After marching with hundreds of thousands against gun violence yesterday, I obsessed over coverage of the massive protests, watching videos, looking at aerial shots of the crowds.

One clip that was repeatedly shared in my Facebook feed was Emma Gonzalez’s speech in Washington, DC. I was, like many others, transfixed by her unwavering gaze. I felt gutted by her power and her pain. I imagined the incredible potential she has as a leader. I began to hope for her to do for this broken nation what older generations have not been able or willing to do. But that is just my own selfishness and desperation over this sick gun culture. I want so much for her, but really it’s that I want so much from her. She’s already given us a lot, and she’s very young. We shouldn’t ask for more.

There was something else, though. It wasn’t just my own sadness over this violence, nor was it the aching pride for these children who have, in such a short time, moved our nation. It was a different kind of tension in my gut and my heart, an actual physical discomfort. My body knew something before my mind could comprehend.

Then I realized the strong energetic reaction was my soul’s recognition of the goddess. Artemis, the resolute maiden warrior goddess, protector of women and children, manifests in the brave Emma Gonzalez. And she rises in the wise, preternatural calm of the eleven-year-old activist, Naomi Wadler, and the other young people leading this movement.

As I watched the coverage on my computer, my spouse watched a documentary on ancient Rome. The film’s historian discussed the “myths” of the old gods and goddesses like Aphrodite and Minerva – useful, but ultimately fictional, stories that humans told themselves to describe the world.

As a goddess-centered pagan, my spiritual life revolves around relating to the divine through personalities such as these. These beings are integral to my practice, but sometimes my socialization catches up with me and I doubt my beliefs, however momentarily. Most of us have been taught that they are just made up stories. Hearing this eminent historian talk about “myths” gave me a moment of panic. What kind of silly woman actually worships long dead gods?

But then there was Emma. Who could dispute the truth of her gaze?

I’ve encountered the goddess in various forms since I found this spiritual path – sometimes in dreams or meditation, other times as a subtle emotional pull. But this was different. There was nothing conceptual or woo-woo about this experience. It was a tangible, visceral sense of the goddess stepping forward into the earthly realm.

Metaphysical practitioners talk about the world shifting into a new era of the divine feminine, which is why there are so many outbursts of violence. It’s the old paradigm of patriarchy and toxic masculinity resisting its own destruction. We are told that the goddess lives within us. When we are in love, we are Oshun. When we are mothering, we are Demeter. Seeing the determined, tear-stained face of Emma, though, was the first time I actually saw the goddess in flesh and blood, not as an abstraction. Whether you view the pagan gods as millennia of stories, as symbols of an incomprehensible divine, or as actual conscious beings, there is no denying the energy that was present on that protest stage. Whatever that energy is, it was there.

Now I understand. The goddess is in us.

So I started out the evening concerned that we, as a nation, are putting too much pressure on these young people, and especially on Emma Gonzalez as the symbol of her generation. I ended it in awe of her mortal embodiment of the goddess. (Yes, I see what I did there. Sorry, Emma – no pressure!)

I hope that these children can heal and that their elders will do what is right, now that we’ve been stirred. If Emma, or any of them, want to grow into their potential as public leaders, I’m sure our world will be a better place for it. But, regardless of what that very smart historian of ancient Rome said about the old gods, I know they are not just myth. They are real. They are here. They are leading us. I can feel it.

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