As we approach this year’s Summer Solstice, it seems appropriate that we should divert our attention for a few minutes away from our own limited lives and consider for awhile some of the magic and mystery of the natural world that lies just beyond our waking awareness.
As our goddess-worshipping ancestors were well aware, the universe is an infinitely complex design of recurring patterns. On a primal and intuitive level they were able to recognize essential truths that we, in our rational, reality-television fuelled, materialistic, super-sized and ego-driven way of seeing things, have largely forgotten. They were able to grasp the idea that mystery and death and renewal are integral aspects of our existence. Guided by a reverence and an awe of the cosmos, manifested in the mythology of the Great Goddess, their shamans explored the realm of dreams. Ignited by the wonder of the natural world, they celebrated, in art, story and ritual, the relationships between such things as the female menstrual cycle and the phases of the moon, the turning of the seasons, the rhythm of the crops, the eternal repeating patterns of life and death.
To understand the price we continue to pay for shutting ourselves off from this essential energy, it is necessary to apply this holistic, intuitive pattern recognition to our own existence. Just as the whorls of a sea shell reflect and evoke the spiralling of life energy throughout creation, from galaxies to mitochondria, the symptoms of our rationalistic, egoistic alienation are discernible on a number of planes. In the western world, where devotion to scientific rationalism is strongest, separation from the natural world and the ways of the goddess is most keenly felt. On an individual level we suffer from anxiety and depression. We fear living almost as much as we fear death.
We attempt to salve the damage we know is at the core of our beings with alcohol and drugs and endless trips to the shopping mall. We try to numb it with television and work. On a societal level we engage in racism, ageism, gender inequality, poor bashing, sexual exploitation and a host of other forms of pettiness, bigotry and intolerance. We lock ourselves up in gated communities and lock up those we perceive as a threat to ourselves in prisons and slums and in the invisible concentration camps of our immense indifference. On a national level we wage war for market share, for economic advantage and control of resources. We bomb schools and manipulate governments. We stockpile every manner of horror to be unleashed on those we fear. On a species level, as we shall see, we stumble blindly toward self-annihilation.
It’s not too late, though, to make a change, to begin a new way of seeing things. In fact, it has already begun. The majesty of the goddess is everywhere. Celebrations of her presence are as ancient as the cave paintings of the Upper Paleolithic and the megalithic temples of Old Europe. They are as up to date as new age drum circles, the resurgence of Wiccan healing practices, and the Burning Man festival on the desert sands of Nevada. Her wisdom and mystery are encoded in nursery rhymes and lullabies, fairytales and folktales and the remnants of mummery buried in our Hallowe’en and Christmas festivities, hidden in dark recesses within the ceremonies and iconography of our dominant religion.
She is explored and discussed in internet web sites, the treatises of analytical psychologists, and the millennia-old teachings of Chinese sages. If we know how to look for her, we find her in poetry and algebraic equations, in enchantments and in maps of the human genome. If we know how to look we see her vibrant presence in every facet of the natural world from the placid drift of plankton to the volcanic birth of stars. We see her in observatory telescopes and electron microscopes. We see her in dreams; not the pale, bloated waking dreams of a better car or a better lover or a bottle of beer, but the dreams that sometimes wake us up in the middle of the night filled with a sense of fear or longing or indescribable wonder.
Today, as we splutter and flounder in the turbulent waters of our supposed reality, she is the great stretch of space above us and the great depth of ocean beneath. We can go our whole lives, gasping for air, never truly fathoming her presence. The civilizations that for thousands of years lived in harmony with her laws are as distant and forgotten as a sunken city. But if we give ourselves over to the awful tides and currents, if we learn how to float and to dive and to resurface we may yet see that the lamps of that city are still lit, and that somewhere in the back of our minds we have long-suppressed childhood memories of its winding streets. Perhaps we will then acquire a special kind of breathing that will allow us to once again explore this city’s gardens and dance halls and galleries, its playgrounds and graveyards. Perhaps we will once again understand our legacy and birthright — once again find our way home.
Baring, Anne and Jules Cashford. The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1993.
Shlain, Leonard. The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. New York: Penguin Group, 1999.