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Explore the world's greatest female epics

A guide by Valerie Frankel "author of From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey in Myth and Legend" (San Jose, California)

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We all know the great hero tales, from King Arthur to Harry Potter. But epic heroine's, though less noticed, appear in many ancient classics. They are the warrior women like Mu Lan, goddesses like Spider Grandmother and Pele, empresses and villainesses, princesses and witches. These epics come from India and South America, from Native American oral recountings and classic Greek tragedies.

The true goal of the heroine’s journey is to become the archetypal, all-powerful mother. Thus, many heroines set out on rescue missions in order to restore their shattered families: Eliza must save her six brothers from a lifetime as swans, Lyra of The Golden Compass must find her best friend. Both heroines battle torture and death to restore their families and win true love. Demeter forces herself into the realm of the dead to reclaim her daughter, while Isis scours the world for her husband’s broken body. Little Gerda in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale quests all the way to Finland to rescue her playmate from the unfeeling Snow Queen. Though the goal is beloved family members or potential husbands, these heroines work as hard as any fairy tale heroes.

This goal does not indicate by any means that the girls are trying to “stay at home” or “play house.” The heroes are challenging their fathers, the metaphorical king of the family. In hero’s journey stories, heroes kill powerful male monsters to represent the ascendency of the son of the father while growing up. The heroines likewise are replacing their mothers: sometimes as helpers and wisewomen, sometimes goddesses and powerful queens. While the father is an archetype of success and power in the outside world, the mother represents power in the inside world of the home. The girl must eventually face her shadow-self, the child-devouring witch, in order to pass through death into maturity.

In ancient times, the mother goddess of fertility and the earth was worshipped as the ultimate creator. Girls emulate that path on their journeys by forming a family circle in which they can rule as supreme nurturer and protector. Some, like Demeter, care for many subjects, while others only protect a small group. Just as the hero can become the king of the Danes or a shaman for a small tribe, the key is self-mastery and wisdom.

Learn more about the classic heroine's journey and the mythic women who travel it at www.vefrankel.com.
From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey through Myth and Legend
The Heroine's Journey
Scheherazade's Sisters: Trickster Heroines and Their Stories in World Literature (Contributions in Women's Studies)
The Devi Gita: The Song of the Goddess: A Translation, Annotation, and Commentary
The Legend of Miao-shan (Oxford Oriental Monographs)
Pele and Hiiaka; A Myth From Hawaii
Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women
Diné Bahane': The Navajo Creation Story
The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth (Dissertation)
The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights
The Burden of Isis, Being the Laments of Isis and Nephthys, Volume 1
Daughters of Copper Woman
Cupid and Psyche (Penguin Epics)
The Song of Mu Lan
The Recognition of Sakuntala: A Play In Seven Acts (Oxford World's Classics)
Legend of Brynhild (Islandica)
Medea
Antigone
Trojan Women (Greek Tragedy in New Translations)
Alcestis
Andromache (Greek Tragedy in New Translations)
Homeric Hymns (Penguin Classics)
Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer
DESCENT OF THE GODDESS ISHTAR INTO THE LOWER WORLD [From The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria
The Fourth World of the Hopis: The Epic Story of the Hopi Indians as Preserved in Their Legends and Traditions

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24.  DESCENT OF THE GODDESS ISHTAR INTO THE LOWER WORLD [From The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria [Kindle eBook]  by M. Jastrow
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25.  The Fourth World of the Hopis: The Epic Story of the Hopi Indians as Preserved in Their Legends and Traditions  by Harold Courlander
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Author

Valerie Frankel "author of From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey in Myth and Legend" (San Jose, California)
Qualifications: author of From Girl to Goddess
Last updated: 11/6/10
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