We tend to think of a sanctuary as being a place. Even when we talk of our own inner sanctuary, it is still thought of as being a place inside ourselves. But what if we as women find ourselves with no other refuge than emptiness? What if we feel that emptiness is all which we have left? But there is nowhere that is not in some way a sanctuary – even emptiness. And finding the courage to take refuge in this emptiness can become the greatest bond of solidarity between women.
The very fabric of our physical being – our DNA – is passed predominantly through the female mitochondrial DNA from one generation to the next. And yet in so-called developed societies it is the male side which is the recognised lineage. Australian Aboriginal society recognises its lineage from mother to daughter. Did these wise people instinctively know something which Western culture has suppressed for the sake of preserving male dominance?
So much of Western thinking has been deeply influenced by religious standards found in the so-called ‘religions of the Book’, taken to be Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All three of these religions are male-dominant, even to the extent of erasing any traces of female deities from their scriptures. Judaism grew out of beliefs which had both male and female creative deities, with female deities such as Ashtoreth sharing creative powers. But a reading of the Old Testament will now only reveal vague glimpses of this goddess. All direct references to her have been deleted by subsequent male hands. And in spite of a contemporary shift to explain the deity as being gender-neutral, God is still very much ‘God the Father’.
Where is Ashtoreth? Where is Sophia? Where is Shekinah? The shift to monotheism has only succeeded in deifying a supreme being who is unmistakably male. But Jesus himself sought to break the mould of his day by including women among his disciples. Salome and Martha were among his circle – and Mary Magdalene occupied a principal place at his side.
But the spirit endures, and the Spirit is female. It was Eve in her wisdom who caused Adam to fall. For how can the soul progress without knowing life and death? How can the soul gain ground without experiencing a human life, with all its joys and its pain? A blissful existence in Eden had little to offer the soul, and Eve knew it, even if Adam did not. And yet for millennia it is Eve who has shouldered the blame for the expulsion from Eden. In the eyes of male thinking, it is the woman who prompted the fall into sin. But it is the spirit – Eve – who showed the soul – Adam – the way to progress.
And it is that progress which now needs to be heeded. All things serve their purpose, and the suppression of millennia is one side of the coin which is now beginning to show its other face. “Look” says the Spirit, “the new world has arrived. The landscape is changing around you.” And it is changing because women took refuge in their emptiness: in the last place which had been left to them. Because in the end soul needs spirit, and spirit needs soul, and this is the true marriage, the sacred union.