Yesterday, whilst my brother and I were eating at the ‘Authentic Nepali Kitchen Restaurant’ , we noticed a man filming something going on TV. It was a very out of the way place and certainly one of the very few places you’d see Nepali TV on in Thamel (the backpackers’ lair). The on-goings looked vaguely parliamentary, and I saw a woman speaking to take some kind of office. It excited my academic curiosity as part of my doctoral work was on the representation on women in the Indian Parliament.
It felt like a moment. Not the ones you take for granted everyday, but the ones you remember as ‘having been there when it happened’. I’d also had the pleasure of seeing the election of the First Lady Speaker of India’s Lower House from within Parliament itself. This felt like .. another one of those moments I would not forget, courtesy of the Authentic Nepali Kitchen Restaurant. For me, it was a delightful sign to get back to that part of my life, research and work as well. (And my brother took photos me of grinning like a cat who had just had two bowls of cream and tuna)
At first I thought it was a Speaker’s election, and then found myself happily corrected when we had the chance to look at some English-language news. Not a Speaker, but a President!
What makes me even happier is that Nepal has pretty much set a powerful standard for South Asian legislatures (and Western ones too) as it has passed – as part of its new constitution – a law ensuring that at least 33% of all MPs are female and that either the President or Vice President must be a woman.
In India, that particular issue has basically stayed stagnant since its first introduction as – the Women’s Reservation Bill – in 1996. Parliament has been paralyzed on account of the idea of bringing more women into its fold on many an occasion.
But not so in Nepal. I’m overjoyed!
The new President, Mrs. Bidhya Devi Bhandari is the vice-chair of the Ruling Communist Party of Nepal. She was previously the country’s defence minister. As President, she has vowed to address minority & women’s issues. Let’s see what unfolds 😉
Whilst the role of the President is largely ceremonial, what excites me about all of this is the legislative requirement of 33% women as the bare minimum. That is going to create ripples of change, and I hope it will once again fuel India’s political will to tackle the same issue once again (nearly 2 decades later). It’ll be interesting to see how this translates for a greater representation of women in South Asian Politics.
There’s been a lot of discussions, media coverage and political controversy surrounding the ban of the documentary known as India’s Daughter. Indian feminists have raised a slew of issues with the film, some of which I fully empathize with. However, despite the ban, the film was tweeted over 40,000 times on Youtube – before it was taken down.
You know I tend not to get into political discussions much, but this relates to what I spent 5 years of my doing intensely focused on. Whilst I see so many sides to the debate and argument, as one who knows the context well – I see a few issues that are being completely missed. So, speak up, I must.
Bear in mind that these comments are not coming from someone who stands for values that objectify women, but rather a scholar of the Indian parliamentary system and the way it handles gendered issues….
(1) There is a real constitutional-legal argument which has led to the ban. The decision itself has been heavily politicized by way of interpretation. Here’s the rationale: The verdict has yet to be delivered by the Supreme Court, and so … taking the accused’s testimony in any form raises questions of validity. It has to do with the due procedure of the Indian legal system, and frankly — I understand why. There are those in the Supreme Court who do not agree and want the documentary to be legally released in the interests of the public – but the legal pickle remains. Moreover, the conditions of the interview required Tihar jail (where the accused was detained) to approve the use of the interview material. It was not approved. They wanted the accused’s interview to be deleted, and so the documentary was circulated in a breach of agreement.
(2) Nevertheless, a discussion has been raised in the Parliamentary Chambers (which, in some sense is India’s ‘national theatre’ or ‘national spectacle – focus of my doctorate) — so anyone who hasn’t heard of it in India, will! Rolling 24-7 media channels broadcast, and re-broadcast, and then broadcast some more … the sound-bytes and excerpts of Parliamentary speeches seen to be especially sensational. Discussion on the legality of banning/airing the documentary is no exception.
(3) Political leaders, from socially conservative parties, have begun speaking of how ‘consent’ can never be taken away from a woman, no matter what she’s wearing. Considering parliamentary discourse in 1996, on the subject of women and their political rights .. the statements issued by conservative members of parliament are … in comparison … extraordinary…. Back then (and this actually happened), MPs actually laughed during speeches that spoke of the plight of women who were raped. 2 lone MPs (out of the chamber that can hold over 500 +) walked out in protest. So for them to be speaking of ‘consent’ and how it cannot be taken away from a woman ‘no matter what she is wearing’ … is a tremendous indicator of how attitudes towards sexual violence have shifted.
That alone is enough grist for the rolling 24-7 media stations to run with. Whether these leaders believe what they’re saying is a different question, but it reflects changes in party attitudes and the perceptions of their electorate. …
In some ways, the ban has actually raised the visibility of the documentary, and, due to the way the media, political parties, parliamentarians create the news cycle in their own ritualistic dance … India’s Daughter will continue to dominate the headlines and public debate.
This is a massive awakening, with multiple geographic epicenters arising in tandem. Political changes in Africa and the rising of female leadership, the energizing of public discourse on sexual attitudes and the ‘causal’ attitudes of rape in India, women’s voices emerging from the Middle East – point to this being something that is happening across the globe. Clearly, the awakening is spreading like wildfire in the West, and that is something to be cherished and celebrated in its own right – but that does not make the West it’s epicenter.
On more than one site, I have seen casual references to how this Re-Awakening is a ‘Western’ (read: Caucasian or North American/European) phenomenon and that women from those regions will lead the way for others. When I hear or read about how the West will re-ignite the Goddess movement, I feel dismayed and to me history begins to echo once more.
I immediately recall the patronizing discourse of ‘educating the natives’ that arose with the earliest proselytizing attempts in Africa and Asia. I recall how the modus operandi of repressive, colonial regimes (in India for example) was to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed women there, who needed freeing from the shackles of their own religions and customs. That led to the codification of a multiplicity of Indian traditions, and in one single blow outlawed certain controversial customs, but also de-legitimized the many practices of peoples of the so-called ‘lower’ castes who had far more fluid attitudes towards marriage and sexuality. (A step backwards, you could say). Many other examples from the history of colonialism and the ideological machine that legitimated it provide so many examples of the same.
When we look to history, we see that any teleological (different from theological) explanation or description given to mass movements has almost inevitably reflected entrenched power hierarchies. In the narrative that I see arising, the West is (once again) the center of the globe – this time with its women, rather than its men, bringing Enlightenment for the Globe. And I find this a mistake that we can avoid, with some circumspection, critical thought and consideration.
Many of the compassionate, awakening, men and women I have on my site are Caucasian, and some of the most evolved spiritual individuals and teachers I know are Caucasian. So I have no issues there, no reason to argue why Western men and women cannot or should not be a part of this movement. What I find problematic is when a particular racial and/or geographic group begin to be uncritically hailed as ‘leaders’ for others to follow.
When we make such categories, when we draw the spiritual geography of this Earth with a particular location of the globe as its center, we make the same kinds of boundaries, hierarchies and power relations which so many of us on the Goddess Path rejected so heavily when it appeared through the institution of patriarchy. Let us avoid making the same judgments when so many of us seek equality and a leveling of the playing field.
We are at a critical time now where our movement has begun to amass enough energy that it stands at the brink of divergence, fragmentation, consolidation – or some other process. We get to choose to avoid the errors of the past, we get to choose to not have to re-learn the lessons of history – just as so many of us are beginning to see the need for herstory or even, ourstory.
For some who might think this to be a ‘trivial’ point, it is important to bear in mind that discourse – the way we talk about things – reflects, very powerfully, the way we think about things. When we privilege any one race or region as being the focus, we (whether we do so consciously, or unconsciously) relegate other centers to a peripheral focus. This was the thrust of the ideological machine used to justify colonialism and bringing ‘God to the natives’. This is the reason why the World Map we all know makes Africa smaller than it is and exaggerates the size of the United Kingdom.
And on top of everything else – for those you who integrate an understanding of the Earth’s kundalini (The Serpent of Light) and its rising in December 2012, the epicenter of that awakening took place in the Andean Mountains of Peru. Ironically, it is in ‘the West’, but not part of what most people mean when they use that term. Their teachings are sifting further and further into collective consciousness, but few ever consider this sacred site to be the ‘center’ of the awakening – and frankly, one does not have to!
This is a movement, as I understand it, for all. For men and women from North, South, East, West. It is a moment where we get to equalize. Where we get to right the wrongs of the past, or at the very least, to create a new balance that celebrates plural perspectives and provides multiple centers.
Unfortunately – and feel free to disagree with this if this is not your perspective, as a Priestess of Colour and a scholar of politics and history, I find that a lot of Western discourse and attitudes towards the spiritual traditions that have found center-stage in the ‘New Age’ movement are far too reminiscent of the ideology and attitudes of Orientalist scholars studying the ‘exotic’ other. So many traditions are being appropriated and given new life, which is a wonderful thing, but they are being done so in ways that do not always look at the reality of the people who live in the contemporary regions those spiritual teachings emanate from.
The spiritual teachings that so much of the New Age subscribes to very often co-exist paradoxically with oppressive, unequal realities for women in other parts of the globe. The beauty of Goddesses and the words that describe them in scripture fly across Facebook walls, but with few reflections on how a land that produced such prose can still kill its daughters and view them as burdens. Very often, these traditions become romanticized in themselves, and the critical question of – Well, why didn’t it work before? Why didn’t it empower the women of the land to rise? is completely missed.
And to me, that is a critical question, that is a key opportunity for us to engage with traditions of the past and identify new pathways for change. We may need to revisit or revamp these traditions that have on the one hand elevated female metaphysical energies, but barred its daughters from real positions of power – be it in politics, or even in the right to hold spiritual office … or even to enter a temple during their menstrual period, if only to open their Heart to The Divine. Whilst honoring traditions are important, idealizing them to the point that the key questions – of what didn’t work? what needs reworking? – needs to be equally addressed. And to this effect, the local knowledge and awakening that is happening concurrently in different global epicenters needs to be honored, integrated and seen as a valuable part of the Goddess Movement.
In the name of respecting ‘ancient traditions of the East/South’, let us not uncritically mouth the same ideology that somehow kept the women of those lands suppressed/oppressed.
Let me give you a concrete example: I have seen a rise in artistic and photographic imagery of the Goddess Kali/Durga as a Caucasian woman. (nothing wrong with that). But as a movement, little consideration is given to the message that imparts to women (from India) who are considered to be too ‘low’ to ever think of themselves as Goddesses. Have you ever seen a Laxmi with Dark Skin? Or one that wasn’t flawless? Ironically, at an anti-rape protest event that I participated in, I saw Indian women carrying placards that said that ‘we don’t need to be goddesses, just treat us as people’. Coming from the land of a million goddesses, this is a powerful statement.
What do we do with those messages? And why are they valued less, or sub-consciously perhaps, integrated less in the mainstream of this movement? We have so much to learn from the fierce self-assertion in the West (in this example) and the desire to assert oneself/be counted outside of the context of religion as expressed by Indian women. But until we see both ‘ways of knowing’ as equal, each side is bound to repeat the painful mistakes of the other. ..Food for thought…
Daughters and Sons of the Mother, wherever you are, whatever the colour of your skin may be – now is the time to Rise. Together, we are all — at the Center.
Post & Image by: Priestess Bairavee Balasubramaniam, PhD
Images: Compilation of Goddess and Earth images freely available on Wikipedia under the appropriate sharing license
Please do not use this image without permission, even in modified form
As the veil of illusion dissolves, you become aware of your intrinsic Divinity. You realize that you are not just a part of All-That-Is, but All-That-Is is also, equally, a part of you. You are the Divine and the Divine is you.
Most people have experienced this profound sense of clarity at least once in their lives. We label those who exist in this vibration all of time as Ascended Beings.
We can call this an internal alignment, integration or Awareness-of-Oneness – when it feels as though the turning wheels of the heavens, the vibrations of the Earth, the longings of your Deepest Self all levels of your Awareness rest on one perfect place.
The Universe can not only be seen in a grain of sand, it becomes that grain, and that grain is You.
To me – this inner alignment constitutes what we call ‘living or being in a State of Grace’. It flows just as true for the being who stands up to injustice, or watches over a loved one, a being who smiles at a sunflower or dances with the deep, wild night, a figure in prayer, a figure who rises in protest.
It matters not what form it takes on the outside, or how that form is judged by others – only that it resonates and echoes with you in that most sacred alignment of Self and Cosmos. Grace wears many faces and takes many forms, yet through it all – it vibrates with a particular frequency or energetic signature that is Universal.
You can think of it as a fluid movement or flow of energy through you. Perfectly poised, balanced, effortless. Especially in moments where such balance is deemed impossible, like the stones on this image.
These moments of heightened clarity are ones in which our actions feel somehow destined. There is generally a sense of calmness and detachment, even when engaging in the most dynamic activity. And a profound sense of peace. No Ego, No I, Nothing. Only that which must be done.
Whilst we embrace the cause of the Rising Feminine, it is important to note that the end-game is not one where you have two equally strong ‘teams’ polarized against one another. It is not to pit man against woman or God against Goddess.
It is ultimately, a Call for Balance.
I am a Priestess and I champion the cause of priestesses officiating over temples and rituals once more without fear, without prejudice, without discrimination – without the idea of filthiness associated with their bodies and their sex. That does not mean that I see women superior to men, or a Goddess superior to a God.
In me, I have a Goddess, and God. In me, I have the Divine. (I’m still in the process of remembering, and realizing it)
So do you. So do we all. So does every bit of creation, animate and inanimate.
In you, in me, in everything there is a God/Goddess/Formless Divine energy flowing through – so what use is there placing limitations on how it can or cannot be expressed?
I find it strange that those who claim their understanding of ‘God’ is ‘gender-neutral’ find it so threatening or uncomfortable when I or others use the term ‘Goddess’, or Priestess. (If it’s all really equal, then no conflict should arise… )
Ideally, there will come a day where both terms are so accepted and embraced by all, that no one will even bat an eyelid.
But that day is not here yet. We are, of course, all working towards it.
Yes, at the end of the day … It’s all Energy, and Dissolution anyway – but we have chosen to incarnate as Spirit-in-Flesh. And it seems sad when half of that Spirit is denied the expression or recognition of its intrinsic Divinity. The Feminine is repressed and challenged not only when she arises through the bodies of women, but also through men who choose alternative definitions of their masculinity-honoring-Femininity.
Till then, I remain focused upon a Spiritual Path that Honors the Formless Divine by ensuring that its Material Representations (Idols, Statues, Sacred Facilitators) are truly representative.
The paradox of recognizing the God/dess on an altar, and not in the flesh of a person is one I’ll address later.
Blessings to all, another wake-up call from the Universe. Today’s challenge features Venus and Neptune Rx doing the now-familiar Virgo-Pisces Tango. I’ll start with Venus.
Venus takes its energy of attraction-manifestation (in its Taurus’ mode) and the energy of discernment-evaluation-balance (in its Libra’ mode) and places it in Virgo – The sign of the Virgin, the Independent / Self-sufficient Being, the Priest/ess facilitating the Birth of Spirit into Form. The one who Self-Nurtures, and Nurtures Others.
Venus (in any sign) will ask you to think/re-think:
(1) The way you perceive, evaluate or judge things – your material value system, in other words. What do you consider good/bad/beautiful/ugly/worthy/worthless, etc.?
(2) The way you relate to yourself, people, material objects
(3) The way you value, exhibit or view femininity in relationships
(4) The way you understand and express your anima (female aspect of the psyche), and respond to the same in others
In Virgo, all these questions ask you think about your sense of being able to stand on your own two feet, of feeling the need to mask your power through a facade of subservience, of not being able to see just how you can be your own savior? – And through that process of self-acknowledgement – to recognize how you can help others/the planet at the same time.
Some of the questions that may be especially worth asking now are:
Do I have a realistic idea of my own beauty or my own worth/capacity? Am I being too harsh? Too critical? Too lax? Do I adopt standards that are my own, or imposed by others? Are these empowering me or to they tear me down – if so, why do I hold onto them?
Is my job, path, or mode of service to others one that enhances my femininity, or do I use it to hide myself from the Goddess Within?
Am I applying the right kinds of standards in my business? Have I taken into account the need to ‘give back’, preserve the environment? Am I just ‘taking’, or am also creating opportunities of abundance for others?
Do I weave my work with my fertile imagination? With my Sacred connection with the Feminine? How do I create this bridge or connection?
Am I taking care of Me? Or do I spend all of my nurturing and Creative energy on Others? How do I bring things back into balance?
Are my ideas of binaries: Good/Bad, Black/White, Higher/Lower keeping me from seeing the World through the eyes of Spirit? (this is heading into the Neptune side of things)
To understand the energy of Virgo – you might like to have a read of this article on ‘Reclaiming The Virgin’. She’s not the frigid, neurotic woman she’s often typecast as – and she has so much of beauty, service and nurture to offer (within yourself and to others, in balance) –http://wp.me/p4OUNS-5i
So that’s a brief description of the challenges in one half of this dynamic – that of Venus in Virgo.
Neptune Retrograde in Pisces, which Venus in Virgo opposes is a whole other kettle of fish. Where Virgo nurtures through creation, Pisces inspires through destruction. (they can reverse roles too, but this the way they’re playing out now). We’ve all been facing the intensity of Pisces energy as part of the Supermoon so I won’t go too deeply into it here – you know what you’ve had to let go or, surrender, or sacrifice in order to find ‘the way through’.
The Virgo-Neptune Rx opposition echoes what we’ve already experienced with the Sun-Neptune Rx opposition on 29 August 2014. This was close to the time of the Virgo New Moon (25th August). You may find themes from this period, and insights replaying themselves in a different form. I refer you to my article from them for a good summary of the challenge we face now – http://wp.me/p4OUNS-5G – and I quote:
“Whilst we so often elevate the dissolution of boundaries in spiritual discourse – we often forget that certain boundaries are required – at the very least whilst we’re still learning in this Form. Be it sexual, spiritual, etheric, psychic, or other forms of boundaries – we are continually learning that these are important – healthy even. This is where the energy of Virgo comes in. She teaches us how to set realistic boundaries, but ones which Honor your Spirit and your connection with Source. That would be the balancing point between the two polarities, so to speak.”
In practical terms – it’s not the best day to begin a new relationship, or go into a business venture blindly! Have two feet on the ground, eyes wide open, before you attempt to build a castle in the clouds. If you’ve got the Venus-Neptune, Virgo-Pisces balance down, then go for it!
Venus desires enjoyment and is not averse to shutting herself from the energies of detachment and the challenges of living from Spirit. Neptune is not averse to casting illusions or escaping from the material reality that Venus both perceives and manifests. Piscean vulnerability/sensitivity is heightened now with the energies of the Supermoon still in sky (and Chiron Rx’s placement in Pisces).
Try now to take an extreme ‘either/or’ position on anything. Resist the temptation to be overly judgmental or to minimize uncertainty through the ‘blocking’ or spiritual insight that challenges you at this time. Try to stay as grounded and as connected as you can to ‘life’ if your head has been up in the heavens for too long. Remember that you incarnated here, as Spirit-in-Flesh, for a reason
Those of you who have faced this Moon and made the shift you need to will also find this energy of Venus-opposing-Neptune Rx to be a great reality check.
Those of you who are experiencing this energy as a powerful-wake up call – and who don’t know what to do with their emotions may want to ‘turn Spirit into Matter’. Channel what you feel into Creation. Write, perform, play with clay, draw, sing, talk to people, move them, move yourself – do whatever it is that you need to to
Both Spirit, and Matter, Matter
Both Self and Other deserve Nurture
Only you can do it for yourself
And if your cup runneth full,
Remember to share it a deserving Other.
You always have the right to choose.
To discern where your energy goes
How, Why, Where and To Whom
That’s just how it goes x
Pallas Athena is the warrior goddess of wisdom, courage, conviction, causes, strategy, healing and other fine qualities. She is a virgin goddess who never marries, takes a male partner, or gives birth to a child through her womb (though she raises one as a surrogate mother).
There is controversy surrounding her feminine identity and the way she treats those of her same sex. For instance, she accidentally kills her childhood friend Pallas, turns the proud and skilled weaver Arachne into a spider for her hubris, transforms the beautiful Medusa into the snake-headed Gorgon as she was raped, thereby defiling Athena’s temple. Feminists have debated the figure of Athena for years owing to her specific treatment of women, and the mythological cooptation of a deity from matriarchal society into a patriarchal one. This claim seems to have some weight when you consider her multiple origin narratives – a goddess of a lake in Libya, then as the daughter born of Titaness Metis … and then as the direct offspring of Zeus who sprang fully formed from his forehead, and in some stories as the daughter of Poseidon.
A further myth tells us of how Goddess Athena’s victories have bestowed mixed blessings upon women. She and Lord Poseidon were competing to see who would become the patron deity of Athens. Athena won by gifting the Athenians the olive tree, but not without incurring the displeasure of Poseidon. The men of Athens then agreed to give up the citizenship rights of the women there to appease him. If I recall my first undergrad research paper on the subject correctly, they were supposedly too emotional and passionate to have any head for politics.
Goddess Athena is further differentiated from other female Greco-Roman goddesses by the fact that she refuses to engage in any form of sex (per most myths, others hint at same-sex interests), and does not bear children, though she has a foster child. As there is still so much of stigma surrounding women who cannot bear children, or who choose not to (and as I read recently, women who do not endure ‘normal, natural’ childbirth) – Moreover, she is severed from any Mother archetype or connection to the Womb as she is born of the head of Zeus (who actually devours his wife Metis so she may not bear an heir that would be more powerful than himself but Athena’s rising cannot be stopped – in one account). The Mother is devoured by the Father to avoid the birth of an heir who can surpass him. Because she is not male, Athena is automatically accepted by the Father as his ally as she bears no threat his supremacy.
Now I’m not saying that these myths are true, or that they are not. Personally, I have always loved the Goddess Athena and I find her courage to be one that speaks to every minority man/woman/LGBT person who has ever needed to step up and play in the big leagues, in ‘a man’s world’. But the myths are narratives that reflect a particular social and cultural context. And sadly, they still echo with the kinds of concerns that others still feel (and sometimes voice) when seeing a woman stepping into her own power – even today. (But it’s not her place! Her place is in the kitchen! Women must be soft spoken, it’s a man’s job to earn the money, if she’s out for work at night she must be a prostitute! etc. etc.) These fears are more visible in some cultures, but still present across the globe in one form or another.
But what do we do with this information?
I feel that collectively, we need to reclaim the figure of Goddess Athena from the mythological associations that somehow associate her assertive force with a betrayal of / alienation from her own biological sex (women) – and re-cast them in the modern day. This is my still-evolving take on this mighty Goddess:
Here we see the first ‘career woman’ who chose to divert her energies into her work, and not into raising children or pleasing a male partner in bed. In liberal societies today, many would recognize those choices in their own lives and feel the same weight of burden or stigma associated with them. In traditional societies, more women are beginning to rise up and exercise their right to live their lives beyond a biological/reproductive/heterosexual prescription.
Honestly, the choice needn’t be so stark, Women can be assertive and have careers and success and power without giving up their familial roles as mothers. They can be as nurturing and caring as they want to be. And they do not need to step on or curtail the expressions of power of their fellow sisters and brothers. And if women don’t like having a female form – depending on which part of the world they’re in – they can even change that too.
I would go out on a limb and say that if Athena was a human woman living today, she would likely be a (1) ‘career woman’ (in her cultural milieu) rejecting the prescriptions of patriarchy and/or (2) LGBT (think about it, same-sex partnerships, a female body that rejects any identification with biological processes unique to women and performs ‘as a man’).
So you could say – at least within the Greco-Roman pantheon, Goddess Athena was the first female form to break out of the stereotypical mold, exploring alternate meanings and expressions of female identity, power and role. So she is not just a Goddess for ‘women’ but for anyone daring to take a leap forward in uncharted territory: A Path-Maker.
Part 1 of this series is available at: http://wp.me/p4OUNS-5y
*I first published this article in another blog of mine on July 12, 2014.
Image Information: “Bust Athena Velletri Glyptothek Munich 213” by Unknown (Greek original by Kresilas) – User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-02-08. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bust_Athena_Velletri_Glyptothek_Munich_213.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bust_Athena_Velletri_Glyptothek_Munich_213.jpg
Sex and Gender are different concepts. Your genitalia does not tell you to behave a certain way, you are conditioned into it and/or predisposed to certain behaviors through your biological hardwiring – nature / nurture both exert their influence. Certain branches of academic feminism make a wonderful case for defining the relationship between sex and gender differently. For instance – you can look to the work of Judith Butler who speaks of gender as a repeated performance that we enact – if you’re interested in learning more. We all see it differently – but this is the ‘knowing’ that resonates with me.
In other words – we do not learn how to be a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ based on genes alone – we are taught how to perform ‘being a woman’, or ‘being a man’. And as we repeat these performances over and over again, we begin to strongly identify with them and consider them as ‘real’. It is the embodied form of the idea that ‘reality is constructed’, and one of the ideas that underpinned my PhD thesis. For if there was but one definition of womanhood, or manhood, wouldn’t we all play it out the same way?
Some women are taught that they have to dress the part, curl/perm their hair to look a certain way, keep their legs together when they’re sitting down, wear lipstick (not too red!) and flowing dresses in order to be ‘a lady’. Other women rebel and wear their wild hair like a mantle over their shoulders and dance by the fires till dawn. Other women cut their hair to within an inch of their scalp and wear clothes which make them look angular, masculine, martial. And other women do other things…. the same with men …. In fact, I don’t know how to define womanhood or manhood anymore – I thought I had an idea, but now I see that that too is my construction and mine alone.
There is such a diverse range of such expressions of gender – Who can say what being a ‘real woman’ or a ‘real man’ is anymore? And why do we insist in linking it with a particular set of genitalia?
I’ve seen men with the nurturing instincts idealized as ‘feminine qualities’ and women who have none of that whatsoever. I’ve seen human tigresses roar and stride into battle, in a ‘man’s world’ and best the alpha male – so much for assertiveness and aggression being ‘a male thing’. (And yes, people still use these outmoded categorizations to put limits on behavior: ‘girls don’t beat boys at games’, ‘girls don’t run’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘boys don’t wear pink’ etc.)
It works both ways, and is one of the dynamics which has led to the imbalance in Masculine and Feminine energies which we see in the world today. So what does all this have to do with my study of astrology?
GENDER STEREOTYPING IN ASTROLOGY
In astrology we associate Air/Fire, the Sun, Saturn, Mars with ‘male’ energies and Earth/Water, the Moon, Venus, with ‘female’, et cetera. I often clarify when I use these terms in my reports as I see them as archetypes which can manifest in all beings. But still that gendered binary gets reproduced ….
I find this deeply problematic – as my personal experiences and explorations of cultural archetypes tell a different tale. For instance, in primordial concepts of Shiva (male) and Sakthi (female), Shiva is the passive, receptive principle whilst Sakthi is that active, dynamic force. In my experience of reality – I know more fiery women and nurturing men than I do the opposite. Kali-Ma is my Raging Fire and Lord Shiva is the Calm Breeze on the Himalayan Mountain. (For one thing – but I work with different pantheons and archetypes as well: Some days Mother Earth and Father Sun speak instead. You don’t have to ‘pick one’ and consider all else ‘wrong’.)
So for me, I’ve never seen or experienced the elements exclusively in the traditional way described. Here are other examples less contingent on my personal views:
For instance, the Moon – closely associated with the Oceans is often seen in Western astrology as ‘female’. But the Moon is ‘male’ in Vedic astrology, and in pre-Vedic (Dravidian) India, the ruler of the waters, lakes and streams was Lord Varuna/Baruna – again, a male deity. [Incidentally, when I look at an Ocean, I do not see her as entirely Feminine to the exclusion of all else]
The Sun is seen as ‘male’ as in Western and Vedic astrology, but in other cultures – this is not so. Goddess Bhairavi. the Mahavidya, is associated with the Rising Sun herself. Goddess Ameterasu from Japan represents the Sun in all her states. Lady Sekhmet from the Egyptian pantheon is associated with the setting Sun – and I could go on.
So how do we say that A is B, and C is D? How do we say for sure that an energy is ‘this’, or ‘that’? Can we say that one cultural conception is right, and another is wrong? Can I reject Western symbolism, Vedic tradition and/or (pre-Vedic) Dravidian worship wholesale in favour of something else? And then call that other philosophy or system ‘right’?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t do that with a clear conscience. If there is any ‘truth’ that I have learnt in my study on this subject is that’ — We can’t create a Universal Standard that defines what a man, or a woman is, what ideal ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ traits are.
The best we can do is go with what feels right for ourselves and allow others to do the same for themselves.
And when it comes to astrology, we need to look at the gendered stereotyping of energies to become a lot clearer of how we talk about energetic influences on people. They’re just not seen or felt in the same way by everyone.
PART 2 of this series will address the androgyny of Goddess Pallas Athena.
She is the eldest of the Mahavidyas. Clad in smoke, she rides through the world a solitary figure, accompanied only by her trusty Crow. She is the Hindu Crone Deity, the devourer of Lord Shiva and the Mistress of the Reality Beyond the Veil.
In mainstream Shaktism, She is clad in poverty, despair, disappointment, anger and all those things we instinctively label as ‘negative’ and ‘bad’, she is the Mistress of Maya. Her gifts, her blessings, her golden teachings come through the form of mis-fortune (in the conventional sense of the term), but hidden in each trial, each experience is the kind of wisdom or knowledge you require to transcend your own limitations.
However, in some Tantric variants of her iconography, she is shown as a woman who enjoys meat, wine, sex – all those things which chaste women should simply not do or want (in the Hindu view of the world). Thus, I would say – She is not the Goddess of Poverty or Disappointment, nor is She Prosperity or Virtue.
She simply exists Beyond all those Classifications and Categories of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’. She is Exactly Whom She Wants to Be.
And perhaps, … that is why She is seen as Terrifying.
Typically, she is worshiped by those who have rejected a worldly life as the kind of knowledge she provides stands in stark relief to social niceties and expectations. A modern-day Dhumavati may appear as the single mother, the divorcee, the widow, the crone – a woman who has simply rejected her reliance upon a male energy as her salvation and is ‘doing it herself’.
She is the only Mahavidya (Wisdom Goddess) who appears without a male consort in some form. She is the Hermit, She is the Wandering-Sage, She is the Woman Unafraid to be Alone and Unprotected as She moves through the World.
Her greatest lesson is one of Absolute Detachment. Categories of pleasure, sorrow, joy, rage, disappointment, no longer exist for Her as she sees the lessons or seeds of new paths that lie within each waking moment. She exists beyond our understanding of Space and Time and represents the Void Itself. The Eternal. The Transcendental Form of Shakti that contains All Within Herself.