Femininity is universally associated with beauty, softness, tenderness, receptivity, relationship, and caring. While some equate these qualities with weakness, Spirit Warriors know they make us stronger than we ever imagined possible. Of the many symbols suggesting this kind of strength, none speaks as strongly to me as the caryatid.
Caryatids are gigantic columns or pillars in the form of beautiful, fully draped females. A very old architectural device, they were originally used to support immense entablatures in sacred public buildings. In ancient times it was said that seven priestesses founded major oracle shrines. These priestesses had different names in various parts of the world. In the Middle East they were known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, hence their common usage as columns holding up temple roofs. These same pillars are referred to in Proverbs 9:1: “Wisdom [Sophia] hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” On the Acropolis at Athens, caryatids are associated with the strong and independent goddess, Artemis Caryatis, from whom they get their name.
My first glimpse of caryatids at the British Museum filled me with awe and wonder. In them I saw feminine beauty, gentleness, independence, spirituality and mystery blended with majestic, connected, immovable strength. I was looking at the Queen archetype.
A defining characteristic of the caryatid’s strength is her queenly way of serving society. She is strong enough to support huge public buildings in which many activities take place every day, but never takes on more than she can handle, never gets crushed under the weight of her responsibilities.
Nor does she claim godlike perfection and omnipotence for herself: no savior complex for her! She simply receives what she is strong enough to receive; contains what she is large enough to contain; gives what is hers to give. Her strength is not based on compulsions to prove anything or pretend to be something she is not, but on a clear understanding of the nature of her gifts, dimensions of her interior space, and limits of her authority.
Like caryatids, mature Queens have a sense of social responsibility. They are pillars of society who are always there to listen and understand; share in pain or joy; defend the innocent, weak, vulnerable and disenfranchised; and advance culture. They have a quiet, grounded strength that does not belittle, gossip, or betray confidences. They accept without rejecting differing opinions and protect without exploiting weakness. They do not relinquish softness; rather theirs is the softness of the lioness, not the lamb. Although receptive, they are never doormats. They nurture but never smother. Theirs is the warm and life-giving receptivity of the womb, not the cold hardness of the tomb.
Caryatids and Queens stand tall and firm with eyes wide open. With steadfast devotion and resolve they support institutions and endeavors which are in everyone’s best interest. We emulate their strength when we subordinate our ego’s will to the greater good and work for the betterment of all without betraying our personal standpoints. May we all, female and male alike, manifest more of this wise use of feminine strength.
You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.
Ego and God-Image: Part VI
[T]he most important relationship of childhood, the relation to the mother, will be compensated by the mother archetype as soon as detachment from the childhood
Thank you Jeanie, for another brilliant and beautiful post. You make the symbolism of the ancients so relevant to our lives today.
Thank you, Sally. Your kind words warm my heart.
Thank you, Jeanie! You are not only expanding my knowledge and awareness of the feminine, but my vocabulary as well! bett
Thank you, Bett. I’m so glad to know I’m contributing to your knowledge and awareness of the feminine! That’s exactly what I’m trying to do in this blog. There’s so much to learn about Us/Her and I’m just scratching the surface…..but I keep scratching away. Hopefully more of these words and concepts will become common currency in the near future.
Jeanie, what a power testament to so many “invisible” women ( and Queenly men) who hold up the world with their deep, self-giving feminine- strength, grounded in their deep receptive and vulnerable nature responding with compassion to the needs around them with persevering patience and love.
This view of women, or the sacrificial feminine in men too, is so missed because they are simply busy doing the most obvious thing that needs doing for the well being of all, and are so taken for granted in their solitary or collective suffering love. Only through the grace of Spirit shining through them is the world kept from imploding!….I think we need more Queenly peaceful Warriors in our midst.
You’re right. It’s so easy to take this kind of strength and wisdom for granted without realizing the extraordinary discipline and self-restraint it takes. We’re so programmed to notice the bold, the busy, the loud, the in-your-face, that the subtle, graceful, and sacramental is easily overlooked. The loss, of course, is not to the peaceful Warrior, but to the one who does not appreciate his/her value.