Female Metaphor, Science and Paganism: a Cosmic Eco-Trinity
By Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
as published in Indian Journal of Ecocriticism, Volume 3 August 2010, p.51-61. OSLE-India
The religious practice named as PaGaian Cosmology which was presented within the context of two programs at the recent Parliament of the World’s Religions, first took shape in the process of doctoral research completed at the University of Western Sydney in 2002. It has been described as an ecospirituality grounded in Indigenous Western European tradition, linked to evolutionary story as told by Western science, and using female imagery for the Sacred. It is a unique blend that promises variant meta-religious expression for celebration of the Cosmos: something humans seem innately driven to do. The author Glenys Livingstone, situated this synthesis within her context of sensed personal, cultural and cosmic alienation from her place, which fired a hunger for Goddess metaphor and an Earth-based pathway to Wisdom. PaGaian Cosmology offers a holy trinity of Western tradition … a Poiesis innate to the Creative Cosmos, to Earth – this Habitat.
My doctoral research was a study of the Female Metaphor1 for the Sacred, frequently named and imaged as three aspects: Virgin/Maiden, Mother/Creator and Crone/Old One. It was an interpretation of these three aspects as representing the dynamic by which the Cosmos unfolds; that is, the extant Creativity2, which is in continual transformation and has always been so. Accordingly, as the research made the assumption that the Cosmos is a seamless whole, the conscious alignment of one’s being with this Creativity in a religious practice of seasonal ritual, would constitute and enable a more complete connection with the powers of continual transformation innate to Being. Such a sense of connection was evidently important to the ancient ones who built such monuments as the one at Newgrange in Ireland whose Indigenous name is Bru-na-Boinne … place of Boann, a goddess from whom the river Boyne takes its name. Bru-na-Boinne is home to the Triple Spiral motif which I sensed in the process of this research as a significant representation of the tri-une Female Metaphor – the Triple Goddess, as She is commonly and poetically known.
The research re-storied the Female Metaphor in Her three aspects, as an image and dynamic of Ultimacy, and this was enhanced by an identification of the three faces with Thomas Berry’s three characteristics of Cosmogenesis – differentiation, communion, and autopoiesis – which he and mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme speak of as “the governing themes” which characterize the evolution of the universe “throughout time and space and at every level of reality” (Swimme and Berry 71). Swimme has called the composition of these three, “cosmic grammar” ( Canticle video 4). Briefly, these three may be summarised in this way: differentiation … to be is to be unique, communion … to be is to be related, autopoiesis … to be is to be a centre of creativity. These three qualities are developed by Swimme and Berry in their work The Universe Story (71-78 and 132-138) and are offered as an interpretation of three fundamental principles of reality inductively drawn from empirical scientific knowledge, citing many illustrations of this “root creativity” they associate with Cosmogenesis (Swimme and Berry 132).
The ritual celebration of seasonal points were then developed in the research as a method of embodying and sens -ualizing, and speaking this deep Dynamic of Creativity – as a method of aligning one’s being with the continual cosmological unfolding. These ritual celebrations, as they still take place, are based in ancient Western spiritual practice – often named as Paganism3 – that relates with Earth’s annual cyclical transitions as she journeys around Sun: this journey is understood as the primary sacred journey that all beings make everyday albeit storied with different metaphor. What is sought in this religious practice of ritual celebration of seasonal points, is entrance into real time and space that is held within every moment, a shift in consciousness: such practice offers a pathway out of cultural en-trancement with what is frequently said to be real time and space. When entered into as a religious practice, that is as a practice of connection4, it offers conscious participation in the Journey made everyday: and in Creativity as it manifests in the local place and self which is always at once a larger deeper reality. The ritual celebration of the whole Wheel of the Year (as this seasonal cycle is named in Paganism), in the whole gestalt of the eight annual Seasonal Moments as I name the Sabbats5 , came to be understood both as a metaphor – Poetry – and a Place6 for Creativity. Presented here and in the research is a convergence of Earth-based spiritual practice with a Western scientific cosmology and female metaphor.
The research project inquired into the effects of celebrating Earth’s seasons in rituals based on female imagery and into the effects of the use of female imagery for spiritual expression, that is, to speak of Divinity, the Universe, Earth and the deepest creative dynamics of the personal self as female-referring transformatory powers (Raphael 8-9). The inquiry was into the effects of such imagery and seasonal celebration on personal feelings, thoughts, imagination and behaviour; and also into any effects on the participants’ relationships with others, with the culture at large, and with Earth and Cosmos. While focus was on the effects on participants, the thesis was equally an inquiry into such effects on myself, the researcher, and convenor and facilitator of the seasonal rituals, and my deep identification with the Female Metaphor as a path of spiritual unfolding.
Through methods of ritual, meditation, imagination, dance and storytelling, over the period of the annual seasonal cycle, I created a context. It was a context that sought to enable more harmonious relationship with self, other and Cosmos through identification of the self with an organic and primordial process innate to the unfolding Cosmos.
I found it to be a process that catalyzed personal transformation of the participants over time – a transformation that has clear and inevitable cultural implications. While it was not the focus of the thesis to track these cultural changes, such change is implicit in the personal and relational changes experienced and noted, since the personal and the cultural are mutually embedded in a shamanic process that this is. By shamanic I mean it is a transformatory process – a process of transformatory learning, wherein each small self relies on direct lived experience for an understanding of the sacred, as opposed to relying on an external authority … each small self claims their direct participation in the Creative Cosmos: and religion becomes based in each finding and fulfilling their role in the matrix of being, not something pre-scribed, not a prescription.
A Taste of This Research and Its Outcomes
For the purpose of enabling a taste of this research and its outcomes, I will use the story and insights of the Autumn and Spring Equinoxes – the Seasonal Moments of balance of light and dark that occur in the dark part and the light part of the year respectively. The story essentially enacted and told at these seasonal transitions is one of descent and return – the mystery and power of loss and return. I will primarily discuss the Autumn Equinox (sometimes named as Mabon), but it is inseparable from the Spring Equinox in its revelation. Spring Equinox is frequently named as Eostar, from which the Christian rituals of Easter have taken their name since the Middle Ages of the Common Era. The conscious entry into the Seasonal Moments through ritual practice may be revelatory, that is, one may come to know deep truths of existence through the art process that ritual may be. The conscious process itself becomes a year-long prayer of circum-ambulating the Sun, kin to the spiralling prayers done in Celtic tradition around a sacred site – named as a turas (Matthews 31) – and establishes a conscious relationship with this primary sacred site. One is then Placed … within this sacred site: the full year of ritual practice creates the Sacred Site, as one’s consciousness shifts. One may be held within it, come to know more deeply one’s small self, one’s community, one’s planet – these nested realities7 – as a Place of the Cosmological Unfolding.
The regional site of such seasonal rituals will always be significant and particular8, but of note here is that the place in which I created them has been in the Southern Hemisphere of Earth. The fact of my context being thus has contributed in the past to a deep internalized sense of being Other, that is, out of the main play and text of things, and perhaps irrelevant, since most of the texts and graphics explaining the Cosmos to an Australian and white child were (and still often are) drawn from the Northern Hemisphere perspective. Yet hence in the present, this context enables a separation of the Gregorian calendar dictates from Earth’s holy-days, clarifies the situation of planet Earth – who and what is being celebrated: and also contributes to my deep awareness of Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and her reciprocal Seasonal Moment, that is, to an awareness of the whole Planet and thus to the whole gestalt of the Seasonal Moment, its dark and light aspects that form the whole. My initial confusion about the sensed Cosmos – as an apparent unrelated place, became a clarity about the actual Cosmos in which I am and to which I belong. The situation of seasonal ritual in the Southern Hemisphere is a distinct advantage, as those of Earth-based religious practice in the Northern Hemisphere most commonly remain unaware of the co-incidence of the opposite seasonal moments, forgetting their relevance to a whole Earth as she spins in real time and space around Sun, and often unable to story the intimate connection of the apparent duality.
The Equinoxes as Story of Salvation/Redemption
The most popular story of descent and return in the Christian West, and also adopted within other cultures around the globe, is that of Jesus: a story celebrated particularly in the Easter rituals of Christian tradition. Jesus is regarded literally by many, and at least nominally by many more, as the Redeemer – shaman if you like – who saves all humans and possibly all of creation from eternal pain, alienation and loss. I understand this and other such stories of redemption primarily, in essence, as a desire for the restoration of Beauty – a sense of Cosmic order. As a white Western woman of European descent, raised within a nominally Christian context, this is the only story about such possibility that I ever heard as a child, and that I then adopted zealously for a period in my youth and early adulthood. The fact that Jesus’ story as told was based on more ancient stories of descent and return was unknown to me for a long time, and remains so for many still today: the fact that the Cosmos itself reveals such story often remains out of reach, invisible – disabling the perception of the stories of descent and return that may be witnessed in what was perhaps the primary place of such revelation – the phases of the Moon, and yet also witnessed by humans forebears and still today in seasonal experiences such as the Equinoxes. Such Cosmic/Earth-based story may be more useful in our times, for the regaining of deep relationship with our place of being, our Habitat, since the saviour or redemptive quality is to be found within that creative context itself, and it is a quality in which one participates by nature of being and becoming; it is not an external entity that solves the issue, does the dying on behalf of all and is resurrected by extraordinary miracle. The return of Beauty that is revealed in Earth related story is completely ordinary – within the Natur-al, and just as awesome. The initiates who attended the ancient celebrations of the Autumn Equinox in Greece for instance – the Eleusinian Mysteries – were awestruck when the ear of wheat was upheld: they got something in that moment, that the seed held within it … it was Seed, with a capital, a numinous reality, a holy thing.
Both Equinoxes celebrate the sacred balance, and they are both celebrations of the Mystery of the Seed. The Seed is essentially the deep Creativity within, that manifests in the flower of Spring and the fruit of the harvest in Autumn: the fruit is in the seed, the seed is in the fruit, as is commonly spoken in Pagan ceremony9. This is frequently illustrated in the diametric slicing of an apple which reveals the core – the Kore, understood as the Daughter-Self within the Mother, in the heart-intelligence of the Mother: and this illustrates the continuity of the life thread. It is a religious relationship that is expressed in icons of the Mother Demeter handing wheat to the Daughter Persephone (often named as Kore). Such an icon came to be central to the evolution of the Autumn Equinox ritual script as I wrote it for the research, wherein Demeter (the celebrant as Demeter) hands each participant stalks of wheat tied with thin red ribbon/thread. All initiates – female and male alike – may identify as “Daughter”, as the Eleusinian initiates may have in ancient times (Pollack 220-221): Daughter is a title, expresses a religious relationship, of the new young one, the future, in the heart of the Mother, and coming to know Her – who is the self. And the self to be known is larger: the rituals may be a process of discovering that “our passionate remembering of the galactic, terrestrial, biological, and human stories … a study of the universe is a study of self” (Swimme The Universe is a Green Dragon 109).
The Mother Demeter hands the wheat to Her Daughter-Self Persephone, expressing the passing on of all knowledge – the continuity of Life10.
The rituals of Autumn Equinox season express that the beauty and sustenance (the harvest) that we may enjoy everyday unfold from the underworld, the deep dark Earth – into which the Seed goes. The metaphor expresses a stepping into the creative power of the abyss: that is what the ancients evidently saw in the Seed, and in the vulva shape of it … the Mother and Source which was/is at the same time Daughter and continuity – hope for renewal. It was an initiation into the vision, the knowledge of the Seed, as a thread of life that continues beneath the visible. The metaphor arose at a time in the human story when the power of the seed was coming to be understood – thus it is often said Poetically that Demeter gifted humans with agriculture. Demeter the Grain Mother is Earth-Mother (Gimbutas The Language 141) and identified with the triangle motif – the pubic triangle – which represents the sacred Source of Life (Gimbutas The Language 145): as such She is all three aspects of Creativity, may be storied as “Great Three-in-One” (McVickar Edwards 178), an eco-Trinity. Her name reflects this: De is the word for delta, the triangle shaped letter of the Greek alphabet, meter means Mother – She may be entitled “Mother of the Great Triangle of Life … complete in all Her parts: Creator, Preserver, Destroyer.” (McVickar Edwards 178).
For millennia, in Greece, this Seasonal Moment was the holy celebration of Persephone’s descent to the Underworld, and in the earliest traditions of female based metaphor, Goddess-centred sympathies, evidence suggests that Her descent may be understood as voluntary, as Charlene Spretnak tells it in her researched re-storying ( Lost Goddesses 105-118), and as Marija Gimbutas’ research indicates ( The Language 160-161). The Daughter-Self of the Mother, Persephone, simply understands the necessity of the journey into the dark, of Her descent, if life is to be renewed: She (the Seed) thus comforts the dead, the lost, with the hope of renewal, the restoration of Beauty. Her descent is also a journey to self-knowledge, to Wisdom, to becoming the Mother: as such She is shaman, Redeemer. It is said in the Pagan tradition that Persephone becomes “Queen” of the Underworld – that is, it is a descent to “Sovereignty”: it is meant that She is Caretaker in that world, and also may serve as an understanding that the self must be known, is the primary location of the Sacred. It is not a sovereignty that lords it over others, but a sovereignty that knows its agency, and will dare to be this, will dare the Journey: it is a Wisdom of deep reverence for one’s small self as essential to deep reverence for the being of the web of life, knowing one’s direct participation in it, in the cosmic Well of Creativity. As Sovereign Persephone is also the third aspect of the Female Trinity at the same time as She is the other two: She as Seed is New Young One, Old One/Crone and Mother all at once. The Demeter-Persephone Mysteries celebrate a descent to power that comes from familiar-ity with the Deep: power is understood as something that an apple tree has – to grow apples, not as a measure of control (Judy Grahn in Spretnak The Politics 265). It is an authority that is earned by shamanic capacity to travel the depths of transformation and of vision to see the Thread of Life that continues beneath the visible, the connection of grief and joy. Autumn Equinox ritual celebration is a Moment of thanksgiving for what has been harvested – the fruit, yet also a Moment of remembering and grieving the losses involved in that harvest – the seeds that have been planted.
Each participant identifies with this journey, with being this Persephone, this Seed – that all dare Life’s journey of change and transformation: as such all become Mother, carry the Wisdom into the future, pass it on – become Sovereign, co-Creators. For this reason I choose the colour purple for the seasonal decorations: it is the colour that royalty has often chosen because it was the hardest color to make – a special color. It is also the color chosen by the Catholic Church for priests’ vestments for ceremonies during Lenten Easter rituals, and it is meant to signify the sufferings required for redemption, which as I understand it in Goddess cosmology – Female Metaphor – is a knowing/seeing that such suffering/loss may be a journey to Wisdom: the thread of life is always present, and yet still in the midst of loss, expressed in the Seed.
In the ritual of Autumn Equinox as it was done in the research and still is done at my place, the participants go “out into the night” with a seed, a “Persephone”, to plant it (Livingstone 243-244). “Persephone” goes into the heart of our sorrows to unfold the Mystery, wholes/heals the heart. She is understood as an energy present in each person, in each creature, all of existence – at the heart of matter: no need to look for an external saviour. When the ritual participants return from the “Underworld” with planted pots, the celebrant holds her pot up and affirms:
These represent our hope. The Seed of life never fades away. She is always present. Blessed be the Mother of all life. Blessed be the life that comes from Her and returns to Her11 (Livingstone 245).
Like its Spring counterpoint which may express a “stepping into power” (Livingstone 142), Autumn Equinox expresses this too, but it is not necessarily perceived as such; it is felt as loss. Autumn Equinox may be a time for grieving our many losses, as individuals, as a culture, as Earth-Gaia: and it may be felt as rage/anger, all of which may be expressed in the ritual process of grief. Participants may join Demeter – and any other Mother Goddess from around the globe – in Her grief for all that has been lost. The Mother weeps and rages, the Daughter leaves courageously, the Old One whom Persephone is at the same time, beckons with Her Wisdom and promise of transformation; yet all three know each other deeply, and share the unfathomable grief. But the revelation of this celebration of Persephone as Seed is that:
Everything lost is found again,
In a new form, In a new way.
Everything hurt is healed again,
In a new life, in a new day. (Starhawk 103)
This redemption, the restoration of Beauty in the face of loss is a role that any and all may take on, as initiates into the Mysteries. It is a commissioning to tending that thread of sacred hope, of Care – which may be understood as a sacred quality. It is the comfort that the Seed offers, that the Beauty of the lost Beloved One will be restored or will reflower. This is often expressed in cultural texts as desire for ever-lasting life – which may be better expressed as the fact of never-ending renewal.
At both Spring and Autumn Equinox rituals, all at once the three faces of Cosmogenesis – the creative dynamic unfolding the Cosmos – are celebrated: as Seed, She is all three – Old Wise One, the irrepressible Urge to Be and the Mother, Source of Life. These Sabbats/Seasonal Moments may express blessed Moments of Harmony/Balance – a sacred balance that streams through the grief and the ecstasy of Life.
A Cosmic Metaphor for Creativity
My primary vision of the pattern of the Wheel of the Year is one of creative power. The Female Metaphor, in Her triple aspects, is a metaphor of Creativity, based in actual life processes. The evolutionary cosmic dynamics – Cosmogenesis with its triple aspects – is a perceived essential Creative process … a physic of the Universe. The Seasonal Moments of Earth express this actual Creativity. The three together – the Female Metaphor, Cosmogenesis, and the celebration of the Seasonal Moments – are a language of Creativity, a Poetry that can express and create.
Language is a primary habitat of the human (Swimme Canticle, video 9). Wisdom traditions have always understood the power of speech and image; the Western technological-scientific culture has forgotten a reverence for this capacity. The Wheel of the Year as it was celebrated in this research, and still is, has been a remembering of this power, a consciousness of what we are spelling out. It has been a “spell of the sensuous” – of the “sens-ible” (Abram The Spell of the Sensuous), wherein the language has been regarded as material – as hard as rocks – as real. The participants and I have spoken, danced and dreamed a Language, a sacred metaphor, that we understood as resonant with the evolutionary cosmic dynamics. All speech participates in the creation of something; it may participate in the Creative Act which is ongoing in every moment, at one with every breath and action. I sense the celebration of the Wheel of the Year as a Creative Gaian Power wherein our small daily acts and “even the way you breathe can make a difference” (Gloria Feman Orenstein in Ardinger A Woman’s Book of Rituals and Celebrations x).
The dates on my diagram are traditional and for the Southern Hemisphere. For global times and places see: archaeoastronomy.com
For this research, as I dwelt on the evolution of the ritual scripts beginning with the deep Autumn Seasonal Moment of Halloween or Samhain as it is known traditionally, I felt how this holy moment of the darkest time of the year may express poetically the face of the Old One/Crone moving into Mother – the face of the Crone as Creator, how Her transformation of death, was a moment of Creative Conception, the seeding of the Yet-to-Be12. I remembered Demeter’s pronouncement at Autumn Equinox ritual as the Seed descends: ”You will return as Mother, Co-Creator with me …” (Livingstone PC 241), and I made the connection that with Samhain – in Deep Autumn, the next transition of the Wheel of the Year – we begin this journey to Co-Creation, with the power of conception, imagining the new. I thought about how this power of Conception at Samhain – as a power of the Old Dark One – corresponded to the power of fertility at Beltaine – High Spring, polar opposite Deep Autumn – when the face of the Virgin/Young One moves into the Mother. I traced a trail, and noticed relationships including how the polar opposite Sabbats corresponded:
AUTUMN EQUINOX: “You will return as Mother, Co-Creator with me …”. There is a descent to dark manifesting sentient power – felt as loss and grief.
DEEP AUTUMN/SAMHAIN: the power of Creator as Conceiver – we say what we will (Livingstone PC 135), we celebrate the power of dreaming, the spinning from our own bodyminds. It is the Crone’s moment of “re-solution”, the power of Creation through imagination, an interaction with Her dark sentience, Her re-generative fertility. It is “transgenetic” creation13.
WINTER SOLSTICE known as Yule: the Birth – the manifesting dark breaks into the manifest. We may celebrate Origins, the birth of All, including small self’s birthings.
EARLY SPRING known as Imbolc: the nurturing of the new manifest unique self. It is the Virgin/Young One’s moment of the Beauty of differentiated form, and dedication to it.
SPRING EQUINOX: the sacred joyful return of the lost Beloved as Co-Creator as promised at Autumn Equinox, the ascending to manifest power – a Form-al power, as juxtaposed to the Sentient power of the Autumn Equinox descent.
HIGH SPRING known as Beltaine: the power of Creation through Allurement14. It is the Virgin’s moment of Desire15, the power of Creation through interaction with Other – other differentiated beings, with manifest reality, Her generative fertility. It is the Poetry of genetic creation.
SUMMER SOLSTICE known as Litha: the climax, the maturing, the fruition – the manifest breaks into the dark sentience of the manifesting. We may celebrate the fulfilment of being.
EARLY AUTUMN known as Lammas: the consuming of the fruit or the grain – the first harvest, the receiving of fulfilled being into Larger Self. It is the Crone’s moment of “dis-solution” (Livingstone PC 147-148), of remembering the dark beauty of the sentient Cosmos, this larger self, and dedication to it.
The whole Wheel is a Creation story. The Mother – the Matrix – is present at each and all the Sabbats: conception at Samhain, birth at Winter, lactation at Imbolc, power of being at Spring Equinox, fertile at Beltaine, mature at Summer, receiving/consuming at Lammas, descending to the sentient power of the dark at Autumn Equinox. The Crone is Creator towards manifest form at Samhain, at Beltaine the Virgin is Creator towards manifesting dissolution. Corresponding to the Crone/Old One’s movement of re-solution (re-forming) is the Virgin’s movement of desire (dis-solution/consuming17). As I came to know this dynamic, how the dark process corresponds to the light process, how they mirror each other, I came to perceive the dark more clearly as a quality of Life – as a sacred Creative quality. And I came to more trust in the process – as an Earth process. The process is a dwelling with the power that brings all forth, sweeps it away, yet brings it forth again: re-cognition that in the larger picture there is never-ending renewal.
The process may serve as a pathway to the Centre of being, which I understand as the Well of Creativity of the Cosmos – and deeply present in each being … we live in an omnicentric Universe (Brian Swimme The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos 80-89). The Seasonal Moments and the stories associated with them – which have varied according to time, place, economy, and various other cultural factors – supply metaphor, Poetry, that may guide practitioners to understand deep truths of the Cosmos, this Habitat we find ourselves in.
© Glenys Livingstone 2010
1 The term is capitalized it is meant as a name for the Sacred.
2 This term is capitalized because it is understood as a name for the Ultimate, the Absolute.
3 There is an enormous amount of prejudice in academic, religious and in popular contexts about this Indigenous tradition of Old Europe, which has been actively addressed at recent gatherings of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
4 The root religio means “to bind” which may be interpreted positively as “to connect”.
5 Capitalized because they are holy days.
6 The term is capitalized to signify that it is the location of the Sacred.
7 It is the concept of these realties as holons within a holarchy: which I consider crucial for understanding a participatory universe. See Livingstone PC 33-34.
8 For more on my particular place and context see Livingstone PC 16-19.
9 See Starhawk TSD 212
10 This image is adapted from Hallie Iglehart Austen (THOG 73) where credit is given to Alinari/Art Resource, New York. Eleusis Museum, Greece.
11 These words are in part from Starhawk TSD 193.
12 And this metaphor is supported in recent complexity science wherein the quantum foam seethes with potentiality and the future is present in virtual form of strange attractors.
13 The term “transgenetic” is used by Swimme (CTTC video 9), as he develops Thomas Berry’s ninth principle of a functional cosmology (see Livingstone PC 265-266). It is meant to speak of cultural coding – the production of language,customs, achitecture, institutions – which Berry perceives as a further development of genetic coding.
14 A term used by Brian Swimme to speak of the primordial attractive power that holds the Universe together, holds all things in form, which he also identifies with gravity (TPOU).
15 In Goddess cosmology Virgin has no co-relation to sexual activity or unbroken hymens, it is a state of consciousness, a quality of being.
16 This is an allusion to Thomas Berry’s seventh principle of a functional cosmology (Livingstone PC 265-266).
17 See Livingstone PC 251-253 for a development of Desire as a receptive creative dynamic.
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