(Essay 2) The Power of Metaphor: Spelling Ourselves, Our World by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

This essay is part 2 of an edited excerpt from the Introduction in her bookPaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.

A Functional Cosmology and Metaphor

Brian Swimme has said that

to become fully mature as human persons, we must bring to life within ourselves the dynamics that fashioned the cosmos … That is our task: to create the human form of the central powers of the cosmos.[1]


She is a participatory metaphor – relational. Woodlands Nursing Mother image from Hallie Iglehart Austen

To do this, many women, and men too, need the Female Metaphor (a female metaphor for the Divine) … to become fully human, to embody these dynamics that created the galaxies, the stars. As Carol Christ noted, women “have not actively shaped their experiences of self and world nor named the great powers from their own perspectives.”[2]Men too may find the Female Metaphor helpful in this matter of embodying the cosmic dynamics, since She is a participatory metaphor – relational – and She may re-store him to the context, partnership, as opposed to centre-stage, dominance and alienation. Adam McLean makes a case for “the Triple Goddess figure” being “for men, a safe inner guide”,[3]free of the dangers of the “hero”/”saviour” identification.[4]John Heron has critiqued “gender-laden perennialism”[5]wherein the traditional, typically male, practitioner “claims to have become spirit as spirit”,[6]whose spiritual practice involves sustained dissociation from the autonomous dynamic impulses of immanent spiritual life.”[7]Heron describes this as “supremely alienated and inflated agency, a man wanting only to be the whole of reality, and in no sense whatsoever a part of it or participant in it.”[8]

Part of the human memory that I have attempted to plumb in my Search is expressed by Swimme and Berry, in their telling of the Universe Story:

Some 2.6 million years ago, at the close of the Pliocene period, the earliest expression of the human appears in its species identity, a form of human designated as Homo habilis. …With Homo habilis an event of singular importance takes place: the beginning of the Stone Ages in the cultural development of the human. … Exactly here in these transition years the more significant foundations for the human mode of being were established. The sense of time and space was developing; imagination was receiving the impress of its powerful images; the stock of primordial memories that would influence all future generations was being developed; … (and) … The ever-recurring sequence of seasonal decline and renewal was making its impress on the human psyche as one of the most basic patterns that would later find expression in ritual celebration.[9]

In these times, to re-invent ourselves as Thomas Berry suggests humans need to,[10]we would do well to remember as much wisdom as we can gather. The process of seasonal celebration that my Search has re-created and reflected upon, has been and is, an intuitive archaeological dig into an early layer of human awareness, a meditation focussed on letting deep and ancient knowings arise, in the context of present understandings – the universe as our minds understand it today, and then to marry them. Georg Feuerstein, in describing the work of philosopher Jean Gebser speaks of an “archaeology of consciousness” – structures of consciousness – that “are not merely a matter of the past”,[11]but do constitute our present whole field of cognition. These layers of modes of consciousness, each created at the various stages of human development over the millennia are all still present and essential to integral functioning of human capacity. The earlier layers/modes may help us understand “how our present responses and reactions are shaped by collective patterns of consciousness.”[12]I am not suggesting that there is any one way of marrying an early layer of human awareness – Stone Age mind as best one can intuit and imagine it – with present awareness of the Universe Story,[13]Gaia’s story as Western science knows it. I assume there are infinite ways to do this. The particular method and process as I have been part of, and is documented here in this work, is simply an illustration of a possibility.

Swimme and Berry say that: “Cosmology aims at articulating the story of the universe so that humans can enter fruitfully into the web of relationships within the universe.”[14]The scope of their work is a synthesis of the questions common in traditional cosmology concerning the place of the human in the universe, with the factual investigations of scientific cosmology. Their articulation of the Universe Story is a new myth, a way of orienting the human anew in the universe, to enable a re-invention of the human. They say that to do this requires a reinvention of language to some degree:

… for each extant language harbors its own attitudes, its own assumptions, its own cosmology. Thus to articulate anew the story of our relationships in the world means to use the words of one of the modern languages that implicitly, and to varying degrees obscures or even denies the reality of these emerging relationships. Any cosmology whose language can be completely understood by using one of the standard dictionaries belongs to a former era.[15]

Thus, they say, to understand the new cosmology in any significant way,  “is a demanding task, requiring a creative response over a significant period of time.”[16]This is kin to how Mary Daly speaks of “the very arduousness of the task of Naming and calling forth Elemental be-ing.”[17]This project of re-storying and celebrating our Habitat/Place – this PaGaian process – as anyone undertakes it, is subject to such a requirement.  New relationship with certain terms and names – the language we speak – needs to be established, and the Metaphor – the Female Metaphor/Goddess/Gaia – needs to be spoken, enacted, lived – until we who are the participants have begun to know this Language in our cells. Certainly the embodiment of this Creative Metaphor in the Seasonal ritual celebrations is a process that deepens my sensed knowing each time the year goes around – it takes that kind of time, consistent practice over years. I realize that for myself, I am so far only scratching the surface; and other participants in this particular process have expressed feeling the same.

Some of the research participants (for the doctoral process) commented in the interviews about how important the language used in the ritual celebrations was to them.  They did this without the prompt of a specific question. One articulated how the old Western Christian cosmological language was no longer an adequate method of expressing his deep understandings of the cosmos. It has been my passion to find other language, other pathways to express those depths; and certainly for me it had to be a pathway that not only admits the Female/female, but celebrates Her/her, as an integral part of the Cosmos – in a way that patriarchal paradigms never have or could. It has been my passion to allow an experience of this for myself, and for others – WITH others …  and that is where it really becomes meaningful, when communion is found. My self/Self re-creation became something that other people found resonance with, and I found resonance with them – and what has been myexpression has been extended as I have felt for theirexpression. I have largely played the Poet, yet it is an inter-active process, that grows over time – and into a plant we do not yet know.

The Female Metaphor


It is possible to use female metaphor to speak of All … we may spell ourselves accordingly.

To clarify further what I mean when I speak of the “Female Metaphor”: I am not referring to a “feminine” partof the Divine, nor to some complementary partner to the Great Mystery, nor to some “half” of the Creative Principle of the Universe. When I speak of Her, She is a name for the whole Creative Principle. In accord with this metaphorical understanding, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:

Some day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement or limit, but only of life and existence.[18]

The re-storying articulated in my book is an illustration of how Female Metaphor can be a name for the whole Creative Cosmic Principle, of how it is possible to use female metaphor to speak  of All, and of how this gynocentric cosmology may be celebrated; and what difference it may make in the hearts and minds of women and men, and to the human response to Earth – our home.

© Glenys Livingstone 2014


[1]Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.87.

[2]Carol Christ, Diving Deep and Surfacing, p.4.

[3]Adam McLean, The Triple Goddess, p.120.

[4]Adam McLean, The Triple Goddess, p.119

[5]John Heron, Sacred Science, p.3-4

[6]John Heron, Sacred Science, p.4.

[7]John Heron, Sacred Science, p.4.

[8]John Heron, Sacred Science, p.4.

[9]Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, pp.146-148.

[10]Mark Matousek, “Re-Inventing the Human”, Common Boundary Vol. 8 No.3, p.31.

[11]Georg Feuerstein, “Towards a New Consciousness: A Review Essay on Jean Gebser”. Noetic Sciences Review, No. 7, Summer 1988, p. 24.

[12]Georg Feuerstein. “Towards a New Consciousness: A Review Essay on Jean Gebser”. Noetic Sciences Review, No. 7, Summer 1988, p. 26.

[13]This term is capitalized to suggest that it may be understood to refer to sacred text, much as the “Koran” or “Bible” are capitalized.

[14]Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.23.

[15]Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.24.

[16]Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.24.

[17]Mary Daly, Pure Lust, p.25

[18]Edward C. Whitmont, The Return of the Goddess, p.214 quoting Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, p.59.


Christ, Carol. Diving Deep and Surfacing. Boston: Beacon Press, 1980.

Daly, Mary. Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

Heron, John. Sacred Science: Person-Centred Inquiry into the Spiritual and the Subtle.Ross-on-Way Herfordshire: PCCS Books, 1998.

Iglehart Austen, Hallie.  The Heart of the Goddess.Berkeley: Wingbow Press, 1990.

Feuerstein, Georg. “Towards a New Consciousness: A Review Essay on Jean Gebser”. Noetic Sciences Review, No. 7, Summer 1988, pp. 23 – 26.

Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.Lincoln NE: iUniverse, 2005.

Matousek, Mark. “Reinventing the Human”. Common Boundary, Vol. 8, No. 3, May/June 1990, pp. 31- 34.

McLean, Adam. The Triple Goddess. Grand Rapids MI: Phanes Press, 1989.

Swimme, Brian. The Universe is a Green Dragon. Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1984.

Swimme, Brian and Berry, Thomas. The Universe Story.NY: HarperCollins, 1992.

Whitmont, Edward C. The Return of the Goddess. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983.


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