Monday, February 14, 2011

The Masks of the Goddess Project

"Bridgit" (Linda Johnson) - Irish Goddess of Inspiration and Healing.  Photo is courtesy Thomas Lux.
 I've always been fascinated with masks in traditional societies,  where they are viewed as    “vessels for the archetypal powers”.  With a mask, the Gods and Goddesses, the Animal Powers, can visit for a while, tell their stories, give their blessings, heal or even give prophecy, and they are considered powerful magical tools.  In Bali, for example, special "Temple Masks" are kept in the Temple, and carefully treated with holy water before and after each sacred performance.

In 1999, after going to Bali myself to study mask arts, I created 30 masks of multi-cultural Goddesses, derived from mythologies around the world. Inspired by Balinese sacred masks, I wanted to offer my own collection as contemporary "Temple Masks", devoted to celebrating, exploring, telling and performing some of the great universal myths of the   Divine Feminine. 
"Sophia" (Valerie James)

Masks have so much transformative power.  The Masks of the Goddesses were created to  re-tell and re-new these important universal stories, as well as empowering the women who "invoke" a Goddess to explore each archetypal presence within herself. What does the story of Sedna, ocean mother of the Inuit,  have to teach us about balance and ecology?  What is the "Mirror of Sophia", goddess of wisdom?  How is the "Descent of Inanna" a potent story of psychological death and rebirth?  

I, and colleagues Macha NightMare, Diane Darling, Mana Youngbear, Serene Zloof, Lilla Luoma, and others,  produced community performances and taught workshops with the collection, making  The Masks of the Goddess available nationally.  The result was that they traveled throughout the U.S.  In 2008 the collection was retired, and sold through a Benefit auction.

In 2012 I began a new series of sacred masks I call "Numina", which are now available to communities for their use.  The Romans believed nature was inhabited by elemental forces they called Numina, and many Roman sites  had little shrines dedicated to  the "genius loci" of a particular place. We cannot live as early Romans, or indigenous people have,  but we can re-invent a “mythic dialogue” with the  elemental powers of nature  through storytelling, invocation, and the use of masks.   It is my hope this new collection will travel as extensively as the earlier collection.

Medicine Basket - "Gather and Offer"


"The masks of the goddess workshop was a pivotal event in my life. I have been feeling the Goddesses waking up ever since.....they were there, definitely there."
Lorraine Hogan, Kripalu Institute (2007)
"Our group's work was not to just tell the ancient myths, but to re-invent them for today.  Artists are the myth makers."

Katherine Josten, The Global Art Project (2004)
"What the audience saw when a dancer looked through the eyes of the mask was the Goddess herself, ancient and yet  contemporary,  looking across time, across the miles."

Diane Darling, Director, Playwright, 2001

"Spider Woman" (Morgana Canady) weaving.  Photo courtesy Annie Beam.
"Myth comes alive as it enters the cauldron of evolution, itself drawing energy from the storytellers who shape it."

  Elizabeth Fuller,  The Independent Eye , 2002
"The Virgin of Guadalupe" (Valerie James).  Photo courtesy Ileya Stewart.
Comments about  The Goddesses, by participants in the Project  (2000 - 2005):

"Kali is so much about contemporary life.  The demons of insatiable greed are devouring our planet again. We need to call upon the spirit of Kali, because those who await the future are being denied their birthright. Kali is the catalyst for saying "No more".  It's time to embrace the sword of Kali and cut away the delusions that are destroying our world.........Drissana Devananda

"Pele to me is about the great elemental builders of our planet. Long before people walked upon any lands, the Creatrix of Kilauea brought forth islands from the Earth's hot, molten core, slowly cooling through the ages.  Human beings are recent arrivals, and the fires of Pele burn through  the eons,  stirring up the Pacific, and shaping our very atmosphere."......... Karina McAbee

"Corn Mother's story is about the wealth that comes from the hard work of forgiveness.  How can we be fed, feed each other, how can we create peace, if we cannot learn the lessons of forgiveness?  That is the beginning place we will need in order to evolve into a Rainbow Nation. To me, the Rainbow as actually a circle.  Half the rainbow disappears into the ground, into an underworld realm, where it exists beneath the Earth, dark and hidden, but at the foundation never the less.  Like the Corn Mother."......... Christy Salo

"Lilith rules the liminal landscape between the subconscious and the conscious mind, and can help make that information conscious and usable in your life.  Lilith is the bridge, and "What you believe" is just a shell that keeps you imprisoned.   Lilith is about breaking the shell, because sometimes you have to fall apart to be put back together, that's the only way to be re-integrated."......... David Jeffers

"I remember lighting a candle to symbolize my commitment to my journey through the despair I felt at menopause.  That's Hecate to me.  She will not help you to avoid a thing, but She will bear a light for you on the path, which is really the path to mature empowerment."........Damira Norris

 "Persephone's myth is about moving into a new state of being.  All the soul riches, the knowledge, the art, everything was running down the drain into Hades and it stayed there.  It stopped circulating.  This was the myth of the descent of Inanna as well; everything went down to Ereshkigal, the keeper of the Underworld, and got stuck there in the universal unconscious which could be said of our collective predicament today.  We can see that they are pathfinders to the unconscious.  That's a very important myth for our time." ........Elizabeth Fuller

"Selu" (Kathy Huhtaluta)
The collection appeared at:

The University of Creation Spirituality,   the Chapel of the Sacred Mirrors,  the University of Syracuse Matrilineage Festival, the Health and Harmony Festival, Nations Hall Theatre at the Muse Community Arts Center,  the New College of California,  Sebastopol Community Center, the Masks Symposium at Southern Illinois University,  and the Spiral Dance (1999, and 2006) in San Francisco, and other venues.
At "The Spiral Dance" (2006) Courtesy the San Francisco Chronicle
Thank you to all those who brought the stories, from Aphrodite to the Virgin of Guadaloupe, to many  audiences with the masks.  With special thanks to Macha NightMareMana Youngbear, and Abbie Willowroot, for their collaboration and encouragement.  And to:

Serene Zloof, Annie Bridgit Weller, Diane Darling, Barbara Jaspersen, Starhawk,  Shelly McHugh "Valley High", David Jeffers & Benad Hasche, Monika Mann, Kelly Nelson, Flynt Garner, Silk, Duncan Cook, Celestine Star, Evelie Posche, Lilla Luoma, Will Clipman, Jeff Grienke, Isobel Amourous, Kathy Huataluhta, Ileya Stewart, Morgana Canady, Valerie James, Quynn Elizabeth, Katherine Josten, Erica Swadley, Grey Eagle, Ann Huggins, Celestine Star, Kala, Eleni, Alan Moore, Drissana Devananda, Elizabeth Fuller, Conrad Bishop, Ann Beam, Paloma Hill, Jim Hewes, Arjuna & Tuva Space, Jo Odessa & Buka Creati, Deborah Scott Gren, Mary Kay Landon,  Sabina Magliocco, Farida Fox, Tara Webster, Willow Kelly, Dawn Marlowe, Juan Pablo Guiterrez, Kala Levin, Amadae, Vibra Willow,  Amy Luna Manderino,  James Lovette-Black, Amie Miller,  July Lewis, Stacy Kalkowski, Lee Hendrickson, Adrienne Hirt, Barbara BBC,  Freya Anderson, Morgaine Harris, Laura Janesdaughter, Tansy Brooks, Willow Kelly, Damira Norris, Maria Wahlstrom, Fontain and FONTAIN'S MUSE, Kendra, Copper Persephone, Eleni Livitsanos, Jamra, Cypress, Cris Ferreira,  Christy Salo, Melusina Gomez, Maritza Schaefer, Journey, Nada Khodlova, Stessa, Angela Blessing, Rachel Morgain, Catlin & Reggie Williams, Ingrid Aspomatis, Annie and Phil, Carlin Diamond, Alan & Audrey Smith, Lea Bender, THE VEIL, Sammi Alijagic, Paul Fisher, Toker Johnston, Linda Johnston, Motherbear Scott,  Ashley Wallace, Melissa Penn, Laura Dubois, Dorit Bat Shalom, Jeanne Koelle, Karina McAbee, Navaab Munirith, Charlie Adams, Sharon Kihara, Nettie, Corinne Levy, Judy Foster, Dina, Amanda Allison, Wendy Cornelius,  Kendra Stone, Bombshell Betty, Heaven, Ariel, Shanel, Carrie Adams, Kim Arnold, Nadirah Adeye, Thallia Bird, April Taylor, Donna Peck, Dailey Little, Rhonda, Marisa Scirocco, Jonette Ford, Lyndzee Dava, Ayelen Liberona, Carolyn Lucento, Pythia and the Temple of the Goddess …………and many more.

And thanks again to Thomas Lux, Peter Hughes, Ann Beam, and Ileya Stewart for the generous use of their photographs.
Mana Youngbear as "White Tara" (photo courtesy Ileya Stewart)