Sacred feminine

God created man in his image. In God's image he created him. Male and female He created them. -- Genesis 1:27

I don't like the way religions have robbed God of its feminine face, of compassion, love of life, of people and things. -- Paulo Coelho

A theme that runs throughout The Da Vinci Code and we are introduced to it right at the very beginning is that of the sacred feminine. In the opening scenes of the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code we see Robert Langdon signing copies of his book, Symbols of the Sacred Feminine.

The sacred feminine is not something unique to Dan Brown. The sacred feminine also runs through the work of Paulo Coelho, and is particularly prominent in By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and The Witch of Portobello. [see Paulo Coelho]

It is the denial of the sacred feminine, that is the main plot in The Da Vinci Code.

Why does the Church and in particular the Catholic Church have such a problem with the sacred feminine?

The Catholic Church does not allow women priests. It is only recently that the Church of England has allowed women priests, and with this relaxation of the rules it has been a case of thus far and no further.

Dogma within the Church is that Jesus had no female disciples, contrary to the evidence that Mary Magdalene may have been one of the disciples, thus there can be no female priests.

The social and religious norms of the time was no women priests. Women were allocated the same lowly status that we see today within Islam. It was not the social norm to mix with beggars, tax collectors, lepers, children, women, let alone prostitutes, and yet Jesus did, therefore it has to be a moot point whether Jesus had female disciples and they cannot therefore be automatically excluded.

Hatred of the sacred feminine runs deep: from the blaming of Eve for original sin, tarring Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, to centuries of persecution of witches.

This hatred of the sacred feminine within the Church, not only sets the Church apart from other faiths and religions where the sacred feminine is not only seen as important but is a central doctrine, it also runs contrary to Christian doctrine.

Is God masculine, both female and masculine, or neither?

We cannot know, as to know would be to know the unknowable, therefore we personify, picturing God as a wise old man with a long flowing white beard.

In the Old Testament, we learn that God created Adam and Eve in his image. Note not Adam, but Adam and Eve.

Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, how easily they slip of the tongue, such is our familiarity if not with their contents, at least with their existence. These were not the only gospels, there were many others, one of the most most important, if not the most important, was the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Thomas is the earliest record we have of the words of Jesus, possibly from 62 AD or earlier. Much is concerned with attaining the Kingdom of Heaven, crossing the transition zone, there is though a fleeting reference to Mary or Miriam, but unfortunately insufficient information to narrow it down to any specific Mary, there were several in the life of Jesus and his disciples.

A person by this name questions Jesus

Mary asked Jesus: Who are your disciples like? He replied: They are like little children in a field that does not belong to them. When the field's owners comes they will say: “Give our field back..” They will strip naked in the owners' presence and give it back, returning their field to them.

Therefore I say: If a householder knows a thief is coming, he will keep watch and not let him break into his house and steal his goods.

You must keep watch against the world, preparing yourself with power so that thieves will not find any way to come upon you.

The situation you are expecting will come. Let a person who understand be with you.

After the grain had ripened, he quickly came, carrying his sickle, and he harvested it.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

And is repudiated by Peter.

Simon Peter said to them: Mary should leave us because women are not worthy of the life. Jesus responded: Look, I'll lead her in order to make her male so she can become a living spirit as you males are. For each woman who makes herself male will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

And what appears to be an implicit reference to Genesis, male and female being created in the image of God.

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples: These infants taking milk are like those who enter the Kingdom.

His disciples asked him: If we are infants will we enter the Kingdom? Jesus responded: When you make the two into one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the upper like the lower and the lower like the upper, and thus make the male and the female the same, so that the male isn't male and the female isn't female. When you make and eye to replace an eye, and a hand to replace a hand, and a foot to replace a foot, and an image to replace an image, then you will enter the Kingdom.

The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of parables, paradoxes. Not easily understood. It is through understanding that the Kingdom of Heaven, immortality, is attained, 'seek and ye shall find'.

The children standing naked, could be a reference to innocence, the Garden of Eden; treasure, the Kingdom of Heaven, 'seek and ye shall find'.

These paradoxes can be seen in the same light as koans used in Zen Buddhism, 'what is the sound of one hand clapping'. Through meditation, we reach enlightenment, cross the transition zone.

The Gospel of Thomas was suppressed by the Church with the same rigour and brutality that it used to suppress heretics and witches. Only fragments had survived, until a copy was found with the Nag Hammadi find in Egypt in 1945. Although less well known, the Nag Hammadi find was as important as finding the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Nag Hammadi find contained a number of interesting documents that shed light on early Christianity, including a number of early Christian gospels, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Truth (written from the perspective of the serpent in the Garden of Eden), the Apocryphon of John (mysteries taught by Jesus to John), the Gospel to the Egyptians (the Great Book of the Sacred Spirit), early Christian writings attributed to the followers of Jesus, the Secret Book of James, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Letter of Peter to Paul, the Apocalypse of Peter and a miscellanea of poetry, quasi-philosophical and theological discussions and descriptions of the origins of the universe, magic, myths and mystical practices. In total thirteen leather-bound papyrus books and assorted loose leaves of papyrus in an earthenware jar, fifty-two documents, of which forty were previously unknown.

The documents themselves are dated at around 350-400 AD, but draw upon much earlier documents of which they are copies.

One of the poems, entitled Thunder, Perfect Mind is spoken in the voice of a divine female power:

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honoured one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin ...
I am the barren one,
    and many are her sons ...
I am the silence that is incomprehensible ...
I am the utterance of my name.

Mary is given prominence in the painting of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. She is seen to compliment Jesus, bringing to mind male and female, Adam and Eve, being created in His image.

A devout Catholic, a childhood faith destroyed by an authoritarian Church then restored on a pilgrimage along an ancient medieval pilgrims route, the Road to Santiago, a Master and Knight in the ancient Catholic Order known simply as The Tradition, Paulo Coelho is nevertheless a strong proponent and believer of a Mother God, the sacred feminine, and it comes across in all his writing. Views that put him on a head on collision with the Catholic Church, views that in earlier times and not so very long ago, would have seen him tortured, forced to recant and burnt at the stake as a heretic. [see The Pilgrimage and Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim]

Paulo Coelho is not though a lone voice in the Church, there are others of similar persuasion. He cites Abbot Buckhard at a Benedictine retreat in Austria, called Melk.

I'm not afraid of that. I go every year to a Benedictine retreat in Austria, called Melk. There I spoke to Abbot Buckhard about Catholic tradition and, during our talks, the issue of women’s exclusion came up. He told me that the Benedictine have prayers dedicated to the Goddess-Mother. In 200 years I believe that feminine divinity will no longer be a taboo.

Further reading

Juan Arias, Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim, Harper, 2001

Juan Arias, La Magdalena: El Ultimo Tabu del Cristianismo

Dan Burstein (ed), Secrets of the Code, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004

Deepak Chopra, How to Know God, Rider, 2000

Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I sat Down and Wept, HarperCollins

Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage, HarperCollins, 1997

Paulo Coelho, Manual of the Warrior of Light, HarperCollins, 2002

Paulo Coelho, The Valkyries, HarperCollins, 1995

Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello, HarperCollins, 2007

Rabbi David A Cooper, God is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism, Riverhead Books, 1997

Stevan Davies (ed), The Gospel of Thomas, Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003

Sabina Flanagan, Hildergard of Bingen: A Visionary Life, Routledge, 1989

Lawrence Gardner, The Magdalene Legacy

Kahlil Gibran, Jesus the Son of Man

Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels

Religion and Symbolism
(c) Keith Parkins 2008 -- January 2008 rev 1