Monday, November 6, 2023

The Path to Paganism: Part 6: The Sacred Feminine As a Gateway

Image by Brigitte Werner on Pixabay.

In Part 5, we looked at some different forms of modern paganism, from eclectic Wiccans, syncretistic  New Agers, and mystical Earth-loving Druids to the people trying to rebuild ancient cultural practices as authentically as they can.

Although my wife and I have been casually incorporating elements of syncretistic New Agery into our daily lives -- think tarot cards, bonfires to mark the turnings on the Wheel of the Year, and so on -- it's not something we center our lives on. My wife appreciates the pagan path mainly because of its affinity for the natural world. She's a philosophical Taoist and a self-admitted tree hugger, and she's a big believer in myth and magic. Dragons and gargoyles aren't just stories in a book, if you ask her. They're real, and they're out there.

But that's as far as it goes. She doesn't have a "religion," per se. Her mom let her two daughters choose their own spiritual paths, and my wife chose the nature-based Way of the Chinese mystics, while her sister became a Wiccan. 

Me? Well, like a lot of kids, I didn't get a say in which religion I could participate in. The maternal grandparents who raised me were Catholic, and therefore so was I. But I don't think I was ever cut out for dogmatic religion with an all-powerful deity. There were just too many things I couldn't make myself believe. Too many contradictions and absurdities. But I wasn't allowed to ask questions. "Just have faith and listen to the priest" was the answer I usually got. That never worked for me and my analytical brain. 

So I eventually started exploring other religious and spiritual traditions, including Taoism, and along the way I developed an affinity for the Sacred Feminine. I saw it as something lacking in Western religion, and I thought that its absence explained a lot about why our world is so full of aggression and violence. It's too tilted in the direction of the heat of the male. There's an overabundance of masculine yang energy and a paucity of feminine yin energy. There needs to be a balance, like you see represented in the dance of yin and yang in the tai-chi symbol of Taoism, and you're not going to find it in a religion that has an all-male trinity, churches that don't allow women to become ordained, and a holy book that tells women to cover their heads, sit down, and shut up. Yes, Catholic and Orthodox folks do honor and revere Mary, but why do they revere her? Because of her obedience and submissiveness to God. She's the meek and mild woman who did what the celestial Father told her to.

There's definitely a time and a place to bow your head, still yourself, and be receptive, but if you're a woman and that's the only thing you're valued for, what does that say about your religion's attitude toward women? If you ask me, it doesn't say anything good.

The "Dad Loft" I have in our attic is peppered with an eclectic mix of statues and icons from a variety of spiritual paths, most of them female. Poke around and you'll see Sophia, the Old Testament Wisdom of God; Kuanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion; Prajnaparamita, the personified feminine "Perfection of Wisdom" of esoteric Buddhism; a couple of Catholic saints and mystics; and a table that houses an assortment of female pagan deities, including Brigid, Hekate, and Athena. But the first thing you'll see as you face my meditation wall are two prominent figures on either side of my TV cabinet-turned-altar: To the left, Mother Mary, just as you'd find her in a typical Catholic church; and to the right, a print of John Collier's striking 1889 painting of Lilith. 

You mean the demon Lilith? 

Yes, the "demon" Lilith. 

Isn't it blasphemous to have Mary and Lilith occupying the same space?

I don't think so. And here's why.

Religious figures are symbols of deeper ideas, metaphorical representations of concepts or ideals that can't always be fully expressed in words. Nobody "owns" them. And what a religious figure might mean to you might not mean the same thing to me. That's how these things work. 

So to the institutional church, Mary might represent meekness and obedience. But to me she represents two other things that in my mind are far more important: compassionate, unconditional motherly love; and humility. Mary is the tender, nurturing, and caring mom I never had. She fills a very important role for me in that regard. But she's also the face of the virtue of humility, which is obviously not the same as obedience and submissiveness. You can be humble and not be a doormat. Humility just means you keep your prideful ego in check. When you do act, you act because it's appropriate and necessary to do so, usually for the sake of some greater good that doesn't have you at the center of it. And even then you act with dignity and grace. A look around at our hostile culture reminds us that we could all use a good dose of humility -- myself included. 

Now, what about Lilith? Well, if Mary is the face of humility, then to me Lilith is the face of agency. She's the one who tells you that it's OK to stand up for yourself, to assert yourself, to not take no for an answer. Sometimes you have to dig in your heels, be an advocate, stand up for what's right, and refuse to budge an inch. Sometimes you can be Mary, but other times you need to be a Lilith and draw a line in the sand. Knowing when to be one or the other comes with practice and wisdom. It can be a delicate balancing act, and to me that's why I find it useful to meditate on both figures and what they mean in terms of living a balanced life. 

I'm sure that for many, pairing up Mary and Lilith is just a bridge too far. That's OK. I get it. But there's a reason I've never been much of a fan of institutional religions that dictate to you exactly what you have to believe, and this is a prime example of why.

I'll just say a few words in defense of Lilith before moving on. Mary has plenty of champions and doesn't need me or anyone else to vouch for her. But Lilith, I think, got an undeserved bad rap. Her origins are shrouded in mystery, but some religious historians trace her back to a class of Sumerian storm spirits from about 5,000 years ago. These vampiric lilitu were said to prey on women and children, which is no doubt why the Lilith that emerged from later Hebrew myth was said to be a killer of infants -- probably a primitive way of understanding crib death -- as well as a cause of barrenness in women. As a personification of lust, she also came to be seen as a seducer of men who would steal their seminal emissions while they slept, allowing her to impregnate herself and give birth to legions of demon children.

The medieval-era author of The Alphabet of Ben-Sira probably drew on these legends when he presented a story about Lilith as the first wife of  Adam. To understand how this story came to be, you have to look back to the creation myth in Genesis, where the text implies that a woman had been created before Eve came along. Ben-Sira tells us that this first woman, created from the dust of the earth just like Adam, was Lilith. And Lilith got fed up with Adam when she wouldn't let him be on top. "We are equal to each other, inasmuch as we are both made from the earth," Lilith argues. But Adam says no -- your place, woman, is beneath me, subservient to me. Lilith, unwilling to deal with Adam's sexist patriarchal bullshit, speaks the secret name of God and flies off into the air to consort with demons, leaving Adam alone. Adam whines to God about the situation, and God -- who somehow didn't see this coming, despite being an all-knowing deity -- sends some angels off to retrieve Lilith. Lilith, asserting her agency, refuses to go back, even though it means a hundred of her own demon children will die every day. Even at a great cost to herself, she stands her ground. So God puts Adam to sleep, creates from his rib a submissive and obedient Eve who knows her place, and the blueprint for all the male-centric Abrahamic religions to come is written.

So in Ben-Sira's Lilith, you have a female religious figure who is literally demonized for asserting her equality with her male counterpart. This is why contemporary feminism adopted Lilith as a heroic figure, going so far as to name a music festival after her. And if modern feminists can claim her as a symbol of strength, independence, and equality, then anyone else can reimagine her in any way they like as well. And for me she is the agency to Mary's humility. They're two sides of the same coin.

Mary, likewise, is for me more than just the highly favored maiden who gave birth to the Christ child. That is to say, I see her as more than just a human. Instead, I see her as a spiritual parallel to Jesus, the balancing yin to his yang. Christian theology tells us that Jesus is an incarnation of the Father; in the same way, I regard Mary as an incarnation of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic church has long implied as much without actually coming out and saying it. St. Maximilian Kolbe, the great and courageous man who gave his life taking the place of a condemned stranger in the Nazi death camps, went so far as to call Mary a "quasi-incarnation of the Holy Spirit."Consider, too, that one of the reforms that came out of the Second Vatican Council was the diminishment of Mary's prominence, partly in response to criticism that the church had handed over the role of the Holy Spirit to Mary. 

But why had the church given her that role in the first place? Well, maybe because it makes sense. Why was Mary so highly favored? Why was she considered pure and sinless, at least in Catholic theology? Maybe because there was something superhuman about her that went unspoken. The Catholic church had to invent the dogma of the Immaculate Conception because it had painted itself into a corner with its doctrine of Original Sin. If, as the church teaches, this sin nature is inherited, then Mary couldn't have had it, because then Jesus couldn't have been born sinless and perfect. So the church had to carve out an exception for Mary. But what if we reimagine the "Immaculate Conception" to mean that there was something remarkable about Mary's very essence? What if her origin was heavenly and not of this world? 

To understand what I mean, we have to take a closer look at the figure of Sophia. The feminine Wisdom of God plays a much greater role in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles than she does in the Protestant Bibles that omit the so-called Apocrypha -- the books that were eventually removed from the Protestant canon. Protestants -- and, to be fair, most Catholics, too -- see Sophia as merely a bit of poetic license, a fanciful personification of God's wisdom (the name Sophia literally means "wisdom") but not actually a separate entity. Yet even in the Book of Proverbs, which Protestants also have in their Bibles, Sophia makes it sound like she was there by the Father's side when the earth was a formless void. After all, when God said "Let us make man in our image" and then created them male and female, who the heck was he talking to? The evidence would suggest Sophia.

OK, but what does that have to do with Mary and the Holy Spirit? Well, before Christian theology was standardized, there were groups of Christians who associated Sophia with the Holy Spirit, who was indeed often referred to -- most notably in the ancient Syriac tradition -- in the feminine. Even the Gnostic Gospel of Philip questions the "official" story of Mary's impregnation by the Holy Spirit on the basis that a woman can't impregnante a woman. Make of that what you will, but it certainly makes it sound as if there was a time when it was just assumed that the Holy Spirit was a girl. 

If that seems outlandish based on what your church might have taught you, think about when Jesus tells his disciples that he will send them a Comforter in his absence. Comforting and nurturing are generally considered yin, or feminine, qualities. And couple that with Jesus' reference in the lost Gospel to the Hebrews, as reported on by early church fathers Origen and Jerome, to "my mother the Holy Spirit." Hmm. So Mary was his mother, but his mother was... the Holy Spirit? Are they one and the same, then? The plot thickens. 

Now, consider also that on Marian feast days, the church even today generally uses readings from the Old Testament that have Sophia speaking. My old Latin Mass missal explicitly calls Sophia "a figure of the Blessed Virgin." This, you might say, is the church's way of saying the quiet part out loud with regard to Mary. They're stating what they can't just come out and proclaim with regard to the one they call the Queen of Heaven.  

On top of that, you have centuries upon centuries of reported Marian apparitions to the faithful. Jesus said he would send a Comforter. Mary, the comforting mother, still appears and speaks to her children. You do the math. To me, it says that Sophia is the Holy Spirit, and Mary is her incarnation.

My pet theory, because I love playing with these ideas, is that the Holy Spirit imbued itself into Mary in three stages over the course of her life. 

  • First, there was her conception, when Sophia gave of her essence to create Mary's soul. Her divine conception, therefore, could never have been anything but immaculate. It also explains why Mary exhibited sings of extraordinary holiness even during her childhood, according to her portrayal in the second-century Protoevangelium of James. The visionary Anne Cathereine Emmerich likewise had a vision of Mary's conception that suggested its extraordinary character. You play around with these ideas enough, and they start to work.

  • Second, there was the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel came to announce that Mary would give birth to the Christ child. When Gabriel announced in the Gospel of Luke that Mary was "full of grace," it stands to reason that her grace originated from the Holy Spirit, which was, according to my theory, an inextricable part of who she was. When Gabriel then tells her that "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," I take it to mean that Sophia came first to draw out the wisdom innate within Mary, to give her the courage and clarity to say yes to the angel, and then to comfort Mary as the miraculous conception took place. 

  • Third, there was Pentecost. Mary was present with the apostles when the Holy Spirit descended on them following Jesus' ascension. Classical paintings tend to place Mary in a revered place at the center of the event, and I think we can draw some significant meaning from that placement, inasmuch as Mary, already full of the grace of Sophia the Holy Spirit, now received the presence of the Spirit in its entirety, and obviously to a fuller degree than anyone else in the room. At Pentecost, then, Mary becomes, in essence, fully human and fully divine, in that both aspects of her being had become fully realized. It follows, then, that Mary would be taken bodily into heaven at the end of her earthly life, as the church teaches, and that she would continue to return to Earth to fulfill her role as the Comforter, the incarnate Holy Spirit, Sophia in the flesh, Mother above all mothers. 

Yes, I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. Mary is kind of an important figure to me. And to me, she can be nothing less than a divine mother figure.  

Several years ago, when I was tossing around the idea of starting a sort of esoteric Christian ministry that would promote this idea of the harmonic confluence of Sophia, Mary, and the Holy Spirit, I dug in to the rich trove of Sophian passages in the Catholic Old Testament and stitched together a reading that I thought presented a compelling picture of Sophia, her often overlooked role in the Abrahamic story, and the ways in which those who wanted to seek her out might be able to find her. Some of the lines are very stirring and beautiful, feeling at times like a two-way love poem between Sophia and those who love her and seek her out. A quietly powerful line from the Book of Baruch for me serves as the definitive connection point between her and Mary; you can use your spiritual imagination and take it from there.

I'm sharing the entire meditation here because I was always quite proud of how it came out, particularly with regard to how it shone a light on a tragically neglected character and illustrated the potential connections between Sophia, Spirit, and Mary. I've cited the verses I pulled from so you can look them up for context if you like; those that may be unfamiliar to non-Catholics are the books of Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. 

Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars.
She has prepared a the meat, mixed the wine, and set the table.
She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city:
"Let all who are simple come to my house."
To those who lack good judgment she says:
"Come, eat my food, drink the wine I have mixed,
Leave your simple ways behind, and begin to walk in the way of insight." 
[Proverbs 9:1-6]

Happy those who meditate on Wisdom, and fix their gaze on knowledge,
Who ponder her ways in their heart, and understand her paths,
Who take refuge from the heat in her shade and dwell in her home.
[Sirach 14:20-21, 27]

Happy the one who finds Wisdom, the one who gains understanding,
For the profits gained from Wisdom are better than the treasures of gold and silver.
[Proverbs 3:13-14]

She will meet him like a mother; like a young bride will she receive him;
She will feed him with the bread of learning, and give him the water of understanding to drink.
[Sirach 15-2-3]

Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who grasp her, and those who hold her fast are happy.
[Proverbs 3:13-14, 19-20]

Wisdom stretches out from one end of the earth to the other,
And she governs all things well.
[Wisdom 8:1]

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.
[Wisdom 7:24-29]

She adds to nobility the splendor of companionship with God;
Even the Ruler of all loved her.
For she leads into the understanding of God, and chooses his works.
If riches are desirable in life, what is richer than Wisdom, who produces all things?
[Wisdom 8:3-5]

The root of Wisdom -- to whom has it been revealed?
Her subtleties -- who knows them?
There is but one, wise and truly awesome, seated upon his throne -- the Lord.
It is he who created her, saw her and measured her, poured her forth upon all his works,
Upon every living thing according to his bounty, lavished her upon those who love him. 
[Sirach 1:6, 8-10]

Her I loved and sought after from my youth; I sought to take her for my bride and was enamored of her beauty.
[Wisdom 8:2]

Wisdom of my ancestors, Lord of mercy,
Give me Wisdom, the consort at your throne,
Who knows your works and was present when you made the world;
Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what is conformable with your commands.
Send her forth from your holy heavens, and from your glorious throne dispatch her,
For she knows and understands all things, and will guide me prudently in my affairs,
And safeguard me by her glory.
[Wisdom 9:1, 4, 9-11]

I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence, and useful knowledge I have.
Counsel and safety are mine. Discernment is mine, and strength is mine:
By me kings reign, and rulers enact justice.
I love those who love me. And those who seek shall find me.
[Proverbs 8.12, 14-15, 17] 

The Lord possessed me, the beginning of his works,
The forerunner of his deeds of long ago: 
From of old I was formed, at the first, before the earth.
When there were no deeps I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains or springs of water;
Before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth;
When the earth and the fields were not yet made, nor the first clods of the world.
When he established the heavens, there was I;
When he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
When he made firm the skies above, when he fixed fast the springs of the deep,
When he set for the sea its limit, so that waters should not transgress his command,
When he fixed the foundations of earth,
Then was I beside him as artisan; I was his delight by day, playing before him all the while,
Playing over the whole of his earth, having my delight with human beings.
[Proverbs 8:22-31]

From the mouth of the Most High I came forth
And covered the earth like a mist.
In the heights of heaven I dwelt, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
The vault of heaven I compassed alone, and walked through the deep abyss.
Over waves of the sea, over all the land, over every people and nation I held sway.
[Sirach 24:3-6]

Now, children, listen to me; happy are they who keep my ways.
Listen to instruction and grow wise; do not reject it!
Happy the one who listens to me, attending daily at my gates, keeping watch at my doorposts.
For whoever finds me finds life, and wins favor from the Lord.
[Proverbs 8:32-35]

I spread out my branches like a terebinth,
My branches so glorious and so graceful.
I bud forth delights like a vine; my blossoms are glorious and rich fruit.
I am the mother of fair love, of reverence, of knowledge and of holy hope;
To all my children I give to be everlasting: to those named by him.
Come to me, all who desire me, and be filled with my fruits.
You will remember me as sweeter than honey, better to have than the honeycomb.
Those who eat of me will hunger still; those who drink of me will thirst for more.
Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame, and those who serve me will never go astray.
[Sirach 24:16-22]

The first human being never finished comprehending Wisdom,
Nor will the last succeed in fathoming her. 
For deeper than the sea are her thoughts, and her counsels, than the great abyss.
Now I, like a stream from a river, and like water channeling from a garden --
I said, "I will water my plants, I will drench my flower beds."
Then suddenly this stream of mine became a river, and this river of mine became a sea.
Again I will make my teachings show forth like the dawn; I will spread their brightness afar off.
Again I will pour out instruction like prophecy and bestow it on generations yet to come.
[Sirach 24:28-33]

Thus she has appeared on earth, is at home with the mortals.
She is the book of the precepts of God, the law that endures forever;
All who cling to her will live.
[Baruch 3:38, 4:1]  

When I was young and innocent, I sought Wisdom.
I burned with desire for her, never relenting, 
I became preoccupied with her, never weary of extolling her.
I spread out my hands to the heavens and I came to know her secrets.
My whole being was stirred to seek her; therefore I have made her my prize possession.
[Sirach 51:13, 19, 21 13]

How long will you deprive yourself of Wisdom's food,
How long endure such bitter thirst?
Take her yoke upon your neck, that your mind may receive her teaching.
For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her. 
Acquire but a little instruction, and you will win silver and gold through her.
[Sirach 51:24, 26, 28]

So there you have it. You can choose to interpret it as you wish. For me, the words do make a theological point about Mary that resonates with me, but far more important than that, it illustrates the importance of cultivating wisdom on our spiritual journeys. It's crucial that we seek out Sophia -- or Prajnaparamita, the personified "perfection of wisdom," if the Buddhist path speaks more strongly to you. With wisdom to guide us, not only can we make better choices in life, but we'll also find that our spiritual life holds the potential to blossom as we begin to discern the deeper truths that are often hidden under the literal surface meaning of our sacred texts. Literalism, we should always bear in mind, is crude. It forces us to defend nonsense at best and horrible ideas at worst. It makes us rigid and inflexible. It causes fear and division. That's the opposite of what religion should do. Sophia shows us a better way, if only we seek her out and open ourselves to her guidance.

Over the years, my little cottage ministry shifted focus from an esoteric Christian one to more of a syncretic one, though still with a decided emphasis on the Sacred Feminine. At one point I was tossing around the idea of writing a book to lay out a kind of multifaith cosmology that would elevate the Feminine, bring our spiritual concept of yin and yang into greater harmony, and maybe promote interfaith religious harmony. That never happened, mostly for uninteresting reasons -- but the idea still bubbles away in my head. (Some of what I would have written will probably end up in this series of blog posts.) What remains of my "ministry" these days is mostly just the name: Church of the Valley Spirit. And that in itself is a nod to the Sacred Feminine as found in the pages of the Tao Te Ching. Here, from Chapter 6, is what Lao-Tzu had to say about the nature of the Valley Spirit:

The Valley Spirit never dies.
It is called the mystical female.
The entrance to the mystical female
Is called the root of heaven and earth.

Unending, it always remains.
Drawn upon, it is never depleted.

In one sense, this is as straightforward and beautiful as it sounds: The female gives birth to all, and without her, life would cease. But the words also give us insight into the concept of yin and yang that drives Taoist philosophy. Why is the valley characterized as feminine? Well, because yin and yang in nature are analogous to male and female characteristics. All things yin are soft, yielding, shady, cool, damp, hidden away. A valley is a place with fertile soil, where the waters run down from the surrounding hills and irrigate the crops. All things yang, in contrast, are hard, penetrating, sunny, warm, dry, exposed. The hills, standing firm against the sky, protect the valley below. This is the secret of the tai-chi symbol: The dark yin flows into the light yang, and vice versa. They need each other to bring balance and harmony to the universe. There is no battle of the sexes here. They complete each other. 

And yet, it's very notable that Taoism was one of the first major world religious philosophies to favor the female over the male. There are philosophical and practical reasons why this is so. Philosophically, Taoism encourages us to emulate the effortless flow of nature as we navigate our lives. Nature doesn't think about what to do. It doesn't wear itself out trying to compete or outdo. It doesn't contend. It just is. That may sound like a passive way to live, but the secret is to be patient and persevere over your challenges without even trying. The analogy the Tao Te Ching likes to use is water: It slips right through your fingers and seems utterly unassuming, always seeking the lowest point, never trying to stand out. Yet over time, nothing is better or more persistent at wearing down the hardest of rocks. Give water enough time, and it'll carve a massive canyon. Now that's powerful. The feminine yin qualities of water may seem passive, but that's only because we're accustomed to the now-now-now energy of the yang that pushes and dominates and impatiently -- and often recklessly -- takes whatever it wants, without regard for the long-term consequences. Sometimes we have to think on our feet, and that's when yang serves us well. But just as often, we'll find that the gentle, persistent patience of yin serves us better in the long run. 

Lao-Tzu calls the Tao itself the Great Mother, the mother of the universe, the source of all things. What is this Tao? It's everything and nothing. It's the eternal fruitful womb that gives birth to everything in existence, and to which everything eventually returns. It's something that lies beyond the ability of words to fully describe, yet there is nowhere that it is not. It is nature and the unfolding of nature. It is the way things work and the way they flow. We can see hints of how it works in the natural world, and from nature's cues we can try to emulate it and learn from its silent lessons.

The Tao is not a person or a god, though. It has more in common with the Hindu concept of Brahman than it does with any notion of a personal anthropomorphic deity. It's not something to be worshiped. But it is something we can revere and cherish -- like a gentle mother who takes care of us without conditions and without being asked.

I mentioned that there was also a practical reason for Taoism to favor the feminine, and that reason was Confucianism. The Confucian system was rigid, hierarchical, and extremely partiarchal. It needed a corrective to its excesses, and Taoism provided that corrective. It offered people a gentler, freer way to live. 

Unfortunately, we still need correctives like the Tao today, and for much the same reasons: Things remain out of balance. Most religions offer some kind of male-female harmony. Taoism has the Great Mother. Buddhism has a host of female bodhisattvas and celestial beings, including Prajnaparamita, the spiritual mother of all the buddhas. (We affectionately call her Buddha-Mom.) Even Hinduism has the female-centric Shakti tradition and its concept of the Tridevi: three creator goddesses who are the wives -- and, importantly, the equals -- of their male counterparts from other Hindu schools.  

But then there are the Abrahamic traditions, with nothing but men overhead, and women constantly reminded that they can neither be priests nor even speak in church (according to Paul, anyway). Even the Mother of God has to remember her place. What can anyone do about it, though? You can reimagine Christian doctrine to give more emphasis to female characters like Mary and Sophia, as I've done. Or you can just decide it's a lost cause and move on. 

That's kind of where I am. Mary still means a tremendous amount to me. She's still the best mom I've ever had, by far. But there's just nothing else I can find redeemable in Christianity, save for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount and the inspiring actions of a few female saints, like Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, and Hildegard of Bingen. (I'm still waiting for Dorothy Day to be canonized. Something tells me I'll be waiting a while.)

The nice thing about paganism is that the Sacred Feminine is elevated and respected almost everywhere you look. Just about every pantheon has its share of goddesses, and those goddesses oversee just about every facet of life you can imagine. On my little pagan table alone, there are figures as diverse as Brigid, the kind, gentle, and helpful Celtic goddess; Hekate, the dark mother; and her fellow Greek deity, Athena, the goddess of war and -- once again -- wisdom.

The tradition I'm thinking about focusing on doesn't have a tremendous amount of female deities, but it still has a balance of male and female figures who are there to help us. For me, that's something to look forward to exploring. The harder part for me will be to set aside my syncretic habits and focus on just one pantheon. But it's something I want to try. For me, it'll be a fresh new way of thinking about things and approaching the spiritual life in general. I anticipate fascinating times ahead. 

[WC: 5,687/ TWC: 20,263]

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