Faces of the Goddess

4 06 2008

Over the last few months I’ve had a lot to think about; I’ve been on this path now a pretty reasonable amount of time, perhaps 10 years, if you count all the years in which I was a substance in search of a form! In that time, I’ve spent most of my spiritual energy embracing the feminine in the divine, in the most amorphous sense, and attempting to reconcile and balance Her with the masculine Deity I have been familiar with my entire life. She hasn’t really had a name or a face; My Lady, Nature, Gaia, the World.

I’m starting to think that I need to go further. For me, I need attributes, I need a personality. I need to at least explore the possibilities more deeply. Actually, I have to thank Aleq Grai for this; had he not made a comment about possible weakness in generic ‘Goddess / God’ worship a few months back, I might not have reached this conclusion quite yet. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but there can be no harm in exploring the concept.

If we look at why Christianity accepts ‘God’ as a ‘generic’ deity (Aleq’s other point), then we see that it can stem from the belief that they have the ‘One True’ god, that others are superficial or have been superseded. It’s not a nod to a generic, all-purpose deity, far from it; it’s a clarion call to proclaim the primacy of the God of Gods, who needs no other name in this time and place. For the same reason, us humans call the Earth, the Sun, the Moon by no other names than the ones that give them their form. We don’t need to; they are the only ones we have.

In fact, the Christian god is anything but generic. He is, for a start, a triple god, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and is worshipped in His different manifestations in different ways, as well as together.

Generic is not necessarily unchallenging, in any case. As I said to Aleq, the challenge in worshipping the Goddess, for example, is to define for yourself, or to allow to be imparted to you, the attributes that concern you at that particular time and place. Goddess / God is everywhere, is everything. If you manage to grasp the hem of the robe for a fleeting second you’re doing well.

Once you label, you are seeking to negate, no matter how you try to dress it up. By calling Goddess by a name, we are trying, even subconsciously, to limit what we need to understand so we can concentrate more effectively. It’s a filter, if you like. Trying to corner the might and the mutability of the divine in a way we poor humans can comprehend. It’s like capturing a butterfly and nailing it to a board. In our case, of course, once we’ve done this, the butterfly remains alive and we try to communicate with it.

Perhaps this analogy has been taken a little far! But I think it makes a good point. Perhaps my need for a definition, for attributes, is a retrograde step; perhaps I’m ‘wimping out’ in a spiritual sense. However, I believe the challenge is to try to see as much of the bigger picture as we can – and to fully understand the whole, we must study the parts that make it up. Hence my delve into the Faces of the Goddess.

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…and my dear Seshat’s Voice has made her point on this topic as eloquently as ever!

 

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24 responses

4 06 2008
Abdur Rahman

Peace Green Witch,

This is an interesting and somewhat challenging post. But that’s good, so thank you.

It is interesting because reading/hearing the thoughts of others is always deeply fascinating. It is challenging for several reasons.

Firstly, as a Muslim, my central belief is that ‘there is no god but God’ – to translate the fundamental testament of faith in Islam. Or, to put it more truthfully, ‘nothing has the right to be worshipped except God’. Not that this means ‘God’ is perceived of in the stereotypical sense of a man with a long white beard, throwing thunderbolts around. No, indeed. The idea that God is ‘male’ or ‘female’ is anathema to the islamic tradition, as is the idea that God’s divinity is shared with any other.

I take your point about names giving definition, as being a kind of filter. Indeed, I agree. This is one of the main reasons why some Muslims are not happy using the word ‘God’ – as it conjures up a whole load of associations and images that are unhelpful.

God is said, in the Islamic tradition, to possess 99 Names. Although 99 names (and more) are given, I think that this number really suggests infinitude – that is, the divine is utterly, and forever, more than we could conceive.

As for worshipping the deity (however conceived) without form … that is a difficult one – something which is probably only possible for the enlightened ones.

Thank you again for an interesting post.

Abdur Rahman

4 06 2008
The Green Witch

… and in return, Abdur, thank you for your thoughtful reply!

I am curious… is it the case that Islamic tradition sees God as neither male nor female because it is both at once, indivisible?

It seems the idea of the ungraspableness of God is a universal one. How could humans possibly try to contain all that in their little minds? We try, I know. But I can’t see how it can be possible. And yet, when we wonder at the smallest flower or see a beautiful sunset, we feel and understand it – and we are feeling and understanding God / Goddess at the same time.

Should we try to worship without form? It is a well-worn idea in Wicca that to worship a nameless Goddess / God dyad is generic, weak, a cop-out. I agree with you, I can’t see that this is true. It only looks weak because it is not understood.

I do not in any way pretend to be an enlightened one, though. I think that, far from being so, I’m just following my instincts. I think this means I will need to back track and learn a bit more. Try not to run before I can walk!

Peace and bright blessings to you.

4 06 2008
Abdur Rahman

Peace Green Witch,

God is seen as neither male nor female, because gender is believed to be an attribute of being – God is not a being: in the sense that God is not a being like other beings; God is not a ‘thing’ that could be compared with other things: God is beyond being. Also, it is not believed that God incarnates – which places it in contrast to the Christian concept of the Trinity (which is firmly rejected by the Quran). Yes, as you say, God is One (not in the sense of number, but in the sense of being unique and indivisible).

The Islamic tradition would also argue that God’s essence is utterly and forever unknowable – which is why God is referred to by attributes (such as al-Rahman, ‘the Most Merciful’). Yet, as you say, when we see a flower or a star, or another human being we are in fact seeing a ‘sign’. The universe is held to be a revelation from God (in the same way that the Quran is).

I think when people speak of worshipping without form they are often referring to two distinct concepts. The first seems to be the idea that we merge all that we don’t understand into a messy kind of ‘blob’. In this sense, formlessness can sometimes be a kind of indecision (the inability to decide between things perhaps). The second (and this is what I was referring to) was being able to worship without human-made crutches, to be able to worship God without form.

Allah! I am no enlightened one either. I merely hold onto God’s coat-tail! Hence my name: Abd al-Rahman (‘servant of the Most Merciful’)

Bright blessings to you and yours

4 06 2008
The Green Witch

This is one of the most helpful and enlightening pieces I’ve ever read about Islam, or indeed any faith. Thank you, Abdur, for sharing it with us here!

I like your analogy of the ‘blob’. Yes, this is a good distinction. I’m currently in this camp – perhaps I’ll progress, given time 🙂

4 06 2008
fox

God is seen as neither male nor female, because gender is believed to be an attribute of being – God is not a being: in the sense that God is not a being like other beings; God is not a ‘thing’ that could be compared with other things: God is beyond being. Also, it is not believed that God incarnates – which places it in contrast to the Christian concept of the Trinity (which is firmly rejected by the Quran). Yes, as you say, God is One (not in the sense of number, but in the sense of being unique and indivisible).

I love the way you have phrased this! It is really beautiful.

TGW, I have gone back and forth with the struggle/desire to “name” the Divine. For me, I feel like once I do that, once I start to put a definition around it, then I start to limit it. By saying what it is, I am clearly stating what it is NOT. The Divine is never NOT anything it is EVERYTHING, so what good is there in trying to cut it into pieces and shove it into a box just to make myself feel better that I now “understand” it.

If you haven’t read it yet, you should go and look at Venus for a Day. I have a link to it on my blog. There is one particular part in there that was incredible amazing when it came to viewing Goddess that I think you might really like. If nothing else, it will make you think.

4 06 2008
The Green Witch

That’s a great suggestion – any and all appreciated! I’ll check out V for a D asap.

I do agree with your worries about the possibility of limiting the experience of the divine by compartmentalising it. One of my current dilemmas!

4 06 2008
Mereth

I have read Venus For A Day Foxchild and it did manage to convey some of the unfathomableness (is that a word I wonder?) of the divine. There were some very interesting ideas in the ebook and I enjoyed it.

Abdur Rahman, you are an extraordinary ambassador for Islam and I am learning a great deal from reading your blog and these discussions, so barakAllah fik.

4 06 2008
Abdur Rahman

Peace, one and all…

I think we are probably all guilty of compartmentalising the divine to some extent. Indeed, in some ways, it is probably intrinsic to our very natures: we only see a small part of the world, and so we are only able to describe a small part. But, I think we can become more than we are be struggling to open all of our senses and ways of knowing to the divine.

And may the divine (whatever you conceive it to be) bless us all wherever we are and wherever we go…

Abdur Rahman

4 06 2008
Andy

Fascinating post, GW, and I don’t have the time to respond as fully as I would like at this time.

There is so much here, for us as Pagans. Remember that ‘Pagan’ means ‘village dweller’ and therefore the names of the various God’s and Goddesses were given to Deities that were associated with genuinely local areas. For example, Sulis, who is my primary Goddess, is Goddess of the hot, healing springs of Bath. Some would have been even more local than that, a Goddess of a well, for example.

These Gods and Goddesses brought with them various qualities, things the local people depended upon, or needed, so they all bring their various attributes.

The question is, are these beings Deities in themselves, or do they represent the many aspects of the One Divine Life? Some Pagan’s get very upset with me when I say this, but I am inclined to think that the Goddess and God are like facets of one huge diamond, each reflecting an individual aspect of the One Divine Life, because, as you say, we are incapable of comprehending the magnitude of the entirety.

Just some of my rather rushed thoughts!

4 06 2008
The Green Witch

Mereth, I agree!

Abdur, the idea of struggling to open oneself is a powerful one indeed. This is, perhaps, what we strive for when we say we want to be closer to our God(s). To remove some of the ego, perhaps, and be at one with our Source? I don’t know. More thought required from me here!

Andy, that’s certainly a central idea – each facet of the Goddess shines in a different light, represents a different embodiment of her through the ages. I know, I’ve had my share of dissent on this point from Wiccans and pagans alike.

Extremely thought-provoking stuff, everyone. Thank you very much indeed for giving me the benefit of your thoughts.

4 06 2008
fox

One of the things that I have always thought is that the Divine is everything, even things that seem impossible. One example of that is the idea that Andy brought up of different facets. I think that the Divine is both a combination of this idea of facets as well as unique, individual, and totally separate beings. It seems impossible for it to be a whole being and be separate beings at the same time, but I think that is exactly what the Divine is. Just because our puny little brains don’t want to wrap around such a contradiction, does not mean that it is not true.

Now that I’ve convinced you all of my total lack of sanity…

Mereth, I would love to hear some of your thoughts on Venus sometime!

4 06 2008
The Green Witch

In truth, of course, we have no way of knowing what it is we’re following. Its very nature is hidden from us, for the precise reason you describe – our puny little brains can’t take the pressure!

It’s interesting, and not disrespectful, to speculate and discuss the possibilities though. At least we’re all thinking, and about something really important, too.

4 06 2008
Mereth

Interestingly, I read something on Guru Kripa’s blog that resonated with this discussion:

Q: Something about enlightenment?
A: There are 2 steps. From somebod to be nobody and then from nobody to be everybody. I have been saying this for a while. And some of you have been listening to it for a while also. (Laughs) Isn’t it? But one day it will suddenly make sense and you will say “Aha! that’s what Guruiji meant!”

It comes at it from the other end, but I thought you might like to see it.

5 06 2008
Sarah

I believe in a feminine principle in the divine, seen as the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone (which is, I’m sure, what you mean by the three faces of the Goddess). Having been a Christian all my life, with a very male definition of God, I’m exploring this feminine side, which has been a great spiritual relief to me. I believe that both sexes are present in the divine power (which, to me, doesn’t really have a name, either), because much of our spiritual identity is gendered. Some may disagree with me, but I feel myself as powerfully feminine when I think about the Great Goddess.

I really enjoyed your post, and your whole blog! I’ve become a fan – thanks! 🙂

5 06 2008
Rosh Chodesh thoughts « Seshat’s Voice

[…] also The Green Witch with an interesting set of comments too! Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Podcast: […]

5 06 2008
Abdur Rahman

Peace, one and all…

I wanted to add to Andy’s point regarding the faces of a diamond. This is certainly how I would view such things. But, I am not a Pagan and as a Muslim, I have perhaps a certain vested interest (so to speak) in viewing things in this way. I am aware that many do not see oneness behind their individual deities. That’s fine, of course, and I really have no wish to offend anyone or to otherwise define their beliefs for them.

I suppose, for me, I just see oneness – one hand holding this vast, diverse and beautiful universe together (as well as all that lies beyond it, and hidden in its secret recesses).

Thank you again, one and all, for an interesting discussion. I look forward to more of them.

Abdur Rahman

5 06 2008
The Green Witch

Mereth, the Guru seems to have a deceptively simple and extremely elegant way of putting things… that’s going to have me pondering at length! 🙂

Sarah, I’m pleased you’ve found us here! And I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the balance in the Divine. I too was Christian, and I’m finding the feeling of balance now extremely comforting also. Perhaps, when I’ve moved on further, if I do! I’ll be able to re-merge the two until they are something akin to what Abdur describes.

Salaam, Abdur; and I don’t think your words could possibly offend anyone. They’re too thoughtful and too enlightened!

I love that picture of the one hand holding the Universe… One to treasure and explore, that.

5 06 2008
The Shepton Witch

I followed your links to Seshat’s Voice and thought it was a lovely blog – there were so many things I wanted to reply to and engage with – it’s a shame that one is forced to have a wordpress account to be able to comment.

5 06 2008
The Green Witch

Crumbs, I didn’t know you had to! Did you have to get one to comment on mine? 😦

5 06 2008
Mereth

No, I don’t have a wordpress account and don’t like being forced to register. Perhaps the settings on your blog is different – I never did manage to get my head around the whole wordpress thing, which is why I’m on blogger.com (so simple it’ll put village idiots out of work). Perhaps she has set her account to that deliberately, but if she hasn’t, she may not realise that there are non-wordpress people out there who may want to drop by.

6 06 2008
starofseshat

Sorry, Shepton Witch. Am new to the game. After much searching I have disabled the “must be registered” tick box, so hopefully you should be able to comment now. Let me know if you can’t 🙂 Look forward to hearing from you.

6 06 2008
The Green Witch

That sounds like it’s all sorted out now! 🙂

6 06 2008
Mereth

Oh, woe is me! Now I shall have even more distraction to keep me from the mind-numbing boring revision. 😉

6 06 2008
The Green Witch

Yippee! Stuff the revision!

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