Tag Archives: Goddess-On-Earth-Book

My Mother’s Journey with Alzheimer’s: A Family Portrait

Greta and Herb Levart Meng Po / Goddess on Earth www.Goddessonearth.com

I haven’t seen the film “Still Alice” because my mother has Alzheimer’s disease.

While she slips away into the advanced stages of this ferocious illness, I can’t watch anything that illustrates the journey my family is on. Nonetheless, I applaud one outcome from the film; it is illuminating this “neglected epidemic”.

Maria Shriver in her recent piece “Help Me Wipe Out Alzhemer’s Now” shared these terrifying statistics:

“Every 67 seconds, another one of us develops Alzheimer’s. Women in their 60’s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as breast cancer. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, there will be 13.5 million of us with Alzheimer’s by 2050.”

And there is more: Alzheimer’s is “the most expensive disease in the nation and the only leading cause of death in the U.S. with no way to prevent, stop or even slow its progression” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Now, add the enormous repercussions it has on the loved one’s families. If you really wrap your mind around this, it can take your breath away. That I can attest to.

First let me share a few of my tangible moments of beauty and grace while navigating this barbed path. I felt great joy watching my mother dance along the Hudson River as I photographed her as a Goddess; shared laughs when she emerged from her bedroom in an especially creative combination of clothes; experienced true love when her face lit up as I entered a room; let tears run down my cheeks as her kisses caressed the back of my hand; and believed my heart grew when I murmured “I love you” in her ear, moments before she fell asleep in her nursing home bed.

Alzheimer’s is having a crushing impact on my family as well. We see savings dwindle from paying for her constant care; careers put on hold to manage her daily medications, physical demands, and energetic wanderings (that often led to a visit with the local police); grandchildren no longer remembering her as the determined, fiercely positive woman she once was; and perhaps worst of all, her beloved husband of sixty-seven years, now guilt ridden and lonely because he can no longer care for her at their home for over half a century.

Greta and Herb Levart Meng Po / Goddess on Earth www.Goddessonearth.com

Five years ago, I photographed my mother (and father) for Goddess on Earth as Meng Po, the Chinese Goddess of Forgetfulness. This sacred myth tells us that as a soul prepares to be reborn, the Goddess Meng Po serves her tea of forgetfulness. Instantly cleared of the knowledge of past lives, Meng Po allows the soul to be made anew and the cycle of life continues.

My mother’s memory wasn’t purged in an instant but in a slow, relentless march toward oblivion. To accompany her Meng Po portrait she had written;

My memory is not what it used to be. I do forget and I do not remember everything. But my life is rich with daily, weekly, yearly experiences with my husband, my children, my grandchildren and my friends.”

Today, she would not even be able to write her own name. But she is still Greta.

Greta and Herb Levart Meng Po / Goddess on Earth www.Goddessonearth.com

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Women, Power and the Rule of Three

2014-11-15-Sherawali.jpg
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.

2014-11-15-SherawaliDurgaDesire.jpg
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.

2014-11-15-SherawaliDurgacapacity.jpg
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.

2014-11-15-SherawaliDurgaaction.jpg
 

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.)

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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.

2014-02-24-Minerva_GoddessonEarthDA.jpg

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.

2014-02-24-Iemanja_GoddessonEarth_2A.jpg

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.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Queen of Sheba — The Original Cross-Cultural Visionary

During my recent trip to Morocco, there were times when it seemed like I had stepped into the movie Blade Runner. I was bombarded by a hectic energy — an ancient way of life adapting to and colliding with the 21st century. There were women covered head to toe in black burkas riding in donkey carts, young and old men in long, hooded robes checking their cell phones, bloody goat heads displayed haphazardly by meat vendors, and lost tourists photographing their surroundings to help remember their way through the Esher-like streets of the old medinas. I experienced all this while dodging a barrage of motorcycles plowing through the crowds. Was I reacting to sensory overload, the juxtaposition of the old and new, or the disorientation from encountering an unknown culture?

2013-06-17-QueenofSheba_4.jpgOne woman who would applaud my “fish out of water” experience was Farah Cherif D’Ouezzan, the Founder and Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, Morocco. I met Farah on the first weekend of my adventure, and she gamely agreed to be photographed for Goddess on Earth. One of the many joys of photographing women for this series is its basic premise — the subjects themselves choose the sacred myth they connect with, and wish to embody for their portrait.

Farah’s choice of the Queen of Sheba is one of the few women immortalized in the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As the 3,000-year-old story goes, Sheba was a powerful and educated leader who traveled a great distance to question, test, and learn from the famed King Solomon. She converted to Solomon’s monotheistic religion and brought this new faith back to her people. Farah sees Sheba as a bridge builder, someone connecting different religions and asking fundamental questions such as “Who am I?” and “With whom do I belong?”

2013-06-18-QueenofSheba_5.jpg
Farah’s realized dream, her educational center, is a peaceful oasis in the ancient medina of Morocco’s capital city. College students from all over the world come to learn empathy, awareness, and respect for Moroccan culture. She teaches the commonality of cultures and how to look at different social values without passing judgment.

After we photographed, Farah shared why she chose to portray the Queen of Sheba:

“I have always envisioned Sheba as a strong human being who can bring the world together, a power able to overcome all challenges to accomplish impossible missions and make dreams become true. Queen of Sheba belongs to every culture and every community and draws all of them to come together peacefully.”

In Morocco, I travelled from the beautiful northern mountainside village of Chefchaouen to the sands of the Sahara. But out of all these well-formed wonders, it is the Moroccan culture that will leave the longest lasting impression upon me. My original feelings of being alien and lost in this colorful world slowly gave way to a more nuanced and personal understanding of the Moroccan way of life. It is due to women like Farah and the ever-present influence of the Queen of Sheba that these kind of cross-cultural revelations are possible.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , |

A Reluctant Activist Gets Tutored By Gloria Feldt (and Lilith)

First and foremost, I think of myself as an artist rather than a political activist. But sometimes, when faced with the utter absurdity of the world in which we are living, the need to shout out loud and clear is forced upon even the most hesitant firebrand.

On June 13th, while protesting her state’s stringent anti-abortion proposals, Michigan Representative Lisa Brownsaid on the floor of the State House: “Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.'” The next day Ms. Brown was barred from speaking on the House floor. “What she said was offensive,” Representative Mike Callton said. “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

For anyone who grew up during the 1970s, this exchange evokes a sense of déjà vu: Haven’t we been through this already?! Hasn’t Eve Ensler’s play ‘The Vagina Monologues’ put the stigma of using the word “vagina” to bed, so to speak? My work with Goddess on Earth: Portraits of the Divine Feminineover the past 10 years has allowed me an inside look into the powerful world of women’s activism and accomplishments. But at times like these, I am reminded that we cannot take women’s rights for granted.

Read the rest of the blog on the Huffington Post

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

How to FInd the Creative Balance

Individuals gathering in circles, fostering unity and co-creation is a powerful concept. And yet there is another paradigm for inspiration just as important — the need for quiet introspection and time spent alone. Susan Cain wrote in The New York Times (The Rise of the New GroupThink) “people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”

This didn’t come as news to me. “Goddess on Earth” took over 10 years to realize. I’m pretty sure that I could not have sustained the focus needed if it’s creation had been dispersed among a large group. I was blessed with enthusiastic support in circles and wrote about it in a past blog entitled Women Sustaining Each Other. Many wonderful opportunities availed themselves along the way, and these deep connections kept me going for the long haul. The other side of this coin is that a lot of time was spent working alone; editing photographic images, educating myself about sacred myths and allowing the project’s creation to slowly reveal itself to me.

Read the rest of the Huff Po blog here
and like, comment, email and share!

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , |

Women Sustaining Each Other

In a study reported by ScienceDaily, researchers from MIT, Carnegie Mellon University and Union College examined levels of collective intelligence in groups and found that those containing more women demonstrated greater “social sensitivity “– the ability to perceive other members’ emotions — and thus performed better in complex undertakings.

Sounds like the feminist principle of co-creation to me. As Gloria Steinem wrote in “Revolution From Within”: “progress means interdependence.” Joining a women’s group and participating in goddess retreats can help connect creative collaborators and foster radical personal transformation. Ten years ago, I joined a women’s circle and attended my first goddess retreat. When I made space for my own personal and spiritual growth in these environments, I was showered with support and grew in ways I never could have imagined.

 

Read the rest of the Huff Po blog and like, comment, email and share!

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , |

A Path to Power and Wholeness: Finding Inspiration in the Goddess

Why do so many young women and girls in today’s society feel disempowered? “You can’t be what you can’t see,” Jennifer Siebel tells us in her new documentary “Miss Representation,” which explores how mainstream media portrays women in limited ways. Namely, that womanhood means being young, beautiful and thin. Without realistic role models, is it really surprising that so many young women are confused, isolated and deeply depressed?

In the course of working on my book “Goddess on Earth,” I encountered women from a diverse range of backgrounds and vocations with a variety of appearances and life paths. They did, however, all have one thing in common: they cultivated their own empowerment by identifying with a goddess and invoking her symbolic qualities.

I don’t mean to say that believing in or identifying with the Goddess makes young girls immune to societal pressures of beauty, attractiveness or self-worth. But I do think that the world of goddess spirituality offers an alternative to our cultural climate, which is so focused on women’s limitations — how they look versus how they should look, how they act versus how they should act, and so forth.

Read the rest of the Huff Po blog and like, comment, email and share!

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , |

Am I Ready To be a Crone?

I have always loved autumn. It feels like new beginnings; a new grade at school, a new semester at college, a fresh start, and not surprisingly, my only child was born in October. It is also the time of the Autumn Equinox, a day when the duration of light and dark are equal, before the tipping point of summer turning into fall. This year, I still feel that excitement, a tingling in the air, but I am also reflective; musing about my life as I inch ever closer to the crone.

The Goddess, worshiped for at least 5,000 years before Christianity, encompasses the concept of a trinity: the maiden, mother and crone. Barbara Walker wrote in her seminal book The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, “From the earliest ages, the concept of the Great Goddess was a trinity and the model for all subsequent trinities, female, male or mixed.” I’ve struggled as a maiden, loved being a mother, but at 55, am I ready to be a crone?

The maiden aspect of the Goddess is symbolic of new beginnings, youthful enthusiasm, independence, and a time when a girl is growing into the woman she is to become. When I photographed Maya for the Artemis portrait in Goddess on Earth, she was just 12 years old, and beginning to deal with all the newness that comes with growing into your own skin. In her statement to accompany her photograph, she wrote: “Artemis represents strength, independence, self-reliance, and courage — all qualities I wish I had.” Here Maya was, on the cusp of adulthood; I could feel her power but also her fear. I too remember a confidence at that time, but underneath it, what I really wanted was approval that I was doing things “right”.

The characteristics of the mother stage are creativity, balance, and fullness of life, being pregnant with possibilities, as well as loving and receiving love. Rha Goddess, the renowned hip-hop performance artist, social entrepreneur and activist had no trouble choosing which Goddess to embody: Lakshmi, the Indian Goddess of wealth and prosperity clearly spoke to her. “It is our Goddess-given birthright to be healthy, wealthy and wise. The divine mother Lakshmi belongs to all of us; she moves in the hood just as she moves on Wall Street, challenging us to bring new consciousness to all our resources.” With light streaming into a dark Brooklyn stairwell, Rha glowed with a magical life force.

2011-09-23-amiacroneimg.jpg

To read the rest of the blog go to the Huffington Post.

 

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , |

Lessons Learned from Everyday Goddesses

In a few weeks, I will give birth to an eight year-old — or that is what self-publishing my first book feels like. When first conceived, I thought the path to publishing Goddess on Earth would be fairly complex but straightforward. Instead, it took me to unknown lands, introduced me to wondrous individuals and in general, carried me on a great adventure.

Eight years ago, suffering during a night of insomnia and depression, I picked up Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book Goddess in Everywomen and couldn’t put it down. Though thoroughly enthralled by the subject matter, one of the Goddesses seemed to leap off the page and speak to me. Her name was Demeter, the Greek Goddess of the Bountiful Harvest.

Demeter was a nurturer and a mother (as I was), and when Hades (the Greek God of the Underworld) abducted her daughter Persephone, she was devastated. Demeter’s grief caused the land to became barren. While reading this myth, I saw myself reflected in this universal archetype. With this knowledge, I felt strengthened and empowered: I knew that I would eventually crawl out of my cave and return to the world of light, creativity and passion, just as Demeter had done when Persephone returned to her for six months out of the year.

My journey had begun and I began photographing women as Goddesses to see if sacred myths spoke to other contemporary women. I wanted to explore how resilient, complex and multi faceted present-day women were — just like the goddesses of ancient myths. I chose women of all ages and from all walks of life, and for some, the idea of their lives resembling a universal archetype was a new and thrilling concept. The choice of sacred myth wasn’t necessarily easy, or straightforward, but it always revealed deep personal insight.

When I first approached Jodie Evans and Dana Balicki from the political organization Code Pink about a portrait, Jodie immediately identified with the fierce Hindu Goddess Kali. For Dana, it was a personal moment of truth — she believed in change and transformation, but had to dig deep to find the raw anger and rage necessary to embody the bold, giver and destroyer of life: Kali.

To read the rest of the blog go to the Huffington Post.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , |