Today as the pressures of our modern world lead us away from fundamental spiritual values such as truth, love, and receptivity into those of deception, fear, and domination, I believe that it is extremely important to look at the part that we, as women, play in this current unfolding of the human drama.
With the destruction of the World Trade Center, with all the acts of terrorism that are taking place around the globe in which innocent women, men, and children are the unwitting victims of the dark forces of our times, it has become increasingly evident that we need to search for alternative solutions to jingoism, hatred, and war.
Based on my years of research into and analysis of these issues, as well as numerous healing sessions and discussions with friends, students, and colleagues, I have written this chapter to provoke contemplation about who we were, who we are, and who we might become.
The Women's Mystery Schools of Ancient Times
In ancient times there were sacred schools, temples, and traditions that held women and the feminine principle in high esteem. The most important reason for the existence of these schools was to assist women in understanding and aligning themselves with the spiritual nature of the world around them. Having been created by women and for women, the schools were based on a direct transmission of knowledge from generation to generation.
An essential part of this knowledge, which we now refer to as women's mysteries, was learning to perceive and maintain the psychic energetic-emotional landscape of society, the subtle realm of energy, emotion, vibration, and sensation that is recognized by healers and mystics as penetrating all reality and linking the spiritual planes with the material.
To fulfill this crucial function, women underwent years of physical, artistic, and intellectual training, as well as intensive personal reflection. They mastered ritual practices that enabled them to purify their bodies and minds and transform into the Great Goddess, the most profound role model that shaped and preserved culture and society. As the earthly personification of the Goddess, they displayed her divine qualities for their students, communities, and devotees. In this way they provided an archetype for a more refined way of being human.
These priestesses, temple dancers, yoginis, wise women, and visionaries would perform a crucial role in society by constantly elevating the human condition to one of grace and aligning it with the essential feminine qualities of courage, elegance, refinement, joy, and receptivity. As teachers, guides, healers, mediators, consorts, and initiators into the sacred mysteries of sexuality and spiritual transformation, they transmitted the spiritual light that sustained civilization.
Since earthly manifestation was perceived to filter down from the divine source into the subtle realms of light and energy and then to the concrete world of matter and form, women held positions of great responsibility in these sacred societies. As they attuned themselves to these energetic realms, it was the women's task to maintain an atmosphere of emotional harmony and balance within the community.
Opening and Expanding the Senses
Over the centuries, teachings and practices were developed that trained young women to focus and enhance these abilities so that they could maintain the psychic-energetic emotional equilibrium. In particular they were taught to perceive, understand, and work within the realms of emotion, sensation, and feeling. They learned how to call on and cultivate the feminine gift of second sense that we now call women's intuition.
One of the main elements of this training was how to open and expand the senses to perceive and interpret the signs and symbols that are conveyed during every moment of life. These signs and symbols and their underlying meaning come from every nuance of human appearance, such as facial expression, gesture, movement, vocal tone, smell, skin color, and so forth. But the signs also come from the expressions of the world of nature, inner vision, and the land of dreams.
Women spent much of their time learning these subtle languages and discussing their underlying meaning and importance to the community. The shapes of clouds, the stars at night, the passing of an eagle, the look of fear or wonder on a child's face — each was a sign to be interpreted. Each reflected something about the current situation in the life of a society. Therefore one's connection to the Dream time, or to the invisible voices of nature, became a large aspect of one's everyday reality.
Monitoring Psychic-Energetic-Emotional Equilibrium
Even today in the fading beauty of the Australian Aboriginal society, it is the woman's responsibility to monitor psychic-energetic-emotional equilibrium. Aboriginal women, who still preserve their ancient rites, gather together to discuss the emotional milieu of the tribe and what action to take in the case of group dis-equilibrium.
The women find a way to restore a sense of harmony within the group, whether through having sexual intercourse with a specific man to soothe a disturbance in his energy field, working with a child to teach him or her appropriate behavior, or mitigating disruptions that come from the larger world.
In Wise Women of the Dreamtime, an excellent collection of myths about the initiations, ceremonies, and practices of women in Aboriginal society, author Johanna Lambert states:
An important aspect of the initiation of a young Aboriginal girl is to develop the sensibilities and concentration that make her aware of the living and symbolic interrelatedness of the natural world. During her isolation, she is instructed to listen to the first note that any bird sings throughout the day, to which she must respond with a particular ringing sound. The birds are believed to be inhabited by the spirits of her deceased female ancestors, and in this way, a subliminal connection is maintained between generations.
Innate Affinity to the Spiritual Realms
Evidence of this innate affinity of women with the subtle energetic realms can also he found in the work of Swiss anthropologist Jeremy Narby, who has focused much of his research on the shamans of the Amazonian rainforest. At a conference in London in 1996, he discussed how chosen women sit with the male shamans, or ayahuasqueros, as the men journey into the subtle realms under the influence of the powerful drug ayahuasca.
Narby reports that these women, who have not taken the plant themselves, actually travel with the shamans into other dimensions and share in their experiences. At the conclusion of this powerful journey, when the men have returned to a normal state of consciousness, the women assist them in recalling what they have experienced.
In the sacred rituals of the Hebrew tradition one can discover a clear acknowledgment of the importance of these innate feminine capacities to the community. Every Friday evening at sunset it is the responsibility of the woman of the house to usher in the Shabbat, the holy day of devotion and rest. To begin the ceremony, the woman lights candles and calls on the spirit of the Matronit-Shekhina-Shabbat, the bride of God, to come and dwell within her home. The Kabbalistic teachings document that during the course of this holy night a man and his wife were required to perform the sacred act of sexual union, thus replicating in human form the mystic union of God and his Bride.
Natural Receptivity and Affinity for the Inner Realms
In the tantric teaching of Tibet, women's natural receptivity and affinity for the inner realms of spirit and their extraordinary capacity to experience and express profound feelings are seen as fuel for enlightenment. As the embodiment of wisdom, women's innate receptivity and intuition make them ripe for the subtle teachings.
As disciples on the path they are shown to possess strong spiritual resilience, overcoming great hardships to support and maintain their practice. It is for this very reason that the great Tibetan sage Padmasambhava told his consort Yeshe Tsogyel:
Wonderful yogini, practitioner of the secret teachings! The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body. Male or female — there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment, the woman's body is better.
There is evidence in the early gnostic tradition of Christianity of this same idea. Mary Magdalene, whom the gnostics considered the foremost disciple of Christ, was known to have abilities that transcended those of Jesus's male disciples. The gnostics who depicted the eternal principles of wisdom, truth, thought, grace, faith, silence, intelligence, foresight, and direct experiential knowledge (or gnosis) as aspects of the feminine — revered Mary Magdalene as the favorite disciple of Christ. She was the one who realized his highest wisdom.
In the gnostic Gospel of Mary she is depicted as being in intimate communion with the risen Christ. In this text she confesses that she is still in communication with her Lord through the means of her inner vision. Her knowledge, wisdom, and insight were said to be far superior to that of the male disciples.
The Sacredness of the Priestess, Wise Woman & Healer
Even though remnants of these ancient women's mysteries can still be found in some of the surviving shamanic and initiatory societies that have survived in remote areas of the world, the images of our Western industrial society dominate today's growing world culture.
Throughout the past centuries the minds of women and men have been increasingly indoctrinated toward a secular, consumer-oriented lifestyle that places its highest value on achievement and progress in the material domain. During this time the sacred rites of women — so essential to the maintenance of a truly spiritually oriented society — have been all but eliminated. Not only has this happened, but also our very capacity for working with the energetic realms has been toyed with and turned against us.
In today's materialistic society the sacred paths of the priestess, the wise woman, and the healer are all but forgotten. As the values and seductions of our media-dominated culture consume us, we women have increasingly turned away from our ancient feminine roles — with often alarming results.
As many women attempt to redefine themselves by male standards, with no time-honored training or true role models to support their essential feminine spirit and moral values, and as they are separated from their children by their growing need for worldly power and prestige, they have become lost and confused. As a result all of humanity is suffering.
Where Are the Powerful Female Role Models?
Stop and think about it for a moment. Do you remember any truly powerful female role models presented to you when you were a child? Do you remember any stories in which the dominant theme was what could be accomplished through the mutual support, companionship, insight, and imagination of women working together, uniting their energy and vitality? How many stories do you remember that explored the lives, values, and innate capacities of women?
The stories we were told were almost exclusively focused on glorifying the achievements and attributes of the male. In these stories the female was almost always portrayed as being of lesser intellectual and physical capacity and clearly subservient to the male. She was given the role of assistant, the silent force who sacrificed her own dreams for his success.
Of course, it is natural for the female to nurture, protect, and support the male, just as it is natural for the male to nurture, protect, and support the female. This is the proper balance and alignment of natural forces — female and male working together in harmony
Reclaiming Our Sacred Heritage
The brilliance and clarity of sunlight cannot be dimmed by aeons of darkness; likewise, the radiance of the mind's essential nature cannot be obscured by aeons of delusion.
The empty house that has stood in darkness for millennia is illuminated instantly by a single lamp; likewise, an instant's realization of the mind's clear light eradicates negative propensities and mental obscurations inculcated over countless aeons.
-- FROM "THE FLIGHT OF THE GARUDA," AN ANCIENT SONG OF DZOGCHEN
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. -- JESUS, SPEAKING TO HIS DISCIPLES IN THE GNOSTIC GOSPEL OF THOMAS
Reshaping Our World
As women born into this transformative age we must join together to become leaders in the reshaping of our world. Traditional teachers, shamans, and mystics the world over have told me that we actually dream our world; that whatever appears on this earth happens first in what the Australian Aborigines refer to as the Dreamtime, an ever-shifting realm of connections and possibilities. The Dreamtime is created and sustained by the mind.
The Tibetan Buddhists and Bon shamans say that manifestation first comes through an imagining in the mind. To them the mind is like a doorway; it receives and projects images. It is a portal to the primordial source — the source of inspiration, creative imagination, and the magical display of divine light and energy that is continuously weaving itself into the forms, feelings, and circumstances of our lives. Its essential nature is pure and untarnished by any experience the ego or personality may have.
In his song of introduction to the nature of mind titled "The Flight of the Garuda," Ahakkar Lama Jatang Tsokdruk Rangdrol, a Tibetan tantric yogi of the nineteenth century, relates, "All relative visual and auditory experience is only the natural and spontaneous manifestation of mind itself. . . . The mind is like an artist. The body is created by the mind, as are all the many worlds existing in the three dimensions of microcosmic world systems; all of them are also drawn by the mind."
Attuning Ourselves to the Inner Landscape
Once upon a time one of the essential roles of women was maintaining the natural equilibrium of the psychic-energetic-emotional landscape emerging from these projections as the "magical display of mind." Through our sacred rites we learned how to attune ourselves to the radiant light and energy of the spiritual domains and transmit this light to all beings.
It is time to reattune ourselves with this inner landscape. We have the ability to heal our confused and unstable way of life, to restore a sense of harmony and balance to ourselves and the world around us.
Like Mandarava, the princess of India who through her passionate devotion to the dharma realized the luminous rainbow body and became an immortal dakini, no matter what obstacles appear before us we must keep our eyes focused on the pristine path of enlightenment.
Like Inanna, the goddess of ancient Sumer and the queen of Heaven and Earth, on her transformative journey to the underworld, we must not be afraid to relinquish our precious ornaments and implements of worldly power in order to receive the inner treasures of spiritual initiation and rebirth.
Like Kali, the Hindu goddess and Great Mother of time, we must become warriors of truth and integrity, dancing the fearless dance of death that leads to spiritual metamorphosis and transformation.
Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, we must steadfastly hold love and compassion in our hearts, working ceaselessly to liberate all beings from their pain and suffering.
Like Isis, the Egyptian goddess of wisdom and healing, on her long search for the pieces of her dismembered husband, Osiris, we must begin to remember who we really are.
Starting a Revolution and Envisioning a New Society
It is time to start a revolution and envision a new society — a sacred society that arises from a real desire for spiritual transformation and the deep stirrings of love and compassion in our hearts. This society would consist of sisters and brothers, sisters and sisters, and brothers and brothers working side by side in grace and harmony.
We have the potential to reshape our reality and change our world. If our reality is manifested in the Dreamtime first, in this fertile womb of vision and imagination that is our natural domain, then perhaps our revolution should begin there. If thought precedes the manifestation of reality then the starting point for the building of a more perfect world is through the creation of a psychic-energetic-emotional landscape that is imprinted with the best intentions.
Woman kind, rise up and take hold of your true feminine power! Dare to lift the veils that have obscured your mind and begin to see from deep within your heart. Have the courage to swim against the rising tide of darkness that constantly threatens to overcome you. Do not be afraid to risk all. Do not be afraid to live in truth.
Look into the eyes of your children, into the eyes of your mates, parents, sisters, and brothers. See the shining light of spirit trapped within them, imprisoned by the vicissitudes of this Dark Age. Understand that your loved ones are just as confused and afraid as you are. They are waiting for their mothers, teachers, healers, and wise women to wake up from their long, painful sleep and once again guide them toward true liberation.
A New Era of Equality, Balance, Partnership, and Union
As we move from this age of male domination and power and of materialism and technology into a new era that promises equality, balance, partnership, and union, it is essential that we women begin to actualize our true wisdom and potential. We must realize the profound significance of our role in this new unfolding of humanity.
As intelligent conscientious women who care deeply about the state of the world around us, we must begin to perceive, acknowledge, and take responsibility for our individual and collective roles in creating and shaping the psychic-energetic landscape.
Understanding from an intellectual viewpoint what it means to be a woman is only the beginning of the journey. To walk the path of the priestess, yogini, wise woman, and soror mystica, and the transformative paths of Tantra and alchemy, it is necessary to purify both body and mindstream.
Through this process you will begin to reattune yourself and, like the priestesses, yoginis, and wise women of old, once again weave the psychic-energetic emotional landscape of our world in a truthful and loving manner.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Inner Traditions. ©2002. www.InnerTraditions.com
The Path of the Priestess: A Guidebook for Awakening the Divine Feminine
by Sharron Rose.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book.
About the Author
SHARRON ROSE, an internationally acclaimed teacher, writer, and performer and Fulbright scholar in world mythology, religion, and sacred dance, has been investigating the wisdom of ancient cultures for the past twenty-five years. She lives in Los Olivos, California, with her husband and hermetic scholar, Jay Weidner. Website: www.sacredmysteries.com