With Katniss and Merida currently ruling our movie screens, this is a great year for women with a flair for archery. Certainly time, then, to give some love to the prototype arrow-wielding woman, the Greek goddess Artemis.
Goddess of the moon, the hunt and chastity (the back off, I’m not into it kind, not the faithful wife kind), Artemis has always been there for women in all phases of their life, and has held particular significance for those who rebelled at the idea of marriage and submitting to the control of men. Patron of virgins, especially those who wished to remain in that state, girls continued to invoke her long after Christianity supplied meeker figures, such as St Agnes, as models. However, just as the moon changes her body and moves through cycles of fullness, she is also the one who will accompany you through pregnancy and childbirth. Cold when she chooses to be, she can just as easily be nurturing, fulsome and abundant. Her other names include Diana (no coincidence that this is Wonder Woman’s at-home name), Phoebe, Selene and Cynthia, as well as Luna when she is full and pregnant, and Lucina when she is the goddess of midwives. Even Hecate, patroness of witches can be thought of as the same goddess in crone form.
Power and skill are the words that come instantly to mind in seeking to describe her. The usual specious explanations for a woman’s achievement of something difficult, luck, looks or manipulation, are never applied to her victories in chasing down prey. She continually upends conventional gender narratives. Even in the one tale of her emotions stirring for a man, Artemis claims the role of desiring subject that a woman doesn’t usually get to play. The object of her desire was Endymion, a mortal shepherd far beneath her in status. The gods gained his agreement to put him to sleep in a mountain so she could visit him when she wished to gaze upon his lovely form (word is she continues to look after his sheep). When Actaeon violated her boundaries by applying his male gaze to her body, he wound up torn to pieces by his own hounds (probably the only situation in which I feel I can get away with saying payback’s a bitch). Her home is the forest, its creatures under her protection; and those who care for them are in turn beneficiaries of her affection.
Surrounding herself with maidens who loved the things she did, they formed an all-female community without the Amazons’ imperialist ambitions, asking only to be left in peace in one another’s company. For centuries Artemis has been a figure that girls could call upon for an idea of what a life unconfined would look like. She is nobody’s servant, but might be willing to be your guide or mentor if you endeavor to live in harmony with other women.