The Ancient Art of Ascent
Originally published in Matrifocus, Imbolc, 2007
When I seek the worldly face of Goddess who lives within me — to see Her made manifest on the Earth — the creations of my body, spirit, and mind lead me to Her. Whether I call myself at that moment an artist or activist, gardener or poet, mother or professional, I am closest to Goddess when, like Her, I am conjuring ideas and visions and bringing them into being in the physical world. Then, I both mirror and participate in Goddess’ Great Creation that is made anew with each mosquito’s flight, each raccoon’s birth, each volcanic eruption, and each solar eclipse.
To me, this Goddess-like creativity is a gift and a mission we bring with us into the world at birth. As young girls, my sister, our friends, and I starred in elaborate plays performed for ourselves in our suburban basement. Though the stories were our own, most settings came from autobiographical girls’ books of 150 years ago. Each of us played a character of our own imagining, re-enacting with great drama tales of everyday triumph, sisterhood, and transformation.
As I reflect upon them now, these games seemed to draw upon a deeper, more universal and divine creativity than could come from a child’s life experience or storytelling skill. The stories we crafted were extraordinarily real and complex. My character was not a shallow reflection of my young self; instead, she possessed a wisdom and vision that became my first guide for who I was to be as a woman. Alone among my childhood games, these stories enthralled me and became the basis of my life’s work as a writer.
Three elements seemed key to the stories’ power.
1. They connected us to the generations before and after us — to the real women who lived in the times in which they were set, and to our future selves whose lives, we hoped, would mirror our play.
2. The stories were created in community; conjuring them with other girls forged bonds still extraordinarily close after 40 years.
3. The stories honored the lives of ordinary people; I grew up with a sense that each of my actions is significant and that what I do should make my everyday world more beautiful, gentle, and meaningful.
How alike is this kind of play to the ongoing creation of our universe with its cycling seasons of revolving past and future, its communal remaking through the births and deaths of billions of humans, animals, and plants, and its attention to the tiniest detail of each mundane leaf, snowflake, or moment of a human life!
Goddess-like creativity is all around us. Over the years, I have encountered these elements of Goddess-like creativity in women’s “folk art” — quilts, cross-stitched poems, hand-painted or embroidered objects for the home, all with symbols that are centuries old; folk songs and tales that generations of mothers have used to teach and entertain children; and so much more. Any mission, from rocket science to planting a tree to painting a house, if approached with imagination and passion, can have these same qualities and partake in their magic.
The abundance of Goddess-like creativity is also within us, connecting essential moments of our lives. Many years ago, I witnessed a re-enactment of the Inanna story by a gifted storyteller. The performer evoked the world of ancient times in her devoted retelling of this text. Yet, at the same time, she involved us in her interpretation by inviting us to find meaning in it for our everyday lives. The experience was so powerful that I understood for the first time that I, a modern woman, could find emotional and spiritual illumination through ancient stories of Goddess. I and many others I knew had descended into our own Underworld, whether through violence, depression, poverty, or some other condition, had been transformed, and then had ascended, re-emerged into the Upper World of physical existence, ready to live again.
One December, after years spent pondering Inanna’s story, I joined with other women to help create a Winter Solstice ritual, an event we knew had been celebrated for millennia. We first enjoyed the richness of life through conversation and song, then we dwelled in darkness for awhile. A few candles were lit, then more, until the light returned. Finally, each woman crafted an object to help her bring what she learned into her daily life in the months ahead, and perhaps even to be inspired to make further Goddess-like creations.
For myself, I made from that Solstice evening and the Inanna performance some poems, stories, and this series about going deep into our spirituality to re-envision the world through Goddess eyes. Perhaps someone reading these writings will express her own journey in flower beds, a song, crafts, a play, or the right insight for a student or patient.
The Inanna story inspires and transforms women 5000 years after it was first recorded. How can a single piece of literature be so powerful? Why do my childhood games still guide me? Why am I moved by a quilt made to brighten a crude log cabin 200 years ago? Why do the three elements I’ve identified make Goddess-like creations unique?
Goddess-like creations carry the universal wisdom of long ago yet also reach into the future; they have vision infused with insight. They help us place ourselves on the Wheel of Life between past and future generations. Just as we have been passed the gift of life and the creations of our ancestors, who strove to make our lives better than theirs, so must we do the same for future generations.
The universe Goddess created requires us to help, nurture, and love one another if we are to survive infancy and childhood, obtain food and shelter, and experience meaning and fulfillment. When people of Goddess create things together, they create community with all its possibility and all its challenges. Goddess-like creations transform by reaching from person to person, even through time, so that the lives of each who receive the creation become richer, truer, and more connected to all beings.
The universe Goddess creates is the ordinary world of eating breakfast, sweeping the floor, watching loved ones be born and die, wondering how to feed your children without a job, and watching the sun rise and set. Those who make Goddess-like creations so often have many demanding responsibilities in the world and know the hard side of existence, yet still choose to bring their work into being in the Upper World. To me, each Goddess-like creation intended to better daily life is a statement of faith that the so-called mundane world is a sacred place as worthy of Goddesses as it is of us. Each expresses a responsibility that comes from receiving this gift, the responsibility to make our everyday world reflect our (and Goddess’) joyful aspirations for it.
Goddess-like creations, no matter whether they are songs, poems, needlework, legislation, lesson plans, rituals, or more, begin with a vision, bring that vision to life with bonds of community, and emerge into the everyday world as the force that moves the world from chaos into life, from turmoil into peace, from despair into hope. When we create like Goddess, we are the hands of Goddess creating Her world with Her.