A Day In The Life Of An Indo-European Deity
Here comes the Night; with her twinkling eyes the Goddess has lit many places, adorned once again with all her beauty.
-Rg Veda, Book X, Hymn 127
Sunlight faded behind me as I walked further away from the entrance above. Fleetingly, an old quote passed through my mind, "You are in a twisty maze of passageways, all alike" and somewhere in my subconscious, a small chuckle arose. My feet tapped against the wet stone steps, which spiraled deep down within the Earth. We passed streams and wells, and after many caverns I stood alone before the final curtain. Beyond it lay the chamber of the Deity who had led me here. I pulled back the veil, and stepped unexpectedly from an subterranean cave into a room filled with stars.
There in the shadows she stood, draped in layers of deepest maroon so dark it almost vanished before my eyes. Here and there, the threads of her garment sparkled transparently, like lights in the far distance. As she turned, I could almost make out her face from the shadows. It was not as if her features were obscured, so much as if they were actually part of the darkness itself. She looked at me with eyes that were an endless blue -- cold and deep; familiar, yet distant as infinity. The corners of her mouth turned up teasingly into that familiar Mona Lisa smile... and suddenly light flooded over me. My eyes snapped open. I was instantly back in the middle of a forested glade surrounded by the other workshop participants, waiting for the trance meditation to come to a close.
Describing my experience, I spoke afterward with Paul Maurice, then Senior Druid of World Tree Grove and the guide for this particular pathworking. In my long search for this mysterious Patron, I had earlier discounted the Norse and Celtic pantheons. Now, based on visual cues such as the style of her clothing, I vaguely wondered aloud whether she might be Vedic -- a pantheon I knew only peripherally from having studied Ch'an Buddhism for a number of years. "Ratri," Paul exclaimed suddenly. "Vedic Goddess of the Night."
There are a total of only five complete Vedic Hymns dedicated solely to Ratri. Of these, only one (the most famous: Book X, Hymn 127) is found in the Rg Veda. The other four are contained in the Atharva Veda (Book XIX, Hymns 47-50). More often, Ratri is found mentioned in conjunction with her twin sister Usas, the Dawn.
That is not to say that Ratri is any less beautiful than the rays of light which herald her sister's coming. Indeed, the stars themselves are said to be her "twinkling eyes". This is not a Goddess of the darkness. Rather, she is the bright starlit night. She drives away the dark, filling the valleys and heights with her light. This "mother of frost" is radiant in her spendour, possessing the grace of a youthful maiden and adorning herself in the stars of heaven. In fact, the Vedics occasionally referred to Dawn as taking place not only at morning with the rising sun, but also at sunset with the 'rise' of night.
Ratri also takes the form of those things contained within the darkness. She has taken the splendor of the lion and of the stag, the form of the tiger, the leopard. She is the neighing of the horse, and the wild-man's bellow. So familiar is she with the things that lurk in the darkness, she is most often called upon within spells of protection.
The ancient brahmins frequently requested her to watch over the people as they slept. She prevents any harm befalling them from that which flies or crawls or prowls the mountains. She protects the citizens from the villain and the marauder and the thief in the darkness. A passing association also exists between Ratri and the wolf, owing perhaps to the number of times that she is invoked to protect the people and livestock from their jaws.
On a personal level, this Goddess is somewhat playful, certainly enjoying the air of mystery that surrounds her. She is kind, but also has a sense of humor. She loves a good secret. While she will never intentionally impede your progress, you are the one who will have to peel back the layers of a situation until you uncover the truth at the heart of it. From her, you will receive aid and assistance, albeit in ways that you're never quite certain if she's done anything at all. And, in the end, you'll complete your search, but the path you will have walked will be nothing like the one to which you first believed you were setting your feet.
All encompassing, she is always there, just behind the dawn, the day, and the light. Do not mistake her for the abyss or for the void, as those attributes surely better suit other Goddesses like Nirriti or Vac. Remember, the shining stars are but her adornments, and there are millions upon millions of stars in the heavens. In the vastness of the Universe, there is much that is Night...
O resplendent Night,
may you lead us, innocent,
to Dawn, from Dawn to day,
and from day back to you!
- Atharva Veda, Book XIX, Hymn 50
- Griffith, Ralph T.; Hymns of the Atharvaveda; 1985 reprinted ed., Munishiram Manoharial, Delhi
- Macdonell, Arthur A.; Vedic Mythology; 1995 reprinted ed., Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi
- Panikkar, Raimon; The Vedic Experience; 1995, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi
- Whitney, William Dwight; Atharva Veda Samhita; 1987 reprinted ed., Nag Publishers, Delhi