Are women reflected in Devi, the Goddess? If we are, what does this mean for us as we strive to heal our patriarchal wounds?
In relationship to a patriarchal worldview, women and goddesses are creatures simultaneously feared and revered, honored, and expunged. Women and goddesses maintain, throughout all patriarchal spheres, the paradoxical nature of femaleness: for example, as socially constructed, S/she is at once attractive and repulsive, seductively sexual and chaste, powerful and victimized.
Such responses to women and goddesses have particular manifestations within both western and Hindu culture. Overall within arenas of patriarchal control, there is a general effort to reinforce and perpetuate male dominance as a means of not only control, but protection against the Shakti, or inherent power, of woman. In India, both ancient and modern times, the roles women play within the cycle of family, penury, diligence, division, injustice, divine intervention, then back to family, is as consistent in the Indian context as is worship of Dev????.
In a mysterious confluence of organisms, power-plays, ideas and ties at once social, political, religious, and economic, women and the goddess are subsumed within patriarchal constructs that all revolve around the fundamental properties of femaleness and the cycles in turn, of life, death, and birth.
True in India and also true outside of that boundary many of women’s and goddess’ societal roles are often determined by patriarchal controls that arise particularly out of male fears in response to essential femaleness (i.e., biology) and in particular, the death phase of Her cycle. Of note in this regard is the point that the controls arising from male fears may be maintained through any number of patriarchal agencies and agents, including women themselves.
In India particularly, the cycles and qualities of femaleness are indeed reflected in a variety of myths and stories about the goddess, but they are also the basis for many laws and other social constructs that define what it means to be a woman within the Hindu world. The purity and impurity, dishonesty and sacredness of women, for example, is substantiated and reinforced with rituals and social structures, and these further establish women’s identity, in most cases only through relationships to men. The reality of women’s marginal and subservient position within Hindu society was codified by the Manu Samhita (Laws of Manu) in the 7th century BCE. This document supports a theory proportionally relating the degree of male control to men’s perception of women’s power; i.e., the more her nature is feared, the greater the textual validation for her subjugation.
Women are therefore subjugated to patriarchal laws both religious and social and these controls are then reciprocally made manifest on the divine level in a translation of patriarchal ideas into brahmanical texts. Such renderings, have portrayed the goddess(es) as either merely the consorts of male gods or as the wrathful exterminators of men. Accordingly, goddesses and women have been labeled and imagined in similar ways within Hinduism. Women’s profane nature requires subjugation, and a goddess’ independence must be checked if patriarchal power is to be maintained.
The question is then, how do we today tell another story…a story of liberation, justice, and healing? What do you know, feel and see in the connection of Goddess to women, Goddess to men and Goddess to our planet that can move H/her beyond patriarchy?