The world is made of stories, not atoms.
– Muriel Rukeyser
Myths are Ideas and stories and images that shape how we see the world. Celebrating and creating myth is one way to see and be seen.
A Sex Goddess for Older Women?
Last year I asked a friend who is a mythology buff to name an erotic goddess for older women. He was stumped.
“The closest I can think of is Baubo,” he said. “She was a figure in Greek mythology who cheered up Demeter after Hades stole Demeter’s daughter Persephone and took her to the underworld. Baubo raised her spirits by raising her skirt and showing Demeter her vulva.”
Intrigued by that startling bit of story, I read “The Metamorphosis of Baubo“, a 1994 book by artist and historian Winifred Milius Lubell. The book captures fragmentary hints about the origins of Baubo and her significance in the worship life of ancient Greek civilization. Lubell shows that the story of Baubo may have roots in many other cultures including the Sumerians and the ancient Egyptians. Was the worship of Baubo part of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries? Did Baubo’s characteristic gesture, the exposure of the vulva with legs wide, evoke fertility when practiced in ancient agricultural fields? Was Baubo part of a matriarchal mythology much older than the ancient Greek pantheon on Mount Olympus? The book raises many questions and tries to give answers, based on a record that is not only fragmented but may have been deliberately suppressed. It is clear that the followers of Baubo were women (often older women) who told bawdy jokes and raised their skirts in ritual. And it is also clear there was a backlash against Baubo among leaders of other religions, including Christianity.
The central story remains compelling: Baubo is an older woman, possibly a nurse, and a teller of bawdy humorous stories, who comforts the grieving earth goddess and in so doing enables the earth to be fertile again following the capture and rape of her daughter Persephone.
One way to interpret the story is to see it as an allegory about a woman’s lifetime, through the life stages of girl, woman and grandmother. Looked at from this vantage point, Demeter mourns her own lost youth, and is visited by a foreshadowing of herself as an older woman, who shows her vulva to let Demeter know there is still sexuality and passion ahead. With the healing that comes to women in later life, including the promise of continued joy and sexuality, Demeter gains the strength to reclaim her Inner Child. If we reimagine the story in this way, the Mother, Daughter and Grandmother can be seen as a woman’s holy trinity.
Lubell found fragments of stories and artwork that hinted at Baubo-like characters in the mythic histories of countries in Africa, in Asia, and among the Aztecs, as well as in Europe. In addition to art with the open-legged gesture of Baubo, there are related sculptural figures showing a woman’s face located on her abdomen, just above her legs. Baubo may have been celebrated in many places and by many names.
In ancient times, older women were the carriers of culture, the ones who ensured that wisdom was transported across the generations. Women made goddesses in our own image, to embody our hopes and fears, to bring us strength. Older women were the carriers of culture, the ones who ensured that wisdom transported across the generations. In our present time, whenever we write, whenever we create art, we capture stories for our own benefit and the benefit of those who will come after us.
We powerful women of the current age can reclaim the myth of Baubo and make her old and new again with all the stories we tell. As sexy older women we own lifetimes of love, terror, beauty, loss and eroticism that we can communicate with the transcendent power of myth. Nobody can tell our stories or carve our statues like we can.