William Irwin Thompson writes,
The sacred is the emotional force which connects the part to the whole; the profane or the secular is that which has been broken off from, or has fallen from, its emotional bond to the universe. Religare means to bind up, and the traditional task of religion has been to bind up the pieces that have broken away from the ecstatic Oneness.
True religion is the original umbilical cord that binds our individual selves back to our larger, universal source. That source, in women’s religion, is the Great Mother, who is the great cosmic weaver, the divine potter, the carrier of the heavenly water jar; we participate in her substance, her nature, her processes, her play, and her work. In her are both the lower regions of the tomb (the world of the dead), and the upper regions of the celestial sky, whose stars are her eyes. Groundwater belongs to the belly-womb region of the lower female; the heavenly rainwater belongs to the great breast region of the upper female. As divine water-jar, she is mistress of the upper waters (the rain), and of the lower waters (the brooks, springs, and rivers flowing from the womb of the earth). The Egyptian Sky and Water-jar Goddess Nut nourishes the earth with her milky rain. (In fact, our word “galaxy” comes from the Greek galaxias, meaning “milky circle,” and the Milky Way describes the thick white stream of stars pouring from her breast.) As uterus, she is a vessel that breaks with childbirth, pouring forth water like a wellspring.
These are all symbols of creative life and of ecstatic participation in it. The self-representation of the Goddess is a form of divine epiphany, and the parts of her body are not understood literally as physical organs, but as numinous centers of whole spheres of life. Her navel is the center of the earth—of us—from which the universe is nourished, by our conscious participation, as we are nourished by it. Such symbolism expresses the nondualistic, poetic mind of ancient women, who could experience their bodies as whole worlds or universes, and the universe as their own body.
Ecstasy is the dance of the individual with the All. Ek-stasis means standing outside “one’s self,” and so canceling out the conditioned mind. All life was experienced as partaking of a material-spiritual wholeness that was her. In this magic unity, ecstasy and responsibility (i.e., responsiveness) were one. And so the earliest communicators with her, of her essence, were ecstatic women—shamans and seers. In their trance states, they were responsible for keeping the energy channels open and flowing between each individual, the group, and the cosmic source. They healed, balanced, and translated the life forces from one energy manifestation to another. It is significant that to this day, within almost all the patriarchal world religions, women’s robes are still the official priestly garb, and male priests function as a kind of “male mother” to the believers. Among the Siberian tribes, male shamans have always worn ornamental and symbolic “breasts” on their robes. When “civilized” men become the moralistic priests of the new Father God, women (and pagans of both sexes) remain the shamans (the witches) of the ecstatic Mother. The reality implicit in the Universe—in each one of us, in the self at the heart of being—is her way. It is very ancient, and has no time.
Ecstasy is the only way through which the soul can lose itself in union with her. Some male mystics have also understood this. Martin Buber describes prenatal life as the original state of ecstatic consciousness within a sexual-spiritual universe, “a flowing toward each other, a bodily reciprocity.” The mother’s womb is a condensed experience of the cosmos. At birth we forget this undivided world, but we never forget completely. The memory lingers as a “secret image of a wish,” a desire for total reintegration, and this is the real meaning of the human longing to return to the womb. It is not at all a sign of pathology or inadequacy, not a backward craving, but an urge to expand, to reestablish the cosmic connection.
Contemporary researchers have found neurological connections between religious or trance experience and female sexuality. In women’s brains there are unique neural links between the forebrain and the cerebellum, which allow sensations of physical pleasure to be directly integrated into the neocortex, or high brain center. This explains why some women experience orgasm so intense that they enter “religious” trance, or altered states of consciousness. And this ecstatic female orgasmic experience, in which the physical and the spiritual are fused and realized as one, is at the core of all mystical experience. This is why, in the original religion of the Great Mother, body and mind and spirit are always integrated. Because human male brains do not seem to have these neurological connections (just as human male sexuality has not evolved radically beyond primate sexuality, while human females, through the shift from estrus to menstrual cycles, have evolved a nonreproductive sexual capacity that functions primarily for affectional bonding), the researchers conclude that it is women who must take the lead in further human evolution—“toward the integration of the conscious and the unconscious mind and to a more profound understanding of the spiritual nature of the species.”
What these modern researchers are now “discovering” is something ancient women always knew. The warring dualisms of “matter vs. spirit,” the hostile antagonisms of “sexual body” versus “religious truth,” are recent patriarchal inventions, destructively forced on the world and the soul. They had no place at the beginning of things, for they are neither natural nor true. For women, at any rate, they can never be true; and that is why the first religion, originated by women, was a sexualspiritual religion, the celebration of cosmic ecstasy. Among these early women, though some more receptive psyches might have acted as shamanic trance channels, we can imagine no real leaders, no followers, no hierarchies—just as there was no hierarchic distinction made between ordinary daily tasks and the most exalted rituals—because we can see these women sharing experience as a kind of ecstatic rite in itself. They knew life as an ecstatic rite—and as their right to ecstasy.
Images of the pregnant Goddess were also found in the excavations of Tell Haraf, dating from 5000 B.C. This Goddess is shown sitting on the earth, embodying the earth that belongs to her. In ritual and custom, to sit on something has the symbolic meaning of “taking possession.” In later matriarchal times, she was the throne—the throne symbolized her lap. The Queen came to power by sitting on this lap or womb of the Goddess, so becoming one with her power. Among the Ashanti of West Africa there was a cult of the throne, and giant throne-replicas have been found in the Ashanti graves. The Black Goddess was worshiped throughout the Ashanti territory.
All the great mountains were seen as the Goddess “sitting” on the earth. The mountain was the original throne-womb; it combines the symbols of earth, cave, bulk, height, and immortality. In the towering mountain overlooking the land is embodied the enormous strength of the Goddess. Throughout Thracian, Macedonian, Greek, and Cretan lands are mountains with huge thrones at their summits, carved laboriously from the rock. These are the “empty thrones,” waiting for the Goddess to take her seat. This custom was taken over by later patriarchal kings. To be “enthroned” is to be empowered, i.e., to receive the power of the Great Mother and her mandate to rule. This is why Egyptian paintings and statues depict the small, mortal king sitting on the throne-lap of the huge Goddess Isis. In this way the king was reborn, or made immortal, and thereby given the sacred power to rule over the people. He had true power only as her son.
I am the Way and the Life.
This was the primordial revelation of the Great Mother. As G. Rachel Levy observes, early people conceived the divine body as “the road travelled by itself and its seeker.” The Great Mother was the body of life; she was also the way that must be traveled to realize life.
It was in the spiral, or labyrinth, that the way had to be danced or walked—in all the rites of the Mother throughout the ages, and the world, the way is always connected with a cave/womb, and with a maze-like spiraling entrance and exit. Labyrinths, situated at cave entrances, are always presided over by a mythical woman. Among ancient Cretans, as among present-day Hopis in the American Southwest, the earth womb is depicted as a maze, and the mythic place of emergence of the whole people, and of the individual soul, is called the place of birth, or rebirth. Visually, the Cretan maze-womb and the Hopi maze-womb are identical. In Hindu tradition, both the convolutions of the brain and the eightfold stages of the mind (the manas) are identified with the winding spiral form of the labyrinth. A labyrinth both creates and protects the still center (the heart), allowing entry only to the initiated. Before larger knowledge is revealed, old preconceptions must be dissolved by the psychic and ecstatic reentry into the original cosmic womb/cave of the Mother. The pathways between the two worlds were trodden by humans in magic dances and rituals.
Perhaps the human collective actually generated as well as absorbed the life forces of the Goddess in these rites, since the roads taken by the divine power are themselves currents of energy. Among hunting-and-gathering peoples, the shamans still go into caves to experience visions, dreams, and spiritual rebirth, and to gain healing powers through resonant communion with the dead. The dead are especially sacred to the Goddess since they directly partake of her being, spirits awaiting rebirth through her physical manifestations.
Extremely complex ideas were expressed through the symbol of the labyrinth. First, the initiate had to find the way through the underworld—the womb of the Mother—going through symbolic death to be reborn again through her on a larger psychic level. Simultaneously, by dancing the winding and unwinding spiral, the initiate reached back to the still heart of cosmos, and so immortality, in her. The dance would have been combined with sexual rites and the taking of some hallucinogen like the legendary soma. In the resulting illumination soma and self were experienced as one with the cosmic self in orgasmic ego-death. The ecstatic center of the labyrinth was the no-mind center of orgasm experienced as death, creative madness, and loss of the conditioned “self.” Sexual magic was not practiced for the sake of fertility—especially in early times when no necessary connection was seen between the two. Sexual magic was practiced for the sake of ecstatic selftranscendence, a sexual-spiritual fusion of the human with the cosmic All.
William Irwin Thompson writes:
Because we have separated humanity from nature, subject from object, values from analysis, knowledge from myth, and universities from the universe, it is enormously difficult for anyone but a poet or a mystic to understand what is going on in the holistic and mythopoetic thought of Ice Age humanity. The very language we use to discuss the past speaks of tools, hunters, and men, when every statue and painting we discover cries out to us that this Ice Age humanity was a culture of art, the love of animals, and women. . . . Gathering is as important as hunting, but only hunting is discussed. Storytelling is discussed, but the storyteller is a hunter rather than an old priestess of the moon. Initiation is imagined, but the initiate is not the young girl in men-arche, about to be wed to the moon, but a young man about to become a great hunter.
Source: Monica Sjoo, Barbara Mor – The Great Cosmic Mother