All posts by amclaughlin2014

Member of Community of Grey Sisters of Pembroke; Masters Degree in Religious Communication, Loyola University, Chicago; Author: Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (2013) Planted in the Sky (2006) both published by Borealis Press, Ottawa Canada www.borealispress.com Retreat facilitator: The Wooing of the Soul (2013) The Sophia Salons, beginning in February 2016, offer journeys to one's own inner wisdom for small groups of women. For information: amclaughlin@sympatico.ca

Journey of the Heroine

Sophia Blog for September 29, 2022

Does autumn stir your blood? awaken desires for travel, adventure, newness…longings that slept quietly through the lazy days of summer heat, now awakening with the first whiff of autumn air?

It was so for Frodo, the reluctant hero of what many consider the greatest journey tale ever written, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. When the call to leave his beloved home in the peaceful Shire arose for him, Frodo resisted…suggesting he might wait until autumn:

As Tolkien writes: To tell the truth, he was very reluctant to start, now that it had come to the point…. When autumn came, he knew that part at least of his heart would think more kindly of journeying, as it always did at that season.

With the inspiration that arrives with the Autumn Equinox, I invite you to join me on a journey of the soul, inspired by Jean Houston’s teachings on The Heroine’s Journey. Here is how Jean describes the task that sends us forth:

In becoming a hero or heroine, we undertake the extraordinary task of dying to our current, local selves and being reborn to our eternal selves. And then we continue to travel deeper still until we reach the eternal place of sourcing and resourcing.  There are two great works for heroes and heroines to perform. The first is to withdraw from everyday life and open ourselves to the inner creative life through which lie our only means of reaching the Source. The second work is to return to everyday life, carrying the knowledge we have gained in the depths and putting it to use to redeem time and society. (Jean Houston in The Power of Myth and Living Mythically p.14)

Jean sees a recurring pattern in the journey of one who sets out to be a heroine in her own life:

The Call for a woman is a state of reality that is drawing you; the call may even be a mistake, but it gets you moving, puts you in an intensive learning situation. What is calling you now? What are reasons for refusing? Why do each of us say no?  As you hear the call, who is there? What are the powers gestating? What is the new story? What do you need to over-ride the continued refusal?

The Guardian at the Threshold asks how you want to change the world and what help you need with this… what more must you ask? Fool the guardian with the unexpected.

The Belly of the Whale takes us by surprise, for just when we know we know what we must do, just when we manage to fool the guardian and pass the gate, we find ourselves blindsided… by a depression, an ingression, a call to the depths of being. Though we are clear about our mission, we are not yet prepared. The Belly of the Whale gives us preparatory time, time for deep inner work.  We enter our own depths, the source place for all endeavours. Find your form for this inner work: drawing or dance or journaling or music or drumming or nature or working with an archetype. When you discover who your archetype is, you have guidance. You are put on the path. “You may not know what your archetypal guidance is, but your archetypal guidance knows who you are.”(Jean Houston) Live in the Temple of Inner Abundance where you are the womb of your new becoming. Choose your daily practice and be faithful. Think of something you have to do in the world for which you are not yet ready. What aspect of yourself might help you prepare? List your inner selves – your writer, perpetual child, cook, caregiver, teacher, priestess, dancer, mother – choose one who can be really helpful in the belly of the whale time.

Emergence with Amplified Power: You discover now that your expectations become magnets, drawing to you what you need for your task, your life work. You have entered the path of wisdom, and with her come all good things. You experience the grace of ABBONDANZA. You are moving into the fullness of life. Your entelechy holds the seed of what you truly are and draws you into the magic and mystery of being “a local outcropping of the Godself in time”. (JH)

Return with Elixir: You begin to embody the deep happiness that is your birthright. You heed the call to live the WHY at the centre of your life. In women’s ways of knowing, inner space has as much ontological reality as outer.

Over the coming weeks, we will explore how each of these aspects of the Heroine’s Journey show up in our lives.  

For this week, let’s be aware of the Call. How do we recognize the signs that a new call is about to arise for us? Often we feel restless, begin to experience an inchoate longing. The Poet W.S. Merwin expresses this awareness:

“Send me out into another life
lord because this one is growing faint
I do not think it goes all the way”


This restless longing opens us to recognize a call to newness when it comes, often in surprising and unexpected ways….      

What is calling you now? What are reasons for refusing? Why do each of us say no?  As you hear the call, who is there? What are the powers gestating? What is the new story? What do you need to over-ride the continued refusal?

Sophia at the Autumn Equinox

As the Autumn Equinox approaches, darkness and light, night and day, winter and summer move into a delicate balance. Following her example, I allow the earth to guide my own balance of feminine and masculine both within and outside of myself. This prompts me to return once more to Rabbi Rami Shapiro, opening my heart to receive his translation of the “Song of Songs”, the Jewish text originally written in Greek somewhere in the second or first centuries BCE. Shapiro, in his book, Embracing the Divine Feminine, traces the history of rabbinical scholarship and offers his own insights into this poem of erotic love which he sees as “a celebration of the union of the seeker of wisdom with Lady Wisdom herself.”

In his Introduction, Shapiro writes: Given the centrality of Chochmah, Lady Wisdom, to this reading of the Song of Songs, we would be wise to take a moment to understand just who she is. According to the Book of Job, Wisdom is the means by which God created the universe. God looked and took note of her. (Job 28:27) In other words, God looked to Wisdom to discover both the form and function of the universe. Wisdom therefore is the very nature in nature.

Curious, I opened my Jerusalem Bible to the Book of Job and found these lines:

But tell me, where does wisdom come from? ….

God alone has traced (her) path

and found out where (she) lives….

When (God) willed to give weight to the wind

 and measured out the waters with a gauge,

When (God) made the laws and rules for the rain

and mapped a route for the thunderclaps to follow,

then (God) had Wisdom in sight, and cast (her) worth, 

assessed (her), fathomed (her). (Job 28:20, 23, 25-27)

Who is Lady Wisdom?

For answer, Shapiro offers his own translation of Proverbs 8: 22-32. (Remember Thomas Merton’s dream of a young girl named Proverbs who was for him the Sophia Presence?)

I am the deep grain of creation,

the subtle current of life.

God fashioned me before all things:

I am the blueprint of creation,

I was there from the beginning,

from before there was a beginning.

I am independent of time and space, earth and sky.

I was there before depth was considered,

before springs bubbled with water,

before the shaping of mountains and hills,

before God fashioned the earth and its bounty,

before the first dust settled on the lands.

When God prepared the heavens, I was there.

When the circle of the earth was etched into the face of the deep

I was there.

I stood beside God as firstborn and friend.

My nature is joy and I gave God constant delight.

Now that the world is inhabited, I rejoice in it.

I will be your true delight if you will heed my teachings.

Follow me and be happy.

Practice my discipline and grow wise.

(T)he Hebrew is clear: the speaker is Chochma, Lady Wisdom, and hence all the pronouns and verbs referring to Wisdom in this passage are feminine. The grammar of this and every passage that speaks of, to, about, or for Wisdom always uses the feminine form.  

Shapiro invites us to consider the qualities of Wisdom usually associated with God. She is the “firstborn” of God and from her come the thousand things of creation. Her way is of truth and justice while her essence is pure delight. Wisdom delights in humanity and one who finds her finds life.

Shapiro compares this with Jesus who said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) Paul connects Jesus with Wisdom in Corinthians 1:24 when he writes: Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.

Then Shapiro goes further: What becomes the male Christ in the Christian Scriptures was originally the female Chochmah in the Hebrew Bible.

He continues: Wisdom is the way God manifests in and as creation. Uniting with Wisdom, as the Song of Songs invites us to do, is a way of uniting with the life and the Source from which life arises.

Why do we personify Wisdom? Shapiro believes it is because “on a deep and subconscious level we know her to be the other with whom we long to unite. She is not an abstraction but our Beloved. She is not to be thought about but physically embraced in a manner that reveals YWVH to us.”

Returning to Proverbs, Shapiro offers us his translation of Chapter 9, 1-6:

Wisdom’s house rests on many pillars.

It is magnificent and easy to find.

Inside, she has cooked a fine meal and

sweetened her wine with water.

Her table is set.

She sends her maidens to the tallest towers to summon you.

To the simple they call: Come enter here.

To those who lack understanding they say:

Come eat my food, drink my wine,

Abandon your empty life and walk in the way of understanding.

Shall we accept her invitation?

Touching the Earth

As the whiff of autumn coolness awakens us to the knowing that summer is about to depart, this stirring reflection by Thich Nhat Hanh offers a practice for coming closer to Our Mother Earth.

THE POCKET THICH NHAT HANH

TOUCHING THE EARTH

In the Buddhist tradition, I am part of, we do a practice called “Touching

the Earth” every day. It helps in many ways.  You too could be helped by

doing this practice.  When you feel restless or lack confidence in yourself,

or when you feel angry or unhappy, you can kneel down and touch

the ground deeply with your hand. Touch the Earth as if it were your

favorite thing or your best friend.

The Hill of Tara County Meath Ireland

The Earth has been there for a long time. She is mother to all of us.

She knows everything. The Buddha asked the Earth to be his witness by

touching her with his hand when he had some doubt and fear before his

awakening. The Earth appeared to him as a beautiful mother. In her arms

she carried  flowers and fruit, birds and butterflies, and many different

animals, and offered them to the Buddha. 

The Buddha’s doubts and fear instantly disappeared. Whenever you feel

unhappy, come to the Earth and ask for her help.

Touch her deeply, the way the Buddha did.

Madonna of Combermere

Suddenly, you will see the earth with all her flowers and fruit,

trees and birds, animals and all the living beings that she has produced.

All these things she offers to you.

You have more opportunities to be happy than you ever thought.

The Earth shows her love to you and her patience.  The Earth is very

patient. She sees you suffer, she helps you, and she protects you.

When we die, she takes us back into her arms.

With the Earth you are very safe. She is always there, in all her

wonderful expressions like trees, flowers, butterflies, and sunshine.

Whenever you are tired or unhappy, Touching the Earth is a very good

practice to heal you and restore your joy.

Seeking Kindred Spirits

Blazing Heat. A fiery sun in a clear sky. Only the kindly presence of great leafy trees catching, sharing a breeze, offered reprieve. It was not yet nine am on that first Sunday Morning of August, People were beginning to gather for a day celebrating Irish Heritage. By mid-afternoon the temperature, with humidity factored in, would reach 43 degrees Celsius.

Staff at the Pioneer Village in London Ontario assisted as I lifted from the car’s trunk boxes of my newly published books, Singing the Dawn. The books were set out on a trestle table in Doctor Jones’s barn. We placed a large banner on a wooden stand so that Jo Jayson’s wonderful painting of Brigid smiled over the display of books.

On one side of the barn were tables where the London Archival Society displayed photos and documents of nineteenth century Irish settlement in London. On the opposite side were tables where an Irish speaker would tutor those who wished to learn a few phrases in their ancestral language, and a genealogist who would trace family roots back to Ireland.

It seemed the perfect location, the perfect event where I might meet kindred spirits who shared my fascination with Ireland’s earth -honouring, woman- respecting, life- enhancing Spiritual Herstory. Soon they would be coming in through that open barn door, eager to learn more of Brigid and her fiery community in 5th Century Kildare. People aware as I have been of our need for just such a fire to ignite a new spirituality for our time on this planet… People thirsty as I was for nourishing waters of the spirit. People like the characters in my novel who were drawn to the Communion of Star of the Sea on an island off the West Coast of Ireland…

The day moved on. The heat intensified . Crowds gathered at the venue on the other side of Pioneer Village to watch the talented young Irish dancers in their brilliant velvet costumes.

A few people found their way to the Barn where I waited. They gazed at the image of Brigid, glanced at the books, moved on.. Some asked questions about the book and of these three or four bought a book.

By midday the heat was becoming intolerable. I looked towards the open door of the barn. A red-haired woman in a long white dress was walking across the grass. Brigid perhaps? But no, This woman was from our time, She was carrying a bag from who open top I glimpsed an electric fan. I recognized my younger sister Margaret. Though the heat , the labyrinthine paths she’s found her way to the Barn.

In a few moments a blessed breeze transformed the setting. Margaret purchased books for the family which I signed. We sat together to talk. Soon our sister Kathy came by. I signed her book while she traced our McLaughlin Lineage from the North of Ireland to Mayo with the Genealogist.

When my sisters left it was probably high time for me to give up, pack up and leave….but something held me there.

A young woman approached. “I’ve been looking for teachings on Spirituality,” she said, picking up the promo sheet from the table, reading…

What if a seed survived from Brigid’s Community in 5th c. Kildare? “Singing the Dawn” is a novel set on islands off the west coast of Ireland “beyond the ninth wave” where the old tales promise the Otherworld is present. The seven women who form the “Communion of Star of the Sea” in the twenty-first century are the inheritors of a way of life founded in the ninth century by Maire, a woman living in the Kildare Monastery, four centuries after Brigid. The destruction of Kildare in a Viking Raid forces Maire to flee to the west. On the shores of Lough Corrib, she encounters a woman who gives her the task of beginning a Community whose role will be to prepare for a future time when once more the Feminine Sacred will be honoured on the earth. The members of the Communion live as hermits on the islands, gathering to celebrate the eight earth festivals of the Celtic Calendar. The story begins in 2012 with the arrival of a new woman, Ohn’ya, mysteriously drawn to the islands by a message found in a roofless chapel on Achill Island.

“What I find on line is so shallow,” the young woman said. “This is what I need,” I signed her book. For a while we spoke of our need for a spirituality that answers the longings of our hearts while embracing the wonders we are discovering about the Universe and the fragile aching beauty of life on our planet.

That one conversation would have been enough. Yet there was a second. A woman close to my age came in , sat down in the welcome wind emanating from the fan… She spoke of the house she’s building on her ancestral land in a forest, of her longing to find companions who share her love of the earth, her yearning for a spirituality needed for our times. I spoke with her about the women in my novel who share these same longings.

“When you gather women in your home to speak of these things, invite me to come to talk with them. I gave her my card, signed her book.

” I don’t often come into London,” she said. “I think I came here today to meet you.”

Kindred Spirits. They exist . In books and in those who long to read of them, and sometimes we find them in person: in sisters, in strangers.

Introducing Singing the Dawn

by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Published by Borealis Press

Why Would you Read it?

You hold a book in your hands, one you’ve not yet opened. You feel a tingling anticipation as you prepare to enter a story, a setting with imaginary characters. What are you seeking? Will an action, an insight, a decision of one of these characters shed light on your own unanswered questions about life? Will there be something that responds to the longings in your heart?

As a young woman, wondering where my life was leading, I read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I still recall my astonishment at her habit of taking solitary walks where she pondered her life’s path. After a time of great suffering and loss, Jane was offered security in a loveless marriage to an idealistic clergyman who needed a wife for his missionary endeavours. After taking time to consider, Jane refused his offer. I still hear her words: “No, I cannot marry you. I have been loved.” I knew even then that Jane’s wisdom, her sure knowing, came from within her.

Through the next decades of my life, I explored inner wisdom, discovering through sources such as the writings of women mystics, feminist theologians, ancient stories, indigenous wisdom and Celtic Spirituality, the inner journey to wisdom.

Singing the Dawn is my way of sharing what I’ve come to know of this journey, guided by the Love that pervades the Universe and dwells within each of us.

I began with the questions: What if a seed survived from Brigid’s fifth-century monastery in Kildare, Ireland? What if that seed was planted in the ninth century by a follower of Brigid on an island off the west coast of Ireland? What if that seed grew into a Communion of Women that still exists today?

The story begins when a young woman from Canada, soul-starved for a spirituality that honours the wisdom of the natural world, embodied feminine wisdom, and her desire for self-fulfillment, is mysteriously drawn to this island beyond the ninth wave. Will she find what she longs for among these seven women each with her own tale of allurement to the Communion of Star of the Sea?

Singing the Dawn is a fictional tale offering soul nourishment for women as well as men who share these longings.  It is published by Borealis Press in Ottawa, Canada

http://www.borealispress.com/BookDetail/rid/1137/Singing%20the%20Dawn

Comments from Readers

This fascinating, intriguing and heart-warming tale of the return of the feminine Sophia…(puts) into words what I only intuited so many years ago, (bringing) home the drastic results that occur when the feminine is forgotten, ignored… Mother Earth is yearning to be recognized and revered as a sacred blessing in our time. Your story… is so timely and so needed today. Its publication will be a blessing and a healing for the future life of our planet and indeed, the entire universe. The Sacred Feminine has accompanied and led you in all the labyrinthine ways of your life story. Others now will be blessed and encouraged to be attentive to her Sacred Presence in their lives. Kathleen Lyons CSJ

I like how you handle the “overlap” of the magical islands…with glimpses of the “outer world” mentioned in quite realistic details: how supplies are brought in, the internet mentioned somewhere, Ohn’ya’s reflections on past memories.  It deepens the sense of wonder and mystery! I find Ohn’ya’s evolution believable and compelling in its unfolding through her varied experiences here on Rose’s island… you leave us/me desiring to know what the next step will be for Ohn’ya in her journey….though she’s reached a place of greater self-awareness.   Carol (Northeast New York State)

I am writing to you thru tears as I read again, and anew, your “Singing the Dawn.” It is beautiful. It flows like living waters.….(T)he narration of finding, being welcomed, by an image of divine in human form and being offered a drink of that living water spoke to the part of me that seeks to have such clarity of connection to the divine in all….the circle of women proclaiming their Source of living waters… there are many tributaries in my own life that I could write my story around — and it is a gift to recognize that, and be called to honor those flowing waters as I read your writing.  Gaynell (rural Connecticut)


I’ll pour myself a cup of mint tea, bake a little salmon with greens, saving the scone for later. I have enjoyed many meals, sunrise, sunsets, swims with Onya and the women. Your art as a writer WEAVES a tapestry calling forth all the senses. Along the way I am sensing a transformation…as your being becomes the loom, “A place where harmony dwells.” Singing the Dawn is a great myth, calling our aspects (in)…You have woven a wondrous tale. Suzanne (Chicago)

I am enjoying your book so much. It takes me to a calm place during a time that is filled with chaos, isolation and uncertainty.               Colleen (Ontario, Canada)

I felt I had stepped into another place and time as I entered the story. A place where I wanted to remain. I felt comforted by reading of not feeling the presence of the Lady for periods of time. I know how that feels. When I read your words I feel embraced. (Rosemary, Croton on Hudson, New York)

Through retreats, workshops, stories and plays, Anne Kathleen McLaughlin works with women who are seeking to discover the pattern of the Divine woven into the tapestry of their everyday lives. Her novels A Place Called Morning (2001), Planted in the Sky  (2006) and  Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (2013) are published by Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada.  http://borealispress.com

A member of the Community of the Grey Sisters in Pembroke, Canada Anne Kathleen holds a Master’s degree in Religious Communication /Pastoral Studies from Loyola University in Chicago.

Before Leaving the Rose Garden

For the past four weeks, we have been sitting at the feet of scholar and wise woman Anne Baring as she unfolded for us her research, her intuitions, her reflections on the Divine Feminine, especially as She is known in Judaism as the Shekinah. These teachings have been so rich and profound that they merit more than a brief reading. In preparing the four reflections, I spent many hours seeking to understand Anne Baring’s work, seeking a way to present her teachings so that you might also enter them with joy.

I invite you to spend time re-reading the Rose Garden pieces (below).

What do you hear the Sacred Feminine say to you?

What do you wish to say to her?

You may be blessed to receive a poem in which this Presence of Love speaks to you directly. Or you may be inspired to simply write your own words to this Sacred Presence. I offer you three examples:

Here’s the Dark Mother
by Peggy Rubin
I am the Voice in the whirlwind,
in the place others call, and experience as,
Chaos.
I am above, below, within the Chaos.
I am the darkness. And I am the One to seek when you need to source yourself in joy,
in peace, in turbulence.
But beyond, beyond, way beyond
the normal experience of darkness,
I invite you into the Darkness — beyond and before and after Time.
This is your Source, your Origin.
If things fall apart,
if you fall apart,
come into my all-holding embrace.
I am the energy that shapes and holds universes together.
Can I do any less for you?
There is pressure in my holding
and incalculable power — so
after a time of rest you may begin to feel the pressure
of new birth — persistent, insistent.
I who shape galaxies
do not hesitate to shape you —
fiercely, perhaps — but truly to your most
elegant and beautiful design.
Your design — like the galaxy —
is glorious to behold.
And in my vast darkness
I hold that pattern, and desire
you to recognize it, to become it.
You will not fly apart,
though it may feel like it.
I am holding you and
I am holding your becoming.

Black Madonna

Mother Wisdom Speaks

by Christin Lore Weber

“I am the maiden of joy. 


I am song in the wind and rain upon the rocks.

I am fair love and holy hope and the flight of the dove.

 I am earth, betrothed. I am mystical rose. 


I am the mother of mystery. 


I hold opposites together.

I birth children and sever the cord with my teeth.

Those I love I send away to their lives.

 I am the cauldron of fire and the cup of milk.

I am the two edged knife. 



”I am the old woman: I am the queen.


If you seek me you will find me everywhere.

I am the womb of wise blood.

I am the world’s crown. I am diamond. I am pearl.

 I shine with the wisdom of God.



”I am the circle of being.


I am glory — splendor of infinite life.

I am the spiral, the fullness of being, fully becoming,

 forever, world without end.”

~

Some of you I will hollow out.

I will make you a cave.

I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.

You will be a bowl.

You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain…

I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.

I will do this for the space that you will be.

I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.

People will find their way through you.

A bowl.

People will eat from you

and their hunger will not weaken them to death.

A cup to catch the sacred rain….

Light will flow in your hollowing.

You will be filled with light.

Your bones will shine.

The round open center of you will be radiant.

I will call you Brilliant One.

I will call you Daughter Who is Wide.

I will call you transformed.

(Originally published in “Circle of Mysteries: The Woman’s Rosary Book“, 

and “Woman Prayers” edited by Mary Ford-Gabowsky)

“In My Glad Hours” by Rainer Maria Rilke

In my glad hours, I will make a city of your smile, a distant city that shines and lives. I will take one word of yours to be an island on which birches stand, or fir trees, quite still and ceremonial. I will receive your glance as a fountain in which things can disappear and above which the sky trembles, both eager and afraid to fall in.

I will know that all of this exists, that one can enter this city, that I have glimpsed this island and know exactly when there is no one else beside that fountain. But if I appear to hesitate, it is because I am not sure whether it is the forest through which we are walking or my own mood that is shaded and dark. (Rilke: Early Journals)  

With what words will you respond to the Sacred Feminine or in what words will this Presence of Love address you? So that we may have a sharing on the Sophiawakens Blog next week before the summer break, please send your words/poetry/insights to me at this email address : amclaughlin@sympatico.ca 

Entering the Rose Garden Part Four

Where might we who yearn to find the lost Divine Feminine seek for her? Anne Baring concluded her presentation on the Shekinah with directions for our quest.

Her first suggestion will be familiar to us: The Biblical Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom. These we have encountered in our earlier exploration of Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s writings in The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature.  From this rich source, Anne Baring cites these examples:

In the Book of Proverbs (8: 23-31), Wisdom tells us she is the Beloved of God, with Him from the beginning, before the foundation of the world. She speaks from the deep ground of life as the hidden law which orders it and as the Craftswoman of creation. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo has painted her tucked into the crook of God’s arm. With their vivid imagery, these passages transform the idea of the Holy Spirit, speaking as Divine Wisdom, from abstract idea into living presence.

In the Book of Wisdom…Wisdom is described as sitting by the throne of the Lord in heaven (9:10) and is spoken of as the Holy Spirit (9:17).

Elsewhere, Wisdom speaks as though, like the Shekinah, she were here, in this dimension, dwelling with us in the midst of her kingdom, accessible to those who seek her out. She is unknown and unrecognized, yet working within the depths of life, striving to open our understanding to the divine reality of her presence, the sacredness of her creation, her justice, wisdom, love and truth. In the Book of Ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) Wisdom, perhaps recalling the time when she was honoured and worshipped in the First Temple, proclaims herself to be the soul and intelligence of the cosmos, rooted in tree, vine, earth and water and active in the habitations of humanity. She is the principle of justice that inspires human laws. She appeals to all those who are desirous of her to fill themselves with her fruits, “For my memorial is sweeter than honey, and mine inheritance than the honeycomb.” (24:20)

Anne Baring calls this “the language of the immanence of the Divine Feminine in the world”.  Anne continues: “To those who, like Solomon, prized her more highly than rubies, Wisdom was their wise and luminous guide.”

image of the Sacred Feminine by Marie Osos

I prayed and understanding was given me: I called upon God, and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me…I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light, for the light that cometh from her never goeth out…For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty… She is the brightness of the everlasting Light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodnessShe is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars: being compared with the Light, she is found before it… I loved her, and sought her out from my youth. I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty. (Wisdom of Solomon 7: 7,10, 25, 26, 29, 8:2).        

Anne Baring’s treasure map leads to another source where knowledge of the Shekinah may be found:

During the last fifty years or so, it has become increasingly clear that there was a great underground stream of human experience which flowed from the thriving city of Alexandria into several different channels—into the writings of the early Christian Gnostics discovered at Nag Hammadi, into the Hermetic Tradition and the later Alchemists, and the transmitters, both Jewish and Christian, of the ancient cosmology of Kabbalism. Hellenistic Egypt in the second and third centuries AD was the ultimate source of all these traditions yet we now know that the roots lie deeper, in the temple teachings of a far older time, whether in Palestine or Egypt. Alexandria was a Greek city, the meeting place of East and West – a vibrant crucible for the exchange of ideas and teachings between Egyptians, Greeks, Syrians and Jews, and also sages from far-away Persia and India….In Alexandria Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit was called Sophia –the Greek word for Wisdom – a name which descended to the time when the emperor Justinian built the great Christian Basilica in Constantinople called Hagia Sophia.  

The Gnostics were a group of early Christians, some descended from the Jews who fled Jerusalem in 70 AD following the destruction of the temple by the Romans. They claimed to have the secret teaching of Jesus, given by him to his closest disciples, including James and Mary Magdalene. There were many Gospels circulated among them in addition to the four we now know. One of these: “The Gospel of the Beloved Companion” attributed to Mary Magdalene, found its way to France from Alexandria in the First Century. This book has recently been translated from the Greek by Jehanne de Quillan.

Anne Baring quotes from Elaine Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels) on the fate of these other Gospels by the close of the second century AD: Every one of the secret texts which gnostic groups revered was omitted from the canonical collection, and branded as heretical by those who called themselves orthodox. By the time the process of sorting the various writings ended…virtually all the feminine imagery for God had disappeared from the orthodox Christian tradition.

As Anne Baring tells us, until 1977 with the publication of the texts discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, “no one knew that some groups of early Christians had an image of the Divine Mother whom they had named ‘The Invisible within the All.’”  

In the Christian era, the “further and final loss of the Divine Feminine” was brought about. In AD 325, the Church Council of Nicaea associated Wisdom with Christ as the Logos, the Divine Word. 

From this time the Christian image of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit became wholly identified with the masculine archetype.  The ancient connection between the Holy Spirit and the Divine Feminine was irrevocably and, for western civilization, tragically lost. The monotheism of the three Patriarchal religions has led to the situation today where the Earth is no longer viewed as sacred and we are confronted with the catastrophic effects of the loss of the Divine Feminine.      

     Anne Baring offers this question for our Reflection:

“What difference would there be in your life if the Shekinah-Sophia was a living presence for you?”

Entering the Rose Garden Part Three

Whatever their ways,

they are all in love with you,

Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden

Niyazi Misri

(This is the third Reflection based on the opening talk Anne Baring gave to Ubiquity University’s online course: “Madonna Rising” in August 2020. I am grateful to Anne Baring for making her lecture notes available to participants. Direct quotes are designated by quotation marks, or for longer sections, by the use of italics.)

The Feminine Face of the Godhead

In the mystical tradition of Judaism, the Shekinah or feminine face of the god-head is named as Cosmic Womb, Palace, Enclosure, Fountain, Apple Orchard and Mystical Garden of Eden. She is named as the architect of worlds, source or foundation of our world, also as the Radiance, Word or Glory of the unknowable ground or godhead. Text after text uses sexual imagery and the imagery of light to describe how the ray which emanates from the unknowable ground enters into the womb—the Great Sea of Light—of the Celestial Mother and how she brings forth the male and female creative energies which, as two branches of the Tree of Life, are symbolically King and Queen, Son and Daughter. A third branch of the Tree descends directly down the centre, unifying and connecting the energies on either side….The Heart centre of these three branches or pillars…is called Tiphareth.

As “the indwelling and active Holy Spirit”, the Shekinah is both “divine guide and immanent presence”. She it is who frees us from beliefs that separate us from our source, restoring the world to “union with the divine ground.” By bringing into being all that is ensouled by the divine source, “she generates the manifest world we know”, remaining here until “the whole creation is enfolded once again into its source.”

Image by Josephine Wall

Kabbalism sees “the divine Mother-Father image…expressed as the male and female of all species”.

Humanity, female and male, is therefore the expression of the duality-in-unity of the god-head. The Shekinah is forever united with her beloved Spouse in the divine ground or heart of being and it is their union in the god-head that holds life in a constant state of coming into being. Yet she is also present—here with us—in the material reality of our world. The sexual attraction between man and woman and the expression of true love between them is the enactment or reflection at this level of creation of the divine embrace at its heart that is enshrined in the cherished words of the Song of Songs: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”(6:3) Human sexual relationship, enacted with love, mutual respect and joy, is a sacred ritual that is believed to maintain the ecstatic union of the divine pair.

Dwelling as divine presence in all that is, the Shekinah assures that “nothing is outside spirit.”

In the radiance of that invisible cosmic Sea of Light, everything is connected to everything else as through a luminous circulatory system. Moreover, the Shekinah is deeply devoted to what she has brought into being, as a mother is devoted to the well-being of her child. All life on earth, all levels and degrees of consciousness, all forms of what we see and name as “matter” are the creation of the primal fountain of Light, and are therefore an expression of divinity.

The colours associated with the Shekinah are blue and gold. She is the ground of the human soul, its “light body”, its “outer garment, the physical body, and its animating spirit or consciousness.” The Shekinah is “the holy presence of the ‘glory of God’ within everyone.”

We, all of us, moving from unconsciousness and ignorance of this radiant ground to awareness of and relationship with it, live in her being and grow under her power of attraction until we are reunited with the source, discovering ourselves to be what in essence we always were but did not know ourselves to be—sons and daughters of God, living expressions of divine spirit.

Like Isis, widowed, mourning, searching for her beloved Osiris, the Shekinah wears a black robe. This signifies “the darkness of the mystery which hides the glory of her Light.” This imagery “was carried forward to the Black Madonna.”

The imagery of Kabbalism may also be discerned in fairy tales. The forgotten image of the Divine Feminine, the veiled Shekinah appears as the Fairy God-mother who “presides over her daughter’s transformation from soot-blackened drudge to royal bride”.

Might Cinderella represent, as Harold Bayley suggests in The Lost Language of Symbolism, “the human soul as it moves from ’rags to riches’.”

Cinderella’s three splendid dresses, which could be equated with the “robe of glory” of certain kabbalist and gnostic texts, represent the soul’s luminous sheaths or subtle bodies, as dazzling as the light of moon, sun and stars.

Just as the soot-blackened girl in the fairy tale puts on her three glorious dresses to reveal herself as she truly is, so does the human soul don these “robes of glory” as she moves from the darkness of ignorance into the revelation of her true nature and parentage.

Entering the Rose Garden Part Two

Tree of Life

Whatever their ways,

they are all in love with you,

Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden

Niyazi Misri

 Anne Baring finds in the richness of Kabbalistic teachings and traditions traces of the luminous period of the First Temple in Israel. Thanks to her generosity in making her lecture notes available to those who participated in Ubiquity University’s online program “Madonna Rises”, I have Anne Baring’s own words to rely on. Short quotes are in quotation marks, longer ones designated by the use of italics. 

Last week, we reflected on The Tree of Life as an image of the soul of the cosmos. “Every aspect of creation, both visible and invisible, is interconnected and interwoven with every other aspect.” In the Tree of Life there exists “one cosmic symphony”.

The Tree of Life is no hierarchical descent from invisible to visible. Rather it is “an image of worlds nesting within worlds, dimensions within dimensions emanating…from within outwards…the tapestry of relationships which connect invisible spirit with the visible fabric of this world…. At the innermost level is the unknowable source or god-head, at the outermost the physical forms of matter.”

And who or where are we in this “one unified web of life: one energy, one spirit, one single cosmic entity”?   

Anne Baring responds: “According to this Tradition, we are, each one of us, that life, that energy, that spirit.”

There is something still more wonderful: an intermediary between “the unknowable source” and “the physical forms of matter”: the Shekinah:

The Shekinah is the image of the Divine Feminine or the Feminine Face of God as it was conceived in this mystical tradition of Judaism. In the image and cosmology of the Shekinah, we encounter the most complete description of Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit as the indissoluble relationship between the two primary aspects of the god-head that have been lost or hidden for centuries.

The Shekinah- the feminine co-creator- is the Voice or Word of God, the Wisdom of God, the Glory of God, the Compassion of God, the Active Presence of God: intermediary between the mystery of the unknowable source or ground and this world of its ultimate manifestation.

The concept of the Shekinah as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit ….transmutes all creation, including the apparent insignificance and ordinariness of everyday life, into something to be loved, embraced, honoured and celebrated because it is the epiphany or shining forth of the divine intelligence and love that has brought it into being and dwells hidden within it.

The elimination of the image of the Great Mother took away from us the concept that “the whole of nature was ensouled with spirit and therefore sacred”. People living through the millennia of Patriarchal religions lost “their age-old sense of participation in a Sacred Order.”

The Shekinah, named as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit- divinity present and active in the world- supplies the missing imagery of divine immanence which is absent from Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And this mystical tradition brings together heaven and earth, the divine and the human, in a coherent and seamless vision of their essential relationship.

How would the recovery of the Shekinah as the feminine aspect of the god-head, as Mother, Beloved, Sister and Bride transform our image of God? of Nature? of ourselves?

Anne Baring states that “the Shekinah gives woman what she has lacked throughout the last two thousand years in western civilization—a sacred image of the Divine Feminine that is reflected at the human level in herself.”

Yet prior to this in the ancient world Wisdom was always associated with the image of a Goddess: Inanna in Sumeria, Isis and Ma’at in Egypt, Athena in Greece… Anne Baring celebrates the recovery of these ancient images with the even greater richness of the Shekinah’s role in the web of Life:

The Bronze Age imagery of the Great Goddesses returns to life in the extraordinary beauty and power of the descriptions of the Shekinah, and in the gender endings of nouns which describe the feminine dimension of the divine. But the Divine Feminine is now defined as a limitless connecting web of life, as the invisible Soul of the Cosmos, as the intermediary between the unknowable god-head and life in this dimension. The Shekinah brings together heaven and earth, the invisible and visible dimensions of reality in a resplendent vision of their essential relationship and union.

Another aspect of this tradition preserves the image from the Bronze Age of the Sacred Marriage. Rather than a Father God there is a Mother-Father who are “one in their eternal embrace, one in their ground, one in their emanation, one in their ecstatic and continual act of creation  through all the dimensions they bring into being and sustain.”

Ann Baring comments:

From the perspective of divine immanence, there is no essential separation between spirit and nature or spirit and matter.  

In a burst of poetic praise, Anne Baring adds:

No other cosmology offers the same breath-taking vision in such exquisite poetic imagery of the union of male and female energies in the One that is both.

Not surprisingly, the kabbalists, in contemplating the mystery of this divine union, turned for inspiration to “The Song of Songs”.

Entering the Rose Garden

Whatever their ways,

they are all in love with you,

Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden

Niyazi Misri

For seven days in mid-August, 2020, I spent time in an ancient Rose Garden, an imaginal space engineered by ZOOM, offered by Ubiquity University. The garden was peopled by scholars, archaeologists of the soul, dancers, storytellers, musicians, poets and mystics. Their great task is recovering, and offering to those who hunger for it, the knowledge and awareness of the Divine Feminine.

When COVID made Ubiquity’s fourteen-year tradition of a summer program in the Chartres Cathedral of France impossible, Madonna Rising took its place. More than one hundred participants joined in from countries across the planet. The central image for the program was the Mystical Rose, a title honouring the Sacred Feminine in ancient cultures, such as Egypt and Sumeria. Later, that title was given to Mary, Mother of Jesus.  

On Day One we were greeted by Banafsheh Sayyad from her home in Southern California. Over the following days, Banafsheh would lead us in sacred dance, inviting us to open our lives to the Divine Feminine Presence. Banafsheh introduced the theme of Madonna Rising by offering a Prophecy from the Cherokee Nation:

The bird of humanity has two great wings – a masculine wing and a feminine wing. The masculine wing has been fully extended for centuries, fully expressed, while the feminine wing in all of us has been truncated, not yet fully expressed – half extended. So the masculine wing in all of us has become over-muscular and over-developed and in fact violent. The bird of humanity has been flying in circles for hundreds and hundreds of years, held up only fully by the masculine wing…

In the 21st century, however, something remarkable will happen. The feminine wing in all of us will fully extend and find its way to express and the masculine wing will relax in all of us and the bird of humanity will soar.

From her desk, Banafsheh lifted a rose. It appeared to move off- screen to be received by Anne Baring, seated in her home in England.

In the first of her trilogy of presentations, Anne would begin to tell the tale of how the bird of humanity lost the power of gracious flight in its feminine wing. Author of Dream of the Cosmos (Archive Publishing, Dorset, England, 2013) as well asThe Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, (1992) Anne delves for light in history, following paths not yet made, seeking the story that came before the story in pursuit of clarity about so much that has been lost to us.

Was there a story that preceded the 6th c. BCE Creation Story in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible? And if so, how was it lost? Here is what Anne’s research found:

I loved her more than health or beauty,

preferred her to the light,

since her radiance never sleeps.

(The Book of Wisdom, 7:10 Jerusalem Bible)

Solomon, to whom the Book of Wisdom is ascribed, built the First Temple in Jerusalem in the tenth century BCE. In the time of the First Temple, Israel had an ancient, shamanic, visionary tradition. Divine Wisdom was worshipped in this First Temple as the Goddess Asherah, the consort of Yahweh and the co-creator of the world with him. In this tradition the Tree of life was associated with Wisdom, Queen of Heaven.

Anne then told us how all this changed:

In 621 BC, in the reign of King Josiah, a powerful group of priests called Deuteronomists took control of the Temple….  The Deuteronomists had the statue of the Goddess Asherah and the great Serpent, image of her power to regenerate life, removed from the Temple and destroyed. Her Sacred Groves were cut down. All images of her were broken. The ancient shamanic rituals of the High Priest which had honoured and communed with the Queen of Heaven as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit were banished and replaced by new rituals based on obedience to Yahweh’s Law. The vital communion with the inner dimensions of reality was lost; the making of images was forbidden.

(As I listened to this, I felt something inside me twist in pain. More even than the destruction of her images, the cutting down of the trees sacred to the Goddess wrenched my heart.)

Anne spoke of the long-lasting effects of this rupture:

This is the crucially important time when I think it is possible to say that the whole foundation of Jewish and later Christian civilization became unbalanced. The Deuteronomists ensured that Yahweh was the sole Creator God. The Feminine co-creator, the Goddess Asherah, was eliminated. The Divine Feminine aspect of the god-head was banished from orthodox Judaism. The Deuteronomists went further: they demoted the Queen of Heaven – Mother of All Living – into the human figure of Eve, bestowing this title upon her. They created the Myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis (2 & 3), with its message of sin, guilt and banishment from the Garden of Eden, severing the Tree of Life from its ancient association with the Queen of Heaven.

Anne Baring suggests that the “heritage seeds’’ of the First Temple’s teaching were somehow preserved in the Jewish traditions of Kabbalism:

It seems highly significant that one of the most important images of Kabbalism is the Tree of Life, which is a clear and wonderful concept describing the web of relationships which connect invisible spirit with the fabric of life in this world. At the innermost level or dimension of reality is the unmanifest, unknowable Divine Ground; at the outermost the physical forms we call nature, body and matter.  Linking the two is the archetypal template of the Tree of Life— an inverted tree— whose branches grow from its roots in the divine ground and extend through many invisible worlds or dimensions until they reach this one.

Anne describes this cosmology as one where

Every aspect of creation, both visible and invisible, is interconnected and interwoven with every other aspect. All is one life, one cosmic symphony, one integrated whole. We participate, at this material level of creation, in the divine life which informs all these myriad levels of reality. Our human lives are therefore inseparable from the inner life of the Cosmos.

The Kabbalistic tradition is “vitally important” Anne says, because it celebrates…the indissoluble relationship and union between the feminine and masculine aspects of the god-head—a sacred union which the three Patriarchal religions have ignored or deliberately rejected.

I will end this excerpt from Anne Baring’s first talk with a statement she makes that is both stark and striking in its clarity:

If we want to understand the deep roots of our present environmental and spiritual crisis, we can find them in the loss of three important elements: the feminine image of spirit, the direct shamanic path of communion with spirit through visionary and shamanic experience, and the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine aspect of the God-head and the Divine Ground. Each of these was an intrinsic aspect of the lost traditions and practices of the First Temple.

(to be continued)