Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wonder Woman, Korra, and the Mother Goddess

I have a friend, well, he's more like a brother. We share an intimate bond where we appreciate the connection we have to two heroines: he is bound to Korra, while I am bound to Wonder Woman. The reasons aren't the important part, but what is important is the connection itself. We, like other friends of mine, are inextricably woven to these women, and I think I understand why. Well, at least part of the reason, anyway.

Millennia ago, when the most primitive of societies first emerged, they found comfort in a deity or entity that would encompass all of their beliefs. From the paleolithic period, societies had goddesses to worship: as early as the paleolithic period, Venus of Willendorf existed. Egypt had Isis, Sumer had Inanna, Crete had Atana, and Babylon had Ishtar. Greece, perhaps the most well known ancient civilization for gods, had Gaea, and Asia Minor had Cybele. Canaan had Astarte, and even the ancient Hebrews, before their monotheistic shift, worshipped Asherah.

All of these Mother Goddesses encompassed fertility, growth, nurturing, love, healing, and even war. From these grew the polytheistic societies of the world, namely Greece, with the Olympian gods. Each of the female entities embodied these characteristics to some degree—even virgin goddesses like Artemis also had fertility and childbirth as their purview. Qualities of the Mother Goddess grew within each of the goddesses who came after, with a deep-rooted connection the earth itself being at the core. Nothing else can happen without the Earth.

I became fascinated with the Mother Goddess idea when I taught the Hero's Journey (the Monomyth, according to Joseph Campbell). Many books I taught contained figures tied to the ancient maternal ideas, and by understanding the connection we have to them, we also understand our connection to other individuals as well. The ultimate ideal is to connect to the source of all power—the earth on which we live. Two of the heroines that fall into this milieu are Wonder Woman and Korra.

WONDER WOMAN was born from the clay of the earth, and brought to life by a combination of her mother, Hippolyte's, loving touch as well as the grace of Aphrodite (according to George Perez, Artemis, Athene, Aphrodite, Hestia, Demeter, and even Hermes were involved). So, in essence, Love and Earth combined to provide life to the champion of the Amazons. Perez's Demeter, goddess of agriculture, told Hippolyte: "I, Demeter, grant [Diana] the power and strength like that of the Earth itself!" We draw strength from our Earth Mother throughout our life, through plants and animals that grow upon it. Through that, we are tied to Diana, as she is nurtured by the goddess Gaea. The Mother Goddess idea pervades all aspects of Diana's life, especially since her people worship the goddesses and draw strength of body and spirit from them.

Like the early Mother Goddesses, too, Diana brings to the outside world a combination of attributes: compassion, love, wisdom, and strength. Through her actions, we are supposed to learn more about what it means to connect with that feminine ideal, that nurturance that keeps us grounded and forward-thinking. Another female figure grows from this as well—a waterbender from the Southern Water tribe.

KORRA, the girl from the Southern Water tribe, was born into the Avatar cycle, taking up that mantle without hesitation. Her role in the world is to learn all forms of elemental bending so that she might bring balance. The four elements: earth, fire, air, and water, each speak to different attributes of human nature and, although the Mother Goddess concept doesn't exist in the world of the Avatar, it is the influence of the Mother Goddess that allows for the existence of this reincarnated responsibility. One female who controls all the elements speaks to a larger concept of motherhood: nurturance and protection. Korra is steadfast in her willingness to protect those who cannot protect themselves; she not only draws from the energy around her to bend it, but she also has the ability to heal—through her waterbending. Ultimately, we find ourselves drawn to her because of her link to the most basic parts of existence, the elements that make up the world. She becomes a goddess figure in that she can attain the Avatar state, having merged with the spirit of peace and light, Raava. This female energy, linked with Korra, makes her an even stronger Mother Goddess figure.

The strength of the female, of female energy, of the most basic of nurturing sources touches a part of us that hearkens back to our ancient origins. We find comfort with these heroines, seeing a piece of ourselves in them: the heroic, the compassionate, the strong, the protective, the wise, and the empowered. Through Diana and Korra's connections to their inner power, they remain vital and relevant. Where Diana is the Amazon brought to life by the gods and Korra is the human inheritor of a vast responsibility, each remains true to her beliefs and her abilities. Perhaps that is one lesson we can also take from them: stay true to what you believe and what you can do, but always strive to be better. 
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