THE DIVINE FEMININE

 

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The Divine Feminine
Exploring the Feminine Face of God throughout the World
Godsfield Press UK and Conari Press USA 1996

The Soul is something both inconceivable and immeasurable to which we belong, in which we live - an intermediate dimension between our physical world and the deep unknowable ground of being...

Chapter 1 Seminar Main Page The Great Mother
Chapter 2 Seminar Main Page
Chapter 12 Seminar Main Page The Divine Feminine in China

 

 

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THE DIVINE FEMININE

The Eternal Feminine is our Guide - Goethe

-This book is a celebration of the Sacred Feminine, the feminine face of God as it has been expressed in different cultures all over the world. The Divine Feminine is initiating a crucial new phase in our evolution: urging us to discover a new ethic of responsibility toward the planet; bringing us a new vision of the sacredness and unity of life. Wisdom, justice, beauty, harmony, and compassion are the qualities that have traditionally been identified with the Divine Feminine, yet it is also the irresistible power that destroys old forms and brings new ones into being, the inspiration of the love-in-action that is so needed to transform a culture radically out of touch with its soul. The Divine Feminine is this unseen dimension of soul to which we are connected through our instincts, our feelings, and the longing imagination of our heart. Soul is not limited to our own psychic life. Soul is invisible nature, the immense web of relationships that is concealed beneath the veil of matter. It is something both inconceivable and immeasurable to which we belong, in which we live - an intermediate dimension between our physical world and the deep unknowable ground of being.
----- For many hundreds of years, in the fascination with the development of mind and the technological skills that have given us the power to control nature, the emphasis of Western civilization has been overwhelmingly focused on power, control and conquest rather than relationship. Now, to balance this one-sided emphasis, the image of the Divine Feminine, together with the mythological tradition that belongs to it, is returning to consciousness. It is reconnecting us to the dimension of the instinctual soul that has been shut away, like the Sleeping Beauty, behind a hedge of thorns. The power and numinosity of the Divine Feminine are needed to arouse the will and energy to act on behalf of life and to restore wholeness and balance to our image of God and so to ourselves. It is awakening us to a new ethic of responsibility, focused beyond tribal and national concerns toward the needs of the planet.
----- The Divine Mother is asking us to trust and protect life, to work with her in all we do, opening our understanding to the knowledge that we are not separate from herself but an expression of her being. The unknown dimension of soul is our conduit to the Divine. Cut off from soul, the mind becomes impoverished, rigid, dogmatic, and inflated. In compensation for this loss of relationship with soul, it becomes driven by the need for ever more power and control. The journey in search of the unknown dimension of soul, back the way we have come, toward nature and the ground of our own nature, is difficult and even dangerous because it asks that we relinquish the certainty of deeply held beliefs, both religious and scientific. It means opening ourselves to discovery.
----- The Grail of the Feminine is urging us to open our minds to a new vision of reality, a revelation of all cosmic life as a divine unity. For those awakened to this vision, to be born a human being is not to be born into a fallen, flawed world of sin and illusion, cut off from the divine; it is to be born into a world lit by an invisible radiance, ensouled by Divine Presence, graced and sustained by incandescent light and love. Our book is a celebration of this vision.

Anne Baring and Andrew Harvey-----

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Review of The Divine Feminine

----- "The editors of The Mystic Vision bring us this beautifully illustrated overview of the way the feminine aspect of God - the "unseen dimension of soul to which we are connected through our instincts, our feelings and the longing imagination of our heart" - has been worshiped around the world, from the Bronze Age to the present.
----- In the Divine Feminine, you'll find images of the Great Mother dating back to 20,000 BC; songs in honour of Mother Earth by the first peoples of Alaska, Africa, North America and Polynesia; Apuleius's vision of Isis as recorded in The Golden Ass; Sumerian poems to Inanna and Ishtar; the Homeric hymn to Gaia; Apocryphal passages celebrating the Shekinah; an ancient Tibetan prayer to Tara, the Savioress; and Rumi's words of homage to the Virgin Mary.
----- Supplemented with dozens of photographs showing the goddess in sculpture, painting and cuneiform inscriptions, this rich anthology urges us to reconnect with the feminine soul and so "restore wholeness and balanced to our image of God and to ourselves."

From the magazine Wisdom-----

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Chapter One

THE GREAT MOTHER

Mother and Child,
Oil on Board, 36"x42", © Robin Baring

Human consciousness has developed infinitely slowly out of nature. Before we knew ourselves as human, we were animal and plant, stone and water. For countless millennia, the potential for human consciousness was hidden within nature, like a seed buried in the earth. Then, very slowly, it began to differentiate itself from nature. Deep in our memory is the whole experience of life on this planet: life that has evolved over the four and a half billion years since its formation; life as hydrogen, oxygen and carbon; life as the most minute particles of matter; life as water, fire, air and earth; life as rock, soil, plant, insect, bird, animal; life as woman and man evolved from this aeonic experience. Finally the point was reached where planetary life evolved a brain which enabled us to speak, to formulate thoughts, to communicate with each other through language, to endow sounds with meaning, and invent writing as a way of transmitting thoughts. Over these billions of years life on this planet has evolved from undifferentiated awareness to the self-awareness of our species. All this can be described as an instinctive process, each phase blending imperceptibly into the next.

Self-awareness and reflective consciousness as we know it now is a very recent development, yet consciousness as genetic patterning present in plant and animal and human life, consciousness as awareness or instinctive reflex is carried within us as part of the reptilian and mammalian brain system that took many millions of years to evolve. From these have come the highly differentiated consciousness of the neo-cortex that we call rational mind. The ability to think, to reason, to reflect, to analyse, to store information and be able to retrieve it through memory, is itself a development of the older brain systems, and is interdependent with them, but our conscious awareness is focused in the most recently developed part of ourselves and is out of touch with the roots from which we have grown. And what are those roots? Does our consciousness originate in the greater consciousness of the cosmos? Is our brain a vehicle, just as all planetary life is a vehicle, of that cosmic consciousness? Is the cosmos the ultimate source of our thoughts, our feelings, our fertile imagination, our creative ideas, our musical genius? These are questions to which science as yet gives no answer but older traditions from ancient civilizations, do offer answers.

As consciousness evolved, the sacred image was like an umbilical cord connecting us to the deep ground of life. From about 25,000 BC., perhaps far longer, the image of the goddess as the Great Mother was worshipped as the fertile womb which gave birth to everything , the great cave of being from which she brought forth the living and into which she took the dead back for rebirth. To this day, the cave is still, in dream and mystical experience, the place of revelation and communion with the unseen ground of being. The earliest images of the Great Mother known to us are the figures of the goddess carved from stone and bone and ivory some 22,000 years ago. The Great Mother was imagined to carry within her being the three dimensions of sky, earth and underworld. She was the great pulse of life reflected in the rhythm of the moon, the sun, the stars, the plants, trees, animals and human beings. All these were her children and she was the numinous presence within her manifest forms, continually regenerating them in a cyclical process that was without beginning and without end.
----- This primordial experience of the Great Mother is the foundation of later cultures all over the world. She is like an immense tree, whose roots lie beyond the reach of our consciousness, whose branches are all the forms of life we know, and whose flowering is a potential within us, a potential that only a tiny handful of the human race has realized. In these earliest Paleolithic cultures of which those of the First Peoples today are the descendents, she was nature, she was the earth and she was the unseen dimension of soul or spirit. People were connected through her to nature as to a great being and to the great vault of the starry sky as part of this being, imagined as a great web of life. She was the invisible patterning or formations of energy whose intricate and interdependent system of relationships were respected even though they were not understood. She was experienced as a law, a profound patterning which the whole of life reflected and obeyed in the way it functioned, from the circumpolar movement of the stars to the tiniest insect. The image of the Great Mother reflected something deeply felt - that the creative source cares for the life it has brought into being in the way that an animal or a human mother instinctively cares for the life of her cub or her child.
----- In the Neolithic, a deep relationship was formed with the earth through the rituals of sowing, tending and harvesting the crops, and breeding domestic animals for food. The images of the Great Mother as a profoundly experienced life process of birth, death and regeneration develop and proliferate around many different images of the goddess. Sky, earth, and underworld were unified in her being. As bird-goddess she was the sky and her life-bestowing waters fell as the rain from her breasts, the clouds; she was the earth and from her body were born the crops that nourished the life she supported. As serpent-goddess she was the darkness beneath the earth - the mysterious underworld - which concealed the hidden sources of the water which became the rivers, springs and lakes and which was also the home of the ancestral dead. She was the sea on which the fragile boats of the Neolithic explorers ventured into the unknown. She was the life of the animals, trees, plants and fruits on which all her children depended for survival. Whether we look at the goddess figures of Old Europe or those of Çatal Huyuk in Anatolia, or further East, to Mesopotamia and the Indus valley civilization, the basic forms are the same. It is hard for our modern consciousness to imagine how life in that time was lived in the dimension of the Mother, in participation with the rhythms of her being, or how these images of her kept people in touch with their instincts, and were the foundation of their fragile trust in life.
----- This was the phase in human evolution when magical rituals were devised to keep the community in harmony with her deeper life: to propitiate her with offerings that would bring protection and increase, and ward off her power to destroy. In relation to human consciousness at that time, the image of the Great Mother was numinous and all-powerful. The discoveries in the territory of Old Europe and at Çatal Hüyük in Anatolia and the Indus Valley show cultures as early as 7000 BC. with a deep sense of relationship with the mother goddess, where women were engaged in all kinds of creative work that was focused on her worship, where shrines and temples to her abounded, filled with the beautiful pottery, cloth hangings and sculptures and the baked offerings that were made in her honor. It was in the Neolithic that mountains, hills and groves became sacred and that springs and wells became places of healing. There are still places all over the world where pilgrimages are made to these sacred sites. Deep in the psyche we carry ancient memories of the sacredness of the earth, and of the earth as Mother. This Neolithic vision was transmitted to the poetry and traditions of the First Peoples who are helping us now to recover our lost sense of the sacredness of the earth.
----- The Paleolithic and Neolithic eras give us the earliest images of the Great Mother but we hear no words. It is only in the Bronze Age that we begin to hear the human voice; for the first time we can listen to the hymns addressed to the great goddesses of Sumer and Egypt. The voice of the Divine Feminine comes alive, speaks to us, reflected in the words addressed to the goddess which are inscribed in hieroglyphs on the walls of Egyptian temples or on the sun-baked clay tablets of Sumer. These reveal a rich mythology of the Divine Feminine which may already be millennia old. It is in the Bronze Age that the feeling for the sacredness of life is clearly expressed in words - a feeling that is transmitted through the hymns and prayers to the goddess or where she herself speaks in the great aretalogies that have come down to us from Egypt and Canaan and the remarkable early Christian Gnostic texts discovered at Nag Hammadi. In these she announces herself to be the source, ground or matrix of all forms of life; the fertile womb which eternally regenerates plants, animals, human beings; the life-force which attracts the male to the female; the power which creates, destroys and transforms all forms of itself. The goddess speaks as the source and embodiment of all instinctive processes. She is the life force which is nurturing, compassionate,, beneficent and also the terrifying and implacable force of destruction which can nevertheless regenerate what it has destroyed.
----- With the Iron Age, which begins about 1200 B.C., and the development of patriarchal religion, the story of the goddess becomes more difficult to follow as the god takes her place as the supreme ruler of sky, earth and underworld, yet in the West, the great goddesses of the Bronze Age are still worshipped as late as Roman times and the Greek and Roman goddesses, as well as moving closer to the concerns of civilization in their patronage of human skills and the creative arts, still bring through the cosmic dimensions of the older Great Goddess. Now they embody wisdom, truth, compassion and justice. They reflect the divine harmony, order and beauty of life. Inanna, Isis, Cybele, Demeter were the focus of mystery religions which gave access in the cultures over which they presided to a deeper perception of life than that which prevailed in the popular religions of the day. The magnificent lunar myth of Inanna's descent to and return from the underworld may be the foundation of the later image of the Shekhinah that emerges in the mystical tradition of the Hebrew religion. Through the celebration of the great festival in honor of Demeter, the Thesmophoria, and the rites of her temple at Eleusis, women and men were given a vision of eternal life and the mysteries of the soul. -----
          The legacy of the Divine Feminine in Western culture lies in the great mythological themes of the Quest which direct us toward the roots of consciousness, the source or ground of being: the goddess Isis gathering the dismembered fragments of her husband, Osiris, Odysseus returning home to Penelope under the guidance of the goddess Athena; Theseus following Ariadne's thread through the Cretan labyrinth; Dante's journey into the underworld and his reunion with Beatrice; the medieval quest for the Holy Grail - all these marvellous stories define the Feminine as immanent presence and transcendent goal.
----- Further to the East, in India, while the Vedic sages expressed with extraordinary clarity their vision of the divine ground in the sublime poetic imagery of the Vedas and the Upanishads, the ecstatic poets whose traditions belonged to a culture which existed long before the Aryan invasions, sang of their passionate devotion to the goddess, while to the north, the mountain people named their great mountains in her honor and worshipped her as the dynamism of the creative principle, locked in the bliss of an eternal embrace with her divine consort. Still further to the East, the wise masters of the Taoist tradition never lost the shamanic understanding that relationship with Nature was the key to staying in touch with the source of life. They never followed the ascetic pratices of other religions which sacrificed the body for the sake of spiritual advancement. They were never in a hurry to reach the goal of union with the divine or to renounce the world for the sake of enlightenment. Of all the religious traditions, with the exception of those of the First Peoples, they were the only ones not to split body from spirit, thinking from feeling, so losing touch with the soul. They never became lost in the mazes of the intellect and its rigid metaphysical constructions but, through patience and devotion, were able to realize the difficult alchemy of bringing their nature into harmony with the deeper harmony of life. They did not lose sight of the One.
----- Looking back over the past at the evolution of human consciousness, it seems to fall into three main stages. During the first stage, broadly defined as the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras, humanity lived instinctively as the child of the Great Mother, in magical harmony with her body - creation - and knew life and death as two modes of her divine reality. Then this primordial experience began to fade as we gradually developed the capacity for self-awareness and reflective thought and with this, the power to develop technology and control of the environment. During this phase human consciousness becomes differentiated from the matrix of nature and nature is imagined as a great dragon - something to be struggled against, overcome and controlled.
----- During this phase of separation, there is a shift of focus from the goddess to the god and a radical split between spirit and nature, dividing the oneness of life into a duality. The god gradually becomes identified with spirit, light, creative mind, and good; and the goddess with nature, matter, darkness, chaos and evil. Men and women were part of this process of differentiation. Men (unconsciously) aligned themselves with the creator god and the principle of light. They associated women with nature because of their closeness to instinctual processes and regarded them as an inferior creation, as Plato does in the Timaeus. Mythology and religious teaching began to portray the opposition between light and darkness, good and evil, spirit and nature, mind and body. For nearly three thousand years in the three patriarchal religions that evolved from the Middle East, there has been no image of union and relationship between goddess and god, no feminine dimension to the godhead to lend balance and wholeness to our concept of it. This loss of the Divine Feminine has endangered civilization and is clearly reflected in the emphasis on conquest and the drive for power over nature which is the ethos of modern culture.
----- Yet, it is important to understand that this division of life into two aspects is rooted in the dissociation in ourselves between the conscious, rational mind and the deep, instinctual matrix of soul out of which, over millennia, it has developed. It is because of this dissociation, so difficult to see and understand until the present century, that we have come to divide life into two aspects: spirit and nature, mind and matter. We are now discovering that this is an arbitrary division based on the evolutionary experience of the separation from nature which has been a painful but necessary phase of our evolution. We need to recover our lost relationship with nature and with soul and this may be one reason why the image of the Divine Feminine is returning now.
----- Why is the image of the Divine Mother so important? To answer this question, we need look no further than our experience of birth into the world. First of all, there is the experience of the embryo in the womb; the experience of union or fusion and containment within a watery, nurturing matrix. After the traumatic experience of birth and the sudden and violent expulsion from this matrix, the prolongation of the earlier feelings of close relationship, trust and safety is absolutely vital. Without the consistent and loving care of the mother in early childhood, the child has no trust in itself, no power to survive negative life experiences, no model from which to learn how to nurture and support itself or to care for its children in turn. Its primary response to life is anxiety and fear. It is like a tree with no roots, easily torn up by a storm. Its instincts have been traumatized and damaged. With the love of the mother and trust in her presence, the child grows in strength and confidence and delight in itself and in life. Its primary response is trust.
----- Without this experience, life becomes threatening, terrifying. Without it the effort of living exhausts and dispirits. Intense and constant anxiety means that there is no resting place, no solace for loneliness, no feeling that life is something to be trusted, enjoyed; that it loves, helps, guides and supports us. Without this positive image of the feminine, fear, like a deadly parasite, invades the soul and weakens the body. Those cultures which have no image of the Mother in the god-head are vulnerable to immensely powerful unconscious feelings of fear and anxiety, particularly when the emphasis of their religious teaching is on sin and guilt. The compensation to this fear is an insatiable need for power and control over life. How hungry the human heart is for an image of a Divine Mother that would, like an umbilical cord, re-connect it to the Womb of Being, restoring the lost sense of trust and containment in a dimension which may be beyond the reach of our intellect, yet is accessible to us through our deepest instincts.
----- Those who, for centuries have been the transmitters of the patriarchal traditions may not appreciate how deep this need and this longing are; as acutely felt by men as by women. In endowing the transcendent and remote Father with the attributes traditionally associated with the Mother, they have to some extent acknowledged this human need. But just as it is the presence of the mother that comforts and reassures the child, so it is the image of the Divine Mother that heals and consoles, sustains and encourages; the image that awakens the feeling of trust and containment because it reflects our personal experience of our containment in the womb and our earliest human relationship.
----- This is why the image of the Divine Feminine is returning to us now, to help us recover not only our sense of trust in life but also the relationship with a dimension of consciousness that we have, in our drive to be in control of life, ignored. We ourselves are amazed by the treasure we have brought together in this book and hope that it may open people's awareness to the beauty and power of the texts gathered from all over the world. Because a knowledge of the symbols which the soul uses in dreams to communicate its guidance and its wisdom is essential to an understanding of ourselves, and the greater dimension in which we live, the next chapter will explore some of these although it is impossible to do justice to them in a few pages. The work of Carl Jung, Erich Neumann and Marija Gimbutas can amplify the small contribution this chapter can make.
 

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Chapter Two

IMAGES OF THE SOUL

The oldest and most enduring image of the Divine Feminine made by human hands is the goddess as Great Mother. People have imagined her as the immensity of cosmic space, as the moon, as the earth and as nature. She is the age-old symbol of the invisible dimension of soul and the instinctive intelligence which informs it. We live within her being, yet we know almost nothing about her. She is everything that is still unfathomed by us about the nature of the universe, matter and the invisible energy which circulates through all the different aspects of her being. She spins and weaves the shimmering robe of life in which we live and through which we are connected to all cosmic life.
           In early cultures there are many images that were felt to belong to or to describe her. Certain forms like the circle, the oval, the wavy line, the meander and the spiral are, as early as the Paleolithic, recognizable as the "signature" of the Feminine. These are found traced on the walls of the caves, on stones and dolmens and later, in the Neolithic, on the rounded or egg-shaped pottery vessels which themselves symbolized the body of the Great Mother. The stone, as the densest, oldest and most enduring aspect of life on earth, was always an image of her, a symbol of eternal life. The circle and the egg-like oval described her womb and her vulva; the wavy lines were the rainwater or water falling from her breasts, the clouds; the serpent-like spiral, the meander and the labyrinth were the hidden patterns and pathways of the life-force or energy flowing through and connecting the different dimensions of her being. These basic forms, so familiar to ancient peoples everywhere and now becoming known to us through the work of pioneers of the language of symbols, trace their descent through subsequent civilizations, East and West, and are still held deep in our memory today. The mandala, or circular form, is a universal feminine image which symbolizes wholeness, completion, containment - the oneness of life.
           The moon is perhaps the most ancient symbol of the Feminine. The association between the changing phases of the moon, the seasons of the year and the life cycle of woman as virgin, mother and old woman or crone is the foundation of a mythology inspired by the experience of the moon as an image of the unfathomable mystery of life. The triune goddess is one of the earliest images of the divine. The moon was the greatest stimulus to the human imagination and a focus for contemplation, helping people to create a relationship with the invisible dimension of life. In some cultures, the moon is associated with a god, but in the West the association of the moon with a goddess seems constant through Greek and Roman cultures and continues in Christianity with the image of the Virgin Mary standing on the crescent moon.
          The moon rules the night world rather than the day. It is the light that shines in the darkness, the light that is always changing, yet always the same. The moon is the symbol of the secret, instinctual workings of things that happen beneath the outward appearance of life, beneath the surface of consciousness. Organic life on this planet is strongly influenced by the magnetism of the moon which controls the tides and affects the growth of crops. The figure of the goddess who was in earliest times the life of the cosmos and the life of the earth stood for the hidden relationship between all forms of life which could not be grasped with the five senses but could be revealed by long observation and a shamanic initiation into the mysteries her outer forms concealed. One of the three dimensions of the Great Mother's being was the underworld, symbolically the cave, the tomb, the realm of the ancestral dead. Always there was a guardian at the entrance to this realm: in the Paleolithic a lion drawn on the walls of the cave; in Bronze Age mythology a lion or serpent or lion-headed bird which stood guardian at the entrance to the temples of the Goddess. In the throne room at Knossos in Crete two magnificent griffins (part lion, part bird, part serpent) symbolizing the three-fold realm of the goddess, guarded the exquisitely sculpted throne. In Greek mythology a dragon or the three-headed dog, Cerberus bar the entrance to the underworld.
          It is from the Neolithic era that we have inherited all the images related to the Divine Feminine as an invisible flow of energy which brings life into being, sustains and transforms it, and withdraws it into a hidden dimension for rebirth or regeneration. This process is rhythmic and rhythm is a primary characteristic of the Feminine, reflected in the ideogram of the wavy line. The movement of the moon, sun and stars, the earth, and water reflect the underlying rhythm of life. All have specific rhythms which affect the rhythm of our own lives: each moment we inhale and exhale; each day we are reborn into life from darkness; each night we withdraw into that darkness to be regenerated for the new day. Our birth and our death reflect the same rhythm. We have come to recognize the rhythm of the earth's movement around the sun and the sea's rhythmic response to the moon. Astronomy charts the rhythm of the movement of the planets through our solar system, but what of the greater rhythm of galaxies and universes which have only recently been discovered or the rhythm of the galaxies of sub-atomic particles?
           Together with the moon, the sea is the most ancient symbol of the Great Mother and the dimension of invisible soul. The great sea of the invisible is the hidden dimension from which everything that we are has emerged. In the Bronze Age mythology of Sumer and India, the Great Mother was imagined as the cosmic ocean, the primordial watery abyss or sea, and she was personified by a great serpent or dragon. The magnificent passages spoken by Wisdom in the Book of Ben Sirach 24:28-9 (Apocrypha) echo the ancient association with the cosmic ocean of being - "She whose thoughts are more than the sea and whose counsels are profounder than the great deep." Even today, the french words for sea (mer) and mother (mère) are almost identical and the Italian (mare) and German (meere) words for sea are feminine. Kuan Yin in the Far East, like the Virgin Mary in the West, is goddess of the sea and protects all who sail on her. Aphrodite was born from the sea foam. Isis and Mary were called Star of the Sea. The association of sea, water, goddess and the invisible sea of being is very ancient.
          Water most closely resembles the invisible fluid or energy in which all life comes into being. Just as the embryo is suspended in the amniotic fluid of the womb, so we are suspended in the invisible matrix of life - perhaps the vastness of the "dark" matter of the cosmos that is still such a mystery to science. Because our bodies are primarily constituted of water, and because we have all come into being in the watery enclosure of the womb and, at a certain stage of our evolution (as mammals), we once emerged from water, it holds a great fascination for us. Water is one of the primary symbols of the instinctual soul and our emotional life. Water is essential to our physical existence; it refreshes and cleanses; it can restore a sense of peace and well being to body and soul. People head for the sea for holidays, they build swimming pools, they love the feel of water. Many women find giving birth easier in water. Babies love to swim in it. In mythology, the longed for treasure is often to be found across or beneath the sea, or is imagined as the Water of Life.
          Rhythm and the spiral form are intrinsic to water. The immense rivers of the earth which have their origin in the mountains and their end in the sea, move at their own pace, now slow and langorous, now swift and dangerous, following a meandering course that, viewed from above, resembles the coils of a gigantic silvery serpent moving across the earth. Water as the flood is an archetypal memory in our soul. The terror of the flood is aroused whenever there is the danger of a sudden rise of river water as the result of torrential rain, the bursting of a dam or the tidal wave or tsunami which may follow an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. Flood carries the image of the overwhelming power of nature to destroy.
          But in relation to our inner world we can be overwhelmed by the flood waters of archaic instinct in time of war or the breakdown of civilization: in Sumerian mythology, war was likened to a flood unleashed by the goddess Inanna. Psychosis can also be likened to an inner flood when the conscious personality fragments under the onslaught of powerful feelings. Yet the flood, as in the story of Noah's ark, suggests the new beginning that is born out of the destruction of the old. Water in the more contained image of a lake, well, spring or fountain suggests something life-giving, fructifying, welling up from a hidden source. In ancient civilizations, both East and West, shrines to the goddess were built at the springs and sources which gave life to countless small communities and at certain times of year these were, and in some places still are, ritually decorated to invoke the continued blessing of the Great Mother.
          Like the sea, all these images of water belong to the mythology of the Great Mother but they also belong to the landscape of the soul. The waters of life spring up from the ground of the soul like a fountain, eternally renewing and recreating, eternally nourishing and sustaining. To the modern mind starved of relationship with the soul, these eternal waters refresh, cleanse, renew. To immerse oneself in them is a baptism. Immersion in the waters of the soul is essential to any renewal in one's life, any transformation or expansion of consciousness. In dreams, immersion in the waters, whether bath, swimming pool, or sea is, symbolically, to enter into the dimension of the Feminine, the dimension of the soul, to be renewed, cleansed, restored. As we draw closer once again to our instincts, the creatures of the deep ocean take on new meaning: To swim with the whale and the dolphin is a thrilling new adventure. For some, it can be deeply moving and a healing experience.
          Another most important image of the feminine is the forest. The forest in fairy tales is a metaphor of the soul - "The Forest of the Night, "The Wild Wood" - through which the hero journeys on the quest. Dante found himself in a dark wood at the start of his journey into the underworld. The forest is the place of trial and danger, of mystery and revelation, where one may be tested by an encounter with an old crone and guided by the strange non-rational wisdom of a helpful animal.
           There is a wonderful story told by Heinrich Zimmer in his book, The King and the Corpse. Conneda, son of a king and queen of Connaught in Ireland sets out on a quest which takes him into a forest. He meets a Druid who tells him to mount the little shaggy horse he will shortly come across and to let the reins fall loose on its neck and let it guide him where it will. Conneda does as he is told, mounts the horse and is taken first beneath the deep waters of a lake and then over a mountain flaming with fire. The wounds he sustains are healed by a magic bottle of elixir - All-Heal - concealed in an ear of the little shaggy horse. Surviving these dangers and trials, Conneda is asked by the little horse if he will kill him, flay his hide and afterwards annoint the remains with the elixir All-Heal. Conneda, deeply distressed at first, acts as instructed and is amazed to see a handsome prince (forced to take the form of the horse by a wicked wizard) emerge from the flayed remains of his faithful friend. The prince takes him into a fairy city where his brother gives him the magic trophies he has set out to find.
           Animals, birds and serpents in the Neolithic were all epiphanies of the Great Mother, an expression of her life. She was "The Goddess of the Animals" or "Lady of the Beasts." Three animals in particular - the lion, the cow and the snake - always signified her presence and her power. The goddesses Hathor and Isis in Egypt, and Ninhursag and Inanna in Sumer were called "the Great Cow" and their temples in Sumer were adorned with enormous horns; Ishtar in Babylon and Durga in India were shown standing on a lion. Cybele rode in a chariot drawn by lions. Most important though were the many birds that were sacred to the goddess in Neolithic cultures - among them the crane, the swan, the goose, duck, owl, diver bird and vulture as well as smaller birds like the dove and the swallow. These find their way into later mythologies and into fairy tales which tell of the magical guidance of swans or doves or hoopoes, as in the Sufi Attar's story of the Conference of the Birds. In dreams birds often appear as messengers of the soul. But the butterfly and the bee also belonged to the mythology of the Great Mother for she was the "queen" who presided over the hive. The intricate cellular network that secretes the golden essence of life is an image of the Divine Feminine which guards the treasure of wisdom that is "sweeter than honey or the honey-comb." There were also a host of smaller animals like the pig, the doe, even the humble hedgehog. Many became sacred to her because of their fertility or because, like the bear, their maternal care for their young seemed to reflect the role of the Great Mother. Only now are we becoming aware of the feelings of animals, and their right to be treated with consideration and respect. We love our domestic animals but what of those which are raised and killed for our food in conditions which disgrace our humanity?
          Animals are one of the primary symbols of the instincts and speak to us in dreams from the older, mammalian level of the soul. The more archaic animals - the mammoth, the rhinocerus, the hippopotamus, the bear, the wolf, the lion, the tiger suggest the deeper layers of the instinct - with the dinosaur or dragon as the oldest of all. The domesticated animals - the horse, bull, cow, sheep, goat, dog, and cat in dreams may describe more "domesticated" feelings which are closer to the human dimension and therefore less threatening to consciousness. We may dream of animals which approach in trust and friendliness or of animals which are wounded and frightened or which attack, rend and devour. All kinds of animals appear in dreams. Their behaviour reveals the presence of powerful instincts and emotions which can be threatening or overwhelming if they are neglected or repressed but which can be released as great energy and creative power if they are acknowledged and listened to. From the way animals present themselves in dreams we may deduce from what level the instinct is trying to send us a message - archaic or more recent - and what feeling it is expressing: happiness, trust and delight, or rage, fear, distress, pain. Just as Dante identified the wolf with greed and avarice, so we may learn to recognise which instinct is represented by the different animals we encounter in our dreams. Sometimes they are much larger than life size and may come to awaken us to the fact that we are in the grip of a powerful instinct that needs to be made conscious; that all is not well with the soul. But in this form they can also bring healing and insight, becoming our guides to mysteries we cannot fathom with our conscious mind alone. Sometimes, as in fairy tales like the story of Conneda and the shaggy horse, they may speak to us and turn out to be princes or princesses in disguise.
          The snake falls into a separate category for it has so many associations and meanings, and plays so important a role in mythology and dreams that it would need volumes to explore its significance. The snake lives in the desert, in the jungle, in the swamp, under stones and in secret hidden places. It moves with lightning swiftness yet with an undulating movement. It can suffocate, poison and devour yet it is an age-old symbol of healing. It is an image of archaic fear, yet at the same time a symbol of creative spirit and of life's power to regenerate itself and is perhaps the oldest known image of the wisdom of instinct. The deeper levels of the soul carry a charge of great danger but they also contain the potential of undreamed of powers of healing and renewal. Our reptilian brain is our oldest brain system and functions in us as the autonomic nervous system below the threshold of our consciousness. Yet how miraculous the working of this system is and how severely it can be injured or destroyed by the way we live our lives or the way we treat each other, particularly our children.
          The serpent or snake, like the dragon, is the traditional guardian of the treasure. In the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was the symbol of wisdom until, with the rise of the patriarchal religions, it came to symbolize deception and evil. In the sculptures of India and the Far East. the Buddha is often shown sitting on the coils of the gigantic serpent whose many cobra heads fan out behind him to form a protective canopy. To have the serpent as guardian rather than adversary means that what was blind and unconscious and in its primordial state in us has been raised to consciousness. The power of the primordial instinct as predator to kill and destroy has been transformed into compassion for life and the power to heal. The journey of the serpent goddess Kundalini from the root of consciousness at the base of the spine to the radiant expansion at the top of the head symbolises the transformation of the life energy from unconsciousness to the highest development of which it is capable. As long as this instinctual, greatly feared part of ourselves is dissociated from our awareness, not related to, it has the power to "take over" our fragile consciousness by activating archaic responses to events. The snake-bite in dreams can rouse us to greater awareness of what needs to be done, a more awakened consciousness. The snake which seems so frightening, cold and deadly, so alien to our human dimension, can initiate a profound process of healing and transformation.
          Another group of images has evolved from the symbolism of the body of the Great Mother as the container and transformer of life. For stone age people, the cave was the Great Mother's womb, the place of mystery where the tribe held its most sacred rites. The symbolism of the womb is reflected in the vessel as the carrier of water and food, in the oven or cooking pot where food is transformed, in the pool, bath or basin which holds water, in the cave or hut or house which, like the womb, offer shelter from storm and flood, heat and cold. Later, as civilizations develop, this symbolism of the body of the goddess was extended to include any enclosed area like a forest glade, a temple precinct, a cathedral or church, a city, a house, a walled garden: any place that offered sanctuary, containment and shelter. The symbolism of the vessel is extended to the ship which, like a mother with her child, carries its passengers across the sea of life. Symbols of the soul as the place of transformation are the cooking pot, the oven; any place where fire, as the transforming agent of life, cooks or transforms raw ingredients into another form. Another image is the kitchen which, symbolically, is the place in the depths of our instinctual life where we can, like base metal, be transformed from lead into gold. In many fairy tales the heroine takes a job as the palace cook. Often there is a magic ring hidden in the food she prepares which draws the attention of those "upstairs" to the true bride who is hidden or disguised "below stairs."
          Within the house itself, there are innumerable objects which reflect the imagery of the soul as container: cooking pots, saucepans, kettles, baskets, jugs, bowls, cups and spoons, chests of drawers; cupboards which store food; chairs and beds which "contain" people sitting or lying on them, and again, the bath or basin. Even the humble handbag which appears so often in dreams belongs to this maternal imagery of the container, as does the car or taxi which, as the soul (or the body), is the patient vehicle of the conscious personality.
          Then there are all the images of food and nourishment which have always belonged to the mythology of the Great Mother as invisible ground of life. The Tree of Life stands at the root of this chain of images. The Tree in many different cultures was sacred to the goddess, standing in the precincts of her temples in Sumer and Egypt, India and China, a symbolic offering of her abundant life for the nourishment of all her children. Demeter and Ceres are the last goddesses in the West to remind us of this ancient connection between the Great Mother, the Earth and all the food the Earth offers us in the way of sustenance. Patriarchal religions seem to have lost the image of the Earth as a Mother who provides humanity with food. Nor do they have, as did Egypt, Sumer, India and China, an image of a Divine Mother who provides the human soul with the food of eternal life. The images of the cereal crops that ripen from seeds to ears of wheat, oats, corn and barley belong here as do all crops grown for food, and all fruits and berries that are freely "given" by nature's bounty. The inexhaustible cup or vessel of the Grail which provided nourishment for all who found their way to it belongs to this group of images. One dream will convey the abundance of this treasure: "I am in Baker Street. Beneath the street there is a huge store room filled with bags of flour, jars of olive oil, and every kind of dried fruit. I am overwhelmed by the vastness of it and by the fact that I had no idea that Baker Street concealed this hoard of nourishment beneath it." This dream raises the question: "Who is the Baker within?"
          Flowers are the most exquisite images of nature's power to delight us with her beauty. The lily, and the rose, beloved of artists and poets, whose scent intoxicates and whose perfection of form invites love and awe, seem always to have belonged with the image of the goddess. In Egypt and the East, it was the lotus that was offered at the shrines of Isis and Hathor. Beauty is one of the most important expressions of the Divine Feminine, something of infinite value that we respond to instinctively with love; something that we have honoured in all the marvellous creations of the human soul which have adorned different cultures. To live without beauty is one of the most painful deprivations people have to endure today in over-crowded cities and constricted living space. Yet a flower can bring beauty to the humblest room. To meditate on the rose, the lily or the lotus is one of the most effective ways of putting oneself in touch with the Divine Feminine.
          Jewels and precious metals mined in the labyrinthine passages of the earth's womb, are symbols of the hidden treasures buried within the soul, in the substratum of our lives. They have always been sacred to the Great Mother. Silver, in particular, was "her" metal, because it belonged to the night world ruled by the moon. In Greece and Rome, gold and silver were kept in the temples of Cybele in Athens and Juno Moneta in Rome. Our word money comes from the old French word monoie which in turn came from the Latin word moneta and hence from the Roman goddess.
          In dreams, the Divine Feminine uses all the images of the natural world to tell us that she is the boundless source of nourishment and unimagined treasure. We may find ourselves at great feasts, or wandering through marvellous gardens, find buried hoards of precious stones, or be given bouquets of flowers, enter shops or warehouses filled with marvellous dresses and materials, discover pearls of great price buried in fields. All this is the gift of the invisible spirit, the source of our creative life, the imagination of the soul.
          The Divine Feminine whether as nature without or within, has a beneficent, nurturing, supportive aspect but also a destructive, abandoning, dissolving one. The "terrible" aspect of the goddess is documented in almost every early mythology. The powerlessness of humanity in the face of nature's terrifying power to destroy everything that it has built up is deeply imprinted on the memory of the race. Fear as well as trust is intrinsic to the instinctive reflexes of many species and is imprinted on the human one which still carries the memories of the age old experience of earthquake, volcanic eruption, tsunami, hurricane, flood, drought, and disease which inflict sudden and unexpected death. Everything that can destroy life in a few brief moments is carried in the image of nature as the "terrible mother" who abandons and destroys. Fate has always been imagined as a goddess.
          All these symbols of the Feminine are important, just as the symbols of the Masculine are important, for an understanding of ourselves and our dreams for it is in dreams that the soul speaks to us in the pre-verbal language of symbols. How are we to create a relationship with this unseen dimension if we don't understand the symbolic language it uses to communicate with us? It is in symbolic images and emotions that this instinctual ground of our being reassures or terrifies; in images and emotions that it communicates its sense of well-being or its feeling of anger and distress, through images and feelings that it guides us towards a deeper understanding of itself.
           Fairy tale and myth have given us many images of the destructive power of the instincts: the dragons emerging from their caves to ravage the countryside and destroy everything in their path, demanding live sacrifices as their daily food; the Gorgon who turned all who saw her to stone; the twin perils of Scylla and Charybdis that Odysseus had to face on his journey back to Penelope. The transfixing power of the instinct has been drawn for our day by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings as the loathsome spider, Shelob, whom Frodo had to overcome in a desperate fight. These generally feminine images symbolize the immense power of archaic, pre-human instincts which still overwhelmingly powerful in relation to our fragile conscious self, can draw us back into self-destructive patterns of behaviour, or into behaviour towards others which transfixes them with terror. Then, in a state of psychic inflation we lose our humanity - the priceless attainment of the differentiation of consciousness from autonomous unconscious processes and revert to becoming ruthless predators, destroyers of our own lives or those of others who become our prey.
          The soul carries within it the active intelligence, the intention and the power to transform these unconscious patterns so that humanity can reach its evolutionary goal of a mature, transformed consciousness. It communicates with us through all these images and many more, trying to make us aware of its existence, trying to create a relationship with us but we, knowing nothing of this dimension, let the messages pass unnoticed. Sometimes the soul takes the form of a goddess, an old woman, a terrifying witch, trying to tell us what is happening below the level of the conscious mind. Sometimes the form she takes is so powerful and awesome that we cannot assimilate its meaning but can only live with the image, allowing it to transform us over many years. Becoming familiar with all these images and discovering, through the growth of insight into their meaning, how to bring mind and soul into relationship, harmony and balance, could change our beliefs, our lives and our culture.

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Chapter Twelve

THE DIVINE FEMININE IN CHINA

Mother of all Creation -

Once, in China, as elsewhere, there was a Mother who was before heaven and earth came into being. Her image was woven into the age-old beliefs of the people and the shamanic tradition which later evolved into Taoism. In Chinese mythology the mother goddess has many names and titles. One legend imagined her as an immense peach tree which grew in the Garden of Paradise in the Kun-Lun mountains of the West and was the support of the whole universe. The fruit of this marvellous and magical tree ripened only after three thousand years, bestowing immortality on whoever tasted it. The Garden of Paradise belonged to the Queen of the Immortals, the Royal Mother of the West, whose name was Hsi Wang Mu, goddess of eternal life. Other myths describe her as the Mother or Grandmother, the primordial Heavenly Being, the cosmic womb of all life, the gateway of heaven and earth. Taoism developed on this foundation.
      - More subtly and comprehensively than any other religious tradition, Taoism (Daoism) nurtured the quintessence of the Divine Feminine, keeping alive the feeling of relationship with the ground of being as Primordial Mother. Somehow the Taoist sages discovered how to develop the mind without losing touch with the soul and this is why an understanding of their philosophy - China's priceless legacy to humanity - is so important to us now.       -
        The origins of Taoism come from the shamanic practices and oral traditions of the Bronze Age and beyond. Its earliest written expression is the Book of Changes or I Ching, a book of divination consisting of sixty four oracles which is thought to date to 3000-1200 BC. The complementary images of yin and yang woven into the sixty four hexagrams of the I Ching are not to be understood as two separate expressions of the one indivisible life energy: earth and heaven, feminine and masculine, female and male, for each contains elements of the other and each cannot exist without the other. In their passionate embrace, there is relationship, dialogue and continual movement and change. The I Ching describes the flow of energies of the Tao in relation to a particular time, place or situation and helps the individual to balance the energies of yin and yang and to listen to the deeper resonance of the One that is both.
      - The elusive essence of Taoism is expressed in the Tao Te Ching, the only work of the great sage Lao Tzu (born c. 604 BC.), whom legend says was persuaded to write down the eighty-one sayings by one of his disciples when, reaching the end of his life, he had embarked on his last journey to the mountains of the West. The word Tao means the fathomless Source, the One, the Deep. Te is the way the Tao comes into being, growing organically like a plant from the deep ground or source of life, from within outwards. Ching is the slow, patient shaping of that growth through the activity of a creative intelligence that is expressed as the organic patterning of all instinctual life, like the DNA of the universe. "The Tao does nothing, yet nothing is left undone." The tradition of Taoism was transmitted from master to pupil by a succession of shaman-sages, many of whom were sublime artists and poets. In the midst of the turmoil of the dynastic struggles that engulfed China for centuries they followed the Tao, bringing together the outer world of appearances with the inner one of Being.
      - From the source which is both everything and nothing, and whose image is the circle, came heaven and earth, yin and yang, the two principles whose dynamic relationship brings into being the world we see. The Tao is both the source and the creative process of life that flows from it, imagined as a Mother who is the root of heaven and earth, beyond all yet within all, giving birth to all, containing all, nurturing all. The Way of Tao is to reconnect with the mother source or ground, to be in it, like a bird in the air or a fish in the sea, in touch with it, while living in the midst of what the Taoists called the "sons" or "children" - the myriad forms that the source takes in manifestation. It is to become aware of the presence of the Tao in everything, to discover its rhythm and its dance, to learn to trust it, no longer interfering with the flow of life by manipulating, directing, resisting, controlling. It is to develop the intuitive awareness of a mystery which only gradually unveils itself. Following the Way of Tao requires a turning towards the hidden withinness of things, a receptivity to instinctive feeling, enough time to reflect on what is inconceivable and indescribable, beyond the reach of mind or intellect, that can only be felt, intuited, experienced at ever deeper depth. Action taken from this position of balance and freedom will gradually become aligned to the harmony of the Tao and will therefore embody its mysterious power and wisdom.
      - The Taoists never separated nature from spirit, consciously preserving the instinctive knowledge that life is One. No people observed nature more passionately and minutely than the Chinese sages or reached so deeply into the hidden heart of life, describing the life and form of insects, animals, birds, flowers, trees, wind, water, planets and stars. They felt the continuous flow and flux of life as an underlying energy that was without beginning or end, that was, like water, never static, never still, never fixed in separate things or events, but always in a state of movement, a state of changing and becoming. They called the art of going with the flow of this energy Wu Wei, not-doing (Wu means not or non-, Wei means doing, making, striving after goals), understanding it as relinquishing control, not trying to force or manipulate life but attuning oneself to the underlying rhythm and ever-changing modes of its being. The stilling of the surface mind that is preoccupied with the ten thousand things brings into being a deeper, more complete mind and an integrated state of consciousness or creative power that they named Te which enabled them not to interfere with life but to "enter the forest without moving the grass; to enter the water without raising a ripple."
      - They cherished the Tao with their brushstrokes, observing how it flowed into the patterns of cloud and mist between earth and mountain peak, or the rhythms of air currents and the eddying water of rivers and streams, the opening of plum blossom in spring, the graceful dance of bamboo and willow. They listened to the sounds that can only be heard in the silence. They expressed their experience of the Tao in their paintings, their poetry, the creation of their temples and gardens and in their way of living which was essentially one of withdrawal from the world to a place where they could live a simple, contemplative life, concentrating on perfecting their brushstokes in calligraphy and painting and their subtlety of expression in the art of poetry. Humility, reverence, patience, insight and wisdom were the qualities that they sought to cultivate.
      - The Taoist artist or poet intuitively reached into the secret essence of what he was observing, making himself one with it, then inviting it to speak through him, so releasing the dynamic harmony within it. He imposed nothing of himself on it but reflected the creative soul of what he was observing through the highly developed skills that he had cultivated over a lifetime of practice. Through the perfection of his art, he did not define or explain the Tao which, as Chuang-Tzu said, cannot be conveyed either by words or by silence, but called it into focus so that it could be experienced by the beholder. The Tao flows through the whole work as cosmic Presence, at once transcendent in its mystery and immanent in its form. The distillation of what the Taoist sages discovered is bequeathed to us in the beauty and wisdom of their painting and poetry, and in their profound understanding of the relationship between body, soul and nature, and the eternal ground that underlies and enfolds them all.
      - Standing before one of the great Taoist paintings of the T'ang or Sung dynasties or reading a poem by Wang Wei, we are immediately transformed by them, able to let go of the things that normally distract the mind and exhaust the body - the preoccupation with the ten thousand things that the Taoists called "dust". They put us in touch with the center simply by relating us instantaneously to the ground which unites everything. To rest in the quietness of mind and humility of heart that the Taoist sage embodies, is to live in a state of instinctive spontaneity that the Taoists named Tzu Jan - a being-in-the-moment that can only exist, as in childhood, when the effort to adapt to collective values and the need to accumulate possessions, power or fame is of no importance. What exists is what is. There is no need to change it by imposing the will. Change will come about by changing the quality of one's own being. To feel what needs to be said without striving to say it; to speak from the heart in as few words as possible, to act when action is required, responding to the needs of the moment without attachment to the fruits of action, this was the essence of the Taoist vision. It was essentially feminine, gentle, balanced, dynamic and wise.
      -

The image of the primordial Mother was embedded deep within the soul of the Chinese people who, as in Egypt, Sumer and India, turned to her for help and support in time of need. She was particularly close to women who prayed to her for the blessing of children, for a safe delivery in childbirth, for the protection of their families, for the healing of sickness. Their mother goddess was not a remote being but a compassionate, accessible presence in their homes, in the sacred mountains where they went on pilgrimages to her temples and shrines, and in the valleys and vast forests where she could be felt, and sometimes seen. Yet, like the goddesses in other early cultures, she also had cosmic dimensions. Guardian of the waters, helper of the souls of the dead in their passage to other realms, she was the Great Mother who responded to the cry of all people who called upon her in distress. She was the Spirit of Life itself, deeper than all knowing, caring for suffering humanity, her child. Above all, she was the embodiment of mercy, love, compassion and wisdom, the Protectress of Life. Although she had many names and images in earlier times, these eventually merged into one goddess who was called Kuan Yin - She who hears, She who listens.
      - By a fascinating process which saw the blending of different religious traditions, the ancient Chinese Mother Goddess absorbed elements of the Buddhist image of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Tibetan mother goddess Tara and the Virgin Mary of Christianity, whose statues were brought to China during the seventh century AD. The name Kuan Yin was a translation of the sanscrit word Avalokitesvara and means "The One Who Hears the Cries of the World." At first, following the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, this compassionate being was imagined in male form, but from the fifth century AD., the female form of Kuan Yin begins to appear in China and by the tenth century it predominates.
      - It was in the far north-west, at the interface between Chinese, Tibetan and European civilizations, that the cult of Kuan Yin took strongest root and it was from here that it spread over the length and breadth of China and into Korea and Japan, grafted onto the far older image of the Mother Goddess. Every province had its local image and its own story about her. Taoist and Buddhist elements were fused, creating an image of the Divine Feminine that was deeply satisfying to the people. By the 16th century, Kuan Yin had become the principal deity of China and Japan and is so today. Robed in white, she is usually shown seated or standing on a lotus throne, sometimes with a child on her lap or near her for she brings the blessing of children to women.
      - Chinese Buddhist texts describe her as being within a vast circle of light that emanates from her body, her face gleaming golden, surrounded with a garland of 8000 rays. The palms of her hands radiate the colour of 500 lotus flowers. The tip of each finger has 84,000 images, each emitting 84,000 rays whose gentle radiance touches all things. All beings are drawn to her and compassionately embraced by her. Meditation on this image is said to free them from the endless cycle of birth and death.
      - Two Chinese descriptions of Kuan Yin bring her to life, the first from the Buddhist Lotus Sutra which imagines her as a cosmic being devoted to saving the world through her wisdom and compassion, the second from the 16th century:

Listen to the deeds of Kuan Yin
Responding compassionately on every side
With great vows, deep as the ocean,
Through inconceivable periods of time,
Serving innumerable Buddhas,
Giving great, clear, and pure vows...
To hear her name, to see her body,
To hold her in the heart, is not in vain,
For she can extinguish the suffering of existence...

Her knowledge fills out the four virtues,
Her wisdom suffuses her golden body.
Her necklace is hung with pearls and precious jade,
Her bracelet is composed of jewels.
Her hair is like dark clouds wondrously
arranged like curling dragons;
Her embroidered girdle sways like a phoenix's wing in flight.
Sea-green jade buttons,
A gown of pure silk,
Awash with Heavenly light;
Eyebrows as if crescent moons,
Eyes like stars.
A radiant jade face of divine joyfulness,
Scarlet lips, a splash of colour.
Her bottle of heavenly dew overflows,
Her willow twig rises from it in full flower.
She delivers from all the eight terrors,
Saves all living beings,
For boundless is her compassion.
She resides on T'ai Shan,
She dwells in the Southern Ocean.
She saves all the suffering when their cries reach her,
She never fails to answer their prayers,
Eternally divine and wonderful.

from Kuan Yin by Martin Palmer, Jay Ramsay, and Man-Ho Kwok

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