Once upon a time, when “God was a woman”[i], anywhere from 35000 years ago until about 3500 years ago in some parts of the world, the life-giving power of Goddess was deeply respected. Consistent with this, women were respected as life-givers, and the functions of pregnancy, birth, and nurturing were valued as reflections of Great Nature, the Mother of all. The rhythms and cycles of Nature were honoured in ceremonies and rituals, in daily practices that reflected a reverence for the life-giving principle.
Over the last few thousand years, this has changed so that the world in which we now live has little of this respect and acknowledgement. These changes have resulted in the loss of ancient ways of knowing.
Women in some parts of the world did once know how to manage fertility in a simple, uncomplicated internal way, with little need to use any outside devices or programs. If these were needed, there is considerable evidence that simple, safe birth control was also available in the form of vaginal sponges, herbs and abortifacient drugs. [ii]
This is a very different story from the “official” version of history which tells us that women were at the mercy of Nature during their childbearing years until the advent of the contraceptive Pill.
This other story tells of women’s mysteries destroyed by church and state authorities and various individuals, all of whom were jealous and/or fearful of women’s life-giving power. In this story (herstory rather than history), there are social, religious and cultural factors that have deeply affected the way we think about ourselves, our bodies, and the relationship between psyche and matter. These factors have profoundly impacted on fertility management, resulting in our loss of true reproductive autonomy.
Even more tragically, there is also amnesia for our true past. There are things that have been forgotten which should not have been forgotten. It is vital to know the story of this forgetting so that we can begin the process of re-membering (gathering the dismembered parts and making them whole).
In the ancient Egyptian mystery tradition, there is a story of dismemberment in which the scattered parts are then re-membered or gathered up. The God-King, Osiris, was celebrated as the principle of generativity and growth, the original Green Man of Nature. His brother, Seth, represented the principle of limitation. Consumed with jealousy for his popular brother, Seth cut Osiris into 14 pieces and scattered the dismembered parts far and wide. The Goddess, Isis, sister-wife of Osiris, principle of love and magic, searched the lands of the Nile for the dismembered parts, collecting them and bringing together that which had been lost. This story is part of a mythology that guided the Egyptian civilisation for thousands of years. It tells of deepest loss and of recovery through persistence and love.
We also have suffered deep loss. There is much searching and gathering needed to recollect our memories of another way of being as we reconnect to the life-giving power of Goddess.
One search can begin with women who practice mindbody birth control.[iii] In the tradition of ancient women’s mysteries, these women control conception through a process of internal regulation, without using drugs, synthetic hormones, or physical devices, and without abstaining at any time during the fertility cycle. This method involves an internal mindbody process that allows us to choose whether or not to conceive, regardless of the time in the menstrual cycle, unprotected sex, or any other factors that normally affect reproduction. The result is true reproductive autonomy, a reclaiming of deep inner wisdom and power. It is a practical experience of what can happen when the ancient mysteries of Goddess are re-membered by modern women.
You may be wondering why there is a need for a new method of birth control in the 21st Century, when reproductive technology has given us birth control methods that claim to offer control and autonomy. Yet many women do not experience modern birth control methods as empowering. On the contrary, many women speak of feeling controlled and without choice.[iv]
In my research I discovered that the key issues for women about their experience of birth control are
- choice vs no choice,
- empowerment vs powerlessness,
- control vs lack of control,
- taking active responsibility vs not assuming active responsibility.
Women have spoken to me about how deeply dissatisfied they are with the mainstream contraceptive choices (or lack of choices) currently available. Sophie, a 48 year old with three teenage children, looked back on her childbearing years with a sense of powerlessness described by many women using the Pill,
I think there was also the sense of something that was controlling me. It was dictating the cyclical changes in my body. There was a sense of something being added to my system that wasn’t me, that was accelerating and exacerbating things. There was a definite mood change, I could feel it when it started to happen around ovulation there was a sense of I suppose you could call it PMT. There was definitely a change. And I really didn’t like it at all. I hated the fact that I had to take the Pill, that it had to be in control of me, that I had to use something to control fertility.
Andrea, a nurse who, at 35, had decided to stop at two children, was pleased to be back at work now they were at school. She was, however, not pleased with the birth control she was using.
I . . . thought about my relationship with the Pill and . . . was really starting to dread it. The changes in my body, it did something to me emotionally and a thinking or feeling process which was horrible. I really hated it.
There are also many women who remember times when they had even less choice than is currently available. Christine was a young woman in the seventies when she approached her family doctor for contraceptive advice. She described how
the medical profession did not offer options other than the Pill, diaphragm and IUD and they said the Pill was by far the most reliable. But I didn’t like the feelings that happened.”
This resigned acceptance of the unacceptable was expressed again and again by women of all ages about the whole range of conventional birth control methods. Repeatedly women said, “I was determined never to take the Pill or have an IUD again.” For many this did, however, come after many years of using a contraceptive method with which they were not happy. These women speak for many of us who have experienced dissatisfaction, powerlessness and lack of choice in birth control. This represents a disenchantment with a technological age that gives with one hand and takes with another.
Enchantment involves a sense of mystery in which we find value, love, and connection with the world. Disenchantment involves a disconnection that leaves us spiritually and emotionally impoverished. For all the gifts of technological development, we now live in a time when there is a disturbing disregard for the rhythms and cycles of Nature, in the world around us and in our bodies.
The mindbody approach to birth control returns choice and control in a simple, accessible form, and is a safe, inexpensive, empowering alternative for women across the world. The only problem is that it is an idea so foreign to us these days that most modern women cannot even imagine doing it. And that is why it is profoundly important to explore it more deeply. . .
Why is something like mindbody birth control so foreign to us? Why is it so frightening? Did women once know about this? What happened to change things? What has been forgotten and lost?
I successfully practised mindbody birth control for 30 years, managing my own fertility through an internal process. During this time, I did not use drugs such as the Pill or any contraceptive devices, and I did not need to use any of the alternative methods that involve paying particular attention to the menstrual or moon cycles. With mindbody birth control there is no abstinence during any particular stage of the menstrual cycle. In other words, whether of not I conceived was totally determined by an internal relationship I had developed with the experience of reproduction.
At the age of twenty-six, I had four children aged between 6 months and 8 years, and I needed to find a way to effectively stop this abundant fertility. I had a tertiary degree with studies in biology, so I was not ignorant about the reproductive cycle or available methods of birth control. I had, however, made a considered decision not to use the contraceptive Pill, and the other conventional methods had proved unreliable or dangerous. Where all available contraceptive methods had failed or were unacceptable, I had to find an alternative way.
Once I had stepped aside from the birth control methods offered by medical science, I entered a different world. In this world I joined women who have been searching for answers about birth control since the beginning of time. I began to wonder what women had been doing for all the centuries before Western medical science offered the alternatives that I had recently rejected.
- Is it really true that the contraceptive Pill was the first time women had reliable protection from the cycles of gestation and birth?
- Had women once been able to decide for themselves when, where, with whom, and how many children to produce?
- Were there methods of birth control that allowed a woman to have true reproductive autonomy?
My search for the answers has led me on an exciting journey.
In looking for a safe, reliable, empowering birth control method, I first encountered the rhythm method. Thirty-five years ago in the small Australian city where I lived, this approach came wrapped in a Christian package surrounded with morality and fear of the father God. It did strike me at this stage of seeking alternatives that a father God was probably not the best reference point for female reproductive autonomy!
There are, of course, now many fertility awareness methods which, when practised with commitment, offer a reliable, safe alternative to conventional birth control methods. These methods also teach women to engage the rhythms and cycles of their bodies and to reclaim reproductive control. An Internet search for “natural birth control” shows just how far this approach has come in thirty-five years. However, at the time when I was searching for alternatives, I did not have access to this information, and I found myself on a different journey.
I began to read about birth control practices throughout time and across cultures. The more I read, the more I realised that I had been seeing the world through the blinkers of my conditioning, and that my search was about much more than birth control. There are centuries of social, political, cultural, philosophical, and religious influences that affect a woman’s experience of birth control, reproduction, and all other aspects of her life. Things are definitely not what they seem.
When we begin to ask questions, we begin to see through assumptions and laws that have determined our life choices. Taking a close look at these influences is beginning of being able to choose rather than be controlled by factors that are usually invisible and taken for granted. The practice of a mindbody method of birth control is so unusual that it challenges the way we currently think about what’s real and what’s possible. There is no doubt that cultural beliefs shape our lives[vi], and it requires great effort to see beyond what we have been taught to believe. This is the fundamental task of feminism – to see beyond patriarchal conditioning to a different way of living.
Despite centuries of conditioning, many of us can sense that things are not what they seem, that the so-called experts don’t always know best. One of the things that supports this sort of intuitive knowing is the relationship women have with our bodies via sexuality, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and hands on parenting. Many of the people who write about women’s journey of inner work say that a relationship with the body is a vital ingredient, that the work must be embodied. So too it was for me; the discovery of a new sort of birth control method arose from engaging my body and the physical experience of reproduction. What exactly happens when conception occurs? What needs to happen for it not to occur?
These sorts of questions led me into a process of deep contemplation and meditation on the sensations and emotions of conception; exactly where does it happen? what happens? what would stop it happening? Through this process of sensing, questioning, and observing the process in a very intimate, subjective way, I found a way to prevent implantation of the fertilised egg through a totally internal mindbody process. The result is that I did not become pregnant for thirty years after having three children in my twenties, although I was in a sexually active marriage and did not abstain at any particular time of the menstrual cycle, did not use any other form of contraception, and had no reason to believe that either myself or my partner were biologically infertile over this time.
At first I was so delighted to have discovered this approach to birth control that I simply practised it quietly and engaged the demanding task of parenting four young children, re-engaging my career in psychotherapy as time allowed. Then I began to read books on the Great Mother, the archetypal feminine, the Goddess in her many forms, and I realised the significance of reclaiming the deep wisdom of ancient women’s mysteries. By rejecting modern birth control methods and going back to my inner wisdom, I had found my way back to the Mother of us all.
Goddess has been reappearing in the form of archaic figures emerging from archaeological excavations, in the form of images and stories of Goddesses of Old Europe and other ancient cultures, and in the form of books and papers on the archetype of the feminine. Over time, as I read many of the books, worked with my dreams, and continued to practice mindbody birth control, I found many links between mindbody birth control and ancient practices from the time when “God was a woman”.
As I emerged from the period of intensively parenting pre-school children, my focus broadened, and I became interested in mindbody birth control as it related to contemporary culture and to ancient cultures. I began to actively seek other women who might have had similar experiences and to explore the literature for references to reproductive autonomy. It became important to find a context of meaning other than (as well as) the personal for my experience.
My excitement in these new discoveries grew as I met other women who had found their own ways to manage fertility outside the contemporary reproductive beliefs and practices, and I began to wonder how this could become available for women more generally. I set about writing a guidebook to answer all the questions I found myself asking about reclaiming true reproductive autonomy, practising birth control according to Goddess, and embracing power, choice and control in my life.
The actual practice of mindbody birth control is very simple. Women describe ways to prevent conception through an internal process with no outside drugs or interventions. As well as getting to know Goddess as she appears in my own psyche, I have used imagery and body sensing to prevent implantation of the fertilised egg; another woman says “No” to the spirit of the child wanting to enter; yet another visualises a trapdoor that protects her womb; others describe variations on these processes.
What we all have in common is that
- we are dissatisfied with conventional birth control methods;
- we value choice, control and empowerment in fertility management;
- we are ruthless in our determination to have no (more) children;
- we have actively sought a viable alternative method of birth control;
- we assume this is possible outside the existing forms;
- we approach the alternative practice of birth control with concentration and commitment.
- we experience a permeability between conscious and unconscious processes and experience.
These are the same conditions present for anyone working to live outside an established system. People seeking an alternative to patriarchy:
- are dissatisfied with conventional approaches to life;
- value choice, control and empowerment in their lives and the lives of others;
- are ruthless in their determination to develop and find alternatives;
- assume it is possible to live outside the existing forms;
- approach the alternative practices with concentration and commitment.
- experience a permeability between conscious and unconscious processes and experience.
By challenging a specific area of conditioned belief (birth control practices), I was able to claim reproductive autonomy, re-member Goddess, and develop the “muscle” to challenge conditioned many other beliefs and practices of the patriarchal system and find alternatives that are more consistent with connectedness, cooperation, and relationship with self, others, and the World.
My guidebook – Don’t Take It Down: Life According to the Goddess – is available here: http://kaalii.wixsite.com/soulstory
[i] M Stone, 1978, When God Was a Woman, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
[ii] G Davis, 1974, Interception of Pregnancy: Post-conceptive Fertility Control, Sydney, Australia, Angus & Robertson, p. 220.
BG Walker, 1983, The Women’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, New York, Harper & Row, p. 104.
[iii] HK Cargill, 1999, A Phenomenological Investigation of a Psychobiological Method of Birth Control, Doctoral thesis held at Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia. Interviews with Australian women practising mindbody birth control.
M Jackson & T Teague, 1978, Mental Birth Control, Oakland, CA., Lawton-Teague Publications.
J Parvati, 1978, Hygieia: A Woman’s Herbal, Monroe, UT, Freestone Innerprizes;
A Rosenblum, 1976, The Natural Birth Control Book, Philadelphia, PA, Aquarian Research Foundation;
M Sjoo & B Mor, 1987, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscoverinq the Religion of the Earth, San Francisco, Harper & Row.
[iv] Cargill, op. cit., pp. 215-248.
My doctoral research involved three stages of data gathering, analysis and review. As much as it is possible in research, I really did want to find out what might be going on, rather than trying to prove something. There were two stages of language analysis of interview transcripts from five women describing their experience of practising mindbody birth control and five women describing their experience of practising conventional birth control. In the third stage, I used a statistical procedure called Q-sort analysis to find the main factors in women’s subjective experience of birth control practices generally. I used fifty verbatim statements selected from all 10 interviews to represent the patterns which were revealing themselves. Thirty women then spent about one hour each organising the statements according to their own experience. This was quite an involved task that went beyond simple question and answer type studies in order to reveal some of the underlying elements in women’s experience.
[v] L Kenton, 1995, Passage to Power: Natural Menopause Revolution, Random House, London.
As well as an excellent workbook for menopause, there is information about the dangers of undermining the natural oestrogen/progesterone balance in the body and in the environment.
[vi] T Kuhn, 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
One of the most influential historians of science, Thomas Kuhn has described how objective, impersonal scientific facts can be understood as belief systems which, although true, are not an expression of absolute truth. In other words, just because something can be shown to be true, it does not mean that it is the only truth, or the only way to make sense of our experience. From this perspective, science is just another mythology, and the so called facts of our own time and place may, indeed, be similar to the “superstitions” of another time and place.
[vii] C Spretnak, 1993, Critical and constructive contributions of eco feminism, in P Tucker & E Grim, eds., Worldview and Ecology, Philadelphia, PA, Bucknell Press, pp. 181-189.
[viii] Davis, op. cit., pp. 220-221.
[ix] I C de Castillejo, 1973, Knowing Woman, New York, G P Putnam’s Sons, p. 92.
[x] C B Pert, 1997, Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel, New York, Scribner, p. 222.
As well as the exciting mindbody information in this book, Candace Pert shares her journey as a woman working in a scientific community with its bias for the masculine principle.
[xi] AR Damasio, 2000. Descarte’s Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. New York, Quill.
[xii] C G Jung, Collected Works.
[xiii] Pert, op. cit.
E L Rossi, The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing: New Concepts of Therapeutic Hypnosis, 1988, New York, WW Norton.
[xiv] JS Bruner, 1964, The conditions of creativity, in Contemporary Approaches to Creative Thinking, ed. HE Gruber, New York, Atherton Press, p. 3.