The Great Challenge of Our Time: Awakening to a New Story
In the first part of this article I will explore the reasons for the loss of the Divine Feminine and the powerful mythologies and beliefs which have structured our present view of reality. These have split Nature from Spirit and mind from soul and led to the idea of our dominance of Nature rather than to a caring relationship with it. In the second part I will explore the transformation of this outdated view as our consciousness moves to a new level of understanding and embraces a New Story. The greatest challenge of our time is to heal the split between Spirit and Nature and reconnect our rational mind with our neglected soul.
Key words: Spirit, nature, feminine, soul, awakening, story
In this article, I explore four aspects of what I believe is the greatest challenge of our time and the urgent need for us to awaken to a New Story. I believe the first and most important aspect is to heal the split between Spirit and Nature which is deeply embedded in the three patriarchal religions as well as the modern secular creed of scientific materialism or scientism. The second aspect is to recover and redeem the Feminine Principle, understanding when and why it was lost. The third aspect is to define a new image of deity, taking us beyond the image of a male creator who is separate and distant from his creation. The final aspect is to respond to the New Story that is emerging today. All these are themes which I have explored in my book The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul (1) but the growing threat of climate change has thrown them into sharper relief.
I should perhaps say that I come from a training both as an historian and as a Jungian Analyst or practitioner of Analytical Psychology, arising out of the work and practice of the psychiatrist C.G. Jung. These two disciplines have given me a certain perspective on historical events as well on the different beliefs and experience of the human psyche or soul during the last several thousand years.
This is perhaps the most critical time in our history: a time of the utmost depravity, greed and barbarism but also a time of tremendous opportunity to grow into a new level of understanding. Many thousands of people are responding to the need to create a radically different kind of civilisation: one that is based on relationship, love and service rather than the pursuit of power and the deeply imprinted pattern of national rivalry, weapons and war. This New Story invites a different understanding of reality, bringing with it more mature values which profoundly respect all forms of planetary life and recognise our absolute dependence on the wellbeing of planetary life as a whole.
My own understanding was transformed by a powerful visionary dream I had about 40 years ago which shocked me into awareness of the Feminine Archetype or Principle. Lying on my back and caught in a huge net, I saw the figure of a cosmic woman filling the entire space between earth and sky. She was naked and very beautiful; not young, but ageless. In the centre of her abdomen was an immense revolving wheel. Awestruck, I gazed up at her, then down at my own body, which was exactly like hers, only tiny in comparison. I too had a wheel, but mine was not centred. It was on the left. She did not speak but indicated I was to centre my wheel, like hers. This visionary dream changed the course of my life. It launched me on a quest to find out why the Divine Feminine had been virtually eliminated in patriarchal civilization and why woman’s voice had been silenced for some 4,000 years. It led me through an initiation into an entirely different perception of reality.
The first question I was led to ask was: Why do the three patriarchal religions have no image of the Divine Feminine in their concept of deity when earlier cultures in the area of the Middle East where these religions originated gave great importance to the Goddess? In the 1980’s I embarked on a quest to answer these questions and to explore and recover the lost images and mythology of the Goddess in a book co-written with Jules Cashford, called The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, (2) which explored the reasons why these had vanished from Western civilization, leaving only the image of a male God. It soon became clear that, from ca. 2000 BC, the Goddess began to be associated with Nature as a chaotic force to be mastered, whereas the God assumed the role of creating or ordering Nature from a ‘place’ that was outside or beyond it. What factors led to the loss of the Divine Feminine and the image of the Goddess?
To understand the implications today of what was lost so long ago we need to go back to the Neolithic era. The painstaking discoveries of the Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas in the area she called Old Europe (6,500-3,500 BC) have shown that at that time the cosmos was imagined as a Great Mother, from whose womb all life emerged. The Goddess, as Gimbutas called her, was the Goddess of Life, Death and Regeneration. She was seen as the ruler of the sky, the earth and the waters beneath the earth. The whole of what we call ‘Nature’ was alive and ensouled, a living web of relationships, animated and sustained by the Great Mother or Great Goddess. (3) This cosmology applied not only to the extensive area of Old Europe but also to the later agricultural communities in Sumer and Egypt. (4)
The most important idea I would like to convey to you about this distant time is that there was no creator beyond creation; no separation between the Great Mother as source and the manifest forms of her life; no separation between Spirit and Nature. Everything was a divine unity. People felt they lived within a Sacred Order, the Order of the Great Mother. Everything came forth from her cosmic womb and had meaning and value through relationship with her. Relationship and connection came to be understood as the essential quality of the Feminine. (5) We can follow the transition from the Great Mother of the Neolithic era to the Great Goddesses of the Bronze Age: Goddesses such as Isis, Hathor and Maat in Egypt, Artemis of Ephesus and Cybele (Kybele) in Anatolia (modern Turkey), Inanna in Sumer. One has only to look at the statue of Artemis of Ephesus in the archaeological museum in Naples to see what this Goddess once signified to the people who worshipped her in her magnificent temple in Ephesus. The worship of some of these Goddesses endured far into the Roman era: the worship of Isis, for example, lasted for over 3,000 years. In the temple courtyards of the Goddess stood the tree of life: the sycamore and the olive. The dove and the serpent were still, as in the Neolithic era, associated with her worship: the dove with her domain of the sky and the serpent with her domain of the underworld and the waters beneath the earth as well as with her power to regenerate life. (6)
The mythic theme of the Goddess cultures was lunar, focussed on a cyclical process of birth, death and regeneration that arose from the age-old observation of the recurring phases of the moon: its birth as the crescent; its waxing to fullness, and its waning into the three days of darkness. This process was carried in the image of the triune goddess: the maiden, the mother and the crone. The constant rhythm of the moon’s waxing and waning taught us to perceive light and darkness in relation to each other and to connect them with the cycles of the earth’s fertility and with our own human lives. Light and darkness, life and death were not polarized as they were to become in later solar culture, but were two phases of a total cycle, always leading to regeneration and a new cycle. (7)
For many thousands of years, the Great Mother and these Great Goddesses personified the principle of relationship: the interconnectedness of every aspect of life and, above all, the sacredness of the great Web of Life. They were worshipped as the source or womb of life: one life manifesting as the life of each and all. Sexuality was seen as the vital expression of that life: a sacred, ecstatic impulse reflecting life’s own creative impulse eternally to renew itself.
I think we can look to the Neolithic Great Mother and Bronze Age Great Goddesses for the distant origin of the Platonic concept of the Soul of the World (psyche tou kosmou) in his Timaeus (8) and the later concept of Plotinus’ Anima–Mundi. (9) It may also be the origin of the image of the Shekinah as Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit in the mystical Jewish tradition of Kabbalah, conceived as an all-embracing feminine cosmic entity in whose life we live. (10)
Once, long ago, the world was experienced as alive with Spirit: Nature was part of a sacred cosmic whole. Everything that the image of the Great Mother and the Great Goddesses once embraced in earlier cultures was gradually lost, and with it the vital sense of participation in the life of an invisible entity imagined as a containing, connecting feminine and maternal being. We need urgently to recover the essence of this experience if we are to respond to the challenge of the crucial time of choice facing us today.
There are four main factors to the loss of the Divine Feminine. The first is that from around 4,000 BC the area of Old Europe was infiltrated by wave after wave of what Marija Gimbutas called Kurgan warrior hunter-gatherer tribes. They were skilled with the horse and worshipped sky gods. These infiltrations of warrior tribes descending from the Steppes through the corridor between the Black and Caspian Seas, continued over several thousand years and inaugurated an era of enormous and turbulent social and political change. They forcibly imposed their patriarchal customs on the matrilineal customs (not matriarchal) of the peaceful people they conquered where, Gimbutas concluded, there had been no sign of weapons or war for several thousand years—since 6,500 BC. (11) They not only spread throughout the area of Old Europe but over succeeding millennia moved on into Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Persia and ultimately India, imposing a different culture and different social customs on these areas. The long-lasting and profound trauma inflicted by these conquests is unimaginable. The sun replaced the moon as the primary focus of mythology. Sky Gods at first shared the heavens with Goddesses in Mesopotamia but ultimately, in what later came to be defined as the three patriarchal religions, a single male God replaced the Goddess. Two immensely powerful and polarizing mythologies became the major influence on the social, political and religious history of Western civilization, right up to the present time.
The first of these mythologies – the dominant mythology of the solar era and the second factor in the loss of the Divine Feminine – was the cosmic battle between light and darkness, good and evil, order and chaos: a mythology which was diffused widely over the different cultures of the Middle East and the Mediterranean area (Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, Palestine, Greece) and is still influencing us in our own time. We find this mythology first reflected in the Babylonian Creation Myth, the Enuma Elish (ca. 1,500 BC) which was recited for a thousand years at the time of the spring equinox, when the forces of cosmic order were believed to battle with and triumph over the forces of chaos. In this myth, the god Marduk killed the mother goddess Tiamat, portrayed as a dragon. Splitting her body in half, he created heaven from one half and earth from the other, and then created humanity from the blood of Tiamat’s murdered son. (12)
This enormously influential myth of a god or hero killing a dragon, extended its influence as far as the later Greek myth of Apollo killing the she-dragon at Delphi, and innumerable later paintings, icons and sculptures in the Christian era of St. George killing the dragon. One effect of this polarizing mythology was that man became associated with Spirit, and with order and light, and woman with Nature, chaos and darkness. A further consequence of these associations was the idea that woman needed to be controlled by man, an idea soon transformed into social custom in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Despite its magnificent cultural achievements, this 4,000-year-long patriarchal era has been dominated from the time of Sargon of Akkad (2,234-2,284 BC) by the theme of conquest, territorial expansion and the creation of gigantic empires, culminating in the First and Second World Wars, the current catastrophe in the Middle East and the ongoing struggle for power and supremacy between the great powers of the modern world. Woman’s voice was effectively silenced throughout this era.
The influence of this polarizing mythology has led not only to endless wars but also to the battle to conquer and subdue Nature in the service of Man. Ultimately, it has led to the splitting of the atom, the detonation of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the accumulation of nuclear weapons by the nine nuclear powers. During this patriarchal era, the drive for power, dominance and control replaced the older lunar emphasis on the relationship of the human community with a harmonious cosmic order. Many extraordinary human achievements – such as the abolition of slavery and the struggle for the recognition of human rights – owe their origin to the battle to overcome darkness, chaos and evil but it was also projected onto any situation that polarized different groups of people, leading to belief that one group had the right to conquer and control another.
It is possible that it was the absence of the Divine Feminine in the image of deity in the three patriarchal religions that led eventually to the separation between Spirit and Nature that is at the root of our current lack of relationship with the earth and our incomplete view of reality. If Spirit is not recognized as being immanent or present within Nature, there will be no compelling reason to honour and respect the life of the planet. All three religions excluded the image of the Goddess from their concept of deity and with it, the concept of divine immanence. I cannot speak for Judaism and Islam, although I suspect the story is the same, but Christianity eradicated Animism: the belief that Spirit is present in the forms of the natural world, in the rocks, mountains, trees and rivers, and can communicate with man. It also set out deliberately to eradicate all traces of Paganism in the wanton destruction of Pagan temples and sculptures by Christian mobs. In AD 392 the Emperor Theodosius instructed Bishop Theophilus to raze to the ground the Great Library of Alexandria, the most magnificent building in the Ancient World. (13)
The third factor in the loss of the Divine Feminine during the patriarchal era was the emphasis on the warrior or solar hero, personified first of all by the hero Gilgamesh in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (2,000 BC), then by the Babylonian Marduk in the Enuma Elish (1,500 BC). Later, in Greek civilization, the hero was personified by Achilles and Odysseus— the heroes of the Iliad and the Odyssey. In Hellenic times, the mantle of the solar hero fell on Alexander of Macedon who, before his early death, conquered a vast area of land stretching from Greece to the borders of India. In the seventh century AD, the Prophet Muhammad assumed this role and became the warrior leader of Islam which, within 100 years of his death in AD 632, had conquered an area extending from Persia along the coast of North Africa to Spain.
The powerful archetype or pattern of the warrior hero still dominates the piling up of arms by the great nations today. Throughout the patriarchal era, young men had no choice. Their designated fate was to become warriors and most had to embrace this role—some gladly, others no doubt reluctantly. The deeds of their warrior kings and leaders were recorded but never the unquantifiable laceration of the human heart as women lost husbands, fathers and sons in endless wars. Leaders of nations may still unconsciously assume the role of the solar hero battling the forces of darkness and evil that they project onto an enemy, as George W. Bush and Tony Blair did with their invasion of Iraq in 2003. In Euripides’ heart-wrenching play, The Trojan Women, we hear what women have suffered during these 4,000 years as they were taken into slavery, much as the tragic Yazidi women have been taken into slavery by Isil today. (14)
The fourth factor in the loss of the Divine Feminine and the second polarizing mythology, is the immensely influential Myth of the Fall of Man. In the Book of Genesis, ca 1440-1400 BC, we find the story of our expulsion from a divine world – the Garden of Eden – and our Fall into this world: A Fall that was brought about by a woman, Eve, who disobeyed the command of Yahweh and brought sin, death and suffering into the world. In this Hebrew creation myth, as in the Babylonian one, the image of deity is a male God. The Divine Immanence of the Great Mother is lost because there is a gulf or separation between the Garden of Eden and a fallen world. The Hebrew Goddess Asherah who, in the First Temple in Jerusalem, had once been worshipped as the Queen of Heaven, and as Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit, appears at a later date to have been demoted into the human and flawed figure of Eve who, however, still holds the Goddess’ former title of ‘Mother of All Living’. (15) The serpent, once associated with the Goddess Asherah and her power to regenerate life, whose brazen statue also stood in the Temple with the Goddess, was now blamed for tempting Eve to take the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and is trodden under foot. Earth becomes a place of exile, punishment and suffering for primordial sin. Man and woman, created in the image of God (Yahweh) are given dominion over the earth but they and their progeny are exiled from the divine order of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2). All this was a complete reversal of the earlier lunar mythology focused on the Great Mother and was taken literally, as divine revelation.
Until I researched the letters of the early Christian Fathers, I hadn’t realized the extent of their obsession with the Myth of the Fall and the sin of Adam and Eve taking the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Without exception, all believed that the path to God required the renunciation of sexual intercourse and relationship with women. (16) The Catholic Church still refuses to ordain women as priests and enforces control over their lives by banning the use of contraception. In a dangerously over-populated world, estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050, this is surely indefensible. (17)
Women need to know that this powerful myth is the origin of the virulent misogyny and widespread sexual predation that is, unfortunately, still active at all levels of society today as well as the implicit assumption that, with regard to her employment, woman’s work is not worth as much as man’s. The subtle influence of the old mythology still prevails. Even though, in the West, we now live in a predominantly secular culture, women are still unconsciously identified with Eve. Women’s supposed ‘irrationality’ and untrustworthiness comes from the same root. We can understand why, even today, women have so little sense of their own worth, why they have had to struggle so hard for the right to education and autonomy. A UNICEF Report from 2017 says that worldwide, 130 million girls of any age still do not attend school. (18) The patriarchal priesthoods are still saturated with misogyny. Over the centuries, they have inflicted enormous suffering on women, keeping them in a position of subservience until recently when, against huge resistance, women have begun to throw off their oppression and control. In the United Kingdom it is now 100 years since the Suffragettes fought for and eventually gained the right to vote. (19)
As an example of the residual legacy of patriarchal attitudes in Islam, there are Muslim countries such as Iran, Saudi-Arabia and Pakistan where women are still treated with despicable cruelty, comparable to what they suffered in the witch trials under the Catholic Inquisition. Four recent examples of this are worth mentioning: In 2016, an Iranian woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, married to an Englishman, was arrested at the airport in Tehran as she was about to return to the UK from visiting her parents in Iran with her daughter, Gabriella. She was tried and jailed for 5 years on spying charges. Repeated efforts to secure her release by the UK government have not succeeded and on June 15th, 2019, she began a hunger strike in protest at her continued imprisonment. Again, in Iran, a human rights lawyer called Nasrin Soboudeh was arrested in June 2018 and sentenced to 148 lashes and 38 years in prison for having spoken up on behalf of women’s rights. (20) In Saudi-Arabia 11 women are currently on trial (April 2019) for protesting against the country's male guardianship system and the ban on women driving (which has since been overturned). They were also accused of ‘being in contact with human rights organizations’. One of these women, Loujain al-Hathloul has, according to her brother, been water-boarded, given electric shocks and threatened with rape in a Saudi-Arabian prison. (21) These women have been held in custody since last May with each case being tried in secrecy. Western observers have been barred from the courtroom. Finally, in Pakistan, there is the case of Asia Bibi, a mother of five, who was sentenced to death for allegedly committing the crime of apostasy and has spent nearly a decade in prison. Kept in a ‘safe’ house, she has not been able to leave Pakistan although she has been acquitted of her supposed crime. She was eventually offered asylum in Canada on May 9th, 2019. (22) Here again, the Feminine in the form of woman, is not honoured when deeply established social customs are challenged.
The loss of the Divine Feminine continued into the Christian era, in the treatment of Mary Magdalene. The female companions of Jesus are cited on only seven occasions in the four canonical gospels. In six of these Mary Magdalene is the first woman named. In the seventh Jesus’ mother comes first. Why would Mary’s name appear first of a group of women in all but one of these lists if she were not the wife of Jesus? In all four gospels, she is described as present at the crucifixion of Jesus, standing with his mother and sister at the foot of the cross. All four gospels identify her, either alone, or ‘with the other Mary’, or as a member of a group of women, as the first witness to the empty tomb and the first, or among the first, to notify the disciples about Jesus’ resurrection. In Mark 16:1 Mary visits the sepulchre at dawn with Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, bringing ‘sweet spices’ with which to anoint Jesus’s body. Readers may be familiar with the famous scene of the meeting of Mary and Jesus in the sepulchre garden after his resurrection which is only recorded in the Gospel of John (20:1). John is also the only gospel to describe the marriage at Cana and the raising of Lazarus (Mary’s brother). He is also the only one to describe how Mary, instructed by Jesus, took the amazing news of his resurrection to the disciples (John 20:14–18) Mary Magdalene would not have been allowed access to the sepulchre, with or without other women accompanying her unless, as his wife, she had come to anoint his body, as was the burial custom at that time—a custom to which Mark 16:1 testifies.
Evidence of their intimate relationship can be found in certain of the Gnostic Gospels recovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. In a gnostic text called the Dialogue of the Savior Mary (Mariam) is described as speaking as ‘The woman who knew the All’. (23) The Gospel of Philip says, ‘There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion (koinonôs). His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.’ (24) And in a longer passage: ‘And the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. But Christ loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’ The Saviour answered and said to them, ‘Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.’ (25)
The Vatican moved heaven and earth to conceal the fact of the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and expunge all evidence of their descendants through a campaign of vicious propaganda designed to destroy the reputation of Mary Magdalene by portraying her as a whore, and so she remained until 1969 when she was canonized by Pope Paul VI and this disgraceful calumny was removed. Unfortunately, the image of Mary as a ‘Penitent Whore’ has come down through the centuries in countless sentimental paintings. She has never been recognized as the wife of Jesus as well as the first of the apostles. From the Church’s point of view, Jesus, as the Son of God, had to be celibate or the whole foundation of the Church as the bride of Christ, served by celibate priests, as well as the authenticity of the Apostolic Succession, would have been compromised. Similarly, his mother Mary had to conceive him immaculately and give birth to no other children. (26)
An astonishing document has recently come to light which appears to confirm the very close relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In 2010 The Gospel of the Beloved Companion: The Complete Gospel of Mary Magdalene, was published in France. It has been translated from the Greek into English with a commentary by Jehanne de Quillan. (27) This Gospel is believed to have been brought from Alexandria to the Languedoc (south-western France) in the early to middle part of the first century. It was translated from Greek into Occitan, the language of the Languedoc, in the early part of the twelfth century. Since then it has been kept a closely guarded secret, passed in a community from generation to generation, until the present time. It fills in the vital sections of text that are missing from the Gospel of Mary that is already known and are also missing from The Gospel of Mary in the Nag Hammadi Library.
Although apparently not yet authenticated by the scholarly community, it has many passages that are similar, even identical to those in St. John’s Gospel. It reads like an eye-witness account of someone who was very close to Jesus and who was given a hidden aspect of his teaching that is missing in the Gospel of Mary that is known to us and was evidently not divulged to some of his closest disciples. These, in both the known Gospel of Mary and in this new translation of a previously unknown version of it, appear baffled and angry that Jesus imparted this teaching to a woman and not to them. When Mary told them what Jesus had said to her, Peter (Shimon Kefa) said: ‘Did he really speak privately with this woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?’ (43:3)
Astonishingly, we also find these words of Jesus in the text: ‘My words are the Way, the Truth and the Life. For my words are given of the Spirit, and no one comes to the Kingdom except through Her Teachings.’ (35:12) This is truly a momentous document for anyone interested in the teaching of Jesus or Yeshua as he is called in this Gospel, and the relationship between him and the Beloved Companion whom he addresses as Miryam.
Imagine how different the history of Christianity might have been if the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been recognized and if it were widely known that she was not only his wife but the first of the Apostles as John 20:17-18 affirms. She travelled from Palestine to southern France in AD 44 with two of her children, her brother Lazarus and sister Martha and taught there for nearly 20 years until she died in AD 63 in Aix-en-Provence. (28) Legends about her abound in Provence and the Languedoc. She was buried in a church called St Maximin-La-Sainte-Baume, with her remains guarded day and night by Cassianite monks. In the twelfth century a great abbey was built in her honour at Vézelay and to this day the Basilica at St Maximin-La-Sainte-Baume in Provence holds her relics in a shrine devoted to her memory.
Had the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene been recognized, the emphasis on celibacy as the path to spirituality might never have existed. We might have been spared the neurotic association of sin with sexuality and the misogyny and mistrust of women that still bedevils the Christian Churches.
Many of the early Gnostic groups from which the Gnostic Gospels emerged had kept alive the First Temple tradition of a Divine Mother as the Holy Spirit, a tradition the Jews took with them when they fled to Alexandria after the Babylonians destroyed the First temple in Jerusalem in 597 BC and again when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in AD 70. Until 1945 when some of the lost texts of the Gnostics were discovered at a remote village called Nag Hammadi no-one knew that some groups of early Christians had an image of the Divine Mother who, in one of these texts, names Herself as ‘The Invisible One within the All’ and declares herself to be ‘the Womb that gives shape to the All by giving birth to the Light that shines in splendor’. (29) As Elaine Pagels observes in her book, The Gnostic Gospels, ‘some of these groups describe God as a dyad whose nature includes both masculine and feminine elements’. She also says that ‘Every one of the secret texts which gnostic groups revered was omitted from the canonical collection and branded as heretical by those who called themselves orthodox Christians. By the time the process of sorting the various writings ended – probably as late as the year 200 – virtually all the feminine imagery for God had disappeared from the orthodox Christian tradition’. (30)
Professor Gilles Quispel, who translated the Gospel of Thomas as well as the Jewish-Christian Gospel to the Hebrews, writes about the latter that ‘Jewish Christians were entirely convinced that the Holy Spirit was a feminine hypostasis’. In this Gospel Jesus speaks of ‘my Mother, the Spirit’ and, the Holy Spirit speaks to Jesus at his baptism, saying: ‘My Son, in all the prophets I was waiting for thee.’ ‘Here’, writes Professor Quispel, ‘we come to a very simple realization: just as birth requires a mother, so rebirth requires a spiritual mother. Originally the Christian term ‘rebirth’ must therefore have been associated [by this group] with the concept of the spirit as a feminine hypostasis’. (31)
At the crucial Council of Nicaea in AD 325, convened by the Emperor Constantine, amidst furious argument between two opposing factions, Jesus was declared to be the only Son of God, ‘of one substance with God’ (homoousious), not merely ‘like unto God’ (homoiousious). Naming him the Son of God meant that he had to be immaculately conceived, free of the taint of original sin, as well as celibate. All trace of his marriage and the fact that he had children as well as several brothers and sisters and a bloodline of descent – all listed in a chart in the Vatican Archives – was erased. (32)
At this same Council, the Holy Spirit lost its ancient association with the feminine gender and became the third aspect of the male Trinity. Divine Wisdom, which had been associated with the Holy Spirit at the time of the First Temple, as well as among the Jewish refugees who had settled in Alexandria, now became assimilated to the figure of Christ.
Some 50 years later, in AD 381 the Emperor Theodosius issued an imperial decree from Constantinople, declaring that the doctrine of the Trinity defined at Nicaea was now orthodox. Anyone who did not comply with this decree that all must believe in and recite the Apostolic Creed defined at Nicaea – that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were of one and the same substance – would be declared a heretic. (33) Following this decree, the Gnostic Gospels still in existence were destroyed (many having already been destroyed by Constantine after AD 325). All meetings and rituals of the Gnostic groups were forbidden under pain of death. It was at this time that the idea entered Christian teaching that hell and eternal punishment awaited heretics and unbelievers, laying the ground for horrendous persecution in centuries to come. Some of these Gospels were recovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, but many were lost forever.
In AD 418 at a later Council at Carthage in North Africa, St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin was passed into Church Law. Generation after generation of Christians were imprinted with the story of the Fall of Man and the role of Christ as Redeemer of Man’s sins. They were taught that ‘original sin’ was transmitted through the sexual act. A priest called Pelagius fought a ferocious battle with Augustine to overthrow his doctrine of original sin, but was unable to prevent it passing into Church Law. If he had won the battle, Christianity would have had a very different history. With the insight given to us by our present understanding of the psyche, we can understand that this distorted, even pathological, belief deeply affected relationships between men and women and their attitude to sexuality in general.
Psychological insight teaches us that the repression or distortion of a vital instinct leads to compulsive forms of behaviour which inflict great violence on others, as has been reflected in the revelation of the widespread sexual abuse of children by celibate priests. It was also reflected in the horrific details revealed in The Daily Telegraph and on Channel Four television (34) about John Smyth QC, a sadistic barrister who beat a number of young men until they bled. The men had gone to him for Christian counselling. This calls into question the appalling idea that God or Jesus would welcome the infliction of pain and suffering on oneself or others as expiation for ‘sin’. John Smyth died in South Africa before he could be brought to trial in the UK.
As the Christian Church became more and more fused with the Roman model of Imperial power and more and more intent on the eradication of heresy, the Gnostic beliefs and practices together with the image of the Divine Feminine as the Holy Spirit and Divine Wisdom, had to go underground for many centuries. Astonishingly, they were to re-emerge in twelfth century France, in the region of the Languedoc, the very region where Mary Magdalene had taught for 20 years, in the Cathar Church of the Holy Spirit, whose presiding image was Sophia or Divine Wisdom. This Church, together with the Cathar people who supported it, was utterly destroyed in the thirteenth century by the infamous Albigensian Crusade, initiated in 1209 by Pope Innocent III, and later aided by the Inquisition.
Over the last four millennia of patriarchal culture, the tiny aspect of our total psyche that we call our conscious mind has slowly become separated from the feminine matrix of the primordial soul out of which it has evolved; detached from any sense of relationship with planetary and cosmic life. The only group of people who have managed in their customs and rituals to retain a close relationship with the earth, were the Indigenous people of the planet, particularly those of North and South America, South Africa and Australia.
Personal memories are stored to some extent within our conscious memory but the less conscious collective memories and habits of behaviour of our species are held in what the psychiatrist C.G. Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’ or the ‘primordial soul’. It is, above all, the instinctive sense of belonging to and being part of the life surrounding us that has been lost and has been replaced by the sense that we, as observers, are separate from what we are observing. The different factors explored in this article have contributed to the separation of what we call our conscious mind from the older matrix of consciousness, and to the dominance of the linear perspective of the left hemisphere of the brain over the right hemisphere, described by the psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. (35)
People have become aware of what is called ‘emotional intelligence’ but, generally speaking, have no idea that there is anything beyond their conscious rational mind or that the two hemispheres of our brain give rise to different ways of experiencing reality and of responding to it. Ideally, both should work together to create a well-rounded or complete response but if the left-hemisphere with its linear, sequential way of thinking predominates, this balanced perspective may be compromised.
As the centuries passed, the conscious mind became more and more detached and more and more inflated and omnipotent until its detachment is now virtually complete and it no longer has any awareness of or relationship with the psychic depths from which it has emerged. It has become cut off from any sense of relationship with Nature or the cosmos out of which it has evolved. This leaves us open to being taken over, possessed and driven by powerful unconscious forces of which we have no awareness or understanding, wonderfully portrayed in the image of the Furies pursuing Orestes in Aeschylus’ play, the Oresteia. It is this unrecognized inner split within the psyche which has led us to the splitting of the atom and the creation of nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors with their deadly residue of plutonium. With the separation of Nature from Spirit, matter was no longer seen as sacred, so when it came to splitting the atom in 1945 in order to create an overwhelmingly destructive nuclear weapon, this was not seen as an act against the Sacred Order of life. Although The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has been active for many decades campaigning against these weapons, as a culture we have lost the instinctive awareness that this transformation of ‘matter’ into a weapon that can destroy millions of lives and devastate the earth was and is morally wrong—even evil. In no sense can it be described as ‘Christian’.
For millennia, a tremendous problem has been troubling the waters of the soul. It is this: in a civilization which is patriarchal in organization and outlook, which has been structured by a male image of God presiding over religions and institutions created entirely by men, and by a polarizing mythology which has glorified power, conquest and the domination of nature, how can the long-ignored voice of the soul – the voice that Jung called “The Spirit of the Depths” – be heard? (36) How can we realize that matter and the material world are a living expression of Spirit, that matter is a part of Spirit and that how we treat Nature affects the Web of Life which embraces and connects all our lives?
Over the four millennia that solar mythology has been the dominant influence on society, we have reached dazzling heights of scientific, medical and technological advances which have radically transformed and ameliorated the conditions of our lives on this planet and facilitated a phenomenal expansion of our ability to express the creative genius of our species in many different areas. But we have also suffered a catastrophic loss of soul, a loss of the ancient awareness of the sacred interweaving of all aspects of life, a loss of the sense of participation in the life of nature and the life of the cosmos and, despite all our religions, a loss of connection to Spirit. In our secular culture the rational human mind is now the supreme value. It has virtually replaced God. It no longer recognizes a dimension of reality beyond the material universe, nor any form of consciousness transcendent to its own.
The primary experience of human consciousness from 2,000 BC until the present day has been one of increasing alienation from Nature, culminating in the ideology of technological progress and limitless growth that is unrelated to the needs of the planet and our utter dependence on the viability of its life. Our current worldview, whether in the East or the West, rests on the premise of our mastery of Nature, where the diminishing resources of the planet are unthinkingly plundered to serve the ever-growing numbers and needs of our species alone. There is apparently no evil that, in our ignorance of the sanctity of all life, we are not capable of perpetrating. Our most urgent task is to heal the split between Spirit and Nature and re-unite our conscious, rational mind with the feminine matrix of our soul. Only when Nature, matter, soul and body – the four aspects of the feminine archetype – are recognized as a manifestation of Spirit will we be able to heal our dangerously unbalanced and unconscious culture. If we can accomplish this enormous task, we will enter a new era.
The shadow aspect of our digitally enhanced and unconscious age is barbarism: barbarism that is reflected in the archaic image of the dragon—an archetypal image of blind, unconscious instinct bursting through the fragile layer of civilization, destroying and devouring everything in its path. The dragon is an image of the unrecognized predatory aspect of our own nature that can take us over when we abandon the ethical values which respect and serve life. Its sole attribute is the will to power—the drive for dominance and control. (37) We see it manifesting in the horrific cruelties of Isil, in the bombing of helpless civilians, in the general breakdown of civilization. But we can also see it in the demonic weapons accumulated by the nine nuclear powers of the world – ours among them – and the refusal to get rid of them. We can see it in the pathology of the current unconscious, narcissistic leaders of nations who do not serve their people or the planet but are locked into their own power-seeking agendas.
Today, we are faced with the devastating effects of the long absence of the Divine Feminine in our image of Spirit. Because of this, our culture is radically out of balance, affecting every aspect of our lives, most importantly, our relationship with the planetary organism on whose life we depend. Looking at world culture as a whole there is no real respect for Nature, no deep sense of relationship with the life of the planet, no apparent awareness that we are rapidly destroying the precious habitat that sustains us, no attempt to inhibit the growth of our populations in order to put less strain on the earth’s resources. (38) A book titled The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells gives a graphic description of the drastic changes to our climate and habitat that will be caused by climate change and the effect these will have on the resources of food and water needed to sustain a population estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050. (39) A Report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018 said that we had a decade in which to avert runaway warming. (40)
The present time has been named the Anthropocene by scientists, a term that was coined only in 2000, by the Nobel prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen, who believes the name change is overdue. He said in 2011: “This name change stresses the enormity of humanity's responsibility as stewards of the Earth.” (41) A study published by Jeff Tollefson in Nature (42) says that if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the rate we are now, we will cause the fastest climate change the Earth has seen in 50 million years. With our ever-growing numbers we have already destroyed 50 per cent of all species on the planet. By 2020 two-thirds of all wild animals will be gone.
Two thousand years ago, the author of Book Four of the Gospel of the Essenes gave us this warning:
But there will come a day when the Son of Man will turn his face from his Earthly Mother and betray her, even denying his Mother and his birth right. Then shall he sell her into slavery, and her flesh shall be ravaged, her blood polluted, and her breath smothered; he will bring the fire of death into all the parts of her kingdom, and his hunger will devour all her gifts and leave in their place only a desert.
All these things he will do out of ignorance of the Law, and as a man dying slowly cannot smell his own stench, so will the Son of Man be blind to the truth: that as he plunders and ravages and destroys his Earthly Mother, so does he plunder and ravage and destroy himself. For he was born of his Earthly Mother, and he is one with her, and all that he does to his Mother even so does he do to himself. (43)
What is the great challenge of our time? It is to acknowledge the facts about climate change as the remarkable young Swedish girl Greta Thunberg is doing and to offer a New Story to our children that could inspire them with hope and trust in the future. It is to restore our lost relationship with Spirit. It is to move to a more morally advanced state of consciousness, recognizing that we are part of a Sacred Cosmic Order and are inseparably connected to the world around us and to the wider cosmos. The current story offered by materialist science is that material reality is the only reality and that consciousness begins and ends with the physical brain. We are alone in a randomly created universe that is without meaning, consciousness or purpose. When we die, that is the end of us. This story has to a great extent, replaced the older Christian story in this country. Is it surprising that people are depressed by the story offered to them by materialist science; that their lives have so little meaning and value that they fall into depression and are even driven to commit suicide? Depression affects some 80,000 children and adolescents in the United Kingdom. (44) Fortunately, this story is fading and a new one is being born. We are not alone in a dead, meaningless universe. We belong to a conscious, sublimely intelligent universe and are everywhere surrounded by orders of intelligence beyond reckoning.
The New Story coming into being is that the whole universe is a unified field. The world we experience is like a minute excitation on the surface of an infinite cosmic sea which sustains not only our world, but the entire cosmos. We are part of a cosmic Web of Life which, at the quantum level, underlies and connects all life forms in the universe and on our planet. We are not separate from any aspect of planetary or cosmic life.
As we begin to respond to this New Story, the realization is dawning that we are participating in a Cosmic Consciousness or Intelligence which is present in every atom of our being and every particle of matter. God or Spirit or Divine Mind is not something transcendent to us, separate from us. We are part of it, co-existing and co-creating with it even though our consciousness is still limited or incomplete. This, I believe, is one of the great revelations of our time.
At the heart of the cosmos is a love of unimaginable dimensions, a love that sustains the entire universe; a love that informs our capacity to love and care for others. If God or Spirit is the intelligence and energy of the life process itself, then how we treat planetary life and each other becomes a matter of how we are treating God. The arrogant celebration of ‘man’s conquest of nature’ has to yield to the realization that we need to respect, safeguard and cherish each other as well as the planetary life of which we are a part.
Awakening to the New Story is about connecting our head with our heart. It means listening to the long-ignored voice of our soul. The soul communicates through the heart; through our deepest feelings, many of which are ignored and repressed in our driven and addicted culture. It speaks below the threshold of consciousness, through dreams and visions, through our deepest instincts and intuitions and through the depressions that afflict so many—depressions that are directly related to the loss of soul and living in a culture that has lost all awareness of and connection with a deeper ground.
Awakening to a New Story means moving towards a new image of God or Spirit that includes Nature, matter and all planetary life and indeed, all cosmic life. It means recovering what has been lost: the ancient understanding that the cosmos is intelligent and conscious, and that Spirit or what we have defined as deity is immanent or present in every particle of matter: in every stone, flower, tree and blade of grass; in every one of the atoms of our body.
The New Story invites a different understanding of death. Nothing is more important for our balance and well-being than to know that when we die, we move into another reality that is as real and vitally alive as this one. Consciousness does not die with the death of the body: consciousness is eternal. We are re-united with those we love. (45)
Jesus was one of the greatest teachers to have incarnated on this planet. He tried to awaken us to the divinity hidden within us that he compared to a mustard-seed that can grow into a mighty tree through bringing that seed of divinity into manifestation in the loving service of life. He did not ask for worship and belief but for the radical transformation of our understanding. His life offers us the image of a man who has awakened from the tomb or prison of ignorance and unconsciousness to awareness of the divinity and unity of all life.
This dawning new era invites the marriage of our highly developed rational mind with our long-neglected soul and the birth of the ‘child’ of a new, awakened consciousness that would be the fruit of this union and the true saviour of our species. As the light of this new unified consciousness begins to shine in the darkness of our time, we could heal both our divided psyche and our raped and vandalized planet. It is a dangerous, challenging and creative time to be alive.
1. Baring A (2013) The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul. Dorset: Archive Books.
2. Baring A, Cashford J (1991) The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image. London: Penguin Books.
3. Gimbutas M (1989) The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization. New York: Harper & Row; Gimbutas M (1991) The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. The area of ‘Old Europe’ extended westwards from Romania and Bulgaria into Italy, Sicily and Malta, southwards into Greece and Crete and as far north as Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
4. Baring A, Cashford J (1991) The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image. London: Penguin Books, 46-105.
5. Baring A (2013) The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul. Dorset: Archive Books, 63-67.
6. Baring A (2013) The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul. Dorset: Archive Books, 65.
7. Cashford, J (2003) The Moon: Myth and Image, London: Cassell, 15.
8. Plato (1965) Timaeus and Critias, Lee D trans. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 43.
9. Plotinus (1969) The Enneads, McKenna S trans. London: Faber & Faber, The Fourth Ennead
10. Scholem G (1961) Jewish Mysticism. New York: Schocken Books, 111.
11. Marija Gimbutas’ theory about these invasions was rebutted and dismissed by archaeologists for many decades but recent findings of DNA have confirmed it. Lord Colin Renfrew, who had been one of Gimbutas’ most vociferous critics, concluded the inaugural Marija Gimbutas Lecture at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in 2018 with these words: “Marija’s Kurgan hypothesis has been magnificently vindicated.” See, https://feminismandreligion.com/2017/12/11/marija-gimbutas-triumphant-colin-renfrew-concedes-by-carol-p-christ/
12. Baring A, Cashford J (1991) The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image. London: Penguin Books, 273-298.
13. Nixey C (2017) The Darkening Age. London: Pan Macmillan, 86-87 and Gardner L (2008) The Grail Enigma. London: HarperElement, 68
15. For a full discussion, see Barker M (2000) The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 109-112, 200-212, 279-301. See also Baring A, Cashford J (1991) The Myth of the goddess: Evolution of an Image. London: Penguin Books 486-546.
16. Baring A (2013) The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul. Dorset: Archive Books, 133-179.
17. see www.populationmatters.org
19. The Representation of the People Act 1918 saw British women over 30 gain the vote. American women won the vote in August 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment.
20. Reuters, Geneva, https://www.the guardian.com/world/2019/mar/human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh-jailed-for-38-years-in-iran
23. Robinson JM (ed.) (1977) Nag Hammadi Library (NHL). Leiden: E.J. Brill, ‘Dialogue of the Savior’, 230-238, 235.
24. NHL, ‘The Gospel of Philip’, 135-36. The Greek word koinonôs can have the meaning of consort and wedded partner as well as partner, friend or companion in faith. See Gardner L (2005), The Magdalene Legacy: The Jesus and Mary Bloodline Conspiracy Revelations Beyond the Da Vinci Code. London: Element, 116-17, 130.
25. Nag Hammadi Library The Gospel of Philip’, 138.
26. Gardner L (2008), The Grail Enigma. London: HarperElement, 110
27. De Quillan J trans. (2010) The Gospel of the Beloved Companion: The Complete Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace.
28. Gardner L (2008) The Grail Enigma. London: HarperElement, 229-237
29. NHL ‘The Trimorphic Protennoia’, 462 and 467
30. Pagels E (1979) The Gnostic Gospels. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd., 57, see also 49-56; Baring A, Cashford J (1991) The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image. London: Penguin Books, 627-30.
31. Quispel G (1973) The Birth of the Child, Eranos Lectures. Dallas: Spring Publications Inc., 23.
32. The Desposyni Chart or Chart of the “Heirs of the Lord” was presented to Pope Sylvester 1st in AD 318 by eight bishops who were descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ brother James. See Gardner L (2005), The Magdalene Legacy: The Jesus and Mary Bloodline Conspiracy Revelations Beyond the Da Vinci Code. London: Element, 27, 32 and Gardner L (2008) The Grail Enigma. London: HarperElement, 83. The Vatican records state that ‘Only those persons in the bloodline with Jesus through his mother qualified as Desposyni.’ Gardner L (2005), The Magdalene Legacy: The Jesus and Mary Bloodline Conspiracy Revelations Beyond the Da Vinci Code. London: HarperElement, 30.
33. Freeman C (2003) The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise and Fall of Reason. London: Pimlico, 196 and Freeman C (2008) AD 381, Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State. London: Pimlico, 91-104.
34. See, John Smyth, the school predator who beat me for five years, The Daily Telegraph, 5 February 2017 Available at https://www.telegraph.co/news/2017/02/05/john-smyth-school-predator-beat-five-years/. Also see,, Police investigate ‘brutal lashings’ by Christian leader, Channel 4 News online. Available at https://www.channel4.com/news/police-investigate-alleged-brutal-lashings-by-christian-leader
35. McGilchrist I (2009) The Master and His Emissary, The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
36. Jung CG (2009) The Red Book, Liber Novus, Shamdasani S (ed.), New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
37. Baring A (2013) The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul. Dorset: Archive Books, 267-291.
39. Wallace-Wells D (2019) The Uninhabitable Earth. London: Allen Lane.
43. Szekely EB trans. (1981) The Teachings of the Elect. International Biogenic Society, from the Aramaic manuscript in the secret archives of the Vatican Library, location 365.
This article was published in a journal called Feminist Theology in autumn 2019