Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Episode 16: Finding Her Everywhere: Symbols of the Divine Feminine

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Female Symbol
Asherah Statue
Recently we did a two part panel discussion about the Divine Feminine. As part of continuing this conversation, this podcast presents different symbols that can remind us of Goddess, Heavenly Mother, and the Female Divine.

In this episode, Jenni takes us on a tour of nature symbols, ancient goddess lore, and elements found inside of Mormonism.

If you have a symbol that helps you connect with the Divine Feminine, please share it in the comments.

Jenni will be watching the comments to answer questions or discuss issues raised in this discussion.

Maiden, Mother, Matriarch
Links on Symbolism & the Divine Feminine


  1. I liked the regendered hymn especially in relation to the Atonement. Ever since I was a preteen, I thought that the unknown, unnamed "angel" who visited Christ at Gethsemane was God the Mother, present when he needed strengthened during His greatest trial. I love the idea that a loving Heavenly Mother would be there to support Him during the darkest hours.

    When we're sick, struggling or in pain, it's very common to get the most comfort from your mother.

    Great episode!

  2. I never thought of that about the Tree of Life as symbolic as our Mother in Heaven. I'm gonna be thinking and researching this for awhile. LOL :)

    As far as a symbol for me I don't really have one specific for Goddess worship but I do actively wear a pentagram ring as kind of a reminder of my study of all things esoteric and I wear butterflies or a butterfly ring that is symbolic of my two deceased daughters who passed away due to mid-term 20 week births.

  3. Lots of interesting ideas. A symbol I use a lot for Goddess is the spiral (and the labyrinth).

  4. I forgot to add that for years my personal symbol has been the lotus flower, an Eastern symbol of enlightenment and rebirth. It rises from muck to bloom on the surface of the water. I always equated it with powerful feminine divine meaning. I have a lotus pendant, a lovely lotus flower painting and a few other things.

    It's funny, I started posting as "Lotus" after listening to the very first podcast here!

  5. I have seen the lotus flower used as a symbol of the female genitalia (I want to say Indian/Hindu depictions, but I'm not certain). The blooming and opening being analogous to opening for birth (or for sex). In any case, that's a very blatant female symbol. :)

  6. I like the Lotus flower idea. And I like the spiral, too. I've always liked the moon. My aunt sang me a song once about grandmother moon, and I think it just kind of opened things up for me.

    When I'm standing in the midst of trees, with them reaching up into the sky, and I look up, I'm always filled with the feeling of being in a holy place, like a cathedral made by the earth. Maybe it's Mother's Cathedral.

    The serpent/snake symbol ... I think culture has done a good job making us feel like snakes are bad or scary or evil. I don't like snakes. But after listening to this and reading the link, I'm going to try to unload some of my cultural baggage.

    Anyway ... I'm just rambling my thoughts. Great episode.

  7. Great job, Sybil and Jenni! I really appreciate the emphasis on seeking out symbols and finding what makes sense and rings true for you, rather than having to subscribe to the same symbols other people favor. That's a nice reminder.

    Even as a Mormon feminist who cares deeply about our discourse on Heavenly Mother and jumped at the chance to discuss her as a panelist, I've been feeling more and more sharply that I really don't have the personal connection with her that I want, and the podcast has been showing off many ways that I can remedy this situation. Thanks for these new ideas!

  8. While you were talking about the snake symbolism, I remembered reading "The Neverending Story" and the strong role that snakes play in that book. "The Neverending Story" is o.k. as a movie, but I have always enjoyed the book a lot more and found a lot more depth of meaning in it. In the book, the Childlike Empress (that I now recognize as a representation of the divine feminine) gives the necklace (called AURYN) of the two snakes biting each other's tails to Atreyu and later to Bastian. AURYN is her symbol and whoever has it is acting in her name and is given powers that others do not have. At the end of the book, Bastian is trapped in Fastasia and is trying to return home (this part is not in the movie). He finally realizes that the gateway home is through AURYN. He enters a space that is surrounded by the two snakes that has a fountain in the center. I feel that this space represents a womb, and that he has to humble himself and be reborn in order to return home. Also, one of the snakes is dark and one of the snakes is light, which I think harkens to the ying and yang symbol, or a representation of the masculine and the feminine. I can't remember all the details in the book, but it would be really interesting to reread it with this perspective in mind. Thank you so much for a wonderful discussion and the new insight that it offered me into one of my favorite books.

  9. Jenni and Sybil, awesome awesome podcast!!
    I've been waiting for this one for a long time, lovely Jenni :) Loved all the different symbols you were talking about. It got me excited to look for my own symbols. I think that each of us naturally connects with certain things, elements, people, animals, shapes, patterns, colors, scents, textures, and so forth and that it's our journey to find out what those things that are close to us represent. It's like a treasure hunt.

    I think you made a very important point that symbols mean as much or as little as we ascribe to them. Wedding rings, crosses, garments, etc all can be physical representations of those more complicated concepts you were talking about, but they don't have to be. We don't all need to use the same symbols (even though that's necessary in certain aspects of life, for example traffic signs). In our private life it's important for me to live and use symbols, traditions, representations, routines, and rituals that have meaning to me and my family, that help us to connect and feel grounded.

    I absolutely loved all the symbols for the divine feminine that you talked about. Many of them I had never considered. Thank you so much for sharing your insights!!

  10. I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but I can't figure out how to say this any less bluntly.

    Isn't substituting words and making connections to extra-Mormon theology/ideas grasping at straws? To me it seems like a desperate attempt to justify sticking with a highly patriarchal organization when deep down the problem is obvious... but instead of facing the church for what it is, there is all this re-defining and making excuses.

  11. Heather,

    I would love to hear what Jenni would say in response to your question, but my own inclination is that, yes the perspective you bring up is certainly a very defensible one. However, religions change over time and one of the forces for that change is the beliefs and practices of its members. Many Jewish women have redefined female cleansing rituals to have meaning that is more empowering to them. Perhaps those rituals has promoted certain meanings over time, but perhaps the meaning of the ritual can be shaped and changed by the women themselves.

    So, yes, staying in a religion that practices and promotes doctrines that you disagree with is difficult. For many people it is easier to leave, but other people want to hold onto the aspects of the religion that they believe in while adjusting other aspects in a way that feels more authentic to them.

  12. Heather~
    Well, basically, I don't consider it to be extra-Mormon theology. If you really believe that Mormonism is God's true church, the one established by Christ, and the one that Adam had... and if you believe that certain ancient pagan practices/symbols are remnants of that earliest religion (Adam's), then, in fact, ancient pagan religion should have a whole lot in common with Mormonism. Because they should be more or less the same religion.

    Secondly, as I said in the podcast so many times, symbols mean as much or as little as we want them to. The ancient celts had a symbol that was a big cross with bent tips. It symbolized the year (the division of seasons), and the cycles of time. It was holy. A thousand years later, a facist group adopted that symbol to represent themselves--and now most of us see a swastika and can only think of the Nazis. But that symbol didn't come from the nazis, they adopted it from someone else and made it meaningful to them (and to the rest of the world). Likewise a hammer and a sickle don't mean much on their own, but cross them and put them together on a flag and suddenly you have a symbol that means a great deal to a lot of people.

    Paganism has a lot of symbols which I find very adoptable. There are other symbols that weren't from paganism, they were just things that clicked for me personally. The intent of this podcast wasn't to say that you need to look at any particular thing as a symbol, but rather to help you realize that you can see symbols in anything.
    And the church is full of symbols--they are everywhere--and while we are told that certain things mean certain things, the truth is that each symbol still means exactly what we feel it means. :)

  13. Heather, thanks for bringing up this point. For me it does feel like grasping at straws if I try to hold everything within the Mormon paradigm. As the years have passed, I've moved more and more toward creating and defining my own spirituality. This leaves me free to rework things in a way that nurtures and enhances my spirit rather than confining it within a strongly patriarchal system. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I, for myself, do face the church as it is. And I don't necessarily stick with it. My loyalties are to myself more than to an institution, if that makes sense.

  14. I was raised LDS but am moving more towards an atheist POV now. It's tricky to find a symbol since it's really just the lack of belief in something, but I do like the athterisk ( because it could be adapted and made part of symbols that are important to me from my religious background.

    Sorry if this was sort of off topic!

  15. Beatrice, I LOVE what you said about tying into the Neverending Story book. I haven't read the book (and didn't particularly love the movie), but now I want to go read it. :)

  16. I loved this post. I am going to start seeing symbols everywhere now that I am aware! I just read an article online that mentioned the Star of David as a symbol for God and Goddess, represented by the two interlocked triangles.

  17. Beatrice, Jenni & Sybil:

    Thanks for your responses. They were helpful. Jenni, I was particularly intrigued by your take on paganism. As an atheist, I don't really agree. But I totally see your logic and respect how you've worked it all out. Very cool.

    Love the podcast. :)

  18. Heather, as you say you're an atheist, I have a question. Do you feel you have a spiritual dimension to your life without a belief in God? I can see how this could work different ways, and I would like to hear your take on it.

  19. I may be a few months late on this, I just came across your blog. I sincerely enjoyed listening to this podcast. I read some of the article on Worshiping Heavenly Mother without being excommunicated. Well its a very nice long piece, and I do love the idea of seeing trees as symbols of her, but the whole thing around that is the whole "Protect and nurture" them, makes me think it is very plausible to make Heavenly Mother weaker then our father and needing protecting. Just saying.

    I however do love looking at the Temple that way, I have not yet gone to the temple and will in a couple months. I am most likely going to look at it as symbolism of Heavenly Mother. However I have read the endowment online, and I certainly am a little miffed at a few things.

  20. Respectful Patriot, thanks for your comment. The rhetoric that casts the female divine as weaker than the male divine really bothers me. It continues a mindset that men are superior to women (which is probably why you find certain things miffing about the temple ceremony). Hopefully, with time, the rhetoric will begin to change.

  21. Heather: I felt very much the same way, like it's creating evidence of something we wish was there. I'm also approaching this as an athiest (ex-Mormon) and as such I'm interested in the concept of the feminine divine, but have not yet developed an interpretation of that with which I am satisfied.

    One idea I've come across, however, that may be of interest to some, was shared by a friend of a friend who is a medium. She herself does not believe in God, but obviously has a belief in the supernatural. Her take on the divine is that it represents our higher self and she considers that when we pray, it is this higher self to whom we communicate. What I like about this concept is that it allows me to approach the feminine divine as a representation of my own potential, a higher self that I can aspire to be and move towards being.

    Though quite different in the detail, this is not so different in practical terms from the idea of a Heavenly Mother like whom a woman might aspire to become. I find the idea of the potential self quite motivating and comforting when I personify it separate from myself in that way.

    I've been thinking about Sybil's question and what symbol I might choose to represent that idea of the feminine divine. I am drawn to the tree symbols, and I associate those with growth and also natural cycles and seasons.

    Thanks for the podcasts. Some resonate more than others, but all of them are interesting and thought-provoking. I appreciate the thought and research that goes into them and the links provided for sources cited or further study.

  22. "she considers that when we pray, it is this higher self to whom we communicate. What I like about this concept is that it allows me to approach the feminine divine as a representation of my own potential, a higher self that I can aspire to be and move towards being."

    Chosha, I really like this concept and the implications about what it means for each woman as a being. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. (I am also strongly drawn to trees.)

  23. I'm not sure how long this item will stay up now that it's sold (they're unique, though it might turn up in another colour) but this is the pendant I bought after listening to this podcast. :)

  24. Just in response to a few of the more recent comments...

    If you look for Mother in the temple, you can find Her. Several of us have gone looking specifically for Her, and She has been there. One of the most significant things is that one of the garment marks is an often-used symbol for the female, and it is placed on the left side which is traditionally associated with female energy.
    Without question, there are things in the temple that are troubling from a female perspective. But there are also things that are empowering. For example, I know a lot of women who dislike the veiling. I have always liked it--I find it very equalizing (no one can see who has the $65 haircut or the fancy highlights, we're all the same), but for those who don't feel that way, you might enjoy reading this post about veils

    Katie mentioned the star of david being a symbol of the union of God and Goddess... I wrote about that here actually (I don't know if that's the post you saw or not!) Since then I've also had the epiphany that all the garment symbols, if put together (and one of them spun a little) form a star of david. I'm coming to see that symbol as deeply meaningful, containing a union and balance of all things.

  25. When I gave birth my midwife excitedly asked me, "do you want to see the tree of life?"
    She turned the placenta inside out and showed me a amazing tree design of veins inside the sack.

    Thank you for this episode.

  26. I am male. PhD. in psych. Born, raised in the church. Don't believe Joseph Smith is prophet, seer, revelator as he claimed himself to be. But still go to church, not because I believe in Joseph but because Mormons have the loving community. And it is the nature of humans to live in a small loving community. We are happier and healthier when we do.

    Joseph did not "translate" the Book of Mormon from the so-called "golden plates" which he so furiously guarded, but produced the Book of Mormon with his own mental processes. Joseph's stone-in-the-hat technique is NOT a technique for translating but rather a technique for entering a self-induced trance state during which he dictates the Book of Mormon. Haven't the slightest doubt about this. I have demonstrated this technique. Note that Joseph never looks at the "plates," to produce the Book of Mormon, but dictates the book with his head in a hat. Realizing that Joseph produced the Book of Mormon from his trance-state imagination, makes all other arguments of the validity of Book of Mormon and of the church not relevant. So much for this. I could write a book on this. Now, on to women and the goddess.

    The most frequent, repeated, and worshiped religious and ritual symbol, going back thirty-five thousands years, as long as we have dug artifacts from the ground, is the female and
    her body. In the last few minutes of human history, especially our civilization, with the advance of weaponry and male hierarchy, men, mainly polygamist chieftains, wiped out the female as an object and ritual and traditional worship. Though consciously and unconsciously men and women still worship her secretly in an unorganized, underground secret way.

    Within women, her body and mind, is the center and purpose of life. She carries the life-renewing mechanism within her body. She is the entrance to the future. The characteristics of life she selects to renew is the life that will be the future of humans.
    Human life and happiness depends more on her body, her behavior and touch than anything else among humans.

    Priesthood power comes from the controlling power of the hierarchy with its force, brain-washing, repetition, conditioning. Mormons are loving and caring people. This is the most important of the Mormon experiences. But within the church is practically every method of brain washing. There is a powerful unspoken conspiracy of censorship running throughout the Mormon community, in every class, from every pulpit. However, it can be valuable. Through self-suggestion, it is able to control, heal and calm.

    I am amused that "priesthood power" is given to men simply because of the structure of their anatomy. In my mind, I secretly say to myself, women don't need priesthood power because they already have within them the greatest power on Earth. I could write a book here, but must stop. This discussion is so fascinating. Would love to be in a group where this subject is discussed.

  27. Anonymous, thank you for your comment. I'm glad you found our discussion worthwhile. You state a lot of your take on Mormonism in very definite terms. This blog is to encourage dialogue rather than to present "the answer." What I'm getting at is this: with future comments, please respect the mixed audience listening to this podcast by discussing the topics rather than declaring your stance.


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