Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Text of the Once and Future Bee Priestess Symposium Presentation @ the University of Utah, July 2012 (sans formatting, italics, etc - sorry for the cut and paste!)




Artist Phil Blank's illustration of the Jewish Deborah/Bee Goddesses, a possibly ecstatic group of women who played drums and were related to a bee cult that stretched from Egypt to Greece to India in the olden days. In this piece the artist contemplates mystic, ecstatic, musical, religious traditions connected to bees. According to Phil, this tradition was widespread across the Mediterranean and Asia Minor and may have included the Israelites via the prophetess Deborah (who's name, in Hebrew, is Bee). Text here is adapted from the Teruah-JewishMusic Blog by Jack Zaientz http://teruah-jewishmusic.blogspot.com/2008/09/phil-blank-lowest-of-low-and-jewish.html


You can listen to this entire talk, FREE, online:
https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/the-once-and-future-bee-priestess/

This is the 3rd installment in what I term a triptych, or a 3 part series which includes the first 2 papers that I have presented at Sunstone: Women’s Prophetic Drumming Tradition, and Emma Smith as Shaman. This 3rd installment arose out of a term paper I did for my M.A. program titled The Mormon Bee Priestess. Since my original presentation of these papers some significant new material, including astonishing archaeological discoveries have come to my attention that have persuaded me that this material should be published together as a book which I am tentatively titling: The Once and Future Bee Priestess: Ancient and Contemporary Female Shamanism in Judeo-Christian and Mormon Traditions. I will soon be seeking a publisher so if anyone is interested or has any referrals please contact me. If I am unable to find a satisfactory publishing arrangement I will move forward and self-publish the book, so if anyone would like to be notified when the book becomes available I will now pass around a clipboard where you can provide your contact information.

In my first presentation Women’s Prophetic Drumming Tradition (a copy of which you can purchase from Sunstone on MP3 today if you’d like) I discuss the Biblical evidence for the presence of a female shamanic tradition in ancient Israelite culture, so imagine my delight when just 3 months later headlines announced around the world that the oldest shamans grave had been discovered, and not only that but that she was female, and not only that but she had been found in the land of Israel. They were calling her, “The Petite Priestess.”

Right off the bat I was not surprised that she was female since I asserted in my Emma Smith as Shaman paper, citing the research of many of the world’s finest archaeologists and ethnologists, that all of the world’s earliest shamans were indeed female. Calling her the oldest shaman is a bit of a misnomer, however, since anthropologist Barbara Tedlock states in one of her books that the oldest shaman’s grave to be discovered was much older, that of another female shaman who lived about 20,000 years ago in the Czech Republic (The Woman in the Shaman’s Body, page 4).

POWERPOINT 1 and 2

At just 5 feet tall, and approximately 45 years old at the age of death, the tiny shaman is said to have come from the prehistoric Natufian culture which existed between 13,000 and 10,000 years before present in the area of the Levant which includes modern Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

POWERPOINT 3

Among other artifacts, she was buried with over 50 complete tortoise shells, and the body parts of a wild boar, an eagle, a cow, a leopard, two martens, and a complete human foot, and if you saw Margaret Toscano’s slide show a couple of days ago what we are looking at right here is a real life, “Lady of the Beasts.” Scientists also discovered a spinal defect which gave her a limp, perhaps a “sacred limp,” which I thought might be of interest to Brother Portlock over here.

There is still debate about the origins of the Natufian culture: whether they were from North Africa or of Eurasian stock. They are of interest for a number of reasons including the pioneering of agriculture, the domestication of the dog, and the world’s oldest known depiction of lovemaking.

There is probably a lot more research to be done to know for sure whether or not the Natufians were some of the ancestors of the Biblical patriarchs but my preliminary research suggests that it is very possible, if not probable. Either way, the synchronicity itself is compelling enough.

In Women’s Prophetic Drumming Tradition (2006) I made mention of the ancient Bee priestesses of the Mediterranean world which includes the Biblical Deborah (whose name means bee) since their technologies for transforming consciousness included the use of the frame drum.

Coincidentally, around that same time the sacred bee began swarming out of the woodwork from a multitude of directions, reemerging in contemporary consciousness.
Although the phenomenon was recognized earlier, in late 2006 / early 2007 much publicity was suddenly given to the mysterious vanishing of the bees which began to be known as ‘colony collapse disorder,’ due to “the rate of attrition [which] was alleged to have reached new proportions” (“Colony Collapse Disorder,” Wikipedia, 2012). That same year, a book, The Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters by Simon Buxton was released in January of 2006; In 2007, a germinal Ph.D. dissertation by Marguerite Rigoglioso, was published titled, Bearing the Holy Ones: The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece, which gives an in-depth look at just one of many groups of Bee Priestesses in the ancient world; and in October of 2008, an American feature film was released (based on a 2002 novel by Sue Monk Kidd) titled, The Secret Life of Bees, which contained a powerful depiction of the feminine divine. In December of 2008, I wrote a term paper for Vicki Noble’s graduate course, “The Priestess: Sacred Woman in Ancient, Tribal, and Contemporary Culture” at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology which I titled, The Mormon Bee Priestess. One of my sister-scholars in the class, Barbara Framm, also wrote a paper on, The Bee Priestess in Ancient and Modern Times (http://uraniamusings.blogspot.com/2009/01/bee-priestess-in-ancient-and-modern.html), and as part of her coursework produced, “An Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honeybee” (http://uraniamusings.blogspot.com/2009/02/evening-in-honor-of-sacred-honeybee.html) which included ancient songs and dances celebrating the bee from Bulgaria. In 2010, Layne Redmond, award-winning frame drummer and author of When the Drummers Were Women which inspired my paper, Women’s Prophetic Drumming Tradition, came out with a new album titled, Hymns from the Hive, “built on the actual drones of bees…framed by acoustic percussion, vocalizations, and other instruments [and] inspired by sounds from the beehive.” (http://www.myspace.com/thebeepriestess; http://www.layneredmond.com/Hymns_from_the_Hive.html).

Just prior to all of this in 2004, artist Nancy Macko released an experiemental video titled, Lore of the Bee Priestess, which she describes as, “a visual narrative of the lost history of the ancient bee priestesses –an ancient, long dead matriarchal culture-- evokes aspects of utopia, feminism and spirituality: values that I believe are crucial to awaken and sustain in contemporary times. It is a piece created to evoke the spirit of a feminine odyssey, autonomy and transformation for which the bee priestess functions as the metaphor. The messages of transformation and regeneration are both visual and aural incorporating original footage and sound from locations around the world” (http://vimeo.com/19419904; http://www.nancymacko.com/HIVE_UNIVERSE/images/Orenstein.pdf)


Marguerite Rigoglioso’s dissertation Bearing the Holy Ones: The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece has since been published into a series of books (which are available at cultofdivinebirth.com). Although her thesis looks at the Bee Priestesses in the ancient Mediterranean world, she says that she had seen evidence of these types of ancient priestesshoods, “worldwide.” (Divine Ancestors: The Virgin Birth Tradition and the Incarnation of Avatars, 27th Annual Conference of the Society for the Study of Shamanism, Healing and Transformation September 4, 2010, San Rafael, CA). She also came “to a conclusion that a belief in Virgin birth was not only at the foundation of Greek and western religion but it was at the [very] foundation of western civilization itself” (ibid.)

Her dissertation also gives us, “a new and deeper understanding of the
meaning of two important symbols, the dove and the bee, which were associated
with Dodona and Delphi, the two major oracular sites in Greece” (p. 48).

The bee was a symbol of both Virgin birth and a matrifocal society:

She says, “The Queen is the only sexual being in the hive and she reproduces two ways…one… is a midair sexual encounter with several of the drones and they impregnate her with the sperm and that gives birth to the female worker bees. But the drones themselves, the males of the hive whose only role is to impregnate the queen, after that they’re sort of banished from the hive. The drones themselves are produced from the queen’s body parthenogenetically, that is, she does not have sex with drones in order to fertilize for the drones, she just spews them out of her body spontaneously. So she’s both sexual and asexual – she’s a virgin mother, the bee, as well as being the matriarch of the hive.”

She argues that like the bee, the dove was a symbol of parthenogenetic birth (p. 384). And like the bee, the birds were also said to give prophecy (p. 397). These symbols also immediately bring to my mind The Christian and Mormon traditions, respectively, and I see Biblical parallels throughout her work.

Throughout her work, her cross-cultural studies reveal that the more “advanced spiritual practitioners” of this planet have engaged in disciplines which result in seemingly extraordinary powers. She says that the Buddhist tradition calls those powers siddhis, which are obtainable at certain stages of the training of their consciousness (p.1). All we have to do in our own tradition is look no farther than Jesus Christ for the most obvious example of these types of abilities.

Rigolioso says that whether you believe these things are possible or not, she finds it reasonable to assume that the “final frontier” for a “magico-spiritual practitioner” would have to be, “the ability to reproduce life from one’s body in non-ordinary ways,” calling it, “the ultimate accomplishment of mind/spirit over matter be to generate life within oneself through magical means” (p. 2). She cites, “the foundational myths of many religions,” which are tales of, “non-ordinary methods of conception and birth.” the most famous story being, “Mary’s divine birthing of Jesus” (p. 2). She says that historically we have tended to, “focus on the product of the birth, the child, not the producer of the birth, the mother… In the patriarchal age, religious traditions have been dominated by male clergy, and writings have focused mainly on the spiritual accomplishments of male practitioners. In such a milieu, the fact that the experience of the mother in miraculous birth situations figures outside of the male realm renders it a topic unworthy of exploration (p. 3).” She questions whether these women were not passively submitting to the event but actually, “proactive instigator[s]” (p.4). She asks, “Could the practice of attempting to achieve miraculous birth have been a bona fide siddhic aspiration?”

A few excerpts from a conference presentation she gave summarizes her findings:

“All of the legendary kings and rulers and quite a few holy people…historical figures such as Plato and Pythagoras and Alexander all have virgin birth legends around them so clearly this is something that has been ignored and obscured that was first done on the part of the Greek writers themselves which started to veil this tradition and then of course we have scientism which has entered into the picture and secondary scholarship which does not allow for this paradigm to come through and so this is the beginning of the unveiling of this paradigm which really when we think about it has been at the foundation of Christian religion and also Jewish religion with the miraculous story of Sarah’s birth of Isaac, Mary’s birth of Jesus, Anne’s birth of Mary, Elizabeth’s birth of John the Baptist. It’s really, really deeply ingrained in our tradition and as I’ll show you it was deeply ingrained in the Greek tradition, the Egyptian tradition and even the Roman tradition.”

Rigolioso [quote], “began to find a tremendous amount of material that there were virgin priestesshoods in ancient Greece that existed whose purpose was to bring in high, holy- level beings, avatars to the planet and that basically this was the highest form of shamanic practice possible and that it was a road only open to women by virtue of their physiology so we can begin to understand under patriarchy why this type of tradition would have been veiled.”

“Also important is the finding that achieving this feat on the part of the priestess was considered the highest level of magico-spiritual achievement possible and what would happen is it would result in her own apotheosis, that is her own divinization at the end of her life…If we think of Mary as a paradigm for this the ambiguity as to her ontological status – was she human, was she divine? is the fact that she was a human woman who became divine as a result of achieving this feat and so then she could operate on the astral-etheric realm as a diety and she could be accessed that way.” [end quote]

[I would add that this type of language and these types of ideas would probably have a familiar ring to members of the L.D.S. Church]

She continues, “One of the methods that I use is taking myth seriously as repository for history and that’s the neo-euhemeristic tradition, but I try to cross-reference the myth with history as much as possible.”

She explains that there were “stages of divine birth depending on the cultural stage, ”and she makes a, “case that the original cultural form of humanity was matriarchy, which was not women bashing men over the head but rather as we have contemporary matriarchal societies today, these would have been egalitarian, ecologically balanced societies of subsistence. So that was the original social form: women were at the center and had high social value, economic value and spiritual value and under this form what I discern is that the miraculous conception involved women in pure parthenogenesis meaning conception without male sperm. How is this possible? Well, think about Tantra. This is a tantra that is turned inward and it requires virginity because it requires the inner conjulation of the tantric energies of the woman and it requires her to be in a deeply altered state of consciousness; It requires a high level of spiritual understanding; it requires and ability to work with light and matter and her own biological processes and DNA and this is how it would have been possible. The conception under this practice would have been to conceive female avatars only, again this is under matriarchy so we are creating lineages of queen-priestesses, who are representations of the great goddesses…” This is the first stage which she calls, “The pure daughter-bearing parthenogenetic priestesshood.”

She believes this is, “encoded in the Demeter / Persephone story,” and she believes, “that it is also encoded in these many, many, many so-called “double goddess” images that are all around the world. I think this is representing parthenogenetic reality - women’s magical, shamanic practice.”

However, Rigoglioso doesn’t believe this about “doing away with sexuality [or] heterosexuality. It’s not about doing away with men,” she says, “this is simply about women utilizing their creative capacity to bring in beings who will advance humanity in some way, but of course it can also be misused.”

In the “secondary phase of pure parthenogenesis where the women started bringing in male avatars. She terms this one, “The pure son-bearing parthenogenetic priestesshood.” It seems to be a stage in which where male gods are comeing into ascendency, or attention but it’s still a parthenogenetic practice. There’s no encounter of the female either with a male human or a male divine entitiy, and this is representing the mystery of the male’s containment within the female, and this is a very primary understanding, that [she] believe[s] we must return to because that type of conception would allow us to right our gender relations again and put them back into a respectful order.”

“Then [she] see[s] a rift…a change where [she] grouped all of the stories of the so-called rapes of the women, the nymphs and the virgins.” She terms this stage “heiros gamos, or sacred marriage with the god.” What this represented was a period in which the women’s shamanic trance state was being interrupted by the advent of the male god, an unwanted male god into her tantric trance space when she was attempting virgin birth. This was a predatory activity. This was a reflection of deep astral events that were going on because the myths actually tell us exactly what was happening they are not fictional they tell us about these astral dramas and this was it: the male gods were forgetting that they were emanations of the feminine and they were starting to come out of the power balance and because they could not parthenogenetically reproduce themselves through their own bodies because on the astral level they lacked a womb space they had to use the bodies of the females and so we have the rapes of the goddesses as well as on earth - as above, so below - we have the rapes of the priestesses…these start out as rape situations…we [also] see stories… where the women actually shapeshifted to try to avoid the penetration by the male god.” She believes, “that what these stories are talking about are shamanic suicides in trance state on the part of these women who would rather die than give birth to these heroes because these heroes were the issue of the gods. They were patriarchal; they were warring; they were Heracles; they were Theseus; they were Perseus; they were the men who actually came in through this means and then went about destroying virgin birth. They went about destroying the matriarchy…”

The, “next stage,” she found “in this… activity” was that, “eventually the women started giving in to the practice because they would still accrue benefits from this. But…the human male would come in as a sexual actor with the priestess and this represented a degeneration of the form. It was how the Egyptian civilization and the Pharaohs came to be born but it was a means of acquiring the practice into the male line now because now you did have male sperm involved. There was a male actor and even if the practice was not properly accomplished there would generally be a pregnancy and it could be said that the child was divine…[so] then you can accrue all of the benefits and the lineage into the male line [wheras] before it was exclusively the female there was no male involved, so we have the encroachment of patriarchy…”

She concludes that “the Greek understanding of conception was similar to the English word ‘conception’ which means to conceive in the mind as well as to conceive in the womb and this is reflecting the understanding that the woman’s body is porous. She can be both the oracle for the god’s wisdom in the third eye but that can also literalize by her being the receptacle for the god’s child in her womb this is why the oracles were both virgin birth priestesses and [emphasis mine] prophets because these priestesshoods would be the ground where both of these things were going on…” (last eleven paragraphs - Divine Ancestors: The Virgin Birth Tradition and the Incarnation of Avatars, 27th Annual Conference of the Society for the Study of Shamanism, Healing and Transformation September 4, 2010, San Rafael, CA)

Marguerite also explains the, “longstanding relationship between bees and prophecy particularly as an art carried out by women.” She says that Homer’s hymn to Apollo:

describes three prophetesses who lived in the heights above Delphi…and above them was an even older oracular cave and these three priestesses who were called the Thriai were described in this poem in bee-like terms. He describes them as, ‘swarming,’ and, ‘flitting about,’ …and they were said to have prophesied only after imbibing honey and that if they did not imbibe honey they were not speaking the truth but when they were imbibing honey they were speaking the truth and it’s these very Thriai, these earlier, older priestesses that apparently taught Apollo the art of prophecy when he was a child. So This is really referencing the oldest cult that women were associated with …they were associated not only with the bees but with the product of the bees which is the honey (emphasis added, Marguerite on Karen Tate’s Voices of the Sacred Feminine, 7/25/11).

Interestingly, A woman named Shirley Tanenbaum told Marguerite that she went on a tour at Delphi, “and she was told by locals that at certain times of the year they have to take some of the hives down because they are infused with a psychotropic element due to the bees collecting pollen from a certain type of flower” (Ibid, Voices of the Sacred Feminine, 2011. Marguerite also told us this story in Noble’s “Priestess” class).

In light of all of this information imagine my surprise the following year, summer of 2008, when I was sitting in my sister’s home, my brother-in-law-to-be is an archaeologist, and I was flipping through his the then-current copy of Biblical Archaeology Review (July / August 2008). where a major, major archaeological discovery was reported. Now Israel has always been known as the Land of Milk and Honey, but no one had ever discovered any actual evidence of beekeeping in ancient Israel until now. If this had only been a discovery shedding further light on the history of ancient agriculture that’s huge in and of itself especially to the Mormons I later saw publishing in their blogs that this was further evidence for the truth of the Book of Mormon, as well. But what was discovered went beyond far agriculture as there turned out to be an overt religious connotation in their honey producing practices. When I stumbled across the images in this article I just about fell off my chair:

The article is titled, “To What God? Altars and a House Shrine from Tel Rehov Puzzle Archaeologists.”

Tel Rehov is a 25 acre “ mound” in Israel half way between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee in the Jordan Valley (p.40). The archaeological term mound is also known in Hebrew as a “tel,” hence the name, “Tel Rehov,” and is, “created by human occupation and abandonment of a geographical site over many centuries. A classic tell looks like a low, truncated cone with a flat top and sloping sides” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tell).

The article says that although Rehov is not mentioned in the Bible, it is mentioned in the Egyptian records and, “must have been an important city in the Biblical period” (p. 40). Excavations have revealed a number of, “well planned and densely built cities,” dating from 1000 to 900 B.C.E, or 3000 years before present.

The middle of three superimposed strata may be the one mentioned in the Egyptian [Sheshonk] Shoshenq inscription and was destroyed violently by fire possibly by the military campaign of the king of Egypt, [Sheshonk] Shoshenq 1, aka Shishak in the Hebrew Bible (p. 40 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshenq_I). The rebuilt city was again violently destroyed possibly due to, “the wars between Israel and the Aramean kingdom of Damascus ruled by Hazael, who invaded Israel between 840 and 830 B.C.E,” which is described in the Biblical book of 2 Kings. (p. 42). Bad news for them, but the good news for us is that all of this destruction has yielded a treasure trove of, “restorable pottery vessels, seals and sealings, clay figurines and some unique cultic objects” (p. 42).
[ALTAR 1 slide]
Among the treasures of interest includes a, “complete, almost fully restorable altar,” about 1.5 feeet tall and “resembles a city gate, the significance of which eludes” researchers. There are rounded horns on each of the four corners, “each horn is incised with palm tree branches.” Traces of burning on the top indicate it was probably used for burnt offerings, although we only have speculation and many theories as to what was burned – from incense to animal meat (p. 45). But most significantly, “Between the window-like openings…in the altar’s ‘tower’ is an incised schematic palm tree. On either side of the two lower windows, a mold-made figure of a nude female goddess was applied” (p. 44).
[APIARY SLIDE]
The article states [quote], “The complete altar was found together with a beautiful, painted chalice and other bowls and vessels, about 15 feet from an area devoted to producing honey and beeswax. This apparently was what we might call a cultic corner related to this industry. In this area we uncovered rows of unbaked clay cylinders shaped just like the traditional beehives that are well known in villages throughout the eastern Mediterranean basin, as well as from pictorial depictions from ancient Egypt” (p. 42). This identification has been analyzed and proven (p. 42). They, “found molecular traces of beeswax embedded in the clay,” and, “as far as [they] know, these are the only beehives ever discovered in an archaeological excavation in the entire ancient Near East” (p. 42). They add, “The proximity between the altar and the apiary confirms what we know from other sites: religious rituals were often performed in direct relation to the production of a certain item, such as copper…or olive oil...” (p. 42).
[ALTAR 2 slide]
A second altar, of much higher quality, was also discovered depicting nude female goddesses, as well as fragments of other altars. Only 1 percent of the site had been excavated at the time of publication but they estimate there are probably hundreds more of the same kind. Archaeologists assert that, “these altars must have played an important role in the daily routine of Rehov’s inhabitants” (p. 42). A third altar was discovered, “located in an open air sanctuary…serving a neighborhood or a group of families” (p. 45).
[HOUSE SHRINE
In the same building where the second altar was found was the discovery of a “house shrine,” 15x11 inches. “Above its façade with an open doorway is a rope-like appliqué, possibly depicting a snake…A lion (identified by its dangling tongue) sprawls atop, its paws positioned on two human heads.” The authors ask, “Who are these figures? Does this scene reference some unknown ritual? Are these figures characters from a lost local mythology? The depiction is unparalleled and baffling” (p. 45 - 46). But they speculate, judging from the discovery of other household type shrines that it may have, “held fertility figurines or other sacred objects or cultic paraphernalia” (p. 46).

The building where these discoveries were made is also considered “unique,” but “it’s function remains a mystery” (p. 46). “Adjoining the western side of the main room were
four small consecutive rooms, each of which was lined with benches. In the innermost room was a large heavy clay crate that may have been used to store valuables. It was found with its lid upside down next to it, as if it had been emptied hastily before the fiery destruction of the building” (p. 46). A storage jar was found inside bearing an inscription with the name “Nimshi,” which just happens to have been the name of the father or grandfather of Biblical King Jehu known from the 1st and 2nd Book of Kings.

To conclude, the archaeologists tentative interpretion of these finds contains far more questions than answers:

The most difficult question for us to answer is, who produced the altars and the house shrine found at Tel Rehov? From a geographical perspective, Tel Rehov was clearly in the northern kingdom of Israel during the late tenth and early ninth centuries B.C.E. We have traced the artistic and cultic functions of these objects, however, to the second millennium B.C.E. [1000 years earlier] in Israel and Syria, before the emergence of the Israelites. It can be assumed that although Rehov was part of the United Monarchy and the northern kingdom of Israel, much of its population remained Canaanite and retained traditions— particularly of northern origin—that were hundreds of years old. This affinity is expressed in other aspects of the material culture of Rehov in the tenth ninth centuries B.C.E., such as the architectural plan of the buildings (for example, the lack of pillared four- and three-room types so common in Israelite architecture) and the building techniques (brick construction without stone foundations, which are not found in other Israelite architecture). The continuity of the Canaanite population in the Beth Shean and Jezreel Valleys is often noted in the Bible. For example, the Book of Judges tells us, “But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth-Shean or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely” (Judges 1:27–28).

It may be that this Canaanite population retained its traditional religious practices, worshiping deities like Baal and Asherah. No doubt, at the time of the Israelite Monarchy, the worship of Yahweh was slowly adopted by this local population. The struggle between the emerging Israelite religion and the worship of Canaanite deities is a prominent theme in the Biblical narrative—for example in the contest between Elijah and the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 19).

The altars and house shrine from Tel Rehov were probably used in the local private cult practiced in homes and workshops; offerings were made for both personal well-being and industrial success. Such private religious practices, serving individual families or local communities, stood apart from the royal, official religious centers like the Temple in Jerusalem or the royal shrine in the northern kingdom of Israel at Dan.† Popular religion in Israel is well known from various archaeological finds such as the many fertility figurines found in both Israel and Judah,‡ but the popularity of pottery horned altars and the unique depiction on the house shrine from Tel Rehov are unparalleled elsewhere.

So who knows but very interesting and compelling and synchronistic…
In his brilliant essay on the sacred bee, independent Mormon scholar, Kerry Shirts asks this question, “Why has the bee been brought back into our consciousness in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ? Well repeated echoes from the remote past keep reminding us that the office and calling of the bee was to bring about the stirrings of life, reviving the biological cycle in a world that has been totally ravaged by the cosmic forces of destruction. Is, then, Deseret waiting in the wings, held in reserve against the day, soon to come, when its salutary services will be once again required?”

Interestingly, archaeologist Marija Gimbutas states that the bee was a symbol of regeneration and an epiphany of the Great Mother Goddess in her representation of regeneration. Other bee symbolism includes: the precession of the equinoxes and the transition between an old world and a new world, as well as a symbol of resurrection and a millennial forerunner. In my December, 2008 term paper for Vicki Noble’s Priestess class I wrote:

The Mormon tradition as a vehicle, or religious system, emerged in the early-to-mid-1800’s, but it claims to part of a larger tradition, or stream, that is primordial. The tradition itself claims, internally, to be non-sectarian, but in accordance with human nature many sects have emerged over the last century-and-a-half claiming the correct interpretation. The largest, most well-known sect is the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (L.D.S.), of which I am a seventh-generation member. But at this time I consider myself a non-sectarian Mormon mystic.
In lieu of a comprehensive examination, it may be important to note a few things here. Cosmologically, spirit and matter are considered essentially the same substance, one being “finer,” or vibrating at a different rate than the other, as on a spectrum. Matter and form are considered to be what allows spirit and consciousness to express itself and “have joy,” and are seen in nothing but positive terms. A human “soul” is defined not as “spirit” but the spirit and the body joined together, into a soul. Spirit is believed to infuse “all things.” Everything is considered to have a divine nature. In Mormon scripture the earth is called our “Mother.” She speaks to humans and vice versa, is fully conscious and sentient. Animals are also living souls, and many Mormons expect to be reunited with beloved pets at future times in their spiritual journey. Another belief is human apotheosis and the existence of divine, celestial ancestors, including a divine Mother and Father in Heaven. Existence is cyclical and includes the idea of “eternal progression,” perhaps what we in contemporary times might call “spiritual evolution.”
The Mormon tradition is neither Catholic nor Protestant. It is more closely related to the underground stream of western esotericism. The Mormon tradition rejects the cross as an icon. The tradition also rejects the notion of Original Sin. Mainstream religious critics of the tradition frequently accuse it of being pantheistic, animistic, and pagan. The tradition posits that there was once a primordial golden age which was a sacred culture. Paradise was lost, history happened as we know it, but a new golden age approaches. Mormons believe their tradition to be not so much a religion but a “great work,” the work of “restoration” of a once and future sacred society they call Zion. Mormons do not believe they are the only ones engaged in this work, but that it is a divinely orchestrated world-wide phenomenon. The restorative work of this women’s spirituality program at I.T.P. fits very easily within the Mormon paradigm, and from a Mormon perspective scholars, such as Marija Gimbutas, could be seen as a prophetess or seer.

The book, Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, examines the origins of the concept of the divine feminine, and the origins of the priestess in early Mormonism. The anthology edited by Maxine Hanks, traces the emergence and decline of the priestess in the Mormon tradition with essays such as, “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven,” “The Historical Relationship of Mormon Women and Priesthood,” “Mormon Women as "Natural" Seers: An Enduring Legacy,” “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood since 1843,” and “Women as Healers in the Modern Church.” Further documentation can be found in Carol Lynn Pearson’s Daughters of Light, a collection of historical accounts of nineteenth-century Mormon women acting as priestess, healing the sick and performing miracles. Claire Noall’s book, Guardians of the Hearth: Utah’s Pioneer Midwives and Women Doctors, is another crucial source, providing accounts of the former practice of “setting apart” or consecrating with a prayer or “blessing” female midwives and doctors in Utah as a priesthood office. Some of the earliest trained and educated female doctors in America were from Utah. In Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology, Margaret Toscano traces “the evidence of priesthood for women and the existence of a female divinity in Mormon (and Judeo-Christian) traditions” (Toscano, “Put on Your Strength,” 411).
The work of Gimbutas also resonates strongly with Mormon ideas. Mormon scripture predicts that a stream of sacred records will begin to pour forth from the ground in the “latter-days.” So many Mormons enthusiastically expect the types of discoveries made by archaeologists like Marija Gimbutas. One point of resonance that I’ve located in The Living Goddess is Gimbutas’ analysis of the sacred nature of the primordial temple-centered society. Gimbutas states, “Our Neolithic ancestors intimately wove their secular and sacred lives together without ideological segregation. Art, craft, and religion were one” (74). She says that the contemporary mind finds the Neolithic temple-centered society “incomprehensible because our daily activities normally are separate from our spiritual lives” (74). The Mormon tradition, however, is not a once-a-week religion but a prophetic movement engaged in the ushering in of the future Zion: a sacred, temple-centered society that creates heaven on earth, or the hermetic maxim: “as above, so below.”
Gimbutas found that, “old European temples integrated women’s daily activities, particularly bread baking, cloth weaving, and pottery making into sacred practice…spinning and weaving constituted other activities carried on by women in temples” (73).

Abstruse, arcane rituals did not take place here. The temple sanctified everyday activities. In fact, the location of the temple among dwellings further strengthens the connection between the temple and everyday life. In Old Europe and throughout much of prehistory, people did not separate the sacred from the mundane. The sacred force imbued every activity (98).


Unfortunately, Gimbutas says, “Drastic cultural transformation eventually caused the devaluation of “women’s work” and its removal from the spiritual sphere” (98). She concludes that, “The temple evidence confirms the strong position of these groups of Neolithic women. Perhaps we can even say that the temple belonged to the realm of women, who both supervised and participated in its rituals” (98).
A comparison of Gimbutas findings with Mormon history is of interest. The temple (and where there is not a temple, a tabernacle) is the literal geographical center of the hundreds of villages that Mormons established in the Western United States in the nineteenth century. Mormon scholar, Hugh Nibley, states, “Latter-day Saints believe that their temple ordinances are as old as the human race and represent a primordial revealed religion that has passed through alternate phases of apostasy and restoration which have left the world littered with the scattered fragments of the original structure, some more and some less recognizable, but all badly damaged and out of proper context” (xxvii). Keeping in mind that Mormons believe the restoration has only just begun and that we are far from the completed world-wide sacred culture, these early Mormon writings are fascinating to juxtapose with Gimbutas.

In his book, The Women of Mormondom, nineteenth-century Mormon writer, Edward Tullidge hailed Mormon women as “apostolic mediums of a new revelation,” who upon coming into contact with the Mormon tradition, “were not as sinners converted to Christianity, but as disciples who had been waiting for the ‘fullness of the everlasting gospel.’” (2). He prophesied “The Coming Age of Woman,” predicting a new age of women’s spirituality and the future “Apostolic” mission of women that would transform the planet (546).
His discussion of the temple as the ‘place of woman’ brings to my mind Gimbutas’ comments:

The divine romance of the sisterhood best opens at Kirtland [Ohio]. It is the place where this Israelitish drama of our times commenced its first distinguishing scenes, the place where the first Mormon temple was built (26)… Thus Kirtland became an adopted Zion, selected by revelation as a gathering place for the saints; and a little village grew into a city, with a temple (27)… There is a rare consistency in the mysticism of the Mormon Church. The daughters of the temple are so by right of blood and inheritance. They are discovered by gift of revelation in Him who is the voice of the Church; but they inherit from the fathers and mothers of the temple of the Old Jerusalem (28)… How stands woman in the grand temple economy, as she loomed up in her mission, from the house of the Lord in Kirtland? The apostles and elders laid the foundations, raised the arches, and put on the cap stone; but it was woman that did the “inner work of the temple.” George A. Smith hauled the first load of rock; Heber C. Kimball worked as an operative mason, and Brigham Young as a painter and glazier in the house; but the sisters wrought on the “veils of the temple.” Sister Polly Angel, wife of Truman O. Angel, the church architect, relates that she and a band of sisters were working on the “veils,” one day, when the prophet and Sidney Rigdon came in. “Well, sisters,” observed Joseph, “you are always on hand. The sisters are always first and foremost in all good works. Mary was first at the resurrection; and the sisters now are the first to work on the inside of the temple.” ‘Tis but a simple incident, but full of significance. It showed Joseph's instinctive appreciation of woman and her mission. Her place was inside the temple, and he was about to put her there, a high priestess of Jehovah, to whose name he was building temples. And wonderfully suggestive was his prompting, that woman was the first witness of the resurrection. Once again woman had become an oracle of a new dispensation and a new civilization. She can only properly be this when a temple economy comes (76) round in the unfolding of the ages. She can only be a legitimate oracle in the temple. When she dares to play the oracle, without her divine mission and anointing, she is accounted in society as a witch, a fortune-teller, a medium, who divines for hire and sells the gift of the invisibles for money. But in the temple woman is a sacred and sublime oracle. She is a prophetess and a high priestess. Inside the temple she cannot but be as near the invisibles as man nearer indeed, from her finer nature, inside the mystic veil, the emblems of which she has worked upon with her own hands (77).

In the temples, both of the heavens and the earth, woman is found. She is there in her character of Eve, and in her character of Zion. The one is the type of earth, the other the type of heaven; the one the mystical name of the mortal, the other of the celestial woman. The Mormon prophet rectified the divine drama. Man is nowhere where woman is not. Mormonism has restored woman to her pinnacle. Presently woman herself shall sing of her divine origin. A high priestess of the faith shall interpret the themes of herself and of her Father-and-Mother God! (177). Emphasis Added.

In our third textbook, The Double Goddess: Women Sharing Power, I have discovered a number of auspicious synchronicities between the early Mormon priestess and the ancient bee priestess (Noble 97). J.Michael Hunter says,
The bee and beehive symbols had deep religious significance for Mormons of the nineteenth century. The bee and beehive represented the sum total of all the L.D.S. Church was trying to achieve – the building of the kingdom of god on the earth. In representing God’s kingdom, the bee and beehive symbols encompassed all aspects of Mormon life and culture. The bee and beehive symbols, in effect, encompassed all other symbols used by the Mormons. The symbol’s religious significance is evidenced by their common use in the most sacred of Mormon buildings the temples. They were also commonly used in chapels, on caskets, and on tombstones” (4).

In the 19th century Mormons also placed beehives on “quilts, furniture, sculptures, paintings, architectural designs, poetry, music and sermons”(3). After Utah became a state, the beehive was incorporated into the state seal, and to this day Utah is known as the Beehive State. The symbols are still so ubiquitous in Utah that they appear on sidewalks; highway signs; ambulances; government patches, badges, and police cars; hundreds of business signs and logos; and folk art (Cannon). In 1980, Hal Cannon created a photographic exhibit featuring all of these past and present hives. The exhibit was so successful that it was brought to the Smithsonian in 1981.
Like the bee priestess of old, early Mormon women (some well into the late-nineteenth century in communities like Orderville, UT) lived in communitarian settings with collective ownership of property and cooperative-style businesses. Until the 1970’s the Relief Society was the autonomous organization of Mormon priestesses, when it was finally, fully absorbed into the L.D.S. corporation. Into the twentieth century, the Relief Society independently operated a communal grain storage program, in close physical proximity to the temple, reminiscent of the ancient bee priestesses.
Jessie L. Embry says, that “the Relief Society’s attempts to direct economic affairs was unique for women in the nineteenth century…the grain storage program was also important because of what it reveals about the independent role that women and the church’s organization of women…played in Mormon church government” (73). One interesting aspect of the program according to historian, Leonard J. Arrington, “is the manner in which it assisted the women to achieve an independent position in Mormon government (74). Non-Mormon, history professor, Peggy Pascoe says, in her review of Women of Covenant: the Story of Relief Society, that the list of Relief Society innovations is long and impressive…[but] the Society “created a grain-storage program that to me seems so innovative as to be almost unique in women’s organizational annals.”

Historically, some examples of women serving in a capacity similar to a mission administrator come to mind. Emmeline B. Wells was called by Brigham Young in 1876 to preside over the church's grain saving effort, commonly termed a “mission.” “Wells, though overwhelmed by the size of the grain storage project, saw herself `a modern Joseph . . . in Egypt' and asked for the support of the Relief Societies.” [Previous] Relief Society president Eliza R. Snow appointed Wells “chair of the Central Grain Committee.” This program or "mission" developed into an extensive real estate and commercial enterprise churchwide; bishops later became involved on the ward level. Emmeline, who presided from 1876-1918, could be considered the church's first female mission president (Hanks, “Sisters”).


Emmeline B. Wells, the president of the Relief Society, and Utah’s “vice-president of the National Woman Suffrage Association…who built coalitions with the best-known feminists of her day, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” said herself: “The work that has been done in the saving of grain is unusual and unique for women. Joseph in Egypt was the only one that saved and stored wheat for a great nation.” Great indeed, in 1907, the Church’s general membership voted to send 20 tons of flour from the grain storage program to China for famine relief (Quinn, “Mormon Hierarchy”).
Additional parallels between the Mormon and ancient bee priestesses of old include a sacred relationship with gold, its ideal use being viewed as a sacred technology for spiritual purposes and not for materialistic gain (Noble, 105; A Legacy More Precious than Gold, Journal of Discourses); the divinatory practice of scrying (Noble, 67, 108; Quinn, “Early Mormonism”); and the use of entheogens (the sacred use of plants to induce mystical states of awareness) (Noble, 99-100; Beckstead).
Sadly, throughout the twentieth century the role of the Mormon priestess diminished until the only remaining place in the contemporary LDS Church where the priestessing of women is still sanctioned is in the LDS temples. How did this happen? Margaret Toscano explains:

Nineteenth-century Mormonism was radical in many ways and challenged the status quo of American culture at large, including the position and role of women. Joseph Smith's theology introduced a concept of a Mother God, acknowledged the power and equality of women, and gave them priesthood through the temple ritual, according to a number of scholars (see bibliography below). Although Mormon women in early Utah were the second group in the USA to receive the vote in 1870, which was only two months after Wyoming granted women this right, Utah women were actually the first to use their franchise and vote in an election. Mormon women had other rights during the 19th century unknown to most women in the rest of the country: married women had the same legal rights as single women, including the rights to own property in their names, represent themselves in court, and win easy access to divorce. In the 19th century Mormon women were avid suffragettes who argued and fought for the rights of all women. They were in contact with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others in the national women's movement. Through the LDS women's organization, the Relief Society, Mormon women controlled their own money and buildings, organized a hospital and other charitable organizations (which, among other things, collected, stored, and distributed grain and other food supplies), supported home industries (such as silk farms), and ran a women's newspaper (the Women's Exponent, 1872-1914), which advocated female independence, education, and careers, and emphasized female leadership and spiritual gifts.

In the early 20th century Mormonism went through a redefinition in order to fit into mainstream American culture and rid itself of its polygamous and politically autonomous past, which had been seen by many as anti-American. In a conservative reaction to its own history, Mormonism attempted to shuck off those elements of its theology and practice which made it unacceptable to the larger culture, while still retaining enough of its uniqueness to set it apart as a religion with a divine and separate calling from the rest of Christianity in America. Among the things lost during this period were the concepts of women's spiritual gifts and their role as priestesses (a term used to define such women as Eliza R. Snow in the 19th century). Although women retained control of their own Relief Society organization until the early 1970s, they gradually lost the management of their own affairs and publications from the time of statehood in 1896 onward, along with their sense of independence. Ironically, the image of Mormon women as docile homemakers, a la June Cleaver serving jello to a smiling family in a 1950s sitcom, is just one of the many things Mormonism adopted from conservative American culture

Influenced by the national feminist movement in the 1970s, Mormon women began to reclaim their history and to participate in women's groups as part of an attempt to redefine women's roles and opportunities in an LDS context. This is not to say that Mormon women did not participate in feminism during the first half of the 20th century (Toscano, “A Brief History of Mormon Feminism”).

“Currently,” Toscano says, “Mormon doctrines of female priesthood and female divinity are not seen as essential or fully legitimate, nor have their implications been sufficiently explored or ramified. Though these concepts are rooted in Mormonism, they have remained as dormant seeds, planted in the early days of the church. It appears to be the work of women and men of our day to water these seeds, to let them sprout, grow, blossom, and bring forth fruit” (Toscano, “Put on Your Strength.”) But, I would add, in conclusion that the Mormons are told in their own scriptures that the work of restoration will roll forth - with or without them.

Signs Out of Time: The Life and Work of Marija Gimbutas



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