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In this famously provocative cornerstone of feminist literature, Susan Griffin explores the identification of women with the earth both as sustenance for humanity and as victim of male rage. Starting from Plato’s fateful division of the world into spirit and matter, her analysis of how patriarchal Western philosophy and religion have used language and science to bolster their power over both women and nature is brilliant and persuasive, coming alive in poetic prose.
Griffin draws on an astonishing range of sourcesfrom timbering manuals to medical texts to Scripture and classical literaturein showing how destructive has been the impulse to disembody the human soul, and how the long separated might once more be rejoined. Poet Adrienne Rich calls Woman and Nature “perhaps the most extraordinary nonfiction work to have merged from the matrix of contemporary female consciousnessa fusion of patriarchal science, ecology, female history and feminism, written by a poet who has created a new form for her vision The book has the impact of a great film or a fresco; yet it is intimately personal, touching to the quick of woman’s experience.”
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About the Author
Susan Griffin has won dozens of awards for her work as a feminist, poet, writer, essayist, playwright, and filmmaker.
Read an Excerpt
Woman and Nature
The Roaring Inside Her
By Susan Griffin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Susan Griffin
All rights reserved.
It is decided that matter is transitory and illusory like the shadows on a wall cast by firelight; that we dwell in a cave, in the cave of our flesh, which is also matter, also illusory; it is decided that what is real is outside the cave, in a light brighter than we can imagine, that matter traps us in darkness. That the idea of matter existed before matter and is more perfect, ideal.
Sic transit, how quickly pass, gloria mundi, the glories of this world, it is said.
Matter is transitory and illusory, it is said. This world is an allegory for the next. The moon is an image of the Church, which reflects Divine Light. The wind is an image of the Spirit. The sapphire resembles the number eleven, which has transgressed ten, the number of the commandments. Therefore the number eleven stands for sin.
It is decided that matter is passive and inert, and that all motion originates from outside matter.
That the soul is the cause of all movement in matter and that the soul was created by God: that all other movement proceeds from violent contact with other moving matter, which was first moved by God. That the spheres in perpetual movement are moved by the winds of heaven, which are moved by God, that all movement proceeds from God.
That matter is only a potential for form or a potential for movement.
It is decided that the nature of woman is passive, that she is a vessel waiting to be filled.
It is decided that the existence of God can be proved by reason and that reason exists to apprehend God and Nature.
God is unchangeable, it is said. Logos is a quality of God created in man by God and it is eternal. The soul existed before the body and will live after it.
"And I do not know how long anything I touch by a bodily sense will exist," the words of a saint read, "as, for instance, this sky and this land, and whatever other bodies I perceive in them. But seven and three are ten and not only now but always ... therefore ... this incorruptible truth of numbers is common to me and anyone at all who reasons."
And it is stated elsewhere that Genesis cannot be understood without a mastery of mathematics.
"He who does not know mathematics cannot know any of the other sciences," it is said again, and it is decided that all truth can be found in mathematics, that the true explanation is mathematics and fact merely evidence.
That there are three degrees of abstraction, each leading to higher truths. The scientist peels away uniqueness, revealing category; the mathematician peels away sensual fact, revealing number; the metaphysician peels away even number and reveals the fruit of pure being.
It is put forward that science might be able to prolong life for longer periods than might be accomplished by nature. And it is predicted:
that machines for navigation can
be made without rowers so that the
largest ships on rivers or seas will
by a single man be propelled with
greater velocity than if they were
full of men
that cars can be made to move with
out the aid of animals at an un
that flying machines can be con
that such things can be
made without limit
It is decided that vision takes place because of a ray of light emanating from the eye to the thing perceived.
It is decided that God is primordial light, shining in the darkness of first matter, giving it substantial being. It is decided that geometrical optics holds the key to all understanding.
It is said that the waters of the firmament separate the corporeal from the spiritual creation.
That the space above is infinite, indivisible, immutable, and is the immensity of God.
That the earth is a central sphere surrounded by concentric zones, perfect circles of air, ether and fire, containing the stars, the sun and the planets, all kept in motion by the winds of heaven. That heaven is beyond the zone of fire and that Hell is within the sphere of the earth. That Hell is beneath our feet.
It is stated that all bodies have a natural place, the heavy bodies tending toward the earth, the lighter toward the heavens.
And what is sublunary is decaying and corruptible. The earth "is so depraved and broken in all kinds of vice and abominations that it seemeth to be a place that hath received all the filthiness and purgings of all other worlds and ages," it is said.
And the air below the moon is thick and dirty, while the air above "shineth night and day of resplendour perpetual," it is said.
And it is decided that the angels live above the moon and aid God in the movement of celestial spheres. "The good angels," it is said, "hold cheap all the knowledge of material and temporal matters which inflates the demon with pride."
And the demon resides in the earth, it is decided, in Hell, under our feet.
It is observed that women are closer to the earth.
That women lead to man's corruption. Women are "the Devil's Gateway," it is said.
That regarding the understanding of spiritual things, women have a different nature than men, it is observed, and it is stated that women are "intellectually like children." That women are feebler of body and mind than men, it is said: "Frailty, thy name is woman."
And it is stated that "the word woman is used to mean the lust of the flesh."
That men are moved to carnal lust when they hear or see woman, whose face is a burning wind, whose voice is a hissing serpent.
It is decided that in birth the female provides the matter (the menstruum, the yolk) and that the male provides the form which is immaterial, and that out of this union is born the embryo.
And it is written in the scripture that out of Adam who was the first man was taken Eve, and because she was born of man he also named her: "She shall be called Woman."
And it is written in the bestiary that the cubs of the Lioness are born dead but on the third day the Lion breathes between their eyes and they wake to life.
It is decided that Vital Heat is the source of all vital activity, that this heat emanates from God to the male of the species, and that this vital heat informs the form of the species with maleness, whereas the female is too cold to effect this change.
It is decided also that all monstrosities of birth come from a defect in the matter provided by the female, which resists the male effort to determine form.
It is decided that Vital Heat is included in semen, that it is the natural principle in the spirit and is analogous to that element in the stars.
It is decided that the Vital Heat of the sun causes spontaneous generation.
The discovery is made that the sun and not the earth is the center of the universe. And the one who discovers this writes:
"In the middle of all sits Sun enthroned. In this most beautiful temple could we place this luminary in any better position from which he can illuminate the whole at once? He is rightly called the Lamp, the Mind, the Ruler of the Universe; Hermes Trismegistus names him the visible God, Sophocles' Electra calls him the All-Seeing. So the Sun sits as upon a royal throne ruling his children the planets which circle round him. ... Meanwhile the earth conceives by the Sun, and becomes pregnant with an annual rebirth."
And it is decided that the Sun is God the Father, the stars God the Son, and the ethereal medium the Holy Ghost.
Mutability on the earth, it is said, came to the Garden of Eden after the Fall. That before the Fall there was immortal bliss on earth, but that after the Fall "all things decay in time and to their end do draw."
That the face of the earth is a record of man's sin. That the height of mountains, the depth of valleys, the sites of great boulders, craters, seas, bodies of land, lakes and rivers, the shapes of rocks, cliffs, all were formed by the deluge, which was God's punishment for sin.
"The world is the Devil and the Devil is the world," it is said.
And of the fact that women are the Devil's Gateway it is observed that sin and afterward death came into the world because Eve consorted with the devil in the body of a serpent.
That the power of the devil lies in the privy parts of men.
That women act as the devil's agent and use flesh as bait.
That women under the power of the devil meet with him secretly, in the woods (in the wilderness), at night. That they kiss him on the anus. That they offer him pitch-black candles, which he lights with a fart. That they anoint themselves with his urine. That they dance back to back together and feast on food that would nauseate "the most ravenously hungry stomach." That a mass is held, with a naked woman's body as an altar, feces, urine and menstrual blood upon her ass. That the devil copulates with all the women in this orgy, in this ritual.
That these women are witches.
That "Lucifer before his Fall, as an archangel, was a clear body, composed of the purest and brightest air, but that after his Fall he was veiled with a grosser substance and took a new form of dark and thick air."
That "Virgin's urine is quite unclouded, bright and thin, and almost lemon color," whereas "the urine of the woman who has lost her virginity is very muddy and never bright or clear. ..."
And that though it is written that there is no wickedness to compare to the wickedness of a woman, it is also written that good women have brought "beatitude to men, saved nations, lands and cities," and that "Blessed is the man who has a virtuous wife, for the number of his days shall be doubled."
And that a virtuous wife is one who obeys her husband, as the Church obeys Christ.
And it is said that there are certain woods which exist free from the "penalty of Adam," where there are "tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything."
It is now discovered that the celestial substance, like the substance of the earth, is mutable.
And it is decided that though the celestial substance is mutable, yet immutable laws govern all mutability, and that the invariability of God's will can be deduced from the perfection of His laws which rule the natural world.
It is posited that the spaces between the planetary orbits each correspond to Euclid's five perfect solids: that from Saturn to Mercury each corresponds to a cube, a tetrahedron, a dodecahedron, an icosahedron and an octahedron.
For this reason it is said that there are only six planets and that there could be only six planets (no more and no less).
It is announced that the music of the spheres may be discovered through mathematical laws.
The cause of the universe, it is said, lies in mathematical harmony, which exists in the mind of the creator.
It is said that all shapes, celestial and terrestrial, are in reality geometrical shapes.
A compass is devised and a set of rules drawn for reducing the irregular to the regular and for simplifying a combination of regular shapes to a single figure.
It is argued that the heliocentric system, since it requires only thirty-four epicycles (as opposed to the eighty required by the geocentric system), is more simple and that therefore it must be true.
It is said, "Nature doth not that by many things which can be done by a few."
That "Nature is not redundant."
That "Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes."
"Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye," it is said.
(And extravagance and excess are seen to be apparent in women: women have the defect of "inordinate affections and passions" it is written and women's sorrows are "either too extreme or not to be believed" it is said and "women being moved to anger" are "more envious than a serpent, more malicious than a tyrant, more deceitful than the devil," and of women's wrath it is said they "are made of blood," and of women's mind it is said that it "shifts oft like the inconstant wind," and it is said that "all witchcraft comes from carnal lust which is in women insatiable.")
And it is said that all sin originated in the flesh of the body of a woman and lives in her body. (And the old text reads that Christ was born of a Virgin in order that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same manner in which it had originated.)
And we are reminded that we have brought death into the world.
Now it is disputed and then it is made clear that angels do not possess bodies but only assume them. That they do not occupy any point in space but are virtually present and operating at that point.
And from this some suppose that angels are thin.
And it is wondered how thin angels are (and how many angels could occupy, at one time, the space on the head of a pin).
And it is said that nature can be understood only by reduction, that only by reducing her to numbers does she become clear.
That without mathematics "one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth."
It is decided that that which cannot be measured and reduced to number is not real.
It is questioned whether or not motion is real.
It is discovered that motion can be measured by measuring the space through which movement moves and the time in which the moving takes place.
It is decided that motion is real.
(But it is said again that all motion came originally from God and that God has given the universe a fixed quantity of movement.)
It is decided that all motion results from bodies acting directly on other bodies, that one body cannot affect another at a distance.
And it is stated that all matter is made up of smaller particles of matter, whose motions determine the appearance of the universe. That God alone sees things as they are, that He sees the particles directly. That if anyone were to know the position of all the particles at any given time he could predict the future.
It is said that the sensation of color is produced by the action of these particles on the retina of the eye. That the particles are real but that the sensation they produce is not.
That color is not real. Odor is not real. Dreams not real. Pleasure and pain not real. Nor nightmares. Nor chamber music.
And of the difference of women from men it is said that women are more sensual than they.
It is said that women exist for pleasure.
"How fair and pleasant art thou, O love, for thy delights," it is written.
The human mind, it is written, was made by God to understand "not whatever you please, but quantity."
"For what is there in the human mind besides figures and magnitudes?" it is asked.
And it is seen that the senses are deceptive. And the ancient texts reveal that of understanding there are two kinds: one authentic and the other bastard, and sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch are all bastard understandings.
And it is said that women are the fountain, the flood and the very root of deception, falsity and lies.
Woman, for instance, was formed from a defective rib of man's breast, it is said, which was bent contrary to him, and so therefore it is in woman's nature to deceive.
And it is advised that if one would follow a woman to her dressing room one might discover the truth. Beneath her paint, her wigs, her jewels, her robes, is a monstrous creature so odious and ugly that one finds there "Serpents rather than saints."
It is ascertained that sensations are confused thoughts and that imagination and memory because they derive from sensation should be distrusted.
The word "hysterical" is taken from the word hyster, meaning womb, because it is observed that the womb is the seat of the emotions (and women are more emotional than men).
That crying is womanish, it is observed, and that dramatic poetry, since it causes crying, ought to be avoided, that it "has a most formidable power of corrupting even men of high character."
And it is written that women have the defect of "inordinate affections and passions" and overlively imaginations, and for this reason young girls should not be taught Italian and Spanish, since books written in both those languages have a "dangerous effect" on women.
And it is cautioned that husbands should not counsel with their wives nor allow them to see their accounting books.
"Who, moving others are themselves as stone Unmoved, cold and to temptation slow: They rightly do inherit heaven's graces And husband nature's riches from expense"
it is written.
And it is also written that woman "is not fully the master of herself" and that "only one woman in thousands has been endowed with the God-given aptitude to live in chastity and virginity."
And the old texts read that where there is death there too is sexual coupling and where there is no death there is no sexual coupling either.
And it is decided that God does not die.
It is decided that God is the maker but that he has no hands. It is decided that He created Harmony and Beauty but that He has no ears, no eyes. That He is not corporeal nor is He matter, but He is ultimate reality. That he exists absolutely and infinitely. That he is dependent on no other being. That He was not born. That He has no mother. He is the Father. He will not die.
Excerpted from Woman and Nature by Susan Griffin. Copyright © 1978 Susan Griffin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPreface to the Second Edition,
BOOK ONE: MATTER How man regards and makes use of woman and nature,
BOOK TWO: SEPARATION The separations in his vision and under his rule (wherein our voice rises),
BOOK THREE: PASSAGE Her journey through the Labyrinth to the Cave where she has Her Vision,
BOOK FOUR: HER VISION Now she sees through her own eyes (wherein the world is no longer his),
THE SEPARATE REJOINED,
A Biography of Susan Griffin,
What People are Saying About This
"Griffin has collected here the most apparently disparate materials into an extraordinary collage which becomes an intense physical experience."