MILKY WAY MYTHOLOGY - THE ORIGIN OF THE CREATION STORIES
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THE GREAT MOTHER GODDESS

THE SOUTHERN MILKY WAY CONTOURS.

Indigenous people all over the World saw the southern Milky Way contours as a great female figure in the sky. The star atlas picture above shows the figure of the southern Milky Way contours inserted with the celestial south pole and an animated spiral representing the centre of our galaxy. 

 

Picture 1 and 2 are rock carvings from Sweden, Bohuslen County. Picture 3 are a star map picture of the southern Milky Way typical contours. Picture 4 showing a part of a kettle are from Denmark, Gundestrup locality. Notice the ring or circle markings which indicate the circumpolar centre on the night sky in the three last pictures.
Australian Rock Painting of the Great White Milky Way Goddess.
 
Milky Way Goddess, Gangavati, India

As shoved on the top of this side, the white Milky Way figure or contours can be seen, sculptured and pictured in different directions. The Egyptians, amongst others, shoved the figure as the Great Female Goddess in the night sky as seen in picture 2 above beside the star map picture and in picture 1, 2, and 3 below.

The wheel figure are concordant with the circle right underneath the face of The Great Mother Goddess on the Egyptian picture shoving the southern celestial circum polar centre. I have myself made a red/blue swirl marking as well as the 4 spoke wheel on the star map figure. This swirl represent the centre in our Galaxy in the direction of the star constellation of Sagittarius.

On the Egyptian picture there are another circled mark placed in the spot for the female womb symbolizing the Great Goddess giving birth to all matter which are shoved in the Egyptian picture as stars radiating out from the womb of the heavenly mother. It is of course from this idea and understanding the expression "The Great Mother Goddess" has come from.

(Lyrics from Lisa Thiel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKyNIY9oMnw )

Bhimbetaka, India

In the Norse or Scandinavian Mythology we have a similar explanation of the Creation: In the north there was cold and dark. In the south there was warm and light and from here came sparks that created the World.

In my opinion have our ancestors all over the World got some similar information's about cosmological conditions which modern astrophysics have rediscovered in the modern time with technological instruments. But how was that possible for our ancestors on the north hemisphere to recognize the southern heaven an the Milky Way figure and its cosmological knowledge?

The answer is: By spiritual journeys of wise men and woman and trough intuitive knowledge! I know this from some visions and dreams of my own. And there are more astonishingly knowledge from our ancestors to come in the following content.

The specific interpretation of the southern Milky Way figure are that it is female in its quality. Just because it is from here in the centre of our Galaxy, in the star constellation of Sagittarius, that all matter in the Galaxy have been radiated in 4 beams, arms  or floods and later on have taken more and more form.

WOMAN AND ANIMAL.

Just as in the case with the northern Milky Way contours and figures there also are a mixed symbolizing with the southern Milky Way contours or figures. Many cultures have seen the contours as a cow known as The Heavenly Cow, maybe also because of the similarity with the white colour of milk as well as a symbol of a nourishing animal.

 

From the Norse Mythology  we also have the Big Heavenly Cow, Audhumbla, licking the giant Ymer out of the rocks forming the northern Milky Way figure as seen below and compared with the Egypt picture shoving the similar motif.

Dragons are legendary creatures, typically with serpentine or otherwise reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. This is very understandably since the origin comes from the large southern Milky Way contours.

 

Other animal symbols for the southern Milky Way figure could be Elephant, Kangaroo, Whale, Turtle, Lizard, Serpent and even as a Mermaid. All these animals are told of in the Creation Myths. 


The Mytho-Cosmological Milky Way “Queen of Heaven” theme, illustrated by the Hebrew Goddess Ashera, Yahweh’s Wife.


Asherah, Part I: The lost bride of Yahweh

Asherah, Part II: The serpent’s bride

Asherah, Part III: The Lion Lady

All of Ashera´s qualities and concepts can be connected to the Story of Creation and its direct connection to the Milky Way creation and to the contour imageries of the Milky Way .

Read also:
Star of the Sea


Comment on the subject of "Virgin Mother and Parthenogenesis posted on http://one-vibration.com/profiles/blogs/parthenogenesis-the-long-lost-ability-of-women-to-self-conceive?commentId=2127676%3AComment%3A1399746&xg_source=msg_com_blogpost#.Urg6r7SoGGM

Dear Den Poitras,

Thanks a lot for this excellent article!


In my opinion nothing really can act parthenogenetically in itself, there are always some external as well as internal creative forces at play. But on the larger picture everything in the Universe acts parthenogenetically when understanding the Creation as an overall self sustaining an eternal motion of creation, dissolution and recreation.
 

 

You wrote: "It is said that Buddha's mother conceived her son when in a state of blissful meditation under a banyan tree. Mary conceived Jesus in more or less the same way".

AD: The "Virgin Mother conception" is a global term in many cultural Stories of Creation and the telling doesn´t make much sense unless connecting the telling to the global cosmological Stories of Creation - and even this doesn´t make much sense if lacking the cosmological idea of what these stories shall be connected to.

We all live in the same Earth; in the same Solar System; in the same galaxy and in the same part of the Universe. In ancient times, the "local universe" just included our Milky Way galaxy and this overall picture makes the very basics in all Stories of Creation with a very similar cultural/mythical/religious telling of how the elements were/are in a latent state "before anything firm is created" and how light and sound started of the motion and interaction between the elements, creating everything in our Milky Way galaxy.
Links: Global of Virgin Goddesses -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Virgin_goddesses and Mother Goddess - http://www.native-science.net/MilkyWay.MotherGoddess.htm

Ancient cultures pictured their primary creator deities in the mind of humans i.e. in a way that best symbolized and described what they observed in the day- and nighttime Sky. The Stories of Creation tell of "a mound" that appeared when the elements interacted. On this Primeval Mound a tremendous light appeared and from here everything else were/are created in our galaxy. This light represent the luminous center in the Milky Way galaxy and if observing the MW-Contours around the Earth in nighttime on a clear night and in a favorable season, one can easily imagine a huge Serpent around the Earth, and thus we have the telling of "a snake in the Garden of Eden". Link: Creation Myths http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_creation_myths

If dividing the Earth hemispheres in 2, the northern hemisphere MW-contours easily can be imagined as a huge man (The Great God) seemingly revolving around the celestial pole area. On the southern hemisphere where the galactic center is located in the direction of the Sagittarius constellation, a similar huge humanlike figure can be imagined, representing the Great Goddess, and if focusing on "her lower body", the galactic center located very precisely where the Mother Goddess´s womb is located, thus giving origin to the mythical term of "The Cosmic Womb". Links: http://www.native-science.net/MilkyWay.GreatestGod.htm and Mother Goddess - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_goddess

So, coming around from the very telling of the Virgin Birth theme over the parthenogenetically perception and creation, to the connection of the Stories of Creation connected to the Milky Way galaxy and its formative creation, symbolized as a celestial woman on the southern hemisphere, from which "cosmic womb", everything in our galaxy is conceived, formed and born.

Thus  "she" gives birth to everything in the galaxy without having sexual intercourse with a man", and through this telling, the ancient cultures got a very precise physical and spiritual (via visions) description of the creation on and above the Earth, all in the image of themselves and their surroundings.

In generally, visit my Mytho-Cosmological site -  http://www.native-science.net/index.html and read my Mytho-Cosmological Papers with a modernized mythological telling can be read here: http://vixra.org/author/ivar_nielsen

Sam, as you noted in your article: " Don't worry, I've no ax to grind against men, no book to sell, as yet, and no religion to promote or put down".

AD: This goes very much for me too. My only agenda is to re-launch an old knowledge which is almost forgotten and that´s a pity because it, as you stated with your fine sentence: "One of my core beliefs is we are connected by a tribal system of belief that represents Humans in our most authentic state" - and therefore we shall be unified (and not divided) in these global and similar Stories of Creation.

Best Wishes and thanks!
Ivar Nielsen


The Great Mother Goddess and The Underworld = Southern Earth Hemisphere

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underworld

In the study of mythology and religion, the underworld is a generic term approximately equivalent to the lay term afterlife, referring to any place to which newly dead souls go. In most cultures the term refers to a neutral or dystopic realm of the afterlife, instead of a heavenly or paradisiac one. Sometimes the underworld is identified as "Hell" because Hell is thought to be under the Earth.

Nun, the Great Mother Water Goddess, residing at the Primordial Mound = Hill (= Hell) in the Milky Way River Center (Sagittarius Constellation) in the southern Earth hemisphere.

See also: descent to the underworld and psychopomp


Earth diver Myth

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_myth#Earth-diver

The earth-diver is a common character in various traditional creation myths. In these stories a supreme being usually sends an animal into the primal waters to find bits of sand or mud with which to build habitable land. Some scholars interpret these myths psychologically while others interpret them cosmogonically. In both cases emphasis is placed on beginnings emanating from the depths. Earth-diver myths are common in Native American folklore but can be found among the Chukchi and Yukaghir, the Tatars and many Finno-Ugrian traditions. The pattern of distribution of these stories suggest they have a common origin in the eastern Asiatic coastal region, spreading as peoples migrated west into Siberia and east to the North American continent.

Characteristic of many Native American myths, earth-diver creation stories begin as beings and potential forms linger asleep or suspended in the primordial realm. The earth-diver is among the first of them to awaken and lay the necessary groundwork by building suitable lands where the coming creation will be able to live. In many cases, these stories will describe a series of failed attempts to make land before the solution is found.

These myths all deals with the telling of the Creation which is connected to the Milky Way Centre on the southern ("underworld") hemisphere and the Great Mother deity.


Emergence

In emergence myths humanity emerges from another world into the one they currently inhabit. The previous world is often considered the womb of the earth mother, (NOT EARTH MOTHER - BUT MILKY WAY GREAT MOTHER! IVAR) and the process of emergence is likened to the act of giving birth. The role of midwife is usually played by a female deity, like the spider woman of Native American mythology. Male characters rarely figure into these stories, and scholars often consider them in counterpoint to male oriented creation myths, like those of the ex nihilo variety. (OF COURSE MALE CHARACTERS  DOES NOT FIGURE HERE!)

Emergence myths commonly describe the creation of people and/or supernatural beings as a staged ascent or metamorphosis from nascent forms through a series of subterranean worlds to arrive at their current place and form. Often the passage from one world or stage to the next is impelled by inner forces, a process of germination or gestation from earlier, embryonic forms. The genre is most commonly found in Native American cultures where the myths frequently link the final emergence of people from a hole opening to the underworld to stories about their subsequent migrations and eventual settlement in their current homelands.


 

Names of the Underworld

Aztec mythology

Mictlan

Babylonian mythology

Kurnugia

Buddhist mythology

Naraka (also Niraya)

Celtic mythology

Annwn, Mag Mell

Chinese mythology

Yum gan (陰間) is an underworld though not necessarily negative like Diyu (地獄)

Christian mythology

Sheol/Hadēs (Abode of the dead), Gehenna/Tártaros (Hell), Abaddon, Limbo, Purgatory, Annihilationism

Egyptian mythology

Aaru, Anubis, Duat, Neter-khertet

Estonian mythology

Toonela

Fijian mythology

see Melanesian mythology.

Finnish mythology

Tuonela

Greek mythology

Main article: Greek underworld

Elysium, Asphodel Meadows, Hadēs, Tártaros

Hebrew mythology [disambiguation needed]

Sheol, Gehenna

Hindu mythology

Naraka, Yamaloka

Inca mythology

Uku Pacha

Inuit mythology

Adlivun

Islamic mythology

Jahannam, Narr [disambiguation needed], Jannah, Barzakh, Araf

Japanese mythology

Yomi, Jigoku

Korean Mythology

"Ji-Ok" 지옥 地獄

Latvian mythology

Aizsaule

Māori mythology

Hawaiki

Mapuche mythology

Pellumawida, Degin, Wenuleufu, Ngullchenmaiwe

Maya mythology

Metnal, Xibalba

Melanesian mythology

(includes Fijian) Bulu, Burotu, Murimuria, Nabangatai, Tuma [disambiguation needed]

Norse mythology

Gimlé, Hel, Niflheim, Valhalla, Vingólf

Oromo mythology

Ekera

Philippine mythology

Kasanaan, Empiyerno

Polynesian mythology

Avaiki, Bulotu, Iva, Lua-o-Milu, Nga- Atua, Pulotu, Rangi Tuarea, Te Toi-o-nga-Ranga, Uranga-o-Te-Ra

Pueblo mythology

Shipap

Roman mythology

Inferno, Avernus, Orcus/Hadēs, Pluto

Slavic mythology

Podsvetie, Peklo, Nava

Sumerian mythology

Dilmun, Kur, Irkalla

Vodou mythology

Guinee

Wagawaga mythology

Hiyoyoa

[edit] Rulers of the Underworld

(Note: this includes guardian-type creatures, ghosts, and spirits such as demons, veli, and Cerberus)

Aboriginal mythology

Baiame (Kamilaroi), Eingana

Akkadian mythology

Allu, Anu, Anunnaku, Ereshkigal, Etemmu, Gallu, Humbaba, Mamitu, Nergal, Utnapishtim

Albanian mythology

E Bukura e Dheut

Armenian mythology

Spandaramat

Aztec mythology

Mictlantecuhtli, Mictecacihuatl, Chalmecacihuilt, Chalmecatl

Babylonian mythology

Erra, Nergal, Ninlil, Sursunabu, Ur-shanabi, Utnapishtim

Balinese mythology

Batara Kala, Setesuyara

Bon mythology

gNyan

Buddhist mythology

Yama, Emma-O-, Yanluo

Canaanite mythology

Mot

Celtic mythology

Arawn, Bean Sidhe, Cernunnos, Cwn Annwn, Gwyn ap Nudd, Latiaran, Manannan mac Lir, Midir, Morrigan, Niamh, Pwyll, Sluagh, Tethra

Chinese mythology

Gui, Yanluo

Christian mythology

Demons, Devil, Satan

Egyptian mythology

Aken, Aker (strictly only the gatekeeper), Am-heh, Amunet, Ammit, Andjety, Anubis, Apep, Apis, Astennu, Ha, Imiut (if the Imiut was ever considered a god), Isis, Mehen, Naunet, Nehebkau, Nephthys, Nun, Nut, Osiris, Ptah, Seker, Thoth

Elamite mythology

Jabru

Estonian mythology

Vanapagan

Etruscan mythology

Charun, Culsu, Februus, Mania, Mantus, Nethuns, Tuchulcha, Vanth

Finnish mythology

Kalma, Kipu-Tyttö, Kivutar, Lovitar, Surma, Tuonen akka, Tuonetar, Tuoni, Vammatar

Greek mythology

Cerberus, Charon, Hadēs, Keres, Persephone, Styx, Thánatos, Tártaros

Georgian mythology

sasuleti

Haida mythology

Ta'xet, Tia

Hinduism

Yamaraja

Hopi mythology

Kachina

Ibo mythology

Ala

Incan mythology

Supay, Vichama

Indonesian mythology

Dewi Shri, Ndara

Inuit mythology

Pana, Sedna

Islamic mythology

Hafaza, Huri, Iblis/Shaitan, Ifrit, Jinn, Mala'ikah, Peri

Japanese mythology

Hisa-Me, Hotoke, Ika-Zuchi-no-Kami, Jikininki, Shiko-Me, Shiti Dama, Shi-Ryo, Yama

Kassite mythology

Dur [disambiguation needed]

Khmer mythology

Preas Eyssaur

Latvian mythology

Veli, Velu mate, Zemes mate

Levantine mythology

Mot

Lunda mythology

Kalunga

Maori mythology

Kewa

Maya mythology

Xibalba

Melanesian mythology

(includes Fijian mythology) Degei, Ratumaibulu, Samulayo

Narragansett mythology

Chepi

Navaho mythology

Estanatelhi

Niquiran mythology

Mictanteot

Norse mythology

Garmr, Hel, Ran

Orokolo mythology

Kiavari

Persian mythology

Angra Mainyu, Azhi Dahaka, Peri

Philippine mythology (Look to the Christian Mythology for more information)

""Bathala", Demonyo Demon, Lucifer, Dyablo Diablo, Satan, Diyos God

Phoenician mythology

Horon

Phrygian mythology

Men

Polynesian mythology

Hikuleo, Hina, Hine-nui-te-Po, Kanaloa, Kiho-tumu, Makea Tutara, Mahiuki, Mahu-ike, Marama, Mauri [disambiguation needed], Merau, Milu [disambiguation needed], Miru, Rimu, Rohe, Whiro

Prussian mythology

Picullus

Pueblo mythology

Iyatiku

Roma (Gypsy) mythology

 

Roman mythology

Cerberus, Dea Tacita, Dis Pater, Egestes, Fames, Inferi Dii, Larenta, Letum, Libitina, Mors, Orcus, Pluto, Proserpina, Viduus

Russian mythology

Dyavol, Satanaya

Saami mythology

Yambe-akka

Salish mythology

Amotken

Siberian mythology

Chebeldei, Kul [disambiguation needed]

Slavic mythology

Crnobog, Flins, Marzana, Nyia

Sumerian mythology

Edimmu, Ekimmu, Endukugga, Enmesarra, Ereshkigal, Gidim, Gula, Irkalla, Kur, Namtar, Nergal, Neti, Nindukugga, Ninlil, Urshanabi, Ziusudra

Syrian mythology

Reshep

Tamil mythology

Cur

Thracian mythology

Heros

Turkic mythology

Erlik

Vodou

Baron Cimetière, Baron La Croix, Baron Samedi, Ghede, Maman Brigitte, Marassa Jumeaux

Wagawaga mythology

Tumudurere

Yoruba mythology

Oya

Yurak mythology

Nga

Zuni mythology

Uhepono


What Became of God the Mother?
Elaine H.Pagels (1)

http://holyspirit-shekinah.org/_/what_became_of_god_the_mother-1.htm

Unlike many of his contemporaries among the deities of the ancient Near East, the God of Israel shares his power with no female divinity, nor is he the divine Husband or Lover of any.(l) He scarcely can be characterized in any but masculine epithets: King, Lord, Master, Judge, and Father.

The Holy Bible: Book 
Of Revelation The Holy Bible: Book 
Of Revelation 
The Holy Bible: Book
 Of Revelation The Holy Bible: Book
 Of Revelation

Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity
Elaine H.Pagels.

Unlike many of his contemporaries among the deities of the ancient Near East, the God of Israel shares his power with no female divinity, nor is he the divine Husband or Lover of any.(l) He scarcely can be characterized in any but masculine epithets: King, Lord, Master, Judge, and Father.(2) Indeed, the absence of feminine symbolism of God marks Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in striking contrast to the world's other religious traditions, whether in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, and Rome or Africa, Polynesia, India, and North America. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theologians, however, are quick to point out that God is not to be considered in sexual terms at all. Yet the actual language they use daily in worship and prayer conveys a different message and gives the distinct impression that God is thought of in exclusively masculine terms. And while it is true that Catholics revere Mary as the mother of Jesus, she cannot be identified as divine in her own right: if she is "mother of God," she is not "God the Mother" on an equal footing with God the Father.

Christianity, of course, added the trinitarian terms to the Jewish description of God. And yet of the three divine "Persons," two—the Father and Son—are described in masculine terms, and the third—the Spirit—suggests the sexlessness of the Greek neuter term pneuma. This is not merely a subjective impression. Whoever investigates the early development of Christianity—the field called "patristics," that is, study of "the fathers of the church"—may not be surprised by the passage that concludes the recently discovered, secret Gospel of Thomas: "Simon Peter said to them [the disciples], `Let Mary be excluded from among us, for she is a woman, and not worthy of Life.' Jesus said, `Behold I will take Mary, and make her a male, so that she may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For I tell you truly, that every female who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.'"(3) Strange as it sounds, this only states explicitly what religious rhetoric often assumes: that the men form the legitimate body of the community, while women will be allowed to participate only insofar as their own identity is denied and assimilated to that of the men.

Further exploration of the texts which include this Gospel—written on papyrus, hidden in large clay jars nearly 1,600 years ago—has identified them as Jewish and Christian gnostic works which were attacked and condemned as "heretical" as early as A.D. 100—150. What distinguishes these "heterodox" texts from those that are called "orthodox" is at least partially clear: they abound in feminine symbolism that is applied, in particular, to God. Although one might expect, then, that they would recall the archaic pagan traditions of the Mother Goddess, their language is to the contrary specifically Christian, unmistakably related to a Jewish heritage. Thus we can see that certain gnostic Christians diverged even more radically from the Jewish tradition than the early Christians who described God as the "three Persons" or the Trinity. For, instead of a monistic and masculine God, certain of these texts describe God as a dyadic being, who consists of both masculine and feminine elements. One such group of texts, for example, claims to have received a secret tradition from Jesus through James, and significantly, through Mary Magdalene.(4) Members of this group offer prayer to both the divine Father and Mother: "From Thee, Father, and through Thee, Mother, the two immortal names, Parents of the divine being, and thou, dweller in heaven, mankind of the mighty name."(5) Other texts indicate that their authors had pondered the nature of the beings to whom a single, masculine God proposed, "Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Since the Genesis account goes on to say that mankind was created "male and female" (1:27), some concluded, apparently, that the God in whose image we are created likewise must be both masculine and feminine—both Father and Mother.

The characterization of the divine Mother in these sources is not simple since the texts themselves are extraordinarily diverse. Nevertheless, three primary characterizations merge. First, a certain poet and teacher, Valentinus, begins with the premise that God is essentially indescribable. And yet he suggests that the divine can be imagined as a Dyad consisting of two elements: one he calls the Ineffable, the Source, the Primal Father; the other, the Silence, the Mother of all things.(6) Although we might question Valentinus's reasoning that Silence is the appropriate complement of what is Ineffable, his equation of the former with the feminine and the latter with the masculine may be traced to the grammatical gender of the Greek words. Followers of Valentinus invoke this feminine power, whom they also call "Grace" (in Greek, the feminine term charis), in their own private celebration of the Christian eucharist: they call her "divine, eternal Grace, She who is before all things."(7) At other times they pray to her for protection as the Mother, "Thou enthroned with God, eternal, mystical Silence."(8) Marcus, a disciple of Valentinus, contends that "when Moses began his account of creation, he mentioned the Mother of all things at the very beginning, when he said, `In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,' "(9) for the word beginning (in Greek, the feminine arche) refers to the divine Mother, the source of the cosmic elements. When they describe God in this way, different gnostic writers have different interpretations. Some maintain that the divine is to be considered masculo-feminine—the "great male-female power." Others insist that the terms are meant only as metaphors—for, in reality, the divine is neither masculine nor feminine. A third group suggests that one can describe the Source of all things in either masculine or feminine terms, depending on which aspect one intends to stress.(10) Proponents of these diverse views agree, however, that the divine is to be understood as consisting of a harmonious, dynamic relationship of opposites—a concept that may be akin to the eastern view of yin and yang but remains antithetical to orthodox Judaism and Christianity.

A second characterization of the divine Mother describes her as Holy Spirit. One source, the Secret Book of John, for example, relates how John, the brother of James, went out after the crucifixion with "great grief," and had a mystical vision of the Trinity: "As I was grieving . . . the heavens were opened, and the whole creation shone with an unearthly light, and the universe was shaken. I was afraid . . . and behold . . . a unity in three forms appeared to me, and I marvelled: how can a unity have three forms?" To John's question, the vision answers: "It said to me, `John, John, why do you doubt, or why do you fear? . . . I am the One who is with you always: I am the Father; I am the Mother; I am the Son.'(11) John's interpretation of the Trinity—as Father, Mother, and Son—may not at first seem shocking but is perhaps the more natural and spontaneous interpretation. Where the Greek terminology for the Trinity, which includes the neuter term for the spirit (pneuma), virtually requires that the third "Person" of the Trinity be asexual, the author of the Secret Book looks to the Hebrew term for spirit, ruah—a feminine word. He thus concludes, logically enough, that the feminine "Person" conjoined with Father and Son must be the Mother! Indeed, the text goes on to describe the Spirit as Mother: "the image of the invisible virginal perfect spirit.... She became the mother of the all, for she existed before them all, the mother-father [matropater]."(l2) This same author, therefore, alters Genesis 1:2 ("the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the deep") to say, "the Mother then was moved."(13) The secret Gospel to the Hebrews likewise has Jesus speak of "my Mother, the Spirit."(l4) And in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus contrasts his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, with his divine Father—the Father of Truth—and his divine Mother, the Holy Spirit. The author interprets a puzzling saying of Jesus in the New Testament ("whoever does not hate his father and mother is not worthy of me") by adding: "Whoever does not love his father and his mother in my way cannot be my disciple; for my [earthly] mother gave me death but my true Mother gave me the Life."(15) Another secret gnostic gospel, the Gospel of Phillip, declares that whoever becomes a Christian "gains both a father and a mother."(l6) The author refers explicitly to the feminine Hebrew term to describe the Spirit as "Mother of many."(17)

If these sources suggest that the Spirit constitutes the maternal element of the Trinity, the Gospel of Phillip makes an equally radical suggestion concerning the doctrine that later developed as the virgin birth. Here again the Spirit is praised as both Mother and Virgin, the counterpart—and consort—of the Heavenly Father: "If I may utter a mystery, the Father of the all united with the Virgin who came down" (l8)—that is,.with the Holy Spirit. Yet because this process is to be understood symbolically, and not literally, the Spirit remains a virgin! The author explains that "for this reason, Christ was `born of a virgin'"—that is, of the Spirit, his divine Mother. But the author ridicules those "literal-minded" Christians who mistakenly refer the virgin birth to Mary, Jesus' earthly mother, as if she conceived apart from Joseph: "Such persons do not know what they are saying; for when did a female ever impregnate a female?"(19) Instead, he argues, virgin birth refers to the mysterious union of the two divine powers, the Father of the All with the Holy Spirit.

Besides the eternal, mystical Silence, and besides the Holy Spirit, certain gnostics suggest a third characterization of the divine Mother as Wisdom. Here again the Greek feminine term for wisdom, sophia, like the term for spirit, ruah, translates a Hebrew feminine term, hokhmah. Early interpreters had pondered the meaning of certain biblical passages, for example, Proverbs: "God made the world in Wisdom." And they wondered if Wisdom could be the feminine power in which God's creation is "conceived"? In such passages, at any rate, Wisdom bears two connotations: first, she bestows the Spirit that makes mankind wise; second, she is a creative power. One gnostic source calls her the "first universal creator";(20) another says that God the Father was speaking to her when he proposed to "make mankind in our image."(21) The Great Announcement, a mystical writing, explains the Genesis account in the following terms: "One Power that is above and below, self-generating, self-discovering, its own mother; its own father; its own sister; its own son: Father, Mother, unity, Root of all things."(22) The same author explains the mystical meaning of the Garden of Eden as a symbol of the womb: "Scripture teaches us that this is what is meant when Isaiah says, `I am he that formed thee in thy mother's womb' [Isaiah 44:2]. The Garden of Eden, then, is Moses' symbolic term for the womb, and Eden the placenta, and the river which comes out of Eden the navel, which nourishes the fetus."(23) This teacher claims that the Exodus, consequently, symbolizes the exodus from the womb, "and the crossing of the Red Sea, they say, refers to the blood." Evidence for this view, he adds, comes directly from "the cry of the newborn," a spontaneous cry of praise for "the glory of the primal being, in which all the powers above are in harmonious embrace."(24)

The introduction of such symbolism in gnostic texts clearly bears implications for the understanding of human nature. The Great Announcement, for example, having described the Source as a masculo- feminine being, a "bisexual Power," goes on to say that "what came into being from that Power, that is, humanity, being one, is found to be two: a male-female being that bears the female within it."(25) This refers to the story of Eve's "birth" out of Adam's side (so that Adam, being one, is "discovered to be two," an androgyne who "bears the female within him"). Yet this reference to the creation story of Genesis 2—an account which inverts the biological birth process, and so effectively denies the creative function of the female—proves to be unusual in gnostic sources. More often, such sources refer instead to the first creation account in Genesis 1:26-27. ("And God said, let us make mankind in Our image, after Our image and likeness . . . in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them"). Rabbis in Talmudic times knew a Greek version of the passage, one that suggested to Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman that "when the Holy One . . . first created mankind, he created him with two faces, two sets of genitals, four arms, and legs, back to back: Then he split Adam in two, and made two backs, one on each side."(26) Some Jewish teachers (perhaps influenced by the story in Plato's Symposium) had suggested that Genesis 1:26-27 narrates an androgynous creation—an idea that gnostics adopted and developed. Marcus (whose prayer to the Mother is given above) not only concludes from this account that God is dyadic ("Let us make mankind") but also that "mankind, which was formed according to the image and likeness of God [Father and Mother] was masculo-feminine."(27) And his contemporary, Theodotus, explains: "the saying that Adam was created `male and female' means that the male and female elements together constitute the finest production of the Mother, Wisdom."(28) We can see, then, that the gnostic sources which describe God in both masculine and feminine terms often give a similar description of human nature as a dyadic entity, consisting of two equal male and female components.

All the texts cited above—secret "gospels," revelations, mystical teachings—are among those rejected from the select list of twenty-six that comprise the "New Testament" collection As these and other writings were sorted and judged by various Christian communities, every one of these texts which gnostic groups revered and shared was rejected from the canonical collection as "heterodox" by those who called themselves "orthodox" (literally, straight-thinking) Christians. By the time this process was concluded, probably as late as the year A.D. 200, virtually all the feminine imagery for God (along with any suggestion of an androgynous human creation) had disappeared from "orthodox" Christian tradition.

What is the reason for this wholesale rejection ? The gnostics themselves asked this question of their "orthodox" attackers and pondered it among themselves. Some concluded that the God of Israel himself initiated the polemics against gnostic teaching which his followers carried out in his name. They argued that he was a derivative, merely instrumental power, whom the divine Mother had created to administer the universe, but who remained ignorant of the power of Wisdom, his own Mother: "They say that the creator believed that he created everything by himself, but that, in reality, he had made them because his Mother, Wisdom, infused him with energy, and had given him her ideas. But he was unaware that the ideas he used came from her: he was even ignorant of his own Mother."(29) Followers of Valentinus suggested that the Mother herself encouraged the God of Israel to think that he was acting autonomously in creating the world; but, as one teacher adds, "It was because he was foolish and ignorant of his Mother that he said, `I am God; there is none beside me.' "(30) Others attribute to him the more sinister motive of jealousy, among them the Secret Book of John: "He said, `I am a jealous God, and you shall have no other God before me,' already indicating that another god does exist. For if there were no other god, of whom would he be jealous? Then the Mother began to be distressed."(31) A third gnostic teacher describes the Lord's shock, terror, and anxiety "when he discovered that he was not the God of the universe." Gradually his shock and fear gave way to wonder, and finally he came to welcome the teaching of Wisdom. The gnostic teacher concluded: "This is the meaning of the saying, `The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.' "(32)

What Became of God the Mother?
Elaine H.Pagels.


Taken from Womanspirit Rising pp107-119. Ed. Carol P.Christ and Judith Plaskow. Harper & Row, 1979.

Elaine H. Pagels received her Ph. D. from Harvard University and now teaches at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is author of The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis and The Gnostic Paul. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Theological Review, Journal for Biblical Literature, and Journal of the American Academy of Religion. This essay originally appeared in Signs (Vol. 2, no. 2), c 1976 by The University of Chicago, and is reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.

NOTES

1. Where the God of Israel is characterized as husband and lover in the Old Testament (OT), his spouse is described as the community of Israel (i.e., Isa. 50:1, 54:1-8; Jer. 2:2-3, 20-25, 3:1-20; Hos. 1-4, 14) or as the land of Israel (cf. Isa. 62:1-5).
2. One may note several exceptions to this rule: Deut. 32:11; Hos. 11:1; Isa. 66:12 ff; Num. 11:12.
3. The Gospel according to Thomas (hereafter cited as ET), ed. A. Guillaumount, H. Ch. Puech, G. Quispel, W. Till, Yassah `Abd-al-Masih (London: Collins, 1959), logion 113-114.
4. Hippolytus, Refutationis Omnium Haeresium (hereafter cited as Ref), ed. L. Dunker, F. Schneidewin (Göttingen, 1859), 5.7.
5. Ref, 5.6.
6. Irenaeus, Aduersus Haereses (hereafter cited as AH), ed. W. W. Harvey (Cambridge, 1857), 1.11.1.
7. Ibid., 1.13.2.
8. Ibid., 1.13.6.
9. Ibid., 1.18.2.
10. Ibid., 1.11.5-21.1, 3; Ref, 6.29.
11. Apocryphon Johannis (hereafter cited as AJ), ed. S. Giversen (Copenhagen: Prostant Apud Munksgaard, 1963), 47.20-48.14.
12. AJ, 52.34-53.6.
13. Ibid., 61.13-14.
14. Origen, Commentary on John, 2.12; Hom. On Jeremiah, 15.4.
15. ET, 101. The text of this passage is badly damaged; I follow here the reconstruction of G. MacRae of the Harvard Divinity School.
16. L'Evangile selon Phillipe (hereafter cited as EP), ed. J. E. Ménard (Leiden: Brill, 1967), logion 6.
17. EP, logion 36.
18. Ibid., logion 82.
19. Ibid., logion 17.
20. Extraits de Théodote (hereafter cited as Exc), ed. F. Sagnard, Sources chrétiennes 23 (Paris: Sources chrétiennes, 1948).
21. AH, 1.30.6.
22. Ref, 6.17.
23. Ibid., 6.14.
24. AH, 1.14.7-8.
25. Ref, 6.18.
26. Genesis Rabba 8.1, also 17.6; cf. Levitius Rabba 14. For an excellent discussion of androgyny, see W. Meeks, "The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity," History of Religions 13 (1974): 165-208.
27. AH, 1.18.2.
28. Exc, 21.1.
29. Ref, 6.33.
30. AH, 1.5.4; Ref, 6.33.
31. AJ, 61.8-14.
32. Ref, 7.26

What Became of God the Mother?
Elaine H.Pagels (2)

Further research might disclose how social and cultural forces converged to suppress feminine symbolism—and women's participation— from western Christian tradition. Given such research, the history of Christianity never could be told in the same way again.

The Holy Bible: Book 
Of Revelation The Holy Bible: Book
 Of Revelation 
The Holy Bible: Book 
Of Revelation The Holy Bible: Book
 Of Revelation

Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity
Elaine H.Pagels.

All of these are, of course, mythical explanations. To look for the actual, historical reasons why these gnostic writings were suppressed is an extremely difficult proposition, for it raises the much larger question of how (i.e., by what means and what criteria) certain ideas, including those expressed in the texts cited above, came to be classified as heretical and others as orthodox by the beginning of the third century. Although the research is still in its early stages, and this question is far from being solved, we may find one clue if we ask whether these secret groups derived any practical, social consequences from their conception of God—and of mankind—that included the feminine element? Here again the answer is yes and can be found in the orthodox texts themselves. Irenaeus, an orthodox bishop, for example, notes with dismay that women in particular are attracted to heretical groups—especially to Marcus's circle, in which prayers are offered to the Mother in her aspects as Silence, Grace, and Wisdom; women priests serve the eucharist together with men; and women also speak as prophets, uttering to the whole community what "the Spirit" reveals to them.(33) Professing himself to be at a loss to understand the attraction that Marcus's group holds, he offers only one explanation: that Marcus himself is a diabolically successful seducer, a magician who compounds special aphrodisiacs to "deceive, victimize, and defile" these "many foolish women!" Whether his accusation has any factual basis is difficult, probably impossible, to ascertain. Nevertheless, the historian notes that accusations of sexual license are a stock-in-trade of polemical arguments.(34) The bishop refuses to admit the possibility that the group might attract Christians—especially women—for sound and comprehensible reasons. While expressing his own moral outrage, Tertullian, another "father of the church," reveals his fundamental desire to keep women out of religion: "These heretical women—how audacious they are! They have no modesty: they are bold enough to teach, to engage in argument, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures, and, it may be, even to baptize!"(35) Tertullian directs yet another attack against "that viper"—a woman teacher who led a congregation in North Africa.(36) Marcion had, in fact, scandalized his "orthodox" contemporaries by appointing women on an equal basis with men as priests and bishops among his congregations.(37) The teacher Marcillina also traveled to Rome to represent the Carpocratian group, an esoteric circle that claimed to have received secret teaching from Mary, Salome, and Martha.(38) And among the Montanists, a radical prophetic circle, the prophet Philumene was reputed to have hired a male secretary to transcribe her inspired oracles.(39)

Other secret texts, such as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Wisdom of Faith, suggest that the activity of such women leaders challenged and therefore was challenged by the orthodox communities who regarded Peter as their spokesman. The Gospel of Mary relates that Mary tried to encourage the disciples after the crucifixion and to tell them what the Lord had told her privately. Peter, furious at the suggestion, asks, "Did he then talk secretly with a woman, instead of to us? Are we to go and learn from her now? Did he love her more than us?" Distressed at his rage, Mary then asks Peter: "What do you think? Do you think I made this up in my heart? Do you think I am lying about the Lord?" Levi breaks in at this point to mediate the dispute: "Peter, you are always irascible. You object to the woman as our enemies do. Surely the Lord knew her very well, and indeed, he loved her more than us." Then he and the others invite Mary to teach them what she knows.(40) Another argument between Peter and Mary occurs in Wisdom of Faith. Peter complains that Mary is dominating the conversation, even to the point of displacing the rightful priority of Peter himself and his brethren; he urges Jesus to silence her—and is quickly rebuked. Later, however, Mary admits to Jesus that she hardly dares to speak freely with him, because "Peter makes me hesitate: I am afraid of him, because he hates the female race." Jesus replies that whoever receives inspiration from the Spirit is divinely ordained to speak, whether man or woman.(41)

As these texts suggest, then, women were considered equal to men, they were revered as prophets, and they acted as teachers, traveling evangelists, healers, priests, and even bishops. In some of these groups, they played leading roles and were excluded from them in the orthodox churches, at least by A.D. 150-200. Is it possible, then, that the recognition of the feminine element in God and the recognition of mankind as a male and female entity bore within it the explosive social possibility of women acting on an equal basis with men in positions of authority and leadership? If this were true, it might lead to the conclusion that these gnostic groups, together with their conception of God and human nature, were suppressed only because of their positive attitude toward women. But such a conclusion would be a mistake—a hasty and simplistic reading of the evidence. In the first place, orthodox Christian doctrine is far from wholly negative in its attitude toward women. Second, many other elements of the gnostic sources diverge in fundamental ways from what came to be accepted as orthodox Christian teaching. To examine this process in detail would require a much more extensive discussion than is possible here. Nevertheless, the evidence does indicate that two very different patterns of sexual attitudes emerged in orthodox and gnostic circles. In simplest form, gnostic theologians correlate their description of God in both masculine and feminine terms with a complementary description of human nature. Most often they refer to the creation account of Genesis 1, which suggests an equal (or even androgynous) creation of mankind. This conception carries the principle of equality between men and women into the practical social and political structures of gnostic communities. The orthodox pattern is strikingly different: it describes God in exclusively masculine terms and often uses Genesis 2 to describe how Eve was created from Adam and for his fulfillment. Like the gnostic view, the orthodox also translates into sociological practice: by the late second century, orthodox Christians came to accept the domination of men over women as the proper, God-given order—not only for the human race, but also for the Christian churches. This correlation between theology, anthropology, and sociology is not lost on the apostle Paul. In his letter to the disorderly Corinthian community, he reminds them of a divinely ordained chain of authority: As God has authority over Christ, so the man has authority over the woman, argues Paul, citing Genesis 2: "The man is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man; and besides, the man was not created for the woman's sake, but the woman for the sake of the man."(42) Here the three elements of the orthodox pattern are welded into one simple argument: the description of God corresponds to a description of human nature which authorizes the social pattern of male domination.

A striking exception to this orthodox pattern occurs in the writings of one revered "father of the church," Clement of Alexandria. Clement identifies himself as orthodox, although he knows members of gnostic groups and their writings well; some scholars suggest that he was himself a gnostic initiate. Yet his own works demonstrate how all three elements of what we have called the "gnostic pattern" could be worked into fully "orthodox" teaching. First, Clement characterizes God not only in masculine but also in feminine terms: "The Word is everything to the child, both father and mother, teacher and nurse.... The nutriment is the milk of the father. . . and the Word alone supplies us children with the milk of love, and only those who suck at this breast are truly happy.... For this reason seeking is called sucking; to those infants who seek the Word, the Father's loving breasts supply milk.(43) Second, in describing human nature, he insists that "men and women share equally in perfection, and are to receive the same instruction and discipline. For the name `humanity' is common to both men and women; and for us `in Christ there is neither male nor female.'"(44) Even in considering the active participation of women with men in the Christian community Clement offers a list—unique in orthodox tradition—of women whose achievements he admires. They range from ancient examples, like Judith, the assassin who destroyed Israel's enemy, to Queen Esther, who rescued her people from genocide, as well as others who took radical political stands. He speaks of Arignole the historian, of Themisto the Epicurean philosopher, and of many other women philosophers, including two who studied with Plato and one trained by Socrates. Indeed, he cannot contain his praise: "What shall I say? Did not Theano the Pythagoran make such progress in philosophy that when a man, staring at her, said, `Your arm is beautiful,' she replied, `Yes, but it is not on public display.'"(45) Clement concludes his list with famous women poets and painters.

If the work of Clement, who taught in Egypt before the lines of orthodoxy and heresy were rigidly drawn (ca. A.D. 160-80) demonstrates how gnostic principles could be incorporated even into orthodox Christian teaching, the majority of communities in the western empire headed by Rome did not follow his example. By the year A.D. 200, Roman Christians endorsed as "canonical" the pseudo-Pauline letter to Timothy, which interpreted Paul's views: "Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not allow any woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; she is to remain silent, for [note Gen. 2!] Adam was formed first, then Eve and furthermore, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was utterly seduced and came into sin."(45) How are we to account for this irreversible development? The question deserves investigation which this discussion can only initiate. For example, one would need to examine how (and for what reasons) the zealously patriarchal traditions of Israel were adopted by the Roman (and other) Christian communities. Further research might disclose how social and cultural forces converged to suppress feminine symbolism—and women's participation— from western Christian tradition. Given such research, the history of Christianity never could be told in the same way again.

What Became of God the Mother?
Elaine H. Pagels


NOTES

33. AH, 1.13.7.
34. Ibid., 1.13.2-5.
35. Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum (hereafter cited as DP), ed. E. Oethler (Lipsius, 1853-54), p. 41.
36. De Baptismo 1. I am grateful to Cyril Richardson for calling my attention to this passage and to the three subsequent ones.
37. Epiphanes, De Baptismo, 42.5.
38. AH, 1.25.6.
39. DP, 6.30.
40. The Gospel according to Mary, Codex Berolinensis, BG, 8502,1.7.1- 1.19.5, ea., intro., and trans. G. MacRae, unpublished manuscript.
41. Pistis Sophia, ed. Carl Schmidt (Berlin: Academie-Verlag, 1925), 36 (57), 71 (161).
42. 1 Cor. 11 :7-9. For discussion, see R. Scroggs, "Paul and the Eschatological Woman," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 40 (1972): 283-303; R. Scroggs, "Paul and the Eschatological Woman: Revisited," Journal of the Amencan Academy of Religion 42 (1974): 532- 37; and E. Pagels, "Paul and Women: A Response to Recent Discussion," Journal of the Amencan Academy of Religion 42 (1972): 538-49.
43. Clement Alexandrinus, Paidegogos, ed. O. Stählin (Leipzig, 1905), 1.6.
44. Ibid., 1.4.
45. Ibid., 1.19.
46. 2 Tim. 2:11-14.

 

What Became of God the Mother? (2)

Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity

http://www.womenpriests.org/body/pagels.asp

Elaine H.Pagels.

Taken from Womanspirit Rising pp107-119. Ed. Carol P.Christ and Judith Plaskow. Harper & Row, 1979.

Elaine H. Pagels received her Ph. D. from Harvard University and now teaches at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is author of The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis and The Gnostic Paul. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Theological Review, Journal for Biblical Literature, and Journal of the American Academy of Religion. This essay originally appeared in Signs (Vol. 2, no. 2), c 1976 by The University of Chicago, and is reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.

Unlike many of his contemporaries among the deities of the ancient Near East, the God of Israel shares his power with no female divinity, nor is he the divine Husband or Lover of any.(l) He scarcely can be characterized in any but masculine epithets: King, Lord, Master, Judge, and Father.(2) Indeed, the absence of feminine symbolism of God marks Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in striking contrast to the world’s other religious traditions, whether in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, and Rome or Africa, Polynesia, India, and North America. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theologians, however, are quick to point out that God is not to be considered in sexual terms at all. Yet the actual language they use daily in worship and prayer conveys a different message and gives the distinct impression that God is thought of in exclusively masculine terms. And while it is true that Catholics revere Mary as the mother of Jesus, she cannot be identified as divine in her own right: if she is “mother of God,” she is not “God the Mother” on an equal footing with God the Father.

Christianity, of course, added the trinitarian terms to the Jewish description of God. And yet of the three divine “Persons,” two—the Father and Son—are described in masculine terms, and the third—the Spirit—suggests the sexlessness of the Greek neuter term pneuma. This is not merely a subjective impression. Whoever investigates the early development of Christianity—the field called “patristics,” that is, study of “the fathers of the church”—may not be surprised by the passage that concludes the recently discovered, secret Gospel of Thomas: “Simon Peter said to them [the disciples], ‘Let Mary be excluded from among us, for she is a woman, and not worthy of Life.’ Jesus said, ‘Behold I will take Mary, and make her a male, so that she may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For I tell you truly, that every female who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’”(3) Strange as it sounds, this only states explicitly what religious rhetoric often assumes: that the men form the legitimate body of the community, while women will be allowed to participate only insofar as their own identity is denied and assimilated to that of the men.

Further exploration of the texts which include this Gospel—written on papyrus, hidden in large clay jars nearly 1,600 years ago—has identified them as Jewish and Christian gnostic works which were attacked and condemned as “heretical” as early as A.D. 100—150. What distinguishes these “heterodox” texts from those that are called “orthodox” is at least partially clear: they abound in feminine symbolism that is applied, in particular, to God. Although one might expect, then, that they would recall the archaic pagan traditions of the Mother Goddess, their language is to the contrary specifically Christian, unmistakably related to a Jewish heritage. Thus we can see that certain gnostic Christians diverged even more radically from the Jewish tradition than the early Christians who described God as the “three Persons” or the Trinity. For, instead of a monistic and masculine God, certain of these texts describe God as a dyadic being, who consists of both masculine and feminine elements. One such group of texts, for example, claims to have received a secret tradition from Jesus through James, and significantly, through Mary Magdalene.(4) Members of this group offer prayer to both the divine Father and Mother: “From Thee, Father, and through Thee, Mother, the two immortal names, Parents of the divine being, and thou, dweller in heaven, mankind of the mighty name.”(5) Other texts indicate that their authors had pondered the nature of the beings to whom a single, masculine God proposed, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Since the Genesis account goes on to say that mankind was created “male and female” (1:27), some concluded, apparently, that the God in whose image we are created likewise must be both masculine and feminine—both Father and Mother.

The characterization of the divine Mother in these sources is not simple since the texts themselves are extraordinarily diverse. Nevertheless, three primary characterizations merge. First, a certain poet and teacher, Valentinus, begins with the premise that God is essentially indescribable. And yet he suggests that the divine can be imagined as a Dyad consisting of two elements: one he calls the Ineffable, the Source, the Primal Father; the other, the Silence, the Mother of all things.(6) Although we might question Valentinus’s reasoning that Silence is the appropriate complement of what is Ineffable, his equation of the former with the feminine and the latter with the masculine may be traced to the grammatical gender of the Greek words. Followers of Valentinus invoke this feminine power, whom they also call “Grace” (in Greek, the feminine term charis), in their own private celebration of the Christian eucharist: they call her “divine, eternal Grace, She who is before all things.”(7) At other times they pray to her for protection as the Mother, “Thou enthroned with God, eternal, mystical Silence.”(8) Marcus, a disciple of Valentinus, contends that “when Moses began his account of creation, he mentioned the Mother of all things at the very beginning, when he said, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,’ ”(9) for the word beginning (in Greek, the feminine arche) refers to the divine Mother, the source of the cosmic elements. When they describe God in this way, different gnostic writers have different interpretations. Some maintain that the divine is to be considered masculo-feminine—the “great male-female power.” Others insist that the terms are meant only as metaphors—for, in reality, the divine is neither masculine nor feminine. A third group suggests that one can describe the Source of all things in either masculine or feminine terms, depending on which aspect one intends to stress.(10) Proponents of these diverse views agree, however, that the divine is to be understood as consisting of a harmonious, dynamic relationship of opposites—a concept that may be akin to the eastern view of yin and yang but remains antithetical to orthodox Judaism and Christianity.

A second characterization of the divine Mother describes her as Holy Spirit. One source, the Secret Book of John, for example, relates how John, the brother of James, went out after the crucifixion with “great grief,” and had a mystical vision of the Trinity: “As I was grieving . . . the heavens were opened, and the whole creation shone with an unearthly light, and the universe was shaken. I was afraid . . . and behold . . . a unity in three forms appeared to me, and I marvelled: how can a unity have three forms?” To John’s question, the vision answers: “It said to me, ‘John, John, why do you doubt, or why do you fear? . . . I am the One who is with you always: I am the Father; I am the Mother; I am the Son.’(11) John’s interpretation of the Trinity—as Father, Mother, and Son—may not at first seem shocking but is perhaps the more natural and spontaneous interpretation. Where the Greek terminology for the Trinity, which includes the neuter term for the spirit (pneuma), virtually requires that the third "Person" of the Trinity be asexual, the author of the Secret Book looks to the Hebrew term for spirit, ruah—a feminine word. He thus concludes, logically enough, that the feminine “Person” conjoined with Father and Son must be the Mother! Indeed, the text goes on to describe the Spirit as Mother: “the image of the invisible virginal perfect spirit.... She became the mother of the all, for she existed before them all, the mother-father [matropater]."(l2) This same author, therefore, alters Genesis 1:2 ("the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the deep") to say, “the Mother then was moved.”(13) The secret Gospel to the Hebrews likewise has Jesus speak of “my Mother, the Spirit."(l4) And in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus contrasts his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, with his divine Father—the Father of Truth—and his divine Mother, the Holy Spirit. The author interprets a puzzling saying of Jesus in the New Testament ("whoever does not hate his father and mother is not worthy of me") by adding: “Whoever does not love his father and his mother in my way cannot be my disciple; for my [earthly] mother gave me death but my true Mother gave me the Life.”(15) Another secret gnostic gospel, the Gospel of Phillip, declares that whoever becomes a Christian “gains both a father and a mother."(l6) The author refers explicitly to the feminine Hebrew term to describe the Spirit as "Mother of many.”(17)

If these sources suggest that the Spirit constitutes the maternal element of the Trinity, the Gospel of Phillip makes an equally radical suggestion concerning the doctrine that later developed as the virgin birth. Here again the Spirit is praised as both Mother and Virgin, the counterpart—and consort—of the Heavenly Father: “If I may utter a mystery, the Father of the all united with the Virgin who came down" (l8)—that is,.with the Holy Spirit. Yet because this process is to be understood symbolically, and not literally, the Spirit remains a virgin! The author explains that "for this reason, Christ was ‘born of a virgin’"—that is, of the Spirit, his divine Mother. But the author ridicules those “literal-minded” Christians who mistakenly refer the virgin birth to Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother, as if she conceived apart from Joseph: “Such persons do not know what they are saying; for when did a female ever impregnate a female?”(19) Instead, he argues, virgin birth refers to the mysterious union of the two divine powers, the Father of the All with the Holy Spirit.

Besides the eternal, mystical Silence, and besides the Holy Spirit, certain gnostics suggest a third characterization of the divine Mother as Wisdom. Here again the Greek feminine term for wisdom, sophia, like the term for spirit, ruah, translates a Hebrew feminine term, hokhmah. Early interpreters had pondered the meaning of certain biblical passages, for example, Proverbs: “God made the world in Wisdom.” And they wondered if Wisdom could be the feminine power in which God’s creation is “conceived”? In such passages, at any rate, Wisdom bears two connotations: first, she bestows the Spirit that makes mankind wise; second, she is a creative power. One gnostic source calls her the “first universal creator”;(20) another says that God the Father was speaking to her when he proposed to “make mankind in our image."(21) The Great Announcement, a mystical writing, explains the Genesis account in the following terms: "One Power that is above and below, self-generating, self-discovering, its own mother; its own father; its own sister; its own son: Father, Mother, unity, Root of all things."(22) The same author explains the mystical meaning of the Garden of Eden as a symbol of the womb: “Scripture teaches us that this is what is meant when Isaiah says, ‘I am he that formed thee in thy mother’s womb’ [Isaiah 44:2]. The Garden of Eden, then, is Moses’ symbolic term for the womb, and Eden the placenta, and the river which comes out of Eden the navel, which nourishes the fetus.”(23) This teacher claims that the Exodus, consequently, symbolizes the exodus from the womb, “and the crossing of the Red Sea, they say, refers to the blood.” Evidence for this view, he adds, comes directly from “the cry of the newborn,” a spontaneous cry of praise for “the glory of the primal being, in which all the powers above are in harmonious embrace.”(24)

The introduction of such symbolism in gnostic texts clearly bears implications for the understanding of human nature. The Great Announcement, for example, having described the Source as a masculo-feminine being, a “bisexual Power,” goes on to say that “what came into being from that Power, that is, humanity, being one, is found to be two: a male-female being that bears the female within it.”(25) This refers to the story of Eve’s “birth” out of Adam’s side (so that Adam, being one, is “discovered to be two,” an androgyne who “bears the female within him”). Yet this reference to the creation story of Genesis 2—an account which inverts the biological birth process, and so effectively denies the creative function of the female—proves to be unusual in gnostic sources. More often, such sources refer instead to the first creation account in Genesis 1:26-27. (“And God said, let us make mankind in Our image, after Our image and likeness . . . in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them”). Rabbis in Talmudic times knew a Greek version of the passage, one that suggested to Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman that “when the Holy One . . . first created mankind, he created him with two faces, two sets of genitals, four arms, and legs, back to back: Then he split Adam in two, and made two backs, one on each side.”(26) Some Jewish teachers (perhaps influenced by the story in Plato’s Symposium) had suggested that Genesis 1:26-27 narrates an androgynous creation—an idea that gnostics adopted and developed. Marcus (whose prayer to the Mother is given above) not only concludes from this account that God is dyadic (“Let us make mankind”) but also that “mankind, which was formed according to the image and likeness of God [Father and Mother] was masculo-feminine.”(27) And his contemporary, Theodotus, explains: “the saying that Adam was created ‘male and female’ means that the male and female elements together constitute the finest production of the Mother, Wisdom.”(28) We can see, then, that the gnostic sources which describe God in both masculine and feminine terms often give a similar description of human nature as a dyadic entity, consisting of two equal male and female components.

All the texts cited above—secret “gospels,” revelations, mystical teachings—are among those rejected from the select list of twenty-six that comprise the “New Testament” collection As these and other writings were sorted and judged by various Christian communities, every one of these texts which gnostic groups revered and shared was rejected from the canonical collection as “heterodox” by those who called themselves “orthodox” (literally, straight-thinking) Christians. By the time this process was concluded, probably as late as the year A.D. 200, virtually all the feminine imagery for God (along with any suggestion of an androgynous human creation) had disappeared from “orthodox” Christian tradition.

What is the reason for this wholesale rejection ? The gnostics themselves asked this question of their “orthodox” attackers and pondered it among themselves. Some concluded that the God of Israel himself initiated the polemics against gnostic teaching which his followers carried out in his name. They argued that he was a derivative, merely instrumental power, whom the divine Mother had created to administer the universe, but who remained ignorant of the power of Wisdom, his own Mother: “They say that the creator believed that he created everything by himself, but that, in reality, he had made them because his Mother, Wisdom, infused him with energy, and had given him her ideas. But he was unaware that the ideas he used came from her: he was even ignorant of his own Mother.”(29) Followers of Valentinus suggested that the Mother herself encouraged the God of Israel to think that he was acting autonomously in creating the world; but, as one teacher adds, “It was because he was foolish and ignorant of his Mother that he said, ‘I am God; there is none beside me.’ ”(30) Others attribute to him the more sinister motive of jealousy, among them the Secret Book of John: “He said, ‘I am a jealous God, and you shall have no other God before me,’ already indicating that another god does exist. For if there were no other god, of whom would he be jealous? Then the Mother began to be distressed.”(31) A third gnostic teacher describes the Lord’s shock, terror, and anxiety “when he discovered that he was not the God of the universe.” Gradually his shock and fear gave way to wonder, and finally he came to welcome the teaching of Wisdom. The gnostic teacher concluded: “This is the meaning of the saying, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ ”(32)

All of these are, of course, mythical explanations. To look for the actual, historical reasons why these gnostic writings were suppressed is an extremely difficult proposition, for it raises the much larger question of how (i.e., by what means and what criteria) certain ideas, including those expressed in the texts cited above, came to be classified as heretical and others as orthodox by the beginning of the third century. Although the research is still in its early stages, and this question is far from being solved, we may find one clue if we ask whether these secret groups derived any practical, social consequences from their conception of God—and of mankind—that included the feminine element? Here again the answer is yes and can be found in the orthodox texts themselves. Irenaeus, an orthodox bishop, for example, notes with dismay that women in particular are attracted to heretical groups—especially to Marcus’s circle, in which prayers are offered to the Mother in her aspects as Silence, Grace, and Wisdom; women priests serve the eucharist together with men; and women also speak as prophets, uttering to the whole community what “the Spirit” reveals to them.(33) Professing himself to be at a loss to understand the attraction that Marcus’s group holds, he offers only one explanation: that Marcus himself is a diabolically successful seducer, a magician who compounds special aphrodisiacs to “deceive, victimize, and defile” these “many foolish women!” Whether his accusation has any factual basis is difficult, probably impossible, to ascertain. Nevertheless, the historian notes that accusations of sexual license are a stock-in-trade of polemical arguments.(34) The bishop refuses to admit the possibility that the group might attract Christians—especially women—for sound and comprehensible reasons. While expressing his own moral outrage, Tertullian, another “father of the church,” reveals his fundamental desire to keep women out of religion: “These heretical women—how audacious they are! They have no modesty: they are bold enough to teach, to engage in argument, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures, and, it may be, even to baptize!”(35) Tertullian directs yet another attack against “that viper”—a woman teacher who led a congregation in North Africa.(36) Marcion had, in fact, scandalized his “orthodox” contemporaries by appointing women on an equal basis with men as priests and bishops among his congregations.(37) The teacher Marcillina also traveled to Rome to represent the Carpocratian group, an esoteric circle that claimed to have received secret teaching from Mary, Salome, and Martha.(38) And among the Montanists, a radical prophetic circle, the prophet Philumene was reputed to have hired a male secretary to transcribe her inspired oracles.(39)

Other secret texts, such as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Wisdom of Faith, suggest that the activity of such women leaders challenged and therefore was challenged by the orthodox communities who regarded Peter as their spokesman. The Gospel of Mary relates that Mary tried to encourage the disciples after the crucifixion and to tell them what the Lord had told her privately. Peter, furious at the suggestion, asks, “Did he then talk secretly with a woman, instead of to us? Are we to go and learn from her now? Did he love her more than us?” Distressed at his rage, Mary then asks Peter: “What do you think? Do you think I made this up in my heart? Do you think I am lying about the Lord?” Levi breaks in at this point to mediate the dispute: “Peter, you are always irascible. You object to the woman as our enemies do. Surely the Lord knew her very well, and indeed, he loved her more than us.” Then he and the others invite Mary to teach them what she knows.(40) Another argument between Peter and Mary occurs in Wisdom of Faith. Peter complains that Mary is dominating the conversation, even to the point of displacing the rightful priority of Peter himself and his brethren; he urges Jesus to silence her—and is quickly rebuked. Later, however, Mary admits to Jesus that she hardly dares to speak freely with him, because “Peter makes me hesitate: I am afraid of him, because he hates the female race.” Jesus replies that whoever receives inspiration from the Spirit is divinely ordained to speak, whether man or woman.(41)

As these texts suggest, then, women were considered equal to men, they were revered as prophets, and they acted as teachers, traveling evangelists, healers, priests, and even bishops. In some of these groups, they played leading roles and were excluded from them in the orthodox churches, at least by A.D. 150-200. Is it possible, then, that the recognition of the feminine element in God and the recognition of mankind as a male and female entity bore within it the explosive social possibility of women acting on an equal basis with men in positions of authority and leadership? If this were true, it might lead to the conclusion that these gnostic groups, together with their conception of God and human nature, were suppressed only because of their positive attitude toward women. But such a conclusion would be a mistake—a hasty and simplistic reading of the evidence. In the first place, orthodox Christian doctrine is far from wholly negative in its attitude toward women. Second, many other elements of the gnostic sources diverge in fundamental ways from what came to be accepted as orthodox Christian teaching. To examine this process in detail would require a much more extensive discussion than is possible here. Nevertheless, the evidence does indicate that two very different patterns of sexual attitudes emerged in orthodox and gnostic circles. In simplest form, gnostic theologians correlate their description of God in both masculine and feminine terms with a complementary description of human nature. Most often they refer to the creation account of Genesis 1, which suggests an equal (or even androgynous) creation of mankind. This conception carries the principle of equality between men and women into the practical social and political structures of gnostic communities. The orthodox pattern is strikingly different: it describes God in exclusively masculine terms and often uses Genesis 2 to describe how Eve was created from Adam and for his fulfillment. Like the gnostic view, the orthodox also translates into sociological practice: by the late second century, orthodox Christians came to accept the domination of men over women as the proper, God-given order—not only for the human race, but also for the Christian churches. This correlation between theology, anthropology, and sociology is not lost on the apostle Paul. In his letter to the disorderly Corinthian community, he reminds them of a divinely ordained chain of authority: As God has authority over Christ, so the man has authority over the woman, argues Paul, citing Genesis 2: “The man is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man; and besides, the man was not created for the woman’s sake, but the woman for the sake of the man.”(42) Here the three elements of the orthodox pattern are welded into one simple argument: the description of God corresponds to a description of human nature which authorizes the social pattern of male domination.

A striking exception to this orthodox pattern occurs in the writings of one revered “father of the church,” Clement of Alexandria. Clement identifies himself as orthodox, although he knows members of gnostic groups and their writings well; some scholars suggest that he was himself a gnostic initiate. Yet his own works demonstrate how all three elements of what we have called the “gnostic pattern” could be worked into fully “orthodox” teaching. First, Clement characterizes God not only in masculine but also in feminine terms: “The Word is everything to the child, both father and mother, teacher and nurse.... The nutriment is the milk of the father. . . and the Word alone supplies us children with the milk of love, and only those who suck at this breast are truly happy.... For this reason seeking is called sucking; to those infants who seek the Word, the Father’s loving breasts supply milk.(43) Second, in describing human nature, he insists that “men and women share equally in perfection, and are to receive the same instruction and discipline. For the name ‘humanity’ is common to both men and women; and for us ‘in Christ there is neither male nor female.’”(44) Even in considering the active participation of women with men in the Christian community Clement offers a list—unique in orthodox tradition—of women whose achievements he admires. They range from ancient examples, like Judith, the assassin who destroyed Israel’s enemy, to Queen Esther, who rescued her people from genocide, as well as others who took radical political stands. He speaks of Arignole the historian, of Themisto the Epicurean philosopher, and of many other women philosophers, including two who studied with Plato and one trained by Socrates. Indeed, he cannot contain his praise: “What shall I say? Did not Theano the Pythagoran make such progress in philosophy that when a man, staring at her, said, ‘Your arm is beautiful,’ she replied, ‘Yes, but it is not on public display.’”(45) Clement concludes his list with famous women poets and painters.

If the work of Clement, who taught in Egypt before the lines of orthodoxy and heresy were rigidly drawn (ca. A.D. 160-80) demonstrates how gnostic principles could be incorporated even into orthodox Christian teaching, the majority of communities in the western empire headed by Rome did not follow his example. By the year A.D. 200, Roman Christians endorsed as “canonical” the pseudo-Pauline letter to Timothy, which interpreted Paul’s views: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not allow any woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; she is to remain silent, for [note Gen. 2!] Adam was formed first, then Eve and furthermore, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was utterly seduced and came into sin.”(45) How are we to account for this irreversible development? The question deserves investigation which this discussion can only initiate. For example, one would need to examine how (and for what reasons) the zealously patriarchal traditions of Israel were adopted by the Roman (and other) Christian communities. Further research might disclose how social and cultural forces converged to suppress feminine symbolism—and women’s participation—from western Christian tradition. Given such research, the history of Christianity never could be told in the same way again.

NOTES

1. Where the God of Israel is characterized as husband and lover in the Old Testament (OT), his spouse is described as the community of Israel (i.e., Isa. 50:1, 54:1-8; Jer. 2:2-3, 20-25, 3:1-20; Hos. 1-4, 14) or as the land of Israel (cf. Isa. 62:1-5).

2. One may note several exceptions to this rule: Deut. 32:11; Hos. 11:1; Isa. 66:12 ff; Num. 11:12.

3. The Gospel according to Thomas (hereafter cited as ET), ed. A. Guillaumount, H. Ch. Puech, G. Quispel, W. Till, Yassah ‘Abd-al-Masih (London: Collins, 1959), logion 113-114.

4. Hippolytus, Refutationis Omnium Haeresium (hereafter cited as Ref), ed. L. Dunker, F. Schneidewin (Göttingen, 1859), 5.7.

5. Ref, 5.6.

6. Irenaeus, Aduersus Haereses (hereafter cited as AH), ed. W. W. Harvey (Cambridge, 1857), 1.11.1.

7. Ibid., 1.13.2.

8. Ibid., 1.13.6.

9. Ibid., 1.18.2.

10. Ibid., 1.11.5-21.1, 3; Ref, 6.29.

11. Apocryphon Johannis (hereafter cited as AJ), ed. S. Giversen (Copenhagen: Prostant Apud Munksgaard, 1963), 47.20-48.14.

12. AJ, 52.34-53.6.

13. Ibid., 61.13-14.

14. Origen, Commentary on John, 2.12; Hom. On Jeremiah, 15.4.

15. ET, 101. The text of this passage is badly damaged; I follow here the reconstruction of G. MacRae of the Harvard Divinity School.

16. L’Evangile selon Phillipe (hereafter cited as EP), ed. J. E. Ménard (Leiden: Brill, 1967), logion 6.

17. EP, logion 36.

18. Ibid., logion 82.

19. Ibid., logion 17.

20. Extraits de Théodote (hereafter cited as Exc), ed. F. Sagnard, Sources chrétiennes 23 (Paris: Sources chrétiennes, 1948).

21. AH, 1.30.6.

22. Ref, 6.17.

23. Ibid., 6.14.

24. AH, 1.14.7-8.

25. Ref, 6.18.

26. Genesis Rabba 8.1, also 17.6; cf. Levitius Rabba 14. For an excellent discussion of androgyny, see W. Meeks, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” History of Religions 13 (1974): 165-208.

27. AH, 1.18.2.

28. Exc, 21.1.

29. Ref, 6.33.

30. AH, 1.5.4; Ref, 6.33.

31. AJ, 61.8-14.

32. Ref, 7.26.

33. AH, 1.13.7.

34. Ibid., 1.13.2-5.

35. Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum (hereafter cited as DP), ed. E. Oethler (Lipsius, 1853-54), p. 41.

36. De Baptismo 1. I am grateful to Cyril Richardson for calling my attention to this passage and to the three subsequent ones.

37. Epiphanes, De Baptismo, 42.5.

38. AH, 1.25.6.

39. DP, 6.30.

40. The Gospel according to Mary, Codex Berolinensis, BG, 8502,1.7.1-1.19.5, ea., intro., and trans. G. MacRae, unpublished manuscript.

41. Pistis Sophia, ed. Carl Schmidt (Berlin: Academie-Verlag, 1925), 36 (57), 71 (161).

42. 1 Cor. 11 :7-9. For discussion, see R. Scroggs, “Paul and the Eschatological Woman,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 40 (1972): 283-303; R. Scroggs, “Paul and the Eschatological Woman: Revisited,” Journal of the Amencan Academy of Religion 42 (1974): 532-37; and E. Pagels, “Paul and Women: A Response to Recent Discussion,” Journal of the Amencan Academy of Religion 42 (1972): 538-49.

43. Clement Alexandrinus, Paidegogos, ed. O. Stählin (Leipzig, 1905), 1.6.

44. Ibid., 1.4.

45. Ibid., 1.19.

46. 2 Tim. 2:11-14.


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