First published in Feminism and Religion, March 14, 2018
When I raise my eyes to a bird soaring over me in flight, I am no longer bound to the Earth by gravity. I stop my round of daily tasks and widen my vision to view myself and our world from above through birds’ eyes. For just a moment, as I observe beyond my usual narrow horizon, I perceive truths about myself and others that have been hidden and grasp wisdom that has previously eluded me.
From Neolithic times onwards in cultures stretching across the globe, as described by Judith Shaw, bird-shaped goddesses have embodied life, death, rebirth, and more. More recently, as noted by Miriam Robbins Dexter, these beautiful winged beings were perceived of as monsters and flying through the air was one of the accusations made against the women persecuted as witches in the Burning Times. What greater demonstration could there be of the intense terror this powerful relationship between women and birds creates in those who demand dominion over women’s bodies and souls?
Perhaps we now need a re-envisioned Bird Goddess for the 21st century to help us see ourselves and all beings, our planet, and even our cosmos anew through Her eyes. We would experience not only a wider panorama of space, but also of time, for flying dinosaurs have lived on Earth for 140 million years.
First, we would see ourselves as tiny, struggling beings on a huge blue and white ball. We would notice our fragile bodies and overworked minds and spirits and most of us would be amazed at how we have transcended the challenges we experience everyday to dream of a more peaceful, just, sustainable future and then to get to work each morning to make it happen. We would see ourselves imagining entire universes in our words, art, music, and bodies. Through the Bird Goddess we would see that we can be magnificent.
Yet, as we gazed across time, we would also be horrified at the many catastrophic actions — wars, conquests, oppressions, and other injustices — we as individuals, communities, nations, and a species have done over the millennia. Through the Bird Goddess, we would have to face, and begin to make amends for, what we have done and perhaps begin to heal these wounds.
Then we would move to a higher view, seeing our planet just as humans saw the entire Earth for the first time decades ago and were awestruck. We would understand what is at stake when we devastate our environment and that the primary characteristics of the world we were born into are beauty and sacredness. Because we and all other beings are part of this world, we too, are sacred and beautiful.
Finally, we would go higher still and see the cosmos and the 95% of our universe that is dark energy and dark matter that we cannot experience with our meager human senses. Through the Bird Goddess we would come to know that whatever conflicts we have with other beings, whatever anxieties and fears we have allowed to rule our lives, whatever miseries we dwell on, we are an essential part of a unity that is much more vast and endlessly delightful than we could have previously imagined. We could live a million lives and still never stop being fascinated by our universe.
What a difference it could make in our own lives and our effectiveness as feminists and spiritual activists if we could see through the eyes of the Bird Goddess each day!
How mighty would we be If we could cast off the self-limiting images of ourselves we have been taught by our society when we face a challenge? How encouraging would it be if we could truly see that we are not alone but are surrounded by billions of women all over the world who want only the best for their families and communities and the world?
What if we could see the whole river of human history, as well as that of our individual ancestors, including the millennia of progress towards equality and justice as well as the acts of injustice and oppression done by our ancestors who came before us? Would we not have wiser and more comprehensive insights into how we came to live in a world that is ecologically unsustainable, unjust, and full of violence? Might we not think of solutions we never had before?
What if the Earth and all beings were considered to be so beautiful that their destruction was morally unthinkable? What if our differences were thought to make us each uniquely beautiful to each other? Would we not be even more passionate and committed than we are now?
What if we were endlessly fascinated by our entire universe, including the tiny part we live in? Would we still be so susceptible to depression and despair as we went about our work to heal our world?
Seeing through the eyes of the new Bird Goddess, we can learn to perceive the world differently, which changes what we say, how we behave, and how we interact with people. When we do that, we can begin to transform our own lives and those of all whom we encounter. Like our women ancestors who found in a bird’s flight all that is most profound in our universe, the Bird Goddess’s gift may be just what we need most today. May we all be lifted on Her wings.