If all the woman of the world
recorded their dreams for a single week
and laid them all end to end,
we would recover
the last million years
of women’s hymns and chants
all of women’s art and stories,
all of women’s lost histories.
that can be remembered
can ever be lost!”
~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
In a quote from iconic author and physician Christiane Northrup, she addresses the subjugation of female power through body control: “…if you want to know where a woman’s true power lies, look to those primal experiences we’ve been taught to fear…the very same experiences the culture has taught us to distance ourselves from as much as possible, often by medicalizing them so that we are barely conscious of them anymore. Labor and birth rank right up there as experiences that put women in touch with their feminine power…” And, from Glenys Livingstone: “It is not female biology that has betrayed the female…it is the stories and myths we have come to believe about ourselves.”
I’m attracted to themes of “story power” and also identify with Carol Christ’s explanation that:
“Women’s stories have not been told. And without stories there is no articulation of experience. Without stories a woman is lost when she comes to make the important decisions of her life. She does not learn to value her struggles, to celebrate her strengths, to comprehend her pain. Without stories she cannot understand herself. Without stories she is alienated from those deeper experiences of self and world that have been called spiritual or religious. She is closed in silence. The expression of women’s spiritual quest is integrally related to the telling of women’s stories. If women’s stories are not told, the depth of women’s souls will not be known” (p. 341. Emphasis mine).
Speaking of Carol Christ, I also identified with this quote from a recent post at Feminism and Religion:
I found I could not repeat the words nor stand in silence when “God, the Father, Lord, and King” was celebrated in communal worship. On the one hand my body revolted and I felt like I wanted to throw up. On the other hand, my mind told me that even if I could control the reactions of my body, the continued repetition of these symbols by others was influencing their individual actions and the actions of the culture they were legitimating through them—and these actions were hurting others. I have sometimes said that I might have been able to stay Christian if the only thing that was at stake had been the maleness of God. I do not know whether this is true, because I was never faced with this simple dilemma.
While I don’t feel like I want to throw up, I do struggle with the assumption of maleness inherent in many communal activities. I found myself balking during the graduation ceremony at the college for which I teach last month when the invocation was read and the closing benediction was offered. There was a powerful symbol system in place and assumed to apply to the entire room and it was not one I felt comfortable with. Likewise at our recently completed craft workshop. It is held at a facility with a church affiliation and the tradition is to sing a grace together before every meal. They all reference “Lord” and “God,” and are assumed to be comfortable for all in attendance. I find myself stumbling over or balking at participating in that symbol system. While I understand that Goddess prayers would cause similar stumbling–or out-and-out rejection of the workshop all together!–I would dearly love to find some acceptable UU-“generic”-style, interfaith friendly prayers and blessings to gradually replace these camp “classics.” I do have books with things like this in them, but they’re not those catchy sort of “sing for your supper” camp blessing songs. I did sell a surprising number of Goddess rings at the workshop, so maybe there would be less balking than I fear!
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.” ― Joseph Campbell
In a convenient twist, just this week a package arrived in the mail containing the book WomanPrayer, WomanSong: Resources for Ritual. (A birthday gift from my aunt, I accidentally opened it early—my birthday is tomorrow—thinking it was something I’d ordered for myself.) This book is a compilation of songs, verses, rituals, and poems with a female-God at the center. The Bible seems to be primary source of inspiration, though revisioned using feminine pronouns and the book is clearly strongly identified with Abrahamic traditions. God = Her throughout the text and there are some powerful words to this effect:
The God of history,
the God of the Bible
the One who carries us in Her arms
after carrying us in Her womb,
teaches us how to walk,
teaches us how to soar upward
just at the eagle teaches its young
to stretch their wings and fly,
brings to birth,
clothes the lilies of the field,
clothes Eve and Adam with garments newmade,
clothes you and me
with skin and flesh
and a whole new level of meaning
with the putting on of Christ.
The God of tradition,
the canonical God,
is One who cars about people,
who values personal relationships
who walks with,
demanding, complaining friends,
is willing to negotiate,
and a homeland,
The God of scripture,
the living God,
is One who feeds the hungry,
heals the brokenhearted,
binds up all their wounds
comforts as a mother comforts,
gathers Her brood protectively
to Her safe and sheltering wing.
is the Word-made-flesh,
the love one has
for a child in the womb,
on whom we depend,
like a child in the womb,
in whom we live
and have our being,
and wholly Other.
So why shouldn’t we
as the Spirit moves
sometimes call God
While appealing in some respects, I find I actually still shy away from this type of language and vision, as well. The conception of God-Mother throughout this book feels very much like a transcendent, omnipotent, and controlling Deity. Supplication, beseeching, and “wise and powerful” accolades permeate the prayers and readings. A praise and worship orientation is very different from the relational, embodied, partnership model I feel at the core of my own thealogical understanding of Divinity. Additionally, sin and forgiveness (from some kind of Divine source) is not a part of my thealogical understanding of the web of life at all and references to such feels very foreign and odd, regardless of whether female pronouns are used to do so.
Rush writing in Eller’s Living in the Lap of the Goddess writes, “the rituals being created today by various women are part of the renaissance of women’s spirituality, that is, of the ultimate holiness or life-sacredness of women and the female creative process. Within a world which for centuries has tried to brand women as ‘unclean,’ as ‘devils,’ or as ‘immoral corruptor of man,’ this healing process is a vital one.” She also states, and I deeply agree, that “reforming patriarchal religions…is not possible, just as reforming capitalism is not possible. The very institutions are contradictory to feminism. Women need to once again create new theory and practices for ourselves in order to reunite the spiritual element with the social-political” (p. 384). Much of WomanPrayer, WomenSong feels like an effort to reform a patriarchal tradition. I’ve long-bonded with the phrase from the UU Women and Religion Committee that, we don’t want a larger piece of the pie, it is still a patriarchal pie, we want to change the recipe…
Some time ago, I heard a speaker on Voices of the Sacred Feminine remark that the type of paganism that people practice as adults is often a direct reaction to the type of Christianity they were exposed to as children. I was not raised Christian, but I was exposed throughout my childhood to a very specific type of fundamentalist Christian and that made a permanent impact on my (outsider’s) understanding of what Christianity means, how it is practiced, and how it feels. It took me until I was in my late twenties to actually see that there are “normal” Christians in the world as well as the variety I knew in childhood. I may have included this here before, but in past OSC work, I’ve written:
…My first “cause” in life was feminism—a sense honed by my experiences as an agnostic homeschooled teenager amidst mostly fundamentalist Christians. I could not help but stand up for women’s rights and challenge the rhetoric my peers often shared about a “woman’s [lesser] place” in life and society. Because my developing sense of feminism burgeoned in response to patriarchal religious beliefs about women—the only religious beliefs I had yet encountered—I also developed a sense that feminism was not compatible with religion, period. I chose feminism. In college in the 1990’s as a psychology major, I always chose “women’s issues” as my main area of focus and I went on to graduate school in clinical social work, doing my internship at a battered women’s shelter (I also volunteered in one during my undergraduate years). My sense of the Goddess that later emerged is very intertwined with my deep beliefs about the inherent value and worth of women, something that I do not see reflected in much of Christianity, both theology and practice…
Previous posts about Story Power are collected here: I am a Story Woman