Artemis – The Goddess Who Comes from Afar

#greenARTtulln, #artemisiaGARTEN

Den Herbst 2011 verbrachte ich in Taos, New Mexico, auf den Spuren von Agnes Martin und Georgia O'Keeffe. Eine magische Zeit: Die Wüste dicht bewachsen mit Artemisia tridentata, ein kleines Adobe Atelier mit Blick auf den Taos Mountain, vor meinem Haus macht es sich ein Bär gemütlich. Bücher aus dem thriftshop, wie eine Botschaft früherer Besucher. In einem dieser Bücher lese ich einen Aufsatz, der mich zutiefst berührt. Vor meiner Abreise reisse ich die Seiten aus dem Buch um sie mitzunehmen, den Titel des Buches habe ich vergessen. Christine Downings Text erweist sich als prophetisch und bleibt wichtig, stellt mich Artemis vor. 

Vielleicht bin ich ihr schon vorher begegnet, vielleicht war sie schon lange da, im Hintergrund, dort woher das "Nein“ kommt. Vielleicht führt sie mich schon lang, meine Reisen nach New Mexico hat sie immer begleitet. Ich habe ein Bild von ihr. Artemis, die Wilde. Die weiße Göttin, strahlend, vielleicht nur ein Nebel. 

Nichts wird in den kommenden Jahren bleiben wie es war, alles in Frage stehen. Ich verliere vieles, das mir so wichtig war. Ich fühle mich zerstückelt, ganze Stücke meines Lebens reiße ich mir selbst heraus, fühle die klaffenden Lücken. Immer noch etwas kann man beenden, noch etwas ist zu viel. Zurück bleibt ein Skelett, ein Gerüst. Ich bei mir. Ist schon alles weg? Wer weiß. Da ist noch viel mehr, das abfallen kann. Die Vergangenheit, Wünsche, Vorstellungen, Träume, Pläne. Noch weiß ich nicht, welcher Verlust noch bevorsteht. Anita wird krank, (ver)schwindet, stirbt. Unsere letzte gemeinsame Arbeit ist inspiriert von Artemis: "She Who Slays, she who comes from afar, she who is other."

 Taos, New Mexico, 2011

Taos, New Mexico, 2011


Christine Downing

I have learned about myth from myth – from the discovery of what it means to live a myth. I have learned my way of attending to myth as I went along. ... I have learned that recognition of the archetypal and universal dimensions of one’s experiences can help free one from a purely personal relation to them. I also believe that one can celebrate the mythic patternings without losing an appreciation oft he concrete and unique moments that constitute one’s existence. This is what Freud meant by transference – knowing that one is Sigmund Freud and Oedipus, that I am Christine Downing and Persephone. Either description alone is insufficient. Recognition of the many goddesses that inform one’s life also helps protect one against inflationary identifications and against the sense of being swallowed up by some fatally determining mythic pattern. The goddesses also seem to find ways of reminding us that they are indeed numinous forces, never reducible to our attempts at psychological interpretation. ...

We need images and myths through which we can see who we are and what we might become. As our dreams make evident, the psyche’s own language is that of image, and not idea. The psyche needs images to nurture ist own growth; for images provide a knowledge that we can interiorize rather than "apply,“ can take to that place in ourselves where there is water and where reeds and grasses grow. Irene Claremont de Castillejo speaks of discovering the inadequacy of all theories about the female psyche, including the Jungian framework into which she had for so long tried to fit her own experience and that of her female patients. For now, she suggests, we need simply to attend lovingly and precisely tot he images spontaneously brought forward in our dreams and fantasies.(1)

For me the quest fort he goddess began with a dream:

... In the dream I find myself in a state of confusion and despair. I decide to drive into the desert alone, hoping there to rediscover the still center I have lost. I drive far into the night on unfamiliar and seemingly rarely traveled byways. Then, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, a tire goes flat and I remember I have no spare. It seems unlikely that anyone would come by soon to offer help, but far in the distance I see a light which might mean someone available to assist me o rat least a telephone. I set out toward it and walk and walk. It is some time before I realize the light is no closer and that I am no longer sure it is there at all. I turn around, thinking it might be better after all to wait by my car; but it has disappeared, as has the road.

At that point a figure appears from behind a sagebrush in the strangely moonlit desert night, the figure of a wizened but kindly appearing old man. "Can I help?“ he asks. "No,“ I say. "You and I have been through this before. This time I need to go in search of Her.“

So I set out across the desert, seeming now to know in what direction to proceed, though there are no marked ways and I know I had never been there before. Hours later I find myself at the foot of some steeply rising sandstone cliffs. I make my way up to the cliffs, heading straight for a deep small cave just large enough form and to lie down. Still seeming to know exactly what I must do, I prepare myself to sleep there, as though to fall asleep were part of my way toward Her.

While I sleep there in the cave I dream that within the cave I find a narrow hole leading into an underground passage. I make my way through that channel deep, deep into another cave well beneath the earth’s surface. I sit down on the rough uneven floor, knowing myself to be in her presence. Yet, though She is palpably there, I cannot discern her shape. Though I wait and wait, expecting to be able to see Her once my eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, that does not happen. ...

 Taos Mountain, New Mexico, 2011

Taos Mountain, New Mexico, 2011

I returned to waking consciouness, aware that, though I did not know who She was, it was indeed time form e to go in search of her.

I sensed that the pull to Her was a pull to an ancient source. "In the beginning, people prayed tot he Creatress of Life, the Mistress of Heaven. At the very dawn of religion, God was a woman. Do you remember?“ (2) To remember is to be remembered, to have our own lives made whole and our connections with others healed. ...

I soon discovered that my search was not mine alone, that in recent years many women have rediscovered how much we need the goddess in a culture that tears us from woman, from women, and from ourselves. (3) To be fed only male images of the divine is to be badly malnourished. We are starved for images that recognize the sacredness oft he feminine and the complexity, richness, and nurturing power of female energy. We hunger for images of human creativity and love inspired by the capacity of female bodies to give birth and nourish, for images of how humankind participates in the natural world suggested by reflection on the correspondences between menstrual rhythms and the moon’s waxing and waning. We seek images that affirm that the love women receive from women, from mother, sister, daughter, lover, friend, reaches as deep and is as trustworthy, necessary, and sustaining as is the love symbolized by father, brother, son, or husband. We long for images that name as authentically feminine courage, creativity, loyality, and self-confidence, resilence and steadfastness, capacity for clear insight, inclination for solitude, and the intensity of passion. We need images; we also need myths – for myths make concrete and particularize; they give us situations, plots, relationships. We need the goddess and we need the goddesses. ...

Artemis is for me the most mysterious oft he Greek goddesses.

None of us ever sees Her in the dark

or understands Her cruel mysteries.
— Euripides (4)

So speaks Iphigenia after years of devotion to Artemis. Even Hippolytus, who prides himself as alone among mortals having the privilege of conversing with her, confesses, „True I may only hear. I may not see God face to face." (5) For one like myself who has fought to evade such devotion, it cannot help but be even more true. Artemis claims me now, calls me to her cruel mysteries with a power I can no longer withstand. The other goddesses who have presented themselves to me seemed to come forward out oft he past, out of my childhood and youth and the early years of my marriage, or like Gaia as a reminder of some even more remote, prepersonal, transhuman past. They helped me to re-member who I have been and am; whereas Artemis seems to beckon from the future, to call me toward who I am now to become. ...

I understand the turning toward Artemis as a ritual observance, this time of my forty-ninth birthday. Endings and beginnings have always been important to me, perhaps naturally so for someone born at just that moment in the astrological calendar (on the cusp between Pisces and Aries) when one year ends that another may begin. Every birthday invites celebration, but this one has for several years loomed as singularly significant. Seven times seven suggests a completion and a turning around, a birth into the rest of my life. I had looked to this birth as an easy one, like the ("only symbolic“) rebirth of a snake shedding ist skin or the emergence of a butterfly from ist chrysalis. I had imagined it as a sloughing off of what was worn out and used up, so that what was viable and vital might emerge less fettered. Perhaps I had forgotten it would have tob e a human birth, a birth into the human. Or perhaps I had expected the birth tob e assisted by gentle Eileithyia rather than by Artemis. Though Artemis is a skillful and compassionate midwife, in her realm childbirth is painful and difficult and always accompanied by the threat of death. (The priestess of Artemis inherited the clothes of those who died in childbirth.) The first labor she attended (her mother’s delivery of Artemis’s own twin brother, Apollo) took nine desperately agonizing days (though her own birth had been without travail). I (whose literal birth-ings were all so easy) am now discovering what it is to be engaged in a giving birth that one resists, twists away from in pain, despairs of being done with. ...

I had thought at first I could easily name what was being born. A few months before my birthday an annual checkup suggested I might have cancer of the uterus. "So, it is my death I am to give birth to,“ I thought. "Perhaps the reason I have for so long looked forward to this birthday is that somewhere deep inside me something knew it was tob e the last.“ That very literal threat was proven illusory before it led me to call on Artemis whose arrows bring a swift and gentle death to women. Then a love affair which I had felt from ist beginning was in some way a last time around seemed tob e coming to an end. "So that’s what it is,“ I mused; "I am going to be abandoned into an evaded solitude for which I have always known myself tob e destined.“ ...

I did not consciously think of Artemis, "the mercurial queen of solitude,“ during the interval before I realized that in my love affair it was a time for changes, not for endings. Again, I felt both relieved and cheated. What was  going to happen? For a time it seemed that a job I knew I would not stay with much longer might come to an end earlier than I would have chosen; for a time my former husband and I considered remarriage. Both possibilities would have represented genuinely significant transitions, but I knew even before they dissolved that neither was what this birthday was really "about“. It was not so much that these were too passive. The transition I anticipated would not happen until I turned around to confront „Her.“ This huntress insists on being hunted; she will never overtake. It is just that which makes it so difficult. I have to give birth – or struggle to be born; neither giving birth nor coming to birth are things that happen to one.

I understood that when I discovered that the most adequate name for this particular liminal space is simply: Artemis. The name does not eliminate the mystery: it honors it with an appellation that suggests ist complexity and depth.

I must admit some puzzlement and even resentment at the youth of this goddess who stands so powerfully before me now. "What does she know?“ I want to ask. Though I could have accepted the appearance of some divine child (for after all the child is symbol of all new beginnings), the archetypal image I really expected at this point in my life was that oft he wise old woman. Finding myself under Artemis’s tutelage at first made me feel somewhat embarrassed to be learning at fifty what others learn young. Like Slater and Pomeroy I saw the youth and virginity oft he classic version of some oft he goddesses only in negative terms; I believed it expressed male fear of mature femininity. (6) I now see that because Artemis has been the youthful virgin forever, she is, in her own paradoxical way, herself a wise old woman. I realize how truly timely it ist o be pulled to doing therapy now (in the full ancient sense of therapeia) with this ancient huntress who surely and fearlessly follows any scent and who trusts us to learn to do the same. My familiar evasive games lose their efficacy in her wilderness; she will not be seduced into a relationship nor diverted by my storytelling skill. This ever-evanescent goddess appears only to say: "Here you are alone, as you have said you were ready to be.“

As Walter Otto saw, manifold as Artemis’s manifestations may be, we discover their unity and thus apprehend her essence, when we know her as the goddess who comes from afar, whose realm ist he everdistant wilderness. To this primary remoteness he appropriately connects her virginity, her solitariness, and her strangely cruel solicitude. (7)

Though others have found Artemis more accessible, I have learned by now that I need to start with what is darkest, with what I like least but which cannot be eluded. ...

Born on unpeopled Delos, Artemis is really only at home in the wilderness, far from the haunts of men. A different logic, a different strength and wisdom, rules there. The romantic view of Arcadia as an idyllic pastoral realm inhabited by nymphs and shepherds does not do full justice tot he Arcadia of ancient mythology: a wild and dangerous, rude and barbarous land. Arcadia is an imaginal realm, set apart from the everyday world, where things are as they are in themselves, not as shaped and manipulated by humankind. Artemis represents the form of imagination most foreign to me – the one connected tot he psychological realm Jungians call sensation (as opposed to thinking, feeling, or intuition). There is nothing spiritual or sentimental or even sensual in Artemis’s response to the wild things in whose company she lives. She does not respond tot hem as vehicles of symbolic meaning nor on the basis ot their capacity to bring pleasure or displeasure. She knows each tree by ist bar kor leaf or fruit, each beast by ist foorprint or spoor, each bird by ist plumage or call or nest. Only such carefully attendant seeing allows one to know why the black poplar that bears no fruit should be Artemis’s bird while the night-preying owl is Athene’. The woods and fields belong to Artemis and her nymphs: each tree, laurel or myrrh, oak or ash, is truly recognized only when we know with which nymph(s) to associate it; each wild flower, each brook and strea, also evokes a particular sacred presence. Artemis’s imagination is concrete and specific, bespeaks a loving respect fort he unique essence of everything as it lives in ist natural state. It would be a wrong to mis-take her mode of perception for literalism: her response is animistic, anima-istic. Each creature – each plant, each wood, each river – is to her a Thou, not an it. Unlike Aphroditeshe never confuses this I-Thou relation with merging. To know Artemis is to understand what Buber means by "distance and relation.“ ... I have come to trust that the meaning of her remoteness will be transforme das I am willing to acknowledge it. So long as I deny that she is, indeed, "She Who Slays,“ I am still evading Artemis.

Artemis is the Lady oft he Wild Things, a title that encompasses much more than is acknowledged in the post-Homeric image of her as the shaft-showering huntress. (8) As Aeschylus reminds us, she is not only the hunter but protector of all that is wild and vulnerable:

Artemis the undefiled
is angered with pity
at the flying hounds of her father
eating the unborn young in the hare and the shivering mother.
She is sick at the eagles’ feasting.
Sing sorrow, sorrow: but good wins out in the end.
Lovely you are and kind
to the tender young of ravening lions.
For sucklings of all the savage
beasts that lurk in the lonely places you have sympathy.“
— Aeschylus (9)

Artemis represents the mystic, primitive identity of hunter and hunted. (10) There are indications thatthe worship of Artemis in Arcadia and Attica included an initiation ceremony for pre-pubescent girls in which the goddess, her worshipers, and the bear whose skin the maidens wore were "considered tob e as of one nature and called by the same name.“ (11) Artemis is intimately associated with the wild beasts oft he field, the animals oft he chase: the hare, the lion, the wolf, the wild boar, the bear, the deer. The earliest artistic representations show her holding one or another of these animals in her hands, often wearing the fruit of some wild tree on her head or with the branches of a wild fig tree above her. Artemis is herself the wilderness, the wild and untamed, and not simply ist mistress.

She is uncivilited nature in quite a different sense from Gaia. Gaia is there before gods or mortals; she repressents the ceaseless, irrepressible fecundity of nature. ... In the world of Artemis, as Nilsson puts it, what "interests man is not Nature in herself, but the Life of Nature in the measure in which it intervenes in human life and forms a necessary and obvious basis for it.“ (12) Although Artemis may originally have been an oriental goddess,may have come from the fringes oft he Greek world, in the classical period she is particularly identified with Arcadia, the wild, mountainous, forested center oft he Peloponnesus. This reinforces my discovery that though we may first know her as the other without, she is more truly the other within. ...

 Taos, New Mexico, 2011

Taos, New Mexico, 2011

Besides being goddess of the wild, Artemis is also known as she who consorts with women. I had at one time understood Artemis’s dramatic rejection of any male other than her brother (and perhaps a few brotherly companions like Herakles and Orion) as simply the obverse of her devotion to women. I had imagined that the most promising access to this most woman-identified oft he Greek goddesses would be by way of an exploration of her relation to the nymphs in whose company we so consistently find her. Indeed, Nilsson suggests she is essentially nymph epitomized, the nymph who rises to prominence from amidst the company of nymphs. (13)

Here was Artemis prodding me to look honestly at the role in my life of deep and passionate friendships with women. Even this Artemis threatened me, portended a judgement from which I flinched. I saw her as having wholeheartedly chosen the love that women share with women, an das disdaining someone like myself who cannot say that friendships with women are the only ones really needed, the only ones that truly nurture. Even the patriarchally determined classical versions oft he myths reveal Artemis as a woman who loves woman. (Perhaps the most compelling evidence ist o be found in the story of Zeus’s rape of Callisto, the most beautiful of Artemis’s nymphs, the one most dear to her. To win the nymph’s love Zeus disguises himself as Artemis; in that guise Callisto welcomes his embrace.) But to see the relationship between Artemis and her nymphs primarily in sexual terms is simplification and distortion. It transposes their relationship into an Aphroditic key and thus ignores the testimony oft he Homeric hymn to Aphrodite that alone among gods and mortals, Hestia, Athene, and Artemis are immune to Aphrodite’s power. Artemis does not say, „Choose women,“ but „Choose yourself.“ The meaning of her primary association with women ist hat in loving women we are loving our womanly self....

Fully to understand Artemis’s connection to women demands relating it to that virginity so essential to her nature. Even in her association with women Artemis points to a communion not identical with sexual union and possibly subverted by it. The deep bonding of woman to woman that Artemis encourages may, indeed, encompass passionate attraction, sensual delight, and sexual consummation. Yet she reminds us that the sexual may be surrogate for a more profound affirmation of one another and of our shared womanliness than we quite know how to express, an evasion of spiritual connection more fearful than the physical one. We mis-take Artemis’s chastity if we interpret it only as patriarchal culture’s attempt to suppress her lesbianism, her refusal of men and her love of women. Her chastity represents something more essential to her nature. It surely does not mean that she is not stirred by feminine beauty; it does not necessarily mean that she is not stirred by feminine beauty; it does not necessarily mean that she refuses sexual intimacy with women; it does mean that she never wholly gives herself to another, female or male. ... Artemis’s refusal to give herself bespeaks her respect, not her rejection, of the other; it is an expression not of frigidity but of passion. She gives herself to her own passion, her own wildness. Though invoked as the „frenzy-loving“ goddess, Artemis is not driven mad by her passion asare the maenads when they leave their husbands’ beds for their mountaintop orgies. Neither does she feel the need to find some appropriate sublimated expression for it, as might bright-eyed Athene, nor to transpose it immediately into the interpersonal erotic realm as would Aphrodite. Because Artemis is at home in the wilderness, she is comfortable with her own wildness. ...

Artemis is who she is with an ease and simplicity that indeed seems divine. She does not suffer self-doubt or inner division and has little patience with those of us who do. Thus she often appears as a harsh judge of women. ...

As I look at each aspect of Artemis in turn, again and again I discover She Who Slays, she who comes from afar, she who is other. Paradoxically, the reaffirmation of Artemis’s otherness has made me more aware than ever oft he power of Aphrodite in my life. How spontaneously, when confronting Artemis’s claims on me, I respond by pleading, "Let’s play Aphrodite instead.“ I have never been so aware of my tendency to devote my energies to love affairs rather than to soul, to discriminate on the basis of what I find pleasing or displeasing; how naturally I seek to transform all feelings into sexual passion, all potentially transformative experience into well-shaped story, and to make all my therapists, including Artemis herself, fall in love with me. That attending to Artemis should bring Aphrodite so prominently into view seems surprising, until I remember the story of Hippolytus and how it is his monolatrous devotion to Artemis that provokes Aphrodite’s disastrous intervention. It is as though exclusive attention to Artemis – which she painly demands – inevitably stirs Aphrodite. I understand better now how it can be that so many oft he oriental and Cretan goddesses – Cybele, Bendis, Astarte, Ariadne, to name a few – are associated with both Artemis and Aphrodite, as though they are so essentially complementary as to be one.

I have seemingly always known I am no monotheist. Yeti t is too simple to leave Artemis with that Affirmation – and denial. I know that she is still the goddess to whom I now must attend. Her wilderness may indeed be a liminal space, but it is precisely the character of such "betweens“ that while one is in them that is where one is, that is all there is. This is a time form e to turn away from that reliance on Aphrodits’s ways which have for so long sustained me. I must begin to learn what is meant by the phrase „monogamy of soul.“ The cruel mystery inherent in that phrase led me to this attempt to expose myself to Artemis’s mysteries. The birth into the rest of my life which she midwifes still feels incredibly painful. I still find it unspeakably difficult to join my voice with Iphigenia’s as she, from her funeral pyre, cries:

Dance!
Let us dance in honor of Artemis ...
O lift your voices
Lift them to Artemis
In honor of my fate
And of my dying.
— Euripides (14)
 Taos, New Mexico, 2011

Taos, New Mexico, 2011


(1) Irene Claremont de Castillejo: Knowing Woman. New York 1974:165ff

(2) Merlin Stone: When God Was a Woman. New York 1976:1

(3) See especially Carol P. Christ, „Why Women Need the Goddess“, in Womanspririt Rising, ed. Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow, New York 1979

(4) Euripides: Iphigenia in Tauris

(5) Euripides: Hippolytus

(6) See Philip E. Slater: The Glory of Hera. Boston 1968:12; Sarah B. Pomeroy: Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves. New York 1975:10

(7) Walter F. Otto: The Homeric Gods. Boston 1954:82

(8) Martin P. Nilsson: Greek Folk Religion. New York 1961:16

(9) Aeschylus: Agamemnon

(10) W.K.C. Guthrie: The Greeks and Their Gods. Boston 1955:100

(11) Lewis Richard Farnell: The Cults oft he Greek States. Chicago 1971/2:435f

(12) Martin P. Nilsson: Greek Folk Religion. New York 1961:49

(13) Ibid., 112

(14) Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis