Questions and Answers: Part 1, the Divine Feminine
بِسم الله الرّحمن الرّحيم
وبِه و بِكلّ نقاط و مراياه نستعين الحمدلله الّذي كاشف الغطاء عن الاسرار التّوحيد القِدمية مِن مكتومات السّادسية الالهية المؤنثية و المنازل الكمُيلية في رتبة البيانية و صلى الله على محمّد و آله الطّيبين الطّاهرين و لعنة الله على اعدائهم اجمعين في كلّ حين و قبل حين و بعد حين الى ابد الآبدين يا حق آمين، و بعد
In all of the media appearances youve made which specifically deal with the Fatimiyya Order, the centrality of the divine feminine has been strongly emphasized. A particular point I noticed in Nicolas’ treatment of the Arabic Bayan was the use of the feminine pronoun for God. The reorientation of the abrahamic current towards a feminine iteration of the godhead has implications spanning that spiritual orientation. One which has been pressing on my thoughts is a transliteration of ‘Christ-consciousness’ into a Marian or Fatimayyic configuration. Or the Cosmic Christ/Cosmic Mary/Cosmic Fatima. Is this what we see in Rabia, Hildegard, and Tahira? In the contemporary west's understanding of gender these apparent dichotomies seem far less tethered to physiology than what the Bab would have understood.
First, this discussion needs to be framed primarily around first principles (principia) and not necessarily historic individuals, although individuals become relevant when we discuss the theophany of persons. In other words, these first principles precede the sacred individuals of history who may embody them. Next, apropos are the traces left behind of the divine feminine eidai-archetype from the religion of the ancient Mesopotamians within the Abrahamic tradition itself and what this may reveal to us about the primordial religion of humanity. I will not speak here to either Rābiʿa al-ʿAdawīya of Basra or Hildegard von Bingen because the discussion would take us too far afield into other domains best left for another occasion. However, right from the outset it needs to be emphasized -- and then once more underscored -- that (post)modernist conceptualizations of physiology and biology -- and particularly the way contemporary gender studies and critical theory have contextualized the entire question of gender -- are completely irrelevant (and not even tangential) to what is being discussed here. So the question is definitely not tethered to physiology whatsoever but rather to first principles (i.e. metaphysics) and the anagogical symbolologies (which in themselves move as animated, multi-contextual ciphers, if you would, within amphibolous trajectories of unfolding on both temporal and atemporal levels) that guide the overall understanding of such principles. In other words, I am speaking to a theophanological methodology, for lack of a better term, which will then offer the basic contextual lens for the later discussion around Theophanocracy. Nevertheless for basic contextualizing purposes history is also important.
Now, to discuss the first point: one can argue that such “reorientation,” as you mention, has always been present as a pre-existing orientation (whether latently or explicitly articulated among certain tendencies) within the greater Abrahamic tradition for a very long time. In Judaism it is there in the early part of the Book of Genesis itself. The fact that Genesis 3:20 explicitly designates the name of Eve as being some kind of an acrostic to the Hebrew (אם כל חי) the “All-Living Mother” (or the “Mother of All-Living”)[i] should give pause and thereby provide clues to anyone that such ideas were present among the early Israelites themselves from the very beginnings of their own tradition; and as much as the post-Babylonian exilic Jewish tradition attempted to whitewash, erase, excise and otherwise obfuscate it altogether, they did not fully succeed in doing so but instead (as the narratival evidence of the Old Testament and then the Talmud shows) they went on to polemicize overt instantiations of the trope of the divine feminine and its eidaic-archetype(s) among the Canaanites as well as the Bablyonians and Assyrians (who had earlier conquered them and who were both intimately connected to the very civilization the Israelites themselves originally sprang from, viz. Sumeria) while, try as they might, never fully succeeding in shedding its traces from themselves completely. I posit that this here is where elements of the overall cultural and ideological schizophrenia around the question within the exoteric milieu of the Abrahamic traditions actually stems from. An interesting a question as it may be, it is not even necessary here to broach speculations around whether Yahweh and Shekinah represented two competing deities among the early Israelites.
Yet it is here where the late Israelite Jewish demonization of Ishtar/Asherah/Astarte (and the transformation of this Sumero-Babylonian-Assyrian goddess into Eve’s antitype specifically in the form of Lilith) –- or, rather, Talmudic and halakhic orthodox Judaism’s ideological schizophrenia regarding the trope of the divine feminine as a whole -- originates, notwithstanding the fact that the archetype of Eve herself bears distinct and unmistakable imprints of the Ishtar/Asherah/Astarte figure of Mesopotamian mythos. Nevertheless, despite the best efforts to erase the memory of the divine feminine within the later Israelite tradition, the clues were permanently left behind within their own sacred texts and oral traditions; and once we enter into the Kabbalah proper during the late medieval period of the common era, these latent archetypes and eidai of the divine feminine that never went away come back and become articulated within the complex metaphysics of the Shekinah in that system. Also, tangentially, note here how the khamsa/hamsa, which both Islam and Judaism appropriated as a symbol from the ancient Mesopotamians (one designating it as the symbol of the Shekinah with the other as the Hand of Fāṭima, with its usage in Islam predating the one in Judaism), was considered by these ancient Mesopotamians as being among the most sacred symbols of their mother goddess, evidence of it even found among the pre-Persian Iranian civilization of the Elamites as well as in southern Arabia and Yemen.
To me, at least, and when pushing further back than even the early Mesopotamian and Sumero-Babylonian-Assyrian religions -- including even the Indus Valley one -- such things demonstrate lingering elements of a primordial religion of humanity (which I hold both the polytheisms and monotheisms to have originally emerged from) –- the دين الفطرة, as it were -- where the unicity of the divine was articulated in terms of the eidaic archetype of the divine feminine as a first principle. In other words, my belief is that early humanity understood (and so practiced) a form of tawḥīd, a primal monotheism, as it were, that characterized and depicted the greater mysteries of being in terms of the one divinity qua mother. The Neolithic Çatalhöyük civilization of southern Anatolia, particularly with regard to the effigy of the seated Mother Goddess (which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Venus of Willendorf that is at least 22,000 years older) appears to intuitively substantiate this. The indigenous civilizations offer numerous other explicit clues to that end as well, and this is where I believe the dismissive ideas of those neo-Traditionalists around the question of the divine feminine (such as Julius Evola’s, for example, in his Eros and the Mysteries of Love) to be completely counter-intuitive and even downright false.
To put it another way, my belief is that the religion of the primordial Adam (what the Bāb indicates in several places with the phrase آدم بدبيع الفطرة) revolved around the archetype of the divine feminine, which is why I find a seminal Gnostic text such as the Nag Hammadi’s “The Apocalypse of Adam”[ii] such a pivotally interesting text to meditate upon –- even beyond the explicit content of the actual narrative it offers with its plot and characters -- and especially in the section where we find the apotheosis of Eve as the Sophia who bears the Revelation from the Pleroma to Adam: i.e. Eve as the primal avatar or the first manifestation of the feminine Godhead, as it were, to whom Adam acts as second in rank as Her walī such that She is the Initiarix, the mediator between heaven and earth, the divine messenger (رسول الله) of that hiero-historical cycle with Adam as the mediator, providential guide and hierophant; She being the Point (نقطة) and Adam Her Mirror (مرآت). Intimations of this doctrine –- and the overall narratival reversal in the story of Adam and Eve[iii] -- are given explicitly in one notable instance in the Bāb’s commentary on the sūrah of the Cow (al-baqara) where the proverbial “fall” is contextualized as Adam’s mistaken approach towards his own wife who (i.e. Eve) is symbolized in this commentary as being the Tree of Reality (الشّجرة الحقيقة) which elsewhere as a term acts as one of the ciphers indicating the divine theophany as such (ظهور الله). This, then, in essence would make of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic exoteric narrative of Adam, Eve and the fall in both the Old Testament as well as the Qurʾān by definition an intended veil, a deliberate concealment and obfuscation, as it were, guarding the true narrative around Eve’s real station, if you would: a veil that needs be overcome by the clues left within Abrahamic scripture itself for the true adepts and initiates to piece together in order to take back to its narratival origin (i.e. its tawīl). As such what I am speaking of is, for lack of a better designation, an Evenic consciousness, or the حقيقة حوائية which is the حقيقة فاطمية. Note that in the same commentary on the sūrah of the Cow the Bāb explicitly holds that the transfiguration of Eve as the Tree of Reality was in fact the theophanic self-disclosure (تجلّي) of Fāṭima (ع).
Be that as it may, and beyond what I said at the conclusion of the 2014 Reality Sandwich interview with Benton Rooks,[iv] one of the best symbolic significations of this archetype of the feminine godhead occurs in the Kabbalah via its lettrist meditation on the gematria of Adam whereby some Kabbalists propose that the mystery of the feminine godhead can be gleaned from within the three letters of the name of A-D-M (אדמ) itself –- here Adam obviously signifying the Adam Kadmon within the Tree of Life -- such that when the middle letter daleth (ד) is taken away we have the word em (אמ) (mother). Here “Adam” without the daleth (ד) represents the cosmic Mother pregnant with her own creation (i.e. the universe; or multiverse, rather, i.e. the daleth) such that the totality of the Tree itself, with all of its sephirot, represents the universal cosmic Mother; this, even though the word for “tree” (עץ) in Hebrew (as opposed to the Arabic شجرة which is feminine) is grammatically masculine. One can even posit the daleth (ד) in Adam as signifying the door or gate (“bāb”) to the mysteries of the cosmic Mother (אמ), as it were, in the same sense where Muḥammad (ص) represents the city of knowledge to which ʿAlī (ع) acts as the gate and threshold. Another way to configure this on a higher octave is to say that Adam is the embodied manifestation of the Primal Will (مشيئة الاولى) while the Mother is the Godhead who manifests from Herself the Primal Will such that first א and then מ represent the manifest (الظاهر) and the hidden (الباطن) aspects respectively of the divinity with the medial ד between these two letters representing the Primal Will or Universal Intellect. On a related note, I also draw attention to the Zoharic doctrine that the Messiah –- the re-manifestation of Adam at the end of time -– is in fact the manifestation of the Shekinah within the spatiotemporal form of a man. When reading between its lines and beyond its explicit, outward meaning, this specific Zoharic doctrine of the Kabbalah simultaneously foreshadows by inferred implication what I said earlier regarding the true station of Eve (ع).
Beyond that, the rules of Hebrew grammar hold that every noun that ends with the letter ה (he, i.e. the Arabic ه) is grammatically feminine. The final letter of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) holds ה as its final letter which theoretically –- the longstanding debates over the specific construct notwithstanding –- makes the Tetragrammaton as a construct itself to be eo ipse grammatically feminine as well. Some of the Kabbalists consider this final ה as representing the Shekinah in the 10th sphere of Malkuth, with the medial ה representing the sephira Binah, i.e. the 2nd sphere, from which the second of the four words within the Tree (namely, briah) emanates; this, with each of the four letters of the Tetragrammaton representing the four worlds within the Tree (i.e. atziluth י, briah ה, yetzirah ו and assiah ה). Nevertheless the supreme manifestation of the Shekinah is held to occur in the 1st sephira which is Kether (the crown).
Now, contrary to popularly received opinion, I will also say here that the divine feminine as an eidaic archetype –- or as a symbological lens through and by which a tradition can be contextualized in its highest principles -- is not by definition necessarily a pagan phenomenon at all (that is, when we take the word ‘pagan’ in its negative connotation). That traces of it already occur in the earliest of the Abrahamic scriptures and, moreover, that it phenomenologically reoccurs repeatedly throughout the histories of all three monotheistic faiths is proof of the staying power of this Idea/eidai. The historical phenomenon of the Fedeli d’Amore within Christianity, Judaism and Islam suffices as additional proof.[v] Furthermore, when dealing with the divine feminine within a specifically theophanological Abrahamic context, the categories “pagan” and “non-pagan/monotheism” actually become quite irrelevant dichotomies, because in this domain we have transcended the very content of these registers and are in the presence of a highly elevated form of esotericism, i.e. the bāṭin of the bāṭin, as it were, where the ultimate reality is superlative Being/Existence Itself (Who simultaneously reveals and conceals Itself through every form) and not merely ‘a being’ among others. As such what defines and exemplifies paganism in this perspective (within the negative connotation of the word) is the inability to see beyond circumscribed forms as such, or to circumscribe a particular form or effigy as being representative of an animated totality; and this is also the Qurʾān’s own definition of paganism when it explicitly criticizes those who construct effigies of wood and stone to which they bow down in worship; and not whether the Godhead, the ultimate reality, or its theophanic personifcations are in principia either gendered in grammar or ideationally represented in language with a gender. Given this, the charge of paganism (in its negative denotation) can be equally laid as well at the feet of monotheistic exoteric religionists themselves who construct ossifying effigies from circumscribed ideas to which they bow down, and not merely those polytheists who make such circumscriptions from the materia of wood and stone.
Now, regarding the question of the feminine grammatical case replete throughout the writings of the Bāb and in the Arabic Bayān particularly –- being one of the incessant points of criticism by his orthodox Muslim detractors about the ungrammatical nature of his Arabic style -– the case can be made that (beyond the apparent linguistic surface of the matter) the usage is deliberate in what it is implicitly attempting to convey about a metaphysical fact from his point of view. There are a few ways to contextualize this. Here I will provide one of its justifications. While taking Shaykhī reverse hylomorphism into account (where matter مدّة, a feminine word, rather than form صورة becomes the active principle, i.e. فاعل), in Arabic the phrase “primal will” (مشيئة الاولى) is itself grammatically feminine. In the Bayān the Bāb consistently maintains that he is the physical embodiment of the Primal Will; or, rather, the locus of the manifestation (مظهر) of the talismanic-temple (هيكل) of the universal Primal Will, as it were. With reference to this implied Shaykhī reverse hylomorphism as a subtext, whenever we find these feminine grammatical cases in his writings, the Bāb (as the locus of the manifestation of the Primal Will) is in many ways simultaneously asserting to be the active celestial matter to which form is given to all-things (كلّ شئ). Now, Shaykhī esotericism identifies the Super-Celestial Earth of Lāhūt (i.e. the divine realm proper and the second divine presence after the ipseity) –- which is the core of this specific realm –- with the Super-Celestial Reality of Fāṭima (ع).[vi] In his own metaphysics, the Primal Will is Lāhūt Itself whereby everything in the created world is ultimately generated by It and proceeds from it such that everything we understand within the created world by the concept of ‘divinity’ as such is likewise referable to the Primal Will and not to the ipseity per se which transcends all such predications and categorizations. This then provides one contextual justification as to why the Bāb consistently uses feminine grammatical cases within his written Arabic –- a matter which would not have been lost on many among his devoted (and originally Shaykhī) audience (which, in itself, then makes those criticisms of his grammar to not only be beside the point but ultimately irrelevant criticisms as well since the animating intention behind the Bāb’s usage is something entirely different, occurring as it does on a much higher plane than the circumscribed material rigors of the grammarian).
Beyond the symbological femininity of the Primal Will and the realm of Lāhūt, in the technical terminology and concepts spawned by the school of Ibn ʿArabī, discussions around the nature of the ultimate unicity of the ipseity itself are gendered; and these terms and concepts were fully appropriated by the Shaykhīs and the Bābīs with their intended range of meanings intact. I am speaking of the speculative bifurcation made by Ibn ʿArabī’s school regarding the unknowable essence and ipseity as the “Exclusive Oneness” (احدية) and the “Inclusive Unity” (واحدية), where the first is asserted to be the feminine aspect of the hidden divine essence (ذات الغيب) with the second as the masculine, and where the aḥadīya atemporally precedes the wāḥidīya. Without getting into a drawn out technical discussion around these two concepts and what they mean, it should be pointed out here that in one place in his Futūḥāt al-Makkīyyah (the Meccan Revelations), Ibn ʿArabī explicitly asserts that the ultimate secret of the divine essence is to be found within the pronoun هي (“she”) where he cryptically references the “Exclusive Oneness” (احدية). These notions that metaphysically gender God in the feminine were very much operative in the background within the thinking of both Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsāʾī (d. 1826) and his successor as well as with the Bāb -– and probably more so in the latter than even the former.
Finally for this first section of the questions and answers, I briefly draw your attention to the ghulat mukhammisa text (appropriated by the Niẓārī Ismāʿilīs as one of their own proof texts) and known as the Umm al-Kitāb[i] (which at its conclusion becomes a sort of shiʿified pericope of the Gnostic Nag Hammadi text known as “The Thunder, Perfect Mind” [ii]). In the version of the Persian text edited by the late Russian Orientalist Vladimir Ivanow (d. 1970), in its finale we find a theophanic dramaturgy unfold whereby the fifth Imām Muhammad al-Bāqir (ع) transfigures into all of his illustrious ancestors one by one, culminating with Fāṭima (ع) Who then asserts Her tout court divinity while claiming Her father, husband and progeny (ع) to be the ornaments of Her metaphysical (Super-Celestial) Body. While it is nearly impossible, historically speaking, that this text could have had any direct influence on either Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsāʾī or the Bāb, nevertheless this concluding theme of the Umm al-Kitāb is very much thematically present with both of them, especially in the former’s magnum opus the Sharḥ al-Zīyāra Jāmiʿ al-Kabīra (the Commentary on the Greater Visitation Prayer for the Imāms) and the latter’s commentary on the second chapter of the Qurʾān. I mention this because this text –- whatever its actual genealogical antiquity –- is one of the most notable (and, moreover, early) examples of the eidaic-archetype of the divine feminine within the Islamic context, regardless as to whether this text was originally authored by a marginal heterodox sect of Shiʿism or not. What this also demonstrates is that this specific idea of the divine feminine –- and Fāṭima’s (ع) divinity specifically -- had found a fertile ground at the very earliest stages of Islamic confessional history while later on becoming fully codified as a veritable article of faith within both the mass and elite pieties of orthodox Twelver Shiʿism itself. In conclusion here, let us not forget the epithet ‘the Creatrix’ (الفاطر) by which Fāṭima (ع) was referred to by some Ismāʿilīs, an epithet and attribute by which the Bāb specifically refers to Ṭāhirih Qurra’tul-ʿAyn in the sections addressing her in several noted MSS of his Book of the Five Grades (kitāb-i-panj shaʾn); and, of course, in the Bayān Qurra’tul-ʿAyn is explicitly held to be the ‘return’ (rajaʿa) of Fāṭima (ع).
To be Continued in Part II
[iii] What I believe to be the actual meaning behind Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsāʾī’s cryptic “the mystery of reversal and the secret of the chief” (سرّ التّنكيس في رمز الرئيس).
[v] That certain deceased contemporaries have corrupted this notion within their own praxis with the abusive rightwing, crypto-fascist cults they have founded does not remotely begin to discredit the genuine purity of what this represents in its essence.
[vi] See Corbin’s comments and translation in Chapter II, Section 1, of his Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shīʿite Iran, Trans. Nancy Pearson (Princeton: Princeton University Press: 1977), 51-73.