Women have been spiritual gatekeepers since before religion existed. In ancient cultures they were leaders and holders of ritual and ceremony, however in modern religion it has been men who have taken almost exclusive responsibility. There is now complacency about the lack of women in ordained roles and within religion and spirituality as a whole. Are women so content to accept inequality within their faith? Or are they just turning away from religion and finding other means of spiritual expression? Daoism holds an idea of gender and spirituality that may be of use in the discussion.
In Daoism, ‘taiji’ or ‘the sacred polarity’ is the means of understanding balance and harmony in the universe. It is formed by two mutually interdependent forces; yin and yang. These forces are in constant interplay, giving rise to a myriad of extremes including night and day and the sky and earth. Men and women are the human manifestation of this sacred polarity on earth. Both yin and yang are necessary for natural law to function and more importantly each in isolation cannot bring balance or express its true nature. Therefore neither yin or yang and man nor woman is valued more greatly above the other.
For this reason the male and female experience of the world is intrinsically different. One is naturally extraordinary to the other and their perception cannot be identical or even comparable. Religious leadership across cultures is held almost exclusively at this time by men and spirituality is therefore interpreted by only one half of humanity. The yang side of the story alone currently shapes the lives of the billions who follow a faith. We must be clear about what this means.
Do we truly believe that men are more able to hear the word of god than women? Are they more able to see the true nature of the universe? Are men more able to interpret the will of the divine or to become enlightened? The answer of course, is no. But in not acknowledging this within religious structure we have detached ourselves from that which holds both male and female together in its divine nature. We are detached from god.
Throughout religion today we are lacking a woman’s spiritual experience. We are deprived of the words that only a woman hears from god, the love of the divine that only a woman feels. We are missing the boundless spontaneity that balances the cultivation of peace and compassion. And we lack the spiritual connection to the earth that women manifest in their senses and cycles and childbearing. Without these we are led only by the yang and left untouched by the deep power of the yin. The offerings, insight, prayers and senses of women are absolutely necessary for the true spiritual growth of mankind.
Daoism may be a little-known religion to the west yet we can learn a lot from its emphasis on the importance of both male and female qualities in spirituality. It grew from shamanic roots when women were very much at the forefront of spiritual and community life and its core belief in the interdependence of yin and yang could not justify domination by male practitioners. For female daoists all aspects of womanhood are encouraged and explored and women have equal access to the roles in religious structure. Could it not be so in all of the world’s religions? Women are one half of the whole and room must be made for them. For what is a world where only men decide the spiritual?
Rachael Dunsmore Zi Jiao, 23 March 2013
Artwork 'Proceso y Vision de los Acuedos de Paz' by Paula Nicho
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