Today the divine feminine doesn’t wear a goddess dress. She is not dancing. She is not playing with feathers, incense, or candles either.
I mean she can if she wants, but what if the “goddess trip” is not her thing?
The divine or sacred feminine is a concept coming from the tantric tradition. It is called Shakti in the texts. Because it refers to the forces of creation, it was symbolized by the goddess, and then became associated to mother and woman in general.
But what it seems to really mean is power.
I spent four years in a tantric community.
Paradoxically, what they called divine feminine work and women circles there (I love and recommend women circles when they are well-held) felt to me like the most disempowering teachings for women.
I once attended a circle with 65 women from all over the world. The leader chose the topic of femininity. She encouraged one woman who shared that she was not confident, to find a sister in the group to do her hair and help her dress like a goddess. She explained to us that the world was better when women like her grandmother didn’t work; proof being that there were less divorces. She asked us to let men do the manual work in the house, because it made them feel powerful. As homework, she told us to cook a meal for some of the male teachers—as an offering from the goddess, you know. It was in 2010.
Of course most of the women reacted and left. But some stayed.
They stayed, because they believed they were “too masculine” and it was not serving their relationship. They stayed because they just divorced and were told they were too strong or too smart, and started to doubt themselves. They stayed because they worked in a corporate environment that asked them to act like a robot, and they lost their connection to their body and their pleasure. These women signed up for the sacred feminine work.
Further down the road, I could witness them following any advice coming from the teachers, things like: “You should dress in a more fairy-slutty way, try polyamory to ‘work’ on your jealousy, become super sexual to overcome that ‘block’ in your heart…”
And lose themselves. And crash.
Some of them are my clients today and they came out of these communities with scars. Their minds are polluted by these same messages, when it comes to womanhood and sexuality:
Being super sexual all the time, and open about it, is a super power.
Being feminine looks a certain way
A woman is valued for her capacity to take care of others
How come a so-called spiritual school could twist the teachings into accomplices of this endless conditioning and taming of female power?
I studied these teachings a lot and the tweak is quite subtle. It puzzled me until a few years ago, but today I see the mechanism more clearly.
Let me explain:
Some spiritual paths, tantra included, offer teachings about the masculine and the feminine forces. Because it sounds like gender, there is a lot of confusion around those terms.
If you follow the teachings, both men and women have within them, two currents of energy. The feminine is a receptive force, the masculine is an emissive force.
I like to picture them in term of directions.
If the movement of energy comes from the outside world toward me, I am tuning into the feminine. For example: listening, relaxing, feeling.
If the movement of energy is initiated within me, toward the outside world, I am tuning into the masculine: speaking, doing stuff.
The Taoists use a different vocabulary; they call these forces yin (feminine) and yang (masculine).
In our society today, the emphasis is on the yang/masculine side. Being busy and productive is glorified for all genders and categories. There is less place for, and more judgement toward: feeling, resting, and slowing down—which belong to the feminine/yin realm.
The feminine and the masculine support any creation process within us through a cycle. Our feminine nourishes the impulse for the masculine to do. If you skip the yin, you’ll go out into the world to act from an empty tank.
The result? Burn out. People are depleted and so is nature.
This continuous dance is also at play in our relationships. Any kind of relationship really; with people, with life, with our businesses. We need to replenish, and we need to take action. We need to give, and we need to receive. We need to hear, and we need to speak. And the list goes on.
The masculine and the feminine forces give life together: to another being, to a project, to an idea. When the energy moves only toward one direction, life can’t thrive. Creation doesn’t happen.
It’s quite simple really. But here’s where clarity got lost—and not in the service of women and women-identified beings:
In the tantra and Tao teachings, there is a named list of feminine qualities: “soft, open, receptive, nurturing, flowy.”
Retreats and workshops for women flourish. Often they market about cultivating these qualities. There’s nothing wrong with that. There is a yearning for nurturing and nourishing. But we have to be careful when it’s associated to the word “feminine,” and be clear as to which “feminine” we are talking about.
I hope you understood already that “feminine” from the dictionary, and “feminine” from the tantric teachings, are two different concepts. From a tantric point of view, cultivating these soft, open, nurturing, flowy qualities addresses some aspects of the sacred feminine—and maybe it’s helpful for those of us who have lost touch with them. But interestingly, the qualities most picked up for sacred feminine work, match the ones society valorizes—as it has done for centuries to tame women’s self-expression.
Women who feel they had to become strong beyond measure to cope with life circumstances: being a single mum, being heard in a male-dominated work environment, getting out of survival circumstances. These women are drawn to self-development work about the “feminine.” But their expectations are mainly relating to the collective understanding of that word. They are seduced by the “soft, nurturing, open, flowy” concept.
Would it be the formula to feel somehow beautiful, held, magnetic, and valued at the same time without having to work so hard?
That’s exactly where the confusion is:
Tuning into the feminine qualities listed in the tantric texts—the softness, the openness, the rest, the nurturing, the flow—yes, that’s useful for women and men these days because it helps us to resource.
But if you expect to manipulate these qualities to be more feminine, because in your mind it means being confident and attractive as a woman, there’s a chance you’ll lose your power here!
This mainly happens, because the feminine teachings have been wrongly associated with the clichés of the feminine dictated by our society. These cliches have also landed in spiritual communities, just with a different appearance: the goddess dress, the feathers. And with a bit more manipulation, the polyamorous inclination. (By the way, I have nothing against the goddess dress, the feathers, or polyamory when it feels like your natural self-expression. I am only referring here, to the times when it is being imposed.)
It leads women to come back again to the same starting point:
Women and even tantric teachers, instead of cultivating these feminine qualities for self-nourishment, resourcing, and creativity, ended up believing they had to embody those qualities to “be feminine,” meaning attractive, meaning loved.
Ladies, it’s more than time to feel attractive and confident outside of the soft, open, nurturing, flowy box!
Reclaiming our feminine energy should fuel our authentic expression as a human being. It’s the wisdom beyond cognitive thinking. It’s what allows us to tune in, to connect to the wisdom of our bodies, to listen, to feel what is waiting there to be revealed. It’s our connection to the subtle and the invisible. It doesn’t have to look a certain way to satisfy criteria dictated outside of us by society or a spiritual community.
The divine feminine and its list of qualities doesn’t intend to define femininity, attractiveness, or womanhood. It’s the force of creation, so it requires the qualities involved in any process of change.
That’s why, by the way, there are so many goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. They embody beauty and erotism, as much as fierceness, destruction, and fear. And they live within us.
In that same list of “feminine” qualities, which again we find in all beings, there is one which is rarely advertised on women’s retreat posters:
Chaos is a powerful quality to work with. I use it a lot with my clients. Chemistry teaches us it’s the necessary catalyst for transformation. It shows up in the expression of messy emotions. Once again, our conditioning—even more so for women—is to polish them. Just another reminder that tuning into our feminine energy might have nothing to do with pretty.
So if you are attracted to feminine retreats with the intention of recharging and feeling more attuned to your female body and its cycles, and to dance and move to free your body again, focusing only on the soft, open, flowy, nurturing qualities won’t be a problem.
But if your expectation is to reclaim feeling powerful, self-expressed, and attractive, you’ll want to go toward owning who you are beyond conditioning. The good girl conditioning, the good woman conditioning, and the spiritual goddess conditioning.
Keep in mind good teaching or coaching is revelatory, not “one size fits all.”
It’s time to own your uniqueness unapologetically, with all its flavors. This to me is sacred feminine work.