Quest Cycles Applying the Hero Quest to the crises in our lives Linda S. Griggs

Early Shrines (about my Hero Quest with breast cancer)

These are the shrines I made in 2003 to celebrate my 10-year anniversary as a breast cancer survivor.
Images of these shrines (and the explanations of them) make up my Healing Shrine Cards.
Click on each one for a larger image and explanation.


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  • virgin & beast
    Virgin and Beast
  • perseph. journey
    Persephone's Journey
  • guardian angels
    Guardian Angels

  • head & heart
    Head and Heart

  • lifedeathlife
  • lifeline
  • born again
    Born Again
  • triple goddess
    Triple Goddess
  • taking arms
    Taking Back our Arms
  • rebirth
    Rebirth of Wonder

virgin & beastvirgin & beast


The Virgin and the Beast
(#5 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)

As a sign of support for my “battle against the beast,” people have given me various decorative pink ribbons. I’ve always hated these pink ribbons, without being able to articulate why. It wasn’t until I started making this shrine – pairing these ribbons with various Virgin of Guadalupe holy cards – that I recognized what I dislike about the ribbons: they are far too passive, as is the Virgin on the inside left panel (with closed eyes).

The Virgin on the inside right panel has her eyes wide open, aware of time passing, and of the need to stomp on the passive image suggested by the pink ribbon.

To win the battle against breast cancer, I’ve learned, you have to be like the Virgin on the back of the shrine: a fierce warrior princess.

perseph's journeyperseph back

Persephone’s Journey
(#4 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)

This shrine celebrates Persephone’s descent to and return from the UnderWorld – a metaphor for what it feels like to undergo treatment for breast cancer, and then to return to the everyday world.

The left inside panel shows the (frightening) descent, while the right inside panel hints at the riches that can be found in making that descent: the crude, primitive, forgotten/hidden parts of ourselves are recovered, refined, and reformed into something we can bring back and use to make our lives more authentic.

As the cave-like “womb” on the top suggests, in the darkest parts of ourselves, there are jewels waiting to be discovered.

On the back, the skeletal bones of death stand beside the fruits of life. Without the death of the old there can be no new growth. To live authentic lives, we need both.


guardian angelsguardian angels


Guardian Angels
(#6 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)

Most people don’t know
there are angels
whose only job is to
make sure you don’t get
too comfortable
and fall asleep
and miss your life.

Brian Andrews, Still Mostly True



This shrine celebrates the guardian angels who keep me awake:
            •  Front –  the spirit who brought me my breast cancer diagnosis in 1993
            •  Left inside panel – Frida Kahlo, who woke me up to my own creativity
            •  Right inside panel – the shamanic figures who goad me to explore my own spirituality
            •   Top – the Day of the Dead figure who reminds me to take a BIG bite out of life




Head and Heart
(#1 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)

This shrine contrasts my life before my breast cancer diagnosis with my life ten years later.

On the front is the “head” that guided my pre-cancer life – very mental, very logical, very balanced.

The left inner panel shows what it felt like to be diagnosed and go through cancer treatments – very scary, very dark, very unbalanced.

The right inner panel reflects the ecstasy I feel at still being alive, and the kind of daily affirmations that help me tune into my heart instead of just my head.


(#2 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)

This shrine celebrates the cross-cultural idea that death, rather than being the end, is just the middle part of a constantly recurring cycle that includes life, death and (always) rebirth of something new.

As Clarissa Pinkola Estés says, this cycle applies to our physical lives on this earth as well as to everything we do on this earth – from relationships, to creativity, to moving in and out of different phases in our lives.

On the front is the (rather dreary) Catholic patron saint of cancer.

Inside is a lighter view of death, as expressed through the Mexican “Day of the Dead” dancing figure, and Lazarus – who rose from the dead. Spirals and moon phases around the dancing figure reinforce the cycle idea, while the clear stones above Lazarus suggest how we become more “clarified” through each cycle.

On top is a pyramid, representing the Egyptian view of eternal life after death.





Life Line: Cancer-prone Personality
(#8 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)

This shrine started out to be a timeline of my life, using various toys to depict different facets of my personality as I grew from childhood into adolescence.

As I “played” with the traits suggested by the toys, however, I realized that they might also represent those personality traits that I share with other women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer:

            •  Tendency to “go it alone”
            •  Tendency to try to please everybody
            •  Tendency to perfectionism and self-criticism
            •  Tendency toward low-grade, chronic depression
            •  Tendency toward “parroting” what we think we’re “supposed” to say

(For more detail, click on the Cancer Profile and Resources tabs on Bio and Contacts page.)

The images on the back suggest the process I went through with my cancer to “rebirth” myself in a healthier “soulskin.”
The figures on the top show the precarious balance I feel between slipping back into those old (unhealthy and, therefore, potentially very dangerous) ways of being, and the new (more authentic) “soulskin” I’m learning to wear instead.


born againborn againborn again


Born-Again Amazon
(#11 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)

On the eve of my 11th anniversary, I realized that the one subject I had not yet addressed in my breast cancer series was perhaps the most obvious: the breast.

Many women diagnosed with breast cancer, I’ve learned, share a tendency  in adolescence to be ashamed of or to disassociate themselves from their maturing bodies (as suggested by the African figure on top). (For more detail, click on the Cancer Profile and Resources tabs on Bio and Contacts page.)

By not dealing directly with the breast itself in any of my shrines,  I recognized I was making an interesting omission – one that I was only now ready to face. 

So, to bring my healing full circle, this shrine celebrates the breast and the female form: from the necessary focus on the breast that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis (front); through the physical sacrifice that comes with surgery (inside left); through the healing process, wherein the scarred area becomes stronger – like a shield (inside right); to full recovery, when you can finally rejoice in your transformed body and life (back).


triple goddesstriple goddess


Triple Goddess Bounty
(#3 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)

This shrine celebrates the three goddess archetypes (as detailed by Jean Shinoda Bolen in her book, Goddesses in Everywoman) that operate most strongly in my personality: Hestia, goddess of the hearth and centering; Athena, goddess of wisdom and intellect; and Artemis, goddess of the hunt and independence.

Embracing the power and bounty that each of these archetypes brings into my life has helped me – like Joan of Arc on the back panel – slay my personal dragons.




Taking Back our Arms
(#7 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)

Among the personality traits shared by many women who develop breast cancer, I’ve learned, is a tendency toward passivity or always being “nice” or putting others’ concerns/desires before our own. (For more detail, click on the Cancer Profile and Resources tabs on Bio and Contacts page.)

This desire for balance and harmony through personal sacrifice can lead us to play the martyr or assume a victim role – as suggested by the Tarot cards and “supplicating hands” images on the front and inside left panel.

This shrine celebrates the power of owning our own strength – as suggested by the combination of much more powerful Tarot and “armed” images on the top and inside right panel.

These images include a stained glass painting of Eve using her own free will – via her arms – to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, and a clay tile created by Mary Ellen McNaughton depicting Lilith – Adam’s first wife – raising her arms in triumph after voluntarily leaving Eden rather than be subservient to Adam.




Awakening: Rebirth of Wonder
(#10 of Breast Cancer Celebration Series)


This shrine celebrates the artistic awakening I’ve felt since my breast cancer diagnosis.
The saint on the front – with her blood-stained cloak, right breast-impaling cross, oddly flattened left breast area, and numbed expression – strikes me as the perfect depiction of a woman newly diagnosed with breast cancer. The Modigliani statue beside her – with the tumor or mastectomy-like stone on her chest – also speaks to the shocking physical implications of the breast cancer diagnosis.

But inside, Mary Magdalene is pointing to that perfect egg as the perfect embodiment of something brand new that can come of this, of something within us that gets to start all over, of something containing everything it needs to become a whole new being. Starting with that blank white egg, we can rebirth ourselves and our lives, painting them any color we want, using broad primitive strokes or the finest, most delicate ones – and always using our own unique style.

And with that awakening of our true selves comes a rebirth of wonder – at the world and at ourselves and our powerful, inherently artistic souls.

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