Many years ago I participated in seasonal, Goddess-focused celebrations featuring handmade decorations, including some by enormously talented artists who attended. One year, our spring fete was graced with gorgeous paintings, intricately woven and colorful fabric art, sensuous sculptures, and exquisitely painted eggs. I brought a Peeps diorama depicting the reunion of Demeter and Persephone. (For anyone wondering, Peeps are brightly colored marshmallows in the shape of bunnies, chicks and other shapes and are sometimes made into dioramas for contests in schools and libraries.) The reason I brought the diorama was partly because, though my own artistic talent is somewhere between extremely questionable and non-existent, I thought people might enjoy a little bit of whimsy to honor spring’s exuberance. In addition, however, I was also going through a time of great personal and professional stress and my soul deeply needed to be creative with just a little outrageous fun.
To recap the story, Persephone had been abducted by Hades and taken to the Underworld. Her mother, Demeter, made the Earth barren until the gods agreed to Persephone’s release. Demeter is the purple Peep and Persephone is yellow, and they are about to be reunited. Hades is pinkly enraged as he stands at the gateway to Hades. Gummi bears are romping while green humans dance in a circle. Snow is on the trees to show that winter is giving way to spring as Demeter returns abundance to the world.
This year, for the first time since then, I had the impulse to make another springtime diorama, this time illustrating another joyful story, that of the Germanic goddess Ostara. In the version of her story we used to tell at our spring celebrations, Ostara is cheerfully gamboling in the forest when she encounters a rabbit being chased by a predator. The rabbit begs for Ostara help and so she transforms the rabbit into a bird so she can fly away. During the moment when the rabbit is just turning into a colorful bird but is yet still a rabbit, she lays many-hued eggs. And, in gratitude for Ostara’s act of kindness, every year the birds of the forest lay beautifully decorated eggs for Ostara’s enjoyment.
As I thought about why I wanted to make my Peeps spring diorama this year and not so much in others, I realized that creative, light-hearted play is an essential form of sacred healing, much needed after recent traumatic and loss-filled times for our whole planet. Playful creativity affirms that, no matter what tragedy and trauma we have experienced, life is hopeful, the Earth is beautiful, and that we will not let our spirits be defeated. It is our message to ourselves that we are, in our most profound being, still in essence who we were in times when we may have felt more easily connected to the animating life-force that flows through the universe, no matter what name we call it or how we conceive of it.
Sacred play, especially in the form of artistic expression, is transformative and empowering. By engaging in it we refuse to accept the status quo or others’ determinations of who we should be and what we should do. Creative exuberance as a way towards social justice brings to mind Joy to the Polls, a movement this past fall to bring music and dancing to people standing in line for hours to vote or the beautiful art and music that has been so essential to the protests of the past few years, and, in fact movements against oppression from time immemorial.
The ancient goddesses also knew the importance of sacred play and laughter. The Sumerian goddess Siduri advised Gilgamesh to “dance and play, night and day…make each day a festival of joy.” When Demeter is wandering the Earth in deep despair, she comes upon Iambe, who makes her smile with bawdy jokes, or, in other versions, Baubo, who provokes Demeter’s laughter by showing her vulva. Uzume brought the Japanese goddess Amaterasu out of her cave, to which she had retreated in disgusted rage after atrocities by her brother, with a comic dance exposing her body. All these actions link joy and playfulness to the source of life, just as being creative in a playful way does. And I think that Iambe, Baubo, and Uzume all understood that creativity and humor can be even more effective when they are just a little outside expectations, like bringing Peeps dioramas to spring celebrations.
Incorporating play into spiritual practice can, of course, also be more artistry-focused. Some months ago I realized that the tips of the drumsticks I had been using for years had been whittled down by overuse to sharp points. It was long past time for a new set. At that time, the world seemed to be especially in need of a little magic, so I painted and decorated the old sticks to be magic wands.
I’ve also been finding joy in composing and recording very short percussion pieces about some of my favorite goddess myths because music can sometimes express what words alone cannot. Here is one about Inanna’s descent to the Underworld and her re-emergence into the world. Even though it is not a professional composition, I hope you enjoy it. You can even dance to it.
And so, I also hope I have inspired you to take some time in the coming days or weeks to find creativity and joy, and maybe a little sass, in your practice and your life. May we all heal and refresh from whatever we have each been through and reaffirm our hope for the future.
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, student drummer, and herb and native plant gardener who lives in New England. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in, among others, Feminism and Religion, Return to Mago E-Magazine, Sagewoman, The Goddess Pages, Matrifocus, and The Beltane Papers, and various anthologies. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com where you can find some of her free e-books to download.