Sotto Voce will be celebrating this Women’s History month in a number of ways, including releasing a new socially-distanced recording project, posting previews of the The Second Sight recorded by the premiere cast, and sharing recordings from our members that celebrate the living tradition of fantastic works by women composers. To kick off the month, however, we decided to reflect upon the myriad of possible incarnations of “feminine spirit.”
Many who study the world’s ancient cultures believe that early societies were more often matriarchal than patriarchal. In these matriarchies, people would primarily worship feminine incarnations of the divine. A reoccurring theme across mythologies was that there were three components to this feminine spirit – standing loosely for three major life-stages, but also more abstractly symbolizing a variety of different life energies held in a natural balance. The goddess was not one thing, but a multitude within herself. The three most common aspects of the goddess are often referred to as “maiden,” “mother,” and “crone.”
The maiden is the primal life-force, with a desire to create and innovate and make whole. She is idealism and mischief and willfulness. The mother is the giver of life, but also the one who holds life in the balance and can in her power also choose to take it away. She is nurturing, but also disciplined and strong. The crone is the wise woman, ancient and eternal. She is the keeper of deep knowledge and a seer of visions, with access to the mysteries of the darkness. We often think of a “crone” as a frightening figure, but this is only because of our own fear and misunderstanding of death.
“I didn’t know about these archetypes when I first set out to write The Second Sight, but when I read about them in a book I bought last summer, I recognized the three central figures in my opera,” writes composer of The Second Sight, Jessie Downs. “Like this ancient feminine trinity, they encapsulate three major life stages and personas: Sashatya is a playful maiden (in the extreme, as a child), Freyaria is a strong and empathetic mother, and Diskana – although given no specific age – is a wise and experienced seer. Also like the goddess trinity, these three are deeply interconnected and the lines blur as to where one figure begins and the other ends.”
“I don’t believe there is any one way to ‘be feminine.’ I have often struggled with modern stereotypes of femininity that don’t gel with my understanding of myself, yet I deeply identify with being a woman – all the joys and struggles that such an identity entails. With my opera, I hope that the ancient idea of the sacred mutability of feminine spirit will be lifted up, honoring all the Maidens, Mothers, and Crones that have influenced my life thus far.”