Saturday, August 15, 2015

Kittredge Cherry on the Queer Goddess Origins of the Feast of the Assumption

Over at the always informative Jesus in Love Blog, Kittredge Cherry has an insightful article on how the ancient mid-August festival of the lesbian goddess Diana (Artemis) has been adapted by Catholic and Orthodox churches into a feast day for the Virgin Mary.

Following, with added images and links, is an excerpt.

Midsummer feasts have celebrated the divine feminine on August 15 since before the time of Christ. Now devoted to Mary, the holiday known as the Feast of the Assumption (or Dormition) carries the torch of lesbian spiritual power to a new generation on the same date.

Saint Mary, mother of Jesus, is honored by churches on August 15 in a major feast day marking her death and entrance into heaven. Catholic and Orthodox churches call it the Feast of the Assumption or Dormition because they believe that Mary was “assumed” into heaven, body and soul.

The connections between Diana and Mary raise many questions. The concept of virginity has been used to control women, but sometimes it is a code word for lesbian. What shade of meaning is implied by the “virginity” of these two heavenly queens? Did the church patriarchs substitute wild lesbian Diana/Artemis with mild straight Mary – or is Mary more versatile and dynamic than many thought?

The Virgin Mary’s holiday was adapted – some would say appropriated – from an ancient Roman festival for Diana, the virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt. Diana, or Artemis in Greek, is sometimes called a lesbian goddess because of her love for woman and her vow never to marry a man. The ancient Roman Festival of Torches (Nemoralia) was held from August 13-15 as Diana’s chief festival.

According to mythology, Diana preferred the company of women and surrounded herself with female companions. They took an oath of virginity and lived as a group in the woods, where they hunted and danced together. Homoerotic art and speculations often focus on Diana’s relationship with the princess Callisto.

. . . Aspects of Diana and Artemis were taken over by the church more than 1,300 years ago. The Festival of Torches became the Feast of the Assumption. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Turkey was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, with an awe-inspiring statue of the “many-breasted” Artemis. The temple was destroyed and replaced by the Church of Mary. The Virgin Mary even assumed some titles once given to Artemis, including Queen of Heaven.

Books such as Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary by cultural historian Marina Warner show how the figure of Mary was shaped by goddess legends and other historical circumstances, resulting in an inferior status for women. In the novel Mary and the Goddess of Ephesus: The Continued Life of the Mother of Jesus, former seminarian Melanie Bacon explores the little-known tradition that after Jesus died, his mother spent most of her adult life in a community dedicated to worshiping Artemis.

Feminists praise Diana/Artemis as an archetype of female power, a triple goddess who represents all phases of womanhood. She is the maiden, wild and free, with no need for a man. She is the “many-breasted” mother who nurtures all life. She is the crone, the mature hunter who provides swift death with her arrows in harmony with the cycles of nature.

LGBT people and allies may be inspired by the queer origins of this midsummer holiday. May the Queen of Heaven, by whatever name, continue to bless those who remember her.

To read Kittredge Cherry's article in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Celebrating the Dormition of Mary
"I Caught a Glimpse of a God"
"A Dark Timelessness and Stillness Surrounds Her Wild Abandonment"
Halloween Thoughts
Why This Gay Man Takes Heart from the Feast of the Holy Family

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Divine Feminine Assumes Her Place – Louis A. Ruprecht (Religion Dispatches, August 20, 2010).

Image 1: Artist unknown.
Image 2: Susan Seddon Boulet.


Kittredge Cherry said...

I love the images that you chose to go with my article! Thanks for reposting it with links back to the Jesus in Love Blog, where it first appeared. May Mary turn her eyes to you.

Michael J. Bayly said...

You're welcome, Kitt! Thanks for posting this article in the first place and for all the good and invaluable work you do at the Jesus in Love Blog.