The Separation from Nature and the Loss of the Feminine Aspect of Spirit
by Anne Baring (see credits)
This is one seminar from a course of twelve devoted to exploring and healing the soul. We publish it here with permission of the author.
Where did the idea of soul originate? To answer this question we have to go back 25,000 years and trace the image of the Great Mother or Great Goddess from the Palaeolithic era onwards, following it through to the civilisations of the Bronze Age and onward to our own time. This image of the Great Mother is the root of the concept of cosmic soul. One of the greatest difficulties in understanding the concept of soul is that for almost three thousand years in Judeo-Christian civilisation the image of God - the creator of the universe - has contained no feminine dimension. This means that everything which the image of the Great Mother embraced in earlier civilisations - most importantly the feeling that spirit was immanent or present within the phenomenal world - was lost. Spirit gradually came to be defined as something beyond the world, something infinitely remote, transcendent, beyond nature and beyond ourselves. Moreover, it was defined as male and paternal. Everything that the image of the Great Mother once embraced in earlier cultures - in Neolithic communities and in Bronze Age Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete and Greece - was lost and with it the vital sense of participation in the life of an invisible entity imagined as a containing, connecting maternal image.
We are living now at the end of a great trajectory - perhaps 5 million years or more - which has brought about the gradual separation or differentiation of our human species from nature and the development of a sense of self or individuality as well as a highly developed intellect - everything that we now call human consciousness. But in the process we have lost the ancient sense of participation in a sacred cosmos. This story can be seen both as a heroic ascent to autonomy but at the same time a tragic fall from unity. The story does not end here, however; the finale is still to come and we are beginning to live it now as we enter a new millennium. Richard Tarnas has graphically described the history of the last two and a half thousand years as a series of births which have forged Western consciousness and Western civilisation. In his Passion of the Western Mind he writes:
The driving impulse of the Wests masculine consciousness has been its quest not only to realise itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in 1ife, to differentiate from but then to rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul.
When Jules Cashford and I began to write The Myth of the Goddess, we felt we had to go back to the beginning of the recorded image. We wanted to find the earliest images of what was of supreme importance to humanity and we wanted to discover where and why the sacred image of the Feminine Principle had been lost or discarded from Western culture. When we found the image of the Palaeolithic Great Mother scattered across an immense territory stretching from the Pyrenees in the West to Lake Baikal in the East, we knew we had found our beginning. As we traced the evolution and many transformations of this image from 25,000 BC to the present day, we began to understand that the figure of the goddess stood for a totally different perspective on life that has been lost. She personified a vision of life as an organic, living and sacred whole.
The Myth of the Goddess tells the story of how, over a period of some 20,000 years, the image of the deity gradually changed from goddess to god, and how the god came to be identified with spirit and mind, and the goddess with nature, matter and body. The image of the goddess was feared and rejected and with it women and every aspect of the feminine value. Soul and nature had always been imagined in feminine imagery. So, as a result, spirit and nature, mind and soul became divorced and polarised in human consciousness, leading to the spiritual, political and ecological crisis we face at the present time.
But now, at this crucial stage in our evolution the great archetype of the Feminine is returning. Through vision, dream and intuitive perception as well as scholarly research, the soul is being restored to the position it once held. As we recover it, we are becoming increasingly aware of the sacredness of life, of the earth, of matter. Our image of reality and our relationships with the planet and each other are being transformed. The impact of the return of this lost aspect of spirit has the force of an earthquake, shaking us to our foundations, insisting on a radical transformation of all our beliefs and perceptions.
For nearly 4000 years the soul has lain under a spell. Her voice has been silenced; her wisdom rejected. Beauty, grace and harmony have faded from our world. But now, like the Sleeping Beauty, she is awakening from her sleep, stirring to life within us and within our culture. What does she want from us? What is her hope? I believe she wants relationship. I see this relationship as a sacred marriage; a marriage between us and the Divine ground of being.
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Human consciousness has developed infinitely slowly out of the deep instinctual ground that we call nature. It has taken billions of years for life on this planet to evolve to the point where it could bring forth the kind of consciousness we now have. Before we knew ourselves as human, we were animal and plant, rock, and sea. We were the fiery magma of the earths core and long before that we were the substance of the stars All this experience is carried in the cells of our body. The ability to reflect upon our actions, to think, to reason, is a very recent development in relation to the thousands, even millions of years of human evolution. For countless millennia the potential for human consciousness was hidden within nature, like a seed buried in the earth. Then, very slowly, it began to differentiate itself from nature, from what Jung called the root and rhizome of the soul. This separation was increasingly experienced by us as a state of disharmony and disunion and from it has come our present dualistic, fragmented consciousness and the fears and anxieties that torment us. But the memory of the experience of union we once knew lives on in us as a longing for reunion, the longing to belong once again, to that greater other. We have created all kinds of myths to explain the human condition and to re-connect us to the whole. We can understand this immense evolutionary step more easily when we look at the life of a child, who recapitulates in its separation from its mother the huge evolutionary step of becoming aware of ourselves first of all as a species, different from the life around us, then as individuals, separate from the tribe.
As consciousness evolved, the sacred image was like an umbilical cord holding us in touch with the roots of the soul. The first image we created to connect us with these roots was the Great Mother. For some 18,000 years, the image of the goddess as Great Mother presided over the far distant eras which have become accessible to us only in this century: the Palaeolithic (40,000-10,000 bce), the Neolithic (10,000-3500 bce.) and the great civilisations of the Bronze Age (about 3000-1500 bce). The image of the Great Mother stands for the whole instinctual network of relationships that we call life. She was both transcendent and immanent, both beyond and within the forms of life. She was present within her manifest forms, continually regenerating them in a cyclical process that was without end. She was imagined as the womb of life, the great web of life, the rhythmic pulse of life: The life of the One was the life of All. The moon, sun, stars, the plants, trees, animals, human beings - all these were her children. She unified within her being the three dimensions of sky, earth and underworld. As a tiny child lives within the mothers field of consciousness and draws its life from it, so we, at this time were held in the field of the Great Mothers being.
The most important image associated with the Great Mother was the moon. The moon was the light shining in the darkness; the symbol of our own human consciousness which longs to understand the mystery of life. The moon was born out of darkness as the slender crescent. It grew to fullness like a pregnant woman; it waned again into darkness like an ancient crone. The earliest lunar notations are known to date to 40,000 bce. The moon gave us an image of life as changeless yet ever-changing and a cyclical pattern of death and regeneration which ruled all aspects of creation. With the passage of countless millennia, we came to trust in the reappearance of the crescent moon, and to recognise that darkness was a time of transition between an old and a new phase of life.. We came to apply this insight to ourselves and to believe that, with death, we would be taken back into the womb of the Great Mother and reborn like the crescent moon. (The belief in reincarnation may have come from this lunar observation.) The life of the Great Mother was eternal, like the moon; the life of the earths vegetation and our human life waxed and waned like the phases of the moon. Out of this long lunar experience evolved the capacity to imagine, to feel , to think. to reflect, to create - the inexhaustible creativity of humanity. The mythology, astronomy, architecture and the principal of divine law active in all life, which reached such brilliant expression in the civilisations of the Bronze Age, may have arisen from this primordial observation of the moon.
Long before the paintings we so admire were painted, the cave was the most sacred place, the focus of the life of the tribe. Symbolically, it was the actual womb of the Great Mother, the secret, hidden source of her regenerative power. It was from here that she brought forth the living and received the dead back into herself for rebirth. The cave still symbolises, in dream and mystical experience, the deep, instinctual psychic level which gives access to revelation and communion with levels of consciousness beyond our normal range.
The approach to the sanctuary in these caves was formidably difficult, a ritual of initiation into the mysteries of the Great Mother, often requiring hours negotiating narrow passageways. Imagine yourselves crawling and slithering through these entrails, gasping for breath with the effort, your only light in the pitch darkness coming from tiny lamps made of hollowed bone and filled with animal fat and juniper twigs. Imagine your fear that your light might go out. Suddenly you emerge into a huge cavern. Even now, as one retraces their path, often terrified by the immensity of the darkness, and the fear that ones light will go out, one can feel what the people of this ancient time felt - one is inside the womb of the Great Mother, in the utter stillness, the darkness, at the very heart of life. In the furthest reach of the cave, often in a domed chamber, vast as a cathedral, they painted and carved the magnificent animals we can see today. These animals were the teeming life of the Great Mother on which our life depended. The labyrinth and the spiral became at this early time, symbols of the connecting pathway between this world and the unseen dimension of the Great Mothers womb. These tell us that at this time we were already aware of two dimensions of experience - this earthly one and another invisible one, to which we were connected as by an umbilical cord.
Between 25,000 and 5000 bce. the image of the Great Mother begins to evolve into three specific forms. She is imagined as the sky, and her epiphany or manifestation here is the bird. She is imagined as the earth, and her manifestation is the animal - particularly the lioness and the leopard, but also many smaller animals such as the doe, the pig, even the hedgehog. She is imagined as the waters of the earth - the waters that fall from her breasts, the clouds, and the waters of the underworld welling up from beneath the earth. The symbol of her waters is the serpent. Thousands of years later, she still has the same essential forms, only more defined, as well as a whole mythology of the feminine principle as the Mother of All. Because she was present or immanent in the forms of life, she was accessible to human beings. People learned to pay attention to unusual signs or events; to look and to listen at a level beyond the routine experience of life; to notice correspondences and draw analogies, to develop their intuition and their imagination. Caves, rounded mountain tops, groves of trees or deep natural crevices in the earth all became sacred. They became the focus of shamanic rituals. Water, rocks, trees, plants, animals and birds were living presences. People could speak to them and listen to the messages they heard. Today the interest in dowsing, the attraction to sacred places and even the passion for gardening and cooking carries that ancient feeling of relationship with nature.
But the Great Mother was also an unseen place or dimension which could only be reached by treading the labyrinthine pathway between this world and the source or womb-world. So someone sculpted a figure (about 4500 bce.) with a door and a labyrinth pattern drawn on her body to show the door or gate and the pathway through which we enter and leave this world for the other.
The Neolithic is the time when agriculture and animal husbandry were developed; now the old lunar mythology was experienced in relation to the cycle of the crops, where people saw the light and dark phases of the moon reflected in the fertile and barren phases of the seasons. The invisible seed planted in the darkness of the earths womb became visible as the green shoots of corn and then as the crop that was harvested and transformed into food by the labour of men and women. The Great Mother was worshipped throughout the entire Neolithic world. Everything that was of the earth, whether rock or spring, tree or fruit, grain or herb, was sacred because it carried the life of the Great Mother, offered for the nourishment of her children. No species was superior to any other.
Some of the remarkable temples built by these people still survive: Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury hill in southern England, New Grange in lreland, Carnac in Brittany were some of the most sacred sites of that ancient time, whose structures and meaning are still little understood. The greatest ceremony of the year was the marriage between heaven and earth which, in the beginning, may have been experienced as two aspects, male and female, light and dark, of the Great Mother. To call the sun a god and the moon a goddess is to fast forward too quickly. However, there is no doubt that the sacred marriage between the sun and the earth was celebrated at New Grange where a ray of the sun at dawn at the winter solstice penetrated the furthest reach of the dark interior of the womb-like temple. At Avebury (in early May) and at Stonehenge (at the summer solstice) a long triangular phallic shadow cast by a tall stone enveloped another stone which represented the mother goddess. Skilled architects, astronomers and engineers built these stone temples as places where people could assist the process that was believed to initiate the fertilisation and hence the future fertility of the earth. These sacred places show that the focus of life at that time in Western Europe was ritual rather than the need for defence against attack. The rituals must have been incredibly numinous to experience.
Women in the Neolithic era were closely bound to the rhythm of sowing and harvesting the crops because they participated in the mysterious process whereby life grew in the darkness of their womb and was reborn as their child, and so they were believed magically to assist the fertility of crops, trees and animals. They were the guardians of life, the healers of life, skilled in the use of herbs and ointments and in the art of making and decorating pottery. A complex symbolism linked thc lunar rhythm in womens bodies with the lunar mystery of lifes continual regeneration.
About 4500 bce. the image of a young god begins to appear. At this point the masculine began to be defined. Rituals developed, lasting even into this century, which identified him with the corn or the crops that yearly died and yearly were reborn. Later a tremendous mythology developed round him. In Babylonia he was called Tammuz, in Egypt Osiris. One of the many names given to him was The Green One. The ruler of the land was identified with this young god. (Pharoah) Later, in European cathedrals and churches he was sculpted on roof bosses and choir stalls as The Green Man - image of the creative spirit hidden in nature.
As we move further on into the Bronze Age, which began about 3500 bce., the Great Mother continues to preside over many Mediterranean cultures but now, although she still, as Gaia, for example, is Mother of All, she is also differentiated into many named goddesses who personify aspects of her powers: in Egypt lsis, Hathor, Nut and Maat; in Mesopotamia Inanna and Ishtar; in Greece, Demeter, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, Hecate and Persephone .
One great myth is told in different cultures: it is the story of the goddess who has a son who grows up to become her consort. He personifies the life of the vegetation, the life of corn or fruiting tree. His marriage to the mother goddess unites earth with heaven and regenerates the life of earth. In Mesopotamia as Tammuz, he dies a sacrificial death and the goddess Ishtar goes in search of him, descending into the underworld to awaken him from sleep or to bring him back from death. ln Egypt the goddess Isis gathers the fragments of Osiriss body and brings him back to life. ln Greece, Demeter descends into the underworld in search of her daughter Persephone. As the son or daughter or consort return, the corn sprouts, the tree blossoms and fertility is restored to the earth. Isis and Ishtar were named as Virgin Queen of Heaven and Earth. Their virginity did not symbolise sexual innocence, as it does in our culture, but the inexhaustible creativity of life whose union is within itself and which expresses itself as all instinctual processes. The titles of the Great Goddess at this time were The Green One, The Light of the World, Holy Shepherdess and Righteous Judge.
In Egypt Hathor carries the sun disc between the lunar horns that take us back to the figure at Laussel, nearly 18,000 years earlier. To the Egyptians she was The Milky Way, imagined as a great cow which nourished the world with her milk. Isis bears the great wings of her Neolithic predecessor and, like her, presides over the burial chambers of the dead (Tomb of Tutenkhamun), for death is still imagined as one aspect of lifes totality, one aspect of the total being of the Great Mother. The goddess Nut each night receives the sun into her body and at dawn gives birth to him. She is the starry vault of heaven and she receives the souls of the dead into her embrace. A beautiful inscription on a sarcophagus in the Louvre reads: O my mother Nut, stretch your wings over me. Let me become like the imperishable stars, like the indefatigable stars. O Great Being who is in the world of the Dead, at whose feet is Eternity, in whose hand is the Always, O divine beloved Soul who is in the mysterious abyss, come to me.
Turning to Greece, Athena inherits the snake imagery of the older Neolithic goddess and also her bird imagery. In the Odyssey there are many stories of Athena appearing to Odysseus as a bird, as the swallow or sea-eagle, guiding him back to Penelope. The owl, in particular, was sacred to her. (Haghia Triada sarcophagus). All these associations derive from a time when there was no separation between the Great Mother as Source and as the manifest forms of her life. So there is no creator beyond creation. The creator is both the life of nature and the great powers of the cosmos personified now as goddesses and gods. Can you feel how life as spirit and life as nature are unified through these images? Can you sense the deep sense of participation there was between ourselves and the life around us? I think these images show why life was felt to be one and sacred.
Thousands of women in the Bronze Age served as priestesses in the many temples of the goddess and even in those of certain gods. But the only culture which has given us a clear image of what womans life might have been like at this time is the Minoan Age in Crete, prior to the great earthquakes and tidal waves which destroyed it in 1450 BC. We know there were women poets in Sumeria, Egypt and Greece because we can now read their poems; there were undoubtedly artists, healers, and those who could travel in trance or in dream to bring back messages from the other world.
By the end of the Bronze Age the feminine principle in the image of the goddess was clearly defined. First of all the goddess was the great matrix of relationships in which all aspects and forms of life were connected to each other. Although not named as cosmic soul, this was what she represented. Secondly, she stood for the principle of justice, wisdom and compassion. Thirdly, and most importantly, she was the unseen dimension beyond the visible world - sometimes called The Underworld. (see In the Dark Places of Wisdom (Peter Kingsley) and the description of Parmenidess journey into the dimension ruled by the Goddess Persephone).
The greatest ceremony of the year during the Bronze Age was the Sacred Marriage which symbolically united heaven and earth, moon and sun, mother-bride and son lover. In a magnificent ritual goddess and god were united in sexual union - she represented by the queen as high priestess and he by the king as high priest This marriage symbolically united heaven and earth, moon and sun, invisible and visible dimensions. so renewing the life of earth. The ecstatic poetry and sexual imagery of the early Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian marriage hymns were bequeathed to later Canaanite culture and then to Hebrew culture. The exquisite imagery of the Song of Songs has come down to us from Sumeria and Egypt. In these ceremonies, the bride was always the mother and sister of her bridegroom, and he was both the son and brother of his bride; hence the words: Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse. The nearest thing to convey the sense of importance this ceremony held for the people in that far off time to us today is the interest and excitement generated by a royal marriage or an eclipse (see eclipse as marriage of sun and moon).
So to sum up: for some 20,000 years until about 2000 bce. the Great Mother is an image of overwhelming numinosity and fascination. She is the source of life: one life manifesting as the life of each and all. Sexuality is the vital expression of this life, a sacred, ecstatic impulse reflecting lifes own creative impulse eternally to renew itself. The image of the divine at this time is an instinctual flow of life. Everything has come forth from the womb of the Great Mother. Everything has meaning through relationship with the Great Mother. So relationship or connection came to be understood as the essential quality of the Feminine principle. We felt connection as an instinct, in exactly the same way that a child feels connected to its mother. Within our own psyche, the newly developing elements of consciousness and the power of self-reflection were held in relationship to the older, instinctual layers through the image of the Goddess and through rituals that connected people to the life around them. Owen Barfield (Saving the Appearances) called this phase of human evolution Original Participation. This experience and the image of the Great Mother and the goddess were the foundation for the later idea of cosmic soul or the soul as containing matrix that developed in Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophy (Anima-Mundi).This mythology did not split off natural life and human experience from participation in divine life but was rooted in the ancient knowledge that Everything that lives is holy. (Blake) We carry that knowledge deep within us. We are recovering it now as the image of the soul returns to us.
Now I come to the second part of this story. About 2000 bce. there is a tremendous, devastating change - like a thunderbolt in a blue sky. The Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean are thrown into turmoil. Invaders bringing male gods - a people whose onslaught was like a hurricane - swept into the river valleys where the goddess had been worshipped for thousands of years. They brought with them the horse and the war chariot. War and conquest become the theme of a new and terrifying age. Everywhere there is fear and slaughter, everywhere a great cry of terror and distress as people were murdered, enslaved, exiled from their homes. Joseph Campbell describes this time as The Great Reversal. The terrible cruelty that accompanied the ethnic cleansing of that time is minutely documented in the annals of the Babylonian and later, the Assyrian kings. King Sargon of Akkad (2300) was the first proudly to record it.
In this new act in the drama of our evolutionary journey the Great Mother moves into the wings; the Great Father moves centre stage. In Greece the goddesses (Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, Persephone) who once represented aspects of the Great Mothers powers now become daughters of Zeus - all except for Demeter and Gaia who retain the status of the former Great Mother. In Hebrew culture, the Great Father replaces the Great Mother as the creator of life. The story of the ferocious struggle between the supporters of the two mythologies is told in the Old Testament. All images of and references to the goddess were destroyed. The Hebrew language to this day has no word for goddess.
Why did this happen? What deep forces produced this enormous change? Did we need the image of the Father God at this time to develop a more focussed kind of consciousness, to develop the technological skills to transform and harness the environment for our own expansion and growth? Was it needed to help the individual to separate from the tribe? Why was womans evolution held back and mans accelerated? Did the movement of consciousness away from the earth and nature and the rituals of the Great Mother help to develop the analytical mind and strong sense of individual self we have today? Was it necessary to have this mind? Or was it all a deviation from our natural evolutionary path? Was the terrifying social disruption of this age a causative factor which made us lose trust in the Great Mother?
Whatever the answer, the result was a great acceleration in the development of the autonomous self reflected in the image of the hero. The focus is henceforth on exploration; of the world, the cosmos, and the development of an immense range of mental and physical skills. Mind becomes supremely important; mind that is above nature, identified with the Father God, mind that is increasingly able to affect and control the environment through ideas and technological inventions. Psychologically, this new phase is about building a strong, focussed ego.
Men are the primary carriers of this new consciousness. Women stay closer to the older vision. As the patriarchal beliefs gain ground, so everything to do with the Feminine value is repressed, devalued. Womens role as the bearer of life is devalued in relation to mens role of conquering, ordering, controlling it. Women become part of what is controlled by men. Henceforth, with few exceptions, their contribution to civilisation is written out of the history of Western civilisation. This situation only began to change in this century.
The story of this phase begins with the myths which speak of the separation of Earth and Heaven. In Sumeria the god Enlil separates his parents An and Ki to make Sky and Earth. In Egypt the god Shu separates his parents Nut and Geb. In the second and third chapters of Genesis the story of the Fa1l has the same theme of separation. All these myths reflect an immense change in human consciousness, the beginning of an entirely new perception of life, one where nature becomes something to be controlled and manipulated by human ingenuity. From now on the head rather than the heart is the focus of consciousness, perhaps related to the development of the left hemisphere of the brain. At the same time the heroic individual becomes the focus of mythology. The danger of this phase is that the human ego, breaking away from its source in nature and the cosmos, becomes dissociated from them and begins to acknowledge no power greater than itself. Human beings alone are seen as having a special relationship with the deity and are enjoined to exercise dominion over nature. This would have been unthinkable in the earlier phase of participation.
During this phase, we lost the older participatory awareness which held us in a state of instinctive communion with our environment and with an invisible dimension felt to be all around us. The discovery of writing was a watershed between one way of living and another during the course of which the older participatory awareness began to fade and we began to experience ourselves as separate from nature (see diagram). Through learning the new skill of writing, we began to think in a linear, sequential way, and to lose the capacity to imagine as if we were part of nature, with an imagination as prolific and limitless as hers. We began to see ourselves in a heroic role as having to stand against nature, overcome nature, conquer nature. Slowly we identified ourselves with a hero god killing a dragon.
Synchronistically, the disruption of the agricultural communities in the great river valleys of the Fertile Crescent occurred at roughly the same time as the development of the ability to read and write (about 3000 bce.) A new book, written by a surgeon with a long observation of the two hemispheres of the brain, (The Alphabet versus the Goddess, Viking 1999) puts forward the hypothesis that the invention of writing led to the over-development of left-hemispheric linear, analytic thinking over the more imaginative, participatory awareness of the right-hemisphere. This gave supremacy to all who had access to education, to men over women, to male gods over female ones, ultimately to the Great Father over the Great Mother. Wherever writing took root, conquest, domination, slavery and the hierarchical organisation of society followed. The ability to write was developed by the scribe and priestly classes and confined to about 2% of the population. Women were not taught to read and write. For 5000 years, he says, The hand that has held the pen has also held the sword.
The focus on left-hemispheric, linear consciousness meant that the former, more balanced relationship between the two hemispheres of the brain was lost and the right-hemispheric way of perceiving reality through relationship and participation was downgraded. Judaic culture was the first in the world to banish images as a way of communicating with the sacred. Until the invention of writing, wisdom and truth had been transmitted orally but now, wisdom and truth were seen to reside in the written word, the word of God. Our present ecological crisis can be understood as deriving from a long-forgotten change of consciousness some 5000 years ago which marked the transition between the Bronze and Iron Ages.
The focus for the next 4000 years is on exploration, expansion, discovery, conquest and above all, on the idea of human progress, on reaching a goal. The power to think, the power to do and to harness the power of nature becomes overwhelmingly fascinating. The male image of the supreme deity enormously strengthened men who were the primary carriers of this new consciousness. Women stayed closer to the older vision, closer to participatory awareness and relationship with nature. Regarded as inferior, they were socially downgraded, virtually enslaved, becoming chattels of their husbands. Judaism and Christianity banished priestesses with the goddess. We have recently witnessed what a struggle it has been to reinstate women in a sacred role. Greece retained priestesses but banished women from participation in public life and social relationship with men. One of the greatest Greek philosophers, Parmenides, recommended to the rulers of Athens that if they wanted the state to flourish, they should treat their women better. They did not listen to him. As the new beliefs gain ground, so everything to do with the Feminine was repressed, devalued. Womens role as the bearer and nurturer of life was devalued in relation to mens role of conquering, ordering, controlling it. Women become part of what was controlled by men. lt is essential to realise that no-one can be blamed for this process. The need or desire to apportion blame is one of the features of that phase of separation or phase of duality which is now being superseded by a new phase of reconnection. Men as much as women carry the wound and the unconscious programming of the phase of separation.
One particular hero myth, dated about 1700 bce., tells the story of what happened in mythological imagery. In this Babylonian myth called The Enuma Elish, Marduk, the young solar god, kills Tiamat, the great dragoness mother, by shooting an arrow into her open mouth which tears her belly and splits her heart. Marduk throws her carcass on the ground, stands on it and cuts it in half like a fish, creating the sky from one half and the earth from the other. He then creates the planets and the constellations. Then, almost as an afterthought, he creates humanity from the blood of Tiamats murdered son.
This is a new and violent creation myth, in stark contrast to the older Sumerian and Egyptian ones of the separation of earth and heaven and it marks the beginning of the loss of relationship with the natural world. Marduks slaying of the mother Goddess offers an image of violence and murder as a pattern of divine behavior. Marduk becomes the macho ideal - the model for all conquerors to come - right down to the present day. With this myth the cyclical time of the goddess culture ends: linear time begins; death becomes final and terrifying. With this myth creation has a beginning and will have an end. The conflict between light and darkness, good and evil is constellated and this imagery pervades the Old Testament and other mythologies, in India as well as the Near East. (Mahabharata). The myth sets the paradigm of duality and opposition between spirit and nature, light and darkness -for the next 4000 years. This paradigm still controls our own modern culture with its emphasis on the conquest of nature, of space, of disease, of our enemies.
The story of the Enuma Elish was to lay the ground for the polarisation of spirit and nature, mind and body into two parts - the one divine and good, the other fallen and evil. Gradually, the male aspect of life became identified with spirit, light, order and mind - which was named as good, and the female aspect of life became identified with nature, darkness, chaos and body - which was evil. This divinely sanctioned opposition led also to the idea of the holy war- the war of the forces of good against the forces of evil. The Babylonian myth was a dangerous myth to take literally for it offered the image of violence and murder as a pattern of divine behaviour and therefore ratified it as a model for human beings to emulate. The victory of the solar god creates a new way of living, a new way of relating to the divine by identifying with the gods power of conquest - the victory over darkness that the sun wins each dawn. And, indeed, the theme of conquest becomes the dominating theme of all the hero myths of the Iron Age and so it is to this day.
Over the next 2000 years, Marduk was transformed, via Assyrian and Persian culture, into the transcendent Father God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Creation was now from the word of the Father, no longer from the womb of the Mother. The creator was beyond creation. This is crucially important. The oneness of life was broken. Nature was dissociated from spirit. The feeling of the sacredness of the earth was lost. With this myth the cyclical time of the goddess culture ends; linear time begins; death becomes final and terrifying, A fundamental polarisation was born between spirit and nature and between the rational and the instinctive aspects of the human psyche. The profound dissociation within the soul is projected onto tribial conflicts. Conquest and blood-sacrifice in a tribal context are defined as good. The enemy is named as evil. Woman is raped and desecrated in war as she still is today. And, in the religious sphere, deviation from belief in the tribal religion is named as heresy and extirpated as evil.
Because this mythological history is not generally known, it is not realised how deeply religion and science have been influenced by it nor how unstable is the foundation on which the whole structure of Western civilisation rests. It is a structure which has rejected the feminine principle and as a result, it is radically unbalanced, tilted to one side, like the leaning tower of Pisa.
This one myth, had a huge influence on later Greek, Hebrew, Persian and Christian cultures. Not understanding what was happening, the human ego began to identify itself with the god, increasingly losing touch with the instinctual matrix out of which it had evolved. It turned in fear and anger against the mother goddess and against nature. The Christian Church struggled to eradicate animism and feared the return of the goddess. Unregenerated nature and the feminine in general began to be identified with darkness, the unknown, the chaotic, the infernal that must be conquered, subjugated, controlled. The final stage of this chronicle of control has led to the present belief that there is no intelligence, consciousness or dimension beyond our own consciousness. ln a personal sense this also applies to the dimension of our feelings and instincts that unconsciously came to be associated with what is female, dark, chaotic and dangerous. (Hysteria and emotionality of women.) Men and women have both been deeply affected by this mythology. Both equate what is feminine with what is inferior and exalt rational mind over non-rational feeling. This has given the masculine archetype or principle far too great a power within the human psyche as well as in the culture.
With the appearance of this myth, war and violence become endemic. Simultaneously in different places there is a growth of the desire for power which accompanies the rise of the warlike leader. There is massive social and political change: the movement to cities and the growth of populations; the rise of the citystate and centralised control; the rise of bureaucracies; the transformation of farmers into serfs; the enslavement of prisoners of war and the ethnic cleansing of conquered populations. The role of the warrior is exalted into the supreme model for men. Men who could not or who did not wish to live this role must have suffered terribly from shame and humiliation. This process beginning in the third millennium bce. with the conquests of Sargon of Akkad ends with Hiroshima, Vietnam and the horrific nuclear and biological weapons of modern warfare. The media still broadcasts the theme of conquest (the conquest of space; the conquest of disease etc.) Politicians still unconsciously use the archaic language and imagery of confrontation and conquest. It has become intrinsic to male psychology. (Evangelical Christianity as conquest.)
The mythology of conquest also lies at the root of modern science with its mechanistic view of matter, its belief that we can use and manipulate it as we choose, whether for good and for evil, without any feeling of relationship with it. It directs bio-technology with its predatory desire to conquer genetic territory for huge commercial profit. The idea of relationship with nature is ridiculed. The idea that nature has consciousness or that the resources of the planet might need protection from our ruthless exploitation of them is dismissed as sentimental or hysterical. This objective" attitude to life, which might be characterised as macho is not truly masculine because men, when they are in touch with their feelings, seek relationship with life, seek to protect it and are not driven by the need for power over it. The great medical and scientific discoveries as well as the articulation and support of values which respect life have been made by men deeply concerned by the plight of suffering humanity. The danger comes when mind becomes split off from a sense of relationship with what it observes and is then driven by a pathological desire for power and control.
This seminar has attempted to give some idea of the long process whereby our human self slowly emerged from nature or planetary life. But the price paid for this emergence was the gradual emptying of the world and the cosmos of meaning and divine presence. The creator withdrew further and further from His creation until eventually He was declared irrelevant and dead. The human mind became the only source of meaning and the cosmos was perceived as lifeless, devoid of intelligence and subject to mechanical laws.
However, the last fifty years of this century have seen an immense change in preparation. A quest has been undertaken by thousands of individuals seeking to find what has been lost. Their efforts have recovered for us the hidden mystical and shamanic traditions that had to go underground during the long centuries of persecution. Like the magma of the earths molten core, the rejected feminine principle has been pushing up from below the level of our conscious lives until at last it is emerging into our awareness. As a result, our values and our understanding of ourselves and our relationship with the planet are changing. We are beginning to recover the lost sense of participation in a sacred universe.
There seem to be five main aspects to this impulse. All five are contributing to the healing of the dissociation between spirit and nature in our culture and to the restoration of a sense of the oneness of life. These five aspects are: the restoration of the missing feminine aspect of God; a new awareness of the soul; the resacralisation of nature; the revaluation of women; and finally, a change of attitude towards matter and the physical body. These cannot really be separated from each other because each is intrinsic to a psychic impulse which might be called the recovery of the feminine principle. I mean recovery in two senses: first, the sense of something that was ailing, diminished or crippled being restored to health, and secondly, the sense of something of great value which was lost and is now being recovered. However, this impulse is still for the most part active at an unconscious level and is carried by only a handful of individuals.
The recovery of these five aspects of the lost feminine value and their integration with the established masculine one is causing a tremendous upheaval: the breakdown of beliefs, the disintegration of the hierarchical institutions of church and state, the undermining of traditional relationships between women and men, the changing ideas about God and nature and our own human nature. The growing attraction to the mythic, the spiritual, the imaginal, the non-rational and the immense expansion of opportunities for women to play a greater role in the culture is releasing creative power that has been blocked for centuries. There are immense opportunities in this time of transformation but also immense dangers. The opportunity is for us to choose to create a new relationship with our environment , to formulate a new concept of God and to bring into being a different understanding of nature and matter. We tread a path which is on the knife-edge between the integration of this new vision on the one hand and social disintegration and regression into barbarism and perhaps self-annihilation on the other. At the threshold of the millennium, we are participating in the birth of a new era, one with diffèrent aims and values to the old, outworn, one. It is a tremendously exciting time to be alive.
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