thealogy

Calling the Circle: Context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday Thealogy: Rituals–to read, or not to read…

November 2012 151

Altar during fall retreat

This Friday is our quarterly women’s retreat and, because we have multiple reasons to be coming together, it is composed of several interlocking rituals. As I prepare the ceremony outline and choose the readings and structure, two perspectives are on my mind. The first, from Ruth Barrett in her classic Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries:

When you are speaking an invocation in a group ritual, remember that you are the conduit between the elemental energies and the will of the women in the ritual circle. You will need to project your voice, speaking out so that everyone present can hear and feel the invocation. This is particularly critical if you are outside, where sound can easily be lost. Personal ritual invocations need not be spoken with such projection, but it is still best to speak them aloud. Speaking aloud gives the elemental forces within you an opportunity to come fully forward. It is a form of self-witnessing. How and what you hear within ritual space may be different than how and what you hear in a state of ordinary consciousness. Try invocation both ways, aloud and silent, to hear, see, and feel the differences for yourself. As you become more sensitive to ritual energy, you will feel the energy in the room shift or drop, depending on what is happening at the time. In some Wiccan traditions, invocations are passed out and read from a printed page. This can have a profound and unpleasant effect on the energy of the ritual, and the invocations can sound and feel flat. Whether you are preoccupied with memorizing exact words or speaking them from a page, there are energetic consequences. If you rely on the left, linear side of your brain completely for delivering your invocation, there won’t be much change in the energy of the ritual space. However, when you be-speak your invocation and you truly embody the essence of the Goddess and the elements, the energy builds rather than drops.

Ruth Barrett. Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries: Intuitive Ritual Creation (Kindle Locations 2204-2212). Kindle Edition.

I do tend to pass out readings on a printing page, just as she describes and for a while I’ve felt kind of bad about that—like if I was “better” at this, I’d remember everything, OR be able to spontaneous compose fabulous perfection on the spot. However, in the course of my Ritual and Liturgy class at OSC, I read this section in one of our lessons:

“While it is fine for some rituals to provide space for participants to speak from their hearts, for the most part there should be little extemporaneous speaking. Select poems or write words that mean exactly what you wish to convey, and practice delivering them for the best possible effect.”

Reading this made SUCH a difference to me.  Like I said, I’ve felt bad about “needing” written material to read from during rituals. I kept thinking that as I “evolve” as a priestess I will “grow up” and not need pre-selected words and readings, but will be able to spontaneously speak and guide the ritual. As I read the above quote, I realized that my process of carefully choosing and selecting opening and closing readings for my rituals as well as poems and quotes during the circles is actually legitimate and possibly very helpful.

I do appreciate that over-reading can contribute to a lack of life in the ritual and I’m gradually finding a good balance there. I know that in my personal experience of them, our women’s rituals have improved in the feeling like they are working as we’ve continued to refine our approach and choose our words and activities. We moved away from including a time for general talking and discussion and into more structure, which helps “hold” the energy and momentum of ritual, rather than letting it leak out in the form of side conversations or long personal stories. (Conversation.discussion then happens after we end the ritual and have potluck snacks and make a project together.) In another book I just finished reading, Jane Meredith explains the layers of ritual:

November 2012 188

Outdoors during overnight sagewoman ceremony.

Firstly there’s the outer layer; which is composed of the actions you take. What matters here is what you actually, physically do. It might include making altars, offerings or dedications; dancing or going out into nature. It might include cleansing in the form of a ritual bath, a fast or a time of meditation and prayer. It is the form of the ritual and functions as a container for the other aspects of ritual. When this outer layer exists on its own, it is sometimes called an empty ritual. Then there’s a second layer. This consists of what is happening within you, and it is encouraged and supported by what’s happening in the outer layer. Being willing, being true, carrying out not just the actions but the intent of your ritual or journey make up this second layer. You may find it helpful to whisper a mantra under your breath, to focus on an image or to chant or drum for a while to take you further inwards. When these first two layers are in concert, the ritual will feel satisfying and alive. There is yet a further layer. This is the mystical one, and may be different every time. It is the moment when the ritual takes off, when you slip across from one realm into another, into the sacred; into the realm of the Dark Goddess herself. In this layer you will feel the divine all around you and within you, and you will sense yourself as being in an altered, perhaps luminous space. This does not happen every time you do a ritual, no matter how well you are managing the other two layers. It is enough to work with the first two layers and invite this third one to manifest. A ritual will still be meaningful without entering the third layer; though it may be more memorable and feel more powerful when you do slip across the boundary into this realm.

Meredith, Jane (2012-05-25). Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul (pp. 42-43). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.

People have sometimes been “scarred” by past experiences with hollow, meaningless, and rote rituals they may associate with religion and have trouble understanding that a good ritual is evocative of something very different from that experienced in mainstream religion. As I explained in a previous post:

Notice that what is NOT included is any mention of a specific religion, deity, or “should do” list of what color of candle to include! I’ve observed that many people are starved for ritual, but they may so too be deeply scarred from rituals of their pasts. I come from a family history of “non-religious” people and I feel like I seem to have less baggage about ritual and ceremony than other people do. An example from the recent planning for a mother blessing ceremony: we were talking about one of the blessingway songs that we customarily sing–Call Down Blessing–we weren’t sure if we should include it for fear that it would seem too “spiritual” or metaphysical for the honoree (i.e. blessings from where?!) and I remembered another friend asking during a body blessing ritual we did at a women’s retreat, “but WHO’s doing the blessing?” As someone who does not come a religious framework in which blessings are traditionally bestowed from outside sources–i.e. a priest/priestess or an Abrahamic God–the answer felt simple, well, WE are. We’re blessing each other. When we “call down a blessing” we’re invoking the connection of the women around us, the women of all past times and places, and of the beautiful world that surrounds us. We might each personally add something more to that calling down, but at the root, to me, it is an affirmation of connection to the rhythms and cycles of relationship, time, and place. Blessings come from within and around us all the time, there’s nothing supernatural about it.

I also think, though I could be wrong, that it is possible to plan and facilitate women’s rituals that speak to the “womanspirit” in all of us and do not require a specifically shared spiritual framework or belief system in order to gain something special from the connection with other women.

via Blessingways and the role of ritual | Theapoetics.

February 2013 192

Rise Up and Call Her Name class in February.

Barrett explores this concept as well:

Sadly, many women describe their previous experience of religious ritual as meaningless. This response is usually derived from experiences of religious traditions that are male-focused, with little to no attention paid to the realities of women’s lives and experiences. When women empower themselves to ritualize passages that they deem as significant and to which they can ascribe their own meaning, like a snake they shed their old skins and emerge into a new reality, a new conscious awareness. The mundane world of the previous moment becomes transformed and they are brought closer to greater understanding of the sacred. Women who create and participate in their own life-cycle rituals are saying that their lives are important, that their stories matter, and that every human life is a gift to present and future generations.

Ruth Barrett. Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries: Intuitive Ritual Creation (Kindle Locations 308-312). Kindle Edition.

As I’ve also written before, in keeping with Carol Christ’s work, for me, thealogy absolutely does begin in experience. I do not think that everyone needs to share my personal experience that the Goddess path and the Pagan path are different ones and I do not think the two paths need necessarily diverge to different ends, just that they do exist separately (and, yes, there are scores of different pagan paths as well). It is important to my own mind and experience that a Wiccan path to Goddess is not the only path and I believe that an overemphasis on the Wiccan path can cause some women to turn away from explorations of feminist spirituality.

After I trained as a Cakes for the Queen of Heaven facilitator in 2007, I discovered something every powerful in the resources of the Unitarian Universalist Women and Religion organization. At the conclusion of the training, I had profound sense of THIS is what else there is for me! It was a pivotal moment. I started to realize that my strong draw towards Goddess actually had a place and a home under the UU “umbrella” and that I didn’t have to self-identify as pagan or Wiccan in order to explore a relationship with Goddess. Before, I felt like it was “Wicca or nothing” and Wicca was not a personal match for me for a variety of reasons. Cynthia Eller notes that feminists coming to neopaganism, “often had little patience for the measured pageantry and role-playing that characterized some neopagan rituals…” (page 38, emphasis mine) and this was true from my own experiences too. My brief encounters with Wicca felt “hokey” and inauthentic, my experiences with Goddess felt deeply meaningful and true in my bones. It took a long time for me to realize that it was both acceptable and possible for there to be multiple paths to Goddess. On a related side note, in an article from Brain, Child magazine, the author describes her overall experience at a Beltane ritual and says that she, “can’t deny a sense of detachment as well; the theatrical component makes me feel like I’ve been involved in some kind of interactive Medieval play rather than a genuine spiritual experience. Maybe group ritual isn’t for me.” This immediately made me think of a great series of posts by the Allergic Pagan on the subject of pagan embarrassment. Some of these embarrassing elements are part of why I’ve never embraced the pagan label and instead moved towards Goddess spirituality instead [a move for which I have UU’s to thank]. In my own experience, “measured pageantry” is the best description I’ve read of why I fail to click with it, otherwise known in my personal vernacular as: hokeylicious.

So, to read or not to read during ritual, that is the question. What do you think?

November 2012 187

Fall retreat space

November 2012 146

Categories: OSC, priestess, retreat, ritual, spirituality, thealogy, Thursday Thealogy, womanspirit, women, women's circle | 4 Comments

Thursday Thealogy: Stories

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

If all the woman of the world
recorded their dreams for a single week
and laid them all end to end,
we would recover
the last million years
of women’s hymns and chants
and dances,
all of women’s art and stories,
and medicines,
all of women’s lost histories.

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

~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Via Deanne L’am.

In a quote from iconic author and physician Christiane Northrup, she addresses the subjugation of female power through body control: “…if you want to know where a woman’s true power lies, look to those primal experiences we’ve been taught to fear…the very same experiences the culture has taught us to distance ourselves from as much as possible, often by medicalizing them so that we are barely conscious of them anymore. Labor and birth rank right up there as experiences that put women in touch with their feminine power…” And, from Glenys Livingstone: “It is not female biology that has betrayed the female…it is the stories and myths we have come to believe about ourselves.”

I’m attracted to themes of “story power” and also identify with Carol Christ’s explanation that:

Women’s stories have not been told. And without stories there is no articulation of experience. Without stories a woman is lost when she comes to make the important decisions of her life. She does not learn to value her struggles, to celebrate her strengths, to comprehend her pain. Without stories she cannot understand herself. Without stories she is alienated from those deeper experiences of self and world that have been called spiritual or religious. She is closed in silence. The expression of women’s spiritual quest is integrally related to the telling of women’s stories. If women’s stories are not told, the depth of women’s souls will not be known” (p. 341. Emphasis mine).

Speaking of Carol Christ, I also identified with this quote from a recent post at Feminism and Religion:

I found I could not repeat the words nor stand in silence when “God, the Father, Lord, and King” was celebrated in communal worship. On the one hand my body revolted and I felt like I wanted to throw up. On the other hand, my mind told me that even if I could control the reactions of my body, the continued repetition of these symbols by others was influencing their individual actions and the actions of the culture they were legitimating through them—and these actions were hurting others. I have sometimes said that I might have been able to stay Christian if the only thing that was at stake had been the maleness of God. I do not know whether this is true, because I was never faced with this simple dilemma.

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

While I don’t feel like I want to throw up, I do struggle with the assumption of maleness inherent in many communal activities. I found myself balking during the graduation ceremony at the college for which I teach last month when the invocation was read and the closing benediction was offered. There was a powerful symbol system in place and assumed to apply to the entire room and it was not one I felt comfortable with. Likewise at our recently completed craft workshop. It is held at a facility with a church affiliation and the tradition is to sing a grace together before every meal. They all reference “Lord” and “God,” and are assumed to be comfortable for all in attendance. I find myself stumbling over or balking at participating in that symbol system. While I understand that Goddess prayers would cause similar stumbling–or out-and-out rejection of the workshop all together!–I would dearly love to find some acceptable UU-“generic”-style, interfaith friendly prayers and blessings to gradually replace these camp “classics.” I do have books with things like this in them, but they’re not those catchy sort of “sing for your supper” camp blessing songs. I did sell a surprising number of Goddess rings at the workshop, so maybe there would be less balking than I fear!

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

In a convenient twist, just this week a package arrived in the mail containing the book WomanPrayer, WomanSong: Resources for Ritual. (A birthday gift from my aunt, I accidentally opened it early—my birthday is tomorrow—thinking it was something I’d ordered for myself.)womanprayer This book is a compilation of songs, verses, rituals, and poems with a female-God at the center. The Bible seems to be primary source of inspiration, though revisioned using feminine pronouns and the book is clearly strongly identified with Abrahamic traditions. God = Her throughout the text and there are some powerful words to this effect:

The God of history,
the God of the Bible
the One who carries us in Her arms
after carrying us in Her womb,
breastfeeds us,
nurtures us,
teaches us how to walk,
teaches us how to soar upward
just at the eagle teaches its young
to stretch their wings and fly,
makes fruitful,
brings to birth,
clothes the lilies of the field,
clothes Eve and Adam with garments newmade,
clothes you and me
with skin and flesh
and a whole new level of meaning
with the putting on of Christ.

The God of tradition,
the canonical God,
is One who cars about people,
who values personal relationships
who walks with,
talks with,
listens to
demanding, complaining friends,
is willing to negotiate,
is patient
and merciful,
provides shelter
and a homeland,
security
and roots.

The God of scripture,
the living God,
is One who feeds the hungry,
heals the brokenhearted,
binds up all their wounds
comforts as a mother comforts,
gathers Her brood protectively
to Her safe and sheltering wing.
God-with-us
is the Word-made-flesh,
steadfast love,
mother-love,
love incarnate,
the love one has
for a child in the womb,
on whom we depend,
like a child in the womb,
in whom we live
and move
and have our being,
the Holy
and wholly Other.
So why shouldn’t we
as the Spirit moves
sometimes call God
Mother?

While appealing in some respects, I find I actually still shy away from this type of language and vision, as well. The conception of God-Mother throughout this book feels very much like a transcendent, omnipotent, and controlling Deity. Supplication, beseeching, and “wise and powerful” accolades permeate the prayers and readings. A praise and worship orientation is very different from the relational, embodied, partnership model I feel at the core of my own thealogical understanding of Divinity. Additionally, sin and forgiveness (from some kind of Divine source) is not a part of my thealogical understanding of the web of life at all and references to such feels very foreign and odd, regardless of whether female pronouns are used to do so.

Rush writing in Eller’s Living in the Lap of the Goddess writes, “the rituals being created today by various women are part of the renaissance of women’s spirituality, that is, of the ultimate holiness or life-sacredness of women and the female creative process. Within a world which for centuries has tried to brand women as ‘unclean,’ as ‘devils,’ or as ‘immoral corruptor of man,’ this healing process is a vital one.” She also states, and I deeply agree, that “reforming patriarchal religions…is not possible, just as reforming capitalism is not possible. The very institutions are contradictory to feminism. Women need to once again create new theory and practices for ourselves in order to reunite the spiritual element with the social-political” (p. 384). Much of WomanPrayer, WomenSong feels like an effort to reform a patriarchal tradition. I’ve long-bonded with the phrase from the UU Women and Religion Committee that, we don’t want a larger piece of the pie, it is still a patriarchal pie, we want to change the recipe

Some time ago, I heard a speaker on Voices of the Sacred Feminine remark that the type of paganism that people practice as adults is often a direct reaction to the type of Christianity they were exposed to as children. I was not raised Christian, but I was exposed throughout my childhood to a very specific type of fundamentalist Christian and that made a permanent impact on my (outsider’s) understanding of what Christianity means, how it is practiced, and how it feels. It took me until I was in my late twenties to actually see that there are “normal” Christians in the world as well as the variety I knew in childhood. I may have included this here before, but in past OSC work, I’ve written:

…My first “cause” in life was feminism—a sense honed by my experiences as an agnostic homeschooled teenager amidst mostly fundamentalist Christians. I could not help but stand up for women’s rights and challenge the rhetoric my peers often shared about a “woman’s [lesser] place” in life and society. Because my developing sense of feminism burgeoned in response to patriarchal religious beliefs about women—the only religious beliefs I had yet encountered—I also developed a sense that feminism was not compatible with religion, period. I chose feminism. In college in the 1990’s as a psychology major, I always chose “women’s issues” as my main area of focus and I went on to graduate school in clinical social work, doing my internship at a battered women’s shelter (I also volunteered in one during my undergraduate years). My sense of the Goddess that later emerged is very intertwined with my deep beliefs about the inherent value and worth of women, something that I do not see reflected in much of Christianity, both theology and practice…

Previous posts about Story Power are collected here: I am a Story Woman

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

Thursday Thealogy: Death & Suffering

This post is excerpted from an OSC assignment written last year. The subject is so close to the things in my life recently that I felt compelled to dig out these previous writings.

How does thealogy envision death? How does thealogy address the problem of suffering?

The Abrahamic religions tend to associate death with that which is evil and wrong. Dominant religions traditions also often emphasize transcendence over the physical form and in these traditions the spiritual and the physical are seen as separate (with women associated with the “lower” body-based realm and men associated with the transcendent and divine)—the body and the earth is seen as a prison, rather than of value or as holding wisdom. In thealogy, on the other hand, death is another part of the endless “wheel” of life.

As the refrain of a Goddess song goes, in the womb of the mother…we find rest. daCosta notes that, “This darkness she equates with the  darkness of innate, instinctive knowing, where we are within the womb of the Goddess” (p. 115). I find a comforting feeling in the notion of coming to rest in the womb of the Goddess–whether that is very literal in terms of my body returning to the earth and being absorbed back into it, or it is more metaphysical (i.e. drop returning to the “ocean”). I also do not completely rule out the possibility of some form of personal continuation of spirit/energy/consciousness after physical death–just as the physical body doesn’t “disappear” after the body physically shuts down and dies, it seems semi-logical that our soul/our life spark/life energy, also does not disappear, but does or become something else/somewhere else.

Some time ago I had a “vision” during the day in my post-yoga routine meditation time. I “heard”—the moments of your life are beads on a April 2013 024necklace. Death is one of those beads. Why be preoccupied with one single bead of many, many beads? I recognize this as related to something I previously read in a Zen book I think—your consciousness being the string that holds the beads and each bead passing into the next bead, no need to cling to any of them or to become attached to one point. But, this yoga experience was the first in which I had conceived of death as just one more bead on the string—and, just like I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of my life energy thinking about the bead from my sixth birthday, say, why would I spend a lot of time thinking about the bead of my eventual, guaranteed death. That said, I do find it very relevant and appropriate to consider my own life choices and path in the context of my eventual death–i.e. I probably think at least once per day, “If I died tomorrow, would this matter?” Or, “what would choose to be doing now, if I knew that I was about to die?” etc., etc. I make a lot of life decisions based on not wanting to have regrets when I come to die, on wanting to live fully, vibrantly, authentically, and consciously.

In this same timeframe, I also had an epiphany—no matter WHAT happens after my own death, it still represents the end of life as I know it (there are actually many of these points in the course of an average life—our life as a twenty year old also “ends,” as does our life as the parent of a toddler, and so on). BUT, regardless, I still have to be at peace with THAT—this life as I know it coming to an end, whether or not there is any continuity of self or soul post-death.

I previously spent a significant number of years feeling very preoccupied with existential questions about death and life purpose (essentially of the, “if you’re just going to die anyway, what’s the point?” variety) and after having these two realizations, I was no longer preoccupied by the topic. I made my peace with having no concrete answers. You must come to terms with your life, making meaning, and reconciling your life’s path and purpose regardless of what, if anything, happens “next.” You must still live well and wisely your one wild and precious life on this earth at this time and in this place, because your time here in this way will definitely come to an end.

Returning to the question of “why suffering?” Carol Christ presents a primarily panentheistic representation of Goddess. But, if Goddess is essentially earth and is all around us, then how do we justify evil and suffering in this world? Should She not be able to protect us from harm and suffering?

Personally, I have never turned to religion to provide explanations of evil or suffering. Perhaps if I had a past tradition of conventional theology, I would then find thealogy lacking in this way. However, I came to Goddess traditions from a history of basically…nothing…and had made my peace with the existence of suffering and inhumane treatment of others as a feature of the “human condition” rather than ever conceiving of it as something under divine influence or power.April 2013 036

However, to scholars like Melissa Raphael, “[b]ecause Goddess religions ascribes little or no moral transcendence to the Goddess, it becomes difficult to use the Goddess as the religious justification for a struggle against evil, or to construct meaning in the face of it” (p. 208). Personally, I look to humanism or feminism (as philosophy and theory), as well as my own inner sense of “rightness” and morality, rather than religion to provides this justification. I have never needed religion for morality. I think that is an “old fashioned” seeming reason to need religion and something that I’ve always found puzzling when Christians bring it up—i.e. “well, without Christ, how can you be a moral person? How can you know right from wrong?” I just can. It doesn’t need to come from an external authority or power and needing to have some “higher authority” impose the rules upon you, basically has always seemed to me like having a less mature brain somehow. In a similar manner this is how I’ve also always accepted the existence of “bad stuff” in the world—it just is. No overarching power causes it, or controls it, it is just part of the ebb and flow of life, of nature, itself. I also do not find New Agey concepts of “everything happening for a reason” or “attracting the lessons your soul needs” relevant or appropriate most of the time. Sometimes there just are tornadoes or earthquakes or people get cancer. Those things feel awful and are bad to experience, but they are not punishments or under the control of any divine authority or power. Perhaps this is depressing or nihilistic, but that is the past belief from which I have come to Goddess thought, so the “failure” of Goddess feminism to offer explanations for these phenomena is almost a non-issue for me—a Goddess outlook on the world is more than I’ve ever had before, it is not a replacement for or a substitute for a previous (religious) system of belief. To me, Goddess religion has filled a void left by an agnostic, default worldview, if I was trying to use it to replace a more traditional Judeo-Christian system of belief, perhaps I would also find it lacking.

I am a sucker for things growing out of rocks. Check out this delicate little rue anemone making its life here on a big stone!Raphael also states, “…many of the things theology has associated with evil or suffering (impermanence, disease and natural disasters) are not problematic for thealogy. It would be unreasonable to attribute moral responsibility to the divine for suffering when (natural) evil is an ecological and thealogical given” (p. 208). She goes on to further explain, “It may be that if the reality of human wrong-doing and suffering does not count against the existence or worth of a reality called ‘the Goddess,’ then thealogy cannot ultimately do some of the most important work of a popular religious theory, namely, to reconcile people to existential pain and to construct meaning in the face of it” (p. 210).

As I’ve indicated, personally, I don’t feel as if I need Goddess or religion to explain these things for me, but I understand that the failure of thealogy to provide answers on these issues means that it may never attract large amounts of followers who were formerly committed to more traditional religious views of the world. What I find helpful is Carol Christ’s process philosophy outlook on thealogy that asserts divine sympathy. Goddess/God cannot prevent suffering, but suffers with those who suffer, omnipresent, while not omnipotent. It is true that thealogy doesn’t completely fill the void left by theological understandings of divinity and suffering, but I believe that may well be because traditional religious interpretations have significant issues and theological mistakes that unravel under critical thought.

In Merlin Stone’s essay about the three faces of goddess spirituality in the collection, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality (p. 66), she writes “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.” As I’ve written before, this makes sense to me—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, lightning for another), that act in and upon the lives of humans without divine cause or intervention, but still as part of an overall tapestry of being (that as a whole, might be called Divinity).

Personally, I actually found Goddess most meaningfully during a time of personal suffering. While I previously connected with Goddess imagery and was interested in Goddesses and women’s spirituality from a feminist perspective that valued the symbolism in a socio-political context, I did not feel a truly personal experience of Goddess “energy” until, as I’ve also written about several times previously, I experienced pregnancy loss. That is when I felt She actually existed and when I realized that I was in relation to her as well as recognized that I wasn’t “areligious” after all, but did have a set of spiritual beliefs, perspectives, and “tools” to draw on for personal support. I was amazed to discover at this time (after an “a-religious” self-definition of the past) that I did in fact have a spiritual language and conceptualization of my own and that these were the deep resources I gathered to draw upon during a time of significant distress, fear, and challenge.

Culpepper reflects on the reframing of redemption:

“Reframing redemption necessitates renewed reflection upon the meaning of death. Rosemary Ruether is at pains to distance the notion of redemption from its eschatological interpretations. Instead, she focuses on its political implications, and rejects any formulation of the concept of salvation which views it as ‘an escape from the body and the world into eternal life’.  She offers an ecological account of immortality, which suggests the cosmic recycling of matter, not the survival of the individual in some otherworldly realm. At the heart of this rejection is a serious reappraisal of the effect that longings for immortality have had upon human self-consciousness. Our true home, this idea seems to say, lies beyond the stars. McFague is highly critical of such a view, arguing that there is no need for some postmortem existence to maintain the divine-human relationship: ‘We are with God whether we live or die, for whether our bodies are alive or return to the other form of embodiment from which they came, they are within the body of God.’  Redefining death finds a ready resonance with key aspects of thealogy. Starhawk argues that what we perceive as destruction should not be feared but acknowledged as a necessary part of the whole lifeprocess.” (Culpepper, p. 36)

According to Starhawk, paraphrased in Clack, “In thealogy, the Goddess is generally understood as the generative power of ‘all that lives and loves life…’ Therefore, when women or natural things recover their naturalness or return to the aliveness of the wild state, they are recovering their divinity in the goddess: and as the goddess is female energy, women who situate themselves inside nature, in the body of the goddess, will recover divine/natural energies and powers that will, like nature/the goddess, overcome patriarchy. For to repeat, nature/the goddess is stronger and older than patriarchy.” (Clack, p. 56)

Related past post:

The role of death in the circle of life

Rocks look at dogwoods.

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

Triple Goddess

Triple Goddess February 2013 062

Is she enough?

Seed moves to bud

Bud moves to blossom

Blossom moves to flower

Flower moves to fruit

Fruit moves to seed…

An ongoing generative process of birth and re-birth, of legacy, and of love, the lives of women are multigenerational, complex, and multilayered, and yet within them perhaps the Triple Goddess archetype stands. Steady. Maiden, Mother, Crone. Maiden, Mother, Crone. Perhaps each layer there is subdivided into deeper experience, but the overall broad, blood mysteries are encompassed cleanly…

My hope rests

in the potential of women

To be all they can be

To listen to daughters

To hug friends

To care for mothers

To hold space for each other

Within the Triple Goddess is a trinity. A trinity of female power, of female experience, and of female story–honoring, and holding, and blessing April 2013 004the mysteries of women with the mysteries of the Goddess, providing a framework for our bodies’ language, our womb-deep stories and memories. Perhaps another Trinity that makes sense is the Mother, Father, and Daughter Trinity. The Daughter carrying the potential of new generations within her, the Father providing the spark to ignite the unfolding of life within, the Mother fashioning the Daughter from the very stuff of her own blood.

Is it enough?

It doesn’t have to be

Because the potential of women

Is written in the earth and stars

And it is boundless

As I walked in the woods with my daughter and thought about this concept and about my mother and my grandmother too, suddenly a fourfold Goddess also floated to mind. There must be something between—Donna Henes has already figured out and other writers have explored—the Mother stage and the Crone. But then, I reflected that my own mother—I guarantee—still strongly identifies with the Mother archetype. Once you’ve gone Mother, you can never go back. I am absolutely certain that she still identifies deeply with the Mother. And, then I thought about my grandma and I thought, heck, she probably identifies deeply with the Mother as well. My little daughter, my little Maiden, she identifies with the Mother also. While it may seem gender-essentialist, gender binary, and biologically reductionist of me, it thrills my little heart to see this in her–a heart that is deeply invested with being a mother and considers being a mother central to my being. Pregnancy, birth, lactation, are core life processes and working with women in these areas is deeply part of me, so when my little two-year-old points at her own belly and says, “baby…belly…me…grow…up,” telling me that she will grow up to have a baby of her own and then points to herself and says “Mama…ME! Babies…grow UP! Mama…ME!” I realize that she already carries that Mother image within her and sees that potential within herself now. Looking at her and looking at my mother, I see how I still identify as the Daughter. I am still the Maiden too. And, I see my mother and her mother and know that my mom still feels Daughter in this face of impending loss. And, she is both Grandmother and Daughter and Mother all at the same time. So, then I conclude that the Triple Goddess does work, because we each hold them. We contain them. So while they might not be enough for the human woman or even for biology, we may certainly contain and embody them all, sometimes all at once. And, that’s okay. There’s power in the triple image. There’s purpose in the triple image. And, there’s a genetic circularity of being in that triple image that I see reflected in my own days, my own relationships, my own roles. I am the Triple Goddess. She is the Triple Goddess. They are the Triple Goddess. We are the Triple Goddess.

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Together at my brother’s wedding this past October.

When I recorded these thoughts as part of my final assignment for my Triple Goddess class at OSC, I was in the woods with my little girl and in the background of the recording she is saying, “Mama” and making other remarks and it seems perfectly fitting.

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She brought her little (nonworking) cell phone to the woods too and stood talking into and repeating part of everything I said: “Triddle…Doddess.”

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Categories: family, OSC, parenting, spirituality, thealogy, womanspirit, women | 4 Comments

Thursday Thealogy: The Motheredness of the World

My most recent post is up at Feminism and Religion on the subject of Mother Goddess imagery (and my mamapriestess art). It was written partially in response to the critique sometimes expressed that Mother Goddess imagery is “exclusive” of women who are not mothers:

I am also of the opinion that Mother Goddess imagery may well be less about women as mothers and more about the motheredness of the world. In this way, I do not find the image of the Mother Goddess is exclusive, rather I find it exceedingly appropriate. Every person and mammal on this planet—male, female, black, white, hetero/homosexual– since the dawn of humanity has had a mother. It is a truly unifying feature. And, it isn’t about the role, it is about the primal relationship. The root of life. As Naomi Wolf writes in Misconceptions while reflecting on an ordinary street scene and suddenly understanding the web of life and the universality of motherhood (even the squirrels!):

“We were all held, touched, interrelated, in an invisible net of incarnation. I would scarcely think of it ordinarily; yet for each creature I saw, someone, a mother, had given birth….Motherhood was the gate. It was something that had always been invisible to me before, or so unvalued as to be beneath noticing: the motheredness of the world.”

This understanding of the invisible net of incarnation is the foundation of my own thealogy and my ethics.

via Goddess Mother | Feminism and Religion.

Goddess imagery is also about valuing human women and their bodies:

The sociocultural value of a divine presence that validates women’s bodies cannot be overestimated. Indeed, patriarchal religion in its most destructive way seems to have grown out of the devaluation and rejection of female bodies. A religion that rejects the female body, that places the male and its association with “the mind” and the soul rather than the earthy relational connection of body, is a religion that easily moves into domination and control of women. Reclaiming Goddess, reclaims women’s bodies—names them not only as “normal,” but as “divine,” and this is profoundly threatening to traditional Judeo-Christian belief systems. Thus, the primacy of relatedness and connectedness as the core feature of the Mother Goddess model has broad reaching implications for women’s spirituality, as a direct contrast to the dominator model of patriarchy.

In Carol Christ’s classic essay, Why Women Need the Goddess, she quotes feminist theologian Mary Daly (Beyond God the Father):

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

In the same essay, Christ explains: “The symbols associated with these important rituals cannot fail to affect the deep or unconscious structures of the mind of even a person who has rejected these symbolisms on a conscious level…Symbol systems cannot simply be rejected, they must be replaced. When there is not any replacement, the mind will revert to familiar structures in times of crisis, bafflement, or defeat.”…

via Goddess Mother | Feminism and Religion.

Last time I wrote about a similar topic here, I received some comments asking about the role of “the God,” which is not a symbol I engage with or feel comfortable with given how steeped that name is in the oppression of women, saying that a thealogy without the God doesn’t seem very “whole.” While I would still like to address this question with more thought in a future post, as I wrote the above, it came to my mind again, because it is true that almost everything has a father as well—so, what about the “fatheredness of the world”? My thought when originally asked about “wholeness” was that I don’t have a particularly literalist conception of the Goddess and so to me, she is a name for that which holds the all, which is, ultimately unnameable, but can be experienced in a variety of direct ways. I experience it as the Goddess. And, I find political, social, cultural, and spiritual value in the naming of that subjective experience/wholeness/weaving of life as Goddess. “Goddess” as word and symbol is important, really important, because it breaks the patriarchal “hold” on defining divinity.

However, as a mother of sons and the wife of a husband, I have wrestled with questions as to whether Goddess-oriented thealogy excludes them as males in the same way that Judeo-Christian imagery primarily excludes women. I continue to return to “no,” because in their own experience of having been grown and birthed by me (well, my sons, not my husband!), the notion of a female image being fully capable of literally being able to hold both male and female within her, is exceedingly natural, appropriate, and logical to them. When we do family rituals, I do often use spiritual naturalist or spiritual humanist type of language rather than gendered divinity. Sacred Universe is a great term as are the generic labels Spirit or the Sacred or Nature.

As I’ve shared a photo of previously, at my toddler daughter’s request, I recently made a “Daddy Goddess” sculpture as well to go with my many others—as I was making him, I realized I do have some room for a Green Man type of symbolism after all:

April 2013 004And, as I shared in my Feminism and Religion piece, a couple of months ago my six-year-old son made this sculpture for me…

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

Yep. He gets it! 🙂

Categories: family, feminist thealogy, Goddess, parenting, spirituality, thealogy, Thursday Thealogy, writing | 4 Comments

Thursday Thealogy: Dreams & Daily Practices

“Form is the language of the universe singing its praises. Its rejoicing is seen everywhere–in the sun through a web of hair, in the flower and its petals, in the subtle folds of a garment, in the human body.” –Dianora Niccolini

A couple of months ago I experienced a really profound dream. I was walking down to the woods and in the sky above the priestess rocks saw a gigantic, beautiful, pulsating, pink, jeweled flower. I was awe-struck and staring at it. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I became aware that a golden cord stretched from the center of the flower to the top of my head and I became aware that all people were connected to it by these golden cords as well. Then, in that uniquely expansive character of dreams, I somehow traveled through the center of the flower. On the other side was an immense snake of unimaginable proportion, spiraling around “the cosmic egg.” As I looked at it, I became aware that the snake was actually the whole of the universe and that along its body, in the scales, one could perceive not only each galaxy, but also a point for all times and places that ever were or will be. It is hard to describe in writing, but I still deeply remember by feelings of both awe and comprehension and this expansive awareness of reality. It was a gorgeous, trippy, and meaningful dream. I tried to draw something about it, but couldn’t do it. What I’m left with is that feeling of majesty, magnitude, and incredible connection.

In somewhat of a surprise, after the conclusion of my 31 day writing experiment, I’m very much missing my daily woodspriestess writing. “They” say it takes 30 days (or 21 or 15 or whatever) to create a habit and I created one that was pretty powerful. And, I’m realizing that it wasn’t only about the woodsvisits—I’ve been doing that since January and continue doing it today—it was the synthesis of experience with the written word. The writing itself was a practice too. I mentioned a couple of times that it sometimes felt like a burden, and it did, and I thought I was looking forward to having a “break” from having to write every day, and I do. However, I feel like there is something missing from my trips to the woods now—the writing afterward was an integrative experience or one that provided form, structure, and application of what I learned each day. Without the writing portion, I find I’m much more apt to leave and immediately “forget” what I experienced or learned that day. When I’m no longer thinking about how to shape it into written form, it loses some of its impact. During the experiment I felt bad at several points in going and only looking for things to blog about—it felt like the writing was a distraction to the experience—but, now I see how the link between experience and description provided a spiritual “container” for me, in which I could dig more deeply, look harder, and witness more. Writing offered a type of accountability. So, while I’ve enjoyed having a break from “having” to write on one hand, on the other I really actually feel a sense of loss and sadness about those missed opportunities to write and share and I’ve felt sort of at loose ends each day—like, “what about my blog post?” While I’m not going to force myself into an every day practice for the rest of the year with writing, I would truly like to continue to make it a priority. It is sad to me to notice how those things that nourish my spirit are easy to cut from my schedule when I become too busy, when in reality, they should take even more priority during those rhythms of life.

Today I also thought I might experiment with a new practice—one of drawing a card or a rune or a crone stone each day and perhaps make a daily blogging experience of that. I’m not sure I will, I’m toying with the idea—maybe a good daily pr20130403-161544.jpgoject for May—but I did draw a Crone Stone today and I got the Daydreamer. It seemed very apt, describing fantasizing about things being different—“life can be boring at times–something is missing.” It describes the image as the woman resting against a tree, dreaming of a far away plan, while the tree behind her withers from neglect. It asks the receiver to consider how we can ground the fantasy and bring the vision into reality. As I looked at it, I thought of multiple things. One was simply about my life and family and sacred space being right there in the woods—I’ve got it. The people I love are right here in front of me, waiting for me. Sacred space is right there in the woods, waiting for me. This is it. I also thought about two recent experiences—I was dreaming as I often do of having a Women’s Temple or Goddess Temple and then I looked around my own living room and had the sudden realization, I’ve already got one. And, second, I was feeling disappointed in myself for not planning a springtime ritual and having people over and doing a fabulous ceremony, but then as I laid out the spring time altar for my Rise Up class last week I had a moment of realization, oh, yeah. This IS a springtime ritual. I DID do it (but, it wasn’t for my family, it was for my friends. I’d like to do more things for my family in this capacity).

My first class at Ocean Seminary College was called Ecology and the Sacred and a theme that emerged for me as I worked through the class was of a deep hunger for daily practice. I like looking back and seeing how my current practices evolved from the desire I tried to convey in the “reflection” portions of my assignments. In the first lesson, I wrote:

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…all things as intimately connected—not as “all one,” but as all interconnected and relating to one another, in an everpresent ground of relationship and relatedness. I am currently reading the book She Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World by Carol Christ and the concepts from the lesson are closely related to the process philosophy she explores and that I am personally connecting to in many ways. As does she, I imagine the divine as omnipresent (rather than omnipotent) and I feel like I can see Goddess/God in the bright black eyes of a newly hatched baby chick and in the curve of my baby’s cheek against my breast. I do not feel like the Goddess is something I believe in, but a reality that I experience in daily life.

In response to my Week 1 assignment, I was asked “when you go about your everyday life activities do you have any rituals that you incorporate into them to vivify your spiritual insight with your day-to-day ecological mindfulness? If not, this may be something worth exploring.” This question stayed in my mind throughout the remaining twelve lessons of the course. In the second lesson, I wrote:

I do feel a powerfully strong urge to bring spiritual mindfulness more fully into my daily life–“practicing the presence of the Goddess” in a more explicitly developed/acknowledged manner–but I have trouble figuring out exactly how I wish to do this. I wear a Goddess ring that serves as a mindfulness touchstone for me (when I remember to look at it!) and I find listening to various spiritual CDs as I go about the mundane activities of my day brings a sense of the sacred into my everyday tasks (like laundry), but I have a hunger in me to do something more

Shortly after, I added to these thoughts:

…when engaged in these outdoor observations, I was struck by how I feel this deep sense of being part of the fabric of life most profoundly, clearly, and cleanly while outside. As Naomi Wolf said, I feel that “We were all held, touched, interrelated, in an invisible net of incarnation…”I might describe this additionally as being held in the hand of the Goddess. However, in practice, I spend much more time inside than outside. There are always so many things “to do.” Work to do, chores to catch up on, things to be done inside the house, that my experience of the natural world and that sense of being held in a net of incarnation is often postponed, in a way for, “later,” once I’m finished with all my work (which, never ends!). And, I realized today, that means my sense of the sacred or of divinity in the world is sometimes also postponed. This isn’t satisfactory! So, I continue to think about—and welcome ideas about—how to incorporate some rituals into my day a way that more meaningfully integrates my spiritual life with my everyday life…

And, about midway through the course, I wrote:

I also continue to reflect on my interest in incorporating more “ritual” into my life that honors or expresses my sense of the divine and I realized that I think I’m really simply seeking to cultivate a state of basic mindfulness in my day. So, not ritual per se, but ongoing awareness and mindful participation in the daily rhythms of life (including mindfulness of my connection within a larger environmental whole).

Thanks to the opportunity to articulate this desire, I started my first truly daily practice, some time at my living room altar:

In the course of my experiences with this class, I’ve started to spend a little time in the morning before my yoga practice in prayer/reflection/communion with my sense of the divine. Since that sense is intimately entwined with nature, I find the best way to do this is to sit looking out my window, watching the play of sunlight and shadow, and talking quietly to myself/to Goddess energy about what I envision for my day. This has been a powerfully grounding and focusing experience and something that I felt was missing in my day, something I was seeking to cultivate and have now been able to do because of the observer/reflection sense that is being honed more clearly through this course.

During week six, I also wrote: I feel emotionally embedded with the land and this daily process of energy exchange.

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This is NOT a black and white picture, it is actually how the day looked just this Tuesday. I thought: “this looks as gray as I feel right now…”

And, I also thought about this quote by Robert Kennedy Jr. as quoted in the book Last Child in the Woods:

“‘We’re part of nature, and ultimately we’re predatory animals and we have a role in nature…and if we separate ourselves from that, we’re separating ourselves from our history, from the things that tie use together. We don’t want to live in a world where there are not recreational fishermen, where we’ve lost touch with the seasons, the tides, the things that connect us—-to ten thousand generations of human beings that were here before there were laptops and ultimately connect us to God.’ We shouldn’t be worshipping nature as God, he said, but nature is the way that God communicates to us most forcefully. ‘God communicates to us through each other and through organized religion, through wise people and the great books, through music and art,’ but nowhere ‘with such texture and forcefulness in detail and grace and joy, as through creation…And when we destroy large resources, or when we cut off our access by putting railroads along river banks, by polluting so that people can’t fish, or by making so many rules that people can’t get out on the water, it’s the moral equivalent of tearing the last pages out of the last Bible on Earth [emphasis mine]…Our children ought to be out there on the water…This is what connects us, this is what connects humanity, this is what we have in common. It’s not the Internet, it’s the oceans.” (page 198)

During week nine, I also got thealogical about chickens:

I’ve said before that baby chicks are one of the things that make me believe in “the Goddess.” Maybe that sounds silly, but when I sit before a nest and see the bright black eyes and soft down of a new baby chick, where before there was just an egg, I feel like I am truly in the presence of divinity. This, this is Goddess, I think whenever I see one. There is just something about the magic of a new chick that brings the miracle of the sustaining force of life to my attention in a profound way. (New babies of all kinds do it for me, but there is something extra special about chicks!) Of course, when several died, I couldn’t help but feel sad about all of that work and that wasted potential and how that little baby had come so far only to die shortly after hatching, but that, to me, is part of Goddess/Nature/Life Force too. I do not believe in a controlling/power-over deity who can give life or take it away at will or at random. I know that things just happen, that the wheel keeps turning, and that while that force that I name Goddess is ever-present and able to be sensed and felt in the world and in daily life, it/she does not have any kind of ultimate “control” over outcomes.

This was a really, really long way of saying that I want to keep writing regularly about my “woodspriestess” observations as I continue my year-long experiment with visiting the same place in the woods on daily basis. I found something I was seeking in the interplay between visit, spoken word, and written exploration and I think it is something worth continuing.

Here I bear witness to the universe singing its praises…

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Categories: Goddess, nature, spirituality, thealogy, Thursday Thealogy, woodspriestess | 4 Comments

Top Thirteen Most Influential People in Goddess Spirituality

Earlier this month I was very interested to see a series of posts on Raise the Horns about the top 25 most influential people in the birth of paganism. When I read Mankey’s post, it reinforced my own conception of Goddess spirituality as having a distinctly different lineage and flavor than much of contemporary paganism. His list, while extensive, useful, and accurate, involves a distinct lack of Goddess scholars, highlighting to me that Goddess spirituality IS a different movement and isn’t actually just a Goddess-oriented branch of contemporary paganism. Indeed, almost everyone on his list I’d either never heard of, not read, or don’t enjoy their writing. I immediately started to draft a list of my own and came up with 13 women, which seemed delightfully appropriate. We in the Goddess feminist community have our own path, herstory, and lineage, one that really only began in the 1970’s in direct connection to the feminist movement, rather than the pagan movement.

Not necessarily in a particular order, here is my own list of the top thirteen most influential people in the development and articulation of Goddess Spirituality as its own distinct path. (I’ve been scrambling to finish collecting my thoughts in time to post this list while it is still Women’s History Month!) Only one of my own picks also appears on Mankey’s list. December 2012 097

  1. Carol Christ–this feminist scholar is the most skillful and intelligent thealogian of the present day. Christ’s influence on my own ideas and concepts has been profound. Her work is academic, focused, and deep, and she wrestles with heavy questions. I particularly enjoy her books Rebirth of the Goddess and She Who Changes. A brilliant, thoughtful, amazing writer, Christ’s essay Why Women Need the Goddess remains, in my opinion, one of the most important and influential articles of our time.
  2. Merlin Stone–author of the classic When God was a Woman, this professor of art history changed the landscape and understanding of ancient cultures and their relationship to the Goddess (and, yes she drew on the work of Murray and Graves, but moved into feminist thealogy rather than pagan practice).
  3. Riane Eisler—author of The Chalice and the Blade, she made a significant contribution to the understanding of the history and development of patriarchy as well as offering a solution in the form of a partnership model of society.
  4. Marija Gimbutas—scholar and archaeologist and author of several books chronicling Goddess figurines from around the world, including The Language of the Goddess, her work has come under scrutiny and criticism, but remains a potent contribution to the lineage of the Goddess movement.
  5. Starhawkthe first of two on my list who bridge the gap between more “classic” paganism and feminist spirituality, Starhawk had a huge impact on the development of a female-oriented spiritual tradition. Her book The Spiral Dance was the first introduction to the Goddess for many women. In keeping with what I find to be a personal lack of click with a lot of pagan authors, I did not particularly enjoy The Spiral Dance and actually read it much later than most of the other books about feminist spirituality that I reference in this post, but regardless of personal taste, her influence on the Goddess movement is profound.
  6. Z. Budapest—considered by many to be one of the first mothers of the feminist spirituality movement in the U.S., like Starhawk, Z’s writings are not my personal favorite resources because of their heavy Wiccan orientation, but they are undeniably classics in Goddess circles. Z has taken heat from many pagans for her position on transgender people.
  7. Patricia Mongahan–recently departed author of Goddess-specific resource books like The Goddess Path and Wild Girls, Patricia’s writing is more practical and less scholarly/thealogy-oriented than some of my other favorite authors. March 2013 086
  8. Monica Sjoo—radical artist, ecofeminist, and Goddess scholar, Sjoo wrote The Great Cosmic Mother and one of my other favorites, a critique of New Age spiritual paths called New Age Armageddon. Her classic and awesome painting God Giving Birth narrowly avoided ended up in Court on the charge of “obscenity and blasphemy.”
  9. Hallie Iglehart—while less well-known and influential than some of the other women on my list, Hallie was personally very impactful to my own Goddess path, since her books were some of the first, personal and experientially-oriented Goddess-specific books that I read. She is the author of Womanspirit, a synthesis of feminism and religion, and of The Heart of the Goddess, a visually stunning collection of Goddess images and meditations/reflections.
  10. Cynthia Eller—while Eller’s book focused on debunking the “myth of matriarchal prehistory” made her lose popularity among many in the Goddess community (see her clarifying comments here), her scholarly engagement with the complexities of articulating the concepts of feminist spirituality and of thealogy is challenging, illuminating, and offers the opportunity to dig deeply into one’s own perspectives. Her book Living in the Lap of the Goddess is a thorough exploration of women’s spirituality and the Goddess movement.
  11. Charlene Spretnak–another rocking writer with a thorough grasp of the sociopolitical and cultural context, value, and purpose of Goddess spirituality, her classic anthology The Politics of Women’s Spirituality is one of the best and deepest explorations of the concepts, personal experiences, philosophies, and thealogies of why Goddess.
  12. Karen Tatethrough her weekly radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine, I would venture to say that Tate is one of the most influential and dedicated “Goddess advocates” of the present day.
  13. Elizabeth Fisher and Shirley Ranck—authors of germinal religious education curriculums focused on feminist spirituality and woman-honoring traditions, originally published by the UU Women and Religion program, their work with Rise Up and Call Her Name andCakes for the Queen of Heaven continues to change the lives of women around the country by introducing them to a vision of what the world could be like if the divine was imaged as female.

Also deserving of mention are:

  • SageWoman Magazine (and her editors)—this specifically Goddess-women oriented publication is a treasure and a delight.
  • Feminism and Religion blog–daring to explore the intersection of religion, scholarship, activism, and community, FAR is not specifically Goddess-oriented, but includes Goddess scholars amongst their contributors and weaves a beautiful, living, organic tapestry of the multifaceted web of feminist spirituality in the present day.

I find that feminist spirituality can be distinguished from paganism because of the inclusion of a core sociopolitical orientation and distinct sociocultural critique. Feminist spirituality to me is the intersection of religion and politics. It is religious feminism. It may or may not include literal experience of or perception of the Goddess, but it names the female and the female body as sacred, worthy, and in need of defense and uses Goddess symbols, metaphors, stories, and experiences as primary expressions of divinity and the sacred.

After originally writing this list, I thought of many more women I should have included and I kept meaning to do a part two follow-up article. I’ve yet to finish that, but this is who I would add…

Six More Influential Women: 1

  1. Shekhinah Mountainwater (pictured at right): tremendous personal influence on my life and work.Original creator of Womanrunes and author of one of my all-time favorite goddess spirituality books, Ariadne’s Thread.
  2. Diane Stein–I particularly enjoy her anthology The Goddess Celebrates and also her book, Casting the Circle.
  3. Vicki Noble–her book Shakti Woman is a powerful and important read.
  4. Barbara Ardinger–if I had to choose a favorite book for ritual resources and goddess spirituality, her book A Woman’s Book of Rituals and Celebrations would be one of those at the top! I also enjoy interacting with her as a sister blogger at Feminism and Religion.
  5. Barbara Walker–author of several goddess-oriented sourcebooks, The Essential Handbook of Women’s Spirituality is another of my favorite resources.
  6. Nancy Vedder-Shults–I first “met” Nancy through hearing her music at a Cakes for the Queen of Heaven training. Her CD, Chants for the Queen of Heaven, was my first-ever purchase of goddess-specific music (I didn’t even know there was such a thing until hearing her songs!). Later, I continued to enjoy her contributions to SageWoman magazine and now through direct interaction on the Feminism and Religion blog.

 Other cool books/honorable mentions:

March 2013 058

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Categories: books, feminism, feminist thealogy, Goddess, resources, spirituality, thealogy, womanspirit | 74 Comments

Woodspriestess: Sensory

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The chair rock has a couple of nice little “shelf” nook on the side of it. I’m always tempted to leave things on it, but I make a habit of not leaving things in or (usually) taking things from the woods. Sometimes I set something on the shelf just during the time that I am out there.

Breathe deep
Breathe peace

Open hands
Open heart
Open mind
Open spirit

This is both my prayer
And my vow

Resting in sheltering stone
Listening to bird song
Feeling the breeze
Seeing the trees against sky
Tasting the very center of life.

A thealogy of embodiment is the subject of my dissertation, so I was very interested to read the Allergic Pagan’s smart and thought-provoking follow-up post to his thoughts about objectivity. He draws the conclusion that it is the body that bridges the gap between the subjective and objective. While I focused on subjective experience and the Goddess in my prior post about objectivity, I actually do find that the Goddess can be interpreted/understood through science as well—some people call it evolution, others call it Goddess and others call it God…subjective experience need not exclude scientific concepts/understanding. As in my breastmilk example from that post, I can understand the experience both objectively and subjectively and, just as John notes, this intersection occurs within the body. I also believe theapoetical language can include both as well. I’m going to explore the question of the place of the God within thealogy in my Thursday Thealogy post next week. I tend to come from the notion that Goddess holds all—and, that Goddess-language is simply a consciously chosen name for unnameable forces of life, the weaving that holds the world, a weaving including but not limited to females and males of all kinds.

Today, rather than standing or sitting on the priestess rocks, I visited the chair rock instead. It is super comfortable and I used to come here to sit after my miscarriages and then during my pregnancy with my daughter and then this is where I brought her one-month-old self to introduce her to the Earth. I used to sit here with her in a pouch or the Ergo and feel our bodies breathing in harmony, chest to chest.

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The scenery looks different when considered from the chair rock rather than the priestess rocks. Here is a “slingshot” tree” and behind the big mother tree that I like so much (and that I keep hoping is still alive!)

As I’ve previously referenced, Gloria Orenstein refers to endarkenment as, “a bonding with the Earth and the invisible that will reestablish our sense of interconnectedness with all things, phenomenal and spiritual, that make up the totality of our life in our cosmos. The ecofeminist arts do not maintain that analytical, rational knowledge is superior to other forms of knowing. They honor Gaia’s Earth intelligence and the stored memories of her plants, rocks, soil, and creatures. Through nonverbal communion with the energies of sacred sites in nature, ecofeminist artists obtain important knowledge about the spirit of the land, which they can then honor through creative rituals and environmental pieces” (Reweaving the World, p. 280). This speaks to me because of my theapoetical experiences of the presence of “the Goddess” in my own sacred spot in the woods behind my house, where I go to the priestess rocks to pray, reflect, meditate, do ritual, think, and converse with the spirits of that place.

Categories: embodiment, endarkenment, family, feminist thealogy, Goddess, nature, pregnancy loss, spirituality, thealogy, theapoetics, womanspirit, woodspriestess | 1 Comment

Thursday Thealogy: Objectivity & Personal Experience

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Tree Sisters

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset.” –Crowfoot in The Earth Speaks

“To go into the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.” –Wendell Berry in The Earth Speaks

As I mentioned last week, I wanted to call your attention to a great post at about objectivity at The Allergic Pagan. Among other interesting stuff, John writes:

Take for example the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. We laugh at the thought that anyone would think the sun was revolving around the earth. But, in point of fact, that is our most immediate experience of the world: The sun rises east, moves over our heads, sets in the west, and then rises again in the east. But we say that what is “really” happening is the earth is rotating and revolving around the sun. That explanation is the most mathematically parsimonious, because is most easily accounts for the movement of the earth, the sun, and the other celestial spheres. But is it the most “accurate” one? Accurate to what? Certainly not accurate to our everyday experience…

…Objectivity is a myth. It is a good myth and it functions well for many things. But it is a myth nonetheless….

…For once I would love to hear someone say, “Oh, that’s just objective“, instead of, “Oh, that’s just subjective.” Subjectivity is not less than objectivity. In fact, I think objectivity is a less complete account of the world that the subjective one. We gain a certain power to control our environment when we attempt to bracket our subjectivity; but we also lose something. We lose the reality of our own experience, and we lose the sense of our own participation in that reality….

The Sun Also Riseth: The limits of objectivity (UPDATED) | The Allergic Pagan.

When I applied to Ocean Seminary College, I included the following explanation as part of my letter:

In recent months I have come to the conclusion that I need to follow my intuition as to what feels right to me, rather than to try to find answers in books or articles. What feels right in my heart and in my bones. Goddess feels right to me—authentic in a way that no other spiritual framework ever has. While I do not usually interpret Goddess in a literal sense, I do still feel Her presence in my life—call it an energy, call it the sacred feminine, call it the divine, call it source, call it soul, call it spirit, call it the great mystery…I perceive forces in the world larger than myself and I choose to put a feminine form to that energy—to name it and know it as Goddess. It only seems logical to me that SHE gave birth to the world, to reality—women are the birth givers and they are made in HER image.

I come to Goddess spirituality from a childbirth education and activism background. I am deeply committed to women’s birth rights and to me it has always seemed very logical that ancient peoples would have revered that which created the earth—which gave birth to the earth—the primary life force of the planet, as female. Though it could perhaps be viewed as an unnecessary personification, it just makes plain sense to me to vision the divine as feminine. Side note about personification and tying it to John’s post about objectivity, whenever I type the word I am reminded of a story I read somewhere in which a husband asks a wife, “why must you take everything so personally?” And she responds with something like, “this is my life, how could I not take it personally? It makes sense to relate to the world in a personal way.”)

And, still thinking about the value of subjective experience and the limits of objectivity, as I wrote in an article for Restoration Earth and later republished on my own blog:

How many generations of women have pushed out their babies and fed them at the breast without knowing the exact mechanics of reproduction, let alone milk production. There are all kinds of historical myths and “rules” about breastmilk and breastfeeding and even ten years ago we used to think the inner structure of the breast was completely different from what we think it is like now. Guess what? Our breasts still made milk and we still fed our babies, whether or not we knew exactly how the milk was being produced and delivered. Body knowledge, in this case, definitely still trumped scientific knowledge. I love that feeling when I snuggle down to nurse my own baby—my body is producing milk for her regardless of my conscious knowledge of the patterns or processes. And, guess what, humans cannot improve upon it. The body continues to do what the human mind and hand cannot replicate in a lab. And, has done so for millennia. I couldn’t make this milk myself using my brain and hands and yet day in and day out I do make it for her, using the literal blood and breath of my body, approximately 32 ounces of milk every single day for the last [two years]. That is beautiful.

via Breastfeeding as a Spiritual Practice | Talk Birth.

A couple of months ago, while discussing biology, physics, botany and more with a friend, she commented to the effect of, “Once we know how it works, it isn’t amazing any more.” But, I said, isn’t it? And, do we ever really know how something “really works,” when we constantly are learning new things about the way things “really are”? Can we ever truly boil it down to “just the facts” or is there something invisible, ineffable also there? A creative, interlacing energy in which we are embedded all the time? Back to nursing babies, objectively my body is converting blood into milk to feed my offspring. A biological, hormonally programmed response to having reproduced. That’s hella cool too. But, subjectively, it’s love made flesh, it is embodied motherhood, it is biological synchronicity, it is pure magic. I don’t have to know how it works, I just have to do it. Some of the most important aspects of my life can’t be objectively determined and why should they be able to be? I take it personally.

One of the things that continues to keep me involved with Goddess spirituality is the value of direct experience. 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)

In Merlin Stone’s essay about the three faces of goddess 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.” 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 to 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)

This is one of the greatest strengths of spiritual feminism or Goddess traditions—women are capable of defining their own experiences. This means that the Goddess is hard to pin down. She means many different things to different people. I think that fluidity of definition is a powerful attribute that leaves the Goddess path open to many, many women. This fluidity is why it is possible for us to see Jewitches and Goddess Christians and spiritual feminists who connect to the symbol/metaphor, but not a literalist interpretation. The Goddess can hold it all.

When addressing the idea of the Goddess’ ability to elude definitional capture, it is also important to look at the notion of “believing in” the Goddess. Whether or not people “believe” in her might actually be an irrelevant question. I steer away from using the word myself and find I share the tendency of many spiritual feminists to prefer the explanation that they experience the Goddess.

This does not mean the Goddess is fictional, she can be experienced directly, but that she is not believed in in the conventional theological sense. “Most spiritual feminists explain this by saying it is only a question of semantics: everyone experiences goddess, but not everyone chooses to call her that” (p. 140). I identify with this, as I wrote above, having reached a point in my life where I consciously chose to name/label/identify those larger natural powers of the world as “Goddess.”

In Judith Laura’s book, Goddess Matters, she describes Goddess as “she who flows through all” and contrasts this with “God as manipulator.” Goddess is: “She what connects us, not only like a link in a chain but also like an electrical current.”

And, why personalize this or anthropomorphize it anyway? Because society is so very deeply rooted in the lens of patriarchal theology. This doesn’t dissolve because we say, “the Universe” or “the Mystery”—the white bearded old man in the sky remains our collective cultural image of Divinity (as something to which we can be in relation) unless we consciously and deliberately offer, reinforce, and promote other imagery.

As Christ quoted in Edelson remarks, “The real importance of the symbol of Goddess is that it breaks the power of the patriarchal symbol of God as male over the psyche” (p. 313). This is part of what I mean when I say that my interest in Goddess is first political and then later personal/religious. Both have great value to me and I do believe that whether or not someone believes in Goddess as literal or metaphorical, Her importance and value as a symbol within feminism, politics, and culture cannot be overestimated.

In the book Women’s Rituals by Barbara Walker, she makes this point: “Theology, or ‘God-knowledge,’ is a pseudoscience invented by men to define and describe the God whom they simultaneously call indefinable and indescribable. Real science studies objective phenomena. Theology studies a collective male fantasy. Much theological effort goes into hiding the fact that God is not an objective phenomenon but a construct of men’s imaginations, based on their own sense of what they are, what they wish to be, or what they think they ought to be” (p. 135). To this I would add, OR, what they wish to control and what type of social and political structures they wish to justify or wars they wish to engage in. Walker describes theaology thusly, “Thealogy, or ‘Goddess-knowledge,’ may be reinstated, after its long eclipse, as a similar collective image developed by women critical of the ethical shortcomings of patriarchal culture” (p. 135). Walker goes on to says, “Theologians established their God with a pretense of his objective existence. Thealogians need not to resort to such hypocrisy. It is possible to deal with the image of divinity as the collective self-expression that it really is, as a symbol of women’s true knowledge, and as the arbiter of moral instruction represented by humanity’s most ancient mothers” (p. 136).

So what, then, is Goddess? Walker shares the conclusions of a variety of women summarized here:

Goddess is love. Power. Nature. Femaleness. Feminine morality (rooted in care and relationship). Irresistible force. The universe. Creativity that drives me. Oldest power of the universe. Everything from born from her. The earth. The moon. Anger at patriarchal domination and oppression. Sense of what the world needs to relieve suffering. My own sentience. The trinity of Maiden, Mother, Crone. Light and dark. Body-oriented spirituality. Self-worth, liberation from inner shame (“original sin of being born female”). Each person contains her divine spark. “Cauldron-womb, the eternal matrix from which everything comes and to which everything returns…” Loving creativity. Mother. (pp 136-139)

We take her personally.

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In the woods this morning with my little pal again!

Categories: feminist thealogy, Goddess, spirituality, thealogy, Thursday Thealogy, womanspirit, women, women's circle | 9 Comments

Thursday Thealogy: Woodswisdom

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ― Carl Jung

“Every day brings a choice: to practice stress or to practice peace.” ~Joan Borysenko

“Let silence take you to the core of life.” ― Rumi

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times.” ― Thomas Merton

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” –Theodore Rubin

I had grand plans to share a whole bunch of fabulously insightful thoughts today based on a fabulously insightful post about Objectivity over at the Allergic Pagan, but this week is the busiest and most difficult week of the (college) session for me. I actually feel like I may have shortened my lifespan by staying up too late and working too hard. I usually maintain a pretty good work-life integration (I don’t say balance here intentionally, because it is hard for me to see work and life as two separate things that have to be “balanced.” I want them to integrate into a seamless flow that is just…life and living). However, the end of session grading tips me over the edge from doing good most of the time to edge of total freak out. Luckily, I’m finally catching on that this is normal and it is brief, it isn’t going to last forever and it doesn’t mean that I have to go on a big quit-fest or sink into a pit of despair about my “inability” to handle it all. So, today I slipped out to the woods and I laid on the rock and looked at the blue sky and listened to the birds and I thought, my gift to myself is not to expect anything else out of me today. I’m just going to lie here for a bit and look and rest. No thealogical insights required after all, who cares what I already named my post. I noticed the temperature is lovely, there were all kinds of birds out and about singing and flying and rooting through the dry leaves. I reflected on how beautiful I think it is that when I lie down on my back and look up at the sky, the trees there make an awesomely perfect circle.  I took one picture over my head and behind me…

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And one in front of me, and I noticed how the angle of the sun made it look like two completely different days, rather than just a different angle on the same day:

I remembered my most fundamental and core thealogical insight from my Ecology and the Sacred class:

I really do feel like the relational context of our lives is the fundamental core of the human experience. We cannot not be in relationship to the things around us, not just in terms of other humans, but plants, trees and animals. We are even in relationship with the sun, the wind, and the rain. And, the net that holds the whole, is what I name as divinity.

And, earlier in the week I noticed this poem and saved it to share:

How I go to the woods

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.
~ Mary Oliver

via ♥ Journey Of Young Women:

And, I saved this fabulous saying:

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Via Naturalistic Pantheist

In the spirit of keeping it real and balancing (integrating?) the spirit with the bite, this afternoon I found a large bunch of entrails on my front porch. They were so copious that I actually feared for a moment that something had killed one of our cats. As I laid there on the rocks, breathing, thinking, feeling calm, feeling rested, letting some thealogy roam around my brain, doing a little musing about “sacrificial stones” and wondering if there was any poetry in me about that, and mentally re-giving myself permission to rest, our little dog trotted down and put his face right over mine and I jumped up screaming, “ENTRAIL MOUTH!” and ran back to the house…

Categories: nature, spirituality, thealogy, Thursday Thealogy, woodspriestess | 2 Comments

Woodspriestess: Saving the World?

Today marks the beginning of a 30 day experiment in daily writings/photos about my sacred space in the woods. I made a New Year’s resolution of sorts to visit the same spot every day for a year and to take at least one photo and to explore through that process my relationship to the environment around me and its seasonal evolution.

First a picture…

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It started snowing again today and one of our cats, Big Mama, followed me down to the priestess rocks. I noticed her delicate little footprints in the snow on top of one of the rocks. Another thing I noticed and have remarked on before to my husband, is how there is a little trail of naturally occurring “stepping stones” that make a path through the woods to the rocks. When we first moved here, one of the things I wrote on my to-do list was, “make a sacred spot in the woods” and I imagined putting stepping stones down to said place. Well, come to find out, no “making” of a sacred space necessary…it was already there…AND, no need to put down my own stepping stones either. They, too, were already there. Metaphor for life? Or, just life.

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The path naturally appears/is uncovered as the stones there keep the light snowfall from sticking to them.

Some posts may be very brief, or photo-only, but I’m actually kicking off my experiment with some heavy thinking today…

I’ve been feeling depressed and discouraged lately after reading some really horrifying articles about incredible, unimaginable violence and brutality against women in Paupa New Guinea who are accused of being witches as well as a book about human trafficking around the world (I wrote about this in a post for Pagan Families last week). Then, I finished listening to David Hillman on Voices of the Sacred Feminine recently, in which he issues a strong call to action to the pagan community and to “witches” in the U.S. to do something about this violence, essentially stating that it is “your fault” and that instead of wasting energy on having rituals to improve one’s love life (for example), modern witches should be taking to the streets and bringing these abusers to justice. And, he asserts, the fact that they don’t, shows that they don’t really “believe”—believe in their own powers or in their own Goddess(es). This brought me back to a conversation I had with a friend before our last women’s circle gathering…does this really matter that we do this or is it a self-indulgence? We concluded that it does matter. That actively creating the kind of woman-affirming world we want to live in is a worthy, and even holy, task. I don’t have time to fully go into it all right now, but I also think the legacy of the sixteenth century “witchcraze” is powerful and the attitudes that drove it are alive and well in the world today. There is a lot of fear still bound up in that word and perhaps that is why people fail to respond to Hillman’s challenge to take to the streets.

I asked the woods today and they responded…

What can I do to save the world?

Saving the world is a Christ complex
an illusion of superiority
a delusion of grandeur.
Or is it?

Is it instead
a description
of what it is like to care?

Be awake
Be sensitive
Be present

Keep reading
Keep reading
Keep reaching
Keep laughing

Raise sons and daughters
who love themselves
and each other
and the earth

Say no to violence
in home
in thought
in act
in deed.

Say no to microaggressions
and to micro-spending decisions that support oppression
Say yes to micro-acts on the side of love
Say yes to not giving up on macro vision
and big picture thinking

Always be willing to dig deep
to think hard
to feel strongly

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.

Hug well
laugh often
live much

Speak your truth
tell your story
stand up for the silenced
speak for the voiceless
believe that hope still has a place

Hold steady
hold strong
hold the vision
hold each other.

When I came back inside, I added another Kiva loan to the three I already have going. I chose a women’s cooperative in Pakistan with a craft business. I paid for the loan using my profits from selling my own goddess art. I also signed up to sponsor a woman in the Congo via Woman to Woman International. Maybe this isn’t “enough,” but it is something. I work hard to support women in my own community in a variety of ways.  I write all over the place…maybe that isn’t “real” help, or maybe it is, but I can’t stop doing it.

Categories: feminism, feminist thealogy, Goddess, nature, spirituality, thealogy, women, women's circle, woodspriestess, writing | 4 Comments

Gaia’s Heartbeat

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Spirit of the solid earth
I draw you up
through my feet
into my legs
pelvis
torso
arms
hands
heart
throat

Gaia’s heartbeat
fills me
the rhythm of the tide
tugs at my womb
the breath of life
breathes through my lungs
the iron of the stars
runs through my veins
and the fire of life
pulses at my core

I draw it up
draw it in
breathe it out
breathe it in

I am it
and it is me
She pulses through every fiber of my being.

1/15/2013

Categories: blessings, nature, poems, prayers, thealogy, theapoetics, womanspirit, writing | Leave a comment

Endarkenment « Feminism and Religion

My third guest post at the Feminism and Religion blog centered around the idea of Endarkenment. Here is an excerpt:

Mandala drawing from last pregnancy

It is from this dark space that we emerge—whether from our own mothers or from the more mysterious cosmic “sea” of soul—and it is to darkness that we return when we close our eyes for the final time…

I find that within Goddess circles the idea of “the dark” remains commonly associated with that which is evil, negative, bad, or unpleasant. The Dark Mother, while acknowledged and accepted, is often at the same time equated with death, destruction, challenge, trials, and obstacles. While I recognize that the concept of a dark, demonic, and destructive mother might too have a place in goddess traditions…I also think this is unnecessarily limiting and that the idea of the “Dark” in general is in need of re-visioning. It is not just with regard to the role or place of death within the wheel of life or the Goddess archetype that Goddess as Dark Mother and destroyer can be honored or recognized, but the Dark as a place of healing and rest can also be explored.

via Endarkenment By Molly Remer « Feminism and Religion.

The post received a lot of comments and some people definitely disagreed with my remark that in “Goddess circles” the dark is associated with that which is negative. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well!

Categories: feminist thealogy, Goddess, spirituality, thealogy, writing | 4 Comments

The Web of Life

This essay is modified from one written for my Ecofeminism class at Ocean Seminary College.

Carol Christ’s understanding of “profound connection of all beings in the web of life,” (p. 58) is integral to my own understanding of the world, ethics, feminism, and spirituality. I very often return to the idea from Naomi Wolf of the “great invisible web of incarnation of which we are all a part,” indeed it forms the very foundation of my personal thealogy. My introduction to Goddess spirituality as a viable spiritual path distinct from Wicca came from my involvement with the UU Church, which holds an awareness of the web of life as one of its six core principles: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” UU’s also draw from “seven sources,” one of which is: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life” and another of which is: “Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.” (http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/)  I find that direct experience for me comes most clearly and cleanly through nature and thus identified with Starhawk’s explanation in Reweaving the World that, “we must preserve the wilderness that’s left because that’s the place we go for renewal, where we can most strongly feel the immanence of the Goddess” (p. 82). This is dramatically true for me and in August I explored my relationship with the Goddess in the woods in a guest post on the Feminism and Religion blog about Theapoetics, based on earlier work I did with OSC.

As I just used in my prior post, I again thought of this quote: “When you grow, care for, cook, and eat a vegetable, you become emotionally attached to that vegetable for life. You eat with your heart, not with your mind.” –Liz Snyder (quoted in “Home Grown: Helping Your Child Develop a Love of Gardening” in Natural Life Magazine, May/June 2011). While this is about vegetables, I think we could say the same about animals and also about people. The direct relationship and connection is the key. I really do feel like the relational context of our lives is the fundamental core of the human experience. We cannot not be in relationship to the things around us, not just in terms of other humans, but plants, trees and animals. We are even in relationship with the sun, the wind, and the rain. And, the net that holds the whole, is what I name as Goddess/Divinity. Everything is interconnected and does not exist without connection/relationship. Connection is strength, not weakness, and it is central.  Goddess ethics are “discovered within the web of life” rather than imposed from without.  If we acted with our hearts and with love rather than with “logic” and if a corresponding ethic of care underlaid our beliefs, actions, and social structures, the overall functioning of society would change for the better.

As I read these final chapters in Reweaving the World, particularly Christ’s quote from Alice Walker about being a part of everything, “not separate at all,” I also thought about one of my long ago observations from my Ecology and the Sacred class:

My reflection was about how quickly the woods close in around human-made structures. When we built our house, it felt like we had scarred the land—we cleared some trees and had to dig for the septic tank and so forth. The ground looked stripped, some trees were damaged (or cut down), and our house was kind of plopped down there in the middle of the scar. We moved in to our house four years ago and you can no longer see these environmental scars—indeed, it feels at times like we have to hold the woods back from taking the area back over and reclaiming the land. A variety of grasses and wildflowers grow in the cleared areas and trees stretch out all around our house. I reflect upon how if we no longer lived here, our house would be swallowed up by the forest within only a handful of years. This is reassuring to me in a strange way. No matter how we have altered the landscape by our human presence and “meddling” with our ecosystem, Nature is waiting to reclaim and transform what we have attempted to mold and make our own.I also reflected about how we, as human inhabitants of this patch of ground, are part of the woods and the forest ecosystem. I guess in some ways I feel like we have “invaded” here, carving out a large footprint. But, while standing on our back deck, and looking all around me at the trees, grasses, and flowers, closing in…pressing in almost…on our house, I felt a sudden sense that we and our home were a part of these woods. We live here in our—albeit excessively large–“nest,” much like any other animal inhabits its nest or burrow within the forest. And, we are within it too, not on top of or apart from it.

This idea that I was a legitimate part of nature and the woods as well was an important epiphany for me. Likewise, as I read Christ’s essay and I had another epiphany about interconnectedness and “all being one.” I’ve always struggled somewhat with the phrase, “we are all one,” but as I read her words, I had this new sense of clarity about it—we are all one weaving. A favorite example from earlier in this course is in Brian Swimme’s description of the Great Birth (Big Bang) in his essay in Reweaving the World: “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” (Reweaving the World, p. 21. Emphasis mine).

I also greatly enjoyed Starhawk’s essay in Reweaving the World. As I read it and her passionate exploration of the earth-based tradition of paganism, I thought of a question I recently saw touched upon by a pagan blogger I enjoy, Bishop in the Grove, of whether or not pagans are still earth-based?  Explaining based on other posts and conversations Bishop asks:

“Lastly, are we “earth-based” anymore? It came up in response to Gus’s later statements about the political landscape that there are a wide-variety of Pagans, many of whom no longer identify as “earth-based.” This struck a chord with some people, and I’ve already received some feedback on Facebook which voiced appreciation for pointing out that some Pagans are more centered around deity.I think this one is worthy of a little unpacking. Do a little research, and you’ll see that the roots of the Neopagan movement were very much in the dirt, if you will. Earth-centered, or at the very least earth-aware spirituality has, up until fairly recently, been synonymous with Paganism. How exactly did we get to a place where someone could consider themselves a Pagan and not be “earth-based?” www.bishopinthegrove.com/archives/huffpost-live-paganism-roundtable-followup/

What would Starhawk make of this question I wonder, since her paganism is clearly deeply earth-based, indeed the earth is the foundation of her work, life, activism, teaching, and spirituality?! Starhawk reminds us that environmental issues are women’s issues, “for women sicken, starve, and die from toxins, droughts, and famines, their capacity to bear new life is threatened by pollution and they bear the brunt of care for the sick and the dying as well as for the next generation…unless we understand all the interconnections we are vulnerable to manipulation” (p. 83)

Starhawk passionately explains that earth-based principles call us to action: “earth-based spirituality makes certain demands. That is, when we start to understand that the Earth is alive, she calls us to act to preserve her life. When we understand that everything is interconnected, we are called to a politics and set of actions that come from compassion, from the ability to literally feel with all living beings on the Earth. That feeling is the ground upon which we can build community and come together and take action and find direction” (p. 74).

Categories: feminist thealogy, Goddess, nature, spirituality, thealogy, writing | 1 Comment

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