Tag Archives: Goddess-On-Earth

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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How Facebook Censored Our Sheroes

Until June 12, Facebook classified nude photographs of women who had undergone mastectomies as pornographic. This standard protocol was reconsidered after Facebook received an angry petition, with more than 20,000 signatures, concerning their censorship of the SCAR Project page. Under pressure, Facebook revised its policy toward these unflinching images of cancer survivors, but a wound still remains.

According to Decision Resources, an industry analysis group, 458,000 women worldwide die annually from breast cancer and more than 100,000 women in the U.S. undergo mastectomies each year. Angelina Jolie put a celebrity face to this crisis and fostered an important dialogue about the painful choices women must make when confronted with the specter of cancer. Unfortunately, most women must also fight this mortal battle while painfully confronting the cultural perception that their bodies are no longer attractive.

Of course, Facebook is not the only arena where women’s bodies are intensely sexualized. The media collectively spreads the message that “a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality” as expertly demonstrated by Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s filmMiss Representation. My personal mission for the Goddess on Earth series is to show commanding images of contemporary women in all their diversity and power, and contribute to the much needed shift in our society’s limited portrayal of women. The participants in the series are empowered and validated by letting their deepest selves be truly seen by others. In turn, by observing humanity in all its variety, we the viewers become awakened to our commonality and interconnectedness.

Sherry Lawson was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains and is now a therapist. I met Sherry at the Where Womyn Gather conference in Pennsylvania this past June. While attending a workshop I led on Goddess archetypes, Sherry found that Lilith most resonated with her life’s path. In Jewish and Christian mythology, Lilith was Adam’s first wife and was created, like Adam, from the earth. She saw herself as his equal and refused to be submissive to him, choosing instead to flee the Garden of Eden. Seventeen years after being diagnosed with stage IV cancer, Sherry connected with Lilithʼs struggles, fierce independence and personal conviction.

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On choosing to portray Lilith for her Goddess portrait Sherry said:

“In 1996, they told me I had stage IV breast cancer. The doctors and many others including my partner seemed to think I was going to die, but I hadn’t made my mind up yet. I went to the mountaintop and fought for my life, like a mama bear protecting her cubs. I identify with Lilith because against all odds, she stood her ground”.

With the defiance of Lilith, Sherry’s triumphant stance and unapologetic display of her body confront our cultural narrative on what it means to be female and beautiful. I share Sherry’s photograph and story with you in part because she wants her life lessons and scarred body to be heard and yes, seen. Her integrity and dignity in the face of life’s struggles command our full attention. She draws us into a contemplation of strength and vulnerability, beauty and scars and in her image, I hope, we can find deeper insight into what it means to really be whole. So with an open heart, I urge us all to validate her journey together and see where this courageous shero will take us.

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Aphrodite’s Love

Last month, in an attempt to escape the last legs of this dreary New York winter, I went to Los Angeles in search of sunlight. I found light, warmth and stunning flowers in vibrant colors — but most surprisingly, I found love.

“Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow; a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them — we can only love others as much as we love ourselves,” wrote the researcher and author Brené Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfections. Love, according to Ms. Brown, is nurtured through interpersonal connections and allowing our authentic selves to be deeply seen and known.

Serendipitously, this kind of connection began at a neighborhood restaurant in Santa Monica. There I met Karen Lorre, a television actress. She chose to sit next to me at a large communal table, and we immediately began talking, finding mutual ties and a common philosophy toward life. The synchronistic bonds, however, were just a starting point. The joy for life that flowed from Karen seemed to vibrate around the room. Like a radio signal on a high frequency, I was getting the message loud and clear: A Goddess portrait was being born!

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Several days later, when asked what sacred myth she most resonated with, Karen revealed she felt aligned with two Goddesses, White Tara, the Tibetan Goddess of compassion, healing and serenity, and Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love. Both had deep meaning for her, but love won out.

The women I photograph for the Goddess on Earth series are extraordinary in their willingness to be entirely wholehearted and open to experiencing the playfulness of co-creating. In turn, I feel deeply honored by their belief in me and empowered by their trust. My internal work during any photo shoot is to get out of my own way, and let the joy flow, secure in the knowledge that all is well. I now realize that during this creative process, love is being nurtured. I’m sure this is why I feel my happiest, most alive self when I am making a Goddess portrait.

Aphrodite, who in Greek mythology arose from the foam of the elemental waters, celebrates love and sexuality as an embodied divinity. She helps us cultivate sensuality, and the desire to live in harmony with the natural world. On my last day in California, we created Karen’s Goddess portrait on a beach in Malibu under the blanket of soft grey clouds.

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On choosing to portray Aphrodite, Karen wrote:

“I know love is our true nature and an infinite supply flows into us from this divine universe if we allow it. We allow it by focusing on what we appreciate and what makes us happy. Seeing wellbeing in everyone and everything is pure love. Seeing wellbeing in everyone and everything is pure fun! “

Blessed be!

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Creativity and the Three Graces

Creativity is like a spark of electricity. In ancient Greece this catalyst was believed to have been a wondrous gift from the Gods and Goddesses, the Muses in particular. The Three Graces were ancient Rome’s artistic benefactors. Today, it’s generally believed that our creativity lies within ourselves rather than being a gift from outside. Scientists studying the brain call this powerful force, “fluid intelligence” or the imaginative ability to solve new problems independent of previous knowledge.

Steve Jobs, in Wired Magazine said: “Creativity is just connecting things”. True, but these connections usually come after tirelessly working at one’s craft. In Meredith Moran’s new book Why We Write, the Chilean writer Isabel Allende shared her philosophy on inspiration; “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up”.

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Sometimes these muses, or connections, occur when we take a break from our routine and let our minds wander freely. When I was a dancer in my twenties, the choreographer Twyla Tharp was an inspiration to me, so it wasn’t surprising to connect with the wisdom in her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. She wrote; “Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.”

For my friend, the painter Natasha Rabin, an inspired moment occured at an art exhibition which included her work, as well as that of the artist Grace Knowlton, known for her earthly spherical forms. From their chance meeting, a connection was made and Grace became a muse for Natasha’s new series ” States of Grace”. When I saw Natasha’s vibrant new paintings, I was inspired by her inspiration – and the electricity flowed.

On a recent, chilly winter afternoon, the three of us met at Grace’s magical home. Clay, concrete and painted steel spheres dotted the landscape as though they had rolled down the hill in some prehistoric era, settling in gentle clumps. We gathered, Grace, Natasha and I amongst these organic forms, contained, protected and joined in spirit. Entitled “The Three Graces” this image expresses the interconnectivity of inspiration and how we feed and nourish one another in our creative pursuits.

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Rise Up With Terpsichore

Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright and activist, has issued a call to action. On February 14, women and men around the world will heed the call and dance to end violence against women. One billion people are expected to rise and move with passion, for in the world we live in today, one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

In ancient Greece, it was believed that the pursuit of the humanities could bring us closer to the sacred. Dance, music, painting and literature, according to Greek mythology, were given to humankind by the nine Muses. The Goddess Terpsichore in particular brought us the love of dance.

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On a Malibu beach, with the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, Holly Irwin Bassuk embodied Terpsichore for Goddess on Earth. Speaking from her heart, she wrote: “Dancing is about saying the un-sayable – expressing what words cannot.”

Holly is right.

Words cannot express the horrific gang rape of a 21-year-old woman in a Delhi bus who later dies from her injuries. Words cannot express the outrageous gunning down of an 11-year-old girl in Pakistan for voicing her love of education. Words cannot express the inhuman sentence of death by stoning to a 23-year-old Sudanese woman for adultery.

As I photographed Holly dancing on the beach, I watched her strong form catch the sun’s refracted light and move with the power of the Pacific waves. Her form revealed an insight into the Muses from antiquity: that beauty, vitality and art are not trivial pursuits, but real alternatives to a world ridden with suffering and violence. So if words cannot express what is in our hearts, why not dance?

Friedrich Nietzsche said: “those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”. Well, I’m not crazy. I hear a drum pulsing in the distance and am going to rise in solidarity because it’s time to tell a new story, one more primal, emboldened, and energized. And when I watch others dancing on February 14th, I will see, like the ancient images of the Goddess, strength, power and indefatigable courage. As Eve wrote in her powerful new monologue “Rising” it will “not be a question of inventing/but remembering.”

To find and join an event go to: One Billion Rising

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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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The Final Debate: Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

The fourth and final debate of the 2012 presidential race was held along the East Coast on October 29th with Hurricane Sandy as the moderator. Until then, global warming and its economic, social and political repercussions were conspicuously absent from the debates, with neither candidates nor moderators, broaching the subject, as reported in the New York Times.

Was Sandy a tipping point for the global warming debate? Will politicians continue to mock climate change as Mitt Romney did at the Republican Convention when he elicited laughter by saying; “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise … is to help you and your family.” According to Jennifer Daniel in Businessweek, “the number of natural disasters since 1996 costing $1 billion or more doubled compared with the previous 15 year period.” “It’s Global Warming, Stupid” was the headline in this same issue of Businessweek. Healing the planet and helping our families are not mutually exclusive.

Earlier cultures lived closer to the land, and respected the force of nature. The Taínos, the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Greater and Lesser Antilles feared and respected the ferocious Caribbean Goddess Guabancex. Also known as the “Rider of the Winds“, Guabancex was illustrated on pottery and stone carvings as a “disembodied woman’s face” with curling arms extended from her temples, looking a lot like a modern day satellite photograph of hurricanes.

In Nyack, the small Victorian town on the Hudson River where I live, Sandy’s 85 mph winds lifted boats out of the water, severely flooded homes and brought majestic trees crashing down against power lines, roads, roofs and cars. Although we were hardly the worst hit, after a week and counting without electricity and heat, our community had its share of adversity.

Nyack resident Lisa Sokolov is a masterful jazz vocalist, as well as a neighbor and friend. She chose to embody the Goddess Guabancex for Goddess on Earth a few days after the hurricane hit. Standing amidst the devastation wreaked upon another neighbor’s yard, she spoke of the omnipotence of the hurricane:

Guabancex is force, pure force, not malevolent, not beneficient, just pure elemental force. Singing, like Guabancex, is sitting at the center of your power, letting the elemental force of breath move through you.

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As we begin to rebuild and reassess our homes and communities here along the eastern seaboard, it is time to acknowledge who will come out ahead in this collision course. Hurricane Sandy may have moderated the final debate of this presidential election, but Mother Nature will certainly be the final victor if we don’t change our actions to live respectfully and in harmony with the planet.

Reports of dark New York City boroughs, empty gas stations and long lines at emergency relief stations remind us of our own fragility. For too long, we’ve ignored the messages from the natural world. Now, as we face these times of uncertainty and change, the Goddess Guabancex demands — with the undeniable volume of the gale wind — that we listen.

 

 

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