The first section, titled “Emanations,” of the second part of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell focuses on creation myths involving a “male” (actually androgynous, but referred to as male) creator. He typically creates the world and then a female mate, or he creates a man who creates a female mate, and the birth of humans begins. However, there’s another tradition, that of the creatrix rather than the creator. Campbell begins the second section of the second part of his book, called “The Virgin Birth,” with a discussion of this tradition.
Agent of the Father
Campbell tells us that the creatrix is an agent of the life force rather than the life force itself.
The world-generation spirit of the father passes into the manifold of earthly experience through a transforming medium–mother of the world.
This may not be as chauvinistic as it sounds because the demiurge, which is generally represented as male, is also just an agent of the life force (though he’s ignorant of this and thinks he’s the life force itself). What Campbell refers to as the “father” is actually beyond male/female duality. I think he’s using this term because that’s what many myths do, looking upon the All/One/Eternity as a father figure.
Campbell also likens the creatrix to the shell of the cosmic egg. Recall that the cosmic egg is space in eternity. In other words,” space, time, and causality” is the Mother Universe’s domain. Traditions that depict the creation of the universe from a female figure show us the cosmic egg as a nurturing, sustaining, nourishing force whereas the impression of a world created by an androgynous/male demiurge is more like an act of intelligence. The exception is when the demiurge is given “motherly” qualities and deliberately described as a loving creator.
In the Tarot, the mother archetype is represented by The Empress. She’s about nurturing and fertility, both qualities we associate with mothers. The Empress, however, also represents desire, and Campbell provides an interesting link between Mother Universe and desire:
[S]he is the lure that moved the self-brooding Absolute to the act of creation.
The idea behind this is that the Eternal One initiated the creation of the world out of a desire to open up its unlimited potential. (This
, of course, is can be seen as a personification. In other words, the Eternal is given a human quality, desire, when it ‘s really may actually be beyond all emotions. Revised March 23 in light of Seth’s comment below. Thanks, Seth!) In that sense, we are each one spark of unlimited potential emanating from the One. The desire to manifest a potential within us is personified, according to Campbell, by Mother Universe, the original desire for potential fulfillment.
We can see a clear link here between nurturing, desire, and Mother Universe. In order to fulfill the desire of the Eternal One, we need to nurture our fullest potential. This, of course, has a different meaning now than it did for those who created these myths. The potential in those societies was limited by the position which each person held in the group. A woman, for instance, had the potential to be a good wife and mother or a bad wife and mother, and a good member of the community or a bad member of the community, and that was about it!
In Western societies, and to some extent in non-Western societies, the possibilities for fulfilling our potential have expanded. With that comes a much greater challenge: identifying what that potential really is and overcoming any blocks and fears to fulfilling it. The confining forces of society still exist, and now with the greater possibilities open to us, they present an even greater challenge to fulfilling the potential that these myths show us is the reason for our being. I see in the creatrix traditions a timeless message that our destiny is at heart the process of aligning ourselves with the will of the One/All/Eternity.
For anyone interested in exploring creatrix traditions, here’s a list of creation goddesses, taken from Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood: A Treasury of Goddess and Heroine Lore from Around the World by Merlin Stone.
Nu Kua (Chinese)
Au Set/Isis (Egyptian)
Mu Olokukurtilisop (Cuna of Panama)
Spider Woman (Pueblo Native Americans)
Huruing Wuhti (Hopi Native Americans)