The Four Faces of the Feminine
By Laura Winckler, author of the book Femme, fille de déesses (available in French only)
Mother or daughter, wife or mistress, priestess or courtesan, queen or servant, the eternal feminine remains a mystery that myths and legends attempt to reveal to us through their stories. This universal symbolism focuses on the four faces of the feminine that serve as the four complementary facets of a mirror into the feminine soul.
(caption below picture of book cover) New release: The book Femme, fille de déesses An excellent book on feminine values Author: Laura Winckler
The most archaic representations of women are those of the Great Goddess, dating back to prehistoric times as the source of all life. Over time, the functions of this unique Goddess have diversified and she has taken on many faces, venerated to varying degrees in the different civilizations of the world.
The Egyptians portrayed her different facets as features of the primordial goddess Hathor, with her four faces associated with the four points of the compass and the four elements, as well as the four faces of the moon, the heavenly body dedicated to the great goddess. Her four faces are symbolized through Isis, wife and lover of Osiris; Sekhmet, the ferocious lioness that simultaneously kills and heals; Bastet, the gentle cat, seductress and tender mother; and Nuth, Lady of the Sky, who ensures the rebirth of the Sun and the soul in the celestial world.
In Greek and Roman antiquity, the feminine is also represented with four faces, which reappear in the 20th century as the four levels of the anima (1) described by Carl Jung.
These four aspects are illustrated through the four best known Greco-Roman goddesses: Aphrodite – Venus, Athena –Minerva, Demeter – Cybele and Hera – Juno. But we also recognize them in the archetypes of all civilizations, in the heroines of literature and in the exceptional women found everywhere throughout history, as well as in our own personal history and the histories of those we love and cherish.
Aphrodite, queen of beauty When the body of a woman, in the splendor of youth, is inhabited by the archetype of Aphrodite, it incarnates beauty in perfect form, an expression of the harmony of nature. Beauty attracts, seduces and expresses the strength of Venus, the mystery of love that also flourishes through art. Goddess of procreation and fecundity, Venus has two sides: one of spiritual or celestial love, seen through Venus Urania, and one limited to carnal love and sensuality, Venus Pandemos.
Venus is also reflected in the image of Beatrice, Dante’s inspiration, and the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous work, as well as in Mumtaz Mahal, for whom the Taj Mahal was built in India. She is also embodied in artists and exceptionally beautiful women such as Clara Schumann, Isadora Duncan, Maria Callas and Marilyn Monroe.
The courageous Athena The feminine is also the energy and courage that accompany and inspire knights in their battles, and is an intelligent force that defends life and the values of peace and civilization. This image, with a look of almost severe concentration, is that of Athena, the civilizing warrior, the great virgin who gives to man the olive branch that nourishes and sheds light. She has worn the features of Joan of Arc and Marianne, and of women concerned about the society of their times, such as the revolutionary Olympe de Gouges and the militant Flora Tristan.
Demeter, the generous When a woman becomes a mother, she gives birth, nourishes, raises and educates. In Egypt she was portrayed as Isis with child, as Demeter she offered the Greeks the riches of the natural world in full bloom and as the Virgin Mary, her son incarnated all of Humanity. She is mater, mother, the substance that carries within it the miracle of new life. She is life, tenderness, softness, but also firmness and strictness. Through her, creation is fulfilled and the mystery of immortality is experienced through this flesh that perpetuates the presence of the light of the spirit in matter. She is recognized in all mothers and also in the saints and nuns who offer their kindness in service to those suffering in the world, such as Mother Teresa and Sister Emmanuelle, among many others.
Hera, power and magic She can also be a woman of power, when knowledge is turned into action and she is able to free the power of wisdom to heal bodies and souls. She is the sorceress or magician, such as Morgan in the legend of King Arthur or the Egyptian lioness goddess Sekhmet, the dangerous power that injures and heals at the same time. She can espouse mystery and live this experience as a mystical marriage. She then becomes a priestess with oracular powers, a sibyl or visionary. Her power can also be expressed through sovereignty, gained through a profound mastery of self and service to a collective ideal. In her wake, we can find a number of great sovereigns or women of state, such as Hatshepsut, the Queen of Saba, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, the Great Catherine of Russia and Queen Victoria.
Hera is also the initiator, she who puts people to task to liberate power. She espouses strength, as Hera, wife of Zeus, whose design is to direct man to the summit of his own power. She teaches him to gain victory over his fears and doubts, as she does with Heracles, who becomes an immortal hero. Hera tests individuals to awaken them to the invisible. The names of those women who awaken others to their potential are generally not known to us, but their supreme form is portrayed as Sophia, or Wisdom, which symbolizes the sublime union in which the masculine and feminine are again united as One.
(1) anima: the feminine archetype residing in the masculine unconscious, according to Carl Jung
The History of Women Philosophers, Gilles MÉNAGE, English version published by University Press of America, 132 pages There have been women philosophers as far back as Greek and Roman antiquity, as demonstrated in this English translation of a work written in Latin by grammarian and man of letters Gilles Ménage in the 17th century. Aspasia, Diotimea and Hypatia are only the best known among the few dozen women he profiles.
Femme, fille de déesses, Laura Winckler, Ed. Nouvel Angle, 2005