The Feast of Stella Maris
If the winds of temptation arise;
When I was first taught to view my personal spiritual cosmology as a mandala ruled by divine forces, Stella Maris was one of the first spirits to emerge for me, along with goddess Brigid. I learned about the “Our Lady Star of the Sea” while studying medieval art history in college, and have harbored a special fondness for her ever since. From my mandala training at the Mt Shasta Goddess Temple, I elected cardinal goddesses at each of the four main directions of my mandala—the cardinal points of my personal compass rose. Naturally, Stella Maris came to rule the west and the element of water, while Brigid ruled in the south and the element of fire. In addition to their elemental and directional associations, I found my cardinal goddesses each resonated with one of my four lineages: my mother’s maternal and paternal lineages, and my father’s maternal and paternal lineages.
I’m lucky to have a fair amount of information on each of these families thanks to Ancestry, 23andMe and some fastidious record keepers in the family. Stella Maris naturally aligned with my father’s paternal line, as my great great grandfather immigrated to America from the Azores, from a family whose centuries old history depended on the sea. My paternal family surname also happens to be derived from the Portuguese “Da Fontes,” meaning of the fountains, affirming Stella Maris with the water element of this lineage. An epithet of Mary associated with the Sea feels deeply meaningful to my Azorean Catholic roots.
The name Stella Maris came about somewhat by accident in the 5th century. In translating Mary’s name from its original Hebrew Miriam, the Judeo-Aramaic Maryām was translated as Stilla Maris or “drop of the sea,” which was then mistakenly transcribed as Stella Maris, “star of the sea.” Despite the confusing pedigree of the name, Stella Maris obviously struck a chord with people who were still adapting to Christianity after centuries of pagan beliefs and devotion to goddesses of seas and waterways. The epithet took root and was widespread by the early medieval period, being immortalized in allegories, hymns, and prayers with Mary presented as the guiding light on the way to Christ. Many churches, parishes, schools, and community organizations have been dedicated to Our Lady, Star of the Sea over the centuries.
In the years since Stella Maris joined my spiritual mandala, I have studied her traditional Catholic associations as well as the goddesses and divine spirits that came to be syncretized with her. Below I share the associations, hymns and rituals I have adopted into my devotional practice, as well as my own personal gnosis of her.
Stella Maris: Star of the Sea
Traditional Feast Day September 27
Patroness of Seafarers, Travelers, Ports and Coastal Villages
- Qualities: starlight, illumination, navigation, guidance, calming of storms
- Cardinal Actions: compassion & heart healing
- Associated Goddesses: Aphrodite, Isis, Yemoja, Asherah
- Symbols: star, waves, anchor, the colors blue and silver
- Animal: the Whale
- Flowers: Rosemary, White Roses, Lavender
- Gemstones: Snow quartz, Amethyst, Aquamarine, Larimar (“sea and sky”), Lapis Lazuli, pearls, coral
- Foods: fish, shellfish, citrus fruits, olives, figs, salt and salt brined foods
Stella Maris is traditionally invoked to protect sailors and seafarers from storms and shipwrecks, for safe and swift travel overseas, and for spiritual strength and guidance through the dark tempests of the soul. In addition to her practical blessings, her grace helps to open the heart, allow forgiveness, and nurture healing of the body, heart, mind and spirit. Her symbols are the star (lighting the way), the rolling waves of the sea (the sometimes tumultuous motion of life), and the anchor, representing the stability her guidance brings to those in distress. She is often pictured at the prow of a boat being rocked on the waves, or rising from the waves in a crescent moon, with her star shining overhead.
Stella Maris shares many of these qualities with other Western goddesses of the sea, likely deriving her role as sacred navigatrix from the far older Aphrodite as Aphrodite Euploia (good sailing), Aphrodite Pontia (of the open sea), Aphrodite Limenia (of the harbour) and Aphrodite Pelagia (of the sea). Isis Pelagia also influenced the medieval cult of Mary/Stella Maris, both sharing a strong association with Sirius, a major star in seafaring navigation. Yemoja, orisha and river spirit of the African Yoruba religion, also came to be associated with oceans during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and was syncretized with Mary and other Catholic figures when the African traditional faiths adapted to the Western diaspora. Her name means “Mother whose children are fish,” and like Stella Maris is invoked for protection by fishermen, sailors, and others who live or work by the sea. La Sirene is the mermaid goddess (or lwa) of Haitian Vodou, another African traditional faith transformed by its syncretization with Catholicism.
In my own work with Stella Maris, I’ve intuited a set of earthly mystical associations including qualities, actions, animals, botanicals and crystals. The cardinal actions Stella Maris brings to my mandala are compassion and heart healing. These also happen to be the qualities most desperately needed in my father’s lineage; the “father wound” goes as far back in that family as I have records for, most evidently through alcoholism and abuse. I often call on her to help me navigate the enduring ripples of that wound in my own life and time. When I am frustrated, angry, or depressed, I take comfort in her guidance to light my way through those emotional storms.
The whale is the creature I have personally embraced as a consort of Stella Maris. My Azorean island lineage is intimately and sadly connected with the whale, as the whaling industry was the only non-agricultural economic resource available to the remote archipelago in the 18th and 19th centuries. To me, Whale is an embodiment of compassion—the heartbeat of the ocean—and the deep, soulful companion of Our Lady who rises from the waves. I honor the whale as guardian of the West and the element of water, who ushers in Stella Maris at the autumnal equinox in my mandala. I also learned that my whale association aligns with La Sirene, who traditionally also has a whale companion (Thank you, Nic!).
The botanical associations I have for Stella Maris are rosemary, the white rose, and lavender.
The name rosemary is derived from the Latin "rosmarinus officinalis"; "ros", meaning dew, and "marinus", meaning sea. This derivation probably stems from the fact that the rosemary bush is native to the seaside regions of North Africa and the Mediterranean, hence the ancient legend that rosemary grows “where one can hear the sea.” One of its common names is "dew of the sea", a likely reference to the shimmering blue blossoms that cover the rosemary bush in its flowering season. In Northern California where I live, rosemary flourishes in early spring, usually beginning in February.
Although the Virgin Mary is associated with roses of all kinds in many different cultures, I specifically associate Stella Maris with the white rose, for starlight and purity of heart. The shimmering petals of the white rose represent the guiding star of compassion. There are also some botanical parallels between Stella Maris and Aphrodite, both being of the sea. According to the poet Anacreon, white roses appeared from the sea foam that dripped off Aphrodite when she was born, the white colour representing her innocence and purity. Later in her life, she bled on a white rose while trying to heal the wounded Adonis. This created red roses, representing passion and desire. In some Marian legends the white rose appeared when the Virgin Mary hung her coat over a red rose bush. Others think the red rose turned white after Mary Magdalene’s tears fell on the petals. Either way, the passion of the red rose is purified by Mary (the sea) to create a white rose.
"As Rosemary is to the spirit, so Lavender is to the soul."
Lavender is calming, purifying, relaxing, and uplifting. It has been associated with water, washing, and bathing for centuries, and is a primary herb in healing gardens throughout the Mediterranean. Lavender has a wide range of folkloric and spiritual associations, as well as being an indispensable herb for cleansing, bathing and perfuming. It has been used to attract love and protect against the evil eye, and it has been burned as a purificatory herb in churches and monasteries. For me, lavender embodies Stella Maris’ calming influence, bringing peace to troubled hearts and helping to dispel and purify negative influences, both physical and spiritual.
The stones and crystals I associate with Stella Maris naturally fall in the spectrum of white to blue (with the exceptions of amethyst and coral), from snow quartz to lapis lazuli. Snow quartz is a very common stone, you can often find it abundant in riverbeds or even in commercial gravel mixes. It has a gentle feminine energy, cleansing, clarifying, and balancing. Its milky white appearance is due to microscopic water bubbles trapped in the crystals, which is perfectly fitting to Our Lady. Aquamarine, as you might guess, is a gemstone historically associated with the sea. In ancient lore, it was believed to be the treasure of mermaids, and was used by sailors as a talisman of good luck, fearlessness and protection. Aquamarine is calming and uplifting, with an innocent, lighthearted energy. It's also thought to aid in communication, self-awareness, and confidence (also associated with Aphrodite), and was traditionally used for protection on journeys, especially those over water.
Although not in the spectrum of white to blue, amethyst has stood out to me as a wonderful stone for working with Stella Maris. It is a stone of spirituality and contentment, known for its ability to still the mind and enhance the intuition. Amethyst initiates wisdom and greater understanding, and is considered a stone of compassion and empathy. The name Amethyst comes from the ancient Greek and means "not intoxicated," as the stone was also believed to prevent drunkenness. This may be one of the reasons I feel a strong connection with amethyst and Stella Maris, as a spiritual antidote to the alcoholism in my paternal lineage.
I also associate Larimar with Stella Maris, a beautiful aqua-colored crystal swirled with clouds of milky white. Larimar was ‘discovered’ in the 20th century and is only found in the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, so it has more of a new world energy for me that resonates with Yemoja. It is called the “sea and sky” stone, for its beautiful pale tropical blues. Larimar cools tempers and calms fears, relieves stress and nurtures the physical and emotional bodies. It is powerful in meditation and in connecting to the Divine Feminine, and is particularly helpful in releasing emotional bonds, patterns or principles that no longer serve the highest good. Like Stella Maris, Larimar helps cultivate the strength and courage needed to speak openly from the heart.
I associate Lapis Lazuli with the heavenly aspect of Stella Maris, the flecks of white and pyrite in most lapis representing stars in the night sky. Lapis is an ancient stone whose deep, celestial blue has long been the symbol of royalty and honor, gods and power, spirit and vision, wisdom and truth. Royal blue has been associated with Mary since the Byzantine era, when lapis lazuli (which was costlier than gold at the time) was ground to make fine pigment for devotional paintings. There is even a specific shade of blue called Marian Blue* which derived from this ancient practice.
The Feast of Stella Maris
While there isn’t a specific canon of foods sacred to Stella Maris, to honor her I will prepare a meal from whatever local foods are in season in addition to a seafood centerpiece. This year it will be striped bass fillets caught and gifted to us by a very kind neighbor! Mediterranean staples such as citrus fruits, olives, figs, and grapes are also appropriate offerings. The table and altar will be set with shells, white and blue candles, rosemary, lavender, and white roses if they are still in bloom. I’ve seen some creative recipes on a Catholic Cuisine blog featuring star shaped cookies and appetizers, which seem like a delightful way to honor Our Lady Star of the Sea. Perhaps I’ll manage to make some star-shaped salted shortbread.
I had just begun to research and plan for my own Feast of Stella Maris when the pandemic hit. Though I think it will have to wait another year, I hope to host a public Feast of Stella Maris for devotees and those who wish to experience a bit of her magic.
Ave Maris Stella Prayer (8th c. traditional, translation from U Dayton)
My Hymn to Stella Maris
More reading on Stella Maris & Ocean Goddess Lore