Now Recognizing Her in Me

presented by Glenys Livingstone as a paper at the Women of Faith: Reclaiming the Gift Colloquium, University of Sydney, 1997,

now published as my contribution to the forthcoming anthology by Mago Books:

She Rises: Why Goddess Feminism, Activism and Spirituality? edited by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang and Kaalii Cargill

Visit the anthology Facebook page: She Rises: Why Goddess Feminism, Activism and Spirituality?

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Artist: Kaalii Cargill

Author’s note 2015: Though this paper was written and presented some eighteen years ago, it remains a relevant documentation of what Goddess meant for me in the context of being female within a patriarchal mythology – what I felt needed to be done and imagined to regain integrity: there is not much in the essay I would change today, there is simply more now … it remains expressive of something of my personal journey to Her, which began in earnest in 1979.

It is a joy to have been asked to join in this colloquium of Women of Faith. As a woman who departed the form of commonly acceptable world religions a long time ago, I have often felt a fringe dweller – even amongst women of faith. Association with the term Goddess is fraught with all kinds of prejudice – it tends to immediately put one in a different ball park – which is in itself interesting and worth contemplating, as to why this should be so. “Goddess” it seems, is a problematic term for many people, and sometimes I wouldn’t mind if the term went to the bin, as long as the term “God” did to. The mental images that “Goddess” frequently conjures are along the lines of:- lowly fertility cult, New Age fluff, mere psychological construct, or the feeling that one has to be part feral to take Her to heart. Goddess is rarely understood to have the dignity of Ultimate Mystery ….. which is how I understand Her: and which then, returns me to the Heart of all world religions. It has been my passion to uncover Her, wherever She has been expressed globally, to bring Her in from the fringe. And I guess that has meant primarily for myself – to realize Her at the Heart of my existence, to find Her in myself.

So, how would I articulate my faith? What do I have faith in? I have faith in the Creativity of the Cosmos – the Teeming Abundant Creativity that has been manifesting now for some 15 billion years they say – I think that’s pretty good, fairly dependable, a demonstrated track record. This amazing Creativity has survived on this planet in a particular way for millions of years – the whole adventure is stunning, when we perceive it; when we don’t try to pin it down to the last 6,000 years of human history, or to a particular religion/tribe. So when all else fails, the faith that I have, is in Her extant Creativity, and my intimate participation in it. That can pull me through. As Susan Griffin says, speaking of this Earth, what She is to me … “at no instant does She fail me in Her presence.” [1] It is that we have failed to wonder at this , to see it. We take Her presence for granted, we take the cosmic dynamics for granted. But this is the very core of Existence – the primordial activity that holds it all together, that moves the worlds. So part of my practice is to align myself with Her – with this primordial activity … celebrate Her seasons – which have also been mine. I can relate to some of what She has been through, and She gives me courage when I realize Her transformations since the beginning.[2]

And what is the Gift that I understand myself to be reclaiming? It is the Gift of Being. It is all a gift, to be sure, all of creation … none of it might have been … it’s a fine balance … but it is. Being is delicate and awesome. Being is also something that I as a woman, living in these recent millenia, did not take for granted. I have, like many of us here, had to reclaim it. The reclaiming then, is also about reclaiming spiritual authority. This authority comes with being, of the essence of the universe. This spiritual authority does not need a form, one can simply assume it, practise it: though it is immensely helpful to ritualize it in some way – at least for yourself.

So, what do Goddess women get up to? I can tell you that She is served in as many different ways as there are women (and some men) devoted to Her. As I understand Her, She is not another religion, She is another metaphor. And She is how I have languaged and imaged my journey. I needed a metaphor that I could identify with, expand into, that gave assent to my belonging; a Universe that included me wholeheartedly, not wherein I was an extra, an afterthought, even a thorn in its side.

Even though at first, in getting to know Her, there is a re-collection of the past – to find Her form and Her face, and ways to celebrate Her; there is always a constant weaving into the present. The present is revelatory. Her triple aspects of Maiden, Mother and Old One are metaphor for the essential process of life; the process by which life goes on, proliferates, in matter and in spirit. These three aspects reveal a deep Mystery, a balance and a wholeness, present everywhere – in Earth’s annual cycle, in the moon cycle, in all bodily processes, in all processes of transformation. When these processes of life are celebrated, when Life is celebrated, She – Great Mystery – is midwifed, Goddess Gaia – in you, in me, in Earth, in all – is birthed. And today, the birthing of Gaia is a more serious, more urgent business than ever.

And where did it begin … this hunger in me for the Mother? Well, the spiritual fodder, the cosmology, presented to a Protestant Queensland country girl 1954 C.E., left one with an immense capacity …. for More! And perhaps one of the earliest indications of a direction to take, came from my mother’s hesitance about the stories available, to read to her children. The stories had bits in them that she did not seem to want to tell. She would falter as she read, and then proceed as if making it up. It caused me to wonder, “what did the wolf really do to Little Red Riding Hood and grandma? What other horrible things were possible, that I had not yet imagined?” It seemed my mother would have spared us the whole tale if she could have. I felt my mother’s wish for more hopeful tales, tales of a better world. My mother had an ember in her heart that longed for a world that she could embrace, one that she could even just dream of … if something would help her imagine it. So I always listened for Something Else. Hints of Something Else did come through – in the revelation of the vast starred night sky; and in the revelation of the ancient relationship of sun and land, that this country girl had time to ponder. Something Else also came threaded through poetry that she loved at school, and music on the airwaves from far away places. This music and its culture were revealing that many humans on the planet were pushing the envelope for change, in a big way. She knew she had to go away to find the Something Else – a long way away – into Other Times and Other Places.

Another clue, not in a cognitive level but in a deep intuitive visceral level, came when the girl experienced the Creative Force of Life in her body, was pregnant for the first time. This was truly revelatory … it, the Cosmos, Ultimate Mystery, was in her! There was nothing second rate about this. All previous stories had hidden its significance from her. But still she had no words to describe it – no possible expression for this. The knowledge sat in her heart like an uncut jewel, awaiting its time.

I remember the first time I sensed the Mother in the ocean ….. it was in Santa Cruz, I was pregnant for the third time, I had heard of Goddess by then, and She had been in my dreams. In the ocean I saw the hugeness, the depth, the source. At that time I was still a long way from naming Her, remembering Her so intimately, but within a year, I did invoke Her and begin a committed research of Her story. It was with the words of poet H.D., that I dedicated my lust for this knowledge:-

Swiftly re-light the flame,

Aphrodite, holy name,

 

Astarte, hull and spar

of wrecked ships lost your star,

 

forgot the light at dusk,

forgot the prayer at dawn;

 

return, O holiest one,

Venus whose name is kin

 

to venerate,

venerator.          [3]

 

Though She was already present, I now presented myself, took up residence in my observatory, dusted it off, opened my telescope to the hidden depths of my inner space. As light travels through outer space to us from the beginning, so I called Her light forward through the millenia within. The Daughter in me heard Mother from the ages call, streaming up through time. I listened, I put pen to paper. H.D.’s words encouraged me; H.D. wrote – in 1945

she must have been pleased

 

with the straggling company of the brush and quill

who did not deny their birthright;

 

she must have been pleased with us,

for she looked so kindly at us

 

under her drift of veils,

and she carried a book. [4]

 

The book, had blank pages …. “of the unwritten volume of the new;”[5]

 

My quest for the Mother, ironically, did involve the leaving of my children for a period of years. It was a painful initiation, that only makes sense at all when considered in a larger context; that although the particulars of my life construed to eventuate in this, I was also part of something much bigger. On reflection, I understand that the passion which drove me on, was the wish in my mother’s heart, and then in my own, for a world to give my children. I did not want to give them the one I had grown up in. And the world that the children needed was one that would nurture spirit, and matter – it was to be One, or there would not be a world at all.

I have been delighted to have found in more recent times that I have been in good company. Ramakrishna, Hindu mystic of the 19th century, was caught in a passion for the Mother. His pupil, Vivekananda said, “It was no new truths that Ramakrishna came to preach, though his advent brought old truths to light.”[6] (6) Ramakrishna had ecstatic experience of the Mother’s oceanic being, and revitalised understanding of Her.

My journey however, began much more naively, with not as much sense of what I was biting into, less prepared in spirit than Ramakrishna for what lay ahead. The journey into Her story, means a participation in Her descent and return, it means a shattering of what went before. How does a woman stop being object, and become subject? How does she become the body in her own mind? It requires more than a headtrip, it requires the descent of Inanna, a falling apart. I was still a product of patriarchal narrative – sex object really, and still seeking the Beloved (the Mother) outside myself. What did it take to move from that, to allow a fertile darkness within, from which the Self could begin? The regaining of integrity, and an understanding of why we lost it, or did not have it, can require a great darkness. I offer you the following poem:-

 Completely dismantled

– all the stock taken out of the cupboards.

Strip them bare

Pull apart my knowings

– rip them open, let the connections be severed.

 

Expose all the parts, every cell

to the sunlight

 

de-toxify

throw away

move it all around

mix it, mix it

skim the dross

 

With mortar and pestle pound Her

Is She mortified sufficiently yet?

Has She seen it all yet?

 

Pound Her more, take it from Her

 

Like panning for gold ……

is there any?

What will be left?

 

The grit, the metal, the stones

found at the bottom of the wash ….

This is the new composition.

Begin composing it now.

 

Write it, sing it, melt it back together,

re-Form it, re-Cognize it,

breath it, dance it.

 

Let it grow.

 

Praise the Dark One who dismantled you dear

who took off your robes

exposed you

She took you apart

– because you lusted to know

Now She has filled your cells,

your blue print

with new possibility

– bled the poison

emptied the cup

that it may be filled. [7]

 

Then there is the beginning again:-

The Mother within reweaves the Fabric

– the torn Fabric

torn in the weak spots.

She sets to work with all Her love and consciousness

picking up the threads

– threads that go all the way back to the beginning

She uses these, yet makes new patterns.

 

Mercifully Erishkagel, Crone – Her partner

has destroyed old patterns.

Erishkagel has washed away the debris

with Her storm and tempest.

 

Artemis, virgin, spiritual warrior,

fiercely guards and nurtures the new.

She is faithful to the heart that seeks

fullness, wholeness.

She will constellate in the heart’s night sky

and call forth right direction. [8]

 

For nine years now I have celebrated, with other people, the pre-Celtic Western European seasonal rituals at the time of year appropriate to the Southern Hemisphere. I have understood this spiritual tradition as my indigenous heritage. I am also constantly adapting it, re-languaging it, for different groups of people, and as my understandings deepen or change. Some would say actually that at this point, it has become something completely new – a synthesis of many influences, including contemporary science. Ritual celebration of the seasons of Earth have been, and are, for me, an important connection to Source, a re-alignment with the Mother, a recognition and a rekindling of my archetypal relationship with the Universe.

At this time of year, in this spiritual tradition, the Mystery as it is celebrated is Eostar – Spring Equinox – the return of Persephone …. Mother and Daughter re-united – the emergence from the Underworld. I think it is particularly important that women re-story this myth. As it was told in the school reader of my childhood, Persephone is abducted and raped by Hades. It is fine as a story, insofar as it is an account of what did happen historically. But we want to move on – we are changing. Persephone was not always a victim, and she does not want to be now, or in the future. In the oldest tales, Persephone chose to descend to the underworld – she was not forced. She had the Wisdom of Goddess, who understood the fertility of the Dark terrain, who understood the sacred mystery of life and death. When Persephone is given back her integrity – restored to Her former grace, there is a whole new sense of Her full participation in the mystery and adventure of life. And it makes no less poignant the re-uniting of Mother and Daughter when their time arrives, when the breeze whispers to Demeter at last, “Persephone returns! Persephone returns!” [9] And so we are.

I will conclude with a recent poem:-

I feel the urgency – the Urge-ncy of Being to unfold

   I have called it panic. I have panicked.

Now …… recognizing Her in me.

I tremble, the tremor of uncertainty, the quantum fluctuation

   – is Her presence ………

   before She unfolds,

        rushes away from Herself, with news of Herself.

I feel Her emptiness.

   I have called it vacuous.

        It is Her fullness.

               .

……. this is Annunciation.

Now recognizing Her in me. [10]

 

© Glenys Livingstone 1997

 

REFERENCES:

Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. NY: Harper & Row, 1978

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

Pearson, Norman Holmes (ed.). H.D. Trilogy, NY: New Directions Books, 1973.

Spretnak, Charlene. Lost Goddesses of Early Greece. Berkeley: Moon Books, 1978.

Swimme, Brian. Canticle to the Cosmos. Video series. CA: Tides Foundation, 1990.

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

Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets. NY: Harper & Row, 1983.

 

NOTES:

[1] Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her, p. 219.

[2] I would like to acknowledge the work of Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry in my understanding of the story of the Universe.

[3] H.D. Trilogy, by Norman Holmes Pearson, in “Tribute to the Angels”, p. 12.

[4] H.D. Trilogy, by Norman Holmes Pearson, in “Tribute to the Angels”, p. 35.

[5] H.D. Trilogy, by Norman Holmes Pearson, in “Tribute to the Angels”, p. 38.

[6] Barbara Walker. The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.493 quoting Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Ramakrishna”.

[7] Glenys Livingstone, 1995.

[8] Glenys Livingstone, 1995.

[9] See Charlene Spretnak. Lost Goddesses of Early Greece.

[10] Glenys Livingstone, 1997.

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