WRR 4.4 1 AUGUST 2007
The Triple Goddess Trials
“For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright
Shakespeare, Sonnet 147, 13-14
Let me take you back to a cold, grey Sunday morning in March.
There I sat savoring a sublime first cup of coffee, half-gazing out the window, half-talking to my husband, Rob. In between bites of bagel and jam, our light conversation took an unexpected and fateful turn.
“What are you reading right now, darling? Not another Shakespeare book, please?” I asked Rob, who has read almost nothing but the Bard (and/or Shakespeare criticism) for the past year.
“Oh, you might just like this one,” Rob retorted slyly. “ It’s called Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. By Ted Hughes. Listen to this.”
Let me tell you, Shakespeare and Hughes seemed far more appealing subjects than our usual breakfast fare, predictably centering on weekend grocery shopping, chore division, or discipline strategies for our daughter, and when Rob started dropping phrases like sacred bride, universal whore, queen of hell, and divine mother, my ears perked right up.
So listen I did. It turns out that the 500 plus page library book, academic as they come except juiced up with sexy poetry and mythological adventures had a lot of useful “analysis” to impart.
“You see the divine mother, the sacred bride, and the queen of hell are one in the same woman.”
“YES!” I forced him to say it again. That made more sense to me than anything else I’d heard in a while. Rob went on.
About Shakespeare and the Triple Goddess, Hughes wrote, “One [source of love for men] is the beloved of his ‘true soul’, the other a demoness. These two figures either confront him simultaneously, in one body, as a sort of double exposure, or they alternate in rapid oscillation, each looking out through the eyes of the other.”
That is the “tragic equation” Hughes claims Shakespeare’s male characters simply cannot overcome and it is the basis of Hughes’s very compelling book. The tragedy comes when these men struggle (always unsuccessfully, often violently) to accept the very same women who inspired their adoration.
AHA! However, I am afraid we must leave Hughes’s tragic equation for another morning. For, it was the Goddess herself that offered me the greatest hope in my current trials as a mom, professional writer, one-woman business show, and wife, among other passing identities.
(By the way, I’m not a Wiccan, nor do I normally worship at the shrines of ancient Gods and Goddesses. But I do hanker after symbols that can lighten my load more swiftly than a bottle of Prozac.)
THE TRIPLE GODDESS
For millennia, in every culture, the Triple Goddess and all of her aspects has embodied the ultimate source of birth, aging, despair, death, euphoria, destruction, salvation... and the mystery of life itself.
The Triple Goddess is the warm embrace (or cold shower) of those life changes that confront every human, every second. She is who we are no longer and who we will become. The sorrow that comes with what will inevitably pass, and the joy at what is utterly fresh at the break of each dawn. Just as a split second cannot be neatly extricated from the hour, the Triple Goddess is a continuum of identity and soul.
In fact, with divine sanction the Triple Goddess has played all feminine roles innocent virgin (Persephone, the maiden who later becomes Queen of the Underworld), divine mother (Demeter), incorrigible, sex-crazed flirt (Venus) and Kali-like she dragon from hell, and well, that kind of story line seems more honest to me than most.
SACRED BRIDE: PERSEPHONE
One story goes a little something like this. On a mild, sunny day, Demeter (your ultimate Earth mother, goddess of Agriculture) sat nearby as the daughter she was crazy about, Persephone, picked sweet-smelling hyacinths with a group of friends, their laughter echoing in the hills. Persephone suddenly saw the oddest (and most beautiful) flower a narcissus. Call it a hunger, but Persephone felt an unfamiliar urge to stray from the group and hold the strange flower in her hands.
Many springs ago, when I first became engaged, I blurted out my news to several friends in yoga class. That I was getting married to a smart, funny, good-looking guy with whom I had so much in common and moving to England. After my announcement, an older Indian woman whom I greatly admired approached me. With a gleam in her eye I could never quite place, she predicted, “Oh, so now you will grow up.”
Have you ever felt as if the ground were opening up beneath you? Sudden sinking and suffocating darkness? Such was Persephone’s moment when, upon picking the narcissus, the ground split open with horrible speed and Hades himself arrived to claim her as his bride. Demeter waged a famous campaign of grief at the loss of her daughter. Persephone ached for her home and family. But by the time Persephone was able to return to her mother, some say she had developed a new bloom in her cheeks.
DIVINE MOTHER: DEMETER
Even Goddesses get the blues. Demeter fell into a deep depression after the abduction of her daughter. She crusaded against Zeus, Persephone’s father who (she later found out) was actually in on the narcissus wedding plot with Hades to get Persephone back.
If marriage helped me to grow up, motherhood dumped a huge slab of humble pie on my plate. Having just given life, I seemed to be saying goodbye to any vitality in myself. And at the height of my exhaustion, a helpless being was wholly dependent on me. Gone was the luxury of planning what kind of a mother I would be.
When my daughter Isabel cried a lot (more like screamed) that first year, an unfamiliar urgency burst like fireworks through my belly. Nothing had prepared me for the ineptitude and panic I felt when her wails continued (and continued). Parenthood spat back my best efforts and left me crawling on the floor for mercy.
It also introduced me to frustration that swarmed upon the inside of my flesh like small deadly ants (those African red ones). I now fully understand some things that I kind of wish I didn’t.
Like tired, scowling mothers in bookstores and grocery stores, wearing stained shirts and wrinkled pants, offering only pained vacant looks to their offspring and cashiers alike. Around their ankles a toddler screams “moooommmmmmmeeeeee” through stomach-clenched wails. I feel the exhaustion and stress emanate from such women like pollution steaming out from a toxic dump and I have to hold back my urge to hug them and/or run away as fast as I can.
You might say Demeter lost her sense of humor while looking for Persephone. Certainly, you’d be unwise to laugh in her presence. Ask the young Ascalabus, shocked at how quickly the disguised goddess (famished and exhausted after swearing off Olympus) guzzled down a drink of water. Ascalabus suggested (with a chuckle) that Demeter use a tub rather than a cup. With a splash, he was promptly turned into a gecko.
QUEEN OF HELL: HECATE, PERSEPHONE, DEMETER
Imagine the moment you reach your bottom of grief a well around which brick walls are instinctively built. Here, kindness can wield as painful a cut as any knife. So Demeter first cursed Hecate, the Crone, when the midwife approached her with lightness in her voice and a face wet with sympathetic tears.
She then told Demeter where Persephone had been all along. Now, Hecate had an affinity for full moons and talking to the Dead, which put some people off. Guys often complained about her spine-tingling cackle. But, she was also a highly competent midwife and an infinitely wise woman who could be counted on to help out in a pinch.
Demeter’s reunion with her daughter, like so many reunions, had its share of uneasy moments. A new distance, not easily broached, had arisen between mother and daughter. And whatever the story, whether Persephone ate the pomegranate seeds willingly or was tricked, by doing so she had bound herself to Hades four months out of every year. Demeter hated to say it, I mean she was happy and grateful for her daughter’s return, but she was also, well... disappointed.
Consider the following scenario: My daughter wakes up hourly every night for a week. By the third night that I’m awoken from a deep sleep, a primordial anger swells up tornado like behind my eyes. My husband turns away in bewilderment from the sanctity of half-feigned sleep. I mutter something unkind (and immediately regrettable) to the not-so-innocent party next to me, and stomp off into the next room to console my weeping child, feeling desperate for sleep, devoid of compassion. All delusions of the patient, loving nurturer have quickly left the building.
So, it’s true. The queen of hell is alive in me. I have fully entered the labyrinth of resentment, frustration, deeply regrettable actions, confusing glimpses of love, long corridors of divine light, and blinding exhaustion.
In a society that seems to hunger for uncomplicated, helpless virgins and selfless (but polished) mothers, while selling anything that can be stamped with a sales code. Where self-improvement seminars, pharmaceuticals, supernannies, and self-help books dominate our psyche, I welcome the Triple Goddess as antidote and endless trial.
I mean, what would the queen of hell do if her daughter refused to get into the car seat, kicked the divine mother in the elbow, before attempting to run across a busy street without holding hands? She’d get pissed off, that’s what.
The thing is, in all of her aspects giggling (overenthusiastic) maiden, loving (fierce) mother, and wise (but kind of scary) crone the Triple Goddess merges within me on most days and presents me with riddles in which I encounter both despair and inspiration.
Puzzles like this one.
Within the mystery warmth (and blinding fog) I know of as love a flush that aches like an open wound when my daughter wraps her pudgy elbows around my neck and whispers “I got a secret Mommy-la?” Gratitude, a prayer I will never adequately finish...
Is it possible that the most transcendent of human feelings can knock heads so intimately (and clumsily) with cuticle-obliterating anxiety, exasperation, guilt, and the oddest sense of loss?
Could all aspects of the Triple Goddess blend like different colors of fabric or collapse into one another like waves in the sea that unknowable place where sky meets water in breathless collision, darkness, and foam within the body and soul of the very same woman?
I hope so.