God is a woman” isn’t just a woke Twitter symbol for the Christian left; it is a foundational metaphor to understanding the Holy Spirit and the divine feminine. 

Western culture ignores the divine feminine
Golden goddess riding a chariot
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God is a woman.

Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande’s song is undoubtedly theologically controversial. And if I’m honest, triggering for me and others like me – Men that have enjoyed centuries of affirming explicit masculine representation of God.   

So, I’m not proud to admit that it was hard for me to watch her music video. But it was. A lesson from early Syriac church fathers showed me that my reaction was not only sexist, but it was also wrong. My own tradition uses the very same provocative imagery and symbolism to represent God.

The Divine Feminine Is the Archetypal Mother

When you hear archetype, think shape. Think of the shape of a tree. Not all trees are exactly the same, but they follow a general shape that allows us to categorize them. That reduced clear image in everyone’s mind could be called an archetype. There are various academic definitions for this, but for the sake of this article, we are going to use Carl Jung’s:

Archetypes are defined as universal, archaic symbols and images that derive from the collective unconscious.

Ne Scholar Magazine
World’s Largest Mandalas from Manipur and Carl Jung’s Archetype of the Self – Page 26

The critical takeaway from Jung’s definition comes from that last part, collective unconscious. These shapes are not isolated to one person’s experience. They are shared collectively. Rooted in an objective biological and metaphysical reality, they are not tied to one faith or philosophy.

An example of this universal type is the archetypal mother. This pattern is buried deep in our psyche and is seen throughout nature and the cosmos. This shape is divine because all other archetypes fit within this one. It encompasses all art, culture, and religion.   

A student of Jung, Erich Neumann, studied this archetype in his book “The Great Mother.” He explains its expression from prehistoric goddesses to today. At the core of this type is the ruler of life and death. It is a picture of both the womb and the grave. It is infinite potential. 

From this shape, you find wisdom, transformation, and new life. You also find madness, chaos, and death. These 6 points represent Neumann’s 6 iterations of the Great Mother. Each position has an opposing type, forming the shape of a hexagon: 

The Great Round.
The Great Round
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How Scripture and the Church Fathers Reveal the Divine Feminine in the Holy Spirit

Since archetypes are merely repeating patterns and shapes, they can also be observed in scripture and church tradition. The whole of church tradition and scripture not only reveals this pattern, it uniquely completes it. Each arc of the great mother is dynamically represented in the Holy Spirit.

The Power of Transformation and Chaotic Destruction in the Hovering Spirit

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (NIV)

Why do mothers hover? What is the impulse to stay close to the gate and watch her child fly off to school? It is to be close. But it is more than that. That closeness is to ensure that the parts that were once in her become something new. The Hebrews and Syrians have always seen the verb to hover as feminine. It is grammatically feminine, and feminine imagery is used repeatedly to express it. The mother bird is the perfect example of this.

Syriac tradition uses the image of a mother bird to describe the hovering movement of God’s Spirit above the chaotic waters in Genesis 1:2. The Syrian church father, Eusebius of Emesa, argues that this movement of the Spirit is analogous to a “mother bird warming her eggs.” (Fires From Heaven – Brock). This warming tender presence is the power of God. It is the power to transform chaos into order.

A mother takes the chaotic biological components of nature and assembles it into new life. With loving affection, she nurtures it and grows it into maturity. This is the very role of the Holy Spirit. Starting with Genesis 1:2, she tenderly carries the will of the Father into the very first act of creation, bringing forth light. 

With transformation also comes destruction. Do not mistake this as evil, though. Evil is found in the reaction to entropy and decay, a subject saved for a later article. The divine feminine contains a cycle where destruction becomes transformation, and transformation becomes destruction. 

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.

John 12:24 (KJV)
The Fire of the Holy Spirit.
Fire of the Holy Spirit
Image Credit: Canva

Fire. It is a warmth to those who love it and destruction to those who hate it. The Holy Spirit is fire. She is the fire that hovered above the worshipers in Pentecost. She is the fire that appeared to Moses. She is the fire of purgatory and the fire that consumes Hades and the grave. That fire is scary, it is hard, and it is even unfair, but it is love. The tender closeness we feel from our mother is the same intimate chastisement to be better and see us grow.   

The divine feminine is not not only hovering fire; she is rushing wind and a vast ocean. In part II of God is a Woman, I will map these metaphors to the rest of the 4 arcs of the great mother.