In my previous post, I mentioned that the idea or image of ‘the feminine’ has emerged as a key theme in psyculture. In this post, I’d like to explore one aspect of this theme: the feminine as a mythological entity, archetype or energetic principle that has been repressed or suppressed, and that must be brought to light for humanity to become healthy and whole. In my research so far, the entity that appears most prominent in the psycultural imagination has been Gaia, the primordial Greek goddess who is “the personification of the Earth”[1]. This is perhaps in part because of James Lovelock’s use of the name in the 1970s for his ‘Gaia hypothesis’, which posited the Earth as a self-regulating system[2]. The deep interconnectedness of existence that is made apparent through psychedelic experience seems to lead many psycultural participants towards an ecological consciousness that resonates with Lovelock’s hypothesis. And despite Lovelock’s colleague Lynn Margulis cautioning against the personification of Gaia in this context[3], the scientific confirmation of the interconnectedness of life has captured the public imagination and has – understandably – merged with the original idea of Gaia as a primordial feminine deity. The result of this merging between Greek mythology and contemporary scientific theory is perhaps nowhere more clearly or movingly represented than in a piece by visionary artist Alex Grey entitled Gaia.

 

Grey notes that in the vision expressed through the piece, “Gaia continuously gave birth to life through the love energy in her heart”[4], and our reciprocation of this love energy is depicted on the left hand side of the painting. However, in Grey’s vision, “Gaia’s body was being ravaged and destroyed by man”, and this is depicted on the right hand side. The imagery that stands out most for me is the contrast between the many breasts of Gaia on the left, which are flowing freely with milk, and those on the left, which have been bound in order to “suck dry [her] milk and turn it into power and money”. The “diseased and demonic phallus” that controls these extractive and exploitative systems of profit can be seen as representing a pathological distortion of masculinity that has risen to a position of domination over all life on Earth. The representation of this pathology as a phallus chimes with aspects of feminist theory[5], and it’s important to note that the problem is seen not as men per se, but a certain kind of masculinity that has taken on a life of its own, and that offers immense cultural power to those men (and some women) who are able and eager to align themselves with it. The dominance of this form of masculinity has been made to appear natural, legitimate and inevitable in a variety of ways, one of which is the artistic representation of God as a masculine deity looking down on earth from the Heavens.

 

Creación_de_Adán_(Miguel_Ángel)
Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, for example, illustrates the biblical passage from the Book of Genesis in which Adam is created ‘in God’s image’ to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”[6]. Images like this have lent legitimacy to the Christian ethic of anthropocentrism – the belief that Man[7] is entitled to use and control all non-human life on Earth – which is still widespread today, even after the decline of Christianity. Grey’s Gaia reveals the consequences of these assumptions for the Earth, and at the same time offers a way out of this pervasive cultural narrative by depicting the sacred as a feminine presence which is of the Earth, not removed from it. Human beings are seen here not as divinely ordained extractors of the Earth’s resources, but as intrinsic parts of a living planetary system that is divine in itself. The representation of this divine system as feminine can be seen as an effective counter to centuries of artistic tradition depicting the sacred as an external masculine deity.

 

Gaia is just one example of this practice of reimagining and representing the sacred, which is visible throughout the young history of visionary art. As L. Caruana notes in his Manifesto of Visionary Art, a text that has been influential within the genre since its publication in 2000, the ‘God’ that appears to the artist in their visions and is shared through the medium of their art “is not the ‘Our Father’ of traditional religions, but a metanoic (literally, ‘mind-altering’) experience of the Sacred…”[8]. The visions shared by visionary artists have the capacity to catalyse mind-altering shifts in the way we understand the very nature of existence and our place within it. For many artists, the honouring of the feminine is an important aspect of their visions of a more open, just and compassionate society[9].

 

europa.nov08.300dpi.500
L. Caruana’s The Rape of Europa, 2006, oil in five part medium. Image courtesy of the artist. Source: lcaruana.com

 

In his piece The Rape of Europa, L. Caruana draws upon mythology and archaeology to present a mythological event – the founding of Europe – in a way that questions its traditional representation in the history of art. The piece represents the idea[10] that this event involved the violent destruction of the entheogenic, Goddess-worshipping culture of Old Europe by the patriarchal, warlike culture of the Indo-Europeans, who worshipped a sky God[11]. It offers an alternative story of our past that disrupts the assumption that the sacred has always been figured as male, and the related assumption that men have always been more powerful than women. It therefore offers an opportunity to question the inevitability of this state of affairs – to look back to a past that might have been in order to imagine how the future could be different.

 

 

The historian of cultural transformation Riane Eisler drew on this theory of a violent cultural shift in her book The Chalice and the Blade, describing it as a shift from a ‘partnership’ model founded on egalitarian relations between men and women to a ‘dominator’ model resting on the domination of men over women[12]. The infamous psychonaut and psycultural spokesperson Terence McKenna aligned parts of his work with Eisler’s, noting that the loss of the use and knowledge of “the boundary-dissolving plant hallucinogens” in the West was intimately connected with the “suppression of the feminine and of knowledge of the natural world”[13]. In a talk given in 1988 entitled Man and Woman at the End of History, Eisler and McKenna noted that the shift from egalitarian relations between men and women to relations based on domination of the male over the female is the ‘template’ for all other forms of domination (including the extractive, destructive domination of the planet represented in Grey’s Gaia). Thus a reengagement with the feminine and a restructuring of relations between men and women is necessary for the future wellbeing of humanity. Eisler suggested that a key strategy for catalysing a shift back towards a partnership model is the creation of images that resonate with this model, in which feminine and masculine, female and male, are represented as equal participants in the shaping of our existence.

 

THEMAGISGRAIL5inch-MB©
Emma Watkinson’s The Magis Grail, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Emma Watkinson’s The Magis Grail could be seen as an example of this approach, and it reminds us that there is a rich heritage of esoteric and occult mythology in our more recent history that acknowledges and honours the feminine alongside the masculine. The piece draws on the mythology of the tarot: the Holy Grail – “symbol of the divine feminine”[14] – is at the centre of the piece, held by the Magi and the High Priestess as they “plant the seed of manifestation” together. This representation of feminine and masculine as mutual participants in “the process of creation itself from spirit into matter” is powerful for several reasons, and I will explore these further in future posts. For now, I’d like to emphasise that it reveals the insanity – as noted by Eisler and McKenna – of continuing to suppress what we understand as the feminine, and of manifesting personal and cultural relations between men and women based on anything less than full partnership.

 

These are just a few examples of how works of visionary art can catalyse profound shifts in the way we understand our world, and in the kinds of world we can imagine. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on the ideas I’ve explored here. What do you think or feel about the artworks contained in this post? What do they mean to you? I’m no art expert, and your interpretations may be deeper or more detailed, or may conflict with mine. I’d also love to know about any other examples of the feminine (or the masculine) you’ve come across in psyculture, and your thoughts and feelings about them. Please visit my facebook page, where this post has been shared (if you are not on facebook but would like to contribute, please get in touch via email at m.snow@warwick.ac.uk).

 

Looking forward to exploring these ideas with you as we enter a new lunar cycle! With love,

Maia

References:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia

[2] Lovelock, J. E. (1972) Gaia as seen through the atmosphere. Atmospheric Environment, 6 (8): 579–580.

[3] Margulis, L. (1998) Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution. New York: Basic Books.

[4] All quotations in this paragraph Grey, A. (2012) Gaia https://www.alexgrey.com/art/paintings/soul/gaia/

[5] A key text which deals with this theme, which is far more complicated than suggested by its inclusion here, see Plumwood, V. (1993) Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London: Routledge.

[6] Genesis 1:26. http://biblehub.com/genesis/1-26.htm

[7] I use ‘Man’ here to denote the notion of the ‘universal human’ which is in fact the distorted form of masculinity which I’ve referred to.

[8] Caruana, L. (2000) A Manifesto of Visionary Art. http://www.visionaryrevue.com/webtext/manifesto.contents.html

[9] For a wide-ranging exploration of art honouring the feminine, some of which is by well-known visionary artists, see Christian, V. and Stedman, S. (2011) Feminine Mysticism in Art: Artists Envisioning the Divine. https://www.mysticspiritart.com/

See also the ninth issue of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors’ Journal of Visionary Culture, which includes discussion of the significance of the feminine for understandings of divinity in visionary art. https://www.cosm.org/journal-volume/cosm-journal-volume-9-divinity/

[10] This thesis was proposed by the archaeologist and anthropologist Marija Gimbutas. See Gimbutas, M. (1991) The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. New York: HarperCollins.

[11] Caruana provides a fascinating account of the background to the piece on his website at http://lcaruana.com/webtext/europa.html

[12] I cannot do justice to the nuances of her argument here – for the full picture see Eisler, R. (1987) The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

[13] McKenna, T. (1992) Food of the Gods: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution. London: Rider: 90.

[14] All quotations in this paragraph Watkinson, E. (2014) The Magis Grail. http://emanations.co.uk/art/the-magis-grail/

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3 thoughts on “The Feminine in Myth and the Visionary Future of Humankind

  1. Great Blog! In Mayan culture there is also an emphasis on the integration of both aspects of feminine and masculine. The creator, is supposed to be the union of both genders or genderless but it’s heavly influenced by Chrisitianiy. I will try to find some readings.

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    1. Thanks Camila! Again sorry for the delayed response, that’s fascinating – I really want to learn more about ancient (and contemporary!) cultures that don’t subscribe to the duality of gender we tend to have in minority culture. Thanks so much for pointing me in this direction ^.^

      Like

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