June 29, 2011

{Was Diana the New Age Princess?}

[Reprint of my article featured on the UK's New Age Blog]

How did Prince William’s mother not only change weddings for the generations that followed her own glittering wedding spectacle in 1981, but also made it possible for William to marry Kate, the beautiful ‘commoner’? The world would have never heard of Catherine Elizabeth Middleton without Princess Diana’s “palace revolution” that began 30 years ago; however, Catherine, the new Duchess of Cambridge, the poised bride that recently captured the hearts and admiration of the world—a future queen of England—is not Diana’s only legacy.

My upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: Princess Diana, the Princess Myth & a Royal Legacy for All Women, takes the incomparable, world-stage life of Diana Spencer Mountbatten-Windsor—with both its light and shadow sides—as well as her sudden mythological death, and shares the unexpected ways she affected world change. Even with her immaturity, unhappiness, neurosis, hunger for attention and approval, Diana plumbed the depths of her own sympathetic heart and showed the world the loving effect of both hands-on parenting and hands-on compassion to the sick and dying. All the while, and not always with “grace and favour,” she introduced a more personal, open-heart approach to the British monarchy, preparing it for a more equalitarian world and enlivening its archetypal outreach.

{Princess Daydreams}
Diana’s little-girl dreams were to be rescued by a prince. As a teenager she indeed attracted a prince who courted and married her—and she appeared to be living out her dream. So what happened? Diana became a real princess on her wedding day, yet later declared that being a princess wasn’t all it was cracked up to be! So why is the modern wedding industry as well as fantasies of many little girls still all about “being a princess”? It seems the “Disney Princess” enterprise, established in 2000 and now a $4 billion ‘tinsel and tiara’ phenomenon attracting little girls worldwide, hijacked this natural daydream and turned it into a “you’re not okay just the way you are” materialistic nightmare. (Disney even recently premiered their own “princess wedding gown” collection for brides.)

Of course, the Disney Princess franchise is not the only culprit. Peggy Orenstein, in her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, writes about the current pink-tinted, sexed-up girlie-girl princess marketing machine that’s not only taken over a generation of little girl’s self-image, but also “fosters a desire for lots of cheap sparkly stuff.” Is this a backlash to the positive girl-power movement of the 1990s or did the intoxicating Disney dazzle simply overpower the “damsel in shining armour” model that was growing? Has the momentum shifted back now, however, and are we emerging into an even more vibrant, universal rhythm of Oprah-inspired girls and women who live Beyonce’s 2011 anthem, “Run the World (Girls)”?

The energy of the new millennium, “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” holds female aspects that support the rise of feminine and nurturing characteristics. (Is this the true “kinder and gentler” world promised?) It was no accident that the timing of Princess Diana’s life landed at this pivotal crossroads of human development in general and the re-emergence of women’s leadership in particular—perhaps the beginning of the next matriarchal culture. With this new energy, we are entering the era of deeply connected relationships.

“This is how spiritual partnerships work,” Gary Zukov states in his 1989 book, The Seat of the Soul. “You begin to set aside the wants of your personality in order to accommodate the needs of your partner’s spiritual growth, and in doing that, you grow yourself.”

{Rescuing Damsels}
Thirty years ago this July, Diana’s wedding extravaganza resurrected the bridal industry, inspiring the society-style celebrations with their “refined Martha Stewart shaped details” that we know today. But the change in “all things wedding” was only the beginning of her influence on women's lives. Diana tapped into something deeper and more intimate. By allowing her life to be exposed in ways that were not always the most attractive or flattering, she put the spotlight on what was missing in modern relationships.

“We are at the end of the fairy-tale bride,” my book declares. The end of the belief that a woman needs to be rescued and that a man’s job is to come to the rescue. Although we may continue to be enchanted by long ago folktales featuring these “damsel and knight” stories, this archetype hardly serves the deeper desires of women and men for happy and fulfilling relationships if women are portrayed as “lesser than” in any way. The damsel and knight fairy tale always ends at the “point of rescue,” noted author Dr. Caroline Myss in a 1998 article in the New Age Journal magazine following Diana’s death. “Indeed the shadow side of this fairy tale is that the woman is taken from one form of containment—her maiden palace—to yet another form of containment—the knight’s palace.”

Helping to break apart the “princess myth” and “damsel and knight” fairy tale that has stifled women’s self-esteem and personal growth for years may indeed be Diana’s most powerful contribution in reframing how women and girls see themselves. But is the origin myth of these stories actually an empowering message for women? Did the stories and fairy tales get twisted in the retelling by the overly sentimental Victorians, a suppressive society for women, covering up their more enlightened meaning? Perhaps the ‘being a princess’ desire is simply an echo of a woman’s true goddess nature and Diana’s death reopened the pathway to this forgiving and loving ancient goddess-era spirit. Perhaps the “rescuing damsel” stories were actually about honouring the female essence.

It’s natural for women (no matter our age) to fantasize, play dress up, and love romantic fairy tales, pageantry and weddings (royal or otherwise.) In my upcoming book and new blog—through stories and musings told against the backdrop of Princess Diana’s life in a “things are seldom as they seem” approach—I explore how the lives of women and little girls can be enhanced and strengthened, not only by using our intuition plus naturally nurturing and relating instincts, but also by paying attention to fairy tales, childhood dreams, mythology, romance and ritual, and our unbridled imaginations.

{Diana's Requiem}
Being a photogenic princess gave Diana the spotlight; but opening her heart gave her power. The appeal of her warmth and vulnerability made her “the people’s princess,” but her deep sense of having a bigger life purpose gave her courage to make a difference around the globe.

Diana was not the first naïve young woman to fall in love with a dashing image instead of the man; nor the first suspicious bride-to-be who wanted to call the whole thing off on the eve of her wedding. Neither was she the first camera-pleasing beauty to marry a prince in a splashy fairy-tale wedding and become a tabloid princess; nor the first young wife to turn into a needy, manipulative shrew. Diana was not the first media-sensation celebrity to cover-up unhealthy, addictive habits; nor was she the first deeply sensitive woman to develop an empathetic healing touch. And she was not the first famously charismatic princess to die an early accidental death and become even more legendary.

Nonetheless, Princess Diana was singularly the most famous woman in the world in life and death, blowing open the heart chakra of the planet to a degree not really known or even understood, but as part of a divine plan to ready us all for a new millennium of major global shifts. During the week between her death and memorial service, she held the world’s attention in a mysterious, alchemical pause—like a redemptive, ascending prayer. Inside this startling and mournful global meditation, we found something of ourselves once thought lost or simply long forgotten. Then like a goddess of Avalon—some say even as the reincarnation of the Roman Goddess Diana herself—her body was peacefully laid to rest amongst familial trees on an ancient island in an oval ancestral lake in the heart of England.

{The Legacy of a Princess}
Whatever part Diana’s wedding and life and death played in illuminating the stories of deep heart connection that honor feminine beauty and strength; the lineage of women (both the light and dark aspects); the bride’s rite-of-passage; the power of a nurturing spirit; the potential of a child’s daydreams; the expression of spiritual lessons we’re to learn during our time on Earth; the devotion of motherhood and lighthearted parenting; the healing power of loving touch; being in service to others even when we feel inadequate ourselves; the miraculous results of forgiveness given and the stinging results of forgiveness withheld; and all of life’s rites-of-passage including life into death—we thank her for her role in this divine plan. Paraphrasing editor and Jungian analyst Jane Haynes in the book When a Princess Dies: From Diana’s wounding and our subsequent healing, a flower-harvest of possibility was born.

One possibility that already has come to pass—and created an opening for many more—is the marriage of her elder son which represented and fulfilled everything Diana wished for. “He has found the woman who would bring him the personal contentment she lacked,” shared Diana biographer and Newsweek editor-in-chief Tina Brown after William and Kate’s wedding. And it just may be that “Princess Kate”—now Her Royal Highness and a Queen Catherine to-be—could set the pace for a whole new paradigm of women’s equality and, along with her prince, showcase a world-view platform for being a true partner in marriage and relationships. (“Hurray, Diana!”) ~


June 27, 2011

{The Honey Month} Part Five/Final: "Return to Love"

[excerpt from the upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: Princess Diana, the 'Princess Myth' & a Royal Legacy for All Women. For the first four parts of this chapter, click on "Honey Month" in the Label List below.]

In one of Damanhur’s community centers, I wandered into a wedding reception one afternoon—the ceremony just completing—and I could feel the joy tingling in the room. The beaming bride and groom welcomed me to join in the celebration, offering champagne and food. I quickly grabbed a friend with a camera. The bride was wearing a bare, pale mint green, fitted dress with a bright shimmery fuchsia shawl around her shoulders; her dark curly hair was swept up and wrapped with metallic cords in what I’d call an ancient Grecian style. Both the bride and groom (in a heather green pullover knit sweater and khaki trousers) had metallic gold and silver hieroglyphics drawn on their cheeks (similar to the spiral swirl designs that decorated the bride’s shawl). This was an ancient script that I recognized from the art I had seen in the galleries and classrooms around Damanhur.

Later I asked about Damanhur’s marriage customs and learned something new about being in the moment:

In Damanhur, couples who decide to marry choose common objectives and decide for how long they want to pursue them through their marriage. In this way, a bit before the chosen deadline, the couple can re-examine their relationship and decide if and for how long to renew their commitment, choosing new goals for individual and common growth.

This wedding formula has been created so that the choice of being together can always be a desired commitment and the relationship does not fall into habit, becoming an obligation. In Damanhur, it is believed that a union of love is a precious gift for everybody because a happy couple can bring harmony, stability and growth to the whole community.

What I find intriguing and wise is that this process always keeps the attention on the relationship—no matter what circumstances come and go—with a continuous check-in, so no one’s personal ego overpowers the other or severs the connection. This “built-in re-examination” of the couple’s relationship is not intended to diminish the power of commitment, but actually to strengthen the bond that is there or to shift the relationship if the connection is missing.

It’s like the essential lesson of Mother Nature: continuous renewal. Each moment unfolds in its own unique bit of divinity. So is to love anew as an ongoing sacrament, therefore, the essence of transformation? No matter the rules or laws that give marriages societal structure, isn’t the essence of marriage—indeed all relationships—to deeply honor the nature of love within the union in each moment? “An enlightened marriage,” Marianne Williamson says in her book Return to Love, “is a commitment to participate in the process of mutual growth and forgiveness.”

And honeymoons in Damanhur? Given the commitment to community and the simplicity of a village-like, but worldly life there, it’s more akin to that old-fashioned “honey month” notion of returning home after the ceremony and relishing the embrace of family and friends, and especially each other. ~

[All images above from life in the Damanhur community in northern Italy.]

[This is the last part of the "The Honey Month" chapter of the upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride.  (For the other parts of this chapter, click on "Honey Month" in the Label List below.) Other book excerpts will be posted soon.]

June 21, 2011

{Did You Know?} No.5: "Shimmering Silver & Gold Brides"

[Did You Know? is a random series of posts highlighting facts and folklore about brides, weddings & courtship. To read other posts, click on Did You Know? in the Labels list below.]

Did You Know  that silver and gold were the main bridal gown colors in the tradition of European nobility before Queen Victoria wore “plain white silk satin” for her 1840 wedding—and launched a new custom for all brides?
British historian Ann Monsarrat writes about the opulence of court dress in the Middle Ages, especially for weddings: “For the rich and for royalty, Mediaeval weddings were magnificent affairs, splendid with all the trappings of this Age of Chivalry.” She tells of one lavish 13th wedding in the French court where “the gentlemen were dressed in scarlet and the ladies in cloth of gold embroidered and trimmed with gold and silver lace”…and where the fashion show strutting, indulgent feasting, and extravagant gift giving went on for days!

The early 17th century wedding of King James’ eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, to a German nobleman was “an occasion of breathtaking extravagance,” exclaimed the royal wedding chroniclers of the period. “The bride’s dress was made of ‘Florence cloth of silver, richly embroidered’…with a cloth-of-silver train. She was attended by sixteen bridesmaids—one for each year of her age—all robed in white or silver tissue, trimmed with silver lace….” The sleeves of the bride’s gown, they noted, were embroidered with diamonds of “inestimable value.”

Not all weddings of the titled classes of the Medieval era or the Renaissance were this opulent, of course, but for hundred of years, threads spun from real silver and gold were used in the wedding finery of the nobility to showcase the power and status of the court as well as the social and financial position of the bride’s father. (And there was probably also a nod to the belief in the mystical and alchemical properties associated with gold and silver, where the wearer would be emboldened by the special energy of the precious metals.)

Also during the early 17th century, and for the next 200 years as the wedding historian informs us, the wearing of silver and gold took on other characteristics for brides: “silver was looked upon as the royal bride’s badge of purity…and gold being the correct wear for second marriages.” (These “virginal” things were important to the royal courts!) Like many bridal customs, this superstitious practice of silver and gold was probably a bastardized version of spiritual and metaphysical beliefs from ancient goddess cultures.

In Irish folklore, the goddess Brigit or Brighid—the maiden goddess of springtime—“wears cloaks as if spun of fine silver mist,” according to author Richard Leviton. Brigit was also known as Bride, the goddess connected to the renewal of life, the true essence of the maiden. During these times—where people lived in tune with the wisdom of the natural world and the mysteries of the universe—it was thought that the moon, associated with the color silver, which meant reflective and revealing, represented feminine energy. The golden sun, considered transformative, represented male energy.

So perhaps many hundreds of years later, the superstitious, status-conscious 17th century Europeans used this idea to label the bride’s condition, signifying that the “pure” maiden wears silver and a wearer of gold had already been “transformed” from maiden to woman. (Hmmmm.) Of course this “virgin or not” custom got transferred to a bride wearing white—or not—once Queen Victoria started the vogue for the “white wedding” in the 19th century.

This “white wedding” was still a burgeoning trend in Europe and America in the first part of the 20th century when silver (in the form of brocade, trims and wreaths) became all the rage again! In 1906, Alice Roosevelt—“a racey young lady,” daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, and quite the style-setter—wore a gown of cream and silver for her White House wedding. Following that, “silver, having made a come-back for bridal trimming, remained popular for another fifty years,” Ann Monsarrat explained.

Many royal wedding dresses in the 1920s and 30s were “more silver than white.” In 1922, in a dress “woven of silver and sewn with pearls and diamonds,” Princess Mary (only daughter of King George V) and “all her bridesmaids shimmered with a silvery light.” Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon (who later became the Queen Mother) married Prince Albert, Duke of York, in 1923 in a drop-waist, off-white silk satin dress embellished with ornate silver braid. And in 1934, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark—the last foreign-born princess to marry into the British royal family—wed Prince George, Duke of Kent, in a slim silvery bias-cut silk gown with a cowl-neck—the sleek fashion silhouette of the day.

“Silver lamé was another favourite of the Twenties,” continued Monsarrat, “and white lace embroidered with silver thread was popular in the 1950s.” And like the nature of all fashion, the  styles, shapes, and designs of wedding costumes continued to change in order to reflect the popular trends of the time—fitted suits, leisure pajamas, blue jeans with ethnic blouses, kaftans! But once the elegant Grace Kelly married Prince Ranier of Monaco in all-white antique lace and silk taffeta in 1956, the “proper” wedding gown (at least for the first-time bride!) was white from then on. ~

[To read other Did You Know? posts in this series, click on “Did You Know?” in the Labels list below. Another one coming soon....]

June 17, 2011

{The Honey Month} Part Four: "To Love Anew"

[excerpt from the upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: Princess Diana, the 'Princess Myth' & a Royal Legacy for All Women]

More and more couples live together before marriage but still the percentage of married couples staying together is less according to a report in Time magazine in November 2010. So it must be something else that warms particular couples to draw the best out of themselves and of each other—and stay together.

After closing my bridal art-to-wear store in Atlanta at the end of 1999, I was privileged to travel to various parts of the world on what I called my “soul journeys” over the next five or so years. Wherever I traveled, I was curious about the sense of community and the nature of relationships that existed in the towns and villages I visited. I noticed relationships between men and women—and couples of all stripes—as well as among family members and women with other women. And I discovered a great deal about a culture when I asked about their wedding and marriage customs.

Community of Damanhur in Italy

In 2004 when I visited the metaphysical community of Damanhur in northern Italy at the foothills of the Italian Alps near the mystical city of Turino, I was drawn into their generous and open-hearted energy. The people who have settled there from all over the world seem to be connected in a bold, yet intimate way. They call on both ancient and modern practices in the arts and sciences for their projects to make the world a healthier and more vibrant place to live. I attended meditation and art workshops, lectures on the ancient civilizations of Atlantis (which were considered technologically advanced and spiritually aware cultures), and experienced various ancient healing modalities. I loved it.

Inside one of the temples in Damanhur
In my queries about marriage and relationships in ancient Atlantis (which had many different civilizations during its long history—read Plato for more details!), I found that there were no “marriages” as we know today, at least in the last era of its culture which I understand ended ten to fifteen thousand years ago. However, according to Frank Joseph’s book, Edgar Cayce’s Atlantis and Lemuria: The Lost Civilizations in the Light of Modern Discoveries, “if you wanted to commit yourself to a certain person, a ceremony of unity was undertaken by the couple with no legal binding or enforcement on this arrangement. The union was on a purely spiritual basis; yet at the same time, sex was an important part of life” with connection to love and spirituality always being part of the equation. The philosophy from this era of Atlantis is that the body is respected as the “temple of the soul.”

In our modern, materialistic world where attention is on the body as a physical thing, we are disconnected from our spiritual being, living inside a busy, noisy mind that dictates our actions and emotions. I believe that we can learn something from the essence of a philosophy that honors the divinity and holistic nature of mind, body and spirit. Whether we believe this ancient civilization existed or not, whether it’s all a “fairy tale” or not, there’s something to learn from the “possibility” of relatedness this offers.~

[Other excerpts from the "The Honey Month" chapter of the upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, will be posted soon...including more about the mystical community of Damanhur nestled in the Italian Alps and the wedding I came upon there!]

June 13, 2011

{The Mystery of Kate}

[This is a reprint from the summer issue of Season magazine, pages 78-79. The article is excerpted from the upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: Princess Diana, the 'Princess Myth'  & a Legacy for All Women]

It was not only the best kept secret in recent British history, but it was simply astounding—given the scrutiny of media attention—that it could be kept secret. Yet the English author of the Wedding Bible who knows everything that’s going on in the British bridal industry didn’t know, stating that even for normal weddings, it’s hard to keep so many things veiled in mystery.

But a mystery it was until Catherine Elizabeth Middleton stepped out of that gleaming vintage high-top Rolls Royce on her wedding morning. The duchess-to-be bride, the lovely Kate—shimmering, joyful, “modernly” romantic—was wearing the breathtaking “mystery”!

Her gown, television announcers revealed, was designed by Sarah Burton for the house of Alexander McQueen. It was a regally white sculpted vision in hand-crafted lace (made in secret at the Royal School of Needlework) and silk satin gazar that was not home-made (Britain’s only silk farm at Lullingstone Castle closed in 2004.)

The delicate lace pattern featured four floral emblems of the United Kingdom (rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock) and was sheer and fitted over Kate’s shoulders and long arms so her every gesture was like a graceful, queenly command. Both the sweeping, deeply pleated skirt (“made to resemble an opening flower”) and the almost nine elegant feet of train were lavishly appliquéd with the same English Cluny and French Chantilly hand-cut lace. “The dress was absolutely ravishing,” gushed Tim Gunn about the Grace Kelly inspired confection.

With a nod to the Language of Flowers, Kate’s small shades-of-white bouquet included, of course, Sweet William (which stands for gallantry) and lily-of-the-valley (which signifies a return of happiness). It also held a few green sprigs from the mythological “royal myrtles” at Fulham Palace, grown from cuttings of the bridal bouquet of William’s great-great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

“When she came in with that veil over her face, it was almost ethereal, like she was coming through a cloud—an angel coming into the Abbey,” said wedding guest Michael Hintze, chairman of the Prince of Wales Foundation for the Built Environment. The single layer of silk tulle was held in place by Kate’s something borrowed “halo”—an heirloom Cartier diamond tiara loaned from the Queen.

It all fit so beautifully in the magnificent thousand year-old stone Westminster Abbey as the bride walked with her father along the “living avenue” of 20-foot high English Field Maples (later to be planted at Prince Charles’ Highgrove estate.) Then as Kate joined her happy prince in his scarlet tunic and blue sash of the Irish Guards, the two beloved friends were standing exactly where they wanted to be. “In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding,” declared the Lord Bishop of London, and more than two billion viewers world-wide (and a million or so well-wishers on the streets of central London) were invited to share the intimacy and mystery of this royal moment like it was our own.~

[This is a reprint from the summer issue of Season magazine, pages 78-79. The article is excerpted from the upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Exposed the 'Princess Myth' for All Women. Click on "Season Magazine" in the Labels list below for other reprints.]