“Man is master by divine right; the fear of God will hence repress any desire towards rebellion in the oppressed female.” Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex 1949
Even though our popular and intellectual media use the term God as an all-encompassing definition of the divine, we’ve disregarded the fact that God is not a gender-neutral term, and we’ve forgotten that it carries a whole lot of historical baggage. We say that we understand that the supreme deity goes beyond gender, that it enfolds both feminine and masculine, that it doesn’t bear mentioning, that it’s a matter of semantics, but, if the word Goddess was more frequently used, this might be true.
Of course, we realise that substituting the word Goddess in any theological discussion changes the whole tenor of the debate, women may have come a long way in gaining the rights that come with personhood – but isn’t this, “God Bias,” evidence of the ultimate glass ceiling?
We’ve overlooked the word God is predicated on a paradigm of male superiority. And it stands in direct opposition to the fact that from the beginnings of the Paleolithic Age (25,000 BC ) to closing of the last Goddess temples in 500 AD, in many traditions of the world, there existed religions across Europe, India and the Middle East, which honoured, “The Great Mother of All,” as supreme creator.
What might have life been like for women in a society which worshipped a “Lady of Life,” or “Queen of the Heavens?” Well, the records show that these women enjoyed much more freedom than their patriarchal Judeo-Christian counterparts, for a start.
Women occupied high positions such as priestesses and lawmakers, had the right to divorce, to hold and manage their own estates, buy and sell property, trade in the marketplace, and pass the inheritance of title and property from mother to daughter. And in Babylonia, any sin against the mother was a sin against the community, punishable by banishment.
This women-friendly-way-of-life ended nearly three thousand years ago with archaeological, mythological and historical evidence that reveal that far from fading away, SHE was the victim of centuries of continual persecution and suppression by the advocates of the new religions which held male deities as supreme.
Women who live in the same regions of the Middle East where the Goddess once flourished, are today the property of their husbands without any rights of their own. And they are routinely stoned to death for trespass against God’s laws.
And all this is permitted because it was Eve’s apple eating transgression that caused God to give man the divine authority to rule over women. So, it’s hard to deny that, “God,” has played a big role in the initial and continual oppression and subjugation of women.
It doesn’t matter whether we believe in the existence of a literal God (or Goddess), the idea of God still shapes society. Our ethics, morals, conduct, values, sense of duty and even sense of human are often developed from religious ideas, from them we learn what is socially acceptable, what is good and bad, right and wrong, natural and unnatural.
And while God demands obedience to earn his love- the Goddess has nothing to say about salvation. As a mother, the Goddess loves all Her children – without any reservation.
Perhaps therefore, one of the leading characteristics of goddess-centric cultures is that they are often defined as “gift- giving,” meaning all people, no matter age, class or gender, were cared for by the community.
In contrast, patriarchy brought a new ethic of scarcity, a world in which one had to “earn,” a living, where food and property were hoarded by the wealthy through imperialistic conquest. And as the archaeological record shows, it brought an end to cultures in which war was virtually unknown.
Shiva – Shakti – Lingam
In the Tantric cosmology, the whole universe is perceived as being created, penetrated and sustained by two fundamental forces, which are permanently in a perfect, indestructible union. These forces or universal aspects are called Shiva and Shakti.
She is the sacred force which brings the cosmos into manifestation and without Her – Shiva has no power. Their union is a necessary partnership, balancing principles of masculine and feminine, of consciousness and embodiment.
Shakti’s focus on the Divine Feminine does not imply a rejection of Masculine or Neuter divinity – both are deemed to be inactive in the absence of Shakti: One cannot exist without the other.
Shakti existed long before man could comprehend the power of unconditional love or even the process of evolution, for She is the evolution; She is the ultimate essence that aids the rotation of the Earth on its axis, while giving life to everything that exists in and around our blessed Universe.
Shakti is the embodiment of God in the Goddess, merging as the Provider and the Sustainer, the Destroyer and the Creator, all in the same breath – the God in the Goddess!
I close with some words from ‘Devímáhátmya,’ (The Glory of the Goddesses), a text composed approximately some 1,600 years ago in India indicating the context of Shakti:
Tvayai tadhāryate viśvaṃ tvayai tat sṛjyate jagat
Tvayaitat pālyate devi tvamatsyante ca sarvadā
You are supporting this Universe, You create this World, You sustain this World. At the end of the Universe, You absorb everything in Yourself. – Tantroktam Ratri Suktam
SUJATA NANDY WORLD GURUKUL