Welcome to my discussion of the Sacred Feminine in the Bible. Each story will focus on one of the female characters in the story – including Eve, Rachel, Mary, and so many others and what she represents.
By way of Introduction, I want to talk about the approach we’re going to take to these stories. We won’t be talking about them as ‘literal history’, and for the most part we won’t be talking about them in terms of the social or ethical lessons they may contain. We’ll be talking about their inner psychological meaning. What I mean is, the Bible can be read as an allegorical description, a symbolic ‘Instruction Manual’, for the inner work the soul must do to rise from this lowly material State of Being, to a state of Spiritual Awakening and Enlightenment.
More precisely, it tells the story of the soul’s Descent from Heaven to Earth (what the ancient Greeks called the Lesser Mysteries) and then it gives instructions for returning ‘home’ (the Greater Mysteries).
This Sacred Quest to return ‘home’, to find what we’ve ‘lost’, has been called by many names: “The Return to the Promised Land”, “The Quest of the Holy Grail”, “Persephone’s Return to Olympus”, and many others.
In the first sentence of the Bible the One becomes Two: God, the One, creates Heaven and Earth.
‘Heaven’ represents God’s Masculine aspect, and ‘Earth’ represents God’s Feminine aspect. We will see that throughout every step of this path there will always be a Feminine aspect as well as a Masculine aspect.
The Creation sequence ends the very same way it began: the One becomes Two. In this case, an androgynous ‘earth creature’ is divided into Adam-the-Male and Eve-the-Female. (We’ll talk more about Eve soon.)
Most of Genesis then covers the story beginning with Abraham, who talks to God in the ‘Promised Land’, and the stories of his children, grandchildren and descendants, ending in a state of slavery in Egypt. This entire story, when the symbolism is understood, represents the preparation of an individual soul which comes from a state of communion with God and enters the experience of material life in which we find ourselves now. These are the Lesser Mysteries.
‘Egypt’, by the way, does not mean a literal ‘place over there’, and the ‘enslavement’ is not‘something that happened to other people a long time ago’. ‘Egypt’ is a symbol for our lives, right now. We are all “the children of Israel enslaved in Egypt”. We must find our way home. So the rest of the Torah, and through the Book of Joshua, consists of the Greater Mysteries: Moses leads the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, from slavery and ‘sleep’ to spiritual awakening and enlightenment.
At every step along the way there is a necessary Feminine Principle as well as a Masculine Principle: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Joshua and Rahab, and in the New Testament, Jesus and Mary.
In fact, we’re going to see that without the help of the Sacred Feminine, attaining enlightenment and spiritual awakening is impossible! ALL spiritual evolution is impossible! She is the key to Creation and Return.2. EVE (The ‘Rib’) Let’s talk about Eve. First, we’ll discuss the Rib. Then we’ll talk about the ‘Fall’.
To begin with, the Hebrew word that is translated as ‘Adam’ is actually a gender-neutral word that means ‘a creature of earth’. In other words, Adam was initially created neither Male nor Female.
The creature was placed in the Garden and given only one restriction – not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Adam lived a quiet, comfortable, and all but purposeless life in the Garden, tending the flora and distributing names to the animals. But God saw that Adam was alone with no emotional life, no tension, hardship or struggle. So God decided to put Adam to sleep and separate it into Male and Female in order to provide an emotionally meaningful life for humanity.
Here is an extremely important point: The Hebrew word tsela appears many times in the Bible. With one exception it is translated as ‘side’, typically referring to the side walls of important structures such as the Tabernacle. On one occasion only, here in Genesis, tsela is translated as ‘rib’.
This unique translation has had horrendous repercussions.
But if we give the word the same meaning that it has on every other occasion, the story makes more sense. God took one side of the creature and out of this he made Eve, the woman, and the other side became Adam, the man – where neither had existed before. The ‘One’ has become ‘Two’, and there is nothing in this description to indicate anything other than perfect equality.
The isolation of one human creature can now be replaced with a new form of wholeness that is attainable through love and erotic longing between two individuals.
One possible reason for the early translator’s choice of the word ‘rib’ in this one place is that by taking a rib God revealed the Heart of the creature, analogous to opening Pandora’s Box, thus bringing emotions (which are universally symbolized by the Feminine) into the realm of human life. Like Pandora’s story, this is where pain and difficulty enter the world, but also happiness and meaning, and only then do mortal beings become moral beings with the ability to make choices and mistakes, and thus to evolve and grow.
Even if we retain the word ‘rib’ as the translation of tsela, we see that this rib did not come from a previously created male, thereby suggesting some sort of primacy for the ‘man’. On the contrary, the rib came from a previously created earth creature of no gender.
And in fact, the Woman, Eve, in this story, was created before the Man!
Notice here that Adam’s behavior in this story is completely passive. Throughout the scene, he is silent. The Serpent and Eve have their discussion, she decides to eat the fruit, she gives some to Adam, and he eats it too. That’s all! The story doesn’t say that Eve tempted Adam, and nothing in the narration or in his silence suggests that she did. There’s no indication he’s reluctant to eat the fruit, that his better judgment is overwhelmed by Eve’s treachery and deceit, or even that he thinks about it at all. He says nothing and he takes no initiative. It’s merely a passive act of acquiescence.
Socrates will later describe the human soul as composed of three parts – the Thoughts of the Mind, the Emotions of the Heart, and the Needs and Appetites of the Body. He shows how these parts are in a state of total chaos and disorder. To ‘perfect’ one’s soul means that each of these parts must perform its own proper task in a well-ordered harmony with the others.
In the story of the Garden, which is a parable of our inner life and the need to evolve and perfect our soul, Adam represents the Mind, Eve represents the Heart, and the Serpent represents the Body. In their proper alignment, the Mind should be the Active principle that governs the soul. The Body should the Passive principle which supports the efforts of the Mind. And the Heart should be the Reconciling principle that protects and nurtures the soul under the guidance of the Mind.
But what happened in the Garden of Eden is that the appropriate ‘order’ became inverted. The serpent (the Body) interfered, took the active lead, and persuaded Eve (the Heart) to go along with its wishes. Adam (the Mind), silent and oblivious, passively joined in.
This was the real ‘sin’ that occurred in the Garden of Eden, and that recurs in each one of us. This is the ‘Original’ (in the sense of ‘fundamental’) sin – the sin of an inverted soul.
It takes very little imagination to see that this allegory provides a complete and accurate description of our contemporary life – the pop culture, the greed, the obscenity. The Body’s appetites are completely in charge of what we do, the Heart’s emotions fawn over these cravings, and the Mind (at least in the sense of genuine Wisdom) sits back silently and lets it all continue. ‘Original Sin’ is not “something an evil woman did a long time ago”. Quite the contrary, we are all committing this sin right now. It is high time we stopped blaming ‘Eve’.
When God returns to the Garden of Eden, his instructions are really quite simple. If the soul wants to evolve, the Serpent must crawl on its belly – in other words, the Body must be Passive and focus on the Earth. Adam must “earn his bread through the sweat of his face” – in other words, the Mind (the “face”) must become Active and take control. And Eve must “obey” her husband.
This latter should not be twisted into a sexist command about social and marital relations. It’s an inner symbol which simply means the Heart must listen to the intelligence of the Mind, not to the cravings of the Body.
Early in the story of Abraham and Sarah, there’s a little story that reads like a preview of the soul’s entire spiritual journey of Creation and Return. The couple descends from Canaan to Egypt because of a severe famine. In Egypt they meet Pharaoh, there’s a plague, it’s blamed on them, and in the end they load their wagons with gifts and riches from Egypt and return to Canaan. It’s the entire Exodus story in a nutshell.
As they approached Egypt, Abraham said to Sarah, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. If the Egyptians see you and think, ‘She is his wife,’ they will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and I may remain alive thanks to you.” Just as he predicted, the moment they entered Egypt some men saw her and were amazed by her beauty. They brought news of her to Pharaoh and she was taken to his house. And on account of her, Abraham was treated well by Pharaoh who believed he was her brother and gave him all sorts of gifts.
But God did not want the married Sarah touched by Pharaoh, and He afflicted the palace with a plague. When Pharaoh’s magicians’ figured out the cause, Pharaoh called Abraham and said: “Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?’ The couple was sent away and returned home.
Now taken literally, their deceptive behavior certainly seems sleazy and Pharaoh comes off as an innocent victim. But let’s look at it symbolically. In the Kabbalah, the Sacred Feminine is described as a ‘Vessel’ that holds and protects the ‘seed’, the Light, of the Sacred Masculine, like a chalice filled with wine. Later, she will pour forth the contents of the chalice, giving birth to all of Nature and life which she will nurture.
Abraham and Sarah, who represent our highest level of consciousness, are wedded to each other in the appropriate harmony and balance of a perfected soul, with the enlightened Mind governing the Emotions, and the Emotions protecting the Mind. This is why Sarah does what she must to protect Abraham from Pharaoh – who represents the Ego, and is wrongly in control of the world represented by ‘Egypt’. The sacred Feminine always shelters and protects the sacred Masculine – Miriam cares for Moses, Mary cares for Jesus, we will see this everywhere.
Sarah is the archetypal essence of the Sacred Feminine (in Hebrew ‘the Shechinah’), and as such she naturally glows with a heavenly beauty that ordinary people like Pharaoh have never seen before. The experience of the Shechinah, always arouses desire, and Abraham knows that the Ego is always ready to take whatever it wants, satisfying its greed, gluttony and lust, and believing that whatever it wants it can have: and it’s quite willing to silence and destroy any higher representative of consciousness that dares to suggest otherwise. This is Pharaoh’s home turf where he is at his most powerful, so anyone challenging his authority would be in great danger. So Abraham comes up with a clever ruse so Sarah can protect him.
And Sarah, the essence of the Sacred Feminine, would never have been in any real danger. The Talmud says that whenever Pharaoh tried to touch the Shechinah, she signaled an angel to smack him with an invisible stick, toying with him all night long!
It is also noteworthy to see that in order to function successfully at this level of Being, Abraham and Sarah are well aware they must employ cleverness and sometimes even trickery.
Despite several promises from God, Sarah was getting old and had still not had a child. She had
an Egyptian servant named Hagar, whom she had raised herself, and according to the accepted
custom of the times she said to Abraham, “Consort with my maid; perhaps I shall have a son
through her.” According to Hebrew legends, Hagar was herself a princess, a daughter of
Pharaoh, who had been given to Abraham and Sarah to give her a better life.
So Abraham and Hagar spent a night together and she conceived. At first everyone was happy,
but the pregnant Hagar soon began to treat the barren Sarah scornfully, reversing their roles and
trying to increase her own importance, and Sarah complained to Abraham. He told her to do
whatever she thought was right. She started treating Hagar harshly and Hagar ran away.
But God sent an angel to find her, and when the angel found her near a well (which always
signifies a source of divine truth) he told her she must return home and put up with Sarah’s
treatment. But he promised her that God had heard her cries, and that through her son, who was
to be named ‘Ishmael’, she would be the mother of a race of great warriors. Satisfied, Hagar
responded joyfully, “The Lord has seen me!” She named the well ‘Beer-lahai-roi’ which means
‘the well of the Living One who sees me”, and then she returned to Sarah.
Thirteen years later, when Sarah was 99 years old, she gave birth to Isaac. Once again, a conflict
arose between Hagar and Sarah. This time, Sarah became worried that Hagar’s son Ishmael was
going to share the inheritance she wanted exclusively for Isaac, so she told Abraham to cast them
out! Abraham consulted God, and God told him to obey Sarah but not to worry – God would
take care of them and Ishmael would father a great nation.
Abraham packed them supplies of food and water, and the pair left. Soon the water ran out,
and Hagar wandered away from Ishmael, not wanting to see him die. But again, God sent an
angel to find her, and to open Hagar’s eyes so that she saw yet another well which sustained her and
Ishmael in the wilderness.
Hebrew legends confirm that Abraham loved his eldest son and visited him often during his long
Why this conflict between Hagar and Sarah? Remember, this is an internal spiritual story. Women
in the Bible represent Emotions. Both of these women are called ‘princesses’, which means they
certainly represent positive attributes. But Sarah, the Shechinah, represents emotions from the
highest, most sacred part of the soul: Sarah comes from Canaan, the Promised Land. Hagar is a
child of the Ego; Hagar comes from biblical ‘Egypt’, which symbolizes the material level of the soul,
the level of illusion. Now Abraham is the Bible’s great personification of Mercy and Loving-kindness,
the highest qualities of a human being. But it is possible for loving-kindness to go too far, becoming
undisciplined, and generous-to-a-fault. Sarah, the Sacred Feminine, is once again protecting
Abraham – this time from himself! Hagar and Ishmael represent very high level qualities as well, but
they are worldly qualities, not spiritual qualities, and Abraham must not become too attached to them.
Ishmael is a great and powerful warrior – a man of this world. The name ‘Hagar’ means ‘stranger’
– she is a stranger in Canaan, where it was completely inappropriate for her to try to reverse roles
with the Shechinah and make herself superior. This, of course, is exactly what her father, the Ego,
tried to do to Abraham when Abraham and Sarah were in his palace. So, Sarah, the Sacred Feminine,
is once again protecting Abraham and making sure that lower influences do not take advantage of
him and usurp his authority.
Immediately after the episode of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, Sarah passed away. When the time
of mourning was over, Abraham sent a servant to the land of his birth to find a wife for Isaac.
When the servant arrived outside the city he stopped beside a well and prayed for a sign.
Instantly the beautiful Rebecca appeared, who turned out to be the granddaughter of Abraham’s
brother, and who possessed a generous and loving nature much like Abraham himself. Rebecca
agreed to return with Abraham’s servant and marry Isaac.
Just as Rebecca reached the home of Abraham, the text says that “Isaac had just come back from
the vicinity of Beer-lahai-roi”, ‘the well of the Living One who sees me’ that was named years
earlier by Hagar. It then says, “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took
Rebecca as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.”
We are told very little else about Rebecca. But in the very next sentence the Bible tells us that
Abraham also now remarried, this time to a woman named Keturah, and they had several more
children. Abraham lived to be 175 years old. When he died, Ishmael and Isaac buried him beside
Sarah. After this, we are told, Isaac and Rebecca “settled near Beer-lahai-roi.”
This perplexing jumble of information begins to make sense when we learn from the Talmud
that ‘Keturah’ was another name for Hagar. Before Rebecca‘s arrival Isaac had been in Beer-lahai-
roi, which strongly suggests that he had been living with Hagar and his brother Ishmael. Abraham evidently also joined them, and after Abraham’s death Isaac and Rebecca returned to them and
On a spiritual level, the story reminds us that the various inner forces within the soul, no matter
how divergent, can always reunite and work together in harmony. On a psychological level, it
suggests that it’s never too late for broken families to come back to each other and heal their
wounds. On a social level, given the extraordiany importance of this particular family for all of
western history, it tells us clearly that since Isaac and Ishmael could reunite as brothers, there is
no reason why their children, Jews and Muslims, cannot do the same.
Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau grew up to be a fierce hunter. His
temperament was much like his father, Isaac. Jacob was quiet and mild mannered, a gentle soul
like his mother and his grandfather. According to the Kabbalah, the original divine plan was that
the twins would share the responsibility as the next Patriarchs of Israel: Esau would be responsible
for the nation’s physical well-being, and Jacob would be responsible for the nation’s spiritual well-
being and spiritual awakening. But Esau did not like responsibility. He was selfish and violent. This changed Jacob’s destiny. By whatever means necessary, he would have to take Esau’s job away
from him, and balance both archetypes within himself.
The story of how Jacob took on both roles began when Esau came home hungry after a hunt and
Jacob was cooking a stew. When Esau asked for some, Jacob said, “First sell me your Birthright,”
and Esau agreed.
Shortly after this, Isaac, whose eyes were growing dim and knew he soon would die, told Esau to hunt some game and prepare a meal for him. Isaac would then give him his blessing as the eldest son. But Rebecca, the Shechinah, had been listening, and as soon as Esau left she called Jacob and told him to disguise himself as Esau, bring Isaac a feast she would prepare, and take the blessing. The ruse
worked, and Jacob now possessed Esau’s birthright and blessing. The journey forward of the soul
could now continue, thanks to the help and protection of the Sacred Feminine, Rebecca.
7. RACHEL AND LEAH (Part 1)
After stealing Esau’s blessing, Jacob escaped his wrath by running away to Rebecca’s brother,
Laban. Rebecca covered for him by telling Isaac he went to seek a wife among his own people.
Soon, Jacob came to a well and the beautiful Rachel appeared, just as Rebecca had appeared at
the same well long before.
In Biblical symbolism, water represents a high level of divine truth, and a well signifies a source
of this truth. When Abraham’s servant came to the well it was open and accessible. But now the
soul is moving down into denser and denser levels of materiality, so when Jacob came to the well
it was covered by an enormous stone: the divine truth was blocked by dense, heavy, matter. When
Rachel came to water her father’s flock, Jacob went up and rolled the stone off the mouth of the
well. Jacob then kissed Rachel, and broke into tears. He had contacted the Shechinah, the Sacred
Feminine, in Rachel, he recognized her immediately, and all the waters of divine love and
sustenance began to flow down and feed the flock.
Rachel took Jacob to her home, and soon thereafter Jacob asked Laban for her hand in marriage.
Now Laban was a crook and a swindler. For a long time he’d been anxiously waiting the day when
Jacob would arrive – ever since that day when Abraham’s servant had arrived with gold and jewels
on behalf of Isaac. But to Laban’s great disappointment Jacob brought no gifts, so the two men
struck a deal: Jacob would work for Laban for seven years, and then he could take Rachel as his
When the long-awaited wedding day came, it turned out that Laban’s wicked ways were just
beginning. In the morning, after consummating his marriage, Jacob beheld his new wife and
discovered it was Rachel’s older sister, Leah! “What have you done”, he demanded. “I was in
your service for Rachel!” Laban said, “It’s not our practice to marry off the younger before
the older.” He then told Jacob that, if he would agree to continue working for another seven
years, he could marry Rachel as well, immediately after the bridal week. Jacob agreed to these
On one level, it seems that Jacob is getting back a bit of his own. After all the tricks that he
pulled on his brother and father, he now must repay karma by being the object of his uncle’s
deceptions. But again, there’s a deeper meaning to the story. The Kabbalah suggests that Rachel
and Leah had always been betrothed to Jacob and Esau. Like their cousins, the sisters were
different types. Leah was quiet and contemplative, the unworldly daughter who stayed at home.
Rachel was the active daughter, who went into the fields to shepherd the flock. Rachel was of the
earth, and she had an earthly physical beauty that immediately attracted Jacob. But Leah was not
of the earth. Genesis describes her as having “weak eyes”. Th symbolism means that she did
not see well into this world, for she was always looking inward. Leah was not pretty, but Leah
had a beautiful soul.
The Kabbalah relates a magical story about the birth of Dinah and Joseph. Leah was fruitful and
had six sons. She also had two more sons through her handmaid. Rachel also had two sons
through her handmaid. But Rachel herself had long been barren. Now Leah was pregnant again,
and so, at last, was Rachel. Leah was carrying another boy, and Rachel was carrying a girl.
Leah felt compassion for her sister and prayed that Rachel might give birth to the son (so that
Rachel would give posterity at least one of the prophesied twelve tribes) and she herself, after so
many sons, would carry the daughter. God, says the Kabbalah, heard her prayer and switched the
children in their wombs! Leah then gave birth to Dinah, and Rachel gave birth to Joseph.
8. RACHEL AND LEAH (Part 2)
The intended betrothals of Jacob and Esau with Rachel and Leah were a perfect matching,
balancing, and completion of qualities. Esau, the man of action, would marry Leah, the woman
of contemplation. Jacob, the man of contemplation, would marry Rachel, the woman of action.
This was the divine plan. But it all had to be changed, for Jacob was no longer just Jacob. Having
acquired the birthright, the blessing, and in fact the entire archetype of Esau, Jacob was now both
men. To complete the divine scheme, both women needed him equally, and he needed both of them equally.
Leah represents ‘Understanding’ according to the Kabbalah, on a very high level. Rachel
represents the physical manifestation: together they are the Sacred Feminine, the Shechinah –
the ‘presence’ of God in the world. Jacob, having previously sealed together his brother’s qualities
with his own, now unites with these two feminine energies as well. Out of this extraordinary 4-way
union will come the Twelve Tribes.
Leah and Rachel gave Jacob twelve sons and at least one daughter (some sources say twelve of
each). The number Twelve is always a Bible symbol for abundance. Psychologically, all of these
children symbolize the vast multitude of human qualities being brought down into the world.
By the time of the births of Dinah and Joseph, the years of Jacob’s servitude to Laban finally
came to an end, and it was time to take his family and begin the journey down to the next stage
of the Lesser Mysteries. But Laban did not want him to go, for he had grown very rich over the
years due to Jacob’s efforts. In addition, Laban was an idol-worshipper, he practiced a form of
sorcery and fortune-telling with his idols, and these had warned him that if Jacob were to leave,
Laban’s wealth and abundance would go with him.
It must be noted here that although the Bible warns us against the use of magic, it does not say
that magic doesn’t work!
Unbeknownst to Jacob, as the family was secretly preparing to leave, Rachel stole her father’s
idols so they could not warn him of Jacob’s flight. But Laban’s shepherds noticed that the well,
which had flowed abundantly since Jacob’s arrival, had inexplicably dried up. Laban immediately
realized that Jacob must have taken off, and he rushed off in pursuit. But God came to Laban in
a dream and warned him not to try anything amiss with Jacob. So when he caught up with the
family, he only demanded to know why Jacob had stolen his idols.
Jacob, unaware of what Rachel had done, found this accusation ridiculous, and he told Laban to
go ahead and search everyone and everything, even adding, “anyone with whom you find your
gods shall not remain alive!” Laban rummaged everywhere in search of his precious idols, but
found nothing. When he entered Rachel’s tent, she asked him to excuse her for not rising in
greeting because, she said, “the period of women is upon me.” He never knew that Rachel was
sitting on the package of his idols.
And so, using all her cunning and wisdom, the Sacred Feminine has protected the Sacred
Masculine and transferred all of Laban’s power to Jacob.