Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Divine Feminine

A reverence for the divine feminine is being restored in the Western world, and not before time. Catholics have always had the figure of the Virgin Mary to serve as an object of veneration and exemplar of grace and maternal compassion (albeit frequently sentimentalised), but the Protestant countries, which are the ones that have largely dominated the world and set the agenda over the last two hundred years, have had no such benign influence to moderate their approach to life in general and religion in particular. This, perhaps, is part of the reason for the lack of balance in the modern world. 

However there is a problem. When something is restored after having been suppressed for a long while there is often an over-reaction to the lifting of that suppression, and that has been the case here. So the idea of the Divine Feminine has come back but frequently in a misconceived form and with an agenda that has nothing to do with spirituality at all. That is why a figure like Kali has become popular in the West. Clearly originally a female demon that has subsequently taken on higher aspects, she is, in the form assumed, fundamentally the feminine principle gone rogue not a true representation of it. Despite metaphysical rationalisations after the event of her image as signifying supreme mother, principle of cosmic destruction, devourer of time etc, the truth is that this image and the quality it puts over can only be made spiritual by a great deal of intellectual gymnastics. In the spiritual world appearance and reality are more closely tied together than in this one which means that form and function are, or should be, one.

The image of any particular deity is important since it conveys the quality of that deity. If it didn't why would one bother with it? It is like a symbol and so should properly encapsulate what it symbolises. Thus it should faithfully embody the divine principle or quality it purports to represent as that of the Buddha so perfectly does. If it doesn't do this then it should be discarded as untruthful and promoting a false view of reality. If you don't believe me imagine what it would be like if the image of the Buddha was of a man sitting at a bar. I'm sure you could make a metaphysical case for that image if you wanted to (drinking from the fount of wisdom and intoxicated by divine spirit, for instance), but it would never convey the deep spiritual truth that the real image of the Buddha does. It wouldn't have the spiritual effect and reflect a deeper level of reality to the intuition. The fact is that, where spiritual images are concerned, there are good and bad, meaning ones that tend to enlightenment and ones that tend to illusion. The image of Kali is not spiritually enlightening and has only been taken up by Westerners because she signifies female assertiveness and power, but this has nothing to do with the qualities of the true divine feminine principle. It is rather a serious misrepresentation of it and has only survived because of the Hindu tendency to assimilate and reuse rather than clear away and start again. But isn’t there something about not putting new wine into old wineskins? The image of Kali has been used in the past as a focus for animal and even, apparently, human sacrifice. Justify it as much as you like but how could it possibly be anything other than demonic?*

Kali is an extreme example. But the problem is that people who wish to restore the Divine Feminine have nowhere to go except ancient pagan religion and so they seek for inspiration in these old goddess forms. But all of them, as the old gods too, are archaic and belong to humanity's spiritual childhood. They are useless in the modern world except as magical images or as vehicles to explore the psychic underworld and, perhaps, acquire occult powers. But for proper spiritual purposes they are, with very few exceptions (one, I would say, being Isis), of no value at all. Unfortunately because modern adherents of the Goddess have an anything but Christianity attitude they miss the best exemplar of her who is, of course, the Virgin Mary. She is the Goddess spiritualised and in her person (and her image) represents the Divine Feminine in a far higher form than any other. I say this as a non-Catholic. She embodies all the spiritual perfections of the divine feminine which are compassion, mercy, grace, beauty, wisdom and, lastly, (and this is why she is not popular in the feminist world of goddess spirituality) submission to divine will. She offers herself up in love and humility to God for him to work through as, ideally, matter does to spirit. This is deeply unfashionable in today's world where the search for personal power lies behind much that calls itself spiritual, but the real power of the divine feminine lies in self-sacrifice in love as demonstrated by Mary.

If we want to find the authentic divine feminine we cannot look to the distant past. What exists there may once have been helpful but is not now what we need. The ancient goddesses ruled the worlds of nature and the psyche, and that is where they are chiefly effective and where their gifts (as in what they can give their followers) lie. The moon and the sea and all that these symbolise are their domain but if we take them as exemplars and patterns with which to coordinate our being today we are being spiritually regressive. The truest pattern for a properly spiritual divine feminine for people in the West remains the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Heaven.

* Note: Worshippers of Kali as divine mother are not necessarily demon worshippers, though some may be, because if they envision her as a loving mother then that is what she is for them (though I would say this more for traditional worshippers in Bengal than modern deracinated Westerners). Nevertheless the fact remains that the image, and undoubtedly the original spiritual energy behind it, is that of a demon, and it is far easier to worship in spirt and in truth when the image you choose to focus on corresponds to the reality and far harder when it does not.


Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Very clarifying - I particularly liked the point:

"The image of any particular deity is important since it conveys the quality of that deity."

This is both common sense and also deep!

Anonymous said...

Why then are the hard-line "traditionalists" that control the Catholic church so irrationally opposed to the ordination of women as priests?

After all only a woman can fully incarnate and thus demonstrate via her lived presence and demonstration the unique feminine qualities that are intrinsic to the human female form.

But then again why would any woman with any kind of feeling-intelligence want to be a priest in such a deeply misogynist institution?

William Wildblood said...

Your second paragraph, with which I would fully agree, doesn't follow on from your first. I would say it actually validates the Catholic position on women priests since it implies (correctly) that men and women are complementary not equivalent. So the priestly function is a male one. Besides, the priest stands in the place of Christ so must be male. Furthermore, there's nothing 'hard line' about this position. It's just what's been believed by almost everyone since the dawn of Christianity in any organised form. It's also specifically spelled out in the New Testament. I'm not a Catholic but I would say they are quite right not to subordinate spiritual truth to political considerations.

I can't agree with your third paragraph either. It seems to me that Catholicism is one of the least misogynistic of religions. After all they give the highest place in heaven, insofar as human beings are concerned, to a woman. And they exalt motherhood to a high degree, seeing it as a spiritual as well as a biological function.