I often nip into a Catholic or High Anglican church and say a prayer to Mother Mary, and I realised, as I was lighting a candle in front of her altar on Easter Saturday, how much my concept of what this female figure represents had changed over the last few years. Previously, I would have thought of Mary as the mother of Jesus, but now I recognise her as a mother archetype, goddess figure and prime representative of the sacred feminine.
Recently, thousands of Sydneysiders and probably many from interstate as well, visited The Goddess: Divine Energy exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, which looked at the divine female in Hindu and Buddhist art. It seems that both women and men want to understand more about the goddess and her relevance in our lives today.
“I was flying a lot between Melbourne and Sydney at the time The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown came out, and everyone on the flights was reading it,” comments Gai Roper. “To me it was all about the goddess tradition, and I wondered what was drawing so many men to this book”. Gai Roper is one of the founders of Corporate Spirit, which helps to implement positive change in companies, and also runs workshops to enable women to experience what she calls the “deep feminine”.
Numerologist Neil Hair believes the growing interest in the goddess has coincided with the new millennium. The number one, he explains, represents the masculine. It is about initiation and action, whereas the number two is considered feminine, and is far more about intuition, caring, sharing, nurturing, cooperation and maintenance.
“The 20th century,” says Neil, “was the century in which women came to the fore. The feminine pushed its way through and we had emancipation and women taking on jobs and refusing to give them up once the world wars were over”.
The infamous millennium bug which had corporations throughout the world in a panic about their computer systems he believes was “like the fear of the feminine that goes way back”, a fear that reached its nadir in the burning of witches in the 16th and 17th centuries. As the clock approached midnight on 31 December 1999, many feared the world might collapse into total chaos and people would be left without basics such as food, water and electricity. The reason for the technological panic, says Hair, who used to run a software company, was that it was men who initially designed computer systems, and they did not look to the future beyond 2000.
“Maintaining is more of a feminine function than a masculine one,” he says. “Men love starting things, but they don't like tidying things up”.
In 2007, Gai Roper does not see us as yet living in an era of the goddess.
“I think of the goddess as the feminine principle still trying to push through in everyday life,” she explains. “In the corporate world I see so many women in HR pushing for community, listening and attending”.
But she does believe female attitudes are earning greater acceptance and men in the corporate world are now being sent for coaching to encourage a collaborative rather than more traditionally authoritarian approach. A sought-after attribute in a CEO is now to be a “people person”.
Neil Hair says that in the 21st century, there is a move to find ways to bring sensitivity (symbolised by the number two) to leadership (symbolised by the number one). He believes the number two is empowering women, which is why so many are running small businesses. On the other hand, men, especially young men, are finding it increasingly difficult to make their way in the world.
“If men are not in touch with the feminine,” he explains, “they are finding it harder to see the context in which they stand, because they have lost their traditional role”.
Gai Roper sees a person with balanced masculine and feminine energies as “someone who is wise to the connections between people and things and engaged and effective in the world”. However, she believes that younger men today do not know how to make this work anymore. There is such social pressure to be successful materially and people are suffering huge amounts of stress just managing their day-to-day lives.
“What is lost is reflection, rest, time for lament and time for recuperation. The treadmill is the masculine out of balance”. How she sees the feminine out of balance is in the form of excessive acquisitiveness, the constant quest and the underlying unhappiness that is pervasive in our society.
One area where the goddess has been making herself heard recently is the environment. We refer to Mother Earth and the Goddess Gaia.
“The earth is a supportive feminine realm,” says Hair, “and it's providing the natural supports for the existence of humanity”. Up until recently we have been adopting a very masculine stance with regard to the Earth's resources and Western societies have used land and natural resources without thought for the future. Suddenly, we are being forced to value the Earth and her resources.
Alexandra Pope is a psychotherapist, author of The Wild Genie: the healing power of menstruation and holds workshops in the wisdom of menstruation and cultivating female power. She has worked for over 30 years with what she calls “the sacred feminine”. In her twenties, she was very interested in women's issues and rights, and she saw part of that as taking responsibility for the health of her body.
Just before her 31st birthday, she experienced agonising menstrual pain. For 11 years, she endured three days of shattering pain every month, which left her utterly exhausted, and it would take her until mid cycle to get her energy back. She was adamant she did not want surgery or to take drugs for this problem and so began a long healing journey. She admits she learnt a great deal about healing menstrual problems, but what really fascinated her was the understanding she gained about the monthly cycle.
“I regard the menstrual cycle, not the suffering cycle, but the normal menstrual cycle, as a woman's spiritual practice,” says Pope.
The Native Americans say that at menarche a woman enters her power and wisdom, through her menstruating years she practises her power and wisdom, and at menopause she becomes them. “This for me is the sacred feminine and what my journey has been about”.
She likens the different stages of the monthly menstrual cycle to the seasons. After bleeding has stopped, it is like spring, the time to plant literal and metaphorical seeds. She calls the ovulatory stage, the “having it all phase, the super woman territory, because you have energy to burn and you can be all things to all people”. The autumn of the cycle is the “getting real” phase. “It's the time for pruning. You have to prune for new growth, and if you miss out this phase of your cycle you do not mature and your projects do not mature”. This is the time for a reality check and it is often when women question their relationship and also the direction of their life.
Then comes menstruation, when women are much more highly sensitive, open and intuitive. “Our physical immune system is a little more vulnerable, and vulnerability has been decreed a weakness. It's not a weakness, the vulnerability is the opening”.
Pope believes that the vulnerability is like a wonderful inner guidance system, which gives a woman feedback about how she is travelling. A lot of PMS, for example, is due to poor nutrition, stress and not enough rest. The vulnerability also comes with a real drive and power. It is the time that a woman realises something is not working and decides to sort it out.
“This is a highly charged transitional moment. This is our spiritual practice how to negotiate that phase, because you are transitioning from being in the material world to the sacred,” continues Pope. If a woman is not grounded and connected to herself, this is when she can become unseated and experience anxiety, depression and real blackness. But working with awareness of the cycle, says Pope, can transform a woman's relationships, her self esteem, and also her approach to pregnancy and childbirth. And, she adds, most men want to know about this too.
Gai Roper began giving workshops for women when she was approached by a group of women in Chicago who wanted to work in sisterhood.
“When I had to teach a women's workshop I had a huge shift about myself as a woman. I realised that Australian women don't think in sisterhood terms. From my observation, Australians have an aversion to really owning that we are women”.
Roper's father died when she was six years old, and her mother's world from then on was full of strong, capable women who reared children and were also breadwinners. So she had many wonderful role models, and was shocked to discover when she first started dating in the mid 1960s that women in many circles were considered second- class citizens. Although she always had a strong belief in the equality of women, it is facilitating her workshops that has made her realise how valuable and precious the feminine is.
“There is a magic that happens when women come together that is deep, profound and mysterious. There is something in the feminine energy that makes things happen. It's a deep knowing of how things work, that the feminine taps into. Something deeply healing happens when women come together in a dedicated space. It's old knowledge that we've lost the ability to experience. Often these are preverbal experiences that we used to give voice to”.
Helping women to give voice to what they really believe is an integral part of Gai Roper's work. She believes that between the ages of 13 and 15, girls choose to either fit in with their culture, or express their own voice. With the peer pressure to fit in they stop voicing who they really are and, as a result, stop getting resonance with the world.
People are increasingly valuing the Earth and its resources. Feminine qualities such as nurturing and cooperation are starting to be appreciated in the corporate world. More and more women are listening to their bodies and recognising their own self healing abilities. Is the voice of the goddess slowly starting to be heard?