New song and a feminist reading list from my deep dive!

Last year I got really interested in divine feminine archetypes and burned through a small stack of books on the subject. Each time I got to know a new mythic character, I loved thinking of all the women in my life who embodied their quality. It became a game I would play secretly and internally, matching the personalities of contemporary heroes and friends to their ancient divine counterparts.

I started this song last fall, but I was abruptly interrupted when I lost the journal containing the original lyric. But today I decided to recreate the song as best I could, feeling inspired by the presence of some powerful ladies in my life, and wanting to celebrate their expertise and capacities in various fields.

It’s just absolutely mad to me that the United States has yet to have a female president, and until that happens, I believe this topic will remain relevant. If you feel like that too and want to check out some cool books on the intersection of feminism and mythology, read on for my discoveries. I had a blast on this deep dive and can’t recommend all these titles enough.

My journey began with “When God was a Woman” by art historian Merlin Stone, a classic feminist work that presents anthropological and archaeological evidence that the earliest religions centered a female deity. She presents the case that because Neolithic societies did not yet understand that it “took two to tango,” women were revered as magical for their ability to create life. (I mean, it IS magical, even today!)

Then I hung out for a long time in the Greco-Roman mythologies, where I enjoyed reading “Goddesses” by Joseph Campbell, which traces core characteristics of female archetypes as they transferred from name to name and religion to religion.

I made my way from Artemis (protector of the natural world and fierce huntress, depicted with a bow and arrow) to Athena, judicious protector of the city of Athens. Though she is often referred to as the “Goddess of war,” she is not blood-thirsty like her counterpart, Ares. Athena represents restraint and was known for her rationality, love of knowledge, and her ability to resolve conflicts peacefully and quickly.

I got to know Demeter, the Goddess of Grain, and her daughter Persephone by reading about the Eleusinian Mysteries in Carol S. Pearson’s book “Persephone Rising.” These secret religious initiations took place in Ancient Greece in the city of Eleusis. The rites, ceremonies, and beliefs were kept secret and consistently preserved from antiquity, but we know they chronicled the story of Persephone’s abduction by Hades through her eventual reunion with her mother, Demeter. In her ascent from the underworld, Persephone came to represent “The First Spring.”

Next I took a little swing into Christian history and discovered the cult of Mary Magdalene. I was baptized in an Episcopal Church, so I was deeply moved to read the “The Gospel of Mary,” which was only discovered in 1896, and only published in English in 1955! I literally wept when I realized how starkly absent the feminine divine was from my early childhood, and I reveled in the experience of hearing “her side of the story.” It rearranged my being and empowered me to finally feel a sense of place in narratives that dominated my early programming.

One of my favorite books on the topic of “the Gnostic Gospels” was written by young author Sophie Strand, and is a new work of fiction published just last year. It's called “The Madonna Secret” and it is a poetic grand slam on top of being deliciously racy. I also really loved the blockbuster movie “Mary Magdalene.” Joaquin Phoenix plays Jesus, but in my opinion his acting pales in comparison to the performance of Rooney Mara, who plays Mary. (Incidentally, he later marries “Mary” in real life, and the couple have two children together.) 

I ended my journey (temporarily, to be sure!) by going back in time *only slightly* and reading “Cleopatra: A Life,” a biography by Pulitzer prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff. To root her in time, Cleopatra shared several a dinner, negotiation, and an important border with King Herod, of biblical fame. For reference, a short 28 years after Cleopatra’s death began the Christ story.

One thing people often forget about Cleopatra was that she was not Egyptian, but of Greek decent. She practiced several religions, and spoke more than several languages (sources vary, but likely between 7 and 9.) She was the first Pharaoh in her family line, the Ptolemies (which ruled for nearly 300 years) to learn the language of the country they governed! 

Though Cleopatra was a historical person and not technically a mythological figure, what I found so engrossing about her story was her belief in her own divinity. She felt she was, in fact, the incarnation of several divinities, from Aphrodite to the Egyptian Goddess Isis. The implication of this - to me - is that she could draw from the power of all the deities and archetypes that she worshiped, collecting them into a kind of “Personal Pantheon.” This idea delighted me! 

(Who would you collect in your Personal Pantheon? You can choose from across religions and centuries. Go! Have fun!) 

Most people know she had children with both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, but because Cleopatra’s story was documented by her political enemies, her character was assassinated early on. It turns out that a lot of what we “knew about her” was not quite right, and in fact, she was a TOTAL BADDASS. And not just because of her medical proficiency and early research on birth control!

She was the OG feminist, the charismatic intellectual, the agile negotiator, the expert diplomat and the wealthiest person in the world to boot. The city of Alexandria, from where she ruled, was the intellectual center of the Ancient mediterranean. 

AND TO TOP IT ALL OFF she was the owner of the first universal library, the Great Library of Alexandria. It was the largest and most significant library in the ancient world, dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts. How fitting is that?!

The whole thing inspired me to start my own library on the topic, and I tell you, I’m off to a pretty good start!

Thanks for following along, and happy reading!