I’m a republican to my bones, and the notion of blue blood makes my red blood boil. However I was agog at the extraordinary collective grief that occurred world-wide when Diana of Wales died.
I wrote this piece in 1997 as an attempt to understand the phenomenon.
It is the 17th anniversary of her death today.
Diana The Mythic Princess
The stunning phenomenon which united two and a half billion people watching the planetary theatre of Princess Diana’s funeral, (September 1997) left many questions in its wake. The masses of women and men sharing in a catharsis of mourning approached the mythical and mystical realms of experience. The intense flood of grief aroused by Diana’s death was intensely real, yet any intimacy we felt with Diana’s death, was in fact illusionary. She was a woman who had become a mirror for millions, absorbing and reflecting not only our fantasies, but our deeper selves.
We live in a time of profound alienation, cut off from many traditional spiritual resources. Market forces rule, custom dictates belief only in the ‘real’ and the exploitable. People have become bereft of faith in the spiritual. Media-market- driven-make-believe has become our heaven. Celebrities are a focus and prey for ordinary folk’s dreams and yearnings. Film actors are like stars in our spiritual firmament; a decadent live Elvis, dead becomes a religion; royalty become gods. Celebrities and their cult of glamour, dwell in the place that once gods and goddesses inhabited. Diana was the First Lady in residence within the pantheon of stars that the media has made our Olympus in the late twentieth century.
Diana’s cult whilst she was living was a complex and fascinating one, because it contained so many contradictions. Poor little rich girl – was she media victim or wily manipulator, party animal, or Our Lady of the Minefields? Her many paradoxes, plus her charisma, fed her iconography in the tabloids. In life, she was seen as a fairy-tale princess with all the trials and travail that a true heroine has to suffer and overcome. She endeared herself to peoples’ hearts with her ability to speak out about her bulimia, her lack of confidence and her betrayal by the Prince. Just as fairy-tale demands, flawed, yet pure of heart, she became a true princess, not merely a royal one.
A ballet shoe tied to the railing outside Kensington Palace was inscribed “You were a Cinderella at the Ball, and now you are a Sleeping Beauty.” Alas a Cinderella with no fairy godmother, a Snow White with no seven dwarfs. No magic wands or supportive home-help; this fairy tale did not live happily ever after.
Her pink and gold beauty was united briefly with the dark and exotic playboy ‘prince’, who had stepped into her life straight out of Arabian Nights. They were flying high on the magical Mercedes carpet across Paris, City of Love. But woe, it was driven by bloody Death, a drunken driver. The Grim Reaper mowed her down at the 13th pillar. The shock waves of her entering that tunnel and into the black void stopped all our hearts.
She was the First Lady of the World. She is now the Lady of the Lake. Her resting place at Althorp, on an island in the middle of the lake is mythical in its setting. The Lady of the lake is a beautiful and powerful Celtic myth which offers us ways through and beyond Diana’s death, to find meaning in her life.
Her gift to us is Excalibur, the magical sword. In esoteric teachings, the sword represents the element of Air, the new breath, the word, the pen the power of thought and communication. Excalibur is the promise of renewal. We must grasp the clear sword of focus, the challenge of new goals and new directions.
Of course it takes a hero to seize Excalibur from the Lady’s disembodied hand – to transform and transcend our emotions. And yes, we can all be heroes in a spiritual sense, if we strive to rise clean, pure and refreshed from the healing waters of grief. We can become the Lady’s heroes in a quest to overcome the very forces, the human Diana was battling with all her life. Not only the causes of Hospices, Aids, and Land Mines, but the need for us to revolutionize the sexism of spousal abuse, the exploitation and commodification of youth and beauty, and the self-serving invasive tactic of a competitive and amoral media. Daunting tasks indeed, which only a collective Excalibur, wielded by heroes united in service of a greet Queen of Love can undertake.
She named herself Princess of Hearts. “The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test” (taken from the hymn sung at Diana’s request during her wedding and again at her funeral) was a guiding principle in her life. Love was a major link in the relationship the public forged with her in their personal lives. She died with her faith still intact in love, sweet love.
In the land of myth, the great Queen of Heaven and Sea – Aphrodite - was the Goddess of Love. She is a dominating archetype at play in Diana’s life. Aphrodite was attended by the three Graces – Joyous, Flowering and Radiance. They dance through Diana’s style, her caprice, her gaiety. Diana’s graces enchanted and fascinated as she flirted with mass audiences. Look through Aphrodite’s mirror to see Diana’s carelessness of consequences, her wealth and extravagance, her vivid brilliant beauty. Thalia the Flowering, who crowned Aphrodite with flowers and casts rose petals beneath her feet, was manifoldly present outside Kensington palace. It was she who moved through the London crowds showering flowers onto Diana’s funeral chariot.
Aphrodite rules laughter, joy and little children.
Diana’s candour and child-like charm turned her into a conqueror of hearts. The Goddess of love and beauty was married to Hephaestos, the unattractive, crippled god, who is patron saint of all ungraceful but rich men everywhere. He is ugly, but his jewels are not and he pleases his wife with his gifts. He demands their return when the marriage turns nasty. Unbonnie Prince Charlie was in an Olympian marriage to the Goddess of Love! When she was caught in the web of adultery, we laughed at him and wept for her.
But our modern culture has an uneasy and troubled relationship with the Goddess. We have built no honest temple to Aphrodite.
In a time where politics, legislation and culture are dominated by men, and all the major religions exclude goddesses – I suspect Aphrodite and her immortal sisters are angry with us. In myth, mortals are punished by the gods if we dishonour them. As if to prompt us to learn to honour ALL the needs of our psyches, the Fates decree tragedy and catharsis. The extraordinary reverence so many humans showed Diana in her death is perhaps part of a new homage we will be prepared to render to Aphrodite – to our heart chakras. Let the impulse for renewal that springs from the sadness of her death, be one of daily worship and celebration of the vital, sacred need we all have for ‘her ways of gentleness and all her paths of peace.” (again taken from the hymn sung at her wedding and her funeral)
The Goddess has many faces, and the mortal Diana was the namesake of another great archetype, striding through our ancestral consciousness. Diana or Artemis as she was known to the Greeks, is the virginal Goddess of the Moon. Diana of Wales was born with her Sun in the Moon’s sign of Cancer, and died in the dark phase of the Moon. Artemis, who has become a shadowy goddess in modern times, is the crescent aspect of the Moon and her chaste purity has been partly absorbed into the cult of the Virgin Mary. Yet Mary, major icon of Western Womanhood for 2000 years, is a curious hybrid of Virgin and Mother. Certainly Princess Diana born under the Great Mother’s sign of Cancer, played out her role of divine mother in providing a future King of England and a spare heir. Her obvious love of children, her humanitarian work and instinctive charisma she incorporated into the role of Mother of the Dispossessed, are dominant strands woven into her complex cult, feeding her star saint status.
Her Madonna was a perfect counterpoint to the vulgar American pop version. Diana’s deification startlingly resembles the Spanish and Italian baroque excess of Mater Della Rosa. The universal convulsion of grief which the world experienced as the Sun was eclipsed by the Moon, in the zodiacal sign of Virgo the Virgin, could easily become a Mexican wave of Madonna-Diana worship. Surely it won’t be long before people make their pilgrimage to her burial place to be miraculously cured by the waters. The Lady’s ghost will haunt us in many forms – apparitions in the London subways, shrines in hospices and leprosy Missions. Dying as she did at the peak of her youth and beauty, catapults her into the stratosphere of Divinity.
Diana – Lover, Mother, but above all Diana the Virgin. The title Virgin signifies ‘she who belongs to herself’ and Diana/Artemis is the representation of pure femininity that is defined neither by relationship to a lover, child, father or husband. In our culture femininity is rarely represented in the absolute, but always in relation to some other reality in the masculine world. Female virginity seems to exist for us only when it introduces the transformation into a “real” woman – as if femininity could never be complete in itself.
Shy Di, the virginal kindergarten teacher was transformed by her marriage made in media-heaven, into the quintessential woman. Strangely though, even after the wedding, motherhood, extra-marital affairs, she still remains the shy faun – the ingénue – in our mind’s eye.
Diana’s beauty was indeed Venusian – the English Rose with an ancient Greek profile. Yet Artemis is a beautiful Goddess too. Diana Spencer’s beauty had an athletic, androgynous quality and she carried herself with the psychic solitariness of a Virgin Queen.
Princess Diana consistently chose fashion and music and Mediterranean cruises over hunting, horses and dogs – Aphrodite over Artemis. But if her style was always Venusian – warm and sensual – her attempts to get away from it all are pure Diana. Escaping the ritualised killing of local deer and birdlife in the cold Balmoral forests, to holiday on the warm beaches of the Caribbean, is still to honour Artemis’ demands – to seek retreat, to know self.
Independence, solitude and privacy are necessary prerequisites in Artemis’ domain.
But how to defend her privacy against an impossible invasion on all fronts? Goddess of the Hunt, Artemis was never violated.
Guardian of Adolescence, the Virgin Forest, the Sacred Grove, fierce Artemis sanctifies all the wild, undomesticated, intact, physical and psychological spaces in nature and in ourselves. But this goddess has been grievously wronged – dishonoured – in our culture. Men and especially women who are so closely associated with nature, have lost the power to defend a sacred territory, interior or exterior, physical or psychic. Nature is universally exploitable and commercialised. Women and girls have become violable and utilisable.
In olden days, our society had strict controls in place to defend holy Artemis. When Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets, the Tom who peeped, daring to defile her beauty, was stricken blind and driven into exile by angry villagers. Today the Peeping Toms, the men on motorbikes with computerised cameras and satellite-linked mobile phones, the high-tech hounds of fame, break all taboos.
When the deep drives of a goddess are repressed, distorted or actively violated, she will take her revenge. Artemis is a savage deity; her arrow is cruel, sure and swift. Blood sacrifice is part of her myth. Diana Spencer had been an innocent virgin cynically used and sacrificed to the Palace of Patriarchy. Once she left the chilly bosom of the Windsor Establishment, she became prey to the commodification of fame in a global media economy. She became ‘the most hunted woman in the world” and as if to propitiate an untrammelled media’s voracious appetites, she was hunted to her death. The paparazzi not only became her nemesis, but defiled her death like jackals feeding off carrion.
Diana’s oh-so-modern death was not a willing sacrifice such as Joan of Arc’s heroic death, but a hideous and pathetic mauling. The terrible Hecate, who personifies the dark of the Moon, let loose her death-dealing dogs and extracted her bloody revenge on humankind. The angry goddess showed her dark and cruel face, leaving us mortals in eerie silence.
Artemis, sister to us all, must be appeased, if we are to be redeemed by her namesake’s sacrificial death. Diana’s brother swore to vigilantly preserve her children’s right to privacy, to sacred space.
Can we too honour Artemis in our lives? Is it possible to defend the Goddess of Virgin Femininity from the rape of the Emperor’s mercenaries? Will we become protectors of her sacred groves?
Pagan Meditations. The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis and Hestia by Ginette Paris. Translated from the French by Gwendolyn Moore Spring Publications Inc Texas. 1989.
The Living Planets. Venus. By Dana Gerhardt in The Mountain Astrologer. August/September 1997.