Awakening to the Feminine
Earth, isn’t this what you want: an invisible arising in us?…
What is your urgent command, if not transformation? — Rilke, Ninth Duino Elegy
The primary theme of The Myth of the Goddess – the book Jules Cashford and I wrote together some twenty years ago – was that Western civilisation had developed on the foundation of a fundamental dissociation between spirit and nature, creator and creation. This dissociation effectively destroyed the ancient shamanic understanding of the presence of spirit in the phenomenal world and opened the way to its ultimate exploitation. The Feminine, once associated with the image of the Great Mother and the Great Goddesses of earlier cultures and with the deeply experienced sense that the world was part of a Sacred Cosmic Order, was relegated to the unconscious. Today, our current worldview rests on the premise of our separation from and mastery of nature, where the resources of the planet are unthinkingly plundered to serve the ever-growing demands of our species.
Once upon a time, the feeling for the sacredness of life and relationship with the Cosmos was a deep instinct, shared by the whole of humanity. Then, almost imperceptibly, it was lost. During the millennia of the patriarchal era, a tremendous problem has been constellated. It is this: in a civilization which has been structured by religions which split nature from spirit and by a male image of God presiding over religions and institutions created entirely by men and by a polarizing mythology which glorifies power, conquest and the mastery of nature, how can the long-silenced voice of the Feminine, the voice of the Soul be heard? How can a different concept of deity develop — one which embraces the Feminine and the realm of nature and would never condone, let alone encourage and promote blood sacrifice? How can we begin to recognize once again the sacredness of Earth, the sacredness of the Cosmos and the role we might play in a great cosmic drama if we were once again able to align ourselves in a harmonious relationship with them?
Throughout this era, woman's voice has been silenced. We can only imagine her grief and despair through the centuries of slaughter, when she lost her husband and sons in endless wars, her daughters to rape and slavery; when no-one listened to her impotent grief and rage that the life she had given birth to and loved and cherished should be so casually destroyed by men armed with the weapons of war. As part of awakening to the Feminine, it is surely time for women of every nation, religion and ethnic group to say: "Enough is enough! There must be an end to this slaughter, rape and suffering."
The voice of the long-silenced Feminine is needed to heal the Wasteland—the current state of the planet and the lives of the billions of men, women and above all, children that are blighted or destroyed by human cruelty, greed and ignorance. Centuries of conflict between nations, religions and ethnic groups have brought us to the present time when we must find a way of transcending this archaic pattern of behaviour or risk destroying ourselves as a species. Will we choose to imitate the patterns of the past, or can we embrace the truly immense transformation of consciousness we will need to make if we wish to forge a different future for coming generations?
The Desecration of the Anima Mundi or World Soul
The effects on the world of the loss of the Feminine, the loss of Soul, are incalculable. Instinctive knowledge of the holy unity of things, reverence for the interconnection of all aspects of life, trust in the power of the imagination and the faculty of the intuition — all this as a way of relating to life through participation rather than through dominance and control, has almost been lost. We can see the effects of this loss of soul everywhere today, not only in the devastation and pollution of vast swathes of the earth, but in the unhappy, impoverished and hopeless existence that people endure in the hideous and ever-expanding suburbs of our cities, in the increase of diseases like cancer, diabetes and mental illness — particularly depression. The old are neglected and even ill-treated in a culture more interested in achieving targets than caring for people. The young are offered nothing to aspire to beyond the material goals promoted by the media. Women are degraded by having their bodies exploited to sell every kind of commodity. The human heart cries out for the return of beauty, for a place of sanctuary, for community and relationship, where the inner life is seen to be as important as the outer and where a unifying sacred order to life on this planet is recognised and honoured.
In the wider context of the planet, forests are not cherished as sacred places but are cut down to supply paper and packaging or to establish cattle farms or crops to provide biofuels for energy; mountains are hollowed out to extract the elements needed to construct nuclear reactors, computers and mobile phones; areas of land are shattered by explosions, eviscerated and scarred to extract shale oil or gas; military bases are constructed as launch pads for guided missiles on land that was once the sacred territory of people whose ancestors had lived there for centuries (Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands). The Arctic is viewed as a potential source of oil and gas. Vast tracts of Africa are bought up to provide land for biofuel crops or food for states whose own land cannot supply it in sufficient quantity for their growing populations. Animals are viewed in terms of the amount of food we need to feed our ever-increasing numbers, not in terms of their well being: the indiscriminate daily slaughter of African elephants and rhinoceros and of whales and dolphins in Earth’s oceans continues.
What does this pattern of exploitation amount to if not the crime of ecocide, with our species destroying the habitat on which all species depend? Ecocide leads not only to the destruction of the environment but to wars over diminishing resources and crimes against humanity as conflicts proliferate
As this process has accelerated, nations have come to be viewed as markets to be exploited for financial gain and, if necessary, brought to their knees by financial traders, without a thought for the millions of helpless people whose livelihoods and lives may be destroyed. Politicians debate the radical cuts in expenditure needed to reduce the towering amounts of national debt, incurred through years of injudicious borrowing and promises made to the electorate in order to ensure their re-election. Decades pass as men argue the pros and cons of climate change and only a small proportion of the funds promised by governments to help protect the rain forests of the world reaches their destination. An Earth Charter, which offers an agenda for a different relationship with the planet exists, but governments and powerful corporations pay little heed to it. All this might be described as a desecration of the Anima-Mundi or Soul of the World.
Defining the Feminine
In its deepest sense, what does the word ‘Feminine’ mean? As I am defining it in my book, The Dream of the Cosmos, it does not refer to the female sexual attractiveness that is so promoted in today’s world, nor to the qualities of caring and gentleness usually, though not exclusively identified with women, nor to the feminist agenda of the empowerment of women in a man’s world.
The word ‘Feminine’ stands for the Soul: the unseen cosmic web of life that connects each one of us to all others as well as to the life of the planet and the greater life of the cosmos. It stands for the recognition that we live within a Sacred Order and that we have a responsibility to protect the life of the planet and all the variety of species it embraces instead of exploiting them for the benefit of our species alone. In sum, the word ‘Feminine’ stands for a totally different perspective on life, a totally different worldview or paradigm of reality and for the feeling values which might reflect and support that worldview. It stands for a new planetary consciousness and the arduous creation of a new kind of civilization.
Without reconnecting to the Soul and the guidance and wisdom of the Feminine, without going in search of the values it represents and opening our own heart to its subtle guidance, we will not understand the purpose of our presence on this planet, nor will we be able to disempower the unconscious atavistic tendencies which draw us ever closer to the destruction of our habitat and therefore to self-annihilation.
Like the fiery magma of the earth’s core, the long repressed feminine principle is rising to meet the masculine one in response to a deep soul impulse to balance and marry these archetypal energies within ourselves and within our world. The resurgence of the Feminine invites a new planetary consciousness where the deepest instincts of the heart in both men and women: compassion, informed intelligence and a longing to protect, heal and make whole are able to find expression in ways that can best be described as devotion to planetary and cosmic life.
Awakening to the Feminine means becoming protective of the whole of creation; dying to all the divisive ways of looking at life and each other; being born into an utterly different vision of reality. As it becomes more conscious in us, we are already becoming aware of our dependence for our continued existence on the integrity and sustainability of the planetary biosphere. Our image of reality and our relationship with the planet and with each other are being transformed as we assimilate the implications of this ‘marriage’ of the two primary archetypal principles. The return of the Feminine has the impact of a planetary earthquake, dissolving long-established social patterns, political and financial systems and religious institutions, asking for a radical transformation of our understanding of life.
The influence of the Feminine is responsible for the growth of the environmental movement; for the determination to free women in every culture from their long oppression and subservience and encourage their increased participation in society; for the interest in the so-called non-rational; for many new approaches to healing both psyche and body. It is reflected in the mounting revulsion for our weapons of mass destruction; in compassion for the helpless victims of our addiction to war; in the engagement of hundreds of thousands of people in the work of helping both the planet and the victims of oppression. These different channels of influence are creating new perspectives on life, new ways of connection that bring together body, soul, mind and spirit. All this is being accelerated by the connections between people facilitated by the Internet and by online organizations like Avaaz which now has over forty million subscribers.
The recovery of the Feminine invites a reorientation of consciousness; a receptivity not only to the events occurring in the external world but a receptivity to the long-ignored voice of the Soul. The activation of the Feminine is helping us to relate to the deep cosmic source of our psychic life and draw up the living waters from those depths. This enormous shift challenges every aspect of our beliefs. It immeasurably deepens and broadens our perspective on our presence on this planet. It gives deeper meaning to our lives. It is changing everything.
It may be that the new epoch we are entering will see the birth of a very different image of God or Spirit, a new understanding of the instinctive intelligence within the processes and patterns of nature, and how the unseen or inner dimension of reality influences and interacts with this material dimension. This new understanding may help us to recover an authentic spirituality which takes us beyond religious and secular beliefs into a new sense of relationship with a sacred earth and an ensouled cosmos. From my work on The Myth of the Goddess and its last chapter called “the Sacred Marriage” I know that this emerging phase in the story of our species could herald an evolutionary advance as spirit and nature are reunited and humanity enters into a conscious relationship and partnership with life, seeking to serve it with insight, compassion and wisdom.
The Awakening of a Sense of Relationship with Earth
Perhaps the most significant herald of this awakening was the first view of Earth rising above the rim of the moon taken from the moon in 1968 by the unmanned Apollo 8. The astronauts’ journey to the moon in July 1969 (Apollo 11) gave us the breathtaking view of the earth seen from space. Five hundred million people watched the Apollo landing of the moon and listened to Neil Armstrong’s famous words. The technological feat of putting man on the moon was awe-inspiring in itself. But the very sight of the earth seen from this distance was the catalyst that changed our relationship with it. For the first time we became visually aware of the jewel-like beauty and fragility of our planet and knew it was our home in the vastness of the cosmos. It seemed so precious, so vulnerable. Love of our blue planet awoke in our hearts.
In the space of a few hours, our planetary eyes expanded to cosmic eyes. In those few hours, as our relationship with the cosmos and our perception of ourselves was transformed, the sense of expansion was extraordinary. The fact that it was the moon that was being explored – age-old symbol of the Great Mother, the Feminine and the Soul – was in itself significant. But it was the sight of our planet from the moon that lifted us beyond national and ethnic allegiances and opened our awareness to cosmic consciousness, to a sense of belonging to the cosmos.
The Healing Power of the Feminine
As long ago as Bronze Age Sumer and Egypt, records detailed the charitable impulses to care for the orphaned, the widowed and the sick. Today, apart from the thousands of charities and NGO’s which have come into being to assist the millions in need of help, there is increasing pressure on governments to act ethically and with the welfare of the planet in mind. Thanks to television, we have a far greater awareness of the suffering of people all over the world. We participate through witnessing and empathising with the suffering of people remote from ourselves. Wherever the call to compassion goes out, there is the voice of the heart, the voice of the Feminine.
The focus of the Feminine is on the ethical values that have been obscured, marginalised or incompletely developed during the solar age. These values can never be recovered by force or even by strident demand. They can only emerge as human consciousness changes and facilitates their emergence. One example of the emergence of these values is the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, designed to try men and women who have been deemed to have committed crimes against humanity. Political leaders can no longer claim that the atrocities and acts of genocide they commit are justifiable in defence of national interests.
A response to the Feminine asks that war and the creation of weapons of destruction are relinquished just as racism and conquests in the name of God or any other ideology need to be relinquished. If we can abandon our addiction to weapons and war, directing the trillions saved on feeding, educating and caring for the children of the world, the result will be an infinitely better world and the possibility of our own survival as a species. We need to challenge the arcane warrior ethos of governments which demands continual preparation for war, selling arms for profit and bringing devastating new weapons into being.
As a new cultural impulse, the Feminine is putting us in touch with the deep sources of our psychic life, drawing up from these depths the living waters which nourish and sustain the soul. It is encouraging people to overcome patterns of subservience established for millennia, helping them to throw off their bondage to oppressive autocratic leaders and establish democratic governments which serve their hopes for a better life. It is freeing women from centuries of oppression, enforced silence and virtual slavery.
The Voice of Women
The answer to the question “What do women really want” – asked by Freud early in the last century – is that women want themselves and their families to live in freedom from fear, from hunger and destitution, from oppression, violence, torture and rape. The world needs to hear the voice of hundreds of millions of women from every nation. Education and contraception have transformed the lives of millions of women yet countless millions of others, through destitution, prejudice or tribal custom, have no access to either. These live in abject poverty, victims of the brutality and neglect of men, used as sexual objects and (in Africa in particular) infected with AIDS by their husbands and partners. They struggle to keep themselves and their children alive from day to day, are forced into prostitution through poverty, paid miserable wages that barely sustain them and their children and are unable to express their distress or find witnesses who will speak up for them. Even in so-called advanced societies with a high standard of living, domestic violence blights the lives of millions of women. Wherever there is war, rape is used as a devastating weapon against them. Trafficking destroys the lives of millions of others. Where there is carnage and devastation, as in war torn Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Iraq, women and children bear the brunt of it. The plight of all these suffering women and their children is intolerable in a world where communications are increasingly easy, where the pitiable condition of women and their children can be seen on television, where wealth and medical expertise exist which could alleviate the suffering of so many.
Matthew Arnold, the philosopher and poet, declared that if ever there would be a time when women would come together purely and simply for the benefit of mankind, it would be a power such as the world has never known. The Sufi sage, Hazrat Inayat Khan said that he could see as clear as daylight that the hour was coming when women would lead humanity to a higher evolution. In 2009, the Dalai Lama astounded his audience at a conference in Vancouver by saying that the world would be saved by Western woman.
There is a saying by a great Hasidic saint, the Baal Shem Tov, which goes: “When the moon shall shine as bright as the sun, the Messiah will come.” Woman through her struggle to articulate the highest values of the feminine principle, will begin to make the moon shine so that it can balance the solar brightness of our present consciousness. In recognising her depression, her suffering, her longing to outgrow the subservience and powerlessness of her past and present experience, in recognising and supporting her deepest values, she may accomplish something truly heroic and extraordinary for life and the planet, something that humanity in centuries to come will celebrate. For this reason, nothing is of such importance as woman’s rescue of herself.
The Awakening of the Soul
The resurgence of the Feminine and the awakening of the Soul are focused on the feeling values that have been incompletely developed, marginalised or obscured during the patriarchal era, partly owing to the suppression of woman’s voice that has been one of the characteristics of that age. These values can never be developed by force or even by strident demand. They can only emerge as human consciousness changes and allows them to emerge. The recovery of the Feminine may be the key to the transformation of our world culture from regression into mass uniformity, banality and brutality into something longed for and extraordinary.
This powerful evolutionary impulse, reconnecting us to our deepest instincts for relationship with each other and with the life of the planet, is working a profound alchemy beneath the surface of our culture. Women and men are participating in a process of transformation that is manifesting as a new planetary consciousness, a new cultural impulse whose emphasis is on the growing recognition of the interconnection and interdependence of all aspects of life. The arrogant celebration of “man’s conquest of nature” is being replaced by the realization that if we are to survive we need to respect and cherish the planetary life which sustains us.
Woman’s age-old instinct to nurture life and man’s instinct to protect and defend it, are being extended to embrace and serve the life of Earth. A planet which has taken over three and a half billion years to evolve an organ of consciousness through which the cosmos can come to know itself on this planet may be under threat; our own survival is uncertain. Before too long, we may not be able to alter the course of events we have unwittingly set in motion. Yet, in response to the extreme peril of this situation we are beginning to recover the lost sense of relationship with a sacred earth and a sacred cosmos. We are drawing together in closer relationship with each other, working towards the goal of rescuing this planet and the lives of future generations from our unconscious and predatory habits of behaviour. The resurgence of the Feminine is reflected in these different initiatives:
A growing sense of responsibility towards planetary life.
An awareness that we participate in a living universe.
A recognition of the inter-dependence and relatedness of aspects of life.
A conscious effort to heal the soul/mind/body split
A growth of insight into where we are still controlled by unconscious complexes
The emergence of a different quality of relationship between men and women.
A growing awareness of the suffering and needs of children
An awareness that we need to treat all species with respect and compassion
There are four great questions that challenge us now:
1. How do we recover our lost sense of being part of something totally sacred?
2. How do we develop respect and compassion for the life of the earth in all its forms?
3. How do we find ways of meeting the deepest needs of the human heart for love, relatedness and connection?
4. How to we relinquish the beliefs and patterns of behaviour that have been so damaging to the soul as well as to the planet?
There are immense opportunities in this time of transformation but also immense dangers, for the very transforming power of the Feminine activates deep fear of change and evokes the response of reactionary forces which seek to re-assert or maintain control over people’s lives. We tread a path which is on the knife-edge between the conscious integration of a new vision on the one hand and social disintegration and regression into barbarism — perhaps the virtual annihilation of our species on the other. At the beginning of a new millennium, we are participating in the birth of a new evolutionary era, one with radically different aims and values from those which dominated the patriarchal era. Mythologically speaking, this new era invites the marriage of lunar and solar consciousness and the birth of the ‘child’ of a new kind of consciousness arising in the soul of humanity that would be the fruit of this union and the true ‘saviour’ of our species. It is a time when we are asked, in the words of T.S. Eliot in his great poem Ash-Wednesday, to “Redeem the time. Redeem the unread vision in the higher dream.” It is a tremendously exciting, challenging and creative time to be alive.
This is an extract from Chapter 10 of The Dream of the Cosmos; a Quest for the Soul
To end, I am including a most moving poem by the Indian novelist and poet Manju Kapur:
In my dream
Larger than any
Birds I had seen
They flew high
They flew together
And dry, dusty land.
They came back, some
After years, with water
Careful in their beaks
For those who had
Forgotten how to fly.