Dr. Bolen covers three categories of feminine goddesses in this book: Virgin, Vulnerable, and Alchemical. Within each type she covers three virginal goddess figures (Artemis, Athena, Hestia), three vulnerable goddesses (Hera, Demeter, Persephone) and the alchemical Aphrodite.
These are internal archetypes which the author uses to describe cognitive functions and behavior, so when she refers to 'virginal' she's not literally talking about hetero-normative idea of physical bodily penetration by a penis, but is instead talking about a way of being in the world that is self-contained and self-sustained without the need for outside approval or permission. Similarly, when she writes 'vulnerable' she does not mean this in a patriarchal sense of physical weakness. This vulnerability is centered in a type of underappreciated perception that is tuned in and receptive to the awareness of others, thus is 'vulnerable' and at times subjected to other people's thoughts and feelings as a priority over one's own. And, lastly, she describes a form of 'alchemy' which is neither virginal nor vulnerable but a combination of both inner impenetrable resources and connections with the outer world.
Dr. Bolen saw women and men enacting various aspects of both the functional portions of the archetypes as well as their dysfunction. It seemed to me that her goal in therapy was to bring people into alignment/balance with whichever was a person's predominant set of archetypes as well as provide them with tools for accessing more dormant archetypes. As I read the book, each chapter gave me an 'aha' moment of recognition to some aspect of how I perceive and walk in this world. I found them all useful in one way or another.
Artemis- the hunter, the sister, a goal-oriented athlete who finds joy in her own grace and accomplishments. She's the hiker in the woods, the traveler, the swimmer, the runner; anyone who can find peace and happiness from her own body's abilities.
Athena- strategist, intellectual, goddess of war and of the crafts such as weaving; like Artemis she is also goal-oriented but is not as connected to sisterhood as Artemis. I found a lot of Athena in Hillary Clinton. In her most positive aspect, people found respect for her supreme qualifications for the job as well as her ability to be unperturbed (impenetrable) by the onslaught of insults and political bullshit she faces daily. Yet, in Athena's dark aspect, she is an archetype that will side with the patriarchy and it's attendant power structures when that is the best strategy for her own gain, even going so far as to remain married to a politically powerful man because strategically it allows her proximity to his power. I admit that I often imagined Athena's owl sitting on Clinton's shoulder during the debates as I cheered her on, lol.
Hestia- goddess of the hearth and home. she is a virginal goddess in that her inner world provides sanctuary and spiritual completion. People who are drawn towards this archetype are naturally drawn towards monastic life. Their homes are beautiful, grounded, relaxing, and provide a welcome respite from the hubbub of the outer world.
In Greek stories, these goddesses suffered some sort of trauma or pain and yet found ways to transcend their victimization. They contain that sort of 'penetrable' way of perceiving the world which opens them up for being hurt by others (in ways the virginal goddesses cannot conceive of being hurt) and yet also gives them tremendous gifts of compassion, empathy, love and inner growth.
Most of our inherited 'western culture' focuses on these archetypes for women. They tend to reinforce the patriarchal system by squishing women into performing Wife, Mother, Daughter roles while ignoring or suppressing other aspects of herself. I think Dr. Bolen does a great job of honoring the underappreciated collective social benefits of these archetypes while also talking about how limiting they can be if a person defines themselves solely by them alone.
Hera- goddess of marriage, is hurt by Zeus' many infidelities but also finds ways to access her power through her support of her partner's achievements. She's the 'it takes teamwork to make the dream work' type of archetype and at her best can really do a lot of work to help others reach their full potential. At her worst, she defines her identity based on another person and is unaware or unable to develope her own potential.
Demeter- goddess of the earth, nurturer, the archetypal Mother, she loses her daughter to the underworld and mourns until her daughter is returned thus threatening to kill all life on the planet in the process; she is the patron goddess of the Eleusinian mysteries along with her daughter.
Persephone- queen goddess of the underworld, understands the perils of being caught below ground and yet also participates in her own rebirthing process to the surface of the earth. She is represented by spring flowers and is seen as a guide for others out of darkness.
The Alchemical Goddess
The final chapter of the book is related to Aphrodite, the alchemical goddess, for she is neither an impervious virgin nor is she a vulnerable victim. This archetype maintains the receptive form of perception that is located outside of the inner self and yet she is not endangered by victimization. This 'sweet spot' that is neither here nor there has a lot of potential creative collaborative energy to it, a perpetual birthing of the new, and thus is why traditionally Aphrodite is connected to the concept of beauty.
It's a good book. Check it out. I recommend it.