(Essay Part 2) Restoring Dea – Female Metaphor for Deity by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

Tara Austen p.47This essay is the second part in a series of edited excerpts from chapter 3 of the author’s book, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.

In China, one of Her names was Shin-Mu, described as “Mother of Perfect Intelligence”, who “miraculously” conceived Her first child,[1] and then gave birth to 33,333 creatures.[2] In later patriarchal stories She was said to give birth to all these creatures though Her arms and breasts – without a vagina (thus accommodating misogynist notions of “purity”).

As Tara, She was known from India to Ireland as the primal Goddess. Praise and knowledge of Her has survived in Tibetan Buddhism through the millennia. In Tantric Buddhism She is understood to be at once both transcendent and immanent, at the centre of the cycle of birth and death, pressing “toward consciousness and knowledge, transformation and illumination.”[3]

As Prajnaparamita in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Female Metaphor is transcendent Wisdom: recognized as “…‘Mother of all the Buddhas’ because Buddha activity arises out of, results from, and is born from Wisdom.”[4] Her space is not a passive place, it is understood to be fertile and vibrant.

As Vajravarahi, She has been offered praise in the following way:

OM! Veneration to you, noble Vajravarahi!

OM! Veneration to you, noble and unconquered!

Mother of the three worlds! Mistress of Knowledge! …

OM! Veneration to you, Vajravarahi! Great Yogini!

Mistress of Love! She who moves through the air![5]

Vajravarahi is a face of the Fire of the Cosmos, the Dancer, the Unseen Shaper.[6]

Vajravarahi. Ref: Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.125
Vajravarahi. Ref: Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.125

She represents the everchanging flow of energy.[7] She has been imagined as holding a sword of insight and discernment, and a cup of blood – the blood representing the life force and potential for renewal as any Goddess’ blood does. Vajravarahi is a sharp, compassionate Intelligence, pervading all.

As Mago of East Asia, She is the “First Mother” and “Originator of all species on Earth”: … “Mago signifies the Female, another name for the Creatrix of the universe.”[8] She is addressed by many names: Triad Deity (Samsin), Grandmother or Crone (Halmi), Auspicious Goddess (Seongo) and more … all these names rooted in traditonal Korean/East Asian culture.[9]

As Kali Ma, in the Hindu tradition, She is addressed as Supreme and Primordial, alone remaining as “One ineffable and inconceivable … without beginning, multiform by the power of Maya, … the Beginning of all, Creatrix, Protectress and Destructress.”[10] The great mystic Ramakrishna of the 19th century, was overwhelmed by passion to realize Her and said he could not bear the separation any longer.[11] When She did reveal Herself to him, he experienced “a limitless, infinite shining ocean of consciousness or spirit” – he was “panting for breath”.[12]

As Demeter of Greece, She is Mother of the grain, of wheat – “corn” as it was known, which was understood to reveal the Mystery of Being and was the core symbol of the Eleusinian Mysteries celebrated annually. The ‘Vision into the Abyss of the Seed’, was a vision of the Vulva – the Mother of all Life.[13] Demeter is always in relationship with Her Daughter Persephone – they are a union of the new reborn within and of the old. Demeter as Mother gives the sheaf of wheat to Persephone as Daughter (a holy title), passing on the Knowledge; representing the continuity, the unbroken thread of life. Mother Goddess and Daughter, in this way reveal the Mystery of the seed in the fruit, the fruit in the seed, eternal Creativity. The grain is both the beginning and the end of the cycle, and thereby may represent knowledge of life and death – Divine Wisdom; and it is also food, thus embodying all three aspects of Goddess – creation/beginning, sustaining/preserving, and dissolution/de-structuring. The bread that wheat becomes, sustains the human, who also eventually gives itself away becoming food for the Universe: we are She. Persephone, like Demeter – the Grain, “becomes the goddess of the three worlds: the earth, the underworld, and the heavens.”[14] They and their initiates are thus eternal.

In the Christian tradition, Mary of Nazareth came to embody Goddess, as many recount. This has been so mythologically, and in the hearts and minds of the people, regardless of the ambivalent official postures by the Church. Mary became known as Moon Goddess, Star of the Sea, Our Lady and many other titles that recall more ancient Goddess roots. Mary has been the one to whom the people turned, certain of Her love and mercy.

Hera. Ref: Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, The Year of the Goddess, cover image.
Hera. Ref: Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, The Year of the Goddess, cover image.

To the Sumerians the Divine was Queen Nana, to the Romans “Anna Perenna”. She is Al-Uzza of Mecca, Artemis of Ephesus, Anatis of Egypt, Eurynome of Africa, Coatlique of the Aztecs, Kunapipi of Australia. She is Rhea, Tellus, Ceres, Hera. The Female Metaphor has been known in innumerable ways and by innumerable names as humans tried to express their perception of the Great Mystery. She encompassed All. She has been present throughout the millennia in the myths, rituals, religions and poetry of humanity. She has been loved and revered.

We restore Her form and her shape to our Atlas

Her visceral impulse is recognised again.

 © Glenys Livingstone 2016



[1] The attribution of “miraculously” is itself a later patriarchal frame for the parthenogenetic capacity of the Source and Mother of all being: Her conceiving and birthing was/is innate … “endogenous” is the word for having “an internal cause or origin”.

[2] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.933.

[3] See Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p. 333-334.

[4] Rita Gross, “The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism”, The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, p.186.

[5] Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.124, citing a poem to Vajravarahi from a Tibetan Art Calendar 1987, Wisdom Publications, Boston.

[6] This is a title I have coined from Brian Swimme’s name for Fire as unseen cosmic shaping power, in The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.127-139.

[7] Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.124, quoting Tsultrim Allione.

[8] Helen Hye-Sook Hwang, The Mago Way, p.9.

[9] Helen Hye-Sook Hwang, The Mago Way, p.10.

[10] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.489, citing Sir John Woodroffe (trans), Mahanirvanatra , p.47-50.

[11] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.493.

[12] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.493, citing Colin Wilson, The Outsider, p.254.

[13] Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, The Year of the Goddess, pp.166-167.

[14] Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.319.


Durdin-Robertson, Lawrence. The Year of the Goddess. Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1990.

Iglehart Austen, Hallie. The Heart of the Goddess. Berkeley: Wingbow Press, 1990.

Gross, Rita. “The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.” The Journal of Transpersonal PsychologyVol.16 No.2,1984, pp.179 -192.

Hwang, Helen Hye-Sook. The Mago Way: Rediscovering Mago, the Great Goddess from East Asia (Volume 1). Mago Books, 2015.

Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. NE: iUniverse, 2005.

Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Swimme, Brian. The Universe is a Green Dragon. Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1984.

Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.

Read Meet Mago Contributor Glenys Livingstone

To be continued. Read Part 1.

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Glenys, another insightful article. I am struck again and again by this apparently universal idea of the goddess as divine intelligence – she who gives birth miraculously to creation. It reminds me of what Carol Christ has said – namely that we all reject the idea of the female body simply giving birth…