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🦋 Meeting With The Goddess
We were in the back room of an old art shop in a small city in southern India. The room was crowded, with wood, metal, and stone sculptures and stacks of glass-fronted paintings leaning against the walls. We walked carefully through the makeshift aisle, pausing occasionally to admire. This visit was a momentary respite grabbed in the middle of a turbulent life situation- we had come here to be with art, to look at it, and to allow its gentle hands to apply balm to our souls.
We both spotted the painting at the same moment. The glass in the dark wooden frame was dusty, but we could see the dull gold gleam against the old red. Her eyes looked back at us in a way I don’t have the right words for. Serene. Powerful. It was that but also beyond words, some vast, incomprehensible mystery peered out at us from those eyes, one we could only register with the quickening of our breath and racing heartbeat.
But, like I said, it was a quick interlude of a visit in the middle of overwhelm.
On the way home, we spoke at the same time.
“Maybe next time... we can see...
“Maybe.” Pause. “If she’s still there…”
We went back to the art shop some months later. The turbulence in our lives hadn't yet completely abated, though there were some glimmers of hope and clarity.
We went into the same back room. We looked through the stacks leaning against the wall, but we couldn't find the painting. We were disappointed even as we knew it was too much to expect.
I was walking out of the back room when I heard my name.
“Look, under the table… it’s her.”
It was her, a golden Goddess silhouetted against an old red.
The next hour was a blur of conversation and activity. Someone, a salesperson, slid the painting from under the table. There was gentle teasing about young people and their love for old things. Someone else found a small crack in the dusty glass of the frame. The shop owner suggested a thorough cleaning, glass replacement, and wood polishing. He knew a small sister shop nearby that could take care of it. The painting would need careful packing for safe delivery. They would deliver it home to us when it was ready, probably by the end of the day. They urged us not to wait. They would take care of everything, they reiterated. Don’t worry, they said kindly. We were worried. The painting had become the repository of all our hopes.
We went home reluctantly, and we waited. The day felt incredibly long. There was a sense of excitement but also trepidation and disbelief. Was this really happening? Would it happen?
Later in the evening, the store owner called to verify our address. I imagined them carefully placing the wrapped painting in the delivery truck or a van.
We took turns pacing to the gate outside the house, but there was no sign of anyone. We were at dinner when the phone rang. It was the delivery team. They wanted to make sure they were outside the right house. We ran and threw open the door of the house and the outside gate.
A motorcycle stood outside, its engine still running loudly. There were two men. One of them we recognized as the salesperson. We didn't know who the other man was because the large, carefully wrapped painting he held in front of him blocked his face. Apparently, there was no delivery van. The salesperson had volunteered to deliver it because he lived nearby. Someone else had accompanied him to help.
Something about the sight of the painting's insistent arrival on a motorcycle made the situation feel surreal. As we moved it into the house, unwrapped the packaging, and looked into those eyes again, there was a clear feeling of being in the grip of some unfathomable mystery. Who had chosen whom? I imagined the painting quietly biding its time under the table. I imagined its ride through the busy evening traffic, perched precariously on a wobbly motorcycle. I imagined the stops and starts of the traffic lights, the sharp turns at the corners, and the painting steadily, regally, making its aloof way to a destination of its choice. There was something at once imperious and frightening, magnificent and urgent about that.
Meeting With The Goddess
Meeting the goddess occurs at the end of the road of trials and is part of the initiatory stage of the hero's journey. When the hero encounters the goddess, he/ she experiences a profound sense of awe, and I tried to capture that in my anecdote above.
“For she is the incarnation of the promise of perfection; the soul’s assurance that, at the conclusion of its exile in a world of organized inadequacies, the bliss that once was known will be known again: ..” - Joseph Campbell, The hero with a thousand faces
The goddess energy is best described as an archetypal energy: benevolent and nourishing as well as all-powerful and destructive. In the context of the hero’s journey, it is the complementary archetypal energy that the hero (male or female) is missing/doesn’t have, but needs to progress. It can be represented by a person, situation, or object.
The meeting with the goddess (who is incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the talent of the hero to win the boon of love (charity: amor fati), which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity.
And when the adventurer, in this context, is not a youth but a maid, she is the one who, by her qualities, her beauty, or her yearning, is fit to become the consort of an immortal. Then the heavenly husband descends to her and conducts her to his bed—whether she will or not. And if she has shunned him, the scales fall from her eyes; if she has sought him, her desire finds its peace. - Joseph Campbell, The hero with a thousand faces
Campbell says this energy/figure can only be approached with a “gentle heart.” I interpret that as a necessary, aware, and willing surrender to what we don’t know.
This stage of the hero’s journey has been the hardest to write about. I’d love to hear your experiences of this archetypal energy and what you think this stage is about.
Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
We are discussing the stages of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey through personal essays and storytelling. Campbell proposed a monomyth, a universal story arc called the hero’s journey, that he said was found in myths and stories from cultures around the world. The hero sets forth on an adventure (departure), faces obstacles and trials (initiation), is victorious over them, and returns with boons and gifts to share with the rest of the world (return). The hero’s journey can be an external adventure though it always involves an inner transformative journey. You might be familiar with books or movies that use this arc (for example, Star Wars). In your life, you might look for parallels where you overcame your fears, the discouragement of others, or other internal or external blocks and took steps towards a goal. You might’ve had to learn new skills, take on rivals, and do things that pulled you out of your comfort zone, and regardless of the outcome, engaging with this process changed you forever.
You can read each post as a standalone or as part of the hero's journey series.
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