Author Archives: Lisa

New Video!

Filmmaker Katherine Matheson of Videovitae has made a terrific gem of a video about last year’s Goddess on Earth: Women of Essex County installation at the Luna Stage Theater. THANK YOU KATHERINE! You expressed the heart and soul of my work…I am so grateful.

Music by Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble and Naaz Hosseini, videography by Myles Aronowitz and Katherine Matheson

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Women, Power and the Rule of Three

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My personal relationship with power is fraught with anxiety, self-doubt and fear of conflict. As a woman, I doubt I am alone in this, yet as I struggle with this confounding reality, I wonder what my ideal relationship to power should be?

As an artist with ancient mythology embedded in my DNA, I have examined this issue before. I have photographed prominent feminist leaders such as Gloria Feldt, (who portrayed the strong-willed Lilith, Adam’s first wife), and Starhawk (who portrayedMaeve, the Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty). Both women advocate re-envisioning women’s connection to power.

Other ancient myths reflect our contemporary relationships to power as well. Durga is a fearless Hindu Goddess who symbolizes power in all its forms. Durga — whose name means “invincible” — is a ferocious protectress against injustice and all human suffering. Traditionally she is depicted astride a tiger or lion: symbols of her unlimited power. Often illustrated with eight arms, her capacity for action speaks for itself. Durga also has three eyes: her left eye represents the desire to act, her central eye the capacity to follow through with one’s desires, and her right eye, action itself.

 

DURGA’S LEFT EYE REPRESENTS A STRONG FEELING OF WANTING, OR THE DESIRE TO ACT.

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I was introduced to Francesca Kelly this past summer on Martha’s Vineyard, and returned to photograph her several weeks later. Francesca is a pioneer rescuer of the Marwari, a rare and indigenous Indian horse breed. After a twenty year battle with the Indian Government to lift the export ban of the Marwari, Francesca and her partner Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod have helped resurrect this threatened breed.

 

DURGA’S CENTER EYE REPRESENTS THE CAPACITY TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH ONE’S DESIRES.

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Francesca quickly identified with Sherawali, the warrior incarnation of Durga, and chose to portray her for the Goddess on Earth series. Surrounded by marshes on Chappaquidick Island, we created a commanding image of Sherawali. To accompany her portrait, Francesca wrote:

“It has been my privilege to be a key protagonist in the renaissance of the Marwari. The confidence to actualize ideals, to remain unimpeachable, to incorporate if you will, at the best of times, the qualities of Sherawali, is a battle and sacrifice all must experience.”

 

DURGA’S THIRD EYE IS ACTION ITSELF.

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Francesca’s embodiment of Sherawali in the photographs we created portray the symbolic trinity of Durga’s spiritual stages of power.

Far from being archaic, ancient symbolism continues to influence the necessary re-envisioning of feminine power. Durga demonstrates how modern women can use power in its multiple, generous forms as the manifestation of reflection, intent, and capability. Sherawali and Francesca are role models for contemporary women warriors (my conflicted self included) who are looking to add layers of empowerment to their lives. With mythical and ancient symbolism to guide me, I will continue to nurture my passions, practice and embrace tools for empowerment, and take action to achieve my desires.

(Francesca Kelly is seen with Sushil Kumar, a horse trainer and tent-pegger from Dundlod, India.)

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The Irony of ISIS

What would the Goddess Isis call on us to do as ISIS — the militant terrorist group — threatens to bulldoze our global cultural heritage?

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Goddess. Enchantress. Instructress. Protectress. Considered the divine Mother Goddess of Ancient Egypt, Isis was the throne upon which all pharaohs sat and received their powers. Superior to all other Gods, Isis was the giver of life. She represented motherhood as well as strength, flight as well as rebirth, purity as well as mystery. She was an incarnation of the feminine aspect of the creative force of life and power. Her throne was the foundation of a civilization, as were her principles of Right, Truth, and Justice. Ancient sculptures often depicted her with outstretched wings. Others, breastfeeding her son Horus, God of War, a singular representation that was later appropriated by Christianity as Mary and the baby Jesus.

For Goddess on Earth, Crystal Johnson, an environmental strategist and founder of ISES (Integrative Sustainability & Environmental Solutions) portrayed the Goddess Isis. To accompany her portrait, Crystal wrote:

Life is a beautiful journey for our soul’s experience and expansion. By aligning with Isis energy, I find that regardless of what is happening around me, I feel a great sense of peace, clarity, guidance, protection and love. That is comforting especially while the collective consciousness of humanity is at the current level and the resultant changes are occurring on Earth.

Crimes to our sacred history are tragically being committed by a different ISIS; an acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Less than two months ago the ISIS militants invaded Nineveh, one of the oldest cities in antiquity. Nineveh contains over 1800 important archeological sites and is forever woven into history as a major center for the worship of the Assyrian Goddess Ishtar. The ISIS occupation of Nineveh poses a disastrous threat to these sacred sites “…the virtual certainty, in fact — is that irreplaceable history will be annihilated or sold into the netherworld of corrupt and cynical collectors,” wrote Christopher Dickey on July 7 in his Daily Beast article, “ISIS is About to Destroy Biblical History in Iraq.” Disturbing news of this rampage surfaced on July 25, when militants leveled the tomb of Jonah, a site of holy pilgrimage.

“Increase public awareness of the situation!” was the plea to come out of the July 8 panel discussion “The Implications of the Current Fighting for Iraq’s Cultural Heritage.” A vocal, critical mass of public opinion is our only hope for saving our global heritage.

In this decisive time before the imminent destruction of our common sacred sites, let us all call upon the protective guidance of Isis: the oldest of the old, mother of all mothers and The All-Seeing Eye. Let us reclaim the true name and meaning of Isis. With lightning speed, let us spread our collective wings, awaken the world to the crimes being committed and raise the roof before it’s too late.

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New Goddess Sketches

For the past decade, I have traveled throughout the world-photographing women embodying Goddesses. These Goddess Portraits have been a unique opportunity for women to explore, identify and celebrate an ancient archetype and its relevance to their contemporary lives.

Goddess Sketches condense the creative process to under 15-minutes, and was developed with conferences in mind. These quick portraits include a short consultation (Find Your Goddess) and a photo session in an on-site photography studio. Here is a taste of what can be co-created!

artemisA Cybele Goddess SketchesAnna_Gaia Goddess on Earth Mnemosyne Goddess Sketch Amelia Martin Eos Goddess Sketch

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The Real Goddesses of Essex County

Luna Stage, a professional theater in West Orange, New Jersey planned to honor three extraordinary women in their Essex County community during Women’s History Month. Galas, legacy lunches and award presentations are standard affairs for most non-profits, but Luna Stage was thinking outside the box. They chose instead to commission goddess portraits of their honorees.

To me, a goddess is a woman living her life with authenticity, passion and power. Inspired and inspiring, a goddess—on earth— speaks her truth and stands up for what she believes. A goddess on earth has vitality and is beautiful, not because her cheekbones are high, her waist is thin, her breasts are large or her wardrobe is current, but because she recognizes her inner divinity — imperfections and all.

Thus a theater, named for the artistic and spiritual importance of the moon in women’s lives, reached out to me: an artist who has spent the last 12 years exploring, identifying and celebrating ancient archetypes and their relevance to our hectic, contemporary lives. Was I interested in creating Goddess portraits of three empowered New Jersey women as their most beautiful and alive selves? Bada bing, bada boom. You betcha!

Suzzanne Douglas, award winning actress and jazz vocalist, is a fervent activist bringing creative expression into the educational system. Although widely known for her starring roles in the TV show The Parent’Hood, the Hollywood film How Stella Got her Groove Back and the Broadway show The Tap Dance Kid, amongst others, her driving passion now is working with schools to help them incorporate the arts into their curriculum. To Suzzanne, the arts are a critical tool for children to learn a fundamental life lesson she herself embraces: “One must live life on purpose with a purpose.”

For her portrait, Suzzanne chose to embody Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom, whose symbol is an owl. Minerva is also considered warrior goddess; a protectress of the arts; and an overseer of intellectual activity.

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Suzzanne wrote:

“Like Minerva, I have always considered myself a guardian of the arts — one who advocates, protects and cares for the many forms of creative expression that inform and influence humanity. The late Jimi Hendrix said, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” From my work in front of and behind the scenes, wisdom drives me to approach all tasks with a spirit of excellence knowing that the arts have the power to change humanity and thus our world”.

Cameron Boyle, along with her daughter Giovanna, has run a small NGO namedCRIANSA (the Portuguese word for child) in two fishing villages in Brazil for the past 10 years. Based on the simple premise of connecting children through a decade long pen pal exchange, CRIANSA has built lasting bonds between children in these remote villages south of the Equator and students in affluent Montclair, New Jersey. By fostering deep friendships between these diverse communities, CRIANSA is planting seeds of transformation, one child at a time.

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Cameron and Giovanna chose to portray the Brazilian Goddess Iemanjá for theirGoddess on Earth portrait. They wrote:

“We are a symbiotic mother-daughter incarnation of Iemanjá, the Afro-Brazilian Goddess of the sea. After working closely together in Brazil over the last ten summers, Iemanjá has infused us with a mutually maternal and nurturing spirit. She gives us her vision, inspiration and the ability to flow smoothly through life’s torrential times.”

Diana Moise is a 12-year-old middle school student who came to Essex County after her home was destroyed during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 2014-02-24-Erzulie_GoddessonEarthA.jpgShe has struggled with language barriers and has had to overcome multiple surgeries for scoliosis, but her inner fortitude is apparent to all. When deciding what sacred myth most resonated with her, Diana commented with the heartfelt confidence of a pre-pubescent girl that Erzulie, the Haitian spirit/goddess of women “is beautiful — and so am I”.

Minerva, Iemanjá, and Erzulie remind us there are many ways to live inspired lives of authenticity, passion and internal power. Some women embrace their intellect; others connect with their communal, nurturing spirit; and others innately know how to dig deep into their own personal wells of strength. What an honor it is to have been commissioned to create goddess portraits of these exceptional women. Please join me in celebrating them, and all the remarkable women we know, in as many creative, inspired and unique ways as there are goddesses on earth.

Goddess on Earth: Women of Essex County, a multimedia immersion installation, opens March 8th at Luna Stage, West Orange, N.J. and runs through May 11th. Please visit www.lunastage.org for viewing hours.

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Embracing the Darkness of Winter Solstice

Darkness comes early as Solstice draws near. Lights are lit in windows, on trees, inside houses and along streets. We seek their comfort and warmth during these short days and long nights. The last month of the calendar is here and we eagerly anticipate the rebirth of a new annual cycle. We make merry during this time and yet, there is also an opportunity to acknowledge and honor the darkness: the darkness outside and the darkness within.

Love, bliss and joy. Fear, anger and rage. All of these are part of being human. Positive and negative make a whole. Without our darkness, we are incomplete.

“I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole,” Carl Jung wrote.

Susun Weed, shamanic herbalist, author and teacher, doesn’t run from her dark side — she embraces it, using it to help others make changes in their lives, to become more authentic and more powerful as women. For 35 years, Susun has been a ferocious advocate for women’s health. Her five books, the Wise Woman Herbal Series — including titles on childbearing, menopause, breast health and sexual/reproductive health — are treasured by millions of women worldwide. Susun shares her encyclopedic knowledge of herbs and health through her website and workshops at her Wise Woman Center in Woodstock, New York and throughout the world.

Little did I know that when I contacted Susun to participate in Goddess on Earth, I was to also learn a powerful lesson.

The Goddess does not only embody light, joy and nurturing love. In her other aspects — as Durga, Ereshkigal and Guabancex to name just a few — she is a Goddess of unbridled rage who follows no rules. She is a warrior who takes no prisoners and who demands that we confront the darkness within, the parts of ourselves that are not kind, pretty or nice.

For Goddess on Earth, Susun chose to portray Baba Yaga, a terrifying female shaman from Slavic mythology. Ancient, wise and fierce, Baba Yaga lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs and which twirls like an ecstatic dancer. Baba Yaga flies with the wind and frightens many, but she helps those who approach her with courage and truth. In the book Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, “Baba Yaga is fearsome, for she is the power of annihilation and the power of the life force at the same time.”

Susun and I met in upstate New York on what turned out to be a bitterly cold, wintery day. During the photo session, her uncompromising stance and piercing gaze brought shivers down my spine. Like Baba Yaga, Susun is a formidable life force.

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“I have nothing to lose: age has taken it all from me and revealed my true treasures… I am surely the most fearsome thing ever seen, ever imagined. A powerful old woman at home with herself,”

Susun wrote to accompany her Baba Yaga portrait in Goddess on Earth.

In this season of dwindling light, let us turn inwards and connect with the most enduring parts of ourselves: the parts with the courage and tenacity to weather cold winters and all of life’s challenges. Age-old, unapologetic and fierce, Susun and Baba Yaga are inspiring figures who remind us that there is no time for petty distractions like Being Pretty or Being Good or Being Nice. It’s time to get on with the real work of becoming real, becoming women of power, becoming complete. We are not just light but dark, not just pretty but awesome, not just smiling but weeping, shouting, raging, fearsome. Baba Yaga reminds us to reclaim those dark places where our real treasures lie. In this way, we become whole.

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Serving Food With a Healthy Portion of Love

In this season of short days and long nights, we turn inwards — seeking sustenance in the holiday rituals of our families and communities. For many of us, it’s a time that brings us into deeper engagement with the traditions of food and cooking that have been passed down through our families and friends. It’s also an opportunity to reaffirm our connections to our communities, and the ways we nourish and give to others.

Annapurna/ Goddess on Earth Bhavani Jaroff

This month I photographed the natural foods chef, educator, and food activist Bhavani Jaroff. She is the founder of iEat Green, a motivational, educational organization that “acknowledges the pleasures of the table, and promotes eating as a social experience for families, friends and co-workers.” iEat Green is founded on a passion for delicious foods, healthy lifestyles and reducing one’s global footprint.

For Bhavani, the link between cooking and social consciousness is deeply important. Since 1993, she has organized and served a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal to the homeless in Rufus King Park in Queens, NY. Last year, over 600 less fortunate people savored a feast prepared by 125 volunteers. This annual ritual is one that brings people together, volunteering their time and skills, in service to their community. Bhavani recognizes the sacred potential of food and cooking to bring people together, and to challenge social injustice, economic unfairness and food inequality.

For Goddess on Earth, Bhavani chose to portray Annapurna, the Hindu Goddess of harvest and the kitchen. In India, she is the divine mother who feeds and nourishes the hungry, imparting the delicious and healthy food she cooks with holiness. Often depicted with a spoon and jeweled vessel, images of Annapurna are placed in kitchens and restaurants throughout India. She symbolizes unending abundance and food as the sustainer of all life.

On choosing to portray Annapurna for Goddess on Earth Bhavani wrote,

“When I am in the kitchen, or when I am teaching about cooking, the most important thing I talk about is imparting the food you are cooking with the secret ingredient of love! So much of the food we eat today is void of love and nourishment, that is why, as the Goddess Annapurna, I encourage growing our own food, harvesting our own food and cooking our own food with love, and then feeding everyone.”

Like Annapurna, Bhavani is an inspiration to find the sacred in the mundane acts of cooking that we undertake every day — often without recognizing them as rituals. And yet the story of this Goddess highlights the life-giving importance of food — just as Bhavani’s work illuminates the potential of cooking to build stronger communities and address social inequality. May the sacred myth of Annapurna and the passionate activism of Bhavani, inspire us all to prepare the food we serve ourselves, our families and our communities with a healthy dose of love.

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A Season for Gender Equality

For everything there is a season. In some parts of the world, Fall means bringing in the crops and returning to the abundance of the harvest. In urban cities across America, though, it’s time to attend conferences, workshops and symposiums! Last month, I even participated in two different NYC events in one day, the WIE Symposium (Women: Inspiration & Enterprise) and the Women’s Leadership Summit. Both conferences brought together dynamic women speakers that inspired the attendees to embrace their power and be forward-thinking leaders. While these goals were surely met, I heard another message as well: gender equality is stagnating.

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According to a recent study by the International Monetary Fund and the topic of an articlein Al Jazeera America, “gender equality around the globe has stalled in recent years, with women still holding fewer salaried jobs than men and receiving lower wages for their work.”

Why is gender parity so hard to achieve? The writer Tabby Biddle addressed this question in the United Nations Dispatch with her column “UN Leaders: Are You Thinking Enough About Gender Equality?” Tabby wrote: “As a global culture, so many of us have internalized the maleness of God, or Allah, or Buddha, that we have undervalued or dismissed our feminine nature… If we don’t nurture the fullness of life within us — the feminine and the masculine — this will stunt our growth not only as individual human beings, but also collectively as a global civilization“.

The belief that God is male has underscored human civilization for thousands of years, and we see evidence of that in the countless images of God the Father and in language that describes God as “He” and humankind as “Man.” I believe that as long as our society focuses primarily on male images of the divine, humanity’s imbalance will continue unresolved. This is why I am driven to create photographs of contemporary women portraying the Divine Feminine: to restore to public consciousness images of women in their power, diversity and undeniable embodiment of what is sacred.

While traveling in Morocco this past summer, I met Vanessa Bonnin, a journalist and photographer living in the ancient city of Fez. Although born in Australia, Vanessa has worked in Morocco for many years. For Goddess on Earth, she chose to embody the pre-Islamic earth Goddess Al-Lat. Known as “the Mother of the Gods,” Al-Lat represents the earth and its bountiful fruits. One of the three chief Goddesses of Mecca, her shrine and temple in the city of Taif was destroyed on the orders of Mohammad in 630 AD.

On choosing to portray Al-Lat, Vanessa wrote:

Living in Fes, the religious heart of Morocco, I see the daily evidence of female subjugation by men and Al-Lat is essentially the first female who was subjugated by Islam. I connect with her spirit on a number of levels, the primary one as an Earth Mother who represents fertility. I feel that being in tune with the earth — which gives birth to all that sustains us — is vital to life, well-being and our collective future.

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If we can all look at the Divine through both a feminine and masculine lens, contemporary women will be one step closer to reclaiming an internal sense of personal power, for indeed to everything there is a season: a time to plant, and a time to uproot what has been planted. In restoring the female vision to our modern conception of the sacred, I hope we can uproot from our collective consciousness the idea that access to the Divine only comes through masculine channels — and in doing so, we may plant the seeds of political, social, and spiritual equality for future generations.

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Kathy Eldon: From Chaos to Creativity

Kathy Eldon Goddess KhaosAnarchy. Pandemonium. Disarray. These are just a few of the synonyms for the word, “chaos.” But buried even deeper in chaos’s etymology is a sacred myth — that of the Goddess Khaos. Khaos (or Chaos) was one the Greek primeval goddesses and gods to emerge at the creation of the world — her name literally meaning, “the gap, the space between heaven and earth.” The universe was born, this story tells us, out of a chaotic mix of primeval elements. Perhaps it is this fundamental commotion that Friedrich Nietzsche referred to when he wrote, “One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” He could equally have been channeling the forces that have inspired the life and work of activist/journalist Kathy Eldon.

I was made aware of Kathy’s work by watching a video of her addressing the Forbes Women’s Summit of 2013. She spoke of the period of time after her 22-year-old son Dan, a photojournalist working for Reuters in Somalia, was stoned to death by an angry mob. She was broken. But from this dark place of anarchy, she found the strength and power to establish, in his honor, the Creative Visions Foundation — an organization that fosters activists and artists who shine light on social causes. It’s not about the individual, she said in the Forbes talk, it’s about collectively coming together: “When we listen, we cooperate, we collaborate and we co-create.”

Kathy’s boundless energy, vibrant passion and deep reservoir of humanity radiate out of every pore in her body. When I later heard her speak at The Herb Albert Educational Center in Santa Monica, her authenticity brought the audience into a cohesive tribe of creative brethren. Kathy’s ceaseless excitement for life has helped enable, with Creative Visions, the realization of over 200 trailblazing projects through the provision of resources and critical guidance.

We met to co-create Kathy’s goddess portrait at a beach near the Creative Visions offices in Malibu, California. On choosing to portray the Goddess Khaos for Goddess on Earth, Kathy wrote:

To the distress of those around me, I often appear to be surrounded by chaos. Until I read the Nietzsche quote, I thought this was a terrible thing. Now I embrace the disorder as a vibrant space of pure potential, perfectly suitable for birthing a dancing star.

In the Heart of Life is Kathy’s new, soon-to-be-published memoir. Comedian and actress Rosie O’Donnell writes of the book: “Kathy inspires women to believe that they can do more than simply survive: they can thrive and passionately create the lives of their choice.” Indeed, let us all be inspired by Kathy’s vision and the powerful Goddess she has chosen to embody — and hold a space for the potential that lies within disorder and chaos for unbounded creativity, inspiration and transformation.

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Women in Film: A Prevailing Imbalance Continues

The disparity of women in film is so ingrained in our moviegoing experience that we hardly take notice. According to a study by the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism out of 4,475 speaking characters on film, only 28.4% are female of the movies released in 2012. B. Ruby Rich, a film critic and professor at University of California, Santa Cruz also wrote, “When more than nine tenths of movies are made from the male perspective it unconsciously reinforces the invisibility of women.” Without imagery and stories that reflect the female experience, how can contemporary women see themselves as their most complete, complex and powerful selves?

It comes as no surprise then, that my heart skipped a beat when I heard the reknowned film director Deborah Kampmeier was in production for a movie based on the Sumerian Goddess Inanna. Deborah’s passion is for telling powerful stories and narratives through women’s voices. Her 2007 film Hounddog, which stars a young Dakota Fanning, was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Best in Show, at the 2009 Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto.

Through an email correspondence, I learned Inanna’s story had been ruminating in Deborah’s mind for many years. Her upcoming movie Split is a contemporary reinterpretation of this epic journey and is “about reclaiming the female imagination in a male imagined world,” she said. The film focuses on the transformational journey of a young actress who is cast in an experimental play based on the ancient myth, “The Descent of Inanna.”

Written on cuneiform tablets over 2,000 years before the Bible, Innana is truly the first Goddess of recorded history. As told, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, Innana, makes a dramatic descent to reunite with her sister Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld. Her epic passage reveals her search for deeper wisdom, self-knowledge of her shadow self, and a perilous spiritual quest.

Deborah interprets the myth of Inanna and Ereshkigal as two sides of the same person. Ereshkigal represents aspects of the female experience we are encouraged to deny — rage, grief and authentic sexuality. Inanna represents the quest to be whole by reclaiming this banished side of herself.

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On a warm, August night, near the Hudson River and beneath the towering palisades of Hook Mountain, a Goddess portrait was made. The actresses Amy Ferguson and Raina von Waldenburg, who boldly portray Inanna and Ereshkigal in Deborah’s movie, embodied this sacred myth for the Goddess on Earth series. Amy wrote:

So many times I have been given the opportunity to stand up for myself, yet still I didn’t. As I have come to accept and love myself for all of who I am, I have become more empowered. Like Inanna, I now take those opportunities, to heal myself, and through that, help to heal us all.

 

And on portraying Ereshkigal, Raina said; “It is so difficult to accept oneself, to invite the parts that we hate so deeply about ourselves, the shameful parts, the inadequate parts, the sexual, hysterical or rageful parts, the stupid parts, the zits, blemishes, the vulnerable “weak” parts, the parts that are not perfect– the parts in us that have cracks.”

Can an ancient myth over 4000 years old have meaning for women of today? Oh my Goddess — Yes! Inanna’s struggles and triumphs are indeed our own. So one movie at a time, let us all support women’s voices. I for one can’t wait to see Deborah’s version of this iconic story realized on the big screen.

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