What is it about the goddess mythology that is soalluring? Surely it's not just the pretty pictures andthe jokey bumper stickers? Many goddess icons are ofbeautiful sensual bosomy women celebrating their gorgeousfull figures - in direct opposition to the stick insectwomen venerated by the media of today. It seems thatwe adore goddesses, the images of them and the powerthey represent. A recent exhibition at the NSW StateArt Gallery about depiction of goddesses in art attractedthousands of visitors. What is going on in our solidlypatriarchal, materialistic society? What hunger is bringingthe archetypes back into the forefront again? Is itpoverty of spirit that brings the crowds to peer atbeautiful statues and paintings that represent different,deeper ways of knowing and understanding the self? Oris it a need to see some substantial women, women whoare beautiful in their bodies, not crippled by the wastingdisease of socially desirable thinness? The heiressParis Hilton considers herself a modern day goddess,yet she is hardly admirable with her sensation seeking,party fuelled lifestyle. In this case it would be fairto suggest that it is money that is being worshipped.
We are a confused society, venerating stick thin younggirls devoid of morality, shallow in values and nonetoo cluey. (Apparently Britney Spears said she wouldlike to start her stage career somewhere small, like,you know, London). A perusal of philosophical and spiritualwritings will tell you repeatedly that fame and moneyare illusions and real wealth is not measured in dollarsand cents. The stories of the goddesses are about selfknowledge gained through pain and tribulation. Wisdomcannot be bought, it has to be earned. Read any of thestories of the goddesses - they almost invariably havea hard time. Terrible things happen to them. They losehusbands, they get locked in towers, they get kidnapped,they have to turn into birds and animals to escape themen who hunt them, they take dangerous trips to theunderworld, sometimes their children are stolen, theyhave cruel fathers who do things like eat them or killtheir children, they get driven away from their homesfor speaking the truth. They may have the power to destroyas well as create. Sometimes they are feared for theircrankiness. Their stories teach us about endurance,forgiveness, and the use and abuse of power.The goddesses tell us about power. Women stepping intopower, misunderstanding power, commanding power forgood and evil uses. That would be something wouldn'tit? To be able to confidently and fearlessly be in yourpower and use it. How would it be to not be crippledby any moderating forces such as 'being nice' 'goodbehaviour' or 'keeping the peace'! How exactly is onesupposed to be powerful and strong as a woman in today'ssociety? The socio-politico structures in our Westernworld are run almost entirely by men. The few womenwho have managed to penetrate these boys-only clubsare obliged to armour up in order to keep their place.They are required to act tough, be tough. Powerful womenget criticised if they appear unfeminine or don't havea family. Margaret Thatcher was called Attila the Hen;Julia Gillard deputy leader of the ALP, received flakwhen she was photographed in a bare kitchen - as ifthat meant she was not a complete woman.
Some suggest the status of women and the fate of thegoddesses are inextricably linked. As women become morepowerful, interest in them emerges in society. Consider,for example, the rise in awareness of Mary Magdalene,propelled a great deal by the best selling book TheDaVinci Code, but also with a momentum of its own aspeople search for light in a darkening world.
The archetypes of the goddesses offer models of howto hold the heavy gift of power. We may not aim forworld domination, but most of us like to feel empoweredin our working and personal relationships. Two greatpsychologists and philosophers, Jean Shinoda Bolen andJoseph Campbell, have written extensively about howthe great mythological stories of the gods and goddessescan help us understand the subterranean workings ourdeeper nature - the ones that drive us and emerge consistentlyin everything we do, the ones that are revealed whenour actions don't match our words - because what isdone is what tells the truth about intent.
The goddess stories give us a framework for understandingthe twists and turns of life. Take for example, Metis.She is a goddess of practicality and wisdom whose storyis modelled for the woman over 50. She offers a pathfor transforming learned knowledge and life experienceinto a new way of being as an older woman. She counselsagainst carrying disappointment and failure into thenext decade and to consider what the notion of disappointmentis based upon. She's for you, menopausal woman. Artemis,also known as Diana, is a moon goddess, the mother ofall wild animals. She preferred to free and would chooseno man as a mate. She offers a model of independenceespecially to young woman. Athena was the goddess ofwisdom (and also war) and justice, the inventor of theplough and the rake. She provides a good model for womenwanting to break free from confining roles. Venus isthe goddess of love. She inspires people to fall inlove and have babies, thus keeping the race going. (Thecity of Venice is named after her and every year theDoge performs a ceremony where a gold wedding ring isthrown into the ocean, symbolising the marriage of thecity to the sea). We are nearly all lucky enough tobe visited by Venus at least once in our lives.
In Australia, the Wawalk are two sister goddesses whosymbolise the unending force of life in all women. Theywere eaten by and then reborn out of Yurlungur, theGreat Rainbow Serpent. Where they lay with their babiesis favoured as a sacred fertility site. Kuan Yin isa Buddhist deity, the holy mother of compassion andmercy. She's the one you invoke when you feel you can'tcope anymore and you need to forgive yourself or someoneelse. My personal favourite is the supreme Roman goddess,Juno. She watches over women from their first to lastbreath. You have to love that. She was wise, powerful,and womanly. One of her temples was a refuge for womenrunning from cruel husbands. June is named after herand considered auspicious time to marry. Good old Juno.All powerful, all woman, strong, compassionate, wise,valiant, protector of women. How much better are thesewomen as images to revere and respect than the sillybarely clad young girls/stick insects held up by theshrill, clamouring popular media?
Once someone said to me, when I was quailing at thethought of a confrontation, "You have power, useit!" The goddesses are fantastic reminders us ofwhat a powerful woman looks like and how the vicissitudesof life serve to make better women of us all. Goingthrough pain and emerging wiser and stronger and withbetter self knowledge and acceptance - that is the giftof the story of the goddesses.