Category Archives: Joseph Campbell

Waiting in Darkness

 

The ancient ritual of the Easter Vigil lures me after an absence of several years. The parish church doors open to invite us into the Phrygian darkness of night. We stand scrunched together at the back, among friends whose faces we cannot see, whose voices we do not hear. Then comes the flaring forth of vermilion flame as the Easter fire is birthed from flint. It could be the flaring forth of light at the dawn of this Universe, the primordial moment that the physicists cannot yet grasp.

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The priest uses the new fire to light the great Paschal Candle which stands taller than he does. He intones the ancient chant: three notes rising: “Christ our Light.” From the single flame, the candles held by all who have gathered this night bloom with yellow light, creating a halo that reveals each face. “Christ our Light”.

A cantor sings the “Exultet” the Hymn of Praise to the Risen Christ, echoing the words of Paul: “What good would life have been to us if Christ had not risen?”

Seven Readings follow from the Hebrew Scriptures, telling the old, old tales….

And this is where I begin to feel discomfort. I who love stories, the older the better, find myself rejecting the Genesis account of creation. Once I could overlook its scientific inaccuracies, defend them to others as poetry, not truth. But tonight I am comparing this account with the enchantment of the 13.8 billion year story of the unfolding, evolving, unfinished Universe.

I feel something like revulsion for this strange god who creates man in his own image, adding a woman only for the man’s sake, an after-thought, giving these latecomers dominion over all of life on our planet while forbidding them to eat the fruit of the tree that would give them wisdom.

Finally, pleased with himself, this god decides to take a day off.

When we meet him in the next reading, this god is asking Abraham to make a blood sacrifice of his only son. After the agony he puts the father through (no mention of Sarah, the mother), he says, “I was only testing you…”

As Moses and his people are fleeing from Egypt, this god “covers himself in glory” by drowning a people who were among the wisest who ever lived….

Who is this god?
I do not know him.

Joseph Campbell writes of him as a “local desert god”, a “thunder-hurler”. 1

Indo-European deities encountering warrior gods tended to have their goddesses marry the male gods. Campbell notes that this did not happen among the Semites who ruthlessly obliterated the local goddesses. He points out that a religious tradition with a father god but no mother god is one where we are separate from God, where God is separate from us, from nature. This is a God who is “out there” rather than within us. To find this God we need religious structures, laws, authorities. We are separated from nature, distrusting, even despising our own bodies. Beauty is itself suspect, a distraction, a seduction.

Still in the candle-lit darkness, I am working myself into a state of high dudgeon, wondering why I came, when the tone of the readings alters.

I begin to hear words of undeniable tenderness. I remember why for so many years my favourite biblical passages were the Hebrew prophets who knew, must have experienced, a Presence of Divine Love, what Julian of Norwich calls a Mothering God.

Isaiah invites all who thirst to come to the waters, to come without need of money for what the heart desires…

Hosea’s voice calls back from the desert an abandoned, heartbroken lover.

The seventh reading from the Hebrew Scriptures begins, one I do not recognize, do not remember having heard before.

I listen to words that tell of a presence who guides, who brings light and joy, when we follow… HER.
What is this?
It is the writing of the prophet Baruch.

Later, at home, I find the passage in my Jerusalem Bible:

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
Hear and learn what knowledge means.
…….
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.
But who has found out where she lives,
Who has entered her treasure house?
…..
Who has ever climbed the sky and caught her
To bring her down from the clouds?
Who has ever crossed the ocean and found her
To gain her back in exchange for the finest gold?
No one knows the way to her,
No one can discover the path she treads.
But the One who knows all knows her… 2

 

And now we are hearing Paul’s words of promise, of hope, of assurance of our own Resurrection: Paul who never met the earthbound Jesus, who was hurled from his horse when the Risen Christ called his name, who fell in love with the Unseen One and spent the rest of his life carrying his message to others, who did not disdain to tell them he was in labour until Christ was born in them.

Suddenly the dark is rent by an eruption of light everywhere, flowers making a garden of the sanctuary, bells ringing. Two clear soprano voices lift in a duet sung in the pure tones of angels, “He is Risen. He is Risen.”

After the Celebration of the Easter Eucharist, I greet my friends, set off in the rain for home, awash in questions…. slowly I let them settle in me.

I remember Teilhard’s understanding that we live in an unfinished universe. We each have a part to play in bringing it nearer to completion. I recommit to my calling to invite others to join me in providing a space, a place, for the Sacred Feminine to dwell, embodied within us.

References:

1. Joseph Campbell Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (New World Library, Novato, California, 2013) p.xxii and pp. 86-87

2. Baruch 3: 9, 14, 15, 29-32

 

Encounter with Sophia in Egypt

It is nearly two years since I began to write these weekly blogs about the Awakening of Sophia, the Sacred Feminine Presence. This awakening is happening in many different ways, in many different places around our planet, among people of many religious backgrounds as well as people who have no connection with any formal religion. The awakening is pervasive, subtle, invitational, gentle, powerful, loving, alluring… it slips the bonds of theology, psychology, sociology. It is too elusive for formal religions to catch hold of it, to define or tame it.

 

Yet for those who open their hearts to its call, for those who listen with trust, who begin to follow its gentle guidance, its winding pathways, this awakening is blossoming into a relationship of loving, co-creative partnership with a Sacred Presence. This presence has been known on our Earth for Millennia. Though she was forgotten for a time, she is returning in our time because we need her and she needs us. Her Time is Now.

 

Joseph Campbell, writing of the presence the Sacred Feminine, notes that:
By the time of the birth of Christ, there was an exchange, not only of goods, but also of beliefs, throughout the civilized world. The principal shrine of the Goddess at that time in the world of the Near East was Ephesus, now in Turkey, where her name and form were of Artemis; and it was there, in that city, in the Year of our Lord 431, that Mary was declared to be what the Goddess had been from before the first tick of time: Theotokos (Mother of God).

Campbell adds this compelling question:

And is it likely, do you think, after all her years and millennia of changing forms and conditions, that she is now unable to let her daughters know who they are? (in Goddesses :“Mysteries of the Feminine Divine” p. xxvi; Copyright Joseph Campbell Foundation, New World Library, Novato Calif. 2013)

It is time now for me to begin to share with you my own journey with this Sacred Feminine Presence. The startling overture came by way of a Journey to Egypt. Here is the story:

It is night. It is always night when a story is told. But this night is part of the story, envelops and transforms it, embraces the ending.

The room holds the darkness gently, the darkness holds the woman. The room watches her as she stands alone, holding in her outstretched hands a crown of mithril silver laced with emerald. The woman bows before the image of Isis, then places the crown on the head of the Queen of Earth and Heaven. The room does not see Isis or the silver shimmer of the crown. It sees only the woman. It has seen so many others come and go. The room sighs, feeling bored, unaware of the story, unimpressed with its quiet ending.

 

 

image of goddess Isis

image of the Goddess Isis

To find the beginning, leave the dark room, go back three months, take the stairway to the left. On the second floor, follow the corridor signed “Sisters’ Residence”. Halfway along, on the left side, enter the room where a woman sits alone. It is years, decades, since she has lived in her community’s central house. The days and weeks before she can return to her quiet house by the river stretch before her like a featureless desert.

 

“I need an adventure,” she says aloud, and before the words have ceased to bounce in the room’s quiet, her eyes have found what she needs. On the shelf above her writing desk, sitting among the dozen volumes she has brought with her, is a book about Ancient Egypt, written by her guide and teacher, Jean Houston: The Passion of Isis and Osiris: Gateway to Transcendent Love . The woman reaches for the book, surprised by its weight in her hand, opens it. There is a soft sucking noise as all the air in the room vanishes and the light disappears.

 

The passageway is dark, the air thick with dust and something much older. The woman is aware of the need for caution, but she feels no fear. Someone is walking beside her and though she cannot see the face, she knows the voice of her guide who whispers, “Hurry. The storyteller is waiting.”

 

Amber light draws them forward into a small cave-like room. Some dozen others, children, women and men, are seated in a circle around a wizened woman robed entirely in red. The old one smiles as they enter, gesturing towards cushions on the floor.

The storyteller lifts her head, closes her eyes and begins to speak in a voice both intimate and eons away, as though she is reading a story painted on the walls of a royal tomb in Ancient Egypt. Her words fall like bright jewels upon the room’s silence.

There is at first only One, Atum, the Perfect One.
But Atum is lonely, and creates the story.
Atum makes Air and Wetness, Earth and Sky.
Geb, the Earth and Nut, the Sky become lovers.
Nut gives birth to Ra, the sun
and Thoth, the silver moon.

The guide whispers that they must leave now. “Write down all that you saw and heard and understood. In the morning, go outside while it is still dark. You must see the sunrise.”
Then she is gone and the woman steps out of the book, back to her room.

 

Next morning, the sky is still black as the woman walks outside. A suffused light swallows the darkness. The woman feels both expectant and unsure, as people must have felt as they waited for the dawn millennia ago. It has come before, but can she be certain it will come again? Light is embracing the earth, drawing trees, low bushes, the tall flowers into silhouette. Earth herself waits, as the woman waits, hopeful, patient. And then it comes, a sliver of fire in the eastern sky, a vermillion burning. The woman and the earth together move under its passionate presence. It fills their gaze with rose red rapture. This is Holy, the woman thinks, for the first time. She looks around the mist-soaked morning and wonders how anyone could despair, as she herself so often does.

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She goes indoors, makes coffee, hurries to her room, climbs back into the book.

(to be continued)

Coming to Know Sophia

I have been enchanted in these summer weeks by the book Goddesses:”Mysteries of the Feminine Divine” (New World Library, Novato, California,2013) a compilation of lectures, articles and workshops offered by the late Joseph Campbell, mostly in the 1980’s. In all the richness Campbell offers from ancient mythology throughout time and around the planet, there is but one brief reference to the Hebrew Scriptures, the source book for Muslims, Jews and Christians:

 

The biblical and  Goddess traditions were radically against each other, and while the biblical has remained the authorized tradition, there has been in European culture this waterway of the living Mother Earth flowing underneath. In the Old Testament, we read in early Genesis: “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”. Well, the Earth is not dust, the earth is life, vital, and this intrusive god who comes in late, wanting to take everything over to himself, he denigrates the Earth itself and calls it dust? What he tells you there is, “You really are your mother’s child and you’ll go back to her. She’s nothing but dust, however.” Similarly, you read in Genesis 1:1 , “When God created, the breath (or Spirit) of the Lord brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say he created the waters. The waters are the Goddess — she was there first.

Turn to Proverbs and there she comes back as the wisdom goddess Sophia, and she says, “When he prepared the heavens, I was there.” She says it. What you have is the same old mythology that the Babylonians and the Sumerians had of two powers, the female and the male power in tension, relationship and creative co-action. But what happened in the Bible was that the male power was anthropomorphized in the form of a man and the female power was reduced to an elemental condition — just water. It says, “God’s breath brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say the waters of the Goddess, it just says the waters. She’s screened out, but she always comes back. (pp.234-5)

In these words of Joseph Campbell, I find the heart of my work, the inspiration which led me to begin this blog in October of 2014: the intuition that Sophia/ the Divine Feminine Presence is rising in and among us. Her awakening is the underlying theme of all I write.

In her book, Praying with the Women Mystics, (Columba Press, Ireland, 2006) Mary T.Malone offers us a poem in Sophia’s voice, based on Proverbs 8:27-31:

When God established the heavens I, 

Sophia, WomanGod, was there.

When God drew a circle on the face of the deep,

When God assigned to the sea its limit…

When God marked out the foundations of the earth,

There I was beside Him like a master-worker.

And I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before Him always,

Rejoicing in the inhabited world 

And delighting in the human race. 

 

Sophia is present within all that lives, the beating heart of the planet. We glimpse “Sophia in Splendour” in this poem of Mary Malone’s, based on Wisdom: 7:26-8:11

For Sophia is the splendour of eternal light
And immaculate mirror of God’s majesty,
And image of God’s goodness…
For she is more beautiful than the sun,
And above all the order of the stars.
Compared with the light, she is found before it…
Therefore she reaches from end to end mightily
And orders all things sweetly.

Jean Houston in her book Godseed  takes us on an imaginal  “Visit to the Sophia”:

After a long spiraling journey upwards, you find yourself at the very top of a high mountain. You go inside the mountain to a path that travels downward in a spiral. Moving along the path down and around within the inner mountain spiral, you pass scenes of your own life, from your earliest infancy. You see or sense yourself being born. Continuing on the path down and around, to your earliest childhood, you see yourself taking your first steps, forming words, reaching out and grasping things, learning to feed yourself. Further down you see yourself learning to tie your own shoes and attending your first days at school. Continuing down, you see yourself learning games and reaching out to other children. As you continue, you see yourself growing up fast and learning many things. You see your adolescence. Further along you observe stages of your life until today………..

Suddenly you find yourself at the very bottom of the inside of the mountain. There you discover a door of baked mud. Going through it, you find that it leads to a hallway and to a door of water. You pass through the door of water, and it leads to a door of fire. You pass through the door of fire, and it leads to a door of winds. You lean against the winds and pass through. This door leads to a door of bronze, and you pass through. This door leads to a door of silver. You pass through the door of silver and find a door of gold.

At the door of gold there is a shining figure who says to you: “Through this door is the Sophia. Through this door is the Wise One herself, the incarnation of Wisdom. When you pass through this door, you will be in the presence of the Sophia. There you must ask your question. You may see her or you may sense her. But know that she is there. She who is Wisdom itself.” When you are in her ambience, whether you see her or hear her or sense her or feel her, ask your question. Her answers may come in words or in images or even in feelings.

You now have four minutes of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to be in the presence of the Sophia and ask your question and receive her answers.

Thanking the Sophia for her wisdom and kindness, and knowing that you can always return to visit her again, begin now to go back through the door of gold, the door of silver, the door of bronze, beyond the doors of winds, of fire, of water, of earth, beyond the spiral of the stages of your own life, reaching the top of the mountain. Now take the spiral path back down from the mountain. Find yourself here in this moment, in the Garden of Iona. Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish, write your experiences in a journal or make a drawing or sketch of what you found with the Sophia…

 

The Greek Journey Six: Our Story

It is afternoon on the day when we wakened early to watch the eclipse of the Blood Moon on Mount Pelion in Greece. The magic still lingers. The eclipse had looked like great branches of light, inviting us, as Jean had said, into the next level of our human becoming, activating our essential humanness as it moves to its next possibility.

Now we are about to explore our lives, to see them as heroic journeys, to discover that next level of our human becoming, that next possibility that awaits.

Massive branches hover protectively above us as we gather beneath the ancient plane tree in the courtyard of St. Paraskevi Church. The tree is older than the story we are about to hear, older than the storyteller, older than the listeners.

P1000660Jean is going to take us through the story of “The Wizard of Oz”, to illustrate the stages of the heroic journey, using the framework created by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The first stage is the call. In the film version of the story we see Dorothy in a dying wasteland, living on a farm in a dust bowl with an aunt and uncle as grey as their home, so focused on counting their chickens that they cannot hear Dorothy’s cries for help. The only life in the scene is Toto and when he is threatened by Miss Gulch, Dorothy becomes desperate, longing for a new place, a place of safety and happiness, “somewhere over the rainbow”.

But Miss Gulch arrives and takes Toto away. When the little dog escapes, Dorothy determines they must run away. They don’t get far. Professor Marvel receives them with kindness and understanding, then urges Dorothy to return as her Aunt Em is sick with worry over her…That might have been the end of Dorothy’s search for a new life… the end of longing, the refusal of a call that feels impossible….But then comes the twister, the twist of fate that knocks her on the head, picks up the house and carries it with Dorothy and Toto inside it, to Oz.

So this is where our journey begins: the call to leave a way of life that we have outgrown, followed by a refusal… because we can’t find our way or we don’t feel ready or we must put it off until we have placated Aunt Em….
Then fate steps in and, ready or not, we are on our way!

What emotional or psychological twisters have you brought on yourself in order to get away from Kansas?….Taking on a twister is what human beings often do to get from here to there. And sometimes twisters just arrive on their own steam.” (Jean Houston in The Power of Myth and Living Mythically pp.183-4)

What call allures us now? What are our reasons for refusing?

Meeting the Guide, Crossing the Threshold

In the heroic journey, following the hearing and refusal of the call, Joseph Campbell found that the hero(ine) was given a guide, a supernatural helper to assist in crossing the threshold, which was guarded by a fierce presence. Arriving in Oz, Dorothy meets Glinda, the wise friend who can guide her steps in this wondrous strange land.

Glinda is the archetype of the benign protector, a figure who appears in all myths. It is a figure that lives in everyone. In fact, look inside now and ask for your Protector to come forward. You may feel or sense their presence in many ways….You can even begin by imagining a radiant bubble of light coming toward you, and then opening up to reveal…who?” (Jean Houston in The Power of Myth and Living Mythically p.187)

Glinda will be Dorothy’s protector from the ferocious witch who is determined to punish the girl who killed her sister by dropping a house upon her. In addition to Glinda, Dorothy will gather three more allies: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion who will assist her in what has become her quest: to find her way home, even as Dorothy offers to assist each of them in his quest.

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