Ancient Goddess Archetype: Are You a Modern-Day Artemis?
The Greeks built temples and altars to gods and goddesses that today we might sense deep within our world or even within ourselves. One that particularly appeals to me is Artemis, known by the Romans as Diana. She’s the one pictured with a drawn bow in her hands, at home in the wild and hushed depths of the forest. You can ﬁnd her there today, if you can get far enough from civilization to feel the purity and untouched, pristine green freshness of nature. In a very quiet moment, you might sense that same unspoiled innocence within yourself.
Artemis wants little to do with civilization and society. Scholars trace her to an ancient ﬁgure called The Lady of the Beasts, and she seems more comfortable in the company of animals than that of people. Stories describe her as being virginal, close to children and young people, especially girls still innocent.
She was virginal not just in a literal sense but in the quality of all her inter-actions. She was touchy about her privacy and didn’t want to be too closely identiﬁed with another person, especially a man. She was tall and lean and could be aggressive in preserving her integrity. The priestess of Artemis, who kept the temple keys and treasures, was called Melissa, the bee—a hard worker with a stinger. A bee does its work in a ﬁeld and then leaves it virginal, with no sign that an intruder has interfered. Melissa also is linked to honey, a nectar we still associate with purity and health.
You probably know Artemis-like men and women, who like to be in nature, require that everything be natural, prefer the single life, insist on their individuality, have a special aﬀection for animals, are self-employed, and like to run. It’s good to have an archetypal image like Artemis in mind so you don’t judge her values as antisocial or immature. She represents a kind of immaturity that is natural and legitimate.
I’ve always felt like an Artemis man. I’m not woodsy and I don’t enjoy camping and I’ve never been a runner, but in subtle ways I feel at home in her virginal, private world. I like to think for myself and go out of the way not to be inﬂuenced by my culture’s ideas and language. I enjoy being alone, and the few times in my life I had an ordinary job, it’s been a disaster. For the past 14 years, I’ve written all my books in the company of a dog, who sits under my desk and is one of the animals closely connected to Artemis. Others are deer and bears.
Marriage doesn’t come easily to me, but fortunately I married a woman who has a lot of Artemis in her. We appreciate this special spirit in each other. We don’t retreat from life, and yet the Diana spirit is strong in everything we do. To her devotees Artemis brings a deﬁnite quality of self-reliance, natural beauty, attention to landscape and gardens, emotional reserve, and originality.
An old hymn to Artemis says that she rarely goes to town. We could take that simple phrase as a rule of life preserving a precious aspect of our being. There’s a “forest” in us, a place of inner retreat and refreshment, a virginal and private inner hideout of vast importance to the soul. It’s resistant to the media and the opinions of others and is slow to show itself and be exposed.
You could build an altar to Artemis by resisting society’s well-intentioned methods of health and education and trust your natural instincts and intuitions. Home schooling and natural remedies may have Artemis in them. You could keep your childhood innocence alive and in play. You might keep a jar of honey handy to be reminded of this goddess and her rites and blessings. You could read the stories of the followers of Artemis: Daphne, Actaeon, Hippolytos, Atalanta, and Britomartis. Each oﬀers a slightly diﬀerent way to embody this goddess in daily life.
If you need to connect with your Artemis nature, you could take a walk far into the woods or go to your favorite natural retreat, say no to pressure from commercial advertisements, take up archery, or study a bee doing his work and then emulate him. You could go your own way and be testy, if necessary, in preserving your own tastes and inclinations. You could trust your intuitions and originality and keep your youth close at hand. There is a goddess who will smile and oﬀer her blessing when you stand up for your way of life and your quirky style.