I don’t know why it has taken me half a century, but a recent curiosity I’m willing to make public is a growing interest in the Goddesses.
I’ve been taking online art classes offered by the Art of Allowing Academy for over a year, learning to paint the female face through connecting to the Divine Feminine. Connecting to the intangible happens through the allowing process, letting the feminine form appear on the canvas and following it with your hands. In other words, going with the flow as opposed to a planned execution. And making an appearance She has been! Various shapes and forms take root on my canvas and make me wonder who these beings are, where they come from; whether they are parts of me like Gestalt theory would suggest, or beings of their own right like Jungians would argue…
I’ve always loved the saying that is attributed to Einstein (whether that’s true or not) that goes “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”. Even though I’ve been raised within the framework of western scientific thinking, I don’t find the concept of mystery disturbing or contradictory. It is suggestive of the unknown or unknowable, sometimes presenting with a particular flavor of the numinous.
Everything being miraculous is about giving life and all its mechanisms (including all the reasons behind it) the respect and awe it deserves. I have no trouble acknowledging that I might not have all the information to what is at play in a given moment. As a psychotherapist I’m painfully aware of how flawed our perceptions and/or memories can be. And this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a truth to most things, or that we can’t find it. It just means that I can reserve a space for the unknown and the unknowable. I am able to remain flexible in my thinking and tolerate the existence of opposing realities.
According to the Jungian perspective we are influenced by powerful inner forces (archetypal energies and dynamics), which can be personified by Gods, Goddesses, Spirit Beings, or Animal Totems, depending on the culture. When Muriel Rukeyser said that “the Universe is made of stories, not atoms”, she was referring to the bigger/deeper psyche, which experiences life through the senses, has access to the unconscious realms, and prefers stories as a way to make and find meaning.
Mythology provides us with volumes of stories filled with complex characters that seem to resonate deeply within us. I grew up in Turkey surrounded by stories, through the land and the ruins as well as the books. I wasn’t drawn to the Goddess culture I encountered here initially, feeling uncomfortable with the focus on a single gender, the draw to the mystical over the practical elements of life, and a group vibe that challenged my individualistic tendencies.
A while after I had been painting in the allowing way, I discovered that maybe this valuing of my individuality is not only not unique, but potentially a characteristic of a particular Goddess archetype!! Could it be that parts of me that I think are mine are because of the influence of the inner forces the Jungians are referring to?
It all started with my priestess painting. The point of this large-scale assignment was to think deeply about how we present ourselves to the world, about who we are in our sovereignty. We were invited to have an authentic encounter with the blank canvas that serves as an honest mirror to what the psyche is willing to reveal of itself. Flora, our teacher, models her process through a video recording, clarifying that the idea is not to copy hers, but to enter into our own process. Her priestess had this beautiful, colorful gown that gave her a very regal appearance, and I was looking forward to my own version of it.
We often start with a colorful, abstract background, and then take the time to see where our feminine character appears. This is similar to the childhood game of finding shapes and beings in the clouds; the mind has a tendency to complete incomplete lines. Sometimes the image is so clearly something, that 10 people looking at it would recognize it as a hippo, and other times, it’s unclear enough that the process allows for the psyche’s own projections. For example, a cigar can be a cigar or a phallic projection, depending on the particular moment.
I looked and looked at my lovely background, and couldn’t help but see a profile in the lower left hand corner of my canvas. There is often a moment where we prefer to start commandeering a painting rather then following it, because the latter creates unwanted challenges. For one, I had just mastered the skill of painting faces from the front and three quarters views, and wasn’t in the mood to figure out the profile. Secondly, following the profile would mean I’d have to give up the gown I was looking forward to painting, and somehow work out what would happen with the top part of the painting. My commitment to the process of allowing made me move forward with the profile, though I was grumpy for a long time, and not happy with my painting by the time I finished.
So, I had to sit with it quite a while longer post completion, to figure out why she appeared the way she did, what my psyche wanted me to understand about myself at this time. The first thing that was apparent was that her hair, which took up most of the painting, must be significant. What I noticed was that her hair fit her head like a helmet, and I thought Athena, don’t ask me why! Then I realized that the hair must be symbolic of something more, and thought it is about what is underneath the hair, namely the mind, where I spend most of my existence. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made that I would end up with this painting as my priestess painting and my dislike began to dissipate. As I shared the image with members of my art group, the love they showed my piece helped shift my initial annoyance to more favorable feelings. Before long I was quite fond of my gown-less priestess with the weird hairdo.
It was a few months later when I was reading Bolen’s “Goddesses in Everywoman” that Athena began to really step forward and demand that I recognize the similarities in our characters. Athena like me, or me like Athena, share a pattern of: following logic, being ruled by the head rather then the heart, thinking clearly and for ourselves, and the joy of knowing things, figuring out the hows and whys. There is the association with the sensible adult, one who is interested with worldly matters of consequence, those things which are practical and pragmatic. Athena like me, was her father’s daughter and had a tendency to seek balance in all things. I, like Athena don’t play much and live for work and accomplishments. The more I read the more I found things that didn’t match of course, since any woman of some complexity shares characteristics of other archetypes/Goddesses as well. I recognized Hera in the jealousy that strongly reared its head after I got married. Artemis in my love of animals—especially the untamed ones. Demeter in my love and dedication for my children and family, and Hecate in my ability to aid clients through transitional spaces.
Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living”, which ties back to the famous pronouncement by the oracle of Delphi “Know thyself”, which in turn ties back to the proverb found in the ancient Luxor temple,“Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods”. So, in the end, it doesn’t really matter who the Goddesses are or where they come from, but whether or not they can help us know and understand ourselves better. I’m finding them to be not only helpful, but also utterly intriguing.
Which Goddess is showing up in your life at this time?
Which archetype is most present in the way you show up in the world?
Sibel Ozer is a licensed professional counselor and board-certified art therapist currently doing private practice in downtown Ann Arbor. She started her career as a clinical psychologist working with earthquake survivors in Turkey. She continued her work in the United States in hospice, hospital, and private practice settings further specializing in grief, loss, and trauma. She is a certified EMDR practitioner and a graduate of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. She gives experiential workshops nationally and in her country of origin (Turkey) on different art therapy topics. Visit www.sibelozer.com, call (303) 905-1109, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.