(Essay 2) The Body – Essential or Not? by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

This essay is the second part of an evolved version of an excerpt from Chapter 2 of her book PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.

Often the work of woman-centred and Gaian/Earth-centred philosophers and writers has been subject to critique by gender-sceptical feminist theory as essentialist, as a perceived “collapse” of female into nature.[i] In the case of my own work and writing, I am actually identifying all being – not just female and male, or just human, but flora and fauna and stars and rocks as well, and even human culture – with nature, and I then metaphorise the dynamics of all being as female, which could be construed as essentialist.  It does invoke  “female sacrality” which for some indicates an essentialising of sacredness as female.[ii]

I acknowledge that it may be so, but also assert that it need not be understood this way. In the case of my work and practice PaGaian Cosmology, there is a recognition or naming of “female-referring transformatory powers”[iii] that are identified as cosmic dynamics essential to all being – not exclusive to the female. For example, “conception” is a female-referring transformatory power, that is, it happens in a female body;[iv] yet it is a multivalent cosmic dynamic, that is, it happens in all being in a variety of forms. It is not bound to the female body, yet it occurs there in a particular and obvious way.  In past ideologies, philosophies and theologies – many of which still make their presence felt, and hence are present – the occurrence of “conception” in that place (the female body) has been devalued; “‘conception” has only been valued in the place of the mind – usually the male mind – as “concept”. Then in some circles of feminist spirituality particularly, there has been reversal of this so that the female body – and sometimes her bodymind – was the only place for significant “conception”: I am not saying that. My work and cosmology affirms “conception” as a female-referring transformatory power which manifests multivalently in all being, thus affirming female sacrality as part of all sacrality. It does thus affirm the female as a place; as well as a place. I do also affirm other qualities of the Universe’s transformatory powers as female-referring … birthing, feeding, containing: and thus She is the most appropriate metaphor to describe the Body we find ourselves within, as we recognise the resonances.

Earthly Mother: Sculpture by William Ricketts, installed at the William Ricketts Sanctuary, Dandenong Ranges, Australia http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/william-ricketts-sanctuary-gardens-of-the-dandenongs
Earthly Mother, sculpture by William Ricketts,
at the William Ricketts Sanctuary, Dandenong Ranges, Australia
http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/william-ricketts-sanctuary-gardens-of-the-dandenongs

My Search in its academic form (of doctoral research) was an inquiry into the affects of such recognition on the hearts and minds and actions of participants – female and male, and including myself. It remains a question for most of the present world: what difference would such recognition and affirmation make to our world? What difference would a “menstrual cosmology”[v] make to the human co-creating of the world – as has been asked and suggested by such brilliant woman-centred philosophies of Judy Grahn[vi] and numerous others. In our times Western science in some niches is arriving at a resonant cosmology, but often with no recognition or acknowledgement of the Maternal nature of these resonances, of the repeated patterns within the female body in particular: She is still left out of the equation. So it often becomes more of Zeus “giving birth” to Athena, a stealing of the “female-referring transformatory” powers of the Cosmic Cauldron in which we are, our Maternal heritage – that of all genders. It may just be more of treating Her like furniture – sitting on Her lap playing King, with no recognition that it is Her sacrality, Her Place and Body. Charlene Spretnak’s work over decades is notable in her conscious and explicit linking of new unfoldings of Western science to female-referring reality.[vii] The conclusion of my book PaGaian Cosmology is a meditation named  “A Creative Place of the Cosmological Unfolding” … it had been my quest to recognise myself as such a Place: I needed to “place” myself, as feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray suggests that woman needs to do,[viii] having been birthed into a context that had hidden that from me, a mechanistic utilitarian context that no longer even remembered, in which I felt myself as barren, a wasteland. Her Form and Her shape was not in any Atlas, in any story of the Sacred:

Her gaps had been covered up,
Her hollows filled in,
Her name blanked out.
She lay buried beneath things, silent,
but with a detectable visceral pulse.[ix]

My Search and the development of a female-centred religious practice and Poetry has enabled this Placement of myself, this Homecoming – and it has always in essence been with others who have received and given blessing: we have grown it together. It could not have been otherwise: She is in Her very nature, relational. Below is an evolved version of the meditation, which I now name as the “Triple Goddess Breath Meditation” – and I do it each day, with movements of the Yoga Mudra:[x]

With every inbreath I receive the Gift – I am Virgin ever-new.

With the peaking of every breath I am this dynamic Place of Being. I am Mother.

With every outbreath I become the Gift, the Old One  – ever transformed.

(And because Virgin and Old One are often hard to distinguish … the clarity of the beginning and the end is not always apparent – the snake bites Her tail – I reverse the process, and the Yoga Mudra):

With every breath in, I receive the Gift of All – the Transformations of the Ages, Old One.

With the peaking of every breath, I am the Sentient Place of Now, the Sacred Interchange, Mother.

With every breath out, I am the Gift to All – again renewed, Virgin.

(And continuing with expressive body movements):

With every breath I celebrate

–         this particular beautiful Self, new in every moment

(hands and arms crossed over the torso)

–         in deep relationship and communion with Other, the web of Life

(hands and arms held out and open)

–         directly participating in the Sentience of the Creative Cosmos, the Well of Creativity.

(hands directed to the Earth)

(and to mix the dynamic metaphor further):
 

I am the Ancient One,

(hands and arms crossed over the torso)

ever-New,

(hands and arms held out and open)

in this Place.

(hands on one’s own body – feet or knees or wherever) [xi]

(Read Part 1.) REFERENCES: Grahn, Judy. Blood, Bread and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. Boston: Beacon Press 1993. Irigaray, Luce. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. (trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill) NY: Cornell University Press, 1993. Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. Lincoln NE: iUniverse, 2005. Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. NY: Routledge, 1993. __________ “Gaia, Good for Women?” Refractory Girl. No.41, Summer 1991. Raphael, Melissa. Thealogy and Embodiment: the Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sexuality. Sheffield: Sheffield Press, 1996. Spretnak, Charlene. Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interrelatedness That Are Transforming the Modern World, Topsham, ME: Green Horizon Books, 2011.


[i] See for example Plumwood 1993 and 1991.
[ii] See Melissa Raphael, Thealogy and Embodiment: the Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sexuality, particularly pp.8-10.
[iii] Melissa Raphael, Thealogy and Embodiment: the Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sexuality, p.8 (emphasis mine).
[iv] Melissa Raphael, Thealogy and Embodiment: the Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sexuality, pp.8-9.
[v] Melissa Raphael, Thealogy and Embodiment: the Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sexuality, p.270.
[vi] Judy Grahn, Blood, Bread and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World.
[vii] See particularly her  recent Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interrelatedness That Are Transforming the Modern World, Topsham, ME: Green Horizon Books, 2011.
[viii] Luce Irigaray, An Ethics of Sexual Difference.
[ix] Glenys Livingstone, unpublished poem, 1998.
[x] The Yoga Mudra is described on p.12 PaGaian Cosmology.
[xi] This meditation may be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAqI0UtpjO4