This week Lynda Wisdo, a Diploma graduate of Tarot for Women, kindly shared her article on the Goddess.
Now, if like me you love the Goddess and all things feminine and divine you are probably wanting to learn more. Getting a Goddess / Oracle Deck can help you connect to the Goddess and learn about the myriad versions from around the world. As you explore the Divine Feminine more, you may be attracted to a particular Goddess. My personal favorites are Brid, Irish Goddess of Creativity, Healing and Smithcraft and Hecate, Greek Goddess of the crossroads.
Learning about the Divine Feminine also helps you learn more about your own spirituality and connection to yourself. When you have a healthy spiritual role model, it can also help you integrate and heal parts of yourself.
So here we go. Enjoy!
The Divine Feminine: New Age Notion or Timeless Creative Force?
Today, as we make our way into the unfamiliar territory of the twenty-first century, one of the most discussed ideas within spiritual circles is the reemergence of the Divine Feminine, a much anticipated shift to a less patriarchal and more balanced essence of our individual and global consciousnesses. But what exactly is this believed-to-be sacred aspect of the female gender? Is it something born of New Age philosophies and too much tofu, or is it a concept that’s been around for centuries, hiding in the background just waiting to make her grand re-entrance? Looking back through history and the development of all of the world’s major religions, one can see that, although known by many different names and faces, the Divine Feminine is indeed a concept that’s been around at least as long as humankind and, more than likely, since the beginning of creation. In fact, according to many philosophers, theologians and scholars, the Divine Feminine is actually much more than a concept; she’s the wisdom that can be seen in every molecule of creation as well as the energy that is propelling creation forward in the ever unfolding process of evolution, a process that is continuing its unfolding this very minute.
In their book, The Divine Feminine, authors Andrew Harvey and Anne Baring present readers with some of the very earliest symbols of the Feminine, symbols such as the circle, the oval and the spiral, all of which have been found traced on the walls of caves as far back as the Paleolithic era. Even the structure of the cave itself is known to have symbolized the “Great Mother” through its representation of the womb as the “container and transformer of life” (Harvey, 1996, p.18). Later, during the Neolithic era, the essence of the Feminine came to be even more widely recognized and began to be expressed in the more detailed drawings of certain animals, particularly the lion, the cow and the snake, each one symbolizing some aspect of the presence and power of the “Great Mother” (Harvey, 1996, p.20).
As history continued to unfold and various cultures and religions began to emerge, the experience of the Feminine continued to evolve and soon came to be expressed and worshiped through the image of various goddesses: Hathor and Isis of ancient Egypt, Inanna and Ishtar of of Sumer and Babylonia, and of course the many goddesses of ancient Greece such as Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite. Looking back, it is easy to see that, at one time, the essence of the Feminine was held in high regard in many ancient cultures and was clearly viewed to be an aspect of the Divine. But what about more contemporary cultures and religions, religions such as Judaism and Christianity which so influence current thinking and behavior? Did the Divine Feminine contribute to the development of these religions in any way, and if She did, where did She disappear to and why?
In her book, The Divine Feminine Fire, author Teri Degler assures readers that not only did the Divine Feminine play a part in the development of the Judeo-Christian traditions but although hiding in the background, she is still very much present there today. For the most part, she continues to be recognized within the mystical branches of these traditions in much the same way that she has been recognized throughout the ages— as a powerful creative force.
Well known to many Eastern spiritual seekers, within the faith of Hinduism, this “feminine, generative force” is called, Shakti and has been honored in the teachings of Tantra for thousands of years, not only for her role in creation but in the ongoing evolution of creation toward a state of “God Consciousness”. Less widely recognized than Tantra are the teachings of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, where a feminine force similar to Shakti known as Shekinah is honored. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this very same divine feminine principle is lovingly described throughout the Bible as Divine Wisdom or Sophia (Degler, 2009, p. 19). In each of these three traditions, the feminine has, at least at some point, been recognized as not only a vital principle in creation but a divine principle as well. Unlike Hinduism however, where the energy of the divine Shakti continues to be recognized even today, within the Judeo-Christian traditions, it is only within the mystical branches that Shekinah and Sophia continue to be honored in their divine roles. But who exactly are these three Divine Feminine forces and how have they been viewed within the teachings of the faiths from which they sprung?
Shakti: The Divine Feminine in Hinduism
In many of the sacred texts of Hinduism, the Divine Shakti is presented as one of the very first energies of creation. Out of original God Consciousness, divine masculine consciousness or Shiva was created, a consciousness which was considered to be Pure Thought, not “active” thought as we know it but thought without movement or “static” thought–stillness. Once Shiva was created, God Consciousness immediately created divine feminine consciousness or Shakti, a consciousness considered to be the active force which then allowed the entire cosmos to then “burst into existence”. In The Divine Feminine Fire, Degler specifically tells readers that although both Shiva and Shakti were indeed necessary for the creation of the universe, it is Shakti who is the “driving force” behind creation and without Shakti, Shiva would remain still and powerless (2009, p.20-21). This concept can be seen not only in the Hindu texts but in Hindu paintings and statues as well where Shiva is often shown lying supine on the ground with Shakti dancing joyously on top of him–Shiva as stillness and Shakti as the active creative principle (Degler, 2009, p.21).
After propelling the cosmos into existence, Shakti’s role in creation is far from finished as even today she is seen working to drive creation forward in the ongoing process of evolution, the process of bringing creation ever closer to God Consciousness. It is in this role as the cosmological evolutionary force that Shakti is often envisioned as the goddess known as Kundalini or life-force energy, the very same Kundalini that is believed in Hinduism to be the driving force behind each person’s individual evolution as well. Hindu texts describe this individual “kundalini-shakti” as a serpent coiled around the base of each person’s spine which, when awakened, travels up the spine through the seven chakras or energy centers to the crown charka, also known as the “seat of Shiva”. It is within the crown chakra that Shakti is then able to unite with Shiva to create the state of God Consciousness or samadhi within the individual seeker (Degler, 2009, p.22). For those of the Hindu faith, it is in this way that Shakti continues to be embraced as the Divine Feminine force in the evolutionary process of not only individual consciousness but global consciousness as well.
Shekinah: The Feminine Face of God in Judaism
Not as widely recognized as Hinduism’s Shakti is a similarly divine feminine aspect within the Jewish mystical tradition or Kabbalah known as Shekinah. Shekinah arose from the earliest Jewish texts out of the Hebrew word for “indwelling” and was originally seen as nothing more than an “attribute” or “radiance” of God. The only indication that Shekinah was a feminine concept was the fact that the word was a noun of feminine gender. It wasn’t until much later that the image of Shekinah as a “divine feminine being” slowly began to develop, first within the Jewish mystical tradition and, soon after, within some aspects of popular Jewish opinion as well (Degler, 2009, p.33).
It was during the period leading up to the Middle Ages that the image of Shekinah began to be personified in various Jewish circles, making it seem more and more like a being separate from God. Given the rigid monotheism of Judaism, this created a struggle for Jewish theologians who held tightly to the belief that there could be only one divine entity. Still, the concept of Shekinah as divine continued to grow and soon came to be widely accepted as being, much like Shakti, “synonymous with the primordial light that was created at the beginning of time” (Degler, 2009, p.135). It is within Jewish mystical teachings and the Kabbalistic texts of the Bahir (The Book of Brilliance) and the Zohar (The Book of Splendor) that Shekinah finally emerges as being not only divine and feminine but as an integral aspect of the Divine as well. This divine essence of the feminine is clearly evidenced in the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life where Shekinah is shown as inhabiting one of the ten “creative forces” or Sefiroth believed by Kabbalists to form the “very essence of the Godhead” (Degler, 2009, p.136). Here again, much like Shakti and Shiva, the nine masculine creative powers of the Sefiroth remain powerless without the presence of Shekinah as it is only through the Feminine that the “creative forces” are able to move from the spiritual realm into the material. Also like Shakti, not only is it up to Shekinah to propel creation into existence, she remains with creation as both the necessary force behind the transformation of Divine Wisdom–its evolution–and most importantly, as the energy that sustains all life (Degler, 2009, p.141).
Sophia: The Divine Feminine within Christianity
Although the concept of Sophia is discussed at the website for Wikipedia as the foundation for several religions, for purposes of the essay, only her presence within Christianity will be covered as even within this single faith, there are many discrepancies as to who this feminine essence is, whether or not she is divine, and what her role in creation has been.
Within the tradition of Gnosticism, the concept of Sophia, which comes from the Greek word for Wisdom, is viewed as being analogous to the human soul as well as one of the feminine aspects of God (Sophia, Wikipedia, In Gnosticism section, para 1). Much in keeping with the story of Adam and Eve, many Gnostic traditions view the human soul and the material world as being brought into existence by “a flaw, or a passion, or a sin” committed by the feminine, in this case Sophia, and that it is Sophia’s fear and anguish over this misdeed that causes matter and soul to then “accidentally come into existence”. As presented in the Gnostic text, the Pistis Sophia or Christ is then sent from the Godhead with the specific purpose of bringing Sophia back into the fullness of God (Sophia, Wikipedia, In Gnosticism section, para 3-4).
In his book, The Sophia Teachings, Robert Powell discusses Sophia in a much different light, beginning his text by presenting Sophia as “the embodiment of the plan of creation”, as the divine wisdom that intentionally brings creation into being. As the Book of Proverbs cites when describing the earliest stages of creation in the Bible, “Wisdom has built her house. She has set up her seven pillars”–the seven pillars being representative of the seven stages in the unfolding of creation (Powell, 2001, p.12). Like Skakti and Shekinah, Sophia’s role does not stop with the creation of the heavens and the Earth as, throughout the books of the Old Testament, her influence can be seen. In The Book of Wisdom, we read that, “In Sophia there is a spirit intelligent and holy…Like a fine mist she rises from the power of God…She is but one, yet can do all things” (Powell, 2001, p.14) and in the Book of Proverbs, “I am wisdom…From me come advice and ability. Understanding and power am I” (Powell, 2001, p. 13).
After discussing the many ways Sophia was expressed and experienced within ancient cultures, in his book Powell goes on to present some very powerful ideas about the way in which the Divine Feminine then intentionally receded into the background, doing so in order to allow the masculine to come forward as a necessary step in the evolutionary process. Powell describes this shift as a necessary one in that it has allowed for the current “one-sided thinking” which has been responsible for many of our philosophical, theological and scientific discoveries. It was during this shift that the thinking of humankind moved from the idea-based philosophies of Plato, a Sophian or feminine quality, into the more rational, masculine concepts of Aristotle, helping to pave the way for the birth of Christ as well as the emergence of Christianity, a shift that, although toward the masculine, was brought about by the ongoing evolutionary force of the Divine Feminine. Even within the patriarchy of Christianity, through the feminine qualities of Christ and the female disciples who sustained and supported him, particularly the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdelene, one can see the power of Divine Feminine or Sophia continuing her role in the evolutionary process, a process that Powell tells readers, will lead ultimately to a balancing of masculine and feminine energies sometime in the future (Powell, 2001, p.44-45).
In The Sophia Teachings, Powell also presents readers with some of Rudolph Steiner’s thoughts regarding the “seven globes or epochs of evolution” and the spiritualization that is now occurring through the renewal of our connection with the Divine Mother, telling readers specifically that the New Age is “the age of the inflowing of the Divine Feminine” (2001, p.68). The visions of the Virgin Mary experienced by Christian mystics such as St. Hildegard, Jakob Boehme, and Ann Catherine Emmerich all attest to the fact that Sophia, the Divine Feminine, is still a very present and active influence, not only within Christianity but in the ongoing unfolding of creation, an influence that many spiritual circles believe will continue to gain power within all faiths and traditions in the years ahead.
Looking back through history, through the complex web of religious and social structures that continue to rise and fall around us, whether as destroyer, transformer, or container for life, one can easily see that the Divine Feminine has long been honored as a vital principle in the processes of life and death as well as in evolution. Whether spiritual seekers refer to her as Shakti, Shekinah, or Sophia, she is a force that cannot be denied and whose voice is becoming ever stronger as we make our way into struggles and successes of the twenty-first century. How She will manifest in the years and decades ahead, no one can say for sure but based on what we know of this powerful, feminine force, we can rest assured that, as spoken by the great Hindu mystic, Sri Aurobindo just before he died, “If there is to be a future, it will wear the crown of female design” (Harvey, 1996, p.182).
Degler, T. (2009). The divine feminine fire, creativity and your yearning to express yourself.
Flourtown: Dreamriver Press.
Harvey, A. & Baring, A. (1996). The divine feminine. Berkeley: Conari Press.
Powell, R. (2001). The Sophia Teachings. Great Barrington: Lindisfarne Books.
Sophia (Wisdom). (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from:
Lynda Wisdo is an author, Spiritual Guidance Mentor, Menopause Doula, Yoga Instructor, and Tarot Consultant. She uses Tarot daily in her life.
Guest Post by Lynda Wisdo, MA
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