Getting ready to offer a brief paper and slide show at the Conference on Pagan Studies at Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California January 24 and 25. As I suppose previous posts show, I've been researching this subject for a while now, and I take the liberty of posting here my basic presentation and slide show, entitled:
Endarkenment: The Dark Goddess in Art and Myth
Because of the limited time for this presentation, I'm going to concentrate on only 2 "Dark Goddesses" that occupy a profound place in the mythos of both the past and the present. They are Hecate, the underground Greek goddess of the Crossroads, and Lilith, the Biblical first wife of Adam.
Here is Hecate, the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess in her underworld, with the other aspects of the Triple Goddess behind her, holding, perhaps, the book of fate, painted by the English visionary William Blake. I love this painting because to me it suggests the Paleolithic underworld Goddess of the caves, the Great Mother whose womb the cave was, and the animals Blake includes could be among those prehistoric creatures artists or ritualists painted, incubating within the great womb of the cave a new birth in the spring. In fact the earliest known painting of a human being is the truncated vulva form
Found in the caves at Chauvet-Pont d'Arc in France, the subject of an award winning documentary in 2011 by Werner Herzog, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams". It has been determined that this is one of the earliest of the paintings in the site, and the bull form was apparently painted over the original painting at a later date. Paintings at Chauvet are from 28 to 32 thousand years old.
Perhaps the first, and last, Dark Goddess is Gaia, Anima Mundi, Mother Earth. Gloria Orenstein, in speaking of a theology of endarkenment, commented that it is “bonding with the Earth and the invisible to reestablish our experience of interconnectedness with all things, phenomenal and spiritual, that make up the totality of our life in our cosmos. Ecofeminist arts do not maintain that analytical, rational knowledge is superior to other forms of knowing. They honor Gaia’s Earth intelligence and the stored memories of her plants, rocks, soil, and creatures."
The dark is the place of creative becoming and unbecoming, the "dark matter" (Dark Mater) from which beginnings form and to which endings go, the circular intelligence of nature. Could dark matter be symbolized as the cosmic womb of the Dark Mother, incubating and birthing galaxies, particles, stars and planets?
The dark is also the realm of the primordial Dark Goddesses. Before the advent of patriarchal monotheism there were many of them, often also associated with the Moon, weaving, and oracular powers. And snakes - everywhere, the sacred, spiraling serpent. Among them, Hella, Nordic underworld Goddess, the Norns or fates, Persephone, Nyx, Spider Woman when she leads each age through the birth Kiva, Dewi Sri, Rangda, and Sedna, to name a few.
In earthly terms, they are the composters of souls. "Compost" is another, organic word for the "Transmutation" that goes on within the depths of the soil of our planet, wherein the "gold" of fertile life is distilled from rotting garbage. Composting is the alchemy of life.
Who is the Dark Goddess as a psychological entity? In Fire of the Goddess by Katalin Koda, she writes that:
"The feminine qualities of darkness, moistness, birth, and blood symbolize the dark mother and our inner Initiate……When we face our shadow, we are initiated into our deepest powers. We may be afraid of these parts; these howling, undernourished, repressed, and rage-filled aspects of ourselves that demand to be heard, but which we cannot bear to face."
Working with the shadow means we are mining that darkness for the evolutionary jewels that reside in the caves. Among the shadow Goddesses, the Dark Twin of Sumerian Inanna is one of the most ancient recorded myths about the eternal transmutation of life. Inanna must descend into the underworld realm of Ereshkigal, to encounter, understand, and heal the rift with the sorrowing and angry Queen. In order to do so she must give up at each of 7 gates one of her powers, arriving at last naked and powerless. Like the story of Persephone, the Descent of Inanna may also be seen as about the integration of dark and light aspects of self that are necessary to achieve mature wholeness and empowerment. As playwright Elizabeth Fuller commented in a 2002 interview,
"Persephone's myth is about moving into a new state of being. All the soul riches, the knowledge, the art, everything was running down the drain into Hades and it stayed there. It stopped circulating. This was the myth of Inanna as well; everything went down to Ereshkigal, the keeper of the Underworld, and got stuck there in the universal unconscious. Ereshkigal, the mind of the underworld, was on strike - she refused to process, which could be said of our collective predicament today. We can look at the stories of Persephone and Inanna and see that they are pathfinders. Pathfinders to the unconscious. That's a very important myth for our time."
Hecate is often shown with two torches that guide the maiden Kore out of Hades, to become the creative force of spring, the mature Persephone. One torch is the past, the other the future. In that liminal place at the crossroads of time stands Hecate, the Goddess of the Crossroads, guide through the underworld. She is often identified with the moon as well, particularly the dark moon.
One of my favorite contemporary images of Hecate is by Lydia Ruhle, whose Goddess Banners travel to conferences throughout the world. Notice the ever ubiquitous snake, found throughout the artwork in this presentation. While the snake is usually shown in the hand of Demeter, here Lydia has placed the snakes at the foot of Hecate, which to me represent the serpentine energies of nature, the Earth, the cycles of life/death/life. Hecate's Wheel also represents this continual cycling and reforming of life, the three aspects of the Goddess represented by the spokes of the wheel.
Contemporary artist Hrona Janto's Hecate stands at the crossroads with Cerebus, the three headed dog, holding the snake entwined staff and with a halo that represents the dark of the moon.
In 2002 Damira Norris chose to perform and invoke Hecate in a play created by Diane Darling. For her the Goddess served as well as a guide through a very difficult time in her life. As she described it,
"I remember lighting a candle each day to symbolize my commitment to my journey through the despair I felt at menopause. That's Hecate to me. She will not help you to avoid a thing, but She will bear a light for you on the path, which is really the path to mature empowerment and integration. I believe at certain passages in our lives our souls cry out "I want to get rid of this, I want to move on". And it's not easy."
Lilith is a Dark Goddess who has fascinated artists for a long time, and her journey from the night time aspect of Sumerian Inanna, from the owl footed midwife to the feared succubus and demon of Jewish and Christian lore is a mythological journey that reflects the degradation of the sacred feminine, as well as the de-sacralization and denial of sexuality in patriarchal monotheism. In medieval art she is often shown as a woman with the body of a snake, as Michelangelo also interpreted her.
According to various Biblical texts, Lilith was the first wife of Adam, made from the same clay. Because she would not submit to Adam she was banished from Eden, and God created another, presumably more compliant wife for him. But apparently Lilith occasionally managed to sneak back, and is often shown as the snake that offers the fatal fruit to naïve Eve. But if so, what did Lilith really offer? Wisdom, knowledge, the means to achieve selfhood within an understanding of the eternal, serpentine, cycles of life - the serpent of the ancient Great Mother. Alas for both Lilith and Eve, who in attempting selfhood became the penultimate Biblical scapegoats.
"Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people."
........ Carol P. Christ
Of her similar derived painting "Lilith and Eve", artist Linda Garland said:
"In the desert Lilith became the consort of Samael and other fallen angels. Fury with Adam and grief for her slaughtered children led Lilith to plot revenge."
Well duh. Banished to the wilderness of the seething unconscious, children destroyed, scapegoated for the downfall of man, the very symbol of violent sexual repression epitomized by such collective hysteria as the Inquisition…….no wonder Lilith is also portrayed as a screech owl. She is mighty pissed off.
Lilith is often portrayed as a succubus who comes in the night as a "wet dream", and her offspring also continued to plague Adam's descendants as succubae or vampires. Some speculate that Lilith is the origin of the Vampire myth. In symbolic terms, Lilith may represent the sexual, Kundalini energy that is subverted and diabolized in "sky god" monotheism, to become perverse instead of sustaining or generative. And Lilith is also the collective shadow rage of women and the feminine aspects of men as well.
In 2002 it was my privilege to interview a Bay Area artist and musician, David Jeffers, who worked with the archetype of Lilith, and I was very moved by his observations.
"The pain of Lilith" he said, "is so much about the divinity of human pain. People often only identify with Lilith's rage, the woman who was cast out because She would not accept inequality. For me She is not that simple. If you can't go beyond Lilith's first door, which is rage, you're going to be stuck; you aren't going to penetrate the emotional mysteries beyond. Lilith is the most intelligent archetypal power to aid in understanding the mechanism that underlies our unconscious motivations, she is about the ability to connect the subconscious to the conscious mind, so that information can become usable in your life and on your path. Lilith is the bridge.
People who are linear in their thinking suddenly find their world shattered when Eros shoots arrows at them. Or when they have an experience that is inexplicable or traumatic, something that cannot fit into the model they've organized their lives around. There are references in the Kabala to what is called "breaking the shell". The mind set of "what you believe" is the shell, and Lilith is about breaking the shell. You have to fall apart sometimes to be put back together; because that's the only way you can be reconstructed. You cannot veneer the teachings of Lilith on top of "who you think you are".
In Lilith imagery we see the snake again, and again, and again. Here is a famous painting by the English artist John Collier. And here another by Franz Von Stuck, which he titled "Evil" that clearly derives from Lilith mythos.
In the old kingdom of Egypt the word for snake or cobra was the same symbol as that for Goddess - the snake that represents the endless natural and psychic cycle of life/death/rebirth, just as the snake sheds its skin and moves, like the sinuous energies of nature, in a spiral. The snake may also be seen as the generative force of the Kundalini. But the enlightenment of Apollonian logic is not serpentine. It is vertical, illuminated, bright, and orderly, and the only way of the Sky god is up.
Here we have Faust and Lilith by the 17th century artist Richard Westall. The ubiquitous snake is barely visible in the foreground, and Faust cavorts with an innocent enough looking Lilith while a riotous party is seen going on in the background, one that could surely bring nothing but sheer damnation.
Here we have several contemporary Liliths with a whole lot of snakes, which could also be viewed as a whole lot of Kundalini rising.
Contemporary British artist Paul Fryer has created a winged wax Lilith, bound like Gulliver to the ground by 24 carat gold wires, bound but perhaps not entirely broken if one looks carefully at her eyes, which seem to hold a deep life force.
Lilith is bound, bound by golden threads that perhaps demonstrate her great value to the forces that have bound her wings. But she waits to rise again.
In Opie Snow's Lilith series, Lilith is a primal, almost purely elemental force, which perhaps, viewed from the perspective of a woman artist, is neither desirable or wicked, but hurt, or possessed of enormous vitality, or both.
Here is Kiki Smith's Lilith - almost spider like, she observes from the wall, her eyes regarding the viewer with the clarity of a creature banished to the shadows, the hidden places, a creature of pain, pathos, fear and loneliness.
In Mark Rothko's "Rites of Lilith", I have always felt he spoke of the the desolation of that harsh and hidden landscape within the collective unconscious Lilith has been banned to.
But there is hope today for Lilith, who is increasingly refusing to be hidden, punished, and scapegoated in many sectors of society.
Here, for example, is a painting by Mariam Zakarian called "The Lilith Effect". The artist has an entirely positive view of Lilith…..the rising Earth Serpent and the Goddess seem to be generative indeed, a virtual cornucopia.
And of course, the Lilith Faire.