By Carin Michaels
I have been intrigued by the feminine since my teens when I read The Feminine Face of God by Sherry Ruth Anderson and Patricia Hopkins. At that time, their words were contradictory to my Catholic upbringing. Yet, I continued to see incongruities when describing the masculine and feminine energies of our world and I was intuitive enough to understand our lexicon was limiting.
I posed many similar questions to different spiritual leaders in our community in an effort to educate myself about the Ann Arbor goddess scene. They all recognized the dominant masculine energies which pervade our society and still they were hopeful, funny, erudite, and, most importantly, wise. They helped me see that I wasn’t confused, but that the grander cosmos was unaligned.
In my clumsy attempt to learn the basics, I discovered a world-renowned scholar on the feminine, Anne Baring. I was listening to the podcast on her website while driving to New York when it crashed. I alerted Ms. Baring to the problem, and while waiting for it to get fixed, I struck up a virtual friendship. I confessed to her that I was a novice on the topic and I was anxious about putting together this article. Her counsel was wise as she said, “There is no one fixed truth, but many at varying stages on the path of discovery.”
I took her words to mean that I understood my topic well enough to write about it. I understood, as Dr. Reverend Susan King, co-director of the Interfaith Roundtable of Washtenaw County said, that we are in a shift right now for rebalance of the feminine. Rev Manish Mishra-Marzetti, of First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor, helped me understand that our energies defy labels, and his visions were innately communal. Kate Durda, a shaman from Spirit Weavers, explained that breaking down the feminine and masculine into parts is the problem. Kathy Laritz of Jewel Heart, spoke to the feminine being wisdom and compassion being masculine. Overall, as I progressed through each interview, my view of the feminine was changing.
There was power in their words, and I clearly saw what the poet, John Keats meant when he said, “I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds.” I compel each one of you to defy what you know to be true, and step into the unknown to find your balance of masculine and feminine energies. Personally, I have made a seismic shift because I’ve discovered two things: that the soul is not in me, but I am part of the soul, and that is very feminine.
Interview with Dr. Rev. Susan King
Carin Michaels: Tell our readers about yourself and your work?
Rev. Susan King: I am co-director of the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County (IRTWC), an ordained Interfaith Minister, and a monk. We work as an alliance with spiritual leaders and individuals across faith traditions to address the deep and divisive issues and concerns that challenge our world today.
Michaels: What is your definition of the feminine face of God?
Rev. King: I will reference the Tao from the East, as it allows me to describe the concept, which represents unity of the source. The dark part is the feminine, or receptive force, and the light part is the masculine, or the active force. Within the feminine is a small circle of the light considered the creative, and within the masculine is a small dark circle considered procreative. If you’re born into the female form, then you carry this creative light inside as a part of your spirit essence. If you’re born into the masculine form you carry this procreative feminine in the spirit. We have to work to find this unity within ourselves. I use these concepts as energetic forces. They are not things. I’m not totally comfortable speaking about these concepts in terms of spirit and body forms given patriarchal western historical context, where the church for a very long time has tried to create dualism: good/bad, heaven/hell, spirit/body. Hence, the masculine and feminine can carry distorted connotations.
Michaels: But if we go back to the original lunar phase of spirituality when we assumed the soul was pure, would that be a good reference point?
Rev. King: Yes, if we assume the body was pure too, I would have no problem with this definition. You’re in a land of high distortion here.
Michaels: I was thinking in terms of pure spirit. But what about the body? What if someone was born female but carries with them masculine attributes or vice versa? I know I’m in dangerous territory here.
Rev. King: Don’t make it gender; it is not about gender. Once again, we’re not talking about men and women, were talking about masculine and feminine energies that we all embody. I think that’s where the confusion comes in. We have access to all of this [energy]. I could be any or all of that. It doesn’t matter what my body is. I’m speaking about how we talk about the source, and the energies that come out, and where they land: we have named receptive and procreative as feminine energies, and the active, creative, as more masculine energies.
Michaels: Given the aforementioned then, what would be your definition of the feminine face of God?
Rev. King: The feminine face of God is the womb of all creation, or said another way, it’s the void out of which all light is birthed. Energetically, as Sophia. It’s the compassion and the mercy—she is wisdom. The feminine face of God carries the wisdom of all potentiality, of everything that is seen and unseen.
The energetics of the feminine knows in ways that do not come when you’re talking about it; talking is masculine, because the facts are active and creative. Knowledge streams in through the head and feeds into the heart, to meet up in the deeper unknown for us to become wise. The feminine doesn’t start from the head; it rises up from the womb as an intuitive sense to the heart to meet that which we know. The feminine is wisdom; the masculine is that insight; when masculine and feminine meet, we become wise.
Michaels: Can you speak to the split of the feminine versus masculine, be it with gods, consciousness, or their meta narratives?
Rev. King: The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain talks about the story we use today to explain this. In the beginning we made sense of reality based on the things we could see in the natural world. We knew that females gave birth, and that was primary to everything continuing. It was said that we didn’t know that it took a male to impregnate, or that it took sperm, but I don’t know if that’s the made up part of this story. Since everything was born of the feminine, then the closest objectification for those forces beyond nature that we did not have control of, were deemed to be the gods. We had goddess societies, because if you couldn’t birth things then you couldn’t have life and you couldn’t survive. That’s the greater understanding of how societies were goddess or female focused early in our history. Then — this is just me speaking now, because I’m a student of history, my sense is that things got so weighted to the power of the feminine, that it was emasculating to the energies of logic, reason, and those forces which were directed toward hunting, providing, and seeding. The latter did not carry equity as all the distortion went to the power of the goddess. Shlain argues that the masculine found equity when we began writing and things could be reasoned. When this started to take on more power the energetics shifted from the devotion to the feminine to the devotion of the masculine.
Michaels: Did urban centers and the written word detach us from being influenced by the power of nature, hence the split from the power of the feminine?
Rev. King: Certainly it is our story in terms of where we are now. We have come through a time where we have reached the pinnacle of the pendulum swing, with all the power being in the masculine. Now the feminine is re-arising. Now, [the pendulum] is starting to swing back to the feminine energetics.
Michaels: Can you give me an example of the feminine resurgence today?
Rev. King: Until the 1970s in various informational literature, every ‘he’ represented everyone, because if it said he, then it meant mankind, and even that was male centered. The feministic movement unhinged our language from its reliance on everything being framed through the masculine. This has had a ripple effect everywhere. Christianity, in particular, has opted for shifting and making more inclusive language, so they just don’t talk about everything being God. An example is that Mary, prior to approximately 25 to 30 years ago, was only ascribed the quality and characteristics of the feminine in submission to the masculine, but she is now an entity that is understood energetically as having the power to birth the God. Magdalene has returned to Christianity not as a prostitute, but as the partner, so you can talk about Jesus and Magdalene as being the male and female embodied spirits that were Christo-Sophia, symbolizing union.
Michaels: How do you honor the feminine in your work? Is the most obvious that you became ordained?
Rev. King: I would say I became ordained to be of service to the sacred, all which is sacred. I have in my personal devotion dedicated myself to the divine feminine. I speak to it; I lead prayer services every week in my small community; we do rosary completely dedicated to the divine feminine. I am a monk in a religious order within Christianity called the Oriental Orthodox Order in the West that comes out of India and China. We’re a monastic order, but the monastery, in our understanding, isn’t the old way when you remove yourself from the world. The monastery is the world, so we have members of our order in different parts of the country. We have retreat centers, small worship communities, and here locally, we have The Small House of Contemplation and Prayer. This type of monastic order dates back to the time after Jesus died when the apostles and followers all scattered.
Michaels: How do we become whole, or recover our lost sense of the sacred or being part of something sacred?
Rev. King: This is a great question. Every person you ask that question to, my hope would be, you would get a different answer, because I think that we are an embodied spirit, and in the process of our development and maturation, you automatically begin to return or turn toward your more sacred self. This manifests in so many ways. I had a teacher who said a mid-life crisis is a soul seeking to arise, but the ego can’t find the pathways, so it rebels, and we become a caricature of ourselves, as opposed to really turning into whom we fully are. I would rephrase your question by asking, ‘what are you yearning for? What feels incomplete? What is the “more than” that you are seeking?’ Because that’s a recovery of our sense of the sacred.
Michaels: That speaks to a quote that I wanted to use by Viktor Frankl: “Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life.”
Rev. King: And there we have it in a male language.
Michaels: [laughter] I didn’t mean it that way.
Rev. King: I know you didn’t mean it; like when I said the feminine was a ‘she.’ We’re so engrained in this language. James Hillman, who wrote The Soul Code, explores how we recover this lost sense of the sacred. For example, an acorn is an oak tree, but it has to fall from the tree and go into the ground. Hillman breaks down the process of soul searching into the different stages. Your nascent DNA imprint is that you’re an oak tree, but in order to recover this lost sense of the sacred, we must get in touch with who we truly are. It will automatically take you to unconscious exploration; that’s why I say, there is a million ways to do this. The primal questions that arise in the psyche of every human being are: who am I; where did I come from; why am I here; and, where am I going?
Michaels: Which leads me to wonder how we can find ways of meeting our deepest needs of the human heart for love, relatedness, and connection.
Rev. King: I think that dropping into feminine energetics is a necessary part of it, but once again, why the feminine? Because we’ve been operating in the masculine mode, and until we step into that unknown, or until we step into the dark, we can’t really step into the light.
Michaels: That reminds me of a quote from C.G. Jung, “One does not become enlightened by imagining fires of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
Rev. King: Another way to change that language, so its easier to understand, comes from my 7th grade teacher, Sister Francis Mary, who told me, “You don’t learn anything when you’re speaking, because you can’t say something you don’t already know.” Her point was that we need to listen deeply for meaning. Don’t listen to me to formulate the next thing you’re going to say, but listen so you can actually hear where I’m coming from.
Michaels: How do we relinquish those beliefs and patterns of behavior that have been so damaging to the soul and body, as well as the planet?
Rev. King: We have to deeply listen from our own heart; we have to hear what our soul, or our spirit, or our essence is saying.
Michaels: How do you envision a shift or collective awakening?
Rev. King: I think the collective shift is already happening. If I was going to talk about Trump, he is the chaos movement that is allowing the old paradigm to disintegrate faster, or come apart, because a new one is arising. As the Mayan’s would say: we’ve entered a new world.
Michaels: Is there salvation for the next generation given that our current emphasis is on rational thinking?
Rev. King: The shift won’t be based on rational thinking. In Native American tradition, or those who use lunar or the essence of Mayan teaching, we just finished the fourth world, because there were four former Mayan calendars known, and now here is the fifth one. We’re a part of the energetic matrix that influences everything. It cannot be rationally described; it’s emerging, the new thought forms are still in the nascent stage because we’re in the early phase. We’re bridging two worlds.
Michaels: What is your dream for the cosmos?
Rev. King: My dream is that all sentient life recognizes itself as sacred. That’s my life’s work. I believe consciousness is in everything, and we don’t recognize it because it doesn’t have the same form that ours does. All forms of all things have flowed from the love making of the source; that’s what creation is, and it commands in me a tremendous amount of respect. When I say the feminine is rising, that means the return of the home, heart, hearth — the dynamics of being centered, knowing my heart is the temple where the sacred and divine reside together. The heart is the space and the hearth is the place that you and I share a relationship to mirror and recognize ourselves in each other; and those are the qualities of the feminine. When they are coupled they create a home that provides and feeds the people and protects the sacredness of everything. Those energies need to be protected, so that all children are seeding light and the darkness can emerge.
Interview with Rev. Mishra-Marzetti
Carin Michaels: Tell our readers about yourself and your work.
Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti: I serve as senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Ann Arbor. I have been in the Unitarian Universalist ministry for approximately 15 years. I come into that ministry by virtue of having grown up in the Hindu tradition and learning and practicing with various indigenous spiritual communities, including shamanism grounded in the Lakota traditions and indigenous communities in South America. I am very much a pluralistically oriented, or a multi-faith individual, and the beauty of Unitarian Universalism is that’s quite normal for us.
Michaels: How do you understand the feminine face of the divine?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: I believe that any descriptors, or names, or words, that we try to give to the ultimate nature of reality, are of our own choosing. We choose to name something masculine or feminine, or provide some other language, whether it is Saraswati or Durga, Pachamama, or whatever else. Often culturally when we're talking about sacred energies, like love or nurturance, we call that the feminine aspects of the divine, but ultimately those are human choices and ways of naming something that is just energetically larger than us. Human beings that identify as male are able to embody the qualities of love and nurturance too. These qualities themselves are not inherently more feminine than masculine, but we culturally identify them as such.
Michaels: So the feminine defies definition?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: No, it has qualities. We provide the energy a name, and we provide the name a story. It’s very human to do that, because it makes the abstract energy concrete and relatable.
Michaels: Then the feminine doesn’t have to pertain to a woman. It could be embodied in any gender?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: If something is culturally laden, it doesn't have to be, right? It's simply a cultural reference point.
Michaels: Can you speak to the split of the feminine verses masculine consciousness?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: In our Unitarian Universalist understanding, we are increasingly appreciating that the human propensity to create a dichotomy between masculine and feminine is both limiting, in what we can relate to and understand, and oppressive, because, in fact there are loads of cultural examples within Hinduism and in Asian Indian culture, of the in-between. It's also true of Native American culture. The in-between is called Two Spirit. The way this question is framed doesn't even acknowledge the existence of the in-between, and also presumes the dichotomy to be normative. There’s a continuum versus a split, and if there's a continuum, then there are things that we’ve named feminine and masculine, but there's a whole lot else that's a little bit of both, or somewhere in between, and we're talking about energies, and actually embodied beings that are at different points in the continuum. Historically, humans have viewed it as a split — or they speak primarily to the heavier endpoints, but not every culture. When we do that there's a loss of humanity, right? There are people who are ignored and marginalized when we only recognize the existence of the endpoints, so the split is harmful, and yet it's not even true.
Michaels: I think you've answered that question beautifully, but what if the masculine and feminine are guideposts for me, because I can't be as fluid as you described.
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: I think that is a reality for many societies on our planet. The privilege of patriarchal authority, voice and role, can be reflected in the spiritual understandings, but not necessarily. For example, Jesus and Muhammad, very central spiritual figures, who are also masculine, are the predominant figures in Christianity and Islam, as far as personas. But those are not the only stories. There are stories about Mary, about the women who were close to Muhammad. In Hindu culture the masculine deities can at times be privileged, but there are very strong traditions around the feminine deities as well, and in fact, there’s a spiritual understanding that those two energies go hand-in-hand.
Michaels: The Indian writer, Arundati Roy, speaks to the in-between-ness in her book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. How does your work honor the feminine? I feel awkward using this word now.
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: You’re okay. I honor the feminine within this context of patriarchal privilege by balancing, expanding, and redefining what we're talking about that either harkens back to more ancient understandings or more traditional understandings that were never patriarchal, or by building and creating new ones that are more inclusive. It can be a combination of either or both.
In our community at The First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor, for example, we have an intentional emphasis on collaborative shared leadership, which is horizontal, and that is to honor differences across gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or class privilege, because we each have spiritual gifts and wisdom that we embody and we should be able to bring them to the table.
Michaels: Can you cite an example of feminine resurgence?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: There was an article I read last fall about millennials and spirituality. It talked about the assumption that because they checked the box ‘none,’ on spirituality surveys, that meant there was no interest in spirituality, but on the contrary, there is actually a profound and deep interest in spirituality among millennials. But their interest in spirituality, if you want to use the traditional language of theology, would be pantheistic, like a nature-based spirituality or a humanistic spirituality. It honors the profound beauty and sacredness of the world that we are a part of, every person, and the wisdom that they can embody. People are misreading, or not fully understanding, how this generation is relating to spirituality. I would say it's an example of deepening and returning to an original form of spirituality that reflects how many of the most ancient traditions have always related to the sacred and the holy.
Michaels: How do we recover our lost sense of the sacred or being part of something sacred?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: Contemporary American society has created disconnects from our essential selves and from the essential nature of reality in manifold ways. We’re spending our time driving in cars, buses, or other vehicles of transportation, which divorces us from the grass and the trees. We’re wearing earbuds or staring at our phones when we are outside, which keep us from hearing the birdsong or looking into the sky. Our materialistic capitalist consumer structures that value competitive pricing has trained us to seek the best deal, and those same assumptions and values pit us against one another on an individual level. If everything is a scarce commodity that we have to fight for, then we're constantly moving in a world that lacks self-assurance.
Somebody else is ‘winning.’ Somebody else has more money, status, or prestige; they have a better job, house, car, cell phone, spouse, relationship, and family. The possibilities for how we are ‘losing’ are endless, and that becomes the basis for depression and anxiety. I believe they are at epidemic levels in American society. We don't say this, because there’s shame attached to saying ‘I’m anxious’ or ‘I’m depressed.’ Instead, it is more acceptable to numb yourself using alcohol, drugs, a shopping addiction, a sex addiction, any addiction, or being angry and frustrated. We have created a societal structure that disconnects us from the ultimate nature of ourselves and the cosmos, which fuels a never-ending sense of dissatisfaction.
That's the problem; and in the face of that, you asked, ‘how do we become whole?’ It's really simple. We have to challenge the assumptions that disconnect us from the ultimate nature of ourselves and the universe. We have to reconnect with those things that are more ultimate and real.
Michaels: “Only connect!” the epigraph from Howard’s End by E.M. Forster, meaning connection is a moral imperative to our salvation.
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: Yes, and mine was a long answer, but that was a good question, which we should bring to Sunday worship.
Michaels: Then connecting to other people honestly, listening to them, and looking them in the eye, is a beginning.
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: Yes, but when the dissatisfaction creeps up, there’s an important intervention needed, and no one can do it for us. That is part of remembering the sacred, but much of the dissatisfaction we wind up feeling is driven by cultural assumptions that tell us what we have and who we are is not good enough. That is a sickness; that is a facet of our culture that is unhealthy.
Michaels: I remember when my husband and I were first married, and I said, ‘I'm done with this marriage. I want out. I'm leaving,’ as if he wasn’t good enough, and then he asked, ‘Can I come with you?’ To see life with such beauty is a profound gift. How do we develop respect and compassion for the life of the earth and all its forms?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: We must move out of the disconnects. The structures of our society disconnect us, for example, the food that we eat. I'm not a carnivore, but if one's a carnivore, it is a profound thing to understand the source of the food that you're consuming. The disconnects of showing up at a grocery store and buying a package of eggs or prepared meat disconnects us from the means of production, which disconnects us from nature. I think we can be aware of the processes and the chains of relationship that we are a part of and if those chains lead to harm or contamination, there might be small things that we can do that are a little bit different.
Michaels: My daughter tells me to buy organic milk. I tell her it’s too expensive, and she tells me to stop complaining and take my thinking deeper.
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: She is speaking to the chain of relationship and wants you to take it to another level.
Michaels: How do we relinquish the beliefs and patterns of behavior that have been so damaging to soul and body as well as to the planet?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: You have to work against the disconnects, anything that disconnects us from wholeness, from our ultimate nature of self, our ultimate nature of reality. Anytime we are rejecting, notice it; like when you thought that the ego was baggage, which was a rejection of part of yourself that you can't get rid of.
Michaels: Yes, that's a great example.
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: We don't reject; we fully accept, and we don't disconnect; so if something shows up, we accept it.
Michaels: Can you share with the readers a favorite citation, myth, verse, or image that was influential during your quest for the soul or that exemplifies the feminine face of God?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: There was one I shared in worship recently. I am a clergy person who is openly gay with a husband and children. When my husband Jeff and I were in the adoption process and we were waiting to be selected by a birth mother, we had gone on one last hurrah to Italy before becoming parents. While there, we visited art museums and cathedrals, and we kept seeing the recurring image of the mother Mary when the angel Gabriel appears to her to say she's going to have a baby. This iconography is called the “Annunciation”, meaning the announcement. In art, it is celebrated as this amazing moment - the simple everyday miracle of birth. We kept seeing this image over and over again, and at that time in our lives, we were waiting for an Annunciation. It struck me in a very powerful way to think, while I don't have the gender of a woman, what a powerful thing it is to receive the news.
Michaels: And you have two beautiful children, so the image was yours.
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: Yes, it was, but we didn't know it at the time. Another image that has mattered a lot to me, in Hindu iconography, is Saraswati. She is always portrayed with a musical instrument in a very peaceful repose, and she's associated with learning, education, arts, speech, and music. Before being a minister, I was a diplomat, and so the spoken word was the center point of my life, and now it is important as a spiritual leader. While I spoke about the ultimate nature of reality being undifferentiated between masculine or feminine energies, my personal relationship with those energies of holiness, which transcends us individually, is through the sacred feminine.
Michaels: Our culture is embedded in certain prominent myths in storytelling like the Holy Grail, Sleeping Beauty, or Exodus, where the protagonist seeks a relationship with a transcendent power, or the unconscious feminine, but is there one in our current society readers can use for inspiration?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: You know, Carin, this is perhaps the most profound question that I sit with, and have sat with for a year or two. I don't know that I’ve found it, though I keep listening. There's a little bit of pain in me, even as I say that, as the divisions that we are encountering are so layered. Cultural assumptions are fueling those divisions. The specific rifts in our culture come along the lines of gender, class, race, sexual orientation, regional differences and histories, religious and spiritual differences and understandings; such that, there are so many intersecting layers and vectors that are contributing.
Michaels: You’re speaking about inspiration for a community, for a people, as opposed to an individualistic pursuit?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: Absolutely. I don't know if there is one story or narrative that can pull us out of that. I sit with the heaviness of that, and maybe even the disappointment of that. I do think within communities, within subgroups, we can find ways of trying to inspire greater wholeness. The challenge is that while that seems to be the best we can do right now it doesn't lead to a broader sense of unity or unification that I know I'm yearning for, and I'm holding as a wish for, in our society.
Michaels: What if we voided ourselves of language, and went to art and music?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: That's already happening. The conversations that are too difficult for us to have on a civic, social, political, or spiritual level, openly, we have those conversations through art, music, film, and drama. There have been two times in our society in recent decades, when images of the apocalypse, zombies, and end times have been very prominent. One of them was in the 1970’s. What was going on then? Massive social upheaval. The sexual revolution. Civil rights activism. We had difficulties talking about all of that, and so it was reflected in art. Everything we previously understood was destroyed. If you look at the last ten years in entertainment, the apocalypse is a constant theme. We're going to be decimated by disease, zombies, an asteroid, cataclysmic waves, earthquakes. We are absolutely naming that we are in the midst of social upheaval and using art to talk about it.
Michaels: What is your hope for the cosmos?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: One of my spiritual teachers asked, ‘What is the one thing that the cosmos can't do?’ The thing that it can't do is reach out and touch you. The thing that it can't do is hug, love, mate, converse, care, show up and sit with gratitude, or roll around in the grass like a two-year-old. Those are the things undifferentiated reality cannot do. It doesn't need anything from us. The only thing it might need from us is to enjoy.
Michaels: To be present?
Rev. Mishra-Marzetti: Yes, to be present for that beauty for the short amount of time we've been given.
Interview with Kate Durda
Carin Michaels: Tell the readers about yourself and your work?
Kate Durda: I've been a seeker all my life, but since 1990, I've been practicing and studying shamanism. I found it to be a practice that allowed me to heal and have a spiritual place in life. In the mid 1990’s, Stephanie Tighe, my partner in Spirit Weavers, and I began teaching as well as doing healing work in the community. We accept people for healing sessions, but we also have quite a robust teaching practice for those that are interested in developing a spiritual practice, as well as those interested in becoming healers themselves.
Michaels: Do you need a certification?
Durda: No. Shamanism is the oldest known spirituality. It doesn't operate in the western mode; you can't have someone say, ‘I ordain you as you a shaman.’ We don't even call ourselves shamans; out of respect for the ancient traditions, we call ourselves shamanic practitioners. It’s up to the community to call you a shaman. It’s the power of your work that carries weight.
Michaels: But I checked you out, and you did all those training courses with the gurus, particularly shaminism.org.
Durda: Oh, yes, but there’s no certification. Just like a doctor, you could be a good doctor or a bad doctor with a degree. It's a matter of your work and the quality of it.
Also, I wanted to say that, we don't really speak about God. If I say God during this interview, I’m meaning the Great Spirit, or the organizing principles of the cosmos. In terms of shamanism, the way that we view feminine or masculine energy is similar to the Jungian archetypes
Michaels: Then what is your definition of the feminine cosmos in shamanism?
Durda: The feminine is one part of the whole, just like the masculine is another part. Shamanism requires balance to be open so that teachers can appear to you in the spiritual realm. They could be a god, or a religious figure, or an unknown aboriginal ancestor that are like the archetypes of mother, caregiver, nurturer, community, relationship, healer, concern for others not self. But our culture has a problem with the male-female dynamic, because anytime you put a duality out there, you're going to trip over it.
Shamanism is about non-duality. When you talk about sacralizing the concept of wholeness into parts, then you have people deciding from their ego and from their own personalities, what's good and bad, and judgment enters. It's unhealthy. In some cultures, people might think the feminine is best, but in most cultures, patriarchy rules. Men are superior and women are oppressed. There is suffering for a dichotomy that should not exist, because you need male and female, light and dark. You need everything, but it has to be in balance and respected. Male and female dichotomy has been profaned and misused by humans for their own benefit.
Michaels: Can you speak to the split of the feminine versus the masculine consciousness?
Durda: Yes, organically, to the extent that individuals are taught to misread what is happening or what is truth. Indigenous peoples of shamanic cultures believe that there is not a separation from the earth. For example, God is like the ocean and we’re all drops of God, so we are God. We don't remember this connection because the split doesn’t allow us to know that we are part of God. We’ve lost track. When you're raised in a way that says the external world tells you that the male traits are important then your inner voice is quiet. You listen to what you're told.
Michaels: We split from our feminine voice.
Durda: Because we're raised within a cultural context that forces us to lose track of that inner intuitive guidance. When we’re raised as spiritual people, it’s like having a gyroscope inside us. We are truly aware of our own power because we listen to ourselves and honor our soul’s desire. It’s a question of sovereignty: is it within us, or is it outside in some organization or a group of people who decide what's better? The problem with the latter is that we then practice duality. Non-duality means everything is valuable; everything should be respected; everything is equal; and, life should be revered. Duality allows us to pick one side that we think is better, but there’s all kinds of sides to things.
Michaels: Do you worry about the duality in our culture today
Durda: It's a great source of pain. We need to get people back to a place where they are guided by their hearts and souls. You lose your sovereignty when you are not supported in listening to yourself. Or you were burned on the stake like the witches.
Michaels: Not to get off on a tangent, but what was going on during the Salem Witch trials?
Durda: They were Wise Women. They knew the herbs. They knew how to help people heal. They knew birthing. They had power, and that didn't equate in a patriarchal society. Where there was power in women, it must be suppressed, because it’s doesn’t allow the rape of the Earth, the exploitation of people and children. This couldn't happen if you were in a loving, care-giving relationship, or a matriarchal culture.
Michaels: You know what’s odd? My husband is from a matriarchal culture; it just dawned on me at this moment. The wealth, the name, the property is passed down through the woma
Durda: We don’t think of it right away, because it’s so unusual. Exploitation happened when we shifted from spirituality and we lost touch with the whole.
Michaels: It's exploitation. It's not a split.
Durda: It's imbalance. It’s misuse. It’s power over. Power is not a bad word. Power is the ability to use energy, but “power over” is bad, because it leads to pain and imbalance. Power over means I'm better than; men are better than women; whites better than blacks…
Michaels: …heterosexuals are better than gays.
Durda: Name it. Name all of it. When religion became secularized, it became about money, and power over possessions and land. People’s source for maintaining their connection to spirituality was lost by organized religion.
Michaels: How does your work honor the feminine?
Durda: Shamanism as a spiritual practice honors balance and raising energy to allow what is real. The feminine archetypes are valuable and needed, so are the masculine. There's no bias. I think non-judgment is how our practice honors it — what’s needed comes forth. Shamanism is a practice of direct revelation. It's not read the book, follow a formula, and take the test. It’s a practice: ‘you go to spirit,’ and you continually try to work on yourself so that you can become a ‘hallow bone.’
Michaels: What is that?
Durda: It’s a concept. The shamanic practitioners clear themselves out as a refined tool so energy can flow through us, like in Reiki. The Reiki master is not creating energy; they're allowing energy to come through them. The hollow bone is achieved with continual practice, but particularly when you learn the practice of journeying. It’s an art devoid of duality. It’s basically leaving your ego, mind, and body behind, and tapping into what the physicists call the Universal Field; Edgar Cayce called it the Akashic Records; the Australian aboriginals called it the Dreamtime.
We leave the body, our egos, our desires, even our beliefs behind, because sometimes spirits school us. When you go on a journey, you're going to get stuff that is incongruous with your mind or imagination because it's coming from a deep well of truth. You're able to tap into it only for a little while, because we're just humans. We're not God. The more you practice, the more you can access this space.
Michaels: I get it. You honor the feminine by honoring the whole.
Durda: Cross culturally or in our individual practices, we do honor different feminine spirits —some might work with Mother Mary, another might work with Magdalene.
Michaels: Can you speak to one feminine archetype that you repeatedly draw upon?
Durda: I work with a maternal figure, for sure: goddess Isis and different iterations of her. It is the divine feminine of unconditional accepting love. It's the power of relationship, about seeing the whole, and respecting it without judgment.
Michaels: Does that have anything to do with the myth that she’s always searching for her husband whose body parts were buried all over Egypt?
Durda: [laughter] I don't know. That question may take a lifetime study of her. There's always more to be known; that’s why I guess, we have many lifetimes to do it.
Michaels: How do we become whole? How do we recover our lost sense of the sacred or being part of something sacred?
Durda: Shamanism is an animistic belief system; animism, meaning everything has a spirit. We are not honoring the Earth, right now. Most of us are either oblivious, or just practicing along with whatever the capitalist model wants us to do: buy all these packaged products, throw them into the trash, and they go in the ocean. I have my students merge with water to see what the story of water is. When you merge with water, you might become mist, a drop of dew, a drop of water that goes into the ocean, but you realize that water needs to flow to be alive, and it's in everything. It’s in all of our cells. It is a life force. The practice of opening your consciousness to the consciousness of other things helps you come into relationship and respect. Right now, we're not one; we're separate.
Michaels: How do we develop respect and compassion for life on Earth in all its forms?
Durda: You have to have a spiritual practice of some type. Meditation is a really good one. Our practice in shamanism is the journey. The better you get at traveling to ‘non-ordinary reality’ coined by Carlos Casteneda, the more you can tap into those places of truth, and this will reform how you think. Through the journeying process, you become spiritually educated from the questions you ask and the depths you go.
Michaels: How can we find ways of meeting our deepest needs of the human heart for love, relatedness, and connection?
Durda: Shamanism leads you to that, because if you are listening to your inner self, you will find it. As humans, we need connection. If we allow ourselves that, then just as we want to be respected and treated well, we will respect and treat others well. For example, when we know that a tree has a spirit, or that everything has value, we're led into community, into oneness.
There's a system called augury, which means reading of signs, an ancient system of getting inspiration from the universe. Let’s say you want to quit your job, so there is this practice in shamanism to go outside and identify the first thing you see at cardinal points then meditate on them, because you already know what the real truth is inside you.
Michaels: How do we relinquish the beliefs and patterns of behavior that have been so damaging to soul and body as well as the planet.
Durda: This is a hard one because I think a lot of people have suffered trauma in their lives and we have forgotten that we need to heal. In indigenous cultures, they are aware of the impact trauma has on the spirit and they don't ignore it. For instance, there’s a shamanistic technique called soul retrieval. Let’s say your soul is a puddle of water on a small country road. A car comes through and hits you; all the water flies out, and if you're lucky all that water comes back. But with some people, that lost water is still theirs, but they don’t know how to get it back. A practitioner goes into the Universal Field, pulls out information about what happened in this person's life and brings back that lost energy, so that person, once again, has a full tank of gas. It has been called different things, but it's part of healing.
Michaels: Our world needs soul retrieval?
Durda: Our world needs healing. Period. Shamanic healing can be viewed simply in three ways: restoring lost energy (i.e., what happens when we experience trauma); removing energy that is not ours (i.e., false beliefs we take on as our own like when you're told not smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough); or restoring balance to help others achieve full potential (i.e., raising their vibration to thrive, rather than just survive).
Michaels: How do you envision a shift or collective awakening?
Durda: They say that something has to die before something else can grow, like the phoenix rising out of the ashes. I'm very encouraged by the fact that we have had something die: our faith in the government. We had the shock to our system so now we are responding with an active rebellion. Women are leading this because we don't want people to suffer. Most men don't either, but when you're oppressed, you see it more clearly.
Women have come out to run for office and they're succeeding. More women are empowered as evidenced by the Women’s March being the biggest march ever in the world. And the #MeToo movement was unheard of in the past tens of thousands of years that women have been oppressed. Spirit Weavers organized a national conference at M.S.U. last September for the Society for Shamanic Practice called “Cultivating Power and Presence in Turbulent Times,” because we can't just take care of our family; we have to think about community and get out into the world to do healing.
Michaels: With our emphasis on rationale thinking, is there salvation for the next generation?
Durda: It will come through our spiritual development and living from a balanced and integrated mind-body-spirit center. The shaman’s work is to connect “heaven and earth”, which is bringing spiritual inspiration and energy back to the earth plane to be able to effect healing or change. It is that synergistic marriage of spirit and mind, held in the body, that is at the center of our salvation.
Just as I mentioned before that our current patriarchal culture is unbalanced and destructive, so is our current value on the rational. We have starved even science of its’ inherent power by only believing what we want to, or what we understand, rather than keeping an open mind as true science demands. Thomas Kuhn wrote a great book called Structure of Scientific Revolutions that debunks science as being the “truth”; rather, he points out that science is a series of theories or paradigms that get debunked, abandoned, or improved upon.
Implicit bias is very exciting as a developmental psychologist. Our own inner beliefs are the source of mistruths, separation, and judgment. Many examples of a growing quest for truth exist right now among our youth, to include the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, changing views of gender, LGBTQIA, voluntary simplicity. Their future salvation depends on us learning to listen more clearly to the truth that comes from each of us living in balance and in connection with “source”. Yes, I am hopeful, and a warrior on this path to salvation!
Michaels: Do you have a dream for the cosmos?
Durda: Yes, it’s an organic consciousness when we have sovereignty that allows us to listen to the Great Spirit. The truth about male/female, is that there is energy in this duality. I call it the dialectic; you swing one way, then you swing back the other way and then you move up a step, because hopefully, you’re learning as you journey. We don’t want to repeat history; we want to learn from it.
Interview with Kathy Laritz
Carin Michaels: Tell our readers about yourself and your work.
Kathy Laritz: I am Program Director at Jewel Heart Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Ann Arbor. The center was founded in 1987 by Gelek Rimpoche, and in 1988 I began working as his assistant. He wasn't a fan of calling me his assistant; he would always say I was his associate. He was a source of inspiration for many, and he emerged as one of the great Tibetan teachers in the West — living right here in Ann Arbor. He was tutored by many of the same masters who tutored the current 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Gelek Rimpoche was directed to instruct Western students by his teachers, and he taught Buddhist practitioners around the world.
Michaels: What is your definition of the feminine face of God?
Laritz: The Tibetan Buddhist feminine principle relates to wisdom from which all things manifest and dissolve. Wisdom is understanding the true nature of reality. Compassion (love, care, and engagement), is an activity that's given to the masculine, although wisdom and compassion are contained in each other. In Buddhism, it’s more about their union as actions that are based in the truth, because when we're not aligned with the way things are, even though we might think we're being helpful, we may be harmful. That's why compassion requires wisdom, that which points to interdependence.
If you're aligned appropriately then what can emerge, or manifest, is aligned with reality. For example, Buddha’s path to enlightenment began when he recognized suffering, like death, illness, and old age. At his birth, it was prophesied that he'd be the greatest ruler in the material world, which his family wanted for him, or that he would be the greatest spiritual leader. His life was sheltered, and his training was extensive, but he decided to leave the safety of his kingdom and live the life of a yogi to find an end to suffering. The outcome of his journey led to his enlightenment, and his first teaching called the Four Noble Truths: there’s suffering; there’s a cause to suffering; there’s a solution; and a means to arrive at that solution.
The key point that he found in the process was the wisdom element. He already had the compassion as he was seeking the end to suffering. Compassion is the active masculine. He discovered the feminine wisdom – that the self doesn't exist in the way you think it does because everything is interdependent.
Michaels: Can you speak to the split of the feminine versus the masculine consciousness?
Laritz: You would enjoy seeing the experimental film, Koyaanisqatsi, Life Out of Balance directed by Godfrey Reggio. It's painful but it's something important for the world to see. It's based on the Native American Hopi term, Koyaanisqatsi, meaning unbalanced life.
The point here is that there can be toxicity in both feminine and masculine as symbols we use for how life is expressed. One doesn't preclude the other. There is a union between those qualities. When we think they are separate versus interrelated then we limit ourselves. If we’re missing the feminine, which is the nature of reality, we fall into delusion or ignorance. This leads to attachment and/or aversion. The most important thing Buddha was able to discover was that the interdependent nature of reality is the truth.
Michaels: How does your work honor the feminine?
Laritz: To be honest, I feel like my work is my life, and I have the opportunity to be working at a place that fuels the feminine. I’m a mother, an artist, and a program director. I'm constantly meeting up with myself, my limits, obstacles, and evaluating my understanding of interdependence.
Michaels: Can you cite an example of the feminine resurgence?
Laritz: I'm going to go to a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. because even though he was male, he embodied the feminine: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.” His vision was the wisdom of the feminine, and his compassion in action was the masculine.
Michaels: How can we become whole, or said another way, how do we recover our lost sense of the sacred or being part of something sacred?
Laritz: The best way of being of service to the sacred is sharing your understanding of the Dharma, which is about Buddha’s discovery of The Four Noble Truths. Allen Ginsberg, the writer and poet, who was also part of our sangha, asked Rimpoche, and I’m paraphrasing here, what was the value of his work in the greater scope of suffering, and Rimpoche replied any alleviation of suffering is important. This was Buddha’s message - recognize suffering, see the cause of suffering, therefore suffering can come to an end, and there is a means to do it.
There’s a brief practice Buddhists use that’s called the Seven Limbs. It is said that the ancients tried to identify what people could do to maintain the sacred in their lives. The outcome was this prayer as it helps us remember to clear our negativity, build our positivity, and watch our mind. That’s the bottom line. Everything is in there.
I bow down in body, speech, and mind.
I offer the best I have to give, both real and imagined to fill the space between us.
I regret and purify all transgressions.
I rejoice in all virtues.
I request you to remain until total enlightenment.
I request wise and compassionate guidance.
I dedicate my merit for the sake of all beings.
Michaels: That sounds feminine and masculine.
Laritz: The method is masculine, the ground on which it arises and dissolves is feminine.
Michaels: How do we relinquish the beliefs and patterns of behavior that have been so damaging to the soul and the body, as well as the planet?
Laritz: It's the inter-relational aspect in the Buddha story: he wanted to understand if he could bring an end to suffering, and that meant he was taking responsibility. People who also have been working this same path of enlightenment pass on Buddhist teachings, and they've been sharing their results. So how do we relinquish negative patterns? If we take responsibility for our thoughts, words, and actions, we can bring change to negative beliefs and patterns in order to follow the wisdom or guidance of our teachers. With this comes respect for others, because we’re taking responsibility for our own negativity.
Michaels: Can you share a favorite citation, myth, story, verse, or image that was influential during your quest for the soul or exemplifies the feminine face of God?
Laritz: In Tibetan Buddhism, the feminine face of God – interdependence – is also accompanied by the masculine face of God – love and compassion. With that in mind, I've always appreciated a quote by Albert Einstein.
"A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe'; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Nobody is able to achieve this completely but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security."
As we develop our ability to recognize the optical delusion of separateness and instead see the interrelated nature of life, the quality and efficacy of our kindness, love, and compassion is deepened by that wisdom or, the feminine face of God.
Buddha's message says that it is possible to achieve this enlightenment. I think it is a long and gradual path, one fueled by expanding our love and compassion to integrate and align our consciousness with the true nature of reality.
Michaels: How do you envision a collective shift in our consciousness?
Durda: A collective shift will depend on each of us, individually, taking responsibility to look within and reflect on how we relate to others and ourselves. As we shift and broaden our individual perceptions of life, we can touch and impact others. For example, a genuinely caring smile that comes unexpectedly from a stranger can change a person's day.
Michaels: Is there salvation for the next generation given our current emphasis on rational thinking?
Laritz: We train our mind to be willing to see things as they truly are; that’s why there is a union between compassion and wisdom. The reference of rational thinking has a negative overtone, in terms of thinking that the feminine wasn’t in that category. This question is a little bit about definition and connotation of words. We use our mind to cultivate the positive, reduce and eliminate the negative, and that’s rational. The alignment of feminine is a rational process.
This alignment is also seen during the raging storm in the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was sleeping through it, but they woke him up to assess the situation, and he said “Peace. Be still.” In the aspect of the rational mind, we need peace to be in charge of our own mind. Right now, we’re at the mercy of a global mind set, where a hose is turned on and it’s flailing everywhere on everyone. Buddhism, in a nutshell, is clear your negativity, build your positivity, and tame your mind, or watch your mind. Taming your mind means knowing what’s going on, and Buddhist training allows you to be mindful. Mindfulness is not a de-stressor; it’s having enough focus and concentration power so you can recognize stuff and name it.
We need to allow the next generation to take responsibility, and we see they’re doing it. The youth today can identify the suffering elements and they are seeking to clear those negativities. It's not the degenerate age out there, because they’re working from the inside out. It’s about what you can do from within.
We must continue to clear our garden of weeds to help the next generation. You do that by helping yourself, your friends, and your enemies, because the change starts with you. “The kingdom of God is within you.”