The Re-empowerment of Women
When God Was a Woman
The very first ultimate divinity was female. All religion centred around Her.
In classical Greece and Rome women enjoyed exclusive membership in certain religious cults and ritual practices. There were the Bacchantes who partook in the wild and ecstatic rites of Dionysius, and in Rome only the Vestal Virgins could enter the inner sanctum of the temple of Vesta, goddess of the hearth.
The White Goddess of Robert Graves
The goddess was the mother of earth and all living things as well as the perpetrator of death and destruction. She was Robert Graves’ Life-in Death and Death-in-Life, loving only to destroy and destroying to quicken.
Graves’ famous book ‘The White Goddess’ started a cult of its own with its premise that it was the female force which was omnipresent in all ancient cultures. It was the Muse poets prayed to for inspiration.
But the Goddess was not alone. She had a young god-consort by her side who impregnated her every year so she could bring forth the spring and the harvest again and again. Her consort was her subordinate, never her superior.
The Many Names of the Goddess
The Goddess was known by different names all over the world: Kali, Inana or Ishtar, Isis, Cybele, Kuan Yin. . . However, as the eons passed by, her throne was first shared by male gods and then usurped by them.
Patriarchal Religion Displaces the Original Female Divinity
The Aryan invaders who conquered India, the Near East and Greece brought with them their male-oriented patriarchal religion. Violent and despotic gods replaced the all-powerful and compassionate mother of all creation.
Feminists to the Rescue
Feminists like Mary Daly, author of ‘God the Father’: Towards a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation’ argued that when women are denied the full potential of being human, trapped in the category of the second sex, their experience of life is diminished and their ability to fulfill their true potential is severely impaired – to the disadvantage of society on the whole.
Women Considered Inferior
Mortal women too were swept along on the wave of this invasion and reduced to an inferior status. For centuries henceforth, the supremacy of the male deity went unchallenged. Author of ‘The Once and Future Goddess’, Elinor Gaydon, realized the self-empowerment that comes with belief in the female deity and therefore in herself. She writes:“I had experienced myself as sexual, sacred and powerful in a way no modern woman in the West can. Our psychological being has been severed from our biological selves for so long that we are completely cut off from our true natures. ”
Women in the Priesthood
It is this kind of feminist thinking that finally brought about the revival of feminine spirituality and power. In 1853 a woman was ordained as a Congregationalist Minister. Reformed Judaism appointed its first female rabbi in New York in 1972 and in 1994, after furious arguments and dissension, women were ordained as priests in the Church of England.
Manchester Cathedral in England witnessed an ecumenical women’s service in which God was referred to as She and Christ as Christa. It horrified and alarmed many of the cathedral clergy as well as orthodox Christians both male and female.
Woman had finally come full circle. The pagan and prehistoric Goddess had been restored to her throne. Yet She had never fallen off Her pedestal in India where Kali still reigns supreme.