A Tribute to my Aunt Lydia Ruyle

by Katie Hoffner

Crazy AuntLydia RuyleI consider the title Aunt Lydia a noble one. If you believe you choose your parents when you are born into this world, then I must believe you choose your aunts too.

Aunt Lydia and I had something very special. A sacred contract of sorts. She has literally been part of my life since I was born. As a young mother, she was not only taking care of her three children but also of me and my brother while my mother finished her medical residency – so she was tending to five of us all under the age of four.

She used to tell people that there were points during that time when she considered killing us or killing herself… that is until one day… she decided to start painting. So for all our sakes (and the world’s), we’re really glad she discovered art.

Anatolia twinsLydia Ruyle was an artist, scholar and author on the Divine Feminine. Her most well known body of work is her goddess icon banners, or as she affectionately called them, the “girls”. She started birthing and creating them when she was 60 years old – and worked on them right up until her diagnosis of a brain tumor in February 2016. The goddess banners became what I believe was her life’s calling, a mission and a journey that was devoted to telling a new story… a new HERstory in a visual way with representations of the Divine Feminine from across the world. There are now over 300 of them in the collection, and they have literally flown all over the globe and spread their divine energies from Machu Picchu to Glastonbury to Europe to Russia to Nepal to The Parliament of The World’s Religions and most notably to her grandchildren’s “show & tell” day at school.

But beyond just creating them, she also was fueled and guided by their stories and their wisdom. She not only taught and shared the new HERstory around the world with others but was also devoted to harvesting the wisdom of the ancient goddess spirits and applying it to her daily life right up until the very end.

Goddess Celebration

Goddess CelebrationShortly after being released from the hospital after the initial diagnosis on February 1st, she attended a friend’s funeral. She called me and said she had just experienced the most sobering memorial service and she made me promise I wouldn’t let her church service be a “conventional” one. And I said of course I would do my best to make sure that didn’t happen but then I had one of those “instant downloads from Spirit” and said why don’t we have a living memorial service while you’re still here and alert and functioning. So right after we hung up, she immediately told Uncle Robert (her life partner for over 75 years, whom she met in kindergarten) and the idea was put into motion… and two weeks later we had a “Goddess Celebration” of her life in Greeley, Colorado. Over 300 people showed up. I was determined to make the local café look like Glastonbury Town Hall during the annual Goddess Conference. And with an amazing amount of love and support from her family and a lot of beautiful volunteers, we created a ceremony unlike anything imaginable – and people who attended are still talking about the effect it had on them. The Goddess story continues to be carried forward in the most unexpected places because of her!

KaliAnd then about ten days before she transitioned, the family decided to put her in hospice thinking she was failing quickly but as soon as she arrived at the facility and had a moment when no-one was around, she called me and said, “I need your help – as always. I need three things. Magnum ice-cream bars, essential oils and a shaman.”

And I replied, “The good news is that I can accommodate all those requests”! We called in our local female shaman to her bedside – where Aunt Lydia asked to have the cords cut and to call in Pele and Kali and Hecate so that she could be transformed into the next dimension. And within about a week after that ceremony, she left Mother Earth on March 26th. My Uncle Robert and I had the great, sacred privilege of ushering her across the threshold.

with Hillary ClintonShe also had an additional request of me – and that was to meet Secretary Hillary Clinton one final time during a campaign trip she was making to Denver. I pulled all the strings I had to make sure she shook her hand. As we were leaving her house for the event, her entire family was in the driveway waving goodbye to us and one of them leaned in and told us we looked like Thelma and Louise – to which she said, “Who knows, we might just drive all the way to Glastonbury.” And promptly rolled up the window and said, “Let’s get out of here.” She WAS able to shake Secretary Clinton’s hand that night. She told Hillary that she’s been waiting a long time to vote for a female president – to which Hillary replied – and so have I. Once we made that happen I asked her if she was tired and wanted to go home – to which she said no, I am hungry and I want a margarita.

SaramamaAnd then on our trek home back to Greeley, she asked me if there’s a way she could vote for Hillary in the election in November… and I said well… last time I looked it was illegal for dead people to vote… and we both burst out laughing.

This has been a big loss for me. One I can’t think my way out of and have barely been able to metabolize since. She was “my person”. And I preferred her company over just about anyone else’s. We not only shared DNA but also many common interests, from politics to art to family… to our German heritage and to community activism but we especially loved to travel together… we were peripatetic companions of the most rare kind. I have been travelling with her all my life starting at age five.

Goddess IconsAunt Lydia had this fierce belief that you need to experience art or sacred sites first-hand instead of reading about them in a book or on a website. And I rarely said no to her when she invited me to go somewhere… and sometimes we even went to places to which we weren’t invited (which I daresay might be a family trait)… and because of that we had the most amazing breadth of experiences together from:

  • Sitting under the Wesak full moon at Machu Picchu in a sacred drum circle with a small group of women surrounded by her goddess banners dancing in the breeze.
  • To getting stuck in the river (not once, but twice) in a “hippie” Volkswagen van that she had hired in the depths of the jungle so we could see these rare Mayan temples and the Mexican goddesses etched into the steles. She demanded the driver get out and let me drive since “I grew up on a farm” and could help us get unstuck. Luckily, I prevailed!
  • To sleeping in hammocks where we were served dinner in a treehouse and serenaded by howler monkeys.
  • To driving her around the English countryside and hoisting her over fences so she could visit crop circles.
  • To our multiple visits to Turkey with Resit Ergener, including October 2015, to the land of the Mother Goddess and the ancient Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük where she consistently chided the archeologists for not including the goddess stories in their documentation but also made sure the site stayed open early on when it ran out of funds. It’s now a UNESCO site.
  • To convincing me to travel to St Petersburg, Russia in the middle of December for a Women & Earth conference where I have never been so cold in my life – and thought for sure I would find her tiny frame frozen mid-stride in the street.
  • To almost getting arrested in front of the David in Florence and fined $3,000 each for “illegal” tour guiding. (And thank the goddess for the esteemed lawyers in our family, her husband, Uncle Robert, and her daughter, Robin, as they helped get us out of that one).
  • To being chased off a rancher’s land in Albuquerque with a shotgun because she insisted on seeing a piece of rock art on his land.
  • 80th birthday celebration at the Goddess ConferenceAnd to our almost annual pilgrimage to the Goddess Conference in Glastonbury, England – where in 2015 she changed her summer travel schedule so she could come hear me speak – and I had a chance to honor her undying support of me and my life path – and in turn, she had a room packed with goddesses singing to her to honor her 80th birthday!

Glastonbury has been a very special place in Aunt Lydia’s HERstory – where her banners have been flying for almost 20 years. She brought all five of her grandaughters there on pilgrimage when they turned ten years old. The only way my cousins would let their children go is if another “adult” was with YAYA (Aunt Lydia) so I have been fortunate to be part of their “Herstories” as well. Only now do the moms know all the mischief we enjoyed during our times at the Goddess Conference – and of course the journey to Glastonbury has made an indelible mark on those young women today.

A memory...And no matter where she traveled or where she presented, Aunt Lydia always circled back at some point in time and paid homage to her ancestors, her husband – she knew she couldn’t be doing this work without his support – her children, her grandchildren, her extended family and her communities around the world.

It has been an honour to be her niece. Aunt Lydia and I had many an adventure and have laid down many memories around the world. I have had the privilege of seeing up close how her art, her spirit and her knowledge has had so much impact on so many people, especially women of all ages and all backgrounds.

Aunt Lydia’s HERstory will not be forgotten because of the many spheres of influence she moved in throughout her lifetime. And I know that’s already happening because of the continued blessings across social media since her transition and the outpouring of love and support from all the people around the world whose lives she’s touched.

LydiaI know she influenced some of you who are reading this piece now – and the most important thing each and every one of us can do to honor her legacy is to recall how she affected your life or how one of these banners or Goddess images has touched you – and then lean into that calling or pay it forward to someone.

One of Aunt Lydia’s favorite quotes that she included in every one of her presentations is from Muriel Rukeyser: “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

Everyone deserves an Aunt Lydia spirit in their lives. Someone who believes in you more than you do. Who encourages you to walk your own unique path. Who reminds you to give yourself credit. To show up. To speak up. And to honor… to share… and to embrace… and to tell… your own unique HERstory or HIStory.

In loving memory of my Aunt Lydia
Katie M. Hoffner

Villanelle for Women Travellers

By Asphodel Long

Dear women who have made the pilgrimage
To far off lands to seek Her mystery
And teach yourselves your own sweet heritage,

And meet Her, new found, with Her your life engage
In temples, caves, and ancient masonry
Dear women who have made the pilgrimage

Who seek to understand the old language
Wiped from our souls with such ferocity
But never lost, and now bright upon the page

As banners fly with Her immense image
On hill and tower, they shake triumphantly -
Dear women who have made the pilgrimage

Dance, sing and shout for joy, regain the stage
For women everywhere in slavery
Help them find Her in all her righteous rage.

Bless all who work to build the Goddess Age
Who mark the path of their own life’s journey,
Dear women who have made the pilgrimage
To far off lands to seek her mystery.

Reproduced by kind permission of ©Sara Longova, who added:
“Lydia had a very special place in Asphodel’s heart”.

Permission required for any further use. 

Katie Hoffner

Katie Hoffner is a community leader, social entrepreneur and change-maker based in Fort Collins, Colorado USA. She brings passion and magic to the work she does out in the world.

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