Samsara, a visual exploration of Native American and Pagan beliefs about the feminine force within creation, nature, and the circle of life. Through the lens of Paul de Luna, who captures Serafima in this shoot inspired by ancient women and the power of femininity. Styling by Edda Gudman for the fall/winter 2013 issue of WestEast Magazine. Makeup by Hazuki Matsushita; hair by Damian Monzillo.
By Feanne & Anne
In their book ‘Myths of the Female Divine’, authors David Leeming & Jake Page describe researchers earliest understanding of the Goddess:
Like the human fetus in its early form, Goddess was thoroughly female; she preceded any differentiation into God and Goddess. She seems to have been absolute and parthenogenetic — born of herself — the foundation of all being. She was the All-Giving and the All-Taking, the source of life and death and regeneration. More than a mother goddess or fertility goddess, she appears to have been earth and nature herself, an immense organic, ecological, and conscious whole — one with which we humans would eventually lose touch.
Evidence of Goddess mythology is pervasive around the globe. Scholars studying the ‘sacred feminine’ believe that by the time the great civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt flourished, the Goddess had dominated human consciousness for 25,000 years.
Over thousands of years a power struggle ensued between the primacy of the feminine and the growing influence of the masculine — with feminine principles losing influence as the patriarchy gained power. Once powerful goddess creation myths were replaced by new ones in which gods were now male and male values dominant.
In the beginning, according to a Native American creation myth, there was a woman who fell from the hole in the sky. In fact, she had been ill, and it was an angry man who had kicked her down that hole, sending her plunging into this world. There was no Earth at that time, only a great expanse of water populated by animals, who gathered to break her fall and carry about her as she lay incapacitated. One of the creatures dove to bring up soil from the bottom of that primal sea, and out of this soil was created the Earth, as a home for the woman to live in.
This is a very old narrative— surely predating the era of colonization— and yet it tells our present story very well. Over the centuries, civilizations with military might expanded ruthlessly — crushing, conquering and assimilating advanced cultures and indigenous tribes alike.
Man’s pursuit of the dreams of Icarus and a desire to conquer nature replaced respect for her. Women became enslaved and often, victims of rape and kidnapping. With the rise of monotheism, the feminine principles made a pact with the devil, resulting in the searing guilt of original sin and expulsion from paradise. Woman was now responsible for the endless suffering of humankind, more often a witch or demon than a goddess.
In the 21st century, the state of women worldwide and the state of the environment are in grave need of healing.
It is our task now to dive deep into the sea— the sea of memory and history’s lessons, the ocean of our own subconscious, the flowing energy of our communal willpower— and to restore the Earth:
The degradation of nature is partially a result of the subjugation of women and earth-based spiritual systems. The collapse of humanity’s sustainable relationship with the earth is due in part to the rise of patriarchal religions that suggest the destiny of humanity to be “a paradise elsewhere”.
– Anthony Hegarty
This disconnect— our loss of the Earth and the downfall of women— has carried a terrible price. Those of us fortunate enough to have been born into a life of privilege have been somewhat sheltered from the horrors of environmental degradation and women’s enslavement in the developing countries. And yet, even in America, the damage and disregard brought on by the pursuit of purely masculine principles of conquering, winning and controlling at any cost, leaves deep scars on our social structure and our environment.
We are soaking all life forms with poisons, changing rivers into lethal sewage, and hurling millions of tons of noxious gases into the respiratory system of the Earth. As scientific as we claim to be, we have yet to realize that babies do not come from storks. The simplest, most empirical fact is that babies of every species are created out of soil, air, rain, food, and rivers. If we change all of these into poison, we must accept the fact that we change our unborn into poison as well. What materials will be used for their arms but the minerals of the poisoned continents? Of what stuff will their eyes be fashioned but the water of our lethal rivers? What will those wet fleshy brains be made of but noxious gases and acid rain?
Our agricultural processes poison our water and destroy four billion tons of topsoil on the American continent each year, and still we keep at it. We are captivated by our consumer lives, addicted, and apparently nothing can break through. Unable to see the simple sadness of our way of life, sunk into our addictions, we overstuff our homes and garages, carrying on, unmoved by the smoke rising over the burnt-out lives of fifty other nations and a million other species.
– Brian Swimme
Feminism is dated? Yes, for privileged women… but not for most of our sisters in the rest of the world who are still forced into premature marriage, prostitution, forced labor— they have children that they don’t want or they cannot feed. They have no control over their bodies or their lives. They have no education and no freedom. They are raped, beaten up and sometimes killed with impunity.
Millions of women live like this today. They are the poorest of the poor. Although women do two-thirds of the world’s labor, they own less than one percent of the world’s assets. They are paid less than men for the same work if they’re paid at all, and they remain vulnerable because they have no economic independence, and they are constantly threatened by exploitation, violence and abuse… Even the most destitute of men have someone they can abuse— a woman or a child.
– Isabel Allende
Earth-based spiritual systems emphasize connection. We are connected to each other and to the Earth. When we think of ourselves as connected to others, it becomes difficult to cause suffering. It becomes easy to do things that benefit others and contribute to the whole.
Conquest and consumerism work by breaking these connections, and creating the illusion of isolation— every man for himself. Never mind the consequences. This may work for a while, but it can’t possibly last. Consequences don’t just vanish when ignored— they accumulate and return with a vengeance. We’ve created terrible problems by distancing ourselves from the Earth and by oppressing women. Therefore, we can only save the world by restoring our connection with the Earth, and empowering women, in order to restore balance:
The Esoteric Tradition embraces a thoroughly holistic concept of the universe that has been sadly lacking in mainstream Western civilization for the last 2,000 years. Our isolation from Nature has resulted in such havoc that we are threatened with self-extinction as a race. Today an eco-spiritual movement is exploring indigenous cultures in hopes of discovering an integrated worldview in which mankind may participate nondestructively in a recognizable natural order.
– James Wasserman
Ancient wisdom and indigenous traditions hold knowledge about our earth-based spiritual heritage, but we must do more than merely go back to the way things were. We are to create a new, harmonious world, combining our inherited wisdom from the ancients with our ever-advancing tools of science and technology:
An appreciation for “old world” heritage fosters respect for the planet we live in, and for all generations of people, past, present, and future. Renewed interest in wise traditions— combined with the advances of modern philosophy, science, and technology— promises to to help us create an ecologically and spiritually sustainable human civilization.
Women are key in creating prosperity and renewing our civilization. Our gender has been subjugated for far too long, and we must reverse that if we are ever to consider our civilization as “advanced” and “enlightened”. Feminism may actually be called humanism, but the emphasis for feminine empowerment is needed due to the long history of power imbalance. Feminism focuses on the empowerment of women, not because we’re superior over men, but because we need to be lifted up a position of equality alongside men:
I think that the time is ripe to make fundamental changes in our civilization. But for real change, we need feminine energy in the management of the world. We need a critical number of women in positions of power, and we need to nurture the feminine energy in men.
– Isabel Allende
Men can be feminists too— indeed, many of them are proud to be our staunch allies in the war against oppression. Oriental spiritual ideology understands that all human beings need both “masculine” energy and “feminine” energy to achieve balance. Masculine energy is characterized as “initiatory power”, while feminine energy is characterized as “receptive devotion”:
To understand “woman”, the characteristic most descriptive of yin must be meditated upon— receptive devotion— but only as it is an attribute of of the unifying principle. Likewise with yang, whose chief characteristic is an all-pervading initiatory power. These qualities are necessary complements of each other. A man denying himself the quality of receptive devotion is an arrogant tyrant; a woman denying herself the energy of the initiatory power is a barren vessel.
– Jose & Miriam Arguelles
In the story of the woman who fell from the sky, the woman eventually had twin grandsons who were constantly fighting each other while experimenting with creation. Their creativity was prolific— their experiments resulted in various plants and animals and geological features— but their aggression was fatal.
The dominance today of the twin ideologies of conquest and consumerism demonstrate the same problem— too much masculine energy operating on the planet. Our civilization’s creativity is indeed prolific— what with our skyscrapers and megacities— but this aggressive pace of expansion may be fatal to the earth, and to us. The passionate energy of the “initiatory power” is a potent force that drives creativity and brings results, but it needs to be balanced by the thoughtful wisdom and compassionate grace of the “receptive devotion”. These are complementary, not competitive, forces. In order to harness humankind’s full potential, we need masculine energy in harmony with feminine energy:
A woman has tremendous powers when the dual aspects of psyche are consciously recognized and beheld as a unit; held together rather than held apart.
– Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The conscious realization of the dynamic co-existence of the two elements within an individual gives rise to an aura of radiant beauty and joy.
– Jose & Miriam Arguelles
When we understand that these different aspects of ourselves come together to create a harmonious whole, then we can appreciate that we as individuals are linked in nourishing relationships with one another to create harmonious communities, and, as a species, we are part of the community of the Earth. We possess the capability to shape the world, the consciousness to understand our place in it, and— hopefully— the compassion to to use our power for good:
Break out of a limited world view. Break out of egocentricity. Break out of ethnocentricity. Break out of anthropocentricity. Take the view point of the Earth as a whole. In every fascination, in every allurement, include the vitality of the Earth. You are the Earth, too. The Earth is not different from you. This planet bloomed through millions of years and arrived at the stupendous achievement of self-reflexion. She surpassed herself, shivering with joy at the thought of housing a creature through whom her depths, her beauty, her majesty could be cherished in a new intensity.
We must reinvent ourselves, at the species level, in a way that enables us to live with mutually enhancing relationships, not just with humans but with all beings so that our activities actually enhance the world. We’ve become a planetary power. Can we wake up to this fact and then reinvent ourselves at the level of knowledge and wisdom that’s required? Our power has gotten ahead of our consciousness… We are the first species that actually has the possibility of caring about all of the other species. We didn’t invent compassion, but it’s flowing through us, or it could. The future of the earth depends on comprehensive compassion unfurling in the human species.
– Brian Swimme
Only by embracing the sacred feminine can we hope to save the world— and ourselves.
In Paul de Luna’s Samsara images, the women embody the radiant spirit of the Earth. With serene smiles, they exude graceful power and warm hope. Sensuality permeates the scenery, which is lush with damp earth, tranquil waters, and sunkissed foliage. ~ Feanne & Anne
Note from Anne. In discussing the development of Samsara, Paul wrote to me:
Antony and The Johnson’s video ‘Cut the World’ featuring Marina Abramovic, and his comments about the song resonated very strongly within me as I realized it put into words exactly what my subconscious had been guiding me towards with this story, and with my artistic vision in general:Antony said he was struggling to come to terms with the idea that he was part of a society that was having a “virulent” impact on the earth. He suggested that the degradation of nature was partially a result of the subjugation of women and earth-based spiritual systems.Antony also blamed the collapse of humanity’s sustainable relationship with the earth in part on the rise of patriarchal religions that suggest the destiny of humanity to be “a paradise elsewhere”.
Photographer: Paul de Luna with Seen Artists
Stylist: Edda Gudman
Makeup: Hazuki Matsushita for Artmix Beauty
Hair: Damian Monzillo for Bernstein and Andriulli Reps using Davines
Model: Serafima Kobzeva of Women Direct
Production Manager: Dre Sanchez
Production Assistant: Mary Rinaldi
Photo Assistants: VC Ferry and Shaun Michelsen
Further reading and viewing about the sacred feminine, humankind’s cosmic story, ancient wisdom, and holistic Earth-based spirituality:
Earth Diver Myth: The Woman Who Fell From The Sky
Samsara 2012 film
Isabel Allende TED talk: Tales of passion
Brian Swimme – The Universe Is A Green Dragon
Brian Swimme interview – Comprehensive Compassion
Jose & Miriam Arguelles – Mandala
Clarissa Pinkola Estés – Women Who Run With The Wolves