Archetypes of the Divine: The Divine Feminine
Fay Barratt interviewed by Martin Nathanael
Martin: Fay, as I understand it, the Divine Feminine plays an important part within your spirituality and it’s also a source for your teaching – you run workshops on this particular subject. Would you like to share with me how this aspect of divinity works in your life?
Fay: Yes. First of all I want to stress what you’ve said, Martin, that it is an aspect of divinity and that I’m not placing any competition between masculine and feminine; I’m perhaps looking at redressing a balance. What I’m looking at is a pathway to that place beyond masculine and feminine. When I returned to the spiritual path after many years away from it, I was quite wounded around the masculine notion of God, and it seems somehow the feminine gateway opened up for me – I was able to move closer to the divine through that. Nowadays, of course, it’s not just one side for me; I have no problem with the masculine aspect - the wounding has healed. But neither do I neglect the feminine.
The feminine aspect for me is in essence to do with surrender, to do with opening, and softness. It’s that part of us which is not plans and lists, it’s not straight lines. It’s curves and spirals and an acceptance of chaos that acknowledges the shakti that the Hindus speak of, the creative force that cannot be held back. The masculine energy brings forth the intention of the out-breath of creation but the shakti is that creative force itself. So within my own life, it’s really consciously connecting with aspects of the Divine Feminine herself from various traditions to help me connect with that part of divinity within myself. I’m not against speaking about “the goddess within”, I don’t want to demean that idea, but this is not what I’m looking for. I’m not looking for the goddess within me. I’m looking for divinity within me. Because we tend to follow the pathway of our culture which is very biased in the masculine direction – we need the masculine, we need to be able to plan and structure – but we also need the feminine, and particularly in our spiritual life we need to understand what it is to completely surrender and to open up and to allow All That Is to enter us – and that’s a very feminine way of being.
Martin: That’s an amazing description. How did you discover the feminine? Obviously, you talked about your wounded phase, but there must have been a point where you discovered this possibility – was it in one particular tradition?
Fay: It was a mixture of traditions, actually. I remember hearing – I think it was in some film on television - the Hail, Mary chant being said, which took me back to my original religion, but to a part of it which I’d forgotten, and it just cried out to me, called me. So I found myself driving along reciting the Hail, Mary. That was perhaps the first call. The second call came when someone mentioned Mother Meera, who is an Indian manifestation of the Divine Mother within the Hindu tradition, although people from all traditions go to her. And as soon as I heard that name, my head swivelled around, and it was like another calling. These callings really supported me in moving forward and inward spiritually, which was a place that at the time that was still a bit scary to me, you know - I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. In the Hindu tradition of the major deities there is a masculine aspect and a feminine aspect, and it is not hierarchical; the masculine aspect is not higher than the feminine, these are just two sides of the same energy. So if we look at the Shiva energy, the path-maker, the destroyer and the Kali energy – we have the masculine and the feminine, but it’s part of one thing. As I began to understand that, it really nourished me. And of course what also nourished me are the traditions that we feel into from these islands that I’ve been born into and grown up on – the ancient worship of the goddess which we don’t know much about; all we know from archaeology is that up until a certain period men and women were buried equally, and there appeared to be women with objects of spiritual leadership as well as men, generally around Europe. This later changed; women lost this status within the burials. Also we know, many goddess statues have been found from Neolithic times. This earth culture then came into the Celtic, the Nordic, ancient Greek and early Christian - where the feminine was honoured, and it’s something that we’ve lost contact with but is coming in strongly now.
Martin: You said earlier that you saw the aspect of feminine spirituality in terms of the qualities of surrender and openness. In what ways do you practice this? Are there particular ways of cultivating surrender and openness, and are these ways that you also teach in your workshops?
Fay: Yes. And the way that I run a workshop or a retreat that is based on the divine feminine is in itself a teaching, because I turn up with a group of people with absolutely no plans. Of course, I’ve got experience; there are things I can pull down from the sleeve, but I’m completely offering myself in surrender to be guided and responsive, and so far that’s led to the most wonderful expressions of devotion, of ritual, of sharing and very deep meditations. So the invitation is always for the rest of the group also to surrender to whatever is arising in that moment.
Martin: That answers my question. You have to walk your talk. If you’re asking people to surrender and open – and we haven’t used the word intuitive yet, have we. I presume this involves awakening of the intuitive dimension of ourselves (Fay; Yes it does) - then, you can’t really have a totally planned workshop in which you encourage people to be intuitive and open!
Fay: And even though I trust in this, it still brings up great fear in me. So usually the first night, if I’m doing a residential, I wake up at three in the morning thinking, What on earth am I doing? These people have turned up, they’re paying money, I don’t know where this is going! It will bring up fear, because we are so unused to that. But if we can just keep stepping through that fear and get out of the way – what helps me is then I think, well actually, it’s got nothing to do with me.
Martin: Well, I think the greatest teachers, male or female, are those who can teach spontaneously, anyway, who do trust. And I presume, if we’re looking at it in terms of male and female, they’re actually opening to that feminine aspect of their being.
Fay: It’s not about whether you’re a man or a woman, although the things I do tend to attract women more than men.
Martin: Do you get men on your workshops as well?
Fay: Well, I haven’t so far, but I’ve never excluded them. I don’t advertise them as women’s workshops.
Martin: That’s interesting, because some workshops that I’ve seen, which emphasise that this is a Goddess workshop or an invitation to the Divine Feminine, do specify that this is a women only workshop.
Fay: Neither have I said, Men and women welcome! So that would be interesting to do that and see what happened.
Martin: It might be worth experimenting and see whether you would get any men, and what they might contribute. Because, I suppose ultimately the work is to take these two poles and harmonise them, because ultimately the Source of everything is itself beyond gender, and yet it contains those qualities.
Fay: Yes, in the world of duality, we experience things as light-dark, masculine-feminine – and so we’re looking at the fullness of our experience for whoever we are.
Martin: Fay, is there anything you’d like to add, to wind up this conversation, a pearl you’d like to drop in that I haven’t asked you about?
Fay: Something I offer students in the Interfaith Seminary, to do as their assigned work, is to have a look at the different manifestations of the Divine Feminine within the different religions or myths, and to see which one draws them. Then to start the day, for a little while, you might decide to do it for a week or a month, simply dedicating yourself to that particular manifestation of the divine feminine – it might be Mary Magdalene, it might be Kwan Yin, or some other - and just allow whatever arises, to meet that energy. What arises may be to sit quietly, it may be to dance – just allowing it to arise, see what comes up when you dedicate just a little time in the morning to that particular energy. Interview, September 18th 2008