If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’ Goddess News, Spiritual Blog, Divine Feminine,
Dr Joanna Kujawa
For those of my friends who read these blogs or follow my website, you will know that I have decided to make a little sensual detour in my explorations of the goddess, as I am preparing a book which could be categorised as ‘popular non-fiction’. I am also starting a new novel (more about this in other blogs). This detour is related to both of these writing projects and my deep desire to return to a more beautiful, sensual writing for which I was once known when I was publishing literary stories. In my Goddess News blog, I have explored some radical concepts and my last few blogs have been more ‘intellectual’ in nature. I wanted to back up my experiences with good research, as I think there is a lot of fancy-making in the field and it is good practice to look at everything from several angles for a fuller picture.
My desire to return to my more aesthetically creative writing is leading me to remember some of the more sensual moments in my life and in the history of the Goddess.
I have explored the topic of what happened to the goddess and how was she disempowered in my Goddess News blog many times. This time, I want to focus on the loss of the empowered sensual feminine.
If you are not interested in this new exploration, please wait for the regular research-based installment of the Goddess News blog.
It is no secret and painfully obvious to any woman that feminine sensuality and sexuality was hijacked along with the whole idea of the Goddess. What it means to be sensually empowered woman has been defined for us by a generation of patriarchs who have oppressed humanity for too long. And by humanity I mean both women and men. In more modern times, this idea has been defined by the media, by Hollywood (which runs this mad place anyway) in a most devious way. Then, of course, comes the fashion industry, which, again, defines women and their beauty in extremely limiting ways that damage lives, self-image and which drains the joy of life away or even stymies the possibility of being a beautiful and sensually empowered woman!
I say, ‘To hell with that!’
Where did this madness start?
While researching I found an enlightening essay by Susan Hawthorne, ‘The Homeric Hymn of Aphrodite’. In it Hawthorne traces the original archetype of Aphrodite as the powerful Goddess of Love and Beauty whose power even Zeus was afraid of, but who was gradually disempowered. The stories of the all-powerful Aphrodite were, no doubt, told and written by someone else. From a position of power she moved into one of ridicule, trapped by her own desires, in need of and begging Zeus for help! In modern terms, she became the Marilyn Monroe of Olympus: beautiful, disempowered and demeaned.
Let me share some of my stories of both disempowerment and empowerment from my past.
To start with, I have always admired sexy goddesses and their power. As a young girl, I loved Brigid Bardot and Marlene Dietrich, as I must have felt that they, although sexual, were also powerful in their sensuality and defiance and how it was framed.
I was not born an Aphrodite. At least not how she became to be defined. I was a shy girl. Not one empowered by her beauty. Not one who was tall and very slim. For a long time, and especially in my pre-teens, I had no sense of myself until the ‘big shame’ happened in our family and my father left my mother for another woman. I was nine at the time and our larger family disowned us. My mother’s whole self-esteem depended on my father’s status. I was told I would turn into a ‘criminal’ as a child from a ‘broken home’.
I hid in books, in their beauty, in the beauty of words and stories, in the beauty of knowledge. My grandmother lovingly weaved my blonde hair into two braids, which made me look even younger than I was. In the horrid spectacle of my mother’s ‘shame’, my grandmother’s presence was a refuge. She was a peaceful harbour when everything around me was falling apart, and we rather rapidly moved from apposition of relative wealth to poverty. But I had my books and I had my mother’s friends: Roman and Lena, a bohemian couple with a great library which was always open for me. I had my mind but I did not have my body. Or, at least, I was not aware it.
If I were to look back at myself as I was back then I would see a shy and very smart girl with two blonde braids, a girl with enormous green eyes, with no sense of fashion (it did not matter anyway, as Poland was falling apart and there was neither money nor things to buy).
That did not bother me. The lack of sense of my body. My books would save me and sustain me until, of course, my body was framed by others and shamed.
I distinctly remember how my mother and her female friend asked me stand next to her friend’s daughter and compared me to the girl. I remember standing there in my little girl’s dress (it was red, I think) with my white tights and my new shoes, which I thought were very pretty, and how I, gradually, began to hide behind the chair which was standing between us to hide the shame of my body.
I was in my early teens then and did not know that I had a body and I did not know if it was pretty or ugly until that day. I heard the two women talk about us (myself and the other girl) and I sensed my mum’s desire to find her lost confidence by having a friendship with that other woman who, unlike her, seemed to handle her situation as a divorcee in a much better way. So, unwittingly and innocently, guided by her own loss of identity as a married woman, she offered me as a sacrificial lamb on the altar of that friendship that would save her from loneliness and shaming by her own family.
Moving quietly backward behind the chair which I hoped would save me from complete disgrace, I heard the two women pronounce their verdict: I did not have a dancer’s legs, my knees were not well shaped, my calves were too muscular and I moved without grace. (The other girl, of course, had dancer’s legs -perfect knees and all- and moved with grace.)
I do not judge the two women. Not anymore. My mother was desperate for a friend and knew no better. I do not even think any malice was intended. It was, for them, just a fair judgement of what was. In a strange way, this reminds me of a much more well-known mythical event – the Judgement of Paris, where young Paris (albeit a mortal) judged the three powerful goddesses Athena, Hera and Aphrodite and chose the most beautiful one. What gave him that power, that right, I would like to ask, to judge a goddess?!
I lived with that judgement, accepting it at its face value until one day I was crossing the street on my way to church and a kind old man stopped, looked at me and said with a sweet smile, ‘I do not want to offend you young lady but you have such a beautiful face and your smile would make Helen the Beautiful jealous.’
I smiled at him, taken by surprise, astonished that there was some beauty in me that had nothing to do with books. A moment of my own beauty – found without looking for it. It felt like a moment of pure Grace. A moment of being Aphrodite.
A few years later, I left communist Poland for Paris, in search of the beauty of art and the beauty of words. This was a beauty which I have learned about from Roman and Lena’s library and my mother’s stories of artists who had lived in the city. I wanted to breathe the air which Simone de Beauvoir had breathed, to dance in the La Rotonde café where Modilgliani had danced, to write in a café, as Hemmingway once had. As a refugee from Eastern Europe with an expired visa and big dreams of becoming a writer, I wanted all of this and more.
Once in Paris, whose beauty did not disappoint me, I met an upper-class French girl who studied Slavic languages and needed my help to pass an exam. She was very generous and we became close friends. Like myself, she did not think herself to be beautiful – a great crime in Paris for a French girl from a good home. We both fasted fiercely to meet that distant ideal of being a dark haired, very slim girl in a beret. That French look we were told men loved.
It was in her posh apartment on Boulevard Saint-Michel that I had my second Aphrodite experience.
My friend held an impromptu party with her French friends – and I was invited! Excited, I arrived early to help her to get ready. We were chatting, the beautiful, huge windows of her apartment were open to the street in the legendary district of Paris. It was summer and we were dancing to Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ at full blast. A phone rang and I heard my friend telling someone that her new friend (me) was going to be there. A young male voice asked, ‘Is she pretty?’ and again, as my mum and her friend had done in the past, she, without any malice intended, looked at me and in her mind compared me to that ideal we both fell short of – the ideal of the very slim, tall, dark-haired girl – and said, ‘No.’ I was not offended in the least because by then I was certain it WAS true!
So when her friends came I was happy and chatty, practising my French but also spending some time by the bookshelf as more and more young very slim and very tall girls kept arriving. Most of them had arrived together after a photoshoot from their modelling class.
As I was lovingly perusing the pages of a book of Baudelaire’s poems, I glanced at the very slim girls sipping their herbal teas, chatting freely with the men in the room, and remembered how my grandmother had once asked me to cover myself up before we were going to leave for the Sunday Mass because my breasts looked ‘indecent’ and were simply ‘rude’. What I was going to do with my ‘rude’ breasts now in front of these perfect girls?
(I must give myself credit, though, for not listening to my grandmother after she asked me to cover up. On the contrary, I put on a belt because I thought it would be ‘a nice contrast’ for my slim – although definitely not slim enough! – waist.)
Since I had nothing to lose, I asked an elegant young French man what time it was, as I was planning to leave. Suddenly, not only the gorgeous man but a few other men in the room as well, came up to me and said that it was far too early for me to leave the party and they asked me in the most charming way, ‘To please stay a little longer.’
There I was, holding a poetry book in my hand in a room full of aspiring and very slim models who definitely did not have ‘rude’ breasts, surrounded by a small group of French men asking me to ‘please’ stay.
This was a moment, still powerfully imprinted in my memory, when Aphrodite rose from her disgrace with a sense that from that point on she was going to define her own beauty and find her own power.
It was not so much that the men wanted me to stay but rather the realisation that I could be seen differently. It made me realise that I COULD SEE MYSELF DIFFERENTLY as well. That nothing about me is set in stone. That it is I, and I alone, who can rearrange the mosaic not only of my own perceptions of myself but also of other people’s perceptions of me. That the first judgment of Paris can be reversed.
That I can tell the judges to get lost. And, I think, it is poignantly beautiful that the first judgement of the mythical Paris took on a different turn in the real Paris.
I learned many things in Paris, and French men were wonderful teachers in the art of life. I wear those experiences as badge of honour for reclaiming myself, my own truth and my own beauty. I allowed Aphrodite to rise within my body. A year later, when in Toronto, Canada, I effortlessly lost what could have been perceived only by the harshest eye as an extra kilo or two, and have never experience a ‘weight issue’ again.
And I have never again wanted to become a dark-haired, astonishingly slim girl with ‘polite’ breasts. But the beauty I have found is my own and I have given it power in my life.
But before I left Paris I practised my newly found power of Aphrodite – and in the most daring circumstances of life and death. It was the time of a crackdown on illegal immigrants in France. On every street corner the gendarmes were asking for passports, even French nationals were asked to carry identification documents. My visa had expired and I was what now they call a ‘Dreamer’.
One evening on the Boulevard Saint-Michel my group of French friends and I were stopped by a young gendarme. I was the only non-national. My friends quickly, if reluctantly, showed their identity cards. I did not have one. It was a soft, yet loud, glorious Parisian evening. I could hear the murmur of lovers whispering in cafes and a loud burst of laughter that could have been my own. The light from the Art Deceau street lamps would have made the impressionists hold their breath. With a clear mind that returning to the greyness of the communist regime in Poland was worse than death (I meant it literally and was prepared to end my life which had just begun if that had happened), I gave my Helen the Beautiful smile, that the old man in my home town had made me aware of, to the young gendarme. And, quite literally, I could sense a sweet fog caress his brain, as if he had been given a divine vision of Aphrodite herself and I could feel the pleasant stirring in his groin. His eyes said to me, ‘I know what you are doing but I like it!’ and, giving me a wry smile, he walked away without asking me to produce my passport.
That evening Aphrodite saved my young life.
What does it mean to possess real power over your body, aside from defining your own beauty?
This is to be fully in charge of it.
It is also in knowing when not to use it. But that does not mean you can’t play with it. On your own terms.
This is how I see the rise of Aphrodite; it is not that different from the rise of Mary Magdalene. What has been edited, what has been ridiculed and shamed, what has been lied about – now comes into its own power.
So, no, I did not apply to join a modelling school in Paris. No, I have never become or, more importantly, never wanted to become, that French ‘anima’: a tall, dark-haired girl with dancers’ legs and ‘polite’ breasts.
I walk my own path which is a path I have freely chosen. The Path of Wisdom.
But I am no cold Athena.
And, no, I do not hide behind desks and bookshelves.
I walk through the bookshelves with Aphrodite in me, singing songs of her own empowerment.
The Aphrodite who defines her own beauty and who took French lovers when she lived in Paris.
Like every woman, I carry the line of goddesses within me, the ones who whisper in every woman’s ear:
You are so much more than you were told you are.
You are so much more beautiful than you believe you are.
Your beauty is not defined by anyone else but you.
You are in your power, regardless of how old you are.
You are the Goddess Aphrodite; awaken again to her power.
You are the Goddess Sophia on the way back to her power.
Walk that Path.
Goddess News is about sharing our Goddess-experiences. Please share your in comments. And I am curious about your thoughts on this topic and this type of writing. All creation, all art, including writing is an exploration. I hope you have enjoyed it.
Dr Joanna Kujawa,
Goddess News blog©Joanna Kujawa