How do you tap into your center’s ancient wisdom?
How do you nourish the roots of the feminine?
Twelve women share exquisite responses to these questions in a free telesummit hosted by Barbara Hanneloré, author of The Moon and You: A Woman’s Guide to an Easier Monthly Cycle.
You can read about each presenter and their expertise at nourishthefeminine.com
I’m honored to be taking part in this event. My conversation with Barbara, available on April 22, focuses on connecting with the Sacred Feminine.
What’s more: When you register for the telesummit at nourishthefeminine.com, you’re on your way to receiving gifts from each of the twelve presenters.
What’s their role in every-human liberation? In creating and sustaining loving relationships?
People often ask me “What about men?” as I’m praising women’s bellies as sacred, not shameful. Praising our body’s center as home to the soul-power kin to the Source Energy creating, sustaining, and renewing the world.
What about men? Don’t they have soul-power too?
What about men? That’s also the title of a chapter my editor chose not to include in The Woman’s Belly Book, a book on women’s multi-dimensional empowerment. You can read the full text of that chapter here.
The chapter’s major point: As a man enters into his own wholeness, integrating feminine and masculine polarities,
he begins to perceive a woman as a person, informed by her own purpose. His need to control her diminishes. He becomes more capable of entering into a relationship of mutual respect.
As men increasingly live and breathe from center, they prepare themselves to enter into the egalitarian relationships many women desire, and which we deserve. Truly loving relationships can develop as the partners each live from their inner source of being and support each other in returning to their core wisdom, again and again. In this way the relationship takes its strength from the shared center that emerges in the partners’ midst.
As men and women support each other in coming home to ourselves, we can engender a more peaceful, just, and sustainable way of being human together on this planet.
Loving relationships? There’s a story, its origin said to be circa 1450, that — by my lights — holds the key to loving relationships between women and men.
I came across this story as I was preparing The Woman’s Belly Book and its companion, the Rite For Reconsecrating Our Womanhood. As part of my research, I delved into Maureen Murdock’s book, The Heroine’s Journey.
Murdock tells the story of Lady Ragnell and Sir Gawain. The story is part and parcel of Arthurian legend; it relates to other tales of transformation as well.
You can read the original in Middle English here and adaptations into modern English here and here. In brief, the story demonstrates just what restores women’s beauty and balance: Men perceiving women as persons, informed by our own purpose. Men recognizing, respecting, and supporting our autonomy, our sovereignty.
Respecting our sovereignty? A man by the name of Padma Aon Prakasha copied the text of my “What About Men?” chapter into his own book — without ever asking my permission. In his “note to the reader” he asserts his entitlement to appropriate others’ words. That’s either amusing or appalling, or maybe both.
But here’s something much more interesting, and a thrill: My friend Denise Ostler (a.k.a. Merri Beacon) has of her own accord, without any previous inkling of Lady Ragnell’s story, written her own and up-to-date version as part of her Fairytale Medicine series.
Her Goals & Dreams tale begins:
Once upon a time, in a tiny kingdom, there dwelt a sweet princess who cared for injured animals. She created a special place in the royal stables where she could tend to her patients. She loved her work, but alas, it was time for her to marry.
The king narrowed her suitors down to three eligible princes. Each prince was invited to dine at the castle and give a speech about why he would be the best match for the princess. On the first night, a very handsome and confident prince stood to address the royal assembly….
The story continues here. Enjoy!
The story begins years ago, when I sprained my left ankle, really badly.
The chiropractor suggested I go to the physical therapy supply store and buy a wobble board. The idea was to step side-to-side on this miniature see-saw, a wooden plank perched upon a cylinder, strengthening the tendons in the ankle I had damaged.
Reluctant to pay the high-end price for this gizmo, I stepped into the nearest toy store and found a toy balance board brightly colored in blue and red, complete with a built-in maze game, actually a simple labyrinth.
The Woman’s Belly Book describes how labyrinths relate to the body’s center, the belly’s center:
The labyrinth defines a path into and out from center. As a sacred symbol, it maps a journey from the everyday world to the secret core of existence. It charts a path to the World Navel, the point through which the life force emerges to revitalize the world.
From ancient times, cultures throughout the world from the Arctic to Africa have made labyrinths in a variety of designs. The labyrinth appears on cave walls, stone slabs, grave markers, pottery, coins, and the bellies of clay figurines…. Although many associations accompany the design, in some traditions the labyrinth clearly signifies a woman’s belly. The path through the pattern traces the soul’s return to the womb and its emergence in rebirth.
I recently took my balance board out of its box to exercise my ankles and keep them flexible. Stepping side to side, I tried getting the game’s yellow ball from the labyrinth’s outer channel into the center. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t do it. Swishing as it spun, the ball swung around too fast for me to maneuver it through the narrow gateway into the next inner circle.
So I gave up and just played around with initiating the side-to-side motion with different parts of my body: feet, knees, hips, shoulders. Left, right; left, right.
Left, right; left, right: Initiating the movement with my hips made the motion smooth, almost effortless.
Eventually, I no longer heard the sound of the yellow ball circling around. I looked down and saw the sphere had come to rest in the labyrinth’s center. With absolutely no effort on my part.
A hole in one, so to speak. What are the chances?
Left hip, right hip: Marking the endpoints — the extremes, the opposites — locates the center.
For reasons I’ll tell you another time, I’ve been studying French. But for now, I’ll tell you this: The first meaning of balancer in French is “to swing.”
To swing between left and right. Between this and that. To be the and linking the extremes, to embrace the opposites as complements. To be the whole in one.
As Rainer Maria Rilke has written, translated by Robert Bly in The Winged Energy of Delight:
Take your well disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two
opposing poles. Because inside human beings
is where God learns.
Winter Solstice and Christmas stories are all about birthing: the light returns, the divine becomes human.
Before I continue about Magdalene, Mary, and birth-giving, ending with a prayer for us all, here are four versions of my season’s greetings card for you (including one in French), images celebrating embodiment. Clicking on each thumbnail will take you to a larger display.
The stories surrounding Mary and Magdalene present different versions of birth-giving: one virginal, the other not so much.
Mary’s miracle-style birth-giving is well-reported and classically virginal. Some suggest that spiritually adept women have, through time, prepared themselves to birth parthenogenetically — no male consort required — in order to bring an avatar, a world-changing holy person, into being.
Magdalene’s woman-style birth-giving, Jesus having been her consort, has long been hushed, largely relegated to fiction — yet legends continue in the south of France, Margaret Starbird‘s The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, and Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
Such legends contend that Magdalene gave birth to Sarah, also known as Sara-la-Kali. The Roma (gypsies) recognize Sarah as their patron saint. Making a yearly pilgrimage to the coastal Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer (Saints Marys of the Sea), they celebrate Sarah’s arrival by boat from Jerusalem.
Sarah arrived with a number of refugees, said to include Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobe, and Mary Salome; one of the site’s original names is la Ville-des-Trois-Maries (the City of the Three Marys).
Three Marys. I feel such a resonance with the significance of three. Do you? It’s archetypal. I have the sense that something — one or two someones — is missing from the Christmas story as it’s so often told.
Some suggest that the Egyptian story of Isis, Osiris, and Horus presents a parallel to the Christmas story. Briefly, in one of many versions, Isis is sister, wife, and mother to Osiris.
A vengeful rival murders Osiris, cuts his body into pieces, scatters the fragments. Isis gathers the fragments and pieces them together. Having re-membered her husband’s body, she impregnates herself. Giving birth to a child, Horus, she rebirths Osiris. Horus grows up to become Osiris and the cycle continues.
Isis, presented in mythic terms, is sister-wife-mother. She is three-in-one.
Who Lost the Marys?
The conventional Christmas story gives us only one Mary, the parthenogenetic mother Mary. Where are sister Mary and wife Mary?
I suspect that at least two cultural processes have cut them from the scene. One is literalization. One woman as sister and wife and mother? Eew. We really don’t want Oedipus Rex in a Santa Claus suit under the Christmas tree now, do we? We take our stories literally these days, losing the mythic meaning-by-metaphor.
The other is fragmentation and loss. We separate out aspects of the once-whole Great Goddess into distinct representations, then choose to keep some aspects and abandon others.
In this and every season, may we re-member our original wholeness. May we open to and embody the light that surrounds us. May we know ourselves as sacred beings.
Legend has it that, following the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene fled to southern France, spending the last years of her life in the sanctuary of Sainte Baume. Her relics are said to rest in a church in nearby Saint Maximin.
Whoever Mary Magdalene was in fact, whether she partnered with Jesus to birth a child, whatever her actual history, the idea of her heartens and strengthens me. For me, and perhaps for you too, she carries the energy of fierce compassion, fearless integrity. A woman interweaving spirit and matter, activating her body-centered power to manifest creation. A gutsy woman par excellence.
This sense of woman integrating heaven and earth, sheltering pro-creative power within her body’s center, may be as old as human consciousness.
Much of what we know about human origins comes to us from southern France, the prehistoric cave paintings and engravings discovered there. Our ancestors’ art, such as the Venus of Laussel, shows our original impulse to revere women and the center of women’s bodies.
Seventeen and one-half inches high, this ochre-stained limestone engraving dates back 25,000 years. Discovered in 1911 in the Dordogne, the engraving has been a central inspiration for The Woman’s Belly Book.
The Venus of Laussel brings forth a full-figured woman. She rests her left hand on her belly, perhaps pointing to her navel. Her head turns over her right shoulder; she’s looking at the horn she’s holding up in her right hand. Thirteen lines scratch the horn’s surface.
Who knows what the sculptors had in mind and heart when they carved out this figure? Who knows what they meant their work to signify?
As I see her, this figure is using her arms and hands to link her belly with the calculation, the calendar, which is the horn she is holding.
The horn’s crescent shape reprises a phase of the moon. With a count of thirteen marks on the horn, the engraving as a whole may be noting the year’s thirteen lunar months as well as women’s annual round of thirteen menstrual cycles.
In effect, this engraving presents the cycles implicit in a woman’s body in relation to the cycles marked by celestial bodies.
More precisely, it presents not only a relationship but also a directionality. With the figure’s head turned toward the horn as one hand remains on her belly, the engraving suggests a directional flow of attention and influence from belly to horn. In this way, it suggests that a generative force flows from the pro-creative power abiding within a woman’s belly to the measured process of time and space in the manifest world.
In southern France, figures such as the Venus of Laussel reveal our ancestors’ appreciation for the pro-creative potency of women’s bodies. Legends and sacred sites rooted there also give us ground for celebrating Mary Magdalene and the provocative inspiration she provides.
The Venus of Laussel, the presence of Mary Magdalene: is one so very different from the other?
After all, what happens when you advocate the state-sanctioned rape of potentially every woman of child-bearing age in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia?
You’re offending quite a few women and our wombs. As maven of The Woman’s Belly Book, I need to look into this.
Here’s the thing: Former governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell has been convicted on eleven counts of public corruption. A jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of exchanging political favors for personal gain.
During the trial, a tawdry picture of the McDonnell family’s mischief emerged. Mischief that in no way matches the Christian family values that McDonnell has been so fond of trumpeting.
On January 6, 2015 McDonnell goes to federal court for sentencing. The maximum prison term for each of the eleven charges is 20 years.
That’s the upshot of the U.S. District Attorney’s probe into McDonnell’s behavior as governor. But there’s another probe winding through this story.
The transvaginal probe.
While he was governor, McDonnell championed a bill that would have required transvaginal probes into women seeking abortions.
McDonnell was all for imposing state-sanctioned medicalized rape … until his advisors pointed out some of the legal implications.
The legislature ended up changing the required ultrasound from internal transvaginal to external abdominal. Commenting on the change, McDonnell seemed to both endorse and regret it:
[W]hat I recommended to the General Assembly, and they adopted the other day, is let’s make the requirement for the abdominal ultrasound…. I also got legal advice from various people, including my Attorney General, that these kinds of mandatory invasive requirements might run afoul of Fourth Amendment law. …But I was certainly supportive of that concept.
The purpose of requiring these ultrasounds, proponents say, is to assure women are giving their informed consent to ending a pregnancy. Yet research reliably documents that seeing an ultrasound does not alter a woman’s choice for an abortion. Imposing the ultrasound only increases the price of the procedure.
Before becoming governor, McDonnell was Virginia’s Attorney General. How could an Attorney General be so vague about the Fourth Amendment, the Constitutional protection we citizens enjoy against government’s unreasonable search and seizure? Why did he need advising that these “mandatory invasive requirements” would be illegal?
After all, he’s a lawyer.
Really? Yes. He earned his law degree — listen to this — at Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network University, rebranded in 1989 as Regent University.
The blatant irony within this series of events, this scandal, this hypocrisy is in no way satisfying. It’s heart-breaking, gut-wrenching.
Bob McDonnell is not the only politician who has been pushing the transvaginal probe. Across the nation, some politicos are so greedy for power that they’ll flatter their ambitions by poking up into women’s vaginas uninvited.
All I can say is: Watch out. That probe may wreak a revenge of its own.
Who is Mary Magdalene? We may never know, historically.
But I might have met her one day last spring in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Thistle Stop Café.
The energy in and around this breakfast-and-lunch spot was overpowering, literally. I felt as if an archangel hovered, as if some sky-high bird sheltered this place within its indestructible wings — guarding, protecting, sustaining.
What’s so special about this storefront café? It’s one of several enterprises run by an outfit called Thistle Farms. It fronts the slogan “Love Heals.”
I have to tell you: That’s the reality of the place. It’s not a cuddly kind of love. It’s love that is fierce moment-to-moment presence. Hard-earned, razor’s edge, breath-by-breath presence. What emerges when you’ve been knee-deep in death and choose to step through it into life.
Before I say anything more, here’s some background on MM:
Legends, blockbuster movies, and scraps of evidence about Mary Magdalene raise more questions than they answer. Was she a penitent whore whom Jesus forgave and graced with redemption? Was she his wife, mother of their child? Was she his most capable disciple, the apostle who most truly walked the talk of his teaching? Was she his consort, partner, collaborator in creating a compelling path of love? Did she teach him everything he went on to preach?
Certainly, she’s a mirror. How we hold her tells us something about who we are.
For the Bellyqueen
As bellyqueen, I’m about inspiring and guiding women to know our body’s center as sacred, not shameful. So I have to ask: What about Mary Magdalene’s middle?
In this light, the Holy Grail takes on new levels of meaning.
For some, the Holy Grail is the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. For others, it’s the cup into which Joseph of Arimathea collected Jesus’ blood as he died on the cross.
What if the Holy Grail — San Graal in Old French — refers to Mary Magdalene herself? What if the Grail signifies her pregnant belly as she carried Jesus’ royal blood — Sang Raal — into a new generation?
Often pictured as a chalice, the Holy Grail represents life beyond death. Its sacred geometry incorporates the square root of 2, the principle of transformation, in the same proportions that locate the soul power centered within the human body — what the Japanese call hara.
In this sense, the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene’s belly-centered power to promote creation through childbirth as well as in every dimension of being. This pro-creative power, kin to the Power of Being that sustains the world, dwells within each of us, linking our souls to eternal life.
As bellyqueen, I see Magdalene as inspiration for us each to honor the Source Energy concentrated within our body’s center, to embrace the sacredness of life and carry it forward.
For the Roman Catholic Church
Apparently the Roman Catholic Church saw Magdalene as a threat to its celibate monastic-style male priesthood and its institutional hierarchy.
Mixing and matching various New Testament texts, the Roman Catholic Church ignored Mary Magdalene’s role as Jesus’ closest disciple, first among the apostles. Pope Gregory officially cast her as a prostitute in the year 591; the Church continued calling her a whore until 1969. As Cynthia Bourgeault writes in The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity,
a new generation of Bible scholarship has corrected the glaring inaccuracy of her earlier portrayal as a prostitute and is steadily laying the groundwork by which we will sooner or later be able to fully reclaim her role as Jesus’s spiritual partner and lineage bearer…. (p. 179)
This new scholarship draws on both the familiar gospels and on ancient texts excluded from the New Testament’s approved table of contents. Mary Magdalene, says Bourgeault, comes forward as
“first among the apostles” not simply … because she was the first on the scene at the resurrection but in a more fundamental way: because she gets the message. Of all the disciples, she is the only one who fully understands what Jesus is teaching and can reproduce it in her own life. Her position of leadership is earned, and it is specifically validated by Jesus himself. (p. 41)
Just what is Jesus teaching? In Bourgeault’s words:
Ultimately, it is not about “clean living” and purity, but the total immolation of one’s heart. (p. 29)
Even though the Church rehabilitated Mary Magdalene’s reputation in 1969, it continued applying her name to its slave labor camps for “fallen” women — the Magdalene Laundries — for more than two decades. The last of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland closed in 1996.
For Thistle Farms
In 1996, Magdalene’s name appeared in Nashville, in relation to a different sort of establishment for women.
This Magdalene is a residential program serving women coming off the streets and out of jail — women who’ve survived prostitution, trafficking, addiction, and homelessness. It’s radical, extravagant hospitality: Magdalene provides women longterm housing, food, medical and dental treatment, drug rehab, therapy, and education without charging residents a cent or receiving government funding.
Thistle Farms is Magdalene’s sister organization and social enterprise providing job training and paid employment. The business includes hand-crafted papermaking, herbal body careproduct manufacturing, and the remarkable Thistle Stop Café. Established in 2001, Thistle Farms’ annual sales now top $1 million, profits reinvested to support the residential program.
More than a thousand people from more than a hundred cities have visited Magdalene and Thistle Farms during the past two years, eager to see what makes the residential program and the social enterprise so successful.
On the Scene
One of about fifty visitors, I spent a day in Nashville last spring. Magdalene women toured us through one of the program’s houses, the manufacturing facilities, and the sewing and papermaking studios. We gathered in the Thistle Stop Café for a morning meditation with Thistle Farms employees, lunch, and afternoon discussions with Cary Rayson, Magdalene’s Executive Director, and Becca Stevens, Episcopal priest and Magdalene’s founder.
Among the many questions they addressed: What sets women up for prostitution? In Becca’s words:
If prostitution is the world’s oldest “profession,” then child sexual abuse is one generation older. The experience of unmitigated sexual abuse in childhood is the single most common event in the lives of women at Magdalene.
Current statistics reveal that one in ten children in the United States are sexually abused by the time they are eighteen. Can you relate? I can. As Becca noted, the fifty of us who’d come to check out Thistle Farms that day were there for a reason, a resonance.
There in the Thistle Stop Café, speaking with and listening to the Magdalene women, the seasoned program staff, the dedicated community volunteers — that’s when and where I felt an energy so strong it nearly knocked me off my feet.
Well, no wonder. Written into its mission, emblazoned wherever the words will fit, the truth that Magdalene enacts is: Love is the most powerful force in the world for change. Powerful enough, certainly, to change my position from the vertical.
Magdalene makes her presence known in this place through this force-of-nature love. And through the transformation, the resurrection of women’s lives. The wisdom and creativity that shape home and work settings into venues for community healing. The letting go and letting be that open into compassion and generosity, abundant grace.
At one point in her presentation, Becca answered a question about whether and how her vision had changed since starting Magdalene. She replied:
I’ve learned that our job is not to change the world. Our job is to change ourselves so that we may more fully love the world as it is.
Her words cleared a deep silence in the room. After several moments of stillness, a woman asked Becca to say those words again, and many notebooks opened to a new page. No wonder: That’s as fine a teaching on “letting be” as I’ve ever heard.
Magdalene and Thistle Farms serve as a model, inspiring similar projects already established or on their way in the United States and abroad. Cities including New Orleans, St. Louis, and Sylva, North Carolina are now home to Magdalene-style programs.
The Magdalene women are also convening a global coalition of social enterprises that employ marginalized women and move them out of poverty. Called Shared Trade, this coalition is designed to promote business development on a cooperative basis.
Shared Trade will launch at “Roots: Digging Deep & Growing Hope,” the national conference Thistle Farms is hosting October 12-14.
Magdalene and friends appear to be alive and well in Nashville and in points around the world. She may be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.