Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Control of Female Sexuality, Rape, War and Art

"Judith Slaying Holofernes" by Artemisia Gentilachi
"Control of female sexuality is fundamental to the patriarchal system.  This explains why there is so much controversy about the “simple matter” of access to birth control and abortion and so much anger directed at single mothers. "
~Carol Christ
I never cease to be amazed that the contemporary versions of Biblical Patriarchs continue to fight for control the bodies and lives  of the female population, even as they attempt to remove virtually all infrastructure to support or assist poor and single mothers.  Or the "right to rape" that is  so much in evidence in the power structure of our society, especially now with the so called President and his cronies  virtually celebrating their  sexual predations publicly. 

As a long time student of art and literature, the celebration of rape and war is found everywhere. The rape of young women is a prime theme in contemporary television drama, over and over and over.  And if you look back at the history of Western art, it's all over the place as well.  In fact, much of it is on plain view in our most distinguished institutions of art and culture such as the Metropolitan Museum or the Smithsonian.  High Art, High Rape, rarely examined for the message under all those pretty colors and plump, seemingly  acquiescent women.*

I remember all those paintings, for example, of the rape of various mortal women  by those manly, if naughty, Greek gods.  A perfect  co-option of myth turned religion  to justify the violence of men - the gods rape  just the same as they do, with the head god, Zeus, leading the pack.  In a popular  Renaissance theme like the painting below, "The Rape of Europa"  by Luca Giordano, the  abduction of a young girl is positively a party for all!   

"The Rape of Europa" by Luca Giordano

Or the "Rape of the Sabine Women", or the "Rape of the Trojan Women", or "the Rape of Persephone" or so was  only years later, after all that Classic Arts Education, that  I finally understood that those paintings amounted to pornography for wealthy men of the time.  As well as propaganda.  

Here's a more recent painting from the end of the 19th Century:  our proud warrior sits atop his "loot" - lots of gold, spoils, and several passive, helpless  women as "loot" too, one appropriately nude with a good pair of breasts exposed.  Oh, and we have a weeping, but worthless,  old woman on the side, just to show the artist's recognition that there is a bit of suffering in war.

And then there is Atemisia Gentileschi"s "Judith Slaying Holofernes".  The daughter of a famous painter who was raped herself  as a young girl and publicly humiliated, I somehow don't think she found the subject at all sexy.   Her brilliant and disturbing painting of a powerful Judith and her maid servant severing the head of Holofernes strikes a cord in the heart of any woman who has known the suffering of sexual assault.  

"Judith Slaying Holofernes" by Artemisia Gentilachi

I decided to take the liberty of sharing a  brilliant article (2013) from  Feminism and Religion  by the marvelously articulate feminist scholar, writer,  and theologian  Carol Christ that takes a long look at the issue, so deeply embedded in the violence of our world, and so very crucial to understand if there is ever to be change.  Thank you to Dr. Christ for her words, once again.

And I also share, below, an image of what rape really looks like in war.  Because we need to remember.

  Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection 
  of the Control of Women, Private Property, and War 

 (Part 2), February 25, 2013


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.*

In last week’s blog, I explained patriarchy as a system in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality with the intent of passing property to male heirs.

 How did a system that identifies a man’s essence with his property and the ability to pass it on to sons come about? I suggest that the answer to this question is war and the confiscation of “property” by warriors in war. Patriarchy is rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.

My argument is that the origin of “private” property, defined as property owned by a single (male) individual, and as that which defines the “essence” of that individual, is the “spoils” of war, which are divided up by victorious warriors.  The “spoils” of war are the tangible treasures “looted” or taken by the victors from the conquered, such as jewelry and sacred objects.  The “spoils” of war include land “taken” as the result of warfare, along with the right to exploit resources, directly or through taxes and levies. The “spoils” of war also includes the right to “take” the women of the defeated enemy and to confirm ownership of them (and humiliate their fathers or husbands) by raping them.  The “spoils” of war also include the right to “take” these raped women and their young children home to serve as slaves and concubines.

Though many people were surprised when the rape victims of the recent war in Bosnia began to speak out about the use of rape as a tool of war by Serbian soldiers, in fact, rape has always been an “ordinary” part of war. In the “great” epic known as The Iliad which is said to be the foundation of western culture,  Achilles and Agamemnon are fighting over which of them has the right to rape a “captured” woman named Briseis.  The term “spear captive” is used to mask the reality that Briseis and other women like her were “rape victims” and that the “heroes” being celebrated were their “rapists” and “jailers.” I believe that the institution of rape and the (twisted) notion that men have a right to rape (certain kinds or types of) women originated with war.

The institution of slavery also originated in war. Both the Bible and the Greek epics testify to the ancient custom of enslaving the women and children of the enemy.  Slave women in every culture, like the slave women on plantations in the Americas, are at the mercy of their owners and his sons, who can rape them if they felt like it. The “custom” of taking slaves from the enemy and the “custom” of also taking enemy women sexually, is deeply intertwined with the history of war.  The Africans who sold other Africans into slavery in the Americas were selling Africans they had taken as the spoils of war.
If we entertain the hypothesis that earlier matriarchal clan systems existed, then we can see that the notion of individual powerful men’s peri-ousia being defined as the treasures, land, and people they “stole” and then claimed to “own” would have involved a massive cultural shift.  The shift to defining men by the property they owned required that men would also ”own” and absolutely control their wives and daughters, who had previously been free.  Such a cultural shift could only have been instituted and maintained through violence.

Patriarchy is a system of male domination, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence. Warriors who have learned the methods of violent domination of other human beings—not only other soldiers, but also the women and children of the people they conquer—bring the methods of violence home.  Violence and the threat of violence can then be used to control “one’s” wife or wives, in order to ensure that “one’s” children really are “one’s” own. Violence and the threat of violence can be used to ensure that “one’s” daughters are virgins who can be “given” to other men to perpetuate the system of patriarchal inheritance.  Violence and the threat of violence can be used to hold enslaved people “in line.”  In addition, violence and the threat of violence can be used to subdue those within one’s own culture who are unwilling to go along with the new system. Women who refuse to let men control their sexuality can be killed with impunity by their male relatives or stoned by communities as a whole.

How does such a violent system legitimate itself?  By religious symbols.  In Greece, warriors were “in the image” of the “warrior God” Zeus whose rape of Goddesses and nymphs was celebrated.  In Israel, the power of warriors is mirrored in a male God who is called “Lord” and “King” and who achieves his will through violence and destruction. Sadly, this is not an exclusively western problem. In all of the so-called “highly developed” cultures defined by patriarchy and war, symbols of divine warriors justify the violence of men.  Laws said to have a divine source enshrine men’s control the sexuality of their wives, permit some men to rape some women, and allow some people to own other people as slaves.

Patriarchy is not simply the domination of women by men. Patriarchy is an integral system in which men’s control of women’s sexuality, private property, violence, war, and the institutions of conquest, rape, slavery arise and thrive together. The different elements are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate one as the cause of the others.  Patriarchy is an integral system of interlocking oppressions, enforced through violence.  The whole of the patriarchal system is legitimated by patriarchal religions.  This is why changing religious symbols is necessary if we hope to create alternatives to patriarchal systems.

The model of patriarchy I have proposed argues that control of female sexuality is fundamental to the patriarchal system.  This explains why there is so much controversy about the “simple matter” of access to birth control and abortion and so much anger directed at single mothers.  The model of patriarchy as an intergral system can help us to see that in order to end male domination we must also end war–and violence, rape, conquest, and slavery which are sanctioned as part of war.  We must also end the unequal distribution of wealth inherent in the notion of ”private” property, much of it the “spoils” of war, which led to the concept of patriarchal inheritance, which in turn required the control of female sexuality.  As feminists in religion we must identify and challenge the complex interlocking set of religious symbols which have sanctified the integral system of patriarchy–these include but are not limited to the image of God as male.  Ending patriarchy is no small task!

*I am offering a functional definition of patriarchy that does not address the separate question of why it originated.  I will be publishing an expanded version of this dicussion in the future.

This Article is from Feminism and Religion, February, 2013 

Carol P. Christ will be leading life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete.  Join her and learn more about prepatriarchal woman-honoring Goddess cultures.   Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions

*"Rape in warfare is not bound by definitions of which wars are “just” or “unjust.” Rape was a weapon of terror as the German Hun marched through Belgium in World War I. Rape was a weapon of revenge as the Russian Army marched to Berlin in World War II. Rape got out of hand when the Pakistani Army battled Bangladesh. Raped reared its head as American GI’s searched and destroyed in the highland of Vietnam. Rape flourishes in warfare irrespective of nationality or geographic location. Rape was outlawed as a criminal act under the international rules of war. Yet rape persists as a common act of war.

Men who rape in war are ordinary Joes, made unordinary by the entry into the most exclusive male-only club in the world. Victory in arms brings group power undreamed of in civilian life. The unreal situation of a world without women becomes the prime reality. To take a life looms more significant than to make life, and the gun in the hand is power. The sickness of warfare feeds on itself. A certain number of soldiers must prove their newly won superiority – prove it to a woman, to themselves, to other men. In the name of victory and the power of the gun, war provides men with a tacit license to rape. In the act and in the excuse, rape in war reveals the male psyche in its boldest form, without the veneer of ”chivalry” or civilization."

......Against Our Will by Susan Brownmiller, 1975, Excerpts

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Mask and Myth" - My Masks Website

 Since we're a month or so away from Halloween, I thought I should post about my Masks  WebsitesMASK AND MYTH and RAINWALKER STUDIO.   

I still delight in making all kinds of masks for holidays, Renaissance Faires, and Costuming, and commissions are especially  welcome!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Goddess of the Equinox

Persephone (2016)

Persephone, it seems to me,  is truly the Goddess of the Equinoxes, because She is both symbol  of spring and life's renewal when she returns to her mother Demeter at the turning of the seasonal Wheel, and she is also Goddess of death, wife of Hades, and Queen of the Underworld in the ending and dormant times of  turning of the wheel.  

Having said this,  I allow myself here to move out of the great universal language of archetype, and will get a bit personal.  The truth of life in nature is that everything is changing, everything dies to become something else, or at least, make way for something else.  As beings embedded in nature, this is true of us as well, whether we like it or not.  The summer ends, and as we feast on the delightful fruits and breads of the harvest, we barely notice, indeed, deny, the slow creep of winter.  And yet that beautiful, or horrific, or both, Leveler is already advancing over the horizon, implacable and indifferent.    

This is true of nature, this is true of biological life, and it's true of our psyches as well.  When Persephone sings at the balance points of the year, at the crossroads, I believe in listening to Her song,  whether it occurs in the bright lit flowering fields, or is an echo issuing from caverns deep in the Underworld.  And that is the point at which Hecate appears with her torch (but that is another story).   We all love the Song of Persephone in the spring, the song that tells us "this is the time to BE", to feel the honey sun on your shoulders, to love, to move away from the lonely tunnels of the mind and into the great Conversation of the fields, of the planet.

When Persephone calls from the caverns, not so easy.  I myself have felt that emotional frailty, anxiety, the "taste of winter" (even in Arizona!) that this time of planetary change brings.   I continue to attempt to allow those feelings to educate me by the process of their arising.   You try to discover the language and content of all the songs the Persephone sings,  what the soul is trying to tell you.  You don't "transcend" the voice of Persephone, you mature and change, you keep on moving, as She does.

This is Persephone's time of Balance, of Equinox, Her Integral being.  Which moving away from psychological jargon simply means realizing that we must, somehow, say "yes" to all of it, and keep moving, keep dancing the light and shadow dance.  Persephone will dance with us, will educate, if one can only accept this Moving Point of Balance.   We are all, in the final analysis, Wanderers.

Persephone the Wanderer
by Louise Glück,

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth—this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
“home” to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration—

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety—

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion—
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother’s
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life—

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth—

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?

“Persephone the Wanderer” from Averno by Louise Glück.
Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Our Lady of the Desert Spring

 Our Lady of the Desert Spring,
 Nuestra Señora de las Aguas :

We pray you hear our prayers, oh Lady of the Desert Spring.
Our Lady of the dry Arroyo, come to us, hear our prayers. 
Mother of the cottonwoods, the palos verdes, refuge for all, 
 bless all those who suffer thirst.   Spread your mantle of green
 and turquoise, your shining artery of life, upon  the red earth of our lives."

Rezamos que escuche nuestras plegarias, Señora de las Aguas.
Nuestra Señora del Arroyo Seco,  ven a escuchar nuestra rogativa. 
Madre de los álamos, los palos verdes, refugio de todos,  bendice
 los que padecemos de sed.  Despliegue sobre esta tierra roja de
 nuestra existencia tu manto de verde y turquesa, tu radiante arteria de la vida.
.......Ann Waters, from "The Awakening:  Our Changing Earth" (2013)

I am delighted to have this Icon I made this summer  in Raices Taller Gallery here in Tucson, for their current show (see below).  The opening was fantastic!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

On the Beach: Oct. 11th, 2001

On the Beach

Oct. 11th, 2001

One month after the world ended.
The little island world we, the privileged few,
could pretend was safe, forever, and righteous.
The fallen towers, the fiery messengers
of unfathomable destruction yet to come.

Tourists walk here, barefoot on the beach.
They came here, I imagine, as I have
to remember, not to forget.
To remember a red dog and a yellow-haired child
as they enter the water, their cries of goodly shock
and honest forevers cold, blue, and always new.

A white heron stands 
balanced in perfect equanimity upon one leg.
Wave forms overlay my feet, 
transparent hieroglyphs of infinity:

    Her way of speaking
    Her manifest, unspoken words.

A brown man lies spread eagled on the cliff.
He is cast between sky and sea and land,
sand sunk, leaf-molten, blackberry thorn, the Green.
Toes, fingers, flesh reaching into the green redeeming Earth.
He is rooting himself. He is taking himself back.

    I lie down in grateful imitation,

a stranger in companionable human proximity,
sharing this rite of re-membering.

I see a girl, walking on this very beach.
Yesterday, and 30 years ago
(how did I get here from there?)

She is sourcing,
sourcing the one who lives here,
a river Goddess with no name.

She has made a mermaid offering
of sand and stick and seaweed.

I can hear her sand prayers sound here still,

   wave resonant, 
   purified by fire and time,
   memory rooted, 
   sky seeded, they ring true still,

   here, in Gaia.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Remembering Abby Willowroot, Artist of the Goddess


                           "Art speaks the soul of its culture".......Abby Willowroot

I was very saddened to learn of the recent death of Abby Willowroot.  Abby was an extraordinary and prolific artist whose many designs, in particular her "Spiral Goddess" became icons throughout the Neo-Pagan world, so much so that many are generic today, and few know they originated with Abby Willowroot and her pioneering exploration of ancient symbols.  

Abby was a philosopher and organizer as well as an artist, and the founder of an international project called The Goddess 2000 Project.  Hundreds of women and men around not only the U.S. but around the world created art, poetry, and rituals dedicated to "the Goddess with 10,000 names"  to be shared as we approached the year 2000, the new Millenium.  I myself organized  a Spiral Dance ritual, with the help of 20 Collaborators, which was presented at the Unitarian Church here in Tucson in October of 2000, as my contribution to the Goddess 2000 Project.

"Weaving" from The Spiral Dance, Unitarian Church,
 Oct. 27, 2000, as part of the Goddess 2000 Project.
And not least, Abby was my friend. I remember we met at Harbin Hot Springs, during one of the festivals there.  We both smoked, and so we found ourselves in the small smoking area again and again, and of course conversations ensued.  In 2000 we went to Bali, and had the adventure of a lifetime in that beautiful island.  I'm glad that I was able to talk Abby into going, and that is how and where I'll best remember her.

Goodbye Abby. I know you missed your husband Tom - surely he is there with you now.  And  I know you are dancing among the Goddesses you served so faithfully, the Goddesses your art and life brought to so many of us.  Thank you seems too small a word.

Me, Nyoman, and Abby in Ubud, Bali in 2000.

What is the Goddess 2000 Project?

With the motto "A Goddess on Every Block!" The Goddess 2000 Project is "A Grass-roots Goddess Art Project."  All over the world pagan groups, circles, and solitary folks are making Goddess statues, painting Goddess images, and building labyrinths and other projects in preparation for the new Millenia. The next thousand years belong to the Goddess, lets make Her feel Welcome by putting a Goddess image on every block in America, and thousands more around the world!

Some projects that are being made as part of the Goddess 2000 Project include: Statues made in wood, plaster, concrete, clay, paper-mache, textiles and metal. Paintings of all kinds of paint. Some people are making Goddess Collages, Quilts, Banners Murals, and Labyrinths. Smaller pieces are also being made by many folks. Ideas for projects are endless.  Many of the Goddess pieces are for public display and many are being displayed only in people's homes and in their gardens.
Anyone can make Goddess Art, you don't need to be an artist. If you love the Goddess, you will honor Her with whatever you make.

......Abby Willowroot

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Old Masks, New Ceramics

The word Personality is derived from the Latin ‘persona ‘, or ‘mask‘.  In ancient Greece players in the sacred Mystery plays always wore masks.  We can imagine these actors, in the course of the play-cycle which formed the Mystery celebrations, assuming first one mask and then another as roles changed with the play being performed. Thus we might conceive of the immortal soul in the metaphor of life’s Mysteries - assuming first one personality, persona, or mask, then another as it plays its allotted part in the successive Mystery plays which form the changing cycle of spiritual experience."
 Dion Fortune, Metaphysician (1935)

In the course of working this summer, I had many "leftovers", pieces that didn't work or were broken.  Rather than discard them, I saw them as "Shards" as well.  Lying among the shards they were a kind of personal archeology, "artifacts" used and discarded in the course of a lifetime.  So these pieces came from them.  It seemed surprisingly appropriate especially for someone who has had a career as a mask maker...........

We all wear so many masks in the course of a lifetime.  Where, indeed, is "the I", the famous Buddhist question.  It is a profound spiritual metaphor as well - the soul, moving through personalities, experience, lifetimes.  Ultimately, we are not the masks, the "personae" we wear, we are the Journey.