Category Archives: Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Sophia by Another Name

On  September 8th, Christians honour the Birth of Mary, nine months after the Feast of her Immaculate Conception. Those of us who grew up with Mary as the focus of our prayers and filial love may by now have grown into a more complex understanding of this woman who carried for us the face of the Feminine Divine.

Over recent weeks, we have been exploring the presence of Sophia in our lives, especially as she reveals herself in the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. Has Wisdom-Sophia  become entangled for you in a good and holy way with Mary of Nazareth?

This is deep mystery, as well as a reflection of our human need to name what we experience. I believe there is a presence of sacred feminine energy that holds us in an embrace of love, cares profoundly and personally for each one of us and is willing to respond when we call to her.

Three years ago, on September 8th, I was sitting at my computer to compose reflections on Sophia. An email arrived from Barbara Bizou, a spiritual teacher living in New York City whom I had met at Jean Houston’s July 2012 Manhattan Mystery School. During that session, Barbara, whose Spiritual Tradition is Jewish, spoke with me of Brigid’s fire and the waters of rebirth. Together we engaged in a powerful ritual of reconciliation of our two traditions.

In that September 2015 email, Barbara recalled being in Paris fourteen years earlier at the time of the 9/11 attacks:

In this time of existential uncertainty, it’s often difficult to trust that the Divine has placed us exactly where we are meant to be. On September 10, 2001, I arrived in Paris for a holiday with one of my dearest friends. I awoke on 9/11 with a sense of foreboding and anxiety, which was unusual in one of my most favorite cities in the world. Sharing this with my friend Elynor Johnson, who felt a similar sense of uneasiness, we decided to distract ourselves by window-shopping. But after twenty minutes of aimless gazing, we realized we needed to ground our energy. What called us was the chapel Notre-Dame de la Medaille dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. For me, this has always been a Temple to the Divine Feminine. As we sat and prayed and meditated, the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

Reading her words, I was touched to know that a chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, is for Barbara “a Temple to the Divine Feminine”.  I smiled, knowing I was reading this on Mary’s birthday.

Other writers have sought to untangle the Mystery of Mary. Here is Carol P. Christ, in The Laughter of Aphrodite:

…the Virgin Mary inherits many of the aspects of the Virgin Goddesses and functions as Goddess to many of her worshippers. Throughout the Near East, Europe and Latin America, churches to the Virgin Mary were built as places holy to the Goddess. Though she is not prominent in the New Testament, the myths and imagery surrounding her grew as the Goddesses were finally suppressed in Christian Culture. To the Greeks, she is Panaghia, which means simply, “the All Holy”….

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Jean Markale writes in his Women of the Celts:

Within the patriarchal framework (goddesses) were often obscured, tarnished and deformed, and submerged into the depth of the unconscious. But they do still exist, if only in dormant state, and sometimes rise triumphantly to rock the supposedly immovable foundations of masculine society. The triumph of Yahweh and Christ was believed sanctified forever, but from behind them reappears the disturbing and desirable figure of the Virgin Mary with her unexpected names: Our Lady of the Water, Our Lady of the Nettles, Our Lady of the Briars, Our Lady of the Mounds, Our Lady of the Pines…. Our Lady of the Night. (p. 86)

Those titles that Markale recalls, water, briars, pines, are the sacred things of earth.

Star of the Sea. Guidance in the deep places within. Mystical Rose. There is a litany of sacred names given to Mary. As children many of us learned these names by heart.

While visiting Egypt, I was astonished and delighted to learn that millennia before Mary of Nazareth. the goddess Isis was honoured with many of these same titles. Over time as Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, the sacred names were transferred to Mary.

We may choose to name this loving presence as we wish. She will not be bound by a name. Given the mystery that surrounds her presence, we may choose to call her Our Lady of the Night, and simply be at peace in her mystery. Her loving presence in our lives is what matters.

The sacred feminine presence needs us as her partners in the great tasks of our time, calling us to co-create with her, to experience directly the power for good that she works within us when we open ourselves to her.

In the voice of the Sealwoman in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ story: “Sealskin, Soulskin”, she reminds us:

I am always with you. Only touch what I have touched… and I will breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.

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Mother Moon: Sophia Within You

Have you been experiencing  your own journey into Wisdom? Have you sometimes heard or felt or intuited a wise voice, a loving presence within you? Like you, I also caught glimpses of a sacred holy presence for whom I had no name, about whom I knew nothing.

I first learned of her indirectly, in an English folktale called “Dead Moon” in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ retelling, “Stolen Mother Moon”. In Estes’ version, Mother Moon, who passionately loves her people in a small English village, learns that some of them are being destroyed by the evil creatures who dwell in a muddy moat that surrounds the village. She determines to come to earth to find out what is happening, and one night, wrapping her brilliance in a dark cloak, she sets out to cross the bog. The evil creatures trap her, beat her to death, bury her deep in the bog, rolling a great stone over the place.

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Bereft at the loss of her guiding light, especially on nights when they must cross the dark swamp, the villagers set out to find Mother Moon. After long seeking, guided by a tiny light seeping around it, they find the stone that marks the place where she is buried. They manage to roll the stone away, then watch in wonder as a radiant woman looks upon them with great love before rising into the night sky.

I came upon this story at a time in my life when I felt very much alone, without guidance. I longed for someone to mother my adult years with love, to show me the way through the uncertain pathways that were opening before me. The Moon became a symbol for me of the love and the guidance for which I longed. Slowly, as I worked with the story, guided by the Jungian teachings of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, I learned to look for Mother Moon within myself, to begin to grow an inner mother. This I could do by being a kind mother to myself.

How radical that advice seemed to me, schooled as I was in ignoring my needs and desires, in distrusting the lure of what I longed for, in believing discomfort and suffering must be born heroically. Schooled as I was, in fact, in the masculine way of endurance, of striving after perfection.

To be invited, even advised, to grow an inner mother, to be taught that the way was through kindness and caring towards oneself, seemed revolutionary to me. But so great was my need that I began in earnest to practice self-care, kindness. Slowly, slowly, slowly over time a compassionate inner voice began to replace my harsh inner critic. Slowly, over time, I began to feel loved. I began to experience the wise guidance of an inner mother.

But not always. And this is the deep wisdom of the story of Mother Moon. Though we may invite a sacred mother, a holy feminine presence, to make her home within us, there will be times when she will seem to be absent, when we are left in the dark, feeling alone.

We muddle through at such times as best we can. We remember how we are, without her presence. And we do not risk dangerous journeys into the muddy depths of our own souls without her.

Her light within us is a great gift. A treasure. Of all that I have heard or read of this inner presence, I like best the words of Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish woman who wrote so compellingly of her faith journey. She was just twenty-nine years old when she died in Auswitch in 1943.

Here are words Etty Hillesum wrote shortly before her death:

I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves.  And in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.

 To return to the story of the buried moon. Did you recognize it as one of the great life/death/life stories? The loving Moon, drawn to her people’s suffering, walks into the dark bog where they are being attacked and devoured? Over the years since I first heard this story, it has become clear to me that the Moon must have known the danger she faced in coming to earth, must have taken the risk willingly, out of love.

She was beaten, murdered, buried. A great stone was rolled across her grave.

And then she rose, radiant, loving.

There is still more for us to consider. Can you imagine how perplexed the villagers were when they first determined to seek out the Moon? They had no idea where to begin.

As you yourself must have observed, when the Holy One who loves you is nowhere to be found, when you cannot possibly climb upwards to the sacred sky to seek her, you must instead look deep within yourself. Look into the dark, unpleasant, noisome, hidden recesses of your soul, the very place you are most reluctant to look. For that is where she may be waiting.

I am beginning to understand that the story of Mother Moon tells of the way the feminine aspect of God has been buried deep over the millennia, hidden, with a great stone of masculine power firmly placed on top to prevent her rising. But the stone has at last been rolled away.

The Moon is rising in the hearts and souls and spirits of you and me, in all the women and men who long for her return.

How may11207377_1057164617646842_3761611266869826195_n we assist in her rising?