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The Feminine Principle- An Evolving Idea

The Feminine Principle- An Evolving Idea

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Published by: bde_gnas on Jan 09, 2014
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The Feminine Principle: An Evolving Idea
By Carol Winters
Our culture has had a long heritage of associating the feminine principle with what it means to be female and the masculine principle with what it means to be male. As a result, both men and women have traditionally been locked into rigid culturally-defined gender roles that have not been helpful for anyone who wishes to live a more meaningful, creative, and soul-making life.
However, this situation is changing. Today, we are more aware of the physical and spiritual harm that this perspective has caused to both the individual and to society. Thanks to Carl Jung and H. P. Blavatsky, we are beginning to learn that a fully integrated individual is a unique and balanced expression of both masculine and feminine traits. A brief look at the ancient development of the feminine principle and its resultant interpretation by the dominant androcentric or male-centered culture will heighten our current collective understanding of this concept and deepen both our awareness and our effectiveness for creative personal and cultural growth.It all started long ago, at the dawn of human consciousness, when some said, “In the beginning was Mother Earth, the primal vessel that contains all things.” The Great Mother was inclusive. From her womb emanated all life, and from her body all of her family received the gifts of nourishment, shelter, and transformation. When her children died, she enfolded them back into herself to be reborn anew. This early concept of what was later to become the feminine principle was that of a nature-based, interconnected existence for all creation, both in life and in death. Eventually our ancient “foreparents” understood that the female body also embraced the creative life-giving patterns of Mother Earth: its womb generated and protected life, its breasts nurtured, its arms embraced and comforted. The feminine principle became associated with early female experience, and was conceived as the creative vessel of life that contains, nurtures, and protects.Most anthropologists agree that women invented the earthenware and baskets that held the provisions for their clan’s hunting and gathering activities. They
prepared animal hides to make clothing and tents to protect against the cold. Eventually, vessel evolved as a ceremonial container used to offer gifts to goddess, in supplication or in thanksgiving for bodily needs, and later, as a ritual receptacle of offerings for spiritual transformation and renewal. Priestesses first offered these ceremonial sacrifices to Mother Earth and goddesses. Eventually, priestesses and priests presented their offerings to goddesses and gods. And finally, the offerings were made only by priests, and exclusively to one male god. Today, the feminine principle represented by the chalice remains a container for spiritual transformation.Others have said, “In the beginning was blood and the moon.” The natural and periodic red waters that flowed from women's vulvas were observed to do so with the rhythmic cycles of the moon. The same Mother Moon who caused the primal life force, the red waters to flow, also sent forth the white waters to Mother Earth to make all things grow and flourish. The amazement and wonder of these women's mysteries gave birth to human consciousness, of life reflecting back upon itself.The female life cycle of maid, mother, and crone was modeled with the rhythm of the moon. The new or waxing moon was a metaphor for the childhood or maiden time of her life. The full moon symbolized her sexual fulfillment, her fruition as mother, and her economic role as contributor to the community. Later, as a crone or Wise Woman during her waxing moon stage, she matured both as a family and a spiritual leader in her community. During the time of her menses, when the moon died and the sky was dark, she withdrew from community life and sexual activity and retreated into her internal wisdom. Just as the moon died and was resurrected again in three days, so too could the woman be physically and spiritually renewed. The many stories that we know today regarding death, resurrection, and renewal have their beginnings in these ancient women’s blood mysteries. Another early concept of the feminine principle, the cyclic union between self and others also began with these early rites.Hera, goddess of women’s mysteries, personified the feminine principle as understood during this ancient, preliterate time. She had many titles, including Seat of Wisdom and Queen of Heaven. Virgins annually bathed in a nearby river, in ritual spiritual purification and dedication to her principles. (Most scholars agree that the original meaning of virgin was woman, regardless of her sexual proclivities.) But as patriarchal society came to dominate, this yearly sacred bath developed into a woman’s pledge of her physical virginity to her husband. The meaning of virginity, then, devolved from that of psychological and spiritual
intactness in relation to wisdom into one of physical chastity under the dominion of a husband.During the Neolithic period, many believed that blood contained the human spirit. Over time, sex became tabu—both sacred and dangerous. Sigmund Freud agreed with anthropologist Robert Briffault that the ritual enactments of menstrual tabus were the beginning of moral principles for all primitive societies. The Indo-European derivatives for menses include measure, meter, diameter, geometry, moon, month, menopause, and metis. R'tu in Sanskrit has roots that mean both ritual and menstrual (Grahn 5-6). Consequently, the development of the feminine principle in the ritualized women’s blood mysteries was also a central organizing factor of human culture. The resultant birth of primitive astrology was conceived in a unity of what we now consider both science and religion.In time, men’s blood rituals, patterned after the women’s mysteries, were enacted in thanksgiving, supplication for a successful hunt for food, or in ceremonial preparation for a neighborly foray. Historian Gerta Lerner theorizes that the social practice of capturing and enslaving the women of enemy tribes during those raids created the patriarchal family in which women became subordinated to men, their sexuality controlled by the men who owned them. This practice eventually became enforced and strengthened by law. Female subordination gradually led to the notion that women were inferior to men. The perceived truth of the human condition understood “man” to be the norm that defined what is human, and “woman” was defined in relation to “man.”Further, women’s natural, life-giving blood mysteries were perceived as inferior, less sacred, more unclean. At the same time, men's violent blood letting in hunting and warring, the taking of life, emulated a cultural model for what it was to be male. Whereas heroism marked the violent force of men's blood activities, shame characterized women's natural bleeding and reproductive processes. As a result, the feminine principle associated with the cultural concept of female being was relegated to a secondary and relational role to the masculine principal, the model by which men were to live their lives.During the Homeric and classic Greek periods, Athena personified the prevailing cultural ideal of the feminine principle. During this evolutionary period in human consciousness, Father Zeus swallowed and assimilated his pregnant wife, Metis. From his head, he then rationally gave birth to their daughter, Athena, fully armored and ready for war to defend the polis. This unnatural act signaled the end of the female as creatrix of life and of a nature-based consciousness.

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