Myth & Movie: Lisbeth Salander and the Wrath of Artemis
The Artemis archetype is rising in the world today . . . and it comes with a dark side.
This article contains spoilers for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Image from Wikipedia.
Artemis was the original wild woman.
She lived out in the forest while her twin brother Apollo built cities full of shining buildings. She was uncivilized, raw, running barefoot with the wolves in the mountains. She was better at howling than at composing poems, and better at growling than explaining why she was angry.
Artemis was every bit as beautiful as Aphrodite. But she was beautiful for her own sake. Aphrodite might put on makeup, paint her nails, and go strutting down the Victoria’s Secret runway. Artemis would rather hang out in a tree. (And she never did her nails—you can’t climb trees with a manicure.)
Other than her brother, Artemis wasn’t really interested in men. Artemis is a feminist goddess, and as women rise to full partnership with men in the world (Jean Houston’s words), we’re seeing this archetype come up, reflecting female strength. Artemis is the protagonist of her own story. She’s not a love interest. She not a side kick. She’s not the platonic female friend who’s “one of the guys.”
Writer and artist Katharina Woodworth says, “Aphrodite, Hera and Athena all display characteristics that are dependent upon men, whether it is for their desirousness, their loyalty or their camaraderie. Artemis was completely independent of men—for their companionship or their approval.”
She got very angry when men treated her like a sex object. And boy howdy, nobody could get angry like Artemis.
The Artemis archetype has a dark side.
We get hints of this with Katniss Everdeen (she’s got a real pissy attitude), but we see it more in Lisbeth Salander, in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Remember what I said about Artemis being a feminist?
She’s an angry one.
In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander has been sexually abused by men pretty much her whole life. After her parole officer sexually assaults her twice, she turns on him and attacks him right back. It’s not a coincidence that this man was in a position of authority over her. This dark Artemis archetype represents the feminine repressed by the masculine.
Lisbeth Salander goes on to help take down a serial killer of women. Again, she turns the tables on him, chases him down, and watches while he dies in fire.
The patriarchy (masculine authority) hates Artemis, and she hates the patriarchy right back. It’s not that she hates men. She hates the place in the world that men have assigned to her, and she is determined to destroy anything that forces her into this place. Sometimes, this includes men.
Like nature itself, she is a powerful wild force that threatens civilization, authority, and social structure (the way tropical storms and earthquakes threaten Apollo’s bright cities). Like nature itself, she is not happy with the way men have treated her.
Now it’s time for a little story about a man named Actaeon.
He’s a hunter in Ancient Greece, and one day he’s out in the woods with his 50 favorite hounds hunting a stag. But they lose track of the stag. Twilight falls, and as they try to pick up the scent they pass by a lake, where Actaeon hears all this giggling and splashing.
Now Actaeon likes women (or thinks he does). The idea of a group of girls splashing each other and giggling in a pool in the forest . . . well, that’s pretty tempting.
So Actaeon creeps up and peeks through the trees surrounding the lake, and he is struck by the beauty of these girls. (Not surprising, since they were Artemis’s nymphs and they were naked.)
But it gets better for Actaeon. The most beautiful woman of all is bathing a little apart from the others. Her skin gathers the rising moonlight. Droplets of water shine on her like diamonds.
He realizes he’s looking at the Wild Goddess. The Mother of Creatures. Yes, he’s spying on the Goddess in her element, but spying is a compliment . . . right? It’s not like he’s a creep or anything. She’s just so beautiful, he can’t stop staring. (He probably started jerking off, too. Hey, compliment . . . right?)
Artemis does not see it that way.
She is the Lady of the Beasts, and she senses someone watching her. The sensitive hairs on her nape prickle and rise. Her ears perk up as her hearing sharpens. Her skin crawls with unwanted touch. She turns her head and stares right at him.
And oh, Actaeon.
Artemis goes still, then gives a wild animal cry full of wrath, somewhere between a bear and a wolf. Actaeon stumbles away, but she’s already coming for him.
Because how dare he.
She was naked and in her element and sensual. She was doing her thing. And this man spied on her and tried to make her beauty into something for his pleasure. He made her a thing to be wanted and enjoyed. Well, Artemis would not be ENJOYED, thank you very much. Her sexuality and her body are HERS and SHE decides who will see them and enjoy them and how and when. This man has taken something sacred—even just by looking at it without permission.
She doesn’t bother to dress. In a flash she’s standing at the edge of the lake and raising her silver bow, and Actaeon starts running like hell . . . and then Artemis thinks twice about killing him.
She has a better idea.
She turns him into a stag—the creature he was hunting. How poetic—turning the predator into his own prey. Her brother Apollo would be proud of how poetic it was. She gives another wild baying cry, and Actaeon’s 50 favorite hunting dogs respond to her. (They were always her creatures, really.) Actaeon is ripped apart by his own hounds. He dies in deer’s blood.
Isn’t that a lovely story, kids?
I’m reminded of Lisbeth Salander stringing up her rapist and giving him a taste of his own medicine.
The dark Artemis archetype does not believe that just because a woman is naked—even if she’s naked out in the forest, or if she takes naked pictures of herself on her Smartphone—she is “fair game” for anyone’s pleasure.
Artemis is not Aphrodite. Her sexuality belongs to her, and her alone.
I feel the wrath of Artemis myself sometimes. I feel it when I hear about rape. I feel it when I hear about celebrity photo leaks, and hear people say the women involved are fair game because they are famous, and because they dared to take naked pictures of themselves. I felt it when I heard about the man in a grocery store who stuck his camera under a 13-year-old girl’s skirt and snapped a picture, and wasn’t charged with anything. I think he wasn’t charged because they were “in a public place,” so it wasn’t like he had trespassed, and he hadn’t physically assaulted her so they couldn’t make any charges stick.
F— you, Actaeon.
The space under a child’s skirt is not public.
The rooms women take their clothes off in are not public, nor are the personal devices they record their images in. Or the private accounts they save their images in.
This kind of wrath—this kind of feminist anger—is natural. The dark Artemis archetype, and the fact that it’s been around for thousands of years, reflects it. That doesn’t mean it’s the answer to all our issues. I tend to think of it more as a stop along the way to healing—something that has to be processed before real healing can take place. That doesn’t mean the wrath goes away, or even that we stop feeling it. We just realize that there’s more to our hearts than fear and rage, and we become determined to feel more.
Even Lisbeth Salander found a man she could feel for, who helped her begin the process of her own healing.
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