Thursday Thealogy

Thursday Thealogy: Interconnectivity, Witches, and Fear

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

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

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

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

Everything is interconnected in a great and ever-changing dance of life. Not as ‘all one,’ but as all interconnected and relating to one another, in an ever-present ground of relationship and relatedness…I imagine the divine as omnipresent (rather than omnipotent).” The Divine is located around and through each living thing as well as the great web of incarnation that holds the whole…

via Who is She? The Existence of an Ontological Goddess

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

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

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

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

In her article, Doyle also quotes Starhawk:

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

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

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

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

via Fear | WoodsPriestess.

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

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

via Women’s Voices |WoodsPriestess.

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

Thursday Thealogy: Goddess as Symbol, Statement, and Experience

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

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

Nonrealist and Realist Conceptions of the Goddess

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Esra Free notes in her book Wicca 404:

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

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

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

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

The existence of an ontological Goddess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday Thealogy: Matriarchal Myth or a New Story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday Thealogy: The Distant Other

Trip 2013 571

Pismo Beach picture taken by a distant other!

This month in my Compassion class at OSC we’re looking at concern for the distant other—those not immediately part of our lives. The assignment was to share how we show concern for the distant other and its impact in your life in your awareness and sense of compassion. Since I was on vacation this month, I thought it would be the perfect time to notice opportunities and experiences with the “distant other.” Instead, what I continued to experience was compassion FROM the “distant other” to me and my family—or, rather, had the experience of being the distant other in someone else’s life. I read an article recently about taking the time to “see” others—to look at nametags and to call people by name, etc. Many, many times on this two-week trip, rather than being the one doing the seeing, I saw myself being “seen” by others, rather than me specifically doing the seeing…

The man on the airplane who saw me struggling with my suitcase, laptop bag, and toddler daughter in a carrier and offered to carry my bags to my seat. The other man on the airplane who switched seats so another family could sit with their kids and then shared his M & Ms with my boys. The airline worker who found my sons’ lost ipod and tablet two days after they lost them on the airplane and who tracked me down via phone to return them to me. The Disneyland worker who saw us looking tired and discouraged at a long line for the only ride we hadn’t yet gone on and who offered us a free secret pass to come back in an hour and go straight onto the ride. The shuttle driver who made a stop for us at our hotel, even though it wasn’t technically on her route rather than making us walk from the hotel up the street that was on her route. The flight attendant who saw me sitting with my tired toddler and gave me hot tea, before taking the cart up the aisle to the rest of the plane (I was in the back row and should have been last). The hotel worker who stopped what she was doing and helped me figure out how to print my grandma’s memorial service from the hotel computer. The hotel guest who saw me waiting to print boarding passes and even though she was doing some work of her own, stopped to let me use the computer instead and then sat and waited while I printed my stuff and then went back to her own printing. The couple walking past on the beach who offered to take a group family photo instead of having one person left out as the picture taker. The rental car guy who took the time to give us a map and give verbal directions when we were leaving. The lady at the lunch counter who asked questions about where I was from and what I was doing while I was waiting for my food to be finished and then offered condolences about the death of my grandmother. The man at the airport who moved our carseat through the security line when we were out of hands to move it ourselves. The man checking ID’s at the security checkpoint who told me happy birthday when he noticed my birthday had been earlier in the month. The man in line at Indiana Jones at Disneyland who told me to never lose my smile because it was so great to see. The teenage girl on the Grizzly River Run ride who offered to let me put my hat under her sweater so it wouldn’t get wet and who then saw me later while I was on the walkway and she was on another ride and waved with a big smile and an, “oh, hi!” like we were old pals.

I know there were many more, but these are the ones that come to mind as I’m typing right now. There is something about traveling with children that puts you into a vulnerable position and rather than being the one who helps the distant other, I found it was much more likely to become the one in the position of needing help or compassion or understanding. These experiences left me with a powerful sense of the inherent goodness of my fellow human beings and a feeling that most people are helpful, nice, compassionate, and want to do the right thing for others, even if they’ll never see each other again.

(**I did later think of one example of my own concern for the distant other that was expressed as I replied to desperate text messages from a breastfeeding mother while in line at Disneyland with my family—that is pretty committed, Molly 🙂 )

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Thursday Thealogy: Ritual Guidelines

Why Rituals Work | Scientific American  May 2013 009

“There are real benefits to rituals, religious or otherwise.Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective.

Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence.

What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work.

While anthropologists have documented rituals across cultures, this earlier research has been primarily observational. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”

~ excerpt from “Why Rituals Work” by Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton for Scientific American magazine

Shared by ☾ Katharine Krueger ~ Occupy Menstruation
Girls’ Empowerment and Coming of Age http://JoYW.org/

In my Ritual and Liturgy class at OSC, we discussed some simple guidelines for effective ritual. The guidelines from a handout by Deanne Quarrie, and my brief thoughts on each, are as follows:

1. Remember the intention

This is of vital importance. You have to have a purpose and passion, otherwise it becomes hollow, meaningless or rote (many women’s experience of ritual from their childhood fall into the hollow category!

2. Let the myth inspire you.

I am probably less skilled with this guideline than I could be. I do not find that I personally connect with many myths/archetypes, and so I don’t use them very much when planning rituals.  In our fall ritual which involved a Sagewoman ceremony, I drew on the story of Innana’s descent with the woman each passing through several Gates of Initiation and leaving behind items from their pasts that no longer served them.

3. Use your intuition.

Another vital element, I draw on intuition a lot when leading rituals—perhaps I’ve planned something that is taking longer than I thought and so I may rearrange or eliminate another element without ever mentioning it to the group (if you mention it, they feel like they’ve “missed out” on something or feel pressured to “hurry up”). I make additions or subtractions from guided meditations as I go, depending on intuition to guide me. I let intuition lead at the beginning of the meditations as we begin, spontaneously leading the participants through conscious muscle relaxation and breath work before launching into the actually scripted meditation.

4. A ritual should benefit all and harm none.

Of course! I think it is also important to remember though that we can come into circle with and hold sacred space with people who are not necessarily our best friends. Perhaps we have been hurt in the past by someone, in ritual together we can birth new relationship and leave that hurt behind us. Also, the purpose of a ritual should always hold positive intent and be focused on positive change and not revenge or anything like that.

5. Keep it simple.

I have a tendency to overplan and sometimes that can make a ritual drag on/lose energy. By only included what is necessary and essential to the intention, we reduce the chances of energy leaking/flagging or of people getting tired or bored.

6. Stay balanced.

While it is important to balance the energies of the ritual, I also find it important to balance the activities of the ritual—some energy raising with singing and drumming and some time for inner work and reflection through visualization and meditation. Some scripted words and readings and some spontaneous sharing of here-and-now experiencing.

7. Keep in touch with your feelings and with the other people. May 2013 014

This one connects to Intuition above. It is important to feel the climate of the group, the energy of the group, and the responses of other people. I constantly keep my intuitive “radar” tuned to whether the ritual is “working” or not—how are people feeling in this circle and at this time. Also, I try to remember to encourage people to share feelings rather than intellectualizations.

8. Honor the power of words.

In a recent past post, I already excerpted my thoughts on this one…from one of the articles for class: “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.  I’ve always 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 this, 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!

9. Keep the imagination alive and 10. Attend to detail.

In attending a large Goddess festival last fall, one of the things I learned is about the importance of creating ambiance, which includes environmental factors/settings that contribute to the sense of magic and timelessness or otherworldliness/altered consciousness. I’ve been holding rituals in my own living room for a long time. After attending the festival, we held our late fall ritual outside in a tipi at night. There is something so magical about a firelit, nighttime ceremony. It really matters! We set up our Gates with candles and then entered the tipi where my large drum was located with (electric) candles all around it. Choosing elements specifically with ambiance in mind makes a huge difference in the feeling and function of a ritual.

Categories: OSC, priestess, ritual, Thursday Thealogy, women's circle | Leave a comment

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

Thursday Thealogy: Theapoetics

April 2013 074

Sculpture made by my six-year-old and named, “The Cutest Goddess in the World.”

Turkeys gobble
birds sing
plum petals fall
raindrops kiss stone

take a moment and sit
hear, taste,
smell, and touch
the very field of creation.

(4/16/13)

I’m having such a hard time lately focusing enough to write coherent posts. I flit from site to site, idea to idea, and just can’t settle my mind enough to say what I want to say. I feel distracted, preoccupied, and unfocused. Maybe I need to go to the woods more often. As it is, I sit here with my little stack of books: Midwifing Death, What Dying People Want, and Sacred Dying. They came too late for me to really use them in any sort of helpful way for my mom or grandma, but at least I’ll have them in case I know anyone else who needs them. I am a tiny librarian in my own way and it is books that I turn to when I need help or want to help. They’re what I offer. Books are my first and longest-lasting love. I also sit by a pile of books waiting to be turned over as I plan my spring women’s retreat and write two assignments for my OSC class on Ritual and Liturgy. My heart doesn’t quite feel in that though either—too many variables, too much unknown…

There is so much we don’t know 20130416-140924.jpg
so many possibilities we can’t imagine
maybe that is what I touch
in the dreamtime
and the woodstime
maybe I am surrounded
in all times
and all ways
by those who have gone before me

here, in the woods
I touch
and am touched
by something
something that kisses my eyelids
with a breeze
that blesses my brow
with a raindrop
that cradles my body
with stone
that fills my senses April 2013 029
with pleasure and awareness
and that connects me
to the great, grand whole of creation

and I know that I am a part of Her
and She is a part of me
forever.

Though my individual thread might end
my part of the tapestry is eternal
and I dance right now
with the lifeblood
of purpose and connection.

(4/16/13)

A few days ago, I sat in the woods and thought about death and life and ancestors and children. While I sat and spoke into my little recorder, the plum petals fell steadily all around me like snow. It was beautiful and soothing.

April 2013 071

In my piles of books are also those which I want to put back on the shelf, but that are waiting because they had sections I marked to share. One of them—a really excellent anthology of essays by priestesses (or “sibyls”) called Voices of the Goddess—contained a section that made me think of my own theapoetical experiences. Though, I then feel self-conscious, embarrassed, or somehow “arrogant” or something for identifying with it—like, who do I think I am?!

The Goddess grants her gifts of creativity in many ways, but the personal invocation, the inspired lyrical utterance is always nearest to the surface. This poetic wellspring is part of the sibylline legacy and there is no denying it. It speaks the language of the blood and belly as well as the language of the crystalline stars. It is a weaving song that meshes heaven and earth with the underworld. Poetry is the mouthpiece of the metamemory, the deep, ecstatic memory of an oral tradition that remembered the Goddess daily in domestic and tribal rituals. Since there are not Goddess rituals or liturgies from former times, we have written our own, often drawing directly upon the raw material of personal experience…Poetry can both bless and uproot, it can extol or refute. It is the true voice of the Goddess speaking through her sibyls. Personal or prophetic, poetry is communication with a deeper level of understanding. It is a gateway for the Goddess to pass through.

–Caitlin Matthews in Voices of the Goddess

While I wouldn’t venture to call myself “prophetic,” I do experience something personally very important to me there in the woods, something I’ve previously referred to as, “Entering into radical relationship with the Goddess through art, poetry, and nature…” or, theapoetics. When I wrote about this topic for Feminism and Religion, I included this poem:

Goddess Direct

Goddess, where are you?
I am within you and around youApril 2013 037
in your heart that seeks answers
and connection

Goddess, do you exist?
Yes, I am as real as your own heartbeat.
I am here in the bird’s song
I am here in the breeze that touches your face
I am as solid as the stone you sit on

I am that which weaves the Whole.
I am that which holds the All.
I am that which flows,
dancing lightly
through the heartbeat of every form on this earth

I am within you and around you
beneath you and above you
I am your home

I am that which you seek
I am that which you know
And, I love deeply, richly, and well.

via Theapoetics By Molly | Feminism and Religion.

I still don’t think of myself as writing poetry and certainly not as a “poet.” These words are something that just comes out. Something that emerges. Something that is created in a very different manner than the rest of my writing. It actually feels like an altered state of consciousness that “writes itself” and when I go back to listen to what I said, I’m often surprised or feel like I’m listening to someone else speak. That’s theapoetics. Go sit in the woods and see what happens when you open your mouth! 🙂

Categories: Goddess, nature, poems, prayers, priestess, spirituality, theapoetics, Thursday Thealogy, womanspirit, woodspriestess, writing | 2 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.

20130403-161720.jpg

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…

March 2013 071

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

Thursday Thealogy: Making a Place for Others

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I went to the woods intending to take a picture of the setting sun, but I’d accidentally hit the reverse-image button, so my own face was looking at me instead. So, I thought…that’s most real!

 “…in listening you become an opening for that other person…Indeed, nothing comes close to an evening spent spellbound by the stories of women’s inner lives.”–Sacred Circles

This morning my attention was caught by this blog post’s exploration of becoming most real:

Becoming most real means becoming aware of what we are doing and feeling all the time. It means noticing not only our imagined or desired reality —the one we’re cooking up in our mind to soothe our discomforts and fears — but also the reality that actually exists, the one that is most real…

[during a stressful experience]…But then I asked, “What is most real?”

I noticed that I was feeling tense and stressed. That I knew already. But I also noticed that I was struggling to change things, trying to force myself to feel relaxed. And that was the key. Because then I went from being lost in the struggle to being aware of the struggle. I went from identifying with the struggling to identifying with my deeper self that sees the struggle. For a moment I was grounded in the unflickering flame of my true self. For a moment I achieved the very aim of yoga.

You can practice being most real by asking yourself, “What am I trying to feel right now, and what am I actually feeling right now?” These two are related: What you are trying to feel right now, or more specifically, the fact that you are trying, is what you are actually doing; it is most real. Most real is not the state you are trying to achieve but the state you are in. That’s where you’ll find the greatest vitality, peace, and happiness.

via Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi (book review).

I’m three quarters of the way through a year-long OSC class based on the book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. We’re examining and practicing compassion to ourselves and in personal relationships, community relationships, and to non-humans. The subject of the sixth month  was, “making a place for others.” What does this mean? The author explains…

I began to notice how seldom we “make place for the other” in social interaction. All too often people impose their own experience and beliefs on acquaintances and events, making hurtful, inaccurate, and dismissive snap judgments, not only about individuals but about whole cultures. It often becomes clear, when questioned more closely, that their actual knowledge of the topic under discussion could comfortably be contained on a small postcard. Western society is highly opinionated. Our airwaves are clogged with talk shows, phone-ins, and debates in which people are encouraged to express their views on a wide variety of subjects. This freedom of speech is precious, of course, but do we always know what we are talking about?

Armstrong, Karen (2010-12-28). Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Kindle Locations 1476-1481). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Previously used in: Plucking out the heart of mystery

I spent all month working with this idea and very often, I suck at it. One of the roles of a priestess is to hold the space for others, and I do find I am able to do that in a ceremony environment and also in a support group setting, but it pretty much ends there. This isn’t really new for me, when I worked in battered women’s shelters, I remember coming home and being aware I was monopolizing the airspace with my husband and saying, “I spend so much time listening to other people and their pain, that then when I get home I just need a space too and I no longer feel like I can give it to anyone else.” So, I feel as if my closest family members rarely get to experience my ability to hold a space for others, because they’re sort of forced into that role for me instead.

I’m really feeling exhausted this week. Worn out and beaten down. Incapable of keeping up. Dropping balls. Forgetting things. Having to leave things undone, unreplied to, unfinished, let go. Bad mother, bad wife, bad friend, bad person. I know from past experience that this isn’t a permanent feeling. It is directly related to not enough time at home alone and too much outward directed energy with no time to refuel and recollect my energy. Next week looks much the same. Some of it is self-imposed. A lot of it is related to other people’s expectations of me (or perceived expectations). I keep feeling as if I’m making the wrong choices, doing the wrong things, letting myself get scattered and fragmented and overwhelmed and panicky. And, as I write it all out, I then feel like I can see how my thinking is disordered and I feel judged.

What’s been on my mind today is listening to other people; making a place for others. I’ve been thinking about seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard, knowing and being known. About witnessing each other. But, is there really any way to see and to truly be seen or is it all so filtered through our own lenses and our own interpretations of experience that we all just bump around into each other’s “ice cubes” rather than actually connecting? (See Charlotte Joko Beck for the “ice cube” thing.) I’m such a self-monitor, the watching of myself becomes painful, and I feel inauthentic or critical of my own responses and being. I want to be able to connect authentically, to reach out and engage with others deeply, to have the same sense of understanding of other people as I have of myself and this patch of earth I live on. Today, in the woods I thought: this is just all so relentless. And, then I thought: yes, it IS relentless. Life is relentless. That is what makes it beautiful. I sometimes feel as if I’m becoming more and more distant and disconnected from people even as “connection” takes a prominent position in my thealogy and my values, and yet it feels so hard, and I feel so tired. And I want for everyone to get along and I want for everyone to be friends and I want for everyone to understand each other, I want for everyone to be seen and to be heard and to be known. I want this for myself and for others and yet, I can’t do it. Sometimes I feel separated from others by glass. The way I share my own feelings and taste my own experiences is through the written word. Companionship lately ends up making me want to run away (again, I know logically that this isn’t actually true, it is symptom of not having the two hours to myself that I need. Once I have some two hours I’ll be back and not at the verge of tears all of the time anymore). I want to separate right now. Separate so that I can write about connection…

What is real?

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Sun on its way down.
I had a weird moment here in which I laid my head on my knee, where my phone was resting–both my eyes were open and because one of them was looking at the reflection of the trees/sky in the shiny front of the phone and the other was actually looking at the ground, it was like I could see the trees and sky superimposed on the leaves/rocks and it was very surreal. Since I was writing about perception and thinking, again, about subjective experience, it seemed like a fitting moment–one I wished it was possible to photograph too!

Feel your breath
feel your pulse
notice the butterfly
watch the hawk
hear the spring peepers
witness the sunset
listen for howling
give thanks for that relentless, hot, hunger
that fuels you
celebrate your own passion
and your refusal to stop trying
feel tears prick your eyes
feel tiredness sweep your body.
wind in your hair
life at your back and at your shoulders
hope on your lips
love is in your hands…

I can’t make a place for others unless I’m willing to make a place for myself.

Categories: family, friends, introversion, nature, Thursday Thealogy, women's circle, woodspriestess | 3 Comments

Thursday Thealogy: Interconnection

The opening of your heart never ceases
It comes in on the tide
of breath
It goes out in the tide
of breath
The whispering of a lover
a chant, a song, a prayer
to your wholeness
to the sacred awakening of the heart.

–Marcelina Martin (in Open Mind)

I hoped to write more tonight for a Thursday Thealogy post about the web of life, but I’m just not going to get there. The post is almost finished, but I’m going to keep working on it and post it next Thursday instead. Instead, I have a variety of quotes from past posts that tie together with the theme of interconnectedness…

From a previous post here:

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)…

via The Web of Life | Theapoetics.

And, from another past post here:

I have learned a lot about the fundamental truth of relatedness through my own experiences as a mother…Relationship is our first and deepest urge. The infant’s first instinct is to connect with others. Before an infant can verbalize or mobilize, she reaches out a hand to her mother. I have most definitely seen this with my own babies. Mothering is a profoundly physical experience. The mother’s body is the baby’s “habitat” in pregnancy and for many months following birth. Through the mother’s body is how the baby learns to interpret and to relate to the rest of the world and it is to mother’s body that she returns for safety, nurturance, and peace. Birth and breastfeeding exist on a continuum as well, with mother’s chest becoming baby’s new “home” after having lived in her womb for nine months. These thoroughly embodied experiences of the act of giving life and in creating someone else’s life and relationship to the world are profoundly meaningful. With my last baby, I actively introduced her to the world—taking her out one morning and touching her feet to the earth and introducing her to the planet.

The Central Value of Relationship

I mentioned that my most recent FAR post has been getting shared around on Facebook and one particular paragraph has been chosen as the quote that is passed around with the post:

I believe that gathering together as women and connecting over our belief in the value of women and of the value of the Goddess as a symbol is a radical and subversive act. To have the courage to come together in a circle that names women as holy and Goddess as “afoot” (whether literally or metaphorically), is a profound political, social, and cultural statement. And, it is how the personal becomes political. We gather in our homes, we celebrate our rituals and our rites of passage, we wear our Goddess jewelry, we write our articles and share our thoughts, we have the courage to link feminism with matters of the spirit, we speak up in public, we advocate and participate politically, we raise our children in female-affirming homes, and it is in this way that change is born and grows…

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

In my picture today it looks like it was a misty morning in the woods, but really grubby little fingers had smudged the lens…

20130321-231606.jpgAnd, in other nature happenings, in a first-days-of-spring surprise, it snowed again today!

Categories: parenting, quotes, spirituality, Thursday Thealogy | Leave a 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

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