“Immense can be our Fear surrounding ‘coming out’ with our beliefs, our passions, and our ancient wisdom whether to our families or friendships let alone the community at large. Afraid we can be of ‘speaking out’ on behalf of the Feminine.
For in doing so we may experience rejection, ridicule, abandonment… all experiences masking an even greater fear… that of ancient memories of persecution, torture and death…”
—Chrysalis Woman Circle Leader Manual
Perhaps the above sounds a little dramatic and perhaps it is a feature of the region in which I live, but I do think there is a lot of truth here to the buried fear/memory or worry of being put to death for speaking up for women, for priestessing, even for self-empowerment. When I read the book Witchcraze for my Persecution of the Witch class at Ocean Seminary College, I was disturbed and frightened to see how very clearly the sociological connections could be made between the witchcraze of the Middle Ages and attitudes, more subtle and framed in different language, that still exist today.
In a post I wrote based on my final essay for this class, I wrote:
In her book, Witchcraze, Anne Barstow concludes with the following sobering statement: “This book has been an effort to remember the names of those who died across Europe. So far, few have said, ‘Yes, these things really happened.’ And no one has yet said, ‘They will never dare to happen again.’” (p. 167).
My first response upon reading this statement was, I’ll say it! They will never dare happen again! But, then I more somberly thought about the things I currently see in society that to me still carry living threads of the witchcraze legacy and I realized that I truly think that globally as well as in the U.S. we teeter on the edge of having history repeat itself. When I read about the histrionics of the extremely conservative and fundamentalist movements in the U.S. and their increasing and frightening political influence, it is not so farfetched to me…Some of the things conservative religious movements promote and advocate are very scary. And, they are increasingly gaining political influence in subtle but powerful ways. While I don’t think we would literally experience a resurgence of the “burning times,” I think the type of misogyny that produced them remains alive and well.
I written before about a related experience:
I’ve been feeling depressed and discouraged lately after reading some really horrifying articles about incredible, unimaginable violence and brutality against women in Paupa New Guinea who are accused of being witches as well as a book about human trafficking around the world (I wrote about this in a post for Pagan Families last week). Then, I finished listening to David Hillman on Voices of the Sacred Feminine recently, in which he issues a strong call to action to the pagan community and to “witches” in the U.S. to do something about this violence, essentially stating that it is “your fault” and that instead of wasting energy on having rituals to improve one’s love life (for example), modern witches should be taking to the streets and bringing these abusers to justice. And, he asserts, the fact that they don’t, shows that they don’t really “believe”—believe in their own powers or in their own Goddess(es). This brought me back to a conversation I had with a friend before our last women’s circle gathering…does this really matter that we do this or is it a self-indulgence? We concluded that it does matter. That actively creating the kind of woman-affirming world we want to live in is a worthy, and even holy, task. I don’t have time to fully go into it all right now, but I also think the legacy of the sixteenth century “witchcraze” is powerful and the attitudes that drove it are alive and well in the world today. There is a lot of fear still bound up in that word and perhaps that is why people fail to respond to Hillman’s challenge to take to the streets…
And, that post was later modified and transformed into a more detailed post at Feminism and Religion: Do Women’s Circles Actually Matter?
As I re-visited this topic following our most recent Rise Up class in which we talked about why a goddess-honoring culture does not automatically translate to being a woman-honoring culture (even though it seems like they would be logically connected). We talked about standing up, speaking out, about activating the goddess within, and about the idea that showing up and doing it matters. We talked about how creating alternative images and ideas and sharing them—not in a conflictual or challenging or “you’re wrong” oppositional way, but in terms of sharing and showing up with our own symbols and art and ideas. I thought about the fear that is associated for many women in doing this kind of work. I also thought about just how big it is and how far and deep it goes and I remembered the idea of “small stone activism.” I suspect perhaps many women end up withholding their own “small stones” of empowerment and activism because they don’t seem big enough or profound enough to actually change the world…
While reading the book The Mother Trip by Ariel Gore, I came across this quote from civil rights activist Alice Walker: “It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes failing over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame. This is the tragedy of our world.” Ariel adds her own thoughts to this: “Remember: as women, as mothers, we cannot not work. Put aside your ideas that your work should be something different or grander than it is. In each area of your life—in work, art, child-rearing, gardening, friendships, politics, love, and spirituality—do what you can do. That’s enough. Your small stone is enough…”
Speak your truth
tell your story
stand up for the silenced
speak for the voiceless
believe that hope still has a place
hold the vision
hold each other…