It was on a Shakti Tantra course called ‘Innocence’ that a strange Goddess was revealed to me.
She had six faces, six yonis and twelve breasts, arms and legs and she rotated in front of me, spinning slowly like a planet in space. She danced, she smiled and laughed, she grimaced, she cavorted and contorted. It was truly a thing to behold.
In the Western World these days, Goddesses aren’t often spoken of. But 1000 years ago in Europe, pre-Christian tribes originally had a Goddess culture – a matriarchy where the earth and nature and their cycles and secrets were revered.
Around the tenth century in Europe – after the so called ‘Dark Ages’ – women, the original stewards of the land (men did ‘animal husbandry’), were dispossessed of it by the new patriarchies of the Church and State. This male hierarchy hid the things they were most afraid of, namely the fact that it is women who hold the key to the processes and powers of making life. During the Reformation in Europe much of this information was simply ‘removed’. Documents were destroyed and churches vandalised of their feminine influences.
The male hierarchy took these powers of life as their own, creating mysterious alchemies to prove it. They decreed laws about how we should behave, imposing religious control and inventing ‘original sin’ for women. Allied to this there came a persecution of women, especially any of those involved in healing and spiritual matters. Essentially the role of women as healers and midwives was marginalized. This is still reflected today as ‘home-making’ and its many associated skills are still regarded as a ‘worthless’ career according to our primarily fiscal values based on GDP.
In the great ‘Age of Reason’ the philosophy of ‘Cartesian dualism’ became part of our science, where the being and the body are seen as essentially separate. The ‘self’, the conscious being that is ‘me’ was seen as essentially separate. This philosophy contributed to the mechanistic and rational philosophy of the universe adopted by our culture. It took us further from valuing the role of women in healing and spiritual matters.
A recent series on BBC 2 called Divine Women, put the ordination of women in spiritual matters into an historical context. In this programme Bettany Hughes revealed “the hidden history of women in religion, from dominatrix goddesses to feisty political operators and warrior empresses”.
The first in the series, called ‘When God Was A Girl’ identified early goddesses in Turkey, Greece, Rome and India. The second of the series was called ‘The Handmaids of God’ and explored women as priestess, from the poetry of Sappho to Vestal Virgins in Rome and the elevated role of women in the early Christian church. Programme Three ‘The War of the Word’ explored how women used the power of ancient traditions and new ideas about religion and philosophy to wield influence in a man’s world – notably through the power of reform, education and the word.
One of the messages of tantra is to help us to recognise the divine within ourselves, to lead us on a journey to find our inner Gods and Goddesses, Shivas and Shaktis. It seems no coincidence, in the context of history, that many of the teachers and leaders within tantra are women.
In the mainstream though, discussions around the ordination of women as priests are far from being resolved, especially in the Catholic church. Hardcore Catholics still view a female vicar as something impossible, like a man who has babies. Women, they say, are just not made to be priests and vicars.
Well, at Shakti Tantra, it is quite clear that women are made to be not just ‘priests and vicars’ in the widest sense (ie not for organised religion) but also Goddesses. I know this because I have seen them.