Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why study Myth?

The myths are the great stories that shape our lives.  They reflect our journeys, tragedies, comedies, and victories.  They are stories that have taken on a life of their own, fed by the events of history and the collective dreams and imaginings of countless generations.  Authored by us, they in turn “author” us, bringing the interactive saga of the collective imagination with them that shapes the cultures that then shape us.  They ignite the conversations between our every-day selves and those nobler versions of ourselves that we long to become; those that reach toward the divine powers symbolized by the gods, goddesses, and heroes of legend.

Are they true stories? What kind of truth are we looking for?  I once sat at the feet of the eminent world mythologist and bard Michael Meade.  We were in the ancient temple ruins of the Oracle of Delphi, assembled to hear him tell the timeless tales.  As Michael beat a rhythm on his drum and spoke to us of the Old Ones, I began to listen with a part of me that sank into the deepest levels of knowing, levels that transcend the rational mind.  I began to submerge myself into the spiritual and emotional truths of his storytelling, feeling my way through the metaphors and paradoxes towards this wisdom to which stories open the door.  It was as if my mind were floating in a dark warm ocean, absorbing knowledge through my very pores, my DNA, something so personal, like the relationship between a foetus and the nurturing environment of the womb. In the presence of this Source, rational “proof” becomes irrelevant as we begin to see with inner eyes and hear with inner ears; it’s a process of opening one’s self to the therapeutic power of mythos and the inspirations they set in motion. I tend to feel those inspirations as visions, which quickly lead into movements.

When we open ourselves to it, this wisdom has a way of seeping into us and transforming us from the inside out. It bubbles up through us like a spring. In Michael Meade's words, “A handful of the sweet waters of mythos is more precious than a lifetime of dogma, piped in.” The myths prime the pump of our creative souls.  They teach us and cause us to reflect on the state of our Being.  They inspire us to create truth and beauty and to express the epiphanies that give substance to our relationship with the eternal.  They activate the Goddess within.

For women today, the resurgence of Goddess consciousness has brought with it an awakening to the many dimensions of feminine power that the ancients revered and that the Patriarchy has done so much to mutate.  The wisdom of the ancients speaks to us of the possibilites veiled deep within the quarters of our souls. An especially big bubble of this consciousness has been growing in the last century, casting doubt and interrogation on our roles as handmaidens of the patriarchy. We begin to see that the narratives that uphold the status quo are full of plot holes, missing characters, and bias. Not to mention sense.  Just through human transmission, the stories begin to lose essence. All human transmission is biased, because all humans write from a point of view and a language.  How can we put the Eternal into words?

Yet their pull is irresistible.  They are stories that have kept the human imagination alive since time immemorial and they've been constantly re-written, retold, and revised.  We begin to realize how alive these stories are, and to realize our power to co-author them.  They want us to! To read and interpret the myths of the great Goddesses is to open one’s fullest Self to the vast reservoir of power that lies in the Source.  When we refresh ourselves at this sacred source, we emerge with our creativity newly activated.  We are inspired to re-create or co-create our individual and collective stories – adding our own brush stroke to the portrait of the feminine psyche and its archetypes. These expressions of creativity are the offerings we give back to the Source, the Universe, and each other, and they keep the cycle of creative energy flowing.

The idea of a Goddess is in and of itself an epiphany, a way we humans have tried to grasp at the vast infinity of the Source.  To how many countless dreamers has a full moon's cool liquid light not inspired visions of radiant femininity that coalesce into a Goddess form?  Humans have made the same associations for millennia, and the Gods and Goddesses are figures in the dramas we've lived and written about and painted and expressed in our struggles to know ourselves.  

So Aphrodite and Hera come to us with their powers, their stories, and a vast body of art they've inspired over the ages.  We can look at them, read about them, and take them in.  But they're already there, deep inside us, as unconscious content.  In a woman's soul, they can be thought of as two separate energies, two temples that women transit in their life journeys

Goddesses of love/beauty and marriage/power respectively, they are frequently pitted against each other in the legends.  The passionate, carefree nature of Aphrodite is often an affront to Hera, protectress of the stable home.  On Olympus, the arrival of Aphrodite was much-heralded, as word of her dazzling beauty rang throughout Greece.  Zeus panicked and quickly married her off to the (ugly) smith-god Hephaestos, one of his two sons with Hera.  This made Hera Aphrodite’s mother-in-law! Can you see where this is going?

Hera was rightly famous for her own beauty, but as Queen, she married Zeus out of duty and bore the brunt of his constant infidelities. Aphrodite engaged in numerous passionate love affairs including with her other son Ares the god of war.  So these two energies, one dedicated to stability and the "other" a passionate de-stabilizing force, find themselves in opposition not only in Heaven, but within us and among us.  In this narrative, we see a fragmentation of feminine power as the archetypal symbols of passion and duty square off against each other in a setting where things are the way they are because a male king Zeus decrees it. In ancient Greece, mostly men wrote.  How does human authorship affect the impact that myths have upon us?

Because the myths absorb and then reflect back our projections, we can also make them into whatever we need them to be in order to serve our cultural ends.  The arrival of the Hellenes into Greece marked the beginning of the end for the indigenous matriarchal earth goddess cults.  With the arrival of the warlike sky-gods, the goddesses were literally married off, like real-life princesses, into marriages of alliance and re-written in relation to male counterparts.  The goddesses who pre-dated Aphrodite and Hera, like Isis and Inanna, actually combined the feminine powers that the Greeks dissected.  The Sumerian Inanna, for example, was called “The Queen of Heaven and Earth, Goddess of Love and War.” That’s a lot of power concentrated in one feminine figure!

So Aphrodite brings us love, passion, beauty, creativity, and art.  And Hera brings us partnership, duty, power, and leadership.  And the two Goddess figures were cast against each other in the Greek myths as catty enemies.  Why?  Because  feminine power is easier to control when women are fragmented – internally and interpersonally.

Why can’t both powers live harmoniously inside women and amongst women like they once did in Innana or Isis?  Why do women have to be categorized as either wife or lover?  Madonna or whore?  Dutiful or Passionate?  Leader or Muse? Hillary or Monica?  Is this starting to sound familiar? And isn’t it starting to become obvious how limiting this is?  Do we have choices?  Can we intervene?

This is part of the magic of the myths – in their permeability and malleability.  They are living stories and in order to remain alive, they must adapt and mutate and evolve along with us. They want us to re-write them, and I have a feeling they have been waiting for a new chapter for a while now! If the story of the eternal Great Goddess can have had so many chapters already – Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Neo-Pagan, etc. – then why can’t we write a new chapter today?  How do we keep the story moving towards the future?

For our inspiration, I would like to offer the mythical story of Aphrodite’s magical golden belt, which legend says made the wearer irresistible to any being who saw her!  It was kind of like a wonder-bra, described as a "golden strap in her bosom". So she wore it over her heart, and it was gold, so perhaps a symbol of her "heart of gold."

Homer writes the episode during the Trojan war, in which Aphrodite supported Troy and Hera supported the Greeks.  Of course! It was wartime, the Greeks were warlike, and wars had to be waged.  But the earthly battle was mirrored by the discord between the great Titan father god Okeanus and the mother goddess Tethys.  "As above, so below" - another lesson the the myths teach us.  Queen Hera decides she must intervene in the divine argument in order to bring about peace in Heaven so that it may be reflected as peace on Earth.  But she finds she lacks the powers of seductive flattery and sweet speech, so she summons Aphrodite’s aid.  Aphrodite at once decides to give Hera the source of her power, the golden garment who will also make Hera irresistible to the warring Titans, so that she may achieve peace.

“Hera (...) called Aphrodite to come aside and speak to her. "My dear child," said she, "will you do what I am going to ask of you, or will refuse me because you are angry at my being on the Danaan side, while you are on the Trojan?" Zeus' daughter Aphrodite answered, "Hera, august queen of Goddesses, daughter of mighty Kronos, say what you want, and I will do it for at once, if I can, and if it can be done at all." Then Hera told her a tale and said, "I want you to endow me with some of those fascinating charms, the spells of which bring all things mortal and immortal to your feet. I am going to the world's end to visit Okeanos (from whom all we gods proceed) and mother Tethys (...) I must go and see them that I may make peace between them; they have been quarrelling, and are so angry that they have not slept with one another this long while; if I can bring them round and restore them to one another's embraces, they will be grateful to me and love me for ever afterwards." Thereon laughter-loving Aphrodite said, "I cannot and must not refuse you, for you sleep in the arms of Zeus who is our king." As she spoke she loosed from her bosom the curiously embroidered girdle into which all her charms had been wrought - love, desire, and that sweet flattery which steals the judgment even of the most prudent. She gave the girdle to Hera and said, "Take this girdle wherein all my charms reside and lay it in your bosom. If you will wear it I promise you that your errand, be it what it may, will not be bootless."  When she heard this Hera smiled, and still smiling she laid the girdle in her bosom. 

This tale is powerful because it highlights an instance where these two Goddesses join forces.   Hera acknowledges that the Ancient Ones haven't made love in a while (not sleeping together) so she herself knows the power of erotic love to heal and mend discord. How exactly she will use the garment we don't know, but it is definitely a legitimisation of the same Aphrodisiac force which can often be perceived as so unsettling.  How many of us are afraid to use our feminine powers?  How many of us are afraid to share our power with other women?  Aphrodite's sweetness and generosity is telling.

This inspired me to imagine how these forces can be consciously worked to achieve harmony inside women and among them.  It has always struck me, for example, how a woman’s Aphrodite nature rules the process of falling in love, while a woman’s Hera energy takes over at marriage.  One Goddess helps the other form a stable family unit.  Yet a lot of attention is given to the supposed decline of romance in modern marriages, suggesting that a woman’s lover and wife aspects are prone to discord.  Why? I think it’s high time we explored this and how we can change the script by claiming our right to be lovers and queens – integrated and harmonious.  Standing in our power but unafraid to radiate love and acceptance.

It’s not just in our relations to men that the dichotomy plays itself out.  In the workplace, we often see the organic, artistic creativity of Aphrodite collide with the focused leadership of Hera the boss lady.  How can they build dialogue? When we begin to use the Goddess archetypes as lenses through which to observe and analyze ourselves and each other, we begin to grasp the interplay of personality types and patterns. Maybe, as Hera suggested, if we help make peace between the goddesses, that peace can reflect in us and among us?  "As above, so below."

As sources of inspiration, they give us so much. Who wouldn’t want to inhabit Beauty like Aphrodite, or to walk in dignified grace like Hera?  Who among us would like to explore a leadership of the heart, or forge a stable romantic partnership?  These and other possibilities are consciously engaged through Creative Movement Ritual, which takes the reading of the myths to a whole new level by adding meditation, movement, and ritual theater.

In ritual, we take a break from ordinary time and space to reflect on the condition of our souls.  We set aside differences to come together at the tribal hearth. Together, we contact the great Source whose stories have led us there. And we invite this Source to inspire us to become better people and build a better world.  In Creative Movement Ritual, we allow the body to move us through this dialogue with the Source.  We bypass the rational mind and allow the truths of our personal conditions to reveal themselves to us via movement, be it spontaneous or choreographed.  We shift from ordinary time, space, and consciousness and enter the temple of the ancients, in which the ancient tales are revived.  Creative Movement Ritual offers ways to move through the mythic stories; to act them out, characterize, interact, and create shapes, gestures, dialogues or sequences that express our internal process. The results are often moments of rare poetic beauty that transcend the limits of time and space.

In a time that is not a time and a place that is not a place, for a brief eternity, we will meet.  We will walk the sacred circle, and open the portals to our souls.  We will bring our stories to the temple of the Goddess, and she will tell us Hers.  We will open our inner eyes, ears, and hearts to the message beyond the words, deep within us, circulating through us like a fountain. We will allow the Source to flood us with its grace and inspiration and fill us with realisation. We will raise the cup of communion to each other in the spirit of integration and harmony. Thus revived, we will create expressions of truth and beauty that we will offer the Source, ourselves, and each other.  And we will walk away knowing that our passion can become our duty, our power lies in love and our beauty is our truth.  

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