Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Church of the Black Sun, Part 4: The Sacred Feminine Reigns

Follow the links to parts 123, and 5

So far, we’ve covered two of the three axioms of The Church of the Black Sun. The first was an acknowledgment of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s observation that truth is a pathless land — it’s up to you and no one else to climb the mountain of truth. The second was that it’s OK to embrace the darkness when it visits your life. The image of the Black Sun is a striking symbol of the power of the dark’s ability to overtake the light, yet it’s not something to fear or run from, for we can learn important things about ourselves under the shadow of the black sun, perhaps even enduring a painful purification that leads us toward self-improvement.

Now, let’s move on to the third point — one that’s almost certain to generate both positive and negative reactions.

Church of the Black Sun Axiom No. 3: The universe is feminine. Deal with it, guys.

Cover image of The Feminine Universe, a book by Alice Lucy Trent.

Look up at the night sky. The vast space between the stars appears as an endless dark void. We may think of that empty space as a kind of meaningless blank, a great nothing. Yet it’s that very dark void that makes the creation of the stars you see possible.

To use an analogy more familiar to everyday life, think of a cup. The cup holds your favorite beverages, but it’s only the emptiness of the cup that makes using it possible.

In Taoist philosophy, the Tao is referred to as a Great Mother who gives birth to all things and nourishes all life, without making distinctions. All things come from the Tao, and that is only possible because the Tao itself is a vast empty vessel, a fruitful womb of endless creative potential.

The principle of yin and yang helps us see things in terms of male and female characteristics, and how they fit together and work in unity toward whatever common purpose. Yin is associated with femaleness. Places that are cool, dark, and damp. Hidden things. Valleys and caves. Things that are soft, yielding, and flowing in nature. Yang, meanwhile, is associated with maleness. Heat and light. Prominent features like protruding rocky mountains and tall, erect trees. Things that are hard, strong, and penetrating in nature.

Think of any characteristic that you associate with maleness or femaleness, and the concept of yin and yang covers it. Yang maleness is assertive and aggressive; yin femaleness is withdrawing and nurturing. Yang is the essence of the hunter, explorer, and conqueror. Yin is the essence of the keeper of hearth and home. Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. You get the idea.

It almost becomes a caricature of the sexes, but the point is not to say that men are or should be typically “male” in every way, nor need women pursue perfect “femaleness.” Rather, the point is that men and women tend toward yang and yin characteristics, respectively, which is what makes men and women complementary, but there is nothing wrong with seeking a greater equilibrium of yin and yang tendencies within ourselves. Men can also be nurturing, for instance, and women can also be assertive.

And yet it is only women whose bodies grow new life, give birth, and feed their young. Without women, the human race would die. And likewise, without the life-giving empty vessel that is the Mother Tao, all of creation would never have come into being. Even our planet that sustains us is our Mother Earth, symbolized as the goddess Gaia, and seen in her full splendor as Mother Nature.

Let’s face it, guys: Women simply have the upper hand on us. Every woman is a microcosm of the creative power of the universe. The Sufi mystic Rumi said it well:

Woman is a ray of God, not a mere mistress,
The Creator itself, as it were, not a mere creature!

Women are the darkness, the valley, the cave, the womb from which we emerge into new life, and the enveloping earth in which our bodies fertilize her soil after death. From her we emerge, and to her we return. Thus is the universe itself feminine — on one hand a dark and mysterious void, but on the other endless, limitless, fruitful, and full of wonder.

And so we return to the imagery of the eclipse. In most cultures, maleness has been associated with the sun, radiating heat and light, and femaleness with the moon, receiving the light of the male and illuminating the dark. The moon may be the “lesser” of the two heavenly bodies, and yet when their paths cross, the female engulfs the male and casts the heat of day into the cool of night. The feminine overtakes the masculine. Like yin and yang, a solar eclipse is a joining of male and female energies, and yet the “lesser” and “weaker” feminine prevails, darkening the day, the smaller light obscuring the greater one.

Put in different terms, women only let us men think we’re in charge. When they want to expose their power, they can and do — and there’s little that we men can do about it.

There’s no shame in acknowledging this. Being biologically connected to the lunar cycles, for example, women are in greater harmony with the rhythms of nature. Women are also the passageway to life and immortality. They are thus in tune with the spiritual and natural worlds in a way that men innately can’t be.

Indeed, women are the default of the human race. Men are, in essence, a genetic mutation that exists so that women can propagate the species. However, in theory, the genetic material of two women could be used to create new life — the offspring would always be female, granted, but the potential is there — so as technology advances, there could come a day when men are rendered biologically irrelevant.

My theory is that less secure men throughout history have known all these things about women, fearing their near-supernatural powers, and chose to subjugate them for that very reason. That’s not to say there was ever an era when women widely ruled over men, and in fact evidence of a preponderance of early matriarchal societies is scant, despite claims to the contrary. Yet we can still piece together clues that do suggest that a more female-centric vision of spirituality and the cosmos once existed and for whatever reason has been lost.

Take, for example, the figure of Sophia, the personified Wisdom of God in the Bible.

Sophia icon by Betsy Porter.

Remember the verse during the Creation story in Genesis when God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”? Who do you suppose God was talking to? If God created us male and female in the divine image, what do you suppose that says about the nature of God? Does it mean God had a co-creator? Well, let’s look at a passage from the Book of Proverbs, and you tell me what you think:

The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. 

When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. 

I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. 

Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

Sophia was there at the beginning, when the earth was still a formless void, before the waters and mountains were created. Hmm.

The books of Wisdom and Sirach, included in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles but not in the King James and most other Protestant translations, reveal far more about this mysterious character. Take this passage from Chapter 7 of Wisdom:

Whatever is hidden or plain I learned, for Wisdom, the artisan of all, taught me.

For in her is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, never harmful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing, and pervading all spirits, though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.

For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion, and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.

For she is a breath of the might of God and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled can enter into her. For she is the reflection of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness.

Although she is one, she can do all things, and she renews everything while herself perduring; passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets, for God loves nothing so much as the one who dwells with Wisdom.

For she is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars. Compared to light, she is found more radiant; though night supplants light, wickedness does not prevail over Wisdom.

That’s practically a love letter, to she who is called “a breath of the might of God.” Might Sophia, then, have been the one to breathe life into creation and humanity, after God had given it shape? And would that make Sophia the Holy Spirit? Many people have made that very argument over the ages. Even Jesus, in the lost Gospel of the Hebrews, is said to have referred to “my mother the Holy Spirit.” 

Sophia says she makes herself known to all who seek her out (see Wisdom 6:12-16, for example). So why do we hear so little of this divine being, who is mentioned more than all but four characters in the Old Testament?

Well, that takes us back to where we started, regarding the seeming erasure of the Sacred Feminine in the Western religious traditions. Catholic author Joyce Rupp suggests that Sophia was well known to early Christians but that as the institution of the church grew, Sophia faded into the background for a number of reasons. Among those reasons were Sophia’s uncomfortable similarity to goddesses being worshipped at the time, including the Greek deity of the same name, and the emerging patriarchal structure of the church that still exists today.

And then there were the Gnostics, who placed Sophia in a prominent context that told a very different story. To the Gnostics, Sophia in ignorance birthed a malevolent deity, the Demiurge, who then became the God of this world and revealed himself through the writings of the Old Testament. To make a long story short, this mythology was the Gnostics’ way of explaining why the world is in such a sorry state. The “real” God, the source of goodness, light, and love that Jesus pointed toward, is a different deity far removed from us, while we’re stuck with a spiteful, petty, vengeful, wrathful, evil fuck-up who thinks he’s God. Our job, according to the Gnostics, is to escape from the prison of the Demiurge’s world and reunite with the true God.

The Gnostic view explains a lot about why things are the way they are, when you think about it. But you can also see why early Christians would have wanted to distance themselves from such a theological viewpoint.

Then there’s the story of Lilith, who also got an unfair bad rap.

Lilith, John Collier, 1889.

Lilith doesn’t appear in the Bible by name. Perhaps inspired by earlier regional mythologies, Lilith emerged from Jewish folklore, where her primary purpose appears to have been to address the discrepancies between the two creation stories in Genesis

In the early medieval text The Alphabet of Ben-Sira, we ecounter Lilith as the first wife of Adam. Created out of the clay just like Adam, she was his equal in all ways — and therein lay the problem, as you can just imagine. When she refused to be subservient to Adam — and it seems all she actually wanted was to be on top once in a while — she dumped him and left the Garden. Adam, meanwhile, asked God to create for him a new partner — this time not an equal made from the clay, but a creature taken from a piece of his body, and thus inferior and obedient to him. He wanted a companion, but one that would know her place. And that’s how we ended up with a man named Adam and a rib named Eve.

Lilith’s legend grew more rich and complex over the centuries, but it also grew darker. In some tales, she is depicted as the mother of Cain, the world's first murderer. After leaving Eden, she was said to have coupled either with numerous demons around the Red Sea, or with Samael, an angel of death who was something like a precursor to the Grim Reaper but over time became identified as a servant of the devil. 

Lilith likewise was transformed over time into a vampiric demon who would steal babies' souls in the dead of night (perhaps a primitive explanation for SIDS), while her own demonic offspring would seduce men in their sleep, to steal their seminal fluids to create even more demon-children. 

Certain legends depict her as possessing a lower half made of flames, and according to some Arabic myths, the unholy copulation of Lilith and Samael created the race of djinns — the beings made of smokeless fire that emerged from Islamic mythology.

And to think poor Lilith took all this crap from writers across the ages just because she wanted to ride cowgirl in the Garden once in a while.

Lilith's sigil.

Well, Lilith eventually gets her revenge. Depending on the legend you read, either Samael took form as the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden, and Lilith, wanting in on the action, joined with Samael in a kind of kinky supernatural threesome; or Lilith herself was the serpent that seduced Eve and in turn persuaded Eve to seduce Adam. 

So Lilith was demonized (literally) for having the gall to demand equality of the sexes, while docile and submissive Eve was blamed for the fall of humankind. (And for what? The sin of not being blindly obedient?) Whatever they did, women couldn’t catch a break. The apostle Paul told them all to cover their heads, sit down, and shut up, while many of his contemporaries in the early church regarded them as no more than untrustworthy temptresses, using their feminine wiles to seduce men into sin.

That probably explains why the only woman the church ever chose to revere was one regarded as a sinless virgin. She wasn’t like all those other loose and lustful women. She was a mother without having to engage in any defiling sexual behavior. Placed high up on a pedestal, she was safe.

I don’t blame Mary for the way she’s been depicted, though. It’s not her fault. And I can scarcely criticize, as Mary was the only thing that kept my faith alive for many years. Maybe it was because I never had a great mother figure, and I took solace and refuge in a female archetype that I could regard as offering me the kind of unconditional motherly love that I never got to experience.

To that extent, I still find Mary an attractive spiritual figure. Everyone needs a compassionate mom once in a while. But it hasn’t been enough to keep me in the Christian family. 

Besides, if any goddess archetype resonates with me these days, it’s Hekate. She’s someone you don’t want to fuck with, and she’ll show you tough love if that’s what she thinks you need — but she’s also known for the intense love, deep loyalty, and fierce protection she shows to her spiritual children.

Yin and yang, a good, healthy balance.


In the final part of this series, I’ll talk a little bit about how we can integrate our spiritual celebration of the feminine with an embrace of feminine sexuality, while being mindful of letting women set the rules. And we’ll also see how Wonder Woman figures in to all this.

No comments:

Post a Comment