Engaging The Renewing Feminine Within
Each month, we explore a theme through weekly MythBlasts, curated works, quotations, etc. This month's theme is Goddesses.
“People often think of the Goddess as a fertility deity only. Not at all—she’s the muse,” Joseph Campbell elucidates in Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine. “She’s the inspirer of poetry. She’s the inspirer of the spirit. So, she has three functions: one, to give us life; two, to be the one who receives us in death; and three, to inspire our spiritual, poetic realization.” (36)
As a Lithuanian, I’ve always been fascinated by how one of the country’s most famous exports, Marija Gimbutas, inspired Campbell. It was her studies of the Great Goddess of the Neolithic world of Old Europe that assisted him in perceiving the goddesses roots in later mythologies, rituals and traditions. He quotes Gimbutas:
The human legs of the vulture … imply that it is not simply a bird but rather the Goddess in the guise of a vulture. She is Death—She Who Takes Away Life, maleficent twin of She Who Gives Life—ominous in flight on great, outspread wings. Despite the incarnate presence of Death, the vulture scenes of Çatal Hüyük do not convey death’s mournful triumph over life. Rather, they symbolize that death and resurrection are inseparably linked.
Many of us long for resurrection, to be called to arise and shepherd the totality of ourselves, including our inner world, out into the external realm. And while the banished and ignored shadow parts of our being may yearn for the light of renewal, it’s only when we orient ourselves to the mysteries of the world of spirit, and to all that speaks to the eternal, that we may find the wisdom, beauty, strength, and rebirth we seek. Symbolically these soul attributes may be pictured as the eternal feminine within us awaiting our attention and foster. (“Das Ewig-Weibliche / Zieht uns hinan.” “The eternal feminine / Draws us on.” Goethe, Faust)
Continue Reading the Mythblast
The soul’s underworld is the most fertile ground for the psyche’s deep awakening. The resurrection, as Gimbutas describes, illustrates how essential it is to also meet the Goddess as vulture—a rite of passage, which involves a radical surrender. It’s an experiential process that necessitates being picked down to our very bones (as vultures literally do) to expose and unravel the falsities, masks, and personas that we so frequently employ as protective guises in the everyday, surface world. However, as Campbell reminds us, “It is through the Goddess that you enter the world of the spirit. She is the maze, and she is also your guide.” (39)
The Goddess, whether we call her Gaia or one of various other names, is also the personification of the energies of nature. “The simplest manifestation of the Goddess in the early Neolithic planting traditions is as Mother Earth,” Campbell states. “The Earth brings forth life, and the Earth nourishes life, and so is analogous to the powers of the woman.” (3)
Our soul invites us to house both dormancy (winter) and renewal (spring) by observing what’s disintegrating and rising within us. Again and again we read in the Mystery texts that we must die to our old patterns of behavior and habits of mind so that we may reimagine and refashion ourselves anew. And like the proverbial snake shedding its skin to reveal a new one, death is conquered by the soul’s ongoing regeneration.
Too often we forget that the processes of fertility and creativity initially emerge through dissolution and fragmentation. We’re fearful of the darkness that these movements bring, too weary to explore their mission and hidden, yet sacred, poetry. But it’s the womb space of fallowness and gestation in both vegetative life and in our own soul’s regenerative artistry that is to be sensed. Attentiveness to the “tomb as womb” potentiality must precede our future birth. It’s why we’re required to dwell for lengthy periods of time in the Stygian darkness of the underworld—and heed its tutelage: because it takes that much hidden, obsidian power to birth a new “you,” a new “me,” a new “us” in the personal, societal, and cultural realms.
And so, the feminine impulse for fertile renewal is central to our future birth. As Campbell explains, “Here, when the gods find they are impotent, they have to give the power back to where it ultimately came from: to the female principle. She is the power of life, which lives in us in both its natural and in its so-called supernatural aspects. And in the Greek world we have the rise, then, of the mystery cults, the goddess Demeter, Persephone, and in Egypt, Isis, Nephthys. These are the guides to rebirth, and it’s their symbology that comes in the symbol of the Virgin Mother as the Madonna.” (227)
The myths Campbell references point us to the principles inherent in the cyclical nature of life—the ongoing, agonizing death of the outmoded and resistant old in us in order to prepare for the birth of the new. Gimbutas adds that, “… pre-industrial agricultural rites show a definite mystical connection between the fertility of the soil and the creative force of woman. In all European languages, the Earth is feminine.” (8) For example, the Goddess Persephone is represented visibly as the rebirth of plant life – the seeds of the old crops converging with the new. This dying away and coming into being again is not a singular, once-off event. It’s a continuing, cyclical process and a constant experience. In a sense, it’s the very quintessence of life itself. Indeed, that’s how we meet the Goddess within us.
Kristina Dryža is recognized as one of the world’s top female futurists and is also an archetypal consultant and author. She has always been fascinated by patterns for feels we are patterned beings in a patterned universe. Her work focuses on archetypal and mythic patterns and the patterning of nature’s rhythms and their influence on creativity, innovation and leadership. Find out more at her website or watch her TEDx talk on “Archetypes and Mythology. Why They Matter Even More So Today.”
I think of mythology as the homeland of the muses, the inspirers of art, the inspirers of poetry. To see life as a poem and yourself participating in the poem is what the myth does for you.
While Joseph Campbell’s work reached wide and deep as he covered the world’s great mythological traditions, he never wrote a book on goddesses in world mythology. He did, however, have much to say on the subject.
Editor Safron Rossi collected over twenty of Campbell’s lectures and workshops on goddesses to create this evocative volume. Campbell traces the evolution of the feminine divine from one Great Goddess to many, from Neolithic Old Europe to the Renaissance. He sheds new light on classical motifs and reveals how the feminine divine symbolizes the archetypal energies of transformation, initiation, and inspiration.
Walking in the Sacred Manner
By Mark St. Pierre and Tilda Long Soldier
“Walking in the Sacred Manner celebrates Plains Indian people, their spiritual traditions, and history from the moment of creation to the present day. Through extensive interviews with traditional holy women and their relatives, Mark St. Pierre and Tilda Long Soldier weave a tapestry of memory and story full of beauty and compassion, bound to the old ways of knowing…”
Leon Aliski, PhD
Editorial Advisory Group
Joseph Campbell Foundation
Foreword to Marija Gimbutas’s The Language of the Goddess (Esingle)
Our gift to you this month is short ebook. Access this download for free until the end of the month.
One of the last things that Joseph Campbell wrote, this foreword reflects Campbell’s most developed thoughts on the subject of the Great Goddess.
News & Updates
For one week of Higan-e, September 19 through 25, Pure Land Buddhism takes time to honor ancestors and chant the nembutsu, effectively proclaiming “I take refuge in Amida Buddha,” a practice requiring little more in the way of religious formality. Busy people, take note.
With prayer and food offerings, Hindus reserve a sixteen-lunar-day period beginning on the 21st which they call the “fortnight of the ancestors,” or Pitru Paksha.
Ananta-chaturdasi (Festival of Ten Virtues), September 19, is the culmination of Jainism’s Dashalakshani-parva (see News and Updates/Second Week of September). The next day, known as Ksamavani, Jains ask and offer forgiveness for offenses committed over the year.
During Sukkot, September 21 – 27, Jews acknowledge G-d’s loving presence in creation and among themselves. Meals are eaten in a Sukkah or “booth.” Traditionally made of organic materials, the shelters are transient by design, but signify the eternal.
The death of Eihei Dogen Kigen, founder of Japan’s Sōtō Zen school, is observed September 22.
Shūbun-no-hi, also on the 22nd, falls in the middle of the seven-day Higan, a traditional holiday season recognized by most Japanese Buddhist traditions. Liturgically, this Autumnal Equinox Day is a time to embrace the memory of ancestors.
For Wiccans, the 22nd is Mabon, a harvest festival dedicated primarily to the Goddess who will guide her devotees through the winter to come and, metaphorically, through the passage from youth to wise old age.
ii.6.5.7 - Goddess and James Joyce Mythology(audio clip source)
Great Goddesses: Life lessons from myths and monsters(learn more)