by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
This is a slightly edited version of a paper presented by the author at the Religion, Literature and Arts Conference Sydney 1995, and published here by request – apparently still very relevant. I guess there seems to be a need for putting the big G.. in his place, which could also be in the garden or the kitchen 🙂 :but in any case, it’s back into the eternal cycle of never-ending renewal with everything else.
This essay has now been published in Inanna’s Ascent: Reclaiming Female Power edited by Trista Hendren, Tamara Albanna and Pat Daly, 2018.
In the beginning, long before there was a Word, there was only Matrix and the Matrix was all that was. She was with Herself in the beginning. She needed no holy text. She was Con-text. All that came to be had life in her, nothing was separate from this Teeming Abundant Creativity. This Teeming Abundant Creativity was Felt; and the Feeling was Goddess, Mother, Matrix, Gaia.
When eventually the God did arise, he was not separate, he was part of the Teeming Abundant Creativity, at one with the Matrix. He was in relationship with Her – as son, lover, consort. His body too, like Hers, represented the sacred cycle, of birth, death, and rebirth. He moved through the full circle, like the seasons, like the grain of wheat. He was not eternally erect and dominant. His seed was in Con-text, part of the cycle.
Over the millenia, many stories arose that described the relationship of Goddess and God. One from the oral teachings of the Faerie tradition as told by Starhawk:
In love, the Horned God, changing form and changing face, ever seeks the Goddess. In this world, the search and the seeking appear in the Wheel of the Year. She is the Great Mother who gives birth to Him as the Divine Child sun at the Winter Solstice. In Spring, He is sower and seed who grows with the growing light, green as the new shoots. She is the Initiatrix who teaches Him the mysteries. He is the young bull; She the nymph, seductress. In Summer, when light is longest, they meet in union, and the strength of their passion sustains the world. But the God’s face darkens as the sun grows weaker, until at last, when the grain is cut for harvest, He too sacrifices Himself to Self that all may be nourished. She is the reaper, the grave of earth to which all must return. Throughout the long nights and darkening days, He sleeps in her womb; … (inhabiting the realm of dreams) … beyond the gates of time and space, night and day. His dark tomb becomes the womb of rebirth, for at Midwinter She again gives birth to Him. The cycle ends and begins again, and the Wheel of the Year turns, on and on[i].
This story apparently would belong in what Starhawk calls the Sacred Marriage mythic cycle of the late 4th and 3rd millenium B.C.E.; during this mythic cycle the myths celebrated “the presence of immanent power in the human and natural world, in the seasonal rhythms of renewal and withering, in food and in sexuality[ii].” The myth of Inanna and Dumuzi is one of the few written records from that era. In this text, with all its celebration of fertility, it is also quite clear that “sexuality is celebrated for its power to give pleasure and renew all the life on earth[iii]” for Inanna never actually gets pregnant. Inanna’s love for her own being is explicit, and in Dumuzi, male sexuality is identified as a fructifying force, life-sustaining, food itself[iv]. There is no hint at all of a link with violence or dominance. The sexual union of Inanna and Dumuzi is a celebration of the creative, dynamic interplay between these two faces of the Great Mystery of Being.
A transition becomes obvious in the myths from the mid 2nd millenium B.C.E.. Starhawk singles out the Epic of Gilgamesh as representive of this change. With Gilgamesh, she says, we move “out of the stories that link us to the great rounds of birth, death, and renewal; into epic, the recounting of the tales of the hero, the war leader, the great man[v].”
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story is quite clearly no longer told from the female point of view, she becomes the “other”. Sexual union with her is no longer seen as bringing great good to all the land, Her body has become currency, passed between men for payoffs, entrapments and empire building[vi]. It is no longer the Goddess (Inanna and her friends) singing of the erotic, where she chooses her bridegroom and rejoices in him[vii]. It is the God (the king Gilgamesh) proving ownership and power, as he takes whomever and whenever he wishes[viii]. When Gilgamesh returns victorious from battle and Ishtar chooses him as consort, offering him nourishment and abundance, he refuses her and insults her claiming her food to be tainted and rotten[ix]. In lieu of the Sacred Marriage, Gilgamesh becomes great mates with Enkidu as they match each other’s strength in a battle at the very threshold of the Goddess’ temple[x]. The threshold, Inanna’s emblem is destroyed in this battle, recording the portentous abandonment of the ancient celebration of love and fertility[xi].
The epic develops the ideology of warfare. Enkidu and Gilgamesh have many bloodletting adventures together, considered to be heroic as they incite each other to fighting bravely[xii]. “Inanna had been the source of the earth’s life blood, filling the wells, rivers and springs[xiii]“; but her blood was not shed with a blade, it was poured forth from her cup as part of the life cycle. Initiation rites that included cutting and the shedding of blood were attempts to emulate this magic, to be like the Goddess[xiv]. The ritual of warfare added to that a synthetic power that could course through the veins: that of the power to take life, and the appearance of being in control of it[xv].
Yet, there are traces still in this mythic cycle, of the older order and dissatisfactions with the new dominion, as the people complain of the king’s arrogance and boundless lust, remembering still that he should be “shepherd of the city, wise, comely and resolute[xvi].” Also at the end of the tale when Gilgamesh has found the plant that grants immortality, it is stolen from him by a serpent, symbol of the Goddess; and Gilgamesh must die. Gilgamesh is not victorious over the Goddess, he can merely refuse her and insult her and attempt to synthesize her power to take it for himself.
It is in the next mythic cycle, that the patriarchal order triumphs over the old gylanic[xvii] one. Starhawk sees this triumph typified in the Babylonian creation myth “Enuma elish” from the late 2nd millenium B.C.E.. In this myth, the God Marduk actually does battle with the Goddess Taimat, original progenetrix, primal sea.
At this stage in our human story, the divine Female has become the enemy, her erotic power dangerous, the serpent of life-generating waters now a monster of evil. Marduk defeats Her, and creates the world out of Her dismembered body:
He split her like a shellfish into two parts:
Half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky,
Pulled down the bar and posted guards.
He bade them to allow not her waters to escape[xviii].
The other gods swear allegiance to Marduk as permanent monarch. Obedience to his word becomes all important, indeed obedience is the “primary condition of the relationship between king and subject[xix].” The “God” is praised as avenger and lord, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords[xx].”
Perhaps the ultimate victory of Marduk is the socially acceptable genital mutilation of the female, the cutting off of the Goddess’ sexual experience. He still daily destroys Her knowledge of Herself in this explicit way; and precludes any possibility of ever being called back to the bedroom again. In this mythic cycle, the Goddess’ fierceness and rage is what is remembered of Her[xxi], not the reasons for it.
In regards to the place of the biblical text in these mythic cycles, Starhawk comments that although the Bible is directly rooted in the mythology of Mesopotamia, the transition to patriarchy took place long before the first of it’s books were written down in the late 1st millenium B.C.E.[xxii]. I would suggest that the Bible represents a possible 4th mythic cycle, because here the Goddess is barely mentioned.
Gradually the God overtook the Goddess, and the lap upon which he sat and by which he was king, faded in form until it was stylized to silent throne, unrecognizable as his Mother Queen Goddess[xxiii]. And he forgot his relationship to Her. He ruled alone and has continued to do so. She lost Her face and Her voice and became furniture, as He took over the heavens, conquered every symbol, the language, until now the humans can barely imagine that Mistress could have the same dignity as Master, that the “Light of the World” could be Ishtar, that “God” could be Dumuzi.
Rosemary Radford Reuther has said that “Male monotheism has been so taken for granted in Christian culture that the peculiarity of imaging God solely through one gender has not been recognized[xxiv].” However, she has still called it “God”, and Christian cultures don’t have a copyright on this “peculiarity” that she both identifies and perpetuates.
The God of this era, no matter what religion, has forgotten his equality with material reality, forgotten the possibility of honour associated with nourishment, comfort and delight. He has forgotten that he too, at his best, could be part of a mere fertility cult; that is, a spirituality concerned with the life cycle, the reproduction of matter – trivial things like that. His body need not be weapon and alienated. He too is life, He too can serve life, if He comes out of His heavens and back to partnership. The God needs to move out of this freeze He is in, in Father mode, like a moon stuck in full, like a crop of wheat that is never harvested. He needs to remember an intimacy, not just with the Goddess – though certainly with Her – but an intimacy with everything He has felt the need to conquer, transcend and overcome. He needs to remember who He is, that he is a myth, a metaphor. He needs a turn in the underworld, for that is the way of all Being.
As long as religious people and atheists alike, persist in the use of the term “God” as exclusive symbol for the Great Mystery of Existence, it is not possible for the male to be truly partner. The term “God” is a verbal wank, a literal dominance. “God” has become so embedded in our speaking, so essential to human expression that most feel left speechless without it. Even “enlightened” ones continue to use the term, and the capitalized male pronoun, and then deny they are anthropomorphizing the Great Unknowable. If “God” has no gender, why does it feel so viscerally different to use “Goddess”? “She” obviously has a gender, yet “He” does not? Is “He” “All”?
Even feminist theologians use the term and devote their talent to increasing the God’s repertoire of metaphor, working hard to prove that he is mother too, to help him appropriate the feminine qualities of his partner[xxv]. Zeus and Yahweh don’t really need the assistance; they were granted “womblike” abilities thousands of years ago. Why is it necessary to illustrate how “feminine” the God is? Why is it necessary to dress Him in drag? So He can do it all? So She can remain silent, unaddressed, part of the furniture? There is nothing feminist about “God the Mother”; it is just more colonization. If He is let do the “mothering”, the Great Mother Herself will remain lost to us. It is She Herself who wants to constellate again, to manifest. She does not want a disguise, to be Goddess the Father, in Him, with Him and through Him. Though we at this stage find it difficult to imagine, the God’s ability to nurture and sustain does not depend on his being “maternal”. Takeover is unnecessary, he can re-mythologize himself. He has his own cycles, his own nurturant possibility. There are stories and experience he just has to find again.
It gives one pause to realize that the God never did take on menstruation. He skipped that one, tried the synthetic version. Not even a feminist theologian has claimed that “God can menstruate too”. The Goddess’ blood, the real stuff, became something that was hidden, a mark of shame and powerlessness instead of a mark of creative power. Perhaps until that cycle is again understood as a metaphor for the sacred, and it won’t be until the Goddess is addressed, ecumenism across gender lines is not possible. There can be no real dialogue, if one party does not even really exist, Her country not even in the Atlas, Her name not even spoken. Until “Goddess” can be spoken with the same dignity and comprehensiveness as “God”, partnership is not possible.
I am reminded of a scene in the movie Schindler’s List[xxvi], where the Nazi officer Goeth is confronted with his attraction to his Jewish housekeeper Helen. Spielberg treats it as more than lust, as a temptation to actually love her. He juxtaposes Goeth’s reaching out to touch Helen with images of a woman stroking Schindler. Goeth then gets angry as he realizes his impotence to love Helen, blames her for the temptation to this alien feeling of love and relationship, and reverts back to the power he knows. He beats her. Spielberg juxtaposes this beating with Schindler being kissed by the woman relating to him. Was Adam’s temptation the same, to actually love Eve? Did he hear for a moment echoes of an older order, wherein Eve offered union, partnership, connection to the cycle of Being, a move back into Con-text? In our mythic cycle will the “God” be able to say “Yes”?
© Glenys Livingstone 1995
[i] Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.43. Brackets my addition.
[ii] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.43.
[iii] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.44.
[iv] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.44.
[v] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.49.
[vi] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.50.
[vii] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.45.
[viii] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.49.
[ix] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.56-57.
[x] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.50.
[xi] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.51.
[xii] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.51.
[xiii] Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, p. 429.
[xiv] Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, p.169.
[xv] See Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade. Harper & Row, San Fransisco. 1987.
[xvi] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.49 quoting from N.K.Sandars, ed. The Epic of Gilgamesh, p.62.
[xvii] a term of Riane Eisler’s to describe a matristic/partnership model culture, The Chalice and the Blade, p.105.
[xviii] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.63 quoting from James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East Vol.1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, p.35.
[xix] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.63.
[xx] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.65.
[xxi] Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.63.
Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade. San Fransisco: Harper and Row, 1987.
Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.
Plaskow, Judith and Christ, Carol (ed.). Weaving the Visions. SF: Harper, 1989.
Pritchard, James B.. The Ancient Near East Vol.1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Princeton University Press. 1958.
Sandars, N. K. (ed.). The Epic of Gilgamesh, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin,1960
Starhawk. Truth or Dare. SF: Harper and Row, 1990.
Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.