by Rev. Karen Tate
Dan Brown's bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, piqued the curiosity of millions of all faiths with his accounts of the Sacred Feminine. With nearly 50 million books sold, the long anticipated film version of Brown’s story hit the screen in May associated with such a hotbed of controversy the likes of which the film industry had not seen since The Passion of the Christ. With the release of The Da Vinci Code dvd, this theme of the partnership of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, and the glimpse into the true herstory of Goddess will no doubt continue to be in the hearts, minds and living rooms of millions more for sometime to come despite Church disdain for the theme. Yet, their subsequent call for a boycott of the movie did not dampen enthusiasm, perhaps proving there is a hunger for these new ideas as readers and movie-goers alike let their wallets speak. But post-Da Vinci, what will those new to this alternative version of history be asking? Phone calls into The Temple of the Goddess and to some of the people associated with this Church have been learning the answers first hand. Among the inquiries are, “Who are these people advocating for the return to veneration or ideals of a female face of God?” “What would that mean for society?” and “Who is the Goddess?” “Why didn’t I know about Her?” The answer might best be answered by looking back before we look ahead.
Compared to the estimated 30,000 years a goddess was venerated by humans on our planet, the concept of a monotheistic male god dominating the landscape is a relatively new idea, only several thousand years old. Along the vast time line of history, across cultures and continents, humans believed the Creatrix of all was either a female or a female in concert with a male deity. The worship of the Egyptian Goddess, Isis, and the Sun God, Mithras, were significant religions in ancient times, giving fledgling Christianity quite a challenge. Veneration of Isis spread beyond Egypt, throughout the Mediterranean regions, and into what we now call Europe, the British Isles, Turkey and the Middle East. Isis and her husband Osiris offered their devotees the promise of life after death and salvation, the message later adopted by Christians. In fact, the image of Mary holding Jesus on her lap was co-opted from pagan images of Isis holding her son Horus. Isis was popular for many reasons, among them her seeming accessibility. A wife, mother, and lover herself, followers felt she could identify with their concerns. Like most Goddesses, she was very inclusive, often sharing temples with other deities rather than sending the message that the people should worship no other Goddess or God but her.
It is important to understand history is somewhat fluid. We have versions of history, written by conquerors who often perpetuated their view of how things happened to serve their own political purpose. Most can relate if they consider today one can turn on the nightly news and hear various perspectives on events, according to who is behind the news outlet disseminating the information. Just think about the spin that comes out of Fox News compared to the BBC. It takes work to really dig down and find the truth mixed in with the spin, but we must seek out unbiased sources and take responsibility for our own educations. It is also interesting to consider that history is filled with tipping points and it piques the imagination to wonder how things might have gone if only a few incidents in history might have gone differently.
Cleopatra was a priestess of Isis, in fact, probably believed she was the earthly embodiment of that Goddess. Considering the hold the mysteries of Isis had on vast swaths of people across cultures and socio-economic lines, what if Cleopatra and Marc Antony had succeeded at the battle of Actium and gone on to defeat Rome? What if the first printed book had been something other than the Bible? What if Muhammad had not recanted his original position venerating the Arabian Goddesses and the Korans advocating the importance of these female deities had not been recalled? What if a side effect of the industrial revolution had not been the growing detachment from Mother Nature and the resulting climate of greed and exploitation of natural resources? What if some Neolithic matrifocal societies, believed by many scholars to perpetuate peace, equality among the sexes and a female face of God, might not have been obliterated? The controversial Marija Gimbutas determined the absence of fortifications and weapons in these early societies were testaments to the peaceful coexistence of these egalitarian civilizations. Anthropologist Ashley Montagu called her work "a benchmark in the history of civilization and knowledge." The late Joseph Campbell compared her work to deciphering the Rosetta Stone. What if when ancient translations of the Bible were made, the pronoun she had not been changed to he? What if the Christian Church Fathers had not banned the Gnostic traditions which honored the feminine? We can only guess how different life might look on the planet today.
This is not to say that the panacea for the world's woes is in entirety a shift back toward devotion of the Sacred Feminine. History has taught us that countries whose population worshiped a female god were far from utopias. Marija Gimbutas' Old European Neolithic culture could not withstand Kurgan invaders and were obliterated or assimilated. Contemporary devotion to Goddess among Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Polynesians, Shinto, and Native Americans has not solved society's ills in our patriarchal world. However, absent a feminine way of relating to the divine, coupled with a male-centered society, the natural order of life has been thrown out of balance creating a Pandora's Box of problems, not the least of which is the female gender has been relegated to second class or slave status for thousands of years. Women may have acid thrown in their face for not bowing to male authority. In the United States, the hard fought battle for a woman to control her reproductive rights might be slipping away.
To clear up any misconceptions, advocates for reclaiming and redefining the veneration of Goddess are not just radical feminists, though much is owed to our foremother activists who sacrificed so much to achieve suffrage, economic parity and a woman's right to choose, but readers should not fall prey to the spin that those advocating a return to Goddess are just angry, liberal or radical women who want to run the world and subjugate men. Far from it. Even Gloria Steinam spoke to the equality of the sexes and removing wedge issues that separated genders, cultures and peoples so humanity could focus on real social progress. The truth is men and women advocating for embracing Goddess are interested in a restoration of balance between what we recognize as male and female principles. They are advocates for wholeness. Compassion with a sword if necessary. To quote Beatrice Bruteau, author of The Unknown Goddess, "If today's female archetype is to carry all of society forward," it must come laden with the richness of the male, " the fruits of rationality, intelligence and literacy." Goddess advocates are often environmentalists concerned that we may soon reach a point of no return on the issue of Global Warming. Noted climatologists from NASA feel certain that within ten years life as we know it may cease to exist if something significant is not done to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Devotees of Goddess are those looking to imbue traditional religions with spiritual parity along gender lines. They are concerned with the subjugation of women, who are the backbone of families and the fiber of society's core across the globe. They understand the importance of honoring the Wisewoman's age, experience and maturity as well as female sexuality. The inclusive nature of Goddess ideals embrace diversity, and attracts the oppressed who long for freedom. It is no wonder Lady Libertas, better known as the Statue of Liberty, is considered the Political Goddess. Beginning in ancient Rome, where the idea of freedom was deified, through the ages to this century, she has had her image used as a symbol or rallying point for those seeking change and fairness for the down trodden.
Goddess advocates tend to be seekers, mystics, and independent thinkers who honor the mysteries of life, often feeling lucky to know the right questions, never believing they have all the answers. They have new ideas about shaping society, such as one message that espouses a paradigm shift toward partnership rather than power over or survival of the fittest. They speak of substitutes for capitalist hierarchy and competition, such as a compassionate or gift economy. Absent a book dictating man-made doctrines or dogma that often are the source of division among peoples, some practitioners of Goddess Spirituality follow a loose set of spiritual ideals while others are more comfortable to overlay the feminine in their traditional worship. This manifests in some congregations with liturgy changing from gender specific to gender neutral or the Father being spoken of alongside the Mother.
At worship services organized by Temple of the Goddess, facilitators state the principles of their church at each service.
- We believe that every person is the living embodiment of the Divine and a manifestation of Divine Immanence.
- We respect that every person is their own spiritual authority and no one can define the Sacred and Divine for any one else.
- We recognize that there are many paths to the Divine, symbolized by the many "goddesses" and "gods" of all cultures and all lands.
- We support an ideology and spirituality of partnership in relations based on equality, reciprocity and caring as opposed to domination and control.
- Though we recognize the Divine in many forms, the focus of that which we call the Divine is manifested in the feminine as "Goddess."
- We respect and love Mother Earth, Gaia, as a sacred entity who is part of and connected to a vast living cosmos. We believe She is immanent in all of nature, life, and the cycles of life. We honor the interdependence of the web of all existence of which we are each a strand.
- We believe the loss of the feminine consciousness and ideologies have caused near irreparable damage to humanity and the planet; and we believe the emergence of the feminine consciousness, in balance with the masculine, is the greatest hope for humanity and the planet.
- The feminine consciousness is the ability to create, nurture and enhance life and therefore respecting the feminine nature in all beings and in all aspects of life has the power to greatly enhance healing and our quality of life on this planet, and conversely, disrespecting the feminine has and can cause damage to all of life because of its interconnectedness.
- We accept the abundant goodness of creation which purports that all beings are meant to life in joy, love, and harmony.
- We believe in morality and ethics in which the primary imperative is to harm none.
We believe that the world of humanity is possessed of two wings; the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly.
These are the Goddess Advocates. They are your neighbors, friends, and co-workers. They are men and women working side by side. They are artists, sanitation engineers, teachers, mothers and fathers, actors, secretaries, ministers, environmentalists, activists, and waiters. They are black, white, and brown. They are Buddhist, Native American, Shinto, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and more. In other words, they are all of humanity seeking to embrace the Feminine to their breast, and in turn, perpetuate practices which might encourage a climate of kindness, justice, fairness, and compassion in the world for themselves and their children.
Does this sound like it could be you? Could you embrace the Sacred Feminine within your spiritual paradigm?
Many devotees of the Feminine raise their heads and assess the political and social times we live in and cannot help but believe that if Alla, Jehovah, Mary, Jesus or Muhammad would suddenly appear before civilization they would express sadness at how their messages had been lost or distorted for power and control. Which brings us back to Goddess, the vehicle upon which social change may arrive.
One person's mythology is another's religion and vice versa. Seeking in today’s patriarchal world and finding few answers and little hope for change, many are trying alternative ideas and spiritualities. The emergence of Goddess Spirituality, coupled with the Information Age of the last thirty-plus years, women have made great strides socially, politically and economically. Men have begun to integrate and appreciate those values identified as feminine. But the work is far from over. There is much to be done and if not now, when? If not us, then who? Whether Goddess is an archetype which reflects our potential within, or a deity on high who holds the fate of humankind in her hands, it is yet to be seen if this resurgent interest to embrace the Mother, She of both Light and Dark, will be a tipping point for the salvation of earth and humanity.
Adapted from a speech entitled "Does the Sacred Feminine Offer Hope for the Future" given by Karen Tate in October 2006 at the Unitarian Church, Studio City, CA, USA
Karen is a speaker, social justice activist, sacred tour leader, workshop presenter and host of the long running radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine Radio. She can be reached at www.karentate.com or on Facebook and Twitter and can be seen in the documentary, Femme: Women Healing the World. She resides in Venice, CA with Roy, her husband of thirty years who she describes as the wind beneath her wings.
Karen tells us that Goddess Calling should be out in April and is available to pre-order now. We hope to review the book in the Summer issue of Goddess Pages.
Latest posts by Dr Rev Karen Tate (see all)
- “Femme: Women Healing the World”, Produced by Sharon Stone - 15th April 2015
- Goddess Destinations - 13th April 2012
- “Bloodtime Moontime Dreamtime: Women Bringing Forth Change”, by Roberta Cantow - 28th November 2009