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The Female Face of God
|by Prof. Shubha Tiwari|
Paulo Coelho tries to invoke the female face of God, especially in his novel, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. This powerful idea has been a constant factor in the works of Coelho. All energy is basically feminine and yet it has to fight for recognition in the realms of formal religions, and social and cultural set-up. This has been one of the greatest ironies of human civilization. Coelho has his own way of presenting things. By the River… is not a very long novel. It is very artistically created. The atmosphere, the symbols and the thrust areas have been carefully chosen.
'River' and 'Weeping' - both these words refer to water. Water is a feminine symbol; it refers to creation and regeneration. Both the symbols do not possess any definite shape. Both 'river' and 'weeping' acquire shape and color as per the circumstances; they can be widely and differently interpreted. The word 'I' in the title brings sensitivity. 'I' makes the title genuine and sincere. The biblical reference is obvious. If we look at the title, we will find it to be strange. At the same time, it is loaded with meaning. By the biblical reference, religion comes into picture. The sentence sends strong religious as well as feminine signals. This is how I will interpret the novel. Religious and feminine sprits have been combined. Here is an acceptable alternative to the present understanding of religion. The masculine tone of formal religions all over the world is intimidating, monopolistic and quite unfair.
The figure of Eve dominates Western literature. Eve is the looming Western archetype for women in general; so much so that theword 'Eve' stands for all girls and women. We can quote thousands of literary and ordinary expressions to prove the point. Now going further, we can see that Eve is a weak symbol for whole womanhood. Jung said long back that Eve represents the natal stage of female consciousness. Eve stands for instant gratification. She cannot think. She cannot wait. She does not know the meaning of higher ideals like sacrifice and purity. She is shown to be born out of Adam's ribs. The vicious male conspiracy could not have gone further in showing the earthly creator (woman) being born of a man's ribs.
Eve is of course the cause of everyone's fall. This is one thing common among all formal religions. Hindu scriptures also hold the woman to be the tempter. The archetype shows the man as an ascetic absorbed in meditation. A woman (an Urbashi or a Rambha) appears, dances, and seduces him to carnal pleasures. This is very cruel of formal religions.
The concept of 'purity' becomes very typical when one speaks of women. Purity, chastity, virginity - traditional religions all over the world have burdened the female folk with these heavy ideas. Guilt seems to be a female forte. How often our mindset has been corrupted by pictures of a girl confessing and a man listening to her confessions. Coelho does not shy away from treading into forbidden territories of female purity. He is talking about religion. He is talking about an alternative spirituality. He cannot ignore the all important issue of a woman's purity. Coelho's idea takes a great burden off the shoulders of women. No one is marginalized. Purity is in the mind. Self respect is the highest incarnation of purity.
To live with one man compromising one's own dignity is no purity. There is no nobility in forced suffering. Suffering without a purpose is weakness.
Therefore we have a prostitute touching saintly who follow rules, and let the heavy laden go hang!
Religions across the globe have become institutions without spirit. They follow the rules but do not follow the intention behind those words. That is why women are generally at the receiving end of all religions. That is why a new faith, a new order, a new beginning is required that recognizes the female face of God, does not shun women in the name of purity, and does not exploit them physically or heights in Eleven Minutes.
'A curse on this place!' said the voice. 'A curse on all those who never listened to the words of Christ and who have transformed his message into a stone building. For Christ said: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' Well, I 'm heavy laden, and they won't let me come to Him. Today I've learnt that the Church has changed those words read: 'Come unto me all ye emotionally.
Coelho's writing directly connotes to spirituality, mysticism, Sufism, and alternative ways to pray God. In By the River… , he is bold to suggest that God should be prayed in the female face and female ways. His method of conveying this message is unique. There is mist in the atmosphere. There is rain. There are men and women silently weeping, mediating, and moving in trance in far away dream-like locations. The method is beautiful.
The Witch of Portobello by Paolo Coelho is another example where he sets out to resurrect 'fallen women', women who have been cast away from society. He is interested in very fundamental questions like 'what is purity', 'what is justice', 'who can actually deliver justice' etc. The power of one human being or for that matter a group of human beings to pronounce verdict, to declare someone as 'good' or 'bad' is questionable.
There is no problem with an Oriental soul accepting the female face of God. God is worshipped in her various female incarnations throughout the Oriental belt of consciousness. In the Western dogma, God is strictly male. Coelho's effort is to change that. Mother Mary must be included in the trinity. He hopes to engulf the materialistic, dry, hopeless world with the waves of female consciousness. Water, shapelessness, tears, flexibility, generosity, creativity will finally defeat reason, masculinity, physical power, cruelty, competitiveness and a new world order will be created. That is why there is this deliberate effort to shun away reason. Coelho's world is incomplete without miracles, prophesies, trances, voices, phantoms and so on.
Marginalization as a concept has been under severe intellectual scrutiny in the recent past. It all depends on the frame of mind with which we view a scenario. West-centric, male-centric, reason-centric, moneycentric world-view marginalizes a number of significant segments of orld. Following Paolo Coelho's blog also helped me in understanding things from his perspective. Rumi, Rabindranath Tagore, a farmer, sometimes a Sufi saint are his persons of the week. There are beautiful Jataka or Zen tales. The following one is significant as it underlines parameters of justice.
This is the sprit of inclusiveness that the feminine religion will propagate.
This female face of God is evoked basically to generate self-worth and self-respect in people who think that they have fallen or people who have faced big tragedies or people burdened with unspeakable guilt. If we look closely, this will include the whole of present day society. There is lots of unhappiness around. The pressure to be successful, to be happy, and to be presentable - this pressure has marred the beauty of life. Coelho's effort is to revive the original sense of wonder in living.
Happiness is a relative term. There is nothing like absolute happiness in this world. Society tries to define how ideals should be manifested in reality. Currently, for example, the ideal of beauty is to be thin, and yet thousands of years ago all the images of goddesses were fat. It's the same with happiness: there are a series of rules, and if you fail to follow them, your conscious mind will refuse to accept the idea that you're happy.
This is a big lesson indeed. If I will not accept my follies, my wickedness, my dirty thoughts, how am I going to overcome them. Acceptance of evil is the first step towards defeating it. I quote,
Coelho again and again advocates nurturing of doubts. One day this is how his blog began,
There is no point in taking oneself too seriously. The possibility of change, growth and improvement is one the noblest human attributes; we must not lose them. Ego, hardened attitudes, dogmas, written laws, rituals - they tend to destroy the purest of human gifts, namely, adaptation, acceptance, improvisation, amalgamation. In the end, we have to say that human spirit must prevail. The lesser the formal rules, the better.
A new definition of morality, a new concept of religion is emerging. Every age needs its own ideas. We must have our own set of beliefs. The present moment demands that everyone must follow one's own religion. I will close this discussion with a quotation by Coelho:
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