Women – Giving Life to the World and the Gods
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Artemis, Ishtar, Aphrodite, Isis, Anahit, Astarte, and Minerva were all names attributed to the Great Goddess at the temple-city of Ephesus. It was in this city in the year AD 431 that a council of the Christian church was held to determine and make law on the subject of the Mother of the Christ, Mary. During the five centuries since Christianity’s birth the matter as to whether Mary’s conception had literally been of God remained unsettled. Some believed that it was indeed a virgin birth while others held that Christ was a normally conceived child who had become "endowed by God upon baptism in the river Jordan" (Campbell 60).
In the year AD 431 in the Near East in the city of Ephesus, greatest of the Great Goddess’s temple-cities, Mary the mother of Jesus Christ was lawfully acknowledged to have been literally impregnated by God. It was then that she was formally proclaimed Theokotos, or God-Bearer (Campbell 60).
The concept of the Virgin Birth is not isolated to this one explicit utterance made in Ephesus. It permeates every mythology and religion known to man. In Teutonic myth all of the Valkyries and Heroes were children of the gods in the mortal strain. In Greek and Roman mythology the figure of Zeus (or Jupiter) sired several children by mortals, with Perseus and Hercules being two of his more illustrious sons. In fact, virgin birth was so common that the British usurper Vortigern (of the Authurian mythos), in an attempt to make his troublesome collapsing tower remain standing, was advised by his astrologers to find a child " born without a mortal father" with whose blood he could bathe his tower’s cornerstone. So Vortigern sent messengers throughout the land to find one, as though such children were in abundance. They returned with Merlin, who was indeed the son of no mortal father (Bulfinch 389).
In the Bible, too, we can find other instances of virgin births (or facsimiles thereof). Isaac was the son of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who was far past the age of child- bearing (Genesis 17:16- 19, 18:9- 15, 21:1- 2). The famous Samson was the son of Manoah’s unnamed wife who had never before given birth to a child (Judges 13). The most curious of these, though, is the reference to Emmanuel: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matthew 1:23).
It is unclear whether the virginity or the preternatural conception is the primary indication of sanctity. It is clear that cults dedicated to virgin goddesses were numerous and prosperous long before the advent of Christianity. Even after Christianity had taken root the metaphor of the Virgin goddess survived, being woven into the Bible and even into the Koran, Islam’s holy text where Fatima, the daughter of the prophet Mohammed, is often endowed with maternal aspects and called the Virgin (Weitz 186). These virginal goddesses were also as a rule more "positively viewed than their sexual counterparts" (Weitz 177). Excluding Christianity, the relationship between maternity and virginity may be subtle in most western religions, but it is still very much present. The entanglement of virginity and maternity are deep and powerful. The sizable impact of this relationship molds the "symbolic lives of men and the actual lives of women" (Weitz 186). This influence can be seen manifested in the extensive menstrual taboo found in primitive cultures and that can still be noted in our own more modern culture.
The main focus of the taboo is often concerned with prohibition of sexual intercourse and the touching of men’s food during menses. Judaic law requires niddah (separation) for women during and for seven days after the period, and even then sexual intercourse remains prohibited until the woman is immersed in the mikvah, or ritual bath. There are the Mae Enga peoples of New Guinea who also still fear "sexual pollution" from contact with menstruating women (Douglas 174-5). The menstrual fear is also often more pronounced in men than in women (Weitz 161-2). I asked myself what power menstruation has that could cause such fear. It seems that ‘what power’ is exactly right. British anthropologist Mary Douglas states in her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo that "…the source of tabooed danger in society is symptomatic of a source of unarticulated power" (174).
There are many theories about the fear of menstruation but I hold that the most significant is the fear of the vaginal "wound." The amount of blood lost through her vagina by a woman in menses is enough that, to an uncultivated mind, it should be indicative of a mortal wound. If a man were to lose this amount of blood he would surely die, but in the woman the blood comes and goes regularly and leaves the woman mysteriously unharmed. The unknown reason for the menstrual blood, its harmlessness to the woman, and man’s inability duplicate or even adequately imitate it attributes to the vagina a mystical orientation.
Man is also in awe of woman’s power of childbirth (Weitz 181). This unconscious creative power not only reinforces the vagina’s mystical orientation instilled by the vaginal "wound" of menstruation, it confirms its status as a force to be reckoned with. As man can not duplicate or even adequately imitate menstruation or childbirth, he can not produce this force independent of woman. He has tried to identify with the woman through rites of male circumcision and sub-incision (the act of making a small slit between the base of the scrotum and anus) to no avail. These inabilities to effectively recreate, imitate, or even understand the vagina’s enigma furthers his envy of the woman and adds to the vagina’s extraordinary character. Our ancestors, much as I myself might have done, accounted for the anxiety caused by this "source of unarticulated power" (Douglas 174) with in their mythologems. The mythographer Joseph Campbell was well aware of this tendency to mythologize and states in his book The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and Religion:
For myths and dreams, in this view, are motivated from a single psychophysiological source- namely, the human imagination moved by the conflicting urgencies of the organs (including the brain) of the human body, of which the anatomy has remained pretty much the same since c. 40,000 BC. Accordingly, as imagery of a dream is metaphorical of the psychology of its dreamer, that of mythology is metaphorical of the psychological posture of the people to whom it pertains (p. 12).
At this point we should come to our first inquiry into the nature of the Virgin Birth. You and I understand that man’s myths represent what he is thinking and feeling. Reconsider the verse concerning Emmanuel: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (Matthew 1:23.) Does this mean that God is with us, that Emmanuel is himself a god or that he is the God?
When I try to rationalize my appetite for a spiritual experience or the need in my life for religion of some kind, I usually distinguish two elementary ideas. First, that I need this sense of interconnectedness with every thing else in the universe, man, animal, vegetable, mineral, and conceptual to feel fulfilled. Second, that I am not alone in this need and that it is an instinct. When I say instinct the natural arrogance of advanced civilization fills the hearts of its citizens. Modern man feels that he can change himself without limit, that it is preposterous to think that humanity has come this far under the subjugation of instinct. He represses the knowledge and internal reality that despite civilization and all of its lessons he is not absolved of his instincts and is still subjected to the beast of nature when it beckons from within (Jung 18).
I can see the effects of this instinct of the universal need for connection with the heavenly all around me, in every culture and in every era. Man seems to do everything he can possibly imagine in an effort to recapture at-one-ment (atonement). He commits great acts of philanthropy, selflessness, commitment, and devotion. He breathes piety and violence on the same breath. There is acquisition and colonization in his symbolic quest for salvation. Land is won and lost, sanctified as the Holy Land, the Promised Land, and the Sacred Land. It is an attempt to re-achieve Earthly Paradise. We seize this territory because of its mythologization. Man hopes that by projecting his spiritual landscape onto earthly geography he can transcend his isolation (Campbell 61).
But how and why did we become isolated from God?
I am not sure we are or that anyone can explain definitively, but we still carry this question with us. This idea, too, is found in all of our myths and religions as the Fall from Grace or the separation of Heaven from Earth. Somehow, in some way man became separated from the Creator or God and Heaven, and became trapped in existence alone.
Man suffers this burden of separation and aloneness and carries the instinct, the original intuition to reinstate himself as a part of the original consciousness, the Creator from his inception in the womb. Man deals with this burden of instinct by manifesting in his environment the residue of the original intuition of this unity. He possesses and colonizes land in an attempt to repossess unity with the Creator. Logically, if he desires to again be at-one with the Creator, to possess him, he must also imitate (or attempt to imitate) him- as he imitates (or attempts imitation of) woman.
Woman is the logical extension of Heaven.
To man, woman is the anthropomorphication of God the Creator, of Heaven. She is a microcosm of the Creator and the Created, of the universe and the original consciousness that it came forth from. We mythologize land by projecting our spiritual landscape onto earthly geography so we can transcend our isolation (Campbell 61). Man manifests in woman the remnants of his original intuition in exactly the same way he does so in the Earth. And since the only true remnant of the Creator and creation that he can actually possess in the tangible world is woman’s power of childbirth, he proceeded to colonize her.
When I think about this statement I snigger because it is a phallocentric and bloated idea. It is even antiquated by modern standards of thoughts and the correct order and properness of the world according to these standards. Yet I still shudder at the incredible gaps in our knowledge of man’s truest and original motivations and desires. It is not hard to accept sex and aggression as modern drives. Nor is it difficult to accept that the quest for religion and spirituality is prevalent among all cultures in extant mankind. We still maintain that marriage is distinct from childbearing and kinship networks even though we are aware that marrying for romance and love are essentially ideas popularized by Americans and born out of our "right" to freedom. I suspect that if the luxuries of birth control and the possibility of independent economic prosperity were unavailable the institution of marriage would quickly become just that again- an institution (Weitz 119). The idea of colonizing women would not be so bitter a draught to take if it were still socially acceptable to admit to the belief in women as property. Consider the rape of the Sabine women in the days of the Roman Empire. The Roman men had run low on their supply of fertile women, so they kidnapped and colonized those of the Sabine. In all societies and cultures it’s the woman who is exchanged. Anthropologists speculate that woman exchange is the predominant cultural bond (Weitz 117). Even at our advanced stage of civilization there is "little doubt that male regulation of sexual access to women is vital to our contemporary marriage systems" (Weitz 118). The climate of today may allow for more "latitude" in regards to sex role standards, but the endurance of the sex roles in civilization are attested to by the fact that when an individual does act out of the assigned sex role it is they who are viewed as deviant and not the role (Weitz 4).
This can be misleading to us however, as we try to discover the truest and original motivations and desires that evolved into female colonization. Do not disguise instinct beneath the pretense of being strictly biological, especially concerning our sex lives. While the ability to perform sexually is made possible by hormones, our culture plays the lead role in the determination of our sexual behavior (Insel 2). I support this distinction of instinct by offering the evidence that modern man’s drive to colonize women is still intact and not solely based on the sexual urge, but also on the elementary idea that woman is the logical extension of Heaven. The following statistics were issued by the U.S. Department of Justice on Sex Differences in Violent Victimization, 1994 by Diane Craven, Ph.D. and Violence Against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey August 1995 by Ronet Bachman, Ph.D. and Linda E. Saltzman, Ph.D. I encourage you to use caution in your interpretation of the statistics offered within these studies because in 41% of male homicides and 31% of female homicides the relationship between victim and offender was not identified.
As a rule, aggression in civilization is the domain of men. The phallus is known to be the "natural symbol for the aggressive quality of maleness" especially in regards to homosexual behavior (Weitz 180). The erect penis has been revealed by some primate research as well to be used as a " threat behavior in territorial marking" (Weitz 27). The violent crime trends reflect this. Men are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime (6.6 million violent victimizations of men in AD 1994 compared to 5 million of women) (Craven 1) and were more likely to be seriously injured (17% of males to 9% of females) (Craven 12).
The male trend to colonize women becomes apparent when we see that women are more likely to be attacked in a private home (45.8%) or private vehicle (47.8%) than any other place. In homicides where the victim- offender relationship was identified intimates, or former lovers killed 30% of the women accounted for (Craven 10). Men were only attacked in a private home 25.8% or a private vehicle 39% and were killed by an intimate 3.8% of the time (Craven 10, 14). This could represent the male proclivity of aggression, but the number of victimizations of women by intimates or friends far exceeds that of those committed by strangers. Overall women were attacked by people they knew 62% of the time, while men where attacked by people known to them only 22% of the time (Craven 1). " About three- quarters of all lone- offender violence against women was perpetrated by an offender whom the victim knew" (Bachman and Saltzman 4).
These statistics could all point to the speculation made by Susan Brownmiller in her book Against Our Will that "…female fear of an open season of rape… was probably the single causation factor in the original subjugation of woman by man, the most important key to her historic dependence, her domestication by protective mating" (16). Even in some mythology woman’s sexuality and its temptation for men alluded to a negative image of her, thereby serving to nullify her link to Heaven. The fear of rape and the destructiveness of women’s sexuality appear in Deuteronomy 32: 25: " The sword without and the terror within shall destroy both young man and virgin…." But there is one more fact.
In AD 1994 there were 5 million victimizations of women. Of these 4,017,600 were committed by lone offenders, 67% of whom the victim knew. Out of the 500,000 rapes and sexual assaults committed only 28% involved strangers acting alone. What does this indicate? Examination and analysis of these phenomena attests to the idea that there must be an underlying belief that power can only be achieved when acting singularly. These are not acts of raw biology based in hormones and sex drive. I learned early on that rape is about power, but couldn’t this power be achieved more easily with multiple offenders? The power seems to lie in the solitary act of vaginal possession. Man must colonize.
We mythologize land by projecting our spiritual landscape onto earthly geography so we can transcend our isolation (Campbell 61). This must not be wholly correct. He does utilize earthly geography as a canvas to superimpose his spiritual landscape on, but it does not seem to be a sensible sequence of events that would begin with him mythologizing the Earth and then mythologizing women. If woman is the logical extension of Heaven and she is the original vessel that held him, then she is the true sacred vessel and due to his aggressive nature, his quest for at-one-ment must begin with her and then spill over onto his tangible landscape as his power grows. His power must be feeding on something attainable and accessible that he can actually grasp in his literal world.
Women have been systematically possessed through marriage and kinship laws, identified exclusively by their sexuality and denied self-actualization by putting them in either-or roles, either virgin or whore. The Virgin goddesses were considered helpful while sexually- realized goddesses were seen as destructive and evil (Pomeroy 8).
In AD 431 Mary, the mother of the Historical Jesus was declared the literal Theokotos, the God-Bearer. Her womb and her vagina carried God the Creator. Her vagina was not alone. Many other women carried sacred burdens. Many were God-Bearers; in fact, all were Theokotos. All wombs and vaginas were declared capable of creating God. To man, woman is the anthropomorphication of God the Creator, of Heaven. She is a microcosm of the Creator and the Created, of the universe and the original consciousness that it came forth from. And somehow, in some way man became separated from the Creator or God and Heaven, and became trapped in existence alone. Man suffers this burden of separation and aloneness and carries the instinct, the original intuition to reinstate himself as a part of the original consciousness, the Creator from his inception in the womb, his first at-one-ment: At-One with Heaven.
"Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (Matthew 1:23.) The virgin who produced this god in her womb and birthed him through her vagina became a God-Maker. Man’s original intuition is to repossess his relationship with the unity of Heaven; he desires to again be at-one with the Creator. If he can possess this woman, this virgin who was the God-Bearer and is now the God-maker, he can again be at-one with Heaven. He can possess the Creator. As her vagina that beared God bears him, he becomes God. Her vagina makes him the Godhead. The vagina, the Theokotos, was colonized by man and can not be shared, for his godhood is fragile and complete possession is the only path to salvation.
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).
"For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14).
Woman has now become a unit of measurement. Her purity and his access to her vagina feed and rate his status as Godhead; she, like the Earth and the Universe, is only a vehicle for his achievement. Economy and its flower, Civilization, are born of the establishment and control of units of measurement and their ensuing trade.
Jung, C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis. Trans. R.F.C. Hull 2nd ed. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1970
Campbell, Joseph. The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. New York: HarperPerennial, 1986
Weitz, Shirley. Sex Roles. New York: Oxford UP, 1977
Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975
Pomeroy, Sarah. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Antiquity. New York: Schocken, 1975
Insel, Paul. "Do Hormones Affect Our Sexual Behavior?" Health-Line Magazine Mar. 1996. 11 June 1999
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Mythology. 1997 ed. New York: Crown Publishers, 1997
The Bible. 8 June 1999
Craven, Diane. U.S. Dept. of Justice. Sex Differences in Violent Victimization, 1994. NCJ- 164508. 8 June 1999
Bachman, Ronet., and Linda E. Saltzman. Violence Against Women: Estimates From the Redesigned Survey August 1995. NCJ- 154348 8 June 1999