Everyone ever born emerged from the body of a woman. All over the world primal cultures understood the sacred source as feminine – the earth as a woman, the sky as a woman, the ripening of the grain as a woman. Then, somewhere along the way, God became a man. Yet the divine feminine sleeps just beneath the surface, waiting to awaken.
In the 1970s the nascent environmental movement resurrected the Greek goddess Gaia to personify our growing understanding of earth’s ecosystem as a single, living organism. Conceiving of nature not as a series of disjointed mechanical processes, but as a living, breathing, conscious, and interdependent entity restores our intimacy with our mother. We cannot help but care for her better, knowing that as we care for her, we care for ourselves.
Personification is at the heart of all religion and mythology. We have always attributed human qualities to the forces of nature and the energies within us: thunder a god, rain a goddess, malice a demon, and compassion an angel. Joseph Campbell called these personifications the “masks of eternity.” For Campbell mythic images are externalizations of internal psychological realities – all of the gods, demons, heavens and hells are within us. By projecting them into the outer world of forms we more easily face them, and hopefully, understand them.
And nowhere is the feminine divine more richly expressed than in Classical mythology – the myths of ancient Greece and Rome. Here we find an extensive pantheon of goddesses exhibiting the diverse energies of our inner experience. Their powers are our powers, no matter our gender. See how many of the following qualities and characteristics you recognize in yourself.
The Greek goddess Aphrodite, (Venus in later Roman nomenclature), personifies love, sensuality, and beauty. She represents our softer side, our longing for pleasure and luxury, and the transformational power of love. When we lose ourselves in indulgent ecstasy, we are Aphrodite.
Artemis (Diana) personifies fierce independence, wildlife, and the love of the hunt. Unlike Aphrodite, she never goes to the mall, and doesn’t mind getting dirty. She’s most comfortable beyond all boundaries, alone in the wilderness. When we feel the thrill of the hunt, the surge of ambition, and the joy of freedom we are embodying Artemis.
Athena (Minerva) personifies wisdom, discernment, and leadership. Here we celebrate the power of the intellect to master mystery, see connections, and chart a path forward for ourselves and others. When we trust ourselves, feel confident, and calmly solve problems with clarity and insight, we are manifesting Athena.
Demeter (Ceres) personifies abundance, nurturing, the harvest, and fertility. She is the Great Mother, the source of life, and the heart of compassion and care-giving. Everything that grows bursts forth with her energy. She hears and answers the needs of all. When we nurture, cultivate, care for, and honor the life coursing through all things, we are honoring Demeter.
Hera (Juno) personifies marriage and partnership. She has endless energy, strong confidence, and zero selfishness. Her identity is defined by her ability to strengthen others. She favors mediation over domination. She avoids the spotlight, preferring to apply her many skills in the service of the team. When we sacrifice our private wants for the betterment of our partnerships and draw satisfaction from those we help, we are celebrating Hera.
Hestia (Vesta) personifies hearth and home. She is the sweet fire that burns within each of us, our center, our comfort, and our refuge. The English words “vest” and “investment” come from her Latin name Vesta, and in both cases, we see the way we are wrapped in self-care when we honor this essential goddess. When we nest and attend to our homes, we are revering Hestia.
No matter your gender identification, the qualities of the Classical goddesses are powerful expressions of our own innate powers. The goal is not to identify which of the goddesses we most closely resemble, but to honor and integrate all of them. The goddess is us. So it is that each of us is a manifestation of the Divine Feminine.
[This article first appeared in my column "A to Zen" in the March/April 2017 issue of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.]