Changing Woman Gallery
Welcome to my photography gallery, Changing Woman: Contemporary Faces of the Goddess . This photographic essay grew out of my interest in the rise in consciousness about the goddess in the 1980s and how she figured in the lives of contemporary women. I wanted to know how the women I interviewed and photographed understood the idea of a sacred feminine and how they integrated her into their lives. The images shown here are from my gallery exhibit at The Woman’s Building in Los Angeles in 1987.
The goddess is found in the urban environment as well as in nature, in solitude and group rituals, in lovemaking and in the sound of the drum, in political activism and in contemplation. She is referred to as the Creative Source out of which the particular feminine and the particular masculine emerge, the Gateway, the Mystery from which manifestation comes, the Darkness, the Tao, Mother Earth, the loving glue that holds things together, and Momma. She goes by many cultural names: Mary, Coatlicue, Inanna, Isis, Brigit, Tara, Oshun, Yemaya, Kali, and the Black Madonna. She evokes images of the sacred circle of women, the sensuality of the snake, the web weaving of the spider, the rocking motion of the sea, the Universe giving birth and the cauldron of transformation. She teaches us about the dignity of all life.
Midwife, Creator of the Vulva Dance
“I have been dancing the dance of the goddess for the last twenty-two years in one form or another. When I was 19 I went to live with people who had an Afro-American dance troupe in New York City who practiced the Yoruba religion. One of the things I learned from them was that dance is a language. Dance is the way we speak spirit or that spirit speaks us. I want to reclaim the body; it’s important for every women in whatever body she stands in, no matter how thin or fat, to see her body as the image of the goddess.
The hand gestures I use in the vulva dance are a downward pointing triangle which symbolizes the yoni, the place of birth, and the upward pointing triangle which symbolizes spirit. When I’m working with women doing the dance, I ask them to honor their naked physical body and to move as spirit moves them. What are the movements that speak woman? That speak goddess? What is the movement for Aphrodite? Oshun? Yemaya?”
International Peace Activist, College Professor
“I find inspiration in the aesthetics of goddess imagery because I’ve always been interested in dance. Dance allows me full expression of myself and my creativity. Dance is a spiritual art. The dance of Kali and Shiva comes out of spirituality.
When I was growing up in Sri Lanka there was a woman in our house who on full moon days would let her hair down, go into trance, and dance. I saw the goddess in her. She was transformed. In some cultures she would be called insane and put into an institution but in her ‘insanity’ she found her sanity.
Women have always found a way to express themselves and some have used trance as a culturally approved way to protest. In Southeast Asian Free Trade Zones where labor unions are banned and women are terribly repressed, when things get really hard some women go into trance and dance.”
“My father, my grandfather, my great grandfather and my brother are all ministers. My brother is the fourth generation. At age four I had my first feminist thought when I realized that I couldn’t follow in my father’s footsteps because I was a female child. At that moment I knew that Christianity had betrayed me because of my flesh.
In Christianity the spirit and the flesh have been separated. Women are the flesh and the male god is the spirit. The only way to obtain spirit is to deny the flesh, transcend the flesh and die. Well, I don’t believe that. Spirit is in matter all the time and spirit does not exist without matter.
For me the goddess is not a person or a being somewhere that I workshop or whose rules I obey. The goddess is no more nor no less than me. The goddess is my own perfection and the perfection of nature. Coatlicue is my favorite cultural goddess. I love anything skeletal. It is not a morbid obsession with death. The dark is very female. The darkness is about reclaiming my femaleness; the wet, the mystery, the unknown.”
Ritualist and Artist
“I experience the goddess as the Mystery, a tremendous mystery from which manifestation comes. In the Cherokee tradition it is said that all things are born of woman and they talk about Great Grandmother Space.
While on pilgrimage to a sacred place in Arizona I had a visionary experience with a very old woman who came out of the canyon toward me and showed me many things. One of these things was a spirit web that was breaking apart. This web was made of ceremony and offerings that have been done for thousands of years. The message she brought was that women who have been trying to keep these traditions alive are now reaching out in a telepathic way to women and men who are in tune with ceremony to maintain this web of life. Life will be threatened if it is not maintained.
I really feel that women have a destiny at this time and that it is connected to the planet. My work is to help women remember.”
Zen Buddhist Roshi, founder of The Ojai Foundation
“The goddess for me, if I have to describe that impulse in the world, includes the wisdom of emptiness exemplified by Great Grandmother Space, the reality of interconnectedness woven by Grandmother Spider and the truth of impermanence danced by Changing Woman. Great Grandmother Space is the empty display of wisdom, Grandmother Spider teaches us that we are all connected to everything, and Changing Woman reminds us that there is nothing that is permanent. And these are the three roots of compassion, the heart of Kwan Yin.
My personal work and work in the world is concerned with the reconciliation of earth and sky, the feminine and masculine, and that has to start with me. As a child growing up in southern Florida, I bonded with a black woman, my nanny, Lila, who was a woman with great life energy force and was also a victim of society. Whether the woman with whom you bonded was a maid or a biological mother, many women bonded with the servile victimized feminine on the one hand, and with the controlling authoritarian masculine on the other. Many of us have not reconciled these forces within ourselves and they are at war. For me, this war created a pattern of self victimization and self abuse.”
“I do not feel there is an external goddess, an external deity. It’s a collective image. With the threat of nuclear destruction we need a positive image. If we don’t do something about the imbalance on our planet we can no longer live here. America has gone through the peak of materialism so it’s time now to heal. It’s a much bigger picture than the rise of the goddess. I’m afraid that if we say goddess too much, we limit it.
Rather than blaming the problem on others we have to find our own resources, our own strength, to see who we are in a different context. That has been my search and the desire of many women. Some are studying archeology and writing about the excavations of goddess figurines from prehistoric times. People are finding proof that there was a woman’s culture thousands and thousands of years ago.
For the past twenty years I have explored the different aspects of myself through the different cultural Goddesses. When I didn’t know my anger very well I tried to do peaceful goddesses. I did a painting of Kwan Yin as a compassionate Goddess with a sword and titled it, ‘O Goddess Give Us Strength to Cut Through.’ I realized that compassion is something that is not just sympathy but is more ruthless.
For the past few years I’ve worked with Dakini, which is the wrathful side of the feminine, the warrior side. Only through a practice of being gentle with myself could I do this. When I was angry, I couldn’t do it. It is not the anger that I wanted to express, it’s a little bit beyond that.”
Writer, Director, Performer, The Traveling Jewish Theater
“I don’t connect images or form to the goddess. I think that’s really pertinent because I’m still fighting that hierarchical notion of god in a particular form up above; with the goddess I feel a sense of surroundedness, a sense of creative energy. I encounter her in the women around me, especially particular women who are in service to the planet or to healing, or to breaking the old patriarchal system and understanding what a connected, webbed system is.
My work in The Traveling Jewish Theater has been to emphasize the parts of the Jewish tradition that establish contact with god through singing and dance, ecstasy, the home, and through caring for each other. I really feel that’s part of the goddess message. She is teaching us that we must honor every specific life form, every cultural form, hold it sacred and know that each one is connected to the other.
“Snake Talk” is my version of the three faces of the goddess—the creator, the preserver, and the transformer of life. The creator is portrayed by the artist who talks about what it means to create and how everything is creation for her. The preserver is an eastern European woman of my mother’s generation who speaks with a Yiddish accent and cadence and has the wisdom of the shtetl. The transformer is a crone who encounters a snake and through their dialogue confronts her own fear about death. Each character teaches about birth, life, and death, and what it is to be human, what it is to be selfish, and what it is to love.”
Valerie T. Bechtol
“For me the goddess is you, me, the power that is inside all of us to be whomever, whatever we want to be, not what we’re told to be. My connection with the goddess is with the Mother. Mother Earth.
The spirit vessels I create are a connection to myself as vessel, going in and realizing that everything I need is within me. I am an incredible vessel, a big, wonderful gigantic womb that is totally self contained. It doesn’t matter where I am. I have a home in that vessel. Through my work, I want to break away from the passivity we place in this culture today on vessels. I want to reclaim the meaning from pagan times when the vessel was a very active instrument. It was transformational; the vessel was used to heal. And they were always made by women. Even today in most African cultures, women are the vessel makers. In olden times in native American cultures, women made shields as protection medicine as well.”