Archetypically and mythologically, women have had a role largely contained within the private sphere. As women have moved into new domains, particularly in the last one hundred years, one of the consequences has been a loss of an archetypical reference point. This change is described by Joseph Campbell who notes that “there are no models in our mythology for an individual woman’s quest.”* He says that we now find ourselves in a new creative period–we are currently creating the models and mythology for a future generation. In many ways this is true, but it is a fallacy to assume that this means that these new models cannot or should not emerge from the past.
The pervasive idea that woman needs to be reinvented is dismissive of her inherent value and power, and has destructive repercussions. Women are cutting themselves off from the past in order to claim their future, resulting in fissures between the sexes and loss of gendered identity. Amidst the effort to promote female individuation and social fulfillment, women are beginning to be erased all together. Without a connection to the past, our search for freedom has no foundation and in some ways is already beginning to crumble.
Campbell tells a story of an ancient matriarchal society in which the men killed all the women except for the young girls. Without the knowledge of their mothers, the girls became subjugated to the men and the matriarchy was lost. This story teaches the importance of the past. Though history is rife with stories of women in shadows, the stories of our mothers are also our greatest strength.
A piece of the past that gives me strength is the venus figurines from ancient civilizations. While figurines of men identified them with some costume indicating what they did, women were usually nude. Campbell observes that these venus figurines are declarations that “her body is her magic.” She does not need anything exterior. As we seek after knowledge and experiences that are only recently available to us (or that we still hope will become available), it is critical that we remember those things are not what make us valuable. Our power is already within us.
The past can teach us and ground us. We learn from it both to know what to hold close and to know what to do differently. Now is our moment in the annals of history. As we continue to write a vibrant mythology for future generations, let us do so in wisdom, drawing strength from our female legacy.
*See Joseph Campbell, Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine, ed. Safron Rossi (Novato: New World Library, 2013).