The Bard's Grove

"There are times when people need stories more than they need nourishment, because the stories feed something deeper than the needs of the body."
Charles DeLint, The Onion Girl

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

All Hallow's Eve


          All Hallow's Eve or Samhain, the Celtic festival that marks the beginning of winter, is still celebrated in many countries.  Samhain, meaning 'Summer's End' is the time when the sun's power wanes, and the forces of winter and darkness - and therefore of the gods of the Underworld - grow in strength.  It is a celebration of the dead, when the veils between the worlds open and the spirits of the dead can come into our world.  During this time, all fires are extinguished, and the new fires can only be rekindled from the 'sacred' fire of the Druids.  Herne the Hunter and his White Hounds sweep through the skies as they hunt the souls of the Dead and of the Dark.  Samhain stands opposite Beltane, the festival of the beginning of summer, on the Wheel of the Year.
          In English-speaking countries, we celebrate Samhain as All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween.  Halloween is a time when sprites, trolls and nature spirits, as well as the spirits of the dead, can commune with human beings.  These spirits demand some form of nourishment to propitiate them, for all spirits, both good and evil, crave life.  Hence, our custom of 'trick or treat'.  In Latin countries, the memory of this festival is celebrated throughout the Roman Catholic Church as the Feast of All Saints or All-Hallowmas, celebrated on November 1st., and the Feast of All Soul's Day celebrated on November 2nd.  These are celebrations commemorating the dead, and many cultures believe that the dead need to be nourished on these days, both literally and spiritually.  And so prayers are offered for the souls of the dead, while families leave out extra food to feed the wandering spirits in the night.
          On Samhain, we are reminded that we too, as children of the Earth Mother, must face Death, and acknowledge that Death is the other face of Life.  In facing the death of another year, as well as the possibility of our own deaths, we acknowledge that the rhythm of life is slowing down.  Now, the darkness is most evident, and the life force turns within, retreating into the Underworld until the nadir is reached on Winter Solstice, when the Light of the World is reborn once again.  The gift that Samhain brings is the knowledge that in accepting Death, the possibility of change and new life is just around the corner.


          The cold, silvery light of the full Moon reflected off the bone-white bodies of his hunting dogs as they raced the wind through the clouds.  With a smile cold enough to match the moonlight, he slowly raised his arm above his head, and sent out his call to the winds, and they silently began to gather 'round him.  Blood-red eyes shone with a hypnotic intensity as his hounds raised their heads to him, eagerly awaiting his command.  The moonlight reflecting off the top of the cloud banks was blinding, and all he could see of his pack were gleaming red coals of fire, flaming out of that field of white.  He waited as the winds gathered their fury, now moaning and shrieking in the airy heights.  The column of air funneled high into the atmosphere above his arm, straining to be let loose upon the world below.  With a cold, triumphant cry, he finally flung out his arm, and with an explosion of sound and movement, the Hunt was on!
          The old woman huddled more deeply into her cloak as the winds tugged at it with angry fingers.  The coldness stung her eyes and then froze the tears as they formed.  The winds shook the trees above her until the last remaining leaves flew free to brush against her on their wild ride to the forest floor. 
          "It will take more than a strong wind to scare me on this black night," the woman thought with a grin.  Wiping her eyes and pulling the hood of her cloak closer around her head, she looked up.  Through now-bare branches, she watched as the Moon sailed in and out of swiftly moving clouds, then looked back down at the forest path that shifted in shadows with the comings and goings of the light.  Slowly, she continued on her way through the darkling forest.
          Before she emerged into the hidden meadow, the woman stood within the shadow of the trees to stare out at the dark Mound rising into the sky on the far end of the field.  With cries and groans, shrieks and howls, the winds swept through the treetops in a wild, dark dance.  In the sudden wide expanse of sky, she could see how the clouds formed dark masses whose tops became snow-white fields as the light of the hidden Moon shone down upon the moving clouds.
          "Ah! Sweet Lady of the Night!"  The woman felt her heart swell with love as the Moon suddenly shone out into the clear cold night, turning everything to enchantment. 
          She released her breath as the dark veiling was drawn once again over the Lady's bright face, but that momentary vision had given the old woman new sight.  Looking at the whitened fields above her, she saw ruby eyes and blood-red ears as Herne's hunting hounds rampaged through the night sky.  Herne's cold laughter sounded in her ears and she thought, "So it begins!"
          Another woman walked through the forest on her way to the Mound.  As the Moon revealed Herself to the old woman, Her light found its way to the forest floor as this woman stepped onto an old wooden bridge crossing a stream.  An ancient being watched her stop to look up at the sky, and saw that the woman was of middle years, with a strong face bleached white by the moonlight.  As the woman watched the cloudy veils hide away the light, the Ancient One scampered under the bridge.  "There," he thought, "I am hidden away from the human woman's sight.  It wouldn't do for her to see me on this night of nights."  And with a chuckle, he hunched down into the shadows beneath the bridge, and faded into the boulders that held up its wooden beams.   
          The woman threw back the hood of her cloak as she looked up into the face of her Mistress.  "Ah!  The Goddess plays with us tonight!"  And the woman smiled in pure delight as the winds tossed leaves back and forth over the stream, sending them in twirling dances high into the sky, left to gently spin down as they were forgotten and left behind.  As the clouds raced by, creating shadows only to spear them again with light, the woman caught sight of a gnarled figure scampering away under the bridge, and her breath caught in surprise.  To see an Ancient One, on this night of all nights!  Her Mistress was indeed with her tonight!
          Keeping her eyes on the tumbled boulders, the woman stepped off the bridge and climbed down to the rocky streambed.  Leaning down into the darkness beneath the bridge, she looked directly at a large grey boulder and said, "Good evening, old troll.  Will you come with me to the Faerie Mound?"  With a grumble and a groan, the Old One threw off the illusion and tumbled out from his rocky nest.  "What else can I do, on this night of nights, with the moon-sight on you?"  And pulling up her hood to hide her smile, the woman reached down a hand to help the troll up.
          A third woman hurried through the night.  She lifted her cloak as she leapt over a fallen tree-trunk that lay in her path.  She ran through the shadows and she ran through the silvery light, afraid that she was late.  It seemed like she was always late, and always hurrying, like those clouds sweeping through the sky overhead.
          "But, there are so many things to see; so many interesting places to explore," she thought with a sigh, as she slowed down to watch the flowing moonlight dance in and out among the tree trunks.  The young woman stopped, entranced, as a dark shadow flew through a moonbeam.  And then the Moon threw off Her veils, and flooded the forest with light.  There, off to her left, sat a white owl, staring at her out of the lowest branches of an oak tree.  When the light suddenly vanished, the young woman stepped off the path and found her way to the tree.
          It was an ancient tree, a grandmother tree, and the wind barely moved its upper branches.  The young woman went and put her face up to the rough bark, and breathing softly, sent out tendrils of awareness into its core.  In a silence of her own making, the woman felt how the tree absorbed the wind's violence, taking it in and transforming it into vibration as it carried its message down into the Earth.  The woman heard it as it moved through the tree - Herne the Hunter was riding with his Hounds.  The Wild Hunt was abroad in the night!
           As soon as the young woman came out of her silence, the winds shrieked around her head and then flew off in the direction of the Mound.  Looking up into the shadows, the woman found the owl staring down at her.  And as she stepped away from the tree, it silently took wing to settle heavily onto her shoulder.  The woman looked into wild, fierce yellow eyes for a moment before it lifted away and flew before her into the night.  Hurrying back to the path, she swiftly followed the ghostly shadow as it flew to the hidden meadow at the center of the forest.
          And so, the three women finally came to stand at the very edges of the forest, one at the North, one at the South, and one at the East.  On the Western end of the meadow rose up the Mound, darkly brooding beneath the moving skies.  The women silently watched as the winds gathered in a whirlwind above the dark Mound, where Mighty Herne sat on his own dark steed, as the old Crone saw clearly enough.  Then Herne's arm pointed to the North, and the winds were suddenly baying with the voices of many hounds, while with a wild tossing of leaves, the released winds blew away the last of the clouds.
          Then the Lady of the Night, the White Pearl of Heaven, looked down upon Her Child, the living Earth, Whom She nourished and sustained with Her light, and governed with Her rhythms.  One rhythm had been struck that night, a rhythm of power and terror - the rhythm of Death. 
The Night of the Dead was upon the Earth, and the Moon Mother offered Her light to help strengthen Her Child's children as they met their Fate - as the Earth Herself walked through the veil to meet with Death.
          The three women came forward and stood before the Mound. With hands uplifted, they prayed in the silence of their hearts.  Their prayers were offered to their Mothers, for the strength and courage to meet their task: to look upon the face of Death and live.
          While the women prayed in the bright moonlit breath of the Mother, the Mound before them drank in the light.  And started to move.  The earth on the hillside rippled and shuddered, and exploded in little volcanoes of dirt.  Then, as if two giant hands slowly ripped apart a woven veil, the Mound split open.  A dim light outlined the breach for a moment, but was suddenly blocked by a dark figure stepping up to the opening. 
          For a moment, the women felt the warm, fragrant winds of Springtime and smelled the intoxicating scents of lilacs and roses as they looked on the face of the Bright One standing before the Mound.  They saw plants and vines grow and decay, leaving the fruits of the fields lying at her feet.  But when one last cloud swept over the face of the Moon, the cold breath of winter blew away the last memories of summer, and the women huddled deeper into their cloaks.
          When they looked back to the Mound, they saw that the Woman was now veiled in black.  Silently, the four women waited, while the Moon poured down Her light and blessings upon them.
          Slowly, a vast silence sucked away the last breath of sound in the meadow, and the veil between the worlds opened further upon the night.  The dark figure in front of the Mound slowly turned away from the three women and walked through that torn veil - walked into the land of the dead.
          In the place where she had disappeared, there now shimmered above the Mound a Presence of terror and splendor, dark wings outstretched into the starry sky above.  The Crone quickly stepped forward, and raising her arms, began to chant an ancient song, a song of power to hold the Angel of Death at the door which had opened between the worlds.
          The second woman turned to the troll, who had been watching, in terror and delight, the opening of the veil.  Calling to the other sprites, gnomes and trolls rollicking on the far end of the meadow, he hurried forward to stand next to the woman who had called to him beneath his bridge.  Now he was compelled to do her bidding, as the others were compelled to do his.  And with much tumbling and tossing, shrieking and laughter, the spirits of the Earth took a stand in front of the torn veil.  And with the lightness of a laughing heart, the woman turned to confront the demons who were trying to force their way out of the rift.
          The demons took on all the faces of fear, trying to get by that line of imps.  But just as terror began to overwhelm the woman, a troll would tumble forward with a loud and smelly bellow, and the demon would dissolve in the mists.  Or a sprite would imitate the fierce and deadly faces before them, and soon they were rocking with laughter at her antics.  The demons, being unable to produce one tremble of true fear, shrunk and shriveled up and ran shrieking back to hell!
          And still the old woman kept up her song, and the Angel of Death stood guard before that dark door.
          The third woman, the youngest, also set about her task.  Looking into the eyes of the owl once again sitting on her shoulder, her vision followed after the Wild Hunt, as it gathered in the souls of the dead.  There was one she especially looked for; one who was the other half of her own soul.  When it was time, it was with joy and sorrow that she finally caught sight of him, flying before the Hounds.  "He was always quick, and even death has not taken that away."  The tear that rolled down her cheek fell to the ground unnoticed.
          And so she called to him, who led the dead on their last journey.  Called, he came to where his heart still lived.  Called, he led the souls a merry dance before the hunting hounds.  Called by love, the other souls remembered and so flew before the winds to that dark door.
          Baying and belling, the white hounds ran upon the winds, their master riding behind, driving the souls toward the broken veil.  Herne's horn resounded through the cold night air as they came to rest high above the secret meadow.  The bone-white bodies leapt and danced beneath the prancing feet of Herne's dark mount, while the souls descended to the earth like a lowering mist.
          The owl flew off to settle on an oak branch, as the young woman turned to face that misty gathering of souls.  The terror of the dead was settling over the forest, yet she stood forth to meet them unafraid, for there before them all stood her beloved.  With love and sorrow, she looked upon his face once more, but while his face and figure were known to her, his eyes were already full of stars.  He, for his part, recognized the woman, and knew her for his love, and yet it seemed a far and distant love, for there was no warmth left in him.
          And as they stood there, the living and the dead, something happened.  A little imp, one who had clung to his mother as they tossed and tumbled before the torn veil, approached those two lost lovers, and shaping his face to their lose and love, he bridged the two worlds.  In his face, he showed the fire and ice of their love, and for a moment, they knew their love for what it was in truth.  And were set free.
          When the young ghost finally turned toward the veil, the host of dead souls moved through the night with him.  The three women saw there souls of great ugliness and of greater beauty, of twisted lives and full; saw faces full of great sorrows and of great strengths.  They stood and witnessed the ghosts of young and old float silently through the waiting veil, while the dark Angel of Death held open the gate.
          When the last of the dead had disappeared through the veil, a great light shone from within the rift, as if the souls themselves had turned to light.  Then with a mighty shaking of wings, the towering Angel cried out, "It is finished!" and like a dark flame, sank back into the rift.
          The three women (deserted now by all the imps and sprites except for the old troll) watched as the veil began to reweave itself in the grey morning light.  The Moon looked down upon Her children with a final blessing before vanishing beneath the horizon.  The jack-o-lanterns the imps had fashioned to frighten away the demons were scattered around the Mound.  Then just before the veil was whole once more, a great light shone out from that hidden world and began to burn within the hollow faces.
          And so it was with quiet laughter that the women took up the jack-o-lanterns with the new light to carry it home.  The light would light their hearths, and others in the village would come to them, and the fire of the souls of the dead would live on to bring warmth and light to those they left behind.  And the old troll took up his light, and departed for his hill above the stream.
          And Herne the Hunter looked out across the fields of heaven, and called his hounds home as the sun rose over the winter forest.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Emerging Archetypal Themes: Libra, "Dangerous Beauty" and The Art of Relationship

Emerging Archetypal Themes:
Libra, Dangerous Beauty and The Art of Relationship

                                           Adam & Eve - Rubens

Libra is not only about the need for partnership, it is also about the art of partnership.  This month’s Emerging Archetypal Theme focuses on the artistry of relationship and the need for women to remember our role in the relationship dance.  In our hurry to achieve equal rights with men and to be ‘friends’ with them, we women have lost some of our instinctual feminine knowledge, especially the art of attracting, charming and seducing our partners.  As the heroine of our movie is taught,  “…you need to understand men. No matter their shape or size... position or wealth... they all dream of the temptress. The irresistible... unapproachable Venus.”

Men and women have different needs and desires.  When women act like men in a relationship, there is no balance, no good tension that increases sexual desire, a desire that helps bond us together.  Women don’t want to be friends with men on their level, because male friendships are often competitive and they certainly don’t call each other when they’re going to be late!  Relationships aren’t meant to be competitive; relationships are meant to enhance each partner.  Good partnerships need our willingness to try to meet each other’s needs as long as it doesn’t diminish us.   This is also true for gay couples, because each relationship needs the give and take, the action and attraction that is energized by both masculine and feminine energies.  Whether we pursue or are pursued, the need to attract a mate calls for some artistry.  

Libra rules all kinds of artistry.  An air sign, Libra wants to put into action the rules of engagement.  But relationship mores are changing rapidly, so I thought it might be helpful to discuss some of the feminine characteristics that attract and engage men and women alike.  While women can be as honest, loyal, courteous, honorable and trustworthy as any man, we need to remember how to make those shining virtues enjoyable and attractive.  

And so we turn to Aphrodite/Venus to teach us that joy.  Aphrodite is a Goddess of wholeness, containing both masculine and feminine energies, and yet she is also a female being and manifests the feminine virtues when in relationship.  Venus rules the sign of Libra in October, the harvest time, the time of community and fruitfulness, when there is a balance between light and dark, between masculine and feminine.  She is interested in social relationships; not just love relationships but the whole sphere of proper relationships between all peoples and nations.  And so She rules diplomacy and all forms of art.  She says each of us must examine what Beauty and Truth mean to us and consciously live it out.  Venus’ Libra mission is to teach us to have our own aesthetic, for Beauty opens us to Spirit.  

So let’s take a look at the Goddess of Beauty, Love and Wisdom who sits in the heart center of the body, ready to become the balance point in relationship.

Aphrodite of the Greeks, Venus of the Romans, is one of the most vibrant archetypal images of the Goddess that has come down to us from antiquity; the aspect of the ancient Goddess that was never totally forgotten, the form of the Goddess written about and romanticized down through the ages until She truly embodied 'the mystery of life, and love that begets life'.   Aphrodite is the Goddess who combines the spiritual and natural worlds, spirit and body.  She does this through Her essence, which is Love.  She embodies the energy of connection, for She brings everything into relationship, from electrons to people.   She is the Goddess of Love, the love that is rooted in the body and which is playful, sensual, and erotic.  As Goddess of Sexuality, she engenders all physically passionate love: non-marital and marital, heterosexual and homosexual.  As Goddess of Beauty, she connects us to Truth.  As Goddess of Wholeness, she drives our individuation and awakens Psyche within us.

                                         Aphrodite of Rhodes

The Greeks came to regard the ideal form of Aphrodite’s divinity in the beauty of Her naked body, for ancient statues of Her show Her either about to undress - revealing Her mystery - or already undressed.  If these forms express Her essence, then it is the realm of body that reveals Her mystery.  There is a radiant charm in Her loveliness which draws us into relationship, because the truth of Her Being is embodied.  As the archetypal essence of love and sexuality, Her heavenly nature clothes Her instinctual, earthy nature, thereby uniting both realms in harmony.  She asks us to love our bodies, knowing that they are truly the temple of Spirit here on Earth.

           Aphrodite is so powerful because She connects us to our deepest yearnings and desires, those very instincts and desires which we have tried to control or repress for fear of the chaos which it brings to the collective order.  We fear our bodies as much as we fear death, and so we do not give ourselves over to love completely.  Very often our sexual desires and fantasies symbolize our deep need for union with the Divine.  And if we let it, our deep union with the Divine can open us to our senses so that the world becomes holy.  As we have cut ourselves off from our sexual needs, we have also cut ourselves off from a basic connection to the Spirit, so that in reclaiming our sexuality, we come that much closer to Spirit.   

We have to remember that the Christian Church, from its earliest beginnings, viewed sex as inherently evil.  The early Church fathers felt that chastity was the only means of finding sanctity, and many of them were obsessed with the notion that sexuality was the cause of our fall into original sin.   Medieval theologians felt that sex caused the damnation of the human race, and that women, being the cause of carnal lust, were soulless and the ultimate source of damnation!  (They, however, rarely blamed men for being unable to restrain themselves from raping and pillaging women and children.) 

The Church set out to destroy paganism and the cults of the ancient Goddess, which viewed sexuality, as well as women, with reverence and honor, and which included fertility rites, and so women were seen as the source of all evil.  The Church condemned Eve as the source of our fall from grace when she taught Adam about sex.  The Protestants were even worse in their view of sexuality and women, for they preached that men should beat their wives and not take pleasure in the sexual act.  The Church’s legacy of sexual inhibitions and repression gave rise to the sexual revolution in the ’60’s, and we are still dealing with inappropriate sexuality in terms of sexual permissiveness and out-of-control pornography.   When we react to something, we are still bound to it.  It is only when we really free ourselves from the old that we can find a new balance. 

We need to make sacred sexuality the norm.  For too long it has not been so, and we are still experiencing the dysfunction of our sexual history.  We need to heal our sexuality.   In Raine Eisler’s book, Sacred Pleasure; Sex, Myth and the Politics of the Body, she says that it is important to understand how the way society uses pain or pleasure to motivate human behavior determines how it evolves.   Our traditional Christian imagery sacralizes pain rather than pleasure, especially in choosing Christ Crucified rather than the Risen Christ as their central God-image.  Women’s bodies and sexuality have been demonized by Christianity and therefore rigidly controlled.    And so, we have a society where there is mistrust between men and women because of this longstanding religious mistrust and control over our sexual relationships.

A New Relationship with Sexuality

Aphrodite emerges from the sea radiant in her feminine sexuality.  She does not need a lover, whether man or woman, to awaken or confirm this knowledge for her.  She owns her body and knows she is a sexual being.  Aphrodite is opposed to those thinkers who would do away with the bodily differences that have kept women second-class citizens for millennia; who would say there is no inherent difference between women and men.  Politically and economically men and women must be equal.  But our equality cannot be based on sameness, for it does away with the unique vision and understanding of life that manifests through our bodily differences.  Our equality should be based on the fact of our differences, for we are created male and female.  

The Taoist concept of Yin and Yang speaks of how these two primal energies intermingle in all of creation, how each of us contain both male and female.  The two sexes are miraculous and mysterious.  To disregard our bodily differences does away with a consciousness of images, for our bodies image femininity and masculinity in the world.  We need to get beyond the stereotypes to the reality of our bodies, and when we do, we will begin to understand the mysteries they manifest.

          Aphrodite loves our differences, for She is the dynamic that connects the opposites and brings about transformation.  In ancient Greece, she was paired with Ares, the god of war, just as they were known in Rome as Venus and Mars.  Love and War.  Make love, not war.  And perhaps the most true - only love can contain war.  Only love knows how to take the war out of men, only love and compassion can give rise to true peace.  Aphrodite's love for Ares is long-standing; even when her husband Hephaestus traps them in an unbreakable chain as they lie in bed together, Aphrodite feels no shame.  Perhaps in claiming a connection to the warrior energy of Ares, who as the Roman Mars was concerned with grappling hand to hand with an opponent, Aphrodite shows us that it takes the courage and passion of a warrior to engage in sexual love, because it is through our sexuality that we open ourselves to the Other and grapple with that Other.  We connect on the most basic levels, and in the battlefield of love, we learn that sometimes surrender can be more pleasurable and ecstatic than victory.  And yet in surrendering to love and passion, which opens us to the ‘Unknown’, we come to know and appreciate 'Otherness'. Love seeks to unite us with all Unknowns, bringing its light to each darkness   It is through love that we stretch ourselves and become something more, do something more.  

Dangerous Beauty: A Complete Woman

Aphrodite's companions are the Muses of music, dance and poetry, and much of our popular music recounts the joys, passions, and sorrows of love, for it is through art that we connect (Aphrodite’s power) with our feeling life.   Her sacred priestesses were skilled not only in the arts of sexual love but in all the arts that make for civilization – writing, poetry, history, philosophy, music, art and dance.  Knowledge and creativity in the Arts can also teach the art of living and loving.  

                              Aphrodite & the Muses by Burne-Jones

Throughout the ages, the Courtesan exemplified the ideal woman: a woman who enjoyed her sexuality, who was known for her intelligence and who was skilled in the arts.   There is a beautiful 1998 movie about the famous Venetian courtesan and poetess, Veronica Franco, called Dangerous Beauty.  This film is a tribute to Aphrodite and the courtesans of Europe, who inspired and created much of Western art, literature and culture since the Renaissance.  

          In ancient times, when the patriarchy was just gaining power and the religion of the Goddess and her relationship to fertility and sexuality was still consciously valued, there were sacred prostitutes, priestesses of the Goddess, who would make love to men as a sacred act of worship, a way of connecting men to the power of the Goddess.   As the patriarchy took over power from the earlier matriarchy, men still recognized and honored the power of these sacred prostitutes, and there were still priestesses who performed the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage, of the King to the land and the Goddess.    

These women later became the courtesans of ancient Greece.  Courtesans enjoyed great personal freedom and economic power, while the wives and female children of men were often treated little better than slaves.   These hetaira, called ‘companions to men’ were not viewed as common prostitutes, but were often in the center of the political and as well as the social life of Athens, as were her later counterparts in Venice and Paris.  The most famous woman in 5th Century Athens was the hetaira, Aspasia, who lived with the great Athenian political leader, Pericles.  Plutarch claimed that Aspasia was clever and politically astute, and noted that Socrates would bring his students to hear her speak, for she was a teacher of rhetoric, even though she also ran a school for courtesans. 
During the Renaissance, the courtesans of Venice, called Honest Courtesans, were as famous for their literary talents as for their sexual artistry, and for the next few centuries, courtesans enjoyed more power and independence – especially economic freedom - than any other women in Western Europe.  The courtesans of Europe have left their mark on our architectural, literary and artistic heritage.
The courtesan became the ideal incarnation of the Goddess Aphrodite, a woman who belonged to herself, who often enjoyed the same freedom and social benefits as men, who was the intellectual equal of men, and who was as adept at the arts of music, poetry and dance as she was at the art of lovemaking.  While the courtesan’s place and power depended on men’s need for female companionship, the courtesan certainly is the exemplar of the powerful influence an independent woman can have on men if we own our wholeness.  

          Susan Griffin, in her book The Book of the Courtesans enumerates the virtues of these courtesans: Timing, Beauty, Cheek, Brilliance, Gaiety, Grace and Charm.  We modern women could learn a lot about getting men to value and complement our standpoint if we practiced these ancient arts. 

          Veronica Franco knew how to use these feminine virtues.  Trained as a courtesan by her mother, who was also a famous courtesan, Veronica quickly became a favorite of the power elite in Venice.  From an ancient, yet impoverished, Venetian family, Veronica was skilled in all the arts of the courtesans, for Venice was famous throughout Europe for her courtesans.  Her literary skills were enjoyed and supported by the rulers of Venice, and at one point, she helped Venice attain the support of the French king in their war with the Ottoman Empire.  But when the plague swept through Venice, the Church blamed it on the licentiousness of the courtesans and had many of them brutalized.  Veronica was charged with witchcraft, but she saved herself by standing up for herself and shaming the noble men who had used her for their own pleasure and yet were quick to abandon her in her trouble.  The character of Veronica Franc is the most complete and whole female character in any movie I’ve ever seen. 
          Dangerous Beauty is a story about Veronica’s rise to fame, as well as her enduring love for a powerful Venetian noble, Marco Venier.  When Veronica (an amazingly artful Catherine McCormack) learns that Marco cannot marry her because he must marry for wealth and power, her mother Paola (the beautiful Jacqueline Bisset) encourages her to become a courtesan.  The scenes where she is taught the arts of the courtesan are both informative and delightful.  The power of the courtesan is that she can be educated, unlike the proper noble wives of Venice, who are left ignorant of both history as well as current events.  Veronica’s friend Beatrice, sister of Marco, has to ask Veronica to come and tell the proper ladies of Venice how their husbands fare during the war, for as Beatrice says, they are totally inconsequential to their men. 
          The beauty of Veronica’s character is that she has all the virtues of the noblemen of her time, and yet she displays them through her femininity.  While she is wildly in love with Marco, once she becomes a courtesan she will not sleep with him, although she enjoys – yes totally enjoys – the sex with other men.  It is Marco who finally breaks down and comes to her after a nasty altercation with his drunk cousin, Maffio (a deliciously evil Oliver Platt).  And once they are together, it seems nothing can separate them.  That is, until Venice needs Veronica to seduce the French King and get his help in their war.  When she does, she wins their accolades but loses Marco. 

          When the men return from war, they find a completely transformed Venice; the plague has decimated the city and fanatical preachers assure the people that it is God’s vengeance on them for their frivolous and licentious ways.  Courtesans are beaten and killed.  Veronica is imprisoned and accused of witchcraft by Maffio, who has always been jealous of her beauty and power.  Marco wants her to plead guilty so she can confess and be absolved of her ‘sins’ but she refuses because that will mean she has to deny who and what she is.  Her speech before the Church court beautifully expresses the feminine standpoint that has been so denigrated by Christianity and patriarchy.  

Veronica Franco: I confess that as a young girl I loved a man who would not marry me for want of a dowry. I confess I had a mother who taught me a different way of life, one I resisted at first but learned to embrace. I confess I became a courtesan, traded yearning for power, welcomed many rather than be owned by one. I confess I embraced a whore's freedom over a wife's obedience. I confess I find more ecstasy in passion than in prayer. Such passion is prayer. I confess I pray still to feel the touch of my lover's lips. His hands upon me, his arms enfolding me... Such surrender has been mine. I confess I pray still to be filled and enflamed. To melt into the dream of us, beyond this troubled place, to where we are not even ourselves. To know that always, this is mine. If this had not been mine-if I had lived any other way-a child to her husband's will, my soul hardened from lack of touch and lack of love... I confess such endless days and nights would be a punishment far greater than you could ever mete out. You, all of you, you who hunger so for what I give yet cannot bear to see that kind of power in a woman. You call God's greatest gift- ourselves, our yearning, our need to love - you call it filth and sin and heresy... I repent there was no other way open to me. I do not repent my life.
          Wow!  I love that speech.  And yet, how many women today would think to say those things.  We are so concerned with making our way in the world – the masculine world of commerce – that most of us don’t value our relationships as much as our jobs.   We no longer believe that relationships are central to our lives because we’ve bought into the patriarchal paradigm that power and money are more important than love and commitment.   I’m not advocating going back to the old paradigm of patriarchal relationships and family values.  I firmly believe, though, that women are the heart and soul of relationships and that we need to polish up our feminine virtues – our courtesan nature – if we want to create vibrant, loving, creative partnerships.

          Women can find our wholeness when our sexuality is as full and as deep as our minds have become.  The centuries of shame and sin that Christianity has projected onto sexuality must be healed and transformed, for sexuality cannot be anything other than spiritual when it becomes the union of body and spirit.  Before we can engage in true union between two people, we must first bring about a union of body and spirit within ourselves.  We must be somebody if we are to love somebody.  Aphrodite can lead us to this kind of feminine individuation.

          So if you haven’t seen Dangerous Beauty go out and rent it today!  It is a feast for the eyes and the soul.  And then consider learning how to use those feminine virtues of Timing, Beauty, Cheek, Brilliance, Gaiety, Grace and Charm to enliven your life and all your relationships!

From the Bard’s Grove,
Cathy Pagano