I have often wondered whether there is not something wrong in our religious systems in that the same ritual, the same doctrines, the same aspirations are held to be sufficient both for men and women. The tendency everywhere is to obliterate distinctions, and if a woman be herself she is looked upon unkindly. She rarely understands our metaphysics, and she gazes on the expounder of the mystery of the Logos with enigmatic eyes which reveal the enchantment of another divinity. The ancients were wiser than we in this, for they had Aphrodite and Hera and many another form of the Mighty Mother who bestowed on women their peculiar graces and powers. Surely no girl in ancient Greece ever sent up to all-pervading Zeus a prayer that her natural longings might be fulfilled; but we may be sure that to Aphrodite came many such prayers. The deities we worship today are too austere for women to approach with their peculiar desires, and indeed in Ireland the largest number of our people do not see any necessity for love-making at all, or what connection spiritual powers have with the affections. A girl, without repining, will follow her four-legged dowry to the house of a man she may never have spoken twenty words to before her marriage. We praise our women for their virtue, but the general acceptance of the marriage as arranged shows so unemotional, so undesirable a temperament, that it is not to be wondered at. One wonders was there temptation.
What the loss to the race may be it is impossible to say, but it is true that beautiful civilizations are built up by the desire of man to give his beloved all her desires. Where there is no beloved, but only a housekeeper, there are no beautiful fancies to create the beautiful arts, no spiritual protest against the mean dwelling, no hunger build the world anew for her sake. Aphrodite is outcast and with her many of the other immortals have also departed. The home life in Ireland is probably more squalid than with any other people equally prosperous in Europe. The children begotten without love fill more and more the teeming asylums. We are without art; literature is despised; we have few of those industries which spring up in other countries in response to the desire of woman to make gracious influences pervade the home of her partner, a desire to which man readily yields, and toils to satisfy if he loves truly. The desire for beauty has come almost to be regarded as dangerous, if not sinful; and the woman who is still the natural child of the Great Mother and priestess of the mysteries, if she betray the desire to exercise her divinely-given powers, if there be enchantment in her eyes and her laugh, and if she bewilder too many men, is in our latest code of morals distinctly an evil influence. The spirit, melted and tortured with love, which does not achieve its earthly desire, is held to have wasted its strength, and the judgment which declares the life to be wrecked is equally severe on that which caused this wild conflagration in the heart. But the end of life is not comfort but divine being. We do not regard the life which closed in the martyr’s fire as ended ignobly. The spiritual philosophy which separates human emotions and ideas, and declares some to be secular and others spiritual, is to blame. There is no meditation which if prolonged will not bring us to the same world where religion would carry us, and if a flower in the wall will lead us to all knowledge, so the understanding of the peculiar nature of one half of humanity will bring us far on our journey to the sacred deep. I believe it was this wise understanding which in the ancient world declared the embodied spirit in man to be influenced more by the Divine Mind and in woman by the Mighty Mother, by which nature in its spiritual aspect was understood. In this philosophy, Boundless Being, when manifested, revealed itself in two forms of life, spirit and substance; and the endless evolution of its divided rays had as its root impulse the desire to return to that boundless being. By many ways blindly or half consciously the individual life strives to regain its old fullness. The spirit seeks union with nature to pass from the life of vision into Pure being; and nature, conscious that its grosser forms are impermanent, is for ever dissolving and leading its votary to a more distant shrine. “Nature is timid like a woman,” declares an Indian scripture. “She reveals herself shyly and withdraws again.” All this metaphysic will not appear out of place if we regard women as influenced beyond herself and her conscious life for spiritual ends. I do not enter a defense of the loveless coquette, but the woman who has a natural delight in awakening love in men is priestess of a divinity than which there is none mightier among the rulers of the heavens. Through her eyes, her laugh, in all her motions, there is expressed more than she is conscious of herself. The Mighty Mother through the woman is kindling a symbol of herself in the spirit, and through that symbol she breathes her secret life into the heart, so that it is fed from within and is drawn to herself. We remember that with Dante, the image of a woman became at last the purified vesture of his spirit through which the mysteries were revealed. We are for ever making our souls with effort and pain, and shaping them into images which reveal or are voiceless according to their degree; and the man whose spirit has been obsessed by a beauty so long brooded upon that he has almost become that which he contemplated, owes much to the woman who may never be his; and if he or the world understood aright, he has no cause of complaint. It is the essentially irreligious spirit of Ireland which has come to regard love as an unnecessary emotion and the mingling of the sexes as dangerous. For it is a curious thing that while we commonly regard ourselves as the most religious people in Europe, the reverse is probably true. The country which has never produced spiritual thinkers or religious teachers of whom men have heard if we except Berkeley and perhaps the remote Johannes Scotus Erigena, cannot pride itself on its spiritual achievement; and it might seem even more paradoxical, but I think it would be almost equally true, to say that the first spiritual note in our literature was struck when a poet generally regarded as pagan wrote it as the aim of his art to reveal–