During an interview with Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. about the Greek Goddess Artemis, “Mistress of Animals”, I related a story to her that demonstrated how this goddess spontaneously rose up in me.
Jean tells us that Artemis was a “daddy’s girl.” I too was the light of my father’s eye. I grew up with three other siblings and we were so close in age that three of the four of us were in high school at the same time. My older sister was the scholar and the beauty, my older brother was the wild one with a protector spirit, and my younger brother was an absolute angel with the most loving temperament of us all.
Of the four of us, I was the one most connected with our pets and there were several occasions when I stood up to my father in defense of animals. I recall the first time this holy agitation convulsed in me. It was during a boat trip from Chicago to New Orleans that included navigating the Mississippi River. We were on-board a 55-foot “motor-sailer” running solely on its diesel-powered engine with the mast and sails stowed until we reached the open sea of the Caribbean. I was traveling with my mother, father, and little brother, as well as another couple and their two kids, and a river pilot. I, at eleven years old, for once was the oldest child. It took us a little over two weeks to go down the Chicago River, to the Illinois River, and then through the locks just north of St. Louis to enter the Mississippi.
We kids busied ourselves swabbing the decks and every evening we put on a play based on the “I Love Lucy” TV series for the “cocktail hour” entertainment. I was its writer and director, as well as its main character, “Lucy.”
At one point during the trip we were alerted by the recognizable boisterous quacking that a flock of ducks was approaching. Daddy quickly ran down to the hold to grab his shotgun. He stood on the back deck with the gun against his shoulder, aimed and shot. Although he taught all his children how to shoot clay pigeons, I’d never seen him kill anything. I was in shock when I saw one of the ducks fall into the water and start to swim toward the boat for safety. Daddy then blasted it right there in the water before it reached the boat. With my adult eyes I realize that he killed it to put it out of its misery. But, at the time, something very primitive and wrathful rose up in me with volcanic rage at the murder of something so delicate and helpless as that little duck. More than my inner Artemis, I was invoking Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Mauna Loa. She, as expressed by me, brought my father to his knees. Bowed down he crawled over to me, broke down his gun, and asked for my forgiveness saying, “Justine, I will not bring this gun out again for the rest of the trip.” My father was over six feet tall and I was a wisp of a girl. However, in that moment, I was the big one. My energetic body loomed enormous and was without fear as it stood up to the “enemy” of ducks.
This is the first act of power that I can remember. I’m visited by this power on occasion. It erupts within me when I’m in the presence of something truly out of balance. I don’t call this power up, it comes spontaneously. It seems to possess me and arrives from the seat of my being. I feel something from the womb start to turn hot and rise up through my gut, my diaphragm, my heart and burst out of my throat. It is truth speaking through me, not as me. There is a difference. I can’t call on this power at will, it is a grace when it comes and it only comes in the name of truth.
-Justine Willis Toms