(Essay 1) Con-Text: Personal/Cultural/Cosmic Stories by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

This essay is a version of an excerpt from Chapter 2 of her book PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.

My personal context, which cannot be separated from the cultural and cosmic context of my organism, and that fires my passion, is that I write as “a daughter born into the patriarchy”. I know fairly well “my” story through these past few millennia. From my journal a couple of decades ago:

They said I destroyed the world with my sin – it was my fault. My wickedness was to blame – and Jesus, a man, had to suffer a terrible death to make it right. I, a woman, and all the other women like me, carried the burden for everything that was not right with the world. And I believed them. I did not disagree. At the trials, when they accused me, said what I did was evil – I could not remember, was I? I became confused. When I was a  “qadishtu”[1] and the conquerors came, they said I was unclean, that their god regarded us as filth, that our kind had brought pain to the world. I was guilty. After a while, I couldn’t remember – perhaps I was. I now remember, my confusion clears, the veils are lifting. I remember my innocence. I lift the burden from my shoulders, and from other women’s shoulders. I again walk proud and free.[2]

I write as a daughter hungry for the Mother, and I understand what Monique Wittig means when she says: “the language you speak is made up of words that are killing you.”[3] Personally, I have been so hungry for the Female Metaphor (as I have often named Her), for the Mother – for words for Her, for knowledge of Her, that I could perform terrible and radical acts to find Her. I went away from my young children for a long period of time for this – to find the Mother for myself, and for them: I did not want to give my children the world I had grown up in – the world they needed had to be integral with Matter, or there would not be a world at all.

Finding Her Con-Text

Finding Her Con-Text

Queen Elizabeth I is known to have said, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.”[4] Even a woman as great as this, of such astounding achievement and wisdom, felt driven to compare herself, to measure herself with male metaphor. Deep in the psyche even of great women, there has (most often) not been a female metaphor for greatness, for strength, for the wisdom which they themselves embodied. The female Deities had been so slandered, so stripped of essential integrity. Yahweh is after all God, Medusa is after all merely a goddess. We can forgive Yahweh his crimes … this is not myopia. The millennia of patriarchal narrative has left our minds locked up, unable to grasp the Female Metaphor … that she may stand sovereign, not as greater than, but in and of herself: so that, when a woman or a man desires to express greatness, nobility, strength, they are able to easily reach for a female image.

I have been told that to look at history, theology, philosophy from the female perspective is myopic – one-eyed. It is commonly assumed that these disciplines have been regarded from the “human” perspective, that the male has incorporated both female and male perspectives, that he has been fair in all these matters, and indeed, capable. I have been expected to disregard it if the female is rarely mentioned as a factor in the first two million years  or so of human existence, or if she is, that it is in a secondary placement or in a slanderous context. A casual perusal of most history, and “pre-history”, from a “fair” perspective would leave one wondering how the human species reproduced itself, let alone that the female had any further creative input to the human enterprise. As an example, one such weighty tome called The Last Two Million Years,[5] has in all its four hundred and eighty-eight pages of text and plates, remarkably little evidence of female presence: and an analytical reading makes clear her very limited role and presumed capacities. These texts are the con-text I grew in – and assumed to be so … though I dreamed and desired more.

Spinning New Stories

Spinning New Stories

Even a more recent text on the world’s religions by Ninian Smart,[6] which could be regarded as more “fair-minded”, fails significantly in its balance. This text has five references to the women’s movement, notes Mary Daly, and that women have an increasing role “in religions where in the past a patriarchal perspective has prevailed.”[7] There is awareness of gender issues in the language and organization of religions: yet nowhere does he reference Mariology, nor the Inquisition. Witchcraft is mentioned once as “using ritual means to bring about bad results for others”.[8] The Great Isis is referred to as “Osiris’ wife”,[9] the main subject of the story being Osiris. Inanna is described as “associated with showers and thunderstorms”, “goddess of war”, “a harlot”, and “supposed even to have become queen of heaven, as consort of An.”[10] The “Enuma Elish”, which is generally accepted as the Babylonian creation epic, but which is actually the creation of patriarchy in that culture describing as it does the murder of Goddess Tiamat, is told unsympathetically to the indigenous tradition.[11] The epic is praised as “celebrating (the incoming god’s) victory”; and the god, Marduk, is praised nonchalantly as “great”. There is an apparent acceptance of the slaughter of the female at the base of creation. Philosopher Paul Ricoeur writes, in regard to this epic:

Thus the creative act which distinguishes, separates, measures and puts in order, is inseparable from the criminal act that puts an end to the life of the oldest gods, inseparable from a deicide inherent in the divine.[12]

Creating Female-friendly Cosmology

Creating Female-friendly Cosmology

This “criminal act” then, this shedding of blood by the blade may be seen as a replacement of the “menstrual mind“ that separated and distinguished, and connected with the source of life.[13] Ricoeur goes on to describe creation as  “a victory over an Enemy older than the creator”[14] – thus tracing the resulting and extant “theology of war” and the enemy behind all enemies; but it is Catherine Keller who notes that Tiamat’s sex is a salient fact:[15] to state Her sex is to state this Goddess-Mother (as Her name means) as the Enemy within all enemies. It is to understand war as the act of a Cosmically and Maternally alienated mind – not as inevitable essential beastly nature as most of us have been taught. Tiamat’s slaughter is described graphically in the epic, as it is in Smart’s text: Her corpse is used “to create the present universe, slitting her in two like a fish, one part being heaven and the other earth.”[16] But as Joseph Campbell points out, this

great creative deed of Marduk was a supererogatory act. There was no need for him to cut her up and make the universe out of her, because she was already the universe.[17]

I suggest that this kind of unconsciousness, as exhibited by Smart, on the part of the writers of “humanity’s” texts is analogous to the writing of Australian history wherein the Indigenous Australians are either ignored or labelled as “savages”. Most people naively assume that the history as told to them is the history of women as well – we are so used to our absence. Perhaps one only really notices it when reading a history that does include women in a conscious way, such as Margaret Wertheim’s Pythagoras’ Trousers. Such an inclusive history as she presents, though mainly in regard to the education of women, has informed me further of my context, my heritage, and what it has meant to be doing this work of unfolding Her – Female Metaphor … She – and female-friendly cosmology.

Read Con-Text part 2.

REFERENCES:

Grahn, Judy. Blood, Bread and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. Boston: Beacon Press 1993.

Keller, Catherine. From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism and Self. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. Lincoln NE: iUniverse, 2005.

Reader’s Digest Association. The Last Two Million Years. London, 1974.

Smart, Ninian. The World’s Religions. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Stone, Merlin.  When God was a Woman. London: Harvest/HBJ, 1978.

Swimme, Brian and Berry, Thomas. The Universe Story. NY: HarperCollins, 1992.

Walker, Barbara. Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.

Wertheim, Margaret. Pythagoras’ Trousers. NY: Times Books, 1995.

Wittig, Monique. Les Guerilleres. NY: Avon Books, 1973.

Read Meet Mago Contributor, Glenys Livingstone.


[1] Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman, pp.156-157, describes “qadishtu” as “the sacred women of the temples”. They were holy women  who were also sexual, but the word has often been translated as ”prostitute”.
[2] With this story I am not telling women of races and ethnicities other than my own that they should be able to identify with my story. I am expressing my own resonance with this story, as one who has inherited elements from that culture via my religious heritage. I personally feel that I can identify with such stories of women; that is not to say that the reverse is true.
[3] Monique Wittig, Les Guerilleres, p.114.
[4] It is quoted, though not exactly as written here, in the film Elizabeth (Universal 1998).
[5] Reader’s Digest
[6] Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions.
[7] Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions, p.586.
[8] Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions, p.169.
[9] Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions, p.203.
[10] Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions, p.200.
[11] Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions, pp.200-201.
[12] Paul Ricouer, The Symbolism of Evil, p.180 quoted in Catherine Keller, From a Broken Web,  p.76.
[13] See Judy Grahn, Blood, Bread and Roses.
[14] Paul Ricoeur,  p.182 quoted in Catherine Keller,  p.76.
[15] Catherine Keller, From a Broken Web,  p.77.
[16] Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions, p.201. The use of the metaphor of “fish” in the tale is perhaps a conscious reference to the Goddess’ yoni ( See Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.313) – this is where She was cut.
[17] Joseph Campbell, The  Power of  Myth  with Bill Moyers, p.170.

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