I asked this question at the family dinner table, on facebook, and by e-mail. Many heartfelt responses were offered, all insightful. Some spoke of romantic love, sexual love (eros), self-love, spiritual love, the love a parent has for a child, unconditional love (agape), primal love, authentic love, universal love, divine love, the source of love, friendship (philia), love of nature, and love of a pet, while others considered the destructive nature of love. What was demonstrated by these conversations was that not only are the possibilities of love’s expressions endless, but there can ultimately be no right or wrong answer when it comes to the meaning of love. Our cultural, familial, religious and spiritual backgrounds all play a part in the way we think and feel about love.
I was raised in a secular, middle-class, two parent, two children, cat, and sometimes a dog kind of family. Despite the usual ups and downs, our family life was full of love. I remember having feelings of love as a child that were so incredibly overwhelming I would be brought to tears. I loved everything and everybody. Mum still reminds me that if I could have, I would have brought every elderly person along with every stray animal home to look after. After reading about the process view in Carol Christ’s book She Who Changes: Re-Imagining the Divine in the World, I see now that this love I felt was born out of feelings of deep sympathy.
Because we did not have a religious or spiritual background, I had no idea what divine love meant. My idea of the divine was the male, Christian, biblical God that our family rejected. It is said that Christian love is selfless and is best seen in actions such as compassion and kindness. This may be so. But selflessness, compassion and kindness are not limited to Christian values. They are human values. In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama says that “love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive”. All religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions speak of the values of love. They say that love encompass compassion, kindness, selflessness, acceptance, gratitude, sympathy, sharing, grace, justice, charity, and liberation. They also speak of tension, wrath, discomfort, unkindness, loss, and judgement. For me, love is all these things and more.
Ancient myths address these values of love through tales of passion and devotion. Diane Wolkstein celebrates some of these myths in her book The First Love Stories. Each story expresses a distinct aspect of love. For instance: the tale of Isis and Osiris represents love that is stronger than the forces of nature, Innana and Dumuzi expresses the cyclical quality of love; Shiva and Sati reveals the eruption of passion and the taming of the mind; the Song of Songs celebrates love’s yearning; the story of Psyche and Eros portrays the forging of the self. All of these stories emphasize the sacred nature of love.
For me, having children awakened a love so very deep within. When I gazed into the eyes of my first born son at the tender age of 18, I was so overwhelmed by love I thought my heart would burst. I now have four children a husband and a loving extended family and friends who all teach me much about the true nature of love. They teach me above all else that love is patient, non-judgmental, and unconditional. It is through the growing awareness of my spiritual being and my journey with the Goddess that love has become something deeper than I ever thought possible. Love, for me has become a union with something higher than my individual self. My love extends beyond the family to include every living being on this planet and beyond. It is not just all about giving and receiving, but rather it is a state of being. It is personal yet universal and comes from deep within my sub-conscious. Love for me, not unlike the tales woven in ancient myth, is profoundly sacred.
Embodied with love I set out to create my next painting. Out of this portal of love:
Aphrodite, Goddess of love, pleasure and relationships, in all her glory was born.
The myth of Aphrodite’s life is complex and varied, but here I will only mention that she arises from the sea. My inspiration is still fuelled by the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete I took with Carol last fall. We participated in a ritual one rainy day high in the Cretan mountains at a place called Kato Symi. We stopped at Aphrodite’s tavern for lunch and feasted on slow-cooked goat, I shouldn’t fail to mention there was raki. We were to create ritual space at the peak shrine which had later become a temple to Aphrodite; however the rain prevented us from ascending. The grounds outside the tavern, with the water flowing from the sacred spring into the stream that flowed not far from us served us well. We stood in circle with a small statue of Aphrodite in the centre adorned with our jewellery. We took turns to recite excerpts from Sappho, who never tired of kind words for Aphrodite. Libations of wine and water were offered. This drizzly day in the mountains will be imprinted on my mind forever. We created in our ritual a circle of divine feminine love, dedicated to the Goddess of love.
Aphrodite has a number of symbols. In my painting I have used the dolphins as they were my personal symbol for the tour–representing freedom, playfulness, and intellect. They are inspired by the dolphins I saw on the frescos from the Knossos palace. The lilies are inspired from the Villa of the Lilies. I have presented Aphrodite in Minoan style, as can be seen by her long curly dark hair, while also remembering her cultural roots in Egypt and Assyria.
The dove, another of her symbols, found its own place upon her head. It wasn’t until I had finished that I realised that this is an obvious reference to the bird goddesses that are found not only on Crete, but all throughout Old Europe. Aphrodite holds her heart in her hands above her head in a gesture that speaks of trust and openness. As the heart is behind the dove, the symbolic language could be read as saying that with love comes peace and freedom.
Aphrodite head detail
Aphrodite is telling us to embrace all of our female-ness for it is a source of empowerment. My relationship with the Goddess allows me to respect and love my femininity, to love my physical body as it is. Aphrodite reminds me to not only have love of self, but to give and receive love openly, without condition, without judgement. Most of all she reminds me to BE love.
Jassy Watson, who lives on the sub-tropical coast of Queensland Australia, is a mother of four, a passionate organic gardener, an artist, and a student of ancient history and religion at Macquarie University, Sydney. She runs a small business Goddesses Garden to keep women’s sacred circles, art, music and gardening practices alive.
5 thoughts on “What Is Love? by Jassy Watson”
A refreshing excursion along the paths of love, Jassy, much enjoyed, thank you! Sitting in a cafeteria yesterday in New York City, a man and his grandson took the table next to me. The boy, about three years old, kept looking over at me, so I began to play a sort of hide and seek, covering my face with my hands and then peaking out from behind one finger. The child started to laugh, so I said to the grandfather, “He’s the spitting image of you.” And he was, and also they both had some sort of love of life inside them that seemed very natural. We talked for a while, granddad and I, having lived in the same area of the City for many years, and remembering together some old haunts. The man shook my hand at last quite warmly and moved on with the boy in a stroller. I live thousands of miles away from family members, but family life can open up spontaneously in myriad ways in our everyday lives and love burst forth in the most unexpected moments.
This is so very lovely, your writing/thoughts, the paitning and all her symbols! Bravo!
Francesca what a lovely reply. Moments like those renew our faith in love. I practice random acts of love & kindness with strangers all the time. Especially the elderly. Much love to you xx
That ritual was amazing. The beautiful rainy, misty day and Karolina’s beautiful lament, all of the beautiful renditions of Sappho’s poetry – LOVE in essence.
I really enjoyed reading this article. I’m also glad you also mentioned animals, has anyone else noticed that God spelled backwards spells Dog? Maybe the joke is on us, I sometimes think that Heavenly father created an animal in His image to teach us what unconditional love is really suppose to be.
I’ve noticed that ever since bringing my Beau home Three years ago how much more I;m willing to recognize complete strangers on the street, much like Francessa and the little boy in the cafe. Beau’ sweet nature forces people (all on their own) to stop and take notice. They just want to experience the pure love and joy of a wet nose and a wiggly butt and for the exchange they get no judgement, no condemnation of their size, or stature. They get no judgment of whether or not they have money or are homeless. They just get pure love and joy.