Most people, whether Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or of other religious persuasion, today believe that God is a Spirit, neither male nor female, but containing the attributes of both. It was, however, not always this way. From before 8000 BC, up to about 2500 BC, the majority of the human species worshiped a female. Archeological and even Biblical proof exists regarding the worship of a Goddess in the early history of our cultural and religious development. What I am about to present is a controversial subject. Although I do not wish to create polarization through resentment, and reaction to this resentment, my hope is that you will keep an open mind to consider thoughtfully what I am about to share with you. It's fairly easy to agree on the vulnerability of ancient humankind to extinction due to the overwhelming presence of mammoth and dangerous creatures, which were so much more powerful than humans. Additionally, there were powerful natural forces such as earthquakes and floods. The threat of famine often overwhelmed humans and forced them to be nomadic—wandering great distances to find food where it was available. The difficult nature of early human life took its toll on adults and certainly on children. As a result, fertility was an overpowering need if humans were to preserve sufficient numbers for the species to survive. Since their understanding was that the female always produced the offspring, they surmised that the original producer would also be a female. They believed in and worshiped the Goddess of Fertility under many different names as communities divided and moved away from each other. Some anthropologists theorized (1) that sexual union was not understood and that babies were thought to miraculously spring from women with the help of the Fertility Goddess. Whether or not this is the case, the fact that “She” was worshiped during the early years of human development, is well established. The worship of many gods, both male and female, developed as humanity’s awareness of their surroundings and their needs became more diverse and complex. How, then, did the worship of one male god supplant the worship of a goddess or many gods? The Old Testament describes this historic progression. I believe many of you are familiar with the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments and the supplanting of the “pagan” religions with the worship of One God (who was male). Alternate sources, however, such as anthropological studies and some written sources describe an Indo-European race from North of the Mediterranean, which eventually came to be known as the Aryan race (possibly from the root word “iron”). These people invaded and overcame the Hittites and Hurrians. The Hittites and Hurrians then, in the middle of the second millenium BC (around 2500 BC) then conquered and subdued the Mediterranean people of that day, who at that time, worshiped a Goddess. What made the Aryan people such successful conquerors? You guessed it! Iron. They had discovered how to smelt iron ore. Their weapons of war were horse-drawn chariots and iron spears. The copper, bronze and gold weapons of the Goddess-worshiping cultures could not compete with the strength and power of iron. (2) The populations with male deities of war and strength gradually overpowered the matriarchal and matrilineal systems of determining descent and ownership of land (Matrilineal refers to the tracing of one’s lineage through the mother; whereas Patrilineal refers to the tracing of ones lineage through the father; Matriarchal means the women have primary governing power and Patriarchal means the men have primary governing power). The cultures that worshiped the Male Gods eventually supplanted the Matriarchal, Goddess worshiping systems with the Patriarchal (with male gods or God) and Patrilineal systems. The rest is common knowledge. The one male God of the Jewish people helped them subdue and eventually supplant the Goddess worshiping “pagans” (The word pagan, by the way, means peasant, not “devil worshiper”). If you read the story of Moses and Baal, and the story of Elija and Jezebel in the Bible, you will find a biased view of the Goddess worshipers. If you want a more balanced understanding of the ancient Goddess worshiping cultures, I have listed a bibliography of books just before this essay, which helped me learn a different view. The patriarchal system, over the centuries, developed a hierarchy which has led to male domination of women and other more “lowly” creatures. The patriarchal hierarchy orders the importance of things in this way: God, angels, men, women, children, slaves, animals, plants, and nature in general. This has led to exploitation and abuse of people and things lower on the hierarchical scale, including the abuse of wildlife and the planet. Recently, an alternate philosophy of God’s order of things goes more like this: all of creation is seen as a circle around its creator, meaning that all of creation is equally important to God, and worthy of care and nurturing from those endowed with higher consciousness (i.e. humankind). What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with modern life since the time of Jesus, 2000 years ago? Jesus loved men and women, children and slaves, the poor, the “unclean”. He was the catalyst who modeled for the Jewish people, and those of us who followed, a new order; an order which supplanted the concept of a judging, punitive, bellicose male god with the concept of a loving, forgiving God, and the idea that we humans also have these potentials. This led eventually to a more inclusive attitude toward all creatures and especially to the improved status of women. Societies’ perception of women went from that of virtual slaves, “seducers” of men, to equality with men, while different from men. But it has taken a long time—almost 2000 years before our Christian morality has changed enough to open our eyes to the realization that women are equal to men in the eyes of God. There are, however, still pockets of resistance based on. the dualities of our Christian traditions inherited from Classic times (e.g. the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle). These philosophies have created a polarization of spirit vs. nature in our religious and social values. If you doubt this, read the writings of St Augustan of the 4th and 5th century AD, on the sinfulness and depravity of women because they draw men away from spiritual matters to the concupiscence of the body. In many cultures, and to a certain extent, our own, this attitude still exists, but I think we are at the cusp of further changes, and we need them. I believe that we are at an appropriate time in our cultural development for some “mothering”. Nuclear proliferation, global warming, the situation in the Middle East and in many other parts of the world illustrate this need. The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches pray to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Despite Her lowered placement in the Divine hierarchy, by the church authorities, I believe we unconsciously think of Her as the Divine Mother of us all. I recently read two books which clearly indicate the presence of a Divine female: "Jung and the Lost Gospels" by Stephan Hoeller (3), and "God, Creation, and the Tools for Life" by Sylvia Browne (4). These books illuminate the importance of praying to God as Mother. Sylvia Browne claims, through her spirit guide, that the Mother in God is more likely to intervene on our behalf when we seek Her help in prayer than the Father (5). Our Christian theology has already led to the awareness that God, who created and sustains the universe, is neither male or female, but rather a spirit which contains all things, including male and female, but is not limited by flesh as we are. I believe that our awareness and understanding of God is growing and developing. I think God works through us and shows us many examples of ways to view the virtually unfathomable force which is God. Look at human creation. Does it spring only from the female, as they believed in ancient times? Does it come only from the male? We know better than that. The very stones of our planet are created by more than one compound coming together to form something new. So far as living things—plants, animals, and humans—are concerned…Oh well, need I say more? If we wish to use metaphors to describe God, consider this regarding the Christian Trinity. If God, of whom we believe we are a part, continues creation through male and female reproduction, sent us a Son to teach, to love and to show us a better way to live, why would we want to divorce the father and mother, delete the mother from the Holy Trinity and relegate the spirit of the child Jesus to a single parent family? Am I saying that we need to apply “affirmative action” to our God by calling her “She” more often? Yes! If we wish to use language for enriching our thought and belief systems, we must make the effort to bring feminine pronouns and names to our “God” language, as well as our people of God references. Jesus Christ came not only to save men, but to save humanity. I believe that in our present time—with our broadened understanding of history and our expanding knowledge of theology—we have the opportunity for achieving balance. We have come to know that each human has both male and female qualities: the animus (which incorporates male qualities), and the anima (which incorporates female qualities), reside in each of us, whether we are male or female. Male discipline, order and rationality, need to be balanced by female relational qualities of compassion, nurturance and intuition. “But”, you say, “we already accept that our God is compassionate, even though we give Him a male name, so why belabor the gender issue?” I can only remind you of the test of history. This is not God’s fault but resides in us, and the way we have viewed women for these many centuries of patriarchal domination of church and society. Where has this brought us? To help you understand better the effect of the use of the male gender for God, I suggest you try this experiment. Close your eyes. Women: imagine you are male, and men—since you are already men--you don’t have to imagine. Now imagine that the gender of the God you pray to is female, and all prayers, forms of worship, etc., refer to God as “She”. Now imagine you, as a male, do this every time you pray, every time you worship: every day, every week, every year, every century, from generations past and for generations to come. How does that make you feel? When we envision our God as reflecting both male qualities of discipline, order and rationality, and female qualities of creativity, nurturance and intuition, the value system by which we approach each other, and indeed, all of creation, comes into balance. We need this balance to achieve harmony for all of creation. So call Her what you will: “Divine Mother”, “Heavenly Mother”, or just plain “Mother”. I urge you and encourage you to pray to Her. It may feel strange at first—old habits die hard—but try it and observe the results. May God, who is Father and Mother to us all, bless you. Barbara L. Weeks 3/13/02
******************************************** Endnotes: (1) "Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion",edited by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow, Harper, San Francisco, 1992, p.125 (2) Most of the above information comes from the book: "When God Was a Woman", by Miriam Stone, Harvest/HBJ Publications, 1978, pp. 62-65 (3) "Jung and the Lost Gospels", by Stephan A Hoeller, Quest Books, 1989 (4) "God, Creation, and the Tools for Life", by Sylvia Browne, Hay House Inc., Carlsbad, CA, 3/2000 (5) Opcit. Sylvia Browne.