"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in Great Goddess (3)


Carolyn Kizer: December 10, 1924 - October 9, 2014


She was my poetry mentor, great friend and goddess.

We now live in what was once her Paris apartment, full of many of her poetry books and some of the novels she loved. I am too full of emotion to do her justice yet. 

But here is one anecdote that says everything about her: an admirer wrote her a letter, but did not have her current address, so simply wrote on the envelope: The White Goddess, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The letter was delivered to Carolyn.

Richard and I ran a poetry series with three other poets (Jeanette Clough, Jim Natal and Jan Wesley) in the late 1990s at the Rose Café in Venice. Just as we launched it, Richard and I met Carolyn at the Petaluma Poetry Walk with Jackson Wheeler. She and I fell instantly in love with each other. She was one of our first readers in the Rose series, which helped to make it a success.

Carolyn was one of the first feminist poets in America. Long before I met her, I relished her sharp, witty, clear poems, recognized in them something very close to my own taste. I loved the deep subject matter, the light tone and style of her mind and her poems.

She went to Sarah Lawrence College, which I attended for a year, studied mythology with Joseph Campbell, who was one of the writers whose books saved my life in my twenties. Most of her poems are mythological or erotic or celebrating friendship. She once told me she considered friendship more important than marriage. I said, marriage for me is more important, the romance in marriage. But there was romance in our friendship, too.

She was an editing maniac, generous, but outrageous. When Richard’s first book of poems, What the Heart Weighs, was published, he gave her a copy over dinner in Venice. When he stepped away from the table, she immediately began editing the poems (in ink in the book!). I worried about his response, but when we left her, he said, I’d be incensed if it were anyone else, but not Carolyn. The edits were minor tweaks, but all good.

When I sent my manuscript of poems, The Minotaur Dance, to her, asking for a blurb, she edited every one of them and every one was improved. And the blurb was a delight.

When she stayed with us in Playa del Rey, our cat Marley visited her in the guest bedroom. She made a huge impression on him. Not only was she as appreciative of his handsome white and gold-furred self as we, but even better she took him to bed for the night, a treat he never got from us who value our sleep. 

I cherish the books we have from writers we know. But the one with the inscription that I treasure most is Carolyn’s note to me in Cool, Calm and Collected: Poems 1960-2000

     “for beloved Kaaren,

     the best friend of my eighth decade—

     what a joy you are to me!


written in her distinctive handwriting that is as easy to read as print. (No rococo flourishes there—she was direct and clear and unpretentious in all things.)

Speaking of unpretentious, I accompanied her to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books one year. She spoke on several panels; we went to various events as audience. I remember one panel discussing poetry, in which we sat in the front row. One of the poets on the panel was a woman we both knew, a fine poet, but a rather abstruse thinker. The woman was expressing some modern, convoluted, deconstructive babble that Carolyn just couldn’t stand. We listened, growing bored, until Carolyn had had enough and shouted at the woman from the audience. I was mortified, though I agreed with her.

Carolyn was born under a Sagittarius Sun and Gemini Moon. People born at exactly the Full Moon are often visionaries. (You don’t have to take it from me; I was thrilled to read this notion long after I’d intuited it, in William Butler Yeats’ A Vision.) Those born at the Full Moon tend to be what Willy called antithetical, aristocratic, visionary, artistic, passionate not sentimental, valuing the aesthetic over the useful, solitary vision over service to mankind, humor over melodrama. That’s Carolyn.


After we were married, Richard and I used to visit Paris and stay in Carolyn and John Woodbridge’s apartment in the Latin Quarter. (He, an architect, would have preferred the sixth arrondissement, but she wanted to live in the arrondissement where Dante had once studied and taught.) Occasionally over the years, we’d overlap visits with John and Carolyn, and go stay somewhere else. John often cooked dinner, which we ate around their round black dining table. He took us to the best open air market nearby, and introduced us to the only shop we’ve ever heard of that offers excellent frozen food, Picard.

We’d talk for hours about poetry, novels, Paris architecture, people, cats, and tell stories, endless stories.

When Richard and I tired of weeping with joy every time we arrived in Paris and weeping with sadness every time we left, and decided to find a way to live in Paris, we began looking for an apartment. At the time we were staying at Carolyn and John’s apartment, so called them to let them know what we were doing after the first day of looking. John called the next day and said, It’s getting hard for Carolyn to travel. Would you consider buying our apartment?

Would we! It was exactly what we were looking for. We determined the highest we would go, they came to a selling price below which they wouldn’t go, and, voila!, it was the exact same price down to the euro. Now, all we had to do was sell our house in L. A. at the bottom of the worst housing market in memory. We went ahead with applying for a French mortgage, and it was more complicated for Americans to buy an apartment in Paris than all the other financial transactions combined in our lives. But after a year, it was done.

We never were able to host John and Carolyn here, as she did stop traveling such distances, and the early signs of her dementia became evident when we last visited her in Sonoma, before we moved here permanently in January 2011. In spite of the obstacles to communication at the end, we never stopped loving the two of them.

I will be sifting through memories for a while to remember all I can about Carolyn and our friendship. I’m rereading her magnificent Cool, Calm and Collected: Poems 1960-2000. One brilliant poem after another. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her book, Yin, but she might have won it for any one of her books. There is no one else like her, this frank, eloquent, elegant, beautiful, generous, sharp, funny goddess. A great poet, great friend, great soul. Irreplaceable.



        (Carolyn Kizer: December 19, 1924-October 9, 2014)

Moon, bright eye

in a cloud-shrouded face.

Great blue heron, I see you

sailing away.





Femininity and Feminism

Paris is rubbing off on me. I’m wearing skirts again. Not all the time, but more in the past month than I have in the previous twenty years.

What was it Simone de Beauvoir said about being a woman?  “One is not born a woman, but rather becomes, a woman.”

I disagree. Nothing could be easier for most of us than being the sex we are born.



Maybe de Beauvoir meant 1940s women. I do know she wasn’t referring to becoming more feminine in style. 

While men's and women's differences are to some extent culturally determined, many of our differences are innate.

Women are more attuned to nuances of relationship than men.

Women are more radial in their sensibility.

Men tend to find it easier to stay focused on getting to their goals.



Men tend to be more linear in sensibility.

Generalizations, I know. But for the most part, I’ve found them to be true.

I know a gifted psychotherapist, one of whose specialties is couples counseling. She once told me that with most couples, when you ask the man what he wants in a relationship, she usually hears, “I just want her to be happy.”



Women have more complicated recipes for happiness.

In the realm of relationships, men are simpler, she says. They want to be appreciated. They want to be admired. They want their women to be happy.

The great psychiatrist and mythographer, C. G. Jung, had another angle on the subject: he came up with the notion of the anima and the animus, the contra-sexual being inside both women and men. Men have within them an image of the feminine, or a female soul. Women have within them, the image of the masculine, or male spirit.



Virginia Woolf emphasizes how we are all, especially artists, androgynous.


In A Room of One’s Own Woolf describes her concept of the androgynous mind:

I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one female; and in the man’s brain the man predominates over the woman, and in the woman’s brain the woman predominates over the man. The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating.


To be successful the mind must possess an ignorance of sex, Woolf writes in A Room of One’s Own:

the mind of an artist, in order to achieve the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire the work that is in him, must be incandescent, like Shakespeare’s mind.

I seem to be circling around what I want to say. And I can’t really approach it through generalizations. (If I were a man, I’d have gotten to the point by now.) I can only approach it by recalling certain moments in my life that still resonate.

Some happened before I was born. Others happened afterwards.

What shall I call these moments?

What if they all together added up to a constellation, a metaphorical shape in the sky? A shape I won’t recognize without first laying them all out, like stars?



Stars, because they burn in my memory. Stars, because they shed light on something larger than the light of each one.

So, stars:

Star: It is 1945. My father is in the Navy. My mother travels from their apartment in Greenwich Village to her childhood home in Fairmont, Minnesota.

Her father, my grandfather, had left the farm on which he was raised to go to medical school, to escape the life of a farmer. He was now a brilliant medical diagnostician, a beloved family doctor. 



His oldest child and only daughter, my mother, always wanted to be a doctor, and had her father’s gift for it. 

My mother wrote to my father that she wanted to go to medical school while he was fighting the Axis.

No, he said, since they wanted six children, he’d be happy to earn the living for the family while she raised the children.

My grandfather and my mother’s brother, himself a doctor, also dissuade my mother from going to medical school. Why do women need to go through all that?

Star: My parents have five children rather than the six they planned. Four are girls. My brother is given a middle name. We girls are not, presumably because we’ll marry and get name #3 that way.



Star: It’s my first year of college at Sarah Lawrence. I’ve just come out of four years of a girls’ boarding school. At Sarah Lawrence I study during the week and spend the weekends at men’s colleges nearby, Princeton and Yale. It is a shockingly schizophrenic life. A monk during the week, and black-out drinking among the men on weekends. After half a year of sailing through the work, something breaks down in me, and I can’t make sense any more of why I’m in college, the strange dichotomy between study and weekend frenzy, being a subject during the week, an object on the weekends.



Star: Spring break from my second year of college, in England. I take a train alone through France and Italy on the way to Greece. Italy feels like a descent into hell, men like a ravening pack of wolves hounding me on the train. I take refuge in a car full of nuns. Relief. Safety.



Star: I live with my artist/painter boyfriend in Novato, California. While I’m visiting my family in Paradise Valley, Arizona, my boyfriend calls, excited. “Guess what. I just bought an interest in a schooner. We’re going to live on it! Change your ticket to meet me in Honolulu.”

I do so, with no discussion of his decision. We move from a ranch in Novato to an 85-foot schooner. We move from land to the sea. We move from the life of being a couple to being a “crew.” I don’t question that he hasn’t even asked me whether this life appeals to me.


We sail from Honolulu to Marina del Rey. We are a crew of ten. We move to a shipyard in Newport Beach, where we’ll renovate the ship for the next two years. Everyone chooses jobs on the schooner. Since I’m the only woman who lives full-time on the boat, it is assumed that my job is to cook. I don’t like to cook, though I’m perfectly good at it. And anyway, I can’t rebuild engines.

It’s 1972. It’s the Virgo decade, the decade of Demeter. Everyone is tuning up their health by careful dietary choices. The men want no dairy in their diets. They want home-made corn bread and three meals with three or four courses each a day. But we’re rebuilding the galley, and don’t have a refrigerator or stove, so I must market once or twice a day and cook on an hibachi in the noisy, dusty shipyard.


At the market one day, I pick up the first issue of Ms. Magazine.

The ship is an optical illusion, a mirage. From the outside it looks like the ultimately glamorous life: we’re rebuilding her to sail around the world.


Groupies flock around the single male crew members. These are seriously mentally challenged “chicks” and the turnover is high. It is my job to comfort the broken hearts of girls who were attracted to adventurous guys who have something they want (a free ticket to sail around the world) but who quickly grow tired of them.

From the inside, this life is anything but glamorous. It is hard physical labor all day long, seven days a week. It is a perfect life for an extraverted action type who loves being surrounded by people and adores physical labor, like sanding masts, rebuilding engines, pumping the bilge.

For an introverted intuitive type like me (you know, a dreamer), it is my definition of hell.

I beg my boyfriend to leave the boat. He doesn’t hear me for two years. “Think of the adventures we’ll have sailing around the world,” he says.

But it’s too many people, too little time for reading and writing or any of the things I like to do. 



Star: A. and I rent a little apartment on the beach in Laguna Beach. It is so small that we have to halve the day. He leaves in the a.m. to give me silence to write. I leave in the afternoon to give him solitude to paint. His friends knock on the door all morning looking for him. I ask him to tell them to stop by during his “studio hours.” One leaves me an anonymous nasty cartoon. How dare a woman try to have silence, a space of her own?



Star: We move to Sausalito into a bigger house. A. is extraverted, likes having friends drop by all day, music, talk, radio and TV always on. I ask for a few hours of silence in the morning. He promises he’ll protect my alembic, but doesn’t.

I ask A. to go to counseling with me. He doesn’t see the need, refuses.

I leave him, get involved with another man.

Now A. offers me whatever I want, silence in the morning, communication, counseling, anything. But it’s too late.



Star: I discover that this man I’m dating has a drug problem. I try to leave him. He says if I do, he’ll kill me.

 I live in hiding on the other side of the country for a year and a half, until he tracks me down by breaking into my parents’ home.

 Ten years later in Santa Fe, I become a traveling art dealer. I don’t pay enough attention to appearance, clothes, but in this job, with high-end buyers, I must refine my wardrobe and appearance. I borrow a gorgeous black cotton dress from a good friend, pair it with a concho belt my mother has given me, and looking my best, interview for the job, get it, and go to artists’ studios to look at their work.



One of the male painters says, “She’s too good-looking to be any good as an art agent” to a friend of mine, who tells me what he said.

In my first art-selling trip to Arizona, I snag three banks, am asked to fill them with art of my choosing, paintings and sculptures of the artists whose work I carry. I place no paintings by this artist in any of the banks. Another artist is able to put a down payment on his first home from the paintings that have sold.

In Santa Fe I complete a vision quest of thirty years. What I discover at the center of the labyrinth is that the breakdown I experienced in my first year of college, post-loss of religious faith, post-boarding school structure, was not a merely personal drama.

The confusion about values, about my path and focus, was a refusal of an entire cultural construct: a patriarchal world in which nature is not honored, women are not revered, all is driven by the masculine values of progress, economics, power, domination. And the soul, being, relationships, love, the sacred, the earth, are lesser values or ignored altogether.



Long after I become clear about my own spiritual values, and work…

Long after the influence of Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Doris Lessing, Anais Nin, Ms. Magazine…

Long after the lessons of the ‘60s and ‘70s about equality between women and men have become a part of our cultural conversation…



I hear women denying they are feminists, or splitting hairs in defining it:


“Those early feminists were just so aggressive, so angry.”

“Poor men—it hurts their feelings.”

“Feminism needs to be more feminine.”

Or from women who’ve been getting by for years by being seductive: “I’ve never had any trouble as a woman getting what I want.”


And I’m amazed. Really, amazed. As if I’m hearing an African-American say,


“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call myself an abolitionist. I mean, those Civil Rights people were just so angry.”

“Poor white people. You wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings, now would you?”

 “We just need to be more pliable, less demanding.”

This is just plain absurd. Nothing at all changes without the first revolutionary activists. It’s their very anger—that fire, that light—that blazes the trail, lights the way.



I have a few questions I’d like to ask you women who deny or negate feminism:

Have you ever been dissuaded from doing the work you wanted to do because you’re a woman?

Even if you proceeded with the work you wanted to do, have you ever had others in your life consider it secondary to matters of relationship, others’ expectations of you as wife, girlfriend, mother, friend? 

Has the work you are expected to do ever been dictated by the fact that you are a woman (stereotypes of what women’s work should be rather than what you’d like to do)?



Has your capacity for work ever been underestimated because you are a woman? 

Have you ever been punished for your looks—looking “too good,” or looking “not good enough?”

Have you ever had life decisions made for you, without being consulted, because you are a woman?



Have you ever felt threatened by—or experienced—abuse because you are a woman?

Have you ever feared for your life because a man wanted something from you that you didn’t want to give him? 

And lastly, a question for those of you who say you’re not feminists: Have you lost your mind? Is your memory really that brief?


I’m looking at all these stars laid out in the sky. They seem to form an island. Or is it a woman, in a long bell-shaped skirt? Wait—it’s both! It’s an island shaped like a goddess. It’s the island of Crete. This goddess—what is her name? Is it Hera? Aphrodite? Rhea? Or is it all of these? It is. It’s the ancient Great Goddess, reawakening now after a slumber of 3,000 years.

Street art by Salvador Dali

Hestia: Home, Sweet Home (News from the Mythosphere, Part Three)

We’ve been at it for over a week. Trying to persuade the goddess of the hearth, Hestia, to tell her story to you in her own words. She simply refuses. The gentlest, most modest of all the Olympians, she never gets involved in disputes or wars. It’s so like her not to want the spotlight on her.

But that means that we’ll have to relay her story to you ourselves. She had a few things to say about Cronos (see Part One) and Pan (see Part Two). In her most tactful, fair-minded way she reminded us that there is a positive side to Cronos (or Saturn, as we call him out in our Solar System) and a dark side to Pan. 

Here’s what she said about Saturn: He’s not just the tyrant Holdfast. He’s also discipline, hard work, slogging along in spite of not being in the mood to work. He’s the necessity for boundaries, limitations, frugality. He is the balance to Zeus’s expansiveness, and he’s necessary to all of us in order to stay grounded. He is what that ancient Chinese book of wisdom, the I Ching, means by "Perseverance Furthers."

Then she told us the female side of the story of all those women that Pan ravished. She reminded us that when humans lived in caves, they had little protection against attack. Women, especially, were at the mercy of male lust.



Hestia stepped in at that point and introduced the art of building houses. A house, she said, served not just to protect humans from the elements, but also to protect them from dangerous animals and more malicious humans.

A home is a central element of security and peace, she said. As the goddess of the hearth (the central fire in every home and city hall), Hestia guaranteed protection to anyone who came to her for aid. Hospitality was sacred to her.


The sequence of stories in ancient Greek myth is revealing: first Cronus is defeated. Then, on Olympus, both Poseidon and Apollo seek to marry Hestia. But Hestia swears by Zeus’s head to remain a virgin forever. As a reward for keeping the peace on Olympus, Zeus allots to her the first victim of every sacrifice.

Later, at a rural feast with all the other gods and goddesses, everyone falls asleep after feasting. When Priapus, drunk, tries to ravish Hestia, an ass brays, and awakens her. Priapus runs away in fear.


Because the ass symbolizes lust, the story is a warning against the sacrilegious treatment of women who were under Hestia’s protection.

So, what do Cronus and Rhea, Pan and Hestia, have to do with what’s going on in the world right now, and in particular, the Occupy Movement?

If Cronus is tyrannical repression, and Rhea is Mother Earth, and Pan is riot, and Saturn is constriction, and Hestia is home, how do all these spirits interweave to explain our current zeitgeist?


The hint is in the stories themselves. The ancient image of the Great Goddess (all the subsequent goddesses were aspects of the Great Goddess) was a white aniconic image (i.e., not in animal or human form, rather suggestive, of gods), which may have represented a heap of burning charcoal coated in white ash, which was both the method of heating in ancient times and the center of gatherings of the family or clan.  

At Delphi, the charcoal heap outdoors was called the omphalos (navel of the earth) and inscribed with the name of Mother Earth. The charcoal heap was placed on a round, three-legged table painted red, white and black, and the Pythoness prophesied from the fumes of burning hemp, barley grain and laurel.  We know that Hestia is a later manifestation of Mother Earth by the fact that both have the sacred hearth, both for prophecy and the home fire, as central images. 

The Great Goddess had prophetic powers. So we turned to her to interpret today’s unfolding events. Here’s what she whispered to us: Just as we move every month through one zodiacal animal or human, so we move every decade through one of the circle of the constellations. In this decade, in 2011, we have moved out of the abundance and expansiveness of Zeus’s decade, Sagittarius, the ‘00s or aughts.



The stories of our current decade come from the myth of Capricorn, one of the four zodiac signs concerned with security. The contraction of the sign is mirrored by the economic hardships unfolding on the world stage. Tyranny, limitations, riots, constriction, the housing market crash, and the dangerous state that Mother Earth is in. In another, previous earth decade (the 1930s, Taurus), we experienced the hardship and tumult of the Great Depression. In the most recent earth decade, (the 1970s, Virgo), we experienced oil shortages and recession.



In the three earth decades, we are reminded of the limitations of physical life. In this decade, we’re being challenged to learn to live more simply, more frugally, and, in the face of unwise governments shredding social safety nets, to share available resources with one another.

Home: On the world stage, isn’t all this rioting for democratic rights and justice really a fight for the right to work and protect the security of families and homes?



Home: In the U.S., doesn’t it make divine sense that the Occupy movement is now turning towards occupying foreclosed houses? As Ryan Acuff of Take Back the Land in Rochester, N.Y. says, they are taking direct action to make housing a human right by matching people-less homes to homeless people.

Home: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow offers this fine eight-minute video comparing the Occupy Foreclosed Homes movement to similar events in the ‘30s: 

As a man interviewed in a Take Back the Land in Rochester video says, “Today I’m going to be warm. Today I’m going to be fed.”  



Home: Don’t we all deserve homes?

Home: Isn’t it time we cared for Mother Earth?



Let’s go back about 150 years to the English art critic and social thinker, John Ruskin, who coined the word “illth,” in contrast to our word, “wealth.” Ruskin envisions wealth in its largest sense, of abundance and well-being in every part of human life and the life of our culture and planet Earth. Illth, then, is the reverse of wealth, its absence, ill-being. Illth means various devastations and trouble in all directions.



And we are in a world-wide cultural and planetary state of illth.

Finally, let’s go back to the seventh or sixth century B.C. to Ancient Greece, and listen to how a Homeric poet envisioned wealth, in this Homeric Hymn to the Earth Mother: 

TO EARTH THE MOTHER OF ALL: I will sing of well-founded Earth, mother of all, eldest of all beings.  She feeds all creatures that are in the world, all that go upon the goodly land, and all that are in the paths of the seas, and all that fly: all these are fed of her store.  Through you, O queen, men are blessed in their children and blessed in their harvests, and to you it belongs to give means of life to mortal men and to take it away.  Happy is the man whom you delight to honour!  He has all things abundantly: his fruitful land is laden with corn, his pastures are covered with cattle, and his house is filled with good things. Such men rule orderly in their cities of fair women: great riches and wealth follow them: their sons exult with ever-fresh delight, and their daughters in flower-laden bands play and skip merrily over the soft flowers of the field.  Thus is it with those whom you honour O holy goddess, bountiful spirit....Hail, Mother of the gods, wife of starry Heaven; freely bestow upon me for this my song substance that cheers the heart!


Occupy Paris