Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Holy Ghost as Mother Goddess

Statue of Virgin Mary in Catholic Church

When we look at Christianity, we notice an apparent lack of feminine elements. The Holy Trinity, consisting of the Father, the Holy Ghost and the Son are all masculine terms. Most will probably agree that when we speak of spiritual forces, God and the Spirit, we do not necessarily designate a specific gender to them but are speaking of forces that may be masculine in nature, attitude and appearance.

It could be compared to certain languages where each object is given a gender, masculine and feminine in Romance languages, and masculine, feminine and neutral in the German language. For example, the word “sun” is designated to be masculine, while “moon” is feminine (although the German language would be an exception to the rule since it reverses the order). We do not actually believe that the sun is a man or the moon a woman, but they symbolically represent the masculine and feminine forces respectively.

But there is a problem, especially when it comes to the use of language. By constantly highlighting gender, we may, over time, actually transform them on a subconscious and even conscious level into what we designate them to be. While the sun may have characteristics of the male, it will over time become a definite “he” in our minds. The symbol then becomes one with the object itself.

Why would that matter? The problem is that by underscoring the importance of one gender over another, we are excluding feminine aspects and hence diminishing the importance of the role of women. For example, many households have structured themselves according to this concept that the male is both spiritually and intellectually superior to the female. It does not help that women have been tainted with the Fall of Man (!) in the legend of Adam and Eve.

But women are actually represented in the holy sphere, some would claim. What about Mary, the mother of Jesus; she gave birth to the Messiah; she had him in her womb for nine months and suckled him. Yes, she is considered a saint, but look at it more clearly. She is a virgin mother. Now how can any woman possibly live up to that? Being and remaining a virgin would be burden enough, but how would any other woman be able to give birth and still remain untouched? It is a standard so (deliberately) high that no woman can possibly live up to it.

What other options remain for women? The other side of the coin would be the other Mary, the one of Magdalene, a prostitute by profession. Then we have two extremes of the female, one that is portrayed as pure and gentle, while the other is common and vulgar, and only transformed after meeting Jesus. In other words, females are only playing second violin in this belief system and are given a hard lot because essentially they need to choose between a virgin and a harlot.

Yet it has not always been so. In the beginnings of Christianity, there were cases of female priests. Today, women can at best become a nun but they are still limited in their power compared to men. It seems that Christianity at least implicitly denies a definite role for women in their theology.

And yet, there were voices in the past (and perhaps even today) claiming that the Holy Spirit could possibly come to represent the missing female element in Christianity. The original term for spirit ruah has a feminine gender and come to think of it, does it not make more sense to speak of the Father (God), the Mother (the Holy Spirit) and the Son? Could that not give a more balanced account of the Holy Trinity, in fact, a holy family?

In that sense, we can have holiness in balance like the yin and yang of the Tao. Both masculine and feminine forces are in perfect harmony and represent all elements. Humans are said to be created in the image of God, so how did woman come about unless she is also represented in God? Sure, Eve is said to have been created out of Adam's rib, but she is still equally based on an image of God. And to take the whole thought a little further, what about combining the masculine-oriented Old Testament, with the gentle, loving and forgiving, “feminine” New Testament?

There is still a problem and that may be why the church had been reluctant to consider this explanation. What about the virgin birth? How could a female, the Holy Ghost, conceive through another female, Mary? Obviously, the priests did not like the idea of the insipid Joseph being the biological father of the son of Man, or even God himself!

Today, and even back then for that matter, the virgin birth was a difficult matter to sell when faced with scientific evidence. There was a desire to elevate the birth of the one to come by giving him already a holy status from the beginning, hence the need for all the other events such as shiny stars and a general awe and marvel around the time of the Messiah's birth.

What if it was not the virgin birth that was important, but the fact that Jesus was possessed of the breath of the Holy Spirit inside. No need for conception, but rather a spiritual (re)birth, the same way many claim that the effect of baptism is to be born again. What if indeed the precise moment Jesus reached his full divinity was the baptism by John the Baptist, which immersed him in the Holy Spirit, the enlightening feminine concept of the universe?

Put differently, why do we not have a mother goddess in the Christian tradition? Why are they all deemed masculine in nature when we could have a more balanced perspective? It would not seem so far-fetched as various traditions honor the mother or firmly believe that the Earth is caring and nurturing like a mother. In that sense, we would give women the place and role they deserve, right next to us at our side, both spiritually and intellectually.


Vincent said...

Are you suggesting "we" (some committee?) can just say "Oh, next item on the agenda, put a mother goddess into Christianity"?

Virgin and whore, with nothing in between, sounds just right in terms of passionate worship. Leaving sex out of it, if we wish to, there is always Mother Nature.

You commence "When we look at Christianity, we notice an apparent lack of feminine elements." Am I right to assume that "we" stands for someone from a Hindu culture?

I never cease to be astonished at the different attitudes between a Western Christian culture (embracing Europe, Africa, the Americas) and the Middle-Eastern and Asian cultures but especially the South Asian in matters of love and marriage. Different ideas of responsibility - filial, wifely, maternal, paternal and male-in-general.

Perhaps the best way to answer your question would be to look at 12th-century Western Europe, in particular the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the invention of courtly love among the troubadour poets.

In a civilisation which believes in falling in love as the basis of happiness and/or marriage, the man is looking for a real live woman to embody the goddess ideals.

Sorry I don't mean to lay these down as if from some sense of authority. I am more interested in your response than to defend the ideas I've set out.

Arash Farzaneh said...

Thank you very much for your comment, Vincent!

Well to start off just a little background info about the post. It is in spirit related to the previous hypothetical post about the American nation, combined with some research I have been doing on the early days of Christianity. These ideas are documented and are not merely the capricious fruits of my idle imagination.

Do I suggest a committee to change things? No, not a committee but perhaps individuals thinking outside the box and examining what many simply take for granted and truth without analyzing it.

Mother Nature will always be, yes, but what about a higher female power?

I chose "we" over "you" because it is more inclusive and less didactic. I am speaking from the point of a Christian, myself, looking at a tradition that is very rich, diverse and at times controversial.

My post deals mainly with Christianity and the depiction of women in general, I have not talked about love or the invention thereof. What you say is true, but is more about the differences between a culture of individuality versus collectivity.

Your point about love and embodying goddess ideals I find very interesting, something I have thought, lived and written about extensively but not much on this blog.

Anyhow, I hope this clarifies some of the points. I look forward to your reaction and any further comments.