Caryatids and Queens


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, sense of community, and the immovable strength and indomitable will to take a stand for social responsibility. 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 strength and authority.

Like caryatids, mature Queens have a strong need to nurture their communities. 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.

Historically, the feminine principle in all of us–and the women onto whom patriarchy projects it–has endured thousands of years of negative stereotypes and repression. We are fortunate to live in a time when women are finally taking positions of leadership in the mainstream of society. Some of them are very angry. Can you blame them? I, for one, cannot.

Everyone, male or female, who has ever been repressed, abused, dismissed, taken for granted, or struggled to be taken seriously and heard with respect goes through a rage stage before they grow wise enough to take responsibility for their angry shadow and attain their full wisdom and power. History shows that for people of strong character and good will, given enough time and experience, their anger over the injustices they have suffered eventually dissolves and is replaced with an ethic of care, compassion, justice, and social responsibility.

This is true both of individuals and the civilizations we produce. After all, wasn’t it the rage of our forebears at the injustices they suffered in other countries that brought most of them to America? Didn’t that rage give rise to the wisdom that drove the writing of the Declaration of Independence? Didn’t it fuel the Revolutionary War and secure the ratification of the U.S. Constitution?

Underneath our wounds, deep in our unconscious selves, every one of us contains the capacity to develop the Queen’s determination and indomitable will to do the right thing: to support, protect, and nurture everyone in our society, regardless of age, gender, race, social class, or religion. May we all, female and male alike, manifest more of this wise use of feminine strength.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

Join 5,847 other subscribers


12 Responses

  1. The caryatids
    an extreme cultural expression
    women holding up the roof
    chained in place by lintels and cornices
    women held down by the weight of the sky
    some strident claiming their place in the world
    fist firm head lifted
    others shouldering the weight
    like the ten thousand water jars
    carried to supply their homes, fields, families
    with the female essence
    the ocean of life
    other statuesque women near falling
    crumbling crumpling under the mass of
    expectation weighing down their future
    knowing that a stiff upper
    back cannot carry original sin
    with pride but guilt or sorrow or rebellion
    and so taking on first woman’s guilt
    to absolve her just as women share stories
    griefs and burdens helping each other
    weave the cloth to decorate and cover
    leaving those folds and curves of limestone and
    marble woven by their mothers to bear the weight
    What do we expect of those women
    who hold up the halls of the gods?
    Are those women to welcome the stranger
    with granite digits and open staring pupils
    Are those caryatids who hold up the sky
    expressions of our true hopes and aspirations
    of women holding up the sky
    like our grandmothers did
    so we can play within their safety
    and under their care
    A poem I wrote last year

    1. Oh, how lovely! Thank you for sharing this here, Andrew. I know my readers will love it.
      It’s especially comforting and encouraging to me that it’s written by a man. At a time when the shadow side of masculinity is being held up to intense scrutiny, we need to remember that everyone has a shadow, but not every male has a misogynistic shadow any more than every woman hates men! 🙂

  2. Wow! Caryatids hold such colossal strength and beauty don’t they! For me they embody the Divine Feminine, forever immortalised and set in stone and yet … the stone doesn’t seem to stay “stone” for very long as it metamorphoses into “skin” before my eyes. Both archetypal and architectural these ancient, inspiring and deeply moving works of art are sublime! What stories they could tell this poet is pondering …
    For as each “woman” faces out, standing alone, carrying the weight of the world, I sense that many women will recognise not only their stance but also the strength and potency of what it feels like when a line of women (much like the Caryatids or Atwood’s Handmaids) stand together. Yes, there’s a strong link between Caryatids and the ancient “Queen” archetype … personally, they’re such a fitting image with the #MeToo movement for me.
    Oh, I really enjoyed reading this one Jeanie! Thank you for sharing. It’s got me thinking about the four Queens of the Tarot which I’ll explore later today. Looking forward (even more!) to the publication of your new book, The Soul’s Twins. Oh, and Andrew’s Caryatids poem (above) adds to the depth and richness of your article, look forward to reading more replies in the coming days. Warm autumnal blessings, Deborah.

    1. Yes, I see the Divine Feminine when I look at Caryatids too. I think of the Divine Feminine as being manifest in all the feminine archetypes, but perhaps the Queen most of all, because for me she’s the most community-minded. And yes, absolutely relevant to the #MeToo movement and women standing together!!
      I love it that you and I are fluent in the same language as we discuss this mystery of the Divine Feminine. She is so utterly relevant to the developing conditions in our world, but I don’t think many people really understand how she represents the inner, archetypal energies in all of us which create these conditions and influence social change.
      I do talk about this in my book. I can’t wait for you to read it and look forward to your response. Unfortunately, its publication is still months away!
      Thank you for your always rich and poetic contributions to my blog, Deborah. Your passion is catching!

      1. Publication months away gives you time to step out of the writer’s cave into the world of book promotion, giving talks, writing blogs, and all the rest. I know you’ll use those months well.

  3. Archetype and Architecture somehow seem to belong together – both showing strength and soundness, groundedness and beauty. Thank you Jeannie this is truly lovely. I felt a melting of my heart as I read this and an expansion of blood vessels in my wrists strangely enough which for me is always an indication that I’ve been touched in an essential way. I guess I recognised the strength of the feminine archetype so vital for all of us, men and women.
    Andrew’s poem is extraordinary, thank you to him.
    Amandla! Awethu! An Nguni (African) saying that means Power! Power is in your hands! You can imagine it as a rallying cry often used here in SA.

  4. Thank you, Susan. I like your analogy between archetype and architecture! Both are fundamental patterned structures—the former psychological, the latter physical—that contain enormous strength and potential for supporting human endeavors.
    How interesting. I’ve never heard of feeling an expansion of the blood vessels in the wrists. That takes a lot of mindfulness. I also have a physical symptom that alerts me to being deeply touched in an essential way that I associate with spirituality: love, gratitude, compassion, awe…..etc. It’s a wave of chills that begins somewhere deep in my throat near the top of my spine and sends shivers throughout my body, sometimes causing involuntary spasms. I wonder how many other people receive messages like these from their bodies that makes them aware of being in a deeply soulful, perhaps sacred, place……
    What a great saying about power! Yes, we all have it in our archetypes and in our hands. It’s up to us to develop and use it for the betterment of all!

  5. Thanks Jeanie for saying about your physical response to a psychic event. That’s quite something! Just by the by, I’m reading your response at about 6.45 pm and you sent yours at 11.11 am … 🙂

  6. A powerful symbol and powerful post. Thank you, Jeanie. When I think of carotids and the few we find in the United States, I think of the Statue of Liberty and what she stood for once. May she stand for those Queenly values again.
    I loved other comments–Andrew’s poem, Deborah’s Tarot, Susan’s architecture and embodiment.
    Looking at these statues lengthens my spine and raises my chin and brings tears to my eyes. A sense of deep relief and protection that allows me to breathe deeply. Ah, She is Here.

    1. Somehow I hadn’t made the caryatid/statue of Liberty connection! But, of course! She certain did stand for the strong feminine values the caryatid represents. Although holding up that torch feels more masculine to me….you know, spiritual and upwardly striving, with the votive tablet in her left hand. I just read that she represents the Roman goddess, Libertas, goddess of, you guessed it, freedom and liberty!
      Another thought, the caryatids carried and supported heavy burdens and were held down by the weight of the sky, as Andrew puts it in his poem, but Lady Liberty is free from any kind of oppression or domination. There’s a broken chain at her feet and her light rises into the sky. In a way, she symbolizes a balanced blend between masculinity and femininity….. A hopeful and prescient vision of what the U.S. had, and still has the potential to become!
      Hmmm. I like that. Thank you for your thoughts that brought this insight.

      1. Just a thought … every since I came across the myths and stories of the Goddess Hekate, the Great Mother whenever I see your Statue of Liberty I think of her immediately … with one of her flaming torches casting light into the world! Loving all your rich replies Jeanie! x

  7. Oh my! I hadn’t thought of Hekate in reference to the Statue of Liberty either. And yet I have just such an image of her in my picture file making the same exact gesture. Oh dear. I must be losing it…. Thanks to you and Elaine for helping me see these connections. 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts