Scope for Imagination

Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?

-Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Monday, May 25, 2009

Revitalizing Female Resistance in the History of Religion: Kali and Joan of Arc

Western man has understood and empowered himself by subjugating women. Simone de Beauvoir explains the subjugation of women that restrains all aspects of life. She writes,
History has shown us that men have always kept in their hands all concrete powers; since the earliest days of the patriarchate they have thought best to keep woman in a state of dependence; their codes of law have been set up against her; and thus she has been definitely established as the Other.

Man is always the subject or the absolute, while woman is defined by their lacking body, their otherness. From her 1988 book “Sowing the Body,” Page duBois writes, “It is this ‘lack,’ this requirement of deference to a system supported by both males and females that privileges those with a penis—those present, possessing, speaking—which drives me to a reading and writing of another world where other terms of otherness apply,” (17).

Two women who resisted patriarchy, who lifted their heads and spoke loudly and clearly, are Saint Joan of Arc and the great Indian goddess Kali. Unafraid and ferocious, these women refused to submit to the authority of patriarchy, and asserted their own power as women.

Joan of Arc was Christian, a believer in a religion wherein all must lay claims to one god in order to be truly religious. She had a claim to God’s authority through voices from saints that she was not supposed to have as a woman unaffiliated with the church. The priests saw themselves as necessary mediators between the people and God. That Joan declared she had a relationship with the Christian God, mediated only by divine saints, was blasphemous and led to her death.

Of the polytheistic Hindu pantheon is the great goddess Kali. Within this religion, multiple gods and goddesses exist that represent different and often opposite values. With more acceptance to a variety of divine personalities, there is higher potential for a diverse representation of humanity. Over time, new divinities emerge and fade away, increasing and decreasing in the imagination of devotees. This demonstrates the greater fluidity and adaptability in the polytheistic traditions.

In other words, whereas monotheism is closed, rigid and exclusive, polytheism is more conducive to allowing decentralized, dispersed authority that creates more stages of potential power for gender equality. Now is the time for women’s voices to be heard, strongly and loudly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Holey Toledo! I just picked up a copy of D'Aulaires' Greek Mythology (the classic kids' book) since I'd finished reading "The Lightning Thief" (only recommended to me by about a zillion kids... well, you know) And I needed some more Greek god backstory.

Anyway, I'd really never read about them, and I found it stunning how powerful and resourceful and varied those female godesses are! I had no idea. For all these years I thought they were all just virgins being pursued by Zeus or somebody...or demigodesses in need of rescuing, or poor old Hera being all pissed off at her philandering husband.

I am loving them. Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, Maia, Eos,Iris, Selene, the Muses, Hestia!

I have long wondered how the Christian orthodoxy came up with a trinity completely devoid of the female. Isn't the perfect archetypal triangle "Man, Woman and Child?"