Searching for the Divine Feminine
"It wasn't until I was in seminary school that I began to truly see the many feminine faces of God, known as Goddess, as she exists in so many of the world's religions and traditions. My path included many bumps, questions and doubts along the way. I share my insights with you because I suspect that many people raised in our traditional religious culture may find it hard to believe—and perhaps even sacrilegious to consider—that the male God of the Bible is one of many interpretations of divine presence that exist in the world's religions.”
Searching for the Divine Feminine: Looking for Aspects of"Her"Between the Lines
by Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway
May The Blessing of God Go Before You
May Her peace and grace abound.
May her spirit live within you.
May her love wrap you 'round.
May her blessing remain with you always.
May you walk on holy ground.
~Miriam Therese Winter, Life Prayers
I always had a sense that if there was a God, there had to be a Goddess. Host-Hostess. Steward-Stewardess. Actor-Actress. In my heart I knew there had to be a yin to the yang I grew up knowing as the Divine source of all that is. I just did not have a clue as to how to find Her.
It wasn't until I was in seminary school that I began to truly see the many feminine faces of God, known as Goddess, as she exists in so many of the world's religions and traditions. My path included many bumps, questions and doubts along the way. I share my insights with you because I suspect that many people raised in our traditional religious culture may find it hard to believe—and perhaps even sacrilegious to consider—that the male God of the Bible is one of many interpretations of divine presence that exist in the world's religions.
Fortunately, I was trained by a seminary that encourages free thinking and exploration. Its motto is"Never instead of, always in addition to.”In order to embrace all faiths we were taught that God is one source and yet that source manifests in many ways, through many paths, religions and spiritual practices. And that God is represented by a wide-range of deities with different names.
Nevertheless, the fear of acknowledging a feminine face of God grabbed hold of me in the middle of seminary school. I was doing what seminarians are supposed to do... grappling with God. As I studied comparative religion, I was trying to reconcile the belief system I was raised with—God is a man, no two ways about it—with the new belief systems I was learning—The Divine is neither male or female and/or The Divine is indeed both male and female. One day I was praying to a feminine deity...and I became panic stricken: What if the Male God gets mad at me and cuts me off? What if he's saying, Oh, switching teams, eh? We'll see about that...
Many people are even afraid to consider the Divine as feminine in form or nature. Yet I learned on my personal journey that in order to be truly whole, whether we are women or men, we must embrace both the male and feminine aspects of the divine—and we must embrace those aspects of ourselves and of one another.
I discovered that I am among so many women—and men—searching for spirituality that brings both The Father and The Mother to the table. As we desperately seek balance and peace on our planet, and in these times of deeply disturbing and frightening world events, many of us are searching for what's been missing in modern life. And I believe one of the most important missing pieces of our lives has been The Sacred Feminine—not instead of, but in addition to, The Sacred Male. In the tradition of all-inclusive spirituality, we refer to the Divine as God, Goddess, All there is.
She is there, in between the lines
When I first began to search for signs of The Mother in the world's religions, I found a few beautiful examples, including the"she aspect.” One was in the gentle spiritual practice known as Taoism, founded by Lao Tzu in the 6th Century B.C.E.. The Taoists explain the origin of all that is as feminine, yet is manifested as both male and female, in what is known as the Yin and the Yang. It is this energy that the Taoist religious text Tao Te Ching attributes to the creation of the cosmos.”Conceived of as having no name, it is the originator of heaven and earth...it is The Mother of all things.”
In Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Judaism, the indwelling aspect of God, also known as Shekinah, is considered to be the feminine aspect of God. Kabbalists also know the soul as"She.”Consider this petition to the divine from the tradition of mystical Judaism:
"My soul aches to receive your love. Only by the tenderness of your light can she be healed. Engage my soul that she may taste your ecstasy.”
The Judaic scriptures and the Gnostic Christian doctrines also include wisdom as a feminine aspect. She is called, Sophia and considered the personification of wisdom.
The Buddhists confer that Praj-na-para-mita (which means the perfection of wisdom) is feminine. An important Buddhist text, Sariputra, puts it this way: "The perfection of wisdom gives light, O Lord. I pay homage to the perfection of wisdom. She is worthy of homage. She is unstained and the world cannot stain her.”
Then of course, there is Grace. In Christian Theology it is the expression of God's love in his free and unmerited assistance. And, as the New Testament puts it, Grace can only be conferred through Faith. Isn't it interesting that those are names assigned to women? That Grace and Faith evoke perhaps the greatest sense of connection to the Divine, yet do so in the name and essence of the feminine. I was excited to see that when you dig around a bit you will find the feminine between the lines of well-established religions. Still, I was searching for a God who looked like me—feminine in nature and in her manifestations...The spiritual mother I longed for.
Conventional religious belief is obviously dominated by references to and images of a male Divine, whispering ever so softly of feminine energies between the lines. Yet Catholicism has given us our most tangible mainstream connection. Mary, mother of God's only begotten son, along with a handful of popular female saints, have been the most highly visible aspect of the feminine in the traditional religion for 2,000 years. Because of that, The Blessed Virgin cuts across religious boundaries. She is, in many ways, the adopted spiritual mother of all women, and people of many faiths embrace her. She has been solely responsible for keeping the sacred feminine alive for a couple of millennium. Yet there are many cultures that are rich with mythology, spiritual practices, religious experiences and sacred texts that show us many ways in which The Goddess has been and can be worshipped, remembered and evoked.
It is extraordinary to realize that just over 2000 years ago, less than 40 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, queen Cleopatra of Egypt prayed to The Mother Goddess, Isis, who was the favored deity of the Queen's temples. Cleopatra's beloved, Julius Caesar, bowed to Isis' Roman counterpart, the Goddess Venus. What was considered sacrilegious in their day was not the worship of Goddesses... but Caesar's worship of Cleopatra, which was so intense that he erected a statue of Cleopatra as Venus, but looking like Isis, in a holy temple to the Roman Goddess. The Romans did not appreciate that interfaith approach to Goddess worship back then.
When the Romans conquered Egypt, they ultimately replaced the antiquities and images of Isis and her infant Horus with images and icons of Mary and the baby Jesus.
Although Mary and Jesus are the most famous mother and child, the image of The Mother and the child (or the pregnant, fertile mother) abound as a motif of cultures that worshiped The Great Mother. Joseph Campbell often said that the same essence of the Divine Feminine could be found in the religious mythology and folklore of every culture. Many of the stories are the same, yet the names and specific circumstances change according to cultural tradition.
History of the Goddess
The earliest signs of Goddess worship date as far back as 33,000 years ago. One of the most famous artifacts of the Divine Feminine is The Venus of Willendorf, which is believed to have been carved in stone 20,000 to 30,000 thousand years ago. And while she looks like a rotund female—pregnant and voluptuous—when you place a replica of her famous statue flat on her back, she takes on the form of the earth—the hills and valleys, mountains and ravines, are all in her body.
And that is how the ancients worshiped The Great Mother—as Mother of the Earth, Mother Earth and Mom Nature. They followed an earth-based religion. The Great Goddess Mother was the earth—alive, growing, pulsating with life. She was fertility, death and regeneration, as witnessed in the flowers and trees, the moon and the ocean, the cycles of life and nature. She was seen in so many diverse forms—fluid, capable of assuming any role. Much like our own mothers.
She was revered as the great power because women were seen as the great power. It was human women who could conceive, birth, and nurture children from their own bodies. A Miracle. But a miracle akin to the magic of mother earth—who could nurture flowers in the summer, protect them in her womb in the winter, and magically let them grow again in spring.
It is believed by many scholars that it was the eruption of violence as perpetrated by the newer, male dominated cultures that obliterated the peaceful, earth honoring ways of Goddess worship and paved the way for the strong hold of Christianity and eventually the obliteration of the Goddess from religion, religious texts and teachings.
Native American and indigenous shamanic cultures
The shamanic religion—50,000 years old and still going strong, and considered the oldest of all religions—also reveres The Mother, along with the father. She is the earth, the Great Mother. Some cultures call her Patchamama or Corn Woman. She is the nurturer who feeds us from her own body and sustains all of life. In Native American cultures she is represented by the turtle—a hard shell with a soft inside. A popular Lakota chant sums it up well: "The earth is our mother... we must take care of her.”
Who is the Goddess?
Like most people who are unfamiliar with the concept and rich spirituality of including The Goddess, the first time I began to explore the aspect of Feminine Divine called Goddess I was afraid that it meant I had to worship only a SHE and practice a spirituality that excluded men. Wrong.
Almost three decades ago, Merlin Stone wrote a groundbreaking book called When God Was A Woman, tracing cultures that worshipped"The Goddess"or"Goddesses.” She described Goddess this way: She is the"divine feminine principle"or the"sacred feminine principle in the universe.”
In this millennium we are seeing a resurgence of the Divine Feminine and an observance of the feminine as sacred. We are seeing her in history, art, folklore, religion, spirituality, archeology, media, and mythology.
Many scholars and clergy agree that we need Her help to midwife this new point in history... Because she brings to our world—and our lives—those qualities that, as discussed, even some traditional religions and most mystical religions assign as feminine qualities: Wisdom and the expression of the Soul. When we tap into wisdom and follow the call of our souls we can then forgive, be tolerant, appreciate everyone's individual evolution, and love without conditions. The energy of the Divine Feminine also balances the energy of the male; without it, the qualities traditionally associated with male energy—which include warring and aggression—will get completely out of hand.
Rich spiritual traditions and religious mythology can help in everyday life.
The natural progression of my search for the Divine Feminine is to write a book that puts together all that I have learned about the Goddess and how she can help us in our daily lives. In researching my book, A Goddess Is A Girl's Best Friend (Perigee, Fall 2002), I found thousands of ways the Divine Feminine is personified in different cultures. The rich mythology of the Feminine Divine has reemerged to offer role models—and guidance—to modern men and women. She comes to us as The Mother, and also the Maiden and The Wise Woman. She is also Sister, Daughter, Best Friend.
The Greek Goddess Aphrodite, also known as the Roman Goddess, Venus, is Goddess of Love and Infatuation. She has completely insinuated herself in our culture, helping us to evoke the love within us all and encouraging us to experience high romance.
The Egyptian Goddess Isis is one of the most revered Goddesses, worshipped as Queen of Heaven in the ancient Egyptian religions. A healing and resurrection Goddess who was also considered a physician, she brought her beloved Osiris back to life from the dead and bore his child Horus, who went on to be the chosen son to represent the father, on earth. She lives on through her image and energy in reliefs on ancient temples and tomb walls. She shows us we can heal, survive our grief, and live fruitful lives.
The Chinese Goddess Kuan Yin is a beautiful Bodhisattva who has captured the heart of Buddhist worshipers and beyond, just as Mary has captured the heart of so many in her religion of origin and around the world. She comes to tell us to be merciful and compassionate—especially to be our own merciful mothers.
Lakshmi is the Hindu Goddess of Good Fortune who brings abundance and beauty into our lives, pouring her gifts upon us. She, like Aphrodite, was born of the milky waters of the sea. She is symbolized as beautiful woman with four arms, one pouring coins into the ocean from whence she came. She is still worshipped daily in Hindu temples and homes, as are all Goddesses in that tradition.
All that is Divine is both Female and Male
The Hindus teach us that the Divine essence of all that is is the creative summary of both male and female principle. And so do the Taoists, who show us the feminine and the masculine principle that feed one another and make up the whole in the symbol of Yin/Yang. The circle of black and white halves show two opposite energies, from whose interactions and fluctuation, the universe and its diverse forms emerge. Tibetan Buddhists do the same with their most sacred objects, dorje and bell. The bell represents the feminine and the dorje is the male principal. No worship service is ever conducted without use of each, together, one held in each hand.
In these systems of belief.... You can't have one without the other. You can't have day without the night. You can't have man without woman, or masculine without feminine. In very, very simple form, you can forget about toast for the rest of your life... you can't plug in a toaster without both the male plug and the female outlet.
When we really understand that the Divine nature of all that is contains both the masculine and the feminine principles, it begins to make sense that men and women each contain those Divine principles; that the energy of the Goddess exists within all of us; and that one energy might at some times be more prominent than the other. For example, any man or woman in a traffic jam may choose to evoke their male energy by vocalizing dissatisfaction with the traffic or even trying by driving aggressively. On the other end of the spectrum, both the man and the woman who share a moment of gentle nurturing and loving are operating from a more receptive and gentle feminine energy.
We are all children of God, Goddess, All There Is. When we acknowledge that we are all Divine, as well as complex beings that are both feminine and masculine in nature, we can begin to access true balance in our lives. It is in acknowledging that these qualities exist in all of us that we begin to find balance in our relationship to ourselves, our relationships to one another, and in our relationship to the world we live in.
I Believe The Goddess Is Re-emerging Just In Time...
The Goddess is re-emerging to show us another side of ourselves. Or at least to help us consider God is both masculine and feminine in nature, and therefore, that we all possess The Divine within. She's come just in time. Here's why:
Women feel left out of traditional religion. it's not just about becoming a clergy person or having power, it's about being able to recognize our own divinity. Men have been able to recognize their divinity through worship of a male divine. it's time that women access The Goddess within but first... we need role models.
Men are shut off from their feminine energy and, quite frankly, their softness in many cases, and there is so little in religious environments in our culture—and most of the world's cultures—that nurtures that side of males. Because of this, men are suffering, and our world is suffering, because we still do not completely support the idea of men being sensitive, loving, gentle, forgiving, healing, even mushy. This is so odd, because that was exactly what the ministry of Jesus Christ was about. Jesus was, in so many ways, the embodiment of both the male and female principle. Of Mary Magdalene, it has been said," he could not see her in tears without himself weeping.”He spent every waking moment of his ministry embracing people in his love and continues to do so. I mean, who would dare call Christ a wimp? Yet, we often label men who are in touch with that part of themselves by that name.
Because of the ingrained idea of a male divinity, our relationship lives are utterly confusing. Love means war when instead of accessing all the qualities of the male and feminine in ourselves, we seek partners to make us whole. We have to learn to come into relationships whole and we can only do that when we embrace all aspects of the Divine.
We've got kids to raise and it's time we teach them that all of who they are is okay; that their sex doesn't have to assign them to specific gender roles; that we are all made up of the male and female principle, the yin-yang. If we raise our boys to know the divine only in male terms than we deny them access to a part of themselves, and if we teach our girls that the Feminine Divine only exists in fairy tales, they will grow up as Barbie Dolls instead of as Goddesses.
We live in a world that is spinning out of control. This became so painfully evident in the September 11, 2001 attack on our nation, which brought forth a darkness that shocked and pained us all. But even before that, we were at war with one another and within ourselves, and our world reeled with imbalances: violence in our schools, people starving to death on a planet that has plenty of food to feed everyone, one natural catastrophe after another. Mom Nature has been trying to get our attention. God, Goddess, All There Is has been whispering in our ear... We must take stock of our world and ourselves. We must change, now.
New York author Rick Carrier told me that his book, The Mother of God, is about a female deity who walks the earth to come and tell us: CLEAN UP YOUR ROOM. It is time to clean up our planet, our personal lives, our pain, our wounding of one another and our earth, our relationships, our bad habits, our unconsciousness.
The Feminine Divine lives to love and protect all her children. She's there for us, always. But she's screaming out for our attention: "Listen to your mother," she calls," I know what's best for you!"
Searching for the Divine Feminine: Looking for Aspects of"Her"Between the Lines
by Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway
Sources for More Information:
1. Return of The Great Goddess, Edited by Burleigh Muten (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1997)
2. When The Drummers Were Women by Layne Redmond (Three Rivers Press, 1998)
3. Men and the Goddesses: Feminine Archetypes in Western Literature, by Tom Absher (Park Street Press,1990)
4. Encyclopedia of GODS—Over 2,500 Deities of the World, by Michael Jordon (Facts on File, 1993)
5. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, edited by John Bowker (Oxford Press, 1997)
6. An Anthology of Sacred Texts By & About Women, edited by Serenity Young (Crossroad Press, 1993)
7. Listen To Her: Women of The Hebrew Bible, by Miki Raver (Chronicle Books, 1998)
8. The Goddesses In Art by Lanier Graham (Artebras, 1997)
9. When God Was A Woman by Merlin Stone (Hartcourt-Brace, 1976)
10. The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines by Patricia Monaghan (Llewellyn Publications, 1997)
11. The Devi Gita: The Song of the Goddess ,Translation, Annotation, Commentary by C. Mackenzie Brown (SUNY Press, 1998)
12. Holy Bible (St. James)
13. Kabbalah As I See It By Rabbi Joseph H. Gelberman (self published). Rabbi Gelberman, founder of the New Seminary, is credited with having coined the phrase: "Never instead of, always in addition to.”
Copyright 2001 Reverend Laurie Sue Brockway All Rights Reserved.
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