Within the broader Judeo-Christian tradition, there exist forms and archetypes of the Divine Feminine that are honored and revered. This article provides readers with a basic introduction to the subject of the Divine Feminine in Christianity, and lays out the spiritual principles upon which it is based.
Introduction: Does the Divine Feminine Deserve a Place in Christianity?
The whole subject of the Divine Feminine is a very controversial one within Christianity today, for a wide variety of reasons. Any idea of reverence for the Divine Feminine is totally anathema to the newer Protestant and Evangelical denominations, which, in their zeal to get back to what they see as the basics of the faith, regard any such tendencies as being idolatrous and even heretical in nature. As an indication of just how far they have gone in this direction, I was forbidden, in no uncertain terms, to play Schubert’s Ave Maria on my Pan Flute in a Protestant church; that surprised even me. I wound up having to play Panis Angelicus instead. Indeed, one of the key distinguishing differences between the newer Protestant and Evangelical sects or denominations of Christianity and the older Catholic and Eastern Orthodox denominations is that the latter have a place for honoring the Divine Feminine, mainly in the form of the Virgin Mary; however, even in these older denominations, the reverence they pay to the Divine Feminine is doctrinally limited and circumscribed.
Suffice it to say that Christianity today, in all its major sects and denominations, remains very patriarchal and male dominated in its basic spiritual orientation. As a measure of this, just look at the Holy Trinity, as it is currently defined in Christianity: You have the masculine God the Father, the masculine God the Son, and the neuter Holy Spirit. So, it’s clear that, strictly speaking, the Divine Feminine doesn’t “make the cut” when it comes to the Christian Godhead. The Protestant denominations regard the worship, or even the reverence, of anything, or anyone, who is not in “The Big Three” to be idolatry; but if we go back even further in the Judeo-Christian tradition, even Jesus doesn’t “make the cut”, since Judaism adheres to pure, pristine monotheism, in which the worship of anyone or anything besides the invisible and incorporeal God the Father, who Jesus affectionately called Abba, or Father, is considered to be idolatry. If you draw an analogy between the Holy Trinity and the Holy Family, it is clear that Joseph corresponds to God the Father, and Jesus is God the Son; by process of elimination, then, the Holy Spirit would be feminine, and correspond to Jesus’ virgin mother Mary. The Bible tells us that Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit when no man had known her.
In fact, the newer Protestant denominations have even invented a word for the veneration of the Virgin Mary in the older Catholic and Eastern Orthodox denominations of Christianity that links it with idolatry: Mariolatry. Some hardline Protestant preachers and theologians might even go so far as to declare the veneration of the Virgin Mary, or the Divine Feminine in any form, to be un-biblical. But then, how do you explain the role Mary plays in the Annunciation episode in the Gospel of Luke, or the depiction of Wisdom as a feminine figure, or a goddess, in the Book of Proverbs, who even preceded God’s great creative works of old? Mary, at the very least, is a heroine of the Christian faith, just like Ruth, Esther and other great women were heroines in the Old Testament. Respect, honor and veneration might technically fall short of out and out worship, but even the writers of the Old Testament recognized that half the population was female, and even they needed some role models to look up to.
The Divine Feminine and the Meta-physics of Divinity
Everyone knows that the world we live in is a dualistic world, in which nothing can exist without its complementary opposite to serve as its counterpart or counterbalance. Just look at the human body, and we find that every bodily organ system is organized in terms of functional opposites that balance each other out. In an electric battery, you have a positive pole that emits electrons and a negative pole that receives them; the positive or emissive pole is essentially masculine in function, whereas the negative or receiving pole is feminine. Even electric circuits, to be functional and complete, require opposite yet complementary halves dedicated to emissive outflow and receptive inflow. That’s the physical world; so why wouldn’t the spiritual or meta-physical world beyond the physical world operate according to the same laws of balance and complementary give and take? This principle that even divinity must be gender balanced is the whole principle upon which reverence for the Goddess as the feminine face of Divinity is based. Father Sky showers forth the rain, which Mother Earth receives to fertilize and renew Nature Herself.
If we take a good, hard look at the broader Judeo-Christian tradition and how it has grown and developed down through the ages, we will find a definite undercurrent of goddess spirituality existing as a kind of spiritual counterpoint to the prevailing patriarchal power structure of the Yahweh cult. It’s almost as if goddess spirituality is something that had to exist as a necessary Force of Nature, that the patriarchal powers that be had to constantly tamp down and keep under wraps in order to assert their dominance. Atheists have claimed that even if God didn’t exist, then people would have to invent Him; how much truer that would be for the Goddess, then, since so many people are so devoted to their mothers – why not see divinity in terms of a great Divine Mother? If you accept a masculine God, then why not also a feminine Goddess as His partner or consort? Wouldn’t God get mighty lonely all alone there on his throne by himself? If we are to anthropomorphize God, this would be the natural conclusion.
Judaism, as it grew and evolved, became very patriarchal in its spiritual orientation, but oddly enough, it existed as a virtual island of patriarchy in a sea of goddess worship. “My God’s better than your god” is a major theme running through the Old Testament as prophets like Elijah go up against the likes of the priests of Baal, and that also includes “My God’s better than your goddess”. The patriarchal priests of Yahweh are often making veiled slights and innuendos against goddess worship, and we can infer that it is something that they had an extremely hard time trying to stamp out. The only major Old Testament figure who seems to have bucked the whole patriarchal trend was King Solomon. It is said that, alongside Yahweh in Solomon’s original temple, the goddess Asherah was worshiped as His partner or consort. Recent archeological findings suggest that Asherah’s cult was a lot more pervasive than originally believed – 1.
Yes, but is there a way to accommodate both the God and the Goddess within a single holistic and unified spiritual worldview? Luckily there is, and it is one that still allows for the dominance of the God, while accepting both. The key is contained in the Book of Proverbs, when the goddess Wisdom tells her story:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth; while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there; when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above; when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.
– Proverbs 8: 22 – 31
So there you have it. If you define Wisdom as knowing that one knows, then Wisdom was first created by God in the spontaneous act of God’s infinite creative intelligence reflecting on itself, which preceded all the other creative acts of God. In other words, the primal duality of male and female was set up in a natural action / reaction, emanation / reflection, subject / object, cause and effect sequence before anything else was created. And when it finally came time for God to create man, who was created in God’s image, male and female created he them, to reflect the primal duality of God and Goddess. In Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah, the sphere or Sefirah of Chokmah, or Wisdom, is the second sphere down from Kether, or the Crown, which is the abode of God Himself. And so, you have scriptural support for what is affirmed in the Kabbalah as well.
Another basic dualistic differentiation we can make between God and Goddess is to see the masculine God as being transcendent, and the feminine Goddess as being imminent or nearby. That is the gist of the meaning of Shekhinah, which means the imminent presence of God, which was seen as a feminine entity in traditional Judaism. It was God’s Shekhinah or divine presence that dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. – 2. The Ark of the Covenant was guarded by two angelic Cherubim facing each other; it could be said that one of those Cherubim was Yang, or masculine, while the other one was Yin, or feminine. Their intimate embrace symbolizes the fact that the two primal creative principles, male and female, are locked in an intimate embrace throughout God’s creation. As you can see, there are multiple ways in which the Divine Feminine has insinuated herself into the very spiritual fabric of Judaism, in ways both obvious and subtle.
When it comes to Christianity, it seems like the Egyptian cult of Isis left its indelible mark when it comes to the honoring of the Divine Feminine. Quite obviously, the Virgin Mary is merely a continuation of Isis as the Divine Mother archetype, and the infant Jesus is Isis’ divine son Horus. Add Joseph, and we find that his predecessor in the Egyptian mysteries was Osiris. And so, the Egyptian holy family has reincarnated in the Christian one. This is probably the clearest case of religious syncretism, or the replacement of old gods with new ones, that can be seen in the Christian religion. The particular forms or incarnations of divinity may change, but the essential seed ideas or archetypes behind them remain the same. The cult of the goddess Isis was so prevalent in the Mediterranean world before the advent of Christianity that Christianity just had to have a de facto goddess archetype to replace her.
Catholic Marian Theology: Treading a Fine Line
Christianity today is, as a whole, a very patriarchally oriented religion; this can be seen primarily as a carryover from Judaism. Nevertheless, there exist forms of Christianity in which the Divine Feminine is honored and revered, and these are primarily the older sects and denominations, namely Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Why do these forms of Christianity hold such a place for the Divine Feminine when Judaism does not? The short answer is due to the divinity of Jesus in Christian theology; if Jesus is held up as being divine, or God incarnate, then the mother who gave birth to him must also be quite special and exalted as well. All Christian sects and denominations, to my knowledge, believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, but the newer Protestant sects and denominations just see this as a sign of Christ’s being the divine Son of God, and never bother to reflect on the role that his mother Mary played in bringing about his incarnation. In fact, many conservative and narrow minded Protestants hardly consider Roman Catholicism to be Christianity at all, and their veneration of the Virgin Mary probably has a lot to do with that attitude. They don’t stop to ponder the historical reality that, for centuries, in Western Europe at least, Catholicism was the only game in town if you were a Christian.
So, how do the Catholics justify the veneration of the Virgin Mary within a theological system that, as a whole, is very patriarchal and male dominated? Catholics are careful to point out that they don’t worship the Virgin Mary, but rather, they venerate her. Worship, they say, is due only to God, which includes the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Veneration, which is called dulia in Latin, is due to the saints as created beings; the veneration owed Mary, who is chief among the saints, is yet a step higher than the ordinary veneration owed the saints – the veneration owed Mary is what the Catholics call hyperdulia. – 3. To many, and that probably includes most Protestant Christians, this differentiation between veneration and worship may seem to be a bit confusing, and to me, the differentiation seems to be defined primarily by the object of the veneration, worship or whatever you want to call it rather than anything intrinsic to the spiritual attitude itself. Yet, the attitude of honor and respect that goes with veneration is, in the whole, a good thing, I feel, provided that it is merited, and doesn’t go too far.
Those Protestants who feel that the veneration of Mary is unbiblical have obviously never stopped to ponder the beginning of Luke’s gospel, which is totally devoted to the Virgin Mary and the special place she holds in Christendom. What makes Mary unique among all the Catholic saints is that, without her, the incarnation of Jesus would not have been possible. When Gabriel asked her if she wanted to accept impregnation with God’s Holy Spirit, she could have easily said no, but instead, she chose to say yes, thereby reversing Eve’s original sin of disobedience to God and ushering in the incarnation of God on earth. Whereas the original Ark of the Covenant was merely a ceremonial chest carved of wood, Mary is seen as the ark of the new covenant in Christ, in human form. In the Annunciation, God contributed the divinity of Jesus Christ, but Mary contributed his human side; and so, the Catholics maintain, a full acceptance of Christ’s humanity depends on the proper veneration of his mother Mary. To Protestants who object that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary, the Catholics counter that they worship Christ through Mary. “For behold, from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed!” proclaims the Virgin Mary (Luke 1: 48).
What are the main differences between the theological conceptions of the Virgin Mary in the Eastern Orthodox Church versus those of Catholicism? First of all, Catholicism has the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which holds that Mary was conceived totally without sin, to make her an absolutely pure vessel for the Christ child, whereas Eastern Orthodoxy lacks such a doctrine. This is due to the great emphasis put on the doctrine of Original Sin as put forth by Western Christian theologians like Augustine of Hippo, in which all human beings are said to bear the guilt of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin; Eastern Orthodoxy does not go that far in its conception of Original Sin, so there was no need felt to have her immaculate. If Mary had been immaculate, say the Orthodox theologians, then she would not have been fully human, and could not have really contributed a human nature to Jesus. Catholicism sees Mary as being a co-redemptrix, or coequal savior figure in conjunction with Jesus Christ, whereas Eastern Orthodoxy does not share this view. While Catholics like to call Mary the Mother of God, Eastern Orthodoxy calls Mary the Theotokos, or God Bearer, since Christ, in his spiritual nature, is coeternal with God the Father; Mary simply bore the human form of Jesus Christ. Both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy believe in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, that she was taken bodily up into heaven at the end of her life. – 4.
The Deeper Metaphysics of the Divine Feminine
One of the key questions that metaphysics seeks to answer is: How did God, or the original Divine Unity, become the many of God’s creation? This is also one of the key questions that Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah, seeks to answer as well. How did creation begin? With the primal duality of the masculine and feminine creative principles – and the feminine creative principle was the Goddess, or the Divine Feminine. From the original divine couple, God and Goddess, all the rest of creation was brought into existence, and the primal polarity of male and female is reflected in so much of the rest of God’s creation. There are a few ways of understanding or visualizing how this happened. In Kabbalah, there is the doctrine of Tzimtzum, that God voluntarily withdrew some of His infinite Light in order to create a sacred space within which creation could happen – and what is this sacred space but a metaphor for the female womb? Or God reflected on himself and His infinite creative intelligence to create the goddess Wisdom, or Chokmah, since what is Wisdom but knowing that one knows? There is also the vibrational model of God creating through his Word, as depicted in the creation narrative in Genesis. And what is vibration but sound or energy?
Interesting insights into the deeper metaphysics of the Divine Feminine can also be gleaned from Hinduism, which is a religion that has a very developed tradition of goddess worship. In Hindu philosophy, God the Absolute, or Brahman, started out as infinite consciousness – this is the original divine principle known as Purusha, which can be loosely translated as “Lord”. Then, Purusha reflected on Himself, or sent out His creative vibration to create the primal feminine principle called Prakriti, which can be loosely translated as “Nature”. And so, you start out with the two primal masculine and feminine creative principles, Purusha and Prakriti – consciousness and Nature, with all Her creative, or procreative, energy. This creative fecundity of Nature is poetically referred to in the Bible as each of God’s creatures creating according to their own kind. This concept of Nature or Prakriti is even used in Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India, to refer to the three basic constitutional types; in traditional Greek Medicine, there is this same Nature concept used to refer to their four different constitutional types – which are called Physis, which again refers to Nature. Through the procreative act involving male and female, the parents pass on their own constitutional nature to their offspring.
Through the primal duality of male and female, subject and object, creative cause and effect or manifestation, the whole universe came into existence. Another way of referring to this primal creative couple in Sanskrit is as Shiva and Shakti. Shiva can also refer to the Destroyer or transformer of the Hindu trinity, but in this sense, it is a stand in for Purusha, or the infinite consciousness of God the Absolute. Shiva or Purusha is infinitely conscious, but it is also static and unchanging as well; for creation to happen, the creative energy of the feminine principle, or Shakti, is needed as the divine catalyst that gets the ball rolling, so to speak. And so, it is no coincidence that Eve was the one to get Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden – Eve, symbolizing the feminine creative principle, was needed to get the ball rolling when it came to initiating the drama of human life and existence. Feminists may say that Eve was framed by the patriarchy, but here is the deeper reason. Without Eve’s curiosity and initiative, her and Adam would have remained in an idyllic, but also static and insipid state in the Garden of Eden, with no possibility of evolution or growth by tasting the fruits of one’s own good and evil actions, or karma. By the same token, Mary’s saying yes to Gabriel’s invitation in the Annunciation was the creative energy that set the redemption of mankind in motion, according to Marian theology. Here again, a woman made it all happen.
How does all this relate back to Judaism? In Hindu Tantric symbology, Shiva is represented by an upward facing triangle, which also symbolizes an erect lingam, or penis. Conversely, Shakti, or the energetic, creative feminine goddess principle, is represented by a downward facing triangle, which symbolizes the female womb, or sacred space within which creation can take place. The interpenetrating upward and downward facing triangles are a Tantric symbol for the union of Shiva and Shakti in the sexual act. And guess what – these two interpenetrating triangles also form the Jewish Star of David! If one does not want to get explicitly sexual, the two interpenetrating triangles can also represent the union of Heaven and Earth, or the descent of God’s grace coupled with man’s striving to reach upward towards God. Any way you look at it, the Shiva and Shakti triangles, or the Star of David, is a powerful creative symbol.
There is yet another context within which the Hindu term for sexual energy or Shakti, is used, and that is the Kundalini Shakti. The term Kundalini literally means “coiled”, and the Kundalini Shakti is also known as the Serpent Power, which lies coiled at the base of the spine in its dormant form. This is seen, especially in Tantric forms of yoga, as the primal evolutionary energy and drive within man, and it is sexual in nature. And so, it is no coincidence that the Serpent figures prominently in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Heck – if you look at male semen under a microscope, you’ll see for yourself that sperm cells resemble little snakes. Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit and all at once they are ashamed of their nakedness and cover their private parts – their genital organs. God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and almost immediately they begin begetting, or procreating. Whatever you may think of it, call it good or evil, or whatever you want, the truth is that the sexual energy or impulse in man is something that transcends the personal, or the individual wills of the partners involved, to move the unfoldment of human life and evolution forward. Sexual energy even transcends the merely sexual in its creative power, and is something that can also be used for healing and spiritual growth if it is properly mastered. Spiritual growth can be seen as a process of mastering the incredible creative powers that lie latent within you.
Religious Syncretism and the Incredible Antiquity of the Goddess
In the Book of Proverbs, the goddess Wisdom tells her story, how she was the first created of God, long before the rest of creation came into existence. Similarly, archeologists have found, in excavations at sites like Catal Huyuk in modern day Turkey, that goddess worship is extremely ancient, extending back into Neolithic times, and perhaps even beyond. The earliest human societies, it seems, were matriarchal, and traced their family lineages through the mother. To primitive man, this was a natural inclination, because it appeared that women had the incredible power to create life out of their bellies, seemingly from nothing. And so, one of the first religious impulses in man was to honor that incredible fertility and creative power in the form of goddess archetypes. Women, with the creative power to bring forth new life inherent within them, were naturally caring and compassionate, and devoted stewards of their children and offspring, and hence trustworthy stewards of society as well. And so, the earliest settled agricultural societies were, as far as we can tell, matriarchal, and worshiped the Divine Feminine; they were also agrarian and peace loving as well. It was only later that they fell victim to invading nomadic tribes who were warlike and patriarchal, but still, the old goddess archetypes were assimilated by the conquerors, and survived.
We have seen that Asherah was once worshiped as Yahweh’s partner and consort in ancient Israel; she could very well have been enshrined in Solomon’s temple. When Christianity first made its appearance in the first century of the Common Era, goddess worship was thriving in the Eastern Mediterranean world within which it arose. The most popular goddess figure of the day was the Egyptian mother goddess Isis; as we have seen, the famous image of Madonna and Child was nothing but a reincarnation or repackaging of the image of the goddess Isis and her divine son Horus. A popular novel of the day is Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, which is also known as The Golden Ass; it is a tribute to the saving power of the goddess Isis. Isis had so many loyal devotees when Christianity was getting its start that the Virgin Mary had to assume a lot of the symbolism and iconography of Isis in order to facilitate the acceptance of the new religion of Christianity by the masses.
Of all areas of human life and existence, religion is generally that which is most resistant to change; after all, people tend to be very prudent and cautious of anything new when the fate of their eternal soul is at stake. Religious syncretism is the adoption of old symbols and forms of divinity by a new and emerging religion in order to facilitate its acceptance by the masses, and Christianity used it quite a bit. Just as people love their mothers, so they were very attached to their old goddesses, and needed to be weaned off of them by a new and welcoming goddess form that was similar to the old one. Through religious syncretism, the chain of goddesses extends all the way back into the misty dawn of time. And so, we find the veneration of the Virgin Mary and other archetypes of the Divine Feminine in older forms of Christianity; instead of being quick to condemn them as being hardly Christian at all, or thinly veiled pagan fertility cults, we must realize that religious syncretism in the assimilation of previously existing goddess archetypes was something they had to engage in to facilitate the acceptance of their new religion by those who had previously been pagan and polytheistic, in order to transition them towards a more monotheistic form of religion. All religions have done it, even the staunchly monotheistic Judaism, as we can see from the goddess Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs.
The Virgin Mary in Christianity took the place of the Egyptian Goddess Isis. Courtesy of YouTube.
Major Forms of the Divine Feminine in Christianity
The Divine Feminine is mostly honored and revered today as the Virgin Mary, where a whole branch of theology, called Marian theology, has grown up around her in the older sects and denominations of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It fell upon these older forms of Christianity, which were actually one church prior to the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity in 1054 AD, to wean the masses off of their devotion to the old gods and goddesses of Greco-Roman paganism through the syncretistic substitution of the veneration of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Basically, everyone loves a great Mother Goddess, and the Virgin Mary stepped in to fill that role, supplanting the worship of other goddesses who were widely worshiped in the Eastern Mediterranean region and the greater Greco-Roman world, especially the Egyptian goddess Isis and others, such as Cybele and Magna Mater, or the Great Mother.
In both the Eastern and Western churches, the Virgin Mary is seen as the Ark of the New Covenant in Christ, since it was she who said yes to the Archangel Gabriel and opened the door to the divine incarnation of Jesus Christ. Both churches believe that the Virgin Mary did not die in the usual sense, but was taken up bodily into heaven in the Assumption; the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on August 15th, not long after the Feast of the Transfiguration. Nevertheless, there are some important differences between the Eastern and Western churches in their teaching and doctrine concerning the Virgin Mary. The Western church, with its greater emphasis on Original Sin, portrays the Virgin Mary as being a spotless paragon of purity and virtue and holds that she was conceived without sin in the Immaculate Conception; the Catholics also teach that Mary is a co-redemptrix of humanity, alongside Jesus Christ. While the Western church often calls Mary the Mother of God, the Eastern church calls her the Theotokos, or God Bearer, since she only bore the human, fleshly manifestation of Jesus Christ, who was, prior to his birth, eternally coexistent with God the Father. The Eastern church does not believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and in general puts a more human face on her, thus making her a full contributor to the human side of Jesus Christ.
Sophia, or Divine Wisdom, was the favorite goddess archetype of the Christian Gnostics, who saw her as the divine or heavenly consort or feminine counterpart to Jesus Christ. The Gnostics also had other sacred myths or allegories concerning mankind’s redemption that featured Sophia; the origins of Sophia in Judeo-Christian Scripture can be traced back to the goddess Wisdom in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. There are two main myths or sacred allegories concerning the goddess Sophia in Christian Gnosticism: The first sees her as the lowest in stature of the Aeons, or creative powers in the Divine Realm of Fullness, or the Pleroma who, in attempting to conceive a child without the partnership of God, gives birth to the hideous, blind, monstrous and deformed Ialdabaoth, also known as the Demiurge, who is the creator of the physical world, a tragic mistake of creation in which souls are entrapped in bodies.
In the second myth or allegory, Sophia herself is tricked by her own offspring, the Demiurge, into following a false light which she mistakes for being the true light of God; as a result, the poor Sophia finds herself entrapped in the world of matter. While there, she throws herself away on illusory lovers as a prostitute or courtesan, always believing that, somehow, the next lover will be different than the last, and will save her from her fallen state. In total repentance, Sophia finally calls out to God, who promises to send her a true redeemer in the person of Jesus Christ. Awaiting her divine wedding day, Sophia busies herself with primping and preparing for the great event; finally, Sophia is truly wedded to the divine partner who was meant for her. This divine union of Sophia and Jesus Christ was the basis for one of the most important sacred rituals in Christian Gnosticism: the Hieros Gamos, or Sacred Marriage, which was also known as the Bridal Chamber. The Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition as a whole greatly values wisdom, but the Gnostics put a new twist on things, seeing their goddess Sophia as the archetype of Errant Wisdom, who had to earn her wisdom and learn from her mistakes.
The earthly counterpart of the Gnostic goddess Sophia was Mary Magdalene, who is seen by many who revere her as the Apostle to the Apostles, because she had a spiritual understanding of Jesus’ teachings that was superior to that of any of his male apostles, including Peter, which is made clear in the Gnostic Gospel of Mary. Although the current leadership of Christianity today is heavily male dominated and patriarchal, women were much more often in leadership roles in the early church, as evidenced by early Christian heroines like Thecla, who was a missionary companion of the apostle Paul. It was Mary Magdalene, the story goes, who had seven devils cast out of her by Jesus – which could just be spiritual code speak for having her seven chakras cleansed and awakened. Author Margaret Starbird sees Mary Magdalene as the Woman with the Alabaster Jar that was filled with costly Spikenard ointment, which she used to anoint Jesus shortly before his crucifixion – which officially made Jesus the Anointed One, or the Christ. What could have really happened in this strangely sensual episode was a sacred sexual enactment of the Hieros Gamos, or the Sacred Marriage.
There is a hidden or esoteric tradition held by many that Mary Magdalene was actually Jesus’ wife or partner. This is put forth in the Gnostic Gospel of Philip when it says that Jesus loved Mary more than all the other disciples, and would kiss her frequently on the mouth. – 5. The story goes that, shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea set off for Alexandria, Egypt with Mary and Jesus’ infant daughter Sarah in tow; from the port city of Alexandria, the three of them set sail in a rudderless boat and land on the shores of southern France, where a strong cult of devotion to Mary Magdalene persists to this very day. Mary’s daughter Sarah then grows up and marries into the Merovingian lineage of French kings, who bear the sacred bloodline of Jesus. This core story, as well as its various subplots, was the thesis of a blockbuster book entitled Holy Blood, Holy Grail, written by a team of Englishmen back in 1982. Its thesis is that the real Holy Grail was the cup of Mary Magdalene’s womb, which held the sacred bloodline of Jesus Christ. The authors then proceed to detail the hidden rivalry and intrigue between the allies of the Merovingians and the sacred bloodline on the one hand and the other royal houses of Europe who are fighting on behalf of the papacy in Rome, who maintain the story of a strictly sexless and celibate Holy Family in the interests of preserving their power.
Holy Blood, Holy Grail was definitely a seminal and influential work, and one that inspired a number of subsequent spinoffs, including a bestseller novel by Dan Brown entitled The DaVinci Code. One may criticize Holy Blood, Holy Grail for its conspiratorial, cloak and dagger approach to things, but it must be remembered that the church was all powerful in ages past, and one could easily get condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake for holding views that were contrary to the official teaching of the Church of Rome. There was even a play on words that said that Roma, the Latin word for Rome, was the reverse, and therefore the opposite of Amor, which is the Latin word for Love. Besides being a way to avoid troublesome claims of inheritance and property rights disputes, maintaining that the Holy Family was totally celibate and sexless was a way for the Church of Rome to assert its dominance and control by denying the masses their sexual power through the vicarious example of a supposedly sexless Holy Family. A pastor friend of mine once said to me that, even if the whole holy bloodline theory were true, it would be pretty dilute and watered down by now. That may very well be so, but still, symbolically speaking, it is yet another way of establishing Jesus’ humanity, and through his holy bloodline, his spiritual connection with the rest of mankind.
As the apostle who is said to have understood Jesus’ divine teachings better than any of the other apostles, Mary Magdalene has become emblematic of the lost teachings of Jesus which, in all probability, integrated the feminine principle in sacred partnership with the masculine. This lost legacy has been corrupted by the teachings of Paul and the patriarchal, male dominated church that followed in his wake. Mary Magdalene stands for the feminine way of peace, love and compassion, in contrast to the patriarchal way of domination, hierarchy and control. Mary Magdalene saw things not with the eyes of the flesh, but with the eyes of the Spirit, which is probably why she was the first witness to Christ’s resurrection. Long relegated to the status of a repentant prostitute ever since the Dark Ages, Mary Magdalene has begun to make a comeback in recent years. The sacred union of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is always challenging us to open our hearts in a spirit of Divine Love. As a reminder of how much we really need to integrate the Divine Feminine back into the teachings of Christianity, I would like to leave you with this insightful quote:
The Christian universe is an incomplete world where feeling and the feminine symbols of life have not been integrated.
Alan Watts, from Love and Knowledge – 6.
Perhaps the most veiled and mysterious form of the Divine Feminine in Christianity is the Black Madonna, who has taken many different forms throughout both Europe and the Americas. Unlike the steady, constant masculine principle, which can be likened to the Sun in its unfailing daily trip across the daytime sky, the feminine principle, or the Goddess, is ever changing, like the phases of the Moon, with the Black Madonna corresponding with the Balsamic moon phase, or the dark of the Moon that immediately precedes the New Moon. If one is seeking a basis in Scripture for the Black Madonna, she introduces herself in the Song of Solomon:
I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.
Song of Solomon 1: 5
The Black Madonna goes by many names, and comes in many forms, but her distinguishing feature is her dark or black complexion. She is usually shown holding up her divine child. Her black color symbolizes the unknown, the other, the subconscious mind, or the darkness of the womb as the negative or feminine pole of creation, from which newborn babes emerge into the light of day. She is the champion of the forgotten, the oppressed, of those struggling for economic and social justice. Whereas the white Madonna, or the Virgin Mary, is the good girl, the darling of the patriarchy as a paragon of sexless purity and chastity, the Black Madonna is intensely sexual, and has a strong Shakti, or sexual energy, which is also healing Life energy. And so, many who are devotees of the Black Madonna attribute miraculous healings to her intervention. The various names by which the Black Madonna is known include Montserrat, Guadalupe, or even La Negrita (The Little Black Lady) or La Virgen Morena – The Dark Virgin – in various countries of Latin America.
Of all the forms of the Divine Feminine that are honored and revered in Christian tradition, the Black Madonna is certainly one of the oldest and most mysterious. Many of Europe’s statues and figurines of the Black Madonna, which are enshrined in various cathedrals and sites of pilgrimage, seem to predate the advent of Christianity; many have speculated that these dark virgins are carryovers from the Egyptian goddess Isis. Many other of these statues and figurines were discovered, or appeared, under mysterious or miraculous circumstances. Indeed, every one of these Black Madonnas has a strange and wonderful story to tell. Many were first seen in a vision, soon after which the icon or figurine mysteriously appeared. Many countries and cities throughout Latin America have their own patron Madonna, and many of these are dark or black in complexion. Perhaps the most famous of these dark Madonnas is the Virgin of Guadalupe, who miraculously appeared to the indigenous peasant Juan Diego; the chain of miraculous events that she initiated was responsible for the conversion of the indigenous population of New Spain, which later became Mexico, to Christianity, and for that reason she is often called the Patroness of the Americas.
When one examines the sheer number and variety of Madonnas that exist in the holy shrines of Europe and Latin America, it can seem unbelievable that all their devotees can still call themselves Christians, especially to conservative Protestants, whose vision of the Christian faith may be more austere and dogmatic. If one takes a more monistic view of things, seeing that the same divinity can be working through many different names and forms, then all these different Madonnas can be seen merely as various forms or embodiments of the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, working miraculously to connect with all whose hearts are open to her. The apparitions of the Virgin of Fatima in Portugal and the Virgins of Lourdes and Medjugorjie have all been important to Catholic believers in Europe and around the world, delivering timely messages, usually to children or youths who were pure of heart. Where formal theology and dogma may be too restrictive, the Blessed Virgin always finds a way to reach out to those in need. And these Madonnas continue to inspire faith and devotion in the hearts of believers everywhere.
Conclusion: Liberating the Divine Feminine in Christianity
As I said earlier, even in the older denominations of Christianity, like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, in which the Divine Feminine is honored and revered, her role is quite limited and circumscribed by the prevailing patriarchally oriented theology. In other words, the Divine Feminine in these denominations winds up being a spiritual handmaiden to the prevailing patriarchy. How do we liberate her? First of all, we must go beyond even these older sects and denominations and their conventional Marian theology and practice into older forms of Christianity like Gnosticism, as well as various popular devotional traditions in order to revive and rehabilitate other archetypes of the Christian goddess, like Sophia, Mary Magdalene and the Black Madonna. We must delve deeply into various apocryphal scriptures of the Gnostics and others in order to flesh out the strands of tradition that have become weak and feeble. Hidden within these long lost or neglected scriptures and traditions, I feel that there is a vast wealth of spiritual teachings and potential just waiting to be awakened. After all, the Virgin is not only a woman who has had no sexual relations or experience; beyond this, the Virgin is also integral and independent, since no man owns her.
- Asherah: God’s Forgotten Wife
- Conception of the Virgin Mary
- The gospel of Philip Jesus and Mary Magdalene/
- Mary Magdalene and The feminine principle