by dubby riley

by dubby riley, a loose fitting scholar

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Great Lawsuit by Margaret Fuller

This is the fourth piece in what shall be six parts. If you've come fresh to the blog, you may want to read the previous other three short articles which have lead to this. But I'll try to write it as a review which can stand on its own. The problem is that Margaret Fuller's depth is extreme. And the "juice" of her commentary is thick with tree sap which could stop a freight train if it were gathered as a wall. Yes, the essence of the treatise is a nectar, but the energy which pushed it to the surface is powered by a sense of urgency. That momentum has a tendency to detract from the delicate nuance which is embedded in "folds" of the sauce. I've seen other cooks do the same thing, not allowing the original flavor to just permeate the taste buds because technique got in the way.

So I'll lay her words before you and invite you to savor those flavors that your taste buds crave.

Toward the beginning of Maggie Fuller's essay, written in 1843 she refers to the state of human culture with an analogy from Jonathan Swift and his satire Gulliver's Travels.

Such marks have been left by the footsteps of man, whenever he has made his way through the wilderness of men. And whenever the pygmies stepped in one of these, they felt dilate within the breast somewhat that promised larger stature and purer blood. They were tempted to forsake their evil ways, to forsake the side of selfish personal existence, of decrepit skepticism, and covetousness of corruptible possessions. Conviction flowed in upon them. They, too raised the cry; God is living, all is his, and all created beings are brothers, for they are his children. These were the triumphant moments; but as we have said, man slept and selfishness awoke.
Soon after she makes a distinction between three possible ways that "perfection can be sought." The first is intellect, the second is experience and then as to the third way, she says this about the "true" way:

You would not learn through them (she is talking about the first two, intellect and experience), but express through them a higher knowledge. In quietness, yield thy soul to the casual soul.

Any person who has experienced the "off body" sensation of meditation or prayer may resonate with that peaceful little snack. Yes, we can think an issue into the ground and we can learn stuff the hard way by the school of "getting the crap beat out of us." But when a voice from within talks to us, it comes on little lambs feet.

Then she blesses us with a fair prophesy:

Yet something new shall presently be shown of the life of man, for hearts crave it now, if minds do not know how to ask it.

and how shall this take place? improvement in the daughters will best aid the reformation of the sons of this age

and why or what would be the need for this?

everything has been done that inherited depravity could, to hinder the promise of heaven from its fulfillment

We should have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man. Were this done, and a slight temporary fermentation allowed to subside, we believe that the Divine would ascend into nature to a height unknown in the history of past ages, and nature, thus instructed, would regulate the spheres not only so as to avoid collision, but to bring forth ravishing harmony.
Soon, Maggie explains how she was given a chance. Her father treated her as an equal and afforded her to be educated without any hindrance or suppression. But because of her freedom, she learned to seek a higher wisdom, but not as a religious female but as the "transparent eyeball" which Emerson describes:

This self dependence, which was honored in me, is deprecated as a fault in most women. They are taught to learn their rule from without, not to unfold it from within
She clothes the following with symbolism about a "holy" male child but really she is talking about mankind as a species:

...that woman may not have been born for him alone, but have come from heaven, a commissioned soul, a messenger of truth and love
and a few pages later this biting reality

Ye cannot believe it, men; but the only reason why women ever assume what is more appropriate to you, is because you prevent them from finding out what is fit for themselves.
But remember gentle reader, that she doesn't rebuke men or women because this is purely about rights of either gender but because she wants us to come in direct contact with our true higher self, God--

We are pleased that women should write and speak, if they feel the need of it, from having something to tell; but silence for a hundred years would be as well, if that silence be from divine command, and not from man's tradition

as later she explains the purpose for the female perspective:

...all her thoughts may turn to the centre, and by steadfast contemplation enter into the secret of truth and love, use it for the use of men, instead of a chosen few, and interpret through it all the forms of life

Finally toward the end of the essay, she builds a climax, though a subtle one. She speaks of a "plant-like gentleness," development of energy, and "inward" tendency to

...bring the world more thoroughly and deeply into harmony with her nature

She invites us to be "children of one spirit" and perpetual "learners of the word and doers thereof, not "hearers" only. She praises an unnamed writer in the New York Pathfinder who views woman from the soul and not from society who speaks of feminine nature as the harmonizer of the "vehement elements" who called it "lyrical"--the inspiring and inspired apprehensiveness of her being.

Making comparison of woman to the greek Gods of Muse (song and poetry) and Minerva (wisdom), she says the genius of woman is electrical in movement, intuitive in function and spiritual in tendency. The she continues:

More native to her is it to be the living model of the artist and....more native to inspire and receive the poem than to create it

and the difference between how men and women may react or dwell in these forces?

...modified in her as woman, it flows, it breathes, it sings, rather than deposits soil, or finishes work, and that which is especially feminine flushes in blossom the face of earth, and pervades like air and water all this seeming solid globe, daily renewing and purifying its life.
Where she leads us is to understand that if we were to allow this Divine Feminine to have free reign (though she never uses those words) it would lead to a "harmony with the central soul." Soon you see her use the word "Unity."

Then her crescendo builds:

It is therefore that I would have woman lay aside all thought, such as she habitually cherishes, of being taught and led by men. I would have her, like the Indian girl, dedicate herself to the Sun, the Sun of Truth, and go no where if his beams did not make clear the path. I would have her free from compromise, from complaisance, from helplessness, because I would have her good enough and strong enough to love one and all beings, from the fulness, not the poverty of being.


But men do not look at both sides, and women must leave off aksing them and being influenced by them, but retire within themselves, and explore the groundwork of being till they find their peculiar secret.

A full page before the completion of her essay, I think we find her most potent instructions to women and men who will seek the Divine Feminine. She instructs us to:

meditate in virgin loneliness

and then we will have the benefit of "the all-kindly, patient Earth-Spirit."


  1. Interesting reading, Dubby. A few random responses:

    1. The first thing I thought of was Bobby McFerrin's "Psalm 23." Are you familiar with it? Here's a fairly good recording on Youtube:
    The choir at my church does this every year for Mother's Day. To deny the feminine aspects of God is to deny the nurturing and compassionate God described so eloquently in the Bible itself, images of God as a female lion protecting her cubs, God as giving birth, God described as a mother hen gathering her young, God creating man AND woman in his/her image.

    2. As a "trinitarian," I accept the concept of a triune God: God as human (Jesus), God as spirit, and God as creator. For me, both God as spirit and God as creator have ALWAYS encompassed feminine as well as masculine qualities. And it's the "God as spirit" that inhabits every living thing. That's my take on it, anyway. It's the "spirit God" that provides the energy (spiritual, "soul," whatever) that enables life to continue and evolve. Methodists are OK with this idea; not too many other denominations are, however.

    3. Somewhat coincidentally, I've been helping to plan the spring 2011 concert program for Cantaré Vocal Ensemble, the chamber choir I sing with in Seattle. Our theme is the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. I've persuaded the director to include one or two choruses from Paul Winter's "Missa Gaia" -- the Earth Mass -- in this spring's program as a "teaser," and then to program the entire extended work for our 2012 spring concert on the theme "Heaven and Earth."

    The work is performed annually at St. John the Divine Episcopal church in NYC on the Feast Day of St. Francis, and includes a blessing of the animals. Folks from all over the world bring their animals to the church -- they have camels, llamas, tarantulas, iguanas, bees, various birds, even an elephant. You can get more info here:
    and there are some pretty good youtube videos of some of the music here (performed by one of the original composers, but in a different church):

    4. Was Margaret's family perhaps Methodist? I ask because she uses some of the traditional terminology. The Methodists have something called the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral": the four cornerstones upon which we build our faith foundation and seek Christian perfection. They are: 1) Scripture, 2) Experience, 3) Reason, and 4) Tradition. How much weight is placed on each one naturally shapes one's views: too much emphasis on "tradition" leads to stasis ("we've never done it THAT way before!"), for example. Finding a healthy balance among them is necessary, but usually scripture is considered first (but which version of it? which translation? -- we do a lot of arguing amongst ourselves about this stuff). If Margaret wasn't a Methodist, she must have been exposed to it at some point.

    Finally, the concept of a God with feminine as well as masculine characteristics is not new. Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th-century mystic, wrote extensively of "Mother God" -- poems, music, and even artwork. Patriarchal societies have tried to squelch the idea, but so far, in every generation, there are those who continue to remind us.

    Soooooo ... those are some disconnected thoughts that sprang up as I was reading your essays. Good stuff there.

  2. Dubby and Lana, thank you both for your tremendously encouraging posts!

    Lana, I, too, find the Methodist tradition to be open and progressive, as religious institutions go. I just went to the Bobby McFerrin 23rd Psalm on YouTube, and it brought me to tears.

    Dubby, you clearly are tapping into the same wisdom as that which Fuller was able to only sample a tiny morsel, given her limited foundation (which, although stronger than most women of her generation, was still too fragile to support the full weight of its entirety).

    As Lana points out, and as you know from your study of ancient cultures, the concept of the Devine Feminine is not a new one.

    It has, though, been buried under centuries of male-imposed dogma and disrespect. Why have our brothers in most of the earth's religions been so threatened by the concept of the feminine AND the masculine both within the Divine?

    It leaves me scratching my head. Knowing, though, that many of us are now questioning that unbalanced perspective fills me with hope.

    Fuller's references to what we would call meditation is fascinating. Did she stumble upon this practice? Regardless, I find meditation to be a crucial component to the development of compassion of the Divine Feminine within us.

    Many thanks for opening up this discussion, Dubby.