The Divine Couple
Oct 26, 2004
Author: Boyd Rice
One of the most ancient concepts in religion is that of the Divine Couple. In Sumeria it appears as part of perhaps the earliest notion of Trinity. God the Father was symbolized as the Sun, his consort was symbolized alternately as either the Moon or the Earth, and the king was viewed as their offspring: the Son of the Sun; a living representative (or emanation) of God on Earth. A similar idea can be seen in Egypt, where the Pharaoh was viewed as a living incarnation of Horus, son of the Divine Couple Isis and Osiris. The Pharaoh was seen both as a god, and as a mediator between the earthly and the divine. It was said that when he died, he ascended to the heavens and became Osiris (essentially returning to the source with whom he had always been synonymous in the minds of the Egyptians).
In many traditions the gods and goddesses who comprise the Divine Couple are not seen as being separate or distinct entities, but rather as differing aspects of one another, or even emanations of one another. In this we see traces of an even more ancient tradition: God as the primordial androgyne. Such a notion has been part of many theologies, although the idea has largely been forgotten or (perhaps) ignored. Traces of it can even be found in Judeo-Christianity. For instance, we are told that the name of Jehovah is comprised of Hebrew characters representing the four elements: air, fire, earth, and water. But read slightly differently, the same characters spell “he she.” And the word Elohim, usually translated as “gods”, or “the angels”, is actually a composite of “Eloh”, the feminine plural of god, and “Im”, the masculine plural of god. Even straightforwardly Christian sources concede that this is no doubt indicative of the belief, anciently held, that God was primordially possessed of both sexes. This idea has been central to certain occult traditions, and experienced a kind of revival in the 19th century, influencing the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It developed into the doctrine that the entirety of creation flows from the differentiation of the unmanifested divine into male and female. To those who followed this doctrine, the reunification of the divine duad represented the means of achieving union with God.
In ancient cultures, the sundered aspects of this duad were seen symbolically as being the heavens and the Earth: the heavens representing God the Father, and Earth representing the Earth Mother. Together the two represented the most fundamental notion of generative power. In Mesopotamia it was said that there was a time at which the heavens and the Earth were one. This primordial oneness, called “Anki”, gave birth to a son: Enlil. This son proceeded to cleave the heavens and the Earth apart, creating two separate entities from a primeval whole. An departed to rule from the heavens. Ki descended to earth to rule with her son Enlil. Thus we have the birth of the Divine Couple, in an early creation myth that chronicles the original state of union from which the two emerged.
In a related story, the god Marduk is said to have created the heavens and the Earth by killing Tiamat, the goddess representing the primeval waters. He cut her corpse in half, and one part became the heavens, the other the Earth. Her eyes became the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that bordered Babylon. Though the story dates from a later period than the Anki tale, and the symbolism is less straightforward, it nonetheless demonstrates that even at this latter date, the idea that Heaven and Earth constituted a primordial unity was still in currency. And although many other creation myths involving a Divine Couple seem to hint at this, most are far less specific in their details. For instance, in Hindu mythology, Dyaus Pitar (God the Father) and Prthivi were the primordial couple who sired the Vedic pantheon of gods. They were said to have placed Heaven and Earth into “conjunction” with one another. If any original cleaving asunder took place, it seems to have eluded mention.
In other myths involving the Divine Couple, their separation seems to be conveyed symbolically by the act of castration. The most well-known tale in this regard must certainly be that of Isis and Osiris. In this story, Osiris is cut into pieces by the dark Set, who scatters the pieces far and wide. Isis sets about finding the pieces to sew them back together again. She finds all but one: the penis. In some versions, the penis has been thrown in the Nile and eaten by fish. Undaunted, she fashions Osiris a penis from gold, attaches it, and instantly the god is resurrected. This tale is remarkable in that, unlike the early myths, it represents not the separation of the Divine Couple, but the notion of their reunification. The well-known obelisks of ancient Egypt are said alternately to represent the penis of Osiris, or the needle of Isis. Either interpretation carries essentially the same symbolic meaning. In sewing together the pieces of Osiris, Isis is making him whole once more. The penis she fashions represents the point of union between the Divine Couple, and thence comes its symbolic significance to the ancients. So the elements of the story, taken as a whole, can be seen as representing the power of the female element to restore the power of God by restoring the primal equilibrium of the Divine Couple, and reestablishing the union of the two.
Other instances of divine castrations abound in the early creation myths, yet none manage to recapture the simple eloquence and symbolic purport of the tale of Isis and Osiris. But another example of castration dating from the Middle Ages is of particular interest to us insofar as it has become associated with the saga of the Holy Grail. I’m speaking, of course, about the story of Parcival and the Fisher King. The story, in a nutshell, is as follows. The Fisher King lies dying of a wound that never heals. Some versions of the Grail romance are vague as to the nature of the wound, but at least one is very specific indeed. In a bizarre accident, the king has lost his genitals. A sword he was wielding broke in two, slicing away his penis. It is said that the area between his legs is “smooth as a woman.” The king can only be redeemed by the Grail, and so the knight Parcival embarks on a quest in search of it. But before Parcival can hope to win the Grail, he must procure a weapon to take along on his mystical journey. Taking the shattered pieces of the king’s sword, he melts them down, forges the weapon anew, and sets off on his quest.
This is all very interesting. The sword in question is no ordinary one, but a weapon possessed of legendary powers. It is said that it ordains victory and absolute power - but only to those destined to wield it. To all others, it ordains ruin. The very fact that it shattered in the hands of the Fisher King seems to indicate that he wasn’t its rightful possessor. The wound of the Fisher King is also very telling. The loss of his manhood indicates that he existed in a decadent, emasculated state. This in and of itself certainly seems to constitute a “wound that never heals.”
The symbolism attendant to the figure of Parcival is every bit as telling. To win the Grail he must first re-forge the mythic sword, and make it whole again. This weapon obviously represents some primordial archetypal power - one both creative and destructive. Its breaking in two was the basis of tragedy and ruin; it’s reunification, the basis of attaining the Grail. With its shattering, the king was both emasculated and doomed. With its restoration, Parcival won his quest and married the bearer of the Grail.
The symbolism inherent in this story could hardly be more straightforward. The missing penis, besides representing the obvious loss of manhood, is emblematic (as in the case of Osiris) of the cleaving apart of the two most basic forces, as signified by their two most primary manifestations: male and female. The king is useless without the ability to become conjoined to the queen and produce an heir to the throne.
Another revealing aspect of the tale is that en route on his quest (and in order to attain it) Parcival must curse and reject God. He can only attain the Grail by becoming like unto God. This indicates that the very notion of God has become, for him (the truest of heroes), a hindrance that must be overcome before winning the Grail is possible.
Is the figure of Parcival meant to be a Templar Knight? Is he a true servant of God, who, in the course of his service to the supreme deity, must reject organized religion? Perhaps. And what of the Fisher King? Does he represent the orthodoxy of the church, an established authority, possessed of a throne and attempting to wield a supreme power, but hopelessly incapable of doing so? Maybe. Parcival certainly seems to be everything the king is not. He’s possessed of the capability of getting the Grail, marrying the Grail bearer, and not only wielding the legendary sword, but of forging it anew. All of this would seem to indicate that the mystery of the Grail encompasses far more than the mere object to which the name is attached. The very quest itself is a part of the process of redemption/transformation. And since the attainment of the Grail seems to be associated with marrying the bearer of the Grail, I posit that this symbolic union is more probably the goal of the Grail quest. The mere object is simply emblematic of it. In other words, the true significance of this tale lies in the coming together of the archetypal male and female in a reflection of the original sacred idea: the Divine Couple. This hypothesis seems to be borne out by the fact that when all of this is accomplished, the Fisher King’s “redemption” is that he dies, and Parcival succeeds him.
In fact, I think it’s safe to say that many of the elements central to the saga of the Grail bloodline could also be explained in terms of the Divine Couple and the principle they signified. For instance, the Knights Templar (Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon) were intrinsically linked to Solomon’s Temple, with its cabalistic pillars of Jachin and Boaz. Occultists tell us that these pillars represented the dual qualities of mildness and severity. One of the pillars was gold, the other green. In another article (Hiram, King of Tyre), I proposed the theory that the royal colors of the Merovingians, gold and green, refer symbolically to the principle embodied by the pillars of Solomon’s Temple. Taking that notion to its logical conclusion, it would follow that the use of gold and green in both cases also signifies the Divine Couple. Gold, in the ancient world, was always used to symbolize the Sun: God the Father. And green would seem the logical color to symbolize the consort of God in her role as Earth Mother. The roles of god and goddess in ancient cultures seem to have been patterned after the classic parental model. God the Father was severe, distant, and aloof. His consort was far more approachable, and in many ways was seen as a mediator between God and man. It is thought that except in rare or extreme cases, few people petitioned God directly in those times. Rather, they appealed to the female deity to intercede on their behalf, just as any child knows its mother will naturally be more sensitive to its desires, while the father has a tendency to be unyielding and authoritarian. It is speculated that this is the reason why relatively few statues remain depicting father gods, while statues of goddesses abound.
Speaking of statues of female entities, it appears that another of the mysteries associated with the legend of the Grail may well seem more readily comprehensible when viewed in light of the Divine Couple notion. We speak, of course, of the phenomenon of the Black Madonnas. Statues of the Black Madonna appear in churches throughout France (particularly in the Languedoc), and have long been associated with Mary Magdalene. But the question that has long perplexed observers is: “What could these enigmatic figures possibly mean?” Heretofore, the answer to this question has been elusive. Most of the hypotheses offered have seemed to be either baseless speculation, wishful thinking, or a combination of the two. Some have pointed to the obvious similarities between the Black Madonnas and Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. However, the “obvious similarities” cited are perhaps the most superficial qualities they share: both are female and both are black. The characteristics that define the fundamental nature of each (one is a nurturing mother, the other a crazed destroyer bedecked in a garland of severed heads) would seem to indicate that their respective dissimilarities far outweigh any shared attributes.
Some authors have asserted that both Mary Magdalene and the Black Madonnas are “linked to pagan goddess worship.” This conclusion seems to possess even less inner logic than the Kali hypothesis, and fails to explain why the symbolism unique to the Black Madonna phenomenon could be seen to indicate such a notion. The most straightforward explanation for the symbolism of the color black is the most common meaning associated with it in the context of the occult: matter. To the ancients matter was synonymous with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Consequently, the figure of the Madonna (a mother) symbolized as matter, can easily be seen to equate with some of the most ancient notions previously discussed concerning the female aspect of the Divine Couple. At that point in history when Black Madonnas came into prominence, heresies were dealt with severely, and the idea that God had a consort would have been wildly heretical. Therefore, the Black Madonnas were a coded means of keeping alive one of the most primordial notions of deity, an ancient secret hidden in plain sight. Their outward form was, in all respects but one, deceptively orthodox-seeming. Their unusual coloring was just perplexing enough to confuse those who didn’t understand, while not being so odd as to generate too much suspicion. Yet the Black Madonnas have been a source of bafflement for centuries, misunderstood by the public, the clergy, and even most occultists.
Viewed in the context of what we’ve just explained, the symbolism of the Black Madonnas seems not only unambiguous, but really quite obvious. Such symbolism is central to occult doctrine, and is even quite prominent in orthodox religion itself. The well-known depiction of the dove descending into the Grail chalice represents nothing less, and is an image that was of central importance to both the Catholic church, and Aleister Crowley‘s Ordo Templi Orientis. The latter’s use of such straightforwardly Christian iconography no doubt perplexed many, and indeed this was perhaps the intent. But so as to convey the precise intent of utilizing this conventional image, Crowley placed it inside of an oval shape, the arc of which came to points at both the top and the bottom. Were one to follow the path of the arcs comprising each side of this shape, you would find that each formed a perfect circle, and that the shape employed by Crowley represented the point at which these circles overlapped. This is a well-known occult symbol, the “vesica picses”, and the circles are said to represent the corporeal world and the non-corporeal world, or spirit and matter. Therefore, the point at which the two intersect would be emblematic of precisely the same thing as the image placed within this geometric shape: the symbolic union of Heaven and Earth, spirit and matter, masculinity and femininity.
We see the very same image of the overlapping circles on a sacred well in England, in a place called Glastonbury said to have been visited by Christ and Joseph of Arimathea. It is called Chalice Well, and is covered by a large slab of stone decorated with metalwork depicting the intersecting circles. Even Christian commentators assert that the circles signify the point of union between “the visible realm and the invisible realm” (the meaning of which should be self-evident by now.) Yet here an additional element has been added. The two circles are pierced by what has been said to be a “bleeding lance”, a symbol well-known from the Grail legends. Some speculate that this lance, said to be synonymous with the Spear of Longinus that pierced the side of Christ, was perhaps emblematic of death and resurrection. Being the instrument of Christ’s destruction, it was therefore a key element of his resurrection. This may be at least partially true, yet seems unsatisfactory as a complete explanation. Viewed in conjunction with the two circles, the lance seems to assume a deeper level of meaning. Here it intersects and conjoins the dual worlds represented: spirit and matter, Heaven and Earth, etc. Once again, we seem to see an echo of the same elemental idea already familiar to us. Seen in conjunction with the intersecting circles, the lance serves to emphasize and reinforce the symbolism already implicit in the configuration, in much the same way that Crowley’s use of the odd geometric shape around the chalice and dove was a coded reiteration of the same theme.
The vesica pisces forms the Ichthys symbol.
Finally, another context in which we see the unusual shape defined by the intersection of two circles is perhaps one of the most mainstream icons of Christianity. Turn the above-mentioned shape on its side, extend briefly the lines indicated by the arcs on one end, and we have the well-known “fish” emblem popular with born-again motorists. This emblem is known as the ichthys, which means “fish” in Greek. But the word “ichtus” is comprised of first letters (in Greek) of the phrase “Jesus Christ - God - Son - Savior.” This all seems to beg the obvious question: “Why would Jesus Christ be identified with a fish?” This fish represents much of what the shape which defines it has already been shown to identify: the intersection of two realms. As a denizen of the waters, it signifies the sea, and all that the sea in turn symbolizes. For the ancients, the waters represented an intermediary point between spirit and matter. Above it loomed the heaven, below it the Earth. Hans Jonas, in his Gnostic Religion, tells us “sea or waters is a standing Gnostic symbol for the world of matter, or of darkness into which the divine has sunk.” So once again we see the very same idea associated with the very same shape. This shape turns up repeatedly in medieval religious paintings. There is a painting of Sophia (much associated with the Black Madonnas) framed within this odd oval emblem. It would appear that a good many artists were schooled in occult theology, and like the troubadours, used their craft as a means of keeping alive a secret tradition.
Perhaps the penultimate Divine Couple was Ia and Inana, reputedly the primordial parents from which all the early Sumerian deified kings were thought to be descendants, and to whom we’ve traced the bloodline of Christ, the House of David, and the Merovingians. Inana is thought to be the prototype of most of the major goddess figures in world mythology, such as Isis, Ishtar, Astarte, Diana, etc. And in examining Inana, we find the basis of much of the unusual symbolism identified with Mary Magdalene - symbolism seemingly inexplicable in the context of orthodox Christianity. For instance, Inana was symbolized by the rose, and by Venus, the morning star - both symbols associated with Mary Magdalene. She was worshipped at dawn as the principle which animated the whole of the natural world, and at the evening, we’re told, “she became the patron of temple prostitutes when the evening star was seen as a harlot soliciting in the night skies.”(2) Here then, we find the roots of all the major symbolism attached to Mary Magdalene: the rose, the morning star, and prostitution. Christ, in his union with Mary Magdalene, was consciously trying to manipulate or revive the archetype of the Divine Couple. He represented spirit and the heavens; she represented matter, the flesh, and the Earth.
But the myth of Inana also incorporates elements very similar to those of Christ: a story of death and resurrection. In it, she descends to the underworld and “finds herself stripped naked and tried before seven underworld judges, the Annunaki. She is sentenced and left for dead for three days and nights before being restored at the behest of Enki.” This tale of death and resurrection after three days and nights is not an unfamiliar one, and echoes of it can be seen in the legends of Christ, Osiris, and many others. But the story of Inana’s descent is unique because it appears to be the first telling of this archetypal tale.
The role of the temple prostitute was a highly respected one deemed sacred, and many high-born ladies took the office. Sargon II’s daughter was a temple prostitute, as was Assurbanipal’s. In fact, most women were taken to the temple at the age of puberty to give their virginity as an offering to the gods. Julius Evola says in The Metaphysics of Sex that:
“These ritual or religious unions of man and woman were intended to renew or celebrate the mystery of the Ternary, or union of the everlasting male with the everlasting female (sky with Earth), when should arise the central current of creation. The corresponding principles were embodied and activated, and their momentary physical union became an effective and evocative reproduction of divine union beyond time and space.”
An interesting variation on this took place in Babylon, where once a year, a virgin would ascend by night to the very apex of the seven-tiered holy ziggurat. The high holy place was a bed chamber thought to be inhabited by God himself. The virgin spent the night there, presumably being deflowered by God the Father. Says Evola, “It was also believed that the priestess of Apollo at Patara passed the night on the ‘holy bed’ in union with the god.”
Mircea Eliade, writing about the ritualistic orgies used to invoke the Divine Couple, said:
“The orgy corresponds generally to the holy marriage. The limitless genesiac frenzy on Earth must correspond to the union of the divine pair. The excesses play a very precise part in the arrangement of the sacred; they sunder the barriers between man and society, nature and the gods; they help in circulating the force, life, and seeds from one level to another and from one zone of reality into all the others.”
Indeed, ceremonies such as this gave ancient man a chance to tangibly experience the sacrum, to invoke and manifest, within himself, the archetype of God by becoming, if only briefly (and symbolically), one-half of the Divine Couple.
Though the gods and goddesses of the ancient cultures we’ve examined may at first glance appear to have no connection to the later creeds of Judaism and Christianity, such is not the case. Even Judaism (a relative newcomer in the context of the theologies thus discussed) had its own Divine Couple in the persons of El and Asherah, who appear to be the Judaic equivalent of the older Babylonian Baal and Astarte. It is thought that the Jewish move towards monotheism was necessitated when the notion of the Divine Couple became lost, as polytheistic cultures interacted with the Jews, giving rise to an increasingly confusing proliferation of deities, both foreign and domestic. The emerging Jewish nation needed to be united into a single will if it was to survive. And in order to accomplish this task, the polytheistic miasma of gods and goddesses, of belief and counter-belief, had to be transcended. Thus began the emergence of patriarchal monotheism, with its harsh father figure, Jehovah. El and Asherah were vanquished, and in time, Asherah was even turned into a male demon, Astaroth.
Despite all of this, even in the context of patriarchal monotheism, rabbinic tradition records that even Jehovah once had a consort named Lilith. This goddess figures prominently in rabbinic lore, and is said to have left the side of God to come to Earth as Adam’s first wife. She bore Adam his first son Cain, but being of a haughty and rebellious nature, she refused to submit to Adam’s rule, eventually leaving him. Some traditions record that she went off to live at the bottom of the Red Sea with Asmodeus, the demon who plays so prominent a role in the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau.
Be it Ia and Inana, Isis and Osiris, Odin and Freya, Zeus and Hera, Kronos and Rhea, Ouranos and Gaia, Baal and Astarte, or El and Asherah, the names may vary, but virtually every culture has had a version of the Divine Couple. Before the formulation of the notions of good versus evil, or God versus the Devil, man understood duality in terms of male and female, Sun and Moon, fire and water; and the Divine Couple represented an equilibrium between these opposing forces; a marriage, if you will, between the two. Ancient man seems to have had a far better understanding of the schematic upon which the universe operates than does his modern counterpart. At the most elemental level, most of the so-called “secret doctrines” seem to preserve this understanding.
The Divine Couple was not a duad of man and woman, but a triad. The third element was the equilibrium between the eternal male principle and the eternal female principle. And from the resultant harmony of the Ternary, we arrive at One. This seems to represent an idea central to the ancient understanding of the sacred, and can be glimpsed in its purest, most elemental form in a tradition undoubtedly of far greater antiquity still: the worship of the primordial hermaphrodite, and the ritualized practice of sacred sex.
(1) Note that the words “mother” and “matter” are etymologically derived from the Latin “mater.”
(2) This ancient association of prostitution with Venus is the foundation of the now disused term “venereal disease.”