Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Great Mother Mary

Our Goddess Mary 1, July 20
Maxine Moe Rasmussen:
Years ago I had a split-second vision of a large (not large as in heavy, large as the mountains around her) woman rising from a nap in a valley among the mountains. The message received was that She was awake and things would be different now. Ever since that vision I've noticed how the feminine face of God is becoming more and more apparent.
The broad scope of religious history demonstrates an irrepressible need for a divine Mother. Extremely ancient myths and materials from archeological digs tell us that the Goddess was supreme and Her worship widespread, if not universal, in human societies around the globe for thousands of years before the male deities took over.

Among the oldest art objects found are forms of the female body—thighs, buttocks, genitals, breasts, and pregnant bellies depicting Woman as the Source of Life. Goddess figurines numbering in the tens of thousands have been unearthed from Ireland to India by archaeologists, who find relatively few male forms.

Scholars molded by male-centered thinking did not know what to do with these astonishing finds. Some arrived at the opinion that the so-called Venus figures were Paleolithic erotica. But Charlene Spretnak in The Politics of Women's Spirituality points to
the difference between the powerful Paleolithic figures and current pornographic portrayals of women as coy, vulnerable toys.
The figures were found in shrines and clearly meant to be venerated. Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God commented sardonically,
"[It is] not unusual for extremely well-trained archaeologists to pretend that they cannot imagine what services the numerous female figurines might have rendered.
He volunteered the answer that they provided the same services our male deity provides: receive our prayers, initiate "meditations on the mystery of being," aid women in childbirth, guard children, protect farmers, sailors, merchants, and all workers in the tasks of life.
Stone comments that debating whether ancient Goddess worship existed is akin to debating whether World War II actually occurred. She points to,
evidence of seven thousand years of artifacts and the three thousand years of historica (i.e., written) material, as discovered, deciphered, and described by archaeologists and historians.
Archaeological digs also indicate that women played a central role in early societies. They led ceremonies in honor of the Great Mother, as shown by the same unearthed ritual vessels, altars, temples and paintings that show reverence for the female as Creator. Art historian Merlin Stone, who traveled the world in search of information about the Goddess, writes in When God Was a Woman,
[Female religion] flourished for thousands of years before the advent of Judaism, Christianity, and the Classical Age of Greece. Some female figurines date back to 25,000 BCE, indicating that the Mother-centered years far outnumber the Father-centered years.
It is indisputable fact that our earliest human ancestors worshipped the Great Holy Mother, and Goddess worship has never been completely repressed by the campaigns of male religions against Her.
Myths add a striking piece to the history of Goddess transmuted to God. Comparing the most ancient with less ancient myths, mythologists see a shift—from perceiving woman as powerful to perceiving woman as mere helpmate and sex object. Hera, like all the great Goddesses, was Virgin, Mother, and Queen of Heaven. In later myths She became merely the jealous wife of Zeus, angry at his many sexual conquests. In a similar demotion, the Bible's second creation story, Genesis 3, tells woman, “He shall be your master.”

Male Gods even took the role of producing offspring. How well we Christians know THAT with our Father/Son myth!

Jennifer and Roger Woolger continue the story in The Goddess Within:
As the various northern and Aryan tribes imposed their more patriarchal gods upon the older Mother religions, the Great Goddess and her powers were split up. This process led to the retention of the goddess, but in a weakened form.
She still played a prominent role in Hellenistic religions when Jesus of Nazareth entered history, and in some regions Her preeminence had a remarkably long life. In the third-century Danube region, lead plaques feature the Great Mother as the principle figure with lesser gods surrounding Her. One in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has the sons of Jupiter and Helios attending Her (Thomas Mathews, The Clash of Gods).
Not until the Christian emperors of Rome and Byzantium shut down the last Goddess temples, about 500 CE, was Goddess worship totally suppressed.
Then the archetype found expression in Mary.

Our Goddess Mary 2
Mary has exactly the same role in the lives of many Christians as the Goddess played in pre-Christian times, a conclusion unanimous among scholars familiar with archetypal manifestations. The most direct forerunner of our Goddess Mary is Isis, the Egyptian Goddess who bears Horus in a virgin birth. Titles in honor of Isis were transferred to Mary: Mother of God, Virgin-Mother, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Seat of Wisdom.

To avoid misunderstanding, I will be clear. Goddess and God are equally appropriate God-images. Either one can warm and guide humans who relate to Spirit as to a humanlike person. I no longer do but recognize the need. Christians willing to grow in spiritual awareness must shed the prejudice that Ultimate Reality may only be imaged as male, because the way we image Spirit makes all the difference in the way we relate to others. More about that later in this “Our Goddess Mary” series.

Now back to history. Like Mary, the cosmic Goddess of early myth was virgin and mother, which "was indeed the way in which all the Mother goddesses of the high matriarchal era were regarded " (Woolger).
But the myths teach us a concept of virginity radically different from the sexless Christian virgin. Edward Whitmont in Return of the Goddess, writes that “virgin” had nothing to do with sexual abstinence; it merely meant an independent woman not beholden to a man. The great lover Aphrodite was a virgin. Therapist Roger Horrocks in The Absent Mother expands on the concept:
Virginity, which has been taken usually in its literal physical sense, and used to denigrate sexuality, can be seen at the psychic level as denoting completeness, wholeness, self-sufficiency, the marriage of human and divine. The virgin is like the virgin forest or virgin territory—untouched by human hand, but fertile, fruitful, perfect.
This idea of virgin gains weight when we recall the role of woman and Goddess in prehistoric times. Myths from Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Africa, Europe, Australia, and China image Woman as Creator of the universe, a natural image for primal cultures who saw how new life comes. They saw that the powerful female could produce a monthly flow of blood without harming her body, she could grow babies in her body and give birth to them, and she could produce food out of her own body.
If the link between sex and babies was unknown, wrote Joseph Campbell, males must have seemed,
within one jot of being completely superfluous . . .
The female body was experienced as a focus of divine force, and a system of rites was dedicated to its mystery.
A common misunderstanding about Goddess cultures needs to be corrected. They were not matriarchies. Patriarchy or male domination did not replace female domination—women had not been dominant. The early cultures imaging Woman as Creator organized society in what anthropologists today call matriliny or descent traced through the female line. The bloodlines of children are traced through their mother, and the husband dwells with his wife’s family and wife’s possessions. Children inherit their names and wealth from their mother.
Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe gives examples:
In the well-known story of Helen, when Menelaos first marries her, he travels to live with her in Sparta where he rules as king, even though Helen has two worthy brothers, Kastor and Polydeukes (Castor and Pollux). Menelaos attains the kingship of Sparta through his marriage to Helen who carries the bloodline of the Lakedaimonian throne.

When Helen is abducted by Paris and taken off to Troy, Menelaos, his position as king thereby made insecure, makes every effort to get her back, enlisting the help of all Greece. When during the course of the siege of Troy Paris and Menelaos agree to fight in single combat, the prize is not only Helen but "all her possessions." Later, after Helen's death, it is her daughter, Hermione, and not one of Menelaos' sons, who becomes the next ruler of Sparta.

Helen was the daughter of Leda who was ostensibly married to Tyndareus. Tyndareus, however, was not the father of Helen. Later tellers of the story, no doubt uncomfortable with Leda's evident promiscuousness and lack of adherence to patriarchal laws of male inheritance, interpolated the myth of Leda's seduction by Zeus as a more satisfactory explanation of her behaviour.

Leda's case is by no means unique. Bronze Age myths and legends are filled with important children whose mother is named but not their father. These children obviously had a human father, and one who wasn't necessarily the husband of their mother, but when the stories were retold this affront to patriarchal sensibilities was softened with the explanation that each child was in fact fathered by a god.
My research also led me to this fascinating fact: In Jewish tradition you are technically Jewish only if your mother is. Apparently, the ancestors of Jews lived in matrilineal societies.

Vestiges of the ancient reverence for the female body appear in the Bible despite its fulminations against Goddess worship. In fact, those very denunciations of it provide evidence that Goddess worship existed. I invite readers to my posts collected under Goddess in the Bible giving special attention to the work of Phyllis Trible.
In her book, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Trible offers linguistic evidence that the Hebrew word for womb saturates the Bible, most especially in passages singing praise of divine mercy and compassion. In spite of their heavily male emphasis, the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) refer in many passages to the comforting divine womb and breasts, indicating that people imaged Divinity as feminine.

In our time, Catholics turn to Mother Mary for divine comfort and security, asking Her to intercede for them, like children asking Mother to soften up Father so that he will be likelier to grant their requests. Mary is today’s Goddess. This explains the science-defying doctrines of the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception. It is pressure from the people, from the collective psyche, that keeps these odd beliefs alive, beliefs that embarrass Catholic theologians, as does her title “Mother of God” (Theotokos) given her at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Mythologists know it was no coincidence that Mary received the title in Ephesus, the site of a renowned Goddess temple. The Christian Church responded to pressure from the people; it responded to the felt need for a Divine Mother.
Shrines to Mary dot the Catholic region where I live, and periodically our national media report that our Goddess Mary has again been sighted. I take these as signs that the Divine Feminine is rising.
To be continued . . .

September 27, 2011
I’ll be clear. I’m not preaching that Mary is God as I link Mary with Magna Mater, the Great Mother.

“Mary” is today’s name for the Great Divine Mother (Magna Mater) that humanity revered in prehistoric times and subconsciously reveres in the present. Therapist Roger Horrocks expands on this in The Absent Mother: Restoring the Goddess to Judaism and Christianity.
He was educated in Protestant theology but was alerted to Mary’s significance by his clients—both men and women. They were "indifferent or hostile to Christianity" but were having dreams or visions of Mary, and these "were life-transforming symbols." The emotional response to Mary, writes Horrocks,
has been quite at odds with the rational delineation of her role in theology. . . . Although theologically she is not a deity, existentially, psychologically, symbolically, she is a Goddess.
How better to explain the extraordinary devotion to her? Books about Mary and present-day visions of Mary along with the media attention they stir signal that something’s up.
Horrocks thinks the visions are surely
some kind of warning about the present threat to the natural world . . . significant of our rupture with nature and the need for healing of that split. . . .
Mary usually appears in rural surrounds, often near trees, points out streams which become places of healing, and is often associated with plants, or with the earth in some way.
Mary was not always the submissive figure described in male theology. There are more appealing Mary’s in the Christian tradition. Our Lady of Guadalupe is confident of her authority and submissive to no one. Statues of the Black Virgin in France and other European sites, found Roger Horrocks,
were totally unlike the rather sacccharine, simpering statues of Mary I had seen in England. Here was no symbol of feminine submissiveness and piety. They were stripped down, archaic, fierce. In places like Chartres and Rocamadour, I was also amazed at the popular devotion to the Black Virgin. There was a tremendous aura round the statue—people knelt, prayed, contemplated.
Most Catholics have never encountered this strong, fierce, and authoritative Mary who was the Goddess before She was washed out by patriarchy.
Horrocks quotes this splendid piece from an eighth-century liturgy of the Ethiopic Church:
O Mary, immensity of heaven,
foundation of the earth,
depth of the seas, light of the sun,
beauty of the moon,
splendour of the stars in heaven.
Here Mary is the all powerful Goddess, source of all that is. Her worship flowered again in the Middle Ages when about five hundred churches were raised in her honor, those in France named Notre Dame (Our Lady). In the 1950s we prayed a litany to Mary that must have been the "Litany of Loreto" that Joseph Campbell quotes:
Holy Mother of God
Mother of Divine Grace
Mother of Good Counsel
Virgin most renowned
Virgin most powerful
Virgin most merciful
Virgin most faithful
Mirror of Justice
Seat of Wisdom
Cause of our Joy
Gate of Heaven
Morning Star
Health of the Sick
Refuge of Sinners
Comforter of the Afflicted
Queen of Peace
Tower of David
Tower of Ivory
House of Gold
I remember as a child wondering how such exalted titles could be given to Mary, sensing already at that age the discrepancy between official theology and popular devotion.
In 1990 I was writing a local history book. One of my senior informants bemoaned the changes of Vatican II because it demoted devotions to Mary, effectively eradicating them. "She was my favorite," mourned the septuagenarian.

Again, Mary is not God. Imagining the SOURCE of ALL THAT IS to be a humanlike individual is one of the great shortcomings of Western religion, which pounds into minds and hearts the male God-image with its relentless “HeHimHis.” A feminine image of Divinity could disrupt this; it could propel us out of the childish habit of praying to a deity and begin to appreciate the nature of Transcendence. This is how Great Mother Mary can inform our Church.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Opra & Betty Ford

Virgin Birth, Immaculate Conception? July 7, 2011
Historian Simon Schama in Newsweek deplored the fact of,
. . . the Founders routinely canonized in the current fairy-tale version of American origins that passes muster for history by those who don’t actually read very much of it.

. . . Thomas Jefferson denied that Jesus was the son of God. Worse, he refused to believe that Jesus ever made any claim that he was. While he was at it, Jefferson also rejected as self-evidently absurd the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection. . . .

. . .[Jefferson also] argued, generations of the clergy . . . invented the myth that [Jesus] had died to redeem mankind’s sins. . . . He thought the Immaculate Conception a fable.
Were Catholic theologians questioned today, most would also deny literal belief in these doctrines, as I do. But with them I would insist that religious doctrines are not just silly nonsense, as atheists aver.

There’s more than I can say about this here—interested readers can find elaboration in my book and past blogposts (see index). Here my purpose is to free readers steeped in Christian culture to examine beliefs about spiritual reality.
I notice that people feel less free to challenge dogma than to challenge institutional authority—arrogant bishops are easier to spot than abstract ideas. The official Church’s shabby treatment of women, gays, victims of clergy abuse, divorced people, and so on, is obvious, but if you don’t think much about science, the Immaculate Conception, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection don’t concern you.

I’m guessing. Frankly, I don’t understand the kind of mind that doesn’t question these doctrines because I couldn’t rest until I’d figured out what I truly believe, but it took years of consuming non-Christian spiritual fare.
Readers will find more on the Excerpts page of my main website, and of course in my book, God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky.

To which my nephew Florian commented:
You continue to come back to this idea that science somehow prevents us from accepting many traditional religious beliefs. This is strange, since I'm sure you know that that science is really not such an enemy of religion. It may have been more so in the time of Thomas Jefferson. But, today, science is demonstrating with the Big Bang theory that the universe has a Creator. It's finding evidence for Jesus' resurrection in studies of the Shroud of Turin. Of course, you yourself cite evidence for reincarnation.

One reason I comment on your posts is to constantly remind you that I and other people like me exist. I am the big elephant in your room that you always try to ignore. Obviously, I have thought about science; and I have studied/examined/questioned church teachings. Yet, I am a genuinely believing Catholic. How do you explain that? I think you are guessing that if we teach science and encourage believers to question church teachings then we can finally get rid of literal Christianity. My existence proves you wrong. Why don't you finally admit that you are wrong here?

Jeanette: Actually, I have frequently said that science and religion do not contradict each other but complement each other. For my latest synthesis of science and spirituality, see Astrophysics spiritual.

Opra & Betty Ford
When I was at the School of Theology, my major was systematics, the study of doctrine or system of beliefs, and my minor was spirituality. Normally my advisor would be a systematics instructor but, because I asked for a woman, I had an advisor in spirituality. It turned out that she and I disagreed in the most fundamental way about spirituality.

I thought then and think more definitely now, 25 years later, that emotional health is identical to spiritual health. She didn’t. She thought a person could be spiritually healthy while being emotionally crippled. Over the years her belief has seemed ever more preposterous to me. How could she say that a severely depressed or fearful or rageful or—you name the debilitating emotion—how could a person in such a state be in possession of spiritual health?

I think the answer gets to the heart of my disagreement with Christianity, which also gets to the heart of Christianity’s disagreement with Jesus’ message. Too often the Christian religion focuses, not on broadcasting Jesus’ wise spiritual counsel, but on directing people to worship him. I believe this was my advisor’s thought process: Hurting or bad or totally mixed up people have spiritual health if they perform pious acts like praying and staying devoted to God.

What does this have to do with Opra and Betty Ford?

Since Freud and Jung started opening up awareness of thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs below the conscious level—ideas we hadn’t known were directing us—psychology has been replacing religion as the guide to a fulfilling life. The human potential movement, the self-help industry, and most media reports on healthy, helpful, and happy lives showcase the principles of psychology rather than religion.

In therapeutic culture, the inner self, not an external god, demands attention, reverence, and obedience. Ultimate authority lives, not in a force totally outside us, in religious or communal power, but inside us, a self-director given various names—Higher Power, Higher Self, Soul, conscience, Christ, etc.

Opra, the most revered guru of our time, told people to live their best lives in greater self-understanding and self-care. In sharp contrast to religious authorities, she made herself vulnerable to the public, freely admitting her weaknesses. Publicly she struggled with having taken sexual abuse, with food addictions and negative body image. Wearing these badges of courage, she ministered to others seeking guidance and strength for working through their traumas. It reminds me of Henri Nouwen’s concept, the wounded healer, also of Twelve Step groups, which offer help by vulnerably discussing one’s own experience with weakness.

Betty Ford also possessed the courage of candor. By speaking publicly about her breast cancer and substance addiction, she saved millions of lives and continues to do so in the Betty Ford Center for Addiction Recovery. Her courage extended to admitting and describing her hurt and resistance when family called her on her addiction. Her courage extended to campaigning for two things opposed by her own Republican Party—the Equal Rights Amendment and the legalization of abortion. Of abortion she said it was “time to bring abortion out of the back woods and into hospitals where it belongs.”

Opra Winfrey and Betty Ford stand as models of integrity in the eyes of many, and for me they stand in favorable contrast to religious officials who have an aversion to admitting their mistakes and who promulgate formulas for worshipping an external deity. Today I could be stronger in defending my belief that psychological health is the essence of spiritual health.