Category Archives: Sacred Feminine

Engaging with the Dark Mother

Each of us began our life on this planet in darkness, within our mother’s womb. The planet herself, our Earth, emerged out of an almost fourteen billion year process that began in primordial darkness. When we speak of the Sacred feminine Presence, however we name her, we know intuitively that she is part of the fruitful darkness that is needed for every new birthing.

Black Madonna at Holy Wisdom Monastery (2)

Statue of the Black Madonna: Holy Wisdom Monastery Chapel in Wisconsin

In recent weeks we have been reading and reflecting upon the gift of darkness in our lives, on our call to “do our work” in the birthing of new life, however it must come, in the darkness of our lives, of our time on this planet.

To last week’s urgings from Helen Luke and Sylvia Senensky, we add the call to deep work given to us by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Her name for this Dark Feminine  presence is “Wild Woman”:

“The wild force of our soul-psyches is shadowing us for a reason. There is a saying from medieval times that if you are in a descent and pursued by a great power — and if this great power is able to snag your shadow, then you too shall become a power in your own right.

“The great wild force of our own psyches means to place its paw on our shadows, and in that manner she claims us as her own.  Once the Wild Woman snags our shadows, we belong to ourselves again, we are in our own right environ and our rightful home.

“Most women are not afraid of this, in fact, they crave the reunion.  If they could this very moment find the lair of the Wild Woman, they would dive right in and jump happily into her lap. They only need to be set in the right direction, which is always down down into one’s own work, down into one’s own inner life, down through the tunnel to the lair.

“We began our search for the wild, whether as girl-children or as adult women, because in the midst of some wildish endeavour we felt that a wild and supportive presence was near. Perhaps we found her tracks across fresh snow in a dream. Or psychically, we noticed a bent twig here and there, pebbles overturned so that their wet sides faced upwards….and we knew that something blessed had passed our way.  We sensed within our psyches the sound of a familiar breath from afar, we felt tremors in the ground, and we innately knew that something powerful, someone important, some wild freedom within us was on the move.

“We could not turn from it, but rather followed, learning more and more how to leap, how to run, how to shadow all things that came across our psychic ground. We began to shadow the Wild Woman and she lovingly shadowed us in return.  She howled and we tried to answer her, even before we remembered how to speak her language, and even before we exactly knew to whom we were speaking.  And she waited for us, and encouraged us.  This is the miracle of the wild and instinctual nature within.  Without full knowing, we knew. Without full sight, we understood that a miraculous and loving force existed beyond the boundaries of ego alone.”

“The things that have been lost to women for centuries can be found again by following the shadows they cast….We women are building a motherland; each with her own plot of soil eked from a night of dreams, and a day of work.  We are spreading this soil in larger and larger circles, slowly, slowly.  One day it will be a continuous land, a resurrected land, come back from the dead. Munda de la Madre, psychic motherworld, coexisting and coequal with all other worlds. This world is being made from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones.  It is a world worth making, a world worth living in, a world in which there is a prevailing and decent wild sanity.“ (Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves  pp 457-9)

May each of us, graced to live in this time of fecund darkness, know its profound value and work to build a “world worth living in” a motherland woven “from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to the roots of the tree is likewise the way on and up to the spirit of air and fire in the vaults of heaven.” (pp. 15-16)

It is time for humanity to shift from “the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun”. Women and men who are not afraid to explore their own feminine side, are called now urgently to do this work, essential for our time, to befriend once more the qualities of earth, moon, sea and springs, to make our way “back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree.”

 

“To do this work”: over and over I have read these words, heard them spoken by other carriers of Women’s Wisdom for our time: Jean Houston, Marion Woodman, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Sylvia Senensky to name just a few.

What is our work?   How do we make our way back and down to wisdom? And who is there to guide us on the way?

Sylvia Senensky writes that we are companioned by the Dark Feminine, an archetype in many cultures, known by many names:  

We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent.  We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine

“We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her…our Mother Earth.  She is calling upon us, each in in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet.  This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember.  We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports.  We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being….As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others.  Love attracts love.  If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings.  We will come home to ourselves.”

(Sylvia Shaindel Senensky in Healing and Empowering the Feminine)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Heart of Darkness

The external darkness of December is mirrored by internal darkness this year. The fragility of our planet, the depletion of uncounted life-forms, the pollution of lakes, rivers, oceans, soil, even the air we breathe can no longer be ignored. The warnings of scientists about a coming time of disaster have shifted to confirmation that the dark future is already here. We see the effects of the destruction of our home planet with our own eyes and hearts.

In a time of great darkness, we may look for light: seeking it in denial of the reality, in distractions, in whatever comfort we may find to help us “make it through the night”…

Yet there is another way: the way of the Cailleach, the way of Wisdom: we may choose to enter the darkness, to explore it for its hidden gifts, for what it has to teach us. We may learn to know the darkness.

Jan Richardson offers a Blessing for this:

Bless those

Who know the darkness

and do not fear it,

Who carry the light

And are not consumed,

Who prepare the way

 and will not abandon it,

Who bless with grace

That does not leave us.

 

Ancient people came to “know the darkness” with such accuracy that they could predict the time of the longer nights, the earlier dawns of winter solstice when the return of light became visible. We, in our time, have come to understand the darkness has come from an excessive love of light, from a worship of bright intellect over the nurturing of nature, the extremes of using the planet’s resources without the needed balance of wisdom….

The 20th century Jungian writer Helen Luke explains it clearly in her book The Way of Woman:

“…the instinct of the feminine is precisely to use nothing, but simply to give and to receive. This is the nature of the earth – to receive the seed and to nourish the roots– to foster growth in the dark so that it may reach up to the light.

“How are women to recover their reverence for and their joy in this great archetype of which the symbols have always been the earth, the moon, the dark, and the ocean, mother of us all? For thousands of years the necessity of freeing consciousness from the grip of the destructive inertia and from the devouring quality, which are the negative side of the life-giving mother, rightly gave to the emerging spirit of activity and exploration an enormous predominance; but the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun have produced in our time an estrangement even in women themselves from the patient nurturing and enduring qualities of the earth, from the reflected beauty of the silver light of the moon in the darkness, from the unknown in the deep sea of the unconscious and from the springs of the water of life. The way back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree is likewise the way on and up to the spirit of air and fire in the vaults of heaven.” (pp. 15-16)

It is time for humanity to shift from “the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun”. Women and men who are not afraid to explore their own feminine side, are called now urgently to do this work, essential for our time, to befriend once more the qualities of earth, moon, sea and springs, to make our way “back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree.”

winter

“To do this work”: over and over I have read these words, heard them spoken by other carriers of Women’s Wisdom for our time: Jean Houston, Marion Woodman, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Sylvia Senensky to name just a few.

What is our work?   How do we make our way back and down to wisdom? And who is there to guide us on the way?

Sylvia Senensky writes that we are companioned by the Dark Feminine, an archetype in many cultures, known by many names:  

We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent.  We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain.  Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life.  We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new.  When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core, and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face, that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.

“We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her…our Mother Earth.  She is calling upon us, each in in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet.  This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember.  We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports.  We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being….As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others.  Love attracts love.  If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings.  We will come home to ourselves.”

(Sylvia Shaindel Senensky in Healing and Empowering the Feminine)

 

 

 

 

 

Enchanted by Darkness, Solaced by Snow

Winter has come early, as unwelcome as a dinner guest who arrives before the table is set, when preparations are still underway and the kitchen looks like the scene of an accident. Snow has been falling steadily, softly, resolutely upon the deck and lawn, the rooftops of nearby cottages, on the lakeshore, even on the lake itself where a thin skin of ice can bear its weight. The empty, wide-open arms of deciduous trees welcome it as a returning lover. The tamaracks and pine trees, spruce and cedar, stand proud as women draped in ermine…

Winter Snowfall Bonnechere

The roads and highways leading to and from the lakeside where I live have shapeshifted from alluring pathways leading through autumn’s extravagant colours to treacherous passages, slick with ice, choked with snow.

Inside my new home, with more windows than walls, the early darkness has entered without an invitation, brooding over chairs and bookcases, curling up in corners, an unwanted black cat claiming her space.

I am surprised by my reaction to all this, feeling resentful, defeated, besieged by an invasion of events outside myself that I cannot tame or control. I take refuge in reading, sitting by the dancing, artificial flames of an electric fireplace, ignoring the weather outside.

The book I open is by Sharon Blackie, a woman whom I met in Ireland at the 2018 Brigid Festival. Sharon had spoken of the need for women to be rooted in the earth, to know their relationship with the homeplace where they live… I had written to you of her talk, of her book If Women Rose Rooted. Now, eager to read her more recent book: The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday. (House of Anansi Press, Canada and USA, 2018), I settle in. If there was ever a time when I craved enchantment it was now in this “winter of our discontent”.

But I did not at first find what I was seeking. Instead of the magic of myth and fairy tales, Blackie wrote of the challenges she faced while living in a croft on an island in the Hebrides:

“You couldn’t extricate the land from the weather – it hit me then that I didn’t live in a landscape – I lived in a sort of weatherscape. And I wasn’t walking on the surface of the land, while weather happened above it and apart from it: I lived inside a coalescing world of sea, land and sky, all tangled up together, in which the weather was dynamic, always changing, always engrossed in its own process of becoming. The wind was not happening to me. The wind was in relationship with me. (p. 116)

From that moment, Blackie altered her attitude, began to court the wind, to dance with the currents. “I let it hold me up, facing into a westerly so strong that when I threw my arms out to the side and tilted forward, the immutable force of it prevented me from falling. We became playmates of sorts, the wind and I—and every kind of wind offered a different way to engage with it.” (p. 117)

I read these words and something shifts in me. Here in rural Ontario, the experience of winter is not a reality separate from my life, even less an obstacle to the life I wish to pursue. It is part of my life, and I may learn to live in active relationship with it. I have what I need to do this: warm clothing, snow boots, — even snow-shoes and cross-country skis—enabling me to go outside and engage with what is happening.

I can experience living within the snow, allowing myself to be enchanted by knowing it as Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes it in her telling of the Inuit tale, “Sealskin, Soulskin”  (in Women Who Run with the Wolves): “the white and abundant hair of old Annuluk, the old grandmother, the old sorceress, who is Earth herself.”

Earth herself, an aspect of the Sacred feminine, has something she needs us to learn about embodied life on our planet. Our souls, our psyches, require the grace notes of winter, require the darkness that may allure us into longer times of rest and sleep to balance our more active days in the brightness of sunlit seasons. Our hearts need time to heal from the engagements, the involvements with others that may have inflicted wounds we ignore when we are moving quickly through life.

Our winter dreams allow us time to recall what really matters most to us, to look ahead to the bright days that will blossom in late spring and perhaps change our focus. We may then pursue what we most desire for our lives, in our service to life on our beloved planet. A winter journal will assist us to record our night dreams and our daylight inspirations, to prepare for a new birth in our lives after winter’s incubation.

There are many ways to take winter as a partner in the dance of life.

Listen. The music is already starting…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Divine Feminine in the Song of Songs Part Seven

Meinrad Craighead Song of Songs

As we continue to explore the mysteries of love, hidden within the Song of Songs, we pull back from the close-up offered by Rabbi Rami Shapiro for an overview.

Here is part of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Foreword to Shapiro’s book:

“The Song of Songs has no plot, so to speak; its lovers simply play “hide and seek” through eight successive, almost surrealistic freeze-frames. Yet, something happens, and the spiritually-attuned heart picks up on it. Somewhere between Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 the male lover goes missing, and the woman, with wrenching determination, confirms her fidelity to her beloved and to the path of love: I will leave my bed and wander the city, searching street and square for you for whom my breath pants. (Song of Songs 3:2)

“Reunion, consummation, erotic bliss hurtle by, again in the Song’s allusive, freeze-frame way, and then, at the beginning of Chapter 6 another separation allusively looms, along with hints of rejection by society and family members. Another reunion and, finally, out of the blue, comes that empassioned affirmation that is no doubt among the top ten of the most stirring and luminous proclamations ever uttered in all of literature:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as an insignia upon your arm;

for love is strong as death,

passion as fierce as the grave;

its smallest spark is a flash of fire

igniting an inferno. (Song 8:6)

“All of a sudden thing have jumped from the launchpad of erotica to land in the domain of mystical union, with this soul-stirring proclamation of the ultimate dominion of love, the ultimate certainty of an alchemical fusion of souls that exceeds all space and time, all human loss and bereavement. (Cynthia Bourgeault, Foreword to Embracing the Divine Feminine, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Skylight Illuminations, 2014)

Towards the end of his Introduction to the Song of Songs, Shapiro offers an interpretation of the Genesis story of the creation of the first earthling:

“In Genesis1:27, the Hebrew Bible says God created adam ‘male and female.’ The logical way to read this is to say God created man and woman at the same time. The problem with this reading is that just prior to telling us that God created ‘them’, the Hebrew Bible says God created ‘him’.”

Alluding to the centuries of rabbinical interpretation that arose from this, Shapiro offers his suggestion:

“My own reading of Genesis posits the original earthling as bisexual – physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Adam is the sacred androgyne, to use religious scholar Andrew Harvey’s term, who actualizes the inter-being of feminine and masculine and who longs to be born in your body.”

Shapiro cites Harvey’s writings:

This oneness heals all divisions and fuses all “separate” powers and brings into the union of Sacred Marriage all the “male” and “female” powers of the self, unites and fuses intellect and divine love, imagination and ecstasy, the spirit and the body, the laws of the heart and the structures of the mind, the light and every breath, gesture, thought and emotion lived in its truth.

What is born from this fusion, this “Sacred Marriage” of all separate powers of heart, mind, body, and soul is the Sacred Androgyne, the one who in his or her being realizes the total interpenetration with the Christ of all normally “opposed” or “contradictory” qualities.

This Sacred Androgyne – birthed in what early Gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Philip and the Acts of Thomas call again and again the “bridal  Chamber,” the place of fusion between “male and female” – is a divinized human divine being free of all normal categories of “male” and “female” because it exists in a unity that contains, absorbs, “uses,” and  ecstatically transcends both…the Sacred Androgyne… is the new Eve-Adam reuniting in his-her own being the Adam and  Eve that we separated at the “Fall.”  In such a being, “heaven” lives on earth: through such a being the divine radiates divine grace and power directly.

 (Andrew Harvey, Son of Man:The Mystical Path to Christ, New York, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998, 121)

Shapiro adds: “What the Song of Songs celebrates and awakens us to, is the unification that is an ever-present but oft over-looked reality.” 

As Shapiro notes, mystics have described their encounter with the Divine in terms of sexual union.

In my own study of the Medieval Christian Women Mystics I discovered that in their longing to share their experience, they found the Romantic Writings of the Medieval Troubadours to be the most helpful form of written expression upon which to model their work.

Here is a fragment from the writings of Mechtilde of Magdeburg (1208-1282):

The Youth: I hear a voice which speaks somewhat of love.

Many days have I wooed her

But never heard her voice.

Now I am moved.  I must go to meet her.

She it is who bears grief and love together.

The Youth comes to greet the Soul in the woods

where nightingales sing and invites her to dance.

The Soul: I cannot dance, O Lord, unless Thou lead me.

If Thou wilt that I leap joyfully,

then must Thou Thyself first dance and sing!

Then will I leap for love, from love to knowledge,

From knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense.

There will I remain and circle evermore.

The Youth: Thy dance of praise is well done.

Now shalt thou have thy will of the Virgin’s Son.

“Then is she overcome and beside herself with weakness and can do no more. And He is overpowered with love for her, as He ever was, He neither gives nor takes. Then she says, `Lord, Thou art my beloved! My desire! My flowing stream!  My sun! and I am thy reflection!’ “

 

Shapiro points to other sacred love songs found in many religious traditions.

He asks: “What are we to do with these songs? Are they simply poetic artifacts to be appreciated or can they be lived in our own bodies?”

His response is that the Song of Songs “has to be embodied, just as the Beloved has to be embraced.”

Like Mechtilde, we are invited to

leap for love, from love to knowledge,

from knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense.

 

for your soul-thoughts:

How does this echo your desire for union with the Sacred Beloved?

Read the Song of Songs and look for traces of your own story in the finding, the losing, and being found once more by the Beloved, both human and divine.

Embracing the Divine Feminine: Five

An ancient Persian tale, “The Conference of the Birds” by Farid Ud-Din Attar, tells of a great gathering of many kinds of birds who set out on a quest seeking a spiritual leader who would guide them. After all, they said, other creatures had their leaders, but birds did not. The journey was inspired by the discovery of a golden feather, so magnificent, so rare, that the birds believe it must have fallen from the breast of the greatest bird in the sky, a bird worthy to be their leader.

One of their number tells the others that the bird to whom the feather belongs dwells at a great distance requiring a hazardous journey over soaring mountains through mist-filled valleys. If they will allow this one to guide them she will take them to the golden bird.

An uncountable number of birds, a gigantic flying carpet of robins and bluebirds, canaries and sparrows, ravens and blackbirds, parrots and pheasants, seagulls and cormorants, nightingales and larks, bluejays and cardinals, goldfinches and mourning doves, herons and owls, chickadees and woodpeckers, begin the journey together.

birds in flight

a gigantic flying carpet

But over the days and nights, many turn back, discouraged, exhausted, or finally no longer believing that there is a great bird is to be found. Sadly, some die on the way, attacked by predators, lashed by storms, wearied to death.

At last there are only thirty birds remaining. At sunset they come to a great lake still as a mirror. They cry out in astonishment, in wonder, for they are gazing down at the most magnificent being they could ever imagine: her bird-body holds feathers that are the blue of the jay, the red of the cardinal, the gold of the finch, the soft white of the dove… Overcome with ecstasy, the birds prepare to dive into the lake.

Then a voice, more pure and melodious than nightingale or lark, calls to them: “Wait!” A great bird is flying towards them. She is the Phoenix, a bird they knew only in ancient tales. In her each birds sees her own bright feathers within  a rainbow of translucent Light.

“Do you not understand? The beauty and wisdom you have come so far to find is hidden within each one of you. You are Wisdom, feathered like me, and I am within you.

“Do not regret the price you paid, the labours of your great journey. You had to come that you might know this truth: I am you and you are me and we are all one.

“Rest here, then return to your own nests. Live as birds who know yourselves to   be Daughters of the Golden Feather. Rejoice: My wisdom and my love will be within you for all the days, all the flights, all the songs and all the loves of your life.”

In Attar’s original tale, translated in 1889 by Edward Fitzgerald, and published by GlobalGrey 2017 (globalgreybooks.com), the Great Bird’s words to the travellers are these:

…Pilgrim, Pilgrimage, and Road,

Was but Myself towards Myself: and Your

Arrival but Myself at my own Door;

Who in your Fraction of Myself behold

Myself within the Mirror Myself hold

To see Myself in, and each part of Me

That sees himself, though drown’d, shall ever see.

Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,

And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:

Rays that have wander’d into Darkness wide

Return, and back into your Sun subside.

 

Take time to allow this story to replay within your heart:

How does the quest of the birds resonate with your own journey in search of wisdom and love?

Listen carefully to the words the Phoenix speaks to the questing birds, as though they are being spoken to you. Notice the feelings that arise in your heart as She speaks.

How does this story illuminate these words about the Shekhinah?

 Shekhinah is “the light that emanates from the primal light which is Chochmah.” (Wisdom) She is the same below as she is above; that is she permeates the manifest world and the unmanifest Source from which and in which the manifest arises. (Embracing the Divine Feminine by Rabbi Rami Shapiro)

Embracing the Divine Feminine: Part 4

Wisdom as Shekhinah

One of the great gifts to us of the Feminist Theologians of the mid to late twentieth century is the way they distinguish between the masculine and feminine ways of “doing” theology. The masculine way (oversimplified as it might be in a New Yorker cartoon) is to sequester oneself in a high lonely tower, removed from all distraction, to think about God. The feminine way is to reflect upon one’s own experience and to speak with other women of their experience and thus to come to recognize the common threads out of which our life with the Sacred is woven…

rami-shapiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

As we continue to draw insights from the work of Rabbi Rami Shapiro, it is important that we take time to reflect on what we have experienced of the Sacred Feminine Presence in our own lives. His research into ancient Jewish thought and teachings as well as his own insights can be source of understanding and deepening for us where we find resonance with our own experience.

Shapiro writes: As Jewish thought works toward the unification of Wisdom and Shekhinah, it does so by reimagining Shekhinah as the feminine attribute of God rather than the presence of God.

Shekhinah is understood as an aspect of the way God’s self is shown to us.

Shapiro continues: The kabbalists refer to the manifestation of the Shekhinah in the world as “in everything.” She is “the light that emanates from the primal light which is Chochmah.” (Wisdom) She is the same below as she is above; that is she permeates the manifest world and the unmanifest Source from which and in which the manifest arises. In this…she resembles the Hindu goddess Shakti, the active energy of Shiva (God) manifesting as the externalized creation.

P1010383

“(Shekhinah) is the same below us as she is above”

Sunset on Hardwood Lake in the Petawawa River 

Chochma in her purest form is, in the minds of some kabbalists, Koach Mah, the potentiality of all creation – as yet unmanifest creativity…. When Wisdom shifts from… the unmanifest to the manifest, God without form to God with form, we speak of her as Shekhinah. In this sense the Divine Feminine permeates all reality, material and spiritual, physical and mental. She is imminent in, with and as the world, binding all things together in her infinite being.

Embodying the Shekinhah

Shapiro writes of the medieval kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla who “identified several women in the Hebrew Bible with the Shekhinah“: Sarah in Abraham’s time, Rebecca in Isaac’s time and Rachel in Jacob’s time.

Shapiro adds two more women to Gikatilla’s list: “in Adam’s time she is called Chavah (Eve), and in Solomon’s time (by which I mean the time portrayed in the Song of Songs) she is called the Shulamite, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace featured in the Song itself.” (Song of Songs 7:1)

Shapiro sees the Song of Songs as “completing the Garden of Eden story told in the third chapter of Genesis….That story ends with humanity exiled from the Garden; the Song of Songs tells us how to return.”

Retelling the Story of Eve

Shapiro offers a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden which he says is truer to the actual Hebrew text than the traditional reading which places “the burden of evil coming into the world on Eve and through Eve on all womankind.”

Working through centuries of Rabbinic scholarship related to the story, Shapiro finds intuitive leaps to suggest that the first human was androgynous and from that being the man and woman both came.  “…only when they unite with one another can they achieve the unity from which they originally derived.”

What about the Serpent?

The Hebrew language allows for a substitution of words sharing the same numerical value. Applying this tool of Rabbinic interpretation, Shapiro notes that the Hebrew word for “serpent” shares the same numerological value as the word for “messiah.” He suggests: “the snake is the messiah disguised as a serpent!”

But the messiah wouldn’t seek to trick the humans into sinning, so some other goal must lie behind the serpent’s efforts to get the woman to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The goal, I suggest, is to open the eyes of the man and the woman and to move them beyond their childlike state into adulthood.

Why does the serpent seek out the woman rather than the man?

 “Traditionally the answer has been that the woman’s will is weaker than that of the man, and it is this reading that has become foundational to so much misogyny over the past thousands of years,” writes Shapiro.  

Here is Shapiro’s alternate reading: The messiah/serpent sought the woman rather than the man because the woman…is the one with the potential to realize the internalized…intuitive knowing that is at the heart of Wisdom, and then take action…to move humanity in the direction of Wisdom. The serpent seeks out not the person most vulnerable to sin, but rather the person most capable of realizing Wisdom – the woman. 

Shapiro translates what happens next in the Hebrew Bible’s story:

The woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a means to Wisdom, and she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis: 3:6)

Rather than seeing this “dawning realization” as a single happening, Shapiro suggests we see “three distinct encounters with the Tree of Knowledge”:

First the woman is attracted by the lusciousness of the fruit and the desire to consume it, but that isn’t enough to make her do so. She masters her hunger and moves on without eating the fruit.

Sometime later she passes by the Tree again and this time perceives that the fruit is beautiful, and she desires to possess it. But beauty also fails to move her, so she again masters her passion and moves on without plucking the fruit.

Only on a third encounter with the Tree does she see that the Tree will make her wise, and only then does she consciously and deliberately eat of the Tree of Knowledge….she is willing to risk her very existence for the sake of Wisdom.

What is your response to this retelling of Eve’s story?

Do you see Eve as an embodiment of Wisdom? A Shekhinah?

How does it resonate with times in your own life when you took a risk, made a choice, out of a desire for Wisdom?

 

  

 

 

Embracing the Divine Feminine : Part 3

Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s Introduction to his book on the Song of Songs offers us rich insights into the Sacred feminine as she is portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The One we know as Sophia/Lady Wisdom has a Hebrew name: Chochma. In translations of the Hebrew Scriptures she is referred to as “Wisdom”. As Shapiro points out in his earlier book on the Divine Feminine, Scripture Scholars often saw “Wisdom” as a quality or virtue, preferring not to recognize the clear indicators that the word refers to a sacred presence, one that is shown in the Hebrew language as unmistakably feminine.

Shapiro writes: “Wisdom’s goal isn’t to bring you to one set of beliefs or another but to make you wise. What does it mean to be wise? In the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer defines it this way:

Simply I learned from Wisdom: the design of the universe, the force of its elements, the nature of time—beginnings and endings, the shifting of the sun and the changing of seasons and cycles of years, the positions of stars, the nature of animals and the tempers of beasts, the power of the wind, and the thoughts of human beings, the medicinal uses of plants and roots. These and even deeper more hidden things I learned, for Wisdom, the Shaper of All, taught me. (Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-22)

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Shapiro comments: “Wisdom teaches us physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, ethnology, meteorology, psychology, pharmacology and more. Wisdom reveals to us the explicit and the implicit, the visible and the hidden. How can she do this? Because she is the means by which the universe came to be.”

For those of us who are familiar with the Christian Gospels, Shapiro makes enlightening comparisons:

“Just as the Logos is both with God and God in John’s Prologue, over time Chochma shifts from being a separate entity who exists with God to being an expression of God: God as we experience God here on earth. The presence of God is called Shekhinah, and she, no less than Chochma, is feminine.”

Shapiro continues:

“In Proverbs 8:22, Wisdom tells us she is God’s daughter, the first of God’s creations, established before the universe. Eight verses later, she tells us she is the architect of creation, but in neither case is she synonymous with the Creator. The intimacy between God and Wisdom intensifies but still remains dualistic in the second-century text the Wisdom of Solomon, where the relationship between God and Wisdom changes from daughter to lover. Solomon says of Wisdom:

She embraces the universe in its infinite power

and orders all things for their benefit.

Wisdom I loved and sought after her from my youth,

to take her as my bride.

I was intoxicated by her beauty.

She proclaimed her noble birth

and that she lived with God.

And YHVH loved her.

(Wisdom of Solomon 8: 1-3)

Shapiro cites the writings of Philo, the first century Jewish philosopher and Hebrew Bible commentator (20 BCE -50 CE), who makes an even more intimate connection between God and Sophia:

“And thus the Demiurge (God as Creator) who created our entire universe is rightly called the Father of all Created Things, while we call Episteme/Sophia/Wisdom mother, whom God knew and through this knowing created all reality, albeit not in human fashion. However, she received the divine seed and bore with labor the one and beloved son…the ripe fruit of this world.”

Shapiro comments: “We can see in Philo the beginnings of John’s theology and even a prototype of the later Christian teaching of virgin birth, with Mary taking the place of Sophia/Wisdom. While Philo is willing to follow the Hebrew Bible’s teaching that Wisdom is with God, he is not ready to take the leap that John does to affirm that Wisdom is God. This changes when talking of Shekhinah.

“While Wisdom is related to God as either God’s daughter or God’s wife, Shekhinah is of God herself. The term is unique to Rabbinic literature starting in the first century BCE. The Shekhinah is God’s dwelling – not the place in which God dwells, but any place that God dwells. Whenever you find yourself in the presence of God, you are in Shekhinah. Hence the Rabbis taught:

If ten people sit together and study Torah,

the Shekhinah rests among them….

This is also true of five….It is also true of three…

It is also true of two…This is even true of one, for it says,

In every place where I cause My Name to be mentioned,

I will come to you and bless you.”

In the development of Rabbinic literature over time, the Shekhinah takes on a personification and gradually stands as separate from God, “a being in her own right.”

In the teachings of Jewish mysticism, in Kabbalah, Shapiro finds “the deepest meaning of and connection between Shekhinah, Wisdom, and the Song of Songs.”  The Kabbalistic idea of God is “dynamic.” God’s “creative power and vitality develop in an unending movement of His nature” flowing outward into Creation and “back into itself.”

Shapiro writes:

“God is YHVH, the be-ing of all being. God is intrinsically creative, indeed is creativity itself. Yet, God is more than observable reality. God is also the source of that reality. The metaphor I find most helpful is that of the relationship between an ocean, the waving of the ocean, and the waves that arise from that waving. Speaking metaphorically and not scientifically, God as Source is the ocean, God as Wisdom is the waving of the ocean, and God as Shekhinah is the wave that arises from that waving.”

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Shapiro explains that the Kabbalists differentiated between “two strata of the Godhead: one, its hidden being in itself, its immanence in the depths of its own being, and another, that of its creative and active nature, thrusting outward toward expression… the former stratum is designated in the language of the Kabbalists as Ein Sof, the undifferentiated unity, the self-contained unity…Root of Roots in which all contradictions merge and dissolve. The latter substratum is the structure of the ten Sefiroth which are the sacred names…the various aspects of God – or the ten words of Creation by which everything was created.”

And so “in the kabbalistic model of the sefirot, Shekhinah is the final manifestation and culmination of the divine activity: God as simultaneously mother, bride and daughter.”

 

 

Embracing the Sophia Presence

We return once more to Rabbi Rami Shapiro 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?

Greece 2015 138For answer, Shapiro offers his own translation of Proverbs 8: 22-32.

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?

 

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Sophia in Other Words

Sophia is known by many names. The Sacred Feminine is honoured in many different cultures with many different words. Poets express their love for Sophia/Wisdom. Some, like Christine Lore Weber, speak to us in Wisdom’s voice:

Mother Wisdom Speaks

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 hollow you with knives.

I will not do this to make you clean.

I will not do this to make you pure

You are clean already.

You are pure already.

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.

My daughter, do not cry.

Do not be afraid.

Nothing you need will be lost.

I am shaping you.

I am making you ready.

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.

 

I first encountered this poem while attending Jean Houston’s Mystery School. It sat on the poetry shelf within my heart though I seldom read it or thought about it. Then, as happens to us in times of great need, I happened upon it as I was struggling to take in the knowing that my beloved sister Patti was dying.

The poem was in a different format, with lines that had been missing from the version I knew best. As I read it, the poem came alive as with the voice of a Beloved Presence.

These lines leapt out at me:

My daughter, do not cry.

Do not be afraid.

Nothing you need will be lost.

 

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Hathor, Egyptian Goddess of Love and Beauty

 

The true grace was that I believed this promise though I had no idea how it would be fulfilled. And yet in the weeks that followed, as I sat with my sister, loving her through the darkness, I knew that our love would hold us together even into and beyond death.

More than a year after Patti’s death, my family planned to gather by the lake she loved to hold a ritual. When the date was finally chosen it was for the same weekend when I was to attend a  workshop led by a dear friend whom I had not seen for a year.

It was evening. I was standing in my backyard overlooking the river, feeling torn inside,  knowing I  ought to go to the ritual with my family, wanting to be at my friend’s session.

Suddenly, I had a clear awareness of Patti’s presence. Though I saw nothing, I knew just where she was standing, facing me, her back to the river. Clearly in my heart, I heard her speak to me: “I am where you are.”

I knew that I was free to attend my friend’s workshop, to go there in joy, knowing that there, and wherever life would take me, Patti would in some mysterious way be with me.

And how is it for you? What is breaking inside you? What do you fear to lose? Read the poem slowly and hear the voice of Sophia speaking directly to your own heart.

And trust her to hold you in love through the darkness. Perhaps you will write your own poem expressing Sophia’s love for you.

Glimpsing Sophia in Nature

These summer months grace us with moments of peace, awe, refreshment, whether we find ourselves walking in a forest, standing by a lake, gazing at an ocean, or looking deep into the night sky. Our souls respond to these glimpses of beauty, truth, and meaning. Sometimes, it is only later that we grasp the significance of what we have seen.

Reflecting with you on a Sacred Feminine presence, a memory stirs.

It is July, 2005. I am driving towards my first encounter with Jean Houston.

In the deepening dusk, the spruce and fir trees on either side of the narrow road bend towards me. I hope it is in welcome. The car struggles with the climb up into the mountains, as though it is a living thing, exhausted. I have already passed the entrance to Crater Lake National Park, but there was no one there to take the entry fee. There are no other cars on the road, nor have I seen any for the past twenty minutes.  None of these signs alert me to the risk I am taking approaching a place as wild as any untamed mountain creature.

Early on that morning when I said goodbye to my friends at the Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, I did not know that Crater Lake existed.  Three hours later in the small town of Waitsburg, the restaurant owner who served me a late breakfast sent my plans cartwheeling.

“Where are you headed?”  The question was friendly, interested, an offer of conversation to his only customer.

I told him I needed to reach Ashland Oregon by the following day. “For a ten-day course in Social Artistry,” I added.

But it was not the journey’s purpose that interested him.  “You taking 97 South?”

“No,” I said, showing him my multi-paged MapQuest Route. “Straight south down the Interstate 5.”

But he wouldn’t hear of it. “Take 97 South. You have to see Crater Lake.”  And he disappeared into the living space behind the restaurant, returning like a squirrel with a stored treasure, a brochure that offered routes, photos, and the amazing history of this crater, formed when a mountain blew its top in a volcanic eruption thousands of years earlier.

MapQuest had been my security blanket on a journey I’d never made before; yet the kindness of this stranger, his eagerness for me not to miss something of incomparable beauty, won me over.

Now, after a full day’s journey, most of it through the desert of Oregon in temperatures that topped one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, I have arrived. The trees to my left suddenly part to reveal a shimmering surface where Crater Lake bends and curves within the arms of its great rock bowl, glowing in the last light of day.

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Crater Lake, Oregon

I pull over to park beside the low stone wall and stand gazing out at a stillness that calms and fills me.  Already on its distant edges I can see wisps of mist rising as the cooling air caresses the water’s surface.  I stand here for a long while, knowing I am seeing something that Native American Shamans forbade their people to look upon, a lake discovered by others only in the 1850’s.  For more than seven thousand years, rain and snow have been quietly filling the bowl of a collapsed mountain to create one of the purest and deepest lakes on the planet.

I climb back into the car, the darkness deepening as I drive further into the mountains. I look to the left, to the east, to the place of new beginnings, where the lake still glows, a grey white opal in the evening.  Just beyond the edge of the narrow road, to my right, in the west, the place of endings, the sun is setting, a giant orange-red thumb print. Below it, I gaze at the tops of purple mountains.

I am glimpsing a metaphor for the spirituality I have been seeking for a long while, though I will only understand it later.

Twenty-four hours later, I walk into a room at Ashland University to find some ninety persons gathered most as well-aged as myself, and many even dressed like me in long skirts and flowing tunic tops. Like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch, I know I am at home.  As the days move on, I discover I am living with these people a spirituality that we share, though we have come from religious traditions as divergent as Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, Protestant, and Native American.

In the Closing Ritual, Jean invites each of us to say what we feel called to do with our lives after this experience. I say to the group gathered around our ersatz altar,  covered with the UN flag of the planet earth, and vases of flowers, “I want to weave into the new spirituality all the passion and love and beauty that was Christianity.”

Crater Lake has become for me an image of how the Holy One has been quietly filling a new, wonderfully feminine container with the waters of a new spirituality for our planet, gathering over thousands of years, while just as quietly, and with equal slowness, the mountains of patriarchal religions are sinking into their purple depths under the ember eye of the setting sun.

It’s not something we are waiting for; it’s already present among us, inviting us to rejoice in a faithful One who knows the longings of our hearts.