The Many Faces of the Goddess

Each month, we explore a theme through weekly MythBlasts, curated works, quotations, etc. This month's theme is After the Hero.

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.

Continue Reading the Mythblast
Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine

Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine

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!

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.”


Weekly Quote

On the simplest level, then, the Goddess is the Earth. On the next, archaic level, She is the surrounding sky. On the philosophic level, She is Maya, the forms of sensibility, the limitations of the senses that enclose us so that all of our thinking takes place within her bounds—She is IT. The Goddess is the ultimate boundary of consciousness in the world of time and space.

-- Joseph Campbell

Featured Work

Goddesses

In this evocative collection of lectures, 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.

Book Club

“There is so much wisdom in Joy Harjo’s memoir Poet Warrior, a hero’s journey that weaves rhythms of poetry together with the miraculous, spiraling through experiences of exile, soul-searching, and challenges, as “Girl Warrior” becomes “Poet Warrior,” and discovers writing as a “portal to grace.”

Poet Warrior inspires us to reflect on our inner truth and knowing: our histories, our memories, our dreams, and the stories that make us who we are, even though “sometimes memory appears to be an enemy bringing only pain.” Harjo lights a fire built with kindling soaked in sorrow. A fire that will, no doubt, warm our hearts with inspiration, wisdom, and grace.”

Leon Aliski, PhD
Editorial Advisory Group
Joseph Campbell Foundation

Monthly Gift

The Symbol without Meaning (Esingle)

Our gift to you this month is eSingle. Access this download for free until the end of the month.

Campbell’s famous, mind-expanding essay explores the fundamental connection between myth, symbol, and human culture. In it, he looks at the origins of western culture’s myths and symbols, and asks whether these are still relevant in the modern era. This piece, along with classics such as “Mythogenesis,” “Bios and Mythos” and Campbell’s foreword to Grimms’ Fairy Tales, was published as part of the collection The Flight of the Wild Gander (re-issued by New World Library in 2002). This digital edition has been published by Joseph Campbell Foundation.

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