What is The Religious Denigration of Women?



I am sure that whole books have been written on this subject. I first got interested out of a concern that some Christian women were trying to impose their beliefs on the Reiki teachings in much the same way that the church for the longest time would erect its buildings on top of sites known to be sacred to the people of the Old Religion.

And, as I wrote in a May 1998 Love letter, every time I hear women invoking Christ consciousness, I wonder if they have forgotten that somewhere in their unconsciousness, as Jean Shinoda Bolen wrote ~ I don’t have the source but it could be Crossing to Avalon. A woman’s Quest for the Sacred Feminine (Harper, San Francisco, 1994) :

Where is the memory of the burning times, when women were persecuted and burned alive as witches. This went on for three hundred years … [during which] … more women were burned at the stake than were killed in the Nazi gas ovens. First the midwives were burned for easing the pain of childbirth [which went against the biblical injunction that women were supposed to suffer] … then the healers who knew the medicinal uses of herbs, women who celebrated the seasons, eccentric women, women with possessions someone coveted, bright women, women without protection. 

Note: There is no agreement among scholars as to the actual numbers for which a very wide range has been suggested. 

This next item contains one of the most disgraceful pieces of writing I have come across on this subject, and given the universe’s sense of humour, it was written by a man who long before me was aboard the same naval training ship that I was. But he never seems to have gone to sea and instead became a best-selling author for many years. In 1998, and I now have no idea of how or why, I came across a non-fiction book he wrote called The Devil and all his works.” (Hutchinson, Tiptree, 1971) from which this is taken:

In the pagan faiths, the mother goddess [note the lower case letters] played a part that is impossible to overestimate. She had borne a child … [so] … all women could count on her understanding and sympathy. Realizing this weakness in their divine hierarchy the early Christian Fathers [note the upper case letters] … built … up the figure of the Virgin Mary … but it could never be more than a half measure because she was not a goddess with limitless power in her own right. 

Wheatley continues,   [Women] … were regarded by the church as vessels of evil, made deliberately in a form that would tempt men into the sin of lust; they were taught that to show themselves naked to their husbands was a wicked thing to do … [and] … it was decreed that, even to enter a church a woman must cover her head … symbolically putting ashes on it as an acknowledgement that … it was her sex that had caused God the Father to drive mankind (sic) out of Paradise. 

From which he draws this judgmental conclusion:

Can it then be wondered at, that many a spirited woman resenting the inferiority imposed on her … decided to give her allegiance to the opposition … whom, he suggests, practice Satanism and Black Magic to which a woman like  Starhawk, writing in The Spiral dance, A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (Harper & Row, New York, 1979) would respond:

Life is a thing of wonder … [in which] … Divine ecstasy becomes the fountain of creation. And since Witchcraft is the only religion that has ecstasy, rather than suffering, as its central theme it is not difficult to see why it poses such a threat to the patriarchal priesthoods for whom human, and especially female, sexuality is so problematic.

Lastly, and fortunately, in The Holy Grail, Its Origins, Secrets and Meaning Revealed, (Penguin Books, New York, 1994, Malcolm Godwin takes an equally objective look at this significant issue.

He writes:

It is tempting to blacken the Fathers of the … [Christian] … Church as if they were the only chauvinists on the planet but sadly women have had a hard passage throughout the world for at least five millennia, especially in the world of religion. Apparently all the religions of the world are dominated by males and somehow see women as, at best, imperfect copies of their rightful masters. This seems a far cry from the matriarchal communities which worshipped a great Goddess. 

Even that enlightened being, Gautama the Buddha, when … forced to allow women monks into his company, sadly declared that his real living message which would have lasted 2500 hundred years without women would not survive longer than 500 after all. 

The Buddha was, of course, wrong. But it is interesting to find in my files a book review by Sara Dearing of Vicki Mackenzie’s, Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman’s Quest for Enlightenment (Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, 1998).

The former tells us that the latter’s Buddhist name is Drubgyu Tenzin Palmo which means “Glorious Lady who Upholds the Doctrine of the Practice Succession” who had made a vow to “attain enlightenment in female form … [which] … she acknowledges may take many life-times”.

Her longest solo retreat in that cave was three years. But that was easy compared to what she was enduring from the patriarchs in the monastery, who, as Dearing writes, “still widely believe that women are incapable of attaining that level … [of Buddha-nature] … because of the ridiculous notion that our bodies are defiled.”

She then quotes Mackenzie:

At one point I asked a very high lama if he thought women could realize Buddha-hood and he replied that they could go all the way to the last second and then change into a male body. And I said What is it about a male penis that is so essential for becoming enlightened.  What is it about the male body that is so incredible? And then asked if there was any advantage in having a female form. He said he would go away and think about it. The next day he came back and said, having been thinking about it, the answer is no, there are no advantages whatsoever. I thought, One advantage is that we don’t have a male ego. 

Back to Godwin:

According to some Islamic theologians women can’t enter Paradise and should not receive religious instruction. There are still many orthodox mosques which retain the signs, Women, dogs and other impure animals are not permitted to enter. 

The Jains of India, while they have many women among their monks, do not believe a woman can become enlightened, unless she takes a male body in her last reincarnation. Orthodox Hindus will not allow women in some of their temples and no woman is allowed in if she has her period. 

North American Indians will not allow women in their moon-time into the sweat lodge either.

And in 91/2 Mystics, The Kabbala Today (Holt, Rhinehart & Winston, New York, 1969). Rabbi Herbert Weiner points out that Orthodox Jews segregate women in their Temples and do not permit female singing on the grounds that “A woman’s voice is lewd.”

And as I write that I am reminded of sitting in a theatre as the movie Yentl ends with Barbra Streisand singing

The more I live, the more I learn
The more I learn, the more I realize the less I know.
Each mile I travel only means the more I have to go.
 What’s wrong with wanting more?
If you can fly, then soar!
With all there is why settle for a piece of sky?
Poppa watch me fly.

and thinking how stupid and fearful these men are: She has one of the most magnificent voices that any human could ever have. Julie Andrews is another, as seen in the opening scene of the movie, Sound of Music: those hills were truly alive …

And, at this juncture, I might just insert the note that in the original Jewish sacred teachings Adam co-existed with a woman named Lilith i.e. God made one of each sex in his image. Lilith, it appears was a little feisty, so the good Rabbis tuned her into a demon who preyed on children, and had God create Eve from Adam’s rib. (Seemingly, the only time a human being has not come from the body of a female ~ even Jesus came that way).

And then comes the biggest cop-out in religious history where Eve ~ hence evil ~ is blamed for what seems to have gone wrong in the Garden of Eden. Adam seems to have no responsibility for anything. And as a complete aside, the shamanistic teacher, and anthropologist, Alberto Villoldo, points out that in no other religion is anyone thrown out of Paradise. So, essentially,  the Christian priests are nothing but a bunch of masochists. Go figure.

Godwin continues:

But no religion, even today, is so tyrannical and unjust to women as the Christian church, Roman or Reformed, In its entire history there is not a single case in which women are accepted as equals to men. 

The Reformed church has been just as chauvinist as the Catholic. Even the arch-enemy of Rome, Martin Luther, relegated women to be useful child-bearing machines for little males” If women get tired and die of bearing children, he observes, there is no harm to that; let them die as long as they bear; they were made for that….. 

Thomas Aquinas believed that the original sin of Eve was repeated every time anyone made love, married, or otherwise. It would appear that Christianity is the only religion in the history of our planet in which it is sinful just to be alive…. 

Even in the U.K. which has one of the better records of women’s suffrage and equality, a bishop of the Church of England only one hundred years ago insisted that women “are intrinsically inferior in excellence, imbecile by sex and nature, weak in body, inconstant in mind and imperfect and infirm in character”. 

So, concludes, Godwin:

Perhaps the most cruel legacy of what must surely be the most cruel religion ever imposed upon a people is to be told that we are born sinners….The people of Europe, and the later colonists in the New world, learned … [from that Christian theology that teaches that life is inherently evil because of the original sin naturally blamed on Eve] … that no one is acceptable as they are. 

And just as human nature has to be changed, by force if necessary, so should Mother Nature. And here the wounded king… [of the Grail Legend] … the Fisher King is revealed: in trying to change themselves into what they were not an entire people became schizophrenic and guilty … [hence] … the heroic task today, as it was in Parsifal’s day, is simply to trust one’s inner nature and act upon it…. That is all the Grail message teaches …. If the modern hero … [“Trust the Force Luke”] … listens to his or her inner and natural flow, then suddenly the vastness of nature will fill the empty space left by the false self. (Emphasis in the original).

And what a positive and uplifting thought that is because, at some point, each of us can become aware that that is much easier to do than we may have thought it was: Just requires that we surrender to what is.