Sunday, September 16, 2007

ritual impurity & the feminine mystique

I was just reading from The Women's Bible Commentary about Exodus, and noticed something interesting about ritual purity (and lack thereof). It says:

"Activities or states that bring on ritual impurity, such as childbirth, menstruation, sexual activity, and care for the dead, all involve participation in the nexus of life and death, which is the very essence of divine power. They are the result of contact with the sacred. The ritual purification system can, therefore, be understood as making a distinction between the realm of human control and that of the divine." (37)

I knew the things that made someone ritually unclean/impure, but I hadn't thought of them in this way--that they are the "nexus of life and death." It's interesting that in this system, to be impure meant one had just been in contact with the divine! It seems like it would be the other way around--that in those places where one is intensely close to the divine, in the act of creating life or attending death, when one is closest to the mystery of life itself, that one would be the most ritually clean. Why, when they connected these actions with the divine creation of life, would people be deemed ritually IM-pure for participating with the divine in such settings?

It's also interesting that all of these were places of feminine mystery (except the death 0ne--everyone dies, of course). It seems like these purity laws were perhaps made to block out the unknown and therefore scary parts of life, which, for a male-dominated society, included strange things the female body could do, and strange powers it had over the male body.

But it seems to me like what these represent are the very things we have a hard time celebrating in our culture now: the mystery of human union, of the formation and nurturing of life, of the releasing of possible life into the flow of that-which-is-not, of the letting go and becoming not-alive. We still fear these things and don't know what to do with them. They are still mysteries.

Would our culture and religion be able to embrace these mysteries more fully if we allowed ourselves to image a feminine deity, or feminine aspects of the deity?

1 comment:

Nate said...

"It's also interesting that all of these were places of feminine mystery (except the death 0ne--everyone dies, of course). It seems like these purity laws were perhaps made to block out the unknown and therefore scary parts of life, which, for a male-dominated society, included strange things the female body could do, and strange powers it had over the male body."
Terrific observation. We should wonder, if we CAN transcend the "war between the sexes" and really approach equality and sharing, would those things be scary? That battle for domination takes away so much, it seems.