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Symbolic Patterns of Childbirth

Anja Hänsch

This study investigates long-lasting cultural constructions of childbirth. Four symbolic patterns of childbirth emerge from the analysis of a variety of texts ranging from myths, philosophy, literature and religion to ethics of modern medicine. On a symbolic level «The Supremacy of the Male» attributes the coming into existence of a child primarily to male «pro-creation.» «The Supremacy of the Female», contrarily, relates childbirth to conception, pregnancy and giving birth on part of the woman. «Theoretical, Spiritual and Political Natality versus Childbirth» pictures childbirth as lower in value as the realms of ideas, religion, the political or the arts. In contrast to this, «Harmony between Spiritual/Theoretical Natality and Childbirth» shows that spiritual birth and childbirth can also be intertwined. It is argued that different symbolic patterns of childbirth may imply different gender relations and different views on «life» in general. The theoretical part of the book is based on Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of natality and on Martin Heidegger whose ideas on death are used for a philosophical conception of the woman giving birth.


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III.4 Harmony between Spiritual/ Theoretical Natality and Childbirth


III.4 Harmony between Spiritual/ Theoretical Natality and Childbirth The following chapter identifies a symbolic pattern of childbirth in which childbirth and birth into the realm of thought/ spirituality are not mutually exclusive574 but rather are in harmony with each other. The myths, cults, literary and philosophical traditions of the Ancient Egyptian/ Graeco-Ro- man goddess Isis have been chosen to illustrate such a harmony between spiritual birth and childbirth. The history of Isis spans from the second millennium before Christ until roughly the fifth century C.E. She became the most important divin- ity in Egypt during the final stage of Egyptian religious development under the Greek Ptolomeic dynasty.575 If one takes into consideration the persistent influence of Isiac traditions on Christianity,576 it could even be argued that the history of Isis has not come to an end yet, because Isis has survived in the figure of Mary. However, in the following presentation of the goddess as the symbolic carrier of a specific conception of childbirth, it should be taken into consid- eration that what Karl Jaspers has labelled Achsenzeit577 (“axial age”) cuts through the “continuity” between the Isis and Mary worship. Eisenstadt, who elaborates on Jaspers’ work, defines the axial age civilizations as civ- ilizations “in which there is an emphasis on the chasm between the tran- scendental and the mundane order and a conception of a higher moral or metaphysical order.”578 Whereas Isis emerges rather unshaken from axial age culture, the axial age gap...

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