In August, I was invited to present a seminar at the American Psychological Association (APA) conference based on my photography called “The Inner Goddess and the Inner Gaze.” My presentation, given in Toronto on August 7, explored the phenomenon of the inner feminine, or anima, and its relationship to both men and women in our journey of growth and healing through the use of mirrors and photography.
Since I am not a psychologist, my presentation was co-sponsored by one: Dr. Christine Farber, a longtime Planet Waves reader, who was my astrology student from the Omega Institute.
My photography project, called Book of Blue, is an indirect outgrowth of my work as an astrologer, though expressed in photographs and intimate essays. As an astrologer, I have written and worked primarily with and for women, and in the process have explored my perceptions of women, studied the paths of their lives and done my best to understand their choices and values. I have always been conscious that part of why I am doing this work is to heal my relationship with my mother and with all women; and part of it is to be of service to women in response to a lifelong calling.
Book of Blue is about the use of visual imagery to heal the self-image of women, in the eyes of both men and women. We all agree that we are overwhelmed with idealized, reconstructed images of young women, and these cause disturbances in our ability to perceive women for who they are. More often than not, the personhood of women is robbed by false images and ideas about womanhood. One of our biggest psychological challenges as a society involves men who cannot embrace their inner feminine and women who cannot embrace their inner masculine. The result is a lot of projection; we tend to see the ‘opposite’ sex as something that exists exclusively outside of us—despite many feelings and experiences calling us in.
You might say that I am a woman-identified man. Given the choice of who is more ‘my kind’ of person, as in who I feel more like, I certainly feel like I have far more in common with most women than with most men. Yet in much the same way that relationships among women are fragmented by mistrust and competition, I noticed something similar in my own relationships that I set about working to resolve. The healing process largely facilitated by my work on Book of Blue has involved repairing a sense of alienation and isolation that has gradually given way to an atmosphere of communication and contact.
The [usually] fun part is I also get to be a man, and experience and witness the intensity and subtlety of female beauty, that is, intellectual, emotional and physical beauty, from the viewpoint of being male. Along the way, my inner feminine gets to make friends with other women and learn how to be female; and my inner man gets to polarize into his masculinity and explore our contrasts and how they feel. Along the way, I am working out a relationship with myself.
Conscious of holding this space as mental preparation, I am able to create a space for my photographic subjects to see and feel themselves; to be a witness to their own self-aware femininity and humanity. Women spend a lot of time in mirrors, but I wonder how much of it is really about witnessing themselves. In my studio, that is precisely what they are invited to do: as a means of seeing their own beauty, integrating their sense of identity, processing guilt and body issues, and making peace with their judgments about themselves.
In Search of Venus
In astrology we work with inner archetypes all the time; they are the lead characters in the astrological drama. For example, everyone has Mars and Venus working in their chart; we all possess the same inner masculine and feminine aspects. Where these things are placed, and how we relate to them, are important factors that help shape our personality and affect how we adapt to life in our skins and in society. We know there is plenty of gender tension around us, and we feel it in our relationships; there are also gender relationships within us, which shape our consciousness, perceptions and experiences.
Usually we project that tension outward, rejecting the opposite gender internally and seeing her as a phenomenon in the outer world; without remembering anything about her origins in consciousness.
In terms of the inner feminine, I am talking primarily about Venus, though she takes a number of other forms: for example the Moon (who often represents a child or the child self as well); certain of the more potent asteroids (Psyche, Juno or Vesta, for example); and an important new discovery, Eris (the castaway woman). Yet even when we do astrology, to what extent do we experience and explore these things as having actual life rather than symbolic existence?