The Maenads

MaenadsApril, 1996
Oils on Canvas Board
18”x 24”

A celebration of the ordinary women everywhere performing the miracles of coming out into their own true wild selves

In April, 1996, I went to a Vicki Noble workshop at Breitenbush Hot Springs. Forty women gathered for two days to explore the Goddess in her many guises. Vicki is the co-creator of the Motherpeace Tarot deck, my very first deck. By Sunday morning we had created a huge alter in the middle of the main room in the Lodge and spent two hours chanting: “Oh, purify and heal us, Heal us and free us,” as we each made an offering to the Goddess with everyone looking on. Some danced, some did acrobatics, some sang, some prostrated themselves. I turned cartwheels around the circle.

The women who were there and what we were doing was such a miracle to me. That we were coming together after centuries, millennia, to re-member the ancient ones. To reclaim our Mother. To be together after so many years of loss.

The Maenads were the wild women in Greece identified with Dionysus (Bacchus) who were said to have indulged in orgies & riotous festivals that included eating men. I have no doubt that these stories are as apocryphal and exaggerated as those of the medieval witches eating babies. They were born out of the fears of women’s power and spread as part of the demonization of those powers.

It is that wildness that we have feared in ourselves, brainwashed by the patriarchic structures of church and state and, finally, even the village. Once trusted and depended on, people turned on us in our cottages bestrewn with remedies. To be an herbalist, a midwife, a healer often meant being burned at the stake or hanged. To this day, the words witch, hag and crone denote ugly, cackling evil. Once beloved priestesses in the temple, our dancing and tantric healing rites came to be known as whoredom and prostitution, only worthy of licentious entertainment. Our prophecies & divining became dangerous foolishness. To be using astrology, listening to angelic voices, or noticing unicorns is still spoken of only in whispers in most quarters. Doing magic is left to the children’s books.

The Maenads Altar

The Maenads Altar


So the miracle that weekend was that we were together at all. We encompassed various levels of experience and sense of safety but it was delicious to relax into the company of others who KNEW.
Vicki Noble, herself is the figure on the lower right with the Tibetan bell she used to call us to attention, her long white hair flowing. She looked like someone for whom it works. She lives her beliefs by contributing her knowledge and experience outward and it reflects healthily back on herself.

In the lower left is an older woman in green with whom I was paired at one point to feel energy around us. She could do it and worked patiently to help me. It was years before I was able to feel it, and so far, only in the most subtle way of knowing – but she gave me faith it was possible. In the background is a large woman from Minnesota with a magnificent presence wearing a Gorgon’s mask. To her right is a woman from Hawaii who dressed delightfully in gauzy scarves through which one could see her nipples and pubic hair. I was both shocked and delighted! And finally, in the middle is a tiny ecstatic dancer. She is with me when I let myself go to the wild in dance.

Maenads indeed!

Written for Out of the Ashes Show, North County Rec Center, January 2004.


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