Divine Mother: Mary, Tara and that Virgin Business
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Dr Joanna Kujawa, Spiritual Detective :).
My relationship with the Divine Mother has always been that of a Prodigal Daughter. Since I can remember, I have had a problem with the All-Giving, All-Forgiving archetype of the Divine Feminine that She has represented for about the last two millennia. I have always argued that that particular archetype of the Divine Feminine is nothing more than a figment of the immature imagination of some males who want their mommies to forgive them for being naughty boys. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this except, of course, that in this archetype the woman has to be pure and sexually pure at that (whatever the heck that means), which is, to say the least, unfair, dear gentlemen.
If you have read my previous blogs, you will know that I love men (too much perhaps) but I have zero time for patriarchy. So, before we move on to the main topic today, I would like to say that sexual ‘purity’ (boring!) was never in vogue for women until some old patriarchs decided they needed their wives to be … well … virginal so that they (the patriarchs) would know whose child the woman was bearing. In earlier times, it was entirely up to the woman whose child she bore, as the family line started and ended with her.
Once we get over this little bump (no pun intended), we can all get along better; we can all enjoy our sexuality as a spiritual thing and feel empowered by it, rather than feeling guilty about it!
But back to the Divine Mother. You can imagine as a young woman I was not terribly impressed by the image of a somewhat forced purity, as I fully intended to enjoy my sexuality yet, at the same time, I was spiritually inclined and did not see the spiritual/sexual divide that the old beliefs imposed on us. It is also my belief that men are equally unhappy with the holy mother versus the sexy-but-naughty woman whom you do not marry if you want to please your mommy – an archetypical choice. In the Western tradition, of course, these two archetypes are represented by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.
In my book, Jerusalem Diary, I even added a naughty rant against the virgin archetype but these days I am more mildly inclined and, dare I say, wiser … ?
Since writing that book I have done intense research on the archetype of the Divine Mother for the Goddesses and Divine Feminine online course – and believe that the archetype has a lot to offer. First of all, I was surprised to learn that Carl Jung himself (that alchemist of the human psyche) was delighted when, in 1950, Pope Pius XII announced that the Virgin Mary had gone to heaven without ever dying – and in her body! Yep, a Pope can do that. Jung was delighted because he said that finally in Western tradition we had a true Goddess and that it would be the beginning of the new rise of the Divine Feminine – and he was right!
As much as I am opposed to the whole virgin business, I have learned that Marguerite Rigoglioso, a feminist author, devoted an entire book to the theme of the virgin birth phenomenon. In her book The Cult of Divine Birth, Rigoglioso writes that the story of the virgin birth is a prominent one in many spiritual traditions, such as those from Ancient Egypt and Greece, Ancient Persia, and in Judaic scriptures, to mention a few. They all tell the story of miraculous conception by an invisible higher being which results in the birth of a highly spiritually evolved child.
As imaginary as this might sound, there might also be something in Tantric and Gnostic traditions, where we find mention not of a virgin birth but of the importance of intention when conceiving a child. According to Tantric tradition, a great Tantric philosopher and Yogi, Abhinavagupta, was born with great spiritual gifts because his parents conceived him while in a heightened state of consciousness. Similarly, The Gospel of Philip says that the spiritual intention of parents during conception creates a spiritually evolved (higher-level) human.
But the most interesting claim by Rigoglioso is that ancient priestesses followed a set of rituals which actually allowed them to conceive without a man! I assume through the invoking of some higher (multidimensional?) deity/being to enter them. I will leave it up to you as to what your thoughts are on that.
My favourite opinion comes from the ever-charming Andrew Harvey. In his book The Return of the Mother he shares (with me) his suspicions about the virgin birth, and he argues that by imposing impossible standards of purity on Mary we put her in a ‘golden prison’ and are ‘dampening’ the true ‘force of the feminine’ that she represents. Mary, for Harvey, is Mother Mary – forget the virgin stuff.
Another great example of the Divine Mother archetype – but with a kick – comes from Tibetan Buddhism. Here comes Tara!
Tara, as Thubten Chodron writes in her book How to Free Your Mind: The Practice of Tara the Liberator, was like Mary – a historical figure known as Princess Yeshe Dawa. From an early age, Tara was moved by her ‘altruistic impulse’ to save all beings from suffering (note: all beings, not just human beings). She decided that in order to accomplish this she needed to become enlightened. The monks insisted that she had to wait until she was reincarnated as a man. But she told them she had no time for such nonsense, plus there were enough male Buddhas around; she wanted to accomplish her task in her female body. And the rest is, of course, history. Tara is the beloved archetype of the Divine Mother in the Tibetan Buddhism.
She is often represented as a beautiful young woman standing on a white lotus flower, with one leg stepping out into the world of suffering and the other firmly grounded in the world of the Spirit.
I must admit that nowadays I am more friendly with the Divine Mother, especially so because Her incarnations (Mary, Tara) bring Compassion to our world. They both act as the bridge between the world of matter and the world of the Spirit, and both show us that the line between the two worlds is not as clearly defined as it seems, that enlightenment is possible for us all, and that we, too, are capable of healing the world through Compassion instead of giving in to despair.
And it all has to do with acting on our altruistic impulses or, as Harvey says, checking what breaks our hearts, since the very thing that breaks your heart is the path to your service, to your way of healing the world.
What breaks your heart, my friends? Only your Love for the world can heal this.
With much Love,
As always, I would love to dialogue with you through comments.
Dr Joanna Kujawa
Dr Joanna Kujawa