Woman, Warrior, Wiccan

She Who Rages on the Mountain

Catherine Ferrara-Hazell left this life on November 16, 2019.  The medical challenges that she faced with such courage for so long finally overcame her.  She died peacefully with people who loved her.

Catherine took the name Oriethyia, an Amazon Warrior, in the 1970’s.  She was a fierce advocate for social justice and women’s causes. She was one of a handful of women who founded the first rape crisis center in Suffolk County, Long Island.  Her commitment to feminism started early; she was the youngest local NOW president in New York. Her dedication was life long, and her efforts continued as long as she was able. Her compassion for others led her to become a traditionally trained Usui Reiki Master.  She was a spiritual seeker who participated in a number of traditions including Dianic witch, Buddhist and Bon practices.  Her primary religion was kindness and generosity of spirit.

Catherine was born on November 9, 1951 in Bronx, NY. She was proud of both sides of her family, her mother’s Sicilian parentage and her father’s family who had lived for generations in St. Vincent in the British West Indies. She grew up enjoying her grandmother Anna’s Italian cooking and her father’s love of Caribbean calypso.  As a young woman, she worked in a variety of jobs, including her own business as a house painter. In her late thirties, she went back to college and earned a degree in computer science. She worked for New York State until health issues forced her to retire. 

No summary of her life would be complete without recognizing her writing. She authored two published collections of poems and two smaller poetry collections.  She contributed a major portion of the script for the Disabled Women’s Theater Project in the 1980s.  She was working on a life memoir at the time of her death.

Catherine was preceded in death by her parents Cathy Hazell and Basil G. Hazell, and a sister Dawn.  She is survived by her partner of 26 years, Kate McKee. Following passage of the marriage equality act, they were married in 2011. She is also survived by her brothers Glen (Bonnie) and Scott (Susan) and nephews Bill and Jason.  Her survivors also include dear friends and other family too numerous to name here. She literally had friends everywhere.  Special thanks to the staff of AMC’s Medical ICU who cared for Catherine with skill and kindness. 

A celebration of her life was held in the Fall of 2021.  In her memory, please cherish your friends and families, and perform acts of unexpected kindness.

Names Under the Moon

It was the summer of 1976. Every woman here had spent years sifting through the ashes of Herstories burned, finding through context of what was written, what had been hidden, forbidden and almost always destroyed. We were sick and tired of the erasure of women’s power, of the political diminishment of women who kept house and worked outside of it into women who kept house once the men came home from war. Sick and tired of women being stalked and killed, of rape and abuse, of officials who did not act in the best interest of women and children. Each of us had been or were still community activists. Each still worked through the existing systems as best we could. This night though we were stepping outside of the existing systems.

There must have been at least twenty of us on that Adirondack hilltop. The moon was full and high; the night was cloudy.  Light and shadow chased each across the fields.  The two dogs, Buffin and Saya, accompanied us all up that hill, chasing and nipping playfully with each other along the way. Twenty something iterations of Artemis / Diana with her hounds.

It was to be a simple ritual: when you are ready, step into the center of this circle of women, this sister circle, and say your name. Then, in many voices and in different tones and shifting cadences, hear your name sung back to you with love. With respect. With Agency. Hear the power of your name, the words that represent you here at this time on this earth. Hear your own name and let it fill you with pride, with power. Step fully into your Self and become whole.

To begin we shed our clothes and our day-shields. We were each consciously, intentionally, awakening the Witch within. Oh, we knew who the Witches were. They were the ones outside, living in the beyond. Old women, beyond child bearing years, superfluous. The midwives and herbalists once necessary to Village survival until men took over healing as a profession apart from community instead of being part of it. The wise women and healers, elder women who, following lunar cycles, seasonal cycles, menstrual cycles could help younger women to become pregnant or, if necessary, become un-pregnant. Live long enough and pay attention and you will see patterns that help in planting, in feeding, in reaping. ’Witch’ is what they call you when you are self-sufficient and willingly teach other women to be so as well. ‘Witch’ when your power comes from within and not as the result of connection to father or husband or lover.

There was a fire of course, near the circle’s center. One by one as she felt ready each woman stepped alone into the circle, said her name or declared a new name to be used from that night forward. And to see each woman stepping into her power, there in the dark and the firelight with clouds chasing each other across the bright light of the moon? We felt the depth of it, the fullness, the sacred wholeness of it. Mastectomy scars, melanoma incisions, Caesarian sections, every scar became a badge of courage, physical proof of battles engaged, and battles won.

In that circle no one was too short too fat too thin too old or oddly shaped. We were each of us the perfect representation of everything that had shaped us right up to this moment. In chanting her name, again and again and again, there were no imperfections, only wholeness. A hilltop full of whole women declaring one another holy by the light of the full moon.

I no longer remember when I stepped into that circle’s center or how many women had done so already. Here is what I do remember. Stepping forward I declared that though they all knew me as Catherine, a name I loved, from now on I would be Oriethyia, an Amazon today named for an Amazon of antiquity. A warrior woman today when every woman needed to find the Warrior Within. And the chanting of that name was my baptism, my dip into the river of life, the waters of transformation.

The last of the clouds now cleared away and a full moon’s light blessed the rest of our becoming. I did not notice at first. When I cast my gaze around the circle I wasn’t watching the moon or the clouds. I was looking at all of our faces, each of us giving this gift to all of us. At some point someone yelled my name, my new name. Maybe it was Creek or Kendra, Indigo or Arora, Sage or Raven. “Oriethyia,” she said, “the moon, look at the moon!”

I looked up. The last of the clouds were drifting away. Now it was dark night, full moon and the rest was filled with stars. Someone howled. That set off the dogs, then the rest of us, howling, laughing that we had cleared away the clouds. That was, after all, what we had set out to do. Clear out whatever obscured the light, make clear what was unclear. Shine light on what hid from Justice, from Compassion. Clear the way for Truth to breathe freely, like we were, there under the moon with our new old names or old new names, naming truth on that hillside field, a Garden of the Goddess, a garden where women were the creators and the created and the only snakes in this Garden were simply snakes.

Oriethyia, May 2019

"The Artemisian Order is a feminist Neo-Pagan group founded in the 1990s by Oriethyia, a feminist poet. It is a clan of sisterhood and society of women who protect one another while serving nature. Formally identified with Dianic Wicca (centered upon the Roman goddess Diana), Oriethyia found herself drawn more to the Greek equivalent, Artemis, and decided to start a new Wiccan group with Artemis at the center. Like all feminist Wicca, Artemisian faith affirms the female image of deity, which stands in sharp contrast to the primarily male image with which Oriethyia had been raised. Unlike most Wiccan traditions, she saw no need to balance male-female energies by naming a male consort God to stand with the Goddess. She believes that the balancing of energies derives from the assertion of the feminine within a masculine-dominated culture.

"Artemisians also identify with the ancient Amazons, the legendary fighters whom even the bravest of male warriors feared and respected. They describe themselves as proud and capable women worshipping the goddess Artemis. They submit to no man in the recognition that women have been subjected to patriarchal cultures that persecuted and killed women for their beliefs. They have threatened to hunt down and kill any man discovered spying upon their activities (though there is no hint that such has ever occurred). Only a few men are associated with the group. They are known as the Gargareans and Philos of the Artemisians. The former are the male companions of the Artemisians who assist the female Artemisians with their duties to nature and to other females. The Philos are the trusted friends of the order.

"The modern Artemisian Order consists of the sisterhood, plus the Philos and Gargareans. The sisterhood administers the order on a day-to-day basis. The female members may hold position as either Sophias, who lead with their wisdom; High Priestesses, who keep the rituals; Amazons, who defend the way of life; or Maidens, who assist with their strength of mind and spirit. The Gargareans and Philos assist the sisterhood by protecting their sacred ways. Only females may become initiates. Males may become part of the order, but only as Gargareans and Philos."

Source: Hopman, Ellen Evert, and Lawrence Bond. People of the Earth: The New Pagans Speak Out. Rochester, Vt.: Destiny Books, 1996.

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