Sacred Feminine

In 2004 I began to research the Sacred Feminine as part of my undergrad senior project at UCLA.  The only image of the Sacred Feminine available in my culture was that of the Virgin Mary.   I believed that Her image had become so problematic in a society where child abuse, incest and rape were so predominant, and where these issues continued to be buried in silence, many times with the knowledge of the church.  In my research I wanted to find an image, a role model that would not bring up feelings of guilt and judgment for me or any other woman.  I needed to find other ways of relating to an active feminine power.  I wanted to transform the meaning of virginity and divinity all together.

In Cuban and Brazilian tradition I discovered Yemaya/Iemanjá.  She is the orisha (deity from the Yoruba tradition) of the Salty waters.  She governs the oceans, is the mother of all the orishas, and wears shades of blue and white.  She’s often depicted as a mermaid and is associated with the moon and female mysteries. Yemaya governs the household and intervenes in women’s affairs. She is a stern yet merciful goddess, invoked by women for aid in child birth, love and healing. She rules over the conception, birth of children and ensures their safety during childhood.  In Cuba she is syncretized with La Virgen de Regla and in Brazil with Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes.

I found Ochún/Oxum.  She is the youngest of the orishas. She governs the sweet waters, lakes and rivers.  She wears yellow, loves gold, honey, peacock feathers, and laughs a lot.  She reigns over love, intimacy, beauty, sensuality, wealth and diplomacy.  Ochún is beneficent, generous, and very kind. She does, however, have a horrific temper, though it is difficult to anger her.  In Cuba she is syncretized with La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre and in Brazil with Nossa Senhora das Candeias.

I found Oya/Iansa.  She is the powerful orisha of the winds and tempests.  In Santería (Cuba) she wears the colors of the rainbow, nine colors for nine of her children.  In Candomblé (Brazil) her colors are burgundy and purple.  She’s the owner of the cemetery as she is believed to watch over the newly dead and assist them as they make the transition from life to the land of the ancestors.  She is the only female warrior within the Yoruba pantheon and is known to be a strong protectress of women, who call on Her to settle disputes in their favor.  She represents change and carries a black horse tail in one hand and a sword in the other to clear a path for new growth.

In my search for positive images of the Divine Feminine I found several symbols I can relate to.  I can see the lives and struggles of many women in them.  Ochun, Yemaya and Oya remind me of the Triple Goddess, another symbol I came across that presents three separate female figures united.  They are the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone, each of which symbolizes both a separate stage in the female life cycle and a phase of the moon.  Many cultures have embraced the Triple Goddess in one way or another.  Many images from ancient civilizations and prehistory have been found that can confirm this (see below for suggested reading).  The Maiden is the youngest aspect of the Goddess, related with discovery and most creative aspects of women’s personality. She is innocence and the lack of worries, the joy of living. She is not associated with sexual virginity as she is her owner and responsible for herself.  The maiden is independence.  The Mother is the eternal giver of life (not necessarily in the child birth aspect only).  Before patriarchal sky gods appeared, the Goddess was revered in her aspect as Creatrix.  She represents among many things, Mother Nature and is the patroness of the harvests.  She watches over women’s and animal’s fertility, and nature in general.   The Crone is the Mother of maturity, and represents wisdom and endings. The Crone is revered as the owner of the Underworld, where souls go to rest between incarnations.  She is the one that guides us during the last phase in our lives, getting us ready for the big leap.

I did however longed to find positive images of the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Feminine I grew up with.  Although problematic I wanted to discover her humanness and relate to her divine aspects.  It was reassuring to find representations of the Virgin Mary associated with Yemaya and Ochún, yet I still wished to see her specific image as more accessible.  I couldn’t conform to patriarchal ways of looking at the woman that in many ways had been key in the history of most Western faith.  I finally came across the books Born of a Woman by Rev. John Shelby Spong and In Search of Mary: The Woman and the Symbol by Sally Cunneen.  They opened my eyes to see how Mary’s image had been manipulated and/or taken out of context and transformed into a patriarchal political strategy.  She had been a victim of patriarchy just as much as many women had been and continue to be.  Yet She and women in general had found ways of reclaiming her as a Feminine symbol of power.  Through my discoveries I was able to begin reconnecting to the human aspect of Mary, this important Woman in my life and the life of many other women.

Most of these images and symbols of the Female Divine are part of rich cultural, religious and artistic contexts.  And with all the respect due to them, I have found in my research and in many of these images the power and the beauty of being a woman.  These symbols have provided me with a road map; a journey path to follow that will guide me to autonomy and liberation.  They have allowed me to reclaim my own image and to refuse anything but holistic representations of the Female Divine, the Sacred Feminine that is present within us and all around us.  Please see as I continue to explore in my blogs under categories Sacred Feminine, Sacred Masculine, and Feminism and see below for the suggested reading section to be exposed to the power of the Feminine and to rethink and challenge what patriarchal society has told us about our nature as women.

Suggested Reading