Grief is a sacred journey

Lessons from Artemis, Goddess of the Wild

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Diana, Göttin der Jagd, Öl auf Leinwand, ~1900 wikimedia commons

I was once an extroverted girl who loved loud Motown concerts and learned every dance on American Bandstand. I liked singing, acting, and jiving with friends, my husband, and our sons. I loved concerts, opera, and plays but, in recent years, complex sound hurts my struggling ears.

With well-learned lip reading skills, high-tech hearing aid equipment, low background noise, and patient people, I communicate well in most situations. Well enough that I have to remind friends to move their hand away from their mouth or face me when they speak so I can read their lips.

In the world of honking horns, crowded restaurants, blaring loud speakers, and cash register dings, I’m trapped in a cacophony of exhausting sound, struggling to read a speaker’s lips. No matter how satisfying the social interactions, I’m grateful to return to my quiet world.

I’m no longer Hera the Wife or Demeter the Mother.

I once felt close to Athena, but she’s a goddess of civilization and the political and social world where I struggle now. I imagined a move to town after my husband’s death, but I’m happiest on my land with easy access to the forest. It’s not what I expected at this time of life.

In Greek and Roman mythology, the world of nature is ruled by Artemis (Diana in Roman mythology). Looking back, I know she’s always been beside me, but I hardly noticed how I counted on her and needed her to be an independent women who knows how to protect herself.

What does Artemis teach me about aging and being alone? How is silence an opportunity rather than a curse?

For Artemis, Nature is the holy sanctuary. In her wild temple, I’m at ease and most myself. Under big trees and on the trails, I touch a hushed world of bird songs in the canopy and gurgling streams. I carry a small notebook to capture intuitions that emerge on the trail.

Artemis has a complicated and sometimes fierce history, far beyond the scope of one short blog. I’ll share only one relevant story. Artemis was a daddy’s girl. She asked her father Zeus to grant six wishes: to remain a Virgin Goddess, independent of any man, to be the Light Bringer or new moon, and to own a silver bow and arrow and wear a knee-length tunic for the hunt. She asked for women, girls, and hounds as companions rather than a husband and children. She wanted the Wilderness as her holy place, not a temple made by men. Finally, she asked to be a midwife and protector of women, children, and animals. Zeus agreed to each request.

(image above): Diana of Versailles  or Artemis of the Chase, wikimedia, Leochares, ~325 BC

New Moon (ruled by Artemis)

I don’t hunt with a bow, but shoot with my camera. After a long marriage, I adapted to life without a male partner. I know the joy of women friends and dogs. In my Artemisian wilderness, the sky is dark and moon and stars glow bright. In my forest refuge, I never feel vulnerable or alone.

Artemis, I ask you, “How does an extrovert become an introvert? How does a woman learn to thrive on her own? How does a lover of music live in silence? How does a mature woman find a new target for her silver arrows?

Protect me from my limitations, Artemis. Help me enjoy life’s banter, even when I miss the jokes. Help my eyes support my ears. Let me watch the new moon set, the sun rise, the leaves quiver in the wind. Let this muted world be enough.

Don’t try so hard,” the Goddess says. “Let the focus shift. Flying words are soon forgotten. In writing and in quiet conversation when lips can be read and ideas slow down, your words stay strong and true.

Cameo ~1850-70 Artemis/ Diana Goddess of the Hunt

“I’ll protect your quiet world, the forest, and the wilderness where you’re at home. I’ll guard the gift of silence where you do creative work. When you leave your sanctuary for the noisy world, I’ll wait for your return.

I’ll walk with you and write with you. I’ll help your silver words fly straight.”

***

I’m working on a long piece about Artemis, so this is just a taste. Do you remember fairy tales or mythological stories that still guide you in adult life? What’s your relationship to silence and solitude? For other articles I’ve written about Greek goddesses, see Home with Hestia: Goddess of the Hearth or Descending into Darkness with Persephone. For a rich and reliable website of Greek mythology and beautiful images, I suggest you visit this site hosted by Aquileana.

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28 Comments
  1. Now we move in the silence among trees, hearing the wisdom of the wind and the leaves.

    • Ah, yes. Thank you for these beautiful words as we move in silence in the trees and listen for their wisdom. I haven’t done justice to Artemis who is ancient and complex and, if betrayed or spied upon, deadly fierce. More on that aspect of her later, but she’s a defender of a woman’s body.

    • I too was a wild extrovert~ African Dancer & drummer. Now I rise early to jjournal every morning. I Love trusting My intuition and following where it leads. I am so much happier, satisfied and content. Who knew?

      • Thanks for your comment, Miriam. Yes, who knew? It took my husband’s death for me to embrace solitude, although I’d loved being alone for a long time. Even when he traveled, it was different knowing he’d return. I also have the great privilege of easy access to forest trails just outside my back door. Finally, I wouldn’t have chosen deafness as a way to become more introverted, but that’s been a huge part of the mix since hearing loss began over 20 years ago.

  2. I have a taste of changes you are experiencing because of my husband. He seems happiest sitting in his chair with earphones (earphones!!) reading stories through his ears. There is no ambiant noise to contend with as you describe and he doesn’t have to struggle to read lips, which he’s not good at. Hearing aids seem poor substitutes for replicating true aural soundl

    Like you, I too have moved somewhat on the Myers-Briggs scale, from introvert to just a hair into the extrovert field. I don’t see it as bad or good, just different. About your questions, I choose a memory of fairy tales, especially Billy Goats Gruff, the Norse version of the tale. To my second-grade eyes coursing the vivid words and pictures in my Reader, the goats looked shaggy crossing the creaky bridge, but I cringed at the hideous green Troll ready to pounce from under it. Good outwitting Evil perhaps.

    In spite of your changing world, you seem content because you exult in the gifts of nature, have perfect aim with your camera, and best of all, manage to guide your silver words to fly straight. Straight to the heart. Thank you, Elaine.

    • Thanks for telling me about Cliff, Marian. I’m glad his hearing serves him and brings pleasure. I used to do lots of listening with headphones and my hearing aide equipment, but the distortion has become extreme recently and pushing against it brings tinnitus and eventually vertigo. I’m thankful for lip-reading. I’m taking in the word you used, “content.” How do you spell that again? Ha! Is it possible I could call myself content? It’s an illusive goal, but my biggest contentment now is in the forest. On these long nights, I work with color (as in painting or jigsaw puzzles chosen for intense color).

      The Three Billy Goats were a favorite in my kid’s world and when the little boys got scared (not often, fortunately), Vic reminded them that he was the biggest billy goat. That did the trick when they were little, but there’s more to the story than that, isn’t there? Sending you love and sweet gratitude for Thanksgiving and autumn remembrance. Amazing how we get to know each other through reading each other’s words.

  3. I enjoyed this reflection, It has encouraged me to explore Greek Mythology a bit further and to check out the Artemis myths. My immediate response was a sadness that you have left such rich experiences behind, but also ” Welcome to the world of an Introvert.” For someone who has lived as an introvert in a world almost exclusively geared toward extroversion the subdued songs of nature are the special places that give us space to think and reflect or just to be silent.I look forward to reading some of your other reflections. Thank You.

    • Thanks for your comment, Gary. I appreciate your kind words. As I said in response to Mark, I only mentioned one aspect of Artemis. She’s multi-faceted and complex as are all the ancient goddesses. I didn’t bring in how fierce and even ruthless she could be in her protective mode. It’s easy to find those stories. I’ve written many pieces about nature and have lived closer and closer to nature since my husband and I bought our property in 1972. If you google “Elaine Mansfield nature,” you’ll come up with the nature archive: https://elainemansfield.com/category/nature/

      I still have a rich life. Things lost along the way and other things gained. One thing not lost is my gratitude for the beauty of where I live and the accessibility of the forest and beautiful fields (for wildflowers, butterflies, bees, and birds). I appreciate this every day and also feel grateful that I’m a writer who needs the solitude life offers. I miss social ease, but I have close friends and family who put up with my hearing problems which have been developing, slowly at first, for about 25 years.

  4. Dear Elaine, This is such a wonderful article, I absolutely love it! You’ll always be that “Soul Girl” dancing with the legendary Gods and Goddesses of Motown. Only now you’ve gone and changed partners and you’re twirling with words instead of bodies. Yet your hands, no doubt, still shiver and sway with the same excitement, as you lean in closer to Self and Soul.

    Yesterday a book tile caught this poet’s eye, it’s called, “The Alphabet versus The Goddess” and as I read your words I thought how wonderful to see that you’re not only dancing in words but how you’ve balanced out your Anima and Animus and what great lovers they are! You may have been born to dance but oh my Goddess you were born to write too!

    The enduring loss of your outer hearing must be deeply upsetting and totally frustrating. I sincerely hope your fine inner hearing, can to some extent, make up for such outer hearing loss. Being a happy introvert I agree we live in such a noisy, full-on blaring world! Me, I love to retreat into nature, silence and solitude. Oh how the forests forever call me home!

    So the deep-rooted roles of Hera and Demeter have been handed over. Athena too, as you move in closer to the magnificent Goddess Artemis. Just the mere mention of her name and Blake’s sacred words come to me in the form a nature prayer … “For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life”… oh how the beautiful truth of these words shine and shimmer!

    Is it possible to return to virginity I wonder? And if so, will new life arise from the emerging midwife (Artemis) within? She who seeks only Self as lover. Is this how the Soul completes itself? That we become our own muse, our own lover? My dear friend, may your silver arrows eternally hit their mark! May this beautiful world never be forgotten! Warm and wild blessings, Deborah.

    • Thank you for your poetic reflections, Deborah, and adding the beautiful line from Blake. You always send me to new places. I feel we always have that virginity within–and I’m not telling you anything new. The place where the feminine or anima is whole, one-in-herself, and stands alone in nature. I think of Artemis (as I imagine you do) as a protector of the deepest wholeness of Soul rather than as a physical virgin. And, yes, I imagine Artemis as always midwifing new life and also dispensing with life when it’s time.

      Yes, hearing loss is upsetting–and have to accept it’s unlikely to come back. I try to keep it from getting worse, but it has it’s own irrational rhythm like diseased states often do. I don’t have much control over the situation, much as I try with nutrition, rest, and self care. So I make the best of it and feel grateful to live in a quiet home in a locally quiet world.

      My mom was an Athena woman and I feel those forces still at play in my writing. That’s a good place to use her powers. I’ve read your poem “Becoming Hekate” over and over. I never grow tired of it or imagining the connections between Artemis (new moon) and Hekate (dark of the moon). A topic I’ll leave for later. Sending those wild blessings back your way.

  5. Thank you for this lovely post of Artemis, Elaine (Artemis also known as Diana the huntress as your picture shows). She’s a wonderful example of a mythological figure of strength and complexities on whom we can reflect. This is a lovely taste of what is yet to come from you. There are many mythological figures in the literature worthy of consideration. I find it hard now to select one or two – Eve and Lilith perhaps, Adam’s first ‘wives’. Demeter and Persephone are hugely psychological and fascinating. Inanna is another who comes to mind.

    Silence and solitude – essential for a balanced life. Although the extreme of it can lead to isolation as in those who are severely depressed as I those who I’ve witnessed.

    Aquileana’s posts on Greek mythology are rich indeed.

    • Susan, you know some of my writing about Persephone and about Inanna. They’re two favorites. I focus on Greek goddesses now because they’re more familiar than most and because they each have distinctive realms. I studied them in depth a while back, so returning to them brings new insights now. For example, I hadn’t thought about Artemis as “my” archetype, but when I began re-reading her stories, I saw how she’d accompanied me all along.

      I have no idea where my explorations will lead and which goddess I’ll include in the end. I’m in discovery stage. I’ve written lots of pieces about Artemis and how she showed up in my life, but I’ve tucked the stories away until I get a wider view of where I’m going.

      I agree solitude can lead to depression. I’ve struggled with that, especially in the first winters after Vic’s death. The weather where I live makes staying home at night appealing in winter, but it can be too much. I’m glad solitude has become a pleasure. As with Artemis, with my dog lying at my feet and birds outside my windows, I’m not truly alone.

  6. “… The heroes and [heroines] of all time have gone before us … the labyrinth is thoroughly known. …” (Joseph Campbell) but sometimes we forget. Thank you, Elaine, for reminding us of clues left on the path of those who’ve gone before us.
    ~❤❤~

    • I didn’t remember that quote from Campbell, Dawn. Thank you for sharing it here. It comforts to remember that others have gone through dark unknown worlds before us, returned with wisdom, and survived to tell the tales.

  7. I am grateful for your new outlook on life moving on without a partner. I too lost my husband after 30 years of marriage. It is time for other kinds of relationships and quiet. Peace to you and thank you.

    • Grieving for a life partner and adjusting to the new situation isn’t a straight trail, as you know so well, Melodee. Sometimes my new outlook feels strong and sure. Sometimes it seems that longing for the past is still in charge. Sending peace back to you.

  8. I think I could get to liking this Artemis. It’s only recently that I have learned to love being alone, being in the woods with just my dog, being home with just me and my dog. A Daddy’s girl myself, I can live the way I do because of my father’s generosity. No man could add more beauty and quality to my life, although I sometimes think a man might add laughter. Like Artemis, the wilderness is my temple. My hikes are my sacred times and I try to be out on the trails 3 to 5 times a week even in winter. Will need to learn more about goddesses I think. Actually I’m thinking of traveling to Greece to study mythology. I wonder how learning about goddesses and myths might change me. This was a special interest to my daughter who died. In fact, I kept her books about goddesses. A great place to start.

    • Ah, Marika loved goddess mythology. That’s a lead in for you, Robin. I learn so much about the lunar or feminine aspects of myself from these stories. It’s fascinating at this moment in history to know what Artemis did when her privacy and solitude were violated. It’s also interesting to know how close she was to her brother Apollo–an old association for me because of the roles my brother and I played all our lives.

      I imagine there are many mythology tours in Greece. That could be interesting. I repeat that I only mentioned a little about Artemis in this post. Like so many Goddesses with ancient roots, she had many aspects and diverse centers of worship. She was both compassionate and ruthless and sometimes ruthless in the name of compassion. In this post, I shared a snippet of what’s becoming a much bigger project and includes Artemis, but many other goddesses.

  9. An execllent post dear Elaine… I also feel close to Artemis (Diana)… And I can see why you identify with her as well.. However my favorite Greek Goddess is Athena…
    On a side note, I learned lately that she (Athena) was a sort of male Goddess in a female body. That´s why she was worshipped as the the protector of the city. Later on Aphrodite replaced her in the practice as the most important godddess. She represented Beauty and love between couples.
    Hence, and back to your Goddess…. if we´d have to pick up an example of a feministic Goddess: that would be Artemis. A free spirit, connected to Nature, true to herself, above all. Also, I like the fact that she is related to Selene. When Apollo was regarded as identical with the sun or Helios, nothing was more natural than that his sister should be seen as Selene or the moon. In that sense, she is related to Feminity. And in some way, this two aspects are complementary… A sort of female (Moon)/male (hunter) combo: a perfect Self, to use the Jungian terminology.
    Thank you for sharing!. A great post. Love & best wishes 🙂

    • Thank you, Aquileana. I hadn’t identified with Artemis until recently, although my mythology class studied her for a year in the early 1990s when we first began exploring Greek Goddess mythology. (The class is still studying goddesses together, working on Hindu goddesses at the moment. Lucky me!!) I was a wife and still had sons at home in the early 1990s, so life called for other archetypal tales. Beyond that, at core, I’ll always be a Persephone woman and knew that from a young age.

      Two or three years ago, I became interested in Artemis stories again. I see how she’s been part of my life all along. I love her relationship with Apollo (my brother who died two years ago was type-cast for the Apollo role) and I was his Artemis, especially in our deeper communication during his illness and death. Also the Artemis-Selene-Hecate three-fold Lunar aspects of the Feminine. In light (speaking of the moon) of the way women are speaking out and defending themselves against men’s sexual and worldly power, it’s fascinating to know how Artemis deals with betrayal and male intrusions. She doesn’t mess around.

      Thank you for your best wishes. I seem to be embarking on a long goddess journey. I’ll find out where the trail leads by taking the next steps. Sending gratitude for your rich and accessible mythology website. It’s a jewel.

  10. silence is one of our most underutilized resources

    • I agree, Joe. Silence is alien to our culture at this moment when we need silence and receptive listening more than ever. Thanks so much for your comment.

  11. Beautiful writing Elaine. The old saying: Silence is golden, may seem a bit too golden to you I’m sure. But as you wrote – “I’ll protect your quiet world, the forest, and the wilderness where you’re at home. I’ll guard the gift of silence where you do creative work. When you leave your sanctuary for the noisy world, I’ll wait for your return.
    I’ll walk with you and write with you. I’ll help your silver words fly straight.”
    That is always inspirational. 🙂

    • Yes, it’s good to have a Goddess ally and I consider all of them allies. I just didn’t feel close to Artemis until recently, but now I know she’s been here all along. Since I live in a world of limited listening, it’s good to find the blessings of silence.

      Wait! Did I just see an announcement of a newly released book by you? I haven’t looked into it, but saw it on Jeri’s twitter page. You are one prolific writer. Congratulations for another successful release.

      • Thanks Elaine. Yes, I just released Twenty Years: After “I Do” last week. A memoir about loving and aging, when one spouse ages ahead of the other and things that change in life. Thank you for your lovely compliment. 🙂

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