(Essay 2) Re-Visioning Mythologies of Gender/Sex by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

This is the second part of a slightly edited essay by the author published in Goddess Pages in 2008

More on “Creative Potency”

wikipedia.orgwikiMinoan_ snake_goddess_figurines378px-Heraklion_Snake Goddess_SaraWright
Minoan Snake Priestess 1600 BCE Greece (p. 92 Hallie Iglehart Austen)

The main problem in issues of sex and gender, it seems to me, is that some bodies or body parts are not imbued culturally with Creative Potency: that is, not recognised culturally as potent … either in the minds of the bodies themselves or within the cultural context, or both (usually). An example of this is how bare female breasts may be perceived: ancient Goddess images commonly bared them boldly, even holding them for emphasis as if to assert their power … it seems that this was in a cultural context where the power to give life and sustain it was valued. Thus the bearers of this form were bold, whether or not all female breasts actually nourished new life: the bare-breasted priestesses of Crete present holding snakes and with en-tranced expressions, not breastfeeding. Other images do present holding a child, and breastfeeding – but this too is within a cultural context that imagines this as a Good and Divine Power – even Ultimate (and within such contexts it is notable that the Mother’s gaze is direct, not upon the Child, as in later christianised images in the West). In more recent times of our human story, bare breasts or even covered breasts, may actually (though not always) suggest a vulnerability, or a disempowerment of some kind.


Male body processes of phallic waxing, peaking and waning, and producing seed, have often been over-valued: that is, have been attributed all and often exclusive potency, and actually cut off from a priority on real life-enhancement, locked into a narrow priority on acquisition and domination. The myth of Inanna and Dumuzi, and images of the sacred female-male pair reveal a time when male sexual capacity and magic had a relational potency[1].

Potency – an Essential Organic Power

The quality of Potency is essential to the desire to Be – to Desire itself, which draws a being into action, into relationship, into communion. Communion – relatedness – is another dynamic at the core of being, for which each entity hungers.

- Visvatara and Vajrasattva 1800 C.E. (“Sacred Sexuality” p.74). Tibetan Goddess and God in Union
Visvatara and Vajrasattva 1800 C.E. (“Sacred Sexuality” p.74): Tibetan Goddess and God in Union

It is expressed in many classic religious traditions as a Beloved and Lover in embrace – most often a Goddess and a God, but the embrace is meant to signify a dissolution: in the case of Radha and Krisna, they used to cross-dress to emphasize this. Communion/Relatedness is also suggested in the ubiquitous Mother and Child, and also in Double Goddess images, all of which have many other valencies of meaning as well.

photo by Glenys Livingstone, MoonCourt.

Relatedness may begin with the mirror – it is an essential shamanic tool: for seeing the truth of who the self really is, the essential cosmic beauty of the self. Some religious traditions, particularly indigenous ones, have creation stories that begin this way: with the Deity – usually a Goddess – looking in a mirror and falling in Love with Herself. In some languages, desire and creation are inseparable (for example, “duil” in Irish). Religions of more recent times in the human story – generally patriarchal – that emphasize a Deity “out there”, have not enabled the sight of essential ultimate cosmic beauty in the self … the Sacred innate to each being. Yet many ancient creation stories tell us that all comes forth from such perception – the desire for the cosmos within, represented in the physical form. It is an understanding that the physical form (no matter where on the kaleidoscope of sex) is identical with ultimate cosmic unfolding – is the Beloved present. Form itself – each and every bodymind – is the Lover.

Each being will do what they need to do to ensure a sense of Potency, to be the Lover, to find the Beloved. And in an impoverished and complex cultural context, much re-storying needs to be done: we need images and stories of real power, the organic power of the anthropomorphic form, how it expresses the essential cosmic story of creation itself, how each body holds all the stories of life. The true depth of each small self is the whole story of the Universe, and each continues to be a Place of Cosmological Unfolding.

Inanna/Ishtar – Mesopotamia 400 B.C.E. (Adele Getty p.39: “offering to all the elixir of Life”)

So often, in these post-modern times, the presentation and celebration of Goddesses emphasizing the power of breasts or vulva has been disparaged as “essentialism”: it is not thought to be suggestive of potency, whereas the phallus is. Essentialism may actually be a good thing if it is understood at its deepest cosmic impulse: if such images are regarded as expressing Ultimate Creativity, and these body bits are not regarded as “merely” female or “other”, but as the norm of ultimate power of being. This would be a whole cosmology in which such bodies, and all bodies, may express ultimate creativity … and in which ultimate creativity is associated with the nurturance and sustaining of life, and with the perception of each other’s needs – caretaking. This caretaking has been developed in the female particularly by the task of birthing and nurturing of new life: it is a model for all relationship. In older and indigenous cultures, the phallus may have that kind of association: that is, with the nurturance and sustaining of life, of receptivity to life force, as much as breasts and vulvas. It is really a question of story.

Each Being an Integral Place of Cosmological Unfolding

The Creative Dynamic of the Cosmos – the Ultimate Potency – may be perceived as an innate and dynamic triplicity, not a duality: a triplicity of creative potency “that runs through every part of the cosmos” and is available to all[2]. She may be expressed anthropomorphically as the Triple Goddess, representative of the deep essence of Creativity perceived within all. She holds within Her all polarities: “femaleness” and “maleness” are embraced and immersed in the same Creative Principle/Dynamic of Being, which preceded the evolution of two sexes. Both may be storied and described as exhibiting the three characteristics of the Creative Dynamic of Being[3]. She is an integral dynamic and can be identified within any being … female, male, flower, bear, insect, Sun, whatever. hallway images-4Her triple-faceted creative potency may be characterized in this way:

  • every self has a need for agency, and a will to be “true” to the uniqueness of the small self
  • every self has a need for, and is actually in, communion with other … deep relationship – could not be here without it: the web of life
  • every self participates directly in the cosmos-creating endeavour: we live in a seamless universe.

This is an essential Creativity – the requirements of Essence of being[4]. It moves out of binary stereotypes into a kaleidoscope multivalency, upon which mythologies of sex and gender may be situated. What empowerment and en-joyment might unfold then? Some may well be confused for a while, but I suggest that this is healthier than certainty.

© Glenys Livingstone 2008

Read part 1.

Read Meet Mago Contributor Glenys Livingstone.


[1] Starhawk tells this myth of Inanna and Dumuzi well in Truth or Dare, pp. 40-47.

[2] Caitlin Matthews, The Celtic Spirit, p.366.

[3] For more on this see Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology, pp.22, 59-62, and 113.

[4] Max Dashu has written an excellent article on “Essentialism or Essence” in Meanings of Goddess Part 3 in Goddess Pages Issue 7 (Summer N.H. 2008).


Getty, Adele. Goddess: Mother of Living Nature. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

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

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

Mann A.T. and Lyle, Jane. Sacred Sexuality. ELEMENT BOOKS LTD, 1995.

Matthews, Caitlin. The Celtic Spirit. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2000.

Starhawk. Truth or Dare. SF: Harper and Row, 1990.
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6 Comments on "(Essay 2) Re-Visioning Mythologies of Gender/Sex by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D."

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Kathie Carlson
Kathie Carlson
Breasts and milk! I found nursing my daughter to be an incredibly numinous experience; the profoundness of our connection blew me away. Her blanket rustled in the night– and my milk flowed. For several months, she was sustained and GREW from MY body alone, MY body— what could be more astonishing or more powerful than THAT? I understood that my experience was but an echo of the myths that speak of the power of Mother’s milk— Hathor nursing the young pharoah, thereby enabling his power to rule; Adumbla, an African goddess/Hathor/Hera whose playful spray of breastmilk made the Milky Way……… Read more »

wow thanks Kathie … good story and experience! <3

Glenys D. Livingstone

Reblogged this on PaGaian Cosmology and commented:

You may not have read Part 1 of this, but Part 2 is a fine place to start: it seems worth a rethink of the rigid and stereotypical duality that most have taken on board


great story Kathie – I remember so well the numinousity around breastfeeding my two children – it blew me away too!


I love the statement you made Glenys that “each body holds the stories of life.” It is this belief that is demonstrated by my rituals, many of which have their origins in dreams that seem to know stories I am not familiar with. After celebrating what I call earth based ritual for 30 plus years and continuing my mythological studies I have met the stories I thought I made up in texts or in the oral traditions of indigenous peoples!