In the beginning was Woman and Woman was All....Then She was not All, She was One of Many, though still beloved and powerful and feared....Then, She was One of Many, but no longer powerful....Then, She was no longer She but she.

And so it went in the West and throughout much of the rest of the world, wherever pagan patriarchal warriors and priests brought word of their mighty (male) Gods, wherever Jews and Christians and Muslims and Zoroastrians brought word of their One God, wherever Buddhists decalred women too-closely tied to the illusion of the world, wherever brothers and sons and lovers revolted and declared male to be above female. The Divine, though proclaimed to be beyond gender--or as encompassing both genders--was nonetheless referred to in the masculine. And women suffered because of this. Woman had lost the magic of her body, the power of her words, the wisdom of her mind. Her body was not magical, the source of pleasure and life; now, it was source of temptation and sin. Her words were no longer source of counsel and respect; now they were frivolous and inane. Her mind was no longer wise and inventive; now it was filled with vacuous imaginings and fluffs of nothing.

Man suffered too. Don't dare to think that he didn't, that he only gained from this change in the Divine and Mortal Order. Man competed with man for rights to land, wealth, power and women. He struggled throughout his life to attain that most elusive and desirable of goals--success, however his society defined it. He suppressed natural feelings of love and kindness and nurturance, fearing them as sources of vulnerability. Only weak-willed, weak-minded, unpowerful women expressed such sentiments. God forbid he should do the same. God forbid he should be a woman.

Such was the general opinion. But it was far from universal. Images of Woman Divine survived, and in some areas flourished. Not all women bowed before the New Order, not all women kept silent in speech or in thought, not all women stilled their creative hands and imaginings. Not all men suppressed the natural feelings of their heart; they recognized love and kindness and nurturance and respect not as sources of vulnerability, but as sources of strength.

Perhaps, as some have argued, it was a necessary step in human cultural evolution. Perhaps, at least for a time, we needed to push the Goddess away and embrace the ways of the God. Perhaps, as some have argued, the ancient Age of the Great Mother was the infancy of humanity, when we lived secure and safe, thriving in love. If that is so, then the Age of the Father God has been one of rebellious adolescence. In this Age, separated from the Great Mother, yet unsure of ourselves, unsure of our direction, we wandered. We searched for our own way, frightened.

If this is so, if humanity has passed through the Age of the Great Mother, and is now in the Age of the Father God, then what of today? Are we truly emerging out of adolescence? Are we entering an era of greater maturity, in which the necessity of masculine and feminine in all spheres of life (political, economic, social, religious), is coming to be recognized? Or is the present resurgence of the Goddess only a temporary reaction to thousands of years of patriarchy, a fad, a blip?

I think not. I hope not.

Women have been ordained as Ministers in many branches of Christianity and women Rabbis are an increasingly common sight. Women are gaining ground in the Catholic Church, serving in numerous administrative and supportive capacities; the mystical writings of nuns and other devout women--such as Julian of Norwich, Hildegard von Bingen and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz--are being rediscovered and reprinted; it is doubtful, though, that we will see ordination of women Priests in our generation. The Sufis of Islam never forgot the importance of woman and the dignity she possessed in Allah's eyes; and young Egyptian women now take self-defense courses while their Iranian sisters wear Western clothing and jewelry beneath their jubbah or kibr. The women's rights movement in India is strong, and slowly gaining ground, though bride burning and abortion of female fetuses remains rampant; as part of the movement, the writings of female saints--such as Mirabai, Lal Ded and Mahadeviyakka--while never forgotten, are being reexamined; similarly, the writings of Buddhist saints are being rediscovered. The Baha'i faith has as one of its central tenets the equality and dignity of men and women, both in the world and in the eyes of the Divine. Neo-Paganism, with its emphasis on the Feminine aspect of Divinity, claims some one hundred thousand faithful in the United States alone, and more in Europe, the Near East and Australia and New Zealand. Women in Africa are slowly regaining their economic rights and responsibilities, and so also their self-respect and the respect of others; women have also begun to openly decry the ancient custom of female castration as torture, rather than as initiation rite. In South and Central America, women are eloquent voices in the religious/political/economic movement which has come to be called Liberation Theology. In Mexico, native Mayan women are at the forefront of the battle for native rights, wielding both rifles and petitions.

Rediscovery of the feminity of the Divine is a key component in women's battle for equal rights. The Goddesses wield all the power and contain all the potential which is feminine. Women must no longer be defined as virgin or whore; we must no longer be defined by our sexuality and reproductive capabilities alone. While these are central elements of our psyche and physiology, while we are indeed nurturing and loving and kind and empathetic, we are so much more. Women must rediscover the warrior instincts of Athena and Senamuki, the dignity of Hera, the beauty of Erzulie and Lakshmi, the creativity of the Muses and the Poetry Goddess, the charisma of Qandisa, the courage of Mella and Scathach, the wisdom of Shekinah and Saga, the sexuality of Venus and Radha, the magic of Hekate, the strength of Wagadu, the anger of Nemesis, the ferocity of Sekhmet.

And men, too,must rediscover these things. They must rediscover the multifaceted natures of their sisters and daughters and wives and mothers. They must rediscover the "feminine element" of their male psyche, that is, their nurturant and empathetic qualities which has so long been suppressed and marginalized 

Throughout the world, women are regaining the self-respect and power lost to them centuries ago. But we still have much to fight for. We are still paid less for equal work, our children work in sweat shops, our sisters cannot feed their infants because their breasts are empty of milk. Women are still being burned and tortured, we are still losing children to gangs and gun fights and drugs. We are still not-quite-human because we are women.

The battle will be long and hard.

There has never been a worthier cause.

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