Joseph Campbell often asked: “what will be the myth of the future and he expressed his hope that it would involve overcoming fragmentation and creating a planetary civilization, where people would live in harmony with others and with nature, benefiting from the astonishing discoveries of science and technology, but using them with wisdom coming from a deep spiritual place. Achievement of this goal would also involve psychospiritual rebirth and liberation and return of the feminine”¹.
This article is the latest in a series on the theme of whether we can find a new mythology, a common visionary story, to unite humanity in an attempt to solve the world’s problems. (For a guide to the series so far, see under Mythology near the bottom of the Blog Index page.)
In the previous three articles I have discussed how the Perennial Philosophy, Western spiritual traditions, and Christianity might be relevant. Another essential ingredient of the new mythology should be the recognition of the Divine Feminine. This does not mean rejecting and replacing the idea of God the Father — the Divine masculine principle — but accepting that the Divine Feminine is equally important, and a counterbalance.
A long time ago belief in the Divine Feminine (the Mother Goddess) was the norm, and widespread around the globe. Then followed its repression in Judaism and Christianity, and their suppression of other traditions. This has been documented in Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade², Acharya S’s The Christ Conspiracy³, and David Elkington’s In the Name of the Gods⁴. On Medium.com Elizabeth Childs Kelly is also writing on this theme⁵.
Feminists may attribute the denial of the Divine Feminine to the rise of patriarchal societies. The problem may not be quite so simple as that, however; there may be other theological reasons lying behind it, which I’ll explore in this article. (In what follows it is important to understand that, even though some people see the divinities as male and female beings, in reality they are cosmic processes.)
Here are some examples of ancient belief in the Divine Feminine. Perhaps the most significant was Christian Gnosticism, whose texts emerged at approximately the same time as those in the New Testament, and which was ruthlessly suppressed by the Catholic Church, as it asserted its supremacy.
In The Promethean Fire⁶ John Ivey mentions three such Gnostic traditions:
- “Marcion’s God of Light — the true God — was androgynous” (p20).
- Simon Magus “taught a self division of the Divine Unity into male and female pairs, or principles, an idea not unlike the much older religious system of Heliopolis in Egypt” (p21).
- “In the Valentinian system… (the unknowable God) was by definition male and paired with the eternal female principle called The Ennoia, or Grace. The alien god thus effectively had a male and female component and could be regarded as androgynous” (p24).
Further references to the Divine Feminine in Gnostic traditions are mentioned below. Here are some other random examples:
- Robert Graves mentions the view of the Greeks that “god without goddess is spiritual insufficiency”⁷.
- In the Egyptian religion, “although texts often refer to Atum as male, he was actually bisexual, ‘the great He/She.’ Masculine and feminine aspects emerged only later when he created his son, Shu, and daughter, Tefnut”⁸.
- The mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, author of The True Christian Religion, believed in divine bisexuality⁹.
David Elkington, referring to ancient traditions, notes: “The goddess is seen as a creatrix, a force, one of the two prime interacting aspects (male and female) of the Absolute. In native myths of the dreamtime, all life, all humanity, inhabited the womb of the goddess in an ever-present state of wonder and totality. The goddess was what science would call ‘causality’; from her came everything… Thus in ancient societies, embedded deep within their mythos is the identity of the goddess as creatrix of all”¹⁰. (Interestingly, this follows on immediately from a passage in which he discusses the role of Mary, Mother of God in the Catholic Church: “the Vatican Office has described her as the primordial being, ‘created from the beginning and before the centuries’ ”. So notions of the Divine Feminine sometimes find their way even into Catholicism!)
The basic issue to be addressed is why ‘God’ is so often identified as male, even though this is probably inaccurate, since the ultimate source of everything must contain both female and male. The first chapter of Genesis frequently uses the word ‘created’, which can easily be misunderstood, since it offers the possibility of a creator being separate and different from its creation. This understanding has dominated Judaism and Christianity. However, in other spiritual traditions the Supreme Consciousness did not create everything that is, but is rather the source of everything that is. If this is true, the nature of that Being must contain the nature of everything that is, therefore the Absolute Oneness must have female aspects. As John Ivey says: “We are accustomed to think of God the Father rather than God the Mother, although any concept of God must be androgynous”¹¹. Emanation would therefore be a more accurate word to describe the process, rather than ‘creation’.
Perhaps the clearest expression of this idea exists in Taoism, in which the Supreme Ultimate Principle, the T’ai-chi T’u, separates into Yang (masculine) and Yin (feminine), which are complementary and equal.
This is similar to the example from Egyptian religion quoted above, the Divine Oneness separating into the male and female principles.
Thus everything that exists is derived from this ultimate source. Therefore the creative spirit and the resulting material universe are both aspects of the Divine Consciousness; in theological language God is both transcendent and immanent. The philosophical term for this is evolutionary panentheism. If the transcendent aspect (the creative spirit) is considered masculine, and the immanent aspect (the material universe) feminine, then it is easy to see how some people have concluded that God is male, and why the Divine Feminine has been excluded. However, both the spirit and the material universe are aspects of the Divine. Some examples of those who have understood this are:
- Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society: “Among all the peoples of the highest antiquity, the most natural conception of the First Cause manifesting itself in its creatures, and… to this they could not but ascribe the creation of all, was that of an androgyne deity; that the male principle was considered the vivifying invisible spirit, and the female, mother nature”¹².
- the Gnostic thinker Simon Magus, quoted in the works of the Church Fathers: “Of the universal Aeons there are two shoots… one is manifested from above, which is the Great Power, the Universal Mind ordering all things, male, and the other from below, the Great Thought, female, producing all things”¹³.
- the Mandaeans who believed that “the earth is like a woman and the sky like a man, for it makes the earth fecund”¹⁴.
- the Renaissance philosopher Plutarch who said that “Heaven appeared to mankind as if it was exercising the functions of father, and the Earth that of mother”¹⁵.
- Freemasonry, following on from Egyptian religion, in which Osiris and Isis represent the Supreme Being and Universal Nature¹⁶.
We can find the idea of nature as feminine expressed by:
- certain Native Americans: “The Kagaba Indians describe a female Supreme Deity: ‘the mother of our songs, the mother of all our seed, bore us in the beginning of things… She is the mother of the thunder, the mother of the streams, the mother of trees and of all things”¹⁷.
- the Romantic philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who said in the novel Sartor Resartus of his hero Teufelsdröckh: “Never till this hour had he known Nature, that she was One, that she was his Mother and divine… He felt as if the Earth were not dead, as if the Spirit of the Earth had its throne in that splendour, and his own spirit were therewith holding communion”.
Let us not forget that, even in the age of the ‘Enlightenment’, we still talk about Mother Nature.
David Elkington elaborates on this point in greater depth: “The Aramaic word for earth is arha, and its Hebrew roots carry the meaning of all nature, all gatherings of mass and form produced by universal force. The ancient traditions associate this force with the feminine. ‘Mother’ and ‘earth’… have the same connotations and share the same essence. Thus we follow the feminine path from microcosm to macrocosm: earth is the firmament on which we live, in turn the earth lives within the cosmos, which lives through the universal force, which, as the ultimate Mother, gives births to all, and, as the ultimate firmament, nurtures all. This firmament is the substratum, the primal substance that upholds all…
“How does the Mother give birth to all? Through the Father, the movement, the lifestream, equated with that oft-used term ‘spirit’. It is this that is the essence of the myth of Isis and her search for Osiris, the lifestream that arises within the djed (the enduring one, everlasting, immortal — thus the Divine [masculine] spirit), within all living things. Isis and Osiris, the two together as substance and spirit, bring about life” (p387–8).
It would seem that belief in the Divine Feminine is widespread, even universal, except in Christianity and its predecessor Judaism. I said in the previous article that, if Christianity is to be included in a new mythology, then it would have to reintegrate belief in the Divine Feminine. Let’s hope that this Reformation can begin soon.
1. Stanislav Grof, paper available online Archetypes, Mythic Imagination, and Modern Society, p18
2. HarperSanFrancisco, 1987
3. Adventures Unlimited, 1999
4. Green Man Press, 2001
5. see, for example, https://humanparts.medium.com/when-god-was-a-woman-3725fb8ad32e
6. Able Publishing, 1998
7. King Jesus, Cassell, 1946, chapter 1, (quoted in Elkington, p274)
8. Paul LaViolette, Beyond the Big Bang, Park Street Press, p104
9. source, Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon, Peter Washington, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., 1993, p18
10. as footnote 6, p82
11. as footnote 4, p184–5
12. Isis Unveiled, volume II Theology, Bernard Quaritch, 1877, p299
13. Lynn Picknett/Clive Prince, Templar Revelation, Corgi, 1998, p421
14. ibid., p431
15. The Origin of All Religious Worship, Charles François Dupuis, Michigan Historical Reprint Series
16. Graham Hancock/Robert Bauval, Talisman, Penguin, 2004, p20, p452
17. The Sacred Depths of Nature, Ursula Goodenough, Oxford University Press, 1998, p17