Sliver of the Moon

This conversation between Swami Radha and Swami Lalitananda (then Julie McKay) took place in June 1991.

Swami Radha: You have been reading about the Goddess lately. What conclusions can you draw?

Swami Lalitananda: Well, it seems that there has always been the Great Goddess and Hers was the first form of worship because of woman's ability to give birth. Worship of the Goddess seems to be recognizing female power and understanding a parallel with the earth, in that the earth is giving forth what is required for life.

SR: Yes. That's a good idea. It reminds me of Sita, who was found by a farmer in a furrow of the ground. Sita — born of the furrow — I think that's what her name even means.

SLa: In the book on Mary that you recommended to me, 1 the author was exploring how Mary became such a predominant image in Catholicism because the scriptures do not refer to Her as the Mother of God, or as the Church, or as the Intercessor. In the actual Gospels She is not referred to as any of the things that Catholics pray to Her for. This seems to indicate that the Church needed the Divine Feminine and that is how Mary became what She is, the Queen of Heaven, because of people's need for that warm, merciful, loving element. Even Jesus became the Word and was distanced from the people, so they needed someone to intercede for them, someone who could talk to him. The Mother was human. She knew about the human condition. Jesus and God were far beyond the ordinary.

God is Justice but Divine Mother is Mercy. People need someone who doesn't go by the rules. She doesn't go by the rules. She takes every person as a special case and if they love Her, that's all She needs. So there is a much more devotional element to Her worship.

SR: Yes, a theoretical, intellectual grasp is one thing but it leaves you cold. Some people say, "I can't worship an image." But I say you you can take a pebble from the beach as your image of God if you want. When people don't have an image of the Divine they fantasize about the lives of their prophets or saints, which may have no relationship to reality. The mind functions in images.

I often have the impression — what do you think? — that the Catholics had to invent the Virgin Mother, otherwise they knew the religion would die.

SLa: Well, at the very least they made Her into something that She was not.

SR: I often think that the problem with many religions today is their denial of the female aspect. For example, the goddesses were at one time also a part of Judaism. 2

SLa: Yes, as Wisdom. Wisdom was the goddess and Mary started taking over that wisdom aspect. She became related to it. I found that inter-esting because She is like Saraswati in India. You've often said that you thought the teachings originally came from women because the goddesses have al-ways had the powers of learning and wisdom.

SR: What I'm trying to do now is to go back and somehow trace the women who later on became known as yoginis. They may never have heard of the word at the time, be-cause yoga as such was probably nonexistent in the very earliest times. But wisdom and knowledge must have always been present.

It's so difficult to trace the early ideas of women. I sometimes think — and I wonder if you agree with this — that there must have been some who were outstanding. Among all sorts of people, there are always one or two who have a beautiful singing voice, who have physical beauty, who have a talent for doing things more efficiently. And I think that in very ancient times it was the women who began making pots and it was the women who started weav-ing. That goes very far back. I think there were pots found from 6000 b.c. in Harappa.

Do you think there were actually women like the Amazons? Or do you think it is a myth that developed in a different way? Have you ever come anything across anything about that in your studies at the university or in later readings?

SLa: Just that one book you gave me: Women and Amazons. 3

SR: Well, there are matriarchal societies in some remote areas in India even today, but very little is reported about them.

SLa:There seems to be an indication that there was a matriarchal culture before the patriarchy, just like there was the Goddess before the male gods took over. And it usually went hand in hand with what's gone on in the culture. If it's an agricultural com-munity, then it seems the relation to the feminine is much closer, because of that earth-woman connection. There's a respect for the earth. It's when it turned from agriculture to kingship that there was the change to the gods. The interesting theme that Ashe brought up in the book on the Virgin was that in the old tradition, the pagan tradition, the Goddess was the mother and the lover, and the god was the son and the lover. But it was the mother who gave birth to the son. It's re-ally the same thing in the Christian myth, except that the son in the old myths would die and the mother would have a new lover. But here the son dies and becomes the powerful one, reigning from heaven.

SR: Do you remember Otto Rank's book, Beyond Psychology? 4 He, too, speaks about the Goddess having to give birth first before she can have a husband. As a psychiatrist Rank is also very good about dispelling the illusion that women are psychologically inferior. He says it is only that men do not accept women; they have no place for them. I have found that to be very true.

SLa:Well, there are also many women now writing about the Goddess and providing new interpretations in fields that have always been predominated by men. Even when the archaeologists found the sculptures of women—the Mother Goddess sculptures from 35,000 years ago—they did not take it as evidence of anything. But the meaning of them has to be profound.

SR: Have you ever had the feeling that you know something more about things from the distant past, even in a dim way—that it is just some-thing you haven't yet put into words?

SLa:[Laughing] No, I haven't thought about that.

SR: No?

SLa:You do?

SR: Yes. I feel that my existence goes way back, and that's why I say that there was a time when women had something to say but they were not yet called yoginis.

SLa: Do you feel, then, that you've been a woman for a long time?

SR: Yes. And I think it might also come to you one day.

SLa:Well, that might be a good perspective for you to write from. Because it's an area where there is so much controversy and where scholars require so much documentation because they're producing new ideas. But if you can come at it from knowledge from the past, then that's a different kind of documentation.

SR: Perhaps, but I would still want to find out what is known and how far I can go. Sometimes when I come across new research, for example when I read about Harappa in the Indus valley, 6,000 BC, I was not surprised at all. It sounded very familiar, very familiar.

SLa:How do you see Divine Mother? Because you say in some of your poetry that you would visualize sending a white bird to see Her, and to watch Her every movement, and to report back to you. And you've had a number of experiences of Divine Mother as a presence or as something quite real.

SR: The only answer I can give you is that Divine Mother takes the shape and form to meet your needs at the time. When you don't have any pressing, personal needs, you can step outside, look at the night sky and say, "This is Her dress, all the stars are the embroidery, and the sliver of the moon is Her little slipper." You can expand this to a cosmic scale and feel that She fills not only this world but all the other worlds—all the other embroidery that our eyes cannot yet see or recognize.

SLa:It seems to me that it can be confusing right now because there has been such an overlay of a male perspective for such a long time, that it is hard to even see the overlay clearly. All the beliefs have been so strong and so spoken of...

But for me Divine Mother made sense right from the very first time I ever heard about her. The idea made more sense to me than anything else because it works on all levels. It keeps the Divine present in life, instead of being something that is cool and dis-tant, and almighty, or whatever.

SR: [Laughing] Have you ever wondered why you got stuck with me, a woman?

SLa:I wouldn't say I got stuck with you. I would say, thank goodness I had the privilege of having a woman for a guru. Otherwise . . .

SR: Otherwise what?

SLa:I don't think I could have listened to a man.

SR: But do you think that's just now in this life?

SLa:I don't think so.

SR: What do you think it is?

SLa:There's something about . . . like I said, when I heard about Divine Mother, it was right. And it's the same with you, because you're the one who brought these teachings to me. I don't think men live it in the same way, somehow. They can be the same as the male god—cool and intellectual and somewhere else. So I think it's a matter of reality, that what you give is real, and what Divine Mother is, is real. I don't trust anything that isn't real on the level of the intuitive or even the emotional.

SR: You know one thing I find really remarkable in my life is that I didn't re-ally have a mother. Of course there was a woman who gave birth to this body, but she didn't want any children and tried to abort me and had many abortions afterwards.

At one time when I was in great despair I heard a voice speaking to me from a painting of Divine Mother, saying, "You didn't need a human mother because I was there every step of the way, and I guided you to where you are now."

That was very remarkable. The echo that we have in ourselves of our divinity can only be the echo from that greater power, which we call Divine Mother. Because how else would we talk about it? What name would you give it? You can't really describe it. It's like a little fish thinking that the god of fish must be a huge whale. And I think for us it's the same thing: we can only think in terms of re-creating ourselves on a larger scale. That's why we have to use terms like Divine Mother or Radha or Krishna.

I remember when I asked Swami Sivananda, "What does Radha mean?"

He said, "Cosmic Love."

And I thought, Oh my goodness! I don't have love for anybody, never mind Cosmic Love, so what can I do? And then came an intuition, almost like someone else speaking but still of the higher mind, that said, "You could start by being considerate."

I've found that when I'm considerate I can't hurt another person. And as I become more considerate, that consideration will eventually be transformed into love. That's what I teach other people. Always see the other person as a manifestation of the Divine. Divine Mother may have some peculiar children, some very rude and misbehaving ones, but they are all still Hers. Can you reject Her naughty children? Have you al-ways been good, brave? Have you always been obedient? No. Somebody helped you when you were a spiritual baby—I often say, "Somebody washed my dirty diapers," so it's only fair that I help others by doing the same.

That's why I think that symbolism is extremely helpful. Energy is like electricity—so impersonal it means nothing. But once electricity is transformed into light or heat and the manifestation affects me, it becomes personalized. Yet one part of me knows very well that I'm dealing with powers that are silly to name and describe in human terms; in the cosmic sense it is untenable.

SLa:I found it strange how the theologians went through great acrobat-ics in their interpretation of the Immaculate Conception, that the womb had to be totally un-touched, and even after she had the baby she was a virgin, and the womb became like the Ark of the Covenant...

SR: In Buddhism there is something similar where the Queen Mother stands under a tree and the Buddha emerges from her side. I think it's very much in the con-sciousness of people that the abuse of any powerful personal pleasure is not right. It's not right when it is denied that sex is basically for procreation, especially if the result of that procreation, the offspring, is not accepted. Sometimes people hate sex but want it for pleasure and have to deal with the conse-quences of their actions. In fairytales the unwanted children are sent off with dry bread into the woods to get lost. Children are still being sold on the market or turned into a cheap labour force. The abuse of children is just terrible and has always been there.

SLa:It seems to me that Divine Mother is the creative power as well.

SR: She is, mainly.

SLa:Because everything comes through the Mother.

SR: In the same way as women get abused, so the Earth gets abused terribly. Probably women are more abused right now than ever, so it reflects in the Earth, too.

SLa:So even bringing ideas from inside the head to cre-ation of some sort is a creative process that you could say is the Goddess in action.

SR: Yes, of course.

SLa:So then it seems like men often used that creative power to destroy, to con-quer.

SR: They have used their creative energy to create objects of de-struction. It started with very simple weapons and became more and more developed until we have what we see today. A visit to a military museum can be quite interesting—just to see what the male has done with the creative energy. There will probably be a shift in power one day. Women will wake up to it.

SLa:I hope so.

SR: I often see people clinging to life and it is incomprehensible to me. Don't they see what life is? Even if I can have a bit of personal pleasure, if I'm not moved by the suffer-ing of thousands, even millions of other people, how can I live life, particularly if as a single individual I don't have the power to stop this mor-bid killing?

SLa:That's what I found: I couldn't be happy here knowing all that was going on, even if I was having a pretty good life.

SR: If you look at your life and you say you had a pretty good life, what was good?

SLa:Well, I had a lot of freedom as a child.

SR: You had good parents.

SLa:Yes, I had good parents. I had a father who supported the family and a mother who looked after the children. We had lots of room to play. Everything was sort of normal. There wasn't anything seriously wrong. And I had a chance to be educated. And I also had a chance to . . .

SR: . . . make your own mistakes . . .

SLa:. . . experiment, very much. A lot more than any other time, and I think in some ways that was good because I don't have a lot of unfulfilled fantasies. I have a real sense of the world. And then the best part was finally figuring out what life . . . that there could be a purpose to it.

SR: Can you find the Goddess in yourself?

SLa:I hope I can one day. It's hard on an everyday level. I mean, I could say yes, in the sense that what is created in my mind can come out in writing, in thinking. But it's easier, I find, to be a handmaiden to the Divine, to the Goddess.

SR: That's true, too. On the cosmic scale that's all you can be anyway, and I find that per-fectly enough. That's quite a job in itself.

SLa:But it's a good pursuit, trying to find the Goddess in myself.

SR: Swami Sivananda often used to say to me, "Think of yourself as Radha, and there is nothing you can't do." But I have found that extremely difficult. I was too aware of my shortcomings, my lack of efficiency, even my lack of formal edu-cation.

SLa:[Laughing] That doesn't seem to have hindered you though.

SR: Well, sometimes I have found it difficult to accept. I'm like you, saying, "I'd rather be Divine Mother's handmaiden."

SLa:But you ended up being Radha, after all.

SR: I ended up being Radha after all. Yes.
1.Geoffrey Ashe, The Virgin. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976).
2. Raphael Patai,The Hebrew Goddess. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967).
3. Helen Diner, Women and Amazons (New York: Julian Press, 1965).
4. Otto Rank, Beyond Psychology (New York: Dover, 1941).

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