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To Birth - the Magnificent Spiritual Journey

Light streaming through blue clouds by Daniel Pascoa on Unsplash

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who has had a mighty influence on human thinking, believed the human spirit was carried in the sperm and semen. The mother’s womb was no more than a receptacle in which the baby could grow. That mindset only fully shifted with the discovery of the female ovum (egg) in 1827.

In the 21st century we know much more about the body during pregnancy. Nowadays it is counted from date of the start of the last period to make a 40-week gestation to childbirth. That is, gestation begins with a waiting time before conception approximately two weeks later. Something is also taking place in a woman’s soul. She may sense this inner shift going on. Or it may manifest simply as a subtle longing, like gazing at babies more than usual. An inner voice will resonate. It’s a heart-song, except that we may be too preoccupied with the world to listen inwardly.

In the third week the syuccessful sperm penetrates and fertilizes a woman’s egg. The sperm and egg unite to form a single cell called a zygote. This begins to divide. The first tiny cluster of cells is called a morula, which begins to travel down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. The rapidly dividing ball of cells is now known as a blastocyst with inner cells that will become the embryo and an outer group that will nourish the embryo. It’s a critical stage. The blastocyst must reach the uterus, break free of an outer ‘shell’ and implant in the endometrium. Hormones are exchanged to help implantation. Increased hormonal levels will signal the ovaries to stop producing eggs. When the periods stop it’s a sign to the woman that she is pregnant.

The implanted blastocyst develops into an embryo attached to a placenta and surrounded by fluid-filled membranes. The embryo is made up of three germ layers that will develop into different body organs and outer structures. The developing human being is now called a fetus/foetus. At approximately twelve weeks the fetus is around 61 millimeters and can be recognized as human.

A woman will feel a fluttering like butterfly wings in her uterus usually from 18-20 weeks gestation (earlier if she has previously given birth). It’s called the ‘quickening’. In many cultures quickening has been related to ensoulment of the individual. Before this the embryo was considered to be part of the mother. In other times and places, the belief was that the soul is ‘born’ from the moment of conception, or when the mother realises she is with child. Such differences, as well as attitudes to the status of women, have led for example to often virulent debates about when and if abortion can be carried out. They are still going on.

But all these arguments are but the dregs of a once deep spiritual awareness, mostly forgotten today. Here we can trace the influence of the patriarchy. The masculine mindset has long been concerned about power through increase. In biblical teaching the woman’s role was to produce many children as an important boost to the religious society, after the injunction, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’ (Gen 1: 28). And in Rome the emperor Augustus Caesar berated single men the Forum. You should marry chaste, domestic women, he declared, so they can bring forth children to help replenish the fatherland. Religion and state have had much to say about women and their primary function, to build up the numbers. In patriarchal societies women were (are) viewed as weaker and needing to be governed. According to the Judaic God, ‘Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ (Gen 3:16)

Yet I have often wondered about another part of that same verse. God says, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.’ It was supposedly punishment after Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that would open her eyes and make her ‘like God’.

So what did Eve the primal mother know? Was it love for creation and the agony a divine being experiences at what humans do to one another and to Mother Earth? A pregnant women, a woman who has born children, or a midwife may well become increasingly sensitive to such things – empathetic, more attuned. Childbirth can be a transcendent experience for women and for those present with them. Yet when there is no framework for their experience, along with the pain, the profundity of the birth fades. Surely sensitivity like this needs to be encouraged and blessed, for it is a quality of the divine feminine.

When we look at incarnation as a spiritual process an awesome story reveals itself to us. Producing offspring is of course vital for survival of a species and at every stage is accompanied by dangers. That is why, as human consciousness evolved, sacred rites surrounding pregnancy and childbirth became significant, invoking the powerful Mother Goddess for protection.

Yet in many older cultures, when a woman died in childbirth it was not seen as failure, but rather a noble sacrifice. She was valued as a brave warrior, as much as the hero who died in battle. Among the Spartans these deaths were the only ones honoured with their names inscribed on their tombs. And for the Celts the dying mother was seen as equally offering her life for the good of the whole people.

And as well, birth itself was sacred, understood as the culmination of the journey of the soul from spirit into this world. Such knowledge is still available to us. We can discover how every human soul comes from the spiritual world, how preparation has long been taking place, and how our soul chooses the physical body in which it is to incarnate. It makes use of the lineage and heredity which will best serve its purpose in the new life. Yet the forces it draws on are cosmic powers.

Overseeing the whole journey are specific cosmic forces that became known and depicted in many cultures as the Goddess in that her function relates to the female processes so intrinsic to all life. She is both one and many and we have named her down the ages. Inanna, Taweret, Isis, Shashthi, Eileithyia, Artemis, Leto, Brigid, Koyasu-sama, the Virgin Mary who bore the Christ child and so many more, remembered and forgotten.

After conception the soul’s spiritual seed unites with the parents’ combined physical germ. The soul longs to reunite with its spirit-seed and the divine feminine is involved in making this happen. She helps the soul to draw forces from the etheric world, the invisible realm permeating all existence, and to clothe itself in an etheric body. This beautiful etheric sphere bears an image of the whole cosmos, the heavens above and the earth below, or the Divine and Earth goddess. We are indeed a world in miniature within which the soul guides nature spirits to fashion the physical body.

The etheric continues to surround the child from birth and up until around the seventh year as they grow more and more into their physical body. No wonder so many young children converse with non-earthly spirits of all kinds. They are real. It may have been that once upon a time a child came into this world alive to their prior experience. Only the rare soul remembers that now. Among those who yearned for something half-remembered was the poet Wordsworth who wrote:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come …[1]

These glorious clouds are the astral that will make up the soul’s astral or ‘star’ body revealed in the colours of the aura. The astral also becomes part of the developing baby. Later in the pregnancy it becomes increasingly active. And the soul will reunite with its spirit-seed. In a premature birth this may even take place after the baby is delivered. It takes highly developed spiritual perception to observe the precise moment when the soul enters. As it is, a mother will generally have a feeling that all is in place. She will begin to recognize that the great event is imminent. The mother who has wisdom and knowledge attuned to her incarnating child becomes the authority, not the world.

Today, many women and men are discovering the reality of the soul’s journey from the spiritual realms to incarnation. When understood this amazing and profound process can be backed up by rites that honour a pregnant woman and the babe in her womb.

Already, old rituals are being re-vitalised. A Blessingway or Mama Blessing, based on a Navajo ceremony, celebrates, honours and nurtures the mother-to-be, with awareness of the changes birth will bring to her body and soul. Doulas (a name stemming from the Greek for female slave or servant) revive an ancient role of dedicated helper and nurturer through birth and other rites of passage. Medically trained midwives may be spiritually attuned along with their practical birthing role. Mothers and beloved partners and friends are once again attending births to be involved in the mystery, including in the clinical setting of a hospital. And for the infant, I love the spiritual rites of baptism that are more than claiming a child for their parents’ faith. These deeper rites bless and anoint the baby to help them retain the stars still present in the aura in acknowledgement that we do indeed come ‘trailing clouds of glory’.

And then there is the lost child. Miscarriage and stillbirth bring profound sorrow. Yet the soul itself has made the decision. You cannot kill the soul, but for some reason the soul and spirit may not be able to fully unite with the growing fetus. Karmic forces are involved and at a certain point, even after birth, the soul will choose to leave. It has been commonplace to expect a woman to ‘get over it’ and ‘try for another’. Rather those left behind need enormous care and love. For events have taken place on the deep level of spirit and the divine mother herself joins in the grieving. Even in the case of abortion, which is rarely undergone without an inner struggle, the soul guides the mother towards making a decision. There is no place at all for external judgement.

The Goddess is all-knowing. She is divine Wisdom and has been active since the beginning of creation. We know her, we know her names. And she will come to the name by which we call her when we trust it as a rightful name. She guides us towards the awesome reality of existence. She teaches us about being and becoming, how to bring a child into the world, and to rear it well – if only we listen and hear her ancient voice. For she lives in our soul. She is loving and truthful and is the knowing within all women.

Yet we can all be participants in newly creative ways. In our time there is a need for incarnation rites for the changed world we are facing – rites that look to the future. Perhaps plant a tree for every newborn and the ones who returned to spirit. To celebrate as a community with insight and imagination aligned with the beautiful Spirit of Being and Becoming will be a blessing for all.

[1] Quote from Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood; by William Wordsworth Foundation references: The incarnating Child by Joan Salter, second edition, 2010, Hawthorn Press, UK Birth, death and Beyond, video and book of six lectures by Mario Schoenmaker, 1997, book republished 2021, Rosa Veritas, Australia

Embryology and World Evolution, by Karl Konig, 1968 series of lectures, 2nd edition 2000, Camphill Books - a deeply esoteric Anthrosophical work.


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