The Emergence of the Feminine


What is going on? Two male icons of religion have made surprising, and gratifying, pronouncements of late. Pope Francis says he is not going to judge gay priests and furthermore stated that the church needs a "theology of women." The Dalai Lama just made an even more shocking statement. When asked if the next Dalai Lama could be female, he said, "If a female Dalai Lama is needed, one will appear."

But should we be so surprised? Maybe these statements were inevitable. Maybe we are seeing some stirring in the collective psyche, some divine movement in the unconscious signaling the waning strength of the masculine principle. Patriarchy has definitely worn out its virtues.

Intuitively, we know that we are out of right relationship, with one another and with the earth. In quiet moments, we know our pain. Our dreams are troubled. When our ways no longer serve life, the new appears.

The emerging shift is towards balance -- a balance of the masculine and feminine modes of consciousness, of anima and animus, of yin and yang, both in the culture at large and within our personal lives as well. The signs are everywhere. The distrust of absolute authority, whether it be with our physicians or our ministers and priests. The passionate interest in protecting the earth. The rising consciousness about race and class and an understanding that exclusivity impoverishes us all. The insistence that people with disabilities have access to learning and to pleasure. The embracing of people of various sexual orientations. Gender roles freeing us to live in accordance with our talents and desires.

My perspective is Jungian, which assumes archetypes, or universal patterns in the human psyche. These patterns are not, of course, restricted to sex or gender, and both are present in both women and men. In psychospiritual language, the terms masculine and feminine delineate the opposite energies which give necessary tension and therefore vitality to our lives -- the electrical poles of the psyche that charge us and energize us.

If an individual remains unconscious of one of these realms of energy, then he or she projects all the gifts of that pole onto another. When such projection occurs on the cultural level, women carry the qualities of the anima, such as intuiting, caring, and feeling, whereas men carry the animus qualities of initiating, task-orientation, and analytical thinking. When individuals become conscious, however, of both these poles of psychic energy, then each person develops more fully, in wherever ways they feel moved, not having to suppress inclinations and talents because of rigid gender roles and expectations.

As children grow and develop, the traditional cultural pattern is for both sexes to acknowledge certainly by adolescence that the male is the norm, and that the female's proper place is to carry the male's shadow side -- that is, the feeling, nurturing side. The female is now discovering her warrior side, her dark energy, and using assertive, linear male energy for her own ends. The male, then, is no longer able to project the anima outward and so is having to discover and integrate the feminine into his personality. We see women working on construction sites now, and men pushing past with strollers.

I should clarify that I am not talking about feminism, per se. Many variants of feminism have emerged, some of them having less to do than others with this psychic shift. I am not speaking of a coup in which one gender overturns the power of the other and takes over. I am not speaking of the rule of the goddess, nor of breaking the glass ceiling of the Fortune 500 companies. I'm not speaking even of "leaning in."

I am speaking of a spiritual revolution that radically changes how we see ourselves in relation to others, a revolution that begins with the kind of internal change that Jesus was talking about when he said, "Ye must be born again." Born into a new way of seeing. Understanding that there is no stranger, no "other." It will not be enough to say away with injustice, down with economic inequity -- spread out the goodies in a more equitable manner. This revolution is about seeing another as one's self. It's about leaving behind a way of relating in which we judge and classify but neglect to experience and love.

The masculine principle is characterized by analytic thinking, independence, linearity, innovation, assertion, abstract ethical thought, concern with law and order. It initiates, it thrusts, it enters, it stands, it commands. It is the skyscraper, the rocket, the racing car, the smoking gun. This principle concerns itself with clarity and moderation, is wary of an excess of emotion which might cloud one's thinking. It is part of a tradition that we could call heroic and calls for will, honor, strength, and sacrifice to an ideal. It is the individual seeker going after the Holy Grail, fighting off the dragons, and saving the town. It is the gunfighter that risks his life at O.K. Corral. It is the Odysseus returning home from war.

Whereas the feminine principle draws us to all living things, respecting nature and honoring nature's mysteries, the masculine principle penetrates and dissects those mysteries. The feminine takes in and includes, the masculine excludes by dividing and categorizing. The feminine principle speaks to the soul's need for emotion, spontaneity, ecstasy. Subjective feelings and intuition are seen as paths to knowing. The body/mind split, so pervasive in our culture for so long, is rejected. The anima affirms what is not I, affirms an underlying unity to all of life. It is mutual and it is participatory. It is relational in all matters, and relationship is not a means to an end, but exists for its own sake. We are called to be present in the moment, in the sensual, in our messy and imperfect flesh, rather than experiencing life from the aesthetic perfection of abstract law and principle.

Note that I am not claiming that the masculine principle is inferior, and the feminine principle, superior. In fact, if we are looking at this shift as a necessary evolution in time, we see that the dominance of the masculine had its place, had its day. Refusing to allow emotion to dominate thinking, organizing groups to an end, adhering to codes of honor -- these principles have brought advances that were crucial to our survival at one point. But times have changed, and an overweening masculine principle is no longer adaptive.

The excess of the masculine principle in American culture is all too apparent: in our de-sacralizing of the earth, turning her gifts of life into products for short-term gain; in filling our air and food and water with noxious chemicals and subsequently spending billions of dollars trying to cure cancer; in conducting a foreign policy which is devoid of relational principle, and focused on the clear and unambiguous ends of gain for American business, in spite of the human toll. The necessity of the feminine is now both obvious and urgent.

This cultural shift offers to us -- both men and women -- a chance to recover the riches we have disowned and bring their power and beauty into our consciousness. We are being given an invitation to wholeness, to right relationship. The sacred feminine, the Dark Yin, can show us how to heal and how to redeem the world.

Of course cultural change is always accompanied by fear and trepidation. We have seen a ferocious backlash, with Fundamentalist Christian groups withdrawing into their safe assurances and dogma, withdrawing their children from the evil influences of public schools, and insisting that their women learn once again the godly lessons of submission. Fashion advertising portrays women as fragile, child-like, whereas popular movies ironically feature female anti-heroes with as much destructive capability as male heroes. The Republican Party has become the party of old white men as it tries to maintain its hold on the past. But history is quickly leaving them behind as women, people of color, gays, and the young insist on a future more just and more diverse. Old assumptions die hard, and we strain to hear one another. This is not an easy time for those of us caught in these shifting sands, but nonetheless exhilarating.

The shift is coming, but will it come soon enough? Regressive social and economic forces are strong -- there is the very real possibility is that multinational corporations will become a Hydra that cannot be stopped, gobbling up resources and despoiling the earth, accountable to no one and directed only by its own appetite. Horrified, we watch the glaciers melt, the forests burn, species disappear. Writers as diverse as Barbara Kingsolver, Cormac McCarthy, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Sherman Alexie are warning us: the house is on fire!

As we move into this new way of being, balancing the male and the female principles, where does theology come in? What about the church? This is not the time for safety, for pleasing the people in the pews. This is the time for prophecy. We must set our imaginations loose and dream a world that is possible. We must create language that is not the language of domination, as Riane Eisler suggests in her work on cultural transformation. We must look to our poets and our mystics to discover different metaphors that structure and determine our thoughts and behavior.

The recent statements of Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are unprecedented and provocative. The question for religious people of every stripe and persuasion is whether we will be a regressive force, supporting the status quo, or whether we will understand that a life-giving revolution is at hand and become participant in that change. We need the increased influence of the feminine principle, sooner rather than later. In fact, later may be too late.

Marilyn is the subject of a documentary film, "Raw Faith," now available on Netflix.