Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Myth Archetypes - Separation and reIntegration of Female Identity in Modern Culture

Big title, I know, but like I said yesterday, I've been doing a lot of thinking in my physical stillness.

The above could be a Psych or Sociology Doctoral dissertation. I have done a lot of work in studying myths as the beginnings of humanity's understanding of itself, just not in a formal sense with money or credit attached to the process.  This is just my own personal interest and journey.  I've discussed aspects of this with women I've known over a couple of decades, many of whom can completely relate.  There's been a growing movement since the 70s in particular, often referred to as WomenSpirit.  There's a growing sense that in the the patriarchical constructs of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim dominate influence of our culture for centuries now, that in the set up of Father-Son-Holy-Spirit, half the population of the world has been seriously underrepresented or denied altogether.  Of course, there are disagreements as to whether this is a political construct or just the way things are.

Even as a kid, I was interested in the stories of the ancient Greek and Roman and Norse mythologies.  I loved the 'folktales' of so many cultures which slowly came to me through children's books and later through seeking out the origins of different cultures myself.  In the older pantheons and ways different cultures told themselves they came into being, from Zeus to Spiderwoman, to Buffalo Woman, to The Egg of the World and so many more, there is always a female representation of at least one aspect of deity or divinity.  In our current presiding creation story, Eve is a bad temptress, and the idea of a mother aspect was tacked on with the Virgin Mary giving birth the God in Jesus on Earth.

Now I want to be clear that it is not my intention in the slightest to denigrate the prevailing dominant culture or any religion for that matter, but there are obvious serious issues from a sociologic and psychological standpoint in the view of woman in our modern cuture.  I believe there is a lot of internal conflict and conflict in society at large regarding women and our place in society.  Are we destined to be Saints or Sinners as represented by Eve and Mary or are we more than that, more complex, less black and white and subordinate?

In the past thirty years certainly, from a political standpoint, we've made a lot of progress as a community of women working together to have an equal say not only of equal pay, but access to education and representation in government.  We have a currently tenuously held right to govern our own bodies, but that is coming under threat as the partisan nature of our government here in the US polarizes further on what is in the interest of the good of the nation.

Like I said before, I could write pages upon pages on any of the touchpoints mentioned, but my point, and I am getting to it, is woman are looking for a sense of purpose and a search for meaning and a way to integrate aspects of who we are on a daily basis, as mothers or not, as wives, or not, as artists, writers, etc or not as career woman or not and as just having a sense of identity and purpose that holds meaning for us in our own lives, not just in the service of others, but what makes us who we are as individuals.

I know I am rambling, and I will mention as I have a lot recently, that my time to sit up and type out the ideas that have been flowing through me lately is limited in a physical manner.  This is exactly why what I am writing is not a dissertation.  It is my own personal ramblings that I feel need to be brought to a broader light, as many woman feel the same.

At Studio Mothers is an ongoing conversation about balancing creativity and motherhood.  For many it also entails balancing a fulltime job and meaningful or not, career.   For some of us, we dip in and out of the job market as our family and creative lives dictate. For most we're trying really hard to justify and make time our creative lives, because this is what feeds our souls.

At the heart of this dicotomy or tricotomy or multiple-otomy, if you will, is the sense of a fractured or separated sense of self based on these roles we each play in our lives. 

I think, even before the the idea of a sense of injustice at being left out of the presiding cultural concept of the Trinity of Father-Son-Holy Ghost, that we were fractured into aspects of personality in the origin tales and pantheons of old gods of every continent.  I'm not going to go into the myth stories of all of these, but I think most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the representation of different goddesses in these pantheons representing different sides of any woman's personality. 

Looking at the Greeks to narrow my focus a bit, we see Hera as the keeper of hearth and home, mother of the gods in her partnership with Zeus.  Zeus was not a great partner to Hera and often ticked her off by going out and consorting with or raping others to create more gods and demigods, like Hercules or Achilles, for instance.  We see Demeter being a mother of all, but especially representing the complex relationship between mother and daughter in the troubles she had with Persephone.  This gave us a story to recognize cycles of the Earth's regeneration through the seasons, Demeter laying fallow the Earth as her daughter retreats from her  to live underground with her husband Hades for one seaon, winter.  It is Demeter's sadness at the loss of her daughter that does this to the Earth each year. In Demeter's joy each spring, the Earth blooms, in summer bears fruit and we harvest and are fed through the fallow time. Then we have Aphrodite, who is another creationist type in the ideas of sexuality which brings forth life through fertility, but is more recognized for her creative force behind the arts and poetry and concepts of sensuality and beauty.  Artemis represents eschewing the role of motherhood in order to be a warrior and protectress of  all women, children and the animals of the wild, even as she was a hunter herself.  There are many more, but I think these will do for now.

Now, return to the 21st century and we find woman feeling like they are overburdened in the balance of care for children with the fathers, like Hera re: Zeus, I mean he went out and did a lot else besides screw around, but Hera was left taking care of home. I love my husband, and right now he is helping more than his share because of my medical circumstance, and he generally is very helpful, but ultimately the management of what gets done at home falls to me to dole out the chores or do the Syssiphian tasks like laundry, myself.  Lots of energy and time is devoted to this.  If Idon't take on this management role, things that need regular upkeep are left undone and no one is happy about it, dishes, dirty floors, piles of dirty clothes, toliets...don't get me started on toilets.

Return to the twenty-first century and we see, like Demeter and Persephone, the push and pull of the relationship of mother and child and how, as one grows and becomes independent the other is trying to balance feelings of loss with feelings of encouragement toward that independence.  There is a lot to attend to in our relationships with our children.  This takes a lot of time and attention at every stage of development from infant throught toddler through elementary through teen years and on.  It's a constantly evolving situation we as mothers constantly have to renegotiate where we stand in that relationship.  When to hold on and prtect, when to let go and mourn the passing of an old stage and welcome a new.  Lots of time and energy is devoted to this.

Aphrodite in the 21st century:  We want to be loved and to love, we have natural human desires one of which is in relationship, another is often the sense of individual purpose in creativity. While, by the myth of Aphrodite, both come from the same source, they are conflicting feelings in a modern woman, mother, wife or partner in a relationship.  I think mostly it is this sense of wanting to matter and how.  Leave a mark on the world through our creative urges or give ourselves thoroughly in our relationship?  Now we say, Honey, I need some you and me time or we say, Honey, I need some ME time.  Never the twain shall meet.

So then along comes Artemis in our psyche, saying, leave all the rest, I need to do what I want or I need to provide for those who can't in service to them.  I take care of myself and in doing so, if I have children already, I work for living, hopefully in something that gives my life meaning, to provide for myself and my children.  So many charitable organizations are started by women in the idea of serving a greater purpose in service to other. 

Between Hera, Demeter, Persephone, Aphrodite and Artemis at work in my personal psyche, obviously I am pulled in many directions and must constantly negotiate who I am and what purpose I am serving as I serve the many roles that many women serve in our day to day lives.

I am obviously oversimplifying the concepts for this little post going out to the Universe, but I think it's important to recognize that the stories of centuries past do still really affect  our consciouness and conscience in ways it can be hard to fathom.  Or not.  I think any of us can relate to the impulses and instincts that are represented by these ancient archetypes. 

As I wear out while trying to capture what I am trying to say here,, I am feeling like I only opened a small door to the way I have been reconciling my own feelings through examining these archtypes over my lifetime.   I think there is a fractal, many talk about facets like diamonds or parts of personality, quality that may have gotten lost in translation and interpretation over centuries of retelling the old tales, but I believe they are still extremely relevant.  I believe these stories, as we've heard them through a variety of forms, including Disney movies, have if not strictly illustrated, may also have contributed to the splintered and pulled in every direction feelings so many women these days have and seem to share. 

I wonder, and have begun to find ways to draw from the old stories, not just the Greeks, but a wide variety of cultures in order to integrate the aspects they illustrate.  I think if we can look at how these stories have come to us across generations, we can begin to understand what they can tell us about ourselves.  Whether they serve to support or further fracture individuals and women as a whole, remains to be seen. 

I know in my own conversations with many woman that they have a lot to show us about ourselves, each other, and we can learn from them and grow.  Examining archetypes of feminine divinity and power or loss of it has really informed the way I walk through my world and I know it has done the same for many other women as well.  It feeds my soul to recognize that there is an aspect of the divine that looks, sounds, walks like me.

The main thing I am currently working on personally is how to integrate all these seemingly disparate aspects of self into a fused whole, where the parts don't conflict.  Where the balance of paying attention to one part doesn't leave out another, where a bit of this one can support another and flow from one to another in in a natural state, like drops of water in a running river, rising to the surface in their time.  Each contributes to the whole, not denies or takes away from it.

Right now, I'm not too certain if I stated the above well, or came to a place where it made sense, but I've overdone my physical state for the time being and must leave it as it stands.  Hopefully it sparks some ideas in you.


  1. Please correct the spelling of Muslim, the current spelling you use is considered offensive.

    Get off those pain meds!

  2. thank you, it looked wrong to me. taking care of it now.

  3. ps, been off the pain meds since about day three when i broke out in a rash.


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