thealogy

Birth flower…(#30DaysofMay

Goddess is my name for

that which holds the whole

that which weaves the all

that which knows the story of the ages…

via Woodspriestess: Pelvic Cradle | WoodsPriestess.

I’ve taken a lot of pictures of flowers for 30 Days of May already, so today I took the prompt in a slightly different direction. The prompt was to find a yoni-like flower. I won this tapestry in a contest from Orgasmic Birth a couple of years ago and it hangs in my bedroom. Today, while thinking over what to photograph for the prompt, I looked up and saw the tapestry and knew I had my pic!

Categories: #30Daysof May, art, Goddess, thealogy | Leave a comment

Thursday Thealogy: Interconnectivity, Witches, and Fear

il_570xN.575164324_dpckI had two more quotes that I wanted to share from the new Voices of the Sacred Feminine anthology by Karen Tate. They didn’t fit into my review of the book, so they’re getting their own post!

First, about interconnectivity and the Goddess from professor Andrew Gurevich’s essay, “Gaian Interconnectivity and the Future of Public Myth”

…new findings in neuropsychology, evolutionary biology, hemispheric science and consciousness studies are revealing that the ‘Goddess’ can be understood as an ancient, neuro-spiritual ‘technology.’ The personification of the synergistic union of the brain’s creative and critical faculties, she emerges when we put our logic in service of our intuition. This research suggests that the Goddess represents the reunification of the sensibilities; the visceral, interconnected, energetic web that is the source of thought itself. Our wisdom body, manifest.

I used the web as part of my case for the ontological existence of the Goddess in one of my first Feminism and Religion posts:

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…

via Who is She? The Existence of an Ontological Goddess

The second is a no-nonsense quote from Starhawk about the power of the word “witch” in her essay “Earth, Spirit, and Action: Letting the Wildness In”

“The word ‘Witch’ has power. If we don’t examine it and counter its negative associations, if we don’t go through that process with it, then it’s like a stick to beat you with.”

This connects to a recent article about young women and women’s spirituality in which we find this wonderful gem:

“the task of reclaiming the witch is a fundamentally poetic one.” –Sady Doyle

In her article, Doyle also quotes Starhawk:

“I think that part of the power of the word is that it refers to a kind of power that is not legitimized by the authorities,” Starhawk says. “Even though not all witches are women, and a lot of men are witches, it seems to connote women’s power in particular. And that’s very scary in a patriarchal world – the kind of power that’s not just coming from the hierarchical structure, but some kind of inner power. And to use it to serve the ends that women have always stood for, like nurturing and caring for the next generation – that, I think, is a wonderfully dangerous prospect.”

via Season of the witch: why young women are flocking to the ancient craft | World news | The Guardian.

I touched on this subject in two past posts. One about fear in which I quoted Chrysalis Woman:

“Immense can be our Fear surrounding ‘coming out’ with our beliefs, our passions, and our ancient wisdom whether to our families or friendships let alone the community at large. Afraid we can be of ‘speaking out’ on behalf of the Feminine…

via Fear | WoodsPriestess.

And the second based on some work from my Stigmatization of the Witch class at OSC:

…when political and religious tides were turning in the ancient world, those who wanted to dominate and control didn’t go for the leaders of countries, for political heads of states, or for those in powerful jobs, they went for the priestesses. They went for women who held the cultural stories and ritual language of the people. They went for the healers and nurturers and those who took care of others. They destroyed temples and sacred images and books. They almost succeeded in total eradication of the role of priestess from the world and worked really hard to take midwives and wisewomen out completely as well…

via Women’s Voices |WoodsPriestess.

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Categories: feminist thealogy, Goddess, priestess, quotes, spirituality, thealogy, Thursday Thealogy, womanspirit | 1 Comment

Book Review: Voices of the Sacred Feminine

“As I continue writing stories about people who are transforming religion and culture through including the Divine Feminine in sacred rituals, hope stirs within me. As I hear their visions for the future of the Divine Feminine, my vision expands.”

–Jann Aldredge-Clanton, Healing, Freedom, and Transformation through the Sacred Feminine.

“…monotheists have described the divine as ‘Father’ for over 2,000 years. Even if we neutered the God, to be labeled only an ‘It,’ we would still have the masculine echo ringing in our ears for another thousand years. So maybe it would make sense to call her the Goddess for a millennium or so, if only to even things out. Then perhaps we could move on to something more gender inclusive.”

–Tim Ward, Why Would a Man Search for the Goddess

“I don’t believe the Goddess is stupid or suicidal. I believe she evolved human beings for a purpose, to be her healing hands and loving heart. We may be growing into the job.”

–Starhawk, Earth, Spirit, and Action: Letting the Wildness In

91DmgTw498LKaren Tate is masterful at weaving together a diverse tapestry of voices on her weekly radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from her new anthology by the same name, but Voices of the Sacred Feminine, the book, is a gorgeous tapestry as well. I was concerned it would consist only of interview style transcripts, and there are a couple of those (still interesting!), but most of the book consists of unique essays written by past guests on Karen’s show. The end result is essentially a textbook of feminist spirituality. As I read, I could easily imagine using this book as the foundation for a class on contemporary goddess spirituality.

Split into four broad thematic sections and one additional short memorial section, the book contains 41 essays from many leaders in their fields and produces a beautiful chorus of voices lifted together in celebration, information, and support of ecofeminism, the Goddess, and sacred feminine liberation thealogy. Addressing themes of sacred activism, sacred values, ritual and healing, and the Goddess as deity, archetype, and ideal, we hear from influential foremothers like Barbara Walker and Starhawk, scholars like Noam Chomsky and Riane Eisler, feminist thealogians like Charlene Spretnak and Shirley Ranck, practicing priestesses and clergy like Candace Kant, Patrick McCollum, Donna Henes, and Selena Fox. A number of the essays are by men, reminding us that Goddess has a significant place in the lives of many people and is not limited in gender-specific ways.

Karen’s gift in her radio program is in bringing people together to share their voices and her new book draws on this same strength. In a world that can sometimes feel fragmented, violent, apathetic, and distressing, the voices lifted in this book combine to offer an optimistic, hopeful, collaborative prayer for a just, care-based, earth-centered, cooperative way of living together.

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

Day 26: Shield (#30DaysofBrigid)

IMG_2855What does a sleeping nursling have to do with a shield? Well, I’m his. When I read the prompt for today, I was thinking literally, like a sword and shield. However, when I sat down to nurse my baby for his nap, I looked down at his face and realized that I am his shield. Not only is my milk his shield against infection, and so forth, but my actual self is his shield—the lens and medium through which his world is interpreted, felt, and experienced. One of my favorite things about having a baby is how they look right into my eyes to assess a situation. Let’s say a loud noise happens: The baby’s eyes come to mine to see how to gauge, interpret, and react to the situation. If I am happy and calm and smile reassuringly, the baby is no longer alarmed by the noise and resumes kicking and looking around. If I was to express horror and shock at the noise, the baby would cry and be distressed. Not only do I hold him and feed him and get him when he needs me, I show him with my eyes and face what the world is like—safe or scary, comforting or isolating. While he will go on to forget what this intense mother-baby symbiosis feels like, it will still be there at some level, forming his basis for understanding the world around him. And, I will never forget what it is was like to have his eyes meet mine in this way. His shield.

The journal prompt was about experiencing the protection and companionship of Brigid. While I do not usually encounter Brigid in a literal way, one day last year when I was in the woods, I did a recording that felt too personal to share here. In it, I noted that Brigid is not a goddess that you meet while meditating in the forest, she is in the sweat on your face and the heat of metal. She is the goddess who says, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

This morning though, I awoke from a dream about Brigid in which she said, “don’t worry about me, nurse the baby.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but reading the lesson for today, I thought of a past dream I’d blogged about:

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Categories: #30daysofBrigid, Goddess, parenting, sacred pause, thealogy | 1 Comment

Book Review: Naming the Goddess

namingthegoddess

“On any spiritual path, and most especially on one that is simultaneously a path of magical practice, our real progress and growth is measurable largely in the capacity to pass the challenges that are set before us. The easy parts of the journey are not the most important.”

–Philip Kane (in his essay on Laverna, Naming the Goddess, p. 232)

Naming the Goddess, published by Moon Books, is a collaborative work bringing together essays written by over eighty scholars and practitioners of Goddess Spirituality, including contributions from Selena Fox, Kathy Jones, Caroline Wise and Rachel Patterson. A unique aspect of this book is that it is a two-part project with the first part of the book containing a series of contemplative and scholarly essays and the second part serving as a “gazetteer” of different goddesses, making it useful both as a reference book and as well as one that encourages reflective spiritual thought.

The perspectives and thealogies explored in the first section are pleasantly diverse and engaging. I do wish this section was longer, because I felt like it was still getting going when the focus then shifted to the second, larger section of the book.

I confess I didn’t expect to particularly enjoy the gazetteer portion because I have a variety of goddess “dictionary” type books already and I expected much of the second part of the book to be a repeat of information I already have. However, the approach in Naming the Goddess was decidedly different. First, because many of the seventy goddesses included were uncommon deities with whom I was not familiar. Second, because the entries were written with a personal flair, often by women or men who directly work with the goddesses profiled, rather than solely being a generic overview of the mythology or cultural lore associated with the goddess. Having so many voices represented in one book also means that I found a number of other books to add to my wish list as well as diverse authors and bloggers to follow online!

Another enjoyable element of this volume of essays was the “bite-sized” nature of each piece. Most of the essays are 2-5 pages long, meaning the book can readily be digested in a stop-and-start manner that is very compatible with a busy life that includes four small children!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

November 2014 136

Categories: books, feminist thealogy, Goddess, readings, resources, reviews, thealogy | 1 Comment

Dance in a circle of women…

Dance in a circle of women
Make a web of life
Hold me as I spiral and spin
Make a web of my life…

Marie Summerwood

Apparently, it takes me a complete year to finish “processing” my annual Gaea Goddess Gathering experience and finally writing a blog post about it! At the moment, I’m embroiled in packing and preparations to go to this year’s event beginning later in this week and don’t really have time for in-depth posts…but, here I am. I’m traveling this year with two friends and meeting my mom, sister-in-law, and another friend there (as well as friends made at past events too). One of the things I realized last year was how much I appreciated the sense of connection and community with a larger circle of women than just our own small local group.

One of the songs we sang, danced, and drummed to around the fire at GGG in 2013 was Dance in a Circle of Women. I’ve been humming to myself as I pack for this year’s event. I created the pewter pendant design shown above based on the song and also this one, which we’ve had trouble casting properly and thus only a very small quantity exist (traveling with me, not available online yet!):

photo(23)

At this year’s festival, I am vending as well as giving a workshop on Womanrunes. I’m also going to be 8 months pregnant, but I won’t be bringing any kids with me this year (other than the one inside!), which hopefully means my attention will be less fragmented than in years past. I’m a little worried that the twin demands of my merchant booth and wanting to go to the various good happenings will create a similar sense of fragmentation though.

One of the things I enjoy about the GGG is collecting resources to bring home to my own community. I jotted down lyrics to these songs from the 2013 festival and have used some of them locally:

Make sacred space
Remember who you are

–Shawna Carol

(we sang this one during the main ritual on Saturday night and it was lovely in the darkness, surrounded by candles and be-robed women!)

Oh woman
Oh sister
She is me

Holding me
That I may hold you

Forever goddess

(we sang this one in the rain during the dedication of the 2013 temple to Brigid)

I am alive
I am beautiful
I am creative
I am…
I can do anything
I put my heart and mind into.

(this one is a raucous and delightful experience when shouted out in call-and-response format by the fireside. I’ve used it several times since experiencing it at GGG with Priestess Kim.)

So, as I described in a past post, the morning after our 2013 return, I’d typed up a list of fabulous insights gleaned from the experience and my ipad “notes” feature experienced a bizarre glitch never experienced before or since and deleted my entire list. I was able to remember some of them and re-type them, but after that moment they never made it into another post of their own:

…After my unbinding ritual, I walked slowly back to the house feeling light and contemplative. Inside, before anyone else woke up, I typed up all of my reflections and insights from this year’s [2013] GGG. I felt integrated, settled, whole, and at peace. I went to do laundry and when I was in the room, I thought of something else to include in my list which was going to be a later blog post. I returned to my screen where the insightful note had been waiting for me and it was gone. Never to be recovered. I could NOT believe it. All my insights! All my wisdom! Gone! I have to start over…But, then I really just had to laugh and cry a little, because here was another insight, another lesson, another hiccup in my story. And, not everything has to be a blog post after all….

via Be Still | WoodsPriestess.

Since it is time for 2014’s event already, I decided to just put up my unfinished, unformatted, incomplete, re-created list from last year and here it is…

  • I find it is hard for me to have “spiritual experiences” in a group, vs. alone. I do not necessarily know how to create that atmosphere for others. I know how to create a “retreat” atmosphere, but not really a “spiritual experience” atmosphere.
  • I was way too attached to past experience and therefore had difficult appreciating the experience in front of me.
  • I had to stare right in the face that I’d come primarily to collect, rather than share. I found myself feeling disappointed by certain elements on multiple occasions and realized that part of it was my own fault for wanting to collect rather than share.
  • I had a disquieting sensation of the women there not knowing who I am—and, I didn’t show them. I felt like I kept what I am capable of and good at hidden. I realized I feel taken for granted a little in own community. I came wanting to “receive” again, but could have/should have given. I unbound my 2012 medicine bundle when I got home and I absolutely should have done so before (literally and metaphorically). Released ties that bind…
  • Context matters and brings compassion
  • Unlike the preceding year, I had several experiences in which I felt encouraged to be less—to dim my shine…

[from 2013 post on my other blog]

…When I attended the GGG this year, one of the realizations I came home with is that sometimes I feel like people are trying to get me to be less (more about this some other time). And, I remembered a session I had with a healer who did a somatic repatterning process with me—one of the beliefs she tested on me was, “I am not enough.” It got a marginal response, but then she tested, “I am TOO MUCH.” And, THAT is the one that tested as true. I wonder how much about myself that I try to change or that I struggle with actually comes from the fear of being, too much. Too intense. Too active. Too talkative. Too much thinking, too much writing, too many ideas, too many projects, too much waving of my hands and pacing when I talk. Too, too, too, too much.

via Blogging, Busyness, and Life: Part 1 | Talk Birth.

Previously quoted here: via The Warrior-Priestess | WoodsPriestess.

  • As referenced above, not everything a story or blog post.
  • Also as referenced earlier, my attention felt very split by having my toddler daughter with me. I very much look forward to the experience of going alone this year, while I also look forward to eventually taking her with me again when she is a little bit older.
  • I still lack confidence/standing in personal power in a variety of settings/contexts.
  • The experiences that were the most potent were those unanticipated or planned for, like a misty morning walk around the lake with my sister-in-law, or watching the full moon rise over the ritual circle.
  • It is possible to forge a connection with the land somewhere other than where I live.
  • I like new experiences—fresh surprises. Unexpected experiences hold most power. What I was looking forward to/expecting was a letdown, what I did not have preconceived notions about was rewarding.
  • I very much appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to spend quality time with my sister-in-law and before this experience had never spent time with her one on one without my brother or my mom also around.
  • Another unlooked for and unexpected experience was when I was volunteering as as temple priestess in Brigid’s temple and the main altar caught fire. I beat the flaming vines and tablecloth and candles out with my sandal while wearing my toddler daughter in a baby carrier asleep on my chest. It was a fiery initiation into service to Brigid and I think was actually the beginning “spark” of our business dedicated to her (I heard in the woods during a woodspriestess experience last year that Brigid does not need/want me as a priestess [that service is to Gaia], but she wants us as “dedicants.”)
  • Being a merchant was really fun. It was also a significant expenditure of energy.
  • I had several experiences and conversations that told me I might be overlooking the capacities of those around me.
  • I noticed that while being an excellent bonding and sisterhood experience there might also be an inhibiting factor to be present with existing friends and relatives (both in the sense of me possibly inhibiting them and them me), because we have such history and past, established means of interacting with each other/what we expect from each other, etc., so perhaps we were embarrassed to “let it all hang out” (emotionally and literally!), because we have an existing friendship rather than a festival only relationship/friendship. However, at the same time, it was also an opportunity to deepen, grow, and know each other better and I’d much rather have that than a once-a-year-festival-based friendship, that is likely less whole and authentic, though also perhaps less complicated too.

I also made a lot of observations about the role of non-facilitating members during rituals as well, previously explored in part in this past post:

…I witnessed how easily a ritual can lose power when the co-circlers do not take the ritual seriously. It is easy and simplistic to point to the Priestess as the one who “failed” to hold the energy of the circle, but the responsibility for the circle belongs to all its members. Ruth Barrett in Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries explains the responsibilities of circle participants as such: “Ritual Priestessing is not for the faint of heart. If you fear chaos, the unexpected, or the unforeseen, choose another vocation. A ritual facilitator regularly finds herself in challenging situations that are not at all what she originally planned. In order to facilitate others, you first need to know how to be a good participant. I don’t believe that it is possible for a woman to priestess/facilitate a ritual effectively until she first knows how to truly participate in one…

I would also add “avoid heckling.” What does this mean? In my observations at the GGG, I noticed a trend for circle participants to call out different comments in a joking way, either across the circle or to the woman facilitating the ceremony. While it seemed to be done in a light-hearted way and perhaps was the local custom of this group of women, the effect on the group as a whole was striking. The “heckling”—at least to me—led to palpable energy “leaks” in the ritual container and resulted in a commensurate drop in the power and focus of the circle.

via Co-Circling & The Priestess Path | WoodsPriestess.

Continuing my jotted notes:

  • No heckling
  • The middle of ritual matters—a successful ritual has to have a working phase
  • It is easy to be critical and when you’re just watching.
  • Low energy? How do we contribute to that? Group members hold powerful responsibility too!
  • Leadership matters and is big responsibility and sacred duty.
  • Letting go of self-pressure, perhaps in the name of “self-care,” can have a definite negative impact on others (this is more a judgement by me of others, though I want to take heed of what I noticed so I don’t do the same thing to other people—I noticed that phrases like, “cut yourself slack” or “be flexible” or “go with the flow,” or, “don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” can be used as excuses for doing a bad job, letting other people down, and failing, basically).

And, some pictures (captions will show if you click to enlarge):

Related past posts:

Gaea Goddess Gathering: Listen to the wise woman….

I make the effort

The Warrior-Priestess

Co-Circling & The Priestess Path

Be Still

Moonpriestess

Woodspriestess: Brigid

 

 

Categories: community, friends, GGG, Goddess, night, priestess, retreat, reviews, ritual, self-care, spirituality, thealogy, womanspirit, women, women's circle | 3 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

Cave (prayer and meditation)

“Only in the deepest silence of night

the stars smile and whisper among themselves.”

–Rabindranath Tagore (quoted in Dear Heart, Come Home page 52)

20140711-160329.jpg

Nearly full-moon over model Stonehenge last night.

I know it is summertime and that we’ve just passed the summer solstice. It is also the full moon—bright, full of promise, energy, and enthusiasm. The time for descent, and retreat, and rest, and cocooning is not yet upon us. Regardless, I remain in the mood to wrap up, wind down, finish up. I’m having a new baby in October and I feel a powerful, powerful call to finish all kinds of things so I can fully greet him. One of my projects is evaluating and reducing my book collection. As I do so, I find odds and ends I’d marked to write about or remember. Rather than storing the whole book, it makes sense to me to save the one or two pages I’d marked instead. So, despite the incongruency with the time of year, I’d like to share this prayer and meditation exercise I saved from the book Dear Heart, Come Home: The Path of Midlife Spirituality by Joyce Rupp (now up for grabs in my giveaway box if anyone local wants it for free!). I think it would be a perfect reading and brief meditation to use during a late fall or winter ceremony…

A Prayer for the Cave Time

Guardian of my soul, thank you,

for guiding me in the dark places,

for reaching me through the people of my life,

for drawing near to love me when I feel unlovable,

for teaching me how to tend my wounds,

for guarding me with words of truth

and moments of empowerment,

for allowing my pain and struggle

so that I can come to greater wholeness.

Guardian of my soul,

you are my Coach in the Cave,

my Voice in the Fog

my Midwife of Wisdom.

I place my trust in you

as I give myself to the process

of learning from my darkness.

–Joyce Rupp (page 53, Dear Heart, Come Home)

Because I’m feeling on the lazy side, I did not transcribe the meditation, I took a picture of the page instead (page 183).

cave meditation

There are some associated journaling and discussion questions about the cave of darkness in your own life as well (slightly modified/edited from page 51-52):

  1. Have you experienced a significant time of darkness? What was it like for you?
  2. What do you most resist about the cave of darkness?
  3. Do you care for yourself when you are in darkness? (If so, how?)
  4. What gives you the courage to go on?
  5. How has darkness been a teacher for you?

For more about endarkenment see my previous essay here:

…In fact, what if the Goddess Herself is found in the dark? Judith Laura writing about dark matter in the cosmos writes, “might we call this ‘unseen force’ Goddess? Dark matter could be identified with the womb of the Mother, continually gestating particles, suns, galaxies, which flow from her in a continual stream…Dark matter might also be represented as the Crone aspect of the Goddess—dark and powerful…”

via Endarkenment

Remember to listen to the night wind woman and her talkative silence: June 2014 017

Listen to what is walking here
tiptoeing through your dreams
knocking at the door of your unconscious mind
whispering from shadows
calling from the full moon
twinkling in the stars
carried by the night wind woman
rising at sunset
peeking out
in tentative
yet persistent purpose.

Listen to the call
trust the talkative silence…

via Womanrunes: The Crescent Moon | WoodsPriestess.

 

Categories: books, endarkenment, GGG, nature, night, prayers, readings, resources, retreat, ritual, seasons, spirituality, thealogy, theapoetics, womanspirit | Leave a comment

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

Book Review: Goddess Calling

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

–Karen Tate, Goddess Calling

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

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

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

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

–Karen Tate (Goddess Calling, p. 109)

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

Related posts:

Top Thirteen Most Influential People in Goddess Spirituality

She did what she could….

Do Women’s Circles Actually Matter?

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

 

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

International Women’s Day: Re-storying the world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a quote from iconic author and physician Christiane Northrup, she addresses the subjugation of female power through body control: “…if you want to know where a woman’s true power lies, look to those primal experiences we’ve been taught to fear…the very same experiences the culture has taught us to distance ourselves from as much as possible, often by medicalizing them so that we are barely conscious of them anymore. Labor and birth rank right up there as experiences that put women in touch with their feminine power…” And, from Glenys Livingstone: “It is not female biology that has betrayed the female…it is the stories and myths we have come to believe about ourselves.” We also find a connection in Carol Christ’s explanation that: Women’s stories have not been told. And without stories there is no articulation of experience. Without stories a woman is lost when she comes to make the important decisions of her life. She does not learn to value her struggles, to celebrate her strengths, to comprehend her pain. Without stories she cannot understand herself. Without stories she is alienated from those deeper experiences of self and world that have been called spiritual or religious. She is closed in silence. The expression of women’s spiritual quest is integrally related to the telling of women’s stories. If women’s stories are not told, the depth of women’s souls will not be known” (p. 341. Emphasis mine).

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.” ― Joseph Campbell

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

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

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

“…If all the women of the world February 2014 039 recorded their dreams for a single week and laid them all end to end, we would recover the last million years of women’s hymns and chants and dances, all of women’s art and stories, and medicines, all of women’s lost histories… ~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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

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

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

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

–Robin Deen Carnes & Sally Craig in Sacred Circles

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

Goddess Body, World Body

This post is reprinted from my column at the SageWoman blogs.

“Here is your sacrament
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)

All religion is about the mystery of creation. If the mystery of birth is the origin of religion, it is women that we must look for the phenomenon that first made her aware of the unseen power…Women’s awe at her capacity to create life is the basis of mystery. Earliest religious images show pregnancy, rather than birth and nurturing, as the numinous or magical state” (Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, p. 71)

I am working on a thesis project about birth as a spiritual experience. As I collect my resources, the quotes above keep running through my head. Birth as the original sacrament. Breastfeeding as the original communion. Blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, women transmute blood into breath, into being, into life for others.

Abrahamic theology in its root mythology, sets up the male body as “normal” as well neatly includes the notion that there is a divine hierarchy in which men are above women in value, role, and power. It also twists reality, by asserting that women come from men’s bodies, rather than the other way around. This inversion didn’t begin with Christianity, it has roots in more ancient mythology as well. Connected to the conversion of women’s natural creative, divine-like powers of the womb into the originators of sin and corruption, we readily see the deliberate inversion of the womb of the Goddess into the head of the father in the gulping down of Metis by Zeus and the subsequent birth of Athena from his head. Patriarchal creation myths rely heavily on biologically non-normative masculine creation imagery. I really appreciated the brief note from Sjoo in The Great Cosmic Mother that, “In later Hindu mysticism the egg is identified as male generative energy. Whenever you come upon something like this, stop and ponder. If it is absurdly inorganic—male gods ‘brooding on the waters’ or ‘laying eggs’—then you know you are in the presence of an original Goddess cosmology stolen and displaced by later patriarchal scribes” (p. 56).

Modern-day diet culture may actually be as potent an agent of female body control and manipulation as ancient church doctrine. And, where there are wounded, denied, oppressed, and suppressed female bodies, there is an exploited world body as well. Women who retain their “wild natures” see value in “wild nature,” rather than seeing nature as something to be dominated, exploited and controlled. Diet culture encourages this attitude of domination of bodies and restraining of physical, “earthy” impulses and needs—no wonder we see this same basic attitude of domination and control carried out in the macrocosm as well. Womb ecology reflects world ecology, world ecology reflects womb ecology…

According to Melissa Raphael in her book Thealogy and Embodiment, “Spiritual feminism consecrates flesh as something more than passive ‘fertility.’ The word ‘fertility’ cannot evoke the patriarchally uncontrollable generativity and proliferation of flesh. Spiritual feminism celebrates the bounty of flesh in the same moment that it celebrates the earth and the foods the earth produces in generous abundance” (p. 95).

Raphael also observes that, “where a woman’s embodiment is a manifestation of the Goddess that has a very different meaning than if that divinity were imaged as male…The Goddess, the earth, the female body are unified and charged with sacral powers for the transmutation of matter, for shape-shifting, and for the production of cosmogonic effluvia: blood, milk and water. This spiritual physiology of women is original but it is also subversive of and oppositional to its Western inheritance” (p. 76-77).

Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor explain that, “Childbirth is a powerful drama and ritual” (p. 47). Ancient herstory is rooted in the generative powers of the female body. “…the facts of women’s experience of life are primordial. It is woman who goes through the sacred transformations in our own body and psyche—the mystery-changes of menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and the production of milk…Women’s mysteries are blood-transformation mysteries: the experience of female bodily transformations of matter. Matter: the mud: the Mother. She transforms herself.” (Sjoo & Mor, p. 50-51)

In this recent poem, composed spontaneously while standing in the woods, I am interested to see how I made the world-body connection somewhat unconsciously in this “theapoetical” experience…

Sept 2013 021

Observation of the day yesterday: bumblebees on gigantically tall thistles behind the deck.

I stand
on the body of the Goddess
I sit on her bones
I breathe
her breath
Spirit of Life
moving through me
Her voice
sings in my blood
stars shine in my veins
my heartbeat
a drum
tuned to the core
of the planet
my womb
pulled by the tide
my rhythms
guided

Sept 2013 004

Delicate plant growing determinedly from strong rock.

by a distant moon
my cells springing
from hers
my heartsong
strummed
by ancient fingers
my passion
lit by wisdom
from within and without
my hope
kindled
each day
with my breath, blood, and pulse
I pray
I stand
on the body of the Goddess
I sit on her bones
I breathe
the breath of her lungs
I am one of her own…

Sept 2013 033

Bee and butterfly hanging out together.

One of the most profound elements of Goddess spirituality is its affirmation of and respect for women’s bodies and reproductive processes. In this affirmation, we can find a degree of overlap between feminist spirituality and process philosophy. As Carol Christ explains, “Process philosophy shares with feminist theology and thealogy a common interest in restoring the body and the world body, disparaged and denied in classical theism. What process philosophy has frequently failed to recognize is that restoring the body and the world body has enormous consequences for women. A feminist process paradigm will make feminist insight an integral part of process thinking. A feminist process paradigm will also ensure that process philosophers understand the body, the world body, and the divine body in physical terms and not simply as metaphysical concepts” (She Who Changes, p. 199). Christ also asks a profoundly meaningful question, “Is the source of the theological mistakes of classical theism a rejection of embodied life that begins with rejection of the female body? In other words, are the six theological mistakes embedded in a way of thinking that is inherently anti-female?” (200). She suggests that the answer is yes, that these theological mistakes are intimately tied up, “in denial of the changing body and the changing world, which is rooted in a way of thinking that is inherently anti-female” (She Who Changes, p. 200).

While, like thealogy, process thinking is grounded in experience, the emphasis on philosophical thinking can contribute to a lack of full engagement with the real world. In thealogy many quickly realize that it is a spirituality better lived than analyzed: “Don’t just read about the Goddess, LOVE HER, listen to Her, reflect Her as the Earth and Moon reflect the Sun.  Don’t just study Nature, put your hands in the dirt, your feet on the forest trail, turn your face to the wind and breathe Nature in and out of your lungs.  Feel the connection.  No books required.” (Esra Free, Wicca 404: Advanced Goddess Thealogy, 2007)

Sept 2013 018

Accidentally got this “take off” picture and I love it because of the pollen-laden legs!

Categories: Goddess, nature, poems, spirituality, thealogy, theapoetics, thesis, woodspriestess | 3 Comments

Thesis Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Thank you!

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

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

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

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

This post is crossposted at Talk Birth

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

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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