Tuesday, December 22, 2020

She Who Walks on the Sea

Encyclopedia Brittanica’s opening paragraph for the goddess Asherah reads:

“Asherah, ancient West Semitic goddess, consort of the supreme god. Her principal epithet was probably “She Who Walks on the Sea.” She was occasionally called Elath (Elat), “the Goddess,” and may have also been called Qudshu, “Holiness.” According to texts from Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra, Syria), Asherah’s consort was El, and by him she was the mother of 70 gods. As mother goddess she was widely worshiped throughout Syria and Palestine, although she was frequently paired with Baal, who often took the place of El; as Baal’s consort, Asherah was usually given the name Baalat. Inscriptions from two locations in southern Palestine seem to indicate that she was also worshiped as the consort of Yahweh.“

The second sentence strikes me as significantly profound. The Semitic people of Jesus’ time were familiar with Asherah, even though she had been evicted from temple worship and expunged from their scriptures 640 years before Jesus lived by King Josiah and the Deuteronomist priests.

The history of the worship of this goddess, and her rejection by those in authority, can be read about in the book The Mother of the Lord by Margaret Barker. Barker lays out how plain it is that Enoch's insistence that the Deuteronomists rejection of Asherah (abandoning Wisdom) was the likely reason why the Book of Enoch was not canonized, and why the Deuteronomists did everything in their power to erase both that book's existence.

This attempted erasure of The Lady (and of Enoch) has been largely successful. Christians largely ignore her. And Mormons, who supposedly embrace the idea of “Heavenly Mother”, for the most part follow suit. 

There are certainly some small pockets of LDS and post-LDS people (mostly women) who will speak/write of her openly, but the original effort to blot her out of our minds and our discussions is pretty much still respected and upheld by those who profess to desire the Kingdom of God on the earth.

But imagine trying to understand the meaning of Jesus walking on water without considering Heavenly Mother’s reputation as “she who walks on the sea”. It won't be difficult to imagine at all, because almost no one associates that miracle with her.

We have misunderstood Jesus for so many years. He wasn’t merely performing a miracle for the sake of his disciples. He was paying homage to her in a way that his disciples would have understood as a serious rebuke of those who had removed her from the Holy of Holies. 

She used to be prominent there. Not only was she worshipped in peoples homes, but the most sacred part of the temple contained implements that represented her.

King Josiah took them from the temple and burned them. If you ever get perplexed at the idea of Nephi associating Mary and the baby Jesus with the Tree of Life, consider the fact (pointed out by Barker) that there was a living tree representing Asherah in the Holy of Holies in the first temple, and that Josiah removed it and had it burned.

The scribes and Pharisees that Jesus reasoned to silence were enthusiastic descendants of those authorized editors to this rejection of Wisdom from Israel.

By walking on water, Jesus sent this message of her legitimacy as a Goddess into those who could see like a wordless lightning bolt straight from Heaven. 

So now, two millennia later, what is it exactly that we want from Her if we don’t even apprehend Jesus’ basic messages concerning her? 

Perhaps Mormons of every stripe are a little too comfortable in what Carol Lynn Pearson once called “the motherless house”. 


Monday, May 25, 2020

To Those Who Desire Her

Quoted from The Wisdom of Solomon in Margret Barker's essay, The Lady of the Temple in a Jordan Lead Book:

"Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and she is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her (Wisdom 6.12)."

"She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other
And she orders all things well (Wisdom 8.1)."

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Egyptian Goddess Neith

Goddess of fertility, birth, creation, motherhood, war, hunting, weaving, and also a funerary goddess who cared for and helped to dress the souls of the dead. Neith was one of those gods that attended you from womb to tomb.

According to Geraldine Pinch, Neith preceded creation and was present when the waters of Nun began to swirl at her command to give rise to the ben-ben (the primordial mound) upon which Ra (Atum) stood to complete the task. In another version of the story, Neith created the world and then went directly to found her city of Sais, leaving the rest of the work to Atum.  

By the time of the end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty Neith was still recognized as a creative force of enormous power who "created the world by speaking seven magical words".

She was closely associated with the creative element of water and was "the personification of the fertile primeval waters" and was "the mother of all snakes and crocodiles" as well as being the "great mother who gave birth to Ra and who instituted giving birth when there had been no childbirth before".

Her annual festival was celebrated on the 13th day of the 3rd month of summer and was known as The Festival of the Lamps. On this day people arrived from all over Egypt to pay their respects to the goddess and offer her gifts. At night they would light lamps which, according to Herodotus, were "saucers full of salt and oil, the wick floating thereon, and burning all night" and even those who did not attend the festival lighted such lamps in their homes, in other temples, and in the palaces so that the whole of Egypt would be illuminated all night long.

These lamps were thought to mirror the stars in the night sky which were claimed to be either deities or paths to those deities. At Neith's festival the veil between the earthly realm and the land of the dead was thought to part and people could see and speak with their departed friends and family members. The lights on earth mirroring the stars helped to part this veil because earth and the heavens would appear the same to both the living and the dead. 

Her identification as the most powerful creative force in the universe is noted by Plutarch (c. 50 - 120 CE) who writes that the temple of Neith at Sais held this inscription: 

"I Am All That Has Been, That Is, and That Will Be. No Mortal Has Yet Been Able to Lift the Veil that Covers Me".

Friday, October 11, 2019

From The Exponent: The Silent Pain of Mormon Women

If you read nothing else about Mormon women for the rest of your life, you should read and meditate on this recent post on The Exponent.

Therein you will observe the raw wound of LDS womanhood. In my opinion, this is the spiritual cost of i) Brigham Young's original shutdown of The Relief Society (so as to silence Emma), and then ii) the ultimate wresting of control of this auxiliary away from women completely by Harold B. Lee when he implemented the Correlation Program (while David O. McKay was slipping into convalescence) to rewrite the Church in anticipation of his own presidency.

Joseph Smith set up the Relief Society to be a quorum of priests "as in Enoch's day." Do you know what that means? It means that the intent of the group was to make contact with, and then walk and talk with beings from Heaven. The end goal of such a quorum would be the reception of the City of Enoch described in Moses 7:

"63 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other;"

Compare that scripture with what the writer describes as what LDS women currently aspire to:

"If we make it to where we are supposedly equals in the afterlife, Almighty and Omnipotent with our husbands, we are then hidden. Virtually erased. Our posterity doesn’t really know who we are, or even how many of us there are. They aren’t allowed to worship or pray to us; we may not be able to speak to them. No doctrine, no scripture. Just silence and speculation."

Even the joy of communing with God and heaven is left bereft by the current LDS “understanding” of Mormon cosmology. For LDS women, this state of anonymity that is projected onto Heavenly Mother has been made into an expectation of their future feminine godhood.

What a travesty this is. This does not sound at all like Enoch’s understanding of Heaven, but It does sound like the type of perverse understanding of gods that would result from a people essentially choosing to abandon the goal of establishing Zion. It does sound like the understanding of gods that would come from a people who look to their leaders to prophesy, see, and reveal for them.  It does sound like the understanding of godly things that would come from a people who had abandoned the Restoration.

When a hierarchy of churchmen cannot tell you anything more about our Heavenly Mother then was revealed before 1844, then they are not prophets. They see and reveal nothing because they are not in contact with God.

The final line of her post is damning:

“If only men would hear our cries.”

God hears these cries. The scriptures consistently remind us of this. They also remind us that His tolerance has a limit before he acts. But we should remember that She could act before he does.

Friday, August 23, 2019

After Creation

pic stolen, text used with permission.
After creation,
the Mother needed
to rest. But,
before She slept,
She held the world
to Her skin and
sighed, You
are good.

-Rachel Hunt Steenblik

Friday, August 9, 2019

What "to" vs. "unto" Could Mean to a Veiled Priestess

This is probably old hat to many of you, but it occurred to me while meditating on the veiling of women in LDS temples (now abandoned) recently that the meanings of these words are different. 

Unto suggests travel. It is a Middle English term that essentially combines the meaning of until and to. It also suggests subordination.

To can suggest either subordination or superiority. But used in close proximity to unto, it isn't likely to suggest the former. When the speaker of a text uses these two prepositions in successive sentences, logic would suggest that unto always infers subordination. The understanding of to thereafter would not include the element of subordination.

With that in mind, reread the following (from this site):

Brethren, you have been washed and pronounced clean, or that through your faithfulness you may become clean, from the blood and sins of this generation. You have been anointed to become hereafter kings and priests unto the most high God, to rule and reign in the house of Israel forever. 
Sisters, you have been washed and anointed to become queens and priestesses to your husbands.
Because Brigham Young (and the makeshift LDS leadership at the time) had the endowment ceremony for eighteen months (from the time of Joseph Smith's death to its implementation in the Nauvoo Temple prior to the trek west) the possibility exists that any part of the script could have been changed and/or altered during that period. We know, for instance, that the vengeance oaths were inserted by Young following the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum.

But the question that arises from this is: Does Brigham Young's history and reputation suggest that he would implement "unto" and "to" in this manner? Or in other words, would he deploy "priesthood" as subject to God and then infer that "priestesshood" is either equal to or ≥ that of men?

The hierarchy suggested in this implementation of prepositions suggests something else, too: that the quality of being a priest unto God is in no way, shape, or form necessary to his status as a God. It is simply an offer that he puts on the table, to endow his power to men as a gift. But then the to afterward infers that women have already been endowed with some measure of godly power.

Being a priestess that creates temple bodies with her temple is one thing (only women create. Men provide part of the blueprint, but all mitosis is executed in the womb). Any fertile woman has that power with or without going to the temple. But the endowment here is different: to be "a priestess to your husband", with the understanding of the above explanation of to and unto, infers that a properly endowed woman would be the priestess that performs a saving ordinance for her husband that he can obtain in no other way. 

This may help us understand why God, who can create with a word, has the power of creation at all. Christ suggests in his Parable of the Talents that good stewards of creative power here (only women create in mortality) are given mastery of that power in Eternity. Mastery always includes the power to delegate, and God the Father may be utilizing the power of creation delegated to him by God the Mother.

After what I have read on Brigham Young (a man who acted like a heathen god, but also admitted that he had never seen God), I don't think he would intentionally infer (or rubber stamp) these notions in the text of the endowment at all. Meaning that, in my opinion, the "unto" and "to" utilized in the endowment slipped through his edit unchanged.

It makes much more sense for these notions to have come from, or through, the man who insisted that the Relief Society would be "a kingdom of priests as in Enoch's day".

It also makes more sense that women would be veiled instead of men in the endowment.

A lot has been made of the idea that women in various cultures veil themselves at the behest of men. In recent and ancient practices, this may be true as a matter of law (Middle Assyrian, 1400-1100 BC) or enforced regional norms. But all should be reminded that the Koran was written in 609 AD, and that Rebekah veiled herself in response to meeting Isaac around the time of Sarah's death (the Patriarchal Age, approximately 1860 BC).

If the inferences of "unto" and "to" explained above represent anything authentic with regard to the Godhead, then our understanding of Rebekah veiling herself may not be about the local law, societal norms, or any kind of subordination. It may be a show of understood authority (and thereby a confident offer of eternal consequence).

I would never suggest that any woman, having had a negative experience with the veil in an LDS temple, is wrong. Women are intuitive and spiritual beings, and the experiences that they report of their own accord should be taken at face value.

There most certainly is a tradition that suggests that the veiling of women indicates that they are the chattel of men. But to me, all of these patriarchal/misogynist traditions were never of God. Likewise, I think that the LDS tradition has been bastardized by corrupt leaders who altered the Restoration given through Joseph Smith.

My reading of The Mormon Priestess by Liz Hammond is likely as sobering as anyone's. But she erroneously inserts "unto" into the queens/priestesses promise to women in her fourth paragraph. The initiatory and the Welcome and Introduction sections of both the 1990 and pre-1990 versions of the Endowment render that part of the statement the same:

"...queens and priestesses to your husbands."

I think Mrs. Hammond's essay is a very valuable critique, and it should be read by every person who has ever been in a Mormon endowment. She characterizes every female covenant as being made to the husband in question (rather than to God), and that is an element that very much seems to be, to me at least, part of our temple inheritance from Brigham Young.

I find it appropriate that Hammond's essay is collected with Valerie Hudson's essay, The Two Trees, in the book Mormon Feminism (edited by, among others, an old friend of mine, Rachel Hunt Steenblick). I started my own journey through these ideas with Hudson's essay, and I had no critique for it when I published my own book back in 2011. But after reading Hammond some years ago, it struck me that Hudson's theory of complements only works if the men in the church hold up their end of the covenant, and can still constitute a branch of one of the trees in question.

Because as damning as implementing a textual emphasis on subjugating women is, I would assert in tandem that it is just as damning for our ordinances to be limp and unextraordinary in comparison to those we read about in scripture.  Section 84 makes the nature of valid ordinances very plain, and if "the power of godliness" is not in fact manifest in the ordinances, then it is a strong indication that the COJCOLDS has been cut off from The Restoration.

Then the questions that follow concern why Moses and Christ are veiled in scripture, and then why women are veiled in the temple and not men. It would seem that the temple, by veiling women, associates them with our savior and also a prophet in the midst of face-to-face interaction with the Almighty. The absence of veils on men, therefore, would indicate why "unto" is utilized in the male part of the rite.

I do not know anyone who associates Christ's veiling with the notion of him being 'chattel', and Moses' veiling in Exodus 34 was a matter of protecting the children of Israel from his face, which was drenched in godly power.

In the context of the temple, it makes no sense to fall back upon the world's longstanding abuses of veiling as the primary comparison. That is... unless those in power over the current rite have adopted that tradition of abuse.

Out of impure hands, we must view the collective text for what it originally said and inferred. It makes far more sense to associate veiling rites with the instances of veiling in scripture where the power of godliness is manifest. And then it is important to admit that almost the whole of LDS (and other Mormon) leadership since the martyrdom has not only not held that power in any authentic sense, but have also completely misunderstood women within the cosmology of their own rites and texts.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lying about the Body (Part 3)

James Baldwin famously claimed that he wasn't "your nigger". He makes some strong points in this video about how the term refers to something that doesn't really exist.

It reminded me of this 1967 article in which even W.E.B. DeBois had trouble coming to grips with the term negro: