Savage Breast: One Man's Search for the Goddess

Savage Breast: One Man's Search for the Goddess

by Tim Ward

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Tim Ward-acutely aware that his own relationships with women always ended in disaster-decided to seek out the Goddess to find out whether men could relate to her as well as women, and whether she could change his life for the better; both his spiritual life and his relationship. He travels to the ruined temples and shrines of the goddess in the cradles of Western… See more details below


Tim Ward-acutely aware that his own relationships with women always ended in disaster-decided to seek out the Goddess to find out whether men could relate to her as well as women, and whether she could change his life for the better; both his spiritual life and his relationship. He travels to the ruined temples and shrines of the goddess in the cradles of Western Civilization, from France to Turkey, Jerusalem to the Ukraine, encountering different aspects of her face. The intimate story of one man's discovery of the feminine divine through myth, art, archaeology, and personal encounter.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Part travelogue, part self-congratulatory memoir and mostly insecure ramblings, Ward's journey to discover the goddess principle is a thinly veiled attempt to find himself. Since Western religion eliminated goddess worship from its rituals long ago, he observes, young males lack healthy role models for understanding their feminine side. He reveals how such a lack affected his own life in multiple stories about his difficult and failed relationships with women. Taking a page from Bruce Feiler's walks in the footsteps of biblical figures, Ward travels the globe to trace various goddesses and connect with their primal power. His travels take him to Crete, Greece, Turkey, Romania and Cyprus, where he comes face-to-face with the ancient traditions and rituals surrounding the cults of goddesses as diverse as Ariadne, Hera, Athena, Hekate and Artemis. He weaves the story of his relationship with his wife into the travelogues about goddess sites as a way of demonstrating how successfully he believes he has come to terms with the divine feminine. This book is not so much about goddesses as it is about Ward's sexual insecurities and his need to psychoanalyze himself. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Ephesus, Turkey

"Men of Ephesus, doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven?

--The Bible, Acts of the Apostles 19:35[1]

The silversmith Demetrius called an emergency meeting of his guild. He warned his colleagues that the two things they cherished most were under attack: their goddess, and the income they derived from selling silver statues of her to the pilgrims who thronged to her great temple in Ephesus.

"Men," Demetrius declared, "you know our livelihood depends on this trade. You can see and hear what this fellow Paul is doing. He says gods made by human hands are not gods at all. Not only here in Ephesus, but all over Asia he has managed to convince people that this is the case. Now there's a great danger that our trade will come into disrepute. More than that, there is also the danger that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will itself come to be despised and even She, Artemis-whom not only Asia but all the world reveres-will be stripped of her greatness and come to mean nothing."

When they heard this, the men began raging through the street, shouting "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" They found one of Paul's traveling companions and hauled him into the theater. The mob had grown huge and wild. People shouted accusations and chanted over a Jewish representative's attempts to speak to them. But then the city clerk arrived.

"Men of Ephesus," he chided, "doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash." He added that if the silversmiths had a grievance against these men, they could take it to court, and reminded them that they were in danger of being charged with rioting, which would bring the wrath of Rome.[2] It was a masterful blend of appeasement, reason, and intimidation, and the Ephesians left the theater meekly.

But Demetrius was right. Within a few centuries Christian emperors would ban all pagan practices. The temple to Artemis, four times the size of the Parthenon and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, would be sacked, obliterated, its marble quarried to build churches, its statues ground to powder for making plaster. In 1860 it took a team of archeologists nine years just to find the temple. Today, only a single pillar has been re-erected. It stands in a swamp, like a lonely marble redwood, with a bird's nest on its crown.

Walking the excavated streets of Ephesus, less than a mile from the temple grounds, it was easy to imagine what the city must have been like in the first century A.D. when it was then the Roman capital of Asia. These days, foreigners again pack the ancient city, just inland from the Anatolian coast. The entrances are lined with souvenir shops, Turkish money changers, kiosks selling t-shirts and erotic postcards and, after a gap of 1600 years, statuettes of Artemis--plastic now, instead of silver. At the time of Paul the city had broad boulevards, public baths, gymnasiums, fountains, mansions for rich merchants, a port, the famous library that rivaled Alexandria's, and the great theater that was once filled with a bloodthirsty mob. A footstep carved in stone next to a drawing of a penis points the way to a local whorehouse. With half a million inhabitants, Ephesus was the New York of the ancient world.

"Devoted to dancers...the whole city was full of pipers and effeminate rascals and noise," wrote the ancient tourist, Philostratus.

Paul urged the Ephesian Christian converts to shun the city's licentious ways.

"Be like God in true righteousness and holiness," he wrote to them. "Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity....Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking....No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."[3]

The goddess was not so harsh in judging humankind. I thought in particular of the goddess Isis' appearance to Lucius, a poor lascivious soul transformed into an donkey by witchcraft in Apuleius' tale The Golden Ass. The story was written in the 2nd Century A.D., contemporary with the cult of Artemis of Ephesus, who like Isis was seen as a manifestation of the universal Great Goddess. After suffering humiliation and brutality, fleeing from those who wish to kill him, poor Lucius sees the full moon above the ocean, and he brays to the goddess for help. She rises up to greet him from the waves:

All the perfumes of Arabia floated into my nostrils as the Goddess deigned to address me: "You see me here, Lucius, in answer to your prayer. I am Nature, the Universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all the gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shining heights of Heaven, the wholesome sea-breezes, the lamentable silences of the world below. Though I am worshiped in many aspects, known by countless names, and propitiated with all matter of different rites, yet the whole round earth venerates me....I have come in pity of your plight, I have come to favor and aid you. Weep no more, lament no longer; the hour of deliverance, shone over by my watchful light, is at hand."[4]

His salvation is to simply eat the petals of a rose. Freed from his donkey body, the restored Lucius enters the goddess' priesthood in Corinth, where he spends the rest of his days "enjoying the ineffable pleasure of contemplating the goddess' statue." Apulieus' contemporaries in Ephesus would have understood exactly what he was talking about, and certainly they would know poor Lucius was not the only man who had to make an ass of himself before turning to the goddess.

In the Ephesus museum an entire hall is devoted to three life-sized statues of Artemis recovered from her temple. I sat on the cool marble floor of this hall and gazed up at her, my best shot at that 'ineffable pleasure' Apulieus described. The room is dim. Soft lights play on the idols' curves. Her face is impassive, her posture rigid. Her skirts flow down, making a single column of her legs. In the crooks of her outstretched arms she cradles two lions, reminiscent of the twin leopards from the Çatalhöyük goddess' throne, sculpted some 6,000 years earlier. Her hands reach out to her adorers as if to fold them into her. On her chest, beneath a zodiac necklace, she has rows and rows of breasts. Twenty, thirty, it's hard to count them all. They hang from her like clusters of grapes. She takes my breath away. It strikes me suddenly as so wrongheaded, the claim of scholars that she is a goddess of fertility. This Artemis does not remind me of birth. She's a goddess of abundance, of breasts overflowing, enough for all humanity to suckle.

To see them clustered there between her arms intoxicates me. It is the thing we were born to ache for. If Jung is right and there are archetypes hardwired into the brain, then the breast must be the most important: to press against it, latch, suck and gulp is the most primal human instinct next to drawing our first breath. Artemis of Ephesus, she opens it up in me, and I feel the need like a pang. I remember that the Spartans used to put male babies on a mountain top for seven days after birth, then weaned survivors early. It made better soldiers, so they said. It gave them a kind of anger. If we are made to long for the breast, does not having it twist something in us, create an anger and a craving we must carry all of our lives? Especially men like me, born of a bottle-nursed generation, suckled with the taste of a rubber nipple. Is this the root of our culture's grand obsession with the real thing?

At age eleven I was flipping though catalogues in search of brassier ads. I tore out pages of Life Magazine featuring topless Las Vegas showgirls or half-naked African tribeswomen and hid them in my closet. At thirteen, I was thumbing through Playboy magazines in the back of the local variety store, terrified I was going to be discovered in my depravity, touching only the edges of the pages so as not to leave a sweaty fingerprint-was somebody going to dust for fingerprints? I still remember the first time I softly placed my hand on the front of a girl's blouse. The ecstasy shivered in me that short instant until she gently returned my fingers to her shoulders. In a crowd, my eyes still find the woman in a low cut top. My head swivels on the beach. I feel the thrill to see the swell of them, the bounce of them, the gorgeous raspberry tips of them though a light summer dress. I think of pornography, strippers, advertising, the breasts pushed in our faces in the rush to get our cash. I remember sitting in strip bars, watching girl after girl expose her breasts for all to see, and me soaking it in like a drunk at his liquor, each pair revealed leaving me wanting to see the next pair and the next and the next, though almost all were pumped and artificially rounded, an identical army of Barbie dolls. In the raw magazines, women's breasts are distended until they are grotesque, and it seems there is no limit to the flesh men crave. Imagine if Artemis of Ephesus could be our centerfold, if multiple breast enhancements became the newest fashion, each woman sporting a dozen, twenty, thirty breasts. Would that assuage this need we have, for more, more, more?

Strange how all the breasts we see today never fill us up. They leave us wasted, yet still wanting. What happened that we turned them into a commodity, silicon pillows to be devoured with our eyes? In the act, we lost them, or they somehow eluded us, because what they provided was never in the breasts themselves. Artemis of Ephesus symbolizes a kind of giving we no longer understand. Not an exchange, not love returned for love or money, but a flooding forth from her abundance. This is the goddess that Lucius turned to, a goddess so full that our need, our "depraved and sinful nature," is not an obstacle to her blessing. She gives because she is that giving. And what was my life, but a longing for this abundance, coupled with the belief that it doesn't exist?

It makes me want to push those breasts away. At the feet of Artemis, I realized I am a member of the cult of scarcity, that tribe that believes there is never enough to go around: not enough food, not enough money, sex, or love. I grew up in a prosperous middle class family. I have a job, a child, a lover, a hundred times more security than any other human generation has ever known. And yet I fear that it will all be snatched away someday. So I better not to take too much, want too much. Luxury is abhorrent to me. I call it thrift, but it is fear. Sometimes I envy members of that other tribe, the cult of abundance for whom life is overflowing, and they can easily reach out and grab that teat, and suck, and trust that there will always be milk, and not a vulture's beak.

I asked Teresa once how North American women felt about their breasts. Her answer surprised me.

"Your breasts give you your identity," she explained. "You see it happen at puberty. Girls who develop big breasts get all the attention from boys. They don't have to be smart or even develop much personality. Girls with small breasts, they either develop their brains or character and carve out an identity, something distinctive as a way to be noticed or win power in the same arena as men. If they don't have that spark, they become wallflowers."

"What about you?"

"Oh, I developed early. In grade six, the boys would sing at me 'way down yonder in the land of cotton,' because they thought I stuffed my bra. But I was a real introvert. The attention from boys didn't really affect me one way or another, because I didn't need it. Of course, later on that meant I could easily get whatever attention I might for a moment want, and that was sometimes nice. But I think it was hard for girls who had big boobs and a strong personality. They wanted to be accepted for who they were instead of for their breasts, and that screwed them up worse than all the rest of us."

Artemis, if men had you to look on, would it bring relief to the female sex? Could we bring our ache and craving to you, gaze upon your breasts, and then perhaps look women in the eye?

The Ephesus guidebooks say that these days most archaeologists don't think the lumps on Artemis' chest are really breasts, but rather the severed testicles of sacrificial bulls-fertility offerings that were part of her sacred rites. Historically, severed testicles were intimately associated with both Artemis and Anatolian Cybele; her priests cut off their genitals to honor her, and only a man thus unmanned could preside over her temple rites. Some scholars believe these eunuch priests originally conned their way into an earlier hierarchy of priestesses, eventually gaining power and taking over. The robes of Christian priests and the vow of celibacy which they take may be relics of this revolution. Others interpret ritual emasculation as a rite of gender-change: men so drawn to the goddess that they rend themselves to attain her image. The Romans called these self-castrators Galli, and their cult flourished in the heart of Rome. During Cybele's festivals there, scores of men in frenzies of devotion would slice their manhood off, and throw the severed organs in a great bloody heap. This gruesome rite appears again and again in the Near Eastern myths of Attis, Adonis, Tammuz and Osiris, the severed penis a fertile agent of rebirth. In this way the priests of Artemis re-enacted, bloodily, the sacred sacrifice of the ancient kings, whose death brought new life to the land, and in this they earned their role as counterpart, and eunuch consort to the Goddess of all abundance. Which is it, breasts or testicles? An icon may have many meanings. At least one statue of Artemis of Ephesus has clearly defined nipples.[5] But now I see the goddess with a disturbing double vision: with both breasts and swinging testicles around her neck. The gift of abundance and the brutal price that gift demands.

To receive that breast, did one have to become her eunuch slave? I had to laugh. Too many of my past relationships had been with the likes of Artemis. Sooner or later, I would be cutting off my balls so she could sling them around her neck. I believed with each relationship that this act was necessary, and would lead to some epiphany. Instead I just lay there bleeding. Eventually I hardened my heart to Artemis' kind. Her offer of the breast took too much from me. I wonder if Paul hit a chord with the Ephesians of his day when he wrote to them, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord."[6] Once the woman submits, once she is property, then her husband owns those breasts, those clusters of abundance. No need to slice of your balls to get them. And yet it has not worked out well for men these past 2,000 years. Those breasts still hang before us, a promise and a torment, ours to possess in marriage or the marketplace, and yet strangely out of reach...

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