I had a great question from a Goddess student, Jennifer, who asked:
"I've been reading Starhawk lately, and I'm a little confused as to whether she believes the Goddess actually exists or if she uses Goddess as a sophisticated psychological symbol. Curious as to your own thoughts on this, too..."
I have not had the opportunity to ask Starhawk what her relationship is with the Goddess, so I can't speak to that part, but I know that her work really opened up my eyes to Goddess Spirituality, rooted in Earth Activism, and I am eternally grateful to her for sharing her thoughts, dreams, ideas, and practical exercises about Goddess consciousness with us. Plus, I am super-excited to see The Fifth Sacred Thing when it becomes a movie. What a vision she has!
(Brief commercial: you can hear Starhawk talk about Earth Activism at the Pantheon Foundation's upcoming Pagan Activism Conference Online, Nov 21-23. Her panel is on Fri the 21st at 7 pm PST. Now, back to our regularly-scheduled blog post.)
Let's look at the Goddess: is She real? Is She a Thing? A person? An idea? A concept? An abstraction? A figment of our imaginations? Is She "out there" or "in here" anywhere?
YES. She is all of these, to different individuals in turn, according to their beliefs.
Tao te Ching 6
The spirit of emptiness is immortal.
It is called the Great Mother
because it gives birth to Heaven and Earth
It is like a vapour,
barely seen but always present.
Use it effortlessly.
My own practice is one of Knowing, rather than believing. So I do not "believe" in an abstract Goddess, or a concept of Goddess. I do not believe in an idea of Goddess, nor do I believe in an idea of a God, a Devil, a Heaven or a Hell. I do not believe in myths, though I find them instructive and inspiring. I do not "believe" in anything, really. But I have ways of knowing, and I trust my ways of knowing, instead.
I do not really have an emotional need for belief, anymore. I was raised to believe in things, and I used to, but this has changed over time. I reached a point where I could not actually believe in most things and still be honest with myself. I think that the primary motivation for belief is emotional need, and after a lifetime of watching my emotions be somewhat unruly and not always reliable, I'm not sure I always want them driving the chariot of my relationship with Goddess! Now, don't get me wrong, this doesn't mean I ignore my emotions. I think our emotions are important, and how we feel is important, at least in the immediate sense of having an effect on our actions and choices. But I don't need to create or subscribe to beliefs to assuage my emotions, because I have something more concrete that helps me. I have Knowing. I base my Knowing on a combination of Science, History, and observing the effects of my personal practice.
I look at the world around me, and everywhere I see ample evidence of WHAT IS. The Earth, the animals, humans, the stars, the plants, weather patterns. Who has come before, what choices they made, and what happened as a result of those choices. The people near me and what they do. My own body and mind after a session of meditation versus after watching a movie. These things are observable. They exist.
Now, on a whole other level of my practice, all seeming existence is relative, but for the moment, let's just flatly say that, relatively speaking, these things exist.
All things that exist are made, at their base, of energy. To me, the ability to create energy, from nothing, is the sole provenance of Divine Power. It is the most important thing the Divine can do that we cannot do. Science tells us that we humans are not able to create or destroy energy. We can move things around, we can shuffle atoms and dissect molecules, but we actually cannot create or destroy energy. It just moves and changes form.
And what is energy? For a human, energy is life. Energy is our point of origin, most notably the confluence of body, breath, and knowing that one exists. Having a body that breathes and knows it exists is the definition of sentient life. Science can build a Frankenstein using raw materials, can put it on a machine and force it to inhale and exhale, but cannot make it truly breathe, think, or know anything. Science alone cannot bring a body to life, breath, and sentience. We have proof of this.
Who CAN build a body out of raw materials and bring it to life? Thus far, only a woman's body has done so, in the human realm. Her body uses the raw materials of sperm and egg, as well as her own blood, water, fat, protein, and other substances, to fashion a being, and then that being exits her body when it is ready. It becomes self-aware, and begins breathing on its own, within moments of being born. To me, this is Divine.
Thus, according to the proof I see in the world around me, the One Who Births is the ultimate source of life, and is the Divine. Unsurprisingly, that One Who Births is often the same source of food matter, a close runner-up in the "necessities of life" department to form, energy, breath, and sentience.
Birth among most beings on Earth requires a physical delivery of some kind. Cellular division is a birth of sorts, replication from a single cell is a birth, and traditional birth from the body of a female makes up the biggest contributor to human and animal life as we know it. These are the processes of birthing life, or creating energy. I call this process Goddess.
But is the Goddess just a process? Or is She a Being?
Yes. She is the process of becoming and being a Being.
And when I look back, back, back down the double helix chain of DNA to the first humans, Science then helps me to identify what breathed before we were human, all the way back to the first beasts that crawled up from water and drew breath. I marvel at how the waters of the womb are a mimicry of that first water from which that first being crawled and drew breath. It is astonishing to me that, considering the challenges of procreation, birth, and sustenance of the energy of even one single being, we are all here now. I look at how this Earth is afloat in the wide ocean of space, bobbing along in its orbit around the sun, and how Science posits that the Big Bang basically "exhaled" our cosmos into being. "The Big Bang cosmology is remarkably similar to the ancient Hindu origin myth known as the "Breath of Brahman."
So, if the Big Bang is the breath of Brahman, if energy, form, life, and breath are the gifts of the Divine, can the Divine be male? Why Goddess rather than God? This is a more complicated question than one blog can answer. I think this is where things become a matter of personal preference for many. Since I do not "believe" that the Divine exists in one form or another, I look to the places in my life where I KNOW the Divine exists: I know that there is life all around me, and each of us the product of what a woman's body did with raw materials. I know that I have a choice in how I view the Divine. I know that I have experiences that guide my choices about how I view the Divine. Based on my experiences, my choice is Goddess rather than God.
The One Who Births is life, gives life, and provides the sustenance for life. Like a Mother. The One Who Births has shows me a personified manner of Her being in my meditation practice, and there She is Mother, Sister, Friend, Beloved. She has comforted me, helped me out of trouble, given me aid. Her power has manifested in ways in my life that show me without a doubt that She is Divine. The Goddess has also shown Herself to me in the many faces of women over the years who stood up and defended my rights, your rights, and the rights of our planet. The Goddess appears to me in the ethical things that men do, too, and in the loving interactions between people that create warmth, and in the joy of being.
To me, the Goddess is a Being and a force of being that creates all, knows all, encompasses all, and is all. I KNOW when She is there, and She is always there. Your mileage may vary, but this is what I have come to after 20 years or so of contemplation and practice around this subject. Thanks for inviting me to share.
If you are interested in working more on Goddess study with me, I am offering an online Conscious Goddess Retreat on January 31, 2015. If you'd like to receive more details, sign up here for my mailing list.