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

Scenes from a Hero Quest - Part 5 - Strength Phase

Details the divine intoxication I feel for six months
as I'm coming into my own and reconnecting to the goddess --
out in the desert, on Venus Day,
and at an exhibit of art and writing by women with breast cancer
(at which excerpts from my writing appear).


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Strength/Lust Phase (Dec. 1997 - May 1998)
Excerpt from Part 5

Strength/Lust - by Mary Ellen McNaughton

Leo, Passion, multidimensional creativity, talents, strength, integration of animalistic energies, overcoming old fears and conditioning. This [is] divine intoxication, divine ecstasy, divine madness.
Gerd Ziegler, Tarot: Mirror of the Soul

The truth comes from within yourself. It is your own deep inner light. . . . This truth uncoils within you like a great serpent. . . . If you do what your heart of hearts says is right, you will come to happiness.

Pamela Eakins, Tarot of the Spirit

Meeting the goddesses

What the hero seeks [from the gods/goddesses] . . . is their grace, i.e., the power of their sustaining substance. . . . The boon bestowed on the worshiper . . . is simply a symbol of life energy.

. . . Immortality is then experienced as a present fact: 'It is here! It is here!'

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

San Francisco -- April 24, 1998

The flesh-and-blood images hit first -- full-force in the chest.

Here's a Rorsach watercolor of a woman with mouth open, eyes wide, titled "Diagnosis."

Here's a woman on the operating table, surgeons hacking her breasts off with a saw, hanging them, dripping, up on meat hooks.

Here's a wolf tearing off a woman's breast. Here are two breasts in a box, labeled, "And they went to breast heaven."

Here's a beautiful young woman staring bald, unblinking into the camera, one long arm stretched out along the back of the bench, one full breast fully exposed, the other draped in black.

Here's an androgynous figure from the waist up, split in half: one side looking sexy in a long blonde wig and a half a black corset, and the other wearing a black beret and nothing else -- the bare chest (without so much as a nipple) looking flatter than a man's.

Here's a group of eight smiling, joking women, all bare from the waist up, all but two showing beautiful breasts of different sizes and shapes -- one of the two still a child, and the other a full-grown woman, sporting her equally flat chest darted by two slanting scars.

Here's a big woman, standing solid, staring straight on, naked from the knees up, her left breast sagging a bit from age, her right chest covered in bandages, tubes hanging down to two plastic bottles, holding her peach-colored liquid fluids.
Here's a collage of another's torso, the mutilation starting with her right breast (reduced by two thirds, but still possessing a nipple, curled into a nubbin) and then progressing to scars that eliminate both breasts.

Then come the goddesses, whispering of transcendence.

First there is Persephone, lifting her long left arm gracefully over her head, her great purple eye curving down at the edges, a single tear resting on her high rosy red cheek. She is eating a seed from the bright red pomegranate her right hand holds beneath the horizontal red scar where her left breast used to be. We know she is sad, but we also know she will rise up one day, bringing the spring.

Then there is Selkie the seal/woman, slipping into (or out of -- who can really tell?) her magic seal skin, her hands tenderly clutching her wounded breast. Then there comes a beautiful, calm, thoughtful Venus, the tendrils of her hair blowing into the delicate tendrils of flowers that frame her, one hand chastely covering her right breast, a vinelike scar rising quietly from the left to meet it. Athena weaves three shanks of hair through strips cut from latex gloves and surgical gowns and pathology reports.

There is Our Lady of Perpetual Health, her halo carefully gold-leafed, wearing an armored heart on her head, gazing beatifically at the banana she holds in her surgical-gloved hand, a floret of broccoli hanging beneficently from her neck. There's a black goddess in profile, her great bald head transforming her into an African queen.

An unnamed goddess with wide, piebald eyes watches as golden healing hands fly out of the opening in her chest. Another traces the patterns the lasers made during radiation. Another notes the resemblance between the circles the doctor draws of her cancer cells and the Rose window and circular labyrinth at Chartres.

Another has her back to me, wings spread, rising transcendent from the ashes. Another shows just an ankle and foot, a fleet-footed female Hermes swathed in gossamer gold, pausing just long enough for me to catch a glimpse of her ancient tattoo: a double-spiral found in a goddess temple in Malta. Another forms a bow and arrow in the elliptical circle of her Amazon nonbreast.

Three bald embodiments of the triple goddess -- maiden, matron, and crone -- smile at the camera ecstatic, serene, and strong.

All around me, other goddesses are moving: grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, aunts, nieces, godmothers, goddaughters. Like me, they push in to view each piece of art, turn to read each artist's statement, step back for a complete picture ­ comparing each image, each statement with their own memories. They are dressed in black, but they are not somber, they are not sad. These flesh-and-blood goddesses are laughing, talking loud, celebrating. The room is vibrating with their collective wisdom.

I am turning in circles, soaking it up: the down-to-earth power of these goddesses and the transcendental power of the images they've created. I want to greet these goddesses, I want to hear their stories, but I cannot find words for an approach.

I watch as three of them line up, arm in arm, for a photo by the art they created together. One of them is wearing a black velvet Cossacks hat. It looks very chic, very fashionable. We all know why she's wearing it. After the photo, a man congratulates her with a huge hug, then turns away to wipe his eyes. She puts her hand on his shoulder and tells him it's okay.

I know I need a photo then, something to carry this goddess healing home with me. I'm making my way back to the rising phoenix and the Amazonian ellipse and the Hermes fleet-foot with tattoo.

There are several women standing in front of the tattoo. I wait and wait, but they just will not move off. One is wearing a black full-length, long-sleeved dress, but the skirt and sleeves are see-through voile over a black velvet mini-skirt and halter top. I'm thinking something about how it's a bit much when she turns to me and says, "Are you a survivor?"

I stammer a second, then recover: "Yes, and you?"

"Yes, this is my tattoo."

"It's so powerful. May I take your photo beside it?" She asks me to join her.

Together, we flank her tattoo, the bowed Amazon ellipse taking aim at us from her left, the phoenix rising to my right.

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