The Christmas wreath, a natural circle, represents the Mother on her day, the Winter Solstice. Another expression of the Triple Goddess occurs during the Civil War period and much of it is set at the warm glow of the hearth at the Christmas season. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a virtual biography of the Three Women archetype. The novel is set at a time when millions of impoverished immigrants were pouring into
Natural Religion we used to call it in
Musical girl groups usually come in threes; The Andrew Sisters, The Lennon Sisters, The Supremes, The Dixie Chicks, The Mandrell Sisters. But the archetype of the Three Women more or less disappeared from the culture during the rise of federalism after the Civil War. It was as if she was frozen out of time during
Like James McNeill Whistler’s painting of his mother immobilized in the chair, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1 (1871), her gaze resolutely fixed on the past. In the early Western tradition Mary is usually on the left, facing right, like classical portraiture, which carries the eye from the left front of the picture to the right rear and in the positive (linear) direction of future time, like the direction of the math arrow for positive numbers (and the “Darwin” fish on cars). In the Mona Lisa, painted when Leonardo returned to
At the turn of the century and up into the 1950s, respected Western authors and literary figures consistently presented an image of women as desiccated or gone mad. A critical position accuses these artists of creating dark images of women by a misogynist power driven culture. I think there is truth to that. But the archetypal point of view has it that the artist lives in a different realm of creativity. As it is in Zen, the true artist doesn’t create anything. S/he merely sees what is there. This amounts to the same thing. Power despises love and builds its own edifice. The artist is much like the Paul Klee’s image of the man in the front of the boat, spear in hand, following down a murky river, peering into the unknown. This picture speaks masterfully of any and all journeys into the unconsicous, whether artist, musician or dreamer. Klee shows no intention but seeks to presents what is there - and see tht the Unconscious (the water) is light in the artist's vision, the everyday dark..
What these artists saw growing into the 20th century was the paralyzing Death Mother, Kali the Destroyer, in her finest hour. Abstract Expressionist William de Kooning offers Kali in his “Woman” series of the post-war 1940s and early 1950s. The Death Mother, rising from the unconscious “deep” was ready for her close-up in 1956 in the Japanese classic Gojira, directed by Inoshiro Honda, distributed in the West as Godzilla, King of the Monsters (in the 1998 remake, the “king” had babies. Godzilla is the dark side of the Lady in the
Early in the century, Thomas Mann saw the European yin and yang as the burgher and the insane female (the exact reversal of the Madonna and Child), and Allen Ginsburg presented the mad woman in his poem Howl in the 1950s. Norman Mailer addressed modern times in the 1950s with a column in The Village Voice, contrasted the avant garde man as a psychoanalyst, and the woman as a prostitute. And his novel An American Dream presented the protagonist’s love interest as a whore as well.
A vivid image of woman relieved of all healthy and positive psychic content is found in Earnest Hemingway’s short story, After the Storm. Hemingway, perfect master of loss and chronicler of the crippling inabilities of men who live without women, has his protagonist rowing a skiff after a storm to ward off a hangover. He finds an ocean liner has sunk unnoticed during the storm. Swimming underwater into the “unconscious” of the ocean and peering into the ship’s port hole, he sees his anima, or his female nature; his Psyche beneath the sea. It is a dead woman staring out at him, her hair floating lightly in the blue lagoon on the other side of the glass.
These shattered and debased feminine images echo widely today in pop culture - Snoop Dog, Tupak Shapur and Dr. Dre. Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper project a Kali anima. The slimy creature who uses Lt. Ripley’s ovaries to produce her own nest in the Alien series is the Great Mother of all Kali figures, finding her place in space. This is an Aquarian turning point. The beast is born of Ripley but Ripley kills the beast and saves the Earth. With Ripley, the Earth Mother begins her return to earth and generally speaking, the culture will return with her. But as she says, she is herself a stranger to Earth - her true nature. She is a “new” person, born in space and part alien.
In the Sixties the sleeping woman awakened. There is today a small industry making worthy and worthwhile claims for her resurrection, but the forty million of my age will recall Her first primal cry as if she was the same woman in Hemingway’s port hole who was not dead but had only been underwater holding her breath in the Havana lagoon for the past 50 years and now in the summer of 1967 she came roaring to the surface in the San Francisco ballrooms, the Avalon and the Fillmore, where she was given this breathless and coarse reintroduction to the world: “ . . . four gentlemen and one great, great broad . . .” It was Janis Joplin, egging on her men (“C’mon, boys!”), Big Brother and the Holding Company. (Like Princess Amidala, Janis, “queen of the hippies,” came with a double; Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane fame.)
And shortly thereafter, the Three Little Women left behind in
The circle of love and family broken in a hundred years of civil strife, global war and the threat of nuclear annihilation is restored by a single swan feather. And the three sisters live again in
It is interesting that in Willa Cather's masterpiece, My Ántonia, a "three sisters" American story like no other by an American writer like no other, the two "sisters" Tiny and Lena both find their way to San Fransisco as well, while Ántonia remains to farm on the Prairie. Written in 1918, the book is a vision of America as it wakens in the West, but the critical view of the rising Progressives (in the East) would send Cather into remission for almost a 100-year sleep. Possibly the best American novelist, she is barely taught in University, which is still under the shadow of attitutes of pre-war America and - out of sync with the rest of America - still looks to Europe and to Europeans for initiative and imagination. It is interesting that at the end of the novel Ántonia would abandon the English language for that which her family brougth from Prague.