Don’t worry, this isn’t a recap of your English Lit class from college, the one where you could easily nod off right when your teacher got to the part about comparing Aristotle to Ovid.
This post is part of an ongoing expedition, one that integrates imagery, art and story. Tales from older sources that involve women as heroines are a much needed antidote in our culture of shoulda, coulda, oughta that puts so much pressure on us to define our worth through superficial beauty. The stats that are out there are mind numbing: Models are 23% thinner now than they were 20 years ago. Girls start dieting at age 8 now rather than age 14….I don’t need to go on, do I?
Our power is more than skin deep. The art and imagery that exists for women beyond pop culture is inspiring and healing. By exploring myth, specifically goddess myth, we find keys to greater self discovery and even spiritual transcendence. With awareness comes confidence and with confidence comes power.
The winter solstice myth of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess that hides herself in a cave, is a story about spiritual rebirth.
Amaterasu was distraught over the horrible acts of her brother, the storm god, Susano-O. Having witnessed his destruction of her sacred temples, which killed one of her priestesses, Amaterasu, in her grief, shut herself into a cave which blanketed the land in darkness.
All of the thousands of gods and goddesses decided that they had to bring the light (of the sun) back to the land of the living. They called upon Usomo, a laughing goddess, to encourage Amaterasu to leave the cave. Usomo stood before the cave door and pleaded with Amaterasu, but to no avail. Usomo then decided that she would need to do something more drastic to get Amaterasu’s attention. Before the crowd of deities she created a dance which was so comical and wildly flamboyant that everyone waiting outside of the cave gave a loud and heartfelt response.
Unable to contain her curiosity, Amaterasu opened the cave door a crack to peak outside. The other gods and goddesses were waiting for this moment and quickly thrust a mirror in front of Amaterasu, reminding her, “though you are bound by your family and ancestors you are also an individual and therefore may make a happy life for yourself if you wish to.” By witnessing the truth of her own bright spirit in the reflection of the mirror, Amaterasu shared her light with the world again and the sun was reborn.
This myth points to the covenant that ancient culture created with the heavens in the form of the astronomical event, winter solstice, and the promise that the sun will soon give us warmth and light and therefore transcend our hopes while erasing our fears.
Likewise, the darkness is a symbol of our suffering due to other’s misgivings. When we muster courage we have the ability to start again. And maybe, if all else fails, a little humor couldn’t hurt…
Consider the words of Ntozake Shange who said, “I found God inside myself and I loved Her. I loved Her fiercely.” By understanding that we have the power to manifest our own light we recognize our connection to everything in the world and have a greater appreciation for our individuality as well.
Exploration: Everyone carries emotional baggage from those who have hurt us in the past. Which relationships do you feel negatively affect your outlook today? Can you relieve yourself of some of those old memories and release the baggage? What will it take to move past the damage and see your own inner light?
Alice Pike Barney: Woman Clothed with the Sun (Smithsonian American art museum)
Ntozake Shange: For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf. Scribner Publishing (September 1, 1997)