I will be giving a Salon Presentation next week with the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology, and put together a new, improved Slide Show! Here it is below, and the Slide Share link - and I'm most grateful to Slide Share for making their wonderful service available. And since I'm also doing a kind of "retrospective" here as I wait for the heavy hand of Bloggers "new look" which may make it rather difficult to access my older posts, I copy below an article I wrote about the "Mythos" of the Goddess, and the creation of masks.
The Multi-cultural Divine Feminine
"Western civilization has been overshadowed by the Father archetype, to the exclusion of the Mother archetype. By suppressing the feminine, we have done enormous damage to our individual and collective psychic health, to say nothing of the health of our planet."
Jennifer Barker and Roger Woolger, THE GODDESS WITHINIn 2002, just before the invasion of Iraq, I directed an event with the Masks of the Goddess collection devoted to peace in Oakland, California. I remember a conversation I shared with one of my collaborators, Dorit Bat Shalom, an Israeli artist who brought Israeli and Palestine women together in “Peace Tents” to share their stories in the 1990's.
Dorit asked: "How can there be peace in the Middle east without the Shekinah?" The Shekinah is the feminine aspect of God in Judaism. Dorit explained "The Shekinah has been driven away from the holy lands. We cannot heal without her."
I never forgot her comment. Because indeed, endless strife does takes place in the very heart of what was once the fertile homeland of the ancient Great Mother, of Inanna, Astarte, Isis, Asheroth, and the Shekinah. Artists are mythmakers - and myths are the templates of dream, art and religion, the templates upon which both civilizations and individuals name what is sacred, and what is profane. I think the question Dorit raised is profound: how indeed can there be peace, in the Mideast or elsewhere, when deity, and values, are personified and polarized as almost exclusively male?
A mythos that denies “the feminine face of God”, and degrades or belittles the sanctity of feminine experience - has left us a humanity divided against itself.
At the closing of our event participants and audience approached a masked “Sophia”, who held a mirror over her heart. As they drew near the stage, each saw themselves reflected in the mirror, the “heart of Sophia”. The name of Sophia, the feminine face of God in early Gnostic Christianity, means "wisdom". Ultimately, to "know Sophia" means to "know thyself". In all our complex diversity, male and female, dark and light, old and young. The "mirror of Sophia" represented the Gnosis necessary to become true peacemakers.
The Goddess of antiquity and world culture, as well as in contemporary women's spirituality, has a thousand faces - maiden, mother, wise crone, teacher, warrior, healer, destroyer, lover, nurturer of new life or the flame of creativity. She is found throughout world religions and mythologies, with names like red Kali, Inanna Queen of the stars, Quan Yin the compassionate, suffering Sedna Ocean mother to the Inuit, Aphrodite the capricious goddess of love, and Mary, the Virgin. To me, most of all, she is Gaia, Anima Mundi, the feminine “World Soul”. As the collective power and voices of women rise now so does the Goddess, often hidden and underground, rising now from the buried past.
I've found, with many others, that re-discovering and re-inventing these universal stories is important to empowering women. They are also important on many other levels: to restore the balance within the fragmented soul of humanity, which includes reverence for nature and the sanctity of embodied existence, and for the affirmation of women’s experience. It's been my privilege to share some of that telling through the use of masks, dance, ritual and theatre.
SACRED MASKS AND DANCE
When I studied mask making in Bali, I realized the Balinese had no understanding of our western discourse on art....art, to them, is a way to commune with the deities of their Hindu religion. Everyone in one way or another assists in the daily practice of their beliefs, from creating offerings for ritual events, dancing in performances, participating in Ketchak performances, or many other activities associated with festivals and ritual dramas. Every village has its collection of Temple masks, preserved for specific events, such as the seasonal battle between the Barong (light) and the witch Rangda (dark). For the Balinese the Temple masks are not "art objects" - they "belong to the Gods", and are imbued with special meaning and energy, just as the telling of their stories is more than entertainment.
"Theater" comes from the same Greek word as "theology" - Theos, or "god". In traditional cultures, masks, drama and dance are about contacting the divine, and refreshing the mythologies that inform their cultures... Masks are never made lightly. Animated by the body, masks are threshold tools that mediate between this world and the realms of spirit. There are many procedures to be followed, including choosing the right materials from the right place, asking ancestral spirits what kind of mask is required for specific ceremonies, and consecrating the finished work. A great deal of preparation was necessary, and masks were activated and de-activated with great respect.
As psychologist Stephen Larsen commented in his 1996 book The Mythic Imagination:
"The primary function of the mask is to unite the indwelling wearer (and the observer) with a mythic being, or as Jung would say, 'an archetypal power'. The mask, as we have found in our own work, becomes a transformer of energy, a medium of exchange between ego and archetype. Thus in traditional societies one finds taboos surrounding the mask, its recognition as a power object.”
Among natives of central Mexico, masks used for corn and rain dances were destroyed after a number of years, because they believed they accrued too much power over time. This sensibility is found in Japanese Noh Theatre. Noh masks are created according to traditions that go back many generations to represent personae that have firmly become animated by the mask. Actors will often sit for days with a mask, creating fusion with the character. An artist I know once told me of an African mask at the Museum of Art in Milwaukee that, legend had it, sweated. She said she went to view it over a number of days, and sure enough, there it was, if carefully observed, sweating away. Unnoticed by hundreds of people, she commented, magic is literally on display.
The intent of sacred performance thus is to give movement and voice to multi-dimensional being. What happens when we invite the archetypal powers, the Goddesses and Gods, into our "magic circle"? The answer is, "If you build it, they will come." I believe there is a magnetic field the dance practice engages, a field of synchronicity and relatedness we step into.
"When you create within a sacred paradigm", playwright Elizabeth Fuller said "you find a strange thing. You are communicating with, and being fed by, sources you know are within you, but have a much greater reflection somewhere else. You are in touch with something timeless.”
As the group becomes a strong container, it generates energy that flows to the audience and beyond, an expanding circle. "Circularity" is the foundation of evolving Women's Spirituality. The wheel of the elements, the wheel of the year, circulates. Water and wind move across the landscape like a sinuous snake. All things circle and wind and spiral. So does our creativity as we interact.
Masks are also about circles. To me, masks are an impeccable metaphor for the personae that encircle our souls.
Who are we, really? In the course of our lives we inhabit a noisy council of selves. The metaphor of the mask leads perfectly into that essential inquiry: “Is this me? Or this? Can I wear this mask, become it for a while, express its unique qualities, feel it in my body, and find its story? Can I take this mask off, have I become too identified with this mask to my detriment?"
We become, in my opinion, more compassionate beings when we can witness, embrace, and celebrate this "circle of self", from dark to light, mundane to divine, fragile to strong, young to old - as the integral being each of us really is. Not as an abstract concept, but as an authentic experience to be had within our spontaneous, creative imaginations, and in the sensory, visionary immediacy of our bodies. One way to do that is to use the mask consciously - putting on and taking off these many "faces", becoming self-aware shape shifters.
Each mask has its reserve of energy. Women and men exploring mythology with masks and storytelling may chose to work with an archetype for specific reasons; sometimes to call back something they feel has been lost. A woman named Turquoise who participated in a ritual drama in 2001, for example, told me that she discovered a joyful opportunity to reconnect with "the instinctual woman" she had been in her youth when she worked with the Artemis/Diana mask.
"I found", she wrote, "renewed love for the animals, the trees, for all living things. I saw my surroundings illuminated with light, the light of nature. That is the domain of Artemis."
Some may find themselves drawn to a Goddess because she affords them an opportunity to explore something they need to discover. Enacting the myth of Inanna’s descent to meet her dark twin Ereshkigal has been powerful visioning into the "underground" of the psyche for many who have created ritual events based upon this ancient Sumerian myth. Dwelling in the underworld, Ereshkigal may be understood as the “shadow self”, difficult to meet, necessary to not only know, but to cherish and integrate. The descent of Inanna is among the most universal myths of death, fragmentation, and psychic integration ever told: the shamanic "journey of the wounded healer". Enacted in ritual theatre, it can represent initiation into mature empowerment; and it is also an enactment of the universal cycle of death and rebirth in the natural world.
The Goddess can also manifest in many intimate or contemporary ways. I remember making three masks for three young women who wished to create a performance about the Biblical Lilith, the "first wife of Adam" who was cast out of Eden because she would not submit to him. They represented her as three aspects: a dark winged, elemental Lilith, a suffering Lilith cast out of Eden, and finally, Lilith as she appears today - a vamp.
Their expression belongs to dreams, art, myth and ritual. To too literally "describe" them is to diminish them and their potency. That was surely one of the reasons why the Eleusinian rites of Greece and Rome, which endured for 2,000 years, were called "Mysteries".
Ann Weller, an artist and community activist in California, took on the difficult task of invoking the "Dark Goddess" for a community ritual theatre event in 2000. At the approach of the millennium, their purpose was to symbolically transform the violence of the past century into a more just, evolved consciousness. As Ann described her process:
"The Dark Goddess is found in many cultures by many names, and is not aspected lightly. The work calls forth an internal capacity for psychic empowerment, an energy not easy for our limited ego selves to encompass. Because the work is, I believe, ultimately, impersonal. I was a brief vessel for an immense archetypal intelligence manifesting within the drama we created. And yet, the experience did bring personal change. You can't work with sacred theatre and not be changed in some way. I was being re-constructed, whether I was aware of it or not, to better serve Her. I found myself confronting aspects of myself that were just not useful any more. Which meant better serving myself. That's how I look at it. The little overlay of how I imagined myself, which had never been very effective, was now utterly obvious to me. My authentic power began to manifest."
In 1999 and 2006 it was my privilege to see the entire collection of masks used for the Spiral Dance, created by the Reclaiming Collective, in San Francisco. By offering to "aspect" a Goddess, each woman who wore her mask, and entered the Circle that night, was providing a blessing for all gathered, allowing the power of each Goddess to radiate into the world. This practice of viewing masks as “vessels for deity” - the gods and goddesses, the animal powers, the ancestral spirits - is a concept found in virtually all indigenous and early cultures, including the origins of Greek theatre.
There is a way of knowing that we are the artists of our lives, a way of seeing our creative process as participation in a conversation we are having with an infinitely conversant world. We’re dancing the future into the world by the stories we tell: like the web of the Native American creatrix Spider Woman, the threads of myth are spun far behind us, and weave their way far into the futures of those not yet born. May we dance empathy instead of despair, may we tell the stories that make life sacred and loving, profound and reverent.
Photographs are by courtesy of: Jerri Jo Idarius, Ileya Stewart, Thomas Lux, Peter Hughes, Ann Beam and Lauren Raine
Bat Shalom, D. 2002: "The Peace Tent", interview with Lauren Raine.
"The Masks of the Goddess - Sacred Masks and Dance", self-published with Blurb.com, (San Francisco, California), 147 pages, 2019
Devananda, D. 2001: interview with Lauren Raine. Unpublished manuscript.
Fuller, E. 2001: Interview with Lauren Raine, "The Masks of the Goddess - Sacred Masks and Dance", (2008) self-published with Blurb.com (San Francisco, California), 147 pages, p.87.
Larsen, S. Ph.D. 1996: The Mythic Imagination: The Quest for Meaning Through Personal Mythology, Inner Traditions (Rochester, Vermont), P. 178
Raine, L. 2008: "The Masks of the Goddess - Sacred Masks and Dance", (2008) self-published with Blurb.com, (San Francisco, California), 147 pages.
Raine, L. 1999: Performance, "The 20th Annual Spiral Dance", The Reclaiming Collective, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, California, Oct. 31, 1999. Community performance of annual event.
Raine, L. 2004: Performance, "Restoring the Balance", Muse Community Arts Center, Tucson, Arizona, April 4, 2004. Community performance, directed and produced by Lauren Raine.
Raine, L. 2004: Performance, "A Thousand Faces", Black Box Theatre, Oakland, California, October, 2002. Community performance, directed and produced by Lauren Raine.
Darling, D. 2000 Performance, "Masque of the Goddess", Sebastopol Community Hall, Sebastopol, California, May, 2000. Community performance, directed and produced by Diane Darling.
Smith, T. 2001 Correspondence with Lauren Raine.
Weller, A.: 2001: Interview with Lauren Raine, "The Masks of the Goddess - Sacred Masks and Dance", (2008) self-published with Blurb.com (San Francisco, California), 147 pages.