We are getting closer to the shortest day of the year, otherwise known as the Winter Solstice. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we are facing farther away from the sun as we do our silly, spinn-y dance through space.
I actually love this time of year. I love being wrapped in darkness, I love going to bed earlier, I love the dark mornings and sunrises behind fog, mist and frost, I love the holiday lights. I love the cold and bundling in woolens. I love being quieter and spending time with just a few loved ones.
The feelings that elicit my emotion of "love" are what the Norwegians call "koselig" (pronounced "coo-sah-lee" or "coosh-ah-lee"). The Danish call it "Hygge" (pronounced HEW-geh), but that is actually a Norwegian word as well. Koselig roughly translates to "cozy" and Hygge roughly translates to "comfort" or possibly it is derived from the word hugge which means to embrace. You get the gist here.
When you live in countries where it the sun is elusive from October to May, you need something to get through - or even, to ENJOY - the dark and cold. And for that we have koselig.
I just finished koselig-ing my living room. When we first moved into our house 5 years ago, my color pallette for our walls was inspired by the different shades of chicken eggs, so the living room was brown chicken egg. But I haven't liked it. Then on Instagram I saw it: a DARK GREY living room, with a black chimney. I had avoided greys because the Pacific Northwest is similar to Scandi countries in that we spend a lot of time in grey, the sun hidden. I wanted our living room to be warm and koselig! But I couldn't hit on a "warm" color that felt right. Come to find, dark grey feels koselig, WHO KNEW. Especially when you throw around knitted cushions, sheepskin, and tea lights (thank you Ikea)!
I've noticed in my trips to visit my family in Norway that there is something about setting the mood of koselig that also happens through out the year. I don't know what you would call it, but basically what it seems to me is an appreciation of beauty and ritual. An example is my Aunt Ingeborg and Uncle Ola took myself and my husband and daughter on a picnic in the summer, to a beach near their cabin. This was a late night picnic, because the opposite of the darkness of winter there is the brightness of summer and sunset happening after 12AM! Ingeborg and Ola had the food packed up in their little knapsacks, and when we reached the beach they took out a thermos of coffee (because in Norway, you drink coffee all.day.long), and then their BLUE AND WHITE CHINA. No plastic or disposable dishes, NO. It was a beautiful night on a lovely beach with loved ones, and the food and drink should be presented with care. My Aunt and Uncle are not wealthy (though by American standards, having all the benefits of Norway sure feels wealthy!), but they had special things that they took care of. What if instead of access to a large quantity of plastic things from China, we only could collect things with care and thoughtfulness, with attention to the aesthetic impact? Like the feeling of "koselig" there are other feelings that are brought forth by beautiful things. Like Art!
Enjoying and collecting art or artful things isn't just about indulgence or luxury, it's about creating an environment that makes you and your loved ones happy. And if you are happy, or calm, or cozy, or koselig.... then you are more able to contribute to your life and our world.
As usual, the Norwegians got it right.
Saturday, December 2
10 am – 4 pm
I will have my studio space open and embellished prints, amulets, and goddess shrines available for HOLIDAY shoppy shop during the Clinton Holiday Makers Tour! Make a day of it with all the fun things to check out....
Eat, shop and be merry as you explore all the Holiday goodness Creative Clinton has to offer.....
Fill your belly with warm tasty noodles at Island Nosh, then fill your sleigh with gifts for everyone on your list as you travel through the shops and workshops of Port Clinton.
Visit Make Whidbey for one-of-a-kind beautiful local gifts and furniture; stop at the Abundant Earth Fiber Mill for luscious spun, carded, and knitted wool; bop over to Whidbey Glass Gallery for unique art glass; drop by the Winter Market at the Clinton Community Hall; and re-fuel with ME and my artsy co-horts at Blueschool Arts as you enjoy a variety of original art and gifts created by the nine resident artists.
We will have glass, candles, mixed media original artwork, jewelry, embellished prints, sculpture, oil paintings - and other fun stuff. Including COOKIES.
It’s all happening in Clinton! See you there!
PS: If you're on Facebook, RSVP on the official Event!
I am happy to report that the third Goddess in my series "Goddess, Saints and Real World Heroines" has been completed. Though honestly, she has been showing up repeatedly in recent works so it is no surprise that she has entered the pantheon.
Her name is Kali, which in Sanskrit means "Black" or "Time". She is both a blood thirsty goddess and an ambivalent mother figure of power. She is one of many aspects of the Hindu Goddess of the Divine Feminine, Devi or Shakti. More specifically, both Kali and her sister/mother Durga are an aspect of the Goddess Parvati, and fulfill her role as a warrior goddess or a manifestation of Divine Rage. Kali is the Divine Protector, the Destroyer of Evil Forces, the Mother of the Universe, and bestows liberation.
Something that is overlooked in the powers of the divine feminine is the fierceness of our rage. Kali embodies this completely, and I have felt her dark passion for justice welling up in my own heart in response to some of the ugliness that has been revealed within the corruption of our human society. Continued assaults on women and human rights. Sexual predation by those in power. Neglect and violence done to the Earth.
As women have been waking and rising up recently in response to attacks on ourselves and the Feminine in general, I can see and hear and feel Kali waking up as well - gathering her cloak of the blackness of the void, her eyes sparked with fire and rage, and her blade held high to cut through some major bullshit.
Kali, 11X14 mixed media acrylic Icon Illustration. Pictured: Kali with her necklace of 52 skull beads, representing the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet; her sword and decapitated head, representing cutting through the illusion/delusion of the ego; she is dancing in the cremation grounds because she is the Goddess of the transformation of Death; pictured below her is the God of Fire Agni, who has 7 tongues, including one named Kali; and the Goddess Durga, who called Kali forth from her forehead in a divine rage to kill demons.
Sometimes it is not enough to play nice.
Kali will be available SOON as embellished prints and in amulet form if you feel her call. Sign up for my newsletter to be kept in the loop!
Ok I've scheduled myself to write to you about something called 'Creepy-Beautiful ' which is a component of my artistic aesthetic, and how much I love the season of Fall and about the genre of gothic romance and also a super fun drawing challenge with halloween-y themed prompts; but I woke up to news of another mass shooting, and I think I'm starting to be menopausal, and the cat keeps peeing on soft surfaces around the house (mattresses, clothes, towels, rugs), and I'm in a bit of a funk.
So right now the world feels 100% creepy and not sure where the beauty is -let's see if I write about it we can dig it back up.
Creepy-beautiful is sort of like the French term, 'Jolie-Laude', which translates to 'Pretty-Ugly'. To the French, being conventionally pretty is boooo-ring. Being truly beautiful is a combination of odd characteristics, and of course something behind the face and body to carry one through the world. Creepy-Beautiful is something that is aesthetically lovely, but is enhanced by the juxtaposition of something dark, gothic, or.... creepy. That is what interests me visually.
I'm not a pure goth that decorates her house with coffins and wears all black etc etc (though I do admit to a certain amount of home decor shopping when Grandin Road comes out with its Halloween Collection), but I do have a board on Pinterest of photos of abandoned mansions; I enjoy listening to supernatural podcasts about ghosts and aliens and other mysterious happenings; and I was a huge fan of gothic romance novels as a teenager.
The Gothic Romance Series
This was the inspiration for my series of paintings also entitled 'Gothic Romance'. On the covers of the genre of gothic romance there is a specific theme: women running away from large foreboding mansions in which there is a single lighted window. I wanted to create my own gothic romance book cover art - but my heroines are less 'running away' and more part of the foreboding part of the story. They're not so much afraid as...a bit frightening themselves. A bit creepy-beautiful.
So you can see why I would also love October - when Fall really starts to feel like Fall, and the month of Halloween/Samhain/Day of the Dead. The abundance of color, the changing light, the shorter days and longer nights, the morning mist over the fields, the excess of sugary treats... the last hurrah before everything dies before a new cycle starts (did you notice that juxtaposition of both beauty and the darker bit of death?).
Time for Daily Creepy-Beautiful Drawings!
I find myself the most creative this time of year, and to celebrate that this is my second October joining in the drawing challenge called "Drawolleen" or "Inktober". I'll be drawing a halloween themed sketch every day of this month, inspired by prompts written by Mr. Nemeth (@mister.nemeth) called #artofdarkness2017. You can see them everyday on my Instagram or Facebook feed, and they are also available for purchase for $10 and little bit of shippy-ship if I have to mail it to you.
.....Ok well I guess I feel a little less insane now, taking my focus off of world events. But I'll leave this post with a couple of resources in that department:
A place to learn about and support commonsense gun control:
*Much like Mothers Against Drunk Driving was created to reduce drunk driving, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was created to demand action from legislators, state and federal; companies; and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun reforms.
Give to Hurricane Relief:
*Hurricane Maria (Puerto Rico) Relief
*Hurricane Harvey (Houston TX) Relief
*Hurricane Irma (Florida) Relief
So let's keep looking for the Beautiful in the midst of this super Creeptastic time.
For the month of May, I challenged myself to make 31 pieces of art in 31 days. I completed that challenge yesterday (yes I know it's June I didn't say CONSECUTIVELY. Jeez, so judgmental). I shared those pieces first with my mailing list, who had the opportunity to purchase them starting at $5 and going up $1 each art bit, ending at $35 - because it wasn't about the money - I wanted to make art a number one priority and see if I could stick with it.
What I learned is that I'm reeeallly quite busy, as are most moms! I manage a shared studio space. I volunteer. I do mom shit. I like to attempt at a semi regular exercise routine. Gotta take care of the dog. And yes I realize these are quite privileged middle aged middle classed married with husband who has a good job type busy-ness, but busy-ness none the less - and it was tough to put THOSE things lower on the to -do list, rather than art.
But what a gift to give my artist self. I explored themes (albeit not in depth) that have been on my art play list for a while. I worked on technique. I connected with my art fans. I used up a bunch of boards that have been piling up, waiting to be converted into art bits.
It was cool.
I'm glad it's done.
What I've come away with is: I have some new inspirations, and I have developed a closer relationship with my fans. And I found some grrreat podcasts to listen to while Art-ing! (Pod Save America, Lovett or Leave It, Newsroast, The Adam Buxton Podcast, The Guilty Feminist. So good.)
I will DEFINITELY do it again - next May - and between then and now I have some fun ideas to continue to share with those who would like to join my newsletter!
And here are all the pieces: which are your 3 faves? Please leave a comment!
For those of you in Seattle, I wanted to make sure you knew about the Original Hits by Original Artists Show at Cherry Street Coffee House at 108 Cherry Street, which I have two pieces in!
ABOUT THE SHOW: R.I.P. the album cover, sort of. We said our goodbyes to that roomy square-foot of substantial cardstock, with its fantastic artwork — maybe by Warhol or Dali or Mapplethorpe —to name just a few. We also said our goodbyes to the hours of contemplation of the cover-art while the music spun on a nearby turntable, a unique synthesis of the aural with the visual with the tactile — a feast for the soul. Then the album cover was demoted in both size and importance, a mere afterthought of a booklet cover, encased in brittle plastic. Now stripped of its physicality entirely, it’s relegated to the ether where its low-rez pixelated remains live out their diminished existence barely visible on tiny hand-held screens. Until now! With LP sales now at a twenty-eight-year high, the album cover (both genuine and fake) is back!
Original Hits by Original Artists, opening May 4 right downstairs on the first floor of the Good Arts Building, will pay proper homage to the art of the album cover, both past and present—without the album. The exhibit features covers for dozens of fabricated albums cut by bands that exist only in the artists’ imaginations. The show will be on view May 4 – May 31, 2017 at 108 Cherry Street in the Good Arts Building (downstairs from ’57 Biscayne).
Original Hits by the Original Artists will be shown in conjunction with the Upstream Music Festival in early May —>>
Thursday, May 11: 4:00pm-8:00pm
Friday May 12: 4:00pm-8:00pm
Saturday May 13: 1:00pm-8:00pm
We are Upstream location #30 on the map:
* The exhibit will also be open on the last two Fridays and Saturdays in May, from 1-6PM and by appointment. Show runs May 4 - May 31
More info at 57biscayne.com
Just wanted to reach out and say HEY and let you know what I’ve been up to in the studio. Recently, I was able to participate in a fabulous workshop, presented by my good friend and studio mate Sara Saltee. It was called “Magical Little Worlds: Assemblage” and was as super fun as it sounds. It was really interesting because even though I’m a mixed media artist, and love to glue pretty things to my paintings, I’ve never really worked 3-D. Not since I was a kid, and made dioramas. Man, I love me some dioramas. Sooo when I started making my magical little world, I found I just fell back on my modus operandi and made a collage/painting with glued on items. Below you can see what I made on the front of my box..
Then I opened my box, and did the same on the inside of the lid.
But FINALLY, on the inside, I was able to take a step into a more developed
3-D kind of space.
The piece was expressing my frustration and anger at all of the injustices coming to light - or rather, being forced into my view. I used the images of the Goddesses Kali, the Destroyer, and Oshun, Defender of the Poor and Warrior against Injustice, to express the archetypes of feminine sacred rage, and inside I created a treasure chest of the gifts that these Goddesses offer. Not only was creating this piece cathartic for me, I also found myself in a place I haven’t been for a while: PLAY. I was creating art with no other purpose than to please myself. All the work I make DOES have to please me in order for me to create it, but I haven’t made anything that didn’t also have one of these questions attached to it: What series is it a part of? Did it reflect my current style? And how could I market it?
I really liked playing. WHEEEE! So I decided to make May my 30 Days of Play! Aren’t I rhyme-y? So starting May 1, every day I am going to make a piece of work with only my entertainment as the goal. I have in my art supply stash quite a few substrates that can be used as you can see below....
.....and each day I will choose from this pile and put something on it that pleases me.
And I want to share with you my May of Play! Simply join my newsletter list on this page, and every morning in the month of May you will receive in your inbox an image of what I have created. AND as a special treat just for my newsletter folks, I’m going to offer each piece for sale, starting at $5 the first day and going up $1 each consecutive day, plus shipping. If one of them pleases you as well, just be the first to reply to my email.
Doesn’t that sound FUN? I’m psyched. And feel free to share with your friends if you think they’d like to play with us as well. Simply send them this link:
so that they can sign up for my newsletter, THE FEMIN-ARTIST.
As December has transitioned into January and 2016 has given way to 2017, we not only find ourselves in a new year but a new era. In this new era, a group of people have managed to position themselves in places of power, and the agenda they are forcing through in extremely dodgy, sneaky and downright unethical ways chills the heart of most liberal, moderate, and some conservative citizens in this country.
This is usually the time we bust out pieces of paper and jot up some New Year's Resolutions. The first on the list for most women usually is "lose x amount of weight." Well, bitches, we don't got time for that.
In point of fact, there are many things that we do not have time for. These are things that in order to fit into the ideal mold of feminity in this culture we have struggled with and also many of us have tried and tried to shed, recognizing the waste of energy. This waste of time has used up energy we could've been using to become our best and most powerful selves. And yet, we still fall back to not feeling "good enough" because we can't check the boxes of the Perfect Western Woman. There are also negative attitudes that flourish in our competitive patriarchy that do not foster the culture we need to fight the good fight.
Bitches, we are being called. I give you permission - nay, I ORDER you to let this shit go. As soldiers on the ground in this new era, the only thing that matters is what serves you and your fellow human beings. And it's not how your butt looks in jeans.
Here is the top 5 shit turds we don't got time for.
1. Losing Weight/Being "Pretty". Now is not the time for diminishing ourselves. We need to be LARGER, not SMALLER. The number on your scale is inconsequential. What matters is how strong you are. Can you run away while holding your breath, when they tear gas your march? Can you sit for long periods of time waiting for your local representative to acknowledge your presence and hear your concerns? Can you punch someone in the throat if they threaten you or your children? (Ok I can't do that one either but maybe I should sign up for some local boxing lessons....) Look for opportunities to strengthen your bod, and keep it clean, healthy and happy. That includes eating ice cream or cheese + bread. Also take care of your teeth and eyes. If you do these things, you can give no fucks to anything else: not how young you "should" look, how long and flowing your hair is, or how well you apply your make up. Also, please avoid clothing that constricts or inhibits your ability to breathe or move. Don't got time for that shit.
2. Being Nice. Now, I'm not suggesting you should become mean (remember: when they go low....). However, things like apologizing for your opinions, ending your sentences as a question, "softening" your vocabulary - bitch, we don't got time for this. Speak your truth: calmly, authentically, and as loud and often as you need to.
3. Judging and/or Engaging in Petty Disagreements with Your Fellow Bitches. We are on the same team, bitches. Comparing and competing ain't going to get us where we need to go. Take everyone at face value and for what they bring to the Resistance. Engage in debates on solutions only. And bitch, if you bring up the Bernie/DNC debacle or how your conscience is clear because you voted third party, I don't got time for you.
4. Playing the Martyr. Bitch, you are not that special. Just join your sisters and do your job. We don't got time to feel sorry for you. We have a Resistance to mount and evil to eradicate. Enough with the whining. If you are tired or overwhelmed, take the time or participate in the activities you need to recharge. Ask for help if you need it. We expect you to be fueled and ready to suit up. You trying to do everything alone and burning out, or seeking sympathy and not solutions for your woes, serves no one.
5. Questioning your Value. Are you good enough? Of course you are good enough! Don't use that as an excuse for not stepping up. You will never be ready. You will never know everything there is to know. But are you willing to learn, are you willing to work as a team, are you willing to be your best in each moment? If you are, well then. Bitch, let's get to work.
*Some of you may take exception to the term "bitch". I realize it has been used disparragingly as a term for a woman who is subordinate or submissive to someone else, or as a description of a mean and unpleasant woman. I prefer the definition "female dog" or even "female wolf". You really do not want to mess with the Alpha Female. And that bitch does not have time for no kinds of shit.
Hildegard Von Bingen, Saint of Mature Female Creativity
by Karin Bolstad, 2017
Every Goddess, Saint or Heroine has an energy or special message that connects to something within; and just for, US. I refer to this as an "activating force": which is what energies does a Goddess, Heroine, or Saint have for awakening the dormant or blossoming mirror energies within ourselves. We then can use these forces both for personal growth, as well as to make the world a better place! I read in a book once the our purpose in our lives is to "make heaven on Earth" - rather than focusing on how to GET to heaven. Hildegard's Archetypal "activating force" is that of EMPOWERING THE CREATIVITY OF THE SECOND HALF OF WOMAN'S LIFE.
Hildegard is a strong Icon for:
Hildegard Von Bingen was a German Benedictine Abbess who was born in 1098 and died at the age of 81 in 1179. She was a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian Mystic, visionary, healer, environmenalist, and political activist - all in a time when all of these things definitely fell out of the realm of what women were supposed to do, or even be ABLE to do.
The Story of Hildegard
At the tender age of 3, she started receiving visions - what she described at "The Shade of the Living Light". At the age of 8, her parents offered her as an oblate to the Benedictine Monastery of Disibodenberg, and she was placed in the care of a woman named Jutta. Jutta herself was a visionary, and taught Hildegard the bible, as well as how to play the psaltery (pictured at her feet, below the falling sheets of music). At the age of 14, she and Jutta were "enclosed", or "cloistered" - meaning they inhabited a room or a group of rooms attached to the monastery, separated from the world, to prevent distraction from prayer and the religious life. Anchorites (a title for women who were enclosed) took part in a religious rite of consecration much like that of a funeral rite, because they would be considered "dead" to the world, a type of living saint. You can see this illustrated at the bottom of my Icon Illustration. Hildegard and Jutta were the core of a growing community of women attached to the male monastery.
Jutta passed away in 1136, and Hildegard was unanimously voted the next Magistra by her fellow nuns. In 1141, when Hildegard was 42 years old, she was instructed by God to write down what she saw and heard in her visions. Initially she resisted, but after suffering an illness- which she attributed to her resistance to Gods' request- she started writing the first of three volumes about her mystical experiences. This is illustrated in the bottom left corner of the Hildegard Icon. The first book, Scivias ("Know the Ways"), took her ten years to complete. Just before she finished Scivias, in 1150, Hildegard (after resistance from the Abbot of Disibodenberg) took her nuns and founded a new monastery, Rupertsberg, in order to assert her independence. This monastery is illustrated in the top left corner of my Hildegard Icon Illustration.
Her following books were Liber Vitae Meritorum ("Book of Life's Merits) and Liber Divinum Operum ("Book of Divine Works"), started in 1158 and finished around 1172. She also wrote books about her healing practice, which was based on tinctures, herbs and semi precious stones. Her "healing garden", within which she is pictured with a basket of herbs, is pictured on the left hand panel of the Illustration. She wrote Physica, which was a volume of nine books, about the scientific and medicinal properties of various plants, stones, fish, reptiles and animals. The following book, Causae et Curae, was an explanation of the human body, its connection to the natural world, and causes and cures of common ailments. Hildegard viewed the human body as a microcosm to the macrocosm of the Universe.
Laced amongst ALL her writings was the term "Viriditas" (Latin for "greeness"), which is one of Hildegard's guiding images. In her works It has been translated in various ways, such as freshness, vitality, fertility, fecundity, fruitfulness, verdure, or growth. In Scivias, the word viriditas was used as an attribute of the divine nature. Hildegard uses viriditas as a metaphor for spiritual and physical health, which is visible in the divine word. Discussion and exultation of the natural world is a common theme in Hildegard's writings, and has been an inspiration to modern day Environmentalists.
"The earth is at the same time mother, She is mother of all that is natural, mother of all that is human. She is mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all. The earth of human kind contains all moistness, all verdancy, all germinating power. It is in so many ways fruitful. All creation comes from it. Yet it forms not only the basic raw material for humankind, but also the substance of the incarnation of God's son." -Hildegard von Bingen
The twining vines that lace the sides of the Hildegard Icon represent Viriditas, as well as the color of her nuns' habit. Also on the right side of the piece is a vine of Passion Flowers. Passion Flowers were not native to Germany, but I included them because the "Passion" in "passion flower" refers to the passion of Jesus Christ. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish missionaries associated the different flower parts and structures of Passiflora, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and his crucifixion.
Besides her writing career, Hildegard was an accomplished musician, and composed sixty nine musical compositions with original poetic texts. She also composed the Ordo Virtunum, a liturgical drama about vices and virtues, which is the oldest surviving morality play. She also wrote her own language, called the Lingua Ignota, which was a modified medieval Latin. It is believed she created this language to increase solidarity among her nuns.
Hildegard also wrote and received an extensive amount of letters, numbering 390, if not more. She corresponded with emperors, kings, queens, popes, archbishops, abbesses, abbots, nuns, monks, and laymen and women. People wrote asking not only her advice but her prophecies of the future. By believing herself to be the voice of God (and others believing that as well), she was able to be forthright in a way that women of her time would never been allowed. She considered herself to be a means of transmitting God's message which often were attacks on corruption in both church and state, and vices of her fellow clergy or of people in power. She often referred to Justice as the "daughter of God". She also took her (Gods') message to the people, conducting four preaching tours throughout Germany, denouncing clerical corruption and calling for reform. In this way she became a powerful figure in the politics, which is extraordinary for a woman in medieval times.
On October 7th, 2012, the feast of the Holy Rosary, the Pope Benedict XVI named her a Doctor of the Church, the fourth woman of 35 saints given that title by the Roman Catholic Church. He called her "perennially relevant" and "an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music." Her feast day is September 17th.
On a scroll that she is writing on in the Icon Illustration are the words "Trust Shows the Way" from the full sentence "Trust shows the way, with the passion of heavenly yearning, we all produce rich fruit."
Hildegard calls on us to trust the flowering of our creative selves as the divine source that it is, in all chapters of our lives, for there is no part of a woman's life that is not creative.
Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and her World by Barbara Newman. University of California Press; 1998.
Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times by Mathew Fox. Namaste Publishing, 2012
Psyche, The Goddess of Feminine Spiritual Growth
by Karin Bolstad 2016
Every Goddess, Saint or Heroine has an energy or special message that connects to something within; and just for, US. I refer to this as an "activating force": which is what energies does a Goddess, Heroine, or Saint have for awakening the dormant or blossoming mirror energies within ourselves. We then can use these forces both for personal growth, as well as to make the world a better place! I read in a book once the our purpose in our lives is to "make heaven on Earth" - rather than focusing on how to GET to heaven. Use the Archetypal "activating force" of the Greek Goddess Psyche for FEMININE SPIRITUAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL GROWTH and TRANSFORMATION from innocent young woman to mature Goddess.
Psyche is a strong Icon for:
The Greek Myth of Psyche and Eros was first written down in 160 AD in "The Golden Ass" by Roman Lucius Apuleius. Variations on the Psyche myth are easily recognizable in (three of my very favorite fairy tales!) "Beauty and the Beast", "The White Bear" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon". The myth also has similarities to the story of the Egyptian Goddess Isis and the resurrection of Osiris.
The Greek name "Psyche" means "breath of life", "soul" or "spirit". It is represented by the image of the butterfly, hence Psyche is often depicted in art with butterfly wings (see the Blue Morpho butterfly wings I added to the piece? The name morpho, meaning "Change", is also an epithet of Aphrodite - who plays a large role in the myth of Psyche). In Greek, Psyche is spelled "ψυχή". The Latin translation is "Anima", and this term was also used by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung to describe the archetype of the inner feminine personality within a man.
So let's get to the FUN part, the STORY!
The Myth of Psyche and Eros
"Psyche was the third of three daughters to a King and a Queen. She was so lovely that people would travel from miles around to worship her beauty, and consequently the shrines of Goddess Aphrodite were neglected (much to her chagrin). In a fit of pique, Aphrodite sent her son Eros to exact her revenge: he was to cause Psyche to fall in love with the most wretched man he could find. Instead, Eros accidently pricked himself with his own love arrow while gazing apon Psyche, and was smitten.
Aphrodite wasn't the only one concerned about Psyche's power over men: Psyche was miserable, and the King himself was worried about this burgeoning cult, and sought advice from the Oracle of Delphi. Unfortunately the Oracle fortold that she was to marry a serpent, and once you ask the Oracle a question you must accept that fate. So, the bereft King took his daughter to the top of a mountain to await her new husband- and consequently, Death. Instead, Zephyr the West Wind came and took her to a beautiful meadow, where she fell asleep.
When she awoke, she found herself at the doors of a palace, which a voice proclaimed was hers to enjoy. That would be Eros, who did not want Psyche to recognize him, because he was embarrassed that he failed his mother so spectacularily. So Eros came to Psyche only in the night, under the cover of darkness, and soon Psyche was pregnant.
Though Psyche was relatively happy, she missed her family. She asked to see her sisters. Eros was not thrilled with this idea, but allowed it only asking she not tell them about him. The sisters, apon seeing how rich she now was, were jealous: and reminded Psyche that the Oracel of Delphi said she was to marry a serpent. They encouraged her to take a lamp and a knife with her that night to see if her husband was in fact a monster, and if so to kill him.
NOPE. Not a monster, just a pissed off Eros with a lantern oil burn, who then left, blaming Psyche for being too curious and ruining the great thing they had going. Off he went to Mama Aphrodite, to confess and lick his wounds. Psyche was left, heartbroken.
Psyche wanted to give up, even attempted to commit suicide by throwing herself in a river - but was saved by the God Pan, who told her to not give up but to go after Eros. Psyche eventually managed to find her way (or is delivered) to Aphrodites' doorstep in order to try to make amends and woo back her man. Aphrodite thought this was an excellent opportunity to torture Psyche for usurping her worshippers and stealing her son. First she called her handmaidens, Anxiety and Grief, to spend quality time with her. After they had their way, Aphrodite tasked Psyche with four challenges to prove herself worthy of Eros.
The first was to sort a room full of a variety of grain. Psyche wept in despair, but luckily for her an Ant took pity and he and his friends sorted all the grain for her.
The second was to gather fleece from a herd of Golden Rams, which were large strong and dangerous. Again, Psyche wanted to give up and throw herself in a nearby river, but a whispering river reed at the edge of the river gave her instructions on how to proceed. It told her to not attempt to retrieve the fleece directly, but to wait until evening and gather it from the blackthorn trees where it had snagged.
The third was to fetch water with a crystal flask from a waterfall guarded by monsters, that was fed by the River Styx . AGAIN, Psyche contemplated throwing herself in the river. But an eagle sent from none other than Zeus came to her aid, and gathered the water for her.
The fourth was to fetch a magical beauty ointment from Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. Psyche went straight for the edge of a tower, to throw herself off, figuring that was a way to end these tasks and/or get to the underworld, win-win. The tower itself suggested this was not the best plan, and gave her both directions to the underworld and specific instructions on what to do in order to fetch the ointment. Psyche followed the plan perfectly: except when she emerged from the Underworld she pulled a Pandora and opened the box, wanting to be pretty for her man when they were reunited. Instead of beauty magic, it was super deep sleep magic, and she fell where she stood.
At this point, Eros was tired of his mother, healed from his lantern wound, and missing Psyche. He came to her side, wiped the sleep from her eyes, and took her to Zeus. He asked help in order to officially marry Psyche. Zeus gave her ambrosia, which made her into a Goddess, and they wed. Oh, and they had that baby she had been carrying around, and named her Hedore (Pleasure/Joy)."
So, what in the heck does that mean?
or....The Interpretation of the Myth of Psyche and Eros
Two very important symbols within the beginning of this myth are the lantern and the knife, seen in the central image of Psyche in the artwork. Psyche is placed into a situation where she can continue in an unconscious relationship/situation (with a lover that she cannot see), or take a risk to move forward. The lantern provides the illumination to see her situation clearly. She cannot take conscious actions if she cannot see. The knife is the tool she needs in order to "cut through" the situation, draw a boundary, discriminate, or even "cut off" the relationship. This is the reason she is holding these two tools in the Icon: when we are in a situation that needs changing or ending, we need the light of the lantern and the discrimination of the knife.
The aids and the challenges that Aphrodite tasks with Psyche are teaching symbols for anyone going through a time of transformation or process of growth. In the first task with the grain that needs to be sorted, the seeds themselves are symbols for all of her possibilites: and by sorting them, she is taking stock of her current situation, and putting things in order. The Ant symbolizes instinctual knowledge, determination and team work.... working with a group, asking for help, and taking one step and one "seed" at a time. The ant and the seeds are pictured in the top right corner and down the side of the Icon Illustration.
The second task of gathering the fleece deals with confrontation and timing and masculine power versus feminine power. The rams are competitive, large and strong animals that if Psyche attempted to gather their fleece in the light of day, facing them head on, would have failed the task. She could not compete with the strong fierce rams on their terms (masculine power), on their turf. Sometimes challenges we face cannot be taken head on; we need to have patience to recognize when our energy is going to be most effective and productive. In this case she waited until evening, representing a more "intuitive" time, and did not even gather the fleece directly from the rams. She received this wisdom from a green reed: a plant that roots within the water (unconscious) and yet is visible in the air (consciousness) - the reed is also a communicator (used to make pipes) - hence, Psyche is communicating directly with her unconscious, intuitive self. You can view the reeds and ram at the bottom right of the Icon Illustration.
The third task involves gathering the poisonous water from the waterfall of the River Styx with a crystal flask. The River Styx (Greek meaning "hate" and "detestation") was a river in Greek mythology which formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. The River is surrounded by monsters and slippery, deadly slopes. The river, as it cycles over the waterfall and down to the Underworld and back up, is a symbol of the energy of life/death, creativity/destruction, and consciousness/unconsciousness. The crystal goblet Psyche must wield in order to gather some of this primordial liquid is a symbol for her own fragile and transparent ego: the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. When attempting to tap into the forces of creativity, it is too dangerous to get too close or to take it all in. Think of artists who go insane when they spend too much time in their inner world without being grounded in reality. So Psyche, with the aid of the eagle, an animal with a perceptive, keen eye, courage, and an overall view of the situation, narrows in on the goal (one flask of water from the dangerous river) and takes only what she needs. The image of the eagle and the flask are on the bottom left corner of the Icon Illustration.
In the fourth task, it is the tower that comes to her aid. The tower is a symbol for civilization, or the cultural legacy of civilization. Psyche is given instructions based on the wisdom of history, and it is very detailed and comprehensive. She must follow a map to the entrance, and follow very specific rules while within the realm of the Underworld and also in order to get back out. These rules involve what gifts to give and to stay focused on her task and not come to anyone else's aid. This is very important when doing the hard work of becoming self-actualized or changing one's circumstance in a profound way: we must not allow our energy to be dispersed by the needs of others. This does not mean being selfish; rather understanding we have nothing to give if we ourselves do not do the work for ourselves that we need to. Within this final challenge is also the importance of the very destination she goes: the Underworld. Here is our dark night of the soul - the dark night being the realm of the Underworld, and Psyche is the soul. This is the period of our growth where part of us must die in order for the new self to be born. This is also the moment where we may want to give up, and often we must ask for help. Psyche received aid from the wisdom of civilization (the tower) - to me, this symbolizes that part of the human experience is to die and be reborn, and not new to just one individual: so to reference the stories and myths from our history or family story is to gather wisdom to move forward. The image of the tower is on the top left of the Icon Illustration.
Psyche achieves the goal and yet, upon exiting the Underworld, she opens the box that is not meant for her, and falls "unconscious". What does this mean - when she has faced all these challenges to become "conscious" and awaken to ther true self, she still makes a choice that appears to put her back to square one? In my opinion the paths to growth are non-linear, and in fact, never ending. When we reach one level of understanding, it is only one step in a long spiral staircase. Perhaps towards the end of a process it is natural to self sabotage, to fall back into old habits, to want to go back to sleep. Perhaps after going through the first three tasks, the caterpillar self must go into chrysalis form in order to process her lessons, and be reborn. She is awakened by Eros: Love. Love wakes her from her unconscious state. Our soul is awakened by love, and love cannot exist without our soul. And this is the core message of the myth of Psyche and Eros, and the development of our Feminine Spirit/Self.
Psyche Article by Carlos Parada, Greek Mythology Link
Transitions as Liminal and Archetypal Situation, from a lecture by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
She: Understanding Feminine Psychology by Robert Johnson. Harper Perennial, Revised 1989.
Love and the Soul: Psychological Interpretations of the Eros & Psyche Myth by James Gollnick. Wilfrid Laurier Univ Press 1992.
Psyche's Yearning by Gillian Ross. Trafford Publishing 2010.