Artists Envisioning the Divine
The rise in the United States in recent years of feminist religious movements that focus on female images of the divine Goddess suggests that many women, in addition to men, find goddess symbolism to be appealing. Many feminist artists, too, claim to have found inspiration in goddesses and goddess symbolism as they provoke reminiscent feelings of a distant past — a vague, yet familiar reality lost to westerners. Feminist critiques of religion and some postmodernists have taken issue with traditional images of God, arguing that male hegemony in Western cultures can be correlated directly with the centrality of a single, all-powerful male god in the dominant strands of the predominately Jewish and Christian religious heritage of Europe and the United States. Many would argue further that given this situation, it is important for women as well as for men with feminist goals to recover or create empowering female symbols to help combat the ones that support patriarchy and the denial of the feminine principle.
For the past five years I have been researching the work of contemporary women artists from all over the United States. My mission has been two-fold; to study the stages of their development of an identity as women artists, separate and distinct from that of a male artist, and to study the impact and development of feminine mysticism on their lives and on the world at large. Since the former concepts are too broad to be addressed here, and will be dealt with in two separate books, I will confine myself to a discussion of the latter category and will share with you some of the inspired and moving visualizations of the Divine Mother which these artists have graciously shared with me. I will also identify the unique and fundamental role female mystics and visionaries play in our society’s ability to shift into a “new paradigm,” which essentially is an integration between the masculine and feminine principle within each individual and society at large.
The feminist art movement in the 1970s paved the way for contemporary feminine mystics and visionary artists as they challenged the dominant patriarchal ideologies of Judeo-Christianity, particularly its overall subjugation of the feminine principle. Contemporary female mystics and Goddess artists both participate and expand on this tradition. However, working within a postmodern society undoubtedly poses new difficulties for contemporary women artists, especially for those who are committed to integrating spirituality into their work. Although there are indeed more opportunities for women artists, they continue to work within a rational and patriarchal society that not only devalues the feminine principle, but subjective modes of knowing.
In the information age, many women artists face an overabundance of information and a bewildering range of options which can fragment and overwhelm them. Not only are they required to adapt to the rapidly changing technological age of computers; they are also required to develop an assortment of personal and business skills in order to exist in a highly competitive market, yet still live up to the expectations of the good mother and wife roles they have internalized from their parents and culture.
The complexities and demands these female mystics and visionary artists continue to face can often produce a deep wound, which I refer to as “the visionary’s wound.” This wound is caused by a backlash in the form of harsh criticism and rejection by a fearful and intimidated dominant paradigm that hates the reflection visionary artists can’t help but offer — a reflection of society’s shadow self, as well as its beauty. It is this wound that all mystics and visionary artists have to come to terms with at some point in their life in order to remain viable in today’s increasingly competitive environment.
Some have consciously chosen to hide out from the world because, in their eyes, the world is too painful for them to deal with. Others have made a conscious effort to heal their wounds and begin to trust in the Great Spirit to guide them on their artistic journey in the world. Nonetheless, many female mystics and visionary artists know of this wound; in fact, they live with it every day. Yet, ironically, it is often because of this wound that these women artists can create works so profound, so deep, so complex, so spiritual and so compassionate. It is because of this wound and the reclaiming of the parts of themselves that have been in bondage that their artwork is so exquisitely meaningful and impacting.
For example, a painting entitled “An Angry Young Woman” by visionary artist Uma Rose1 is a perfect example of the “visionary’s wound” and the anger and pain it has brought to her life. She views this painting as a premonition of sorts, as she didn’t fully understand why she painted it until later in life. At the time she did the painting she had been delving into transcendental meditation, enabling her to get in touch with various hidden parts of herself. The woman in orange is holding a rattle, which is a shamanic tool used to guide people into a higher state of consciousness. She intentionally made the woman’s throat area to look as if it was swollen, or as she describes it, “pregnant with rage.” While in a shamanic trance, a spirit guide came to her whom she describes as “a loving old wise woman who was trying to help me to release the rage that I was holding in my throat.” Uma believes this guide was an embodiment of the great Mother who had come to help her release pent-up emotions which had remained trapped in her emotional body. She believes this painting is an example of unconscious desire becoming conscious through the artistic process. In other words, her desire for emotional release as well as a desire for meaningful ceremonies was calling out to her, producing “a magical process of bringing unconscious desire into manifestation which brought deeper understandings about myself.” Through the embracing and releasing of her rage, or her shadow self, she was able to get in touch with her pain and the deep wounds that were blocking her ability to grow spiritually and artistically. It is through the release of this rage and the healing of her wounds that she was able to cultivate compassion for herself and for others.
Other artists have envisioned the divine feminine in the form of Quan Yin, who is one of the most universally beloved of deities in the Buddhist tradition. She is the embodiment of compassionate lovingkindness. The many stories about this Goddess illustrate an enlightened being who embodies the attributes of an all-pervasive, all consuming, unwavering loving compassion readily accessible to everyone. Theresa Sharrar, an impressionistic and mystical painter from Silverton, Oregon, envisioned a bright and colorful representation of Quan Yin in a beautiful pristine garden with translucent pools of water cascading from top to bottom.2 To her, the water symbolizes the endless flow of love and compassion bestowed by Quan Yin. Her loving compassion not only nourishes the human spirit, but calls us to open our hearts so that we can receive her love and in turn, learn to love and accept others.
Resonant of the soft and gentle beauty of Quan Yin, cosmo artist Ausmaminea from Sedona, Arizona created a stunning piece entitled “Life Pattern.”3 Although it wasn’t her intention to paint Quan Yin per se, she definitely captured her universal essence. She said, “The inspiration for creating this piece came from the beautiful poetry found within the unfolding of new life on a world as described in the Urantia Book. It was my desire to express a timeless sense of balance and serenity as the Universe Mother Spirit patiently and lovingly watches over the new stirrings of life. Through the medium of glass I worked a mosaic tapestry as part of the composition to express the diverse life pattern on each unique world. The oriental feel gives our mother a connection to this world, and yet there is an other-worldly aspect to her, I feel, that captures her essence as universal.”
The Great Goddess has most definitely revealed herself to various cultures in an assortment of ways. However, all cultures at some point referred to the Earth as the Great Mother, a living entity who in both her temporal and spiritual manifestations creates and nurtures all forms of life. In light of the ancient nature based religions, or the Gaia tradition, a number of female mystics envision the greatgoddess as Earth Mother. Krista Lynn Brown, from Deva Luna Studio in California, creates powerful, earthy Goddess images that portray a deep and rich relationship between humans and the earth. Her image entitled, “Sleeping Earth” is a potent representation of the Divine in all of her glory and splendor.4
Offering sustenance and holding the seed of creation and potential, the great Mother nourishes us in more ways than we know. She says, “My paintings are an invitation into a hidden magical reality shimmering beneath skin of the ordinary — portals to an alive interior landscape of dreams, visions and possibilities. In this supple place, plants can awaken and dance, a woman can become a river sighing to the moon and a bird can embody the fleeting voice of intuition. I see this reality and paint it in a language of visual poetry, a tongue of archetypes woven into forms that echo the movements of nature, the undulations of waves, the growth of vines, the contours of flowers.” Krista’s images are by far some of the most powerful images of the Goddess I’ve yet to come across.
During the Neolithic Era, spiritual ceremonies were often performed in a cave. As the womb of the Earth Goddess, the cave was considered by the ancients to be the repository of mystic influences. In the original cosmology, a cave was the symbol of the whole world, providing passage for the dead and for the rebirth of souls. This is where one went to commune with the deepest, most resonant and awesome powers. In fact, many tribal people and Native Americans still hold the belief that their first, mystic ancestors emerged from caverns, or “the underworld.” One of my recent paintings, entitled “Towards the Within,” portrays a woman meditating in a cave, with sagebrush burning in an abalone shell.5 She is in a state of complete inner focus, which means her self or ego has been transcended. Rising above her head into the heavens is what I refer to as the universal unconscious or an umbilical cord to the spirit realm. Like Uma Rose, I didn’t fully understand why I painted this piece until much later when I happened upon the symbolism and meaning of the cave in ancient sacred art. Living in the southwest, I am surrounded by breathtaking caverns and caves, some of which have been designated as sacred sites to the Navajo and Hopi Indians. There are certain times of the day that the light shines through, illuminating the curvaceous and spiraling canyon walls. In my visits to various canyons, the peaceful stillness of the canyon quiets my mind and opens up the small, still voice within me.
At the time I painted “Towards the Within” I was deeply yearning for a spiritual path which would incorporate the use of sacred ceremonies and meditation. I was also being called to integrate my spirituality with my art. After taking courses in the sociology of religion, I came to the realization that there are jewels of truth
in all religious paths. In the funnel of universal unconscious seen in “Towards the Within” are found various religious symbols, such as the yin/yang symbol, the infinity symbol, the third eye, the Star of David and the cross, symbolizing a synthesis and integration of the world’s religions. What really surprised me about this painting, however, is what happened to me during the painting process. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, after doing some research on the Tantric and Kundalini Yoga traditions, I’m convinced that while painting “Towards the Within” I experienced a raising of Kundalini energy in my sexual chakras causing me to have hot flashes, a quickened heart beat and to feel sick to my stomach. A combination of painting the womb of the Mother and using a lot of red and orange paint, the colors of the sexual chakras, may have been the catalyst. Kundalini, the mystic fire, is the awakening of the great sexual powers, or shakti-kundalini — the cosmic movement that is shakti, and her movement in the human body, which is kundalini.
Also, much to my surprise, deep within the canyon walls a vagina emerged, partly covered up by the funnel of symbols. Next, the faces in the canyon walls began to emerge. Although I was a bit frightened at first by the experience, I felt an enormous amount of love flowing through my body, which helped me to relax and move with the experience. I feel strongly that the divine goddess was revealing herself to me in this painting in one of her many forms. Yet, at the time I knew nothing of what the cave symbolized in ancient matristic societies. In fact, I didn’t know that the cave was a place of spiritual rebirth until I did the research for this article.
Another beautiful representation of the divine love between Mother and Father God is a piece entitled “Unification,” by cosmic and visionary artist Willowela Wilson.6 It is a beautiful representation of the love that is shared by the Universal Father and Mother. What is particularly stunning about this piece is the way she captured the immense love in the eyes of the two universal spirits. Her work expresses the spiritual connection of all things in life, tapping into the Creator of all for her inspiration and direction. Willow says, “My hope is that my art will communicate views of a higher reality, one than in the last decade has become a very real part of my life. It is a reality that involves being conscious of the fact that I am not alone and that God — who is the greatest artist of all has so many wonderful celestial helpers to assist and work with us all in the creative endeavors in life.”
Through their art and artistic processes, these feminine mystics and visionary artists yearn to teach us about our intimate connection to the spirit realm and the deeper realms of the unconscious. They are also helping us to cultivate more compassion for each other as well as for the Earth, our Mother, through a re-membering of the Goddess principle, or Mother side of the face of God. Most importantly, they are challenging us to move out of the modernist mode of oppositional dualism into a new (yet ancient), more integrated mode of thinking which combines the Mother/Father principles of God into a unified whole, or sacred union. Perhaps a true embracing of the concept of both Mother and Father God principles will help to further our understanding of what an integrated and inclusive life can really offer to us as individuals, as a people and as a world.
Victoria Christian is a mystical artist, writer, sociologist and eco-feminist. She is the head editor as well as a contributing writer and artist in her upcoming book, Feminine Mysticism in Art: Artists Envisioning the Divine.
1 Uma Rose, Angry Young Woman
2 Theresa Sharrar, Quan Yin
3 Ausmaminea, Life Pattern
4 Krista Lynn Brown, Sleeping Earth
5 Victoria Christian, Towards the Within
6 Willowela Wilson, Unification
© Victoria Christian