Women and the Goddess

Categories: Homepage

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?

4 Responses to "Women and the Goddess"

  1. Glenys Livingstone Posted on 08/06/2007 at 11:44 am

    I have long taken Monique Wittig’s exhortation seriously, along with Charlene Spretnak’s inspirational work of re-storying – and particularly her work with the Demeter-Persphone myth. It had a central place in “Re-storying Goddess” classes that I taught for over a decade.

    I don’t know about the Lakshmi and Saraswati story, but I can imagine from what you say and from what was done to Goddess stories in Olympic mythology.
    I do know enough about Lakshmi’s stories to feel that Her association with wealth is mostly interpreted in a very superficial way … since “wealth” is interpeted as “having lots of stuff”. Poor Lakshmi! It suits the patriarchal mind to have Goddesses understood in such ways, to keep them from the “higher” realms – as Chandra was saying really. It is a way of trivializing them: and that word itself – “trivializing” – has been diminished from its original cosmic connection to the Triple Goddess.

    Being conscious of language, and how we “spell” the world is important. We need new language for the new myths I feel. I always enjoyed how Mary Daly got that started with her wonderful twists of meaning.

  2. Marsha Posted on 05/11/2007 at 5:17 pm

    From the questions you posit the first things that comes to mind is the famous line form Monique Wittigs?? Le Guerilleres ????_ and if failing to remember, invent.?? or as Ruth Barrett put it in Invocation to Free Women ??? .. we have come and we were born to do our own myth making..??

    The Dianic community/ ???Feminist Wicce?? has a long tradition of reclaiming myths, since myth is in not historic and is suppose to express the essential truth of existence and beyond.

    An example of this is the retelling of the Kore/Persephone/Demeter myth, mothers and daughters. Two different ritual interpretations, which I??ve participated in could be either to reclaim the power of women through the symbol of the Yoni and the taboo breaking clown Goddess of Baubo. The second is my favorite which leaves out the abduction and rape of Zeus and Hades and speaks directly of the grandmother/mother/daughter bonds, knowledge transmission and the growth of the daughter into woman represented by the Goddesses Hecate, Demeter and Kore/Persephone.

    This reminds me of the myth that makes Lakshmi and Saraswati into the bickering wives of Visnu which is suppose to explain why prosperity & wisdom cannot be ???under the same roof??. This has always bothered me because it limits the meaning of prosperity and wisdom by making Lakshmi and Saraswati weak-minded women in need of a strong paternalistic hand plus it reinforces the notion of women as commodities.

    Thank you for the thought provoking questions. I feel a new myth brewing.

    Blessed Be

  3. Chandra Posted on 05/08/2007 at 4:43 pm

    So true, Sundari! As we work with Her, the call is to a true union…within ourselves and in the world around us so that all relationships may be transformed and healed of whatever abuse may be present. Partnership in its truest sense is about love, without attachment, without projection, without anything but respect in being with the Other.

  4. Sundari Posted on 05/05/2007 at 8:06 pm

    There’s so many ways to answer your questions, on so many different levels. Speaking for just myself, the call for me is to bring more fully present the manifested honoring of the Goddess through a more fully realized honoring of the feminine in the world – or really, what has been marginalized as “feminine” in both women AND men.

    So, I learn Sanskrit – to explore translation and intention in the texts – and I pursue scholarship. As a jnana yogi, my heart joy is found in the diving deep into the material, and surfacing with the prized pearl of the sacred marriage of wisdom and devotion, each tempered by the other.

    Part of it, too, is understanding the patriarchal position, and understanding it through compassion and historical context. I get pissed about it, sure, but the deeper question for me is… where can my anger give way to compassion and understanding, so that cooperation and transformation can really take place? How can I use the words and ideas that have been handed down for centuries, in order to transform them and dive through to deeper, more ancient intention?

    The answer to patriarchy is not matriarchy – it is partnership. Honoring not just the divine feminine and masculine, but where they converge, intertwine, where the lines get fuzzy. Finding that balance and partnership in each of us, and realizing that at some point, they’re all just arbitrary labels, anyway. Language is useful, as are boundaries and signposts on the path – but language is such a limited way of conveying spiritual experience!

    Anyway, random thoughts to what is surely a large question with many, many answers.

Leave a Reply