March represents women’s history month. A quick Google search of the subject finds this description from Wikipedia: “Women’s history month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to the events of history and contemporary society.”
Admittedly, the occasion in previous years has passed me by with somewhat less notice than this year. And it appears that I am not alone. When writing this blog post, I asked my wife when women’s history month was established. She said she didn’t even know it was a thing until recently herself.
Searching together online to find out more about this commemoration of women’s contribution to humanity, we were surprised to learn it was established in 1987; which means that much like the contributions of great women in general, it has gone a full thirty-four years mostly unnoticed to the general population.
The occasion for wanting to know more about women’s history month was sparked by the fact that I’m a rather avid watcher of documentaries. Possessing a slew of subscriptions to every documentary platform you could think of, one of my favorites is the BBC. There, I found an unusually large amount of documentaries that centered explicitly around women this month. And, being a theologian, I couldn’t help but watch through a documentary series called “Divine Women” hosted by Bettany Hughes.
Hughes is one of my favorite documentarians, alongside the other giants of the modern BBC. I find her historical and religious documentaries particularly entertaining and informative. On this occasion, Hughes guides us all the way from prehistory to modernity, giving us a curated tour of the roles that women played in worship, religion, and faith.
I have to say that I liked the documentary series but as I watched through it, I noted some facts said in passing that were not so much troubling as disappointing.
In Episode 1, when explaining prehistoric roots of Mother Goddess worship, Hughes contrasts these early belief systems with modern Western religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Hughes admits that women (as in the case of Mary) may have a presence in these faiths, but these faiths being so heavily patriarchal, women have had to “compete for space with men.”
As these words passed from my TV speakers to my ears, I recalled how this belief has been echoed in so many of my students. Thanks in large part to the modern emergence of women as a relevant and strong political force, on many occasions I have been asked by my students why Judaism and Christianity suppress women.
This question has been posed to me in a great diversity of formats. But by far the most common that I’ve ran into is this phrasing: why can’t God be a woman?
Given no more than most people are taught in their religious education in America and Europe today (this assumes that they had a religious education at all), this question is not surprising. It stems from a place of deep misunderstanding to the point of abuse perpetrated by those who would consider themselves educators of faith.
This confusion creates a vacuum in the mind of the would-be believer, one that is shaped, as it were, with the fine lines of a woman as regards to God. In other words, the vacuum is shaped like the divine feminine.
Having no reference in their modern faith systems to a feminine force inside of God, people are left to cultural references for context clues on how Judaism, Islam, and Christianity feel about women.
These clues are inevitably skewed toward the myth that all Abrahamic faiths, to one degree or another, are in some ways anti-woman, not just in their modern expression, but also in their ancient roots.
But this is not always and everywhere the truth and it takes a deep understanding of religious history to filter out that fact from the haze of noise that comes from more recent history (the last 2,500 years have admittedly seen these faiths express an anti-feminine attitude).
Since the Order is an occult-Christian society and therefore owes part of its history to Judaism and Jewish mysticism, I’ll focus my attention where my expertise and degree has their roots. That is, Christianity and Judaism.
Within Christianity, we have Trinitarianism which simply means that we believe that there are three divine persons that make up a single God-head. Admittedly, details about the nature of the Trinity itself and the history of this doctrine go beyond the scope of this blog. After all, this understanding of the divine is among some of the more complex theological ideas known to the entire human race. Oceans of ink have been spilled about it.
Suffice to say, that while there are three forms that the God-head can take, Trinitarianism states that God is equally represented by all three of these forms. They are Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The last of these forms, the Holy Spirit, was known to ancient Judaism as Shekhinah (שְׁכִינָה). Roughly, this translates to “One who dwells.” The Shekhinah was said to appear any time God wished to represent Himself to another. For instance, it was the Shekhinah that appeared before Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3) or that dwelt in the Holy Tabernacle on Mount Zion (Zechariah 8:3).
The thing to note here is how the Hebrew language works and how the Jews chose to represent this aspect of God. In this language, words are either masculine or feminine. We know that certain words are considered feminine when they end in a tav (ת) or he/ha (ה). Shekhinah ends in a (ה), making it most definitely feminine in nature.
It was Shekhinah that breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7). In the Christian tradition, Shekhinah overshadowed Mary, bringing forth Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1: 26-38, John 1: 14). The key point about the Shekhinah is not just that its title seems feminine, but that its aspect also seems feminine.
Anywhere God is said to reside, the Shekhinah is said to be. So the Shekhinah is not just God but also contains God and is in this way like a womb. Like women, the Shekhinah has been there with humanity, caring for its children. In the cases stated above, the Shekhinah not only brought forth life in humankind but brought forth God to humanity in the case of Christ and Mary.
The crucial understanding of Shekhinah is to remember that it is not part of God in Trinitarianism, but that it is God. Where God is, so too is Shekhinah. It would be fitting to put an equal sign between the words “Shekhinah” and “God” as this would be an accurate way to explain at least one piece of the Christian-Trinitarian doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
It would not necessarily be fitting to say that God is a woman, but in Shekhinah,we can say that God is feminine. When my students feel uncomfortable with the idea of identifying the Abrahamic God with the masculine, using pronouns like “he” or “him,” I tell them that it is just as good to refer to God in the feminine.
You may say of God that She is great and that we love Her. Essentially, this is what ancient Jews were doing each time they referred to God by Shekhinah.
At its heart, the Supreme God-head transcends male and female and as a spiritual entity, has in its purely spiritual aspects, neither physical form nor genitalia. There is no way to apply to God in the literal sense a sex and have that be the final word on the matter.
But if we ask if God can be a woman and what we mean by it is, “Can She resonate with womanhood, femininity, gentleness, and the protection and nurturing of life?” Then absolutely, we can affirm this.
God in Herself is beyond gender and sublime, as the Order likes to say, but is nonetheless, the Mother of all men as much as the Father of all women. In understanding this, we can know two facts in particular.
The first is that the war of the sexes, however viciously fought, is a war based on a lie. As within God, there is no male or female (Galatians 3:28). There is only the Creator and the created existing in love.
The second fact is that so long as we equate sacred femininity with womanhood, we can at long-last acknowledge the contribution of that most forgotten of women, God Herself, to the events of history and even contemporary society.
With this women’s history month, I hope that we not only commemorate the beautiful and ground-breaking influence of women to the human race, but through that acknowledgement, heal the divisions which have grown between the sexes and genders themselves.For the greatest lesson we can learn from acknowledging God as feminine is that “male and female [She] created them.”