Long ago, in the Neolithic era and the early Bronze Age, woman was believed to have a magical connection with the Earth, with plants and trees, with animals and the rhythms of nature.
Her fertility was identified with the fertility of the life of Earth and she was thought to enhance it by participating in certain rituals. In all times and places, once new life was growing in her, woman was initiated into a profound participation with nature through her role as co-creator with it, knowing that her life might be sacrificed in giving birth to the life she carried.
The key word here is participation, because her experience as mother and grandmother gave her the feeling of having a sacred role, participating in the life of nature as the Great Mother, connected to an ancestral line of mothers and daughters.
But the foundation of this instinctive participatory feeling which was developed in the social role and the rituals created by women and transmitted from mother to daughter, was the millions of years of genetic programming before the advent of the human species, the millions of years of experience as female mammal, female animal. We have evolved out of this older mammalian matrix, and this pre-human genetic memory influences maternal behavior to this day. It is of great importance in understanding the origin of woman’s capacity to care for life and to recognize and respond to the needs of others, particularly her children.
Woman’s experience of being the carrier and nurturer of life, living, as it were, the role of the Great Mother, bound to the greater rhythm of nature by the rhythms of her menstrual cycle and the ten lunar months of gestation before the birth of her child, has given a profound value, meaning and responsibility to her life, whatever her cultural or ethnic background.
The observation through countless millennia of the way women carried their children in the womb, gave birth to them, nourished and cared for them during their dependent years, endowed women with a numinous significance as the carriers and custodians of life. Women have always prepared food for their families: for countless millennia they have planted, tended and gathered crops, ground seeds and kernels of wheat or corn into flour, cooked and transformed the raw material harvested from the earth into food.
Woman’s immemorial experience of herself as the carrier and nurturer of life helped to define the image and qualities of the Great Mother who could protect, nourish, contain and transform life. Woman as the young girl — the seed, the blossom, the crescent moon, nascent, virgin life; woman growing to maturity as mother — the plant, the fruit, the full moon; woman as grandmother, wise old crone — the harvested crop, the stored fruit, the waning moon: each phase of woman’s life experience as well as the observation of the moon’s eternal cycle helped to define the relationship of woman to nature and the cosmos.
Woman’s menstrual cycle connected her in the depths of her being with the immensely powerful rhythms of the earth and the cosmos: the rhythm of the seasons; the rhythm of the moon and the stars; the rhythm of the cycle of the crops and the rhythm of the ocean tides.
Born of her mother, giving birth to her daughter who would, in turn, become the carrier and custodian of life, she could feel connected to an immemorial past of mothers, and an immemorial future of daughters, each a transmitter of the life process, each surrendering to an experience more mysterious and powerful and demanding than any other, requiring as it were, her cooperation with an instinctual process which, ineluctably, as the vehicle of life, she served.
Women’s lives have been radically transformed through the active part they played during the Second World War, through access to higher education and through contraception. The rebellion expressed in the Feminist Movement (with strong roots in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) against the millennia-old ethos of patriarchal culture has also liberated many women from a confined and diminished life. Universities have opened their doors to them. Gaining access to higher education, they are entering and creating a wide range of professions which did not exist 70 years ago. Many are engaged in expanding the role of the UN in improving the lives of women. Others are the CEO’s of companies and corporations. Some are Prime Ministers and head international financial and charitable institutions. Many are helping other women to raise their consciousness and their talents to a higher level. This represents an enormous expansion of their creative gifts and a great enrichment of the culture. Psychotherapy is but one field in which women excel. They also excel in other healing professions such as Acupuncture, Yoga, Herbalism and Ayurvedic medicine as well as in the more conventional fields of medicine.
These healing professions release latent potential buried for centuries, helping women to follow their heart in whatever career or calling presents itself to them as a channel of expression for their gifts, their interests and their values.
What can woman do to act as mid-wife to the birth of this new era?
- She can nurture an awareness that reconnects mind with body, thinking with feeling: one which brings together the intellectual capacities of the mind with the feeling values of the heart in a marriage that in turn would draw her into relationship with a deeper dimension of reality.
- She can learn to care for her body as something precious and sacred.
- She can re-discover and re-establish the connections between things that have been fragmented; articulate and support values that have been over-ridden for centuries: values that serve and protect life instead of exploiting and misusing it for divisive political, religious or commercial aims.
- She can rescue the soul from being traumatized and the body injured by deeply engrained social customs and the deficient values promoted by the media.
- She can aim at the highest in the certainty that thereby, ultimately, all lower aims will be achieved.
The recovery of the Feminine Principle may be compared to the excavation of a precious treasure. A new image of spirit as the totality of all that is has begun to restore nature, matter and the body to the realm of the sacred. It is giving woman a voice and a value and a sacred image of herself.