Life Force Arts Ensemble (LFAE) is a company of visual, literary and performing artists who create transformation through the arts based in the Life Force Arts Method (LFAM), a modern version of universal wisdom teachings that value true self and creative community. Communing with soul and spirit, LFAE creates original performances in the sacred space of our visual art exhibits combining dance, vocal and instrumental music, acting, storytelling and poetry. Through the arts, the Ensemble channels powerful alchemical energy to activate profound transformation for their audiences.
We based this performance on two paintings from the exhibit: Corinne Viner‘s Persephone’s Dissent and Sharon Bechtold‘s Blodeuwedd. The stories of the goddesses Persephone and Blodeuwedd help us discover the transformative power of attuning to nature’s seasons at this time of year (Fall Equinox, September 23) which balances the flowering growth of Spring with the harvest of Fall: the full cycle of life. Persephone and Blodeuwedd refused to remain simple Flower Maidens and chose to live life on their own terms.
LFAE’s performance (and its accompanying Healing Arts Intensive) invite us to dig deep into the stories we tell about ourselves to find the truth that will set us free. The Creative Team for The Goddess Dissents is Natalja Aicardi, Aura Chapa, Joan Forest Mage and Kristen Wray.
The following writings by Corinne Viner and LFAE founder and director Joan Forest Mage give background on the stories of Persephone and Blodeuwedd. Also included is the Main Text by Aura Chapa that is read during the performance, showing the unique perspective of sovereignty, agency and empowerment that LFAE takes on the stories.
Persephone’s Dissent by Corinne Viner
My painting “Persephone’s Dissent” is a look at Persephone’s descent into the underworld represented by early winter. She stands looking out into the deep night wearing a dress meant for warm summer nights. Abstracted birch trees bare of leaves block her path, and snow is beginning to fall. This piece was painted in one sitting alla prima by layering in greens, purples, and yellows and then covered with black, grey, and white. The top layer has been covered to create the central figure and scrapped away to form the trees to mimic necessity.
I have always been fascinated by the myth of Persephone and how her cyclical nature represents the seasons of life and the body. Most of us experience seasonal changes as the day grows shorter and the flowers go away and can so relate to this myth personally. Depending on the myth, Persephone does or does not choose her own fate. In eating the pomegranate seeds she departs from her mother’s wishes for her, and that has enormous consequences that she must bear. Persephone’s story is one of how to thrive in uncertain and changing circumstances
Persephone is an interesting goddess to me because there are so many ways of thinking about her story and each tell us more about ourselves than about the original myths. Was she abducted or go willingly? Did she know what she was doing by picking that particular flower, or was she completely innocent? Most myths seem to agree that she ate the pomegranate seeds on purpose but are then conflicted on why or if it was solely from hunger.
I believe that the stories we tell each other and ourselves have an important role to play in our minds and our magic, so I choose to tell the story of Persephone as a young woman who knows where she wants to go if not exactly how to get there or what it will look like when she reaches it. I see her as an active agent in her own fate, and I see her knowing her own mind. I picture her as choosing to go her own way. That is her descent into the underworld, and it is also her dissent with the way of life expected of her. She’s the daughter of a goddess of the harvest, destined to live a golden but banal life. Choosing the pomegranate puts some of the agency into her own hands. By living out her life with one foot in Mount Olympus and in the Underworld, she cannot be truly owned by either while being able participate in both.
Persephone represents the liminal space between summer and winter, and her magic is a magic of crossroads and of choices. Persephone’s magic happens at the transitions. In this, she represents our ability to carry our own light with us and with the power we each have at our own transitions. Each time she descends into the underworld, she carries some of the light of the daylight world with her. Each time she ascends into summer, she carries a little bit of darkness with her.
The Many Meanings of Blodeuwedd by Joan Forest Mage
Blodeuwedd is a figure from Celtic mythology mentioned in the Mabinogi. Arianrhod, the goddess of the sky, is tricked into getting pregnant by her brother, Gwydion. She refuses to give the son she bears a name, or give him weapons, two of the three things necessary to become king. The third necessity to become king is a wife, and Arianrhod pronounces a destiny for her son that he cannot marry a woman “of any race now upon the earth.”
Arianrhod is tricked into giving her son a name (Llew) and weapons. Then Gwydion creates a woman from flowers, naming her Blodeuwedd or “flower face”, to be Llew’s wife, circumventing Arianrhod’s control.
But Blodeuwedd meets the handsome Gronw, and for the first time, realizes she has her own desires. Blodeuwedd and Gronw try to kill Llew, but instead he turns into an eagle. Gwydion then turns Llew back into a man, and Llew kills Gronw. Gwydion then changes Blodeuwedd into an owl, to live forever in the night.
There are many ways to interpret this tale: as simply a story of desire and revenge, or a cautionary tale to warn women to be docile and obedient lest they be punished.
Alternately, it reflects the change of the early Celtic matriarchal culture to a patriarchal culture. In this interpretation, Arianrhod is a woman who still claims the right that Celtic women had to allow or withhold their sons’ place in the society, represented by the giving of the sons’ name, weapons and permission to marry. But Arianrhod is tricked into giving a name and weapons, and the men create a non-human wife for Llew, taking away women’s rights. Despite all this, Blodeuwedd finds her own will. She begins as the flora (flowers) and ends as the fauna (owl): she represents the world of nature, which is never really tamed.
Blodeuwedd’s story also harkens back to the custom in many ancient cultures that, as Winter Cymraes explains, “In order to be a king, one had to marry the land…Often, this marriage was symbolic and accomplished by the practice of the Great Rite (sex) between the proposed king and a priestess of the Goddess. The commission of this act would ensure the king’s love for the land and a lifelong desire to defend her as he would his wife.”
The story can also be seen as a metaphor for the change of seasons, much like the Persephone myth of ancient Greece. In Celtic mythology, two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice the Oak King conquers the Holly King, and then reigns during the Waxing Year, when the days are growing longer, until Midsummer. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, and the days grow shorter, the Holly King returns to do battle with the Oak King, and defeats him. In this metaphor, Blodeuwedd represents Spring in all its flowering beauty. She marries the Sun, Llew, representing the Oak King of the Waxing Year. Then Blodeuwedd meets Gronw, representing the Holly King/Waning Year, and they conspire to kill Llew (the Waxing Year). Blodeuwedd is turned into an Owl, representing the night (dark half of the year). As with Persephone, Blodeuwedd starts out as a young maiden in the sunlit flowering meadows of spring, and ends up as a being whose domain is in the darkness.
Whichever interpretation we look at, Blodeuwedd is a model of a woman who sought and achieved her own sovereignty. For more information, see these excellent articles on Blodeuwedd by Judith Shaw and Winter Cymraes
Main Text of the LFAE performance The Goddess Dissents by Aura Chapa
Two Goddesses from different lands meet on the Blessed Isles where the dead live in eternal glory. One, Persephone, holds in her hands a ruby pomegranate. The other is Blodeuwedd, who grasps a bunch of holly and oak leaves. Nodding her head to her counterpart, the latter speaks.
“Allow me to introduce myself, I am Blodeuwedd. I see you are a queen like me, a Goddess ruling in these lands. Tell me how is it that you have come here to rule among the mighty dead?”
Persephone answered, her hair bedecked with leaves the color of fire. “Like you, I descended. When I was a child, I was content to be the flower maiden. But my throne has always been beneath the earth. I was tempted by the narcissus. By picking it, I plunged down into the earth, and my grieving mother sent the world spiraling into winter. But the world needs death in order to be renewed. I dissented against the comfort of continuous spring in order to find my power and renew the earth. What is your story, Blodeuwedd? I have heard many tales by others, but what tale do you tell of yourself?”
“I am glad you asked. It is freeing to be able to tell my own story to another. A blooming automaton I was fashioned to be, a flower married ever to the sun. Gwydion formed me, and Math son of Modron. But they are not my fathers, and no one is my mother. I do not come from the line of Don, nor am I of the Fomorians, those first inhabitants of the Emerald Isle. In Euron’s name I was made, in Eurwys’, those golden daughters of the sea. Math called on his mother, the Earth, and she recognized me in my unformed state- flowers plucked from her bounteous body. Gwydion may have spun me in his centrifuge, Math may have coalesced my essence in his distillery, but it is the inviolate Goddesses who breathed life into me.
The ninth wave became my blood, yellow meadowsweet my hair. Underneath my skin of oak, bones and flesh of broom now stirred. My eyes were burdock-purple, and my breath sweet as primrose. Stinging nettles became my teeth and nails. Between my legs the bean blossoms set themselves, but my heart was fashioned from blackthorn. And all my myriad organs sprouted from pink and white chestnut petals.
Wed to me, Lleu Llaw Gyffes was able to take his throne and done the holly crown of Summer. He was gone from our kingdom when I cast my eye upon the growing shadow. Gronw the mortals call him, but let us know him by what he truly is – the darkness itself, the grasping hands of evening. He is the Holly King of the Waning Year, waxy and green. Tempted by love, I joined Gronw and we drove Llew away together. Now half the year, Gronw sits the throne of earth with me. Half the year, we hunt hand-in-hand, me as the owl and he on his horse. But in mid-winter, the Sun King is reborn. Spring brings new leaves to the oak groves, and I bloom again as I did at the first, flowers on the fecund body of Modron.
Whether my roots sink into the earth or my wings stretch into the sky, I am! I dissented against the bonds of my first marriage so that I could learn to love both Sun and Shadow. I laugh at those who misunderstand my story and call me whore. I laugh and laugh and laugh and greet them when they are dead.”
Persephone contemplated for a time on Blodeuwedd’s story, for this was the first time it had been told by the Goddess Herself. Finally, she responded. “Those who weep for the loss of bright, sunny days to winter’s power deny the natural cycles of this world. My mother wept when I descended to Hades. She froze the earth with her rage. The farm animals died of plague. The seeds were rendered impotent. The truth is, I knew the narcissus for what it was: my consort’s calling card. The fields of Asphodel, where pale ghosts roam, are ever-blooming with daffodils. Am I not also Chloris who rules over every flower, knows the numbers of each grain of pollen, the sweet aroma of every blossom? My story, like yours, changes based on the teller, but one element remains unchanged: I dissented, despite the will of my Mother, Father, or husband. Now I have honors above all of the Gods, and I control the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. Who other can claim this?”
Blodeuwedd smiled. “Who other besides us?”
Corinne Viner is a self-taught artist from Sparks, Nevada who currently lives and paints in Madison, Wisconsin. She is much too ADD to settle on one art style and instead usually has three or four works in progress at any one time. Her broad focus is in finding the hidden or subtle beauty in people and nature and drawing it out.