For many of us, these weeks in June are the beginning of a long summer vacation, not so much for us, but for the children in our lives. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is how much summer is a time for change and growth for children. There is something about having lots of time just to wander and dream, to be only and truly yourself, that brings on natural movement from one way of being to another. And children do not work at growing or resist transformation the way many of us adults do. To them it is as inborn as breathing.
If we look at Goddesses and their tales across time and the world, we see a similar way of looking at change. To some, metamorphosis is a natural and sacred quality of the Great Mysteries of Life:
Durga-Parvarti-Kali and other such Goddess sisterhoods go round and round the endless cycles of life-death-rebirth, destruction and creation, separate but also one.
Pele is known as a Goddess of transformation, burning with the volcano-like fire that destroys, but also brings forth new land and life, of both the physical and our inner landscapes.
The Apache’s Changing Woman who, when she grows old, walks east to meet and merge with her younger self, bypasses time itself.
Some Goddesses use change frequently and quite easily for their own benefit and that of others:
Cerridwen was a Celtic Goddess who used her cauldron to make potions to turn a common child into one who was wise and inspired and then later changed herself and the boy Gwion into a variety of forms, including a hare, greyhound, and hawk.
Ostara made an injured bird into a hare to save its life while Vila of eastern Europe regularly shape-shifted herself into swans, snakes, and even clouds, as the need arose.
Athena turned Arachne into a spider as punishment.
Goddesses also undergo their own inner transformations. Many woman will see their own life journeys in the story of Inanna, who travels to the Underworld to help her mourning sister, undergoes horrifying trials and even death, and emerges into the Upper World wiser, more majestic, and more powerful.
By looking at these stories and many others, I have come to see change differently than I once did. Once I had what I think is likely the common view: that a new way of being is something that comes about only when the current situation is not acceptable and must come about through forced action. A perfect world would always be the same because there would be no need for anything different. No wonder attempts at change, even when the need is obvious, are met with such fear! But, if I see metamorphosis as natural, good, and necessary, it is no longer something to be met with resistance and anxiety, but expected and welcomed as a sign that the world is as it should be. My own inner unfolding can come about as a gentle turning of the Earth rather than through turmoil and a sense of loss.
Perhaps I should be doing the same kind of metamorphosing this summer as children. I wonder if I can begin with the idea that I am certainly good enough as I am, but that I will let myself naturally shapeshift into who it might make more sense for me to be at this moment. Maybe it is time for me to try some art form that I never have before and see who and what emerges or remember some long-forgotten dream of childhood and pursue it. Just as Inanna came up from the Underworld with the gold of her soul revealed by her challenges, and as Vila was able to turn herself into all those beings because they were already inside her in some form or another, I can change this way without fear, knowing that I am simply coming to be the person I already am and should be at this moment.
And perhaps if we all take to heart these Goddesses and their tales, positive and necessary change will come more easily to the rest of the world, too. Life will flow and transformation will become a normal part of life and a reasonable response to everyday indications that the past is past, especially when visions are filled with peace, freedom, and compassion. I began thinking about this post a couple of weeks ago, but as it has been written, my tv and computer screens are filled with images of everyday people, especially women, demanding reform and sometimes dying as a result. The message in the stories of these Goddesses is clear: birthing new ways of being is not a last resort to be responded to with violence and fear, but the way of every being on the planet at every moment and, especially when most directly leading towards those positive dreamed-of futures, to be welcomed and embraced.
On the same wind as the voices of today’s women demanding change, so many Goddesses from so many times and places are all whispering that everything moves from what was to what is now to what should be and that this is just the nature of the universe. Through tears of both sadness and hope, I hear them.
Thanks to Twitterers Z Budapest, M Rudden, Fernwise, and D Saarinen for help identifying Goddesses associated with transformation.
Patricia Monaghan. The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2000.