From Girl to Goddess
Title: From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend
Author: Valerie Estelle Frankel
Publisher: McFarland and Co.
Release Date: Fall/Winter 2010
List price: $35.00
Category: Humanities/Mythology, Interdisciplinary Studies/Women's Studies
appendix, notes, bibliography,
About the Book
What is the new mythology to be, the mythology of this unified earth as one harmonious being?” Joseph Campbell asks. The fragmentation and violence in the world reflect the sublimation of the largest minority existent in religion, spirituality, and everyday life: Womankind. For the first time since prehistory, women across the earth are evolving into their natural place as man’s equal, invoking the Goddess, and protecting the sanctity of life by reclaiming the heroine’s journey.
Campbell believed that while the hero represented the logical, assertive side of the personality, encountering the feminine blessed him with creativity, empathy, and intuition. However, neither side of this equation represents the heroine on her archetypal quest, descending into death and revitalizing as Mother Goddess. This active heroine dominates holy books from the Mahabharata to the Nihongi, as well as fairytales like the ubiquitous Cinderella. Even the great epics offer us Antigone, Medea, Pele and Hi’iaka, the Devi-māhātmyam, Hymn to Demeter and The Descent of Ishtar.
Cinderella-like, the girl grows up sheltered. Soon enough, however, she’s forced out. Her brothers are ensorcelled into swans, or the Fairy Queen steals her lover. Her quest to reunite the family has arrived. Practical and often cruel, her mentor guides her to wield a magic thread or slippers, a chalice or cauldron, girdle or hoop. “Every step you take will pierce like knives,” the Sea Witch warns. What are weaving nettle coats or walking barefoot to the land of death compared with childbirth?
Her shapechanging lover represents her submerged animus, the intellectual masculine aspect of herself she must integrate before reconnecting with the feminine. After penetrating his scaly serpent skin, the heroine embarks on her perilous descent. In the underworld waits Hecate, the witch-queen, Medea, the death-dealing mother. Lilith, devourer of babies. Facing her, the heroine confronts the cruel side of motherhood: violence, sexuality, overbearing control, terror of aging. In short, the Terrible Mother is her shadow —sterile, waning death in place of life and thus all the youthful heroine must yet experience.
Claiming her loved one, the questor ascends to Goddess, terrible and beneficent, matriarch of death as well as life. She becomes Gaia, with all life springing from her body. Changing Woman, Navaho mother of humanity. She is Devi, the imaginative force throughout the world, but also balances her darker aspects: Kali, Tiamat, Caillech, Baba Yaga, Gunabibi.
In fact, the new age we enter is not that of Yeats’ “Rough Beast,” as Campbell suggested, but the era of the far-fiercer integrated Goddess. She is the emerging international sensibility toward human rights and ecology, the life cycle incarnate. She, who has dwelt fragmented into victimized Persephone, gentle Kwan-Yin, sublimated Mary, passive Gaia, vilified Medusa, is rising once more.
The young questing heroine seeks to become the Great Mother, balancing strength with creativity, logic with intuition. She is a vessel of emerging power, for which the feminine was once worshipped: The woman’s power is as different from the man’s as yin and yang, but not inferior. Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Morgaine from The Mists of Avalon could hardly be considered lacking in “brains.” Yet they also have the creative power to affect the world, Lucy though faith and Morgaine through magic. These women do not quest for their missing masculine side, nor do they take on boys’ roles, cutting themselves off from emotion in favor of strength. They quest to advance themselves on their personal journeys (as do the boys) and to become nurturing leaders.
The true goal of the heroine’s journey is to become the archetypal, all-powerful mother. Thus, many heroines set out on rescue missions in order to restore their shattered families: Eliza must save her six brothers from a lifetime as swans, Lyra of The Golden Compass must find her best friend. Both heroines battle torture and death to restore their families and win true love. Demeter forces herself into the realm of the dead to reclaim her daughter, while Isis scours the world for her husband’s broken body. Little Gerda in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale quests all the way to Finland to rescue her playmate from the unfeeling Snow Queen. Though the goal is beloved family members or potential husbands, these heroines work as hard as any fairy tale heroes.
This goal does not indicate by any means that the girls are trying to “stay at home” or “play house.” The heroes are challenging their fathers, the metaphorical king of the family. In hero’s journey stories, heroes kill powerful male monsters to represent the ascendency of the son of the father while growing up. The heroines likewise are replacing their mothers: sometimes as helpers and wisewomen, sometimes goddesses and powerful queens. While the father is an archetype of success and power in the outside world, the mother represents power in the inside world of the home. The girl must eventually face her shadow-self, the child-devouring witch, in order to pass through death into maturity.
In ancient times, the mother goddess of fertility and the earth was worshipped as the ultimate creator. Girls emulate that path on their journeys by forming a family circle in which they can rule as supreme nurturer and protector. Some, like Demeter, care for many subjects, while others only protect a small group. Just as the hero can become the king of the Danes or a shaman for a small tribe, the key is self-mastery and wisdom.