Why I’m (still) a Feminist: The Goddess and Yoga

Man is master by divine right; the fear of God will therefore repress any impulse towards revolt in the downtrodden female. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex 1949

God

God

It astonishes me that a well respected yoga radio show recently spent a whole segment discussing whether God exists without once utilizing the feminine pronoun. (Okay – perhaps not so surprising considering the topic was Brad Warner’s book There is No God and Why He is Always With You.)

But nonetheless, it drives me nuts that neither the show host or Warner, two obviously enlightened men in our post feminist age, bothered to take a moment to acknowledge that God was not necessarily a HE.

Have we finally abandoned that old trope of feminism – that language matters? Seems so. Because how can it be, despite our intentions of ending social injustice and genGoddess_Parashakthi_in_the_Templeder oppression, of ‘decolonizing yoga’, that our yoga media consistently reinforces the ultimate gender inequity of all – without a second thought? And while it isn’t surprising that Christian commentators on the lawsuit against Encinitas Union School District in California (charging that yoga was religion) never use “She” when referencing the “Deity”  – can we say the same for yoga authors and bloggers?  Especially considering  the pivotal role the divine feminine and the Goddess plays in yogic traditions ?

Despite the fact that our books, popular and intellectual media use the term God as an all-encompassing definition of the divine, we’ve forgotten 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. And if the word Goddess was more frequently used, this might be true, but it’s not.

Of course I realize that substituting the word Goddess in any theological discussion changes the whole tenor of the debate. But that’s the whole point isn’t it? Women may have come a long way (at least in the west) in gaining the rights that come with personhood – but isn’t this “God Bias” evidence of the ultimate glass ceiling?

And here’s the million dollar question. Could this absence of a feminine role model occupying the ‘top spot’ have anything to do with the fact that women today are grossly under-represented in positions of power? That they compose the largest majority of people who are abused and live below the poverty line?

Goddess_WillendorfI think so. We’ve forgotten 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, there existed religions across Europe, India and the Middle East, which honoured “The Great Mother of All” as supreme creator.

My point is this. What might have life been like for women in a society which worshiped a “Lady of Life” or “Queen of Heaven”? Well, the record shows 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.

According to Merlin Stone, author of When God Was a Woman this women friendly way of life ended nearly three thousand years ago.“Archaeological, mythological and historical evidence all reveal that far from fading away, this female religion the was the victim of centuries of continual persecution and suppression by the advocates of the new religions which held male deities as supreme.”

And Stone makes their legacy clear. 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.

eveAnd 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 its pretty hard to deny that, “God” as Stone points out, has played a pretty big role in “the initial and continual oppression and subjugation of women.”

Whether we believe in the existence of a literal God (or Goddess) doesn’t matter, the idea of God still shapes society. As Stone writes “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.”

Perhaps this is why my quest for “God” never amounted to much. While I yearned for spiritual connection, the severe judgmental patriarch of the Old Testament never warmed my heart. It just never occurred to me that there might be an alternative.

But what I have come to see is this. It isn’t the literal sex of God/Goddess that’s important, as much as the values the gender biases embody. 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 reservation.mother

Perhaps this is why 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 archeological record shows, it brought an end to cultures  in which war was virtually unknown.

That’s why I ask again, how might life be different if God was a woman? Might “The Mother of the World” be more supportive of more equitable value system? Might “she” help young women growing up today to see themselves as equals, in possession of authority, as deserving of a violence free existence, of having the divine right to create change?

That’s why it is so important in our discourse and debate on spirituality, yoga and the new age, that we make the effort once in a while to just break with the dominant paradigm and say She instead of He. Because it pops us out of a whole mindset for a moment, it makes us conscious of all that is implied or omitted in the word God. Lets say, specifically female empowerment?

So fellow yogis, let’s be truly progressive. Lets be at the forefront of a movement that takes the word Goddess out of the closet. Lets us acknowledge the great “She” of our yogic tradition -the primordial cosmic energy, the divine Shakti .

shiva_shakti_lingamShe 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.

And it offers, as author Sally Kempton writes, “a profound metaphor for integration—for the union of mind and heart, of love and wisdom, that has to take place before we can be fully whole.”

And ain’t that the point.

So that’s why I’m still a feminist – and why saying the word Goddess matters. It is why as a yogini, I take heed of what the great yogi sage Patanjali’s Sutra’s had to say on Satya or truthfulness. That language is power. Our words are talismanic forces that shape reality and call the world into being.

And so I close with some words from ‘Devímáhátmya’ (The Glory of the Goddesses) a text composed approximately some 1,600 years ago in India.

“We bow to her who is auspicious beauty. Who is gracious. We make salutations again and again to her who is prosperity and attainment…Salutation to her who is the primordial cause”… With minds intent, we bow down to her.”

Om Shanti Om.

28 thoughts on “Why I’m (still) a Feminist: The Goddess and Yoga

  1. Goddess Greetings, Danielle! Holymoly – another great blog from you!

    Before I read the whole piece I wanted to quickly get back to you…since: You strike me with your ability to be ahead of our / your time: ‘sent at 5:31 pm July 24, 2013′ – how do you do it? Or are you in Europe? The image entitled ‘God’ was hilarious! The associations round ‘god’ made me think of my (Jewish raised) friend Daniel who told me that all derivatives of -EL in names have an association with God. EL / Al-lah… Even IS-RA-EL is quite interesting, pointing to a trinity of ISis (Moon Goddess) RA (Sun God), both obviously Egyptian and EL (Saturn, the God of the Jewish people). Dani-EL means ‘God is my Judge’. Could be ultra judeo patriarchial. Or not. Depending on the meaning of God. I also found this funny urban dictionary expanation of Danielle. Thought you’d love it. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=danielle Which goddess does that remind you of? In conclusion: Seems like ONLY Goddess is your judge…. Or, what’s your take on the legacy of your name? I love your fierce, passionate and always enlightening writing. Thank you! Melanie

    Let Your Light Shine!

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    • Melanie! I loved your comments -so interesting/revealing – especially the link defining the name Danielle! While I knew it was the feminine version of Daniel, the rest was quite the surprise! Thank-you!

  2. “But what I have come to see is this. It isn’t the literal sex of God/Goddess that’s important, as much as the values the gender biases embody. And while God demands obedience to earn his love- “…….
    “That’s why its so important in our discourse and debate on spirituality, yoga and the new age, we must make the effort to once in a while just break with the dominant paradigm and say She instead of He.”

    “So fellow yogis, lets be truly progressive.” Oops you forgot yoginis.

    Those Old Testament “male endorsed” viewpoints were a product of their time and above all they wanted to portray their God as unique from all others and therefore they were, within the limitations of their thinking, unable to portray God as feminine.
    To do so would have been tantamount to obfuscation and confusion with other gender based deities of the time as represented by the female goddess figurines which abounded throughout numerous cultures.

    Calling god, goddess, whatever, and using she some or all of the time is not going to break the paradigm, which is admittedly limited.and shortsighted. And sadly so.

    I would be an interesting interview, would it not, say for example to have Barbara Walters, interview Moses or one of the ancient about this issue.

    Barbara: So Moses did you people think the deity was a male?

    Moses: I don’t follow you.

    Barbara: Well does the deity have a penis?

    Moses: Sacre Bleu! Mon Dieu!, Mais non!!!!!

    Barbara: Well then, female?

    Moses: Oi vey! .No noni, neither!

    Barbara: Both?

    Moses: Barbara, you’re killing me! Time for another Exodus and trip up the mountain!

    Human nature what it is I think that even if goddess were portrayed throughout literature and experience as female, we would still have oppression, prejudice. Of course it might likely be of another kind and display another tenor or perhaps soprano.

    We know and understand no more of this and related matters than a gut microbe, one of tens of billions in our gut, understands it is inside of us and both of us are part of a universe which is largely if not completely incomprehensible and mysterious.

    It continually amazes me that humans spend their time and lives contemplating these matters. I think I will do something productive and clean my truck’s air filter.
    The screws to remove it are male and what they goes into is female.
    I can live with that.

    • Thank you. That was funny – and your points are taken.

      However, I never stated that using the word ‘Goddess’
      would mean that we would live in a world without oppression. It just switches the paradigm and by doing so, reveals all that “omitted and implied in the word God”.
      Which is the point of my post.

      Now I must hasten back and correct my post to include yogini’s…or maybe not!

    • Love your sense of humour, but turns out the Hebrews, according to Biblical historian Karen Armstrong DID have a Mother God. One of the Prophets (Was it, ironically, Daniel?) killed her off. Just as Christian fundamentalists kill off Mother Mary, or Holy Spirit as Sophia. It’s all there, and it is up to all of us to reclaim the language that helps us remember our wholeness. The entire world benefits.

      • Well, Laura, it has been said to never regret anyone or anything that made you laugh.

        I feel you accurately represent Armstrong’s viewpoint. While not a lone wolf with respect to her opinions (historical/literary) I think I would be safe to say that over the years as her publications have come up, she is generally not accorded shall we say, the academic respect I have seen scholars who are at the top of their field grant to others with whom they may heartily disagree. Armstrong’s genius is that of popularizing which she does quite well and prolifically, I might add. She writes good reading for the masses as attested by numerous awards she has received in a wide range of fields (golly how can one human being be so knowledgeable in such a wide array of academic endeavors????, one might ask.).

        Laura, I think she is popular……….. but in this case, not quite plumb!

        Barry

        “I am a man, but I can change, if I really have to, …..I think.”

        Red Green on the Red Green Show, quoting the “Man’s Prayer” preceding the weekly meeting in the basement of Possum Lodge.
        Courtesy of Canadian Television.

      • Hi Danielle:

        The topic of female deities in the Hebrew text (traditional Tanach: Torah, Prophets and Other Writings) and their place in the constant warfare raged religiously and politically within the Hebrew Kingdom is one of the most fascinating if not the most fascinating theme throughout their writings. While not popular as it is a scholarly work (nevertheless it is as readable as anything Armstrong has ever written so far) the tome The Stories of Elijah and Elisha by Dr. Leila Leah Bronner is without doubt one of the top notch reads ever published on this theme and remains so more than forty years after the initial publication of her research.

        http://www.bibleandjewishstudies.net/index.html

        Above URL is her personal web page and the book can be bought following the links therein.

        The Stories of Elijah and Elisha
        Publisher: E. J. Brill
        1968 ASIN: B0006CMJ06

        Her academic, personal and professional accomplishments are mind boggling, yet she writes, lectures and communicates with accuracy, clarity and humility.

        She is a feminist first rate, a genuine human being.
        (No she is no my mom).

        Those reading your post could greatly benefit from her works. I can guarantee any thinker/yoga practitioner seeking an informed viewpoint would be the richer for taking the time to read the above book.

        Thanks so much for the issues you raise and how you raise them.
        Gotta go, Red Green Show is almost on!

      • Barry – thanks so much for this! Will definitely follow up, her book sounds fascinating. Greatly appreciate that you have taken the time to bring her to my attention…

      • Yup, the Hebrews did indeed have a Mother God – Asherah – but just not enough space/time in my post. And yup, its all there waiting to be reclaimed, as you say. Thanks for the remind!

  3. I love your perspective, thank you! I feel that culturally we’ve been shifting away from both the male and female aspects of deitites and more towards a perspective that honors the blending of male and female energy that we all have within us.

  4. I was the one who conducted the interview with Brad and I invite you to listen to my discussion with the show’s host on air before we ran the interview as I note that it’s not only up to each person to define their own experience of God (if they feel they even in fact have an experience) but also, I mention that in my own experience, I’ve come to recognize that words are but symbols of symbols, thus they are twice removed from reality. God, Goddess, Collective Conscious, they’re all just words… there was definitely no offense meant to anyone in this interview by not acknowledging the feminine aspect but the male and female concept in regards to God mean nothing to me. God in my experience is much more than those limited notions and I doubt He/She/It is concerned with the semantics, so neither am I. But hey, that’s just my experience and what works for me. Whatever works for others, as long as it’s not harming anyone, is right on with me. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, Atheist…whatever. Love is love and that’s what my heart and mind like to stay occupied with.

    • Hi Chris, Of course I understand there was no offense intended…but I do see words as more than JUST symbols, they shape reality. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, the word God DOES reflect limited notions, and as my post strives to point out – it goes way beyond semantics….

      • Right on, and that’s the beauty of the phrases such as “too each their own” and “celebrate diversity”. We don’t all have to see things exactly the same and we can respect other’s rights to their own ideas, opinions and experiences without agreeing or judging them.

        For me, words have absolutely nothing to do with reality at its core, neither does the male or female vessel we happen to temporarily find ourselves in but again, that’s just what works for me… and whatever works for you works for you, and it’s all good.

        Nothing but love for you Danielle.

  5. Danielle – Thank you so much for sharing the link to the show with your readers and for your very thoughtful commentary. I am the shows founder and weekly host.

    We made a very conscious choice to discuss the topic of “God” as it pertains to how much people DO get attached to words, their meaning (particularly in the interview with Brad Warner). For me, as the listener, that was a huge takeaway. Words do have meaning, yes, but over time we have attached that meaning to history, movements, organizations, businesses, individuals. It felt very radical to think that I should be having my own experiences of these words – not someone else’s, whether that pertains to Christianity, Zen or Feminism. During the course of promoting the series, we observed lots of interesting comments and “takes” on our choice of how the series was “worded” and it just became something we were “curious about and interested in” how others perceived it – as the same case with your thoughts and opinion. It makes for much more meaningful dialogue and engaging discussion AND also the opportunity to go deeper as to the “Why” did we do this “this way” and not “another way.”

    You mention Sally Kempton in you blog whom we interviewed just a few months about about her new book – and it has been a constant companion with me since. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/whereismyguru/2013/04/05/manifestation-station-sally-kempton-jennifer-pastiloff

    I am glad to see that the show sparked this important and ongoing discussion – and I also think, no, I know, that our intention around the series and the interviews was not a dialogue around the feminine – at least this time. :)

    Thank you again,
    Jessica Durivage
    http://www.whereismyguru.com

    • Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate all that you say. I do realize that the segment under discussion was not meant to be dialogue around the feminine,I merely used the omission of the word She -as an entry point for mine.I certainly did not mean to cast aspersions on your show, your hosts, or your guests – which are great! So I thank you for much inspiration and will keep on eagerly, tuning in…

  6. Dear Jessica and Chris,

    This is a more detailed response to your comments both on this page and in your own media. I want to start by thanking you for the engaging discussion. I appreciate that you offer your insights, as ” to the “Why” you did your show this “this way” and not “another way.”

    I appreciate that you both made a “conscious choice to discuss the topic of “God” as it pertains to how much people DO get attached to words, their meaning (particularly in the interview with Brad Warner) .” And I have no problem with that all. Fascinating segment.

    Yes, God has many meanings depending on the reference of the culture. But I admit it bothers me that when we speculate on what we mean by God, that noting its feminine aspect becomes mere “semantics”, or “so beside the point?”

    That would certainly be the case in a world where the word Goddess has become obvious, second nature. So needless to state. But a quick perusal of book topics around the existence or non-existence of the ultimate deity, will demonstrate that the word God is used almost exclusively.

    I believe what we name or call things reveals our beliefs about them. And while divinity encompasses both the masculine and feminine aspects – the word God does not. As I point out in my post, God is not a gender neutral term – and it carries a whole lot of baggage. And that baggage is what my piece is trying to unpack…

    So, of course you are free to agree or disagree with me on whether language matters, that is the debate at hand. And Chris, I do agree that being “ rigid around concepts like these (language etc) well, it’s a part of the problem in the first place.” My point exactly.

    So despite our differences of opinion, I think we all three can agree, that this dialogue raises many important questions about the nature of “God”. Questions that are well worth asking! So thank-you for engaging with me in this wonderful discussion!

    • Absolutely agreed Danielle, these are all questions worth asking/discussing. And it’s great that there can be peaceful dialogue and sharing of ideas without the negativity that often ensues when two different viewpoints are explored in relation to such a delicate topic as God.

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