The marriage of heaven and earth
Chapter 4 in Freeing the Feminine by Elspeth and
Labarum Publications, Dunbar 1985, pp. 69-99.
Republished on our website with permission of the authors
The attempt to understand the phenomenon of the duality of life, which is one in essence but two in manifestation, has been at the heart of some of the worlds greatest religions. As we saw in the previous chapter, the near eastern peoples strove to express their understanding of the balance of masculine and feminine through a sacred cultic marriage of sky-father and earth-mother. The Great Mothers androgyny was the inner expression of the same truth, as was Yahwehs transcendence over sexual stereotypes. But it was not only in the near east that these insights had an important part to play in religious and philosophical thought.
Since earliest times, people have looked around them and seen two creative and uniting forces at work. At first these were both understood to be contained in the one unit, like the Great Mother, then they were divided into male and female, but in the higher deities they were reunited to express their all-embracing authority and power. St. Paul wrote that Ever since the creation of the world [Gods] invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made (Rom. 1:20). Different civilisations have had different perceptions of God as revealed in his works, but very many have shared the common view that Gods plan for creation was a harmonious marriage of opposites, a happy union of sky and soil, and a close communion between God and humanity, spirit and matter, nature and humanity. Traditions have held that a discordant relationship between these opposites brings stultification, misunderstanding, strife, violence. Today we should also add ecological disaster. Much time has been spent defining the meaning of these opposites, absorbing them into life and aiding their union. We note the more influential definitions:
YIN AND YANG
One of the oldest books in the world is the ancient Chinese Oracle of Change called the I Ching. Although the wisdom it embodies has been expanded and redefined over many centuries by great philosophers such as Lao-tse and Confucius, its origins are believed to lie as far back as the 4th millenium BC. In this ancient philosophy of life, earth was seen as feminine and heaven as masculine, just as in so many other civilisations around the world. The whole of life and the universe was understood to be divided into two complementary poles, represented by heaven and earth, and given the names yin and yang. It was not considered necessary to act out this truth in an external animistic marriage such as that of Canaanite religion. According to Chinese wisdom, this was an inner perception.
There were very many qualities attributed to the yang and yin. Amongst other things, yang was warm, dry, masculine, active, positive, expansive, competitive, rational and analytical. It was associated with the sun, daytime and heaven. Yin on the other hand was moist, cool, feminine, passive, negative, contractive, cooperative, intuitive and unitive. It was associated with the moon, nightime and with earth. It is highly significant that these attributes were not defined as belonging to sex or gender-male or female-but to qualities-masculine and feminine. Each person, whether man or woman, was seen to have a balance of yin and yang within his or her nature. Each part of creation was understood to contain that harmonious balance. This point cannot be emphasised enough.
The I Ching is made up of sixty four hexagrams, each of which has a unique combination of yang and yin lines. These were believed to reflect the interchanging cycles and balances within the whole of creation, from the ebb and flow of the tides, to the motions of the planets and the fortunes of humanity. All of nature was seen to be in a constant state of flux, ever changing into its opposite, for The yang having reached its climax retreats in favour of the yin; the yin having reached its climax, retreats in favour of the yang. (1) The cycles of the universe revolved around these dual poles of existence, returning to the source which was the still point and recommencement.
The first hexagram of the I Ching represents the creative power of masculine activity. It is called Creativity
Great is the power of primal creativity. The source of all things, it embodies the significance of Heaven. Clouds move and rain falls, and all things develop in their appropriate dorms . . .
Creativity changes and transforms, in order that everything might attain its true nature in accordance with the will of Heaven. Great harmony can then prevail. (2)
The second hexagram is called quiescence and represents the all-embracing productiveness of the feminine pole:
Great is the power of quiescence. It obediently receives the forces of creativity and all things owe their birth to it.
It enfolds everything in its embrace, and complements the unlimited power of creativity. Through its shining abundance all things are able to reach their full development. (3)
It was basic to Chinese yin-yang philosophy that neither the masculine nor the feminine pole was dominant, that they were always in harmonious communion with one another. In hexagram 11, where they are perfectly balanced, the title is Peace: in hexagram 12, where they block each others path, the title is Stagnation. Stagnation is the worst possible condition, for it denies life, and is out of tune with the dynamic rhythms and cycles of nature. As the I Ching says, Stagnation springs from the fact that Heaven and Earth are not in communion with each other, and that in consequence all things do not intermingle. The high and the low, superiors and inferiors, do not communicate with one another, and there are no well-governed states to be seen anywhere.
The failure of heaven and earth, masculine and feminine, yang and yin, to be in harmony with each other would lead to confusion, disorder and stagnation throughout the whole created order, even of government itself. But when the yin and yang forces were in a happy, creative, harmonious relationship then peace and confidence reigned throughout the land and mighty things could be accomplished. The purpose of the I Ching was to provide a guide to these forces of withdrawal and return, activity and passivity, initiative and quiescence, for the superior man strives to align himself with the set of the celestial tides, thus attracting good fortune and supreme success. (4) When a person was in tune with the universal rhythms and the rhythms of his or her own body, mind and spirit, then he or she would be living in harmony with the will of Heaven. To be out of tune would lead to misfortune and unavoidable distress. However, the message of the I Ching is that everything changes, and even misfortune can give way to joy.
When we remember the battles and rivalries in the near east between the earth-mother and sky-father, and the Great Mother and Yahweh, it is worth noting that in Chinese philosophy there was no possible rivalry or hierarchy between yin and yang. They were not conflicting opposites, but composite parts of one whole. Each is of supreme importance and equal value. It is inconceivable that anything could be solely yin or yang-masculine or feminine, heaven or earth, active or passive-everything is always a mixture of both. The symbol which depicts this profound truth is the Tai Chi. In the Tai Chi there are two halves shaped rather like embryos thrusting each other round in an ever circling motion. Although distinct and separate, each contains part of the other in itself and this is the significance of the spot at the centre of each half. J C Cooper explains:
The yin-yang symbol, the Ta Ki [Tai Chi], depicts the perfect balance of the two great forces in the universe; each has within it the embryo of the other power, implying that there is no exclusively masculine or feminine nature, but that each contains the germ of the other and there is continual alternation. The two powers are contained within the circle of cyclic revolution and dynamism of the totality. The whole forms the Cosmic Egg, the primordial Androgyne, the perfection of balance and harmony, the pure essence which is neither yet both. The two forces are held together in tension but not in antagonism, as mutually interdependent partners; one in essence, but two in manifestation. (5)
A QUESTION OF NUMBERS
Plato once said that the number two was meaningless for it implied a relationship which would always lead on to a third factor. The understanding of the significance of numbers and their relationships was another very ancient tradition dating back long before Plato. It was based on a system of knowledge related to a canon of measurements, universally recognised to have cosmic significance. These measurements were a mathematical demonstration of natural law and were frequently applied to architecture, music, art, and even literature. Certain numbers, measurements and geometric shapes were believed to hold a mystic power and universal truth. The initiates who knew the vital ratios could give their work and words different levels of meaning by weaving into them the relevant numbers. This tradition is central to the I Ching, but can also be found in early Greek, Hebrew and Egyptian artefacts, documents and treasures, as well as in the works of many other civilisations.
There was a vast array of numbers which held great significance, but three are of special interest. These are 666, 1080, and their addition 1746. The most familiar number will probably be 666, being the number of the beast in Revelation where it reads: This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six. (Rev. 13:18). John calls the number 666 the number of a man and this gives some clue as to its meaning. Both Greek and Hebrew letters can be read as numbers, for (a )equals 1, (ß)equal 2 etc in Greek and (א) equals the number 1, (ב) equals the number 2 etc in Hebrew. This gives the words a numerological significance as well as a literary one. Using this method the name of the Roman Emperor Caesar Nero added up to the number 666. Nero persecuted Christians throughout his empire, torturing them and putting them to death. He may well have been the beast of Revelation with the number of a man.
The number 666 had a more universal meaning however than just the name of a cruel Emperor. This number represented absolute masculine energy; it symbolised the cosmic fire of the sun, with its creative, all-important lifegiving power. It was light, energy, virility, intellect, consciousness and will. In its positive aspect, it mirrored hexagram 1 of the I Ching. But, it was only creative when in balance with other numbers. On its own, without the necessary checks, it would bring about destruction, violence, and holocaust by fire. As John Michell explains: Where the proportions are correct, the influence of the number 666 promotes fertility, gives life and colour, but where it becomes excessively dominant, the consequences are apparent in the tyranny of the self-willed governor, and in the development of a society obsessed with fantasies of violence, material wealth and power. (6)
As history has shown, the Emperor Nero was a self-willed tyrant who destroyed Rome by fire. His masculine qualities had been allowed to dominate over the feminine and his lack of control led to holocaust.
In an article in Spirals, Richard Snead explains that the number 666 is related to the diameter of the hexagonal carbon ring and . . . is an archtype of the sun (the 6 on the qabalistic Tree of Life, Tipharet) taken to the superlative degree. It is this sun power which is released when the carbon ring is shattered in gunpowder or dynamite . (7) The gunpowder, dynamite and nuclear weaponry of modern war are an expression of 666 at its most destructive.
The second number, 1080, was the exact opposite of 666. It represented the purely feminine attributes and was associated with the coolness of the moon, the fluidity of water, the cyclic rhythms of nature, instinctive powers, and the depths of the unconscious. The radius of the moon is 1080 miles. If 1080 was in balance it would bring spiritual and intuitive wisdom, prophetic powers, a sense of oneness with nature and the universe. It would be equivalent to hexagram 2 of the 1 Ching. But if 1080 was allowed to dominate, then the primordial powers of the unconscious would rise up and threaten stability. There would be too much fatalistic absorption into the rhythms and deterministic cycles of life, and too little awareness of individual separateness. If 1080 is not correctly balanced then as Michell says, . . . the female, receptive spirit, 1080, withdraws into the earth, becomes stagnant and takes on the dark, malicious qualities of the elemental. (8). Domination by 666 led to holocaust by fire: domination by 1080 would lead to destruction under the rising torrents of a flood.
The numbers 666 and 1080 when in harmonious communion with other numbers were extremely creative and equivalent to the positive aspects of yin and yang. However, when added to each other, this creativity became even greater, and produced a number of the utmost significance-the number of fusion, 1746. This was considered to be one of the most vital, symbolic and informative of numbers, for it represented the kingdom of heaven as found potentially in a grain of mustard seed. According to Gematria (the tradition which gave letters numerical equivalents) 1746 was the addition of the letters in the phrase-a grain of mustard seed (kokkos sinapeos). Ancient cosmology held that creation issued from the union of the .two opposite forces of life-yin, yang; heaven, earth; masculine, feminine. The grain of mustard seed represented the Cosmic Egg, the Virgin Womb, the T'ai Chi, the union of the opposites in their primal state from which issued all creation. This was very well illustrated in the Japanese creation myth where the primal state was a mingling of In and Yo, heaven and earth; divine beings issued from the marriage of these opposites. Jesus himself likened the kingdom of heaven to the mustard seed which, although the smallest of seeds, had all the creative forces necessary inside its shell to produce the greatest of shrubs: With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade (Mk. 4:3a-32).
THE ALCHEMICAL TRANSFORMATION
The message of numerology was that God was behind the union of the dual poles of nature - their marriage was part of his plan for creation. The image of the tiny mustard seed suggested all the power, beauty and creative potential of the kingdom of heaven itself. People have tried to express their understanding of this truth in very many different ways: some have tried to convey the essence of the mystery through outward animistic and physical acts; others have spoken allegorically of a marriage of heaven and earth; yet others have seen it as a purely mystical, spiritual and psychological truth. One philosophical tradition which has been branded as heretical for its exploration of this mystery is alchemy.
Alchemy has often been caricatured as some sort of obscure, cranky, highly dubious practice of magical arts. This image has undoubtedly been encouraged by its practitioners who wished to protect its secrets from the ignorant and uninitiated. The popular picture of the crusty old alchemist, forever endeavouring to extract gold from base metal for his own gain and to further some devilish scheme is very far from the truth. Alchemy was an ancient system of knowledge which tried to comprehend the mysteries of life and creation. The alchemists maxim was: as above, so below, an idea which can be found in many philosophical and religious traditions such as Platonism, Taoism, Buddhism; Jewish, Islamic and Christian mysticism. Alchemists believed that each particle of nature, each material object-whether animal, vegetable or mineralwas a microcosm of the divine macrocosm, and so contained a spark of the divine spirit. The earth was not an insensate conglomeration of mass, but had life and spirit. As the alchemist Basilius Valentinus explained:
The earth is not a dead body, but is inhabited by a spirit that is its life and soul. All created things, minerals included, draw their strength from the earth spirit. The spirit is life, it is nourished by the stars, and it gives nourishment to all the living things it shelters in its womb. Through the spirit received from on high, the earth hatches the minerals in her womb as the mother her unborn child.
The alchemists set themselves the task of finding and releasing spirit from the bondage of matter, but sought to do this on spiritual and psychological levels as well as the physical. The treasure they attempted to release was given a variety of names, all obscure. For instance it could be known as the Philosophers Stone, the Philosophers Gold, or the Son of the Philosopher. This magical and precious element emerged from the transformed matter. Its complexity was illustrated by the German alchemist Michael Maier who wrote: The sun is the image of God, the heart is the suns image in man. . . Gold is the suns image in the Earth . . . (thus) God is known in the gold. (10) The treasure which the alchemists sought was both God and gold.
The philosophy and practice of alchemy was based on very ancient knowledge. It is therefore fascinating to discover that a central feature was the balance of opposites, called the alchemical wedding or the mysterium coniunctionis. This alchemical process involved analysing and separating the component parts of a substance or psyche, and then reassembling them in a more perfectly harmonious way. It was almost as if they were re-enacting the creative work of God and it was this aspect of their work which gave to them the name of heretics.
As with the Chinese and the numerologists, the alchemists saw all of life divided into polarities, epitomised by masculine and feminine. These opposites were seen as antagonistic at first, but the alchemical process aimed to overcome their conflict and bring them together in a creative and complementary union. The Philosophers Gold, the transformed substance, would only emerge once the analysed and separated components were remarried in a perfect balance, the dual poles of heaven and earth, sun and moon, sulphur and quicksilver, queen and king were for them united in the figure of the androgyne. This represented the sacred marriage, the conciliation of opposites, humankind restored to wholeness. This bringing together of the two poles of nature was both a physical and spiritual goal-the transformation of matter and the transformation of the soul.
The spiritual wisdom of the balance of opposites has been appreciated in a great many of the high religions. Supreme deities have often been represented as androgynous as a sign of their all-embracing power. In the Hindu tradition, it is said that the god Siva would be a corpse without his female counterpart, Sakti. Considerable energy is spent bringing about their union. One of Sivas names is Siva Matrbhutesvara - Siva who be comes a mother, and in Assam he turns into a sacred buffalo cow as a sign of his maternal capacity. In Hindu Tantric tradition it is considered possible for a man and a woman so to purify themselves that the sexual act itself becomes a mystical, spiritual expression of the two forces of the universe - Siva and Sakti made one. (11) There are many statues of Siva/Sakti in India where their androgyny is physically depicted; there are also statues of a man and a woman in the act of union representing the sacred marriage of the eternal masculine and feminine principles, which statuary we trivialise at our peril.
ANIMUS AND ANIMA
As we know, however, this truth did not always have to be expressed physically. The physical facts are only one aspect of this universal phenomenon. It was not necessary to build androgynous statues, enact sacred marriages, or take part in animistic cultic rites to emphasise the importance of an equal, harmonious marriage of opposites. The physical is only one level of the truth. It also has profound spiritual and psychological meaning. Taoist philosophy teaches that truth, far from being given a physical manifestation, could not even be named:
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. 12
The harmony of masculine and feminine forces within the personality has been recognised throughout the ages to be a sign of great spiritual and psychological maturity and wholeness. As we have seen, Chinese philosophy, numerology, alchemy, religious and philosophical traditions have pointed to this ideal equality and harmony between the opposites, but the person who has done most this century to draw together these ancient traditions and develop a modern idea of the balance of psychic opposites is Carl Jung. He spent a large part of his life studying the meaning of the opposites and his last major work was devoted to the exploration of alchemical symbols in relation to them. (13)
Jung rediscovered the psychic power of traditional myths and symbols, and provided a way for us to re-establish contact with them through our dreams and fantasies. He was keenly conscious of what has been lost, warning that in our modern sophistication we have severed our connection with the wise messages of nature. The inner marriage of opposites, so vital for wholeness and health, has been hampered by our apparently overwhelming need to polarise spirit and matter, conscious and unconscious, intellect and instinct.
If we divorce ourselves from nature then we cut ourselves off from our own natures as well, for we are all part of Gods creation and made according to .the same plan: of the earth, earthy. Just as the ancients saw patterns of withdrawal and return, seedtime and harvest, activity and passivity in nature, so these patterns are found in human beings too. Jung believed that it is of fundamental importance for each of us to find the meaning of the balance of opposites in our own psyche. He was profoundly aware of the need for this balance in an individuals emergence as a whole person. He called this process of growth towards wholeness individuation and saw it as leading to the higher self. He likened it to the alchemical marriage of opposites which produced the Philosophers Gold. Just as the alchemists separated and analysed components into their opposites in order to recompose them in a perfect union, so Jung encouraged his patients to analyse and distinguish the components of their psyche in order to come into a proper relationship with them and achieve psychological wholeness and maturity.
According to Jung, within each woman there is an undiscovered man, and within each man an undiscovered woman. The former he called the animus and the latter the anima. This inner opposite appears very frequently in our dreams, but can also be identified in traditional folk-tales and legends which have often been interpreted as symbolic descriptions of the inner life. The stories of Beauty and the Beast or Bluebeards Castle, for instance, portray a girls developing awareness of her own animus. The story of the teutonic Lorelei could be interpreted as a warning of the dangers of a mans negative anima, as indeed could the story of Eve itself. These psychic opposites within our own personality have great power over us both for good and ill. Our relationship to our animus or anima is determined at first by our relationship to our parents. A creative acknowledgement of the man or woman within can liberate our animus or anima to be an invaluable spiritual guide and guardian. But if the powerful force within is not recognised and accepted then it can wreak havoc in the personality, and possess the individual by the strength of its repressed presence in the unconscious. Thus a proper awareness and balance of the masculine and feminine energies within each person is vital for health and growth.
Jung saw the anima as the personification of all the feminine aspects of a mans psyche. It was equivalent to the yin, to the second hexagram of the I Ching, or to the qualities of the number 1080. It brought him intuition, prophetic gifts, emotional openness, the ability to love, a sense of oneness with nature, and it provided the vital bridge between the conscious and the unconscious. A mans anima would bring him spirituality, insight and sensitivity if his relationship to it was open, balanced and accepted. If however he tried to repress or dominate his anima, it would emerge in more sinister ways. Negative relationships with the anima can lead to an over-emphasis on virility and sexual fantasies, neurotic over-intellectualism, a sense of unreality, oversensitivity, pettiness and insecurity. The rejected anima works away in the unconscious, leading the man into real danger unless he faces his own feminine qualities and assimilates them into the rest of his character.
The masculine aspect of a womans psyche is her animus. Masculinity can bring to her personality courage, initiative, creative power, active energy, leadership qualities, discernment and rational objectivity. Its equivalent is the yang pole of nature, the first hexagram of the I Ching, and the potency of the number 666. The animus is a spiritual guide and brings to a woman a sense of her own uniqueness and her ability to transcend nature and the rhythms of her own body. If her relationship to the animus is mature and balanced she will be a wise, strong, courageous woman, able to take initiative, combining the best of the feminine virtues with the best of the masculine. However, if a woman represses her animus, or does not attempt to understand it, she may well be unable to grow up, or may be bossy, opinionated, cold, ruthless and unfeeling. She may feel she has no worth, and is totally uncreative and uncultured. She may be dominating, aggressive, and competitive, intransigent about her own rightness. Like the repressed anima, the thwarted animus could lead a woman to her death.
One of todays leading interpreters of Jungs psychology is the analyst and author June Singer. She has not only helped to explain and clarify the meaning of Jungs work, but has also applied it to modern life. Although a great admirer and follower of his teaching, she is critical of what appears to be some very sexist conclusions drawn by him. For instance, it would appear that Jung believed that the womans masculine nature was to be developed not so much to make her courageous and give her strength, but to produce the seeds needed to fertilise the feminine aspect of the man! Jung wrote, Just as a man produces his work as a complete creation out of his inner feminine nature, so the inner masculine side of a woman produces creative seeds that can fertilise the feminine element in the man. (14)
Singer is critical of this aspect of Jungs psychology. She believes that society today, with its new awareness of the need for equality between the sexes has, as she put it, finally lost patience with the idea of . . . a frail and tiny ego differentiating itself, step by step, out of the boundless Self, finding its identity as man or woman, and in the process accepting the stereotype belonging to the gender role. (15) As she says, Jung was writing sixty years ago when the idea of womans subservience to man was openly held. Today, however, we have the opportunity for each person, man and woman, to find his or her hidden opposites without the straight-jacket of stereotyped roles. The search itself will lead both man and woman to a fulfilled, creative, and spiritually developed awareness of their potential. As Singer says, as we grow to understand the importance of the search for inner harmony and balance, so increasingly There are intimations of the Divine Self within ourselves, and the desire to experience more of this draws us forward with increasing energy and speed toward an inner unity. (16)
Images of the Higher Self appear in our dreams as a sign that we are approaching an inner integrity and an awareness of the wholeness and harmony of the divine intention. These images represent the inner nucleus of the psyche which transcends the masculine and feminine polarities. Very often the Higher Self appears either as a wise, spiritual, mature person of the same sex, or is symbolised by an androgynous being who is highly evolved and deeply spiritual. The appearance of the Higher Self indicates that we are overcoming the conflict and oppression of polar opposites within. We are effecting an inner marriage of heaven and earth which God displays to perfection and many ancient traditions have sought as their goal.
The message of the T'ai Chi, numerology, alchemy, high religions and Jungian psychology is very similarheaven and earth, spirit and matter, masculine and feminine - are all part of Gods plan for creation. Spiritually and psychologically, as well as ecologically and socially, we must recognise the equal and harmonious relationship of these opposites. Failure to do so could lead not only to stagnation but to holocaust.
THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION
Many of those who have perceived and understood the transcendent wisdom of the union of opposites, are highly critical of the Judeo-Christian tradition because it seems to them to ignore it. Some would be called pagans by many Christians, yet their spiritual sensibilities are outraged by the patriarchal, over-masculine spirit apparent in much Jewish and Christian teaching. The ecclesiastical tendency to portray the Father-God not only as masculine but as wholly male is particularly abhorrent to those who know that the supreme being must transcend sexual characteristics. Many Christians would be very suspicious of the sort of wisdom to be found in the I Ching and Jungian psychology etc., yet their own spiritual perceptions are severely limited.
In a recent and much celebrated debate in the Church of Scotland on the concept of the Motherhood of God, a specially commissioned study panel roundly condemned those who took Gods fatherhood to mean that he is solely masculine. While reaffirming the tradition of calling God Father as commanded by Christ, they also showed that there are biblical precedents for understanding God as Mother as well. For some this seemed to mean that the gender of the Almighty was being questioned. As if he had a gender! As the report said:
There may be quite innocent, unconscious assumptions on the part of many in the Church that, because we call him Father, and because he has revealed himself in a human being of one sex rather than the other, God has a gender. But we believe that a deliberate affirmation of this view seriously threatens the uniqueness and transcendence of the God to whom all Scriptures witness. (17)
Even the Great Goddess was understood to transcend any one sexual category, and was portrayed as androgynous in order to depict this. Even so-called pagan religions know that no transcendent deity could be limited to one sex, and that the ultimate truth is that gender only points to something higher and infinitely greater, something which knows no bounds of time, space or material existence.
Yahweh cannot be limited by time or space, or any human perceptions of him. He is certainly not androgynous because that is a physical description; and he is spirit. He transcends all such human attempts to depict transcendence, making it clear that his image is only to be found in the creatures man and woman.
Because he was so holy, the ancient Hebrews were forbidden to pronounce the name of Yahweh, only referring to him by the sacred tetragrammaton, YHWH. In some ways this is like the unnamable Tao, yet also very different. Yahweh condemned anthropomorphic images of himself in stone and wood, but did allow himself to be referred to as both father and mother to his people. He was not above using human analogies such as marriage to describe his relations with his people, and in the end he revealed himself in the physical form of the man Jesus. This is the folly of the Christian message, that the great transcendent creator should be made manifest in the flesh and should actually die for love of his creation.
Gods image was not to be found in stone but in living humanity. It is therefore fitting that the bible should contain images of God which are drawn from the female and motherly realm of experience for, We must say of every woman, with no more and no less astonishment and boldness than of a man, that she is like God, and that her humanity images and resembles the very Creator of all things. (18) That creator resembles though he far transcends, everything that is best in the female way of being human and the human way of being motherly. (19)
Despite the considerable threat of the female dominated religion of the goddess which surrounded the early Hebrews, the bible does contain a surprising number of descriptions which portray the feminine aspects of God and describe God in terms of motherhood. In Psalm 131:2, David tells how he was quieted at Gods breast:
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a child quieted at its mothers breast;
like that is quieted is my soul.
In Isaiah 49:15, God asks:
Can a woman forget her sucking child,
that she should have no compassion
on the sonof her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
In Isaiah 42:13-14, Yahweh describes himself as both a man of war and a woman in travail in the space of two verses:
The Lord goes forth like a mighty man,
Like a man of war he stirs up his fury;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
he shows himself mighty against his foes.
For a long time I have held my peace,
I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in travail,
I will gasp and pant.
Both images in these verses are very vivid and active. It is no weak, passive stereotype of woman that he likens himself to, but woman at her very strongest, most desperate and awe-inspiring. Yahweh, using both male and female imagery, described himself in this passage as angry, terrorising, vengeful and destructive. He was the jealous, furious, warrior-god and the agonised mother visiting disaster on his disobedient people, lashing down on mountains, hills, vegetation, rivers, and intransigent humanity (Is. 42:15, 16). But at other times he was merciful, gentle, comforting, pitying and forgiving. Hi words could be heard just as effectively in the still, small voice. He was The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. (Ex. 34:6) The Lord God was the pitying father and the comforting mother:
As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear him. (Ps. 103:13)
As one whom his mother comforts,
So I will comfort you,
You shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Is. 66:13).
Although Yahweh has in many ways been portrayed as the patriarchal God of a patriarchal tribe, he was not limited by a purely masculine range of attributes. He could be both the desperate and the comforting mother, and the jealous and pitying father. To limit God to one single quality, whether male father or female mother is clearly absurd. Something of Yahwehs transcendence over gender comes across m the descriptions of his spirit (ruach) and his presence (shekinah). Both are feminine words in Hebrew, which highlight the suggestion of the feminine presence of God throughout the bible. It was his spirit (ruach) which moved over the face of the waters in Genesis 1; the image is similar to that of a bird hovering over her young in the nest. Although feminine, Gods spirit is also very powerful and creature. Even in Genesis 1 the image is that of a bird violently fluttering over her nest. There is a tremendously protective and life-giving vigour in this picture, which is a reminder that without Gods spirit there would be no life. Psalm 104 describes the glorious complexities of Gods creation, all totally dependent on that feminine spirit for their very existence:
These all look up to thee,
to give them their food in due season.
When thou givest to them, they gather it up;
when thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good things.
When thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed;
when thou takest away their breath,
they die and return to their dust.
When thou sendest forth thy Spirit,
they are created;
and thou renewest the face of the ground. (Ps. 104:27-30)
As well as expressing the marriage of opposites in an inner way in his character, God also expressed this marriage through his outward relationship to his people and their land. Over the centuries God has become increasingly identified with heaven and with things of the spirit rather than earth and the day-to-day issues of life. This has brought about a divorce between heaven and earth, church and world, spirit and matter which has created a polarisation in many peoples thinking about religion. There was no such split in Yahwehs teaching or in the teaching - still less the life-of Christ. So close was Yahwehs relationship with his people, and so much did he want to be one with them that he compared his relationship to a marriage. In the marital imagery Israel becomes the bride of Yahweh! Just as in a human marriage there is a desire to be united with the loved one, a desire for fusion, so God desired not only to love his people, but to be loved by them. In Ezekiel 16, God tells of his love for Jerusalem. She had been like an abandoned child, lying in a field on the point of death before God caught sight of her:
And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you in your blood, Live, and grow up like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood ....
When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; and I spread my skirt over you and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine. (Ezek. 16:6-8)
As we know, Jerusalem proved to be a faithless wife, playing the harlot and going to other lovers such as Ishtar and Baal. But after much cursing and anger, God forgave her. The marriage was restored to both the people and, significantly, the land as well:
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
And your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight is in her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (Is. 62:4-5)
The mystical inner reality of Gods marriage to his people is foretold alongside the practical outer reality of ecological harmony and prosperity. We know that many disasters came to the people of Israel because of their idolatry and failure to keep Gods laws. There were plagues of locusts, pestilence, droughts and famine. The people complained to Jeremiah about these things when he challenged them concerning the worshipping of the Queen of Heaven. They blamed the famine on their failure to be true to Ishtar, but Jeremiah told them this had happened because they were untrue to Yahweh. (20) The reasons may have been hotly disputed, but the ecological disasters were real enough. The people were exiled as much because they exhausted their lands fertility, disobeying Gods laws of stewardship, as because of their idolotrous worship. God had laid down very detailed laws in his covenant with the land. The peoples failure to keep these laws and make real their own marriage to the land led to exile, for the soil had been exploited and exhausted.
When God and the people, heaven and earth, spirit and matter were one, then there was abundance and prosperity. When they were divorced, there was stagnation, infertility and drought. Just as in Chinese philosophy the yin and yang had to be in a correct balance, and the masculine forces united with the feminine, so God and his people, the King of Heaven and the land of Israel, had to be in the correct relationship according to the law for harmony to prevail. In the words of the I Ching, when heaven and earth are one, then there is growth: Heaven and earth attract each other, and the transformation and creation of all things is the result. The sages attract the minds of men and universal harmony and peace ensure (hex. 31). When they are divorced, the growth stops and decay begins: Heaven and earth are not in communion . . . . Progressive influences having completed their work, the processes of growth are at an end. Increasing conditions of decay must now be looked for (hex. 12). Or, in the words of the bible:
If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit . . . . And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will remove evil beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land ....
But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, I will do this to you: I will appoint over you sudden terror, consumption, and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be smitten before your enemies . . .(Lev. 26:3-6, 14-17)
One of the most profound religious expressions of the marriage of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, in both an inner and outer way is the symbol of the temple. In the temple, heaven and earth could come together and become one. The temple of the Hebrews at Jerusalem was one of the most symbolic representations of mans entire religious experience. Its very dimensions and measurements reflected the coming together of God and his creation: The Temple of Jerusalem was an imago mundi and cosmic centre, a place of communion between God and Israel; it represented the beginning of cosmic time and was the dwelling-place or house of God on earth, a reflection of the Heavenly Tabernacle. (21) This temple was divided into two main parts, with an inner court. According to Josephus, these represented the three cosmic regions: the lower regions and the sea, the earth, and heaven. The outer court was the lower region, the holy place the earth, and the holy of holies, heaven.
It was the shape of the holy of holies which was most symbolic. This was Gods chamber, and no man or woman could enter it except the high priest once a year. Gods presence literally filled the holy of holies all the time - he was constantly with his people and on the land which he had made. The room was in the form of a cube. Many symbolists consider the cube to represent the squaring of the circle, a mathematical feat which the ancients held to be very potent, for it represented to them the coming together of heaven and earth. The square with its four sides represented the earth, and the circle the sphere of heaven. The squaring of the circle brought them together in perfect unity-it symbolised the transformation of the sphere of the heavens into the square of the earth and vice-versa. Thus the inner sanctuary of the temple, the sacred holy of holies spoke in its very dimensions of Gods unique dwelling with his creation.
There is one book in the Old Testament which has traditionally been described by the rabbis as the holy of holies of scripture. This is the Song of Songs (canticles), a beautifully lyrical love-poem which has been interpreted both literally and allegorically. Taken literally, it is a highly sensual account of the longings of two lovers for each other. Taken allegorically, it is seen as describing the relationship between God and Israel. God is the bridegroom, and Israel the bride. By calling this book the holy of holies the rabbis cast a beautiful and moving light on the meaning of Gods dwelling in the temple of Jerusalem and his desire truly to be at one with his people. The temple represented the overcoming of the conflict of opposites and the powerful forces for good issuing from their union.
Jesus Christ played an extraordinarily significant role in this drama of the marriage of heaven and earth, spirit and matter. As both God and man, he held the opposites together in a quite unique way. He was the living mediator between God and his creation. One of the most telling symbols of the meaning of his life came at the moment when he died. Ever since the great temple at Jerusalem had been built, there had been a screen or curtain separating the holy of holies from the holy place. This protected God from the sins of the people and the people from the white heat of his purity. Symbolically, it separated heaven from earth. At the very moment of Jesus breathing his last on the cross, the curtain was torn m two: the way between heaven and earth was finally opened.
The symbolism of the cross on which Christ died was equally important. It was an ancient symbol dating back long before Christianity, and has been described as the cosmic symbol par excellence. It represented the coming together of opposites, signifying wholeness and restoration. By dying on a cross, Christ made it clear that his message was universal, for the cross appears in civilisations throughout the world. It has great cosmic significance:
It is a world-centre and therefore a point of communication between heaven and earth and a cosmic axis . . . . The cross represents the Tree of Life and the Tree of Nourishment; it is also a symbol of universal, archetypal man, capable of infinite and harmonious expansion on both the horizontal and vertical planes; the vertical line is the celestial, spiritual and intellectual, positive active and male, while the horizontal is the earthly, rational, passive, and negative and female, the whole cross forming the primordial androgyne . . . . The cross is the figure of man at full stretch; also the descent of spirit into matter. (22)
Christs death on the cross pointed to his role as mediator between all the opposites. God and humankind, the masculine and the feminine, heaven and earth were all brought together by his life, death and resurrection. Paul made this clear in his letter to the Colossians:
. . . God wanted all perfection
to be found in him
and all things to be reconciled through him and for him,
everything in heaven and everything on earth,
when he made peace
by his death on the cross.
(Col. 1:19 and 20, Jerusalem Bible)
More specifically in Galatians, Paul reminded his people that There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). Christ held in himself a unique combination of spirit and matter: he was both fully human and fully divine. Neither element (nature in traditional theology) was more important than the other. His humanity was just as important to his life as his divinity. He displayed in himself the perfect balance, the opposites living together in a wholesome, creative and dynamic union.
He also shared an extraordinary balance of masculine and feminine qualities in his personality. He was both creative and receptive, assertive and quiescent, intellectual and intuitive, rational and emotional, for the law yet disdainful of legalism, analytical and holistic, critical and compassionate. He was both leader and servant, king and peasant, victor and vanquished. Jesus Christ was both the Son of God and a fully human and uncompromisingly male man. He held together in himself the opposites of yin and yang, masculine and feminine, spirit and matter, heaven and earth. In this he was the fulfilment of the alchemists ideal - the Son of the Philosopher - the perfectly balanced man, who was in fact God.
Those who followed the wisdom traditions saw him as the logos or word incarnate. The idea of the logos was in existence long before Christs birth; for instance, the philosopher Heraclitus, one of the pioneers of Greek philosophy who lived around 500 BC, used the word logos to describe the regulating principle which brought the conflict of opposites into harmony. He gave this logos divine attributes. When John used the term in his gospel, (in English versions calling Jesus the Word), he was aware of the tradition of the logos. Rudolf Steiner in his study of the relationship between the mystery traditions and Christianity, explains his understanding of the meaning of the logos thus:
The world has come forth from the invisible, inconceivable God. A direct image of this Godhead is the wisdom-filled harmony of the world, out of which material phenomena arise. This wisdomfilled harmony is the spiritual image of the Godhead. It is the divine Spirit diffused in the world; cosmic reason, the Logos, the Offspring or Son of God. The Logos is the mediator between the world of the senses and the inconceivable God. (23)
Jesus was that mediator, that wisdom-filled harmony, but he was no mere concept; he was a man-an historical reality. As Steiner says: Something which was a Mystery process in the development of the old wisdom becomes historical fact through Christianity. Thus Christianity became the fulfilment not only of what the Jewish prophets had predicted, but also of what had been pre-formed in the Mysteries. The Cross of Golgotha is the mystery cult of antiquity condensed into a fact. We find the cross first in the ancient world conceptions; at the starting point of Christianity it meets us within a unique event which is to be valid for the whole of humanity. (24) In Johns gospel we read that in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God. Christ is the word of God and was with him in the beginning of time. Everything was created by him and for him. In Proverbs 8:1-36 however, we read that wisdom, Sophia, personified as a prophetess, was also with God in the beginning:
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a little child; [mg.]
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.
Some Christian traditions, such as the Russian Orthodox, identify this female figure of wisdom with Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is a central character in much later Old Testament writings and in the inter-testamental literature to be found in the apocrypha. This gives a very moving insight into the beauty of the feminine side of Christ. He himself high-lighted his maternal qualities when he said, O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings (Matt. 2:37).
In the Wisdom of Solomon, the feminine side of the creator is even more explicitly and nobly described. Wisdom here is pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; she is strong, intelligent and holy, untarnished mirror of Gods active power, image of his goodness:
For within her is a spirit intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
active, incisive, unsullied,
lucid, invulnerable, benevolent, sharp,
irresistible, beneficent, loving to man,
steadfast, dependable, unperturbed,
penetrating, all-intelligent, pure
and most subtle spirits; for Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion;
she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. (Wisd. 7:22-24)
Let those who dismiss Christianity as too masculine take note of these powerful images of sophia, the wisdom of God. Like the early Hebrews, many in the church have been unable to grasp the transcendence of Yahweh and have seen him in their own image rather than recognising the glorious truth that we are made in the image of the creator. The bible, however, testifies throughout its pages to the transcendent and infinitely gentle splendour of the creator, a creator who put into the hearts and minds of both women and men the profound desire to see heaven and earth made one.
1. Wang Chung, cited by Fritjof Capra: The Tao of Physics, Fontana, 1976, p 112.
2.The Oracle of Change, translated by Alfred Douglas, Penguin, 1977, hexagram one. For a more detailed commentary on all the texts, see the Richard Wilhelm translation: I Ching, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1983.
3. Ibid. hexagram two.
4. Ibid. hexagram one.
5. J. C. Cooper: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978, p 196.
6. John Michell: City of Revelation, Abacus, London, 1973, p 138.
7. Richard Snead: `Music and the Mysteries', Spirals, no 13, PO Box 27472, San Francisco, California, 94129.
8. John Michell, op. cit. p 140
9. Cited by John Michell: The Earth Spirit, Thames and Hudson, London, 1975, p 4.
10.Cited by Betty Roszak: The Book of the New Alchemists, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1977, p viii. See also June Singer: Androgyny: Towards a New Theory of Sexuality, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1977, chapter twelve on the inner meaning of alchemy.
11. See June Singer, op. cit. on the Tantric tradition.
12. Lao-tse: Tao Te ching, number one, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, Wildwood House Ltd., London, 1973.
13. C. G. Jung: Mysterium Coniunctionis: an Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1963.
14. C. G. Jung: Two Essays in Analytical Psychology, Bailiere, Tindall and Cox, London, 1923, p 230.
15. June Singer: op. cit. p 50. For a feminist critique of psychoanalysis see also Juliet Mitchell: Psychoanalysis and Femininism, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1974 and Louise Eichenbaum and Susie Orbach: Outside In . . . Inside Out, Pelican Books, 1982.
16. Singer, op. cit. p 50.
17. The Motherhood of God: A Report by a Study Group appointed by the Woman's Guild and The Panel on Doctrine on the invitation of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, edited by Alan E. Lewis, The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1984, p 19. One of the seminal feminist works on the concept of God is by Mary Daly: Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation, Beacon Press, Boston, 1973. See also Motherhood and God, by Margaret Hebblethwaite, G. Chapman, 1984, for a personal view of God as Mother.
18. The Motherhood of God, p 36.
19. Ibid. p 66.
20. Jeremiah ch 44, verses 18 and 23.
21. J. C. Cooper, op. cit. p 170.
22. J. C. Cooper, op. cit. p 45
23 Rudolf Steiner: Christianity and Occult Mysteries of Antiquity, translated by E. A. Frommer, Gabrielle Heff and Peter Kandler, Steinerbooks, New York, p 187.
24. Ibid. p 193.
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