Crucified Woman

Terry O’Neill, ‘Raquel Welch on the Cross, Los Angeles,’ 1970, C-print mounted on aluminum.

April 17, 2022: It’s an interesting thing to see. Since I posted this little article in December 2021, people visit it every day. Maybe it’s the Khloe Kardashian reference, I don’t know. But perhaps it’s something else. Perhaps it’s that people out there are thinking about this idea of Crucified Woman. Perhaps it’s that people find they need to think about this. Some people wouldn’t consider the idea of crucifixion even on the best of days, let alone during the Easter weekend, so maybe these ideas will be just too too for all of you in that department. Too bad. It’s a done deal. Woman has been crucified one way or another for millennia, and look where this has gotten us. Look at the mourning, suffering planet we live on. Our physical existence, whether in the body of an individual woman or the entity that is Mother Earth, has been subjected to thousands of years of violence, disrespect and oppression. For thousands of years, women have been carrying the cross of subjugation, just to be nailed down on it over and over again in the killing fields since the story of Jesus was told. And before that. And it hurts. It’s enough already. How many women need to be raped, murdered, beaten, persecuted, silenced, humiliated, shamed? Whatever happened to love and equality? Let’s find those ideas again, for all our sakes. Every single person on this planet is depending on it.

There are few artistic representations of crucified woman in the art world. Most famously there is the photograph of Raquel Welch by Terry O’Neill, (owned by Khloe Kardashian) of which he said: “I wanted to symbolize the dilemma facing Welch as the female sex symbol of the decade -‘crucified’ for her sexuality by the movie industry and the wider public who did not take her seriously as an actress. It was deemed too controversial for use at the time, and wasn’t published until 30 years later on the cover of The Sunday Times Magazine.”

Despite the figure of a crucified Jesus being the central focus of Christianity for millennia, somehow the image of a crucified woman seems too much to bear. Representing the crucifixion of Christ, the focus has been on God embodied in man, a suffering hero offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of a hapless humanity. Woman stands in the sidelines in this story.

The image of a woman crucified makes the pain of the human condition instantly palpable, almost too painful to consider. The body of woman carries the potential for safety and seclusion, the promise of life nurtured and protected. We associate women with sexuality, pleasure, motherhood, and as the esoteric teachings of the ages would have it, with the lowness of the material plane that humanity would do well to move beyond, to ascend above in its quest for spiritual realization. Woman as matter is considered something which humanity should strive to overcome and leave behind. And yet, in overlooking the physical, represented by the symbol of suffering woman, humanity misses the opportunity to address its true vulnerability. The symbol of crucified, suffering woman is an important and necessary focus of meditation if humanity is ever to truly embrace empathy and kindness, the opening of the heart which can allow true inclusivity and understanding to occur.

Almuth Lütkenhaus, ‘Crucified Woman,’ bronze, ~1978, installed at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto.
The Doors album ‘LA Woman’ promotional art, 1971
 Jens Galschiøt , ‘In the Name of God,’ bronze, Copenhagen, 2007. ‘In the Name of God’ is a project launched by Jens Galschiøt depicting a sculpture of a pregnant teenager, created as an indictment against the Church’s strict, regressive policy on sex and sexual education.

The Dance of the Soul

Jean-Baptiste van Mour, Mevlevi dervishes whirling in Pera, Nederlands, 1720-1737

“I have loved in life and I have been loved.
I have drunk the bowl of poison from the hands of love as nectar,
and have been raised above life’s joy and sorrow.
My heart, aflame in love, set afire every heart that came in touch with it.
My heart has been rent and joined again;
My heart has been broken and again made whole;
My heart has been wounded and healed again;
A thousand deaths my heart has died, and thanks be to love, it lives yet.
I went through hell and saw there love’s raging fire,
and I entered heaven illumined with the light of love.
I wept in love and made all weep with me;
I mourned in love and pierced the hearts of men;
And when my fiery glance fell on the rocks, the rocks burst forth as volcanoes.
The whole world sank in the flood caused by my one tear;
With my deep sigh the earth trembled, and when I cried aloud the name of my beloved,
I shook the throne of God in heaven.
I bowed my head low in humility, and on my knees I begged of love,
“Disclose to me, I pray thee, O love, thy secret.”
She took me gently by my arms and lifted me above the earth, and spoke softly in my ear,
“My dear one, thou thyself art love, art lover,
and thyself art the beloved whom thou hast adored.”
― Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Dance of the Soul