An Excerpt From
THE GODDESS PATH:
Myths, Invocations & Rituals
by Patricia Monaghan
Webmaster's note: This excerpt is reprinted, with permission, from "Llewellyn's New Worlds of Mind and Spirit," May/June 1999 Issue. Llewellyn Publishing can be contacted directly at 1-800-THE MOON, or you can visit their Web Site at www.llewellyn.com .
The sun goddess Saule and her star-daughter, Saules Meita, are central to the mythology of Lithuania and Latvia, east of Poland on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Tender folk songs, called dainas, attest to the love the Baltic peoples had for their goddesses; a million dainas have been recorded and can be found in the folkloric archives in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. The last European regions to become Christianized, the Baltic states held to their goddess traditions into the late middle ages. Even then, everyday life was filled with small rituals - like greeting the sun as she rose each morning - that connected the Baltic people to their ancient ways.
The story of Saule and her daughter is one of sorrow and pain, as well as fierce love and deep connection. It began at the dawn of time, when Saule married the moon-man Meness. At first the marriage was happy, as they rose together and traveled the skies each day in their chariots. Their first child was the earth; after that, countless children became the stars of heaven. Among these, Saule's favorite was her daughter, Saules Meita, sometimes called Valkyrine or Austrine, the star of morning.
For eons and eons, life was happy for the sun goddess and her family. But slowly, things grew strained. The moon became moody and withdrawn. He often refused to mount the sky in his chariot in the morning, claiming he was not feeling well. But Saule, a responsible mother to her world, never missed a day of work. Each morning, she bade a tender farewell to her family, kissed her husband sweetly, and took her brown horses into the air. She had many tasks to do as she traveled: nipping tall trees with her silver shears, so the forests would not block the sun; blowing clouds away from Lithuania so that they darkened other skies; finding lost items for her human children.
When the day ended, Saule bathed her weary steeds in the Nemunas River, then hitched them to the apple tree at the end of the earth. She sat there for awhile drawing to herself the souls of people who had died that day. Then she went to her sky-palace and checked on her family. Always the happiest moment of her day was seeing the smiling face of her lovely daughter
But one day, Saule found the, palace ominously quiet. Meness was nowhere to be found, and neither was Saules Meita. The sun goddess, growing ever more anxious, searched and searched. Finally, she found the girl, sitting dejectedly by a steam at the end of heaven. Saules Meita dangled one hand listlessly in the cold water of a fountain, and tears streamed from her beloved eyes. At first she refused to tell her mother what was bothering her, claiming only that she had lost a ring in the water. But finally Saule learned the whole bitter truth: that in her absence, the moon-man had raped her daughter.
Furious beyond words, Saule left her daughter and went to seek her husband. Without listening to his excuses, the sun goddess took a sword and slashed the moon's face leaving marks we can still see today. Then she banished him forever from her presence. Although they once traveled side by side through the daytime sky, they have never been seen that way since. When he must be near the sun, Meness hides his face in shame, causing the moon's dark phase. Only when he is across the sky from his former wife does he dare show his entire visage.
After that tragedy, Saule lived as a single mother, raising her star-children by herself. She remained as reliable as she had always been, lighting the sky for her earthly children.
As for Saule Meita, she lived a normal girlish life: getting in trouble for running off to Germany when she was supposed to sweep the sky in Lithuania, objecting to being forced to do so many household chores; arguing with her starsisters. Later, she was courted by the twin sons of god, who rescued her from drowning in the sea and found her ring when she dropped it again in the fountain. The dainas suggest that Saules Meita will grow up to become the sun herself, when her mother Saule finally retires from the job.
Other myths from other lands deal with the question of incest, but none as powerful in its depiction of a mother's pain in witnessing her daughter's anguish, nor are any so stern in the immediate punishment of the guilty father. This is an especially significant story then, for women who have suffered from the experience of incest in the family. Mothers can embrace Saule's image; daughters can find in the sun goddess an image of the healing maternal force in nature. Women for whom the experience of incest has not been part of their life's path can also draw strength from the bond between mother and daughter, for it is rare that any woman feels sufficiently mothered in our culture. Thus the myth of Saule and Saules Meita is one which holds the promise of healing from family wounding, violence and indifference.
Symbols of Saule and Saules Meita: The preeminent symbol for the feminine in Baltic culture is that golden jewel, amber. Even in the United States, Lithuanian and Latvian women treasure their magnificent amber jewelry and wear it with pride on special occasions. Few remember the old tales, the ones that tell how the first amber was formed from the tears of Saule as she wept over her daughter's rape. However, they recognize that amber represents the strength and the power of the Baltic female.
But just as Saule's myth is not limited to the story of the moon's assault upon her daughter, so her symbology reaches beyond amber. Silver and red were her special colors: Red forest berries were her dried tears; the tree in which she slept flowered red each morning as she rose; she was a red apple setting in the west. Or she was a silver apple falling from a tree; she sailed a silver sea, scattering silver gifts; she sowed the earth with silver; and she lived in a silver-gated castle over the hills at the world's end. On summer solstice, she danced on the hill tops wearing silver shoes. In her honor, Lithuanian women embroidered their bodices in red and wore red ribbons on their headdresses Her amber tears are worn today mounted in silver, joining two of Saule's most important symbols.
Saules Meita's most important symbol is the ring which she lost when she was raped, and again when she was courted by the twin sons of god. This ring is described in the dainas as golden, so rings made of gold or set with amber are appropriate recollections of the sun's daughter. An alternative image is the garland of flowers or leaves which the sun's daughter wears around her neck. The circle signifies the virginal purity of the soul.