Don’t take anything you read below too seriously. I’m not an authority figure of any kind. These are just my thoughts and observations and I encourage you to feel free to reject them if so desired. Religious people may find what I’ve written here heretical. Secular people may find that what I’ve said offends their sensibilities. Please know that neither is intended. It is my belief that one’s religion ought be sincere but not serious. That a faith dies the moment the priests stop laughing. Faith is, I believe, fundamentally a thing to play with. Not play in a trivial way, but play as one might play Bach or Rachmaninoff. Faith is something to explore. This article therefore is but my answer to a long standing question. I don’t claim it to be the answer. I only hope it is food for thought. Nothing more.
Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is a sex joke. A double entendre. It’s a play that centers largely around an exploration of gender roles in Elizabethan England and, fittingly, features a bunch of comedic nonsense. Modern people often think the title refers to that nonsense only but in Shakespeare’s time “Nothing” was slang for female genitalia. You know, whereas men have “something” down there, women have “nothing.” Get it? So The Bard cleverly disguises his feelings on the matter in the title. One can almost hear Shakespeare, exasperated, speaking about his hyper genderlized society… “Oh, I don’t know…. isn’t this all a bit of fuss?”
And often that’s how I feel about the matter too. You know, “Isn’t this all a bit of fuss?”
Gender roles and norms feel like the sort of thing we could just let sort themselves out, without trying to bother about it on the national stage all the time. But apparently that isn’t true. A lot of people have very strong feelings on the matter. Strong feelings about their female experience or their masculinity or their gender expression. And a lot of those people find it difficult to function in a society where their questions about such issues are not adequately answered. Safe to say, if it was an issue in Shakespeare’s time, and remains so, it’s probably something that needs to be addressed. Not that I think we’ll ever “fix” it, per se. The tension between the sexes is probably primordial, part of the dynamic that makes relationships go. “Fixing” them might be the same thing as canceling romance, and I don’t think anybody wants that.
Why don’t we have a Female God?
Right? Weird isn’t it?
So, historically, Christianity has never had a goddess figure. This is a bit of an issue. It’s something missing. Or, to use The Bard’s pun, it’s nothing missing. Mankind, after all, is composed of two sexes, both of which are explicitly stated to have been created in God’s image. If therefore Man, created in God’s image, is divided into two sexes, it stands to reason that God, in some way, is also likewise divided. No?
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” — Bible, Genesis 1:27
Other religions have never had this problem. All the various paganisms of the world, for example, have been chock-full of deities of both sexes. God men and god women, god boys and god girls… even, as in the case of Loki, god transsexuals. In Hinduism most of the gods can be either sex, appearing sometimes in this form, sometimes in another, changing gender as the situation requires. Buddhism evades the issue, not really having a “god” at all, per se, and Taoism pulls much the same trick, conceiving of “the infinite” as something not quite personal enough to have a sex. The Tao is more akin to “The Force” in Star Wars. It’s super important, sure, but not like, a person. At least, not any sort of person that might or might not have a penis.
The Abrahamic religions though… Well, they have a God, absolutely. But that God is singular, one, exists on his own without any other gods, and, most importantly, is overwhelmingly masculine. Sure, you can quibble about this. People do. God, at least in Islam and Judaism, is an entity of total spirituality. Both religions refer to their deity in every way as male, but also, he has no physical body, therefore notions of God’s sex are on some level nonsensical. But Christianity doesn’t have this out! In Christianity Jesus, a male human being, is God incarnate. God, in the flesh. In the Christian faith God has a body. God is, literally, (Jesus having ascended to Heaven) a bearded man in the sky.
What about girls?
This has been a longstanding thorn in Christianity’s side. It hasn’t really known what to do with women. There’s been a tendency to see women as all good or all bad, regulating them either to the mold of The Madonna or to the mold of The Whore. Irrational, chaotic, women have been unfairly perceived as more akin to forces of nature instead of equivalent compliments to their men. Perhaps, dear reader, you still notice some lingering vestiges of this attitude, even in our own time? Are not women still said to be unknowable? Even by themselves?
Of course, already mentioned, Mother Mary, The Madonna, has arisen to fill this role in some sects of Christianity. She’s not a goddess… technically… but a lot of people treat her as one. American Catholics will say it isn’t so until they’re blue in the face (I’m Catholic btw), but in many parts of the world Mary is totally worshiped as a goddess. She’s not supposed to be, on paper, according to Catholic dogma, but… she is anyway. In Latin America you’ll hear ninety-nine prayers to Mary for every one directed to God the Father or to Jesus. It’s so blatant that honestly it feels like in some circles Christ is being purposefully ignored. A protestant friend of mine who grew up near a Hispanic Catholic parish used to mock this to humorous effect singing, “♫ ♫ Anyone but Je-sus… Any one but Him. We will pray to any oooonnneeee… Any-one but Him ♫ ♫” to the tune of the hymn, Jesus Paid it All.
This is probably only natural. People need a female to look up to. The psychological need for “a mother” extends beyond childhood in just the same way that the need for “a father” does. Without a clear directive about how to fulfill that need people have quite reasonably promoted the nearest contender to divine status, even if, technically, that’s supposed to be a heresy.
So, is there an answer here? Is there a feminine side to God almighty? Is there anything which is, in essence, female, that we as Christians might identify with the divine?
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God’s Masculine and Feminine Sides
Probably. Nothing definitive here but this makes the most sense to me. The feminine side of God is matter. Like, the stuff you talk about in physics class. Stuff with mass. All that protons and neutrons and so forth. Matter.
Maybe that’s confusing? But, think of it this way… So, God, the Father, is spirit. Right? And Spirit is immaterial. God, “the Mother” (please don’t read more into this than is meant, but also don’t read into it less. (Read into it just the right amount.)) is therefore the opposite. Material. Matter.
It’s in the name.
Matter and mother share the same etymological roots. This is seen very explicitly in German, from which English (at least the Anglo-Saxon side) comes. The German word for “mother” is “mutter”, aka, matter. “Mama” is “mater”, which again, is the word matter but missing a “t”. If the cosmos is divided into matter and spirit, or in Platonic terms, matter and form, then it is the immaterial part, the airy, misty, part, which is masculine, and the hard physical substances which are feminine.
Perhaps this seems counterintuitive. Our culture tends to deem women as “softer” and more “air-headed” than men. Maybe this is true, even if, in my personal experience, it’s almost always the exact opposite. A standard American might therefore tend to think that the hard concrete physical stuff should be male, and the indeterminate, vague, can’t decide what it wants to order for dinner part should be female. It’s not though, and I’ll tell you why:
Because spirit impregnates and matter gets impregnated.
Or, again, in Platonic terms, Form imbues matter with itself.
If this is unclear it is only because we have methaphorized religious terms to the point of being nonsensical. The term “spirit” for example. How many religious people could even give you a clear definition of what the term means? Almost none. At best (or worst) they will identify it with something like a ghost, even though ghosts are souls, not spirits, and spirits and souls two distinctly different things. A soul is more or less what we today would call a consciousness and is unique to each and every individual. A spirit, by contrast, is your breath.
Yes, the literal air.
It becomes, by extension, more than that, but it is air at its most basic.
Again, it’s in the etymology. The medical terms for breathing in and breathing out are "inspiration” and “expiration”. It’s, literally, “in-spirit-ation” and “out(ex)-spirit-ation.” As it says in Genesis, “God breathed the breath of life into man’s nostrils, and he became a living being.”
See, the breath, the spirit, is what makes matter be alive.
Respiration (again, re-spirit-ation, aka, breathing in, again), is the fundamental thing every living being does. Our most necessary function. Food, water, shelter, heat… all of them luxuries compared to air. We can go weeks without food, days without water… but only a few minutes without taking another breath. And we aren’t alone in this. It cannot be said that all living things eat or drink in the same way we mammals do… but all living things respire. And, when something stops breathing, it dies.
It dies in short order.
And, very very quickly, the matter that made that organism returns to the earth.
It decays back to where it came from. You know the line, “Remember oh man, thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”
Your body and the body of every living thing on earth, will return to ashes. Once the spirit, the breath, leaves it, Life is no longer present. The ancients could see this as well as we can, obviously, and so they naturally identified the breath with The Divine who gives life. Breath and Life are synonymous. Breath and Spirit are synonymous. And the being that gave that breath was clearly more “up” than it was down because Air is more up than it is down. Right? The atmosphere, or what the ancients would have called The Sky or The Heaven, is up. So, the deity who gives us life is up. And that being was almost universally a Sky Father instead of a Sky Mother because, again, Air, Spirit, Breath, impregnates matter, not the other way around. Air inserts itself, penetrates itself, into matter, making matter alive. Because of this very straightforward logic, the prayer that Christ gave us goes “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”, and is not instead a prayer addressed to a heavenly mother.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a divine feminine though.
It’s just not in the air. Not in the sky.
(As an aside, you can totally refer to God as “Our Sky Father.” I do often. I find it gets the point across a lot sharper than “Heavenly Father” for modern people.)
Now, you all know this intuitively, just as the ancients did. How you know it I don’t know but you do. That’s why, all your life, you’ve heard and used the term “Mother Earth” instead of “Father Earth”. Because we realize, perhaps only on a subconscious level, that Mother and Matter are the same. That matter is what gets impregnanted, and that impregnation is the most clearly female coded thing there is. We see this even in our own human lives. It is the woman, the Mother, who provides nearly all of the matter that makes up the infant in the womb. And, yet, babies tend to look a lot like their father. They are, again, taking his form. His spirit. The male provides the form, the spirit, the female provides the matter. This is the Tao.
Very importantly, both are equally needed. Without the male and the female life doesn’t happen. Form needs matter and matter needs form. Heaven without Earth doesn’t actualize into anything. Earth without Heaven (Spirit) is exactly how it is found in the opening passages of Genesis, “without form, and void.”
The Divine Eroticism
The Creation narrative is therefore low-key heavily erotic in nature. It isn’t spoken of explicitly because the general tone of the Bible is that Eros, while extremely important, is also very volatile, and thus best kept private. If you understand all the subtext I’ve just laid out for you however, you see how the creation narrative of Genesis is essentially six-days of love making, Spirit repeatedly impregnating Matter over and over again creating all kinds of new, diverse, and fascinating children. Plants, animals, birds and all the fish. God the Father likewise speaks as a groom to his bride when speaking to his people, because, once more, his desire is to impress or impregnate his form, his way of being onto them. To make them Children of God.
Eros, romantic love, sex… is the creation of the universe, just as it is the creation of each and every one of our lives.
This is, by the way, why there are so many sex rules in Christianity. We won’t get into detail about all that here but suffice to say that if one sees sex as the Divine creation dance of Eros between the masculine and feminine polarities of existence then, you know, you don’t want to get that dance wrong. You might hurt people, or yourself, or your kids, or maybe accidentally birth giant cannibalistic cyclopes or something. Who knows? Unfortunately modernity’s somewhat understandable rejection of all these rules has caused it to paint itself into a corner. We’re simultaneously told that sex is “no big deal”, but also that’s it’s so momentous that we almost need consent to be signed in blood before engaging in it. Perhaps regaining a sense of the cosmic nature of sex will do something to help rectify this situation.
One can hope anyway.
So is The Earth, matter… also God??? In an analogous way that The Spirit is?
No comment. I think if I said yes people would misunderstand and think I was endorsing a Gaia cult. If I said no I think people would believe I was negating all I just said. My take is that, just as we are told in Genesis that Woman was taken out of Man, it is probably that Matter was “taken out of” Spirit in an analogous way. Hard to envision what that would mean, admittedly, but if we’ve been made in God’s image, perhaps we’ve been made in God’s image all the way down. In essence, even divided as God is divided. It is therefore to my mind not out of bounds to think of “Mother Earth” as an expression of God, in a sense, I only bid you be careful in doing so. A lot of people talking about Gaia are trying to take your money, and a lot of cults spring up around the topic. Just keep your senses. Don’t go blindly following a stranger in a white robe down a lonely forest trail. That sort of thing.
As far as Jesus goes I can and can’t help you there. Christ, God incarnate, was a human male, complete with male genitalia and a beard. God is therefore a literal man in a way that he simply isn’t a literal woman. Perhaps that bothers you. Perhaps that seems unfair. To that I would say first that, while she’s not a goddess, Mary is pretty cool, and if you just desperately need a woman in heaven to identify with, she’s readily available. Second I would ask that you realize that in some sense Jesus is a return to the undivided man. A new Adam. An Adam as he was in the beginning, before Eve was taken out of him. Whatever that means. In some sense Christ transends gender, just as Adam did in the beginning. Medieval people sometimes went pretty far with this, even depicting Adam in artwork as a hermaphrodite (Hermaphrodite = Hermes (male) + Aphrodite (Female)). Saint Gregory of Nyssa notably seemed to support this idea and Saint Augustine notably rejected it. Augustine’s views won the day, historically speaking, but that doesn’t mean Gregory’s ideas have no merit. Perhaps in some real sense, even if Jesus is a biological male, women can identify with him too. Maybe this is to some degree what Paul was referring to when he said, “In Christ there is neither male nor female.”
Maybe, again, in some sense, He’s both. Or neither. Or… something.
I don’t know. Worth considering maybe.
Perhaps, in our time with things like sex and gender so much discussed and up in the air, all this provides some decent food for thought. There is after all no wrong or evil that Man or Woman can be tempted by which does not have inside it some kernel of good. We are, after all, made to pursue good. Even a murderer, often, is killing out of a misguided sense of seeking Justice. “I have been wronged, and this violence is how that wrong will be atoned for.” People therefore in our time who have deviated in varying degrees from the traditional expectations of their sex are also seeking something good even if, as Christians, we must say they are in error in the way they have sought it.
For Humanity having been divided in two has been a perpetual problem, all of us seeking to be made whole once more. Saint Gregory believed this division of Man into the sexes was done only to prepare Humanity for their coming Fall, enabling to reproduce, like animals, whereas before hand they had no need for this because they were immortal and would never die. If this is so then naturally people have felt, individually, more or less divided than others. Some feeling all male, others totally female, others somewhere in between. Finding wholeness for the healing of that division has been a driving force of our species from the beginning, fueling everything from orgies and sex slavery to marriage and cross-dressing. The Bible of course tells us that the appropriate way for most people to handle the problem is marriage. An institution wherein “the two become one flesh.” A kind of “un-doing” of the separation that happened in the garden. Paul states however that there is an even higher path. Finding fullness in yourself by reconnecting with God. The life of the celibate. The path of realizing at last that you are and always were still “whole” all along, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
But… people have trouble with all that.
To say the least.
And I hope for my part that they all figure it out and live good lives as best as they are able. May everyone struggling be blessed.
I hope that maybe understanding what the Divine Feminine is in Christianity, understanding what sex is, what Eros is, why it’s Our Father in Heaven and not Our Mother, can help some of those people navigate their problems. And maybe, just maybe, understanding all this will likewise help Christians reconnect with Nature a little bit. Be a little less wary of the tree huggers and the hippies. I don’t know. I said good morning to a pair of ducks today. They seemed to say it back.
Amor Vincit Omnia
This sounds more like Mormonism than Christianity. For matter to be a "part" of God it would also have to be eternal.