Study Guide

The Da Vinci Code Women and Femininity

By Dan Brown

Women and Femininity

"Early religion was based on the divine order of Nature. The goddess Venus and the planet Venus were one and the same. The goddess had a place in the nighttime sky and was known by many names – Venus, the Eastern Star, Ishtar, Astarte – all of them powerful female concepts with ties to Nature and Mother Earth." (6.45)

Yup, that's right. Early religions were all about the ladies. So what gives, patriarchal society? (Don't worry. Langdon and Teabing will explain at length…)

Opus Dei had always made her uneasy. Beyond the prelature's adherence to the arcane ritual of corporal mortification, their views on women were medieval at best. She had been shocked to learn that female numeraries were forced to clean the men's residence halls for no pay while the men were at mass; women slept on hardwood floor, while the men had straw mats; and women were forced to endure additional requirements of corporal mortification … all as added penance for original sin. It seemed Eve's bite from the apple of knowledge was a debt women were doomed to pay for eternity. Sadly, while most of the Catholic Church was gradually moving in the right direction with respect to women's rights, Opus Dei threatened to reverse the progress. (7.16)

Sister Sandrine is right to feel a bit uneasy about Opus Dei. Any organization that purposefully requires one gender to live a life of subjugation and pseudo-servitude sounds dubiously unethical, at best. The fact that it can all be traced back to the belief in Original Sin (and that bite from the apple) makes it even worse, when you think about the fact that the Bible was written by men, to be read by men…

The ministry's ongoing foray into political correctness, Fache argued, was weakening the department. Women not only lacked the physicality necessary for police work, but their mere presence posed a dangerous distraction to the men in the field. As Fache had feared, Sophie Neveu was proving far more distracting than most. […] And by far the most troubling to Fache was the inescapable universal truth that in an office of middle-aged men, an attractive young woman always drew eyes away from the work at hand. (9.9-10)

Ugh, the misogyny. It's not Sophie's fault that she's an attractive young woman in an office full of leering old farts.

This is a perfect example of some old-fashioned thinking that still persists today, regardless of evidence that women are more than capable of doing many jobs formerly considered the sole purview of men. We're not sure whether Dan Brown decided to make Fache a misogynist in order to highlight what Sophie has fought against her whole life, or just to make us not like him too much. Either way, it's not a good look on anybody.

"Sophie," Langdon said, "the Priory's tradition of perpetuating goddess worship is based on a belief that powerful men in the early Christian church 'conned' the world by propagating lies that devalued the female and tipped the scales in favor of the masculine." […]

"The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever." (28.7,9)

This becomes a recurring point throughout the rest of the book – that men conspired to end the tradition of worshipping the sacred feminine in order to grasp power for themselves.

What do you think? Is modern religion just one big con? Could Dan Brown be exaggerating the truth a bit to make his fiction more compelling?

The Catholic Inquisition published the book that arguably could be called the most blood-soaked publication in human history. Malleus Maleficarum, or The Witches' Hammer – indoctrinated the world to "the dangers of freethinking women" and instructed the clergy how to locate, torture, and destroy them. Those deemed "witches" by the Church included all female scholars, priestesses, gypsies, mystics, nature lovers, herb gatherers, and any women "suspiciously attuned to the natural world." Midwives also were killed for their heretical practice of using medical knowledge to ease the pain of childbirth –a suffering, the Church claimed, that was God's rightful punishment for Eve's partaking of the Apple of Knowledge, thus giving birth to the idea of Original Sin. During three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women.

The propaganda and bloodshed had worked.

Today's world was living proof.

Women, once celebrated as an essential half of spiritual enlightenment, had been banished from the temples of the world. There were no female Orthodox rabbis, Catholic priests, nor Islamic clerics. The once hallowed act of Hieros Gamos— the natural sexual union between man and woman through which each became spiritually whole— had been recast as a shameful act. Holy men who had once required sexual union with their female counterparts to commune with God now feared their natural sexual urges as the work of the devil, collaborating with his favorite accomplice…woman. (28.14-17)

Wow. Just wow.

Langdon quickly explained that the Rose's overtone of secrecy was not the only reason the Priory used it as a symbol for the Grail. Rosa rugosa, one of the oldest species of rose, had five petals and pentagonal symmetry, just like the guiding star of Venus, giving the Rose strong iconographic ties to womanhood. In addition, the Rose had close ties to the concept of "true direction" and navigating one's way. The Compass Rose helped travelers navigate, as did Rose Lines, the longitudinal lines on maps. For this reason, the Rose was a symbol that spoke of the Grail on many levels—secrecy, womanhood, and guidance—the feminine chalice and guiding star that led to secret truth. (47.52)

Once again we're also reminded of Georgia O'Keeffe, and the fact that many of her paintings of flowers have been compared to woman's anatomy.

"The Grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church. The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. It was man, not God, who created the concept of 'original sin', whereby Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race. Woman, once the sacred giver of life, was now the enemy."

"I should add," Teabing chimed, "that this concept of woman as life-bringer was the foundation of ancient religion. Childbirth was mystical and powerful. Sadly, Christian philosophy decided to embezzle the female's creative power by ignoring biological truth and making man the Creator. Genesis tells us that Eve was created from Adam's rib. Woman became an offshoot of man. And a sinful one at that. Genesis was the beginning of the end for the goddess. (56.18-19)

All of this makes you really question everything you've been taught about religion, doesn't it? That's part of why Da Vinci Code became so popular. It takes everything we have been taught and turns it on its head in a very believable way—which gave rise to criticism for many reasons, one being that people were suddenly unable to distinguish between the facts Brown presented, and total fallacies.

Sophie looked at him. "You're saying the Christian Church was to be carried on by a woman?"

"That was the plan. Jesus was the original feminist. He intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene."

"And Peter had a problem with that," Langdon said, pointing to The Last Supper. (58.75-76)

Hoo boy. This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the controversy over Mary Magdalene's true role in the Bible. Scholars the world over have debated her identity, her role in Jesus's new Church, and historical influences on how we view her. You can read just some of the varying viewpoints about who she was here. Once again, Dan Brown's ingeniously tapped into an academic gray area and made it his own. Pretty cool.

Most of Disney's hidden messages dealt with religion, pagan myth, and stories of the subjugated goddess. It was no mistake that Disney retold tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White— all of which dealt with the incarceration of the sacred feminine. Nor did one need a background in symbolism to understand that Snow White— a princess who fell from grace after partaking of a poisoned apple— was a clear allusion to the downfall of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Or that Sleeping Beauty's Princess Aurora— code-named "Rose" and hidden deep in the forest to protect her from the clutches of the evil witch— was the Grail story for children. (61.20)

Whether or not this was Disney's true intention, you'll never look at his movies the same way ever again, huh?

"Sophie," Langdon said quietly, "it's important to remember that the ancients' view of sex was entirely opposite from ours today. Sex begot new life – the ultimate miracle – and miracles could be performed only by a god. The ability of the woman to produce life from her womb made her sacred. A god. Intercourse was the revered union of the two halves of the human spirit – male and female – through which the male could find spiritual wholeness and communion with God. What you saw was not about sex, it was about spirituality. The Hieros Gamos ritual is not perversion. It's a deeply sacrosanct ceremony." (74.32)

This is another interpretation of religion that Dan Brown is using to his advantage. Hieros Gamos is not understood to be the same thing across various religions, so he's taking one view of the sacred ritual and running with it.

All evening Langdon had suspected that Sophie's grandmother was closely tied to the operations of the Priory. After all, the Priory had always had women members. Four Grand Masters had been women. The sénéchaux were traditionally men— the guardians— and yet women held far more honored status within the Priory and could ascend to the highest post from virtually any rank. (105.18)

This seems…a bit contrary in and of itself, doesn't it? If they truly believe in the sacred feminine, wouldn't it make sense that she wouldn't need "guardians"? Isn't that pseudo-sexist thinking, which would be contrary to believing in the goddess? We're confused.