"The essential function of art is moral. . . . a passionate, implicit morality. A morality which changes the blood, rather than the mind. Changes the blood first. The mind follows in the wake."--D.H. Lawrence.
Dear Creative Friends--I'm thrilled that this new article has been published by Immanence: The Journal of Applied Mythology, Legend & Folktale. In this piece I address the artist/creator's critical role in opening and expanding hearts and minds that have atrophied due to fear and ignorance. I accompany the writing with three new digital collages. See below for how to read the full-size article:
You can read the entire article "full-sized" on your browser as an Immanence subscriber. I'm also happy to email a pdf of this article to you if you wish--just let me know via the Contact page. If you recognize the relevance, and urgency, of "story" to our modern lives, then you'll love Immanence. Check them out and make sure to peruse their "submissions" page for information on submitting your own articles, artwork, poetry, short film and more!
Poor Persephone--If there's one mythic figure whose archetypal resonance is easy to constrict into a shallow stereotype, it would be this Greek goddess. Whether we've been steeped in mythology, or have had only a brief introduction, the tale of Persephone's abduction into the underworld is a classic. Perhaps too much so, in that we feel like we "get" the story on the first pass: A young virgin goddess is abducted by the old king of the underworld, her enraged and grief-stricken mother causes trouble for humans on earth as she transforms the eternal abundance of spring into the eternal lack of winter. Mom finally makes a deal with the head god, Zeus, and gets her daughter back for part of each year, thus creating/explaining the changing seasons on earth.
While those are the broad outlines, the story is so much juicier, especially when envisioned through the eyes of Persephone herself--not that Persephone (the silly goddess-ette romping through fields of flowers with her virgin girl squad) but the dark, powerful and mature queen of the underworld that she becomes.
Like all great stories (and myths are the greatest of stories) there's often a plot twist that can't be easily explained away--a twist that allows for different, and deeper, understandings of the tale's protagonist. As the goddess Demeter (Persephone's mother) rages and sinks into depression after her daughter's abduction and presumed rape, Persephone trades innocence for maturity, maidenhood for womanhood. So the plot twist: As she is being granted her freedom, she eats a handful of pomegranate seeds (knowing, I believe) that eating any fruits of the underworld would ensure that she would have to return, that her "escape" to mother would be more like a yearly visit.
Her transformation in the underworld and her willing (or unwilling) partaking of the pomegranate seeds have been the subject of numerous works by psychologists, mythologists, religious studies scholars, and artists alike. A "re-visioning" of the figure of Persephone reveals her as a complex woman comprised of equal parts victim, survivor, strategist, lover, partner and queen. In The Moon and the Virgin, artist and therapist Nor Hall writes:
"Seduction is a kind of education. When you are educated, or educed, you are led out. When you are seduced, you are led aside. . . . . The event of first enrapturement seduces one out of childhood."
Like Hall, Chris Downing (religious & mythological studies scholar) has reflected deeply on the figure of Persephone. Her essay, "Persephone in Hades" is a powerful means of understanding how Persephone's story could have guided so many in the ancient world through the Eleusinian Mysteries, and perhaps more importantly, why myths still matter in the contemporary world.
"When [one begins to see] that the whole story is about a figure who is first and foremost goddess of the underworld, one understands very differently what it means to say that she is also goddess of spring and renewal. To start with death, with the underworld, as a given is to see life in an entirely different way. . . . We are always still virginal before the really transformative (killing) experiences."
At this moment in time, our world seems particularly chaotic--deep divisions and ignorance have led to increasingly brutal events around the globe. We look to political and spiritual leaders only to realize that they are oftentimes ineffective, self-serving or even corrupt. What we're craving is meaning, the type of eternal wisdom that only the artist can deliver. Throughout history, the artist (meaning all creators, i.e. poets, writers, singers, dancers, actors, painters, etc.) has functioned as a type of visionary healer, a shaman-like figure with the power to bring clarity, peace, and ultimately meaning to his or her people. But human beings are a forgetful lot--our contemporary sensibilities have become increasingly anesthetized to the vital role of the artist. It's as if we're starving for nourishment that we don't realize even exists.
While we face many challenges today, ancient cultures were just as troubled as our own. However, for some of them, the artist could be called upon to find meaning in the chaos. The Aztecs (Mixteca) recounted their reverence for their artists in accounts to their Spanish conquerers. These accounts included separating the "true artist" from one that simply uses the devices or tools of the artist. Today we find ourselves uncomfortable or perhaps simply unable to discern true art from something more shallow and commercial. The marketplace has infiltrated our thinking of value and meaning, yet our need for authentic art remains as strong as ever. What could art accomplish if we looked at it through ancient eyes? An Aztec poetry fragment from the sixteenth century provides a clue:
"The artist: disciple, abundant, multiple, restless.
I'm Mary Antonia Wood, Ph,D. I share both contemporary & ancient insights on the origins & realities of artistic expression. Creators of all types will discover enriching & practical wisdom about their vocation as expressed through the lenses of philosophy, mythology, archetypal & depth psychologies, neuroscience and more. Take a look.