Around this time, I went into rehearsal at the Whole Theatre for The Trojan Women, by the great Greek playwright Euripides, directed by my brother [Apollo]. I was to play Hecuba, the queen of Troy. As her beloved city burns around her, Hecuba survives the loss of her husband and son, and now must watch as her daughters become slaves. She herself will become the slave of her conqueror, Odysseus. There is a moment late in the play when Hecuba falls to her knees and beats the ground with her fists, crying, "Do you see? Do you hear? Do you know?"
I was puzzled. "Who is she talking to? What is she trying to make happen?" Apollo suggested that perhaps she's appealing to her ancestors. Now I was completely intrigued.
A week later, I went to my favorite used bookstore in Montclair to buy token opening-night gifts for the cast and crew. I could always find treasures within my budget at the aptly named Yesterday's Books. From a box in the back of the store, I pulled out a small book called Perseus and the Gorgon
, by Cornelia Steketee Hulst, an archaeologist who wrote about a 1911 dig on the island of Corfu. The book was dedicated to Gorgo, a goddess figure from Greek mythology-she with the hair of writhing snakes-so terrifying that anyone who gazed at her would turn to stone.
According to Hulst, the Gorgon of Corfu had once been the goddess Ashirat (which means happiness, energy, and joy). When the island was overrun by Perseus (whose name means "to lay waste"), he cut off her head and sacked her temple. He also decided that her name should be stricken from all written records and that henceforth she should only be known as Gorgon, the snake goddess. In describing what Perseus had done, Hulst wrote that he had "buried in oblivion and covered with silence the teachings of the Great Mother." This line struck me with so much resonance. What teachings was Hulst talking about? Who was the Great Mother? I bought the book for two dollars, but instead of giving it as a gift, I kept it for myself and continued reading.
Finding Hulst's book marked the beginning of an extraordinary time of reading and discovery for me. I wanted to know who the Great Mother was and why her teachings had been buried in oblivion. I began to look for information about this history-or, rather, this prehistory-wherever I could find it.
Information and material on this subject began to find its way to me in extraordinarily serendipitous ways. For example, just a few weeks after coming across Hulst's book, I wandered into a Buddhist bookshop in the East Village and a book fell off the shelf, landing at my feet. The book was called When God Was a Woman
, by Merlin Stone. She had used archaeological evidence and historical documents to piece together a compelling portrait of the Goddess religion that predated the Judeo-Christian legend of Adam and Eve. Merlin Stone was the beginning of my passionate interest in prehistory. The phrase "buried in oblivion, covered in silence" stirred my heart. Merlin Stone's book opened my eyes.
Then I went to school. I read everything I could find. I'd read one book, check the bibliography, and find other authors to read. Esther Harding's Women's Mysteries
, Barbara G. Walker's Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
and her Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects
. And on and on. I began to understand that there was a time when the feminine was celebrated. When men and women worshiped a Goddess who was revered as the wise creator and the source for universal order and harmony.
It wasn't until the ascension of Greek male-oriented culture, when the Goddess began to be perceived as threatening, that these matri-focal cultures were dismantled and even erased from the historical record. I became a sponge for any information I could find about the Goddess and prehistorical culture. I felt I had found something of incalculable value that I had somehow lost or misplaced. I kept reading.
Then something inexplicable happened to me. I was lying on a massage table, and while the masseuse was working on me, I slowly became aware that there was someone-something?-else in the room. I opened my eyes and there was nothing there. When I closed them the sensation came back. I sensed a large, androgynous presence in the room. From the back of my head I heard a voice say, "Celebrate Her. Celebrate Her."
I got frightened and started to cry. The masseuse asked what was the matter with me. I was very reluctant to admit what I just experienced. I was afraid she'd think I had lost it-I was wondering if I had lost it-but I finally told her about the presence and the voice. She said, "Well, say something back." I started to cry even harder. "I don't know how. I don't know how to celebrate Her. I know how to suffer, but not how to celebrate." Then the voice spoke again. "You are of Her. You will know how to celebrate Her."