Allison here: I met Alex at Thrillerfest in 2006. She terrified me. Gorgeous, confident, sexy, and talented. Fortunately, we hit it off and I got over my fear (mostly.) It also helps that her significant other is a fan of my books 🙂 . . . I read THE UNSEEN and was thrilled to give it an endorsement (albeit late, because, well, such is my life these days.) It’s like a ticking time bomb and so compelling you keep turning pages, wondering in fear and trepidation whether the house is haunted . . . or not. Definitely a must read! It’s my favorite Sokoloff book yet.
So please welcome Alexandra Sokoloff!!
Goddesses in Everywoman
Thanks for hostessing me, Allison and goddesses of Murder She Writes!
And it’s precisely because you all are such goddesses that I hit upon today’s topic. Allison and I have a lot of fun discussing character archetypes on our weekend Murderati blogs — we’re both huge fans of Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, the simpler writer’s version of Joseph Campbell’s classic, THE HERO’S JOURNEY.
But one of the best books I’ve ever read on character, bar none, deals with the heroine and HER many variations and journeys, and I’ve wanted to do a blog on all that for a long time.
One of the must-read books for ANY writer, in my opinion, is Jungian psychologist Jean Shinoda Bolen’s GODDESSES IN EVERYWOMAN
She has a companion book, GODS IN EVERYMAN, equally great for writing character. But frankly, men get too much attention as it is. Today is for US.
I’ve always LOVED Greek mythology and that pantheon. I far prefer the Greek goddesses and gods to their Roman versions, even though they’re essentially the same. I know other people are fascinated by Irish god/desses or Viking ones, and the Mexican deities are amazing, too, but there is just something about those Greeks that works for me as a system of character types. And Bolen does an amazing job of making those myths translate to people and situations we all know. I guarantee if you pick up this book, you will see yourself and every woman you know in it, and it can really help you make choices and refinements about the characters you write. And it’s so entertainingly and intelligently written it makes research a pleasure.
To summarize very, very, VERY simplistically, Bolen describes seven goddesses who are character types we see in every woman:
Hera: the queen, wife, socialite, betrayed and humiliated spouse (examples: Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Edwards — lots and lots of political wives)
Athena: warrior princess, mentor, intellectual, protector of warriors (men), defender of the patriarchy. (again, Hillary Clinton!, Suze Ormon. Lots of city and government-loving Athenas in politics. Also the brainiac tomboy who competes with the boys, like Hermione in HARRY POTTER)
Artemis: goddess of the hunt and of the moon and forest; defender of women and children. Athletic and self-sufficient. (Most female sports figures you can think of; Xena, Warrior Princess)
Aphrodite, goddess of love, beautiful and irresistible but also promiscuous and unfaithful. Rules creativity, art, music, sensual pleasure (lots of movie stars, here – Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth are always cited as examples)
Demeter: earth mother, bereft mother, goddess of the harvest. (Mother Teresa often cited as an example)
Persephone: maiden, kidnapped and raped daughter, Queen of the Underworld, witch, psychic, healer (Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, Bella in Twilight)
Hestia: virgin goddess of the hearth; takes solitary pleasure in the home and crafts without necessarily having a husband or mate.
Bolen further divides these seven goddesses into three categories: the virgin goddesses, the vulnerable goddesses, and the alchemical (or transformative) goddess. The virgin goddesses are Hestia, Artemis, and Athena; the vulnerable goddesses are Persephone, Hera, and Demeter; and the alchemical goddesses are Aphrodite, Persephone, and Hestia.
Now, we all have all of those goddess archetypes within us, and the more balanced we are between all the archetypes, the more stable we are. But of course – how many balanced and stable people do YOU know? Yeah, exactly. And when creating character, it’s often useful to emphasize, or exaggerate, one archetype over another.
I have no doubt about which goddesses are prevalent in me. Persephone rules, with Aphrodite and Artemis always battling for second place. Of course with the stuff I write, that Queen of the Underworld, psychic, otherworldly, witchy thing that Persephone is all about is my turf. Also with the — um… life – I’ve led, love ’em and leave ’em Aphrodite is always in there somewhere. And I’ve always been a rabid defender of women and children, but more in an Artemis warrior kind of way than a mothering one. Plus the wilderness/athlete/animal lover aspects of Artemis have always been very, very strong in my psyche.
Goddesses I am not so familiar with are Hera (wife, mother, socialite? Uh, no.), Hestia (seriously, if you could see my house….) and Athena – although I certainly had my tomboy, brain child stage when I was a kid, I actually really have problems with any woman who defends the patriarchy the way Athenas tend to do (that’s my Artemis raring her head, and oh boy, can she get pissed.).
Interestingly enough, the three goddesses who are dominant in me are the three goddesses associated with witches, and apparently the three most threatening to men. For whatever that’s worth!
I just love using the goddess archetypes to hone in on my characters. Laurel MacDonald, from my new book, THE UNSEEN could have been typecast as an Athena, because of her intellectual focus and the fact that she’s competing against men in a highly intellectual realm. But to me there’s very little Athena working in her. Laurel is a Persephone, as most of my female leads tend to be, because of her fascination with psychic powers and the journey into the unknown that she takes in the book. But she’s also got Aphrodite working in there (there’s a lot of eroticism going on in this particular haunted house, and Laurel makes decisions based more on attraction than reason); and also Demeter, because she takes on the mother role to rescue some young students from the terror of the house.
Are you starting to get the sense of how useful and how much fun this can be? Think about people we know, or characters from books we’re familiar with. J.T. Ellison is always calling her Taylor Jackson character an Athena, and yes, she is. And so is J.T. — she even did a long stint in D.C., home to so, so many Athenas.
I see Demeter, the Earth Mother, in Heather Graham (five kids tends to bring out the mother in anyone!!!), but also Persephone, of course, the Queen of the Underworld; and Aphrodite, the sexy, theatrical gypsy. And, well, all that sex stuff.
Deb LeBlanc has a lot of both Persephone and Demeter going (take a look at what she writes!). I also see Artemis there: Deb is such a feminine warrior. Even though she works and competes on a completely level playing field with men, like an Athena, I don’t think she ever sacrifices her femininity to do it, which is more Artemis than Athena, and Deb has a strong, strong relationship with nature — also more of an Artemis quality (Athena is most comfortable in cities).
Allison has a strong Athena vibe — those years in Sacramento government! – but there’s also Demeter and Perspehone working there — and it comes out in the themes of her books all the time, all that dark stuff. And the warrior/rescuer Artemis is strong in her female leads.
Do you see how fun and how illuminating this can start to be? Even better than astrology! Of course, I may have guessed completely wrong, in which case feel free to set me straight, but it’s a start.
Here’s a website that goes into much more detail, if you need instant gratification (including a personality quiz!) . But I strongly encourage you to get Bolen’s book(s) and read them cover to cover. You’ll be glad you did.
So what do you think? Which goddesses are working in you, and in your characters (or friends)? And/or: what characters can you think of that are great examples of some of these archetypes?
Alex is on a non-Type-A, unKonrath blog tour for the release of her new supernatural thriller, THE UNSEEN.
ADDED AFTER COFFEE: Okay, sorry, I forgot the most important thing! Alex is kindly giving away two books — her debut novel THE HARROWING and her second novel THE PRICE . . . so two lucky commenters get a book! Woo hoo! I’ll randomly pick and post them on Sunday.
AND I forgot to mention above that Alex is a FINALIST in the Thriller Awards for Best Short Story. Amazing and talented!!!!