OSC

Mamapriestess?

She who changes IMG_7770
She who expands and contracts
She who stretches her limits
She who digs deep
She who triumphs and fails
Every day
Sometimes both within a single hour
She who tends her own hearth
She who comforts and connects and enfolds
She who opens wide…

(via my past post: Goddess Mother)

I recently finished reading Under Her Wings: The Making of a Magdalene, by Nicole Christine. A theme running through the book was the concept of “As Above, So Below and As Within, So Without.” I read this book as part of my research for my dissertation about contemporary priestessing. I posed two questions based on this book in my dissertation research study group, but I’d like to invite other responses and experiences as well.

I want to hear from the Mamapriestesses, from the Hearth Priestesses! Where are the other practicing priestesses b2ap3_thumbnail_11209411_1658113891067493_624517776654095662_n.jpgwith children at home? I noticed in Christine’s book that the bulk of her work took place after her children were grown and, to my mind, she also had to distance or separate from her children and her relationships in order to fully embrace her priestess self. How do you balance this? How does it work for you? Parenting, for me, can simultaneously feel as if it is stifling my full expression and yet perhaps as if it holds the greatest lessons and teachers

I notice that many women seem to come to priestess work when the intensive stage of motherhood has passed, or they do not have children. Is there a reason why temple priestesses were “virgins” and village wise women were crones? Where does the Mamapriestess fit?

So, if you have children, I’d love to hear from you about this! If you do not have children by choice, how does that play into your spiritual work? If you do not have children and that is not by choice, how does that play into your spiritual work?

As I read Christine’s book and witnessed her intensive self-exploration, discovery, and personal ceremony and journeys, I realized that in many ways personal exploration feels like a luxury I don’t have at this point in my parenting life (as an example: for an entire month I’ve been dreaming what feel like really powerful and almost revelatory dreams, but I have a night-nursing 11 month old and after multiple night wakings with him, the dreams slip into nothingness and I’m left with a sense of “forgetting” something that is trying to communicate with me or share wisdom).

How do you balance your inner journey with your outer process? Christine references having to step aside and be somewhat aloof or unavailable to let inner processes and understandings develop, since our inner journeys may become significantly bogged down by interpersonal relationships, dramas, venting, chatting, and so forth. Or, as I tend to joke, during a full moon ritual as my two pre-teen sons make fart jokes or the baby has a poopy diaper. For me, this distance for inner process exploration isn’t possible in the immersive stage of life as a mother. And, yet, I also know in my bones that I’m not meant to give it up. How does the As Within and the So Without work together for you?

Several years ago, I was sitting at the table sculpting clay for a new design and my then six-year-old son worked at the table too, finally presenting me with a special gift of his own design:

February 2013 051“This is the Goddess of Everything,” he told me. “See that pink jewel in her belly, that is the WHOLE UNIVERSE, Mom!!”

Categories: dissertation, family, Goddess, OSC, parenting, priestess, self-care, women, woodspriestess, writing | 4 Comments

Dissertation Research: Priestess Path

February 2015 193

My revised research shelf!

I’m getting ready to embark on my dissertation project for Ocean Seminary College. This has been a long time coming (I began my work in 2011!) and I have switched topics from the birth/motherhood related subject I originally proposed to a new project: contemporary priestessing. As part of my project, I will be doing some informal and discussion-based research with women who are currently practicing as priestesses or have done so in the past. Rather than start a completely new Facebook group for these discussions, I’m going to use the Facebook group I already have: Priestess Path. If you join this group, there is no requirement to participate in the research questions. However, I hope the questions and discussion will be interesting and that you will enjoy lending your voice to this project with me! 

Purpose of the research

To contribute a new or enhanced understanding about the theory, practice, and potential of priestess work as a contemporary vocation.

My research will examine the priestess path from a personal and experiential perspective, including examining the question of “who does she think she is” in taking up the mantle of a modern-day priestess. It will also explore female religious leadership and the potential for social change.

If you agree to be in this study, you will be asked to: respond to online survey questions, comment in response to blog posts, or participate in discussions, questions, or comments in a private Facebook group. Participation is informal and there is to expectation or requirement to respond to all questions or in all venues. Time commitment ranges from 5 minutes to multiple hours according to your personal choice, interest, and availability.

Inclusion criteria

Present or past work as a practicing priestess and a willingness to respond to questions about this work.

Your participation in this study is entirely voluntary. This means that I will respect your decision of whether or not you want to be in the study and how much or little you wish to participate.

I have begun the questions in the group and will continue to post them periodically over the next several months. I am really loving the responses I’ve had so far, but I definitely welcome further input!

Goddessgarb 035

Categories: dissertation, OSC, priestess, writing | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Priestess Year in Review (2014)

Mollyblessingway 211

“Lifelong priesthoods were typically held by married women leading ‘normal’ lives, complete with husbands and children. Greek religious offices were enormously practical, enabling women to serve at each stage of life without sacrificing the full experience of marriage and motherhood.”

–Joan Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess, p. 18

“When words are inadequate, ceremony and ritual help us express our profound thoughts and feelings….rituals are symbolic activities that help us, together with our families and friends, express our deepest thoughts and feelings about life’s most important events.”

–Dr. Alan Wolfelt (quoted in The Art of Ritual)

When I became ordained as a priestess with Global Goddess in July of 2012, one of the commitments I made as part of ordination was to be of service in some way to the organization and to document my service to my community through the year. So, in keeping with that commitment, I made a year-end summary post at the end of 2012 and another at the end of 2013. It was helpful to me personally to see everything grouped together in one post and see that I’m truly doing this work. I enjoy sharing my post with the rest of the GG community in hopes of encouraging others to keep a record of their own. In 2014, this was my service in the capacity as ritualist/ceremonialist:

January: winter women’s retreat, spontaneous family morning ritual, family full moon ritual.

July 2014 036

Nature mandala at summer ritual.

February: family Brigid ceremony and Imbolc ritual, seventh Rise Up class, birthday blessing, help planning house cleansing, mini family full moon ritual.

March: invocation to the north during opening ritual at Goddess Weekend in St. Louis, Spring family ritual.

April: spontaneous family gratitude ritual, spring women’s retreat.

June: helped with sister-in-law’s blessingway, Rise Up class.

July:  summer ritual for the members of my women’s circle and their families.

August: Red Tent event, tenth Rise Up class.

September: temple priestess at GGG, Womanrunes presentation.

October: Gave birth to new baby!

November: family full moon ritual for baby, Sealing ceremony for self.

December: full moon ritual, Rise Up finish and ceremony, family solstice ritual, mother blessing ceremony.

I took an online training program in circle leadership from Chrysalis Woman and I wrote this post about why Gathering the Women matters to me: Gathering the Women | WoodsPriestess. (I also finally finished reading Women Who Run with the Wolves!) I wrote 47 posts for this blog in 2014, which was a dramatic reduction from previous years, primarily because I diverted a lot of my attention to finishing my M.Div, writing a book, and working on art, sculpture, and jewelry for our co-creative business, Brigid’s Grove (and we had booths selling goddess sculptures and jewelry at five events sprinkled through the year).front-cover

We published a book about Womanrunes! This was an incredibly huge project. We also published a digital Ritual Recipe Kit and a book of earth-based poetry. I sculpted more than 27 new designs for pewter pendants and 7 for resin goddess sculptures (and we fulfilled more than 540 orders for these items!)

I completed 7 more classes at OSC, finished my thesis project, and completed my M.Div degree! I only have two classes remaining for my D.Min. In the last days of 2014, a new idea for my dissertation was born and I completed and submitted my prospectus for my dissertation project (and it was approved).

I continued to host a (not very active) Priestess Path group on Facebook and started one for women interested in a Red Tent in our community as well. I also maintain my Woodspriestess Facebook page and one for Brigid’s Grove.

In keeping with the commitment I made upon my ordination, I contributed articles to 5 issues of The Oracle, the online journal of Global Goddess: Winter Solstice, Samhaim, Beltane, Spring Equinox, Imbolc

I wrote 6 posts for Feminism and Religion: Mollyblessingway 116

I also wrote 23 posts for my blog at SageWoman magazine.

And, finally, I wrote 15 posts for Pagan Families earlier in the year before decided I was spread too thin with blogging commitments and needed to let something go.

(I also wrote 100 posts at my birth/motherhood blog, but that doesn’t directly connect to my priestess year in review theme!)

I have several relevant goals for 2015:

  • Finish last two D.Min classes!
  • Finish dissertation (and therefore finish D.Min degree)
  • Begin facilitating regular New Moon Red Tent Circles in the local community
  • Continue holding monthly full moon rituals with my own family and broaden that to include a couple of friends as well
  • Present at Goddess Weekend and Gaea Goddess Gathering
  • Expand our Ritual Recipe Kit into a longer printed book
  • Promote and distribute Womanrunes more widely, especially to the Red Tent community, since it is a perfect oracle for use in Red Tent events.
  • Work on several new book and online class ideas!

As also occurred last year when I wrote my year-in-review post, when I read this over, it comes up for me to wonder if writing a post like this looks “smug” and self-congratulatory in some way. Am I too focused on numbers and hours and quantifying something instead of presence? Too much do-ing and not enough be-ing? But, in truth, the intention with which each year’s list is created is simply as an accountability thing—both in terms of the vows I made to my community as well as to myself. It is so I can see, collected in one place, what I’ve offered as a priestess this year. It is to allow me a moment of pause, reflection, review, and a sensation of a job well done, rather than immediately rushing off to the next thing, as I tend to do. I continue to struggle with issues of “who does she think she IS?” with regard to priestess work (this forms an element of my dissertation project, actually!) and in reviewing my year, I am able to see that yes, I am doing this work. I am not just talking about it or imagining it, I am walking the path.

Happy New Year!

 

Categories: art, community, OSC, priestess, spirituality, womanspirit, women, women's circle, woodspriestess, writing | 1 Comment

Rise Up Completion

In 2010, I bought the Rise Up and Call Her Name curriculum and imagined working through it with a group of women. At the beginning of 2013, I started the program in what was intended to be a monthly class. Well, here we are almost two years later and today we finally finished the curriculum! As we read the final poem (We Hold Hands) and sang our final rendition of “Listen, Sisters, Listen,” I felt a real sense of exhilaration and triumph. I made the commitment to do this for these women and they made the commitment to work together in this way and we DID IT.

Earth-based/winter solstice altar space.

Earth-based/winter solstice altar space.

Mask-making project.

Mask-making project.

Closing ceremony--after having created a web-weaving, we "birthed" our mask project into the sacred circle.

Closing ceremony–after having created a web-weaving, we “birthed” our mask project into the sacred circle.

Yesterday afternoon, my M.Div diploma finally came in the mail (I actually finished the degree on July 1) and so I feel a sense of completion and fulfillment there as well. I asked my husband to take a picture of me with some of my finished projects of 2014 (yes, the baby counts too!) and I feel very satisfied and proud right now.
IMG_9114

(I typed this post on my iPad and couldn’t easily include links the way I usually do and I’m just going to be okay with that!)

Categories: community, friends, OSC, priestess, retreat, ritual, spirituality, womanspirit, women, women's circle | 4 Comments

Ocean Seminary College

“The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. Sit. Feast on your life.” –Derek Walcott

(quoted in The Mother’s Wisdom Deck)

“Human connections are deeply nurtured in the field of shared story.” –Jean Houston

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’m working on the Thealogy/Goddess Studies D.Min at Ocean Seminary College and took a little pitstop for an M.Div, completed in July. I get occasional questions on my Facebook page or via email about how I feel about the program and I’ve been promising for a long time that I would write a blog post about it. In general, I love it! You do have to be extremely self-motivated to succeed with the programs though. There is not a lot of feedback and can be long delays in communication. So, lots of self-discipline, self-motivation, and self-starting is very key to actually making progress. Luckily, I’ve always been very self-motivated, so the self-organized structure works for me.

After finishing the M.Div, I am slowly picking back up my D.Min work too and expect to finish my dissertation next year. I very much enjoy my work with OSC and have grown exponentially personally, professionally, and thealogically as a direct result of diving into the work there and really doing it, but there are two things to go into the experience with—be prepared to be VERY self-directed and self-motivated and be prepared to be patient. The staff is small and somewhat overtaxed and so it can take a LONG time to get any feedback or response on your classwork. I learned to just move forward at my own pace and appreciate the feedback when it came. And, no one will hold your hand or push you to get started and to do the work, that drive and motivation has to come from within and is self-directed. The classes themselves are extraordinarily well-organized and comprehensive and my mind boggles at all the work that went into creating and planning them. But again, though, your progress through them is going to have to come from within!

These are the classes I completed as my Ministerial/M.Div courses and D.Min foundation work:

02.01.004 Stigmatization of the Witch in History Spring 2012

This class was emotionally difficult due to the intense violence experienced by women during the “witchcraze” years, but amazing in terms of what I learned and the connections I made. As I’ve referenced in prior posts, I really made the sociological connection between current political climates and past events and they are not as far away from each other as we may like to believe.

02.02.001 Goddess Traditions in Contemp. Society I Fall 2011
02.02.002 Goddess Traditions in Contemp. Society II Spring 2012

These classes were both helpful in refining my personal thealogy, developing a framework for my beliefs, and in providing me with material that later became blog posts or essays for other publications!

02.02.003 Historical Roots of Goddess Worship Fall 2012

In this course, I realized that Goddess herstory is simply not my area of interest. I don’t need to be convinced of the role and presence of goddesses throughout human history and so I had to really kind of force myself through this class which felt repetitive after all the reading and writing I’ve already done on this subject.

02.02.004 Introduction to Thealogy Spring 2012

This class was a tremendous academic challenge that really pushed me to grow, expand, and refine my own thealogy and my own conceptual understanding of this field. It was hard, mentally exhausting work. This class took me a year to finish and it twisted my brain in many ways and really made me dig more deeply.

02.02.005 Matriarchal Myth I Spring 2013
02.02.006 Matriarchal Myth II Fall 2013
02.02.007 Matriarchal Myth III Winter 2014

See my notes on Goddess History above. These classes got repetitive and I felt like, I got this already. I kept returning to the same themes, topics, quotes, and references because I really have already built my “case” and understanding in this area. However, the final class in which we had to read and respond to several books that attempt to debunk or challenge goddess-centered narratives was very valuable at, again, pushing the boundaries of my own understanding and my ability to articulate it and make a case for my own understanding or interpretation.

02.02.012 Birth, Death, Regeneration Fall 2012

This was a fun and experiential class, exploring the classic Maiden, Mother, Crone archetypes in one’s own life. I did some art projects for this one.

02.02.015 Thealogy & Deasophy Spring 2013

Ouch! Another major brain stretcher. I feel really good about my work in these classes, but they were hard work.

02.02.013 Goddess Wheel of the Year Spring 2012

Another fun and experiential class.  It is a very personal class about your own experiences and creating ritual and ceremony within your own life and kind of dancing with the Goddess throughout the year.

02.01.005 Sacred Groves: Covens & Npg Groups Spring 2012
02.01.006 Ethics & Professional Practice Summer 2012

Closely related, these two classes were really important in forming a clear vision for organizing, facilitating, and maintaining a spiritual group as well as practicing in a professional manner. July 2014 048

02.01.007 Ritual & Liturgy Summer 2012

Very enjoyable and practical class in creating meaningful rituals for specific occasions. I did a lot of work in this class that I went on to use for other purposes.

02.01.017 The Role of the Priest/Priestess Winter 2013

While there was some overlap here with the other professional practice courses I already mentioned, this was a personally very valuable class that really encouraged me to dig into the heart of priestess work and my own relationship to it. Lots of deep stuff as well as fears and insecurities came up for me in this class. I explored themes related to this class in a series several posts about practical priestessing on my SageWoman blog.

03.01.033 Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life Summer 2013

This course was a required year-long course. I found it helpful, relevant, and valuable, though perhaps I need to revisit it on an annual basis to get it to soak in completely!

04.01.001 Ecology & the Sacred Fall 2011

This course was my first course and I loved it. It was the first time I’ve spent any time with formal ecological concepts and I really loved digging into something that was a new subject for me, but that could be easily and intimately tied to my own spiritual understanding. It was in this course that I joked about writing a Thealogy of Chickens and it was in this course that the seeds of my Woodspriestess experiment, as well as identity as such, were planted.

E: 04.04.002 Ecofeminism I Spring 2013

This class was an elective and I really loved it.The connection between the exploitation of the earth and the exploitation of women comes into sharp focus as well as the connections between the human body and the world body. It helped inform the later class in breastfeeding and ecofeminism that I taught for an independent study student at another college.

Doctoral classes completed:

02.02.016 Goddess Ritual Theory Winter 2014

I really enjoyed this class. The orientation was theoretical and conceptual rather than practical—as in we were writing about and exploring the whys of ritual, rather than creating rituals.

02.02.017 Adv Thealogical Praxis I Spring 2014
02.02.018 Adv Thealogical Praxis II Spring 2014

Brain. Stretched. It is both funny and fitting that the classes that were the most intense and difficult to slog through were those with titles close to “Thealogy,” the very subject of my degree. These classes helped inform my M.Div thesis project and dissertation, however.

02.01.008 Crisis of Faith & Inspiration Winter 2014

This course uses a very helpful, highly recommended book by Judy Harrow called Spiritual Mentoring. This was another one of the practical, helpful, nuts-and-bolts of direct practice types of courses that are so important to have along with the academic, theoretical coursework. Ritual Recipe Kit for Women's Ceremonies (digital kit, mother blessings, maiden ceremony, menarche, crone, sagewoman)

02.01.014 Crafting Rites for Npg Clergy Spring 2014

This class I “tested out of” in a sense, by submitting my work for my Ritual Recipe Kit. Good stuff here!

Classes remaining to complete D.Min:

02.01.009 Empowering Members
02.02.019 High Priestess
02.01.015 Death & Dying

02.02.020 Goddess Priestess Practicum (10 Credits)—requiring a 40 hour priestess internship, this is almost complete as I just need to finish getting reviews/evaluations from women’s group members.

02.02.022 Goddess Thealogy Dissertation (20 Credits)—working on it! I have a 300+ page word document of possible content, but need to focus and center in on this now that my thesis and M.Div are complete.

Currently registered for elective courses:

02.02.009 Goddess Mothers: Shekhinah Mountainwater

Couldn’t resist this one after all my Womanrunes work!

01.02.001 Shamanism, Creativity, & the Arts I

Mask-making! How could I refuse?! This class is an experiential course in which you explore many concepts through art as well as through a culminating final project. I was packed with ideas for this class when I enrolled in it, but I became so focused on my required coursework (and other projects) as well that I let this course become inactive and will have to resume it later.

I’d like to close this post with two excerpts from my original application to OSC in 2011. It has been a wonderful, deep, complex journey so far and I look forward to continuing my work…

Who/what inspires you? June 2014 045

I long to speak out the intense inspiration that comes to me from the lives of strong women.” –Ruth Benedict

I believe that these circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we’re weak and sing with us when we’re strong.” –SARK, Succulent Wild Woman

I am most inspired by the everyday women surrounding me in this world. Brave, strong, vibrant, wild, intelligent, complicated women. Women who are also sometimes frightened, depressed, discouraged, hurt, angry, petty, or jealous. Real, multifaceted, dynamic women. Women who keep putting one foot in the front of the other and continue picking themselves back up again when the need arises.

I am also inspired by women from the past who worked for social justice and women’s rights—women who lived consciously and deliberately and with devoted intention to making the world a better place. Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton. Women who have studied and written about feminist spirituality—such as Carol Christ, Hallie Ingleheart, Patricia Mongahan, and Barbara Ardinger–are also a source of inspiration. As a mother, I find additional inspiration in the self-care encouraging writings of Jennifer Louden and Renée Trudeau.

My children have provided a powerful source of inspiration and motivation. I wish to model for them a life lived as a complete, fully developed human being. After birthing three sons, I gave birth to a daughter in January, 2011. I always envisioned having daughters and felt well-prepared to raise a “kick-ass” girl. Having sons first presented me with a different type of inspiration (and, to me, a deeper challenge)—to raise healthy men. Men who treat women well and who are balanced, confident, loving, compassionate people. I came to think of myself as a mother of sons exclusively and was very surprised to actually have a girl as my last child [updated note: not really my last child as I am now pregnant again!]. When I found out she was a girl, my sense of “like carries like/like creates like” was very potent and my current need to participate in the creation of a world in which she can bloom to her fullest is very strong.

My own inner fire inspires me—my drive to make a difference and to live well and wisely my one wild and precious life. Good conversations, time alone with my journal, time alone outdoors sitting on a big rock, and simple time in the shower provides additional fuel for this inner fire…

Reasons for applying to your specific program of study and how this fits into your personal and spiritual goals for yourself.

I have been “dancing” with Goddess ideas and imagery for about seven years now and I feel deeply called to pursue my study on a more committed level. To me, this program with Ocean Seminary College represents an integration of something I feel with my mind, heart, and spirit. My whole being. In women’s spirituality, I glimpse the multifaceted totality of women’s lives and I long to reach out and serve the whole woman. I wish to extend my range of passion to include the full woman’s life cycle, rather than focus on the maternal aspect of the wheel of life as I have done for some time. I want to create rituals that nourish, to plan ceremonies that honor, to facilitate workshops that uncover, to write articles that inform, and to teach classes that inspire the women in my personal life, my community, and the world. I am currently the vice-president of my Unitarian Universalist church and I facilitate women’s spirituality classes and retreats. In these capacities, I plan programs, give presentations, and facilitate ceremonies (including the occasional wedding). I feel I have already contributed a lot to my community based on my own self-study and exploration and now I feel ready to take that further—to go beyond what I’ve been able to learn, discover, and share under my own power, by studying with a formal program.

I have both a scholar’s heart and a heart for service and at the root, this is what makes me feel like I am a good match for Ocean Seminary College’s program in Goddess Thealogy. I wish to live so that my life becomes a living, embodied prayer for social change and to do work that is both spiritually-based and woman affirming…

July 2014 097

 

Categories: feminist thealogy, Goddess, liturgy, OSC, resources, reviews, ritual, spirituality, thealogy, thesis, writing | 4 Comments

The Women’s Hearth

“A peaceful revolution is going on, a women’s spirituality movement, hidden in plain sight. Through circles of women, healing women, might the culture come around? . . . When a critical mass—the hundredth monkey, or the millionth circle—tips the scales, a new era will be ushered in and patriarchy will be over.”

– Jean Shinoda Bolen

“The calling a woman feels to gather in Sacred Space with other Sisters starts first as a low and slow warmth that begins to burn. If left unfed, it rises quickly to a raging fire of desire. It will not be denied and can only be quenched by the nourishment of Truth, Candlelight,
Song And Sisterhood”
–Ayla Mellani (Founder of Chrysalis Woman) 

July 2014 038

Nature mandala from our summer solstice ritual this year.

I forget if I ever posted that I did officially finish my M.Div degree this year! July first was my “priestessaversary.” It is also my husband’s birthday AND his “quitzaversary”—the anniversary of his entrance into self-employment and a home-based life. When I got my M.Div diploma via email (physical copy coming later), I was completely surprised to see that the date on it is….July 1st.

While I wait for the remainder of my doctoral courses to begin in the fall, I’m working on one of my elective courses: Women Engaged in Sacred Writing. A recent lesson was to: Discuss the concept of the hearth as it refers to creativity. Our texts for this class are Sisters Singing, an anthology edited by Carolyn Brigit Flynn, and Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine by Peggy Tabor Millin. The following post is some excerpts and quotes from one of my lessons for this course

Chapter 2 of Women, Writing, and Soul-Making struck me with its exploration of the role and power of a circle. While I do not participate in a writer’s circle, I’ve been involved in my women’s circle for about four years now. I have a tendency to be other-directed and service-oriented and have to remind myself often to, “tend my own hearth first,” rather than caretaking for others at the expense of myself or my family. With the women’s circle, it is intensely important to me that I plan and facilitate things for it that I want to do myself. Often, the safe container of the circle allows me to do or explore things that I otherwise do not afford myself the time to do. The circle is about both nurturing myself and the women around me, rather than be exclusively other-centered as has been a lot of my previously volunteer efforts and group experiences.

For the authors of the class texts, the new “hearth” for women IS the women’s circle.

Millin writes:

“It is true that the loss of the hearth is linked to a change in the roles of women, and it follows that women can also provide a hearth from which the new June 2014 001model will evolve..

We are forming circles in which to listen, speak our truth, lead, and follow. In the safety of circles, we learn to respect silence, create safety, build trust, set boundaries, resolve conflict, and laugh—at ourselves and at the vagaries of life. Circles include and have no hierarchy. They allow us to see one another face-to-face. Circles of women support, uplift, encourage, protect, and inspire. They also share, instruct, and guide through example. Through circles, we find the courage to fulfill our potential to teach peace and justice. Through circles, we can hold sway over the table of the earth without “waging a war on poverty” or “fighting for peace.”

She goes on to further explore the process of discovering and co-creating a new hearth…

I believe this “hearth” to be sacred and to be present in circles of women who gather for a common purpose. Because the purpose in writing groups is writing, defining the sacred nature of the circle too specifically by aligning with any specific spiritual practice can discourage diversity among participants. The formation of a circle of women automatically includes the sacred if the leader invites this energy and holds the space for it. Even a short silence within which members focus on the breath will center the group. When a circle is centered, its purpose is clear, and the energy of the circle radiates out to attract members who will be most served by it. The result is a circle of women with diverse personalities, backgrounds, spiritual practices, and belief systems who are able to unite for the purpose of writing and the sharing of stories.

I posted a couple of weeks ago about “gathering the women”:

I’m in the middle of my Chrysalis Woman Circle Leader training program and enjoying it very much. As one of our assignments we were supposed to create a priestess collage as well as a new circle leader/priestess altar. As I prepared the altar, I found myself singing the little song that follows. I later googled it just in case, but it looks like I did actually make it up in that moment at my altar. That is what I do with my work: gather the women. And, I want them to feel welcome in the circle. Sometimes I feel discouraged though and I wonder if this work matters. I wonder if people really can work together “in perfect love and perfect trust,” I wonder if people like me and I them, and I struggle with wanting to reach “more” women, rather than being completely satisfied with the small group of beautiful souls who do regularly show up to do this work with me.

Gathering the women July 2014 140
gathering the women
gathering the women.

You are welcome here.
You are welcome here.

Come join the circle
come join the circle
come join the circle.

You are welcome here.
You are welcome here…

“A Women’s Circle helps you to find the river of your life and supports you in surrendering to its current.” –Marian Woodman

(quoted in Chrysalis Woman Circle Leader manual)

“The ripples from a women’s circle are not only magical, they are miraculous.” –Peggy Tabor Millin

At the center of my Chrysalis Woman priestess altar, I put a pottery bowl that I made during one of our retreats and painted during another one. It felt like a symbol to me of gathering the women. Inside of it, I actually ended up putting some little gifts different friends have given me, but first I put in a tiny hummingbird feather as a reminder that these circles and relationships are delicate, surprising, and beautiful and need to be treated with care.

Come to the hearth. Join in the circle. Hug. Love. Dance. Laugh. Cry. Stomp. Drum. Howl. See and be seen. You are welcome here.

July 2014 060

Our summer solstice ritual welcomed husbands and children to come join the circle as well!

Categories: community, friends, OSC, priestess, spirituality, women's circle, writing | 2 Comments

Gathering the Women

May 2014 006 Gathering the women
gathering the women
gathering the women.

You are welcome here.
You are welcome here.

Come join the circle
come join the circle
come join the circle.

You are welcome here.
You are welcome here.

I’m in the middle of my Chrysalis Woman Circle Leader training program and enjoying it very much. As one of our assignments were were supposed to create a priestess collage as well as a new circle leader/priestess altar. As I prepared the altar, I found myself singing the little song above. I later googled it just in case, but it looks like I did actually make it up in that moment at my altar. That is what I do with my work: gather the women. And, I want them to feel welcome in the circle. Sometimes I feel discouraged though and I wonder if this work matters. I wonder if people really can work together “in perfect love and perfect trust,” I wonder if people like me and I them, and I struggle with wanting to reach “more” women, rather than being completely satisfied with the small group of beautiful souls who do regularly show up to do this work with me . So, I really appreciated Lucy Pearce’s recent blog post on the subject of, if what I do is women’s work, why aren’t women interested?

I had just done a book reading of my #1 Amazon Best Selling book, The Rainbow Way… to an audience of one.

I had just led a red tent circle with 14 women… most of whom had travelled 40 minutes or more to be there.

I am about to lead a workshop… a free women’s workshop… and am aware that numbers may well be small.

Where are all the women? If this truly is women’s work… then why are they at One Direction in their tens of thousands… and not here? Why are they reading 50 Shades… and not Moon Time?

I often apologise to people that my work is niche…

But how can something which is accessible to 50% of the population be “niche”?…

via Why Aren’t Women Interested? | The Happy Womb.

Once at an LLL meeting I mentioned wanting to start a group called “mothercraft” or “womancraft.” Another woman there said it sounded interesting, but if that is what it was called she would never come. I surmised because it sounded too much like “witchcraft.” I think many women retain a deep-seated, historically rooted fear of being labeled witches. Maybe that sounds silly, but I think it is real.

I am very, very carefully planning for my Red Tent even in August without including the word “Goddess” in any chants/rituals, because I want to make sure to speak to the womanspirit within all of us, rather than being associated with any one framework of belief. My observation is that Red Tent spaces have this ability to transcend any particular belief system and welcome women of many backgrounds, inclinations, and beliefs. They aren’t specifically “Goddess circles,” though they honor the divine feminine through their very being. I hope I am able to hold this space as well.

“A Women’s Circle helps you to find the river of your life and supports you in surrendering to its current.” –Marian Woodman

(quoted in Chrysalis Woman Circle Leader manual)

Someone commenting on Lucy’s post said maybe women don’t need her work because they don’t feel “oppressed.” I thought about this and realized that I haven’t ever felt particularly oppressed personally, but I still need womancraft for celebration AND because even though I haven’t been directly oppressed, that doesn’t mean countless women around the world are not—I take a stand and lend a voice in my work for a different, healthier world for women. Another observation I’ve made is that women have a lot of trouble viewing women’s circle activities as something other than an “indulgence” or something frivolous and so it is easy for them to talk themselves out of it or not be able to give themselves the time/space for it, even though they are deeply intrigued and interested.

In the article I wrote when I originally turned over the question of whether it matters, I included this poem:

May 2014 003

Finished priestess collage for CW training.

…Rise up
stand tall
say no
be counted
hug often
hold your babies
hold your friends

Circle often
stand together
refuse to give up
when defeated, rally once more.
Persist in a vision of the way things could be
and take action
to bring that vision into reality….

 via Do Women’s Circles Actually Matter? By Molly Meade

And, I saved this relevant quote:

“…But it is exactly the same thing. You cannot have male dominated spiritual practices and leadership without the subjugation of women. And the subjugation of women equals a rape culture. A rape culture equals women and children being used and seen as objects to possess. As former President Jimmy Carter put it: “The truth is that male religious leaders have had—and still have—an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.” –Jacqueline Hope Derby #YesAllWomen

The Girl God: ://thegirlgod.blogspot.com/…/yesallwomen-by-jacqueline…

And, I remembered some thoughts I’d shared from one of my posts last year in which I shared our summer women’s retreat ritual recipe:

…I’ve been feeling a little discouraged about my retreats lately, primarily because there are a lot more women on the email list than actually show up and so I always feel like I’m doing something “wrong” or am not planning interesting enough things to attract them. I also take it kind of personally—there is a vulnerability in preparing an offering such as this and each time I do it I actually feel like I’m preparing a gift for my friends. When they decline the invite, it feels, in part, like a rejection of the gift I’m offering. Cognitively, I know (or, I hope!), this isn’t true, but emotionally that is how it usually registers. This summer retreat was a beautiful experience that felt just as I wish for these retreats to feel—nurturing, affirming, and celebratory—like a blessingway for all of us with no one needing to be pregnant!

Things I was reminded of after this experience:

  • There is nothing like having friends who are willing to lie on your living room floor and listen to a shamanic drumming CD without laughing or saying you’re ridiculous.
  • Small IS good—I already know from my years as a breastfeeding support group leader that I’m a sucker for bigger-is-better thinking (I tell my own students: don’t let your self-esteem depend on the size of your group!!!!!). When the group is small or RSVPs are minimal, it starts to feel like a personal “failing” or failure to me somehow. However, the reality is that there is a quality of interaction in a small group that is not really possible in a larger group. At this retreat there were seven women. While there was an eighth friend I really wished would come and who we missed a lot, the size felt pretty perfect. I reflected that while some part of me envisions some kind of mythically marvelous “large” group, ten is probably the max that would fit comfortably in our space as well as still having each woman be able participate fully. Twelve would probably be all right and maybe we could handle fifteen. I also need to remember not to devalue the presence of the women who DO come. They matter and they care and by lamenting I want more, it can make them feel like they’re not “enough.”

via Ritual Recipe: Women’s Summer Retreat | WoodsPriestess.

At the center of my Chrysalis Woman priestess altar, I put this bowl that I made during one of our retreats and painted after another one. It felt like a symbol to me of gathering the women. Inside of it, I actually ended up putting some little gifts different friends have given me, but first I put in this tiny hummingbird feather as a reminder that these circles and relationships are delicate, surprising, and beautiful and need to be treated with care.

May 2014 009Earlier this month I received a lovely surprise birthday gift from a talented friend and it is perfect for all the Red Tent plans afoot for August! I’m working on collecting red fabric and cushions as well.

June 2014 001

A few weekends ago, we made prayer flags for a friend and I used different quotes from the Amazing Year workbook on mine (I also presented about this workbook at a conference last week).

May 2014 262After I got home from making the flags, I sat at my Chrysalis Woman altar space and drew a card from the Gaian Tarot deck and it felt incredibly perfect:

May 2014 271

In other good news, I received my M.Div thesis feedback at last and it was this: “It’s beautiful. I don’t see how you can improve it or change it. It’s wonderfully articulate, moving, and elegant.”

And, I found out just today that my Womanrunes workshop was approved for this year’s Gaea Goddess Gathering in Kansas!

Check out this Rise Up video from the Red Tent Movie:

Also, read Lucy’s follow-up blog post here:

Encouragement For Women’s Workers Everywhere: When You Are Feeling Downhearted, Alone and Misunderstood | The Happy Womb.

Gather the women. They are welcome here.

May 2014 083

Categories: art, community, feminism, friends, GGG, OSC, priestess, retreat, ritual, sculpture, spirituality, thealogy, theapoetics, thesis, womanspirit, women, women's circle | 9 Comments

100 Things List!

As part of Leonie Dawson’s Amazing Year workbook, I wrote a list of 100 things to do in 2014.  My blog has been quiet lately, but that doesn’t actually mean I have been! A lot of the energy previously used for blogging has been diverted into other exciting projects on my 100 Things list. 🙂 I finished my second free gift offering for newsletter subscribers at Brigid’s Grove (if you aren’t signed up yet, fill in your email on the right hand side of the screen at the BG website and you will receive the free book within 24 hours). This freebie is a 56 page book of earth-based poetry. Most of the poems were originally published on this blog, but there are several released only in this book (so far) including a re-write of Psalm 23 (which somehow felt too “risky” for me to put online before now, even though I wrote it almost two years ago!)

May 2014 078We’re also offering a spring giveaway of one of our new healing hands pendants AND also a 10% off discount code for our etsy shop (2014SPRING10OFF).

May 2014 062

“…Medicine Woman reminds you

to sleep when you’re tired

to eat when you’re hungry

to drink when you’re thirsty

and to dance

just because.

Medicine Woman

let her bind up your wounds

apply balm to your soul

and hold you

against her shoulder

when you need to cry.

Medicine Woman

Earth healer

she’s ready to embrace you…”

via Woodspriestess: Medicine Woman

Even more exciting from a personal perspective is that I actually finished writing my thesis. Yes, after all my many days of joking, “Oops! I didn’t write my thesis today!” I suddenly really did write it. I had more done than I thought and all I needed was some class-free, focused writing time (my spring school session ended this past Saturday) to get it to a finished position. It might be a first draft if significant revisions are requested/needed (the format is somewhat non-traditional), but I’m hopeful it might be a last draft too! I’ve been working on my D.Min since 2011. I realized last year that I had almost the right credits to do an M.Div first (since my existing master’s degree is in social work instead, I had to take a LOT of M.Div classes as part of the D.Min program), I just had to add a thesis and a couple of classes to the work I’d already done. So, I call it a “pitstop,” because I don’t really need to do it and I’m actually working on something else, but…here I go! I also found out recently that I really only have three D.Min classes and my dissertation left. I’m giving it at least another year on the dissertation though. When I started the thesis idea, I had more like eight classes left, so it seemed like further away and “might as well.” After two partial starts and two different prospectuses submitted, I switched gears again and I actually used my Earthprayer book above as the basic frame or structure for the thesis. I’d been attempting to work with a 400-page Woodspriestess document and then I realized it was way too much. The Earthprayer book had ended up being a distillation of some basic themes from my year in the woods and I thought, “ah ha! I’ve accidentally been working on my thesis without knowing it!” I developed it with articles and essays and my theory and process of theapoesis and magically I produced 84 pages and 26,000 words! (My thesis handbook says it should be 80 pages and 25,000 words. Go, me!)

I also booked an official screening of the Red Tent Movie: Things We Don’t Talk About. It will be held in Rolla on August 2nd and it is the first ever screening of this film in Missouri! Before I booked it, a friend surprised me with this lovely little Red Moon painting and said it was for me to use in my eventual Red Tent. I felt motivated after getting it and booked the screening the next morning.

May 2014 005After doing this and apparently feeling the freedom of being off for the next two weeks, I took advantage of her full moon special and somewhat impulsively decided to sign up for the Chrysalis Woman circle leader program! This was on my Leonie Dawson 100 Things list with a question mark. Now, it is a question mark no more because I signed up and paid…hope it was a good idea! I’ve only downloaded the manuals and listened to the first week’s materials so far, but I really like it. It feels very thorough and comprehensive and feels like a good value for the discounted price it was being offered for. I’m still a little surprised at myself that I did it though!

Categories: books, OSC, poems, theapoetics, thesis, writing | 1 Comment

Spring is here!

Tiny flowers know April 2014 072
that hope blooms eternal
pushing the way
through cracked stone
reclaiming
repopulating
rebirthing the Earth

via Woodspriestess: Tiny Flowers | WoodsPriestess.

It is my favorite time of year again! The bright new promise of springtime, the pretty weather, the sense of discovery as new flowers start to bloom. This evening I headed down to the woods and saw that my baby’s memorial magnolia tree is just about to bloom! That always makes me so happy!

April 2014 058

I made my way down to the priestess rocks and admired the lovely rue anemone: April 2014 061I heard buzzing and looked up to see the wild plum blooming high above me and attracting bees and butterflies:

April 2014 064My favorites, the wild violets, are blooming now too (over by the woodpile):

April 2014 069
Grape hyacinths from a friend surprised me earlier in the week:

April 2014 075
And my grandma’s memorial hydrangea is coming back too!

April 2014 074Today my new Red Tent on the Go arrived via ebay! I’m planning to use it to vend in at the Gaea Goddess Gathering (“it is like a sacred temple of Brigid!” my ten-year-old said), but maybe for some other things too. I love it!

Last weekend I finished transcribing the 40th and final Womanrunes interpretation (which included having to do two new recordings for the stones I’d overlooked and never done!). It is a lot of work! I’m so excited about what I’m doing though. I submitted my workshop proposal to the GGG as well and plan to have my little book finished by then.

I warned my friends that The Pap Smear Diaries was coming and I did it! My most recent post at Feminism and Religion is Pap Smears I Have Known:

One afternoon at the skating rink for homeschool playgroup, a few of my friends sit in a hard plastic booth and the conversation turns to pap smears and pelvic exams. Later, I read Michele Freyhauf’s post about her hysterectomy experience and the skating rink pap smear stories come back to me with vivid clarity. Being a woman is such an embodied experience and we have so many stories to tell through and of our bodies. During my conversation with my friends, I warn them: watch for my new show–Pap Smears I Have Known. At the time, several other friends are preparing for a local production of the Vagina Monologues and I have a vision: The Pap Smear Diaries. But, really, how often do we have a chance to tell our Pap smear stories, our pelvic exam stories? Where are they in our culture and do they matter?

via Pap Smears I Have Known by Molly

This week, I finished my first assignment for my Women Engaged in Sacred Writing class at Ocean Seminary College (how lucky am I to get to take classes like this?!) and my theme was (surprise!): story power!

“Human connections are deeply nurtured in the field of shared story.” –Jean Houston

I’ve gotten several questions about OSC lately and I hope to do a blog post about it soon. My short tip is that you do have to be extremely self-motivated to be a student there. There is not a lot of feedback and can be long delays in communication. So, lots of self-discipline, self-motivation, and self-starting is very key to actually making progress! Alas, I must heed my own advice when it comes to my thesis project. I’m just not doing it! I have a long file on my computer (300+ pages), but every time I open it, it feels overwhelming or like the wrong time and I end up going away without making any significant changes.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to a workshop and then to our spring women’s retreat. This is what planning a ritual looks like for me: it starts with a general idea and some books and turns into a little scribbled outline with arrows and question marks and then eventually moves into my laptop where it becomes a four page ritual recipe!

April 2014 001I’ve been feeling a little down today about how “little” I’ve gotten accomplished today, but looking over this post makes me feel pretty satisfied. 🙂

 

Categories: nature, OSC, woodspriestess | 2 Comments

The Laying On of Hands

We lay our hands on the February 2014 007
ashes of a woman who has
known birth, who has known life.
We cradle fondly the memories
of love and togetherness—holding
them for one last time in our arms
and let them go—let her go—ashes to ashes
earth to earth and dust to dust.
How sad it is—the time when
loving arms must cradle
memories instead of the warmth
of lived life.
How tenderly do fingers
touch one last time and
gently pull away.
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

–Kerry Craig in To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy by Charlotte Caron

I’m in the middle of writing a paper for my ritual theory class at OSC and this little reading caught my eye. It is simple and poignant. It also made me think of my grandma and her memorials.

Categories: blessings, death, OSC, prayers | Leave a comment

Priestess Year in Review (2013)

cropped-sept-2013-097.jpg

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

When I became ordained as a priestess with Global Goddess in July of 2012, one of the commitments I made as part of ordination was to be of service in some way to the organization and to document my service to my community through the year. So, in keeping with that commitment, I made a year-end summary post at the end of 2012. It was helpful to me personally to see everything grouped together in one post and see that I’m truly doing this work. I enjoy sharing my post with the rest of the GG community in hopes of encouraging others to keep a record of their own. To continue this commitment, I also kept a list during 2013 and here it is!

January: facilitated winter women’s retreat and first session of the Rise Up curriculum. Simple family full moon ritual.

February: One Billion Rising event hostess/speaker, second Rise Up class, family full moon ritual, personal week-long retreat with private creativity ritual.

March: Spirit in Practice presentation at UU church. Ovary ritual for pregnant friend. Third Rise Up class.

May: Spring women’s retreat/healing ceremony/maiden ceremony. Family memorial ceremony for my grandma on Mother’s Day.

June: Officiant at my grandma’s committal service and one speaker at her celebration luncheon (this was actually at the close of May, but for some reason it was on my June list). Miscarriage presentation and Moontime presentation at LLL conference (June 15th). Rise Up class times two on June 28.

July: summer retreat (7/12). Mini new baby ritual by river (7/18/13). Family full moon simple ritual (7/22/13)

August: spontaneous family full moon ritual (kid directed. 8/18), poem reading at Day of Hope ceremony. (8/19), Sixth Rise Up class (8/30). Ordained by American Priestess Council.

September: Gaea Goddess Gathering. Walked as one of the Mothers in main ritual. Volunteer as temple priestess. Booth in marketplace (9/21).

October: candlelight vigil for pregnancy loss (10/12), family harvest full moon ritual (10/16), officiant at wedding (10/27)

November: fall retreat (double ritual. 11/9), full moon family ritual, 11/17)

December: mini-date-night full moon ritual, family winter solstice ritual (12/21). Mini-New-Year-Greeting ritual planned for evening of 12/31.

Throughout the year I kept my commitment to contribute something for each of the eight issues of The Oracle (publication of Global Goddess). I also wrote one post a 20131201-232125.jpgmonth for my SageWoman blog as well as one post every other month for the Feminism and Religion project. And, I wrote 39 posts for Pagan Families on my own somewhat haphazard schedule. This was in addition to the 188 posts published on this blog. (And, not theme-of-this-post related, but writing-related, I also wrote 160 posts on my birth blog!) I finished five classes at Ocean Seminary College and am extremely close to completing two more. I decided to finish my M.Div degree and completed my thesis prospectus twice as I settled on my topic. I also refined my dissertation topic for my D.Min degree. I created a priestess work study group on Facebook. And, I created art whenever I got the chance!

My Woodspriestess experiment was a deep personal success for me that created a lot of change, opportunity, reflection, and healing. I didn’t keep an exact count of the days I was “off” because of travel, but I estimate that I visited the woods on 334 days, as I’d committed to do on a daily basis during 2013.

As I read this over, some things are coming up for me—-does this look “smug” and self-congratulatory in some way? Am I too focused on numbers and hours and quantifying something instead of presence? Too much do-ing and not enough be-ing? Cue minimal cognitive dissonance and do-I-post-it-like-this-or-not conundrum…but, the intention with which my list was created was simply as an accountability thing—both in terms of the vows I made to my community as well as to myself. And, so that I can see, collected in one place, what I’ve offered as a priestess this year. I am also reminded of some things I originally planned to do and then didn’t and I also note the obliteration of April on my “service” list (that was the month my grandma was sick). However, this post isn’t about what I didn’t get done, it is accounting of what I did actually offer.

Last year I included a list of plans for the coming year. Part of me would like to just remain open to what comes in 2014, but I do have a couple of relevant goals (many of which are similar to last year’s):

  • Finish thesis project
  • Finish 5-6 more classes at OSC and make good progress on dissertation project
  • Finish Rise Up class curriculum and perhaps do some other classes/workshops
  • Continue to plan and priestess quarterly women’s retreats
  • Family full moon ritual each month
  • Host public Red Tent event
  • Present about Womanrunes at next GGG (also create little booklet)
  • Go to Goddess Weekend in St. Louis
  • Booth with goddess jewelry and pewter figurines at least three events
  • Embark on new Mamapriestess daily experiment (more about this later)
  • Listen to myself, check in with my heart, and rest when I need to.

Happy New Year!

December 2013 015

Categories: community, friends, OSC, priestess, ritual, spirituality, womanspirit, women's circle, woodspriestess, writing | 5 Comments

Deep Talk

“No lesson is learned immediately. There is a phrase used in West Africa, deep talk, which means that anybody will understand it on a certain level. People who are interested in really understanding more take that lesson deeper. As far down as you take the advice you could still go deeper if you lived longer enough.” –Maya Angelou

I really like this concept of deep talk, even though I’m not totally sure I completely get it. I’ll keep living and see what I learn…

I already wrote a short post tonight on my other blog in which I mentioned being amazed sometimes about how the internet “smallens” the world. It is truly incredibly. Last month, I got a message from Nané Jordan, who I quoted in my original thesis proposal. She happened to find my blog post and offered to send me a copy of her own dissertation and thesis on birth/women’s spirituality related themes. The package arrived today from Canada and I am very much looking forward to digging into her work. I’m also sending one of my own pewter goddess pendants back to her and I love that we’ve made this connection, through words and ideas, from across the miles.

As I sat on the rocks this afternoon, looking at her dissertation and thesis, I felt really concerned about my ability to do this. To dig this deep. To so deeply engage with my ideas. I flipped through her work thinking, how did she DO this? I worried that maybe I think too casually—skimming over the surface in internet soundbites and the blank safety of a computer screen, when I should really be wrestling in the mud with my theories. Dibbling, dabbling, working in bits and pieces and fragments and hurried scraps, rushing along. Do I think deeply enough to carry a project of this magnitude and effort through? Then I thought about how just a few minutes ago I stepped the wrong way in the leaves and twisted my ankle a little. The cat bit my hand and I smacked at her in an un-spiritually-evolved, non-zen manner. I thought about how I stepped on an armadillo in these woods and I knew something after all: this is my mud and I’m wrestling in it with my theories…

“We need to approach our state of mind with curiosity and open wonder. That open curious listening to life is joy—no matter what the mood of our life is.” –Charlotte Joko Beck

(*both quotes again from the daily reader, Open Mind, by Diane Mariechild. Love this book!)

Categories: nature, OSC, spirituality, womanspirit, women, woodspriestess, writing | Leave a comment

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

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

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