Self-Portrait as Artemis
It wasn’t long before I rose
into the silk of my night-robes
and swilled the stars
and the beetles
back into sweetness—even my fingernails
carry my likeness, and I smudge
the marrow of myself
into light. I whisper street-
car, ardor, midnight
into the ears of the soldier
so he will forget everything
but the eyes of the night nurse
whose hair shines beneath
the prow of her white cap.
In the end, it is me
he shipwrecks. O arrow.
My arms knot as I pluck
the lone string tauter.
O crossbow. I kneel. He oozes,
and the grasses and red wasp
knock him back from my sight.
The night braids my hair.
I do not dream. I do not glow.
Have you ever wandered in the eerie suspense of twilight as it blankets the forest? If you’re deep enough in the thicket, a broad quiet transfers through the air, a quiet highlighting every noise, its hunger infuses the coming feeding hours with anticipation. The hours of the hunt have begun, and immediately you sense the other-worldly, unpredictable wild governed by Artemis. She stands tall like the night itself, wielding her bow and arrow, surrounded by mischievous nymphs. She is the solitude of night and her otherness, like the moon, prefers the company of distance to the company of men. She is both the abundance of animals and the passion of the chase along mountain groves and rivers. She’s known to slaughter any man who nears her, while she protects pregnant women, young girls, and all vulnerable creatures of the woods. Edith Hamilton in Mythology said, “In her is shown most vividly the uncertainty between good and evil which is apparent in every one of the divinities.” When the archetype of Artemis is in operation a force of nature is present, it is wild anima in its most omnipresent form, the anima that informs soul at the core of living creatures.
Mythic hymns and artwork of Artemis in the Greek pantheons date back from the Bronze Age. The myths vary widely connecting her to part of the chaste triad including Selene, the moon Goddess, and Hecate, the chthonic Goddess. She is daughter of Zeus and Leto, sister of Apollo and companion to Iphigenia. In Ephesian tales she’s a towering, many breasted figure who goes adorned in a robe and neck plate covered with stags and beasts; in early tales her followers wore bear skins in worship dances, her temples were guarded by eunuchs. Everywhere she is a guardian of women, even in wielding her arrows to bring a swift and painless death. Part of Artemis’ unique solicitude is containment of both beginning and end.
Her self-possessed, inviolable persona could appear to be sexually neutral, but for many in gender fluid communities she resonates as non-binary devotion. In this Goddess, a dialectic of masculine and feminine power combine erotic charges internally, creating her vigorous female otherness. As soul, the mysterious darkness of Artemis is explored by her own silver arrows, which seek experience in the internal forest, in the fear and thrill of black as night solitude. In her book The Goddesses (2007), Jungian professor Dr. Christine Downing wrote of Artemis’ independence, “Though we may first know her as the other without; she is more truly the other within.” And yet, while her force gifts powerful self-determination, as a wise virgin she is also relationally shaped to honor the otherness of all creatures, the I-thou. This is her protection. “She knows each tree by its bark or leaf or fruit, each beast by its footprint or spoor, each bird by its call or nest…Each creature—each plant, each wood, each river is to her a Thou, not an it. Unlike Aphrodite she never confuses this I-Thou relation with merging. To know Artemis is to know what Buber means by ‘distance and relation’.”
And yet because she hunts, Artemis is more than adequate an archetype for the process of therapy. A process in which a kind of scent is used to track down what has been under dark, elusive veils and uncontrollable, to track what must now be sacrificed to more pointed dominion. This echoes Jung’s idea that the feminine ideal is not perfection but completeness, a gathering and experiencing of all the night-like passions within, and an accounting of their wild expression. As Tarifa Fazuillah illustrated so well in her self-portrait of this Goddess, “even my fingernails / carry my likeness, and I smudge / the marrow of myself / into light.”
What could the archetypal expression of the tales of Artemis mean for you?
Here are a few sources for exploration:
A poem by Nikita Gill: https://damnjoan.com/artemisrising
An Encyclopedia of Greek Gods: http://www.theoi.com/Olympios/Artemis.html#Gallery
A book by Walter Otto: The Homeric Gods: The Spiritual Significance of Greek Religion https://g.co/kgs/Rts6zg
A poem by Robert Graves: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?volume=71&issue=1&page=37
~ Andrea Jivan, L.M.T., M.A.
Depth Psychotherapist Intern
Blog Team Member
Jung Society of Utah
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