Monday, January 25, 2010

Goddesses in Everywoman

First of all, sorry for the new "capchas" in the comment section. They're annoying, but they've been cutting down on my spam quite a bit.

Now on to actual content: I've been reading the book Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen. It was written 25 years ago, making it as old as I am. While the title is overly New-Agey, the book itself doesn't really have that vibe. It's about using Jungian psychology in a more feminist way, and working out different archetypes of women based on the Greek goddesses. Apparently, you can have any number of these goddesses "in you" in different proportions. To completely buy what the book is saying, you'll have to agree with Jungian theories, and I'm not sure all of them make sense to me. For example, Bolen talks a little about the difference between masculine-seeming female archetypes (like Artemis and Athena) and the animus, which is a male part of a woman's "unconscious mind" that is sometimes activated, but doesn't seem like a natural part of you. To me, this idea sounds odd and unintuitive. But, even if you think Jung was full of crap, the book might still be interesting to you. While there's another book called Gods in Everyman, I think that men might stand to learn something from Everywoman, too.

One criticism: When my mom asked if White Buffalo Woman was included in the book, I realized that it was somewhat problematic to have the archetypes of all women be portrayed as, well, only Euoropean women. It's true that the Greek goddesses form a neat package, are all inter-related, and have complex back-stories, but I do find it odd that women of all cultures are supposed to be represented by only the goddesses from Greek culture. That said...

I thought two main things about this book were especially cool, and the first kind of relates to asexuality, or at least my own asexual experience. Out of the seven goddesses, three of them-- Artemis, Athena, and Hestia, are "virgin goddesses". The goddesses were literally virgins-- none of them ever had sex. However, Bolen expands this concept into the metaphorical realm. She describes these goddesses as women who were not defined by their husbands, lovers, or children. Unlike the other goddesses, they weren't abused or taken advantage of by the male gods. They're independent and focused on their own goals. That these goddesses were "virgin" didn't make them less feminine or less mature. While each goddess, apparently, can cause problems if she manifests too strongly in certain areas of your life, no goddess is portrayed as being inferior to any other.

It sort of reminded me of the positive portrayal Joan of Arc (and her virginity) got in Intercourse. However, even if you're literally a virgin, that doesn't mean one of the virgin goddesses is necessarily "your" archetype. It's worth noting that every goddess has a short section about the way their archetype views sexuality, and none of them besides Aphrodite is said to be especially interested in sex just because they like sex. For example, Demeter is only interested in sex in the context of having children, and Hera may only be interested in it as part of a marriage.

All that said, I didn't necessarily find it easy to relate to the goddesses, who tend to be either vengeful and extreme or completely passive. When I read Greek myths, I'm often struck by the fact that the gods and goddesses seem more flighty than the mortals, getting enraged about things that a person might be able to brush off. They're not exactly good role models. The goddess who seemed most in sync with my own personality, Artemis, had many parts of her archetype that didn't relate to me at all. I could relate to every other goddess a little, except for Athena and Hera, who seemed totally foreign to me. Aphrodite is described not just as a goddess of eroticism, but of creative energy-- a quality many asexuals might be able to see in themselves.

Now, on to the other cool thing. While the intent of Goddesses in Everywoman is to help me better understand myself, I don't think it really did that. However, I do think it helped me understand other women better. I've always had a hard time understanding women who were obsessed with marriage (Hera), fixated on motherhood (Demeter), or who sided with patriarchal institutions (Athena). Reading about where these women are coming from, even if they're just archetypes, has been enlightening. Men might be interested in that aspect, too. The book will definitely make you think about what goddesses are lurking within the women that you know. Has anyone else out there read it? I'd be really interested to hear some other thoughts...


Noskcaj Llahsram said...

Mythology is kinda my wheelhouse, and you are totally right, Greek gods(in particular) are horrible roll models, they're petty, cruel, narcissistic, violent, vindictive, jealous, envious, and immature.
That being said I've always appreciated Hephaestus, viewing him as my proxy, or from other mythos Odin the All-Father (pre-revelation)[Norse], Ptah or Thoth [Egyptian], Quetzalcoatl or Xipe-Totec [Aztec], Janus [Roman]. I'm not familiar with Japanese myth, the Chinese celestial bureaucracy, Celtic myths, or Hindu gods to give whom I think I'm most like.
interesting side note, it is often interpreted that since Artemis' virginity was by choice, rather than duty; like the other two; that she was a lesbian. Proof in myth is usually taken from that with the exception of Orion; whom she liked/loved due to his skill as a hunter and took on a mentor like relationship with him; she routinely and severely punished men who pursued her cohorts, and the time Zeus to the form of Artemis in order to bang Callisto one of Artemis' nymphs, and by mythological stipulation "female and not supposed to be getting down with any men".

SlightlyMetaphysical said...

It's interesting how the female godesses of greek mythology represent sexuality. Especially considering the greeks thought all women were hypersexual succubii, the number of their gods who are chaste is surprising. I'm not sure it's a positive role-model though. For every virgin woman who's praised, a non-virgin is raped, cheated on or caught in a massive net, while about fifty men are killed or have their eyes poked out because they accidentally wandered across the virgin goddess bathing (because apparently that's a better way than just not bathing in the middle of the forest path). Also, there are no chaste male role models.

In less literal terms, though, the book sounds very interesting.

Ily said...

I thought Hephaestus sounded like an interesting god, you'd get to be married to Aphrodite, score, although she'd cheat on you a lot. Bolen equated their marriage with the marriage or craft and beauty. It kind of tires me how whenever a woman isn't chomping at the bit to have sex with men 24/7, she's called a lesbian. I think most female asexuals have probably gotten "you're a lesbian!" at one time or another. Obviously, some people really are lesbians, but I guess the same impetus would exist in scholarship as it does elsewhere.

I agree that the virgin goddesses aren't necessarily any better as role models than the other ones. But, I liked the Bolen's interpretation of them. To me, it's a welcome change when virginity is portrayed in a more multi-faceted way, as something beyond a shameful secret or an obligation for women. Bolen doesn't just recount the myths, but puts her own interpretation on them quite a bit. She mentions men "who are also virgin" although it's unclear whether this is part of a male archetype or not. I'd like to check out "Gods in Everyman" and see if there's anything in there that asexual men could relate to, but I'm a little godded out at the moment :-)

Ily said...

*OF craft and beauty...nor did I mean to write, "The Bolen". :-P

Hayley said...

in answer to you who are 25 i am 55 and read the book when it came out tonite i came across a concept spiritual sexuality and the closest thing that came to mind besides native american truths that most dont get was goddesses i was so relieved as a young woman to find such a book. read jungs writing and work them yourself u neednt take them all for sure i had a stroke and brain injury but you my dear have it joan of arc included applaude yourself u r on the path