The Middle Ages
The Return of the Goddess
She is, symbolically, the Great Mother Goddess in the mythic tradition, in whose body lives God the father, her son. (image p.548) But this is when the triptych is open. When it is closed, the literal picture is never the same, and the eye is drawn to the crack down the center through which the symbolic depths were disclosed.
Still, Mary is the unrecognized Mother Goddess of the Christian tradition.
She appears very rarely in the gospels, yet, within 500 years, a pantheon of images envelop her till she assumes the presence and stature of all the goddesses before her: Cybele, Aphrodite, Demeter, Astarte, Isis, Inanna, Ishtar. Like them she is both virgin and mother, she gives birth to a half human, half divine child who dies and is reborn. Jesus, like Attis, Persephone, Adonis, Osiris, Tammus and Dumuzi, descends into the underworld where regeneration has always taken place, and his ascent and resurrection is understood to redeem all beings from the limitation of mortality and time, just like all the earlier myths of zoe and bios.
Jesus is bios— the son, born from Zoe, the mother. He suffers dismemberment in time and is then restored to the source. It is close to a sacred marriage of the two, which always signifies transformation. This is the continuing story of the human imagination, explaining the world. Mary's cult reached its height in the middle ages and early renaissance 11th-15th centuries. Now, we have Mary as the second Eve. Death came through Eve; life comes through Mary.
She was not conceived immaculately, but was, by her son, made immaculate due to her perfect obedience to god's will. In 1950, a petition was signed, by 8 million people, proclaiming her the Queen of Heaven. She is notable not Queen of Earth. She had effectively been Queen of the Underworld for many centuries in her capacity to intervene with her son for the souls of the dead.
There is a fundamental contradiction, because though she is worshipped as the goddess figures of old, she does not bring forth the world from the inexhaustible source that is herself, which is the original symbolic meaning of "virgin", and she is not, in herself, divine. Only her son is, and he must return to his father, leaving his mother neither here nor there. She never offers an image of the whole of nature in all it's manifest and unmanifest mystery, and, she is divine only by virtue of being set apart from the laws of nature within which humanity is held. She cannot serve as Zoe, since nature is still under the death sentence of Eve.
An image is archetypal because we see it continually turning up in different cultures and at different times- we see a pattern. History modifies the archetype, and the archetype shapes history. The feminine principle has been de-sacralized for 2,000 years, and consequently any union of feminine and masculine is unthinkable in orthodox religion. So, the terms of the polarity, "masculine" and " feminine", are out of balance from the start. But, thinking of the collective psyche of humanity, Jung said that if the unconscious of groups has become distorted, then the unconscious will intentionally compensate for this by insisting on an opposing point of view in order to restore the balance. In art, for the most part, Jesus is either a new born infant, or he is dead. Is this unconscious correction?
She brings forth a child virginally, not vaginally; The reinstatement of the feminine principle falls apart because only part of the principle is acknowledged, and so the split is perpetuated, or worse, enshrined. Mary's virginity is a paradox and absurd, as she is both human and virgin together. Archetypal and human dimensions are confused- virgin is only for goddesses, and not for human mothers. She is denied both the title of Goddess, and the complete humanity of woman.
We need a counterbalancing impulse to reassert, in new form, the feminine values that have been so distorted. We have the Feminist Movement, The New Age, the environmental movement, modern Paganism & Gaia consciousness: these values are all feminine in the archetypal sense that they are the values of Immanence- known through feeling, loving, imaginative involvement...Gnostic knowledge that comes from relationship with the thing known.
Some mythic patterns of Mary's myth- All over the world, people have participated in a religious ritual at the winter solstice. This change of state in bleak mid-winter, of the sun's turning back to earth, was experienced as the rebirth of the sun and commemorated as the birthday of the sun god, the luminous divine child. These divine sons all had magical births, were born at midnight, hidden in the depths of the earth, in the reeds, in a cave, in a manger. The birth of Jesus was on Dec 25th, the winter solstice as reckoned by the Julian calendar.
The Christmas tree is the Tree of Life, or the World Tree, and the silver star at the top is the mythic pole star of Inanna, Isis, & Aphrodite, accompanying all divine births throughout the Near East.
Mary is Goddess of the Moon with her crescent moon, star and blue robe, like Inanna and Isis; she does not marry her son, but she mourns his loss in the 3 days between crucifixion and resurrection- the 3 days of dark moon. Jesus' life is cut off at the end of the old year, as in the Neolithic era when god was cut down like the corn. The cross he hangs on is the Tree of Life in its dying phase before rebirth. Trees have often given mythic birth to gods, and then the gods were seen embodied in the tree's rising sap and ever renewing phases of its growth. Mary's lament for her son echoes the lament of Inanna for Dummuzi, Ishtar for Tammuz, Isis for Osiris, Aphrodite for Adonis, Demeter for Persephone, and Cybele for Attis, but unlike these Bronze Age goddesses, Mary did not initiate the ritual sacrifice of her son. All the art of pieta, her holding his dead body, is a mother goddess image. "For millennia, death had become comprehensible through the image of the Mother. Hers is an image of consolation and compassion in the shape of the one who gave humanity birth."
The image of the Sacred Marriage between god and goddess isn't possible in orthodox Christianity, where Mary was a human woman and The. Great Father God ruled supreme in heaven. However, the urge towards a union of masculine and feminine principles was expressed in some of the excluded Gnostic texts the idea that Jesus loved, and even married, the woman who carried the sacred vessel, Mary Magdelene.
Mary Magdelene--she of the temple tower" is associated with prostitution, and not the good kind. But her name suggests the role of a temple priestess of the goddess religion for whom sex was a sacred ritual. It seems the extreme idea of virgin motherhood of a human woman needed to be counterbalanced by another extreme idea. Both virgin and whore are cast in wholly sexual terms, and the difference is only how they serve men.
But, the mythic tradition is still visible in the timeless images in which the story is clothed.
Sophia—Archetypes are about our impulses, what moves us to travel through our lives, in our quest for greater understanding. The holy spirit of wisdom as the guiding archetype of human evolution is one of the great images of universality. This image illuminates human life and inspires trust in the capacity of the soul to find it's way back to the source.
From every heroes search for whatever completes him, from Odysseus’s journey back to Penelope and home, to the medieval quest of the Grail knights, to our modern scientific search for a unified field, the impulse is the same: to discover the living presence that informs the phenomenal world, and brings into being the magnificent order of the universe.
With Sophia, the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, the image of the goddess moves inwards and becomes the inspiration of the quest of the sacred marriage- the re-union of the 2 aspects of consciousness, so long separated from each other. (See Mary as Sophia, p. 610)
In the pre-Christian world, wisdom was always related to the goddess: Inanna, Isis and Maat, Athena and Demeter.
There's this profound shift in archetypal imagery as wisdom becomes associated with god, then Christ, through the word, and the old image of goddess is lost, deleted. The trinity become wholly identified with the masculine archetype, erasing the ancient relationship of humans to the goddess.
Gnostic Christianity retained the older tradition, and Sophia, the Great Mother, survived, was lost, and reappeared in the Middle Ages in the great surge of devotion to Mary. Later, the knights of the round table, the Grail legends, ALchemy, and troubadours took their inspiration from Sophia, and she became guide and goal of a spiritual quest of overwhelming numinosity.
The church became mother. She was the bride of Christ, as Israel had been the bride of Yahweh. The church assimilated the functions and attributes of Sophia: the church nourished the people as the goddess had once nourished her sons, the kings of Egypt, Sumeria, and Babylon, with milk from her breasts. She was the repository of Wisdom. Her task was to draw the human soul to her and so, to Christ, however as an intermediary, she deprived her children of their own inner knowledge and insisted upon obedience to doctrine.
The church, as mother was a suffered mythic inflation in wars, as the goddess of death split off from the goddess of life, and persecuted anything or anyone who disobeyed. Here we can see the dangers of unconsciously appropriating an archetype: it becomes compulsive and dangerous, and projecting the shadow onto enemies in it's belief that it was eradicating the evil it saw in others, it became that evil, and the antithesis of it's own teaching. Any group who identifies "good" exclusively with their own religious or political ideas, and "evil" with those of other groups, falls victim to the same psychic disorder.
This can be avoided only if no claim is made to being infallible, and the emphasis is placed always on the quest for greater understanding, which must always involve relationship.
The image of goddess and god together as the creative source and the ground of all life could never be fully honored in Judeo Christianity becasue of the fall. When we were seen as contaminated, along with all of nature, the precious legacy inherited from the mysteries of the pagan world were almost lost forever. We have the church marrying the faithful, and Yahweh relating to the community of Israel, but, this humanization of the goddess image couldn't contain our need for the sacred marriage between goddess and god, the union of creator and creation, of consciousness with its ground.
With the evolution of consciousness taking humans farther and farther away from nature and the instinctual ground of life, mental and spiritual processes came to seem unrelated to physical ones, and intellect superior to instinct.
We needed a divine female to balance the divine male, to keep the energies balanced. Mary, as goddess of heaven, had no earthy aspect of consciousness, and so, from the standpoint of human consciousness, nature and the body remained split off from spirit.
Gnosticism—Gnosis means knowledge that requires the participation of the whole being, not merely the intellect. Intuition, the eye of the heart, is what discovers knowledge. It is the treasure of relationship with the ground of life, which was the essence of Jesus' teachings.
Gnosticism is the source of the underground stream that flowed beneath Christian doctrine into Alchemy, and many other spiritual movements in the middle ages.
Gnostic beliefs grew out of esoteric, mystical streams of the Egyptian, Hebrew, and Greek religions. Alexandria was a great city that contained a huge blend of the 3, and had a very tolerant climate for many years.
Metaphysical inquiry was concerned with the nature of the universe, the origin of evil, the fall and redemption of the soul, and the survival of the soul after death.
Their deepest concern was how to awaken the soul to awareness of its divine nature- (we are all gods), and so, the snake can be seen as a great emissary from a Gnostic point of view. Here- eat this, you will be immortal and gain great knowledge. You will wake up. Wake up to your true nature. This is what Jesus seems to be saying much of the time- wake up and turn around to face the inner world of the soul. Christianity lost so much by ignoring this huge brilliant piece which would have given it a far deeper understanding of the soul, as well as insight into the philosophical teachings of other religions.
But the Roman Empire was extremely authoritarian, and persecuted the Gnostic Christians, suppressing and destroying their texts. 52 Gnostic texts were recovered in 1945 from Nag Hammadi in the Egyptian desert. They disclose many images related to the goddess tradition, before the deletion of the female divinity.
One myth tells the story of Sophia, the Great Mother, consort to the great Father, and their daughter, also called Sophia, and their son, Christ, who went to the rescue of his sister. Like older myths of the search for the beloved, Isis and Osiris, Demeter and Kore, and Cybele and Attis, this one is also about the fragmentation and reintegration of the soul. In this, the human soul is personified as the daughter of the Great Mother.
The divine mother gives birth to a daughter who is the mirror image of herself, who loses contact with her heavenly origins, and in her distress she brings the earth into being, as a darkness or underworld, and gets lost there in a dark labyrinth, "endlessly laboring her passion into matter, her yearning into soul".
This myth is 1,000 years older than that of The Fall, and describes the same tragic human experience of the separation of consciousness from its source.
LikePersephone, she calls out and her mother hears her, and sends her son to rescue his sister. He Christ, the embodiment of light and wisdom and descends to awaken his sister to her true nature. In Sophia's exile we see the descent of Inanna, and also Eve's expulsion from the garden. Also, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, who were awakened by their princes, as the soul was awakened.
This myth is radically different in that now, the whole world itself becomes the underworld, the world of the dead, and human existence is compared to entombment, and yet, as with all lunar myths, this is a temporary illusion, and we need to understand it, not literally, but metaphysically, in relation to states of consciousness and the fragmented human psyche.
A direct descendent of Sumerian and Babylonian mythology, this myth expresses the 4-fold image of mother, father, son and daughter, as the totality of human experience in life. It is also a myth of release and redemption, as it offers an image of the return to totality and the possibility of psychic transformation through the rescue and awakening of the daughter, and her return home.
The idea of a reincarnating soul is the oldest idea in religion, and based on the cyclic recurrence of the goddess and lunar cultures.
Humanity is not evil, but unconscious, ignorant rather than sinful.
The soul is blind, or asleep, or drunk, according to the metaphors of the Gnostic texts, but the holy spirit shines through the darkness to wake the soul from the trance to perceive its divinity- "to go home".
Altho there are anguished images of suffering in the lost-ness, here there is a quest for a luminous and courageous solution to the lost-ness.
The soul needs to be awakened to its predicament, and rather than an external savior, there is a bringing forth, or giving birth to the savior within the depths of their own consciousness.
Not original sin, but the soul's captivity in a temporary illusion that can be changed through a creative participation, an act of insight and inner growth.
This is immanence: "I am thou and thou art I; and wheresoever thou art, i am there; from whencesoever thou willest thou gatherest me; and gathering Me thou gatherest thyself.
The primary revelation of the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mysteries was that the eternal body was the "ground", the mother or father of the consciousness temporarily focused on the physical body. This ground is ZOE. The body, BIOS. The initiate knew that they would be reunited with this ground, this greater self to which they belonged as a child to a parent, after death. Jung called this ground "the self', the greater consciousness that underlies and directs the lost part of itself towards reunion. This soul is eternal,and eternally resurrected.
The Gnostics are all about awakening through understanding or insight, rather than belief.. this is participation, to discover the divine consciousness within oneself, rather than project it onto a transcendent god, or to require salvation through the intermediary of the church.
The Gnostic tradition, forced underground for 1,000 years, reappears in the 12th century.
4 powerful movements, in France and northern Spain, contributed to this.
The Order of the Knights Templar, the Cathar Church of the Holy Spirit, Jewish Kabbalism, and Alchemy.
The Gnostic ideas were spread by the troubadours and the immense popularity of the Grail legends. The emphasis of all of them is on Sophia, the image of wisdom and the journey of the soul back to its source.
The Courts of Love, in France, celebrated women. Women were seen as individuals and given cultural roles apart from wife and mother or concubine. She became the inspiration of an astonishing flowering of poetry, philosophy, song, and literature, who's language evokes the Song of Songs, and the chivalric ideal arose as well .
The troubadours began to free sexuality from sin and guilt. They offered to men a new image of themselves as gentle, courtly, and cultivated rather than merely warlike conquerers.
Tragically, their vision died with the Crusades, and the violence resulting from that destroyed a brilliant culture and evicerated a whole people.
The Crusades began against the Cathar Church as heresy. This was the church of the Grail, the chalice that gives manna, and is the image of the goddess.
The Cathars believed the world was in darkness, because it was ruled by an evil principle, that included the Catholic Church.
The Knights Templar were Gnostics, and like the troubadours, their symbol was the dove.
The Shekinah—In Kabbalah, the mystical Jewish tradition that appeared in the Middle Ages, The Shekinah is the feminine aspect of the divine.
She reaches back, like Sophia, to the images of the Bronze Age goddesses and to Asherah and Astarte in Caanaan.
Kabbalism was Jewish Gnosticism, from Babylonian times in 6th c BC, but only emerges clearly in the middle ages.
Shekinah means "the act of dwelling", and referred to the presence of Yahweh hovering, which is visible to the senses.
The communities of Babylon and Basra held the descendants of the exiles who staed behind in Mesopotamia, and returned to the Near East with the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 from Spain.
She recalls the radiance of Inanna. She is the Holy Spirit. Like Mary, she is the intercessor between humanity and the divine, and it is only her feminine gender that separates her from Yahweh. This Holy Spirit was the first emanation from which all other creation flowed.
She is immanent in the human soul and can be revealed personally as our deepest selves. The sacred marriage in Kabbalism is the union of the soul with this Holy Spirit.
She is immanent, and therefore, nature is the epiphany of the divine, again. She goes before the Ark of the Covenant as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire at night. Later, she dwells in Solomon's temple with the ark, disappearing at the destruction of the temple when the Ark was lost and the Jews taken into captivity, and she doesn't not return with them at the end of their exile, 50 years later, in 538 BC. She will not return until the coming of the Messiah, when she will reunite with her divine bridegroom. As long as her exile lasts, creation is cut off from the transcendent deity.
Her light is scattered into the souls of human beings, and again here is zoe and bios.
The Black Madonna—In the 12th and 13th centuries, it seemed as tho the soul were impregnated once more with a vision of the marvelous in art, cathedrals, and myth, expressions of an urgent need to recover the lost experience of wholeness and so the oneness and unity of life
The symbol of the Black Virgin returns us to Cybele of the black stone, and Isis, Demeter, and Artemis, who were imaged as Black. The Shekhenah hides inside a black robe, like the veil of Isis, and there are suddenly black Madonnas everywhere. Black is the color of mystery, of space, and the color associated with wisdom, as the dark phase of the lunar cycle where light gestates in the womb. The black virgin is an image with her son of a light shining in the darkness.
The shrine of the Black Virgin were the most venerated in Europe. These sites were often in caves, crypts, or marked by a sacred well, tree or stone, which belonged to the mythology of Isis or Cybele or Minerva, the Roman Athena. Some were "revealed" to the community by an ox or a bull as it ploughed a field, and these became Mary. The people worshipped Mary as they had always worshipped the goddess, and these Black Virgins are the key to the tremendous surge of cathedral and abbey building. Notre Dame means the Mother symbolized Sophia, the image of the secret wisdom tradition, hiding from zealous church doctrine and the burning times.
The image of the Black Virgin is about the invisible dimension hidden within the outward form of nature, which brings it into being, informs and guids it, or contains it, as a mother and her child. The child she holds is life itswelf to which eternally she gives birth. She is zoe holding bios.
Alchemy—A hermetic art. Hermetic, from Hermes, which carries the idea of influencing or controlling nature. Alchemy at least 2500 years old, and comes to us from Bronze Age Sumeria and Egypt. It is both chemical and philosophical, and uses fire and gold as incorruptible substances that can regenerate and transmute life.
The science of alchemy has baffled generations of contemplatives who struggled to understand this symbolic language. The imagery and the practice are the teachers of alchemy, not a theory.
Like Gnosticism, it is participatory, and it's meaning cannot been grasped by the intellect alone.
It's the study of how spirit becomes matter, how to transform matter, and the revelation of the ultimate essence that gives birth to outward form and underlies everything.
The Great Work of alchemy aimed to discover the nature of spirit, and there was an alchemical marriage between sun and moon, king and queen, body and soul, in the attempt to heal the split in human consciousness between these polarities. The bottom line is deathlessness. How the manifest emanated from the unmanifest and dissolved again into the unmanifest. It's about washing and burning away all base matter, all blindness, till you get to gold, or insight.
Understanding released the soul from bondage to compulsive patterns of behavior and conditioned attitudes that had messed up our evolution.
It's ultimately symbolically about the soul's power to heal itself.
The Holy Grail—Feminist Jungian Psychologist, Jean Bolen, says that its one of the simplest and most symbolically relevant myths of our time. The cast includes Percival, the Knight that doesn't ask questions, a king with a wound that won's heal, a woman who carries the Grail, and the mysterious Grail itself.
Percival was out in the forest looking for his mother. He is invited to the hall of the Fisher King. Between each course of a sumptuous meal, a procession passes through the hall. The last figure is the woman carrying the Grail, which is clearly something marvelous. Percival asks no questions and sleeps, and when he wakes, the castle is empty, and when he crosses the drawbridge, the castle disappears. He learns too late that the king has a wound that won't heal and his kingdom is a wasteland. Only the healing of his wound can restore his land, and only the Grail can heal him. Percival saw the king and the grail, but failed to be curious. He never asked, what is hurt, nor how can the Grail heal, and now it is too late.
The Grail is a chalice, a female container that is wonderous and healing, and it is hidden in the forest, or the collective unconscious, and carried by a woman who's the symbol of the divine feminine, or embodied spirituality. The Grail is often assumed to be Christ's chalice from the Last Supper, and the basis of Christian communion (this is my blood..). But when a chalice is filled with blood, it is seen as a metaphor for the Great Goddess. Bolen says that ordinary women are contemporary Percivals who are asking the right questions and seeing the wounded king who's wasteland is a symbol of patriarchy.
The Knights of Arthur ride forth, singly, and enter the forest to search. This is their start of spiritual journeys as individuals, each trusting to their own authority and to the mystery that calls them. The Fisher King, like Osiris, Adonis, and Attis, lies wounded in the groin, unable to heal. He is the son lover of the goddess. Parcival is called The Green Knight , and "son of the widow". Green of course, refers to nature, and the lost garden. The widow was the Goddess who has lost her consort. The dove was the emblem of the Grail knights.
Wisdom sends forth her call to the knights who become her lovers. She guides them to embrace darkness and transform it through love. In the end, she reveals to them the secret treasure of the Grail, which overflows with nourishment and abundance for all, and is the vision of the soul's reunion with its divine ground, and which bestows the longed-for experience of unity, healing all wounds and sorrows. The Grail is the source of life, pure becoming. It serves the world through love and follows wherever the heart leads.
Cinderella—Another fairy tale that speaks to the unconscious with the wisdom of the soul to what has been lost, or denigrated by the conscious cultural transmission. They tell the story of what happened to the missing dimension, and what still needs to happen for the balance in archetypal imagery to be restored.
Cinderella is another story of the single theme that runs through the mythology of the goddess culture through the pagan world and into the mystical teachings of Jewish,Christian, and Islamic traditions. It is the story of the soul's birth into the world, her loss of memory of her divine origin, her quest for understanding of herself, and her relationship to the divine source or world from which she has come and to which she may return with the full knowledge of who she is.
The Fairy Godmother is Sophia herself, divine wisdom, The Holy Spirit, mother, source, and womb, who responds to a call for help from Cinderella. She initiates the work of transformation, making it possible to meet the prince and bringing her, after the lunar 3 days' trial or darkness, to the sacred marriage. It is the tale of the soul's transformation from a weeping, soot blackened drudge into a radiant bride.
Cinderella's particular quality of sustained devotion to whatever she is asked to do is stressed in every version of this story. Transformation is the theme. Doves are everywhere, her blue gown is like Isis and The Shekinah’s, She has to leave the palace before midnight, or upset the balance between eternity and time. If she stays she will lose the everyday world of human values and human relationships. Cinderella personifies the aspects of feminine value that have so long been relegated to the role of servant.
The image of the soul's journey spans 5,000 years, since Sumerian Inanna surrendered her glories at each of the 7 gates, reassuming them after her 3 days of 'crucifixion" in the darkness as she returns to the light. Both the soul of Eve, Sophia, and the Shekinah are exiled from the light, and as with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, the soul awakens to kiss the prince who, as the solar bridegroom, consort of the moon goddess, personifies the divine life principle.
Perhaps because the image of the sacred marriage, the great healing of opposites, has been notably absent in Judeo -Christian orthodoxy, we have yet to heal this wound in our souls, and so the fairy tale restores the image of union. The fairy tale will carry and HAS carried this image for our culture until it can at last become conscious.
In fairy tales we have, so often, the tradition of the immanence of the divine in nature and human nature. They declare the need to discover the presence of the radiant spiritual essence hidden in the darkness of unreflecting human consciousness. Cinderella, the bright and shining one, who sits among the cinders and keeps the fire alight is the personification of the Holy Spirit dwelling unhonored amid the smoldering ashes of the soul's latent, and never totally extinct, divinity.
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