I finally made it to the Oregon coast this weekend. I’ve been here for 18 months; I really should have done it sooner. But I made it, walking down to the water to meet Her.
There seems to be a different Lady of the Waters during each phase of my life. There’s always a distinct feeling of handing off when it happens, and it happened today… though it was less a handing off and more making something I already knew clear to me.
Since I’ve been up here, the spirit of place I’ve heard the most clearly has been the Lady Columbia. She’s not far from where I live, much closer than any other body of water. The Columbia is still a major route for business, and the question of how people cross Her is still a hot-button political issue.
And she’s far too close, and too relevant, for the Ocean’s pull on me to remain the same. I’m not sure yet what that will mean for my practice as a whole. All of my experience thus far with the element of Water has been what I call the Deep Blue Sea.
The Deep Blue Sea is more specifically the Ocean. Water has always been a tough element for me. On the one hand, I’m drawn to it. I’ve practiced both dance and tai chi, and related the movements of both to the flowing movement of water. Once I’m in a pool, lake or even a hot bath, I’m inclined to stay in the water. But before then, I’m hesitant to get in. When I was a child, I spent many a summer day next to our small pool, trying to work up the will to get in. There was nothing rational to be afraid of, especially not in a back yard pool I could stand up in, but I would hem and haw on the edge nonetheless.
There are two faces of the Deep Blue Sea that I’ve worked with, two very opposite ladies with alternate viewpoints. I love them both dearly and see them as another sort of dichotomy.
The Norse goddess of the angry sea, Ran, is one I’ve written about at length. She’s a taker, no doubt about it, the kind of goddess that needs to be placated. I have no issues with placating her, I see it as what she is due. She likes stories and gold offerings, both if you have them. She and her daughters, the waves, are the bitter waves, the storm at sea, the risk of drowning. The waves pounding on the rocks, the tide pulling you back out to sea. She pulls me back, every so often, but for the most part she’s relinquished her hold on me in the last year or so. She’s the lady of floods and torrents, hurricanes and tsunamis.
I’ve also written in passing about Tien Hou or Matsu. She’s a Chinese sea goddess and in many ways she’s the very opposite of Ran. Rather than one who needs to be convinced not to hurt, Tien Hou is known for saving fishermen from drowning and protecting islanders. She is kind and compassionate, well-loved by her followers, and has been recognized repeatedly by the Chinese as a very powerful force to have on your side. She is calm waters, good fishing, good winds and peaceful journeys.
I came to both of them at different times, from different angles. I wouldn’t recommend taking them both on intentionally in any way, no. I don’t even work with them together at all. It’s simply that I have noticed, over the course of reaching out to both of them, that they do complement each other well in terms of drawing an honest picture of both sides of the ocean and the element of water, which can be so cruel and so inviting at the same time.
All of the elements have their two sides, their constructive force and destructive force, but I think we experience the dichotomy of water more clearly than any other. Fire always seems faintly dangerous to me, wind and earth faintly safe. But water is just as essential to life as air is, and yet we don’t bat an eye at pounding rainstorms. Water is harsh. Emotions, similarly, can drown us and set us afloat at almost the same moment.
I first learned about Leviathan as a child in Sunday School. For all that Ran is the ravager, I associate Leviathan with the purely destructive force of the ocean. The tsunamis and floods that wash the earth clean… that’s Leviathan. Probably because we’ve been working with him since our chaos magic days, our view of Leviathan is by far the softest part of our polytheism. We’ve seen him in Jörmungandr, in Veles, in Tiamat, and in Shesha. He reminds me as much of Seiryu as he does of the Biblical Leviathan, to be honest. He seems like more of an idea that’s been translated, a face of the Serpent, a dragon of water and the sea.
He was the very first Serpent I knew, and despite the fact that I was meant to consider him a demon, I never did. Terrifying, sure, but he has his place and his job to do there. He’s patience and power. He’ll be there at the end of the world, and he’ll worry about what happens then when he gets there.
Actually, considering that Leviathan was the first face of the deep I knew, maybe it’s not that surprising that I was so hesitant to get in the water when I was small. Even if you got along with him when he talked to you, would you really want to tempt the giant sea monster?
Compared to all of them, the Rushing Water – the river – is a new force in my life. I’ve been working with Columbia in particular but not with an eye toward how she fits into the larger patterns. Should be interesting to see how that plays out.