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

Cross-posted from: The Daly Woolf
Originally published: 15.10.15

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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.

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

Modern astronomers with their Uranian cache of prodigious technological wizardry and mechanistic mental mainframes can’t  provide us with the links to understand the deeper meaning and signification of these astonishing 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 narrative relevance. Demetra George’s The Asteroid Goddesses is most famous. Yet, hereto, once again the myths lead us around the amiable, well manicured, predictable grounds of the Father’s House. Imprinted in the psyche are the usual tractable, complimentary female, archetypically tedious characters with their patriarchal stamp of approval: 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 those  Gardens of Heaven and the often gruesome violence meted to those who stray out of bounds.

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Surely there must have been, somewhere on the scene, the cantekerous, defiant, and subversive ones. The mothers, aunties, grannies, intellectual radicals who weren’t going to have it, who weren’t buying Ovid’s warped version of “love”. Oh yes, they were there, but as the patriarchal myths serve to sever female radicalism (and the women who embody it)  we are, like clockwork, served up the retribution denouement; those vile malevolents who sought to overturn the pseudo-moral order were systematically punished, humiliated, and in the case of Hypatia, cut to pieces for being a scholar, a mystic, and a witch.

 

“Not far from the walls of Enna, there is a deep pool,” begins Ovid’s version of the rape of Persephone. “While [Persephone] was playing in this glade, and gathering violets or radiant lilies, while with girlish fondness she filled the folds of her gown and her basket trying to outdo her companions in her picking. [Pluto], almost in a moment, saw her, prized her, took her: so swift as this, is love.”

There we have it. The mythic methodology and psychological framework has been set up to be passed on and perfected: The menacing stalking, the contempt of innocence, the scalding jealousy, the lecherous desire for possession, the dehumanizing affect of narcissism, and finally, the evil act itself; the “taking” or stealing of Persephone’s Fire; The Rape of Persephone. The abhorrence for that which Pluto cannot have, can never fully possess ignites in him a diabolical psychic rage which has been passed on through time, through myth, through generational and cultural lines.

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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. Consequently, 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 and filling the air with the smell of sticky buns fresh from the oven.  As I make my way  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; taking off the mental/creative cauterizing 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.

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Asteroid 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 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.

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Though romanticized by astrologers and mythologists as the Keeper of the Hearth or the Priestess of Fire, a lovely, empowering image as far as it goes, the story of Vesta and the Vestals, 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. 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!

One can surmise that the Vestal Virgins, like monks and ascetics through time who were cloistered from the socially engineered outside world, living well-ordered, spiritually meaningful lives inside of shut-away communities were not only the Keepers of Fire, but the Keepers of Secrets of all varieties. The rules of relational conduct have not much changed inside of systems where sustainability of power is contingent on secrets and emotional devaluation. The mental life was no doubt held in great esteem, and in all probability, the Vestals, as with the multitudinous sects and cultures of lama/scholars/priests, could wax philosophically about the faculties of the mind and, I would like to think, the body. 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 speculate  that the Sacred Fire and the Magical Mystical Blood of the Vestal Virgins held a macabre fascination for the be-skirted teleophilo 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 be 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  astrologer.

 

Vesta is strong in my chart, set conjunct my IC, trine Neptune/Moon and the Black Moon. When I was in the third grade I repetitiously checked out a book from the library at St. Francis grade school.  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 of a young  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 had a quirky fondness for wearing uniforms (candy striper, cheerleader, Catholic school girl, nurse’s 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 and be free to think and do as I please.

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The spirit of the True Vesta can only be found in the raw, messy, unfeigned stories of Real Women and their personal 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 .

 

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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 piercing 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 unvarying patriarchal myths and rituals.

 

There in the Iowa landscape 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. images-8There was an urgency in Mendieta’s art; a call to See and Feel; to Re-member. Mendieta’s work was gripped by a sense of urgency; she interrupted  the “normal” and “mundane” with her unyielding daring, as an artist and as a woman. Through her art she exposed and expressed the traumas of women in a culture of violence and that to her was a Sacred mission.  Through her installations and images-5efficient artistic methods, Ana brought the horrors of violence done to women into a creatively disturbing, intellectually profound, emotionally grueling  spectacle.

Mendieta had an innate anthropologic sense of the sacredness of place, and entered this space 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 Divinely Feminist Fire.

Mendieta took her Vestal Power and Fire as a culturally displaced woman (she was sent to live in Iowa at age 12 during the Cuban Revolution) and went about to set up “church” and her altars across the landscapes of Iowa, Mexico, and eventually Cuba. In Ana’s natal chart, though I wasn’t able to find the time of her birth and have not settled on the rectification, her Scorpio Sun is conjunct Chiron, also in Scorpio. Unknown Vesta, (Sacred/Profane Artist) is conjunct Hekate (Magic/Witchcarft/Female Shamanism) within a close orb to Venus. All are in Libra. The Venusian themes of justice, art, relationship (to nature and others), beauty are all there.  But the often disregarded and misunderstood (thanks in part to modern frivolous romance astrology) are the arcane and sorrowful facets of the quintessence of Venus; loss, penetrating the psychic layers of the self, wandering through the unfamiliar darkness as a way into the creative material.

The celestial trajectory of Venus is mathematically elegant and a fascinating study.  Over an 8 year period Venus goes around the Sun 13 times and here’s the really cool part; Venus makes a near perfect pentagram in this circumgyration around the Sun.  Like the cycles of descent and return of planet Venus, the Greek story of Venus is the myth of Aphrodite and Persephone; rape followed by a descent into Hades, followed by return.  It is indicated in her chart that Mendieta was aligned with the less understood, less appreciated Venusian energies of trauma conjoined with revolution. Expressed outwardly as a boundless engagement with creative innovation. Plunging into the deep dark mysterious beyond, (beginning with being sent off as an orphan) and through her journey into the emotional, psychological, intellectual topography of her experience, Ana was retrieving memories of the Great Madre, carving up and reconfiguring identities and mediums, perplexing the male-stream art world, and generating a profoundly original imagistic and performative language.  Mendieta, in all of her Venusian/Vestal devotion to the sacred shadow, aesthetic experimentation, artistic veracity, the Scorpionic impulse for psychological penetration as a vehicle for healing (Sun conjunct Chiron) delivered to us pain and process, courage and genius, and, most critically, the timeless Body of Work that is, was, and always will be Ana Mendieta.

It was with Ana on that Spring day at the Des Moines Museum, in our shared diaspora of intellectual, creative, feminist passion and necessity to re-thread the needle, that I found my artistic courage, like a river flowing towards the ocean. Being in her gossamer aura and in 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 subversive renegade women who infiltrate the stodgy myths of archetypal predictability. Fearless, creatively explosive in our vision and work: Defiantly determined to never let die, no matter what the cost, the True Story of our Sacred Flame.

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(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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