“And thou who thinketh to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning
shall avail thee not, unless thou knoweth the mystery; that if that
which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never
find it without thee.For behold, I have been with thee from the
beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire." - The Charge of the Goddess-
Goddesses to Sustain Us Through Grief
Across the many pantheons and even within single traditions, there are more than a few goddesses to be found personifying sorrow and grief. We can look to these mournful deities to help us through our own times of unhappiness, from mild melancholia to the throes of despair and even to the rising up and moving forward after the worst of the grieving has passed. In our times of need, we can turn to these goddesses for compassion, strength and renewal.
In the Christian tradition Mary bears seven sorrows as a mother who must accept the destiny of her son. Early in Jesus’s life, they are the typical sorrows of any mother, but Mary's heroic strength through the inconceivable grief of his persecution and execution is said to have prepared her heart for the joy of Christ’s resurrection. As a mother I can only imagine the depth of her pain, both emotional and physical. Her stoic countenance tells all. In the hostile atmosphere, she dare not carry on in fits of anguish lest she too be persecuted. Yet it is not likely that fear for her own safety restrained her as much as the knowledge that her son did not need one more added burden; that of worry over the wellbeing of his mother.
We see the same stoic courage on the faces of parents whose child has terminal cancer or other life stealing condition; remaining strong at all costs for the sake of the child. My own brother bade us all not to cry in the final days he had left before succumbing to leukemia. Perhaps bearing our sorrow was one more grief he himself could not stand.
Even in the best of circumstances, those of us who have children know that more often than not, we must bear our sorrows over them in stoic silence. Our worry, or even our commiseration, is more often than not unwelcome. And so we stand by in silence giving our strength as best we can to aid and comfort them —— as the Goddess does for us.
In far eastern mythology we find a very different kind of goddess to look towards for strength in the worst times of sorrow. Akhilandeshvari; the Goddess Never-Not-Broken. She has been torn asunder and remains so, for it is from her brokenness that transformation comes, and with it comes the limitless possibility of new pathways. Most of us have known these moments of utter misery. We curl up into a ball, we are overcome by despondency and despair, we believe that we have been forsaken by Goddess, God and all divinity. But we eventually uncurl, rise up and begin again. Our life transforms into a new interpretation, one that likely would not have come without the sorrow that struck us so low. Looking on Akhilandeshvari embracing her brokenness in what looks like a celebratory dance, with even a smile on her face, we can be assured that there is still life worth living after brokenness, if we only rise up to pursue it.
The Greek Algeas stand out, in my opinion, for their finely nuanced areas of expertise in human unhappiness. Lupe is the Goddess of grief and distress, while Ania reigns over sorrows and troubles and Achus personifies ache and anguish. They are said to be the bringers of weeping and tears. As such they encourage us to release our sorrows, grief and heartache in mournful expression.
The muse of my painting is surely Achus – for her heart is not just broken, but torn asunder by a bolt out of the blue. She bears a grief for which she was completely unprepared. Her tears are a deluge, a swift river on which her pain is carried along and washed out of her body.
I personally believe that this outward, dramatic expression of profound grief is an essential part of healing. It is, unfortunately, grossly devalued in our western society. The outward expression of sorrow, crying – even wailing – performs several functions. First, it aides in releasing the physiological stress caused by overwhelming sorrow. Secondly, it is a non-verbal form of communication and as such, not only signals one’s distress, but invites empathy and needed succor. Finally, the tears secreted from emotional crying have a distinctly different chemical composition than those of joyous crying or crying from physical pain. This would indicate that crying serves the purpose of eliminating an overflow of certain hormones and elements from our bodies.
Rather than lauding the noble widow who stands tearless at her departed husband’s graveside, we should be encouraging her to pour her grief out in a grand display of tearful wailing – as some societies do. Likewise when one has lost a dear friend through death or parting of the ways or suffers any other profound loss. We should honor the utter brokenness that each of us in our human experience will endure in some measure and number throughout our lifetime.
Grief is a personal journey and each will trod the path of sorrow in her or his own way. When we have come through our journey of grief, when we have processed the anguish and healed as best we can, we can set our feet upon the new path, understanding that the experience never truly leaves us. Rather we carry our grief transformed into wisdom, and a deeper understanding of the differences, and similarities, in human and divine nature.
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