The Sacred Feminine: Out of the Shadows
Thousands of years ago a patchwork of religious and spiritual traditions covered Europe (the continent from which my ancestors hail). Sadly, we know little about those traditions. With the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 313 Christianity became Rome, and Rome rolled over Europe. In its wake Christianity wiped out the indigenous religious traditions that once flourished there. My Celtic ancestors were among them.
For the Celts the Divine Feminine in Her many aspects was revered, that much we know. Goddesses in rich variety were found throughout Celtic lands, though we know little about them today outside their names (from inscriptions and Archeological finds), and stories told about them by their conquerors. We have a bit from Roman sources, who were clearly biased. And we have (much later) copies of what may have been oral traditions written down by Christian monastics in the early Middle Ages. They too were not exactly unbiased.
For centuries the Western hemisphere was dominated by Christianity that was as much (or more) Rome (patriarchal, expansionist, and not to be refused) as it was the original Jesus movement. Eventually the descendents of those who had seen their own traditions and religion stripped from them sailed out into the world and did the same to people in the Americas, Africa, Asia. Meanwhile, the Divine Feminine faded into the shadows.
Violence, Disconnection, and Imbalance
We human beings are really good at messing things up. I am not someone who thinks that my Celtic, Goddess worshipping ancestors lived in a Matriarchal paradise, I suspect their world was as filled with misogyny and violence as any other. Because we are human, and we cannot seem to do anything easily.
But there are consequences for two thousand years of monolithic male language and imagery for the Divine. There are consequences for religious systems that have enshrined not only men in leadership but whose structures are shaped like male leadership. Admitting women into those ranks does not balance the scales, it merely crams women into male shaped roles and pretends all is well.
And we are reaping the fruits of that imbalance. The Earth we call Mother crumbles under our weight, and anyone who does not fit the alpha male stereotype stuffers. If I have to list the long, long list of troubles that obliterating (or attempting to obliterate) indigenous cultures and the Feminine Divine have wrought you are probably in the wrong place.
Hope & Trouble-Makers
Of course she never really went away. That isn’t how things work. Hard as men might have tried if you have spent any time around the fierce, wily women who have tended the cult of Mary for centuries you will know she has always been here. She has been hiding in plain sight for a long time; and her daughters have held her close and kept the candles burning.
Fairly early in my own awakening to the feminine in God I read a book by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, which was (is) ostensibly about Mary (Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul). But with every page I turned it was as if the Divine was tapping me on the shoulder, elbowing me in the ribs, winking outrageously at me from the language used to describe the Blessed Mother and Queen of Heaven. My soul sank gratefully into this revelation like I sink into a hot bath.
Perhaps you too are in need of that kind of oasis. I suspect all of us from European, Christian backgrounds (and those we’ve colonized) desperately need a rebalancing. Our world needs it, if we are to not to perpetuate this cycle of violence all over again. We need those trouble makers, those hope bearers who have lived at the margins, and in the shadows.
Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine
We cannot go back. There is no recreating what existed two thousand years ago, nor should we try. It would not belong to us, nor heal us. What we have to do (in the Christian tradition at least) is do our own healing work.
We start that by acknowledging the harm done in the name of our religion and our God. We start that by being honest about what has been lost, corrupted, or twisted. We start that by seeing the feminine aspect of God who has been before us all this time, even in the words of Jesus, certainly in scripture and tradition.
We start it by doing the hard work of tearing down male dominated institutions, structures, ways of being. By being bold enough to try something new. And all of that, if you hadn’t guessed is a journey. Reclaiming the sacred feminine, healing the imbalance in our religion and spirituality is a journey, one that will take our lifetimes and beyond.
We begin by acknowledging whose land we now live on, and the ways our souls have been uprooted and left to wander without the stories, land, and culture that rooted our ancestors.
In a world that demands instant results (apparently if a website doesn’t fully load in 2 seconds the majority of users click away) we are talking decades and more of inner and outer work. There is no magic wand.
And here’s the kicker: walking away and not doing the work doesn’t solve anything. It leaves us trapped within the ghosts of the broken systems that raised us. The only way out is through as they say. And that is why the journey matters.
The Danger of the Sacred Feminine
I began my own path back into the heart of the Divine Feminine with much trepidation. I had heard the word Goddess sneered alongside the words pagan and heathen enough to know that there would be many in my own faith who would consider any such quest heretical, even evil.
You see the Divine Feminine is absolutely deadly to patriarchy, or could be. Imagine, women who saw themselves in the image of God instead of only men. Imagine if male were not default and normative. While it might sound exciting (and about damn time) to me, always remember that equality feels like oppression to those who have experience privilege. (I have not been able to find a reliable attribution for this quote, but it isn’t original to me.)
The journey will endanger the way we were raised, the things we have accepted without question, and what we believe. And that will seem dangerous to many of those around us. You may find yourself being accused of having lost your faith, of abandoning your beliefs, or of just being a crazy woman. If we are crazy, we are in good company.
So take heart. The journey of healing and authenticity is never easy. It will demand all of us. It will strip from us every comfortable lie. But for ourselves, and for those who will call us ancestors, we must make this journey, we just heal these wounds.
A New Cast, for a New Journey
Sharon Blackie, in her book If Women Rose Rooted proposed a recasting of the Hero’s Journey into the Heroine’s Journey, an altogether different affair and one embedded in the sacred feminine. (And I highly recommend the book for anyone feeling the call to such a journey.) And this is what we need. We need women willing to do their work, to heal their own lives. To live differently, and to lead from their feminine center: authentic, healing, rooted.
The need is great, and urgent. This world has never needed the sacredness of the feminine more. For all of us. We who are complex beings must learn to heal and balance ourselves. And the surest way I know to do that is to rediscover the diversity of the Divine. To realize that the golden kernel of truth in the creation myth contained in the book of Genesis is that we human beings are, as God said: “made in Our image; male and female They made them.” (Translation mine.)
The world needs women, rooted to the land, grounded in their own souls, connected to sacred feminine truths to lead and love us into a new way of being. The world needs women who on a journey, supporting and loving one another, raising up a new generation with perhaps one less wound on our collective souls.