Thursday, June 9, 2011

What does the Goddess look like?

This is the second time I have come upon this article discussing "toxic" Goddess imagery. And boy all I have to say is wow! The first time I didn't respond to it because I simply felt it was very poorly put together. The reason I am addressing it now is because I think it's important to understand that we all view the Goddess differently and that, while this article addresses the image of the Goddess, it only focuses on what the author finds displeasing in a very poorly gathered group of random images from the internet.

Apart from some very wrong information and mish-mashing of things, the issue I see most with these critiques is actually with the art-styles themselves (and the lack of understanding them). That most of these just happen be tagged with keywords ("Goddess," "Witch," "Morrigan") does not mean they are Pagan in the religious/spiritual sense. In a nutshell, they aren't necessarily meant to be Pagan. Even if a Pagan uses them on their website/signature/avatar/etc, they are simply images with keywords attached to them.

My first question would be to address the general complaint of posture and body-type: To me, the Goddess(es) can beautifully encompass the body-type of any female shape one can imagine--and then some! That a Goddess can be Earth-shaped like the Venus of Willendorf or lion-headed like Bastet or triple-faced like Hecate only shows she can be beyond our own image. What about the depictions in classical works of art about the Goddess(es)? Are these a style to strive to compare/create to? Or is there vulgarity in classical statues of Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, or Selene? What about Kali with her necklace of skulls?

Many of the images are based off games and anime (as well as comics) from the Japanese culture (modern culture especially) which, being a different culture than many "Westernized" people are used to, have very different ways of depicting the world around them and some might not be used to it. Elementary and middle school-aged kids are easily the heroes of stories and can be placed in fairly grown-up situations without it being shocking or alarming. Large eyes, proportion issues, and unique hair and outfits are common place in anime, video games, and comics (Japanese in origin or not).

If you search for "anime witch" and actually find one that reflects a real witch or pagan's actual image, I would be 95% surprised. I personally am a fan of anime and seeing an over-sized witch's hat and striped stockings on the witch, flying on a broom with her cat on the end appeals to me. Others would be more interested in Baba Yaga flying around in her mortar and pestle and her hut with chicken feet. It is more of personal appeal.

And video games have their gems sometimes. Okami was an amazing and beautiful job of depicting Shinto folklore without even placing the Goddess Amaterasu in a human-shaped body. However, Morrigan Aensland of Darkstalkers is simply the succubus' name. She isn't meant to depict the Irish Goddess. Just like Morrigan from Dragon Age isn't meant to depict her either (even if she is the daughter of the Witch of the Wilds and shape-shifts). So their images should not even be included among the Goddesses. Just because they share the same name, does not mean that they are representations of Her. To me, falsely linking the two only enforces false stereotypes. And I'm not sure how the author sees Laura Croft or Ivy from the Soul Caliber series as Amazons. This only causes confusion based on misunderstanding and spreading misinformation is harmful. Especially to others that are unaware also.

Speaking (briefly) of Laura Croft and video games, the whole video game & female depiction is a very old confliction, but it is slowly changing. Perhaps some would like the new reboot of Laura Croft (though I find her new character and personality to be very helpless and over-emotional-- throwing her form one side of the spectrum to the other).

And an FYI: Hentai is not Japanese video game rape. It is animated pornography. Yes, there are different themes, situations, stories, and even games, but those are no different than the vast array of regular pornography within the real world. Not all anime is "porn-charged" as it is put either. Many of those images portray what is called "ecchi". Which is the use of sexual undertones or innuendos. Often it can be found in very humorous or "cute" ways. Sexuality is not and should not be solely equated to pornography. It is a beautiful and empowering thing and is viewed very differently in Japan than it is in much of America. It surprises me that the way the Japanese social culture regards breasts as such a natural part of the female body would be so opposing to a Goddess-worshiping mindset. Breasts are one of the Goddess's fertile attributes. How could breast size and shape be such an issue? They serve multiple functions, both as nourishment and as symbols of sexuality. Even if one was to give these hodgepodged images credit, would the Goddess care that we depict her with various sized attributes and proportions? I doubt so. When I think of the Goddess encouraging fertility (even fertility of the Earth), I think of large breasts and wide hips--natural feminine attributes that should not be made to seem shameful either.

The author speaks against being demure and fair and then criticize those that emphasize breasts or portray the buttock sticking out. Do we asexualize the Goddess then for middle ground? Can no Goddess be depicted as moving and alive? Feminine or Sexual? Strong or Silent? Beautiful or old? Or even in a pose (especially in a picture/statue)? Disliking the old shaman because she is frowning--is the Goddess supposed to always be smiling? These restrictions on the Goddess only seem to conjure up piety images of suppressed femininity.

The first image on the phony witches page is one that I have had saved on my computer for a long time and one that I find beautiful and visually inspiring in the manga style. The problem with it being un-proportional (as well as the other anime images) is actually the artistic style it is drawn in. It is intended to exaggerate certain features over others--especially within manga. (Clamp is a very popular all-female manga artist group that exaggerates that style even more to create very beautiful images).

I do not mean to seem harsh, but I do mean to question the understanding of where these images are being taken from and that, to me, it seems less about what the Goddess should be depicted as and more about what they find un-pleasing about very loosely related female body image. Women come in all shapes and sizes. Can't the medicine woman and shaman be beautiful? Or does she have to always be depicted as the crone? Isn't that reinforcing stereotypes as well? Why can't the Goddess portray overt sexuality and femininity? They are Her realms too after all. Pleasure is an emotion that the Goddess gave us. You don't have to like it in it's many forms (and, like it or not, pornography is one of them), but you do have to recognize it as an outlet of the sexual nature the Creator gave us. If animals put on displays and were created with mating rituals, dances, and poses in mind, who are we to separate ourselves from that Divine dance instinctively intrinsic to us?

Bayonetta by Platinum Games
I like my witches a little sexy, strong-willed, and powerful sometimes.

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