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The Divine Feminine

from the archive, 2018

I am a follower of Jesus who extends a hand of friendship to pagans.

Official Christianity has acted inconsistently towards paganism in its various climes and cultures. Action has ranged from accommodation and reverential borrowing to downright persecution, as in the burning of witches. As early Jews tended to distrust and remain aloof from the “gentiles”, early Christian communities partly defined themselves in contrast to the “inferior” pagans. A self-definition that relies on the diminution of another group lacks the fullness of a positive self-definition. Much of the trouble can be sheeted home to ignorance of the divine masculine and feminine, and of the characteristic religious development that accompanies them.

The sacred is the divine or godly, the source of our existence. The role of religion is to put us in right relationship with this source. Further, there is a ‘patriarchal’ and ‘matriarchal’ approach to the mystery of the source.

Spirit has been traditionally viewed as masculine and personified as Father, whereas Matter has been viewed as feminine and personified as Mother. God is typically masculine and one - or tending towards singularity. He inspires revelatory religion. The feminine is typically multiform, with all its forms organically connected through the natural world. Her adherents therefore speak of the Goddess and practise what may loosely be called ‘nature religion’.

The metaphysics precipitates semantical funks. Revelationists baulk at the use of the G-word applied to anything that is not infinite, invisible, creative Mind (or Spirit). The nature religionists - pagans - understandably complain that what is feminine about the sacred is slipping by the wayside. Obviously, charged sexual politics flow from positions taken theologically. The politics ranges over gender studies, ecology, interfaith and so on. Reactions to labels like “patriarchy” and “feminism” can be traced back to the theology.

Assuming the ultimate source to be personal, it is speculative whether it could be a divine androgyne, a He/She.

More pertinent is that the dualistic cognition of the human condition matches up with an operative metaphysical dualism : the starting points are Mind and Matter. But “matter” here is used as a philosophical principle, not synonymous with the matter of modern science. It is closer to Hinduism’s mulaprakriti, “root matter”; or to the western theological notion of “virgin substance”. Aristotle regarded everything in creation as a fusion of matter and form, where matter is the underlying, unparticularised stuff that form empatterns to render a leaf, a golf ball, a star or any other particular thing.

So matter can be formed, and has been in the course of evolution. Matter was there in the beginning, though distinct from the fecundating and involutionary Mind. I do not have a problem with this view of the Primordial Mother. It is not the same as pantheism (where God = Nature); nor does it erase the distinction between Creator and Creation. The way forward is to maintain the metaphysical gender binary : the divine masculine and the divine feminine. Such an approach should also sit comfortably within the Wiccan tradition, which strives to give equal emphasis to the masculine and feminine, conveyed in its own terminology.

If this is grasped, one may appreciate why the “gnostic heresy” has occasioned grief, bloodshed and an abiding suspicion.

There is a real gnosis, or spiritual knowledge - and it does involve the understanding of the metaphysical dualism just outlined. Where it goes wrong is taking that dualism to be radically antagonistic and not complementary, thereby eliminating the possibility of a harmonising androgynous monism behind the sources of Mind and Matter. A consequence is that spirit or mind becomes the sole bearer of the good, while matter becomes the bearer of all that is evil. The body is then bad, and the world a prisonhouse of deception to be escaped.

Consider some proper applications of the metaphysical binary in religious culture.

The Biblical tradition exemplifies religious patriarchy.

All authority stems from God who is masculine, and He is the God of the fathers who transmit the faith tradition - the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Men as a consequence assume a leadership role in the home and in society. Western civilisation, one of whose pillars is the Judaeo-Christian tradition, is ipso facto patriarchal. When the shadow elements and abuses of the civilisation are in focus, they have, unfortunately, come to be derogated as “patriarchal”and evincing "toxic masculinity".

The native American tradition exemplifies religious matriarchy.

The Hopis of Arizona and New Mexico trace matrilineal descent, and theirs is one of many spiritual traditions giving prominence to the mother and the feminine. The Iroquois Confederacy of native American nations placed women at the centre of society, because of their natural endowment as the givers of life. The Goddess Movement, associated with contemporary ecofeminism, is a path that many believe has roots in prehistoric matriarchy. Woman is the birther. She brings life. Man the warrior has historically taken life away. As the public domain becomes feminised, and women occupy more positions of power, shall one consequence be an orientation away from the war impulse, and a greater emphasis on cooperation instead of competition?

Female empowerment can mitigate against unbridled egoism and corruption within hierarchies.

Feminine concern with safety can mitigate a culture of too-crazy risk-taking. Its respect for the natural world can prioritise sustainability over dubiously-driven production; and can foster better relations with its traditional, indigenous custodians. All this helps our planet to heal and flourish. It is no surprise that the classical goddess of Peace, Eirene, associated the natural with the feminine.

The Greek goddess Gaia, Mother Earth, has become a biological hypothesis for a living planet, a unified mega-organism embodying all of earth’s life forms in symbiotic and cybernetic relationship.

Gaia has hugely inspired ecofeminism. Is she the Primordial Mother? Not quite. The Primordial Mother lends her substance to the whole universe. Gaia could be seen as an organic part of Her Body. By respecting her integrity, we neither negate the “dominion” line in Genesis nor abdicate our responsibility for stewardship over the planet’s natural resources; instead, we strive to perfect our environmental ethic.

Gaia is depicted in a Pinterest image, “Aion and Gaia with Four Children”.

Aion, the god of cyclical time, is standing with a zodiac wheel. Gaia is lounging on the earth, her abode, with the four children gathered around her on the ground representing the four seasons. In the nature religions and the pagan worldview, the markers to celebrate the sacred are given by the seasons and the zodiac, which are inextricably linked, since each season encompasses three signs of the zodiac. Appreciating this natural cycle is a path of wisdom commendable to all.

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