Tag Archives: women sustaining each other

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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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!

 

 

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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!

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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.

 

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Artemis: Goddess of the Wilderness and Protectress of Animals, Ancient Greece

For the last 10 years, I’ve attended a women’s spirituality festival called “Where Womyn Gather” held in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, I missed this year’s gathering because I was overseeing the printing of “Goddess on Earth” in Verona, Italy, but you can be sure I’ll be there next year!

It was at these gatherings that I was first exposed to the divine feminine and a vibrant, goddess loving community. Each year, for four delicious days, I felt the freedom to let my creative juices flow, gleaning inspiration and support from the other women attending. It is also there that I photographed Maya who chose to embody the goddess Artemis.

A free and wild spirit, the goddess Artemis is in harmony with nature. She is pure, like a virgin forest, driven and self-determined. I see these qualities as the embodiment of the goddess in her “Maiden” aspect. This stage of a woman’s life is symbolic of new beginnings, youthful enthusiasm, independence, and a time when one is growing into the woman she is to become. Although often associated with a young girl, I have chosen in my work to instead embrace “the Maiden” as a universal stage that can flower at any time in a woman’s life.

When I photographed Maya, 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.” Maya found power and inspiration in Artemis during this important time of self-discovery as she is finding herself, and learning who and all she wants to become.

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Gaia: Goddess of the Earth, Ancient Greece

Last week we celebrated Mother’s Day and there is no better Goddess to reflect on during the month of May than Gaia, the personification of Mother Earth. Gaia, one of the first deities in existence,  is said to have emerged from Chaos – the primordial abyss, giving birth to the sky and the sea. She is a symbol of all life in nature and the abundance of the earth’s bounty.

I have a friend who is a remarkable mid-wife with a large practice here in Nyack. A few days after helping with a home birth she phoned me to recommend the mother, Marin, as a Goddess subject. Within days of this introduction, Marin welcomed me into her house, proudly sharing the joys of her home birth and we made a Goddess portrait that shimmers with a lush chiaroscuro lighting.

Marin is a genuinely warm and calm woman, a beautiful embodiment of the character and nature of Mother Earth. She is so committed and dedicated to helping other women experience a natural birth that she is now a trained birth doula, She offers physical, emotional and spiritual support to mothers during the birthing process, coaching and walking women through this sacred rite of passage.

As she embraces the difficulties and beauty alike all around her, she exudes love and a motherly care that puts you at ease. Our photo session was a joy as Marin was so comfortable in front of the camera with her children, and I feel privileged to know another great woman living locally and actively instrumentally in the lives of others.

 

 

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Hathor: Egyptian Goddess of Beauty and Sexuality

I met Jan while walking the festive streets of Nyack during one of their seasonal street fairs. I noticed her from a distance, as her dynamic character was apparent, as was her striking appearance. She was no doubt intriguing, and I thought she would portray a goddess wonderfully. I approached her and after introducing myself, explained my project. Jan was interested and enthusiastic right away, and said she would research what goddess she would choose to embody.

Jan decided upon the Ancient Egyptian Goddess Hathor, who nurtures and embraces life in all its ecstatic expressions; joy, song, laughter and dance. We took a trip to the New York Botanical Gardens to photograph this session, where the lush, tropical  plants in the Haupt Conservatory helped put us in an Egyptian state of mind! Not only did the photo shoot go smoothly, but Jan’s approach to life and all of its different aspects shone through this goddess, as she really does embrace the beauty all around with a confident and playful eye. Jan is a mother, grandmother and successful entrepreneur, and her portrait, to me, is an iconic “Mother” image; conveying a fullness of life, a creative woman pregnant with possibilities, willing and able to give and receive love.

My question for you is, which goddess are you? What goddess or sacred myth can you find yourself relating to, being inspired by, or striving to be? It was a pleasure to serendipitously meet and get to know Jan, and I hope you may find some inspiration in this chance story and goddess portrayal, as it is something within reach! “Live to inspire, and be inspired.”

 

 

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Fatima: Fourth Daughter of the Prophet Muhammad

Fatima was one of the first children to be born into Islam and the fourth daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. She is considered to be one of the four holiest women in Islam after the Virgin Mary, Khadija, and Asiya, the Queen who rescued Moses from the river. It is said that when Fatima prayed, her light was reflected by the mihrab, the direction of the Ka’aba in Mecca that a Muslim must face when praying. Her inner light was seen by everyone and the name “Zehra”, meaning “resplendent or shining one” was given to her among other such titles

This portrait began when I was introduced to a wonderful Sufi mosque in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y. I was invited with open arms to their Saturday night potluck dinner and there  met three sisters, all college students. Their names were Amina on the left, then Nuranisa, and Sema.

When asked what myth or sacred life story they would like to embody, they spoke about of the importance family, community, and faith in their lives. The significance of these elements led them to Fatima. “We chose Fatima because she is the ideal model for all Muslim women (even men) in spirituality, worship, prayer, service and inward and outward demeanor. Her loving and kind countenance made the people love her, her shrewdness made people respect her and her words and actions made the people imitate her.”  Nuranisa, Amina and Sema later wrote, “Our parents surrounded us with a very spiritual Islamic lifestyle based on prayer and worship but most significantly with love and service to our community, which is ultimately service to Allah.”

I was struck with admiration for the dedication and devotion these three sisters embrace life with. Amina, Nuranisa and Sema are my neighbors, living their lives fully within the uniqueness of their culture and values; emanating beauty and strength daily.

 

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