Tag Archives: Women’s Empowerment

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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Millennials; Celebrate Yourselves, Even When Others Don’t

Millennia’s have a bad reputation. The media tells us they are entitled, spoiled and in constant need of approval. But I agree with James Wolcott who wrote in this month’s Vanity Fair; “We may need millennials to remind us what we should have remembered from the 60s, that social change comes only once you stop playing charades.”

Many of the young women I have met are passionate to make this turbulent world a better place. I admit, as a photographer working at the intersection of the women’s movement and goddess spirituality I have both a skewed and limited perspective. And yet, those I do meet are fiercely committed to a wide range of issues; the environment, animal rights, social justice, water quality, women’s spirituality, gender equality and more. Smart and entrepreneurial, these young women are using a new set of skills – social media savvy and technical acumen – to trumpet their demand for change.

Meet one such woman, Kiri Laurelle Davis; a filmmaker and social activist; a change maker; an artist with a mission.

In 2005, 16-year-old Kiri directed a short documentary film entitled “A Girl Like Me“.  Kiri used her film to explore the standards of beauty being imposed on today’s black girls. This powerful, award winning film underscored the negative toll Eurocentric standards were having on African American young women, harming their self esteem, self-image and fundamental self worth. Not content to stop there, Kiri continued to fuse her passion for art and activism by creating the Just Us Project, a multi-media platform to actively address social justice issues through media, art and community outreach. Kiri’s first media piece under this new platform is Our Lives Matter, a public service announcement that poignantly focuses on the racial profiling of young black and Latino boys.

In Goddess on Earth, each portrait begins with the subject’s choice of a goddess archetype to embody, and emerges from a place to personal reflection. Prior to getting together in person, I had a pre-conceived idea of what Goddess Kiri would want to portray. She would be a fierce lioness; a warrior, a fiery spirit forging a new trail with her sword/ camera. In fact, during our early phone conversations, I misconstrued her words. Oya, a Yoruba Goddess of wind and destruction was the sacred myth I thought she said she related to.

Only hours before we were to meet, did she gently correct me. Oshun, the Yoruba Goddess of sweet waters and beauty was the archetype she wanted to portray for Goddess on Earth. Oshun, Kiri said, was a Goddess of love, a sensuous woman, flowing with joy and feminine sexuality. Oshun resonated with her.

Oshun is noted for her beauty, which I feel goes beyond skin deep. I know the beauty in my reflection represents a rich culture of strength, creativity and brilliance. My blackness is beautiful to me because it symbolizes a fierce determination and perseverance. It depicts my own style, grace and a regal beauty that stem from my own distinctive and unique roots. I come from a people who have been exploited, enslaved, dehumanized, stereotyped and continue to rise in spite of tremendous obstacles.

Creating “A Girl Like Me” helped me develop a newfound courage and understanding when it comes to beauty and self love. Like Oshun, who represents beauty, love and art, I have found a loving strength and confidence in myself.

“I no longer look for others to affirm me. I affirm myself. I define myself. And with my art, I want to help women and girls celebrate themselves — even when others don’t. ” wrote Kiri.

YES! YES! YES! How fabulous! How empowered! How inspired! Here is a young woman, confidently embracing her own magnificence and using art to help shift all of our standards of beauty. Here is a young woman, while celebrating the 10th anniversary of her formidable first film, is creating new work teeming with grace, love and beauty, that tackles one of the profound problems of our time – racial injustice and police violence. I am in a state of wonder. Let us pay attention. We have things to learn from this generation.

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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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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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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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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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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?”

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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.

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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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Goddess Bless America – My WIld and Crazy Fantasy

According to the New York Times, the word God was used a total of 57 times during the recent Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Just for fun, let’s imagine if the word Goddess were used instead. Would the switch of one word in a very public arena change contemporary women’s views of themselves and their relationship to power?

I believe it would. As the author Carol Christ wrote in her widely reprinted 1979 essay Why Women Need the Goddess: “Religious symbol systems focused around exclusively male images of divinity create the impression that female power can never be fully legitimate.” Without imagery and words that reflects our female experience of the Divine, how can contemporary women see themselves in all their diversity, complexity and most powerful selves?

Let’s explore a society that does have abundant representations of the Divine Feminine and how these symbols can and do inspire contemporary women. In the Hindu religion, the Goddess Shakti is considered the energizing force of the cosmos and the fundamental creative instinct for life. In Goddess on Earth, Karen Siff Exkorn, the author of the bestselling book The Autism Sourcebook, portrayed Shakti and described her connection to the Goddess:

“Shakti represents fierce, creative energy, the energy that I had to call upon… when I had to fight the system to get my son the services he needed after he was diagnosed with autism.”

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The Goddess Durga, also from Hindu mythology, is celebrated as the destroyer of human sufferings. She is an avenging warrior — think super hero — and protectress against human suffering and the cruelty of war. India’s first female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was often compared to this Goddess, even being hailed by the prominent Indian politician Bal Thackeray as “an avatar of Durga” in the Indian Express. InGoddess on Earth, the renowned food writer and actress Madhur Jaffrey chose to embody the Goddess Durga, writing:

“I have never accepted any constraints put upon me as a woman. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to the Goddess… Adjoined to her husband Shiva, in their half-man, half woman form, she is fully capable of co-ruling the world”.

Speaking of co-ruling the world, Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of the Paley Center for Media, pointed out in her blog “Where are all the Leaders for Women, Not Just Women Leaders?” that the U.S. ranks 69thamongst countries with the highest percentage of women in government. 69th! Behind such countries as Andorra, Rwanda, and Cuba?! Watching the current presidential campaign, and the unbroken lineage of male presidents who have dominated our politics since America’s inception, I’m feeling a serious need for more Durga, more Shakti. Perhaps it is possible, as Carol Christ also wrote, that “as women struggle to create a new culture in which women’s power, bodies, will, and bonds are celebrated, it is natural that the Goddess would reemerge as symbol of the newfound beauty, strength, and power of women.”

So indulge me, please, in my fantasy: at a not so distant future presidential convention, amongst the usual hullabaloo — bright lights, throngs of waving posters and eager faces — a new speaker takes the stage. During the soaring oration detailing the state of the economy, the plight of the middle class and the role of government, I hear the speaker say it: very simply, the word “Goddess”. In the moment that follows, as the profundity of that word sinks in, women — and men! — will be electrified with a transformed vision of women’s powerful capabilities, innate strengths and formidable empowerment. Now I’m really excited about our political future! Goddess bless America!

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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

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