Fall is here, the leaves are changing color, the days are shortening and our ongoing natural cycle of change and transformation now moves toward the dark, quiet days of winter. Both the idea and the process of transformation have fascinated me my whole life. Blame it on my Scorpio rising. Scorpio is ruled by Pluto, the planet of transformation and regeneration. Diving deep and surfacing has always been my mode.
Though the word transformation has become trendy in the last few decades – used by corporations, the government and even the military to describe bureaucratic change – the original meaning of transformation is very different. Our ancestors viewed transformation as a process through which a human being gains a deeper understanding of the spiritual dimension in life. In cultures across the ancient world people could participate in ceremonies and rituals that helped facilitate a spiritual awakening – an awakening to the understanding that we are all spiritual beings having a physical experience. This journey brings one back into union with Source from which we all come and to which we all return.
I find myself returning to the theme of transformation again and again with my paintings. Guardians of the Passage presents a view of a doorway with Spirit Guardians on either side. A figure is poised at the entrance, ready to pass through, seeking a transformative spiritual experience.
Our day-to-day needs – the tasks, the emotions and the body – keep our minds busy and focused on the physical. Through spiritual transformation we can open to the truth of spirit. In my view, this truth of spirit does not negate or belittle the physical. As a practitioner of Earth-based spirituality I believe that the goal of spiritual transformation is the integration of the physical and the spiritual, creating an understanding which honors both and allows a worldview that rejoices in the physical world as a manifestation of spirit.
Transformation offers the opportunity to turn the lead of our fears and self-limitations into the gold of our intuitive inner calling. Nonetheless it is not a door many chose willing – usually it is precipitated by pain and suffering.
Another painting of mine, Doorways to Other Dimensions, was painted during a time in my life when I was struggling to find my authentic voice as an artist. It was painful to realize that my truth was completely out of step with the modern art world. I had to feel that pain, that realization that doors might not open for me, that the path ahead might be difficult, and then walk through it into an acceptance of myself.
As I’ve been working on the final edits for my deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards, I realized that many of the Celtic Goddesses aide with transformation. Arianrhod, Star Goddess of Reincarnation, Artio, Goddess of Wild Life and Transformation, Badb, War Goddess – Fate Weaver, Caer Ibormeith, Goddess of Dreams and Prophecy, The Cailleach, the Veiled One, Cerridwen, Dark Goddess of Transformation and Knowledge, Elen of the Ways, She who guides, Etain, Goddess of Love, Transformation and Rebirth, Fand, Shapeshifter, Mor, Goddess of Sun and Sea, The Morrigan, War/Death Goddess, Olwen, Goddess of Life and Death – roughly 1/3 of the goddesses I covered guide us through transformative experiences and times. Interestingly, working on this project has transformed me in ways that I am still struggling to put into words.
Slightly different in nature but certainly related are the shapeshifting deities and experiences. The shapeshifting deities and shamans transform into animal form, gain insights and wisdom from the animal kingdom and then transform back again, bringing these insights to the human family.
My work with the Celtic shapeshifting goddesses inspired this painting, Horse-Woman Shapeshifter.
Instances of humans being turned into animals offer an opportunity for personal transformation. Such shapeshifting often comes in the form of a curse laid on the human, such as in the story of Beauty and the Beast. The Beast had been an arrogant, self-centered prince before being turned into a beast. The only way back to human form for him was in winning the love of a woman through the purity of his heart. Great internal transformation was necessary for this to happen. My painting Love Transforms/Beauty Loves the Beast explores the power of love to transform.
Of course the ultimate transformation of each life beyond birth is death. American culture does not deal well with death, choosing to ignore it, choosing to idealize youth. But death ultimately comes to us all. Through cultivating our own spiritual practices; through dealing with life’s many smaller transformations; it is possible to arrive at an understanding of death as being simply the end of our bodies yet a transformation into a new, unknown state for our souls.
As I Lay Sleeping is a painting which could be seen as an enchanted sleep in which the sleeper feels her connection to the natural world or as a death in which the body returns to the Earth, becoming one with our Mother again.
Variations on a Minoan Theme is a painting inspired by a Minoan sarcophagus I saw in the New York Metropolitan Museum. A tree of life was carved on one end of it indicating the belief that life would go on. That tree of life made its way into this painting with other abstract doorways and figures, expressing my belief in the eternally transformative cycles of life.
It is this belief in the power of transformation that gives me the only hope I can find in these days full of extreme turmoil, discord, violence, and disaster. As each day brings new and terrifying changes and pain, the human family has the opportunity to leave fear behind; to stop trying to fix a system which will never allow peace and justice and instead to completely transform our world into one of beauty which honors Mother Earth and all her children.
I want to extend a huge THANK YOU to everyone who contributed and/or shared my crowdfunding campaign, raising funds for the production of my deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards. The campaign ended successfully on 10/19/17. In fact it went slightly over my goal, reaching 109% funding. The final edits and pre-print work are in progress now. The decks should be ready for shipment by late November. In the meantime you can still pre-order through my website Judith Shaw Art.
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time.