Balance

Artist: Artemis.com

Part of my personal quest in delving into the mysteries of the Sacred Feminine, is simultaneously honoring the role of the Sacred Masculine. I do not ascribe to the idea that one must be over the other…nor do I ascribe to the idea that in order to gain power, one must take power from the other. Learning what belongs to each and how they mesh has been my desire for quite some time.

While traveling recently, my flight was delayed…several times. Such situations are always dangerous for me because inevitably, I find myself in a book shop…itching to part with money in exchange for something much more valuable…someone else’s thoughts.

This time, I promised myself that I would limit my purchases to two, and that only the books most likely to make a life-long impact on me would be allowed to be considered. At that point, I turned on my intuition and connected with my guides. One book that leapt into my hand was “Aleph” by Paolo Coelho. The book is a mere 270 pages…a number I would have easily devoured in a matter of hours under usual circumstances. It has been two-and-a-half weeks, and I’m on page 219. Here is what I’m compelled to share with you today:

In Ancient times, there were always two dominant figures in a tribe. The first was the leader. He would be the bravest member of the tribe, strong enough to defeat any challengers and intelligent enough to foil any conspiracies–power struggles are nothing new; they have been with us since the dawn of time. Once he was established in his position, he became responsible for the protection and well-being of his people in the physical world. With time, what had been a matter of natural selection became subject to corruption, and leadership began to be passed down from father to son, giving way to the principle of perpetuation of power from which emperors, kings, and dictators spring.

More important than the leader, however, was the shaman. Even at the very dawn of humanity, men were already aware of some greater power capable of both giving life and taking it away, although where exactly that power came from they didn’t know. Along with the birth of love came a need to find an answer to the mystery of existence. The first shamans were women, the source of life. Since they did not have to go hunting or fishing, they could devote themselves to contemplation and immerse themselves in the sacred mysteries. The Tradition was always passed on to those who were most able, who lived alone in isolation, and who were usually virgins. They worked on a different plane, balancing the forces of the spiritual world with those of the physical world.

The process was nearly always the same: the shaman used music (usually percussion) to go into a trance, and then would drink and administer potions made from natural substances. Her soul would leave her body and enter the parallel universe. There it would meet with the spirits of plants, animals, the dead, the living, all existing in a single time that Yao calls qi and I call the Aleph. There, too, she would encounter her guides and be able to balance energies, cure illnesses, bring rain, restore peace, decipher the symbols and signs sent by nature, and punish any individual who was getting in the way of the tribe’s contact with the All. At that time, when tribes had to keep traveling in their constant search for food, it was impossible to build temples or altars. There was only the All, in whose womb the tribe journeyed ever onward.

Like the role of the leader, that of the shaman also became corrupted. Since the health and protection of the group depended on being in harmony with the forest, the countryside, and nature, the women responsible for that spiritual contact–the soul of the tribe–were invested with great authority, often more even than the leader. At some undefined moment in history (probably after the discovery of agriculture, which brought an end to nomadism), the female gift was usurped by men. Force won out over harmony. The natural qualities of those women were ignored; what mattered was their power.

The next step was to organize shamanism–now entirely male–into a social structure. The first religions came into being. Society had changed and was no longer nomadic, but respect for and fear of the leader and the shaman were rooted in the human soul and would remain so forever. Aware of this, the priests joined ranks with the tribal leaders in order to keep the people in submission. Anyone who defied the governors would be threatened with punishment by the gods. Then came a time when women started demanding the return of their role as shamans, because without them the world was heading for conflict. Whenever they put themselves forward, however, they were treated as heretics and prostitutes. If the system felt threatened by them, it did not hesitate to punish them with burnings, stonings, and, in milder instances, exile. Female religions were erased from the history of civilization; we know only that the most ancient magical objects so far uncovered by archaeologists are images of goddesses. They, however, were lost in the sands of time, just as magical powers, when used only for earthly ends, became diluted and lost their potency. All that remained was the fear of divine punishment.

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Attributes of the Sacred Feminine

 

The idea of a feminine deity, while deeply resonating with my soul, took a long time to get used to, from an intellectual stand-point. All of a sudden, the simple idea of “One God” was blown out of the water. My fundamental, childhood belief in monotheism now started to be questioned, and I wasn’t sure what to do with that.

After several months of exploring and wrestling with this on my own, I asked my rabbi if a feminine deity meant that Judaism ascribes to polytheism.

He chuckled.

I relaxed.

He didn’t squirm.

I relaxed even more.

He responded by acknowledging that there are plenty of arguments to be made in favor of polytheism due to the many names of God/Goddess.

“They very well could be describing many deities,” he said, “and, in fact, the Torah doesn’t teach that there aren’t other gods or goddesses…just that this is the only one that Jews are to worship.”

I sat up startled. There are other gods and goddesses? And the Torah admits that? Where?!

” However,” he continued, “in light of the Shma (Hear O Israel, our God is One), one might consider that these are all aspects of Divinity…that the Highest Power is a balance of Masculine and Feminine and many other attributes that we only know how to experience separately.”

“I need some time to think about that,” I replied, stunned and overwhelmed…and our study session ended.

That Shabbas, while talking with another very learned man about this topic, he told me about the Thirteen Attributes of God, and to look into those to see if they provided any clues for me. While there are many lists of what these thirteen attributes are, this is the list of the most commonly associated attributes:

  1. Adonai — compassion before a person sins;
  2. Adonai — compassion after a person has sinned;
  3. El — mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need;
  4. Rachum — merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;
  5. Chanun — gracious if humankind is already in distress;
  6. Erech appayim — slow to anger;
  7. Rav chesed — plenteous in mercy and abundant in goodness;
  8. Emet — truth in integrity and speaking truth in love;
  9. Notzer chesed laalafim — keeping mercy unto thousands, or remembering the good deeds of the ancestors for a thousand generations;
  10. Noseh avon — forgiving iniquity, or bearing with indulgence the failings of humanity;
  11. Noseh peshah — forgiving transgression, springing from malice and rebellion against Divinity;
  12. Noseh chatah — forgiving sin, or forgiving humanity’s shortcomings due to heedlessness and error;
  13. Venakeh — and pardoning those who deserve punishment or consequence.

I asked him why thirteen. He didn’t know.

“But,” he told me, “I do know that it must always be thirteen. Not more. Not fewer.”

“Why?” I asked. “What does it mean?”

“It’s a mystery,” he said with a smile.

He reminded me of this mystery several months later, after many more similar conversations. It was my last Shabbas service at that synagogue before moving back to California.

With much urgency, he pulled me aside and said, “These are the most important words I can think to share with you as we part: Keep your eyes open.”

Puzzled, I asked, “Why? What am I to see? What am I missing?”

“Just watch,” he replied, gave me a hug, and was gone.

Now, several years later, I look at this list with an added dimension. While there are many debates as to the gender of each of these attributes or names of Divinity, some being feminine and some masculine, what really matters is the blending…the resulting whole thirteen. I now know the significance of it…it is the number of the Sacred Feminine.

Meeting Her

 

 

“When did you first learn about the Sacred Feminine?”

I love this question…mostly because it doesn’t have a simple answer…like most things in life.

As a child, I was exposed to many Judaic ideas through the lens of a conservative, Sabbath-keeping, evangelical, Christian denomination. As a result, my concept of Divinity was that it was singular (yet comprised of three), and that it was male. The idea of Jesus being the one and only Son of God was hard for me to fathom, because I couldn’t understand how life could be created without a feminine. When I voiced this, I was told that God had attributes of both male and female. I responded by asking why God was called “He” rather than “It.” I was then told to be quiet and stop asking such silly questions.

A few years later, in high school, I overheard a conversation between two men in which one was teasing the other about the nature of God.

“Well,” the teasing man said, “some people believe that the name ‘El Shaddai‘ is feminine.”

Oh, what hogwash,” the other man said. “I bet some feminist broad made that up.”

I stopped, sat down…stunned and in shock. What if God was in fact a woman?! What if, all these years I’d been singing Amy Grant‘s song, I was singing to a woman rather than a man? That changed everything! Didn’t it? I had no idea. What would it mean to have a feminine deity rather than a masculine one? Were they different? If so…how?

Twenty years later, I sat in an outdoor amphitheatre, surrounded by willow trees, lush greenery, wildflowers, a pond with blooming lotus and a fountain…and several other people. I had finally connected with the Jewish community, and ventured out for my first Friday night service. As the sun drifted to the horizon, the rabbi invited us to sing a song, welcoming Shechinah, the Sabbath Bride…the Queen of Heaven. The Shechinah, the rabbi explained, is the feminine aspect of Divinity.

Again, I sat stunned. It’s true! I thought…astonished…then ecstatic. There really is a feminine god…or goddess. AND, if Shabbat is feminine, THAT would explain why the Jewish women light the candles on Friday night in “Fiddler on the Roof!” AND, if Shechinah is feminine, THAT means that the divinity in the tabernacle in the desert for forty years was feminine!

I still had no idea what it meant to have a feminine deity…but I knew it was important. I knew that at the very least, I, a woman, finally had a place in religion…and I didn’t have to pretend to be a man in order to access God…or live in society. All of a sudden, my value changed. I was equal to men…because my deities were equal.