WHERE HAVE ALL THE GODDESSES GONE?
An International Women’s Day Piece
By Anne Baird
Published in the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, in Issues and Ideas, March 7th, 2008
(The Sun retitled the piece "Ready to Reclaim Our Divinity."
On February 21, 2008, Proctor & Gamble announced the biggest ad campaign in history for razor blades for women, to promote a new Gillette five-blade razor, the Venus Embrace. As reported by the New York Times, the campaign “plays on Venus’s being the Roman goddess of love, but recasts women as deities in contemporary settings.”
Images will include a woman running with a jogging stroller, called the “Goddess of Trailblazing.” Another will feature a woman sending a text message, described as the “Goddess of Communication.”
The campaign launches at a timely moment. International Women’s Day, (March 8th) is almost upon us. This holiday celebrates the achievements and accomplishments of women so far, and highlights those areas where more needs to be done. Access to reliable healthcare and childcare for working mothers, are two issues that still need to be resolved. More urgently, in many parts of the world, women still suffer under barbaric oppression.
To me, as Designer/Owner of GODDESS CARDS – “Because every woman is a goddess!” founded in 2001, there is another vital issue in play. After centuries of living under patriarchal domination, women are finally ready to reclaim their divinity. That is why the Gillette campaign, despite its commercial motivation, is a heartening sign of a great turning in our culture.
Once upon a time, women grew up with goddesses. In the ancient world, the goddess was never far away. For every human concern – birth, death, love, marriage, childbearing, health, art, music, work, war and peace – there was a corresponding female deity.
In the pre-Christian Greco-Roman world alone, for example, women could cry out to Aphrodite/Venus for problems with love, beauty, and fertility. For sisterhood, healing, childbearing and hunting, they could turn to the athletic Artemis/Diana. Wise Athena/Minerva was the one to go to for women’s wisdom, help with the domestic arts, invention, and even strategy for the successful waging of war. Demeter/Ceres was the goddess of motherhood and the harvest; Hera/Juno was the advocate for marriage and the family. Vesta/Hestia presided over hearth and home, and Gaia was Great Mother of All.
This abundant supply of feminine role models and spiritual advocates wasn’t limited to the Western world. Goddesses were universally available.
Kuan Yin, in China, was the model of mercy and compassion. Isis, the Queen of the Immortals in Egypt, embodied courage, miraculous regenerative powers, and devotion to her murdered brother/husband, Osiris, and their son, Horus. Inanna, the great Sumerian goddess, was a fierce advocate for women, and for her people – a feminist archetype in an area of the world now renowned for its suppression of women. Lakshmi, the Indian goddess of wealth and prosperity, demonstrated the need for balance in the quest for material and spiritual gifts. Oshun, the Yoruban goddess of love and beauty, was a champion for her people, as well as the model for sexuality, fertility, and healing.
Women loved their goddesses! They believed that they understood their problems, and that their intercession on their behalf would transform their lives. These deities were totally unlike today’s Media Goddesses, whose surgically transformed bodies, hair extensions, chemically whitened smiles and cosmetically enhanced features have created a generation of look-alike Goddess-Clones, and left a path of destruction behind them, in the form of eating disorders generated in women who attempt to achieve their impossibly “perfect” size 0-2 bodies. Instead, the ancient goddesses came in all sizes, shapes and temperaments. They resembled Real Women – on a goddess scale.
Goddesses honoured every phase of a woman’s life: maiden, mother and wise woman. Wisdom and experience were as prized as youth and beauty. Some goddesses embodied all three phases. Brigid, the Celtic Triple Goddess of Fire, was one of those. She was also the goddess of war, poetry, music, inspiration, and divination. (Talk about multi-tasking!)
No aspect of human life was too insignificant to deserve a patron. Bast, the Cat Goddess of Egypt, was for cat lovers. Gorgeously depicted as a cat, or as a cat-headed woman, she offered consolation to all who mourned the death of a kitty. Your cat wasn’t lost! It had simply “gone to be with Bast!” Like a cat, she was also sensuous and fun loving.
The triumph of patriarchal religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam knocked goddesses and women off their pedestals. The Great Mother , exemplified by a goddess like Gaia, who mated with Uranus, King of Heaven, to give birth to all life on Earth, was transformed by the church into a new mother figure – the gentle, submissive Virgin Mary. Quite a transformation from the robust, perpetually renewed “virgins” of antiquity who lived passionate lives of the flesh as well as of the spirit! This change relegated women to a more subservient role in society. It opened the door to a steady erosion of women’s feelings of power, worth, and self-esteem.
By the time I was growing up, the great archetypal goddesses were no longer part of my world. Yet, despite knowing little about my rich cultural heritage, I found my way back. In a patriarchal world, I still grew up with goddesses!
Not the legendary goddesses I celebrated later in my line of greeting cards for women. Instead, I discovered the everyday real goddesses who surround us everywhere, and who are goddesses in their own right. It began when my family moved to the West Indies shortly after my birth in Borneo. (Yes, Borneo!)
The stately and curvaceous women of Trinidad, maintaining large families by the labour of their capable hands, imprinted on me forever the concept of feminine power and abundance. That concept deepened throughout my life as new goddesses emerged to carry the ancient banners of ancient deities. Think Maya Angelou, Golda Meier, Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Rosa Parks, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Theresa, Oprah Winfrey, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Benazhir Bhutto, among others.
Where have all the goddesses gone? They’re among us today. And not just in the new Gillette razor commercials. Read the newspapers. Read a book. Look around you. Look in the mirror! YOU’RE a goddess too!
International Women’s Day is a good time to reclaim that. It’s your birthright, and there is much to be done.