Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Earth and Sky

We tend to think that the Earth has always been regarded as Feminine. Mother Earth, nurturing and stable. But has this always been so?

In the wall paintings of Ancient Egypt we find depictions of the Sky goddess Nut bending the arch of her star-covered body over her consort Geb, who is the earth below. But as times and attitudes changed to become more patriarchal, the sky mother and the earth father changed places, just as the moon became feminine and the sun became masculine – all part of the process of re-assigning the 'superior' and 'spiritual' elements to the masculine and the 'inferior' and 'material' to the feminine.

But is Mother Earth a real concept or a patriarchal one?

Venus of Willendorf
In the earliest times there seems to have been a strong emphasis on feminine deities. Apart from male shaman figures painted on the walls of caves, prehistoric carved male figures are exceptional, with only one or two rare examples being known. Far more common from these distant times are carved female figures – the so-called ‘venuses’ – which powerfully suggest a reverence for the creative role of women and the fruits of the earth. Masculine gods were apparently introduced slowly, first as consorts and subjects of the All-Mother, then as equal partners, then later as superior partners, and finally, in the current monotheistic ‘religions of the book’, the feminine deity has been willfully banished altogether from patriarchal theology.

Now there are many signs that the goddess is returning. Kwan Yin, Tara, Gaia, White Buffalo Calf Woman... in all her aspects the goddess is the bearer of a principle beyond herself. What is this principle that is so unique to the goddess? Perhaps it is compassion. 

But what does this quality of compassion truly mean? Not all women are wise, but  ‘wisdom' is a feminine attribute. She lives as a quality in men and women who search for her. She is prepared to transform any human mind into wise certainty - if you ask her, if you love her, if you search for her. In ancient Egypt she was named Isis; the Ancient Greeks and early Christian Gnostics knew her as Sophia, and she appeared in human form as Mary, the Magdalene. She pours herself into every soul that goes through the catharsis, the purification. Every refining, however small, yields wisdom - the wisdom of a woman.

But what is compassion in its essence? And how do we find the balance between strength and vulnerability? Being compassionate requires an active step. We 'see' the other, we are moved by that other and we act accordingly. Or do we? Karen Armstrong writes in her latest book 'Twelve steps to a compassionate life': "This is a struggle for a lifetime, because there are aspects in it that militate against compassion. For example, it's hard to love your enemies. We are driven by our legacy from our reptilian ancestors. It makes us put ourselves first, become angry, (and) when we feel threatened in any way, we lash out violently."

But an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

So we must look to our collective history, and within ourselves. In my post about the yin-yang (Symbols and the Tao), I mention that each opposite contains the seed – the potential – to become the other. The earth and the sky have at different times been thought of as either feminine or masculine, and if we identify with both, we as well can feel compassion for both the masculine and the feminine, so that neither dominates the other, and both exist in compassionate harmony with each other.


  1. Earth and Sky is an intriguing exploration of the divine feminine in religions and cultures including the archetype of Mother Earth. It also explores the fact that in ancient Egyptian cosmology the heavens were feminine and the earth was masculine, a reversal of our current symbology. The world of form and the act of creation is sexual. Sexual in the sense of polarity/duality (yin/yang) is required for form to manifest. Without the polarity there would be no creation. When male and female unite at the one singular point in the biological process the sperm breaks the outer shell of the egg and their DNA is exchanged and combined - the male and female become one. This is oneness expressed in the physical as the manifestation of a new creation - a birth of another being. It is truly miraculous. This oneness then takes the form of either male or female and the story starts all over again. Just as in procreation the creation of our dimension, our material universe, is occurring in this instant. Creation is not something that happened trillions of years ago by a Divine clock maker that created something apart from himself/herself, wound the universe up and then let it go. Creation is occuring now - each and every moment.

    Many Hindu and Buddhist deities or Bodhisattva's are symbolized in iconography as being united physically as male and female. It does not mean this literally but it is a type of symbolism that alludes to the polarity that is inherent in creation. However, polarity itself cannot create, but requires something that was there before all polarities. In the Yin and Yang it is Tai Chi - the supreme principle - from which Yin and Yang spring forth. It may also be called the Tao. This forms the trinity. The un-manifested from which springs the manifested polarity of: the female and the male. The trinity is a sacred and divine principle of creation that we see repeated in several religions.

    Emma has insightfully pointed out that the masculine and feminine both contain elements of each other, that one polarity has a seed to become the other. It is interesting to note that Kwan Yin's counterpart in Tibet takes on a male form, Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara), but Chenrezig manifested Tara who then became the divine feminine for Tibetans.

    As archetypes we see force and will as "masculine" and receptivity and
    nurturing as "feminine." The bond between mother and child is considered to be the closest as the bond is physical, mental and emotional. This is the beginning of the sense of oneness as the Mother sees herself in her Child. Here is the foundation in humanity of unconditional love and compassion. The way to the un-manifested oneness is not surprising through the feminine or the feminine principle as Emma points out.

    Emma writes, "... in all her aspects the goddess is the bearer of a principle beyond herself. What is this principle that is so unique to the goddess? Perhaps it is compassion." Compassion comes from a feeling of oneness with another. It is an expression of love. Not the ego-centred conditional love but pure, divine love - love that is the very essence of the divine. The path of the Goddess is the path of love and compassion. These are the attributes of divine feminine. This path of love and compassion is the most direct route for humanity, for us today to return to our true Home.

  2. To add my voice to what Emma and Joseph say here: Joseph rightly says that "Creation is not something that happened trillions of years ago." Indeed, creation is something which happens in every moment. This reminds me of an epiphany which I had many years ago, when I was working in an Australian museum and had the privilege of meeting an Aboriginal tribal elder. Watti was skilled both in painting and restoring the rock art of his people, particularly those impressive figures known as the Wandjina spirits.

    Up until that time I had always thought about the Dreamtime - the time which Aborigines call their time of myth - as having taken place in a distant past. But to Watti it was - and is - happening in every moment, in an eternal Now both outside and embedded within our everyday linear time.

    All these forces are living and active around us, and all such archetypes are real. So also the masculine/feminine dualities which must combine to create new life - and so to offer the renewed potential to perceive the unity behind all forms. In Western mysticism these ideas are expressed in the androgyne: the alchemical marriage of the Queen and King, of the figures known as the White Woman and the Red Slave: the white of mercury and the red of antimony which combine to create gold.