Mother Earth & the Divine Feminine
and what we can learn from the East
There are interesting parallels between Daoist Nature philosophy, Traditional Chinese medical philosophy and Indian Goddess mythology. In the following article I have illustrated certain aspects of the former and compared them in particular with Ma Sarasvati, the white aspect of the triple Goddess (red for Lakshmi, black for Kali Ma). The poetic and symbolic language in which both Chinese and Indian wisdom traditions are embedded; offer something invaluable to our Western rational and linear way of thinking. In this instance it brings to life key qualities of the most refined aspect of the earth/mother archetype, portraying an embodied understanding of what is meant by: ‘to nourish life’.
Ancient China and the earth element
Chinese Daoist nature philosophy, which has inspired Traditional Chinese Medicine for the last 3000 years, states that the element earth: Tu 土 is associated with Mother, with soil, with land, with grains, with harvest, nature and nurture. Earth is where home is, where we belong, where we live with our families and tribes. The Earth element links with the colour yellow (the colour of grains) and the sweet taste which brings comfort, and integrates and harmonises all other bitter, sour, pungent and salty flavours. This is why in many cultures a meal is always completed and rounded off with something sweet. Earth is where our centre is, it is the fifth direction that points to the middle which in the body is the solar plexus. In the body, earth manifests through the stomach and the spleen and its digestive powers, the flesh and the muscles on our bones and with our lips. In the human voice earth gives us the ability to speak with a slight undulating singing sound, the kind of sound you hear in a mother’s voice when she is trying to comfort her crying baby. A healthy singing sound has always a ‘sweet’, loving quality, not a sickly sweet or cloying one. The emotion associated with Earth is sympathy or empathy (Greek: sympatheia “fellow feeling”, community of feeling – Chinese 同情Tóngqíng = acceptance, compassion, feeling, mercy). As such, sympathy relates to our trans-gender capacity to care, to nurture and to mother, but it also relates to our ability to think clearly and rationally. After empathy, thinking is regarded the second ‘emotion’ in the Earth element. The word that unites both empathy and thinking is ‘understanding’ – one understands with the heart and one understands with the mind. One doesn’t work without the other. Therefore, when as children, we’ve been securely held and nurtured by our mother, or substitute care-giver, we thrive not only physically and emotionally but also intellectually: flesh, muscles and brain tissue will be healthy, we can digest both food and information and relate socially through the capacity to feel, to understand and to care. Maternal deprivation or malnourishment on the other hand can cause eating disorders, learning difficulties and a worrying mind that goes around in circles. And there may be problems with finding a job or a stable home base, i.e. issues around caring and nurturing of self (but also of others). Further disturbance in our mother/earth relationship can manifest as greed or insatiable hunger on the one hand or self sacrifice and martyrdom on the other. Both are painful afflictions or extreme expressions that can cause a lot of suffering. This may require deep healing: the healing of the spirit of the earth element.
The spiritual aspect of the Earth element in Chinese thinking is closely linked with the qualities represented by the Indian Goddess Sarasvati. Yi 意 translated as intention or thought is seen as a spiritual gift. The original Chinese pictogram shows the heart and the spirit that lives within the heart, a mouth and the character for sound. What it means is that the sound that comes out of our mouths when we speak must be heart based. What matters is therefore not so much what we say, but how we say something. The feeling, the intention behind our words, and the sound we make should have a ‘heavenly vibration’, i.e. a pure and true ring to it.
India – Enter Sarasvati
With Sarasvati, in Hindu mythology, we have the Divine embodiment of the supreme Mother archetype. Sarasvati as the Goddess of heaven on earth, in possession of a potent intellect, associated with intelligence and knowledge, wisdom and learning, with speech, music and the arts. As such she illustrates the pinnacle of our human capacity to celebrate life in its highest form. Maybe it is for this reason that she appears in the last trimester of the Navaratri Festival, the nine nights in worship of the Divine Mother, after we have learnt the lessons set by Ma Kali and Ma Lakshmi. Then Ma Sarasvati, the great white Goddess, embodiment of purity, enlightened living, highest consciousness and bliss, appears to us as the crowning glory of the Tridevi/ triple goddess. Dressed in white she is the personification of purity – and riding on a white swan – she symbolises Sattwa Guna – discernment and purity of mind. Since white contains all the colours in the spectrum she also stands for completion and wholeness. As consort of Brahman, she brings us back to our origin, the elixir of life, the Holy Grail. Endowing us humans with the powers of speech, wisdom and learning we can invoke her through noble thoughts and words spoken with sweet sounds. She appears whenever we learn or study something new or when we teach others. She exalts through song, music and dance, the universal language of the heart. So when we sing her praises, read books of wisdom and connect with the earth, with nature, animals and humans in a spirit of ‘fellow feeling’ we engage with Sarasvati and she with us.
Both Daoist and Indian Goddess traditions agree that when we align with the heavenly aspect of the earth, our use of language turns into a divine art form: intelligent and robust, and at the same time sweet and comforting. And at best it inspires us to song, poetry and philosophy.
Even though this may be a high ideal, it is nevertheless one worth striving for as its benefits are indescribably far reaching. To find evidence for this, we don’t need to look far: Babaji in his short ministry was living proof of all the above and it is why thousands of people around the world still continue to draw sustenance from him by uttering the mantra and singing his praises. Thus the ‘living word’ of the Goddess, of Mother Earth with all her attributes lives on in our communities, when we come together, focus our minds and sing Her many names with heavenly inspired sounds. Om Aing Mahasaraswatyai Namah !