—Artwork: Shiloh Sophia McCloud, visionary artist,
Published online on The Huffington Post
Today there is a resurgence of interest in the sacred feminine. The immense popularity a few years ago of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code spoke not just to our enjoyment of a good thriller but also to the mystery of the divine feminine in Western culture, which is the real thread of the book’s chase, from the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa to the search for the grail and the heritage of Mary Magdalene. We know now how the feminine mysteries were present in Greek culture and myth, as imaged in the story of Persephone, and enacted for more than 2,000 years in the initiations at Eleusis. In the early Christianity women had spiritual equality, and the significance of Mary Magdalene, the disciple whom Jesus loved more than others, being the first to see the risen Christ, points to the esoteric significance of the feminine. We have also learned how the power of the sacred feminine was repressed by the Church fathers, and Mary Magdalene purposely misidentified as a prostitute.
As we awaken from the repressions of the patriarchy we need to reclaim the sacred feminine both for our individual spirituality and for the well being of the planet. Our ecological devastation points to a culture that has forgotten the sacredness of the earth and the divine mother, as well as denied the feminine’s deep understanding of the wholeness and interconnectedness of all of life. And our individual life, so often caught in addictions and starved of real meaning, has a hunger to reconnect with the soul, which has always had a feminine quality. And linking our own journey and that of the world is the ancient feminine figure of the World Soul, the Anima Mundi, the spiritual presence within creation.
So what does it mean to reclaim the sacred feminine? How can we feel it in our bodies and in our daily life? Every woman knows this mystery in the cycles of her body, which are linked to the greater rhythms of life, the cycles of the moon. And she feels it in a calling to reconnect with the power and wisdom she carries within her, a deep knowing that is not found in books but belongs to her very nature.
The feminine carries a natural understanding of the interconnectedness of life, how all the parts belong together. She instinctively knows how to respond to the needs of her children, how she feels for their well being even when they are not physically present. And in her body she carries the greatest mystery, the potential to give birth: to bring the light of a soul into this world.
The feminine is the matrix of creation. And yet we have forgotten, or been denied, the depths of this mystery, of how the divine light of the soul creates a body in the womb of a woman, and how the mother shares in this wonder, giving her own blood, her own body, to what will be born. Regardless of whether an individual woman has the physical experience of giving birth, she shares in this primal mystery and is empowered by it. Yet our culture’s focus on a disembodied, transcendent God has left women bereft, denying them the sacredness of this simple mystery of divine love.
What we do not realize is that this patriarchal denial affects not only every woman, but also life itself. When we deny the divine mystery of the feminine we also deny something fundamental to life.
We separate life from its sacred core, from the matrix that nourishes all of creation. We cut our world off from the source that alone can heal, nourish, and transform it. The same sacred source that gave birth to each of us is needed to give meaning to our life, to nourish it with what is real, and return us to a relationship with the wholeness of life.
Of course men also have a need to relate to the sacred feminine, to be nourished by her inner and outer presence. Without the sacred feminine nothing new can be born, and we see around us the sad plight of a masculine culture destroying its own ecosystem, unable to even agree on the steps needed to limit global warming. We all need to reclaim the living power and transformative potential of the sacred feminine, to feel her connection to the soul and the earth. And we desperately need the ancient wisdom of the soul of the world to help us at this time of global crisis. Many times before the world has been through an ecological crisis, and the world soul carries within her the memories and wisdom we need. But if we remain cut off in a mindset that sees this a problem that we need to fix with the same masculine attitude that has caused the problem, we will just compound the crisis. Only through working together with the sacred feminine can we heal and transform the world. And this means to honor her presence within our bodies and our soul, in the ground we walk on and the air we breathe.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee has written about the feminine and the role of women in our present time in The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee has written about the feminine and the role of women in our present time in “The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul.”
Then creation recognized its Creator
in its own forms and appearances.
For in the beginning, when God said, "Let it be!"
and it came to pass, the means and the Matrix of creation was Love,
because all creation was formed through Her as in the twinkling of an eye.
—The Holy Spirit as Sapientia St. Hildegard von Bingen
THE MATRIX OF CREATION
The feminine is the matrix of creation. This truth is something profound and elemental, and every woman knows it in the cells of her body, in her instinctual depths. Out of the substance of her very being life comes forth. She can conceive and give birth, participate in the greatest mystery of bringing a soul into life. And yet we have forgotten, or been denied, the depths of this mystery, of how the divine light of the soul creates a body in the womb of a woman, and how the mother shares in this wonder, giving her own blood, her own body, to what will be born. Our culture’s focus on a disembodied, transcendent God has left women bereft, denying them the sacredness of this simple mystery of divine love.
What we do not realize is that this patriarchal denial affects not only every woman, but also life itself. When we deny the divine mystery of the feminine we also deny something fundamental to life. We separate life from its sacred core, from the matrix that nourishes all of creation. We cut our world off from the source that alone can heal, nourish and transform it. The same sacred source that gave birth to each of us is needed to give meaning to our life, to nourish it with what is real, and to reveal to us the mystery, the divine purpose to being alive.
Because humanity has a central function in the whole of creation, what we deny to ourself we deny to all of life. In denying the feminine her sacred power and purpose we have impoverished life in ways we do not understand. We have denied life its sacred source of meaning and divine purpose, which was understood by the ancient priestesses. We may think that their fertility rites and other ceremonies belonged only to the need for procreation or a successful harvest. In our contemporary culture we cannot understand how a deeper mystery was enacted, one that consciously connected life to its source in the inner worlds, a source that held the wholeness of life as an embodiment of the divine, allowing the wonder of the divine to be present in every moment.
The days of the priestesses, their temples and ceremonies are over, and because the wisdom of the feminine was not written down but transmitted orally (logos is a masculine principle), this sacred knowledge is lost. We cannot reclaim the past, but we can witness a world without her presence, a world which we exploit for greed and power, which we rape and pollute without real concern. And then we can begin the work of welcoming her back, of reconnecting with the divine that is at the core of creation, and learning once again how to work with the sacred principles of life. Without the intercession of the divine feminine we will remain in this physical and spiritual wasteland we have created, passing on to our children a diseased and desecrated world.
The choice is simple. Can we remember the wholeness that is within us, the wholeness that unites spirit and matter? Or will we continue walking down this road that has abandoned the divine feminine, that has cut women off from their sacred power and knowledge? If we choose the former we can begin to reclaim the world, not with masculine plans, but with the wisdom of the feminine, the wisdom that belongs to life itself. If we choose the latter we may attempt some surface solutions with new technology. We may combat global warming and pollution with scientific plans. But there will be no real change. A world that is not connected to its soul cannot heal. Without the participation of the divine feminine nothing new can be born.
RECLAIMING HER SACRED WISDOM
If the knowledge of the sacred feminine has been lost how can we know what to do? Part of the wisdom of the feminine is to wait, to listen, to be receptive. A woman does not consciously know how to bring the light of a soul into her womb and help it to form a body. And yet this mystery takes place within her. Nor does she consciously know how to nourish this light with her own light, in the same way that she gives her blood to help the body to grow. She is the mystery of light being born into matter, and her pregnancy is a time of receptivity, waiting, listening and feeling what is happening within her. She and the Great Mother are one being, and if she listens within she is given the knowledge she needs.
We may have forsaken this simple feminine wisdom of listening, and in this information age awash with so many words it is easy to undervalue an instinctual knowledge that comes from within. But the sacred principles of life have never been written down: they belong to the heartbeat, to the rhythm of the breath and the flow of blood. They are alive like the rain and the rivers, the waxing and waning of the moon. If we learn to listen we will discover that life, the Great Mother, is speaking to us, telling us what we need to know. We are present at a time when the world is dying and waiting to be reborn, and all the words in our libraries and on the internet will not tell us what to do. But the sacred feminine can share with us her secrets, tell us how to be, how to midwife her rebirth. And because we are her children she can speak to each of us, if we have the humility to listen.
How can we listen to what we do not know? How can we reclaim what we have lost so long ago? Every moment is new. The present moment is not just a progression of past moments, but is alive in its own way, complete and perfect. And it is the moment that demands our attention. Only in the moment can we be fully awake and respond to the real need. Only in the present moment can we be fully attentive. Only in the present moment can the divine come into existence. Men may make plans, but a mother attentive to her children knows the real need of the moment. She feels in her being the interconnectedness of all of life in a way that is veiled from the masculine. She knows one cannot make plans when there are so many variables, but one can respond with the wisdom that includes the whole and all of its connections. The divine feminine is asking us to be present in life in all of its wholeness, without judgment or plans. Then she can speak to us, reveal the mystery of her rebirth.
And because this is a birth, the feminine has to be present, not just as an idea but as a living presence within us, within both men and women; because although woman most fully embodies the divine feminine, part of her secret is also shared with men, just as a son carries part of his mother in a way hidden from her daughters. Yet to live the feminine is something we have almost forgotten: our patriarchal culture has denied her power and real wisdom, has sanitized her as much as it has divorced her from her magic that belongs to the rhythms of creation. But we need her, more than we dare realize.
However, to fully encounter the divine feminine, the creative principle of life, we must be prepared for her anger, for the pain that has come from her abuse. For centuries our masculine culture has repressed her natural power, has burnt her temples, killed her priestesses. Through his drive for mastery, and his fear of the feminine, of what he cannot understand or control, the patriarchy has not just neglected her, but deliberately tortured and destroyed. He has not just raped her, but torn the very fabric of life, the primal wholeness of which she is always the guardian. And the feminine is angry, even if her anger has been repressed along with her magic.
To welcome the feminine is to acknowledge and accept her pain and anger, and the part we have played in this desecration. Women too have often colluded with the masculine, denied their own power and natural magic, instead accepted masculine values, ways of thinking. They have betrayed their own deepest self. But we must also be careful not to become caught in this darkness, in the dynamics of abuse, the anger and betrayal.
It is especially easy for women to become identified with the suffering of the feminine, her treatment by the masculine, to project one’s own pain and anger onto men. Then we are caught even more securely in this web that denies us any transformation. If we identify with the pain of the feminine we easily become an agent of her anger, rather than going deeper into the mystery of suffering, into the light that is always hidden in the darkness. Because in the depths of the feminine there is a deep knowledge that the abuse is also part of the cycle of creation. The Great Mother embodies a wholeness that contains even the denial of herself, and we need her wholeness if we are to survive and be reborn.
Real transformation, like any birth, needs the darkness as much as the light. We know that the feminine has been abused, just as the planet continues to be polluted. But the woman who has experienced the pain of childbirth, who knows the blood that belongs to birth, is always initiated in the darkness; she knows the cycles of creation in ways that are hidden to the masculine. She needs to give herself and her knowing to this present cycle of death and rebirth, and in so doing honor the pain she has suffered. Then she will discover that her magic and power is also being reborn in a new way, is being returned to her in ways that can no longer be contaminated by the masculine and its power drive. But without her full participation there is the danger of a still birth; then this present cycle of creation will not realize its potential.
First we need to acknowledge the suffering of the feminine, of the earth itself, or the light within the feminine will be hidden from us. We have to pay the price of our desires to dominate nature, of our acts of hubris. We are not separate from life, from the winds and the weather. We are a part of creation and we have to ask her forgiveness, to take responsibility for our attitudes and actions. We need to go consciously into the next era, recognizing our mistakes. Only then can we fully honor and hear her. But there is always the possibility that we will not take this step. That like defiant children we will not acknowledge the pain we have done to our mother, and will not reclaim the wholeness that she embodies. Then we will remain within the darkness that is beginning to devour our souls: the empty promises of materialism, the fractured world of fanaticism. To take a step into maturity is always to acknowledge our mistakes, the wrongs we have done.
GIVING BIRTH TO OUR OWN WHOLENESS
It is a real challenge to step into this matrix of the feminine, to honor something so sacred and simple as the real wisdom of life. But as we stand at the edge of our present global abyss we need this wisdom more than we realize. How many times has this world been brought to the edge of extinction, how many times in its millions of years has it faced disaster? Now we have created our own disaster with our ignorance and greed, and the first step is to ask for the help of our mother and to listen to her wisdom. Then we will find ourselves in a very different environment than that which we presently imagine. We will discover that there are changes happening in the depths of creation of which we are a part, and that the pollution and pain we have caused are part of a cycle of life that involves its own apparent destruction. We are not isolated, even in our mistakes. We are part of the whole of creation even as we have denied the whole. In our hubris we have separated ourselves from life, and yet we can never be separate. That is just an illusion of masculine thinking. There is no such thing as separation. It is just a myth created by the ego.
Everything is part of the whole, even in its mistakes and disasters. Once we return to this simple awareness we will discover that there are changes taking place that demand our participation, that need us to be present. We will see that the axis of creation is shifting and something is coming alive in a new way. We are being reborn, not in any separate sense but as a complete whole. We do not have images in our masculine consciousness to think what this could be like, but this does not mean it is not happening. Something within us knows that the present era is over, that our time of separation is coming to an end. At present we sense it most apparently in the negative, knowing that the images of life no longer sustain us, that consumerism is killing our soul as well as the planet. And yet there is also something just beyond the horizon, like a dawn that we can sense even if we cannot see.
And this dawn carries a light, and this light is calling to us, calling to our souls if not yet to our minds. And it is asking for us to welcome it, to bring it into being. And if we dare to do this, to say “yes” to this dawn, we will discover that this light is within us, and that something within each of us is being brought into being. We are part of a shared mystery: we are the light hidden within matter that is being awakened.
For too many centuries we have been caught in the myth of separation, until we have become isolated from each other and from the energies of creation that sustain us. But now there is a growing light that carries the knowing of oneness, the oneness that is alive with the imprint of the divine. This is what is being given back to us. This is the light that is awakening. The light of oneness is a reflection of the divine oneness of life, and we are each a direct expression of this oneness. And this oneness is not a metaphysical idea but something so simple and ordinary. It is in every breath, in the wing beat of every butterfly, in every piece of garbage left on city streets. This oneness is life, life no longer experienced solely through the fragmented vision of the ego, but known within the heart, felt in the soul. This oneness is the heartbeat of life. It is creation’s recognition of its Creator. In this oneness life celebrates itself and its divine origin.
The feminine knows this oneness. She feels it in her body, in her instinctual wisdom. She knows its interconnectedness just as she knows how to nourish her own children. And yet until now this knowing has not carried the bright light of masculine consciousness. It has remained hidden within her, in the darkness of her instinctual self. And part of her pain has been that she has not known how to use her knowing in the rational and scientific world we inhabit. Instead of valuing her own knowledge she has played the games of the masculine, imitating his thinking, putting aside her knowledge of relationships and her sense of the patterns that belong to creation.
Now it is time for this wisdom of the feminine to be combined with masculine consciousness, so that a new understanding of the wholeness of life can be used to help us to heal our world. Our present scientific solutions come from the masculine tools of analysis, the very mind set of separation that has caused the problems. We cannot afford to isolate ourself from the whole any more, and the fact that our problems are global illustrate this. Global warming is not just a scientific image but a dramatic reality. Combining masculine and feminine wisdom we can come to understand the relationships between the parts and the whole, and if we listen we can hear life telling us how to redress this imbalance.
There is a light within life, known to the alchemists as the lumen naturae, that can speak to us, speak to the light of our own awareness. There is a primal dialogue of light to light, which is known to every healer as she listens to the body of her patient and allows it to communicate with her, allows its light to speak to the light within her. Through this dialogue of light she comes to know where to place her hands, the herbs that are needed, the pressure points to be touched. This direct communication is combined with the knowledge of healing she has learned, allowing an alchemy to take place that can reawaken energy within the patient, realign the body and soul. This is how real healing happens, and what is true for the individual is also true for the world, except that we are both the patient and the healer. The world’s wounds and imbalance are our wounds and imbalance, and we have within us the knowledge and understanding to realign ourselves and the world. This is part of the mystery of life’s wholeness.
The feminine can give us an understanding of how all the diverse parts of life relate together, their patterns of relationship, the interconnections that nourish life. She can help us to see consciously what she knows instinctively, that all is part of a living, organic whole, in which all the parts of creation communicate together, and how each cell of creation expresses the whole in a unique way. An understanding of the organic wholeness of life belongs to the instinctual knowing of the feminine, but combined with masculine consciousness this can be communicated in words, not just feelings. We can combine the science of the mind and the senses with inner knowing. We can be given a blueprint of the planet that will enable us to live in creative harmony with all of life.
A NEW MAGIC IS PRESENT
What does it mean to reclaim the feminine? It means to honor our sacred connection to life that is present in every moment. It means to realize that life is one whole and begin to recognize the interconnections that form the web of life. It means to realize that everything, every act, even every thought, affects the whole. And it also means to allow life to speak to us. We are constantly bombarded by so many impressions, by so much media and advertising, that it is not easy to hear the simple voice of life itself. But it is present, even within the mirage of our fears and desires, our anxieties and expectations. And life is waiting for us to listen: it just needs us to be present and attentive. It is trying to communicate to us the secrets of creation so that we can participate in the wonder that is being born.
We have been exiled from our own home, sold a barren landscape full of soulless fantasies. It is time to return home, to claim what belongs to us, the sacred life of which we are a part. This is what is waiting for us, and its signs are appearing around us. They are not just in our discontent, in our sense that we have been exploited and lied to. They are in a quality of magic that is beginning to appear, like the wing beats of angels we cannot see but can feel. We are being reminded of what we really are, of the divine presence that is within ourself and within life. We long for this magic, for a life that unites the inner and outer worlds. And this other is already with us in ways we would not expect. We just have to be open and receptive, to say yes to what we cannot see or touch, but can feel and respond to. And for each of us this meeting of the worlds will be different, unique, because we are each different, unique. It is the sacred within life speaking to us in our own language. Maybe for the gardener it speaks in the magic of plants, for the mother in something unexpected in the ways of her children—always it is something glimpsed but not yet known—a promise we know we have been waiting for. Children themselves feel it first, but for them it is not so unusual; it is part of the air they breathe, the light they live in. They have not yet been completely banished, and maybe they will grow into a world in which this magic remains.
The mystery of the divine feminine speaks to us from within her creation. She is not a distant god in heaven, but a presence that is here with us, needing our response. She is the divine returning to claim her creation, the real wonder of what it means to be alive. We have forgotten her, just as we have forgotten so much of what is sacred, and yet she is always part of us. But now she needs to be known again, not just as a myth, as a spiritual image, but as something that belongs to the blood and the breath. She can awaken us to an expectancy in the air, to an ancient memory coming alive in a new way. She can help us to give birth to the divine that is within us, to the oneness that is all around us. She can help us to remember our real nature.
© 2007 The Golden Sufi Center
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a Sufi teacher and author. In recent years the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, and the emerging global consciousness of oneness (see www.workingwithoneness.org). He has also specialized in the area of dreamwork, integrating the ancient Sufi approach to dreams with the insights of modern psychology. Llewellyn is the founder of The Golden Sufi Center (http://www.goldensufi.org/). His most recent books are Alchemy of Light, Working with the Primal Energies of Life, and Spiritual Power, How It Works.
For further writings about the divine feminine by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee please visit:
Teachings on the Feminine and the World Soul