Tag Archives: Goddess On Earth Series

WE WOKE, WE ROSE AND WE ARE WOMEN ON FIRE

INNANA Goddess on Earth / MYTHICA photography by Lisa Levart

INNANA
from the series MYTHICA/Goddess on Earth
Photo Collage by Lisa Levart

This year’s International Women’s Day falls forty-six days after women and men around the world made history, staging the largest one-day demonstration on record.

For years, while the Tea Party galvanized its grass roots, the left fell into a slumber. But women are used to acting fast, from grabbing precious moments of sleep between feedings to juggling home and work; to snatching little hands from a hot stove before they burn. On January 21st, we women woke in a fury and went to work. Wearing knitted Pussy hats, we began marching, joining circles of resistance, boycotting stores, relentlessly hounding public officials, chastising politicians on for their lack of leadership and outrage; and standing up to the bully-in-chief.

Women's March, D.C. Photographs by Lisa Levart

Women’s March on Washington
Photograph by Lisa Levart

This mammoth, tidal wave of energy surprises no one who knows his or her Goddess myths. For over a decade, I have worked on a project entitled Goddess on Earth. Through photography, I portray powerful female archetypes embodied in contemporary women. All kinds of women have participated: actors, writers and musicians; non-profit warriors, entrepreneurs, and CEOs. And they have interpreted formidable myths from around the world; Hindu Warrior Goddesses who slay demons and hold their bloody heads for all to see (Kali); Hawaiian Goddesses who spew fiery lava at a moment’s notice (Pele); and African Goddesses who whip up destructive storms to destroy the old and bring in the new (Oya), to name just a few.

Which brings me to Inanna, the Sumerian Goddess of the Heavens. In this ancient myth, Inanna descends into the bowels of the earth to visit her sister, Ereshkigal, the Queen of the underworld. On her journey, Inanna passes through seven gates, where she must disrobe and leave behind her royal jewels, until she is standing naked in front of her sister. She dies in the underworld kingdom and is left hanging from a hook on the wall, but after three days and three nights, Inanna is reborn and returns from the underworld. Spiritually transformed, she no longer fears death, and is truly empowered.

Leonore Tjia was 13 years old when I photographed her for Goddess on Earth as Mnemosyne, the Greek Goddess of Memory.

Mnemosyne Photographs by Lisa Levart

Mnemosyne (from the book Goddess on Earth)
Photograph by Lisa Levart

Now, a 27-year-old activist, she has grown into to a fierce and vivacious poet and sexuality educator, working with renowned sexual empowerment expert Amy Jo Goddard (author of Woman on Fire: 9 Elements to Wake Up Your Erotic Energy.) It was Leonore’s choice to portray Inanna, in our second photo session -14 years later.

About her Inanna portrait, Leonore wrote:

 As a sexuality educator my work involves helping people to step bravely towards what has long been considered taboo, dangerous or off-limits. So many people avoid working on their sexual issues out of fear of what they’ll find if they take the lid off the box. The ironic thing is that if you never do it, you will never have the pleasure, or power, or intimacy, or richness of life you desire.

The crux of Inanna’s story is that transformation does not come through peaceful meditation, but through violent confrontation with our buried shadow aspects. The Trump regime offers us this opportunity— the lid is off the box now when it comes to facing the American legacy of racism, classism and xenophobia. I also see it drawing out the shadowed aspects of liberalism and progressivism — mainstream feminism is being taken to task for excluding women of color, and it’s important for white feminists to face this and acknowledge the racism we all inherit from white supremacy. I hope all of us who are called to activist work in these times can feel inspired by the ferocious story of this goddess.

My life’s work is creating art that celebrates the feminine face of God. Through Goddess on Earth, I have come to truly honor the innate power, fortitude and fearsome drive of women. In my bones, I am confident we will survive this upside down, dark time because of the strength and determination of women. We, with our beloveds by our sides, will use everything we have – our creativity, passion and self-knowledge to burn hot- like boiling lava- until we have ascended – reborn and transformed- from this dark underworld we currently reside in.

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Lessons from a Goddess of Compassion: Live With Joy, Even While Grieving

White Tara- Dianne Gray Fort Meyers, Florida www.goddessonearth.com

Dianne Gray, the President of the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation and founder of Hospice and Healthcare Communications has known grief. When Dianne was only nine years old, her father died of a sudden heart attack at age 39. Years later, following several miscarriages, she gave birth to a son only to have him diagnosed at age four with a rare neurological disorder, NBIA Disorders. Her son Austin suffered profoundly throughout his life and died at age 14, leading Dianne back to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ teachings.

The renown psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, wrote her seminal book on grieving “On Death and Dying” in 1969. She believed we process grief in five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Her theory was meant to apply to those dying, but I believe (and others concur) these universal stages can refer to any loss: a loved one, a marriage, one’s health, a home, a pet.

I met Dianne two years ago during a photo session with her good friend, writer and activist, Kathy Eldon. Serendipitously, we reconnected in Florida two months ago.

White Tara_smACompassion and generosity flow through Dianne like a gentle river. Over the course of a two-hour breakfast, she imparted several important lessons: the first of which was how to let go of feelings of guilt.

Let me explain. In January, my family had come to realize we could no longer care at home for my mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. This is a painful decision many loving families may have to make, but it also comes with a healthy dose of guilt.

Dianne saw it from a different perspective. With my mother’s day-to-day needs now being taken care of by the nursing home staff, she counseled, I could give her what no was else could – a daughter’s love. I could hold her hand, stroke her hair, caress her face, gaze into her eyes with love. This, I could do whole-heartedly.

Dianne further asked what I was getting by holding onto the guilt, suggesting that it was a barrier to being fully present with my mother while she was still alive. Guilt, she said, can be an emotional placeholder, beckoning us to live in the past, not the present. About my decision to place my mother in a care facility, she asked “Did you do everything you could, at that time, with the information you had?”

I thought about it for a minute, while taking a large sip of orange juice. She was right, there was no reason to carry around the heavy burden of guilt because I truly love my mother to the best of my ability — and continue to make the best care decisions I can each and every time we cross a new bridge together.

The guilt began to recede.

Dianne also shared the philosophy she lives by: live life to the fullest. While I couldn’t change my mother’s condition, I could still experience life with exuberance. One thing led to another and the next day we were creating a White Tara portrait for Goddess on Earth at Lover’s Key State Park, a barrier island near Fort Myers. I was in ecstasy.

White Tara, the Tibetan Goddess of Compassion was a natural choice for Dianne to embody. This Goddess is often depicted with seven eyes, one on each hand and foot, and three on the face (the third eye being on the forehead). With her extraordinary vision, White Tara perceives human’s suffering and her compassion encompasses all.

We photographed during a lull in a deluge of fierce thunderstorms. Two dolphins, a manatee, a double rainbow and a flying pelican visited us. Without a doubt, we were in the midst of a magical day.

To accompany her White Tara portrait, Dianne wrote;

Being in the presence of profound suffering for a protracted period of time, such as that endured by both my son and in a different way, my healthy daughter, has gifted me with an additional “eye for seeing, heart for feeling and a soul for loving unconditionally” the unspoken pain of others. We all have this ability — and hopefully as we observe suffering both seen and unseen, we will remember the essence of White Tara, the beautiful gift of shared compassion. On a lighter note— it’s no surprise that my favorite color is white. It is to me, all things Light with infinite possibilities for shared Love.

After I left Florida’s warm waters behind, I made a promise to myself. While I will still mourn for my mother, I will also ask myself often, “Am I loving her enough? Am I living my life with joy? Am I seeing the beauty and magic that surrounds me?” If my answer is yes – and I hope it will be more often than not -my guilt will be lessened, my depression less pronounced. My heart will remain open and I will look forward to tomorrow, even while I grieve.
White Tara- Dianne Gray Fort Meyers, Florida www.goddessonearth.com

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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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Women Connecting Worldwide

This past October, in Grass Valley, California, over 400 women attended the Passion Into Action conference. With larger than life images of powerful and vibrant women from the Goddess on Earth series setting the stage, those attending learned tools to help them turn ideas into actions. During this animated weekend, it was again made clear to me how important it is to spend time with other likeminded women. Too often, we find ourselves isolated while immersed in our work, yearning for collaborative discussion and the opportunity to give and get support from others.

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Jensine Larsen, who spoke at the PIA conference, has dedicated her life to creating more connection and community for women worldwide. As a young journalist traveling the globe, Jensine realized that women’s stories and voices were rarely heard in traditional venues. Driven to bring these crucial stories to light, she created the web-based organization World Pulse, an interactive platform enabling women from over 190 countries to find their voice by speaking their stories in their own words, connecting to support each other, and taking action to change their worlds. World Pulse is truly helping to build a rising pulse of women’s empowerment across the globe.

For Goddess on Earth, Jensine embodied Hina, a Goddess from Polynesian mythology that is associated with the moon and butterflies, among other attributes. Known as “the first woman,” one of Hina’s gifts to humans was the art of communication.

On a wet and rainy December afternoon in New York, we met at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in search of a lush, verdant paradise. We found it in the Conservatory’s Temperate Pavilion. On her choice of portraying Hina, Jensine wrote:

“Hina spoke to me because she symbolizes the vocal uprising that is now occurring across the planet through the hearts and mouths of women — a phenomenon that is now speeding up through the power of the web. She is a messenger and a birther of fresh ideas. I relate to Hina because she delights in language as a tool and she uses words to inspire the masses. The butterfly represents transformation caused through communication. Hina always saw the future: that womenkind connected through media holds the power to transcend dying dictatorships and media monoliths that have been holding us in isolation and fear, and chart a new future for the people and by the people.”

The delicate strength of the butterfly serves as a reminder that all of us, no matter how small or seemingly isolated, have the potential to effect immense change. The brush of small wings stirs up a tempest halfway around the world. The moon pulls the ocean waves across the distance of space. The memory of an ancient goddess, rediscovered centuries later, lends a young woman new inspiration.

Hina offers an alternative to feeling isolated or alone in the bustle of modern life and its complexities. She reminds us that when we speak our truth, we empower others to express themselves more fully. So let’s take inspiration from Hina and from Jensine Larsen, whose dedication to raising up women’s voices continues to open up new avenues of communication and community, so that — as soft as the butterfly’s wings, as powerful as the roaring ocean waves — we can more fully recognize the pulse of women worldwide.

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