TRIPLE GODDESS TRIALS
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
— Shakespeare, Sonnet 147, 13-14
Let me take you back to a cold, grey Sunday morning in March.
There I sat savoring a sublime first cup of coffee, half-gazing out the window, half-talking to my husband, Rob. In between bites of bagel and jam, our light conversation took an unexpected and fateful turn.
“What are you reading right now, darling? Not another Shakespeare book, please?” I asked Rob, who has read almost nothing but the Bard (and/or Shakespeare criticism) for the past year.
“Oh, you might just like this one,” Rob retorted slyly. “ It’s called Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. By Ted Hughes. Listen to this.”
Let me tell you, Shakespeare and Hughes seemed far more appealing subjects than our usual breakfast fare back then, predictably centering on weekend grocery shopping, chore division, or behavior strategies for our daughter, and when Rob started dropping phrases like sacred bride, universal whore, queen of hell, and divine mother, my ears perked right up.
So listen I did. It turns out that the 500 plus page library book, academic as they come — except juiced up with sexy poetry and mythological adventures — had a lot of useful “analysis” to impart.
“You see the divine mother, the sacred bride, and the queen of hell are one in the same woman.”
“YES!” I forced him to say it again. That made more sense to me than anything else I’d heard in a while. Rob went on.
About Shakespeare and the Triple Goddess, Hughes wrote, “One [source of love for men] is the beloved of his ‘true soul’, the other a demoness. These two figures either confront him simultaneously, in one body, as a sort of double exposure, or they alternate in rapid oscillation, each looking out through the eyes of the other.”
That is the “tragic equation” Hughes claims Shakespeare’s male characters simply cannot overcome and it is the basis of Hughes’s very compelling book. The tragedy comes when these men struggle (always unsuccessfully, often violently) to accept the very same women who inspired their adoration.
AHA! However, I am afraid we must leave Hughes’s tragic equation for another morning. For, it was the Goddess herself that offered me the greatest hope in my current trials as a mom, professional writer, one-woman business show, and wife, among other passing identities.
(By the way, I’m not a Wiccan, but I do hanker after symbols that can lighten my load more swiftly than a bottle of Prozac.)
THE TRIPLE GODDESS
For millennia, in every culture, the Triple Goddess and all of her aspects has embodied the ultimate source — of birth, aging, despair, death, euphoria, destruction, salvation… and the mystery of life itself.
The Triple Goddess is the warm embrace (or cold shower) of those life changes that confront every human, every second. She is who we are no longer and who we will become. The sorrow that comes with what will inevitably pass, and the joy at what is utterly fresh at the break of each dawn. Just as a split second cannot be neatly extricated from the hour, the Triple Goddess is a continuum of identity and soul.
In fact, with divine sanction the Triple Goddess has played all feminine roles — innocent virgin (Persephone, the maiden who later becomes Queen of the Underworld), divine mother (Demeter), incorrigible, sex-crazed flirt (Venus) and Kali-like she dragon from hell, and well, that kind of story line seems more honest to me than most.
SACRED BRIDE: PERSEPHONE
One story goes a little something like this. On a mild, sunny day, Demeter (your ultimate Earth mother, goddess of Agriculture) sat nearby as the daughter she was crazy about, Persephone, picked sweet-smelling hyacinths with a group of friends, their laughter echoing in the hills. Persephone suddenly saw the oddest (and most beautiful) flower — a narcissus. Call it a hunger, but Persephone felt an unfamiliar urge to stray from the group and hold the strange flower in her hands.
Many springs ago, when I first became engaged, I blurted out my news to several friends in yoga class. That I was getting married to a smart, funny, good-looking guy — with whom I had so much in common — and moving to England. After my announcement, an older Indian woman whom I greatly admired approached me. With a gleam in her eye I could never quite place, she predicted, “Oh, so now you will grow up.”
Have you ever felt as if the ground were opening up beneath you? Sudden sinking and suffocating darkness? Such was Persephone’s moment when, upon picking the narcissus, the ground split open with horrible speed and Hades himself arrived to claim her as his bride. Demeter waged a famous campaign of grief at the loss of her daughter. Persephone ached for her home and family. But by the time Persephone was able to return to her mother, some say she had developed a new bloom in her cheeks.
DIVINE MOTHER: DEMETER
Even Goddesses get the blues. Demeter fell into a deep depression after the abduction of her daughter. She crusaded against Zeus, Persephone’s father — who (she later found out) was actually in on the narcissus wedding plot with Hades — to get Persephone back.
If marriage helped me to grow up, motherhood dumped a huge slab of humble pie on my plate. Having just given life, I seemed to be saying goodbye to any vitality in myself. And at the height of my exhaustion, a helpless being was wholly dependent on me. Gone was the luxury of planning what kind of a mother I would be.
When my daughter Isabel cried a lot (more like screamed) that first year, an unfamiliar urgency burst like fireworks through my belly. Nothing had prepared me for the ineptitude and panic I felt when her wails continued (and continued). Parenthood spat back my best efforts and left me crawling on the floor for mercy.
It also introduced me to frustration that swarmed upon the inside of my flesh like small deadly ants (those African red ones). I now fully understand some things that I kind of wish I didn’t.
Like tired, scowling mothers in bookstores and grocery stores, wearing stained shirts and wrinkled pants, offering only pained vacant looks to their offspring and cashiers alike. Around their ankles a toddler screams “moooommmmmmmeeeeee” through stomach-clenched wails. I felt the exhaustion and stress emanate from such women like pollution steaming out from a toxic dump and I had to hold back my urge to hug them and/or run away as fast as I can.
You might say Demeter lost her sense of humor while looking for Persephone. Certainly, you’d be unwise to laugh in her presence. Ask the young Ascalabus, shocked at how quickly the disguised goddess (famished and exhausted after swearing off Olympus) guzzled down a drink of water. Ascalabus suggested (with a chuckle) that Demeter use a tub rather than a cup. With a splash, he was promptly turned into a gecko.
QUEEN OF HELL: HECATE, PERSEPHONE, DEMETER
Imagine the moment you reach your bottom of grief — a well around which brick walls are instinctively built. Here, kindness can wield as painful a cut as any knife. So Demeter first cursed Hecate, the Crone, when the midwife approached her with lightness in her voice and a face wet with sympathetic tears.
She then told Demeter where Persephone had been all along. Now, Hecate had an affinity for full moons and talking to the Dead, which put some people off. Guys often complained about her spine-tingling cackle. But, she was also a highly competent midwife and an infinitely wise woman who could be counted on to help out in a pinch.
Demeter’s reunion with her daughter, like so many reunions, had its share of uneasy moments. A new distance, not easily broached, had arisen between mother and daughter. And whatever the story, whether Persephone ate the pomegranate seeds willingly or was tricked, by doing so she had bound herself to Hades four months out of every year. Demeter hated to say it, I mean she was happy and grateful for her daughter’s return, but she was also, well… disappointed.
Consider the following common scenario: My daughter woke up hourly every night for a week. By the third night that I’m awoken from a deep sleep, a primordial anger swells up tornado like behind my eyes. My husband turns away in bewilderment from the sanctity of half-feigned sleep. I mutter something unkind (and immediately regrettable) to the not-so-innocent party next to me, and stomp off into the next room to console my weeping child, feeling desperate for sleep, devoid of compassion. All delusions of the patient, loving nurturer quickly left the building.
So, it’s true. The queen of hell was and is alive in me. I have walked the labyrinth of resentment, frustration, deeply regrettable actions, confusing glimpses of love, long corridors of divine light, and exhaustion.
In a society that seems to hunger for uncomplicated, helpless virgins and selfless (but polished) mothers, while selling anything that can be stamped with a sales code. Where self-improvement seminars, pharmaceuticals, supernannies, and self-help books dominate our psyche, I welcome the Triple Goddess as antidote and endless trial.
I mean, what would the queen of hell do if her daughter refused to get into the car seat, kicked the divine mother in the elbow, before attempting to run across a busy street without holding hands? She’d get pissed off, that’s what.
The thing is, in all of her aspects — giggling (overenthusiastic) maiden, loving (fierce) mother, and wise (but kind of scary) crone — the Triple Goddess merges within me on most days and presents me with riddles in which I encounter both despair and inspiration.
Puzzles like this one.
Within the mystery warmth (and blinding fog) I know of as love — a flush that aches like an open wound when my daughter wraps her pudgy elbows around my neck and whispers “I got a secret Mommy-la?” Gratitude, a prayer I will never adequately finish…
Is it possible that the most transcendent of human feelings can knock heads so intimately (and clumsily) with cuticle-obliterating anxiety, exasperation, guilt, and the oddest sense of loss?
Could all aspects of the Triple Goddess blend like different colors of fabric or collapse into one another like waves in the sea — that unknowable place where sky meets water in breathless collision, darkness, and foam — within the body and soul of the very same woman?
I hope so.
In 2006, Kimberly Nagy founded Wild River Review with Joy E. Stocke; and in 2009, they founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC. With more than twenty years in the field of publishing, Nagy specializes in market outreach and digital media strategies as well as crafting timeless articles and interviews. She edits many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
Kimberly Nagy is a poet, professional writer, and dedicated reader who has interviewed a number of leading thinkers, including Academy-Award winning filmmaker, Pamela Tanner Boll, MacArthur Genius Award-winning Edwidge Danticat, historian James McPherson, playwright Emily Mann, biologist and novelist, Sunetra Gupta and philosopher Alain de Botton.
Nagy is an author, editor and professional storyteller. She received her BA in history at Rider University where she was influenced by professors who stressed works of literature alongside dates and historical facts–as well as the importance of including the perspectives of women and minorities in the historical record. During a period in which she fell in love with writing and research, Nagy wrote an award-winning paper about the suppression of free speech during World War I, and which featured early 20th century feminist and civil rights leader, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
Nagy continued her graduate studies at University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she studied with Dr. Karen Kupperman, an expert in early contact between Native Americans and the first European settlers. Nagy wrote her Masters thesis, focusing on the work of the first woman to be accepted into the Connecticut Historical Society as well as literary descriptions of Native Americans in Connecticut during the 19th century. Nagy has extensive background and interest in anthropological, oral history and cultural research.
After graduate school, Nagy applied her academic expertise to a career in publishing, in which she worked for two of the world’s foremost publishers—Princeton University Press and W.W. Norton—as well as at Thomson, Institutional Investor Magazine, Routledge UK, and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.
Kimberly Nagy in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
ARTS – FILM REVIEWS
ARTS – MUSIC
ARTS – PHOTOGRAPHY
The Triple Goddess Trials: Fire in the Head: Brigit’s Mysterious Spark
The Triple Goddess Trials: Introduction
The Triple Goddess Trials – Meeting Virginia Woolf at the Strand
The Triple Goddess Trials: Me and Medusa
The Triple Goddess Trials: Aphrodite and the Lightbulb Factory
The Triple Goddess Trials: Goddess of Milk and Honey
The Triple Goddess Trials: Kali’s Ancient Love Song
ASHLEY – Renee Ashley: A Voice Answering a Voice
BELLI – Giocanda Belli – The Page is My Home
BOLL – Pamela Tanner Boll: Dangerous Women: An Interview with Academy Award Winner Pamela Tanner Boll
DANTICAT – Create Dangerously- A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat
CHARBONNEAU – A Cruise Along the Inside Track: With Le Mobile’s Sound Recording Legend Guy Charbonneau
de BOTTON – The Art of Connection: A Conversation with Alain de Botton
GUPTA – Suneptra Gupta – The Elements of Style: The Novelist and Biologist Discusses Metaphor and Science
HANDAL – Nathalie Handal – Love and Strange Horses
KHWAJA – Waqas Khwaja: What a Difference a Word Makes
MAURO: New World Monkeys: An Interview with Nancy Mauro
MORGANSing, Live, & Love Like You Mean It: An Interview with Bertha Morgan
MOSS – Practical Mystic–Robert Moss: On Book Families, Jung and How Dreams Can Save Your Soul
OGLINE – BEN FRANKLIN.COM: Author & Illustrator Tim Ogline explains why Ben Franklin would be a technology evangelist today
OLSEN – Greg Olsen – Reaching for the Stars: Scientist, Entrepreneur and Space Traveler
PALYA – Beata Palya – The Secret World of Songs
SCHIMMEL – Moonlight Science: A Conversation with Molecular Biologist and Entrepreneur, Paul Schimmel
SHORS – Journey into the Male & Female Brain: An Interview with Tracey Shors
von MOLTKE and SIMMS – Dorothy von Moltke and Cliff Simms: Why Independent Bookstores Matter, Part I
WARD – On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part One, and
On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part Two
WILKES – Labor of Love: An Interview With Architect Kevin Wilkes
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library at 100: From the Stacks to the Streets
Paul Holdengraber: The Afterlife of Conversation
That Email Changed My Life: Rolex Arts Initiative. Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Tracy K. Smith Celebrates Rolex Arts Initiative
First Editions / Second Thoughts — Defending Writers: PEN and Christie’s Raise One Million Dollars to Support Freedom of Expression
ON AFRICA: May 4 to May 10 — Behind the Scenes with Director Jakab Orsos: Co-curated by Award-Winning Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Page is My Home: Giaconda Belli – Nicaraguan Poet, Writer and Public Intellectual
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
The Power of Conversation: David Grossman and Nadine Gordimer – The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture
NEW FROM WILD RIVER BOOKS – Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library
Wild River Books Announces the Stoutsburg Cemetery Project: The Untold Stories of an African American Burial Ground in New Jersey
Wild River Books: Surprise Encounters by Scott McVay
Wild River Review and Minerva’s Bed & Breakfast Presents – “BITTER” Writing in a Weekend: How to Write About the Things We Can’t Change
ALLEN – Quarks, Parks, and Science in Everyday Life: Filmmaker Chris Allen’s Documentary Where Art Meets Science in a Vacant Lot
HOLT – Rush Holt: An Interview with Rush Holt
MANN – Boundless Theater: An Interview with Emily Mann
Keeping Time: A Conversation with Historian James McPherson