Re-Storying Goddess – Virgin, Mother, Crone
Almost every ancient culture’s creation myth begins with Her1. In the beginning was the Matrix, and the Matrix was all there was. “Before creation a presence existed …(which)… pervaded itself with unending motherhood2.” This Matrix was not “feminine”, in any stereotypical way, which would limit Her to a certain mode of being. She was beyond all pairs of opposites. As the beginning and end of all things, She contained it all – she was yin and yang, right and left, light and dark, linear and cyclic, immanent and transcendent. There was not an either/or. She was not carved up into bits, apportioned a certain fragment of being – She was a totality. She bore within herself all of the polarities. Ancient Mesopotamian texts praise Ishtar of Babylon for her strong, exalted, perfect decrees as Lawgiver, and for her passionate, lifegiving sexuality, all in the one paragraph. As Vajravarahi, Goddess has been known as Mistress of all Knowledge, which included her physical being – quite a deal more expansive than more recent academic understandings of “Master of Arts”. One of Ishtar’s titles has been translated as “Great Whore”, but this falls far short of the original understanding. As Merlin Stone has pointed out, the use of words like “prostitute” or “harlot” or “whore” as a translation for “qadishtu” negates the sanctity of this priestly role and reveals an ethnocentric subjectivity on the part of the writer3. The patriarchal bias in the minds of the writers disabled their comprehension of a holy woman who was sexual. The use of the word “Whore” to label One who embodied the Mystery of the Universe, has enabled patriarchal religions to denigrate the Female Metaphor – sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes with conscious intent.
As Isis of Egypt, the Great Goddess was “Mother of the Universe”. This did not mean that there was a Father of whom she was partner, as most human minds of our time assume. This title meant that she was the One from whom all becoming arose. It meant that she was the Creator. Many minds get caught up here, with a need to affirm the now-known male role in reproduction; however, there has never been the same affirmation in the West, of the female role in reproduction when the God has been Creator. To comprehend Mother as Creator does not need to negate the integrity of the male, it simply re-instates the integrity of the female and her Creative capacity. As Mut of Egypt, She possibly preceded Isis. Mut is described as existing when there was nothing, the oldest deity, the original trinity. Her title meaning “Mother” was understood to hold within it the complete cycle that supported life – virgin, mother and crone – beginning, fullness, and ending; Mut’s hieroglyphic sign was “a design of three cauldrons, representing the Triple Womb4.” “Mother” was not a mere passive vessel, nor was she limited to the birthing and feeding aspects that later cultures allowed her; “Mother” was an wholistic title incorporating the beginning and the end. She was “Om”, the letter of creation and “Omega”, the letter of destruction5. Long before Jesus was said to have described himself as the “Alpha and the Omega”, Goddess as Mother was comprehended in this complete form.
As Neith, She was the Triple Goddess of ancient Egypt, the “World Body, the Primal Abyss from which the sun first rose … She was the Spirit Behind the Veil, whom no mortal could see face to face6.” Throughout the ancient Mediterranean world this ancient One was known by various versions of Anatha, with Her triple aspects being Athena, Metis and Medusa. In later times, Neith was assigned a “father”, as were many Great Goddesses around the globe – Brahma became the “father” of Sarasvati7, Chenrezig the “father” of Tara.
As Inanna of Sumeria, She was “primary one” for three thousand five hundred years. Her story of descent and return, death and resurrection, is the oldest story humans have of this heroic journey, and it influences the later stories of redeemer/wisdom figures such as Persephone, Orpheus, and Jesus. Inanna was known as Queen of Heaven. In one image, Her power was expressed with a crown of horns on Her head, Her foot on a lion, wings and thunderbolts sprouting from Her shoulders8. First known poet, Inanna’s priestess Encheduanna of the second millennium B.C.E., and other such priestesses of her era celebrated and wrote erotically of, the sacred marriage9 – that of Inanna and her lover Dumuzi. It is one of the oldest surviving written records of the Sacred Marriage myth cycle10; and although Her sexuality is celebrated, Inanna’s story never included pregnancy, as Starhawk notes.
In Greece, perhaps as early as the Paleolithic era, the Divine Female was known as Nyx, Black Mother Night, “the primordial foundation of all manifested forms”, who laid the Egg of creation11. She was the full Emptiness, the empty Fullness. Aristophanes later sang of Her, “Black-winged Night … laid a wind-born egg, and as the seasons rolled, Forth sprang Love, the longed-for, shining with wings of gold12.” Her Darkness was understood as “a depth of love”, not a source of evil as later humans named Her.
As Aphrodite, She was said to be older than time. Aphrodite as humans once knew Her, was no mere sex goddess; She was once a Virgin-Mother-Crone trinity, and indistinguishable from the Fates and their power – perhaps more powerful. Aphrodite was “multivalent”, had many names. This was characteristic of most Goddesses because the religion of the time was oral, and the stories of the diverse manifestations of the Ultimate Principle linked and were embellished upon as humans told them and travelled. Aphrodite was associated with the sea and dolphins, childbirth and the energy that opens seeds, sexuality and the longing that draws creatures together. The Love that She embodied as it was once understood was a Love deep down in things; it could be expressed as an “allurement” intrinsic to the nature of the Universe13. The Orphics sang of Her:
For all things are from You
Who unites the cosmos.
You will the three-fold fates
You bring forth all things
Whatever is in the heavens
And in the much fruitful earth
And in the deep sea14.
Surely She who represented such a power, could be said to represent a fundamental cosmic dynamic. Scientists in the last few centuries have spoken of a basic dynamism of attraction in the universe that is primal, using the word “gravity” to point to it, but it remains fundamentally mysterious15. And what difference Hymns of this kind to the Psalms, which have been understood to praise the Divine – surely One who unites the cosmos and brings forth all things deserves the dignity of ultimate divine praise.
As Dana, She was Goddess of many peoples – the Danes, the biblical Danites, and the Celtic tribe “Tuatha De Danann”, and in Russia she was called Dennitsa: the Daniel of the Bible was “Dan-El”, his name really a title denoting his belonging to and knowledge of Goddess Dana16. Goddess was still very present to human consciousness at the time of the writing of the Old Testament, a fact most often not taken into account, or at least not sympathetically explained, in exegetical accounts.
In China, the archaic Great Mother was named Shin-Mu, described as “Mother of Perfect Intelligence17”. Also She was known as Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion – She who hears the cries of the world.
As Tara, She was known from India to Ireland as the primal Goddess Earth18. Praise and knowledge of Her has survived in Tibetan Buddhism into our times. In Tantric Buddhism She is understood to be at once both transcendent and immanent, at the centre of the cycle of birth and death, pressing “toward consciousness and knowledge, transformation and illumination19.”
As Prajnaparamita in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Female Metaphor is transcendent Wisdom and has been recognized as ” ‘Mother of all the Buddhas’ because Buddha activity arises out of, results from, and is born from Wisdom20.” Her space is not a passive place, it is fertile and vibrant.
As Vajravarahi, She has been offered praise in the following way:
OM! Veneration to you, noble Vajravarahi!
OM! Veneration to you, noble and unconquered!
Mother of the three worlds! Mistress of Knowledge! …
OM! Veneration to you, Vajravarahi! Great Yogini!
Mistress of Love! She who moves through the air21!
Vajravarahi is a face of the Fire of the Cosmos, the Dancer, the Unseen Shaper22. She represents the everchanging flow of energy23. She has been imagined as holding a sword of insight and discernment, and a cup of blood – the blood representing the life force and potential for renewal as any Goddess’ blood does. Vajravarahi is a sharp, compassionate Intelligence, pervading all.
As Kali Ma, in the Hindu tradition, She is addressed as Supreme and Primordial, alone remaining as “One ineffable and inconceivable … without beginning, multiform by the power of Maya, … the Beginning of all, Creatrix, Protectress and Destructress24.” The great mystic Ramakrishna of the 19th century, was overwhelmed by passion to realize Her and said he could not bear the separation any longer25. When She did reveal Herself to him, he experienced “a limitless, infinite shining ocean of consciousness or spirit” – he was “panting for breath26”.
As Demeter of Greece, She is Mother of the grain, of wheat – “corn” as it was known, which was understood to reveal the Mystery of Being and was the core symbol of the Eleusinian Mysteries celebrated annually. The ‘Vision into the Abyss of the Seed’, was a vision of the Vulva – the Mother of all Life27. Demeter is always in relationship with Her Daughter Persephone – they are a union of the new reborn within and of the old. Demeter as Mother gives the sheaf of wheat to Persephone as Daughter, passing on the Knowledge, representing the continuity, the unbroken thread of life. Mother Goddess and Daughter, in this way reveal the Mystery of the seed in the fruit, the fruit in the seed, the eternal Creativity. The grain of wheat is both the beginning and the end of the cycle, and thereby may represent knowledge of life and death – Divine Wisdom; and it is also food, thus embodying all three aspects of Goddess. The bread that wheat becomes, sustains the human, who also eventually gives itself away becoming food for the Universe. Persephone, like Demeter herself – the Grain, “becomes the Goddess of the three worlds: the earth, the underworld, and the heavens28.” They and their initiates are thus eternal.
In the Christian tradition, Mary of Nazareth came to embody Goddess, as many recount. This has been so mythologically and in the hearts and minds of the people regardless of the ambivalent official postures by the Church. Mary became known as Moon Goddess, Star of the Sea, Our Lady and many other titles that recall more ancient Goddess roots. Mary has been the one to whom the people turned, certain of Her Love and mercy.
To the Sumerians the Divine was Queen Nana, to the Romans “Anna Perenna”. She is Al-Uzza of Mecca, Artemis of Ephesus, Anatis of Egypt, Eurynome of Africa, Coatlique of the Aztecs. She is Rhea, Tellus, Ceres, Hera. The Female Metaphor has been known in innumerable ways and by innumerable names as humans tried to express their perception of the Great Mystery. She encompassed All. She has been present throughout the millennia in the myths, rituals, religions and poetry of humanity. She has been loved and revered.
And even before She appeared in human form, there were stones, trees, pools, fruits and animals that She either lived in or were identified with Her or parts of Her. For many peoples the stones and rocks were Her bones, the vegetation Her hair. Poppies and pomegranates and other such many-seeded flora identified Her fertility and abundance. The earth itself was understood as Her belly, the mountains as places of refuge, caves providing shelter for the unborn and the dead. Primal peoples everywhere at some time understood Earth Herself as Divine One – Mother. They languaged this in different ways. The pre-Celtic indigenous Europeans named Her – the Land – as Lady Sovereignty29. In Greece She was known as Gaia.
Central to understanding the Female Metaphor, is understanding the sacredness of vessels, pots, containers. These objects were understood as representations of Her. Pots, urns, pitchers “made possible the long term storage of oils and grains; the transforming of raw food into cooked; … also sometimes used to store the bones and ashes of the dead30.” The vessel was felt as an extension of the female body that shaped life, carried the unborn, and provided nourishment. Kettle, oven, cauldron have to do with warmth and transformation; bowl, chalice and goblet are vessels of nourishment and their openness is suggestive of gift. The making and decorating of pottery was among the primordial functions of woman, often with taboos imposed on men to prevent them from going near. In later periods of human culture, in Eleusis, Rome and Peru and elsewhere the sacred vessels were supervised by the priestesses. The chalice was the holy Cup, felt as Her power to give life. Riane Eisler in The Chalice and the Blade, compares the chalice’s power to give life with that of the blade, which is the power to take life, and develops how this was borne out culturally. In Christianity, woman was denied the right to handle the vessel as chalice – a ritual metaphor for the huge transition that had taken place in the human understanding; it was as if the female body no longer belonged to the female.
Water was a central Goddess abode, as it nourished and transformed, and also contained. She was identified with the water birds and ducks. As Bird Goddess She was the life giving force, nurturing the world with moisture, giving rain, the divine food – the very milk of Her breasts. So our ancestors frequently featured breasts set in rain torrents on the jars that they made31.
The tree as container and shelter, and also sometimes bearer of nourishment as in the fruit-bearing tree, was a central vegetative presence of Goddess. The figuring of such a tree in a negative context in later religious stories of humanity was not an arbitrary matter – this tree, particularly a fruit tree, was understood by the people of that time to be bearer of the Female Metaphor. The story was clearly a political statement, as many researchers now suggest.
Some animals were identified as particularly potent with Her; the deer with its fast growing antlers speaking of Her regenerative power, the toad with its pubic shape, the bull with its crescent shaped horns, the butterfly that emerged from its dark transformative space, the bear that so powerfully protected the young, the pig with its fast growing body and soft fats. The pig’s identification with Goddess, with the Old Religion of the Land, had a lot to do with its later denigration, and taboos on its flesh32. Similiarly, animals with which women have been “insulted” – cow, duck, hen – are animals once sacred to the Female. The snake was especially significant as symbolic of immortality, vitality and rejuvenation because of its shedding skin. The snake’s intimacy with the earth, its knowledge of the darkness of the earth’s womb as well as the light of the upper world, made it a symbol of power and wisdom. It was a Mother-power and wisdom that the later patriarchs rejected, as evidenced in their artwork and literature. The treatment of the snake’s knowledge in the Genesis myth is a direct reference to the Old Religion. In Christian art, Mary as Goddess is often depicted standing on the snake crushing it.
As the humans developed symbols, one of the earliest representations of Goddess was the downward pointing triangle, the pubic triangle. This was a recognition of the Source of life, the Gateway. Sometimes Goddess was depicted displaying her breasts, belly, genitalia, or entire naked body as a form of divine epiphany. Today, Western science has come to understand that the Universe is still rushing away from its birthplace, still expanding. The Mystery is still birthing. The Gateway still pours Itself forth. All of manifestation is divine epiphany – Her ecstatic irrepressible expression. This ancient Goddess symbol has been renewed empirically.
Central to the spirituality and understanding of Great Goddess is the recurrent cycle of birth and death, the immortal process of creation and destruction. It is a cycle seen most clearly in the moon, with its waxing, fullness and waning; which also corresponds to the body cycle of menstruation. The constant flux of things is manifest everywhere, in the seasons, in breathing, in eating. This is the nature of Goddess, Her manifestation, Her play. Anthropomorphized, this cycle is Virgin, Mother, and Crone. In Her most ancient and powerful depictions, Great Goddess embodies all three aspects – not just one; for example, Artemis is not only depicted as Virgin, in some images She clearly represents Mother and Crone too. These three aspects of the cycle, of Goddess, do belong together, and together they constitute a wholeness. Really they cannot be separated; one phase cannot “be” on its own, that is, a moon cannot always be full, the leaves cannot fall off the tree unless they grew there first, a new breath cannot be taken unless the old one is expired. The cycle has these aspects but it is One. And so Goddess of old was known, a union of three faces, complete and whole, yet ever in flux and dynamic. This triple aspect metaphor was later used to describe the triune nature of the patriarchal God, in both the East and the West, though in the Western teachings of the trinitarian Deity, its relationship to the cycle of Life was most often more abstract33.
Ultimately the Female Metaphor, Goddess, is about the celebration of Life, its eruption, its flux, its sustenance, with all that life demands and gives. She is an affirmation of the power symbolized by the chalice, the power to give life: initiate it, sustain it, pour it out. This is the power to Be, that all beings must have; not the power to Rule, that only a few might take. The popular Jungian understanding of the “Feminine” is not sufficient to contain Her, shuffled off as She usually is to a portion of reality. And frequently that portion in the popular mind consists of passive receptive qualities. These qualities are only part of the whole picture. As Virgin, Mother and Crone, She is eagle, bear, lioness, snake, as well as deer, gentle breeze, flower, rabbit34. She is not manifesting “masculinity” when she hunts for food, and neither is the human female when she operates in the world analytically or assertively.
The Virgin/Maiden Re-Storied35
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 signified autonomy, and it was a power to be “at cause”, instead of “at effect”; it was only in later patriarchal stories, that a Goddess’ autonomy was “concomitant” with a loss of her sexuality, as in Athena’s case36. 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 ritually37 – sometimes to suit Herself, sometimes to suit the males with whom She mated38. 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 true39.
The Virgin’s purity is this: Her unswerving commitment to Her truth, Her true Self. This Self-serving purity was a deep commitment to Being. Later patriarchal obsessions with unbroken hymens, turned the Virgin’s essential “Yes” to Life into a “No40”. She became reduced in Christian times to a “closed gate41”, 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 altar42.” She loved all beings, desired their existence. She knew Creative Lust – Lust for Being. So Virgin Goddesses of many cultures have guarded perpetual flames, representing this purity of purpose and passion. Diana, Great Virgin of Rome, is depicted with a flame. The priestesses of Brigid, Goddess in Ireland, tended a flame; which was later, for a period of time, tended by nuns and Brigid was 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 being43. The earliest stories of Artemis speak of a Goddess for whom “each creature – each plant, each wood, each river – is … a Thou, not an it44.” 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 spirit45. She was 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. Christine Downing declares that “the spear of the goddess is a spear of passion”, and notes Rene Malamud’s perception that “all passion means fundamentally a search for self46.”
Athena has, in Western secular culture, most commonly embodied the patriarchal version of Virgin – depicted as She has been in a suit of armour, with the head of Her sister Medusa on Her shield. In Athena’s story as it evolved over time, can be seen a story of women throughout the ages47. Originally Athena was from North Africa where She was an aspect of the Triple Goddess Neith, along with Metis and Medusa48. While classic writers of later times insisted on Her asexual nature, “older traditions gave her several consorts” including Pan49. In Her oldest images and stories, Athena was associated with bird and snake, and was the inventor of all arts. She was one of the very early parthenogenetic Goddesses. 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 (and the old form of Athena), cannibalized by Zeus, was said to counsel Zeus from within his belly50 – She was in effect, the first woman behind every great man. Athena became the archetype of the patriarchal dutiful daughter, Her father’s mouthpiece, used to give authority to his edicts that included the denigration of Her own kind. In the Oresteia, one of the most frequently performed Greek dramas, standardly interpreted to be a lesson in the wisdom of state administered justice, Athena casts the deciding vote to acquit Orestes of the murder of his mother [Errata Note: in the book version, it says “to acquit Apollo …”, which is incorrect]. The grounds for his acquittal is that the mother is not a parent, merely the nurse of the male seed, and Athena is proclaimed as primary witness to the glory of a child brought forth from the father. Athena then persuades the Furies, the “last remaining representatives of woman’s old powers” to submit to the new patriarchal order51. 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 soldier52. Her holy quest had been in the service of Life, urging forward the creative spirit, that all may be fully what it is capable of being. 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 buttocks53”; Inanna too, Great Goddess of the Sumerian people rejoices in Her own sexual beauty very explicitly. 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 actual inseparability of the Mother and Virgin aspects is obvious here. It is interesting to contrast this perspective on Aphrodite with that of Jungian, Robert Johnson, who claims the patriarchal myths as the earliest sources on Her54. Johnson calls Aphrodite “primitive femininity”, and after affirming that all women contain “the Aphrodite nature”, proclaims “her chief characteristics … (as) … vanity, conniving, lust, fertility, and tyranny when she is crossed55.” Charlene Spretnak wonders particularly about his inclusion of “fertility” in the “string of negative adjectives”. Johnson goes on to label Aphrodite as “a thorough bitch56”.
Persephone is a Virgin Goddess who has been to hell and back. In Persephone’s story in its earliest version57, we see particularly the connection of the Crone and the Virgin, how these two aspects are really inseparable. Persephone chooses to go to the underworld and indeed becomes Queen of the Dead; she comes to know this realm and to guide others through it, but she is equally associated with re-emergence, re-generation. She is not a naive Virgin; she can go into the darkness in trust, knowing its fertility, and trusting deeply her own impetus to sprout afresh, to begin again. She is a Virgin who has been around the block many times, and because of that (not in spite of it), she continues to believe in her capacity to take form again. This Knowledge of life and death, of the cycle, is the Mystery that was celebrated in the rites of Demeter and Persephone in Eleusis every Autumn. 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 an image of the power to Be, that surges through all Creation continuously and is manifest in individual life stories also. She is the Seed of Life that never fades away. Persephone tends the sorrows – as Spretnak tells in her version of the story. Persephone’s pronouncement is:
You have waxed into the fullness of life
And waned into darkness;
May you be renewed in tranquility and wisdom58.
Persephone goes into the heart of our sorrows to unfold the Mystery. She is an energy present in the seeds, in each person, creature, all of existence – at the heart of matter, of Life.
These Goddesses are the anthropomorphic forms of an energy, a dynamic that is Virgin. She has been named Artemis, Athena, Brigid, Aphrodite, and Mary … so that we may speak of Her. These forms that humans have given Her are only one of Her valencies, the way in which we may tell stories; there are other subtle valencies to be understood once it is clear that we speak of an aspect of Divine Essence (as opposed to a bit of patriarchally imagined female psyche). When I speak of Virgin, I understand Her as the Urge to Be – whatever it is in the dead looking branch that pushes forth the green shoot. She can be felt in you, as the Urge to take a new breath, as your hunger for food, as your hunger for anything. She is passionate. She can be felt in your longing – any longing. She is that in you which midwifes the soul, and any creative project. She is known when there is real self-love, one’s beauty recognized, one’s truth held firm and allowed Being. She is the hope, the Promise59 of fulfillment – symbolized and expressed in the image of the new crescent moon, and felt, as that fine sliver of light enters your eyes. She is all Possibility within you, within the seething quantum foam. She is essentially a big “Yes” to existence.
I associate the Virgin with the Buddha nature, that Shining One within all60, that calls us forward … She is the future that calls us to become all that we can become, for whom we “refine the gold”. Virgin nature is “She Who will Be”, who can hold forth her song despite any forces of disintegration61. She is the courage, confidence and exuberance to say “yes” to each particular small self.
The Mother/Creator Re-Storied62
Where the Virgin is primarily in relationship with Self, the Mother is primarily in relationship with Other. She is the Network of relatedness, the Weaver of the Fabric. She is the peaking of Creative Power. As Mother, the Goddess is primal – the first concept of Divinity, the Creator. She is the beginning and end of all things, the Creative Force of the Universe, parthenogenetically giving birth to all life. The earliest human beings knew nothing of the male role in the process of reproduction – there was no reason or inclination to correlate copulation with childbirth. The women themselves must have eventually noted it, since they were the keepers of a lunar based calendar, which coincided with their menstrual cycles. The human community, the village, gathered around the primary dyad of mother and child. The woman as mother was perhaps the original civilizing force, though we have been led to believe, in the texts of our education that it was men who led the way in civilization, that motherhood distracted women from this great enterprise. But there is evidence that in the earliest times, it was motherhood that gave the very impetus to grow, sustain, beautify, count, write63. It was she
who wielded the digging stick or the hoe: she who tended the garden crops and accomplished those masterpieces of selection and cross-fertilization which turned raw wild species into the prolific and richly nutritious domestic varieties64.
Indeed it is still she who comprises some eighty percent of the world’s farmers. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, “house” or “town” may stand as symbols for “mother”. Ancient civilizations traced their descent through the mother; the mother was the basis for the clan, and it was named after her. Some ancient tomb inscriptions disregarded fathers. Even the earliest patriarchies remained aware of and prepared to admit the source of their power65; it was only later that the mother became merely passive vessel, particularly in Greek philosophy. Pharaohs ruled by matrilineal succession. The throne itself is a stylization of the lap of the Mother; that’s where the power came from, being a child of the Mother66. The pharaoh’s title was originally Great Gate or Great House, symbolic of the cosmic Womb, by whose power he ruled. Since women were the first measurers of time, the Sanskrit word “matra” and the Greek “meter” both mean “mother” and “measurement”. In some civilizations the female skill in mathematics was thought to be associated with their ability to give birth. In many cultures, ancient stories tell of the Mother Goddess inventing the alphabet67.
Barbara Walker also notes how religions based on the Mother were free of what she calls the “neurotic” quest for indefinable meaning in life, as such religions “never assumed that life would be required to justify itself68.” Such religions, were generally free of guilt, fear and a sense of sin, since birth, not baptism was the only pre-requisite for belonging. Even patriarchal religions have reached for maternal imagery to describe the love of the God. Buddha too described Universal Love in this way:
As a mother … protects and loves her child … so let a person cultivate love without measure toward the whole world, above, below, and around, unstinted, unmixed with any feeling of differing or opposing interests … This state of mind is the best in the world69.
This maternal energy, seen here as the deep spiritual calling of all humans, has been for most women the zone where we frequently lost ourselves. Patriarchal religions have exhorted her to embody this unconditional love of the Other, with no balancing factor of love of Self. Where her capacity for this love of Other has been has been given its due, it has not at the same time, been recognized as a capacity for spiritual leadership. In the Catholic tradition, Mary is praised as a paradigm of virtue, and yet women and girls have sacramental roles withheld from them. If it is as perfect servant that she is praised, by their own theology that should make her perfect model for leadership. Mary is apparently the exceptional woman, yet Jesus is obviously the exceptional male – and that fact does not prevent male leadership. In the early days of Christianity, Mariology was a rival religion – there was grassroots allegiance to Mary as Divine – and that was evidently one of the factors in the decision to proclaim Mary Mother of God in 431 at Ephesus; the church thus took into itself this powerful image – rather like Zeus swallowing the Goddess Metis, thus incorporating her Wisdom and Creative power, and ensuring huge popular following. Simone de Beauvoir said that “it was as mother that woman was fearsome; it is in maternity that she must be transfigured and enslaved70.” The fathers of the Christian church have been profoundly ambivalent about the details of Mary’s motherhood, and her relationship to Divinity, Jesus and humanity; motherhood is a profoundly ambivalent role in many cultures. Many women remain very confused. It is clear that the maternal energy is indeed something that it would befit all humans to aspire to. It is a holy passion, but it has been unbalanced and short-circuited; frequently it is a woman locked into domesticity or a woman pouring her life’s energy into mothering a man or an institution from whom she is getting no return. The potentially political and global significance of her consuming passion to sustain the world and make it better, has not been recognized within the cultural narrative71, and it has not been balanced with a consuming passion for her own being. The Mother’s relationship to Other, Her Creative Power to give Life, in earliest mythologies, was not the prison that She was later contained in.
In patriarchal mythologies throughout the world, the Mother of All has frequently become “wife” of some god. Hera is such a One. Known in our times, as jealous, quarrelsome wife of Zeus, She pre-dated him by far as ancient face of the parthenogenetic Mother. The first “Olympic” races held every four years, had been Hers, with runners – all girls – selected from three age groups representing the ancient Trinity72. Hera was the primordial Trinity, indigenous to this place, personifying all three aspects of Virgin, Mother and Crone. Hera and Zeus’ constant mythological quarrels reflected real conflicts between the early matristic cultures and the rising patriarchate. She and the Amazon queens who represented Her did not go quietly, and they remained discontented with the new regimes. Hera’s troublesome nature in the Olympic pantheon reflects One who had been “coerced but never really subdued by an alien conqueror73.” Hera’s first consort had been Heracles; the word “hero” referring to him and being the masculine form of “hera74”. “Hera” predated “hero” and may serve as term for all courageous individuals as noted, and I do use it that way in the seasonal celebration of Eostar.
In some indigenous traditions around the globe, the birthing mother is understood as a model for courage – Iglehart Austen notes Native American, Samoan and Aztec cultures that honoured her as warrior75. There is evidence that many ancient cultures regarded birthing as a ritual act; in Catal Huyuk there is a ceremonial birthing shrine “with red-painted floors and images of the ubiquitous Open-legged Goddess in labor76.” Vicki Noble describes the birthing woman as “quintessentially shamanic77”, for in this act, she goes to the gates of life and death and with heaving and shoving and the most intense encounter with universal forces, experiencing trance states, she brings another being into the world. Perhaps the phenomena of “post-natal depression” in these times is a symptom of the lack of recognition of this.
Goddess as Mother is also the Weaver of the Fabric of the Universe, with many ancient Goddesses imaged this way. This power came to be feared, rather than revered – in Her “character as creator, sustainer and increaser of life” the Great Goddess came to be seen as “negative and evil”, by a consciousness that desired “permanence and not change, eternity and not transformation, law and not creative spontaneity …(turning) her into a demon78.”This consciousness, which Neumann calls an “antivital fanaticism”, feared being “ensnared” in the “web of life, the veil of Maya79”. Sometimes the weaving activity of women therefore became known as the cause of illness or a curse with some Christian traditions even forbidding knitting. The Fates of Greece have had nasty stories told about them – the classic texts of this culture telling how they had to be “submitted to the authority of Zeus who commanded them80 …”. Ixchel the Weaver, Mother, Queen, Grandmother to the peoples of Southern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, and most of Central America81, came to be symbolized by an “overturned vessel of doom82” – yet “for centuries, women have made pilgrimages to Her holy places83”. Iglehart Austen describes Ixchel as sitting “at Her loom with Her ever-present bird companion, the nest weaver, who is associated with Goddess throughout the world” – and how Ixchel “easily and with great presence … in the bliss of creativity” spins “from her deepest being” and breaths the “breath of eternity, … the life force into each being84”.
This Mother energy, which sustains and nurtures the new life that the Virgin begins, participates in decisions that affect this life, and allows the Crone to cut the cord when it is necessary, has been named “ten thousand names”, so that humans may speak of Her. When I speak of Mother, I understand Her as Holy Context, Place to Be. She is the fullness that can befelt in the peaking of your breath, that dynamic interchange within you. She can be felt in the satisfaction of a well crafted project, the satisfaction of the successful tending of needs. Her power can be felt in the holding of another being, when life is given in some form to another. The Mother can be felt in the comfort offered by needed rain, seen and smelt in the full flower, tasted in the ripe fruit. She is so subtle, yet obvious, in the work of everyday, of strengthening networks, weaving and repairing, creating the world, raising children, teaching adults. She is the Promise fulfilled, Creativity in its fullness – symbolized and expressed in the image of the full moon, and felt, as that awesome disc of light enters your eyes. She is the Realization of Passion within you – most likely beyond your wildest dreams. She is the Bliss of Union.
I associate the Mother with the Sangha, that Community of support around the globe – it is complex and multifaceted, and specific facets may be focussed on, but at its broadest, it is the interdependent web without whom none of us would be sustained85. She is the present, the eternal now, the living of life as if it goes on forever – and indeed it does; if the thread were once broken, we would not be here. The form changes – every atom recycled infinite times, the shape shifts, but life does go on. She is the pure gift of every moment, filled as each moment is with the Creativity of the whole web since the beginning. She is “She Who Is”.
The Old One/Crone Re-Storied86
The Old One as a phase of Being is significant. The fact that life continues past reproductive fertility indicates an evolutionary interest in the creativity of this phase; Life has preserved it in the evolutionary story. The post-menopausal years obviously have some impact on creativity as a whole, since it is an extensive part of the life-cycle before death.
The celebration of this threefold cycle of the Goddess is about the celebration of Life, about Creation and the sustaining of it. There is in it an acceptance of the waning of life, of death and the darkness as part of the life cycle. “The color black, now commonly associated with death or evil in Christian iconography, was in Old Europe the color of fertility and the soil87.” Over the centuries, the Christian mind has imagined the religion of the Female/Goddess to be sordidly pre-occupied with death, whereas in fact this may be considered a massive projection; the reverse being true. It is only in the denial of decline and death that we surround ourselves with it, because there is no place for new life to spring from. In the present cultural context where most people imagine or pretend that they are immortal, where death/darkness is seen as an aberration – not normal, we are surrounded by a fascination with it, and we struggle with a planet that is over-burdened by our waste. If the end part of the cycle was given a place, its reality accepted, we would always find ways of dealing with the garbage. It is in the compost, the de-composition, in the darkness, that new life is nurtured, fertility is found. It is in the acceptance of death that wisdom is gained, and life is lived more fully. Patricia Reis suggests that when the Female Metaphor was whole, death was not understood as separate. She points out that for 30,000 years (33,000 B.C.E. – 3,000 B.C.E.) there were no images of a horrific Goddess, indicating perhaps that She only became terrifying when She lost her connection to the cycle88.
The Crone is primarily in relationship with All-That-Is (where Virgin is primarily with Self, and Mother is with Other). The Crone/Old One is that movement back into the Great Sentience out of which All arises, thus She sees into the elements behind form. She is often depicted with wide open eyes; often associated with the gaze of owl or snake – and knowledge of the Dark. In Her Egyptian form of Maat, She was known as the “All-Seeing Eye89” and Maat’s plume/feather was the hieroglyph for “truth90”. The Knowledge of this aspect of Goddess is beyond all knowledge; it is the Wisdom of the ages – of all Time and no Time. The Crone aspect is the contraction that initiates destruction, when structure is no longer necessary or life-serving. Her contraction may also be understood as a systole, a contraction of the heart by which the blood is forced onward and the circulation enabled91. She is the systole that carries all away – She is about loss, but the contraction of the heart is obviously a creative one, it is the pulse of life. Is it only our short-sightedness that keeps us from seeing the contraction that way? Is it because we insist on taking it all so personally, when it is not, in fact?
As the end of the cycle, She is known in the breakdown of the endometrium, the shedding of the old, the flow of menstrual blood. She may be represented holding a bowl of blood, as Kali is, which signifies “birth fluid”. The blood of Goddess is “‘self-produced, primeval matter’ the ocean of uterine blood before creation, holding future forms in the condition of formlessness or Chaos92.” It is not blood that is shed by the blade, it is blood that naturally flows in the cycle of Life, to prepare for the new. Walker refers to it as “wise blood93”. Menstruation has been such a source of shame and pain for women in our times94, and blood so associated with violence, that it is hard for us to re-imagine it as symbol of Wisdom and Regeneration. In the patriarchal narrative, blood shed by violence has been much preferred to that shed by the female. Seeing blood shed by violence even became a form of entertainment, and still is today, though the mythic advent of such acts (shedding blood by the blade), as a grasp for power, can be traced to the Epic of Gilgamesh in the second millennium B.C.E95.. The power being grasped by shedding blood this way can be seen as a synthetic power – a substitute for the power to give life. The blood of the Female is very different; it is indeed awesome, indicating as it does, a dynamic of loss in the nature of things, but the larger arc of that dynamic is consistently creative. Our flesh, like all matter, is in constant flux. “Creation postulates change and any change destroys what went before96.” The Crone is the one who “clears the decks”, without which the new is not possible. She and the Virgin are always linked, the end and the beginning; One cannot exist without the Other. The snake that sheds its old skin, or eats its own tail, is Goddess’ symbol of constant decomposition, constant renewal. It is in the burning that the fire creates warmth and light. The lioness must kill to feed her young. It is in the eating that our teeth and bodies break down what is needed for sustenance – the Crone is our constant companion.
Because of the snake’s association with power, wisdom, transformation and renewal it came to be associated particularly with the Old One/Crone – the dark aspect of Goddess – although originally the snake/serpent was the Great Goddess herself. The snake has primordially been associated with the moon and the female, and in the Christian West all this became associated with evil, yet as Joseph Campbell affirms “the serpent represents immortal energy and consciousness engaged in the field of time, constantly throwing off death and being born again97.” The Christian Goddess, Mary, has been imaged as standing on the serpent’s head, crushing it; probably one of Mary’s more powerful images, yet it is in opposition to Her ancient heritage. Campbell says that the portrayal of the serpent as a negative figure “amounts to a refusal to affirm life98.”
Some of the Crone’s names are Hecate, Kali, Caillech, Hel, Lillith and Medusa; the Aztecs have known her as Coatlique, the Egyptians as Selket. These Goddesses are associated with death, devouring, seduction, rebellion, anger, darkness and awesome power – not always seen wholistically or as agents of transformation as the Dark Goddesses may be seen, but at least they are still present. In the Christianized culture of the West She has almost completely disappeared in these forms. Her remnant is the wicked witch/hag of children’s stories and cartoons, whose potency and intelligence is frequently fairly hollow. The term “old woman” is often used as a term of derogation in the Western cultural context; it is meant to reflect uselessness. Miriam Robbins Dexter points out that although patriarchal cultures could find a place for the use of the virgin and mother energies, they could find no such use for the old woman99. The young virgin could represent stored energy, and she maintained some numinosity for that reason. The mother transmitted energy, gave it to others. The old woman however, only had knowledge; this could be threatening, and was increasingly trivialized, as well as actually being truncated in its development by a discriminatory environment100.
Eve could be seen as a remnant of the Crone, since from the Judeo-Christian perspective, she is the cause of all death. In the fifth century C.E., a church council announced that it was heresy to say that death was natural rather than the result of Eve’s disobedience101. As an Eve, every woman was “the devil’s gateway” as announced by Tertullian. But Eve is really a very passive kind of Crone; even though she is to blame for death, she actually does not do the destroying, the God does; and Christian theologians noted that the devil tempted Eve because she was weaker willed than Adam. Eve is a far cry from a Kali or a Lillith or a Medusa. Most of what she carries around is guilt, not wrath. And many women have taken on Eve’s burden.
Medusa is a good example of how Goddess in her dark aspect became demonized in the patriarchal context. Gimbutas points out that the earliest Greek gorgons were not terrifying symbols, but were portrayed with symbols of regeneration – bee wings and snakes as antennae102. Medusa with her serpent hair had been a widely recognized symbol of Divine Female Wisdom – the serpent representing Knowledge of Change, the very essence of Being, never-ending renewal, and thus immortality. Medusa was a face of Ultimate Mystery, of the One – She was “All that has been, that is, and that will be103.” In our cultural mythology Perseus was celebrated as hero for being able to defeat her and cut off her head with its so called deadly gaze. It was said that her gaze was so fearsome it turned mortals to stone. There is no doubt that it is fearsome to look into the eye of the Divine; but patriarchal gods have carried the same characteristic, Yahweh for example, without threat of the same retribution. In the patriarchal context, is it really the gaze of the Female that is deadly? It is women who are the chronically gazed upon, whether as sex object or on a pedestal; perhaps this epitomizes Medusa’s/Goddess’ imprisonment – how She is “kept an eye on”. The beheading of Medusa – one who is icon of Wisdom, may be understood as a story of dis-memberment of the Female Metaphor/Goddess104. The hera’s journey today is to go against the patriarchal injunction and look Medusa straight on, as philosopher Helene Cixous suggests105. She is at first fearsome, but the Dark Goddess’ fierceness nurtures a strength in a woman, gives her back the “steel in her stomach” that she needs to live her life. This Old Wisdom tradition is about recognizing the Power within, and daring to take the journey into that Self-knowledge.
The Crone is known as the Dark One/Dark Goddess, since Her realm is that of the waxing Dark. She leads us into the Void. Hers is the Underworld, that Place at the foundations of Life, where things are broken-down, de-composed, dis-solved; where the old ways are no longer known and the new can only be listened and felt for. It is necessary to come to a re-valuing of the Dark to understand Her. In the earliest of times the night was perceived as part of the day106 – night was not the absence of light. The night was alive with its own kind of life. Even into more recent times (this past millennium), the day was reckoned from noon to noon; midnight was the centre position. A meridian then indicated the full moon overhead at midnight, not the high point of noon as it is now understood – the term “meridian” was coined from Mary-Diana, the Moon-Goddess107. The first calendars were lunar and menstrual. The light, or what we today call the “day”, was understood to emerge out of the dark/night; as indeed all of manifest reality seems to. For some religious traditions the day still begins in the evening, and the Catholic Church still calculates many of its holy days on the lunar calendar. The seven day week is a calculation of the menstrual calendar108. The Darkness of Goddess is a rich fertile Place, seething with possibility and all that is necessary for Life to begin afresh. Her Darkness is where the new and undreamed of may be conceived. I think of it as the “quantum vacuum” that physicists speak about. Brian Swimme says,
Modern science allows us to reapprehend … the superessential darkness of (the Divine) in what quantum physicists refer to as the quantum vacuum out of which elementary particles emerge and what I refer to as the all-nourishing abyss109.
The Crone’s Dark Space is often symbolized in the Cauldron – a place of transformation, where the new is cooked up. She is the Wisdom, the “Organizing Principle” that knows the recipe; She can be trusted to deliver from deep within. Her cauldron is not for mixing poison as we’ve been told, but it is a Cauldron of Creativity, frequently found at the bottom of deep fears, volcanic emotion, deep sadness. Within Her dark Space is found the essence for re-membering. As Patricia Reis reflects,
Whenever I have felt the Dark Goddess’ consciousness filling me there is always an accompanying dread. I know my life will never be the same. I know that I am being initiated into a new aspect of myself, a new part of my journey, which exists separate from my relationships to anyone else. And yet there is also a sureness, a firmness, a resoluteness, as in a re-solution110.
Often She is met unprepared: through an accident, an illness, an emotional break – somehow we are broken down, torn apart. Sometimes change may have been desired but the way unknown. Hers is an invitation to transformation. When I speak of Crone, I understand Her asShe Who Creates a Space to Be, (where Virgin is Urge to Be, and Mother is Place to Be). She can be felt in the need to exhale, to empty – in the release. She is felt in the ending of things, in the shed skins of all your old shapes – who you have been, and are no longer. She may be felt as pain, or as joy, or as both. Her symbol is sometimes the sword; She cuts through illusion, and that vision is sometimes hard to bear. Hers is a fierce love, which can be felt when you love but something needs to change. She is known in the anger, in the “No more111!”, in the chaos of dismantling a structure no longer needed. The Crone can be seen in the seed pod, the peeling bark, the pruned branches, the scissors cutting the thread. She is the Dissolver, the Transformer – symbolized and expressed in the image of the waning crescent sliver of the moon, before she disappears. She is the Nurturant Darkness that fills your being, comforts the Sentience in you, allows new constellations to gestate in you.
I associate the Crone with the Dharma, the Truth-As-It-Is. She sees all Truth and can bear it, and Her Compassion is without end. She allows us to let go of our small self limitations112, and is She Who Creatively Returns Us To All.
The Triple Goddess
She has these faces, but She is One. These faces kaleidoscope into each other, they blur, they support each other, they are in each other – if they were not Life would not go on, for She is a continuous Thread, a multivalent Urge. The three are reflected in each other like a never-ending mirrored reflection, thus the numinosity associated with multiples of three since ancient times; all such multiples were considered to speak a Divine Harmony of some kind.
As Carolyn McVickar Edwards tells the Celtic version:
… the endlessly boiling Cauldron was stirred by Nine Sisters. …The Nine Sisters represent the Holy Trinity of Maiden, Mother, and Crone, each able to manifest all three of Her selves113.
The Cauldron is “the Pot of the World”, the Cosmos itself, and its magic “is that of endlessly shifting shapes”, such as we are witness to in the evolutionary story of Gaia – this is Her everyday magic, displayed before us, and in which we are immersed. It is stirred by the Triple Goddess – the Female Metaphor in Her three aspects, the Evolutionary Cosmic Dynamics. As such, She is no simple linear Process, nor only two-dimensional, nor even just a few dimensions, but a web that radiates completely in all directions filling all space, like a Cosmic Sea of Superstrings.
As I deepened into each face, at the Sabbat that celebrated each one particularly, I came to insights into the particular face but also into the collective nature – the relationship – of the triad. There was sometimes a tendency and a temptation to distinguish the Three from the One that they are, and to imagine a Background out of which the Triple One emerges; that is, to split this One into yet another aspect, to speculate about a fourth element.
In the third year of the academic research, as I worked on the Lammas teaching, and was reflecting on the face of the Crone as I was sensing Her, I was identifying this face almost completely with a perceived Background, the Great Void, the All-Nourishing Abyss114… as if the Old One/Crone was the One. And I have still done that here in these chapters at times; and yet I have felt there was/is something more. This is the text from my journal as I came to this dawning awareness:
There is some distinction to be made between the formless Void/Great Sentience out of whom we all arise and the Old One who returns us to this. The distinction is always arbitrary. Is there any real distinction to be made between Manifestation/Form or the Light – the Virgin, and the Formless Void out of which it All arises? Perhaps it is that our distinctions are the mistake, the error. There is a fourth element then to this metaphor and it is the Background, the Deep Void, that is the Plenum upon which the three play out a movement, a motion. In fact none of them are distinct from the Formless Void, from Love, out of which All arises. All three are immersed in Love, are aspects of Love. Perhaps then my reason for identifying the Old One particularly with Love, in this Lammas celebration, is part of the re-storying of the Dark to Love. We so often associate Manifestation/Light with Love … that’s easy, we’ve been doing that for quite a long time – Christmas, the Birth of the Holy Child, Winter Solstice. But to re-instate the Dark One as a manifestation of Love is what I need to do, to understand. Thus perhaps my particular association of this celebration with Her, with Love.
So while I was beginning to realize and sense that each face was a face of Love, of the Background, of the All-Nourishing Abyss, of All-That-Is, I still needed at this stage to express the Dark One particularly as this Totality. I understood that and allowed myself this counterbalancing indwelling and expression.
The point is that our minds will often want to separate the Three out from All-That-Is, and experientially They can’t be. Further to this, sometime later, it was suggested that I add “Matrix” into the describing of the Mother aspect of Goddess. However, I did not really want to put it there, though it seemed correct to do so. I was aware that at that particular point I was making some arbitrary distinction between the Mother aspect as “a” face of All/Matrix, and “the” All/Matrix. Really when we understand the faces, none of them are distinct from the All/Matrix. Together they are the All/Matrix – the “Background”, the All-Nourishing Abyss, the Plenum. I hold out from naming the Mother aspect as Matrix, though She of course is, yet so are the aspects of Virgin and Crone – and that is the point. It seems to me that as we deepen into knowledge of the Virgin and Crone aspects, we will sense the “Matrix” in those facets too, that They-All-Three cannot be separated. They are indeed a Holy Trinity, a collaborative Cosmogenetic Dynamic that unfolds All, that “stirs the Pot”. Most can sense or know a “Depth of Love” – the All – in the Mother aspect; I was just beginning through this process of re-storying and ritual to sense and know the Depth of Love – the All – in the Dark One, and to guess at the Depth of Love – the All – in the Virgin.
(c) Glenys Livingstone 2005
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For edited updated versions of parts of this chapter, see (Essay Part 1) Restoring Dea – Female Metaphor for Deity by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
(Essay Part 2) Restoring Dea – Female Metaphor for Deity by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
(Essay Part 3) Restoring Dea – Female Metaphor for Deity by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
(Essay Part 1) Restoring Her as Creative Triplicity: the Urge to Be by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
(Essay Part 2) Restoring Her as Creative Triplicity: Place of Being by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
(Essay Part 3) Restoring Her as Creative Triplicity: She Who Creates the Space to Be by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
1 There are many references for this statement, as there are for many of the statements I make in this chapter, so for the purposes of this publication I will dispense with the meticulous referencing which can be found in its entirety in Chapter 3 of the academic version as already referred to. The particular combined threads in this chapter are a complex weave, a complex wine, influenced and spoken by so many at this point in time; thus a specific reference is almost meaningless. Also the objectivity and subjectivity are hard to separate, which is really true for any text (though not usually admitted). Some of the story as I have come to tell it has arisen organically over the years of my own reflection and then later found affirmation from published academic researchers. There are however “objective” sources for all the storying I do here, and it has met academic requirements. “Objective sources” are those whose information is based in archeaological and mythological research and reflection, and is able to be checked. The prominent such influences and sources for this section are Marija Gimbutas, Erich Neumann, Hallie Iglehart Austen, Barbara Walker, Merlin Stone, Joseph Campbell, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, Charlene Spretnak, Goeffrey Ashe, Marina Warner, Esther Harding, Lawrence Durdin-Robertson. These and others will be noted here in this text when specific and significant quotes are used, otherwise reference can be made to the academic version.
2 Lao Tzu, The Way of Life translated by Witter Bynner, p.40.
3 Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman, p.157. The term ‘Hierodule’ is suggested as more accurate by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, in The Myth of the Goddess, p.197.
4 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.702.
5 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.546.
6 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.721.
7 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.721.
8 Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.74.
9 Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, p.31.
10 Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.40.
11 Demetra George, Mysteries of the Dark Moon, p.115 – 119.
12 Demetra George, Mysteries of the Dark Moon, p.115, quoting Aristophanes in The Birds.
13 A description of Aphrodite that is the coalition of the work of Brian Swimme and Charlene Spretnak, as described by Charlene Spretnak in Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.xvi.
14 This was referred to as “Orphic Hymn” in the 1994 calendar Celebrating Women’s Spirituality, Crossing Press, Freedom California, week April 4 – 10. No further reference was given.
15 Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.43.
16 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p. 206-207.
17 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.933.
18 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.976.
19 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p. 334.
20 Rita Gross, “The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism”, The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, p.186.
21 Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.124, citing a poem to Vajravarahi from a Tibetan Art Calendar 1987, Wisdom Publications, Boston.
22 This is a title I have coined from Brian Swimme’s name for Fire as unseen cosmic shaping power, in The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.127-139.
23 Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.124, quoting Tsultrim Allione.
24 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.489, citing Sir John Woodroffe (trans), Mahanirvanatra, p.47-50
25 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.493.
26 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.493, citing Colin Wilson, The Outsider, p.254.
27 Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, The Year of the Goddess, p.166-167.
28 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.319.
29 See Claire French, The Celtic Goddess.
30 Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born, p.85.
31 Marija Gimbutas, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, p.116.
32 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.112.
33 a notable exception is where Jesus was characterised as the Green God, and this image portrayed on churches. See William Anderson, Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth.
34 See Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, p.316-317 for a description of the wholeness by which “Goddess” was understood.
35 Other than the specific sources referred to in this section, I am indebted also to Marion Woodman, The Pregnant Virgin; Batya Podos, “The Triple Aspect of the Goddess”; Starhawk,The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess; Hallie Iglehart Austen The Heart of the Goddess; and Robin Morgan, Lady of the Beasts; for the general understanding and tone of this re-storying of the Virgin.
36 Miriam Robbins Dexter, Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book, p.143.
37 Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, p.311-312.
38 Miriam Robbins Dexter, Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book, p.167-170.
39 Esther M Harding, Woman’s Mysteries: Ancient and Modern, p.125.
40 Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic”, in Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, p.208–213, influenced my understanding of the yes within ourselves, which I came to associate with the Virgin.
41 Marina Warner, Alone of All her Sex, p.73.
42 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.284-285.
43 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddeses of Early Greece, p.77-79.
44 Christine Downing, The Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine, p.167.
45 Merlin Stone, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, p.381-386.
46 Christine Downing, The Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine, p.180, quoting Malamud in James Hillman (ed), Facing the Gods, p.56.
47 MaryDaly, Gyn/Ecology, p.13-14.
48 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.74.
49 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.74.
50 MaryDaly, Gyn/Ecology, p.13.
51 Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, p. 81.
52 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddeses of Early Greece, p.97.
53 Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.132.
54 Robert Johnson, She: Understanding Feminine Psychology, p.1.
55 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddeses of Early Greece, p.35 quoting Robert Johnson, She, p.6.
56 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddeses of Early Greece, p.35 quoting Robert Johnson, She, p.7.
57 as the pre-patriarchal version is referred to and described in Ch.2.
58 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddeses of Early Greece, p.116.
59 I derived this name for the Virgin aspect from Starhawk’s term “Child of Promise”, which she uses to describe the new Young One, The Spiral Dance, p. 219.
60 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. Ken Wilber also associates I-Buddha, andWe-Sangha, It-Dharma, thus extending the valencies of what he names “the Spiritual Big Three” in A Brief History of Everything, p. 131-134.
61 This is similar to Wilber’s understanding of the “agency” of a holon in A Brief History of Everything, p.:21-22. Willis Harman & Elisabet Sahtouris in Biology Revisioned, p.17-18 describe agency as a holon’s “capacity to maintain its wholeness in the face of environmental pressures which would otherwise obliterate it”.
62 Other than the specific sources referred to in this section, I am indebted also to Robin Morgan, Lady of the Beasts; Batya Podos, “The Triple Aspect of the Goddess”; Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess; and Marion Woodman,The Pregnant Virgin; for the general understanding and tone of this re-storying of the Mother.
63 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.684-685.
64 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.681 Quoting Lewis Mumford, The City in History, p.12.
65 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.682.
66 rich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.98-100.
67 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.684-685.
68 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.693.
69 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.694 referring to Nancy Wilson Ross, Three Ways of Asian Wisdom, p.123.
70 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p.171.
71 This is evident in derogatory references frequently made in political discussions, to “motherhood” statements and policies, as if “motherhood” describes the statement’s/policy’s small-mindedness and trivial nature. The word “trivial” itself has its roots in the sacredness of the “tri-via” – three way path
72 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddeses of Early Greece, p.88.
73 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddeses of Early Greece, p.89 quoting Jane Ellen Harrison,Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, p.491.
74 Charlene Spretnak, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, p.87.
75 Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.18.
76 Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.20.
77 Vicki Noble in “Female Blood Roots of Shamanism” quoted by Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.18.
78 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.233.
79 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.233.
80 Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, p.163.
81 Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.10.
82 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.187.
83 Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.10.
84 Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.10.
85 Similar to Wilber’s understanding of the “communion” characteristic of each holon, A Brief History of Everything, p.21-22.
86 Other than the specific sources referred to in this section I am also indebted particularly to the following for much of my understanding and tone of this re-storying of the Crone: Pam Wright, “Living With Death as a Teacher”; Demetra George, “Mysteries of the Dark Moon”; Kathryn Theatana, “Priestesses of Hecate”; Patricia Reis, “The Dark Goddess” and “A Woman Artist’s Journey”; Robin Morgan, Lady of the Beasts; Batya Podos, “The Triple Aspect of the Goddess”; and Sylvia Brinton Perera, Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women.
87 Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, p.144.
88 Patricia Reis, “The Dark Goddess”. Woman of Power p.24. The research of Marija Gimbutas suggests this also: see The Language of the Goddess, p.316.
89 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.294.
90 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.561.
91 I owe the “systole” metaphor to Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey, p.:20. He uses it to speak of an eternal pulse that lifts Himalayas, and then carries them away.
92 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.723.
93 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.636.
94 See Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove, The Wise Wound: Menstruation and Everywoman for a re-storying of menstruation. Also Taylor, Red Flower: Rethinking Menstruation.
95 Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.47-60.
96 Starhawk , The Spiral Dance, p.95.
97 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p.45.
98 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p.47.
99 Miriam Robbins Dexter, Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book, p.177.
100 Women were barred from education, yet at the same time denigrated as ignorant/foolish. See Wertheim (1995) for some of the story of women and education through the recent millennia.
101 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.290.
102 Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, p.xxiii.
103 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.629 quotingLarousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, p.37.
104 Just as the rape of Persephone – one who is Seed of Life/Redeemer/Eternal Thread – may be understood as a story of the dis-integration of the Female Metaphor/Goddess. These stories may be understood as records of the loss of an integrity that went before, just as Campbell notes was true of the story of the dismembering of Tiamat by Marduk, The Power of Myth, p.170.
105 Helene Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”, Signs 1 no. 22, p.885.
106 The day was “diurnal” – containing light and dark aspects. It is symptomatic of our present consciousness that “day” has come to mean only the light part.
107 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.647.
108 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.645.
109 Brian Swimme, in Dominic Flamiano, “A Conversation with Brian Swimme”. Original Blessing, Nov/Dec 1997, p.10 – brackets my paraphrase: Brian Swimme had used the term “God”, meaning “the Divine”.
110 Patricia Reis, “The Dark Goddess”, Woman of Power Issue 8, p.82.
111 An expression from “Song of Hecate” by Bridget McKern (1993), written in the last session of a series on Goddess that I was teaching. See Appendix B for the full text of her poem.
112 Similar to the capacities of self-transcendence and self-dissolution of holons, Willis Harman & Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.18.
113 Carolyn McVickar Edwards, The Storyteller’s Goddess, p.152.
114 Brian Swimme’s term for the void out of which all arises, Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, p.97.