Celebrating Women as Creators and Curators of Cultural Artifacts of Awe

Dec 30, 2023

Awe is a central facet of human experience, an emotion that grounds us and helps us feel connected to our aliveness, to others, to the world we inhabit, and to the divine. Women play a crucial role in recognizing and commemorating experiences of awe, both individual and collective. Dacher Keltner, who researches wonder and awe at the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, defines awe as “the emotion we experience when we encounter vast mysteries that we do not understand.” In his new book entitled Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, Keltner talks about how we memorialize experiences of wonder in cultural archives of awe.[1] 

When I think of the variety of cultural objects and practices that can be "archived" and preserved for future generations, I think of not just material culture items like figurines but also poems, stories, and sayings, what I might call verbal "cultural artifacts of awe." Today I want to celebrate women through the ages who have served as creators and curators of these artifacts of cultural expression. 

Examples of such artifacts are literary pieces, including narratives and poems, that have been passed down generation to generation for millennia. In the literature collected together in the Bible, women articulate and memorialize awe-inspiring encounters. Poems celebrating victory in war,[2] the awakening of love,[3] and the embodiment of wisdom[4] were sung and recited by women. And some scholars argue they were composed by women.[5] Women through the centuries have led performances, told stories, and helped children memorize prayers and proverbs. Through these activities, women invest in their communities as curators, selecting and using discernment in adapting songs and stories to the needs of their families, villages, and countries. 


For Reflection Individually or with a Group:

What songs, sayings, and stories were selected and displayed for you by women?

What legacies and family or communal memories did these cultural artifacts of awe preserve or celebrate?

What hopes and dreams did these pieces of art embody?

How do you go about selecting which cultural artifacts of awe you most want to communicate and pass on in your circles?


Author: Jody Washburn


[1] Dacher Keltner, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, p. xviii.

[2] “The Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15, “The Song of Deborah” in Judges 5, some of the oldest poetry in the Bible.

[3] Song of Songs, in which the main voice is a woman.

[4] Woman Wisdom. In the overview of “Woman Wisdom” in Women in Scripture (edited by Carol Meyers), Claudia Camp points out the androcentric nature of the book of Proverbs, and also notes how the book of Proverbs is framed with a women’s voice. Camp cites the work of Athalya Brenner, who “argues for the possibility of a mother-teacher’s voice and interests as well, patriarchally conditioned though these may be.” 

[5] Song of the Sea: Wilda Gafney, in Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel, writes, "Miriam of the Exodus is described as a singer, dancer, and percussionist in Exodus 15, where the prophecy attributed to her is one of the oldest portions of the Hebrew Scriptures: 'All sing to YHWH, for YHWH has triumphed triumphantly; horse and rider YHWH has thrown into the sea'" (p. 80). Song of Deborah: Tikva Frymer-Kensky, in the article entitled "Deborah 2" in Women in Scripture (edited by Carol Meyers), writes that this song was “probably composed not long after the original events, possible by Deborah herself, and preserved in Judges 5.” For observations regarding the authorship of Song of Songs, see J. Cheryl Exum's chapter on Song of Songs in the Women's Bible Commentary, discussed in a previous blog

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