From memory, I think it was the twentieth-century magician and author Dion Fortune who observed that the polaries of the gender alternate on the places of existence. On the physical plane, the Masculine principle is positive and dominant, and the Feminine principle is negative and receptive. This changes on the emotional plane, where the Feminine is positive and dominant, and the Masculine is negative and passive. On the mental (or intellectual) plane, the Masculine once again becomes positive and the Feminine once again becomes receptive and negative. This switch occurs once again on the higher planes of reality, where again the Feminine principle becomes positive and active in terms of the spiritual and intuitive, and the Masculine is rendered again as negative and receptive.
So, on the spiritual and intuitive levels of reality, the Feminine principle is active and dominant. We see this working out in a Wiccan coven, where the High Priestess, who consciously carries the energy of the Goddess, is considered as the first among equals and the director of cover business. The High Priest serves and protects the Goddess energy, but his function is not to lead. What this model suggests is that the Feminine archetype as the carrier of the spiritual and intuitive functions of divinity, can give leadership that is inclusive and embracing of all life forms; that is interconnected and interrelated; and that is conscious, communicated, compassionate, and magical.
In reality, there are more than four planes of existence, but the division into four basic types makes discussion of them simpler and easier to understand in terms of gender identity. The mental plane, however, is divided in two. The lower, concrete mind (or intellect that is limited, logical, and linear) is the masculinized part of the mind, oriented toward the physical world. The higher part (which is sometimes called "pure reason") is the Feminine intuitive mind and is connected to the Higher Self (or soul) and is oriented to non-physical reality. It is a channel for inspiration and for knowing without calculating.
Here is a quick example of the difference between the concrete mind and the intuitive mind. As a former teacher, I have often had to add up long columns of figures. You would most likely expect that this procedure would be a function of the concrete, logical mind, but to my surprise it happened many times that, when I was about a third of the way through the calculation a complete answer would jump into my mind. Typically, I would shrug this off and continue the time-consuming and laborious route of step-by-step intellectual calculation. But, ultimately, the answer would be the same as the intuitive leap I experienced in the first place! This is one of the differences of bifurcated mind, exemplified by the symbol of Janus (the Roman so-called "God of Doorways"). The intuitive mind instantly knows the right answer. It is able to contact what the Indian sage Patanjali once calld "The raincloud of knowable things."
All the planes of existence are contained within the Feminine. It is the Masculine donor that provides the spark that begins the generation of the creative process, but it is the Feminine that nurtures and completes the creation with her own systems. The potential energy of the unknowable void becomes the kinetic process within the womb; the chalice...cauldron of creation...the Goddess or the Holy Grail!
I am exploring the attributes of the two great archetypes—male and female—as aspects of Divinity, as well as their natures, roles, and influences on our world, and on our lives, so far as I understand them. I am attempting to differentiate between the influences of each archetype and the effects they have on our human, earthly reality.
What we believe we know about the nature of reality often rests upon shaky ground, although we like to pretend it is solid and reliable. We think it is especially valuable if it is "scientific." However, I think that science is quite limited in its ability to describe something as vast as reality because of its narrow focus on the physical world and its assumption that nothing exists beyond the material.
We live in a reality dominated by masculinity, which as set the physical and intellectual models of perfection. Although there are indications that common gender values and roles are shifting, women are still highly valued for their physicaly beauty and fertility, and men for their physical prowess. In popular culture, an ideal of the Feminine in this reality is expressed in the physical "perfection" of the supermodel and an ideal of the Masculine is the sports hero. We are, naively, shocked and surprised when these phsyical idols turn out to have spiritual and moral imperfections.
The worship of money, and of those who have it, is also a part of the materialist system of physical archetypes. These are our images of physical plane Gods and Goddesses. And yet, how often do they have "feet of clay?" It is very common to see them falling from grace through the familiar pathways of drugs and alcohol, promiscuous and damaging sexual behavior, financial abuses, and (mainly for the male variety) violent behavior.
Most of the societies and cultures that worshiped the Feminine aspect of divinity were pre-literate (though some, I believe, were closer to our own time and were very literate), but most of what I write about the archetype will be derived from a mixture of observable forensic traces of Her existence and influence, combined with a pinch of intuition and blended with a tablespoonful of common sense. Evidence of the Feminine archetype, the Great Mother, can be discovered in petroglyphs, rock paintings and carvings, statues (such as the Paleolithic "Venus of Willendorf"), and ancient sacred constructions (like the round, stone barrows called "mound and passage tombs" by orthodox archaeologists). I am thinking of places like the Neolithic New Grange in County Meath, Ireland, in which the Goddess symbology is very clear (although officially unacknowledged). The symbology involved in the actual structure of the complex itself, and also of its decorations, is suggestive of the concept of reincarnation and of the Triple Goddess.
The Triple Goddess was an important divine figure in ancient Celtic religion. The Goddess as a triad was probably related to early observations of hte moon in its triple phases—New Moon, waxing, and waning—as it moves through a lunar month. The dark of the moon could be understood as the unseen, the occult, the void, or the unconscious (represented by the Hecate archetype), so it could be argued that the Triple Goddess is actually the quadruple Goddess.
The Goddess model of reality is cyclical, symbolized by the phases of the moon, as well as the sun in its three positions on the horizon (the two solstices and the midpoint of the equinoxes, represented in ancient Celtic culture by the awen symbol). The model also suggests that human "life" is also cyclical, that we move into and out of the physical world through cycles of time as the idea of reincarnation suggests.
The Goddess model of reality is also animistic (meaning that everything in the physical and non-physical worlds is filled life and conscious intelligence). All the orders of the physical world—rocks and stones, plants, animals, humans, and the inhabitants of the worlds beyond humanity—all have vitality and consciousness. Nothing is "inanimate" as we have been educated to believe in the West. Therefore, the Goddess is the conscious and intelligent spiritual reality that underlies the physical universe and the interconnected web of energy that links everything in the visible and invisible worlds. She is divinity both immanent and transcendent—"Grandmother Spider," both the weaver of the web of energy and the web itself. She is within us as well as outside us. She is all that exists. Rather than worship and adoration like the Gods of the "religions of the book" apparently demand, she requires only recognition and respect—for all of her creations and different oders of the worlds.
For millennia, our culture has been dominated by the masculine and monotheistic religions of the Abrahamic tradition. This tradition was expressed through herder cultures that treated animals as objectified commodities—not as conscious entities in their own right. Women were also treated as commodies rather than as equal members of the community. The tradition is rich in commentaries that are highly intellectualized opinions or narrow defenses of uncontestable truths that are not subject to review or revision. In contrast, one of the great virtues of science is the willingness to revise ancient truths in the light of new knowledge. The idea that knowledge evolves to match experience and understanding is more allied to the Feminine moral (self-critical) higher mind than to the Masculine intellectual (other-critical) lower mind. Perhaps science could be seen to be the early stirrings of a return to the Feminine way of knowing?
These patriarchal religions are often prescriptive, offering detailed opinions relating to "laws" about what to eat, how to dress, and how to behave. In my view they promote disadvantage and exercise too much social control—especially over women, children, and animals. Women were valued as commodities yet feared—and that fear led to oppressive control. It might seem as if the fundamental and inherent power of the Feminine was suppressed and sublimated—and this combination of valuing, fearing, and sublimation led to ignorance of, and direspect for, the Feminine power of divinity.
The masculine, monotheistic religions have been seen as an advantage in theological thinking by Western commentators. The conceptions of divinity described by archaic and tribal peoples have been dismissed as superstitious and irrelevant; but it is fair to say that in the past there seems to have been a world-wide system of belief that described a spiritual reality that was very close to the way we understand the Goddess reality today. That is, they all describe a great spirit that gave birth to the worlds, the Great Mother of all. They understand that everything is connected and related to everything else, and therefore has an influence that reverberates throughout the unified field that is the Goddess reality. The modern idea of the "Butterfly Effect," of Chaos and Complexity Theory, is similar to this archaic concept.
I see these ideas as being far more sophisticated and more accurate than the idea that there is a creator god who somehow "created" the physical world and thereafter sits in judgment over it, and is not part of it. The masculine deity stands outside his creation, apart from it like a craftsman who has molded primal, chaotic matter into form and order. This is based on the ancient but erroneous notion that the male "seed" contained the whole of creative potential and the woman was no more than the fertile ground (primal, chaotic matter) into which it was planted. Now, our scientific understanding is drawing us back toward the complex, interwoven, and interdependent vision that is expressed through the Goddess.
The standard materialist, or "naturalist," mode of thought struggles to interpret the mentality and behavior of our ancestors, whose worldview was largely animistic, magical, and spiritual. The modern way of thinking edits out intuitions and insights that challenge the intellectual/materalistic model. Those insights and intuitions are available to a more imaginative and less constrained way of inquiry. The presumption that scientific materialism is innately a superior way of knowing compared with the animistic, magical, and spiritual is a conceit that is now being challened. At best, the scientific (technical) and the spiritual (moral and mythic) are cohabitants of our minds, separated by the doctrine of materialism, but united by the way of thought epitomized by the Goddess model.
We need the physical and intellectual modes of being as well as the emotional and spiritual. We need the Masculine aspect of divinity as well as the Feminine. Today we live in a world whose metaphysical landscape has been depopulated by two millennia of montheistic religions, and the materalistic philosophy of the rational and scientific worldview. It values materal and intellectual things. It dismisses the emotional, the intuitive, and the spiritual. We can see how detrimental and damaging this narrow valuing has been to our world. We can see what is the necessary corrective. Only by reordering our understanding of what follows what can we revitalize our reality. If the Feminine divinity leads, our understanding of the way the world works is completely reversed.
So what does it mean in real terms when the Goddess leads? It means that we live in a world where we take moral responsibility for what we thing and what we do. There are consequences. We understand that the consequences of thought and action can follow us through lifetimes seeking rebalance. These are the blows of fate and karma that are so little understood today. It means that our relationships are respectful because we understand that when we harm others we are, in reality, harming ourselves. It means that we try to live in ways that are inclusive and loving at the heart level. We understand that our responsibility extends to all life forms on the planet—that we have been given this responsibility as a covenant with the life-giving powers of the Goddess.
I find it really helpful when I am confronted with an ethical dilemma to ask myself, "How would my higher self act in this situation?" Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to think and to act in this way, and sometimes it seems that it is detrimental to our worldly situation and is counter to our best interest, but that is an illusion. If we take the long view, we begin to understand that we are spirit in physical form. Form is not an end in itself. Form is in a continual spiral of change, as it is merely the vehicle for evolving spirit. I believe that we are in a period of changing thinking about the nature of reality and that many of the qualities of the old Goddess are becoming increasingly important and more highly valued. Beneath the veneer of violence, disruption, and division there exists another reality. The world is becoming more inclusive and compassionate. We are realizing that "we are all in this together." We are slowly learning that cooperation rather than competition is a superior way of acting and brings greater benefits to the common good. If Spirit leads and mind and emotions support spiritual learning, then the transformation of physical reality from an ugly, violent, and painful hell into a beautiful thing becomes more and more possible.
These important and challenging ideas are explored more fully in my new book, The Goddess and the Shaman: The Art and Science of Magical Healing.