It is my privilege to open the portal for your first glimpse of “Feminine Mysticism in Art.” As we step over the threshold into the universe of this amazing collection of works by women and men from diverse backgrounds, we must be cautious in thinking that we have seen this all before from the seventies Goddess art movement and from Ecofeminism as it developed through the nineties and into the new millennium. What you will find here is an enlarged, more inclusive, and more evolved interpretation of Goddess art for the twenty-first century. Having written about the earlier Goddess art movement in a book titled The Reflowering of the Goddess, I am stunned by how rapidly and organically this new movement has sprung forth from the seeds planted by the feminist “Goddess artists” of the ‘second wave’ and, more importantly, how the visionary aspect of this art literally transports the viewer to expanded states of consciousness. I feel extremely honored to present this expanded vision of Goddess art to you as a potent legacy of the evolving revolutionary scholarship and creativity of today’s Feminist/Feminine mystical movement in art.
I want to begin by reflecting upon Goddess art in the context of its early beginnings back in the late sixties and early seventies, and continuing on through the nineties. In those days, when I taught Women’s Studies (now known as Gender Studies) my students had one question that came to be the bottom line of our inquiry. What my students wanted to know most of all was whether there had ever been a civilization, a culture, or a society that was non-patriarchal. Had there ever been one in which the gender of the deity was female rather than male? (Here the inquiry was focused on western civilization). While there have been examples of cultures that were matrilineal and matrifocal, our search to uncover examples of a bonafide matriarchy or of a religion in which God was a female proved extremely daunting until, to cite an important landmark in our quest “WHEN GOD WAS A WOMAN” by Merlin Stone was published and filled us in on the history and mythology as well as the REALITY of centuries of Goddess-centered civilization. She informed us of how thousands of years of the history of pre-patriarchal civilization had been omitted from all books and courses on history and art in the western canon. As Merlin taught us, when one image of The Venus of Willendorf was found in an art history book, we were told that it represented a Goddess cult, suggesting that one image sufficed to represent such a minority’s beliefs.
Merlin Stone’s revolutionary findings, having poured through the anthropological and religious texts as well as the archeological logs that the general public would never see, led her to conclude that the plethora of Goddess images from a variety of pre-patriarchal cultures suggested the existence of a widespread and long-lasting Goddess centered civilization, not a cult, that preceded the historical erasure of the pre-existing Goddess religion. Soon after that, Marija Gimbutas’ multiple volumes of archeological scholarship covering the Language of the Goddess, and the myths of the Goddess reinforced our understanding of this civilization that had lasted for millennia. According to Gimbutas, it was gender egalitarian, peace-loving, reverent of the natural world, and devoted to the spiritual source of the Creatrix.
The early Goddess art movement was known for the works created by women artists; such as Mary Beth Edelson, Ana Mendieta, Betsy Damon, Judy Baca, Judy Chicago, Bettye Saar, Monica Sjoo, Afra-She Asungi and many others who made pilgrimages to ancient Goddess sites and sanctuaries, and enacted rituals and ceremonies at these places of power in order to experience what it might have felt like to participate in the rites of a woman living in a Goddess culture. This movement focused on performances, rituals, and imagining the female self living within the context of the life of a Priestess or a wise woman healer from the ancient past, empowered by her status in a non-patriarchal society. They sought to reclaim many of the ancient rites in revised forms, and introduce them into their present artistic and spiritual practices.
A welcome revision of the second wave of Goddess art by its contemporaries is the inclusion of male artists and writers as a part of the Goddess art movement. We had just begun to become familiar with pro-feminist men, and now we are encountering Goddess-revering men who are also visionary artists. The most important transformation brought about here by both female and male artists is the creation of work from a spiritually evolved visionary state of consciousness. These works often depict the energy pathways to spiritual evolution and union with Source through the chakra system as it aligns with the energies of the cosmos. These new works often express a clairvoyant perception of energy currents in the body as well as indicating the paths the energy follows in diverse spiritual meditative journeys to enlightenment. They raise important new questions and bring into focus themes that needed further elaboration such as the reclaiming of Shamanism as a direct path of revelation.
In addition, Goddess artists of the third wave are exploring the birth of a New World View of Sacred Activism. They are interested in learning about the role played by sacred geometry in creation and manifestation. They are working to create new social systems such as the Gift Economy. Many of the artists featured in this section of the book also have websites in which they connect with visionaries working in different fields in order to collaborate in the hastening of a major shift in culture and consciousness to take place, both on the spiritual plane as well as on the material level. This shift on the material plane will involve the development of Permaculture, and Eco-housing.
It is empowering and inspiring to encounter the new works of these ecstatic, futurist visionaries, who are seeking to give birth to a new, purified, and ecologically sustainable culture. Their communal vision is being energized by their networks, consciousness, art, meditations, and their newly evolved green technologies. For them, what used to be known as science fiction is a world whose magic is attainable through these new techniques of spiritual evolution as they are brought into practice here on Earth, and are used to bring about a loving relationship between all forms of sentient life in the universe. I see the images of Radiant Woman and Radiant Man (p 366) by Jose Arguelles, (who had been involved in shamanic creativity and the evolution of consciousness since the beginning of the second wave Goddess art movement), as icons of the illumination and radiance emanating from the spiritually evolved humans of the future, fully engaged in the transformation of civilization.
I am thankful to Victoria Christian whose art, hard work, dedication---whose labor of love it was to produce this book and to her mother Susan Stedman, whose insight and editing enabled the birthing process of a work that undoubtedly will continue to inspire re-vision and re-birth for many generations to come. Now is the moment to step through the portal and begin the next phase of the journey. The Great Shift is upon us and it is clear that these visionaries have a lot to say about the evolution of feminine wisdom that will need to be absorbed into the fabric of our beings as it will inevitably bring humanity to a more harmonious and balanced place within ourselves and in the world at large.
Gloria F. Orenstein
Prof. Emerita Comparative Literature
And Gender Studies
Univ. of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA.