(Essay 2) Con-Text: Personal/Cultural/Cosmic Stories by Glenys Livingstone, Ph.D.

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

Further to my unfolding awareness of the nature of my cultural con-text, the androcentric nature of the stories in which I grew, was the perceiving of my identification as sex object … with no subjectivity, no space to Be. I remember pornographic magazines from my childhood, depicting women being constantly pursued by salivating men – either there was an assumption that she desired this, or they did not care to ask her. And Christian cosmology, which saturated my context, appeared to condone the imposition of a dominant will upon another – at the very heart of it is “the sacrifice of the lamb”. Women have been especially vulnerable, with their submission openly advocated.

Country Child 1955
Country Child 1955

They sometimes called me “Marilyn” (for Marilyn Monroe), simply because of my babyhood platinum hair. I was not particularly cute as I grew up, on the contrary, I was skinny, had buck teeth, freckles and a bad haircut. But Marilyn was suggested to me by this naming, as someone I could model myself after. I don’t remember any other significant famous women in the first decade or two of my life. As a child I was very conscious of being looked at, and perhaps on reflection, it was because I was female. I felt transparent and vacuous. The Great Male Metaphors of the day – God and Santa – knew everything about me. The male humans imitated the Deity with constant Gazing, in magazines, movies, wall calendars. I could only hope to be chosen to be worthy of his desire, yet at the same time it was known and told that he could be dangerous.

I felt acutely the identification of myself with the “inanimate” world, as it was understood to be – dead and inert: though I had no words for it. Ursula Le Guin says,

We are told in words, and not in words, we are told by their deafness, … (that) … the life experience of women, is not valuable … to humanity. (We have been valued by the patriarchal viewpoint) as an element of their experience, as things experienced.[1]

The male in this worldview was also “inanimate”, albeit the machine that was expected to perform.

I began to find words, and consciousness of my assigned cultural destiny as sex object. I wrote:

What did it take to move from that, to develop a shell, a protective boundary, to pull the shades on the imposing mostly male Gaze, to allow a fertile darkness within my being, where ‘I’  could begin? What did it take to create this kind of darkness, a safe place to Be, to shut out the world and scream ‘I’? … A sex object has to completely fall apart before she can rebuild herself in her own image. She has to fall into the mud, begin again, perform her own acts of Creation,  mold herself of this solid material. It is out of the mud that the lotus blossoms. It does not grow on some pedestal, under the light of the eternal Gaze.  … How ironic that our paternal mythmakers  made Medusa’s gaze the deadly one!

I was fortunate, my life did fall apart, I was lost. The journey into Her story, means a participation in Her descent and return, it means a shattering of what went before. How does a woman stop being object, and become subject? How does she become the body in her own mind? It requires the descent of Inanna, a falling apart. I was still a product of patriarchal narrative, and still seeking the Beloved (the Mother) outside myself. What did it take to move from that, to allow a fertile darkness within, from which the Self could begin? The regaining of integrity, and an understanding of why we lost it, or did not have it, can require a great darkness.

Performing Her Own Acts of Creation
Performing Her Own Acts of Creation

Thus my comfort with the Darkness of She, and as I found, so was the experience of other women who had known invasiveness/objectification of a sexual kind. My creativity comes out of my subjectivity, my inner depths. I have barely believed in this sentience in myself – this Source of my ability, that it is in mein me. Goddess metaphor, this Wisdom tradition, is about recognizing the Power within each being, and making the Hera’s journey, taking it for ourselves – female and male, all beings. This is empowerment – as opposed to a worldview that says some have this sentience and some don’t. It is the difference between Kali, who is an agent of Creativity – Creator – who may rage and act, and Eve who is guilty and answers to a Creator outside of herself. In Goddess cosmology, I “participate directly in the cosmos-creating endeavour”.[2] I am not a passive recipient or bystander.

Perhaps one of the earliest indications of a direction to take, came from my mother’s hesitancy about the stories available, to read to her children. The stories had bits in them that she did not seem to want to tell. She would falter as she read, and then proceed as if making it up. It caused me to wonder, “what did the wolf really do to Little Red Riding Hood and grandma? What other horrible things were possible, that I had not yet imagined?” It seemed my mother would have spared us the whole tale if she could have. I felt my mother’s wish for more hopeful tales, tales of a better world. My mother had an ember in her heart that longed for a world that she could embrace, one that she could even just dream of … if something would help her imagine it. So I always listened for Something Else. Hints of Something Else did come through – in the revelation of the vast starred night sky; and in the revelation of the ancient relationship of sun and land, that I as a country girl had time to ponder. Something Else came threaded through poetry that I loved at school, and music on the airwaves from far away places. This country girl knew she would have to travel a long way – into Other Times and Other Places, to find expression for the world that she and her mother wished for.

Another Clue (as Mary Daly has written it[3]) – was the radical visceral experience of the Creative Force of Life in my body: that is, when I was pregnant for the first time. This was truly revelatory … it, the Cosmos, Ultimate Mystery, was in me! They had lied! It was a shock to realize that “something” could grow in me. There was nothing second rate about this. All previous stories had hidden its significance from me. But still I had no words to describe it – no possible expression for this. The knowledge sat in my heart like an uncut jewel, awaiting its time.

Re-Storying “Her”

It is not female biology that has betrayed the female, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton observed more than one hundred years ago, it is the myths and stories that have been told about her, what has come to be believed about her – even by the female herself.[4] Re-storying “her” means re-storying “Her” – the human as well as our Habitat/Home – the Cosmos, and vice versa: Her stories are the stories of women (and also therefore of all beings who are co-Habitants) through the millennia.

Her Form and Her Shape Kata Tjuta, Australia
Her Form and Her Shape
Kata Tjuta, Australia

 

At this point in time the re-storying of Goddess has been happening for several decades amongst many on the planet – for some it never stopped: but within the last century there has been new “un-coveries” to support the awakening. It is a complex creation – this is as it should be. How else could it be? Her Form and Her Shape have not been in any Atlas – it has taken many voyagers, seekers, mapmakers, diggers, stargazers, explorers: all willing to go beyond the bounds of the known world (“where there be dragons” as the Old Wisdom says!). My own particular re-storying at times felt like the gathering of found shattered fragments of a vessel, that I have been piecing together: until at last I could begin to sense a Shape. The process of re-storying Goddess, as anyone undertakes it for themselves, for and with others, may be like a bird building a nest; and that indeed is what I feel I have been doing – building a Nest, and what all Her other hungry and lost daughters and sons have been doing.

Read Con-Text part 1.

Read Meet Mago Contributor, Glenys Livingstone.

REFERENCES:

Daly, Mary. Webster’s First New Intergalactic Dictionary of the English Language. MA: Beacon Press. 1987.

Le Guin, Ursula.  Dancing at the Edge of the World. NY: Harper & Row, 1989.

Frank, Irene M. and Brownstone, David M. Women’s World: A Timeline of Women in History. NY: HarperCollins, 1995.

Swimme, Brian and Berry, Thomas. The Universe Story. NY: HarperCollins, 1992.


[1] Ursula  Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World , p.155. Brackets my paraphrase.

[2] Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.75 speaking of the subjective/autopoietic aspect of Cosmogenesis.

[3] Mary Daly, Webster’s First New Intergalactic Dictionary of the English Language.

[4] Elizabeth Cady Stanton actually said “Woman is made the author of sin, cursed in her maternity, subordinated in marriage, and a mere afterthought in creation …The first step in the elevation of women under all systems of religion is to convince them that the great spirit of the Universe is in no way responsible for any of these absurdities” February 29,1896 letter to the editor of The Critic. My particular paraphrase of what Stanton said could also be interpreted from resolutions passed at the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in Irene M. Frank and David M. Brownstone, Women’s World: A Timeline of Women in History, p.132-134.