Once We Were Gods

Moving back toward wholeness

One of the articles in Gender (IC#16)
Originally published in Spring 1987 on page 45
Copyright (c)1987, 1997 by Context Institute

Penny Herman is a therapist and co-director of the CenteringPoint Team, a private practice network of professionals committed to the balancing of mind, body, emotion, and spirit. She specializes in family healing and bonding, healing sexual and physical abuse of women and children, therapy for couples, the Native American Medicine Wheel, and spiritual transitions. For more information, she may be reached at 206/454-1787 or 206/567-4856.

I SHARE WITH YOU a myth of creation and a once-present Reality:

Once upon a time, the "Is" contemplated itself in a burst of brilliance. Individualized expressions of the "Is" were birthed in that moment in the form of equally brilliant particums of light. These particums, then, divided themselves into the polarities of positive and negative charge, in order to increase the scope of experience possible. The dance of the male and female as equal "gods" was thus joyfully begun.

For millions of years, these counterparts of energy honored and delighted in one another. They complemented, completed, and mirrored each other in a natural flow that required no effort. The "Is," in this way, had grandly expanded its capacity to actively engage in Life.

Then, at a point in the river of time, a new question was posed: "What would happen if we took the positive, assertive, male charge and the negative, receptive, female charge to their furthest expression?" …all in the name of experience, of course! It seemed like such an interesting exploration – so much to learn and know and share. And such was the turning point in the history of the male/female relationship.

The assertive thrust of creation in its most extreme form became rape and the violation of women. There came to be a linking of violence and the sacredness of the sexual act. Even children were not exempt from this, and for the first time, the "children’s fire" was harmed.

At the same time, the receptive energies of the negative charge became an abdication of power and an allowing of this violation of Self. Women were declared "soul-less" and stripped of their worth, becoming both servants and objects to men. Inequality, fear, dishonor, and mistrust, one of the other, were born. Women came to depend on men for their very survival, and thus competition and jealousy among them was born where it had not existed before. A cycle was set in motion which we are still experiencing, as we try to restore once again the natural balance of the polarities of male and female. The "experiment" seems to have gone too far and has left us with an emptiness and a separation that is hard to fill.

We began such a grand adventure together. How do we now return home to what we once had so naturally? How do we heal our wounded selves and the wounded dance between men and women? In our souls we carry the memory of how it once was, and a part of us knows that we can have it again. The yearning for that original mutual delight and empowerment spurs us on into the next stage of our evolution: men and women both choosing to reclaim their wholeness and divinity.

The orchestra is playing, the rhythm is powerful, and the invitation to dance is clear. Having taken our "charges" to their furthest extremes, can we now make our way back to one another? It’s another grand adventure worth exploring: the journey back to divine union through healing of self and mutual forgiveness. Shall we take it on? I share with you an experience of my own that embodies the essence of this choice to heal.


It was the second day of a week-long conference, and we had all just returned from the morning break. We were asked to form a large circle around the edges of the room. Then the request was made: "Would all men who fantasize about violence or who indulge in violence in the context of their sexual activities please form a circle in the center of the room?" There was a stunned silence during which no-one moved for some time, and then slowly, one by one, men began to come into the center. Eventually there was a circle of some 50 men seated facing outward toward the rest of us. Most of these men were looking down at the floor, unable to make eye contact, and so they stayed as portions of the history of men were recounted. The story was told of the expectation that men were to be warring, and of the prohibition against any emotional expression which went along with that. Within this prison of imposed "strength," the sexual act became then the only release allowed to a man. Conquest and domination were the avenues by which men were to define themselves, and the forms they took were varied, even including incest, the rape of women, and the molestation of children. Millions of tears were never shed by men, and a greater and greater linking of violence and sexual expression came out of this repression. As a woman, I sat in the outer circle facing these men, and I wept as I saw them wiping the tears from their eyes.

Then, in the next moment, another request was made: "Would all women who are angry with or afraid of men form a circle around the inner circle of men?" When I first heard this request, I thought, "Oh, that’s not me. I’ve always had good experiences with men. I’ve enjoyed many male friendships, and I’ve always been in relationships with men who truly honored and supported me, both as a woman and as a person." All of that was going on in my head, but my body stood up and began walking to the center of the room. I was truly shocked by my own action, as if my body had a life of its own, separate from my mind. Something in my very cells was responding to the request that had been made, and I found myself seated in a circle of probably 100 women. Some of the history of women was then related, with many details, such as being treated as less than human, being sold on auction blocks as mere children for the pleasure of men, being cast out into the streets for someone younger and prettier, being raped and used, violated and dishonored. As the story unfolded, involuntary wails began to emerge from the women in our circle, and at a certain point, I became aware that one of those voices was mine. It was as if the genetic encoding of all those events was being pulled to the surface, and there was a collective grieving for what had been experienced and what had been lost.


When the morning session was over, we were instructed to go to a mountain stream on the conference grounds and do a ritual cleansing and purification of the pain and woundedness of our mutual history. Many of the men went off into the mountains together, held one another, and wept, while the women made their way individually and in small groups to the rushing mountain waters to perform their rites of purification. The glowing faces of the women returning from the stream encouraged and empowered the women passing them on their way there. There was no chatter or conversation, rather a powerful silence that honored the sanctity of what was occurring.

That evening when the whole group came back together, something very beautiful became apparent: there was a shyness, a purity, and an innocence between the men and the women which I had never seen before. It was almost as if we were seeing one another for the first time in a long, long time, as we truly were. My eyes filled with tears as I both watched and experienced these tender exchanges, and I blessed us all for the courage we had had to enter into the dark side of the relationship between men and women and bring it back into the light. It truly felt like we could begin again. We had taken the first steps toward forgiving and healing one another.