This essay is the first part in a series of edited excerpts from chapter 3 of the author’s book, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.
Author’s note: In this three part series of essays I continue to use the terms “Virgin, Mother, and Crone” as names for the qualities of the Triple Goddess, whom many have loved in Her different forms throughout the ages. In my opinion, the re-storying of these terms is still a useful exercise – to expand the reduced notions that have evolved over millennia of androcentric thinking and culture. In the last few decades, I sat with many women in circle and we told stories of our lives within the frame of “virgin/young one, mother/creator, crone/old one”; and found it to be a means of reconstituting a larger, deeper and freer sense of being, as we recognised ultimate and omnipresent Creative Cosmic qualities within us. I have also created new names for this Creative Cosmic Triplicity: “Urge to Be/She Who Will Be”, “Place of Being/She Who Is”, and “She Who Creates the Space to Be/She Who Returns All”. As qualities/themes of Cosmogenesis, She is multivalent.She may be understood poetically.
The Virgin/Young One Re-Storied
I have associated this aspect/quality with the Urge to Be; as such She is concerned primarily with love of self, with the advent of Her unique and differentiated being.
The Virgin as she has been known in patriarchal times, is a distortion of the original understanding of Her. She is originally primarily in relationship with herself, and she is not asexual. She is decidedly self-determined, remains her own property, whether or not she has sexual relationships. The term virginity signifies autonomy, and is a power to be “at cause”, instead of “at effect”; it is only in later patriarchal stories, that a Goddess’ autonomy was “concomitant” with a loss of her sexuality, as in Athena’s case.The Goddess of old was always considered virginal; it was an ever-present quality of Hers. Even in some later stories, before the quality was completely diminished, She frequently “renewed” her virginity ritually.
Esther Harding expressed that, the woman who is virgin, one-in-herself, does what she does – not because of any desire to please, not to be liked, or to be approved, even by herself; not because of any desire to gain power over another … but because what she does is true.
The Virgin’s purity is this: Her unswerving commitment to Her truth, Her true self. This self-serving purity is a deep commitment to being. Later patriarchal obsessions with unbroken hymens, turned the Virgin’s essential “Yes” to life into a “No”. She became reduced in Christian times to a “closed gate”,sometimes naive. In the Olympian pantheon the Virgin often came to be associated with harshness and indifference.
It was because of the Virgin’s association with the beginning of things, the emergence of life, that She came to be understood as passionately protecting the flame of Being – “the ‘hearth’, which is also the original altar.”She loved all beings, desired their existence. She knew Creative Lust – Lust for Being. So Virgin Goddesses have guarded perpetual flames, representing this purity of purpose and passion. Diana, Great Virgin of Rome, is depicted with a flame. The priestesses of Celtic Goddess Brigid in Ireland, tended a flame; now tended by nuns and Brigid has been re-configured as a saint.
As Artemis in Greece, in Her Virgin aspect She was revered as midwife because of her single-minded drive to bring life into being.The earliest stories of Artemis speak of a Goddess for whom “each creature – each plant, each wood, each river – is … a Thou, not an it.”Women called upon Her in childbirth, and the labour-easing herbs used by midwives in Old Europe were called Artemisia. Artemis came to be known as One that protected and nurtured the young and vulnerable, the will to life, the spirit– as much concerned with physical being as with the making of soul; there was no separation. As Virgin, Artemis was associated with untamed nature, the pre-domesticated, the pre-informed, the wild. She was the possibility of the open mind, the new and untried. She had no need to be afraid, because She was certain of taking care of Herself. Artemis was known as a Mighty Huntress, and in earliest human cultures this was not contradictory to deep relationship with the animals that were hunted. She was also known as Lady of the Beasts; the deer was often Her animal – an animal associated with birth and renewal, and the bear associated with rebirth/hibernation and fierce mothering. Artemis is often depicted as an archer. Her arrow that flies true and on centre, is just as surely the arrow of Self.
Athena has, in Western secular culture, commonly embodied the patriarchal version of Virgin – depicted as She has been in a suit of armour. In Athena’s story as it evolved over time, can be seen a story of women throughout the ages.Originally Athena has strong connection with the North African Goddess Neith, a primordial “Virgin Mother, the Holy Parthenos”.In Her oldest images and stories, Athena was associated with bird and snake,and was the inventor of all arts. Patriarchal myth accounts for Athena’s existence by virtue of Zeus giving birth to Her from his head, after having swallowed her mother Metis when Metis was pregnant with Athena. Metis, Goddess of Wisdom Herself , cannibalized by Zeus, was said to counsel Zeus from within his belly;She was in effect, the first woman behind every great man. Athena became the archetype of the patriarchal dutiful daughter, used to give authority to her father’s edicts that included the denigration of Her own kind. In the Oresteia, the frequently performed Greek drama, Athena casts the deciding vote to acquit Orestes of the murder of his mother. The grounds for his acquittal is that the mother is not a parent, merely the nurse of the male seed. Athena then persuades the Furies, the “last remaining representatives of woman’s old powers” to submit to the new patriarchal order.Whereas, in the older stories, Athena was daughter of the Mother, indistinguishable from the Mother Herself. She was spiritual warrior – protecting the arts and wisdom, not a soldier. Her holy quest had been in the service of life, urging forward the creative spirit. It was Her vision, not armour, which was Her strength.
The Virgin aspect loves Herself, as She loves all, identified as She is with life itself. To despise self is to despise All. As Aphrodite, She “lifts Her robe to admire her own full buttocks”;Inanna too, Great Goddess of the Sumerian people explicitly rejoices in Her own sexual beauty. Aphrodite, like her Sumerian Sister, is the Creative Force itself. In Aphrodite’s case, She is identified with the oceans as Source of Life, and doves and waterbirds attend Her; the inseparability of the Mother and Virgin aspects is obvious here. In contrast to this perspective on Aphrodite is that of Jungian, Robert Johnson:after affirming that all women contain “the Aphrodite nature”, Johnson proclaims “her chief characteristics … (as) … vanity, conniving, lust, fertility, and tyranny when she is crossed.”Charlene Spretnak wonders particularly about his inclusion of “fertility” in the “string of negative adjectives”.
Persephone is a Virgin Goddess who has been to hell and back. In the earliest story of Persephone,the Crone and the Virgin aspects are inseparable: Persephone chooses to go to the underworld and indeed becomes Sovereign. She comes to know this realm, to guide others through it, and is equally associated with re-emergence, re-generation. She is not a naive Virgin; she goes into the darkness in trust, knowing its fertility, and her own impetus to sprout afresh, to begin again. She has been around the block many times, and because of that, continues to believe in her capacity to take form again. This knowledge of the cycle of life and death is the Mystery that was celebrated in the rites of Demeter and Persephone in Eleusis and in the earlier Thesmophoria.It was so, long before the Paschal Mysteries of Jesus crept in. Persephone’s descent is a return to the depths for Wisdom, and Her emergence from the Earth is witness to the power to be, that surges through all Creation continuously; and inseparably in individual beings. She is the Seed of Life that never fades away, an energy present in all: as such She tends the sorrows.
The anthropomorphic forms of Virgin named as Artemis, Athena, Brigid, Aphrodite, Mary and many more – so that we may speak of Her, signify an energy, a creative dynamic, an aspect of divine essence – whatever it is in the dead looking branch that pushes forth the green shoot. She can be feltas the Urge to take a new breath, as hunger for food, as hunger for anything. She is passionate. She can be felt in any longing. She midwifes the soul, and any creative project. She is known when there is self-love, one’s beauty recognized, one’s truth held firm. She is the hope, the Promiseof fulfillment – expressed in the image of the new crescent moon, and felt, as that fine sliver of light enters the eyes. She is all possibility within the bodymind, within the seething quantum foam.
I associate the Virgin with the Buddha nature, the Shining One within all,that calls us forth … She is the future for whom we “refine the gold”. Virgin nature is “She Who will Be”,who holds forth her song despite forces of disintegration. She is the courage, confidence and exuberance to say “yes” to each particular small self.
© Glenys Livingstone 2016
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I acknowledge the work of Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry in The Universe Storyfor my understanding of the three qualities of Cosmogenesis, which I have synthesized with the three aspects of the Triple Goddess in my work of PaGaian Cosmology.
Miriam Robbins Dexter, Whence the Goddesses,p.143.
Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, p.311-312, and Miriam Robbins Dexter, Whence the Goddesses, p. 167-170.
Esther M Harding, Woman’s Mysteries, p.125.
Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic”, inWeaving the Visions, p.208–213, influenced my understanding of the yeswithin ourselves.
Marina Warner, Alone of All her Sex, p.73.
Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.284-285.
Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddeses of Early Greece, p.77-79.
Christine Downing, The Goddess,p.167.
Merlin Stone, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, p.381-386.
MaryDaly, Gyn/Ecology, p.13-14.
Marguerite Rigoglioso, The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece, p.52.
Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses, p.157-158.
See Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.97-101.
MaryDaly, Gyn/Ecology, p.13.
Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, p. 81.
Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.132.
Robert Johnson, She: Understanding Feminine Psychology.
Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddeses of Early Greece, p.35 quoting Robert Johnson, She, p.6.
See Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.105-118.
See Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess, p.374-390.
Starhawk’s term for the Child/Young One,The Spiral Dance, p. 257.
I acknowledge Joan Halifax, Being With Dying,for a broadened understanding of the Buddha, the Sangha and the Dharma – which I now associate with the three faces of the Female Metaphor.