By Suzanne Cheryl Gardner
Why am I here? What am I doing with my life? What is the purpose of life? These were all questions that led me to search for the Goddess, or what I would later discover to be “The Great Mother” who began to call to me through my art. Additionally, the message that I was to nurture my feminine side more came to me through psychic readings, spiritual counseling, books, and articles I found interest in. Then I began to ask myself, “What IS my feminine side, and what is the meaning of this thing called Goddess?”
My search for the history of the Goddess had begun.
What is a Goddess? And when did cultures begin to call The Great Mother who was, simply, the earth and the natural cycles of the seasons, a Goddess? And then finally, what does it mean when we in this current culture say we look to the Goddess for guidance? Is this our new God or can we bring another understanding to what our purpose in life is and why we have been born during this time of what appears to be either “The Unraveling” or “The Great Turning?” (As talked about by David C. Korten in his book, “The Great Turning, From Empire to Earth Community.”)
My very first encounter with the earth religions was through the introduction of books that told about witches and magic. As a twenty something I was intrigued by the thought that I might be able to call upon the energies of the earth to better my own life. These first encounters brought me knowledge about plants and animals being sacred, and about honoring the seasons and the cycles of both the sun and the moon. Ideas of metaphysics always seemed to draw me back into the world of nature and by my 40s I was publishing a metaphysical magazine called “The Higher Source” that led to more questioning and more discoveries of what a Goddess meant for the culture of today. This magazine became the vehicle for me, as an artist, to create my first images of the feminine.
One of my first adventures leading me to understand this feminine aspect began with a walk through the labyrinth—an exact replica of the labyrinth that is in the Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France. It felt as if I had been there before, and I told the woman who facilitated the labyrinth walk that I could feel large columns behind my back even though we were in the basement of a church and walking a canvas replica of the labyrinth. This fascinated me, and I believed in my heart that my own intuition was leading me towards some kind of discovery. Within a year or so I had managed to take a pilgrimage to France and actually walk the original labyrinth along with searching for the concept of the black Madonnas and the sacred places of “the mother.” The feminine side of God. Ahhh, so there is a partnership. But the feminine side has been hidden for many centuries, and it is here where I discovered that during the time of the early Christians, this feminine side was suppressed.
So what is the feminine side of God? I explored that concept for several years and my art began to reflect my studies. I began to paint images of ancient feminine symbolism. Some of these representations were the spirals of life, triangles representing the yoni as well as the maiden, mother, and crone, and flowing, rounded objects that symbolized the flow of life. I realized and I strongly feel that we as a society need to literally SEE images of the feminine so that our cellular structures could remember HER.
Especially influential to my art is Joseph Campbell’s work into the area of ancient cultural myths and how each of the ancient culture’s beliefs were slanted towards the concept of birth, death, and rebirth cycles. This was what many of the ancient cultures talked about when they spoke of the Goddess ... so it was back to the beginning for me. Back to the earth and the sacredness of nature and how women, the birth givers, were connected in the minds of the Neolithic cultures to Mother Earth. She was the one who gave birth and after death gave rebirth to the plants and animals who then gave life to the peoples of the earth in the great cycle of life. The ancients understood this balance in nature. They depended upon the cycles of the seasons to live fruitful lives. The very word “balance” is the concept of The Great Mother.
Upon further exploration of the many myths and herstories I had created quite a number of images symbolizing the feminine. She was reflected in many very ancient cultures including the civilizations of Asia, India, the Middle East, and of course the Greeks who used the word “Gaea” to describe the Mother Earth. Then came the Romans, who relegated The Great Mother to second-in-command until even centuries later as she became more and more suppressed. But I was determined to follow her back as far as possible because “Gaia,” (as spelled in modern cultures) seemed to be the oldest of divinities. That led me to the findings of Marija Gimbutas, the renowned archeologist who discovered and wrote about the “Goddess” figures found in antiquity. She changed the way many scientists/archeologists viewed the ancient cultures and what were so called “fertility” images now became more like some kind of feminine worship, mother idols, The Great Mother, or Goddess.
Then the energy of The Great Mother began to call to me to journey to Crete, the land of the Minoans who worshipped The Great Mother and honored women in the same vein. She was calling me strongly now, so I was going to follow.
Crete is a land where one can still feel a sense of nature, the land, the earth. The abundance of olive groves and undeveloped land gives a sense that the Cretans still regard the earth as sacred. Yes, there are resorts and, yes, people have paved their way across the shores, but nature takes her place quite well here and reminds the natives and visitors that it’s the sun that rules and the land that gives life. Nature in all her cycles is revealed well and her beauty is not easily surpassed. One can see why and how the Minoan culture thrived in this paradise and why they would revere as sacred the earth and her bounties years before the Greeks with more than 1,500 years of culture.
The many ruins and antiquities in Crete tell a story that is quite profound by any standards of today’s culture. It is very well known now that all the artifacts of birdlike vases, images of nature like the swallow, dolphins, and plant life were created to honor The Great Mother who supplied this culture with the balance of life cycles. And to make matters even more blessed was the fact that no artifacts of war were found. Even though the Minoans eventually did have images of what could be perceived as a shipping fleet, one can surmise that it was because they were exemplary traders and were known all over the Aegean as such. They were probably considered powerful, but I think it was because of how they lived on the earth, honoring the cycles and seasons of life and artistically creating and honoring images of beauty on their walls and sculptural pieces. Archeologists of many persuasions have concluded that these were a people who did not place warfare very high, but instead for centuries lived peaceful lives based on the knowledge of the magic of the earth—her cycles of birth, death and rebirth.
It is unfortunate that the volcano on Santorini led to the demise of this culture, and it seemed to be the great turning event for the destruction of the Mother Earth cultures that were then transformed into cultures of patriarchal rule. And the Minoans did seem to venture off Crete, so that many survived to live in other lands. But the Great Mother cultures were coming to an end and I believe we are living in the next great turning which will bring back the lost and suppressed feminine energy. This is why I create images of the Sacred Divine Feminine, so that we can remember her and collectively assist in her rising to her full stature helping to create a balance of masculine/feminine energies once again.
Can we take these ancient cultural ideas of honoring the earth and all her wonders and apply it to our lives in a meaningful way? How can each act we make on a daily basis give life to that honor? Now that I have done my own research, I have a better understanding that Goddesses are not about replacing Gods. It is about re-envisioning the whole, and understanding the importance of balanced masculine/feminine energy. It is a practice of holding the earth and all that is here in a sacred manner. It’s not about making Goddesses into idols like the Greeks and Romans did. It’s not about placing someone higher than another or an unreachable place. The Great Mother is about understanding what it takes to live in partnership and in peace. It is about gratitude for what we already have. It is about BEING beauty, being love, being peace. This is the energy of the love of life and the energy of compassion for all human beings, animal beings, and plant beings. The Great Mother teaches us to put ourselves in another’s shoes and to have empathy for one another. This is an energy that is about treating our earth and everything in it with love and cultivating the knowing that we are all one entity.
After traveling to Crete, I hold the Minoans deeply in my mind and heart and I continue to paint that energy into my art images. They remind me that through each one of us this pattern of energy can be tapped into, allowed to flow within us and without us. We can live peacefully. When we strive for inner peace we become stronger and more capable of vibrating that peace to others through whatever medium we choose to allow it to spring forth from. Personally, I bring this energy through my art.
The astrologers say we are at the beginning of the Age of Aquarius, the age of partnership ... ourselves with another, ourselves with the earth, with the animals, with the plants. Let us each find ways in our daily lives to remember this as we speed through our days attempting to grab hold of everything in our paths. How about sitting back and watching the cycles, and moving with the seasons? Or using our intuition to solve our dilemmas instead of barging through knocking everything in our paths down! It is up to us to go with this flow for it is the time of The Great Mother and she is calling us all.
©Suzanne Cheryl Gardner
All images with this article – and, of course, “Gaia” on the front cover - are ©Suzanne Cheryl Gardner.
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Creating images for commercial ventures and illustration pieces for projects is part of Suzanne’s goal towards encouraging others to remember the feminine. You may purchase prints, one-time rights to digital images, or note cards on her website at www.suzannesart.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.