This essay is the second part in a series of edited excerpts from the author’s book, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.
Author’s note: In this three part series of essays I continue to use the terms “Virgin, Mother, and Crone” as names for the qualities of the Triple Goddess, whom many have loved in Her different forms throughout the ages. In my opinion, the re-storying of these terms is still a useful exercise – to expand the reduced notions that have evolved over millennia of androcentric thinking and culture. In the last few decades, I sat with many women in circle and we told stories of our lives within the frame of “virgin/young one, mother/creator, crone/old one”; and found it to be a means of reconstituting a larger, deeper and freer sense of being, as we recognised ultimate and omnipresent Creative Cosmic qualities within us. I have also created new names for this Creative Cosmic Triplicity: “Urge to Be/She Who Will Be”, “Place of Being/She Who Is”, and “She Who Creates the Space to Be/She Who Returns All”. As qualities/themes of Cosmogenesis, She is multivalent.[i] She may be understood poetically
The Mother/Creator Re-Storied
I have associated this aspect/quality with the Place of Being, the web of life;
as such She who is concerned primarily with love of other, with the essential relationship and communion that being is.
Where the Virgin/Young One is primarily in relationship with self, the Mother is primarily in relationship with other. She is the Network of relatedness, the Weaver of the Fabric, the peaking of Creative Power. As Mother, Goddess is primal – the first concept of divinity, the Creator. She is the beginning and end of all things, the Creative Force of the Universe, parthenogenetically giving birth to all life. Earliest humans had no reason or inclination to correlate meiotic sex with childbirth: women must have eventually noted it, becoming the keepers of a lunar based calendar, which coincided with menstrual cycles. The human community, the village, gathered around the primary dyad of mother and child. The woman as mother was perhaps the original civilising force, though the current texts of most cultures record “civilisation” as a male accomplishment, that motherhood distracted women from this. Motherhood most likely gave the very impetus to grow, sustain, beautify, count, write.[ii]
She “wielded the digging stick or the hoe … tended the garden crops and … turned raw wild species into prolific and richly nutritious domestic varieties.”[iii] Indeed it is still she who comprises some eighty percent of the world’s farmers. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, “house” or “town” may stand as symbols for “mother”. Ancient civilisations traced their descent through the mother; the mother was the basis for the clan, often named after her. Some ancient tomb inscriptions disregarded fathers.[iv] Even the earliest patriarchies remained aware of and prepared to admit the source of their power; it was only later that the mother became merely a passive vessel, particularly in Greek philosophy. Pharaohs ruled by matrilineal succession. The throne itself is a stylisation of the lap of the Mother; this was the seat of power – to be taken on Her lap.[v] As menstruant and potentially mother, the female was the first measurer of time,[vi] and observer of numerical relationships and pattern – original mathematical skills.[vii] The Sanskrit word “matra” and the Greek “meter” both mean “mother” and “measurement”.[viii]
Barbara Walker notes how religions based on the Mother were free of the quest for indefinable meaning in life, as such religions “never assumed that life would be required to justify itself.”[ix] Such religions, were generally free of guilt, fear and a sense of sin; since birth, not baptism, was the only pre-requisite for belonging. Even patriarchal religions have reached for maternal imagery to describe the love of the God. Buddha too described Universal Love in this way:
As a mother … protects and loves her child … so let a person cultivate love without measure toward the whole world, above, below, and around, unstinted, unmixed with any feeling of differing or opposing interests … This state of mind is the best in the world.[x]
This maternal energy, seen here as the deep spiritual calling of all humans, has been for women in many cultures a zone of entrapment. Patriarchal religions have exhorted her to embody this unconditional love of the Other, with no balancing factor of love of Self. Where her capacity for this love of Other has been has been given its due, it has not at the same time, been recognised as a capacity for spiritual leadership. In the Catholic tradition, Mary is praised as a paradigm of virtue, and yet women and girls have sacramental roles withheld from them. If it is as perfect servant that she is praised, by their own theology she is perfect model for leadership. Mary is apparently the exceptional woman, yet Jesus is obviously the exceptional male – a fact that does not prevent male leadership. In the early days of Christianity, Mariology was a rival religion, with grassroots allegiance to Mary as Deity – so with the proclaiming of Mary as Mother of God in 431 at Ephesus, the church incorporated this powerful image[xi] – rather like Zeus swallowing Goddess Metis, thus appropriating her wisdom and creative power, and ensuring the people’s allegiance. Simone de Beauvoir said that “it was as mother that woman was fearsome; it is in maternity that she must be transfigured and enslaved.”[xii]
The fathers of the Christian church have been profoundly ambivalent about details of Mary’s motherhood, and her relationship to divinity, Jesus and humanity; motherhood is a profoundly ambivalent role in many cultures. It is clear that the maternal energy is indeed something that it would befit all humans to aspire to. It is a holy passion, but it has been appropriated; frequently woman is locked into domesticity or pouring life’s energy into mothering an institution or a man from whom she is getting no return. The political and global significance of her consuming passion to sustain the world and make it better, has not been recognised,[xiii] and it has not been balanced with a consuming passion for her own being. The Mother’s relationship to Other, Her Creative Power to give life, in earliest mythologies, was not the prison that She was later contained in.
In patriarchal mythologies throughout the world, the Mother of All has frequently become “wife” of some god. Hera is such a One: known in this recent era, as jealous, quarrelsome wife of Zeus, She pre-dated him by far as ancient face of the parthenogenetic Mother. The first “Olympic” races held every four years, had been Hers, with runners – all girls – selected from three age groups representing the lunar trinity.[xiv] Hera and Zeus’ constant mythological quarrels reflected real conflicts between the early matristic cultures and the rising patriarchate. She and the Amazon queens who represented Her did not go quietly, and they remained discontented with the new regimes. Hera’s troublesome nature in the Olympic pantheon reflects One who had been “coerced but never really subdued by an alien conqueror.”[xv]
In some indigenous traditions around the globe, the birthing mother is understood as a model for courage – Native American, Samoan and Aztec cultures honoured her as warrior.[xvi] Many ancient cultures understood birthing as a ritual act; in Çatal Hüyük there is a ceremonial birthing shrine “with red-painted floors and images of the ubiquitous Open-legged Goddess in labor.”[xvii] Vicki Noble describes the birthing woman as “quintessentially shamanic”,[xviii] for in this act, she goes to the gates of life and death and with the most intense encounter with universal forces, experiencing trance states, she brings another being into the world. Perhaps the phenomenon of “post-natal depression” in these times is a symptom of the lack of recognition of this.
Goddess as Mother is the Weaver of the Fabric of the Universe, with many ancient Goddesses imaged this way. This power came to be feared, rather than revered – in Her “character as creator, sustainer and increaser of life” the Great Goddess came to be seen as “negative and evil”, by a consciousness that desired “permanence and not change, eternity and not transformation, law and not creative spontaneity …(turning) her into a demon.”[xix] This consciousness, which Neumann calls an “antivital fanaticism”, feared being “ensnared” in the “web of life, the veil of Maya”.[xx] Sometimes the weaving activity of women became known as the cause of illness or a curse with some Christian traditions even forbidding knitting. Ixchel the Weaver, Mother, Queen, Grandmother to the peoples of Southern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, and most of Central America,[xxi] came to be symbolized by an “overturned vessel of doom”[xxii] – yet “for centuries, women have made pilgrimages to Her holy places”.[xxiii] Iglehart Austen describes Ixchel as sitting “at Her loom with Her ever-present bird companion, the nest weaver, who is associated with Goddess throughout the world”: Ixchel “easily and with great presence … in the bliss of creativity” spins “from her deepest being” and breathes the “breath of eternity, … the life force into each being”.[xxiv]
This Mother energy has been named “ten thousand names”, as humans experienced and witnessed Her. She can be felt in the fullness of a breath, that dynamic interchange. Her power can be felt in the satisfaction of successful completion, in the successful tending of needs, in the holding of another being; when life is given in some form to another. The Mother can be felt in the comfort offered by needed rain, seen and smelt in the full flower, tasted in the ripe fruit. She is in the work of everyday, of strengthening networks, weaving and repairing, creating the world, raising children, teaching adults. She is Creativity in its fullness – expressed in the image of the full moon, and felt, as that awesome disc of light enters your eyes. She is the realization of passion, the bliss of union.
I associate the Mother with the Sangha, that complex supportive community around the globe, the interdependent web without whom none would be sustained.[xxv] She is the present, the eternal now, the living of life as if it goes on forever – and indeed it does; if the thread were once broken, none would be here. The form changes – every atom recycled infinite times, the shape shifts, but life goes on. She is the pure gift of every moment, filled as each moment is with the Creativity of the whole web since the beginning. She is “She Who Is”.
© Glenys Livingstone 2016.
(To be continued. Read Part 1)
[i] I acknowledge the work of Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry in The Universe Story for my understanding of the three qualities of Cosmogenesis, which I have synthesised with the three aspects of the Triple Goddess in my work of PaGaian Cosmology.
[ii] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, pp.684-685.
[iii] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.681, quoting Wolfgang Lederer, The Fear of Women, p.87.
[iv] See Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, pp.681-682.
[v] Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, pp.98-100.
[vi] Judy Grahn, Blood, Bread, and Roses, pp.155-157.
[vii] See Judy Grahn, Blood, Bread, and Roses, pp.157 -171.
[viii] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.685
[ix] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.693.
[x] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.694, referring to Nancy Wilson Ross, Three Ways of Asian Wisdom, p.123.
[xi] See Geoffrey Ashe, The Virgin.
[xii] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p.171.
[xiii] This is evident in derogatory references frequently made in political discussions, to “motherhood” statements and policies, as if “motherhood” describes the statement’s/policy’s small-mindedness and trivial nature. The word “trivial” itself has its roots in the sacredness of the “tri-via” – three way path.
[xiv] Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.88.
[xv] Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.89, quoting Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, p.491.
[xvi] Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.18.
[xvii] Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.20.
[xviii] Vicki Noble in “Female Blood Roots of Shamanism” quoted by Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.18.
[xix] Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.233.
[xx] Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.233.
[xxi] Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.10.
[xxii] Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.187.
[xxiii] Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.10.
[xxiv] Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.10.
[xxv] I acknowledge Joan Halifax, Being With Dying, for a broadened understanding of the Buddha, the Sangha and the Dharma – which I now associate with the three faces of the Female Metaphor.
Ashe, Geoffrey. The Virgin. NY: Arkana, 1988.
Durdin-Robertson, Lawrence. The Year of the Goddess. Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1990.
Grahn, Judy. Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.
Halifax, Joan. Being With Dying. (CD series) Colorado: Sounds True, 1997.
Harrison, Jane Ellen. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion. NY: Meridian Books, 1957.
Iglehart Austen, Hallie. The Heart of the Goddess. Berkeley: Wingbow Press, 1990.
Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, London: Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., 1968.
Lederer, Wolfgang. The Fear of Women. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1968.
Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. NE: iUniverse, 2005.
Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.
Spretnak, Charlene. Lost Goddesses of Early Greece. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.
_______________ (ed). The Politics of Women’s Spirituality. NY: Doubleday, 1982.
Swimme, Brian & Berry, Thomas. The Universe Story. Harper Collins,1992.
Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.
Glenys Livingstone Ph.D. is the author of PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, which fuses indigenous tradition of Old Europe with science, feminism and a poetic relationship with place. Glenys has been on a Goddess path since 1979. Glenys contributed to Goddesses in World Culture (ed. Patricia Monaghan), and Foremothers of the Women’s Sprituality Movement (edited by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Vicki Noble). Glenys lives in Australia, where she has facilitated Seasonal ceremony for over two decades, taught classes and mentored apprentices. She teaches a year-long on-line course, and recently produced PaGaian Cosmology Meditations CDs. Glenys’s website is http://pagaian.org