I learned while writing The Woman’s Belly Book: Finding Your True Center for More Energy, Confidence, and Pleasure, the longer piece also considers Mary Magdalene’s body-centered pro-creative power in relation to the sacred geometry of the Holy Grail.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to On Being’s outstanding offerings!

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