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The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

On Valentines and Vulvas

posted by Donna Henes

From the beginning, women were exalted as the image, the echo, the counterpart companion of the Goddess. Their access to ecstasy, imbued with spiritual significance. As priestesses, they tended the fires and fanned the generative flames from Her sex, the seat of Her power.

Paleolithic carved figures refer to woman as matrix, as creatrix, to moon cycles and menstrual magic, and resonate profound reverence in their rendering. Grandly voluptuous female forms, their sturdy stature commanding confidence and authority.

The Venuses of Willendorf, of Meton, of Lespugue, with their big breasts and belly, huge hips and ass, stand frank and fecund, formidable and efficacious. Faceless, their limbs are abbreviated. Their focus is centered on their own nubile torso, which tapers to a point. The tip of the vortex of their sex.
 
These ancient images sanctify female sexuality as religious expression.  The carnal knowledge of universal power links sex and prayer etymologically. Venerate and venereal both stem from the Latin name of the licentious Goddess of Love, Venus. Lust in the old Germanic language meant “religious joy.”

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The same spark, which ignites to conceive children, also kindles culture.  It is the mother of invention.  Around 9000 years ago, Mediterranean cultures venerated a supreme goddess of seduction and fruition.  The intensity of Her desire, potent enough to produce generations, agriculture, poetry. She guided all growth, and especially loved lovers and art. Beauty and Heart. Ishtar, Isis, Cybele, Inanna, Aphrodite. She was not shy.

My vulva, the horn.
The Boat of Heaven
Is full of eagerness like the moon
My untilled land lies fallow

As for me, Inanna,
Who will plow my vulva?                            
Who will plow my high field?
Who will plow my wet ground?

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As for me, the young woman,
Who will plow my vulva?
Who will station the ox there?
Who will plow my vulva?

- Text on Sumerian tablet, 2000 BC

Sex invoked in myth and ritual is symbolic of the primary life force.  Sex as energy. Sex as creation. Sex as abundance. Sex as unification.  Sex as divine spirit. Sex as celebration. Sex as sympathetic magic.

During the Iroquois Naked Dance, a woman and a man coupled in the fields to fertilize the crops. Until the end of the last century, European peasants did the same. The Christians called the fertility song-prayers of pagan Norsemen, “female gyrations.” Sexual licentiousness was central in the harvest celebrations of the African Bantu and Badago.

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Hunters also had intercourse with nature. The married women of the Cheyenne and Mandan of the Great Plains performed a rite called “Intercourse with the Buffalo.” They shared sexual relations with the elder men of the tribe who impersonated the bison, thereby channeling the Great Spirit. Celtic kings would copulate with a mare, which was then killed, butchered and cooked in a soup. This, the king consumed in order to partake of the power of Epona, the Equine Goddess.

Hindus maintain that sex with any woman is the same as sex with the Goddess Shakti, Herself, whose vibratory energy charges all life. In Tantra, as well as Taoism, the male taps into the infinite energy of the female — fuses with her like a space capsule refueling in orbit. He then recycles, as it were, his sperm, directing its flow to the top of his head to elevate his spirit. 

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Sufis and other Middle Eastern mystics consort with a fravashi, a mystical lady-love to reach enlightenment. Tantric-like techniques were taught in Greek temples of Venus by Her harlot-priestesses, the venerii. Ovid, an initiate, wanted to die while making love. “Let me go in the act of coming to Venus, in more senses than one let my last dying be done.”

The Romans celebrated the sacred febris or sexual frenzy of the Goddess Juno in mid February, the time when the birds in Italy mate. On Lupercalia men and women drew love lots to determine their partner for this festival of erotic games. This is how Sulpicia, a Roman poet in the first century, BC described her experience of febris:
   
At last love has come. I would be more ashamed
to hide it in cloth than leave it naked.
I prayed to the Muse and won. Venus dropped him
in my arms, doing for me what she
had promised. Let my joy be told, let those
who have none tell it in a story.
Personally, I would never send off words
in sealed tablets for none to read.
I delight in sinning and hate to compose a mask      
for gossip. We met. We are both worthy.

Lupercalia was the original Valentine’s Day. Unable to stop this popular orgiastic festival, early church fathers created a sainted martyr, a patron of lovers whose feast day would be February 14th, thus, sanctioning a celebration they could not suppress.  

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All the symbols of Lupercalia are still intact, if sanitized and insipid. Cupid, child of Aphrodite and Hermes was an Herm-Aphrodite, the embodiment of sexual union. S/he is now depicted as a cutsie chubby angel baby with a bow and arrow. Cupid’s arrows are symbolic of phallic projectiles of passion, penetrating a red heart. And the heart, which has no resemblance to an anatomical heart, is a simplistic illustration of an aroused and engorged vulva, a holy yoni.

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Women’s Power – Part 3

posted by Donna Henes

 
Women’s Power – Part 3
By Max Dashu

Female mavericks were also active in the arts and sciences. The renegade nun Okuni originated the Kabuki theater, from which women were soon banned. In Moorish Spain, the poet Walladah bint-al-Mustakfi rejected the veil and marriage, preferring to host intellectual salons and take female as well as male lovers. Around 975, her counterpart Aisa bint Ahmad declined a proposal by a poet she disliked with a defiant stance: “I am a lioness/ And will never consent to let/ My body be the stopping place for anyone/ But should I choose that/ I would not hearken to a dog/ And how many lions have I turned down.”

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The most courageous women challenged oppression. The famous Swahili singer Siti Binti Saad rose from the oppressed classes using taarabu music to call for social justice in what is now Tanzania. She protested class oppression and men’s abuse of women; her song “The police have stopped” sharply criticized a judge who let a rich wife-murderer go free. She seemed unafraid even of the sultan. The battle leadership of a Pawnee elder saved a village from atttackers, and so she was named “Old Lady Grieves the Enemy.” Afterward, she taunted wife-beaters, telling them to go after the Poncas who came to burn up the village, and leave the women, who do no harm, alone.

Women warriors appear in many historical accounts, fighting to defend themselves, their homes, their people and their country. However, although it is hard for many people today to conceive of such broad female authority, in some societies women had the formal power to veto the decision to go to war. The Cherokee Beloved Woman, in her capacity of representing the women at the men’s council, possessed this authority, and so did the Gantowisas (Matrons) of the Six Nations (Iroquois). It was the women who supplied warriors with dried food and other necessities, and they suffered the consequences of war as well.

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There was a saying, “Before the men can go to war, the women must make their moccasins.” (See Moccasin Makers and War Breakers, A Call to Action by the Women of the World by Kahn-Tineta Horn, Kahente Horn-Miller, and other Mohawk women)

The Lisu people of Yunnan (southwest China) once had a tradition that fighting had to stop if a woman of either side waved her skirt to call for an armistice. Often this would be a highly-regarded elder. The skirt, imbued with the woman’s mana, symbolized the life-giver’s power. A woman taking off her outer skirt was also the signal for war or peace in the Pacific island Vanatinai, where women were also the traditional protectors of prisoners of war.

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Copyright 2000 Max Dashu        

* Please send me your thoughts about power. Also stories of your own empowerment. When shared, these ideas and examples are extremely inspiring to others. Thanks.

 ***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

CONSULT THE MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

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Women’s Power – Part 2

posted by Donna Henes

Women’s Power – Part 2
By Max Dashu

There’s a striking interplay between women’s spiritual and political leadership, especially in indigenous societies. I’m thinking of of the Evenki shaman Olga who was both chieftain and religious leader of her Siberian village about a century ago, and the machis of Chile, shamans who are deeply involved in the Mapuche sovereignty effort. But this overlap occurs even in imperial contexts, as when the aged mikogami Pimiko was chosen as ruler to save Japan from a chaotic struggle for power in its early history. Another example would be the important role the maes de santo of Candomblé have played in the African-Brazilian community since early modern times.

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Priestesses or diviners have often led liberation movements: the oracle Nehanda Nyakasikana in the Shona revolt against English colonization of Zimbabwe; María Candelaria in the Maya uprising against the Spanish; and Toypurina in the Gabrieleño revolt in southern California. In 1791, the old priestess Cécile Fatiman inaugurated the Haitian revolution against slavery in a Vodun ceremony in the Bois Caiman. Even earlier, the seeress Veleda guided the Batavian insurrection of tribal Europeans against Rome, and Dahia al-Kahina (“the priestess” or “prophetess”) led Berber resistance to the Arab conquest of North Africa. And Gudit Isat (Judith the Fire) who overthrew the Axumite empire in 10th century Ethiopia was remembered as a religious leader as well.

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Often this female leadership does not rely on inherited or institutionalized authority, but on recognized personal power. The Apache shaman-warrior Lozen is remembered for her acts of bravery and her clairvoyant ability to guide her people away from danger as they fled Anglo and Mexican armies. Granuaile Ní Mhaille (Grainne O’ Mailley) surmounted the absolute masculine monopoly of military and seafaring enterprise to become, through her pirate fleet, the uncrowned “She-King” of the Connemara coast of Ireland, and the scourge of the British Navy in the 1500s.

Female boldness has in many societies been required simply to defend personal liberty and self-determination, carving out space to act in spite of patriarchal constraints, to become what the English called “a woman at her own commandment.” Legend says that Agodice practiced medicine in classical Athens disguised as a man, risking the death penalty then in force against female physicians. About two thousand years later, Miranda Stuart used the same strategy to get her M.D. when no woman could. As Dr. James Barry, she became Chief Surgeon for the British Navy. Her subterfuge was not discovered until her death, although she came close after being wounded in a duel.

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This route of adopting a cloak of male privilege was followed by countless female adventurers, including Carmen Robles who became a colonel in the Mexican Revolutionary Army, and Elena Cespedes, who practiced medicine and married a woman in 16th-century Spain — until she was denounced to the Inquisition and sentenced to a long term confinement and forced labor.

Part 3 of Women’s Power tomorrow

* Please send me your thoughts about power. Also stories of your own empowerment. When shared, these ideas and examples are extremely inspiring to others. Thanks.

***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

CONSULT THE MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

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Women’s Power – Part 1

posted by Donna Henes

This article was written by a brilliant colleague, who I very much admire. She founded the Suppressed Histories Archives, an archive of hundreds of thousands of images of women of power throughout the ages and across cultures. The piece is divided into three parts.

Women’s Power
By Max Dashu,

What does that mean? Women who openly display their power, knowledge, and skill, receiving public recognition and honor. But also females who manage to wield power in societies that try to limit it or decree female submission; and where their leadership is stigmatized and their creativity disdained. Also, women who resist and overthrow oppressive traditions and regimes. Who break The Rules in defiance of unjust legal and religious “authorities.” Who pursue their vision in spite of the personal cost.

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Women have determined the course of events and the forms of human culture. We originated, founded, governed, prophesied, created great art, fought for our rights, and for our peoples. These are the women edited out of history, their stories omitted, distorted, and replaced with an endless litany of men (and the occasional queen or meddling concubine). Our ignorance of these women is greatly compounded by the omission of information on societies that accorded females power in public life, diplomacy, religion, medicine, the arts as well as family structure and inheritance. Both racism and sexism are implicated in these silences and gaps.

We need a remedial history that reconstructs the female dimensions of human experience and achievement, that recovers the distorted and obliterated past of Africa, the Americas, and all other regions neglected by the standard textbooks and mass media. This will be a provisional history, because all the facts are not in yet, and previous interpretations are being reevaluated for gender, race, and colonial bias. More importantly, the indigenous oral histories have only barely begun to be integrated into mainstream narratives.

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Women have often been relegated to the footnotes of history, and even those are highly selective. As Sandra Cisneros wrote of her search for Latina sheros, “We are the footnotes of the footnotes.” Yet the heritages of women of color, especially the indigenous cultures, supply the most dramatic examples in recent history of female power openly embraced and honored. But even Europe looks different when we look at the common women and include places like Bulgaria, Estonia, Corsica, or Iberian Galicia.

Women’s history demands a global perspective. There’s far more to it than Queen Elizabeth I or Susan B. Anthony. We need to refocus historical attention from the school of “famous women” (often royal females) to encompass broader groupings of women with power: clan mothers and female elders; priestesses, diviners, medicine women and healers; market women, weavers, and other female arts and professions. These “female spheres of power,” as I call them, vary greatly from culture to culture. Some of them, particularly the spiritual callings, retain aspects of women’s self-determination, even in societies that insist on formal subordination of female to male in private and public space.

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Part 2 of Women’s Power tomorrow.

* Please send me your thoughts about power. Also stories of your own empowerment. When shared, these ideas and examples are extremely inspiring to others. Thanks.
   
***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

CONSULT THE MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

 

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