Divine Feminine: Smashing the Patriarchy Is Sacred Work
If you live in the West (or really most of the world) you live in a patriarchal society. No matter what religion you are a part of, or what spirituality you practice the culture you swim in is male dominated. I grew up in a Christian tradition that considered itself pretty darn egalitarian.
Women were officially ordained at the end of the 1970s. And yet (you knew that was coming) the first time I heard someone use a feminine pronoun for God was in the early 2000s and the people listening gasped.
We talk a good line in our culture. Just about everyone will tell you that God isn’t male. Great, but try calling that same deity Goddess and you’ll be in trouble quick. Try saying “she” instead of “he” or “mother” instead of “father” and you’ll find out just how male the God we’ve constructed is.
Sweethearts it’s time to smash that old idol down.
Meet Your Heavenly Mother
God isn’t male, and that also means God isn’t female. But our cultures assumption is that God is male (no matter what we say). The only images we humans have are gendered, and they have lacked any sort of balance. So if we really don’t think God is an old white dude sitting on a cloud it’s time to meet our Divine Mother. I met her very young, which is probably why I’m here today doing what I do.
When I was very little I was shy. I was the quiet type of kid who liked to go off by myself. The church where I grew up had a big old black walnut altar that had come from England on a boat. It looked like it had come straight out of a knight’s castle. And it was always draped in these heavy brocade hangings that went all the way to the floor.
Underneath it was the best cave ever. Dark and quiet, and totally secret. And I would crawl in there like I was crawling into my mother’s lap. It was my theological womb, though at the time I just found it safe, and cozy, and a place I felt totally at home. I snuggled up to the Divine in that place like She was my Mother or Grandmother.
The God of our liturgy and worship, of the traditional language of my church was a stern father with a lot of expectations. That God was one we needed to be saved from. But the God(dess) I met under that altar was different. She was the sort you could come to when you were afraid, or sad and just be. The kind of Love and was always present, and hoping you’d show up for a cup of tea. My whole self was welcome there, and safe. She saved, but not from Herself, from everything else.
Men have seen themselves in the dominate cultural images of God for time out of mind. There have been places and times when women could see their own divine spark in images of God but those are mostly long forgotten, or buried in subversive images like Mary (whose cult has kept alive the Divine Feminine for generations, good work ladies.)
Ironically the Bible begins with an ancient story where the deity makes both male and female in their image. The Feminine Divine has always been there, certainly in the Abrahamic faith traditions. But She has been effectively buried by a culture that used religion to keep women subservient and powerless. Those days are over. Today women have the freedom to see themselves more and more clearly in the face of the Divine.
Healing The Human Spirit
Reclaiming our relationship with the Divine Feminine is more than an academic exercise, it is about healing humanity. A divine that does not encompass all, that is not male, female, and beyond can never be real or whole. And without that we cannot be either. Our souls have been harmed for thousands of years by a skewed, twisted, and broken image of Holiness. And we have suffered as a result.
Meeting our Divine Mother is as vital for the future of our selves and our species as breathing. Without Her we cannot be whole, or see the wholeness in ourselves. Without Her male and female are fractured and broken. With Her we can reclaim both sides of ourselves, we can be whole.
Encountering The Divine Feminine
If we’ve been raised in a culture that just assumed the Divine was male (with all that entails for male being holy and normative and female being not) how can we possibly begin to encounter the Divine in her female aspects? The answer for me is: that depends. There are, my favorite poet says (Rumi) a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground. And that has never been so true as when we want to encounter the Divine.
Your own path to the Divine will almost certainly be different than mine, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good strategies. For me the Divine Feminine has always been there, just waiting for me to acknowledge her. Here are some ways I find helpful for experiencing the Divine in a new and important way.
I come from a patriarchal tradition. All the language for God in the prayers of my church use masculine pronouns. so the simplest way to connect differently is to change the language of my traditional prayers. Here’s what I suggest. Chose a few prayers you know well. Maybe your favorites, or maybe those that you find hardest to deal with. Now change all the language in them from male to female. He becomes she, King becomes Queen, Father becomes Mother. Be thorough, and chose language that speaks to you.
Now try those rewritten prayers for a week or so, paying attention to how they feel as you pray. What is different, do the images you see in your mind’s eye change? How about the feelings those prayers raise in you. And how do those experiences of difference evolve over a week?
Find the Kernels
Many people get surprised when I tell them there are lots of references to God as Divine Feminine in scripture. The Hebrew prophets refer to God as nursemaid and mother more than once. The Wisdom of God is personified as a woman throughout all of scripture. And even Jesus uses the image of a Mother Hen gathering her chicks. Yet those images are mostly glossed over and ignored.
Go back to your sacred texts and stories, whatever those might be, and see if you can dig deep with new eyes and find images of the Divine Feminine in places you thought you knew well. In all likelihood they are right there, waiting to be discovered. And if such nuggets have survived thousands of years of suppression imagine how many more there once were and could be again.
Meditation with images can be a great way to explore different understandings of God. While many of us grew up laughing at tarot cards as some sort of old superstition the truth is that images have long been important to almost all religious traditions because of the power they have to unlock our creativity, intuition, and subconscious. There are lots of great options out there for beautiful art cards that draw on the Divine Feminine.
Some of my favorites are Mother Mary Oracle: Protection Miracles & Grace of the Holy Mother which uses traditional images or themes from Christian tradition around Mary to explore the divine feminine. Another favorite is Rumi Oracle: An Invitation into the Heart of the Divine which draws on the poetry of Rumi for its images and themes. Most of its imagery is decidedly feminine and absolutely beautiful and the book that accompanies this deck is a deep well for inspiration.
Those are just two options of what is probably thousands. Experiment and see what images speak to your soul at this point in your life. And for more on how to use images for spiritual journaling and reflection see this post I wrote in 2017 about my own practice.
Maiden, Mother, Crone
Spend time with wise women. If you want to meet God in her feminine form don’t hang around with a bunch of dudes, no matter how wise they might be. Get yourself to the well of feminine wisdom. There’s something to be shared through all our lives so wise doesn’t have to mean “old.”
The celts celebrated three stages of womanhood and three incarnations of the Goddess: the maiden (young woman), the mother/matron (a woman in her prime) and the crone (a woman past child bearing age). Each of those expressions of womanhood had different wisdom to share and all were just as necessary.
You have those girlfriends who help you connect with your own inner truth, who call you on your bullshit, who build you up, who see clearly. Cultivate them. But look outside as well, find the women with wise things to say in the world. Support them, learn from them.
The Divine speaks through our lives, and through our fellow human beings. While men have traditionally been the mouth pieces of religious tradition women’s roles cannot be totally obscured and today? Today we have the power to speak just as loudly.
The idea that only a few ancient people truly encountered the divine is perhaps one of the greatest heresies perpetrated by religious leaders (of many traditions). It’s absurd to think that the Divine spoke a few times to a few special people and then went silent to see if we’d all chose to listen to the right holy stories for the rest of history.
I truly believe that God is still speaking, that Goddess is still active in our lives, still seeks out relationships with her whole creation. Which includes you. So dream. Listen to the truths found deep within your own heart, test them against the wisdom of others, against your experience. Be willing to let go old ideas that no longer fit, and pick up new ones. Listen to stories, listen and make them your own.
Make the Old New
I read a series of novels a few years ago which were loosely based on research into ancient Goddess traditions. (Very loosely as there are almost no written records of such cultures.) In it the Divine was real and present in the world in many ways but the one on which these stories focused was the way She walked the earth in as a holy mare, and the women who were permitted to serve her as her riders and priests.
I’m a rider myself, I know horses well and this author got what most don’t: that it’s really the mares who are in charge. That it’s the mares who chose “their” stallion, that keep the herd safe. And that the bond between women and horses is something ancient, mysterious, and powerful. The images of the Divine as mare, as female have become part of my own spiritual vocabulary, though it didn’t exist before in my tradition.
If we are to have a new world, one where we are all whole and where all of us are valued then we need to relearn everything. The language we use for the Divine might seem like a small thing, but words have power. The words we use define the world we live in. To build something new we will need new ways of speaking to go with our new ways of experiencing. The good news is that we have within ourselves already all that need. And the Divine Feminine is just waiting for us to meet her and build a new world.