Invoking The Queen

(By Lonespark)

Lover…Warrior…Mother:  All Woman.  All Goddess.  All Queen.

Several months ago I read Shades of Faith: Minority Voices in Paganism.  It is amazing, and the experience of reading each chapter had and continues to have a profound effect on my spiritual development.  I recommend it highly, and recommend other works by the contributors as well.

One of the essays in this collection, “Invoking the Queen,” by Heaven Walker, deals with a subject that has come up a few times at the old Slacktiverse and at Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings: Goddess archetypes and the common practice of using a threefold division of same.

(That’s not the only theme of the essay.  The opening section powerfully discusses destructive stereotypes employed against African American women, and contrasts them against imagery of power, wisdom, and sovereignty drawn from history, myth, and contemporary culture.  Every paragraph rewards close study, rereading, and analysis on different levels.)

Walker discusses three orishas (Yoruba deities, female ones in this case) Oshun, Oya, and Yemaya as embodying different  aspects of/approaches to the Divine Queen.  She then identifies resonances of these different holy patterns/roles in two works of literature and in an activist life.

Walker first sketches the character of each orisha.  (I have a difficult time trying to summarize this.  I find it difficult and fruitless to succinctly describe gods.  For someone familiar with the deity in question, minimal description or epithets can point toward the complexity of their character, but without that familiarity I feel like the best I can do is link a bunch of sources and perspectives and discussions and artworks and let people absorb them slowly.  That goes double in this case because I am just beginning to know these deities on the most basic level.)

Oshun is the Priestess Queen and Lover, “deity of rivers, love, sensuality, and beauty…a woman who loves whom she pleases…and whose sexuality is sacred.”  She embodies generosity and healing, but also violence and ferocity.

Oya is the Warrior Queen, with the power of destruction, creation, transformation, catastrophe.   She is the “mistress of change and the bringer of wisdom… the death bringer and the life giver.”

And Yemaya, the Queen Mother, is the ocean and the waves, irresistible, mysterious, keeper of the deepest wisdom.  She is the “mother of dreams,” Her love “both benevolent and harsh,” Her nurture inexorable, Her embrace inescapable.

I like this way of looking at the roles of woman and goddess because it’s not tied to specific characteristics; instead it’s about your focus and your actions.  Any woman/all woman can be a warrior, a nurturer, a lover.  Any women/all women sometimes are, or must be, or wish to be, sensual, fierce, creative, protective, intuitive, iconoclastic… maybe not all at once, but at different times and in different circumstances.

Maybe you embody the Priestess Queen on Friday, the Warrior Queen on Wednesday, the Queen Mother on alternate weekends.  Maybe you grew up acting as the mother protector to younger siblings, and later had the chance to be the playful, free, self-knowing Queen of Love.  Maybe you’ve always been a warrior, a radical, a resister of stasis, stagnation, the oppressive Powers that Be.  Or maybe you focused all your energy on creating a family and being a parent, and now the children are grown and its time wield your wisdom and experience as a tool for change.  Maybe you follow one of countless other permutations for your Story.

And because these archetypes are all holy, there can never be only one right decision, nor a single correct way to experience womanhood.  At every turn of the road of life, with every pain and every joy, every action and thought, there are Powers to reach out to, seeking guidance and strength, and offering praise and communion.

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30 thoughts on “Invoking The Queen

  1. froborr November 26, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Interesting. I’ve always disliked the threefold goddess because it feels very limiting. This particular construction you present is very much less so, but I’m still not sure, since it manages to be less limiting by making the three goddesses vast and self-contradictory to the point of vagueness, at which point… why three? Why not one or twelve or fifty-seven thousand, eight hundred and nine? I also don’t seem able to fit scholarly or academic pursuits in with any of them.

    Also, it still bugs me that The Nurturer and The Sexy One are still two of the three categories available to women, while men get different, and more, categories.

    When it comes down to it, I basically feel like this is taking an old, sexist construct and trying to reverse-engineer it to be less sexist without letting go of the underlying sexist idea that gender is something cosmic and objective, not a social and personal construct.

    …That ended up going to a more critical place than I originally intended, sorry.

  2. anamardoll November 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Lonespark, this is lovely. Thank you for writing it!

    I love the threefold goddess, but I have a complicated relationship with all her iterations. I never really got to be a Lover / Maiden the way I would have liked because of my conservo-nightmare upbringing, and I can’t be a Mother and don’t always feel like a Warrior. And (as froborr notes), scholarly pursuits don’t intuitively slot into them for me, and that’s 90% of what I do.

    This has given me thoughts, and I like that. 🙂

  3. Lonespark November 26, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    I thought in the first place it doesn’t come from a sexist construct, although it has certainly been used that way. I thought it came from Brigit being a triple goddess and also from the Matronae ( as well as maybe people liking to have a Trinity, just not the one the Church gave them? Perhaps I have made that all up?

  4. christhecynic November 26, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Some representations of Hekate (someone who appears to have declined in popularity at the same time writing arose in the area thus giving us very little of her story) also had her as tripartite.

  5. Lonespark November 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Also, I don’t agree that the essay says there are three archetypes and no more, although it may be saying the other orishas aren’t particularly associated with Queenship. If Aja or Oba or… (Lonespark gets lost following links about African and African Diasporic Religion and only stops because phone call) another female (or sometimes female, I guess) deity presents a compelling image of positive black womanhood that’s fine and good.

  6. anamardoll November 26, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Yeah, I’m not sure I feel the TG is sexist. I’m really hesitant about that; a representation of women, which a lot of women embrace, and which depicts a lot of life-phases that women go through (not ALL, obviously, but there is literally no way to depict all forms of womanhood) strikes me as crucial for visibility in a world where “god” is usually axiomatically assumed to be male.

    And while gender isn’t objective, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of people who identify as women and that doesn’t mean (I don’t think) that they shouldn’t be allowed to envision the divine as something that looks like themselves. (Which I think also ties heavily into visibility and how important that is to me as an Invisible fat, disabled woman.)

  7. froborr November 26, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I kind of think the Matronae are sexist, though? They sort of implicitly assume a set lifepath for all women in a way that is not assumed for masculine gods AFAIK. That said, the actual sexist idea I was referring to was the gendering of abstractions implicit in the god-goddess distinction, whereby constructs such as Nurturing or Love or Smithcraft or what-have-you are assigned genders because their associated divinities have genders.

  8. anamardoll November 26, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    They sort of implicitly assume a set lifepath for all women in a way that is not assumed for masculine gods AFAIK.

    They were also created in a time-period when reliable birth control wasn’t really a thing and abstinence wasn’t really an option for most women. We may be talking at cross-purposes — I agree that the society which spawned them was sexist, but that they reflect what most women experienced (because sexism) doesn’t make them sexist, imo.

    That may be six in one hand, half dozen in the other, but it seems like an important distinction for me…? [CN: Rape Culture] Probably because: I live in a rape culture, but that doesn’t mean (I hope) that everything I create as a reflection of my experiences is a perpetuation of rape culture. Depiction is not endorsement. [/end CN]

    I don’t actually deal in gods, haven’t for years due to a lot of issues with gods arising from Christian upbringing that I won’t get in to, and I’ve never really found a lack of attributes for the goddesses I deal in, so I’m not sure that I completely follow on the second part. It feels like we’ve moved from the TG to pantheons, which is not the same thing…?

  9. froborr November 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    I think we may be talking at cross purposes, yes. My concern here is less with deities as expressions of lived experience and more as aspirational figures, ideals to strive for. The gendering of aspirations strikes me as inherently problematic, no matter the originating society. In this respect, the triple goddess feels to me more problematic than most because it is frequently depicted as a spanning set of womanhood–that all women exist somewhere in some combination of those three particular constructions. Per Lonespark, I guess the essay she’s describing doesn’t do that, but I feel like Lonespark’s article does, with sentences like “Any woman/all woman can be a warrior, a nurturer, a lover.”

    As for the distinction between a sexist construct and a construct created by a sexist society… I’m not sure knowing why something is problematic should make it less problematic?

    None of which is to say that people shouldn’t worship the TG, just me working through my own concerns with the concept.

  10. Lonespark November 26, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I propose using 3G instead of TG, because I just keep thinking it means Transgender.

    The thing about gendering farming or hunting or music or sacrificial love or whatever is that in a great many (I’d like to say all, but it’s not like I know) religions and folkways, gods and other mystical beings are really complex. There’s not one Warrior; there are several deities who have war or conflict or weaponry among their important myths and aspects, and the one to call on depends, first, on what aspect of warfare or discipline or conflict or whatever you are interested in, as well as on the worshipper and maybe the tribe or place or season or…stuff.

  11. Lonespark November 26, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Interesting. The intent of that sentence/paragraph was the opposite of what came across to you, Froborr, so…ooops.

    What I’m trying to have as my point, apart from the AWESOME ESSAY in the AWESOME BOOK, is the last paragraph. It’s the idea that a pantheon, or three main goddesses, isn’t necessarily proscribing anything. That your religion should fit your life (and the reverse can be true, too…). That people who say “Woman means this” or “Mother means this” or “Goddess means this” or “This goddess doesn’t have relevance to X, or should only invoked for Y” are at best ignoring the ways it is More Complicated.

  12. froborr November 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I’m having the same problem, Lonespark. 3G it is.

    And yeah, I get that there’s no singular “God of War” or “Goddess of Love,” that’s a Lie to Children for monotheistic kids getting taught about polytheistic mythologies, but I still feel that very often the reverse holds–while I certainly can’t pretend to know every deity in every pantheon (or even every deity in one pantheon), it still seems to me that (for instance) well-known gods who have nurturing as a prominent aspect are thin on the ground, and I’ve just straight-up never heard of a goddess who has blacksmithing as an aspect.

    But this is getting way off the topic of the original post and straying into my ongoing war on gender (norms, I guess, though I’m still not clear on how one can place oneself in a category if the categories have no definitions). Sorry, didn’t mean to derail.

  13. froborr November 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    We keep crossposting! Yeah, I read that sentence as “All women can be a warrior, nurturer, or lover, so if you can’t be any of those things, you’re not really a woman/bad at being a woman.” I did realize that wasn’t what you intended, because it’s so alien to many other things you’ve posted, but it is how it read to me… And then I skimmed the critical last paragraph, mostly because I saw it had lots of words that have no referent in my personal experience, and my brain clicked on the Not For Me filter. This was a mistake, as if I’d read the second half of the first sentence I’d have realized what you meant.

  14. Lonespark November 26, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Brigit is a goddess of smithcraft.

    I don’t really think you’re getting too far off topic, because as long as the conversation is interesting, who cares. But I will be happy to do one or more posts on deities and gender specifically, as well as some on related things, including marriage…

    Also too, more posts abou superheroes would be good. Can you write one, or are you too busy with ponies and whatnot?

  15. christhecynic November 26, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I’d be interested in a post on the genders of the sun and the moon, though there might not be that much to say there. Also more women in video games posts.

  16. froborr November 26, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Brigit is a goddess of smithcraft.

    Well… okay then. That’ll teach me.

    I don’t really think you’re getting too far off topic, because as long as the conversation is interesting, who cares.

    Yeah… that was me trying to politely back out of the conversation because the ratio of comments I delete before hitting Submit because I think they might be offensive to comments I submit is getting dangerously high.

    Also too, more posts about superheroes would be good. Can you write one, or are you too busy with ponies and whatnot?

    I… guess I could? Sorry, the request just caught me by surprise. Anyway, I’d prefer not to commit to anything until after I finish the two Women of Nintendo posts I have owed for what I believe is several thousand years by now.

    I’d be interested in a post on the genders of the sun and the moon, though there might not be that much to say there.

    I’d be interested in this, too. I’m very definitely not the one to write it, though.

  17. froborr November 26, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Also I’ve considered submitting posts here and then reposting them as my Wednesday Whatevers, but that would require me to get out far enough ahead of the Wednesday Whatevers to be able to wait through the several-days-to-weeks process of getting a post up here. And seeing as it’s 5 p.m. on Tuesday and I have yet to start this week’s Wednesday Whatever…

  18. Lonespark November 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    I’m pretty sure it was at least a year between writing and publishing this, so I bet you’re good, Froborr.

  19. Lonespark November 26, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Oooooh, the moon. And stuff.

    Like “Gender: It’s More Complicated Than That. Even (Especially?) If You’re a God.” ?

    Which would give an opportunity to talk more about orishas, so yay. And Loki. And, as you say, Chris, about the sun and moon as a god or a goddess or a rabbit or whatever. And probably about N.K. Jemisin and the gods featured in her Inheritance Trilogy.

  20. Lonespark November 26, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Aaaand… when I google “Goddess of Smithcraft” and relating things I get nothing but Brigit, even though I thought there was another one or maybe two I’d heard of…

    But searching “God of Nurture” etc. gets you pretty much all Hashem, all the time, with a smattering of Mother Mary and occasional references to other goddesses. I think, though, that “nurture” may not be the best term. Thinky think.

  21. Ana Mardoll November 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    [CN: Misogyny and rape]

    As for the distinction between a sexist construct and a construct created by a sexist society… I’m not sure knowing why something is problematic should make it less problematic?

    I’m not being very clear. Perhaps I should stop speaking in generalities and come back to specifics.

    That many women were forced to become mothers was sexist. That many women are still forced to become mothers is sexist. That many women are mothers is not, axiomatically, sexist. Some percentage of those women will have become mothers for non-sexist reasons. That a goddess was envisioned, and that the goddess was characterized by something that many women are (e.g. a mother) is not axiomatically sexist.

    That many women — some who became mothers for non-sexist reasons and some who became mothers for sexist reasons and some who are not mothers but find comfort in the idea of having a goddess for a mother — find comfort in that characterization is not axiomatically sexist. Something like motherhood, while sometimes coerced for sexist reasons, is not axiomatically sexist because misogynists use it as a tool in their repertoire.

    Moving back to generalities: Creating a character that has a trait common to many women so that those women can find solace in that character is *depiction*, not *endorsement*. The goddesses which are victims of rape are not necessarily endorsements of rape or rape culture; they could (and I would argue frequently are) a character for women who are also rape victims to find solace in. When 1 in 4 women are rape victims, THAT is rape culture and that is problematic; when 1 in 4 goddesses are rape victims, saying that is problematic would appear (to me) to be saying that rape victims shouldn’t be allowed to have goddesses they can identify with.

    Erasing mother-goddesses and rape-victim-goddesses won’t erase misogyny. It will simply mean that the women hurt by misogyny are denied visibility. I’m not okay with equating the characters that oppressed people make in order to increase their own visibility a factor in their own oppression. And perhaps that is part of the problem: I am assuming that mother-goddess are mothers because women (many of whom were mothers) made them that way. Are you perhaps assuming that men made the goddesses mothers in order to oppress women?

  22. Lonespark November 26, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    And many goddesses are depicted as having borne or created children, without being identified as Mother Goddesses.

    And motherly ancestor spirits are spirits of people who were mothers, grandmothers, etc., and in many instances understood to have chosen to continue that role after death.

  23. Ana Mardoll November 26, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    And many goddesses are depicted as having borne or created children, without being identified as Mother Goddesses.


    And many goddesses aren’t mothers at all. If I go through the Greek pantheon, which I think is one many people are familiar with, I can name more non-mothers than mothers, and *definitely* several of the most famous and most important ones were not mothers.

  24. froborr November 26, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    At this point, I think we can just safely assume I have no idea what I’m talking about and shouldn’t have said anything to begin with.

    ETA: I realized this can be read as dismissive. I’m not, I promise. I read and appreciate what you said, and realized that I am quite simply not qualified to respond. Any attempt to do so risks crossing the line into ‘splaining, if I haven’t already crossed that line. I’m sorry, it’s been a really off day for me; I like to think I would normally have better judgment than to wade into things this far from my wheelhouse, especially on topics that are purely theoretical for me but very much not for the people I’m talking to.

  25. Firedrake November 27, 2013 at 5:09 am

    I wonder whether it would be fair to say that the tendency is for goddesses are defined by what they are (virgin, mother, old woman) where gods are more usually defined by what they do (smith, trickster, warrior). Certainly there are exceptions; even the Greek mythologists managed a female warrior-scholar who always seems to me like an import from another pantheon entirely.

  26. Ana Mardoll November 27, 2013 at 7:30 am

    @froborr, it’s all good. (((hugs))), if wanted. 🙂

  27. Lonespark November 27, 2013 at 7:57 am

    Yes, Froborr, whether we agree with you or not, we are very glad to have a discussion.

    I am getting so many ideas for posts, but many are about things I know very little about (Aztec religion, etc…) but since I apparently didn’t let that stop me this time… I do hope people will put in their critical two or more sense if they know more.

  28. froborr November 27, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Thanks, hugs and encouragement are much appreciated. I’m mostly just in a really weird place right now because of physical health/body image-for-lack-of-a-better-term issues, and that in turn is leading to lots of doubts and second-guessing and poor/impulsive choices.

    CN: Minor medical issues, body image issues, transhumanism, possible suicidal ideation

    Basically, I’ve just had a whole bunch of minor health problems, old and new, crop up simultaneously. My acid reflux has been worse than usual for a couple of months now, as has my insomnia; my carpal tunnel has flared up for the first time in nearly a decade; I fell getting out of the shower last week and managed to get my feet caught under the door, and they still ache if I walk anywhere near the amount I’m used to; I threw my back out earlier this week; yesterday I developed what is either a large painful pimple in an unfortunate spot or the return of my MRSA infection; today I am getting a cold. Also my home has been overrun with bedbugs for months, so I basically acquire an itchy rash within minutes of sitting/lying down anywhere in my living room or bedroom.

    I am deep in the throes of body-hatred as a result of all this. Despite intellectually not believing in a mind-body distinction, nonetheless I am sick of living in this prison of rotting, malformed meat. I want it to die. I want to be a brain in a jar, or better yet pure data on some server, free of embodiment and its constant demands and petty, petty complaints.

    Basically, I’m sick of being alive. I want to be not-alive yet still exist, which is a contradiction in terms, I know.


  29. christhecynic November 27, 2013 at 9:42 am

    @ Firedrake

    Based on Greek myth, I don’t think so. We have Artemis the huntress, all about what she does. And Helios the sun, all about what he is. There are plenty of examples like that. (There’s more than one god who is “the old man” for example, though I think they always tack, “of the Sea,” onto the end because the old man of the land would be so boring.)

    And then there’s Poseidon and Athena who are basically a matched pair. Poseidon is raw natural forces, Athena is a way to control them (within limits) via intelligence. Poseidon is god of the horse, Athena is goddess of bit and bridle, Poseidon the god of the sea, Athena the goddess of shipbuilding and navigation. So on.

    Not everything has direct parallels, Poseidon is god of earthquakes, seismology didn’t exist for Athena to be god of. Meanwhile Athena brings order to the chaotic thing that is warfare via being goddess of the strategy/intelligence/cunning side of the equation instead of brute force and the sheer confusion of a battlefield, Poseidon is a god that does war on occasion, but not a god of war.

    Probably the best example of where Athena is about taking raw nature and making it controlled is weaving. Take a sheep, make a shirt. Anyone who’s met a sheep knows that they don’t exactly grow nice shirt-making-into fibers. It’s all messy and kinky and curvy and difficult to work with, but by the time you’ve finished weaving it it will be straight lines of thread arrayed in a square grid, about as far from nature as you can get.

  30. Firedrake November 27, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Froborr: not much to say to that other than, at least you’re aware that the problems exist and that they are not a normal state to be in.

    chris: yeah, probably right, it just seemed like an interesting conceit.

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