For those of us who are dedicated to female divine energy, to Goddesses, what is our relationship to the Gods–to the masculine? This subject is something I have had in mind for some time, and as the Greek trip approaches, it becomes more significant.
In the 1980s I found myself very drawn to the ideas, and scholarship, and passions of what is sometimes called the Goddess Movement, or more poetically, the Return of the Goddess, or the acknowledgement of the Divine Feminine. I delved very deeply both into Goddess history and contemporary spiritual practice.
My book, the Body of the Goddess, expressed the idea that religion originated in awareness of the divine in nature and the human body, and that in such a state of awareness the female is very important, for new life comes out of the female body. Even today our language describes the Earth and the Sea as female.
The book drew on a great deal of scholarship, about such subjects as pre-historic cave art, mythology (my lifelong passion), ancient temples, and sacred buildings created in the shape of a woman’s body. As well as study, however, I went to many of these places, for as Heloisa wrote (quoted below in The Body In The Land),
One thing is to know by books that the Goddess used to be worshipped in those lands.. And another thing completely stronger is to actually go there, and, with a mixture of surprise, emotion and astonishment, see that it was really real.
During this time, I tended, like many women in the Goddess movement, to see the male deities, the Gods (or God, as monotheists quaintly refer to the divine) in something of a villainous role. A great deal of evidence suggests that in some places in the world a Goddess centered culture existed for thousands of years, without hierarchy of slaves and rulers, and without largescale violence. Excavations of very early cities and settlements find them without fortifications, and on sites that would be very difficult to defend. In other words, they were built without fear of attack, and an in fact existed for hundreds of years without mass violence.
The establishment of patriarchal social structures changes this. We find, instead of egalitarian societies, all the wealth going to a king, with slaves buried alive in his tomb. We find in some places a state of constant war between tribes that lasts–well, up to the present. Some people have argued that while a “Great Mother” culture (a misunderstanding of what Goddesses are about) is very comforting and stable, a dynamic male-dominated culture is necessary for progress and technology. This idea ignores the fact that the Goddess-centered Neolithic (“new stone age”), was the most creative and longest sustained period in human history. It saw the development of agriculture and cities, writing, astronomy, engineering, and all of these to a highly sophisticated degree. By contrast, when the warrior God Dorians invaded and conquered Greece, they ushered in a 500 year “Dark Age,” socalled because culture and technology came to an abrupt stop.
So it is easy to see the Gods as a force of dominance and destruction. The mythology seems to encourage this. The Egyptian God Horus cuts off the head of his mother Isis because he considers her disloyal to his military campaign against his uncle Seth. Zeus, the patriarchal ruler of the Greek Gods, seems to spend a great deal of his time raping women and nymphs up and down the countryside.
In the writing of The Body of the Goddess, Zeus’s favorite son Apollo emerged as a particular villain. I’ve tended to think of Apollo as Zeus’s enforcer, sort of like Sonny in The Godfather. My dislike of The Gods has never been absolute. I’ve long been interested in Dionysos, the God of ecstasy, who actually took over Apollo’s chief site, Delphi, in winter, when Apollo presumably went south to someplace warmer. And as you can see below, in “Invocation To Hermes,” I feel a strong kinship to that Greek God of magic, invention, divination, con artistry, theft, lying, and guidance to dead souls (I tend to ignore his main function in Homeric myth, Zeus’s messenger). Recently it struck me that it would be fun to get legally ordained from one of those Ordain-Ur-Self websites and then open my own “church,” The Temple of Hermes the Swindler.
Ah, but Apollo? Not only does he assault as many women as Zeus, not only did he attack and conquer Delphi from the Goddesses who ruled there, but his main attribute, rationality, seems to me a way to narrow the wide spectrum of reality. And yet he also is the God of poetry and music, and even prophecy. Delphi, called the world’s navel, was the site of the great oracle, while behind it rose Mt. Parnassus, home of the Muses. And recently, a scholar named Peter Kingsley has been making a strong claim that Apollo is misunderstood as the calm rationalist lord of light. Kingsley describes Apollo as the ruler of initiations of death and rebirth. In Kingsley’s book Reality, he links Apollo to Persephone, the Queen of the Dead, whose Greater Mysteries are the theme of the trip I will be leading to Greece, now less than a month away.
And odd signs have been coming to me of Apollo somehow entering my life.. Often, when I teach a Tarot workshop I lead an exercise in creating what I call your “fortune teller identity.” This involves a series of steps in which you make up a fanciful name for yourself, a “tribal history,” outlandish claims of your past successes, and then speak in a stagey “foreign” accent, all of which allows you to get past your rationalist–Apollonian–filters and say things you normally would not dare to say. When I did this a few months ago (I always do it myself when I lead the exercise, it’s too much fun not to take part), and it came time to call myself something, “Dr. Apollo” immediately came into my head and refused to leave. I tried to think of something else, “Madame This,” or “Lady That” but Dr. Apollo was it. Later, I used this name for a mysterious fortune teller in one of the stories in my just-finished collection The Tarot of Perfection: Eight Stories (see below, Book Is Done).
Most recently, I attended a workshop from the wonderful Tarot artist, psychic, and teacher Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman (presented by Zoe Matoff, founder and director of the Rhinebeckian Institute for Tarot and Esoterica). One of the decks used was a very intense Tarot created by a German artist named Margarethe Petersen. At one point I pulled the card of The Hierophant. Now, this word is the name of the priest who officiated at the Mysteries, held in a city named Eleusis. The picture shows a powerful dimly glimpsed man, half in bright darkness, half in blazing light. He seems to be moving towards us, emerging from the cosmos itself, while at his feet, hard to see at first, lies a giant snake. As I looked at it I was struck by a powerful sense that this was Apollo, in all his complexity and power. And I remembered that the Mystai, the initiates in the Mysteries, passed two shrines as they left Athens, city of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. One was to Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Passion, to whom I self-initiated at a retreat many years ago. The other was to Apollo.