By Cornelia Powell – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
The feminist professor and author Mary Daly, known for making revelatory pronouncements during her legendary career, called patriarchy a religion. This stands to reason given the religious zeal with which the regimes of men have not only treated women as second-class citizens throughout centuries, but intentionally mis-documented the cultural history of women. Or as Ann Powers put it during an interview with Daly in the New York Times in 1999: the “patriarchal condition of women’s truths being deeply buried or distorted.” Daly called this way of recording history a “reversal.”
“We live in a reversal society,” Daly wrote. “For example, the idea that Eve came from Adam is a reversal. It’s ridiculous. Who could believe that? It’s contrary to all biology. But with that myth in mind, people can justify somehow the idea that God is male. And therefore male is God. And that he’s the origin. But he’s not the origin. The Bible is full of reversals.”
Decades before Daly’s proclamation, suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the extraordinary visionary passionate about freeing women from their particular bondage, recognized the Bible’s “reversal” storyline. Soon after her 80th birthday in 1895, stirring controversy and scorn, she published The Woman’s Bible which challenged the religious doctrine that woman was “an inferior being, subject to man.” Its publication caused a schism in the suffrage movement; in fact, members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association officially censured Stanton, “the woman who had launched their movement.” She was furious and hurt but resolute. “It was for her a labor of love,” historian Ken Burns later wrote about the publication, “the logical outcome of a lifetime of anger at the uses to which her male opponents had routinely put religious scripture.”
Perhaps Stanton’s anger lit the awakening of future generations. In her vastly researched, years-in-the-making book, The Great Cosmic Mother published in 1987 (with artwork by Monica Sjöö), Barbara Mor writes how “all the original, ancient, and matriarchal ideas of cyclic birth-death-and-resurrection” (in other words, the cyclical way of Mother Nature) were “ideas many millennia older than the doctrines of Christianity, which simply coopted them, and attributed them to a male God.” These ideas of “universal resonance and power” were only the beginning of what the patriarchal forces coopted—and “reversed.” Mor goes on to explain that “the first and ultimate world-saver is the female. The original resurrecting god is the moon. As the Moon Mother says, from the beginning of human time: ‘Tell them as I dying live, so they dying will live again.’”
It makes sense that there would be a Divine Father and Divine Mother given “all things are born of woman.” In her book, Return of the Divine Sophia, Tricia McCannon shares a message from one of her first spiritual teachers: “It is from Mother Earth that everything comes, every piece of wood, coal, iron, or wool—every animal and plant—but our society has forgotten this. When we dishonor the Mother, we dishonor all that holds the universe in balance.” Is it no accident that we live in such an unbalanced world with so much conflict and suffering?
Uncovered records confirm that the script of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible were changed to exclude women by omitting the Divine Mother deities of the ancient world as well as accounts of wise women and female teachers of the time. This included denying the exalted stature of the woman considered Jesus’ undisputed beloved friend. Ancient books found in 1945 that became known as the Nag Hammadi Library, their origin dated between 60 and 400 CE, “speak of Mary’s preeminence among the apostles,” wrote scholar Margaret Starbird in Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile. “And research has surfaced showing that the earliest Christian churches were radically egalitarian, allowing women to speak, to teach, and to prophesy in their assemblies. We sense that the model for this elevated status of women among the early Christians was Mary Magdalene.”
“I have become convinced,” added Starbird, “that a missing piece from the foundations of Christianity is the sacred feminine embodied by Mary whom the gospels called the Magdalene.” Mary’s story—and her closeness to Jesus—“was distorted and her voice stolen by fathers of the Church who branded her a prostitute, tragically contributing to the dissociation of Christianity from the feminine and thereby unwittingly causing unfathomable suffering in the human family over a period of nearly two millennia.” Starbird points to how Mary’s history reflects the “distortions” in women’s history: “She is the bearer of the archetype of feminine consciousness, likewise denigrated and reviled, relegated to second-class status.”
Indeed, as hidden and lost ancient documents have been unearthed and translated, it has become clear that Jesus’ wisdom and the early Christian teachings that reflected his truer mission had been mistranslated in many ways, including the dismissal of women. In her study of the Hebrew Bible’s erotic poetry in the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon, its importance emphasized when multiple copies were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947, dated between 120 BCE and 50 CE), Starbird declares that Jesus came to a paternal-powered, out-of-balance world “to embrace the feminine and to reinstate the ancient model for partnership—itself the model for life!—at the heart of the Christian story.” But that possibility of spiritual partnership was taken away from us by the narrow minds of patriarchal egos.
Starbird says that she is often asked: “‘What did we lose when we lost the Mary whom scripture calls the Magdalene?’” Her answer is both revealing and disheartening:
Simply stated, we lost the color red—the deep crimson of passion, of the blood mysteries, of compassion and Eros in the Jungian sense of relatedness. And with the exile of Mary Magdalene from our consciousness, we were tragically cut off from the irrigating waters of intuition and mysticism, from feminine ways of knowing, from the deep wisdom of the body and its senses, and from our intimate kinship with all that lives. These aspects of the sacred feminine were originally embodied in the Mary who was the beloved companion of Jesus and who represented our full humanity in an intimate partnership union with the Divine Logos.
Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, writes of the ancient Greek and Roman misogynist cultures that influenced the eras before and after Jesus, so it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that these biased mindsets swayed the writing and editing of the Bible’s New Testament to silence women. “When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice,” Beard wrote in Women & Power. The devastating loss of these voices continues to be felt. The 2008 book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, is a passionate call-to-arms against what the authors describe as “our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.” Written by Pulitzer Prize winners, and husband and wife Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (a model for the kind of powerful partnership that Margaret Starbird speaks of), the ground-breaking book brought the consequences of age-old injustices against females to the attention of a worldwide audience. Kristof added: “These kinds of abuses—along with more banal injustices, like slapping a girlfriend or paying women less for their work—arise out of a social context in which women are, often, second-class citizens. That’s a context that religions have helped shape, and not pushed hard to change.”
As we are becoming more aware of these historical “reversals” as well as the extent to which women and their vast achievements and contributions have been left out of public records for eons—the “tyranny of omission” as Monica Rodgers of The Revelation Project calls it—we are writing women back into history! Many courageous women and men are sharing divinely inspired accounts of our ancient history where we can at last hear the voices of forgotten women and the stories of our mythology. And now, in this between-the-veils time, “herstory” is pouring forth! ~
Image: “Running Women” by Ferdinand Hodler
Cornelia Powell—author, guest speaker, fashion historian and wedding folklorist—shares many “feminine leadership” stories in her book-in-progress, The Spiritual Mission of a Princess. She is also writing a series for Confluence Daily celebrating the Suffrage Centennial.
[This is Part Two of Cornelia’s 3-part article and book excerpt. Read part one, SUFFRAGE CENTENNIAL SERIES. Second-Class Citizen (Part One: Speaking Up—from Abigail Adams to Alice Paul, HERE.
Final part of “Second-Class Citizen” coming soon! www.CorneliaPowell.com]
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