This post is reprinted from my column at the SageWoman blogs.
“Here is your sacrament
Take. Eat. this is my body
this is real milk, thin, sweet, bluish,
which I give for the life of the world…
Here is your bread of life.
Here is the blood by which you live in me.”
–Robin Morgan (in Life Prayers, p. 148)
“All religion is about the mystery of creation. If the mystery of birth is the origin of religion, it is women that we must look for the phenomenon that first made her aware of the unseen power…Women’s awe at her capacity to create life is the basis of mystery. Earliest religious images show pregnancy, rather than birth and nurturing, as the numinous or magical state” (Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, p. 71)
I am working on a thesis project about birth as a spiritual experience. As I collect my resources, the quotes above keep running through my head. Birth as the original sacrament. Breastfeeding as the original communion. Blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, women transmute blood into breath, into being, into life for others.
Abrahamic theology in its root mythology, sets up the male body as “normal” as well neatly includes the notion that there is a divine hierarchy in which men are above women in value, role, and power. It also twists reality, by asserting that women come from men’s bodies, rather than the other way around. This inversion didn’t begin with Christianity, it has roots in more ancient mythology as well. Connected to the conversion of women’s natural creative, divine-like powers of the womb into the originators of sin and corruption, we readily see the deliberate inversion of the womb of the Goddess into the head of the father in the gulping down of Metis by Zeus and the subsequent birth of Athena from his head. Patriarchal creation myths rely heavily on biologically non-normative masculine creation imagery. I really appreciated the brief note from Sjoo in The Great Cosmic Mother that, “In later Hindu mysticism the egg is identified as male generative energy. Whenever you come upon something like this, stop and ponder. If it is absurdly inorganic—male gods ‘brooding on the waters’ or ‘laying eggs’—then you know you are in the presence of an original Goddess cosmology stolen and displaced by later patriarchal scribes” (p. 56).
Modern-day diet culture may actually be as potent an agent of female body control and manipulation as ancient church doctrine. And, where there are wounded, denied, oppressed, and suppressed female bodies, there is an exploited world body as well. Women who retain their “wild natures” see value in “wild nature,” rather than seeing nature as something to be dominated, exploited and controlled. Diet culture encourages this attitude of domination of bodies and restraining of physical, “earthy” impulses and needs—no wonder we see this same basic attitude of domination and control carried out in the macrocosm as well. Womb ecology reflects world ecology, world ecology reflects womb ecology…
According to Melissa Raphael in her book Thealogy and Embodiment, “Spiritual feminism consecrates flesh as something more than passive ‘fertility.’ The word ‘fertility’ cannot evoke the patriarchally uncontrollable generativity and proliferation of flesh. Spiritual feminism celebrates the bounty of flesh in the same moment that it celebrates the earth and the foods the earth produces in generous abundance” (p. 95).
Raphael also observes that, “where a woman’s embodiment is a manifestation of the Goddess that has a very different meaning than if that divinity were imaged as male…The Goddess, the earth, the female body are unified and charged with sacral powers for the transmutation of matter, for shape-shifting, and for the production of cosmogonic effluvia: blood, milk and water. This spiritual physiology of women is original but it is also subversive of and oppositional to its Western inheritance” (p. 76-77).
Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor explain that, “Childbirth is a powerful drama and ritual” (p. 47). Ancient herstory is rooted in the generative powers of the female body. “…the facts of women’s experience of life are primordial. It is woman who goes through the sacred transformations in our own body and psyche—the mystery-changes of menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and the production of milk…Women’s mysteries are blood-transformation mysteries: the experience of female bodily transformations of matter. Matter: the mud: the Mother. She transforms herself.” (Sjoo & Mor, p. 50-51)
In this recent poem, composed spontaneously while standing in the woods, I am interested to see how I made the world-body connection somewhat unconsciously in this “theapoetical” experience…
on the body of the Goddess
I sit on her bones
Spirit of Life
moving through me
sings in my blood
stars shine in my veins
tuned to the core
of the planet
pulled by the tide
by a distant moon
my cells springing
by ancient fingers
lit by wisdom
from within and without
with my breath, blood, and pulse
on the body of the Goddess
I sit on her bones
the breath of her lungs
I am one of her own…
One of the most profound elements of Goddess spirituality is its affirmation of and respect for women’s bodies and reproductive processes. In this affirmation, we can find a degree of overlap between feminist spirituality and process philosophy. As Carol Christ explains, “Process philosophy shares with feminist theology and thealogy a common interest in restoring the body and the world body, disparaged and denied in classical theism. What process philosophy has frequently failed to recognize is that restoring the body and the world body has enormous consequences for women. A feminist process paradigm will make feminist insight an integral part of process thinking. A feminist process paradigm will also ensure that process philosophers understand the body, the world body, and the divine body in physical terms and not simply as metaphysical concepts” (She Who Changes, p. 199). Christ also asks a profoundly meaningful question, “Is the source of the theological mistakes of classical theism a rejection of embodied life that begins with rejection of the female body? In other words, are the six theological mistakes embedded in a way of thinking that is inherently anti-female?” (200). She suggests that the answer is yes, that these theological mistakes are intimately tied up, “in denial of the changing body and the changing world, which is rooted in a way of thinking that is inherently anti-female” (She Who Changes, p. 200).
While, like thealogy, process thinking is grounded in experience, the emphasis on philosophical thinking can contribute to a lack of full engagement with the real world. In thealogy many quickly realize that it is a spirituality better lived than analyzed: “Don’t just read about the Goddess, LOVE HER, listen to Her, reflect Her as the Earth and Moon reflect the Sun. Don’t just study Nature, put your hands in the dirt, your feet on the forest trail, turn your face to the wind and breathe Nature in and out of your lungs. Feel the connection. No books required.” (Esra Free, Wicca 404: Advanced Goddess Thealogy, 2007)