“The Hidden Face of the Divine Feminine”
Rev. Julie Kain
Let’s face it, people everywhere just love a good story. We are drawn in by a story line being played out with an unfolding plot and through the interactions of characters we can identify and identify with. We just can’t help ourselves – it’s human nature! On one level we are entertained and at a deeper level the stories in our lives that we engage with help us to process our own stories, our own relationship and life journeys. We are always growing and stretching to come to terms with the meaning and directions of our lives.
I typically am “out of the loop” when it comes to what’s popular and timely.
I must admit I don’t really keep track of the New York Times bestseller list. But occasionally I do join in on a widespread phenomenon.
Summer before last I broke down and read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. I enjoyed it and was happy to see that a page-turning mystery novel was incorporating elements of art and religion. I couldn’t help but be drawn in.
Now I know at least some of you here today have read the novel and I’m also sure some of you haven’t. I’m not actually going to work with the story line or even with any of it’s controversial propositions, though that might be fun. Instead I am going to share with you some of the surprising connections to my own life that I made as the story in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code unfolded.
Okay, so we have to set the scene here a little. The story begins with a mysterious death that happens within the famous Louvre museum in Paris and the protagonist Robert Langdon is brought in to help solve the mystery because of his shared interest with the murder victim in symbolism in art.
The strange layout and circumstance around the death in the Louvre left a series of intentional clues by the murder victim to be discovered, and as the reader turns the page we vicariously join the revelations revealed.
The protagonist Robert Langdon is about to release the manuscript of his most recent book when he is pulled into the murder scene. The book is titled “Symbols of the Lost Sacred Feminine” and its author Langdon was nervous about the response it would provoke due to some very unconventional interpretations he had made of established religious iconography.
Beginning with the first clue that presents itself in trying to solve the mystery of the death in the Louvre, Langdon finds himself in familiar intellectual territory. As a professor he had lectured many years on the symbols left as clues.
The first clue is a symbol the victim had drawn himself on his stomach with his own blood from a gunshot wound. It is five straight lines that form a five pointed star, otherwise known as a “pentacle”.
The French detective with Langdon immediately associated the star with devil worship, but Langdon knows from his field of study that the ancient pagan sign is part of pre-Christian nature worship. Our early ancestors saw the natural world with both masculine and feminine energies at work to form a balance of harmony. But when the energies are unbalanced we experience chaos. Langdon tells the French detective that the pentacle represents the female half of all things – what religious historians refer to as the “sacred feminine” or the “divine feminine”.
Langdon goes on to say that the early Roman Catholic Church systematically countered ancient symbology with escalating smear campaigns; eventually replacing the original meanings with demonized misconceptions – hence the association of the pentacle with devil worship.
A little later in the book, a previously invisible circle is revealed around the outstretched corpse. The victim has drawn it himself with a black light pen often used in museums today to identify with wall marks the paintings in need of restorative work.
The combination of the pentacle within the circle reveals a new dimension to the set of clues left behind by the murder victim.
Langdon immediately recognized the reference to Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous drawing of The Vitruvian Man. It is considered the most anatomically correct drawing of a nude male in its day and the drawing can be seen on posters and t-shirts as a modern-day icon, as well.
The circle around the pentacle, according to Langdon, represents the harmony of both female and male energies combined.
Before too long in the novel another clue is added into the mix. A numeric sequence and once it was recognized as a significant code, I, in turn, made a fascinating discovery. This numeric code was beginning to sound familiar to me. I’d heard about it before. It’s also called the Divine Proportion or the Fibonacci sequence. I’d heard about it before but it wasn’t in school and it wasn’t from some public television show I’d seen. No….I recalled as I was reading the book that I’d heard about this from – my daughter!
And even more surprising than that was that she had told me about the Fibonacci sequence in reference to …of all things…her new tattoo!
Now some of you, I bet, had already forgotten that I have a daughter. And here I am in the pulpit talking about her tattoos but just stay with me on this…okay?
Next week my daughter is starting her last year at San Francisco State University working on her Bachelors of Science degree, Pre-Med. She has been a self-identified “science geek” since high school when she had an excellent biology teacher and an unusual magnet school class bringing together environmental science and photography. But from a young age my daughter was not just a “science geek”, she’s been a fashionable one. In addition to being an excellent photographer herself, she is particularly photogenic and has done a limited amount of modeling for several years now.
I remember how she used to ask my permission for one after another crazy hair color or style when she was in junior high school and how when she get to high school – it was her desire to get a tattoo. I held her off on almost every request until she convinced me otherwise and strangely enough – almost every one of her decisions worked for her at the time.
Her first tattoos are small stars, or pentacles, on her ankles. And the latest one when I read the Da Vinci Code, summer before last, was what I knew as the nautilus spiral on her upper arm.
As I read the book I recalled how my daughter Caroline had explained that her new tattoo symbolized her love of science. It was a single picture of the Golden Mean, the Divine Proportion also known as the Fibonacci sequence. Her spiral indicated the building block of nature discovered in the most beautiful number in the universe. The number called Phi 1.618. The number that shows the proportionally balanced ratios found everywhere in nature from the seashell to the honeycomb and sunflower, to the human body itself. It is recognized as a formula for beauty and so has been embraced by artists for centuries, including Leonardo.
The sequence of numbers is such that it is equal to the sum of the first two preceding terms. This is the divine recipe for life itself and the basic pattern of growth within all natural things.
The surprising discovery that I made about my own life in the course of reading Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was connected to the precious presence of my daughter in my life story and an appreciation for her spiritual path of growth. The stars on her ankles reflect the earth-centered spiritually she had shared with her junior high girlfriends. The nautilus shell on her shoulder reflected her love of nature’s beautiful design on this earth turned toward the noble pursuit of scientific knowledge, another kind of spiritual path of practice and devotion.
Beyond my commitment to model for her the possibilities available to her as young women located within the United Stated in the 21st century, my daughter Caroline is finding her own way in life and continuing to be a teacher for me.
I consider myself fortunate and blessed to be among the women clergy of our country and among the majority of clergy within the Unitarian Universalism as a woman in the pulpit.
I am indebted to the women and men who came before me – some of whom are in this room right now – who have made it possible for me to be serving in the ministry as a woman, while we know other denominations and faiths are not places where this is possible today.
As Unitarian Universalists, we benefit from the successful work of our denomination’s Women’s Federation who established the norms of gender inclusive language in our congregations and in our hymnals. The same group facilitated the denomination-wide effort to articulate what we know as our Principles and Purposes – and this was accomplished just within the last twenty years of our movement’s history.
Regardless of whether or not there was a goddess centered culture that preceded the patriarchy of the last 2000 years, we doknow that women, and the earth itself, have been and continue to be subjugated. And at the same time the sacred feminine, the divine goddess, what is identified as female energy is present, ever present, in our world and has been through all the ages.
A reading in our hymnal by Starhawk says it’s this way – “Earth mother, star mother, you who are called by a thousand names, may we remember we are cells in your body and dance together”.
Whether it’s Mother Mary or the Magdalene, or even the Buddhist Kwan Yin whose variety of faces grace the cultures of the east, we are as humans drawn into a good story and the female figures hold a powerful place in our psyche, even when they are hidden from plain view.
Whether or not, Mary Magdalene sat at Jesus’ side in the painting of The Last Supper or not, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code has challenged millions of readers to think in new ways about the relationship that Jesus may have had with the women of his life. It has challenged many readers world-wide to consider the historical and religious figure of Jesus in new ways – as an extraordinary man, but still as a man. This book has also brought to light the many political forces at work behind the doctrines of the established church.
For those whose religious sensibilities are not insulted by the concepts presented in the book, there may be a wider space that has been created to explore the many questions provoked. And we, as Unitarian Universalists, welcome the asking of such questions,
We welcome the multiple views, and the voice that has been silenced. We welcome the application of both imagination andreason in the interpretation and application of religious thought.
We are a people that love a good story.