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WORKING ON IT

Summoning the goddesses of self-help

Can Hera, Persephone, Freya, Yemaya, and sisters help you find your way?

The new "The Goddess Solution" and the classic "Goddesses in Everywoman" draw upon ancient wisdom found in feminine archetypes.
The new "The Goddess Solution" and the classic "Goddesses in Everywoman" draw upon ancient wisdom found in feminine archetypes.

Do you, like me, find the siren song of personality quizzes and their ilk nearly impossible to resist? Meyers-Briggs? ENFP, thanks for asking! Enneagram? Type three! My sign? Taurus sun with a Leo rising and a Virgo moon! What Ted Lasso character? Rebecca Welton, how about you? How do I identify? Usually queer, sometimes lesbian, always femme. It’s a way to orient myself in the world, to place myself within a larger context, to say “Yes, this! This is me!” So when “The Goddess Solution: Practical Wisdom for Everyday Life,” by Lisa Marie Rankin (April 2021) crossed my desk, my interest was naturally piqued. A way to align myself with goddesses from various traditions? Sign. Me. Up. And why not take that opportunity to the fullest, and compare this new goddess text with a classic, in this case, Jean Shinoda Bolen’s “Goddesses in Everywoman”? Honestly, I was powerless to resist.

Rankin, an Ayurvedic wellness coach with an MBA from Bentley University, encourages the reader to treat “The Goddess Solution” like a workbook, to flip through and “focus on the goddess you most need to call into your life right now.” Are you interested in honoring your sexuality today? “The Goddess Solution” suggests calling on Freya, the Norse goddess of love, sex, and war. Or maybe you need to connect with Yemaya, the goddess of co-parenting? Each section contains a quick retelling of a goddess’s story, the way said goddess relates to modern society, and how Rankin thinks about her own personal connection to that particular goddess. Then comes a section outlining ways you as a reader can draw on the wisdom of the goddess in your own life via meditation, journaling, and practical application.

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Here is where I confess that within about 10 minutes, I could tell the book was not for me. Which is OK, a lot of books are not for me, and I can still see their value and recommend them to others. The trouble I had with this book had less to do with its hippy-dippy tone — I am from the Hudson Valley — but rather, the kind of eye rolling that a well-off white woman going on about the importance of self-care and meditation inspires. It’s one of the reasons I wrestle with self-help as a genre, this erasure of the systemic issues that are the real root of why things like co-parenting are challenging.

Rankin is divorced, and understands how hard it can be to raise children with an ex, but that relatability goes out the window when in the next breath she talks about having a holiday dinner with her family and “their beloved au pair” right before getting into an argument about the company shares she received from her job. Moments like that are scattered throughout, moments where Rankin doesn’t seem to have considered that her experiences might not be universal. I kept wishing she had stuck to descriptions of the goddesses and journaling tips.

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Who This Book Is For: That girl you went to school with who is now a self-care Instagram influencer, anyone who has an unironic appreciation for the book and movie “Eat, Pray, Love,” any woman over 40 who has recently gotten divorced and moved to the Hudson Valley.

Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen’s “Goddesses in Everywoman” was originally published in 1984; the 30th anniversary edition includes an introduction by Gloria Steinem (who also appears in the book as an example of the “Artemis woman”), a detail that places the book in a pretty specific context — late second wave of feminism, geared toward the kind of lightly academic woman with at least a cursory understanding of psychology and Jungian archetypes. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything that could even be generously considered as “academic,” and it took a second for me to lock into this one, but the tantalizing promise of finding myself within the seven goddess archetypes was motivation enough, it turns out.

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There are three categories of these archetypes, the Virgin Goddesses (independent and self-sufficient), the Vulnerable Goddesses (relationship oriented) and the Alchemical Goddess, Aphrodite, who is a category all her own. Shinoda Bolen, a psychiatrist and Jungian analyst, allows for movement between the categories; a person isn’t forever destined to remain a Hera or Artemis, but might instead contain a combination of both. Are you a Persephone, open and flexible to the demands and wants of others? Or an Athena, bookish and compelled toward strategy? It’s an interesting framework for thinking about how a person moves through the world. The general concepts of what defines womanhood, and who is included in that definition can feel a bit dated, but there are some interesting nuggets to be pulled out of here, if you are inclined to do so.

Who This Book Is For: The friend who watched and loved all of “Mrs. America,” your kooky aunt who teaches ceramics, lesbians in their early 20s.

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What I realized, as I read these books, is that I am ready to go a step further than basic categorizations intended as shortcuts to understanding yourself. It’s easier to say “I’m an Athena” than to explain I don’t always find it easy to express affection and vulnerability. These kinds of shortcuts aren’t bad, per se, but they do encourage a surface level engagement with oneself. Is knowing I struggle to be vulnerable helpful, if I don’t do any work to get better at it? That work is beyond the reach of a book or two about goddesses, unfortunately. At least I know where to start.

The Goddess Solution,” by Lisa Marie Rankin, Collins, $22.99.

Goddesses in Everywoman,” by Jean Shinoda Bolen, Harper Paperbacks, $16.99.

Christina Tucker lives in Philadelphia and writes for Autostraddle, Elle, Vogue, Teen Vogue, and NBC’s Think.com. She podcasts as a fourth chair on NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour.”