(chorus of a song written by Rhyannan – 1960s)
WHY THE DARK MOTHER?
I am not a scientist – far from it – but when I began to read about new physics and cosmology in the 80s, I found many of the concepts immediately recognizable because of my background in pagan mythology. What specifically sparked my interest in writing this article, was the persistence mystery of Dark Matter, which is claimed to account for more than 90% of the matter required to hold the Universe together (1). This mystery echoes yet another – one that has existed within the spiritual mind of humyns since our earliest beginnings – that of the Great Mother, especially in Her aspect as the Dark Mother.
Our focus in Creation-centred spirituality is not the new science itself, but rather how these alternative ways of perceiving the cosmos can be ‘brought into the light’, in such a way that they can ‘in-form’ our spiritual and practical responses to our world and the deep issues that faces us about Its survival and our own. Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry point out (rightly, I believe) that in order for the new cosmology to be able to serve this role, it needs a ‘story’, or rather, to become one. To become a true ‘myth’ – to speak symbolically to the need of the culture to place themselves within the cosmos – there needs to be some sense that the story is a pathway from an old point of view to a new one. (2).
First and foremost, a story needs identifiable characters – living images that embody the story’s progression. Deep within the world’s mythologies, one image – a primary ‘character’ – already exists, that ‘echoes’ these new theories about the Universe. The concept of the Dark Mother embodies the deepest of mysteries, especially those that Matthew Fox would consider ‘via negativa’ and ‘via transformativa’, but equally importantly, She offers a medium for all four ‘vias’ (creativa, postiva, negativa and transformativa) to flow from one to into the other, in an endless cycle of creation.
Unfortunately, the concept of the Dark Mother, in Her true form, is not very available to the common person (3), because millennia of patriarchy have demonized or distorted Her image. The ‘God’ of patriarchy is predominately one of ‘light’, and clearly echoes our own struggles (being a ‘light/sight’ biased species) to ‘en-light-en’ our world (know-ledge) and in so doing, gain control over our environment. In order to ‘light’ to win over the all-embracing and pervading Darkness (the essential ‘mystery’ quality of the world), the concept of the Dark Mother had to be dis-empowered.
First of all, She was demonized – becoming the elusive and shadowed scapegoat for the rising dominance of male/light. However, interestingly enough, the most effective form of this process, was to demonized all of the male gods who remained loyal to Her (which mixed, became the imagery of the Devil). This, I suggest, was the result of patriarchy’s insistence that only ‘male gods’ had any real power: this is a strange progression, however, because the actual dis-empowerment of the Goddess Herself came later on.
Secondly, She was dis-empowered directly – progressively reduced to a mere ‘vessel’ of the God’s sperm, or seminal power. As such, She was demoted from being the mysterious power within matter, to matter itself – considered the lifeless ‘stuff’ that true power (read ‘male’) acts upon. However, mystery is not vanquished so easily, and the patriarchy could not entirely rid itself of Her. Thus, thirdly, She was given elusive disguises (for example, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Black Madonna, veiled Sophia, or Holy Grail), that effectively hid Her true power, while admitting that Darkness and Mystery still had a place in ‘God’s world’.
Who then is this Dark Mother, and how does She relate to the new cosmology? How can She ‘speak’ to/for this unfathomable mystery we are finding in the depths of our Universe?
PRIMAL/DARK – MATRIX/MOTHER
The concepts of the Primal Mother/Matrix (usually referred to as ‘fecund chaos’) and the Dark Mother overlap significantly, in almost every culture. Both are too all-inclusive and yet elusive to have any distinct form (4) ‘potentiality’. The Primal Mother/Matrix is usually identified amongst the earliest of the cosmological Godde (5) – as the primal chaos itself, and/or its first distinctive feature, ‘birthing-ness’: in later myths, when a shift in focus begins to perceive ‘power’ as not in matter but acting upon it, She is the substance that is carved up to create the Universe. Although most of these initiating Godde then fade into the background as the those of manifest order become predominant, the Primal Matrix/Mother survives as the Dark Mother – the on-going source of the cycles of life/death and creativity.
The most all-inclusive aspect of the Dark Mother is the power to transform things. She is the ‘ground of being’ that allows life to pass through the stages of the Maiden, Mother, and Crone ‘faces’ – in a sense, She is the 4th face of the Goddess, but the one that underlies all the others. As such, She is known as the Midwife – She who is the ‘unseen’ hands, guiding all births and deaths, and therefore, all transformations from one to the other in the cycles of life. She is, therefore, also all ‘doorways’ (between Upperworld/Underworld, Bright/Dark knowing, etc.) and is often represented by womb-like objects, such as cauldrons, oceans/wells/springs, and variants of the Holy Grail: as the underlying source to all of life’s tapestries, She is also symbolized by webs, weaving, and particularly the impetus of the tying-Maiden and cutting/Crone aspects of all life’s threads.
She is not only the ‘agent’ of the Underworld – which in pagan symbology represents all that is, but not in manifested form – but IS it. She is not only the transformer between death and life, the doorway of passage between (both directions), and the lantern that guides that passage, but the very matrix in which the transformation take place – both the Dark Tomb (of all that ‘passes away’) and Womb (of all that ‘comes into being’), which in pagan conceptuality (and now, scientific ones as well), are one and the same, the Dark T/Womb. She is also the Dark Moon, and as such, the source of all prophecy/oracles, intuition, and ‘Dark Knowing’ (the Unconscious).
Furthermore, She can not be understood as being passive. The primary quality of the feminine principle is ‘gatheredness’, and thereby, the power of ‘drawing in’ (essentially, magnetism in its volumest meaning). It is the polaric opposite to the masculine principle, which is separation (absolutely necessary to any kind of ‘ex-press-in’, and only evil in its extreme states), and thereby, the power of ‘thrusting out’. Both principle are active (and passive), but in different ways – especially now that we understand that matter and energy are not separate ‘things’, but different ‘act-ivations’ and ‘act-ivities’ of one potentiality. In fact, I would suggest that while Her role an on-going matrix is hidden from focus (as context), it should be granted the status of being considered the most powerfully and diversely ‘active’.
DARK MATRIX/MOTHER/MATTER IN THE NEW COSMOLOGY
‘Matter’, ‘Matrix’ and ‘Mother’ all derive from the Indo-European word ‘mater’. It is common now, for scientists or ‘quantum theologians’ (a term O’Murchu’s uses) to refer to the Earth as a ‘living Mother’, yet few have considered the volumer (6) connotations of this image for the Universe. They rarely, if ever, directly co-relate the ancient concepts of the Dark Mother, and the new cosmological theories concerning Dark Matter, Black Holes, and the ‘living’ matrix that both provide to the Universe. Yet, both the concepts and the language of the new physics/cosmology persistently echo that of the Dark Mother.
Creative chaos (now understood to be deeper order) is the distinctive quality of the Primal Mother, and Her ‘daughter’ (that is, She who inherited Her on-going role), the Dark Mother. Brian Swimme conjures the images of the Dark Mother when referring to this creative chaos as “the all-nourishing abyss”. He also points out that this “ocean of potentiality”, this “quantum vacuum”, is “the nonvisible…that which can never been seen…[or] pictured. It is both nonvisible and nonvisualizable…” (Swimme, 1996, 97) – in other words, non-lighted-abled in any way, physical or psychic: the Dark Mother is She who is eternally veiled, whose ‘face no man (sic) can ever see, except in death’.
Some theorists have suggested that the birth of the Universe is better described as ‘a cosmic egg’ in a ‘orgasmic flood of birthing’, ‘foaming into existence’ – rather than the more typical pyro-technical ‘big bang’. All of the words used here are related to the Great Mother image – even foaming, which is not only a sea/ocean image, but a variant of the ‘yeast’ image (7). O’Murchu points out, re: this primordial state, “When matter and anti-matter meet, physicists talk of “annihilation.” Actually, it is not …but a process of “transformation” (O’Murchu, 1998, 133): the Dark Mother is the ultimate transformer.
Creation is being constantly created – cycles of (in terms of electrons/etc., instantaneous) creation and destruction: the Dark Mother’s archetypal role is to be the ‘T/Womb’ of all such ‘comings and goings’, and the very Doorway of them. As ultimate matrix/transformer, She is consistent with the concept of implicate order (Bohm): as matrix to all ‘light-abled’ ex-press-ions, She is the Mother to all explicate order. Furthermore, as Dark Matter, She is the deep space T/Womb that embraces all movements between implicate and explicate orders. In fact, She might be the best deific symbol we have for Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘morphogenetic fields’.
Her primary quality of ‘drawing in’ is responsible for not only the gravity that holds the Universe together, but curvature of its structure, its pattern of predominately spiral galaxies, and its ‘return’ to Black Holes. Black Holes are theorized to be the matrix for all ‘birthed’ universes – the silent ‘winter’ between a universe’s death and rebirth. The Dark Mother, as the T/Womb transformer, embraces all possible universes, in their ‘ovum-like’ Black Hole state. O’Murchu notes that “It now appears that the “once-and-for-all process” [birth/death of a universe] is only one of a number of evolutionary cycles,… trillions…of years old…Maybe we live in an infinite universe…[in which] cycles may re-created infinitely…” (O’Murchu, 1998, 183) – an idea held by many ancient cultures, as the cycle of ‘ages’. Black Holes are also thought to be ‘worm holes’ (O’Murchu, 1998, 126), possibly to other universes: this conjures the image of a vagina, linking the world of ‘inner womb space’ and the outer world, and also specifically, of the Dark Mother as ‘doorway between the worlds’.
Before the concept of male Gods developed, the Mother was understood as the ‘all-pervading Presence’. This indicates that our ancestors understood Her as deeply and ultimately immanent – Berry states (in reference to modern humyns) that the Universe is “…such an intimate presence, that it escapes our notice…spontaneities that come from an abyss of energy and a capacity for intelligible order of which we have only the faintest glimmer in our conscious awareness.” (Berry, 1988, 195). While Black Holes and ‘dark halos’ may be a particular form/function of Dark Matter, there is evidence that Dark Matter exists throughout the Universe – in all spaces, within and between. If so, it would be not only the originating matrix of all creation (primal T/Womb), but also the ‘deepest in’ and ‘farthest out’ of existence’s moment-to-moment explicating – the most immanent/intimate, yet all-encompassing, Presence conceivable. I suggest that symbolically, only the Dark Mother is capable of embracing this imagery.
Yet, in many cultures, She is also the ‘phosphorescent angel’ – a womb not filled with silent, still empty space, but seething energy that has not become ‘light-abled’ as yet – the Shimmering. The Primal Mother is often understood as ‘churning primordial waters’ – or as O’Murchu describes it “a boiling, chaotic conundrum of raw potential” (O’Murchu, 1998, 133). In Hinduism, Shakti (name means ‘pure energy’) conceives the Universe after creating a vibration between Herself and Her partner, Shiva: is this vibration (or more accurately, primordial resonance), ‘the Shimmering’?. Swimme states “Even the word “vibrate” is not exact, for it connotes a solid object that moves rapidly back and forth in space…[when actually] particles exist in one location and then …another… without traversing the space in between” (Swimme, 1996, 102) – might the word he is looking for be the Shimmering (8)?
Her primary ‘drawing in’ quality – which in terms of Dark Matter, has been dubbed, the Great Attractor – is one of attraction and seduction; both are necessary to ensure relationship. Swimme insists (as do others) that the Universe is not primarily made up of “…”material things” [that are] “really real”….” (Swimme, 1996, 94), but rather, webs of relationships, and that the Whole is what is ‘really real’. Berry further suggests that “Without the gravitational attraction experienced throughout the physical world, there would be no emotional attraction of humans to one another.” (Berry, 1988, 46). Dark Matter/Energy comprises more than 90% of the gravitation of the Universe, and that the basis for humyn relationships (choices, development, etc.) are quite possibly more than 90% unconscious: the archetype of the Dark Mother embodies all ‘relatedness’, and webs thereof, and therefore, the very concepts of community and communion.
Finally, the new cosmology challenges the old concepts of absolute ‘beginnings’ and ‘endings’ – the deeper we are able to see into our Universe, the more insistently ‘transformation’ becomes the foundation of all ‘ex-IS-tense’. Creation, affirmation (positiva) and release (negativa) are stages within the process of infinite transformation. ‘Transformativa’ then becomes the ground from which all the others become possible, just as the Dark Mother is the ground from which the Maiden, Mother, and Crone faces of the Goddess, and all the ‘light-abled’ faces of existence which we call ‘the God’(and who is Her son), become possible. Furthermore, the fact that we can’t ‘see’ this ‘more than 90% Dark Matter/Energy’, affirms that Mystery/Darkness be once again honoured as the quintessential ‘face’ of the Divine – the wholism which is not only ‘more than the sum of its parts’, but whose overwhelming ‘more’ will always remain profoundly dark and mysterious, yet Mother to all that is not.
1. Recently new statistics have been proposed – that the Universe contains 5% ‘light-abled matter’ (what scientist refer to as ‘ordinary matter’), 30 % Dark Matter, and 65% Dark Energy – although it is not at all clear what the difference between Dark Matter and Energy is. Dark Energy is proposed as accounting for the speeding up of the expansion of the Universe. For the purpose of this essay, however, I will consider Dark Matter and Dark Energy as variant qualities of the Dark Mother, so the percentage that can be corresponded to the Dark Mother remains the same.
2. One of the essential differences between a myth and a legend, is that a myth is required to serve this cosmological purpose.
3. It is notable however, that the Dark Mother of the Goddess has received more attention and thorough exploration in the modern revival of Paganism/Wicca – especially by wymyn – than the other three more familiar ‘faces’ – Maiden, Mother, and Crone.
4. – in fact, are beyond any concept of Goddess as distinct ‘deity’.
5. The ‘Godde’ refers to all possible archetypes that could be imaged as a Goddess or God ‘face’ – inferring a collective unit containing an infinite number of distinctive ‘faces’/images.
6. In the English language, there is no specific term for ‘more or ultimate in all directions at once’, as there is for singular directions-more – such as higher/highest, etc. The words ‘volumer’ and ‘volumest’ are distinctly missing.
7. ‘Bread’ and ‘oven’ are both common images of the Great Mother, and even today we refer to pregnancy as ‘having a bun in the oven’.
8. As a ‘light-biased’ species, we tend to conceive of ‘shimmering’ as light, perceptually moving but without any distinct ‘waves’. The term however, is not confined to perceptual light, but can also be used as a body sensation, and from there, expanded to include a sense of ‘psychic resonance’, which has no manifested movement.
Thomas Berry. The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club books, 1988).
John P. Briggs and F. David Peat. Looking Glass Universe, (Touchstone books, Simon and Schuster, 1984).
Demetra George. Mysteries of the Dark Moon, (Harper/Collins, 1992).
Richard Grossinger. Embryogenesis (North Atlantic Books, 1986).
Diarmuid O’Murchu. Quantum Theology, (Crossroads Publishing, 1998).
Rupert Sheldrake. A New Science of Life (P Tarcher, Inc. 1981).
Brian Swimme. The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos (Orbis Books, 1996).