I’m taking a chance here. At 82 years of age, I’m going to risk embarrassing myself by reconsidering the message and significance of what some consider to be “pornography,” i.e., the images of ordinary mature women found on the internet.
I’m going to propose that like their prehistoric, sculptured counterparts found throughout the ancient world, the images in question can lead us to more fully understand life and its purposes. Moreover, they can help liberate men especially from the toxic patriarchy that is responsible for our wars and the environmental omnicide produced by our economic systems.
I write as a man more deeply embedded in patriarchy than most. I was once a Roman Catholic priest who entered the seminary to embrace a life of celibacy at the age of 14. As such, I became profoundly integrated into perhaps the world’s most patriarchal system characterized by a largely unconscious misogyny and fear of women.
It was an exaggerated embodiment of the metasystem that afflicts the world in general. Like that overarching social arrangement, it told me that viewing the unclothed female form was somehow dangerous and sinful. Post-priesthood married life and reading feminist scholars has shown me it is not.
Here I’m not talking about Playboy or Penthouse, much less about degrading portrayals of young women and girls forced into the pornography trade, perhaps for the profit of others and/or for their own career advancement.
Still less am I referring to snuff films or misogynist portrayals of women in bondage, degrading situations or pain. All of those represent hideous abuses and exploitation of women for purposes of pleasing leering men devoid of appreciation or affection for women outside the pleasure the latter’s objectifications afford.
No, what I’m presenting as culturally and even theologically liberating are the willing displays of the female form by mothers and grandmothers of mature ages from middle age through the 90s. (Perhaps surprisingly to some, these can be accessed by the hundreds on the world-wide web.)
I’m going to suggest that these depictions may be seen as representing modern day equivalents of the oldest goddess images found virtually everywhere in the world’s most ancient archeological digs. Those representations with their prominent breasts, vulvas, and ochre paint (along with occasional inscriptions and accompanying mythology) call attention to what since prehistoric times have been recognized as mostly wordless texts revealing humankind’s fundamental relationship to the feminine aspect of the Divine.
What I present here is inspired by the work of Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor and their classic 1987 work, The Great Cosmic Mother: rediscovering the religion of the earth. Granted, the two authors often rail against pornography in the negative senses noted above (196, 328, 411, 383, 391-92). However, their treatment of the deep meanings revealed in specifically female processes associated with their unique physical characteristics suggest what I’m about to share.
The Central Significance of the Clitoris
Undoubtedly, the most unique of the characteristics in question is the clitoris. As such, it is a fitting starting point for any reverent search for divine revelations contained in the wondrous feminine form. Beginning with the clitoris also obviates criticisms by some who might find here no more than transparent rationalization of the sexual pleasure that willingly unclothed female bodies inevitably provide.
Such suspicions, Sjöö and Mor suggest, reflect the traditional vilification of sexual pleasure fostered by the patriarchy which sees erotic sensations and the women who elicit them as dangerous threats to the “surplus repression” necessitated by the reigning economic system’s need to control an otherwise delightfully distracted workforce (as indicated by Marcuse in Eros and Civilization).
So, traditionally patriarchal repression has found it necessary to reject as unnatural any sexual pleasure outside the marriage context. Moreover, even within marital relations, sexual pleasure not open to conception of new life has been deemed sinful. Judgments like those require women to hide from all but their husbands their defining physical characteristics from their hair to their entire bodies in some extreme cases.
All of that is contradicted by the clitoris. As Sjöö and Mor emphasize, the clitoris is the only organ in the human anatomy whose exclusive function is the provision of sexual pleasure (4-5). This strongly suggests that sexual pleasure is built into the foundations of life itself.
Sjöö and Mor explain: “. . . there is profound psychological and institutional reluctance to face the repercussions of the fact that the female clitoris is the only organ in the human body whose purpose is exclusively that of erotic stimulation and release. What does this mean? It means that for the human female, alone among all earth’s life-forms, sexuality and reproduction are not inseparable” (4-5).
Yes, the clitoris reveals that sexual pleasure is not only natural and part of the cosmic order; it is to be welcomed and treasured. Despite what we’ve been taught by mainline churches and Puritan culture, sexual pleasure is a fundamental human right. It need not relate to reproduction of the species. This means, for example, that contraception makes perfect sense.
Other Female Revelations
Now consider further the rich text of the sacred female form as revealed in ancient statuary – and in what might be seen as their contemporary counterparts. Both media convey central disclosures by the Great Cosmic Mother about aspects of human life that patriarchy tragically ignores.
· Abundant Hair: For the ancients, hair was a symbol of cosmic power and clairvoyance (183). Famously in Greek mythology, Medusa‘s locks took the form of snakes, the ancient world’s symbol of surpassing female wisdom and divinity (57-62). Female tresses, much fuller than men’s, remind us of women’s correspondingly deeper wisdom and insights.
· Soft Flesh: The softer physical character of women’s bodies, usually less obviously muscular than those of men, directs attention away from externals to the true source of human strength – away from bulging muscles to something interior and unseen, which is perceived in all spiritual traditions as more sacred than externals. Put otherwise, while the tendency of patriarchal religion is to separate spirit and matter, matricentric worship of the Cosmic Mother does not (172). Feminine softness reveals women’s surpassing inner strength.
· Breasts: In virtually all cultures, female breasts have been a symbol of beauty, motherhood, and vitality. They were somehow considered the source of female identity. An inscription on an ancient goddess statue of dynastic Egypt even proclaims, “I have breasts, therefore I am” (161). As for displaying them, Sjöö and Mor observe, “In Crete, the uncovering of the breasts was a sacred gesture, symbolizing the nourishing lifestream of the mother” (213).
· Milk and Food: Astoundingly, female bodies are sources of food for the most vulnerable of the species. Sources of food! Milk, sacred cows, and bovine horns were always associated with women whose sharing of food symbolized the primordial act that makes all of us human (408). (The image below shows why.) It is no wonder then that for millennia women were regarded as incarnating the nourishment provided by Mother Earth herself.
Vulva: This female organ is especially hallowed because of its connection with first experiences of all five senses. As everyone’s gateway to the external world, it represents our first tactile experiences, the drawing of first breath, the initial experience of fragrance, and the birthed organism’s first taste (of blood). The vulva is also intimately associated with primal experiences of one’s own voice and that of one’s godlike mother. Additionally, the vulva’s appearance reminds every one of the paradisal pre-birth state of unity with Source where all needs were satisfied without effort or pain. No wonder the vulva’s attraction!
· Menses: In all ancient goddess cultures women’s monthly periods were honored as sacrosanct. They were times of withdrawal in the company of other women to menstrual huts where, relieved of their duties and the demands of husbands and children, women could meditate, pray together, sing, dance, and simply converse (186). More specifically, such periods provided time to celebrate the great mystery that women’s blood is liquid flesh (189). It is the very substance from which all human bodies are made. This makes women co-creators with the Great Cosmic Mother in ways that men can never be. Nothing in human creation could be more basic, holy, feminine, or divine than female menses.
· Connection with Lunar Cycles: Menstruation connects women with Mother Nature and her most basic processes in conscious and unconscious ways that are simply closed to men (189). Like the ocean and its tides, women’s bodies are governed by the moon and its phases. This means that women possess innate mostly intuitive wisdom inaccessible to men (183). For those paying attention, such knowledge of natural processes makes women especially sensitive to violations of the Divine Mother, because those transgressions deeply affect all women and mothers. When the Cosmic Mother is raped and despoiled, when the ocean is polluted, all women suffer the same fates whether or not they can articulately identify the transgressions involved. This suggests that women’s voices about environmental destruction should be given priority over men’s.
· Womb and Ovaries: These miraculous unseen organs speak volumes in special need of reading in an American culture that refuses to acknowledge what the female body expresses so clearly about questions of abortion. Wombs and ovaries tell us that life does not begin when sperm fertilizes egg. Instead, it is part of a 3.7-billion-year process that erupts continuously and prolifically in countless and infinite forms (including human varieties) most of which never reach full development recognizable as flowers, plants, specific animals, or human beings. The fact that worldwide billions of eggs go down the drain unfertilized each month, and that up to 50% of fertilized ova end up in miscarriages during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy reveals that creations of the Great Cosmic Mother are far more generous, abundant, plentiful, profligate and lavish than non-females can imagine. Women intuitively attuned to these facts, recognize the significance of this tremendous profligacy in ways inconceivable to men who can never experience ovulation, menstruation, conception, miscarriage – or abortion. It exposes the absurdity of the patriarchal approach to the beginning of personal life that, if taken seriously, turns the God of patriarchy into the abortionist par excellence!
The prehistoric images of the unclothed Great Cosmic Mother surely represent humanity’s first volumes of theology “written” for our preliterate ancestors. Wordlessly, the statues proclaim: “In this image you’ll find all you need to know about the divine. She is beautiful, wise (her hair), strong with inner strength beyond belief (soft flesh), the liquid source of our very bodies (menses), the producer of our first meals (her breasts), our way into the world and back to paradise (her vulva), the one who shows how to live harmoniously with nature (connection to the lunar cycles), and a cosmic co-creator.
Beyond that, men’s quasi-magic reaction to the very sight of the unclothed goddesses and the sexual interaction that sometimes follows provides evidence of the Cosmic Mother’s idea of human fulfillment and purpose – not consumption and accumulation, but ecstatic pleasure and joy simply from what the earth and human relationships provide.”
What could be more beautiful, simple — and salvific in a world obsessed with materialism and consumerism that is driving the species to omnicide? We need to return to the Great Cosmic Mother.
But what about the images of mature cyberspace women? Aren’t they pornographic?
It depends on how they’re viewed. If seen appreciatively as the acts of proud subjects rather than as demeaned objects, they can edify as representing sexually independent mothers and grandmothers acting for themselves and not primarily for men, profit, or in the service of cultural misogyny, and sexism. They communicate the same message as the statues found in Çatal Huyuk (in Turkey), in ancient Egypt and throughout the African continent.
They can be seen as proudly “bodying forth” the overlooked teachings of the Great Cosmic Mother viz., that:
- “Pornography” is a construct of the twisted perspectives of toxic patriarchy. It does not even occur in more sane societal configurations.
- Ordinary women owning and claiming their sexual power and independence are indeed goddesses, beautiful and inspiring.
- Sexual pleasure is good. It is one of Life’s greatest gifts. It is everyone’s right to enjoy it in all its forms – including that provided and elicited by mature women subjects.
- As incorporating spirit and flesh, the guidance of female wisdom is more grounded in Life and Nature than men’s. Female wisdom represents the leading edge of human consciousness.
- Since the Great Cosmic Mother’s nourishment embodied in life’s original food producer (i.e., our mother) feeds us without charge or need to earn that gift, human economies would be more harmonious with the cosmic Design if they were similarly gift-based.
- Nature’s cycles are mirrored in our sisters who remind us each month of the unity shared by all with the moon, ocean, tides, and seasons.
- Life is so abundant, prolific, and lavish, that all of us (and women especially) are truly co-creators with our Great Source. Like the Cosmic Mother herself, women can choose which fertilized eggs to bring to term and which to terminate.
- None of us (especially men) is ultimately in charge of Life’s super-generous processes which thankfully are beyond everyone’s understanding and control but are more fully understood by women.
- Women deserve special honor as the gateway to life that points us back home to paradise lost.
- Our world would be a better place if women as embodiments of the Great Cosmic Mother were in charge.
With all this in mind, it is possible to approach proudly unrobed mothers and grandmothers in the following spirit of appreciation and gratitude quite foreign to the unconscious misogyny which indoctrinated me so many years ago. I express that liberation in the verses I offer here with the hope that others might share the freedom they attempt to express:
Divine Images Lost and Found
Goddesses all They are Unfailing springs of rapt delight Virgins, Mothers, wizened Crones With tresses Surpassing even Samson’s might, Sweet gentle eyes Playful, smoldering, and mischievous, Sensuous lips Smiling wordlessly While wondrously expressing Our Mother’s cosmic purpose Through soft flesh Fulsome breasts, And the Great Divide Enticing Between extended thighs Calling Vagrant children’s return To origins lost While inviting contemplation Of her And our (!) Unfathomable mysteries within.
(Special thanks to Meryl Ann Butler, OpEdNews managing editor, for her marvelous editorial guidance in helping me formulate these thoughts whose shortcomings, of course, are mine, not hers.)