I’ve been thinking about willful women and feminist killjoys—two main guiding images in feminist scholar Sara Ahmed’s book Living a Feminist Life (Duke University Press 2017).
The idea of the willful woman (or willful girl, or willful person) is something I can easily get behind. The way I understand it, it has to do with women getting in touch with our own wills and being willing to speak and act and live out of our wills. Particularly if these wills turn out to exist in opposition to the things other people might will for us.
It’s about learning to stand up for ourselves, learning to affirm our full humanity in a world that often expects…less. It’s a way of consciously, intentionally being willing to be called “willful” as a negative thing—as in, stubborn, selfish, antagonistic, difficult—because the affirmation of our own wills is worth it.
I like all of this and find it helpful. Be willful. Expect pushback and penalties for it. Be willful anyway.
In many cultures of the world, including our own, trees are considered the ancestors of humanity – own our ancestors.
Trees are connected with great goddesses throughout antiquity. We see this in the bible where, as I’ve noted before, the Tree of Life is Eve’s tree for the word Eve means life. It is, in essence, the Tree of Eve. Goddesses in trees feeding humans were common themes in ancient Middle Eastern art. The tree was Hers to give freely of as she wished.
Anthropologist and religious scholar, Mircea Eliade writes extensively about the associations of trees ancestral connection to humans. He calls them both mystical and mythical. His examples include the Miao groups of Southern China and Southeast Asia who “worship the bamboo as their ancestor.” He also notes Australian tribes who view the mimosa as their progenitor. And there is a tribe from Madagascar, called Antaivandrika which means “people of the tree,” who considered themselves descended from the banana tree.
In the past two years, I began a project which I call biblical poetry. I had been doing my own translations of biblical verse based on the hieroglyphic meanings of Hebrew words. Ancient Hebrew or Semitic Early writing grew out of the hieroglyphs of Egypt. Since hieroglyphs are pictures, we are able to use the rebuses or picture puzzles to glean the original or at least older meanings of words. I have begun to see these a route to interpreting meanings from before the dawn of patriarchy. This door to understanding appeals to my religious/spiritual/feminist sensibilities. At first, I attempted to stay somewhat true to the well-known meanings as they have come down through the ages. When I began my poetry project, I broke out of that structure to reveal the more mystical/shamanic/pagan meanings that I find beneath the words. At the bottom of this post, I have links to a few of my past biblical poetry posts.
The bible is quite large, so this is an encompassing project with lots of material to explore. This month, I wanted to take a look at how the concept of beauty is treated in the bible. The word for beauty is yaphah. Yaphah can also mean miracle and wonder as well as beauty. Let’s stop for a minute to unpack that. When we think of the word beauty in our culture, the thought is generally about how someone looks (unusually a female someone). But just the Hebrew word alone broadens the meaning. If beauty is someone or something that is wondrous and has miraculous qualities than it goes well beyond cultural standards of how someone looks. If you love someone, they would be beautiful to you because they would be wondrous. Biblical usages and translations tend to focus on beauty, mostly women, sometimes cows (yep cows) and a few handsome men in the mix. But I found that yaphah doesn’t have to be a vision that relies on one’s eyes.
Moses is an interesting character is in the pantheon of religious leaders. He is such a major personage, considered the founder of Judaism and yet there are no extra-biblical accounts of his life and his deeds. He only exists in the bible. You’d have thought that such a major event as leading a whole class of people away from Egyptian slavers, would have shown up on the radar of other written or mythical accounts from the time. Nothing!
Even his name is interesting. When the Egyptian princess gathered Moses out of the waters she said:
She named him Moses, explaining,
“I drew him out of the water.”
This is one meaning of his name. But there are others. In Egypt, the land where he was born and raised, the M-SH (variations: m-s or m-ss) root simply means “son.” Or it can mean “child” in a non-patriarchal sense. We see this in other Egyptian names Ramses is the child of the sun god Ra. Tutmose is the child of Tut.
Last month I wrote about the Garden of Eden. You can read it here:
In that post, I described how Eden is essentially a garden of treasures. What are those treasures? I believe that they are seeds, the most prolific and creative element for spreading life here on Earth. Below is my own fantastical story about the Garden and how the seeds came to reside there.
Sinuous and serpentine, Hawwah, Hayyat, Eve emerged from Apsû, carrying within her seeds, fertilized eggs, and all the fruitfulness and abundance therein.
With this season of the festivals of light upon us (Hanukkah, Christmas, Solstice, Kwanzaa), I wanted to focus on the more joyful aspects of our lives. For that, I have been diving into passages about joy and singing in the bible.
Sometimes when I write these posts, they take me in directions I never thought to go. This post is one of them. The surprise direction I found is in the Psalm below:
Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works.
Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD.
Once upon a time, the Great Goddess was the spiritual focal point of ancient culture. Her worship included honoring women, living in harmony with the earth, and cherishing the processes of the cycles of nature. Asherah was one of those Goddesses. When the Patriarchs moved in and worked to suppress the old goddess religions, Asherah and her fellow Goddesses were diminished, and in a propaganda coup we might recognize today, defined Her as evil. I imagine that some brave people fought to hold onto the Goddess in Her glory but when they saw they were losing the battle, they encoded Her and Her Sister Goddesses into their cultural mythology. Hidden in this manner, She found Her way into the bible. If we can uncover those codes, we can reclaim Her, others and their Earth-based spirituality.
This is the 5th in a series of work I have been doing to translate passages of the bible into poetry that strips out the patriarchal overlays. You can read the previous posts.
In this installment I am grouping together some passages that deal with vibrational energy and its role in creation. We humans often express sacred vibration as song or chant. When we get into the vibrational flow they are truly uplifting. In the translations below, I have kept two of the words in Hebrew because of their wonderful vibrational essences:
Last month, I wrote about a new project I have been playing with which is to re-write biblical verses as spiritual poetry rather than follow along with stricter translations (although truth be told, my translations have never been strict). My main goal is to strip away the layers of patriarchy that grew up around universal, earth-based, mystical lessons. In my last blogpost I wrote about why I translate El (god in English versions) as All-Potential Powers. You can read it here: https://feminismandreligion.com/2021/04/15/biblical-poetry-by-janet-maikai-rudolph/
YHVH, the sacred 4 letter tetragrammaton, is always translated as LORD in the bible. It is truly a wondrous name with many layers of meaning which the English one-word term LORD doesn’t capture. I find that the English translations of these two words – LORD and god – are dull and without sacred energetic aspects. In ancient times, the words used to depict divinity in general, and YHVH specifically, were meant to be intoned and chanted.
This blogpost is about biblical verses and uncovering the magic and spirit behind its words. Why, you might ask, is this a project that belongs on a blog dedicated to feminism?
I believe it does because it helps us to strip away the many layers of patriarchy with its attempts to hide and/or change original teachings. Remember; these stories were originally oral wisdom teachings of the “folk.” They weren’t written down until the Babylonian exile, hundreds if not thousands of years removed from their origins. And who was doing the writing? Priests, scribes, and prophets, all with their own agenda. Even the earliest writings we have, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were still written in patriarchal times.
A high priestess became pregnant in a manner that was forbidden in her society. She gave birth to a baby boy. Fearing for her child’s life, she fashioned a basket of rushes and cast him into a river. He was retrieved by a man named Akki whose name means “the drawer of water.” Akki raised the boy.
A son was born to a young princess who had been forced to keep her pregnancy a secret because it was forbidden. When her son was born, she placed him in a basket and floated him down the river. He was found and raised by foster parents. He grew up to become a noted warrior, speaker and eventually a king.
A young boy accidentally ingested some drops of star-studded wisdom from the cauldron of a goddess and, in this manner, was suddenly awakened to divine knowledge. The goddess grew furious that her divine wisdom was stolen. Desperate to escape her life-threatening wrath, a wild chase ensued. The boy turned himself into a rabbit, but the goddess turned herself into a dog to chase him down. The boy turned himself into a fish to swim away but the goddess became an otter to continue the chase. The boy then turned himself into a bird, but the goddess became a hawk. Finally, the boy turned himself into a seed and hid in a large pile of grain. The goddess turned herself into a hen and ate up all the grain including the boy-as-seed. In this manner she found herself pregnant. She planned to kill the baby when he was born, but when she saw him, he was so beautiful that she fell in love and she could not bring herself to do so. The goddess sewed the baby into a leather sack and threw him into the river. He was retrieved by a man named Elphin who renamed and raised him.
A woman of the priestly caste of her tribe gave birth to a baby boy. At the time, all boys born to her tribe were under a decree of death. To save her son’s life, she created a basket of reeds and floated him down the river. He was found by a royal princess who retrieved him from the water, gave him a new name and raised him to adulthood.
Even though I was a late-comer to the Netflix series The Crown, when I did watch it, I was riveted. Lots of thoughts ran through my mind at this picture of royalty. The concept of royalty in human history is vast and multi-faceted, however in this blogpost I am only pulling on a few threads that tugged at me as I watched this show.
I laughed as people greeted the Queen and said, “your highness.” Does that make the rest of us lownesses? And where did all this pomp come from anyway? And why is the British monarch the head of the Church of England which is a bible-based Christian religion?
Love the sinner, hate the sin. We are all familiar with the bludgeon this statement represents in Christian circles. It functions as a way to maintain one’s goodness and Christlikeness (supposedly!), while simultaneously condemning and persecuting those who find themselves drawn to live lives outside the constraints of heteronormativity in all its variations. The statement hardly needs to be deconstructed – it proves its own emptiness in relation to the way sexuality is understood as identity in the contemporary context. (There are Foucaultian reasons to be unhappy with this understanding of sexuality – one of the disciplinary functions of power on his account is the desire to find a name that will express one’s true identity – but we’ll save that for another day.)
Instead, I think we should consider a much more fundamental contradiction in the way Christian churches today speak and think about sexuality. In many mainline congregations in the US-European context, the debate has been framed around celibacy versus “practice” for persons identifying as gay and lesbian. Excluding the fringe ex-gay movement and its horrors, there are three typical positions that churches take up. One, celibate gays and lesbians may participate fully in church life. Two, married and monogamous gays and lesbians may participate fully in church life. Three, neither marriage nor monogamy are required for gays and lesbians (or anyone else) – the latter is perhaps not a frequent position for churches to take, at least officially, other than in the MCC. For most mainline denominations, the fault line lies between those who assert the ‘vocation’ of celibacy for gay and lesbian persons, and those who permit marriage. Continue reading “Lust in the Heart by Linn Marie Tonstad”