Awakening to the Soul and the New Story
Brahma Kumaris Retreat Centre
June 10th, 2017
In this talk I am offering you the culmination of my life’s work which has been devoted to the rescue and redemption of the Feminine Principle. I will talk about the Soul in both the cosmic and personal sense and the New Story that I believe is emerging now. This is perhaps the most crucial time in our history: a time of the utmost depravity and barbarism but also a time of tremendous opportunity for evolutionary advance. Many thousands, even millions of men and women across the planet are awakening to the longing to create a more enlightened civilisation: one based on love, service and relationship rather than the old pattern of dominance, national rivalry, weapons and war. The New Story requires an alchemical transformation of human consciousness where a different understanding of Reality comes into being, bringing with it values which profoundly respect and cherish all forms of planetary life.
My own consciousness was transformed by a powerful visionary dream I had about forty years ago. I saw the figure of a woman filling the entire space between Earth and the starry heavens. In the centre of her abdomen was an immense revolving wheel. My body was a tiny copy of her body. I too had a wheel but mine was not centred; it was on the left. She did not speak but indicated I was to centre my wheel, like hers. This visionary dream was an initiation into an utterly different perception of reality. It launched me on a quest to find out why the Feminine has been so devalued in patriarchal civilisation and why woman’s voice has been silenced for four thousand years.
Today, we are faced with the devastating effects of the long absence of the Feminine in our image of spirit. Because of this, our culture is radically out of balance, affecting every aspect of our lives. Speaking in a general sense, there is no respect for nature; no sense of relationship with the life of the planet; no apparent awareness that we are destroying the habitat that sustains us. With our ever-growing numbers we have already destroyed 50% of all species on the planet. By 2020 two-thirds of all wild animals will be gone. A new study published in Nature (April 2017) says that if we continue to burn fossil fuels, we will cause the fastest climate change the Earth has seen in 50 million years.
What is the essential message of the New Story? It is that we are part of the Divinity we’ve been worshipping for thousands of years. It tells us there is no essential separation between us and the Divine Ground. It tells us that the body is the sacred vehicle of the soul and that consciousness does not die with the death of the physical body and brain. Whereas the Christian Churches have taught that the Redeemer is outside us and our ultimate redemption as Christians has been assured by Christ’s sacrificial death, the New Story invites us to become aware of the presence of divinity within all life on this planet as well as within our own nature. It invites us to become redeemers of the hidden spirit within us.
This, I believe, was the essential teaching of Jesus, his wife and fellow teacher Mary Magdalene and his brother James, originating in the Essene Community of Qumrâm in Palestine. (1) His essential message, spread through small groups of followers called Nazarenes, was about opening our awareness to the presence of an inner realm that he called the kingdom of God. The light of the spirit was the pearl of great price present within each one of us that needed to be called forth into our awareness so we lived life in a more conscious way, in compassionate service of life rather than in thrall to the debased values and beliefs that governed the world of his time and still govern the world of our time. In these Nazarene and later Gnostic communities, women as well as men were teachers, priests and healers since all carried divinity within them. The emphasis of their teaching was on love and service and doing harm to no-one. This put them in direct opposition to the developing Church in Rome which, from the outset, banned women from participation in the priesthood and, incredibly after two thousand years, is still unable to accept women as priests. In the Nazarene and Gnostic communities, Jesus was seen, not as the Son of God but as a visionary teacher of the path to enlightenment and union with the divine ground, much like the eastern teachers of Buddhism and Hinduism.
The New Story is about discovering that we are not fallen, sinful creatures, banished from the Garden of Eden to this planet. On the contrary, we are cosmic beings, carrying divinity – the pearl of great price – at the core of our being.
Awakening to the New Story means listening to the long-ignored voice of the soul. The soul communicates through the heart; through our deepest feelings, many of which are ignored and repressed in our driven and addicted culture. It speaks below the threshold of consciousness, through dreams and visions, through our deepest instincts and intuitions and through the depressions that afflict so many of us — depressions that are directly related to the loss of soul and living in a culture that has lost all connection with a deeper Ground. The current story offered by science is that material reality is the only reality and that consciousness begins and ends with the physical brain. We are alone in a randomly created universe that is without meaning or purpose. When we die, that is the end of us. Is it surprising that people are depressed? That young people commit suicide because they can find no deeper meaning in their lives?
In recent centuries we have reached dazzling heights of scientific, medical and technological advance which have enormously improved the conditions of our lives and facilitated a phenomenal expansion of our ability to express the creative genius of our species in many different fields. But we have also suffered a catastrophic loss of soul, a loss of the ancient awareness of the sacred interweaving of all aspects of life, a loss of the sense of participation in the life of nature and the invisible life of the Cosmos, a loss of connection to spirit. In our secular culture that is intoxicated by technology, the rational human mind is now the supreme value. It has created a world that dominates nature and has populated it with monstrous machines. It has virtually replaced God, no longer recognising a dimension of reality beyond the material universe, nor any form of consciousness transcendent to its own. In its one-eyed stance, cut off from its roots, it has banished the unknown, unexplored, non-rational aspect of life and above all the visionary imagination and the connection to the heart which is the soul’s vehicle of expression.
I will give you an example of this one-eyed situation: There is a man called Ray Kurzweil who is Google’s brilliant and much admired director of engineering. In 2006 he published a book called The Singularity is Near. His vision in this book is the creation of a robotic human being endowed with artificial intelligence and skills far in advance of our own present capacities. Fascinated by this exponential leap in our technological power, he believes the destiny of the entire universe is ultimately to be saturated with our robotic intelligence. In his words: “Once we saturate the matter and energy in the universe with intelligence, it will ‘wake up,’ be conscious, and sublimely intelligent.” The last words in his book define our future as he sees it: “we will continue until the entire universe is at our fingertips.”
This Promethean god-almightiness or hubris seeks absolute power and control. It lacks any relationship with the Feminine, with feeling and with soul. It is reflected not only in our technological culture but in the agenda of the jihadists who want to control the planet for their own ends and will stop at nothing to achieve it.
In contrast to this, the New Story tells us that the universe does not consist of dead matter but is alive, conscious and the origin of our own still partially developed consciousness. This physical world is a manifestation of spirit and the way we treat nature and matter has an effect on the unseen web of life which embraces and connects all our lives.
There are four great questions that challenge us now:
- How do we recover our lost sense of being part of a living, intelligent universe?
- How do we develop respect and compassion for the life of the Earth in all its forms?
- How do we find ways of meeting the deepest needs of the human heart for love, relatedness and connection?
- How do we relinquish the old beliefs and patterns of behaviour that have been so damaging to both soul and body as well as to the planet?
To answer these questions we need to know the story of the Soul. The soul was once imagined as an all-embracing cosmic web of life, not so much something that belongs to us as something in whose unbounded life we live. To discover the origins of the concept of the Soul and recover what we have lost we need to go back to the Neolithic era when the Cosmos was imagined as a Great Mother, the womb or source of all life. Her three domains were the sky, the earth and the waters beneath the earth. The dove and the serpent were from earliest times associated with her worship: the dove as her special messenger; the serpent personifying her power to regenerate life. The most important idea I want to convey to you about this distant time is that there was no creator beyond creation; no separation between the Great Mother as Source and the manifest forms of her life; no separation between Spirit as the divine ground and Nature as the manifestation of that ground. The whole of the natural world and the Cosmos itself was alive and ensouled, part of a living web of relationships, animated and sustained by invisible spirit. With the help of magnificent stone temples, astronomer-priests aligned the human community with the greater life of the Cosmos. People felt they lived within a Sacred Order, the Order of the Great Mother. Everything came forth from her womb and had meaning and value through relationship with her. So relationship and connection came to be understood as the essential quality of the Feminine. (2)
We can follow the transition from the Great Mother of the Neolithic era into the Great Goddesses of the Bronze Age: Goddesses like Isis who were worshipped as the Queen of Heaven and the source of life: one life manifesting as the life of each and all. Sexuality was seen as the vital expression of that life: a sacred, ecstatic experience associated with life’s own creative impulse eternally to renew itself. For many thousands of years the Great Mother and these Great Goddesses personified the principle of relationship: the interconnectedness of every aspect of life and, above all, the sacredness of this great Web of Life. I think we can look to them for the origin of the feminine concept of the Soul and also the Holy Spirit as a feminine all-embracing cosmic entity in whose life we live.
Turning to Greek culture, we find in Plato’s Timaeus his influential concept of the Soul of the Cosmos, which he describes as a “Single Living Creature that encompasses all living creatures that are within it.” This idea was to re-appear in the third century AD as Plotinus’s concept of the Anima-Mundi or Soul of the World.
Moving forward to Spain in the Middle Ages, the ancient image of the Divine Feminine re-appears in the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah, wonderfully named ‘The Voice of the Dove’. There, the feminine aspect of the god-head is called the Shekinah which means ‘the Presence of God in the world.’ Named as the Holy Spirit and Divine Wisdom present and active in this world the Shekinah offers the most complete image of the feminine aspect of spirit and divine immanence to have survived from the ancient past. We also find in this tradition the indissoluble union or sacred marriage of the feminine and masculine aspects of Deity which is absent in the three patriarchal religions. (3)
What happened to the Divine Feminine and the Holy Spirit in Christianity? We can trace her presence in the Gnostic groups of early Christianity which kept alive the ancient idea of a Feminine aspect of the Divine. However, at the crucial Council of Nicaea, summoned by the Emperor Constantine in 325 AD when Jesus was declared to be the only Son of God, of the same substance as God, the feminine gender of the Holy Spirit was changed to become the third aspect of a male Trinity. (4) By the late fourth century every one of the secret texts which the Gnostic groups had revered was branded as heretical by those who called themselves orthodox Christians. By order of the Emperor Theodosius the many Gnostic Gospels were destroyed; all meetings and rituals were forbidden under pain of death. Some of these Gospels were recovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, including the important Gospels of Philip, Thomas and Mary Magdalene. Most were lost forever. Because of this, all the feminine imagery of the Divine was eradicated from Christianity.
What has been lost over the Christian era is the understanding that the Cosmos has a soul and that this Cosmic Soul is the origin or ground of our own individual soul. Our soul is our medium of connection to the Soul of the Cosmos and an inseparable part of it. We need to acknowledge the inner or unseen life of the universe and recognise that it is the eternal ground of our own consciousness. This wider concept of Soul embraces the life of the universe and its hundred billion galaxies as well as the life of our planet and every stone, plant and creature on it. It is this older concept of Soul, the hidden ground of all life, which has been forgotten or dismissed by our religions, although it is not lost to the shamanic traditions of the world. Without the revelatory dream of a cosmic woman and my discovery of Kabbalah, I would never have come to know that the soul is not in us: we are in the Soul.
Where did the devaluation of the Feminine start? From around 2,000 BC we enter the patriarchal era: an era of huge social and political change; an era that I call the Phase of Separation – lasting some 4,000 years to the present day. This Phase sees the emergence of the ego and the conscious mind from the infinitely older matrix of instinct and the primordial soul. During this era, the Great Father replaces the Great Mother.
Spirit came to be defined as something beyond the world, something remote, transcendent, beyond nature and beyond ourselves. Moreover, it was defined as male and paternal. This led to the fundamental separation between spirit and nature that is at the root of our difficulties today. All three patriarchal religions eliminated the Goddess as well as all traces of Animism — the belief that spirit is present in the forms of the natural world. All identified spirit with a wholly transcendent concept of God.
The second factor in the loss of the Feminine lies in two immensely powerful mythologies which became the major influence on the social, political and religious history of the West, right up to the present time. The first of these was the polarising cosmic battle between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, originating in
Persia with the great sage, Zoroaster. Under the influence of this myth, man became associated with spirit and light and woman with nature and darkness — even evil. Despite its magnificent cultural achievements, this 4,000 year long patriarchal era has been dominated by the theme of conquest, territorial expansion and the creation of gigantic empires, culminating in the First and Second World Wars and the current catastrophe in the Middle East. This mythology also led ultimately to the battle to conquer and subdue nature in the service of Man, to the splitting of the atom and the accumulation of nuclear weapons. Matter was not seen as sacred; therefore splitting the atom was regarded as a military necessity, not recognised as an act of sacrilege. During this era, the drive for power and dominance replaced the older emphasis on relationship with a harmonious cosmic order. (5)
The third factor in the loss of the Feminine was the immensely influential Myth of the Fall of Man. In the Book of Genesis we find the story of our expulsion from a divine world and our Fall into this world, a Fall that was brought about by a woman, Eve, who disobeyed the command of God and brought sin, death and suffering into being. In this myth Earth becomes a place of exile, punishment and suffering for primordial sin. Divine immanence is lost. Man is given dominion over the Earth but he is exiled from the divine order of the Garden of Eden. Why did such a negative myth come into being?
Only recently have I found a possible answer to this question. Evidence has emerged over the last 10 years and was reported in an article in the Daily Mail on the 29th of April, 2017 that roughly 12,900 years ago this planet was hit by the fragments of a disintegrating comet. The impacts of at least 8 of these fragments, up to 2 miles wide and approaching the Earth at more than 60,000 miles an hour, generated colossal amounts of heat which instantly liquidised the millions of square kilometres of ice which at that time covered Canada as well as parts of North America and northern Europe, destabilising the Earth’s crust and causing a sudden catastrophic rise of sea-levels which created the Great Flood that was recorded and remembered in many different parts of the world as well as in the Book of Genesis and the story of Noah. This really was a Great Flood. Millions perished. It was followed by a freezing Dark Age of a thousand years known as the Younger Dryas Period when little in the way of food could be grown and people and animals perished in the bitter cold. The memory of the highly advanced civilisation that had existed before the Flood has lingered in our racial memory as the lost continent of Atlantis—the lost Garden of Eden which vanished beneath the Flood in a day and a night. (6)
Whatever its origin, the Myth of the Fall became the foundation of Christian doctrine, given as the reason why we needed the sacrificial death of the Son of God to redeem us from our sins. The radical change of consciousness which it reflects, with its emphasis on guilt, sin and suffering, led to pathological symptoms of anxiety and the compensatory desire for power and security resulting from a profound experience of dissociation, separation and loss — symptoms similar to those a child exhibits when it has lost its mother.
The Myth of the Fall has had a profoundly negative effect on European civilisation, imprinting generations of Christians with guilt, fear of sexuality and a very negative view of God as well as a view of our presence on this planet as a punishment, an exile. Although it had nothing whatever to do with the actual teaching of Jesus, it became the foundation of Christian doctrine and the belief that we could only be redeemed from our sinful state by the sacrificial death of the Son of God. For some seventeen hundred years we have been deeply conditioned to relate to the world from the assumption that something is wrong with us and that we live in a fallen world. Although there were many other factors contributing to the loss of the wider concept of Soul, for many centuries this Christian doctrine drastically undermined the older experience of life and, in my view, led ultimately to the loneliness and alienation of man in an apparently inanimate and indifferent universe.
From this myth there also developed the disastrous belief, derived from St. Augustine early in the fifth century that the whole human race was tainted by original sin, passed from generation to generation through sexual intercourse. (7) This powerful myth, known even in India where rape is called ‘Eve-teasing’, is the origin of the virulent misogyny that contaminates the Christian religion to this day. All women were and still are unconsciously identified with Eve who was blamed for bringing sin, death and suffering into the world. We can understand why, even today, 100 years after the Suffragettes, women still have so little sense of their own worth, why they have had to struggle so hard for the right to education and autonomy. We can also understand why this myth led to man’s distrust of the feminine aspect of his nature and the need for rigid control of his feelings. The recent courageous confession of Prince Harry about how he buried his desperate feeling of loss over his mother’s death is one example of this habit of repression and control. He has done our culture a great service.
It is not only the Christian Churches but other patriarchal priesthoods, including that of India, which are saturated with misogyny. Worldwide, 65 million girls still have no access to education (UNICEF). These priesthoods have kept women in a position of subservience until very recently when, against huge resistance, women have begun to throw off their oppression and male control.
We need to leave this old story and awaken to the New Story and a new phase in the evolution of consciousness. The first and most important issue we face in the turbulence of our time is the need to reconnect our conscious rational mind with the deeper dimension of the Soul. Secondly, we need to heal the split between spirit and nature which is deeply embedded in the three patriarchal religions and the creed of scientific reductionism. Thirdly we need to recover and redeem the Feminine Principle, understanding why it has been rejected for millennia. Only when nature, matter, soul and body – the four aspects of the Feminine – are recognised as a manifestation of spirit will we be able to heal our dangerously unbalanced and unconscious culture. If we can accomplish this enormous task, we will enter a new era.
Awakening to a New Story invites us to expand our image of God or Spirit to include nature, matter, and all planetary life and indeed all cosmic life. It means recovering what has been lost: the ancient understanding that the universe has a Soul and an Intelligence and that Spirit is immanent or present in every particle of matter: every stone, flower, tree and blade of grass; every one of the hundred million atoms of our own organism. The creative genius of our species is being called to create the template of a new civilisation and a new understanding of our relationship to the universe. I believe this template can only be created with the help of men and women coming together to make their voice heard, demanding an end to the old pattern of national rivalry, weapons and war. In this great endeavour, we have the help of thousands of souls who have lived before us who belong to something called the Fellowship of the Rose — composed of those who have devoted heir lives to the service of he planet.
What is woman’s role in this New Story? Women need to understand the crucial importance of their role in helping humanity break free of old patterns and create new ones and why it is vital that women come together to seek the solutions to the multiple global crises we face. Their voice and their commitment to a profound change in our values are needed to raise humanity to a higher level of consciousness and bring to an end the destructive patterns of past ages, patterns that if we continue on our present course, may destroy our species and even our planet.
What is the emerging vision of our time which could offer a template for a conscious, awakened humanity? I believe it is a vision which takes us beyond an outworn paradigm where we are held in bondage to beliefs and attitudes which have led us to exclude and devalue those who are different from ourselves and neglect our relationship with the Earth, our planetary home. It is a vision which offers us a new concept of Spirit, no longer as a transcendent creator but as a unifying Cosmic Field – a limitless sea of being – as well as the creative consciousness and organising intelligence within that sea or field, and a new concept of ourselves as participating in that incandescent cosmic consciousness. This, I believe, is one of the great revelations of our time.
It is a vision which recognises the sacredness and indissoluble unity of the cosmic web of life and imposes on us the responsibility of becoming far more sensitive to the effects of our decisions and our actions. It invites our recognition of the needs of the planet and the life it sustains as primary, with ourselves as the humble servants of those needs. Above all, it is a vision which asks that we relinquish our addiction to weapons and war and the pursuit of power; that we become more aware of the dark shadow cast by this addiction which threatens us with ever more barbarism, bloodshed and suffering.
The astounding discoveries of quantum physics tell us that we are literally bathed in a sea of light, invisible to us yet permeating every cell of our being. At the quantum level all apparently separate aspects of life are connected in one invisible and indivisible whole. We, as observers, are not separate from what we are observing. All life at the deepest level is essentially One, mysteriously restoring the understanding held so long ago in the image of the Great Mother.
Through the emerging science of Unified Physics a new cosmology is being born; a new vision of our profound relationship with an intelligent, living and interconnected universe. This New Story tells us that matter cannot be separated from spirit. We live within a cosmic web of life which underlies and connects all life forms in the universe and on our planet. Every atom of life interacts with every other atom, no matter how distant. We are not only connected through the Internet but through the infinitesimal particles of sub-atomic matter. We are part of an immense Field of Consciousness which sustains not only our world, but the entire Cosmos. Not only that but at every level of existence – from the microscopic to the super galactic – the same geometric principles bring all things into manifestation.
Once, long ago, the world was experienced as alive with Spirit. Nature was part of a sacred Cosmic Order. We need urgently to recover that vision if we are to respond to the challenge of this crucial time of choice and heal our neglected soul, our culture and our raped and vandalised planet. It is a thrilling time to be alive as well as a time of the most sacred responsibility.
1. For the married status of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, I have drawn on the books of Laurence Gardner, The Magdalene Legacy (2005) and The Grail Enigma (2008). I have also concluded that no woman would have been allowed into the Sepulchre to anoint Jesus’ body unless she were his mother, his sister or his wife. Hence the encounter of Mary and Jesus in the Sepulchre Garden.
2. See Baring, Anne and Cashford, Jules, The Myth of the Goddess, Evolution of an Image 1992
3. See Baring, Anne, The Dream of the Cosmos: a Quest for the Soul 2013, Chapter 3
4. See The Myth of the Goddess, Chapter 15
5. See The Dream of the Cosmos, Chapter 5
6. See the article in the Daily Mail on Comet Strike 29/4/17 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4457530/Mini-Ice-Age-wiped-cvilisation-13-000-years-ago.html
also Hancock, Graham, The Magicians of the Gods 2015 which originally reported this catastrophe and was ridiculed for it.
7. See The Dream of the Cosmos, Chapters 7 & 8