Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Episode 13: Finding the Divine Feminine, Part II

Right click here to download the mp3.

Art by Francene Hart
This is the second half of our panel discussion on the female divine. In this discussion, Sybil, Sara, Amelia, Juliane, Heather, and Katrina continue their conversation about Mother in Heaven, Heavenly Mother, Goddess, the Divine Feminine.

The panelists will be watching the comments to answer questions and discuss issues raised during the discussion.

If you have ideas for a second panel discussion on the Divine Feminine, please share your thoughts in the comments.

For resources and references, see Part I of this discussion.  


  1. I haven't listened to this yet but just wanted to tell you how awesome I think you all are, how much I am loving these podcasts and how much I love that you are churning them out faster than I can listen to them! Thanks so much for all you are doing.

  2. Concerning sealings and polygamy, I was taught that in the early days of the church there was confusion. They thought that it was better to be sealed to a prophet or apostle, and so a lot of women were sealed "for eternity" to GAs, whereas they were still married to their husbands "for time." Now there is a lot of evidence that some of those "for eternity [only]" marriages still involved consummation...but that aside, they lived with their "time" husbands, and were only sealed to the apostle for "eternity." Does that make sense? So they wouldn't have had two husbands in eternity, because--at least initially--the ordinance was just done to one husband for time, and to one for eternity.
    Now of course we know that you don't have to be sealed to an apostle, and we seal women to their husbands for eternity as well as time...and presumably we've done the vicarious corrective ordinances for those early women too.

    With all of that said...I think the 'web' concept is most likely in the next world anyway. Everyone connected to everyone, via sealings to parents, children, spouses...

  3. (I'm not sure who said it...)
    I like the idea that we can worship/have a relationship with Heavenly Mother that does not have to 'match' the one we have with Heavenly Father. So we can worship Her in different ways than we worship Him. That's exactly how I feel, but hadn't thought to express it that way.

  4. (just adding comments as I listen, LOL!)

    I relate on the rewriting/adding to hymns (hers!) A couple of months ago we were singing in church and I noticed that there was one verse about each member of the Godhead, except of course not I wrote a fourth verse. Heather put it on her blog here

  5. I just listened to all your podcasts! I just want to say thank you so much, I have been waiting for a podcast like this for a while.

    Maybe I just don't remember hearing this in your podcast, but what about Heavenly Mother and the priesthood? When we talk about Heavenly Mother being creator of our spirits, do you think Heavenly Mother also physically had a part in creating worlds, or is she solely a creator of spirits?

    I honestly think the only reason that we do not pray or worship Heavenly Mother that makes sense (if we are following official LDS doctrine) is that there are more than one Heavenly Mother.... I'm not saying I believe this, personally, but if we look at the doctrine of polygamy, past prophets comments, the temple ceremony, and the role of women in the church today, it adds up. I believe this is the reason why the leaders in the church do not want us praying to Heavenly Mothers (which one?), or even speaking/thinking about her. It's not a comforting concept, and would raise many concerns especially with women, so it's avoided all together. I have also heard many times that we NEED multiple mothers for genetic diversity. What are your thoughts on that?

    I would also like to add that I have been struggling with the idea of praying to my Heavenly Mother. I have always believed that we should, but being raised LDS it was just weird to me, but after listening to this podcast, I decided to try it. It was an awesome experience! I felt more connected to myself and the divine than I ever have. I felt a spirit stronger than I have for years. The church should not take this from us as sisters. We have a right to know who we are. I hope that my sisters in the church will some day be able to experience Heavenly Mother with out fear of excommunication. Fear is Satan's strongest tool.

  6. Trinity, thank you so much for your comment. It reminded me that one of the things we talked about in our pre-recording discussions was whether the prohibition on women holding the priesthood had anything to do with why we don't talk openly about God the Mother. I personally think she must have been involved in the physical creation of the earth and humans. I really reject the idea that she is all about spirit while God the Father is all about the physical. It just reiterates too much the really destructive stereotypes we have about women being spiritually refined and elevated while men are more base and spiritually handicapped.

    I think that the possibility that there are multiple Heavenly Mothers is certainly one reason why the church doesn't really delve into the doctrine of there being a God the Mother much. The church is all kinds of nervous about dealing with polygamy very openly; they certainly don't want to be compelled to do so by their own teachings. That said, I think a lot of this notion that polygamy absolutely must exist in the hereafter derives from problematic speculative theology from the 19th century, a lot of it rooted in biological literalism which would require that every spirit gestate for 9 months (the Mormon Matters podcast about Heavenly Mother that we link to goes into this a bit). I personally think that notion is more than a little ridiculous. I also think the whole polygamy experiment is bizarre and half-baked so I don't think of it as doctrine. In spite of it having a presence in our modern scripture. Of course, I admit I'm rather heterdox.

    As to needing multiple mothers in order to have genetic diversity--wouldn't that also mean we need multiple fathers? I'm certainly no geneticist, but half of our biological DNA comes from our fathers, just as half comes from our mothers (maybe this is an issue of mitochondrial DNA that is passed through the maternal line; I don't know). Regardless of that detail, however, this argument would also rely on a kind of biological literalism when it comes to understanding how Heavenly Parents reproduce to create spiritual offspring. While our modern scripture does establish a corporeal existence for Heavenly Parents, it does not necessarily follow that they create spirit children by having physical sex and then the little spirits gestating in a divine womb for 9 months and receiving actual DNA (especially since we have no foundation for believing that there's such a thing as spiritual DNA or that our spirit shapes our physical genetic make-up). I just don't think there's any real foundation for this argument myself.

    I'm so glad you had such a positive experience praying to Heavenly Mother. I couldn't agree more with you that the women of the church (and the men!) deserve to have a personal relationship with their spiritual, Heavenly Mother, just as we have one with our Heavenly Father.

  7. Thanks for pointing out that men need Heavenly Mother just as much as we do! I know that my husband is a Momma's Boy!
    I also find the argument that we don't talk about Heavenly Mother because she is so sacred is not only demeaning to women, but what does that say about Heavenly Father, Jesus and men? Does that make them less sacred than Heavenly Mother?

    Who was the one that talked with trees? I always felt like I had a connection with the earth as well, and I remember linking it to Moses 7:48~
    And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest; and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?

    The way I was taught was that the Earth is living, and has a spirit that will be resurrected that is FEMALE. I only heard this once in seminary, but I wish it was taught more openly that the our earth is a female spirit and literally is alive. MOTHER Earth is actually a part of our scriptures.

  8. I (I'm Heather) was the one who talked with trees. I was also taught that the earth has a spirit and she is female. I remember being in young women's camp when I was 12 on the little baby hike the first years go on and thinking about that. I would try to lay on the ground and talk to the earth directly and try to feel its movements (not a lot in western Illinois where our camp was, to be honest).

    And I'll see if I can look up any Sophia invocations in the Old Testament. I'm guess Proverbs will be the place to look. Also, in Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Kidd says that Luke 7:33-35 is saying that John the Baptist and Christ are Wisdom's children. I found it a little hard to see in the KJV at the time I read that, and I'll have to look in another translation to see how it's handled, but that's something to think about.

  9. Thanks for all your words of wisdom in these podcasts. I'm really glad for the multiple perspectives.

    For a long time, I've felt a deep sadness that as a woman, I've never been able to see myself with a future as an exhalted being in Christianity and Mormonism.

    Why do prophetesses barely get a mention in scripture? Where are the female angels--the equivalent of Michael and Gabriel? Where are any words, or even a mention, of Heavenly Mother?

    What does it say about women that we are "other" and that Heavenly Father doesn't care enough about His daughters to send at least one clear, unambiguous, no confusion, direct message about me/us to those running his church? Think what a message that would be if there were even one female angel in all of scripture.

    If He helps people find car keys and decide what job to take, why won't He provide His daughters even one hope, one example, one standard that is female? To force women to filter their role and potential as righteous women here on earth, and then in the eternities, through assumptions, guesswork and patriarchy is simply unloving.

    I don't want this to come across as bitter--I'm writing it with more sadness than anything else. Yes, my feminine wound is torn wide open today.

    Keep up the good work! Conversations like this are important for us to have.

  10. I work with Professor Gail Houston who, in 1996, was fired from BYU for allegedly encouraging her students to pray to Heavenly Mother. What Gail in fact had said was that she personally used visualization of Heavenly Mother in her own meditations - the word 'prayer' was not used. The fact that the church (through BYU) would take punitive civil action against a member for her private spiritual beliefs is, frankly, appalling. It says so much about the depth of the fear that the whole idea of a personal, powerful, involved feminine divinity has within the organization - the same organization that introduced the concept in the first place!

    Here's part of what Gail had to say:

    "The language that God has spoken to me through has been through an incredibly loving Father, who is married to an incredibly loving Mother. If you've had a sacred experience, you cannot deny it. When I first really felt her presence was after my own mother had passed away.

    And at the time, I was really affected by my mother's passing away, and I couldn't imagine that anyone would ever want me to forget my mother, my earthly mother, and I couldn't imagine that anyone would ever want me to forget my Heavenly Mother. And I say that in all love and kindness towards President Hinckley. I just have to--I cannot deny what God has told me."

    I have never talked to Gail about her experience or asked her what her beliefs and practices are now although I would very much like to know!

  11. How do I connect with the Feminine Divine? I love this question! I never thought of it in those terms, but I realized that over the past several years I have been searching for visual representations of female characteristics. I have started a collection of art prints that I feel represent strong feminine qualities and I display them in my home. For example I have Vermeer's 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' and Degas' Ballerinas. My collection is small at the moment, but I try to add more female images to my home as often as my budget will allow. I never realized how much I was hungering for female role models growing up in the church. In my childhood home there were pictures of Christ, the first presidency, the Sons of Helaman, Joseph Smith--but no women. There were so many unspoken messages that men were the special ones and a woman was there to help the men. I never got the message that women could have a voice. I am learning now to have more confidence in my ideas and mustering up the courage to speak them.

  12. Lotus,
    you don't sound bitter to me, you sound hurt, which is completely understandable. I agree with everything you said.

    thank you so much for sharing Gail's powerful experience. I find it so sad that women in the church who openly pray to Heavenly Mother or do scholarly research on her, or publicly worship her, or even disagree with church leaders on her role and divinity, are at risk of facing church disciplinary action. This is absolutely ridiculous and diminishes church leaders' integrity and ethics in my eyes (not to mention Christlike love and such...).

    I love that you have started a picture/art collection of strong female images, similarly to Sybil. I haven't done that yet, but I really want to now. I can't imagine how different my four girls and I would feel being not only surrounded by strong male leaders, but equally by strong female leaders.

  13. Very interesting discussion of sealings... this whole issue is a MESS in the Church. The very strangest example of sealing policy is this one: If a man and women get sealed and have children, then get divorced, and the woman remarries but does not get sealed, has more children with her new husband, do you know what happens?

    The children from the new marriage are sealed automatically to the FORMER husband!!

    I wonder if both our emphasis on nuclear sealing (fun term) instead of web-sealing and especially the idea that men can be sealed to more than one woman but women can be sealed to only one man are both concessions to modern sensibilities? Anyone know the history on this?

  14. I want to bring up the issue of divine bodies that Amelia I believe it is brought up.

    Even if we believe in an embodied God, why do god bodies need to be exactly like ours? I think it is safe to say they are not, since if they were carbon based they would be mortal. I know the standard Talmage line is "flesh and bone not flesh and blood", but that breaks down as well. Do gods have vestigial organs? An appendix? Do they have internal organs? Why? Why does God look as we look at this stage of evolution rather than farther down the line? Were the environmental factors of their mortal probations similar to Earth's enough that we look the same?

    My working model was that as we are gods in embryo, perhaps our bodies look as much like Gods' as our embryos look like ours. :)

    And if gods look fundamentally different than we do, it makes sense God would appear to humans in our form because anything else would be jarring (according to their language, unto their understanding....").

    I personally think "the image of God" has more to do with our ability to love and exercise agency than physical form but that is a different and large topic.

    I do like the high view of the Body and the idea of Embodied Gods in Mormon theology for sure. I just don't think we need to be wed to the idea that gods' bodies look exactly like ours.

  15. I loved hearing this two-part discussion on the Divine Feminine. You all have so many thoughts and insights to add, that I hesitate to think I can bring anything to the discussion.

    The other night, however, I remember feeling suddenly shocked when my husband and I were tucking our baby in at night and saying a prayer. My husband addressed "Heavenly Father" in the normal way, and I actually felt shocked to hear only a man addressed. I think this is because for the last few years, ever since reading the Dance of the Dissident Daughter and going through what was a very painful and long feminist awakening, I am now fortunate enough to have internalized and clarified the picutre of the Feminine Divine to the point that I now see Her exclusion as somewhat shocking. I still exclude her too at times, and I do not pray publicly to Her, but the shock that came the other night when only the male side of God was addressed showed me how much I am carrying Her in my heart.

  16. This was full of so much meaty conversation! Great job ladies, and I took notes because there was so much I wanted to comment on :)

    Heather - I love the rational/irrational numbers view of our own eternal timelines. Very interesting points to consider.

    About sealings, my own personal peace with it comes from my own mother who is still sealed to my father and doesn't have a problem with that, even though she recently got remarried. Her perspective of the sealing as being something other than about husbands and wives really opened my view to see it as a much broader eternal concept, no less mysterious in the importance God places on it, but much more about the human family than my own. And as much as I love the individual relationship I have with my husband through marriage, I'm not sure I really believe that eternity will be all about that union either. I think it will be much more about our individual progress than anything. No that we will be separated, but I don't think we will be hanging out for an eternal version of retirement activities and heavenly golf as a couple.

    Gender - I'm still in the process of transitioning from essentialism, and I think that is because of my perspective that our bodies and our hormones effect our experience so drastically that they can't be ignored. But I like what Amelia says about everything we do being influenced by our gender, but not restricted by it. And while I think this is true, it still causes me to wonder where this belief fits in the spectrum of difference feminism versus non. I don't think we will be neutral in our eternal state, but I don't think we will be constrained either. I'm still processing this one.

    Sybil - I love your idea of "Hers" out of the "Hims"! Music is a very powerful part of my worship and ability to feel the spiritual and see things as they are, but I've never much cared for many of the traditional LDS hymns. I used to think they just weren't my taste, but I'm beginning to think it was this subtle message of imbalance that turned me off. I'll have to give this a try with many of the ones that I enjoy the sound of.

    As for prayers, like many of you, I've found it more natural to include the Goddess in my communication and find it hard to hear her excluded otherwise. I've begun to use inclusive language with my children, but they haven't adopted it quite yet themselves ;) I also find it much easier to speak to Her directly when I'm focusing on meditation and chakras since I feel more connected to the earth which I conceptualize as female.I also find myself turning down prayer opportunities in church because I don't want to betray Her or my beliefs by leaving Her out, but I hope one day that will change and I will feel safe including her publicly.

    That's all I have for now :) Wonderful to listen to everyone. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to explore and expand these thoughts.

  17. I have to tell you all that I had the most amazing experience while listening to this podcast yesterday! I was on a long drive, all by myself (which is a miracle in and of itself), when I heard one of these lovely women suggest changing the words to our songs to reflect the feminine. She specifically mentioned "A Child's Prayer." I immediately paused my iPod and began to sing outloud in my car. I was absolutely overcome with emotion, began to weep, and had waves of what I have been taught to recognize as the Spirit wash over me again and again. The love I felt was indeed more overwhelming to me because I have been praying for many years to feel God's love for me and have had no manifestation of that. This was like my Mother in Heaven was saying, "Finally you recognize me, and I am here!" It was a beautiful experience and I thank you for the suggestion. I am going to have a hard time singing it the other way in Primary now!

  18. Great discussion. One thing that I always struggled with is the scriptures that talk about those who will "inherit all things" or "inherit all that the father hath" or "inherit kingdoms, powers, and principalities". As I read these verses I always wonder if those promises apply to me as a woman or not. On earth we have a structure in which men hold the power and authority to act in God's name, and we call God's power "priesthood". So it seems natural to think of men becoming like God and inheriting all the power that God possesses. However, it is not clear what power women will possess in the eternities. However, I have a hard time imagining an all powerful God married to a Goddess that is limited in power. Thus, in my mind either they both possess all power as individuals, or they both possess limited power separately, but as a couple, they possess all power. I always found it problematic that a religion that claims to tell us "where we came from, who we are, and where we are going" has such hazy answers about where women are going.

  19. Kate,
    thank you for sharing that beautiful and sacred experience with all of us. I'm gonna try it now too!! Thank you :)

  20. Jared, it's true that the doctrine of sealings is messy and problematic. It would be interesting to compose a list of its stranger applications. Your idea of "the image of God" and not having bodies like ours is one that I've thought about before. Part of the issue, I think, is that we necessarily have a hard time visualizing God as other than ourselves. (Just as a side note: I have heard some speculation about god being more like more evolved aliens, etc., with bodies similar to but not actually like ours.)

    Alisa, thank you for sharing your experience of feeling shocked when only the male was addressed in prayer. I know that feeling; and like you, it is one that I grew into as I "awoke."

    Corktree, your line of "I don't think we will be neutral in our eternal state, but I don't think we will be constrained either" really has me thinking. Also, with my reworking of the hymns ... my book that I write the new goddess-center version in is entitled "hyrs." :-)

    Kate, what a beautiful experience! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Beatrice, you are exactly right. It is NOT clear whether women will be heirs. And that does make the implications very uncertain for God and Goddess ... since the power balance is already so far off as we are in this life.

    Great comments, everyone! I've loved seeing this discussion.

  21. This podcast has really started to open my mind to ideas I had never thought of before, especially these two episodes. Like others, I too had a strong response to thinking of A Child's Prayer as being sung to Heavenly Mother. I immediately thought about how whenever I am in a difficult place in my life, the first thing I want to do is pull out my phone and call my Mom and it just amazed me that in all the times I have prayed in desperation to Heavenly Father, I had never even considered praying to Heavenly Mother. This just amazed me and made it so clear to me how I had internalized the message that although we are told in the church that there is a Heavenly Mother, we don't talk to Her. Why else would I first seek comfort and direction from my earthly Mother, but not even consider seeking comfort and direction from my Heavenly Mother?

    My other comment is regarding the idea of the Divine Feminine as Heavenly Mother or Mother In Heaven. I am now a mother and love my little boy more than anything, but I will be the first to admit that for many years I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a mother, and as much as I love being Mom to my son, I don't for one minute wish to be Mom to many many more children (physical, spiritual, or otherwise). This makes me wonder about the afterlife for those women who don't want to be mothers at all or who don't want to be mother to more than one or two or a few kids? Is my future as a potential deity dependent on me having many spirit children that will look to me as their divine mother? I guess what I'm trying to say is are there any other possibilities for what the afterlife looks like for a Goddess that doesn't include physical or spiritual children? Or where the existence of children is only a small part of being a Goddess? Perhaps there is already so much more to being Goddess that I don't know about or had never considered because I am stuck in this concept of Goddess as Mother.

  22. Bonnie, I know what you mean about being in a tough spot and calling mom. Sometimes I specifically want to talk to my dad, but usually when I call home, it's with a question for mom.

    The issues you bring up about female divinity being more or less confined to motherhood are excellent. What if a woman doesn't want children? What if a goddess has a bunch and then decides she's finished? What if a goddess doesn't want to have children? What this really boils down to is exploring the full nature of what it means both to be female and divine. I'm hoping we'll be able to do a follow up panel specifically about the non-mother aspects of the divine feminine.

  23. I apologize for neglecting the comment thread here. I've had a very busy past month. I just want to thank everyone for the kind comments. And especially Kate for sharing that experience with singing A Child's Prayer to Heavenly Mother. I was the one who shared that idea, and I had a similarly powerful experience the first time I did it too. It makes me so yearn that we could worship her more openly through song and prayer in Church. Just imagine how powerful it would be to sing a song of praise to her with an entire congregation!

  24. So many different feelings listening to this. Anger at the consistent silencing of women and of any manifestation of female power (completely floored at the realisation of silencing Eve in the endowment presentation). Respect and wonder at all the wonderful ways you have all found to acknowledge the feminine divine and incorporate her into your worship. I used to pray to Heavenly Mother when I was a teenager, but it stopped over the years. But the overall feeling I got was perhaps one that you didn't intend and that I didn't expect - I think it actually reinforced my new found atheism, because in the end I just don't believe that the goddess you have described would allow herself to be silenced in the way she is in the LDS Church. Despite this, I am a lot more open to the concept of the feminine divine since listening to these podcasts. I just don't think I'll ever relate to it in the sense of an LDS conception of a Heavenly Mother.

  25. Chosha, your point is well taken. The church seems to aim to keep the divine feminine and the concept of Heavenly Mother just that: a concept. A concept that shouldn't be talked about, let alone be an actual being with power and presence. In studying the evolution of religion and seeing how patriarchy did its best to wipe out goddess worship, I see it as a huge, systemic issue, and definitely one manifest in the LDS church. I'd be interested in hearing more from you!

  26. As a woman struggling with infertility and longing for pregnancy and childbirth I have been promised that no blessing will be denied me in the next life. Feeling a life grow inside of me and nurturing a life directly from my bosom are blessings that I pine for. I cannot imagine divine womanhood without thinking of these things.These are the things I hope to have in the eternities. It is a little difficult for me to hear how someone would not want to bear children for eternity. I also believe that childbirth being painful is directly associated with mortality- bearing children in immortality (at least in my mind) would not be painful at all but would be a marvelous experience. Also you have all eternity to take very long breaks in between having children! I now have some beautiful foster children in my home whom I love with all my heart! Before I had them I longed for children so much (and I still long for the blessing of pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing). I would often remember being a child and playing with my dolls and how much comfort and fulfillment I had in caring for and nurturing them. Is that not the divine feminine being manifest inside of me? There has been a lot of talk lately about "mother" being extended to so much more than just bearing life. Eve was "the mother of all living" before she became a mother. I think it that to truly understand Heavenly Mother and her role (as well as our own divine nature as her daughters in all situations and walks of life) we need to explore these different roles of "mother" and how they apply to women and girls in all situations.


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