By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
ACCORDING to the late feminist Professor Mary Daly: “Metaphors function to name change, and therefore they elicit change.”
The Greek roots of the word metaphor are ‘meta’ and ‘pherein’.
Meta is a prefix used to suggest a dimension of reality and meaning lying behind, beneath or beyond what is apparent and under consideration at the moment. Pherein means to carry, as in ferry.
This means, therefore, that metaphors, as potent symbols, “…in contrast to mere signs, participate in that to which they point. They open up levels of reality otherwise closed (hidden) to us and they unlock dimensions and elements of our souls which correspond to these hidden dimensions and elements of reality.”
The purpose of metaphors, as potent symbols, is to transport and transform meaning in order to change people’s consciousness.
So, metaphors are instruments not only for revelation but also for change through or after revelation.
Metaphors are instruments for moving beyond previous realms of consciousness.
A related word to metaphor is the Arche-Image, with archē coming from Greek again and meaning first principle. This now refers to the image of God, which in terms of history refers in fact to images of God dependant on the society and culture in question.
For example, it is not trivial to observe that in Bantu languages and philosophy, God is neither male nor female, while in most northern cultures, there was a revolution to overthrow the Arche-Image of God as a female.
This issue is the subject of the first three chapters in the book Becoming Visible: Women in European History, edited by Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz; as well as When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone. According to these and other sources, the idea of God the Father was the product of a protracted struggle by the male priesthood against the reign and legacy of the Goddess.
This short history raises questions which I raised in the last instalment on ‘Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence’:
Is activism, as led by middle-class women converted to missionary-led Christianity, an effective means for understanding gender-based violence, let alone for ending it?
Coming to the impending Christmas holiday and Christmas celebrations, do Africans and African women especially understand the symbolism involved in Christmas?
Do we understand the changes in our consciousness which have resulted from the importation of a particular brand of the Western interpretation of holy life and the righteous community?
Although Christianity was in Africa long before slavery and colonisation, the brand which now prevails on the continent is a direct outcome of slavery, apartheid, colonialism and imperialism.
For example, the Christmas tree repeats and celebrates, every year, the mass sublimation of northern Catholic and Protestant violence against Mary as Arche-Image.
“For protestantism is characterised by its erasure of Mary, that vestige of the Goddess symbol that has been preserved in Christianity as a hook for the heathen masses.”
The original image of Mary derived from the goddess heritage of Isis, Ishtar and Diana was incompatible with a male priesthood, let alone a celibate male priesthood. According to Professor Daly:
“(The) symbol of Mary was highly charged (in the Middle Ages) to such an extent that she represented an extreme, though veiled, threat to maledom.”
Mary as the first principle derived from Isis, Diana and other goddesses, was associated with the planets, the light of the sun, the moon and the stars as well as water and the growth of green crops, herbs and trees.
According to Mary Daly, citing Marina Warner:
“The grace of God, mediated through Mary, as the light of the sun reflects off the disc of the moon, also gives life and quickens and nourishes and purifies, like water. Thus the imagery of light was immediately associated with the imagery of water, itself the foremost image of grace.”
This is the picture from which the northerners created the Christmas tree. Originally the tree represented The Tree of Life, The Sacred Tree as symbol of the Goddess. But just as millions of women were burned as witches in the European Witchcraze in order to install a male, sexist and misogynist priesthood, Christmas trees are also real natural trees which have been cut down, killed, in order, through sublimation, to mark the overthrow of the female Arche-Image as symbol.
The Christmas tree, as a symbol therefore, is a metaphor with many layers which Africans have not scrutinised:
It celebrates historical religious violence against the female. It celebrates violence against nature, now represented by the wanton destruction of the environment under capitalism.
It celebrates the diminution and demotion of the religious Tree of Life or Sacred Tree as symbol, thereby helping to take the sense of sacredness out of nature and the land so as to open them for wanton exploitation and pollution.
It celebrates the little that remains of the symbols of a once powerful First Principle, which many civilisations understood as a female deity; and, in doing so, it does recognise that the power of the female or woman can never be totally crushed.
What this history implies is a need for women in general and all formerly colonised people to analyse and understand the full implications of the alliance between patriarchal religion and patriarchal capitalism.
Do we understand why telegenic evangelists and ‘prophets’ in our midst are propagating a religious gospel which worships money and the conspicuous flaunting of the latest gadgets and consumer goods?
In fact Christmas time is the time when the obscene displays of such consumption is at its highest.
The displays often include lighted Christmas trees!