Vesta and Ana Mendieta: Sacred Altars Re-visited by @rebecca9

Cross-posted from: The Daly Wolf
Originally published: 09.10.15

I am intrigued by asteroids. Peculiar asymmetrical floating formations of carbon, stone, and metal. Piles of streaming space rubble, some astronomers conclude. There are literally thousands (and more being discovered) of these eccentric objects in orbit around the sun ranging in size from pebbles to hundreds of miles of surface. Their home is called the asteroid belt, that celestial territory between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers conjecture that asteroids are the leftover material of our solar system, or the fractured remains of what was once a planet, but they don’t know for sure. The four major asteroids (major because of their size) are Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, Hygiea; allegorically symbolized in the astrological literature as females with mythological roots in the Roman and Greek storied timeline.

Many astrologers don’t often include the asteroids in readings, partly, I think, because so little is known about them. The Dawn Spacecraft mission has been orbiting the asteroid belt for about eight years now and we can expect to hear much more about the features and mechanics of the main asteroids.

The modern astronomers with their highly impressive Uranian cache of technological wizardry will not provide us with the links to further understand the deeper meaning and signification of these cosmic asteroidal actors. We are immensely fortunate though to have in our arsenal of historical reverie and scholarship the few books that do bring the asteroids into a narrative  relevance. Demetra George’s The Asteroid Goddesses is most famous. Yet, hereto, the mythology once again leads us around the amiable, well manicured, predictable grounds of the Father’s House. Consorts, Divinely  Feminine Hearth Keepers, Critical  Feminine Warriors sprung from Daddy’s Head (critical of who and what we should ask), and The Steadfast Domestically Satiated Goodly Wife. Never are we let to stray too far from the Gardens of Heaven.

Women’s lives and history have been (mostly) erased, re-cast, and mythologized by way of patriarchal mythos.  This is no great revelation, but one that is procedurally accepted and unquestioned. There is little latitude inside these fixed, seemingly immovable male-centric legends to imagine anything different. The square footage of our imaginal landscape has undergone some serious shrinkage and women have gotten used to living in the crawl space.

Feeling cramped in the legs and with poor digestion, I must take leave from the crawl space and slowly inch my way out of the garden, even though the Moonbeams are opening up and filling the air with the smell of sticky buns fresh from the oven.  As I slither out of the gated community of Father Myth, I will follow the hoot of the screech owl and climb into a Sycamore where it is here that I will become undone, literally, taking off the garments that have choked me of air and subdued my clarity.  It is here where I will enter the current time zone  and conjure Vesta as she’s been in astrological prominence of recent.

Vesta  conjuncted Chiron in May, 2015 and in her transit through Aries along with the South Node (triggering memory) conjuncted the dazzling, power-packed, Full-Blood-Super-Moon-Eclipse on September 27, 2015. The world threw a party on that night. I doubt however that most of the attendees had a clue that asteroid Vesta was accompanying the moon (a few billion miles away). I imagine the many were doing calculations as to the quantifiable distance between themselves and the Moon, taking bets on who could throw a penny up and hit the pearly disc bull’s eye.  Others were drumming and sufi dancing while reading Allen Ginsburg’s Howl; synchophants of the Dead Daddies, unaware of their pedophilic legacies.  Then there were the quiet moments, when in between episodes of Game of Thrones the earth’s reclusive lot quietly gazed up at Her Majesty the Moon and  nodded kindly, grateful that they are here and not there, habitating a world of such resplendent repetition and predictability. All in all, it was a good night on Planet Earth.

Though mostly romanticized by astrologers and mythologists as the Keeper of the Hearth or the Priestess of Fire, and a lovely, tranquil image as far as it goes, the story of Vesta, as passed down through the hierarchy of the ancient gatekeepers of women’s lives, reads like a veiled Catholic Nun story:  “In ancient Rome (and doesn’t Rome always seem ancient?) the Vestals cultivated the sacred fire that was not allowed to go out. (Sex on demand? one with a Scorpionic Moon may be inclined to ask.) They were freed of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children, and took a vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and observance of state rituals that were off-limits to the male colleges of priests.”  There was even a College of the Vestals and its well-being was regarded as fundamental to “the continuance and security of Rome.” Translated: Just as with the nuns and the dwellers of crawl spaces, the ruling elite (males) most likely sourced and used the Creative and Spiritual Powers of the young Vestals (very young-they were ensconced into service between the ages of 6 and 10) for their own authoritative purposes, power, and principles.  The Sacred Fire that was not allowed to go out? State rituals (code word for?) Off limits to the male college of priests? Could this mean the Vestals were doing ritual magic with their menstruel blood in service to the priesthood? Could this mean they were spell-casting and somatically experimenting with lunar rhythms, using words, herbs, and their sacred virginal blood? Could this mean the young girls were victims of rape and exploitation? Could it mean they were the pre-eminent psychics/oracles of the day giving wise and prodigious counsel to the men in power? Significant pondering for further research and reflection for a Venerable Vestal Vixen!

We can only surmise that the Vestal Virgins, like monks and ascetics through time who were cloistered from the socially engineered outside world, living well ordered, meaningful lives inside of shut away communities were not only the Keepers of Fire, but the Keepers of Secrets of all varieties. One thing we can probably state for certain is that the Vestals, as with the multitudinous sects and cultures of lama/scholars/priests, knew intimately and could wax philosophically about the powers of the mind, body, and the indwelling spirit of Creativity.  The difference being that the male lamas/monks/priests didn’t then nor will ever bleed to the cycles of the moon; that most Sacred of Fires. One with Scorpionic tendencies can surmise through application of allegory that the Sacred Fire and the Magical Mystical Blood of the Vestal Virgins held a fascination for the be-skirted theological fraternity, be they lamas, popes, or cross-dressing choir boys.

It is a provocative exercise of craft and imagination to leap out of the turgid sentimentality of ancient his-story and ideate the probable lived realities of these girls and women forward for deep consideration and re-thinking. To sit in consecrated inquiry and contemplate the social, political, and religious function and purpose   and even more importantly to inquire imagistically into the lives of the Vestals as sovereign, individuated girls and women is, I believe a relevant feminist archeological restoration project worthy of a radically inclined feminist Horary astrologer.

Vesta is strong in my chart, set conjunct my IC, trining Neptune/Moon and the Black Moon. When I was in the third grade I began checking out a book from the library at St. Francis grade school.  I checked it out of the library so often that Sister Anaclita told me to return it when I was ready.  When Summer break came she presented it to me gift wrapped with a little note (which I’m certain was encouraging me towards the convent.) The book was a story about a woman who after graduating from high school entered the convent. It was filled with black and white photos of her; unwrapping gifts (bibles, holy baubles, rosaries, sensible shoes, modest undergarments) crying in her mother’s arms, kneeling in church under a wall sized crucifix, and finally, off to the convent she goes where her long dark hair is cut and she is outfitted with a starched black dress and simple veil.

Though I’ve always loved wearing the uniforms of a candy striper, (one p away from stripper) cheerleader, catholic school girl, and nurses aide, I never wanted to be a nun in this life. (I know I’ve had many lives of solitude, in women’s communities, and as a nun.) It was the sacred and the deep that I craved. The solitude of the artist. A life which would allow me to live my devotion to the indwelling creative.

The spirit of the True Vesta can only be found in the raw messy unfeigned stories of Real Women and their own journey with their innate Sacred Fire, with all of its pain and pleasure.  My own Vestal Vestiges are etched deep and wide in my Soul Memory and I have felt her in my bones and followed her like a solo pilgrim seeking my Fiery Homeland. Heeding over and over again to the inner Vestal Voice; whispering, shrieking, never letting me veer too far from my Vestibule. I have, as best as my memory can serve (once I took my leave from the crawl space) never strayed too far from my Sacred Fire .

Driving through Iowa one spring day my husband and I stopped at the Des Moines Museum of Art and there it was where I understood more fully about Vesta and the Sacred Fire.  Featured was a retrospective of the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta. I was in the midst of creating a one woman show called Iowa Sutra and was diving into all sorts of research and stories about women; artists, intellectuals, and mystics.  Ana Mendieta was all of these. Her work ranged nomadically across practices and principles of body art, land art, performance art, sculpture, film, photography. Mendieta had a deep reverence for the Earth and she had an innate impulse to experiment, defy, and disregard the bounds of conventional art-making. She was charged with a kind of sacred defiance; a screeching wake up call to the gazers and grazers in Father’s Garden to see, to meditate on the reality that the Sacred is not what you may have thought or been taught inside of the Myths of Daddy. Mendieta took her Vestal Power and Fire as a culturally displaced girl/woman (she was sent to live in Iowa at age 12 during the Cuban Revolution) and she went about to set up church and her altars in the Iowa landscape, in Mexico, and eventually in Cuba.

There in the cornfields of Iowa Ana laid naked in the grasses and ravines, pulling through time the threads of remembrance of the sacred female presence that permeates, inhales and exhales us into the Great Body of the Living Earth. Mendieta was defiant and bold in her Love and Rage. She used her art to bridge the world of the quintessence and the Body largesse.  She was gripped by a need to disturb, expose and express the traumas of women in a culture of violence and that to her was a Sacred mission.  Through her installations and methodically scripted artistic methods, Ana brought the horrors of violence done to women into a creative, intellectually profound, emotionally grueling  spectacle.

Mendieta had an innate anthropologic sense of the Sacredness of place as a way to further develop a sense of her own identity, both as a modern woman and archetypally as an artist who pulsed and breathed with such creative passion that there was absolutely no question that she was, from the start, infused with and born of the Sacred Fire that is from that line of Women through time who have then and always will be carriers/holders of the Sacred Vestal Flame.

Mendieta used her menstruel blood in her work, as I was doing in my collages and ritual work in preparation for Iowa Sutra. It was with Ana on that Spring day at the Des Moines Museum, in our shared diaspora of intellectual creative feminist passion to re-thread the needle, that I found my artistic courage, like a river flowing towards the ocean.  Being in her gossamer presence, the presence of her boundless brilliant revolutionary oeuvre, in the land of my birth, I rejoiced and was set free knowing there have always existed through time the radical women who are fearless and determined to never let die, no matter what the cost, the True Story of our Sacred Flame.

 

(On September 8, 1985 at the age of 36, Ana Mendieta fell to her death from a high rise apartment in New York City. Her husband, the artist Carl Andre, was arrested for murder and tried by a judge and not a jury for her death. Though he was found innocent, there is much controversy surrounding her death.)

 

The Daly Woolf: An Uncanny Journal of Memoir, Poetry, and Cultural Analysis I am a feminist writer/intermedia story artist and the executive director of Satori Instititute. I live in Boulder, Colorado. The Daly Woolf is an essay driven journal of memoir and cultural analysis. My twitter handle is rebecca9

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