Tales of the Goddess

Mijares, S. (2016). Tales of the Goddess: Healing metaphors for women.  In S. Mijares (Ed.) Modern psychology and ancient wisdom: Psychological healing practices from the world’s religious traditions, Revised Edition (pp. 50-72). New York: Routledge Mental Health.

Goddess Spirituality

You walk upon my paths and acknowledge my beauty

But you do not know my power—

 

The power that can push forth mountain peaks and open valleys for oceans to fill.

Gaia, our Mother Earth, seemed to be speaking through me as I recorded Her message. The words flowed without thought. I paused to await the next phrase and the earth began to tremble beneath me. She was manifesting Her power, and I could feel it shaking the Earth.         This experience occurred a few months after the 1989 Oakland earthquake. At the time I was living in a college dormitory in Oakland and was completing a homework assignment for a course in creative writing. We had been given the assignment of writing from the perspective of a plant, a piece of wood or some other manifestation of nature. I made the decision to write as though I was the Earth, Herself. The next morning I went for my sunrise walk in a redwood forest, returned to the dorm and prepared to learn from the archetypal Goddess. In meditation I allowed the words to flow through me. They spoke of beauty, power and metaphorically affirmed female sexuality. The earthquake synchronistically validated Her declaration. 

If we examine the entirety of the world's female population, how many women would we find affirming this inherent spiritual and earthy power? This knowledge has the power to help heal women with limited identities. Due to the dominating influence of partriarchal religions, the majority of the Earth’s female population has little, if any, awareness of the Goddess tradition. For this reason, feminist psychology and spirituality includes both historical and political elements. Only recently, because of women working in the fields of historical, archaeological and anthropological research such as Merlin Stone (1976) and Marija Gimbutas (1991), have we begun to learn of the pre-patriarchal history of Goddessworshipping civilizations. Archeologists and cultural anthropologists have brought to light this hidden and timely knowledge. Several decades ago the French writer Françoise d'Eaubonne (1974) coined the term Ecofeminism to describe how the subordination of women and the attempts at subjugating nature, robbing Mother Earth of her resources, began simultaneously. We see the impact of this imbalance on the environment.  Both the feminine and nature need to be revered and brought back to their rightful, spiritual position. This knowledge can also be used in religious as well as clinical settings to help women heal.

In my chapter I present a psychospiritual perspective of healing founded in Goddessbased spirituality and feminist psychology. This chapter differs from many of the other chapters because it is concerned not only with individual healing, but also with social, political and global change. It encourages women and men to acknowledge female spirituality and the power of the Goddess and describes how this acknowledgement has the power to heal both men and women. 

When I was a sexual abuse counselor in a community agency I interviewed and treated a variety of women suffering from the results of rape and childhood sexual abuse. Their voices, stories and healing bring structure and meaning to this chapter. The rape and necessary healing of Mother Earth brings an important voice to this chapter.

 

Sharon G. Mijares, Ph.D.

Chapter 3

Tales of the Goddess:

Healing Metaphors for Women

Sharon G. Mijares, Ph.D.

 

Goddess spirituality affirms both a woman’s sexuality and body, and therefore promotes deeper healing. Women are in the midst of a rebirth, for during the past few decades a vast amount of evidence has been unearthed which illuminates the eras prior to the written historical accounts of humanity. Numerous religious icons have been found indicating that the female body was revered for its fertility and sexuality. A woman’s menstrual cycle associated her with the movements of the moon and nature, creating a deep connection between women and the universe.

In ancient cultures the Goddess was associated with the planting and the harvesting of crops. Her body changed, seeds sprouted, and She was able to bring forth fruit. Humanity was in awe of the female, for women’s bodies were similar to the Earth Goddess, who was revered as a living presence. These ancient civilizations passed on myths honoring their Goddesses. These narratives affirmed the power, sexuality, and beauty of the feminine. The female was honored and divinely associated with the cycles of birth, death, transformation, and rebirth.

These early practices changed dramatically. Approximately 6,000 years ago female sexuality was denigrated with the onset of patriarchy. Religious teachings reviled any notions of a feminine deity. This change had a serious impact upon the relational, psychological, and spiritual well-being of humanity. In pre-Christian times men had been dependent upon women economically (Klein, 1946). This was also true of Islam at its early beginnings, as the Prophet Mohammad was originally an employee of a female caravan merchant, Khadijah. It was she who proposed marriage to him. Prior to the misinterpretations of religious teachings and their impacts on social structures (Mijares, Rafea, Falik & Schipper, 2007), women had managed the primary sources of income; they had been the owners of the homes, producers of food, and providers of shelter and security for others. With the onset and continued reign of patriarchal dominance, property rights shifted to men; women also became designated as property. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, this has not changed (2010), and continued dominance of properties remains. 

There has been increasing improvement in women’s economic positions though, as according to United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals Report 2014, women’s labor status has gone up, although “gender disparity still exists” (p. 21). Previous statistics from the

1997 United Nations high commissioner for human rights (Robinson, 1998) revealed that  70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty are women. The increasing poverty among women is linked to their unequal situation in the labor market, their treatment under social welfare systems and their status and power in the family. (p. 3) It is not difficult to see why women’s spirituality is also mixed with politics.

Anthropological research, supported by sacred texts such as the Judeo-Christian Bible, reveals the onset of a dominant belief that it was also the male’s obligation to control female sexuality. Women’s bodies became a vehicle for men’s pleasure and control. Female sexuality was no longer revered and women lost control over their own bodies. Spirituality was separated from physical life, and sexuality became associated with lust and sin.

As a result, many women carry a considerable amount of shame about their bodies. It is probably true that the majority of women around the world do not accept the sacredness of their bodies and they certainly do not view the vaginal canal as a sacred passage into life. Many women are ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality. For example, there are women who will not look at their own bodies. They describe their bodies as “disgusting” or “ugly.” This is particularly true of women who have been sexually abused.

When we examine the female population of this planet we learn that violence and sexual abuse are occurring throughout it (Gnanadason, 1993; Robinson, 1998). In fact, a 2013 report from the United Nations Women’s organization, suggests that more than one-third of all women are being abused, and approximately 70% have been abused at some time in their lives. Much of this abuse is related to long-held beliefs that women should be subordinate to the male population. Physical violence injures the woman’s spirit as well as her body. Violence against the body is violence against the soul.

Many of humanity’s problems are centered in the rejection of our natural sexuality. This repressive influence may contribute to sadistic and aggressive impulses, including the excessive use of pornography and sexual abuse. We must relearn and obtain a healthy acceptance of natural eroticism and sexuality. Human sexuality and spirituality can be in positive relationship. The reemergence of the previously hidden history of Goddess spirituality offers opportunities for completing this needed healing (Eisler, 1988; Gadon, 1989; Stone, 1976). As a result of the unearthing of prehistoric evidence of Goddessworshiping societies, women have begun an effort to restore their bodies, minds, and souls.

We cannot discuss women healing from abuse without understanding the role of the body and memory. Many massage therapists and other types of body therapists have found that cellular structures within the body release memories when manipulated. This is especially true of intense emotional memories. Although scientists have never claimed to find the specific location of the unconscious mind, somatic psychologists associate the unconscious mind with the body. The body is not a passive mechanism dominated by the brain’s impulses, but rather a living system vibrating with feeling and an intelligence of its own (Damasio, 1999, Mijares, 2012).

Previous beliefs determined that the brain controlled the body, but current findings in neuroendocrinology and the study of the enteric nervous system reveal that hormones and neurotransmitters are continually being transmitted between the body and the brain. Conversations are taking place between the brain and body-mind. Hormones travel through the bloodstream. Cells are listening and cells are speaking. Even though specific functions have a relationship to right and left brain hemispheres, there is no evidence of a place in the brain for yoga training and another for a dance lesson. Research on hormones and the enteric nervous system shows the message capabilities of the ovary and gut. These studies suggest that messages travel from the brain to the endocrine system and also from the endocrine system back to the brain (Bergland, 1988; Gerson, Kirchgessner, and Wade, 1994; Mijares, 2012; Rossi, 1993).

Archetypal energies are available to help women find healing and wholeness. Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell both believed that archetypal forces of the collective unconscious were manifested in our biology (Mijares, 1997; Mijares, 2012). They are preconscious psychic structures containing biologically related patterns of behaviors—qualities and expressions of human life. States of consciousness exist at every level of our being. In the separation of mind and body we have been severed from a larger field of potential consciousness. Women by nature are more in touch with their bodies. For example, women have monthly menstrual cycles and the capacity to bear children. The fact that “mother” and “matter” come from the same root Latin word (meter) supports women’s deeper relationships to physical life and the body.

A profound historic relationship exists between the demeaning of women and the separation of mind and body. This separation reflects a gender imbalance that affects all humanity. Its results are revealed in both religious history and in the denigration of the body. Women are essential in the process of healing this imbalance. To rebalance humanity, women need to acknowledge not only their feminine beauty but also their instinctual power.

Instinctual power is centered in the body. Many women are not grounded in their bodies. The ideal female portrayed by the media is unrealistic. Many advertisements contribute to distorted body perceptions, which often result in eating disorders among women. The average woman cannot compete with overly thin fashion models and glamorous Hollywood stars. A generation of young women is starving itself, attempting to follow these cultural icons. Is this what we want for our daughters, sisters, mothers, partners, and friends?

Many forms of sexual abuse exist. Cultural images do not offer enriching paradigms for young girls to emulate. Music videos often portray women as sex objects. It is conceivable that the suppression of women and the defamation of the body and sexuality have contributed much of the psychopathology manifesting in a variety of sexual perversions and sexual confusion. Modern music videos are major contributors to portraying women as sex objects, for example, Jason Derulo’s Talk dirty to me (2014) rose to number 10 position as pop hit. Young women need to examine what they give attention to. Luckily, there are increasing films that honor the feminine as a powerful heroine, for example, more recently rewrites of Cinderella, Snow White as well as new and more empowering models for women (Mijares, 2013a). 

Feminine models that empower women by affirming our potentials, health, and wholeness are unequivocally needed in our culture today. Goddess spirituality grounds us in our bodies. It is a human necessity that women reclaim this heritage. Both women and men can benefit by understanding the historical, religious, and evolutionary contributions to the psychological and spiritual difficulties of this age. This clarification can assist women’s healing processes. We can observe how stories change and as a result acknowledge our own abilities to create new narratives that encourage psychospiritual healing and gender balance.

The Splitting of Earth and Sky

Over 3,000 years ago a significant change took place in humanity’s psychological and spiritual evolution. The patriarchal model of social organization established dominant power. Patriarchal society is based upon a hierarchical system of government. Women, children, sexuality, the body, and the earth are not at the top of the list. Ancient Greek mythologies referenced a splitting between male and female, the mind and body. Prehistoric myths had announced the marriage of Earth and Sky, proclaiming this secured fertility as they were merged in sexual union. These cosmologies reflected the changes taking place on earth. The storytellers began to speak of the forced separation of Earth and Sky, resulting in the loss of their sacred union (Parrinder, 1971, Mijares in Mijares, Rafea & Angha, 2013a).

It is believed that these changing myths reflected the beginning and dominance of rationalization. As mental capacities heightened, the body’s relevance was being negated. The rise of the patriarchal religious and philosophical social systems created a chasm between the cognitive-mind and body-mind. Women, matter, and form were relegated to an inferior position. Creation myths reflected these changes. For example, the Greek Goddess Athena was birthed out of the mind of her father, Zeus, and Eve was formed from Adam’s rib.

Yet the earlier versions of these myths differ. The historian Merlin Stone (1976) explains that the goddess Athena was worshiped by the Mycenaeans long before the Acropolis of the Greek civilization was built. In fact, the temples of the Acropolis were built upon earlier Mycenaean foundations. Athena had existed as a goddess in her own right before the revision that now has her being born from the mind of Zeus. How many people know that Eve, the designated scapegoat for all human sin, was actually Adam’s second wife? There are earlier myths that tell us about Lilith, Adam’s first wife. These stories also describe an alternative meaning to Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib (Barnstone, 1984; Stone, 1976).

Ancient Sumerian legends give us a very different versions. In Merlin Stone’s historical text When God Was a Woman (1976), we learn of Lilith. In the original legends of the Sumerian Goddess Inanna, Lilith is proclaimed to be the “hand” of the Queen of Heaven. Lilith also appears in an ancient Hebrew legend as the first wife of Adam. In this myth she refuses “to lie beneath him” and flees. Lilith appears again in later Kabbalistic writings. In this version, the hand of the Goddess Lilith is now called a demon. It is said that, “Lilith, Queen of the demons, or the demons of her retinue, do their best to provoke men to sexual acts without benefit of a woman, their aim being to make themselves bodies from the lost seed” (Stone, 1976, p. 195). Much harm has been done from similar projections and irrational interpretations of male sexual fantasies, but we could not begin to understand these phenomena without the evolutionary development of psychological understanding we have been experiencing since Freud, Jung and other contributors to depth psychology.

Lilith was cast into alliance with the demons and her replacement, Eve, was formed from Adam’s rib, or so we have been told. When we examine research (Kramer, 1963) on the early Sumerian myths we also learn of an earlier and very different version of Eve and the rib.

According to Sumerian scholar Samuel Noah Kramer (1963), an earlier version of the paradise legend takes place in Dilmun, the “land of the living,” a land that is “pure” and “clean” and “bright” (p. 147). One of the Sumerian gods, Enki, the water god, notices that Dilmun has no water so he gets Utu, the sun god, to bring water up from the earth and Dilmun is “turned into a garden, green with fruit laden fields and meadows” (p. 148).

Kramer’s telling of the rest of the Sumerian paradise myth casts further light on the later biblical version of Adam and Eve being cast from the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit. Kramer describes how Ninhursag, “the Great Mother-Goddess of the Sumerians” (1963, p. 148), causes eight special plants to grow in the garden. The plants thrive as a result of an “intricate process of three generations of goddesses” conceived by Enki and born “without the slightest pain or travail” (p. 148). Ninhursag does not want these plants eaten, but Enki eats them one by one and as a result Ninhursag condemns him to death.

Soon Enki’s health begins to fail and disease enters into eight of his organs—“One of Enki’s sick organs is the rib” (Kramer, 1963, p. 149). The Mother-Goddess is finally persuaded to heal Enki and she seats Enki by her vulva. She births eight deities (one for each ailing body part) and they heal Enki’s illnesses. His rib is healed by the goddess Nin-ti or “lady of the rib.”

Cass Dalglish, a writer and translator who works with Sumerian women’s stories (1996,2000), points out that the pictographic sign used to tell this story is ti, sign number 73 in Rene Labat’s (1976) lexicon. It is relevant to know that ti means both “to live” and “rib” (p. 69).

This double meaning makes the story of healing of the rib by the “Lady of the rib” or the “Lady who makes live” (Kramer, 1963, p. 149) a great pun in Sumerian. In Kramer’s words, “It was this, one of the most ancient of literary puns, which was carried over and perpetuated in the Biblical paradise story, although there, of course the pun loses its validity, since the Hebrew words for ‘rib’ and ‘who makes live’ have nothing in common” (p. 149). The play on words is lost in the language of the Bible.

Kramer (1963) points out the many similarities in the Sumerian garden of the Gods to the biblical paradise story. He explains that the poem describes this Sumerian paradise to be in Dilmun which is “a land somewhere to the east of Sumer,” and suggests that there is good indications that the Biblical paradise, too, which is described as a garden planted eastward in Eden, from whose waters flow the four world rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates, may have originally been identical with Dilmun, the Sumerian paradise-land. (Kramer, 1963, p. 148)

Kramer’s scholarly renditions of these Sumerian texts give women a very different history. 

The later translations of Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib appear quite different given the earlier Sumerian perspective. These translations served to sublimate women. Making Eve the scapegoat for the loss of paradise and viewing the pain of childbirth as a curse has not encouraged respect for woman as the origin of all human life. Instead, the stories were rewritten to associate the female with weakness and mistakes. These later creation myths certainly did not elevate, allow for the equanimity of, or benefit women. Religious authorities told women that their role was to be submissive to the superior male. Social and cultural influences have continued to perpetuate this destructive narrative. These influences have contributed to the prevalence of rape and sexual abuse.

Lilith’s refusal to lie in the “missionary position” during sexual intercourse is a metaphorical reference to historical changes taking place as patriarchal religions claimed domination over women and goddess spirituality. The sacred texts of religions and myths proclaimed the downfall of women. The Old Testament expounded on menstrual and childbirth taboos and proclaimed male dominance over women. According to Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (The Holy Bible, King James Version) a husband had the right to stone his newly purchased wife if she was not a virgin. Riane Eisler (1988) notes that Leviticus 12 explains that “a woman who has given birth to a child must be ritually purified lest her ‘uncleanliness’ contaminate others” (pp. 101-102). Woman, once revered for her sexuality along with her capacity to give life, was reduced to the position of property; her innate ability to give birth became her shame.

Whereas woman and her natural capacity as birther of life were being reduced to an association with sin, man was now conceptualizing life from the abstract realms of the mind. Early Greek philosophers placed emphasis on truth and critical thinking, the “atomists” (Greek physicists) supported materialism, determinism, and reductionism; Plato gave attention to the form (the idea) behind all objects. The Greeks discovered and named the mental realm of abstract reasoning. More attention was given to the ideal than to the actual object. For example, the form (an ideal or conceptualization) received more respect than the actual embodied person. “Spirit” was greater than “matter.” Sky and Earth had indeed split!

Because women are by nature more related to matter, form, and birthing, they too were subdued.

The mystic-philosopher St. Augustine was a major influence in the development of Westernized Christianity. He was also deeply influenced by Platonic philosophy and likewise believed that spirituality was to be obtained through the use of the reasoning mind. Life was merely a symbolic representation giving us clues of an “invisible reality of God in heaven” (Leahey, 1987, p. 61). Faith was given greater importance than life itself. It was proposed that women, sexuality, and the body (including the Earth) distracted the male from his loftier ideals and aspirations. He was unable to control his sexual urges so she was not allowed to participate equally in spiritual environments. Women’s role was demoted to serving the male because he was closer to the Divine. In his text, A History of Psychology, Thomas Leahey

(1987, p. 67) explains that

Europe’s antifeminist attitudes came from the Romans and even from Aristotle, who considered female infants as suffering from some sort of birth defect. Christianity, however, intensified the Classical [era’s] disrespect for women, linking women to sexuality as the foundation of sin and temptation, and instituting a schizophrenic attitude toward good women (virgins) and ordinary women, who were at best mothers. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Woman was created to be man’s helpmate, but her unique role is in conception . . . since for other purposes men would be better assisted by other men.”

This misogynist belief remained largely uncontested until the latter part of the twentieth century. Religion and philosophy have supported the negation of women (Gnanadason, 1993; Mijares, Rafea, Falik & Schipper, 2007).

Early psychology made its own contributions to this imbalance. For example, the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), wrote a paper in 1923 asserting the primacy of the phallus. Feminist psychoanalyst Karen Horney (1885-1952) argued against this theory, explaining that women yearned for the advantages in society ascribed solely to those who possessed penises, but that most women were likewise content in their inherent ability to bear and nurture new life from within their bodies (Fadiman and Frager, 1994).

Sigmund Freud believed that the human being was motivated by various impulses and instinctual drives. Libidinal energy was sexual in its nature, and manifested in our drives and desires to fulfill our human needs. Defense mechanisms were activated to protect the ego and also to prevent the natural flow of libido. According to Freud’s theory the superego and the ego censored unacceptable psychic material. Patriarchy manifested this behavior in the external world by suppressing women and failing to acknowledge women’s unique expression of embodied spirituality.

Hysteria was a widely used psychopathological diagnosis during Freud’s time (Leahey, 1997). The word hysteria comes from a Greek word for womb. The Greek physicians blamed the ailment on a diseased uterus. This was a common diagnosis for women because it was believed that only women became hysterical. Perhaps this and similar diagnoses are related to more than 3,000 years of sexual repression, incest, and sexual abuse.

Freud and his colleague, Joseph Breuer, found that the cause of hysteria was repressed, traumatic memories. They believed that the symptoms manifesting from these repressed memories could be cured by expressing repressed feelings such as grief, rage, and terror. Freud, pressured by his colleagues, withdrew his proclamation that many women were suffering the effects of sexual abuse. He replaced this earlier finding with the Oedipal-Electra complex, based upon the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. Freud’s revised theory proclaimed that psychological distress was indicative of the repression of childhood sexual fantasies involving the opposite-sex parent. This complex was given preference; it was an easier answer than the closer examination into widespread sexual, religious, and cultural abuse of children and women would be.

In the 1990s, this problem reappeared in the form of a “false memory” debate. Defenders of the false memory theory debate the validity of memory retrieval. In response, the American Medical Association (1994), American Psychiatric Association (1993), and American Psychological Association (1994) acknowledged that a great deal of abuse occurs regularly and that abuse can be forgotten. It is also true that some psychotherapists have led clients to believe they were abused as children. But these debates have led people away from the more important issue. Instead of listening to the distress of women and the messages emerging from their bodies, researchers spend more time and effort debating the validity of the mind and its memories. Perhaps many of the unconfirmed false memories reflect the collective genetically transmitted experience of millions of women over the past few thousand years.

These sexual offenses to women are quite different from the experience of our ancestors who gave divine reverence to the female, her body, and her sexuality. In fact, 3,000 years of subservient and limiting identities for women have profoundly impacted our world. Both men and women have been very deeply influenced by the narratives passed on by their forefathers. Society has greatly suffered as the result.

The recovered myths of the prepatriarchal creation stories are helping many women to heal from a long cycle of abuse and negative self-narratives. These ancient global myths narrating the feminine as Goddess help reframe impoverished self-narratives and also offer encouragement for women healing from sexual abuse and other forms of trauma. As women retrieve this lost heritage they are empowered to work in relationship with other women and with men to heal families, communities, and the world. 

As anthropologists and archaeologists continue to recover evidence of prehistoric Goddess-worshiping societies, humanity is being offered the potential to develop a new reverence for life and sexuality. As Ecofeminists and Ecopsychologists have noted respect for the body and the Earth are likely related. Collectively, humanity is mutilating the Earth by destroying rain forests, ravaging the land, and polluting natural resources. This is yet another form of violence against a material body. The split between Earth and Sky needs to be healed. Embodied Narratives

Only recently have we begun to understand these historical underpinnings which have contributed to the domination of women and children. Until the late twentieth century most women accepted feminine inferiority. How refreshing and healing it is to know that earlier creation stories affirmed rather than negated the feminine. Much is to be learned by studying ancient mythologies and the changes that occurred through the ages. Women can integrate this knowledge and use it to heal, for these ancient narratives proclaiming the power and beauty of the goddess have the power to heal both women and men.

There are many ways to retrieve this ancient wisdom. Professionals, students, and clients can read books by Riane Eisler, Marija Gimbutas, Merlin Stone, and other experts. Another method is experiencing a psychospiritual awakening through the knowledge released from within our bodies. Our bodies carry the memories of this ancient heritage, the acknowledgement of the divinity of women. These healing narratives are waiting to be evoked from body memory. If DNA can carry the information of how to build the human body, perhaps it also carries the memory of human experiences. Is it possible that universal myths are also biologically conveyed? Late mythologist Joseph Campbell believed this to be true (Mishlove, 1988). Carl Jung called this shared memory the collective unconscious. Both Jung and Campbell believed this memory was evidenced in the mythological narratives of all cultures throughout history (Jung, 1964; Campbell, 1949, 1974).

Archetypes are described as instinctive and universal elements of the unconscious mind manifesting from humanity’s collective unconscious. These motivating psychic influences can include the common elements found in fairy tales, myths, novels, films, and our dreams. This includes psychic entities such as the masculine, feminine, warrior, magician, demon, sage, wise woman, Madonna, and divine child archetypes. This also includes the prehistoric memory of the great goddess and her many manifestations. The storytellers spoke of goddesses endowed with both grace and power.

The ancient Sumerian Goddess Inanna journeyed into the underworld (the unconscious), was killed by her dark sister, was resurrected through the intervention of dedicated friends, and returned to her queendom, empowered by the journey. The archetypal Hindu Goddess Kali Durga is associated with creation and destruction. This image of the power to create and destroy has been acceptable for masculine images of God, such as the Old Testament God, Jehovah. He both created and destroyed. Yet it has not been acceptable for women. Women were to be submissive, regardless of any abusive treatment. Religion, culture, and family life have perpetuated this limiting myth. The woman needs to know her shadow side in order to integrate instinctive energies. When archetypal memories of feminine power are evoked in a woman, she is well on her way to healing for she is reconnecting with elements of her instinctive body-soul.

These recollections can be used to free women from limited self-narratives by contributing to their wholeness. For example, there are many women whose femininity is very gentle and good-willed, but they are unable to protect themselves from abuse by others. Women who are physically abused by their partners often remain in the abusive relationship because they “love him” and believe that their love will transform and end the violence. This ideal has rarely evinced healing in abusive relationships. Also, women who were subjected to incest or molestation as children are often emotionally vulnerable. Perhaps they repressed their rage at very young ages. Many adult victims of rape were also sexually victimized as children. The perpetrator recognizes their vulnerability and preys upon it. These women need to feel their rage.

Rage is a natural attribute meant to protect boundaries. It is linked with instinctive power. Getting in touch with this rage at a deep archetypal level doesn’t mean that women need to act out violently. It empowers them to have a presence that dispels abuse by its very nature. This protective power is accessed from deep in the belly area of the body. Martial artists learn the centeredness required for their balance and skill through breathing into the belly. Shamanic healers often access different powers through different centers in the body. This understanding can be applied to the myth of Inanna.

Inanna’s sister, Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, killed her sister and felt no remorse. What does that mean? It is certainly against all of our finer values. First, Inanna had come to support her sister. Her act was based upon goodwill. She passed through seven gates (this could refer to the seven chakras, or energy centers, in the body) during her journey. At each gate she gives up something of value until at last she enters the realm of the Underworld (the deep unconscious depths within the body-mind).

This is one of our earliest stories reflecting a heroic journey. In Carolyn Edwards’ (1991) version of the myth, Inanna’s dark sister kills her with a glance. Perhaps Inanna saw the power of her dark side and it killed her limited self-image. After undergoing this death, Inanna was rescued by her friends and resurrected. Upon returning to her castle Inanna found her husband sitting on her throne wearing her garments and celebrating. With her newfound authority, she sent him to the Underworld. (The agreement upon her return from the underworld was that someone had to take her place.) Inanna had found the power to protect her boundaries. She demanded respect. No one had the right, not even her husband, to assume her throne. The throne represents her position (center) of power. Inanna makes sacrifices and manifests love for others but also learns to command respect. This is a story about balancing the opposites. Inanna becomes whole. She is an embodiment of both beauty and power (Mijares, 2013b).

A psychotherapist can share this powerful story with a client. The listener may not cognitively understand its deeper meaning, but at embodied levels of the unconscious realms a response is initiated. The storyteller should read it slowly, creating a trancelike state of focused awareness. This metaphorical journey offers rich imagery to the unconscious mind and therefore deeper memories stir, memories of a time when women were honored. It reminds a woman that she needs to touch or be touched by the power of the shadow self in order to become whole. This story evokes something deeper from women’s spiritual embodied memory leading to joy, healing, and wholeness. The following story applies this idea.

A woman entered therapy. She had been abused throughout her childhood and young adulthood. Similar to so many women who have been abused, she was not grounded in her body. The woman was continuously having relationship difficulties. She alternated between patterns of defensive behaviors and self-blame. Many of her significant relationships ended in discord. She couldn’t figure out what she was doing wrong. After years of victimization due to personal boundary violations, she began to admit to her anger and also her desire for power. The woman experienced many boundary violations. She had to psychologically release herself from cultural and religious conditioning by acknowledging her desire for personal power and respect.

The denial of very old anger prevented her from feeling a sense of wholeness. She was angry that she’d been abused. In the healing process she recognized that an embodied sense of earthy, feminine power was a necessity. She had previously lacked a connection to instinctual and primal human nature. Knowledge of the goddess myths supported her healing process.

The word power strikes a chord of mistrust in many women; many people are afraid of it because of its long-term history of human misuse. This woman had reached a significant stage in her psychospiritual healing. She began to trust her own intuitions, senses, behaviors, and heart-inspired motivations. She had a few friends with troublesome, intrusive behaviors. Suddenly, the woman found herself unexpectedly and firmly protecting her boundaries. She simply but powerfully expressed her expectation for respect, and each of these intrusive women humbly complied. She didn’t act out of anxiety, aggression, or manipulation, for her “truthfulness” was the expression of her power. At first, she was amazed at this embodied sense of authority. As she progressed in her healing, it became natural for her to expect others to give her the same respect that she gave them. The myth of the Goddess Inanna’s entrance into the Underworld was very meaningful to her. She had been able to integrate the unconscious attributes alluded to in the story.

During this time the woman had also begun to value her body. She joined an athletic club and learned to be able to walk around the shower room naked with other women without shame. She began to feel the energy and strength in her body through aerobic classes, dance, and other forms of physical movement. Her healing became more complete as she integrated it into her body.

Physical movement and dance are very important healing tools for women. In the last century we saw the return of spirituality in body movement and dance thanks to pioneers such as Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis (Miller, 1997). The healing process can be greatly enhanced by movement and dance. Although beautiful, ballet rarely allows for sensual movements of the hips or breasts. In ancient times women danced to honor their sexuality, fertility, connection to the earth, and the universe. Belly dancing honored female sensuality and helped prepare the body to birth babies through its undulating movements. As a woman begins to reclaim her body, she also needs to experience the joy, beauty, and power of movement. Movement and dance bring mind and body together and also help ground these awakening energies.

Trance dancing (Roth, 2002) allows a woman to experience embodied sensuality and power. Its unique beauty is in its primal expression. A woman’s wholeness is dependent upon awakening her instinctive side. When a woman learns to use all of her body (which traditional ballet does not advocate) and to allow natural flowing movements, it encourages the development of instinctive intuition. In my experience even an aerobic dance class can encourage a woman to feel more embodied and whole. The more we recognize the inner wisdom of the body, the greater the opportunity for wholeness.

When a woman centers in her body (rather than her head), she begins to develop a grounded sense of authentic presence. Hatha yoga, Tai Chi, aikido, belly dancing, and other forms of fluidic movement are very therapeutic, grounding, and an integral part of the healing process. The potential for acknowledging one’s strength, compassion, and wholeness is greatly enhanced. A focus on body awakening supports the emergence of archetypal and spiritual forces. As the body releases its chronic muscular locks, energies are able to flow through it. In this opening, heaven and earth intermingle. This experience supports the healing of the split between mind and body.

The goal of the entire healing journey is to know one’s authentic nature, the greater Self. A woman has missed the point of the healing process if she gets stuck in her anger or views herself as a victim of the patriarchal system. A woman’s most valuable attribute is her relationship with her authenticity.

A wonderful Japanese myth of the Great Mother Sun-Goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami, is paraphrased from The Storyteller’s Goddess (Edwards, 1991):

Amaterasu has a brother, Susanowo, who is jealous of her greater power. She hopes for the best, accepts his words of affection, and plans for a good future. He gets drunk, his anger grows, and destruction begins. In her frustration and despair Amaterasu retreats to a cave and closes herself off from the world. The gods and goddesses cast Susanowo from heaven into the realm of darkness. The queendom is in despair without the light of the great Mother Sun, so the spirit of all living things begins to wither. They come up with a plan to stand outside the door to her cave holding pieces of shining mirror while using what strength they have left to sing and dance with joy in her honor. Amaterasu cracks open the door to the cave and her own beauty and radiance are reflected back to her by all the pieces of mirror. Needless to say, she returns to her place in the world.

When a young girl or woman has been abused, her spirit retreats and lives in isolation. Her authentic Self is no longer present and a coping personality takes its place. This story can facilitate the therapeutic emergence of a woman’s power. The metaphor for power is enacted by the gods and goddesses who cast out Susanowo. They protect the boundaries of something great, metaphorically portrayed as Amaterasu. This myth can be used to evoke the woman’s return to authentic life. The next step in the healing process will be for the woman to acknowledge innate radiance and to allow this radiance to manifest in her life. The following is another example of how this myth was used to help heal and empower a rape victim.

The woman was progressing in the sessions, acknowledging her feelings but still feeling the disempowerment caused by the rape experience. Having been trained in Ericksonian hypnosis and Stephen Gilligan’s self relations psychotherapy, I find it natural to use the metaphors portrayed in the Goddess stories as they provide healing narratives. As with many women, her symptoms were related to low self-worth and an inability to fully connect with the relational field of life (Gilligan, 1987, 1997). I utilized the story in a trance as Amaterasu’s brother is cast out (metaphorically representing the abuser) by the gods and goddesses (powerful support is available), all the little beings (connections to life) holding the pieces of mirror reflect (and remind) her of her authentic Self (beyond the abuse) and that it’s safe for her to come back into life. The woman related to this story on unconscious and conscious levels. She soon returned to normal life. She was even feeling better about herself than she had before the rape.

The Cycles of a Woman’s Life

Early Greek mythology teaches a woman about the various stages leading toward greater wholeness. Greek myths portrayed life as a heroic journey. They honored the different stages of a woman’s aging process and created seasonal rituals that honored this initiatory journey. Many women have suffered because of the cultural loss of respect for the aging process. The first step is for the woman to recognize the gifts within each of these stages. The next step is to create rituals that enhance the journey.

When a woman learns to appreciate the various archetypal influences representing the maiden, mother, queen, and crone she can appreciate and accept the aging process. She will not need to attempt to create an illusion of youth through cosmetic surgeries. Greek mythology was rich with goddess rituals honoring the cycles of life. Regular rites were performed in honor of Demeter, both goddess and mother. Homage to Demeter assured the harvesting of crops and the birthing of children. Greek myths also spoke of the abduction and rape of her daughter Persephone by Hades, the god of the underworld. Persephone disappeared from earth as she was pulled into his realm. Demeter searched the world, lamenting for her daughter. Demeter’s grief and wrath manifested in famine. Finally, she tricked Zeus into assuring the return of her daughter. As a result, spring returned. Once again the crops grew and the harvest was full.

Elinor Gadon (1989) explains that this “myth hinges on the violence of young women’s sexual initiation and the wrenching separation from the protective mother, social realities of many women’s lives under male domination” (p. 157). Persephone is also linked to Kore in the Homeric hymn. Kore represents the virgin, the untouched feminine self.

Persephone is the maiden; Demeter is the mother. These are two of the phases in the life cycle of a woman. A third archetypal of the feminine is called the crone or the wise old woman. In Greek mythology she was called Hecate. She appeared at significant times in the legends. This feminine triad represents very important archetypal aspects of the female journey; maiden, mother, and crone.

An old friend Kamae Miller (1943-2011), editor of Wisdom Comes Dancing (1996), once shared her theory concerning an additional aspect of the feminine cycle. She used the Arabic word malika to describe a queenly state that is beyond the mother and not yet a crone. This queenlike stage is more suitable in our time. Women over forty and younger than sixty-five may not identify with the archetypal influences of the maiden, mother, or crone. Perhaps this newly coined phrase allows for the emergence of the Self. In a culture that struggles against the aging process, the crone is not a welcome image. Women are longing for a deeper sense of identity, yet they are not sure what that means. In this queenly phase, the woman is selfcontained. She has the bearing of beauty, compassion, and wisdom. The following client story illustrates the dynamics of these ancient archetypal forces in an aging woman’s life.

Teresa, a divorced woman in her early fifties, came to me for psychotherapy because of deep anxiety and depression. She had just ended a brief affair with a much younger man. As this attractive woman told me her story, I recognized the power of the maiden archetype. She had not been able to secure an ongoing, satisfying relationship in her life; therefore, the maiden’s desires remained unfulfilled. She was still motivated by the power of the maiden archetype, but its imbalance had brought her disappointment, emotional pain, and sexual abuse.

Men were always attracted to her strong mothering nature. Once a man was attracted to her, the mother archetype manifested in her desire to nurture him by sharing spiritual teachings and attempting to guide him in his life. Despite her good intentions, neither of these feminine expressions had been working very well for her, and she was in despair. She needed the wisdom of the older wise woman archetype to help her glean the learning obtained from successes and failures in relationship. The crone also manifested in her desire to share spiritual knowledge. This archetypal wisdom needed to be evoked more. The therapy session centered on this need. In meditation she experienced a glimpse of this older, wiser guide, yet she still shied away from this powerful archetype.

Within the month following this visual experience in therapy, she also manifested the first indications of the onset of menopause. She was afraid of aging. She acknowledged her concern that she may never have the loving relationship she had longed for, especially because men of all ages tend to pursue younger women rather than older ones. She was grieving. She was not ready to accept the power or cultural status of the crone at this transitional stage, but she was ready to hold the space for the emergence of the feminine Self within her. The therapy primarily consisted of goddess stories as my client breathed deeply to enhance a state of receptivity and unconscious response. In this trance state she experienced the beginnings of a transition as this queenly nature emerged.

A year after our last session this woman reported that she continued to feel more secure with her aging process. She felt more at peace with her life and her relationships. She shared that she was now comfortable with herself whether she was with other people or alone. This was a significant step for her to achieve.

There are many aging women at this crossroads. Their children are gone. They may be in a relationship or they may be single; but there is a sense of dissatisfaction and a longing for something more. They are ready for the next phase of their lives—the emergence of a greater Self.

Reclaiming the Garden of Paradise  

 

Many women gather to share and to listen to stories of maiden, mother, queen, and crone.

These mythological themes are included in individual psychotherapy and also in group rituals. Women need to talk about their wounds, including feelings about their bodies, their sexuality, and aging with other women. These issues can be the focus of individual psychotherapy with a feminist psychotherapist. Women can also receive healing benefits by joining a women’s group (see Photo 3.1).

A feminist psychotherapist is not afraid to share her personal healing experiences. She does not dominate the client. They mutually discuss how the woman feels about her body, her sexuality, and her relationship to self and others. The woman’s healing can then be enhanced by joining a women’s group, particularly one that practices women’s spirituality. As women bond and share their stories, they affirm a feminine way of being. The authentic Self is acknowledged and mirrored back to each participant. In this loving, empowering environment the women are able to affirm one another’s experience. These personal narratives need to be listened to and acknowledged so that psychospiritual healing can occur. Women need to learn to trust each other. They are often confused about their feminine identity, as masculine models of behavior have dominated for almost 6,000 years.

Women's Circle 

Women’s Circle. Courtesy of Sharon Mijares and Costa Rica Sacred Women’s Circle.

Disclosure is encouraged. Each woman’s experience is sacred because it is related to life on Earth. Spirituality and life are interrelated in goddess spirituality. During meetings, women may discuss intimate feelings. They can share their successes, acknowledge their hopes and fears for their families, and discuss social and environmental conditions. They also often share past wounds caused by sexual or physical abuse.

In that statistics reveal that numerous women were sexually abused before the age of eighteen (UN Women’s Organization, 2013), then many women may need to bring these feelings into the circle. Lighting candles, burning incense, drumming, and creating ritual space provides a safe, integrative space in which each woman can talk about her painful sexual experiences. For many women, their first sexual experience as a girl or young woman was not a sacred event, but rather a painful or shaming memory. Her story is shared in the circle. Each woman is asked to articulate what she needed at that time. She is then supported emotionally by the other women in the circle. During the ritual each woman can declare what she is releasing and then what she is claiming. The women’s circle will affirm the inherent sacredness of each woman, her sexuality, and her body. Group participation enhances and grounds the experience. This type of a process replaces the tendency to get stuck in limited self-negating identities.

Drumming, storytelling, and dancing evoke ancient memories within women—memories of female ancestors gathering around fires to share their knowledge of childbearing, healing skills, and love. Similar rituals are also organized around the aging process. In most groups the women create rituals. Ritual enhances the depth of the experience and promotes healthy emotional integration. Author and psychotherapist Judith Duerk (2004) asks women:

How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you, a place of women? A place where other women, somewhat older, had reached out to help you as you rooted yourself in the earth of the ancient feminine. . . . A place where there was a deep understanding of the ways of women to nurture you in every season of your life. A place of women to help you measure your own stature . . . to help you prepare and know when you were ready.

A place where, after the fires were lighted, and the drumming, and the silence, you would claim, finally in your Naming, as you spoke slowly into that silence, that the time had come, full circle, for you, also, to reach out . . . reach out as younger women entered into that place . . . reach out to help them prepare as they struck root in that same timeless earth. How might your life be different? (p. 112)

Women have much to contribute at this time of our humanity’s evolution. Women are becoming more in touch with their bodies and the Earth. As birthers of life they bring an enriched understanding of relationship. Goddess spirituality is rooted in the earth and human relationship. Earth and life itself are given reverence, for they are manifestations of the Divine. 

Women are awakening to their potential to create change and restore balance for a better world for all. They are sharing their stories and motivations for change as they support one another. It is a very important movement.

Women's Circle courtesy of Courtesy of Sharon Mijares and women at WACENA, Uganda.  

3.2. Women’s Circle. Courtesy of Sharon Mijares and women at WACENA, Uganda.

It is time for a more embodied relationship with life, for embodiment is one of the basic tenets of goddess spirituality. As women reclaim their spirits and their bodies, they can stand in partnership with men and in unison heal the planet and redeem humanity. This psychospiritual healing will also have a healing impact upon future generations. In this work of love, harmony, and beauty, heaven (sky) and earth will be reunited. References

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