Monday, May 15, 2017

Final thoughts, and a litany of titles

The intention in making this wall-hanging was as a tribute to my beautiful mentor and friend of 25 years, thea Gaia. Today is the first anniversary of her passing. Thea had already been working for many years in the area of women’s spirituality, firstly within the Congregational (laterUniting) Church as a minister, then stepping outside the rigid masculinist interpretations of divinity to explore with other women ‘a free and lively exploration of a female divine in women, nature, the earth, and the interconnectedness of life.’[1]

In working on the small shrines for each image, I wondered why thea had chosen these particular goddesses – and perhaps more critically about their relevance for today’s woman and today’s world. It is clear that the images presented in the work do not belong to the same era, nor do they have the same geographical location, though are generally associated with civilizations that came and went in the middle/near East. They do cover a wide area and very broad time-span of spiritual exploration, from Central Europe 30,000 years before the present era (Venus of Willendorf) to the last century (Kali) – much older than the patriarchal, Abrahamic religions, which are less than 3,500 years old, and offering great variety and depth of understanding.

Reflecting on the title and final presentation of the work I was aware of the relationship between the materials being used to construct the wall-hanging, and the valuable relevance of such ancient images of goddess in today’s societies. The use of natural and perishable materials, such as tapa, a cloth made by indigenous Pacific islander peoples from plant fibre, and a sloughed snake skin seemed significant in presenting an idea of female divinity that perished as a result of the overpowering of those earlier egalitarian, peaceful societies by a patriarchal mindset, one that set about establishing and maintaining through religion an ethos of domination over cooperation as the norm for social interaction. Then modern technology has produced the digitally printed images. During the time of its making, I began to think about the enduring presence of these indigenous goddesses from the northern hemisphere. They have the power to initiate personal and unique explorations of subjectivity outside the cultural domination preserved by a monotheistic male mythology for the divine. During the month-long process of construction many titles came to mind:
She is here: I am she”/ Shrines to She /Awesome Power / Soul Sisters / Bloodlines /Shrines to when God was a woman
Eventually it was settled on: “Before the beginning, when God was a woman”, using two other titles: the first part is taken from the prologue to Carol Christ's "Rebirth of the Goddess", titled 'Before the beginning', in which she quotes a beautiful poem by Christine Lavadas[2]. (thea, myself and Glenys Livingstone 'performed' this poem at a visit from Elizabet Sahtouris to thea's home when she lived in the Blue Mountains). And the second part is from the title of a text by one of the earliest spiritual feminist writers, Merlin Stone (1976). Here is the poem:

Evrynome – A Story of Creation
By Christine Lavadas

Long, long in the past, far, far in the future,
At that point, before the beginning, after the end,
Where time and space do not exist,
Where all colours and forms are lost in the blackness of the void.
There was a heavy, vast silence,
A profound eternal motionless,
And nothingness and everything were the same.

And then Evrynome, Gaia, Goddess of a thousand names,
Mother of all,

And the sound of her breath echoed pleasingly in her ears.
As if it were a foreseeing
And yet as if it were a remembrance,
She heard summer breezes ruffling tall green grasses,
And winter hurricanes howling through deep valleys,
And the pounding of the sea,
And the calling voices of all creation.
And so Evrynome, Gaia, Goddess of a thousand names,
Mother of all,
Pursed her lips and whistled for the wind.

Then slowly, smoothly, and with perfect sensuality
She rose up from the timeless bed of her infinite rest
And caught up the wind
In her cupped hands,
In her streaming hair,
In the billows of her skirts,
And in the warm secret places of her body,
And she danced.

She danced delicately, she danced frenziedly,
She danced in staccato rhythm and liquid movement,
She danced with pure precision and orgiastic abandon,
She danced gloriously.
She danced holding the wind in her close embrace,
She danced the love and joy of creation.
She danced and danced.

And from the arch of her foot leapt the circles of time,
And from the curve of her spine, the spirals of life,
Day and night,
Black and white,
Absorption, reflection,
Birth, death, resurrection.
And as the ecstasy grew, as the beat increased,
The wind blew wild and her belly swelled round.
And from the rivers of her sweat, oceans flowed,
And with each heave of her breast, mountains rose.
And when she threw back her hair and opened her hands,
Life teemed around her and harmony reigned.
Creation now danced in her perfect time

And she smiled.
In spite of their origins, they still have the power to inform my own sense of being ‘indigenous’ to Earth in the land of my birth Australia, through my European cultural heritage. We know that the attitude of the Indigenous Australians to the arrival of the Europeans on their shores was one of honouring them, in the expectation of a customary reciprocal and fair exchange.[3] While we also know that this is not how it has finally played out, the images tend to awaken another sense of how it might have been. Maybe that’s why these images remain important, needing to be revived and re-viewed: to remind us of how it once was - “In the beginning, when god was a woman”, and of the possibility of how it might be if we go full circle by restoring the female to her awesome power, through contemporary women. These images live in a continuum encompassing living women, spirits and ancestors, qualities that are essential governing principles for a fair, just and egalitarian society. Further paraphrasing the thoughts of Max Dashu, these goddesses express, embrace, and invite the awe that is the sense of Mystery aroused by the beauty in nature, art, music and dance, and the interconnections between self and other - not the mystification practiced in authoritarian, hierarchical institutions that demand submission without knowledge[4] (commonly expressed as having ‘faith’). ‘What is divine can be found within our embodied selves rather than in a transcendent disembodied theology,’ [5]…and looking at images of ancient empowered women across time and across the globe can only help! I feel that thea would agree.

[1] Barbara Caine, ed. 1998, Oxford Australian Feminism: a companion, OUP: Melbourne p. 270
[2] Prologue in Carol Christ, 1997, Rebirth of the Goddess: finding meaning in feminist spirituality, Addison Wesley Pub Co: NY
[3] Meyer Eidelson, Melbourne Dreaming: a guide to important places of past and present, Aboriginal Studies Press.
[4] Max Dashu, 2012, That which is sacred, Feminism and Religion website
[5] Barbara Caine, ed. 1998, Oxford Australian Feminism: a companion, OUP:Melbourne  p.272

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