A Museum Can Be a Sacred Space to Make a Goddess Connection
"Art museums have always been compared to older ceremonial monuments such as palaces or temples. Indeed, from the eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries, they were deliberately designed to resemble them."
-Carol Duncan, Civilizing Rituals
In ancient times museums were viewed as the temple of the nine Muses, who represented the arts and learning, and as environments for connecting with wisdom and beauty. For some museum-lovers, they still carry the vibe of ancient practices.
There is no formal category for the study of The Goddess and Public History, or on goddess-specific experiences in museums, but research has shown that these environments do stimulate the senses to help visitors feel they are in an ancient sacred place. And that they put people in a ritual state of mind.
From the fountains outside to the grand temple-like design to all the statues and works of art that greet each visitor, a museum wants you to enter into a different world. It invites you to enter a ritual experience. It is designed to be secular, but anyone can choose to turn it into a spiritual experience with the Goddess.
"A ritual provides a frame," says historian Carol Duncan, in her book Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums (Routledge, 1995). It also fosters a sense of "Liminality."
Duncan says that Victor Turner, in his anthropological writings, used the term to indicate: a mode of consciousness outside of or "betwixt-and-between the normal, day-to-day cultural and social states and processes of getting and spending."
Museums as a Place to Immerse in the Goddess
Mary Bouquet writes about this concept in "Thinking and Doing Otherwise," a chapter in Museum Studies: And Anthology of Contexts. She expresses the idea that museums can offer us an experience out of normal reality.
Citing Duncan's work, she says museums can be viewed through the lens of anthropological concepts and as a "ritual site" or "ritual artifact."
Because the museum itself can inspire a state similar to a ritual experience, it makes sense that it can create a feeling of immersion for someone who seeks a connection to divine beings in statue or painting form.
Bouquet writes that a carefully constructed museum exhibit can also be an enactment of a performance. This brings to mind some of the earliest cultures in which ritual stories were enacted as sacred rites. The idea of inviting anthropologists to "write the storyline" and "actively harness" a certain perspective to conceptualize an exhibit sounds like a vibrant way to bring it to life.
Calling upon these anthropological ideas and theories for scripting or thinking a story storyline into being can also be applied to the Divine Feminine. This idea was recently bought to life by The British Museum, in their popular Feminine Power exhibit, which welcomes visitors into a world completely created of ancient goddesses, female entities, women's spirituality, and historical evidence of how the goddess was worshipped over time. You can take a look for yourself here and see a review here.
The exhibit garnered mixed reviews, but fans of the Goddess appreciated seeing so many aspects of her in one place.
This makes me think that we can effectively and enjoyably chart our own journey of connecting with Goddesses at local museums.
Engaging in Meaningful Museum Visits
Historian Nigel McGilchrist spoke about the Greeks and contemplative practices in his Smithsonian class, The Artistic Legacy of Ancient Greece. He said the ancient Greeks did not have a religion, perse, but because of their rugged environment and the limitations of being stuck on islands, they focused a lot on developing philosophies and contemplative experiences, in addition to honoring their pantheon of goddesses and gods in temples. They built temples with trees inside because the greenery was a rarity and considered sacred. When they needed advice or wisdom they would go to an oracle, but not just the most famous one. "Sometimes they would just sit and listen to acorns drop," he said. In the silence would come the answers they needed.
In Civilizing Rituals, Duncan does not promote the idea of Museums as religious experiences but she does seem to agree that there is a reason we live in a world filled with art museums that remind us of ancient sacred places. And we can take advantage of ways in which we are visited by liminality when visiting an art exhibit. Like good theater, good movies, and engaging episodic television, perhaps the act of sitting in front of a work of art or a holy statue can put one into another state of being.
Perhaps this state of being can be achieved by sitting quietly near a room filled with ancient structures, or on a bench in an area filled with goddess statues from Greece and Rome. Maybe it can be found in an Asian wing, where you may find ancient goddesses from Buddhist, Tibetan, or Hindu traditions. Or in an Egyptian wing where the Divine Females live on in antiquities.
Museums allow us to travel the world and explore ancient cultures at the drop of a hat. It offers a place to go when we need a trip to goddess cultures around the world.
For those who are partial to a spiritual experience, a museum can be a sacred temple that is filled with the essence of the Divine.
"The word museum has classical origins. In its Greek form, mouseion, it meant "seat of the Muses" and designated a philosophical institution or a place of contemplation"
- Geoffrey Lewis, Britannica