feminist thealogy

Seed Corn

I dream of a sacred fire where 20140809-191111-69071118.jpg
a family circles
arms linked
as one.

Shared dream
shared harvest
shared blessing
of family, spirit, hearth, and home.

Light the fire
with your children.
Sing with your partner.
Create a temple
of your hearts
hands
and bodies.

This afternoon we had our tenth session of Rise Up and Call Her Name. The focus was on Mesoamerica and we looked at the Virgin of Guadalupe and at the Sacred Corn Mother.

As the year has progressed, I’ve gotten much better at the process of intentional altar creation. I used to always include basically the same items and the process of laying out the altar items was often somewhat rushed and also rote. I’d put the altar items out as one of the last tasks before people arrived. Now, I make the altar creation process a priority much earlier in the day. I center and focus and choose items specifically and intentionally to reflect the theme or focus of the class or ceremony. I let the items “tell” me what wants to be included, rather than including what I think should be there.

 

 

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Our group was small today, but our discussion was robust! At the close of the class, we did a seed corn ritual in which we considered what we would like to save from this year’s “harvest” to plant in the new year. We also closed our eyes and let the seed corn share a “dream” with us. The above lines are what my seed corn (actually, popcorn) had to share with me. Ever since our summer ritual, I’ve been thinking of ways for the upcoming year to include my family more in my rituals and events and how to welcome/include the families of the women I circle with. A lot of the reason behind having women-only rituals at this point in my life is purely logistical. It is difficult to impossible to have a full “retreat” with kids also present. Someone has to take care of the kids during said retreats…hence, single-sex rituals/ceremonies make the most sense! However, shorter and simpler rituals are possible with kids, though they have a completely different feel and even function and so that energetic output needs to be balanced with the renewal and restoration we often need as mothers and women. In our conversation today we talked about how to “change the world” for women and my mom mentioned that perhaps one of the biggest impacts is how we raise our sons. So, I’m not surprised my seed corn dream opened with a fire and a family surrounding it.

Categories: community, family, feminist thealogy, friends, parenting, poems, priestess, retreat, ritual, spirituality, womanspirit, women, women's circle | 2 Comments

Book Review: Goddess Calling

 goddesscalling“Any woman who has birthed or raised a child, had a book published, started an organization, manifested a temple – they all know the strength, courage and determination women possess…”

–Karen Tate, Goddess Calling

I’ve been a huge fan of Karen Tate’s radio show Voices of the Sacred Feminine for several years. The voice of Karen and her versatile, diverse, talented, inspirational guests keep me company every week on my commute to teach at a military base.

Goddess Calling sounds just like Karen. I could hear her voice in my head throughout the many essays compiled in this book. Readers familiar with her radio show will recognize content, themes, and quotes as they appear sprinkled through the text.

There are two features that set this book apart from many of its other modern counterparts: first, the explicit recognition and discussion of the connection between the personal and political. Goddess is more than a nice idea or a friendly, beautiful archetype, she can transform the world. Second, the third section of the book contains a nice selection of guided meditation exercises, perfect for use with groups. So, Goddess Calling is beneficial both to the solitary Goddess woman, helping to contextualize their personal, private experiences with cultural, political, and social realities, and for the ritual priestess as she seeks to plan services, retreats, or programs for members of the community.

But I’m not just talking about politics. I’m talking about stretching ourselves, challenging ourselves, trying to accomplish things we might feel are a bit beyond us. It is a journey of becoming and of growing we all must take, and we cannot be afraid of the journey. It’s the journey that steels us. It is the trying,the praying, the stumbling and picking yourself back up, the seeking, the very act of doing that staves off fear and fills us with hope. The destination doesn’t necessarily hold the reward. The reward comes from that which has been gleaned from the journey. The destination is just where you take a deep breath,reflect and relax after the journey has molded you. It’s where we take a respite before beginning again to meet the next challenge or climb the next mountain.

–Karen Tate (Goddess Calling, p. 109)

Goddess Calling is available from Karen’s website, from Changemakers Books, by request from your local bookstore, and from Amazon.

Related posts:

Top Thirteen Most Influential People in Goddess Spirituality

She did what she could….

Do Women’s Circles Actually Matter?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary pdf version of the book for review purposes.

 

Categories: books, feminist thealogy, Goddess, readings, reviews, spirituality, thealogy | 2 Comments

International Women’s Day: Re-storying the world

I remain firmly convinced of the power of story. Story shapes our world. And, reality is socially constructed in an active process of storying and re-storying.

 “The universe of made of stories, not of atoms.” –Muriel Rukeyser

“Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.” –Carolyn Heilbrun

Last spring, I wrote a poem called Body Prayer and was very pleased when Trista Hendren, author of the children’s book The Girl God, wrote to ask permission to reprint it in her new book: Mother Earth. I received my copy of the book last month and wanted to offer a mini-review of it today, International Women’s Day, because as Trista says, it is “a beautiful tribute to the world’s first ‘woman.’” Mother Earth is theoretically a children’s book, but it offers an important message and call to action to all world citizens. Along the top of the pages is a story, written as a narrative experience between Trista and her daughter Helani, about the (human) mother’s need to rest. The story evolves into a message about the Earth and the care and rest she is crying out for. Each page features a large illustration and below the illustration is a relevant spiritual quote, poem, prayer, or message.

…Breathing deep
stretching out
opening wide.
My body is my altar
my body is my temple
my living presence on this earth my prayer.
Thank you. –Woodspriestess: Body Prayer

International Women’s Day is a political event, not just another Hallmark holiday.

International Women’s Day is not about Hallmark. It’s not about chocolate. (Thought I know many women who won’t turn those down.) It’s about politics, institutions, economics, racism…. As is the case with Mother’s Day and many other holidays, today we are presented with a sanitized, deodorized, nationalized, commoditized version of what were initially radical holidays to emphasize social justice. Initially, International Women’s Day was called International Working Women’s Day. Yes, every woman is a working woman. Yes, there is no task harder perhaps than raising a child, for a father and a mother. But let us remember that the initial impetus of this International Working Women’s Day was to address the institutional, systematic, political, and economic obstacles that women faced in society. via How we miss the point of International Women’s Day–and how to get it right. | What Would Muhammad Do?.

Now is the time to focus on a new story for women.

While the matriarchal myth has been critiqued and attacked from an anthropological and sociological perspective, I think it has important value—it doesn’t have to be true or verifiable to have a potent impact on society. The very fact that people feel that the matriarchal story is a myth that needs to be “debunked” to me is proof of the mythic power of our old, patriarchal story on current culture. Earlier this year I finished reading Reid-Bown’s book Goddess as Nature and he says this: “What is significant, however, is that the matriarchy thesis has considerable mythopoetic value for the Goddess movement: it affirms that the world was not always distorted by patriarchy, it contributes moral meaning to the state of the world today, and it aids in an imaginative revisioning of a better goddess-centred future” (p. 18). The power of the matriarchal story—myth or fact—is in the assertion that the world CAN be different. Patriarchy and war are not the “just way its always been,” or a “more evolved” society, or the only possibility for the future. The matriarchal myth opens up the door for a new FUTURE story, not just a revisionist look at the past. via Thursday Thealogy: Matriarchal Myth or a New Story? | WoodsPriestess.

As I’ve previously written, the primary function of value of a matriarchal myth is that patriarchy is no longer the only story we’ve known. An alternate past gives hope for an alternate future.

“Stories are medicine…They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything—we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic drive are contained in stories.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Stories ARE power and that is why a feminist, matristic, Goddess-oriented narrative has value, regardless of whether it is myth or fact. As we know too well, the victors write the history books—they get to tell the stories and those stories, logically, may involve significant distortion of the facts of the past.

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.” We also find a connection in 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).

“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 The Chalice and the Blade Eisler explains, essentially, the re-storying of culture, society, and world and feminist spirituality and seeks to “re-story” dominant, patriarchal narratives into that which is woman-honoring and affirming. According to Eisler, the triumph of the dominator culture involved “fundamental changes in replicative information” (p. 83). In short, a complete cultural overhaul and literal “reprogramming” of culture and the human minds within it. This reprogramming involved coercion, destruction, forcefulness, and fear.

“The priests who now spread what they said was the divine Word—the Word of God that had magically been communicated to them—were backed up by armies, courts of law, and executioners. But their ultimate backup was not temporal, but spiritual. Their most powerful weapons were the ‘sacred’ stories, rituals, and priestly edicts through which they systematically inculcated in peoples’ minds the fear of terrible, remote, and ‘inscrutable’ deities. For people had to be taught to obey the deities…who now arbitrarily exercised powers of life and death in the most cruel, unjust, and capricious ways, to this day still often explained as ‘the will of God.’ Even today people still learn from ‘sacred’ stories what is good or evil, what should be imitated or abhorred, and what should be accepted as divinely ordained, not only by oneself but by all others. Through ceremonies and rituals, people also partake in these stories. As a result, the values there expressed penetrate into the deepest recesses of the mind, where, even in our time, they are guarded as hallowed and immutable truths” (p. 84).

For me, Goddess religion and spirituality is as much about sociocultural valuation (or devaluation) of women and making a feminist political statement, as it is about lived experience. Both are very valuable to me. We need to hear women’s stories. We need to hear each other into speech. We need to witness and be witnessed. We need to be heard.

“…If all the women of the world February 2014 039 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 and dances, all of women’s art and stories, and medicines, all of women’s lost histories… ~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

“The one who tells the stories rules the world.” –Hopi Indian Proverb

“We feel nameless and empty when we forget our stories, leave our heroes unsung, and ignore the rites of our passage from one stage of life to another.” –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox

 “As long as women are isolated one from the other, not allowed to offer other women the most personal accounts of their lives, they will not be part of any narratives of their own…women will be staving off destiny and not inviting or inventing or controlling it.” –Carolyn Heilbrun quoted in Sacred Circles

Telling our stories is one way we become more aware of just what ‘the river’ of our lives is. Listening to ourselves speak, without interruption, correction, or even flattering comments, we may truly hear, perhaps for the first time, some new meaning in a once painful, confusing situation. We may, quite suddenly, see how this even or relationship we are in relates to many others in our past. We may receive a flash of insight, a lesson long unlearned, a glimpse of understanding. And, as the quiet, focused compassion for us pervades the room, perhaps our own hearts open, even slightly, towards ourselves.

–Robin Deen Carnes & Sally Craig in Sacred Circles

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Categories: books, feminism, feminist thealogy, Goddess, poems, prayers, quotes, readings, spirituality, thealogy, womanspirit, women, writing | 3 Comments

The Wheel of the Year

Are you awake in the night on these long winter turns as we labor to Birth the Light? The Wheel creaks slowly. The crone rests in her bed of dried leaves. The fields, cleared by the harvest and the gleaners, wear winter’s blanket. Can we trust the darkness of this final descent, where nature seems to hold her breath? inside this “new moon of the year” we labor, surrendering everything to the prevailing dark.

In the wide world, the holidays offer anxious frenzy: a false labor, falsely induced. What to do? Follow the crone down and in, toward the still point. Gather sisterly support. Listen! Inner and outer worlds are yearning for Peace, so turn toward what wants to be birthed. Circle in darkness, moan in labor, trance deep, cross the void. In starlight vision, whorls of small flames come into view as we carry the Mystery! The bottomless, blind dark is pierced at the moment of its victory, delivering the tiniest slivers of peaceful light. Blessed Be.

–Marian Spadone in We’Moon, 2013

In my most recent post in my SageWoman blog, I wrote about the living practice and observation of the wheel of the year as it turns:

As my family celebrates the Full Moon together monthly and as I honor my own recurrent need for stillness and retreat during my Dark Moon Retreats, we are making visible this interconnected dance with nature and with life. We are affirming our commitment, our relatedness, to each other and to the natural environment around us. We are communicating and in relationship to that larger force of life and spirit that we know as Goddess. And, we bring our spiritual beliefs into our bodies, hands, minds, and hearts in an ever-spinning Wheel of celebration, attention, observation, enjoyment, and communion.

via Moontale, Moontide, Moonspell

I had a different and more expressive post in mind for tonight, but once again have run into the end of the evening and have to honor the pull towards sleep instead.

I had a winning streak with giveaways during the first week of December. I won the Animal Powers Meditation Kit I mentioned earlier, I won a secret something I’m excited about that is going to be a gift for someone else, and I also won a pretty card for my birth art wall. The card came today, titled Abundance:

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I’m working on improving the atmosphere in my bedroom work space and I added the card there plus the elemental altar bowl from my mom that I mentioned yesterday 🙂
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Categories: art, endarkenment, feminist thealogy, holidays, spirituality | Leave a comment

Let’s Hear it for the Men!

A lot of my work focuses on women and has for many years. I don’t actually feel any particular need to rationalize, explain, or justify this—working with women is December 2013 011something that has held deep meaning, relevance, enjoyment, passion, and purpose for me ever since I started working in a battered women’s shelter as a volunteer when I was seventeen years old. My age has since doubled and the type of work I do with women has morphed, expanded, shifted, and changed texture over time, but it is a strong, defining, consistent thread that is tightly woven through my professional life, my academic work, my volunteer work, my teaching, and my spiritual path. I’ve noticed, however, that people occasionally misinterpret my focus on women and my enjoyment in creating rituals for women, for honoring “women’s mysteries,” and for exploring thealogy and the Goddess, as well as helping women with birth and breastfeeding, somehow indicates that I don’t value men. My enjoyment of priestessing women’s circles is not a statement about men, it is a statement about something I like to do with my time and life energy. I also value and appreciate my husband, my sons, my dad, and the other men in my life. I have family full moon rituals each month with my husband and our kids (two sons, one daughter). My dad, husband, and sons enjoy our annual family winter solstice ritual. My husband and I work together making our goddess jewelry and I love that this collaborative project represents a harmonizing of our energies, efforts, and time.

I agree with Melissa Raphael’s remark that, “Thealogy has no wish to simply reproduce the masculinist account of divine sovereignty and redemptive power in feminized form” (p. 201). To me this is one of the most beneficial and beautiful elements of Goddess feminism.” And, from Judith Laura’s book, Goddess Matters, she describes Goddess as “she who flows through all” and contrasts this with “God as manipulator.” Goddess is “She what connects us, not only like a link in a chain but also like an electrical current.”

These things said, I’ve been meaning for several months now to give a shout-out to the male bloggers that I very much enjoy. I subscribe to a lot of blogs. I like a lot of writers, but there are only a handful from whom I read every post they write as soon as they post it. These three guys definitely make that list:

  • John Beckett writes Under the Ancient Oaks on Patheos. He initially appealed to me because he is associated with a UU church and we have that in common. I continued to read him though because he is very logical, solid, practical, and even-handed in his writing and interaction with others, with a nice dash of interesting polytheistic stuff thrown in. One of his recent posts about pagan unity is a good example of the practical style I find so appealing about his blog:

I prefer a Big Tent approach to Paganism – a big tent with four main posts. Some of us are right in the middle, some cling tightly to only one post, while others are in one of the corners. Some people are close enough for me to see them but not close enough for me to tell if they’re actually under the tent or if they’re standing outside. What about Green Christians? I think they’re outside, but their fundamentalist brethren over in the next camp think they’re standing right in the middle of us. What about the Kabbalists? I think they’re in, but many of them say they’re only in the Jewish tent. The Hindus are over in that corner – some of them are insistent they’re in our tent and others are just as insistent they’re not.

Complicated? Yep. Messy? Sure is. Living, growing, reproducing organisms are like that.

The problem with big tents is, well, they’re big. Try to embrace the whole tent and you can find yourself bouncing back and forth between pouring libations to Zeus, protesting fracking, organizing the Beltane picnic and meditating on The Fool. Those are all worthwhile things to do, but they can lead to a personal religion that is the proverbial mile wide and an inch deep. That’s a problem – if you’ve been reading Under the Ancient Oaks for any time at all you know one of my favorite soapboxes is the need for spiritual depth.

via Pagan Unity.

  • John Halstead writes The Allergic Pagan (as well as another blog at Witches and Pagans and for Humanistic Paganism). He’s willing to tackle somewhat controversial issues and engage in intelligent conversation and debate. He never fails to make me think and is just a really smart guy with a lot of interesting stuff to say. I recently shared this quote in a different post, but trust me that he has lots of posts that rank as thought-provoking favorites:

This is your Goddess,” my wife said to me smiling.

“It’s the slimy side of her,” I responded.

“This is life,” she replied.

It’s strange when a seemingly mundane moment is transformed into a sacred one. I looked at my Mormon wife standing in the ocean, holding a shell, and I heard her speak the words of a true priestess: “This is your Goddess. This is life.”

via My Goddess is gross.

  • Jason Mankey is the often light-hearted and funny, but not afraid to be serious and occasionally blunt, author of Raise the Horns at Patheos. I love the way he writes about ritual, modern paganism, personal practices, and the way he digs into holiday origins. One of his recent posts that really spoke to me was this one:

In our own practice becoming a High Priestess and Priest was not something we aspired to. It came about because people viewed the two of us that way. I’ll admit to even being uncomfortable with the title on occasion. I have a thirst for knowledge and history and write pretty good rituals, but there are many Witches and Pagans who know so much more than I ever will. That a few people think of me in such august company is flattering, but I often feel like I don’t belong. (I got weirded out when one of our coven members referred to me as “a spiritual leader,” I’m much more comfortable just being the guy who drinks cider and listens to 80′s hair metal.)

Even with my occasional reservations about the title I feel like I’ve earned it, and I know my wife has earned her title of High Priestess. How do you know you’ve earned the right to call yourself a High Priestess or High Priest? You’ve earned the title when someone asks you to officiate their handfasting or wedding. You’ve earned the title when every eye in the circle glances your way looking for instruction or guidance. You’ve earned the title when your High Priestess deems you ready for elevation. It’s an honor that finds you, and it finds you when you are ready.

via Becoming a High Priestess.

When I first began writing this post back in October, Teo Bishop would definitely have been on my list as well. I really enjoyed his contemplative, gentle, personal, enriching style of writing. If you follow pagan bloggers at all, you’ve probably surmised that something happened and it involved Teo Bishop. If you follow me and read my other blog, you also know that I, personally, spend virtually zero time talking about “current events” and/or controversies within either of my primary fields. I call this dissecting of current events a “putting out fires” mode of blogging and I just don’t like to do it myself. It seems reactive in a way that bothers me, and reminds me a bit too much of the dominating, semi-oppressive energy that can spread so fast in other areas/topics (dare I mention Miley Cyrus, for example?). So, I’ll just say that I read Teo’s blog Bishop in the Grove for at least two years. This month he decided to discontinue Bishop in the Grove as he moves in a different direction with his spiritual path. His new path doesn’t hold a lot of interest for me, though his same contemplative writing style is still engaging, he’s no longer speaking in a spiritual language that I find compelling. He should still get a shout-out though, because I’m pretty sure it was his blog that introduced me to interesting pagan men’s blogs I love to read and learn from.

In keeping with the collaborative energy with my husband that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we’ve been painstakingly finishing up our first ever free-standing pewter casting that is male! While I made a polymer clay “daddy goddess” sculpture before when requested by my toddler daughter, most of my artwork is Goddess/female-centric. After one night of full-moon drumming with my husband and boys, I knew the time had come to introduce some masculine energy into my art and the result was this little drumming team: December 2013 006

The casts are still on the rough side and we’re having a terrible time getting their hands to work correctly. Many, many, many of these little guys have been plopped back into the melting pot for another rebirth (my husband often turns them face down, so he doesn’t have to watch their little “faces” looking up at him as they dissolve). We’re keeping these two sets, but probably need to start over with another sculpt altogether as well as a fresh mold because we do anything more with this design idea. December 2013 005I felt like they were a symbol of our own work together, as well as the harmony possible between men and women in the rest of the world.

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They work together and I like them!

This morning when I went to the woods to take these pictures, the cinnamon sticks I offered up last night were sitting there on the rock in this arrangement evocative of an “equal” sign. I thought that was pretty cosmic.

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Categories: art, community, feminism, feminist thealogy, resources, spirituality, women | 6 Comments

Women’s Mysteries, Women’s Circles

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“Women united in close circles can awaken the wisdom in each other’s hearts.” ~The 13 Indigenous Grandmothers (via The Girl God)

“Feminism catches fire when it draws upon its inherent spirituality. When it does not, it is just one more form of politics, and politics never fed our deepest hungers.” –Carol Lee Flinders (in The Millionth Circle)

Show up or choose to be present.
Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
Tell the truth without blame or judgment.
Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.

–Angela Arrien (in The Millionth Circle)

“Women’s mysteries, the blood mysteries of the body, are not the same as the physical realities of menstruation, lactation, pregnancy, and menopause; for physiology to become mystery, a mystical affiliation must be made between a woman and the archetypal feminine. A woman must sense, know or imagine herself as Woman, as Goddess, as an embodiment of the feminine principle…Under patriarchy this connection has been suppressed; there are no words or rituals that celebrate the connection between a woman’s physiological initiations and spiritual meaning.”

–Jean Shinoda Bolen

The final quote above comes from a very helpful resource for priestesses, the Women’s Mysteries Teacher’s Journal, which is available for free online!

I read and enjoyed two relevant blog posts this week as well, the first about women’s capacity to push each other’s buttons and how it can be easier to work with “victims” than “leaders.” Important to consider…

The process of working with one’s own buttons can be very useful in feminist life. From my own experience and from following the news in feminist and Goddess movement I know how easily women’s groups can break up, often due to strong women pushing each other’s buttons. Have you noticed how we find it easier working with the victims of patriarchy and patriarchal religions, than with the leaders of feminist groups? How we find it easier to help, than to cooperate? In this we might fall into a trap of patriarchy and assume the role of a patriarch rather then a feminist leader.

via Buttons and Hooks by Oxana Poberejnaia | Feminism and Religion.

And, the second this priestess pep talk:

She supports and believes in you utterly. All you have to do is trust Her, and keep on showing up.

Because You are Enough.

Always.

Completely.

You are born of magic, a daughter of the Goddess.

You are a Priestess charged with sharing Her blessings, Her beauty, Her power with the world as it manifest through you, you unique thing you, and it is your DUTY to get out there and create that vision, that life, she is inspiring you with…”

via The How to Be a Priestess Pep Talk

I’ve mentioned that I’m looking forward to the new anthology coming out from Goddess Ink and I very much enjoy the snippets from the book they shared on their Facebook page (I also pre-ordered the book!)

Goddess Ink
From “The Kohanot: Keepers of the Flame” by D’vorah Grenn: “How do we move forward from here? Being a priestess can be exhausting. Without proper shielding and protection, women can find their precious energies only going out, and too rarely being replenished. We must continually find new and effective ways to guard against becoming depleted. Every day, we witness the positive, transformative effects of “restoring women to ceremony,“ to use Lynn Gottlieb’s phrase, another reason it is vital that we continue our work. But to do so, we must protect our spirits, psyches, hearts and time25; those who have been spiritual leaders for some time are well aware of the pitfalls of not doing so. Since others rely on our strength and clarity, this is not a task to be postponed or ignored. We must carry and pass on the knowledge of how to take better care of ourselves, along with our spiritual teachings.”

How do you replenish yourself and protect your energy? In this last week as I’ve worked to finish all my grading for the end of the school session, I’ve been aware of how I tend to let self-care go first—I haven’t practiced yoga in four days, keep getting to the woods at 11:00 at night instead of in the morning, staying up until 2:00 a.m., etc. I feel okay about the out-of-balance because I know it is a very short term push that will end soon, but I think I/we must be mindful of this not becoming a regular habit or pattern of being.

There is also this good one about the priestess path and the idea of mastery…

Goddess Ink
From “Models of Leadership” by Ruth Barrett: “A woman on the priestess path must be vigilant in examining the unconscious tendencies and unexamined habits she has learned from her culture. Another unexamined tendency, which is crucial to recognize, is that American culture is in all-out war against mastery. I use the word “mastery” as it is used in the martial arts. Mastering the physical, psychological and energetic skills required to achieve, for instance, a black belt in Aikido is a path that requires discipline, openness to learning and the patience and persistence to work through plateaus. The black belt is not a goal, it is a journey. The journey is the destination. A sensei (master) of a martial arts black belt is still a student. Mastery is a path, not a title or a credential. It is the process of recognizing and achieving potential. So it is with the priestess path. The more I know, the more I know there is to learn and I must endeavor to have an open beginner’s mind.”

The snow is finally melting and this afternoon I went on a dinner date with my husband (as well as finished up shopping for stocking stuffers and for our solstice dinner. Lots of plans for fun food!). I didn’t get to the woods until about 9:30 and enjoyed the company of the full moon for a time in a much warmer-today woods. We did a very small mini-ritual on the back deck together as well, just with our candles, checking in on the intentions we set during the last full moon, making new intentions, and closing with a short prayer.
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Categories: community, feminist thealogy, night, priestess, quotes, resources, ritual, self-care, spirituality, women, women's circle, woodspriestess | 2 Comments

Be-ing and do-ing…

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that my last post on Feminism and Religion was about my grandma’s memorial service. This is a snippet:

However, this is what I would say about her, and what I did say about her: my grandma lived her life and was a vibrant example to all of us of how to live well and wisely one’s wild and precious life. I valued most about her all the interesting things she did. She was active and busy. She was always doing stuff. And, it was cool stuff and she was a cool person and I loved her and learned from her precisely because she was so busy and interesting all the dang time. I come from a long line of busy women with lots of interests and abilities. Maybe that is just fine.

via An Epic Woman: A Feminist Eulogy by Molly | Feminism and Religion.

I received a comment remarking on the “doing” orientation of my memorial speech/service and this gave me food for thought:

Having read both your eulogy and Grace’s, I’m left wondering if we define feminism in terms of doing instead of being. I think I do, and I wonder if that doesn’t get me in trouble sometimes. I hear you acknowledging and affirming your own lineage of “doing,” and that seems to be a good thing. I’m not calling that personal affirmation into question, but our collective understanding of feminism. Anybody have any thoughts on this? Are we still trying to overcome the stereotype of the passive female? Or is this connected to our need for feminist activism? And what is a feminist “being” anyway? Being feminist in the moment? Embodying the Goddess?

These are excellent questions to consider and something I actually turned over a LOT while I was writing this and in thinking about my grandmother because I could see that this was happening. So, I thought I’d share what I turned over in my response to the comment…

How DO we define a feminist mode of “being” (or any kind of “be-ing” for that matter)? Being, how someone IS and how we know who we are, often eludes definitional capture, which is exactly why we describe others in terms of doing. What IS “being” anyway? Often, I actually find the idea of “just BE” or “be-ing” or the like crowds up my head with yet another admonition of something I’m supposed to DO to be “correct” and adequately self-helped. I’ve also noted that it feels damaging to me to associate “doing” or activity as a “masculine” trait and “being” (or passivity/receptivity) as “feminine.” I also know that in feminism or otherwise it often takes “doers” to get good work done–suffragists, for example! (our activist lineage you reference too)

In regular life, however, rather than theory or self-help books, I find we see someone’s being through the doing–and that can be feminist aligned or otherwise, for sure!

Returning to my grandma as my example, through her doing, I saw her being. In the quilts she made, I saw her love and attention. This in a real sense was her language of being. And, because she DID, one of those very quilts is still there on my bed and I sleep under it every night, even though her being is no longer here with us (or is it still here, because it is still communicated through the works she left behind her?). Her name is signed with a clear, confident stroke on my bedspread in her own hand and it covers me as I sleep. It was through her travels, that we saw her spirit of adventure. It was through the works of her hands that we saw her creativity. It was through her words and conversations and the books she read that we saw her intelligence. If she hadn’t been willing to DO those things, could we have actually seen who she WAS? Brilliant, irrepressible, adventurous, determined…

(Actions speak louder than words!)

Of course, balance is also important. “Doing” self-care also matters. In self-care practices, I think we encounter being in a feminist sense (maybe??). I maintain my daily woodspractice of sitting in the woods each day–there, I can just BE at last! Or, can I? Since the moment of being requires doing to get there–I had to get up, leave the house, go to the woods, walk up onto the rock and sit there, paying attention, feeling the air, thinking my poems, hearing the birds, watching the sunset. That is still doing, in its way. And, I like it.

Ah ha! So, might a feminist-aligned distinction also be found in doing for others vs. doing for/with oneself, perhaps? (I think my grandma actually got this one down really–I easily see both of these in her life)

I’ve actually struggled quite a bit in my own life with self-recrimination over not being able to “just BE,” “better.” And, it is in that sense that I recognized the “noble legacy” of coming from a long line of busy, do-ing women.

So, while our works or our “doings” may be how we are valued and that is kind of bad/patriarchal–but these opportunities are also how we show people that we value them too (feminist). HOW we “do” matters and it in THAT that we can find a feminist connection. In showing up, in doing that memorial service and doing that speech through my tears, I showed the room my own being and how we are/were connected. That was what I could DO for my family and for my grandma. Prepare a service that was loving and respectful and that honored her and who she was, at least to us—and through that, other people could see who she was too (as well as through the other people intimately involved with the memorial luncheon. I’m writing only of my experience/contribution with it, but it was a labor of love from my aunt and other people as well). My grandma helped contribute to her own obituary and requested the menu and location for her own memorial luncheon. That is doing too, yes, but it also epitomizes her way of being–I don’t know that the two can be separated or unwound from the the other. And, that active quality of doing life, was then, who she WAS in being. It is circular (and that’s pretty goddessy in itself!).

How can we describe someone without describing things they did to evidence that? To demonstrate that? I’m not sure. I think without being able to describe the doings of others, we end up with exactly the platitudes and caricatures that I find most decidedly unfeminist. i.e. “She was always loving and caring and supported me 100%.” I find THAT type of memorial statement hollow and nearly meaningless in the vagueness as well as very self-centered (I.e. Only defined in relationship to how “she made me feel.”) How do we actually KNOW that she was those things, how did we SEE that from or with her, or—all too often—-is that just what we think people are supposed to say about grandmas and we find we never knew who she was at all? (Because all we looked for or tried to feel was a stereotype of “she was always loving and nurturing” and forgot about, or never paid attention to, her laughing on the back of an elephant in Africa?)

I sense even more to write about here… ;-D

(As a side note, since she died, I’ve also found myself reconsidering the notion of “stuff” and “clutter” being somehow bad or undesirable, because that is what we have left now. I know that “memories are what matter,” blah, blah, blah, but the fact is that the “stuff” that remains of my grandma’s life and presence is a vehicle for memory and an echo of her and her being/doing that means she is still a part of my life in a tangible way, not just in a when-my-mind-turns-to-her way. Does that make sense? For example, I have one of her Shirley Temple dolls from 1957. Towards the end of fall when the doll came to live with me, I took her down to the woods for a visit. Now she sits in my kitchen. I like the connection. :))

October 2013 003

Categories: death, family, feminist thealogy | 4 Comments

The Full Circle

“Goddess is Magic, the subtle forces of planets, moons and stars, and the Powers of our own Deep Minds. And She is Our Ability to Call forth that which we have need December 2013 012of, and to banish that which we no longer need. And therefore let us gather together in our communities, and join with the forces within and without…”

–Shekhinah in Open Mind (9/25)

Diane Mariechild, the editor of Open Mind, then goes on to explain the following: 

Goddess is the full circle. She is birth, life, death, and rebirth. [People] need the Goddess. The planet needs the Goddess. We need to celebrate and embrace the full circle of life; to know that all of life is contained within this circle. There is nothing that is outside the circle…Goddess is energy, a way of balanced relationship, an openness of the heart that allows us to have a full experience of life, with all its pain and all its joy.

Find a quiet time during the day or the night when you can sit alone and feel the energy of the world around you. Tune into the natural world—the water, the air, the light of the sun or the moon, the trees, the Earth. Can you sense this energy? No need to call it by any name. Sense. Breathe. Allow

Last night and today, it snowed a lot. I was interested to see the juncos–snowbirds–show up several days before the snow, when the temperature was still in the 60’s. They hopped around in the driveway and I told my husband that I guessed the forecast was actually going to be right, even though the air didn’t feel like it! I used up most of my writing energy/time today by writing blog posts about our winter family fun on other December 2013 030blogs. And, today my blog post about my grandmother’s memorial service (which I planned and served as the priestess for) was published on Feminism and Religion:

It was deeply important to me to have multiple voices represented during the small, family-only, service and I enlisted all the grandchildren present, as well as her step-grandchildren, in an adapted responsive reading based on Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”. I chose it precisely because it spoke to the irrepressible, adventuresome spirit of my grandmother. It was a lot of pressure to be responsible for the family ceremony for the interment of her ashes. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to be what she deserved. I wanted it to “speak” to every person there. I wanted it to be worthy of her. I hope it was enough.

via An Epic Woman: A Feminist Eulogy by Molly | Feminism and Religion.

I also found out that my revised thesis prospectus was accepted and I can officially use my Woodspriestess project as the subject of my thesis!

And, I decided I simply must pre-order this amazing-sounding anthology of writings by modern priestesses:

From “Priestessing with Integrity” by Sylvia Braillier:

“Priestess . . . favored by the Goddess, wise woman, sage and a guide to others on the path. Being a December 2013 026priestess is a vocation that honors the sacredness we embody as women. We are fortunate to live in a time when the Goddess is returning and we can represent and support her work here in this world as priestesses. It’s easy to make up romantic notions about what it is to be a priestess. Not to say that some of them aren’t true, but it’s a package deal that includes real challenges and great blessings. When the rubber meets the road, what does being a priestess really entail?

Whether initiated as a priestess within a tradition or by the challenges and blessings of life, certain responsibilities are part and parcel of the vocation. The job of priestess doesn’t stop when you leave the circle. It is a life commitment to accountability and integrity, not only by performing your duties to the best of your ability but by walking in life as a living representative of enlightened behavior and speech. As a priestess, your behavior sets the bar. One of the greatest gifts you can give is to teach by example and live the teachings as fully as you can.”

http://www.goddess-ink.com/priestessanthology.html

May we all live well and wisely and take any opportunity to play in the snow 🙂

    December 2013 048

Categories: family, feminist thealogy, Goddess, nature, priestess, spirituality, woodspriestess | 3 Comments

Thesis Project

Here is your sacrament MR_089
Take. Eat. this is my body
this is real milk, thin, sweet, bluish,
which I give for the life of the world…
Here is your bread of life.
Here is the blood by which you live in me.”
–Robin Morgan (in Life Prayers, p. 148)

“…When I say painless, please understand, I don’t mean you will not feel anything. What you will feel is a lot of pressure; you will feel the might of creation move through you…” – Giuditta Tornetta in Painless Childbirth

“I am the holy mother; . . . She is not so far from me. And perhaps She is not so very distinct from me, either. I am her child, born in Her, living and moving in Her, perhaps at death to be birthed into yet some other new life, still living and having my being in Her. But while on this earth She and I share the act of creation, of being, and Motherhood.”Niki Whiting, “On Being a Holy Mother” in Whedon

“Woman-to-woman help through the rites of passage that are important in every birth has significance not only for the individuals directly involved, but for the whole community. The task in which the women are engaged is political. It forms the warp and weft of society.” –Sheila Kitzinger

In 2011, I started working on my doctoral degree in thealogy (Goddess studies). Before I even began my first class, I chose my dissertation subject: birth as a spiritual experience. I’ve been steadily plugging away on my coursework and somehow in the midst of everything else that I am responsible for, I’ve successfully completed 13 of my classes. I already have a (not related) master’s degree and this is why I was admitted straight into the doctoral program, even though I have to complete a lot of M.Div (master’s of divinity) level coursework as prerequisites to the actual doctoral classes. After I finished my most recent class and got my updated transcript, I finally actually noticed how many M.Div classes I’ve completed thus far on my journey and it occurred to me to email to inquire what it would take to finish an M.Div degree first. I had this sudden feeling of what a nice stepping stone or milestone experience it would be to finish something, since I know that I have a minimum of three more years remaining before I complete the D.Min! They wrote back quickly and let me know that with the completion of three courses in matriarchal myth (I’m halfway through the first right now), my almost-completed year-long class in Compassion (I’m in month 11), and The Role of the Priestess course (involving three ten-page papers), all of which are also part of my doctoral program, the only other thing required for successful completion of my M.Div would be a thesis (minimum of 70 pages).

As I’ve been working through my classes, I’ve felt a gradual shift in what I want to focus on for my dissertation, and I already decided to switch to writing about theapoetics and ecopsychology now, rather than strictly about birth. I was planning to mash my previous ideas about birth and a “thealogy of the body” into this new topic somehow, perhaps: theapoetics, ecopsychology, and embodied thealogy. Then, when I got the news about the option of writing a thesis and finishing my M.Div, it became clear to me: my thesis subject is birth as a spiritual experience! This allows me to use the ideas and information I’d already been collecting as dissertation “seeds” as a thesis instead and frees me up to explore and develop my more original ideas about theapoetics for my dissertation! So…why post about this now? Well, one because I’m super excited about all this and just wanted to share and two, because I’d love to hear from readers about their experiences with birth as a spiritual experience! While I don’t have to do the kind of independent research for a thesis that I will be doing for my dissertation and while my focus is unabashedly situated within a feminist context and a thealogical orientation, I would love to be informed by a diverse chorus of voices regarding this topic so that the project becomes an interfaith dialog. Luckily for me I’ve already reviewed a series of relevant titles.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. What are your experiences with the spirituality of birth? Do you consider birth to be a spiritual experience? Did you have any spiritual revelations or encounters during your births or any other events along your reproductive timeline? (miscarriage, menstruation, lactation…) Did you draw upon spiritual coping measures or resources as you labored and gave birth? Did giving birth deepen, expand, or otherwise impact your sense of spirituality or your sense of yourself as a spiritual or religious person? Did any of your reproductive experiences open your understanding of spirituality in a way that you had not previously experienced or reveal beliefs or understandings not previously uncovered?

When I use the word “spiritual,” I mean a range of experiences from a humanistic sensation of being linked to women around the world from all times and spaces while giving birth, to a “generic” sense of feeling the “might of creation” move through you, to a sense of non-specifically-labeled powers of Life and Universe being spun into being through your body, to feeling like a “birth goddess” as you pushed out your baby, to more traditional religious expressions of praying during labor, or drawing upon scripture as a coping measure, or feeling that giving birth brought you closer to the God of your understanding/religion, or, indeed, meeting God/dess or Divinity during labor and birth).  I’m particularly interested in women’s embodied experiences of creation and whether or not your previous religious beliefs or spiritual understandings in life affirmed, acknowledged, or encouraged your body and bodily experience of giving birth as sacred and valuable as well as your own sense of yourself as spiritually connected or supported while giving birth. I would appreciate links to birth stories or articles that you found helpful, books you enjoyed or connected with, and comments relating to your own personal experiences with any of the comments or questions I have raised above. I would love to hear about your thoughts as they relate to:

  • Pregnancy IMG_0225
  • Labor
  • Birthing
  • Lactation
  • Miscarriage
  • Infertility
  • Menstruation
  • Reproductive Rights
  • Birth as a feminist or social justice issue…

 Thank you!

With these things said, I also want to mention that I’m planning to redirect a lot of my writing energy/time into this thesis project rather than to blog posts. I’m trying to come up with a blog posting schedule for myself, but in order to actually do this thing, I must acknowledge that I have to re-prioritize some things and that means writing for my blogs probably needs to slip down a couple of notches in terms of priority of focus.

Oh, and I also hope this thesis project will turn into a book of some kind as well! 🙂

“It is hard to find a female-based concept such as Shakti alive within Western spiritual traditions. Shakti could be viewed as an expression of goddess in the female body at the time of birth. I would say its flow / expression and outcome of love is hindered by unnecessary interventions at birth which divert such energy towards fear- based, masculine forms. The use of masculine, rescue-based healing forms such as cutting (Grahn, 1993) can be necessary and useful, yet such procedures are currently used at the cost of women’s autonomy in the birthing process (see Jordan on C-section, 2007), and define the parameters of what feminist thinker Mary Daly called patriarchal medicine (1978). Modern women are largely lost when it comes to giving birth, turning to medical authority figures to be told what to do. Daly pointed to the dangers of this appropriation for women’s personal and collective autonomy.

Birthing bodies resist, disrupt and threaten standard North American modernist investments in linear time, rationality, order, and objectivity. Birth disrupts the Judeo-Christian male image of God, even as He hides the reality of female creation and creativity. I hold that women giving birth act from a focal point of power within their respective cultures and locations, the power to generate and renew human life itself from within the female body. This power is more absolute in its human reality then any other culturally sanctioned act of replication and material production, or social construction. I speculate that how this female power is expressed, denied, or acknowledged by women and within the society around a birthing woman reflects the degree to which women can and may express themselves at large. As each soul makes the journey through her/his mother, re-centring human consciousness within the female-based reality of human birth causes transformation of patriarchal consciousness as a whole…” –Nane Jordan, Towards an Ontology of Women Giving Birth

This post is crossposted at Talk Birth

Categories: birth, embodiment, feminism, feminist thealogy, Goddess, OSC, spirituality, thealogy, thesis, womanspirit, writing | 8 Comments

Sabbath: Moon Races

“Goddess ritual, insofar as it generates reverence for and celebrates that which is female…is fiercely empowering,…[with] possibilities as limitless as the sunshine and the wind.” –Sonia Johnson

20130622-185018.jpg

“Moon races!
All the women running with hair unbound,
All the women running free
and full of laughter.” –Donna Wilshire (Virgin, Mother, Crone)

July 2013 030

You’re a song, a wished for song.
–Rumi

“The archetype of the witch is long overdue for celebration. Daughters, mothers, queens, virgins, wives, et al. derive meaning from their relation to another person. Witches, on the other hand, have power on their own terms. They have agency. They create. They praise. They commune with nature/ Spirit/God/dess/Choose-your-own-semantics, freely, and free of any mediator. But most importantly: they make things happen. The best definition of magic I’ve been able to come up with is “symbolic action with intent” — “action” being the operative word. Witches are midwives to metamorphosis. They are magical women, and they, quite literally, change the world…”  via The Year of the Witch | Pamela J. Grossman.

(This was an interesting article! I have trouble embracing the term “witch” myself because of the many years and layers of negative cultural associations…)

The Goddess made the world
with her needle. First
she embroidered the moon
and then, the shining stars
and then the fine sun and
the warm clouds beneath.
Then the wet pines in the forest,
the pines with wild animals beneath,
then the shining waves of the sea,
the shining waves with fishes beneath.
Thus the goddess embroidered
the world. The world flowered
from the swift needle of the Goddess.

Northern Russian folklore
via TheGypsyPriestess

“Shakti woman
I honor you
I carry you

looped loosely

like a belt around my hips
shining from my eyes
tasting your words on my tongue
and in my heart…”

“Prophet Woman 
she’s a warrior
speaking now
her voice is quiet
in this moment
but I hear
the distant thunder
and I feel
the breath of change
against my neck…”

via Carpriestess: Prophet Woman

Categories: feminist thealogy, Goddess, quotes, readings, sabbath, spirituality, womanspirit | Leave a comment

Thursday Thealogy: Goddess as Symbol, Statement, and Experience

While in personal experience, I have an understanding of the Goddess both as a symbol and as a metaphysical, panentheistic presence in the world, I do not find that a “real” Goddess is July 2013 002required for thealogy to matter. Her importance and value as a symbol, a philosophy, and a politics are profound. As metaphor and archetype she empowers women to value themselves, their bodies, and their experiences. This is then real, whether or not the Goddess herself is real. As a sociopolitical construct, she powerfully challenges dominant philosophies about culture, society, politics, women, religion, and ecology. The Goddess as a symbol stands for a better world. A more integrated world. A world worth pursuing, preserving, and honoring. I recognize that some feminists do not feel the need for the Goddess, but I believe that feminism is richer when the Goddess is a part of it. Like it or not, religion is a part of politics in our culture. By only talking politics and ignoring religion, we leave out a powerful part of the human psyche and relationship. An embodied spirituality in which we daily walk on sacred soil and with sacred awareness can transform both politics and religion. This is why the Goddess still matters, whether as symbol or as literally existing.

The Goddess image is a profound cultural, religious, social, and political statement. She does not just personify the human feminine, she validates, celebrates, and honors the existence of the female—as normative , valuable, worthy, sacred. Thealogy must be situated in a larger feminist political context considering the role, value, and social treatment of women in order to reach its full potential. To me, thealogy must engage with matters of social justice, health care, and reproductive rights, contextualizing those issues in an ethical religious framework.

Nonrealist and Realist Conceptions of the Goddess

The political value of the Goddess as symbol and experience is touched upon by Judith Antonelli who states, “The female power is primary in nature. Woman possesses a power that no man can ever have: the capacity to give birth to new life…Patriarchy is based on the ‘phallacy’ that the male is creator. Man’s original awe and envy of woman becomes, under patriarchy, resentment and hostility. The only way man can possess female power is through woman, and so he colonizes her, suppressing her sexuality so that it serves him rather than being the source of her power” (p. 401, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality). In this conceptualization, a split occurs in which men becomes associated with the head and the mind (since men can only create with their minds/hands, not with their wombs/bodies) and women become associated exclusively with the body and with nature and devalued as below or lesser than, rather than as primary creatrix of the world. “Women today who are trying to bring back Goddess worship are not worshipping idols, escaping through mysticism, or revering an external god-substitute. The Goddess represents nothing less than female power and woman’s deification of her own essence. It is external only to the extent that this power is contained within the cycles of nature as well as within ourselves” (Antonelli, p. 403).I believe feminist spirituality can be further distinguished from a more broad “women’s spirituality” or a more specific “Goddess religion,” because of the inclusion of a sociopolitical orientation. 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 and worthy of protection, cherishment, and defense. Despite the persistent July 2013 015emphasis on reflexivity and relativism, Goddess advocates and those who identify with feminist spirituality do take an uncompromising, non-relativistic stance on violence against women and names as evil and wrong, …”the abuse and alienation of rights from women, subject men and non-human life forms by institutions sacralizing and privileging masculinity” (Melissa Raphael). Experience of the divine is personal, experience of oppression, domination, and exploitation is political and universal.

As Carol Christ explains, “the symbol of the Goddess has much to offer women who are struggling to be rid of the ‘powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations’ of devaluation of female power, denigration of the female body, distrust of female will, and denial of women’s bonds and heritage that have been engendered by patriarchal religions. As women struggle to create a new culture in which women’s power, bodies, will, and bonds are celebrated, it seems natural that Goddess would reemerge as a symbol of the newfound beauty, strength, and power of women” (quoted in Diane Stein’s anthology The Goddess Celebrates, p. 253)

I was a feminist first and a Goddess feminist much later. As Cynthia Eller observes in Living in the Lap of the Goddess, “…having become highly sensitized to any hint of sexism, it would not do to simply ignore gender; nothing would suffice but to glory in femaleness, to proclaim the spiritual potential inherent in womanhood, to take the ‘weak vessel’ of Christianity and make her the holy chalice of the great goddess. This is what these women found in feminist spirituality.” This is the essence of feminist religion to me—women are sacred, women are holy, women are wholly worthy, and we celebrate being female, including an acknowledgement and experience of the feminine divine, of the great goddess.

As Charlene Spretnak explains, “We would not have been interested in ‘Yahweh with a skirt,’ a distant, detached, domineering godhead who happened to be female. What was cosmologically wholesome and healing was the discovery of the Divine as immanent and around us. What was intriguing was the sacred link between the Goddess in her many guises and totemic animals and plants, sacred groves, and womb like caves, in the moon-rhythm blood of menses, the ecstatic dance–the experience of knowing Gaia, her voluptuous contours and fertile plains, her flowing waters that give life, her animal teachers…” (p. 5, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality)

A world that honors the Goddess, that honors feminine representations of divinity, is a world that values women, in body and in mind. Goddess spirituality transcends the limitations and boundaries placed on women’s bodies by other traditions (i.e. that women’s sexuality is fearsome/dangerous, that girls should be virginal, that bleeding is “unclean,” that older women are unattractive or have outlived their [breeding] usefulness. As Susan Griffin states, “In Goddess spirituality, women experience their bodies as sacred…” She is the whole Universe and she creates the entire world; a world in which, not incidentally, human females are of inherent value and worth.

I connect to Karen Tate’s descriptions of Goddess as “deity, archetype, and ideal.” I also like Starhawk’s description of what Goddess means to her: “It all depends on how I feel. When I feel weak, she is someone who can help and protect me. When I feel strong, she is the symbol of my own power. At other times I feel her as the natural energy in my body and the world.” While this sounds perfect to me, this fluid conceptualization of divinity is profoundly and dramatically challenging to traditional July 2013 010religious structures.

As Esra Free notes in her book Wicca 404:

“To view the reality of the Great Goddess of Wicca for ourselves, we need look no further than our own bodies, our own planet, our own universe. Our Goddess is not some distant, invisible, disembodied spirit, nor is she ‘supernatural’ in any way, shape or form. Our Goddess is Nature, in all its manifestations. From the inconceivable whole of the vast, living universe to that universe’s tiniest constituent particle, She is physically, spiritually, energetically and personally everywhere. All the time. The Great Goddess of Wicca is All That Is, past, present and future, here on Earth, in every distant corner of the physical cosmos, and in all the seen and unseen spaces in between. There is nothing you can look to that is not Her, that is not born of Her, that does not bear the imprint of Her essence…” Free also says, “Remember that what preserves the screen door is its openness, its ability to let the storm’s fury pass through. A closed door gets blasted to smithereens. If we think of our personal, intimate, experiential relationship with the Goddess as the doorframe, as that which maintains our ‘shape’ throughout the storm, solidly framing our identity and integrity as followers of the Goddess while the flood of life passes through our ‘screen,’ what do we have to fear from other Traditions?”

And, acknowledgment of these immense forces of life actually does not require theism at all:

Thus, one can be Pagan and polytheist; Pagan and humanist; or even Pagan and atheist. Because Paganism is not a theism – it is not a statement of religious doctrine on the existence of Gods per se. It is a broadly spiritual worldview in which the cosmos is alive with powers with which we can interact. Theisms involve the recognition of those forces specifically in the form of Gods.

via Polytheism: The Light in the Window | Banshee Arts.

The existence of an ontological Goddess

To me, Goddess is found in the act of specifically naming that ineffable sense of the sacred that we all, universally, experience or perceive at some point during our lives. Whether it be in gazing at the ocean or in climbing a mountain, in the births of our children or the hatching of a baby chick, almost all humans experience transcendent moments of mystery, meaning, wonder, and awe. We can call these experiences by different names and I feel that the Goddess arises when we have the courage and capacity to name Her as such, rather than stay hazy, generic, or afraid. In my own life, I call these numinous experiences Goddess and through this I know She exists in, of, around, and through the world that I live in. It is in these experiences that I touch Her directly.

I explored this idea in one of my first posts at Feminism and Religion:

A classic, though limited, ontological argument is that God(dess) is because we can conceptualize of that existence. Rather than frame my argument for the existence of Goddess this way, I would say that Goddess is because we feel or experience that She is. Additionally, I do not actually find it necessary for a deity to necessarily meet classic theological criteria of all good and all powerful. In one of my first classes at Ocean Seminary College, I wrote the following, inspired by Carol Christ’s writing: “I have a thealogical view of the world/universe as the body of the Goddess. Everything is interconnected in a great and ever-changing dance of life. Not as ‘all one,’ but as all interconnected and relating to one another, in an ever-present ground of relationship and relatedness…I imagine the divine as omnipresent (rather than omnipotent).” The Divine is located around and through each living thing as well as the great web of incarnation that holds the whole.

As an example of this divinity that permeates each living thing, I offer a newly hatched baby chick. Bright black eyes sparkling with life, fluffy down, perfect little three-toed feet. Minutes before there was an egg, delicately posed beneath a chicken, throbbing with something, ineffable, that unfurled in a steady sequence from two cells to many, until this moment when having used its little beak, stunning in its perfection, to crack out of its shell, now peers out onto the great, grand world. This life force so evident in the transition from egg to chick also beats all of our hearts and grows all of our fingernails. This force grows the trees and makes the flowers bloom. This force is both in and around me all of the time. I am embedded in it. When I tap into that feeling of spirit within, it is making a connection or being in relationship to, that larger Spirit that makes up the world and that we all participate in and belong to, separate but connected.

via Who is She? The Existence of an Ontological Goddess By Molly Remer | Feminism and Religion.

Experience is core and belief becomes unnecessary, as in this thoughtful exploration by T. Thorn Coyle:

…To paraphrase Joseph Campbell: I don’t need belief because I have experience. I can have profoundly moving experiences of deities, or swimming in a sea of light and connection, or have a deep intuitive insight into someone else. I might come up with theories based on these experiences over time, and test these against other people’s. I can hold all of this, and still recognize that tomorrow, some new information may come along to change my mind. I can hold all of this, and know that I am holding one drop in a great ocean. I can set my skeptic aside and feel the power of my experiences of the numinous without feeling the need to build a creed around them.

We humans are storytellers. Stories apply meaning to our experiences. This is a good thing. There is truth in our stories, as well as exploration, and a connection to the line of past and future. When story becomes concretized into an unshakable belief or faith, however, humans run into trouble. We forget that the cosmos is in process. We forget that we don’t hold the whole truth, but only one facet of it…

Our stories interlock, all trying to explain the mysterious, trying to understand what is just beyond our grasp. They are always incomplete, but pointing to some reality. Until germs became proven, we needed several stories to explain the phenomenon of germs. Not being a believer offers flexibility to my experience of Mystery. Not being a believer keeps the door of possibility open.

The most succinct way I have found to explain the lack of rationality in the midst of spiritual experiences is to remind myself: “Love is not only dopamine.” I don’t need to believe in love because I experience love. Love is partially a set of chemical responses that affect my emotions, but it is also something more. Love is ineffable. So is how I feel while staring at the night sky, or my experience in the midst of ritual when I call out, and something Other shows up and I am not the only one who experiences it.

My rational brain makes sense of all this by remembering that there are many things we cannot yet explain. The glory of the cosmos is a marvelous thing that causes me to feel a sense of awe. Music transports me when the musicians are in the groove with each other, the music and the audience, and something special just appears. This “something special” is what I name The Sacred. It is holy. None of this requires belief. The numinous arrives, and something in me changes. This can happen during ritual, during prayer or at any other moment…

via T. Thorn Coyle: Why I Am Not a Believer.

In Merlin Stone’s essay about the three faces of goddess spirituality in The Politics of Women’s Spirituality she states, “So far, and let us hope in the future as well, feminists concerned with Goddess spirituality have seldom offered absolute or pat answers to theological questions. What has been happening is the experiencing, and at times the reporting, of these personal or group experiences: how it feels to regard the ultimate life force in our own image—as females; how it feels to openly embrace and to share our own contemplations and intuitive knowledge about the role of women on this planet; how it feels to gain a sense of direction, a motivating energy, a strength, a courage—somehow intuited as coming from a cosmic female energy force that fuels and refuels us in our struggle against all human oppression and planetary destruction.” To me, this makes sense—Goddess as life’s “fuel” and as an energy that surrounds and holds us all, but that does not control our behavior and does not have the ability to stop specific events from happening—events are multicausal and there are a multiplicity of forces and natural laws in the world (gravity, for example), that act in and upon the lives of humans without divine cause or intervention. She goes on to articulate a thealogical perspective that holds a lot of truth for me:

“Some say they find this force within themselves; others regard it as external. Some feel it in the ocean, the moon, a tree, the flight of a bird, or in the constant stream of coincidences (or noncoincidences) that occur in our lives. Some find access to it in the lighting of a candle, chanting, meditating—alone or with other women. From what I have so far read, heard, or experienced myself, I think it is safe to say that all women who feel they have experience Goddess spirituality in one way or another also feel that they have gained an inner strength and direction that temporarily or permanently has helped them Goddessgarb 167to deal with life. Most women interested or involved in feminist concepts of spirituality do not regard this spirituality as an end in itself but as a means of gaining and giving strength and understanding that will help us to confront the many tangible and material issues of the blatant inequities of society as we know it today.” (p. 66-67)

Finally, as Brian Swimme describes in one of my favorite theapoetical passages of all time: “From a single fireball the galaxies and stars were all woven. Out of a single molten planet the hummingbirds and pterodactyls and gray whales were all woven. What could be more obvious than this all-pervasive fact of cosmic and terrestrial weaving? Out of a single group of microorganisms, the Krebs cycle was woven, the convoluted human brain was woven, the Pali Canon was woven, all part of the radiant tapestry of being. Show us this weaving? Why, it is impossible to point to anything that does not show it, for this creative, interlacing energy envelops us entirely. Our lives in truth are nothing less than a further unfurling of this primordial ordering activity…Women are beings who know from the inside out what it is like to weave the Earth into a new human being” (p. 21, Reweaving the World).

This is creation, science, fact, come alive. This is theapoetics. The presence of the Goddess, in a way that cannot be denied.

Categories: feminism, feminist thealogy, OSC, spirituality, thealogy, theapoetics, Thursday Thealogy | 2 Comments

Thursday Thealogy: Matriarchal Myth or a New Story?

Some Pagans and spiritual feminists have chosen to use the myth of matriarchal prehistory as an inspirational sacred story, rather than understanding it as pure history. In this way, the story has supported activists in working for a more peaceful and more egalitarian society. By imagining a just society that might once have existed, feminist Pagans and Goddess-worshippers galvanize themselves to try to create such a society in the present day. Other Pagans, however, have been critical of the matriarchal myth. Greer, for instance, notes that the myth of matriarchal prehistory has many similarities to the story of the Garden of Eden. In the story from Genesis, humankind falls from grace and is cast out of utopia because of Eve’s disobedience. In Christianity, Eve’s “sin” has sometimes been blamed on women in general, and the Genesis story has been used to discriminate against women. The matriarchal myth reverses this sexism by envisioning a female-led utopia that was destroyed by “patriarchal invaders”— in other words, by men. Although both the matriarchal myth and the myth of the Garden of Eden can be interpreted in a non-sexist fashion, both narratives have been used to teach gender-based prejudice.

–Christine Hoff Kraemer,  Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies

I remain firmly convinced of the power of story. Story shapes our world. And, reality is socially constructed in an active process of storying and re-storying.

I’ve share these quotes in my classes and they feel relevant again today:

“The universe of made of stories, not of atoms.” –Muriel Rukeyser

“Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.” –Carolyn Heilbrun

While the matriarchal myth has been critiqued and attacked from an anthropological and sociological perspective, I think it has important value—it doesn’t have to be true or verifiable to have a potent impact on society. The very fact that people feel that the matriarchal story is a myth that needs to be “debunked” to me is proof of the mythic power of our old, patriarchal story on current culture. Earlier this year I finished reading Reid-Bown’s book Goddess as Nature and he says this: “What is significant, however, is that the matriarchy thesis has considerable mythopoetic value for the Goddess movement: it affirms that the world was not always distorted by patriarchy, it contributes moral meaning to the state of the world today, and it aids in an imaginative revisioning of a better goddess-centred future” (p. 18). The power of the matriarchal story—myth or fact—is in the assertion that the world CAN be different. Patriarchy and war are not the “just way its always been,” or a “more evolved” society, or the only possibility for the future. The matriarchal myth opens up the door for a new FUTURE story, not just a revisionist look at the past.

Reid-Bowen goes on to explain: “Myths may be understood as narratives which enshrine a number of religious and cultural meanings within a framework where exceptional and supernatural events may take place; they are imaginative construals or presentations, in story form, relating to such issues as the origins and nature of the universe and the meaning of life; they possess a certain explanatory power; they reflect aspects of a particular world of meaning; and in most cases they provide an interpretive lens by which to understand the world. Difficult questions admittedly arise when myth and history are conflated or confused, and when one attempts to assess the epistemic status of a myth. However, it is important to emphasize that myths are, first and foremost, imaginative stories that carry with them a cluster of meanings relating to the way significant things originally were, or are, or ought to be” (p. 34). This is what I mean about story creating and shaping our world. Story also legitimizes social, political, cultural, and religious structures as in the classic quote from Mary Daly: “If God in ‘his’ heaven is a father ruling his people, then it is the ‘nature’ of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male dominated. Within this context, a mystification of roles takes place: The husband dominating his wife represents God ‘himself.’ The images and values of a given society have been projected into the realm of dogmas and “Articles of Faith,” and these in turn justify the social structures which have given rise to them and which sustain their plausibility.”

Returning to Reid-Bowen, he goes on to describe that, “Myths may also serve to legitimate states of affairs that may be either oppressive or empowering, they may be subject to revision or stagnation, or else may lose credibility in the face of alternative or competing narratives. For Goddess feminists, patriarchy is understood to have Goddessgarb 035produced myths that have served to legitimate the oppression of women and the degradation of the non-human world, and also systematically empowered men to the detriment of women. Goddess feminists, in turn, recognize that patriarchal myths must be challenged by the creation or reclamation of gynocentric alternatives. That is, women must be empowered, female power legitimated and human relations with the rest of nature improved by a process of re-mythologization. The invidious ethos of patriarchy can, it is asserted by many Goddess feminists, only be supplanted by the provision of an alternative feminist mythos or worldview. The creation of gynocentric myths is conceived thealogically as a necessary component in the development of a post-patriarchal society, and it is also understood as vital to an ongoing process of female ontological and political becoming and liberation. Feminist mythmaking – whether understood as ‘psychic activism’ or as ‘re-spelling the world – is a remarkably important thealogical activity” (p. 34). I completely agree with this assessment—a remarkably important thealogical activity. Indeed, it may be the first step, the first introduction women have to realize that there is more “out there” than the classic, Abrahamic religions of their youth. So, in this way, I almost feel like the thealogical myths are a sacred task as well as community outreach!

In my readings for my Ecofeminism class, when discussing animal studies through a male-biased lens, Warren observes, “When those values, attitudes, assumptions and beliefs reinforce or maintain social constructed views of females and males in ways the inferiorize female behavior, they are ‘male-biased’…” (158) This reminds me of the question of whether a human matriarchal past is a myth or history—I firmly believe that most visioning of history and understanding of historical artifacts is rooted in a solidly male-biased (and Abrahamic) lens. Our interpretation of artifacts AND of animal behavior tell us more about our own current society and beliefs than they tell us about the past (or animals). “It has been noted that one of the most significant aspects of the contemporary feminist movement is its drive to reclaim from patriarchy the power of symbolizing and naming, to define femaleness from a female perspective and with a female voice, ‘to discover, revitalize and create a female oral and visual tradition and use it, ultimately, to change the world’.That is, in recognizing that languages and symbols mediate and in part construct reality (and most significantly patriarchal reality), many feminists have adopted a pro-active and interventionist role with regard to the formation and utilization of languages, narratives and symbols” (Reid-Bowen, p. 33)

The matriarchal myth is an “oral history.” As Eller explains, “Feminist spirituality’s sacred history is not a matter of doctrine or scripture; it is living story remade in every telling, by every teller.” (p. 153) Eller also says, “The rhythm of this story is unmistakable, moving in a great wave pattern across human history. Respect for the female surges, then ebbs; perhaps it will surge again. This rhythm is the heartbeat of the feminist spirituality movement. It pulses out into the greater culture where it gradually leaches into the popular mentality as something between folk wisdom and historical fact.” (p. 150-151)

What if history, as it is presently defined, leaves out a whole swath of human history, relegating it to “pre-history” status instead?

Spretnak states, “Patriarchal culture holds that a strong, courageous independent woman is an aberration, an unfortunate freak of nature. We know this to be a lie because we have discovered widespread traditions of mythic and historic women of power, our potential shapers of identity” (p. 89). So, how do we learn about the past and put our lives into a larger historical and sociocultural context? In Merlin Stone’s classic essay, she writes, “…many women of today suspect, or even firmly believe, that a study of the religious accounts ‘of different races and faith’ would probably result only in finding that womanhood has always been perceived and portrayed as secondary to manhood. Statements, some even by well-educated feminists, often convey the idea that if actual accounts from societies that regarded woman as powerful, as supreme creator, or as important culture heroine, ever did exist, such information is now buried in the dust of prehistory—a Goddess name here or there all that is left to ponder” (p. 92).

Stone goes on to note, “The gradual formation of these attitudes has been accomplished in various ways. One has been to confine grade school and high school studies primarily to what has existed in relatively recent, generally Caucasian, male-oriented societies. Another has been through reassurances by university teachers, and texts, that if some cultures had viewed women as supreme deity, or had had a female clergy that had deeply influence moral and social structure, indication of this occurs only in the scantiest (and, therefore, inconclusive) of references. A more subtle factor at work has been the rejection of all things ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual,’ by many who might agree with the need for finding positive images of woman but would prefer not to discover them in other than secular sources—thus ignoring the power and influence that contemporary male-oriented religions have upon even the most atheistic or agnostic of women today.”

In Spretnak’s footnotes on page 129 regarding anthropology and women she explains, “…anthropologists must refuse to consider at least eighty years of archaeological matrifocal finding from the prehistoric era…on a very basic level many of the perceptions of the above scholars are informed by patriarchal concepts the validity of which they have not yet examined and rejected. I have great respect for their work as descriptive analyses of patriarchy, but they repeatedly treat contemporary (patriarchal) attitudes and cultural structures as eternal ‘universals of the human condition,’ e.g., that women are always subservient because we bear children and because we are associated with nature more closely than are men (culture) and because ‘polluting’ menstrual blood and ‘messy’ lactation flow out of us. Nowhere do these scholars acknowledge the archaeological evidence that these female phenomenon carried positive—even awesome—value for 20,000 years prior to the advent of the patriarchal era. If childbearing is always considered limiting and degrading, why did our Paleolithic ancestors from Spain to Siberia carve myriad statues of powerful female figures whose vulvas, large breast and bellies cyclically yielded the very mysteries of life? One rarely sees infants hanging on these statues (a reflection of the diffusion of childcare within a clan system?); they are simply monuments to woman’s elemental power.”

Stories ARE power and that is why a feminist, matristic, Goddess-oriented narrative has value, regardless of whether it is myth or fact. As we know too well, the victors write the history books—they get to tell the stories and those stories, logically, may involve significant distortion of the facts of the past.

Sociocultural changes can occur rapidly and due to this writing of the history books it is difficult to fully assess the social structures that were in place prior to the invasion of the theoretically matriarchal and peaceful people by a warrior class. However, the idea that social evolution means becoming warrior-based and patriarchal and that patriarchy is more “advanced” or “civilized” is a fundamental flawed story underlying much of our “modern day” history. I believe that a re-visioning of the current “story” of the past is helpful in the critical assessment of present social structures and ideas. As Christ states on page 61, “…the institutionalizing of warfare as a way of life…is the single most important factor in the subordination of women.” Broadening our scope of consideration to include a matrifocal legacy brings hope as well as context to our current culture in a meaningful way. When warfare is way of life, boys are trained to dominate and be aggressive and to see women as possessions or “spoils” of war. We see this type of training on a global scale right now and to consider the notion that this is not an appropriate or inevitable “evolution” of society is radical and potentially transformative.

Eller addresses the notion of a dominator vs. partnership model—again, this doesn’t have to be mythic past to be a better future. As a matter of fact, I use the idea of dominator and partnership in the human services classes I teach. As she notes, Goddess scholars have thus successfully, “…detached feminist spirituality’s sacred history from its original roots…[and] made it possible for people to celebrate a ‘partnership’ past and condemn a ‘dominator’ present without feeling any compulsion to worship a goddess, practice magic, or meditate on menstrual fluid.” (p. 156)

Since stories create culture, create future people’s history, I take no issue with the detachment of the history in this manner—we desperately need alternate conceptions of possibility to the dominator present. If those conceptions can become even marginally “mainstream” and accessible to people from many faith traditions, not just Goddess Goddessgarb 205
women, then we may actually be making meaningful progress!

One form of “evidence” that Eller regards as potentially questionable, but strikes me as logical (and I’ve addressed it many time previously) is that of the role and value of childbirth. “Women’s ability to bear children, spiritual feminists say, gave natural cause for ancient peoples to image their creator deities in the form of a woman…’When our ancestors came out of caves, what did they think? Of course, woman gives birth. Whatever gave birth to us is a woman.’” (p. 158) Heck, even with all of the trappings of “modern” life, I STILL find the birth event to be magical, one of the truest, purest, and most authentic human experiences of magic there is. And, it was in giving birth gave me my first direct, explicit contact with the Goddess.

When discussing the story of Adam and Eve, Eller observes, “…childbirth is no longer a woman’s goddesslike creative miracle, but her cruel destiny of suffering and pain; her husband is no longer her delight freely chosen, but her master appointed over her…Adam is not born out of Eve, in the way that all men are born of women; rather, Eve is born of Adam, in a way the world has never seen before or since. Human reproduction, central to the goddess’s former power, is not a male prerogative.” (p. 167) This is the root of Christian patriarchy and continues to have a powerful legacy today.

So, in conclusion, the primary function of value of this sacred history is that patriarchy is no longer the only story we’ve known. An alternate past gives hope for an alternate future.

“Stories are medicine…They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything—we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic drive are contained in stories.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estes

**This post is based on lessons completed for my Historical Roots of Goddess Worship class at OSC. Also, returning to my opening quote, are you interested in learning about Pagan theology? Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies is on sale at Amazon this week for $2.99 (half price). Paperback version also available! The book includes activities and discussion questions for individuals and groups. **

Categories: feminist thealogy, Goddess, OSC, spirituality, thealogy, Thursday Thealogy | 10 Comments

Woodspriestess: The Outraged Ancestral Mother

The Outraged Ancestral Mother Goddessgarb 100
has awoken
she howls through canyons
claws away insecurities and doubts
and stomps illusions into dust.

She rattles hailstones
on rooftops
and whips the seas into
a froth of fury.

She dances the wind
into hurricanes
and she kindles
a wildfire
saying
watch out
it burns
pay attention.

She uproots trees June 2013 001
with her storming
thunders leaves, branches, and houses
down around your ears
crying wake up.

She screeches
on the winds
her voice becoming
a tornado
Swirling madcap
down the corridor
of time.

She lifts a chalice
of armadillo skin and whale bone
and she cries out
for change.

In the howl of outrage
and sweep of fury
in the crackle
of iced lightning
in the waves
which crest June 2013 021
against the shore
and drag
you out to sea.

In the ferocious beauty
of her howling dance
we glimpse the sun-heart
of love
sharp-edged
ragged
hot
slicing through
the veils
that shroud our thinking

We step through
and join her dance
raising our voices
in the chorus
of her song.

Draping a necklace of skulls
around our throats
and drumming
a wake up call
to our sisters and brothers.

Arise!
The Outraged Ancestral Mother
calls your name
Your blood is on her teeth
she tastes your fears
and your courage…

Yesterday, we did a double-session of our Rise Up and Call Her Name class. In the second of the day’s sessions:  “We honor the Outraged Ancestral Mother and the belief that the sacred and secular are one” (The Female Divine in All Her Glorious Shapes, Colors and Sounds). I was caught by the idea of the Outraged Ancestral Mother and we spent some time discussing her and the degree to which humanity has hurt our planet. This morning while I was practicing yoga, snippets of this new poem came floating to my mind. I had the distinct feeling that the Outraged Ancestral Mother was ready to speak to me. So, I went down to the woods to listen to what she had to say.  It was different from the kinds of things I usually write and think about and the tone was more aggressive and harsh—I surprised myself!

A note regarding the armadillo skin chalice: Ever since giving birth to my first child almost ten years ago, I have a strong reaction to roadkill, primarily centered around the maternal experience—that was someone’s BABY! She worked so hard for that life. Recently, while driving to town I saw an armadillo being picked over by crows on the road, its body becoming a hollowed out shell or rind almost. I’ve been in a pretty bad mood lately and in addition to my usual thoughts about poor babies, I also began to have depressing existential musings about what is the whole point anyway. We can all just be roadkill, nothing cares about us. Our bloody guts could be splattered across the road tomorrow and the Earth wouldn’t miss us. We are not loved by the Goddess/Universe or by anything else—we’re just roadkill. And, then, I had a vision—a dark robed Crone Goddess figure holding the armadillo shell aloft, fully cleaned out and empty and raising it to her lips as if to drink. At this point I realized, nothing is wasted. Everything is recycled. Everything is used. Every part matters, always.

June 2013 005

My new phone has a panoramic option!

Categories: death, endarkenment, feminist thealogy, Goddess, nature, poems, spirituality, theapoetics, woodspriestess | 6 Comments

Calling the Circle: Context

sil12

Does standing on the wall at Pismo Beach at dusk make sense? Yes, if the context is one of trying to get some silhouette pictures! 😉

This post is the second in a series, prompted by the book Calling the Circle by Christina Baldwin:

Context is the social, political, cultural, and spiritual force that shapes the life of a person. Every person lives within society’s context–whether we live comfortably in the middle of this collective force or straining at the edge. In every society there are seekers whose role is to push the borders of accepted experience and whose thoughts and actions expand the cultural context. Ideas and social norms pass through a culture, coming first from the edge and, as they are accepted, moving to center and becoming the ‘norm.’ …

Context is the collective atmosphere inside which something is seen and understood

Context is amazingly important. Pushing the context is how a culture changes, both in expansion and in reaction against expansion. As groups of ethnic and racial minorities, women, homosexuals, the physically challenged, and others have struggled for social rights, each group has expanded the contextual edge, insisting that the culture make room, rewrite laws, and get used to living with these changes. (p. 21)

One of the college classes I teach in human services is called, “working with groups.” However, in all of my classes we talk about systems theory and our core person-in-environment outlook. Every person is inextricably embedded it a network of larger systems and we cannot full understand people without understanding their systemic context. Essentially, behavior is logical to context and human behavior is very often group behavior, no matter how much Western culture likes to point fingers at individuals and individual responsibility. When considering the issue of past social atrocities like those committed by the Nazis, I think about the concept of fundamental attribution error–people’s tendency to ascribe the behavior of others to personal flaws rather than context/environment. We all like to think that we wouldn’t have been a Nazi, or that we wouldn’t drink the Kool-Aid, or that we wouldn’t be the person in the experiment who keeps increasing the electric shock…but, in reality, these situations all involved regular people, who were powerfully influenced by group dynamics. Those dynamics continue to be afoot in the modern world.

As I’ve written before, the sociocultural value of a divine presence that validates women’s bodies cannot be overestimated. Indeed, I believe that patriarchal religion in its most destructive way grew out of the devaluation and rejection of female bodies. A religious context that rejects the female body, that places the male and its association with “the mind” and the soul rather than the earthy relational connection of body, is a religion that easily moves into domination and control of women. Reclaiming Goddess, reclaims women’s bodies—names them not only as “normal,” but as “divine,” and this is profoundly threatening to traditional Judeo-Christian belief systems. In Carol Christ’s classic essay, Why Women Need the Goddess, she quotes feminist theologian Mary Daly (Beyond God the Father):

If God in ‘his’ heaven is a father ruling his people, then it is the ‘nature’ of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male dominated. Within this context, a mystification of roles takes place: The husband dominating his wife represents God ‘himself.’ The images and values of a given society have been projected into the realm of dogmas and “Articles of Faith,” and these in turn justify the social structures which have given rise to them and which sustain their plausibility.

As I wrote in a prior post for Feminism and Religion:

…as Rush describes in Politics on page 384: “It stands to reason after so many centuries of brutal religious persecution, that women today should have a deep fear of conceptualizing our own spirituality. Women who try are severely penalized…Because of all this, it is essential that we do create our own spiritual practices. Our spiritual beliefs define what we respect, what we love—and what we ultimately perceive as our highest values. For a feminist, or for any woman, to perpetuate a patriarchal religion and to worship a male god is for her to deify her oppression” [emphasis mine]. This is powerful stuff, the impact of which cannot be denied or ignored. The symbolic value of ritual is extremely important as well. To many women traditional religious rituals and symbols have lost meaning and feel hollow or emotionless. I feel that women’s spirituality rituals bring heart, soul, and passion back to what has become rote in modern practice. Women’s rituals usually honor women’s bodies and women’s feelings and the phases of a woman’s life. They also typically use feminine images of divinity and Goddess language and imagery, which is a powerful antidote to the patriarchal culture in which we live. While on the surface or from afar, a woman’s ritual may seem like an innocently simple affair, in the context of patriarchy it is a radical and subversive act and statement for change.

via Do Women’s Circles Actually Matter? By Molly Remer | Feminism and Religion.

Categories: feminism, feminist thealogy, spirituality, thealogy, womanspirit, women's circle | 2 Comments

Thursday Thealogy: Stories

“…women 398124_10152413274040442_130771351_n
fish the dream fields every night.
The old stories are caught
and held there in their nets.

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
and dances,
all of women’s art and stories,
and medicines,
all of women’s lost histories.

Sing it!
Nothing
that can be remembered
with love,
can ever be lost!”

~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Via Deanne L’am.

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.

via Deciding To Leave the Religion of Your Birth–Or Not by Carol P. Christ | Feminism and Religion.

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.)womanprayer 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,
breastfeeds us,
nurtures us,
teaches us how to walk,
teaches us how to soar upward
just at the eagle teaches its young
to stretch their wings and fly,
makes fruitful,
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,
talks with,
listens to
demanding, complaining friends,
is willing to negotiate,
is patient
and merciful,
provides shelter
and a homeland,
security
and roots.

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.
God-with-us
is the Word-made-flesh,
steadfast love,
mother-love,
love incarnate,
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 move
and have our being,
the Holy
and wholly Other.
So why shouldn’t we
as the Spirit moves
sometimes call God
Mother?

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

Categories: community, feminist thealogy, nature, spirituality, thealogy, theapoetics, Thursday Thealogy, womanspirit | 5 Comments

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