“If there is one chant in the universe it is to create.”
–Chris Griscolm quoted in Nicole Christine, p. 25
If you ever eavesdrop on a conversation between my husband and me around the clamor of our four children’s voices, you will probably hear me making a tired lament: “All I want is a broad swath of uninterrupted time.” In listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s newest book, Big Magic, on audio book I was interested by her mention that many creative people lament not having long stretches of uninterrupted time available in which to work. She quotes a letter from Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne, lamenting his lack of time and how he is always pulled “hither and thither by circumstances.” Melville said that he longed for a wide-open stretch of time in which to write. She says he called it, “the calm, the coolness, the silent grass-growing mood in which a man ought always to compose.”
…I do not know of any artist (successful or unsuccessful, amateur or pro) who does not long for that kind of time. I do not know of any creative soul who does not dream of calm, cool, grass-growing days in which to work with- out interruption. Somehow, though, nobody ever seems to achieve it. Or if they do achieve it (through a grant, for in- stance, or a friend’s generosity, or an artist’s residency), that idyll is just temporary—and then life will inevitably rush back in. Even the most successful creative people I know complain that they never seem to get all the hours they need in order to engage in dreamy, pressure-free, creative exploration. Reality’s demands are constantly pounding on the door and disturbing them. On some other planet, in some other lifetime, perhaps that sort of peaceful Edenic work environment does exist, but it rarely exists here on earth. Melville never got that kind of environment, for instance. But he still somehow managed to write Moby-Dick, anyhow.
When I create a new sculpture, I am most often creating something that I need to remember or want to learn. The original figures for my Centered Mama sculpture and my Meditation Goddess sculpture were both created while at a friend’s house for a weekend work exchange as my baby toddled around. While I love making figures of mothers and babies, I was feeling a strong urge to make a goddess representation complete unto herself. It felt like a reclaiming of my non-maternal identity and a declaration of self-sovereignty. She turned out a little bigger than some of my other figures, strong and secure and independent. Then, the baby crawled over and knocked off one of her breasts, knocked her over on the tray, smashing the side of her head. I came close to crying. I felt annoyed with my husband who’d “let” him come over and destroy my work rather than noticing him doing it and stopping him. I was frustrated, dismayed, and my feelings felt hurt in a sense. First I felt like, Argh! This is a metaphor for life! And, then I realized it was not just a metaphor for life, it is my actual life! I pouted a bit and said I was just going to smash her and give up and I made some bitter faces at my husband and some long-suffering huffs and signs, but then the baby fell asleep in the Ergo, held close against my chest. I kissed his soft hair and I took my clay and started again. I reclaimed her from the smashed parts and she sat stronger and taller than ever.
She reminds me not to give up and that beautiful work can come from struggle, but also of interdependence (not just the independence I was going for!), co-creation, and tenacity. When the finished version of her, cast from the original sculpt, sits by my bed at night or overlooks my dinner preparations, she reminds me that I am strong and that persistence is worthwhile. She also tries to remind me to be calm and steady, centered and Zen, even though I more often feel like a whirlwind.
That same Saturday at my friend’s house, as my baby tentatively toddled around the kitchen, chewed on a piece of watermelon, and snoozed on my chest, I felt moved to begin creating a new Centered Mama sculpture. I had been going through an emotional rough patch, feeling buffeted by variable emotions and erratic and unpredictable in my enthusiasm and confidence. I was also feeling impatient, snappy, and irritable.
“I will be gentle with myself.
I will be tender with my heart.
I will hold my heart like a newborn baby child.”
This song by Karen Drucker replayed in my mind as I sculpted. The baby woke, the watermelon got dragged along the floor collecting dust, and it was time for our collaborative dinner, so I had to put her away unfinished. When we got back to our own home, I was compelled to finish her, working feverishly as the baby pulled on my legs and I said, “just a few more minutes!” to the older kids who were trying to play with him to let me work. Again and again I re-rolled the clay baby’s head, trying to make it “perfect,” and worked to lay down the strands of her hair, against of the backdrop of this often-chaotic, noisy, home-based life we’ve consciously and intentionally created together. She was created to represent holding my own center in the midst of motherhood. I will be tender with my heart. I don’t create sculptures like this because I AM so “Zen” and have life all figured out, I make them to remind me what is possible if I listen to my soul.
As I do extensive rearranging, construction, and reconstruction on my slowly ongoing dissertation project, I typed out a quote from the book Priestess: Woman as Sacred Celebrant by Pamela Eakins about her past life memories of making clay goddess figures as a temple priestess:
…to me it brought a continuation of the energy of the sacred objects of the grandmothers. I contained this energy in a new form in the dolls that would be placed upon the altars and in the graves of the daughters living now and the daughters to come…
I felt this process made my own clay stronger, too. Some of the pieces cracked in the fire because of the added ‘impurities’…but, in this case, I felt the impurities were the purest of pure and I worshipped each crack knowing the crack contained the wisdom of the priestesses who had occupied the doll-making table for more moons than I could even imagine. It contained too, the devotional energy of every grandmother who had held it in her hands or placed it on her altar. Sometimes ‘impurities’ sanctify further that which is holy to begin with.
While I tend to have a knee-jerk skepticism about past-life memories, there is something in Eakins’ words that I know at a bone-deep level as I do my own work with goddesscraft:
…Each goddess was imprinted with the sound of sacred life coursing through the Universe. I changed with the priestesses as the figures came through my hands. Each doll received the sacred vibration of life…For seventy-seven moons I made the dolls at the long table with the young Sisters of Nun. My hands were so fast. I made thousands of figures: beautiful little faces, etched collars of gold plates, pubic hair swirled into tiny rows of connecting spirals. They were so precious. At the end of the day, my baked clay shelves were covered with little women.
The clay goddesses healed…
This is how I apprenticed. I learned, in this manner, the art of healing. I learned that to heal means to make whole, and that becoming whole involves learning many levels of purification, balance, and reformation” (p. 32-33).
In Anne Key’s marvelous priestess memoir, Desert Priestess, she makes this important point: “It is of course no small wonder why graven images are so tightly controlled by religious traditions.” (p. 52) Sometimes I feel like this is what I’m tapping into when I make my own goddess sculptures—a resistance to tight control over graven images and over personalization of divinity as male.
I occasionally get requests to make bigger goddesses–-people ask about figures that are large altar pieces 12-18 inches tall or taller. The goddesses I make are all about three inches tall and there’s a reason for that: they fit in the palm of my hand. When I create them, I feel as if I’m part of an unbroken lineage stretching back 30,000 years to the person who carved the Goddess of Willendorf. I feel connected to the priestesses of the Mesopotamian temples who sculpted hundreds upon hundreds of tiny clay goddesses. Someone commented on my sculptures once saying, “echoes of Mesopotamia.” And, I said, “exactly.” I feel the connection between the clay in my hand and the clay in their hands, running through the ripples and eddies of time.
I’ve been inspired recently to re-read Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, finding new bits of wisdom from it that speak to something different in me than they did the first time I read it. She writes of the attempts to discredit Goddess religion by invalidating the historical narratives or archaeological evidence: “The idea seems to be that if they can disprove our origin story, they can invalidate our spirituality…Is Buddhism invalid if we cannot find archaeological evidence of Buddha’s existence? Are Christ’s teachings unimportant if we cannot find his birth certificate or death warrant?…the truth of our experience is valid whether it has roots thousands of years old or thirty minutes old…a mythic truth whose proof is shown not through references and footnotes but in the way it engages strong emotions, mobilizes deep life energies, and gives us a sense of history, purpose, and place in the world. What gives the Goddess tradition validity is how it works for us now, in the moment, not whether or not someone else worshipped this particular image in the past” (p. 4).
The ancestry of my goddess sculptures may not be the same energy that raised temples and built monuments (or walls), it is the energy that carried a baby on one hip and a basket of supplies on the other and needed a goddess just the right size to tuck down the front of a shirt…
Sometimes I describe my life in the woods as being held in the hand of the goddess. And, I make goddesses that I hold in my hand. Am I in the palm of her hand or is she in the palm of mine? The answer is both.
Molly has been “gathering the women” to circle, sing, celebrate, and share since 2008. She plans and facilitates women’s circles, seasonal retreats and rituals, mother-daughter circles, family ceremonies, and red tent circles in rural Missouri. She is an priestess who holds MSW and M.Div degrees and she is finishing her dissertation about contemporary priestessing in the U.S. Molly’s roots are in birth work and in domestic violence activism. She has worked with groups of women since 1996 and teaches college courses in group dynamics and human services. Molly is the author of Womanrunes: a guide to their use and interpretation, Earthprayer, Birthprayer, Lifeprayer, Womanprayer, and The Red Tent Resource Kit, as well as three social service oriented booklets and a miscarriage memoir. She has maintained her Talk Birth blog since 2007 and writes about thealogy, nature, practical priestessing, and the goddess at her Woodspriestess blog. Molly and her husband Mark co-create original birth art, goddess sculptures, ceremony kits, and pendants at Brigid’s Grove.
Categories: Ancestors, Art, Divine Feminine, Family, Goddess, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Herstory, Motherhood, Priestessing, Relationality, Spirituality, Women's Spirituality