So yesterday I wrote a post about Goddesses, really, without fully intending to do so, but I get all deeply into that kind of thing when speaking to the issue of Liberty Enlightening the World, which is, after all, the actual name of the statue.
But in it, I delve into some of the stuff that surrounds it, the links to the far past that informed the more recent past that still speak to us in the present and will reshape the way we see things in the future.
I spoke about how the Goddesses are new, how they are different from the past, recreated in an homage to neoclassic ideals, where the power and import of the Greco-Roman period was being rediscovered and making its way into our collective consciousness yet again.
And so we created new goddesses from the old, as has been done for centuries, as had been done to the goddesses we chose.
Liberty. Justice. Columbia.
They are the three I focused on yesterday, the three that stood out in the context of the essay. Three Deities, who are the personifications of our aspirations and our goals, our own modern take on the Arete, the Virtues of the ancient world.
A world now twenty-five hundred years past. BC 508 to 322. One hundred eighty-six years. The US has withstood the pressures they faced for a bit longer — we have two hundred thirty-six years. We also have a lot fewer forces breathing down on us from outside, and one fuck load of a lot more people.
Sparta lasted longer. They were a bit more violent, as well, though I seriously doubt we ever had a spartan kick a person into a giant bottomless pit will screaming This Is Sparta! with the force and verve shown in the film 300. Though, like the schoolboy who drew it and the schoolboy who made it a film, many schoolboys probably think that way.
Allegory is a powerful tool, and they are all part of our own national allegories, our sense of folklore and symbolism that is pretty overwhelming to dig into.
One could, as well speak to the presence of our truly mythical beings, to which we can ascribe various abilities and even, perhaps, link to real people.
Wonder Woman, Superman, Tarzan — all creations of our American Psyche, all endowed with some sense of what it means to be free and to represent the ideals we hold.
The creator of WOnder WOman wrote:
“Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world,”
So she is intended to represent something new, something different, than was common especially for its time. She is a purposeful creation of myth, and since her debut in 1941, she’s been pretty darn good about living up to the often complex variations. Despite being the creation a of a man, and written mostly by men.
The same holds true for the other Deities of our cultural base, and the symbolism in them is powerful and runs deeper than people even realize, though the awareness of them can ebb and flow.
Uncle Sam, for instance. Wearing the Stars and Stripes (which was generally frowned on since it kinda sorta broke the law — but symbols can do what we cannot), he is famous for looking right into you and saying he wants you.
He is the Government, personified. Not the country, but the government, itself. A massive masculine power. Contrast that with the portrayal of the nation that predated Liberty — Columbia.
Uncle Sam was friendly with someone named Brother Jonathan. Brother Jonathan represented the people. But they sorta got mingled together in a thirty year period or so and what we have today is no longer the Sam Wilson that he was inspired by in the legend of his birth, but is now something different and new, and yet, he still represents the Government, and, in particular, the military, from the use in both world war one and world war two to recruit.
We are, I suppose, fortunate not to have a companion to Lyssa, the Goddess of rage and madness. Although it says much about the Greek psyche that they had such and personified it with a woman.
We have our lesser spirits, as well. The Jersey Devil, the White Lady, the Jackalope. And one cannot forget Bigfoot.
We have our Culture Heroes — which includes people whose legends grew greater than they. John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, Calamity Jane, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyan, High John, Pecos Bill, & Molly Pitcher.
But it is our deities which are most fascinating to me. The power they hold, the things they stand for.
Wonder woman is there, a more “humanized” in many ways version of them, as is Superman (now her partner, one notes in a not all that excited to see yet another example of heteronormativity way). IT makes sense, I suppose, all things considered, and heaven knows there are plenty of reasons for it, lol, but a demigod and an alien don’t exactly work all that well.
But as the times have changed, so have they. As they have been looked at differently over their existence, being created deities, they become something new and different, just as the things that inspired them have become.
And yet, we still have our four:
Columbia — the nation personified as a woman.
Uncle Sam, the government of that nation, given flesh.
Liberty, representing our ideals.
Justice, the woman who seeks to do it all blindly, that she may not be led astray.
But, then again, in truth, and in fairness, Liberty is Columbia. Perhaps an older, wiser, more mature version than Columbia was often said to be.
And that would leave us with three: Columbia, Justice, and Uncle Sam.
The symbols they carry are interesting. Sam wears a hat, Liberty a diadem of the sun, Justice a blindfold. Liberty carries a torch to enlighten and lead in progress, Justice carries a sword and scales, and Sam that damn finger of accusation.
Of them, we can turn to Columbia — in her form before Liberty — for mentions in 1776 by a Black woman, who named her in a poem.
One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails – Phillis Wheatley
The power and symbolism of such a goddess is absolute.
Lest you think I speak poorly, think of what I said yesterday — she drives people to sacrifice themselves, and all they hold dear.
This was shown by several students — artists — who crafted a Goddess of Democracy. She, too, held aloft a torch. This symbolism dives deep into our minds, and it is not merely limited to us, but expands and travels to those places where the notions of liberty as we in the West have seen it, as we have derived it, down to the scholars of Athens, so that where we go, She goes.
The Goddess of Democracy was built in secret, though people knew she was being made, She was smuggled into a square, even though people tried to stop it. And her 30 foot height went up and there she stood for five days before she and the movement for Democracy she stood for were crushed under tanks.
Tianemen square was her ground, and I don’t think we need to reflect much longer on the images of that horror.
Yes, Liberty is a powerful woman, and in her form as our Liberty, Columbia, she is potent in leading us. She, herself, needs no weapon — though she’s got her companion Justice should she need one, and after all, that damn finger of Sam’s can give just about anyone Pause.
Neil Gaiman toyed with the notion of American Gods in the novel he wrote of that title, and in it a character notes “This is a bad land for Gods,” — and so it is, but still, some remain, for this is a nation that makes its own, that creates new things and leaves off on the past, keeping only enough to inspire, not to dictate.
That is our history, and though we forget that from time to time, we need to remember it in times that are challenging, that are dark, that are, shall we say, difficult.
The eagle, the scales, the pyramid with the eye capstone, the sword — these things come together with our symbols personified to create a powerful tableau, and we recreate them from time to time in new forms (Wonder Woman and Superman) to reflect and remind us of what they are, and why we have them.
So now I’ve done that, and my mind turns to the symbolism of trans writers, and to the challenges of transness and our own struggles and ideals, as a community and a culture, and I needs must think on this a while. Bu I am open to suggestions, and I would love to see it spoken out.
We have a flag, we have a symbol, we have things that represent us far and wide.
But where are our own Gods, our own Goddesses?
One wonders, and thinks, and dwells…
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