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Myths Have Baggage Too


Two women lying on a bed, looking at each other with their arms crossed.
Still from Ginny and Georgia. Netflix

Parenting teenagers is not for the faint of heart. As a mother of two, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of their current experience. Teen angst evolves with the challenges of each generation, and storytelling has a way of providing a window of continuity and comfort into these worlds. For that reason, I was drawn to Netflix’s recommendation of Ginny & Georgia, a television show focusing on the relationship of a mother and her teenage daughter. Ten episodes later, with tears in my eyes, I was left wondering why this television show was engrossing me this way.


In the show, Georgia flees a childhood of abuse and becomes a mother at age 15. We meet her character as she is finally achieving her vision of the ideal life. Ginny, Georgia’s daughter, is turning 15, the same age Georgia was when she gave birth. As her daughter comes into her own, we witness them struggling to understand one another. Georgia hopes to give her daughter a better life than her own. But Ginny has a completely different experience, drowning in the tumultuous life her mother has created, while attempting to negotiate her teenage years amid the cruelty of American culture. And we, as viewers, are caught up in this tension between mother and daughter.


With no maternal role models, Georgia struggles to survive in a system that is not designed to protect her or her children, so she fiercely protects her children at all costs. Her daughter, Ginny tries to understand, but her mother’s fierce love comes with a lot of emotional baggage.


The way this show depicts women navigating the dangers of society brings to mind some of the challenges Joseph Campbell acknowledges in Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine. Campbell recognized that many of the “difficulties that women face today follow from the fact that … there are no female mythological models” (xiii). Myths provide frameworks to help us process the human experience. In their absence, we float adrift without an anchor grounding our everyday lives. However, this was not always the case.


Throughout the text, Campbell highlights how myths are adapted to reflect current social circumstances, and he cites multiple examples of the abstraction and degradation of female mythic figures. For example, Campbell explains how Athena is a Greek version of an older Mycenaean and Minoan protective snake goddess (136-141). In order to integrate this earlier goddess into the Greek pantheon, Athena is depicted as the daughter of Zeus, a more recent male deity.


Artemis, too, is a Greek version of an earlier Minoan goddess or perhaps even Paleolithic (111-113). In Greek myth, she is depicted as Apollo’s twin, who was originally a male deity of the Indo-European Hittites. Artemis is connected to much older mythologies, and the uniting of these two deities as siblings conjoins two different cultures with different value systems: “the god of human culture to balance the nature goddess” (120). And arguably, at least in modern popular culture, Apollo has eclipsed Artemis all together.


Myths are fluid, changing to fit the needs of the society. And while transforming ancient goddesses into sisters and daughters helps integrate disparate cultures, it also disempowers those particular goddess figures, at times even erasing them completely. For instance, in the Akaddian myth of Tiamat, who in later biblical traditions is abstracted as the abyss or primordial waters from which creation emerges, “The Goddess is called the Abomination, and she and her divinities are called demons and they are not given the credit of being divine” (87). Mythologies reflect the cultural systems in which we live, and history has not always been kind to women. 


The absence of female mythological models forces us to forge our own paths. Echoes of ancient powers still reverberate in these abstractions if we know where to look, and Campbell assures us that the task is well within our grasp: 


“And is it likely, do you think, after all her years and millennia of changing forms and conditions, that she is now unable to let her daughters know who they are?” (xxvi).


But what does “telling us who we are” look like when the myths passed down to us have been distilled, distorted, or erased? How do we write new stories when we have yet to dispel the internalization of the stories we’ve been told for millenia? Degradations are embedded in our own stories. Like these goddess figures, we see ourselves as the daughters and sisters of the ones to whom we gave birth. Our myths carry emotional baggage, too.


Cultural memory carries stories and it carries trauma as well. Our mothers showed us the protection mechanisms they inherited from their mothers. They told us the fairy tales that whispered warnings. We learned how to build armor to maneuver through spaces that were not meant for us. But ironically, the armor entraps as much as it shields, and these protections are written underneath our skin, like spells binding us from within.


I see that struggle in Ginny & Georgia. I see a mother who can’t understand why her daughter struggles to seize the opportunities before her and I see a daughter fraught with internal demons. Desperately attempting to find some way to conceptualize and express the pain she feels internally, Ginny harms herself externally. When Georgia, the mother, realizes this, she begs her daughter “give me your pain, let me carry it.” A wish so many mothers have had for their children. And yet, Georgia can’t carry Ginny’s burden, nor can she fully prepare her for the struggles she will inevitably face. Each generation has to make their own way. We may share a common experience, but our journeys are uniquely our own.


As with Georgia’s fierce mother-love, the goddess mythologies women have inherited are fraught with the thorny traumas of the societies that passed them down to us. Much work has been done to fill the gaps left by the goddesses lost to time, but as the daughters before us, we join a long lineage tasked with separating the wheat from the chaff and disentangling the internal knots that bind our ability to step into our own power.


To do this, we look for echoes of female power in the eyes of our mothers, the earthly songs of our grandmothers, and the fearlessness of our daughters. And perhaps, we hear whispers in the stories that bring us to tears because, for a moment, we feel seen, we feel a sense of belonging in a world that has not always embraced us.



A collage on a brown background with cave drawings and stone, that says the First Storytellers

This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 3, and Goddesses.

 

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In episode 6 (orignally released in January 2023), Tyler Lapkin of the Joseph Campbell Foundation and Lonny Jarrett discuss Lonny's career as an acupuncturist, herbalist and teacher. Lonny is recognized worldwide as a leading practitioner, author, and scholar of East Asian medicine. This conversation takes an in-depth look at the Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine, the role of a practitioner, and what it means to see medicine and mythology from an Integral perspective. John Bucher introduces the guests and follows up with commentary about their conversation. Learn more about Lonny at https://lonnyjarrett.com/



 

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