Earlier this month I was very interested to see a series of posts on Raise the Horns about the top 25 most influential people in the birth of paganism. When I read Mankey’s post, it reinforced my own conception of Goddess spirituality as having a distinctly different lineage and flavor than much of contemporary paganism. His list, while extensive, useful, and accurate, involves a distinct lack of Goddess scholars, highlighting to me that Goddess spirituality IS a different movement and isn’t actually just a Goddess-oriented branch of contemporary paganism. Indeed, almost everyone on his list I’d either never heard of, not read, or don’t enjoy their writing. I immediately started to draft a list of my own and came up with 13 women, which seemed delightfully appropriate. We in the Goddess feminist community have our own path, herstory, and lineage, one that really only began in the 1970’s in direct connection to the feminist movement, rather than the pagan movement.
Not necessarily in a particular order, here is my own list of the top thirteen most influential people in the development and articulation of Goddess Spirituality as its own distinct path. (I’ve been scrambling to finish collecting my thoughts in time to post this list while it is still Women’s History Month!) Only one of my own picks also appears on Mankey’s list.
- Carol Christ–this feminist scholar is the most skillful and intelligent thealogian of the present day. Christ’s influence on my own ideas and concepts has been profound. Her work is academic, focused, and deep, and she wrestles with heavy questions. I particularly enjoy her books Rebirth of the Goddess and She Who Changes. A brilliant, thoughtful, amazing writer, Christ’s essay Why Women Need the Goddess remains, in my opinion, one of the most important and influential articles of our time.
- Merlin Stone–author of the classic When God was a Woman, this professor of art history changed the landscape and understanding of ancient cultures and their relationship to the Goddess (and, yes she drew on the work of Murray and Graves, but moved into feminist thealogy rather than pagan practice).
- Riane Eisler—author of The Chalice and the Blade, she made a significant contribution to the understanding of the history and development of patriarchy as well as offering a solution in the form of a partnership model of society.
- Marija Gimbutas—scholar and archaeologist and author of several books chronicling Goddess figurines from around the world, including The Language of the Goddess, her work has come under scrutiny and criticism, but remains a potent contribution to the lineage of the Goddess movement.
- Starhawk—the first of two on my list who bridge the gap between more “classic” paganism and feminist spirituality, Starhawk had a huge impact on the development of a female-oriented spiritual tradition. Her book The Spiral Dance was the first introduction to the Goddess for many women. In keeping with what I find to be a personal lack of click with a lot of pagan authors, I did not particularly enjoy The Spiral Dance and actually read it much later than most of the other books about feminist spirituality that I reference in this post, but regardless of personal taste, her influence on the Goddess movement is profound.
- Z. Budapest—considered by many to be one of the first mothers of the feminist spirituality movement in the U.S., like Starhawk, Z’s writings are not my personal favorite resources because of their heavy Wiccan orientation, but they are undeniably classics in Goddess circles. Z has taken heat from many pagans for her position on transgender people.
- Patricia Mongahan–recently departed author of Goddess-specific resource books like The Goddess Path and Wild Girls, Patricia’s writing is more practical and less scholarly/thealogy-oriented than some of my other favorite authors.
- Monica Sjoo—radical artist, ecofeminist, and Goddess scholar, Sjoo wrote The Great Cosmic Mother and one of my other favorites, a critique of New Age spiritual paths called New Age Armageddon. Her classic and awesome painting God Giving Birth narrowly avoided ended up in Court on the charge of “obscenity and blasphemy.”
- Hallie Iglehart—while less well-known and influential than some of the other women on my list, Hallie was personally very impactful to my own Goddess path, since her books were some of the first, personal and experientially-oriented Goddess-specific books that I read. She is the author of Womanspirit, a synthesis of feminism and religion, and of The Heart of the Goddess, a visually stunning collection of Goddess images and meditations/reflections.
- Cynthia Eller—while Eller’s book focused on debunking the “myth of matriarchal prehistory” made her lose popularity among many in the Goddess community (see her clarifying comments here), her scholarly engagement with the complexities of articulating the concepts of feminist spirituality and of thealogy is challenging, illuminating, and offers the opportunity to dig deeply into one’s own perspectives. Her book Living in the Lap of the Goddess is a thorough exploration of women’s spirituality and the Goddess movement.
- Charlene Spretnak–another rocking writer with a thorough grasp of the sociopolitical and cultural context, value, and purpose of Goddess spirituality, her classic anthology The Politics of Women’s Spirituality is one of the best and deepest explorations of the concepts, personal experiences, philosophies, and thealogies of why Goddess.
- Karen Tate—through her weekly radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine, I would venture to say that Tate is one of the most influential and dedicated “Goddess advocates” of the present day.
- Elizabeth Fisher and Shirley Ranck—authors of germinal religious education curriculums focused on feminist spirituality and woman-honoring traditions, originally published by the UU Women and Religion program, their work with Rise Up and Call Her Name andCakes for the Queen of Heaven continues to change the lives of women around the country by introducing them to a vision of what the world could be like if the divine was imaged as female.
Also deserving of mention are:
- SageWoman Magazine (and her editors)—this specifically Goddess-women oriented publication is a treasure and a delight.
- Feminism and Religion blog–daring to explore the intersection of religion, scholarship, activism, and community, FAR is not specifically Goddess-oriented, but includes Goddess scholars amongst their contributors and weaves a beautiful, living, organic tapestry of the multifaceted web of feminist spirituality in the present day.
I find that feminist spirituality can be distinguished from paganism because of the inclusion of a core sociopolitical orientation and distinct sociocultural critique. Feminist spirituality to me is the intersection of religion and politics. It is religious feminism. It may or may not include literal experience of or perception of the Goddess, but it names the female and the female body as sacred, worthy, and in need of defense and uses Goddess symbols, metaphors, stories, and experiences as primary expressions of divinity and the sacred.
After originally writing this list, I thought of many more women I should have included and I kept meaning to do a part two follow-up article. I’ve yet to finish that, but this is who I would add…
Six More Influential Women:
- Shekhinah Mountainwater (pictured at right): tremendous personal influence on my life and work.Original creator of Womanrunes and author of one of my all-time favorite goddess spirituality books, Ariadne’s Thread.
- Diane Stein–I particularly enjoy her anthology The Goddess Celebrates and also her book, Casting the Circle.
- Vicki Noble–her book Shakti Woman is a powerful and important read.
- Barbara Ardinger–if I had to choose a favorite book for ritual resources and goddess spirituality, her book A Woman’s Book of Rituals and Celebrations would be one of those at the top! I also enjoy interacting with her as a sister blogger at Feminism and Religion.
- Barbara Walker–author of several goddess-oriented sourcebooks, The Essential Handbook of Women’s Spirituality is another of my favorite resources.
- Nancy Vedder-Shults–I first “met” Nancy through hearing her music at a Cakes for the Queen of Heaven training. Her CD, Chants for the Queen of Heaven, was my first-ever purchase of goddess-specific music (I didn’t even know there was such a thing until hearing her songs!). Later, I continued to enjoy her contributions to SageWoman magazine and now through direct interaction on the Feminism and Religion blog.
Other cool books/honorable mentions: