From The Feminine Mystique to the Female Mystic, A New Feminism Dawns
Athena by Carrie Ure
I'm accustomed to riding the autumn breeze like a blown leaf, content to rest in the rich hummus only when my pretty colors have faded to quiet earth tones. I suppose that's how I arrived here. Serendipity landed me on an artist's blog, with it's colorful moving feast for the eyes. I've temporarily drifted from my own stark white canvas and Times New Roman font just long enough to experience lift-off and magic. In the process I've come to understand just how much the Mystic and the Artist have in common.
The story of my collaboration with artist Kerrie Wrye begins with our virtual community of networked bloggers. Several weeks ago Sarah Rahman, a young college blogger living in Pakistan, came up with the idea of a swap to shake things up in the blogosphere. Before I can say "shiver my soul," Sarah pairs me with my alter-ego, a woman very much like me in many ways. Kerrie is near my age, a mother, free-thinker, cultural creative and yogini. Our first names are synonyms. Our last names are eerily similar. We live within a few hours of one another in the Pacific Northwest and we're both juggling our craft with the need to find paying work.
Yet it takes another synchronicity to uncover a commonality much deeper. Within a day of meeting Kerrie via email, my sweetheart takes me to see the movie Séraphine. Later on Facebook, Kerrie happens to catch my endorsement of the film.
"That's funny," La Femme Artiste comments, "I studied her in college."
Cherchez la femme!
Kerrie and I immediately recognize our common karmic link to a new movement I'm calling the Way of the Female Mystic.
Séraphine, the 2008 French art film co-written and directed by Martin Provost, beautifully depicts the life of a feminine mystic, the true story of Séraphine Louis of Senlis, France (1864-1942), a self-taught painter of the Naive movement. Yolande Moreau's César Award (French equivalent of the Oscar) winning performance only heightens the major question of the movie: how could such an artistic genius, compared in her day to Picasso, Rousseau and Van Gogh, have escaped worldwide notoriety?
Much as in the United States today, the first half of the 20th century was a time of great chaos and reordering in Europe. Séraphine's lifetime, spent in the countryside outside Paris, spanned unprecedented cultural changes stemming from the industrial revolution and two devastating world wars. She embodied the uneasy transition between a faith-based, patriarchal, religious moral order and a new society emboldened by economic progress and mobility.
Every epoch has its mystics, those individuals who don't quite fit in because they see God in the people and processes around them. Sadly, Séraphine, the mystic artist, lacked the skills to adapt to the rapid societal changes around her. She had only the humble survival instincts of an uneducated, unmarried woman with few economic advantages. Once discovered and exposed, her remarkable gifts awed art dealers, but her unconventional lifestyle frightened her provincial community. Like female mystics from every age, Séraphine was banished to the insane asylum.
Indeed, few female mystics from any era become household names, let alone thrive with a room of their own.
The story of Séraphine captures the imagination of this modern mystic, because it so poignantly illustrates the passionate marriage of art and mysticism. Besides being visionaries and saints, a high percentage of female mystics have been writers, poets, artists, and musicians. Psychologists theorize that woman are able to communicate their mystical experiences more easily than men owing to the feminine brain's more numerous left-right neural pathways. And yet, throughout the ages, those female visions, whether poetry, prose, music or visual arts, have been undervalued.
In the fascinating sacred feminine spiral that is "herstory," it turns out that Betty Friedan graduated from Smith College in 1942, the same year Séraphine Louis died in France. Friedan would eventually survey the women from her graduating class in preparation for writing her seminal (can I say that?) work published in 1963, The Feminine Mystique. The book incited a generation of western women, bent on reversing centuries of despair over their material condition, to march in the streets with a new battle cry. This was not a philosophical or spiritual stance, but rather an action-oriented demand for material parity with men.
In her 1998 book, At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst, Carol Lee Flinders contrasts the feminist and the mystic:
"Spiritual seekers must learn to be silent, restrain the ego, resist desire, and remove themselves from the world. But the feminist credo is just the opposite: Find your voice, know who you are, reclaim your body and its desires, and move in the world freely, without fear."
If the devil is in the details, God lives in the paradoxes. Surely only the Divine could sort out the apparent oxymoron, "mystic feminism." Yet this enigmatically feminine paradox is precisely how I would describe the New Feminism.
In a short history of female mystics written over a decade ago for New Renaissance Magazine, Mary Devlin predicted the rise of this new feminism. She made the point that we were entering the solar or energy age, and there would be a resurgence of female energy to match. This has indeed been the case. Since the days of the bra-burning 60s marches, women, especially many in the industrialized west, have gained some material ground, it's true. But we have not attained anything resembling equality as movers and shakers in finance, business or government. Where has female leadership energy gone?
In the past few decades, women have disproportionately ascended to spiritual rock-stardom, with the likes of Marianne Williamson, Joanna Macy, Tsultrim Allione, Pema Chodron, Caroline Myss, Louise Hay, just to name a few. Unlike every previous period in the modern era, the hegemony of the religious patriarchy has developed some large cracks, and women have filled those gaps in large numbers.
You don't have to be a hippie to notice that we've entered a New Age, a time when the very survival of the human species here on earth depends on larger-than-life solutions. As the institutional hallmarks of our male-dominated, fossil-fuel driven, materially-based western culture seem to collapse one by one under their own weight, we're called to abandon those paths that have lead to the destruction and degradation of humanity through war, greed and political injustice.
In our age, just as we've begun to value global and local community, there is a renewed search for a sense of belonging; an eye toward healing and sustaining the earth; a movement toward personal choice and away from the reliance on the corporation ("The Man"); a call to a government beholden to its citizenry; a demand that children be the first to be fed, clothed and healed; a shift from entertainment to education; an embracing of history and lineage. This looks to me like women's work.
And if these sound like fighting words, listen closely. The fighting has been necessary but it has only brought us so far. If we're going to solve the world's problems we're going to have to drop our insistence on dualistic notions of us against them and instead adopt a wholistic approach. We need a global feminism that attracts men as well as women, one that surrenders to inclusion, connection, love.
In this new world order, the mystic and the artist, the feminine and the feminist become one. Transcending cultural, political and gender differences, Séraphine Louis and Betty Friedan, march side by side, the spiritual and the practical merge.
We have entered the golden age of the Female Mystic who is happy to link arms with La Femme Artiste, for the enlightenment of all.
Carrie Ure is a freelance writer, editor, spiritual companion and mother living in Portland, Oregon. She writes about everyday mysticism on her blog, A Modern Mystic.
Find my post on Carrie Ure's blog: A Modern Mystic, here!