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The Many Faces of the Goddess


Borghese Dancers: a marble relief depicting the Hours, the goddesses of time in Greek Mythology, accompanied by the Graces. Rome, Italy, 2nd century CE. and now found at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Original photo by Jan van der Crabben used under CC 4.0.

In our physicalist, rationalist, demythologized, deconstructed and utterly modern world there is but little space in our mental field for what is deemed to be spurious, goddess notions. At best, the goddess is an interesting, curio relic within religious history and mythology. Or She may appear in literature as a poetic figure. Or as a side character in a metaverse game.


The goddess as an archetype can be proposed (if not also actually disclosed) by experience: through the faithful and skilled observation of our inner experience. There is “archetype as concept” and there is “archetype as true Intuition.” And we can detect from our honed, intuitive faculty that there are many forms and expressions of Her. And, in effect, many goddesses, each one with Her own coherence, integrity, and task. 


As Campbell writes in Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine


As I have said, every one of these goddesses is the whole Goddess, and the others are inflections of her powers. Aphrodite is the divine goddess whose powers are inflected throughout the world as the power of love, of the dynamics of the energy represented by Eros, who is Aphrodite’s child and a major deity of the classical pantheon – in Plato’s Symposium he is the original god of the world. In her one aspect of lust she plays a role in the triad in which Hera also takes a role and Athena another, but she actually could play all the roles herself. As total Goddess, she is the energy that supports the śakti of the whole universe. In later systems, the three Graces come to represent three aspects of her power to send energy into the world, draw energy back to the source, and unite the two powers. (147)


The goddesses’ modalities may be bodied forth into the world through their moving from the active unseen in the psyche into our manifest, conscious life. They may be encountered (or even communed with) through the perceptive experience. They are not merely part of a fable narrative.


For example, in the ancient Greek myth of Persephone it’s significant that this figure is not just born in the narrative as a fixed “type” but also a “becoming.” That is, the “type” undergoes “transformation.” Or, in Simone de Beauvoir’s words,"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." 


Persephone’s transformation—moving from a dependent, innocent young maiden and compliant Kórē—is that of an individual so changed through suffering that she becomes an exemplar and guide for those people who undergo a journey towards self-awakening, independence, wholeness, and Individuation.


But as we know, the Idea and Presence of the goddess “type” ranges widely beyond Greek mythology. There’s the Indian goddess Kālī who is both the creator and destroyer of worlds. And Madame Pele, the Hawaiian goddess who creates and destroys lands. These goddesses are not mere picture images in the mind. They are part of our lived experience, and so they are an essential part of who we are.


Or, better stated in Campbell’s words: 


In Greece, at Eleusis, the ancient temple of the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone became a classical shrine of enormous influence; the oracle at Delphi, of the Pythoness, equally great. And in India, progressively, the worship of the numerous names and forms of the cosmic goddess Kālī (Black Time) became the leading and most characteristic religion of the land. [xxvi]


There is also the macro myth of Isis-Sophia, the wisdom of God. She appears in many ancient traditions. For instance, in the wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice?” (Proverbs 8) And as Campbell writes, “Turn to Proverbs and there she comes back as the wisdom goddess Sophia, and she says, ‘When he prepared the heavens, I was there.’ She says it.” [235]


And in the Gnostic tradition, Sophia was the hidden wisdom within us awaiting our discovery and call. Isis (Sophia) was in an Egyptian temple (indwelling, as it were) Her statue. She was veiled, but beware: if the uninitiated were to lift Her veil and see Her full disclosure, the invisible guardian of Her presence would instantly strike the intruder dead.


There is also the vastly ancient (yet ever-present in the soul) Black Madonna goddess whose integral dark dissolves all discordant elements of the psyche, while simultaneously leading these elements towards balance and wholeness. And in the Sibylline Age, the utterances of the ancient Roman visionary prophetesses guided the rulers and their people. The Sibyls called forth earth spirits—subterranean regions of the psyche—while also finding a compass in the stars. Perhaps in our era, these Sibylline forces may be harnessed and rendered capable of coherent revelations to speak into our troubled times, just as the Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc) drew on these same forces.


The Coptic “Pistis Sophia” manuscript is also said to contain coded revelations from the Eternal Feminine. So throughout the ages, and across many cultures, the goddess Principle and Presence has taken various forms and expressions. The goddess feminine Principle is not just an abstraction, or a transcendental ideal divorced from the lived reality of the psyche. The goddesses (and gods) are alive within all of us. Each goddess has her own discrete identity and task, yet their elements overlap. One or other of the goddesses may become authoritative and take the lead according to the requirements of the context and situation, but as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe stated, “The eternal feminine draws us on high.” She has many lives—and many faces—and is always leading us on… and so may we have the wisdom to be led!

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