Who is Margaret Fuller? Why does she matter?
Five years ago, I asked myself these questions when I first heard of this remarkable woman. Today, I am grateful for the opportunity to relate my parallel adventure with Fuller in engaging in the Templar tradition of overthrowing the Vatican; though what separates myself from Margaret in this common goal is that the Catholic Church today seems to have done a pretty splendid job of planting the seeds for its own demise without any help from Yankee revolutionaries. …
It was right here in this very church, in the social room that I discovered why Margaret Fuller mattered to me in a very immediate, practical way. Lee Sullivan was responsible and I am thrilled she is here with us today. After making my passage through Lee’s “Birthing Room,” I had a vision of a 21st century theology. When I told Lee about it in our Social Room, she directed me to the website of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation. There I discovered the Margaret Fuller Award! I also learned that Margaret and I had a few things in common: we are both daughters of Unitarian mothers and we both worked as foreign correspondents and cultural critics for newspapers. So, I applied for the grant and was delighted to be informed in the fall of 2005 that I received a grant to write a handbook on a 21st century theology: the hieros gamos.
If you ask me what this term – hieros gamos — means, I say it is Greek for “sacred marriage.” If you ask me what is the “sacred marriage,” I will let Bronson Alcott tell you, direct from his journal entry written on Margaret Fuller’s birthday, May 23, 1870, twenty years after she tragically died in a shipwreck:
She had the intellect of a man inspired by the heart of a woman, combining in harmonious marriage the masculine and feminine in her genius. We have had no woman approaching so near our conception of the ideal woman as herself….
Today, my four-year adventure in getting to know Margaret is culminating in an exhibition chronicling my discovery of a grassroots movement sourced in Margaret Fuller’s vision of the “sacred marriage” transmitted through her book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. My delight in discovering Fuller’s prophecy inspired the theme reflected in the title: Woman in the 21st Century: Margaret Fuller and the Sacred Marriage. This multi-media show of 32 male and female artists opens on Margaret’s 200th birthday, May 23, in her birthplace of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I am still marveling at the labyrinth I have been traveling which ends by shaking up the American canon with icons and altars celebrating its long repressed birth mother, Margaret Fuller! A prophet has returned and how we have missed her!
When I began the process this winter of seeking work for the exhibition, I contacted an artist whose Yankee ancestry is traced back to the American Revolution. Her name is Dianne Bowen. She immediately sent me some of the most explosive self-portraits I have ever seen from a woman’s hand: a female face with the mouth wide open, as if gasping for air. I was as riveted by the images as I was startled by the message accompanying them: “This is the female fighting to get out from under the patriarchal projections.”
The paintings were made from photos the artist took of herself underwater. She had sent me two self-portraits of her close call with drowning without knowing that Margaret Fuller died when a wave swept her into the water! The ship was literally sinking under the weight of a well-known patriarch, John Calhoun, a pro-slavery republican vice president, whose statue was in the hold. I visited Dianne’s studio to experience the work in the “flesh.” She showed me a new project: transmitting a mysterious tapping she was experiencing in her apartment. It had dots and dashes, appearing to be a form of Morse Code. By making sound visual, she could interpret messages from the beyond. And what did this message say? Listen! A message from Margaret, perhaps!!??
If this seemed all to plausible, it was because another Margaret Fuller enthusiast, Jessica Lipnack, wrote a novel about Margaret’s ghost pushing the heroine to live up to her potential while putting the sixties ideals of communal living into practice. The climatic moment is the arrival of Buckminster Fuller, the 1960s inventor who used sacred geometry to innovate spaces in attunement with the natural patterns and vibrations of the universe. With Margaret as his great aunt, it was no wonder that the Unitarian Buckminster Fuller was designing hexagon shaped houses!
The hexagonal form of the female body that I used as the symbol for the exhibition is highly significant for humanity at this time. On January 23, 1997 there was a hexagram connecting several planets in the heavens to earth. This shape is also known as the Seal of Solomon because it was the geometry of the Holy of the Holies in Solomon’s Temple where the Sacred Marriage Rites were practiced.
Shortly after this configuration took place on my birthday, I met the author Margaret Starbird at Lee Sullivan’s house. She told me the significance of the Seal of Solomon as the symbol for the sacred marriage. This began my research into the icon I traced through Starbird’s writings back to the dawn of civilization. In ancient Sumer, which is present day Iraq, the Sacred Marriage Rites were practiced as an annual fertility festival at the New Year. I connected these rites with the Myth of Eternal Return occurring at the changing of the ages. How else would we know how to meet our new selves, if not for recognizing an authentic birth of something new? So new it doesn’t have identifying characteristics to give it a name! Wouldn’t the very mythology of the birth itself be a model for human behavior? And wouldn’t the universal connection to this myth serve as a grounding mechanism for cultural absorption?
In ancient Sumer, the Sacred Marriage Rites took place between the goddess Inanna and her beloved consort, the shepherd Dumuzi. That was the Age of Taurus. In the Age of Aries, the Iron Age, it was Ishtar and Tammuz. For the Age of Pisces, the Christian era, it was Jesus and his disciple Mary Magdelene.
What about this changing of the Ages that we are now living in? What is the mythology for the sacred marriage that we can connect with today revealing the Aquarian ideal of human liberation through a unity of opposites? How can a woman give birth to something so new to be unrecognizable in the culture if the birth mother herself is not free?
In reading Margaret Fuller, I realized she struggled, as I did, with this dilemma. And I related to her personal ambition to will fate into destiny through summoning a spiritual courage from the deepest recesses of the psyche. Would we surmount the obstacles that threatened, at every turn, to thwart our vision of freedom? As it turned out, Margaret’s hand reached beyond the grave to separate me from a fatal “fall” and set forth an undetermined course still being written as I stand before you.
How could she have done such a miraculous thing? Now, I will tell you. Last May, I opened a hugely ambitious exhibition in New York. The Black Madonna that traced the legend of the sacred marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene back to its source – the female figure. It did so through the Knights Templar, the warrior monks tasked with protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land. You think uncovering the hidden treasures of a secret order is too incredulous of a story for our times? One that belongs in a film or a novel, rather than an actual church? In truth, I had kept in touch with Starbird over the years. She sent me a message telling me how grateful she was that global phenomenon of The Da Vinci Code lifted her burden to communicate her knowledge of the sacred marriage at the core of Christianity; it turns out that the author, Dan Brown, was inspired by her books!
Now I relate a new chapter of an ancient story resurrecting from underground. You see, my collaborator in Black Madonna was none other than the enigmatic Hugo Payans, the direct descendent of the Founder and first Grandmaster of the Knights Templar. Hvgo and I became immersed in a “sacred marriage” while summoning up powerful images of the long-repressed dark feminine energy Margaret Fuller contacted in her fearless penetration into the depths of her psyche. This is an excerpt from her January 24, 1941 journal entry:
I wandered in the subterranean recesses, the light was darkness; my feet bled with the sharp stones I could not see to avoid; cliffs pierced my ardent breast; cold and foreign substances slid on either side from my seeking hands. Gleams of light came sometimes only to show me that the path wound on and on. . . . (The Essential Margaret Fuller 18-19)
Through the sacred material of millennial art, Hugo and I excavated psychological gold. I was mesmerized by the powerful integration of opposites embedded in the Templar DNA: Monk and warrior fused by the sword of Truth! It took all my will to pull away from this real life enigma so I might attend the 199th birthday celebration of Margaret Fuller in the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Cambridge.
When I arrived at the gathering, I felt pulled into another time: Margaret’s Time. There she was sitting in a ruffled
Having been guided through my personal labyrinth by symbols, I am highly sensitive to their power. These two together knocked me out. When I came to, they opened a new door, a passage leading away from the Templars and into the very source of the Grail: the divine face of the feminine which, like Fuller herself, is constantly changing and dissolving form. I followed my guide through this coded passageway into another realm. She labeled it “Double Triangle, Serpent and Rays,” the title of her poem:
The language woven around Fuller’s talisman revealed her prescient to the 21st century icon: the “sacred marriage” where the contradictions are unified! Her very positioning of these two symbols meant a new adventure: the inner self-transformation arising from the Emersonian self-reliance that is the core of my Unitarian Universalist upbringing.
So, that was it! The symbol released me from the external reflection of the sacred marriage – the Templar bloodline – back into the psychological inner depths. There Margaret Fuller led me to my own internal marriage; after all, I was residing in Salem while allowing her to guide the course of Her exhibition! And it was clear from the presence of the hand delivering the symbols that this was my opportunity to transform fate into destiny. I felt suddenly very anxious, for it seemed I needed to trace Margaret’s connection to the Sacred Marriage, so I may become her messenger! But where might I begin?
Let’s start with her youth. This prodigy suffered from an intense study of the classics at a young age. Timothy Fuller had his eldest child learning Greek and Latin, along with French, Italian and German. It was a harsh regime that seemed intent on providing a solid grounding in logic, least she get lost in fantasy. Given the display of her early gifts as a linguist, it was inevitable that Margaret, regardless of her sex, would become an outstanding intellect of her time. Yet, even the expectation was ironic because, as a woman, she was denied the Harvard education of her brothers. This combination of traditional foundation and exclusion from power left her with only one choice: to go within to create a new language connecting psyche and cosmos, a course that placed her more securely in our time than her own.
Heavily influenced by the German Romantic writers she translated, Margaret’s writings expressed her belief that none of us is wholly male or female, but a combination of opposites that are always ebbing and flowing. A half-century before the development of psychoanalysis, this unshakeable belief in the unity of the Self was transmitted through her gifts of communication and uncanny ability to weave connections where none formerly existed.
The circumstances of her life required that Margaret develop both her masculine and feminine traits. When her father died on October 2, 1835 she was 25; the dutiful daughter had to put aside her intellectual pursuits to support her family. Assuming the role of the man in a family full of younger sons, she went to work. She tried and tired of the traditional vocations for the female spinster – teacher and schoolmaster. Then, between 1839 and 1844, she experimented with a new form of communication: “Boston Conversations.” They took place at her friend Elizabeth Peabody’s bookstore. Yes, she received a good income. But there was a lofty purpose to these gatherings: to travel on Mercury’s wings to the height of Mount Olympus and the depths of Hades. You see, unlike her male contemporaries, Margaret Fuller knew the value of plunging into inner darkness, the condition the medical establishment labels as clinical depression.
Such a vision of female transformation is revealed in Woman in the Nineteenth Century through Fuller’s call for her sex to embody self-reliance from an inner transformation of the “secret fluid.” Having had this experience, I am certain that the Margaret Fuller we know was the product of a Kundalini awakening. This explains her spiritual crises and subsequent transformations.
Kundalini means coiled. The serpent power is coiled at the base of the spine until a cosmic connection with a transpersonal force awakens this energy. It then passes through the nervous system, blasting through the chakras, or energy centers of the body, along the way to its destination: the sacred marriage with the masculine spirit at the crown of the head.
Yes, we Unitarian Universalists may hesitate to call this energy the Goddess, but it is this divine power of the feminine repressed for millennia that Margaret Fuller accessed in her person. Her creative writing is the attempt to give a style and form to this energy. In poetry, she succeeded through the use of alchemical imagery. Her accomplishments – like those of other women – was overlooked in the development of the American canon, yet she was an active participant in its origins through her editing of Emerson’s Transcendentalist journal, The Dial and position as first regular cultural critic of the New York Tribune 1844-1846.
In 1847, she achieved a long cherished dream of traveling to Europe where she felt she truly discovered her place among intellectuals not bound by Puritan tradition. Riding this current, she found what her heart had been seeking: a lover. The very secrecy of her affair with Angelo Ossoli, an Italian nobleman ten years her junior is what made established a revolutionary “sacred marriage”; holding the tension between the opposites birthed the “divine child.” Indeed, she got pregnant. Angelito had to be hidden in the mountains so appearances could be maintained. Margaret was America’s official eyewitness to a new revolution, but in truth was she was a proactive participant in the upheaval. In one of her last dispatches she wrote:
THE NEXT REVOLUTION, HERE AND ELSEWHERE, WILL BE RADICAL. NOT ONLY JESUITISM MUST GO,BUT THE ROMAN CATHOLIC RELIGION MUST GO. THE POPE CANNOT RETAIN HIS SPIRITUAL POWER.
Inside knowledge was provided by her lover, an Italian nobleman whose rebellion against the Church ostracized him from a family that had guarded the papacy for generations. Her writing became more vivid as the central authority of the Vatican broke down. How she reveled in her description of the upwelling of the pagan archetypes in the highly charged atmosphere of the short-lived Italian revolution!
Barack and Michele Obama have delivered the sacred marriage back into its origin, at the center of power. This is too is what Margaret Fuller sought with her partner, to join the masculine and feminine in a revolutionary movement to instill the “sacred marriage’ for the dawning of a new age. And so, we retreat from the American model of the “corporate” woman of the late 20th century who sacrificed inner growth to pursue the illusive goal of external equality with men. In resurrecting Fuller today, we can clearly see how this outer struggle for male supremacy took precedence over the inner marriage! Such is the consumer materialistic society we live in where — it is believed — material goods fill the inner void for the opposite. The feminist preoccupation with externals and numbers excludes a connection with a deeply rooted inner femininity uniting with the inner masculine.
This is the “sacred marriage” that Margaret Fuller was striving for when she was thrown into the sea by a wave crashing over the shipwreck. In retrospect, it seems that her dramatic surrender to this wave – while the looters watched from the shore – opens a contemporary window into a 20th century prophecy. The physicist Wolfgang Pauli predicted the emergence of the 21st century archetype, the hieros gamos, from under the collapsed quantum wave. When we view the frontispiece to Woman in the Nineteenth Century, we see Pauli’s form for the icon: the Seal of Solomon. This symbol of the Self is surrounded by the Ouroboros, revealing the self-devouring we must go through as a process of enlightenment, a process that – like digestion – is always cyclical.
“Let them be sea captions! ” This recipe for women reveals Fuller’s gift for both prophecy and metaphor. Living her life in accordance with universal law required that her ego be the steady tiller steering her soul through treacherous waters of the collective unconscious. The glory of worldly success could not dismiss the lure of enacting a new rendition of the myth of Eternal Return which sealed her fate as the “sacred marriage” partner of an outcast revolutionary marquis.
Let us recount the elements in Margaret Fuller’s myth. First, there is an inner marriage brought on by years in the chrysalis formed by integrating right and left brain activities along with the grounding of household chores. Second, there is a secret marriage that was pagan by fate due to its exclusion by the Catholic Church – yet acknowledged by participants as sanctioned by divine law. Third, there was the noble couple conspiring to overthrow the Vatican so that the “marriage” of the divine feminine with her masculine consort might, in its very deed, replace the repressive authority of the patriarchy at its source. And finally, there was the product of America’s revolutionary daughter and the noble rebel: the divine child, Angelito.
So, there is metaphor even in Fuller’s end: the weight of the patriarchy – Calhoun’s statue – pulling her into the tumultuous sea. In the chaos of the unknown darkness, new mythologies arise from the depths.
Today, we embrace Fuller as a model of a social alignment in which a New Woman, born from the revolutionary flames, gives birth to the New Man, their divine child reflecting an interconnected ever-evolving universe.
And just in time! For America has too been on a shipwreck that Margaret would trace to our treatment of the Indians and denial of their connection with nature.
Global warming. Massive debt. Political polarization. Consider as well the continued degradation of the essence of the feminine in a licentious society. There is no end to the list of the challenges that humanity faces in the 21st century.
We would do well to turn towards the authentic American nobility contained in Margaret Fuller’s ever-evolving heart. We need the visionary gaze of this woman who embraces her many roles – as Unitarian daughter, Mother of a more authentic America and revolutionary Lover in pursuit of a new society.
We celebrate the genius of Margaret Fuller that burns anew with the icon excavated from the dawn of civilization. America needs a philosophy that holds the center between the opposites. In pursuing the “sacred marriage” to her last breath, this Unitarian daughter and Mother of the American canon rises once more to shepherd us to fulfill this nation’s promise to humankind: a society of equals delivering “liberty and justice for all.” And her parting image of taking her last breath with her Beloved Angelo reminds us that the sacred marriage is achieved by equal partnership held together with the honey of the erotic attraction.
Whatever we may believe today when we assess these correspondences, we can nevertheless apply new meaning to the profundity of Fuller’s self-prophecy that stands out like a beacon of truth from a distant star bearing her name:
Though many have suffered shipwreck beat still the noble hearts.
c. 2010 Lisa Paul Streitfeld
Mother’s Day Sermon. Unitarian Universalist Society in Stamford: May 9, 2010