Letter from the Publisher: The Sacred Feminine – Seeking Balance in an Era of Control

Posted by – March 16, 2016
Categories: Society & Politics

Hello friends,

On March 8th, the world celebrated International Women’s Day, an annual acknowledgment of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year’s campaigns centered on the goals of “gender parity.” In 2014, the World Economic Forum projected that true global gender parity will likely not be achieved until 2095. Only one year later, in 2015, it revised its parity target to 2133, based on the slowing pace of change. If despite our best collective efforts, the goal of true gender equality is more elusive than ever, what is the nature of the challenges we face and why are we further from our goals? We must look back to the roots of our shared humanity to find out.

Based on overwhelming anthropological and archaeological evidence, it is clear that human society began as matriarchal. Some of the earliest works of art, the so-called “Venus” figures of Lespugue, Brassempouy, Hohle Fels, Laussel, Willendorf, and others are believed to be fertility symbols, honoring the feminine as creator and perpetuator of life. Many examples of these matriarchal and matrilineal societies still exist today, from the Taureg and Akan peoples in Africa, to the Minang in Indonesia, and Tamils of Sri Lanka. Even Chinese surnames were originally matrilineal, passed down from mother to daughter. In studying these peoples and exploring the roots of these cultures, anthropologists paint a complex picture where activities and roles reflect not only more balance with regard to gender but, more importantly, a closer and deeper relationship with the natural world.

As time passed and cultures developed, a shift occurred. The largely animistic approach of early cultures gave way to honoring a “father sky” deity and more patriarchal structures began to dominate. Over time, these structures became firmly entrenched and spread globally. Throughout the colonial period, patriarchal dominator culture overwhelmed cultural groups that were close to the earth and had enjoyed a way of life that was in balance with their surroundings. In Vandana Shiva’s new anthology Seed Sovereignty, Food Security, Winona Duke sums it up perfectly:

Colonialism liked treatying with men, dealing with men, and naming men. After all, that is what the European monarchy and feudal system was accustomed to. It did not recognize the clan mothers of the Iroquois Confederacy. Nor did it recognize the place of women in Anishinaabe or other indigenous societies. Hence, when decision-making was put in that realm and favoring and privileging resulted, it focused not on the status of women, but on the status of men.

Colonial powers taught the dominance of men in society, and around the world those teachings took hold and continue to this day. Not only did women lose their voice and place in society, a very different masculinity developed as well. Just as early cultures were connected closely to nature, the sacred feminine was correspondingly in balance and intertwined with the sacred masculine—a masculinity that was also closely aligned with cosmic cycles and the natural world. As Jalaja Bonheim explains in her classic book Aphrodite’s Daughters:

[The sacred masculine] not only reveres the earth but is of the earth, and who not only respects nature but manifests through nature. This the divine flute player whom the Greeks called Pan, whom the Native American Hopi know as Kokopelli, and whom the Hindus call Krishna—the one who sings to the soul through the hollow reed. Christianity has told us that his cloven hoofs and his horns are evil, when in fact they are marks of his affinity with nature. He is the original ‘good shepherd’ whom Christ echoes, the earthy god who lives with his animals and protects them. He, and not the sexless patriarch, is the lover of the goddess.

The modern masculine ideal is not only out of touch with the natural world, but human psyche as well. Masculine and feminine traits exist in each of us, yet the modern male is expected to be strong and unemotional, to get out and make a way in the world. This moves us away from the heart and to the head, from compassion and intuition to logic and reason, and as a global culture we have become overly weighted toward head-work and have stopped listening to the wisdom of the heart.

The source of the ongoing oppression of women is a symptom of the greater problem: our disconnect from ourselves, each other, and the world around us. We see the problem manifest in many forms, but our separation from nature is at the heart of our global crisis. As Jalaja says in her outstanding new book, The Sacred Ego: “Without minimizing the impact of patriarchy, I would suggest that [mankind’s] primary goal during this period has been the acquisition of dominance, not over women, but over nature.” Ultimately we are of the world and we have created this separation with the modern mind. As Lakota chief Luther Standing Bear famously said, “We are the soil and the soil is of us.” Our separation is self-imposed and it is in our power to build the needed bridges.

The healing is underway and ongoing. From the rights of Mother Earth written into the Bolivian constitution to the indigenous women’s march for climate justice in Ecuador this past International Women’s Day, women and men are speaking to these ancient truths. True global healing requires the reclamation of the sacred feminine to reunite Father Sky with Mother Earth, to heal the world and ourselves.

Douglas Reil
Publisher/Executive Director
North Atlantic Books

Photo courtesy of Emily Arasim, WECAN International.
Tags: Jalaja Bonheim Letter from the Publisher

About the Author

Douglas Reil is a publishing industry veteran with more than twenty-five years served in various roles. Formerly the Publisher and Executive Director at the nonprofit trade publisher North Atlantic Books, he began his career with a six-year stint at Inland Book Company followed by a decade at Publishers Group West. Prior to joining North Atlantic, he built a web-based CRM system at Interschola, a B-Corp that assists schools in distributing surplus assets. In 2011 he founded Bay Food Shed, a community-based organization that creates initiatives at the intersection of local food and the gift economy.