One of my resolutions for this year had been to keep a closer awareness of the important pagan calendar days throughout the year, the solstices and equinoxes, the phases of the moon, etc. I wanted to allow a closer connection with my intuition, with the signs that are thrown my way each day. That’s how I came to learn this year about the day of the cuckoo.
The day of the cuckoo is a nature-based, pre-Christian celebration that in Romania coincides, on March 25, with a significant Christian holiday. The religious holiday is a Marian one, the Annunciation, representing the day when Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus was first revealed.
The pagan holiday, alternatively called in Romanian “the day of blessing,” represents the first time when the cuckoo’s song is heard, announcing the arrival of spring. But the cuckoo does not only herald the beginning of spring. You should count how many times you hear the cuckoo and that will represent how many more years you have to live. If you hear it on an empty stomach and from behind you, it means that your death might come this year. Young women and men can ask the cuckoo how much time until they’ll find the one they’re destined to marry, and if the cuckoo sings, then it doesn’t happen this year, but if it keeps quiet, that this is the year when they tie the knot.
They also say that on this day you can have dinner with your guardian angel (Christian vocabulary again, but not a Christian custom at all) and if the angel feels welcome to your table, it will stay close to you throughout the year. A funny custom on this day, called “the scolding of the fruit trees,” is one where people go on to check their orchards and see if the trees have buds, and if a tree is not in bud yet, then it is shown an ax and is threatened that it would be cut if it doesn’t give fruit soon.
I will not dwell on how many religious holidays seem to neatly stretch over and cover ancient customs. I feel that this was a very subversive way for Christianity to take over older belief systems without meeting a lot of resistance. In the case of this particular event, it was not only the date that was given Christian significance, but the bird itself, apparently, has found a place in Christian iconography: the images of the cuckoo appears near the one of the Virgin Mary in Portugal, for example, as shown in this paper titled “The Madonna and the Cuckoo: An Exploration in European Symbolic Conceptions” by Francisco Vaz Da Silva, professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of Lisbon.
I also have a feeling that women should find the symbolism of the cuckoo empowering. While in the patriarchal framework, the cuckoo stands for selfishness, infidelity, and parasitism because it leaves its eggs in the nests of other birds, it can also be viewed as a symbol of the matriarchal lineage, the only lineage that is apparent and could always be determined with certainty.
On the sexual abuse of minors by priests: “Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret.” May 18, 2001.
On Islam, quoting Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” September 2006
On the battle with AIDS in Africa: “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.” March 17, 2009
In the case of a male prostitute, the use of condoms can be “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” November 2010
On the historical violent conquest of the Americas by Europeans: “The proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.” May 2007
On the priesthood of women: Under his rule, the Vatican included “the attempted sacred ordination of a woman” among “delicta graviora” (grave crimes) against church laws, along with sex crimes against minors. 2010
The head of the Roman Catholic church announced last week that he won’t tolerate any “disobedience” such as talk of accepting women into priesthood. This sort of discourse sounds to me so limited, ignorant, disgraceful and unfair that I am almost choked by anger. But I am not letting that stop me. I feel that I must give a voice to women’s need for a spirituality that represents them too.
First and foremost I object to the word “disobedience.” That takes us back to the dark ages when the individual did not enjoy individual dignity, freedom and sovereignty.
Secondly, I object to the authority of the Pope, who represents for me any church leader. Under the guise that it is God, or the “divine constitution,” that we disobey, we are actually subjected to the whims and arbitrary decisions of a small group of old men from a far away place, living a sumptuous life completely disconnected from reality and from women. But they say that they know what God wants and that we should believe them. As much faith as we might have, that is pretty hard to accept. Especially when what they know of God’s will seems to be so suspiciously rooted in the thinking patterns of the middle ages. When what they know of God’s will is so unenlightened and sad that it just begs to be questioned. When what they know is that women should not speak in church, women should only listen, women should only obey and if they have a question, they should ask their husbands at home!
Religious systems have been, historically, excellent tools of power and oppression. The Roman papacy in particular has a very, very long history of embarrassments and wrongdoings. We keep forgiving and forgetting, because we want to believe. Faith is essential for most of us. As women we need faith, and we do not have much choice. We have been accepting the religious systems available to us with all their idiosyncrasies and flat-out disgraceful disregard for women. You are aware, right, that the doctrine we are asked to obey is not even clear on the subject of women being people? Having souls? There is denial about it. There is a lot of literature trying to minimize the importance of that council of Macon in the 16 century and call it a myth. But the truth is that every act and decision of the church does nothing but reinforce that so-called myth. Why else would we be forbidden to speak in the church, if not for being less than a human being? Why else would we be denied priesthood?
The truth remains that most religious traditions deny women a multitude of rights and insist on having us treated separately, in the back rooms, in submission and complete silence. As women, we should see these practices for what they are (vestiges of medieval or even more ancient laws made by men, not God) and change them. How much longer can we follow faiths that have no faith in us?
We have a dreamcatcher and we say a spell every night before sleep to keep nightmares away. But sometimes words and talismans don’t work, so we had bring in the scents (and a new talisman). I made my daughter a “good dreams” pillow from a piece a silk from India that a friend gifted us. The pillow has a pocket with a black cat (she loves black cats) appliqué, on which my daughter now sprays every night her special essential oil mix for quiet, restful sleep. The oils I used are chamomile, lavender, bergamot, citrus and sage.
We are now fully protected. Something will have to work.
Things come up to upset me lately and I have moments when I need to speak against them. I am usually a little coward and prefer to sit in the back, in the dark, in the shadows. Unless I am really outraged and the world starts to look like a gloomy, nightmarish place if I don’t light my little candle and hold it up high. Who knows, maybe there will be another lost soul who sees it flickering and feels new hope for a new day.
We live in a deeply religious world. I applaud that. I think spirituality can save humanity. I do. The way we choose to interpret our spirituality and practice it, however, has proven to be so potentially damaging! It makes me cry. As a woman, I have to cry even harder.
Women have been recognized the right to vote only a few short years ago — not even one hundred years in US. The great world religions of course are thousands of years old. After about one hundred years since women have been legally given the right to be part of political leadership and law making, still no such equality has been achieved inside the multiple religious systems of our world. Most religions only accept men as spiritual leaders. Most (if not all) the women who observe these religions are obviously fine with it. Because their faith is so deeply based on these rules, that doubting the rules looks like lack of faith. Many times, all we have is faith. Faith is the only thing that keeps us alive and we cannot afford to doubt our faith — for many of us it would feel like a death sentence. I know that.
Religion, the way I view it, is a system that is built around a faith. Faith is essential and beautiful in all its forms. Religions, however, are organizations with laws and politics, meant to govern the faithful. Without this distinction between religion and faith, this discussion cannot go further.
Democracy, widely accepted as the best, most enlightened form of government, is based on the idea that all groups need to be represented at the higher hierarchical level of the governing structure. There cannot be fairness without representation. How can one side know of the struggles of the other? Now, please don’t say that women and men are not that different, that men can easily represent women’s interests. If we weren’t that different, then there wouldn’t be a need for rules that keep women away from religious leadership, in the first place. Clearly that rule identifies us as different — the ones who cannot lead, because … there would probably be many possible answers here, but the bottom line is that we are viewed as incapable.
But this should not be the end. We can have our faith and still leave space for discussion of the rules. Women should be able to participate in the discussion. All religions should embrace the possibility for women to become priests (gurus, rabbis, imams, pandits, and so on). Maybe many women won’t go that route. That’s fine. But if they want to, in a non-discriminatory system, they should be able to do it. They should be able to have access to the closed room where religion is being interpreted and turned into rules for the community to practice.
I was raised into a discriminatory religious system, in the Christian Orthodox church, and I will always carry much of that with me, although I have long since taken my spiritual life into my own hands, and into the company of people who believe in tolerance and inclusiveness for all. I am a spiritual being but above that, I am a woman. I say above that, because I cannot change being a woman, while I can any day convert to another religion.
This is from woman to woman. A few years ago many women argued that they were perfectly comfortable with not having the right to vote. Only the crazies, the suffragettes, the dreaded feminists were of a different opinion. And without them, we’d be in the dark ages still. Please keep an open mind. This is not an attack to your faith, your God or your soul.
Can you ask yourselves how would your religion be changed if women were allowed to be spiritual leaders? Would that maybe hold a tiny bit of value for you? Seeing someone who looks like you delivering the word of God from the pulpit? Would a woman interpreting your scriptures bring you maybe a tiny sense of pride? Would it make you feel more valuable to your community? More recognized? Visible? Will it make you feel like maybe after all you’re worth something? Will it maybe make your daughter feel like she can really go anywhere, do anything, like you’ve been telling her? Will your daughter feel like she truly is in this world as precious as you think she is? Like she has a fair chance? One you didn’t have? Because unless we are exposed to this sort of equanimity from childhood, from the moment we start being aware of the world, later we are unable to see the injustice. I think that may be one of the reasons why we are not bothered by it. We’ve never seen any different. We’ve known our roles as future princesses and future mothers from the age of three. We’ve known our place to be at the back of the bus from the beginning. Let’s hope our daughters will someday have the choice to glimpse at the world’s lights through the front windows.
Copyright 2018 Lori Tiron-Pandit