God as Father and Mother
One of the problems central to our time is the distortion of the male/female duality. This is so counter to Nature and to most people's instincts that it is not unreasonable to suppose that it is diabolically inspired or, at least, that something which was meant to take us forward in one direction has been hijacked and perverted to go in another. But the main reason this distortion of reality has been able to take any kind of effect at all, and not just be laughed out of court, is that we have no sense of metaphysics nowadays so no understanding that sex is not arbitrary or meaningless but something real that is the echo of a much higher truth. For the masculine/feminine duality goes right down to the heart of existence and it is present, in some form, from the very beginning.
In the past most monotheistic religions have downplayed, if not completely ignored, the feminine side of divinity. To say that does not imply that its place should be exactly equivalent to the masculine, which many of those who want to restore it seem to believe, but it definitely does have a place which has been neglected. I don't claim any full knowledge on this subject any more than anyone else can, but I do have my intuitions. As they coincide, more or less, with tradition, common sense and the book of nature I believe them to be relatively free of prejudice and cultural conditioning.
The fundamental duality of existence (and existence as I hope to have made clear must be dual in order for it to be known) can be described as spirit and matter or God and Nature, Subject and Object, and in sundry other ways that are variations on this theme but which all boil down to something like Life and Appearance. In this duality the former is always, in practically every culture, masculine and the latter feminine. No doubt there are exceptions but they, as the saying goes, just prove the rule. Humanity has a basic intuition about this and it is correct.
Now it is interesting that the two are complementary but always it is natural to put one before the other. This is not just the way we are used to doing it. It is how it is. The masculine principle is always put first (one must come first), even in Tantra in which this dualism is most developed and where it is described as Siva-Sakti. Does this mean that the first is the primary principle, Life/Spirit, and the second, Appearance/Matter, is that principle when it expresses itself which it has to do as a duality? Thus spirit and matter in manifestation are, in a sense, modes of Spirit since on the highest plane of reality (the one completely self-subsistent state of being) there is only the Creator and spirit and matter are still unsundered, not yet expressed. So you can say that the second comes out of the first as its complementary principle in manifestation, and the way it knows itself as itself, but you cannot reverse this statement and put it the other way round. If that is the case it points to a twofold relationship between these two principles which may be why so many problems arise when looking for an understanding of how they should interact, and their role vis à vis one another.
On the one hand, there is the complementarity. Where there is one there necessarily is the other and each is incomplete without the other. One cannot exist without the other and they need each other to grow and become more. This divine duality is the case in all the created worlds and in every situation or circumstance in which life is expressed in form. But, on the other hand, matter is the vehicle for spirit when it moves out into self-expression, and in that sense the masculine principle does precede the feminine which is its opposite in manifestation and the worlds of duality. It is not just that in a state of unmanifest oneness neither exists or both are dormant. If so, how would the externalising process ever get started? It is more that pure being, in revealing itself, becomes positive and negative though these words are slightly misleading because here the negative is not absence of anything but its own absolutely real principle. We are, after all, talking about God in whom and for whom everything is real. Perhaps a better way of describing this primal duality would be as active or initiating (God, they say, is Pure Act) and creatively receptive. Both are fully real but one exists to express and glorify the other not vice versa. You might say that without the Mother (Mater/matter/maya) the Father cannot create because it is only through her being, her substance, and in her space that his idea can take form and manifest. She is the second part of the duality in which the One manifests and without which it would remain unexpressed.
This is undoubtedly a difficult concept which is why we tend to seek refuge in a simpler scenario of either one alone being real or both being equally so. But neither of those ways of looking at the picture of masculine and feminine as they relate to the depths of existence is wholly satisfactory. The truth seems to be a mixture of the two. Complementarity and hierarchy. Perhaps one way of picturing this is to see that the sexes (as cosmic principles, first and foremost) relate to each other in two ways. One, on a horizontal level in which the masculine is on the right and the feminine on the left, and two, on a vertical level, in which the masculine is above (Sky or Heaven) and the feminine is below (Earth). This image will certainly cause problems for some today but it probably was the intuitive understanding of the past before our minds were clouded by materialism and ideologies and innocent natural perceptions lost. It is also supported by the fact of the sun and the moon and the relationship between these two lights in the sky which quite clearly correspond on a deep level to masculine and feminine polarities.
It is undeniable that this relationship along the vertical axis, in which the masculine precedes (in ontological terms) the feminine, has been abused by men in the past, principally by taking it out of context and misapplying it on the horizontal level where it is not valid or not valid in the same way. But that does not mean it is incorrect. What it means is that spirit is the primary principle and matter its expression in form, indeed its expression as form, but the two always go together to make a whole. Though with the proviso that spirit must be seen as the active principle and matter the receptive, and the additional understanding that the fact that the masculine hierarchically precedes the feminine as the active principle in creation does not make man superior to woman, individually or collectively, in this world. The two have equal value as expressions of God, both are made in his image, but they also have their real roles which are not by any means the same and in some ways may even seem to be unequal.
I want to try to imagine the beginning of all things. What happens when God creates the universe? From within the eternal night of unmanifest being (as we have to conceive it, this is just an image) comes God the Creator. So the first thing is an act of Will, the will or desire to create. Now this cannot come from nothing so it means that God as Creator is already there. Obviously there must be a Creator before there is creation so the Creator must be there in the darkness of non-manifestation and must precede anything else. The Creator is the acting, masculine principle, and this is the first of all things, present from before all things. But then 'the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters'. In order to create the Creator must have something in which and from which to create, something to give form to his idea. This is 'the waters' which is the receptive or feminine aspect of God and which becomes light once it is impregnated by the Spirit of God. As I envisage it God draws this forth or projects it from himself and the resulting feminine side is both the womb and substance of creation. So for there to be anything there must be two things, both the masculine and feminine principles. Each needs the other in the creative process - as if we didn't know that! And in terms of the created universe each has always existed. There is nothing without the two of them interacting. However in terms of existence prior to creation the masculine principle was primary just as the Will of the Creator preceded Creation.
Another way to look at this is to see the two cosmic principles as the absolute and the infinite and note how the former gives rise to the latter when it moves from being to becoming. Think of the absolute as a point and the infinite as the rays that stream forth from that point when it manifests itself. In this scenario the absolute masculine is pure actuality and the infinite feminine is pure potentiality. One can also envisage the masculine and feminine principles as giving and receiving or expanding and contracting. The two always go together as movements in a single process but the first is always first, the initiating or preceding stage. The second makes the movement of the first possible but the first is the instigating factor.
Everything in the universe from atoms and below to galaxies and above is created out of the feminine principle, the Mother as the divine substance of God. She is the source and matrix of all manifested form in heaven and earth. However creation comes from the mind of God the Father. It is his idea that initiates the process and which takes form in the substance of her being according to parameters (laws) that he has set up. But note that we are talking about divine realities here so the feminine aspect may be the passive or receptive aspect but that does not mean she is without a will or mind or consciousness of her own. But she, like Mary, lovingly submits to the Will of the Father and allows his imaginative power to be expressed through her, also imbuing it with her quality. So God the Father thinks the Creation and his thought bears fruit in the body of the Mother which lies in darkness until acted on by him.
The idea that the feminine principle ultimately derives from the masculine is echoed in the account of Eve being formed from Adam's rib which can be interpreted to mean that while materially the male comes from the female, spiritually the female comes from the male. This idea is also found in the story of Sophia or Wisdom of whom it says in Proverbs chapter 8 that "The Lord created me the first of his works long ago, before all else was made. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep." One can dismiss these stories as fairy tales or inventions designed to boost patriarchal power but I think they are mythologies, symbolical presentations of truth. The same truth is enacted in Mary's acceptance of her role as the Mother of God, that is, of God in form. This involved humble submission to the Spirit of God (as Mary submits to God as matter should submit to spirit), and it plays out on a lower level what happened right back at the very dawn of creation. Mary, by her submission to God, eventually ascends to become Queen of Heaven, and one does not have to take this literally to see that Mary was indeed the perfect representative of this divine archetype.
We have seen that God becomes two in order to express himself but he is pure positivity to start off with otherwise he would be nothing. This is why there is a sense in which the masculine does precede the feminine in terms of being even though there is full complementarity in the phenomenal worlds of becoming where the two are always ever present, each suggesting the other. Complementarity means that each has a role to play and neither should usurp the role of the other. That is not what is happening in our fallen world but those who are serious about the spiritual path have to look within themselves and try to gain a proper intuitive understanding of the roles of the sexes and the meaning of sex as it exists at the deepest level of creation. Divine order only comes about when masculine and feminine are in harmony. In our human terms that does not mean that men are just manifestations of the masculine principle and women are just of the feminine. It's like the yin/yang symbol where each includes an element of the other. And, as human beings we all contain the whole within ourselves. Nevertheless for women this should be in the context of femininity just as for men it should be within that of masculinity. At the moment the world is very confused, misled partly through the desire to correct past error but also, I would say, through egotism, envy and resentment ably stirred up, inflamed and given spurious justification by demonic incitement.
All of which means that this discussion of the feminine aspect of divinity should not be taken as support for modern feminism. In fact, the opposite is more the case. Feminism, as it stands today, is a distortion or perversion of this idea since it is largely based on the hatred of the feminine as the feminine and the desire to replace that with a pseudo-masculinity. Its devaluing of the role of motherhood is the plainest indication of that. Its refusal to see femininity in terms of receptivity, which it mistakenly sees as inferior, is another clear example that it is rooted in error.
I have been talking here about principles but the question then arises as to whether these principles are persons too. I think the answer must be yes, though what form they take, if form they have, is beyond our comprehension. In the Christian worldview, to which I largely adhere, everything in the universe is, or is aiming to become, a person based on the supreme reality that is the Personhood of God. Therefore all principles can be personified but what that really means is open to question. Man is created in the image of God but we must try to conceive spiritual realities in spiritual rather than material or worldly terms. Is God a person? Yes. Does he have a body? Not according to Jesus who said that God is Spirit. Not according to St Paul who in Colossians 1:15 described Jesus as the image of the invisible God. And not according to the understanding that sees the Creator as transcending his creation and a being that cannot be limited by form. I don't doubt that there are great spiritual beings who do appear in form, and maybe the Divine Mother is one of them as in the vision of Isis in The Golden Ass by Apuleius, but God as Creator of the Universe stands above his creation notwithstanding the fact that he is fully immanent also.
It might be asked where the Trinity fits into this or the Godhead, the Divine Darkness which is the ground of all being and about which nothing may be said for all words about it must fall back into silence? The latter can readily be equated with the Eternal Night which is both prior to creation and sub-stands it at all times. As for the Trinity, it may be that the Mother is the substance to its essence. It is the Mother who enables the Father to give expression to the Son and so allows the Logos to take form, both individually and cosmically. But really God is far too great and beyond our conception to be forced neatly into any ideas we might have about him. There may be different ways of conceiving him which are not contradictory but which focus on different aspects of the totality of what he is. This should not be a problem. We can look at the picture in different ways and this is one of them but I see it as more a symbolic description of reality than an absolutely true depiction. Nevertheless I believe that it does describe this reality in a way that does not misrepresent it on our level of understanding.
I have one more word to say on this subject. God nowadays is often described as transcending any idea of sexual distinction. Either above masculine and feminine or else including both within himself. And if we are talking about a Supreme Principle, unmanifest spirit in its pure 'isness', that would no doubt be correct. But if we are talking about the Creator, the one who created the universe, who created our souls and made us individual beings, the one whom Jesus Christ called Father and with whom we can have a relationship, then what I have written above applies. Naturally the fact he is Father does not mean he doesn't contain all qualities within himself but still as the Creator he is Father. That doesn’t mean he is biologically male but, as a Person, he is masculine and all souls are feminine to him which is made further clear from the fact that souls can only become spiritually alive through receiving spiritual impregnation from him, otherwise known as grace.
Is reality ultimately personal or impersonal? If the latter, as with the god of the philosophers, it is difficult to see how the former could ever have arisen or how love, beauty and goodness could have the meaning they do. Ultimately they would be swallowed up, being just pointers to absolute oneness. And if they don’t have any ultimate meaning then they don’t have true meaning at all. However if reality is personal, as the Judaeo-Christian revelation maintains, then life is actually alive and love is real and goodness is truth. I would maintain that the personal is not a lower, more relative, manifestation of the impersonal absolute but the very heart and point of existence. So the personal is not a limited or bound aspect of the impersonal but the impersonal is a non-manifested aspect of the personal, and it is the personal that is true ultimate reality. The foundation of the universe is not pure being but I AM.
And here perhaps we have clue to the whole mystery. God in the absolute sense is I AM so transcendent to any duality. But when he manifests himself in creation the Creator then becomes the masculine polarity and creation is feminine to him. Thus from pure Subject comes Subject and Object, and I believe this gives us an insight into the heart of the origin of the masculine/feminine polarity and a pointer as to what it really means.
For here as Subject and Object we have the two cosmic principles in their most undifferentiated forms. Now, in the context of creation all human beings contain both principles within them so this is not a description of men and women. Reality is much subtler than that. Nevertheless it does point to an archetypal truth about the two sexes and is a guide as to the fundamental dynamics of the relationship between them.
Perhaps an image that best sums up the idea behind this chapter is that of a couple engaged in a traditional dance such as the waltz in which both partners are equal but the man leads. It would be nice to think that a profound truth is encapsulated in the symbolism of the dance.
And so from the standpoint of Creator and creation we see that God is masculine before he is feminine even though divine reality includes and contains both. Numerically this can be represented as 2 (female) coming from 1 (male) and then from these arise ‘the ten thousand things’ as creation is called in Taoism. But before concluding this chapter I should briefly mention a metaphysical speculation that the Mother is not just universal Nature, the ground of matter, space and time in which all things are born, the mirror which enables God to see himself. She is also the emptiness beyond being from whence God himself arises, the 0 before 1. The problem with this theory is that God does not arise from anywhere. He eternally is. There is no 0 before 1 except from the point of view of creation, form, time and space. But the Absolute is not 0. Moreover there is no beyond being. There is a state beyond becoming but that is a different matter. Something (God) does not come from nothing (emptiness) even though we may have to resort to an apophatic type language to describe God’s essence, the what of his being. But the one eternally is and I would say, with Christianity, that the Trinity eternally is as well, existing at the deepest level of being. This theory also conflicts with the idea of the fundamental Personhood of God, his who, which is base level reality. For the Mother is the Mother of the Son not the Father, and the darkness of her womb is that of the prima materia before it is touched by the spirit of God and bursts into the light of Creation.