Those hosting the Winter Solstice celebration are members of the all-female, Lafayette-based temple Daughters of the Goddess, a fair number of whom proudly call themselves witches.
The celebration, which will take place in an outdoor location, will include the “fun and popular candle exchange,” as well as singing, chanting, drumming, dancing, the reciting of poems, and of prayers "for the rain, our health and bringing in our power as the light returns to the Northern part of our planet.” So says Leilani Bierly, the Lafayette mother of two who is the high priestess of the temple.
I’ve met and talked extensively with Leilani about her temple and her spirituality. She’s a friendly, attractive woman with a warm smile and dark flowing hair (kind of like Poli’ ahu). She is half-Hawaiian on her mother’s side. Like other members of her temple, she was raised in a more mainstream religion—in her case, Catholicism—but that religion never clicked with her.
Leilani once worked as a stockbroker, then revived her interest in the traditions of her Hawaiian ancestors, particularly in the myths surrounding the Hawaiian goddesses, after she became a mother. Leilani says that giving birth and becoming a mother, the most joyous but challenging job in the world “called her to something,” and that “something” was her “divine feminine.”
At the New College in San Francisco, Leilani studied astrology and female deities of early natured-based faiths. She argues that monotheistic religions, including Christianity, marginalized these faiths to consolidate power over lands they conquered. Their male-dominated hierarchies, she adds, denigrated women’s status in society, persecuted any who challenged the status quo, and defined witches, the healers in ancient cultures, as evil.
Leilani herself is a witch and teaches a year-long course in witchcraft that includes studies in female self-empowerment, the creation of altars, understanding the elements and directions of nature, and “magickal” and medicinal herbs.
She acknowledges that the word “witch” is pretty charged and conjures up Hollywood horror movie images of women in long black robes, stealing away to forests in the middle of the night to sacrifice animals. To Leilani, being a witch is simply being "a woman empowered to make changes in her own life," a message of self-acceptance that's not altogether out of step with what you might find in the pages of Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine. The members of Leilani's temple are “trying to get back into a culture where women are honored, our sacred mysteries.”
Members of her temple include East Bay suburban wives, moms, and professional women. Some of the temple's monthly circles and special ceremonies, like their Winter Solstice celebration, attract women from all over the Bay Area and even Northern California. Their events are almost always held outdoors, because being the presence of nature is a major component of their faith.
To learn more about the Winter Solstice celebration or about the Daughters of the Goddess, visit their website.