Looking across the landscape of today's culture, one can easily see that the definition of what is feminine is mired in deep confusion. Hollywood and the media provide us with stereotypical seductresses and vixens; gun-toting, muscle-bound women who turn to violent answers; anorexic models who teach us that self-starvation is eminently attractive; hard-edged business women married to their corporations; and women and girls portrayed as victims, prostitutes, and sociopaths.
Then, of course, there is always the example of the woman who has totally subordinated herself to her husband, the image that so many of us rebelled against in the 1960s and 1970s. But is commanding military troops or leaving one's children to spend sixty hours a week fulfilling corporate expectations really what women were fighting for all those years?
The Quest for Female Equality: What Went Wrong?
Many years ago I was perplexed by issues such as these. Inspired by the teachers and teachings I had encountered, I began to question the validity of this newly created feminine path. As a naive young woman of the 1960s and member of the feminist movement, I had been filled with hope for a future in which women would be seen by men as equals and partners. Yet as time went by and my experience in the world grew, it appeared to me that something had gone very wrong in this quest for female equality.
It seemed to me that after years of effort women were valued or compensated only to the extent that we could learn to be like men, and that by taking on the male paradigm as our role model we were losing touch with the very essence, beauty, and power of who we were. As I watched women enter and rise in the corporate world, leaving their children at very young ages to be raised by strangers, women so caught up in the lust for power, fame, and fortune that they had no time to fulfill their time-honored and extremely essential roles, as I listened to children who spent more time watching television than interacting with their parents, it struck me that perhaps this new feminist approach was not what I had envisioned.
While some may argue that women presiding in male-dominated professions are bringing their uniquely feminine gifts to those roles, I have noticed that it is usually just the opposite. Because of imprinted male suspicions of the intrinsic fallibility of the female, in order to gain respect in these institutions women in such leadership positions are forced to abandon the receptive, nurturing, integrative aspects of their nature and become harsh and aggressive. In fact, these women most often discover that this newfound toughness and aggression is cheered on and admired by their male colleagues, while their natural feminine qualities are denigrated.
Can you imagine what would have happened to Margaret Thatcher if she had dropped her tough masculine facade and revealed her true emotions in public? Would she have then been admiringly referred to as the "Iron Lady"?
What Is Our True Feminine Nature?
Throughout the years of my mystic quest, I became more and more cognizant of the high levels of stress, anxiety, suffering, and exhaustion that are the signature of our modem lifestyle. As I listened to my friends and students speak about their hopes, fears, illusions, and disillusions; as I watched young girls being led farther away from any sort of understanding of their true feminine nature; and as I witnessed how the luminous energy fields of those around me were constantly being depleted of life and vitality, it became clear to me that the prevailing vision of the woman being offered to us by the dream merchants of our contemporary Western society was extremely problematic.
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As I discussed these issues with others they would frequently agree with this analysis. "You clearly embody a grace, refinement, and femininity that is rare in our society," they would say. "Having studied the spiritual teachings of ancient civilizations for so long, would you speak to us about what you have learned? Can you tell us about where we can find adequate role models for girls and women or paths that lead us to our true spiritual heritage?"
At that point I began to offer my friends and students the fruit of the work I had done and the insights I had obtained into the true nature of the feminine experience. I spoke to them about the teachings, rituals, and practices of the rich and fulfilling path of the priestess, yogini, and wise woman. As I did so, my friends and students began to perceive the severe contrasts between this sacred path and the one we as women have been imprinted to follow by modern Western society.
In these ancient societies, which were fully attuned to the ways of spirit, it was perceived that in the ultimate sense, beyond the laws of physical form and the dual nature of our reality, there is no essential distinction between women and men. From this metaphysical perspective, each human being was seen as an expression of the light and energy of the fundamental unity and one divine source of existence. According to this view, each human being ultimately contains both female and male aspects. At the same time great differences between female and male were recognized.
Celebrating and Appreciating Our Differences
In the ancient world the beauty and wonder of these differences was celebrated. The intrinsic powers and capacities unique to female or male embodiment were understood and channeled in ways most suitable to the health and welfare of the community. Through gender-specific rites of passage the fundamental energies of each community member would be aligned with her or his essential nature. Once this was achieved each could begin to experience and appreciate the energetic qualities of the other. In this way each being could have a direct personal experience of the ultimate union of goddess and god, female and male, that exists beyond all forms.
These civilizations believed that there were at least as many manifestations of the Goddess as there are women on the planet, and even more existed in the subtle realms of light. All women were perceived to be emanations of the Great Goddess, and all men were emanations of the Great God. Like the myriad rays that shoot forth from the light of the sun, the divine effulgence was believed to manifest as the wealth of forms that make up both the physical and subtle dimensions. Each woman, man, animal, plant, and mineral was regarded as a visible expression of that essential spiritual current, or Shakti, emerging from the primordial source of all creation.
By their very nature men were believed to be focused primarily on the physical experience of existence. This innate attunement made them most adept at creating the external material landscape of our reality. Women, on the other hand, were perceived as having a natural affinity for the more subtle realms of energy, emotion, and vibration. Therefore they were instrumental in creating and maintaining the inner psychic landscape or equilibrium of the society. Here the word psychic is used not in the profane sense of the word that our modern-day "psychics" and purveyors of all things supernatural would have us believe, but as a derivative of its original Greek root psyche, meaning "soul." In fact, in the Kabbalistic and gnostic traditions the female principle in humanity was considered an expression of the soul itself.
However, in today's unbalanced society women have been undervalued and treated as subordinate for so long that they have actually come to believe that their knowledge and abilities are of lesser value. Why is it that women tend to be suspicious, jealous, and judgmental of each other to a degree that they would never be toward men? How many women when meeting another woman for the first time automatically size up the other woman to see if she could be a threat to her job, social position, or relationship?
Over the years I have often heard horror stories about female executives being harsher on their female employees than on the males. It is as if these women, imprinted by the male paradigm, become its most loyal soldiers and henchmen. They dress in female versions of men's corporate attire and surround themselves with male trappings of power. Perceiving themselves as being watched for signs of "feminine weakness" by the men who surround them, they overcompensate by becoming more dominating and more demanding of their employees than any male executive.
What has this kind of thinking produced? A society in which women tend to underrate, discredit, and demean each other; a society in which children are left without nurturing and spiritual guidance; a society of self-centered women motivated by the need to prove themselves in a male world; a society of women who trade in the essential roles of mother, teacher, and spiritual guide for worldly power, fame, and fortune.
Rediscovering Our Essential Light and Power
With the rise of the patriarchy and disappearance of women's rites, women were left floundering in a man's world with no one to help them understand their true natures, capacities, and purposes in life. Separated from their ancient female heritage and living lives dominated by fear and repression, women no longer even knew that it was their task to create and maintain the psychic-energetic landscape in a positive, harmonious way. The result has been increasing disorder and chaos.
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. Our task as women in this modern age, in this time of darkness and oppression, is to journey to the depths of our beings and rediscover the essential light and power that has always been there, hidden by the dark veils of confusion and manipulation. We must have the courage to honestly observe ourselves, release our imprints, and discover who we really are.
Following this call is the beginning of the destruction of imprints and the beginning of the path to awakening. We must create new standards of feminine expression, seeking as our role models those that offer us the purest and most virtuous goals. As a start we can look back to the wealth of myths, stories, and legends of the Divine Feminine that have survived throughout this dark night of the soul, using them for guidance and inspiration.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Inner Traditions. ©2002. www.InnerTraditions.com
This article was excerpted from:
The Path of the Priestess: A Guidebook for Awakening the Divine Feminine
by Sharron Rose.
Beginning with an analysis of the basic issues and frustrations inherent in contemporary society's conditioning of and expectations for women, readers travel back in time to the age of the great temples, schools, and sacred societies in which women still held and transmitted the spiritual light that nourished all of civilization. Through its mythic and historic tales, descriptions of sacred ritual practices, and teachings on the Goddess traditions, The Path of the Priestess provides contemporary women with the means to enter this time-honored path. In keeping with the experientially based teaching methods of these traditions, it also offers exercises and visualizations designed to align women with the powerful, sensuous, and loving energies of the most profound feminine role model that shaped and preserved culture and society--the Great Goddess.
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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