Thursday, June 13, 2013

River Goddess: A Peek Behind-the-Scenes Part 1: Concept and Research





"Unity in Diversity" Adinkra symbol
I invite you to join me on an artistic adventure! Follow me (if you dare!) as I journey through my creative process to create an new piece of art for my latest series of works.

Over the last few days I’ve solidified the general concept for my next series; Global Goddesses.
In this series, I'll explore the idea of Unity in Diversity.

Every person, culture, tribe, religion and social group on Earth has their own unique personality and way of life.  Yet most of the core ideals – the things we hold sacred – are universal; they are concepts that unite us as a single Human Family. 
We are endlessly creative in our interpretations and expressions of these ideas, but what we hold in our hearts is largely the same around the globe, and throughout history.

In the Global Goddess series, each design will take a look at a particular concept as expressed through the female deities of many cultures, combining the aspects and associated symbols into a single goddess figure that encompasses the global expression of that idea.

My first work in this series expressed the idea of the Sacred Mother, who embodies many things; the feminine gender, fertility and the creation of life, nurturing and comfort, purity, protection, unconditional love and the earth itself, among others. (Click here for more information on this design).

My second piece is focused on the idea of the sacred river, or fresh water source. 
While all forms of water are associated with feminine energy, it is fresh water that is most often represented as a female deity.  Oceans and seas, with their terrifying vastness and savage storms were more often seen as male, while rivers, lakes, ponds and springs were more often seen as more benign and life-giving – traditional female traits.

Once I’ve got my concept, the next step in my creative process is to start doing some research. 
The internet is an invaluable tool for this.  We now have access to the nearly all of human knowledge and information at our fingertips!
Google searches lead me down electronic pathways to information and references that I can incorporate into my work.  I also page through my collection of books on mythology and symbolism, and delve into YouTube, Hulu and Netflix for documentaries that touch on the subjects I’m studying.

I dive deep into the River to try to understand her essential nature. 

Along with mythological and cultural information, I also explore scientific data related to the topic.  Many of the associations and attributes connected with mythical figures are based on observations of the natural world. 
Earlier peoples who established these notions lived in much closer harmony with nature than most of us do today.  Their world was not one of man-made environments, but of wild landscapes, plants and animals, atmospheric phenomenon and seasonal changes, all of which directly effected their daily lives.  They had an intimate relationship with Nature, and saw themselves reflected in it.    
Exploring current scientific understanding of these things can lend insight to the mythical stories created by our ancestors (see the P.S. at the bottom of this entry for an incredible example of this!).

As I explore, I make notes and scribbles, compiling the ideas and symbols I want to include, and begin to start to sketch out my basic composition. 
Once I hammer out what elements I want to work into my design, I begin my second phase of research – reference for the visual images themselves. 

In the case of the River Goddess, I seek out portrayals of fresh water goddesses from around the world and throughout history.  
 I also search for references for associated imagery. In this case, fresh water plants and animals, pictures of how water and rivers are portrayed in different art styles, and various images linked to the core concepts that are related to fresh water; abundance and refreshment, baptism, healing and cleansing. 

I strive to include deities and art styles from many different cultures and blend them harmoniously.

This is my initial (very!) rough composition sketch with notes:

Since I realize how unintelligible my scribbles are to untrained eyes, here’s a transcription of the notes:
Title: Waters of Life
Plumed headdress – papyrus?  Feathers
Purity (white lotus)
Baptism (shell with 3 drops)
Streams of fish and water life:
Catfish
Salmon
Ducks
Turtle
Eel
Frog
Salamander
Piranha
Dragonflies
Water birds
Crawfish
Crabs
Snake
Water lilies
Lotus
Reeds
Papyrus
Crane
Egret
Shrimp
Otters?
Beavers?
Tadpoles
Kingfisher
Skimmers
Cattails
Healing
Fins
Blue and white beads
Oshun- fish tail
Anuket (Nile)
Rocks
Crocodile
Swirly waterfall
Flowing out
Water jug
White lotus
Shell
 The next step will be to refine my sketch and begin to design the finished elements and overall design.

Stay tuned for Part 2!


PS:  I'd like to share something I discovered in my research that I think is pretty amazing!  

The Ganges River is the most sacred river in India - revered by Hindus for many thousands of years as a life-giving goddess (Ganga Maiya).  Though her waters are muddy and polluted by the millions of people who have used and continue to use the water for bathing, laundry, sewage, disposal of the dead, and more...the people have always maintained that the water is not only safe, but cleansing and purifying.  The faithful believe the waters actually prevent disease.
Surely, this is nothing more than foolish (and dangerous) superstition!

Yet when the British colonized the area, the East India Company would exclusively use Ganges River water to take on their ships, because it was said to stay fresh on voyages much longer than any other water.  Outbreaks of water-born diseases have been comparatively lower in the Ganges area than in other highly-populated (and polluted) waterside areas.  It also produces fewer numbers of disease-bearing mosquitoes.

Western scientists have been studying this phenomenon since the late 1800's, their research producing astonishing results, but few answers. It was found that when the bacterium that causes Cholera was put into  water from the Ganges, it died within three hours, while the same bacteria continued to thrive in distilled water even after 48 hours. They also discovered that boiling the Ganges water negated this antibacterial effect.

More recent study has begun to unravel the mystery, and it is truly amazing.  It turns out that the Ganges does have unique properties that keep the waters clean. 

It has been found that a the waters of the Ganges have a uniquely high level of oxygenation (25 times higher than other rivers), which processes waste and putrefying matter much more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. The Ganges cleans up suspended wastes 15 to 20 times faster when compared to other rivers. No one is sure why the oxygen level is so high, but it may have something to do with ancient glacial melt-water sources, and the water's rough journey through the Himalayas.

The Ganges' water is also inhabited by bacteriophages - a kind of parasitic virus that attacks specific types of bacteria.  The massive amount of human usage of the river has actually maintained a thriving population of these fascinating organisms, which prevent the water from becoming dangerously contaminated with water-born diseases.

So the Ganges does indeed have fantastic powers!  Nature has provided the sacred waters with an innate, self-cleansing balancing system that keeps the waters "pure" despite the heavy burden of pollutants it takes on.

I love it when modern science confirms traditional folks wisdom instead of simply dismissing it as foolishness!  There IS magic in this amazing world of ours, and as we invent new ways of detecting and understanding Nature, we will continue to discover more of it's fascinating secrets.

Listen to an audio article about this here:

Read a text articles about this here:

2 comments:

  1. Wow, I just came across you through Eva Lea.We share the love of Goddessss of every kind!I look forward to checking out your site more.. but I need to get ready to teach!Please check out The Barn Pottery on fb;)! If you scroll through mh pics you'll find,Laksmi,Ganesh,Mkther and child vases. Etc!

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  2. Welcome, Kimberly! I checked out your page - beautiful work! I love pottery. One of these days I'll get around to giving it a try. :)

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